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Category Archives: Gardening

Rain or Shine

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No matter the weather. Harvest goes on. That includes those of us who volunteer weekly to harvest vegetables at our community garden. Perishables destined for the Howard County Food Bank.

We line up the wheelbarrows and get to work. 26-28 weeks total of harvests beginning in May and ending in late November. I am so thankful that we have a dedicated core of volunteers. It makes no difference if we get wet, or if we have to start really early to beat the heat.

I have learned much in this endeavor. What works. What doesn’t. What is best to grow. What won’t be used. It isn’t easy to cook healthy meals with limited resources but we try to grow items that lend themselves to simple preparations. No need for ovens, big pans, spices, etc. We know some of the recipients are living with a hot plate and maybe a microwave.

Greens are always welcome. Simple to prepare. Tomatoes are a treat for all of us. Nothing like juicy, ripe, sweet heirlooms, bursting with flavor. This week was one of our best for tomatoes, as we had three other gardeners away on vacation, and their tomato plants were overloaded with ripe fruit.

For the past month or so, we have had harvests of over 100 pounds weekly. We have these overproducing eggplants, which is a first for us. We have peppers that are full of blossoms and then are weighed down by the load of peppers, particularly our jalapenos. We also were very lucky with leeks, garlic, and of course, the tromboncino.

We have taken to calling them Italian squash, in order to get them accepted. They are the absolute best “zucchini-like” vegetable we grow. They get huge, but those long thin necks don’t contain seeds, which can be bitter. They slice and cook easily, and they also (for those of us with the utensils to do it) make wonderful fritters, breads, cakes, muffins, and more, when shredded. We have been getting dozens of these weekly, and they really do taste so much better than zucchini that have been left on the vine too long.

I get out a frying pan. Put in onion, pepper, tromboncini, cherry tomatoes. All in a splash of oil. Add salt. Pepper. Oregano. Cook until your house smells like spaghetti sauce. Serve over rice. Pasta. A “nuked” potato. It’s so good.

Now, where was I? I got off the subject, which is the garden. We are in the midst of planting for fall. The collards, kale, cabbage, carrots, beets, broccoli, and chard, all going in this month. We have 2000 square feet at the moment. 1000 square feet of the original food bank plot, plus 500 square feet being used where current gardeners had to take a year off for health reasons, plus 500 square feet where gardeners moved away during the season.

It means we may hit 2000 pounds this year. Which would be a record for us. Our highest total two years ago was 1700+ pounds.

Oh, and I forgot. Two of us put in a couple of butternut squash seedlings a while back. They went nuts and are advancing beyond the plots into the bench area. They are in an area of my plot that I didn’t use. There must be 20 of them ripening now.

They are another squash that goes a long way and is really easy to cook, once you manage to peel it. Can’t wait to have them ready to harvest.

Here’s to our volunteers, and here’s hoping the weather cooperates and gives us a good fall season, since summer has certainly been a good one for us.

 

 

 

Almost August

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Summer is just rushing by. Really high heat. Really heavy rain. Humidity. All those endearing aspects of living here in the MidAtlantic.

August is here. Summer is halfway over. Thankfully. But, we have favorite activities staring us down. Like the county fair. I am working on my submissions for herbs, vegetable display, heirloom tomatoes and more. Daily visits to the garden to plead with the heirlooms to ripen in time.

My calendar has more days with activities than blank days.

CSA. Food bank harvest. Fair. CSA picnic. Howard County Conservancy activities, like the BioBlitz and the “Bugs, Bees and Daiquiris”.

Processing the garden. There are days when I harvest three pounds of cherry tomatoes and a couple more pounds of larger ones. Time to fire up the canning pots and get busy.

Add a few family commitments and we may be in event overload.

Will we see you at the fair? Or, maybe the happy hour with Mike Raupp and Paula Shrewsbury?

It’s the height of summer. Enjoy it!

It’s Tomato Time!

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Yes, it is.

The floodgates have opened. They are coming in by the dozen now. Including a new one in my medley.

Purple Bumble Bee. A hybrid. A large cherry tomato. The first ones were ripe this afternoon. They are incredibly sweet. Larger than others.

