Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Giveaway:
Win A $100 Shopping Spree at Back 40 Books!

Art Is Life—And Beauty Can Be Found in the Simplest Things

Do you love books as much as I do? Then this is the contest for you!
Back 40 Books is a small Missouri company that's a big resource for anyone interested in a self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle, and they're giving away a $100 shopping spree to one lucky Farmgirl Fare reader. You'll find all the details in this post on Farmgirl Fare, my food and farm blog. But hurry—the contest ends Wednesday, December 10th. Have fun and good luck!

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where we're embarrassed (or should that be proud?) to admit that books cover nearly every flat surface in The Shack.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

It's Time to Start Planning Next Year's Garden! Online Seed Sources & Helpful Growing Tips

Seven Kinds of Basil Seeds Started on My Potting Bench 6/12 (Late!)

The Internet is an amazing resource for cooks and gardeners, but I'll never give up my cookbooks or seed catalogs. I refer back to my seed catalogs often throughout the year, checking for information on something I currently have in the garden (usually because I didn't bother to write it on the plant marker—if I even bothered to make a plant marker), looking for other varieties to try when something does well, investigating new things to grow (last week it was okra—I've decided to go from zero to three kinds next year) or sometimes just simply daydreaming. There's nothing better than curling up on the sofa or in bed during a snowstorm with a pile of seed catalogs and letting your imagination grow wild.

That said, I have to admit that Johnny's Selected Seeds, a wonderful employee-owned company in Maine, has done something very cool: they've put their entire 2008 paper catalog online. You now have the ability to browse through page by page just as if you had the book. You can even place your order right through the virtual catalog, too. It's slower than flipping through the paper version, but that's probably partly because my Internet connection isn't very fast. And it's definitely easier to search for stuff.

I'm a big Johnny's fan and have always been pleased with the seeds I've started, organic hardneck garlic I've planted (more about this one of these days!), and tools I've purchased from them—all of which come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Their catalog is one of my favorites because it's packed with growing tips and all sorts of helpful information, and I love that gardeners around the world are now able to access it. Johnny's has also started producing a series of neat how-to videos, including one on How To Use Floating Row Covers.

Like the rest of us, Johnny's has been dealing with the increasing costs of just about everything, and they're going to be raising their prices for 2009. But if you order your seeds and supplies before November 15th, you'll still receive the lower 2008 prices.

These scrawny little basil seedlings grew up & became a batch of my favorite lower fat, full flavor pesto (seeds started 6/12, transplanted into individual plugs 7/22, went into the garden in August).

I think the earliest I've ever managed to get my seed orders together was New Year's Eve, but saving money does give a girl incentive. Of course I still have dozens of packes of seeds from last year (including something like 40 varieties of tomatoes—counting the seeds I saved myself) that never got planted. Not that this has ever stopped me from ordering more.

Many of you know that my two other long time favorite seed sources are Pinetree Garden Seeds (also in Maine) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds located here in Missouri. Pinetree specializes in smaller seed packets for the backyard gardener, with many costing less than a dollar—which is nice since those seed orders can really add up quickly! The seeds are top quality and they offer lots of interesting heirlooms. They also have a good selection of bulbs, plants, nifty garden products (I always seem to find some new gadget or tool I just have to have), and often bargain-priced books.

Baker Creek offers an amazing variety of rare and unusual seeds from around the world, all very reasonably priced. They also hold two seed and plant festivals each year at their southern Missouri farm that feature well known speakers from around the country. In addition, they operate, the world's largest online gardening forum that has thousands of members who make up a "hip community of heritage gardeners, natural foodies, and seed savers."

Gardens Alive, a company that sells "Environmentally Responsible Gardening Products that Work" (and the ones I've tried do) also has lots of useful information on its website. Their online library covers everything from squirrels to starting seeds indoors, and their Insects and Disease Guides might just save your supper (or your sanity).

What's your favorite seed catalog or seed company? Know any great gardening related websites? One of the things I love most about having this (often sadly neglected) garden blog is hearing from you—about your garden successes, your failures, the important things you've learned, your funny stories, or simply what's going on in the garden or what your weather's been like. So please do tell!

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and letting your sheep (even if it's just a few of them) into the garden because it has more thick, lush grass growing in it than anywhere on the farm is always a bad idea. Always. (Don't ask—though I might tell you later so I'll have someone commiserate with me. Not that you'd ever dream of doing anything that stupid. Again.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Growing Tomatoes: How Many Plants Do You Need? (And What To Do If You End Up with Too Many Tomatoes)

Just Juice Them Using My Homemade Tomato Juice Recipe!

It hasn't been a good year for tomatoes in the garden, partly because I never got around to starting any seeds (for the second embarrassing year in a row), and partly because the mostly boring varieties of purchased plants I had to make due with didn't go into the ground until June (okay, okay, and maybe a few in July). I did end up with about 20 producing plants and a small but fairly tasty harvest.

My favorite variety of the year is a tasty little plum type with a dark reddish green skin and interior. It has a really nice flavor, was a good producer, and didn't have any disease or pest problems. Unfortunately I never wrote the name down and seem to have misplaced the tag that came with the one plant I bought. If I figure it out, I'll definitely let you know. I'm pretty sure it was from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (great seeds, great Missouri company), but the only description I could find that seemed right said the tomatoes were six ounces each, and these are less than one.

I'm still getting a few ripe sweet cherry, Celebrity, and Arkansas Travelers (an always reliable variety in my garden), and the Romas are just coming into their prime, so I've been swaddling the plants in floating row covers and old bedsheets at night to protect them from the 37 degree temperatures we've been having (though now we're headed back up into the 50s at night). Soon I'll get tired of all that covering and uncovering and will turn whatever's left into a big batch of my popular salsa-like green tomato relish (no canning required unless you want to save it for months).

