Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer garden = Mostly tomatoes this year

We finally got the last of the tomatoes in this week. Right on par with when I've planted them for the past few years. 

Only this year has been warmer than the past few. 

So, while everyone else's tomatoes are three plus feet by now, ours are still about a foot. 

I am fine with that. Come late August or early September we will be swimming in tomatoes. We planted about 40-45 saucing tomatoes and six slicers. 

Plus, we had the spring harvest of mammoth shallots and garlic in June which many other folks didn't. 

Our task right now is keeping the seedlings happy in the unseasonably hot weather - 10 plus days in the high 80's and up into the hundreds! 

So, we will water deeply and as often as we can. With working full-time and having an eight-month-old, that equals about two times a week lately. Though I have the next five days off, right in the heart of the heat spell, so I am going to try to go over to the community garden and to hit the veggies at home daily.

This year, we purposely choose to do mostly tomatoes at the community garden plot because they can withstand some drought conditions. Theoretically, as long as you are consistent with when and how much you water all should be good. We also planted each plant in a well so they really can be soaked when we water them and then mulched them with straw. 

The other thing we may have to contend with is the fact that tomatoes need a certain nighttime temperature range to set flowers and fruit - anything above 85-90 spells trouble!  So, I am hoping that the plants focus on settling in over the next couple of weeks of hot weather and then it cools down into the 80's in time for them to flower and fruit! 

It's a working experiment. That's a lesson I've learned over and over with gardening. Some of it is up to you, but a lot of it is up to nature and out of your hands. Things rarely go as planned, but often work out well anyhow. 

For now, we water, wait and hope for the best. But, my guess is they'll be flowering and three feet tall in no time!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Love apples for sale!

The Italians called them love apples. The English were convinced that they were poisonous because they are part of the nightshade family. I am, of course, talking about the quintesential summer fruit - tomatoes!

Next weekend I am planting this season's selection and they should be ready for you to plant by around Mother's Day. This year, I am doing someold faves and adding some new ones to the portfolio. They are $2.50 a piece, and I am taking orders now and will have a limited supply available on a first-come, first served basis when they are ready for pick-up in mid-May.

Cherry Tomatoes
  • Chocolate cherry: Plants are super productive and produce one inch chestnut and port-wine colored fruit with a delicious, multifaceted flavor.

    When I grew these last I was particularly impressed with how they ripened from green to beautiful little bursts of summer after picked in late October. When I took out the tomato vines there was cluster upon cluster of small green globes that I parked on a platter in the dining room to ripen.
    (Indeterminate, 70 days)
  • Sun gold: The unique flavor of this tomato gives it an almost "cult" following. The plants will be loaded with clusters of eight to fourteen tomatoes about an inch in diameter throughout the summer until frost. May be grown in containers with support. (Indeterminate, 57 days)
  •  NEW! Yellow pear: These plants are described as being loaded with hundreds of small 1-2 inch fruits. (Indeterminate, 75-80 days)
Sauce/Paste Tomatoes
If you haven't grown tomatoes for sauce yet, I recommend that you give it a try! We were amazed at the bounty and the flavor of homemade sauce. Mark exclaimed that it was summer in a jar each time we opened some throughout the year. Some take little to no space, while others are tall and roomy.
  • Heinz:  "A reliable, early-maturing standard processing tomato that produces ripened fruit all at the same time. Dependable producer even in cooler weather. (Determinate, 75-80 days).

