Garden Update: July 1, 2010

Sorry about the radio silence from here lately – it’s been a really rough month and a half for me. I felt like a bunch of things were hitting me at once. Sometime in mid-June, I ended up in the emergency room with massive pain in my chest, shoulder and neck, and the past month has been all about trying to deal with the pain as everything was healing – it’s been a haze of pain and physical therapy and painkillers that has left me pretty debilitated. I was trying to handle a massive course load at school while all this was happening, and quickly got overwhelmed. And I got some really disappointing news last week – I got a rejection letter from the nursing school I applied to, so I’ve been in a pretty deep funk all week with no passion for eating *or* food. I’m choosing to look at the rejection as a blessing in disguise – the stress I’ve been putting myself under both physically and emotionally were taking a toll on me, and it’s only since I’ve eliminated some of the sources of stress that my problems have started to resolve. And on the bright side, P. has started working again after being out of work for over a year and a half. It couldn’t have come at a better time – we had just exhausted all of his unemployment benefits, our credit cards are maxed out, and our savings are gone. Best of all, the new job comes with health benefits. Expensive health benefits, but benefits nonetheless.

But I digress. Things are starting to look up, and I’d like to talk about the garden. Unfortunately, there probably won’t be an August or September update, since I’ve not been able to keep up with the weeding and/or tending and the poor things are starting to suffer. We’ll see – some plants are still going strong, others (like my poor Sungolds) only have a few weeks left.

Click on through for an update of what’s going on in my backyard.

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Garden Update: June 1, 2010

After putting in the raised beds last year, I was super psyched about gardening this year. I got a late start this year, though. I didn’t order or start seeds in time, so I got stuck planting seedlings. And didn’t even manage to get those in very early – we were definitely past the last frost date (May 15 in our area) in getting everything in. With the exception of the Sun Gold tomato plants (4 of them), that is. I planted those in containers, so I got those planted at the beginning of May. What that means is that by the end of May a handful of them were already ripe.

Homegrown Sun Gold Tomatoes May 2010

So, here’s an overview of what I have planted this year, and where everything was at the beginning of June. Since it’s so picture-intensive, I’m continuing the entry under the cut.

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Scallions Three Ways

The best part of gardening is that sometimes it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I had planted green onions in my garden last year, and had a couple pop up, but nothing else after. I just figured that they had failed to germinate (or that I hadn’t refreshed the soil enough), and chalked it up to a packet of wasted seeds. Imagine my surprise when they started coming up like gangbusters when it first started getting warm. I let them keep going, and by this past week, I had what came out to be three full bunches of green onions to use. I decided to use them in an Asian-themed meal where each dish had green onions as a distinct component.

We had picked up some really great looking beef and pork for stir-fry at Hills the day before, and decided to modify an existing recipe to use both rather than just the beef it originally called for. And we allowed it to marinate overnight, which I think helped concentrate the flavor a bit more. Since you’re not cooking the meat to death, it stays tender. This was just all around nice, with very good flavor. We’d make this one again.

Scallion Stir Fry

Beef, Pork and Scallion Stir-Fry
adapted from recipe by Jody Prival

1/2 lb. beef sliced and cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 lb. pork sliced and cut into bite sized pieces
1 bunch scallions cut into 1″ lengths
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

Marinade:
1 1/2 oz. tamari
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. oil
1 tsp. slivered fresh ginger

Sauce:
2 tbsp. tamari
2 tbsp. sake
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1/3 c. cold water
2 tsp. oil
2 tsp. Hoisin sauce (optional)

Mix marinade with meat. Stir well and set aside for at least 30 minutes (we let ours marinate overnight). Put some oil in a wok and heat until very hot, then add the garlic. As soon as it starts to brown, add the meat and stir rapidly until the red color disappears. Add the scallions, then the sauce. If it gets too thick, add a little water. Heat ~1 minute, then serve.

