Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tomatoes and Rhubarb and Squashes, Oh My!

Rhubarb and the season's 1st cherry tomatoes

And so it begins. Every year I look forward to the garden producing fresh vegetables. Every year, I plan, prep, plant, and – most years and this one is no exception – get overwhelmed. Production and problems and pests, oh well. Even so, being able to walk out back and pick --ingredients for supper, radishes and cukes to slice for quick frig pickles for snacks with toast, cherry tomatoes for Greek salads or chopped salads with olives and a little hot pepper, fresh herbs, fresh hardneck garlic, chard, spinach, and more makes the obstacles well worth it. 

This week the squash has started coming in -- along with the rhubarb and a few cherry tomatoes and a coupla cukes and a Big Daddy pepper or two and the last of the glorious harvest of fresh shell peas, though I still have hopes for the second planting, so we’ll see. But I digress. 
Zucchinis coming on nicely at the moment

The squash. Zucchini fritters with spicy adobo sauce or quick sautéed for supper with onions and salt and pepper, or ratatouille or grilled or sliced and layered with pasta and tomatoes, browned ground beef, some Worcestershire, herbs and whatever cheese you have leftover in the frig (and baked, obviously). But the thing I look forward to having every year now is an ab fab squash gratin that we first tried two summers ago and fell in love with. It’s a wonderful concoction of homemade pesto wrapped around sliced squash, shallots homemade breadcrumbs and layered with gruyere.  Each component makes the whole thing special, but the standout ingredient from my standpoint is the pesto. In addition to the usual garlic, herbs and olive oil, it includes capers and anchovies for umami (pronounced Oooooo Mommy!) that depth of flavor that makes a dish truly satisfying. The result is rich, flavorful and filling. A whole meal until itself. It's even good leftover and cold for lunch.

Happiness is a full crisper
The recipe prescribes specific quantities of fresh herbs, which I don’t always have so I substitute. Cilantro to make up for my garden’s low inventory of parsley, for example, and more oregano, and a fistful of basil. I use wholegrain breadcrumbs made from some of the leftover crusts I stick in the freezer. Also, there is rather a lot of olive oil prescribed, at least for our tastes, so I cut it in half, which works for us.

I don't have a picture of that casserole (again, we ate it all before I even thought of pictures) so I've included other stuff to keep eyes entertained. Recipe link below. Eat hearty.
grilled corn + black bean salad w/cherry tomatoes and cilantro
First raspberry tart of the season
p.s. just added the pics of a meal since I remembred to take 'em. Local grass fed Jersey steak, chimichuri from our cilantro and hardneck garlic, and grilled sweet peppers along with black bean and grilled corn salad. By way of apology for not staying on target with pics of the food I'm talking about!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Snakes and bird netting

I was concerned that cat birds would eat my blueberry crop so I covered the plants with bird netting. I was worried that birds would walk under and feed so I pinned the netting to the ground. Won't do that again! The netting trapped an adult black snake that I had to carefully cut loose. Now I leave a gap between the netting and the ground.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blueberry pizza

Oh yes.  You read that right.

There comes that time in the blueberry season when (even with just our few bushes) we've picked enough and eaten enough that "by the handful" or "on the cereal" starts to get a little old, especially when you add in the black raspberries that, after last fall's and this spring's neglect, I've finally gained at least some access to (at the cost of many scratches and a sting from what I believe is technically known as a BIG-ASS BEE (can I say that on a UME blog?  Well, I have).  One of the larger bumblebees, which don't carry nearly the venom power of honeybees but are somewhat scarier when inside your shirt).  But yes, blueberries, raspberries, and not to mention the intensely delicious strawberries my husband keeps bringing home from the farmer's market.  I am greatly appreciative of all of them, but about now I start looking for new ways to eat them.

A few years ago it was blueberry soup, and tonight I made several pizzas from scratch and decided to put blueberries on one of them, and here it is:

The crust is adapted from the basic pizza dough in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, with half whole wheat flour.  I flattened the dough on an oiled pizza pan, spread sweet potato mustard on it, added caramelized onions and garlic, a handful of blueberries, some steamed beet greens (another seasonal excess), pine nuts, and some crumbled goat cheese, and baked it at 450F for about 15 minutes.  I like this a lot: the little burst of sour-sweet fruit in the middle of the savory mix was perfect.

I'm still using up my over-large radishes that would have been perfect to harvest when we were on the other side of the country, so I also made radish pizza:

I sauteed the radishes quickly first, and added them on top of tapenade and some more beet greens.  It was not bad, but I'd only recommend it if you need to use up radishes.  (The other two pizzas were more conventional, but didn't use ingredients I'd grown aside from a few more beet greens: one was prosciutto and green olives, and the other tomato sauce, refried beans, more onions, and sweet and jalapeño peppers.  I'll be doing a lot more pizza as my summer vegetables come into season.)

We had strawberries for dessert, but now I'm pondering ways to include them in dinner...

