Sunday, December 30, 2012

Garden Post-Mortem–Tomatoes

My raised bed garden was completed in the Spring by the addition of two 4x6 foot raised beds made from 1x8 inch red cedar boards. The 8 inch boards would give me a little more depth for plants like tomatoes while not busting the bank (Mel’s Mix is expensive). I added trellises along the long edges of the two beds and the short end of one, giving me room for 14 tomato plants.I planted indeterminate varieties and each plant was pruned to a single stem and trained up a cord on the trellis.

The trellis method worked very well. The one variety that gave me a little trouble at first was Pineapple, which had a number of closely spaced growing tips rather than a single dominant tip, almost like a determinate. As the plant got a little bigger, the issue resolved itself. Wrapping the single leader around the cord worked very well and, even with fruit on the vine, I had no slippage.


All of the tomatoes showed vigorous growth early in the season. Vines got to about a meter in height by mid-season. Then most of them stopped growing. I’m not sure if this was a fertilizer problem, or the very hot weather or the fact that disease was starting to appear. The only tomatoes that continued to flower and produce were the cherry types. A few plants started showing signs of late blight, so I started spraying with a copper fungicide with little obvious benefit.

My selection of varieties in 2012 was different from the usual, mostly heirlooms this year. In the past I have planted about half the available space with a main crop hybrid such as Jet Star, another quarter with a paste tomato such as Roma. The remaining space was used for a cherry and some  heirlooms. So if I got a few slicers from the heirlooms, that was a treat. I still had my main crop varieties to put a lot of tomatoes on my countertop. This year I got my 2-3 fruits per heirloom but had no disease resistant main crop tomatoes, so the countertops were bare.


Cherry/Salad Tomatoes

These types of tomatoes did the best last year and it should not be surprising to me that two of them are hybrids. I planted Sungold again because it is a terrific tomato. Very productive and very tasty. Both plants this year did very well while still showing some signs of early blight. Sungold is F1 and has resistance to Fusarium wilt and tobacco mosaic virus but not to the blights. Still, I will plant it again next year.

The Black Cherry I planted did very well despite showing some sign of late blight. It is not a hybrid, rather  it is open pollinated and was bred in Florida by the late Vincent Sapp. The vine was very vigorous, growing tall and setting large clusters of fruit. The tomatoes were mostly split-resistant and very meaty with great flavor. I’m definitely growing this one again. I also tried a Matt’s Wild Cherry, a wild variety found growing in Mexico, but did not care for it. Fruits were tiny if prolific, and the flavor was not very good, although it was disease resistant. Oh well, I tried it.

Finally, I grew a couple Juliet, an F1 variety my garden neighbor grows every year because her husband loves them. The plants were very robust and prolific, producing right up to cold weather. Johnny’s says they have some late and early blight resistance, which must be true because they stayed healthy all season. Unfortunately, the skins are tough and the flavor is bland unless they are fully ripened. Later in the summer taste did improve, but even so Juliet tomato is not a tomato I would crave for its flavor. I may plant it again just for its vigor and disease resistance and maybe try drying the fruits, which may concentrate the flavor.


Paste Tomato

The only paste tomato I planted was Striped Roman I grew from seeds bought from Baker Creek. I have complained before about my seed starting problems, but I wanted to try these so I selected the best two transplants and planted them. They grew slowly and I got a couple of tomatoes from each plant. I may try these again next year and hopefully do a better job starting them so I have good sized transplants to start with.


Heirloom Tomatoes

This year I planted Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Big Rainbow, and Pineapple, all purchased plants. I had delusions of Black Krim being my “main” tomato and planted two of them. They did poorly, succumbing to disease early. The few tomatoes they produced split badly, so I only got to try a few which were not very good. People rave about Black Krim so I’m sure it’s a great tomato, just not this year in my garden. To add insult to injury, I gave away a couple plants to fellow gardeners who planted them in soil. Those thrived and produced a lot of tomatoes, most of which these fellow “gardeners” let drop on the ground and rot.

The three other heirlooms I planted grew well early in the season and set fruit, but then slowed down. I wonder if I didn’t fertilize them enough or if it was the hot weather. The Cherokee Purple did show signs of late blight very early (and it was a Bonnie Plant, since I couldn’t find a locally grown plant). The first fruit was badly cat-faced and the others cracked badly. But I really like Cherokee Purple and will plant it again for the few slicers I do get. Big Rainbow and Pineapple were great tasting tomatoes, just wish I got a few more.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Garden Post-Mortem Part 2



We had such a mild winter last year that the Beedy’s Camden kale survived and thrived in the spring. I had all the kale I wanted, but I needed room to plant new seedlings. So when the existing plants started flowering, I would harvest most of the larger leaves and plan to come back and remove the plant. When I did, the plant had new growth and I couldn’t bring myself to pull it. This went on until late summer. Meanwhile I planted the seedlings in the bed where they were shaded by the existing plants. What I planted was Vates Dwarf Curled kale seedlings I started myself. The Vates is a curly, dark blue-green kale that is very cold hardy. The plants have survived the cold weather so far and I did cut some leaves last week. I like this type of kale but next year I plan to go back to the Beedy’s Camden, it really is a great kale.


