Hope for the future

on Thursday, August 26, 2010

Even though we're about 6 or 7 weeks til our first average frost for this area (yeah yeah, I know - hard to believe!), things are looking good in the garden. In fact, I'm sort of in denial about the impending frost, and have started some plants that will get killed off quickly should temps drop that low. Still, this was such a rough year for our cucumber plants, that I decided to try another round of cukes in a late planting a couple weeks ago. Here's just some of the cucumber plants starting to get some size on them (they're the small plants in the right of the bed, over to the left are eggplants). Will we get anything off of these? I honestly don't know - cross your fingers! I have more plants like this started in two other beds...

My tomatoes had a seriously rough year this year. Last year started pretty good but then plants all over, from OH to NY, got wiped out by the late blight. This year many folks are talking about their tomatoes only just starting to ripen, and how many of their plants didn't even set many fruit - most likely because we had such high temps killing off the pollen.

As you can see from these two pictures, the tomato aisles are getting a bit crowded with lush green growth, and there ARE tomatoes on the plants. Not a ton, but we'll take what we can get! (Just ignore the weeds you can see in the pictures)

Something that's really surprised me is how much some of the squash have recovered. This bed was FULL of squash plants and nasturtiums earlier in the season, but then many of the squash died off from the insect invasion. I yanked out most of the nasturtiums because they were crowding what squash plants had survived. I topped off the squash bed with some bagged compost and some organic fertilizer, and the plants that had survived this far are suddenly getting a late-season boost! Look at those leaves! I've planted some cukes and squash in the empty areas, although if they don't really take off soon I'll have to consider pulling them out and planting cool-season crops such as spinach and lettuce in their place.

From this view at the back of the yard, you can see three batches of beans (including the Dragon Tongue beans I mentioned yesterday), the tomatoes (center, back), and some sunflowers (back right). Oh, and there's even some peppers in the foreground left.

Speaking of peppers, the peppers, eggplants and okra are doing amazing in these two beds. As you can see here, it's really getting hard to mow between the beds, and I'm thinking of covering the lawn with cardboard and then wood mulch instead.

Here's something unexpected - gourds volunteered in one of the flowerbeds, just outside the living room window. And they took off and started climbing the screens on the windows! I didn't have the heart to rip them down, and hey, vertical growing is great for a lot of plants! View the full-sized version of the pic and look close - there's at least one gourd visible in this picture.

And speaking of gourds - here's some of the ones I intentionally grew in one of the raised beds. The leaves/vines have started suffering lately, but the fruit should continue to do just fine.

This is my blueberry patch. I'm still trying to get it developed. What you can't easily see in this picture are the blueberry shrubs. Why? Because as a joke my neighbor came over this spring, after I'd weeded the bed, and planted a bunch of chocolate cherry tomato plants that I'd given him (he kept some of the other tomato plants for himself). With all the other garden stuff going on, I neglected this bed, and the tomato plants took off, growing into the bird netting I had over the shrubs. I finally had to cut away the bird netting recently, and weeded out most of the unwanted plants, but left the chocolate cherry tomatoes - that's where you're getting some of your cherry tomatoes from each week! I just hope the blueberry shrubs survive being smothered!

This volunteer sunflower got blown over in a storm a month or so ago. I left it in place, mow around it, and it's putting up new stalks that are growing vertically from the main (horizontal) stem/trunk. Looks like I should be getting a bunch of sunflowers off've this before too long!

Awhile back I got frustrated with all the weeds in the main garden bed where the swiss card, kale and bok choy were supposed to grow. I took the lawnmower to it. Then I dumped a bunch of rabbit manure, purchased compost and purchased soil down the row and planted squash and cucumbers. They didn't look so great for awhile - the temps continued to rise, I wasn't watering them well, and they desperately needed mulch.

Check 'em out now - just a couple weeks later and they're doing really well! We might get some late season squash out of this bed and, IF we're lucky, cukes too!

Here's the okra I showed earlier in the week, the one with the bumble bee butt?

