The Year of the Garden

May 20, 2013 No comments » [ssba]

I really need to get myself a Farmer’s Almanac (the ultra-reliable guide on weather outlooks throughout the year, and gardener’s best friend).  Every spring I play the guessing game in determining when to put my plants into the ground: I’m sure it’s a cinch in Southern California where warm weather is the norm, but here in southwestern Pennsylvania, if you plant too soon, you risk a frost wiping out all of your baby plants.  Too late and your vegetables may not ripen at all. My husband’s rule of thumb is to wait until after Mother’s Day and so that’s what we do.  As long as the rain stays away, this weekend we will be digging, tilling, planting and expanding our little garden.  This is our third year in doing so; year one we were clueless.

I’d spent all my time learning how to configure a square foot garden and not much time at all researching vegetables and herbs and how they grow.  I was way too excited and planted anything that looked good on the seed packets at Home Depot: eggplant, yellow beans, zucchini, tomatoes, melons, herbs, bell peppers.  Plus, we didn’t plant until June.  Most of what we planted didn’t produce at all.  The single heirloom tomato that was finally ready to pick at the end of August was chewed up and spit out by a deer literally minutes before I went outside to pick it.  Last year was better.  My mother-in-law (if the gardening world had a superhero, she would be it) drove all the way up from Kentucky to deliver her homegrown heirloom tomato plants to us.  I also planted zucchini, peppers and herbs.  Our bounty was decent, but I was left craving much more.  And that leads us to this year.

20 baby tomato plants and 2 pots of basil, ready for the ground

Can’t wait for Brandywines!

My husband and I are bound and determined to be successful.  Whereas in past years we have done little more to feed our plants than spray Miracle Grow, I’ve dubbed this year, “The Year of the Garden.”  The plan is to get to the home improvement store early on Saturday, stock up on really good soil, compost, fertilizer, etc., rent a tiller and get to work.  Not only are we preparing our existing garden beds, but we are expanding them, too.  You see, I visited the Farmer’s Market last weekend in search of heirloom tomato plants and…well…I went a little crazy.  I came home with 20 plants.  Oh well, if it starts getting out of hand, I’m going to learn how to can.  We actually have been pretty successful at keeping critters and those pesky deer away with home-made, organic bug spray, chicken wire and Irish Spring soap (deer hate the smell of it, who knew?); it’s the soil that we haven’t quite figured out.  So, if you see a lot of tomato posts on the blog this summer, you’ll know we got it right.

What about you?  Do you garden?  Any gardening tips you’re willing to share?  Tell us in the comment section below.

And, in honor of spring and gardening season, I leave you with a simple yet delicious recipe that always reminds me of sunny, warm weather.  (And it’s fantastic with a crisp white wine like Ponte Pinot Grigio!)

Vegetable Tarts

The beauty of this recipe is that you can top it with any vegetable that your heart desires.  Go with what’s in season and you’ll never be disappointed.

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in fridge overnight
  • ½ container cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • About 10 spears asparagus, tough ends removed
  • Fresh chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut puff pastry into 6 even rectangles and place them on a baking sheet.  Prick each rectangle several times with a fork.  Set aside.

On a separate baking sheet, toss asparagus with about ½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, some salt and pepper.  Bake for about 10 minutes or until they are fork tender and just beginning to brown.  Once they are cool enough to handle, cut the spears into 3-inch long pieces.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, toss the halved tomatoes, 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Bake pastry rectangles in oven for 10-12 minutes until they are golden brown.  In the meantime, smoosh up the goat cheese and milk until you have a creamy and spreadable consistency.  Once the pastry is done and cooled slightly, spread the goat cheese mixture over each pastry rectangle.  Divide the tomato mixture equally among the pastry.  Top each with asparagus.  Bake until warmed through, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with freshly snipped chives.  Serve with a light fruity wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Fiorella.

Serves 6 as a first course or 2-3 as a main course.

–Erica Martinez

Posted by , May 20, 2013 No comments

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