Monday, July 29, 2013

Can't grow it local? Then get yourself to a farmers' market and BUY LOCAL!

If you can’t grow your all of your own food (and who really can?), then by all means BUY LOCAL!  Even if you do have your own lush garden, a trip to the Farmers Market is a great experience!

Go to the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s website to find a local farmers market.

I experienced the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar for the first time last Sunday -  and it IS an experience! I can’t believe it has taken me so long but, believe me, I’ll be back.  Strolling through the throngs of visitors and vendors under the JFX, all of my senses were on overload!

Before we even got inside the perimeter, savory smells of cooking food wafted out drew us in. Hot coffee and fresh squeezed lemonade were the first vendors I saw. The smell of fresh baked sweets pulled us around the corner to begin our tour.

Long walkways are lined on both sides with Maryland’s best fresh fruit and vegetables. The JFX is overhead so it is shady on a hot day and dry on a rainy day.

Perfect specimens of every in-season fruit and vegetable grown in Maryland can be found. And the variety is amazing!
Tasting samples ensure you get the sweetest peaches around or the perfect flavored goat cheese spread.

Go ahead and take a minute to wipe the drool sliding down your chin.

Fabulous root vegetables are everywhere...


carrots, radishes, onions, garlic...

summer squash,

eggplant, and green beans are on display.

And many in come in a variety of colors! 

I marinated a mixture of fresh wild mushrooms in EVOO, balsamic vinegar, S and P, freshly chopped marjoram and winter savory. Then I grilled them wrapped in foil. Oh, my my, it was heavenly and we sopped up the juice with fresh rustic Italian bread!

It was a perfect pairing with the fresh pesto and gorgonzola gnocchi I bought that were sold along with stuffed ravioli.  

There were even vendors with live soft shelled crabs and fresh fish.

Fresh cut flowers, potted flowers, and vegetables plants ready are scattered throughout the market ready for a home in your garden.

Potted hibiscus/mallow ready to plant.
What is a good organic fertilizer for your plants, you ask?  

Why, Compost Tea, of course!  A super cocktail just for your plants.

I hope this little tour of the farmers market entices you to find a market near you and BUY LOCAL!!!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pint size cantaloupe

Look what I harvested!  It’s a Minnesota midget cantaloupe.  Looks like, tastes like, smells like the real thing but it’s all in a pint size. 

This 2 serving size heirloom melon is ideal for a large container or small garden with its 3’ long vine vs. 9’ for the standard size.  It’s ready to harvest a full 3 to 5 weeks earlier than its big brother.  As its name suggests, it was bred by the University of Minnesota in 1948 specifically for shorter growing seasons in the northern regions. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Edible rainbows

I love eating what comes out of my garden at this time of year, but I also enjoy how pretty it is.  Here's part of what we had for dinner last night:

Disclaimer: I didn't grow the pepper (though I have now started harvesting ripe orange mini-bells), but I did grow the tomatoes and the Spring Swallow cucumber, and one of our last remaining beets was used to make the beet hummus, along with a couple of farmer's market ones.  It's usually an even brighter pink, but using a white beet along with the red ones tones it down.  Slightly.

My son made the hummus; he got the recipe from Vegetarian Times and it's become a specialty which I am happy to contribute toward because it's yummy.  Here's the recipe:

Beet and Lentil Hummus

(makes 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup lentils, rinsed and soaked overnight
2 medium beets, peeled and cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 Tbs tahini paste
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp salt

Drain and rinse lentils.  Cook lentils and beets in 1 cup water, bringing to a boil and then simmering for 15-20 minutes or until all water is gone and both are tender.

Finely chop garlic in food processor and mix with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and salt.  Add cooked lentils and beets, blend till smooth, season to taste.

Note: the lentils and beets could be cooked separately, which would take a little longer but eliminate the necessity to soak the lentils or peel the beets before cooking.

Serve this with anything that provides a treat to the eyes, particularly green or yellow vegetables or blue tortilla chips.  Or whatever you want.  Mmm.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Take your veggies to the fair!

Do you yearn to show off your produce at the fair and win prizes?  Read Kathy Jentz's article in the latest Washington Gardener E-News to find out how!

I'm with Kathy on this; I'd rather eat most of my home-grown veggies than let them go bad while waiting to be judged.  But maybe I'll take the leap one of these years, when I find something that grows extra well for me.  (I bet there's not a category for mouse melons.)

