Thursday, December 29, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Our goals for 2012 are to devote some energy to the aesthetics of our garden, especially as we put in more islands of perennials. Last year saw we firmly established asparagus, rhubarb, and blackberries in the big garden; this year we'll be installing blueberries and stone paths. The soil is already being acidified with pine needles so the blueberries will have an easy transition to their new home. We'll also be planting more vegetables with food preservation in mind, now that we're set up with a pressure canner and dehydrator. What a treat it is to eat jam and salsa and pickled peppers in December made from produce we grew or picked ourselves and were able to save for later.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Roman gave an enlightening (and delicious) talk at a recent Transition Newton event on the health benefits of honey and garlic. But you know what? We mostly think they're tasty--really tasty--which is why we're cultivating both in as large quantities as possible. Every year it seems like we're planting a ton of garlic, but when harvest time rolls around in July it seems like such a pittance. Which is why we're tripling next year's crop. We've got German White, German Hardy, Georgian Fire, and Mark's inevitable favorite, Korean Mad Dog Red--about 175 cloves all told. Along with 75 shallots. Didn't somebody say it was time for a break after the insanity of late-summer harvesting and putting up? Apparently not yet.
What are we doing differently this time? The weeds got the better of us this year, so we're putting down black plastic for a weed barrier. We're also mounding the beds, putting in irrigation and composting the heck out of the soil (Roman grows his garlic in what he calls "black muck"). Instead of growing shallots from seed in the spring, we're planting whole shallots in the fall, the same as garlic, which means they can get an early start putting their energy into forming bulbs that will split into more bulbs next year, resulting in bigger shallots and more of them.
Stinking roses indeed. Give me a bunch of garlic over a bunch of roses any day.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
While cleaning out the shed this spring, we found this tool amidst the junk the former owner left behind. It took us a while to figure out that it's used for picking fruit from high branches. In the past week those apples started looking so ripe and tempting, so Mark dragged out the ladder and the apple-picking tool so we could try some. Talk about a smart move. The apples are good sized, firm, crisp, and sweet--such a lovely surprise! Yes, there are some bug holes bored into some of them, but considering they're a completely organic, foraged treat, we're very impressed. So impressed that we picked 15 pounds today and are trying to figure out a way to reach the rest.
Now what to do with all of them?
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
I have whirled the midwife's extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar
Grazie mille to S. for urging me to read these again. They're so funny and scary and painfully prescient.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Just kidding. We didn't get around to weeding the beet patch, and this is the pathetic result. NOTE: Root vegetables, especially carrots and beets, are really freakin' hard to weed. It's almost impossible to distinguish beet greens from the dozens of really enthusiastic, invasive weeds in our garden. And we have a particularly crafty weed from the carrot family that's taken over our carrots. The leaves look identical! How the heck are we supposed to tell the difference?
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
There were some house-smoked scallops I got from Metro Seafood in Clinton on Sunday, as well as the glorious bounty of today's CSA share, not to mention the goodies we have in our own garden. My pasta dish came together in one of those beautiful hallelujah sequences in which the one inspirational shaft of sunlight shone through the kitchen window onto my hand as I chose each ingredient.
On the side I served some warm chickpeas with lemon juice, good green olive oil, summer savory, and crumbled pepper-crusted chevre from Cranberry Creek, a newly discovered farmstead creamery in the Poconos that has been knocking our socks off. (We're so lucky they make deliveries to Genesis!)
To be honest, it was probably a little uncomfortable to witness my smugness as we tucked into this meal. Local scapes and basil in the pesto, sugar snap peas and herbs from our own garden, really good cheese. Is the artisanal seafood over the top? I don't care. Even our beverage was soda water with my favorite homemade lime-mint syrup. This recipe is so of-the-moment that by the time you read this the scapes and sugar snap peas may be gone until next year, but please bookmark this. It is so, so good.
Campanelle with Garlic Scape Pesto and Smoked Scallops
2/3 pound short pasta, like campanelle
1/3 pound sugar snap peas, cut into 1-inch lengths
½ cup garlic scape pesto (recipe follows)
¼ pound smoked scallops, thinly sliced
Prepare pesto, then put the pasta water on to boil. Add a couple tablespoons of salt before putting the pasta in the pot. Cook according to package instructions, then drain, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water. Return pasta to pot and add pesto, mixing until blended. Add pasta water a tablespoon at a time until the sauce is smooth but not watery. Toss in snap peas and spoon into bowls. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving with slices of scallop—the equivalent of about 2 scallops per person.
