Saturday, December 26, 2015

Punched Potatoes

While planning side dishes for the Christmas Roast Beast, potatoes naturally come up. My wife loves potatoes but I try to avoid them because of the carbs. So the compromise was I would buy a bag of the cute little mini spuds, since I do not grow them. The idea of preparing them as punched potatoes came to mind after recently seeing a recipe on the Internet. If you do grow potatoes, there are always the runts and this is a good way to use them.

Punched potatoes, or Batatas a Murro, is a Portuguese dish that is simple and delicious. I first encountered the idea of punched potatoes while planning a trip to a nearby Portuguese restaurant. We live surrounded by a lot of Portuguese Americans whose ancestors came from the Azores, so there are Portuguese bakeries and Portuguese food items in the stores. But other than the kale soup I make, which is Azorean in origin, I haven’t had a lot of authentic Portuguese cuisine.

So I researched the restaurant menu online and decided I was going to order Polvo à Lagareiro, grilled octopus served over a punched potato. The octopus is boiled for an hour, then tossed in olive oil and grilled over charcoal for a few minutes to char it a little. It is served over a punched potato that was crisped in garlic-infused olive oil, with the extra oil poured over the dish. The octopus was wonderful but the “punched” potato I received was half a huge restaurant-size russet potato, grey and gummy inside. Not the crisp, garlicky potato I was expecting.

Batatas a Murro are not hard to make and what I decided to do for our Christmas dinner. There are plenty of recipes around and there are many variations. What I will provide is simply a concept with some suggestions for variations. The basic idea is you cook (bake or boil, but baked is preferred) some small (golf ball or slightly larger)  potatoes until they are done. Let them cool a bit, then using your fist or the bottom of a glass or mug, slightly smash (“punch”) the potatoes to break their skin and slightly flatten them. Then heat a small frying pan and sauté some garlic in olive oil until the garlic is fragrant and just starts to brown.

The final step is where there are many possible variations. You can:
  • Place the punched potatoes in a serving bowl, drizzle with the hot olive oil and serve.
  • Put the punched potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, brush with the olive oil and bake until slightly browned and crispy. This is what I decided to do, putting them in the oven for the final minutes of the roast. Not a beautiful presentation but tasty.
  • Sauté the potatoes in the pan with the garlic and oil until they are browned and crispy. This is what I expected to get with my octopus but did not get.
  • Or, brush the potatoes with the olive oil and brown them on a gas or charcoal grill. If making the Polvo, you could grill the octopus and potatoes at the same time.

 Hope everyone enjoys their holidays. It is warm and balmy here, not typical for early winter. I am not that upset about it and the oil tank (and my wallet) is happy. But El Niño keeps pumping out winter storms and Goliath is on its way, so we will see. After last year, I can deal with anything.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Making Kimchi


There was nothing new from the garden this week but I used some of the Napa cabbage I harvested last week to make a batch of kimchi/kimchee, the Korean soul food. Kimchi is a fermented product and a good way to preserve some of the garden harvest. The kimchi I made is called mak-kimchi or “easy” kimchi, because it uses chopped cabbage leaves rather than whole cabbages and is simpler and faster to make. Napa cabbage is best to use because it has thinner leaves which will make the fermentation faster. This recipe calls for 2 pounds (1 kg) of cabbage.

In addition to the cabbage, there are a few other ingredients, counterclockwise from upper left:
  • A bunch of scallions, including greens
  • A small leek, including greens
  • A carrot or two
  • A 2 inch piece of fresh ginger
  • A head of garlic, cloves peeled
  • 1/4 cup Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), or more to taste
  • A turnip or daikon radish
  • An apple or Asian pear, peeled and cored
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce or fermented shrimp paste

The first step is to chop and brine the cabbage. Cut through the root end of the cabbage to quarter it, then pull the quarters apart. Each quarter is sliced lengthwise in half, then chopped into 2 inch pieces. Place the chopped cabbage into a glass or earthenware bowl.

Prepare a brine using 3 Tbsp. of sea salt to 6 cups of water. Pour the brine over the cabbage, then place a plate on the cabbage to make sure the cabbage remains submerged. Drape a towel over the bowl and set aside for 3-4 hours. Another method just salts the leaves and leaves them to wilt. The leaves are then rinsed several times to remove excess salt. I used that method last year and found the leaves to be very salty. Mac commented that the brine technique produced a less salty kimchi, so that is what I am trying this year.

While the cabbage is soaking, prepare the other ingredients. The whites of the scallions and leek are cut into 2 inch lengths, then sliced lengthwise into slivers. The greens are sliced diagonally into small pieces. The turnip or daikon is cut into matchsticks, as well as the carrot. Or you can slice the carrot diagonally into thin slices as I did here.

After the cabbage is finished brining, spoon it into a colander using a slotted spoon and squeeze out any liquid. Place the drained cabbage in a bowl and add the diced fresh vegetables and mix thoroughly. Reserve the brine for later use. 

Prepare the pepper paste by putting the ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, fish sauce or shrimp paste, a teaspoon of sea salt and the apple or pear into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add some brine if you need to thin it. The pepper I used is gochugaru, the traditional Korean red pepper flakes. The gochugaru in the bag above from my local Korean grocery was grown in Korea. All the other bags in the store were of Chinese origin and I try to avoid Chinese produce if possible. The Korean pepper was only available in 1 kilo bags, so I probably have a lifetime supply.

