The Fall Garden: Decisions, decisions.

22 09 2008

Earlier this year, I ordered shallots and two kinds of garlic to plant this fall.  Now, the question is, giving my limited space and the fact they will not finish growing until midsummer next year, how much space do I really want to dedicate to shallots and garlic.

This gets back to the question about what to grow.  I use piles of garlic every year.  If I grew garlic successfully, there is no way it would go to waste.  At the same time, I garlic is relatively inexpensive.  Shallots, on the other hand, are not.  I’m not sure why shallots are so much more expensive than garlic, but I tend to stave off buying them except for holiday occasions.  I wish this was not the case.   Today I planted ten shallots in the space where the pak choi had been growing.   Each shallot should give me 6-10 new shallots.  As a result, if none of them spoil and all of them grow reasonably well, I should have 60-100 shallots next year.  That would be pretty darn good, even if I save several for seed.  In theory I might not have to buy shallots again!

The question, then, is what I do with the remaining half pound of shallots and the two packages of garlic that I have.  The tomatoes will be coming out, and I could plant two rows of something there.  I also want to take out one row of chard, which would give me three rows.  The question is whether I want to dedicate that much of next year’s gardening space to garlic and shallots.  I’m going to wait another week or so before I start ripping things out.  Decisions, decisions.

On a happy note, back in March and again a few months later, I put down a couple of inches of composted horse manure.  When I turned the soil before putting the shallots in, I was very pleased with the condition of the soil.


The Fall Garden: The finishers and the slow growers

22 09 2008

Well, in the ongoing Battle: Dirt Sack Vs. The Evil Blight, I may have to give The Dirt Sack some credit.  I’d say it is putting out as many tomatoes and takes up hardly any ground space.   I’ve pulled several romas off of it and dozens of the Chocolate Cherry tomatoes.  Was it worth the added expense and extra watering?  I don’t think so.   As soon as I take it down, I will respond to the recall.  It really was a terribly made piece of equipment.  That said, I do think that there is a lot of potential for upside down tomatoes.

Meanwhile The Evil Blight does seem to finally be striking at least one of the plants on the ground. I have found a few romas that were squishy without ever ripening, and many of the leaves are starting to turn yellow as seen below. I’ve cut the what-appears-to-be-blighted parts back and thrown them away.  I’m giving the tomatoes another week and a half.  Then I think their numbers will be up.

I keep wondering when the green beans will be done.  I am letting a couple of the plants go to seed in hopes of not having to buy seed next year.  The rest of the plants are still putting out plenty of beans for a side dish every few days, so we’ll just keep eating them until they are done.

Meanwhile, the leeks keep on growing extremely slowly. The biggest are about thumbs-width, depending on the size of the thumb.  They still have another month and a half before I was planning on eating them, but man do they crawl along.  Someday I would like to have an entire bed of just leeks, though.  Whether they will justify taking up a row in such a small garden is yet to be determined.

The brussels sprouts are absolutely fascinating.  The one big one has gotten HUGE while the smaller ones have stayed, well, small.  I’m not expectings many spouts from the three smallest ones; they simply have not grown that many axial leaves.  I think that despite being spaced fairly far apart, the two largest ones got such a leap on the smaller ones that the smaller ones just got crowded out.

What I find SO fascinating, though, is WHERE the sprouts come from!  Why they appear at the base of the leaves is a total mystery to me.

Wrapping it up, the purple sprouting broccoli is trucking along slowly in the front yard.  While I think they could do with more direct sunlight, this is actually about the size that I was hoping the cabbage would be.   Provided they don’t get frozen out, we’ll have fresh broccoli come March.

The Fall Garden: The Greens

22 09 2008

I have much-neglected about writing about the fall garden, which is really too bad.  It’s doing shockingly well, too well, perhaps.

Back in August, I put in some baby pak choi, cabbage, and kale starts.

The pak choi grew at ridiculous rates.

I hadn’t planned on eating any of it by now, but two of the five plants were about to bolt, so I ended up having to pull them out!   I used 1 1/2 heads for a stir-fry.  Tonight, I’m going to try using the leaves from one or two in a vegetable soup in place of spinach.  The leaves are surprisingly spicy compared to the baby pak choi I’ve bought at the market.  I think it must be a different, stronger-flavored variety.

