Reaping

August 20, 2012

Dare to say that it felt a little like Fall the last two mornings.  I had the thought that this roller coaster ride of weather might reset itself and all will be 'normal' some time soon.  Don't know if that feeling is a fact, but what is true is that there are many things in the garden that are ready and more is still coming to be gathered and saved.

Despite the blight, we have batted it back enough to have another bumper crop of tomatoes -- many large heirlooms (Pruden's Purple, Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim) and scores of hybrid cherries (Sun Gold every time) all for major batches of fresh and frozen sauce.   Fresh basil and parsley, thrown in.

LOTS of kale:  some wintered over from last season now have tender leaves for fresh salads;  and the "mature" plants from seeds sown this season are for baking (kale krisp) and sauteing into stir fries.

Broccoli, fennel, cauliflower, kohlrabi are ready to eat now,  and waves that have been planted a few weeks ago will be ready in another few weeks.  And leeks are coming!

And seeds of lettuce, arugula, beets, carrots and turnips will be on their way soon enough.

Black turtle beans, garlic, onions and potatoes have been pulled out and are drying/curing for later.  Though it is so fine to eat potatoes onions and garlic just after harvest (true shovel  to plate) -- no need to save it all.

Thought I'd share a menu from a client who has a first season kitchen garden.  They are so happy to be cooking and eating from their own space, nothing goes to waste:

fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta and basil
bruschetta with deep red and green tomatoes
kale salad
kale and sausage pasta
beet and mind salad with arugula
potato and kohlrabi salad
tomato and red onion salad
zucchini bread
zucchini bran muffins
pesto
broccoli and garlic pasta

Presents of the present.

Summer Waves

July 14, 2012
So many hours in the heat of late has everything wilted, bolted or singed around the edges (me included).  Keeping up with the life cycles of various veggies is a challenge.  The first wave of lettuces has passed, but even the bitter greens still have their benefits and nutrients.  Seeds and starts have been set in motion to come back with another round of salad pizzazz.  Garlic has been harvested and layed out to cure and has been replaced with seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower and cucumber.  Beet seeds have been sown in two week intervals so new rows will be thinnable soon.  Potatoes are ready as is the first wave of carrots.

Zucchini is loving this heat, as are herbs (basil, oregano, cilantro, fennel).  The cilantro bolts and goes to seed so fast -- their coriander seeds are half for re-seeding and half for grinding up with mustard and cumin seed for a balance of spice to add to the bottom of a pan of hot olive oil, garlic and onion.  A great foundation for just about anything.

Tomatoes, too, are settling into the dry sunny days -- soon to be producing the base for sauce, sandwiches and much more.  Lima beans and black turtle beans are coming along.  The first crop of green beans is nearly done, and the next ones have just gone in.  Neighborhood kids are picking the plums and apples -- peaches almost ready.

Continuing to think about the hot months ahead and preparing for the fall.  A bit of a Catch-22 with it being so hot -- can't plant spinach or some of the more sensitive lettuces now -- have tried arugula, though, with some success and have planted some heat tolerant lettuces under the shade of some larger kale and collards to give them some relief.

The other day I gave a friend a couple of bulbs of kohlrabi to try.  She looked it up and it was described as an upside down hot air balloon.  Funny.  I harvested a few for myself, peeled and chopped them and mixed them up with some hard boiled eggs from the girls.  Also tossed in chopped radish, string beans, scapes and scallions, a few spoonfuls of mayo, pepper and Bragg's Liquid Aminos and there was lunch.

So satisfying to  know where everything comes from.

Happy daze.

Spring Into Summer

May 27, 2012

The past week of heat has made the cold spells of late a distant memory.  The snap peas are shooting up what seems to be inches a day.  The first wave of spinach and arugula has nearly run its course and lettuces are exploding into every meal.  Even though the last frost date around here is June 1, I surrendered and planted tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini yesterday.  Instead of waiting until Memorial Day -- the usual rule of thumb, I couldn't keep protecting them outside the greenhouse, keeping them watered and not letting them fry in the sun.  So I cut the cord to let them begin their lives in the ground.

This lets the focus shift to the next wave of seeding -- to keep a constant supply of desirables.  First is to get in a second batch of spinach and arugula before it gets too hot for real.  Next will be to start heat tolerant lettuces, plant lima, soy and black beans and keep up with the next round of beets, carrots and radishes.

