Saturday, June 27, 2009

Garden Journal 6/27/09:
Digging Up an Early Red Potato Harvest

Volunteer New Potatoes and a Few 'Test' Heads of Garlic

Realization of the Day:
Gardening must be one of the few things where your ineffeciency will sometimes end up rewarding you.

Of course that's not always the case—like when you never get around to mulching something and get a bumper crop of weeds that's twice as tall as what you're trying to grow (been there, still doing that).

But today some of my carelessness out there paid off in the form of the beautiful little red bounty you see above. Apparently I missed a few potatoes when I was digging the last of them in the fall, and when they started sprouting up come spring I decided to leave them—even though they were growing in the middle of what was now my garlic bed. I figured they would be growing deeper than the shallow rooted garlic and probably wouldn't bother it.

My 'real' potato planting (which I'll be writing about in a future post) didn't happen until May 12th (I always plant my potatoes much later than anybody else around here), so this early harvest—which I'll simply scrub clean, cut into chunks, boil until tender, and toss with organic butter and a sprinkling of salt—is especially welcome.

There are only enough potatoes for a small serving each, but for the amount of effort involved—which was zero, unless you count the three minutes it took to dig them up—I'll gladly take it. I bet they'll taste wonderful alongside a couple of homegrown grilled lamb leg steaks, some of the green beans I picked yesterday (more about these in an upcoming post, too), and maybe a warmed up hunk of Four Hour Parisian Baguette from the freezer.

The garlic, on the other hand, is a different story. It should have been planted back in the fall, but for some now unfathomable reason I didn't get it into the ground until February—and have the disappointingly small bulbs to prove it. I went ahead and planted it so late because I figured whatever I ended up with would be better than nothing. This is when your inefficiency becomes experimenting.

Has your lack of attention (or downright laziness) ever paid off in the garden?

© Copyright 2009, the spud loving foodie farm blog where sometimes it seems like the volunteer plants (like this beautiful basil and these sprawling lemon cucumber vines, which are only two of many) provide nearly as much bounty as the cultivated ones—thank goodness.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Echinacea: My Favorite Easy To Grow, No Maintenance, Heat Loving, Drought Tolerant, Long Blooming Flowering Perennial

Echinacea is a beautiful, hardy, no maintenance, long blooming, perennial medicinal herb -
Echinacea Purpurea, also known as purple coneflower (despite its pink flowers)

Realization of the Day:
If basil declares that summer has arrived in the vegetable garden, then cheerful echinacea shouts it out from the flower bed.

Summer is here—in a hot, humid, stripped down, and extremely sweat-drenched way. It's already been in the 90s for over a week, and there's no end (and no rain) in sight. It just keeps getting hotter.

The heat index is supposed to get up to 108 on Saturday, but our thermometer in the backyard (yes, I stupidly looked) says it's already there. It feels as if we went from the middle of June to the middle of August overnight.

We really need to be putting up the hay (which will feed the sheep and donkeys next winter), but it's simply way too hot to do that kind of strenuous work—we'd never survive. It's too hot to do pretty much anything outdoors, though you wouldn't know it from looking at the echinacea.

There are several species of echinacea, but echinacea purpurea, also known as purple coneflower, is the most common and probably the easiest to establish in the garden. I originally started some from seed years ago at my first farm, and then dug up and brought a few of those plants with me when I moved to this farm nine years ago. I also started some echinacea angustifolia, narrow leaf coneflower, but it didn't make the move.

The seeds were pretty easy to start, but you can also find echinacea seedlings for sale at nurseries and garden centers. If you have a friend or neighbor who has some growing, ask them if they'll share.

Pollinator Party 1

Echinacea is everything I claimed in the title of this post and then some. It was supposed to say Self Seeding, Pollinator Attracting, Poor Soil Loving, Insect Resistant, Cold Tolerant, Pretty Much Impossible to Kill as well, but Blogger said the title was too long.

I've found that the less I pay attention to my echinacea, the more it flourishes, though I'm sure it would probably go crazy if I fertilized it with a little sheep manure. You'll find sweeping roadside displays of wild echinacea blooming along Missouri highways, often growing out of what looks like solid rock.

My echinacea, which conveniently starts to flower just as my beloved spiderwort is petering out, blooms all summer long and doesn't require deadheading. And if you never get around to cutting off the seedheads in fall, they'll simply drop to the ground and start sprouting up on their own come spring, while the dead flower stalks fall over or are buried in the lush new growth of old and new plants.

