Monday, June 28, 2010

Mulch and Cucumber Beetles

Daily update on garden work.

Cucumber beetles on a squash flower

Rain the past 2 days so I mulched, mulched, and mulched some more today when the ground is nice and wet. Weed fabric and/or newspaper in rows with old hay on top. Compost and straw (straw is an annual so seeds don't make weeds that take hold of garden) around plants and rows of plants. This comes after a good day of cleaning the gardening section of the garage. Now nice and neat and organized. So much better to find things that are needed.

Finally got around to putting tomato stakes in the ground next to each tomato and to secure the tomato plants to their stakes I cut up old flannel shorts to make ties for tomatoes. I didn't use string because it can cut the tomato stem. I like to use something thicker and softer, flannel cloth, so it's more gentle on the plant. I also pruned all the "third" tomato stems that I found at the "V's" in each plant. That extra stem is called a "sucker". It sucks energy from the tomato plant. They've got to go. At least weekly check for those and cull them out.
See the "3rd" tomato stem coming up between the "V"? That's what I gently bend back and forth a bit until it snaps off. Now look at the exact same spot with that "3rd" tomato stem removed:

Pulled out old radishes, pac choy, and parsnips that went to seed. Now more room to plant more cukes and carrots. Something is eating the tops of my carrots. Looks to maybe be a squirrel?

I'm hoping the later planting of cukes will aid in them surviving the dreaded cucumber beetle attack. I have some NEEM that I'm going to try because it's so infested. Even though the past few nights, as soon as I saw my first one, I've been going out twice a day and squishing them! YUCK! I can't believe that I can do that now. I didn't use to be able to do that. But here's what I'm wondering...if these bloody pests harbor the dreaded bacteria in their intestines as the literature says they do. Then when I squish one do I then become a vector transferring that squished out bacteria from bug, to hands, to plant??? I know, gross subject but one I've got to get a handle on. Bugs, good and bad, are a reality in gardening. That's just the way it is. Cucumber beetles are the bane of my gardening existence. I'll upload a pic and post more details soon. But these awful pests need to removed as soon as seen. Better yet, put row covering over where you plant them so the juicy, young cotyledons (Two first "leaves" that appear on a plant. Not really leaves but are the nutrients for beginning plants) are protected and they don't devour your plants and infect them with their awful bacteria that causes wilt...aka death. Something interesting that I noted is that there are beetles crawling around the base of the plants too; right on top of and in the soil. I did read that part of the cucumber beetle's life cycle is in the soil. Here's one interesting site I found on the buggers: It makes sense to understand their life cycle in order to get rid of the tiny beasts. And they are tiny and really good fliers!

Got hot and humid so I came in to do other chores like make some strawberry jam. Then another major cilantro harvest for cilantro pesto. The cilantro that I allowed to grow is too tall and shading the peppers and shallots. So time to yank.
Weed more, compost more, and mulch more esp the corn asap. Then more compost into compost tea barrel. Heck, who needs a gym when you have a garden to work in!

Happy gardening all!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Using Your Garden to Eat Wonderful Tasting, Fresh Food

Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too Cookbook

Strawberries, strawberries, and more strawberries! Holy cow the strawberries are abundant and amazing this year. I have just harvested our 3rd batch and there were twice as many today as there were earlier in the week! We sat around this evening eating strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream. Our kitchen and refrigerator smells like strawberries. In the past week and a half we've had strawberry shortcake, strawberry and rhubarb pie, strawberry sauce (strawberries and dab of honey cooked in a small pan until soft) on vanilla ice cream, and sliced strawberries in goats milk yogurt with maple syrup and granola. Heaven doesn't taste any better than this. I've also frozen a few batches and used a dehydrator to dry a batch. We'll see how that tastes once the season is a sweet memory. To freeze just put the cleaned and dry whole berries on a cookie sheet and freeze for an hour or two. Then pop into freezer containers. Easy as that. And when you need them they are whole and easy to remove.

This is year 3 of our strawberry patch and I'm noticing that some berries are a bit smaller than last year. Once this season ends it'll be time to work on the strawberry patch. I will post to let you know what I do and how it goes. To be honest I'm not quite sure what to do. I've been reading about maintaining a strawberry patch but I haven't yet decided what route I'll take. I guess we're just too busy eating strawberries!

