Green is evil

on Friday, July 30, 2010

This is why gardeners and farmers hate those pretty white butterflies. They lay eggs all over brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc), which hatch into little tiny green caterpillars, which eat all the green leaves and become big green caterpillars. That'd all be fine and dandy if they weren't ruining the veggies in the meantime!

These two critters? Well let's just say a couple fish in the pond behind our yard got an afternoon snack. ;-)

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Yummy bean-y goodness

Mmmm these are gonna be good!

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Green is good!

Not ripe yet, nor are there very many on the vine, but green zebra tomatoes are soooo tasty!

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Here they are again

From left-to-right we have Carolyn, Julie, Tina, Lori, Erica, Diane and Liz. Missing are Emily and Kelly.

Posing with their veggies before heading back to work.

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They may not be ladies who lunch...

... but they should have the ingredients to whip up a tasty meal!

Here's 7 out of our 9 CSA customers after getting their veggies from the back of my car.

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Tomatillos are forming

on Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Unfortunately, they're doing it very slowly, and the plants are still very small. And I even planted more tomatillos this year than in previous years!

The good news is that, technically, it's still fairly early in the growing season for the plants that love the hot weather, so I shouldn't be such a pessimist.

I used to think tomatillos were odd, strange, nasty things I'd never eat. And yet, for some reason, I grew them in three non-consecutive years! The first year I let them fall and rot on the ground. The second time I tried roasting some to make a small amout of "eh" salsa. Last year I made enough salsa to can three pint jars worth - not much, but booooooy was it good stuff!!

So this year I'm growing more, including a "pineapple tomatillo" variety, and I hope to have enough tomatillo fruits for folks to all get them in their shares. Hard to know for certain right now, since the plants are still small....we'll have to wait and see.

Have you ever held a tomatillo? They're like a hard, unripe green tomato wrapped in a papery husk. When you peel off the husk you'll find it was stuck to the fruit with a very sticky sap (you've been warned!). You can make salsa verde with tomatillos - and I'll have to track down the recipe I made last year to post here for you guys sometime. Since there's still plenty of time before that's needed, I can at least provide a link to the Fabulous Beekman Boys recipe salsa verde (maybe it's the same recipe!?). And you can even watch them make it in a video!

In the meantime, I'll keep admiring the attractive green "lanterns" hanging in the garden, and hope the plants keep growing!

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Cucumber sadness

on Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Most of my cucumber plants have finally succumbed to the evil cucumber beetles. I have to say it was record time this year - I just haven't harvest enough cucumbers!! And ZERO pickling cucumbers!

I decided it was time to get lethal and use Sevin (a pesticide commonly used in home gardens) on the dying plants - that's my way of hopefully ensuring the cucumber beetles won't hang around in my garden (yes, I know they're still flying around here and there - I admit it). The Sevin was too late to save the existing plants, plus I have the concern of using this sort of stuff now that I'm selling my veggies to people who're hoping for a more organic treatment. There does come a time, however, when you have to declare war and bring out the big guns if you want any of your crops...

The good news is that there are signs there's at least one cucumber vine still growing - I see the yellow blooms, but that may be a dying plants last attempt to set fruit and get it's seed out there before it's dead.

Better news? I've started new cucumber plants, and they're already starting to leaf out...and I'm guessing they love this combination of heat and rain!

What? No no - the cucumbers are those little TINY plants/leaves above. I'm guessing the large leaves got your hopes up - but I've never seen a cucumber develop leaves THAT big! So what are the big leaves on outrageously vigorous vines that are engulfing the trellis?

Those are gourds! So far I've seen no fruit set on the plants, nor even any flowers, but give 'em time and be patient. If they do as well as last year, we'll have pleeeenty of gourds this year. I'm growing a mixed variety, and don't know which of the varieties I've planted were tough enough to resist the pests - so it's sort of garden roulette. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. Oh - and I may have to thin the gourd leaves or re-direct the plants if it looks like they're going to take over where I want the new cukes - too much shade is not appreciated by cucumbers!

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Eggplant of a different color

on Monday, July 26, 2010

The eggplants are coming! And I've a feeling you'll be getting some you're not used to seeing in the grocery store!

Some of the first things you notice when you're in the garden with different varieties of eggplants is the different colors of the plants themselves. Just check out the colors of the stems of these different types!

And it's not just the stems - even the leaves look very different...

I'm having a very good year with eggplants - now that I've found how much better they do in the raised bed gardening vs the in-ground bed where so many things languish for me. Still, most eggplant plants only seem to produce one or two fruits at a time... This one variety, however, is doing something different. It's called Raveena (and wait til you see what the fruits look like!) - and it's setting buds almost like a cherry tomato does - where you get a lot of flowers all at once, which means you also have a good chance of having more fruit set all at the same time...

