Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm glad summer is over

Boy, I sure am glad we are finished with summer.  Now maybe we can start making up the 6 inches of rain which we missed in August and September.

Like almost everyone I know, my tomatoes suffered from early blight  and Septoria leaf spot..
My harvest was modest at best and I did can some spaghetti sauce.

Fall crops have been planted (first week of August) and the cabbage. broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale are doing wonderfully.

The plants are so large, I had to remove the 7 foot row cover.  So now I'm spraying with BT for the cabbage worms.  I also have some harlequin bugs, which I am hand picking twice a day.  Broccoli and cauliflower should be ready in mid October.  At that time, I'll side dress the broccoli with a quarter cup of 10-10-10 per 10 foot row as recommended in the HGIC vegetable profiles  Cabbage and Brussels Sprout should be ready in November.

Also planted lots of lettuce, pak choi, kohlrabi, radishes, collards, tatsoi and spinach.  With the hot dry weather, I had trouble getting it to germinate, even with my drip irrigation.  But they are up and should provide some variety for my table

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fabulous Fall Greens

We’ve braved the summer heat and as we bid farewell to one season it’s on to colorful foliage, crisp fall weather, football, and fabulous greens. All alliteration aside, as fall approaches so does a new set of fall crops including broccoli, cabbage, and most importantly all the greens. Here are some great facts about some of our favorite greens:

Kale has previously been used and seen as a decoration piece, providing a bed for shrimp cocktail and deli spreads. However, it’s made quite the comeback as a nutritious superhero packing a long list of nutrients and health benefits. Kale is rich in vitamin A and C, the minerals calcium and iron as well as numerous other phytochemicals (healthful chemicals found in plants). Kale is versatile and can be prepared in many different ways for endless meal ideas. You can simply steam or sauté and top with lemon or oil/vinegar dressing, or add to pasta with vegetables or even your morning omelet.

Spinach is available year round at your local grocery store but take advantage of grabbing it in season from your local farmers for the best flavor and experience. Spinach is a dueling superhero green due to its similarly packed nutrition punch. Spinach contains vitamin A and K, folate, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and a long list of other vitamins and minerals. It’s just as versatile too. From salads, to smoothies; spinach can even be steamed in the microwave and added to rice or casseroles.

There are so many leafy greens to grow, buy and consume including turnip greens, collards, mustard greens, swiss chard and dark salad greens.  Though each leafy green is unique in its nutritive qualities they all are rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin), fiber and various phytochemicals including lutein and zeaxanthine (these two phytochemicals are really good for eye health). In fact, according to the University of Georgia Department of Food and Nutrition, leafy greens are known to provide these health benefits:

1.      Helps maintain healthy eyes and vision.
2.      Helps keep immune system healthy to fight infections.
3.      Helps reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
4.      Helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
5.      Helps reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
6.      Helps keep bones and teeth strong, along with diet and enough calcium and vitamin D.

They may not always be crowd favorites but with winning nutrition and countless recipe options, it’s hard to deny the highlight of fall vegetables. When buying from a local farmer be sure to rinse and clean your greens well and remember to always eat your greens! 

Here are some recipes for you to try:
Greens and Beans (UMD’s Eat Smart MD website)
Servings: 6

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 (15.5-ounce) cans of white beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups fresh greens: spinach, Swiss chard, or kale, washed
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley or 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in pan over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring often.
  4. Add beans and parsley, cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in greens and cook just until wilted.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
*Click on link in references section for nutrient information of recipe.
Seared Greens (USDA Mixing Bowl):
8 cups kale or collard greens (1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)
garlic clove (chopped)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vinegar, cider
1. Clean the greens thoroughly and cut stems away. Dry well and tear into salad pieces or slice across leaf into 1/2 inch pieces.
2. In a large deep pot or skillet with a cover, sauté garlic in oil. Add greens in pan with 1 cup water.
3. Cover pan and steam for 4 minutes.
4. Uncover, stir constantly until greens shrink. Add salt and pepper and continue to stir on high until mixture is thoroughly wet.
5. Sprinkle cider vinegar on mixture. Cover.
6. Turn off heat. Let stand until ready to serve.

This post is a collaborative project of Lisa Gonzalez, FCS Extension Agent and Kimberley Zisman, Dietetic Intern.

Eat Smart MD. (2015). Greens and Beans.

University of George Department of Food and Nutrition. (2003). Leafy Greens.

