Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! (and a Holiday Surprise in the Greenhouse)

Um, Yeah

Realization of the Day:
There are days when nothing can faze me—not even this.

I hope you got everything you wished for—along with a few surprises—for Christmas!

© Copyright 2009, the wide-eyed foodie farm blog where I definitely don't remember asking Santa to please bring me a possum for Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quick Winter Tip from My Favorite Vegetable Gardening Book: How To Help Protect Plants in Below Freezing Weather

Greek Oregano in the Greenhouse Ready for this Greek Slow Roasted Lamb Recipe

I love books. I love them so much that when I moved from northern California to Missouri 15 years ago, I chose to sell most of my beautiful Art Deco furniture in order to have more space in the moving truck for vintage collectibles (like some of the treasured contents of my potting cabinet) and books.

I especially love cookbooks, and while I admit to hardly ever (or never) using many of the ones I own, I rationalize their purchase like this: if I discover just one fantastic recipe in a cookbook, that to me is worth the entire cost of the book. The rest of the pages are simply a bonus.

I don't have nearly as many gardening books as I do cookbooks, but if I applied that same rule to them, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith would probably be worth about two thousand dollars. This book, which is all about Ed's high-yield W-O-R-D system: Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds, Deep soil, is packed with smart and helpful tips, and after 9 years of owning it, I still learn something new (or relearn something I've forgotten) pretty much every time I pick it up—which is a lot.

Having the Internet at your fingertips when searching for gardening help is great, but having one really reliable book you can turn to first is often even better, and for me it's The Vegetable Gardener's Bible. If what I'm looking for isn't in it, something else always is—like this little sidebar tidbit titled But They'll Freeze! about keeping plants in a greenhouse alive during even the coldest winter nights:

In December, January, and February, night temperatures in our greenhouse dip well below 0°F (-17°C), and all the plants therein freeze solid. If we pick them while they're frozen, the result more closely resembles mush than salad. But if we wait until the sun has warmed the soil and thawed the leaves, we have a salad that has even more depth of taste than any the summer can produce. The secret to this success is that you not water the plants during the coldest times of the winter. If there's too much moisture in the cells, they burst, and the plant will not recover. We stop watering in mid-December and don't start again until mid-March.

He's right about the frozen solid plants. More than once I've gone out to the garden on a really cold morning, sure that everything was history. Now I realize it's better not to look. I simply wait until the sun warms up the plants and brings them back to life before I check on anything—and it's amazing how well they can recover.

I'd actually forgotten the part about not watering at all during winter until rereading But It'll Freeze! just now. I do water my plants in the greenhouse sparingly this time of year—especially the ones in pots—but if I know we're in for a real cold snap, I make sure the soil is dry. And it really does work.

You can apply this theory to some extent with plants growing out in the open, although rain or snow can put a damper (ha) on things. Heavy clear plastic sheeting, either draped directly over beds or on top of some sort of simple structure such as these mini greenhouses, can help protect plants as well as keep them dry.

I've raved about The Vegetable Gardener's Bible before (you can read my full review here), and over the years I've heard from many of you who purchased it on my suggestion and like it as much as I do. I still highly recommend this book for both beginning and seasoned gardeners.

Do you have a favorite gardening book or winter gardening tip?

© Copyright 2009, the defrosted and still edible foodie farm blog where the early bird may get the worm, but the late gardener saves herself a lot of despair on icy mornings.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Garden Journal 12/1/09: Brrrr!

Volunteer Arugula that Didn't Make it Under Cover Last Night

Time to Put the Strawberry Patch to Bed for the Winter

Very Cold Kale (which is fortunately very cold tolerant)

Realization of the Day:
Something tells me it somehow really is the first of December.

It was 20 degrees outside this morning. There's snow predicted for tomorrow. During the past few weeks I've looked up to see hundreds of honking geese desperately flapping their way south (being on the migratory flight path is one of the neatest things about living here).

Winter is definitely on the way—and I still haven't planted my garlic!

So what color is your garden these days? Green, brown, white?

© Copyright 2009, the too cool for the pool foodie farm blog where we're no longer bemoaning the fact that no fall lettuce ever got planted. Forget light salads—it's the season for cozy quick breads and hot soups, not to mention freshly baked muffins and scones. Bundle up, eat well, and stay warm!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Garden Journal 11/16/09: Fall Radish Harvest (Such as It Is)

Yep, That's Pretty Much It

Realization of the Day:
I always seem to get massive cravings for whatever isn't growing in the garden.

This bizarre double specimen is a volunteer that popped up just outside the raised bed where I grew a bumper crop of French Breakfast radishes last spring (see photo below). A patch of beautifully colored Easter Egg radishes at the other end of the bed did really well, too. I scattered the seeds over a couple of square feet, and this worked out better than when I planted them in rows to delineate that bed of gourmet lettuce varieties two years ago (scroll down in that post to see the photos)—though it didn't look nearly as pretty.

I let several of the French Breakfast plants go to seed (I love those big fat radish pods), but just before the seeds were dry my well-meaning-but-slightly-maniacal mowing man (and all around handy and hunky farmguy who knows he has zero chance of being fired) unknowingly (I assume) zoomed over them with the brush mower.