I had good luck with the Green Wave mustard. It has light green, frilly leaves that are sweet and tasty.  It is pretty bolt resistant and I was able to  cut leaves for an extended period. When it did start to bolt, I cut off the flower stalks, which seemed to stop the bolting and eventually I got another cutting from it. What I probably should have done is just pull it out and replant it for the fall, since it is cold tolerant. I will definitely plant it again next year. And it wasn’t bothered by flea beetles, while just a few feet away my eggplants were being drilled!


I planted Sugar Ann snap peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas. I usually plant 4 squares of each and place a low fence around the bed for support. The problem with the snap peas is they tend to be too tall for this method to work and really need to be trellised.  The Sugar Ann was supposed to be more compact, described as a dwarf plant 10-24 inches high, Well, mine got leggy and then slumped over on the snow peas. The whole mess then started leaning over the beets, shading them. I need to come up with a better support strategy. Production was good, particularly the snow peas. I was really happy with the choice of  Oregon Sugar Pod and will plant it again.


Peppers were a failure again this year, the second year I have grown them in raised beds. You would think peppers would grow well in the loose, well-drained soil mix I use, but the last two years have been troublesome. Both years the pepper foliage seems pale, almost yellowish. Plants fail to put on enough size to produce a lot of fruit. Of course, we had an extended period of hot weather that inhibited flower set that didn’t help. The peppers that have done OK are the Thai and jalapeno peppers.

Radishes and turnips

Radishes were almost a total failure this year. I had stopped growing radishes because of  cabbage root maggots, but the flies don’t seem to be a problem in the community garden. Most of the radishes this year just bolted and the few that got harvestable size were pithy.  Varieties planted were French Breakfast, Cherry Belle, and Icicle. I got just  a few of the French Breakfast. I assume heat was the problem and I will try planting earlier next year. The Tokyo Cross white turnips, planted in the same location and conditions as the radishes, did very well while the radishes did not. Next year I think I will plant more turnips and fewer radishes.

Summer Squash

I had a very good year for summer squash. I kept them covered until they started blooming, then uncovered them to allow pollination. The squash bugs did not seem as bad this year, although I did remove a lot of eggs from the leaves. I set out trap boards and early on the boards worked pretty well. I was also happy with the varieties of squash planted. I planted Sunburst again this year, a yellow patty pan that was very prolific. The Dunja zucchini was a little slow in starting but produced fruit all season, up to cold weather. And it was fairly resistant to mildew, as promised. Finally, the Costata Romanesco squash, an Italian variety,  produced early and very well until it succumbed to mildew and wilt. All are candidates to be planted next year, when I swear I will check the plants carefully every day so I don’t get anymore baseball bats.


Swiss Chard (Silverbeet)

Swiss chard was another winner this year after several years of failure. In years past something would eat the plants or seedlings and they never got started. This year my Orange Fantasia chard survived ( I set out four and two survived). This is a beautiful variety with orange stems and dark green foliage. I filled in the holes in the bed with some robust Bright Lights plants I found, and they also did well. I had cuttings up until hard freeze.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Garden Post-mortem 2012


The year 2012 was a challenging year for gardening in New England and most of the country. It was hot and humid for months and we were plagued with disease and insects. Diseases that normally overwinter in the South and move north in the summer showed up earlier than ever. We had a number of new insect pests invade the gardens, such as the tortoise beetle pictured below and the green stink bug. Add to that hurricane Sandy and I have no doubt that we are dealing with significant climate change. If we are going to garden and try to grow our own vegetables, we will just have to work with what we are given. This post starts a review of what worked and did not work in my square foot garden in 2012, in roughly alphabetical order.




Besides my usual planting of generic basil, this year I also planted Siam Queen Thai basil and Spicy Globe (or Greek) basil. All the basils did well once the weather warmed up and  the varietal basils were exotically fragrant and welcome in cooking.


I planted both bush and pole beans this year and all did well. In place of Jade I tried E-Z Pick, supposedly an improved Jade that is easier to pick. Jade does have stems that are hard to sever with a thumbnail, almost requiring scissors to harvest. But I much prefer the appearance and quality of Jade and that’s what I will plant next year. Provider was good as usual and gets planted again. And I really liked the Fortex pole beans, which produce abundant, very-long round beans. I also want to try the Trionfo Violetto pole bean next year.


I planted two types of beets this year. Bulls Blood seems to be popular, mostly for it greens. For me, it did poorly, with spotty germination and very slow growth. Greens never got large enough to pick and beets were about thumb size. Red Ace did better for me and I got two meals out of two squares. Some of the problems with the beets may have been that they were crowded and shaded by the peas in the same box. Next year I will put them in a sunnier spot, but I don’t see myself trying Bulls Blood again.


I didn’t have a lot of luck with broccoli this year, but a lot of that was my own doing. I purchased seeds for De Cicco, an heirloom variety, and started them indoors in early spring but had problems. So I purchased a pack of Blue Wind plants, a fast growing variety. I had them under row cover to ward off the cabbage moths. When I removed the row cover I found that all the plants had bolted. My poorly grown De Cicco plants eventually yielded a few small heads by late summer, but neither variety produced an abundance of side shoots. I definitely need to choose my varieties carefully and attend to the plants better.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are an iffy thing for me. For years I planted them and never got sprouts. Then two years ago I got a great crop of them, I have no idea why. Last year all of the sprouts opened (is this how they bolt?) and I got nothing. This year they matured early and I got a generous cutting off the bottom. Then the cabbage caterpillars and yes, even European corn borer larvae, decimated them. If I had been more watchful and ready with the bT I might have got a larger harvest. Of course, my wife was happy with that outcome.


