There are always a few surprises

We have always ordered our seeds from Pinetree seeds, in Maine.  We like them because they are a small company and they promote seeds with a good germination rate.  On the few occasions that the seeds do not do well, Pinetree either replaces your seeds or refunds your money. We’ve noticed that when we let them know about a problem, it is probably not limited to us because those types of seeds often disappear from the following year’s catalog.

Last year we ran into our first case of strange vegetables.  We had ordered more of the Mr. Big Pea and decided to try Sugar Snap peas as well.  We very carefully planted the seeds in specific rows, one type at a time.  The plants came up, and we had a mix – some were the Mr. Big Pea (shell peas), others were just Sugar Snap (pea pods.) Literally from one plant to the next they could be different.  We investigated – peas can cross-pollinate.  Lesson learned – we shrugged it off, ate what we liked, and froze the rest (mostly the pea pods.)  I had the thought of using them in a stir fry; I think we still have a few bags, a year later.  Clearly not popular with us.

This year something’s going on with the squash.  We’re growing yellow squash and zucchini; they are in the same area.  One yellow squash plant is producing these:

2014-08-13 19.16.25Now, you would think that it’s a cross-pollination issue, right?  Except that there is a type of squash that looks just like that, called a Zephyr squash.  We know this, because we grew it two years ago.  It was not a particularly disease-resistant plant, so we only grew it that one year.  So it could be cross pollination (both types of plants are in the same area) or it could be a Zephyr squash plant.  Which is essentially a cross-pollinated summer squash/zucchini whose seeds are saved.

Maybe we should start our own seed company with the offspring of all of our mistakes.

Now we’re cooking

I can stop complaining about the lack of vegetables now:

Harvest on 8-14
Harvest on 8-14
Harvest on 8-17
Harvest on 8-17

This was a lot of stuff to come in all at once.  It looks very impressive, posted on Facebook.  I had several offers to, “….take some of that off your hands.”  So kind of those folks!  Where were they when I was on my hands & knees for four hours, weeding?

In the end, we put up 5 jars of pepperoncini peppers:

PepperoncinisI found a great recipe for pickling them on Food.com. Our first batch tasted a little mushy, probably from the length of time they sat in the canner until I was able to finish stuffing all the jars and bring it to a boil.  This time we stuffed the jars, filled the brine, removed the air and then put them all into the canner at once.  We’re hoping this makes them crisper.  The ones available commercially taste too bitter to me, so if they are just a little crunchier, they will be perfect.

We’ve got some beans coming, too:

Anellino di Trento and Royalty Purple bush beans
Anellino di Trento and Royalty Purple bush beans

We grilled these with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and dill and they were fantastic.  We’re enjoying the beans more than normal, given that just three weeks ago we thought they were a total loss.  Something was getting over our fence and eating the bushes.  We suspect a woodchuck, and so we set up the electric fence around the wire one.  Problem solved.

After picking all those tomatoes, we parboiled, peeled, seeded and diced them into 2-cup quantities and froze them.  We ended up with 2 bags of Krim, 3 bags of Kellogg, and a bag each of Brandywine and Roma.  But we didn’t freeze all of them:

2014-08-17 19.22.33That is a Tomato Stack Salad with Corn & Avocado.  It is delicious.  We used Krim, Kellogg and Brandywine, plus corn, fresh chive and basil from the garden in the dressing.  We have been waiting all season to make that stack of deliciousness.  It was worth the wait.

In a fit of optimism, I planted 191 Knight peas in the back 40 yesterday.  Average time to harvest?  56 days.  That puts us somewhere around October 12, give or take depending on how warm fall is.  I may have wasted $1.50 in seeds if we have an early frost.  This is my idea of living dangerously.

Be careful what you wish for

In my last post, I mentioned that we should maybe think about a pet with fur, rather than something like this:

Not as cute as a cat
We constantly have to move this guy out of the way of the mower

Just before 4th of July, I was out picking lettuce for dinner, and while walking back to the house, saw something out of the corner of my eye under the hammock.  Turned out to be a bobcat:

BobcatYou really have to zoom in on the picture to see him, but he’s there in the dark patch in the middle of the photo.  A friend estimated him at 45-50 pounds, slightly larger than our former resident cat.  I had mixed emotions about the bobcat  – part of me thought, “How cool!” while a stronger part of me thought, “Run away!”  I managed to get J out to the back deck to see our new feline neighbor before he strolled off into the brush that the evening.

Fast forward a week after that, and I was under the rhododendron weeding, when he popped out of the brush about five feet from me.  I am certain that both of us had the same “Aieeeee!” look on our faces, although I could only see his.  He ran one way, I ran the other.

I am now wearing bells out in the yard.

