Category Archives: experiments

Beans – Purple and Green

I have made no secret of my love of growing strange and unusual vegetables.  Among the things we are growing this year that I can’t get at the grocery store are Irish Cobbler potatoes, bride eggplants and purple bush beans.  We have harvested several rounds of beans already.  The variety we planted are Royalty Purple Pod Bush Beans:

I have been referring to them as Mad Hatter beans, because they are really the most amazing shade of purple which the photograph does not do justice.  We have found that they are easier to pick than our standard green beans, and given that we can get green beans at the store, as soon as we finish up the old green bean seeds we’re going to switch to Royalty Purple for bush beans going forward.
They turn a dark green when cooked, despite our best attempts to keep them purple.  So far we’ve tried putting baking soda in the water as well as vinegar.  Neither has worked.  But the beans are certainly tasty.

Radishes

Fourth of July has come and gone, and with it my first attempt to make something with the radishes.
I made the Delectable Radish Dip as directed by The Hungry Hippo.  She was right, it was delectable.  I stole a page from Stella Caroline and put the radishes in my food processor.  I think she has a much better food processor than I do, with multiple blades that chop vegetables better than mine does, but I will say pitching whole radishes into a mini food processor and pressing “high” makes a terrifically fun racket.
There were more radishes ready this weekend, so I went online to the Food Network website to see what I could find, and found a recipe by Rachael Ray called Red Radish Salad that we liked even better than the DRD from The Hippo.  (Sorry Hippo.) 

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 8 red radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 Delicious apples, quartered cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 European seedless cucmber, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Salt and black pepper


Directions

Combine sugar, lemon juice & sour cream in a medium bowl with a fork. Add radishes, apple, and cucumber.  Turn vegetables and fruit in dressing to coat. Season with dill, salt, and pepper, toss again; serve.
I know a lot of people don’t like Rachael Ray but I’ve been a subscriber to her magazine for a couple of years and I really like her because she uses prepared ingredients in a lot of her recipes which is totally necessary when you want to make dinner on a weeknight and you don’t get home until almost 7 PM.  Anyway, we really liked the salad.  I made a substitution by using Granny Smith apples instead of Delicious apples, based on some of the comments from people who had made the salad.  I will definitely make this again.
I also chopped up the cucumber, apples and radishes more than she suggests, just to make sure that we didn’t end up with a forkful of radish for a bite.
Our very first summer squash has been picked, and will be used in tonight’s dinner.  J suggested I look for a recipe that involved both radishes and summer squash but I don’t think those are two items that have been very popular combinations.

Oh, and do you see that small red thing at the front of the photo?  That would be a strawberry.  Yes, really.  I got one the chipmunk missed.  I brought it in, washed it off and decided I would eat it after dinner.  It tasted terrible.  Really and truly terrible.  I can’t even describe the flavor.  So maybe the chipmunk is doing me a favor?

Speaking of someone who isn’t doing me any favors, here he is napping in my purple bush beans.  Literally on one of the plants:

I know, you’ve missed him.  He’s still around, and still napping.
He came into the main garden with me to “help” me weed.  Despite having about 15 pounds of cat on top of them, the beans are doing really well, and flowering like crazy.  Soon I’ll be hunting up bean recipes.  Stay tuned.

Another Season Begins

Most of the garden is now in the ground:

Tomatoes!



Potatoes, carrots & parsnips, planted in April

 I didn’t remember to photograph the main garden, because we were headed out immediately to plant the back 40:

From this angle, it doesn’t look so bad.  Hunched over the rows, planting peas, beans and corn, it seemed like the worlds loooooongest field.  Where you can see the furrows above, we planted corn in one half of the right hand side (we are planning a successive planting over the weekend of June 16-17 if the weather holds) and on the left-hand side, we planted 1 1/2 rows of pole beans, 1/2 row of green bush beans, 1 row of purple bush beans, and five rows of peas.  I must have put in more than 200.  J claims to like peas – we’re about to find out just how much.  We left 2 rows empty to do successive plantings of green and purple bush beans.  About the middle of the field you can see some very thin stakes sticking up – J planted barley in that area.  Behind the barley is where we will be putting the pumpkins, watermelons, winter squash and radishes.  We don’t actually like radishes all that much, but J read that they repel the bugs that eat squash and pumpkin plants, so hey!  Let’s grow some radishes.  I bet the woodchuck will love them.
Our newest concern is how often it rains.  Unlike the main house garden and raised beds, there is no water source out by the back-40 field, and it’s quite some distance from the house:

Standing next to the field, looking back towards the house



In fact, you can’t even see the house from the back-40 garden.  Fortunately today it is raining, and it seems like we got a pretty good soaking rain last night.  We’re hoping the overcast/drizzly weather last through Thursday, as predicted, while J investigates the possibility of rain barrels for out back.  Otherwise it’s a really long way to haul 5-gallon buckets of water, even if we put them in the trailer that attaches to the tractor.

Good Morning!