I direct seeded both cilantro and dill this year and had modest success, despite the fact they were shaded by the neighboring lettuces and eventually the basil. Next year I need to get them a spot with more sun and seed them more thickly. I also need to learn what you do with green coriander seeds.


This year I planted collards Georgia, which were fairly slow growing. I don’t like this variety’s tendency to spread out and flop. I think next year I will go back to a Vates type of collard, which has a more compact growth so you get more leaf for a given area. This is an important consideration for gardening in raised beds.


It was a good year for cucumbers for me, despite all the mildew and bugs. I planted varieties, Diva and Summer Dance, that were said to be mildew resistant and that was generally the case. I also had little problem with cucumber beetles and bacterial wilt, although wilt did eventually knock off the pickler and Diva vines, but later than usual. The Jackson Classic pickler got off to an earlier start and produced an abundance of 5-6 inch fruit. I really liked this one and will plant again. Diva was late in germinating and producing and I got very few fruit from it, but they were of good eating quality. I may give it another chance next year.

The outstanding variety was undoubtedly Summer Dance, a Japanese-style cucumber that was a heavy producer (picking 2-5 a day) of long, slender, dark green fruits that were sweet and crisp with a tender skin and small seed cavity. The cucumbers hold well on the vine and simply grow longer if overlooked, sometimes well over 12 inches long. They continually produce side branches so most production takes place on the bottom 3 feet of the trellis. When cleaning the dead vines off the trellis in early fall, I found a couple of cucumbers I had missed and they were still in good condition, a nice treat. I highly recommend Summer Dance cucumber.


Well, eggplant was a complete failure again this year, partly due to flea beetles. I did battle by picking beetles, then spraying the plants with a pyrethrin spray and a pepper-garlic spray. I can’t camp out in the garden, however, so despite my efforts eventually the plants started to decline. I did use row cover on the plants I started from seed but left the purchased plants uncovered.  I don’t know if I will grow eggplant again, too much valuable space wasted in the raised beds for no yield. Maybe I will try a few oriental types like Ping Tung since I observed they seem to be less bothered by the beetles. And I will definitely have to cover them with row cover.

Endive and Escarole

I planted both of these bitter greens this year from plants I started and they did very well. They form large dense heads that contact the ground so you do have to do slug control or they will chew up the heads. I planted varieties from Johnny’s (Dubuisson and Natacha) and both were excellent. I am definitely planting these again next year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

First Seed Catalogs Arrive

Not even the winter solstice yet and I have three seed catalogs in hand from three of my favorite seed companies and a fourth catalog arrived today. Of course, the holidays are keeping me busy so I may not get to fully enjoy them until after New Years. Still, I am able to occasionally flip through them, circling items that catch my eye.

First to arrive was the Pinetree catalog. Pinetree is a small, family-owned business in Maine that I have patronized for years. Besides the fact they are a local family business, they have other virtues. They offer small, inexpensive packets of seeds, some as low as 95 cents. Usually I don’t need a thousand seeds for my SFG and I don’t need to pay $3-4 for it. The Pinetree packets also give planting instructions in SFG terms, seeds per square foot, rather than seeds per foot of row. And Pinetree’s selection of seeds is good and includes desirable selections from breeders such as Johnny’s as well as heirloom and imported varieties. I have circled the Trionfo Violetto pole bean and the Tromboncino squash in this year’s catalog.

Next to arrive was the Johnny’s catalog. Johnny’s is another Maine-based seed house I have used for years. They grow their seeds in northern Maine and are active breeders of new varieties (like Bright Lights chard and Lipstick pepper). I like this and believe they are offering varieties that will succeed in northeast summers. Their catalog is full of technical information and is a valuable resource throughout the season. And being a victim of some bad seed, I like that Johnny’s certifies that their bean seeds are 100% halo blight free.  The downside is that their packets are expensive, but sometimes they are the only source for some of the newer varieties. This year they have a new cherry tomato, Jasper, which they bred and which won the AAS.


The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog showed up next. It is a large, beautiful catalog printed on glossy coated paper with gorgeous photography. While slick and glossy and technically up-to-date (they Facebook and have an iPhone app), Baker Creek is dedicated to offering heirloom and organic seed free of GMOs and are heavily involved in the battle against GMO crops and corporate agriculture. They are located in Mansfield in southwest Missouri, east of Springfield. I get that way every year or so to visit my sister and I plan to make a detour through Mansfield next time. It’s not surprising given their location they are specialists in warmer weather crops. Their selection of eggplant, melon, squash and tomato varieties is probably unmatched.

