First Harvest of the Season!

……and it’s not anything I’ll be sharing with Stella Caroline.  Sunday night we picked our first crop of cilantro.

(She hates cilantro and claims it tastes like soap.  I say this might be her only failing, the hatred of cilantro.)  This was the very first year we ever had any success growing it; I have been told it is difficult to grow from seed and the last two years that has certainly been true for us. 

The crop we picked was started indoors and transplanted into the herb bed in early May.  I’ve done this in the past with lousy results and was expecting the same result this year.  It looked anemic and wilted but it was in and that was that, in my mind.  I had sort of forgotten about it, to be honest.  And then on Friday J sent me and email that he’d been out looking at the gardens that morning before work and the cilantro was bolting, so we needed to use it soon.

Say what? 

I was convinced he had somehow confused the cilantro with parsley, but no – it was really and truly bolting and about to go to seed, rendering it considerably less tasty.  Since I want to be able to continually harvest cilantro all season and didn’t want to cut every stalk in the garden, I did a little internet research at lunch on Friday and came up with a great article from Sunset magazine which instructs growers to cut off a little bit from the plants to keep the leaves growing continuously.  So I sent J to go out and cut some while I changed out of my gardening clothes before making dinner. While I was upstairs he started chopping the cilantro and I could smell it on the second floor.  I know for a fact that we’ve never had cilantro that fresh before, because I’ve never successfully grown it, and it’s impossible to know how long it’s been at the supermarket.

Now, what to make?  I settled on Thai Style Black Bean Salad, courtesy of Taste of Home magazine, which is a must-have cooking magazine at my house.  Their light recipes are almost always phenomenal.  Anyway, the salad:

Thai-Style Black Bean Salad:

·  1 cup frozen corn
·  15 oz can of black beans, rinsed & drained
·  1 small onion, chopped
·  1 celery rib, thinly sliced
·  1 small sweet red pepper, chopped
·  1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (or, you know, skip this if it tastes like soap)
·  1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & finely chopped (or cheat & use a 4-oz can of chopped green chilis)
·  2 tablespoons sesame oil
·  1 tablespoon rice vinegar
·  1 tablespoon lime juice
·  2 garlic cloves, minced
·  1 teaspoon minced fresh gingerroot
·  1/2 teaspoon salt (I always skip this ingredient)

Cook corn according to package directions. Transfer to a small bowl; add the beans, onion, celery, red pepper, cilantro and jalapeno.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, lime juice, garlic, ginger and salt. Pour over bean mixture and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Yield: 4 servings.

I love this recipe because I almost always have all the ingredients in my fridge and pantry.  I cheat by using a small can of chopped green chilis and I never refrigerate the salad for an hour before serving – I mix and serve immediately.  It does taste better if you refrigerate it first, but I’m always in a rush with dinner in the summer, especially after gardening.  And it makes a nice company dish, too.  Unless you’re inviting Stella Caroline.

“Gardening is a kind of disease.  It infects you, you cannot escape it.  When you go visiting, your eyes rove about the garden; you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irresistible impulse to get up and pull a weed.”  ~Lewis Gannit
This is so very true.  This past weekend my MIL came for a visit which allowed me to knock off early from my planned garden chores on Saturday as my parents were also joining us for dinner.  The whole time we were sitting on the deck having dinner I could hear the weeds growing in the ornamental bed behind me, and had to resist the urge to jump up and go weed.  I take orderly, tidy gardening to new heights.  My thought is, why should the weeds reap the benefits of proper watering and fertilization?

It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening.  You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not.  ~W.C. Sellar & R.J. Yeatman, Garden Rubbish, 1936
Last night I worked outside in the garden until 8:45 PM weeding, defoliating the bean plants that have been attacked by bugs, and spraying neem oil to try and save the plants.  This year has been particularly brutal for all sorts of bugs (especially ticks; we pull one off one or the other of us nearly every time we come into the house) and they have been munching heavily on our eggplants, peppers and especially beans.  But only in the main garden; the beans in the back 40 appear to have escaped almost unscathed.  Still, we want beans, and in an old edition of Organic Gardening magazine I found references to using neem oil as an organic pesticide.  Neem oil is a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the neem, an evergreen tree found originally on the Indian subcontinent and now in many other parts of the tropics.  I have had some success with bug prevention with my lillies by using cayenne pepper spray, but those bugs are red lilly leaf beetles, which are altogether different foliage-destroyers:
Moments before death
I have to be vigilant, though.  I usually hand-remove and crush them and then spray down the plants once I think I’ve removed them all, but there are often more tiny holes in the lilly leaves a few days later, and the cycle repeats.  I think we’ll be on the same path with the beans, if we even get any beans this year.  Fortunately the peas appear to have no infestations whatsoever, meaning we could have a bumper crop and I am really going to need to start researching chest freezers.