Sunday, January 30, 2011

Treating Yellowing Citrus Leaves

Yellowing Citrus Leaves
Quite a few leaves on my Meyer lemon tree (mostly on the side facing away from the window) have turned yellow and dropped. While some leaf drop is normal during the winter months, it's been a bit excessive this year, especially during the past few weeks. Leaf drop can result from insufficient sunlight or a lack of nitrogen. Yellow leaves with green veins (which doesn't seem to be the case here) can indicate an iron deficiency.

To rectify this, I moved my tree to a window that gets about 5 hours of direct sunlight a day, which is the best I can do. I also treated it with my slow release citrus fertilize. I have to remember that as my tree gets larger, I will have to feed it more often. At this point, I think I've gotten the problem under control. The yellowing has stopped and the tree is showings signs of new growth. How are your citrus trees doing this winter?

2011 Seed Starting Schedule

I've been meaning to post my seed starting schedule for this year's spring and summer garden. Without much fanfare, here it. I'm sure as time goes on, I will make some adjustments. I'm trying to avoid starting some of my veggies too early this year. Not only is limited indoor growing space an issue but transplanting certain crops when they are overly root-bound can actually set them back. Besides, considering how much snow we've gotten this winter, I'm betting on a colder than usual spring.

A couple of caveats here: The dates that appear in parentheses will be used if the weather pattern this spring appears warmer than usual. Unlike last year, I'll be growing most of my onions from purchased starts. Since onion plants started from seed spend so much time inside, I'm hoping this will free up some indoor growing space. Also I'm starting all of my early spring greens now and will transplant them into the hoop house come early March (I probably should have started my lettuce already). I'm growing only spring greens that can be harvested at any stage of maturity because they will have be cleared out of the hoop house in May to make way for summer peppers, cucumbers and beans.

What's also nice about a having a hoop house this year is that I can harden-off all of my transplants in it. I addition to shielding the plants from high winds and excessive sunlight, the hoop house will also protect against the creeping frost so common in April. The sowing dates here are based a frost free date of May 7th.

Variety Indoor Starting Date Set Out Date Direct Sow
Artichoke - Imperial Star 5-Feb 7-May
Beans - Contender, Dragon's

Beans - Fava

Beans - Envy


Broccoli 5-Mar 16-Apr
Brussel Sprouts 30-Apr 21-May
Cabbage - Napa 5-Mar 5-Mar
Cabbage - Savoy 19-Mar 30-Apr
Carrots - Paris Market, Napoli

Cauliflower 12-Mar 16-Apr
Celery Now 16-Apr
Corn 23-Apr 21-May (14) 21-May (14)
Cucumbers - All Varieties 23-Apr 21-May
Ground Cherry 5-Mar 14-May (7)
Kale 5-Mar 16-Apr
Lettuce Now successive
Leeks 26-Feb 7-May (30-Apr)
Melons - All Varieties 23-Apr 21-May
Peas - Snow and Shell

Peppers - All Varieties 12-Mar 14-May (7)

Scallions Now
Strawberries - Sarian 26-Feb 16-Apr
Swiss Chard 3-Mar 16-Apr
Tomatoes - All Varieties 26-Mar (19) 14-May (7)
Tomatillos 26-Mar (19) 14-May (7)
Watermelon - All Varieties 23-Apr 21-May
Zucchini 23-Apr 21-May

Hoop House
Basil 19-Mar Late April
Cilantro 5-Mar Mid April
Dill 5-Mar Mid April
Fennel 5-Mar Mid April
Oregano 5-Mar Mid April
Parsley 5-Mar Mid April
Sage 5-Mar Mid April
Thai Basil 19-Mar Late April

Spring Veggies
Hoop House
Hakurei Turnips
Early March
Lettuce Now Early March
Mizuna Now Early March
Mini-Nape Cabage Now Early March
Shanghai Bok Choy Now Early March
Spinach Now Early March
Tatsoi Now Early March

Monday, January 24, 2011

Another Great Loaf

Ale Bread
I thought I'd share with all of you my latest bread obsession. For the past couple of weeks, I've been baking a country loaf that starts with an ale and yeast poolish. The recipe for this bread can be found in Crust: Bread to Get Your Teeth Into by Richard Bertinet. The preparation is fairly start forward but the results are absolutely amazing.

