Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More Record Lows

The sun has just set. The deer that had been grazing in the soybeans across the road have disappeared back into the woods. The dogs are done playing in the yard. The tree frogs and crickets and bats and nighthawks are out, and the first coyotes of the night are talking about dinner. We are expecting record lows in the upper 40's tonight. Again. The forecast for the week is gorgeous -- for mid-October: highs in the low- to mid-70's, lows in the upper 40's and lower 50's. This is most definitely not weather that ripens tomatoes. I feel lucky to have picked a total of about three pounds of tomatoes from the garden so far; all assorted cherry tomatoes and bright yellow taxi tomatoes. The vines (finally all trellised this weekend!) are laden with big beautiful green tomatoes, and little fuzzy green tomatoes, and slightly orange or yellow (but still mostly green) tomatoes. This is just not tomato weather. The plants, though, look lush and green. Every eggplant has at least one fruit on it. The greasy beans are so laden with beans and thick leaves that I had to add wooden supports to the trellis to keep it from falling over. The cucumbers went from not ripe to over-ripe in one day somehow. And although I have picked exactly one dozen okra, the okra plants are still wondering when summer will arrive. 

I gave a few garden tours to friends this week. It is always nice to give a garden tour. When I walk around the garden weeding, harvesting, problem-solving, or watering, all I see is a to-do list. The cabbages need weeding, the tomatoes need more tying-up, the okra needs more heat. But when friends come to see the garden, I get to see so many different things. I forget that most people don't grow as many tomato plants as I do, or that seeing 16 different varieties is a novelty. I love when people see an Amish Cockscomb bloom up close for the first time, or taste a Ground Cherry, or see the neon extravagance of the Celosia in the garden. To have friends take pictures of the garden makes me so happy. And it makes the work worth it, even when in the back of my mind, I worry that there will be no ripe tomatoes, or that I will lose the war against the grasses.

Rich weed-whacked the garden this weekend, which always makes it look instantly better. He mentioned while giving a tour of the garden last week how something was eating our kale. And indeed, the kale that had been robust and thick last week was suddenly hole-ridden and disappearing. Sunday morning I set out to figure out what was wrong. Caterpillars. You know those pretty little white butterflies that fly around the garden? Well their spawn love the cabbage family. And while they haven't found my cabbage patch, they did find the kale. And they went to town: hundreds of little white-striped caterpillars feasting on the undersides of my kale leaves. I pulled them off and squished them. (They popped in quite a satisfactory way.) By the time I was done, my hands were stained green with their chlorophyll-rich blood. I have made a couple of quick return trips and killed a few more, but I am now hopeful the kale will live to see the frost. It reminded me that gardening isn't just growing plants, it is picking which plants (& creatures) live that defines gardening. 

The pictures below: 1) The kale patch Sunday morning, pre-massacre. 2) One of the larger caterpillars. 3) Most leaves had three, five, or even ten caterpillars of varying size (whole families I killed) feasting. 

So I close with a chorus of tree frogs through the open windows. It really is a lovely evening, even if none of my tomatoes are ripening...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

So This Is Summer

I spent much of today working in the garden. Weeded the eggplants and some of the tomato rows. Trellised a few more rows of tomatoes with wire and old mesh screens I have. Watered over half the garden. Picked two cherry tomatoes. 

This has been a very cool summer so far. We haven't had temperatures above about 85 degrees since June. I have row after row of tomato plants with big and little green tomatoes. I have harvested only one yellow Taxi tomato and five cherry tomatoes. I harvested several meals' worth of Royal Burgundy Beans and Greasy Beans. We have eaten a lot of lettuce and cilantro and mustard and that is about it. Otherwise, nothing to harvest yet... and it is August 3rd! It has been this cool and rather moist summer that has slowed the garden to a glacier's pace. 

Rich noted this afternoon that once the tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos ripen, we are going to be buried beneath an avalanche of fruit. And that will hopefully be true! I joked the other night that I will be scrambling to get every blanket from everyone of my friends to ensure a harvest after an early frost. It just seems like that kind of season. 

But I am not complaining. Working in the garden has been a rather pleasant task. Despite the tenacity of the grasses growing everywhere, weeding has not been so much of a chore as it was last year. And it has been beautiful, with all the flowers and the slower pace of growth, I feel I have had time to really enjoy the beauty present in the garden, rather than lurching from one emergency task to another. 

