Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Flavors of the Holiday Season

Christmas time is all about food, friends, family and more food. When I think of Christmas I think of "rich" foods - the exotic, seasonal, hard-to-come-by flavors which require a making of time. Seasonal fruits of citrus and nuts are usually on hand... mingling with friends like ginger, cranberry, and mushrooms (truffles!). Christmas is all about treats like cheeses and chocolates, cookies and cakes, cocktails and candy. A smoked turkey perhaps or roast beef or if you are Italian American (like me) it's not Christmas without fruits from the sea as well.

Here are some of my favorite holiday season recipes gathered from around the web.

Winter Greens
Spinach & Basil Salad with Tomatoes, Candied Walnuts & Warm Bacon Dressing

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sherry Maple Vinaigrette

Savory Treats
Wild Mushroom and Cheese Soufflé

You had me at "puff pastry" - Pastry-Wrapped Brie with Caramelized Onions

Taglierini with White Truffles

I make this Hot Artichoke Dip recipe every Christmas Eve:
- 2 (13 3/4-ounce) cans artichoke hearts (drained & broken into smaller chunks)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup of (canned or fresh) jalepeno tomato relish
- 1 large garlic clove, mashed
- a few dashes of tobasco sauce
- a few cranks of fresh black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Scrape into a casserole dish, cover and bake for 40 minutes. Serve this savory dip warm with bagel chips, corn chips, crackers or bread. Enjoy!

Bake me Away...
Bake these Ginger Thins, and your house will smell like Christmas.

I will be baking THIS chocolate overload Buche de Noel on Christmas eve

How do you say, Croquembouche?

Finally (because I can't help myself) - Goodness, gracious, great bourbon balls of fire

Please let us know which flavors say Christmas to you.

Have a happy holiday!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice!

We're excited for longer days ahead. Our Baltimore crew is under a couple feet of snow, and our Portland crew is being rained on as usual. We had a cold snap out West, but our hooptie houses have protected our carrots, beets, etc. pretty well. Hope you are all weathering the storms!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Wow, it's been a while since we last posted. We've been busy making plans for the next year. Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving! We're thankful for everyone who helped support our efforts this past year, and hope you enjoy a great day with family and friends!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Seeds on the Brain

Well here it is, past Thanksgiving and I'm still saying goodbye to my summer garden in Baltimore, MD. Except for the basil, the herb garden is still going fine. I even have a random tomato plant which I left up with the slowest ripening tomatoes in existence. I've had a hard time 'letting go' this fall so it's only natural that I am already thinking about next spring. I can't help but turn to the web, to find some treasures to plant in April. So I've dug up some links to some great seed websites, I hope you enjoy...

Rare Seeds
I wish I had planted some of these squash this summer & was enjoying some pumpkin curry right now. Great website (I hope they add more photos) there is a huge variety of esoteric verdura, it's great.

Territorial Seed Company
Great website with a bit of everything, including citrus trees. I know it's not a seed but I'm eying this pink lemon.

D. Landreth Seeds
Pennsylvania based Landreth Seed Company has a large selection of veggie seeds, bulbs, and starts. I'm loving these Purple Majesty potatoes.

Southern Exposure Seed Company

SESC has an interesting southern slant on veggies... lot's of peppers and peanuts. Check out this special melon which only a gardener could enjoy because "Some gardeners say there is no better melon for flavor if you harvest at the right time".

Seed Saver's Exchange
Seed Saver's Exchange is a non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. I became a member and I'm looking forward to my 2010 catalog very soon!

I'm also into saving seeds too, more on that later. If anybody knows of a great resource for heirloom varieties, then please let us know (via the handy comment feature below).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hooptie Houses: A winter container garden experiment

Optimistic is the nice way of describing what we did. We kept waiting for that magical stretch of sunny autumn days to squeeze the last remaining redness out of the clusters of unripe green tomatoes on our tomato plants. Yeah, that didn’t happen. It’s been pretty rainy so far. The result is we planted our winter garden way late.

So what to do? Get cheap and crafty.

We're trying this experiment to see if we can make up for lost time. We built some small DIY hoop houses for our containers: micro container-garden greenhouses to kickstart our late plantings. We made ours from things you probably have hanging around the house. They’ve been working like fantastic little charms, getting our seeds to sprout and grow quickly. And, the benefit has also been that we can make the overall roof taller by raising the metal spans as the plants grow. Here's what we did if you want to try it out yourself (click to zoom in on the image):

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Delicious 180-Day-Old Apple?

It’s apple season. If you’re finding yourself with more than you can cook, cut, candy, swap, etc., consider this tip from the Old Farmer’s Almanac… According to their site, apples can be easily stored and stay good for up to six months. All you need is a cool place in your home and a couple of cardboard boxes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Donate! Another Way to Give Your Extra Veggies a Good Home!

Veggie Trader believes in putting good food to good use. Last month we picked and donated some Asian pears ready to go to waste on a neighbor’s property (yes, we asked first!). Our neighbors were happy to oblige.

In the spirit of sharing, we’ve also just connected with Ample Harvest, a national organization putting backyard gardeners in touch with local food pantries. And, you’ll also find local organizations in need in our Donate section of the Veggie Trader listings. We’d love to see this section grow as many people are in need these days.

So, if you run or work for a food pantry or other group that can put fresh produce to use, please consider posting a free listing in our Donate section. Let gardeners in your area know what you're looking for. And if you're a gardener with a backyard overrun by tomatoes, zucchini, or whatever, please consider checking the Donate section for local groups that can use your produce. Donations are often tax-deductible. Plus, it's just a great thing to do for your community.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We've Got Bumper Stickers!

Lots of people have asked us for Veggie Trader bumper stickers, so we now have a couple of bumper stickers available via cafepress.com. Find them here. If you have any ideas for bumper stickers you'd like to see, please let us know.

Apple bumper sticker

"I like to swap" bumper sticker

We're also working on creating Veggie Trader shirts, totes, etc. and hope to have these available soon. Again, if you have ideas for designs you'd like to see, let us know.