As I was thinning several very thickly sown rows of beets, that Joni Mitchell line "You can come now or you can come later" went through my head.  No way around it.  I could have painstakingly seeded with precision so thinning wouldn't be necessary.   This takes extra time and if germination isn't 100 percent, re-seeding takes  more time.  And there's no baby beet greens to saute if nothing extra is planted.  But it takes time to untangle those that will be dinner as greens and those that will stay planted to grow the distance -- it just depends on how I want to spend it.

Tonight I harvested some baby french radishes and cut some baby arugula and threw them into hot drained pasta letting the steam wilt them both.  I heated the last hot pepper flakes from last summer's chili peppers in olive oil, with salt, pepper and butter, covered the pasta with it and I felt better than I had all day.

Almost Spring

 

April 4, 2012

Shirtsleeves one day.  Cranking the furnace the next.  Gotta keep on our toes this time of year.  Don't want to plant things too early as they might get taken out by freezing overnight temperatures or cold winds. Bearing this in mind, some hardy things have been directly sown such as: snap peas; beets; carrots; spinach;  kale; and chard into the workable soil.  I have also transplanted some raspberries , rhubarb, sage, thyme and lavender.  Hope they are as tough as I think they are.

Many other seeds are growing in my friend's greenhouse in Kent (Marble Valley Farm CSA) -- celeriac, parsley, basil, cabbage, radicchio, head lettuces, kohlrabi, violas, and other herbs.  I will pay her a few more visits to start additional things so all will be ready to be planted outside when the time is right.

Out in the wild, it seems things have hung on nicely.  The other week I was fearing for the buds on my plum and peach trees, but they seem to have weathered that cold snap in stride.  The plum had tons of flowers on it yesterday.  The flexibility and intelligence never ceases to amaze me.  The peepers were giving a very loud concert one balmy evening recently and now all is quiet.  They know when to re-emerge.

So the next few weeks will be spent paying attention to weather and executing what can happen. Today I noticed some dandelions getting ready which means corn, sunflower and potato planting is on the way.

It's still a good time to do a soil test and amend accordingly. It's also a good time to build up your soil by turning in some composted manure.  Assess tools.  Decide what you want to plant where and finalize seed orders.  I've been drawing pictures of layouts for clients and myself -- thinking it through.  Also, if you're into the details of timing waves of succession plantings, there's time for that, too.

The chickens are laying almost every day now, due to more daylight hours.  Hopefully they have eaten enough grubs so we can fence them out of newly planted beds.  Very useful in the pest management department, but aggravatingly destructive!

A nice combo to eat is some sauteed greens (kale, collards, dandelion greens) over quinoa or pasta.  Lightening up is more on my mind since I've been hauling this winter body around several gardens. 

Step into the light!

 

 

Seeds

February 14, 21012

I saw a lawn crew doing what looked like Spring Cleanup the other day and did not mistake temptation for opportunity and start my own, since I'll just have to do it again if Winter gives us a blast or two more. The fruit trees are (almost) pruned, the berries and amendments were ordered and the seed supply has been assessed. So now for my favorite part: ordering seeds – and waiting until it's time to visit my friend's greenhouse and get some of them started.

 

Seeds, and the source of them, are the most important part of what we eat. Granted, they must be started properly: planted in nutrient-rich soil and have plenty of sun and water; but if seeds are of low quality or are tampered with, the end product will be sub par and, in the case of genetically engineered seed, harmful to pristine seed and soil and possibly to our health (but that's an entire volume unto itself).

 

This is why obtaining seeds and seedlings (seeds that have been started already) from a trusted source is of ultimate importance (recommendations below). As you peruse catalogs and websites, you will notice that some seeds are Certified Organic, some conventionally propagated, some are hybrids and others are heirloom varieties.

 

The term “heirloom” can be defined as a variety that has been open pollinated and has been grown for at least 50 years (some say longer and many say must have a distinctive history). Seeds produced from an heirloom plant can be saved because they will produce the same variety each time. Think of it like a family heirloom which can be passed along from one generation to the next – precious to preserve and continue because biodiversity of our food supply is on the decline. This season I'm going to experiment with saving the seed of some distinctive heirlooms and keep them going, especially some beans a friend shared from her garden in California.