While I was writing this article the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog arrived. I purchased my shallot bulbs from them last Fall. They produce a beautiful catalog with color photographs printed on recycled newsprint. The cover shows garden gnomes in a raised bed garden. They are located in Virginia and carry varieties that are optimal in the southeast US but most are generally useful for other areas. They have a good selection of southern heirloom varieties of greens (mustards, collards, turnip), beans, limas, okra, cowpeas, peanuts, melons, and tomatoes. They also carry a good selection of shallots, garlic, and a variety of multiplier and potato onions. Finally, they are dedicated to safe seed, GMO free, open-pollinated and organically grown where possible.
I have to mention Fedco Seeds, even though I don’t get a printed catalog from them, I just download the catalog. Fedco is a co-operative in Maine that is dedicated to organic, open-pollinated and untreated seed. They are also part of the lawsuit against Monsanto. They have a good selection and good prices. In addition, they accept group orders. Our community garden organization puts together a group order in late winter which gets everyone a discount and reduced shipping cost plus the organization makes a few bucks off the order. One item of note is that Fedco carries seed for Beedy’s Camden kale, which is a great kale variety to grow. Another thing I like at Fedco is their Mesclun mix, which is packed in two separate envelopes containing the mustards and the lettuces. Since the lettuces are slower to germinate and grow, you plant them a week or two earlier in a separate bed from the mustards.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving is my daughter Kate’s favorite holiday. So the menu is very important and I have to get her OK on everything. Over the years we have always tried new recipes and some pass on and some become traditions. I bring my own prejudices to the process, a reaction to the cooking of the 50s and 60s. I won’t eat anything made with cream of snot soup, or miniature marshmallows, or canned green beans. So that precludes two Thanksgiving “classics”, the green bean casserole and cranberry sauce with marshmallows and canned mandarin oranges. Instead, this is what we will be serving at our place on Thursday.

Turkey, of course, roasted not fried. I use the neck and gizzards along with an onion and celery to make a brown turkey stock while the turkey is roasting. For the liver, I use a trick I learned from a Gourmet magazine article years ago. I put the liver in the food processor with some heavy cream and Madeira and liquefy it. The mixture is then added to the stuffing to enrich it.The stuffing recipe varies each year and I usually ad-lib it. This year it will probably be corn bread and sausage with sage and thyme from the herb garden. I like to add brown rice to add some chew to a corn bread stuffing, but this year I may try some Israeli couscous I have in the cupboard.

Gravy is just the traditional gravy made with the pan drippings and the turkey stock. Mashed potatoes this year will be made with Yellow Gold potatoes and rutabaga. I like to add some  rutabaga (or yellow turnip or Swede as it is called in New England) to the potatoes to give it a little bit of flavor and texture. Nothing like a bowl of mashed potatoes with a puddle of butter melting in the middle. And it will be our own home made butter which Kate and I made Monday.

The cranberry sauce recipe we usually make is from the Vegetarian Epicure Vol. 2 by Anna Thomas, unfortunately now out of print. It is a perfect bound paperback and is now falling apart but is just as loved. This cranberry sauce is a cooked sauce that uses fresh cranberries and a chopped up navel orange, with cinnamon and cardamom for spices. It is a fresh tasting, fruity sauce without any of the canned or candy flavors of “traditional” sauces. A copy of the recipe can be found on the Reluctant Gourmet blog.

The vegetable side dishes are just as important as the turkey and stuffing. After lots of experimentation, we have come to standardize on a few dishes. Creamed onions are a traditional dish that we love, although we use a real Béchamel sauce to make them. Sweet potatoes are another classic, but the recipe we love is a streuseled sweet potato casserole from the November 2002 Cooking Light magazine, which is fabulous and can be prepared ahead of time. This is more dessert than vegetable, but it is Thanksgiving!

For more “healthy” side dishes, we like and will be preparing Cider-Glazed Carrots from that classic issue, the November 2002 Cooking Light magazine; and Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Hazelnuts from the November 2004 Cooking Light magazine. For both recipes, a lot of preparation can be done ahead of time, which is always important for planning a Thanksgiving dinner. The latter recipe is particularly amazing because my wife, a certified, genetically-tested hater of Brussels sprouts actually likes them prepared this way. And it’s not just her Mississippi-bred love of all things bacon, she actually likes the sprouts fixed this way. Since my daughter and I love Brussels sprouts, this is a win-win recipe.

Finally, there is the not so small matter of desserts. Yes, plural, as in desserts. My son is a chocolate lover so we will be making a chocolate meringue pie from my mother’s recipe. The family joke is that my wife would try year after year to make the pie following recipes from Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, you name it, and the filling would not solidify. So we would have chocolate soup pie. Recently I have been making my mother’s recipe and it works quite well. In addition we will have a pumpkin cheesecake, based on Dana Carpender’s cookbook, 500 Low Carb Recipes. This is a satisfying and rich dessert that is also low carb and will substitute for the traditional pumpkin pie.

That’s our menu for this year. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it). My mother’s chocolate meringue pie recipe follows.

Chocolate Meringue Pie
My mother’s recipe, sent to me by my sister, Sharon.

  • 3 oz. chocolate
  • 2½ c. milk
  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 c. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 baked pie shell
  • 1 recipe meringue
  1. Melt chocolate in milk in double boiler and blend with wire whisk.
  2. Mix flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture and cook 15 min., stirring constantly. The mixture should be thick and smooth.
  3. Stir a small amount of the hot mixture slowly into egg yolks, stirring constantly. Return to double boiler and cook a few minutes longer. Add butter and vanilla; stir until melted. Cool the mixture.
  4. Pour into pastry shell. Cover with meringue, and bake in 325º F. oven until delicately browned.

  • 3 egg whites
  • 6 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
Beat egg whites until stiff. Add sugar gradually (1 Tbsp. at a time), beating constantly. Add vanilla. Pile lightly on pie filling, sealing edges.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Planting Garlic and Shallots

fresh garlic

I added two 4x6 raised beds to the garden this spring, completing my phased implementation of my square foot garden. The extra beds gave me a lot of extra planting space and I kind of went overboard on some things. I wound up with an abundance of perishable items like lettuce and greens, more than our family could use and more than I could give away. I also had an overabundance of beans and squash.