USDA Mixing Bowl (2015). Seared Greens.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How Was Your Tomato Season?

How Was Your Tomato Season?
Summer Bounty!

The longer I grow tomatoes, the more my preference to grow a particular kind of tomato seems to shift. The first image that comes to mind when you think about a tomato, is the regular slicer that you would buy in a store. So, when you start thinking about growing your own, it stands to reason that you would focus on growing those kinds of tomatoes .

However, once your kitchen is overflowing with slicing tomatoes and you need to start thinking about preserving them, you realize that perhaps you ought to start growing a different kind of tomato. Let’s face it, you can only eat so many tomato sandwiches. When you want to use tomatoes for sauce, canning, drying or roasting there are simply better options than slicing tomatoes (they contain too much water and seeds). Enter the plum/paste tomatoes! Not only are they excellent for all your cooking needs, some are also just as good for eating raw.

My absolute favorite plum/paste tomato is Gilbertie. Yes, I know, it is a bit tricky to grow. It is very susceptible to blossom-end-rot during the entire growing season (not just early on). So it is important to give it some extra calcium and never to overwater this plant. Since it is an heirloom it is also susceptible to a number of diseases. On the other hand, it grows so rapidly that it often outgrows the diseases and it will keep on producing until well into October. The tomatoes from this plant are large and very meaty: they make absolutely the best slow roasted tomatoes ever!
From left to right: Gilbertie, Granadero, Juliet

I have tried a number of other plum/paste tomatoes, mostly not very successfully. I have tried San Marzano and Amish Paste and I thought they were underwhelming at best. The plants got diseased before they really started to produce and I found the tomatoes kind of small. Who wants to skin that many tomatoes if you want to can them? I did not think the taste was all that great either.
I have tried Big Mama, but holy smokes, what a magnet for early blight and septoria blight! My gardens have been pestered with both over the past several years, so why bother with a plant that is super prone to getting these diseases?

This year I am trying Granadero (Cooks Garden). I don't think I will grow that one again either. It is also very prone to every blight known to mankind (and does not recover as well as Gilbertie for instance) plus the skin is super, super thick. Forget about trying to skin these tomatoes: way too much flesh sticks to the skin. In addition, although the skins are red, often the inside of the tomato was white and hard as a rock.

I am giving Roma VF from Southern Exposure a 2nd change. Unfortunately, I find it just as "blah" as San Marzano and Amish Paste. 

Other tomatoes I grew this year were slicers: Tropic VFN and West Virginian 63, both from Southern Exposure as well. They were okay, but not outstanding. Oddly enough, despite all the diseases, the trusted heirloom Big Rainbow, out-performed all the other slicers.
Big Rainbow

Of course I also grew Juliet, my all-time favorite tomato! It is sweet, prolific and very versatile. One plant will keep the entire family well supplied for a season. (I should get royalty payments or something like that because I grow Juliet seedlings for neighbors and friends as well).

In general, I think this has been a tough tomato year. Lots of diseases and fewer tomatoes per plant than other years. I would love to hear what your experience was this year and whether you have any suggestions for plum/paste tomatoes to grow for next year.

Whatever you grew, I hope it did NOT look like this:
Seeds sprouted INSIDE of the tomato!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tobacco hornworms and parasitic wasps

You may have seen damage on your tomato plants from tomato or tobacco hornworm caterpillars, and may also have come across hornworms parasitized by braconid wasps, with white cocoons like grains of rice attached to their backs. I wanted to share these great photos taken this week at the Derwood Demo Garden by MG Darlene Nicholson, with her accompanying text.

We are seeing lots of tobacco hornworms chomping at tomato plants in the last week. The one in the image below has been parasitized.

Normally we don't continue to observe what happens after that. This last Tuesday  we actually saw one in a much later transition.  Notice how the hornworm's body is now shriveled and brown and the white cocoons have opened to release a new generation of parasitic wasps.

I am amazed at the built -in structure of the cocoons.  The tops are lightly hinged, with a perfect circular cut. It's all too perfect to comprehend.

You can read more about hornworms at the GIEI website. Remember not to disturb parasitized caterpillars! They will not eat more of your plants. Let the wasps hatch out and go on to make more wasps.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Links round-up!

I know we all have lots of work to do in the garden still, and it doesn't feel like fall yet, but kids are going back to school and that makes me think of hitting the books, or at least the interesting online articles. If you feel the same, here is some reading. (I've been collecting these links for a while, so some of them are quite venerable in online terms.)

