Saturday, August 30, 2014

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT ZUCCHINI

Let me start this off with an admission:  "I have not been a big fan of zucchini".  That is, until we
got a copy of Susie Middleton's great cook book  "Fast, Fresh & Green".  She advised in one
of her recipes that one cut around the center and discard it.  This was an AHA moment for me.
What have I always hated about most zucchini recipes?  Why, of course, it's the watery
consistency of most recipes we have tried over the years.

Ladies and gentleman, this is a game changer.  In my humble opinion, zucchini is best when
prepared in this manner.  One of my favorite
side dishes these days is a saute of zucchini and onions in extra virgin olive oil over medium
high heat.  The vegetable is firm and crispy with lots of flavor when cooked this way.

I also feel that zucchini is best when picked at about eight inches long.  The flesh is nice and
thick but the center isn't bloated with water and seeds.    I am also
partial to yellow zucchini.  My favorite variety is "Golden Glory"".  It is easy to locate the
fruit on the vine because of the contrast in color.  In addition the vine itself is compact and features
beautiful oak shaped variegated foliage.
The ideal picking size

One issue I have always had with zucchini was that it was a favorite target of  the dreaded
and hated Squash Vine Borer.  This year I treated my two plants with Rotenone-Pyrethrins,
spraying three times over a three week period in July when the females are looking for
places to lay their eggs.  This strategy was successful.  I am happy to report that my two
plants are still producing.  They look tired but both have small fruit and new blossoms: Not
bad for plants that have been in the ground since late May.
Golden Glory Zucchini foliage in late August

My final thought is that I am sick of stories about people leaving baseball bat sized zucchini
on their neighbors back door step or leaving them in unlocked vehicles.  People, get control
of your zucchini patch.  Only grow what you can eat.  Pick early and often.  Enough said.

ZUCCHINI, ONIONS AND BROCCOLI WITH PORK TENDERLOIN, NOODLES AND
MANGO, GINGER & HABANERO SAUCE

Now that I have had my rant, let me share a recipe that I came up with recently.  It all started
with my discovery of "Mango, Ginger and Habanero  Sauce".  We had leftover pork
tenderloin in the refrigerator along with some cooked spaghetti noodles.

I started by cutting a zucchini in half lengthwise and scooping out the center with a spoon.
I then cut the flesh into 1/2" x 1 1/2" pieces.  I then cut up a large onion into pieces
approximately the same size as the zucchini.  My late summer broccoli was ready so
I picked a head and trimmed off florets about the same size as my other ingredients.
Zucchini hollowed out

I sauteed the vegetables in extra virgin olive oil at medium high heat for approximately ten minutes.
I cut up the pork tenderloin into pieces, and added it to the mix.  I then added about 5 or
six ounces of the Mango, Ginger Habanero sauce to the pan.  Once that heated up I added the
precooked noodles.  This dish made my picky wife very happy.  Give it a try.  Let me know
what you think.
The finished dish
All the best,
Greg

Friday, August 29, 2014

THE BEST CABBAGE FOR COLESLAW


Recently,  friends  asked for our coleslaw recipe.  We've been using the "Tidewater
Coleslaw" recipe in Chris Schlesinger's  cookbook "Thrill of the Grill" for years and were happy
to share that with Steve and K.C.

The feedback we received from our friends was that it didn't taste like our coleslaw.  After
thinking about this problem for some time, it occurred to me that maybe it was the cabbage.
We grow a variety called ":Tendersweet"  developed by Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow,
Maine.  It is as it's name implies, tender and sweet.  Experience taught us that using "Tendersweet
always resulted in great slaw.
My friend Steve holding a head of "Tendersweet" Cabbage

I decided to conduct an experiment with Steve and K.C.  I gave them  a fresh
head of "Tendersweet" from my garden and asked them to make coleslaw.  Steve
brought some over for us to try.  It tasted just like ours.

My friend, Steve Swallow, a self-described  "coleslaw freak" has been experimenting with
slaw recipes his entire adult life.  He speaks fondly of the coleslaw he enjoyed as a boy
at the "Pickwick Delicatessen" in Plainfield, New Jersey.  Steve reports that his latest
effort using the "Tendersweet" cabbage is closer to his goal of discovering the all time
best coleslaw recipe.  I wish my friend the best in his quest and I feel proud to have
played a part in this worthy endeavor.  I've got a packet of seeds for K.C. so she can
grow some "Tendersweet" cabbage for Steve next year.  

