Friday, December 31, 2010

Death of Chard - Goodbye to 2010

Picture 059
Earlier today, I was contemplating what to write about on this last day of 2010. Then I thought, what better way to pay tribute to this awesomely productive growing year then to post about the picture above, which was taken just prior to this week's snow storm.

I'll admit these Swiss chard plants look pretty sorry, but then again, it is to be expected this late in the year and at this stage of their growth. You see, these plants have been growing now for at least 18 months. I started them during the summer of 2009 and overwintered them underneath one of my hoops. To my surprise, they decided not to bolt this past summer, but instead provided us with more greens then we could have possibly eaten until very recently. In some ways, I feel like I'm saying goodbye to two dear old friends. I guess it's only fitting that they should meet their demise just as the year winds down to a close.

Have a wonder New Year's Eve everyone! Let's toast to a productive 2010 and hope for bountiful 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December White Out

Winter Snow Storm
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas weekend! It started snowing late this afternoon here in Eastern Massachusetts and isn't expected to stop anytime soon. The grocery store was buzzing today with folks trying to stock up for the storm. We're expected to get around 18 inches this time around. Winds are expected to get especially rough around 3 AM tonight. Hopefully, the hoop house will be able to withstand them.

December Snow Storn
When nature calls, you do what you have to do, right? Poor Maggie is not particularly fond of the snow. I'm sure my taking this picture was just adding insult to injury.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 Tomato Album

I meant to do this post a few months ago but never got around it. With 2010 coming to a close, I guess now would be a good time. As a tribute to the best tomato growing season we've seen here in New England in quite some time (or so I've been told), here are my notes and thoughts regarding the varieties I grew this year. In no particular order:

Black from tula
Black from Tula - I was really surprised by this black tomato. Not only did it produce well but the flavor was rich and sweet and just as good as Cherokee Purple in my opinion. I will definitely be growing it again next year.

Anahue Tomato San Remo Paste Tomato
Anahu (left) - I won't be growing this variety again. I only got a handful of small fruit from this plant and the flavor was only so so. I suspect that it would be better suited for a warm climate.

San Remo Paste - Probably one of the best producing vines I grew this year. The flesh is very dry and the fruit is almost completely hollow inside. I would consider growing it again but probably not for this upcoming year.

Aunt Rubie's German Green Dr. Carolyn Tomato
Aunt Ruby's German Green - The flavor of this tomato was very good - sweet and not nearly as tart as I was expecting. The fruits are pretty hefty in size as well. An ok producer, I may grow this variety again.

Dr. Carolyn - Very good producer, these cherry tomatoes are quarter-sized, sweet, VERY mild in flavor and not the least bit tart. My neighbor particularly enjoyed this variety. I may grow it again.

Brandywine Tomato
Brandywine - This came in a packet of red and yellow Brandywine tomato seeds from Botancial Interests. While it was sweet like a Brandywine should be, I have to admit that I was expecting something different (in terms of color and flavor) when I bought the seeds. As a result, I'm growing a different strain of Brandywine next year.

Hillbilly Tomato
Mystery Tomato - I grew two vines thinking they were Hillbilly tomatoes but as it turned out, they each produced fruit that looked nothing like what a true Hillbilly tomato should look like. Not only are they flatter in shape but are almost completely hollow inside. Even though they were good stuffing tomatoes, I don't think I'll grow them again.

Komohana Grape Tomato Green Zebra Tomato
Komohana Grape - These grape tomatoes are beautiful, very firm and not very sweet. They produced well but I don't think I'll be growing them again.

Green Zebra - I like this variety. It was sweet and had an interesting zing to it. The flavor mellows as the fruit ripens and develops a yellow undercoat, but I prefer to harvest them before they get to this point.

Cuor Di Bue Tomato Clear Pink Early Tomatoes
Cuor Di Bue - The best producing vine I grew this year. A word of caution - this tomato, in my opinion, is not suitable for fresh eating. The fresh is dry, incredibly mealy and not very sweet at all. All of them ended up in my tomato sauce. Unfortunately, I won't be growing it again.

Clear Pink Early - I really enjoyed this tomato. Too bad the voles loved them too. A great early tomato, they are sweet and have a nice fruity flavor. I will be growing them again.

Cherokee Purple Tomato
Cherokee Purple - How could you not like this tomato? It has an amazingly rich flavor and is very sweet. It is a fantastic producer and was one of the first beefsteak tomatoes to ripen in my garden.

Green Grape Tomato Black Krim Tomato
Green Grape - About the size of a dollar coin, this tomato has a good balance of sweet and tart. A determinate variety, it was somewhat more prone to rodents in my garden. A good producer, I may grow it again.

Black Krim - I have to admit that I may have liked this variety slightly more than the Cherokee Purple (shocking I know). I'll definitely be growing it again just to be sure. It has a nice winey flavor you find in many purple/black varieties. Also, it was a good producer.

