Tuesday, November 30, 2010

End of November

November Full Moon
November Full Moon

So I'm posting this week from sunny Florida. To all of my New England buddies - it's 80 degrees in Orlando. What????!!!!! I should have packed some shorts. Sometimes it pays to have a job that allows you to travel from time to day. Tomorrow, I'm off to Sarasota and then to Naples in my rented convertible. I'm hoping to see some orange groves along the way. Wish me luck! (And stay warm!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving pies 3
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! We are headed off to our friend's house for dinner. It was my job this year to bring the pies and stuffing.

Thanksgiving pies

Picture 007

Thanksgiving pies 2

Thanksgiving pies 4
I'll spare you the details as my mind is wrapped around my belly today. If you're interested, you can find one of my pie recipes here. Have a wonderful day everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chyrsanthemum Tea Flowers - Ju Hua

Chrysanthemum tea flowers 3
This morning, I looked out of our kitchen window and noticed a peculiar patch of white in the back garden. I went out to investigate and noticed that my chrysanthemum tea plants were flowering. With this year's fall growing season coming to an end, I had all but forgotten about them.

Chrysanthemum Tea Blossoms
Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while now will remember that earlier this year, I was cursing these plants. After years of searching, I was able to order four cuttings from an online nursery last February. Unbeknownst to me, they were infested with green aphids, which soon spread to the rest of my spring starts. I was at my wits' end trying to manage the outbreak. It was experience I would never want to wish upon another gardener.

Chrysanthemum tea flowers 4
I will admit that seeing these flowers helped to ease some of the bad blood between me and these plants. Then again, I can appreciate anything that blooms this late in the year.

Chrysanthemum tea flowers
While harvesting the flowers to dry into tea, I was struck by the intense fragrance of the blossoms. Hopefully the end result will smell just as good.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Inside the Hoophouse

Inside hoop house
I thought I'd do a quick post on some of the things I have growing in my hoop house right now.

Inside hoop house 2
As you can see, there's not much going on at the moment. At the very least, I need to tidy things up a bit. Hopefully by late February, things will be hopping in here. For the time being, I'm relying on the kale to supply the bulk of our homegrown winter greens. The protective environment of the hoop house should get them through the next few months.

carrot bed
As I'd mentioned before, the carrot bed is a mess! If you look closely, you can see several holes made by voles. I have placed several traps nearby and may construct a five gallon bucket mousetrap this weekend. Pretty soon, the remainder of the carrots will be pulled and the bed will be cleaned up and planted with Asian greens.

After months of doing nothing, the claytonia is starting to produce larger edible leaves. I think I may have a fertility issue with a couple of my beds. I will have to apply a liquid feed this weekend to help compensate for this.

Lettuce and Mizuna
In front is some Winter Density lettuce that needs to be dug up, separated and replanted further apart. I'm not certain as to how well they will fair in here this winter. Last year's lettuce turned incredibly bitter by the end of December. I've read that blanching the leaves under the darkness of say a flower pot can alleviate some of the bitterness. I might just have to give this a try. In the back is mizuna, which I've already started to harvest.

It's turning out to be a good year for mache. Last year's crop never matured because of one vole with a rather voracious appetite. I should be able to harvest a few miniature heads within the next week or two.

Potted carrots
Finally, I'm currently experimenting with growing carrots in pots. I'll try again this upcoming spring. We have rather heavy soil here and so our carrots only turn out perfect about 50 percent of the time. I'm hoping that if I can find the an appropriate variety and get the fertility just right, I'll have a new use for all of the 7 gallon buckets I'd bought for growing potatoes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In the Kitchen - Flour and Marmalade

Flour Cookbook
The other week, I picked up a copy of Joanne Chang's new cookbook, Flour - Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe. It's been a long time since I've gotten so excited about a cookbook. As some of you who are from the area may know, Flour is one of Boston's most popular and respected "make from scratch" bakeries. I've been going to Joanne's shop (she has 3 locations now) ever since it first opened in Boston's South End neighborhood 10 years ago. I could on and on about the pastries, desserts and breads (I really could) but the Bostonian inside me will simply say that they are wicked awesome!

