Archive for July, 2010

Too-cute Cucurbits Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Or, “pumpkin” if you please.

Rouge Vif D'Etampes

These cuties are Rouge Vif D’Etampes. They’ll also been called cheesecake pumpkins or the Cinderella pumpkin given their fairytale look. Mine are just starting to orange up. A couple times a week I turn them ever so slightly, not only to get even color and shape, but to check that the sluggos or borers haven’t taken up residence on their underside. Yes, we had slugs last year that started in on our pumpkins. We could solve this by elevating the fruits onto a board, laying down some diatomacious earth, or gravel.

These are, once again, volunteers. This particular pumpkin is a french heirloom variety, grown for both looks and as an edible. I was watching PBS’ “The Victory Garden” and the resident chef on the show made a delectable looking succotash out of this same pumpkin (cubed and steamed), green beans and sweet corn – I can hardly wait! I’ll be sure to save one to make into baby food. Maybe you don’t think of pumpkins beyond pie or jack O lanterns, but they are very versatile: breads, sautees, roasted, mashed, etc. And, never EVER throw out those tasty seeds (which variety doesn’t seem to matter here)! I was just munching on some roasted ones from last year. I’ll also keep a few raw for seed-starting next year – or let the volunteers do their work.

A is for Apricot Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

I’d posted earlier that our mystery tree was an apricot afterall. This is the first year it has both bloomed and borne fruit. The Hub and The Son had stepped out one morning before us girls had awoken and found that many had swan-songed their way to the ground. The boys gathered them up and were eager to present their find.

I could almost watch their orangening sugars release – I knew we had to do something quick to maximize the quick harvest. I took the ripest ones, split them, threw out the seeds and dumped them in my, not yet christened, chinois (french colander). This is a great tool for all fruits that you want to to maintain the highest amount of pulp from but not the sometimes fibrous skins and seeds. You can also use a food processor or a good blender – these won’t take the skins off as nicely.

It just feels good turning the basic pestel round and round as it smashes the fruit through the colander leaving behind the fuzzy, bitter skins. I tried to peel a couple of the little fruits myself – what a mess. What comes out is a lovely, smooth puree.

This puree can them be made into jams, jellies, syrups, etc. What path did I take? Baby food. One of my focuses with our garden this year was to plant baby-food friendly items like squash and edible pumpkins (some varieties are only for looks and aren’t at all palatable) so I was elated that we were also privy to this unexpected bounty. The best/easiest way I know to store baby food is by using an ice cube tray – way quicker and less fussier than canning.

I ladled the yolk-hued goo into each tray pocket, tapped it on the counter a couple times to release air bubbles and then stuck it in the freezer for a couple hours. Once frozen I put the whole lot into a heavy-duty freezer bag and labeled with the month and year.

Now, in about 3 months, when my youngest daughter is ready to try some solid foods, I can offer her this sweet-tart treat, already individually portioned and needing only a brief heat-up. These should keep 6 months in a deep freeze (we have a smaller, chest-style one – awesome for this type of thing), 3 months in a fridge freezer. Can’t wait to use this same system with my pumpkins and squash!

Herbal Monday, July 26th, 2010

This year my herbs were fewer than previous years, but I’ve tried them a different way than past years. Most herbs like good drainage and lean soil so I put a few in pots and they’ve done so well that I don’t think I’ll ever go back to flowering annuals. I have a large one with oregano, greek basil and lavender – it looks lovely, is easily accessible on the front steps and I’ve hardly had to water and it doesn’t require feeding like fussy annuals. Awesome! Nothing like adding more edibles.

  • I have one tuft of thyme – love it on roasted potatoes, meat or poultry.
  • The dill is booming – it seeds itself every year with variation. Last year, not so much and this year it is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e – it’s great on grill fish, potatoes, in sour cream for dressing veggies or used as a condiment in wraps and sandwiches.
  • Oregano – great on roasts, cold pasta salads, sauces
  • Basil – pesto, salads, sauces
  • Mint – mojitoes, ice tea, lemonade, garnish – I haven’t used much but I should use it more
  • Catmint – it is everywhere. The purple flowers are pretty but I’ve not used it for culinary purposes but, like most herbs in the mint family, it would make a lovely hot tea.
  • Lavender – This can be used in breads, muffins, cakes and butters but I’ve not tried it – I’ve been clipping off the heads when they are in full bloom and setting them aside to dry so I can collect enough for a couple sachets. I picked up the Munstead variety – before fall I might sink it into the ground and see if it will come back – it’s slated for Zone 5 though. But, my mother has had a patch of lavender come back for a few years now but she’s amiss at what variety she’d picked up.

