June 19, 2010
I can now say that we have successfully made it a full year without buying garlic by growing our own. My spring garlic scapes began emerging a couple of weeks ago, just as I was finishing off the last shriveling, browning soft neck cloves stored in the cellar. In the fall of 2008 I planted a selection of hardneck seed garlic into large, movable nursery tubs used in the past for trees and large shrubs. In the spring of 2009 — around Solstice — I began harvesting garlic scapes for cooking. That’s when I stopped buying garlic at the farmer’s marke, let alone at the grocery store. Later in summer, I began harvesting, curing and braiding the bulbs themselves, which we have been using until just this week — timed perfectly to the arrival of this year’s scapes! Our next goal is to see if this year’s harvest can take us through yet another 365 days without needing to buy more garlic for the kitchen.
Because garlic grows for almost 9 months before being harvested and cured and because I don’t have a large farm to work with, I chose to grow it in containers instead of in the ground. Using this method, I am still able to produce enough garlic to feed to us through the winter. And we eat a lot of garlic! Growing this way, I may harvest slightly smaller cloves since they are packed into the containers, but I still reap a good sized harvest. Too, by using containers, I can move the the garlic around the garden to capture ideal sun, which travels the horizon much differently in the dead of winter than in the brilliance of late spring. And, I can easily protect the spring plants from rot-inducing rain and cold by rigging up temporary hoop houses. Too, garlic can benefit from reduced watering as the bulbs begin to cure. By keeping it in pots by itself rather than mixed into my beds with other plants still begging for supplemental summer water, I can control the needs of both the thirsty crops and the curing garlic by segregating my stinking rose into containers.
Despite appreciating the long-storing capacity of soft neck garlics and how easy they are to braid, I’ve found they’re more difficult to grow successfully than hard necks. Plus, they don’t offer up delicious scapes in spring, and I find them tough to peel. In Fall of 2009, I planted a mixed selection of garlic in tubs again. I skipped the elephant garlic, which simply rotted out in my 2009 crop. And, I did try one variety of soft neck. Most of that has rotted as well. To be fair, it’s been a really cold and wet spring in Seattle in 2010. However, the soft necks were the first to have problems in my current crop. Yet, the hard necks continue to do great.
So what’s the difference between a hard neck and soft neck garlic? (more…)
December 30, 2009
If you’re anything like me, you pine for a good, garden-fresh, ripe tomato in the mid-winter months. Sure, hothouse tomatoes have come a long way in recent years, and those sold “on-the-vine” at the grocery store can provide the illusion of garden-fresh.
But really, they just aren’t the same. We may be able to bruise the stem and capture a brief whiff of that summery tomato plant scent, but when we slice the waxy red fruit, it never quite lives up to our expectations (and the high price). Plus, my inner locavore really wonders how much these grocery tomatoes really cost in fuel production and transport. So, I look to myself to solve the problem.
In my on-going quest to produce a homegrown tomato for winter, I grew indoor Red Robin cherry tomatoes in my dining room in 2008, with mixed success. And, in 2009 I decided to try Irish Eyes’ Long Keeper in the garden. And, this was definitely a success. Making a few modifications to my regime last year, I’ll definitely be growing this winner again. Here’s the story…
The Long Keeper tomato is an indeterminate (that in my experience performed in pots more like a determinate). It is sold as 82 days to ripening (more on that later). Although the catalogs warn that you may give up a bit in taste, your return on this crop lies in it’s ability to store for a long time — some suggest even all the way through winter. And, frankly, in mid-winter any store-bought tomato is going to be lacking in taste, spendy and likely a very long-distance traveler from a greenhouse. So, hoping to prove the promises of keeping this tomato into winter, I added it to my seed order last January.
Because I grew several other varieties of tomato to enjoy during the summer and because the Long Keeper was intended as a fresh-storage tomato for us, I scheduled seeding it much later than my other tomatoes. My summer tomatoes were seeded indoors in early March; my Long Keepers were seeded in the greenhouse (unheated and without supplemental light) in late May. In theory, on an 82 day schedule, this would have me harvesting Long Keepers by about the middle of August.
In the end, I found myself harvesting slightly-blushed Long Keeper fruits starting in early October and through the weeks of that month — not the 82 days advertised, but still within the growing season. (And, I have to wonder, is it 82 days from flowering rather than seeding that I should have counted?) By mid-September, I had moved the potted plants from breezy spots throughout the garden into the unheated greenhouse where they were protected from cool temperatures and seasonal rains. Although the fruits didn’t fully ripen on the vine, I went ahead and harvested as a few of them showed a bit of color, knowing they were reputed to finish ripening, slowly in storage. Then, toward the end of October, when I found a couple of fruits splitting from colder night temps, I cleared the last — green or not — from my vines and began the ripening wait.
To store these tomatoes, I used an empty canning jar box with its jar separators to keep each tomato from touching another. I placed the boxes of tomatoes in my basement cellar area near storage onions, squashes and potatoes — they’re all in separate containers stacked in a particular area, sheeted to keep out any of the mild light that makes its way into that dungeon of a room.