Note that the Korean red pepper is flaked, not ground, and is seedless. Supposedly it is less spicy but more flavorful than other peppers such as cayenne. There really is no substitute for it so a search is worthwhile, or you can mail-order it. You certainly could use your own dried pepper flakes if you have them. Results will likely have a different flavor and heat from using gochugaru, but go ahead and experiment.

Spoon some of the the mixed vegetables into a large mixing bowl and add a scoop of pepper paste. Using disposable gloves, work the paste into the cabbage mix with your fingers until the cabbage is well coated. Continue with layers of vegetables and paste, mixing well, until all is done.

Pack the kimchi into quart canning jars, pushing down to compact the kimchi into the jars. Spoon reserved brine into the jars until the top of the kimchi is covered. My batch filled 2 quart jars. Cover the jars with a loosely-fitted plastic cap and set in a dark, cool place for 3-6 days. Taste the kimchi and when it is sour enough, tighten the caps and store in the refrigerator.

There is a lot of onion in this version which I found to be pretty strong initially. That strong onion flavor subsided as the kimchi fermented. I didn’t use a follower in the jars, but they could have used one. The kimchi was tightly packed in the jars and tended to rise as a mass from the gasses of fermentation. I used a spoon daily to push the mass down below the liquid level. After a week, the kimchi is now pleasantly sour and flavors have melded a bit. It is very tasty, not as salty as my previous attempt,  and the the amount of pepper I used adds enough bite without making it painfully hot (your taste may vary).

That’s my offering for Harvest Monday. Head over to Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday,  to see what other gardeners around the world are doing in their gardens.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Harvest Monday 7 December 2015

I took a calculated risk last week when I left my cabbages in the garden and visited my daughter in South Carolina. I figured the cabbages would maintain better in the soil under the row cover than in the refrigerator. It looked like night time temperatures would be above freezing, so I would not have to worry about freeze damage. Of course, one of those pesky Canadian cold fronts descended so temperatures were lower than the 5-day forecast predicted, but the cabbages seemed to do well

These are two heads of Soloist cabbages that I have been nursing, hoping they would head up enough to give me enough to make kimchee. These heads were tied up so the interior has blanched but they have not formed a tight head. That is OK, these will be perfect and the good news is no slugs or earwigs in these. Each head weighs about a pound and a half (.7 kg) and with a smaller head will give me the 2 pounds I need for a small batch of kimchee.

These weird looking objects are two more Solist cabbages that I did not tie up to blanch. The leaves laid flat so the inside leaves are green and not the nice yellow color of the first two cabbages. The proximity to the ground also made it easier for something to munch on the leaves. These heads are about a half pound (.25 kg) each. So one of these and a full head will give me the 2 pounds (.9 kg) I need for a batch of kimchee or kraut. Maybe I will make one of each.

I also salvaged two out of three Joi-choi plants left in the bed. These two have had their leaves munched on but the third was down to stubs. With this harvest, I have nothing left in the garden (except for maybe a couple of small carrots).  I still need to clean up some beds but those might wait for Spring, depending on the weather. With the seed catalogs arriving, it's time to think of Spring.

That is all from my garden this week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tomato Review 2015

The 2015 tomato season was not bad, given the dry summer we had. The dry weather led to some water stress as I could not water the tomatoes every day, but at least there was no late blight, just the usual Septoria spot that happens every year. What was new this year was I tried a soil drench for the tomatoes when setting them out, which also included adding some extra mycorrizhae inoculant.  I did not do a comparison of untreated and untreated plants, but that would not necessarily show anything because of so many other variables. The drench was simple enough that I will do it again and I trust the research done by others.

The other experiment this year was planting several varieties of tomatoes in both the raised bed plot and the in-ground plot. Both variants did well, partly because the plants in raised beds did better this year than last. For example, last year Jaunne Flamme was pathetic, but I tried it again. This year it did very well in both environments, setting multiple large trusses of fruit, with really no significant difference.

As far as the individual varieties of tomatoes, I do have some opinions. For one, I think I will give up on paste tomatoes. I’m tired of the low yield and the BER. This year I wasted eight spots in my garden on Opalka and an unnamed Roma type. I lost most of my Opalkas to BER and the few I harvested had a fairly bland favor. I don’t remember even tasting the Roma. If I had planted another 8 Juliet tomatoes, I would have bushel baskets of fruit and gallons of sauce. The high-speed blender technique of sauce making really changes things, and non-paste tomatoes tend to have superior flavor anyway. Who cares if you have to cook them down a little longer.

Here are my opinions of some of the tomatoes I grew in 2015:

I saw Opalka growing at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens and was intrigued with it. It is a Polish heirloom first obtained by Carolyn Male from a co-worker and submitted to SSE in 1997. Last year I tried growing it but managed to kill all the seedlings. This year I had enough seedlings to plant four and gave several away to gardeners in the community garden. Vines grow very tall, well over a 6 foot stake, and fruit ripens late summer. A lot of people like this variety but my problem was BER. I lost 75% of the fruit to BER so it was pointless to waste the space growing this one. I did slice up some for table use and flavor was OK but nothing special. I will not be growing this again.