I put in six Red Express cabbages.  I think they may be growing too fast:

The goal was to get them big enough to surive being frozen out, then have them head up in the spring.  This is one of the smaller ones.  I’ve read that if they’re too big going into spring, they’ll bolt rather than head up.  I really didn’t expect them to grow this quickly.

Meanwhile, there is kale to be eaten, and I haven’t even begun to think about what to do with that yet:

Here is the chard AFTER the two major haircuts over the last few weeks.  It looks like there will still be plenty of meals coming our way.

If I accomplished one thing this year, this was it.

22 09 2008

As I look back over the gardening season, I think the best thing I’ve done this year is provide some habitiat for bees in my previously-blighted front yard.  I’ve seen bees on the lavendar nearly every day this fall, whereas before there wasn’t a bee to be seen.   In the spring, depending on how much the strawberries end up doing, I’m going to try and plant more flowers to continue to attract beneficial insects.

I’ve figured out the secret…

21 09 2008

I’ve figured out the secret to eating seasonally.  Lore has it that the food tastes so good, it’ll spoil you for everything less.  I’d say that’s at least 75% of it.  Since either buying produce at the farmer’s market or growing it, the bar has definitely been raised.  I do think there is another factor at work:

If you eat what you grow and you have a lot of it, you may end up so tired of a particular vegetable that the next thing in line tastes even better for it.   If you’re not the type of person who escapes the kitchen for a local restaurant, I imagine this is magnified 10-fold.

(I am getting tired of tomatoes.  I don’t think it is PC to actually say that you are tired of eating tomatoes off the vine, but I am getting there.  I was doing OK keeping up with the tomatoes up until a couple of weeks ago, but having had to take time away from the garden, I am way, way, way behind.  The chard has been tackled.  The pak choi has been partially tackled.  It was time to deal with the tomatoes. Next, while I am letting some of the green beans go to seed, I really should continue picking the rest.  I keep thinking they are done, but no.)

One of the things I have learned from this year’s tomato growing experiences is that, in the future, if I have sufficient space, I really could grow enough romas to put up to get through the rest of the year.  The bad news is, doubting whether my romas would ever turn red, I put up 30 lbs of tomatoes from the farmer’s market.  I don’t want to put up any more!  So, I have to find things to do with them.

I pulled out nearly 3 1/2 lbs of romas today, and I haven’t even dared think about the dozens upon dozens of cherry tomatoes waiting impatiently for me.  I eat as many as I can while standing in my garden plot, but there’s only so many of these things you can eat at a time!

I am trying out a new recipe for a fresh tomato soup.  It’s from the newly-published Cooks’ Country cookbook.  That said, I’m adapting both the proportions and some of the instructions.  This may be problematic for reasons mentioned below.  If it’s a success, I give total credit to the Cooks’ Country folk.  If it’s a failure, it’s really not their fault; I’m ignoring one rather crucial instruction.  It’s a little different than my other tomato soup recipes I’ve made, but I was pretty much able to make it with stuff straight out of the garden.

I cored and quartered the tomatoes and chopped up the three remaining small onions.  I threw in a few peeled cloves of garlic, and drizzled the entire thing with three tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar.

Now, the recipe both called for more tomatoes and instructed the cook to spread them on a large roasting pan.  I don’t have a large roasting pan at the moment, so I’m using my buffet casserole.  The mixture is supposed to be roasted at 450 degree for 1 1/2 hours.  The potential problem is that, with the veggies so close together, they seem to simmer and steam rather than roast, per se.  BUT, this is supposed to end up as soup, so I’m hoping that I’ll hit close enough to the mark for it to still taste good.  We’re about 45 minutes into it, and it smells pretty amazing.

The roasted tomatoes and onions are incredible.  The problem is that when I pureed them, per the recipe, they make a VERY thick puree.  This is supposed to be the basis for the rest of the soup.   The recipe called for either slicing OR plum tomatoes, and I had plum tomatoes.   Well, plum tomatoes have much less liquid to spare than slicing tomatoes, so while I was worried about there being too much liquid, the opposite has happened.

Then, realizing that I needed another pound of fresh tomatoes to mix with the basil that goes into the soup, I went down and picked a bunch of cherry tomatoes.  Now, whether it is the cherry tomatoes or the puree, the soup is too sweet.  I added very little sugar, so it’s not that; it is the tomatoes.  Too thick. Too sweet.  What to do.

