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Halloween; A Transition to Cool Crops

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment
Bright Lights Swiss Chard

Bright Lights Swiss Chard

As I observe more and more of the subtle hints of seasonal change, I’m starting to find dates on the calendar where changes become permanent transition points. Halloween has become my new marker on the calendar for the absolute end to warm season crops, and the transition point to the cool season.

I’ve made a conscious effort to extend my growing season by incorporating new plants which can tolerate cool and downright cold weather. The most cold hardy plant I’ve got in my arsenal thus far is Swiss Chard. These colorful leaves are willing to grow straight through our harsh winter months if given a simple plastic cover to keep the snow from burying the leaves.

Lettuce Under Snow

Lettuce Under Snow

I was surprised to see some lettuce also growing through the snow. The lettuce above is from my sister’s garden, as my lettuce is not very photogenic due to a recent pass through the garden with the finish mower. Even thought the tops of the plants were chopped off, the base began to grow new leaves pretty quickly.

Cool Season Salad

Cool Season Salad

I wasn’t sure how long this collection of greens would last, so I decided to pick a good deal of the lettuce, chard and endive and enjoy a cool season salad before these greens turn to brown.

Cauliflower Under Snow

Cauliflower Under Snow

While I was looking around, I noticed that one of the cauliflower plants had grown a very large white head, so I made an attempt to pick it. I tried using scissors without much luck, then I moved onto some hand pruning sheers, also without luck. I finally decided to pull the whole plant out of the ground, and found that a hammer was needed to break the stalk. I then cut off all of the leaves, and brought it indoors.

Cauliflower Ready to Cook

Cauliflower Ready to Cook

Cauliflower has never been my favorite vegetable, but I decided that since I grew it, I might as well give it a try. The process of cooking it was very easy. Start by cutting the large head into many smaller pieces, then place them into a microwave safe bowl, with water nearly covering them. The total cooking time is around 15 minutes, but they will need to be stirred every few minutes in order to cook evenly. When they were done, this single plant provided a cheese covered snack for about 10 people. I actually liked it !

Jennifer's Pumpkin

Jennifer's Pumpkin

Later that same day the kids decided it was time to carve their pumpkins.  I should note these were not grown in my garden, as I decided not to plant them this year.

Little Gardener's Pumpking

Little Gardener's Pumpking

Maybe next year I’ll plant a few pumpkins from the seeds I gathered while carving. Either way, I know I will see a few, as the pumpkin guts harvested while cutting found their way to the compost pile.

Jessica's Pumpkin

Jessica's Pumpkin

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Life Beyond Tomatoes

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment
Cart Full of Tomatoes - Photo by Sandra Macpherson

Cart Full of Tomatoes - Photo by Sandra Macpherson

The valley is awash in a sea of ripening tomatoes. At one time it was acceptable to pick tomatoes every week or every 4 days, but that time has come and past. It’s become one of those occasions when all hands are required on deck, to pick, and pack this win-fall of healthy food. I try to help as much as possible, but the work continues even when I’m at work. My Mother, Sisters and Davie have been picking and washing off the tomatoes the last few days, and the cart above is full of tomatoes thanks to their effort.

I was told that if I would have stopped by while everyone else was helping, they were planning to pelt me with mushy red projectiles as I headed towards the front door. I’m reasonably sure the statement was in jest, but I’m glad I didn’t get to find out first-hand.

Jessica Looking at a Lot of Tomatoes

Jessica Looking at a Lot of Tomatoes

I was showing my niece, Jessica, and my nephew, the little gardener, just how much food we had produced in our garden. I’m sure both of them were just as amazed as I was to see sooooo many tomatoes.

Some of these tomatoes still need to ripen, while others have already been packed away in jars. The boxes on the floor to the right contain mostly canned tomatoes, some spaghetti, and a few boxes of other things.

The blue box labeled “Light” contains Pennsylvania home grown plums. They were a gift from a neighbor, and I hope to start a bunch of little trees from the pits.

Peppers

Peppers

There is life beyond tomatoes however, and it starts with my other big crop for the season: Peppers. The ones shown are still a bit young, but I picked them anyway. There was a tiny chance that a frost was coming our way, and I didn’t want to loose out.  While picking, I may have found a pepper plant that rivals Chablis Hybrid peppers in production. I don’t know what the name of these peppers are, but I planted them at least two weeks after the rest, and they are producing comparable amounts of peppers. I’ll be saving the seeds from these long green peppers and replanting them next year.

Saving Seeds

Saving Seeds

I’ve also been busing saving even more seeds. The peas that died a month or so ago left lots of seeds behind in dry, blackened pods. The trick to saving them for next year is simple. Take them out of the pod and keep them dry. I’ve been doing the same thing with my Ying-Yang Beans and Brown Crowder Beans. The Ying-Yang beans have been more of a pain to shell and so, I haven’t yet freed them from their pods.

