Dressing up your salad.

So, if you have ever gardened, you know that one of the first and most plentiful veggies you get is salad greens. Especially if, like us, you plant a lot of salad greens. Now, hopefully you know about the amazing versatility of spinach. Maybe I will write a whole post just about the amazing number of things you can do with spinach. Popeye got that one right, friends. Spinach is awesome.
But this post isn't about spinach. It's about salad dressing. Since a garden = lots of salad greens, and we want to eat what we grow, we eat a lot of salads. Some for meals, some for side dishes. What was that? You want to know how we dress our salads? Well, I will tell you: we make our own salad dressing!
I don't know who it was over at "big salad" who convinced us otherwise, but seriously friends, salad dressing is unbelievably cheap and easy to make. You probably have all of the ingredients in your house right now. And a jar of dressing costs probably like 40 cents. Not only is it cheap and easy, but people will think you are fancy and they will be intimidated by you, and they will think that you did something special, and it will take you like 15 seconds.
I made some salad dressing today to take with a supper (fantastic veggie lasagna, recipe will be forthcoming, and a salad) to take to my awesome cousins and their new baby Aldous. I am in love with that kid: a totally awesome mellow beautiful little man.
Here is what you do:
1. Gather your ingredients. You probably want an oil, a vinegar, and some seasonings. I usually use fresh or dried herbs and salt and pepper. You can add fruit, citrus juice, mustard, hot pepper seeds, sesame seeds, or other things. Pretty much whatever.
2. Put like 1/2 of a cup of oil, 1/4 cup vinegar, and other ingredients to taste, into a mason jar with a lid.
3. Close jar and shake.
4. Taste the dressing and add stuff if you want.
5. Eat it. Awesome.
Ok, so I know that you can get salad dressing seasoning packets. Or, you can look at the ingredients list on the packet and pick them our of your garden or get it at the farmer's market. This makes your salad dressing preservative free. Doesn't even need to go in the fridge, if you don't want it to. We also play around with different vinegars and oils and what we add in. If you want ranch dressing, just swap the oil and vinegar for mayo and buttermilk. The only thing we wouldn't make ourselves is Caesar dressing, and that is an raw egg fear plus anchovy gross out factor for us.
Oh, and if you don't have any, you should go get some mason jars. You can do a lot of stuff with mason jars, and they can be frozen or heated way up.
In summary: STOP SUPPORTING BIG SALAD. Don't be afraid of salad dressing: if you can "shake well before opening," YOU CAN DO THIS.


Herbs for everyone!

So I wrote this post yesterday, and then couldn't figure out the picture poster thing. Still couldn't get the picture of the herb garden picture to upload. So, you'll have to use your imagination. The plants are green, the soil is brown, and they all look fresh and happy and herby. Expect another post later today about the new curtains I made. Stay tuned for more news from casa Jenson....

Happy Spring Break to me! I am excited to get to dig around in the dirt and in the house. Here are some projects I want to take on:
1. Planting our little herb garden (done)
2. Making curtains for our windows currently covered by EXTREMELY gross vinyl blinds.
3. Planting our early veggies (radishes, spinach/greens, and peas all love the cool weather). And some perennials in our flower beds, if I get a chance.
4. Possibly painting the pantry (currently a dirty yellow color)
5. Some school work (of course)
6. Lots of sitting around, watching TV, and sleeping in.

Herb Garden:
Our little Aerogarden looks a little sad now, all herb-less:

But I think the herbs look happy in their new home!

Our raspberry bush, complete with one leaf (give it time...)

Our tomato plant is practically dripping with tomatoes. We easily have gotten a pint of cherry tomatoes so far, and it's still march!

Signs of spring all over the place!!

What signs of spring are getting you the most jazzed up?



Here comes Peter Cottontail...

We have had several people ask us how we keep bunnies out of our garden. You might get a few bunnies now and again, but there are a few things that we have found really effective in bunny avoidance:
1. Get a cat. Walt is an indoor cat, but we put his cat hair into the garden when we brush them. For bunnies, cat = death = avoid that garden.
2. If you don't have a cat but live in an urban area, plant a little catnip near your garden. Catnip spreads like crazy, so you might want to use a container to plant it. Catnip = stray cats = cat smell = bunnies avoid the garden.
Walt is all business.

3. If you don't like cats, you might try some kind of barricade. Bunnies don't really jump over stuff, in spite of their jumpy nature. Get like those little bunny fences: 4 - 6 minimum should do it.

4. Bone meal or blood meal in the soil will keep bunnies away. It will also keep me away, so we don't use it. Gross, but effective!

5. If the bunnies are going after specific plants, try dissolving a little cayenne pepper into some water and spraying it on the plants. Good for squirrels too! I wouldn't recommend this if you have children or dogs that might also be eating your plants....

Ok, well, I hope you can keep your garden bunny free! We are enjoying a weekend visit from a friend, and then it will be on to dig in the dirt!!