Friday, October 2, 2009

We're Missing Veggies! Help Us Find Them.

We'll be doing some updates to Veggie Trader this weekend to include many of the tasty veggies grown around the country. We'll be adding okra, tomatillos, swiss chard, and other fruits and veggies people have let us know to include. Are we missing fruits and veggies commonly grown in your area? Please let us know!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Mom Blog

A recent retiree and close friend of Veggie Trader (ok, one of our moms) shared with us this week her story of growing her own food for the first time. A self-described city girl, she detailed for us her gardening successes and failures. Among the failures were corn that didn’t produce enough (and was stolen by someone or something--furry bandits? aliens?) and Swiss chard which succumbed to the relentless attack of leaf miners (insects). But her successes included abundant zucchini, huge heirloom tomatoes, sweet acorn squash, and small but delicious cantaloupe. All told, she grew a good amount of her food in a very small yard. It was a learning experience, and she's already planning her winter garden. Her biggest revelation? Growing pumpkins is fun but they take up a lot of space.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Fall

September 22nd officially marks the Autumnal Equinox, which begins at 21:18 UTC this year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Or, if you're like most of us, today is simply the first day of Fall. Happy harvesting!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Flavor of your Neighbors

The photo is of some super tasty grapes and tomatoes we picked up today on the way to the park. The woman we got them from had the cutest backyard produce stand and gave us a tour of her amazing garden. We're inspired to write about her grapes. They're like nothing we've tasted before, sweet but with a savory, almost herb-like flavor. Which got me thinking how fun it is to sample the flavors of the micro growing regions around us: our neighborhoods...

When I was growing up, oranges in my backyard were “just oranges.” Just as the now fancy Meyer lemons were just lemons. But we have a world of wee micro-tastes to enjoy that seem to change from town to town, and it’s remarkable how flavors so specific to an area can be so connecting. I was eating one of these delicious “just an oranges” one day when one of my favorite coworkers asked me where I got it. Through the smell and the look of it, we discovered she and I grew up in neighboring towns eating the very same kind of orange as kids.

There’s a certain region in the Bay that seems to grow a particularly tart/sweet and flavorful navel. Maybe it’s the 30+ year age of the trees or it’s an older variety. It could be the mild winters and blue skies, but they’ve got a strong punch and powerful aroma. Picked at their peak, they spill an unusual amount of juice. We talked about how spoiled we were by these thick-skinned winter treats, especially after tasting one a friend had shared from her tree. This friend lived across the water, about 20 miles away from our towns, and while juicy and tasty, the flavor was completely different.

Fast-forward to now and the basil we’re growing at home this summer tastes sweeter than other places we’ve lived. To me, the locally grown cucumbers have a strong mineral-rich taste. Part of what makes sharing your backyard bounty fun is really getting to discover the uniqueness your hometown lends to the food you grow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Next Bubble? The Environment & Our Food

We've had a housing bubble, a finance bubble, and now, judging from all the media on this topic, I think we may be due for a food sustainability bubble too.

When I think about food, I don't always think of the complex systems at work behind the scenes. I simply think about what tastes good, and focus on enjoying my meal-time experiences. Feeling economically challenged by the recession, I sometimes worry about the cost of food too. But behind my day-to-day experiences, I'm starting to think there's another bubble looming, and this bubble could pop right in my kitchen, and in a way that no amount of stimulus money will be able to fix.

This week's Time Magazine cover story Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food by Bryan Walsh does an excellent job at describing the situation. In his article, he talks about environmental damage caused by the downsides of modern agriculture, government subsidies that often support our current system at the expense of small farmers, and emerging repercussions on the health of the nation.

Michael Pollan talks in even greater detail about these issues in both his books. In Defense of Food, focuses on the tremendous complexities of food science and nutrition, politics and our food policies, food marketing, and the interconnections of how all these factors affect everyday people.

The movie Food Inc. also illustrates a lot of other issues in our food system, and the consequences for farmers (great losses) and consumers (a loss of health). Food Inc. also highlights some bright spots like Walmart going organic.

If like me, you'd like to learn more about the sustainability of the current food system, you can also check out these articles:

Giving Earth That Worn-Down Feeling
By Henry Fountain, Dot Earth Blog on The New York Times

Apocalypse Later? I'm Going Local Now
by Doug Fine, Washington Post

Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch
Michael Pollan, New York Times

Now that I've started to garden for myself, I've developed a broader understanding of my food. It's good to know that so many voices are starting to bring attention to where our food comes from and how this might affect our future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Trip to the Farmer's Market

One of our favorite weekend activities is a visit to the farmers market. Here in Portland we're lucky enough to have several farmers markets operating all around town and all through the week. We think the Saturday market is the best though. It's huge. The market starts up in early spring, and despite the chill, draws a good number of people. By late July, that ‘good number of people’ turns into quite a crowd. Often it gets hard to move and navigate through the press of bodies.

One of the best things about visiting any farmers market (aside from all the great food!), is getting to meet the farmers. When you visit a booth or stand, invariably you learn a little something about their farm and their operation. It's fun, and it's also very different from going to the grocery store, where the most you usually learn about the produce you're buying and how it's grown is limited to simply the state or country where it came from.

And it's also nice supporting local farmers.

In order to make Veggie Trader a better service for everyone we added a Local Farmers and Farmer’s Markets section this week to the Veggie Trader listings. Many small farmers have posted listings on the site over the past few months, and now they have a place where people looking specifically for local farm produce can quickly find them. This new section is also a great place for anyone who runs a farmer’s market to announce it to the public. Actually, you don't have to be running a farmers market to post a listing about one, in your area. Learn more here. We hope and expect this section to grow in the coming months.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Spread the Word!

Veggie Trader just passed its four month birthday. Hurray! If the site were a baby, it wouldn’t even be crawling yet—just starting to blink out at the world. We wrote a similar post to this back in March when we launched the site, but feel it’s worth repeating that Veggie Trader is young and growing. Already we’ve seen that as time passes the site gets bigger and busier—nearly 6,000 people have become members so far—and we’re looking forward to the next few months and beyond!

