Archive for the ‘Veggies & Edibles’ Category
Now Harvesting: Early October (plus reflections on the Three Sisters)
Before you scoff at my teeny corn, let me explain. This corn almost didn’t make it. At each turn, my crop was beset by terrible weather and thieves. The remaining six baby cobs almost didn’t get harvested, and thus, almost didn’t make it onto our dinner plates last week. Which would have been a gross travesty, because they were terrific.
I planted a block of ‘Sugar Buns’ corn in my community garden plot in early June after pre-sprouting the seeds (to ensure germination in our unseasonably cold, wet soil). Because my plot is small, the block of corn was, by necessity, small. I think I planted 4’x3′ for a total of 12 plants. After the corn finally reached 4 in. (10cm) high (which took FOREVER; this June was surely the coolest on record), I planted ‘Fortex’ beans next to each emerging corn stalk and ‘Black Beauty’ zucchini at the edges of the plot. My plan? To grow the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash.
The Three Sisters companion planting technique was first practiced by North American indigenous groups. The corn stalks provide vertical support to climbing beans, while in turn, the beans supply nitrogen to the corn and squash. The squash shades the soil, retaining moisture, while its prickly vines discourage squirrels and raccoons from accessing tender corn cobs—at least in theory.
I wouldn’t say it was completely successful for me, largely because of the slow start to summer we experienced. Corn needs really warm soil to truly thrive, and mine didn’t get that until at least mid-July. The beans quickly outpaced the corn, and I ended up adding a few poles to support the more vigorous vines. And while the zucchini might have kept squirrels and raccoons from my corn, it didn’t stop human pests, which took the earliest and biggest cobs. At that point (mid-August) I considered ripping out the corn (because surely it wasn’t going to produce a second crop by the time the weather cooled) but left it in simply because many of the stalks were supporting beans.
I’m glad I did. Last weekend, when I finally decided to replace the corn, beans, and zucchini with spinach and mache, I decided to open up the tiny cobs that had formed in spite of my predictions. And wouldn’t you know it? I had corn! I thought I’d find shriveled, unpollenated kernels, too small and hard to be edible, but instead I found plump, yellow pillows just waiting to be cooked and slathered with butter. Of course, I obliged.
One last thing: yes, I chose ‘Sugar Buns’ largely because of the name!
What are you harvesting now?
Simple oven-dried tomatoes
If, for some reason, you’ve reached your saturation point for tomato-bocconcini-basil salad/bruschetta/tomato bisque/insert-name-of-favourite-tomato-recipe-here, you may be wondering what to do with all those ripe tomatoes sitting on your counter. Last week I reached that point, and, rather than let the fruit flies carry off my ‘maters, I decided to oven dry them.
Following the basic instructions in Put ’em Up, my new food preserving bible, I oven-dried a whack of tomatoes. It really is the simplest thing in the world, and being inclined toward laziness, I can’t imagine why you’d preserve tomatoes any other way.
Simply slice the tomatoes in half, drizzle with olive oil, and place cut side up on a baking sheet.
Bake at 250°F for five-six hours until shriveled and browned in spots. Freeze for up to six months — if you can manage to restrain yourself from eating them straight off the baking sheet.
Now Harvesting: late September
‘Garden Babies’ butterhead lettuce; ‘Chioggia,’ ‘Touchstone Gold,’ and ‘Red Ace’ beets; ‘Blue Lake’ beans; and ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ ‘Sweet Baby Girl,’ ‘Sasha’s Pride.’ and ‘Odessa’ tomatoes.
The garden is entering its period of slow decline. And while I really love perennial gardens in the fall, with their russet tones and funky seed heads, a veggie garden that’s slowed production just reinforces the fact that winter—and it’s imported produce—is right around the corner.