Around Here We Encourage Growing Outside the Box

The rest of the nutrient-rich, yet bulbless, radish greens you see here will go to the foodie chickens—along with the volunteer kale which has literally been feeding them all year. Want to grow your own nutritient-packed green chicken food for nearly free? Simply sow a packet of kale seeds.

Back in August, I posted a recipe on Farmgirl Fare for this scrumptious Radish Cream Cheese Dip/Spread with Parsley, Scallions and Feta that I became addicted to about three bites into the first batch. (There's a photo of some of my Easter Egg radishes included in that post, too.) I'd planned to mention the recipe here at the same time, along with some radish growing tips, but that still has yet to happen, along with so many other things—including my fall radish planting.

French Breakfast Radishes Harvested on May 25th

Radishes aren't hard to cultivate, so you'll probably do fine without any help from me. What I can tell you is that every garden should have at least a few radishes in it. These fast growing, zippy little vegetables are ready to pick in about a month (making them a great crop for kids, especially since you get to yank them out of the ground) and are actually quite versatile in the kitchen. I love their crisp crunch and have always thought even the plain old ones were beautiful. You just have to remember one very important thing: be sure to actually plant your seeds!

I'm thinking of sowing a small patch of radish seeds this week in the greenhouse, along with some arugula (growing tips here) and cold-loving mache/corn salad, to see if I can get them to grow this late in the year (they thrive in cool, moist soil after all)—that is if I can find any available space in what has become a veritable Swiss chard jungle. Slightly scary but very edible. Jungle photos coming soon, along with yet another not-so-subtle-plea that you put Swiss chard on the mental seed order you know you're already working on.

In the meantime, I just might have to break down and buy some radishes from the grocery store because I've been craving this dip for months. With its cheerful red and green colors it would be a perfect—and healthy!—offering to have on hand during the upcoming holiday season.

You might also enjoy these other dips and spreads:
White Bean and Artichoke Dip with Rosemary, Romano, & Kalamatas
Chives and Herbed Yogurt Cheese
Sour Cream and Onion Dip (and Foodie Travel)
Ridiculously Easy White Bean Pesto Spread
Quick Refried Black Bean Dip
Salsa-Like Green Tomato Relish
Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip

Do you grow radishes? Any favorite varieties, amusing stories, or growing tips? How do you like to eat them?

© Copyright 2009, the fast growing, time flying foodie farm blog where our motto is, It's never to late to plant something!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Garden Journal 10/31/09: Happy Halloween!

Wild Persimmons and Autumn Color (catch more of it here)

I've never grown pumpkins (have you?), but this time of year the persimmon trees are full of tiny fruits that are the perfect shape and color—just a whole lot tinier. Unfortunately I think they taste like soap, but the sheep and donkeys—and even some of the dogs—are crazy about them and will literally stand under the trees waiting for more to fall. Best of all, the persimmons flourish year in and year out without any help from me.

© Copyright 2009, the fallen fruit foodie farm blog where we may not get any trick-or-treaters since we're several miles from the nearest neighbor, but at least there are always plenty of spooky bats and spiders.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Garden Journal 10/17/09: Widespread Frost Warning

And This Isn't Even the Half of It

Realization of the Day:
Looks like it's time to make some of my Super Simple, No Sugar, Salsa-Like Green Tomato Relish!

So what do you like to do with green tomatoes?

© Copyright 2009, the fluffing up for winter and enjoying the warmth of wood heat foodie farm blog where our 'official' frost date is October 15th, so while tonight's prediction of 30° (and as much as 10° colder down here in our little valley if the skies are clear) isn't a big surprise, the first frost forecast always causes a bit of a stir—especially out in the garden.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Garden Journal 10/8/09: Growing Short Day Onion Varieties in Spring and Free Green Onions in Fall

Fresh Scallions in October? No Problem—and No Effort!

Realization of the Day:
This is perfect green onion growing weather!

I've mentioned before how I love it when my inefficiency in the garden ends up rewarding me with food—and it's happened again. Back in early March, I planted seven of the nine varieties of onion plants that I ordered from Dixondale Farms. You'll find my previous post about these onion plants here, in which I admitted 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.

Because southern Missouri is on the edge 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, and also because there were no open-pollinated varieties of Intermediate Day onions (which are perfect for Missouri) available and I didn't want to grow just hybrids (which are usually not allowed in my garden!).

I ordered three kinds of Short Day onions: 1015 Texas Super Sweet, White Bermuda, and Southern Belle Red. According to Dixondale's map, Missouri isn't technically in the Short Day growing area, but here's what their description says:

Short Day onions start the bulbing process when the day length reaches 10-12 hours. Since they are planted in the south during the winter or early spring months, they take approximately 110 days to mature. When planted in northern states in late spring, they mature in just 75 days, but produce smaller bulbs. The earlier you plant them, the larger they get.