Eggplants also seem to have some of the prettiest flowers when it comes to vegetable gardening. And again, just like with the stems and leaves, the flowers are very different. For the most part, it seems like the ones with the darker purple stems and leaf veins are flowering like this:

...and those with the lighter purple stems/leaf vein color are like this...

...and so, yup, you guessed it, the ones that are very plain/normal looking with the stems and leaves have plain ol' white flowers. Still, they're quite pretty!

Remember the cluster of flower buds on the Raveena eggplant? Well, here's what it looks like when the plant's starting to set fruit!

Yup, those long, pale green things are eggplants! Many of you may have only ever seen the big fat dark purple (bordering on black) eggplants. Those are traditionally Italian eggplants, and are handy for slicing into thick rounds that are used in recipes like eggplant parmesian, or into large thin slices that are rolled around other ingredients before baking.

My problem with the really large Italian style eggplants is it seems like you won't get as many per plant, and there's more risk of something "going wrong" before harvest. If I can plant something that'll crank out lots of smaller, faster fruits, or larger, slower-to-develop fruits, and it's a plant where you risk a bitter taste if you hit an extremely hot/dry spell, I'll go with the faster fruit set and shorter harvest periods!! This is why I grow the Asian and French varieties more than the Italian varieties. (Note: I love really big tomatoes that take longer to develop/ripen, but you don't have to worry about tomatoes turning bitter like you do eggplants).

The picture above shows a "white" eggplant still developing, while the picture below shows another one of the celery-green Raveena eggplants forming in the background, and a couple okra (also of a pale variety) in the foreground.

While some of the varieties I'm growing are dark purple, they're intended to be harvested at a smaller tear drop or oval shape, and some are actually long and slender (like the green ones).

And then you get beautiful speckled and striped varieties as well, with different shades of purple, violet, and lavender.

Take note - SOME of the varieties of eggplants will actually have very small, but VERY sharp, spines on the calex, or that green part that covers the stem-end of the eggplant fruit. That's where the flower initially formed and got pollinated. I guarantee you - those spines are SHARP - so just be careful!

Some recipes will call for salting eggplant slices before cooking them to remove any bitterness. I'm hoping to pick all of these guys before they have a chance to get bitter. I have had the very first of the variety you see in the picture directly above actually be a little bitter - did the soil get too dry? did I let the fruit get too big? I'm not sure...hopefully that won't happen again!

To cook eggplant, I'll usually slice it, lightly oil and season it (salt, pepper, any grill-seasoning blend you like, lemon juice, herbs - whatever you want!), and grill it - either on skewers, in a grill basket, or if the pieces are big enough to not fall through the grates, just loose on the grill. It's great with other grilled summer veggies like summer squash/zucchini, which you know is starting to come out of the garden now.

Another popular use of eggplant is the middle eastern spread, baba ganoush. Now that's a recipe that calls for a lot of roasted eggplant all at one time - but if these plants really start cranking out the eggplants, keep it in mind!

And something I like to do when the garden's cranking out lots of random veggies at once is to just start throwing things in a skillet and sauteing them together in a big mess. I consider it sort of a ragu...? I'll start with things that maybe need a little more cooking time (onions) or benefit more from a quick fry in the olive oil (garlic) before adding other things that'll cook down and make it more soupy/saucy (eggplant, squash, tomatoes, okra). Don't forget to chuck in some herbs while you're cooking up this mess - and then eat it as is, stirred up with pasta, or perhaps even spread on a thick slice of bread. It's a little different every time, but soooo tasty!

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Spicy Cucumbers - yum!

on Sunday, July 25, 2010

Want to try doing something a little different with the cucumbers you're getting in your CSA shares? Well, here's a recipe I found in Asian Cooking by Linda Doeser a couple of years ago that I love! The official recipe title is Pickled Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber, and I would say it's something like a cucumber kimchi, but I just refer to it as "spicy cucumbers" or "hot cucumbers" (that's spicy 'hot', not temperature 'hot'). With just a short list of ingredients and very little work you can have a spicy-yet-refreshing chilled cucumber dish to add a little zing to your life!

Here's the official list of ingredients, etc....

Serves 6-8

  • 1 slender cucumber, about 30 cm/12 in long
  • 5 ml/1 tsp salt
  • 10 ml/2 tsp castor sugar
  • 5 ml/1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2.5 ml/1/2 tsp red chilli oil (optional)
  • few drops of sesame oil
Honestly? I've never measured a cucumber for a recipe. The shrink-wrapped "english" cucumbers in the grocery store are great for a recipe like this - thin/tender skins, minimal seeds, and never any bitterness. I use either those or whatever "slicing" cucumbers I have coming out of the garden. I wouldn't use the short stubby cukes intended for pickling.

