Category Archives: 7. July

Kids — They Grow Up So Fast

So it seems like just yesterday we were wringing our hands in a state of constant parental worry about whether our tomato plants were going to survive. First we forgot to plant them altogether, so they got a late start that basically assured they’d never get into an Ivy League school. Then we planted them outside immediately before an unseasonably cold and rainy stretch, making it impossible for them to grow big enough to make a varsity sports team. Then it got unseasonably hot and dry, so our little plants got limp and lank and so unattractive that they would never be able to get a good job. It was horrible. We reached our nadir a few weeks ago, basically admitting to each other that we suspected this year’s garden was going to be one big, huge bust. Why couldn’t it be more like last year’s garden? Or the one before that? Those were great gardens, with big crops that could make a parent proud. What was wrong with this one? Was it a changeling?

But the great thing about gardening is that if you have sun and water, it’s really hard to screw up. Nature wants things to grow, yo. And just after we hit rock bottom we stepped outside, took a gander at the beds, and realized that our garden had turned a corner. Our babies were growing up. Our tomatoes, every last one, were sporting wee little green fruits. Here’s a family portrait of our children:

Family Portrait

We have a wide array of shapes and sizes growing out there — from left to right, top to bottom we’re looking at Red Pears, Tiny Tim, Cherokee Purple, Brown Betty, Rose de Berne, Blondkopfchen, Rosso Sicilian, Lemon Drop, German Green, Lemon Drop again, Fox Cherry, and Isis Candy Shop. The only one we’ve grown before is the Fox (an enormous and almost comically productive [and scrumptious] cherry tomato that was last year’s biggest hit), so we’re really excited about having a whole rainbow of tomato options. Now that they’re all fruiting up, it’s fair to say that while they might not be the most perfect plants ever (we have a bit of a bacterial speck issue, but then, we always do), we love them just the way they are.

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Filed under 7. July, Can't Wait To Eat That Monkey

The Great Garlic Taste Test Of ’08

Now that the entire garlic crop has been picked and cured, it’s time to tackle that most onerous task: figuring out which one tastes best. The three contenders in today’s battle are, in no particular order:

Persian Star

Chesnok Red

German White

The methodology was as follows:

We were going to test the flavors of the three garlics in three settings — rubbed raw on toast, roasted and spread on bread, and raw in a simple bruschetta treatment. Each type was handled with uncontaminated utensils, and they were eaten in a random, blind test.

The Persian Star had a small head with about a dozen teensy cloves. The skins of the cloves were a lovely purply red, but they were a total pain in the ass to handle. I don’t have a lot of patience with wee garlic cloves.

The Chesnok Red was basically exactly like the Persian Star. Again with the wee tiny cloves. Again with the eye-rolling and me grumbling, “This better not taste that good.”

The German White, though, was much more my speed: big cloves (but not very many of them in the head), easy to peel, basically a dream to handle.

The processing was fairly simple for this test. I toasted some slices of bread with a little olive oil for the raw-rubbed test, nestled a few cloves of each in some tin foil and drizzled them with olive oil before roasting for the roasted-and-smeared test, and stirred together some finely diced Black Plum tomatoes (from our garden), the finely minced garlic, a pinch of chiffonaded fresh basil (from our garden), and a healthy drizzle of olive oil for the bruschetta test.

Then we hunkered down for some serious bread consumption.

For the raw-garlic-rubbed-on-olive-oiled-toasts test, we ended up liking the three almost equally. We started with the German White, and felt it had “a mild, not very forward flavor” and was “complimentary”, “a team player”. The Persian Star was “more garlicky”, “sharper and sweeter”, had “a flavor that lingers”, but was “more raw-tasting” and was “asking for something else” to go with it. The Chesnok Red was our winner, by a nose, for being “a garlic-lover’s garlic” and “very strong”. In a very close vote, we decided the German White was the second best, and the Persian Star brought up the rear.

The roasted-and-smeared-on-bread test was next, and the Persian Star led things off by having a flavor “where ‘sweet’ and ‘rich’ meet”; we struggled to verbalize exactly what the flavor reminded us of, ultimately agreeing it tasted like the texture of tomato paste. It had no sharp garlic aftertaste. The Chesnok Red was up next and was “a total loser”. It tasted “like if garlic and tap water were combined”. Third was the German White, “delicious”, “light and airy”, “gardeny”, “full but not heavy — tastes like spring green”, and was fresh-tasting even when roasted. The clear winner was the German White, with the Persian Star a modest second and the Chesnok Red a crushing disappointment.

The bruschetta test was led off by the Chesnok Red, which saw a strong rebound from its failures as a roaster. It “tied the flavors together nicely”, “never tasted like raw garlic”, and was “a good team player’. The Persian Star was next and was “not as peppery as [the Chesnok], more buttery” but also “almost overpowers the tomato flavor”. The German White was the last up, and had a “warm finish” with “no sharpness”, “plays beautifully with the basil” and got the rave “all four flavors [in the tomato mixture] work together the best”. We voted the Chesnok Red our favorite in this round, narrowly edging out the German White, with the Persian Star coming up short.

Overall, even though the Chesnok Red won two of the three tests, we liked the German White best overall. The failure of the Chesnok to roast well was a damaging blow to its overall standings. The Persian Star, while delicious in its own right, wasn’t a winner in any category and had teensy cloves that are impossible to peel. So there you have it: German White it is. In fact, we just placed our order with Seeds of Change for oodles of it for next year.

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Filed under 7. July, Garden, Harvested, Lessons Learned, Taste Test, We Grew This

The Lord Giveth And The Lord Taketh Away

One of the things that I have found most fascinating with our farm share is the different ways that different weather conditions affect different crops. Some years there will be lots of rain in the spring, wiping out, say, the spinach, but leading to happier tomatoes down the line. Or a heat wave will, say, frizzle the snap peas but delight the strawberries.

Farmer Jim and Sherry do such a fantastic job of providing us with a wide array and balance of crops, so it always seems that there’s something thriving in conditions that other things aren’t happy with, and we don’t often consider the way that tumultuous weather can really be devastating to farmers. This week, though, we learned first-hand.

After a smothering, humid heatwave, Wednesday finally saw a front move through New Jersey to break the miserable, sweltering conditions for us. That would be good news, except for the way it broke — it was a giant, slow-moving front, and it crept along over us, giving us a constant string of strobe-light lightning and incessant thunder for almost 10 hours. And in the middle of the afternoon, we had a 20-minute stormburst with an intense brutality the likes of which I’ve never seen before. First there was crackling thunder and blue-green lightning flashing constantly, then sheets of rain whipping around in every direction, and then hail. Lots of hail. Giant hail. The pond below my office window looked like it was being barraged with golf balls, and when I looked out the front of the building, the parking lot looked like it had been covered with white gravel. The hailstones were the size of that huge, industrial gravel, fully an inch long. The skies pelted us with the stuff for about 15 minutes, and then the sun came out (but not for long — the thunder and lightning resumed shortly thereafter). It was the strangest storm I’ve ever seen.

It was also extremely destructive. Just that brief a spurt of violent storming wreaked havoc. On my way home from work that day I stopped for corn at the farm stand and discovered their barn had been struck by lightning (no one was hurt, and the barn is apparently fine) and the farmer was apparently on the phone with the crop insurance people. When I walked past the fields this morning, the plants were in tatters. On Thursday morning I received an email from our membership farm explaining that the summer lettuce and chard crops had been destroyed, and the tomatoes, watermelons, scallions, beets, and summer squash had all suffered severe damage. While I’m feeling very mopey that I won’t get as many wonderful tomatoes as I’d hoped for this summer, and that my produce habit is going to be more expensive than in years without hail-damaged crops, it’s also really humbling to think about people who rely on the land for their livelihood. It’s easy for me just to go to another farmer’s market, or suck it up and buy the shipped-from-who-knows-where produce in the grocery store. I can’t even imagine what it would be like if there wasn’t a fallback. Pookie remarked when we were assessing our own garden damage that it’s amazing to consider that hail doesn’t do anything good. It’s puzzling that Nature destroys things without reason, without some offsetting benefit. Puzzling and, literally, awesome.

Meanwhile, there’s been some clamor that we haven’t been posting enough pictures lately (so we’ve been lazy! Sue us!), so here’s a look at the damage our own modest crops sustained.

First, remember the pumpkin at the front door?

Here’s what a quarter-hour of hail did to it:

Our puny little habaneros, which were finally starting to look like they were bushing out just a bit, took a beating, too:

The peppers on the nardellos plants, some of the gherkins, and some of the tomatoes got pitted by the hailstones and cracked. And even more tomatoes simply gave up the ghost and were buffeted to the ground.

But you know what else is puzzling (in a “mysterious” sense) and awesome? That all was not lost. Here are some ripening Black Plums that were unaffected by the storm…

…and here are some San Marzanos soaking up the post-storm sunshine:

And look at what a week of harvesting has yielded of the Black Plums!

Meanwhile, while we were scoping out the destruction in the garden, we were also seeking signs of new growth from the wave of crops we planted this past weekend. That’s right — we spent a tortuously hot Sunday afternoon filling in the recently emptied beds with carrots, beets, and some impulse-bought beans.

These are Lina Sisco’s Bird’s Egg beans:

These are Hutterite Soup beans:

These are October beans:

And these are Tigers Eye:

So even while we shed some tears for our fallen, tattered plants, we were thrilled to see signs of life all over the bean beds.

And over in the beet bed, an eagle eye can see signs of life, first from the Touchstone Gold and then from the Detroit Dark Red:

And on the fringes of the beleaguered pepper bed? The first wave of carrots are growing like a literal fringe. Even after the hail, their fronds are cool, elegant, and lacy.

But the best lesson of the day for us was this: Sure, Nature can’t help but destroy things for no reason, but Nature also can’t help but make beautiful things, either.

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Filed under 7. July, Bad News, Garden, Harvested

This Week’s Harvest

This week saw some monumental earthworks, harvest-wise. The onions had all finally fallen over, and were heaving out of the ground, and the potatoes were looking raggedy and limp. The time had come to reap those fruits of the earth and ready the beds for planting for Fall harvest. Last Tuesday we dragged our feeling-sorry-for-ourselves asses out into the garden for the only work we’d do all week: digging up the fingerlings and some of the Yellow Finns, and hauling up the first wave of Riverside onions.

We got well over 8 1/2 pounds of potatoes…

…and scads of onions, a welcome change from last year’s crop of zero onions.

I needed the onion goggles to trim the leaves and roots, but once everything was cut away, we had a lovely bowl of onions waiting to be cellared.

That was just the tip of the iceberg, too — today we braved the ruthless, merciless heat, humidity and brutal sun to bring in the rest of the Riversides and all of the Newburghs.

Oh, and it should be noted that in the first harvest picture up there, you can see our whopping haul of four blueberries on the table in front of the baskets. We had a lot of fun getting all artsy-fartsy with the berries:

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Filed under 7. July, Garden, Harvested, Pictures Worth A Thousand Words

Midsummer Garden Update

It being 4th of July weekend, it seemed like a good time to take our camera out into the heavy, humid great outdoors and take a look at the progress of Maple Hoo’s bouteous bounty. This is about as lush as the garden’s going to look this year:

The potato thicket is bustin’ out of the back of the fence:

And the volunteer pumpkin at the front door is starting to make plans to eat the house:

The volunteer pumpkin at the other side of the door isn’t quite as impressive yet, but we have high hopes for it still.

Meanwhile, the actual, intentional pumpkin patch out front is… doing only okay. We half-assed the planting this year, and then totally neglected it, so it’s pretty well overrun with weeds.

Almost none of the seedlings we put out there did anything, but we have some robust volunteers growing like gangbusters, and a handful of full-on pumpkins we’re starting to keep our eyes on.

And speaking of volunteers that just won’t quit, two years ago we planted “pocket melons”, little melons that are a hair bigger than golf balls that were grown in Victorian times to carry around in your pocket. They don’t taste like anything, but they are delightfully aromatic, and would be trucked around for their perfume. We grew them for fun, and must have left a few in the patch by accident, because, lo and behold, for the second straight year we’re getting them without trying.

In the orchard, only one of the ten apple trees is growing any apples — here’s one of the Enterprise’s massive bumper crop (read: “six or so little bug-eaten fruits”):

Meanwhile, inside the garden fence, things are looking great for the gherkins we thought were never going to amount to anything. Here’s bed with a calypso bean plant, the three gherkin plants, and our most giant black plum tomato:

The gherkins proper have stopped looking like fingernail-sized, eensy-weensy sweet pickles and now look like finger-sized sweet pickles.

I was having fun trying to take artsy pictures of the plant today…

…and when I focused on one of the flowers…

…look what flitted in long enough to strike a pose then disappear off to more flowery pastures!

The Black Plum there is starting, like all the other tomato plants, to eagerly pump out fruits that can’t wait to be made into delicious sauce.

We left a handful of radishes in the corner of one bed to see what would happen when they went to seed, and they’ve developed these totally wacky seed pods in among their pretty pink flowers.

Elsewhere in that bed, we’re learning why you’re supposed to take the first few flowers off your pepper plants. Our tiny little nardello plants are being weighed down by their ever-huger peppers.

The big news today, though, was the harvesting. We took up the remaining two Desiree potatoes and the three All Blue plants, as well as the rest of the garlic (Chesnok Red and Persian Star).

The yield was just over ten pounds of potatoes:

And a counter covered with garlic:

After we were done digging up the garlic and potato beds, we went around to the side of the house to check on our blueberry haul. One of the bushes was positively groaning under the weight of its scant crop.

But any amount of fresh-picked, ripe blueberries is better than none.

They were sweet, juicy, and outrageously delicious. It was a pretty good day to be gentlewoman farmers, if we do say so ourselves.

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Filed under 7. July, Garden, Harvested