Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Late July Garden - An Update

Poblano Peppers
It looks like the season for peppers is in full swing now. The poblanos are sizing up nicely. If anyone has a good recipe for them, please share!

Jalapeno Peppers
The jalapenos are really coming in now, much more than we could possibly consume. And boy, they sure are hot! Much hotter than what you get at the supermarket.

green bell peppers
The green bell peppers are pretty much ready for us to pick. Marc wants to wait until they turn red though. Any ideas how long that will take?

purple tomatilloes
I have two purple tomatillo plants, which is quite enough if you ask me. They are ruiting so abundantly. A few have broken through their husks already but are still green.

imperial artichoke
Yes! I got my first imperial artichoke. It's tiny though. I made the mistake of planting my artichokes in the shadiest part of my garden. They have not worked out for me exactly as planned this year. If I can't overwinter them successfully, I think I'll start over again next spring and plant them in an area with full sun.

Corn stalks
I checked the corn today. I peaked inside one husk and from what I can tell, it pollinated successfully. I think a few of them should be ready by the weekend. I can't wait!

Finally, my Rosa Bianca eggplants are flowering at the moment. Planted in the shadiest part of my garden, they are taking FOREVER. I really need to spend a bit more time on my garden plan next year. Maybe this space would be better suited for summer lettuce.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Our Growing Family

A little over a week ago, Marc and I took Jonathan to the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Massachusetts. We were on our way to a play date at a friend's house and decided to kill some time, or at least that's what we thought pulling into the parking lot. What we didn't know at that moment was that our family would be growing again. In this case, we were welcoming not one but two dogs into the mix....yes, two adorable 4-year old yellow labs with a combined weight of 172 lbs. It's true, Marc and I tend to act on impulse, especially when our heartstrings are being pulled. Usually it works out for the best, which is luckily what happened here. One look that these two dogs and we were smitten. The car ride home was an interesting one to say the least.

A little about our two new family members - Bobby and Babe were born from the same litter. Their prior owners had brought them to the no-kill shelter the day before. As is often the case, the family was moving and could not take the dogs with them. (It would kill me to have to make that kind of decision.) Anyway, the dogs had been together since birth so adopting just one was completely out of the question. One of the staff members mentioned that a few years back, the prior owners had intended to take only Bobby, who was one of the larger male puppies of the bunch. But seeing as how he was ultra protective of the runt of the litter, his sister Babe, they simply didn't have the heart to leave her behind, especially considering she was also the last one remaining. And so, they decided to take them both and the pair have been inseparable ever since.

This is Bobby. He's a rather big fella weighing in at a 111 lbs. Needless to say, he's now on a diet. He spends most of his day chewing on his stuffed lambie and loves it when you scratch behind his ears. I would describe Bobby as simply a walking bundle of love. When out in the garden, he doesn't like to be more than a few feet away from his sister (or run much for that matter). Bobby is also effortlessly endearing. This morning, he walked into the kitchen with one of Jonathan's rather large stuffed animals dangling from one side of his mouth and looked up at us with an expression that read, "Can I chew on this?" We couldn't help but laugh.

And this is Babe the runt, weighing in at 61 lbs. She is innately curious and extremely loving as well. When not running around the yard at lighting speed, she loves to torture her brother by taking his toys away, which he happily relinquishes every time. She just likes to prove that she's faster than he is. Babe also loves to lick her brother's ears and face at night, which is probably one of his favorite things as well.

Bobby and Jonathan
So there you have it - our growing family. Aside from vacuuming the house everyday, our lives haven't changed all too much. In fact, it seems as though Bobby and Babe have always been a part of our family. I'm sure Jonathan would agree.

Late July Harvest

July Harvest 3
I can't believe we are approaching the end of July. Is this summer flying by or what? But then again, having started many of my seeds at the beginning of February, you could say that it has been a rather long journey getting to this point. The garden is producing so many veggies these days, much more than we could possibly eat as a family. When we're not giving them away, I'm trying to find ways to preserve the bounty. Many, like the zucchini and Tuscan kale, are ending up in our new chest freezer. I'm sure we'll be grateful once winter rolls around.

calabash gourd
In addition to harvesting our first bell and jalapeno peppers, I picked the first Calabash gourd of summer. As I'd mentioned before, this is an edible Asian variety that is mostly used in soups. It has a very tender and a mild taste. I probably picked this one on the larger side. It weighs a hefty 3.02 lb and will provide for several meals. Most of it will end up in the freezer I'm sure.