Tomato season is almost over, but if you want to think about tomatoes over the winter here are some things to read:

Margaret Roach telling us 16 things she knows about growing tomatoes.

Pam Dawling on heights of different tomato varieties.

Smithsonian article on Solanum pimpinellifolium, the wild ancestor of today's tomatoes.

In a related vein, if somewhat satirical, the New World Diet. I enjoyed this because I like to know where plants came from, and I spent the whole time my husband was trying out the Paleo diet complaining about the geographic inconsistencies.

This is an old link but something you might have been wondering about when cooking your peppers: what are those funny mini-pepper things you sometimes find inside?

And while we're on peppers, if you've seen that "male peppers have three bumps and females four" item on social media, it's false.

Vines in permaculture, from the Clifton Park Food Forest.

Japanese beetle enemies, from Paula Shrewsbury of UMD Extension.

Indigenous greens of Africa.

An underground urban farm in a WWII-era London air-raid shelter.

Article on the onion family, from one of my favorite food history/art blogs.

And a funny little piece from Garden Rant on the intersection of vegetable gardening and Japanese anime - just click on it.

Well, that was random. I will start collecting more links now and be back to you in a few months, maybe...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Storing Garden Produce

This food safety post is well overdue. It's been a busy summer as can be seen in my garden by the fact that there are more weeds than vegetables!  I'm sure at this point many of you are harvesting plenty of healthy vegetables from your garden. Are you starting to wonder how long you can keep these vegetables/fruit and where you should keep them? Well if so this blog, created by my wonderful dietetic intern Kim, is for you!

Fruit and vegetables have various and specific ways to properly store them to prevent spoilage and ensure best flavor. Some are better to store in the refrigerator while others are best stored at room temperature. Once a fruit or vegetable is cut or prepared it is always important to store it in the refrigerator and use it up within a few days.

Some produce is best stored washed while others unwashed.  Regardless of how they are stored always remember to thoroughly wash any garden item prior to eating or cooking. When pre-washing before storage, be sure to dry fruits and vegetables with a clean paper towel before storing to prevent any mold or rotting.

Storage Method & Time
Berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries)
Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days
Remove any spoiled or crushed berries before storing. Store unwashed in plastic bags or containers. Don’t remove green tops from strawberries before storing. Wash gently under cool running water before eating.
Melons (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe)
Store uncut melons at room temperature

Refrigerator: 3-4 days for cut melon
For best flavor, store melons at room temperature until ripe. Store ripe, cut melon covered in the refrigerator. Wash rind thoroughly before cutting (preferably use a scrubbing brush to wash rind).
Peaches, pears, nectarines
Refrigerator crisper: 5 days
Ripen the fruit at room temperature, and then refrigerate in plastic bags. Wash before eating.
Apricots, cherries, plums
Refrigerator in perforated plastic bag: 1 week
Refrigerate in plastic bag. Wash well before eating.
Store at room temperature
To ripen quickly, store in paper bag at room temperature. Once ripe, there is no need to refrigerate, once refrigerated they will lose flavor and become overly soft.
Salad Greens (lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, collards)
Refrigerator; loosely packed in perforated plastic bag for 2-4 days
Refrigerate immediately after harvest, store unwashed. Wash thoroughly before eating.
Beets, carrots, parsnips, radish, turnips
Refrigerator crisper: 1-2 weeks
Remove green tops and store in plastic bags. Trim taproots from radishes before storing. Wash before eating.
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
Refrigerator in perforated plastic bag: 3-6 days
Remove outer leaves from cabbage before storing. Wash before eating.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions (red, white, yellow)
Room temperature: 2-4 weeks
Store in cool, dry, well ventilated area away from light. Scrub well before cooking.
Bell peppers

Refrigerator up to 5 days
Store in a plastic bag and rinse before eating.
Winter squash
Room temperature up to 3 months
Length of time a winter squash can be stored at room temperature depends on the size and variety.  Store in a cool, dark place.

Up to 1 month at room temperature
Scrub or wash the outside of the pumpkin before cutting.

*Note: These are general guidelines for storing garden produce. If produce develops mold, discoloration, a foul odor or if the texture changes significantly (for example a cucumber that becomes soft and mushy), dispose of the product and do not attempt to consume.

This material was developed by a WIC Dietetic Intern, Kimberley Zisman, utilizing fact sheets and handouts from these Cooperative Extension Services:

University of Rhode Island/University of Connecticut Extension