Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The compost operation

A few weeks ago I gathered a back end full of lamb manure from the farmer across the field. I then began the Charles Wilber method of cooking it and turning it into usable compost for the garden. I am using two new wire bins and have placed them right on top of one of the garlic beds. So far I have turned it twice and it is still humming along out there at 120 degrees. I expect it will decrease in size by half when I am through cooking it. I really think that my garden productivity this season is related to the quality of this composted local manure.

But I also have two other composting centers. One is a pair of bins that take essentially yard waste. I do nothing to accelerate the decomposition and only turn it once a year. In the spring I move the decomposed stuff from the center of both bins to a storage pile and then I put all of the undecomposed stuff back into one of the bins to slowly cook for another year.

And finally there is the garbage operation. I use a black plastic bin that holds the heat well and is designed to let the rain in . Right now it is like an oven in there cooking at 145 degrees. That's because I just turned it which I try to do about once a month.

The First Tomato

I really didn't mean to grow a Costoluto Genovese this year. But when I was at the local community greenhouse this spring, it "jumped into my hands." And now it is the first red tomato in the garden.
It is lovely to look at even when it is sliced. It has a distinct acidic flavor and I think if I were growing more of them, I might try to make juice from them. One write up I read said that it does well in the fog. Well we've had plenty of THAT lately.

Right now the Better Boys are on a fast track to be the next red tomato. Let the games begin!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Driftwood

A few weeks back, Blackswamp Girl asked about the piece of driftwood that sits by my garden gate. It has a story. Nearly 15 years ago I went to the beach on my birthday. THAT should be birthday present enough for one day. But this was a special birthday. It was the first year we had built the house and my birthday fell on the day of the full moon. When my husband asked my what I wanted for my birthday I said, "to watch the full moon rise from the back deck of our new house."

And so it was that our friends Ed and Wynell came armed with what can only be called a "Full Moon Liturgy." We read readings, Ed played a flute he had made from PVC pipe, and Wynell taught us a dance and a song that we did in the moonlight.

Go to Joan Glover
and tell her I love her

And by the light of the moon
I will come to her

But I digress. So it was on this special birthday that I got up from my beach chair and announced "I am going to see if the beach has a present for me." I was not a quarter mile down the beach, when there it was ... this enormous piece of driftwood. I started tugging it through the sand ... then I turn ot over and over on itself. Exhausted, I abandoned it. But Ed, bless his heart, hoisted that piece of driftwood on his shoulders and carried it down the beach and back to the car. For many years, before we had foundation plantings, it sat in the front of the house. It came to its current resting place outside the garden fence about three years ago.

Reaching past the Apex

I see signs that the garden is past its apex. There is some yellowing of tomato leaves and even of the zucchini leaves. The humidity has put a burden on the heirloom tomatoes, and they are starting to get blossom drop. And the once over productive green bean patch is now acting stingy at dinner time.

There is this building momentum all spring that is the garden reaching for the summit. Everyday it looks taller and greener. And then one day when you are too distracted by the weeds to notice, it takes a deep sigh and says "This is as far as I can reach."

But, glory, what it has done. I have Winter Luxury Pumpkins on the vine, huge green tomatoes just showing a hint of red, Candy Roasters and Baby Blue Hubbards still reaching for the stars.
winter luxury pumpkin

signs of a red tomato

Soon weeding fatigue will give way to harvest fatigue. For now it is a delight to look out there and revel in this turning point.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

From the Garden Gate 7/27/07

OLS Week #5 – Grilled Striped Bass with Basil, Garlic Butter Sauce, Grilled Zucchini and Green Beans

It is hard to resist striped bass when it is in season. While fishermen are always willing to part with a few extra bluefish or fluke, the striper is held close in the family freezer. So I purchased mine this week, and it was divine. I made a simple butter garlic basil sauce for it. Melt butter on low and add 3 sliced cloves of garlic. While it is warming in the butter bat go out and get about 10 basil leaves and slice them chiffonade style. The basil should be added at the very last minute before pouring the butter sauce over the fish. Yum. To this week’s plate I added fresh green beans and grilled zucchini.

