Example Garden

Wired Magazine Example Garden

This image is part of an article from WIRED magazine’s June Edition. The article has not been posted on the web yet and when it does I will expand on this slightly but it offers some intriguing insight that may allow more geeky garden designs and gives great ideas on how to become more self-sustaining.

It goes so far as to include an apiary, a chicken coop, and a fish pond. The apiary is also known as a bee yard, is where bee’s and honey are kept, and may be a little further than I was planning on going; I’m just not sure if I’m ready to go down the road of beekeeping… However, the chicken coop is on the agenda for this fall and will hopefully be up and running by the spring. The fish pond was something that I initially wrote off as for aesthetics, but upon further exploration of the article it appears that they are actually harvesting the fish!

This is an interesting concept and I had never thought of it up until now but it is something that I believe I will pursue as I move forward. Even though I have been eating tilapia for years I never knew that it was such a hardy easy to grow fish that will produce 1/2 pound of meat for every 1/2 pound of feed! I am already planning on constructing a rainwater garden that will absorb any excess water from the rain barrels by utilizing native plants to use the water all winter and die in the summer if it runs out. However, the idea of adding another level to the ecosystem in my backyard sounds great!

Currently, I have added a few different environments to my yard, including native shade plants like hostas, ferns, and hydrangea’s along the north wall of the house. I have a few sunny areas under a large Pine that host some roses, a little bamboo, some succulents (for the drier areas), and a couple Japanese maples. In order to encourage healthy vegetable growth and lower insect infestations, I have surrounded my 96 sqft of vegetable space with gravel and raised the beds by 18 inches not including the tilled soil underneath. The variation in light and moisture in these boxes is pretty drastic with some getting full sun and arid conditions for peppers, tomatoes and eggplants to some having some shade and moist conditions for leafy greens and lettuces. Along one of the fences I have raspberries and blueberries planted and on the opposite side of the yard, where it won’t shade the vegetables I have a cherry tree in a raised bed as well.

Due to a lack of time I planted the remaining space in the middle of the yard with grass for the year, however, by the time this fall comes around I will have a good portion of covered with a tarp to kill grass and will have added more native grasses and bushes by the spring. Additionally, since I don’t have the time or resources there will be beans and corn planted in the location of the rain garden and chicken coop to utilize the space, but that will not be the case by the spring as I intend to harvest as much rainwater for 2011 irrigation as possible.

I will post more pictures and specifics here as the garden progresses and will also post a link to the full article once it is on the web but until then, get out and garden! Everything you plant will improve the environment, strengthen your bond with your surroundings, and nourish your body and soul!


To properly enjoy this recipe I encourage you to first make the meatballs. You can either make them fresh and continue with this recipe or you can make them a day ahead and refrigerate over night until you have time to make the sauce.

Enjoy this recipe with 1 pound of your favorite pasta cooked al dente and a loaf of crusty bread.

Seared Meatballs

Meatballs and Sausages After Searing

Tomato Sauce with Sicilian Meatballs and Sausage
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Lb Italian Sausage, cut into small 2” segments
1 Each Recipe Sicilian Meatballs
1 Each Onion, diced small
3 Each Cloves Garlic, smashed and chopped
3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
2 Cups Dry Red Wine
2 Each Diced Tomatoes, 14.5 oz cans
2 Tbsp Fresh Oregano, chopped
To Taste Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat until it is shimmering but not smoking.

Add the meatballs in 3-4 batches and sear on all sides ensuring to rotate them often so all sides brown evenly; remove them to a plate and reserve for later. Add Italian sausage to the pan and sear in the same manner as the meatballs; remove them to the same plate as the meatballs and reserve for later. Leave the fat in the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the chopped onion and cook until the onions are softened, about 5-7 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in the tomato paste and allow to caramelize for about 1 minute or until small amounts are browning on the bottom of the pan.

Add the tomatoes and wine, stir well and gently rest the sausages and meatballs in the sauce. Bring it to a boil, reduce it to a slight simmer and allow it to cook for 1-1 1/2 hours or until the sauce has slightly thickened.

Season with fresh oregano, salt and pepper but be aware that when I prepare this recipe I find the salt from the sausage and meatballs is enough and need to add very little if any at all.

Pour sauce over 1 pound of your favorite pasta cooked al dente. Enjoy with freshly grated parmagiano.

Meatballs In Sauce

Meatballs and Sausage Cooking in Sauce

While recently browsing through a new cookbook, I came across a recipe for Sicilian Meatballs and decided I wanted to create a personal interpretation of this idea. Sicily’s location, which lies directly in the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean Sea and is just off the coast of Africa, leads me to think of a mixture of spices, flavors, and cultures. I chose the African influence of paprika and chili flakes mixed with traditional Italian flavors like oregano and pine nuts. This recipe is intended to be used in the Sicilian Meatballs with Tomato Sauce recipe and should be served with a loaf of crusty bread.

