Wednesday, August 31, 2005

morning glory ! Posted by Picasa

Italian Sweet to the left of two Old Germans. Posted by Picasa

And then we sliced ...

A few words about the tomato varieties I planted this summer and their flavor. I have spoken to several friends recently about the lack of the “Oh wow!” experience with this year’s tomato crop. I’ve wondered if it is because we are older, or maybe fatigued from growing them ourselves, the weather, or maybe a combination of factors. I will say that I did have the “Oh wow!” experience yesterday morning when I bit into my first Italian Sweet. They have been a pain to grow successfully with lots of blossom drop and blossom end rot problems, but the flavor is amazing. They seem to hit every taste sensor in the mouth and you end up with a full mouth tingle. I tasted it beside another elusive, the Old German. It looked almost like a pineapple tomato. I would call its taste creamy; Hunter called it flat. It was a real treat to have them side by side for breakfast.

Just as tasty are the Boxcar Willies and the German Johnsons. The blue ribbon Boxcar Willie was shared with our friend Mary Beth last Thursday evening. I brought it out to the picnic table still wearing its Ag Fair Blue Ribbon. I had sliced bread from the Black Dog, and crushed garlic from the garden and a little Salt-by-the Sea on hand. There was a short reading from the Smith and Hawkins chapter on Boxcar Willies in the Heirloom Tomato book … and then we sliced. It was semi-liturgical and a very satisfying way to honor the 1 pound 4 oz. prize winner.

Monday, August 29, 2005

What goes up must come down

It has not rained here since July 9. We had a few showers today, but not enough to change the operative color I see from my deck from brown to green. The garden has been lovingly watered with my new watering wand and it has done remarkably well. The apple orchard is a little trickier. Last Monday I did a slow drip 40 minutes per tree. They responded nicely and have stopped dropping their leaves. I want to keep them nourished, but I also want to encourage deep roots. If there is not substantial rain in these next few days, I will do this again next Monday.

Garden tasks have been varied this past week. I have been readying the garlic beds by adding compost and manure to ½ of each 4x8 raised bed. It is dry, dry, dry in there, so I have been wetting down the base of the bed and the compost before I add it. The compost sits in the wheelbarrow and soaks up the water overnight before I add it in. It should make for healthy garlic next spring.

I also pulled up all the beans today. As a result the garden is much less vertical.

On this point, I think I may have discovered that magic moment when the garden turns from anticipation of growth and newness to a decline and a waning toward fall. (See June 20) It has to do with verticality. When my garden was its tallest, it was its most lush, its most green. Sad to say that might have been around the first week in August. After that, the potatoes started to brown, the beans began to wither, and the hornworms began to nibble.

There are still crops coming toward their peak. The eggplant, the yard long asparagus beans, and the Long Keeper tomatoes are still moving toward completion. And the root crops like rutabaga, onions, carrots and parsnips are still chugging along safe in their under surface world. Instead of growing up, they are growing down into a safe world of underground nourishment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bobwhites, Morning Glories and Hornworms

I can hear the Bobwhite chanting away in the distance.  A few weeks ago she marched into my garden like she owned the place … like she was looking for an apartment or something.  I was beginning to wonder whose garden it was.  Then yesterday I saw her under the blue spruce.  Again she seemed elegant and regal.

In the spring I used to wake up and run out to catch a look at a squash blossom.  These days my joy is the Morning Glories.  They are a heartbreaking blue and they are sooooo perfect.  Since nearly everything else is in decline out there, they are a wonderful beauty on which to focus.  

The tomato hornworms chomped their way through an eggplant last night.  Darn they are hard to find.  I finally spotted it on the underside of a half eaten leaf.  My once lush Sweet 100’s have been reduced to Sweet 40’s … not that I had been able to keep up with them.

Right now legions of swallows are diving through the hayfield gobbling up mosquitoes or some bug.  There is a certain time when they descend and then just as quickly they are gone.