TIDEWATER COLESLAW - From  "Thrill of the Grill" - Chris Schlesinger & John Willoughby
                                                Published by William Morrow &  Co, New York
                                                (This is one of our all time favorite cookbooks)

1 1/2 cups commercial mayonnaise
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 head of green cabbage (Tendersweet is best) cored and finely chopped
2 carrots finely grated
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl combine mayo, vinegar, sugar, celery seed, salt and pepper.  Mix well
In a large bowl, combine cabbage and carrots.  Pour in the dressing and toss well.  I use my
hands.  Refrigerate until serving

Thursday, August 28, 2014

THIS WEEK IN THE GARDEN - AUGUST 28, 2014

We have enjoyed great weather this Summer.  There have been many sunny days with just enough
rain to keep plants healthy.  As a result, it has been a great year for vine crops, especially melons.
There is an old French saying "You can judge a man's garden by his melons".  Needless to say, I
have felt quite inadequate in the past.  I'm walking tall this year.  Melon production has been the
Emerald Gem Melon
best ever.  In addition to the common cantaloupe, I planted EMERALD GEM and AMY melons.
Amy melon on the vine

Tomato season is in full swing.  Yesterday, Catherine and I processed over twenty
pounds of plum tomatoes.  Most of the crop was converted to puree and frozen. This year, I
grew two varieties:  a determinate called MILANO and an old favorite SAN MARZANO.
A basket of plum tomatoes ready for processing

All of the onions are finally harvested and curing.  In their place I am planting WINTER RYE
as a fall crop.  In addition to being good for the soil, the winter rye is essential to the health
of the compost bins.  A layer of winter rye straw helps to allow oxygen into the mix to ensure
that the decomposition process moves forward.

We have survived another busy year of tomato tastings and dinners celebrating the harvest.
This is my favorite time of year, tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes.  People seem to
enjoy learning about and sampling the many different varieties of heirloom tomatoes that I
grow.  We used to cut up the tomatoes ahead of time and serve them on platters.  I now
cut them one by one, explaining where the tomato comes from and why we grow it.  This
format is lots of fun and allows each tomato to shine on it's own.  I get lots of questions
from our guests and the pace of the event allows everyone to relax and saver the moment.
If you grow tomatoes you may want to give it a try.  I will follow up with a post devoted
to this topic soon.
The scene is set for a tomato tasting

My focus is turning to the fall garden.  I have been nurturing seeds of lettuce and cabbage
for fall production.  I have started pulling some vines that are no longer producing; zucchini
cucumber, and cantaloupe.  I started replacement plants about a month ago and have started
transplanting them to the garden.  I will protect them with fabric row cover  now and
plastic tunnels in mid-September. This is the first year that I have made an effort to grow these
crops in the Fall.  I will continue to report on this developing situation.







Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rocking it in Retirement - My best Vegetable Garden Ever

After nearly five months I can report that retirement is working for me.  To start each day in the
garden, harvesting vegetables, weeding, starting seeds, cultivating, and listening to my favorite
music is a blessing.  The garden is  both my refuge and play pen.  Gardening allows me to use
my creativity to solve problems,  come up with new ways to grow vegetables and group them
for better production and more eye appeal.
View of vegetable garden from patio.  Photo by Ron Trombley

This year I have had the time to do more planning, especially regarding the timing of succession
plantings of crops like lettuce, mesclun, cabbage, broccoli, beets, radishes, and carrots.  Also,
I have had more time to nurture more tender crops like melon.  Without a doubt this has been
my best year ever for melon production.  Thoughtful pruning, hand watering/fertilizing, and timely
treating with fungicide have made a huge difference.  I am reminded of a French saying "You
can judge a man's garden by his melons".  This year, I can hold my head high.