Echinacea also happens to be one of the most popular medicinal herbs in America. Here's an excerpt from an article by the University of Maryland Medical Center:

Results of archeological digs indicate that Native Americans may have used echinacea for more than 400 years to treat infections and wounds and as a general "cure-all." Throughout history people have used echinacea to treat scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning, and diphtheria.

Today, people use echinacea to shorten the duration of the common cold and flu and reduce symptoms, such as sore throat (pharyngitis), cough, and fever. Many herbalists also recommend echinacea to help boost the immune system and help the body fight infections.

Several laboratory and animal studies suggest that echinacea contains active substances that enhance the activity of the immune system, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have hormonal, antiviral, and antioxidant effects. For this reason, professional herbalists may recommend echinacea to treat urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast (candida) infections, ear infections (also known as otitis media), athlete's foot, sinusitis, hay fever (also called allergic rhinitis), as well as slow-healing wounds.

On top of all that, it's beautiful, especially since the flowers look different at every stage. If you're looking for a winning perennial in the garden, I highly recommend echinacea.

Is there echinacea growing in your garden?

Previous purple coneflower posts (Did I mention it's a joy to photograph?):
8/23/05: Hardy Echinacea Blooms All Summer Long
6/20/06: Preparing to Burst into Color
7/16/06: Butterfly Bonanza
8/26/06: Butterfly Photos are Better than Nothing
6/28/06: Butterfly Paradise
7/8/06: The Stuff of Life
11/25/06: The Easiest Way to Store Seeds
6/25/07: Echinacea by the Cat Cabin
8/14/07: Echinacea Visitors
7/6/08: Been Busy
7/8/08: Winged Spectacular (one of my favorite photos)

© Copyright 2009, the hot stuff foodie farm blog where the donkeys (and the rest of us) may be wilting, but the first green beans are ready!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Garden Journal 6/20/09:
Harvesting the First Green & Purple Basil of the Season (And the Best Ways to Store Your Fresh Basil)

It's Almost Too Pretty to Eat

Realization of the Day:
Freshly picked basil always feels like summer.

It's the longest day of the year today, and it's also the hottest—90 degrees in the shade (which is why I'm hiding in my little office with a fan blasting on me, writing about gardening instead of actually doing it). But even without the calendar and thermometer, I'd know that summer is about to begin because the fresh basil is ready.

I ordered all sorts of different kinds of basil seeds this year, and then I ended up buying some plants instead. This purple variety is Red Rubin, which the
Johnny's Select Seeds catalog says is a "vigorous Italian large leaf type with high yields and great flavor. Flat, 3" long leaves stand out horizontally, and are a copper-tinged purple color. Height 18"—24" and 76 days to harvest."

I'm pretty sure this is the mystery purple variety I grew last year that made such incredible pesto. The plants look similar, and many of the leaves have the same pretty green outline along the edges.

The green basil was grown and sold by a local gardener at the natural foods store in town. It was simply labeled 'sweet basil,' but at $2.00 for six healthy little plants I wasn't about to pass it up just because I have no idea what kind it is.

While Genovese basil is a favorite and dependable Italian variety for pestos, I prefer the Italian Large Leaf, which has a sweeter and less clove-like flavor. The tiny leaves of lemon and lime basil smell wonderful, and are a nice change from the norm, though I admit to never using them to their full potential.

One year I grew bush basil, and I ended up with about 20 adorable and perfectly shaped little mounds that made me think of hedgehogs. They do well in pots and a closely planted row of them would make a beautiful edging along a pathway or herb bed.

Since it's going to be a long, long time before I have any tomatoes in the garden (especially since five of my most recently transplanted seedlings fried up and died yesterday), I'll probably just turn this basil into my favorite pesto. Tonight we're grilling homegrown beef burgers that we'll serve on hunks of Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguettes (I love this easy bread!), and I'm thinking a pesto burger—smothered with a thick slice of fresh mozzarella perhaps—would be very nice. Or maybe I should wait for the tomatoes.

I actually picked this basil back on Wednesday, but after 72 hours in the refrigerator it still looks perfectly fresh. I rinsed the leaves under water and put them in a plastic bag with a paper towel. The paper towel will soak up extra moisture and keep the leaves from rotting while maintaining a high level of humidity in the bag. I gently pressed most of the air out of the bag and sealed it with a clothespin.

Some people claim that fresh basil will quickly rot in the refrigerator if the leaves aren't perfectly dry, but I find they do better when left a little damp. And as with lettuce and other greens, wilted basil leaves won't perk up in the refrigerator—you need to refresh them in a quick cold water bath first.

The best way to store fresh basil is of course to leave it on the plant until just before you're ready to use it. Harvesting often can actually benefit the plant since, as my gardening girlfriend Cynthia Sandberg at Love Apple Farm explains in this informative post, pinching your basil plants is the key to success.

