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Garden 2013 wrap-up

Even though I pretty much consider myself an ex-physicist, that doesn’t mean that I’m no longer a nerd! I just spent a few days writing a data-filled post about my garden last summer.  It made me so happy to make those simple little plots!

Yes, I know it’s 2014, and winter is in full swing.  I realized I never did a wrap-up of my 2013 garden, so with garden planning on the close horizon for this summer, I thought it would be a good time!  (P.S. you can see all posts about my 2013 garden by clicking HERE)

garden2013diagramAbove, you can see the diagram of our garden.  We stuck to the plan and I kept a spreadsheet of the produce we collected out of the garden.

First, let me show you some overall results for our garden.  I created some simple charts based on my tally of the produce harvested last summer, and I’ll address each type of produce individually.

Tomatoes:

tomatoes2013

Overall, we got fewer tomatoes than I expected this year.  They also started producing much, much later than I hoped or expected, especially since we live in a warmer climate than in previous years.  I liked the flavor of all of my varieties pretty well.  Fourth of July is fairly basic, but I plant it because of the promise of early and continuous fruiting.  Well, it was continuous, but certainly not early!  My first Fourth of July tomato was harvested on July 27, and the second on August 5!  Best Boy tomatoes tasted pretty good, but I had problems with them getting eaten by something (caterpillars?  deer?  tallish gnomes with very sharp, small teeth?) just before they were ripe enough for picking.  It was pretty discouraging.  As always, the Jelly Bean tomatoes are my favorites (so sweet!!), but it seemed like our overall harvest was smaller than last year (when we were in upstate NY).

Cucumbers:cucumbers2013

I was extremely delighted with the Burpee cucumber harvest I had in 2013!  Throughout the summer, I collected sixty (yes, 60!) cucumbers from the three vines on that trellis.  And I was selfish– I didn’t share even one 😉  Cucumbers are probably my favorite thing to come out of the garden, and I delighted in eating them on salads, in sandwiches, and as creamy cucumber salad.  The Ferry-Morse cucumbers?  Not so much.  I harvested 15 from the three vines on their trellis, and really, I didn’t like their flavor or texture.  I did learn one thing though:  all the previous years that I thought I had such abysmal luck with cucumbers may have been due to this particular variety.  The FM vines were never as healthy-looking as the Burpees, which were right next to them; the FM vines died quickly, and I finally ended up just cutting them off the trellis at the beginning of September.  The Burpee vines continued fruiting all the way through September!  I will most definitely be planting the Burpee variety again. Yum!

Zucchini:

Well, we had a better year this year than last time– but that’s not saying much, since I had quite the war with our resident groundhog back in upstate New York.  I really was hoping for a bumper crop (zucchini bread is sooooo yummy, and I love those zucchini fritters).  But I was pretty disappointed.  Despite the promises on the seed packet that we would “feed the neighborhood!” we got a grand total of 9 zucchini from two plants.  Granted, one of those nine was over 5 lbs, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the relative dearth of zucchini.  I’m really not sure what is going wrong.  Is something managing to get inside our fence and eat them??  I do have a suspicion that there were some deer raiding the outer perimeter of the garden, based on suspiciously “pruned” branches of the tomato plants– and every once in a while the zucchinis would look a little skimpy.

Herbs:

To be complete, I must include my little herb garden box.  This was an astonishing failure.  I think the main problem was that I thought it was getting watered when it rained, but in truth, part of the box was shielded by an overhang off of our house.  I probably should have watered it more, anyway, since it is a container and therefore by definition can’t hold moisture as well.  I also think the box was a bit too shallow, but it’s what I’ve got.  I’ll try again this year and see if I can do better.

Estimated value:

I was interested to see if we saved any money by having our own garden… though that isn’t the main point of having a garden (it can be a bonus, though, for sure).  I just love growing things, and I love the taste of fresh garden produce!