    I have grown these before and had great success with them. This year I plan to grow 30-40 of these plants at our community garden plot. Sauce-o-ramma!
  • Nova: One of the earliest roma types to ripen in Territorial seed's trials, "Nova exploded with fruit before most other saucing types." Meaty, lipstick red, 1 1/2 inch by 2 inch fruit is elongated with a pointed end. (Determinate, 65 days)
  • Ace: Round fruit, on sturdy, compact plants. Robust flavor with lower acidity. (Determinate, 80 days)
  • San marzano: This classic Italian paste tomato is considered by many to be the world's best! A low sugar, low-acid tomato, it has a high solids content and excellent flavor. The oblong red fruits are 3"-4" long and 1.5" wide. (Indeterminate, 80 days)  
Slicing Tomatoes
  • New! Ananas Noire: This tomato is a show-stopper because it's skin can be a combination of green, purple, orange,red, and yellow when it is ripe. It looks amazing on a plate and tastes great too. This was my mega producer last year. (Indeterminate, 85 days)
  • New! Kellogg's Breakfast: I can't remember the reason for the name, but I've wanted to grow these for years and my friend Judi had the occasion to have one from a friend's garden and exclaimed how delicious it was. I don't need any more reason than that to try it out this year! Territorial describes these as easily reaching 4-5 inches across or larger, the brilliant, orange slicers are rich, meaty, and full flavored. (Indeterminate, 85 days)
  • Brandywine: Amish heirloom with famous distinct flavor, grown since 1885. Fruits are 10 to 14 oz., dark reddish pink, tender and juicy. (Indeterminate, heirloom potato-leafed plants, 85 days)
  • Burbank slicing: Developed by Luther Burbank around 1915. Determinate and fairly early, Burbank Slicing is a heavy yielder of majestic 3-4 inch fruit. The fruit has a very deep red color and a traditional bold tomato flavor. This was the only variety that Mr. Burbank raised for canning. (Determinate, 75 days)
  • Red Siberian: I selected this one because of its short growing time - 55 days! - it is described as a Russian heirloom that delivers heavy yields and excellent flavor. Sounds like a great combo to me! (Indeterminate, 55 days)
  • Pineapple: Large, irregular yellow fruits are suffused with red streaks that radiate from a red interior. The flavor is rich and fruity. (Indeterminate, heirloom, 95 days)
  • Gold medal: This whopper is unbelievably early for its size. The large yellow fruit have an interior blush of red and weigh over 1 pound, some reaching 2 pounds.  The plants grow well in cool nighttime temperatures. (75 days, Indeterminate)
  • Japanese Black Trifele: Pear-shaped fruit has green-streaked shoulders, deepening to a burnished mahogany and finally to a darkened, nearly black base. The meaty interior has similar, opulent shades and an incomparable, almost indescribably complex and rich flavor to match. The fruit reach 2 1/2-3 inches long and wide and are very crack-resistant. Despite the name, this thoroughbred has its origins in Russia. (Indeterminate, heirloom potato-leafed plants, 80-85 days)
  • Pink Oxheart: Beautiful big, oval, pointed fruit with a fine sweet old time flavor! (Indeterminate, 85 days)
  • Green Zebra: This unique tomato is very flavorful and sweet, yet has a zingy and well-balanced taste that isn't too acidic. Mature fruits are golden green with forest green stripes and reach 3 inches in diameter. 

    This is one of my absolute favorites. The green and yellow tiger striped fruit are eye catching and the the taste is to die for - oh, and they are super producers!
  • Grandma Oliver's Green: The packet describes this tomato as an attractive green heirloom tomato that produces large fruit whose skin is green with a yellow blush and a creamy lime interior - sweet, tangy flavor. (Indeterminate, 80 days)

    Last year I kept seeing these beautiful green slicers at the farmer's market. I couldn't bring myself to buy one since I had so many in our garden to eat, but I vowed to try growing them myself this year.
  • Black Krim: Dark red-purple fruit, rich sweet flavor. An heirloom from Russia with very unique looking, large fruit. (Indeterminate, 80 days)

    My sister introduced me to this variety a couple of years ago and it is a staple in my garden. Stunning to look at, delicious to eat.
  • Indigo rose: A new release from Oregon State University,  this tomato has deep purple skin where sunshine hits the fruit to red/orange where a leaf or stem shields an area from the sun. The fruits are excellent in salads and for snacking. (Indeterminate, 70 days)

One of my favorite things

I started writing this post a month ago and am just finishing it now. Such is life with a five-month old baby!
Last night we made one of our favorite recipes - pasta with broccoli, sausage and blue cheese. It's an easy and quick recipe that is so delicious. And, this time it included our first harvest from the garden this season!
To make, first put on your water for pasta. Be to add a pinch or two of kosher salt.

Next finely dice one medium shallot (or half a yellow onion if you don't have a shallot) and mince a clove of garlic. Add the shallot and garlic to pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil.
Then add sausage (a half pound will do nicely for two people, and make sure it is a mild enough flavor that it won't clash with blue cheese!). Stir as-needed until sausage is browned and then set pan aside.

Chop broccoli florets and stem into bite-size pieces (if the outer layer of your broccoli is tough be sure to peel it off and use only the tender inside). Set broccoli aside.

Add pasta to water when it comes to a boil and cook it for the recommended time. When you have one minute remaining in your pasta cook time add the broccoli to your pasta water.

