Gardening: preparing my fall garden

22 09 2013

A lot has happened since I first started a garden. I have learned a lot, I have experienced the length of the growing season and started to ponder how to more intelligently garden. I have learned that most fruits have hairs but they are removed before they make it to the store, that the tomatoes trichomes hold the smell I like so well but also can sting and give me a rash if I get enough of them on me, and that bell peppers are expensive because they take forever to be ripe. Also, I am not a sentimental gardener, I found myself not feeling bad about cutting down plants I found of no use anymore.



Radish plants, lovely and so delicious!

As the Summer officially came to an end with Labor Day and the temperatures dropped, days became shorter and plants started to struggle, I decided that it was time to plan the fall garden. So I set to research about what grows in colder temperatures, what do we like and what seeds I could find. I got arugula, spinach, lettuce, radish and peas… just because it was about the only things from my list I could find at our local Home Depot. I heartlessly tore down the plants that were not producing anymore, gone were my eggplants (which never produced!), two tomato plants from which I took green tomatoes which were not turning red and rotting instead, the corn that was standing pretty but dead, and put them all in a pile of debris that I believe is the composting pile of the communal garden. I also readjusted the support of the bell peppers and took off the floral heads that were coming in, they take so long in maturing that there is no way that any flower I have now will become a pepper, so I rather the plant to invest its energy in getting the peppers I have ready for the kitchen. I worked for about an hour in tearing down the plants, taking roots out of the ground, and raking the dirt. Then planted my seeds and strawberry runners.



Likely, Ignacio’s plot will turn into a strawberry patch, I don’t think he’ll object.



The radishes grow fast! In three weeks I had tiny little plants ready to harvest. But surprise! No nice red radishes, which might be a problem of crowding. So we just ate the greens, now I have second set getting ready more spaced out, if again I have no red radishes underground it might be a problem of the soil, which I need to amend. I had already tried the lettuce, spinach and arugula, but the temperatures kept spiking here and there and nothing was growing, plus the tomatoes kept shading them and it seems that not enough sun was coming through. Now, I am just waiting, hearing the rain fall while I dream of chemically free grown spinach and arugula in my salads.


This is how the garden looks in preparation for fall.



Updates on gardening

25 06 2013

After having lost one cucumber and one okra plant, temperatures finally settled and Summer started… sort of. We still have a lot of fluctuations, some cold days, some really hot days, but no more freezing. We just had a couple of very rainy weeks and the result was tomatoes on steroids! The plants are so big that I had to cut one down because it got larger than the cage and I was afraid the branches were too heavy for them to have enough support.


Huge tomatoes, caged zucchini, and lots of goodness to come!

I also decided to cage the zucchini plant. I know it is not a very orthodox move (do you cage zucchini?) but I needed to get it out of my peppers, cucumbers and eggplants. It is now growing upwards inside the cage, I just have to give it gentle nudges to keep the leaves inside every few days. An interesting side effect of being inexperienced about anything is that sometimes you come up with solutions that are not the norm, will they work? only time will tell. For example, I realized that the second cucumber plant I planted was not a bush like my first choice, but a vine… surprise! So I got a bamboo rod and I am getting it to climb up along it. My husband told me you normally have them in a trellis, but maybe this will work, what do you think?


A friend of mine passed me some chives, which are happily rooting in Ignacio’s plot, and I started some lettuce inside. That proved to be more challenging than what I thought. My first batch got burnt by the sun one particularly hot day, so my next batch I move around for it to get good morning sun but not to get too hot afternoon sun… Ignacio is delighted watering them. The second challenge is that the cats find them yummy. Yesterday I started a second batch outside, because I want to see how they do outside compared with inside and because everybody is of the idea that having a succession of seeds started every two weeks is best.


I put the chives in water until the rains passed and I could go out in the garden and plant them. They performed really well.


Lettuces in a pot, the leaves are super pretty too!

The tomatoes are full of fruits, all of them green. The peppers are too fruiting… today Ignacio sneaked away and took my first pepper way before its time. I was rather sad… I really was looking forward to eating that yellow pepper :/ we ate it anyway, but it was not fleshed out, not good tasting… meh. Next one will be.


That little pepper? It is no more.

I am so excited about all the plants doing so well I even got another okra to give it a try again now that the frost is not a danger anymore. My husband gave me a bunch of gardening books for my birthday and I am really looking forward the next growing season so I can actually plan a garden to get started early and have a good harvest season early on.

What do you like to plant best? Ideas?

Organic consumption is on the rise…. or is it?

18 11 2011

Stock image provided by

I came across this press release by the Organic Trade Association and I was really happy to see that despite the economy people are choosing to buy organic more and more. 78%  of the families are buying organic because it is good for you, your children and the environment…. wait… 78%? That sounds too good to be true!

And it is. I find that the wording of the report may be conveying the idea that 78% of Americans are choosing to buy organic, and that they are forgetting to make clear (it is vaguely implied) that the survey was conducted through Kiwi Magazine, which is for “organic families”. This means that basically 78% of the people who are interested in organic products in the first place are buying organics. A very different scenario if you ask me.