The past few nights I've been reading one of the best cookbooks I think I've ever come across. It's written by Melissa Kelly, the chef and owner of a small restaurant on the coast in Rockland. Her restaurant is known for having great food and for serving extremely fresh foods. They have their own organic garden and raise some animals. Her book is titled: Mediterranean Women Stay Slim Too. An odd title I think, but an amazing cookbook! As I was reading tonight I noticed a recipe that I just have to share - Garden Strawberries with Fresh Sheep's Cheese and Balsamic Syrup. Once you grow strawberries or go to a Pick Your Own strawberry farm you will understand the succulent flavor that fresh, ripe strawberries have. Nothing like the boxes of strawberries you get in the grocery store that are shipped from California. My son ate a strawberry in the garden when they first were ripe and he asked why they taste so amazing. It's really quite simple; they ripen on the vine and then we eat them. They don't get picked before they are ripe and they don't get shipped many miles away. That's why local, garden produce tastes so darn good.

**Garden Strawberries with Sheep (or Goat) Cheese and Balsamic Syrup:
- 1/2 lb fresh sheep or goat cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 Quart vine ripe, fresh, local strawberries
- Balsamic Syrup - recipe to follow

1)Scoop the cheese onto four plates
2)Sprinkle each scoop of cheese with pepper
3)Divide strawberries between four plates, arranging them around cheese
4)Drizzle the cheese and strawberries with balsamic syrup
5)Slowly appreciate and enjoy the scrumptious treat!

**Balsamic Syrup
- 1 Cup balsamic vinegar
-1/2 Cup sugar
1)Mix vinegar and sugar together in a small saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until boiling
2)Reduce heat to medium and continue to cok until the mixture thickens to the consistency of syrup, stirring occasionally. This should take 10-15 minutes. Store in glass jar for up to 1 month.

I can't wait to try this tomorrow for lunch! I'll keep you posted.

Other garden news...we picked our first shell peas yesterday and had them in a salad! They were fantastic. We've been eating pea pods for over a week now and it's nice to now have shelling peas. Time to get some mint ready for peas tomorrow evening. Swiss Chard continues to be picked and used - it's been delicious this year as well. We've had several full heads of Buttercrunch lettuce - Love the stuff! I spaced the plants out more this year and they seem to really appreciate the space. This type of lettuce seems to share its best flavor when allowed to develop into a full head. Cilantro continues to be the queen of the garden! I'm having a hard time keeping up with all of it. I'm putting it in everything that I eat. Make another batch of pesto with it tomorrow. This will be our 4th batch this season. Although it'll be our first batch without garlic scapes. Let's see if it's as delicious without the scapes. We've been making ice tea almost daily. Apple mint, lemon balm, and chamomile seem to be the main ingredients as that's what I have a lot of right now. It's delicious with a spoonful of honey. Spinach is on its way out. Maybe one more harvest. Started thinning carrots so got our first batch today. They are about 6" long and the width of a large Sharpie marker. Will thin beets tomorrow and try a recipe that's on Lisa's Facebook page: Beet greens - slightly steamed, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, black pepper and fresh mozzarella; sounds delicious. And finally, sweet basil is almost ready to use. Can't wait!

Happy gardening and eating from your garden!

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Revisit with Garlic Scape Pesto, Raw Milk and Goat Cheese

Goats from Kennebec Cheesery - The Girls Who Give Me My Goat Cheese!

Garlic scapes hit the farmers markets last year and again this year. They are causing quite an uproar! I've grown garlic for years and until last year didn't know I could eat those funny, spiral, soon to flower tops. So glad local farmers have introduced us to this fleeting delicacy.

Glamorous Garlic Scapes

If you would like to read more about garlic scapes visit an older post here from July 1 2009 that ends with quite a bit about garlic scapes; you'll need to scroll down in that post to get to the garlic scape photo and information. Growing, harvesting, cooking information, plus some neat websites devoted to the lovely scape can be found there. So I won't repeat that here. You can access that post easily here: or you can go over there to the right and access that post as well as many others through the archive. Just click on the 2009 arrow and then the July 09 arrow. It'll bring you to all the posts of that month. You'll find the scape post there. What I will do here is share with you some new pesto experimentation I've had success with this year. It includes quite a bit about raw milk and goats milk.