Garlic Scape and Walnut Pesto
10 garlic scapes, finely chopped
10 basil leaves, or however much you'd like
1/3 to 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (to taste and texture)
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
About 1/2 cup olive oil
Put the scapes, basil, 1/3 cup of the cheese, walnuts, and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or use a blender or a mortar and pestle). Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if you want, more cheese. If you like the texture, stop; if you'd like it a little thinner, add some more oil. Season with salt.
If you’re not going to use the pesto immediately, press a piece of plastic against the surface to keep it from oxidizing.The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days or packed airtight and frozen for a couple of months.
Makes about 1 cup
Gotta give credit to Dorie Greenspan. This pesto is a variation on hers.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
So let's talk about something we did right this year: Staggering the broccoli harvest. Last season we had 12 beautiful broccoli heads all ready at the same time, and we couldn't eat them fast enough. This year we went with Fedco's Broccoli Blend seed mix that contains some early, mid, and late varieties. We ate the first wave this week, and the second wave will be ready next week, and some plants have yet to form heads. It's perfect.
Another thing we did right: Leaving the peonies to reign over the vegetable garden in their glory, even if they can be annoying obstacles. It helps that they're in full bloom right now. They were really bothering me when we were laying out the rows in March; I wanted to lay flagstone for the paths, and the space will never look tidy with those huge, blowsy bushes scattered all over. But they're beautiful, smell good, attract beneficial insects, and keeping them is much more true to the permaculture vibe we're trying to cultivate. I need to keep telling myself that there's no such thing as a perfect garden. It will always be a work in progress, never predictable, never finished. And that's a good thing.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
But the real star of today's show is this delightful vegetable side dish that I made for dinner tonight. It's not my own; I got it from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment via this month's Saveur magazine. With only four ingredients it manages to be sweet, crisp, buttery, creamy, and salty. Best of all, it uses a lot of lettuce, which is coming out our ears right now, and also uses green garlic, which is just immature garlic bulbs and stalks that have a great garlic flavor without being overpowering. Kind of like a scallion, but garlic flavored. It's also sadly underused, in my opinion.
I had a mental block against cooking lettuce, even though there are plenty of respectable recipes out there for grilled and wilted lettuce. Now I am a convert. We ate this for dinner with fried eggs and raisin toast, and it was magical.
Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Green Garlic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 small stalks green garlic, or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen green peas (I used frozen and they were terrific)
2 small heads butter lettuce (about 6 oz.), washed, cored, and torn into large pieces
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat; add garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add peas and cook until bright green and tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining butter, along with lettuce and 1 tablespoon water, season with salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Stir until lettuce is just wilted, about 1 minute.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
It's immensely satisfying to be pretty much on schedule for once, even with the auxiliary projects taken into account. The carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus are all in the ground, with the rhubarb and peas coming up nicely. The tomatoes have been transplanted and are taking full advantage of the new real estate. Mark is also installing lovely wooden garden gates to replace the fashionable yet functional clothes-pinned deer fencing we’ve been using. The only black cloud on the horizon is the proliferation of groundhogs evidenced by an unsettling number of holes popping up around the yard (not yet in the garden, thankfully). We've also seen one scurrying under our front porch to the delight of Delilah, our unofficial farm hound. We're putting up some ominous warning signs to discourage the little devils from doing anything untoward.
Monday, April 25, 2011
I got to comparing notes with the hostess, and she told me about her favorite bread cookbook ever, which I promptly got from the library the next day. I was tantalized by a recipe for orange-apricot muffins, but when I made them the first time they didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped. Granted, I was forced to substitute the baking powder because I'd run out, so that didn't help their appearance, but I wanted more of a citrus punch, and they needed some spice. One half-teaspoon of cinnamon, the only spice, was listed as "optional" for the original recipe and eliminated altogether for the apricot variation (as if!). I tampered with the formula enough that I feel confident calling it my own, but props to Laurel for the inspiration and to Mary for the introduction.
Orange-Apricot Whole Wheat Muffins
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or apple pie spice
2 tablespoons powdered milk
¾ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one orange
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
Preheat the oven to 375. Whisk the dry ingredients together, then the wet ingredients. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, making sure not to overmix. Fold in the apricots and almonds; spoon into muffin cups.
Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed.
Makes 12 small or 10 larger muffins
Back story: The previous owner built a chicken coop (tenement) next to the shed at the end of the driveway. The first time we toured the house, we had the opportunity to meet the coop’s future residents when they were just little puffballs chilling out in the master bathroom’s cast-iron clawfoot tub. This made for an interesting first impression, to say the least.
The only problem with the coop is that it’s next to a big, old tree that a sly raccoon used at the first opportunity to break in and feast on some poor chickens. The owner, who had a lot of heart but not the stomach for animal husbandry, called the farm around the corner in tears, traumatized, and demanded that they take the rest of her chickens. They happily obliged. Who knows, we may have eaten their eggs for breakfast yesterday.
Long story long, we thought that fenced-in area would be perfect for a berry patch, out of reach of those long-necked, nimble deer that fearlessly roam our property, as well as the twitchy-nosed rabbits and the evil groundhog that lives under our front porch. That eight-foot fence had better do its job. We took down a partition and installed a raspberry trellis in its place, and we moved the gate for maximum square footage to grow as many goodies as possible. The blackcurrants will be happy there, and we dedicated some space for strawberries that will, alas, have to wait till next year.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Saturday, April 2, 2011
That’s right, we started saving heavy duty reheatable plastic food containers. You know, the kind marked as recyclable #6 that no facility seems willing to accept and will probably outlast the human race. Anyway, thanks to an inundation of take-out Thai food on Kate’s birthday, we ended up with six of these abominations. Turns out they’re ideal miniature greenhouses for the smallest sized soil blocks. In conjunction with a heat mat, these babies create a virtual sauna for seeds to germinate in. The evaporated moisture collects on the lid and can easily be dumped back on the blocks. The small size of the mini-blocks enables them to warm up to the optimal germination temperature for heat-loving plants. We sprouted tomatoes and peppers in as few as four days, basil in about two. Germination rates were also impressive (Genovese Basil sprouted 19 out of 20 seeds). Best of all, the containers are ultra-durable and free! (well, sorta free) It’s always super-gratifying to find an unexpected second use for trash. Now, if we can only put all of that used cat dirt to good use...
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Turns out my suspicions were well founded. After all, what subculture doesn't have its share of rivalry and controversy? My dad struck up a conversation about acquiring nucs for our hives with a young guy who seemed like one of the most knowledgeable people in the room. Considering this guy raises bees for a living, I was surprised to hear him derisively dismiss native bees as nothing more than a nuisance. He was actually complaining how hard they were to exterminate. Meanwhile, I had just exchanged a figurative fist-bump with the presenter over our shared love of permaculture.
Not surprisingly, we'll have to make sure we partner ourselves with an apiculture mentor who shares our holistic, low-intervention approach. Beekeeping is pretty difficult, with hives being felled right and left by everything from mites to nocema to the still-mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD) to a hard winter like the one we've had this year. There's this awesome-looking class coming up at Genesis, but it's not until July, and we'll need to act quickly if we plan to establish some hives this year. In the meantime, I'm friendly with the wife of the professional beekeeper teaching that class, so a well-placed phone call might be in order.
This article on baby boomers taking up apiculture is timely as well, since I think I was one of three non-boomers at that meeting last week. Four, if you include the speaker.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Last weekend was our first chance to get dirty in the garden this year, clearing out the woody remains of last year's pepper plants and herbs. My scratched-up arms are telling me that we won't be planting those thorny Ma Waeng eggplants again!
Even though it was in the mid-50s, the piles of tomato vines we'd piled up in November were still frozen to the ground. My stash of leeks in the corner is alive and well, though--soon they should be cooperative enough for us to pull and eat.
After this long, cold winter of the screaming baby, dirt under my fingernails never felt so good.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Where all my homeys at? And by “homeys” I mean thirtysomething gardeners interested in permaculture and obscure vegetables, readers of Michael Pollan, preferably not living in Brooklyn. Is that too specific?
Not that I have anything against Brooklyn. But hip urbanites in H&M wardrobes boasting rooftop gardens and apiaries who ply their wares at the Park Slope Co-op, all to an indie-rock soundtrack, give me pause in a way that my neighbor’s farm in rural northwest New Jersey does not.