Fresh Yeast
I'd bought Crust several years ago but never got around to trying any recipes from the book. Mr. Bertinet makes he breads using fresh yeast - something I've read a great deal about but have never been able to find at the grocery store. As a result, his book had been gathering a mighty layer of dust for quite sometime. That is until my next door neighbor mentioned that she had an extra block of fresh yeast in her fridge that I could have. (Score!) Apparently she gets it from a European market in Boston. Finally, I was in business.

Ale Bread 2
What I love about the recipes in Crust is that they all utilize a relatively small amount of yeast. (Mr. Bertinet also has an interesting way of kneading dough, which he demonstrates on a CD that comes with the book.) While the resting times are generally longer compared to many recipes that call for active dry or rapid rise yeast, I've been making bread long enough to know that you usually end up with a superior loaf in turns of flavor, structure and shelf life by allowing the dough to rise slowly. This particular country loaf is a prime example of that. I start the ferment just before I head to bed, then mix and knead the dough when I wake up and by noon it's on our lunch plates. It's fantastic straight out of the oven but also stores well in the freezer and makes for excellent toast.

Banh Mi
This weekend, I made some Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi) using this bread. (I'm salivating just thinking about them.) While there are countless variations on the type of meat to use inside a banh mi, most call for a light smear of homemade mayonnaise, sliced cucumber, jalapeno and cilantro and some pickled carrots. You can also spread a layer of pate and add some pickled daikon radish if you like, but most importantly, the bread has to be fresh (and preferably French). This time around, I stuffed our sandwiches with some homemade Chinese roast pork (char siu), which I'll have to post a recipe for along with the pickled carrots one of these days. Until then, borrow Crust from the library and make this bread!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Harvesting Mache

Harvesting Mache
Not much is growing in the garden right now. In fact, what is still green seems to be hanging on for dear life. Except that is for the mache, which seems virtually impervious to whatever winter throws its way.

Harvesting Mache 2
We've developed quite a taste for this hardy winter green. Traditionally the whole mini-rosette is picked and looks so pretty in a salad. Best of all,The leaves are packed with so much flavor - fresh and floral, it's a wonderful thing to experience especially during this bleak time of year. Next winter, I may forgo winter lettuce all together and plant a whole bed of mache.

On a side note, the claytonia may be the hardiest winter green of all but it's not doing much of anything right now. I've tasted it and boy is it good. The leaves are fairly succulent with a wonderfully wild taste. I'm hoping that it will eventually take off as the days grow longer and the temperatures get a bit warmer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Victorian Farm

By chance, I found this rather amazing video series floating around on YouTube today. I was a huge fan of Frontier House and Colonial House when they first aired on PBS. Being a veggie gardener and having majored in History at college, I knew that this historical role-playing documentary series about life on a Victorian era farm would be just the thing to quell my growing cabin fever. (Our New England weather is supposed to be particularly horrendous this week.) Anyway, here is the gist of this series produced by the BBC:

Historical observational documentary series following a team who live the life of Victorian farmers for a year. Wearing period clothes and using only the materials that would have been available in 1885, historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn are going back in time to relive the day-to-day life of the Victorian farmer.

Working for a full calendar year, Ruth, Alex and Peter are rediscovering a lost world of skills, crafts and knowledge, assisted by an ever-dwindling band of experts who keep Victorian rural practices alive. Each month and season brings pressing priorities, from tending to livestock and repairing buildings to raising crops, preparing food and crafting furniture and tools. Can they make a success of farming the Victorian way?

Fascinating stuff, aye?! You can view all 36 parts of the series here. Oh and did I mention there is also Edwardian Farm? I haven't been this excited in ages! Why can't they produce something this amazing here in the States???

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Calm After the Storm

Snow covered yard
It's been a while since I've posted an aerial photo of the backyard. This morning presented a fine opportunity to do so. I've always loved the morning after a great winter storm. The world outside just seems so calm and peaceful.

Bobby in the Snow
Poor Bobby. Despite the fact that he's built like a horse, even he had trouble maneuvering through two feet of snow.