So, I haven't shared much about my job here on the blog here. That's for a few reasons:

1. This blog is about my garden. My job and my garden rarely collide (a fact I really like)

2. I don't want to be one of those people who says something about their job on the internet and gets fired. I like my job, and I like getting paid and having health insurance and all that. I mean, Obama has helped us out with the health insurance, but we are a 1.5 income family right now, and it would be hard to be a .5 income family, even if doctor visits were covered.

Bet you guys didn't know that Faulkner learned how to write a sentence from me. Sorry about that.

Today my two worlds collided, and so I thought I would share and seek guidance.

Anyway, I am a special education teacher in a fairly urban high school in Saint Paul. I teach students who are in special education classes for 60% or more of the day. They are learning to deal with a variety of disabilities; most of my students have mental health problems and/or Autism spectrum disorder.

My job is awesome. I work with hilarious, smart, challenging, and bizarre people. I never come home without some story to tell Desmond.

Today we were discussing the possibility of doing some gardening as a class. We were thinking of doing a flowering plant of some sort that students could bring home as a "important person in my life day" gift (a lot of my students do not have mothers present in their lives, so we celebrate EVERYONE on Mother's day). We also do a end of the school year picnic, and I was thinking to see if we could get some salad greens or radishes going, that we could eat at the picnic. The kiddos might like the chance to grow their own food, and there are a lot of lessons (social skills and science and stuff) that we could get through the growing process.

So here's the question: is growing flowers or veggies too "young" for high school? How can I make it cool without losing the process? Teachers, parents, gardeners out there: thoughts?

In other news: my raspberry shoot (still on the windowsill) has started to sprout little leaves! Lots of ripe (or close to ripe) cherry tomatoes. No growth in my little seedlings, but I am patient.

Peace out,
Allison (Desmond likes you too)


Project #2-lil indoor compost holder

Yeah. That's what I would buy if we were going to be swank about this. We need something to put our kitchen waste in so we aren't running across the yard every time we make a snack. Last year we found this awesome plastic trash can thing in the garage and it totally did the job...for like a month, before it completely fell apart. This may be why it lived in the garage with the mice and the old broken down car. So I started looking for something cute, like this super cute little stainless steel buddy that has a charcoal filter to prevent kitchen stinks from ruining your appetite. I fought that shopping urge and took one of our tupperwears we got from Ikea and labeled it. The label is only to prevent confusion between compost and leftovers. Not exactly deep philosophy or all that interesting, but we have really been making an attempt to make do with just what we've got more often. Good for the earth and the wallet and our sense of ingenuity.
Here it is. Note the delicious ripe cherry tomato towards the bottom of the plant. That sucker is just itching to spread its roots out.
Garden news: I totally got to eat a delicious, ripe, beautiful cherry tomato today! I want to dig in the dirt and plant, but I really want the overnight lows a little higher first. The way I figure it: when we are comfortable 24 hours a day without the heat on, our little seed friends will be comfortable in their new dirt home.

Begging the sun gods for a bit more warmth,
D and A


Just a little thing.

Isn't it funny that it's trendy to be "green" now? So many people are busy running around buying tons and tons of (green) stuff to replace stuff we already have, when my grandma is probably "greener" than most of us, because she DOESN'T go out and buy tons and tons of stuff to replace stuff she already has. And I have no proof, but I have a feeling Grandma Heille don't do recycling. Irony is thick on this one. So, while I suppose I want people to think I am as cool and green as can be, but I don't do yoga or shop at expensive grocery stores.
Ok, but I do want to be green. Green and awesome. And we don't have lots of money to spend on stuff, so we are trying to find ways to spend less money but still have a positive impact on the world around us. I stumbled upon a neat little tip this week and I thought I'd share.
We get our groceries at Rainbow, because (among other things) Rainbow has an awesome bulk foods section. Good way to save money on nuts and dried fruit and other potentially expensive things, because you only have to buy what you need, and all that. So, bulk foods is right by bulk coffee, and so I snagged a few of the paper, durable coffee bags for my bulk stuff instead of those crappy plastic bags. Benefits to paper bags:
1. Hold more
2. Totally reusable
3. Recyclable (they are just paper)
4. Fold over to keep food inside and other stuff out.
5. Makes you feel like a renegade, because they are technically for coffee, NOT cashews (I take it where I can get it)
Yup. Let's all start a revolution of buying less to help the earth. Because I don't think the rainforest is worried that your yoga bag isn't made out of organic cotton.

Um, no garden update today. Everything is the same as yesterday. Spring break looms ever closer....that's when the action starts.

Peace out,
Allison (and Desmond)


Tabula Rasa...more or less...

So, it's easier to take pictures with the sun out. How about that. Here is what we are working with for our veggies--a few small plots spread throughout the yard to take advantage of the sun. We have these massive trees that block sun in part of our yard:

So, our plants are spread throughout. We will have our raspberries in the area with the most direct sun. I am sort of hoping we have room for blueberries and strawberries too, but it is a little space, and I am not anticipating getting much fruit this year anyway, so we'll just have to wait and see:

Here is our tiny little herb garden. Last year, we planted herbs in the big bed with the veggies, but that made it harder to do companion planting because of space, so I am hoping this will work--right outside the kitchen door!