My 1015Y Texas Super Sweets did well (I'll share photos and write more about them in a future post), and while the White Bermudas didn't get very big, the reason I tried them is because not only is this an heirloom variety that's been grown by Dixondale since 1898, but the description says it's 'great for green onions as it produces a nice, white, large scallion in just 30 days.'

Unfortunately the Southern Belle Reds (another open-pollinated variety) didn't make it into the ground until several weeks (maybe even more than a month—I apparently forgot to take notes) after the original planting (and the Candys never did get planted). They formed tiny bulbs which were soon obliterated by weeds and forgotten until the other day when I realized they were sprouting.

I now have a beautiful little patch of fresh green onions to enjoy as the rest of the garden winds down (the purple basil you can see in the photo above is still flourishing three and a half months after the first harvest). Thanks again to the dozens of you who responded to my request last year for your favorite ways to enjoy green onions.

I was telling a gardening friend the other day about my volunteer green onions, and he said that if you leave a mature onion bulb in the ground, it will eventually form a brand new onion. This makes sense and doesn't. I'm guessing the original onion (from which these fall green onions are sprouting) rots and then regrows a whole new bulb? I may just have to leave some of these Southern Belle Reds in the ground and find out.

This was my first year growing onions from purchased plants, and I'm very happy with the results—especially considering I grew my biggest onions ever despite our wacky, inhospitable-to-growing-onions (and leeks—but that's a whole other blog post) spring weather. A friend who lives nearby said she usually harvests big, beautiful onions and had a pitiful crop this year, so I'm hoping for even bigger bounty in 2010.

How did your onions do this year? Any favorite varieties, growing tips, amusing stories, or recipes to share?

Previous onion posts:
6/2/09: Harvesting Spring Onions Grown from Purchased Plants
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 rainy day foodie farm blog where the hillsides have started changing to yellows, reds, and browns, but the garden is coming up green.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Garden Journal 9/23/09:
Tomatoes! Freshly Picked Heirlooms (Mine) and Favorite Varieties to Grow (Mine and Yours)

My Favorite Kind of Tomatoes—Ripe!

Realization of the Day:
2009 is not my Year of the Tomato.

It was supposed to be. In late winter (on time!) I started something like 30 different kinds of heirloom tomato seeds, most of which I'd never grown before, and with fabulous names like Egg Yolk, Mule Team, and Chocolate Vintage.

Things pretty much went downhill after that, though I'm finally harvesting a few various ripe tomatoes—some of which I can even identify. (Why do the plants that I meticulously label and make notes about usually seem to die?) I'm also already planning for next year—and I'm not the only one.

Back on September 3rd (where has this month gone?) a message arrived in my inbox from 'mother.' Since messages from my mother have her name on them, I figured it was spam—like all the ones that say they're from 'me.' But then I looked at the subject line: Help Us with the Top Tomato Varieties Survey. This wasn't spam, it was from Mother Earth News, specifically Cheryl Long, the Editor in Chief herself:

As a tomato grower and a blogger, we hope you will help us spread the word to gardeners who love great tomatoes. Mother Earth News invites you (and others!) to take our new Top Tomato Varieties online survey.

Our goal is to connect with lots of folks who are passionate about homegrown tomatoes, then combine everyone's tomato-growing experience and advice into an article for
Mother Earth News, with emphasis on the best varieties for regional growing conditions.

I guess I'm not the only one who spaced the survey out, because fortunately it's still going on. It only takes about 10 minutes, and you can take it here. The findings will be presented in the February/March 2010 issue of Mother Earth News.

I'm really looking forward to reading the results, especially since regional growing conditions seem to make an especially huge difference with tomatoes—which so many of you confirmed in all the interesting and helpful 2009 tomato comments you left on this recent post (thanks so much!).

Ironically, the same day Cheryl's message arrived, I picked the cherry tomatoes in the photo above, which were volunteers growing in our grey water runoff ditch (where the water that drains out of our kitchen sink, bathroom sink, washing machine, and shower runs off into a ditch outside The Shack). They're sweet and tasty, and the plants don't mind being completely ignored, but they're no help to the survey because I don't have a clue what kind they are.

Below are some of my tried and true favorite heirloom tomato varieties I can name, all of which are not only full of flavor but also do well in our hot and humid summers and generally crazy Missouri climate. Varieties marked PT came from Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine; BC are varieties ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds here in Missouri (which also has a new retail store in Petaluma, California—my old stomping grounds!).

San Marzano (my favorite red plum/paste tomato I've been growing for 14 years - PT)
Orange Banana (a wonderful orange plum/paste tomato - BC)

Gold Nugget (produces lots of 1-inch flavorful fruits that aren't prone to cracking - PT)
Yellow Pear & Red Pear (I love these tiny pear shaped fruits with great yields; the red ones date back to the 1700s - PT)
Yellow Currant & Red Currant (really tiny tomatoes - so cute! - that mature early and taste great - PT)

Tappy's Heritage (large, globe shaped red tomatoes with good disease resistance and great yields - a bestseller at BC)
Arkansas Traveler (beautiful pink tomato from Arkansas, tolerant to heat and humidity, crack and disease resistant - I wrote about them here - BC)
Kellogg's Breakfast (extremely large, sunny orange beefsteak I wrote about here - PT)
Thai Pink Egg (darling pink, 2-ounce, grape shaped tomatoes from Thailand did fabulous for me the first year, died of some strange disease the next while loaded with unripe fruit, but are definitely worth trying again)

So what are your favorite tomato varieties to grow? I hope you'll take a minute to share them here—after you've taken the survey of course!