This is my second year growing Sunkist, an F1 orange slicer from High Mowing Seeds. This is a great tomato, assuming you are OK with it being orange and not red. Vines are healthy and very stocky. It sets clusters of fruit that ripen to an attractive orange color. Fruit are very meaty with small seed cavities, but still juicy and flavorful. Fruits are almost always perfect, unblemished by cracks or warts., and I have never encountered BER Vines are disease resistant and always one of the last to succumb .A great tomato and one I will plant again next year.

Jaunne Flamme
I tried this one last year after reading about Michelle's experience with it. It was a bomb, unhealthy vines that produced a few fruit and then croaked. This year I gave it another chance and it was great. Vines were healthier and more vigorous and it set large trusses of apricot-colored fruit, about inch and a half (4 cm) in size. Flavor is very tart and fruity, soft and very juicy. This was another tomato that frequently wound up in salads. The vines appeared they were going to repeat their semi-determinate behavior of setting fruit and then croaking, but after a period of time resting they resumed their growth and set new fruit right up to frost. This is a tomato unlike others I have grown and I will likely grow this again next year.

Not much to say about Juliet except what a great tomato. Sort of a large grape/small Roma in shape and size, it is far better than those. When red ripe, flavor is terrific. Split resistant and disease resistant, early to ripen (always one of my first) and keeps producing heavily. Good for salads, sauce, and drying. This one will always be in my garden. One thing I noticed about the Juliet planted in-ground was the production of fruit in the first few feet of the plant. It was staked rather than trellised and seemed to have multiple trusses of fruit produced within a few feet of the ground. It was late season before I was picking fruit more than a few feet off the ground.

Sweet Treats
This is a pink cherry tomato I first saw growing at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston, MA in 2013. The weather that summer was horrid and Sweet Treats was a knockout due to its health and vigor. I decided I wanted to try it but seed was not easily available until last year when Fedco started carrying it. This is an F1 hybrid from Sakata Seeds of Japan and reflects the Japanese preference for pink tomatoes. It is the first pink cherry tomato available and is outstanding.

Vines are tall and vigorous and produce long trusses containing 12-15 tomatoes. Fruit are up to an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and ripen to pink and finally a deep rose color, with a beautiful matte finish. They are gorgeous and when fully ripe taste as good as they look. They have a good, full-size tomato taste, not  the insipid candy sweetness of some cherries. When I wanted a tomato for my salad, this is the one I chose. Fruits are crack-resistant and I had very few split on me. They ripen later than Juliet and Esterina, but once they start producing they keep up right into first frost. The vines are fairly disease resistant. There really is no reason not to grow this one. Check Fedco’s description in this years catalog, which rates it in its top 5 in taste (among cherry types).

Esterina is a yellow cherry I have grown two years now in place of Sungold, a cherry that I love. It is supposed to be more crack resistant than Sungold, which splits horribly after every rain, and it is, early in the season. But by the end of the season, Esterina is as prone to splitting as Sungold. I also think the color and flavor is good but not not quite as good as Sungold. The vines of Esterina seem to be the first to be attacked by Septoria but they still keep producing right up to frost. Esterina has been OK but not great and I am not sure what I will do next year. Maybe I will try Sungold again next year, and maybe I will replace it with something like Fedco’s  Honeydrop, or maybe both.

Chocolate Pear
I have tried growing Chocolate Pear (from Baker Creek) twice, as a replacement for Black Cherry, a tomato I love but can not seem to grow productively. Chocolate Pear is touted as a productive tomato and it is. It is late to ripen  for a small tomato, well into August before you get ripe fruit. It is also highly prone to splitting after a rain, which often renders almost every fruit on the vine useless. Fruits are bountiful but small and taste is not exceptional. The vines have purple stems and also seem prone to browning of the lower foliage. While the vines are still healthy, you look at the brown foliage with dark stems and you think, OMG, late blight! I gave this variety two years but I will not grow it again.

Pruden’s Purple
This is an heirloom beefsteak tomato I bought on impulse when I found out the Rose de Berne I wanted was sold out. I did not expect much but this tomato did well. I lost several of the largest fruit to BER unfortunately, but the vines kept producing. I did not expect much and did not get much, but I was surprised how well this tomato did. That said I will not be growing it next year.

I grew this one because someone offered me a plant. Celebrity is a 1984 AAS winner with a lot of disease resistance. It is a determinate variety but definitely not an early producer. It developed a cluster of fruit that ripened in late summer. The 4-5 fruit I got were OK but I do not plan on growing this one again.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Reedy River, ,Greenville

These are the Falls on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville, viewed from the Liberty bridge. It was T-shirt weather down here while it was a bit frosty up north in my garden. We picked the week of Thanksgiving to visit my daughter in Central, South Carolina. She is working in Greenville and planning to start classes in January at Clemson to finish her degree. Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday and she is definitely a foodie like her dad.