The second dish, the Jap Chae, is one I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I cut down the amount of sesame oil in the recipe a touch (because at least to me, the flavor of it can overwhelm everything else in excess), but found it a bit bland, because cutting out some of the sesame oil knocked the flavor profile off a bit. I’ll have to try a different recipe next time. I was still able to use it by eating it mixed together with the stir-fry – combined they are quite nice. I did like the veggies a lot in this, though, so I’d keep that aspect. I’ll post the recipe from Jaden’s blog intact, though – because you may have better results without altering it. :)

Jap Chae (Korean Glass Noodles)

Jap Chae (Korean Glass Noodles)
recipe from Steamy Kitchen

Serves 4-6 as part of multicourse meal

1/2 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles
2 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon cooking oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced onions
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 stalks green onions, cut into 1″ lengths
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced (shitake, wood ear)
1/2 lb spinach, washed well and drained
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Fill a large pot with water and boil. When water is boiling, add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again and toss with only 1 tsp of the sesame oil. Use kitchen shears to cut noodles into shorter pieces, about 8 inches in length. Set aside.

In bowl, mix soy sauce & sugar together. Add the cooking oil in a wok or large saute pan on high heat and swirl to coat. When the cooking oil is hot but not smoking, fry onions and carrots, until just softened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, green onions and mushrooms, fry 30 seconds. Then add the spinach, soy sauce, sugar and the noodles. Fry 2-3 minutes until the noodles are cooked through. Turn off heat, toss with sesame seeds and the remaining 1 1/2 tsp of sesame oil.

*rehydrate your mushrooms if you are using dried

After finding out truly easy Pa Jun is to make, I’m really questioning the logic of one local Korean restaurant who tries to justify charging $9.95 for a single vegetarian pancake (same price they charge for seafood) because “the amount of work needed to make it is the same”. What a crock! This recipe, in fact, is so simple, that I can see making it whenever I have 30 minutes to spare and a hankering for it. Even though this variation of it just uses scallion, I’ve seen it made with zucchini, kimchee, and other veggies you have laying around and need to use. Next time around, I may put a little soy sauce in the batter proper to make it a touch more savory.

Pa Jun (Scallion Pancake)

Korean Scallion Pancake (Pa Jun)
recipe courtesy About.com

2 c. flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. water
1 bunch of scallions, halved and cut into 2-3 inch lengths
1 tsp. salt
Oil for cooking

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for about 10 minutes. Check consistency before cooking – batter should be a little bit runnier than American pancake batter, so that the Pa Jun cooks quickly and evenly. (Add more water if necessary to achieve this consistency).

Heat a saute pan over medium heat and coat with a thin layer of oil. Pour batter to fill pan in a thin layer. Cook for 3-4 minutes until set and golden brown on bottom. Turn over with help of a spatula or plate (or flip it in the air if you are good at that) and finish by cooking 1-2 more minutes, adding more oil if necessary. Serve with soy sauce.

So, if you had an abundance of scallions, how would you use them?

Garden Update: August 2009

Wow, August is something else when it comes to gardening. It’s like boom, overnight – you go from having very little harvest to having so much harvest you can’t eat it all by yourself and have to start giving stuff away. And then by the end of the month you go back to very little harvest and the plants you do have left start getting really rough and more susceptible to disease, etc. Because I’m doing my gardening with organic methods and no pesticides, it’s been a whole learning experience for me. Some stuff has worked really well, while others have been a complete epic fail.

August 2nd

Here at the beginning of the month, things are really coming along swimmingly. The ginormous tomato we talked about in July is finally starting to slowly ripen and turn color. I think doing the garden setup in the way we did (raised boxes with gravel around them) was a stroke of genius, because it allows tomatoes that would ordinarily rot because they’re sitting directly on the ground adequate drainage so that they don’t. Nice.

Giant Tomato from Our Garden 8/2/09

My red peppers, although full sized, are super slow to start changing colors. Not even a hint of changing for weeks to come.