Take a closer look at the top of the plant! I honestly don't expect every bud on there to flower and form an okra - but it sure would be nice!

This burgundy okra variety isn't nearly as prolific, but it sure is pretty.

And finally - I hear there was hope we're going to have lettuce and spinach again? Sure enough, I've already started seeds! I'm even going to try growing some napa cabbage. Now the cabbage is perfect food for the cabbage white butterfly, so I'll have to make sure I cover it with floating row cover. The lettuce (and spinach) are more tasty treats for slugs than anything - but they did really well in the raised beds. I just have to find some room!

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Anchi ready yet?

on Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I've never grown ancho peppers before. I feel like these need to get a little bigger...?
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Like amethysts hanging from trees

These guys are actually too small to pick this week, but I already picked a record quantity for this week's share. I think next week's gonna have a lot of eggplant as well.
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What's in this week's share?

Well, you're for certain getting tomatoes!
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Dragon l'angerie

I have good news! See the image below?

There's three patches of beans growing there. The bed on the left is 3'x12', and has two different varieties of beans growing in it - one in the foreground, an empty gap where I'm trying to get some swiss chard growing, and then a patch of green beans in the background. (Plus there's more green beans in the back half of the bed on the right)

Anyhow, that roughly 3'x4' spot of beans in the left foreground? Check it out:

Those are Dragon Tongue beans. Those of you who were in the parking lot for pick up a couple weeks ago got to sample a few of those. I first found out about Dragon Tongue/langerie beans years ago on Farmgirl's blog, and decided to give them a try out in my rental plot.

WOW - she's not kidding. Don't grow these to full size and let them dry out for shelling beans - instead you want these small, young and tender - and eat 'em raw! I really like them washed, tipped-and-tailed, and then maybe cut into about 1" pieces and added to a salad. Yummy!

The picture below shows blooms where we'll soon have beans. And if you look close, you'll see a grass hopper butt.

Here's someone over at GardenNerd posting recipes to use the Dragon Tongue beans in (yes, even though I said eat 'em raw, this might be a good cooked bean recipe to try!). And I see the person is also working with Maxibel beans - I LOVE these French fillet beans because they're skinnier and more tender than your average bean, but Brett feels they don't taste "beany" enough, so I didn't bother growing them this year.

Mmmmm....beans! One of the best things about homegrown gardening!

Now I don't expect a ton of these Dragon tongue beans to all come on at once, so that everyone gets them the same week. Most likely I'll have to do the same thing that I did with the sugar snap/snow peas, and randomize the list of what order you guys get them.

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Unwelcome guests

on Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Earlier this week I was going on about cute fuzzy little butts greeting me in my garden. Those are good things - the bumble bees, along with honeybees, wasps, flies, etc - are all helping to pollinate the flowers, which make many of the veggies we enjoy!

But not all visitors in my garden are welcome or appreciated. Something's been going around in the garden and nibbling on tomatoes, green beans, and more. Even after I've freshly topped off or mulched some areas of the garden, I'll find newly dug holes in the ground, such as this new one I found Sunday morning that I'm pretty sure wasn't there just a couple days before.

I wonder if that's home to the critter that's been finding all the tomatoes close to the vine, and snacking on them. What was really cross was finding this - a beautiful beefsteak tomato that got chewed into, and the proceeded to mold after all the rain Saturday night. Gross. Now just imagine what it's like when you're on the OTHER side of that tomato, think it's ready to be picked, grab it, and have your fingers squish into the backside of the fruit. Gross, hunh?

This is a disappoint year for pumpkins. Last year the garden was LOADED with them, and I had more than ever before. This year the cucumber beetles and squash bugs killed off most of the plants early on. I've got two pumpkins that I know of out there - that's it. And now one of them, still dark green and no where near close to being ripe, has been chewed on.

I'm very NOT happy about that! We'll just have to see if the pumpkin scars over, or if it rots instead. Bummer.

