Gray Skies Are Gonna Clear Up?

So after having a truly successful time in the garden last weekend, this past weekend was…well…a little less so. It wasn’t a complete letdown — we did enjoy some Memorial Day festivities, and we got out in the garden to finish transplanting our tomato and pepper seedlings, but it was cool and gray overall. And rainy. Pretty darn rainy, in fact, late Sunday into Monday (Memorial Day), which we didn’t expect. And unfortunately all this took its toll on the new seedlings, especially the peppers. Despite the fact that we did everything we could to harden them off properly, the pepper remained especially fragile. Not all of them succumbed to the rain, but many of them did. The same went for a handful of the tomato seedlings, but most of them seemed to survive okay. If anything, they remain susceptible to being dug up by birds and squirrels, but that’s our fault. We haven’t been as diligent with using netting as we have been in the past. It’s actually proven to be more of a headache than anything.

Anyway, we still have a few seedlings left in their trays, so we’ll likely be putting them out this coming weekend to take the places of anything that died. Additionally, we still have to seed out flower beds in the front yard and generally plant flowers wherever there are free spots. (Flowers are this year’s critter-keep-away experiment!) On watch right now are the strawberries, which are now starting to ripen…and they’re getting noticed by the squirrels. And slugs. Yuck. Yeah, the wet weather really hasn’t helped with the slugs. It looks like things are going to clear up and warm up over the week, so fingers crossed that we’re able to start strawberry picking soon!

Besides waiting to see if all our new plantings take, we’ve been enjoying what’s becoming a very decent crop of green and lettuces!

Two of our raised beds hold a luscious variety of leafy things, including what we most recently harvested: a mix of mesclun greens, baby arugula, a few leaves of a red spinach (can recall the variety at the moment…), and baby leaves from two of our new leaf lettuces: Green Ice and Red Vulcan. The mesclun mixes are really potent. Not sure of the exact varieties they contain, but mustard green are certainly one of them. Together with the peppery arugula, they’ll set your soaring into spiciness! Thankfully, the leaf lettuces are buttery and mild, and the spinach is nice and earthy. All together, the spinach and mild lettuces and spicy greens, tossed with just a hint of a sweet balsamic vinaigrette, form a beautiful and very tasty salad. This most recent harvest only formed enough for a couple side salads, but soon we should have enough to start making main-dish salads. Really looking forward to that!

Harvests and Harvesting

As August is now in full swing, it’s nigh about time that we start making some significant harvests, yes? Yes! We’ve been gathering things here and there for awhile now, but this past weekend, we got outside with our baskets, ready to pick, cut, and pull. With the way this season has gone, the haul we ended up with was what we expected, but it was nothing compared to previous years. (Like last year when we were swimming in tomatoes!) Still, it’s more than enough to keep our plates full for awhile. 🙂 So, here’s a small gallery presentation of everything that recent came out of the yard.


First up, we have arugula and mixed greens, though the picture below shows only arugula. Though we don’t have many plots of greens left, the ones that have survived have been very prolific. This particular arugula, Wild Rocket, has survived well beyond the normal arugula that came up early and quickly went to seed. It has the most amazing flavor! Well, amazing if you like strong, peppery greens, which we do. It’s really fantastic when combined with some of our more mild, bitter greens.

026wildrocketarugula


Then, how’s about some basil? We’ve been picking this for a couple weeks now. On the right is the smaller Greek Dwarf basil — it’s super aromatic and licorice-y. On the left is the traditional Genovese basil — just so delicious. We dried both batches (along with some we had previously picked), and the kitchen smelled wonderful during the process!

026basil


Then, we have beans…lots of beans! Here we have some regular green beans (bottom), then two varieties of purple beans (the larger Teepee variety in the left and the smaller Velour variety in the middle), and then some plump Rattlesnake pole beans. All of these we’ve tried steamed and roasted, and they are all delicious!

026beans


We haven’t got as many shelling bush beans as we had hoped. On the left below are Zuni Golds, and on the right is a small pile of Pinto beans and an even smaller pile of Jacob’s Cattle beans.

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Then, holy moly, how about the zucchini! As we’ve said before, all these zucchini are volunteers. We’re happy to have them but, unfortunately, none of the varieties we actually planted (like the Pattypan, Long Pie Pumpkin, and Lakota squashes that we were really hoping for) have produced. We’ll have to consider this when planting next year.

