Category Archives: Gardening Tips

August in the Production Kitchen

It’s hot out – 94+ degrees. It’s hot inside, too. Why?

Production kitchen in August

Production in my kitchen

If it’s August, it’s time for production in my kitchen.

My counter tops are covered with various vegetables picked at just the right moment (except for the giant zucchini I missed!).

If you garden, you know that this month is the time when just about every single plant you put in the ground in May or June starts turning out produce at an almost alarming rate!

I pick every day.

I try to keep up but don’t always succeed.

This morning, the first thing I tackled were my Rosa Bianca eggplant, that beautiful purple globe surrounded by the raw ingredients for sauce.

Raw ingredients for eggplant parmesan

Raw eggplant parmigiana

I slice then convection roast eggplant at 475 degrees. NOTE: I don’t peel or de-seed these eggplant because they are so sweet and tasty, especially if picked before they get too big.

The 1/4 inch slices are dotted with a bit of ghee or olive oil and sea salt before they go into the oven.

Eggplant parmesan

Eggplant parmesan fresh from the oven.

Because they are being cooked at such a high temperature and because it’s so hot out, I got the eggplant in the oven before 5AM this morning.

Once the slices are nicely browned I layer them with my homemade tomato sauce and Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.   Then I slide the Eggplant Parmigiana into the oven.

The oven is already hot from convecting the slices so I cover the pan with aluminum foil, turn the temperature down to 375 degrees and bake, covered for 40 minutes.

 

I uncover the pan and bake it another 15 minutes to lightly brown it. Voila – Eggplant Parmesan fresh from the oven.

Next came dicing and putting 16 cups of mixed tomatoes into the largest pot in my kitchen to cook down and let the flavors of Atomic Grape, Consueleto Genovese and Black Vernissage tomatoes to blend together.

Tomatoes simmering into salsa

Tomatoes becoming salsa!

This will take about 20 hours at a very, very low temperature.

Once most of the liquid is boiled off and the flavors are blended, I will add the spice set to turn this brew

into medium salsa.

Then I will cook the salsa for another hour and can it in pint jars. If it comes out right, the salsa will also be used for holiday gifts!

Another gift I like to give at the holidays are small jars of jam – organic and low sugar because I use Pomona Pectin to make it. A full batch of jam using this pectin only takes 1 1/2 cups of sugar; at traditional batch of jam can take up to 6 cups of sugar!

Jam canning jars

Jam canning jars

So, these small jars wait on the counter and blueberries and blackberries wait in the refrigerator for their turn to be made into jam and brandy, respectively.

And my zucchini will be turned into one of the most delicious and healthful pizzas you can make – the crust is zucchini with a dash of coconut flour and the sauce is mine – made last year!

 

Gardening is hard work; putting up the produce from your garden is hard work too. But I love every step of every phase of growing, eating and preserving food that is organic, lovingly raised and gently but persistently canned, frozen or dehydrated for the coming winter.

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July Garden Update!

Today, I will write with pictures, not words. So here is the pictorial update on my garden…and how it’s growing.

Despite cool nights (high 50’s and low 60’s, still), there are wonderful things are happening in my backyard.

Onions in May

Onions in May

Onions ready for harvest

Onions ready for harvest

 

Asparagus crowns need trenches

Asparagus trenches-April

Asparagus Growing-July

Asparagus Growing-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-June

Tiffen Mennonite Tomato

Consueleto tomato-June

Consueleto Genovese ripens

Ripening Consueleto-July

How to Trellis Tomatoes

Tomato trellis in bamboo

Tomato trellis in bamboo

Every year, I grow indeterminate, heirloom tomatoes. Every year, my tomato plants reach heights of 9 feet to 12 feet!

For the last 4 years, I have created a trellis for these monster tomato plants using bamboo poles and small green balls with connecting slots in them.

Each year, I am challenged to make the trellis straight and strong so it can hold up the weight of the fruit from more than a dozen very vigorous tomato plants.

This year, I lost the challenge.

In fact, this year, you could say I made a series of ill-fitting, trapezoid like structures that strong winds consistently knock awry! What you’re looking at is supposed to be a straight line…but it clearly flunked geometry and so did I!