The humidity has finally broken, and tonight promises some 50 degree weather.  It was a perfect Vineyard day today.  Anne and I worked early to prepare the old corn bed for a fall crop of spinach.  She did a great job of weeding the pathways and now it’s up to me to mulch them down.

O come let us adore them ! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Garlic and Tomatoes

Well, there is a definite turn toward a fall garden now. I have been enriching my garlic beds with compost in preparation for the fall planting. I also planted a bed of spinach yesterday. Hope I have found the happy medium between sprout and bolt.

Yesterday morning Anne and I prepared the last of the cured garlic. We trimmed and took wrappers off nearly 180 bulbs. That process reveals much about the success or lack thereof in a particular strain. Here are the ones I would definitely plant next year.

Rocambole- Spanish Roja
Purple Striped- Chesnok Red
Porcelain- Music Pink, Romanian Red
Artichoke- Susanville, Lukak, Oregon Blue

My only silverskin was a Nootka Rose. Half of them developed a stalk under stress and so are not braidable.

I made another pasta sauce yesterday and put it in the freezer.

Here’s the recipe

Italian Spaghetti Sauce with Fresh Herbs

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ Tbsp olive oil
½ lb mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp red wine
2 ¾ lbs Italian plum tomatoes cut into eighths or regular tomatoes skinned and seeded
1 ½ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp fresh oregano or ¼ tsp dried
2 Tbsp lightly chopped fresh basil
1 tsp chopped fresh marjoram
½ tsp salt

In a heavy 2 quart saucepan sauté the garlic and onion in the oil for 2-3 minutes until the onions have become soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and wine and cook for 5 minutes over low heat.

Add tomatoes to the saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat. Puree in a blender 1/3 of the sauce. Return to heat. Add the red pepper, oregano, basil, marjoram and salt, and cook for 5 minutes more.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

the one on the left is this year's Blue Ribbon in biggest tomato Posted by Picasa

Second in White potatoes Posted by Picasa

First in Summer Squash, Green Posted by Picasa

Come to the Fair!

Give attention, kind friends, and hearken good neighbors
And for a brief time abstain from your labors
For our Fair is approaching , and whate'er your vocation
We entreat your heartiest co-operation

The Fair is a wonderful affirmation of the farmer in all of us. We all bring the best we’ve done and test it against the efforts of others.

I did well today. There was a blue ribbon in zucchini and, I’m proud to say, in the category of the biggest tomato. The Boxcar Willie came through for me. There was a red ribbon in white potatoes and in red tomatoes. I feel well rewarded for a season of care giving. And isn’t that’s what it’s all about? Bob Ganz took a second with his blackberries, and Toni from my exercise class took a blue in small quilts.

So what about the garlic? There was some excellent competition this year. I ended up with an Honorable Mention. I learned a lot from viewing my competition. I definitely need to feed my garlic better than I did this year.

The almost harvest moon is glowing in the east and the Ferris wheel is whirling to the north. Come to the Fair!

Fair Entries 2005 Posted by Picasa

Belgian Giants on the vine Posted by Picasa

The tension mounts

Today is the opening day at the Ag Fair. I was up early trying to find one more matching potato in the potato bed. I also harvested the two Belgian Giants that are rumored to grow to 5 lbs. Not mine. Only 1 pound. I ended up using a Boxcar Willie that was 4 oz. heavier.

I agonized over which two garlic to put in. My two biggest ones were harmed by the way I trimmed them too close to the bulb. The next largest had a brownish cast but they looked much better on top. Against the advice of two good friends with an eye for healthy vegetables, Annie and Jeremiah, I went with the larger pair with the faulty cut.

I had a full basket when I took off up the road to turn them in. It is always exciting at the last minute to see people coming in with their entries. As I put on my tags and arranged my vegetables, I sat across from a North Road gardener, Bob Ganz, and he let me know that Lucille Plotz had won biggest tomato last year with a one pounder. My Boxcar Willie is 1 lb. 4 oz.

