Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fingers Digging For Fingerlings

13 pounds of LaRatte Fingerling Potatoes harvested and washed off.

Some people dig their potatoes with a hoe, a broadfork, or shovel. In fact pretty much every gardening book I've read, says to do so... carefully. My first ever harvested potato (last year) was impaled by a hand trowel. I was extremely excited to find that potato on the end of my trowel however. It wasn't very easy to find. I kept digging and digging. I thought that maybe I wasn't a successful potato grower. Maybe nothing had happened under the soil. My spirits were starting to falter. But, I told myself, "My vines had grown, they had died back, and there are supposed to be potatoes down there dag nabbit!" I had to know for sure. I couldn't leave it to chance that there might be potatoes lurking under the soil. So I dug down deep, deeper than I thought they'd be, and I came up with a potato stuck to my trowel. Hubby was in the backyard doing something to the grass or whatever. I called over to him, "John! I found a potato." No response. I shouted even louder, "I found a POTATO!" That did the trick and he joined me in the garden to help with the potato harvest.

At that point, I sort of lost my aspirations, at least for that season, as a potato harvester since I ruined that first one. I was happy to have company to share my happy potato luck anyway. Hubby took over as the digger of spuds. He gently dug around dislodging each potato from the earth by hand. To me, it's sort of like an easter egg hunt or digging for buried treasure. You never know how much you will find.

The thing is, my garden is situated in the sunniest location we have. That location happens to be on our sloping backyard. The first summer, I just planted my veggies (no potatoes that year) right in the ground with rows going up and down the hill. It was difficult to weed and just generally do anything that way. I don't think the plants minded, but I knew there was a better way. I had always wanted raised beds, before we even had a garden. I thought they looked neater and more orderly and, just easier to maintain. Then when I finally got my garden spot, it was clear that raised beds were definitely the way to go. It's much easier when gardening on a slope.

But... potatoes in a raised bed? Sure, why not. It seems to be working. The only difference, as far as I can see, is in the harvesting. There's not a lot of room for coming in at an angle with a gardening implement to pry the spuds from the ground. So we do it by hand. Your hands are probably the best garden tools around. Can't get any gentler than that for harvesting potatoes. Well, maybe if we used little brushes as the archaeologists do, that could be gentler, but it sure would slow us down. That would be a bit silly I guess, but I like the mental image of us out there brushing the dirt away from our potatoes one at a time. It is fun to dig in with our hands and feel around for them. This is not a task for those that are squeamish about bugs, worms, and other crawly things. Chances are, if you have a garden, you’ll get over that squeamishness quickly because who has time for that when you have work to do?

This weekend we dug some of the potatoes. There are still more plants out there. I’ll probably dig those in a couple more weeks. Here’s a quick video (about 2 minutes) of some of our potato digging day. I did dive in and dig out potatoes with my hands as well. That is after I put the camera away. And yes, we did have potatoes for dinner last night, because we eat what we grow.

To view this video, click the play button (arrow) in the image below. To view additional times, click the refresh button of your web browser, and then click the play button.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Three Ears, A Nose, and A Catface

Hubby snapped this picture while I was preparing the rest of our dinner. Corn shucking is one of his unofficial, but appreciated duties.

Friday night was corn night. I picked my first three ears. Now I know I was a little early, so I'll give them some more time before picking anymore. The two bigger ears were nicely filled out, but the tips still seemed immature, so I think they could have gone longer. The third ear, was small and I knew that, but picked it anyway. What can I say, I couldn't wait anymore. The corn was delicious, tender. It was picked and minutes later, slipped into the boiling water.

Corn really doesn't need much cooking. The more you cook it, the tougher it gets. Not to toot my own horn, but I've often been complimented on my corn cooking. The secret, I cook it for six minutes. That's all you need. I dare say, you could even do less! But I've been doing it for six minutes for so long and getting good results, that I'm going to stick with it.

Since this was our first serving of corn from the garden, I cooked it simply, only boiling it and eating it off the cob with butter and a little salt. I think my favorite method for cooking corn is on the grill. Grilling seems to enhance the flavor. Try squeezing some lime on your corn before eating, it's really tasty.

