Category Archives: garden

Grow Your Own: 5 Lessons from Our First Garden

5 Lessons from Our First Garden | This American House

Now that the temperatures are starting to fall and most of the “crops” have been harvested, it seems like a good time to look back on the lessons learned from our first year gardening. For city boys I think we had a pretty respectable season. But there are plenty of ways we can improve for next year.

We kept it pretty simple for our first garden. Even though they’re not very aesthetically pleasing, we kept the raised beds and concrete blocks that the previous owners left behind. We were so overwhelmed with all of the other landscaping this spring that it didn’t seem like a good idea to start from scratch with the garden. We both hate those blocks with a passion but they did make it easier for two novices to feel like they know what they’re doing. That said, the blocks are coming up this year! We’re going to start fresh with one big garden plot next spring.

Speaking of next spring, it’s going to be a much different planting experience. This year we were faced a garden that had been unattended and hadn’t been cleaned out at the end of the season. It was covered in a mass of leaves, dead plants and weeds, weeds, weeds. We’re already prepping the garden the next year. We’ve started pulling plants out of the beds and, as we do, we’re also taking up all the concrete blocks. We kept up on the weeds this year and we’ve started putting organic matter on the entire garden plot. Here’s hoping that next year we have rich, healthy soil.Looking Back on Our First Garden | This American House

But enough about next year, let’s look at what learned this year.

Lesson #1: Better planning would help. We planted two beds of potatoes, one bed of onions, one bed of green beans, three tomato plants, a row of beets and some carrots. It was all very haphazard. I bought the seed potatoes and onions early in the season so they went into the ground first. And then as we would pick up other seeds and seedlings we’d fit them into one of the empty beds. Next year we should start earlier and really map out the garden – especially since we won’t have the raised beds.

Lesson #2: Sometimes weeds are actually plants. The carrots that I planted never made it to harvest. In fact, I’m not even sure they made it past seedling stage. Thanks to some overzealous weeding early in the summer, the carrots were pulled out and composted. Oops.

Lesson #3: Starting indoors might be easier. We wouldn’t have lost the carrots if I had started them indoors. Placing seedlings in the ground will make it easier to know which little sprouts are plants and which are weeds. Since I dumped the carrot seeds into a bed that was also very weedy, they were bound to be pulled up before they got a chance to grow.

Lesson #5: It’s easier than it seems. Even in our bungling way, and despite many weeks when the garden went completely unattended, we grew food. We definitely have a lot to learn but it’s good to know that it’s not all that difficult to garden. That said, I’m glad we don’t have to live solely on what we grow!

Lesson #5: The food you grow is the tastiest. I’ve never liked tomatoes. I mean, I don’t hate them but I’ll skip past tomatoes when I’m dressing a hamburger or whatever. But when it comes to the tomatoes that came out of our garden, I want to put them on everything! They’re that delicious! There’s something about growing your own food that makes it taste all the better.

We have a long way to go before we’re gentlemen farmers, but I think we’re well on our way. Happy harvesting, folks!

Images: This American House

6 Ways to Use All Those End of Summer Tomatoes

How to Use All of Those Tomatoes Before the Frost | This American House

It’s the end of summer and all of the tomatoes are suddenly getting ripe all at once. And what’s that in the forecast? Frost?! Uh oh! If you don’t get those tomatoes off the vine soon, you’ll lose them! Whatever will you do? Well, you’ll set aside an afternoon to prep that beautiful late summer fruit and then you’ll use one (or more) of the methods and recipes below to make use of them all.

Freeze them: You’ll want to peel the tomatoes first but then you can chop them up and put them in freezer bags or containers. They’ll be great for soups and sauces this winter.

Can them: Freezing tomatoes will only preserve them for a 3-6 months. While canning is a lot more labor intensive, it will also preserve them for much, much longer. For beginners, there’s a wonderfully illustrated tutorial on canning over one Food in Jars.

Make Salsa: Why buy jarred salsa when making your own is so easy? By tossing together just a few ingredients – tomatoes, onions, jalepeno, green pepper, cilantro and lime juice – you can whip up a batch of fresh salsa in a jiffy. Once you’ve perfected your salsa recipe, make a big batch and can it!

Make Pasta Sauce: I haven’t purchased jarred pasta sauce in years because homemade is just too easy. I like this Food Network recipe for its simplicity. Then again, I rarely stick to a recipe when it comes to sauce. Add extra veggies or olives to make the recipe your own.

Make Homemade ketchup: Ditch that overly sweetened bottled ketchup and make your own. This recipe from Ball, the canning jar folks, looks fairly straightforward.

Make Fried Green Tomatoes: Let’s face it – not all of the tomatoes will ripen before the first big frost. What a great excuse to make fried green tomatoes. There’s a great tutorial at Southern Living. Although most recipes, like this one from My Recipes, call for a flour/cornmeal mixture for the breading, I prefer using panko crumbs.


Image: This American House

Thar She Blows! Our Pocket Hose Is Already Leaking

Thar She Blows! Our Pocket Hose Sprang a Leak | This American House

We were hoping the Pocket Hose wasn’t too good to be true. If we could get just one summer out of the “hose that grows” we’d be happy. Sadly, just two months into use, our Pocket Hose, that suggestively named garden hose, sprang a leak.

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How to Freeze Fresh Green Beans

How to Freeze Green Beans | This American House

In the opening scenes of the 1981 film Mommie Dearest, Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford goes through her morning routine. You see her plunging her face into a bowl of ice water and steaming herself in a hot shower. I thought of this scene yesterday as I was preparing green beans to freeze. With the blanching and the ice bath it felt like I was Joan Crawfording the beans!

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Flower Power: Big Bundles of Hosta Flowers

A bucket full of hosta flowers | This American House

“I don’t know,” I said to my friend Joan. “If you ask me, I think hostas are just weeds that we tolerate.”

I uttered those words earlier this spring. I had just dug up and moved what seemed like the one hundredth hosta that’s planted around the house. At that time, the hostas were these small, uninteresting plants that felt more like a burden than a joy.

“Oh, just you wait,” Joan replied. “You’re going to love them.”

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