026zuchinni


Here we have a small assortment of some of the other things we gotten: cucumbers, cayenne and hot peppers, bush beans (prior to shelling), ground cherries, and peppers. Those peppers, by the way, came from our over-wintered plants. Good thing too considering none of our pepper seedlings survived.

026moreassortment


And finally, a further assortment of goodies. Here you’ll see that we got our first handful of Garden Huckleberries. We’ll see if we get enough to make a single jar of jam! Then we picked our first few tomatoes. That’s a bit sad as, while many of the plants are doing well, very few have any tomatoes on them. There still hope that well get some next month, and maybe even into October. We’ll just have to wait and see.

026assorted


So that’s going to do it for the harvests. Not to shabby, all things considered! Next week, well be back with some demonstrations of what we’re doing with some of these wonderful veggies.

The Year’s First Harvests!

Despite everything that’s happened, or not happened in the garden this year, we’ve managed to get a few successful harvests over the past weekend. And now that the weather has evened out some, things are looking better and better, even just since our last post. Only a week out, and we already have beans, squash, and cucumbers coming in. We’ve also finally put out some tomato seedlings, though we have a bunch of “reserves” just in case. And, as we said, we’ve been harvesting!

So first up, June means strawberries, right? Well, in our neck of the woods it does, and boy, do we have strawberries!

018strawberries

It may not look like much, and we’ve picked many more since taking this picture, but it’s taken us a good three years to get a decent strawberry harvest! Now, we even have a small surplus!  (That’s dwindling, y’know, because strawberries are darn tasty!) On the downside, we’ve noticed an uptick in slugs this year, which stinks for the strawberries. Between them and the critters, we’ve already lost a good handful, and a few more tend to go each day. But we’re doing what we can to remain vigilant, even if it means having to pick the strawberries a little early and then have them ripen indoors.

Moving on, not long ago we mentioned that it looked like our radishes were doing pretty good. Indeed, in order to make room for the ground cherries and huckleberries that we planted in the same planters, we had to harvest all the radishes. While many were just stalks (we really have to better abut thinning out our plants! Or, maybe, not planting a many seeds.), many were not!

018radishes

We came away with a good several dozen mixed Saxa II (red-pink), Hailstone (white), and Malaga (purple). We didn’t get a single Round Black Spanish radish, and we’ll keep that in mind next year. Our radishes never get very large or long, so we’ll probably stick with round, small varieties in the future. Anyway, we’re we’re looking into pickling this bunch in order to help them keep awhile longer. We like radishes well enough, but it’s not like we go through them like candy! Though generally mild going in, all these radishes leave a hefty aftertaste. You definitely  know you’ve had a radish after eating one!

And finally, we picked a lovely mix of greens and lettuces.

018greens

We mentioned awhile back that rabbits had somehow gotten into our peas. We’ll, we soon discovered that they had also made their ways into the lettuce and greens raised beds. Ugh. (This year the rabbits got smart and chewed through our net cages. Stupid smart rabbits.) After investing in some Liquid Fence, we’ve had a better time keeping the greens and such going. So in this harvest was arugula, New Fire Red Lettuce, Garnet Rose lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce, and Rocky Top mixed lettuce. It made for an utterly delicious salad! From the looks of things outside, we’ll certainly have more greens to come — as long as the rabbits stay far, far away, that is!


So we’ll round things out here with a quick update on our grass “trenches.”

017stonebed2

If you recall from our last post, our intention with this experiment was to try to keep the areas around our squash and melon (and pole bean) hills relatively moist and free from weeds. Well, we can happily report that, after surviving through a particularly strong storm this past weekend, the trenches are holding! They are keeping the soil right around the hills from getting too dry, and they’ve really helped kept down the weeds in the bed generally. And as the seedlings have come up, they’re also free from pests and mold. Whether or not this is a result of the grass circles remains to be seen, but we’re very pleased with the results so far.

 

Harvesting, Making, Preserving

It’s weird every year reaching August, because usually around the beginning of the month, the garden hits a point of no return. The plants themselves slowly begin to fade while the fruit and vegetables speedily ripen in the hot sun. We’re now watering every other day and harvesting at the same rate, and the bowlfuls of produce simply don’t stop! This is also the time of year when we turn our sights towards canning. We can only eat so much stuff in one sitting, after all! So with way too many tomatoes and cucumbers coming in last week…

And this is just ONE tray!
And this is just ONE tray!
Three beauties out of more than a dozen.
Three beauties out of more than a dozen.

