Monday, October 11, 2010

The Fall Garden

Has it really been 6 weeks since I've written in this blog?! If there's anyone out there who reads this I just want you to know that it's not because I haven't been gardening, on the contrary! The garden continues to give us great food. It's just that school has started and I've been back to teaching full time. Getting the school year going for a class of fourth graders takes an enormous amount of time and energy. Unfortunately the blog was one of the items pushed off the plate. But today is Columbus Day and while I detest the idea behind the holiday I love the extra day off. Shallow, I know.

I've been working in the garden on and off all weekend. Actually I could say that I've been working in the garden on and off over the past 6 weeks. But for this weekend's worth...what a glorious weekend! I had two main objectives this weekend. One - harvest anything that a hard frost will take because we've had 1 or 2 soft frosts already. With that in mind I harvested all the squashes, melons, and tomatoes. The second objective was to plant the garlic. Not much of a to-do list I know, but we also had two and a half chords of wood to stack. We stacked the wood on Saturday so I can devote my attention to the garden. I got the tender veggies picked and the garlic planted. Now what!? Well it really is time to start cleaning the garden and putting some of it to bed for the winter. Every year I say I'm going to plant a cover crop and I never seem to get to it. I understand the benefits of this practice so why can't I get it together to do it? One year, many years ago, I planted winter rye (a cover crop) over my entire garden. It grew beautifully! Then the spring came and for some reason or another I didn't get the rototiller going on time and the bloody rye took root and hold of the garden. What a mess!! Note to self, follow the guidelines when planting a cover crop. Another year I planted clover in all my pathways with the good intention of just mowing them each week. Well, I made my rows too narrow and couldn't fit the lawn mower between the beds. What a mess!! So you see my reluctance. Here's my more current dilemma. I don't like to use a rototiller. For the past 10 years of so I use one only to break ground in new garden areas. I don't know, I guess I worry about the worms. I hate the thought of tilling the poor things in. Silly, I know. I've talked with folks from FEDCO and Johnny's about a "non-rototil" option and they don't seem to have one. Or they tell me to be sure to turn it at exactly "this" stage. Well, the likely hood of getting something done at "just the exact stage" is slim at best. So I've shied away from planting a cover crop. I guess I also figure that for the 7 or 8 years that I've been gardening in these spots I've put enough manure and compost in to totally alter the physical make up of the soil. It's pretty good stuff out there. So if you know of a cover crop that I can use that is gentle and doesn't require rototilling or exact timing of turning it under to prevent it from taking hold in a garden please let me know!

Garlic....I just searched my blog for garlic and see that last year at almost this exact time I had the same routine! Planting garlic, harvesting pumpkins, garden clean up, stacking wood. Aren't the natural cycles just reassuring? Every year I buy a few heads of garlic, gently pry the bulbs apart, and wish I bought more. This year is no exception. Although the reality is that the garlic I plant (about 6 heads/30ish bulbs) is usually enough to take me through most of the winter. Usually the last few we eat are just beginning to get a little brown and soft around the edges. So I guess I plant enough. For every bulb you plant you get a garlic head. Now, you could probably plant garlic bulbs from the grocery store but I don't recommend it. We want to plant the best of the best. Bulbs from suppliers are just that. I know they will make gorgeous garlic plants and heads for harvesting. When it's time to plant fall time, I find I follow a simple routine. Just like last year, and every year before, I pull out a bed of plants that are done. This year it was one of my heirloom tomato beds. I harvested all the green tomatoes that were left on the plants, pulled the plants and hauled them off to the compost pile, turned the soil, added compost, and planted the individual bulbs about 8" apart in rows about 8" apart. Every year I pick a different spot to plant the garlic. Rotating plantings of all garden plants is important. This simple practice helps trick the pesky bugs and ensure the same nutrients are being used by the same crop year after year and thus depleting your soil of specific nutrients. Following beans with corn for example is good because corn likes the nitrogen that the bean roots add to the soil. At least I think that's how that goes. Also, it's good to keep those pesky squash bugs guessing by moving pumpkins around so they are growing in different areas of the garden each year.

Speaking of pumpkins, what a pumpkin year we had this year! Holy cow! I think they really liked that GGS (great goat sh--) that we used this year. Tons of big, healthy, pumpkins. My son and I enjoyed harvesting them all. I'll have to go back to see what type I planted. My entire upper garden was taken over by pumpkins. But it was mostly corn up there anyway so that worked just fine. Didn't mind losing the carrots and basil that was up there since we had plenty in the lower garden.

Planting garlic (from

Back to garlic, once the garlic bulbs are in I mark the bed so I remember where it is in the spring. Don't want to accidentally turn under the garlic bed! Once the ground starts to freeze I will cover the bed with a good amount of straw. Not now though. Don't want pesky mice or moles taking up lodging under the straw and into that soft soil where the tender garlic bulbs are.
Here's a neat visual "how to grow" garlic tutorial: In this tutorial they say to soak the garlic bulbs in baking soda and liquid seaweed before planting. I've never heard of that or done it but I'm going to designate a small bed this year of garlic that I do this treatment to. I'll post next year how it goes. Or if you do this please let us know next summer how your garlic grows.
If you're interested in the different garlic varieties, such as which ones to grow if you want to braid them, check this out:,7518,s1-5-16-230,00.html?cm_mmc=OGNews-_-2010_10_13-_-growingatoz-_-garlic_varieties

Fall Coldframe

This year I'm trying something new and already I see how I want to do it differently next year. I'm playing with a cold frame. I planted lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots and about a week ago put the cold frame Ger made me over them. At night I close the frame and reopen it in the morning. So far the lettuce is doing fantastic. Spinach and onions are coming but more slowly and nada on the carrots. I also stuck in a planter of mint and thyme. I didn't want to plant those plants there as they are perennial and mint especially is very invasive. Mint is the last thing I want in my veggie garden! Or any garden for that matter. I have several beds of mint that are well away from other plantings. Then they can take over to their hearts content. For next year I also want a bed of herbs in a second cold frame. I'm thinking parsley, thyme, sage and chives would be good for that. I'll try basil too but don't expect that to fair too well in a fall cold frame.