Previous tomato posts:
Links to all of my tomato recipes (at the bottom of the post)
—7/31/06: Growing Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes & How To Save Your Own Tomato Seeds
—8/9/06: Growing Kellogg's Breakfast Tomatoes and a Colors of Summer Salad with Tomatoes, Zucchini, Sweet Red Pepper, Beet Greens, Basil, & Garbanzos
—9/16/07: Kissing Summer Goodbye with the Easiest Greek Salad Ever
—6/2/08: Planting Tomatoes Later is Better than Never (I Think)
—9/4/08: How To Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way (and Why I Don't Do Much Canning Anymore) (lots of great comments from other gardeners here)
—10/12/08: Growing Tomatoes: How Many Plants Do You Need and What To Do If You End Up with Too Many Tomatoes—Make Easy & Delicious Homemade Tomato Juice! (lots of great comments here, too)

© Copyright 2009, the small, round, and juicy foodie farm blog where it's nice to have tried and true tomato favorites, but it's even nicer knowing that despite all the past years of experimenting, there are still hundreds of varieties of heirloom tomatoes just waiting to be grown in my garden.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Quick and Easy Gardening Tip:
How To Grow Bigger Strawberries Next Year

A Berry Sweet Breakfast Harvested Back on May 19th

Realization of the Day:
It's somehow September!

If you're a seasonal eater in the northern hemisphere, apples and pears are probably the fruits in the forefront of your mind right now, but if you're also a gardener, it's time for you to be thinking about strawberries. Next year's harvest may be many months away, but berry size is actually determined now.

Strawberry Blossoms full of Juicy Promise on April 21st (and a cute little inchworm)

When I moved to Missouri and started gardening on a much larger scale than I had been in my itty bitty Northern California backyard, one of the books I turned to time and time again (this was back in the archaic pre-google days) was
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Chemical-Free Gardening and Landscaping Techniques. Since I was pretty much clueless, this book was a tremendous help.

While The Vegetable Gardener's Bible has long been the first book I now grab when I have veggie growing questions (I highly recommend this wonderful publication for gardeners of all levels—you can read my review of it here), I still often find myself flipping through the pages of Rodale's Encyclopedia because it's full of the kinds of helpful tips I just don't find anywhere else. I mean, discovering this simple secret to growing bigger strawberries was in itself worth the price of the book (which, as of right now,
is as low as $1.50 at amazon.)

Growing Green on May 13th

Here's what a little sidebar I found in Rodale's Encyclopedia called 'Strawberry Futures' says:
If the growing conditions are favorable in August and September, you should have large berries the next season. But if conditions are less than favorable, your fruit will probably turn out to be small.

Now they don't actually explain what those 'favorable' growing conditions are, and it isn't as if could change the weather even if we knew what we wanted it to do, but the next paragraph says:

Researchers have also discovered that a few days of rain in the fall can mean the difference between a bountiful crop and a mediocre harvest several months later. So if it looks like a dry fall, make time to water your strawberry bed thoroughly at least twice before the end of September.

My Bed of Cavendish Strawberries on August 23rd (read more about them here)

Between the couple of good waterings I miraculously remembered to give my 4'x8' raised strawberry bed back in August and the 2½ unexpected—and much appreciated—inches of rain we got last Friday, I should be set, even if I space out the strawberries for the rest of the month (which is quite likely to happen).

So if you haven't had a good rain lately and you're anywhere near as scatterbrained as I am, stop reading this and go give your strawberry plants a nice long soak right now. You can thank me for those big beautiful berries come spring—if you remember, that is.

Here are links to my previous posts about growing strawberries, including one that explains how to prepare your strawberry bed for winter (because after watering now, we're not yet done for the year):
6/5/05: Strawberries from Garden to Kitchen
5/21/06: A Beautiful Breakfast!
5/27/06: Me, Cary, & Bear vs. The Turtles
10/28/07: Growing Strawberries & Preparing Your Bed for Winter
5/28/08: Successfully Growing Strawberries
7/20/08: Strawberries in the Garden & an Orange Yogurt Cake Recipe in the Kitchen

© Copyright 2009, the fruity foodie farm blog where those gigantic commercial strawberries may be bred for size with no regard whatsoever to taste, but that doesn't mean we home gardeners can't strive for slightly larger yet still incredibly flavorful berries. With a little timely watering, our strawberry harvests can have it all.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Garden Journal 8/23/09:
The First Tomato of the Year Is Finally Ripe!

Swaddled in a Bed of Fresh Basil (the biggest success in the garden this year)

Realization of the Day:
It's always a good idea to download your photo and check to see if it's in focus before gobbling up the subject in a fit of uncontrollable excitement.

