Friday, August 31, 2012

Roots, leaves, shoots in one dish!

Here's a quick and easy side dish I fixed the other day made from the leaves, shoots, and young roots of Japanese red sweet potato in my garden.

Wash and tear, or coarsely chop, sweet potato leaves and shoot tips. Throw them in a deep frying pan and lay thin root slices on top. Cover with water and boil for 5-10 minutes. Drain off as much water as possible. Push the mixture to the side, add olive oil to the open space and sautee lots of minced garlic. Add salt and pepper and a few splashes of lemon juice or red wine vinegar.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pattypan squash

Pattypan squash, also known as  sunburst squash, cibleme in Cajun French , pâtisson in French and Europe, white squash, scallopini, scallop squash, granny squash, custard marrow,  custard squash or button squash is a North American native squash.  Member of the Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera , this flying saucer-shaped squash can be white, yellow, green or  orange.  

Generally, the pattypan squash is harvested when its diameter is between 3 and 4 inches for a sweeter taste and fewer seeds.   The plant is considered more compact and less productive than a zucchini plant but on the other side, according to my lovely wife Donna, some exceptions can exist like extensive vining and being above the average of one or two squash a week.    Another difference with a zuc is when fighting with the squash vine borer: you will lose your zucchini plants before your pattypan plants but it’s not as resistant as a butternut plant.  

The question:  what to do with these guys ?  You can boil, sauté,  bake, stuff, pickle, make bread, soup  or pie.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Slug damage on Big Mama Tomato

We were warned that this would in all likelihood be The Year Of The Garden Pest. The warners were right. It is. Stink bugs, rabbits, deer, ground hogs, voracious caterpillars of all varieties, blister beetles, (aptly named; their squashed bodies can bring up a good-sized blister, even through your pants), Japanese beetles, Mexican bean beetles, harlequin beetles and more. It’s a pest convention out there.

Slug trap to which you add beer
Slugs in particular have been my bane this year; I’ve never seen so many. And such climbers!  I find them sliming their way up the fence pickets, along the pathway, in the straw mulch, and especially over the tomatoes, peppers, and cukes where they methodically drill holes into the now-slimy produce.

In general, I’m a believer in tithing to the critters – both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ – as I think the variety keeps the garden in balance, ecologically speaking. I’m assuming Nature knows way more than I about what kinds of many-layered webs make the enterprise truly healthy and ultimately sustainable. And having gardened and researched for decades (where’d the time go?), I’ve also seen a lot of change. What were once expert absolutes about how we should be gardening have been changed more than once over the years, so I’m a bit jaded.

Slug tavern with all the drunken slugs
Because I have so many things for them to eat, birds of all kinds share the space, which usually keeps the insect population down to a dull roar, but the pestiferous bugs are getting ahead of their useful (to me) predators this year. My big gripe is that as far as I can tell, the birds won’t touch the slugs, which eat everything. Not that I blame the birds. Slugs are revolting. They’re squishy, which makes them tough to kill.  Trying to squash them with a booted foot simply mashes them back into the soil whence they came.

Some people sprinkle them with salt, but I’m not keen on adding even a small amount of sodium chloride to the garden; it could potentially destroy some of the things I want. For years, people have advised: Set out pans of beer, which attracts them (yes) and drowns them (no).  A pan of beer is actually a slug tavern. They come in, drink themselves silly, lie around looking drowned but in fact are drunk out of their tiny gourds. When they sober up, (if you haven’t done anything else to actually get rid of them), they ooze off again to go back to work drilling slimy holes in my produce. I only hope they have massive hangovers. Incidentally, slugs can apparently survive being drowned for 48 hours in a bucket of water as well, something I tried with a drunken collection.