Before the trip, Kate gave me a shopping list for some New England treats she can not find in the South. Apples (Macintosh, Macoun, and Empire), fresh apple cider (including Bolton Orchards’ amazing Golden Russet cider that tastes like an explosion of bananas and apples), maple syrup, and maple sugar candy. I also brought some sugar pumpkins (including Cinnamon Girl) and some winter squash (Autumn Crown and Kikuza, both smaller Long Island Cheese types). Also brought a selection of wines from Nashoba Valley Vineyards, including a couple of bottles of the Vignoles we helped harvest in 2012 and the Apple Cranberry that is popular for Thanksgiving. Threw in a maple Whoopie pie for good measure.

We kept Thanksgiving dinner simple. Kate had to work that day (she is a server at an upscale restaurant in Greenville that had all of three customers all day) and we didn’t want to leave her buried in left overs. So I cooked. We did a turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, home made apple sauce, Brussels sprouts, rolls and pumpkin pie.

On Friday we avoided crowds by driving west, away from the malls in Greenville, to enjoy the mountains. This is a view of Table Rock mountain (with the cliffs, elevation 4100 feet) taken from the lookout on Caesars Head mountain (elevation 3215 feet).

Another view from Caesars Head. On the drive up the mountain, I noticed the forest understory had a lot of rhododendron and mountain laurel, some of which you can see in this photo. Maybe there is some dogwood out there as well. At the right time in the spring when all this is blooming, the mountains must be beautiful.

Turns out the area’s only winery, Victoria Valley, was nearby, so we sat on their terrace for an hour and enjoyed a cheese plate and glass of wine. South Carolina has very few wineries, mostly near the coast. However, North Carolina has lots of wineries, many easily accessible from I-77 on the way home. Unfortunately, traffic Sunday was insane, so stopping was not feasible. We finally had to stop for the night short of our intended layover and make it up on Monday. Regardless of the commute home, we had a good visit with Kate, ate at lots of great Greenville restaurants, and enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner with (most) all the trimmings. Hope you had an equally good week.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Garlic Planting 2015

I finally got the garlic planted on November 6 this year. Given the mild weather, this is certainly not late and maybe a little early. I want the cloves to develop a root system before the ground freezes but I do not want to see any significant foliage growth, to avoid freeze damage during the winter. The beds were prepared with generous amounts of compost, as well as Garden Tone, bone meal, crab meal, kelp meal, and rock dust. I use a chopped straw for a mulch which has worked adequately in the past. Five types of hardneck garlic were planted.

The garlic went in my raised beds with a 6 inch depth, which is plenty for growing garlic. For most of the varieties I used a four per square (foot) spacing, which means they are spaced 6 inches (15 cm.) apart each direction. The Chesnok Red has become a much smaller garlic so I used 5 per square for that garlic. For the five varieties, I planted a total of 19 squares which yields over 89 bulbs. That is more than I can consume/preserve before they go bad, so I try to give some away, particularly to gardeners who may want to try growing garlic. We’re visiting my daughter in two weeks and a bag of garlic is going to be one of the gifts I bring. I hope she is thrilled. Maybe we will make Freddy’s Roast Potatoes.

German Red is a large Rocambole garlic that averages 4-5 cloves per head and is very cold tolerant. I purchased my seed stock last September at the MDI Garlic Festival. It was grown by Goosefoote Farm in Vermont. The harvest this year was very good, with very large heads. Largest was 4 oz. with 4 cloves or an ounce (28 g.) per clove. Goosefoote was at the fair again this year and at least from an eye test, their garlic was much smaller than the year before. Just part of the variability in growing garlic.

German Extra Hardy is another large (3-4 large cloves per head), cold tolerant garlic. It is considered a Porcelain with a white skin but with purplish cloves. Being a Porcelain it is supposed to store well for a hardneck, but I have had the opposite experience. The cloves soften and turn brown on me long before the other varieties. I set aside my seed stock in August when I cleaned up the dried plants. By planting time this year, some of the cloves had already shriveled. I learned my lesson last year and brought along a couple spare bulbs, which I needed to get enough healthy cloves to plant my four squares. I am thinking I probably should purchase some new seed stock to replace my own.

I wanted to try a new garlic this year and decided to look for Phillips at the MDI Garlic Festival. I found some very nice bulbs grown by Salty Dog Farm in Milbridge, Maine. Phillips is named after Phillips, Maine where it was grown around the area and is hard to find outside of  Maine.  It is a Rocambole garlic that was collected by the Scatterseed Project from the farm of Raymond Rowe. His seed stock originally came from a family in Rome, New York, whose ancestors brought it from Italy when they immigrated to work on the Erie Canal. So it has a nice Northeast/Italian history. The heads were good size with 6-7 tan-skinned cloves per head.  Despite being a Rocambole, it is supposed to keep fairly long for a hardneck, which is certainly admirable if true.

Duganski (originally from Kazakhstan) was new last year, from seed stock purchased from Territorial. It did very well for me this year and produced some beautiful bulbs. It is considered a Purple Stripe and you can see the beautiful purple cloves inside the white skin of the head. My heads and the seed stock I bought last year has a white outer wrapper, not the purple striped skins shown in catalogs. The cloves are long and slender and taper to a very sharp tip, which makes it harder for dunces like me to plant the basal end up. And it is supposed to last a long time in storage, which is a plus. We will see.