This season, reading about everyone’s garlic and onion harvest, it occurred to me that maybe I should devote some of the garden space to crops that will store well into the winter without refrigeration and canning, rather than growing an overabundance of things I can’t use that will wind up in compost bins. So I decided to try growing onions, garlic and shallots.

Garlic and shallots are ideal for raised bed gardening since they like a fertile, well drained, loamy soil and Mel’s Mix should be ideal. In addition, they are shallow rooted, so the depth of raised beds should not be an issue. There are also opportunities for inter-planting. So for example, instead of allocating a few squares of my beds to quick growing radishes and turnips, I will instead plant them around the shallots and pull them before they interfere with shallot growth, freeing up those squares for something else.

Onions will be planted from plants next spring, but garlic and shallots have to be planted now. I ordered my garlic from Green Mountain Garlic, a small, organic grower in Waterbury, Vermont. I chose two hardneck varieties because they are very hardy and suited for Northeast conditions. German Extra Hardy is a so-called porcelain type with large bulbs containing an average of 6 cloves per bulb (24 cloves in a half pound). Bulbs have paper-white wrappers but the skin on the cloves has some reddish coloring. It is supposed to store well and has a mildly spicy flavor. The other variety I chose is Chesnok Red, a purple stripe variety from the former Russian Republic of Georgia. The bulbs and cloves were slightly smaller than the German Extra Hardy, yielding 45 cloves from a half pound.

Examples of Chesnok Red and German Extra Hardy garlic cloves

The beds were prepared by weeding them and adding a generous amount of compost, then marking the squares.

Prepared garlic bed

The Chesnok Red was planted 9 per square foot, the normal recommended spacing. Given the size of the German Extra Hardy bulbs, I planted it at 6 per square foot. Holes were made with a dibble and the cloves pushed down a couple of inches. The beds were then mulched lightly with chopped straw and watered. I had to get these in now because we are facing a lot of rainy weather in the next few days.

Garlic being planted 9 per square

As a last minute decision, I also chose to try growing shallots. At 7-9 dollars per pound at the markets, shallots can theoretically yield a valuable crop, not to mention the enjoyment from having a nice stash of shallots to call on as needed. Of course, I was late in making this decision so many suppliers were sold out. I found Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia still has a good supply. I ordered the ones labeled “French Red Shallots” and as a plus, they are certified organic. The bulbs I received were very large, compound bulbs. You have to feel under the skin for seams indicating multiple bulbs and break them apart before planting. A pound yielded 21 good sized bulbs ready for planting.

Again, the beds were prepared with compost. Usual spacing is 4 per square foot. The bulbs are planted to a depth of about two thirds the length of the bulb, with the top third sticking out. Shallots do not like to be completely buried and may rot. I planted 4 per square in 5 squares, and selected the largest bulb I received to have its own square. Since they multiply at about a 4-6 ratio, 20 bulbs should give me 90-100 bulbs at harvest, or about 5 pounds of shallots. That’s the theory, we will have to see what actually happens.

. Shallots being planted 4 per square

Here are some good links for information on growing garlic:
Braiding garlic video ( )
Harvesting and curing video ( )

Links for growing shallots:

Monday, October 15, 2012

My First Meyer Lemon

A ripe Meyer lemon

The Meyer lemon tree I bought on impulse this spring spent its summer on the deck. It flowered profusely in the spring and set a lot of fruit. All but five dropped and the biggest of those is now ripe and the rest are starting to ripen. I will have to come up with a good recipe to use my first lemon. Any suggestions? I found the LA Times has an article on “100 things to do with a Meyer Lemon” which is giving me some ideas.

The garden is mostly done except for kale, chard, parsley and some remaining beets which can take the frost we had last week. My wife and son visited the garden the weekend before the frost and harvested what they could. I photographed it but didn’t post it last week. One remarkable find they made was three more of the Summer Dance cucumbers. I have never had cucumbers up to frost before.

I haven’t done a lot of work in the garden the last couple of weeks because I have been recovering from surgery I had the end of September. One advantage of being an “invalid” was I didn’t cook or clean. My daughter was bothered by the stack of zucchini and patty pan squash piling up on the counter, so she decided to work her way through the Victory Garden Cookbook section on summer squash. One of the best was a squash pie made by layering slices of zucchini, tomatoes and cheese in a pastry crust and baking it.

As soon as I can bend comfortably in the middle, I have to clean up the beds and get ready to plant my garlic and shallots. Unfortunately I didn’t plant my spinach and sprouting broccoli seeds, but I may try a few just to see if they germinate and take. You never know what the weather will be. I also hope to pot up a rosemary plant for the winter. Last winter was so mild my rosemary survived into January or February when the really cold weather finally killed it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Harvest Monday–24 September 2012

Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton, Massachusetts

This week was a little different than usual. I did harvest the usual cukes, beans, and zucchini (photos at the end), but the garden is getting close to done. I have to clean up some of the beds to get ready for planting garlic next month. The big event for us happened Sunday when I signed up to pick wine grapes at our local winery, Nashoba Valley Winery, and suckered my wife and daughter into keeping me company.