Here's a twist on garlic scape pesto, the addition of local, raw milk, goat cheese. Instead of using Parmesan cheese I now use local, raw milk, goat cheese. Thanks to Lisa, a local teacher and fellow gardener, I have tried and converted to the benefits of raw milk. Let me just say that I didn't jump on this band wagon without lots of thought and research. As a previous science teacher I don't dump science advancements such as pasteurization lightly. And in fact I'm sure it is still quite necessary at times and in certain places. But through research I have come to the conclusion or should I say that I have formed a hypothesis that the reason for pasteurization is in large part due to our inhumane and unhealthy treatment of the animals we get milk from. For quite some time I've struggled with eating dairy. Not because of health reasons but because I couldn't get by the fact that the animals on the large agrifarms where the country gets a lot of our dairy products from are so poorly treated. Then came Barrels Community Market in Waterville, A gift from heaven! They have local milk and other local dairy products. Dairy products that come from grass fed, free range, and humanely raised cattle and goats. This new freedom to purchase dairy has led me to experiment with dairy products. After converting to raw cow milk we began to try raw goat yogurt. (Makes me think of the George Carlin skit on yogurt ever time I say or write that word!)

The local, raw milk, goat cheese I use is from a wonderful small and local farm that is also a cheesery. They make the BEST yogurt (there's that George Carlin thought again!) and goat cheese. Kennebec Cheesery is in Sidney Maine and is run by this wonderful couple. Turns out my son went to school with their boys. Here's their website: Their products are delious! You can purchase them at several farmers' markets including the Waterville, Skowhegan, and Augusta's Mill Park farmers' markets. You can also purchase them at Barrels Market.

When I buy their goat cheese I cut it up into chunks and put it in a glass canning jar along with some minced herbs of choice and a few peppercorns. Then I fill the jar with extra virgin olive oil so that the herbs and cheese are completely covered with oil. The olive oil preserves it. I do not include garlic due to the fact that I have found so much information on raw garlic preservation in oil and botulism. I don't want you to play with that! Once the oil is together I refrigerate it. It will last quite a while. The first time I did this I was quite surprised by the fact that the oil congealed; solidified. I threw the whole thing out. Silly me! Now I realize, after talking with David from Barrels, that of course the oil solidified in the refrig. It does that. So to use this oil preserved cheese you just sit the jar on the counter for a little while and it will thaw. Please use glass to store your cheese in oil (and all your food). Plastic leaches harmful chemicals into the food that is stored in it. Especially damaging is to microwave food in plastic. Take the food out of the plastic container and put in a bowl; cover with wax paper, not plastic wrap. Plastic may be good for things like lightweight and unbreakable eye glasses but in my opinion it has no place in our food storage system. The health risks outweigh the benefits.

**Back to the new pesto recipe:
- Mince 10 garlic scapes - add to food processor
- Add a chunck of goat cheese (about 1/4 cup worth) and pour some of the herb oil in (again about 1/4 cups worth)
- Add a handful of herbs of choice. I added cilantro since it was abundant at the same time as the scapes and since I also LOVE cilantro.
- Add a handful of pumpkin seeds or other nuts or seeds such as pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, etc. (This is another area to experiment with...the type of nuts/seeds to add to pesto)
- Whirl and serve over hot pasta, cook over fish (sustainably harvested) or meat (local meat of course), in with scrambled eggs or omelets, over steamed veggies....let your use and imagination run wild!

**Swiss Chard and spinach have been providing greens for a while now. Just when you need a twist to how to cook and serve them in comes garlic scapes. When I serve greens I usually keep it simple. Steamed greens with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Try this if you like greens -Swiss Chard and garlic scapes:
- Saute swiss chard in water. You can even add some white wine and/or veggie broth.
- Sprinke with low sodium soy sauce
- Add a good spoonful of garlic scape pesto.