On a side note, I was able to brush all of the snow off my hoop house when I got home tonight. Luckily, everything still appears intact.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January Blizzard

January Blizzard
It has finally stopped snowing. This latest storm started around midnight last night and continued throughout the day. My company had put me up at a downtown Boston hotel last night so that I wouldn't have to brave the early morning commute into the city. Indeed the drive home this evening was anything but easy. When it was all over, our town received about two feet of snow.

I was anxious to see how my hoop house had fared through the blizzard. It seems to be holding up well despite the fact that there's about a foot of snow on top of it. I'll wait a day or two before brushing it off as much of the snow will naturally drift off and the added layer will also help to protect the hoop house plastic against high winds, which tend to linger around following a storm like this.

To all those currently digging out from beneath this January blizzard - May your feet stay warm and your backs stay straight!

Making Whole Wheat Mini-Baguettes

whole wheat mini baguettes 3
A while back, I posted about how much I loved Peter Reinhart's recipe for Pain a l'Accienne, which can be found in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. So much so that it has become our daily bread of choice. It's relatively simple to make, packs a ton of flavor and has a crust that is perfectly crisp and chewy (just how I like it).

whole wheat mini baguettes 2
In my quest to formulate a healthier version of this bread, I decided to introduce some whole wheat flour into the mix. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am not a fan of whole wheat bread in general. In fact, it's usually the bread of last resort for me. Maybe it's because I grew up in an immigrant family that usually kept a baguette or two lying around (another reminder that Vietnam was once a French colony) but to this day, whenever I have a craving for bread I tend to reach for a loaf that is caramelized and rustic looking on the outside and pristine white on the inside.

whole wheat mini baguettes
When making these whole wheat mini baguettes, I used 7 ounces of whole wheat flour and 20 ounces of bread flour instead of the usual 27 ounces of bread flour. The good news is that the bread rose and baked perfectly despite the substitution. In fact, I think you could probably use more wheat flour in this recipe if you wanted to. The bad news is that while the flavor is still good even by my whole-wheat-hating standards, the bread is just not the same. That being said, I'm sure many of you whole-wheat aficionados would like this bread. Me? I'm sticking to the white stuff.

whole wheat mini baguettes 4
And did I mention that there is nothing better than eating freshly baked bread with a smear of creamy butter and a dollop of marmalade? I live for this.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Harvest of 2011

It felt good to kick off 2011 with a fairly decent winter harvest (by New England standards of course). Today I picked a good amount of mache (aka corn salad), which we prepared lightly dressed with a simple vinaigrette for dinner. If you've never grown or tasted mache, I'd highly recommend it. This hardy winter green is very delicious and simple to start from seed. The leaves are mild and have a slightly floral flavor reminiscent of rose petals.

I also harvested a bit of spinach, which has proven to be very disappointing this winter. I haven't been able to harvest nearly as much as I did last year. The plants seem completely unfazed by the cold but are not growing at all (probably because I've been too lazy to cover the bed with some fabric row cover). Plus the voles have been taking much more than their fair share.

red russian kale 2
Speaking of voles, they are having a field day with my Red Russian kale right now, toppling whole plants and scattering stripped stems everywhere. They've already done away with my winter carrots and Swiss chard. I never thought in a million years that they would become such a problem this time of year. Building one of those industrial-sized 5 gallon bucket mice traps is definitely on the top of my list of things to do this spring. Anyway, I harvested as much kale as I could (no sense in leaving it for the little bastards) and some thyme to store in the fridge.

red russian kale
On a side note - I love the look of Red Russian this time of year. The leaves are so beautifully tinged with shades of purple.

meyer lemons
And yes, more Meyer lemons. I'm sure you're all sick of seeing them in my harvest posts but considering the climate we live in, every single one is so very precious to me.

Finally, I've decided to forgo weighing my homegrown produce this year. I'm glad I did it last year but after a while, the effort began to feel tedious. I'll still post about my weekly picks and envy your harvest totals though!

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011 Seed Order

I placed the bulk of my seed order for this year back in December and am happy to note that they've all arrived. Now I can focus on drafting my garden plan, updating my sowing dates from last year and sourcing the ingredients for my soil block mix. This year's garden will offer a good mix of new and old. I have a lot of seed left over from last year and from this inventory, I narrowed down which varieties I'll be growing again. The rest will probably be fashioned into seed bombs (I'm sure there's a vacant lot or two nearby that I could raid.)