When I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area suburbs, our neighbor across the street always planted a big backyard vegetable garden, which we were sometimes called upon to water while he and his family took their summer vacation. A few years ago my foodie mom (aka Queen of the 100% Whole Grain Bran Muffins) and I were talking about ripening tomatoes in the garden, and she said, "Well you know what Mr. C. always used to say, don't you? That his first tomatoes were always ripe on August 1st. 'It doesn't matter when I plant them, it's always August 1st,' he'd tell me. 'I can plant my tomatoes on the last day of July, and I'll still have ripe tomatoes on August 1st.'" This cracked me up.

The 20th of August is definitely a ripe tomato record for me—I've never had to wait this long, and for just one tomato at that. And I thought last year's handful of ripe cherry tomatoes picked on August 17th was pathetic. But considering that my sorry little seedlings didn't go into the ground until June 17th, it's really not that bad.

I can't remember what variety this is (why does it seem like I make the most detailed notes about the plants that end up dying?), but I do know it's my favorite kind—ready to eat. Of course it was delicious.

For various reasons, most of my tomato plants have not been doing all that well, but I do have quite a few green tomatoes in various shapes and sizes out on the vines. Despite it being the end of August (and a blissfully invigorating 50 degrees this morning!), I'm hopeful; last summer I was harvesting ripe tomatoes into October.

Strange spring and summer weather has meant a bad year for both commercial and backyard tomato crops across the country, and then there are all the plants decimated by blight. My friend Jen at FarmAid (a fabulous organization whose annual fundraising concert is being held in St. Louis this year!) told me last month that her CSA farm was getting ready to pull up 4,000 tomato plants because of blight. Closer to home, my Amish neighbor said his first early tomato planting basically flooded from all our spring rain (which was very nice in some ways but terrible in others). Fortunately his later plantings did better (though not nearly as well as last year), and I've been getting my ripe tomato fix from his front yard produce stand.

Fast Farm Summer Food—Perfect for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner

One of my favorite ways to celebrate summer's tomato bounty is by making BLTs. We had the first ones of the season for dinner last week (on freshly baked Farmhouse White of course), and they were so good we had them again for dinner the next night. I've always loved cream cheese and tomato sandwiches, which I ate on toasted English muffins when I was a kid and on homemade crusty baguettes now. The best cream cheese and tomato sandwiches I've ever eaten were the little ones I made with Italian Olive Cheek Rolls from Daniel Leader's wonderful book, Local Breads, but the open-faced sandwich pictured above on toasted slices of Honey Bran Whole Wheat was pretty darn wonderful, too.

So how are your tomatoes doing this year? Any new favorites? What about failures? And don't forget to tell us where you're located!

Do you have an abundance of ripe tomatoes in your garden? (Oh, I remember those years well!) Here are some of my most popular tomato recipes you might enjoy:
Homemade Tomato Vegetable Juice
Quick & Easy Gazpacho
Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip (and Factory Tours)
Savory Tomato Pesto Pie with an Easy Biscuit Crust
Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Tomato Pesto Pizza, My Basil Pesto Recipe, & A Simple Tomato Salad
Three No-Cook Summer Recipes: Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw, Easy Vegetarian Tacos, & High Kickin' Tomato Dressing
Cream Cheese & Tomato Sandwiches On Italian Black Olive Cheeks
The Easiest Greek Salad Ever
My Seven Second Tomato Glut Solution
Saving the Harvest with No Sugar Green Tomato Relish
How to Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way

© 2009, the slowly ripening foodie farm blog where anticipation doesn't just apply to ketchup.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Garden Journal 8/14/09: Relaxing Retro Style in the Garden and Cooking It Up in the Kitchen

At Least Farm Boss Patchy Cat Hasn't Taken Over My New Chair Yet

Realization of the Day:
It's the weekend! Time to sit back and ignore the work and the weeds.

In between hanging out in my fun new chair this weekend (even though we technically don't have weekends on the farm, since Saturday and Sunday are just the same as any other day to the animals), I'm planning to start some brussels sprouts seeds in containers (I've never grown them before—it might be too late for a fall crop, might not, we'll see) and finally put some poor neglected thyme plants I bought last spring into pots. And there's a ton of weeding to do of course. Oh how the weeds have thrived with the (otherwise) wonderful rain we've had this year.

There's not a whole lot to be harvested in the garden right now, but I need to get out there and pick lots and lots of green and purple basil (leaving the snipped plants in the ground so they'll reward me with another harvest or two, like I demonstrated in this post) for my favorite lowfat but still delicious basil pesto which I'll freeze so we can enjoy it all winter long.

Tomorrow night we'll be celebrating summer with the first BLTs of the season—thanks to the juicy heirloom tomatoes I bought from our Amish neighbors, since I don't have a single ripe tomato yet!—on toasted slices of freshly baked Farmhouse White Bread. I see a pesto pizza with fresh tomatoes in our near future, too.