One of our butcher lamb customers is an avid gardener, and she likes to keep a big bunch of basil in a pitcher of water on her kitchen counter. She says it lasts for quite a while that way, and sometimes the stems will even send out roots, creating new plants that can go back in the garden. I really need to try this.

Are you harvesting any basil yet? What are your favorite varieties—and what do you like to do with them?

Related posts:
9/21/06: How To Keep Your Basil Growing Into Fall
6/25/06: Beautiful Basil Seedlings in the Greenhouse
7/25/06: Volunteer Basil in the Kitchen Garden
8/10/06: Basil Gone Wild - and Happy Pollinators

Other Farmgirl Fare basil recipes and appetizers you might enjoy:
Purple Basil Pesto and the Easiest White Bean Dip/Spread Recipe Ever
Savory Tomato Pesto Pie with a No-Fail Biscuit Crust
Fresh Tomato Pesto Pizza & A Simple Tomato Salad
Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Simple Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce (no blanching required)
The Easiest Greek Salad Ever
Colors of Summer Salad with Fresh Basil
Summer in a Bowl with Fresh Basil
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip
Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip
How To Make Arugula Pesto & What To Do with It
All About Chives & How To Make Herbed Yogurt Cheese

© Copyright 2009, the herb infused foodie farm blog where—oh gosh, look at the time—it's happy hour! Time to water the thirsty garden and pour myself a drink. Happy summer solstice!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Garden Journal 6/13/09: Bigger Red and Orange Baby Carrots

More Carrot Thinning—St. Valery and Atomic Reds

Realization of the Day:
The Atomic Red carrots are orange inside!

I'm a little disappointed, but maybe that's just when they're young, since the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog describes both the surface and flesh as brilliant red. Red is good because not only is it beautiful, but it also means the carrots are full of the antioxidant lycopene—the one you always hear about in connection with tomatoes.

I'm also growing an heirloom variety of carrots from 1929 called Red Cored Chantenay which, according to my seed catalogs, are supposed to be short and fat (about 5½ inches long) with a very appealing shiny orange color, smooth skin and a deep red-orange center. I'd really like to see that gorgeous red both inside and out!

Slowly but surely I'm getting my carrot bed thinned. I'm also keeping it covered with floating row cover 24/7 (because if I take it off during the day I'll probably forget to put it back on at night) as protection against the deer since they munched down all the Swiss chard in the bed (thanks so much for sharing your deer deterring suggestions!). I know I'd said the other day that they didn't eat any of the carrots, but a closer inspection that afternoon revealed that they had indeed nibbled on some of the tops. I'm not taking any chances.

After purposely keeping my hand out of this photo I realized that I should have kept it in, since it's a little hard to tell just what size the carrots are. These are the biggest ones I picked, and most are 2 to 3 inches long. There were also plenty of itty bitty ones in the Atomic Red row since it hadn't been thinned at all yet and was really crowded.

If you can't stand the thought of simply tossing your tiny carrot thinnings into the compost pile or feeding them to the chickens (most of mine snubbed their beaks at the tops, though the rapidly growing chicks will eat anything) and are willing to invest a few extra minutes, I think it's worth doing a 'light' thinning just to make sure they have at least a little growing room, and then going back through again when the babies have had a chance to get bigger. You can see what a size difference two weeks made.

Coming up, though, I'll be sharing a reader's tip for how to sow your carrot seeds so that no thinning is required. Cute babies or not, I'm definitely going to try it.

Have you ever grown (or eaten) red carrots? Were they red all the way through?

© Copyright 2009, the crazy about carrots foodie farm blog where these little babies were almost too cute to eat. Almost.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dealing with Deer in the Garden: Which Vegetable Plants They Love (and Don't Love) to Eat

What do deer like to eat? Everything in this bed looks fine at first glance.

Realization of the Day:
Just when you think your plants are safe from the bugs, the dogs, the cold, the heat, the [fill in the blank with your latest garden problem here], the deer show up.

We have literally thousands of acres of forest and greenery surrounding us, and yet the deer want to eat in my little cultivated spot. What I want is an 8-foot high stone wall around my entire garden. It's the only thing that will keep out the deer (and the digging dogs), and I've always loved how they look. Of course it's probably never going to happen—who builds 8-foot high stone walls anymore?—but a girl can dream, can't she?

A few years ago my mother was staying with a cousin in Pennsylvania who told her that all he grows anymore is asparagus because it's the only thing the deer won't eat. I feel his pain—and I'm sure many of you do, too.

