Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Early Mornings, Late Nights, Busy Weekends, Messy Kitchens

Endeavoring to grow your own food, and put it up for the winter, is a pretty big commitment. I remember with fondness, the July heat wave which got me out of bed half an hour early (I am NOT a morning person) each day to water the garden for several weeks in a row. Now it is the late nights. It happens several times a week. You get home from a long day work and running some errands, sort the mail, grab a glass of wine, and head out the garden by six o'clock to pick some beans for supper. As you are picking beans, you realise there are more here than "just for supper". Five minutes turns into twenty. You go to the garden shed for another container.

Looks like another tomato evening. It was bound to happen sooner or later. If you get dinner started first, you calculate that you can get the tomatoes washed and cored and in the oven by 7. That means they will be done by 9:30, and with luck, you can grind them and simmer them down by 10:30 or so and have that last pot washed and put away before 11 pm.

Some nights you are faced with the biggest, heaviest, ugliest hod full of slicing tomatoes that have to be gotten rid of.

They still look kinda pretty all chunked up and ready to roast. But, by the time the movie or TV shows run out, you still have some pretty runny tomato sauce and you're just not interested in monitoring a pot of sauce until the wee hours of morning. This is one of the hazards of growing too many slicing tomatoes. So I tasted this runny sauce and I said to myself, "Self, what you have here is not tomato sauce. It's tomato soup."

And pretty good tomato soup at that. In fact, what this tomato base is begging to be is Minstrone Soup. Maybe tomorrow.

Another fact of heirloom gardening tomato season is the seed saving. Soon, my kitchen counter is full of juice glasses full of seed gel. There are even some on my window sill at work. I wonder what the cleaning crew thinks is in them? The gel must be allowed to mold to separate the seeds from the goo. It's not an attractive process. It breeds fruit flies. WHERE do they come form? It's NOT something you want to spill on your counter. Trust me. When disturbed it can stink to high heaven.

When the mold experiment has successfully concluded, rinse the seeds until all you're left with is seeds, and dump them through a tea strainer.

Arrange them on wax paper or paper plates to dry over night and put them in an envelope, or one of those minuscule zip lok bags that the extra buttons for your shirt came in. The paper plates are nice because you can write on them what variety you're drying.

The larger weekend projects continue. The potatoes are dug and the bed mulched and tilled for next year.

All the onions have been pulled, dried and braided for storage.

The potatoes are washed, dried in the wind, and stored in the basement.

But there are still potatoes in our future. This is what's left of the Great Potato Pot Experiment. There is only one plant in this pot, although I started with 6. I also started with two pots. The main lesson I learned with the Great Potato Pot Experiment is DON'T WATER THEM. They will do just fine on rain water alone, and will be quite happy waiting three weeks for rain. The one day I watered them I killed all but this plant.

And the bush beans are beautiful. The first planting was so discouraging due to the hot dry weather in July. The plants, beaten down by cycles of wilting and watering, allowed the bean tips to touch the ground. The yield was very poor, with small beans that were all curled from being stubbed against the ground. The plants looked anemic and miserable and I happily pulled them out way before their time and started lettuce in their place. The lettuce is shown in the potato drying photo. It will soon be ready to pick lightly, although you will notice, that after 4 months of gardening I didn't have the patience to plant the seeds in any sort of order. I just scratched up the soil, strewed them around and watered them in. I kept filling in the bare spots with the remaining seeds and now I have a pretty even crop coming up in various stages.

I have to say it... I'm looking forward to fall with it's mums and pumkins. There will be plenty of food and hibernation can begin.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Ladies and Gentlemen, we have found a yummy "green when ripe" tomato! Which is great because I love the concept, but the last variety I tried tasted like... well, dirt. I got this variety in a trade. I was looking forward to it. It is a big, robust plant, and when the first one ripened, I was just going to slice it up for dinner.

The fits bite was so good, I stopped what I was doing and got out the bread and mayo! This ones is a keeper. It reminded me very much of the Ananas Noir, which I will probably forego next year in favor of Absinthe. The Absinthe was bred from crosses of Emeraude, Aunt Ruby's German Green (my former "dirt" tasting tomato), and Evergreen. One line of them is outcrossed to everyone's favorite Brandywine, and I'm not sure which version I have. Created by Alan Bishop in the mid 2000's, it is green, trending towards yellow when ripe with an occasional shot through of red. It is a medium, oblate, slicer, Beefsteak type, ripening midseason.

Now what attracted me first to this tomato was the wonderful name. As with most "heirloom" type tomatoes, half of the fun is the story and the name and any intriguing connotations it may have. Absinthe the tomato is well named although that is not it's sole attraction.

Absinthe, the alcoholic drink,has been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and was therefore banned in the United States. According to Wikipedia, it is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as "grande wormwood", together with green anise and sweet fennel. Absinthe traditionally has a natural green colour but can also be colourless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the "green fairy" in French). Absinthe underwent a surge in popularity in the 1990s and the ban has now been lifted in the US. I first heard of it as the drink of choice by W.C. Fields character Egbert Souse' in the Black Pussy Cafe.

More from Wikipedia: Traditionally, absinthe is prepared by placing a sugar cube on top of a specially designed slotted spoon and then placing the spoon on the glass which has been filled with a shot of absinthe. Ice-cold water is then poured or dripped over the sugar cube so that the water is slowly and evenly displaced into the absinthe, typically 1 part absinthe and 3 to 5 parts water. During this process, components not soluble in water (mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise) come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche (French for "opaque" or "shady"). Releasing these components allows herbal aromas and flavours to "blossom" or "bloom" and brings out subtleties originally over-powered by the anise. This is often referred to as "The French Method."

photo courtesy Wikipedia

photo courtesy Wikipedia

So there you have it. An interesting and unique tomato named after an intersting and unique. drink

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Hoe-I Hoe and hope for potatoes

Potatoes are a crop of anticipation. You don't know what your harvest will be until you start digging.

I have three kinds planted. Norland to the left, Kennebec in the middle, and Pontiac to the right. Norland is a 70 day variety, and the Kennebec and Pontiacs are both 120 days. The Norlands are beginning to get pretty ragged. Potatoes and tomatoes are both from the nightshade family, so they suffer from the same diseases. Septorial spec, and late blight usually begin working on them around the same time.

So I decided to dig some early potatoes. They have been in the ground 63 days. It's so much fun to scoop away the dirt and find perfect potatoes hiding beneath. I dug 2 plants and yielded 5 potatoes each.

I laid them out in the sun to dry along with some onions. The tops are just beginning to fall over so I am pulling them selectively giving the remaining onions room to grow.

Beyond them is my row of dwarf zinnias. These are really cute little plants. I love zinnias, but hate the mess they make when they topple over, so these are the perfect solution. They are Profusion Sunrise mix from Park Seed, with some Apricot Profusion mixed in.

The paste tomatoes are ripening well, and soon it will be tomato sauce time.

Besides onions, I have a lot of sweet peppers to add to the sauce.

The second planting of beans and cucumbers are doing fantastic. I pulled the first planting of both to make way for a fall crop of lettuce.

These are Sweet Success cucumbers. The plants are doing very well. They seem more compact than the Marketmore, as well as being resistant to mildew. But the cucumbers themselves are not as nice looking. They are very sweet, and there are plenty of them, but the skin is dark and coarse and has a lot of blemishes.

Here is the third and experimental planting of cucumbers... just HOW late can you plant them? These went in the third week of June direct seeded. The White Pearl are doing quite well, but the Marketmores right beside them are still pretty sluggish. They have put out a blossom or two, so I guess the experiment is a success.

This is the third planting of bush beans from the third week of July. They are doing fine, and the Gotta Have It sweet corn, which is so fussy to grow in zone 5, looks like it wasn't a waste of time after all. The bushy catnip on the end of the bed is attracting hoards of bumble bees.

I also have some very nice chard.

And these sunflowers are now over 10 feet tall.

Besides peaches, Aunt Pat and Laurie brought us this adorable little planter fashioned after a sink. I spent about 10 minutes at the garden center untangling this half price black eyed susan vine from a flat of pitiful leftovers, and it is really taking off. There are a dozen or more buds on it, and it will add some fall color to the patio.