I have only gotten a couple large tomatoes so far. Many, many green ones on the vines. Waiting for that tsunami to begin.

In other items out there, the okra are ripening.

Purple okra. Should do well when paired with purple tomatoes, shouldn’t it?

Zucchini still producing strong.

There were two today. I came home and put it all together. Zucchini. Okra. Tomatoes. The lonely two asparagus spears I found. An onion.

Sautéed to serve with heritage pork chops, from Evermore Farm. You don’t get much fresher than two hours out of the garden.

The Tidbit Tuesday Post

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Yes, I promised to post on Tuesdays. About something. Anything. Maybe food. Maybe events. Maybe activities. Maybe the weather. Who knows.

Let’s start with tomatoes. We have tomatoes.

Lovely little cherry tomatoes. Ripening on the windowsill. I still pick them just about when they are ready, to avoid bug damage.

The crazy little ones on the left are called tomatoberry garden. They look like strawberries, with a pointy end.

I did get one Scarlet Red tomato the other day. Other than that, lots of green tomatoes on the main plants. I put in 30 plants this year. I know that is obsessive, but I still try to achieve that blue ribbon for heirlooms at the county fair.

Changing the subject.

Why doesn’t grocery store celery look like this?

Why do they cut away the leaves, which add so much flavor to soup? I will quickly blanch, then rinse and freeze these beauties in order to make chicken stock this winter.

The final tidbit? Cauliflower cake.

An Ottolenghi creation. From his book, Plenty More. One of the highlights of a month long cooking spree using any of his books. The recipe is here.

It’s a show stopping recipe that will impress anyone when you serve it.

Short and Sweet Saturdays

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A new addition to my writings. To entice me to sit down more often and write. When we get too busy to take the time to pursue our hobbies that bring us pleasure, we sometimes need to stop and smell the flowers again.

I will try and post at least twice a week. Those Tidbit Tuesdays, and these. Discipline. It’s what I need to come down to the computer and write.

I have a long in process post about the trivia behind amateur radio Field Day. I will get it done and posted soon, I hope.

In the meantime, some tidbits from the past few days.

WELCOME BACK HOWCHOW!!!!

Not excited, am I? For 18 months, we mourned the absence of our favorite food writer, who helped me grow this site by linking to it and letting me guest post on the most comprehensive local food scene blog in Central Maryland (and beyond). His toddler had him way too busy to write (and curtailed his frequent visits to the local restaurant scene). It’s good to see him back and writing about what is new and exciting in Howard County.

In other news, I have just finished my first four month subscription to a meat share CSA, with Evermore Farms, and loved it so much I am renewing for the next four months. I like getting this monthly surprise bundle. Keeps me creative in the kitchen. Like today.

My small share. 7-9 pounds of meat a month. I also get a chicken share. Today’s bird was 5.25 pounds. I also chose to get two dozen eggs a month. The right size for the two of us. I supplement the share with a few items from the freezers at the farm. I do have the option of getting a “delivered” share, to be picked up at the Columbia Wegmans every month, or to have home delivery, which requires leaving a cooler outside. I like going to the farm, picking out a couple of extra items (including Rheb’s truffles and Salazon chocolate). Today I did get two skirt steaks to grill.

This month was heavy on the grilling stuff. Beef patties. Sirloin steak. Lamb sausage. It’s a good mix of beef, pork and lamb.

There are some ham “chips” which are just screaming for me to use in a traditional Maryland style crab soup. When I make it, there will be pictures.

And, the last tidbit today. What is it with the wind out there. It knocked over my potted bay leaf plant twice so I had to rescue it in order to keep it safe from breaking.

I had to wedge it in between the patio and deck.

It has all kinds of new growth on it, and it is getting unwieldy. I need to transplant it again to a bigger heavier pot. That does make it difficult to bring inside for the winter but it’s worth it to have fresh bay leaves for soups and stews.

Time to stop writing here and get back to answering emails on the community gardens page. Now that’s a whole other topic I could write volumes about.

The Garden 2017 Edition

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Been a while since I posted. Things get in the way of sitting down to write.