So first, because I’m so nice and Type-A, I keep a spreadsheet of my “personal spending,” that is, spending that we have categorized as my hobbies.  This is not only to keep myself accountable to staying within our agreed-upon hobby budget, but also so that I can track how much I’ve spent on a particular project or project categories.  Using this spreadsheet, I calculated that we spent about $145.50 on supplies for our garden this year.  That is hopefully more than we will spend in future years, since we were buying some pieces that will be used for future gardens (the plastic/metal stakes, the trellises, the fencing, and supplies for the rain barrel).

Next, I totaled the counts or weights of each of the varieties I harvested.  In the chart below, I show how I calculated an estimated value for the produce we collected in our 2013 garden.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take note of the summer prices for the produce!  I had to make some educated guesses for the tomatoes and zucchini–see notes below.  I tried to be fair, but err on the low side.  However, cucumbers have been a steady $0.68 each throughout the year at the store where I normally buy groceries.

In all, I estimated that we produced about $101.15 of tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini in the summer of 2013!  Not bad at all!  That means we recovered all but (145.50-101.15)= $44.35 of what we spent in supplies for the garden.  Pretty cool.

garden2013_estimatedvaluetable_wtrmk

* prices based on local Sam’s Club prices, 1/21/2014.  I think this is fair, since my tomatoes are of a high quality.  A friend reported to me that at a local organic market, all tomatoes were generally 4.99/lb (organic), sometimes 3.99 on sale. Organic zucchini was 2.99/lb.  NOTE that my garden is not intentionally organic, though I didn’t add any commercial fertilizers, organic or otherwise, at all this year.

** After I started recording just the count of zucchini harvested, I realized that it is most often sold by weight.  Therefore, I estimated that each zucchini was about 0.5 lbs (except for the enormous one, which I had actually weighed). 

Coming soon:

A new blog post with our garden plan for 2014!

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Giant zucchini!

After we returned from one of our trips in August, I went out to investigate what was happening in the garden.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered this bad boy!

 

GIANT zucchini!

 

This giant zucchini –which was bigger than my head!– weighed in at 5 lbs, 4.8 oz!  Wow.  So what did we did we do with it?

Well…

we grilled some:

grilled zucchini

We made a batch of zucchini fritters….

…and I made THREE batches of zucchini bread!  I used the recipe from my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  One of those batches was in muffin form, which turned out great.  And in another batch, I substituted the 1/4 cup oil for 1/4 applesauce.  That loaf is still in the freezer, but I’m looking forward to trying it out!

I’m not going to intentionally try to grow big zucchini in the future, since the seeds were really large, and the flesh wasn’t as tender and tasty… but it is a category in the county fair!  Haha.

 

P.S.  There is a lot of food on this blog, isn’t there?  Haha!  Well, don’t worry, there are some crafty projects coming up, as soon as I get the photos edited and ready!

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I’m baa–aaack!!

August was wonderful.  There was a county fair, some plane rides, a state fair, a wedding, lots of running and walking, an engagement, a trip to the beach, lots of good food…  And it was pretty nice to step away from the computer for a while.  I did do a few projects that I will be sharing in the next posts, so never fear!  August will not be missing on the blog, it’ll just be belatedly-blogged.

And now, since we’re more than a week into September, here are my goals for the month.

  • ENJOY & TREASURE.  Rather than be constantly thinking (obsessing?) about projects I want to complete (yes, I still have a list in my planner), I really want to focus on enjoying and being content, especially focusing on my time playing with my daughter while we are at home together during the day.  This goal is hard to quantify, but I want it to be at the top of my list.

That being said, there are a few projects that I want to accomplish this month.  I’m trying to think of this as a prioritization of the projects I have on my big list.  I really think this is manageable.  At least, I hope!

  • SEWING:
    • puppet theater for V
    • tutu for V
    • baby shoes for Husband’s coworker
  • SCRAPBOOKING:
    • one layout or start planning a December album for V’s first month scrapbook (it’s been too long already!)
  • CRAFTING:
    • beach-themed photo board book
  • EXERCISING:
    • log at least 55 miles this month, running+walking (but increase the running mileage)
    • do my arms+abs exercise set every day!
  • COOKING:

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Garden visitors

I’ve been meaning to post these photos for a while, and I just haven’t gotten around to it.

