Thursday, December 31, 2009

Making Candied Kumquats

candied kumquats
I've always been curious about Kumquats, and can still recall the first time I laid eyes on one. I was probably six or seven years old, the place was Long Wood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I remember "liberating" a kumquat from a small tree inside one of their massive conservatories. (Some children steal toys, I stole curious foods.) After trying unsuccessfully to peel it, I ended up popping the entire thing into my mouth. Since then, I've been hooked.

candied kumquats 2
I actually really enjoy the sweet sharp tang of the kumquat peel and so I don't mind munching on them raw. However, I've heard they were excellent candied so this was my project for this particular batch from the grocery store. Hopefully one day I'll be able to pick fresh kumquats straight from my very own dwarf tree. I plan on purchasing one from Four Winds Growers sometime soon.

candied kumquats 3
I started off by slicing about 4 cups of kumquats crosswise into quarter inch pieces. Then came the tedious task of removing all of the seeds with a toothpick. In a small pot, I heated 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt for a few minutes until the sugar was dissolved. Then I added the kumquats and simmered the mixture uncovered on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, I placed the cooked kumquats to a bowl and boiled the liquid on medium-high heat for another 10 minutes until it reduced to a more syrupy consistency. (Don't over do it. The syrup will thicken as it cools.) Finally, I added the kumquats back in.

candied kumquats 4
I spooned most of candied kumquats and syrup into an airtight jar to be stored in the back of the refrigerator where they will keep for a long time. The rest, I processed for 10 ten minutes inside a water-bath canner and will save for a rainy day.

As the jars cool, the candied kumquats will plump-up as they absorb the sweet and slightly-tart syrup. I like a bit of bite to them so I didn't simmer the kumquats for too long. Next time, however, I think I'll try to candy them whole and cook them for a longer period of time (an hour or two) to see if they are better that way. For those who particularly love the citrus rind in marmalade, these candied kumquats are definitely worth trying. I already love them spooned over vanilla or coffee ice cream. I will also have to try them on french toast.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 Garden - Seeds for the Coming Year

2010 Seeds
Yes, the last of my seeds have arrived from Johnny's and Baker Creek. (I have a big smile on my face at the moment.) I love looking at the seed packs and daydreaming about all of the homegrown veggies to come. I will most likely add a few winter veggies as the fall growing season approaches, but for spring and summer, this is basically it. I would love for this list to be longer, but frankly, I think I'm at my limit:

Artichoke (Imperial Star) – S
*Arugula (Sylvetta) – F
Basil (Dolce Vita Blend) – S
Basil (Thai) – S
Bean – climbing (Asparagus bean) – S
Bean – climbing (Dragon’s Tongue) – S
*Bean – bush (Burpee’s Stringless) – S
Bean – bush (Contender) – S
Beet (Gourmet Blend) – S
Broccoli (Piracicaba) – S
Cabbage (Napa) – S
Carrot (Cosmic Purple) – S
Carrot (Scarlet Nantes) – S
Cauliflower – (Chef’s Choice Blend) – S
Celery (Tall Utah 52/70 Improved) – S
Chamomile (German) – S
Cilantro – S, F
Corn (Argent) – S
Cucumber (Tien Chin Long) - S
Cucumber (Spacemaster) - S
Fava Bean (Windsor) - S
Gourd (Edible Calabash) – S
Ground Cherry ( Strawberry Husk ) - S
*Kale (Chinese Flowering) - F
Kale (Tuscan) - S
Leek (American Flag) - S
Lettuce – Head (Marvel of the Four Seasons) - S
*Lettuce – All Lettuce Mix – S, F
*Lettuce – Gourmet Blend - S
*Lettuce (Tango) - F
*Mache (Vit) - F
Melon (Charentais) - S
Melon (Sweet Delight - Honey Dew) - S
*Minutina (Erba Stella) – F
Mustard (Mizuna) – S, F
Mystery seeds (from Kelly) – S
Nasturtium (Jewel Blend) – S
Onion (Red Amposta) – S
Pak Choi (Bonsai) – S, F
*Pak Choi (white stem) – F
Pea (Green Arrow Shelling) – S
Pea (snow pea) – S, F
Pepper (Early Jalapeno) – S
Pepper (Ancho/Poblano) – S
Pepper (Italian Pepperoncini) – S
Pepper (Thai Chili) – S
*Radish (Red Altaglobe) – S, F
*Radish (Easter Egg) – S, F
Rape (Yu Tsai Sum) – F
Scallion (conventional) – S, F
Scallion (Italian Red of Florence) – S
Soybean – green (Envy) – S
*Spinach (Space F1) – S, F
Summer Squash (Black Beauty Zucchini) – S
*Tatsoi - S, F
Tomatillo (Purple) – S
Tomato (Amish Paste) – S
Tomato (Cherokee Purple) – S
Tomato (Cour di Bue – oxheart) – S
Tomato (Green Zebra) – S
Tomato (red and yellow Brandywine) – S
Tomato (Red Siberian) – S
Tomato (Sun Gold F1) - S
*Turnip (Hakurei) – S, F
Wild Strawberry (Yellow Wonder) – S
Wild Strawberry (Red Wonder) – S

