Ground cherries are gooseberries

The ground cherries in bed 9 are beginning to ripen, so be sure to check the lower branches and ground underneath for the yellow husk-covered fruit.

If you’re curious what to do with ground cherries, it might be good to know that they’re also known as Cape gooseberries (long story short: new world plant, cultivated in South Africa before introduction in Britain, and now here). In other words, look for gooseberry recipes. Here, for example, is a recent Guardian recipe for gooseberry chutney. Or see this BBC overview of different uses, including cakes, crumbles, cordials, and more.

Anaheim Peppers

Since I couldn’t find any poblano starters this year, we’ve planted anaheim peppers instead. They’re the only large pepper among our hot peppers. They look like dark green, wrinkly versions of Hungarian wax peppers–those are in our sweet pepper bed, by the way, and the hot wax peppers can be found underneath the overgrowth from the neighboring tomato plants. While you could stuff anaheims much as you would Hungarian wax peppers, you can also use them as a mild substitute for poblano peppers. Here’s how.

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Tabasco peppers

Tabasco peppers are fairly small, about 1-inch long.

Tabasco peppers are fairly small, about 1-inch long.

It’s late in the season, but we have a batch of tabasco pepper coming in. You can find them in bed #5 directly adjacent to the swiss chard. The fruit is exceptionally small, as you can see in the photo, and they are proportionately hot. Tabasco peppers rate anywhere from 30,000-50,000 on the Scoville scale, which makes them hotter than jalapeños (3,500-10,000) or serranos (10,000-23,000), but not as hot as habaneros (100,000-350,000).

We planted tabasco peppers because we had heard that gardeners had taken to making their own pepper sauces. As one might imagine, the tabasco pepper works well in this application, in part because of what makes the chile unusual: it has a juicy, not dry interior. While there are many different kinds of pepper sauce recipes, many of which include an extended fermentation using a starter culture of one sort or another, one very simple recipe consists of pouring hot vinegar with a pinch or two of salt over a handful of peppers and letting the mixture stand for anywhere from one to six weeks, covered. We’ve got plenty of peppers, so give it a try.

Grilled Radicchio

Be sure to split the head of radicchio through the base of the stem.

Be sure to split the head of radicchio through the base of the stem.

While radicchio adds a delicious bitter counterpoint raw in salads, when cooked, it loses some of its bitterness and gains a wonderful depth of flavor. I’ve often quickly sautéd it to use as a pizza topping or as an addition to a winter squash pasta. Grilling, however, is a more ideal technique for dealing with bitter heads of salad greens like radicchio or escarole. The dry heat ensures that excess moisture evaporates and that the outer edges crisp slightly. It’s also delicious.

You’ll find the basic technique below.

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Late summer crops and early fall greens

A full head of radicchio from the garden

A full head of radicchio from the garden.

Our late summer plantings are ready for light harvesting, including young lettuces in beds #4, 5, and 9 (i.e., arugula, romaine, merveille des quatre saisons, and escarole), as well as young kales and collards in beds #3 and 9. Please cut leaves from the exterior edges of these plants. With luck, we should be able to harvest from this crop until we put the garden to bed.

Full heads of radicchio in bed #7 are also ready or nearly so. You can tell if a head of radicchio is ready to harvest when the inner head feels firm to a gentle squeeze. And, yes, the exterior leaves of radicchio tend to rot. Those rotten leaves, though, are the reason why the interior heads are a beautiful red and white–they’re protected from the sun. Just peel off anything inedible and wash thoroughly.

You’ll find what’s ready to harvest below.

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Using cherry tomatoes: Tomato Pesto

Cherry tomato plants can be incredibly productive, and it is better for the garden to harvest tomatoes when they’re ripe rather than leave them to fall and rot into the soil. This sauce is an excellent way to make use of an abundance of cherry tomatoes, and works well on any fresh or dried pasta. It comes together quickly in a food processor or blender, and it can be adjusted to suit your tastes.The recipe below is fairly light, but it can be made richer to suit your taste in a number of different ways. While I enjoy a small handful of almonds in this dish, you could use a nut with more oils such as pine nuts or even pepitas, which would give this an exceptionally rich feel. You can also add more olive oil. Some versions of this recipe will use more than 1/2 cup of oil. You can also add a dry grating cheese to the sauce as you would for a basil pesto. In any case, it is an exceptionally flexible and simple sauce, and one that you can enjoy even when the garden isn’t in season by using a single carton of cherry or grape tomatoes from the supermarket.

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Ready to harvest: tomatoes, peppers, beans, and more

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Tomatoes are in!

We planted a number of different varieties this year, including sungold (cherry), Principe Borghese (small plum), indigo rose (large cherry), and a blight resistant cherry from the Cornell Extension. All of these are in, and more. We also have a few large tomatoes, including the beautiful heirloom pictured above, the pink Berkeley tie-dye.