People sometimes ask me why I like to have at least 70 or 80 tomato plants in the garden. "So I can be sure of getting at least a few tomatoes!" is how I always reply. This question is never posed by anyone who has tried to garden in Missouri. While talking tomatoes with my blueberry supplier last summer, he confessed that he usually puts out 200 tomato plants—and that's just for him and his wife.

On the other end of the growth chart, my all-around talented friend Finny picks enough tomatoes to eat her fill all summer and put up several jars of what she swears is the best tomato sauce ever from the two measly plants in her Northern California garden. These plants apparently "grow to gargantuan sizes and impose their overabundance on us with unrelenting ferocity." It's just way too easy to garden in California.

So how many tomato plants should you put in your garden? It obviously depends on where you're located and what you plan to do with your bounty. If you just want some slicers for salads, a couple of plants will probably suffice. But if you're hoping to line your pantry shelves with dozens of jars of tomatoes and sauce, I'd say you'll want at least 10 or 12 of the meaty paste varieties.

Last year my 46 tomato plants gave me less than 46 pounds of tomatoes (a terrible yield), which might sound like a lot until you start preserving them. It takes an amazing number of tomatoes to fill up one little quart-sized container. I also never knew how many fresh tomatoes I was capable of eating until I broke down and bought some from a neighbor last year while waiting for mine to mature. Um, like twenty-five pounds in a couple of weeks. Joe helped of course, but still. Even I had trouble believing it. But indulging like this in summer is of course the only way to survive the rest of the year sans fresh tomatoes. And besides, I really do love them.

When I moved from Northern California to Missouri back in 1994, I was told that the general rule for growing anything was that you need to plant one for the weather, one for the bugs, one to die, and one for yourself. That's about right, though for a lot of things six would be better.

You also never know what's going to do well and what isn't, which is why I like to plant several different varieties of tomatoes (and everything else). And unless I really don't care for the taste of one, I always give each kind at least two summers to prove itself. A total disappointment one year might very well be the star of the season the next—or vice versa. The first year I planted Thai Pink Egg tomatoes they were a delicious success. The compact plants were loaded with little egg-sized fruits that started out white and ended up the most beautiful dark pink—while turning about five gorgeous shades of pink in between. The next year was promising, but as soon as the plants put on all those white eggs they promptly turned brown and died.

I always recommend having at least one cherry tomato plant because not only will your first tomatoes be ripe earlier, but the small size of the fruits means there's less of a chance for things to go wrong. There are dozens of types of easy to grow heirloom cherry tomatoes, and I love to experiment each year (well, except this one) with various colors and sizes. Some of my all-time favorites are red and yellow currant (a pain to pick but so adorable) and yellow pear, which add a touch of tasty elegance to everything.

Sometimes the garden gods smile do down on us, and we end up with a tomato surplus. You can never have too many plum tomatoes around (I'm particularly fond of San Marzanos) because this meaty type is perfect for canning and freezing as well as drying (a food dehydrator is a wonderful thing to have). Some day I may even give in and turn on the oven for hours on a sweltering day so I can make the slow roasted tomatoes my food blogging friends are always raving about.

Regular salad or slicing tomatoes aren't as easy to preserve because they're usually more juice than meat. Two years ago I turned an excess into a dressing/dip that I called Susan's Seven Second Tomato Glut Solution, but now I know better. If I ever have an overabundance of tomatoes again, whatever isn't tossed into my new favorite quick and easy gazpacho will be turned into homemade tomato juice. In fact, I'm so in love with this simple, scrumptious, amazingly good-for-you juice that I'm planning to increase my harvest odds next year by putting at least 100 tomato plants in the garden. I already have something like 45 different kinds of heirloom seeds in my stash. Maybe I'll go ahead and try some of each. Can't hurt. Wish me luck.

So how did your tomatoes grow this year? Any stories or tips you'd like to share? What about your favorite varieties-or, better yet, save us some trouble and tell us which kinds of tomatoes you won't be growing again.

These Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw Tacos Were a Hit Last Year

What else do I do with tomatoes?
How to Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way
Saving the Harvest with No Sugar Green Tomato Relish
Quick and Easy Gazpacho
Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip (and Factory Tours)
Savory Tomato Pesto Biscuit Crust Pie
Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Tomato Pesto Pizza & My Favorite Basil Pesto Recipe
Purple Basil Pesto & White Bean Dip
Three No-Cook Summer Recipes: Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw, Easy Vegetarian Tacos, & High Kickin' Creamy Tomato Dressing
Cream Cheese & Tomato Sandwiches On Italian Black Olive Cheeks
The Easiest Greek Salad Ever
My Seven Second Tomato Glut Solution
Colors Of Summer Salad
Summer In A Bowl

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where despite our whining, there's always something ready to eat in the garden, something delicious on the menu, and something that tells us we'll never give up trying to grow too many tomatoes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Bounty of Bargain Books
at Pinetree Garden Seeds

Total Cost for These 10 books? Just $31.00.

I love books, especially when they're about food and gardening. I love them so much that I can't stop accumulating them even though I have an embarrassing number of cookbooks I've never cooked from and gardening books I've never gardened from. I can't help myself. Add in the words 'clearance sale' or 'bargain priced,' and I go nuts. Case in point above (and this wasn't even my entire order).

The annual Fall Clearance Sale is going on right now at my beloved Pinetree Garden Seeds, and there are some wonderful books to be had for wonderfully low prices. The priciest publication I purchased was $5.00; most were $3.00 apiece. The way I figure it, just one good recipe or gardening tip is worth more than the price of the book. Shipping charges are reasonable, too—just $3.50 for purchases up to $19.99 and $6.50 for purchases from $20.00 to $49.99. Hurry, though, because quantities are limited.

Books always make great gifts, and this is a perfect opportunity to stock up. If your local public library or school library is lacking in the food and garden departments (or simply struggling on a shoestring budget), I bet they would be thrilled to have some of these books donated to their collections.

I've already earmarked all kinds of recipes I'd like to try in The Garden of Earthly Delights Cookbook ($3.00), and after picking up Tools of the Earth (cover price $25.00, on sale for $2.00) while standing in the living room the other day, I found myself rooted (ha ha, garden humor) to the same spot 15 minutes later, wishing I could sit down and read all of the essays on tools and gardening right then.