Also, I keep reading the title of this article as "Is Your Garden Bounty County Fair-Worthy?" so I'm going to call it that, but I think it's very cool that Washington DC has its own state fair.

Cucumber tendril mystery

If you've ever wondered how cucumber tendrils grow and find the stuff they're climbing on, whether it's the trellis you put up for them or the trellis next door or a convenient tomato plant, watch this fascinating video:

(via Mike at Backyard Farming)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

You Say Tomayto I Say Tomahto

   Tomatoes are what most gardeners who grow veggies wait for all year. For some, fresh, summer-ripe tomatoes are so key to summertime eating that they’re the only things they grow. That first juicy slicer right off their own plants is a much-anticipated reward for the effort of growing and tending. 
A basket from yesterday's small haul
Doesn’t really matter what you call them.

There’s absolutely no substitute for a ripe beefsteak slathered with mayo, topped with crisp bacon and lettuce mashed between two toasted slices of whole grain bread.  Or a thick slice of Big Rainbow in all its golden-rosy glory on toast with grainy mustard and melted cheddar, or fresh salsa made that morning, or brie cheese and chopped fresh tomato on warm pasta --one of the quickest, best summer suppers ever. Tomato sandwiches, Genovese salad with mozzarella and basil and a drizzle of good olive oil, fresh marinara sauce, tomato dill soup. I could go on. And on.

Tomatoes are so good for you. Chock-full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and lycopene, which is good for the eyes and helps prevent macular degeneration. But of course, if it tasted like caster oil, it would be a chore to eat them, whereas they’re so delicious in season. Seasonal eating brings us back to the earth, offers the opportunity to anticipate short-lived culinary pleasures and then to savor them when they arrive. 
Big Mamas and Supersauce ripening on the counter

But this year has been hard on the tomatoes so far. Lots of rain, wilder-than-usual swings in temperatures, fungus, blight. It’s been challenging on a number of fronts. I had to clip off the bottom leaves of all mine to take off the blight and have my fingers crossed about the rest of the season's production. As a precaution, I’ve been grabbing the fruits off the plants as soon as they show a blush and bringing them indoors to finish ripening.  It works. They taste just as good as right off the vine (though for purists this off-vine ripening seems like cheating), and it gets them away from the potential predators and diseases. There have so far been a few with blossom end rot -- a Big Rainbow and couple of Supersauce and a Genovese Costoluto. A few are cat-faced, which doesn’t affect their flavor at all, but is a pain in the neck to cut around.  (I do it anyway). Last night I got home from a long meeting and chopped up two big cat-faced babies and sautéed them with peppers, onions, garlic, some fresh Cuban basil and a splash of white wine and plopped a cod filet in the middle.  Fifteen  minutes start to finish. Yummy.

Tomato dill soup in pot
I usually plant far more paste varieties than slicers since I can them. I count on a winter’s supply of home-canned tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa, my version of V-8 which doubles as Bloody Mary mix and struggle to make enough to carry us through until the following year’s first ripe tomato. If I have extra fruits after filling the pantry with a sufficient supply of those things, I start experimenting with new (to me) recipes. Last year I made harrissa from a recipe I pulled out of Ball’s Canning and Preserving. I like it and so does my family; it’s an easy thing to throw on chicken or fish or into beef stew, but I plan to tweak the recipe some if I make it again this year – less sweet more heat.

So far, I’ve canned about nine pints of Big Mamas and Supersauce, a variety I’m trying this year. (The Supersauce plants don’t seem to be as robust as Big Mamas but the fruits are huge and meaty). Canning, like gardening doesn’t always work out every time, even when you’ve been doing it as long as I have  (decades).  That’s life. I’ve had several jars break their bottoms out in the water bath despite being set on a rack in the canner to keep their bottoms off the hot metal canner’s bottom. The jars could have been old and ready to go, there could have been a crack in them that I didn’t notice when I washed and sterilized them, it could have been the set of the moon. I really don’t know, though I will inspect much more carefully before filling any more.
Tomato dill soup

Despite the losses, I’ve got nine perfectly sealed pints of plain canned organic tomatoes so far, and plan to start making salsa and spaghetti sauce with the next batch that ripen on the counter. In winter, the jewel-like lines of canned tomatoes and other garden produce offer organic possibilities for meals even if we’re snowed in, out of electricity, or in some way blockaded from modern life. Like money in the bank. It makes the challenges and frustrations worth it.
Growing, eating and preserving what I grow gives me confidence in what I’m feeding those I love. I also appreciate the many small but creative and important ways that generations past planned for, worked toward, and created an abundance in their lives that we now tend to take for granted. 

