In the hope of spring…

A few weeks ago some Seattle pals and I planted peas – hoping that sowing a few seeds would be enough of a sacrifice to appease the angry thunder gods up above who guard this city.

Clearly it was not. The weather has been miserable – cold, freezing rain…while the rest of the country enjoys bizarre 70 degree global warming weather.

In Seattle, it’s pretty much Climate No-Change.

In the PNW, the rule of thumb is “plant your peas on president’s day.” We planted these about week later.

Something that growing food is really good at? Bringing people together..

…even though we had more than enough hands to plant a handful of seeds – it was a great excuse to get together, get a little dirty, eat chili and drink beers. So, thanks, peas – even if you didn’t bring spring.




As mentioned in the last post, I found out that if we wanted to grow things like peppers and tomatoes – we would need a cloche.

A cloche is a fancy french word for row cover: a protective tunnel used to warm the ground and keep plants protected from the elements. The ‘elements’ in Seattle, are of course, rain. So. Much. Rain. My maritime gardening book recommends the cloche more to dry out the ground than protect the plants. By now, in February, it has rained so much in Seattle that the ground is saturated – and so most plants will not be able to grow deep roots which is essential to a healthy root system or, worse, they will rot – which is exactly what happened to my peppers in Portland last season. And, the temperature inside a cold frame is consistently 10 degrees warmer than outside, which extends the growing season (granted the sun comes out to warm it up).

So. We built one.

Well, let’s be honest, Joe built one. And I held PVC pipe in place and made quesadillas and told him how skilled and smart and goodlooking he was.

Joe has that wonderful boy ability to measure things with a tape measure accurately.


He also has the wonderful boy (or just thorough foresight) ability to imagine a structure and all the pieces needed to make it, including un-forseen things like  pipe clips, extra 2 x 4’s, a bungee cord to secure the roll-up sides against the wind, screws, power tools, and fittings! And he knew how long, how wide, and how much materials he needed. HOW??  It’s a mystery.

Here are the features of our cloche:

We used treated wood (2×4’s), so it wouldn’t rot, clear plastic, PVC pipe, and a drill. With screws.

It has roll-up sides

It has bungees on either end to secure it shut and make it toasty warm.

We put it over the raised bed with the garlic…

…and stuck the chives, mint and sad looking parsley (that has survived being outside all winter) inside

Soon it will house our transplants when we harden them off and then, hopefully, it will be home to our tomatoes, peppers and eggplant all summer!

Seattle 98125


Our yard in the Lake City neighborhood in North Seattle. Semi jungle. So many possibilities! Not pictured: wooded path to the left through jungle.


In October I planted Austrian Winter Peas as a cover crop in all the raised beds. This is what it looks like in February. The winter peas fix nitrogen into the nutrient depleted soil- I felt it was a good idea since no one has lived or gardened here for a while. I can tell this by all of the decrepit plastic cherubs we keep finding on the property.


This is the garlic I planted in the fall! It’s coming up! Magic.


Our cute blue house from the top of our hill. Rent includes very large stumps and fun iron swing.

A New Season +


And so I begin another season. In a new city (Seattle), a new garden (4 raised beds plus huge backyard), a new (real!) job (Mercy Corps ), and same boyfriend (Joe).

We’re building a cloche today. A cloche is essentially a mini hoop house made out of bent PVC pipe and clear plastic. My Maritime Northwest Garden Guide told me you can’t grow peppers or tomatoes in the PNW unless you grow them inside a cloche. Well, that explains a lot of the failures from last season. Glad I got that guide… a year late. Joe is getting supplies from Lowes right now! and I’ve been raking out our garden beds, weeding the garlic and, as the picture above shows, deciding what to plant!

Welcome back to my urban homesteading adventure.

Strawberry Jam Marathon

How To Make Strawberry Jam

I started making jam around 11 am the morning of July 4th and didn’t finish my last batch until 5pm that evening. WHEW. PATRIOTISM. DIY. RED (for stripes?). 8 pounds of freshly picked strawberries are now in 16 jam jars.

The real beginning of this process began a few days ago at Kruger’s Farm on Sauvie Island where we picked our strawberries.

8 Pounds!

Yeah, she lasted about 10 minutes in that hot sun. Don’t be fooled, Joe and I picked most of those. But she does look cute, doesn’t she?

Then we brought them home and the next day we washed them

and cut their tops off to get ready to make jam.

Strawberry top removal

Little fingers for little berries

These berries were SMALL and so 8 pounds of top slicing with a 7 yr old took a WHILE and by the end we felt like this:

"I never want to see another strawberry again bleehhh"

But that was only the first step! Next we mashed them. The berries should get mashed until they are liquid, it’s up to you if you want to leave some whole or partially whole berries in your jam. We mashed them all the way. The recipe we used is on (awesome website) under strawberry jam but all Pectin boxes have good recipes inside. It’s recommended to only make 6 cups of strawberries at a time because any more and the pectin will not work.