We have some very pretty (and welcome) garden visitors in the butterflies and the bees…  They certainly are doing their part to provide us with a bountiful cucumber harvest.  .

insect in the garden today

I’m not sure what this one is, but it looked so elegant balancing on top of the cucumber trellis:

insect in the garden today

We also have been having some mystery visitors overnight.  These visitors are not quite as welcome, because I’ve noticed that my zucchini plants and even some of my tomato plants have been getting chewed upon.  I’m suspicious that it might be deer stopping by for snacks, because the wire fencing has been bent over a number of times.  Hmm.

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I had a pretty short list of goals for July…

    • Floss each night this month. Done.  This is a downright habit now!
    • Maintain the garden (and write an update post or two!)The garden is booming.  At least, the cucumbers are!  In July, we got 20 cucumbers from the Burpee plant alone!  Wow.  We also got our first tomato.  
    • Exercise at least 2 times per week.  I didn’t state it specifically on my blog, but I challenged myself (inspired by a friend) to log 50 miles walking and/or running this month.  I thought it might be a stretch, but I surprised myself by blowing that goal out of the water and logging a whopping 60.83 miles this month!  Wow.  I’ve really been pushing myself, and I have been running–and walking– longer and longer distances.  I think all of my walking/jogging with my daughter in her stroller has been a great conditioning technique.  In fact, in mid-July, I ran (no stroller) 3.72 miles with an average pace of 8:59!!  Average pace!  I never thought I’d ever run that fast.  I’m pretty proud of myself 🙂
    • Make some new recipes from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show CookbookWe ate well in July!  Glazed pork chops, oven fried chicken and classic mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, pizza bianca, and creamless creamy tomato soup.  
    • Make (at least) one new recipe from The Smitten Kitchen CookbookThe gooey cinnamon bars were a hit!
    • Do some scrapbooking, if it fits my schedule.  I made a bunch of cards with a friend.  I even started a 2-page layout, but it is not quite finished–I need to figure out how to add the journaling**.  I don’t have as much time (nap schedules are changing…dum dum dum…), and my creative pendulum was swinging to the sewing side this month!
    • Do some sewing.  This month, I was super-excited to sew!!  I started the hand-stitched reverse-applique pillows, and have been taking my time (on purpose) with them.  I refashioned a T-shirt (and now I want to refashion a few others that are languishing in my closet…).  I created a lining/sewn-in slip for a sundress I had purchased (it was too sheer to wear without it).  I hemmed a maxi dress that I purchased.  And I made baby shoes!
    • finish the Project 366 albumYES!!!!  I am so happy with the result!!

It was a great month.  I’m glad that I kept my goals list minimal so that I could enjoy the summer fun as it came along!

**side note: I don’t often get to this point any more with my scrapbook pages.  I tend to plan my layouts with the journaling in mind, since the story behind the pictures is the reason I actually make scrapbook layouts (rather than photo albums).  This time, the photos (there are a ton of them) took up more room than I expected and my original plan may not work.  I’ve been procrastinating figuring it out!

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First tomato!

My daughter “helped” me to pick our first tomato on July 27!

2013_07_27_pickingfirsttomato5-Edit

2013_07_27_pickingfirsttomato6-Edit

It was from our Fourth of July variety plants (about three weeks late…I think I’ll start my seeds earlier next year!).

our first tomato!  Fourth of July variety

I didn’t get a chance to taste it, though!  My parents, who were staying with our daughter this weekend, shared it with her and they agreed that it was delicious.  Looking forward to more!

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I am so excited with how my garden is producing this year!  Just look at my harvest from last Sunday afternoon!

today's harvest

Burpee cucumbers on the left, Ferry-Morse cucumbers on the right

That’s NINE cucumbers, people. 

So what do I do with this bounty?  Well, besides just eating the cucumbers in their pure and natural gloriousness, one thing I like to whip together is creamy cucumber salad.

creamy cucumbers

My aunt used to make this for big family dinners, like at Easter.  It was one of my favorite dishes at those meals!  The recipe is very simple.