The only thing that’s worked for me – though I haven’t tried a number of the suggestions on the website I’ve added below – is the garden knife. I keep it in hand and slice the slugs in half and leave ‘em to decompose and add to the nutrient buffet. Time-consuming and fiddly, but brutishly satisfying. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Year of Leafy Greens: It's not always in the garden

Often when we think leafy greens, we think about kale, collards, cabbage etc…  But outside of your garden, some leafy weeds like dandelions, nettles, or purslane,  when picked young and without any chemicals added, are tasty too.  If you move further away around the world, some shrub-like plants such as the bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina) or tree-like as the moringa knowa here know as the horseradish tree (Moringa oleifera) have good, tasty leaves to eat as well.

Closer to Maryland, the white mulberry tree (Morus alba) is a way for you (and the livestock!) to eat more greens.   According to, the young spring leaves are edible and The American Diabetes Association notes that mulberry leaves may reduce blood glucose levels for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

Unlike the groundhog I found  in our white mulberry tree chewing  leaves,  I think I will skip the leaves and go directly to the berries.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tomato sauce on the quick—well, sort of

Basic ingredients for sauce

Not many gardeners and cooks have the time or patience to make tomato sauce the traditional way—which can take nearly a day if you include the time setting up, preparing the tomatoes for cooking, cooking, canning or freezing, and cleaning up.

I know I don’t.

So over the years I’ve read scores of recipes looking for shortcuts that result in time saved but still sauce that’s better than opening a store-bought jar or can.  I’ve mentally pieced together “my” sauce recipe, but since I’ve never written it down and am not the measuring kind, each batch of sauce is a bit different.

Quick prep of tomatoes
Today I made my first batch of sauce of 2012.  We—Ellen and I and our visiting son and family of 5—have been eating lots of tomatoes and giving away many.  But this is mid-August and the number of tomatoes on our garage counter increases every day.  This morning I checked and found that I had to make sauce or many of the tomatoes soon would have to be discarded.

How do I make sauce? 

I use the obvious—tomatoes—plus onion, garlic, olive oil, and basil, plus some seasonings, usually salt, pepper, and sometimes crushed red pepper.  I’m the kind of cook that uses some of this, a bit of that, and pinch of that and leave the scales and measuring cups and spoons in their storage places.

Food mill cuts down on work
For this batch I started with a colander and a half—I’d guess six pounds—of Amish Paste and Celebrity tomatoes, a large onion, a half dozen cloves of garlic, a few gurgles of olive oil, a large bouquet of basil fresh-cut from our garden, plus the seasoning.

To save time, I don’t cook and stir the sauce for two, three, or more hours.  I don’t blanch the tomatoes and skin and core them.  Instead, I cut off any bad spots and cut the tomatoes in chunks into Pot 1, the first of two pots.  I then cook the tomatoes for 20 minutes or so, until large chunks begin to soften and small pieces begin to disintegrate.  While the tomatoes are cooking in Pot 1, I chop onion and garlic into Pot 2, add olive oil and seasoning, and let cook for a few minutes.  Then I ladle or spoon the partially cooked tomatoes into a food mill positioned over Pot 2 and run the tomatoes into Pot 2, leaving skins, hard cores, and most seeds in the mill.  Then I simmer all the sauce ingredients for about 45 minutes in Pot 2 and add chopped basil for the last five minutes.

Ah, the fragrance of it all.  Can’t you all but smell the aroma?

Ah, the first sample
The project usually takes two and a half hours or so, including most cleanup.  When I’m happy with the sauce, I let it cool in the pot.  Since we’ll be using today’s sauce this weekend, I stored and refrigerated two quarts and we made spaghetti for lunch to use most of the two cups left over.  If I make another batch in a week or so, I’ll freeze it in plastic containers or bags for wintertime enjoyment.  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Isn’t my sauce on the “thin” side?  Yes.  When you search online recipes, you’ll see that many “quick” sauce recipes mention they result in “thin” or “light” sauces, even if you use paste-type tomatoes, such as the Amish Paste variety I used.  We’re not offended by “thin” sauce, but if we want it thicker, we add a can of tomato paste when we prepare it for serving.