The pictures below: 1) Amish Cockscomb blooming in the center of the garden. 2) The row of lovely orange Cosmos as you enter the garden from the yard. 3) Our first eggplant of the season. 4) The first tomato. 5) The Greasy Beans are doing great! 6) A freshly-trellised row of tomatoes get comfortable.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer...Ever so slowly

It is after July 4th, and I am still not done planting the garden... There are tomatoes, kale, and a few peppers waiting to go into the ground... And there are seeds yet to be planted: some more beans, gourds, winter squash. For these last, it may be too late... But I will still be able to put in onions, potatoes, replacement lettuce, herbs, and collards. The raised beds yielded peas and mustard and lettuce, and this week, I am planning on pulling their remains out and planting lettuces, beets, potatoes, carrots, and onions in the raised beds. 

The garden looks great... Today I got more rows weeded and mulched. I also planted some replacement peppers where earlier plants have disappeared. I also weeded the center of the garden, which will eventually be surrounded by flowers and hold a table and chairs. The celosia and spider zinnias are gorgeous, but the weeds choked out a lot of the other plants. I weeded thoroughly and planted Amish Cockscomb transplants and seeds of zinnias, cosmos, four o'clocks, and nasturtiums. There are a few rows that are in need of weeding this week, but overall, the weeds are in check... 

The good thing about all the rain we have had this summer is I haven't had to water at all. I measured 15.25" of rain during the month of June here at the farm. That is more rain than any other month since we've been here. The ground is still soggy in a few spots, but the water has been a boon to not only the plants in the garden, but the weeds... mostly grasses and thistle, really. 

Today I ate the first ground cherries from the garden this year. Two years ago, I grew these little gems, and loved them. This year, I am growing a variety called Cossack Pineapple. These little ones aren't quite as sweet as the first kind I grew, but these little yellow fruits really taste like pineapple. Delicious. I just harvested cilantro for tonight's dinner. Even across the room, I can smell the citrus scent from those delicate leaves. 

My knees are sore. My fingers keep cramping up from the hours I spent weeding today, but I am satisfied... Growing as much of our own food as I can is exhausting, but so rewarding... And we are in full anticipation of the first ripening tomatoes. There are about a dozen Taxi tomato plants with beautiful ripening fruit on them... perhaps in a week or two?

The pictures are: 1) Greasy beans spreading over their trellis. 2)Celosia getting ready to bloom. 3)The first zinnia. 4)Rows of mulched peppers, tomatoes, and tomatillos. 5)Tomatoes in flowers.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Nearly ten years ago, when I lived in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, I discovered mulberries. Actually, my dog, Kerouac, discovered them. There was a row of mulberry trees towering over the sidewalk a street or two from our house. Early summer, Kerouac got so excited about the purple covered sidewalks, I couldn't drag him away from there... when I was finally able to get him away, his white muzzle was stained purple and sometimes he would get the hiccups, he'd have eaten so many berries. The trees were so tall: at least 60 feet above the sidewalk, and the ripe berries fell to the ground and smashed when they did... but they were sweet, and irresistible to the dog...

Fast forward to 2011, here in Hutton. There is a bush next to one of our lilac bushes that burst into flower, and as the late spring progressed, I kept waiting for it to burst into blooms... but one day Kerouac went crazy underneath it, and when he looked up at me, wagging, his face was stained purple, I realized we had mulberries. The tree was more of a twenty-foot tall shrub, but still, the same berries I remembered. I harvested the berries by hand that year, eating a lot of them as I pulled them off the branches. I put them in yogurt, and I made a free-form tart out of them, but didn't feel I had utilized them as well as I could have. I also discovered the berries rather late in the season.

Last year, we had no mulberries because of a late freeze that killed them all. It was part of a very sad year for fruit here at Three Persimmon Farm... where the only fruit we had were the persimmons harvested in the fall. But this spring has been wet, cool., and honestly, rather glorious. The pear tree and both apple trees are laden with ripening fruit. And the branches of the mulberry bush (or tree) are hanging down, full of ripening sweet berries. 

Yesterday around noon, I took an old sheet and lay it underneath a section of mulberry branches and then shook the branches as dozens and hundreds of ripe fruit fell onto the sheet. Ten minutes of work yielded over 3 quarts of berries. I picked through them and washed them, and then made a mulberry cobbler recipe I found online... It turned out perfect: a crisp and sweet crust (made even better because our vegetable shortening had gone bad so I had to use lard) and underneath, two cups of whole mulberries mixed with cornstarch and sugar that had congealed into a lovely semi-sweet custard. It may be the best cobbler I've ever made.