Inside the cold frame

This has been an amazing tomato year. Like all the other area tomato growers I've had tomatoes galore. My only problem is that I'm the only one in my family who likes tomatoes! It's lonely being the only tomato fan. Eating bruschetta alone is no fun. So a few weeks ago I brought in a bunch of tomatoes, a bouquet of sweet basil, some fresh mozzarella cheese, some olive oil, and reduced balsamic vinegar to work for a special treat. It was my daughter's idea. She said that someone brought in Caprese Salad to her work and it was a hit. So that's what I did. And she was right, it was a hit! The smell of basil permeated the entire hallway. LOVELY!! Another teacher brought in some delicious bread to go with the bruschetta I also made.
Here's a photo of Caprese Salad -
Speaking of basil; I read a great book to my kids this year and the main character's name is Basil. So we planted sweet basil and are they loving it. I brought in a few seedlings I had growing at home just so they could smell it while they wait for their plants to grow. It's fun to watch a child go over to the grow lab and rub the bottom of the leaf and smell it, AND enjoy it!

Alliums and herbs...this year we had a good onion harvest and it was also the first year I planted scallions. We have been using scallions all summer and I've been giving them away and I still have tons!! I'll see what happens when the frosts come as to how they hold up. Leeks are looking divine! Had some last night on fish and potatoes and they were tender and sweet. Yumm! Herbs, in particular sage and thyme are going strong and tasting delicious. I brought the rosemary plants inside as they are tender here. For the winter I will move them to a spot in front of a window in the second coldest room in the house. They seem to like it there. Remember if you bring rosemary inside don't let it dry out!! That is sure death to a rosemary plant.

I've talked your ear off (plus I've got garden work to do) so I'll close here. May well be my last post of the season. But be assured I'm still gardening even if it's only under a single cold frame. Who knows, maybe I'll use this blog to keep you all posted on how our gardening at school goes this year. Last summer was a disaster. Lousy spot, not enough sun, no water...gee I wonder why it didn't do well!? Ha!

Cheers for now. Hope you've had a nice garden season and enjoy the down time this season brings.
Remember, gardens make the world fresh and clean,

Monday, August 23, 2010

From Growing to Harvesting (and still some growing too)

Countertop Pickles...They Came Out Great!
In the jar are pickling cukes, garlic cloves, shallot bulbs, and dill heads as well as salted water and white vinegar. What you do is fill the very clean jar with cukes. Then add a few cloves of garlic, shallots, and dill heads. In a separate jar mix 1 TBSP canning salt into 1 quart of water. 1/2 fill the jar with this salty water mixture. Then fill the rest of the way with the white vinegar. If you need more salty water be sure that its a mixture of 1 TBSP in 1 quart of water. Use that salty water mixture even if you only use a little of it. Be sure all contents are covered with liquid. You should have approximately 1/2 salty water and 1/2 vinegar.Cover the jar and let it sit out of sunlight on your counter. DO NOT SEAL TIGHTLY!!!! Let top sit lightly on top so gasses can escape. Let it sit on the counter for a few days. Watch how the cukes change from looking like cukes to looking like pickles. After 2 days I tasted and they were mouth puckering, way too vinegary! But I didn't do anything. I just let them sit a few more days. Then tasted on day 5 and it was good for me. I clipped on the lid and put them in refrig. Now is one month later and they are delicious! When you put them in the refrig you slow down the fermentation process so you want them to taste the way you like them before you put them in the refrigerator. But I did notice that they mellowed and became real pickles as the month progressed.

(Note: it is 4 years later and I just found another idea from The Old Farmer's Almanac to try. After the rain tonight I'm going to look for small veggies, including pickling cukes, to try this with. "Every couple of weeks, I made a fresh brine—half cider vinegar, half tap water—filling the crock two-thirds full. I’d add three or four dill heads, a few peeled garlic cloves, and a little pickling salt. Then I’d start adding vegetables, usually weighing them down into the brine with a small plate."

Now that we have that out of the way let's begin our post....What do you do when you have more tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini,cucumbers, scallions, than you know what to do with? You go on a mini vacation! Well not usually but that's what we did. But then you come back and you either share or you can put them up. Or maybe you do both.

We came back from a wonderful mini vacation visiting the western Maine mountains and hearing the Wailin Jenny's. If you have not listened to them, you must! They are so talented; 3 young woman (and 1 is from Maine!) and now a young man. The four of them play a variety of string instruments as well as a few others. But it's their voices that are so phenomenal. What is it about some music that just reaches right into your soul and rips it out?! Well that's them. They have a sound that is not only beautiful but it reaches to the depth of your soul. They are angelic and listening to them in the most beautiful and acoustically amazing barn there is just sets the backdrop for a wonderful and sensual evening. We saw them at Stone Mt. Performing Arts Center in Brownfield Maine. Here is a photo of SMAC: The music happens in the red barn to the back. The owners live in the farmhouse in the front

And here is SMAC's website:
And here is the Wailin Jenny's website:
The Inn at Crystal Lake is the closest inn to stay at. It's really nice. Not too foo foo if you know what I mean. I've stayed in inns before that are down right gaudy. Some rooms look like they came out of a doll house. What man wants to stay in a pink and lacy room!? I don't get it. But this one is nice, run by nice guys, in a real nice location (request a back room) and great food. Well to be honest there is a small B&B closer to SMAC and we stayed there last winter and we froze our buns off! No heat upstairs! I know here in Maine we can be a hardy group of souls and many, including us, do not have heat upstairs (it's just the way old farmhouses were built), but when you pay to go somewhere; I'm sorry I want heat! So we don't go there anymore. We are now Crystal Lake converts. Here's a pic of the inn's front porch (which by the way is not the inn's best feature!) I really enjoyed sitting out back.