Swap your homegrown produce on Veggie Trader

We’ve heard lots of good things from many people who like the site, and we’ve received a number of requests for fliers and other materials to help spread the word. If you think Veggie Trader is a great idea and would like to see it grow and become a useful resource in your area, we’ve just launched a revamped Spread the Word page, complete with many sizes of web banners as well as various printable fliers you can use.

We’re working hard to get the news out too. The site has been mentioned in dozens and dozens of newspapers and blogs, from the Washington Post’s food blog to the front page of the New York Times’ Dining section. The site has also made multiple appearances on TV and radio. Response has been tremendous and positive. Tens of thousands of people have visited Veggie Trader, hundreds of listings have been posted, and we’ve heard stories of many people all across the country making successful connections.

So please help us spread the word if you can, and don’t be discouraged if you visit the site and there are few listings in your area. Try posting a listing yourself and see what happens! Give it time. Remember, Veggie Trader is just getting started!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Living Off the Land

A friend of Veggie Trader’s (and our next-door neighbor, Hillary) recently shared a story with us we found particularly striking, especially given how much time we spend thinking about sharing and bartering excess homegrown produce. Hillary is the co-founder of Helping Orphans Worldwide (HOW), a non-profit that works with orphanages in Vietnam and the Philippines. One of the places Hillary and HOW are deeply involved is in the Thien Duyen Orphanage in Cu Chi, Vietnam, a place home to over 100 children. Hillary describes the conditions at the orphanage as horrific. Many of the children are sick or crippled, but rarely receive proper medical attention. The children survive on two meals of rice each day, with the odd piece of fish thrown in on occasion.

The orphanage gets by largely from selling what they can grow: pepper from the home of the director’s daughter, as well as mushrooms grown on site. They also produce salt, some bean curd products, sprouts and a few handicrafts. The story is a real eye-opener, and a reminder how in many parts of the world earning as much as you can squeeze out of the land is literally the way of life…

FYI, HOW is always looking for volunteers interested in mixing travel and site-seeing with donating a bit of time and energy to help the orphanage and interact with the kids.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Garden Politics

First - as far as we know - there was the San Francisco Victory Garden. Then the White House planted their own garden. Next Maria Shriver planted a garden in the California state capitol. Not to be outdone, Queen Elizabeth got in the act. Now, it appears UK Prime Minister Brown has also joined the party.

Does anyone have any thoughts on the sudden interest in heads of lettuce by heads of state? What politician will be next? Will 'gardener' soon be a required resume item for political leaders?

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Here's a question we sometimes get asked:

"Can I use Veggie Trader if I don't have a garden?"

The answer is "Yes!" In fact, we've set-up a special area of Veggie Trader where people looking for local homegrown produce can find neighbors with extra. It's called the Wanted section, and it's easy to use. Just post a Wanted listing stating what you are looking for, and then wait for a response. For instance, this fall you might post a listing letting people near you know you're looking for local apples. If someone in your area with a tree and extras spots your listing, they can contact you.

So even if you don't have a garden, you can give Veggie Trader a try!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Veggie Trader Hits Seattle

A TV station in Seattle gave us a friendly mention today, along with giving a plug to both community gardening and sharing excess produce with those who need it, two things we wholeheartedly support. Thanks to all the people in the area who responded to the story by checking out Veggie Trader and posting listings. You can watch the story here.

By coincidence, we happened to take a ride up to Seattle this weekend for an overnight visit. What an awesome and beautiful city! And the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Here’s a photo we took from the top of the Space Needle:

Seattle had an unusually dry spring this year, and driving though the neighborhoods reveals lots of brown and dying grass. But still, plenty of nice and healthy looking vegetable gardens dot the cityscape. The forecast is calling for the possibility of showers for the Pacific Northwest later this week, so maybe all those gardens will get a little drink...

Friday, June 26, 2009

All About Aphids

Yuck! We found several masses of tiny green aphids loitering on the young leaves of our columnar apple tree earlier this week. They were hiding out on the undersides of the leaves, hoping to be clever and avoid our notice. Happily, they hadn't done much damage by the time we discovered them and set out to get rid of them...

Controlling aphids is relatively easy and doesn't require pesticides. There are numerous techniques, and a quick web search will give you quite a few solutions for ridding your plants of them. Spraying a mixture of vegetable oil and water is one popular method. This inhibits the aphids' ability to get oxygen, killing them off. Bringing ladybugs into your garden is another solution. Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids. And they look cool too!

We turned to good old fashioned water, spraying the little suckers off our tree's leaves with a spray bottle. This seems to have done the trick, although we needed to go back and respray for a couple of days to completely get rid of them.

The experience was a good reminder that regularly inspecting the plants in your garden is a good idea...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Container Garden Update

About two weeks back we planted some basil as an addition to our container garden. It sprouted up right on cue last week. Basil is one of our favorite things to plant each summer, as homemade pesto has become a tradition in our household the past few years. We also like planting basil because our lovebird is seriously addicted to the dried out stems left over at the end of the season. He goes absolutely crazy when offered a stem as a treat, snapping up the seeds so fast you need to watch your fingers. He smells just delicious after eating them too, though we don't find them particularly attractive ourselves:

Our pepper and cherry tomato plants seem to have adapted well to the outdoors after transplanting. So far they look good and are growing nicely. This is much more than can be said for our peas however. A few weeks back we noted they developed browning leaves, and despite our best efforts to keep them healthy they just struggled. No idea why. We did manage a very meager harvest though, just enough to satisfy the bird for a while. Oh well... We'll try growing them again this fall and hope for better luck...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's Your Garden Story?

