Monday, August 31, 2009


We're doing some backpacking these next two weeks. I dried some tomatoes for the trip. I'm leaving the beans, that have been so productive this summer, to fizzle out. Also, the tomatoes are showing signs of late blight. (I get an ominous feeling when I go out there lately.) We'll see what's going on when we return in mid-September.

Here are some pictures from the trip:

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Two weeks ago, I sent Chris to the office with a large bag of summer squash as a stealthy attempt to implement my "trickle down squash" theory of gardening. The fact is that I am rich in summer squash. I go out to my garden and gather a pile of this golden fruit and bring it in to the kitchen for immediate use. If we can smuggle this stuff to office kitchen counters around the city, we'll be able to spread the wealth. Almost all of the squash was swiped by co-workers. Unfortunately, the papaya pear summer squashes were the last to be adopted. I think it's a matter of education. These little pear-shaped squashes are less watery than the traditional yellow summer squashes, and can be used in exactly the same ways. I used both kinds of squashes in the torte below.

Smitten Kitchen's Summer Squash and Potato Torte. I used our pink and purple potatoes and cooked it in the iron skillet.

Friday night's pepperoni-zucchini pizza. Underneath the toppings is a tomato sauce I cooked up with our yellow jubilee tomatoes from the garden (and froze until I needed it). It was amazing!

Cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tomato Horned Worms

First, I found these.

Then, I noticed this.

I was out in the garden, talking on the phone, when I started to notice little - no, big - poops on the tomato leaves. Distracted by my conversation, I wasn't predicting what I was going to find as I followed the stems upward. Whoa, momma! The first caterpillar I found was staring me right in the face when I finally spotted it. It always works this way, you finally find the culprit and then the signs are everywhere! There were four huge caterpillars. There's probably one left out there that will completely mow down the entire tomato patch tonight.

I wanted to feed them to the rooster.

But he (that polished off a pound of rotten potato salad and two-thirds of a loaf of bread) won't try them. I even tried 'the airplane' and the fake eating "num, num, num, num!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tastes Like Pickle

I don't even like pickles. I just ate two. They're crunchy, and if I liked pickles, I'd eat more. Okay, I might eat more. Everything tastes better when you make it!

However, I just discovered a more suitable use (for me) of my loads of cucumbers on Urban Veggie Garden Blog here. We had this for dinner last night. Chris said, "This is why you have a garden, isn't it?" Oh yes, oh yes. Feta makes it beta.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Some Minor Food Preservation Tasks

This is my first pickle adventure. I made 4 quarts using the Betty Crocker recipe I found in my cookbook. These are not fermented, they're "canned." I just boiled up some vinegar, water, and salt, and added it to the sliced cucumbers, garlic, and fresh dill waiting in the jars. I processed them in the boiling water bath for the 10 minutes the recipe said to (and then I plugged them into the wall). I added crushed hot peppers to two of the jars because peppers seem to make everything better. I haven't eaten them yet because you have to wait a week. It would be great if they taste good, but I really just hope they don't kill anyone.

And on that note, I will share another food preservation task I've been doing a lot of lately: freezing green beans. First, I'm kind of afraid of the pressure-canner. Really, I'm not sure that kind of equipment is for me. Sure, I've felled trees with a chainsaw and driven some really questionable pick-up trucks, but this pressure-canner stuff isn't something I want to jump into without a guru nearby. Somehow I've always known that I should stay from things that could explode. Plus, Chris and I decided to invest in a freezer for the deer (and other assorted small animals he kills) and the chickens we were raising. So that leaves me with plenty of space for frozen fruits and vegetables. Barring an extended power outage or the Peak Oil scenario coming true in the next couple of years, I think the freezing option is really the best. Frozen stuff tastes better and has more goodness left because you haven't boiled the hell out of it.

But you do have to do a bit of boiling to keep the natural enzymes from breaking down the vegetables and turning them into cardboard, even while they're frozen.

I start by rinsing the sand and Japanese beetle guts (I'll explain later) off of the beans.

Then I cut the stems off and slice the beans into shorter pieces so as to avoid flinging butter all over the dining room table and my face at dinner time. (Who am I kidding? We eat while sitting on the couch. All the more reason to avoid long bean pods, I suppose.)

These sexy beans are waiting for the water to get to a rolling boil.

Here's the set-up. Left: pot of boiling water with a strainer for easy removal of beans. (I tried picking them out with my fingers one at a time and decided there must be an easier way.) Right: big bowl of icy water. Get that water rollin' and dump in the beans. Boil for 3 minutes. Cool them in ice water for 3 minutes.

These beans are chillin'. Three minutes (or until I get done checking Facebook). Then I bag 'em into dinner-size servings, smoosh all the air out, and freeze.

I know: so simple. I don't care. I'm just learning how to do this stuff right. Thank goodness for the internets.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rainy Day Retrospective

Hey, check this out: some "then" and "now" pics, along with some "Where's Waldo?" (Where's Molly? Where's the Llama?) and "Bobbing for Tomatoes" nonsense.

Carrots are covered so that the groundhog forgets that they're there. The broccoli stumps are still there just because I find it hard to give up. The lettuce needs to be pulled. Now's the time to plant my last batch of lettuce, spinach and maybe some carrots and radishes in the vacant spots.

The sad, half-harvested potato patch. Not the biggest success this year. But the beans to the left are going nuts! Actually, I really should be freezing more right now.

Bobbing for tomatoes.

The squashes got a pretty heavy dose of mildew, but they have fresh, new growth. No sign of squash-vine borers, whew. The sunflowers are 10 feet tall.