Speaking of bargain books, three of my favorite cookbooks are currently on super sale at These would all make beautiful gifts or additions to any library:

-Cooking with Shelburne Farms, which I raved about in this book review post, is just $7.99
-Bread: Artisan Breads from Baguettes and Bagels to Focaccia and Brioche, which I reviewed here, is available for around $10.00 (I also wrote about the Italian Rosemary Raisin Bread which is fantastic)
-The Artist's Palate is $9.00 (a book review will be posted soon on Farmgirl Fare, but if you enjoy art, cooking, and reading about what other people eat you're going to love it)

Books are marvelous things to be cherished and shared. Enjoy!

So do you have a favorite bargain book discovery?

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where what we really need now is a bargain bookshelf outlet—and a lot more space for shelves.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Preserving the Harvest: How to Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way (And Why I Don't Do Much Canning Anymore)

Summer sunshine saved in seconds

For many people, late summer means canning season. It's time to stop stuffing our faces with all of this glorious seasonal bounty and stuff it into jars so we can enjoy it come winter instead. It's a wonderful time of year—except for the actual canning part.

When I moved from urban Northern California to a rural Missouri farm 14 years ago, I planted an enormous kitchen garden and looked forward to my first official canning season with gleeful anticipation.

I admired my inexpensive new boiling water bath canner, stockpiled cases and cases of jars, made sure I had the correct number and type of the special two-part lids, and even bought a handy accessories kit that promised to make my canning adventures a thousand times easier (which it did).

I earmarked nearly all the pages in my trusty home preserving book for beginners and cleared off shelves to store my stash. And then I started canning everything in sight.

I put up dozens of quarts of dill pickles and enough red and yellow tomatoes to make pizza and pasta sauce for at least a couple of years. I made vats of tomato salsa and tomatillo enchilada sauce, and when frost threatened in fall I turned my unripe tomato bounty into this salsa-like green tomato relish, which is one of my most popular recipes.

I bought peaches by the bushel and cooked up enough filling to fill more peach pies and cobblers than I knew I would ever eat. I gathered feed sacks full of apples and pears from a friend of a friend's neglected fruit trees using one of those long-handled grabber thingies, then spent the next couple of weeks cooking up big batches of applesauce, apple pie filling, and several cases of a special creation I christened Autumn Harvest Chutney.

This I bestowed upon friends and family during the holidays until I realized nobody had a clue what to do with it. (I mostly ate it straight from the jar.) I even processed half-pints of homemade lemon curd before I figured out I could polish off an entire batch long before it went bad in the fridge.

One year I turned an eggplant overflow in the garden (my first and last) into caponata, but when I called the 800 canning hotline for processing directions I was sternly informed that I couldn't put up jars of caponata. "Oh yes I can!" I said, hanging up and taking my chances. (I lived.)

After a surprising purple cabbage bounty one spring, I made four pints of pickled purple cabbage. When I fed some to my foodie mother she said, "It tastes something you'd get in an English pub." I was afraid to ask if she meant it as a compliment.

I reveled in my self-sufficiency and would sneak into the crowded pantry (also known as the spare bedroom, the office, my graphic design work area, and the recording studio) to admire the rows and rows of glistening jars that were—unlike the green beans and sweet red peppers and blueberries I'd put in the freezer—safe from spoilage even if there was an extended power outage. I sliced and diced and peeled and parboiled and sweated to within an inch of my life.

And then I got tired of canning.

The truth is, as much as I loved having all those jars of food around, I don't really miss them that much. Over the years I've started doing more year round eating straight from the kitchen garden rather than by way of the pantry.

Last fall I grew several types of hardy greens that lasted well into December, and after they were gone I proceeded to enjoy salads of freshly picked arugula and Swiss chard and from my homemade greenhouse for much of the winter.

I eat my fill of fresh peaches in summer and slice up apples for pies in fall. And besides, I've probably had enough dill pickles and Autumn Harvest Chutney to last me for the rest of my life.

I love knowing how to can, and I'm glad I have the option, but these days I don't let it overwhelm me.

What I'll never stop doing, however, is preserving tomatoes, although now I usually take my chances with the freezer. But it takes an amazing amount of paste tomatoes to fill a quart container, so when I don't have enough to make the whole blanching, peeling, and seeding process worthwhile—or if I'm feeling particularly lazy—I simply stick the tomatoes in a zipper bag, toss it into the freezer, and I'm done. Yep, that's it.

In a pinch you can even freeze big old round tomatoes, but they do take up a lot of space.

Frozen whole tomatoes are the slow cook's winter friend

Whole frozen tomatoes will not, of course, defrost into the sturdy slicers they once were, but they're perfect for cooking down later into sauce or tossing into soups, stews and cozy Dutch oven dinners, such as these slow-cooked lamb shoulder roasts (lamb shanks will work great, too).

If you don't feel like waiting until winter to try this recipe and have some fresh tomatoes on hand, by all means toss them in.

So how do you preserve the harvest? Canning? Freezing? Digging up memories of summer while living on winter root vegetables? Do you have any time-saving secrets to share?

©, the seasonal foodie farm blog where over the years I may have become a little lazy in the canning department, but the freezers and our tummies always stay happily full.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Orange Yogurt Loaf Cake:
An Easy 4th of July Dessert Recipe

Take a Break and Have Some Cake!

Remember that orange yogurt cake I served up for breakfast alongside a pile of freshly picked strawberries from the garden a few weeks back?

Well I've been tinkering with the recipe and am now perfectly pleased with the results. This is the kind of easy cake recipe I love to have in my collection, and I know I'll be turning to it again and again. It mixes up quickly, stands up to being transported even on hot afternoons, and stays moist for several days. Like most baked goods it also freezes beautifully, and it can even be sliced while still frozen. Serve in bowls topped with fresh berries and ice cream or on napkins at picnics and potlucks.