Our big bed, where most of our veggies will be planted. We were able to pull an impressive amount of produce out of this plot last year, and I have high hopes for this year--we had several mistakes to learn from. This is where our tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, and root vegetables will be growing--the soil in the garden plot is really sandy, so we've had good luck with root veggies in the past:

Here's where we plant our rhubarb, squashes, and melons. Lots of room to spread out:

And look! In comes our rhubarb! That is really exciting!

Finally, We will be installing some lattice and planting our climbers over here in the boxes. They will get good light if we get them into the right spot. Here we will be planting pea pods and pole beans:

And here is our little compost bin. Right now, it's half full, so we should be able to get through much of the season with our kitchen waste, ashes from our fire pit, and probably some of the insane amounts of leaves we didn't rake up last year. Not my best procrastination decision.

So, that's our yard! We also have several flower beds that we are trying to fill up with perennials and make a bit more full and colorful and not fussy.
We're getting really pumped up!!
D and A

Project #1: Drying and storing our herbs

So, yet another reason I have been looking forward to knowing more about where my food came from: here I am, at home on a Monday, recovering from an overnight bout with food poisoning (self-diagnosed). Not fun--for either of us. Whenever I am home sick, I get hit with that need to be productive for like 15 minutes. Hence this little project, which took about that long. We have a neat little grow lamp that we got from my awesome cousins for a wedding gift, and we use it to grow herbs. Here it is, just after I gave the herbs a little haircut:

We put 8 of little nails into the side of the cabinet, so that I can cut and dry the herbs. Our nails were all full, and the oregano met a tragic end in some dishwater yesterday, so I figured it was time to come up with a better storage option. Luckily, I had saved some old spice jars, so, with a little label from a sharpie, We have some newly jarred herbs:

Pictured here is mint, rosemary, epazote, sage, and red rubin basil. I've never cooked with Epazote before, but the high price tag at Penzey's and the turpentine smell it produces has me curious. Anyone know a good recipe?

This gave me room to dry some more basil:

Can you believe the size of those leaves? I just want to curl up inside it. But instead I have been putting it on egg sandwiches.

And, of course, the little dried leftover stems and the (biodegradable) twine, all ready for the compost. Full circle:

Here are pictures of our seedlings, or maybe I should say future seedlings. We are starting some bell peppers and soybeans and rosemary early, but most everything else will just be planted in the soil. We also got this awesome little cherry tomato plant from Desmond's parents. A couple are already turning orange-ish, and my mouth is watering--a little basil, a little mozzerella, a little olive oil, a little bread and the boiler....

So, we are in an herb nirvana!

Total spent on this project: $0 (seeds and grow lights were a gift, everything else was stuff we already had)
Total saved: I don't know, like $25ish dollars. Epazote is really pricey!
Total time spent: About 20 minutes.

Hmmm...one more step towards paying off that initial investment! I am consulting with experts to see the best time to plant--coming up soon!
That's all for now,
a and d


Challenge: From Dirt to Table to Dirt.

Hello friends!
We are just two ordinary people who have decided to embark on an epic journey: we will grow our own vegetables for a year. We had our first vegetable garden last year, and were able to reap a pretty significant harvest--not bad for two young kiddos, starting out with just grass and a dream and balancing work, school, and our wedding.
This year, we are hoping to kick things up a notch: we will grow vegetables, herbs, and fruit and preserve our produce (freezing, drying, and canning) and use our home-grown bounty in at least one meal each week (we would do more, but winters get long...).
So that's how we get from dirt to table. To get back to the dirt, we are composting everything we can, from our zucchini butts to our corn husks and turning them right back into dirt. The dirt that we will use to grow more vegetables, which will lead to more meals, which will lead to more waste, which will lead to more dirt. Full circle. (So that's where the name came from).
So the nitty gritty: We live in South Saint Paul, just outside of Saint Paul. Allison, a teacher, will get the pleasure of tending the garden this summer when not in class. Desmond, a law student and research assistant, will get to enjoy the fruits of her labors (and probably help quite a bit, too!). Our garden plot was tilled right out of the lawn. It's about 6 'X 15'. We also have a little plot where we grow herbs, a separate place for our raspberry bush, and a little plot for the windiest of plants (squashes and melons).
What's going into jardin de los Jensons?
Raspberries Cucumbers Rhubarb Spinach Lettuce Pole Beans Soy beans
Tomatoes Carrots Winter and Summer Squash Sweet peas Melons
Radishes Cabbage Broccoli Hot Peppers Sweet Peppers Onions Potatoes Sweet Potatoes Various herbs Flowers (and maybe some other stuff too)

Total spent so far in 2010: about $105 on seeds.
Total saved so far in 2010: about $40 (on fresh herbs grown in our little indoor grow lamp).
We aren't budgeting for time...I suppose we've spent a few hours raking out gross leaves and turning our compost from last year into our soil.

Tune in soon for some pictures and more as we gear up for planting. We are excited to see how far we can take this: it is my dream to grow almost all of our produce but be able to stay in an urban area...hmmm....pretty sure I've got this one.

allison and desmond