Tomato Dill Soup

This soup is good hot or cold, can be made with canned or fresh tomatoes, and is so easy. I used the cat-face tomatoes I harvest the other day and have been enjoying the soup for lunch.

3 cups tomatoes, peeled and rough-chopped
1 medium onion, rough-chopped
4-5 sprigs of fresh dill
2 tblsp butter (don’t substitute, the real thing is worth it)
1 tblsp olive oil
1 chicken bullion cube
salt and pepper
1 cup water
Melt butter with olive oil in a heavy pot. Throw in tomatoes, onion and half of the dill. Sauté for a few minutes. Throw in bullion cube and water. Cover and simmer for about 10 minute or until everything’s soft. Puree (hand blender right in the pot is easiest. If you put this in a blender or food processor, wait until it cools some). Sever warm or chilled with a sprig of fresh dill on top.
Last year's late fall pantry

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

From Romaine With Love

A week or two ago, MG Pat Lynch sent out this photo of an interloper in her salad garden:

photo by Sam Korper
Since it looked so much like the rest of the Romaine lettuce it was growing with, she wondered whether it was a weed or a mutant form of lettuce.  Well, sort of both: Jon Traunfeld identified it as Lactuca serriola, prickly or wild lettuce, which is a cousin of garden lettuce and a common weed that usually gets pulled out when it gets tall and goes to flower, but in its early stages can hide pretty successfully among similar plants.  It's bitter-tasting but edible, if you can put up with your mouth being pricked by the spines along the midrib.

A mystery quickly solved, but it kept making me think about masquerades and espionage for some reason.  And then this happened.  I'm very very sorry.

Quantum of Lettuce

He strolled in, cool as a cucumber and perfectly disguised to infiltrate the party at the Salad Box.  "Martini, one radish, shaken not stirred," he told the bartender, and glanced around for his quarry.  Black-Seeded Simpson, they called him; he'd likely be shadowed by his bodyguard, the Iceberg.

Collecting his drink, he scouted around the club full of Romainians, half losing money at Radicchio and half enjoying a dinner of speckled trout and deer's tongue.  Dodging a couple of drunken women, he came face to face with a lovely lady in a ruffled red dress.

"Lollo Rossa," she introduced herself with a flirtatious smile.  "And you… you don't belong here."

"Why do you say that?" he asked, gesturing at his perfectly tailored suit.

She leaned closer.  "Your spines," she murmured.  "You may hide them from the others, but I can see through your camouflage.  Or do you prefer to call them prickles?  Spikes?  Thorns?"

"I take after a porcupine, Miss Rossa," he said, and added when she lifted an eyebrow: "License to quill."

I'd better not mention, after that, the soporific properties of prickly lettuce, and the latex that oozes from its broken stem.  But here's a closeup photo of the spines:

also by Sam K.
Wear gloves for this one.  Unless you thrive on danger.

Here are some other ways prickly lettuce can disguise itself.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Figs, figs and more figs

I climbed into my fig tree today and what do you think I found.  A swarm of June bugs eating all of my ripe figs.  I have been waiting for the figs to ripen and I guess the hot weather we had last week really hastened the ripening.  I guess I'll be making a couple of pints of fig jam tomorrow.

I'll have to check the tree on a daily basis now that I know the figs are starting to ripen. 
Well, I spent a couple of hours turning figs into fig jam yesterday.  I used the recipe from the Univ. of GA's "So Easy To Preserve" book.  The flat of figs yielded three and a half quarts of chopped raw figs which made 20 pints of fig jam.  I tasted it this morning on my English muffin.  It's a little sweet for my taste, but I'm sure that my grandchildren will love it. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

More pictures of destruction

I was so hoping that perhaps a little miracle would have happened during the night. Or that perhaps the tomato plant was going to hold on long enough for the tomatoes to ripen. But in my heart I knew better; sure enough the Cherokee Purple had bitten the dust.