Just came across this story from AP – don’t think it’s made it to these parts but it is sure something to be on the lookout for in future years.

Associated Press Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A fungus spreading among the nation’s basil crop may leave lovers of Italian and Thai food feeling a bit bland.
Basil downy mildew first surfaced in the U.S. around 2007 and is slowly but surely ruining the herb at spots across the country. Hardest hit areas are on the East Coast but it also has been found as far west as California.
For growers, the fungus can be devastating.
‘‘We destroyed all our crop this year,’’ said Francesco DeBaggio of DeBaggio’s Herb Farm in Chantilly, Va. ‘‘We killed about 6,000 plants, or about $18,000 worth of plants.’’
DeBaggio said he first noticed it in May and didn’t realize what it was. Once he determined it was downy mildew he decided to destroy his crop.
‘‘It’s huge for us,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re small so it’s fairly significant. We would have sold 100 percent of those that were destroyed.’’
Basil is a commonly used to make pesto and tomato sauce and is a popular ingredient in Italian and Thai recipes. It’s also often used in salads or sprinkled on tomatoes.
Margaret McGrath, an associate professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, said the fungus is likely more of a problem for home gardeners and herb farmers who may not have access to fungicides that are available to larger commercial growers.
‘‘We think it’s moving around each year, surviving over the winter and then moving north during the summer,’’ McGrath said.
The relatively recent emergence of the fungus means many growers don’t know about it, McGrath said.
‘‘If you don’t know what you have, you may not be responding correctly,’’ she said.
In some cases, growers may think the yellowing leaves indicate the plant needs more fertilizer.
‘‘And that’s not going to help at all,’’ McGrath said.
She said areas of shade and high humidity seem to be more susceptible to the fungus and that gardeners can help control it by spacing the plants further apart and planting them in areas that get more sun.
It is carried by spores that travel through the air, which means ‘‘it has the potential to go almost anywhere,’’ McGrath said.
The spores are a gray or purplish color. Affected leaves begin to yellow but quickly turn brown before they die, McGrath said.
Downy mildew fungi have been around for years, with different forms affecting different plants and vegetables, but the downy mildew affecting basil is new, McGrath said.
It takes about two weeks from the time the plant is infected to when the fungus first appears, and DeBaggio said that means some growers may be selling infected plants without knowing it.
‘‘They can’t see it until it’s too late and that plays a huge role in keeping the disease from being controlled better,’’ DeBaggio said.
Margie Pikarsky, owner of the organic Bee Heaven Farm in Redland, Fla., said she has had problems growing basil since 2008. Until she recently heard of the fungus, she didn’t know it was to blame for her failed crop.
At first she and other farmers thought there was a problem with the seed. The next year she blamed cold weather. She switched seed sources and the weather warmed but the herb still would not grow.
‘‘We had no way of confirming any (cause of the problem), all we knew was we had no basil,’’ Pikarsky said.
The fungus, which poses no risk to human health, could have the biggest impact on the market for fresh cut basil.
‘‘When you harvest it and turn it into pesto, no harm no foul because no one will know the difference,’’ DeBaggio said. ‘‘When you sell leaves that aren’t possibly green — I can’t sell something that’s imperfect. If there is any visible damage, it reduces the potential it can be sold.’’
So far, McGrath said the problem isn’t so bad that it has cut into supplies or caused prices to rise.
George Ball, chief executive officer of Warminster, Pa.-based Burpee Seeds, said it’s important for people to realize the blight is manageable if precautions are taken, such as spreading plants out and putting them in sunnier locations.
Ball also said there are some varieties of basil, such as purple ruffles basil, that appear to be more resistant to the fungus.
‘‘Try darker leaf varieties,’’ he said.
McGrath agreed that some darker leaf and spice varieties have had less disease in variety comparisons.
For DeBaggio, who grows some specialty varieties, the fungus raises concerns about next year’s crop. And he’s decided against trying to grow more basil this year.
‘‘We’re just not going to take any chances,’’ he said. ‘‘To have another season like this, that would put us out of business. We couldn’t survive that again.
‘‘Once you ruin your reputation, you can’t get it back.’’
Associated Press writer Annie Greenberg contributed to this story from Miami.