I had to pay $18 per person for the privilege of working and we had to show up at 9:30 Sunday morning with gloves and shears. Perfectly reasonable. Over coffee and apple cider donuts Rick Pelletier, the owner, explained our task: pick 4-5 tons of grapes in 3 hours. Piece of cake. Our family was assigned to pick Vignoles, a white grape. Rick had hoped to pick it in two weeks when the Brix readings would have been closer to the desired 23 degrees, but the appearance of sour bunch rot required its addition to the day’s assignments. What’s another 2-3 ton of grapes? Besides, it was a gorgeous New England Fall day.

Here we are at the top of the Vignoles vineyard. Rick is explaining what to do and how to pick off or cut out the rotten grapes. Note the Segway with all-terrain tires Rick used to fly around supervising us while we lugged around 30-pound boxes of grapes by hand.

Richard Pelletier, Owner

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Sign of Fall

Wild grapes

Certainly nights are now cooler and the sun is not as strong. The air is drier but also fragrant with the aromas of ripening fruit wafting from the orchards. A surprising aroma is the sweet perfume I encounter when I take a walk along the roads near my house. It is the smell of the ripening wild grapes that grow in the mass of brush along the roads. It drives the bees and the birds wild and explains some of the purple messes I find on the roof of my car this time of year. Another view of the vine shows it towering over and smothering the young sugar maples it is using for support. The South has its kudzu and we have wild grape.

Wild grapes smothering a young sugar maple

The wild grapes that grow in the Northeast are Fox grapes (Vitis labrusca), a native North American species. Martha’s Vineyard was supposedly named for the wild grapes that grow everywhere. The Concord grape everyone knows is a cultivar of the wild grape developed in Concord, Massachusetts in the nineteenth century.The farm stands here all have baskets of Concord grapes for sale now. They are pretty and make good jams and jellies but are not so good for fresh eating. The skins are thick and tart and the seeds are large. One surprisingly good dessert you can make from them is grape pie. The pulp is separated from the skins and cooked in a saucepot, then strained through a coarse sieve to remove the seeds. The pulp is combined with the skins, sweetened and baked in a pastry crust.

On a road trip to Missouri one September a few years ago, I was driving along I-90 in upstate New York. I was running late and hoping to at least make Erie, Pennsylvania for the night. It was already dark as I turned the corner outside Buffalo and was heading south on I-90 along Lake Erie. Suddenly the car filled up with the a sweet perfume that reminded me of the wild grapes along the roads at home. Because of the grading of the highway and the brush growing along the sides, it was hard to see what the source of the aroma was. Eventually there were breaks and in the moonlight, I could see huge vineyards stretching off towards the lake. I later asked a tax client of mine who works at Welch’s if what I saw could be Concord grapes. She confirmed that area is one of their big producers, growing Concord, Niagara, and Catawba grapes for Welch’s.

The name you most often associate with Concord grape jams and juices, of course, is Welch’s. Welch’s is headquartered appropriately right here in Concord, Massachusetts, and the reason it has not been swallowed up by one of the mega food corporations is that it is a co-op. Welch’s is owned by the National Grape Coop, an agricultural co-op of more than a thousand grape producers located in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Canada. For me, Welch’s is one of the few feel-good products you can still buy in the stores, although I don’t use a lot because of the sugar content. These days, I prefer my grapes made into wine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Harvest Monday–10 September 2012

Wild turkeys moving through my back yard

Another sign of Fall: the wild turkeys are getting nice and fat. You can see one of my abandoned raised beds in the picture, slowly being engulfed by the forest in the back. I gave up the fight and got a plot in the community gardens. The picture is fuzzy because the camera was on full optical zoom.
The last of my red onions are now drying in the garage. I don’t know what variety these are, I just bought a pot of seedlings at the farm stand. I think I will plant a lot more onions next year and I already have my garlic on order.

This year I had too much perishable produce (lettuce, chard, beans, etc.) all at once, so I wound up giving away a lot or actually losing it. I might as well plant things I can easily store and reduce the amount of perishable produce to what we can easily consume. Forget freezing. We seem to have a week-long power outage about every year now. All the frantic tree trimming done by the power company and the town doesn't help when the whole tree goes over in a freak October snow storm.

My modest red onion harvest

More beets, Red Ace and Bull’s Blood (with the red leaves).

Red Ace and Bull's Blood beets

Bush beans on the left and Fortex pole beans on the right. The pile on the left was made into stewed beans for the community garden pot luck dinner Sunday night. I didn’t have a Jalapeno so I used three tiny Thai chiles. That lit it up pretty good. Those things are hot! The pole beans are going in to a bowl of South African Green Beans for dinner tonight.

Bush beansFortex pole beans

The two tomatoes lower right are my first Striped Roman tomatoes. In the close up you can sort of see the orange stripes down the tomato. When they are green, the stripes are a darker green than the rest of the tomato, which makes them very attractive even when green.