Here's a funny little tomato I've been watching in the garden. He's got a nose! I had one with a nose like this last year too. Unfortunately, he got tomato-napped by a critter before he ripened. I decided not to take a chance this time and photographed him while at the blushing point.

This nosy little tomato is from my mystery plant. At least I can get some entertainment out of this wrong plant.

Catface? This doesn't look like my cat's faces. They're cute and this is... well... not pretty. I don't know who coined the term catfacing, must not have been someone owned by cats, but that is what they call it when tomatoes (or other fruit) turns out deformed like this. It's due to environmental factors like low temperatures during pollination or self pollenization (tomatoes). Some varieties are more prone to it. It's not something you can control. So don't worry about it. The tomato is still edible and still tasty. You just have to do some fancy cutting. You don't really want to eat the leathery brown parts. Use these tomatoes for your salsa or bruschetta, where you'll be dicing them anyway.

Catfacing can look even more contorted than this Paul Robeson tomato. Thankfully, not all of the tomatoes on this plant are catfaced.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Picky Picker Pickin' Pretty Produce

Monday, paste tomatoes start ripening in quantity.

Yes, that would be me, the picky one. That's what certain family members call me, and I admit it, I am picky. It's not a bad thing, I think. My hubby says that's a good thing that I'm picky because I picked him. I agree. Being picky also drives me seek out the best and also do my best. It's a good thing.

Once you start growing your own veggies, you get even pickier. Yes, it's true, sorry to say it. Subpar just won't do. How can you go back once you taste the crispiest of cucumbers, a truly vine ripened tomato, or crunchy snap beans fresh from your own garden?

It's August, time for picking. Lots of picking. Time to start doing something with all these tomatoes. Last year, I made sauce, lots of sauce, my own homemade roasted tomato sauce. I then canned and processed it. Canned sounds like I put it in tin cans or something. Canning is just the term for preserving food. The sauce was sealed in glass jars and then processed in a steam canner to ensure that it would not spoil. It's really not as hard as it may sound. Is it time consuming? Sure, but then in the winter when we want a quick dinner, I can just pop open a jar and there we have a homemade meal. My my, I sound so domestic. Make no mistake, I see myself as a career girl... who also likes to grow things... and eat them.

This time around, I plan to make sauce again, but also a few other things. Maybe can a few tomatoes straight up, and try my hand at Salsa. I'll let you know what I decide. I'll have to start processing tomatoes this weekend. I've been picking about 15 pounds of tomatoes a day.

Tuesday, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, artichokes and cucumbers.

Wednesday, I decided I was in the mood for some fresh fingerling potatoes. I dug up some Rose Apple Finn potatoes. As the vines were starting to dry up and die back, I knew they wouldn't produce anymore. Potatoes can be harvested at anytime, but for maximum output, wait for the vines to dry up. I dug these myself, but prefer to do it with hubby. He's more thorough about finding them all. I'll have to wait for him on the next ones. Since fingerlings don't store very well, I've become less shy about harvesting some as the mood strikes. Saturday, we ate a healthy amount roasted on the grill, for dinner. Last night we ate some of these, pan cooked with garlic and thyme. Very tasty and the texture is wonderful.

My snappy beans are producing again. I picked a good amount. I have a second planting of beans that I haven't started harvesting yet. Soon though.

Wednesday, potatoes and a second crop of beans from those first plants.

More tomatoes and the first of my gold zucchini. I planted those zucchini seeds July 7. Three seeds planted and three plants grew. Five weeks later, we have fruits to pick.

Thursday, more tomatoes, a Pickling Cucumber, and two Gold Zucchini.

Well, well, well, what do we have here? I found this nice ripe tomato hanging on the vine with a bite taken from it. It was the only one, so I have to rule out nocturnal critters. If a critter got in there at night, when we are indoors asleep, he would have gone down the line taking bites out of all of the tomatoes. How do I know this? Because that is exactly what happened last year. It was a mess. I don't know how many tomatoes I lost to that critter, but it was a lot. Since there was only one tomato in this condition, I have to think it was a squirrel. They sneak into the garden occasionally. Being diurnal, they have to be quick, strike and get out before someone sees them.