 

Hybrid seeds are those that have been crossed between two separate varieties to achieve desirable traits for certain growing conditions or for taste, texture or appearance and the seed produced from those plants will either be sterile, or start to revert back to the parent plants. If organically produced, hybrids may be a fine choice, depending on your desires, but their seeds can't be saved for reliable results.

 

Since the “GE” labeling rules are currently in flux and it has yet to be determined if genetically engineered food is safe for consumption (another deep topic), unless a seed says “non-GMO” or “Certified Organic” (but those standards are also evolving in questionable directions at times) or I know the growing practices of the supplier, I will not use that seed (or knowingly eat food derived from engineered seed).

 

Who knew it could all be so complicated?

 

What I do know is that the choices I make matter (as inconsequential as what seeds I buy may seem). So I try to pay attention, be conscious of the moving parts and set an intention at the beginning of each season for nutritious sustenance – and the end result is better than the alternative.

 

Green thumbs up!

 

www.comstockferre.com

www.fedcoseeds.com

www.highmowingseeds.com

www.johnnyseeds.com

www.mainepotatolady.com

www.seedsavers.org

www.turtletreeseed.org

 

Wintering Over/Food For Thought

December 28, 2011

It is good that snow will be coming more times than we know before  we see the bright new greens of Spring. 

After all of the bounty we've picked, cut and consumed, this fallow season  is a time to take a breather  (us from the physical wear and tear of digging and pulling; Nature from all the yielding she does throughout).  It is a time to marvel at the structure of trees without their leaves, the abundance of the resting fields and start planning for the next growing season.

Reviewing the past season for what worked and what didn't and browsing seed catalogs on cold nights for next Summer's favorites  make warmer days seem closer.

November Harvest

November 22, 2011

On Thanksgiving I thought I would seize the balmy day and dig up the root vegetables that were still in the ground.

All were so poised in the post-frost sunny afternoon, they could have stayed forever.  But even though I wanted to believe that wearing a T-shirt in late November is just the way it is in the Northeast, my rational inner voice said "pull them now!" 

While I am definitely leaving the parsnips for March so they will be extra sweet (and they are under a bit of straw to brace them from the extremes ahead), what did come with me was a variety of carrots (White Satin, Purple Haze and  Scarlet Nantes -- three of my favorites), a handful of beets (Red Ace) and a big bunch of leeks (King Richard, I think).   I am saving one more harvest of leeks for next week and there are some more carrots and beets in a cold frame for one last roast with the potatoes, onions and garlic that are stashed in the root cellar (a/k/a bilko).  Here's to making it last!

y out of this world.

Leeks

I used to be intimidated by leeks: the unwieldy stalks, their overgrown scallion appearance, the layers that need to be trimmed and peeled off before getting down to what’s there, and once you’ve done that – then what?

I was first introduced to leeks when I was young as a flavoring in vichyssoise (that yummy cold potato and leek soup from France). I loved the taste, but it was still a mystery. Then a few years ago, a Norwegian guy sliced them into circles, sautéed them in butter with fennel as a side dish with some salmon and I thought I’d gone to heaven. But most recently, early this past spring, a Swedish gal braised them and I was hooked. I ended up planting rows and rows of little ones this season and now there have been feasts of them for weeks (and still going strong).

Leeks have a milder and sweeter flavor than onions and a crunchy texture when cooked, making them a delicious side dish or served on their own. Leeks are surprisingly nutritious, supplying more vitamins and minerals (Manganese, Vitamin C, Iron, Folate and Vitamin B6) than an equal-sized serving of onions or scallions. And, like garlic and onions, leeks belong to the Allium family, which means they contain many beneficial things that help lower LDL cholesterol (while raising the good HDL kind) which translates into lower blood pressure and less heart attacks and strokes. More bennies include a reduced risk of prostate and colon cancer and stabilized blood sugar. A caveat though, for those with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems – you may want to avoid eating leeks because they contain oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings, which can crystallize and cause health problems. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid leeks, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to eat leeks 2-3 hours before or after taking their supplements.XXStill not a bad combo for something so tasty, right?