"Dwarf" Bananas

"Dwarf" Bananas

My “Dwarf” Bananas are still growing very well, but with no sign of edible bananas. One of the plants is about four feet tall, and the other is at least five feet. They collect more light in my kitchens bay window they they let past, and I’m wondering what I’ll do in a few years when they have grown to the ceiling ? I guess I’ll have to add on a new tall sun room.

Opportunity Salad September Edition

Opportunity Salad September Edition

The best part of a garden is the hope it gives you in the spring, and the reward it provides you in the fall. I wanted to eat something good the other day, but I’m about sick of lettuce, so I decided to make a salad without lettuce. Instead, I added some Swiss Chard, colorful tomatoes, cucumber, celery and onions. Add to that a touch of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and you’ve got yourself a snack that would make any gardener smile. I was quite proud to notice that only the olive oil was from the store; I planted the seeds that grew the rest.

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I’ve Become a Tomato

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment
Sterilizing Jars

Sterilizing Jars

I knew I was growing a lot of tomato plants when I was planting seeds this spring, and I realized that I would probably get a lot of tomatoes no mater what happened, but I didn’t imagine what would be done with them all. I figured that if I grew lots of tomatoes, everyone on the farm would find lots of uses for them, and we have. Lately everyone has been working on one task more then most others: Canning Tomatoes. The process begins by sterilizing the jars which will contain the veggies.

Diced Tomatoes

Diced Tomatoes

The tomatoes need to be washed off, rinsed, dried and finally diced into smaller chunks. The amount shown above will fill about seven large jars.

Fruit Fresh

Fruit Fresh

Before putting the lid on the jars, we added a small amount of “Fruit Fresh”, and added water until it was within one inch of the lid. The right amount of water is important for the jar to seal.

Sealing Jars

Sealing Jars

After placing the lids on the jars it’s time for a good half of an hour bath in boiling water. Be careful not to get burnt by the hot water.

A Lot of Canned Tomatoes

A Lot of Canned Tomatoes

Each batch yields about seven jars, so you can imagine that we have been canning quite often. All of the tomatoes shown have come from one of three gardens including my sisters, my mothers and my own garden.

Yes to Yellow

Yes to Yellow

We even tried out some yellow tomatoes after hearing that any color tomato is safe to can.

More Tomatoes

More Tomatoes

After helping with two batches of cans on Sunday, I figured I would go pick some more tomatoes. I have been trying to pick the tomatoes every four or five days, which gives the green tomatoes some time to start ripening. For now, I’ll pick any tomato that’s not green.

Zucchini Boats

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment
Zucchini Boats

Zucchini Boats

I’ve definitely had my fair share of salad this summer, so I decided to switch things up a bit and cook some warm food. Zucchini Boats are a great recipe for people who don’t like the taste of zucchini, and they are terribly easy to make. Here’s the recipe:

1.) Remove the skin from a large zucchini, and cut it in half. Remove the seeds from the center.

2.) Fry some ground beef, adding a small amount of butter (for taste, not needed).

3.) Microwave the zucchini until it is fairly soft.

4.) Grate some Mozzarella cheese, and place a small amount on the zucchini.

5.) Mix the ground beef with spaghetti sauce, marinara sauce or pizza sauce.

6.) Fill the center of the zucchini with the ground beef and sauce, then cover with Mozzarella cheese. I’ve used two types of cheese in the photo above.

7.) Place in a toaster over, or stove on medium heat until the cheese melts and just starts to turn brown.

Enjoy !

 

Garden Stromboli

August 9, 2011 Leave a comment
Peppers, Onions and a Hamburger

Peppers, Onions and a Hamburger

Finding something to eat for one person often is very easy, but unhealthy.  This little recipe to pretty easy to work through, and I imagine it’s quite healthy too. The ingredient list is short:

1.) One or Two hamburgers

2.) A chunk of butter

3.) One or Two large peppers

4.) A medium to large onion

5.) One roll of Pillsbury Bread sticks with Garlic.

6.) One small jar of spaghetti sauce.

7.) Shredded Cheese

8.) Olive Oil

9.) Optionally add minced garlic and other veggies such as tomatoes, celery, zucchini, etc.

To begin, cook the hamburger meat in a frying pan with a chunk of butter, carefully crushing the patty into ground meat with a spatula. Add in chopped onions and peppers when the meat is nearly cooked. At this point you could add other veggies and chunks of a garlic clove.

Garlic Sticks

Garlic Sticks

Next, place some aluminum foil over a cookie sheet, and spread some olive oil on the foil. Make sure to spread it around evenly. Unroll the bread sticks mix onto the foil. You may wish to cut the dough along the lines in order to make two smaller Stromboli.