Uh oh, a critter took a bite out of this tomato!

Finding this tomato, makes me more vigilant. I have to pick those tomatoes fast before I lose them to critters. If they are not completely, utterly ripe, I put them on the counter for a few days before using them. Now a home grown tomato is a bit different when it's ripe. I mean deep color and soft flesh, that kind of ripe tomato. Some ask, how do I know when a non-red tomato is ripe? This is a good question because a ripe tomato in my garden may not match the pictures of the seed catalog. Most seed growers are located in warm and sunny places like Florida for example. So called black tomatoes will have a much deeper color in hot climate than it would in Connecticut.

I've learned to feel my tomatoes. When they start to soften, I take them from the vine. Usually, a few days on the counter does the trick and they get even more flavorful with that last bit of ripening. One could leave it on the vine for those extra days, but then you take a chance that your tomato might get tomato-napped by a critter, or a heavy rain could cause it to split, or insect could decide to make it their lunch. So a few days early is okay. As long as it has colored up most of the way, and is starting to soften. Some folks who have really bad insect or critter or cracking problems, will pick their tomatoes as soon as they start to blush. That's too early for my taste. In my opinion, that will never get to be as flavorful as a fully ripened on the vine tomato. However, if it's pick at blush, or lose the tomato completely, I'd just pick it early and call it a day. What you will get is much more vine ripened than what the grocery store labels as vine ripened... trust me.

Now, I've mentioned several times about setting tomatoes on the counter. You will never, ever find a tomato in the refrigerator at my house. Why? Because they don't belong there. The only reason to put a tomato in the refrigerator is if you want it to lose all it's flavor. But then, why would you want that? Exactly my point. No refrigerator! No!

A closer look at Sebring Gold Zucchini. Pretty yellow.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Home Is Where the Cats Are

Had a busy weekend. The kind where we are just going and going and there's no relaxation to speak of. And by relaxation, I mean sitting around doing nothing. You know, real relaxation, where you're home on the couch like a lump. Didn't get much sleep because of just staying up late and then not being able to sleep, otherwise known as insomnia, Saturday night. Had a family party to go to Sunday too. Before leaving the house, we got the cats inside, safe and sound. Upon returning home that night, we are greeted with sleepy, blinking eyes, welcoming us at the door.

Henry and Clarence, our two cats, were very lovey last night. Hubby and I each get a cat to snuggle and settled in on the couch for a while before going to bed. As I held Clarence, I thought, yup, home is where the cat is, there's no doubt about that. We don't have many pictures of that because of a thing called cat priority©. Cat priority dictates, if you have a cat on your lap, you do not have to get up to do anything. The person without a cat, has to get up and do whatever you ask, reach the remote, get a drink, whatever. In the case where both people have cat priority, they basically cancel each other out and no one has to do anything.

My favorite picture of Henry of late, is this one I shot last week. I was leaving the house to do some errands and there he was in the window box. I had to go back inside and get my camera and take a few pictures. He was a bit sleepy. Cute nonetheless. Some scratches convinced him to wake up for a quick photo.

A few flowers got mushed, but who could blame him for liking that spot?

It's hard for me to get pictures of the cats doing cute things. They always walk to me when they see me. Leaving whatever picturesque spot they are in, breaking whatever cute pose, to come say hi and get a petting. I have to be quick and also persistent and carrying around a camera doesn't hurt either.

Clarence has a way of hanging his paws off the back porch in a cute fashion.

Here are some video clips of our purring, furry babies. One of the perks of cat ownership, and by that I mean being owned by a cat, is the lullaby of the purr and the soft fur and then the next thing you know you're drifting off to sleee..... Oops! You gotta watch out, they'll sleepify© you!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cool As A Cucumber

How long did I sleep anyway? It feels like fall today. It's cool, in the mid 50's and very wet. I awoke to rain and it hasn't stopped raining all day it seems. My rain gauge so far has registered 1.5 inches. That's a lot of rain. It makes me sleepy. I've been trying to cut down on the caffeine and only have a cup of coffee in the morning. Today, I may have to give in and have a coke and a smile.