The white ends should be relatively straight and not exceed 1 1/2" in diameter--larger leeks are often tough and woody. Check each leek at both ends: The leaf tops should be fresh and green, while the white root end should show a firmly attached fringe of rootlets and several inches of unblemished skin, which will give very slightly to pressure. 

Leeks will keep for up to a week or two in the refrigerator if stored loosely wrapped in plastic, unwashed and untrimmed. Leeks may be frozen after being blanched for a couple of minutes, but they will lose some of their taste and texture (like most things in a deep freeze) and will keep in the freezer for about three months.XXAs I mentioned, the most savory experience I’ve had with leeks has been braised. Before cooking, they need careful cleaning because soil and grit collect between the layers of the leaves. The tough outer leaves should be removed and the darkest portion of the green tops (the whole leek is edible, but the darker greens don’t taste as good) and trim the roots.

You should now have 6-8 inch stalks which should be cut lengthwise and then in half so you have, from each stalk, four 3-4 inch half logs. You can briefly steam them before braising, but I like the slow simmer. Line them up in the bottom of a large skillet after you’ve melted some unsalted butter (it’s fresher than salted butter and you can control your salt intake better if you’re in control of when it is added). As they settle into the heat, turn them over and add some organic vegetable or chicken stock. Keep the low flame going and then flip them back over. Sprinkle with salt as you’re cooking (coarse sea salt is great). You should be able to slightly pierce the base with the point of a sharp knife when done. Cooking times vary, depending upon the size and age of the leeks, so you will need to keep testing for doneness. The flavor is really out of this world.

And, just so you know, leeks have a rich history. Said to be native to Central Asia and cultivated there and in Europe for thousands of years, leeks were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans for their beneficial effect upon the throat. The Romans are thought to have introduced leeks to the United Kingdom, where they were able to flourish because they could withstand cold weather. So keep the harvest going and speak out into the winter that’s coming fast!

It's Still Fall

October 27, 2011

It's still Fall, even though snow is promised. 

The other day I was spreading manure in empty beds, tucking them in for the winter, and tidying what plants were still producing .  Believe it, or not, there were a few handfuls of raspberries, snap peas and  hot chili peppers to be had.  And leeks, carrots, broccoli, beets, kale and chard are still going strong.  Brussels Sprouts are not yet ready, so I gave them a nod and checked the celeriac, fennel and Napa cabbage.  Will most likely pull them out in the next week and figure them in to tasty dishes. 

The garlic has cured so about half will be planted for next year, while the remaining cloves will be sauteed or baked in the cold months to come.  The summer kale and chard are the size of small trees now, whereas the seedlings started at the end of July have just been transplanted into a larger bed to be wintered over.  They will be hooped and covered with some Agribon (water and light permeable white fabric) to keep them from totally freezing in the winter.  In the spring, we should have a head start on these crops.  The same goes for spinach and carrots -- seeds for these are being planted now for overwintering and early consumption in April or May. 

Here's to keeping the faith that Mother will keep doing her thing.

Kale

Kale is one of the hardiest greens around --and it’s so nourishing in soup (with miso and tofu) or sautéed with onions and garlic. While kale can be a tad bitter on its own, a splash of balsamic vinegar or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and a bunch of chopped collard greens will sweeten it up.

Kale (or “headless cabbage”) is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family, a group of vegetables including cabbage, collards and Brussels sprouts that have gained recent widespread attention due to their health promoting, sulfur-containing phytochemicals. It is easy to grow and can grow in colder temperatures where a light frost will produce especially sweet kale leaves.

Nutritionally kale’s got a ton of calcium, vitamins C and A, fiber along with potassium, iron, indoles (cancer-fighting substances), beta-carotenes, and other antioxidants.

 

Kale, like other leafy greens can be stored in cellophane bags in the refrigerator for up to three days. You can also cook the greens, and store them in the freezer in sealed cellophane bags. They'll keep for months, so you can use them whenever you want.

Preferable to plastic bags (which are petroleum products), cellophane is a natural polymer made from cellulose, a component of trees and plants. These bags, which are better for the environment, and us, are available at health food stores and are making their way to mainstream grocery stores, too.