Today I am going to make relish with my cucumbers, can more tomatoes, and try to get some local peaches to make peach butter. I'll post pictures and recipes when I'm done. Note to self - next year plant pickling cukes so I can make pickles!

Enjoy your garden's produce! And remember to replant whenever your crop is spent.

PS - Almost forgot to mention that I came back to a garden full of powdery mildew. Pumpkins have it the most; the leaves look like they are covered with a powdery substance. Here's info on dealing with it. But to be honest I'm just not going to deal with it. I think I'll still get all my pumpkins just fine. It just looks awful.,7518,s1-2-73-894-1-4-2,00.html

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tomatoes! And Peppers

The height of the summer garden is here and that can only mean one thing, at least one thing for me, TOMATOES!

Luscious Mouth Watering Heirloom Tomatoes at Various Stages of Ripening

You can see several things in this picture besides the tomatoes. Notice the curling of the leaves; a sign that the tomato is conserving water since it's dry and thirsty. Also notice the strips of cloth I use to secure the tomato plants to the stakes. Every year I struggle with how to hold up tomato plants. I've tried staking and no staking. I definitely like staking better than not but still have not figured out the best way to do this. The plants are so big this year and so full of large tomatoes that each plant has 3 -4 stakes supporting it. And I like using cloth to tie the stems to the stake as they seem to be a bit gentler on the plants than twine or string. Next year I'm going to try using hardware cloth. I think that's what it's called. It's metal and it's stronger than chicken wire. I saw this at the Belfast Middle School's garden last year. They took hardware cloth and made a 4' diameter circle out of it. They planted their tomato plant and put this "stake" around each plant. I thought that was a great idea!

Last year many of us in the northeast lost our entire tomato crop to Late Blight. This year there was a Late Blight scare earlier in the season over by the coast but the dry, hot weather took care of that threat. And do we have tomatoes! As I was picking tomatoes and bending suckers off the plants I had a wonderful experience. The heirloom tomatoes are growing near the 3 Sisters bed (corn, beans, squash). The beans I planted there have beautiful red flowers and the hummingbirds were there and so beautiful. There were six of them flying around, chasing each other, eating from the red flowers and they didn't even seem to care that I was there. I was able to enjoy their show for almost 20 minutes before they took off. I love that about gardening! You go out with one thing in mind and you get a totally unexpected show.

This year I planted a variety of types of tomatoes, some heirloom and some hybrid. I did that hoping to ensure some tomato harvest this year. I figured if something got to the heirloom I'd still have the hybrids to fall back on. Well, they are all doing magnificently!

Here's how my tomato growing has gone so far. I bought all my tomato as seedlings from FEDCO tree sale and a local greenhouse. I don't know if you remember but the Late Blight last year originated in tomato plants bought from the big box department stores. Another reason to shop locally. I like the variety available from the local growers. And I like to support them so they can make a living providing our area with local, delicious, organic produce and plants. The plants may have cost a little more but to me it's worth it. They are usually much healthier than those bought from big stores too. One thing I didn't do and wish I did was to label my seedlings better than I did. So now I have about 7 or 8 varieties out there and don't know which ones are which. I know which are the paste tomatoes by what they look like. And I know the hybrid's by what they look like (picture perfect looking). I obviously know the cherry tomatoes although I planted a few different varieties of them too and didn't label them. I know which are heirloom but don't have any idea what heirloom they are. I know Brandywine because I grow them a lot. But I have some small ones that are just luscious and I have no idea what variety they are! Ugh! So lesson learned - get better plant labels for next year and label the tomatoes and peppers better. I mention peppers because I bought 6 different types of pepper plants too and don't know which is which. But they are turning red right now and are beautiful! But I'm only getting 1 large pepper per sweet pepper plant. I wonder what that's about. I've been fertilizing them all season with great goat manure, compost, compost tea. So not sure what's up with that. Lots on the hot pepper plants though and they've been red for a while. Sweet Pepper Plant with Ripening Pepper
Did you know that green peppers are unripe peppers? The longer you leave them on the plant they will change color. Most of mine are turning red. Some are turning yellow. I've seen orange ones at the store but haven't grown any. I like ripe peppers better than green ones. They taste, well better! And our hot summer this year is perfect for ripening peppers on the plants.

So now that tomatoes are coming in what the heck do we do with them all!? Eat them, cook with them, can them, dry them, freeze them, and share them. I have had a tomato sandwich everyday for the past week or so. I've had Bruchetta on Thursdays for dinner the past two weeks. Thursdays because I can get a great loaf of fresh baguette bread from the farmers' market on Thursdays. Today I canned my first batch of tomatoes and made my first batch of salsa.

To make my salsa -
I cut up my most ripe tomatoes, ones I've had on the counter for a few days, real red, about 8 or 9 of them. I started simmering them while I cut up 2 sweet peppers, one was red and one was yellow. I also cut up a long red hot pepper. I left the seeds and all in and boy did it give the salsa a kick! I cut up about 10 scallions since I've got a ton of them in the garden and about 6 tiny cloves of garlic. I sauteed the peppers, scallions, garlic in a little bit of live oil in which I diced up some cilantro. After the pepper mixture looked fairly cooked I added it to the tomatoes. I minced some cilantro, parsley, basil, and oregano and added them to the tomatoes. I added a tiny bit of salt and pepper and a good slice of lime. I let it simmer for a few hours and it came out great!

Something I want to try is Roasted Tomatoes in Oil - Here's two websites that explain how to do that. It sounds great! if you want to can a substantial amount of this and if you just want to try a small batch. Here's a picture from the Passionate About Baking website: Roasted Tomatoes in Oil
NOTE: read the safety tips at both these websites as a reminder to use caution when preserving anything in oil!