Another thing that is cool and wet, like this day, is the cucumber. You really haven't had a cucumber till you've eaten one that was cut from the vine that very day. No waxy film on the skin. Just a good crisp juicy cucumber. We eat them just about every evening as an after work snack. Cut into sticks and dipped in ranch dressing, is my favorite way, or sometimes with just a sprinkle of salt.

My cucumber bed is overflowing. I can't seem to keep up with the production. I way over planted this year thinking that nature (insects) would thin the seedlings for me, as they did last year. But, guess what? They all lived. I'm not very good with the thinning. I hate to pull out perfectly good seedlings. Especially when anything can happen along the way and then I might have to start from the beginning all over again. So, lets just say we have extra cukes and that's better than no cukes in my book.

Each year, I like to try something I haven't before. So I picked out this cool looking cucumber. I really didn't know exactly what it would look like when I planted the seed, but it sure does look like it's name, Richmond Green Apple. This variety comes from Australia. Doesn't it look like a perfect little apple? Half apple, half cucumber, but only in looks. Very cute. It fits neatly in the palm of my hand, so not too big. It tastes like a regular cucumber. Not the most productive however. This is the first I've harvested. That's okay with me, because, well, you know why.

Richmond Green Apple Cucumber sitting on a log.

I thought it might be neat to see what a pickle looks like before it gets picked and then pickled. See those prickly black things? Those are the spines. Some cucumber spines are black and some are white. They do stick you when you grab a cucumber, but they don't hurt much and don't make me itch or anything. They are easily removed from the cuke while I wash them off. I just rub vigorously under running water. If you don't remove the spines before storing in the refrigerator, they get kind of mushy and stick to the cucumber. Not a big deal, but I like to remove them. Another thing you'll notice in this picture is the dried up flower on the tip.

Burpee Pickler Cucumber. I use these to make pickles, but they taste great straight from the garden too.

Wanna see another neat cucumber? I thought so. Here is a Mexican Sour Gherkin. It's not really technically a cucumber, but more classified as a melon, a very tiny melon. Cucumber, melon, they're all in the same family anyway. This little guy is very small, even by cucumber standards. They are eaten whole with the skin on. I've heard reports that they are a bit sour and also a bit bitter. I guess taste is in the tongue of the taster. I haven't tasted any yet. Reason being that they are said to be ripe and ready for harvest, when they fall off the vine. I'm not exactly sure how this is going to work. I keep checking every day and I keep thinking they're going to get lost down there on the ground. I'm tempted to just pluck one and eat it and see. If it weren't raining, I just get up and go out and do it right now... maybe tomorrow.

Mexican Sour Gherkin. Now that's a cute one.

The birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees... How do we get cucumbers anyway? Well, there's the female flower and that looks like a baby cucumber with a bright yellow flower on the end. She sits there and waits.

Then there's a male flower. He just looks like a regular flower on a regular stem attached to the vine. He just sits there and waits. Then Mr. Bee comes along and transfers the pollen from the male flower to the female flower.

The bees are constantly buzzing around my cucumber bed. It's a cool place to hang out if you're a bee.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Missteps & Mix Ups

Silver Queen Corn not far from time for picking, my favorite Sungold tomatoes, Artichokes snipped for dinner.

Things have been moving along rapidly in the garden lately. We have a bountiful supply of tomatoes and cucumbers. Corn is filling out it's cobs. Artichokes are budding out. Squashes are flowering. Things are happening! There's a lot I could be writing about. I have blog topics aplenty in my head, waiting to be unleashed through my fingers, to the keyboard, and out to the world. Are you there world? Are you reading this? Who knows. Maybe my ramblings are just drifting off out there in the cyber ether. I haven't made the time to blog lately. Part of that has to do with losing half a day this week to a benadryl induced snooze.