There's some beautiful Swiss chard still growing in the greenhouse (along with several tiny volunteer seedlings—it's so easy to grow Swiss chard from seed) and a couple small heads of cabbage from my Amish vegetable connection in the fridge, so hopefully there will be time to mix up some Swiss Chard Tuna Salad, Swiss Chard Cabbage Salad with Garbanzo Beans, Broccoli Stems & Cottage Cheese, and/or a platter of Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw Tacos with High Kickin' Creamy Tomato Dressing.

And for dessert? If I don't get around to baking the Just Peachy version (Missouri peaches are here!) of my Easier than They Look Blueberry Breakfast Bars I've been craving (both fresh and frozen blueberries work great for these), there's always that hunk of Orange Yogurt Loaf Cake I found hiding in the freezer the other day.

I think I'd better move my retro relaxing chair into the kitchen!

What are you eating—or preserving—from the garden, farmers' market, or your CSA box this weekend?

© Copyright 2009, the the surrounded by vintage treasures indoors and out foodie farm blog where I've always adored these classic motel chairs and was thrilled to score this new version—in one of my favorite colors—for the beat up and battered display model price of just ten bucks.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Garden Photo Journal: Wordless Wednesday

© Copyright 2009, the sometimes silent foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories, photos, and recipes from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Garden Journal 7/28/09:
Growing and Loving Surprise Lilies (aka Naked Ladies, Magic Lilies, Spider Lilies, and at Least Nine Other Names)

This old time favorite flower requires virtually no care (more photos here).

Realization of the Day:
It's hard to imagine a more beautiful flower that is so easy to grow.

That is actually what the informative site Floridata says about surprise lilies, which pretty much sums them up for me. But if you'd like to know a little more about these robust and vigorous (and so pretty!) plants, here's some information.

Surprise Lilies go by many other names, including Naked Lady (because the trumpet shaped flowers bloom atop 2-foot tall naked stems), Nekkid Lady, Magic Lily (because the flowers seem to pop out of the ground like magic), Spider Lily, Mystery Lily, Resurrection Lily, Hardy Amaryllis, Guernsey Lily, Autumn Lycoris, Hurricane Lady, Pink Lady, and Pink Flamingo Flowers.

Since this is my tenth summer on the farm and I'm still surprised each year when our one clump of them pops up next to the front yard fence, I always think of them surprise lilies. And what a nice surprise they are.

A member of the amaryllis family, surprise lilies have been cultivated for centuries in their native Japan. They were first introduced to American gardeners around 1880, and the most well known variety here—which is what I have—is the pink surprise lily, Lycoris squamigera.

The daffodil-like leaves emerge in late winter or early spring and then wither and die away. The plants go dormant (and need no water) until the flowers emerge in mid-summer (hence the 'surprise'), which allows them to survive prolonged periods of summer drought.

These leaves are actually other plants which conveniently cover the nakedness.

I've always been partial to plants that will 'persist for years once established.' Surprise lilies are hardy to USDA Zones 5-10 and require virtually no care. I remember the first time I saw them blooming in long rows along an old highway in Sonoma County, California. They do well in full sun, part shade, and even heavy shade and will thrive in both sandy and heavy clay soils.

The blooms are long lasting and make good cut flowers. The plants are mildly toxic, which may be part of the reason they're touted as deer resistant, though when Cary was a baby she made a beeline straight for the blooms and survived just fine. Other than her, I've never noticed any pests or insects bothering my plants.

Surprise lilies produce large bulbs (about 2 inches across) that multiply quickly and can be divided every 3 to 5 years. Buy bulbs in spring and fall or beg some from a friend's garden. I've never divided mine, but I probably should try it, especially since I wouldn't mind expanding my little patch.

Dig up the bulbs in spring—when it's easy to see the yellowing leaves—or after the blooms fade in August or September. Plant your bulbs in clusters as soon as possible after digging them up, 1 to 7 inches deep (the colder your climate, the deeper you'll want to plant) anywhere you'd like a showy summer display. If you don't mind a few wilting leaves, you can even plant them under the sod in your lawn, mowing around the stalks when they bloom.

Your surprise lilies may not flower for the first two years, and depending on weather conditions, they may not flower every subsequent year (which means a 'surprise' for you when they do). One source I found said the closer you plant the bulbs, the sooner they'll bloom, which may be why they make good potted plants.

Do you have surprise lilies in your garden? Any growing tips, info to add, or other nicknames to share?

Previously posted surprise lily photos:
8/4/05: Surprise Lilies Are Also Known as Naked Ladies
Surprise Lilies Attacked!
Surprise! Cary Didn't Eat All the Lilies
7/28/09: There Are Naked Ladies in My Front Yard!

Information sources: Floridata, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Wisconsin Master Gardener Program.

©, the flowering foodie farm blog where we're thankful for the previous gardener here whose meager plantings of various hardy bulbs decades ago (like the irises and those beloved daffodils that just keep spreading) are still providing so much beauty and joy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Garden Journal 7/24/09: How To Beat the Summer Heat

You Simply Sleep Through It

Realization of the Day:
At least somebody's getting some use out of my potting bench this time of year.

I hope you have a very relaxing weekend!