Are you getting creative with your gardening this year? Maybe you’re growing a veggie garden in a tight space and are literally tripping over and ducking under your plants. Or perhaps you have a good-sized yard you've decided to turn over entirely to your veggie garden. Either way (and for every sized garden in between), we think it might be fun to share garden photos and accompanying stories on this blog. If you’ve gone all out this year, send us your garden photos along with a brief description of what you’re doing. We’ll share the more interesting gardens here periodically over the next few months…

Monday, June 8, 2009

A True Story of Inspiration from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Although I've been a foodie all my life, this spring I started gardening for the first time ever. As soon as I saw my first little sprouts peek out of their peat pots I was hooked. For further inspiration, my friends recommended I check out the book Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book is a true chronicle of one family's year long project of seasonal, local, eating. In the book Kingsolver and her family forgo almost everything not local. If they can't grow it themselves, they get it from neighborhood farms. I loved it!

The book begins with Kingsolver relocating husband and kids from Arizona to Virginia, where the climate is lush with water and life. (Go east coast!) They settle into her husband's family property and begin to plan out the good life. They don't give up coffee or olive oil--they make a few precious exceptions--but tropical fruits and California produce are forbidden.

Right away I realized Kingsolver makes my first gardening attempts look puny. I got over it, and if you read the book, you will too. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is very inspiring. Kingsolver describes how she and her family do it all: growing all their own veggies, making their own cheese, raising chickens for eggs, and even starting a flock of heritage breed turkeys. On the vegetable front, they impressively raise several varieties of a wide assortment of veggies. The flavor saver in me finds some valuable insights in every chapter. Kingsolver weaves together the days and weeks on her Virginia farm into a seasonal playbook of the good life. Month by month, she relates the phases of growth and speaks about agriculural and cultural politics. Interspersed through the book are essays from her husband Steven Hopp about health vs. government. Her daughter Camille chimes in with more inspring anecdotes and delicious recipes. The subtext of the entire book is that the sustainable life they've found is better in about a thousand different ways from the "mainstream" commercial world they left behind. From health to happiness, Kingsolver describes the many benefits of eating local!

On a personal level, this is a life I know I want to emulate, but I don't own acreage, nor am I a best selling author who has earned the kind of stable (home based) income that Barbara Kingsolver has. It's a lot more challenging to do what Kingsolver has done than to simply read about it, and going all out for a year just isn't realistic for most people.

Still, the book points out that even if you don't have a garden you can help your local farms by buying from them. And the book delivers a ton of other great information, sharing details on things such as canning and preserving. Finally and towards the end you get to the "money" chapter. Here Kingsolver totals what all her family's efforts costs... 50 cents per meal per person. Who doesn't want to spend less time in an office and more time enjoying food and nature with their families at a dramatic cost savings? The point of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I think is to inspire people by showing the real tangible savings and intangible benefits that eating locally can provide.

If you're like me, you probably don't need any more inspiration to start or continue growing at least some of your own food this year. But Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a great read that will get you thinking about the possibilities of truly living local.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Container Garden Update... Thunderstorms!

All of us at Veggie Trader are back from our respective short vacations to Asheville, NC and California. Vacation was great, but we were chased by massive and horrible thunderstorms Tuesday on the way back home from California to Portland. There's nothing like encountering quarter-sized hail on Interstate 5 in the southern Oregon hills to welcome you home!

Here's what the sky looked like shortly before all hell broke loose:

Happily we escaped, but unfortunately the unsettled weather decided to slowly follow us north. Yesterday Portland was hit with a severe thunderstorm. Our deck container garden suffered through it for a good hour. While our trees survived the ferocious winds nicely, our peas didn't come out entirely unscathed. They weren't looking the best before the storm, but now they're really looking pretty sad. Still, each stalk is sporting a few budding peas, so we're going to give them some TLC and see if they make it. Luckily we decided a couple weeks back to hold out on releasing the rest of our tomato and pepper starts to the outdoors until after we returned from our trip, so they are unharmed. We've been hardening them off and plan to transplant them outside permanently next week. We're also going to plant some basil. Hopefully the weather is ready to cooperate and treat our garden well!

While in California we noticed this bookstore window display...

This was spotted in Nevada City, a gold rush era town in the foothills where the shops now tend to cater to tourists instead of miners. Interesting...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Great Gardening Craze of '09

The sun’s been out for much of the past couple weeks, and so we’ve been spending a lot of time biking around town. One thing that’s great about biking is the time it gives you to really take in the scenery you might otherwise rush past while driving a car. Among other things, it's led us to notice there’s A LOT of vegetable gardening going on. People are literally ripping out patches and stretches of lawn and installing vegetable gardens. It’s kind of amazing. We've seen all kinds of people out gardening, from retirees, to children with their parents, to college students working the decks of their apartments. We've even seen numerous gardens springing up in the median strip between sidewalk and road.

It’s really a crazy thing to watch. Times are changing!

Is this your first year gardening? If so, share your story!


We shot past 3,000 registered members last week, and we want to take a moment to thank everyone who has helped spread the word about Veggie Trader. Many people have asked us how they can help, and so we've posted a flier people can use wherever appropriate. Find it here.

We plan to add a variety of different fliers and post them sometime soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Container Garden Update: Life outside, browning leaves, and apple tree love (or not)!

It's been raining most of the week, but thankfully the sun is making brief apperances today and promises to be out in force this weekend. Assuming we're done with torrential rain for a while (fingers crossed!), we figured today was as good a day as any to start introducing our tomato and pepper starts to the great outdoors. We placed them outside in the shade for about an hour this afternoon. Tommorrow we'll increase the amount of time outside and the amount of light they get. With any luck, they'll slowly acclimate to the natural sunshine and outside elements and be ready for planting within a couple weeks...

So far we've had good luck with our starts. A couple weeks back we transfered them from small peat pots into larger 4" containers without losing any of them. We've got over a dozen healthy looking tomato plants and hopefully the final transfer/transplant to the outdoors will result in at least several healthy plants.

Browning leaves?
Many of the peas we planted weeks ago have developed a light (and in some cases not so light) browning of the leaves near the base. Could be a number of things. They're still growing strong above so I'm not too worried yet. We'll see how they progress...