Also - when you're a gardener you can see a lot of poop - both what you bring into the garden (horse manure, chicken manure, worm castings, composted manure, etc), and what other animals leave for you in the garden. If you have rabbits, you might find signs of them in the form of a small pile of rabbit poop. And if you have tomato hornworms, odds are you'll either see chewed up tomato leaves and fruits OR caterpillar poop like below, before you actually see the well-disguised caterpillar.

Funky looking, aren't they!? What's odd is that these were scattered across the leaves of my eggplants and okra, but I'd swear that's tomato hornworm poop. And I've seen NO signs of their damage in the tomatoes. I hunted all around the eggplant and okra plants, but couldn't find any critters...perhaps a bird came along and snatched the offending critter already? Or, as in most cases with these caterpillars, it was sitting there right in front of my face and I didn't even notice it. They're sneaky like that!

Here you can see Eric over at Gardenfork.tv and some serious tomato hornworm damage in his garden, plus what a parasitized tomato hornworm looks like:

(Trust me, I'll know if you watched that video!)

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Zephyr muffins

on Monday, August 23, 2010

Let's be honest - you've never heard of "zephyr muffins" before, right? Neither have I. That's just what I'm calling these zucchini muffins that I made with zephyr squash. I pretty much see all squash and zucchini as being the same thing - just in different shapes and different colors. Now if you change the shape enough (go more to a patty pan), then you've got more volume-to-surface-area ratio, so you get a "more meaty" squash, and less peel. And then there's the Italiano Largo squash, that really are a bit different (they're more firm, and have a slightly nuttier taste maybe?). But if you shred an Aristocrat zucchini, a Zephyr squash, a Flying Saucers patty pan, a Butterstick summer squash, or a Horn of Plenty summer squash, and use it in a zucchini bread or muffin recipe, I bet you really won't notice much difference based on the squash.

I was in the mood for zucchini muffins for breakfast Sunday morning, and as you well know, the zephyr squash are producing reeeeally well right now. So "zephyr muffins" it is!

Now I have a reeeeeally good zucchini bread recipe I've tweaked over the years, but it's for a loaf pan, and I've never figured out what it would take to make it in muffin shape. So I leafed through some cookbooks, and settled on the Zucchini Muffins recipe from my The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, which really is a great cookbook! I've gotten some really good recipes from it, like making our own hamburger buns and potato-flour based flat breads. Definitely check this book out!

Anyhow, I actually made this recipe exactly as it is in the cookbook (and if you know me well, that's an oddity!). It had an option for using lemon zest or lemon oil, and I went with the oil since I have it. I actually used the walnuts and raisins - something many folks might've left out! I didn't measure the walnuts (pulled from the freezer, toasted in the oven, and lightly chopped in the food processor) or the squash (I used the smallest zephyr squash, which resulted in a little more than a measuring cup, I'm sure). Anyhow - here's the recipe - it's super simple.

Zephyr Muffins (aka Zucchini Lemon Muffins)

  • 2 cups (8 1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon, or 1/4 t lemon oil
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz) raisins
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) milk
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (8 1/4 oz) packed shredded unpeeled zucchini
Preheat the oven to 400F.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon peel (if using) in large bowl. Stir in walnuts and raisins.

In smaller bowl mix eggs, oil, milk and lemon oil (if using).

Make a well in center of dry ingredients and add the combined wet ingredients. Stir until just barely combined and then stir in zucchini. Do not over mix this or it'll make for tough muffins.

Spoon batter into a greased/Pam'd 12 cup muffin tin and bake for 20-25 min, or until muffins spring back when pressed with fingertips. Remove from oven, cool 5 min on rack, then turn muffins out of pan to finish cooling.

Now I have to be honest - I found these to be a little bland. Don't get me wrong - they're really good! But I might punch up the lemon oil in them a bit next time. Or I'm wondering what they'd be like with orange oil (or zest) and cranberries instead? Eh, I have a feeling that, before the week's over, I'll be playing around with my regular zucchini bread recipe and making it into muffins. ;-) I'm sure I'll post it here, whether it's in bread or muffin format - so keep checking back!