Anyway, here are some of the new varieties I'm trying this year as well as some 2010 favorites I had to reorder because I neglected to save seed (awful I know):

2011 Seeds 1
Petite Gris de Renne melon - I didn't really care for the Charentais variety I grew summer but decided to give this particular French heirloom a try. The Charentais was very fragrant but I'm hoping that Petite Gris will be sweeter.

Dragon's Tongue beans - I grew these last year. They were very tasty in my opinion and had a texture that held up well when cooked.

Paris Market carrots - Our soil is so heavy that I decided to give this particular variety a try. They have a more spherical shape and I've also read that they can also be grown in pots.

Blacktail Mountain watermelon - I was eying this variety even before I had a garden! Blacktail is an early variety and supposedly does well in cooler climates.

Gold Medal tomato - Seed Savers claims that this is its best tasting bi-colored tomato.

Brandywine (Sudduth's Strain) tomato - I've heard some rather good things about this particular strain. Hopefully it lives up to its reputation!

2011 Seeds 2
Here are some varieties I grew last year that I will be growing again: Windsor fava beans, Green Arrow peas, various beets (including Chioggia), Argent corn, American Flag leeks and Contender beans. Argent is a white corn and one of my favorite vegetables grown last year. Sure they take up a good amount of space and are heavy feeders, but for me it's worth it as the taste of fresh corn eaten within minutes of being picked is a true summertime treat.

2011 Seeds 3
My main seed order this year was placed with Johnny's. In addition to the Envy soybeans, tatsoi, Imperial Star artichokes and Napoli carrots, all of which I've grown before, here are some factoids about the new varieties I'm trying:

Diamant (pickling) and Tasty Jade (Asian) cucumbers - these varieties will produce fruit even on flowers that are not pollinated. Tasty Jade is supposed to be very crispy like most other Asian varieties.

Hungarian Hot Wax Pepper - I'm looking forward to pickling the yellow, orange and red peppers (depending on when you pick them). I liked the pepperoncini I grew last year (and will grow again this year) but Hungarian Wax has thicker flesh and none of the bitterness.

Regiment spinach - I currently grow a variety called "Space". Regiment is supposed to be just as hardy but has larger leaves.

Athena muskmelon - I'm hedging my bets here. I'm growing this more common muskmelon variety just in case I don't like Petite Gris de Renne.

Sarian strawberry - Sarian is a day-neutral variety of strawberry that is easily started from seed and will produce fruit in the first year. You can grow it as an annual by transplanting the runners in the fall.

Snow Crown Cauliflower - My attempt at growing cauliflower last year proved disastrous. I'm hoping that I'll have much better luck with this very early variety (50 days to maturity).

Alcosa savoy cabbage - I will admit I've never really had an interest in growing cabbage, mainly because I've been under the impression that it can be particularly difficult to grow. Well we shall see. Hopefully I'll be able to keep the slugs and caterpillars under control.

Yellow Sunshine watermelon - A yellow flesh variety, I'm growing it just for fun. I remember being utterly fascinated by yellow-fleshed watermelon when I was a child and begging my dad to buy some. I guess that curiosity never really went away.

San Marzano tomato - I'm growing these because everyone else is. :)

I'm working on my seed-starting schedule now and will post it soon. Our first sowing dates are just weeks away! Can you believe it?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Anatomy of a Wild (Kaffir) Lime

Kaffir Lime
I had all but forgotten about my one and only wild (or kaffir) lime. It had sprung from a flower that bloomed last spring. This weekend I decided to pick it in order to get a better look at the wrinkly specimen. Like the lime tree's leaves, the rind of this small firm fruit is incredibly fragrant. I was curious to see what it was like on the inside.

Kaffir Lime 2
When I sliced it open, I was surprised to see so much pulp. I thought for sure there would be mostly rind. A closer whiff revealed a strong and complex lime scent unlike anything I'd experienced before. I tasted a bit of the juice and it was sour of course.

There's not much you can do with one lone lime so I decided to save it for maybe an after-work gin and tonic later on this week. If this year's harvest proves more fruitful, it'll be interesting to see what we can whip up with this unique lime.