Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wild Plum Jelly

Jelly is FUN! For one thing, I'm enjoying the suprise of finding those long forgotten plums. And while tomatoes and pickles are useful they are pretty common. "Wild Plum Jelly" not only makes a pretty and tasty gift, but it even sounds wholesome, creative and rare.

Since I've never made jelly, I got out my old Ball Blue Books and Canning bulletins from post WWI and read up on the process. I noted that the older booklets mentioned "Greengages" which , it turns out, is what these plums really are. Which variety is a mystery. I also found that I not only had exactly the right weight of plums for one batch, but they were picked at the right time. You make jelly out of slightly under ripe plums because they have a higher pectin content, and pectin is the stuff that makes jelly jell. If you have really ripe plums, you are better of making jam. If you aren't aware of the difference, jelly is made from clear fruit juice. Jam is made from the flesh of the fruit mashed up.

I did some more Googling, and found some more romantic and interesting plum info. Cooking with Plums from Country Living, and a bit of a field guide for guessing which variety of Greengage we might have here. Pretty Plum Prints

I spent two evenings making Jelly. The first evening, I made the juice. Five pounds of plums was expected to yield 5 1/2 cups of juice. The instructions called for crushing the fruit, but they didn't suggest how to go about this. At first, I cut a couple of plums open to remove the pits. I could see right away that I was going to lose valuable juice material doing this, so instead, I circumscribed each plum with a paring knife and pulled them apart, leaving the pits in. This let me check each plum, cut out any major blemishes, and discard the bruised ones. I ended up with only three rejects, and very few spots cut out.

The next instruction was to add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water per quart of prepared plums. This is just to keep them from scorching to the bottom of the pan when you first put them on the heat. I underestimated, and added a cup. After half an hour covered on medium heat, they were bubbling away. I pressed a few against the side to check that they were soft without mashing too much flesh into the juice. I was amazed at the amount of juice which had appeared out of nowhere.

The next task was to get that juice drained. Here is where the older booklets were more detailed and helpful. Plus I remember my Grandmother making currant jelly. I have a clear memory of the currants hanging in cheese cloth from the towel bar of her wood cookstove. This part I knew....

I always stock some very tight knit cheese cloth. We use it for straining Glogg. Glogg is something you will just have to wait until November to find out about. Anyway, I cut a large piece of it and developed a strategic plan for getting the mush in the cloth, and the juice in the pot.

Over the past few weeks I've gotten quite adept at handling boiling liquid. I did wait until this had cooled a bit which was wise since I was a little cavalier about my volumes and whether they would fit in my chosen receptacles.

As soon as I gathered the cheesecloth and tied it into a bundle I knew I had most of my juice already. But the instructions suggested I leave the mush in the bag overnight, so I did.

I got most of my 5 cups of juice right away, and I was delighted with the color and clarity. It was beautiful, the color of ruby red grapefruit juice. And TART! But no matter, we're going to add 7 cups of sugar. Yes, 7 cups of sugar to 5 cups of juice. This isn't health food.

And I proved that there was a whole bunch of pectin in this batch of plums. The next day when I dumped the mush, it had solidified into the consistency of Playdough. It was really ugly and brain-like. Tim suggested I not take a photo of it, and just get it out of the house and into the compost pile where it belonged. I think he found it rather creepy, hanging there from it's noose dripping into a pot.

I put the juice in the fridge, and didn't get back to it until two days later. That's the beauty of jelly! Procrastination.

The canning process seemed pretty easy. Standard canning process, but only 10 minutes in the bath. Abbreviated canning! There was just the complication of the whole messy jelling process. Once my jars were ready and heating in the water, I got the juice up to temperature, adding first the pectin, then the massive amount of sugar, which I had premeasured so I wouldn't lose track. Mixing the jelly is much like making jello. Everything is sticky, and soon every piece of cookware you own is covered in a film of goo. And when jelly decides to boil, it gives no warning. One moment you are stirring pretty pink juice, and in an instant you are dealing with a bubbling cauldron.