…we set about doing this…

Tomatoes ready for the winter.
Fresh tomatoes ready for the winter.

…and this…

Mmmm...pickles! Going to be hard waiting a month to try them!
Mmmm…loads of bread and butter pickles! Going to be hard waiting a month to try them.

…and this.

We put our dehydrator into overtime.
We put our dehydrator into overtime for these dried tomatoes.

Plus, we made and froze a bunch of tomato sauce, ate everything zucchini that we possibly could (there are still more to harvest!), and have started saving pepper recipes. We may try freezing peppers this year if we get enough. So far, though, we’ve been using our many peppers regularly (those are green Jimmy Nardello peppers off to the left in the first picture above) so there many not be any leftover! We also had a fair number of tomatillos on hand.

024tomatillos
For some reason, we thought we got a purple variety. but these are definitely green.

We aren’t at all versed in tomatillos, so to us, these tasted very unusual – almost like apples — sweet, bright, and a little savory. So we turned them into salsa with some peppers, onions, and tomatoes. It was really delicious, though it had a very “green” flavor that was a little off-putting. We figured that was just the tomatillos. Those left on the stem too long turned yellow and were a bit more bitter. Still, it’s great that we got any this year to try!

In addition to harvesting, making fresh food, and preserving stuff, we’ve also started the annual ritual of seed saving. This has been easiest with the beans and peas, but we’ve also got some tomato and cucumber seeds stashed away, as well as plenty of pepper seeds.

024beans
Here we have a sampling of what we’re aiming to save. Ignoring the peach pits (maybe we’ll start a fruit tree?), at top left and going counterclockwise: garden peas, Jacob’s Cattle beans, a few ground cherries, Purple Teepee beans to be shelled, soybeans, Christmas Lima beans, and a few wax beans.

The more seeds we save, the better off the garden will be in the years to come. Plus, it’s way cheaper than buying new seeds every year! (Though, of course, there will always be new varieties to try.) Well that’s all for now. Once again, it’s really hard to believe we’re headlong into August already. This year has certainly blown by.

Notes from the Tomato Jungle

Well, we knew that we would be in for a lot of tomatoes this year, and boy oh boy, we were not wrong!

This photo had to be taken from an elevated position just to get everything in the shot!
This photo had to be taken from an elevated position just to get everything in the shot!

In a matter of just a couple weeks, we went from getting a few tomatoes a week to a healthy bowlful every day! We collected the haul picture above in less than a week. It’s bananas! Err…tomatoes. But still, bananas!

Not all of the tomatoes you see there came out of the “tomato jungle,” (i.e. one garden bed that was seeded and taken over by tomatoes from last year) but the vast majority have, and every day we harvest more and more. Concerning the mystery tomatoes, well, we have our best guesses as to possible hybrids, but we can say exactly what crossed with what to make what we’re eating today. Oh, and by the way, these tomatoes are utterly delicious! Every one that we’ve eaten, from raw to roasted, have been winners. It’s going to be terrible going back to “store” tomatoes over the winter. (Though we might no have to do that if we preserve right. We’ve got some upcoming and early canning plans, so fingers crossed!)

After going through the selection that we have, we identified the several listed below.

First off, we have some lovely Marmandes. We got these a little early, and they’ve been ripening very nicely. They should go further into a deep, rich red soon. (Though we may not be able to wait that long!) They taste very tomato-y, tart and a little acidic.

022marmande

Next, we snagged some Yellow Gooseberry tomatoes (and lots more are on their way to ripening). We should have put something in this picture to help with scale, but these are much bigger than the tomatoes of the same variety we got last year. They are supposed to be cherry tomatoes, but they’re probably double in size of what you’d think of as an average-sized cherry tomato. These are not as sweet as the smaller tomatoes we got last year, but they are still very delicious, especially when roasted.

022yellowgooseberry

But speaking of sweet, the Sun Sugar Hybrid cherry tomatoes have got that covered! Though it’s a little hard to tell in the picture, these turn an amazing shade of gold when fully ripe (unlike the Yellow Gooseberries that turn bright, bright yellow). They are small, sweet, and are absolutely perfect on a salad of bitter greens.

022sunsugarhybrid

We also hastily picked a few unripe Indigo Blue Berries, only to find a little something unique in the way they were ripening. Seems that the tomatoes don’t  or can’t ripen all the way when the leaves at the base of the stems are in the way of the sunshine! These we haven;t tasted yet as we’re waiting and hoping that they’ll ripen further.