To pollinate or not?
Last thing to report on is our columnar apple tree (pictured above from the top down). It's ablaze in leaves. Can't believe it was a barren stick just a month back. We had grand visions of pollinating it and maybe enjoying some apples this year, but then a gardener at the nursery told us pollinating a dwarf tree in its first year isn't the way to go. Apparently when these trees bear fruit this young it can be stressful to the roots and stunt their future growth. Our tipster told us if the tree does become naturally pollinated anyway, we should promptly remove any apples we see growing. Don't know for sure if this is true, but it sounds reasonable. Anybody know for certain or have different ideas?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Caviar in the Garden

Today was a great sunny day (for a change!) and we volunteered at one of Portland's community gardens where we ended up weeding a lot of crab grass. Pulling up weeds always seems to reveal interesting objects that get buried in the dirt. We found a Sponge Bob child's bandaid, a glittery green Christmas tree ornament, various pieces of trash, and...


Hidden in between clumps of grass we found beautiful, clear clusters of salmon-sized roe. It took us a moment to realize we were looking at slug eggs. Funny how at sushi restaurants tiny, transparent eggs are a delicacy, but in the garden they're just plain icky.

Since our cameraphone photo came out blurry, here's a photo similar to what we saw:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Local is the New Black: the Joy of Guilt Free Shopping

I’ve had to push aside the pleasures of shopping for a while now, forced to forgo trips to the mall in pursuit of more important priorities like saving money. But this weekend I went on a mini-spree, and I have to say it was the most fun I’ve had shopping in years! And no, I wasn't shopping for shoes or clothes. This weekend I went shopping for tomato plants at Valley View Farms, a great garden center here in Maryland.

There I was enthralled by two dozen varieties of tomatoes, and hundreds of other plants from herbs to fruit trees, all started by professional growers here in the area. I whiled away several hours taking it all in. As a first time gardener and a person who enjoys the occasional good shopping trip, I felt like I had found redemption in this difficult economy. Buying seeds and plants is fun! And it turns out buying them local is even more fun. During my visit something occurred to me: Local is the new black! And I don't mean black as in the darkest color, I mean black as "in the black".

I started hearing the Buy Local manatra about a decade ago in California, and now it seems everywhere I look there are Buy Local posters. They fly like flags on the walls of every small business I wander into. Here in my neighborhood in North Baltimore is another great local resource at Belvadere Square. Planet Produce sells seeds from Landreth (the country's oldest seed company based on the east coast) as well as seedlings for a dozen different culinary herbs and several varieties of tomato plants too. Tomatoes grow exceptionally well in the hot Maryland summers. If you get your plants while they're still small you can thread them through the bottom of a hanging container. They love being upside down!

Anyway, when I patronize local businesses, I know I'm keeping money in the neighborhood. I'm helping my neighbors do good work, and I'm encouraging more jobs, right here. Plus, I know there is nothing better for the environment than when I buy local food or grow my own. Most of all, buying plants is as much fun as buying clothes but a lot more rewarding and certainly lighter on my wallet. I'm hooked on this guilt free shopping!

BTW – Veggie Trader is more than just a website for gardeners and those looking for local food. If you’re a local shop selling seeds, plants, tools, supplies or even local produce, you can use Veggie Trader for free local advertising. Just make a listing!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Backyard Witchcraft for Muggles

Today we volunteered at one of the local community gardens, hoping to have a little fun while doing something helpful. The garden was huge, with over a hundred plots, but we didn't get anywhere near it. Instead we ended up on weeding duty, clearing the wooded area around the garden of invasive species. (Meh!)

We got a quick crash course in how to identify those plants about to be banished from the garden: English ivy, wild clematis, overgrown blackberry bushes, and...hemlock, the Bard's herb!

One of the volunteer leaders warned us to wear gloves when pulling up the hemlock, making a passing reference to it being poisonous. Some of the kids volunteering weren't even allowed near it, which got us wondering, how bad could this stuff really be?

Turns out, hemlock is a decidedly nasty cousin of parsley. According to wikipedia, Socrates was famously poisoned by a hemlock potion. Today, the plants we weeded looked quite a bit like a carrot above ground, but with a purplish red spotted stalk and a stronger, herby odor. It can kill you quickly--its neurotoxin properties shut down the respiratory system--so keep it away from your stews and brews!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Container Garden Update

It’s turned cloudy again, but the weather was gorgeous earlier this week. Temps were in the low 80s and our starts took full advantage of their window sun. We’re happy to report all of our plants are doing extremely well. We’ll probably transplant the tomatoes to larger pots today, their last move before going outside in a few more weeks. Here’s a picture of one of our pepper starts:

Moving outdoors, the peas we planted last month are standing about seven or eight inches tall. They really started shooting up when the sun came out last week...

And we can’t believe how well our columnar apple tree has adapted to life on our deck. It was an almost barren brown stick when we took it home from the nursery almost two weeks ago, but now it’s covered with tiny green buds. And some of the buds aren’t so tiny if you look close…

Here's a wider view:

Can’t wait to see if the little tree actually produces apples this year…

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Book Review - The Omnivore's Dilema

Believe it or not it took me, a foodie, a long time to figure out that being green starts with what you eat. The book The Omnivore's Dilemma has brought to light for me the complete picture of how food is interconnected with the American environment. In the book Michael Pollan explores one simple question, "What should we have for dinner?", really extensively. I feel like I've woken up after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge! I had no idea that the former Soviet Union had an underground black market for home grown produce, because their "highly efficient" industrial agricultural system just did not work. I never knew that spring mix salad was so resource expensive. I did not know that mushrooms live underground for decades. Nor did I know that pasture (grass) raised beef (and milk) literally has more nutrients in it than industrialized corn fed cattle.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is a fun, interesting read, but it does have some scary moments. The entire first section alone, the part about industrialized agriculture, is enlightening in a depressing kind of way. Pollan exposes the fact that commodity corn has infiltrated the American food system so extensively that it is in almost everything in most supermarkets, simply because it's the most profitable thing for large companies to make. Later in the book, Pollan describes a 100% sustainable, highly productive farm, Polyface Farms, in Virginia. I don't know why ALL American farms aren't like Polyface? Well, yes I do, Wall Street can't profit from farms like this.

