Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Organize your garden notes now

At the end of a Gardening Year 2010, you’re just brimming over with thoughts and ideas about what worked and what didn’t and what you’re going to do the same—or differently—in Gardening Year 2011. Perhaps you even have a scattered collection of scraps of paper with scribbled notes on them.

But when Gardening Year 2011 begins, how many of those great ideas will you remember—or be able to decipher? How many will you recall if you haven’t even jotted them down in your personal shorthand?

Now that Thanksgiving is past and the weather is turning colder, it’s time draft your gardening notes.

For five years I kept a garden diary in a bound book, but I wrote in cursive and then had the problem of trying to find particular entries and then deciphering my often abbreviated squiggles. So a few years ago I started a garden diary file on my computer.

Each year I start out trying to write notes on a daily … then weekly … then monthly … then … you get the idea. So at the end of the season I force myself to take my haphazard notes, add my current thoughts, and update my computerized garden notes for the year.

I like computer notes for two reasons: (1.) I type faster than I can write and then can read what I typed, provided, of course, I have my fingers on the right keys, and (2) later I can usually find what I’m looking for quickly by using the “Find” function.

I won’t bore you here with all my 2010 veggie notes, but I’ll give you a few edited samples so you can get an idea of how I do it:

1. Overwinter research recommendations for control of the plague of brown marmorated stink bugs, which took a heavy toll on my tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, and green beans.

2. Don’t repeat the four new lettuces I tried this year, but go back to my long-time favorites, Paris Island Cos and Red Sails.

3. Repeat Burpee’s Short n’ Sweet Carrots, which grew impressively, and sweetly, in our piedmont Maryland clay.

4. Dumb-dumber-dumbest: Remember to order rutabaga seeds, not purple-top turnips.

5. Reduce tomato varieties from 8 to 4 or 5: Sungold, Juliet, Yellow Plum, Celebrity, and another “big red.” Reduce number of plants to 20 max. Those tomatoes aren’t getting any younger.

6. Repeat growing squash around a 4-gallon “drip irrigation” bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Plant green zucchini and yellow crookneck again in late June to avoid squash vine borers.

At the beginning of Gardening Year 2010, I looked around the garden and tried to remember where I had planted tomatoes in 2009 so I could rotate my tomato crop to a different part of my garden. Thorough garden cleanup, three blizzards, and six months had left no tell-tale evidence in either my garden or my memory. I went into the house and searched my computer notes—and found nothing.

Learn from my experience. Write your 2010 garden notes now—which is what I did last night.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cold weather gardening

Today, November 27, 2010, the temperature is about 40*F here in central Maryland and we keep growing vegetables in our garden!
Presently, we are growing/harvesting broccoli, peas, carrots, scallions, green onions, parsley, cabbage, potatoes, garlic and green peppers. While the garlic is growing for the next year, the other veggies are for consumption during the fall season or for hibernation over the winter until spring.
Most of the veggies on our list won’t surprise you, except maybe the green pepper, but it’s the perfect example of cold weather gardening. We grew the peppers during the fall when the temperature was above 60*F (until the beginning of November). Now as long as the temperature is more than 30*F, and we keep them covered at night when the temperature is below 39*F to keep the frost away from the plant, they will survive. For the peppers in the garden, a row cover is handy. It now stays on the plants all the time. For Thanksgiving, we harvested the peppers in the garden (about a dozen) and left the 2 plants (another dozen) in the pots alone.

With some planning and preparation, it is possible to have a crop for fall/winter consumption or winter/spring consumption and even some crops will overwinter (a.k.a. hibernating). In the past we have had success in extending the scallions and peppers season and to overwinter broccoli under a plastic cover for an early spring harvest, but this year is the first time we really tried to push on the subject.

For help, we used one of the 3 techniques below.
Row cover. We used it on the peppers and now it’s broccoli time. We want to give the last head a chance to fully grow and we want to enjoy all the little side-sprouts from the 7 other plants. If we don’t harvest, the plant will go in hibernation.

To help the last scallions to reach maturity, we use a cold frame made with chicken wire and plastic wrap. We use the same protection that we use to protect the broccoli when overwintering.