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You've got a cute butt...

on Sunday, August 22, 2010

...or: "How to tell when you've partied a little too hard."

When I'm working in the garden, I see a lot of cute little butts staring at me. When I saw one covered in yellow pollen this morning, I ran in to get the camera, which made me aware of just HOW MANY butts are directed my way. Little fuzzy black-and-yellow butts.

Now by the time I got the camera, the original inspiration had changed the direction she was facing, but that just shows that maybe she's been hitting the pollen a little too heavy!?

That's an okra bloom the bumble bee is in, and no matter how much I moved the flower around, finally just tapping on it a bunch on the outside, she wasn't budging. She was so busy cleaning all the pollen off herself, there was no way she was going to be ready to fly for awhile.

Anyhow, on to the butts... Here's a couple HUGE gourd blooms (each is almost the size of my outstretched hand).

This squash bloom must've been extra sweet, because it had two bumbles crowded in it together. Like the first one, they weren't budging.

The squash blooms were real popular this morning, with lots of little fuzzy butts sticking out of them.

Here's a zephyr squash bloom getting visited by a bumble bee. You hear all the reports about how the decline in honeybees is going to greatly affect our crops in the future, but to be honest, I DO still have honeybees visiting the garden, and while there aren't many, I've always seen more activity from bumble bees, wasps, flies, etc.

This little critter's trying to get inside the blossom of a Dragon Tongue bean - I'll have more on those later this week, so make sure you keep checking back!

That's all the pictures of fuzzy bumble bee butts for today - I hope no one was offended! ;-)

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Tomato season's finally here!

on Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In addition to peppers (both hot and not), eggplants, squash and herbs in your shares tomorrow, you'll be getting a bit more variety in your tomatoes. Here's just a teaser...

So what all's going on in that giant colander of tomatoes?

Well, let's start at the top with those odd little yellow-greeny ones. Those are Green Grape tomatoes - they're always a little bigger and more egg-shaped than your average cherry tomato. They're also a bit more yellow when ripe than their name implies. These are usually very juicy and "fresh" tasting - sort of "perky"?

Clockwise from there are a bunch of chocolate cherry (or black cherry) tomatoes (with something like a standard Celebrity tomato peeking up through them). These are really good and juicy, but don't pack QUITE the rich flavor that Black Krim tomatoes usually have. The good news is they're way more prolific than Black Krims, so I'll 'em!

There's another Celebrity tomato, and then you get to some odd brownish-orange tomatoes that are somewhere between a cherry tomato and a standard sized tomato in size. What are they? I THINK they're Black Krims? That's what they SHOULD be, but there's been very few of them on the plant, which is tucked out of the way, out of the garden, in just a spare spot along the edge of the yard. I'm thinking the plant's not very happy, and so this is all it's giving me. I've had a couple of these already and they're very good - super dark on the inside, and very juicy. So I think they're Black Krim runts.

Next around the edge are some super tiny, almost pear-shaped cherry tomatoes. These are on a plant that someone else gave me this spring, and I'm really liking them. The plant's been through hell, since it's potted on the deck, has been blasted by wind storms, got too heavy for it's support, and now it's crawling down through the deck rails. Still - you can see it's pretty good with the tomato production - these little guys make a nice addition to salads.

There's more "standard red" tomatoes piled in the bowl (most likely Celebrity), and then there's some funky red-and-orange tiger stripe tomatoes. NORMALLY I'd day these were just Red Zebra, Mr Stripey or Tigerella, but nope - these guys are totally different, and you can feel it when you hold them in your hand. They're way too light for their size and they feel unusually firm on the exterior. These are from a plant Margaret Maurer's husband Jeff passed along to me - and they're called Striped Cavern. They're pretty much what the name implies - striped on the outside, and almost hollow inside. These would be great for stuffing tomatoes - say if you were to slice off the top, hollow them out, fill with a veggie and/or meat mix, including some cheese, herbs and bread crumbs, put the top back on and bake. Unfortunately, after that sounded super tasty, I have to say there aren't that many - so you might find one in with your cherry-and-small-tomato mix containers.