This is the sight that greeted me as I came downstairs just after 5 AM this morning:

I did come thumping down the stairs this morning – I am always delighted to reach the first floor in one piece without having any coffee – which caused him to turn around and try and see in the windows next to the door.  Fortunately I managed to avoid being seen; when I am spotted there is lots of meowing and a lot of sad looks.

Many of the seedlings have been brought upstairs and put on a rack.  It started raining so we couldn’t put them outside earlier this week, but they’re going out today:

J has also planted the hops in pots outside below this sun porch:

We are growing three types (and by “we” I mean, of course, J and I am just taking associated credit.)  The vines grow 18 feet high, on average, so they’re on the ground underneath the highest wall of the sun porch so we have a spot we can string trelises from the top to pull them up.  (I also hope that it will provide a little bit of shade on a room that is hard to sit in during the height of summer, even with all the windows and doors open.)

The area around the hops is pretty much empty since they go up rather than out, so J decided on Monday to plant more herb seeds – cilantro, basil and dill.  He of course had help:

He said it would have gone much faster without a cat climbing into his lap.  I’m still trying to figure out when exactly I turned into a cat lady without actually owning a cat.

No Foolin’

I remember now why  I prefer J do all the seed starting:

Those suckers are really small.

Tonight we started oregano, basil, cilantro, thyme and later this week we will start parsley after soaking it per the package directions.  Our other stuff is doing really well:

Our seed starting shelves are getting very full.  The multi-spectrum bulbs seem to really work.  I’m particularly excited about the geranium seeds; all five came up and now look like real geraniums.  We should be in great shape by Memorial Day, aka transplant day.

Forward Thinking

Happy first day of spring!  It’s a whole lot of nothing at the moment with the gardens.  While it seems like the weather has been warmer this spring than any in recent memory, we’re still months away from a full, lush garden, and those seeds are making us peevish while we wait.  (Well, they’re making me peevish.  Grow already!)

Last year as an anniversary gift I bought J a plant cam.  He set it to take photos three times a day for the whole gardening season.  Surprisingly, only once did we capture a photo of non-plant living creatures in the garden (J and Max) and the photos show a really neat gardening progression. 

I am definitely going to get us a second one for the back-40 field to record the progress of the corn and pumpkins this year.

Mid-August Update

Now that we are well and truly past mid-August, here’s where things stand in the yard:



Main garden



Eggplants and peppers



Carrots, lettuce, potatoes, shallots



Corn – slow going, but it’s coming along
Pumpkins, watermelons and in the rear, the corn again

Our main garden and raised beds are doing well.  This week I noticed that the potato plants are starting to die off, which means I should be harvesting them soon.  (CRF did share that tidbit over tea.)  The back forty patch has not done as well as we would have liked, but that area was so wet right through June it is nothing short of amazing that anything is growing there.  The watermelons are pretty much toast – nibbled by some bug, they barely grew.  Two of the five mounds still have some greenery, but that’s it.  The pumpkins are growing, and so far we have eight small green Orange Smoothie pumpkins, and two Jack-Be-Littles.  It seems unlikely that the Howden or Lumina vines will produce pumpkins for fall.  (The Luminas got eaten by the same bugs that went after the watermelons, we think.)  And while I’m disappointed that I will not have white pumpkins for my porch (think of the color contrast between white pumpkins and orange flames, when J lights them up on Halloween!), our only expectation was that we would get the garden in back there this year – the area needed heavy brush-cutting, mowing, plowing and tilling.  Now that we’ve established an area, next year we can improve it and overall crop health.

What we’ve learned so far:

1.) It is gong to be possible to grow two crops of certain types of vegetables, such as beans and peas, in our hardiness zone.  (With our occasionally late frosts – we sometimes have them as late as the 2nd weekend in May – we thought it was only safe to plant after Memorial Day.)  Our goal next year will be to do two plantings of peas, and three of beans.

2.) Fertilizer – it makes all the difference in the world in the growing season in central New England.  We’re partial to Neptune’s Harvest, an organic liquid fertilizer you mix with water.  Expensive, but worth it for how it works and the fact that it’s organic.

3.) Squash plants – six of each (summer squash and zucchini) is too many.  Four each is more than enough.  When we try to plant six each again next year, someone remind me we don’t need that many.

4.) You really can have too many sungold tomato plants.  (Even for me.)  They don’t freeze well, so we have to consume vast quantities of them or give them away.  Part of me doesn’t mind putting the sungolds into berry boxes and distributing them, but a (tiny, little) selfish part of me dies a little death every time I hand over a box of them.  Next year we’re going to reduce the number and try some other tomatoes, like plum, so I can make sauce.

5.) Those strawberries are just for the chipmunk.  He will outsmart every trick you have to keep him away.  Just give up, and leave a tiny napkin next to the plants so he can wipe his mouth on the way out of the garden bed.

6.) The hammock is much more useful when properly installed.  Maybe someday I will actually get to sit in it for more than 10 minutes:

The view from the main garden – it looks so inviting when working in the hot sun!