* - seeds left over from 2009
S - spring and summer planting
F - fall and winter planting

I also plan on purchasing some asparagus and rhubarb crowns, seed potatoes, plenty of herb transplants, and a few fruit trees (kumquat, mandarinquat, persimmon and a couple of fig varieties). If anyone has tips or comments on growing any of these varieties, please share!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This Year's Winter Veggies - An Overview

I thought I'd do a quick overview of my winter veggies this year in order to plan for next year's garden. Here is what I've observed so far:

winter spinach
Spinach - This is probably one of the hardiest crops I have in my garden right now. I have two partial beds of the Space (F1) variety- one under a double layer of protection and the other under a single layer quick hoop. Both are doing very well. The issue I have with spinach is that it is more prone to excess heat than it is to freezing temperatures. Next fall, I will reserve an entire bed for it and apply permanent coverage only at the very end of the fall growing season, maybe sometime in late November. Also, I think I got the winter sowing date just about right this year. 2010 winter sowing date: Sept 1.

winter kale
winter chard
Red Russian Kale and Bright Lights Chard - Both are doing very well under a double layer of protection. I sowed the seeds in early September only because I didn't have a bed ready until then. In 2010, I will try to extend the growing season of my spring-sown kale for as long as possible and attempt to overwinter a later summer sowing. 2010 winter planting out date: Aug 1 (start indoors).

Carrots - I grew two varieties this winter - Napoli (under double layer) and Nantes (under single layer). I sowed the seeds a bit late this year (mid-August) and the Napoli took longer to size up. I will stick to these two varieties next year since they seem to withstand freezing temperatures very well. I can still pull my Napoli carrots but the soil around my Nantes carrots is frozen solid. Next year, I will place both under a double layer and spread a few inches of straw in late fall to help keep the soil from freezing solid. 2010 winter sowing date: Aug 1.

tango lettuce
death of lettuce
Death of Rouge D'Hiver Lettuce

Lettuce - My Rouge D'Hiver lettuce was killed off when temperatures inside the hoop house dipped down into the low 20's. Also, my lettuce mix fared better but is a bit too damaged to be worth eating. My Tango lettuce on the other hand seems to be holding up well under current conditions. Next year, I will be sure to harvest all of my lettuce mix by the end of November or early December at the latest. 2010 fall/winter sowing date: Lettuce mix - Sept 1, Tango lettuce - Sept 1 and Sept 15.

minutina 2
Wild Salad Greens (wild arugula, minutina, mache) - Ironically enough, I sowed my wild arugula a bit too early and my other wild greens a bit too late this year. The mache and minutina seem to tolerate the winter temperatures better than the wild arugula but all seem to be pretty hardy. However, the wild arugula was very quick to grow. 2010 winter sowing dates: wild arugula and mache - Sept 1 and Sept 15, minutina - Sept 1 (at the latest).

winter pak choi
Asian greens - I grew several varieties of Asian greens this fall but neglected to do a proper winter sowing. Also, they were greatly affected by pests this year, specifically caterpillars, cutworms and slugs. I will have to have a plan in place to deal with these buggers. Also, placing my white stem pak choi under cover prematurely caused the plants to go to seed. Like Spinach, I should wait until November before applying permanent coverage. I currently have some pak choi seedlings that seem practically unfazed by the frigid temps. Next year, I plan on doing several fall plantings of tatsoi and pak choi. 2010 winter planting out dates: Sept 1, Sept 15, Oct 1 (start indoors).