I want to add here that I've been thinking a little about my gardening style. This is the best any of my gardens have ever looked at this time of the year. I kind of like the overgrown heaps that happen in August and September. I get some pretty amazing stuff from very ugly gardens. I do love to see beautifully manicured and planned gardens, but I can't seem to make it happen.

Poona Kheeras, Pear Tomatoes, and Peacocks

Poona kheera cucumbers:
These strange yellow cucumbers don't look that appetizing when you pick them. They have a yellow to brown rind and are usually asymmetrical. But the rind is thin and they have no bitterness, even after being on the vine for a while. These are the best slicing cucumbers I've ever had. They're crisp, juicy and sweet.

Yellow Fargo Pears and Yellow Jubilee:
This is the first actual tomato harvest. The pear tomatoes are much larger than I expected, but I'm glad I finally got to grow them. They taste best when they are still a little green. I just like yellow tomatoes. I'm easily thrilled by novelty.

The mama has four little baby peepers. I watched them collapse in the sun for a three-minute nap right before they all jumped up and rushed off to forage again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To DIY or Not to DIY...

I guess one of the major reasons that I started this blog was to reflect on this question. I had put it aside for awhile during the busiest part of the gardening season. It woke me up the other morning when the radio was chattering about the "DIY Revolution," and the commentators were questioning the cost-effectiveness of doing things yourself. Everyone who makes something knows it's not only about cost. Whether it's DIY food, music, furniture, or adventure, there's more to DIY than saving money; although, it can be a kind of salve for a frugal soul.

The radio program reminded me that I knew how to make my own yogurt. My friend Sue gave me instructions for making "Sleeping Bag Yogurt," which is very simple, but takes some time. You heat up some milk, mix with yogurt, store in a warm sleeping bag for 6 or 7 hours, then refrigerate. I generally have two practical goals when I choose to make, grow, or cook things myself: 1) save money 2) reduce packaging waste. The third, less practical goal is to get a level of quality that you can't get when an industry does it for you. Usually, the cost comes in hours of labor. In the case of the yogurt, I can buy a 32 ounce tub of Stonyfield organic yogurt here for $4.00. Making my own organic yogurt costs a little less than $2.00 for the same amount. (I can save 50 cents more if I use my yogurt to start the next batch rather than buying a small plain container of yogurt.) Now, if I have the time to do it, it makes sense. Sometimes the extra money is worth the convenience, as any busy person knows. And sometimes the extra packaging is worth the money. Have you ever been diligent about using reusable shopping bags, just to go looking for a trash bag for the bathroom and find that you've run out of them? I use my yogurt containers for all sorts of things.

I've weighed the costs and benefits of DIY for many things, down to the tiniest details, and I've saved money. But I've realized that there's a lot more to it than frugality or conservation. So, I've realized that the fourth goal is gaining a greater understanding of or connection to a certain process. My first DIY project was actually playing guitar. Although I'm not very good at it, I can say that I have made "homemade music" on a couple of occasions. After learning to play, I began to hear acoustic guitars and singing at a deeper level. Next came gardening, bread-making, beer brewing, and knitting. You might think that learning a new skill would take the mystery out of it, pull back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz and expose his true nature, so to speak. Instead, it simply opened a door to another set of doors. There is always more to learn and new ways to be creative. For me it's about being connected. I appreciate what it takes to brew a good porter, make fresh yogurt, or knit a fair-isle hat. It makes you understand that labor *should* be expensive. But seeing something through the entire process is enlightening. And it's nice to feel grateful and empowered.

So, maybe I started growing my vegetables and raising chickens to save money. I have saved some money. But what I've really gained is a level of appreciation and connection that I didn't have before when strangers did these things for me. Making things, rather than buying them, has become more of a novelty in our relatively financially wealthy, but time-poor lifestyles. So, I guess if I'd been making my own yogurt my whole life, the store-bought stuff would be pretty exciting. But I get much more of a kick out of the homemade stuff. I can't help but think, "Hey, I made that!"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Flowers

This was the first bouquet that I threw together out of sheer enthusiasm for blooming things.

I got to plant so many different kinds of sunflowers this year it's really exciting to watch them bloom.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Good News, Bad News

Ugly carrots, but tasty

Little symmetrical green rows of hope

Candy roaster winter squash, looking like King of the Garden

All of the sweet pepper plants are loaded with fruits. I've picked four or five green ones to lighten the load on each plant. These sweet babies should turn red and make us all very, very happy.

This is a green zebra tomato, getting its stripes!

The bad news is that the groundhog is climbing over the fence (I've watched it) and eating the plants that are in their prime. She won't touch the towers of bolted lettuce. She doesn't munch on the bolting beet greens. She picks the plants that I have my eye on... it's like she can read my mind. These broccoli plants were my pride and joy for a week or two. I guarded the little seedlings. I congratulated myself on waiting until after the June heat-spell to plant them. They were thriving in our cool July weather. There's not much I can do other than shoot the groundhog. I don't want to shoot the groundhog because 1) I don't own this property and 2) It's too late to save the broccoli anyway. I might try the live trap, but I'll bet the skunk will find it first. Maybe something's wrong with me, though, because I've got some kind of zen thing going on with this groundhog right now.

The groundhog likes the carrot tops, too. The soil here is just not great. Because this is my first year in this garden, there are plenty of rocks (and marbles and broken flower pots and plastic dinosaurs) that need picking out. The soil needs more organic matter. And I'm not sure about the pH, but maybe these carrots don't love alkaline soils. It took me two years to create fabulous, carrot-loving soil in NY. The kind of soil that you can reach your hand into and bury it up to your elbow. Carrots are picky.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


The smell of nasturtium flowers floating up from a salad bowl and the color from a garden bouquet.