Bell Pepper in Our Garden 8/2/09

The muskmelon is almost full sized now, and just starting to develop the webbing on the outside. I’m quite pleased at the way the vine trained itself up the trellis, and the good job the trellis is doing supporting the melon.

Muskmelon in Our Garden 8/2/09

Eggplant, now that it’s gotten going and set fruit, is giving me a steady supply of 6-8 eggplant each week. This has to be the most problem-free thing I’ve grown all year.

Eggplant in Our Garden 8/2/09

What I thought was kohlrabi when I planted it is most obviously cabbage at this point. With the exception of some bug-eaten outer leaves, this is doing great.

Cabbage in Our Garden 8/2/09

The sweet corn is just days away from harvest (you harvest it when the corn silk starts turning brown). For some reason, I expected the ears to get a bit bigger than this.

Sweet Corn in Our Garden 8/2/09

The blueberries have looked like they’re on the cusp of ripening for over a month now, but no such luck. I think I won’t have much blueberry output this first year since the bushes are getting established.

Blueberries in Our Garden 8/2/09

August 13th

It seems like overnight, the basil went from not growing at all to doubling in size. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Perfect timing with all the tomatoes ripening now.

From My Garden: Basil 8/13/09

And there’s a real steady supply of Sungold tomatoes now. Good thing, since I’m putting them in just about everything. Plants are still looking good.

From My Garden: Sungold Tomatoes 8/13/09

Cabbage is just about ready to harvest now that the center of the heads have filled out. These will be small heads, since I planted them 4 to a square foot because I thought they were kohlrabi.

From My Garden: Cabbage 8/13/09

I could have sworn I planted just one variety of eggplant, but I’m getting a couple of different shapes. This one is almost flat instead of round.

From My Garden: Eggplant 8/13/09

The last of the corn, ready to harvest. See how the silk is brown now?

From my Garden: Sweet Corn 8/13/09

The strawberry patch has really filled out, although it’s not producing much in the way of berries.

From My Garden: Strawberry Patch 8/13/09

And now that I know rainbow chard regrows, I’ve been clipping it regularly. This is about a week’s worth of regrowth.

From My Garden: Rainbow Chard 8/13/09

The muskmelon is almost completely webbed now, and is starting to slowly ripen.

From My Garden: Muskmelon 8/13/09

My early girl tomato plant has been a steady producer for me, giving me very high yields starting very early on. And they have surprisingly good flavor, too.

From My Garden: Early Girl Tomato 8/13/09

You know, earlier when the zucchini first started producing, I contemplated getting a second plant next year for higher yields. Now that it’s producing regularly? I can see why people give away zucchini so readily.

From My Garden: Zucchini 8/13/09

The box in my garden I’ve nicknamed “tomatoes gone wild” is a jumbled mess of different varieties of tomatoes. I pulled all the vines outward so that I could actually have access to harvest them all once they ripen.

From My Garden: Tomato 8/13/09

See? Still no hint of color change on those bell peppers.

From My Garden: Bell Pepper 8/13/09

August 14th

Big harvest day – I took the cabbage, corn, some zucchini and tomatoes. What am I going to do with 4 heads of cabbage (albeit small heads?)

Garden Harvest 8/14/09

August 23rd

My biggest harvest yet – for point of reference, this basket is 2-3′ long, 6 inches deep, about 18″ across.

Harvest 8/23/09

August 27th

Another big harvest, mainly melon and ripe tomatoes.

Harvest from my Garden 8/27/09

Here’s a pic of the inside of the smaller of the muskmelons? Doesn’t it look sweet and juicy and delicious?

Muskmelon from my Garden 8/27/09

Stay tuned for September, which has us tearing out a bunch of tomatoes and squash plants (powdery mildew on the leaves has really done a number on the zucchini, and my tomatoes have been developing late blight), reconditioning the soil for fall and winter crops (one box will be nothing but garlic for next year, while another will be crops for winter (which I can harvest throughout winter by laying down a layer of straw to keep the soil warm enough to store the veggies and  workable, and yet another will be lettuce and other greens.

