Thursday, May 29, 2014

Permaculture: Herb Spirals

I've been seeing herb spirals in lots of demonstration gardens lately, so of course I had to try building one for myself this summer.

The basic idea is to put more drought-tolerant herbs at the center to keep them high and dry, then spiral downward to the plants that need more moisture. The varying sunlight, moisture, and soil conditions along the spiral can effectively create separate microclimates designed to suit a variety of herb plants that ordinarily wouldn't grow well together.

Here's how I built mine...

When building any new raised-bed type garden, you'll want to put down newspaper or cardboard to keep the weeds down. I used bricks secured with sticks as vertical reinforcement, but I've seen others use stones or concrete masonry blocks. Be creative!  A quick search for "herb spiral" on Pinterest could keep you entertained for hours. 

Next I put down a bed of rosemary bush trimmings, followed by some pecan leaf compost, then topped it with garden soil.

Most of the herbs I planted as seedlings for instant gratification, but I planted a few as seeds also. From the top down:
  1. Cilantro
  2. Borage
  3. Thyme
  4. Sage
  5. Basil
  6. Parsley
  7. Chives
  8. Lettuce

The finished product!

Fun fact: the Maori people of New Zealand use the spiral shape as a symbol of creation or new beginnings. The koru is reminiscent of the way fiddlehead ferns unfurl.




Sunday, May 25, 2014

How the garden grows

“Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.”
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays 

Here's what we planted in the big garden...

Corn:  Stowell's Evergreen sweet
Okra:  Star of David
Peas:  Serge
Tomato:  Early Girl, Roma (seedlings)
Sweet pepper:  Alma Paprika, Golden Wonder (green, yellow, red), Pimento
Hot pepper:  Ascent hybrid, Jalapeno, Long Red Slim Cayenne, Tabasco, Habanero
Bush bean:  Tiger's Eye (shelling)
Cucumber: McPick hybrid
Summer squash:  Astia zucchini, Grey Griller
Winter squash:  Hunter hybrid butternut
Melon:  Minnesota Midget canteloupe, Honey Ace hybrid honeydew, Sugar Baby watermelon

Most of these are seeds we ordered from Territorial Seed online.

We'd also ordered seeds for Heinz and Koralik Cherry tomato, but since we got off to a late start with planting, we started some in seedling pots and filled in the rows with seedlings from the local nursery.

In the smaller front garden we used up my leftover seeds from last year, plus a few eggplant and cherry tomato seedlings...

Arugula, basil, chard, garlic, kale, lettuce, onions, parsley, spinach
Beans (bush and pole), cherry tomato, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini
Cardinal climber vine, cosmos, four o'clocks, marigold, pink amaranth, sunflower, sweet pea, zinnia

It's probably too late for the early-spring crops like peas and lettuce, but since the seeds were old we figured best to use them up now.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Cake for a rainy day

The rain kept us out of the garden today, so… cake!

This one is a French-style Yogurt Cake from A Homemade Life - a lovely book by Molly Wizenberg. Check out her new book Delancey and her excellent food blog Orangette.

I left out the lemon zest, and it's perfectly delicious without the syrup or the icing.


(I forgot to take a picture... we devoured it too quickly.)

Cake ingredients:

1 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 plain yogurt
1 c sugar
3 eggs
1/2 c veg oil (I used olive oil: still delicious!)


Syrup ingredients:

1/4 c powdered sugar
1/4 c lemon juice


Icing ingredients:

1 c powdered sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice


Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease a 9" round cake pan with butter (I used an 8" cast iron skillet instead).

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add lemon zest and whisk again.

In a large bowl, combine yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring to mix well.

Add flour mixture and stir just to combine.

Add the oil and stir well - it will look terrible, but keep going and it will all come together.

Pour into pan and bake for 25-35 min (closer to 45 if you use the skillet) - use a toothpick to make sure the center is done.

Cool for 15 min before adding the syrup.
Remove cake from pan, whisk together syrup ingredients, and spoon atop cake.
Whisk together icing ingredients and spoon over cooled cake.

Wait an hour for icing to firm up, or just eat it now.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014


I nearly had a panic attack when I realized I'd left town without my favorite eggplant recipe... until I remembered it was posted on the Wednesday Chef blog.  Here, for your culinary delight!

Spaghetti with Let-My-Eggplant-Go-Free! Sauce
Serves 3 or 4
1 pound eggplant, cut into ½ inch slices
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
2 springs thyme or oregano, chopped
1 cup chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes, minced
6 leaves basil, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti

1. Lightly salt the slices of eggplant, stack them back together and let sit for 20 minutes.
2. Put the olive oil in a wide, heavy saucepan, add the garlic cloves, and set over low heat.
3. Dry off the eggplant, cut it into chunks. When you start hearing the garlic sizzle a little and can smell it, drop in your eggplant and stir to coat it all with oil. Turn up the heat a little bit to medium high and add the thyme or oregano and stir. When the eggplant is turning translucent and softening, add the liquid, let it come to a boil, and turn it back down to medium-low. Let it bubble for a bit and cover it, leaving a crack for steam to escape. Stir once in a while so that the bottom doesn’t stick.
4. After about 20 minutes or so, the liquid in the eggplant pan should be mostly evaporated and the eggplant should be soft and melting. Mash it with a fork or spoon, and adjust the seasoning to taste.
5. Toss the eggplant purée with the spaghetti that you cooked al dente. Stir in the minced tomatoes and basil. You can gild the lily with drizzling on some more oil. Serve immediately.