There’s winter gardening, of course, and soon I hope to harvest the arugula, kale, mache, Asian greens, spinach and lettuces I sowed in August. But right now, I’m in a bit of a lull, just coaxing the last few warm-season crops to maturity. I’ve still got tomatoes and beans coming off the vines, while I think the zucchinis and cucumbers are pretty much done. A few measly lettuces and beets, sowed in midsummer, are ripening now. Oh, and there’s herbs, of course, and a ton of green onions (I thought the seeds were expired, so I tipped the whole packet into the container. And, well, yeah. The seeds were most definitely not expired).
What are you harvesting now?
Put ’em Up: a book review
It was midsummer. Both my garden and local farmer’s markets were overflowing with succulent fruits and vegetables. Yet even as I enjoyed the bounty of the season, I felt anxious. How many more days would we have together? The peaches would be done in a week. The cherries were already long gone. And in a month, I’d be back at the supermarket grudgingly buying hothouse tomatoes. The answer, I felt, was in food preservation. Canning would allow me to cling to summer, to stretch out that all-too-brief period of riotous plenty.
I wasn’t alone in this belief, of course. If the recent surge in new books, websites, workshops and tweets related to food preservation is any indication, canning (and pickling, freezing, and drying) is hot. You might say food preserving is the new gardening. The trouble, of course, was that I didn’t actually know how to can food. Well, that’s not entirely true. Starting when I was pregnant with Lila, I’ve made a couple batches of jam every year (quince, strawberry, green tomato-raspberry). But preserving something other than a sugary fruit slurry was intimidating. Any fool could make jam, I thought, but canned peaches seemed complicated (spoiler: I needn’t have worried).
Enter Put ’em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling by Sherri Brooks Vinton (Storey, 2010). Aimed at folks like me—the locavores, the food gardeners, the foodies, the crafters, the DIY set—Put ’em Up (the title nods to “putting up” or preserving food) is an accessible, thorough guide to preserving the harvest.
The book is divided into two parts. The first covers food preparation and preservation techniques with clear, easy-to-follow instructions and illustrations. The second provides over 150 recipes, organized alphabetically by edible—from apples to watermelon. (Faced with a flat of quickly-withering blueberries, I loved being able to flip to the Bs and find a half-dozen simple recipes.) The book covers all the basics—and then some—in both sections. Recipes range from classic (strawberry jam, bread and butter pickles) to adventurous (berry-spiked bourbon, wasabi beans).
Author and real food advocate Sherri Brooks Vinton writes with a casual, straightforward tone instills confidence and inspires you to drop everything and make a batch of kimchi. With this book in hand, I’ve canned peaches (so not difficult), oven-dried tomatoes, and made blueberry fruit leather. And I can’t wait to keep going.
Is it just me, or is this tomato giving me the finger?
Now Harvesting: early-September
As you can see, I’m still collecting beans and zucchini, while the broccoli plants I harvested from in early summer have rewarded me with a second flush of petite heads. I love that.
I’m also harvesting tomatoes, scallions, herbs and cucumbers, and am still eating potatoes from last month’s harvest. I’ve planted most of my winter garden, so hopefully will be seeing greens back in rotation within a couple weeks.
What are you harvesting now?
Tomato harvest 2010
I’d like to introduce you to some of the tomatoes I’ve been harvesting this year.
I grow tomatoes every year, without fail. They are a must-have, even though they take up a significant portion of my growing space. For me, the major problem with growing tomatoes isn’t blight or blossom end rot. It’s choosing only four or five varieties to grow out of the many hundreds available. I agonize over my tomato selections. Do I grow a favourite from last year’s harvest? Or try something new? Usually, I opt for new—always on the search for the Best Performing, Best Tasting tomato. This year, I grew five varieties, two of which I’d grown before.
This is one of my new ones. ‘Sasha’s Pride,’ also known as ‘Sasha’s Altai,’ is a Russian heirloom with a great story. It’s an indeterminate (vining) early-ripening tomato with clusters of golf ball-sized fruit. Though I think it’s a beautiful plant, with its velvety stems and pagoda-shaped fruit, I find the flavour a little mild for my taste and probably won’t grow it again. Apparently I’m unusual, however, because Organic Gardening magazine rated it one of the top 10 early ripening tomatoes.