Winter radishes and Hakurei turnips - these crops did well for me this year. Aside from applying cover to the radishes in late November, the only other thing I'd tweak next year are the direct sowing dates. Winter radishes - Sept 1, Sept 15, Sept 30. Hakurei turnips - Aug 15, Sept 1, Sept 15.

I will continue to play around with these sowing dates in order to get them just right. My goal is to have a steady harvest throughout most of winter (something that can be very hard to master). In addition to these crops, here are few that I'd like to learn more about and grow next winter: scallions, leeks, mizuna, Bianca Riccia endive, Bull's Blood beet (greens) and claytonia (miner's lettuce).

Monday, December 28, 2009

This Week's Harvest - The Last of December

christmas harvest 2
It feels nice to be able to participate in Daphne's Harvest Monday again. You're looking at the last of December's bounty- a pretty decent haul if I do say so myself. Not that I'm bragging or anything. It's just that not too long ago, I was questioning whether or not I would even make it this far in my winter gardening adventures. Of course, my streak could suddenly come to an end at any moment. Anyway, here are a words about what I harvested this week:

christmas harvest 4
This is my first harvest of Red Russian kale. I direct-sowed the seeds in early September only because I didn't get a chance to dig the bed until then. Next year, I will aim for a much earlier sowing date. Then again, it would be nice if these successfully overwintered and I was able to harvest them all summer and fall.

christmas harvest 3
I harvested a big bunch of my Napoli carrots. They are pretty tasty but I must admit that I prefer the taste of my Nantes carrots, which have a more pronounced carrot flavor. My bed of Nantes carrots is currently frozen solid. They seem to be handling it fine though. Hopefully we will get a mid-winter thaw soon so I can harvest the remaining carrots.

chritmas harvest 6
This is my first harvest of Bright Lights chard, not a big one but pretty to look at nonetheless. The seeds came from Kelly at How My Garden Grows (along with the kale) and were direct sown in early September as. Hopefully they will overwinter successfully as well.

christmas harvest 5
This is the last of the Chinese Kale. They were a bit frozen when I harvested them. Hopefully they will still taste fine when cooked.

christmas lettuce harvest
Finally, I picked another round of Tango lettuce, which is tasting slightly sharp from the freezing temperatures we've had lately, but is edible nonetheless.

Next week, I plan on harvesting a big round of spinach. That is, if weather permits.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Turkey Noodle Soup

Turkey Noodle Soup
Every time I cook a turkey for special occasion, I always use the carcass to make a soup the next day. I'm sure every family has their own version of (leftover) Holiday Turkey Noodle Soup. Here is mine, which I've managed to perfect through the years. And to give you a sense of how long that is, I've been in charge of cooking the Thanksgiving turkey since I was Junior in high school (I'm now 32 years old).

As I'd mentioned before, I don't usually measure my ingredients when cooking, unless I'm baking of course. So here is my best attempt at measurements:

Thomas' Holiday Turkey Noodle Soup Recipe

Using your best tools (i.e. your hands) remove all of the meat, skin and fatty bits from the turkey carcass. Set aside the meat in a bowl and refrigerate (discard the skin and fat). Separate the wing, thigh, and leg bones from the rest of the carcass, and using kitchen scissors or a sharp cleaver, cut the back and breast bones into smaller (more manageable) pieces. Heat some olive oil in a large stock pot over moderate heat and add the bones. Brown the bones for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. (This is important as it makes for a richer, more flavorful stock).

When the bones have browned, add 1 medium onion, 2 medium carrots and 2 celery stalks that have been cut into large pieces into the pot. I generally cook a turkey anywhere between 12 to 20 lbs. For a 10-12 lb turkey, add 10-12 cups of water (15 lbs - use 14 cups, 20 lbs - use 16 to 18 cups) to the pot. Alternatively, you can just add enough water to cover the bones by a couple of inches. Then add a few sprigs of thyme. Bring the water to a rapid boil and then lower the flame to simmer gently for 2 hours. Skim any scum and excess fat that floats to the surface. (I usually leave some fat as it adds flavor to the soup.)