 

Here’s something fun that I’ve eaten but have never made personally. It’s really tasty:

 

Kale Crunch:

Ingredients:

A little olive oil or oil spray for the baking tray
1 giant bunch fresh kale, stemmed and minced (about 1 pound)
2 to 3 tablespoons grated parmesan (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a large baking tray with foil, then brush or spray it with oil. Add the kale, and spread it out as much as possible. Bake for 10 minutes, mixing it up once or twice during that time. Sprinkle with parmesan, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until it's as crisp as you like it. (The kale will continue to shrink and crispen the longer it bakes. If you watch it closely and stir it enough, you can get it quite crisp without burning it.) Remove from the oven, and let the kale cool on the tray. Kale Crunch will keep for a week or two in a covered container (if it doesn’t get inhaled immediately) —no refrigeration necessary.

Tomatoes

September 7, 2011

Where did the Summer go all of a sudden?  A few recent sunny days after Hurricane Irene had me believing that Fall is not upon us, but it is!  This is not bad news:  First, there are many seasonal crops still to look forward to (winter squashes (butternut, acorn and spaghetti), brussels sprouts, leeks, kale, collards, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, chard and the slowly growing second planting of snap peas); and second, tomatoes are still here!  They may not look as pretty as they did a few weeks ago, but all is not lost.  Today before it started pouring AGAIN, I surveyed some local rows.  There are still some Cherokee Purples for tomato sandwiches and Sun Golds in various degrees of readiness for fresh sauce. 

I must confess that it wasn’t until recently that I grew to love cherry tomatoes. I had a problem with the pits. But over the past couple of years, I’ve fallen in love with the experience of seeing them, picking them and eating them right there in the garden – especially when I’m thirsty in the middle of the day digging up rows of potatoes and onions – no time to go get a drink. It’s too distracting and, if you’ve already eaten the cucumbers that are ready for the day, tomatoes have enough water to satisfy and enough sugar to give a healthy jolt, coffee breaks notwithstanding.

So I was harvesting more of these gems the other day after remembering my first camping trip a couple of summers ago. We brought tons of stuff from the garden and cooked it on a little camping stove I bought for five bucks at a tag sale. I was (and continue to be) blown away both by how tasty this sauce is -- and that it can be made so simply.  I pulled the camping stove out again last week and had it on the kitchen counter expecting the power to go out, which it didn't, but was happy to have this handy little propane job since everything in my house is electric!!.   I also made a batch of sauce (on the regular stove) and hope to have enough for at least a couple more before first frost.

Like most great things, this “recipe” is just by eye, smell and taste:

Halve as many cherry tomatoes as you can get your hands on (too much is not enough)
In a skillet, warm some olive oil (organic, cold-pressed is best)  and add the tomatoes.
As the mixture starts to cook down, add salt and pepper and LOTS of fresh basil.

Slowly simmer for as long as possible so that all of the flavors start to unfold.

On the other burner, as the sauce is nearing completion, boil some salted water and cook pasta of your choice (in a couple of weeks when Spaghetti Squash is ready (and you have access to an oven) you can substitute it for pasta). When the pasta’s finished, drain the water, return the batch to the pot and stir in some butter to prevent sticking and to add another savory layer of flavor. Conserving pots and pans is always good to do to save water and clean up time even if you’re not camping. Pour the aromatic sauce that has been torturing you for the past hour over the pasta and grate some fresh organic Pecorino Romano over the pot. Some say Parmesean is better, but I beg to differ…

Tomatoes

Where did the Summer go all of a sudden? A few recent sunny days after Hurricane Irene had me believing that Fall is not upon us, but it is! This is not bad news: First, there are many seasonal crops still to look forward to (winter squashes (butternut, acorn and spaghetti), brussels sprouts, leeks, kale, collards, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, chard and the slowly growing second planting of snap peas); and second, tomatoes are still here!

Beets

One especially elusive vegetable, I’ve been told, is the beet. Those mysterious thick skinned bulbs and jagged dark green leaves – what can be done with them? They don’t even look edible. So not true.

Kohlrabi

It came as a relief to discover that this unusual bulb with long stalks and large leaves is not a mutant, but a species of cabbage (as is bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard and turnip).

Garlic Scapes

Garlic Scapes are those curly shoots that garlic pushes out around this time of year. While beautiful to look at, they should be cut so the bulb size of the garlic under ground can grow to be as big as possible. So what do you do with hundreds (or even just 50)?
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