Chioggia Beet
I never get tired of photographing beets, especially when they're fat and sweet like these Chioggias. This variety is definitely a keeper.

Harvesting Tomatoes
When I'm strolling through the garden, sometimes I start picking veggies and then suddenly realize that I have nowhere to put them. Sometimes you just have to improvise. Lucky for us, the Sungold cherry tomatoes are really producing these days! They are probably the sweetest tomatoes I have ever eaten. If you're looking for a guilt-free snack for your kids, these are it!

July Harvest 4
I broke down and bought a harvesting basket today. It sure comes in handy this time of year. We're picking a lot of Black Krim, Red Siberian and Cherokee Purple tomatoes now and are just starting to get the first Green Zebras and Amish Paste. All are unbelievably delicious, except for maybe the Red Siberian, which is good but not great. I don't know if I'll grow this variety again next year. It did not produce as early as I thought it would and while the packet advertised them as being indeterminate, they have stockier growing habit makes their low-lying fruit particularly accessible to rodents. In place of them, I think I'll try a variety like Bloody Butcher next year.

I was most surprised by the Black Krim, which tastes richly sweet. Marc's favorite so far has been the Amish Paste, which he describes as perfectly meaty and sweet. The Cherokee Purple has a very mild and well-balanced tomato flavor that would surely appeal to the masses, while the Green Zebra has a perky (almost spicy) zing to it. If I had to choose a favorite at this point, I probably wouldn't be able to. I love them all and will surely grow them again next year.

This week's harvest numbers:

Tomatoes - 15.97 lb
Beets - 2.27 lb
Zucchini - 7.69 lb
Calabash Gourd - 3.02 lb
Peppers - 0.67 lb
Cucumbers - 9.75 lb
Ground Cherries - 0.13 lb
Beans - 0.36 lb
Carrots - 0.34 lb
Celery - 0.70 lb

Total this week - 40.90 lb

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Melons Update - Charantais, Thai, Sugar Baby and Sweet Delight

watermelon and gourd
Thai watermelon and an edible Calabash gourd

I have a feeling this will be a good year for melons. They seem to be thriving under the consistently dry and hot weather conditions we've had so far this summer. The watermelons in particular are pumping out fruit like crazy. Hopefully the rodents and insects stay away long enough for them to ripen. Losing one Charantais melon so far has been bad enough!

Charantais Melon
Charantais melon one week ago...

Charantais Melon 2
...the same Charantais melon today. It's about the size of a coconut. I wonder how much longer I'll have to wait until it ripens. Earlier today, I did some research on that. Apparently, you should pick a Charantais melon at leaf turn - that is, when the leaf closest to the fruit (the small bright green leaf to the right of the melon above) changes from green to a pale tan.

Thai Watermelon
Thai Watermelon - Out of all the melons I'm growing this summer, these plants seem to be the most productive so far. I must admit, I know very little about this particular variety. The seed was given to me by my blogging buddy, Winnie. I currently have about 5 fruits ranging from 4 to 8 inches long but have no idea of how large they will eventually get.

Sugar Baby watermelon one week ago...

Sugar Baby Watermelon
...the same Sugar Baby watermelon today. I'm really impressed by how quickly they are growing. This one is about the size of a cantaloupe. Apparently, a watermelon is ripe when the tendril closest to the melon dies back. Hopefully that won't be more than a couple of weeks away. To be able to pick a melon in early August in our climate would be a nice treat.

Female Honeydew Flower
My Sweet Delight honey dew melons are having a rather difficult time setting fruit. None of the female flowers produced earlier this month pollinated properly. However, the plants are currently producing a second round of female flowers. As such, I was out this morning hand pollinating all of them with a fine artist brush. I'm praying that this works.