‘Odessa’ isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it makes up for the cracks it always seem to develop by ripening extra early and performing well. This is the second year I’ve grown this variety, though I think I’ll skip it next year in favour of looking for another early season tom that doesn’t split. ‘Odessa’ is also an indeterminate heirloom. Its fruits range from the size of golf to tennis balls.
Every year I grow one large-fruited tomato variety. Something wrinkly and any colour but red. You know, something that screams “heirloom!” This year it was ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ but in the past I’ve grown possibly every readily-available type of Brandywine, ‘Purple Calabash,’ ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’ and more. And because I’ve grown all these tomatoes, you would think that I would know that they just don’t work in my climate. They ripen too late. They want more heat, and they want it to last longer. So let it be known: this is the last year I will attempt to grow such elusive beauties. From now on, I’ll stick with smaller, early-season varieties. Sure, I got four or maybe even six toms off ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ but for the size of this plant (it’d reached 6′ by the time I lopped off the top) I wanted bushels.
I wasn’t planning on planting ‘Sweet Baby Girl,’ but when my mom brought over an extra seedling that was already miles ahead of what I had growing, I had to find a space for it. I’m so glad I did. ‘Sweet Baby Girl’ is a hybrid determinate (bush) cherry tomato that has the absolute sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, they’re like sugar: there’s no hint of acid. Will I grow it again? Absolutely. As long as my mom buys the seed again!
Finally, I grew ‘Tumbler.’ Known as the hanging basket tomato, I picked up a ‘Tumbler’ seedling on a whim and tucked it into the basket I was making. ‘Tumbler’ is a hybrid bush tomato that produces small (1′-2′) fruits in clusters. This is the second year I’ve grown it, but the ones I started from seed last year did far better than this year’s, purchased at a nursery. I love the novelty of growing a tomato in a hanging basket, but the flavour of ‘Tumbler’ (bland) doesn’t cut it. I won’t grow this again.
What are your tomato stand-outs this year? Any suggestions for early-season tomatoes I should try next year?
Time to: strip your tomatoes
My tomato plants, post end-of-summer pruning.
It’s not quite time for the annual winter garden clean up (just typing that made me feel a little ill), but it’s a good idea to start to prepare for fall by planting your winter garden, and by pruning your tomato plants.
Why prune? Two reasons: to focus the plant’s energy on ripening its existing fruit, rather than on producing new flowers and starting new fruit, which won’t have time to grow and ripen before the first frost, and to allow light to reach and ripen still-green fruit. Now you know.
Prune off flower and leaf brachs, leaving just the fruit and the main stalk(s). And if that doesn’t work and frost is imminent, you can always harvest and ripen your green tomatoes indoors.
Now Harvesting: late-August
The word harvest takes on new significance at this time of year, as the garden really steps it up. Right now I’m harvesting tomatoes, fresh herbs and beans daily, with cucumbers, peppers, and zucchinis making a semi-regular appearance. Pulled up my crop of ‘Ambition’ shallots today, too, and was impressed with how they’d multiplied. If you’re looking for an onion-family member to plant, shallots make a great container option (and I love their mild flavour).
‘Blue Lake’ pole beans and purple bush beans.
What are you harvesting now?
Plant your winter garden now
Lacinato kale, leeks, and cabbage: the makings of a great winter garden!
One of the best ways to reap the most from a small-space food garden is to have something growing in your garden all year round. Don’t let plots or containers sit vacant after you harvest your tomatoes and squash! Make ’em work by planting a winter garden (or let them rest and recuperate by sowing a cover crop).
