Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011

For years Bryan's family held an unofficial competition to see who could produce the first summer sun-ripened red tomato.  Among South Carolina growers, we're probably not winning that race this season; although our bushes are loaded, it will be July before we see a first red fruit.  Though, whenever it comes, the wait will be worth it.
We harvested some large broccoli crowns, blanched, and froze 4 quarts.  Broccoli plants that were harvested earlier are producing side shoots, not as big as the original crown, but plenty enough for fresh eating.  Pickling cucumbers are ripening between 8 and 10 per day - it's hard to keep up with all of them and the green beans that are just getting warmed up.  We harvested dill weed, parsley, oregano, and basil to dry for winter use, and we're using a lot fresh.  Carrots and onions are large and table-ready.  Bell peppers are blocky, just right to stuff.  Soil preparation and organic practices are paying off now as we gather a daily trug of vegetables - more than we can eat fresh.
Grass clippings make great garden mulch; if you have time to bag them, try adding clippings around potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and other garden plants.  Layer old newspaper directly on top of garden soil, then spread grass clippings over to keep weeds down all season long.  We call this "spider mulch" because it creates a home for 8-legged critters, which act as garden guardians, eating pests that damage plants.  Both newspaper and grass clippings will compost by end of season and can be incorporated directly into garden soil in Fall or Spring. 
Peas are still producing, even though vines are old and show signs of coming to the end of their productive life cycle.  Sweet corn has stood up well to the many summer thunderstorms that came through our area; the first crop has set ears that will be ready to eat in a week or two.  This melon and more than a dozen others are on the menu for next month, thanks to the work of varied pollinators - bees, wasps, and beneficial insects which are attracted to the garden especially by herb plants in bloom.  Speaking of insects, all those lady bird beetles (ladybugs) on our March red clover came back and are doing a great job keeping aphids off our corn.
The June 2011 summer solstice has come and gone, and July, month of greatest activity in the vegetable garden, is around the corner.  It's time to pull canning jars out of storage and begin preserving for winter.  Next Monday July 4 is a national holiday, and we will take a break from blogging to get our hands dirty: look for our next post on July 11.  We wish y'all a happy and safe Independence Day USA!

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 2011

Today we bid a sad farewell to the zucchini.  Vine borers, those pesky pests of organic gardening, hit the stems at the root zone, and we saw tell-tale sudden plant wilt and collapse.  But not before we harvested a basket full of nice, perfect fruits.  Organic methods of control for vine borer include wrapping stems in cloth or aluminum foil; it is also possible to inject nematodes into an affected stem, but an invaded stem will never recover full strength.  Finally the tiny, red eggs may be hand-picked off the base of the stems when they are laid.  We do not have time to bother with any of these, and rather lose a couple plants; zucchini are so quick-growing they can be replanted.  Let them RIC  (Rest In Compost). 
The photos today are our garden experiments:  white potatoes, and Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry.  These potato bushes are about knee-high at five weeks old.  We planted them in composted manure when the potatoes were already well-sprouted, and now they are in flower.  We will check on tubers around seven weeks to see how they are developing, and maybe harvest some "new" potatoes which, from what we hear, are a special treat of potato gardening.
Ground cherries are in the nightshade family, related to eggplant, tomatoes, and, ironically, potatoes.  When still green, ground cherries contain a mildly toxic substance called solanine.  Fruits come wrapped in light, papery lanterns, and they are ripe when they yellow and fall from the plant.  Mature ground cherries are deep yellow-orange and can be picked up off the ground in their dry papery skins.  The earliest fruits that set on our plants this Spring are now ripening, and they have an interesting pineapple-strawberry flavor.  We plan to try these in a pie, and if they merit, preserves, although they are a tempting treat to eat fresh from the garden!
We are harvesting cucumbers in abundance; we made our first batch of overnight Kosher dill pickles with fresh dill and garlic from the garden.  These are similar to Claussen brand refrigerator dills, only better.  They are not canned and must be eaten within a couple weeks or they turn soggy, but they aren't in danger of spoiling in our house!  It looks like we're only getting started by the abundance of little cucumbers that are in flower now; picking only encourages more.  We will need to can pickles soon. 
Tomato bushes have outgrown their cages and their stakes, and will have to sprawl from now on.  Each bush is loaded with a crop of swelling green fruits and are setting more, but it looks like we will have to wait until July for that first sun-ripened red tomato.  We have both determinate and indeterminate varieties; once they come, we won't be able to keep up with them, but we need a lot at once to preserve.
Melons have set the size of a clenched fist.  Peas are giving a second crop, not as big as the first, but still welcome.  Broccoli heads as big across as 10 and 12 inches are ready to harvest - we will need to cut them, blanch, and freeze since we can't keep up with eating them fresh.  Already side shoots are growing that will give us fresh broccoli season-long.  Sweet corn is tasseling out now and should be ready to pick in about three weeks.  Add green beans, carrots, sweet and hot peppers, and onions to the mix, and who needs to shop at the market!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Recipe: Zucchini Lasagna

This is a light summer dish that is the answer to too many garden zucchini coming all at once!