Reading the Omnivore's Dilemma will validate many Veggie Traders and others who already have a head start on being green. We already know that green is really about economics and how one chooses to spend their money and their time. We know that we want to spend more time in our gardens and kitchens with family and friends. We would rather trade seeds than trade stocks. And the only bailouts we care about are the ones associated with a heavy rain.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Success Stories?

We’re seeing more and more listings everyday and know of at least two happy connections made so far through Veggie Trader. One person in the LA area posted a listing and now has a waiting list for his fruit!

If you have used the site to make a successful swap, sale, or purchase, we’d love to hear from you and learn about your experience. Please contact us and tell us how using Veggie Trader worked for you!

Swap Groups

Recently a veggie trader asked us how he could use the site as a place for trading with members of a specific group he belongs to. We thought we’d clarify how to do this, just in case other people have the same question. If you’re a member of a gardening club, church, business, neighborhood association or any other group, you can quickly and easily find listings made by other members of your group by entering your zip code and the name of your group in the Veggie Trader search bar, and then clicking Search! As long as other members remembered to enter the group name in the “Group” area when posting their listings, you’ll be able to find them.

For instance, if you belong to the ABC Neighborhood Association and you have apples you want to offer for trade to other members, simply write the full name of your group in the “Group” area when posting your listing. Other members searching for “ABC Neighborhood Association” will quickly find your listing.

Watch out for typos!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fruit Trees for Small Spaces

For a couple months now we’ve been considering adding a columnar apple tree to our deck. If you’re not familiar with columnar trees, they are specially created to grow to a limited height while hardly growing out at all. In other words, they’re a great fit for small spaces, as they’ll reach just eight feet tall or so and only grow out 18 inches to two feet. They stand in a pot, and from everything we’ve heard the fruit is full sized and tastes great…

So this weekend while at the nursery, we caved and picked one up. The little guy we took home is just a stick at the moment, standing almost four feet tall but with little buds all around. It’s a golden sentinel and rumor has it these trees can sometimes produce fruit in their first year.

Our new tree got us talking with a friend of ours who has espalier madness. Espalier is another way of growing fruit trees in small spaces, by pruning the trees into a flat shape. Espalier trees often use multiple grafts, and our friend has claimed dibs on a graft from our little columnar. He's got visions of his own monster frankensteined apple tree, its limbs heavy and lumbering with fuji, honeycrisp and yes, eventually golden sentinel.

Here are a couple videos on the espalier technique:

Video One

Video Two

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring is Here!

And the blossoms are out all around Portland...

Container Garden Update:

The last week has been crazy, leaving us no chance at all to write on the status of our container garden project. Nevertheless, we carved some time out to transplant our tomato starts last weekend into larger peet pots. We’re happy to report all 18 of the transplants seem to be doing well. The sun finally came out this weekend too (hello, haven’t seen you in a while!), so we’re hoping the transplants will soak in the sunlight and keep growing happily. We’re aiming to start introducing them slowly to the outside world (aka: our deck) in a few weeks…

The onion and sweet red pepper starts we planted at the same time also seem to be growing steadily too. Same happy news to report for the snap peas we planted a couple weeks back. All eight peas planted have sprouted in the past week.

Hope your gardening efforts are going well...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just Getting Started!

Just two weeks old now, but we’re already seeing a lot of interest in Veggie Trader from all across the country (and beyond). Thanks to everyone who has registered with the site and especially those folks who have provided us with so much great feedback. A common reaction we’re getting goes something like this:

Wow! Veggie Trader is a cool idea! What a great concept!

Which makes us happy, because we think so too!

Then, from some of the input we’re getting, it seems like some people sometimes get another thought when they register and get into the listings:

Hey! Nobody in my area has posted anything yet! Why not?

Well, here’s the scoop: As we’ve noted, Veggie Trader is just getting started. It will take time to grow. Some people have already posted listings - even with the big growing season not yet upon us. We thank them for being among the first in their areas (and indeed, the country) to participate. Veggie Trader is all about participation. The more people post listings, the faster the community will start to grow…

If you are among those who think Veggie Trader is a great idea but aren’t seeing enough people in your area using the site just yet, please consider making a listing of your own. If you’re looking for local food, try posting a Wanted listing. If you have a fruit tree you know you can’t fully use, try letting people know about your juicy dilemma. Believe us. There are people near you checking out the site to see what you have to share.

The picture above is of some cherry tomato starts I'm looking to trade in a few weeks, once I figure out how many of them I can share. If you're in Portland, OR, check out my listing if you're interested in a swap...

Earth Hour 2009

Some people think Earth Hour is a silly idea. Naysay if you want, but we're going to participate tonight at 8:30. We know it's symbolic, but we think saving a little energy while trying to raise awareness of energy use and habits is a good thing. Besides, there are plenty of fun things to do with the lights out...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hello Canada!

We hear you loud and clear. Here’s the story: A number of our friends in Canada have expressed interest in using Veggie Trader. Currently the site is for United States use only, but we plan to investigate soon how we might open it up to our friends in Canada. We are excited to see so much interest from our neighbors! If you are Canadian and interested in Veggie Trader, please check back here for future updates or contact us and ask to be kept posted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


We’ve been up and running for only a couple weeks, but the response to Veggie Trader has been tremendous so far. We want to thank HOMEGROWN.org and Treehugger.com for the shout outs today, as well as everyone who has registered and visited the site this afternoon and evening from all across the country. We're encouraged that so many people are interested in a project we really believe in.

We know there are a few small kinks with the site, and we are working hard to fix them. If you have any feedback or ideas for us, please always feel free to let us know. We’d love to hear from you, and we’ll usually get back to you pretty quickly.

Also, we know there aren’t a lot of posts on the site just yet, but the growing season is just starting and we hope you’ll come back, post a listing or two, and help us grow by spreading the word. Great ideas often start small, and we hope Veggie Trader will one day be a great resource.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gardener in Chief

Apparently, we now have a Gardener in Chief. Yes, after an intense citizen-led lobbying effort, the announcement came down today that the White House will soon have it's own vegetable garden. Michelle Obama and a group of Washington area students broke ground on the garden this afternoon.