OK, I was going to replace the Chesnok Red with the Phillips seed stock I bought, but a funny thing happened on the way to the garden. I can not find the Spanish Roja garlic. No idea where I put it. This year I left it in the garden too long and did a poor job of drying it, so maybe I tossed it all in the compost in a fit of disgust. So Chesnok Red gets a reprieve, which is alright since it is a great garlic. Since the cloves are so small, these were planted 5 per square, but only 3 squares were planted. Chesnok Red is another Purple Stripe from the Republic of Georgia and you can see the beautiful color. It is also supposed to be one of the best cooking garlics and also stores well.

The reason I was going to pass over planting Chesnok Red this year was the fact that the heads seem to be getting smaller each year, rather than larger. The theory is that you select the largest and finest heads each year for your seed garlic. You are practicing selection and eventually your garlic is optimally adapted to your soil and climate and will produce humongous, astounding results. It has not quite worked out that way. The Chesnok Red is smaller, the German Extra Hardy does not keep well, the Spanish Roja is not as large. Apparently I am not alone.

While searching for descriptions of my garlic among web sites of various seed garlic growers, I encountered, one after another, descriptions by small growers describing puzzling changes in the character of their garlic. The big suppliers will have their usual boilerplate descriptions, but many of the smaller growers like to describe what happened on the farm this year and supply a personalized description of their garlic. Many are reporting that their garlic stock is changing. Color, size, clove count, whatever. It struck me because I have never seen that pointed out by growers but have noticed it in my own garlic.

So the garlic is safely in the ground. Just a little more clean up and then I can concentrate on the seed catalogs that are starting to arrive! We’re on to 2016.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Harvest Monday 9 November 2015

We had another beautiful fall week to do some cleanup and plant the garlic.  I also pulled some of the larger carrots. These I think are Yaya and Cosmic Purple. This is about the best result I have gotten from carrots in years. The usual problem is poor or no germination. The soil in the raised beds dries out quickly at the surface, even with mulching,  and I can not be there to water twice a day. This time I put the seeds down an inch and that seemed to help the germination. In addition, the carrots grew under soil cover so there were no green shoulders. I did this after noticing my neighbor sprinkling a packet of carrot seeds in a trench a couple of inches deep. Given the tiny size of carrot seed, you would think that would not work but they got good germination. Of course they had a lot of thinning to do.

The turnip I am optimistically saving for the batch of kimchee I hope to make from my Soloist cabbages. The cabbages are still looking good and starting to size up nicely. I hope we can avoid another freeze for a week or two. The forecast for the next four days is looking good. The freeze we did have seems have to have killed a lot of the pests. No white butterflies any more.

That’s all that happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Dave’s Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Harvest Monday 2 November 2015

Leeks and Pac Choi

I have been avoiding  the garden for a few weeks since there is little left except the chore of cleaning it up for the season. I am hoping to get that done this week and my garlic planted.  I visited last week and harvested a few things that survived the hard freeze we had October 19th. I pulled the last of the leeks. These were from leek plants I purchased as actual leek plants, not from misidentified plants from Dixondale. As such, they benefited from being planted deeply in holes so there is more blanched white bulb then the shallowly planted ones from Dixondale.

I also have a bed of kohlrabi, choi and Napa cabbage that was covered with row cover. Those did nicely except for the kohlrabi. Apparently kohlrabi is only moderately cold resistant and you can see the one pitiful survivor in the picture. The choi and cabbage did fine under cover and I harvested one of the Joi Choi heads for a stir fry. The Soloist cabbages are getting a nice size so I tied them up to blanch the centers. I am hoping for another week or two of decent weather for them to get a little bigger. I have a batch of kimchee planned for them. The ones I harvested this summer were so infested with slugs and earwigs I tossed them in the compost.

The carrots I planted in August in another bed are surviving as well but I am not sure they will get to harvest-able size in the few weeks we have left before solid freeze. I picked a few of the larger ones to try but the wind was blowing so hard I somehow lost them from the bag. We get some wild winds in the winter so I have to get the plastic mulch and row cover removed and stowed away soon.

My brassica bed with the kale and sprouts did not fare very well. The caterpillars have had a field day and pretty much destroyed everything. I may be able to get a few leaves of kale from the whole bed this week. The Brussels sprouts are a failure again. They have just tiny, pea-sized sprouts which will not size up in time. Like Susie I think I am done wasting space and effort on sprouts and will just buy them from the local farm stands. My wife hates them anyway.

That’s what happened (or not) in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, visit Dave’s Our Happy Acres, our host for Harvest Monday.

Note: posted late because LiveWriter has decided to be cranky, so this was manually done with the Blogger editor.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Harvest Monday 28 September 2015

The dry weather continues and the nights are now colder, with night temperatures dropping into the 40s. We have had plenty of sunshine but the sun is dropping lower in the sky and some of the garden is now being shaded by the trees. The warm weather plants like the tomatoes are not happy, but the brassicas are liking it. And for some reason the lettuce in the container has decided to bolt now that cool weather has returned.




The tomatoes are spent, with just some cherry tomatoes and a few paste tomatoes left.