Sauce, Hamburger, Onions, Peppers and Onion tops

Sauce, Hamburger, Onions, Peppers and Onion tops

Spread the spaghetti sauce on the uncooked dough, then add the chop meat and fried veggies, even distributing them. I’ve added some chopped up onion stems to the mixture, as well as lots of garlic salt and a bit of pepper.

Fold Over and Pinch the Dough

Fold Over and Pinch the Dough

Next, fold over the dough, and pitch it together. You may notice in the photo how I had used tomato paste and added Swiss chard to the mix. Don’t do that ! The paste and chard together made these Stromboli taste like a bar of iron.

When you’ve sealed up the pockets, place them in the oven and bake until the dough turns a nice brown. I long ago lost the temperature setting knob from my stove, so I’d recommend you use the same method I did, start with a low temp, and slowly turn it up till the dough cooks.

Light Brown Color Means it's Done

Light Brown Color Means it's Done

You may wish to add additional veggies to your Stromboli, but I’d recommend you cook them before placing them on the uncooked dough. The stove doesn’t cook the veggies in the amount of time it takes for the bread to darken.

Some things to remember:

1.) Do not use Tomato Paste in place of the Spaghetti sauce. It’s gross.

2.) Swiss Chard will overpower all of the other tastes, and in my opinion ruin the Stromboli.

3.) Use olive oil on the aluminum foil. Without this protection, the dough will stick to the foil and make a mess.

Hope you like this recipe as much as I did when I got it right !

Doing Battle with Critters

July 8, 2011 1 comment
New Weapons on Trial

New Weapons on Trial

I’m not proud of large sections of this years garden, with one major reason: The plants are being eaten alive. There is no way a plant can grow well if ground hogs and deer are constantly munching on them like some sort of under priced dinner. I thought my new guard dog would help greatly, and she has deterred damage to my lettuce, but she alone can’t protect everything.

To answer this new challenge I’ll be showcasing some of my attempts to battle these critters using any methods I can muster. I’ll start with a concoction of boiled garlic and cayenne peppers, continue through hanging pie pans all through the garden, and I hope to have motion sensors turn on lights to really scare these animals. I’ll share whatever I can learn, so lets begin with my first attempt to deter them from eating the food by making it taste Awful !

This recipe is one I’ve discussed with a co-worker, with a twist. Chad suggested boiling garlic, then straining off the garlic chunks as a spray to deter flea beetles. I figured that if garlic will deter bugs, then surely cayenne peppers would deter everything else.

I boiled a few small chunks of garlic with lots of water and nearly half a bottle of cayenne peppers. It can be quite potent to stir, so I added a small amount of olive oil so none of the chunks would stick to the bottom. After ruining my appetite for garlic for weeks to come, I strained out the chunks and added the now milky colored water to a half gallon of untreated water.

I then did something else I’m not too proud of, but it may just help. I left the gallon of garlic water sit on my kitchen counter for nearly a week as I was too busy to try it out. Last night I decided it was time to use the hot spray, so I took a whiff of the contents of the jug. It had become worse then I imagined, with a combination of garlic, hot pepper and rotten veggie smell producing a stench I’ve never encountered before.

This should really do the trick I thought, as I added half of the gallon jug to my sprayer. I then filled the rest of the sprayer up with tap water dilute it a bit. I sprayed everything from the beans through the peppers and onto the zucchini. While spraying, I noticed how bad the grazers had been treating my beans, as they were all nibbled down to 6 inches tall.

I’m pretty sure this spray will work, as I rubbed my eyes after taking a shower, and my eyes became irritated from the hot peppers residue that made it through the rinse cycle….. This must surely be some potent stuff !

 

It’s Good to be a Gardener

July 1, 2011 1 comment
First Salad

First Salad

I’ve tried in the past to grow a good selection of lettuce, and always regretted neglecting the plants. I’d usually end up spending my time tending tomato plants, weeding the cucumber patch, or pretending I was a fish in the local river.

My timing was never quite right most years, but alas, I think I’ve got the hang of it, and the salad above was all picked from my back yard buffet. It’s a diverse selection of greens, reds and even yellows consisting of lettuce, mesclun and chard. I cooked up some garlic bread sticks to go with my salad as an extra reward for all the work I’ve invested.

Peas

Peas

I’ve also managed to protect my peas enough to get a few for some stir fry in the near future. In the center of the photo is a small, and still thin pea. In past years the deer and ground hogs would have nibbled away the plants to nothing, but this year I’ve gotten serious with some heavy duty wire. I bent the wire in half, and placed it over the plants. They have since grown through the cage, and will require additional support, but at least this work won’t be in vain. I just hope I can harvest the crop before my sister then loves peas beats me too it = )