First harvests

I have been spending my spare time weeding, rather than posting on this blog, for which I apologize.  I find this the longest time of the year, when everything is growing merrily (especially the weeds) but there is nothing to pick and enjoy.  But that is starting to change.  First up:

Turnips and lettuce
Turnips and lettuce

This year we are growing the same lettuce mix we purchased from Pinetree last year, and it is doing equally well.  We have a new type of turnip, an Asian-style that you pick while they are still fairly small.  I have been trying to correct my less-than-stellar thinning efforts from earlier in the season by picking ones that are too close to other ones.  We only have a small row of them – about five feet across – so I am picking them for meals as we need them.

Yesterday was very exciting, because this is what was harvested:

Summer squash, banana peppers, sungold tomato
Summer squash, banana peppers, sungold tomato

Oh yes, your eyes do not deceive you – that is the first sungold tomato of the season.  J picked it and brought it in for me to enjoy – what a generous guy.  I think I surprised him when I cut it in half to share.  That’s very unlike me, where sungolds are concerned.

The precioussssssss
The precioussssssss

Meanwhile, our search for a substitute pet continues:

Not as cute as a cat
Not as cute as a cat

I really couldn’t tell if the toad was closing his eyes because he was relaxed, or he expected imminent death and didn’t want to see it coming.

We maybe need something with fur.

Summer begins

So once again, I cannot take a lot of credit for moving the garden from concept to reality – J has done the lion’s share of the seedling care & planting. I did go on a massive weeding spree this past weekend, so the gardens are attractive enough to be posted on the internet:

Main garden
Main garden
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets
Herbs & lettuce
Herbs & lettuce

It has been such a cold spring that growth has been sluggish.  Everything went into the ground the weekend of May 17th but it’s barely done anything.  I know the heat of July will kick everything into high gear.

One crop that is doing well are the hops – J bought three different types a few years ago.  The first year we put them in pots outside our sun porch, and ran them up a trellis.  Last year they were transplanted out into a sunny spot in the area where the orchard is going to go, and this year he split them.  Several of them are already higher than five feet:

Hop vines - without flowers (yet)
Hop vines – without flowers (yet)

Two years ago J grew barley, with the intent of trying to brew his own beer.  The birds ate most of it, and Max napped in what the birds didn’t get.  It was less than optimal, so we’ve abandoned barley.  And beer brewing, truth be told.  Turns out Sam Adams makes perfectly acceptable beer, and it is ten times easier to get it at the store.  Go figure.

Finally, the back garden went in this weekend – this year, everything is being started from seed (watermelons, corn, beans, peas, pumpkins, etc.) so there’s nothing to look at here except exceptionally fluffy soil and beautiful rows achieved with the assistance of some John Deere tractor attachment that’s been cluttering up our basement.  Meaning that it gets to live another year at our house, because there is no way I want to rake a 25′ x 90′ garden into parallel rows.

Back 40, after planting
Back 40, after planting

And now we wait.

The winter of our discontent

We are continuing to be buried in snow, and it’s much too early to start planting seedlings, but I do have something entertaining for you to chase away these dreary winter days.

You may remember almost two years ago, when we had that problem with the crows, and we accused Max of trying to rip his way through the screen into the house?  J put up a sign, which apparently works – our neighbor captured the following one day last summer, but just sent us the video:

Proof the Sign Works!

Granted, that crow is sauntering away, but he does take in the sign and leave.  It makes me laugh every time I see it.

 

The end…..for now

Today I ate the last dozen or so Sungold tomatoes.  I would like to note that it is November, and this is amazing.  I would have documented the occasion, but I was at work and forgot my camera.  The garden kept going all the way through the second-to-last week of October, finally succumbing to a hard frost somewhere over the nights of October 23rd and 24th.  It was a fantastic run.  I can only tally what we canned or froze, but here’s where we stand in our first large-scale effort to preserve our harvest for later use:

  • 22 jars dill pickles
  • 5 jars bread and butter pickles
  • 12 jars sweet banana peppers
  • 4 jars green tomato chutney (hurrah!  A use for unripe green tomatoes at the end of the season!)
  • 56 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 8 bags of beans
  • 1 bag of peas
  • 3 bags of corn
  • 3 bags of peppers (jalapeno & Fooled You)

It was not a stellar year for either the peas or the corn – although we did eat some fresh – but it was an amazing year for tomatoes.  We boiled, peeled, seeded & diced those suckers in 2-cup increments and froze them for use in cooking.  We’ve already used about 9 bags so far, and the taste is so much better than even the canned organic tomatoes I normally buy.  However, all these frozen vegetables take up a bit of room, as you can see:

image

There’s no way to really calculate what we harvested and ate fresh – over the long weekend of Columbus Day, J harvested about 15 of our Bride eggplants, fire roasted them, and turned them into eggplant dip.  We ate one container, and froze the other two for future consumption as the recipe calls exclusively for Asian eggplants and we can’t get them around here unless we grow them.  So we’ll defrost that container, maybe for New Year’s, and think longingly of fresh summer vegetables. It’s just about enough time to have forgotten how hot and backbreaking it is to weed in the middle of summer.