More below. . .

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Gardening How To:
Growing and Thinning (and Weeding!) Heirloom Carrots

Looking to learn about growing carrots? You'll find links to two more of my carrot growing posts and a recipe for carrot herb rolls, along with all sorts of other things I like to grow, below.

Extreme baby vegetables (harvested on 5/28)

The first year I gardened in Missouri I tried growing carrots, didn't get very good results, and gave up—despite the fact that I usually consume at least one raw carrot a day. I continued to order one or two varieties of carrot seeds every couple of years, but except for a really old packet of seeds that I scattered during an ambitious and hopeful fall planting campaign in August 2006 (which were, not suprisingly, all no-shows) they never seemed to make it into the ground.

With good organic, U.S. grown carrots available year round for under a dollar a pound at the supermarket, homegrown carrots simply weren't a big priority. But deep down, I knew I was missing out. So this year to compensate I went a little overboard.
Back on April 11th, I sowed six varieties of heirloom carrot seeds (saving some of each kind for fall planting) in one of my 4'x8' raised garden beds: St. Valery (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), Parisienne (Baker Creek), Little Finger (Baker Creek), Atomic Red (Baker Creek), Scarlet Nantes (Botanical Interests), and Red Cored Chantenay (Pinetree Garden Seeds). I chose a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. I'm especially excited about the red ones.

So far they're all doing great—and so are the weeds (that would be the big pile on the left).

In The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (my favorite garden book, which I highly recommend for kitchen gardeners of all levels), author Ed Smith says that "thinning carrots, like sowing them, is best accomplished on days when patience can rule your actions." He's got that right. Talk about a teeth gnashing job, especially when you're also trying to pull out weeds that are twice the size of the carrot seedlings. Ed recommends using floral shears to thin your carrots, but I just pulled them out by hand—one small section at a time.

It's too bad I didn't check the carrot growing section of The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening from Reader's Digest (a humongous book packed with over 2,500 color photos & illustrations that I'm finding very informative—and love that the completely updated and revised version is all organic!) until just now, because I really like this idea:

They say to mix a few radish or leaf-lettuce seeds with the carrot seeds "since carrot seeds germinate slowly, and the row may be well defined by weeds long before the carrot tops appear. The radishes and lettuce will sprout quickly and will mark the row. Because they wil be ready long before the carrots are, they will not interfere with the growth of the carrots, and you will also be making more efficient use of your garden space."

These Happy Carrots Have Been Weeded, Thinned, and Mulched

Carrots prefer to have cool roots and warm tops, so mulch them with grass clippings (or freshly pulled weeds or, as seen above, rotting old hay that you pulled off the strawberry bed in March and still have laying around) during the late spring and summer. This will also keep new weeds from sprouting and help retain moisture in the soil—which is why I love mulching so much.

Digging Dogs in the Garden: That Big Empty Spot is Courtesy of Marta (aka Marta Beast)

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible suggests growing a leafy companion crop such as Swiss chard to help shade and cool the soil (Yes! Another reason to help convince you to grow Swiss chard!), so starting at the southern end of the bed, I sowed my seeds in 8-foot long rows like this: one of Swiss chard (two varieties), then three rows of carrots, one of Swiss Chard and Nero di Toscana cabbage (also called dinosaur kale, lacinato kale, and several other things—I love the stuff and refer to it as cat cabbage because I swear it has nine lives). As of right now, it looks like the edible shading scheme is going to work perfectly.

Carrots will grow well close together, but if they're too close they'll end up stunted, too thin, or deformed. You can see that some of the baby carrots in that top photo are already looking a little crooked. I usually like to wait to thin my vegetables (such as lettuce, arugula, beets, and Swiss chard) until the thinnings are large enough to eat, so I'm giving the rest of the carrots a bit more growing more time before I finish thinning them (though I admit I couldn't resist nibbling on these itty bittys—and they were tasty!). Besides, my teeth need a rest from all that gnashing.

Joe used to grow a big patch of carrots each year but said he stopped because they didn't keep well in the root cellar. "Sure, you can store them in sawdust like the books tell you to, and they won't rot," he told me, "but what they don't tell you is that they get all rubbery." I asked him if the sawdust had been damp, which is a detail that nearly all carrot-storing directions I've seen leave out. "It's supposed to be damp?" he said.

Since there used to be a large sawmill on our property back in the 1930s, we have a lifetime supply of free aged sawdust at our disposal—and plenty of sawmills still around if the sawdust needs to be fresh. I'm curious to see how carrots—which I usually buy four or five pounds at a time and store in the refrigerator for weeks—that are kept in damp sawdust in the cool root cellar would keep, but I have a feeling that all of this year's harvest is going to go straight from garden to kitchen to mouth.