**Preserving pesto in the freezer is easy:
- After making the pesto spoon tablespoon fulls into an ice cube tray. Freeze until hard; about an hour or two.
- Then pop the pesto cubes into a freezer bag (I know it's plastic :( and you have individual portions for future cooking. I personally can't wait to add it to some fresh Bruchetta once the cherry tomatoes are ripe!

Enjoy your garlic scape pesto and experiment with its ingredients and how you use it! And go ahead, be brave, try local raw milk. Here are a few links to information on the benefits of raw milk. There are so many more, just search the web.
and another (this one includes discussion on heart health benefits of raw Jersey milk:

Happy Gardening and Cooking!
Remember; "Gardening makes the world clean and fresh." AHS
PS - If you have any extra garden produce share it with your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Be sure to call ahead first and ALWAYS be sure it's meretriciously clean, fresh and ready to use. They will appreciate that.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rain, Rain...We Want Your Water!

My First Rain Barrel; Under the Eaves of the Roof

Sitting inside on a rainy, humid day I'm watching the rain and thinking about this precious resource and how easily we tend to take it for granted. Some arid parts of the country don't take it for granted but they abuse and misuse it just the same.Here in the Northeast where its abundance deceives us into thinking it's "ordinary" we often don't think about the need to respect it, appreciate it, and use its water wisely. So as promised, this posting is about water, and conservation of water, and rain barrels.

If you go back into my archives, June 2009, you'll find a posting that addresses water. But since water is THE most important resource we have here on Earth I feel it bears revisiting. For years we've heard that oil is our most valuable resource. I think I've heard that since I was a teenager. Well, look where oil dependence has gotten us? Into a big mess. Don't get me wrong there are things about oil that I appreciate such as the fact that it provides the materials for very lightweight eye glasses and tubes for transporting life saving medicine and blood. Even though using oil to transport us may have been a good idea 100 years ago it's just down right idiotic now. The same kind of foolish thinking that has us using clean drinking water to flush toilets. Again...stupid and it's time to change that thinking and behavior. Until we all have gray water hookup in our homes there are a few simple things we can all do to conserve this precious resource. That brings us to conservation and rain barrels.

Three years ago I heard about rain barrels while I was listening to a favorite podcast, The Alternative Kitchen Garden, I began looking up rain barrels on the internet and found they run around $100 each. Yikes! That's a lot. So I continued research and found you can make them. I downloaded the directions last summer and bought the pieces. All I needed was the barrel! I was in luck as a friend of a friend had one hanging around. It was a food grade barrel and clean. For a swap of some maple syrup I was a rain barrel richer. Well, now we're into year three of this rain barrel thing and we (who am I kidding- we; my husband made it) finally made the barrel. Gerry, my excellent rain barrel and cold frame maker got so excited about this that he made three more! Another friend of a friend had three of these food grade plastic barrels just sitting collecting pine needles out at his camp. He gave them to me to use for our newly started community garden. We only need two for the community garden so I was able to keep one myself. Two, two rain barrels! Wonderful. Well to be honest now I want at least 2 more.

Here's a picture of the newest "camp" barrel sitting out on the edge of our strawberry patch.

The blue rain barrel outside my kitchen door is placed right under the eave of the roof. There is no gutter feeding it but that would certainly make sense. We don't have a gutter there because of the amount of snow that falls off that side of the house. The first gutter we had there got annihilated by snow! The funny thing is that after 3 rain falls, one quite heavy, the barrel is completely full! That's 50 gallons of water just off that small section of roof. I'm seriously thinking about lining that side of the house with a network of rain barrels.

The white rain barrel that is out in the garden is 1/3 full of compost and 2/3 full of water. I used the garden hose to fill that. Each time I water seedlings/plants they get a drink of compost tea. (Benefits of Compost can be found in a May '09 post)The longer it sits the stronger the "tea" will get.
I have another veggie garden further back in the yard and NEED a rain barrel there too. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed having that barrel in my garden. No more need to lug out that hosing and running back and forth to the spigot turning on and off the water! Genius!