© Copyright 2009, the siesta taking foodie farm blog where the one advantage to living in an area that's constantly being deforested is that you can often buy rough cut lumber from local sawmills for a ridiculously low price—but after several years it starts to reach warp factor six. I don't consider this a problem—more like an excuse to build a whole new potting shed where I'll be able to not only do my dirty work but display some of my vintage garden treasures (photos of them hopefully up soon) as well. If nothing else, it's something to dream about during those siestas.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garden Journal 7/21/09: Mixed Emotions
(and Growing Lemon Cucumbers from Seed)

Happy Dog and Sad Lemon Cucumber Plants

Realization of the Day:
The August mindset I've had since mid-June is going to have me very disappointed—and very hungry—once August actually arrives.

I don't know about you, but usually by the time August rolls around, my main concern in the garden is to simply keep whatever is still out there alive. It's too late to plant any of the poor spring seedlings that might be still hanging around, too hot to start fall crops yet, and pulling weeds in the ridiculous heat and humidity borders on insane. Watering is the main priority.

But if your August weather arrives a month and a half early, things can get really screwed up. Just before our heat wave struck, I put 15 heirloom tomato seedlings into a dandy new, sheep manure-filled plot I'd created especially for them. And after eight of them fried and died within days, transplanting any more of the several dozen other seedlings that still needed to go into the ground seemed like a waste of time and sweat.

I also neglected to direct seed all the warm weather veggies I never got around to starting in containers, like summer squash, winter squash, cantaloupe, and cucumbers. Just totally spaced them out. Obviously I was suffering from heat-induced brain damage, although, in my defense, we were also in the middle of putting up hay, a grueling task that takes priority over everything. (It also happened to be our worst haying season ever, as far as things going wrong were concerned, but with 744 bales of hay now neatly stacked in the barn for next winter, we've almost forgotten all the frustration and pain.)

I'm going to have to do without homegrown squash and melons this year (thank goodness for Amish garden overflow), but things are looking up in the cucumber department. I discovered these volunteer lemon cucumber vines while ruthlessly tearing out a depressing raised bed of disappointing broccoli, insect-ravaged beets, and amazingly healthy weeds.

I've been doing really well implementing my new gardening rule, and at first I was tempted to yank these sad little plants—complete with sad looking little stunted cucumbers—out. Then I remembered my otherwise cucumberless state and decided that with some sunlight and sheep manure, they might begin to flourish. If not, out they'll go.

I first came across lemon cucumbers at the Santa Rosa, California farmers' market almost 20 years ago, and I've been in love with them ever since. I asked the same question about them that everybody asks, Do they taste like lemons? No, they look like lemons. They taste like cucumbers, mild yet wonderfully flavorful. They also do really well for me here in Missouri and love to volunteer.

The Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog (from whom I've purchased lemon cucumber seeds) says this of lemon cucumbers:

Originated in 1894. The 3-inch fruits are round, pale yellow in color, with a white flesh that is easily digested and never bitter. Yields are most abundant [this is an understatement]. Also called crystal apple, the plant is drought resistant.

And the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog says:

Small, rounded, pale yellow cucumbers. Pick at 1½—2½" diameter. This versatile cucumber is sweet and flavorful, and doesn't have much of the chemical that makes other cucumbers bitter and hard to digest. Though it's often served raw, it's also a good pickling cucumber. Specialty market salad item. NOTE: Very late to begin bearing.

Baby lemon cucumbers start out nearly white and turn progressively yellower. Pick them when they're still light yellow, like these. To save seeds from your best specimens, leave them on the vine until the fruits mature—they'll be big with dark orange skin.

I usually eat my lemon cucumbers raw (you can use them in place of regular cucumbers in nearly any recipe), but I'm thinking they would make really good refrigerator pickles. Hopefully I'll harvest enough this year to make some.

And since lemon cucumbers only take 65 days to mature, I figure I'll go ahead and sow some seeds next to these plants. The August harvest is going to be pretty sparse, but we just might make up for it in September.

Ways I like to eat lemon cucumbers:
—Sliced and dipped into Herbed Yogurt Cheese
—In the Easiest Greek Salad Ever
—Tucked into Homemade Pitas with onions, tomatoes, & ground lamb
—With Grilled Lamb Burgers with Garlic and Feta on Rosemary Focaccia
—Alongside Greek Style Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Oregano & Lemon
—Blended up in a refreshing batch of Gazpacho (cold vegetable soup)

Are you a lemon cucumber lover? Got any growing tips, stories, or favorite ways to enjoy them?

© Copyright 2009, the self-seeding foodie farm blog where thankfully the temperatures have finally dropped (to below normal even!) and a big, beautiful storm has spent the day showering us with a couple inches of very much appreciated rain. Everything (and everybody) is perking up—and I've actually been getting stuff planted!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Garden Journal 7/11/09:
Clearing Out & Giving Up (In a Good Way)

It's into the Compost Bin for these Tomato Plants (minus the containers of course)

Realization of the Day:
I've been on a cleaning and decluttering rampage lately, and my latest target is the garden.