For the green onions we use the double-covered bed technique. The onions are situated in a cold section of the garden and we want to keep the temperature near the ground higher than under a cold frame or row cover. With a double coverage, it can be possible to grow half-hardy to hardy vegetable all winter. The greenhouse is about 3’x 4’ and cost me less than 30$ (2010) in material.

My goal during the last 5 years was always to have fresh veggies for Thanksgiving. Often we ended the season around mid-November. This year, we harvested veggies on Thanksgiving day.

I was inspired for the cold weather gardening by Eliot Coleman’s book : Four-season Harvest

Friday, November 26, 2010

Eat your landscaping

Adrian Higgins, “Garden” columnist of the Washington Post, interviews Rosalind Creasy, author of the “Edible Landscaping,” which moved veggies and other edibles from backyard gardens to landscapes wherever they might be. To read “Romancing the vegetable garden,” CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from Grow It Eat It

I wish it was my home-grown squash, but it is local - and so are the apples holding up the construction since the metal legs aren't strong enough, and so is the real turkey I'll be putting in the oven soon.  The only "home-grown" element of today's meal will be the last enormous sweet potato of the demo garden harvest, and the herbs for the stuffing.  Better next year!

How about you?  What's going into your Thanksgiving meal that you grew yourself, or bought from a local source?

While we're doing vegetable-animal hybrids, here's what happened to the tougher part of that cushaw squash.

The squirrels are thankful that we feed them.  And I'm thankful to be able to show you silly pictures, and grow my own food and chat about it.  Thanks to all of you for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

If life gives you cushaws...

Here's the last of the "pumpkins" my intrepid Halloween shoppers brought home from the farm stand.  It's a cushaw squash, known either as Cucurbita argyrosperma or Cucurbita mixta depending on the source.

Cushaws have a long American history, having been used by Native Americans throughout the continents and then adopted by settlers from elsewhere.  Some varieties are strongly associated with regions such as the Southwest or the Ozarks.  The orange-striped one shown in the photo is one type; others are green-striped or solid green, orange or white.

You hear different tales about how palatable the cushaw is.  It's traditionally grown for cattle feed, after all, or mainly for the seeds.  Some writers swear it's the best for pies and others say you shouldn't bother.  I came across a very simple recipe at a heirloom seed site and decided to try it.

Well, it was perfectly edible, and tasty enough for a side dish.  I added a little soy sauce and some dashes of cinnamon to the basic recipe; it could be jazzed up more with a touch of hot sauce or some minced hot peppers, or made sweet and spicy.  Cushaw has a distinct squashy flavor, but aside from that it's a blank slate that you have to write on.  Here's a recipe for cushaw custard with more information on common varieties.

I haven't grown cushaw myself, but I gather it's one of the easier squashes to grow if you have the room and a fairly long growing season (or a good warm microclimate).  Along with its cousins in the C. moschata species, C. argyrosperma/mixta is resistant to squash vine borers.  It grows big and stores very well, and thus makes an excellent staple food in the same vein as potatoes.  Personally I think I'd get bored if I had to eat it all winter.  If you don't have a huge garden and lots of storage space, I'd recommend growing butternuts instead: similar ease of growth, borer resistance, much better taste, and shorter vines (though they still cover a lot of space).  But cushaws look really cool and are very historical, so if that brings you joy, go for it!

"If you can grow him, he ain't no problem to get rid of"

They’re ugly, disease-prone, and difficult to grow. But Hayman sweet potatoes have been growing in Eastern Shore gardens and fields since 1856. Sweet potato lovers put their names on waiting lists to buy these sugary, creamy-white heirloom treats—which may be available at a farmer’s market near you some year soon. To read “The dirt on Haymans,” by Lorraine Eaton, in the Sunday Washington Post, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Explaining the broccoli cousins without DNA testing

Confused about broccoli, broccolini, broccoletti, and broccoli rabe? Barbara Damrosch takes six paragraphs to set you on the right track in her “A Cook’s Garden” column, “Honey, I shrunk the broccoli (and improved it),” in today’s Washington Post. CLICK HERE to link to her article.

Veggie seed saving--just as in centuries past

You’ve got to meet Lisa Von Saunder, who saves heirloom veggie seeds just like Amish and Mennonite gardeners have been doing for a couple of centuries and then sells them in what Adrian Higgins, Washington Post gardening columnist, calls a “cottage industry, a throwback to the century before last.”