Creamy Cucumbers

Dressing:
4 oz. sour cream
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper

Whisk dressing ingredients together in large bowl.

Cut several cucumbers into approximately 1/4″ slices.  Slice a small amount of onion (1/4 to 1/2 of a small yellow onion).  Stir onions and cucumbers into dressing.  Serve immediately (if the salad sits too long, the liquid in the cukes leaches out and it gets watery).

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Here’s how my garden looked early on Wednesday morning of this past week.

2013_07_17_garden1-Edit

2013_07_17_garden2-Edit

The zucchini plants are monstrous!  It’s fascinating to me to see the difference in the leaf shape between the two varieties.

2013_07_17_zucchini-Edit

left: Burpee brand zucchini, right: Lake Valley brand zucchini

My cucumbers are also doing well, as you can tell from the produce I’ve reported so far.  The Burpee variety is my favorite, though.  Thankfully, it’s the bigger plant!

2013_07_17_cucumbers-Edit

left: Burpee brand cucumbers, right: Ferry-Morse brand cucumbers

All of the tomato plants have little green tomatoes growing, but nothing turning red yet. The Jelly Bean plants are kind of spindly.

2013_07_17_jellybean-Edit

The Fourth of July plants are not quite living up to their name!  But they are looking healthy.

2013_07_17_fourthofjuly-Edit

The Burpee Best Boy tomato plants are also doing well.  I’m looking forward to trying this new variety (for me) this year.

2013_07_17_bestboy-Edit

I am pleased with how my stakes are working out with the tomatoes.  They seem sturdier than the wire cages I’ve used in past years, and I’m using strips of old pantyhose to tie the plants to the stakes.

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first (real) cucumber!!

Our first cucumber!!!**  YUM.  This is a cucumber off of the Burpee plant.  It was delicious.  Having recently had a store-bought cuke, I could really tell the difference between it and this homegrown one.  Our cucumber was sweeter and seemed more delicate.

After that first lovely cuke, I harvested two more Burpee cucumbers:

2013_07_09_burpeecucumber-Edit

three Ferry-Morse cucumbers:

2013_07_09_ferrymorsecucumber-Edit

and one Lake Valley zucchini:

2013_07_09_lakevalleyzucchini-Edit

Nerd that I am, I have decided to keep a spreadsheet of the produce I harvest from the garden this year.  I’m curious to see what sort of “return for my investment” I get from having my own produce in my own backyard.  My idea is to count/weigh the produce and then, using an approximate average grocery store price, calculate how much I would have paid, had I bought them instead.  At the end of the season, I’ll write more about it.

As excited as I am about the zucchini and cucumbers, I am also so excited to see that I have tomatoes forming!  Here’s a peek.

 

There are Jelly Beans (my favorite):

the garden today

And a Fourth of July or two:

the garden today

 

**I should say that I did prematurely harvest two zucchini and one cucumber at the very end of June, and while they were fine, they were not quite ready to be picked.

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I’m not going to set very many official goals for July.  I want to focus on just enjoying my summertime with my family and friends… and doing some crafting when it fits my schedule, because I love it.  That being said, I do want to keep a few things on the “official” list:

    • Floss each night this month.
    • Maintain the garden (and write an update post or two!).
    • Exercise at least 2 times per week (along with abs+arms every day, as possible/reasonable).
    • Make some new recipes from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook.
    • Make (at least) one new recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
    • Do some scrapbooking, if it fits my schedule.
    • Do some sewing.  (I’ve started a new hand-stitiching project!  Remember my skirt?  Well, I’m making some throw pillows for our living room…Hand stitching will be great for being in the car, or for something to do with my hands while I hang out with friends.)  I also have a T-shirt that I’d like to alter/refashion/refit… I might have to resort to Pinterest to get a good idea of what/how I’m going to do that.
    • finish the Project 366 album.  In my June recap post, I listed my remaining “tasks,” and they should be completely manageable to accomplish this month.

That is it for now!  Happy July 🙂

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