Until next year……

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You say tomato, I say enough already

The tomatoes keep coming – every week we are filling a large bowl full of Roma, Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine & Kellogg tomatoes:

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This particular bowl full is just Roma, Brandywine & Mortgage Lifter.  I have done some extensive reading on the internet about canning tomatoes, but I have a high degree of fear about botulism (who wouldn’t?) for anything that does not involve vinegar, so I have been opting to freeze the tomatoes.  But first I have to prepare them.  Step one, plunge into boiling water for about a minute to loosen the skins:

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Step two, drop into ice water:

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Step three, drain and place into a separate bowl:

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Steps four, five & six – peel, seed and dice the tomatoes.  (Infinitely too messy to do and use my camera, so no photos.)

Step seven – measure out into two cup increments, put in Ziplock bags, and prepare for freezer:

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Step eight – repeat weekly, sometimes twice in a single week.

I know this winter when I am pulling them out for soups or chili or some other recipe that calls for diced tomatoes I am going to be so happy I put all this effort in, week after week, preparing and freezing these tomatoes.  But right now I’m on step nine – pray for an early killing frost.

The bounty continues

Today’s haul:

Veggies_22AUG13

This is on top of an additional 25 Roma tomatoes, 2 Kellogg, 2 Brandywine & half pint of Sungolds that are up on the counter.  And I’m not seeing Stella Caroline this week.  I wonder how much it would cost me to FedEx….?

The green beans in the photo are Kentucky Wonder pole beans.  I have been calling them Kentucky runner beans, which is only half true (they are running away from us, so that part is true.)  Kentucky Wonder is a very old heirloom that has been known by many other names over the years, including  American Sickle Pole, Eastern Wonder, Egg Harbor, Georgia Monstrous Pole, Improved Southern Prolific, Missouri Prolific, Old Homestead Pole and Texas Pole.  An online catalog describes them as, “…..very reliable, early maturing, and productive.”  They should really use the word “prolific” in the bean name, because that might give me pause when calculating how many to plant.  I would also rewrite the description to say, “Very reliable, early maturing, and will bury you and everyone you know in beans.”  But this is mostly my fault – I put in 6 hills of the beans, with 8 bean plants per hill.  And I’m pretty sure every one of those suckers came up.  So, 48 plants.  Next year, for the love of Pete, someone please remind me that this is too many when I’m all excited in the middle of May to plant the beans.  I need someone to come stand in the field and shout at me when I start trying to rationalize and say things like, “But they might not all come up!” or “What if some of the plants don’t produce?”  They will all produce, apparently.

Underneath our Kentucky beans are our usual purple bush beans, and to the right are Roma tomatoes (totally out of control this year, the plants are tipping over from the weight of the tomatoes) and the left is a bowl of Sungolds with a Brandywine for a little change of color.  There are too many Sungolds to fit in the ceramic pint container I usually keep them in.

So this batch of beans will be the first batch that I freeze.  The best way to preserve beans through freezing is to blanch them first, to kill off any bacteria or enzymes that might cause them to become discolored during the freezing process.  I usually submerge them for 3 – 4 minutes, then plunge them into ice water and dump them into a strainer before laying them out on towels to fully dry before freezing them in freezer bags.  My online research tells me that they are best used within a 10-month period, but I have found that they are fine up to and past a year later.  Why yes, we do have beans frozen from last year in our freezer, however did you guess?

Still growing…….

This year we decided to grow Kellogg tomatoes.  Mostly because the name brought breakfast cereal to mind:

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They are a bright yellow-orange, like the one in the photo above, when they are fully ripe.  These tomatoes are not quite as flavorful as Brandywines, but they add a nice pop of color to a tomato salad.  Online searches told us that they can get large enough that they hang over the edges of sandwich bread when split horizontally. I believe it.

We were starting to (foolishly) believe we had worked out the proper balance of vegetables in our many different garden beds.  So far this year we’ve not given away much in the way of produce – a few tomatoes, some Fooled You jalepeno peppers, a few zucchini – because we’ve done a lot of canning – 9 jars of dill pickles, 5 jars of banana peppers, 4 jars of bread and butter pickles, and 4 jars of dill beans.  We decided, almost as an afterthought, to go out to the garden tonight to pick “…a few things….” and ended up with all this:

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We have been officially schooled, onced again, by the calendar.  It is all fun & games until August rolls around, and then we’re buried.

And the next batch of peas and lettuce have started to come up.  If only we could figure out a way to have vegetables 4 months of the year, instead of 2…..

Adventures in aggressive suburban gardening