It feels great to be blogging once again.  I love gardening, talking about gardening and sharing
the joy that this hobby brings to me. Back when I first started blogging, I found it difficult to
find the time and energy to post after a full day of work, and a couple of hours in the garden
trying to keep up with nature.  Unfortunately, I stopped posting in 2011.  Despite the lack of
new posts, my blog has had over 24,000 page views over the last three years:  11,000 views
for my post on crop rotation alone.
Vegetable garden in June 2014

I get it.  People are hungry for good information from experienced gardeners.  I promise to keep
the posts coming.  If you are new to gardening, welcome.  If you are already an avid gardener
I look forward to swapping information with you.  I invite you to become a follower of this blog.
My promise to you is thoughtful commentary on the process of vegetable gardening, the vegetables
we grow and the food that we create with these vegetables.  My motto is "Vegetable gardening
for health and happiness".  I'm living it.  Come and join me.
All the best,
Greg

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Early Blight on Tomatoes - Some strategies that have worked for me

In July of 2006 my wife and I returned from a week long vacation and discovered that all of our
tomato plants were suffering from some disease.  Needless to say, we were devastated.  Mother
Nature can be such a bitch.  As I always do, I got over it and went looking for some answers.
The following is a summary of my blight control program.
Early blight on San Marzano Plum Tomatoes

Spraying:
In the Fall I spray every bed in which I grew tomatoes with copper sulfide fungicide as well as next
year's tomato beds.  
In the early Spring I spray the same beds once again.
Two weeks after the plants go into the ground I begin spraying once a week, alternating between
copper sulfide and Oxidate (an oxidizing fungicide).

Pruning:
When the plants go into the ground I immediately prune off any branches or leaves touching the
ground and continue this practice throughout the growing season.  In addition, I pinch out any
and all suckers on determinate tomato plants.
Regarding indeterminate tomatoes, I employ a little different strategy.  First of all, I prune and train
the plants to be more two dimensional.  It's so much easier to do a thorough spraying.  As with the
determinate tomatoes I prune anything that touches the ground.  In addition, I only allow the main
leader and two suckers to grow (one on each side of the main leader).  I use a trellis system consisting
of heavy duty steel fence posts driven into the ground.  I attach horizontal bars made up of fir or cedar
1 x 4's attached to the fence posts with nuts and bolts or bolts with cotter pins (my favorite).
I attach stainless steel screws to the 1 x 4's every 6 inches.  They are driven in part way.

I then zigzag tomato twine (available for Johnny's Selected Seeds) top to bottom.  I can then attach
the tomato plants to the twine using tomato clips.  I love this system because it allows me to easily
keep track of each plant's growth and to find and eliminate suckers as they emerge.  A neater, more
well groomed tomato plant is much easier to cope with if it should get the blight.  I will cut off the
diseased branches before spraying.   See my earlier post "Tomatoes, the First Pruning".

Plant Selection:
I have observed that some of my tomato plants seem to be more resistant to Early Blight than
others.  This year I tried growing "Nebraska Wedding" tomatoes for the first time.  They are
remarkably blight resistant.  In addition, BHN-624, a hybrid cherry tomato has shown above
average blight tolerance.

One final thought:
My mindset is one of managing the problem.  I expect to get Early Blight so I'm ready when
it occurs.

All the best,
Greg



Monday, August 18, 2014

SOME NOTES ON TOMATOES

I've been vegetable gardening for 28 years.  One of my greatest frustrations has been the
relatively short season for tomatoes.  In the past, I could count on eating my first ripe tomatoes
sometime in July.  The last of the tomatoes would depend on the timing of the killing frost in
October.

Last season I experimented with two varieties of storage tomato: "Long Keeper" and
"Golden Treasure".  The Long Keepers did not keep very well and had an off taste that
didn't win any advocates in my family.  However, the Golden Treasure tomatoes kept
very well and actually tasted reasonably good.  "How well did they Keep?" you ask.
We served them in a salad on Christmas Day.  Now that's what I call a keeper.

This year, I was looking to extend the season in the other direction.  I started an early
variety called "Glacier" even earlier than normal.  Having a "sun shed" helped nurture
the young plants.  The seedlings where planted out in the garden on May 1, four weeks
early.  I set up a low plastic tunnel for the first three weeks to protect the tender plants
from frost.  

At every step along the way the Glacier tomatoes responded well.  The end result was
ripe tomatoes on June 8, 2014.  I'm a happy guy.

Glacier Tomatoes in June

Speaking of low tunnels, I came up with an innovative way to use my galvanized hoops.
I overlapped the four foot diameter hoops and lashed them together so that I could
support a row of low growing (determinate) tomatoes.  It has worked out fine and looks
great.
Low tunnel hoops put to work supporting tomatoes