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I finally did get my garden planted. My full plot in the community garden. Where I am now a co-manager, which has taken up quite a bit of my personal time. I did post once about the asparagus. The 24 foot by 3 foot section that produces copious amounts of asparagus. Last year 360, yes, 30 dozen spears of asparagus. This year, I am already at 200 spears and June isn’t here yet. Let’s just say we eat more than our fair share of asparagus in many ways. Salads. Frittatas. Pasta. Grilled. Baked. Steamed. Whatever. It is interesting to me to watch an invasive, more or less, take over larger areas along that row of the garden. It propagates underground and there is no rhyme or reason as to where it will emerge.

I have been selectively ripping grass out of that area and trying to tame the rest of the stuff surrounding the largest, most prolific plants.

This has been a strange spring. We tilled later than usual. And, planted much later than I normally do.

I moved my tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and onions. Rotation in the soil is one very important aspect in gardening. This year, my latest addition, okra. Why? I have no idea, but we like to grill it, and I put in four plants. There are also tromboncino. Let’s see how they do this year.

I mean, they have done well in the past. I like them for baking and for fritters. They do not have many seeds in the neck, and they are definitely less moisture laden. They are a challenge to keep in line in the garden, but I have them in cages.

So, here it is, the 28th of May and I finally have all three rows finished. A small bed of arugula. Onions. Three kinds of cucumbers. Zucchini. A dozen different varieties of tomatoes. The okra. Whoops, no peppers. I suppose I should put in at least one type of pepper. One more trip to the farmer’s market to pick up a plant, or two.

Crossing my fingers for a good season this year. Please make the rain stop for a while. The weeds are starting to win again.

Instant Summer

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Just add heat and humidity, along with all the pollen. This week is a scorcher. Out of nowhere we went from cool and rainy to hot and humid. I have been planting vegetables like crazy in my garden, and trying to keep up with the watering to help them acclimate.

Just a few really interesting views on what is happening.

Native coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens

It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Supposedly a rare native butterfly, whose name escapes me at the moment. This beautiful plant is in the children’s garden at the Howard County Conservancy community gardens. I am attempting to maintain and catalog what is there.

Including this.

Poppy family, maybe? I am learning more about flowers these days, while still maintaining my vegetable plot.

On the home front, the warm weather triggered the rhododendron.

There are two bushes in our yard. One, my favorite, the white one, doesn’t always display a large number of blooms. This year, yes, it has.

Anything new and exciting in your gardens this year?

Whither Winter?

To paraphrase the Elvis quote, “winter has left the building”, or has it? Rumor has it that we will get another Arctic Clipper blast a week from tomorrow. Hopefully, that won’t be the case, but it certainly doesn’t feel like winter anymore around here. I had the French doors open all day today, and it is T-shirt weather.

I seriously considered heading up to the community gardens and clearing up the asparagus beds. I almost took the tomato seedlings out of their warm spot in the laundry room and moved them out for fresh air.

I went back in my old photos to check out the four previous February files. I found quite a bit of bad weather this week.

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Two years ago, on the 22nd. Frantic birds chowing down on the hastily thrown seeds on the patio. It was too deep to get to the feeders.

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Last year, the day after Valentine’s Day.

Other years I also had the mad rush for fresh water from the cedar waxwings, and the pileated woodpecker working on a possible new home (or food source in my dying tree).

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I think the birds tell me when the seasons are changing. That means right now, since the juncos are still here, that winter has not left the building. Spring will be here when they leave and the hummingbirds show up.

Now, if only we don’t get weather that is too harsh, because the daffodils are coming up and the tulips are just popping through the soil. I hope the dogwoods and the cherry trees don’t suffer from too much cold. They look to be close to budding.

Climate variance. Around here, we measure things like bud break. Soil temperatures. The farmers can tell you all about weather and climate variance. They have large amounts of data tracking the weather. It’s the only way to know when to plant.

Greens

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An overload of greens, and then some. The return of root vegetable season, and the return of really healthy greens with my weekly CSA basket.

