Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Growing Gazpacho

One of my annual edible-garden goals is to grow gazpacho.  Since it's hard to actually grow soup, I'll stick with growing all the soup's ingredients.  Something I've not yet managed to do, though many years I come fairly close.

Here's today's harvest:

un-processed gazpaho
A few notes about that photo.
1.  The garlic, obviously, was not harvested today.  It wasn't even grown by me (my first gazpacho failure of the year: my garlic didn't bulb), but given to me by a friend. 
2.  See those nearly-black peppers?  They're the first carnival peppers I've picked this season
3.  Where'd that cucumber come from?  Didn't I rip out my monstrous volunteer last week?  Yes, yes I did.  But I have another volunteer, growing up the other side of the trellis arch.  This is the second of three cukes it has produced so far.  It won't get to 35, but it is making up for slow production with quality.  This cuke picture might just be the tastiest cucumber I've ever eaten (and those other 35 were pretty darn good). I'm not kidding.
4.  I tried growing onions this year, without success.  And my chives in a pot got rather dried up this summer; they're just starting to come back (you can see two little bits I snipped off, resting on the garlic).  So instead of my usual onion and chive ingredients, I'm using the green and white parts of some bunching onions, pictured.
5.  That's not nearly enough tomatoes for gazpacho.  Fortunately I have a friend with excess.
6.  I forgot to plant chervil this year (in fact, I've never planted chervil).  So the herb mix in today's gazpacho is basil, parsley, green onion (in place of chives), and tarragon.

How do I turn that into gazpacho?  I use a recipe I developed many years ago after a wonderfully yummy trip to Spain (where, in Sevilla, I tasted my first gazpacho:  I was hooked).  Upon my return home, I visited the local library (the interwebs weren't the bountiful resource of modern days) and checked out every book with a gazpacho recipe.  I could tell that none of the recipes was going to give me what I had tasted in Andalusia, but I was able to pull elements from this one and that one to get a pretty close approximation to what I wanted.  I've been using this recipe ever since.

Here's the basic recipe, with notes:
In a food processor, combine and process the herbs (about 1/2 cup packed.  My herb mix gets closer to a cup) and a clove or two of garlic.  Add 1/2 c olive oil and 1/4 c red vinegar (full disclosure:  I don't ever expect these to come from my garden) and process.  Add peeled, seeded, cored, chopped veggies (a small onion, 1/2 cucumber, the equivalent of a large bell pepper, and the equivalent of 4 large tomatoes). (Another disclosure:  I no longer go through the extra steps of peeling and seeding the tomatoes.  It's not worth it).  Process until evenly lumpy.  Add up to 3c of tomato juice and process to mix (at this point I have to take the soup out of the processor, and put it in a bowl with an immersion blender - my food processor isn't large enough to handle the full amount).

Serve garnished with chopped veggies and optional hard-boiled egg pieces (something else that will never come from my garden).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Planting for Fall

I finally planted some seeds for fall crops today.  Probably a bit late for some things, but we'll see how it goes.

I've only tried fall planting one other year.  That was peas, and it didn't work out so well.  I planted them sometime in September, and they suffered from frost before they were ready.  I hadn't been worried about frost, because I knew from spring planting that peas are fine in frost.  I learned from this that while pea plants are fine with frost, pea pods and their developing peas are not.  They end up frozen.  And if I wanted frozen peas, I'd go to the grocery store.

So onto this year.  I know I should have sown my seeds 2-3 weeks ago, but I didn't.  Here's what I planted today, and some notes, including when the Maryland Cooperative Extension (MdCE)* recommends planting these things**:

 - Beets (chioggia and Detroit dark red).  I've never had success with beets.  Maybe a fall planting will make a difference.  Maybe.  (MdCE says plant fall beets June 20-Aug 1.  Oops.  Well, these dates are for centeral Maryland, and I have a later frost date than they do.)
 - Lettuce (tennis ball).  MdCE says plant head lettuce Aug1-Aug 15 and leaf lettuce, romaine and butterhead lettuces July 20-Sept 1.  So I'm close with this one.
 - Bok Choi.  I've never planted this before.  I got the seeds for planting this spring, but then read that bok choi would do better as a fall crop here.  I hope that's true.  MdCE apparently doesn't expect one to plant bok choi at all, but they do say plant cabbage (transplants) July 10-Aug 20 and chinese cabbage (is that what bok choi is?) July 1-Aug 15.  So I'm probably late here, too.
 - Carrots (chartenay).  Just because I had the seeds to use up.  I'm not expecting much.  (MdCE says June 15-Aug 1, so yup, really late)
 - Leeks (musselburgh).  I don't know if leeks even work as a fall crop;  this was totally impulse planting.  MdCE only lists them as a spring crop.  Oh well.

What didn't I plant?
- Spinach.  Here's something that would have actually been on time (Aug1-Sept 5).  I wanted to plant some, too, but I couldn't find my seeds.
- Kale.  It's overwintered really well before, so I should have planted it again, but I just didn't feel like it.
- Broccoli.  Because broccoli needs to be started even earlier and set out as transplants, and I didn't do that.

* yes, I live in Va, but really close to Md, and the MdCE has far more information available, so I use them. 

If you want to reference the full Spring/Fall planting guide, you can find it as publication #HG16 from the Home and Garden Information Center here.

** No, I didn't look up the planting schedule until after I planted my seeds today. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cucumber Collapse

My volunteer cucumber has outperformed all expectations.  That's not hard to do when expectations were zero.  It was a volunteer after all.  But it outperformed any cucumber I've ever actually planted, too.