An issue with rain barrels that have open tops and are catching the rain from the roof is that their tops have to be removed so the rain water can fall in. Easy enough to do (easy for me to say, I didn't use the saw to remove it!) But once the top is removed and the barrel has even a little water in it a new problem arises. That is that now there is an open and stagnant water source. Not good as far as mosquitoes are concerned. But this is easy to fix, really! Just get some window screening and rope (we used electrical wire that was laying around from when we installed our invisible doggie fencing) of some sort. Cut a piece of window screen that easily covers the top and with plenty left over to hang down the sides a bit. Cover the top with this layer of window screening and use rope or whatever to secure in place. The photo above of the white camp rain barrel shows this well. Lets the water in, keep pesky buggers out so they can't lay eggs in the water. Perfect way to use less town or well water and save money at the same time!

Shortly I will upload pictures of the materials we used to make our rain barrels. To find directions online just type in "how to build rain barrel" into a google search. You'll find lots of sites including You Tube video clips.

Happy Gardening...and remember the wonderful saying from the American Horticultural Society: "Gardens make the world clean and fresh." I agree!

PS - Remember to turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth, when you are shaving, and when you are washing dishes. Don't let the water just run! :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Solstice and Fathers Day

Milkweed in Bloom with Bee

Fans in the windows during the night and that intoxicating scent from Milkweed in bloom are true signs that summer is here in Maine. Last night all four fans were strategically placed in windows and the scent from the Milkweed was hypnotizing! The garden is coming along nicely. Lettuce, spinach, pea pods, garlic scapes, and herbs galore! One disappointment this year was the radishes. They were pithy and wormy. Yuck! Thank goodness for our local Farmers' Market so we could buy some decent radishes for our radish and herb butter sandwiches.

Let me forewarn you that this is a "catch up" post. So it may bore you to tears. I'll apologize now. I'll begin "themed" posts once I get my summer zen going and my Apple laptop back from the school tech team. I really can't manage on this PC! Life without Apples; unthinkable. The first themed post will focus on our new rain barrels and compost tea. Only gardeners would appreciate such topics.

For the past month I've balanced getting my garden in with ending the school year. It somehow worked and I've even tried a few new things. For one, a friend asked us to store her rototiller in our barn for her! Yee ha! So we had a rototiller for the first time in probably ten years. So I redesigned the set up of our two vegetable gardens by rototilling them under and laying out the beds in a more manageable system. That being with 3' pathways between the beds. Now I can get my garden cart throughout the garden. Novel idea I know. Second I yanked all the herbs that come up anywhere they choose. That being mostly garlic, chervil, and cilantro. I had a full bed of cilantro that self seeded. I waited until it was about 3" tall and cut it all down before I yanked them and turned the bed under. Now it's full of peppers, cukes, shallots, broccoli, zinnias, and of course I had to leave some cilantro.

I'm trying some muskmelon and watermelon this year. Every few years I give this a try and I have never been successful with either. This year I put black weed fabric down as soon as we tilled the garden in April in attempts to heat the soil. Melons like heat. I left it for a solid month. Then moved the cold frame over a spot and in early June I made a large hole in the fabric and planted the muskmelon seedlings I got from a local greenhouse. The black weed fabric is still in place. I've been closing the lid each evening, until last night. To be honest the seedlings don't look so hot but they are still alive. That's progress.

Flea beetles! Ugh! Every year I struggle with these pests. They love my radishes and cucumbers. Last year I used floating row covers and that helped a lot. This year I forgot to put the covers down and now I'm struggling with the buggers. Them and slugs again. The slugs love my lettuce. I've been hand picking the slugs each evening and seem to be getting a handle on them.

So here's my goal for this year. Spacing. I always plant too close. This year I'm trying to thin and space the plants out better. Particularly with lettuce, beets, carrots, and radishes. Any suggestions for spacing? These are questions I constantly ask myself, "When is the best time to thin? Should I be meticulously spacing my seeds when I plant? Should I thin as the plants get larger? Should I thin as I begin harvests?"

Well, time to harvest lettuce, spinach, peas, and herbs for the local homeless shelter. Might even grab some strawberries while I'm out there.

As always, happy gardening. Here's a neat quote that's on a shirt I got about 20 years ago when I presented at the American Horticultural Society's annual symposium on kids and gardening...."Gardens make the world clean and fresh." I agree.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads. I hope you realize how important you are in your children's lives :) And Happy Solstice! The longest day of the year is a wonderful time here in Maine when the days can be so short.