Striped Bass – Local waters

Basil, garlic, zucchini, green beans - Garden

Also this week I came up with a great solution for all the cucumbers that keep pouring in from the garden. Take a vegetable peeler and run it down the length of the cuke. Throw away the first peel, but thereafter you will have long ribbons of cucumber. I wrapped the ribbons and put them in ice water until just before serving. And in the middle I put a small dish of ranch dressing for dipping.

And here I scored the outside of a cuke with a zester and sliced into thick rounds ont each round I placed a dollop of Pam’s Pesto the Ruby and the Green. She sells at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesday and Saturday.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

OLS Week #4

This week's dinner was shared as a potluck offering st the local Slow Food Convivium dinner. Our local chapter is one of three in Massachusetts. My offering was an American Chop Suey made with:

Farm Institute Beef - 5 miles
Farm Institute Green Peppers - 5 miles
Whippoorwill Farm Tomatoes - 2 miles
Tiasquam Brook Farm Onions - 1 mile
Garlic and Basil from the garden

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the final dish. But here are some shopping and prep photos including my bicycle basket filled with goodies from the Farmer's Market

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Is there a section of your garden that needs weeding?"

... so asked my dear friend Rosemary when she was here to visit. This question more than any other will get the attention and appreciation of a gardener. And there is something to the rhythm of weeding ... sort of like drying dishes after a good meal ... that allows the conversatoin to flow and move on its own. Thanks, Rose ... it looks so good out there!

sunrise on a new cleaned out bed for my beets and shallots

a weeded flower bed

Monday, July 16, 2007

I love mid- July

I love mid-July ! The cukes and zucchini are not coming in at a frightening pace yet, and the beans and peas are still a manageable treat. Moreover, the tomato hornworms haven't shown up (at least so you can see 'em.)

Let’s begin with tomatoes. Something magic is going on out there this year. Very little blossom drop, very little leaf curl just big luscious tomato plants. Can this really be tomato gardening as I know it? Might I finally have a summer with too many tomatoes? It could be.

I attribute this welcome turn of events to three factors. First the quality of the compost I built last summer from local lamb manure. Second the calcium I used in the soil this year that was given to me by Jim at Walatoola. And last, and maybe most important, a June and early July with low humidity. No, make that four factors: I am pruning much less this year. Stay tuned.

In the meantime it was nice to finally bring out the tomato knife even if it was to slice into a cherry tomato.

Then there is the garlic harvest. I confess to a mistake this year. My garlic beds are outside the garden. I did not water them this spring at all. And that was OK as long as Mother Nature was doing her part which she stopped doing around June 10. By early July they had browned out. In hindsight I should have watered regularly until all the scapes had been removed. I thought their roots would be able to find water, but they could not.

The result is that my bulbs are much smaller than they might have been. The two varieties that might be contenders at the Fair are Montana Giant and a variety I have nicknamed Place Monge after the Parisian organic market I bought it in last summer.

Monday, July 09, 2007

OLS Week #3

Fluke = 1/2 mile offshore and snap peas and green beans = garden (0)

I had a brilliant idea today. Why not go crabbing and feature blue crabs as my local meal? Well I was less than successful in my crabbing venture. When I arrived at the Great Pond I could see the crabs walking along the shore and I said OUT LOUD "This is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel." THAT apparently taunted the gods. After catching one female that I threw back, I saw nary a crab for the next 45 minutes.

But I did have a very nice piece of fluke in the freezer that had been caught in local waters by my friend Gordon. Fluke, striped bass, bluefish and bonito are the fish in these waters and Gordon knows the ins and outs of how to catch them all. I have a broken handle of a fishing rod hanging on my wall from the day I caught my biggest bass ever with Gordon. We had so much striper in the freezer that summer, I had to throw it back ... and it was high adventure bringing it in on a broken rod. But I digress.