After 2 hours, pour the stock through a fine sieve (catching any small bones and bits in the process) into another large pot. At this point, add 1/2 to 2/3 cup of dry white wine and bring the stock back to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Now add your diced veggies. I use about 1 cup of carrots, 1 cup of celery (leafy parts too), 1 cup of mushrooms, 1/2 cup of red peppers, 2 small zucchini, 1 cup of onions, 1 cup leafy greens like spinach, chard or kale. (Of course you can use whatever you like or have on hand.) Then add about 3 cups of diced turkey meat.

Bring the soup back to a boil and then gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Add salt (preferably kosher) to taste. Finish the soup by adding anywhere between 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. (Adding a bit of sugar greatly enhances the flavor of this broth. You'll notice a distinct difference by tasting the broth before and after you add the sugar.)

In a separate pot, cook your pasta or egg noodles in salted boiling water according to the package directions. Drain and keep in a large bowl or plastic container. Unlike other recipes, I don't add my pasta directly into the soup pot, mainly because it becomes overcooked and absorbs most of the tasty broth over time. Instead, I store the pasta separately until I'm ready to serve. In individual bowls, I add a bit of pasta and then pour the hot soup on top. Garnish with some chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.

And there you have it. I hope some of you will give this recipe a try!

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Sweet Ending

Apple Tart 3
The highlight of this year's Christmas dinner was unquestionably the dessert. This French Apple Tart was not only credibly delicious but also very easy to prepare.

Apple Tart 2
I love many of Ina Garten's recipes, and in my opinion, this is truly one of her best. You can find out how to make her version of this classic French dessert here. In place of the apricot jam, I glazed the tart with some of my homemade Meyer lemon marmalade.

Applet Tart 4
The only comment I would add to this recipe is the following tip- to get the top extra caramelized, place the tart under a broiler for a minute or two. It's true what they say- the simplest recipes are often the best.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas - Gifts from the Garden

Christmas Poinsettias
I wanted to wish all of you a safe and happy holiday! Hopefully, you all get to spend some quality time with the ones you love. Our Christmas Eve was spent building a snow man, eating a hardy turkey dinner and playing Bananagrams.

I got one gift that I've been hoping for this year- a Christmas harvest! Today was the first time in almost two weeks that I was able to look inside my hoop houses. Many of my veggies had made through our recent spell of frigid temperatures unblemished while others did not (I'll get more into that in another post). I was, however, able to walk away from the garden today with a nice harvest.

christmas harvest
I picked some fine-looking kale and chard (and lettuce underneath)- the first of the season. These will be perfect in a turkey noodle soup.

christmas carrot harvest
The soil underneath my quick hoops was frozen solid, which unfortunately meant that I was unable to pull any of my remaining Nantes carrots. However, the soil underneath my hoop houses had thawed enough for me to harvest a big bunch of Napoli carrots. Both varieties seem to handle the freezing temperatures well and taste deliciously sweet. Hopefully we will get a mid-winter thaw that will allow me to pull all of my remaing carrots.

Of course I will have all of these veggies cleaned up and trimmed for Harvest Monday! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice!

More Seeds for 2010
More Seeds from Botanical Interests

It's finally here. Today is one day I've been looking forward to for a long time now. Having only been able to garden during the latter half of this year, I'm looking forward to being able to grow some crisp spring veggies and succulent summer crops. For many of us, the Winter Solstice represents a great milestone in the gardening calendar. For me, it feels like the time for preparations has officially begun. During the next few weeks, I will be putting pen to paper and planning next year's four season garden. In part, I'm hoping that the lessons I've learned during the past few months will allow me to grow more successful fall and winter gardens. The spring and summer gardens this year (being my first), will be more of an experiment.