The favorite of the 123 tomato varieties she sells: “The best-tasting tomato is a toss-up between two identical varieties, Todd County Amish and Amish Potato Leaf,” two pink beefsteaks, Von Saunder said.

If you’re a tomato freak like I am, CLICK HERE to read Higgins’ article, “Gathering seeds for a growth enterprise” in the Local Living Section of today’s Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two tutus for fall broccoli

Did tutu fabric protect Howard County Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich’s broccoli from cabbage butterflies this summer?

I checked with Susan last week at her plot at Westside Gardens, a part of Columbia Gardeners, Inc., to get a progress report.

“Yes, the tulle did its job. The larvae of cabbage butterflies weren’t a problem,” she said, as she pulled the fabric back to show me a broccoli head. “I’ve been cutting about two weeks now. The first head was pretty large. With the shorter days, the rest of the broccoli are growing more slowly now.”

The tutu worked to keep the butterflies from getting to the broccoli leaves to lay their eggs but didn’t solve a new problem—harlequin bugs.

“Harlequin bugs weren’t a problem before this year,” Susan explained. “The netting didn’t provide total protection against them. It kept them out of the centers of the plants, but then they just sat on the top of the tulle and sucked on the leaves through the fabric’s little holes.”


“I added another layer of fabric,” explained Susan, who gardens organically. “The second layer was a little stiffer than the first and both layers together were enough to prevent the harlequin bugs from reaching the leaves.”

Any other problems?

“White flies. Tons of them materialized about a week ago. But so far they’re just a nuisance and haven’t damaged the plants.”

“The brown marmorated stink bugs weren’t a problem for the broccoli, although they decimated my pole beans. They didn’t damage my chard, lettuce, or root crops, such as potatoes, beets, and carrots.”

Susan’s thought of one possible way of thwarting the stink bugs.

“Pole beans grow over a long season, so it seemed that several generations of stink bugs were able to attack them. Next spring I’m going to try bush beans, which produce relatively quickly. If the stink bugs are a big problem then, I’ll just not plant a second or third crop.”

Susan shared her favorite broccoli recipe:

Pasta with Broccoli and Tomatoes

Briefly blanch or steam 1 head broccoli, cut into flowerets, until bright green.

Toss together in a bowl:

¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped (sauté gently in the oil first for a less pungent garlic taste)
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
The steamed broccoli
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Cook 1 pound ziti or penne until al dente.

Toss together pasta and veggies.

Top with ¼ cup grated Parmesan.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4.

Adapted from The Dinah Shore Cookbook.

If you want to read my August 7 blog about how Susan uses tutu fabric, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Susan's winter crop: Garlic

Most people think of winter gardens in terms of zero—nothing happening, nothing growing. But Howard County Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich knows that something will be growing in her garden this winter—garlic.

“I planted most of my garlic about two weeks ago,” Susan said last Friday, pointing to several green sprouts—garlic leaves—poking through a thick mulch of shredded leaves. “October 15 to November 15 are the planting dates for garlic in Maryland.”

“Garlic likes good soil plus a thick mulch of shredded leaves or straw to help protect it through the winter. And it needs the mulch through the spring growing season too, because it doesn’t compete well with weeds. Planting is simple: two and a half inches deep and six inches apart, pointy end up. I use my weeding tool to make a hole in the soil for each clove.”

Susan bought heads of garlic from several suppliers last year and uses the best of that crop for her seed cloves. “I have six hard-neck varieties. Unfortunately, I didn’t label them when I planted last year, so I can’t really tell them apart, except for the two types that are purple.”

This year Susan has planted about 100 cloves, enough to fill a 4-foot by 8-foot raised bed at her plot in Westside Gardens, a part of Columbia Gardeners, Inc. The 100 cloves, of course, will grow into 100 heads of garlic, right?

“Yes,” Susan replied. “We eat a lot of garlic. Last year I planted 150 cloves and ended up with 12 mesh bags full, which was a lot. I had to go online to find ways to preserve it before it went bad. I pureed some with olive oil and froze it in ice-cube trays for use in Italian recipes. I also chopped and froze some without olive oil.”