Planting hardy and fast-maturing crops in summer or early fall for fall-through-spring harvesting is often known as winter gardening. (It also has a close cousin, overwintering, which is defined as planting in summer for harvest the next spring.)
For both, you’ll want to start now. (Actually, you might want to have started a month or more ago, but if you’re anything like me, you’re just getting around to it. Good news: there’s still time to sow many winter crops.)
‘Sorrento’ broccoli raab
In general, you’ll want to plant quick-maturing, cool-season crops that are tolerant of frosts. The aim is to have your plants reach almost full-size by Halloween. That’s when, due to dwindling daylight hours, plants pretty much stop their growth. They’ll stay in hibernation mode until the days start to lengthen again in early spring (unless you eat them first!).
Surprisingly, there are quite a few edibles you can start from seed now.
Great winter-garden edibles to start from seed:
Arugula. A fabulous, peppery cool-season green that adds zing to salads. (I especially love it stirred into pasta, though. Just cook up some orzo or capellini, and toss in a few handfuls of arugula after draining. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Toss until the arugula is wilted. Simple, and lovely.) Direct sow through to early September. Use crop protection, such as a cold frame or row covers, for a longer harvest.
Asian and mustard greens. Sow these hardy, versatile greens—including komatsuna, mibuna, mizuna, komatsuna, and the many mustards that fall under Brassica juncea—until the end of September.
Broad beans. Broad beans, also known as fava beans, are an oddity amongst their peers. While snap, pole, and soy beans are warm-season staples, broad beans are super hardy. Plant in September or October for spring harvest.
Broccoli raab. It’s a little late to start regular (full-head-size) broccoli from seed (though feel free to transplant starts into the garden now if you started them indoors last month, or are lucky enough to find some at your local nursery) but broccoli raab, or rapini, matures more quickly, so squeeze in a late sowing before the end of August.
Carrots. They’re often thought of as a summer crop, but carrots are actually one of the hardiest garden vegetables. It’s almost too late to sow now (ideally, a winter sowing should occur in the first two weeks of August) but go ahead, try your luck. Row covers or cold frames will sway success in your favour.
Cilantro. Super cold tolerant, cilantro can be direct sown until mid-September.
Green onions (scallions). Another very cold hardy crop, green onions will easily overwinter. Plant now through the end of August.
Corn salad (mache or lamb’s lettuce). Add this mild, nutty green to your repertoire for salad greens all year round. Corn salad is the hardiest salad green, and can be sown until mid-September.
Endive. Yet another hardy salad green, endive can be sown as late as mid-September.
Kohlrabi. Oddly beautiful kohlrabi gets sweeter after a frost. Ideally, it should have been sown by mid-August, so plant it today, and cross your fingers.
Lettuces. Many lettuces are tolerant of light frost and can be planted now for fall harvest, or use a row cover or cold frame for protection and harvest into winter and spring. Look for hardy varieties such as ‘Cimmaron,’ ‘Continuity,’ ‘Red Deer Tongue,’ ‘Rouge d’Hiver,’ ‘Valdor,’ ‘Winter Crop,’ or ‘Winter Density.’
Spinach. Spinach thrives in cool weather. Plant it now through November (though you might want to use a cold frame or row cover as we move into winter if you live in a cold climate).
Turnips. Sow until the end of August for harvests all winter long. You can also eat the greens!
If you planned ahead, you’ll have started hardy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and leeks indoors ages ago. You didn’t? Me neither. Thankfully, more and more nurseries are carrying vegetable starts (transplants) for fall and winter gardening. Here are some great choices for winter-garden edibles to transplant now. With the exception of chard, which is only marginally hardy, the following edibles can be grown all winter long (though they may benefit from protection from winter rains and frosts in very cold climates). Look for overwintering and hardy varieties of:
Finally, there’s garlic. For those of you who can’t bear the thought of planting a winter garden now, garlic should be planted in October or November—just about the time you’ll start pining for a day in the garden.
How’s your winter garden shaping up?