Garden Update: July 2009

I have to tell you, this garden could have never happened but for the assistance of my mother’s boyfriend Joe. He’s done all the heavy lifting when it came to getting everything set up. His input has been invaluable, and his gardening knowledge has saved me from disaster more than once. I’m so lucky to have him mentoring me in this project.

Right after I took the June pictures of the garlic, I had pulled them to harvest. Once you harvest garlic, you have to let it cure a bit to dry out. After curing, we had a handful of compact, yet tasty heads. Hard neck garlic has a fairly short shelf life, though – so you still want to use it as soon as possible. If you’re looking for garlic to store, go with a softneck variety. Also, another important hint. If you decide to grow your own hardneck garlic, it will go through a phase of growing where a part shoots out and then curves around at the end. This is a garlic scape, and if let be, will turn into a flower. You want to chop these off once they’ve got that curve at the top, so the plant can focus all of its energy into bulb formation instead of flowering. But there’s an added benefit to this – garlic scapes are great eating. We love to make pesto from them.

Also, at the beginning of June, I had a handful of sungolds to eat, a few zucchini, and the first of the early girl tomatoes.

Garden Harvest 7/2/09

For a couple of weeks, it was pretty much the same thing every day.

Garden Harvest 7/9/09

And then, somewhere in the middle of the month, things started getting really prolific. I was harvesting more every day than I could eat alone. You’ll notice the addition of a pickling cuke and some green beans.

Garden Harvest 7/16/09

The vines started getting so long that Joe decided to build a trellis out of chicken wire (which were anchored by stakes) so they’d have something to latch onto as they grow upward. Vines will go in whatever direction you train them. We decided that vertical was the way to go. Here you see a pickling cuke on the vine.

Pickle in My Garden July 2009

And a picture of the muskmelons starting to climb up the trellis.

Pickle Plant in my Garden July 2009

Here it is from a different angle, with the zucchini plant in the corner for reference.

Cantaloupe Plant in My Garden July 2009

And speaking of zucchini, man did that plant go crazy. Hard to believe that at the beginning of summer I had considered planting more than one plant next year. Now I see why people give away zucchini. It’s like the Energizer bunny – it keeps going, and going, and going…

Zucchini from My Garden July 2009

Here’s an overall picture of the garden, with all the rock laid down. We’re quite pleased with the way it turned out, it looks even better than we imagined it would.

Garden 7/19/09

This was about a half day’s harvest, somewhere near the end of July.

Garden Harvest 7/21/09

And this was the harvest the day that Anne and Walker of Columbus Underground came over to do the article on the garden. I was able to finally harvest my swiss chard and some eggplant as well.

Garden Harvest 7/24/09

From here on in it’s been utter chaos, and I learn something new every day. I can’t wait until the end of August so I can fill you in on the bounty it provided. I think this gardening project is one of the most rewarding (in more ways than one) things I’ve ever done.

Garden Update: June 2009

June is a weird month for gardening. Some things are quite prolific, and others have hardly grown at all. The radishes I planted from seed back in mid-May were ready to harvest in mid-June. They were sweet and delicious sliced onto a piece of dark pumpernickel that was slathered with homemade butter and sprinkled with salt. After harvesting, I just planted a whole new set of seed in the same space.

Radishes 6/18/09

Ditto with the romaine lettuce. It absolutely went crazy, and by the middle of June, I had several large crispy heads. After harvesting, I left these spaces empty, because the tomatoes were growing outside of the boundaries of their square foot and were taking over pretty much that whole half of the box.

Romaine Lettuce 6/18/09

The blueberry bushes you saw the previous month were finally planted into the ground, and we added an additional two bushes of a more prolific variety. Since blueberries like acidic soil, we sprinkled some sulfur onto the area we planted, and then watered. We won’t get many blueberries this year, as the plants are just settling in. The few we have had so far the birds have been eating once they turn blue, but before they completely ripen.