Susan expects to harvest her garlic next summer. “Traditional harvest date is Bastille Day, July 14, but I’ll begin checking in late June because some varieties mature earlier,” she said.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Warty pumpkin soup

Yeah, there might be a better title for this dish.  But really, I started with a warty pumpkin:

My family went a little crazy buying Halloween pumpkins at a great farm market north of home, and this was one of them.  No, we didn't try carving it, although some people do - it has very thick flesh, though, as you can see:

Big beautiful seeds, too, that I roasted.  But back to the warts.  This sort of pumpkin (it's really a squash, as are all pumpkins, even the standard jack-o-lantern types) is also called peanut pumpkin, bumpkin pumpkin, and probably other names (I don't know the specific variety name of this one).  Some squashes naturally develop these warts, and this sort is carefully bred to enhance that tendency.  In 2009, a seed company tried to patent all warty pumpkins (see articles here and here) but since warts have been decorating pumpkins for centuries the attempt failed.

So here's my try at a soup (since I had to use the pumpkin for something, and the squirrels on the front porch had nearly finished the carved jack-o-lantern and started chewing on Wartyface, not very effectively).  I scooped out the insides and cut the fleshy part into large sections, then put them in the oven to bake at 375.  They were in there a bit too long - the idea is to make the flesh tender but not soft.  I put some butter on top of each piece:

It might also be interesting to use a little honey, brown sugar, or cinnamon.  Anyway, then I separated the flesh from the skin and chopped it into 1-inch pieces.

Next: saute a sliced medium onion (or half a really big sweet one) in olive oil or butter until tender and browning, then add the pumpkin chunks and keep stirring occasionally.  I also added a bunch of fresh herbs I had on hand (dill, parsley, cress, chives - but whatever you have around that doesn't clash is good) and salt, pepper, coriander and cumin.  And garlic, of course.  Add enough broth (and/or beer) to make it soup-like (the pumpkin itself will still release some liquid) and let it simmer for at least half an hour.  Pureeing is optional, but I did an adequate job with my Really Old Immersion Blender, and it turned out well.  And wow, yummy.  Those warty pumpkins have a great taste.

Maybe call it Herbed Pumpkin Soup, since you could make it with any type of pumpkin, or squash for that matter.  The other squash dish we had recently (also courtesy of the farm market) used a Long Island Cheese and was based on this Dorie Greenspan recipe-in-progress (I like that approach to recipes, since just about all of mine are in progress constantly).  My pumpkin was much bigger than hers, so I had to add extra filling, and used bulgur wheat with a little more liquid to cook it.  I also included onions, sauteed a little ahead of time.  It was a little goopy but good.

It would be interesting to try it without the cheese and with a more typical Thanksgiving-turkey kind of bread stuffing.  But I will have to get another pumpkin for that, because the only remaining one from the farm stand is a big Cushaw, which is shaped wrong for stuffing.  I'll let you know later what I do with that one.

Veggie orchestra--really?

Have you ever listened to an orchestra with instruments made from veggies?

If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. If your garden produces too many veggies, start a veggie orchestra.

No, my tomatoes haven’t been stewed. There really is a veggie orchestra, the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which has been giving the world a taste of fresh veggie music since 1998.

If you’re having a hard time imagining a veggie instrument, think carrot or radish flute. For brass, think carrot trumpet with bell made of—don’t be shocked—a bell pepper. For percussion, think turnip bongo, pumpkin drum, and eggplant clapper. On the mellower side, think cucumberphone.

You’re still not taking this seriously, are you? But the Vienna veggies are for real. They have several CDs out, the latest called “Onionoise.”

“Noise” probably isn’t the best word to associate with veggie music. Perhaps “funky and groovy” or “organic experimental sound” would be better.

And it’s comforting to think that in a world of veggie orchestras, no one would starve. After each concert, the conductor could collect all instruments and cook up a pot of vegetable soup.

“Brass and percussion, report to the kitchen!”

Eat your hearts out, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Lucky you weren’t celery.

Ready to view and hear a 2-minute veggie concert? CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Salsify, in bloom and for dinner

Okay, if I hadn't just given it away in the headline, would you know what this flower is?

Along with okra, salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) goes under the category of Prettier Flowers Than You Thought Vegetables Had.  This particular one also fits into the Biennials Pretending To Be Annuals group - it was not actually supposed to bloom until next spring.  Well, it has been a strange year.