This is the only sign of disease on the entire plant
So out came the clippers and I removed my 2nd plant in two days. I disinfected the clippers, got new gloves, cleaned my shoes and sprayed everything else with copper.

Totally clogged up vascular system
Following Jon's comments (see previous post), it looks like it is Southern Blight. It says plants only get infected during the hottest part of the summer.What is "hottest"? Above 90F above 80F. I need to look up how this pathogen works and how I can stop it. I guess I better spray the peppers as well.
What could have been

I must confess, in an act of desperation, I went to our local gardening center and got three of their healthiest looking, left over tomato plants. In theory, they should still be able to produce tomatoes before our first frost (Oct. 18). If nothing else, this will be an interesting experiment.

What does this all mean for next year? Well clearly, this particular bed is going to be off limits for tomato and potato plants for quite some time to come. Does this mean I need to plant not 1, but 2 plants of each variety that I want to grow? Do I need to plant two separate patches, far away from each other. I am not sure I have room for all this.

I would love some advice of people who may have been in a similar situation!!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The death of my tomato patch

I have been growing tomatoes since I was 16. I have grown tomatoes in the Netherlands and in Wisconsin and I have never experienced anything like this. On Thursday I walked into my vegetable garden and one of my tomato plants was wilting. I am not talking a bit of heat stress, but full fledged, utterly clogged vascular system. It had been a very robust plant, so this came as a total surprise. The next day, that was yesterday, the plant was dead. It looked like it was going to rain so I made the heart wrenching decision of taking out the entire plant because I did not want this to spread to the other plants, mine or the neighbors, or the nearby farms. The plant that died was an "Early Pick". Well, at least if was not one of the heirlooms.

Healthy plant on the left; dying plant on the right
It was tough; it had just started to produce red tomatoes. Instead, I now have a gigantic bowl of green tomatoes; the memory of something that could have been. I sprayed the other tomatoes with copper fungicide, just in case. I disinfected my pruners, my clothes and gloves went into the laundry and I hoped that was the end of it.

I had noticed a very dark area on the main stem of the tomato plant, right where the plant and the soil meet. I figured that would have to be the culprit. The disease that was making it impossible for my plant to absorb any water. I guess it Fusarium or Verticilium Wilt.

Lesion at the bottom of the stem

All the other plants looked healthy and happy, so I was hopeful. Today I walked into my garden around 1 pm. I got a sickening feeling, because now my heirloom "Cherokee Purple" was drooping. By 7 pm it was dead; same lesion at the bottom of the stem. I did not have time to remove this plant. Actually, I was simply in denial. Should have been ruthless because now it is raining.

The question is, will I have the heart to walk into my vegetable garden tomorrow?

Kitchen adventures: squash and beets

I recently came into possession of a Very Large Squash (one of the zucchetta rampicante or tromboncino tribe, which get enormous but stay tender) and naturally decided that I was going to make ridiculous amounts of zucchini bread and freeze most of it.  It wasn't until I'd filled up my largest mixing bowl with the quadrupled dry ingredients that I realized I still had to add a bunch more stuff and there wasn't room.

After rejecting the idea of splitting everything in half and trying to get the same consistency of batter in two different bowls, because that never works, it occurred to me that I didn't have to use a bowl at all, and so I ended up mixing the batter in my canning kettle.  Three loaves went into the freezer and we're eating the fourth.  Since I altered the recipe to increase the amount of whole wheat flour and cut back on the sugar, and it still came out just fine, I'll share what I did here.  (I have no pictures, but it's zucchini bread, not visually exciting but still yummy.)

(adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, which is the standard text in our kitchen)

Makes one loaf.  (If you decide to quadruple it, get out the canning kettle.  You don't need to quadruple the eggs; I used six and it came out fine.)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar (can be white or brown, more if you have a sweet tooth)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 pinch each nutmeg and cloves
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup shredded zucchini, thoroughly drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Combine all the dry ingredients.  Beat the eggs and mix with the butter and milk.  Add to the dry ingredients along with the zucchini and the nuts.  Mix quickly with a folding motion; do not beat and stop as soon as the dry ingredients are all moistened.

Pour into the prepared loaf pan; bake about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the loaf comes out dry.  Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Another thing I like to do with zucchini is make "noodles" out of it, as shown here.  If you don't have the handy julienne peeler, you can tediously cut the noodles by hand, or use a food processor.  I have a old Cusinart with a julienne blade that produced strips of decent length if I didn't use the skinny food tube insert but rather put the squash pieces sideways directly onto the cutting blade inside the broader plastic tube, if that makes any sense at all (darn, should have snapped a photo.  The theme of my life).  I think I need a julienne peeler, though.