Are you growing carrots this year? Do you have any growing tips, favorite varieties, or amusing carrot stories to share?

And the carrot growing continues!
6/13/09: Bigger Red and Orange Baby Carrots
4/27/10: My Favorite Heirloom Carrots (so far) to Grow from Seed: Parisienne
Carrot Herb Rolls (and a beautiful bread book for Beginners)

More posts about some of my favorite things to grow:
Favorite Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow—Mine and Yours

© 2009, the crunch and munch foodie farm blog where getting our daily dose of beta-carotene has never been a problem.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Garden Journal 6/2/09:
Harvesting Spring Onions Grown from Purchased Plants

Just Picked Red Candy Apple Onions (and Topaz)

Realization of the Day:
These just might be the prettiest onions I've ever picked.

Back in February, on the recommendation of my friend and gardening hero, Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farm, I ordered 400 leek plants and way too many onion plants (the more you buy, the better the price) from Dixondale Farms in Texas, the oldest and largest onion farm in the U.S.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that up until this year, I had no idea that the size of an onion bulb is dependent upon daylength and temperature, not the size or age of the plants—which probably at least partly explains why over the years I've often ended up with disappointing (albeit tasty) little bulbs.

Because we're sitting right on the borders of Dixondale's 'which varieties are right for you' map, I went ahead and ordered all three types of onions that they offer—Long Day, Intermediate Day, and Short Day—just to see how they fared.

I figured if worst came to worst, some of the varieties wouldn't form bulbs, and we'd have a lot of green onions. Fortunately last year, dozens of you pitched in and offered up your favorite ways to enjoy green onions, so I wasn't worried about what to do with the excess.

As a rule, I don't grow any hybrids in my kitchen garden, but I made an exception with these onion plants—mostly because there were no heirloom Intermediate Day varieties available, which looked to be the most suitable variety for our southern Missouri location. Besides, I reminded myself, the onion sets I usually buy at the feed store are probably hybrid varieties, too. I ordered a total of nine different onion varieties, including some heirlooms.

Red Candy Apple is a new variety that is exclusive to Dixondale Farms, where they've been growing onions since 1913. Here's what they have to say about it:

We have been working on a red intermediate day hybrid that is as sweet as candy—so sweet that you can eat it like an apple. Compared to the Stockton Red, the Red Candy Apple offers improved sizing, better interior color and an intense dark red skin with very mild taste. This red onion's color moves inside as the bulb matures and the interior produces beautiful red rings after curing. Remarkably uniform, this new development also features a high percentage of single centers in its solid, firm bulbs.

In order to have enough onions so that I could harvest some of them during the growing season as green onions, when I planted them in early March I spaced them 2" inches apart instead of the usual 4" apart. But since I put in hundreds of plants, the green onions quickly got away from me. They're now what you'd call large spring onions, which I think are even better—at this size you can enjoy the green tops as well as the young bulbs.

One of My New Favorite Easy Salad Recipes

If you want to store your onions, pull them out of the ground and let them dry in the sun for two days—with the tops of one row of bulbs laid over the bulbs of another to prevent sunscald.

There was no need to dry this beautiful bunch of Red Candy Apples, though, as they went straight from the garden into a batch of this simple and refreshing Garbanzo Bean & Feta Salad (along with some fabulous cilantro—the first I've grown in years!). I haven't tried eating one of these onions like an apple, but they are definitely nice and sweet.

Are there onions in your garden this year? Any favorite varieties, growing tips, or recipes to share? Do tell!

Previous onion posts:
6/7/08: What To Do with 125 Green Onions (Scallions)
6/7/08: Wanted: Your Recipes and Favorite Ways to Use Green Onions
6/12/05: Growing Onions In The Garden
It's Time to Plant Onions!
Operation Onion Complete!
Companion Planting Beets & Lettuce with Onions

More ways to enjoy scallions and spring onions:
Sour Cream & Onion Dip
Savory Cheese & Scallion Scones
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip
Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw
Summer in a Bowl
Colors of Summer Salad
Healthy Swiss Chard Tuna Salad with Kalamata Olives
Swiss Chard Cabbage Salad with Garbanzo Beans and Cottage Cheese
Sprinkled on top of Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip
Three Onion & Three Cheese Pizza

© Copyright 2009, the heatwave foodie farm blog where they don't always make it into the final photo, but if I'm taking pictures outdoors—or working in the garden—you can usually bet there's a cute four-footed critter somewhere underfoot.