Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rain, Grasshoppers and Vermont

fall broccoli 2
I can't decide whether it feels more like summer or fall. One thing's for sure, we've had a lot more rain recently. The cherry tomatoes are splitting like crazy and attracting all sorts of insects. I should probably rip them out this weekend.

This might sound strange but this is the first time I've ever seen a grasshopper in my garden. Raised Roman Catholic and having seen the movie "The Ten Commandments" a dozen times, I can't help but wonder if this is somehow an ominous sign of things to come. (Will next year be the summer of hungry grasshoppers?) But this is probably just the paranoid gardener inside of me talking.

In unrelated news, the fall turnips are starting to fatten up. I think some of these will be ready in a week or so. Or maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised when I return from Vermont. I'm traveling up to Burlington this morning for work. This will be the first time I'm visiting northern Vermont. Hopefully, I'll get to see plenty of farmland, fall foliage and some of the things "the healthiest city" in America has to offer. If you has any suggestions on where I should go, let me know!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Starfruit and Lime

I've had this star fruit tree for almost two years now. When I bought it, it had only three leaves on it and was rather pathetic looking. It's come a long way since then and even bloomed once. However, I expect that it will be a least a year or two (if ever) before it starts fruiting. It loses plenty of leaves during the winter time, but when I set it outside in late May, it seems to bounce back pretty well. I also need to put more effort into fertilizing it regularly. Has anyone grown star fruit successfully as a houseplant?

kaffir lime
In other news, I came across this little fella the other day while watering my citrus plants. It's my first Kaffir lime. It looks like a little brain doesn't it? I hadn't been paying much attention to my potted trees this past summer and it appears that this one has been growing for quite some time now. The lime itself has no real culinary value but the plant's leaves are used in Indian and Thai cooking. If anyone has a tasty recipe that utilizes Kaffir lime leaves, please do share!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

First Fall Harvest

fall broccoli
I love this time of year. Yes, the days are shorter, but the leaves are brighter, the air is crisp and I get to write this post seated next to the warmth of a glowing fire. It's a time to savor the remains of summer and get reacquainted with the tender greens of fall.

The jewel of this week's harvest happens to be this crown of broccoli. The variety is called 'Bonanza'. I picked it this afternoon and we had it for dinner. It was absolutely delicious - mild, sweet and much tastier than the 'Piracicaba' I grew this spring.

fall greens
One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to go out into the garden with a pair of scissors and cut a mix of greens to stir-fry. We're talking about farm to fork in a matter of minutes. Here, I have a bowl of baby bok choy, choy sum and white stem chard. My favorite way to prepare them is as follows: I get a pan VERY hot, then add about a tablespoon of butter. When the butter is melted, I add the greens followed by a splash of soy sauce and smooth chili paste. With the burner on medium-high and after a few tosses, the greens are done - the process taking about a minute. Simple and delicious.

Fall Harvest
I usually don't like to post the same picture twice, but in this case, it was unavoidable. My ancient laptop crashed the other day and I ended up losing all of my unpublished photos. I'm just glad that I have all of my favorite photos stored on Flickr (though I should probably find a way to export them all onto a backup drive).

I hope everyone is enjoying the cooler weather as much as I am!

This week's numbers:

Asian greens - 0.48 lb
Tomatoes - 14.41 lb
Eggplant - 0.56 lb
Snow peas - 0.13 lb
Broccoli - 0.43 lb

Total harvest this week - 16.01 lb
Total so far this year - 621.90 lb

Friday, September 24, 2010

Roasted Purple Tomatillo Salsa Recipe

Purple Tomatilloes
I hate to admit this but I don't think I've ever purchased a tomatillo from the supermarket. And up until recently, I've probably eaten salsa verde only twice in my life. So I can't really explain why I was so interested in growing purple tomatillos this year. I think it came down to the fact that they looked so striking in the seed catalog. In any case, I'm glad I took the leap. A bit late to mature, my two plants ultimately produced an abundant amount of fruit. The longer the tomatillos were left to ripen, the deeper the purple they became.