As we were finishing our lunch, Ellen said, “This is really good.” 

If you get sauce-making fever, check out recipes online.  You’ll find hundreds if not thousands.  Choose two or three that look interesting and use them as guides to create your own personal recipe.

And don't forget the cleanup
And don’t forget the cleanup.  When I look at the smudged stovetop, the used pots and other utensils, and the trimmings and other throwaways, I marvel how TV programs and magazine articles show how to make great recipes without even a nod to end-of-project cleanup.

Couldn’t they just once give us “10 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Kitchen Mess”?

Monday, August 20, 2012

What's for lunch?

    Well, it's the middle of August and summer vacation is almost over.  It's getting to be the time of year when gardeners who plant cool weather crops for the fall are transplanting their broccoli, cauliflower and collard transplants.  It's also time to think about planting the seeds of lettuce, spinach, kohlrabi, bok choi, kale, mustard and other fall greens for fall harvest.  But once the morning's planting is done, my stomach tells me it's time to think about lunch.

    So what is for lunch?  Well, since it's summer, it has to be BLTs.  Despite their low yield, Brandywine tomatoes have to be my favorite tomato both for its size and taste.  So it's in from garden to fry up some bacon, toast some bread, rinse some lettuce and slice a Brandywine.  The old adage is that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I think I'll stop blogging and sit down for lunch.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What can I do with a bucketful of squash?

Squash surplus!
Yellow squash and green squash—Pic-N-Pic and zucchini—a bucket full of squash—actually another bucket of squash.

Neighbors grimace but do their duty and reluctantly take “just one or two” while proclaiming, “We aren’t great squash fans” or “We’re not doing much cooking these days.”  Our daughter takes a half dozen—which she slices lengthwise and grills with a bit of olive oil and seasoning.  Our son, Brian, and family are visiting, and Deena, his wife, loves squash.  How great is that!

Ellen and I eat more than our share—and then some.  We have two basic recipes—one simple and mouth watering and one smooth and comforting but more complex. 

The simple recipe:  Place some butter (or olive oil if your cardiologist is looking over your shoulder) into a saucepan and add a half cup or so of chopped onion and two or three thinly sliced garlic cloves.  As the onion and garlic begins to cook over medium heat, add one small yellow squash and one small zucchini squash cut into uniform pieces.  Season to your taste—a little salt, a little black pepper, maybe a creative dash or two of dill weed fresh from your garden or from your spice rack.  Cover and let cook just enough so the squash is a still a vegetable and not hot gelatin—just three to five minutes—stirring a time or two.

The comfort food recipe:  “Summer Squash Mushroom Casserole” from Taste of Home magazine.    Since we are only two, we divide one recipe into two smaller dishes, bake both, eat one and keep the second in the fridge to reheat a day or two later.  Key to this recipe: Barely sauté the squash so it doesn’t overcook and collapse while the casserole bakes.

And here’s an unusual twist on squash from Barbara Damrosch’s “A Cook’s Garden” column, “A different delicacy: Squash vine tips,” in the Washington Post.  To learn about “tenerumi,” CLICK HERE

And if I harvest another bucketful of squash, I’d better start thinking about Food Philanthropy and where I can donate our bounty, as Donna Koczaja posted yesterday.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reminder: Vegetable Philanthropy

By now everybody should be well into enjoying their harvests from a garden well-tended.  This year I have an eight foot row of pickling cucumbers, which has done remarkably well.  I have been taking extra cucumbers to the local soup kitchen for about 4 weeks now - about 6 pounds once or twice a week.  And this is after Nicolas and I made 14 jars of pickles.

I have been donating extra produce, including the aforementioned cukes, peppers, and even the occasional watermelon or cantaloupe to the soup kitchen for about 5 years now.  It's a relatively small operation, serving only 30 meals a night.  So even just a few pounds of anything fresh can make a real difference.  Volunteers working in the kitchen are always grateful to have some fresh food for their clients.