(—– Half Hour Time out—–)

OK, despite everything I said above, I think there was an error in the recipe, which is so uncharacteristic of those folks, but this was so far from the mark for them, I think they forgot to write something down.  The recipe didn’t call for ANY additional water or broth.  This might have been OK with slicing tomatoes, but definitely not with my tomatoes.  Considering I had downsized the proportions pretty evenly, I don’t think that was the problem either.

I tried adding water at first.  That thinned it out, but the soup was still thick and sweet.  I went out and grabbed a goodish sprig of oregano, chopped it up, and threw it in.  That rounded out the flavors somewhat, but we still couldn’t imagine sitting down to a bowl of this.   I threw in quite a bit of chicken broth and some more salt, and A LOT of freshly ground pepper.  That did the trick.   It was no longer too sweet or too thick and actually tasted like a pretty great tomato soup.   We mopped it up with grilled cheese sandwiches made with homemade bread and handmade Beecher’s Flagship cheese.

Chard Ravioli

19 09 2008

This is my fall back recipe for using up extra spinach or chard.  It is a combination of recipes from Cook’s Illustrated, The Herbfarm Cookbook, and my own experiences.

Chard filling: (Thanks to having 2 1/2 lbs of chard, I basically tripled this)

  • 3/4 lbs chard (or spinach)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt

Wash and stem the chard.  Leaving water on leaves, put in a pot over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until leaves are just wilted.  For best flavor, the chard should stay a nice bright green.  Remove from heat.  Run leaves under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze all water of leaves.  Chop fairly finely.

Heat butter in large skillet.  Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add chard and stir until evenly mixed.  Remove from heat.  Salt to taste.  I add a bit more salt to chard than I do to spinach in order to bring out the best flavor of the chard.  Sometimes chard can taste too much like “greens” without enough salt.  Let cool.

Mix ricotta, parmesan, and egg yolk.  Add cooled chard / onion mixture.  Stir until cheese and greens are evenly mixed.   Store in refrigerator until pasta is made.

Handmade pasta can be a real pain in the arse, but I’ve found that it is really worth taking the time to figure it out.  The hard part is getting a sense of how much flour the dough needs on that particular day.   Believe it or not, weather conditions really do seem to make a difference.

Basic pasta recipe:

  • 2 cups bread flour  (I’ve made pasta with both all purpose and bread flour, and I’ve found that the bread flour results in a softer dough, which I like)
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsps olive oil
  • water (2-4+ tbsp)

Through everything but the water in a standing mixer and mix with a dough hook or a paddle.  Add a little water until the dough comes together enough that when you grab a handful, it sticks together when you release it.  It is ok if it is somewhat of a shaggy mess.  If the dough is a little dry now, it’ll save you work later.  Put it in a ziplock bag or wrap it in plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  I find the longer it sits, the easier it is to roll.

Then, roll it out using whatever pasta machine you have.  I have an attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.  It’s noisy, but it gets the job done.  I roll it until is at the 5th setting on mine.  If it’s thinner, I find the pasta tears too easily.

Here’s what I’ve taken to lately.  Many cookbooks talk about dusting your cooking area with flour.  Some recommend dusting with rice flour.  I have invariably torn the ravioli at some point using these methods.  I’ve taken to putting the pasta directly on parchment paper.  It is very easy to drag the parchment paper onto a baking sheet to slip it into the freezer.  Once frozen, the ravioli slide right off the parchment paper and into a ziplock bag.

And thus, endless leaves of chard are turned into ravioli for fall dinners.  These twelve, of course, are just the beginning of a long but rewarding process.

Too much food.

17 09 2008

Due to two trips and a recent family crisis, I have been largely away from the garden and away from the blog.  Now, once again, I find myself with TOO much fresh food.    I had given the chard a serious trim two weeks ago, pulling out what amounted to 1 1/2 lbs of JUST leaves…no stems, but due to various life events, it ended up going to waste.  Today, I gave it another “trim”, and this is what I pulled out:

That ended up being two pounds of leaves after all the stems were removed.  That will make A LOT of ravioli.  I have started the process, and I will write about it tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have had more tomatoes than I could have imagined, even from the now-recalled Dirt Sack.  The fall garden, which I haven’t really written about, also is growing MUCH faster than anticipated, so I have an unexpected bounty of pak choi that must be eaten soon.

All this from such a small space.  It kinda blows my mind.