You'll find the recipe in my post, Strawberries in the Garden & an Orange Yogurt Cake Recipe in the Kitchen, over on Farmgirl Fare, where it's already been receiving rave reviews. Enjoy!

Will goodies from the garden or farmers' market be part of your 4th of July celebration?

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where we love homegrown fruits and vegetables but are also crazy about cake.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Garden Journal 7/1/08:
A Helpful List of What's Been Happening

First Echinacea Bloom of the Year - June 19th

Realization of the Day:
The best intentions are simply not making it from brain to blog. I just jotted down a quick list of things I've been planning to write about - there are 39 so far. And that was just off the top of my head.

The other day I came across the cute little notebook I started using last year for garden notes. Some days I even took it out into the garden with me! I didn't come close to filling it up, but I've realized that even just a sentence or two can be extremely helpful, such as the one that says 11/8 and 11/10: planted two beds of garlic. I had no clue when I'd planted the garlic until I saw that note.

Okay. So it's July (how exactly did that happen?), and since it looks doubtful that I'll get to much of that list, here's a quick rundown of what's growing and what I've been doing in the garden. I'm still hoping to write individual posts about a lot of this stuff (I've learned so much already this year!), but at least this will give me an idea of what the garden was like on the first day of July. In no particular order:

— The echinacea is blooming like crazy and the flowers are covered with butterflies and moths. The plants have begun spreading a couple of feet into the grass which is fine with me, as I'd rather have flowers than lawn.

— The spiderwort (I love that stuff!) is still blooming. And it's been busy jumping the flowerbed rock boundary, too. There are also volunteers blooming next to the compost bins, which are several yards from the original plants.

— There are only a few potato beetles left on the potato plants - thank goodness.

— The potato beetles have been replaced by Japanese beetles - more than I've ever seen in previous years. They're concentrating on the potatoes, raspberries, and a yellow flowering plant in the chive flower bed that I'm not sure I seeded last year or not (I didn't scatter any flower seeds in there this year). If not, it's a pretty enough weed to have earned a place there. Of course all wildflowers could be considered 'weeds.'

— The 17 tomato plants that went in the ground in early June have been trimmed, mulched, and are taking off.

— I refreshed, watered, and mulched the Cavendish strawberry bed the other day, and the remaining plants are already putting on new leaves.

— There are four different colors of Bachelor's Buttons blooming in the chive flower bed. So pretty! A few volunteer red poppies from the seeds my pal Betty Western sent me last year from her beautiful garden in England (just scroll down past her ever-so-helpful dogs) have been popping up, too. Plus a pretty, black-eyed Susan type flowering plant I don't remember seeing or seeding last year is big and happy.

— The 8 pepper plants in the ground (4 California Golden Wonder and 4 Chocolate - no idea when I planted them) have been mulched. They still look small and scraggly but have been putting on new leaves. I have hope.

— Transplanted 4 really pathetic looking California Golden Wonder plants into the greenhouse as an experiment. (They looked fine when I bought them, but that was ages ago.)

— Harvested both beds of garlic two days ago. Ended up with about 150 heads, mostly on the small (and disappointing) side, though some are nice and big. They're drying in the living room on a large tray covered with an enormous cardboard box (because they're supposed to be in a dark spot). This does nothing to ruin the decor of The Shack, which can only be described as scary. And cluttered. You hardly even notice the box!

— Planted three kinds of cucumber seedlings last night in one of the garlic beds. Started the seeds in containers in the greenhouse on June 12th.

- We moved 10 ewes and 12 lambs into the farmyard last week, and they've already poked their wooly little heads through the garden fence and munched down a large chunk of the comfrey plant, as well as most of the sunchoke seedlings still in containers. Serves me right for not getting them into the ground I guess. (I'm hoping to write more about growing sunchokes - also called Jerusalem artichokes - soon. Maybe after I actually plant mine!)

— Tucked one of the common thyme plants I bought a while back (when? when?) in a little empty spot next to the other thyme in the greenhouse.

- The little rosemary bush in the greenhouse looks fantastic. I used a lot of rosemary during late spring, and it really benefitted from all that pruning.

— The big, beautiful purple sage plant I bought and transplanted into the greenhouse last month has survived being ravaged numerous times by a mysterious, nocturnal something (that isn't affected by diatomaceous earth). It has about six little leaves left. I have hope - but knew I should have bought two plants!

— Trimmed both lemon balm plants way back two nights ago - the one that's been in a pot for several years (I'd put it in something bigger, but I don't have anything bigger!) and the gigantic volunteer in the greenhouse. (Still no idea how it ended up there, but I'm sure glad it did).

- The pot of Greek Oregano (which also probably needs to be transplanted into something bigger) is about to flower.

Chock Full of Chard (which really needs thinning!) in the Greenhouse

From Garden to Mouth:
(I usually say From Garden to Table, but a lot of this stuff never actually made it to the kitchen, let alone the table)

Swiss chard galore in the greenhouse! Patch on the right side from seeds I started on February 14th (photo above). Most of the left side is full of volunteer plants (which are actually doing better than what I planted).

— Ate the first tomato of the year - from a sad looking, stunted little plant still in its tiny pot! How embarrassing is that? It was the size of a small cherry tomato but probably wasn't supposed to be. Very tasty, though! I've really been craving fresh tomatoes lately.

— Have been nibbling on a few ripe raspberries. Not very many this year, and they aren't very sweet, but a few raspberries are better than no raspberries! I only got around to pruning, weeding, and mulching about 1/4 of the patch - which is at least 1/4 more than I did last year.

— Have been eating a few Maxibel bush beans (again, no idea when I planted the seeds) over the past couple of days, but last night I picked several large handfuls of them. Enjoyed some quickly steamed and tossed with teriyaki sauce; the rest will be vacuum sealed (with my new FoodSaver - we upgraded!) and frozen until winter when they will be really appreciated.