Zucchini Lasagna

1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 24-ounce jar tomato sauce
1 pound extra lean ground turkey or chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1 tsp whole wheat flour
1/2 cup skim mozzarella, shredded, divided
3 medium zucchini sliced into nine 1/4-inch-thick strips lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large nonstick frying pan, saute ground turkey with onion until meat is browned and onion is tender.  Add tomato sauce and cook on medium-low together for 10 minutes or until flavors are blended.  Add minced garlic, season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove from heat.
In a small bowl slightly beat egg.  Stir in cottage cheese, flour, and 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese.  Layer 3 zucchini strips on bottom of a greased quart size (approximately 6 inches by 9 inches) roasting pan.  Spoon 1/2 of meat mixture over zucchini and spread evenly; spoon 1/2 of cheese mixture over meat and spread evenly.  Add another layer of zucchini, meat, and cheese.  Top with remaining three zucchini strips, and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle reserved 1/4 cup mozzarella over top and bake for 10 minutes more.  Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13, 2011

A friend once told me he had an answer to the world food shortage:  zucchini!  Most people plant too much, but then summer wouldn't be summer without neighbors passing zucchini over the fence.  Our family enjoys a recipe in which lasagna pasta is substituted with thinly-sliced zucchini strips:  recipe post coming soon.

Summer berries are rolling in, enough to fill not just our pies and tarts, but our freezer, too.  Our 20-month-old discovered blueberries this year, and we may need to set an armed guard if we want to keep the supply coming!

Part of the weekend was spent hilling sweet corn; set #1 is chest-high, and tassels are growing out of the crowns.  We are impressed with how the soil quality has improved since growing and tilling under red clover in preparation for corn.  Proof is in the product, and corn plants are shooting up thick and green in this warm and humid weather.  Efforts to give it some added stability were immediately appreciated as a summer thunderstorm blew through with straight-line winds.  Over the weekend we received more than 2 inches of rain.

In harvest now…

-dill, basil, other herbs
-green beans
-red raspberries
-sweet bell peppers

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011

Broccoli plants have been dragging their feet, but they finally showed some button heads that are steadily swelling in size.  In years past we've grown a single head of broccoli that was 16 inches across, so we'll see how they do this year.  Little green worms are always a problem in warm weather, and no one wants to chomp down on a tender floret and see half a worm wiggling out of the excavated side!  Too bad bugs can't read "No Trespassing" signs.  One organic way to save the broccoli for ourselves is to cover each developing head with something like an old leg of nylon hose, which "grows" with the plant.  Cut off a section of hose, tie the top end shut, and pull the nylon "sock" over what you want to protect.  This works with almost any crop, from peppers, tomatoes, and melons, to corn.

We admit, we do not follow space recommendations on the back of seed packets; it is possible to squeeze a very large harvest out of a very small space if soil, sunlight, and watering conditions are right.  The average size backyard garden has shrunk considerably in past decades; 300 sq. ft. is the current average.  (We have 2,000 sq. ft., but two thirds of that is planted with space hogs corn and pumpkins; our spring garden was 375 sq. ft, and our main summer garden is 500 sq. ft.).  Years ago I remember seeing large gardens of row-run crops with tiller-wide footpaths in between, presumably to aid cultivation.  We grow many plants "up" to help conserve space.  This technique prevents many soil-born diseases that can splash on sprawling plants.  We push all our plants together and even grow melon vines in between so that by July barely an inch of ground will be visible beneath the green.  It looks a little wild, but it helps keep soil cool, and there is no room for weeds.  There's no room to step, either; it's like a game of Twister trying to harvest melons!  Most plants that require daily harvest are on the perimeter and are accessible from the lawn and foot paths.
Zucchini are rolling in as have several more pea harvests.  Melon vines have started running; lettuce is still mild and a new crop is growing.  I've had to cover the blueberry bushes with netting to keep birds from eating our fruit:  scare tactics like pie tins, cd's on a string, and fake owls and snakes may work for a day but are not as reliable or as effective as bird netting.  Cherry and apple trees must be too small to fruit this year, and our peach trees have about one peach each, so we will have to rely on local u-pick orchards until our trees mature a little more; it's exciting to see how rapidly they are growing this year.
We've appreciated some positive comments from neighbors on the garden; they've told us it's beautiful, and they believe it's a great teaching experience for children.  If you've followed these posts you know an organic garden doesn't just happen, but after months of planning it's a reality, and we are feeling the benefits.  

About Me

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Dedicated to the responsible production and preservation of healthy home-grown food to the glory of God. Isaiah 55:10 The rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. Organic, or not? We try to raise vegetables organically, using compost and manure. The addition of chickens to our hobby farm means plenty of organic nitrogen to compost! This site gives credible reference to planting information contained in the Farmer's Almanac (