Do I sound elitist? I don’t mean it that way. Here’s an analogy: In another life, Mark and I were involved in the Baltimore underground music scene. When a local band got signed to a major label, the community perceived the mainstream recognition as both the best and the worst thing that could possibly happen. While we all want our favorite band to make it big, we fear losing the intimate community of early fans. The band blows up and when they visit your hometown on their nationwide tour you have to shell out $50 for a ticket in a stadium just to watch them as a speck on the distant stage. Suddenly everyone you meet is a fan of the band and you no longer feel special. Many of the new fans have an obviously superficial interest, riding the crest of the band’s popularity and then promptly chasing the next wave. But you knew them way back when!
Let’s face it; gardening is trendy right now—which, don’t get me wrong, is wonderful!—but I get a little rankled that the Food Network is jocking my style. When a friend starts asking me questions about starting a garden, they have a hard time getting me to shut up. I fall all over myself to start seeds for them, give them guided tours of my favorite herb farm, research colorful varieties of vegetables that will grow best in their climate, regale them with the pros and cons of raised beds. But when I see Andrew Zimmern yapping about his enthusiasm for local food, I change the channel.
Almost a decade ago, Mark and I planted some tomatoes, corn, and some thyme and basil in the yard of our first little brick house in the unfashionable outskirts of Washington, DC. Before that we grew tomatoes in pots on the tiny balcony of our apartment. The herbs thrived, the tomatoes were decent, and the corn never saw the light of day. The deer ate every single pansy I planted along the front walk, so I replanted and sprayed them with a non-toxic solution that smelled so bad our new neighbors probably thought we were stashing dead bodies in the garage. We struggled through an 18-month siege against the wall of unsettling, phallic bamboo that had initially made our backyard so peaceful and ambient but turned our entire yard into a battlefield.
Every year we have been a little more successful, and our efforts have become more ambitious. By now we’ve read thousands of pages about gardening, hoovered up knowledge from the folks who run our biodynamic CSA, taken courses in food politics, researched recipes to use bizarre scorzonera and bushels of kale, and learned food preservation techniques. In 2009 we moved out to the country and broke ground on a 4,000-square-foot garden. Our passion is authentic and deep, and our enthusiasm can be contagious (and occasionally, I’ll bet, annoying and tedious to our loved ones). We’re slowly but steadily working on acquiring chickens and bees, and on sacrificing most of our considerable lawn to fruit trees. I’m greatly enjoying the proliferation of public discourse about gardening and our nation’s food system, and in fact I believe this discussion is vital to meaningful change. But I don’t feel trendy, and it’s getting harder to discern individuals and organizations that are genuinely like-minded. My beef, for example, is with the local chef (unnamed, to protect the guilty) who tells her customers she’s sourcing her ingredients sustainably from neighboring farms, then goes and buys everything at Wal-Mart.
What a poseur.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Um, sorry about that. ANYWAY, technically this is only our second year at the farmstead, but we've been at this for a good five years now. I'll even venture to say that we're hitting our stride, but I doubt I could get Mark to admit to any such nonsense.
A new year, a new leaf. Lots of ‘em, hopefully. Mark's resolution for this year is to post less more often. A lot of his posts have been somewhat dense in the past; this is supposed to be a garden blog, not Ulysses. That being said, we're going to immediately break that resolution. It’s time for SEED LIST 2011!!!
We usually drop about $100 on seeds every year but we managed to cut it down to around $75 this time. This is because we saved a decent amount of (hopefully viable) seed from last year. And now (drum roll, please), we present the list!
- Basil, Genovese - One word: PESTO!
- Beans, Masai (Bush, String) - Long-producing delicate haricot verts. Yum.
- Beans, Tiger's Eye (Bush, Shell) - We’re eating our first harvest right now, and it’s amazing. And the plants don’t need support--score!
- Beets, 3 Root Grex - Comes in three exciting colors!
- Broccoli, Fedco Mix - A mystery bag of brassification. Designed to mature at different times.
- Calendula, Resina - A big producer of odoriferous resin. Sounds gross, but not if you’re a bee.
- Carrots, Scarlet Nantes - We skipped carrots last year so we’re sticking with a powerhouse.
- Chives - One can never have too many.
- Cilantro, Carib - Promises not to immediately bolt upon seeing sunlight. We’re skeptical.