I'm probably forgetting some stuff, but this is definitely a start — and it sure makes me feel like I've been accomplishing something out there! We had a small break in the heat and humidity over the past few days, and I made the most of it.

So what's been happening in your garden? Are you totally on top of things? Incredibly behind? Inundated with ravenous pests? Already buried under a mountain of zucchini or tired of tomatoes? (If so, I'm jealous.) Do tell!

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where every homegrown bite reminds us of how much we love to garden and how much all the effort and frustration is worth it - even if it's the only bite of something we'll get for the year.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Garden Journal 6/16/08: The First Fresh Dill of the Year

Quick Comfort Food - Salmon Patties with Garden Scallions & Dill

So what have I been doing for the past nine days besides eating scallions? Dealing with strawberry diseases and potato beetles, clearing weed-choked raised beds, still trying to get more pepper and tomato plants in the ground, wondering if this otherwise much needed late spring rain is ruining my gorgeous garlic crop, repotting my mail order French tarragon plants (which are doing great), and even starting a few heirloom cucumber and summer squash seeds in containers (because there's no unweeded room in the garden for them yet).

Oh yeah, and we've been putting up hay—an enormous, exhausting, sweat-drenched job that takes precedence over everything. It also happens to be one of my least favorite things to do on the farm — yep, I'd rather shovel out the sheep barn than bring in hundreds of bales of hay from the field and stack them in the barn. But it feeds our animals through winter, so it's worth it. At least that's what I keep reminding myself when I can barely get out of bed the next morning.

As for the all garden goings-on, I've been learning a lot, taking plenty of photos, and am hoping to get back to my newly revived regular posting schedule very soon. Meanwhile, a girl's still gotta eat, and last Friday we showcased the first dill from the garden in one of our quick comfort food standbys—salmon patties. These healthy burgers are easy, inexpensive (we use canned wild Alaska salmon) and delicious, and thanks to the dill and our beautiful bounty of scallions, Friday's were the best I've ever made. I'm headed back out into the hayfield now so I don't have a chance to post the recipe yet, but I'm mentioning it because I wanted to make note of the first dill harvest.

The nicest thing about dill—a cold-tolerant annual that is easy to grow from seed and is almost never bothered by pests—is that once you plant it, it almost always comes back year after year on its own. It isn't called 'dill weed' for nothing. I haven't had to buy dill seeds in years.

My only complaint is that my volunteer dill is always ready to pick well before I have any cucumbers, but gardeners getting something for nothing can't be choosy. You can dry your dill, and while the flavor isn't the same as fresh (and I wouldn't recommend using it for homemade pickles), it's a lot tastier than nothing come winter.

So what's your favorite thing to do with dill?

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where we also love adding dill to homemade beer bread and herbed yogurt cheese.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Garden Journal Entry 6/7/08: What To Do With 125 Scallions (Green Onions)?

Just picked bounty

I'm in a bit of a pickle. Actually it's more of an onion - scallions to be exact. I remembered to double plant my onion sets in the kitchen garden this year so I could thin them out and reap a bonus crop of spring scallions, and my plan worked beautifully.

This is definitely The Year of the Scallion

But despite my tossing extra scallions into pretty much everything except dessert for the last few days, I still have about 125 that really need to be harvested now.

There are a zillion recipes that include scallions - which are also called green onions - but these mild and tasty alliums never seem to be the star of the show. I thought I remembered seeing a delicious sounding recipe somewhere for stir-fried scallions (maybe with a teriyaki sauce?), but a quick online search resulted in lots of stir-fried things with scallions added to them, but no recipe for just the scallions themselves.

When I reported my scallion situation to my best foodie pal Beth (aka kitchenMage), she suggested I toss a pile of them with some olive oil and then slow roast them in the oven at about 325 degrees with some thinly sliced garlic. I haven't tried this yet, but I think the idea it has serious possiblities.

I think spring onions are so pretty

When green onions begin to form bulbs they're called spring onions, or sometimes salad onions. I have plenty of those, too.

Too close for comfort - but very tasty

So what would you do if you were faced with an enormous quantity of gorgeous scallions and spring onions? While I'd love to know any of your favorite ways to use them, I'm particularly interested in recipes that call for large quantities, like 10 - or even 40. You're welcome to leave recipe links from your own blog in the comments section. Thanks for the help!

Oh, and because I'm so desperate, I'm posting this plea on Farmgirl Fare as well, so if you're looking for even more fresh scallion ideas, check out the comments section of Wanted: Your Favorite Recipes & Ways to Use Green Onions.

Up next on Farmgirl Fare (well, probably after a Daily Dose of Cute or two) I'll be sharing my recipe for Swiss Chard Tuna Salad, a refreshing twist on the classic standby that calls for a healthy dose of Swiss Chard (one of the best vegetables you can grow from seed) along with plenty of scallions.

In the meantime, here are some of my other favorite ways to use them:
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
Sprinkled on top of Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip
Three Onion & Three Cheese Pizza (starring spring onions)

Related Kitchen Garden Posts:
Growing Onions In The Garden
3/16/06: It's Time to Plant Onions!
4/4/06: Operation Onion Complete!
4/26/06: Companion Planting Beets & Lettuce with Onions

©, the onion-breathed foodie farm blog where an overabundance of food in the garden is always cause to celebrate, even if we're not sure exactly what to do with all of it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Garden Journal Entry 6/4/08:
Growing French Tarragon Again

Looks Like They Survived Their Cross Country Journey Just Fine

Realization of the Day:
This is the first time I've bought plants through the mail.

I'd actually forgotten I'd even ordered them until I arrived at the post office today and our postmistress handed me a small square box from my beloved Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine.

Backordered seeds? I thought. And then I remembered - on a whim (and thrilled by the fact that they were only $3.98 each and there was no special shipping charge) I'd tacked two French tarragon plants onto my seed order back in March. But then a slight panic set in. I hadn't picked up the mail since last Friday. (They won't deliver our mail all the way out to the farm, and the post office is 10 miles away.) How long had they been sitting here, suffocating in a box without airholes or even a warning label that said Live Plants? (The postmistress will call and let me know if something marked 'perishable' or 'live' arrives.) Had I managed to inadvertantly kill them already?