022indigoblueberries

So from the known tomatoes, we move onto the mysteries, the first of which are the Romas. Though we’ve planted Romas from seed the past few years, we’ve no idea what variety these tomatoes are. What we do know is that they are excellent in sauces. Unfortunately, we’ve found that our Romas are prone to internal…rotting? Not too sure what else to call it, but more often than not, we’ll cut open these particular tomatoes only to find black, moldy interiors. 😦

022randomromatomatoes

Then, we have some mystery cherry or miniature tomatoes of one sort or another. We’ve said before that some of these, particularly the larger of the small varieties, could be hybrids of larger tomatoes and either Super Sweet 100s or Rite Bites. The smallest of the small are definitely regular ol’ Super Sweet 100s, which is fine by us. Some of them are bright red, while other have pinkish hues. (No idea where that trait came from as we’ve never planted any pink varieties, at least not yet.) Some of them even show signs of developed ridges or lobes. What ever they are, they are simply good — sweet enough to eat like candy!

022randomcherrytomatoes

Then there are the cherry or miniature tomatoes that we definitely think have been influenced by Black Krims, a favorite, dark purplish tomato that we first planted a couple years ago. We planted them (from seed) again last year but they didn’t take very well. This year it seems that they hybridized with smaller varieties to produce some beautiful, dark mini-tomatoes! No complaints — some of these spruced up some pizza we had the other day. Sweet and tasty!

022darkmysteries

So that rounds out the tomato situation as it stands today. Over the coming weeks, we’ll no doubt be up to our elbows in tomatoes. It’s a little overwhelming, and it’s definitely putting our culinary skills to task. We’ll certainly be getting enough Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Potassium, and Lycopene (all present in tomatoes) this summer!

We’ll leave with a shot of some of this year’s ground cherries. Maybe we’ll get enough to cook with, but right now were getting enough to snack on. So wonderful!

022groundcherries

 

Harvests: Beans, Tomatoes, Basil, and More!

It has been a typical summer round here: mostly warm with the occasional soaking rain. We’re on the tail end of our second (or third?) heatwave, but the garden is standing up to it fairly well. And we’ve started watering on a regular schedule of every other day or every two days, depending on the weather, as opposed to every day. It can be tough to discern the difference between overwatered and underwatered plants. The leaves of at least one squash plant and a few cucumber plants appear to have been attack by a mold of some kind. Meanwhile, the tomato plants, especially those in the “jungle,” despite our best efforts to keep then from doing so, are falling all over themselves with weight. Even some of ones that we have in those cone-shaped cages have become too much to handle. It’s all a little overwhelming, but were grateful that the things that are doing well in the garden are doing really well. And as it is now mid-July, there’s been lots to pick in smaller arrays of harvests.

First off, the two varieties of shelling bush beans that we planted: Pinto and Jacob’s Cattle, have mostly reached the end of their cycles. Not sure of they’ll make a return like the string beans, but we came away with a decent collection of both. The ones that have dried and are drying will join our collection of Red Ripper cowpeas that we saved from last year.

The Pinto beans are brown speclked, while the Jacob's Cattle Beans are red/pink/white speckled. Very pretty!
The Pinto beans are brown speckled, while the Jacob’s Cattle beans are red/pink/white speckled.

Then, how about some basil? Because we’ve got loads! Our Genovese Red Freddy basil really took off this year, and the Sweet Leaf green basil isn’t doing bad either. This is the second of two big harvests that we’ve made so far. The first batch was dried. Most of this batch is destined for pesto.

The smell of fresh cut basil is simply outstanding!
The smell of fresh cut basil is simply outstanding!

And finally, there are the tomatoes (along with a few banana peppers, cucumbers, and ground cherries!)

A meal waiting to happen.
A meal waiting to happen.

So, what of the “tomato jungle?” Well, turns out that the bulk of the plants are producing either Roma-shaped, elongated tomatoes, or cherry/dwarf tomatoes of one sort or another. While the Roma-types haven’t ripened yet, the smaller tomatoes have been, and we’ve been picking small batches of them each day over the past several days.

Our mostly full haul, after eating some, of course. :)
Our mostly current haul, after eating some, of course. 🙂 Plus, more ground cherries.