A bottle of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce produced ...Image via Wikipedia

I typically use kosher salt because that's normally what we have out.

By "castor sugar" the recipe just means our standard granulated sugar (as opposed to sugar in the raw, powdered sugar, etc).

You can get a red chilli oil in a small jar like you can buy sesame oil (and believe me - it's bright red - you know it's chilli oil). I've found you can use any other asian chili paste/sauce you have on hand. Don't want to buy a bottle of the stuff if you don't think you'll use much? The next time you're at a Chinese restaurant, ask if you can get a little carry out container of chili oil or chili sauce - whatever they've got. It might look pasty/saucy and might even have some pepper seeds in it - that'll do the job! We have Sriracha sauce, which works really well in this.

Now - let's get started...

Here's a pretty rough looking cucumber I got from the garden. It's a little distorted from probably a dry spell in the weather or growing over a piece of the trellis. And the scarring on the cucumber's skin? Probably also from the weather or because the plants are dying off thanks to the cucumber beetles. If this is something you're worried about for appearances (or if the cucumber has a thick peel), just peel the cucumber. You can also partially peel a cucumber, in alternating stripes from end-to-end, just for visual appeal.

Halve the cucumber from end-to-end.

Scrape out the seeds from the length of the cucumber. You can see the exterior distortion of this cuke also affected the inside - still perfectly edible and tasty! I didn't do the tidiest job of scraping out the seeds with this one, but again, that doesn't affect the flavor.

Slice the cucumber - sometimes I slice down the length of each cucumber half, cutting it into halves, thirds or quarters, which makes a smaller cucumber piece, and sometimes I'll go with just slicing them as-is, making crescents as you see in the next picture. Just depends on how you feel.

Now salt the cucumber slices - take a couple pinches of salt (or the measured amount listed above), sprinkle it all over the slices, and sort of shake or stir to distribute the salt a bit. The salt will lightly flavor the cucumber, but it's intention here is actually to draw out excess moisture. Cucumbers are VERY watery - and they'll continue to give of water once they're cut. By taking this step, you enhance the cucumber flavor and reduce how watery they become later. I usually do this step in a colander or strainer over another bowl. I also will usually wash off the majority of the salt before the next step (yes, I know this sounds counter-intuitive - but the salt could be a bit intense otherwise - and you're not putting water back into the cucumber itself).

Oh, and you should let the cucumber sit with the salt on it for at least 20-30 minutes, up to an hour or more if you're patient enough. I don't know what'll happen if you leave it on more than an hour as I've always wanted to start eating the stuff too soon!

While waiting for the salt to do it's thing, gather your remaining ingredients...

...and stir 'em up!

Once you've let the cukes sit in the salt, and decided whether or not you want to rinse them, then you combine them with the sauce. The original recipe says to add the sesame oil just before serving. Yeah, right, whatever.

I promise you - this sounds like an odd combination, but if you like asian foods and/or spicy foods, give it a try. I'll sometimes double the liquid parts of the recipe - and when I made the batch you see here I used the full amount of spicy stuff and, wow, it's got serious kick! This'll sound really odd, but this is really good with steamed rice - like if you're having Chinese food (or, YUM, Korean food), make up a batch of this and try it with some rice - very interesting but tasty!

A note about the cookbook... I looked on Amazon to see if I could find a listing for the specific book in question, and had no luck. It's one of the many cookbooks I've bought at a steeply discounted price on Borders' sale tables over the years, and one thing I've noticed is that sometimes you'll find the same book in a drastically different "packaging" on those tables. Or you'll find a book that contains SOME of the recipes and photos you found in another book, with new stuff added. I don't normally find this happens with the books on the regular shelves in the bookstores - just the sale table stuff. I don't know if these books were sold in different countries, or were released by the same (or different) publishers with different covers/sizes...but it's definitely something to watch out for. Anyhow, this specific book seems to be out-of-print, but there's a number of asian cookbooks by Linda Doeser for sale if you're looking for more stuff to cook!
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Aw damn...

on Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's official! They're here!

These squash bug eggs were oddly pale - usually they're a DARK brick red. I'm guessing they were freshly laid. They DID squish super easy. Wasn't the brightest of bugs since she laid them on TOP of the leaf...they're typically laid on the underside. Oh, and I've been finding a LOT more of these clusters of eggs lately, so now my poor squash plants are looking all ripped up because I tear off the section of leaf with the eggs and either tromp on it, or bring it inside and send it down the disposal.