Drip, drip boom Friday, July 23rd, 2010

With the frequent rain, I’ve yet to really miss having an outdoor faucet or house. The little supplemental watering I’ve done is with rain barrel and watering can. Glad I got the barrels. They’ve developed a scum, but that’s ok. We’ve kept mosquito dunks in them to keep mosquito larvae at bay and most recently The Hub dumped in some extra minnows . . . larvae feeders and emulsion all in one?

I have a 1/2 dozen Rouge vif d-Etampes pumpkins on the vine – these are one of my volunteers. I did end up with vine borers again but I did my best to catch them somewhat early and cut them out of the vine they were in without cutting completely through it. Then I covered a good portion of the affect vine with dirt and watered it in. Hopefully this will allow the vine to sustain the pumpkins until they get big enough to eat. I plan on making them into baby food and maybe some succotash when the beans gets growing.

Our mystery tree – Is it a plum or apricot? — has been identified and apricot it is. The Hub and The Boy were out early one morning to find that the little fuzz green fruits had ripened to yellow gold and fallen to the ground. About 3 medium mixing bowls full of apricots – we ate some as is and when they started getting even more ripe a couple days later I started making baby food out of them – post to come!

Get your machetes out! Friday, July 9th, 2010

I stopped home on my break tonight to find The Hub up to his eyeballs in weeds and debris. He decided to once-a-month-warrior our garden back into submission. Our volunteer vines have blocked sun from a lot of our producers – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and potatoes. He thinned them a bit but they are still the Overlords of the Garden. Weeds are taking hold wherever they can and the only think hindering their growth are the Overlords. In his haste to wrangle the garden my sunflowers are no more – he claimed he couldn’t tell what was what (since everything was at the same height and the same color) ?! As I left to head back to work he was firing up the fire pit. Time to go over fire safety rules and how to dial 9-1-1 with the kiddos.

First spuds Friday, July 9th, 2010

Norland Red and Yukon gold fingerling potatoes

In April we’d planted Norland Red and Yukon Gold potatoes. A couple days ago I asked The Hub to see if there were some potatoes ready for eating. I was grilling some spice rubbed chicken on our charcoal grill and we’d used up everything in the fridge as far as veggies go. He came back with two plant’s worth of new potatoes. Since I alternated the gold and red potatoes we got a variety. I cut them up with a small white onion our daughter picked, drizzled them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them on  a sheet in the oven – about 425F for 20 minutes.

A little extra – I used oregano and thyme, chopped, from the garden with a mix of dry coriander, salt, br. sugar, pepper, nutmeg and garlic powder for the dry rub on the chicken. To top the potatoes we mixed some light sour cream with a generous portion of fresh dill leaves and chives.

It was goooood eats!

Fall bulbs Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Sorry, I typed the ‘F’ word. Fall, or autumn if you are so inclined. I peered into my mailbox today and found the first Spring bulbs catalog of the season. ‘Spring’ bulbs are best planted in Autumn. And, if you are ordering you can get some good deals – this catalog has $25 certificate when you buy $50 worth of items.

At least now I still have a sense of what my spring flower bed looked like and where I could add some early pops of color. Tulips and crocus are missing from my bed of muscari (grape hycinth) and daffodils. I’ve already spread a few of those out and moved some iris and allium around to spread the wealth of color when they are in bloom. But, I don’t seem to have anything to show off in the early spring. Crocus and tulips should fill that void quite well.

Huge mysteries Thursday, July 1st, 2010
A slew of volunteer squash and pumpkins have popped up this summer.

Huge, as in, gigantor leaves. This leaf is from a volunteer plant that sprouted up between our cucumbers and potatoes. It’s soon to take over the world and I can’t help but call her Audrey II.

Volunteer leaf is HUGE

It’s in about the same place that we had heirloom pumpkins and hubbard squash – both I’ve planted again this year, on purpose, but neither have this size of leaves. Aaah, Mother Nature is trying to one up me.

Another mystery is what is going on with an heirloom pumpkin’s leaves. The main veins of the leaf have turned dry and rotting. So far my limited research has come up with nothing. The one similar photo I found was also labeled, “Pumpkin leaf with mystery virus” – uh, thanks. I’ll have to get back to you on this one. I’m even more disappointed by the fact that I rotated my crops so my diseases/blights/rots/etc. would be limited. You have a bigger chance for diseases when you plant the same things in the same spots year after year. Guess I’ll have to continue on with my research  – so far there is only one plant showing signs.

Mystery leaf disease on Pumpkin