Now while I fully support and applaud this effort, it begs a few important questions:

1) What veggie will prove to be the First Vegetable?

2) And what vegetable might turn out to be this President's least favorite. We know George H. W. Bush famously hated broccoli. And of course, his VP Dan Quayle had a weird thing for potatoes...

3) What exactly is the President's position on the tomato issue? Fruit or vegetable?

4) Will digging around in the White House lawn yield any interesting political dirt?

5) Will the Obama girls filibuster eating their veggies?

And finally:

6) Will the as-yet-to-be-chosen First Dog be allowed anywhere near the garden?

Please feel free to offer your own horrible puns now...

Monday, March 16, 2009

One Great Seed Catalog

It's rare I pick up a sales catalog that truly interests me, but I have to give a shout out for a really great seed catalog I came across a couple weeks back. This 150 plus page catalog is put out by the Territorial Seed Company - a local Oregon company- and inside you'll not only find ample varieties of the usual staples (for example, you can choose from nearly two dozen varieties of garlic), but you'll also discover a range of things you may never have heard of...

Ever heard of kohlabri? Choose from three different varieties of this bulb bearing relative of the cabbage. You can also order Japanese Trifele (a type of tomato), or try growing sea berry - a nutritious fruit native to Europe and Asia. You can even order mushroom kits or live bees and bee keeping supplies through this catalog. It's kind of amazing. I'm considering ordering a columnar apple tree. This is a small but productive apple tree you can grow in a container on your deck or patio.

But with all this variety of things to browse through and learn about, one of the best things about this catalog is the company's pledge to not knowingly sell genetically engineered seeds. THIS is important. All the variety in the world will become pretty useless if we fail to protect it...

You can request a copy of this catalog here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Salad Lover's Dilema (1 calorie = 57 petro-calories)

What's not to love about a good, fresh salad? I love eating my veggies in all forms, but there's nothing like a crunchy, tangy, sweetly dressed salad - which must occupy my lunch and dinner table on a regular basis. Until last week, I used to love the spring mix salad so conveniently available at every super market, until I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. I was amazed to learn that for every one calorie in spring mix lettuce, it takes fifty seven calories worth of "energy" to get it to my plate. That's right, for every ONE calorie of lettuce you eat, it took FIFTY SEVEN petro-calories just to get it in your front door. A typical spring mix salad serving has about 250 calories, but costs a whopping 14,250 calories of fuel (in gas, transportation, refrigeration, and automation).

This is exactly the problem that Veggie Trader is trying to address, sustainability.

It seems like a no-brainer to me, a foodie. Lettuce is lettuce and all I need to do is source some local leaf. Or, better yet, all I need to do is grow my own salads (and while I'm at it, I might as well grow a lot and trade with my neighbors who are growing tomatoes, flowers, & other stuff).

But I am a gardening virgin. I'm an eater, not a grower. So I've taken my first tentative steps into the mystical world of gardening the easiest way I know how - by following a recipe. I trotted into my local garden center, Valley View Farms, and simply purchased a Jiffy Greenhouse and some lettuce seeds. The Jiffy Greenhouse is a little kit for germinating seeds in convenient little peat pellets. It comes with instructions and a special tray. So far, so good, I've got some happy sprouts eager for more sun, soon to be replanted!

Check out my photo album, The Salad Chronicles, which I'll be adding photos to over the coming weeks. (it will automagically update here in this blog). Please, if you live in the Mid-Atlantic region and want to share your lettuce growing experiences, feel free to leave a comment below. Let's make this blog a resource for foodies and gardeners alike.

The Salad Chronicles

Friday, March 13, 2009

Planting Peas in a Container Garden, Take Two

As detailed in previous posts, we failed miserably in our attempts at growing a winter crop of salad greens and peas this season. An unusually cold winter and an unexpected record setting snowfall probably doomed us. We tried to save our fledgling but promising plants by moving them indoors just as both they and the snow were getting started, but they never really recovered...

But alas, our pet lovebird is demanding when it comes to his beloved peas, so today we set out to try growing them again, just one week away from the official start of spring.

We planted a row of eight snap peas into a container on our deck. The container was already set-up with soil from our winter gardening attempt, so under the watchful eye of the bird, the whole thing went very quickly. In less than ten minutes we pre-moistened the soil, dropped in the peas, covered them loosely with dirt, and then watered. Voila!

With the weather starting to warm up (and the snow hopefully over for the year!?!?!), the peas should do just fine. We'll see in a few days. Of course, it is Friday the 13th...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Container Garden Update

It's been unseasonably cold here the past week, with temps in the mid forties during the day and chilling to the low 30's at night. But inside our apartment, our container garden thinks it's spring already and our starts are growing quickly. Soon we're going to need to transfer them to larger containers. We'll share the experience when we get there, but so far, so good!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Better Gardening through Cooperation

I forget where I read it, but recently I came across an article where someone was espousing how neighbors might enjoy greater success growing food by banding together and specializing. The idea is pretty straight forward - a group of neighbors agree at the start of the growing season to a list of produce they want to grow collectively, and then each household raises only the one or two types of produce on the list it believes it is best at growing. Freed from multitasking and able to concentrate only on the one or two crops it does best, each household will in theory then enjoy greater yields and better quality produce. The resulting harvest can then be swapped and distributed among the whole group, with everybody getting a little bit of everything.

I have no experience doing something like this, but it’s an idea we find interesting and thought about when we first conceived of Veggie Trader. So even though we didn't specifically develop the site for this purpose, we've just added a Plan and Specialize! section to the listings for anyone trying to find neighbors interested in specializing. If this is you, try posting a listing in this section stating the particular type of produce you can specialize in. If any of your neighbors are also interested, they can find and contact you there.

We hope to develop a better way for neighbors to come together and pledge to specialize in time for next year's growing season, but for now we hope the Plan and Specialize! listing area can at least serve as a starting place for those wanting to pursue this path.