Here are some of the projects I will be focusing on during the next couple of months:
  1. By now, I've purchased or have ordered most of my spring and summer seeds for next year. Most of the seeds I have now are from Botanical Interests and I just placed orders with Johnny's Selected Seed and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds a couple of nights ago. (I admit, I've gone a bit crazy in the seed department.)
  2. I have to order some seed potatoes - 1 standard and 2 fingerling varieties. I'll probably purchase some organic potatoes from the supermarket to grow for fun as well. I'd also like to experiment with growing potatoes in large buckets. Here is a great piece on this very subject written by Cynthia from Grow Better Veggies.
  3. I have to order some asparagus and rhubarb crowns for the garden. If anyone has a favorite variety they would like to recommend, please do! For asparagus, I'm leaning towards a purple variety.
  4. I've ordered my 3/4-inch and 2-inch soil block makers from Johnny's. (My little Christmas present to myself.) My mission during the next few weeks will be to track down all of the materials necessary to make the soil block mix. Hopefully they won't be too difficult to source this time of year. I plan on making my own 4-inch soil block maker, which I haven't quite figure out how to do so yet.
  5. I need to purchase all of the equipment necessary to build a mini seed starting operation, including shelves, fluorescent lights, trays, etc. My basement is heated so I'm not sure if heating mats are absolutely necessary (another expense I can surely live without). If anyone can offer an alternate to heating mats, please do!
  6. I need to think about what kinds of fruit trees to grow next year. I'd like to purchase a couple of dwarf citrus trees (kumquat and mandarinquat), two fig trees and a persimmon tree (all fruits I can't source locally).
  7. I have to come up with a seed-starting/transplanting/direct-sowing schedule for all of next year's crops, as well as a plot plan for my garden. Since I want all of next year's winter gardening beds to be relatively close to one another (like they are this year), I have to pick the right spring and summer crops to plant in these beds in order to ensure that they will be available when it comes time to sow my winter veggies.
  8. Finally, there are a few crops that I will be paying special attention to this year, mainly because they can be quite difficult to grow successfully in our New England climate. These include tomatoes, peppers, melons, cauliflower and artichokes. I will be devoting a lot of reading time to them. Here is an enlightening tutorial on how to grow top-notch heirloom tomatoes, again, by Cynthia from Grow Better Veggies. (I've also posted a video link of Cythia's Love Apple Farm on my sidebar.)
I'm sure as the weeks go by, there will be many more projects on my plate and new things to learn, which is why gardening to me is such an amazing hobby.

Next Year's Lemons
Next Year's Meyer Lemons (I have about 10 new lemons on my tree and more blossoms to come.)

No Harvest Monday

Braised Short Rib with Ziti
Braised Beef Short Rib with Portabello Mushrooms, Homegrown Carrots and Rosemary Red Wine Sauce over Ziti

Today will be the first day in a long time that I have not participated in Daphne's Harvest Monday. The fact is, I get home too late during the weekdays to harvest veggies and the temperature inside my mini hoop houses barely got to above freezing this past weekend for me to be able to do so. Hence, I'll have to wait until later on this week (maybe Christmas Eve), when temperatures are expected to warm up a bit (and by that, I mean get above 32 degrees F), to harvest some kale, chard, lettuce and carrots for Christmas dinner.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Traditional Pineapple Upside Down Cake

So what did I do this weekend?...well you're looking at it. There's nothing better on a cold snowy day then a nice roaring fire and some comfort food, even if your waistline pays for it. My sister is currently visiting from Southern California and I've been feeling the need to feed her hardy winter meals. We also had some homemade pork and shrimp pot stickers and chicken noodle soup. Maybe one of these days I will get around to posting some actual recipes (I admit, it's hard to when I generally cook with a bit of this and a dash of that).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Construct Your Own Seed Mats

"Construct Your Own Seed Mats," as posted on Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op on December 21, 2009.

Posted by Thomas from A Growing Tradition Blog

seed mats
Homemade Seed Mats (Radishes)

Have you ever come across an idea that sounded a bit silly or even crazy at first, but then the more you thought about it, the more you realized how absolutely brilliant it is? In this case, it took me about 5 seconds to see the light of day. And I have to thank none other than Gran from Annie's Kitchen Garden for enlightening me.