This year I have been particularly encouraged when I go to the kitchen because just about every time I have gone there has also been other garden donations sitting on the counter.  Someone brought a half dozen tomatoes, or a couple of peppers.  I even spied a butternut squash in the refrigerator one time.  It looks like Vegetable Philanthropy is starting to catch on!

So you see that it doesn't take a lot - just a few extra fruits or veggies, and a little extra time to deliver your bounty.  I encourage everyone to support your local soup kitchens and food pantries.  Just be sure that they are equipped to receive fresh food.

Visit the Grow It Give It page for more information and assistance in finding a soup kitchen near you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Flowers in the vegetable garden

Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day in the gardening world, hosted by May Dreams Gardens.  Anyone with a gardening blog can link in with a post about what's blooming in their garden, and today that includes Grow It Eat It.  But we're all about vegetables, you say.  Well, vegetables have flowers too, and it's also great to have non-vegetable (though sometimes edible) flowers in the vegetable garden, to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Here's some of what's blooming at the Derwood Demo Garden this week.  First, flowering vegetables:

We still have a very few scarlet runner beans blooming, where they get a little shade from other plants.  The more exposed scarlet runners on the teepee are beginning to look like they might revive, however, now that our days and nights are a bit cooler.

Most beans have pretty flowers, in fact.  These are our new best friend Provider.

My favorite flower in the vegetable garden is okra.  Even if you don't like okra, you should plant it for the flowers and the leaves.  The red varieties are especially lovely.

The malabar spinach in the Kitchen Garden is just starting to come into bloom.  Another gorgeous edible.

Among the herbs, fennel is one of the most beautiful and a good attractor of beneficials.  Even if it is annoying to have to pull out five thousand volunteer plants every year.

Garlic chives belongs in the same category.  Pretty, edible, great for attracting insects, spreads itself around like crazy.  Plant with caution.

Anise hyssop is a little better behaved, or maybe it's just that I love to have it around.  Bees like it.

This is not a flower.  This is a parasitized hornworm caterpillar on a tomato plant.  Just as welcome a sight, though.

We added a Passiflora incarnata (native passion flower or maypop) to the garden this year, and it's growing up a fence with typical abandon.  It may take over the garden next year, but I don't care because the flowers are so lovely.  We may even get fruit from it some day.

We put in another native, Joe-Pye weed, in the spot next to the Jerusalem artichokes where nothing else would grow in their shadow.

The Unwin's Dwarf dahlias are all doing splendidly this year, including the ones we didn't dig up that survived the non-winter.  Bees like these, too, and if you can't justify them in a vegetable garden any other way, both the petals and the tubers are edible.

This is the lone sunflower that came up from an early summer planting.  I think it does the job.  The bee thinks so too.

I always have zinnias in the vegetable garden.  There doesn't have to be a reason other than that they're cheerful, but they do also attract bees and butterflies.  I got the seeds for these at a swap, and they were labeled "purple zinnia" so I can't tell you the variety.

This is Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) 'Aztec Sun,' with an ailanthus webworm moth, a very useful creature whose larvae eat ailanthus (tree of heaven, an invasive thug).

That's most of what's blooming in the vegetable garden, but of course we have many more blooms in other parts of the garden, and this is a splendidly colorful time of year for flowers.  May yours bloom long and beautiful!

Gardeners Beware! Some caterpillars can sting

Saddleback caterpillar:
Beautiful but venomous
Backyard gardeners are used to brushing against leaves while picking corn, but few will experience the pain that a chance encounter with a caterpillar caused Jeanine Smetana, a Master Gardener in Harford County.

“While I was picking corn in our garden two Sundays ago, I felt a few scrapes of the serrated edge of the corn leaves, or so I thought,” Jeanine wrote.  “Monday morning I awoke with some serious heat and stinging pain in my face.  When I looked at the left side of my face in the mirror, it was swollen, red, and kind of bumpy under my left eye and in the area of the ‘laugh crease’ from my nose down to my chin.

