Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When Life Gives You Cucumbers ...

We planted way too many cucumbers this year. Who knew that 8 cucumber plants would be too many? We have harvested over 50 cukes so far, and they are still coming. I think they are starting to throttle back a little though. Thank goodness! I've been pushing them off onto neighbors, family and friends, and we still have a crisper drawer full!

It was exciting to see our first cucumber forming on the vine in late June. Little did we know that they were plotting to take over the world!


We decided to pickle and can some cucumbers, so we found a couple of good looking recipes on-line and set off. It was our first time canning. I hope we did it right! We haven't tried any of the pickled cukes yet, because they are supposed to set up for 1 month before eating. I guess this is to let the spices soak in.

This recipe is pretty basic; cucumbers, kosher salt, water, vinegar, sugar, celery seed, mustard seed, ginger, tumeric.


This recipe was a little more exciting; cucumbers, cider vinegar, curry powder, brown sugar, spices, etc ...


We have also been eating them fresh with some salt or ranch dressing for dipping, and we have been making one of my favorite salads with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, balsamic vinergar, oil, salt and pepper. Yummy!

I think next year we will plant just 3 cucumber vines, and I'm going to try to get them to climb a trellis so they don't crowd out the squash.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Coreopsis - A Lovely Perennial for the Lazy Gardener

If you have a dry spot that needs some sprucing up in a hurry, Coreopsis is your miracle plant! Generally the rule of thumb with perennials is that it takes three years for a new plant to really get established and reach its full height and blooming potential, but Coreopsis defies this rule by performing like an annual and reaching full size in its first season of growth!

Coreopsis loves drought, is a fast grower and a prolific bloomer!


This versatile plant can be combined with any combination of perennials or annuals.


These three Moonbeam Coreopsis plants were purchased from Bluestone Perennials in mid-May. When I received the plants, they were only about 3" in height with two or three stems per plant. In that time, they have grown faster, performed better and required less water than any other perennial I have ever planted. They reached maturity in just 6 weeks! Their habit is very neat and requires no staking or dead-heading. At just 18" in height, these plants can fit into your garden anywhere.


Coreopsis is best know for its yellow hues but can also be found in pink, raspberry and white combinations. Bluestone Perennials has a nice selection of Coreopsis and carries my personal stamp of approval!

Just because you don't have hours to spend tending to your garden doesn't mean you have to have a barren yard. Give Coreopsis a try and you will be pleased with the results!

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A Bounty of Cherry Tomatoes

The Marcellino tomatoes are performing wonderfully. I have never seen tomato plants so big or a harvest so bountiful! I don't know what we are going to do with all these tomatoes!

We grew these plants from seed purchased from Park's Seed. The website shows that their time to maturity is 73 days from setting out transplants. We set out transplants in early May, and the harvest began in mid-July, so their timeline is right on target. The plant height is advertised as 5 feet by 3 feet, but our plants grew to about 7 feet by 4 feet, so leave some extra room if you want to be able to walk between the rows. I also grew some of these plants in growin' bags from Park's Seeds, and the plants were a much smaller, more manageable size and fruited sooner than the plants set into the garden. So if you are planning to grow these in pots, expect a smaller plant and lower yield. Sometimes you don't need 300 tomatoes from a single plant, so a lower yield is a better idea.

Thankfully, they ripen from top to bottom, so the harvest will be spread out over many weeks.


These tomatoes are beautiful and pack a big flavor! Very juicy ... tangy ...


... and numerous!


We have had a lot of rain lately, and I am seeing some splitting of the fruit. This is common when a period of heavy rain follows a period of drought but still heartbreaking. I hope our weather evens out soon.

Park's Seed claims that this fruit can stay on the vine for 30 days after ripening. I have not seen that to be true though, as the fruit is knocked off the vine easily when it is ripe, and a good wind can make the fruit drop very easily. I have also seen some fruit begin to rot after only a couple days after maturity. Perhaps they were growing them in a climate-controlled greenhouse. Regardless, I still recommend these plants. They really are as disease-resistant as Park's claims them to be. Out of 7 plants, I only had to spray one of them once when it was attacked by aphids. Be prepared to use heavy tomato cages (not the flimsy ones from Lowes) or strong metal poles to hold them up, because they get tall and very heavy and will snap a bamboo pole in half.

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I was very sad to find disgusting slimy worms burrowing between the broccoli florets when I harvested the broccoli. I guess the holes in the leaves of the plants were signs that there was an infestation, but I never actually saw a bug, so I avoided spraying the plants. The worms were so well hidden that I didn't find them until I was washing the broccoli in the sink. I noticed some slime, so I cut a floret off, and there they were ... worms! I had to throw out the entire harvest.


I don't think I will try broccoli again next year. The plants are pretty big, the yield is low, and apparently they are susceptible to disgusting worms that make me reconsider ever eating broccoli again. Ugh.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Drying Herbs

We have an awesome overabundance of basil and oregano in the garden. I have been pinching back the flowers to keep them from going to seed, but they have been getting more and more persistant with their desire to flower, so I decided it was time to harvest and preserve them. We have been trying to use them in every day cooking, but you can only use so many herbs, and we have a ton of them!