But all is not bliss in the kingdom of tomatoes. The otherworldly Tomato Hornworm has shown it's presence. The green Tomato Hornworm is the larvae of the Hawk Moth and these large caterpillars can do a lot of damage to tomato plants. As my husband says, the Tomato Hornworm looks like something out of the movie, Men in Black. Since they can do an amazing amount of destruction to tomato plants in a short amount of time you want to get rid of them. But they are huge and can be somewhat intimidating. And since they are so green they blend in well with the tomato plants making them easy to miss. It may be their waste or frass, blackish to brownish pellets that you'll notice first. Or it might be the fact that the tomato plants look like deer have been eating them because leaves are missing and all you see are stems. That's what I first noticed today. The top of 2 plants looked like deer had been eating them. Upon closer inspection I found the dreaded frass and knew to keep looking. Sure enough there the bugger was! I am a whimp so I put on a garden glove and pulled it off. And did it take quite the tug! Wow, it was really holding on. I put it in a jar to show my family, one member was not impressed they other very impressed. Then I threw it outside for the birds to eat. I was going to give it to my neighbor's chickens but thought they might think it weird that I arrived with a lone caterpillar for them. I will look around the plants again each evening and morning to see if I find more. Something tells me that if I found one, I'll find more. I just couldn't see anymore this morning. Here's a few pictures of the dreaded darling -

Can you see the Tomato Hornworm? And it's waste pellets to the left of it?

A close up of the Tomato Hornworm

The first thing I noticed - stems minus the leaves

A Close Up of the Tomato Hornworm in a Jar

And leave it to Johnny's Selected Seeds here in Maine to have a video on how to control Tomato Hornworm! You can view it here: Be sure to watch the whole thing so you can see if you have the beneficial parasitic wasps laying eggs on the hornworm! If so then you are in luck. If considering using Bt here's what Wikipedia says about it:

"Spores and crystalline insecticidal proteins produced by B. thuringiensis have been used to control insect pests since the 1920s.[10] They are now used as specific insecticides under trade names such as Dipel and Thuricide. Because of their specificity, these pesticides are regarded as environmentally friendly, with little or no effect on humans, wildlife, pollinators, and most other beneficial insects. The Belgian company Plant Genetic Systems was the first company (in 1985) to develop genetically engineered (tobacco) plants with insect tolerance by expressing cry genes from B. thuringiensis.
Bacillus thuringiensis serovar israelensis, a strain of B. thuringiensis is widely used as a larvicide against mosquito larvae, where it is also considered an environmentally friendly method of mosquito control."

Finally...remember learning about density? Well check this picture out and see if you can figure out why the layering in these, just out of the canner, jars of tomatoes look the way they do!

So get your magnifying glasses out and check your tomato plants. Then eat your tomatoes any way you can!
Hope you are enjoying your garden and remember that gardens make the world clean and fresh,
PS - Great site...100 ways to use your tomatoes!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's Coming From the August Garden

Tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, herbs, beans, carrots, scallions, peppers - all to bring to Boston to Erin!

My one watermelon. Don't laugh! I know some of you who live further south get "real" watermelon. But up here in Maine this is about as good as it gets! Not only do I have one watermelon but I also have one cantaloupe. They both are still small but this is the furthest I've gotten with watermelon and cantaloupe since living in Maine. I'm sure the warm summer has helped. I also used black plastic, well it's really black landscape fabric/weed block cloth, to warm the ground where I planted them. A few weeks before planting I put black plastic down to warm the soil. First I heavily composted the area then I put the plastic down. Then at planting time I made a hole, added more compost, and planted the seedlings. So they are still surrounded by the black plastic. When they began to flower I added more compost and watered with water that I added some fish emulsion to.

In the garden pumpkins are still green but are getting larger. This is a shot of a field pumpkin that will be used to carve into a Jack-o-Lantern. I also have pie pumpkins; they are actually beginning to turn orange.

Finally here's a picture of a tomato plant that the leaves are all curling. I contacted extension and MOFGA and they both said that this is a physiological disorder. Something that tomato plants do during very dry conditions. It's the plant's way of conserving water. It looks awful but won't harm the fruit. That's good!

Today I pulled beans and harvested any that were on the plants. Not many but enough for a dish. I also harvested shallots. I dug in compost in those areas as well as where the potatoes were and then planted a fast growing lettuce mix, chard, spinach, and carrots. I know I was going to plant a cover crop where the potatoes were but I changed my mind. I really want some spinach and chard for the fall.

The garden is going great and we're really enjoying the produce. I'm going to cook up the tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, scallions, garlic to make salsa. Can't wait!

Well, hope you are enjoying your garden and able to share some of your produce with others. And remember, gardens make the world clean and fresh,

A Day at the Coast

Lobster Boats - A Local Maine Food

Vine ripe tomatoes and lobster, what do they have in common? August in Maine! Certainly we can eat tomatoes, even Maine tomatoes ( and lobster all year. But they don't compare to eating them fresh in Maine in August. Mix that with everyone's need for time off and time away from everyday life and you've got the makings for a wonderful way to spend a day away from it all. Yes, that includes the gardens. The photo above is of a few lobster boats at Five Islands Lobster Pound near Reid State Park. Two absolutely beautiful places along the coast of Maine. They may not be the "most" beautiful places along the coast but they sure come close in my book. They are where I like to spend my coastal time. An hour and a half from home they are about as close as I can get to a real coastal get away that includes a sandy beach and lobster boats.

Back home the gardens need tending; that never changes. But garden tending is like housework; it'll be there for you when you get back from your get away no matter what. So it's important to step away from it all from time to time and enjoy some raw and natural beauty. It's funny how a garden can be a summer's entire entertainment. For me that is what it is. Not only does the garden provide fresh, organic, luscious food but it's also my entertainment for the season. I don't know what I'd do during the summer without gardening. I'd be bored to tears! Everyday I go outside (I just read that outdoor exercise treats depression much more effectively than indoor exercise! Another great reason to garden rather than go to the gym!) into my gardens and voila! Things to do! Lots of things to do, see, and experience. How can you be bored when everyday you're not quite sure what you're going to do and then you go outside and find that there are weeds to pull, seedlings to sprinkle with water, compost to attend to (which I'm really bad at!), beds to compost and mulch, bees to watch, tomatoes to pinch, flowers to pick, herbs to harvest, vegetables to pick.....on and on? That's what gardening is to me.