These guys aren't my friends either:

Let's get it on...

on Friday, July 9, 2010

So there's been some problems with the cucumbers already this year. To a gardener, this isn't normally a surprise - cucumbers have a lot of issues, and it's usually pest related. What you're probably noticing at first is a nice big healthy cucumber, and maybe you're even noticing the immature one still developing, right? But do you see the two sinful acts going on?

Zooming in a bit more you can get hints of one of them happening...

Here - check it out (or avert your eyes if you're offended by X-rated blog postings!)

That poor floor is the bed of love for a couple cucumber beetles going at it. And see all the holes in the petals? Yup, the beetles did that too! AND they suck the life-juices of out the veins of the cucumber. These little critters are often infected with a virus that is then transferred over to the cucumber plant. No, it doesn't cause any risk for you, but what it CAN do is kill a cucumber plant in just a few days. What I SHOULD have taken a picture of was the whole cucumber trellis, including the two vines that had every leaf on them wilted. They were dead or dying, and it happened I yanked 'em out. I've tucked more cucumber seeds in the soil all around the bed, so hopefully we'll have staggered production of cukes, and maybe they'll outlast the breeding cycle of the beetles. Cross your fingers!

This week's share will include...

on Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some new stuff, and some old stuff!

Unfortunately this heat's just about fried the lettuce - although I was able to pick some of the lettuce I intentionally grew in the shade, so there's smaller amounts of salad mix this week.

The cucumbers are really starting to set, just as the cucumber beetles are infecting them and killing off some of the plants. I'll have to apply an organic spray to them this weekend to try deterring the beetles, and have already had to remove a couple plants that've died off. Mary gave me sticky mouse traps this spring in the hope they'd capture/kill the beetles, but they're not working. (more on the beetles later) In the meantime, here's what a baby cuke looks like:

This week's share includes bundles of herbs, and since there were a lot of questions about what's what the last time, I figured I'd give you a quick breakdown. I'll list some things I know they're good in - and that'll usually be a meat dish. No offense to the vegetarians - I'm guessing you can use these all with tofu, grains, beans, etc as you like.

First is the greek oregano - it's getting a bit woody and starting to flower, but is ooooh so good in many chicken, pork and egg dishes. A little of this can go a long ways.

Sage - three types, from top to bottom: plain, golden, and purple. They're all pretty much the same, only the plant sizes are very different right now (so the full shares only got the purple this time). Good in poultry and pork dishes...

Lemon grass - yup, looks just like grass, but smell it. Often used in Indian or Thai dishes, but try steeping it and the lemon verbena in hot water for about 5 minutes and drinking the tea. SOOOO good!

Here's the lemon verbena - smells really good. I only know of using it in the tea I mentioned above. Mary could probably offer more tips. Looks similar to basil in a picture, but note the leaves are longer and narrow, and they feel a little coarse to the touch.

Dill - you love it or you hate it. Good with cucumbers! Good in sour cream, yogurt or other dairy based sauces.

Rosemary - nice refreshing pine-like sent. Good in pork, chicken and beef dishes.

Cilantro. There's no parsley this week, which is cilantro's look-alike, so there's no risk of confusion. Like dill, you love it or hate it. Some say it has a soapy smell. I say it's got funk. But it's great in salsa and mexican dishes.

Lemon balm - we haven't given you this one before. Looks a bit like a yellowy catnip leaf. Feels just a little fuzzy. I've never used it in anything, but Mary says people use it to make tea. She also says she doesn't like the flavor in tea - so she doesn't mix it with her lemon grass/lemon verbena in tea.

Basil - there's TONS of basil this week. Both Mary and I provided basil (plus cilantro and dill). You better start making some pesto! And since you'll probably have more than you need to use in the next few days, store it in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top of it, or freeze it. It's easy enough to freeze it in a zip lock baggie, spread thin in the bag, and then you just break of chunks as needed.

Squash! Yup - we're getting them! Everyone gets one squash in their bag this week, whether you're a full or half share.

Cucumbers - sorry, there were only three this week....but there's lots of small ones on the vines. I've had to start new cucumber seeds since the initial planting hasn't done so well (especially with the cucumber beetles)...

UPDATE: Mary's brought in her stuff - there's more herbs! More flowers! And she brought in radishes, plus a stir fry mix of greens. It's an interesting week this week...let us know how you use the stuff.

Take note: Some of the stuff is now bundled in twine. We're already running out of rubberbands, so if you could bring those back, we'd really appreciate it. And you definitely need to bring back the containers we send your stuff home in....I know we keep saying it, but we have an absolute shortage of the containers.