“I scrubbed thoroughly, put on hydrocortisone as a precaution, and went about my business.  My face got worse and progressively more painful.  Nothing seemed to work.  The harder I tried, the redder and more painful it became. So on Tuesday I called a farmer friend who suggested that my swollen face might have been caused by brushing against a saddleback caterpillar while I was picking the corn,” Jeanine continued.

“The saddleback is one of a few venomous caterpillars--yep, venom, as in poisonous snakes.  Saddlebacks have teeny-tiny, venom-filled spines on their back, also called ‘urticating hairs,’ from which they release venom when they feel threatened. Sometimes the entire spine comes free and embeds itself—just my luck!  Most of the venomous caterpillars feed on deciduous plants including trees, but several websites indicate that the saddleback is frequently found on corn crops.

“If you realize it when it happens, the tiny spines are quite easy to remove by pressing little strips of fresh Scotch tape across the affected area to pull the little barbs out. The quicker you get the spines out, the less venom that goes in.  Since mine had been there for a couple of days, I began to look like Quasimodo. Nevertheless, the Scotch tape did remove the hairs, which eased the pain.  After a trip to the dermatologist for a stronger topical steroid, my face is losing the redness and distortion.

White-flannel moth caterpillars,
part of the group that stung me
“These critters can be anywhere, on any plant.  It’s surprising we don’t have more issues with them. Someone described the sting as ‘comparable to that of a manta ray.’ I believe it.  Of course, the amount of pain does vary depending on factors like susceptibility and length of contact. Gardeners need to be aware of stinging caterpillars so they will know how to respond if they are ever stung.

"By the way, I do believe the best way to alleviate the pain is to use the Scotch tape and then apply a poultice of baking soda and water.  But, don’t rule out a trip to the doctor if the pain persists.”

Jeanine highly recommends that you read an article, “Stinging Caterpillars Out in Summer and Fall,” by Stanton Gill of the University of Maryland Extension.  “It’s like a bad science-fiction novel, ‘The Attack of the Scary Caterpillars,’ she wrote.  “They even look freaky.”  To read the article, CLICK HERE.

This stinging caterpillar is the larvae of the Saddleback Caterpillar Moth (Sibine stimulea).  To see photos of the dark-brown adults on the Maryland Moths website, CLICK HERE.

If you want to see a stunning collection of photos of venomous caterpillars, CLICK HERE to read “Stinging Caterpillars of the United States” at The Ark in Space website. 

Jeanine wrote about her chance painful chance encounter after reading my recent personal blog about stings I got from white-flannel moth caterpillars on our backyard redbud tree.  To read that posting, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Canning Day

Poblano, cubanelle, padron, lemon and mild habanero peppers with tomatoes
Yesterday was canning day. Finally breezy (a little) finally cooler (enough) and with sufficiently diminished humidity that I got out in the garden and actually picked the beans, tomatoes and peppers that have needed picking for several days. SO, I spent the day canning.  Salsa, lemon pepper jelly (hot), red pepper jelly (ditto) and harissa sauce.  Usually harissa is a paste made of hot peppers and spices, but last year I tried a recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine that uses tomatoes.  My family enjoyed it a lot and requested it again this year.