Today's harvest

Striped Roman tomatoes

To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, out host for Harvest Monday.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Harvest Monday–3 September 2012

It’s definitely getting to be Fall. The days are cooler and the nights are colder.There are other signs around. Late August is when the garlic chives start blooming. The bed below started out as a small clump that I planted from seed and has self-seeded itself into a large bed (reminder to self: I have to remember to deadhead these things this year). The flowers are always a welcome sight, one of the few plants that bloom this time of year. They have a sweet, almost spicy fragrance that drives the bees wild.
Garlic (aka Chinese) chive blossoms

Bee on chive blossoms

Meanwhile, the garden is producing mostly cucumbers and zucchini, some oversized because I got to the garden a day late. The dark, slender cucumbers are Summer Dance. They are interesting in that they just grow longer, not fatter, the longer you leave them on the vine. Some of the ones below are over 10 inches long. They have a small seed cavity and probably would be good for pickles. The shorter, lighter green, cucumbers are Diva.

Jackson Pickling, Diva and Summer Dance cucumbers

Fortex pole beans and Dunja zucchini

Beans, zucchini and cukes

To see what other gardeners around the world harvested from their gardens last week, drop by Daphne’s Dandelions.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Harvest Monday–27 August 2012

Sunday was a beautiful day and we are running out of summer, so we decided to take advantage and take a short trip to Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH. The Museum contains an area of historic houses in the Puddle Dock area of Portsmouth along the Piscataqua River, one dating back to 1690. The entire area was blighted and scheduled to be torn down in the late 1950s as part of the urban renewal craze that spread across the country. Some citizens of the town realized the historic value of the area and were able to preserve a section which became the museum. The houses have been carefully restored and furnished with period furniture. What I found particularly interesting were the gardens surrounding each house. Besides decorative gardens, everyone had a kitchen garden and an herb bed.

Late August isn’t the prime time to be viewing a kitchen garden around here, but I found a few things interesting. First there were okra plants everywhere and it looked like they were just starting to flower. The first ones I encountered were in a vegetable bed alongside the Goodwin mansion. They had spikes of large, pale yellow flowers with dark red centers, very striking. I have read complaints that okra only produces a pod at a time but this one looked like it had set fruit all along the spike below the open flowers.

Okra blossom

Okra was also used frequently as an ornamental. Here is a cluster of okra plants that anchored the center of a circular flower bed in the public gardens across the street from the museum.

Okra blossoms in park

Bees and butterflies were everywhere, including a large flock of Monarchs.


An interesting item we found in  one of the herb gardens was this watering jug. This brown earthenware is of the type that was manufactured in Portsmouth, so I assume this is a reproduction of an original. It has a small opening on top, with the handle positioned so you can easily cover the opening. The bottom is covered with small holes. You use it by setting it in a bucket of water and allow it to fill. By placing your thumb over the top opening, you can lift it out of the bucket and easily carry it to the garden bed for watering.

Filling water jugDispensing water from the jug

Getting back to the purpose of this post, the harvest from the garden was mostly cucumbers and zucchini, with a few volunteer tomatoes and my first red onion. I should be pulling more onions this week or next. I also picked some Fortex pole beans and harvested a head of escarole and one of endive.

IMG_1411Cucumbers, tomatoes and a red onion
Pole beans, zucchini, and broccoliCucumbers and Juliet tomatoes

Escarole and endive

That’s what I was doing last week. If you want to see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Harvest Monday–20 August 2012

Well, it’s definitely summertime and the temperatures have been more seasonable, while the humidity still remains oppressive. I have not worn socks or shoes for days now and don’t plan to anytime soon. We have tomatoes and cucumbers and corn. Life is good.

The Fortex pole beans continue to produce reasonable amounts of beans and are now half way up the trellis.

Fortex beans and Juliet tomatoes

The Dunja zucchini continues to remain healthy and mildew free while my Sunburst and Costata Romanesco are succumbing to SVB, wilt and mildew. Dunja was slow to get going but is now cranking out fruit, which are actually welcome at this point with the other squash seeing their last days. Also a few Diva cucumbers that hid from sight and a Summer Dance on the right.

Dunja zucchini, Diva cukes and a Summer Dance on right

The second planting of escarole is ready to harvest. This head was sautéed in butter and garlic and served with lamb patties for dinner.

Escarole, Costats Romanesco and Dunja zucchini

The cucumbers are now cranking out fruit. Jackson Classic picklers on the left, some Summer Dance, and Diva on the right. I like all these cucumbers and will plant them next year. The tomatoes are Big Rainbow. I knew the big one was there, ready to pick, but got there late. The birds had a field day with it. I cut off the pecked side and served the rest of it anyway. Don’t tell my OCD daughter. We’re still alive to write this post, so it must have been OK.

Cucumbers and Big Rainbow tomatoes

Hope your summertime (or wintertime) is also great. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Mondays.

Lovey’s Brownies

This is not exactly a gardening topic, unless you want to consider chocolate a vegetable (it does come from beans, after all). But I wanted to share this recipe and put it out there for posterity. And the timing is right. Last weekend was the Bolton Fair, a two-day country fair. One of the features of fairs is always the pie and cake contests.Which reminded me, about ten years ago my wife submitted this recipe and won the blue ribbon. She not only won the blue ribbon, she destroyed the competition. It was enjoyable to read the judges’ comments on other entries, trying to console the losers: “this is very good and would be a contender, but this year the competition is unusually strong.” Yeah, right, you just had a taste of the world’s best brownie recipe, there is no competition.

This has been a favorite in our family since we discovered it in the March, 1990 issue of Food and Wine Magazine, a special edition on Chocolate. It was the cover story. And it could not be simpler to make. The brownies are mixed up in the sauce pan or bowl (if you microwave) used to melt the butter and chocolate. The only dishes dirtied are the pan (or bowl), a spatula, and the baking dish.