- Corn, Luscious - The name says it all.
- Cumin - Trying this as a pot herb.
- Fenugreek - See Cumin.
- Greens, Siamese Dragon - Adorable baby Asian greens. Been meaning to grow these for years.
- Lavender, French - Probably won’t be frost-hardy, but we are going to try anyway.
- Leek, Bleu de Solaise - Big success last year. A few poor souls may successfully overwinter.
- Leek, Lincoln - Earlier harvest, longer shaft (heh heh, you said “shaft”).
- Lemongrass - Pot herb 3.0.
- Lemon Balm - Crown jewel of the much-anticipated herb spiral (more to come about that).
- Lettuce, Cimarron - Red loose leaf for the “connoisseur” (scare quotes by Kate) who disdains the buttery head.
- Lettuce, Tom Thumb (Butterhead) - Kate is always stalking the elusive butterhead.
- Marigold, Harlequinn - Now performing in full sun for the first time ever!
- Melon, Cream Of Saskatchewan - After being disappointed that last year’s melons weren’t that sweet, here we attempt to rectify.
- Melon, Sakata's Sweet - Some of us like our melons Asian.
- Nasturtium, Empress Of India - Chasing the flavor of that first big, spicy nasturtium Kate tasted as a child.
- Okra, Burmese - Another sun-loving failure from our shadier past.
- Onion, Stuttgarter - Long-day storage heirloom. So great we can’t remember why we ordered it.
- Onion, Walla Walla - Scallions on steroids: a sweet bulbing allium that won’t keep. (We may have jumped the gun on the harvest with these last year).
- Oregano - Needs no introduction.
- Oregano, Zaatar - Just because this reminds us of the spice blend we love so much.
- Parsley, Giant Of Italy - A necessity. Also a big hit with marauding wildlife.
- Rosemary - Nothing quippy here; we just keep killing them every year.
- Scallion, Evergreen - Can’t get enough of ‘em. We were harvesting these babies well into fall.
- Shallot, Prisma - Feeling a little un-Ambitious this year (boooooo...)
- Spinach, Bordeaux - Going for a bit of French terroir in Morris County.
- Sunflower, Mammoth Grey Stripe - We’re finally able to grow these ten-foot beauties, which supposedly offer tasty seeds as well.
- Thyme, German - Always seem to be running out of it.
- Tomato, Green Grape - Although the Isis Candy variety has served us well for year, the spicy description of this cherry tomato was too enticing to pass up.
- Tomato, Rose de Berne - Sweet, pink, round...wait, we’re talking tomatoes here, right?
- Winter squash, Uncle Dave's Dakota Dessert - Even sweeter than Buttercup; need I say more?
- Basil, Thai Queenette - Super fragrant and productive last year, originally from Johnny’s.
- Borage - The bees went bonkers for the bombastically beautiful blue borage bouqet.
- Dill - Grown for the flowers, since we’re not big fans of the flavor (except pickles, natch).
- Ground cherry, Aunt Molly's - Last year’s surprise hit. Impressed everybody that tried them. Except the liars.
- Holy basil - We usually grow this tropical herb in a pot, but the one we grew in the garden last year thrived. This year we’ll dispense with the pots altogether.
- Pepper, Golden Treasure - Sweet, big, and thin walled. And slugs love ‘em!
- Pepper, Hot Lemon - Obligatory and unique.
- Pepper, Aji Dulce - Kate’s favorite pepper in the world. The sweet, buttery flavor of a habanero without the heat.
- Pepper, Thai Bird - Managed to save a few seeds from the fruits of a 2 year old potted plant.
- Pepper, Thai Burapa - The seed from these scorchers originated from Import.com peppers.
- Peas, Green Arrow (shelling) - Can’t wait to see how these do with actual trellising.
- Peas, Sugar Snap - We got a great harvest even though we neglected these poor springtime all-stars (thanks a lot, stupid baby)
- Tomato, San Marzano - Perfect for canning and don’t spoil nearly as quickly as some other tomatoes we won’t mention...
- Tomato, Gold Medal - New favorite, edging out dear old Nyagous. The fruit flies agree!
- Zinnia, Persian Carpet - Nico’s big contribution last year, these were beautiful bursts of color popular with both humans and their apian buddies.
Stay tuned for potatoes and asparagus. Bet you can’t wait!