A kitchen gardener's blog

Summer is Over

the last of the tomatoe harvest

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.


Dirt Can Make You Happy

sunchoke flower

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:




Live Seasonally

Prairie Sunflower

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?


Lunch Time Surprise

Bird-voiced Tree Frog

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?


Bundle Up or Go Naked

tomato cages wrapped in agribon

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.


More on Amaranth

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.


Flying Flowers

passion vine over garden shed door

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.