Blueberries 6/18/09

The Bibb lettuce was also ready to harvest, which you have to do before it starts to bolt in the hotter days of summer. Once it bolts it gets bitter, so it’s important to harvest it at just the right time for maximum flavor.

Bibb Lettuce 6/18/09

The strawberries were starting to ripen – again, not many this first year. We just harvested the ripe ones each day and ate them out of hand. Next year this should be quite a prolific little strawberry patch.

Strawberries 6/18/09

The zucchini was starting to set fruit with little baby zucchini. The funny thing about zucchini is that a baby can turn into a giant overnight, if you get enough rain. I should have enjoyed this phase while it lasted. :)

Zucchini 6/18/09

I didn’t have much luck with my Poblanos this year. Some plants only set one pepper, others 2 or 3, but we were still months away from being able to harvest any of them.

Poblano Pepper 6/18/09

On the other hand, we had no shortage of mulberries.

Mulberries 6/18/09

One of my daily rituals in June was to go outside and forage the ripe berries (usually a pint to a quart a day), which I’d bring into Paul who would then turn it into the most fantastic mulberry jelly ever. That man sure has a way with jellies, jams and preserves. Yum. Made it worth the trouble it took to pick all of them by hand.

Mulberries 6/18/09

As you can see, we got a little further in laying the groundwork for the garden area. By mid-June, we had painted the boxes black (we figured that in fall we could harvest longer, because the soil would be warmed somewhat by the absorption of sunlight). Not sure if it will really work, but it’s worth a try.

In this first box, you can see the eggplant in all four corners were starting to grow a bit taller, with more leaves. But still looking very much like the seedlings I had planted a month previous. The corn (on the far left of the picture) that I had planted from seed was starting to grow, but hadn’t formed tassels or stalks yet. The green beans (top of the picture, next to the left side eggplant) from seed were coming along nicely, but the spinach to the right of that wasn’t doing very well at all. The lettuce was doing dandy, and the radishes were ready to harvest. The turnips were in severe need of thinning. The kohlrabi (which was really cabbage) seemed to be growing well. My poor collard greens never had a chance. Enjoy the prettiness of them while they lasted. A couple of weeks later they got infested by aphids, and had to be pulled. The Swiss chard on the bottom was also growing as it should. Can you believe that I didn’t know that Swiss chard regrows after you cut it? Doh! If I had known that, I would have harvested it when the leaves were still small.

Garden Box #1 6/18/09

You can see the strawberry patch was starting to fill in, but still more dirt than strawberry plants.

Garden Box #2 6/18/09

The tomatoes grew like crazy. Here you can see my pathetic attempts at staking, which I severely underestimated because I had no idea how big each individual plant would get. The tomato plants would take over the onion spots and the former lettuce spots and would eat the stakes alive within weeks.

Garden Box #3 6/18/09

The pepper plants stayed pretty small, but you can already see that the zucchini plant (top left corner) was gearing up to go a bit crazy. Lucky for me, as it grew it decided to overflow out of the box, instead of into the spaces of the other plants. And the plants were still small enough that I hadn’t trellised yet.

Garden Box #4 6/18/09

The garlic was just about ready to harvest. Each one of those leaves represents a layer of skin on the bulb, and you want to let a few leaves turn brown before harvesting. As you can see, the poor poblano plants on the other side of the box were basically gnawed down to nothing at this point.

Garden Box #5 6/18/09

So, as you see, June was the start of good things, but I was still buying lots of veggies from the farmers market. As a new gardener, I’m playing this by ear, and learning from my mistakes. Stay tuned for July. :)

Garden Update: May 2009

Gardening is something of a family tradition for us. My great-grandfather (who we called Opa) made a living as a gardener when he emigrated from Germany around 60 years ago, so there was never a time growing up where I can’t remember Opa having a vegetable garden, or a time where I don’t have memories of helping him out in the garden. The same could be said for my mother. He started her out at an early age, and here’s the evidence: a picture of her with Opa and her mother in 1954, where at a little over 2 years old, she’s right there with him with a miniature hoe of her own.