Mashing with a potato masher

Then we set aside 4 cups of sugar in a bowl, taking 1/4 cup out of that to mix with a package and a half of Sure Jell Pectin. Also recommended by pick your own is the pectin that requires less sugar (3 cups less) because it tastes better and is less sweet!

Sure-Jell Pectin for less sugar recipes

Sanitizing lids

(While Briana mashed, I got our jars and lids ready. The jars were sanitized and heated in the dishwasher while the lids were boiled on the stove. You can also sanitize your jars by washing with hot soapy water and keeping them in the canner to stay hot — they need to be hot so they don’t crack when you put the hot jam in them)

Then we put our mashed berries and the pectin-sugar mixture in a pot to boil:

Once this boiled, we added the rest of the sugar.

Then I boiled the entire jam mixture again (the berries, pectin and rest of the sugar), hard for one minute. The jam is ready to be put into jars when it is sticky enough to stay on a cold metal spoon.

Getting hot lids for the jars with a magnetic grabber

I poured the hot jam into the hot jars with a wide mouth funnel, wiped the threads clean, and then put the lids on. Now they are ready to be processed in the canner!

I left a bit too much head room on these two jars — you should only leave about 1/4 – 1/8 of an inch.

Make sure to balance the jars in the canner so they don't tip over while processing

Once they boil hard for 10 minutes, they are done!

Tools you should invest in: (jar tightener is really not necessary but it came in the kit I bought which also included that magnetic top grabber mentioned above and the wide mouthed funnel):

Jar grabber (L) Jar tightener (R)

I flip them over to ensure sealing:

Jam right out of the canner

It takes any amount of time between right away and a few hours to hear that “pop” which lets you know that your jars are sealed air-tight and you won’t be getting botulism. Joe explained to me that if botulism is present or growing, it produces air which prevents the air-tight seal thus letting you know not to eat that one. If one of your jars doesn’t seal, you can just eat it immediately/within a few days but don’t store it.

This was the first batch of 3! In total, 8 pounds of berries made eight 12 ounce jars and eight 8 ounce jars – 150 ounces of jam altogether! This procedure is pretty much the same for all jams and spreads, sugar may be tweaked, lemon may be added but this is pretty much what canning entails.

Happy Canning!

Pruning Tomatoes

The photos of my garden in the last post were taken in the beginning of June. Today, on July 1st, things look quite different. Explosive comes to mind. The tomato plants are HUGE. The peppers in the front are…meh..slowly frying to death. Not sure why. The peppers on the deck are doing amazingly. The tomato on the deck is also looking like its frying a bit. Apparently I should’ve put all my tomatoes in full sun in the front and the peppers in less sun on the deck.

My tomatoes are growing in these dinky cone cages. I’m not a super fan of these but I wasn’t willing to invest any more than I already have in this garden since we are moving in August. Stakes with string or some chicken wire/chicken fence would be better. The point is: support. Tomatoes get too heavy and their limbs are not able to support the fruit. In order to encourage upward, strong growth of the limbs it is important to prune.

Pruning is not mandatory (if you don’t prune they will likely end up in a wild, sprawling mess, with lots of fruit but also a lot of fruit rotting on the ground) but it allows you some control in determining your garden’s aesthetic AND bigger, juicier fruits.

This afternoon, I pruned my bushy tomatoes by snipping off the suckers that grow from the main stalk of the plant. Mostly from the bottom. These suckers would eventually try to become their own main stalk, helping to bring the whole plant down on the ground in a rotting sprawl. By pruning you do take away a plants ability to photosynthesize as much as it was before, so you will get a smaller yield, but it also means that the fruits you do get will have had more food and will more likely be bigger and yummier. That’s the idea. I haven’t been doing this long enough to have firm examples — this is just what I’ve read — and what I’ve been doing.

The cages do help support the plant and encourage it to go up and not out – even the dinky grocery store ones I bought in a fix – but to have the best yield I would follow Eliot Coleman’s growing practices…much more complicated, requiring much more equipment and permanent structure abilities. Someday I will be able to do this! But for now, its my little raised bed.

Tomatoes in cone cages

June Garden

Garden June 2011


Buttercrunch Lettuce


Roma Tomato

Our Porch Container "Garden"

Sweet Basil

Ducks in a row (i.e. Pepper, Tomato, Pepper-Pepper)

Peppers and on the R, a Pea plant with Parsley

Old shelf housing Broccoli and Peppers

Planted as a fennel, turned out to be...a Daisy

Wet Pepper