This is the first in a series of guest posts by Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows, entitled KAPOW Your Backyard. Join Miellyn over the next several weeks as she embarks on outdoor-living projects (and recipes) inspired by some of her favorite comic book characters. —Ed.
It’s spring and you’re ready to go outside again, but your outdoor space, like mine, has probably become a bit neglected and uninspiring through the winter. We both need to be rescued, so here’s the first in a series of ideas for an outdoor refresh, inspired by some of my favorite super heroes (and villains). Over the next few weeks, I’ll bring you projects and recipes for SUPER outdoor living.
KAPOW Issue 1: POISON IVY TAMES NATURE
Poison Ivy (aka Dr. Pamela Isley) is Batman’s nemesis, a master botanist, and general badass super villainess. In one comic, Ivy greets Bruce Wayne with a poison kiss, then kisses him later with the antidote. That’s a woman who knows how to use botany to her advantage. Now so can you.
“Bending the Wilderness to Your Will”
“Building a Backyard Garden”
Who doesn’t love fresh veggies, playing in the dirt, and a sense of accomplishment? Your own garden can give you this and so much more.
What you’ll need:
- A rake
- A hoe
- A trowel
- Paper lawn bags
- Good Dirt
One important note: This will probably take more than one day. Life of a super villainess is not for the weak, but even Poison Ivy knows you can go further if you pace yourself.
You should wait until after the last frost to plant. Here’s a very helpful list of the last seasonal frost for many regions of the US, from Grow Garden Tomatoes. International readers, you’re on your own with the Google. I believe in you.
Go out in your back yard and look at it. Really look. Then wait a few hours and look again. You need a good flat space that gets full sun for at least six hours a day. You can build a raised bed if you want, or you can go with a flat bed. The raised beds are good for drainage and help keep the critters out, but they take a fair amount of work to set up. Flat beds are nice if you aren’t so much into woodworking and want to get started with the dirt NOW. If you like the idea and look of the raised bed, you can find tons of great instructions online.
You should break up the existing grass in your box area. The easiest way to do this is with a rotor-tiller, but you can also do it with a hoe and a rake. It’s hard work, but just remember, hoeing is good for the abs and pecs. (Ed. note: HEY-O!) Whatever you do, you should wear a good pair of gloves. Scoop out all the extra grass, roots, and other detritus and put it into lawn bags. Once all of the earth is turned, put in your box (or don’t if you aren’t swinging that way).
Now you need to get some good dirt.
I recommend going to an independent garden store. It’s good to support local businesses, plus you’re more likely to find someone who really knows their manure. Tell the garden helper the size of your space and that you’ll be planting vegetables and herbs. He or she can tell you the optimum soil mix and how many bags you’ll need. Please don’t forget to tip the nice person who loads your car. That, my friends, is good karma.
So what about the plants? I like seedlings. They’re cute, and you’ll see instant progress. Get several regular and cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and then two or three other things that strike your fancy. I have a separate herb garden where I plant my rosemary, lavender, fennel, and cilantro. You can do this, or you can put them in a corner of your main garden. I want to take a moment to stress that you should plant what strikes your fancy. This is YOUR little patch of heaven after all.
Just make sure that you don’t get too many plants. They should have tags saying how far apart to plant them. Believe them, and plan accordingly. It is going to seem like your garden is super sparse, but once everything starts growing, it will fill in.
Dump the dirt, mix it up with your rake, and plant your plants! I stick the little plastic ID tags in the dirt so that I can keep track of what’s what.
Once everything’s in, give it a good watering. Your plants are thirsty. So are you. Get yourself an adult beverage, then take a picture, because this is so going on Facebook.
You’ll want to water every day or two. Keep an eye on things, pull weeds, and once your plants start to bear fruit, cover them with nets to keep the vermin out. Bunnies, squirrels, and birds are cute until they start eating your produce.
A couple of pro-tips:
Put cages around your tomatoes before they get big. Trust me, it’s so much easier than trying to shove a full grown tomato plant into a cage. Your cucumbers need something to climb. Keep an eye on those suckers. They like to wind around anything close-by and will strangle your other plants. They aren’t bad, just misunderstood… just like Poison Ivy.
Extra geeky side note:
When it comes to gardens, ivy’s a threat and bats are your friends. If you see ivy creeping anywhere near your little babies, pull it, and dump it. Bats eat bugs that can threaten your garden. They also eat mosquitoes, making them my favorite flying animal. (Pterodactyls are a close second.)
POISON IVY’S (not poison) GARDEN FRESH COUSCOUS
- 3 tbs olive oil (divided)
- 1 large shallot
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 2.5 cups cherry tomatoes
- 2.5 cups cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 ¼ cups chicken stock
- ½ tbs butter
- 1 cup Israeli couscous
- 4 oz dried pancetta
- Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a large saucepan on high. When warm, add shallots and garlic and reduce heat to medium. Stir frequently for 1 minute until garlic and shallots soften and brown around the edges.
- Add tomatoes and cucumbers, increase heat to medium high, and add white wine. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium low and let simmer until tomatoes split and are soft. (About 20 mins, or as long as it takes to prepare the rest of the recipe.)
- Cook the couscous according to the directions, substituting chicken stock for water and adding the butter when heating the chicken stock.
- Finally, heat the last tbs of oil in a small pan. Saute the pancetta, cooking it through.
- When ready, divide the couscous into two individual serving bowls. Use a slotted spoon to spoon the veggies over the couscous. Garnish with pancetta. Season to taste.
I don’t like to discuss calories, but this shouldn’t be too bad. (Ed. note: By my calculations, each serving will have a reasonable 540–615 calories, depending on variations between brands of couscous and pancetta; this excludes the oil used for cooking which, if it all makes it into the final dish, may add an additional 180.)
This post has a companion board on Pinterest! You can find it here.
Enjoy all four installments of KAPOW: