the last of the tomatoe harvest

Posted on November 06, 2010
Even though we are half way through autumn, for me, summer officially ended last night, with the death of my four remaining tomato vines. Last night's lost was particularly hard because after a summer of almost no tomatoes, my few remaining plants were making up for lost time. In the last six weeks I have harvested 46 pounds of slicers and 16 pints of cherry tomatoes. Usually I see harvests like this in July and August, not October and November. I did not want it to end, but yesterday afternoon, as temps were falling, I quickly picked every remaining tomato and the stuffed the biggest, watertight container I could find with the few remaining summer flowers. This morning as I walked out to the garden to uncover the salad greens, I could hear the frozen grass crunching under my feet. But lasts nights killing freeze does not mean the end to the growing season. I still have plenty of cold hard leafy greens in the garden to cook with. Kale, chard, collards, raab, lettuce, arugula, turnips, and onions laugh at cool weather.


sunchoke flower

Posted on October 29, 2010
A friend once told me, that all the gardeners she knew were happy people. Well it turns out there is scientific research to back her up. I just read in the Oct/Nov issue of Organic Gardening, that researchers have discovered a organism in soil that increases our serotonin levels, making us more relaxed, happier and smarter. The short article left me with more questions than answers, like should I garden gloveless? So I googled mycobacterium vaccae, and found tons of info.

It turns out that Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural, harmless soil bacterium. Researchers think we ingest or breath it in when we spend time in nature. This got me to thinking, a bacteria would not live in the sterile soil environment created when chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used. Yet another reason to avoid chemicals in the garden.

I always assumed, that the happy feeling I had while gardening, came from being exposed to cheerful flowers like the sunchoke pictured above. I still think flowers and all the vitamin D I absorb help, but so does getting dirty. So, the computer code I have been writing can wait, I am going out to spend some time in the sunshine, getting dirty.

You can read more about this here:


Fish Tacos with Chipotle Mayo Sauce

Posted on October 22, 2010
After my last post, and the discussion about out of season foods, food miles, and if our small actions even help, I decided to confess. While most of the food we eat is local or regional, we are not purists, or perfect. Because I can grow asparagus or purchase it locally I would never buy the stuff from Peru that is for sale at Whole Foods right now. But I can't grow bananas or pineapple. I have tried; they were fun but unsuccessful experiments. So I do buy bananas and pineapple. But I don't buy them all the time and usually not when there are abundant local choices. However, when we do consume bananas, or chocolate it is with awareness of the total cost and impact our consumption has.

I usually serve fish tacos in the summer, but it has been unseasonably warm and I had a pineapple that I thought would be great on them. Mango is the traditional fruit served on fish tacos, however I usually use local or regional peaches, then I don't suffer food miles guilt. But what made these tacos, topped with pineapple and cabbage great, was the chipotle mayo sauce.

I know you are probably thinking mayonnaise is not very authentic, but the first time we visited Mexico I was surprised to find they use it a lot. They even have a song about it called Mayonesa, check it out on Yo. But I digress, back to the recipe. If you can't find chipotle powder you can make your own by grinding chipotles in a coffee grinder.

fish, prepared to your liking
tortillas, flour or corn

lime juice
chipotle powder
cilantro, minced

cabbage, thinly sliced
pineapple, mango or peaches, cubed

A few hours before serving toss the cabbage with lime juice and salt and let sit in the fridge until ready to use. At the same time make the sauce. I have not given amounts, just combine everything to taste.

Just before serving prepare the fish and heat the tortillas. I assume you know how to assemble a taco...


Prairie Sunflower

Posted on October 17, 2010
This is a prairie sunflower. It is the last showy perennial to bloom in my garden every year. Because it's tall and bright, I can see it from almost anywhere in the garden right now, and from the kitchen window. I even have a vase of these cheerful flowers sitting in the entry hall.

The longer I'm on this journey to eat seasonally the more it spreads to other areas of my life, like the fresh flowers I keep in the house. I once read, where Dr. Andrew Weil suggests, that a lot of health issues might be triggered by our disconnect to nature. He recommends keeping fresh flowers around as one way to bridge that gap. I think his recommendation should go one step further. The flowers should be seasonal.

For years I have been appalled that watermelon is available in the supermarket in winter, or that I can buy asparagus in August. Now I'm seeing the same thing with flowers. You can buy sunflowers in January, and tulips July. Something just does not feel right about having a vase of sunflowers in the house when it's cold out. It's like eating watermelon in winter. Wateremelon is a refreshing treat, in the summer, when it is hot, but when it's cold out, I want something more solid and filling.

We now live in a world where we can have anything at anytime. But just because we can, should we? What do you think?


Bird-voiced Tree Frog

Posted on October 05, 2010
After a chilly start to the day, I decided to have lunch in a sunny spot near the pond. The pond that we built especially to attract frogs, who would keep the garden mosquito and slug free. While soaking up the warm sun, I noticed I was not alone. This Bird-voiced Tree Frog was also sunning himself. He is no bigger than a quarter, and blends so well with the cattail leaf he was perched on, that I almost missed him.