Not so straight tomato trellis

Not so straight trellis

I was a bit desperate so I asked my husband (who is “…not a man of the soil”) to help me make a trellis using PVC pipe and connectors and he came through, as he always does.

The materials for this trellis cost $78 at Lowes. It is easy to put together as all of the vertical poles are the same length – 7 feet. All of the cross pieces are 3′.

Mr. Pat bought 14 PVC pipes that were 10 feet long. He cut 3 feet off each one to make both the verticals and the cross pieces. He then used elbows and tees to connect the verticals to the cross pieces.

The finished trellis looks a bit like something that clanked its way out of War of the Worlds!

New tomato trellis

New tomato trellis!

But it is lightweight and easy for the two of us to move. And it can easily be taken down and stored during the winter.

This afternoon, when the sun is warm on the plants and the leaves are dry, we will install the new trellis. It is 7 feet high and the cross pieces are 3 feet across. It will sit just inside the raised bed walls and a bit higher than my monster trellis.

Once the trellis is sunk into the ground, I will gently untie the tomato plants from the old trellis and tie them to the new one which will sit about 6 inches higher.

I am moving to the new trellis in the nick of time as the 13 plants that are relying on it for growth are literally loaded with fruit.

Tiffen Mennonite Tomato

My Tiffen Mennonite, the replacement for the Brandywine, are growing in clumps and getting huge.

The Consueleto Genovese and the Fox Cherry tomatoes are flat out laden with green tomatoes.

However, none of the fruit is ripening due to the chillier June nights we have been having.

Black Vernissage tomato

Black Vernissage tomato

Only the Black Vernissage, this year’s tester tomato is showing any color…but it’s not ripening, either.

Our temperatures have been in the mid to upper 50’s in Southeast Pennsylvania. Tomatoes like warm nights – 70’s+ and even warmer days. Over the next week, we will be hitting the 70’s at night and the 90’s during the day so I expect that just about all of the tomatoes on the trellis will ripen, all at once.

Once they start to come in, my neighbors better get ready! It will be tomatoes all around.

 

 

 

ps – please forgive the long silence. Since May 25th, I have been working valiantly to save the life of one of my two West Highland terriers. Unfortunately, my beloved Spike died on Saturday.

2018 Organic Garden Update – June

Fruit is set and ripening.

Blackberries & apple trees

It’s mid-June and we’ve had 4 decent days in a row, weather-wise.  The sun was out most of the time and on two days, the temperature actually rose into the 80’s.

The sun and the heat encouraged the plants to get on with their jobs! And I am happy to report that is just what is happening in my 2018 garden!

The blackberries are loaded with flowers and going about the business of creating their fruits.

 

Elderberries flourishing in the meadow.

Elderberry bushes

Burssel sprouts growing with blackberries

Brussel sprouts & blackberries

So are the elderberries that I planted in the back meadow.  They moved from bushes to trees, this spring!

It helps that Comfrey is inter-planted with the elderberry bushes as this herb pulls up nutrients from the soil but doesn’t use them so the elderberries get fed.

 

Most of my readers know that I trial a seed or two every year; Brussel sprouts are my trial this year. They seem to be growing pretty well, tucked in under the blackberries.   There was a bit of bunny damage but the plants got past  the nibbles and kept growing. I gave Brussel sprouts a try after listening to Margaret Roach’s podcast on the best ways to grow these and other cruciferous vegetables.

Tomatoes setting on my vines

Tomatoes despite the weather!

Considering the Septoria outbreak from all the rain and the cool days and nights, I am surprised to find that I actually have tomatoes on the vine, not a lot but there are baby tomatoes peeking out of the plants.

Cutting off all the infected leaves on every tomato plant appears to have thwarted the Septoria spores from taking over my tomato plants but we are under a flood watch again, today. So hyper- vigilance will be needed, again.

The onions and garlic are growing like mad and I took advantage of the clear weather to fertilize both.

Onions and garlic get fed

Onions and garlic

I normally just use fish emulsion and only from Neptune’s Harvest but this year,  because of all the rain, I supplemented with some organic worm castings.

Why supplement? Both onions and garlic are being grown in raised beds and both looked like they could use a bit of food this year. I usually only put crushed eggshells around my tomato and pepper plants but this year, because we have had so much rain, I also used fish emulsion and worm castings to feed these plants.