In other news, I harvested my remaining beets today.  Some were boiled and sliced for salad; here they are waiting to be cut:

Look at all the colors!  Some of these are Bull's Blood and the others are from a mix.  Without really meaning to, I grew white beets for the first time; they taste... like beets, but like the golden ones they don't stain everything they come in contact with, which can be useful.  These all got mixed together, though.

The other beets, which you can see looking pretty here:

were subjected to another recipe from Bittman's book, which I also had to adapt halfway through.  I should know better than to attempt anything that involves trying to flip a large fried cake upside down onto a plate and then invert it back into the pan, because I can never do it even if I haven't stupidly used a very heavy cast iron skillet, and since the recipe didn't call for eggs the cake failed to cohere anyway.  But the hastily revamped recipe (resembling potato pancakes except red and beet-tasting, mm sweet) seems to have succeeded, so here you are:

Beet Roesti with Rosemary, the way I can make it without disaster

1-1 1/2 pounds beets
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped rosemary (or, you know, more)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons butter

Trim and peel the beets, then grate them (food processor or by hand).  Preheat a large skillet (non-stick or be prepared to grease it well) over medium heat.

Toss the grated beets with the rosemary and salt, then add the flour and egg gradually while mixing thoroughly.

Melt the butter in the skillet.  Plop big spoonfuls of the beet mixture into the pan, flatten, and cook over medium-high heat until the bottom of the cakes is crisp and holds together, then flip and cook until the second side is browned.  You may have to add extra butter or oil for a second batch of cakes.

I'm looking forward to planting more beets for fall!  I've frozen a lot of steamed beet greens, too (or eaten them fresh).  A very good Year of Root Vegetables harvest.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wheat Experiment - Because I Could

This is a guest post by Kelly Sponberg, community gardener at the Briggs Chaney garden in Montgomery County.  Thanks for sharing your story, Kelly!


I planted winter wheat in a section of my plots this past fall and recently harvested it all. I thought I'd share the experience and lessons.

First, why wheat? Dunno. I like to experiment, and since wheat was so unlike vegetables, fruits, and even other grains I thought it was worth a go. I also like to cook, so being able to make a loaf of bread from scratch was a challenge to undertake (I'm still not quite there on this account).

I also wanted something to plant over the winter that was more than a cover/green manure crop. Winter wheat is planted in the late fall (October, November), grows a few inches, and then dies back during winter. In spring it sprouts again, and then about mid-late June is ready to harvest. Had our spring this year not been relatively cool and wet, I might have harvested a week or two earlier. As it was I finished in late June.

As for the bottom line (harvest yield), I used about 600 seeds, scatter sowed, over a roughly 300 square foot area. I used a red winter wheat that was supposedly a varietal used in Maryland many moons ago when wheat was grown here. In short it did well. I had a bit of fungal/soot issues, but it hasn't affected the actual wheat berries, and I think it came at the very end of the season (again -- wet spring). Pests were minimal, although that could have simply been because it was the first time wheat was grown in that plot -- maybe even the garden. Oddly it did result in numerous wasp nests being built on the stalk. These seemed beneficial and didn't bother me.

After some reading I found my planting density was a bit light, and not using a hybrid or modern wheat, I probably had lower productivity than 'normal' or possible. I've removed all the heads, but I've not separated the wheat berries from husk (threshed and winnowed). Still, the heads weigh in total about 15 lbs. In my sample the wheat berries are about 80% of the weight of the head, so I'm looking at, after some waste, 10 pounds of flour. Not bad, although according to some sources, with row planting, planting at higher density, and using a modern wheat, I should be able to get 10 lbs per 100 square feet. In other words, with practice I should be able to triple the harvest. In perspective I grew flint corn in the same area last summer and only produced a 5 pound bag of flour; although I had drought issues then.

What have I learned? Well, there are, as you might imagine, a whole host of different wheat varieties suitable for different kinds of flour. Winter and summer wheat apparently differ in protein content, so the all-purpose flour you get at the store is usually a mixture of different wheat types and harvests.