We are getting into cool Fall days and my interest in the kale crop has returned. The batch above was destined for a kale, sausage and white bean dish. The Crystal Apple cucumbers were slow to get going but are still producing a lot of fruit, which is welcome.




The Tronchuda Beira went into a pot of Portuguese kale soup. The version I make from the Victory Garden Cookbook turns out to be an Azorean recipe. Not surprising because most of the Portuguese communities around here immigrated from the Azores.  I tried the mainland Caldo Verde this year but found it boring in comparison to the hearty Azorean version. There are lots of recipes for it on the Internet (here is one:  I used kale, tomatoes, garlic, and onions from my garden. I may have to try growing some dried beans so I can use them in the soup. This dish is tasty, good leftover, freezes well, and can be made vegetarian by leaving out the sausage.


That is what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Allium Harvest 2015

It was a mixed year in my garden for onions and garlic. One thing new this year was I ordered some of the onion plants from Dixondale Farms, rather than starting them myself from seed. Good thing, given my success starting the shallots from seed last spring. The lack of successful plants led to the small shallot count this year. The other factor was the weather. It was a hot (but not damn hot) and very dry summer. We have gone for 6 week stretches with hardly measurable rain. This is New England, not southern California or the high dessert. But the humidity was sky high, which caused problems with fungus in  the garden and when it came time to dry the harvest. Given the conditions I had a good harvest and am mostly satisfied with the results.


Storage Onions


Total Wt.

No. Bulbs

Avg. Wt.


Ambition Shallots

37 oz.


1.85 oz.

3.2 oz.


200 oz.


3.7 oz.

6 oz.

Red Zeppelin

76 oz.


3.125 oz.

4.7 oz.





This year I grew Ambition seed shallots because my favorite, Saffron, has apparently been discontinued. In looking for an alternative, I chose Ambition because I did not want a huge shallot, but one with long storage potential. I still have a few small Saffron shallots I found cleaning out the storage bin and they are still hard. Ambition did OK. The plants were slow in getting established and growing but towards the end of the growing season they put on a lot of foliage and sized up nicely. Too bad I only got twenty but I will enjoy them this winter.


Last year the Saffron shallots produced 37 bulbs weighing 45 ounces, averaging 1.2 ounces per bulb with largest being 2.5 ounces.




The Copra onions grown from Dixondale starts were quite successful, over 12 pounds from 10 square feet. The plants were healthy (almost no thrip or fungus damage) and most bulbs are perfect. I am very happy with them. Last year I grew Patterson from seed and harvested a little over 4 pounds from 6 squares, so big improvement this year.




The Red Zeppelin onions were less successful. The bundle of plants from Dixondale contained half very large plants and the rest tiny, spindly plants. That was OK because I allocated less space to the red onions (I use fewer). Unfortunately, a lot of the large starts failed to break dormancy and just rotted, reducing the yield. These onions later were somewhat afflicted by onion thrips and I failed to spray. At least no purple blotch appeared this year. Last year I grew Red Wing and 5 squares yielded only 20 onions weighing 58 ounces.




Unfortunately, a lot of the Zeps looked like this. I had some of this last year with the Red Wing onions, but not nearly as bad so I did not worry about it.



You can see some lesions and the outer layers of the onion have split. I have no idea what causes this.  I find nothing similar in any of the onion pest and disease guides. Any ideas?


Other Onions

 The trouble with ordering from Dixondale is the more you buy, the cheaper (per bundle) it gets. So I wound up with 4 bundles of onions containing 6 different varieties of onions.




The past couple of years I have started some Rossa Lunga di Tropea onions from seed. I usually tuck them here and there in odd corners and just pull them when I want a fresh onion. I was surprised that Dixondale offered them, so I added a bundle to the order. Of course I wound up with far more plants than I usually use, so I allocated 6 square feet to them and wound up with this nice pile. They are not great keepers, so this pile is where I am going right now for onions.




The other bundle I purchased was a mixed bundle of three different intermediate day onions: Candy, Red Candy, and Super Star. I pulled a number of them as they formed bulbs, so this pile does not represent the total harvest. The Red Candy were the best performers, forming nice attractive bulbs with no disease issues. The bundle contained few of the yellow-skinned Candy onions and they did not grow well at all. The third onion was Super Star (actually half of them were leek plants) and they seemed to do well. Unfortunately, they did not dry well and I tossed most of them because they had stem rot. The two white onions above are the only survivors from the harvest. I did not bother to weigh these onions. The only onion I would consider growing again is the Red Candy.




  Total Wt. No. Bulbs Avg. Wt. Largest Bulb
Duganski 26 ox. 16 1.6 oz. 2 oz.
Chesnok Red 15 oz. 15 1 oz. 1.3 oz.
Spanish Roja 29 oz. 21 1.4 oz. 2.6 oz.
German X Hardy 20 oz. 17 1.2 oz. 1.8 oz.
German Red 35 oz. 16 2.8 oz. 4 oz.




German Extra Hardy is one of the first garlics I grew and is a reliable producer every year, although yield seems to be dropping. The first year I got 32 ounces from 4 squares, last year was 18 ounces, and this year I got 20 ounces. I selected some nice sized heads for seed garlic so hopefully next year is better.