I ladled the juice into the hot jars, being careful to avoid the solids that were trying to develop in the pot. I tried to remind myself this was my first try and I wasn't preparing a State Fair entry, but nonetheless, I was very particular about the quality I was trying to achieve, and very pleased with the results. I had pans of hot tap water to set each jar in as I filled them three at a time. Then I cooked two batches in the canning bath for ten minutes each. As I was picking them out of the bath, the seals were already beginning to pop. I was so intent on getting the jelly into the jars, I almost forgot to lick the spoon! It tasted better than I had anticipated, but tomorrow's breakfast will tell the tale...

And now the best part... I get to give them away!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Fruit Swap is On

My grandmother used to do what we called "fruiting". She loved fruit as much as I love vegetables. She was no gardener, but she was a heck of a picker. She knew unerringly when the Strawberries, Blueberries, Cherries, Peaches and Grapes should be ready, and she would head out into fruit country to pick them, then distribute them along her route of family houses until everyone had been "fruited". I don't know when the fruit is ripe. I need a sign. One on the roadside that says "U-Pick Strawberries" is a pretty good clue.

Anyway, we've kept up the swapping with the veggies and fruit, making sure everyone shares the wealth of whatever we have too much of. Today as I was leaving Mom's house, she told me to stop and pick myself some Pineapple tomatoes from her garden. Those are one of our favorite slicing tomatoes, and my plant turned out to be an imposter. The plant I gave her is what it should be and she is getting some beautiful tomatoes


My mother's gardening philosophy is opposite from mine. Whereas my tomatoes lead structured lives, planted neatly in rows, pruned and tied tidely to stakes, Mom's tomatoes grow with wild abandon mingling with raspberries, asparagus and squash, creating a jungle like wall of tomatoes. Picking tomatoes with Mom is like a treasure hunt. We crawl on our knees, forcing our way deeper into the bush, prying tomatoes from the grip of intertwined stems.

But her results are as good, often better than mine.

Mom shows off a cluster of four Barlow Jap tomatoes.

Zucchini and cherry tomatoes

A salvaged step ladder makes a unique pole bean support

A couple of weeks ago, as I was out riding around the family farm, I spied some wild plums growing along a fence line. Mom says there used to be a plum tree at the other end, but now, all of a sudden, there are four or five clumps of plum "bush" and they are loaded with plums.

We checked them today and they are beginning to ripen. I tasted one and it was amazingly sweet, every bit as good as a large black plum. Where these came from and what they have been hiding all these years is a mystery. Because this fence line, before it was used as a horse paddock, bordered the kitchen garden of the farm homestead, I can only imagine that sometime in the last two hundred years, some farm wife took pits and skins out to the edge of the field and dumped them. This years growing season proved to be ideal conditions, and we have a surprise bumper crop of wild plums.

Mom picked five pounds of them and declared that due to their varied sizes, their best use would be plum jelly. Then she put them in my car.
I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tomato Day

Yesterday turned into "Tomato Day". I had a large and varied assortment of tomatoes collecting on the dining room table, and it was obvious that something was going to have to be done. There are only so many tomatoes one person can slice and eat! I'm beginning to get tired of eating. There are always tomatoes to "deal" with. For some reason, the green beans are not quite so threatening. I mean, people don't make movies titled "the Green Bean that Ate Green Bay." Green beans, and summer squash for that matter, don't take over your kitchen and threaten to leave puddles of juice and attract fruit flies. I hemmed and hawed over breakfast, and finally got down to the business of sorting tomatoes.

First, with an eye to what is coming ripe in the garden, I set aside a nice Dr. Wyche for lunch and an under ripe Barlow Jap for "just in case". One thing I've been wanting to do is try my hand at some pasta sauce. I sorted out the deeply red, ribbed Costoluto Genovese and some Amish paste for this. Everything else, the Ananas Noirs, Black Krims, mystery varieties et. al. needed to be canned. This time was less stressful. Mostly because it wasn't the first time in two years. And also because, I just sort of woke up and thought "hmmmm, think I'll can some tomatoes", as if I were acting on a whim and not launching a strategic offensive against the ultimatum thrown down by Mother Nature. It went much smoother. I followed all the same steps as before, right down to removing the rug. I did learn a lesson from the cracked jar. As I stuffed each jar, I set it on the stove top in the "for good measure" pot which I had turned off, but was still hot. This made me a little less frantic during the jar stuffing phase.

I broke for lunch, and made that nice, yellow Dr. Wyche into BLTs. And then it was on to the sauce!

I happened to be watching the Food Network one day, and the guy was making sauce and it looked so simple. I printed the instructions off the internet and saved it. It turned out to be quite easy. You start with 20 paste tomatoes, wash them, halve and de-seed them, and bake them for a few hours. Yup, it was that easy. It became immediately apparent why the two chambered paste tomatoes are favored because they only have two (or three) globs of seeds. The ribbed Costoluto Genovese were more of a hassle since every convoluted bulge contains a group of seeds. Still, it didn't take long. I sprayed some Pam in a baking dish, loaded it up with tomatoes and sprinkled seasoning on them. Into a 325 degree oven, and within 10 minutes, the whole house smelled like Italy!
While they baked for 2 hours, I did some house keeping and made a batch of fresh salsa (more tomatoes). After two hours, you turn the oven up to 400, and bake another 40 minutes. This happens to be the right time and temp for an eggplant to roast, so I stuck one in and made Baba Ganush on the side.

Now for the fun part. All you do is scoop these baked tomatoes into a food mill and grind them into sauce. Now I know you always get the caution to use non-metallic everything with tomatoes because the acids react with the metal and make the tomatoes taste funny. Well, I didn't have a non-reactive food mill, so I went ahead and used the old one I have. I didn't notice much difference, but maybe some day I'll have a special tomato mill and then we'll find out for sure.

The first few tomatoes didn't do much. I looked in the pan and there was some red water. I thought this was never going to work. How much sauce could you get this way? I got a bit more aggressive, and the next time I looked in the pan, there was SAUCE. Well, I'll be doggone! I tweaked the seasonings a bit, and simmered it down. I ended up with a brimming full quart of thick sauce. I think tomorrow I'll add some home made meatballs, and we'll see how it tastes.

When all was said and done, I had four quarts of tomatoes, one quart of sauce, a batch of salsa, Baba Ganush, and one lonely Barlow Jap tomato. Down to one tomato! It's a miracle. Then a neighbor stopped by for some wine in the garden, and the lone tomato followed them home. I was tomatoless! But that was yesterday.

And tomorrow... these will need to be canned.
In fact, I think I'll do an experiment. They are all at the same point of ripeness (wonderful trait in a canning tomato variety) so I will can them, but freeze one bag. I've always been skeptical that freezing will alter the taste in a non-favorable way. I hate refrigerated tomatoes. But, I think I'm about done canning for this year. So, having one canned and one frozen from the same plant on the same day, will tell the tale. These are the Giant Pear 76 which is an Italian strain of the Giant Pear. There are 11 tomatoes all ready to go at once, and they're HUGE. Should be fun!

**FOOTNOTE: This morning I canned 3 pints of Giant Pear tomatoes, and froze 3 pints as a taste test. I love love love those tomatoes. Their skin slipped beautifully, and they are very meaty. I think I liked working with them better than the Amish Paste tomatoes that were in with the batch.
And the sauce was great on spaghetti!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fall Planting

Yes, it's already that time of year. In fact, it's past that time for me. My first fall planting has been in the ground over two weeks. My planting consists of bush beans, peas and carrots. This is the summer squash bed where the Borage finally got so disheveled, I couldn't maintain it anymore. That all got pulled out, and the new seeds went in.

To determine the time for fall planting, find your area's average last frost date, calculate the days of growing time your variety needs, and count backwards. In zone 5, our rule of thumb, is the peas go in after the second full moon in July. That takes the calculations out for me and simplifies things. Plus, I like the idea of planting by the moon .

Two years ago I had a great crop of bush beans. The peas were coming along great, but we took down the garden around them which was a hassle, and they were impossible to protect from the deer. I set up barriers of every tomato cage I owned, covered by frost fabric, and the deer got tangled in it and ripped it all up. Now, with the permanent garden, I no longer have those worries. I could even leave root crops in over the winter if I choose.

I actually squeezed FIVE rows into this bed. From left to right are:
Blue Lake Bush Bean
Maestro garden pea (recommended for fall planting)
a yet invisible row of carrots
Survivor garden pea (a leafless variety I've had great luck with)
Goldmine Bush Bean.

This photo was taken a week ago, and everything has doubled in size. I've had to water almost daily, but in the midst of high summer gardening, and the downturn of the cucumbers and summer squash, it's fun to watch something new growing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fresh Garden Salsa

This is one of my "signature" dishes. Whenever we go to a "dish to pass" party in the summer, I put together one of my fresh garden salsas. The best part of this is you can usually find all the ingredients in the garden.

You will need:
2-3 ears of sweet corn, cooked and off the cob
1 tomato
1 medium onion
2 bell peppers ( I like to use green and orange, the red color is taken care of by the tomato)
1 bottle of Italian dressing (I use one packet mix of Good Seasons)
2-3 tablesppons of lime juice to taste

1 can of black beans rinsed
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro

Chill one hour. Serve with tortilla chips (I use "Scoops" chips)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Too Many Tomatoes

I finally achieved "too many tomatoes" status this past weekend. Even after canning a batch, choosing one for lunch, and using them liberally in salads for days, I still had more tomatoes than I could eat all at once. I was so excited that I finally had a good assortment to take to my neighbor and fellow tomato nut Sheryl. Sheryl doesn't garden, but she loves tomatoes. Last summer I promised that this year, when the garden was in full swing, I would bring her a sampling. Sunday I was able to put together a little gift basket and a handwritten list of what they were. This little basket of tomatoes looks like a wonderful present to me. I hope she enjoyed them.

Pink~ Barlow Jap (PaPaw's tomato)
Green ~ Ananas Noire (One of my favorites)
Golden ~ Dr. Wyche (new to me this year, and a great yellow variety that I will grow again)
Yellow ~ Super Snow White
Green shouldered cherry ~ Black Cherry (new to me this year and just beginning to ripen)
And of course a sprinkling of the Sun Gold cherries.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yes You Can ~ Tomatoes

What do you do with a whole mess of unwanted tomatoes? When I say "unwanted" what I mean is these are a varieties that Mom and I bought on a whim, and they are not the first ones we reach for when we're making sandwiches or salads. The main harvest of the paste tomatoes for sauce is still a week or so away, and the "unwanted tomatoes are piling up. So, in the jar they go.

I've been through the canning routine before. Several times. And I am still operating on a small scale. I've decided one thing from my experience this weekend. This is a project that needs two people. Or 4 hands. Or something more. I'll just share a few of my pit falls with you and perhaps you can learn from my experience, or share some of your owns to help me get better organised.

The first thing I do is turn on the central air. Because, let's face it... any self respecting mid-century farm wife, in my situation, had she had the opportunity, would have turned on the central air. And I have it, so canning day is one of the top 3 reasons to use it. Then, I empty my kitchen. I don't mean "clear a work space". I mean empty my kitchen. Saturday is the day I clean, and when I clean the kitchen, I really do take everything save the appliances right out. Ask my husband. For this photo, I left the pictures on the wall, and the towels on the stove, but by the time I've cleaned up, those will be gone too! Because, after two hours of canning tomatoes, my kitchen will need to be cleaned. I even take up the braided rug. This is essential.... I already learned that lesson!

Next I assemble my canning paraphernalia, get out my trusty Ball Blue Book and station it on the dining room table where I can get to it for a referral if I feel I'm missing something. (one time I forgot to add lemon juice to increase the acidity, but the people on iDig forum assured me with heirlooms it wasn't a necessary step, and it turned out OK... as in, no one died from botulism)

Then I ask my husband to set up the turkey fryer outside the kitchen porch, and I'm ready to go.

My crew assumes their positions. Mitey Mite hunkers down in the "kitty bomb shelter". She weathers all maelstroms in the small, central room that is the linen closet. If she even thinks she hears a rumble of thunder, she heads straight in there, then cries and wonders why no one else has gone to the safe room in the center of the house. Kitchen cleaning, and canning day are a double whammy.

Tim takes the high road and heads out side to do a little "weeding" along the edge of the apple orchard. (No, I don't know how he got it cut and on the bucket with not a leaf in the lawn, all by himself... I was setting up canning.)

I assemble every large pot I own on the stove top, and start boiling about 10 gallons of water. One for the jars. One for scalding the tomatoes. One for the lids. One for good measure. I wash and core one strainer full of tomatoes. The basket turned out to hold two strainers full. The six jars turned out to hold two strainers full plus... Oh gosh, I'm out of tomatoes... plus a batch of largish "cherry tomatoes" that are good for nothing else... still not enough... plus the ripest of the Costoluto Genovese I'm saving for sauce... I dash around the house rounding up likely looking tomatoes and plunking them in the boiling water. A couple of jars end up a little light anyway, and I top them off with boiling water and remember the lemon juice this time.

This is where it becomes obvious that emptying the kitchen and scattering trivets everywhere was a wise move. I juggle stock pots full of boiling water pouring, splashing and plopping tomatoes everywhere. Sometimes I carry scalded tomatoes one at a time from the stove to the sink with tongs, squish tomatoes into jars and fish out stray pieces of skin. Tomato seeds are stuck to every surface. I get mixed up and put the tomato in the slop jar and the skin in the canning jar. I wish for an extra set of hands to core tomatoes while I stuff jars. My beloved graniteware is again pressed into service. It lends a sense of timelessness to my tomato struggle.

This time I've given the turkey fryer plenty of time to get to a rolling boil. I check it before I'm ready to put the jars in and it's boiled out a good portion of the water. I grab the "for good measure" pot and fill the canner back up, refilling and replacing the pot on the stove without ever turning off the burner. Repeated trips through the screen door lets in a blue fly and I wind up with one flip-flop on and one missing.

The jars go in the bath precisely on schedule. Eyebrows raised... how? Within minutes, the canning bath discolors. Uh-oh, I have a crack. I hope it's just one and I hope I'll be able to figure out where it is without lifting the wrong jar and having it explode tomato juice all over everything. I start the clock and head back inside to start my "real job" which is cleaning the house. Tomatoes have to simmer for 45 minutes, plus another 5 for every thousand feet above sea level. I round up and figure 55 minutes to an hour is good.

I check the fryer every ten minutes to make sure it's still burning and steaming. I trust Tim has given me a full propane tank, but I know a well placed splash can put it out. After half an hour I bring a pot of boiling water out to top it off. Ten minutes later I stick an ear out in the porch, and something doesn't sound right. The fire has gone out, but the gas is still flowing. I relight the flame and note the time. It takes 5 minutes to get a hard boil back up. I add 15 to my finish time.

At 4:10pm I turn off the flame, and pull the wire basket up to rest on the lip and cool the jars a bit. Tim brings them in for me and sets them on the stove top. I've put down a paper towel hoping to pinpoint which jar is cracked, but it's immediately obvious.

So THAT'S what happens when you dilly dally and don't keep your jars hot while filling.....The other 5 are fine.

I scurry about putting the house back together and giving the rest of it a once over with the vacuum and a swiffer duster. Tim packs a cooler of beer while I run through the shower, and we head to the neighbors to unwind. Bob and Trish, fellow gardeners, have invited us over to have a little bon fire to celebrate the harvest. I'm always eager to see what they're up to. Trish is an excellent cook, gardener and home maker and she can out do me any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

...And she's done it again. I was glad I brought my camera, but I didn't linger too long over my canning woes when I saw what they had been up to today.........

Looks like it was a banner year down at the Blanchards. But Trish understands what my day has been like. My tally for the day is 5 quarts of tomatoes. And theirs... I can't even begin to add up the poundage in my head! Oh well, we all deserve a beer anyway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's Growing ~ Super Snow White Tomato

The Super Snow White is a small, mid-season, heirloom tomato. It's heralded as a sweet tomato, but to my taste it's rather bland. That doesn't mean that it's useless! I love this little tomato, and I really missed it last year when I didn't have a garden. I did grow out a plant and give it to my mother, so I had the chance to enjoy some. It is fairly non-acidic as most yellow or orange tomatoes are, but it's nearly white, ripening to a uniform yellow. There is no mealiness to it's texture which is juicy yet firm like a good slicing tomato.
What I love about the SSW is mostly it's appearance. It can be found on my counter as still life all summer long. It's a 2 oz tomato about the size of a small chicken egg or golf ball, but some of them get a bit larger. The plants are consistent producers, and you can bet on 3-5 ripe fruit from each plant each day. Which makes it a staple in my salads all season long.

I mix it with my favorite cherry, the Sun Gold. The Sun Gold's intense sweetness and bright green seed gel are perfect on top of the neutral Snow White. I sprinkle some of my favorite Italian dressing and I have the perfect summer jewel tomato salad.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Perfect Tomato Sandwich

Now I'm not going to tell you what THE perfect tomato sandwich is, because that, my friends, is a highly personal subject. What might be MY perfect sandwich might not be anywhere near what YOUR perfect sandwich is.

This person's sandwich...

Isn't anything like this person's sandwich.

Or this sandwich....

The perfect tomato sandwich can be toasted or untoasted, plain or with meat, dressed up, or dressed down. There are only two tips I will give you. The tomato is very important. You need a home grown or local heirloom variety tomato, not one of those come-from-far-away tomatoes, and not a hybrid. And for efficiencies sake, it should be sandwich sized. You can even stack two thin slices of different varieties or colors. And secondly, the bread, dressing and seasoning does make up the other half, so they can make or break a sandwich.

I've tried various combinations. Starting with a BLT, I've discarded the useless lettuce, and enjoyed thick hot slices of home grown bacon. (Save the grease, you'll need it in the fall for fried green tomatoes.) I've wavered back and forth between Miracle Whip and Mayonnaise. I've tried multi-grain, sourdough and good ole Italian breads. And I've done a fair amount of experimentation with different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I've ruined tee shirts when juice skidded down my chin, and mooshed some tomatoes when a proper knife could not be found. I've eaten tomato sandwiches for over 30 years, and here is what I've found.

Start with some fresh Italian bread, either sliced or in a peasant loaf. Choose a vine ripened tomato of your favorite variety. My favorites are #1 my PaPaw's Barlow Jap #2 Ananas Noir (Black Pineapple) #3 Pineapple and #4 Black Krim which has a unique smokey flavor that blends marvelously with bacon. Slice a sandwich sized slice right out of the middle, using a serrated knife so you don't crush the tomato. There's nothing I hate worse than having to piece together the tomato to fit the bread and loosing a chunk towards the end. Spread a light layer of Hellman's Mayonnaise on each slice, sprinkle some seasoning on, and assemble your sandwich, slicing it down the middle for easy handling.