Uncooked Sicilian Meatballs

Sicilian Meatballs

Sicilian Meatballs
1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs, from stale French loaf without crusts
1/4 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Almonds, lightly toasted
2 tsp Brown Sugar, packed
1 Lb Ground Beef
1/3 Cup Pine Nuts, lightly toasted
1 1/4 tsp Chili Flakes
1 tsp Paprika
1 Each Large Egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp Fresh Oregano, chopped
3 Each Cloves Garlic, smashed and chopped
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Parmagiano, grated

In a medium bowl mix towgether the bread crumbs and milk, allow to rest until the milk is absorbed.

In a food processor combine the toasted almonds and brown sugar, grind until they have the same texture as the breadcrumbs.
To the breadcrumbs, add the almonds mixture, all the other ingredients and mix just enough to ensure there are no clumps of any ingredients. You only want to mix the ingredients because if you over the meatballs will be tough.

Using your hands pull off a small amount of the meat mixture and roll it into a well-formed 1 inch ball (or smaller if you prefer). Ensure that you form the balls well and get all the air pockets out of the middle to eliminate the possibility of meatballs that crumble in the sauce.

Cover and refrigerate overnight or use immediately to make sauce.

After growing tired of spending my hard earned money on purchased sweets that are full of ingredients that I’ve never heard of (THIAMINE MONONITRATE) or things that the company can’t decide are in it or not (HIGH OLEIC CANOLA OIL AND/OR PALM OIL AND/OR CANOLA OIL). I am now on a kick of making my own treats…

The latest, and one of my all time favorites:

Up Close Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies with Bittersweet Chocolate
12 Tbsp Butter, softened
15 Oz Peanut Butter, Chunky
1 Cup Brown Sugar, packed
1 Each Egg, lightly beaten
1 ¾ Cup All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
¼ tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Kosher Salt
1 ½ Cups Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (60% Cacao)

Preheat the oven to 350°F, place the shelf in the middle and lightly grease two “rimless” baking sheets.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; whisk to distribute and reserve for later.

Combine the softened butter, brown sugar and peanut butter in the bowl of a mixer and mix on low until combined and cream high for 3 minutes until fluffy and slightly paler in color. Reduce the speed to medium-low, add the egg and incorporate.

Turn the speed to low, add the flour mixture and only stir long enough to incorporate or until the mixture looks like a dough, about 1 minute. Add the chocolate chips and mix to combine, about 30 seconds.

Scoop 1 tablespoon balls and place them onto the greased cookie sheets about 1 ½ inches apart, pressing each one down in a crosshatch pattern with a fork. Place the sheets in the oven one at a time for between 11 and 13 minutes or until they are slightly puffy and a shade darker brown. Be sure to allow the oven to come back up to temperature for 5 minutes in between batches to ensure even cooking.

Allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes on the sheet then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.


Peanut Butter Cookies with Jar

Peanut butter and Cookies

Walking the aisles in almost any supermarket and looking for cereal can be a discouraging procedure. At first glance you may be enticed by all the colorful labels and delicious sounding names, however, if you do a little exploratory reading on the nutritional label you will discover some disheartening facts. Most cereals contain between 15 and 35 grams of sugar! Really! Is this how you want to start your day? Not me…

So, I set out on a trek to make my own tasty breakfast treat. The best part of this journey is the ability to flex your creativity in any direction! Salty, sweet, fruity, nutty, or all of the above! There are no limits to what you can accomplish and best of all you can control your own sugar amounts by replacing it with honey or maple syrup… This recipe contains about 9.5 grams of sugar per serving, but you also get all the nutritional benefits of honey!

Dried Fruit Granola

Fresh Granola with Dried Fruit

Granola with Dried Tropical Fruit and Nuts
4 Cups Baking Oats
¾ Cup Almonds, chopped
¾ Cup Walnuts, chopped
½ Cup Pine Nuts, chopped
¼ Cup Sesame Seeds
½ Cup Coconut Flakes
¼ Cup Maple Syrup
¼ Cup Honey
½ Cup Canola Oil
1 Tsp Salt
½ Cup Dried Papaya, chopped
½ Cup Dried Mango, chopped
2 Cups Dried Banana, rough chopped

Preheat the oven to 325°F and lightly grease a baking sheet with raised edges.
Combine the first six ingredients and stir together to combine ensuring even distribution of all ingredients. Place the maple syrup, honey, canola oil, and salt in a small sauce pan and warm over low heat, stirring often, until very viscous. After the maple syrup mixture is warm fold it into the oat mixture using a heat proof rubber spatula or wooden spoon until it is evenly coated. Pour the mixture out onto the lightly greased baking sheet, ensure it is evenly spread and place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, setting the timer for 5 minute increments. Every 5 minutes you need to remove the pan from the oven, stir the mixture thoroughly, spread it into an evenly distributed layer and rotate the pan 180° before returning to the oven for another five minutes. Do this until the mixture is a nice golden brown and then quickly turn it out onto a cool baking sheet to stop the cooking.