Since so many of our varieties are not red tomatoes, use feel and smell to judge each tomato’s ripeness. A ripe tomato will feel soft and smell pleasantly vegetal. Overripe tomatoes will pop or ooze slightly when picked and smell strongly.

We also have plenty of sweet and hot peppers, including bell, shishito, pepperoncini, jalapeno, poblano, Thai Dragon, Tabasco, and cherry. Our other hot weather crops are also coming in now, so look for eggplant, try our two different varieties of okra (red and green), and begin to pick some of our wonderful tomatillos.

Ready to harvest:

Bed #2: Tomatoes (sungold and Cornell), broccoli, sorrel

Bed#3: Tomato (indigo rose), beans

Bed #4: Tomato (black krill, Principe Borghese), sweet peppers, parsley

Bed #5: Tomatillo, okra, hot peppers, chard

Bed #6: Tomato (Glacier), cucumbers

Bed #7: Summer squash, nero kale, dill,

Bed#9: Chicory, eggplant, beans, chard

Bed #10: Broccoli, chard, beans

Bed #11: Amaranth

Garden Work Update

August 8, 2015

We had a great day this morning: Celia, Katie, Jim D., Paul, and Deb came out to work hard. (Let me know if I forgot someone!) Katie and Jim D. got us started with the strawberry ‘renovation’ (see more below) and did some great work! Everyone else helped pull old plants, clean up debris, and prune the dead parts of plants still going, among other tasks.

We pulled that one zucchini plant that was dying. it’s been a rough year for our zucchini and cucumber plants. We lost that zucchini plant to the squash bugs, and powdery mildew has definitely taken hold. As bad as the leaves look with the mildew, I’d say we avoid cutting the ugly leaves and let them shrivel up naturally. Hopefully the plants will balance themselves out between new leaves and old just enough to keep producing, but cutting leaves, especially with the cucumber beetles and squash bugs, could just make the plants even sicker. Keep watering the zucchini and cucumbers at the roots, avoiding the leaves. For next year, let’s look into more effective ways to prevent or fight the mildew, because it definitely is a big ‘pest’ for the garden. (And the milk ‘solution’ was a dud).

What still needs doing in the garden? Plenty, for sure. Let me know what you see, but here’s my list from the morning:

  • The borage on the side of bed 1 is starting the fade, sadly. Below’s a picture of it from its peak a few week ago. We can start cleaning up the dead parts.

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  • We can also keep the tomato plants healthy by pruning the dead leaves and stems. This is somewhat delicate work, since we certainly don’t want to hurt the plants, but a little pruning of the dead leaves will also help air circulation, which prevents disease. Here’s a picture I took of what the dead leaves look like on the tomato plants.20150808_114910
  • Anyone interested could always cut some more of the leaf miners from the swiss chard in beds 5 and 10. Check here for more on the miners.
  • In beds 7 and 8, the tomato and squash areas are just a little messy; do what you can.
  • Feel free to harvest chamomile in beds 10 and 6 aggressively.
  • Water, water, water, especially anything with row cover (that’s the white cover we use to try to prevent pests and disease from damaging new seedlings). Also water any places that look bare, but have a stake. When we pull plants, we pull the stakes, so any seemingly bare spots with stakes are actually new little seeds and seedlings that need our water.
  • Leave the radicchio in bed 7 to continue heading up like cabbage. Josh will send an email once that’s ready to be harvested.
  • Harvest. Some plants, like cucumbers, actually stop producing fruit if not harvested.
  • Weed. If you’re not sure, let it go, but weed as you can, especially around pepper plants and eggplants (it’s easy there to tell plants from weeds).
  • Identify the problem! Our cucumber looks poorly. Here’s a picture, any thoughts?20150808_115413

That’s it for daily tasks. Here’s a little bit about brussels sprouts and then more on strawberries, our project continuing to next week.

Brussels Sprouts
We have Brussels Sprouts growing in bed 8! Here’s what I’ve gathered on how to care for and maintain them. I liked the advice best from Cedar Circle Farm and Rodale’s:

  • Picking sprouts after a few frosts makes them sweeter, so let’s leave them for as long as we can
  • Water generously, and go for the leaves (unlike other things we plant) because their leaves absorb water
  • Remove yellowing lower leaves, but definitely preserve most leaves, especially at the top
  • We could try ‘topping’ them in late August. Cedar Circle describes ‘topping off.’
  • When ready, we’ll harvest from the bottom up

Strawberries

I’m definitely just getting a handle on how to ‘renovate’ our june-bearing L’amour strawberry plants. We’ve started the process, as I mentioned, by cutting back the leaves.

Here’s what I’ve gathered:

  • We’ll want to finish off clipping the plants and clearing away the debris. Here’s a video that helps explain the clipping. We’ll just do this clipping once in the season, and then let the plants recover for the rest of our season. Hopefully, we’ll finish next Saturday.
  • Along with this, we’ll want to weed the area, but carefully, since strawberries have shallow roots, and we’ll pull the plants growing into the asparagus.
  • We’ll then put down some fertilizer. The fish emulsion should be fine, but one site suggested 1 lb of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet. Any thoughts?