If you look down past all the other tomatoes around the edge of the bowl, you'll see there are some lighter colored laaaarge tomatoes peeking up from the bottom of the bowl. Those are Lucky Cross, and they're beautiful. They're a bright orange-y yellow with some red stripes running through them. Consider them a beefsteak tomato - LARGE and great for slicing to put on sandwiches or just eating with a bit of salt and pepper. Or definitely a BLT worth tomato. They're not a perfectly smooth tomato shape, but their taste and coloration makes up for it.

You might also find a very pale gold tomato in your mix this week. These are confusing me. They're coming off've the plant tagged "Aunt Ruby's Green Giant", which I've grown for the last 4+ years. Usually they get really big and then get just a LITTLE gold or peach tinge when they're ripe (but they're overall very obviously green). So I'm wondering if I swapped a label around, or got a packet of mislabeled seeds? Unfortunately the first three of these to ripen, something in the garden snacked on. I might have to start setting out mouse traps to catch a vole or two... If you get one of these in your share, give it a couple days on the counter - they still seem very firm, and might not be fully ripe yet.

As I've said many times - my tomatoes are INCREDIBLY late in ripening this season - and I've talked to enough other gardeners to find out I'm not the only one (whew - it's not just me!). My plants really aren't loaded with fruit this year, but the ones they ARE producing are turning out to be really tasty....and hopefully new in color, shape, size and taste than you're used to getting in the stores. We'll see what the upcoming weeks bring...

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Fried zucchini!

Mmmmm, how good does this look!?

Go get the recipe at Urban Farmer Seeds.

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More goodies for tomorrow

on Wednesday, August 11, 2010

So how have you guys been using your eggplants, squash and peppers? Do you make a dish that combines many veggies all in one? I realize it'd be hard to make a big recipe focused on, say, eggplant if you're only getting a few small eggplants in your share each week.
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teaser for tomorrow

Here's a pic of some of what just got picked in the garden - I've also got eggplant. Mary and I have both found our gardens slowing down the production this week, so there won't be as much stuff as last week...

Don't forget. - tomorrow morning, 9am at the loading dock. If you can't make it, please send someone else to get/carry your share...
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Summer Vegetable Stew with Wheatberries

on Monday, August 9, 2010

And here's another recipe - this one Carolyn's forwarding after trying it with the veggies she got in this past week's share. Carolyn says: "I found the stew recipe in my Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food book. Amazing how the ingredients exactly matched what I had!! In case you want to try or share..."

Summer Vegetable Stew with Wheat Berries

  • 3 T evoo, plus oil for drizzling
  • 1 medium leek, including a little green, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 lb green beans, sliced into 1-inch pieces (1 scant cup)
  • 1 small zucchini, pattypan, or summer squash, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 c vegetable stock, white wine, or water
  • 2 c cooked wheat berries
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 c chopped fresh basil or parsley leaves

  1. Put the oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the leek and sprinkle with salt and pepper, Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans and zucchini and stir to coat with oil. Stir in thevegetable stock.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are just starting to get tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Raise the heat a bit and stir in the wheat berries.
  3. Cook, stirring frequently, until hot and bubbling, a minute or two. Stir in the tomatoes, season again with salt and pepper, cover, and turn off the heat. After about 5 minutes, add the herb and fluff the stew gently with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve right away or at room temperature (up to an hour or so later), drizzled with a little more olive oil if you like.

Carolyn follows with "I thought it tasted great. I actually made vegetable stock to use, which was super flavorful. Oh, and I used garbanzo beans (canned, don't think less of me) instead of wheat berries. I don't even know what wheat berries are...." And for the rest of you who don't know either (they're really not all that common): Wheatberry

For what it's worth, we use garbanzo beans/chick peas in a lot of stuff...just used 'em in minestrone last week!
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