This photo shows a trick I picked up from someone. While weighing the garlic I select the heads I am going to save for seed garlic for the fall. Those heads are labeled with a fine Sharpie to identify them and make sure they don’t get selected for dinner.




This is an example of what not to do with your garlic. The Spanish Roja, normally one of my best garlics, was in a separate bed from the rest and was not quite ready when I dug the other bed. Unfortunately, I forgot about them and harvested them too late. The result was a lot of the bulbs were opening up. In addition, they dried very poorly and as you can see, have a lot of mold I could not get off. I am going to break out a recipe like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic to use these up since they will not keep. In fact. some of the heads are already bad and had to be tossed.


Last year I harvested 33 bulbs from 6 squares weighing 48 ounces, largest one was 2 ounces. This year I got 21 bulbs weighing 29 ounces, with largest bulb at 2.6 ounces. Last year some of the bulbs also did not clean up well and looked a lot like the picture above, so it has a bit to do with the variety.




I like Chesnok Red but it is not performing well in my garden.. This year I got 15 bulbs weighing a grand total of 15 ounces from 4 squares planted 4 per square. Last year I harvested 27 ounces from 4 squares planted  4 per square, which was also down from the year before. I am thinking of replacing this garlic with a different variety next year. However, reading descriptions on some garlic farm websites, it seems Chesnok Red typically produces smaller heads, and they point out the smaller garlics keep better than the larger. Not sure what I will do.




Duganski is new this year, with seed garlic purchased from Territorial. I was not happy with the bulbs I got from Territorial because they were harvested late, just like my Spanish Roja above, and were coming apart. The cloves germinated just fine and I got a nice harvest, with bulbs being dug at the appropriate time. This was my second largest garlic, coming in behind German Red.


German Red garlic


The German Red garlic did really well. It had the tallest foliage with the thickest stems, which promised big bulbs. That is exactly what it produced, very large bulbs with 4, sometimes 5 cloves. The largest bulb weighed 4 ounces (1 ounce per clove) and the average weight was 2.4 ounces. This garlic was new to me this year. I purchased bulbs at the MDI Garlic Festival last September from Goosefoote Farm of Vermont. They had the same garlic this year and it seemed (eyeball test only) their heads were smaller than last year and smaller than my harvest this year.


I visited the Mount Desert Island Garlic Festival again this year and intended to look for a garlic to replace Chesnok Red. There are so many great varieties, so it is a tough decision. I decided to look for some Phillips (also spelled Philips) garlic and purchased some nice heads from Salty Dog Farm of Milbridge, Maine. Phillips is a Rocambole hard neck variety acquired from a farm in Phillips, Maine by the Scatterseed Project. The farm owner, Raymond Rowe, got his original seed stock from a man in Rome, New York whose parents brought it from Italy when they immigrated to work on the Erie Canal. Besides the local origins and nifty history, this garlic is also supposed to be hardy and a relatively long keeper among Rocamboles. We will see.


While looking for Maine-based sources of the Phillips garlic, I ran across the useful web site of True North Farms in Montville, Maine. They are a large organic garlic grower and can sell seed garlic in large quantities to other garlic growers. Their web site has a lot of useful information for both commercial growers and home gardeners. On the Background tab of their site they show their cultivation practices, which involves a 3-year crop rotation with an elaborate sequence of ground cover crops. The Planting tab has detailed instructions for home gardens (including raised beds) and their recommended process for commercial growers.


Their commercial process was interesting and I learned a few things. Besides their extensive sequence of cover crops, they use certain amendments when planting and during the growing season. These include fish emulsion, humic acid and some of the Quantum Growth products. These are initially applied as a drench and then are sprayed on bi-weekly. The Quantum Growth products supply microorganisms (Rhodopsuedomonas palustris) that are capable of photosyntheis as well as other bacteria (Bacillus amyloliquefacien, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus licheniformis, and Bacillus megaterium) that protect the plants from disease. In addition, they spray bi-weekly with Procidic, an organic bactericide and fungicide, something I need to start doing. At harvest, they spray an OMRI-approved sodium bicarbonate solution the day before they harvest to tamp down any mildew spores. Overall, an interesting process that might have some application to home gardens.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Harvest Monday 21 September 2015



We spent last week on Mount Desert Island in Maine, where we rented a cabin on the shores of Somes Sound, so I missed last week’s post (but I did not miss the garden and the weeds awaiting me). One of the tasks before we left was a quick pass through the garden, which resulted in the basket of cherry tomatoes above, to be added to the bowls already on the kitchen counter. Some  of these went along with us for salads. To clear the counters, the rest were turned into sauce, using Michelle’s Lazy Baked Tomato Sauce. It smelled wonderful but it all went into the freezer for now.




A few more things were picked from the garden. The larger tomatoes were used with tomatoes from the counter  in a batch of gazpacho that served as dinner, with leftovers taken along for lunches. With the beans essentially dead, it was surprising to find a few more beans that were not affected by disease. I also got my first Amarylla tomatillos, a yellow tomatillo from, surprisingly, Poland. It was bred to grow in cooler climates. Also pictured is the first Arroz con Pollo pepper, a spice pepper that is new to me this year. It ripens to yellow.