Every time I visit Flour, I always pick up a sticky bun, ginger molasses cookie and coconut macaroon. I can recall years back biting into a slice of her pineapple upside-down cake for the first time and having that instant sensation that it was the best I'd ever tasted. Flipping through the pages, I was very excited to find that Joanne had included all of these recipes in her cookbook. In fact, I was surprised that recipes for the vast majority of Flour's offerings can be found in it. While other restaurant owners closely guard their recipes and trade secrets, Joanne openly shares hers in this book.

Sticky Buns
My first attempt at making her famous sticky buns turned out fantastic! It's hard to eat one without feeling at least a bit guilty afterward.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
These are some serious ginger molasses cookies. They have chewy centers and wonderfully crisp edges. I dare anyone to find a better version.

meyer lemon marmalade
I can't wait to try the many other recipes in this book. Maybe I can find something to go along with my latest batch of Meyer lemon marmalade. Happy baking everyone!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Mid-November Harvest

Mid November Harvest
What a great weekend we just had - perfect weather for raking leaves and working in the garden. I finally got around to planting my hard-neck garlic for next year. In the end, I planted about 60 cloves, most of which came from this year's harvest. Next weekend, I might plant some supermarket soft-necks just for fun.

This week's harvest comprised of a good mix of cold-weather veggies. The chard above was planted over a year ago. The stalk is at least two inches thick. I'm amazed by how well it's held up. I started pulling a few of my winter scallions as well, which I should have done weeks ago. Hopefully, they won't become too ragged-looking as winter progresses.

Broccoli shoots
The broccoli is still going strong despite the fact that temperatures got down into the upper 20's F the other week. I decided against pulling the plants as I'm curious to see how much longer they will continue to produce.

carrot and leek harvest
The carrots are tasting very sweet these days. We love munching on them raw.

fall carrots
Unfortunately, I had to pull most of them prematurely this week. The mice are going crazy and the carrots have become their food of choice. I was harvesting carrots well into January last year but have a feeling that the rest of this year's lot will be gone before month's end. What an absolute shame.

radishes and turnips
Finally, the Japanese turnips and French Breakfast radishes are still coming in. Jonathan loves dipping them (along with carrots) into some ranch dressing as a snack. I couldn't be a prouder parent!

This week's numbers:

Asian greens - 0.50 lb
Radishes - 0.50 lb
Leeks - 2.72 lb
Carrots - 1.65 lb
Broccoli - 0.43 lb
Swiss chard - 0.74 lb
Scallions - 0.75 lb
Lemongrass - 1.15 lb

Total harvest this week - 8.44 lb
Total harvest so far this year - 687.57 lb

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Finished Hoop House

Hoop House 1
This past weekend, I was able to install the doors to my hoop house. Though not perfect, they seem to be doing the job.

Building hoop house doors
The door frames were constructed rather simply. These metal straps really do a good of connecting the wooden pieces together.

Hoop House 2
When open, the doors allow for plenty of airflow inside the hoop house on hot days. And when closed, the hoop house seems to do an adequate job of capturing the humidity and warmth of sun's rays. We've had some rather windy days these past couple of weeks (and seemingly more rain than we've had all summer). I'm glad to say that the hoop house has withstood the elements just fine thus far. Hopefully it will continue to do as winter progresses.

On a final note, I'm still doing battle with the field mice. I don't remember them being as bad last fall. I guess once they get wind of an abundant food source, they make themselves at home and breed. For the time being, they are mainly feasting on the carrot tops and Swiss chard. I really need to come up with an aggressive plan to manage them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Signs of the Time

I thought I'd just share some random photos from the garden:

leek flower
I noticed the other day that one of my leeks had sent up a flower stalk. It's pretty enough to be in a vase if you ask me.

