A year ago the city installed a sidewalk on our street (March 28, 2016, to be exact), and we asked them to not spread the dirt and lay sod after the work was done. We wanted to keep the “berm” created by the displaced soil. At first it was a lot of work to remove big rocks and create a somewhat uniform mound, so we wondered if we made the right decision. And it continues to take effort to (attempt to) fend off the bermuda and crab grasses. Would we do it again? Unequivocally, yes. If entertainment value alone were the only metric: yes, yes, yes. The berm has given us so much:
- Food for humans and other animals: culinary and medicinal herbs, eggplant, okra, winter peas, sunflower seeds, nectar, and more to come.
- Community: We are playing or working out there often, so we get to wave to drivers or chat with walkers. The berm is a conversation piece. Some people clearly are baffled and others are inspired. Either way, we eagerly share our experiences, challenges, and future plans. Also, we were flush with cowpeas and now winter peas, so we share with our neighbors.
- Activity: The berm hums with life. The berm provides opportunities for wonderment and movement with purpose — both are a joy to share with our daughter.
- Beauty: Flowers! See photos and plant varieties below. I sought out advice for seeds that might have a fighting chance against the invasive grasses. The best performer was cowpeas: They thrived all summer and fall and they’re pretty, edible nitrogen fixers.
- Buffer: Our house is situated on a curve and the berm gives me a sense of security when we’re playing in the front yard and a car takes the bend too fast. I feel less exposed in general, but even more so when the mammoth sunflowers are up and we have a “living fence.”
Before the berm
The city installed sidewalks
Brian working on the berm
Brian watering the berm
Feel the berm
What we planted in the spring:
“bee feed” mix
Oriental scarlet poppy
red marietta marigold*
purple prairie clover
What we planted in the fall:
Windsor fava beans
To save money, we planted a lot of seeds and just a few transplants (eggplant, sage, rosemary, hibiscus). We’re hoping that many plants will readily re-seed this spring and we’ll plant seeds I saved at the end of the season.
It’s been about three months since I moved in with Brian. Our household boasts an impressive collection of cast iron skillets and mason jars waiting to be filled with homemade goodies like jam, pickled peppers, and barbecue sauce. Oh, and the assemblage of spices and dried herbs! One exciting weekend we spread them out on the kitchen table and thoughtfully culled the dated, mysterious, or simply redundant bottles and baggies. More recently I consolidated our seed collections while Brian baked a fish pie — perfect activities for a rainy Sunday in December. Seeds saved from our respective gardens were tucked into envelopes made from the colorful pages of last year’s seed catalogs. Then I trimmed and stamped old file folders to separate and alphabetize the packets. Brian’s mom, Linda, recently took us shoe shopping for Christmas and an empty Asics box became our seed storage bin. Simple and satisfying!
The first time I remember appreciating large-scale string art stands out because Brian and I were on our second date. (A proper introduction of Brian forthcoming!) We went to an adults-only event at Science Museum Oklahoma, where there was an impressive floor-to-ceiling string-art installation alongside a staircase. In the name of science, we played in the mirror maze, tossed a big frisbee, drank cocktails, dodged flying ping-pong balls, and ate liquid nitrogen cheese balls that gave us smoky breath. Or maybe we just smashed the frozen puffs with a hammer? That part is fuzzy. But the string art stuck with me as something I’d like to try.
I pondered the best location and color combinations. I browsed Pinterest. But what eventually propelled me was the appeal of a low-tech garden trellis made with wood scraps and readily available supplies. I especially liked the thought of bright, orderly strings among the green, beautiful mess that my garden becomes by late summer. And then I decided to place the temporary installation just where the morning glories have climbed for the last three summers. I enjoyed the bare strings for a while, but eventually the tendrils found them and the mass of vines has climbed higher than ever before.
Here’s the incomplete life cycle:
Sometime this winter I’ll disassemble the trellis. I am certain that removing the vines is going to reveal a tangled mess of string — a result of warped wood and tension that caused nails to pop out of the board. I’d like to create something semi-permanent in the yard and/or house, but with different, more resilient materials. Please share suggestions!
Ever-present in my refrigerator are free-range, local chicken eggs. (I’m such a lucky girl!) I rarely feel like my kitchen is empty because with these, I know I can cook up something quite tasty, even if it’s simply a fried egg. So when Hank Shaw shared his guidance for preserving egg yolks, I knew I had to give it a try. I’ve come to appreciate food preservation that requires minimal effort — in this case, the salt does all the work. Apparently, salt can transform an egg yolk into a Parmesan-like substance to take your roasted vegetables or pasta to another level. You can read his post for the details, but basically, bury the yolks in salt for a week, then wrap them in cheesecloth and let them dry out for another week or more. Seeing the yolks dangling in my refrigerator made me very pleased!
After a week or so, I wrapped them in cheesecloth and hung them from an oven insert I bought during my stint at Williams-Sonoma, but I’ve never actually used for its intended purpose. The yolks were tacky and oozed (a bit) through the cloth.
Monday night I went to Braum’s for a few groceries. I wanted to buy Parmesan, but they didn’t have any. No problem! I have my egg yolks, I thought. And tonight I finally tried them grated on my supper — zucchini pasta with pesto, onions, and tomatoes. It was delicious! The perfect salty richness to complement the vegetables.
And if you’re wondering what I did with the egg whites — well, this guy got a special treat, of course!
My “summer of the pickle” turned out to be a flop. After my first tasty batch, the others were disappointing, if not inedible. I forgot to add a grapeleaf to the horseradish pickles and they were a mushy mess. The dill tasted off. Some of the pickles were mottled. While fermentation is an inexact art, I’ve been doing some research to try to pinpoint where I went wrong. This is the best troubleshooting guide that I’ve found. So far I’ve learned:
- Certain cucumber varieties turn to mush during fermentation
- Summertime fermenting might be destined to fail in my too-warm kitchen
- In addition to adding a grapeleaf (or teabag) to keep the cucumbers crisp, I should trim off the blossom end, which removes the source for the enzyme that causes things to go soft
- Sunlight or incomplete fermentation could cause discoloration.
What does a somewhat anal-retentive gardener do when she goes away for a week in the middle of growing season? This:
After all the planning, weeding, watering, and inherent hope invested in my garden, I felt a bit of heartache about abandoning it for a vacation. (But I got over it!) Luckily my new neighbor was willing to help out, so I created this to offer some guidance. (Overkill?) I’m not sure how integral my crude illustration was in Shawn’s watering success, but I was relieved to come home to my lush garden, cucumbers and tiny tomatoes on the vine, and the promise of more to come.