Tuesday, seemed like a good day to do my spraying. The gardens were way overdue for fungicide and fruit tree spray. I did my fungicide spray in the veggie garden first. It was pretty uneventful and I got the job done with relative ease. Then as my routine dictates, I leave the veggie garden and go spray the roses next. I walked through my side garden where my flowers reside. My rubber boots crunched on the gravel path as I attempted to walk quickly on it. The faster I try to walk, the harder it is to get going, and I remember that this path was not meant for walking fast. It was put there so that I could slow down and listen to the pleasing sound of the crunching gravel and take a look at my plantings. So I deliberately slow down my pace a notch. I continue down the path spraying any roses along the way, and out onto the grassy front lawn, spray/walk, spray/walk, spray/walk. I hear a buzz in my ear and shake my pony tail at it, giving it no more thought. Spray/walk/buzz, spray/walk/buzz, spray/walk/buzz.

Next up, is the fruit tree spray. I go to the garage, put away the fungicide sprayer and get out the hose end fruit tree spray applicator, a measuring cup, and the jug of home orchard spray. Measure out the appropriate amount, mix in the right amount of water, twist on top, and walk through the side garden again, this time to get to the front yard to the apple and peach tree. I hear a buzz again in my ear. Disregard it. Unroll the hose, drag it out to the trees, attach hose end sprayer, and spray trees liberally. It's a pretty quick job and I'm finished speedily. Walk back through the side garden toward the crabappple tree. Buzz, buzz, buzz. I turn my head to look at it and think, "Hmm, a wasp. Nothing unusual there. Good thing he didn't sting me on my face when I swung my ponytail at him."

I always do the crabapple tree last because I use up the remaining spray on the tree. It's a large tree with two trunks. Just the night before, I noticed a big crack in the left trunk. We're going to have to cut that off. I thought that the tree will probably look funny missing half of it's width. Maybe we should just take the whole thing down. It's a bother to take care of, I have to spray it so it doesn't get devoured by insects. But... hubby and I both feel bad to take down a tree at all. When the arborist was here talking to me about my trees, when we moved in a couple years ago, he completely glossed over the crabapple tree, "Oh that thing?" But that thing, makes pretty flowers in the spring. It's a big source of food for the squirrels and deer. It gives them something to eat other than my beautiful plantings and my prized tomato crops. So I've been taking care of it. This year it produced it's biggest, nicest looking crop of crabapples yet. Taking care of it is paying off in apples. Those lucky squirrels.

Crabapples aplenty weighing down this poor tree.

I do my routine quickly as I've gotten it down by now. Unroll hose, attach sprayer, commence spraying. See? It's not hard. I already have the fruit tree spray out and mixed up, might as well spray the crabapple tree. How much more work is that? First I do the left side, the side that's hanging on, but would reach the ground the next day. Then as I look up at the tree examining where I have sprayed and where I need to spray next, it happens. I stepped into an in-ground wasp nest. I didn't notice at first what I had done, but then I felt a pinch/prick on my... ahem derriere. What the...? I turn my head and look. Ack! There's wasps on me! Many wasps! I have chills now just thinking about it. I did exactly what you're not supposed to do. I screamed, dropped my hose, and ran. I ran toward the house. Looked again, "They're still there! What to do? What do I do?" Pinch/prick, pinch/prick, pinch/prick. I wanted them off of me and fast. Clarence was on the back patio and ran away. I don't blame him. So I did the only thing I could think of to do. I quickly pulled my pants off, got in the house, and kicked my boots and pants outside with wasps wrapped inside, shut the door. Safe now.

Gosh that was scary. I took some benadryl to ward off the allergic reaction of the venom, took a shower to calm down, and got some ice packs. I had three areas to tend to, back of my calf, front of my thigh, and the afore mentioned other area. Each with multiple wounds. Soon I was in a stupor half way between sleep and wake. Then unable to keep my eyes open, I drift off to sleep.

I awoke later, calmed down, and now growing angry at those... those... things! How dare they! So hubby did his spousal duty, he destroyed the wasp nest and it's inhabitants. They didn't go easily. It took two tries and two days, but now, they are no more. Sure we still have stray wasps flying around, but not en masse, swarming by a hole in the ground. Turns out, the nest is next to a rotting tree trunk, left there by the previous owner. The roots underground rotted and left a cavity under the grassy edge of our back woods, that was perfect for a wasp home.