Every few days, I check my storage foods for spoilage. As the saying goes, “One rotten apple can spoil the lot.” A few of my storage tomatoes did crack and begin to fail (and were immediately removed to the compost bin). But, most slowly but surely colored up — even the ones that went into storage hard and only slightly starting to turn a lighter shade of green. I found it important to handle them minimally but be sure to rotate their position periodically; the portion touching the cardboard tended to ripen the fastest, so sometimes a fruit that appeared unripe from the top view was actually ready to eat based on the ripened bottom. As I anticipate wanting a tomato or as the cellared gems begin to really blush, I bring them up to the kitchen and place them in a bowl in a warm window where they finish their ripening a little more quickly. (I would not recommend trying to store or rapidly-ripen off these tomatoes all in a window; they can go to rot pretty quickly this way.) Then, I enjoy them, fresh sliced in a salad or on a sandwich. Note: I find that few of them finished ripening near the stem. In some cases it remains yellow but still tasty near the stem. In other cases, I simply tossed that part into the worm bin; they’re always happy to have the fresh snack even if it doesn’t taste good to me.
Yes, the flavor isn’t as magnificent as a Gold Nugget cherry off the vine on the 4th of July. But, in winter, I’m just happy to be able to enjoy a fresh tomato I grew, from seed, in my own backyard. That’s about as locavore as I can get at the end of the year. Sure, I’m making soups and stews with frozen garden tomatoes and sauces and antipastos with dried, but there’s nothing like a fresh one to really brighten up a wintery day.
So here’s the thing, I’m still kind of in awe that we were able to enjoy a green salad last night with tomatoes from our garden. And, nope, that wasn’t our last tomato. We still have a few continuing to slowly ripen in the cellar. My guess? They’ll all be done by February, which is well before my tomato harvest will begin again for 2010, but hey, I’m still jealous of myself for having them now!
So, what will I do differently in 2010? First, I’ll definitely seed my Long Keepers in late April as well as later in May. Unlike in 2009, I won’t be traveling in early May this year, so seeding at that time will be possible. And, I’ll grow at least one plant in the ground (as well as in pots again) so I can see how indeterminately it will grow (and how well it might perform in-ground, under hoops in late summer). Oh, and this year I’ll also order Long Keeper Organic seed, which wasn’t offered in 2009, but is now listed in the Irish-Eyes Catalog.
Need help planning your vegetable garden for 2010? Get in touch with Garden Mentors soon for a garden coaching or design program that will help you get your gardening going. Now is the time to start planning. Winter is the time to get your beds ready, test your soil, and order and plant your seeds. Don’t wait ’til Spring to start or you may already be too late!
October 05, 2009
This year I made a commitment to myself to grow more food and to grow more food from seed. I ordered seed way back in January and started seed indoors in February. I ended up with so many food crop starts that many went to other gardeners. And, enjoying a record summer, my garden produced enough food to feed us and allow us to take several bags of food to the local food bank each week.
Despite eating heartily from our fresh crops and giving a lot away, we’ve found ourselves preserving lots of our garden-fresh food to last us into the winter ahead. Among the many delicious fruits and veggies we’ve put up, we’ll be enjoying are a few pounds of dried tomatoes.
Drying tomatoes is fairly simple, and their uses are quite diverse. In our house, we’ll put defrosted chopped tomatoes in a blender with a few dried to create a rich marinara base. Or, we’ll use Barbara & Camille Kingsolver’s fantastic Antipasto Tomatoes (from their wonderful family book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) as a snack or on a pizza or chopped and rolled in mozzarella or in a mixed seasonal veggie saute (see recipe below). Friends who have enjoyed these have asked how I prepare them for storage, so here goes:
How many tomatoes will you need? In my experience, using Saucy Paste tomatoes, which are a nearly seedless Roma style tomato grown for saucing, not slicing, I find that about 8 pounds of fresh tomatoes yields about 8 ounces dried tomatoes. I’ve found that slicing tomatoes don’t make the best dried tomatoes and are essentially a waste of a good tomato.
How do you prepare tomatoes to dry? Wash the tomatoes, slice lengthwise, remove seeds and inner juices and any interior stems and bad spots. I then place them in a bowl and toss together with a sprinkle of sea salt, a dash of superfine sugar, a pinch of thyme and a dollop of olive oil. Certainly, you can dry them without anything added or you could adjust using other herbs. Just use a light hand with your additives so the tomato goodness stands out.
How do you dry the tomatoes? If you have a food dehydrator, line the trays with the cut side of the tomato up. Flip it on and let it run. Depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes and the power of the dehydrator, generally they’ll be ready to store in about 24 hours. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, line cookie sheets with tomatoes, cut side up. Turn oven to low setting, around 200F, and roast tomatoes until dried. This can take anywhere from 2-6+ hours.
