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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.

Food Insecurity

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The harvest season is coming to an end. Those of us who work to provide fresh produce to our local food bank are taking out the last vegetables in the garden.

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This is the time of the year when we get slammed with greens, and not much else. The cabbages are winding down.

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Once you harvest a large head of cabbage, it tries to make more but you get mostly cabbage leaves. You can still harvest them, and make soup, but this is the beginning of the end.

We only have carrots, beets, collards, lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard left to harvest. Just about a month until we finish. Then, the fresh produce dwindles down at the Food Bank. In November and December many people donate, but those long months after the holidays are pretty grim. The gardens and local farms donate between the months of May and November. After that, it’s mostly canned goods.

I get an immense satisfaction in harvesting for our local food bank. They are about to move into much larger space, where they can process more fresh foods and hold them. That is good for the gardeners, the farmers and the local CSAs, like mine. Our site host wants to give more to the food bank but the limited storage and the limited days to accept non-perishables has hindered us in the past.

Every week when we drop off our community garden bags, we ask when they will be moving. Hopefully, it will be soon.

In the meantime, if you can, be sure to help by donating. Head over to the bulk stores and pick up some staples. Beans and canned proteins like tuna are always welcome.

Here’s the link to our local food bank. Take a few minutes and find yours.

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.

Rainy Days

Finally, we get a good soaking rain. Good enough to give the sod a fighting chance to survive.

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Although it also kept the carpenters from working on the deck.

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I will be happy when they get done with the work and we can finish seeding the sodding the yard. The mud runs are getting a wee bit eroded.

The good news also, the tomatoes in my garden got much needed relief from the heat and drought conditions.

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I am running low on ripe tomatoes, and there are many green ones on the plants up at my garden.

Today though was cooler, dreary, just the type of weather that screams “SOUP!” and has me reaching for the pans and the crock pot.

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I dug into the freezer and took out a package of my Maple Lawn turkey drumsticks. The last ones from my visit at Thanksgiving. I freeze them with two to a pack. Just the right amount to make turkey stock, and crock pot soup.

Don’t make the mistake that I made and put frozen turkey into the crockpot. It could crack your ceramic from the thermal shock. I started my stock this morning on the stove.

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The turkey will defrost, and you should take it out and let it cool down enough to shred. What you see above is the bones, skin and tough pieces, used to make a hearty stock. Those shredded pieces?

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Went here. In the crock pot. This is a two step process, but yields at least four meals.

In that stove top pot, I placed the legs with carrots, onions and celery. Tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper. I forgot that I didn’t have carrots in the freezer, so Jenny’s came to the rescue here. I will miss the market when it closes in five weeks.

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When she opened this morning, I bought enough carrots to use today and to cut, blanch and freeze some for when I need them in the winter. The freezer is getting back to being ready for the end of the markets.

In the crock pot, I put water, the better parts of the carrots, celery and onion (I use the ugly stuff in the stock, and then discard them). After I got the turkey ready, I shredded it to remove all those pesky little bones that turkey drumsticks have. Seasoned and left to slow cook all day. I just added the egg noodles at 4 pm, so they will be perfect when we are ready for dinner at 6.

A nice bowl of soup. Some of our awesome CSA bread.

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Last Tuesday we got a loaf of miche.

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One of my favorites from She Wolf Bakery. I definitely will be getting bread in my fall CSA share, as I love the vegan breads we get. They stay fresh all week. No mold. Don’t get hard and stale. Bread and butter, with soup. A perfect meal to herald the change of seasons.

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The flowers? Just a bit of sunshine on a rainy day.

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.