Be sure not to over bake the brownies. They are supposed to be very moist, not cake like. They develop a nice crust on top with a moist, fudgy center. An alternative serving suggestion is to use a large biscuit cutter to cut out rounds, which can then be topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and maybe a candied violet. Then you (or a young volunteer in the family) get to eat the little pieces in between. The nuts are optional but highly recommended, and I much prefer the pecans if you have them.

Lovey's Brownies
Makes about 2 dozen

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans or ½ cup of each

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan.
2. Melt butter and chocolate in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth; remove from heat. Whisk in sugar and salt, beat in eggs one at a time until mixture is shiny, and then whisk in flour and vanilla. Stir in nuts. Scrape into prepared pan.
3. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in center of oven, until moist crumbs adhere to a cake tester inserted into center and brownies appear slightly crusted on top. Let cool completely in pan on a rack, and then cut into squares.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvest Monday–13 August 2012

Last week’s temperatures were more moderate but the humidity was awful, with dew points in the 70s. The air was so saturated that by the end of the week we started getting thunderstorms and even a tornado warning. When it did rain it poured buckets.The rain was needed but a lot of it just ran off. I didn’t do much in the garden but try to keep the squash and cucumbers picked, but I still got the occasional baseball bat. It was a pretty productive week and included my first beets and Brussels sprouts.

The tomatoes on the left are Black Krim. I had one left but it split badly after the rains. The plants are all dying from late blight so that is it for the Black Krims this year.

Black Krim tomatoes, cukes, and assorted cherry tomatoes

The three cukes on the left below are Summer Dance, which are proving to be very prolific. The tomato on top is my last Cherokee Purple (badly catfaced), which is also dying from the blight. The tomato below it is my first Pineapple.

Harvest assortment

More squash and cukes and my first broccoli from the second planting. The cukes on the right are my first Diva (one sort of got away hiding on the ground under the foliage). Diva is lighter (and thinner) skinned than Summer Dance and is now starting to climb and produce,

Assortment of cukes, squash and broccoli

A neighbor in the garden asked me if I wanted some Brussels sprouts. I said no, I am growing sprouts, but usually don’t harvest any until September. I thought I better check and sure enough, the bottom of the plants were more than ready to harvest. Some were a little over the hill but still will be eaten.

Brussels sprouts and bush beans

I got my first (small) harvest of beets. The beets have just been sitting there and not doing much. I don’t know if they don’t like the weather or what. These are Red Ace. The Bulls Blood are nowhere near ready to harvest but the greens are getting large enough to cut if I decide to go that way.

Beets and chard

I found a use for some of my accumulating Juliet tomatoes. It is summer in New England and that means bluefish, which is cheap and plentiful in the fish markets right now. This is a fish that seems to be limited to the upper Atlantic coast (I think it also is called sablefish in the UK and tailor fish in Australia). It’s not available on the west coast of the US and it does not ship well. Bluefish are a game fish that people love to sport fish because they are so aggressive and fight so hard. They swim in schools and feed voraciously on menhaden, which are very oily, so bluefish themselves are oily. I remember reading a news story of boaters in a marina on the North River south of Boston being startled when the waters of the marina started boiling and turned blood red. It was just some blues chasing a school of menhaden up the river.

Foil-baked bluefish with tomatoes and herbs

Bluefish is strongly flavored and not to everyone’s taste but if prepared properly can be delicious. Above I put the fish on an oiled piece of foil and covered it (you barely see the fish, but its flesh and skin are indeed blue) with lemon slices, onion, and sliced frying peppers and Juliet tomatoes from my garden. I added some fresh herbs from the garden and drizzled white wine and lemon juice on the fish, closed the foil, and baked it at 350F for 30 minutes. Everyone liked it and there was none left. Too bad because it is great left over for breakfast.

More squash and cucumbers. The large tomato below is my first Big Rainbow, a yellow-fleshed tomato with magenta stripes. I have three more of these on the vine so I will have a few more heirloom slicers for salads. It nicely decided not to split from the rain.

Harvest assortment with a Big Rainbow tomato

Finally, on Sunday I remembered I had to cut the basil. The large pile below is a sampling of what I cut. Some is being dried in a paper bag but the rest was turned into pesto. At the bottom are some other herbs; dill weed, used in a batch of pickles; spicy globe or Greek basil; Siam Queen Thai basil, to be used in Monday’s curry; and tarragon for some chicken salad.

Three types of basil, dill and tarragon

The pesto came in handy for pasta for my daughter, who doesn't like lobster (aw, too bad). It was too nasty to cook and for some reason (weather or the economy, I don’t know), lobsters have been ridiculously cheap. The local market had selects on sale for $6.99/pound with free steaming. While my wife was at the Bolton Fair, I stopped by the store and ordered up two of them. One was 2 pounds (obviously that was my lobster) and the other was 1.5 pounds. And they were hard shells, not the usual soft shelled ones you find in the summer. They were served with corn from the local farm stand and a tomato and cucumber salad from my garden. My wife scored a raspberry chocolate tart at the Fair which we had for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (totally blowing my low carb diet, but you only go around once). Pretty good finish to the week, I thought.

To see what other gardeners around the globe are harvesting from their gardens, head to Daphne's Dandelions, our hostess for Harvest Mondays.
Template developed by Confluent Forms LLC