This my friends is a homemade seed mat, which allows you to sow many of your crops accurately and efficiently. For me at least, the benefits of these mats seem endless. Here are just a few I can think of as I'm writing this:
  • The obvious - thinning, or lack there of. Since you've perfectly spaced the seeds on the mat, you spend less time thinning your seedlings. Carrot growers rejoice!
  • Eliminating waste - Since you have less to thin, you also get to keep more of what you sow. Seeds are becoming increasingly expensive these days and more gardeners are choosing to save seed. These mats allow you to maximize your seed usage.
  • Aesthetics - The perfect spacing achieved by these mats gives your garden an ultra-neat look.
  • Maximizing space - Seed mats allow you to maximize your available square footage by evenly spacing your plants according to their specific requirements. This is particularly important if you only have a limited amount of growing space in your garden, hoop house or cold frames.
  • Regulating growth - Because your plants are evenly spaced, their overall growth becomes more regulated.
  • Time and flexibility - You're sowing entire mats, which is a fraction of the time it takes to sow individual seeds. (Your back will thank you.) Also, it took me about 15 minutes to construct 3 mats while comfortably sitting at a table. This is the type of gardening I don't mind doing at 11 pm.
  • Comfort - they are particularly useful for small seeds and crops that do not require large amounts of space in which to grow. From my own experience, I've found certain seeds to be particularly tedious to handle and sow into neat rows (wild arugula seed, for example, is the size of a grain of sugar).
  • Finally, cost - It costs next to nothing to make these mats and chances are, you already have the materials in your home. A six-row seeder costs $549.00.
Are you convinced yet? Or curious at least? Then give these homemade seed mats a try. All you need are some thin single-ply paper napkins or toilet tissue (anything that disintegrates easily when wet), some water soluble glue (like your child's Elmer's glue), a ruler and toothpick. Personally, I use fast food restaurant napkins for my mats, which degrade very quickly in the garden. The directions are pretty straight forward:

1. Unfold your napkin. On your napkin, using a ruler and pen, make a series of evenly spaced points. The space between these points will be dictated by the type of crop you are sowing. To give you an idea, most baby salad crops can be spaced 2 square inches apart (2 in by 1 in). Carrots and radishes can by spaced 4 square inches apart (2 in by 2 in). Spinach, many Asian greens, turnips, beets, claytonia and smaller-head varieties of lettuce can be spaced 16 square inches apart (4 in by 4 in). In fact, these seed mats are best for any crop that you can direct sow and space 6 inches apart or less.

2. Going row by row, dab the slightest bit of glue onto each point. (I've also used a thick paste made from flour and water, which worked well too. Use a toothpick to dab a bit onto each point.)

3. Place a seed at each point and press lightly with your finger. (For baby salad crops, I adhere 2 to 3 seeds at each point for better germination rates. For small or more delicate seeds such as carrots and many salad crops, touch the tip of a toothpick to your tongue or a wet sponge and use it to pick up and transfer the seed.)

4. Let the mats dry completely. Do not store stacked until they are completely dry.

radish seed mats3
Newly Sown Mats

5. In the garden, amend your bed and level the soil surface with a garden rake. Lay the mats on top and sprinkle a bit of compost or garden soil onto each mat to keep them in place. (You can make a 50/50 mixture of compost and organic garden soil.) Once all of the mats are laid down, fill with enough soil to achieve the appropriate sowing depth. Water thoroughly.

6. Two or three days after the first seeds have sprouted, fill in any germination gaps with fresh seed.

radish seeds mats
I achieved about a 90% germination rate with my radish seed mats.

And that's about it. Hopefully, some of you who are as anal as I am about neat and evenly planted rows will give this a try. For Gran's instructions on how to construct these seed mats, click here.

winter radishes
Same radish bed a few weeks later.

Second Snow Storm of the Year

Second Snow Storm
We woke up to more snow this morning. There was a bit of fog in the air as well. Perfect weather in my opinion for a nice fire and some comfort food.

Second Snow Storm 3
My reinforced hoop houses are doing a much better at withstanding the weight of the snow this time around. By noon, we had about 8 inches on the ground. The metal frames did not move an inch, which is a good indication that the PVC cross bars have helped to stabilize the structures.

Second Snow Storm 4
Also by noon, the temperature outside had reached 18 degrees F, while the sensor inside my hoop houses registered 30 degrees. Not bad if you ask me for a snowy and cloudy day. I dusted the snow off the tops of my hoops houses just to be on the safe side but left most of the sides untouched. I'm hoping that the white stuff will act as a kind of added insulation for the next couple of days.

