My Spring Garden Tour + A Date Night in St Louis

Hi friends!

At long last, things are slowing down. I went from working 54 hour per week, to 47, to now just under 43 this week. PPP funding is still open until March 31st, but the loan volume has slowed dramatically from when it first opened up in February. I actually found time this week to do a short health and wellness post on Thursday. In case you missed it, it was about the connection between gut health and nature. I have it linked here if you’d like to go back and read it.

I made a switch this week and did my meal prepping Saturday morning so Michael and I would be free to enjoy the rest of our weekend. Once upon a time (i.e. before Michael) my weekend routine included cleaning on Saturday mornings, so it was sort of a throw back to my previous life! At any rate, I got it all done – and even recorded it! For the first time ever I have a video of my meal prep, which I posted over on Instagram as an IGTV video.

Of course my prep-ahead dishes are always Michael’s for the week, so I’ll give you the full report on next Sunday’s blog which includes our weeknight dinners – which at this point have yet to be made. In case you aren’t following me on Instagram, I will be sharing the meal prep video next week as well. To tide you over, I managed to snap a few photos of dishes I’ve been making over the last few weeks that I’ve been on a blogging hiatus.

Wild Rice & Mushroom Soup
Balsamic Bean & Mushroom Salad
Vegan Banana Bread

This week has been my personal best of 2021 so far! For the second week in a row we had days in the upper 60’s, with lots of sun and no wind. It was absolutely gorgeous and provided the perfect weather to start my Spring gardening season! I like in Southeast Missouri, which is in planting zone 6. That means we can start our cool weather vegetables over these next couple of weeks.

Long before I was a nutrition researcher or a plant-based advocate, I was a gardener. I grew up in the country outside of the small town of Perryville, Missouri. I spent my summers at my grandparents’ house, and they always had a large garden. Grandma even canned tomatoes and green beans – they had a long hallway in their basement that ran from the back door down to Grandpa’s work area. The hallway was a long row of closets, and I can remember the shelves of the first couple of closets being stacked full with vegetables canned from the garden. Both of my grandparents were raised on farms – Grandma on a dairy and Grandpa on a traditional “we do it all” style farm. So growing and canning food was a natural way of life for them.

They’ve stopped doing it as they’ve aged – it is a lot of hard work, after all. But it played a large part in shaping my own habits and relationship with food. When I was a kid, I was raised on processed foods just like a majority of kids in America are. But our dinners were always homemade and included veggies, and so even though there was nothing I loved more than mozzarella cheese sticks, Coca-Cola, easy-cheese in a can, and roast beef lunch meat slices (my picks every time we went grocery shopping), I also developed a love for vegetables.

I can remember kids talking in elementary school about how gross spinach was, and I would sit in silence afraid to admit that spinach was my absolute favorite, for fear of being shunned. In fact, when my mom would make canned spinach, she and my dad would take their servings and I was allowed to finish off the rest of the bowl because I loved it so much! I loved my processed junk, but I loved my veggies too. And nothing was more fun than helping Grandma and Grandpa in the garden. We didn’t have a garden at my parents’ house every year, but we did quite often and I got to grow some of my own veggies.

I planted potatoes once, outside of the parameters of the garden. These weren’t seed potatoes meant for planting, but regular old grocery store potatoes out of the bag. I cut up a couple and planted them, despite my parents telling me those wouldn’t grow. But grow they did! Unfortunately my dad failed to notice my successful green thumb and mowed off the tiny emerging plants. I remember being so mad at him for that! I couldn’t have been more than 8 years old that summer.

Fast forward to my 35-year-old self, and I’m now growing my own gardens. I have been every year of my adult life, although I’ve had to adapt a great deal since buying my current home. Cape Girardeau, Missouri was developed in a very hilly and heavily forested piece of landscape. Most of the neighborhoods are still wrought with large, mature trees – a gardener’s worst nightmare. It wasn’t until buying this house in 2017 that I truly understood the importance of sunlight in gardening. I naively believed I’d be able to grow the same garden in my back yard that I always had – and finally had the first major garden failure of my life.

The spot I’d originally chosen was shaded all but about 3-4 hours of the day, so nothing was successful. Plants would grow, but they would not mature or produce anything. I had a tree removed after that first growing season, but it did little to help as the biggest culprit of the shade was a massive tree at the corner of my neighbor’s back yard, which I can’t remove. I started dating Michael in 2019, and he is an engineer who can build just about anything you’d ever want. I had purchased a raised bed to set up in the sunniest part of my yard (it gets 6-7 hours of sunlight – the bare minimum for plants needing full sun), and was planning to build some sort of structure to cover it to keep the squirrels from stealing all of my tomatoes.