Unable to rustle up a pocketknife, I anxiously tore open the box with the truck key and released my little live purchases from their captive darkness and immediately sprinkled them with a little water from the jug we always carry with us when we leave the farm. They seemed tired and a little peaked but otherwise fine. By the time I made it home they were already perking up. Now all I need to decide is if I should grow them in a pot or risk putting them in the ground. Hmmm. Maybe I'll tuck next to the rosemary, sage, and thyme in the greenhouse. Oh wait. I bought two - one for the ground and one for a pot. Duh. Or maybe it was one to live and one to accidentally murder.

Ordering plants by mail is exciting! Sure, I've bought strawberry starts and raspberry canes before, but they look more like little root wads and dead sticks than real live plants in real live pots of soil. Even asparagus roots are kind of on the dull side.

The label that came tucked in on of the containers cracked me up: French Tarragon - Sun - Unique Herb Robust Flavor - Harvest and Make Vinegar.

So have you ordered live plants before? What did you get? How did it go? And, more importantly, what do you like to do with French Tarragon? It's been so long since I've grown this perennial herb (and I can never get myself to buy those overpriced, usually sad-looking packets of 'fresh' herbs at the store) that I can't remember what I used to put it in.

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres - and so far 2008 is turning out to be a very good year for herbs.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Garden Journal Entry 6/2/08: Planting Tomatoes Later Is Better than Never (I Think)

Eight Tomato Plants (No, Really, they're in there)

Realization of the Day:
It's the second of June and I have a pathetic total of 9 tomato plants in the ground - which is more than double yesterday's count of four. Most years I have at least 40 or 50 - sometimes as many as 80.

Oh yeah, and they're tomato plants I broke down and bought, too - not started from the couple of dozen packets of heirloom seeds still safely sitting in my office.

How did this happen? I have no idea. I'm still trying to figure out how it got to be June already. I think it has something to do with the concurrence of lambing season and seed starting season each year. While my foodie mom was visiting the farm back in April (because she wanted to be here during lambing season), the running joke was that at 10pm when we staggered back to The Shack from the barn I would say brightly, "So are you ready to go out and work in the garden now?" Instead we poured ourselves glasses of wine, scrounged up something to eat, and collapsed into bed.

Back on February 14th I was flailing around trying to figure out what I could direct seed (and get to germinate) in the greenhouse that wouldn't either a) freeze to death in the coming months (basil, zinnias, bush beans) or b) suffer from heatstroke when the temps shoot up into the 90s in there like they do every time the sun comes out (lettuce, broccoli, kohlrabi, spinach). I thought about bunching onions (which I buy every year and never plant - it's like a tradition), but settled on my beloved Swiss chard instead. It's thriving, but what I really should have been doing back then was starting tomato and pepper seeds in containers. At the time, though, the thought of 2+ months of dealing with growing stuff indoors under lights seemed like a total pain. Yes, sometimes I can really be that stupid lazy.

Mr. Midnight Inspects My Work

This morning I took a break from planting to see if the guys working on our new building (the hardwood floor is looking great!) were interested in taking home some Jerusalem artichoke plants (more about growing these soon, I hope). Our contractor, who puts in a large garden every year, happily took me up on my offer even though he had no idea what Jerusalem artichokes were. His two helpers politely declined.

"I only grow tomatoes and green onions," one of them told me.

"I have plenty of green onions," I said. "But I'm really behind with my tomato plants." They nodded understandingly. "In fact," I sheepishly admitted, "I'm in the middle of planting some right now."

"Oh," they said in unison. "That is late." Being polite types, they left it at that, though I have a feeling as soon as I was out of earshot they probably had a little more to say.

In an attempt to look at this embarrassing and depressing tomato plant situation in a more positive light, I've been telling myself that since the weather is already hotter than hell and humid beyond belief nice and warm, my tomato plants will probably be big and tall in no time. The one I planted last week has already grown a couple of inches and is putting on new leaves. None of that chilly April and May stunted growth for these babies.

This will be an interesting experiment, though I really hope I'll never break this late planting record. I'm not a fan of Missouri summers by any stretch of the imagination (in fact I've already started counting down the months until fall), but I can't help hoping that our first frost arrives a little late this year.

The best thing about all is that in the future I'll always be able to console myself by saying, "Sure I'm behind with the tomatoes this year, but it's nothing like what happened back in 2008!"

And of course if you happen to be behind on your own tomato planting progress, my situation should make you feel a whole lot better - because it can't possibly be as pitiful as mine. At least I hope not.

Tomato plants already in the ground:
1 Black Cherry
4 Celebrity
4 Cherry (that's all the sign at the feed store said, but in my experience you can't go wrong with cherry tomato plants of any kind)

Next on the planting list:
27 more tomato plants (purchased)
20 Golden Bell pepper plants (purchased)
2 heirloom eggplant plants (purchased on a whim)
seeds to start: lemon cucumbers, various summer squash, more beans, several types of basil, parsley, & some other stuff

What, you thought I was only behind with tomatoes? Oh, I wish.

So what kind of tomatoes are you growing this year? Did you start your own seeds? Buy plants? Just get everything in the ground? Don't forget to tell us where you're located.

Related posts:
Growing Kellogg's Breakast Tomatoes & Colors of Summer Salad Recipe
How To Trim Tomato Plants & Why You Should
Growing Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes & How To Save Your Own Tomato Seeds
What To Do With All Those Green Tomatoes? Make Green Tomato Relish!

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where a raucous thunderstorm dropped a lovely half inch of rain on us today, and that was on top of the 1-1/2 inches we had two nights ago. Everything is growing like crazy!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Garden Journal Entry 5/31/08: Seasonal Strawberry Eating At Its Sweetest & Juiciest Best!