As I was outside doing my day's chores, a rather large flock of crows settled into the tall pine and oak trees in our backyard.

crows 2
I couldn't help but wonder where they were headed off to. Hopefully somewhere warmer.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Studying the Winter Garden

max min thermometer
Last weekend, I picked up a digital max min thermometer from Home Depot. I'd been meaning to get one for a while now and by chance happened upon this one. It has a sensor that you leave outside to measure the outdoor temperature. It then sends this information to a small display that you keep indoors, which also measures the temperature inside your house. The screen shows the current indoor and outdoor temperatures, as well as the highest and lowest that was recorded during a given period. A button in the back allows you to reset this information.

max min thermometer sensor
I am hoping that this device will give me a better sense of what is happening temperature-wise inside my mini hoop houses. Specifically, I will be comparing the maximum and minimum temperatures recorded by the sensor, which is hung just beneath the inner layer of fabric, to the official high and low for my town on a given day. I will keep a daily record of this information for the rest of this winter. This information will be useful I think for a number of reasons:
  1. It will allow me to better predict how warm the hoop house will get on a given day and under certain conditions (cloudy, sunny, partially sunny, snowy, windy, etc.). Based on my previous findings and the current weather forecast, I'll know if say venting is necessary.
  2. In the fall, I'll know when to apply the inner layer of fabric once nighttime readings begin to dip below a certain temperature inside my hoop houses.
  3. During the winter months, I'll have a better idea of how cold hardy a certain variety is by comparing the registered low to the damage (or lack of damage) done to that crop. Also, if the weather forecast is expected to dip below that minimum temperature, I'll know to harvest that particular crop before that happens.
  4. Finally, once nighttime temperature readings are consistently above freezing in late winter, I will begin to sow some of my early spring crops (like lettuce, beets, peas, radishes, turnips, Asian greens and carrots) under cover. Hopefully, this will give me a jump start on the spring and summer growing seasons.
max min thermometer 2
The frigid temperatures this week proved to be a serious test for my hoop houses. And the results are somewhat telling. On Thursday, the temperature in our town reached an afternoon high of 18 degrees at 1 PM (4 degrees if you factor in wind chill). When I got home, I noticed that the thermometer had registered a high of 53 degrees inside my hoop house for that day (granted it was sunny all day long). As expected, this also had an impact on the lows registered that night. While our town recorded a low of 7 degrees F Thursday night/Friday morning, the temperature inside my hoop house only got down to 20 degrees F. Over the past several days, I've observed anywhere from a 25 to 35-degree difference between the outdoor and hoop house temperatures during the day, and a 7 to 13 degree difference at night. My guess is that these differences will be less dramatic on cloudy and windy days.

I'm very excited and encouraged by these readings. This is some early indication at least that my mini hoop houses are doing what they're supposed to be doing. Also, I'll be very anxious to see what my veggies look like tomorrow, when I finally get a chance to check up on them. On a final note, I think I'll buy another max min thermometer to keep out in the open in my backyard in order to get outdoor readings specific to my garden.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Gift

Hudson Valley Seed
Last night, I came home to a find that I had received a gift in the mail from Marie at 66 Square Feet. And it was the best kind of gift - one that keeps on giving - seeds! Now I'll be able to add some Dragon's Tongue beans and Piracicaba Broccoli to my growing list for this spring. The artwork on these seeds packs are stunning and definitely worth keeping. You can check out the rest of Hudson Vally Seed Library's heirloom seed collection and art packs here. Also, if you haven't done so, please check out Marie's blog, which is all about the greener spaces and edible places of New York City. Thanks again, Marie!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Trip to the Asian Market

tropical fruits
As I'd mentioned in an earlier post, I made a trip to the Asian market the other night to stock up on some dried staples, sauces and produce. As I was putting my baby bananas, Asian pears, mandarin oranges and Fuyu persimmons into my shopping cart, I began feeling a bit nostalgic. It struck me that these are things that my mother and father, and even their parents, had eaten all throughout their lives. I now eat these things and there is a very good chance my son will as well. To think that something as simple as a piece of fruit can bind us to our family, culture, ancestry and future descendants in such a powerful way. Too bad you can't say the same thing about most processed foods you see at the supermarket these days. I doubt that our ancestors would have been able to identify many of these items as "food" just by reading the multisyllable ingredients printed on the label. Maybe I'll remember that the next time I scarf down a bag of Doritos.