This afternoon I used the rest of the berries to make mulberry preserves. I used Pomona's Universal Pectin, agave nectar, lime juice, and mulberries... And I do think it is the best preserve or jam I have made... If you haven't had mulberries, you don't quite know how wonderful they are. They are not as sweet as blackberries, but look similar: tight rather seeded berries that ripen to a luscious reddish-black. They attract a lot of bugs: spiders and little tiny winged bugs that probably just add to their protein content. The berries have a hint of sweetness, but overwhelmingly taste earthy, almost almond-like. I feel like their flavor is a truly unique, and fading, flavor... Yet another old-fashioned taste that I have fallen in love with, along with ground cherries and persimmons... The preserves I made are delicious, if I say so myself, with the nutty, yet sweet flavor of the berries surrounded by a bright citrus flavor form the limes and agave. I will be making more of these preserves this week, as this is only the first of several harvests from the mulberry bush... 

Even though the garden isn't completely planted, at least we are able to harvest other things from the garden... and it feels like this is only the beginning of a great year of harvests and food from the garden.

Below are pictures : First, the mulberry bush. Second a single mulberry in my hand. Third, yesterday's cobbler. Fourth: the mulberries after running them through the food mill. Fifth the mulberry preserves ready to be jarred. Sixth: the finished product, waiting to be enjoyed...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tomatoes are finally in the garden!

It is already the fifth of June, but only today was I able to get some tomatoes transplanted into the garden. With all the storms and rain last week (almost 5" of rain fell here!) the garden was just way too wet to even walk around in it, let alone dig holes for plants. 

But this afternoon when I got home from work the ground in the two fourteen foot long rows I prepped last week was just right for planting. So I picked out two varieties of tomatoes to plant. In one row, I planted thirteen Taxi tomatoes. I grew these last year, and they were some of our tastiest and most consistent tomatoes from the garden. The plants were prolific and produced even, sweet yellow plum-sized fruits all season long. The second variety I planted today is something called the Rainbow Cherry Blend. I ordered them from Botanical Interests, out of Colorado, and they say that the blend will produce a variety of tasty cherry-sized fruits in colors from red to orange to green to purple and white... I am pretty excited about them  

Elsewhere in the garden, most of the seeds I planted are up. Okra, cucumbers, squash, arugula, radishes, and more... Of course with all the rain, the weeds are up too... 

We are supposed to get more rain tonight and tomorrow, but I am hoping that we don't get too much so I can get much more planted this weekend... Here is hoping to a weekend without too much rain... we haven't had a rain-free weekend in many, many weeks...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The First Harvest

A couple of days ago, I walked out to the asparagus patch. I hadn't been out there in a while, and I was excited to find a patch of perfect asparagus among the weeds: spears about 8" tall and perfectly pliable. I picked all that were ready, and walked down toward the second patch, only to find the asparagus on the brink of flowering out. I went ahead and picked it, knowing it will try again. And, knowing the tiny branches taste perfectly fine, and are very good sauteed. So I picked all of that, too, hoping that the plants will produce another round of spears. Yesterday I picked the first bunch of broccoli raab from the raised beds. I picked about a half a pound of bright green mustard-tasting leaves, florets, and perky yellow flowers. Today I pulled about eight perfect radishes from the raised beds and picked enough lettuce from the raised bed to make a big salad. I put all of those things together with some sausage and pasta and feta cheese and made a delicious meal. So excited to be eating fresh food from the garden. I served the lettuce leaves whole, with sliced raw radishes, dressed simply with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Kosher salt and cracked pepper. I sauteed the asparagus and broccoli raab in the fat from the sausages and chicken stock with garlic, then added feta at the end. 

Beyond the pleasures of the tastes on the table, knowing that the vegetables were from the garden, and how they were grown, just added so much to the flavor. This is why I garden!

The first picture is the Broccoli Raab after I picked it. The second, of all the veggies before I made dinner, and the last picture is of the meal!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What a Difference a Week Makes

A week ago, I was making contingency plans for the garden. It had been raining so much and so frequently, that I figured it would be at least two more weeks before the garden would be dry enough to support a tractor. 

I spent much of the weekend repotting seedlings into larger pots because they were getting much too large under the lights. But as I was inside the seed room getting muddy, outside the weather was sunny but cool. And windy. And that wind made all the difference. When I got home Monday afternoon I noticed that the garden plot had been mowed down and disced. When I got home on Tuesday, the garden had been meticulously tilled. We have a neighbor who tilled the garden last year. He tills every garden on our block, actually. It can be stressful not having complete control over when the garden gets tilled, but I know that after Frank tills the garden, it is going to be like butter. Grainy, deliciously rich butter. 

So now the garden is ready to plant. I will start hardening off the seedlings this weekend, (when it is a little cooler and less windy, hopefully) I may put some seeds in the ground this weekend, and finish planning the whole garden. It is very exciting, very exciting indeed!

The first picture is the garden plot Monday afternoon. The second, Tuesday afternoon!