3 Generations of Gardeners - March 1954

So gardening is definitely in the blood, although I don’t remember much of those early lessons. Oddly enough, I can still remember the exact placement of all of the vegetables in his garden – isn’t it funny how the mind works? There are fleeting remembrances of cold frames and growing green beans and cucumbers and tomatoes and spinach, and memories of sitting in the yard with Oma snapping the ends off of those beans so that she could make Bohnegemüse which she’d then freeze for preservation so that we could enjoy nature’s bounty during the cold New Jersey winters.

That desire to garden laid pretty much dormant until we built a house of our own in 2004. I started that year with something simple – herbs grown in containers on my porch rail, and some tomatoes grown in the front bed – although not pretty, it was quite bountiful. As the years have passed, we’ve expanded a bit – we have a deck now where we didn’t before, and we have a fence now, so the growing space expanded with the home improvements. Last year we grew tomatoes and peppers in containers on the back deck. This year, we put in an honest-to-goodness permanent garden, which we’ll continue to use year after year.

Please click on through and join me on a tour of how my garden started out. I’ll share my progress month-by-month, including some of my harvest. It’s amazing to see how quickly things have progressed.

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OLS Week 11: Summery Chopped Orzo Salad

onelocalsummer

I’ve been harvesting stuff like crazy from my backyard garden. And what better way to use up a fridge full of fresh veggies and beat this horrible heat than to make a cool, colorful orzo salad that has great flavor and texture? This one came out so well that I’m putting it into my permanent rotation. I’m submitting it to this week’s edition of One Local Summer.

Rundown of local ingredients:
From my backyard: cucumber, zucchini, radishes, Sungold tomatoes, fresh herbs, early girl tomato
From the Worthington Farmers Market: bell peppers, red onions, corn

Summery Chopped Orzo Salad

Summery Chopped Orzo Salad

8 oz. orzo, cooked and rinsed with cold water
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced small
1 medium zucchini, diced small
5 radishes, diced small
1 small red onion, diced small
1 large ear corn, sliced off the cob (use canned if fresh not available)
1 Roma tomato, diced small
1/2 red or yellow (or both) bell pepper, diced small
Handful grape tomatoes (any color), halved or quartered (depending on size)
1 lb. mozzarella balls (perlini)
Fresh basil, parsley and chives, chopped

Dressing:
1/2 c. white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop all veggies very small, and toss with cooked orzo. Mix all dressing ingredients and shake hard in a container to emulsify. Dress salad with as much dressing as you’d like. You won’t necessarily use it all. Chill and serve cold.

Fruits of My Labor

There’s no feeling in the world like going into your own yard and harvesting your own produce. This year, I’ve planted quite a few things, and already, just a few weeks later, I’m starting to realize the fruits (literally!) of that labor.

firstharvest

I know it’s not much, but it’s as fresh as it gets. And will make a yummy snack in just a couple of minutes.

GYO #3: Pico de Gallo

For the Grow Your Own #3 blogging event, I’m contributing pico de gallo that I made with the last of the Roma tomatoes of the summer, which were grown on my back deck. The other ingredients (onions, garlic, additional tomatoes, poblanos, jalapenos, cilantro) are also local, with only the lime juice and salt being not Ohio grown or made. Wow – with the weather we’ve been having lately, summer seems like a lifetime ago. I love the reds and oranges and yellows of autumn but I think I’m already beginning to miss the bright reds and greens of August.

picodegallo

Pico de Gallo

10 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 small poblano pepper, seeded and chopped finely
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
juice from 1/2 lime
10 stems cilantro leaves, minced
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together, and then cover and let sit overnight in fridge to steep and allow flavor to develop.