Now, here’s the hard part. Our beds and rows are definitely overgrown, but renovating in general involves pulling the rows way back to let them grow in. One site suggests 2-foot wide rows, but our beds are 4 feet wide, so we’ll need to sort that out. We need even smaller rows, though, for renovating, because the idea is that they grow back to 2 feet.

Here’s some advice from Iowa State:

June-bearing strawberries are most productive when grown in 2-foot-wide matted rows. If the strawberry planting has become a solid bed several feet wide [note: that’s us], renovate the planting by creating 8-inch-wide plant strips with a rototiller or hoe. Space the plant strips about 3 feet apart. June-bearing strawberries grown in rows should also be renovated. Narrow the rows to 8-inch-wide strips by removing the older plants, while retaining the younger ones. After renovation, the strawberry plants will develop runners and eventually form a 2-foot-wide matted row of plants by the end of summer.

Some June-bearing strawberry varieties are extremely vigorous, producing runners beyond the 2-foot-wide matted row. These runners should be placed back within the 2-foot row or removed to prevent the planting from becoming a solid mat of plants.

The University of Minnesota extension provides similar advice: Rototill or hoe to narrow the rows to half the original width. The production of new runners should again result in rows 12 – 18 inches wide.

Finally, here’s the best thing I found online. This video is very cool. The other video is a little precious, but this guy just goes for it. Hopefully, it’ll get you in the mood for the hacking to come next weekend! We don’t have a rototill but I think we’ll just pull, pull, pull unless anyone has another thought.

After we do all this, we’ll still water about 2 times a week, but only in the mornings to avoid disease, so let me know if you’re willing to water the strawberry beds. We’ll also continue weeding, but otherwise let the plants take shape again.

Then, in the fall, we’ll cover plants with straw to protect the crown for the winter.

That’s it for now!

How to use chicory (dandelion greens)

I’ve had a few questions about one of our new additions this year, a cultivated chicory likely better known as dandelion greens. You’re likely used to eating another chicory, radicchio, which is often included in mixed salad greens (and we’re growing that this year as well). You could certainly use dandelion greens as salad too, though I’d recommend tasting a small leaf before doing so. Like all chicories, dandelion greens are bitter, and certainly more bitter than the fairly mild radicchio.

I’ve found that we most enjoy cooked dandelion greens. A quick blanch it in salted boiling water will remove its unpleasant edge and reveal a rich deep flavor. Mark Bittman pairs it here with mashed potatoes mixed with olive oil. I added it to a batch of David Leibovitz’s Parisian gnocchi with mornay sauce, where the sharp flavor nicely balanced against the richness of the mornay sauce.

For a simple side of greens, I’d recommend braising.

1 bunch dandelion greens (12-16 oz.), thoroughly washed, stems trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup olive oil, duck fat, or butter

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup water or chicken stock

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar or honey

Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add garlic and sauce until fragrant, then  add chopped greens, stock, sugar, and salt. Stir briefly, cover and turn heat to low. Braise from 20-30 minutes until greens with stems are tender. The cooking process and sugar will mitigate some of the bitterness, but season to taste with additional sweetener if necessary.

Ready to harvest: Beans, cucumbers, peppers, and more!

July 26, 2015

The cold slowed down our summer crops, but they are slowly beginning to ripen. Our one plot of cucumbers in bed #6 has begun to produce lovely six-inch fruit, and the beans in bed #10 are nearly ready to pick. Tomatoes are coming, but they aren’t here yet. And if you’re like most of us, you’ve been eyeing the beautiful ears of corn in bed #11. I have a plea from HM: Please wait to harvest it! She has a plan for it that she’ll announce shortly.

If you wander through the beds, you will see that I’ve pulled a number of spring crops and replanted for the fall, including multiple lettuces, collard greens, romanesco broccoli, Chinese cabbage, rapini, cress, cilantro, red Russian kale, tatsoi, curly kale, cabbage, and beets. I’ll get a few more crops in the ground in the next week or so as we harvest the last of the beets.

Here’s what’s ready to pick:

Bed #2: Basil, broccoli, beets, and garlic.

Bed #4: Romaine, Italian parsley, sweet peppers.

Bed #5: Chard, escarole, cherry peppers, poblano peppers, jalapeno peppers.

Bed #6: Lettuce, kohlrabi, cucumbers.

Bed #7: Zucchini, nero kale, dill, sage.

Bed #8: Zucchini, marjoram (look for it almost under the zucchini, in the center of the row), dill, arugula.

Bed #9: Chicory, chard, and beets.

Bed #10: Broccoli, beets, beans, chamomile flowers.

Bed #11: Amaranth.