I was a little chagrined to see the Cackleberry Farm garlic entry. It was huge. Perhaps they are competing as a commercial grower.

They should be opening the judging hall very soon. More Fair news soon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The "Contenders" for a blue ribbon in garlic Posted by Picasa

The Fair and Learning about Beans

The excitement is building here on the Panhandle as the Ag Fair approaches. I brought in my entry form yesterday and have reserved space in 7 categories. If I use four of them I’ll be lucky.
In the garlic category it is the Spanish Roja that is providing my contenders. They still have five wrappers on and I could afford to take one more wrapper off on Thursday morning to make them look a little tighter. There are four that are vying for the position.

I will no doubt get the 15 cherry tomatoes with stems. I looked at the competition last year and quite frankly I don’t know how they judge. They all looked alike to me.

This is the week that my cucumbers have chosen to take a curly shape, which will probably take me out of that category. And the zucchini have slowed WAY down.

Meanwhile, the garden is looking very spiffy this week as Anne and Esther have taken on weeding chores in some of the hottest weather of the summer. It looks splendid in all of the beds and after a good soaking today, I will mulch well with straw. The weather has turned much cooler and there is a breeze from the Northeast. I actually have a sweatshirt on.

The October Cranberry Beans are ready to harvest, I think. I only wish they had waited until October as I have way too much “harvest management” going on right now. It’s hard to tell about the Rattlesnake Pole Beans. They are supposed to harden in the pod, but several are withering.

Well I decided to check the Fedco Seed catalogue description and it appears I have missed the boat. These Rattlesnake Pole beans are NOT shell beans. They are pole beans meant to be eaten in the pod MUCH earlier than now. Oh dear. I will shell them and use them in soups nonetheless, but I don’t know how I missed the boat so totally on this one. Fedco does such a good job of categorizing things. I probably need to have them send me a hard copy of the seed catalogue next year and keep it open for reference.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

morning glory at last Posted by Picasa

Tomatoes in abundance

The tomatoes are marching through the door at just the right pace. We are having sliced tomatoes at all meals and making gazpacho with little sense of scarcity. I have to say that the red mulch that I have used on 12 of my 24 tomato plants has not been all that successful and I would probably not use it again. In fact I have pulled up a Belgian Giant and a Sweet Italian that were not producing.

The tomato “issue” this week is which one of you is going to the Fair. I have been nursing some Belgian Giants, but I think there is a Big Early and a Boxcar Willie that could win the honor.

It is getting to be time to pickle some of my bush pickling cucumbers. Oh, and the Cranberry Beans look ready for harvest. The asparagus long bean is just now flowering with a lovely purple flower. And speaking of flowers, my morning glory caused me to shout halleluiah in the garden yesterday when I say my first bloom. They have been struggling since I put them in in May but now they are thriving.

I made THE most wonderful ratatouille last Wednesday. If it weren’t for the fact that you have to have a 400 degree oven on in August, it would be perfect. It’s adapted from a Dean and Deluca recipe.