The peppers of Arroz con Pollo are small and grow upright at the top of the plant. The plants are looking very stressed from the drought. Fortunately it rained the weekend we left, so hopefully they recover because I want a few more of these peppers.




I did no gardening last week, just hiking, sightseeing and lots of eating. But I did get to the MDI Garlic Festival. It is a small event compared to other garlic festivals, but it was fun. I scored a few things at the festival. I found the Phillips garlic I wanted to try. These heads were purchased from the Salty Dog Farm of Milbridge, Maine. They grow beautiful garlic. The sea salt in the middle came from the Eggemoggin Salt Works in Deer Isle, Maine. A very potent salt that is going to be saved for seasoning and not brining. Not pictured  were the goat cheeses we purchased from Sunset Acres Farm & Dairy, a piece of Sea Smoke and a small wheel of the cultured Camembert-like cheese. We bought a baguette on the way home and the cheese was the star of a wine and cheese party on the porch while we watched the lobster boats do their evening rounds on the Sound.


Did I mention lobster? Part of the plan for the week was to eat a lot of lobster and crab. The best experience was probably the lobster stew at Jordan Pond House in the park. The lobster stew is a signature dish at this restaurant on the shores of Jordan Pond, along with its popovers, strawberry jam, and afternoon teas on the lawn. I have had many great dishes here but have avoided the lobster stew. I am not cheap, just value conscious. Paying $22 for a bowl of soup and a popover does not seem a great value, but this year I did it!


My vision of a lobster stew was a few pieces of lobster in a milky broth. The bowl I received would be considered a cup at some restaurants, and was actually dwarfed by the popover I chose (it was a good day for popovers, which are finicky beasts even for the pros). I tried the first spoonful of the broth and could not believe the flavor that was concentrated in that one spoonful. My wife had the same reaction. It was creamy and buttery and intensely flavored of lobster and the sea. There are lots of attempts to duplicate the recipe, and I am going to try to find one that approximates it. If you get a chance to eat at Jordan Pond House, the lobster stew is something you have to try.


We are back and the weeds in the garden are still calling my name, but I am ignoring them for now. Meanwhile, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions with me, our host for Harvest Monday, to see what is growing in other gardens around the world.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Harvest Monday 7 September 2015



The week started off hot but fortunately moderated later in the week. The drought continues with no significant rain the last month. Thursday I watched the Pats pre-season game in Foxborough, about 40 miles south and east of here. It started raining during the game, a nice soaking rain, but here we got a couple of rumbles of thunder but not a drop of rain. All of the shrubs and plants around here are showing signs of stress. My lawn is a dustbowl and the crab grass needs mowing, but it is too dusty to mow.




I picked an assortment of cucumbers and peppers. The white cukes are the first Crystal Apple cukes, which always seem to start late but then are pretty productive. Those vines are looking very good despite the dry weather. And a plus is their simple oval shape is hard to distort, unlike the other cucumbers. The brown cuke is a Poona Kheera.


The lack of pickling cucumbers has been frustrating, so I bought some nice, crisp picklers from the organic farm stand up the road and made two quarts of fermented dill pickles. I used grape leaves from the wild grapes that have invaded my herb garden. First time I made this type of pickle and I am amazed at how good they taste. I may buy some more and see if I can make some half-sours by letting them ferment for a shorter time. I will not have grape leaves to use because the vines are now dead from the drought, so I may substitute an oak leaf or use a tea bag.




I cleaned out one of the beds that had the now-dead pickling cucumbers and the beets. These are the last of the beets that were too small to harvest earlier. I also found a few small cucumbers among the weeds, shown above.




Picked some more paste tomatoes and a bag of cherry tomatoes I did not photograph. The counter was getting crowded so I finally made a batch of blender tomato sauce. I used my Ninja Ultima (I’m too cheap to buy a Vitamix) and it made quick work of it. It takes just a few seconds to turn the tomatoes, skin and all, into a puree. After cooking it down to thicken it a bit, I put it into containers and froze it. Had to clear out some tomato sauce from two years ago to make room for it. Hopefully this sauce will not have the same fate, but things tend to go into my freezer to die.




I was planning on saving the leeks for the fall, but it has been so dry the leeks are not happy. I harvested these leeks from the onion bed. They were supposed to be Super Star onions, so they did not get planted deeply, just the 1 inch depth I used for onion seedlings.




After being cleaned up they looked like this. Lots of green, not a lot of white, but I think they will be OK.




I mentioned to Daphne I have a neighbor who trellises his melons (I think these are melons, could be some kind of squash). Here are a couple photos of his vines. Above you can see one melon near the ground, supported by a stack of rocks. On the left is another one supported in a plastic grocery bag tied to the trellis. You can also see his vines drooping from the heat and drought.




Here is another melon/squash sitting on an inverted plastic flower pot. The white on the leaves is not PM, just lighting from the strong midday sun. It was 90+ that day.


That is what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday. I will not have a post next Monday because we will be camping in Maine on Mount Desert Island and attending the MDI Garlic Festival. One of the farm exhibitors will be Four Seasons Farm, the farm owned by Barbara Damrosch and Elliot Coleman.

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