Some people season their sandwiches with just salt and pepper. Some prefer fancy seasoned sea salt. Others add fresh herbs, particularly basil. My personal favorite is Borsari seasoned salt. This is a sea salt with fresh garlic and herbs. It's made by a lifelong friend of mine whose grandmother brought the recipe with her from Emilia, Italy, and passed it down to him. I've enjoyed this salt in many of his dishes over the years, and have recently learned to cook with it myself. I also add a sprinkle of dried oregano to suit my taste.

Most slicing sized tomatoes will yield two sandwiches. Since refrigeration breaks down their sugar content and makes them taste awful, I've found that a sliced tomato will keep just fine for a day at room temperature if you put it sliced side down on a glass cutting board or dish. I generally save the shoulders for supper, and cube them up for a salad.

So there you have it. My idea of the perfect tomato sandwich, shown here with the first Ananas Noir of the season. Due to the hot summer, and the even hotter micro-climate of my garden, tomato sandwich season has started a full 28 days early! I've always marveled at the fact that I will work and wait and worry for four and a half months from the planting of the first seed until the slicing of the first tomato. This year was only three and a half months! But that's still a short estimate. I wait from the first frost in November, until the first juicy, warm, ripe tomato in August. Nine long months for that first perfect tomato sandwich.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Architecture of Companion Planting

It probably doesn't come as a surprise to you, but I'm a planner. I have spreadsheets and lists, and computer files for everything. My goal for the garden, is to have each bed planned to make the best use of companion planting, crop rotation and successive planting to maximise the garden output. Since last year was a non-garden year, I spent a good deal of time researching companion planting, and figuring out what was most important to grow. Throw in a bit of multi-generational farmer collective unconscious, and I have a pretty efficient plan. I was very happy with how each of my beds turned out, and with a few minor adjustments, I'm looking forward to an even more efficient layout next year.

The Cucumber/Bean/Sunflower bed is my favorite. Next year I'm going to go ahead and add a little Nasturtium to it. I started with a line of "pea fence" down the middle (I've had these for years, and they work great and store easily) with cucumbers every 8 inches or so, and sunflowers every foot. Although cucumbers are not aggressive climbers, they are climbing the sunflowers quite well. I've noted that cukes always seem to grow primarily east, probably seeking the morning sun, and not ambitious enough to follow her in her climb as the sunflowers will, turning their faces first east, then west with the sunset. (click on any photo for an enlarged view)

Then down each side I put a row of bush beans. I always wish that the plants would produce when they are mid-sized and still tidy, but by August, they resemble a rain forest, and vines are slowly creeping down the walks littering with cucumbers as they grow. Next year I will give the sunflowers and beans a head start, planting them mid-May, two to three weeks ahead of the cucumbers. At this point, you can't really distinguish bush from vine, but the beans are in there producing very well, ejoying the draw of the abundant cucumber flowers to attract the pollinators!

The sunflowers are mainly for interest. My favorite seeds are Parks Large Flowered Mix. The bumble bees enjoy them most, and I rarely have the heart to cut them and bring them inside, although, that is always the plan. Having them planted down the middle with the pea fence makes it easy to tie them up and prevent the cucumbers or the rains from pulling them over into a jumbled mess.
Another successful plan was the Summer Squash/Cucumber bed. This was actually the second succession planting of both the summer squash, and the cucumbers extending the season by several weeks. In this bed, the cucumbers are planted on a pea fence down the far side, and the squash are centered down the bed. Everyone leans east, and I left plenty of room to grow in that direction. I planted Borage from seed between each squash plant, timing it just right so the squash are supporting the Borage and keeping the heavy flower heads from leaning like the other bed where I used Borage transplants.

We've been enjoying a nice crop of our favorite cucumber Marketmore. Back in 2007, I was picking a dozen every two days, which was a little too much! This year has been just right with about two a day, and the neighbor's excess for pickling.

The pickles are great, by the way. Very crisp making the overnight liming very much worth while. Even the pickled yellow zuchini turned out good. They taste basically like normal Bread and Butter pickles, with a subtle undertone of squash.