I've been to the coast several times this week and will be visiting the mountains and Boston next week. So today I need to tend my gardens so that they will withstand my time away, again. Things to do will include more fall plantings of greens and some root veggies and some herbs like cilantro. I may even try some peas. I need to replant those at home and at the community garden. So that means digging up spots where harvested plants were and work in generous amounts of compost. Today I will probably pull up spent bean plants and harvest my shallots and replant them with the above mentioned seeds. Then I'll head over to the community garden to do the same. Johnny's Selected Seeds was very generous in donating seeds for the Soup Kitchen plots at the community garden. There is also enough to give to the community gardeners there as well as the school kids who garden there. Wonderful!! I dug up the potato and greens beds last week and will compost and replant today with greens and roots. Where the potatoes were I'll put the greens. Where the greens were I'll plant the root veggies. Rotating crops is very important for several reasons. One is so that the same plants don't deplete one type of nutrient from the soil. Another reason is so pests that munch on a particular plant isn't given an easy opportunity to find those plants. Mix it up a bit! I'll finally head over to check on my school garden and just make sure it's not overgrown. So I'm assuming weeding and dead heading flowers will be what I do there.

In the mean time here are a few more pics from my trip to the coast. Enjoy!
Five Islands, Maine

Sand Pipers at Reid State Beach Park (I think that's what kind of bird they are!)

A Crab at Low Tide

The Beach at Reid

The Beach at Reid

"Home Base" at Reid

As always, happy gardening and your times away from the gardens too,

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Plums, Bruschetta, and the Joy of Mixing Things Up

Plums From Our Plum Tree!

We planted a plum tree at least 5 years ago and this is the first year we've gotten so many plums. And are they sweet, juicy, and delicious! Last year we only got a few plums. If you are used to purple plums like you get at the grocery store these yellowish plums may surprise you. Yes, they are ripe and they are soooo good! The tree is near my pool and it's what you see outside our bathroom window, especially if you're a guy, ha! So my son and husband have been watching the progress of this tree all spring and summer. They have watched it develop beautiful flowers in the spring and the fruit grow and change color throughout the summer. It was my son who first noticed the big black growths on several branches of the tree. Turns out it was Black Knot, a fungus that needed to get cut off. So I cut off each branch below each black knot which dramatically altered the shape of the tree. Then we burned the branches and now the tree is Black Knot free. I was planning on baking with the plums but they never made it into something. We just keep eating them!

Bruschetta - not a great picture but click on it you'll see it a bit better

Well the highlight of the summer has arrived; ripening tomatoes and the making (and enjoying) of Bruschetta! Bruschetta is a simple and decadent dish. The first Bruschetta of the season is pure enjoyment. I don't know about you but I can't get enough of the stuff. Made of chopped tomatoes, minced sweet basil, garlic, and shallot, and a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This "topping" is enjoyed on a chunk of a baguette. Absolute heaven! Some like to add fresh Mozzarella cheese to this combination but I usually don't. All those garden flavors just dance in your mouth creating a sensation that is hard to describe. Ya think I like this stuff?! If I'm just making enough for me I chop 1 large or 2 small tomatoes or a handful of cherry tomatoes or a mixture of each. Using different kinds of tomatoes with different colors makes for some surprising flavors each time you enjoy this treat. I finely mince a garlic clove and shallot bulb and add them to the chopped tomatoes. Then I take a pinch from the top of a sweet basil plant, mince the leaves and add to the tomato mixture. Put in a dash of good olive oil and a dash of good balsamic vinegar and you've got Bruchetta! Simple and delicious. Add the Bruschetta to slices from a fresh baguette loaf, add a nice glass of red wine, go outside in the shade and enjoy! This is often a favorite meal for me this time of year. Heaven doesn't get much better than this. Simple things really can be the best of things. I've been reading about Mediterranean cooking and find that they are so right. Use fresh, local ingredients and keep the recipe simple so the ingredients are highlighted and you will always end up a delicious and nutritious meal.

And finally, I realized something today while I was picking zucchini, squash, and beans for the soup kitchen. Last week I pulled all the garlic and earlier this week I planted lettuce and beets where the garlic was. When I went out to get the squashes today I could really see the squash plants. Not having garlic and dill in front of the plants allowed a new perspective of that area of the garden. So I walked around the garden looking at the other spots where I pulled spent plants out and noticed how nice it was to see the areas looking different. It's like watching all the new plants coming up in spring. The back garden has plants like corn, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Those plants take all summer to grow and fruit so they won't get replanted with anything. That garden is different than the "spring" garden where all the spring crops were planted and now I'm busy replanting. It's nice.

Here's a photo of the onions I've harvested. Their tops feel over last week and now I've got them drying in the sun for a few weeks. They are on a screen that allows air to circulate over and under them. Unlike garlic, which drys in the shade, onions dry in the sun.

And here's a photo of the spot where the onions were. The spot was turned under, composted heavily, and now planted with beets, chard, and lettuce. I'm hoping this spot is where I'll put the cold frame when the weather really turns. We'll see.

Well, as always, enjoy your garden and cooking with your fresh garden produce.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Community and School Gardens

Our Classroom Garden

This year I helped begin our town's community garden. It's looking beautiful and I thought I'd share a few photos. The photo above shows my 4th grade classroom's small garden.

Newly Constructed Raised Beds of Community Garden

Early Season Community Garden Beds

Later in the Season

My Nieces Tending a Soup Kitchen Bed in the Community Garden

Our 2nd big harvest for the soup kitchen. The first harvest I didn't get a photo of which was too bad because there were lots of greens! When I got to the garden spot the other day the greens that were left were "mowed down" presumably by a wood chuck so I grabbed what was left. And the carrots look to have had a deer nibbling on their green tops!
1 batch Yukon Gold Potatoes, Carrot thinnings, and Beets

Hope you enjoy the photos.