Before draining the pasta and broccoli, be sure to set aside a cup of the pasta water. Then strain pasta and broccoli. Add all of the ingredients - meat, broccoli, pasta, etc back into the pot you cooked the pasta in and stir on low heat until cheese melts. Pour in pasta water as-needed to thin sauce to a consistency of your liking and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Winter Dreaming

I love this time of year. Most everything in the garden is dormant, but the possibilities for the coming spring and summer are endless.

And, plants like the winter blooming Witch Hazel is a reminder that spring is on its way.

So, today I am arming myself with seed catalogs, graph paper and a cup of tea as I set about dreaming up this year's garden. 

Last summer Mark and I added a community garden plot to the mix. And, in early October we planted a variety of winter greens, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic and shallots. It was quite a sight to see since I was eight months pregnant! 
 Mark spread hay over the soil last month, so now we just have to wait for those crops to come in this spring.
Since the community garden plot is mostly planted, my efforts turn to the garden here at home.
On the list for spring are potatoes, favas, carrots, lettuce, beets, kohlrabi, spinach and sorrel. Fortunately, the springtime garden will be mostly self reliant thanks to Portland's maritime climate and abundant rainfall. Good news for us since baby Hazel will need a lot of our attention in the coming months!
So, the plan is to carve out 10-15 minutes per weekend through March to plant new seeds and otherwise prep the beds. The spring crops will start going in the ground next month - with potatoes one weekend followed by favas the next and so on, so it won't be overwhelming. Then we can leave the rest up to Mother Nature.

Summertime will be a different story since the warmer, drier weather will require us to water and care for the garden more regularly. Still, with a little planning we can minimize that too.

 In just a few weeks, we can roll up our sleeves and get those hands in the soil again. 
Happy gardening to all! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We be jah-min

This past weekend my friend Tracy and I made strawberry jam. We made three varieties: traditional, pickled and balsamic.
I chose to slow-roast the berries ahead of time to concentrate the flavor. At about 200 degrees, the roasting took about an hour and a half. I also chose to use Pomona's pectin since I wanted the berry-rich flavor to be the main attraction and to use as little sugar to sweeten as possible. For each jam, I added all of the ingredients together, brought them to a rolling boil for 2 minutes and processed in a water bath for 10 minutes.

I used the Hood variety to make this jam. They are naturally sweet and really translate the berry flavor without much help.
  • 4 cups berries
  • 1 cup white sugar 
  • 2 T store-bought lemon juice*
  • 2 t each Pomona's pectin and calcium water
* Use store-bought lemon juice rather than fresh-squeezed lemons as the latter's acidity is guaranteed to be consistently at the right level while lemon's acidity varies slightly from lemon to lemon.

This jam was loosely based on this recipe from Food 52, but I decided that I wanted more punch to my jam than what recipe called for - let the adventures in personal taste preferences begin! I am excited to try this sweet, salty, tangy concoction on toast and with some meat from the BBQ this summer.
  • 3 cups Seascape berries
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 3-4 T each sherry and rice vinegar
  • 1.5 t crushed coriander seeds
  • Cardamom*
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 pinches chili flakes
  • 1.5 t each Pomona's pectin and calcium water
* I used sugar that I had ground seeds into previously rather than the amount the recipe called for - I would probably add more for the next go round.

I love strawberry balsamic jam! It is like a grown up version of the jam I grew up with. I also added cracked pepper and thyme to this batch. Yum!
  • 4 cups Seascape berries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 
  • Cracked pepper to taste (I did about a quarter teaspoon)
  • Thyme leaves
  • 2 t each Pomona's pectin and calcium water

This project officially kicked off my 2014 canning season. Next up - raspberry jam!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Garden-inspired summer fare

Last night, Mark and I had what we considered the perfect summer fare for dinner. Here's what we had:

Favas with lemon juice, olive oil, s & p, and Parmesan.

Lacinto kale purée with garlic and oil from smoked trout.

Zucchini ribbon salad with white balsamic vinegar, s & p, olive oil, and basil.

Cuppa farro salad with veggies from the garden and smoked salmon from our friends Sarah and Darian.

Fresh crusty loaf, tinned smoked trout and prosciutto.

Love a homespun summertime picnic with my sweets!

What is your favorite summertime fare?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Springtime meals from the garden

I love this time of year in the garden. Everything is new, fresh and quickly changing.

This year we have a ton of leeks and garlic, and tonight we started to enjoy the bounty.

Mark used these leek scapes in tonight's stir fry - think texture similar to asparagus stems with a slight leek flavor. Delish.

Garnished with flowers from the sprouting broccoli we enjoyed earlier this spring.