Purple Tomatilloes 1
I decided to try my hand at making purple tomatillo salsa. After googling for a recipe and not being satisfied with any that I found, I ultimately came up with my own. The results were surprisingly good! For future reference and for those who may be interested, the recipe is as follows:

Purple Tomatilloes 2

Roasted Purple Tomatillo Salsa

2 lb purple tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
1 rather large onion, peeled and quartered
1/2 lb of mixed peppers/chilies (I used what I had in the garden - poblano, jalapeno and Thai chili)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Juice and zest of one large lime
1/4 to 1/2 cup of cilantro, chopped (depending on your taste)
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cumin (of course optional and depending on your taste)
1 teaspoon of kosher salt (or more to taste)

roasting peppers
1. Roast the tomatillos and onion on medium heat until they are lightly charred. Then set aside to cool.
2. Roast the peppers/chilies on high heat until they are blackened. (Be careful not to burn the smaller chilies.) Then place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 10-15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel the peppers/chilies. Remove the seeds from the poblanos.
3. Working in batches, pulse all of the ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped. Then pour into a large bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Purple Tomatillo Salsa
The finished product has a rather interesting color. I love it served with warm tortilla chips or over grilled meats or veggies. It freezes well too. I hope you like it!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrating the Fall Equinox

Fall Broccoli 1
Fall is officially upon us. This evening I celebrated by doing a little dance around my broccoli plants, which seem to be crowning nicely. I think I'll able to harvest the one pictured above very soon. Once the main crown is picked, the plant will then produce side shoots.

Fall Harvest
I also mustered up enough energy to pick some tomatoes and a small bunch of Asian greens. After dinner, I went out to look upon the Harvest moon for a bit and thought about all of the farmers who have done so throughout the ages.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Lesson on Permaculture

The other day, I came across this rather amazing BBC documentary entitled, "A Farm for the Future":

You can also view this program here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stevia Dilemma

My stevia plant is over 4 feet tall right now. I'm at a loss as to what do with the leaves. I thought I'd read that they tend to take on a bitter aftertaste when dried. I wonder if I can steep them in an alcohol of some kind and extract the sweetness that way. Must do some googling.

Disturbing Development - GMO Salmon

I came across this rather disturbing news item yesterday:

Modified Salmon: Miracle Food or "Frankenfish"? - CBS News

It seems the FDA has begun hearings on whether or not to approve the sale of genetically-modified salmon. An excerpt:

In the case of the salmon, AquaBounty has added a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce their growth hormone all year long. The engineers were able to keep the hormone active by using another gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that acts like an on switch for the hormone, according to the company. Conventional salmon produce the growth hormone only some of the time.

I don't know about you but I have no interest in feeding my family a fish that has been engineered to grow twice as fast as it's natural counterpart. Especially disturbing is the fact that the FDA may not require that this farm-raised GMO salmon be labeled as such, as the agency has said that this fish is not 'substantially different' from its conversational version. Not 'substantially different'...are you kidding me?! So it appears that our freedom of choice is being taken away from us once again. I can't help but wonder how much more pressure this will place on the wild salmon population as people begin to shy away from farm-raised.

I found the FDA's other assertions to be rather disturbing as well:

Because the altered fish has never been eaten before, [critics] say, it could include dangerous allergens, especially because seafood is highly allergenic. They also worry that the fish will escape and intermingle with the wild salmon population, which is already endangered. They would grow fast and consume more food to the detriment of the conventional wild salmon, the critics fear.

The FDA tried to allay both of those concerns Monday, saying the fish shouldn't cause any allergies not found in conventional salmon and that there is little chance they could escape.

Try telling that to the folks who have been trying desperately to prevent the invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

Now you know how I feel. But would you eat GMO salmon?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Meyer Lemon Update

meyer lemons
My Meyer lemons appear to be ripening early this year. I expect that they will be ready sometime in October or early November. Last year, the lemons I harvested were enormous, resembling conventional Eureka lemons. This year, they are smaller and shaped more like your average Meyer.

meyer lemons 2
I expect that we will be able to can as much marmalade as we did last year. They made awesome gifts and were consumed rather quickly. If you would like more info on how to grow citrus in pots, click here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Last Harvest of Summer...