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This week’s medium share had some real weight to it. The turnips, beets and radishes all came with a massive amount of greens attached. Add to that a couple of squash. It is time to dust off the recipes that use greens and squash to make a harvest meal. The easy thing about greens. They can be used in a sauté recipe, puréed, or just torn up, blanched and added to other recipes.

You can also make fancy pesto with them. Like this one. Used in my green tomato pasta. I made a close cousin to that recipe just the other day. This next batch? Will be using radish greens, basil, beet greens and scallions.

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Purple beets obviously have purple “greens”. The color of this pesto should be interesting.

Add to all the goodness from the CSA basket, I found a stray gongura plant in my garden. I think the seeds washed over into my tomatoes from a neighboring plot.

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Sometimes called red sorrel leaves, it has quite a reputation as a staple in many Indian diets, and is not that inexpensive to buy. There are at least 10 plots in our community gardens that have this plant flourishing.

Finally, in the greens world around here, there are the last of the green tomatoes. I harvested three pounds today, to finish off my season. A few will be bagged and left to ripen. The rest are destined to be chopped. Some for a green tomato pasta, and the rest for green tomato jam. My friend, Kirsten over at Farm Fresh Feasts turned me on to this jam. You have to take the time and make it. Slather it on a burger.

Just think. The markets are still open around here. It is also easy to head out to Larriland and pick green tomatoes. And beets. Pestos. Jams. Spreads. Soups. The possibilities are endless for what you can do with all things “green”.

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Buy your root vegetables from the local farmers and make sure you use up those greens. Don’t let them go to waste.

Home Grown

Tomatoes. The reason I garden.

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This year I concentrated on heirlooms. Which didn’t do very well, but I did make it to the century mark. 100 pounds of tomatoes by last Tuesday. With a few pounds of green tomatoes still hanging out there. Third year in a row to pass the century mark.

I dedicated about 100 square feet to tomatoes. ROI, a pound a square foot.

This year I did eliminate roma/paste tomatoes from my plantings. Deciding to rely on Larriland Farms, pick your own, to supply me with tomatoes for freezing. Last Saturday, me and hundreds of other people descended on the farm. Most of them looking for apples and pumpkins. Me, looking for tomatoes.

If you could make it through the parking lot to the area for picking tomatoes, you didn’t encounter any crowds. Down beyond the beets and the broccoli, the last tomato fields are open. Just a few weeks left to pick. Prices are amazing. $1.49 a pound for less than 20 pounds picked. Price drops to 75 cents a pound for more than 20 pounds. I picked 26 pounds.

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Almost 24 pounds of paste tomatoes and almost 3 pounds of Campari. It was sauce making and oven roasting time, for three days total, at my house this week. The freezer is getting full. Winter will have tomatoes on the menu.

The Campari.

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They suffered a bit from the strange weather. Lots of cracked tomatoes. Just like what I encountered in my heirlooms in my garden.

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Many of the Campari were destined for the roasting tray. This batch was tomatoes, a red pepper, scallions, olive oil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Slow roast at 250 degrees. I ended up with a total of four trays of roasted tomatoes. One with the Campari and three with the paste tomatoes. When I use the paste tomatoes, I slice them in half or in thirds, depending on their size.

As for the bulk of the paste tomatoes. Three different batches of sauce. Each yielded 2 quarts.

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I blanch them first. Remove skins and seeds after they have cooled. In the meantime, I prepare the base.

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Onions and carrots first. Sometimes I add green pepper. Always I add minced garlic right before I start putting tomatoes in the pot.

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A tray from the oven, and a finished sauce. My sauce is simple. Just add a pinch of sugar, some salt and pepper and oregano. I like it chunky. Like this.

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The pasta. From Boarman’s. Called Al Dente. It’s an egg enriched pappardelle. It’s hanging by the butcher case. The sausages. One was hot Italian, the other sweet Italian. I ask the guys at Boarman’s to give me one of each and use them for my Italian meals. Mixing them.

As for that days work.

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Ready to transfer to the basement freezer. Yep, it took three days total to process the $20 worth of tomatoes I picked. Yield. Four jars of roasted tomatoes. Six quarts of sauce. One was eaten. Five in the freezer. Not a bad value.