Wheat is also surprisingly easy to grow -- at least on the garden scale. I only had to do minor weeding. Even at the industrial level wheat does not need a lot of fertilizer input. Everything I read said that unlike corn, wheat over does better in poorer soils than other grains. Most references advised against using any input (organic or otherwise) for small scale plantings, and irrigation is a no-no due to the fungus issues that plague wheat. For me at least, wheat was mostly a plant it and forget it situation. Having scatter sowed, I honestly spent 30 minutes planting the wheat, and then maybe another hour over a season weeding. I'm sure in future plantings it won't be so easy as different diseases, pests, and/or temperature and water conditions will prevail. Most of the work, and there is a lot of it, came up at harvest and will continue with post-harvest processing.

Harvesting is pretty straightforward, and aside from the wheat, you get a good bit of straw out of it -- useful for other garden applications. But harvesting takes time, is a little messy, a killer if you have allergies, and can be deadly. I used a hand scythe and promptly filleted the skin off my finger, so I also learned how not to use a scythe. Between the emergency room bills and the cost for what I will have to build to thresh and winnow the wheat, this has not been a financially productive venture. My loaves of bread will be several dozen dollars each. But I got an education with each loaf.

In all seriousness, the post-harvest processing is really the trick to wheat. It can be done by hand -- beating, fanning, and then grinding -- but that is extremely labor intensive and somewhat messy if you don't have a part of a yard to accommodate processing. I have a new found appreciation for pre-WWI farmers and those farmers still un-mechanized in the developing parts of the globe. I am building a small threshing machine, and if you so choose to view them, there are a variety of small scale threshing efforts demonstrated on YouTube -- these start at the slightly crazy and proceed to insane. Anyway, the machine I'm building will cost about $50 and take some elbow grease to build. So once again, not a cost effective crop the first time out.

In short, growing wheat helps you gain a little perspective on global food systems, it is super easy to plant and grow a small scale, but it is a HUGE, HUGE pain to harvest and process -- even if you don't slice yourself. And yes, I do plan on trying wheat once again despite the finger and such.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, A Bushel

Well, I got some volunteers (left to right, Tyler, Grace and Connor) to help me harvest my red Noland potatoes this morning.  My help is built low to the ground, which makes it easy for them to pick up the spuds.  Besides, as far as they're concerned, it's like looking for buried treasure.  Best of all, they get paid in blueberries and raspberries which are plentiful this year.

Here's a picture of the happy potato pickers.

The sprouted seed potatoes were planted in late March.  My raised beds are four feet across and I put in two rows about 18 inches apart.  The seed potatoes were planted on 12 inch centers with the seed in the opposite row being staggered by six inches. This method gives the potatoes room to grow. The potatoes were hilled once in late April and again in early May.  Total row length was 12 feet for a total of 24 potatoes. 
As you can see from the picture, the kids picked almost a bushel.  I hope they come back again tomorrow, because I have another 12 feet of Yukon Gold to harvest.  Most of these potatoes will be used during the summer for potato salad and early fall for mashed potatoes.  I have planted a fall crop of Yukon Gold which keep in my basement for most of the winter without sprouting.  I purchased my fall seed potatoes at the same time I purchased my spring potatoes and just refrigerated them to keep them from sprouting.  About two weeks prior to planting in early July, I removed them from the refrigerator and let the sprout in my basement.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Beans by Any Other Name

Bean plants before the zukes grew, produced and collapsed
Our beans have begun to come in – a great blessing, in my books, because I love French green beans, those slim little things that look like they were cradle-robbed from the plant. I’ve planted loads of beans over the years – bush, climbing, semi-climbing (which means they reach about 2 feet tall and need some help unless you don’t mind them sprawling all over their neighboring veggie plants), Providers, Blue Lake, Kentucky Blue, Romanos, Burgundy, Scarlet Runners, Asparagus beans (which, frankly, I don’t like), Sunset Runners, Jacobs cattle, Tiger’s Eye and Yin/Yang (the last three are shell  beans, i.e. drying beans, and they’re delicious). Among others. I’ve spent years searching for what I consider to be THE best French green bean aka Haricot Vert. I thought I had it when I found Cook’s Garden Seeds’ French green beans (bush) but didn’t find them there this year. Instead, I got Burpee’s French Filet bean, which, since Burpee bought Cook’s a while back, is probably the same bean. A reliable producer, the slim, tender beans stay slim and tender for several days, even if you miss a day’s picking. And they stay fresh for days in the frig when stuffed dry into a plastic bag and kept in the crisper.