Orange Yogurt Pound Cake with Freshly Picked Strawberries & Mint

Realization of the Day:
Sometimes you just need to have a slab of cake for breakfast - with a big side of strawberries.

This morning I trudged back to The Shack from the front field, sweat-soaked and starving after wrestling with portable electric sheep fencing for an hour under the hot sun, and promptly treated myself to this plate of ruby red heaven. Oh, and there was a large scoop of creamy French vanilla ice cream involved, too.

Now it's back out to the field and the fencing - then hopefully the garden!

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where we just may have to have a repeat of this breakfast for lunch.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Garden Journal Entry 5/28/08:
Successfully Growing Strawberries!

Jewels of the Kitchen Garden

Realization of the Day:
I forgot to have strawberries for breakfast.

Can you believe it? These gorgeous beauties were out in the garden, hanging by their stems and just waiting to be devoured, yet somehow they completely slipped my mind. I had a whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter and - get this - storebought strawberry jam instead. It's embarrassing, really. At least the jam was organic - and I remembered about the strawberries in time for a sweet and juicy mid-morning snack.

The Thriving Strawberry Bed Today (And look at all those healthy weeds surrounding it!)

Last year I planted a brand new strawberry patch in one of my 4' x 8' raised beds. (I'm enamored with raised bed gardening, which I started doing 8 years ago, and one of these days I'll get around to telling you why, I promise.) My old bed had served me well for several years, but even if you do things like thin them out and mow down the plants (which I probably didn't do since they are in a raised bed after all), a strawberry bed will only last for so long. Most of my plants actually kind of evaporated, to be taken over by large clumps of very happy grass - which made a wonderful dog bed. I even have photos. But I digress.

Anyway, in January of 2007 I ordered 30 Cavendish strawberry plants (which are actually more like little bundles of roots with a crown and maybe a leaf or two than actual plants) for $9.95 from my beloved Pinetree Garden Seeds, tucked them in the ground (not too deep, not too shallow) on May 7th (they don't ship you your plants until after the danger of frost), watered them regularly, and snipped off every single blossom that dared to make an appearance. That's right - no berries the first year means much bigger and healthier plants the next. It isn't easy, but it's worth it, trust me.

For the first several months I also snipped off all the runners so that the plants wouldn't concentrate their energy on producing baby offspring plants, but when the deer started sneaking into the garden at night and munching down the entire bed (this was before I thought to cover it with floating row cover to deter them - which worked), I decided that a few extra runners to fill things out might in fact be a good idea. What I did was wait for them to put down a few roots and become established, then I cut the mother cord and left them on their own. They did great.
Yes! This is What gardening is All About

Of Cavendish strawberries, a midseason variety, the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog says this:

High yields of large berries with excellent flavor make this a good choice for home gardens or roadside stands. High resistance in red stele and intermediate resistance to verticillium wilt. Ripen over a long season. Grows best in zones 3 - 8.

Miller Nurseries, a family-owned company in business since 1934 that I've never ordered from but that sounds good (have you?), says this about Cavendish:

It has been a long time since we introduced a strawberry that has made new friends as Cavendish has done. Cavendish is proven winter-hardy through Nova Scotia’s extra-frigid temperatures. It runners so well a child can easily establish a solid plant stand and it produces crops weeks longer than other Junebearers. It’s so bountiful it yields much larger crops per square foot than lesser berries. It is highly resistant to red stele. This is simply the richest, berriest-tasting strawberry you’ve ever let melt on your tongue. Or put in a shortcake. Or drizzled over ice cream. If you’re ready for new pleasure in strawberry flavor, you simply have to try Cavendish. No longer premium priced. 25 virus-free plants are $8.55, 50 are $14.45, and 100 are $26.85.

And of Cavendish strawberries I say this:
They are absolutely, positively, delicious!

One of my very first posts on Farmgirl Fare was all about homegrown strawberries, and in it I confessed to having become a purist, feeling that the best way to savor a batch of luscious strawberries requires doing nothing more than making sure you have clean fingers and a plain white dish.

I will admit that I ate the first strawberries of the season this year standing out in the garden, and it doesn't get much better than that. And yet I can't stop thinking about the several inches of thick and oh-so-whippable cream that comes atop the gallon jars of fresh milk I buy from a cow down the road. Then there are the oatmeal scones I'd been thinking about baking today - which, when you think about it, are a lot like little shortcakes. And the Orange Yogurt Cake recipe I've been drooling over for the past 3 days and am now thinking would taste wonderful with a side of sliced strawberries. (Nicole is calling it bread, but let's not kid ourselves - there may not be a thick layer of buttercream frosting in sight, but this is definitely cake.)

Um, yeah, sorry but I really gotta go. If you need me I'll be in the kitchen. Or the strawberry bed.

So what's your favorite way to enjoy fresh strawberries?

Related strawberry links:
Farmgirl Fare 6/4/05: Strawberries
What's Growin' On 5/21/06: A Beautiful Breakfast! (obviously my memory was better back then)
What's Growin' On 5/27/06: Me, Cary, & Bear vs. The Turtles
What's Growin' On 10/28/07: Growing Strawberries & Preparing Your Bed for Winter

© Copyright 2008, where the best part about this year's strawberry crop is that so far that hasn't been a single turtle - or turtle bite mark - in sight!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Garden Journal Entry 5/27/08:
Getting Back in the Groove (I Hope!)

Tiny Flowers for Fairies?

Realization of the Day:
I need to get my original garden blog attitude - and pronto.

Back in the spring of 2006, I started this blog with a simple goal - to help me keep better records of what goes on each year in my Missouri kitchen garden. I made it a separate entity from Farmgirl Fare, my main food and farm blog, so I wouldn't bore non-gardeners with obsessive ramblings about sheep manure, seedling woes, the joys of growing 19 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and the unbelievable destruction wreaked by blister beetles.

At first things went really well. I put up a short but newsy post nearly every single day, beginning most of them with a personal Realization of the Day, then babbling on from there. I was helping my gardening efforts and having fun.