On a final note, it seems that all of my melons are producing another round of female flowers right now. To have both an early and late crop of melons this summer would be awesome!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Picked Pepperonici Peppers, Cherry Pie, Green Coriander and Chioggia Beets

It's amazing how fast time flies when you're running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I will admit that I have been looking forward to the weekend when I can veg around the house a bit and catch up on my blog reading. Anyway, here are just some random tidbits on the home front:

pepperoncini peppers
As I mentioned on my last post, I harvested some pepperoncini peppers last weekend and was really looking forward to pickling them, which I did earlier this week. The recipe I used was fairly straight forward: mix together 2 cups of water, 1 cup of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar.

pickled peppers
I halved the pepperoncini peppers (and some cherry peppers I had lying around), packed them in an airtight jar, poured in the solution and into the fridge it went. After a couple of days, I sampled the pickled peppers and frankly, they are delicious. We've been enjoying them in salads and sandwiches. They will keep in the fridge for about a month but I honestly don't think they will last that long.

cherry pie
Earlier this week, I also spotted some fresh sour cherries at the market. I couldn't resist and had to get some. I hadn't made a pie since last fall. These cherries were just the motivation I needed. Cherry pie is Marc's favorite and I will admit that this was the best one I've made in a while.

For the the cherry pie filling, I combined 5 cups of pitted fresh sour cherries, 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of tapioca starch. A recipe for killer pie crust can be found here.

Green Coriander
On the gardening front, I harvested a good amount of green coriander last week.

Green Coriander 2
The seeds were plucked from then stems and then frozen for future use. As expected, green coriander has an aroma somewhere in between fresh cilantro and dried coriander seed.

Chioggia Beets
Finally, I'm really proud of my beets this year. They are plump and exceptionally sweet. If only this were the case every year. Not wanting to waste anything, I've been using the leaves in soups. The beet roots on the other hand are simply roasted with a bit of kosher salt and olive oil. Yum!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Weekly Harvest - The Start of Tomato Season

I feel like it's been forever since my last post. Marc and I have had a lot on our plates lately. Over the weekend, we introduced 2 new members to our growing family (I'll get into that in another post). Needless to say, we're feeling somewhat stressed.

My New Year's resolution this year was to live more in the present and relax a bit. I was hoping to avoid any major changes (for once) but it seems that sentiment has gone out the window. Hopefully my sanity doesn't follow suit.

July Harvest 2
It's officially tomato season. We've only harvested cherry tomatoes up until this point so it's nice to be able to cut into a beefsteak variety. It's also officially the start of mice season. I've already lost about a dozen tomatoes (mostly Siberian and Clear Pink Earlies) to the little monsters. At first, I thought the damage was being caused by rabbits or squirrels but all of signs now point to mice. In span of 48 hours, I've already caught (and killed) 6.

Mostly, they are attacking the tomatoes closest to the ground. As a deterrent, I've wrapped the ripening clusters with fiberglass screening. I hope that helps. I also picked about a half dozen low-lying tomatoes that were not quite ripe (including the Purple Cherokee and Black Krim pictured above). Better that they ripen on my kitchen counter than in my compost pile.

pepperoncino harvest
This past weekend, I also harvested loads of Pepperoncini peppers - the first of the summer. I'm so excited to pickle them. They will make for a delicious addition to our sandwiches.

July Harvest
Finally, a sizable wild strawberry harvest. The yellow variety is my favorite.

Asian Cucumber
I also harvested a couple of Asian cucumbers. This long variety is mild tasty and incredibly crispy. I LOVE it - a 9 out of 10 in my book. They have that perfect snap. I'm sure they will make excellent refrigerator pickles.

Dragon's Tongue Beans
Finally, the Dragon's Tongue beans are starting to come in. Aren't they gorgeous? We'll see if they taste as good as they look.

This week, we harvested:

White onions - 0.36 lb
Zucchini (12) - 6.61 lb
Cucumbers (13) - 9.18 lb
Tomatoes - 3.84 lb
Coriander - 0.10 lb
Beans - 1.01 lb
Wild strawberries - 0.18 lb
Carrots - 0.45 lb
Pepperoncini peppers - 0.69 lb

Total this week - 22.42 lb

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tomato Update - A Bit of Color

What a difference a few weeks make. My indeterminate tomatoes are over 6 feet tall now. Strange to think that less than a month ago, they were only 18 inches in height. The vines have already reached the top of my trellis. At this rate, they will be toppling over by August.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes
It's taken a LONG time but a few of my slicing tomatoes are now starting to change color. My Cherokee purple tomatoes are cracking like crazy! Granted it rained a lot in the past 24 hours but they started to crack before this. Also, I would find it difficult to believe that I've been over-watering them. Does any one know what's causing this?

Black Krim
The Black Krim tomatoes look an awful lot like the Cherokees. I wonder how their taste will compare.