asian veggie seed packs
Anyway, I also happened upon a seed rack and picked out some more Asian veggies to grow next year. Among them are long beans, an edible calabash gourd (the tender flesh is used in soups and stir-fries), Napa cabbage, Thai red chilies, an Asian cucumber variety and some scallions. They were about a dollar a pack...not bad if you ask me. Sure they contain less seeds then what you would normally get from say Johnny's but are perfect for the home gardener nonetheless. My seed collection for next year is slowing coming together. I don' t know about you but I can't wait until spring!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Making Preserved Meyer Lemons

perserved meyer lemons
After making my second batch of marmalade last weekend, I had two good-sized Meyer lemons left to preserve. They weighed in at a little over a pound. The recipe I used was one adapted from Paula Wolfert's.

making preserved lemons 2
Making this recipe couldn't have been simpler. I substituted Meyer lemon juice for juice from conventional lemons as I wanted to get the most out of my lemons. I've never preserved anything using only salt and lemon juice before. I always get a bit nervous (from a food safety standpoint) when trying a new preservation technique, but in this case, I'm sure the salt and acid from the lemon juice does not create the most hospitable environment for harmful molds and bacteria to breed (though one can never be too sure).

making preserved lemons 3
Hopefully, I will be able to enjoy the flavor of these lemons for months to come. They will last up to one year in the refrigerator. I think I will try using them in a roasted chicken recipe. If you have any recipe suggestions that call for preserved lemons, let me know!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This Week's Harvest - Reanimated Winter Veggies

tango lettuce
This week's harvest is pretty light (by choice). Friday evening, after landing in Boston from Tallahassee, I took a detour before heading home and stopped by the Super 88 Market, which is a chain of Asian grocery stores in the Greater Boston area. I hadn't been to one since we moved into our new home so I was very excited to stock up on dried staples, sauces and Asian greens. Our refrigerator is filled right now with Napa cabbage, snow peas, long beans, water spinach, etc.

Harvesting winter lettuce
This weekend, I harvested more of my Tango lettuce. I must say that this is by far my favorite lettuce grown this year. This variety produces mini heads of crisp and frilly green leaf lettuce. The texture holds up well in a salad and the flavor is unbelievable. Whereas my lettuce mix is beginning to show strain from the frigid nightly temperatures, Tango is extremely resilient. In fact, it does not seem phased by the weather at all. I had to harvest this batch pretty quickly as the garden fabric began to freeze 5 minutes after I lifted the hoop house.

winter carrots
I'm now harvesting both varieties of carrots I have growing this winter (Nantes and Napoli), which are coming in all shapes and sizes. Both varieties are super sweet and I will undoubtedly be growing them again. Up until now, we've been munching on them raw. Maybe this week, we'll be able to restrain ourselves and I can actually find out how they taste cooked.

Harvesting winter carrots
I love the feeling of being able to harvest fresh veggies even when there is 6 inches of snow on the ground.

Winter Gardening Update - As I mentioned earlier, we had a few nights last week during which the temperature dropped down into the teens. Saturday morning at dawn, I inspected my hoops houses for the first since the prior weekend. I did not like what I saw. The inner layer of garden fabric was frozen stiff and all of my winter greens appeared to be frozen solid. I thought for sure that my winter gardening adventure had come to an abrupt end. I wish I had taken pictures of it time, I definitely will.

Then by 10:30 AM, the frost and frozen droplets of water clinging to the inside of my hoop houses had begun to melt and I decided to take another look. The inner fabric felt heavy and wet, and beads of water fell to the ground as I lifted it. Amazingly, most of my greens showed no signs of having been frozen a few hours before. I was completely surprised and ecstatic. This is plant reanimation in it's purest form. The only veggie showing any signs of damage is my lettuce mix (and only around the edges of the bed). I love these little gardening victories. We'll see how they do later in the week when temperatures are expected to drop down into the single digits. I will be keeping my fingered crossed.

reanimated spinach
reanimated lettuce mix
reanimated carrots
lettuce under cover
salad greens under cover
Winter greens under cover.

If you'd like to see what other folks are harvesting or would like to show off your own, visit Harvest Mondays at Daphne's Dandelions.