While the oat mixture is cooking you should chop your dried papaya, mango, and banana and reserve it for later. After the granola mixture has cooled to room temperature, mix all the ingredients together and pour into quart sized ball jars for later use or enjoy immediately!

Granola In Jars

Finished Granola in Ball Jars

Brussels Sprouts

Growing Brussels Sprouts

I started the first box in mid-March, even though the weather was still a little chilly, but I built a small cover to shield the new seeds and transplants from the elements. As you can see it seems to have worked well! Right are my brussel sprouts, with which I have never had previous success, but appear to be doing great!

For the first time I tested the PH of my soil and added natural lime to pull down my acidity, but in the end I believe it’s the soil composition that will cause the plants to thrive. By never walking on the soil and amending the soil one square foot at a time, you are in direct control of each inch of your garden. This will allow the roots to easily spread through the cavernous areas in the boxes and will provide the necessary nutrients through the addition of simple organic material (never use chemicals).

Onions and Cabbage

Walla Walla's and Nappa Cabbage

Which leaves me to my final point, if you really want to maximize a small amount of space considering the square foot method of gardening is proving to be the best route. I have reduced my total space by over 30 square feet and am already looking at having a huge increase in harvest over last year. By not planting all my varieties together, which is what I have always done, and instead spreading them through the garden I am creating a much more visually appealing space. However, other benefits are derived because each square can be planted at different times and your harvest will come over the course of the entire year!

Radishes and Nappa

Radishes and Nappa Cabbage

Keep checking back for more posts documenting the growth of the other two boxes! The one below is the earliest planted one, the second one is only just beginning, and the third is a blank canvas at this point…

West Garden Box

Early April Garden Box

So, for years I have been talking about my “garden boxes” and have consistently delayed the actual building of them until the February past… Since moving into our home in North Portland we have done all of our gardening in a decent mounded garden but it has never provided me with the proper soil, sunlight, location, and comfort of a nice raised bed. The one thing it has provided me with is a decent amount of food, a place to hone my gardening skills, and a location to amass a tremendous amount of compost from yard debris and my kitchen compost.

This past February we had unseasonably warm temperatures for around 2 weeks and, with the announcement of a surprise visit from my father-in-law, I decided to jump on the opportunity to get a head start on “the project” as it would be come formally known in our household. I rented a rototiller, warned my wife that I would be busy for a “few weeks”, and just dug right in! By the time her and her mother came home from running errands we had managed to destroy the entire side and back yard! I believe her comment on the situation was something like, “it’s nothing but mud!” Uhhh, what did you expect, we tilled the whole thing 4 times…

Early Yard Project

Early Large Project

Fast forward almost 6 weeks (stay tuned for more details on the building of boxes) and the boxes are built, concrete is finished, gravel is laid, grass is planted, decorative plants are in, and vegetable garden is started and already producing! It has been a crazy couple of weeks, many afternoons of working until the wife pulls my headlamp off and makes me come in to eat and significant hours researching gardening techniques to be sure I am maximizing my small space; but it is all beginning to pay off.

Yellow Onions

Yellow Onions

Last night, Saturday, April 10, 2010 I harvested my first meal from the garden! Since I was a young child working in my fathers sprawling garden in Hockessin, DE I can’t ever remember a time when I have pulled crop at such an early date! I credit the technique that I’m using, Square Foot Gardening, as well as some good planning, great soil, and a lot of love… Walking into the garden, with Arcade Fire creeping from the half functional outdoor speakers on the garage, I approached the boxes with my scissors and care. I looked at my nappa cabbage and tried to plan where it would spread in the future, attempting to carefully shape it into a perfect mound so it will not interfere with many of the other crops around it. This is very important when you are trying to maximize your garden in such tight quarters, and with the proper care, will also help the plants to become stronger and more productive by eliminating unnecessary growth.

Pulling some of the larger protruding leaves, I snipped the base of them as close as possible to the soil and stacked them on the edge of the boxes. I learned that not only do these new boxes make growing the vegetables easier with their beautifully black and loamy soil but they also make harvesting the vegetables much easier by raising them up 18 inches. Gathering all my cut leaves I headed in to make my salad…

Nappa Up Close

Nappa Up Close

It was a very simple tossed asian salad made with a handful of nappa cabbage, 8 small heads of baby bok choy, 1 julienned red pepper, tamari soaked almonds, 1/4 cup chopped green onions and some rinsed fresh cilantro leaves. For the dressing saute in 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil 1 Tbsp ginger, 1 Tbsp garlic, and deglaze with 1/4 cup rice wine. Remove from heat and stir in 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp dark sesame oil, and about 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar (or more if you like it more pungent). Toss salad with the dressing and enjoy!

Ours was served with marinated flank steak and white rice but you can eat it alone or prepare it with any number of asian inspired dishes for a great meal! Stay tuned for more great dishes straight out of the garden…