Last week I discovered tadpoles; I think they are Southern Leopard Frogs, but I have never heard of a Bird-voiced Frog until today, when I looked this guy up. So maybe next year the garden will be mosquito free. Well, I can hope, right?


tomato cages wrapped in agribon

Posted on October 04, 2010
That is the question I pondered all day yesterday. The weather forecast was for overnight lows in the mid 30's and I was trying to decide what to do about my tomatoes. Like all gardeners, I have, at times, gone to heroic efforts to save tomato plants from the first frost. However several years ago, a friend explained to me that tomato flavor diminishes once nightly temps are below 50. That was the same year I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and the pantry shelves sagged under the weight of jars and jars of tomato and pizza sauce. I was tired of harvesting and processing tomatoes. So for the first year ever, I pulled out my plants before they were killed by a freeze and seeded cold hardy greens in their place.

This year, however, the pantry is empty, and the few tomato plants, that did not die over this very hot summer, are finally lush and loaded with fruit. Most of the tomatoes are still green and need just a little more time. I know they won't be as tasty as any I harvest in August, but they will be very local.

So, I wrapped agribon around the edges of the bed, using clothespins to secure the fabric to the tomato cages. Since the row cover allows light, air and water through, I plan to leave it in place until the nights warm. At night I throw old quilts over the top and hope for warmer temps.


pasta with cherry tomatoes

Posted on October 03, 2010
The June/July issue of "Organic Gardening" printed this recipe by Deborah Madison. It is great to make when you have tons of cherry tomatoes.

3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/3 cup pitted nicoise olives
6 basil leaves, slivered
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound pasta (she called for shells, I used bow tie)
dash balsamic vinegar

Bring a pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl mix, tomatoes, shallot, garlic, olive oil, capers, olives, basil, salt and pepper. Cook pasta according to directions on the box. Drain and add to the bowl along with vinegar. Serves 3.


Posted on October 02, 2010
Andria asked that I expand on my experience harvesting amaranth. Mother Earth News has a wonderful article with great pictures explaining all the steps, so I am going to focus on what I learned.

After my second round of winnowing I still had a ton of chaff, so I poured everything through my kitchen colander, which sifted out the bigger pieces. But I still had to winnow many more times. And I still did not get all the chaff out. In the original post photo, the lighter specs are chaff. Since amaranth is so tiny, getting it completely clean is really hard.

At first I was grabbing small handfuls and letting the contents stream out, in front of the fan, a little at a time. This was time consuming so I eventually just started pouring it from one container to another.

The most important thing I learned was, grains, even expensive ones, are cheap when you consider all that goes into growing, harvesting and cleaning them.

I am embarrassed to report, that having done all the work to harvest and clean the amaranth, I still have not eaten it. I cannot figure out how to use it. I tired popping it, but burned most of the seeds. I have tried popping before with purchased amaranth. Only once was I successful. Cooking it like oatmeal does not appeal to me, so now I am trying to sprout some of it. If it ever sprouts, I will let you know how it taste. And if anyone has a yummy recipe that calls for amaranth, please share.


White Beans with Basil and Pine Nuts

Posted on September 29, 2010
Back in early summer, when I had dill growing everywhere in the garden, I was making this yummy dish a lot. Dill grows quickly setting seed and dying about the time basil takes off. In a month or so I will have plenty of dill again, volunteers from my spring planting. Until then, I have adapted the recipe to take advantage of the basil and cherry tomatoes that are plentiful in my garden right now.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste

2-4 tablespoons butter
3 cups cooked white beans, firm (see note below)
1/2 cup thinly sliced young onions or scallions
1/3-1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, basil, salt and peppers in a small bowl. Stir and set aside.

In your largest skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter, add beans in a single layer to the skillet and cook until they begin to brown.

Remove the skillet from the heat and the onions mixing well. Add the dressing and pine toss until combined, being careful not to mash the beans. Toss in the tomatoes and serve. I like this dish slightly warm. Serves 2-3 as a main dish.

Note: I rarely use canned beans, preferring to cook mine in a small pressure cooker. I rinse the beans, cover them with plenty of water and bring to a boil. I turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 2 hours. Then I drain, rinse, and cover the beans with fresh water that comes about and inch over the top of the beans. I pressure cook according to the directions on my cooker, which is 10 minutes at 2 bars. Usually I let the pressure come down on its own, but for this recipe to work I needed the beans to be whole and firm. So I ran cold water over the lid to bring the pressure down so I could open the lid. They were cooked perfectly. If they were still hard I would have boiled them for a few minutes longer without a lid.


passion vine over garden shed door

Posted on September 25, 2010
I'll admit it, I'm bug geek. I love insects of all kinds (except harlequin beetles, squash bugs, cucumber beetles and cabbage loopers). This fascination dates back to my childhood when I kept live butterflies in my bedroom. I have a real soft spot for butterflies (except for the cabbage butterfly). So last week, when I found this scary looking guy

munching on the purple passion vine flowers, draped over the shed door, I was curious. What was its adult form? My husband speculated it was a moth. He was wrong,

it's a gulf fritillary. This morning I noticed all the flowers on the passion vine had been eaten, and the vine was covered with tons of spiky caterpillars. Oh well, I often consider butterflies, flying flowers. Soon the garden will be filled with orange.