Monday, June 24, 2013

What's Eating My Beans?

Many veggie gardeners notice sizable round holes in their bean leaves in May and June but can't see any obvious pests. The feeding pattern is much different from Mexican bean beetle, a more significant pest.

Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME
 Two prime suspects are adult bean leaf beetles and Oriental beetles. To find these leaf chewers you have to look early in the morning or from dusk to dark. The bean leaf beetle is a very small native beetle- 4-5 mm in length- and colorful with distinct black spots. Overwintered adults emerge in April and start feeding on legumes like early beans and crimson clover, though they prefer soybean. There are two generations per year. Oriental beetle is a non-native and has just one generation per year. It emerges later in the spring than bean leaf beetle and has a wider host range. There are other beetles, including chafers (white grubs are larval form), that also chew holes in bean leaves.

The good news is that healthy bean plants can take 20% defoliation without a drop in yield. In most cases you can just ignore these voracious beetles.

Above: Bean leaf beetle adult- photo taken under microscope (J. Traunfeld)

 Right- Oriental beetle adult

(Mike Reding & Betsy Anderson, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

Thursday, June 20, 2013

New ideas: favas and parsnips

Adrian Higgins just gave me two great hints in his column in today's Washington Post.  First, the idea of planting fava beans in the fall to overwinter.  I've tried favas a couple of times in the spring, only to give up because of the unpredictable weather reasons he mentions: slow germination in the cold, and early heat.  (This would have been a good year to avoid the second problem, but we can't know that in advance.)  Also, aphids.  Fall sowing means a head start on growth (as long as the plants survive the winter, but row cover protection would help with that, and our winters are increasingly mild) and for whatever reason also limits aphid attacks.

I had never even thought of doing this.  But now I will.

Also, he's planning to sow parsnips to replace the favas, which I will now do too (not to replace favas, I mean, since I don't have them, but somewhere).  Since 2013 is the Year of the Root Crop here at GIEI, we dutifully sowed brand-new parsnip seed in the demo garden, covered the seedbed with row cover to keep the moisture in (not much of a problem considering all the rain we've had), and waited for the slow-germinating seeds to do something.  They didn't, and the bed got filled up with the radish plants we'd put in to mark rows (note to self: really, fewer radishes next year.  I still have a bag of them in the fridge from my own garden, and I've already made radish soup of all things).

But after that failure, I assumed it was too late to sow parsnips; maybe it's not.  I'm packing the parsnip seeds to come along with me to Derwood today.  Just in case.

It's been an odd spring and many things have gotten off to a late start (I'm glad to still be harvesting lettuce in mid-June, though), but it is just about officially summer now, and the point at which gardens look magnificent and lush, before the bugs really hit.  (We found harlequin bugs in the demo garden this week, on uncovered brassicas.  I'll be collecting all the bugs I can find for a demo at our GIEI event next Saturday; there should be quite a few by then.)

Just look at our lovely and almost potato beetle-free potatoes!  They look even fresher in the clear air of a cool morning after lots and lots of rain.  And speaking of root crops, we've had some great turnips, we remembered to thin the beets so we'll have a great crop of those soon, and the carrots are coming along nicely.  (Also onions, sweet potatoes, and celeriac.)

Also we have lovely kohlrabi (if you can see it here behind the EnviroMesh), which is not a root crop but a... swollen stem crop of the cabbage family.

So far we've donated over a hundred pounds of produce to Manna Food, which puts us well on track to exceed last year's donations by... quite a lot; I'm not going to jinx myself by guessing.  But root crops are heavy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: Protect Your Garden

Protect Your Garden: Eco-Friendly Solutions for Healthy Plants by Ed Rosenthal is a great book for young gardeners and young-in-experience gardeners, but it’s also one more experienced gardeners will occasionally take into the garden, too. It’s very well organized, helped tremendously for those looking for a quick answer to a specific problem by the color-coded page edges. Want to look up those clustered bronzy seed-like eggs on the underside of the squash leaves? Brick-edged Pests pages are your section. Want to know why your perfectly watered tomato leaves are curling up as though trying to retain moisture?  The green-edged Diseases and Nutrients section may point you to copper deficiency. Caramel pages contain the environmental stresses section while the burgundy pages offer time-tested methods of control.

The bibliography spans six pages followed by several pages of what Rosenthal dubs ‘sources,’ which are actually full-page ads. (Gotta admire the commercial enterprise involved).

I like this book for several reasons: The pictures are terrific close-ups and a helpful size for easier identification of pests, diseases, whatever while holding the book right next to the problem. They also offer at least two stages of a pest’s life, so you can not only definitively identify that thing that’s crawling out of the cuke or squash stalk, you can go to the Exclusion and Prevention list on the same page to see if there’s something you could do NOW, like trap them with the color yellow, or allspice, clove or bay oil, Neem oil, Pyrethrum or Spinosad, and what beneficial(s) you could bring to bear -- assassin bugs, those fascinating fire-engine red dune buggies-like insects, tachinid flies, and/or parasitoid  wasps for example.