...was rather unremarkable. While the slicing tomatoes have slowed way down, I've also allowed myself to take more of a "c'est la vie" approach to picking the cherries. It's just not worth getting stressed out over it, especially this late in the season. The way I see it, we've had our fair share and then some.

Fall Raspberries
I also picked a handful of fall raspberries today. Earlier this year, I planted an everbearing variety called 'Jaclyn', which is supposed to produce a summer crop on the same canes that fruited during the prior autumn. I would highly recommend this variety as the raspberries are rather large and have a wonderfully rich flavor.

Artichokes and Soy Beans
Finally, this is my rather pathetic soybean (edamame) harvest for the year. This veggie has proven to be rather difficult to grow. The insects love the leaves and the rodents love the pods. Next year, I'll have to grow them strictly under row cover if I want to a more substantial harvest.

This week's numbers:

Tomatoes: 11.69 lb
Peppers: 0.23 lb
Artichokes: 0.25 lb
Soybeans: 0.19 lb

Total harvest this week: 12.36 lb
Year to date harvest: 605.89 lb

The Freshly Mulched Garden

Freshly Mulched Garden
I always like adding a fresh layer of straw mulch to my garden paths this time of the year. As the weather cools down and with more precipitation in the forecast, the weeds tend to creep back onto the garden paths.

Freshly Mulched Garden 2
I love the look of straw mulch but you do end up with a few stray seeds. Most get consumed by the birds but a few do go on to germinate into weeds. However, they are easy enough to pull up. Hopefully the garden will stay this neat and tidy for a while. Happy fall clean up!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Dog Days

Dogs 4
Maggie (aka 'Magpie...formerly 'Baby') - Yes, we changed her name. I just couldn't say 'Baby' with a straight face in public. Besides, I think she was a bit embarrassed by it too.

Dogs 5
Bobby (aka 'Bear', 'Fatty', 'Tank') - How could you not love that face? Sweet as pie, he's the gentle giant of the family (though you best move out of the way whenever Bobby decides to set his fanny down).

Dogs 3
We sure love our dogs. While they've only been with us for two months, it feels as though we've had them forever. In an ideal world, I would be able to work from home. We would live on a farm, plant an orchard and surround ourselves with animals. (I wonder if yellow labs are good at herding sheep.) Doesn't that sound nice?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Growing Artichokes in Zone 6

Imperial Artichokes 1
I'm sure I've mentioned before that part of the joy of gardening for me is being able to grow varieties of fruits and vegetables that are often difficult and even impossible at times to source locally. My potted Meyer lemon tree is one example. Then there are the artichokes, which to me just screams California. Indeed, you have to wonder how many food miles are involved annually in transporting this vegetable all around the country. And considering how little of the spiny flower bud is actually edible, in the end, is it really worth it?

Whenever someone visits my garden, they are usually most astonished to see artichokes growing. They often gasp, pause and then say something along the lines of "Wait, are those....artichokes?!" It always makes me smile for some reason. I seem to have an affinity for the exotic.

Admittedly, growing artichokes in our Zone 6 climate poses several challenges, the primary one being that the plant normally produces edible flower buds beginning in the second year. Unfortunately, artichoke plants generally are only hardy in Zone 7 or higher. The trick I've learned from reading Eliot Coleman's books is to start the seeds indoors in early February and provide the seedlings with 6 weeks of good lighting and warmth. Then they are moved to a location like a hoop house or cold frame where they are exposed to temperatures in the 40's and 50's F for at least another 6 weeks. This chilling period tricks the artichoke plant into believing that it has experienced winter, and hopefully coaxes it into sending up a flower stalk in mid-summer. As a result, gardeners in colder regions of the country can grow this plant as an annual and still reap a modest harvest.

Imperial Artichoke
I grew five 'Imperial Star' artichoke plants this year. As those of you who follow my blog may know, I tried starting a batch from seeds last winter only to have all but one of them succumb to aphids (originating from plants I'd purchased from an online nursery). The remaining four were purchased as healthy perfect-looking seedlings from a nearby nursery.