If you'd like more information on community or school gardens here are two good links to start with.
community gardening: and
school gardening:

Happy Gardening!

Dilly Beans, Scallions, Herb Oils, 3 Sisters,Replanting, Fish Drinks, and Other Midseason Gardening Chores

Three Sisters Garden: Corn, Beans, and Squash

It's really feeling like the middle of summer. Actually with our absolutely divine weather it's feeling like late August. This past week has been a fairly lazy week in the garden. It's been a nice week. It's nice to just enjoy the garden and all the hard work that's gone into it. I've enjoyed just putzing in the garden, harvesting zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, a few cherry tomatoes, scallions, basil, parsley, chard, pulling weeds here and there, mulching, giving fish emulsion drinks to tomatoes and flowers, replanting cukes, carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach, dill. As I've pulled up spent plants I re-dig the area, re-compost, and replant. I'm thinking that I'm getting close to the end of replanting. I will continue for another 2 weeks and then that will be just about it. Although now that I have a small cold frame I'm going to try some lettuce, spinach, and radishes under that well into the Fall. Speaking of radishes, I had to replant them again even though I did that about 2 weeks ago. Flea beetles ate them right up. I was surprised by that as I thought of Flea beetles as a cool season pest. So anyway, I replanted and this time covered the radish row with a row cover. That should keep the buggers at bay.

I sent some photos of my tomato plants to Caragh from County Extension. She wrote back saying that my tomatoes may have a magnesium deficiency. She recommended sprinkling Epsom salts, magnesium sulfate, around the base of each plant. Interesting! So I did that. I don't know if it's my imagination but the rolling of the leaves that concerned me has definitely relaxed! Amazing! I also gave each of my tomato plants a heavy drink of a fish emulsion tea. Basically it's just water with some liquid fish emulsion added to it. I then mulched each plant again with some of my GGS (Great Goat Manure). They are looking good! And with this dry weather I think we may have tomatoes this year! Yeah!!! Think Homer Simpsom saying, "Ummm...bruchetta..."

Two plants that I'm watching carefully and babying are watermelon and cantaloupe. I haven't tried these in years as I never had luck with either one of them. The plants are looking great, full of flowers, but not a fruit in sight. Hummm :(. I'm not sure if they were to develop a fruit now if it would ripen in time. We'll see how it goes.

Made quite a few zucchini dishes this past week, enjoyed cucumbers in dill vinegar, and made the most amazing blueberry pie! It was an experiment. An Italian open pie on a butter crust. As it cooled I went for a walk. When I came back it was 1/2 gone! :) I guess it was a hit. I didn't get a photo. But I'm going to make it again with a young woman who I'm tutoring and I'll be sure to get a photo then and post it. I also made dilly beans. I have step by step instructions in a post from last year. Just type "dilly beans" into the search and it'll bring you to an August post. I think it was August 2nd. This week was also a great week for making herbal oils. Again, I have a post from last year that explains this process in detail. Just type in "herb or herbal oil" in the search bar. The oils I made this year were tarragon oil, cilantro oil, Italian oil (a blend of basil, oregano, garlic chives, chives, parsley), and basil oil. Chervil is coming back again (it's a wonderful, early spring herb) and I may make some with that as well. I also made some dill vinegar using white wine vinegar.

Something new this summer in my garden was scallions. Lots and lots of scallions. And am I glad I planted them! They have been great. I always hesitate pulling onions during the summer and eating them because I want them to get as big as they can. So having a ton of scallions eased that guilt and provided alliums almost all summer. And they are wonderful raw in salads and cooked in just about anything. Delicious Scallions

And finally I must share my happiness over another experiment I did this year. My friend Lisa was planing a Three Sisters Garden so I got so excited about what she was doing that I tried it too. And am I glad I did. What a lovely addition to the garden! It's just beautiful. The 3 sisters are corn, squash, and beans. I planted pie pumpkins for squash, scarlet runner beans, and an edible corn on the cob corn. Here is a link to how this is planted: Here's another website with directions. The reason I like this one is they explain how to save the seeds of the plants for next year. I want to try saving some seed this year and so I find this helpful. I've saved scarlet runner bean seed in the past. As a matter of fact these plants are from those seeds! So I thought I'd try corn, pumpkin, and tomato this year. I'll have to double check to be sure my corn and pumpkins aren't hybrid. If they are I won't be able to save them as plants from hybrid seed don't grow true. If you like seed saving heirloom seed/plants are good to grow. More about all this in a later post about seed saving. I'll post a photo of what this lovely 3 sisters planting looks like soon. The beans are in flower and they have the most lovely red flowers that hummingbirds just love. Some pumpkins are the size of very large softballs. And soon the corn will be forming ears.

Well that's all for now. Happy gardening and remember that gardening makes the world clean and fresh,

Friday, July 30, 2010

100 Brick Pizza Oven - Part 2 or You Can Grow a Pizza!

First Pizza to Come Out of the 100 Brick Oven!

I want to start this post by saying I LOVE Maine. I love almost everything about Maine, the beauty, the people, the weather, the independent and creative spirit, BUT...with that said, I have to say that Maine has the worst pizza (and hard rolls) ever. I have never been able to understand why thick thick dough, enough cheese for 3 pizzas, and dripping sauce is savored by so many here. For 20+ years I've lived with this "pizza" and reminisce about the pizza of my youth every time I eat this stuff. Then along comes Stu and his brick ovens and OMG it's NYC style pizza. With my first bite I was immediately transported back to my childhood, eating the best pizza that as a kid I totally took for granted. Actually, just watching the pizza cook I was brought back in time. I wish you could look at the pictures and see, smell, and taste this experience. It really is in those big bubbles of dough and cheese and the thin crispy crust. But not Pizza Hut thin crust. No, it's so much different and sooo much better.