Isis Candy Tomatoe Sungold Tomato
Isis Candy - If left to ripen completely, it can be even sweeter than Sungold (almost sugary sweet like the name suggests) with none of the tartness. A very good producer as well. Again, a keeper.

Sungold - Again, how could you not like this tomato. A prolific producer and very sweet with the right amount of tartness. My only complaint is that the fruit has a tendency to split when picked very ripe. I've noticed that it is also more likely to split if you harvest the fruit under the mid-day sun. However, it produces so well that you can afford to lose a few. Also, they make very tasty sun-dried tomatoes.

Black Cherry Tomatoes
Black Cherry - My favorite cherry tomato this year. A very good producer, the quarter-sized fruit has a rich flavor that most cherry tomatoes lack. Definitely a keeper.

Couer di Pigeon Juane Tomato Red Siberian Tomato
Cuoer di Pigeon Juane - Interesting shape and color and a very good producer. However, I didn't like the taste very much. Not the least bit sweet and the flavor was as close to bland as a tomato can get. I definitely will not be growing it again.

Red Siberian - The flavor was acceptable and the plants produced abundantly. However, I would disagree with the Botanical Interests seed packet, which labeled it as an indeterminate variety. It grew like a determinate and stopped producing well before the first frost. Also, this was supposed to be my "early" tomato this year. However, the Cherokee Purple ended up ripening before this did. I will not be growing it again.

Purple Tomatillo Purple Tomatilloes
Purple Tomatillo - I know, I know - these are not tomatoes. But they are at least in the same family. My purple tomatilloes produced abundantly and were beautiful to look at.

Amish Paste Tomatoes
Amish Paste - Again, what is there not to love about this tomato. Marc's favorite variety this year, it is a great all-purpose tomato. A wonderful paste variety but is one of the tastiest fresh-eating tomatoes I grew this year as well. I will definitely be growing Amish Paste year after year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December Snow

December Snow
I guess it was bound to happen. The drive home from work tonight was anything but smooth. It's during these times that I wish I lived in say...San Francisco, where it's never too hot and never too cold. All in all, it could have been worse. We should only get about 3 to 5 inches from this one.

I guess I shouldn't complain too much - the snow should offer additional insulation to the hoop house, especially around the base. Sleep tight everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Last Harvest of the Year...Sort of

Meyer Lemons 3
This will be the last harvest post before arrival of the winter solstice. In a lot of ways, December 21st will mark for me the end of one growing year (my first) and the beginning of another. Winter hasn't even officially started yet and already I'm looking forward to the increasing light. I've been feeling rather unmotivated during the past couple of months, but I'm sure this will change as the days grow longer again. Before you know it, our seed-starting shelves will be running at full capacity again.

Today I picked several Meyer lemons to make another batch of marmalade for Christmas. This time around, I think I'll add some vanilla to the mix.

Winter Carrots
I also cleaned up my carrot bed today and pulled the remaining few that the voles hadn't gotten to by now. They're rather pathetic looking but tasted mild and sweet nonetheless.

This week's numbers:
Meyer Lemons - 1.62 lb
Carrots 1.20 lb

Total harvest this week - 2.82 lb
Total so far this year - 690.28 lb

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Greens

Winter Greens 2
From left to right - Red Altaglobe radishes, claytonia, Winter Density lettuce, mizuna, mache, Little Gem lettuce, Tango lettuce

My winter greens are growing very slowly these days. It generally gets into the upper 50's/low 60's during the days and down into the mid 20's at night in the hoop house. Pretty soon, I will place an inner layer of fabric row cover for some added protection.

Winter Greens 1
I will start harvesting some of these greens inthe next week or two. The mache is definitely ready to be picked.

This winter is already starting out to be much colder than last year. It will be interesting to see how the garden fares during the next couple of months.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Persimmons and French Melon

Persimmons and French Melon
This past weekend, we made a run to the Asian market to stock up on some goods. We decided to check out the HMart in Burlington, Massachusetts for the first time and were pleasantly surprised to find long rows of amazingly fresh produce and a broad assortment of Asian groceries. And as an added bonus, it was probably one of the cleanest Asian markets I've been to (a frequent pet peeve of mine).

Interestingly enough, I came across a french melon of all things. I'd never seen one at a grocery store before so of course I had to buy one. And although it wasn't very fragrant (like the charantais I grow this past summer), the flesh was incredibly sweet and tasty. Despite the fact that it was probably a hybrid variety of some sort, I should have saved some seeds to grow just for fun. Maybe I'll venture back to buy another one.