Jarred harissa sauce
Sweet-hot with garlic, sugar, vinegar and spices, this harissa sauce is great on roast or grilled chicken, adds wonderfully to garbanzo-eggplant stew, Moroccan beef stew, is nice slathered on baked fish, whatever you can think of.  Lemon pepper jelly, which I add to venison stew, goose stew, chicken stew, is also nice on cream cheese with crackers. I made it this year by adapting the recipe for pepper wine jelly in the Ball cookbook. (Each year can be different, depending on how much we liked the last batch and how well I remember the recipe I used that we actually liked). I use aji limon peppers aka lemon peppers grown from Burpee seed. The peppers are a beautiful lemon yellow, have a slightly smoky lemon flavor, and are slightly less than the heat of a jalapeno, which is about 5000 Scoville units. (Habanero is 300,000 to give you an idea). I add lemon juice and the grated rind of a whole lemon in making the jelly.  The salsa relies on my Big Mama San Marzanos, hard neck garlic, Serrano peppers, cubanelle peppers, (which are sweet but not quite like bell peppers in flavor), cilantro, lemon basil, and a big onion, which I didn’t grow more’s the pity. I’d love to grow my own onions, but I use so many  that I’m not willing to devote the garden space I'd need to supply us. Tonight I’m freezing beans and pickling just two jars with lime basil.  I’ll take those to a friend who has a wine bar – barVino – in North Creek, New York in the Adirondacks.  Tomorrow is spaghetti sauce day. Then I’ll fall back on my laurels a little and go back to work while the garden works to produce something else to eat and preserve.
A visual pick-me-up on dim days in winter

Final Note: Lest you think my garden isn’t filled with voracious caterpillars, blister beetles, stinkbugs, rabbits, dying cuke plants, pathetic parsley and more, I’m here to tell you it ain’t so. Martha Stewart I’m not. The garden’s a shambles, retrieved from utter degeneracy by my husband’s energetic weeding and assiduous daily attack on the Japanese beetles, who have almost finished their run over here on the Eastern Shore.  But since the garden’s not on display (much as I’d love it to be picture-perfect) and since we've got full lives, and since the weather’s been so stinking (oh, excuse me, I mean uncooperative), the garden looks like the dickens. But it still produces; I just only let non-judge-y friends see it. If you’re a Martha Stewart clone, please judge us lesser mortals kindly.

Salsa after a whir with the hand blender

Friday, August 10, 2012

Groundhog War!

The other night I came home, weary from a hard day's work and ready to relax.  Unfortunately, some(fuzzy)body had other ideas.  As I walked toward my front door, I saw not one, but TWO groundhogs just hanging out by the garage here-->;

Now, at this point I think to myself, 'how naive am I?' to think that THIS year, there will be no groundhogs!  To be true, early August is pretty late for me to be seeing any of these pests for the first time.  And as a result, Nicolas and I never got around to fencing our main garden (which is right up against the house).

Once done with the silent self-criticism, I sprang into action.  I chased the two hogs around the back to see where they came from - a vital piece of information when planning a counterattack.  One of them went behind the wood pile, which perplexed me because just a few weeks ago Nicolas (bless his heart) completely rebuilt the wood pile to make it 'groundhog-proof'.  The other one squeezed under the neighbor's fence where he(she?) presumably dug under to get here in the first place.  See, the groundhog family(s) live two doors down from our house.  They cross through my neighbor's yard, and then they eventually find themselves in our yard for what my husband deems 'the open buffet'.  Last year, you may recall the bugger who chomped on all my fall broccoli.  Well, I wasn't about to have a rehash of that!

Okay, back to the mitigation plan.  With groundhogs, you need both an offense and a defense.  I tended to the offense while I waited for Nicolas to get home to tell him the bad news.  I set the trap right at the hole under the fence - this is where the knowledge of where they come from is key.

You can see that I put some wood pieces along both sides of the trap to ensure that the groundhog only has one way to go when crossing under.  Bonus was also that, from the other side of the fence, he can't see where he's going.  Just to be sure, though, I baited the trap with some pineapple and cantaloupe.

Now, for the defense.  I plugged up as best I could the areas in the woodpile I thought the critter could squeeze through.  It always amazes me how many places groundhogs can find as escape routes.  They're smart, and it's a real challenge to be smarter than they are.
At about this point Nicolas came home, and he helped me with the second part of the defense - putting a fence around my prize cantaloupes.  Groundhogs LOVE cantaloupes, and I had about 5-6 beauties just waiting to ripen (all at once, I'll wager).  I was NOT going to let the groundhogs get them.

