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Category Archives: Gardening

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.

Processing

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This is the time of year where I spend days reaping the benefits of the garden harvest. It’s quite a bit of work, sometimes more than I expect. But, it is worth it in the dead of winter when I am pulling pints of tomato sauce out of the freezer.

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Real tomato sauce. That spends hours simmering on the stove. I have been perfecting my technique these days. Learning how to best extract the “meat” of the tomato from the seeds and skin.

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I blanch my tomatoes after cutting the tops off of them. Let them cool down before peeling and seeding. The batch I made yesterday used 24 tomatoes. Yielded two quarts of sauce.

I did get lucky with some “gleaned” tomatoes.

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Split and damaged tomatoes. We were harvesting from one of the community gardens while the plot owner was away. These tomatoes weren’t in the best of shape. Not good to use for food bank harvest. For an avid gardener though, these tomatoes could make some awesome sauce. I cut away quite a bit of them. You need to get the infested areas out of the tomatoes, or risk a ruined sauce.

My sauce is easy to make, in terms of work. It just takes patience.

I start with onions, celery, carrots, sweet peppers, garlic. Sweated down in olive oil. Add the meat of the tomatoes to the pan. Add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning. A pinch of sugar.

I like my tomato sauce to be chunky. So I don’t blend it at all. Right now I have a dozen containers in the freezer from three sessions of sauce making.

If you have never made your own sauce, you do need to try it. At least once. To see just how much time our ancestors spent putting up food for the winter. It does make you appreciate what we can buy instead of make. Even though I have found that making my own food yields greater flavor.

Here’s to harvest, and the fruits of our labor.

This Weekend

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Two very different interesting programs out at Mt. Pleasant. Howard County Conservancy.

Heard of the Perseids? These meteors will streak across the dark sky for the next few nights. Peak viewing should be Friday night. Dr. Joel Goodman (star doc) and Dr. Alex Storrs from TSU will be at the Conservancy talking about the meteors and along with the dozens of attendees (this is a well attended event) will be hanging out in their lawn chairs searching the night skies and counting meteors.

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The sky above the Conservancy is one of the nearest non light polluted places here in the county to watch the meteors. Event is 10pm until 1:30am. Details here.

Then on Saturday morning I will be leading an event with another program volunteer, Wendy Ng. The two of us have been following the progress in the community gardens. Watching the diversity in plantings. Seeing how what was just a traditional European influenced mix of plants has now evolved into many different cultures.

Come wander around with us. 10am on the 13th. See some interesting plants. Learn how they are used. Take home a few recipes.

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This program combines nature, gardening, history and more.

You’ll even get to see some of the more interesting fermentation ideas, the best way to preserve the fruits of your garden.

Le Jardin

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I finally got my garden in. The community garden plot, all 500 sq ft of it.

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This picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s hard to get a good shot beyond the row covered section. Which is about to be removed since the arugula under it didn’t do very well. I will probably add a row of green beans there.

There are four rows. The first one.

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Tomatoes and rhubarb. Two young rhubarb plants at the end. Twenty four tomato plants. This year it is about 50% heirlooms. German Johnson, Abe Lincoln, Brandywine, Rainbow, Black Krim, Purple Cherokee and Black Cherry. The rest. Old standbys like Big Boy, Early Girl, Supersweet 100, Carolina Gold, and Beefsteak.

The second row.

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Under the row cover, is some Bibb lettuce. It was also supposed to have arugula, but it never germinated. There are shallots along the edge, and four rows of onions. White, yellow and red. Tucked between the cover and the onions is some dill and my favorite African blue basil.

The third row.

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These three are zucchini. Above them is a grouping of three kinds of cucumbers. Pickling, slicing and bush crop. Today I put in two pepper plants at the very tip of that row. They are yellow sweet peppers.

The fourth row. Asparagus, mostly. It is currently slowing down just a bit, and I am letting about 20% of it go to seed.

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I still am getting beaucoup asparagus, though.

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As of today, 208 spears harvested.

I didn’t plant any canning tomatoes. I expect to get them from our CSA. They offer bulk buys of Amish paste tomatoes. 25 pound boxes. Last year they were $30 a box. I could also get them from Breezy Willow Farm. They offer bulk as well.

This was the latest date I have ever finished the garden. I don’t know if I will have tomatoes in time for the Howard County Fair. That would be a first. I have always done OK in the tomato category.

As for my freezer here from last year. I am down to one bag of blanched tomatoes. Plus, three jars of sauce and two bags of oven roasted tomatoes. I got about the right amount processed last year. Time to start replenishing the freezer.