So how did my artichoke plants fair this summer? Ironically, the one I'd started from seed has provided me with 4 artichokes those far and will produce at least two more before our first frost. Out of the four seedlings I'd purchased, two have since sent up flower stalks and from these, I've harvested only two artichokes thus far. This leads me to believe that the seedlings I'd purchased were never exposed to the requisite chilling period or that they are of a different variety. I'm thinking it is the latter as the artichoke from these plants look and taste different from my 'Imperial Star'.

And how did they taste? The 'Imperial Star' variety is good but not great and I'd give the mystery plants (which I suspect are ordinary 'Green Globe' artichokes) a 9 out of 10. In any case, the challenge now will be to overwinter them in our cold climate. If I can do that, then next year should offer a bumper crop.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Mid-September Harvest

Fall Tomato Harvest
I was caught off guard by the amount of tomatoes we were able to pick this week. The cherries have become a bit of a nightmare at this point. We've lost quite a bit to splitting simply because I haven't been able to keep up with them. Harvesting the clusters can be rather tedious as the tomato vines are completely overgrown and I have to admit that it's not any activity I particularly enjoy. (Ok, I will stop complaining now.) On the bright side, I remember the last time I purchased a supermarket tomato.

Mid September Harvest 1
Two more yummy artichokes were picked this week. They are well worth the effort if you ask me.

Mid September Harvest 2
I also picked a fair amount of purple tomatillos. They make for an awesome roasted salsa verde (or should I say, "salsa morado").

Peppers and Chilies
Peppers/chilies are definitely something I need to grow more of next year. I wasn't able to harvest nearly as much as I would have liked to this summer. The Poblanos have been particularly good.

Sugar Baby Watermelon
Finally, I harvested the last watermelon in the garden today - a Sugar Baby. Up until this point, I hadn't been able to pick a single ripe one. Luckily this last one pulled through. Leaving it on the vine for a week after the tendril closest to the fruit turned brown, as suggested by several of my blogging buddies, seemed to do trick. (Thanks guys!) It was very sweet, but not nearly as interesting as the Thai watermelon I grew. It don't think I'll grow it again next year.

This week's numbers:

Swiss Chard - 1.11 lb
Tomatoes - 41.13 lb
Tomatillos - 2.98 lb
Peppers - 3.00 lb
Artichokes - 0.53 lb
Watermelon - 5.88 lb
Ground Cherries - 0.27 lb

Total harvest this week - 54.90 lb

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fall Garden Update

Fall Garden 2010
I thought I'd do a post on how my fall garden is coming along. There's still quite a bit of work to do but I'm hoping to get all of my seeds planted within the next week or two. In no particular order:

Fall Garden 2
The 8 broccoli plants I started back in July are doing rather well despite being assaulted by little green worms. Regular applications of Dipel Dust seem to help. I'm hoping they will begin to form heads within the next couple of weeks. To the left of them are my mini Napa cabbages.

Fall Garden 1
The Tuscan kale desperately needs to be picked. The tops are getting a bit heavy at this point. I'm sure all of them will need proper staking in the near future.

Fall Beets
My fall beets are growing rather slowly. Germination was good but then I lost quite a few at the seedling stage. Many of them damped off seemingly overnight. I really should check the PH of my soil.

Fall Garden 3
The winter carrots are growing steadily. I only have one bed of carrots this year but had planted the seeds closer together. I'm also experimenting with growing my half-long Nantes carrots in buckets that had been used for growing potatoes. My spring carrots were a dismal failure, partly because our soil is so heavy. I'm interested to see how carrots fair when grown in containers. Hopefully the roots grow long and straight.

Fall Lettuce
It's nice to have some lettuce to harvest again. These will have to hold us over until the Mesclun mix I just planted is ready.

Fall Garden 4
The spinach is growing comfortably under row cover. Without it, the plants would have been toast by now.

Fall Garden 5
I'm really surprised by how quickly the Red Russian kale has grown. These were started at the beginning of August. I should be able to harvest a few leaves in a week or two. In the same bed is some white stem chard. Hopefully, these will fair as well this winter as they did last year. To the left of this bed, I have some Watermelon and Daikon radish growing alongside the leeks.