We hurried up and put a fence around just the 'lopes, because that was my biggest concern in the short term (arrows show two of my babies):

Now, beware that groundhogs can climb, so there was no guarantee that our 'lopes were completely safe behind our 3-foot tall fence.  I do know that it was now very difficult for me to get to them, myself, so I was hoping that I could at least deter them for a few days while allowing the offense to do it's job.

Finally, after finishing all the preparations, I could relax - and wait for the trap.  I awoke the next morning with hope and anticipation...

...but no groundhog.

I checked a few times throughout the morning...

...but no groundhog.

Finally, on a whim, I went back there around lunchtime and...guess what?!?!?!?!


Now...for all you folks out there thinking about trapping...please check with your local laws to determine A. whether it's legal to catch them and B. what you must do with them if you do catch one.  We live in Prince George's County, where you can call Animal Management, who will come and take your new friend to a better place.  You can also rent a trap from them for a couple of bucks, but Nicolas and I (unfortunately) do this quite often so we invested in our own (about $45 at the Big Box stores...)

Score 1 for the humans, 0 for the groundhogs.  I reset the trap (remember there were two out there), but so far he hasn't shown up.  Let's hope that until he does, our defenses hold.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I Declare War on Deer. The Sequel.

I wrote a blog post about my solar powered electric deer fence in July 2009. I DECLARE WAR on Deer and Rabbits! Now, 3 years later, I have captured the effectiveness of my substantial efforts on video.

I arrived home after work last night and found 2 deer munching on grass in the back yard and inching closer and closer to my garden.  I grabbed my camera and stealthily sneaked out onto the deck crouching low so the flowering container plants provided cover.  I got as far as the table but needed to get closer.  So I crawled on my stomach - commando fashion - over to the railing. I perched my camera on the bottom rail  - finger at the ready - and started shooting. Voila!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Leaves in the August garden

I happened to take a lot of photos of leaves this Tuesday in the Derwood Demo Garden, so thought I would post them.  I'll start with the cute and end with the sad.

This is basil 'Spicy Globe' in our basil patch.  It's a nearly perfect round ball about 6 inches wide, and adorable.

At the other end of the size scale, the yacon patch is producing some 8-inch long leaves that have little or no insect damage.

Here are the plants in context.  Certainly a striking accent in the garden, about four feet tall.  I can't wait to dig up the juicy tubers in the fall.

The West India gherkin is growing well up its support and producing lots of these 1 1/2-2 inch spiky fruits that taste like cucumbers.  The leaves are very similar to those of watermelon.

I'll get around to posting a blog on roselle hibiscus in the fall, and hopefully by then I will have tried eating the leaves (it's the flower buds I've been interested in so far, for drinks).  It's a pretty plant with few insect problems, although we do see Japanese beetles on it sometimes.

And the sad picture: the nasturtiums we had to pull up because they were infested with harlequin bugs.  That's where they go when all the kale and mustard is finished.

Many other leaves are suffering from drought and insect damage too, but at least we have a nice selection of pretty ones left.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Big Mamas and Hardneck Garlic

Big Mamas ready for canning
I'm sorry to hear about (and am mystified by) Bob Nixon's blossom end-rot quandary since everything he's examined and tested for is what I recommend to my friends around here they deal with blossom end rot -- primarily uneven water coupled with or exacerbated by low calcium (or perhaps low calcium uptake, which is not necessarily the same as low calcium). My Big Mamas, which I intersperse with the heirloom Rainbows and Purple Cherokees, have so far been doing pretty well, though are not coming on like gangbusters as we've come to expect over here on the Eastern Shore about this time of year. In fact, a number of people are complaining about how slow and uneven harvests of vegetables have been. A caterer friend who normally has fantastic production came and scoured my garden for cherry tomatoes for dinner she had to do. And I've been plagued by a weird stripe around a love of my slicers -- the Beefsteaks in particular -- that shortens the shelf life considerably.