Haricots verts and shallots in the frying pan
They’re  so delicious done in a host of different ways. The very first handful get eaten right in the garden, because usually I’m out there with the dog before breakfast and I’m hungry, so I forage. Right after that, I bring in the first picked batch and steam them for lunch. I chuck in a little sliced onion and mix up a little dressing of half olive oil mayo and half horseradish. Yummy.  For supper, I throw them into a frying pan shimmering with a skim of olive oil and sauté them with a sliced shallot, some halved cherry tomatoes (which are also coming in nicely right now, though the early blight’s gettin’ to ‘em), a smashed and chopped clove of fresh hardneck garlic, some fresh oregano or Cuban basil or both, and salt and pepper. Delicious with any kind of meat. If you’re cooking fish, you can just throw the fish in on top of this veggie concoction when it’s half-cooked, splash in a little white wine and you’ve got dinner in about 15 minutes.

After we’ve eaten beans those three ways, I go on to hunt for new recipes -- or at least creatively (and deliciously of course) try to use up what other potential ingredients I have hanging around in the frig. The other day, I had some leftover slices of prosciutto that I chopped threw into the frying pan along with the beans, tomatoes, shallot and basil. Sort of on the order of old-fashioned beans stewed with a ham hock, but crisper, quicker, healthier (I’m assuming) and MUCH better tasting.
Filet beans with tomatoes and prosciutto

This year I got smart and ordered a double batch of bean seeds and plan to get a second batch planted within the next week or so. The bush beans are usually ready to pick at about 55 days or so -- longer  more if you plant them now, but still,  they’ll produce beans for fall, with some leftover for the freezer. Winter vegetable soups. Haricots verts, French filet beans, green snaps, it doesn’t really matter what you call them. A bean by any other name still tastes just as good. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Aaargh! Squirrel!‏

You feed them, take care of them and the day you miss bringing them lunch they bite the hand that feeds them.  They stole all our Grimes Golden apples which, by a twist of fate, were the same size and color as the black walnuts growing next to the tree.  Normally, I see my wife running after the squirrel with an apple in its mouth in August, not July.  Sorry for the people who expected a post on “cayenne pepper sprayed on apple tree” - there is nothing to spray anymore.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mexican bean beetle babies

It's Mexican bean beetle time!  I love this shot of the fuzzy little yellow larvae (and pupae) taken by Derwood Demo Garden co-leader and photographer Darlene Nicholson in the garden this week:

Mostly for the perfect way they've spaced themselves around the bean leaf, like they've just learned about sharing in kindergarten.

And yes, they are kind of adorable in their way, but I urge you to squish them before they destroy your bean plants.  For lots of information about Mexican bean beetles, photos of them at different stages, and control suggestions, please visit Grow It Eat It.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Root vegetables

Beware of the root vegetable thief.
I caught Mary in my garden the other day harvesting some of my delicious root vegetables for the daughter and grandchildren.  Mary is making away with carrots, early onions, kohlrabi and two varieties of beets (Detroit dark red and Touchstone gold).
I'm glad I've succession planted the carrots and beets so that I'll have some for later in the summer.  It's not to late to plant these vegetables for a fall crop.  Touchstone gold (my favorite yellow beet) takes 60 days to reach maturity and if planted today will be ready to harvest in early September.  Beets are also a great fall crop that will withstand light frost and can be planted up through early August.  Touchstone gold planted in the first week of August will take somewhat longer than 60 days to mature because days are getting shorter and there is less sunlight.  Remember to add 14 days for the so called short day factor.  Touchstone gold planted on August 7 will be ready to harvest in 74 days or on October 20.  If a hard frost is expected prior to that date, you can always cover the beets with row cover. 
I also grew lots of onions, shallots and garlic this year.  Shallots and onions did very well as the pictures show. The shallot variety is French red planted last October.  The onion is Copra which were transplants planted mid-April.  I still have Red Zeppelin and sweet white Spanish in the garden.  They are still growing and will be harvested when the tops fall over.  An information sheet on onions can be found on the GIEI website at
Garlic was hit and miss.  Although I saved large cloves from my crop last year, about 50% of my harvest were very small bulbs.  Better luck next year.