Thank goodness for the Artisan Bread Fair in Skowhegan yesterday. Link to an article about it: There I found a wooden "peel". That's what the long handled flat board to put in and remove bread/pizza from the brick oven is called. Here's a photo of two styles. The all wooden "peel" is used to put the pizza into the oven. Sprinkle with some corn meal, put the rolled out dough on, and add toppings, then slide the pizza into the oven. The metal "peel" is for sliding the cooking pizza around in the oven to have it cook on all sides and for removing the finished pizza from the oven. Bread (or Pizza) Peels

It turns out that the bread fair is timed purposefully on this date, as the bread conference website states: "The Artisan Bread Fair will occur this year on the Eve of Lammas Day, or as it was called in even deeper antiquity, Lughnasadh. This is the ancient, mystical feast day halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox when we celebrate the season's first grain harvest and revel in the Miracle of Real Bread from Earth to Hearth." To be honest I had forgotten about this celebration and was so glad to be a part of it again.

Before the fair there was a 2 day bread conference - I will have to go to that next year. Something I saw at the fair was a very large packet of "bread" seed. Now I don't think that when you plant this you grow and then harvest loaves of bread, although that's a neat thought and visual! But what the packet contained was seed for growing grain that is then harvested to mill and make flour with! Cool! So as you can imagine Ger, hubbie, and I are pulling out the old pool cover that I use to kill lawn/grass areas with and we are going to get a spot ready to grow some grain next year. Probably only enough for a bread's worth but it'll be fun to play with this idea. See everything, even pizza, comes back to the garden! I loved when I saw that connection there. Stay tuned next year to see how this turns out.

Here are a few more pics of our pizza baking last night. After the pizzas were made and eaten we sat by the fire and enjoyed a lovely evening outside. Cool, breezy, and no flying insects pestering us. Even my son got into this whole deal. Well who doesn't like a great pizza!?

Wood that Kyle split into smaller pieces for the oven

The fire is roaring and moved to the back of the oven when it's time to make the pizza

Sauteing some onions, tomatoes, and peppers (from the garden of course!)

Pizza Cooking! Can you see the bubbles?

Here's to Happy Gardening, Healthy Eating, and Family,

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Did Anyone Say Zucchini!?

Two Zucchini in Front of the Zucchini Plant

How is it possible that this is my second season of writing a garden blog and I haven't discussed zucchini!? Most gardeners are familiar with this lovely plant and vegetable but have mixed feelings about it because zucchini can quickly overwhelm us with their sheer numbers! I planted one zucchini plant; 1. And I have more zucchini then I need. But I am determined to use up what I am harvesting. So this post is mostly about what to do with all that zucchini and some recipes my family enjoys. Certainly you can give zucchini away. But there comes a point when your friends and neighbors will say no to all your zucchini. There are certainly soup kitchens, food pantrys, and homeless shelters. They would be very happy to have your zucchini. But let's be real about something, size. No one wants a baseball bat sized zucchini unless they plan to fill it with a filling. They do make lovely containers. So bright and green. And actually the large zucchini make great zucchini chips (similar to baked fries but round).

When harvesting zucchini it's important to check your plants daily. Small zucchini, like the small one in the photo, taste so much better than the large bat sized zucchini. I can remember my mother's comment when I brought her some veggies from my garden. She commented that my zucchini was awfully small. Obviously a negative comment. When I explained to her that smaller was better, more tender her following comment was very telling and somewhat funny. She realized that all the baseball bat sized zucchini she got from her neighbor all these years wasn't so great after all! Zucchini isn't the only garden vegetable that tastes better when young, fresh, and small. Think yellow summer squash, green beans, beet greens, cucumbers; even small "new" potatoes are delicious!

So here's what I've made over the past few days with our zucchini of all sizes.

What would summer be without Zucchini Bread? Well here's a bit of a twist on that:
Lemon Zuchinni Bread from Cooking Light magazine (and it's delicious!)

Photo taken from:
Mix in a large bowl -
2 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 cup sugar - I used a little less and next time I will substitute some maple syrup for some sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (Oh! I forgot the cinnamon!)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I never add the salt)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Mix in another bowl - and turn on your oven to 350 degrees F
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup milk (I used local raw whole milk)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
2 TBSP grated lemon rind (organic lemon if you can get it)
1 large egg (I always use local, free range)
Now gently mix the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and stir just until moist
Spoon batter into an oiled and floured bread pan
Bake at 350 for 1 hour
For a topping -
Mix with a whisk 1/2 cup of powdered sugar with
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice (from your grated lemon) and drizzle over the hot bread
Enjoy with some nice iced herbal tea!

We also had a surprisingly delicious grated zucchini side dish last night. Taken from The Victory Garden Cookbook
Grate zucchini
Then, to remove some of the moisture, if you want to do that, sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea-salt and let sit in a colander for 30 minutes. Then gently squeeze out the liquid. Here's the funny part; the recipe book says that if you are restricting your salt to rinse the zucchini before squeezing. But I thought that the idea of the salt was to leech the moisture out. Anyone know anything about this?
In a pan saute just about anything you think would taste good with this sauted shredded zucchini. I used what I had on hand. I had a ton of scallions and garlic from the garden so I used that. I also had a few cherry tomatoes so I used them. I considered using chard but didn't want to get away from the zucchini as the main ingredient. So I sauteed scallions and garlic. Added tomatoes and zucchini. Then when almost done I added minced fresh basil. It was really good!

And of course you can always make a stuffed zucchini with just about anything you want in it. The men in my life liked a friend of mine's idea to use some ground sausage. I don't normally cook with meat but we had some local sausage in the freezer so I decided to give it a try. I noticed it was spiced with hot chili peppers so I must admit it smelled really good when cooking. I just mixed the cooked sausage with some cooked brown rice, onions, garlic, and zucchini. (Note: cook sausage first and drain fat!...also then cook onion before adding zucchini and any other veggie you might add such as tomatoes) I added some left over homemade spaghetti sauce to it. Put it all in the zucchini shell; topped with some local cheese and baked until the cheese melted. And they liked it!

Tonight we are trying some Zucchini Oven Chips. If they are any good I'll post tomorrow.