Here are the four kinds of basil we started from seed in late March. There is lemon, large leaf, red rubin and marseille. The seeds are from Park's culinary basil collection.


I decided to dry them using a method I read about in one of my gardening books. Basically, you put them in the oven on a wire rack on very very low heat (like 80 degrees farenheit) for 24 hours or until they look completely dried out. If you can smell them cooking, the heat is too high. So I went about doing this only to find that my oven only goes down to 120 degrees, and they were baking at this temperature.

Here is the basil all spread out on a wire rack.


Next I tried the microwave method outlined in my book, but that was a real pain! To dry herbs in the microwave, you sandwich the herbs between two paper towels and put them, along with a mug of water, in the microwave on 50% power for about 2 minutes. You have to keep checking their progress and adding more time. There are several problems with this method. First, my microwave resets itself to 100% every time it finishes, and I kept forgetting to set it back to 50%, thereby scorching the herbs. Second, you cannot dry many herbs at a time, because they cannot be touching each other on the paper towel, and you get really sick of hearing the microwave timer ding. This method was not my favorite.

Finally I remembered that we have a Ronco dehydrator stowed away somewhere in a forgotten closet! Duh! We bought it many years ago at a garage sale when we still lived in Mobile. It has only been used once, because attempting to dehydrate things in the thick humidity of Mobile is really quite futile.

Here are the herbs spread out on one of the trays of the dehydrator. Some of them are already mostly dehydrated from their drying attempts in the oven and microwave.


Here is a shot of the dehydrator at work. It really did a great job drying the herbs.


I don't know what we'll do with all this oregano! I guess we're going to be making a lot of spaghetti sauce!


And a ton of large leaf basil.


I also dried some lemon basil, but I guess I did it after the photo shoot.

We still have a lot of herbs out there waiting to be preserved. We made some pesto and froze it a couple nights ago. I'll have to get some pictures of the pesto cubes, because they're pretty cool.

I found this cute little wooly worm on one of the basil leaves.


I know he's munching away and trying to kill all my plants, but he's just so cute! I released him onto some liriope that I don't much care for. He can eat all of it he wants!

I also found some unsettling eggs on the underside of one of the leaves that caused me to have to check every friggin' leaf on each stem. Eek! I don't want to accidentally dry these guys and end up with them in my dinner. They're still pretty cool, even though they do freak me out...


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Monday, July 23, 2007

Sure You Can Grow Corn in the Home Garden!

We have harvested about a dozen ears of the Honey 'N Pearl Corn from Park's Seeds so far this year, and it has been fantastic! This corn is so sweet and crisp that you can't get enough of it!

Corn is pretty inexpensive in the Summer, usually priced at around 3 for $1, so we didn't grow corn to save money. We grew it for the flavor that you cannot get from any store bought or even farmer's market bought corn. I have read that corn loses its flavor within minutes of picking, so we grew some to put that theory to the test!

Before picking the ears, I get my pot of water boiling. Then I run up to the garden, pick a couple ears, shuck them and toss them into the uncovered pot of boiling water. After exactly 3 minutes in the water, they are perfect and ready to eat. They're not off the plant for 5 minutes before they're in my belly, and I have never tasted a fresher ear of corn in my life! So, I think the fresh test theory has been proven!


A common mistake people make is cooking corn too long. I know, because I used to be a culprit of over-cooking before my mother-in-law set me straight. It only takes 3 minutes in boiling water! The corn gets tough after 3 minutes, and the rest of the time is spent trying to soften it up back into an edible form. This makes the corn much less crisp and juicy. So, don't overcook.

We planted three nine-foot rows of corn in May. I was concerned that this would not be a big enough crop to cross-pollinate the ears, so I did some hand-pollinating to ensure a full crop. Hand-pollinating corn is very easy.

The tassles at the top of the plant hold the pollen, and the ears of course are the fruit. So, when the silks begin to form on the ears, break off one twig from the tassle of a plant:


Then rub the tassle on the silks of the ear of a neighboring plant. Don't rub the tassle of a plant on its own silk since corn needs to cross-pollinate with other plants, and be conservative when picking twigs off the tassle since you want to give the plant a chance to pollinate naturally. Try to pick only one or two twigs from one plant's tassle.


I am hoping for a harvest of about 40 ears this year, so there will be many more weeks of fresh corn to come!

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Fresh from the Garden Dinners

Caution! This post will make you hungry. Do not read unless you are in arm's reach of a Snicker's bar or something equally satisfying. Mmmm ... Snicker's bar.

I successfully created squash babies by hand pollinating the fruit! I was very excited to eat the first squash, which came soon after the first attempt at hand pollination. We have harvested a dozen or so since then, and more keep coming each week!

We have also been harvesting green beans for the past couple weeks. They are crisp and sweet and new ones keep appearing on the vine every other day or so!

Here are a couple dishes we made using the squash and green beans.

A yummy stir fry with squash, green beans, chicken, onions and broccoli.


Grilled squash and green beans with pan-seared flounder.


Green beans with lamb chops, mashed potatoes and tomato and cucumber salad.


We have had an overabundance of cucumbers, and we are trying to be creative in eating them, but there is really only so much you can do with cukes!

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