So the swordfish and salmon that line the cases of the local fish markets here are not local. The sword once was, but now locals have to take off for George's Banks if they are going to find any. We have a few talented harpooners still in our fleet and their story is told in a wonderful documentary called Strikers Passing. Sustainable fishing is a whole other topic that I am not really qualified to write about. But I do like to be vigilant and careful when making choices at the fish market.

So I baked up the flounder in a butter and fresh garlic sauce, and then when it came out of the oven I added fresh basil, marjoram and parsley from the garden to the remaining sauce in the pan and poured it on top. On either side of the fish were snap peas and fresh green beans. All in all a delicious meal once again.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Braised Lamb Shanks, Hash Brown Potatoes and Snap Peas

One Local Summer Week #2

I returned to some of the same sources I used last week to make this week's meal. I used

4 Allen Farm lamb shanks

some onions from Tiasquam Brook Farm

and some rosemary from the garden to braise the lamb shanks in 2 cups of broth at 300 for almost 3 hours.

Then I decided I wanted to make Ruth Reichl's Hashed Brown Potatoes. This is taken form her book Garlic and Sapphires.

Here is a quick version of her recipe

8 small new potatoes (Tiasquam Brook Farm)
6 (yes six) Tbs butter (Cabot from Vermont)
1/2 small onion (I used a shallot from my garden and chopped fresh garlic also from garden)
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes and cool. Peel potatoes and cut into one inch dice. Melt 4 Tbs of butter over medium heat in a well seasoned cast iron skillet. Add potatoes and mash them down into the pan with a spatula. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 6 minutes until a good crust as formed on the bottom. Keep pressing with that spatula forming them into a flat cake. and run around the edges to keep from sticking
Scatter the diced onions over the top and grind some salt and pepper over the whoe thing. Remove from heat and cover with a large plate. Leave for 2 minutes allowing the potatoes to steam. Here's the tricky part. Using oven mitts, hold the skillet and plate together and invert so that the potatoes fall onion side down onto the plate.

sliding the potato cake back into the skillet

Put the skillet back over medium heat, add the remaining butter and carefully slide the potato cake back into the skillet trying not to break it. Add more salt and pepper and turn the heat up to medium high and brown the potatoes for another 5 minutes until a crust forms.

You can choose to slide it out of the pan onto a serving plate, or simply serve right out of the skillet as I did.

This is dish worthy of practice. My first batch was a mess. But I am getting more skilled each time I try it.

The house smelled heavenly all afternoon in the rain as the lamb shanks braised in the slow oven. I finished the plate with my first cropped of snap peas from the garden.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth of July!

I could see my breath out there this morning! But I am not complaining. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous these past two days. The low rumblings of what could be called harvest are starting to appear. The snap peas are just hitting perfection and the super charged zucchini plants are hard at work. There is even a blushing pink Viva Italia tomato out there.

Friends walk into my garden these days and ask, “What are you going to DO with all those tomatoes?” I have 36 plants in the ground. I know that is potentially a lot of tomatoes, but somehow my potential and my actual output when it comes to tomatoes seldom coincide. My honest answer is “I have never had too many tomatoes.” Wouldn’t it be great if THIS were the summer.

There are some mysteries lurking in the garden. WHERE are the Colorado potato beetles? Not only did I not plant potatoes this year, they are thriving in the absence of the hungry critters. Perhaps the Bt we had sprayed on the trees to stave off the winter moth had something to do with it? I know I read in someone’s blog that they are without the CPB this year. Anyone else enjoying their absence?

And then there is the garlic crop. I thought it was impossible to under water garlic in June. It appears, however, that I have done so. They have browned up really fast. And now it is too late I fear. I will start pulling today and see what I see.

I invite you to take a gander at the new home for One Local Summer and see what is happening as LOTS of people explore their local food supplies. Kudos to Liz for the vision. I am enjoying a slow read of Animal, Vegetable,Miracle. I am learning many of the same lessons I learned from Omnivore’s Dilemma last summer but from a different angle.

Happy Fourth!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Let the pictures speak

a view from the back of the garden TOWARD the garden gate

The trellis is in place for the cukes and pickles

These zucchini are MAMMOTH