Some of the pests and pictures are not really necessary – the gopher strikes me as superfluous, but whatever.  I appreciate the focus on the ecological approach, and like the front cover of a dad teaching his son in a hands-on way to prune what might be a blight-ravaged leaf off a tomato plant. Get kids in the garden as early as possible is my motto. My kids bellowed mightily for years about it, but one now gardens assiduously, and the other eats organically and cooks his own food, so I must have done something right. 

Ed Rosenthal’s Protect You Garden: Eco-Friendly Solutions for Healthy Plants (Quick American Publishing, 2013, $24.95).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tomato Patch: Mrs. Rabbit goes vegetable shopping

Mrs. Rabbit goes vegetable shopping

(Apologies to Beatrix Potter)

“My dears, I’ve got to dash around to the Ancient Gardener’s vegetable garden and get some food for dinner,” Mrs. Rabbit said to her two children, Peter and Cottontail.  “While I’m gone, you two stay under the bleeding heart plant or in the liatris and don’t venture onto the lawn or a hawk or a fox might get you.”

Peter snacks on a penstemon petal
Peter and Cottontail were obedient bunnies—though occasionally when they got hungry while their mother was away they’d venture forth to nibble on a hosta leaf or fallen penstemon petals.  Today, though, the weather was ugly—cool and misty—so they huddled close and settled down for a nap.

Mrs. Rabbit checked the area for danger and then hippity-hopped, hippity-hopped up the sidewalk and around the end of the house toward the Ancient Gardener’s vegetable garden.  “I wonder what veggies will be available today,” thought Mrs. Rabbit, as she slid under the arching leaves of stella d’oro daylilies and stopped at the wire fence surrounding the vegetable garden.

Mrs. Rabbit had to wiggle to get through the fence.  “I’ve got to call Weight Watchers, or one of these days I won’t be able to get into this garden,” she mused.

Cottontail samples fescue seeds
Ah, what luck—fresh tomato plants,” she observed after looking around.  “I’ll eat a leaf or two and then take the rest home in a bunny bag for the kids.  I’ll make tomato-leaf salad and serve the stem pieces as an entrée.”

Mrs. Rabbit hopped through the muddy garden and onto the straw mulch and bit off the main stem of a plant about an inch above the ground.  She had just bitten off a leaf when she heard a frightening sound—the squeak of the door hinge that warned that the Ancient Gardener was coming out of the garage.

Mrs. Rabbit dropped the leaf, hopped over the decapitated plant, wiggled through the fence, and raced past the garage to the safety of the frontyard perennial garden.

Evidence on the asphalt
“Oh, no!” shouted the Ancient Gardener as he surveyed the Tomato Patch.  “Those rabbits!  When will they what a fence is for?  And look at the evidence—severed tomato plant lying on the straw mulch and muddy rabbit footprints leading from the garden across the asphalt driveway.”

The Ancient Gardener was steaming.  “Of all the luck,” he said to himself.  “A rabbit decapitated one of my test varieties for this year—a Solid Gold.  They should have named it Rotten Luck.”

But as the Ancient Gardener calmed down, he had an idea.  The severed but fresh top of the plant reminded him of reports that some gardeners start new tomato plants by planting the suckers they prune from larger tomato plants.  They water them regularly for about two weeks to keep the soil around the stems moist until they root, sort of like rooting African violet leaves in a glass of water.  Tomatoes are naturally great at adventitious rooting, as it’s sometimes called.

And that’s what the Ancient Gardener did.  He pinched off a lower leaf or two from the freshly severed stem and planted the cutting so the bottom half was in the soil.  And then he watered it regularly—a 16-ounce soda bottle of water every morning and evening on regular spring days and a third bottle mid-day on hot days.

Re-rooted tomato plant after 28 days
The plant didn’t look promising the first day or two but soon began to signs of life.  In about 10 days it looked like a new but small transplant.  At about two weeks it began to put out new leaves, and the Ancient Gardener stopped watering it.

The “new” tomato plant probably will grow happily ever after because Mrs. Rabbit no longer visits the tomato garden.  Maybe she’s expecting and no longer can squeeze through the fence, or maybe she forgot to call Weight Watchers.

Mrs. Rabbit, Peter, and Cottontail still live among the front-yard perennials.  The Ancient Gardener and the Mrs. occasionally see Mrs. Rabbit through a window in the late evening when they suspect she’s coming to tend her kids.

The last time the Gardeners saw Cottontail, she was dining on the seeds of a Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ plant.  Peter the Braveheart sometimes does hopping practice on the sidewalk while the Gardeners sit on front-porch gliders just 10 feet away.  Peter thinks nothing of nibbling on fallen flower petals or hosta leaves while the Gardeners point and whisper, “There’s the bunny.”