Red Russian Kale
I'm trying to find new ways to prepare kale. The garden is overflowing with it right now. I wonder how my people you could possibly feed by planting an acre of kale. It has been a very reliable crop for me and unlike most greens, the leaves stay lush and healthy for a very long time when left unpicked. If there was ever worldwide food crisis, this is what I'd grow.

French Breakfast Radishes 2
Radishes are another reliable crop for me. I love the fact that you can plant and harvest them in as little as 28 days. I've also learned that what they lack in popularity they more than make up for in nutritional value.

Finally, the French lavender cutting that Winnie sent me earlier this year has grown into a wonderful healthy plant. The scent is amazing and flows throughout the garden. It's become one of my favorite things.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Building a Hoop House for the Garden

Building hoop house 15
This weekend I finally got around to building my hoop house. I've wanted one for a long time now and had gone over the design in my head during the past three months. After many mental revisions and plenty of second guessing, I realized last week that time was running out and that I just had to wing it.

My goal was to erect a structure that would house six of my 3 x 6 ft raised beds. I wanted something that could be dismantled easily if needed and yet be sturdy enough to withstand our New England winters. Also I didn't want to spend an arm and a leg on the materials either.

Anyway, here is how it all came together:

Building hoop house 1
I started off by driving stakes made from 1/2 in PVC pipe into the ground spaced about 3 feet apart. (Marc is in the background loading firewood.)

Building hoop house 2
I installed the seven arches that will serve as the backbone of the hoop house by bending 15 ft lengths of 1 inch PVC piping and slipping the hollow ends onto the stakes. (PVC piping generally comes in 10 ft lengths but can be joined together easily using plastic couplings to create the desired length.)

Building hoop house 5
To help prevent the arches from buckling under the weight of snow, I drove 5 ft tall metal poles (8 total) into the ground and positioned each pair underneath every other arch.

Building hoop house 4
Metal wire was then used to attach the arches to the poles.

Building hoop house 6
I then used string to mark the center-ridge line as well as two additional side lines that will provide additional stability to the structure.

Building hoop house 7
I attached the three lines (3/4 inch PVC pipe) to the arches using metal screws. The lines help to keep the arches perfectly straight under the weight of snow.

Building hoop house 8
I also attached 3/4 in PVC piping to the base and down length of the structure.

Building hoop house 9
Once the hoop house frame was finished, the next order of business was to attach the plastic sheeting to it. I needed to cover an area that measured approximately 15 ft (the length of the arches) by 19 ft (the length of my beds). After deciding against purchasing professional greenhouse plastic, I went the practical route and bought two rolls of the 10 x 25 ft 3.5 mil polyethylene sheeting available at most hardware stores. (I opted for the 10 ft width because the difference in pricing between it and the 20 ft width was HUGE!)

Building hoop house 11
We attached the plastic sheeting to frame one roll at the time using heavy metal clips (the jumbo-sized ones found at most office supplies stores) and allowed for a 5 ft overlap at the top. The first roll went over the center-ridge line and was attached to the far side line. Then the second roll was draped over the first one at the top and attached to the side line on the opposite side.

Building hoop house 10
Metal clips were also used to attach the poly sheeting to the base of the hoop house.

Building hoop house 13
Next I focused on constructing the end-wells. The wooden frame pictured here was built using 1 x 3 inch lumber and is just wide enough to fit over the metal poles.

Building hoop house 12
The wooden frame was attached to the poles using screws and metal wire. (I was pleasantly surprised by how sturdy it felt.)

Building hoop house 14
I then wrapped the poly sheeting over the frame, stapled it to the inside and trimmed the excess. The end result looked reasonably neat and clean.

Building hoop house 16
I have yet to construct the hoop house doors but they will fit over and be hinged to the wooden frames.

All in all, I was very pleased with my (almost) finished hoop house. It feels really sturdy and best of all, the materials (not including the metal poles, which I had lying around) cost me a modest 120 dollars. I am really excited to see how my winter veggies will fair this year and will consider growing heat-loving summer veggies inside of it as well.