More peas, please

I would like to tell you that we have been so busy in the garden that I haven’t had a minute to post.  The truth of the matter is, I have time to post at least one evening a week but then I get distracted by something else – American Pickers or True Blood on t.v., usually.  Sometimes I’m busy baking or pickling.  Such sorry excuses for why the blog has been dormant for a whole month, right at our busiest time of year.

And boy, have we been busy.  Right after we got home from our recent trip, the garden started exploding.  One Friday afternoon, J picked all this:

Which I immediately divided up and shuttled out to the neighbors:

Two days later we had an equal amount.  I am so happy that the local food pantry where I volunteer takes fresh produce to distribute to clients.  Otherwise my life would be a never ending series of canning adventures.

Speaking of canning, I did take a huge bunch of our pickling cucumbers over to my cousin J’s house (she of the three children) about two weeks ago to make dill pickles.  The recipe has been in the family for three generations (if you count us) and the pickles need to ferment for about two to four months.  I made 5 quarts of dill pickles.  Well, I helped make 5 quarts of dill pickles – J did a lot of measuring for the spices and the more dangerous part of sterilizing the jars and then boiling them to seal them up.  Really, I am not sure how it could have been any easier for me, except if maybe I didn’t have to cut up the cucumbers. I didn’t take photos of the process because I forgot my camera.  But she’s at it on a regular basis, so I hope to get some photos in the next few weeks.

One of our experiments this year has been growing peas.  We chose a variety called “Mr. Big Pea” which is an English pea.  (The name also reminded me of Sex in the City‘s Mr. Big.  I am sure people have stranger reasons to pick a variety of something, but those people don’t blog.)  We put them directly into the ground Memorial Day weekend with no expectations.  When they bloomed, we were pleasantly surprised.  And then we got peapods:

Which turned into actual peas:

The peas are enormous – the size of my pinky fingernail, at least.  We’ve gotten two meals out of the pods we’ve picked (we have 26 plants) and plan to at least double the amount we plant next year, in addition to planting in two batches to extend the harvest.

The only drawback is that this is not a sweet pea, so the pods are tough and can’t be used in things like stir fries.  But we might try a second variety next year that has edible pods.

Last night I said to my NY cousins that although the title of the blog is “Cocktail Farmers” I had been posting very little in the way of drink recipes.  I will have to remedy that, although mixed drinks are more of a fall/winter/spring thing around our house.  Usually if we have a drink in the summer, we just open up some wine.

Perhaps we should plant grapevines?

How does your garden grow?

Well, a lot has changed in the garden in the last few weeks.  Back on May 31, I posted this picture:

Looked pretty sad, didn’t it?

This was last night’s photo:

We’ve had a string of hot days lately, so that’s helped enormously.  (Also enormously helpful?  The Cocktail Farmers were in the Caribbean for my cousin’s wedding, partaking of tropical frozen drinks at the 2-for-1 Happy Hour.  One of the best was called a Tropical Breeze featuring mango puree, strawberry puree, and Midori.  When we figure out how to duplicate it, expect to see it here.)

There have been some casualties along the way:

Just before we left I noticed several of the Brandywine tomato plants had some sort of yellowing blight near the stems.  Because they came from a nursery and previous tomato blight infestations have been linked to nursery plants, I ruthlessly ripped them out before we left.  Nothing, NOTHING must interfere with the Sungold tomatoes, further down the row.   I’ll sacrifice everything else in the garden for those.  The bonus in ripping out the plants was that I discovered the subterranean watering system J put in the garden is working, and the roots are reaching down into the soil rather than spreading out along the surface.  So that was a decent consolation prize.

So far everything else is hanging in there.  We have lots of zucchini coming in – in fact, we harvested the first one before we left and gave it to our neighbor, and picked three more on Wednesday.  But they keep coming:

As do the summer squash:

                                         This one has my dad’s name written all over it

And we’re starting to see tomatoes, too:

                                          Early Girl

                                         Sungold flower buds, soon to be crack…I mean, tomatoes.

And beans!  Last year we put in about a half dozen plants, transplanted from the seed starting trays, and got enough for one meal for the two of us.  This year?  Directly into the ground, 1 inch apart and I planted 40 of them.  36 came up:

We’re going to have bushels of beans this year, if things continue as they have been.  I can’t wait.  Last year nobody else got any, because there simply weren’t enough to share.  I’m sure my friend Stella Caroline will come up with some fantastic side dish for them.  (She is both a fabulous cook and a tremendous baker.  Seriously – when she brings me something there is the internal struggle to listen to the angels of my better nature and share with J.  I do, but boy, I really, really don’t want to share her yummy treats.  I didn’t know her when I married J, because if I did the marriage vows probably would have included a line about sharing pastry.  Instead we recited a Navajo Wedding Blessing, which does not include a reference to caramel chocolate matzo.  That alone entitles her to one of my kidneys.  And one of J’s.)

Our experiment with peas is so-so.  They look a little feeble, and we put them in kind of late:

We do have one ENORMOUS pea pod, however.

We’re just not sure there are any peas in it.  There are buds on the plants, though, so hope springs eternal….like death, taxes, and the neighbor’s cat needing to nap right in the way: