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!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Garlic and Potato Harvests and Borage

Harvesting Potatoes

It seems early to be harvesting garlic and potatoes! I guess it seems early because it is early! I just went back into last years post and saw that I harvested garlic Aug 16. (I love that new search tool!) But I may have allowed the garlic to mature more than I did this year. I'm not sure. I decided that I'm going for long term storage. I think that's what I went for last year too as my garlic lasted all winter! That's a first for me. This is what I wrote last year about timing your garlic harvest: "It depends on what your garlic goal is. The longer you wait, the larger the bulb. The danger in waiting too long is that the bulb will start to split apart into individual cloves. If an earlier harvest is done when the plant is still upright and showing a lot of green, it's because the goal is long term storage. This earlier harvest helps insure that the garlic cloves are "well-wrapped" for fall and winter feasts." So that's what I went for. The very top 1/3 of the garlic tops are brown leaving a the bottom 2/3's of the tops green. I remember that I use to wait until all the garlic tops were brown and dead. And I do remember the bulb cloves splitting apart. And my garlic made it until March if I was lucky. As you can see my garlic looks great so my timing is right for me and my use.
Once the garlic is dug, not pulled, but carefully dug out with a garden fork, they need to cure or dry before storage. Just put them in an airy, shady spot for 2-3 weeks until dry and then store. Just harvested and ready to cure garlic. Notice green tops and Borage in the background.

Here's a closeup picture of Borage, Borago officinalis, from wikipedia:

Borage is a wonderful herb. Years ago I took a medicinal herb course with a woman from Maine, Deb Soule. Her book, Roots of Healing, is a medicinal herb book that I totally trust and find invaluable to have on hand and refer to. Anyway, one of the first things we did during that workshop was explore the benefits of Borage. An annual plant that easily self sows, Borage has pretty little star shaped blue and pink flowers. Borage is one of the few true blue flowers we can grow in our gardens. I enjoy putting Borage flowers, with their cucumbery flavor, in ice tea and on salads. If I'm feeling Martha Stewardy (rarely!) I even freeze flowers in ice cubes, 1 per cube and serve in drinks. They do look pretty that way. They can also be candied and used to decorate cakes. But there's more to Borage than just looking pretty. It is said to improve the quality and taste of tomatoes if planted near them. Another reason Borage is good to have in the vegetable garden is because they attract bees. And we know that we WANT bees in our gardens as they pollinate our plants and that gives us our food. Having bees in our gardens is a good reason for not spraying insecticides in our gardens. Insecticides often cause harm to bees as well as the insects you're trying to get rid of. When I think of Borage I think of stress relief. When I took that medicinal workshop we made a Borage Flower Essence and I swore by that stuff. I used it a lot for my family and myself whenever we were feeling stress. I even gave it to my kids before school if they were nervous about going. One thing I should mention is that as Borage grows the leaves and stems become prickly so you may not want to plant them near a path where bare legs will rub up against them. Consider growing a few Borage plants in your vegetable garden.

Freshly Dug Yukon Gold Potatoes

As for potatoes. I went with the "harvest before Late Blight hits" decision. So all the plant tops are green, some still in flower. This is what I found. The Yukon Gold potatoes were plentiful and large. So it appears that the early harvest was OK. It was actually quite enjoyable! The warm soil was so much nicer to work in than the usual cold soil I experience when harvesting potatoes. So it worked out just fine harvesting them now. But I am wondering about storage. Picking them later I've never had to deal with storage during the heat of the summer. I will certainly watch this and keep you posted on how this plays out. I've got them now in a harvest crate, covered with a hand towel (to keep light out; potatoes need to be stored out of light or they turn green and you don't want to eat green potatoes) in my mud room which is on the north side of my house. My basement is too damp to put them down there. With this earlier harvesting I did notice that the Red potatoes weren't as large or as plentiful. There were many very tiny potatoes on the roots of these plants. I also noticed that I had to do a lot of digging for the red potatoes but I didn't for the gold. Not that it matters but I thought that was interesting. Something I notice when I dig up potato plants and other plants is that the soil looks a dark brown color when I dig up most garden plants. But whenever I dig up potato plants the soil, while loose, looks a lighter brown. It looks like the nutrients are just stripped from the soil. I'll have to read a bit more about this.

This year I am going to try planting a cover crop where the potatoes were. I've tried cover crops before and never have had luck with it. I hear it's so easy yet I goof it up every time. The first year, at the end of the growing season, I planted my entire garden with winter rye and I guess I let it grow too long because the roots took over and they were close to impossible to remove the following spring. It was a nightmare trying to till it up! Then one year I planted clover. I don't remember what happened but I do remember it wasn't pretty. One problem I have is that I don't normally use a machine to till the garden. And it seems that with cover cropping you need a tiller. I have a friend's tiller now so can fall back on that if I need to. So I think I'm going to give it a try in this small area, rather than the whole garden, and see if I can figure something out. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Here's what I did with a few small potatoes tonight for dinner:
*Boiled Potatoes, Garlic, Chives, and Butter
Dig potatoes
Clean well but don't remove the skins
Cover potatoes with water and bring to boil. Put a sprig of Rosemary and a clove or 2 of garlic in the water
Boil gently until soft
Drain water, garlic, and Rosemary. Toss with minced chives and butter and enjoy!
You can also press the garlic and rub onto the potatoes if you want to.
We served this with whatever veggie is in the garden and a piece of fish. Tonight it was steamed zucchini.

Happy Gardening! Hope your gardening is bringing you lots of different, delicious, and nutritious food!

Berries, Pea Nodules, and Late/Early Blight

3 Garbage Cans Full of some "Great Goat Manure" (I really call it GGS)

What an interesting week it's been. It's taken me all week to get caught up on getting the gardens to where they need to be. After a week away the gardens needed quite a bit of tending to when I returned. The number one job was weeding. Even with all my mulching, the weeds were almost out of control. I enjoy the task of weeding throughout the summer. But weeding like I had to do this past week I don't enjoy. The difference in these weeds is that they were huge, so many of them, and they made me not even want to walk near my garden never mind enter it. Then I read Andrew Sulliven's post on taming his garden jungle and that inspired me to roll my sleeves up and just do it. I weeded the pumpkin, potato, corn, garden first. What a mess! The next day I weeded my main veggie garden. While there I also ripped up the peas and replanted with cucumbers. After I pulled the peas I noticed something I've never noticed before. Look at these pea roots and tell me what you notice: Little white puffy things AKA Pea Root Nodules

According the the University of Minnesota Extension: "These nodules are formed when a beneficial soil-dwelling bacteria (Rhizobium) gets into the root cells of legumes like peas, beans, and peanuts. The bacteria lives in these nodules and fixes nitrogen. “Fixing” means that the bacteria actually changes the unusable form of nitrogen (N2) into the ammonia form of nitrogen (NH3) that the plant needs to grow and thrive." So these are wonderful things! Nitrogen is very important for gardens. It is important for plant growth and gets used up quickly by garden plants. Nitrogen is available in compost, manure, green cover crops and things such as blood meal and soybean meal. It needs to be replenished in the garden but be careful that you don't put too much especially to plants such as tomatoes where fruit is your primary concern as nitrogen is great for leaf and stem growth. But all plants need healthy leaf growth since the leaves are where photosynthesis occurs. And photosynthesis is how the plant makes its food. Important! Corn likes nitrogen too. If you're looking at a bag of fertilizer, hopefully organic!, Nitrogen (N) is the first element listed on the label. That number tells you the percentage of nitrogen in each pound of material. For example a bag that says 10-5-20 says that 10% of the fertilizer is nitrogen.

Back to the tending and weeding routine of the garden... I also pulled up bolted lettuce, spinach, radishes and replanted with more lettuce, carrots, radishes, swiss chard. I thinned out carrots and the leeks and found a mole happily nibbling on my beets! So you can see the garden plots are always changing. Lastly, yesterday I weeded my perennial flower garden. What a mess! Not only did I weed but I thinned out plants that just love to take over and become central focus even when I don't want them to. So I did a heavy yanking of things like lemon balm, purple bee balm, primroses and now we can see some of the other in full bloom flowers such as purple coneflowers.

As for the Late Blight scare, it's still an issue and concern. Especially since we've got rain today and tomorrow and I never got out to my tomato plants yesterday. I will have to wait until the rain stops before I go check them out. You should not be touching plants in the garden when they are all wet. That becomes an easy way to transfer spores from one plant to another. Not a good thing. I have decided to dig up all my potatoes before they become infected. I meant to do that yesterday too but didn't get to it. Hopefully I won't be too late. But I did find out that I have Early Blight and I was instructed by MOFGA pest expert to remove and destroy those leaves and keep my fingers crossed! So I did and they are.

Finally, it's been a crazy berry year! Holy cow do we have berries. I can't even begin to keep up with them. But I've been picking each morning until I can't stand it anymore and we've gotten some nice baked goods out of them, some jams, some frozen, and lots just eaten. After strawberries were done the red raspberries came in full force. Then before they were done (because they are still not done) the black raspberries came in and the high bush blueberries. We are still eating all three. Here's a favorite way that we enjoy our berries. On plain yogurt made from a lovely local cheesery, Kennebec Cheesery (see older post for more info on them), some maple syrup, homemade granola, and berries. Yum! Here's a pic and my recipe for our favorite granola. This batch barely lasts a week. Berries, Yogurt, Granola, Maple Syrup

**Mary's Homemade Granola-
Mix the following in a large bowl:
3 Cups of Oats
1 Cup of sliced almonds
1 Cup coconut
1/2 Cup sunflower seeds
1/2 Cup pumpkin seeds
Dash of cinnamon
(I buy the above ingredients in bulk at our local health food store. Better quality and much cheaper than grocery store)
In a small bowl mix the following:
1/4 Cup maple syrup
1/4 Cup honey - local (stuff in super markets is yucky)
1/8 Cup oil - I tend to use canola
Now mix the liquid into the dry ingredients and bake at 250 for 1 and 1/2 hours turning every 15 minutes
Let cool and add 1 Cup chopped raisins or dried cranberries.
Store in a sealed glass jar
NOTE: Try different ingredients such as different nuts, dried fruits, oils, sweetner combinations etc.
Enjoy by the handful, in yogurt, as cereal, in baked goods such as muffins or cookies.

Well, that's it for today! I'm off to check on my school garden and our community garden.
Happy Gardening and remember that gardening makes the world clean and fresh,

PS - It's January and we're suppose to get a "Nor'easter". :) I just found this recipe and will try it next year:

Flaugnarde Recipe
a flaugnarde of roasted berries, honey and cream
Flaugnarde Ingredients

* 2 pounds (1 kg) mixed fresh or frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc.)
* 2 tablespoons (30 ml) frambroise or vanilla extract
* 1 whole egg
* 2 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream, not ultrapasteurized (see sources)
* 1/2 cup (120 ml) honey
* 1 vanilla bean, optional

Method for Preparing Flaugnarde with Berries

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenehit (205 Celsius).
2. Toss berries with frambroise or vanilla extract and spoon into a baking dish.
3. Roast the berries at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 Celsius) for twenty minutes or until they release the bulk of their juices, which not only improves the depth of flavor in the berries but also eliminates excess liquid which may cause the flaugnarde to be runny or to break easily.
4. Reduce the oven’s temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Celsius).
5. Remove the berries from the oven and strain through a fine mesh sieve, reserving juices for another use.
6. While the berries strain, beat whole egg, egg yolks, heavy cream and honey together until they produce a smooth and uniform batter.
7. Spoon strained berries back into the baking dish, add vanilla bean, if using, to the center of the berries and pour batter over the berries and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Celsius) for forty-five minutes or until the the flaugnarde browns, and the center trembles ever so slightly when touched.
8. Allow the flaugnarde to cool, but serve warm.

YIELD: about 6 servings.
TIME: about 1 hour.
Waste-not/want-not. Reserve the juices from the strained berries to flavor herbal teas, cream, yogurt, smoothies or to reduce to a fine syrup.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Late Blight Update July 21 '10

Late Blight on Tomato Plant

Well, it's confirmed...Late Blight report in Waldoboro, Maine. Late Blight affects tomatoes and potatoes. It was the cause for the Great Irish Famine. It is lethal to tomato and potato plants.

Late Blight was a huge issue last summer due to all the rain, moisture, humidity. And it looks like it could be an issue again this year. Last year I lost my entire tomato crop; all 20+ plants and all the tomatoes that were on them. It arrived to my garden mid August, just as tomatoes were really beginning to rippen and I was getting ready for canning. From what I'm hearing Copper Sulfite is the only material available for organic gardeners to use that is effective on Late Blight. BUT....much caution must be used as it is toxic to fish and other aquatic creatures as well as bees and earthworms. So if you've got anything in flower please use this with extreme caution as we do not want to harm bees. Also, follow the container directions to the tea so as not to kill organisms in your soil.

Here's some information for you. Guidelines from Eric Sideman, the pest expert from MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) - "Copper must be used in a way that does not lead to accumulation in the soil. It is a necessary plant and animal nutrient, but like many other things is dangerous in high amounts. Follow the label, use as infrequently as you can, rotate fields of crops that often get diseases that need the spray so you do not spray the same field often, etc. But, copper is the only effective material available to organic producers if late blight arrives."

Also, here are a few websites with information and photos of Late Blight.
This one is about Late Blight on tomatoes -

And this one is about Late Blight on potatoes:

And here's a website with detailed information on Copper Sulfite and the use of it. I highly recommend reading this. Thanks Arlene for this link!

One last note. If you find you need to remove plant material from your garden that is infected with Late Blight, be sure to bag it up and throw it in the garbage. DO NOT COMPOST PLANTS AFFECTED WITH LATE BLIGHT!

Good luck and let's hope it's not as bad as it was last year. I'm thinking it won't be since we are aware of it and hopefully ready for it.

This is part of gardening..the bad with the good. Still I'd like to repeat...happy gardening; gardening makes the world clean and fresh...even when we deal with issues like late blight.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dead Heading Flowers and Medicinal Herbs

No Reason to Post this Picture Besides the Fact That I Love Zinnias!

Below are two photos of Calendula officinalis, also known as Pot Marigold. I grow calendula for several reasons. I think they are pretty; bees love them and having bees in the garden is a very good thing as they help pollinate plants such as cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes; Calendula flowers have orange and yellow petals that are edible and can be put in things such as salads; and they are wonderful medicinally. Calendula is a soothing herb and can be steeped in oil or made into a tincture. Calendula oil is so gentle yet so effective. It's beneficial for any type of skin irritations and the oil can be directly spread on the irritated area. It's easy to make calendula oil. Just harvest flowers after morning dew has dried but before heat of the day. Put the petals into a clean jar. Fill with olive oil. Let steep. I steep out of sunlight for a good two weeks or so. Sometimes I strain the flower petals out; sometimes I don't. If this were oil being made to consume/eat I would be much more careful on the making of it. I wouldn't leave plant material in it for so long. (For more information on making herbal oils to cook with use my search bar to access an older and very detailed post from last year - Either way the oil is stored in a labeled jar in a dark place such as a medicine cabinet.

The two pictures below show a dead yellow calendula flower before it's picked off (dead headed) and the spot where it was after it's picked off. This picking off of dead flowers is called "dead heading". It's important because it stops the plant from using energy to produce seeds and instead redirects that energy into making more flowers. Throughout the summer I walk through my garden and dead head any flowers that have gone by that I find as I like to keep the flowers coming back. I especially dead head annuals such as calendula, marigolds, zinnias, etc.

Below is a picture of my medicinal herb bed. I planted these perennial plants in this bed this year. They were in my perennial flower bed but they were spreading like crazy and taking up too much room. So I decided to move them to a spot that I prepared last year and grew pumpkins in. It was empty this year and a perfect place to move these plants to.

In the background is an established bed of apple mint. I use this mint in my ice teas.

The large plant with the large leaves and small orange/yellow flowers in the foreground is Elecampane, Inula helenium. I love this plant. While the plant itself may not be very attractive the tincture I make from it acts as an expectorant and helps with bronchial issues. I dig the roots of the youngest plants in the fall when the plant has died back and the energy has gone back down into the roots. I gently clean, chop, and soak the roots in 100 proof cheap vodka. The medicinal properties of the root are soluble in alcohol. This is obviously not to be used with recovering alcoholics.

The small feathery plant in the front left is Back Cohash,Actaea racemosa. This was a very large and established bed in my perennial garden. When I moved it this spring it didn't seem to like that. It has taken a while and some nurturing to begin growing again. I doubt that this year it will get to be the large flowering plant that I have had growing in the past. Due to that I will refrain from harvesting it in any way. I prepare the root of this plant the same way I do elecampane, in alcohol. It is used for menopausal symptoms. I know women who swear by this stuff. I have had mixed results but then again I have not been faithful in taking it. But I like having it just in case and I love the flowers. Now extracting it from my perennial flower garden has been a chore to say the least. Every tiny root left behind is trying to grow into a new plant. Weekly I'm pulling little plants out of the other garden.

On the far right is Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca. (Do you notice how scientific names of plants have two words and that the first word begins with a capital letter and the second name begins with a lower case letter?:) Being a member of the mint family, Motherwort is very invasive, it spreads like crazy. I cut the seed tops off after the plant flowers and this seems to help quite a bit in that regard. The leaves, stems,and flowers are cut at time of flowering and they are steeped in alcohol and used for menstrual cramps. I use to find that it worked well for my daughter and me.

NOTE OF CAUTION and SAFETY: I feel that I must end this post by saying that medicinal plants need to be treated with the greatest of respect. When using a new plant for medicine I research it thoroughly and I MUST find at least three reputable resources that agree on its safety and usage. With that said, I recommend you thoroughly research before using medicinal plants. I also strongly recommend that you be absolutely sure of the identity of any plant before assuming it's the medicinal plant you are looking for. If you use prescribed medicines it may be best that you consult your doctor before using. Hopefully your dr. is open to the benefits of medicinal plants. To be honest I find that my dr. eagerly asks me about the stuff I use. I am lucky to have an open minded dr. This goes with homeopathic remedies as well.

So...on that note if you want to dabble in the magical world of herbs for medicine, the external use of Calendula is a great, safe one to begin with. And when you take from a plant be sure to give something back. Native cultures practice giving back to the plant itself. I'm beginning to think that if you give back to something, anything, than that works too. So if you use a plant; pass on your thanks by showing an act of kindness to someone you meet or by doing something kind for the environment such as not eating meat that day or walking somewhere rather than driving, or turning the lights out when you leave the room and water off when not in direct use.

Happy gardening! Gardening makes the world clean and fresh,

Monday, July 19, 2010

Organic Gardening Magazine and Camp return update

Wonderful Smelling Sweet Peas
Came back from camp Saturday to blooming Sweet Peas! Just love their smell; heaven. Didn't get to do much in the garden except pick lettuce, spinach, basil, carrots, and scallions for a supper salad. After a week away the gardens need tending, a lot of tending.

This morning I went out early to pick raspberries and got sidetracked when I saw all the weeds in the gardens! Certainly gives an amazing visual to the phrase, "Growing like a weed!" Spent two hours weeding; it was time well spent. It's really important to get the weeds out. They steal nutrients from the plants that you have spent all that time, energy, and money planting and tending. And they make the garden uninviting. There really is something to be said about the garden remaining an inviting place. Who wants to go pick luscious vegetables, herbs, and flowers if you have to look at and dodge weeds?!

My good news is that not only are the two vegetable gardens weed free (mostly), I didn't find a cucumber beetle anywhere! And the cukes, pumpkins, and squashes look great! Picked three zucchini this morning and the cucumber plants are full of flowers. Went through the tomatoes and trimmed the suckers, there were tons of them. It's amazing how a garden can change in a week. I also yanked all the pea plants, seeded radishes, and pok choy and got the spots ready for another planting of lettuce, beans, carrots, cilantro, and cucumbers. And as I expected, the potatoes are full of Colorado Potato Beetles. Ugh! Will deal with that later. Beans are almost ready to be picked. Water/rain barrels are almost empty. But rain is predicted. Thank goodness.

Here's a magazine that I got last year when I joined the American Community Gardening organization, Organic Gardening. I LOVE this magazine! They even have a blurb on the dreaded cucumber beetle and squash bug on their website, both which cause havoc in my garden. Here's a link to that info:,7518,s1-2-9-1722,00.html ; click on "NEXT" at the bottom of the page to see info on other pests such as the dreaded squash bug. So you not only get a great magazine but you have access to their website. Well, the website is obviously available to anyone; you don't need to be a member to access it.

Now it's the next day, this post is two days in the making, and I guess I should stop being a veg myself and get back out to the garden. It still needs tending. It's funny, this morning I got up and thought, "Ugh" I don't want to deal with, aka -squish, potato bugs and deal with weeds etc. Then I looked at what I did yesterday here in my post and found that I still need to plant carrots, lettuce, etc! Yeah! So that's what I'm going to do. Isn't it great how there's always so many different things to do in the garden that you can choose to do one that suits your mood and fancy? :)

Parting note: the red Bee Balm has two hummingbirds visiting them. I love to listen to and watch them flitting about in the Bee Balm. Speaking of bee balm, I made a visit to my newly made medicinal garden. It's really just a patch near the rhubarb and apple mint and I think it may be something worth discussing....later. Out to the garden.

Enjoy your garden because gardens make the world clean and fresh. And they make good food too!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Peas and Scallions

My First Bunch of Scallions!

Finally cooled off a bit today. Was actually below 90F! Did a lot of work in the gardens getting them ready for my week away. Lots of watering because it's dry as a bone. Went through almost the entire 50 gallon rain barrel! Also added lots of compost and some mulch. Did some weeding and thinning. Even yanked some radishes and got in another planting of carrots and cilantro.
Picked a few quarts of raspberries and made some raspberry jam. Also made a final batch of garlic scape and cilantro pesto. I got the garlic scapes at the local farmers' market. Mine are all gone and I was excited to see some still there. They also had some delicious multicolored carrots! I love trying new veggie varieties at the farmers market. It gives me an opportunity to support our farmers; and we want to support our farmers! And it gives me an opportunity to try new veggies that I may then decide to grow myself next year. I bought a very large spearmint plant to bring to camp with us Saturday. :)

Right now in the garden it's mostly about peas and raspberries. Picking tons of each. I made a delicious fresh pea soup for dinner tonight. Had some bread that I get from a fantastic bread baker who sells at the farmers market.

Photo from:
**Fresh Pea Soup Recipe: from Roberta Bailey May/June MOFGA 1989
Note: this makes 3 bowls of soup. Next time I'll double it
-1 Cup of onions sauted in 1 Tbsp olive oil...I used some onion and leek thinnings from the garden (I also put about 1/2 cup of fresh farmers market carrots in
-Slightly steam 2 cups of fresh shelled peas
-Add 1 1/2 cups of veggie broth to the onions and then add the peas
- Cook 10 minutes
- Puree anywhere from 1/3 to all of the soup mix. I pureed all of it in my food processor
- Put back in pan and add 1 cup milk - I used raw whole milk to make it nice and creamy
-Heat gently but do not cook; season with some pepper and just a tiny dash of salt if you must use salt
- Serve with minced basil, mint, thyme, and/or tarragon. My guys are very picky when it comes to herbs so I serve herbs minced well and separately. My son choose basil; I chose a combination of basil and mint to garnish my soup with.
- Opt: steam another cup or 2 of peas. Serve the whole peas with the soup. People can choose to add whole peas to their soup.
- Serve with warmed bread and some butter. Herb butter is even more tasty. My herb butter had garlic chives, chives, hint of mint, hint of parsley, basil, thyme, hint of tarragon
Serve with a colorful and crispy garden salad and enjoy!

I may not post for another week. So in the mean time, Happy Gardening!
PS- Picked our first bunch of greens from the community garden to donate to the local soup kitchen! We picked lettuce, chard, spinach, beet greens, parsley, and 1 pea pod :)
Yeah community garden! I'll update more on that in a future post and get some pictures of it up too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Blueberry netting

Some ripening yet still green blueberries on my high bush blueberry bushes.

Did I mention that it is HOT here! Close to 100 degrees F the third day in a row. I guess it now officially qualifies as a heat wave. So Maine, and most of the Northeast is experiencing an official heat wave. But to be honest it looks like the garden is loving it! I go out each evening and look to see what I haven't mulched yet with compost or straw and give it a drink of water that is diluted with either fish emulsion or liquid sea weed in it. And I must say that the garden looks to be enjoying this heat as it all looks good. (Except for those blasted peas!; remember the peas?)

Last night in this heat Ger and I went out and netted the blueberries. I was getting a bit testy because 1) I hate the heat and 2) the netting structure wasn't what I had in mind at all. I jumped in the pool and things looked better. That made Ger happier too.
I do notice that the three bushes at the far end get a bit more shade from a large lilac bush and seem to be struggling more than the other bushes. Not sure if I should dig them up next year and transplant them or just let them be. What do you think? Anyway, here's a picture of the blueberries and netting.
In this picture you can see the blueberry bushes inside the very crude netting structure. I definitely want to work on the materials and design of this for next year. In front of the bushes are some thyme plants. I planted them because the bushes are on quite a slope and I was worried about erosion. Even though I mulch, the erosion is noticeable. Thyme is a nice spreading low growing herb and it seems to be filling in and doing a good job at controlling the erosion. I do weed them back away from the blueberry bushes though because we don't want plants of any sort competing with the blueberry bushes for water or nutrients.

When I planted the blueberry bushes three years ago I chose this spot because I read that blueberries like good drainage. They also like a slightly acidic soil so I didn't add any lime. Instead I added peat moss. I struggle with the use of peat moss because it's harvested from wet bogs in Canada. So I use it very sparingly. This was the first time I used peat moss in my garden and I haven't used it since. Just something to think about. Here's a very short blub on Peat Moss: Then I dug in compost and planted. The first two years I picked the flowers off the bushes so no berries would develop. That sends needed energy that would be used to produce fruit back down into the developing roots. I also spread compost around after a good rain. That worked as fertilizer and mulch. This is year three and the first year I'm allowing the bushes to produce blueberries!

This year I will prune the bushes. I haven't done that yet so will write about it after I do it.

More about blueberries as they develop.
Enjoy your garden!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Daily Gardening Chores

The photo above shows plants of squash, tomato, garlic, onions, and calendula in a small garden bed. The open spot had cilantro that went by so I uprooted them and planted lettuce there. Once I put up some shade for the lettuce I hope to get some fall lettuce from this planting. This successional planting is important in gardening if we want to make the best use of our garden space and keep all of our garden productive.

Gardening in July really consists of balance. A balance between gardening, harvesting, and using what you grow. As the summer garden chugs along it's fun to let the garden direct that balance. Plan on spending an hour working compost into the soil but notice that the raspberries are so ripe that their canes are hanging to the ground? Sounds like the garden is calling to have those raspberries picked! Having delicious fresh food is the reason for the garden after all. The compost will be there later, come back to it. It appears now is the time to harvest and enjoy raspberries.

On most summer days a walk into the garden will reveal what daily tending needs to be done. There are times when I go to the garden with a "to do" list and I stay in the garden and follow that list until it's done. Other days I have no idea what will need to be done because I think I did it all the day before. But a walk in the garden reveals some weeds that need to be pulled, a patch that needs some compost and/or mulch, some thinning that needs to be done, some watering, some staking that is needed, some dead heading... on and on the list may go. Some chores that are important to keep up with is that of compost making and spreading as well as watering and mulching and weeding. When in doubt do those things. If they are done then do the next most important thing. Pick some flowers or herbs that smell pretty, sit down in a nice spot, and just enjoy your garden.

Remember, your garden helps make the world clean and fresh. Sometimes it's easy to focus on what may be going wrong in the garden because let's be real, things always go wrong in the garden. That's a given. There is no perfection in life. A better way to go is to focus on what is going right in the garden because let's be real, things always go right in the garden too. We learn what to do right by learning from what went wrong. So the "wrong" in the garden is there to teach us to do it differently next time and if you're a gardener there will be a next time.

Ok, I'll fess up with my test of this philosophy. I went out to harvest the peas that I tried to add more stakes to support yesterday but it didn't work. I told myself that it didn't matter and I would focus on all the luscious peas. Remember that? Well as I was hunched over rather than reaching up to pick peas that thinking was really, really challenged because I really wanted to focus on how I screwed up the pea planting this year. You don't, after all, bend over to pick peas!! Then I thought about how I was picking enough peas to last my family quite a while and enough peas to donate to the local homeless shelter. So the question really was, "Who cares if you're bending over harvesting peas! Certainly the kids in the homeless shelter don't care. Your family doesn't care. Only you care." Well with that little chat going on in my head now finished I realized that the important thing was, "We had PEAS!"
-My peas all bent over. You can see some that are still upright at the end by the post-

So enjoy your garden no matter how successful or how challenged it may be,

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I Hate Bad Bugs!

I Found These on the Underside of a few Potato Plants Today!

This is going to be a rather morbid post. Between the heat and the bad-bug killing spree...just let it be said that you have been forewarned.

Today was H-O-T! High 80's and very humid. But I worked in the garden anyway. It was a quiet 4th of July here so after preparing for our cookout I worked in the garden. I just planned to reinforce tomatoes to their stakes and to tie up cauliflower. Tying up the large cauliflower leaves up over the plant blanches the cauliflower as it grows, making the head a nice white. In the photo below you can see how I just used some twine and tied the big leaves up over the top to shade the growing cauliflower flower. Yes, when you eat cauliflower or broccoli you are eating the flowering part of the plant!
Then I noticed the peas all dropping over and tried to put a few more stakes in the pea fencing but that didn't work. A lot of the pea vines broke right in half from the weight from all the peas! It is obvious that chicken wire fencing and posts at either end is just not enough support.

You can see in the right side of the photo above how that pea vine is bent right in half. I don't think it can continue growing like that. Stems of plants are like the nutrient highways. Think celery and colored sugar water set ups you did as a kid. When the stem of a plant is broken, the nutrient highway has become disabled causing that plant to eventually die. Leaves, on the other hand, are the power houses of the plant, transforming sun's energy and water from the air into sugar, aka food. Since there are more than one leaf on a plant a plant can live if a leaf dies. But not if the stem dies. That is why if you are transplanting seedlings the method that is recommended is to take gentle hold of the seedling by the leaves not by the stem and transplant holding onto the leaves.

Anyway, back to the peas in front of me: note to self, next year, stronger and taller fencing and more posts. The fencing I used this year was only 3 feet tall. Not tall enough. Well I guess I can focus on the fact that the plants are falling over and I can't get them to stay up or I can focus on the fact that the reason they are falling over is because they are so darn full of so many large, succulent, and sweet peas! I'll go with the last :) Last chore was to check out the pumpkins in the upper garden. They were loaded with those gosh darn cucumber beetles still!!!! There were so many of them and they were just partying away. I squished as many as I could but they just kept flying away. Darn buggers!! And the pumpkin plants look like they are wilting. Not good. After I killed as many as I could I went to check the potatoes because I guess I just felt like a glutton for punishment today and it just seems like that time to begin finding those potato beetles. And sure enough I found some eggs just like in the photo above. I just folded the leaves over and squished them too. I found 1 large adult Colorado Potato Beetle and used two rocks to squish that bugger. It must have been the heat! After this massive killing spree I couldn't take it anymore and jumped into the pool to cool off. It felt fantastic. The water was a balmy 66 degrees F. Ha! It was cold but felt fantastic and incredibly refreshing.

Finally, after some swimming I put bird netting up over the blueberry bushes. I only have 8 of them and they are 3 years old this year. I've never allowed them to set berries until this year. The first 2 years I picked the flowers off, sending energy used to flower and fruit back to the roots to build the roots up. This year is berry picking year! And I want to get to those ripe blueberries before the birds do so netting went up. And guess what!? I did it all wrong. Ugh! Time for another swim in the pool. I was silly enough to just put the netting right on the bushes. But when I came back in and researched it online I see that I should have built a simple, crude structure of some sort to put the netting over so that the netting isn't sitting right on the blueberry bushes. Logical. Will work on that again tomorrow.

Lovely and Sweet Smelling German Chamomile - Matricaria recutita - a tiny, delicate daisy looking annual that self sows profusely :)

The garden can be a magical and wonderful respite. But as today demonstrates, it can also be a challenging and difficult encounter. Just breath, do what needs to be done, and walk away from it. It'll still be there in all its glory to enjoy tomorrow. And tomorrow there will be peas to pick, chamomile to smell, mint to snip for iced tea, cilantro to put in the salsa, and some lettuce, scallions, spinach, and calendula blossoms to pick for salads.

Remember, gardens make the world clean and fresh. Enjoy your garden,

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Give Peas a Chance!


Yesterday the idea of a subtle seasonal shift in the garden was discussed through the lens of basil. Today to add to that feeling of shift is the harvest of peas. The growing of peas takes place during those cool early garden months. But the harvest of these sweet morsels occurs during the heat of the stereotypical summer garden. A common goal of New England gardeners is to have corn knee high and eating peas by the 4th of July. Thanks to the use of a special bird repellent milar tape that I purchased from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow the corn this year is knee high! We out smarted those blasted crows! In the past I've had to plant and replant corn because crows keep pulling the seedlings out of the ground as they emerge. Not this year! Here's a photo of what Johnny's calls Bird Scare Flash Tape. It's only $6.00 and the best $6.00 I've spent on critter control.

Today we had a yard sale so I didn't get out into the garden except to pick peas. We had salmon with garlic scape pesto over it, spiced rice and peas, and a garden salad with, of course, peas. The recipe for garlic scape pesto is in another post. Just use the search bar to find it. Here's a recipe for the spiced rice and peas, taken from my summer time staple cookbook, The Victory Garden Cookbook. It's easy to use this cookbook. When you have peas that you want to use up you just look up peas. The recipes are listed alphabetically by vegetable. So I looked up peas and found this recipe.
Spiced Rice and Peas:
1 Cup of Shelled peas (I prefer to use 2 cups, 1 just isn't enough)
3/4 cup chopped onion
6 Tbsp butter ( I prefer to use extra virgin olive oil)
1 Tbsp finely minced garlic ( can certainly use scapes!)
10 whole cardamom seeds
10 whole allspice berries
10 whole cloves
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 cups rice (this is a really lot so if you don't want this much just 1/2 the recipe)
6 cups combination of veggie broth and water (you could use chicken broth too)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds
**Pick and shell the peas....blanch them and set aside. To blanch- bring water in pan to boil, put peas in, bring back to boil and remove from heat and drain immediately! Rinse in cold water and let sit a bit in cold water. Set aside.
**Chop onion and saute in olive oil until wilted in a REALLY large pot! Add garlic and spices and cook another 5 minutes. Stir in rice (uncooked rice) and saute 5 more minutes.
**Add hot water/broth, cover, bring to boil, simmer until liquid is absorbed. Follow cooking times on rice container.
**As rice cooks - soak raisins in some boiling water for 5 minutes to plump them up - drain and set aside.
** Then saute almonds in some (2 Tbsp) olive oil until brown.
**When rice is done add the raisins and almonds, stirring well and cooking until heated through.
** Add the peas and heat a bit more.
This makes a ton! I made this and since there is so much extra I will make a rice, Maine shrimp, and peas scampi type dish. I usually do this with linguine but will try it with this rice since I have so much.
Note: the rice tasted really flavorful.

That's it. So grab yourself some fresh peas and enjoy!
Happy Gardening and 4th of July,
PS - Another simple way to eat peas: blanched peas with butter and minced fresh spearmint is DELICIOUS!

Friday, July 2, 2010

4th of July and a New Shift in the Garden

Today's work in the garden revealed a shift. A bitter-sweet shift. Bitter in that springs cool season vegetables are coming to an end and sweet that summers heat loving vegetables are coming in.

Each year when I pick my first basil like I did today I know we're moving into the true summer garden. Basil made it's "pinch the tops off" sized appearance today. The first time you pinch off basil each summer and release that delicious aroma you experience a feeling nothing short of pure Heaven! Oh that smell! If you do not grow basil I highly recommend that you do. If you had to pick one herb to grow basil is THE herb to have in the garden. And there are so many basils besides sweet basil. It's fun to grow a variety of scented basils such as lemon or cinnamon scented basil. I have been noticing the basil growing inconspicuously as I tend to and harvest other plants that have been taking center stage, such as spinach, swiss chard, pak choy, lettuce, cilantro, beets, and snap peas. The spinach, pak choy, radishes, and snap peas have pretty much gone by and I've already cleaned up those spots, removed the plants that went by and threw them into the compost pile, dug in shovel fulls of compost, and replanted with more lettuce seed, cucumber seedlings, and carrot seeds. I put the cukes where the snap peas were so they can climb up the trellis. The lettuce went where the radishes were and the carrots went where the spinach were. I figured I'd trade root for leaf plants and visa-versa. I'm going to cover the spot where the lettuce is with burlap in hopes that I can shade and cool the area a bit. Replanting today was my major goal but I also spent a lot of today mulching with compost. I composted the onions, peppers, and beans heavily. Yesterday I compost/mulched the squashes, corn, and tomatoes heavily. I also gave all my tomato plants a good drink of worm tea.

Very Cool Vermiculite Set Up

Worm tea you ask? Well, my friend Lisa brought me over the best present; an already established vermiculite container complete with healthy red wiggler worms! Thanks Lisa! Vermiculite is the culture of worms. Gardeners raise worms for their castings, aka worm poop, and for the tea it produces. This set up that Lisa gave me is ingenious. In the photo above I don't know if you can tell that there are two kitty litter containers, one right inside the other. The one inside is where the worms are living and there are holes drilled throughout that container. The holes allow air to circulate but also they allow the moisture/water/tea to drain out the bottom. Just drain the liquid, add more water, and you have the best worm tea that plants love! To keep the worms healthy you just feed them kitchen scraps daily. To deter the pesky fruit flies you just bury the kitchen scrapes (veggie and fruit peels, coffee grounds, pasta, bread; no meat or oils...just like regular compost) and put a handful of moist newspaper in. Lisa said you can even cover top of the inside with garden cloth. I'm thinking that means remay floating row cover cloth. It's kind of like a thick cheese cloth. She said tomato plants with flowers on them love this stuff. So I did just what she said and diluted it with some rain water from my rain barrel and watered my tomatoes with it. We'll see.

On a different note, strawberries are just ending and I made several batches of strawberry jam and strawberry butter; yummy! Time to get out the raspberry recipes as raspberries are just starting! And shell peas are coming in too. I'll share some recipes shortly. But in the mean time there is nothing like standing in the garden on a hot sunny day shelling peas one at a time and popping those luscious, sweet little green pearls into your mouth. They are wonderful raw in salads too. Make a special July 4th garden salad with some sliced beets, scallions, peas, and goat cheese on top of some garden greens with a dash of vinaigrette; yummmm!

Finally, blueberries, plums, and cherries are also developing and getting slowly bigger. The plums and blueberries are are still green. To deter birds from eating all our blueberries right as they are ripe and ready to pick I'm going to cover them with some bird netting.

Enjoy your garden and your 4th of July!