Last year we planted three different types of cherry tomatoes: Super Sweet 100s, Rite Bite, and Yellow Gooseberry. And last year, the Super Sweets and Rite Bite (either or both) hybridized with at least one other larger variety we planted: Rutgers. This year is seems that we’re getting both Super Sweets and Rite Bites again, again along with small Rutgers hybrids, Black Krims, and possibly, somehow, Marmandes. And we say that mostly because a number of the plants are producing purple/ruby fruit or lobed fruit typical of the Marmande tomato. We’re not 100% certain on any count — these are just our best guesses at this point. And some of the fruit are pink, so who knows! Besides that, the little yellow tomatoes on one of our Sun Sugar plants are coming along. They are so very sweet! And the little Indigo Blue Berries have…stalled? They’ve still only got coloring on the shoulders of each fruit, but no ripening beyond that. Some upcoming hot and sunny days may push they forward a bit.

We’ll sign off this week with a few more signs of life in the garden, including a picture of some of our lovely squash blossoms. Got to get up early in the morning that catch those!

Squash blossoms may be tasty, but we prefer to see if they'll become zucchini.
Squash blossoms may be tasty (and pretty), but we prefer to see if they’ll become zucchini.
Happy to see flowers on our pole beans -- these are Blue Goose cowpeas.
Happy to see flowers on our pole beans — these are Blue Goose cowpeas.
And finally, it wound;t be our garden without marigolds. They are blooming everywhere!
And finally, it wound’t be our garden without marigolds. They are blooming everywhere!

 

 

More Early Harvests: Kale, Peas, and Beans

At this point, calling these harvests “early” might be a bit misleading. It is, after all, late June, which is a proper harvesting time for many of our plants, and which is quite hard to believe. Seems like only yesterday we were putting seeds in the ground. But here we are with plenty already to fill our plates! This past weekend, we skulked around the garden looking for more stuff the grab, and we came away with a number of goodies, namely kale, peas, and some very pretty beans.

This year’s kale is of the same variety we planted last year, Blue Curled Scotch.

Sorry for the blurriness, but it's kale. Promise!
Sorry for the blurriness, but it’s kale. Promise!

Blue Curled Scotch is a basic, hardy variety that’s often found in the grocery stores, and it’s proficient producer. The leaves can be picked when they are young or mature, with the older leaves having a much stronger flavor. With this initial harvest, the leaves ranged from small to medium. Once we got them washed and cleaned, the next question was what to do worth them? As it was too warm to think about our favorite use for kale — in soup — we opted to make some yummy kale chips. Coarsely chop the leaves, sans spines, spread on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a tad of garlic powder, bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, and ta-da! Delicious kale chips.

Kale prepped...
Kale prepped…
...and baked! Delicious!
…and baked! Crisp and delicious!

After grabbing some kale, we checking our other two raised beds for peas, and we found plenty. More than plenty, in fact!

Just a handful from the full harvest.
Just a handful from the full harvest.

We planted several different pea varieties this year –snow, sugar snap, and garden, and…well…in one bed they all kind of grew into each other and are now something of a tangled mess. But! That has only made for something of a harvesting challenge — the plants themselves have been very prolific! The picture above shows two for the four varieties we planted. The larger, dark green ones are Snow Girl snow peas. They are extremely crisp and are great in stir-fries. The smaller ones are new to us — Alaska garden peas. We took several of these pods a bit early, but the larger, light green ones are ready to be hulled. Our hope for these, as well as another garden pea variety we planted in another bed, Laxton’s Progress No. 9, is that we’ll get enough to save to make a great split pea soup. We also planted another snow pea variety (Avalanche) and a snap pea variety (Cascadia), but have yet to harvest those. (This week, maybe!)

And finally, we picked some lovely purple bush beans! Two varieties: Purple Teepee and Velour Purple Filet.

They look good enough to eat. (And they are!)
The Purple Teepee beans. They look good enough to eat. (And they are!)
The pretty Velour Purple Filet beans. Almost elegant, they are.
The pretty Velour Purple Filet beans. Thin, elegant, and tasty.

Having had great success with yellow wax beans (Golden Wax Organic) in the past (which we planted again this year), we decided to branch out to planting several different types of bush beans this year, including two purple varieties. The Purple Teepee beans are wonderful. They have a great, fresh flavor. On the other hand, the Velour Purple Filet beans are delicate and have a more subtle, refined taste. Both are excellent when sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic!

It’s great starting out the official summer season with fresh produce. Good thing too, cause there’s lots more to come. We’ll be posting our second update in pictures next week, and boy oh boy, how everything has grown!