Ratatouille Recipe

1 lb of yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 lb zucchini, chopped
1 lb yellow squash,
choppedBell peppers, seeds removed, chopped into 1/2 inch square pieces:--1 lb green bell peppers--1/2 lb red bell peppers--1/2 lb yellow bell peppers
1 lb eggplant, 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf1 sprig rosemary
3/4 cup vegetable stock (or thin tomato juice)
fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Using a large oven-proof pan over medium high heat, sauté onions in olive oil until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and reduce heat to low.
3. While the onions and garlic are cooking over low heat, put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in another frying pan over high heat. As soon as oil starts to smoke, quickly add enough zucchini cubes all at once to cover the bottom of the pan. Keep on cooking over high heat, stirring, until zucchini is lightly browned on all sides. Remove zucchini cubes, and add them to pan with the onions.
4. Repeat process until all of the zucchini cubes have been cooked. Do the same with the yellow squash. Make sure to add a little olive oil between each new batch. Continue with the bell peppers, then the eggplant cubes, adding the browned vegetables to the onion pan as soon as they are cooked.
5. When all the vegetables (except the tomatoes) are browned and in the pan with the onions, increase the heat to high and stir, making sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add salt to taste, thyme, bay leaf, and rosemary, the vegetable stock, and stir well. Place in oven for one hour.
6. Boil water in a saucepan on stove. Remove stems from tomatoes, and crisscross the bottoms with a knife. Plunge into boiling water for a minute or two, until skin starts to fall away. Rinse in cold water and remove skin. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, remove seeds, chop coarsely, set aside.
7. After the vegetables have been in the oven for an hour, remove from oven, drain vegetables in a colander set over a bowl. Clean browned bits (if any) off bottom of pan with a paper towel. Return any liquid to the pan and reduce to a thick glaze over medium high heat. Keep on adding juices to the pan as they run out of the vegetables into the bowl.
8. When all the juices have been reduced, return vegetables to the heavy pan. At this point the ratatouille should be moist and shiny, with very little liquid. Turn heat off. Add the chopped tomatoes and cover. If serving as a warm side dish, let the ratatouille stand for 10 minutes, just enough to "cook" the tomatoes. The ratatouille can be served at room temperature or refrigerated and reheated the next day.
9. When ready to serve, remove the bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Recipe adapted from Dean & Deluca.

Monday, August 08, 2005

the beginnings of a bountiful harvest Posted by Picasa

Harvest has begun

A question I posed in an earlier entry, back around the summer solstice is when is the turning point to winter? When does a garden stop building up the promise of harvest and turn into a slow decline? The recent setback with the corn (“setback” is a euphemism for decimation) has left me wondering if we might be close. Then this past weekend I enlisted the help of my grand nieces April and Ashley in stripping the last of the early green bean crop I had put in, and so there are bare spots in the garden and no succession planting planned.

But it is hard to think of this as a garden in decline when every day brings, fresh sweet tomatoes. Moreover, the squash vine borers have not yet hit the zucchini.

Perhaps it is safe to say that a garden which causes you to actively manage the harvest is not yet a garden in decline.


The blister beetles are still nibbling away at the lower leaves of my tomato plants. I have discovered a total of 5 tomato hornworms much later in their growth than I would like. And the squash bugs are all over one of the zucchini plants.

The Harvest

We dug some potatoes this weekend. The girls had fun doing it. I must say they were not as large as I expected Yellow Finns to be at this stage of the game. They may not be “Fair Worthy” this year. The Cranberry Beans and the Rattlesnake Pole Beans are prolific. I must start watching their leaves and be sensitive to the possibility of an early harvest should the leaves start to wilt. I pretty much lost the whole crop last year, but of course, I was away at the time. The tomatoes are coming in like champs. I still have blossom end rot on some varieties, but I am not wanting for fresh tomatoes. After a big start, the eggplants have turned rather shy. I suspect they want some nutrients. But it would be nice to have zucchini, tomatoes AND eggplant all at the same time for ratatouille

Monday, August 01, 2005

a sign of surrender Posted by Picasa

I surrender!

August 1st! It is when the tomatoes turn, when there is enough basil to make pesto, the time to check the potatoes and cook them up.

But woe is me.

August 1st is the day my corn crop was decimated by what I can only imagine was a clan of raccoons. And it is the day that the hornworms started to show on my tomato plants.

I never tasted a single ear of the Spring Treat I planted in May. Not a single ear. The raccoons bit the stalks like beavers and felled them to get at the ears. My theory about their being deterred by Blue Hubbard squash leaves has been proven wrong. They danced on them.

I am pretty philosophical. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I shall no longer try to grow corn. Morning Glory Farm does such a better job than I do. I surrender. I took out what was left of the corn and hauled it away so as not to tempt them to re-enter the garden.

As a sign of my peace with this, I have taken the corn stalks and tied them to the fence posts, sort of the way Mr. Mc Gregor dressed his scarecrow in Peter’s jacket he left behind in the garden.