Black Cherry
The Black Cherry tomatoes are rather large compared to the others. I've heard so many great things about the darker varieties. We'll see if they live up to their reputation.

Red Siberian Tomato
I expected my Red Siberian Tomatoes to be the first to ripen but I was dead wrong. In this case, the seed packet lied! They are prolific though.

Clear Pink Early Tomato
I'm guessing that this Clear Pink Early tomato will be the first slicer to ripen. I will check on it every day.

cherry tomatoes
Can you spot the odd ball? My Sungold tomatoes are ripening in larger numbers now. Super sweet, we love snacking on them. The other day, Marc asked me why they had such a strong smell to them. I told him that's how a fresh ripe tomato is supposed to smell!

The odd ball is Couer de Pigeon Jaune, the seed of which was given to me by my pal Winnie. It's not very sweet but still quite delicious.

Amish Paste Tomatoes
Finally, the Amish Paste tomatoes are still bright green but I wanted to photograph them anyway. I love the shape of these tomatoes and the plant seems to produce rather abundantly. They should make for excellent sauce.

Update - I just found this great little article about concentric cracking. I guess it is common during hot spells (which we've certainly had lately) and is a result of several things (hot temperatures, the fruit being exposed to excessive light and sudden changes in moisture level. I think I'll add extra mulch to the tomato beds and try to water more regularly.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Back Garden Update

With all of the hot weather we've been experiencing, the plants in the back garden have really taken off. It's getting harder and harder to move in between the rows. I must admit, I didn't realize how much space zucchini plants required. I have to wear pants just to avoid their abrasive leaves! Also, they seem to be shading everything around them. Hopefully they won't get too much bigger or they'll have to go. I'll take peppers over zucchini any day.

In other news, something has devoured all of my soy beans . Today, I noticed a half eaten baby Charantais melon and numerous stripped leaves. I thought it might have been a chipmunk but then found a small gap under my fence. Those dastardly rabbits found a way in! Needless to say, I tried my best to block the gap. Also, think I'll try my hand at trapping them. In the past 2 and a half weeks, my Havahart trap has caught 8 chipmunks 3 squirrels, all of which were relocated to a nearby park. I haven't spotted a chipmunk in my garden since. Can anyone suggest a good way to trap rabbits?

Here's a view of the back-half of the garden. The melon vines are out of control. I'm gonna have to install some kind of trellis for them to climb onto soon or I won't be able to access the tomatoes.

Here's a closer looks at the melon vines. They are flowering abundantly now.

The tassels are also beginning to form on my corn plants. Anyone know of a good way to hand-pollinate corn?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Veggie Notes

I harvested new potatoes from 3 of my buckets last weekend. After a disappointing start, the Red Thumb potatoes came through this time around. Also, I was pleased to find that the All Blues had produced many golf ball sized tubers. Both seem to grow relatively well in pots (though the grand prize would go to the All Blues) so I think I'll give it another go next year but tweak the method a bit. I definitely won't be as heavy-handed when adding more soil to the pots (maybe an inch at a time). They didn't respond well when I raised the soil level by 4 inches all at once. Also, I think I'll skip the straw next year.

Finally, I won't be growing Rose Finn fingerlings in pots next year. The plants grew weak and the tubers were awfully tiny. The ones I have in the ground on the other hand are thriving.

I love cutting into these potatoes. The interior coloring is so striking, particularly in the All Blue. Homegrown potatoes are so delicious; I don' t know if I could ever go back to buying supermarket spuds.

My Florence Fennel have bolted. I'm kicking myself as they looked perfect and large enough to harvest last week. Just goes to show that knowing when to harvest is as important as knowing how to grow a particular veggie.

I'm beginning to understand way wild strawberries are not grown commercially. They generally end up in our bellies before they make it into the kitchen. There's just something about them screams, "Eat me!"

Awful! All of my cauliflower have bolted due to the excessive heat we've had lately. I knew cauliflower was difficult to grow but this is ridiculous. I'm assuming that they are inedible at this point???

I was really looking forward to trying this purple variety. Oh well. Maybe they will do better as a fall crop.

The Piracicaba broccoli on the other hand is still producing many side shoots. I'm trying a different variety this fall but will surely grow this one again next spring.

Earlier this spring, I saved a clump of leeks to divide and plant this summer. Now that space has opened up, these will be moved soon.

Finally, this is a baby Calabash gourd. After it sizes up, it will surely be tasty in a soup.