Gardening is not all pretty pictures, that's for sure. It's filled with gaffs, and mistakes, and missteps. But sometimes, most of the time, it's really a joy. That's coming from me just two days after being attacked by wasps. I want to reiterate, these were wasps not bees. My big fuzzy bee friends would not do that to me. We coexist peacefully. I plant extra flowers to make them happy. They pollinate my veggies. Everyone's happy.

A fruit of my labor, but what exactly is this tomato?

And while I'm at it. While I'm exposing the sad tale of my fruit tree maintenance, I might as well share another tragedy. Well, not really a tragedy. Just a mix up. Seems what I thought was Cherokee Purple tomato seed was not in fact, Cherokee Purple tomato seed. I had a suspicion as it grew that something just wasn't right. The growth habit of the overall plant seemed too short. Much shorter than the other indeterminate plants, at only 3 feet. Then it's tomatoes, they were round and small, at about 3.5 ounces. Cherokee purple is supposed to be oblate, a bit ruffled, and much larger. I waited for them to grow bigger. Then they started a ripening, uh, red tomatoes? No. Nope. This is not Cherokee Purple. Can't be. I started researching and sure enough, others had gotten this same seed from this seed source, with the same results. So it wasn't just one rogue crossed seed that made it into the packet. Oh boo hoo. I really was looking forward to Cherokee Purple. It's so disappointing when you believe you are going to get a certain variety. You buy the seeds. You plant them indoors at the dead of winter. You nurture them for months, four months and then some, with anticipation and visions of purple tomatoes dancing in your head and... and... and then let down. Not the right thing. It is not to be. Maybe next year. Better luck next year.

Not Cherokee Purple and not going to be in my garden next year.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Eat What You Grow!

Within a few days, I expect to have a few more different tomato varieties to show. In the meantime, we've been eating the Super Bush and Azoychka tomatoes as they ripen. So far, we've been able to keep up with production.

Here we have dinner ingredients from a dinner last week. This is my first artichoke picked from my own plant! Of my six plants, all now have buds on them. Also included is a Super Bush tomato, six fingerling potatoes, and a bulb of garlic all from my garden.

Dinner ingredients scrubbed clean and looking pretty.

Gardening isn't all pretty pictures. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty before you can taste the fruits of your labor. I had extra seed potatoes left over after I had filled my designated areas for planting potatoes this spring. I decided to put them in a container that I drilled drainage holes into and filled with soil. After the plants started growing, I filled the container further with straw. These containers are much easier for finding "new" potatoes when the urge strikes.

Those aren't my dirty fingers! Although they do resemble them, they are fingerling potatoes, aptly named.

Here is the dinner I made with those ingredients! Chicken stuffed with tomato and garlic, pan cooked potatoes with lemon and olives, and a steamed artichoke for sharing.

More ingredients than not are from my garden. Satisfying in more ways than one.

Here we have our tomato salad for dinner last night. This is my new favorite! For this I used Azoychka and Super Bush tomatoes, basil, Italian flat leaf parsley, and garlic from my garden. It's a concoction made with balsamic vinegar that is reduced down to a syrupy consistency. The reduction produces a thick sweet sauce. While that cools, mix olive oil, garlic, green and black olives, basil, parsley, black pepper and capers. Spoon the olive mixture over sliced tomatoes. Then pour the balsamic reduction over the whole thing. I let this sit at room temperature after assembling it before serving. It's sweet, it's salty, it's tomato heaven.

Tomato Salad... delicious!

With 1.5 pounds of Viva Italia Tomatoes, I was able to make Roasted Tomato Soup. A family favorite, we rarely have leftovers. The only soup I eat in summer! We don't have a picture since my anxious dining companions were awaiting it's completion.

Viva Italia are paste tomatoes. A designation given to meaty, less juicy, less seedy tomatoes that are good for use in cooking.

Okay, I admit it, I'm an over grower. My eyes are bigger than my garden and I grow way more than we can consume. These tomatoes are easy to share with friends and neighbors. I picked another batch of cherry tomatoes the same size two days later. These extra tomatoes will get added to the pot when I start making sauce soon. There's no such thing as extra tomatoes around here.

At all hours of the day, we snack on the ever abundant cherry tomatoes.