Michael came to the rescue and designed something better than I ever could have come up with on my own as a novice builder, and he and my son worked together to bring it to life. I now have an 8 x 4 raised bed with a 6 foot high enclosure for my tomatoes. I also had another 8 x 4 raised bed made from concrete blocks where I planted greens in the spring and green beans in the summer. Last year I bought a greenhouse cover to put over it and realized what a game-changer it was for my low-light problem.

I’d never needed a greenhouse before, living in areas with no tree cover and blinding sunshine from sunrise to sunset. But last year’s gardening season was leaps and bounds better. It was my fourth season at this house, and I was finally getting the hang of it. This year, I’m making some changes to expand my garden. I relocated my concrete block raised bed, and doubled it in size creating an “L” shape around my tomato cage. I’ve pinpointed this area as the one spot in my yard with the most hours of sun during the day.

I also purchased a second greenhouse cover. This will allow me to get away from using large pots as overflow for my greens, and have them all in the ground under a greenhouse. I bought more concrete blocks and soil from Menards, plus some grass seed to fill in the former raised bed space. I relocated the garden bed, shoveled in all of the soil from the old location, then added 8 (2 cubic foot) bags of new garden soil. Then, since I have greenhouse covers, I went ahead and planted all of my seeds.

I put out beets, carrots, peas, green onions, radishes, spinach, arugula, endive, a spicy mesculin mix and a looseleaf lettuce mix. The new greenhouse arrived Thursday, so that evening I took my work light outside and put it together, then got it over the garden. Now it’s all set up and ready to grow! The last thing I need to do, aside from keeping it watered, is run string between my two pea trellises to give them space to climb. I did a little garden tour video here for you!

Spring Garden Tour

I’ve been aching to get out and do things this week with all of the beautiful weather! Aside from starting back up my outdoor lunchtime walks, I’ve also been inspired to get dressed up a little (I’ve lived in leggings and sweaters all winter) and leave the house. Michael and I met at an event called Beer:30 put on the first Thursday of each month at a local business called Codefi. We haven’t been since the pandemic started, but they were having an event this week so we decided to go.

This month they were having giveaways, and I actually won a bottle of Chardonnay! I threw together a quick dinner when we got home, then set Michael up on my patio bench with a chilled glass while I assembled my greenhouse.

Yesterday we got to have a little adventure. Michael’s brother and sister-in-law live in the Chicago suburbs, but they both work from home which means they can live anywhere. They’ve decided to move back closer to home and buy some land to build a house on. They have some acreage for hiking, four-wheeling and general exploring, and they wanted the family to come up and take a tour of it with them. Their land is smack in the middle between here and St. Louis, so we decided to make our date night count.

We stopped and spent an hour touring his brother’s land. I’m really excited for them! It reminds me a lot of my grandpa’s farm, where we have our cabin and our family just bought a new camper to set up out there. We did a fall hike this year and I flagged off a hiking trail, which we will soon be working on clearing as the plants all spring back to life. Their house is expected to be finished by Christmas, so next Spring they’ll have their very own land to have adventures on. Michael and I were also talking about how cool it would be to have them around to explore St Louis with, because they’re the closest to our age (Michael is the oldest, and this is the next sibling under him) and don’t have kids, so they have lots of freedom.

One thing I miss so much with this pandemic are all of the events in the city. Nothing is happening right now – the virus is understandably worse in a large urban area, so events aren’t happening, and restaurants and businesses are restricted to half-capacity. Which pretty much means you need a reservation to get in anywhere, so no spontaneous decisions. My absolute favorite restaurant in the city, which is definitely not plant-friendly, is Broadway Oyster Bar. So I made a reservation and Michael and I ventured up there for our date night after we finished touring his brother’s land.

There was definitely nothing plant-based about it, but I’m very much okay with having the occasional non-healthy meal. In fact, I pretty much plan for it every other Saturday when Michael and I are kid-free and get to have our date nights. This is our time to live it up and do what we want – and as a plant-based health coach I can tell you that I encourage this, because giving yourself a little freedom to have the things you enjoy from time-to-time will help you stay on track the rest of the time. It’s when tell ourselves “I can’t have that ever again, even though I love it” that we are most likely to give up and return to our old ways. Planning, discipline, and not being too hard on ourselves will take us far!

Now it’s time for me to head out on a little adventure of my own. Right as this post goes live, I will be on my way to my family farm to spend a couple of hours with my family before I have to pick up my boys from their dad. It’s been a wonderful, full, happy week, and I’m ready for more sunny and warm days to come. Wishing you all lots of love and adventures this upcoming Spring!

Love,
Loren

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