Finally, we also left the market with some beautiful persimmons in hand. I've been debating whether or not to plant some fruit trees this year simply because I don't foresee that we'll stay in our present home for more than a few years. It would be terribly disappointing to move just when they are about to produce well. If I were to plant one fruit tree this year, it would be a persimmon. Non-astringent type persimmons (like the ones pictured above and my personal preference) are generally only hardy to climate zone 7 and therefore may be challenging to grow here in our zone 6. Stark Bro's sells a variety called "Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro", which is supposed to be hardy to zone 6. I think I'll order one this spring and grow it in a pot. I don't how well it will fair grown in a container but at least I'll be able to bring it into say the garage when the weather gets especially frigid and take it with me if we do decide to move. At the very least, it's worth trying.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Cold Mid-December Harvest

Mid December Kale and Leek Harvest
Winter is getting an early start here in New England, at least compared to last year. We were lucky that it got into the high 40's today, despite the fact that it rained all day. The soil thawed enough for me to go out and dig up the remainder of my leeks. These are the leeks that I transplanted out in August. I'm really impressed by how big they've gotten. I will chop and freeze most of it for later use.

Also, I harvested a good amount of Tuscan kale that had been left unprotected in the garden. The haul would have been a lot more if I had picked it before the temperatures reached down into the teens last week.

Baby Pak Choy
I also harvested some bok choy in the form of micro-greens. They were great in a Pho soup that I prepared for dinner tonight. I placed them in a bowl with some rice noodles and poured the hot soup broth on top, which scalds them just enough to render them cooked. Delicious!

Baby Pak Choy 2
Admittedly, I had started the extra-dwarf white-stemmed bok choy a few weeks ago with the intention of transplanting them into the hoop house. But with the present conditions being what they are, I don't think that they would have fared too well. Since it only took them about four weeks to reach this size, I think I'll continue to raise some micro Asian greens for the remainder of this winter. Having one grow light in operation doesn't seem to have a noticeable impact on our electricity bill and it will be nice to have some fresh greens in the dead of January.

This week's numbers:

Bok Choy micro greens - 0.30 lb
Leeks - 1.92 lb
Tuscan kale - 1.44 lb

Total this week - 3.66 lb
Total so far this year - 687.46 lb

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Out of Time - Fall Cauliflower

cauliflower 1
I guess this just wasn't my year for cauliflower. My spring-planted crop never formed proper heads. I'm guessing that the extraordinarily hot summer we experienced this year had something to do with that. Then this past weekend, I noticed that my one and only fall cauliflower had started to form one. Unfortunately, it's now too late in the season for the head to fully mature. Better luck next year I suppose.

caulflower 2
I broke off the small head to get a closer look at it. The curds looks so interesting even at this stage. Anyway, I've been really impressed by how cold-tolerant my fall-planted brassicas have been. Even as the temperature reaches down into the 20's, they still look pretty unscathed. Next year, I will be sure to start my fall cauliflower extra early and transplant them into the hoop house for good measure.

On a final note, I'm glad to note that this little head didn't go to waste. I gave it a good toss and the dogs decided that it was good enough to eat. Then again, labs will pretty much eat anything.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Early December Harvest

December Harvest
It's been a while since I've done a harvest post. I returned home from Florida Friday night and was struck by how cold it was. I can't believe 2010 is coming to a close already. They say that having a gardening and watching things grow make you more aware of the passage of time. If that's the case then I must have been dreaming for most of this year. I hope things will slow down a bit next year. (My early 30's are just flying by!) In any case, I was glad to find Saturday morning that there were still some things to pick from the unprotected garden, including these leeks, radishes and broccoli shoots.

Fall Broccoli
This will undoubtedly be the end of this year's fall broccoli. I have to say that this year's crop was a great success. Next year, I'd like to try growing some inside the hoop house. (Christmas broccoli would sure be something!) I even found a green cabbage worm on one of them. Who knew that they could tolerate freezing temperatures so well.

Japanese Turnips
I also picked a big bunch of Japanese turnips, which will keep in the fridge for a long time. Amazingly, the voles haven't bothered them a bit - unlike my carrots, lettuce and radishes. I'm looking forward to growing an early spring crop of these.

Radishes and Celery
Finally, December just wouldn't be the same without the odd bunch of radishes. One benefit to growing a late crop is that they are very mild this time of year. These will taste good in a salad.

Oh - and I shouldn't forget to mention the celery. My two remaining plants were started in early February and have been in the garden since April. They seem to tolerate the cold weather pretty well inside the hoop house.

This week's totals:

Leeks - 1.25 lb
Broccoli - 0.42 lb
Radishes - 0.97 lb
Turnips - 1.38 lb
Celery - 0.65 lb

Total harvest this week - 4.57 lb
Total harvest so far this year - 683.80 lb

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December Citrus Fruit and Blossoms

Meyer Lemons 1
It's that time of year again. Most of the Meyer lemons are ripe now and all of my citrus trees are starting to put on new growth. I picked 7 lemons a few weeks ago and have 15 remaining. I guess it's time to make another batch of marmalade. They'll make for great homemade Christmas gifts this year.

Citrus Blossoms
And did I mention the tree is blooming right now? It's like clockwork each year - a reminder that while winter is fast approaching, it won't last forever.