The eggplant and the cucumbers are growing well this year but I topped them up with some worm castings and poured a bit of fish emulsion on them as well, just to add a bit of food to their roots and leaves.

Cucumbers enjoying the sun

Cucumbers in the sun

Eggplant enjoying a warm day

Eggplant enjoying a warm day.

2018 Garden Underwater, Again

Normally, mid-May into mid-June are the weeks where you grab a tall, cool glass of Kombucha and sit down in your comfy deck chair and watch things grow…normally.

2018 garden underwater

My garden in the mist

This year, 2018, what I am frequently doing is sighing, drying off my dogs and hoping that the cold (low 50’s right now), wet weather doesn’t finish off all the plants I raised from seed.

This is my garden, in the mist. It looks pretty good, from a distance.

But my tomato plants are really starting to show the wear of 4 weeks of wet weather. The yellowing and spotting on the leaves is spreading and, because of the persistent wet growing conditions, I don’t think I will be able to stop the destruction.

What my tomatoes have is called Septoria Leaf Spot.   

Septoria fungus

Septoria on my tomato babies.

Septoria is a fungal disease. In normal weather conditions, you can usually prevent or at least slow it down by following good gardening practices like:

  • removing diseased leaves quickly
  • watering with soaker hoses,
  • never watering at night,
  • spacing your plants so each one catches the breezes and dries out,
  • rotating where you put tomato plants from year to year.

But I’m not experiencing normal weather conditions. And this fungal disease loves it when it’s wet out.

According to Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), my back yard is the perfect storm for Septoria, “When conditions are wet, spores are exuded from the Septoria fruiting bodies present on the infected tomato leaves. Once the spores land on a healthy leaf, spotting can appear in five days if weather conditions are ideal.”

Septoria will affect my 2019 garden

Septoria will affect 2019 garden, too

Worse than experiencing Septoria, this year, is the fact that the spores shed by the fungus live on in the ground cover and even in the soil. So, even if I remove the infected foliage, even if I rotate my plants, the chances of recurrence in 2019 are high.

I certainly have ideal conditions for this fungal invader!

I will fight back this year by using an organic fungicide called Serenade. I don’t like resorting to this solution but it is non-toxic to birds, bees, beneficial insects, fish, and wildlife.

As an organic gardener, I hate introducing this into my eco-system but I know the long-term damage Septoria can cause and I have to take necessary measures to reduce or eliminate this “perennial” from my garden.

And I will soldier on with the rest of my plants because that’s what gardeners do and because there are other plants growing quietly, albeit slowly, in my garden that need tending to. Here are some photos of these brave, green soldiers.

What Will I Grow in 2019

One sunny day in 14 days

Planted in sun…then the floods!

Okay, so it’s a bit early to be planning the 2019 garden! I just barely finished planting this year’s garden!! But I needed a lift.

I’m a bit depressed. It has rained for 13 of the last 14 days. It will be raining for the next 3 days, at least. My rain gauge – the wheelbarrow – is full, again. All I can think of is how soggy the roots of all my beautiful, raised from seed plants are.

And I am also thinking that the 20 asparagus crowns I put in just a little over 3 weeks ago are rotting below their lovingly applied layers of compost, soil and straw.

Rain is bad enough but the temperatures are not helping, either. Our highs are in the low to mid-60’s; our lows are in the mid 50’s. Today, we will hit the low 80’s then drop to 51 degrees with…thunder storms.

So, I did what any self-respecting, home bound gardener does; I went seed shopping and here is what I got from Territorial Seed:

Autumn Harvest Beet Blend –  this is a new and what Territorial calls a, ” distinctive blend of Red  Ace, Boldor and White Albino. This blend will let me

Beet blend from Territorial Seed

Territorial Seed knows beets!

grow a range of colors that will make great ferments and relishes and will be stunning to look at, served fresh with butter.

Kalettes make great chips

Bite-sized kale ready for chips!.

Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard Organic – blending 5 varieties of chard,  Australian heirloom boasts a, “…day-glow mix of red, orange, yellow, pink and white.” Upright growth and juicy, tender stalks and succulent leaves, just what you want in Swiss chard!

Autumn Star Kalettes® –  Bite-sized, loose heads of frilly kale growing on brussel sprout-like stalks, the leaves are green and purple. These are new for this year and I for one will enjoy making kale chips with them!