How do I know that my tomatoes are properly dried?
Your tomatoes will be ready when they are leathery and tough. It is important to remove all the moisture from the tomatoes to ensure you don’t end up with spoilage (aka rotten tomatoes).
How do I store my dried tomatoes? In our household, dried tomatoes are put into vacuum seal canisters and kept in a vacuum for long storage. When our canisters overflow, extras are vacuum sealed in bags and frozen for extra long storage. Packed in jars, covered with olive oil, dried tomatoes will last a couple of weeks in the fridge.
Now that I’ve dried them, what do I do with them? Following is a delicious seasonal veggie saute we thoroughly enjoy. It comes together quickly and can be the bed for a delicious chop or just a wonderful wilted salad on its own:
Change of Season Veggie Saute with Dried Tomatoes:
Ingredients for this saute can be modified based on what you have on hand. I happened to find fantastic baby boletes at the farmer’s market yesterday, and I harvested the last, tiny crookneck squash from my garden this week as I pulled out the plants for the season. Use your own favorites and let the flavors shine! (This combo is fantastic served with garlic-balsamic-rosemary grilled lamb chops)
- Kingsolver Antipasto tomatoes (use about 8 tomatoes for the saute & store any extras you have)
- 2 cups par-boiled fingerling potatoes, cut into 1″ rounds
- 1 cup sliced or baby yellow crookneck squash
- 1 cup chopped fresh bolete mushrooms
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 T. chopped garlic
- Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Fresh mixed tender seasonal leafy greens like arugula & spinach
Roughly chop Antipasto Tomatoes for saute and set aside.
Saute chopped onion & garlic in olive oil until onion begins to brown. Add mushrooms and squash. Sear briefly. Add in potatoes and toss to warm. Remove from heat.
In batches, toss saute with leafy greens and tomatoes until greens are just barely wilted. (Remaining heat in pan should be enough to wilt).
Plate up and eat!
September 09, 2009
Okay, so honestly, this post isn’t so much about the garden except that I often find myself out in the garden, starving, because I didn’t take the time to eat something before I ran out to water or dig or weed or harvest. Not eating means I end up not getting very far in my work day. Whether I’m laboring in the soil, discussing a garden with a garden coaching client or just sitting at my desk designing the next great garden, I need to eat.
Recently, I had a craving for cookies. (Those who know me, know this isn’t a rare occurrence; I adore cookies.) When I set out to make up a batch of my favorite oatmeal cookies from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook (Cape Cod Oatmeal recipe in this book rocks!), I ended up veering off course and coming up with a fantastic breakfast cookie that has sustained me through many mornings since. Lacking raisins in the pantry, I looked to the fresh huckleberries I had picked up from Foraged and Found Edibles at the Sunday Farmer’s market and the dried apples remaining from last winter. Together with a few other pantry staples, I concocted a new household breakfast favorite.
As we head into the cool, garden-clean up days of fall ahead, consider making a batch of this dough on hand in the fridge. It keeps for several days. Each morning, just flip on the oven, toss a few scoops on a cookie sheet, and you’ll have a delicious treat in about 20 minutes.
Huckleberry, Dried Apple, Oatmeal , Pecan Power Patties
- 1 cup white, unbleached flour
- 1/2 cup emmer flour
- 1.5 cup rolled oats (uncooked, not instant)
- 3/4 t. baking soda
- 1 generous t. cinnamon
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/2 cup dried apple rings, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (or hazelnuts, walnuts)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3/4 cup fresh huckleberries (or blueberries)
Preheat oven to 350F.
In large bowl blend together first seven ingredients. Then stir in apple rings pecans. Set aside.
In small bowl whisk egg, butter and milk together. Then stir into flour mixture.
Gently fold in huckleberries.
Drop blobs of mixture in about 2-3T size onto parchment lined baking sheet. Press together gently if berries roll out.
Bake for about 12-17 minutes (if freshly mixed); 15-20 minutes (if cold from the fridge)
With satisfying baked cookie in hand (and one in your belly), enjoy a healthy, strong day in the garden!
And, consider the recipe here for a great apple breakfast bread too!
August 27, 2009
Right now we are inundated with tomatoes and snap beans. I adore both of these summer crops, but after a while I find myself staring at them in the kitchen wondering what I can do differently to keep us enjoying them. Soon enough winter will be here and we’ll be desperate for delicious, fresh veggies. Yet, here we are mid-season with so much to choose from sometimes we find it difficult to appreciate the bounty.
Yesterday I stared just long enough to find inspiration! I put together this delicious slow-cook medley that I guarantee we’ll eat again and again. Plus, it should be wonderful in mid-winter using the beans and tomatoes we’re putting up now.
This recipe couldn’t be much simplier, and I bet you could make it in your crockpot if you aren’t around to watch it on the stove or in the oven for hours. And, the cooking is worth the wait. The beans take on a melty texture and richness that is delicious in a stick-to-your-ribs kinda way. Enjoy! (more…)