Fall Snow Peas
Finally, not only are the snow peas up but some of the plants are already staring to flower. Boy that was quick. Despite the high temperatures of late August, they seem to be comfortable in the shadier part of the garden. To the right of the snow peas are Asian greens, including Tokyo Market turnips. Thanks again Winnie for the seeds!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tomato Plants in Late Summer

tomato plants 2
It's quite a jungle out there. I planted my tomatoes about two feet apart on trellises that are 5 feet high. Foolishly, I thought this would offer an adequate amount of growing space. But judging from the distance between the planting hole and some of the fruits that I've picked, I'm guessing that many of these vines are more than 10 long. At this point, they are literally growing on top of one another, which is making harvesting all the more difficult. I am also surprised by how healthy the vines still look this late in the season - a far cry from last year I' m sure. The fact that this has been one of the hottest and driest summers ever recorded in New England probably has something to do with it.

In front of my tomato plants is my asparagus bed, which I started from crowns planted this past Spring. I can't wait to harvest some spears next year!

tomato plants 3
The vines are still producing a healthy amount of fruit. Whether or not these green tomatoes with ripen before our average annual first frost date (in about 4-5 weeks) is anybody's guess. I suppose heirloom tomatoes ripened indoors are still better than what you will find in the supermarkets.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making Homemade Potato Chips

Sliced All Blue Potatoes
I made homemade potato chips this past weekend using a few of my All Blues. They turned out to be some of the best I have ever had. Who knew that something so delicious would be so easy to prepare. I will never look at store-bought chips in quite the same way.

Did you know that freshly dug potatoes make the best chips? As a potato sits in storage, its starch slowly converts to sugar, causing it to turn brown when fried (a sad fact I discovered while trying to make chips from store-bought potatoes).

Fried All Blue Potato Chips
The preparation for homemade potato chips couldn't be simpler. I used a Japanese mandolin to make evenly thin slices. (And yes, there is such a thing as too thin!) Then I fried them in canola oil that had been heated to 375 degrees F. Dropping the slices one at a time into the oil prevents them from sticking to one another. It also helps to stir them a bit to ensure an even fry. You know they are ready when the oil stops bubbling - about 3 to 4 minutes. I like to sprinkle a bit of salt, pepper, garlic powder and chili powder over the hot chips. The sooner you eat them, the better. However, they will store well in an airtight container or plastic bag.

Enjoy! These are dangerous good!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The First Harvest of September - The Remains of Summer

September Tomato Harvest
I'm really going to miss the bright colors of summer. You just don't get this kind of eye candy any other time of the year. The tomatoes are fading fast now, which is fine by me since we've run out of freezer space. Surprisingly though, we were able to get a few super-sized Cherokee Purples this week (bottom left). These made it into the latest batch of heirloom tomato sauce. (Yum!)

Potato harvest
As I'd mentioned earlier, I dug up all of my potatoes this week. Though we lost about 40% of our crop, we still ended up with enough to last us through at least the next couple of months. Out of the three varieties I grew this year, the All Blue performed the best. The Rose Finn fingerling, on other hand, did practically nothing. As such, I think I'll look for a different variety to grow next year.

September Artichokes
This was the last (and sweetest) Charantais melon of the summer. Though incredibly fragrant, I don't think I'll grow it again next year. Maybe my palette isn't as sophisticated as it should be but I didn't find the taste all that great. I'd like to find an earlier and sweeter French melon to grow next summer. (Does such a variety exist?)

Also, I picked two more artichokes this week. These have been a real treat, despite the fact that the plants take up more growing space than they are probably worth.

Rubarb Chard
Finally, I've been really bad about harvesting my chard and kale this summer. While they may not seem all that sexy or exciting now, in a few months, they will surely become a site for soar winter eyes.

This week's numbers:

Melon - 2.40 lb
Calabash gourd - 5.76 lb
Artichoke - 0.44 lb
Tomato - 18.20 lb
Potato - 14.16 lb
Tomatillo - 1.79 lb
Rhubarb Chard - 1.02 lb

Total this week: 43.77 lb