Palco Spinach Organic – from seed to salad in 38 days, Territorial calls this spinach, “…adaptable to planting in both cool and warm seasons, versatile for harvest as young, baby greens or full-sized, and bolt and disease resistant.” What’s not to like?

Music & Purple Glazer Garlic –  both hard neck and both mid-season.

Territorial Seed has garlic

Hard neck garlic I love!

I love these garlics for their reliability in the ground and amazing flavor. And I love that they keep for months so I can enjoy homegrown, organic garlic all the way through the winter!

I complemented my order from Territorial Seed Company with some seeds from another favorite organic source, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Here is what I ordered from Baker Creek to lift my spirits:

Blauhilde Bean – my all time favorite pole bean with a great growth habit and prolific production of the tastiest green beans on the planet…which are actually deep purple pods! In any case, I have not planted any other pole bean or green bean since I met Blauhilde.

Prosperosa eggplant

Prosperosa eggplant from Baker  Creek

Prosperosa Eggplant – straight out of Tuscany by way of Baker Seeds, this beautiful eggplant is round to slightly teardrop shaped, and sometimes very slightly ribbed.

The deep purple exterior holds the mild, tender white flesh that’s  as good as the fruit looks. The Prosperosa and the Bianca Rosa are my favorite eggplants.

German Lunchbox Tomato – The fruits of this tomato are supposedly the size of a small egg. Pink and sugar sweet, Baker Creek Heirlooms say they are begging to be eaten. Perfectly sized for salads or putting in the lunchbox and my “new” tomato for 2019.

Tendergreen Burpless Cucumber – I have developed a liking for cukes that don’t disrupt my digestion, hence the burpless variety I ordered this year.  Medium-dark green, 7-12 inches long and prolific, I also bought these because, per the description, they tolerate cool soil and excessive moisture better than many. Welcome to my world!

Queen of the May butterhead lettuce

Queen of the May butterhead lettuce from Baker Creek

May Queen Lettuce – I am a sucker for butterhead lettuce….

This one is called the crown jewel of the heirloom garden. “Tender, yellow hearts are gently blushed rose, and the leaves are ethereally soft with the buttery sweet flavor.” Yum.  And good for planting in early in Spring or in Fall.

BTW now is the best time to get your heirloom, non-GMO, organic seeds from companies like Territorial Seed Company and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. Wait too long, especially for garlic, and they will all be gone!

There will be more seeds in my 2019 garden plan and probably replacement asparagus crowns (now that the trenches are already dug). But just knowing that these are on the way is making me smile on yet, another gray day!

2018 Garden is In – But Oy The Weather…

2018 Garden enjoying sun

2018 garden enjoying sun

So, my garden is now, totally in the ground.

This year I planted garlic, onions, lettuce, beets, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers (still considering zucchini), green beans, asparagus, of course and herbs like basil and Italian parsley.

I finished putting the last Bianca Rosa in the ground Saturday morning.

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Baby Bianca Rosa eggplant

Saturday evening, we got 70 MPH winds, driving hail and torrential rain with a side order of thunder and lightning and the threat of a tornado!

The baby eggplant survived…and seem to be settling in to their truck bed.

But I live outside of Philadelphia…in Pennsylvania! We don’t get tornadoes. Oh, wait, we do now courtesy of the non-existent global warming and the ever increasing turbulence of our weather and of the very earth itself.

It has rained every day since last Tuesday. It is going to rain again tonight. In fact, we are under a flood watch from 4PM today to 2AM tomorrow morning. We might get a day or two of clearing, then all that rain that is currently drowning Floridians will be…here.

Tomato plants hanging on to their trellis

Tomato plants hanging on, literally

Even my tomatoes have toughed it out…although they are looking just a bit “wan.”

As with every year, there are, of course challenges – bugs…rabbits, deer. But this year, it seems that Mother Earth is setting about re-balancing her planet – with or without us.

But there will be vegetables and fruit in my backyard this summer. Most of these plants will survive. And so will I.  I will keep on gardening, keep growing.

My garden will grow

My garden will grow

And I will keep praying that we, the humans who inhabit this planet, slow down a bit, become more aware of the risk and start backpedaling from taking, using, devouring and otherwise destroying this magnificent home on which live and orbit the universe.