One thing we've had that has so far been good for us over here -- despite the plethora of bugs and other critters we've been contending with -- is hardneck garlic.  (Just as every other crop in farming and gardening, some years for some things are better than others).

I had watched Theresa Mycek, the grower/manager of Colchester CSA down the road from us here on the Eastern Shore, plant hardneck garlic for several years before I tried it myself.  One autumn, I bought several more heads of Music and Keith’s garlic than I thought I’d need for the winter, broke apart the bulbs and planted the cloves. They need to be spaced about 10-12 inches apart in well-drained soil. (One year I planted them on the more shady northwest side of the veg garden, and mulched them with straw as I have every year, but the shadiness and mulch kept the ground too moist and they rotted. After that, I was careful to get them plenty of sun, and to be sure the straw mulch wasn’t sodden for long stretches in winter so they could breathe.).
5-bulb clumps of garlic curing on the porch

Fresh hardneck garlic is great stuff. First you get the scape, like a green curly fry in about the first week or two in June. You clip it, then can roast it with chicken or other meats, chop it either fresh or sautéed into omelets, dip it in tempura batter for a yummy starter, grill it with meats or add it, sautéed in butter to goat cheese popovers (among other things).

 Several weeks later, when the stalks have begun to dry and the bulbs are fully formed (sometimes it takes digging one up and having a look to be sure they’ve done this before you harvest the entire patch), you dig it – or yank it, depending on how soft the ground is and bring them into some place coolish, airy and dry to cure. I hang mine in clumps of about 5 bulbs each tied together from the ceiling on the porch, where it looks appealingly rustic (to me, at least --it probably looks pretty unkempt to visiting city folks). The porch is attached to the kitchen so it’s easy to grab some – a pair of scissors separates the bulb from its stalk -- to chop into the spaghetti sauce, salsa, cacciatore, whatever. Juicy, crisp and fresh, it’s more flavorful than the softneck bulbs in the grocery store, and oh-so-satisfying to use.
Spaghetti sauce ready to cook in the comfiture

I’ve been chopping it into the homemade spaghetti sauce that I’ve been canning for a couple of weeks now as the tomatoes ripen in what appears to be a well-conceived-and-executed staggered planting, but is actually the result of time-and-energy constraints in planting season. 

Add it to hummus, salsa, gazpacho, soups, stews, cacciatore, sautéed green beans with cherry tomatoes, herbs and onions. I sometimes make aioli with a fresh bulb using the eggs I buy from the CSA It’s nice in eggplant and garbanzo stew, and in this wonderful summer squash casserole recipe I got off Food 52’s website last year, that uses yellow squash and zukes as well as fistfuls of herbs and cheese. I roast it with cherry tomatoes and spread the result on toast, and have been putting it into gazpacho with the Padron peppers, a Spanish tapas favorite I grow that are like culinary roulette (about every 9th one is fairly incendiary while all others are mild. They’re and are great flash fried with salt, pepper an lime juice for cocktails or snacks). 


4 tomatoes, peeled
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 medium onion preferably sweet, either red of white
1-3 cloves of fresh garlic, depending on your taste
½ large sweet pepper
2-4 hot peppers (2 fish peppers is usually the right amount of heat for us, or 1 lemon pepper or 1 small jalapeno, seeded)
½ cup tomato juice (juicy tomatoes usually cover this)
1 lime, juiced
1-2 tblsp red wine vinegar
2 tblsp lime or lemon basil
2 tsp Spanish paprika
2 tblsp good olive oil
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste

Throw it all into a blender or food processor and blend/pulse until it’s soup-=like, but with chunks of vegetables still easily identifiable. Chill for a couple of hours and serve with garlic toasts.  Perfect fo have in the frig when the weatherman predicts several days of upper 90’s.