So for now, enjoy your zucchini any way you can!
PS - Check out this yummy sounding zucchini recipe:

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Spray or Not? And Proper Disposal

This is a short post but one I think I need to include. Yesterday I found evidence of Early Blight on my tomatoes. I bought a Solo sprayer and some Liquid Copper Fungicide from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Now the dilemma. Do I spray or not? To be honest I don't like to spray anything. I worry about the bees. But I lost my entire tomato crop last year and can't bear the thought of loosing it again this year.

Yesterday I dug up all my potatoes so I wouldn't have to spray them. The only other thing that has gotten my potatoes in the past are those icky Colorado Potato Beetles. But if you stay on top of handpicking and squishing the orange egg masses that are hidden on the bottom of the leaves you can stay on top of these potato pests. As you know I've also had issues with Cucumber Beetles. I also handpicked them and used some floating row covers. That seems to have worked and I seem to have gotten ahead of the buggers although I do see some deep green color at the base of my zucchini plant and a few of my pumpkin plants. Not sure if that's that virus from the beetles or not. So none of these things have led me to spray.

But loosing all my tomatoes again to something I can't pick off! Ugh! spray or not to? Well, I chose to spray the liquid cooper. MOFGA was very supportive in helping me with this use. Eric, the pest specialist, told me we don't want to use this product anywhere around water as it's detrimental to aquatic organisms. I don't have a pond or stream or lake near my garden so that's ok. Eric also said a concern is that we don't want a buildup of this stuff in our soil so be careful with spraying and rotate crops that are sprayed so they aren't in the same soil year after year. I rotate crops anyway; that's a common organic practice. No known harmful effect on dogs or cats. So I carefully read the package just in case Eric missed something and the package does say caution with bees. Ugh!! There's my concern! So out of fear of the worst and the fact that you can only spay before the dreaded late blight hits or spraying is useless I decided to spray. I decided to spray only the tomatoes that are not near squash plants because squashes are full of flowers that are full of bees. So I carefully measured, mixed, and went out to spray.

There was a little bit left in the sprayer so the next dilemma, how do I dispose of it responsibly? I knew I shouldn't put it down the drain; it affects aquatic organisms and our water drains to a treatment plant which ultimately drains into the river. So I called Johnny's; they said to dump it into the woods. Ugh. I have to be honest and say that I love Johnny's but would have liked more precautions presented to me upon purchase of this product and any spray product. As you can see, the use of any insecticide, fungicide, herbicide, whatever has issues that need to be considered. Starting with what to purchase, how to safely use, and how to safely dispose of. Even though this spray is labeled as safe for organic gardens, these factors still need to be considered and dealt with responsibly. Just because it's safe for organic gardens doesn't mean it's safe for bees. They are, after all, designed and made to kill insects. So here's what I did. I did that old dilute method that I don't believe in for a minute but did it anyway because I didn't know what else to do:( and sprinkled it throughout the woods out back. Granted there wasn't a lot in the container, probably only 1/3 of a cups worth but it still felt...wrong. Are my tomatoes worth this to me?

As you can see there are a few things to keep in mind when using any product that addresses this "getting rid of" pests of any sort. If you find you need to use some type of spray always use organic products and treat them as you would any chemical, carefully and with respect to the environment. If a product such as this, one that is considered safe for organic gardens, causes such concerns can you imagine using non-organic chemicals!? Second, mix up and use the least amount you can. You can always mix up more if you need to but the less you make the less leftovers you need to deal with and dispose of.

That's it for now. Happy gardening! And even with these issues and dilemmas, gardening does make the world clean and fresh,

Sunday, July 25, 2010

100 Brick Pizza Oven - Part 1

Finished 100 Brick Portable Pizza Oven
Click on the pictures to make them larger and easier to view.

Last weekend I volunteered to work at the pizza oven at the opening celebration of the a local Community Garden. But first we had to build it. So Stu, the master bread baker and guy in charge, led the way. It was great fun, amazing pizza! (pizza in Maine just isn't pizza when you were weaned on NYC pizza) Well this pizza was it! Thin and crispy crust, not too much cheese, and lots of bubbling of dough and cheese going on. So I got to bring the bricks and insulation platform home to play with before we use it again at another local garden celebration this fall.

Here are pictures of our oven building in progress:

First you have to find something strong enough to build the oven on. Now this is designed to be a portable outdoor oven so we put it on our picnic table. Once in place take the time to level the insulation platform carefully. The platform is filled with 6 parts perlite to 1 part cement. I'll get the dimensions and post them shortly. This platform was part of the package so we didn't need to build it.

Next you build the bottom of the oven itself. This is where the fire will be made and the pizza placed to cook. It consists of 28 bricks and the bricks do not touch the wooden edges of the platform. It's very important that the second row of bricks be flush with the row before it so when you put the pizza in you're not hitting those brick edges with the pizza putter in tool. I'm sure there's a name for that flat wooden disc you lay the pizza on to then slide into the oven. When I find it I'll change my post to include that new vocabulary word.

Next the sides are built. They consist of a row of 4 bricks laying horizontally topped with 8 bricks positioned vertically. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of this before we began to put the top on. But this is one side.

Then the top is put on. You can see the metal holders that are used in the picture above and the picture below. 8 bricks across each row and there are 4 rows.

The back is finally placed. This part was the trickiest. If you are considering building this contraption, carefully look at this picture. It took us quite a while to figure this out as I had a hard time remembering how it was done. Notice it's opposite of how the sides were built. The first row consists of 9 vertical bricks, then topped with 4 bricks (or an assortment of brick pieces) positioned horizontally. These bottom bricks are placed so the wide side of each brick is clearly visible.
And then finally, the last top row is placed.

Voila! Look inside the completed oven!'s still level! Success.

Finally cover the oven with something to keep the wood platform dry in case of rain. We are using a tarp.

Now we need to get the tools for making pizza. So stay tuned for Part 2 of making an outdoor brick oven pizza. Which will of course be topped with veggies and herbs from the garden!