The depths of the chest freezers (buried homemade basil pesto from 2002, vacuum sealed green beans from 2003), the refrigerator crisper drawers (what is that in there?), the musty tubs of forgotten clothes (shirts that have always been uncomfortable, sailing shorts Joe hasn't worn since he left Florida 20 years ago), the dusty piles of three-year-old yet still unread magazines, the dozens of saved jam jars I'm never going to use—nothing is safe from my much needed wrath. I'm even working on organizing my cramped and collectible-filled little studio office.

As for the garden—in all of its unplanted, heat stroked, and insect-ravaged weediness—I have a new rule I've started implementing with a gloved iron fist:

If looking at it only depresses/frustrates/irritates you, then it's time to rip it up or toss it out.

The pathetic tomato plants in the photo above are in the compost pile, along with some other seedlings that I know will never grow well even if I do get them into the ground soon. The decision was made easier once something (I think an elusive tomato hornworm) ate them down to practically nothing.

In this 4'x8' raised bed are my second (very late) broccoli planting (seeds started in containers), four rows of Maxibel and Masai haricots verts bush beans, a few dozen kohlrabi plants, a volunteer dill plant, and weeds. The first harvest of beans is over (I picked about 2 pounds), and I've finally come to realize that whatever matures after that initial crop is usually disappointing, especially in July and August. So out they go. It feels so liberating!

The Di Cicco broccoli plants—a new to me Italian variety that's supposed to produce an abundance of small to medium heads—offered up a few florets but already seem to have petered out. Joe suggested I leave them in the ground in case they took off and started producing again once it cooled down. Sorry, new rule in effect. I am leaving the first planting—which did slightly better—in the ground for now (except for the scrawniest plants I already gave to the chickens), but I have a feeling they won't be there long.

I couldn't get myself to yank out the kohlrabi just yet, even though only three of the plants have put on bulbs (which might be enough for a small batch of my beloved kohlrabi purée), and the others aren't likely to in this heat. Same story, different season, though this time I started my seeds in containers and transplanted them into the garden rather than direct seeding, making sure to plant them a little deeper in the ground than they were in the pot, as per instructions from my gardening guru girlfriend (and kick-ass kohlrabi grower) Cynthia at Love Apple Farm.

Unfortunately I think it may have simply been too hot for the bulbs to form. I still haven't given up on kohlrabi completely (I love that purée too much). I'm thinking I might try starting seeds for a fall crop, but not until it cools down for good.

I'm not sure why I decided to tackle this bed clearing project in the middle of a 90 something degree day, especially since I'd already spent a good half hour out there weeding other beds (and cleaning out the fridge is a much cooler job), but it really only took about 20 minutes, provided me with a huge green lunch for our foodie chickens (you can read more about what else they eat in the comments section of this post), and looks so much better.

For a lifelong packrat who lives on a farm that's miles away from everything, doesn't have garbage pickup, and always seems to need something two days after finally tossing it out, this is definite progress—and it feels great.

Are you good at giving up and weeding out all the useless and/or depressing stuff from your garden?

© Copyright 2009, the still pretty cluttered foodie farm blog where it would be a lot easier to keep all the flat surfaces clear and everything neat and orderly if we didn't have so many interests and hobbies (not to mention a passion for books)—but where would be the joy in that?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Garden Journal 7/10/09: Designer Pollinators

Is This a Best Dressed Bug or What?

Realization of the Day:
It's Fashion Week in the garden.

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for cool looking insects, especially if they aren't decimating any of my plants—and sometimes even when they are. Since these little beauties so far appear content to spend their time pollinating the showy display of leek blossoms (which is a whole other very disappointing story I'll hopefully get around to writing about one of these days), I'm content to simply gaze at them in open admiration.

I remember seeing some of these winged insects last year for the first time (lots of new and bizarre—and sometimes very unwelcome—things have been happening during our past two wetter-than-usual springs), and I don't recall them doing any noticeable damage.

That pattern reminds me of vintage fabric or wallpaper. And check out those subtly coordinated legs.

Then there's that underbelly! It's like a suit and matching jacket. So chic. The star of Fashion Week is definitely Mother Nature.

Anybody else into cute bugs—or know what kind this one is?

I'm slightly obsessed with pollinators in general (adorable or not):
Look What Landed At My Feet
Butterfly Conference
My Good Deed For The Day
Farms Depend On Pollinators
You Can't Have Too Many Pollinators Around
Butterflies & Sheep & I Love Spiderwort
Butterfly Paradise
Obsessed With Bunnies & Butterflies
The Stuff Of Life
Butterfly Bonanza
Butterfly Photos Are Better Than Nothing
Joint Pollination Task Force
Welcoming Autumn with Open Arms
The Squash Blossom Butterfly
Fortunately All Flowers Look Perfect to Pollinators
Luna Moth Love (and an amazing butterfly book)
Abuzz with Activity
Winged Spectacular
Flash of Butterfly Brilliance
6/10/09: A Lovely Luna Moth

© Copyright 2009, the unfashionista foodie farm blog where my usual outfit of choice is overalls, a ratty shirt, and workboots. Thankfully the other creatures around here make up for my serious lack of style.