But as more and more kitchen gardeners (and would-be kitchen gardeners) discovered my little blog, I decided I needed to offer more helpful hints and how-to advice. Posts became longer and exceedingly more complicated. I began to hear from happy people all over the world whom I had helped or inspired to expand or create their gardens. It was wonderful.

Then somewhere along the lines all those quick little posts and daily realizations dried up. I continued taking all kinds of photos, but I stopped making notes. Part of it was a simple matter of not having enough time to do everything I wanted to do (should I sit down and write something about the garden or actually go out and work in it?). But the idea of putting up a blog post that discussed nothing more than which flowers were blooming that day, or what I'd finally got around to planting, or even what I'd picked and enjoyed for dinner that night suddenly didn't seem like enough. And the longer I waited between posts, the more it felt like I needed to write a long article about something really substantial. Because this kind of daily detail stuff wasn't really going to help anyone become a better gardener.

Except me. Which brings me back to the whole reason I started this blog in the first place - my need for a garden journal.

I love being able to look back and find out what was going on in previous years. Because sometimes it's all those tiny, seemingly inconsequential details that really mean the most. Even just a photo can, well, be worth a thousand words - or simply be nice to look at.

So I'm officially starting over. From here on out, I'm going to try to post something every day - or at least every other day. I have the photos, I have the realizations, I have lots of stuff going on in the garden (even when it feels like I'm so behind there's nothing planted out there - which in itself needs to be noted), and I have a strong desire to get back into that garden blogging groove. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, here's a photo of the tiny white flowers that pop up in our front lawn each spring when I remind the Head Mower (actually, the only mower) to please steer clear of the stuff that doesn't look like grass because one day it'll be covered with charming little blossoms. And even though I have no idea what these plants are (which means I can't even impart a name, let alone any helpful knowledge, to you about them), posting this photo, which was taken back on May 13th, lets me know that yet one more flowering plant is behind its blooming schedule this year due to our cold and crazy winter.

In 2007 I didn't bother to write about these fairy-like flowers, but I know that in 2006 they had already popped up on April 23rd - and on that same day I ate the first two stalks of asparagus (while standing in the garden), saw the first hummingbird of the season, and had some very happy Aconcagua pepper plants finally in the ground.

Phew. Done. Now that wasn't too bad.

Do you have a garden blog or blog about gardening? How has it affected your garden/gardening?

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where it just started to rain - but I'm still going to try and finally get some really pathetic looking (and purchased!) tomato plants in the ground.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Winner of Butterfly by Thomas Marent!

Butterfly in the Farmyard (And I Really Should Know What Kind!)

The randomly selected winner of a copy of the gorgeous and gigantic book, Butterfly, is. . . Laura! Here's what she said in her butterfly related contest entry comment:

I have always loved butterflies, since I was a kid. My fondest childhood memories of butterflies were the tiny orangish-brown cuties that would come to visit our butterfly bush every summer. I don't know their name, but they are so small and cute. I used to catch them sometimes (I know, that's bad!) to look at them up close.

Here's a picture of a pretty butterfly on my finger in Costa Rica. It had just hatched from its cocoon at a butterfly farm.

Congratulations Laura! Please e-mail me at farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com and let me know where to send your new copy of this amazing book.

Thank you all so much for sharing your butterfly stories and memories and links - what a wonderful collection to savor. I know this was a book giveaway contest, but I feel like I'm the one who really received the gift!

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres - and we're thrilled that it's the height of moth & butterfly season.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Luna Moth Love & A Book Giveaway!
Win a Copy of Butterfly by Thomas Marent

Some of you know about my love for moths and butterflies. I'm constantly awed by these remarkable creatures, and of course it would be nearly impossible to have any sort of garden without them. Well if I'm in love, then Swiss author and photographer Thomas Marent is obsessed - in a good way. And his gloriously gigantic new book, simply titled Butterfly, offers a (much) larger than life size look at these 'flying flowers.'

The more than 500 stunning photographs in Butterfly - all shot on location in natural habitats - offer an extraordinary portrait of some of the 165,000 species found in almost every region of the world, and visually document each stage of the life cycles of butterflies and moths in an incredibly detailed, close-up view of their world. This large hardcover is first and foremost a picture book (there's a slideshow of images here), but the minimal text offers tidbits of fascinating information. For example, of monarch butterflies, which I remember going to see migrate when I was growing up in Northern California, Marent says:

"The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) repopulates eastern North America every year after spreading north from Mexico. In fall, the entire population east of the Rocky Mountains returns south in a flight of over 1,800 miles, completed by a single generation. Guided by instinct, stopping only to sleep or refuel with nectar, their destination is a remote area of central Mexico, where hundreds of millions of monarchs gather in a few patches of highland fir forest. Here, the butterflies are safe from frost yet cool enough to spend most of the winter semi-dormant."

Luna Moths In The Garden, August 2006

We have all sorts of butterflies and moths here on the farm, and one of my favorites is the large luna moth. I was thrilled to come across this mating pair at the edge of the garden two years ago, and just yesterday I saw one perched on a beam in the sheep barn. According to Marnet, "female luna moths 'call' males in the night by extruding a scent gland at the tip of the abdomen. Males can detect the scent from a few miles away and react by flying doggedly upwind along the scent trail."

Butterfly would make a wonderful gift for anyone enamored with these little winged creatures, and thanks to the nice people at DK Publishing (the same company that published Bread, one of my favorite bread books, as well as all sorts of other beautiful publications), I have a brand new copy to give away.

Just leave a comment in this post between now and next Thursday telling me something - anything - about butterflies or moths: why you love them, what your favorite kind is, why you wrote about them on your own blog (leave a link to your post!), your best butterfly story or fondest memory, or simply why you want to win this book. I'll randomly pick a winner and announce it in a new post on Friday, May 16th. Sorry, but due to the weight of this enormous book it can only be shipped to a U.S. address.

© Copyright 2008, the award-winning blog where life is always better with butterflies.