What is salsify, you ask?  It's a member of the family Asteraceae, native to Europe but growing wild along with its "goatsbeard" cousins all over North America.  It used to be a common resident of the vegetable garden - often called "oyster plant" for the faint resemblance in flavor - but is not often grown these days.  So of course I thought I'd try!

Both salsify and its relative scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica, sometimes called black or Spanish salsify) are easy to grow, though they do require a deep loose soil and a long season to grow in (seed sown early in spring; harvest in fall into winter).  I dug some of the plants at the demo garden today, and left some to wait for an early spring harvest (or perhaps bloom).

You eat the roots (although the greens are also edible - I can't say I'm taken with chewing on them raw, but perhaps they'd be better cooked).  Here's a salsify root, about the size of a big carrot:

Under that dirt the root is whitish - it needs to be peeled before eating.  Scorzonera has black skin and a white interior:

There are lots of recipes around for salsify if you search online (and you can use scorzonera in any of them as well).  Since I still have Jerusalem artichokes to use up, I made this recipe for Braised Salsify and Jerusalem Artichokes from the Washington Post.  It was very tasty!

It's a good idea to put both the salsify and the sunchokes into water with some lemon juice added as you cut them.  This keeps them from discoloring.

You  may be able to find salsify or scorzonera now at farmer's markets or adventurous grocery stores, so look around!

Leaves--nature's mulch

Don’t even think of burning or bagging and tossing the falling leaves. In her “A Cook’s Garden” column in today’s Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch, suggests how you can use them in flower and veggie gardens and on the lawn.

I think her lead sentence is a great one for a gardening article: “It’s November, and nature is mulching.”

To read her short article, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turnips, carrots, and garlic: fall garden stalwarts

Plant carrot and turnip seed in the garden in late July through early August in Central MD and you're rewarded with October/November harvests of nutritious, delicious roots- not to mention the turnip greens! The carrot plants (left) and turnip plants (right) were planted in an 8 in. deep raised bed. Cover the bed with some floating row cover to push for more growth and a bigger harvest.

I planted garlic cloves a few weeks ago from the 'German White' hardneck garlic I grew last year. The cloves were planted 6 in. apart in rows spaced 12 in. apart. They started to sprout in 2 weeks time. After Thanksgiving I'll mulch them heavily with shredded leaves. Deer have not browsed my garlic in past years.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vote early and often

Don't forget to vote for Grow It Eat It at the Mobbies!  Click on the icon to the right and follow the instructions.  (You will have to register to access the Baltimore Sun if you haven't already done so.)  Each person can vote once every 24 hours in any category.  You'll find Grow It Eat It under "Foodie."  Votes accepted through November 12 - this Friday!

Also, if you follow the Home and Garden Information Center on Facebook, please vote for them under Facebook Fan Page!

All of us approve this message.  Thank you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chickweed: Kill it or eat it?

Barbara Damrosch takes aim at chickweed, king of winter weeds in our area, in her “A Cook’s Garden” column in today’s Washington Post. To read her article, CLICK HERE.

Enjoy Damrosch's article. A little weeding now and then through this fall and winter will minimize your need to weed next spring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ornamental sweet potato fries

Another in the We Eat Them So You Don't Have To... No, Wait, You Should series.

Last night at my house we had oven-baked sweet potato fries, made with this recipe.

Tasty although I used a little too much paprika and should have kept them in the oven longer, since they were soft but not crispy outside.  But hey, we were hungry.

Try the recipe!  But that's not the point of this post.  See the yellow-colored fries in the above photo?  The orange ones are regular Georgia Jet sweet potatoes from the demo garden, but the yellow ones I dug up yesterday from under my ornamental sweet potato vine (the purple-leafed kind) that has been spreading out at the base of my mailbox all summer and fall.  After the frost, it was ready to go, and since I'd already done the research that showed its tubers would be edible, I threw in the three I found that had fattened up.  (Neglected to take a photo, sorry.  They look like white sweet potatoes.)

Ornamental sweet potatoes are bred for pretty leaf color, not taste.  And these tasted... kind of bland compared to the others, but not offensive.  Rather like regular potatoes, in fact.  So, dig up your sweet potato vine and if you have tubers, try them.  I am still fine seventeen hours later.  (Actually I have a cold, but that's not dinner's fault.)

Warning: always check authoritative sources before experimenting with new foods you may have inadvertently grown!