It is certainly great that of the people who are interested in organic living a larger percentage than ever are acting upon their beliefs. It really is. But I also find it irritating when statistics are interpreted wrongly, albeit innocently, not really analyzing the reality of the sample pool, a very common mistake.

Moral of the story: when reading a report *always* keep in mind how the survey was conducted and who the target subjects were. That can make a huge difference in the answers.

Organic farming is a profitable alternative.

21 10 2011

While we hear news that Monsanto will be allowed to sell GM corn in the aisles of the supermarkets for human consumption, even though some studies point to the fact that direct consumption can cause health problems, a new study published by the Rodale Institute supports organic farming as a sustainable and economically profitable alternative to traditional farming.

stock photo provided by

The study was performed over 30 years, observing both traditional and organic fields, the organic crops have shown to yield comparable volume, plus they replenish the soils because of rotations. Former studies claiming that organic farming is not profitable nor produces enough to support the demands of a growing world population. These studies have analyzed short term data, however in the current Rodale’s study, this conclusion is not supported. Organic farming not only would yield similar amounts, but because of the price of organic foods the farmers break even sooner than their traditional counterparts.

Additional benefits are the health of the ecosystems, through the replenishing of the soils, the lack of insecticides damaging the watershed, protection from erosion and creation of buffer areas. Economic benefits also arise through the potential need of labor to tend for the farms.  And let’s not forget, human health, after all it is not good to be eating poisons in your food every day.


Not my grandmother’s lentil soup

14 09 2011

Fall is around the corner, we had already have some chilly days and when that happens I feel in the mood for soups. Lentils are packed with protein, folic acid, iron and they are delicious! Add some corn for antioxidant benefits, and you have a great Lentils and corn soup:

You will need:

1 pack of lentils

4 ears of corn, cooked (or 1 pack of frozen corn)

Lentils and corn soup (c) Constanza Ehrenhaus 2011

1 sweet red pepper

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

2 slices of bacon (optional but recommended!)

1 bullion cube

Chopped parsley

Cinnamon basil

Olive oil


Chop garlic, onion, red pepper and slices of bacon. Scrape the kernels of the corn ears.

In a deep pot put some olive oil. Chop the garlic and brown slightly in the olive oil, then add the chopped onion. Once the garlic and onion are blanched add the chopped red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Add bacon. Once the bacon is cooked add 4 cups of water and then add lentils and corn. Add one bullion cube (I like Knorr) and the cinnamon basil. Cook for 25-30 minutes. When the lentils are tender add the parsley and cook for five more minutes.




Supporting your local farmers with a playful twist

6 09 2011

As I mentioned before through this blog, supporting your local agriculture is fundamental for the development of the economy in your community. You can do this by buying in farmers markets and stores that you know that sell local produce, but there is another way of doing it that we choose and I actually find it a lot of fun, and that is to subscribe to a CSA. A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a consortium of local farmers that prepare boxes that either are delivered to you or you pick up each week (or twice a month, it depends on the deal).

My husband and I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and we find that there is not really such a big price difference with the supermarket, especially when you factor in that most of the produce that we get is either organic or naturally grown. There might be some disadvantages to this, as in you pay up front for the season, or you might pay in installments but you are locked in, and you lose your share if you are not in town that week, except if you arrange before hand with a friend. Your share also is affected by the weather conditions, since it’s local, and you do not get to pick the produce. For example, this summer has been killer for us in PA, and our shares show it! Last year we got all kinds of things that we have barely seen this year. Additionally you don’t choose and you get what you get… which for me is part of the fun of the CSA.

Forbiden Rice Puding recipe given by our CSA.

Our CSA is Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, it includes over 10 different farms (and one of them is a consortium itself) and Ms. Karlin Lamberto does a great job at keeping in touch and informing us of what we are going to get in our share each week. I get really excited about fruit and veggies, so this for me builds anticipation, and I love it! as one of the improvements this year, they have set up a blog in which you can see what you are getting each week and they share recipes that include some of the produce you would be getting. I have discovered many a new recipe that I’ve loved, and I have faced the challenge of eating things that I did not like, because of course you do not want to waste what you’ve paid for! This has built me greatly as a cook… I’ve had to find ways of making fennel or broccoli likeable for us! And I’ve discovered that I actually do like eggplants 🙂

We also have discovered things that we had never eaten before (kohlrabi?) either because we did not know how to cook or because it was too expensive in the supermarket. You also get to eat the prime of the season and incorporate a wide variety of nutrients, which is always good for you. Additionally we get cheeses and herbs about every other week. Coming the end of the season we also get apple cider (one of the few things with nutrients I could take when I was in my first trimester) and apple vinegar!

Penn’s Corner also holds farms stands through the year. You can find a lot of produce that they will have and order before hand for pick up at the market. They have suggested extending the shares into the winter, which I would love to see happening, but so far they run from early spring to November.

Living in the Pittsburgh area? Consider giving them a try next year!