Monday, March 9, 2009

An Idea Springs to Life

The idea of creating a place where neighbors might easily find each other and buy/sell/swap homegrown produce spent several years banging around the back of our heads before we finally decided last spring we’d try bringing it to life. The result is Veggie Trader, which we are excited to finally see emerge this week.

Having put considerable time and energy into creating Veggie Trader, we hope you’ll find it useful. We hope it will grow. All good things take time though, and we invite you to be among the first to use the site and grow with us. There are many reasons we think finding and developing local food sources is important for the future, and we believe homegrown produce can be a big piece of the puzzle. Let’s see what happens together!

If you have any thoughts or comments about either Veggie Trader or this blog, please let us know. We are always looking for ways to make both more useful places.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Moms (Parents) Need To Show Their Kids The Entire Food Process

There's a great article on The Daily Beast:

Mothers, Daughters, Food
For decades moms were told to shut up about about their daughters' weight. But Lee Aitken says in our toxic food culture, it's ok—indeed essential—to care about, and discuss, what they eat.

I think some people are realizing that there's a lot more to food than just what they eat. Growing up I was made aware of the entire food process, not just the eating part. My parents made sure I participated in planning, shopping, and cooking meals, even at a very young age. Then, every dinner our family sat down together and we were (gasp) made to have a conversation.

As I stand here on the verge of turning forty, I am still often mistaken for being in my (early) twenties. I credit my good health to a positive, holistic attitude towards the entire food process. If you're reading this blog, don't just be a food spectator, get in the game! It's much more fun, and better for you, to become a food participant.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First Shoots!

Six days after planting, our cherry tomatoes have sprouted. A couple of the onion seedlings we planted are also poking out of the starter soil already. Generally these should take a little longer to sprout, but here they are anyway.


Gotta go... Must water...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Of Fruit Trees and Oyster Bars

This weekend we volunteered through Hands On Greater Portland to plant fruit trees around the community garden located at the Hazlewood Hydropark in Northeast Portland. Only a year old, the garden already has a year long waiting list for plots and looks like it's getting a lot of good use. Quite a few people from the neighborhood came out to help with the planting, along with many volunteers from all around the city. All told, the group planted nearly two dozen young trees in just a couple of hours, including pear, quince, persimmon, and many varieties of apple. In a few years, the area around the garden will be delicious!

Anyway, it was a great opportunity to learn about planting young trees. A representative from Friends of Trees was on hand to demonstrate how to do it properly. Basically, you dig holes roughly three feet in diameter and a foot and a half deep, into which you carefully transplant the trees, which in our case were little more than four foot tall sticks with roots. We were careful to make sure the roots were well spread out and buried only a couple inches below the soil, as otherwise trees will have difficulty growing. Once a tree is planted, you give it a couple buckets of water and add some mulch around the base to help maintain moisture. then you stake the trees to keep them growing straight and upright in the wind. In a year, the stakes will come out. At that point, the trees should be able to stand perfectly well on their own.

When we were finished, we stuck around to help a second group of volunteers plant trees around the edge of the hydro park. We planted several pines, maples, and douglas firs. These were more mature than the fruit trees and instantly made the park a prettier place.

All in all it was a lot of fun. We even came up with an idea for what the Portland water district might do with the now defunct old water tower in the park. We'll just have to see if the district takes our suggestion of opening an oyster bar up there seriously!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Growing Stuff in Small Spaces, part II

Ok. As promised, today we're going to plant our indoor veggie starts. Yesterday we selected three good candidates for planting at this time of year and in this locale. The winners were cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, and onions. Yummy!

Planting your starts is straightforward, simple and shouldn't take more than twenty minutes. You should be successful if you follow the steps below:

Step 1: Prepare the soil.
We are going to use a seed starting mix for our starts. The mix we selected is high in peat moss, which accounts for 70% of the mix. Peat moss helps young plants fight disease, particularly fungal infections, so it's important you start indoor plants in a similar mix.

Place the soil loosely into the container you've selected for your starts. We're using 1" x 2" x 2" deep "ice-cube tray" type containers for our starts, allowing us to plant each seed in small and tidy compartments. Under these containers we've placed a drip tray to collect excess water and soil. Our landlord will appreciate this, as the tray should protect the floor from damage during the plants' stay indoors.

Step 2: Water the mix
With the container cubes filled, gently mist the soil mixture in warm water until it's lightly wet. Easy.

Step 3: Plant your seeds
Everything we're planting today calls for placing each seed 1/4" deep and covering loosely with the starter mix. Follow the instructions on your seed packets for each different item you're planting.

Now is a good time to think about the end result of all this work. Ask yourself how many plants you want to end up with for transplant outdoors in a couple months? For instance, we only have room for a maximum of six mature tomato plants in our deck container garden, but we're planting a dozen. Why? We're leaving room for error and assuming some won't make it. We figure if more than six of them do well as starts, we can sell or trade the extra plants on Veggie Trader. ;)

Tip: Don't forget to mark the containers somehow to note what you've planted where. A black marker and those little white plastic stakes are handy here.

Step 4: Water again.
Gently mist the soil again. Make sure you use warm water. Mist until the soil is moist. Don't directly water the soil or you'll possibly disturb the seeds, pushing them in too deep.

Step 5: Set your starts out
As discussed in the previous post, select an area that is warm and gets plenty of light. If natural light is a problem, try setting your starts directly under a fluorescent light, or better yet a grow lamp. Warmth and light are essential to getting your plants off to a good start.

That's it! Now you just keep your plants warm, well lit, and watered while you wait for them to sprout. In our case, with any luck the tomato plants will pop out within a couple of weeks. The onions and peppers will take a little longer.

It should be noted here that starting plants indoors isn't necessarily the only way to maintain a nice container garden. If you don't want the hassle
(or don't have the space indoors), you can always buy starts from the nursery when they're available in spring and then grow them outdoors once the chance of frost has passed in your area.

Good luck, and check back later for updates. Fingers crossed that we'll all raise happy and healthy starts!