It was quite a vigorous vine.  Not growing tall, but spreading out everywhere, especially across the garden path and onto the patio.
Cucumber vine growing everywhere

Two cukes growing on the patio

But this volunteer was not invincible.  As cucumbers in my yard (and in the region in general) always do, it suffered from bacterial wilt.  Actually, a lifespan to mid-August is pretty good.

While it was producing, I harvested 34 cucumbers from July 6 to August 17.  One day last week there were 11 cucumbers in my kitchen.  I gave some away, but I ate most of them.  I averaged consuming half a cucumber per day.  While cucumbers are my favorite summer vegetable, sometimes the daunting task of eating the 6 or so cukes on my counter felt like a bit much.  But I persevered.

And today I took down the vine. I found four almost-cukes, ones that started rotting on dead vines before they were ripe.

Rotting cukes

Well, actually that pickle-looking one on the right hadn't started rotting yet, but it wasn't going to grow any more.

Now that the cucumber vine is gone, I can see just how much the scarlet runner beans were growing up in the same space.  I'm amazed they did so well.  Still no beans, though.

And as I was cleaning up the garden this evening, I found, hidden amongst the peppers and basil, one more edible cucumber.

Number thrity-five

Make that 35 cukes for my vigorous volunteer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 2012 Blooms

I'm determined to post my photos on Bloom Day this month, even though my garden has been less than showy this summer.

I think the most interesting blooms at the moment are in the veggie garden.  I have a new volunteer cucumber that's flowering and fruiting;

Here are the scarlet runner beans I couldn't show off Monday:

This pattypan squash is growing big, but that flower hasn't even opened yet.  I can' say I understand how that works.

On the flower front, I have some lantana still in its nursery pot.  But since I let the lantana plant in my pot out front dry up and die, I'll use this as a replacement.  If I ever get around to potting it up, that is.

Joe Pye Weed are starting to open up. I love the pink billowy flower clusters.

 Out front, I have no idea what this plant is.  I got it in a swap last year, and promptly lost the tag.  But it is starting to bloom now.

Also in the front bed, the catmint is still blooming, and the bush clover is just getting started.

Rudbeckia usually carry the garden through the summer, but this year many of them have dried up.  Here's one in the front that's still showy.

In the 'what are you thinking' category, a few spring bloomers are confused.  Butterflyweed and penstemon are reblooming.

To see more August blooms, visit May Dreams Gardens.

also blooming:  echinacea, coreopsis, gaillardia, geranium, aster, balloon flower, boltonia, buddleia, crape myrtle, white rose, larkspur, liriope, zinnia, mums, tall phlox

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gypsy: A Vegetal Truth

Why is it so difficult to grow peppers?  They get the same treatment as the other plants in the garden:  soil, sun, water.  They aren't plagued by pests.  The plants grow nicely.  But I don't get peppers.  I mean, I eventually (usually) get peppers, but not until fall when frost is threatening.

I've read that pepper plants really don't like cold, and setting them out too early in spring (even after the frost-free date), can hinder growth all season.  So last year I waited and waited, and eventually planted out my seed-grown plants.  It didn't help.

This year I planted several varieties of peppers that I started from seed (yellow, carnival, Zavory habanero, and fish).  I also planted one 'Gypsy' pepper that my cousin started from seed.  All were started around the same time and planted out on the same date, in the same section of the garden.  'Gypsy' was a slightly larger plant than the others, but not by much.

What do I have now?  Gypsy peppers!  I'm so excited to have peppers while it is still summer and I can put them in salads with my tomatoes and cukes!  Here are some peppers growing:

Gypsy peppers start out whitish-yellow and eventually turn bright yellow then orange.  Here is my first August-picked pepper (Monday, August 6th):

A portrait of Gypsy
Along with the pepper, more cukes and my first Brandywine tomato:

Since then (August 10th), I've picked four more peppers (including one yellow one that fell off while I was picking the others), six more cukes, and a mess of beans and maters:
These are cukes #25-30 for those keeping count (me)
The peppers have been delicious.  Sweet and crunchy.  There's only one more Gypsy on the plant.  I've already asked Sue to start more of these next year.

More good pepper news:  one of my plants is finally making a pepper! This is going to be a yellow pepper, I think.

See it?  There on the bottom? 
Of course, it is so small, it likely won't be ready until mid-September.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I have beans!

I planted two types of pole beans on the trellis arch this year, both new to me:  yard-long and scarlet runner.  Yard-long for the novelty, and scarlet runner to have some pretty flowers in the veggie garden. 

No photo of the pretty scarlet runner, thanks to an unreadable camera card (grumble).  They are pretty, but they haven't produced beans.  That's ok: it's why I planted two kinds of beans.

Here's the yard-long side of the trellis arch, with beans a-dangling:

And here is the first bean harvest.

 Those are some long beans!  But are they yard-long?

No, but the longest one is just over a half yard.

They were great sauteed with the zucchini and some Greek seasoning.

 Oh, and I picked some more tomatoes, too.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Last year I had zero squash.  The squash vine borers ate up the plant and spread their disease before any fruit had a chance.  The year before I had some, but the plants also succumbed early.  So this year I decided to wait.  Having read that the eggs are laid in the plant stems in mid-June, and that planting after mating time could prevent an infestation, I waited.  It was torture.  Other gardeners already had squash blossoms, and I hadn't even planted mine yet.

I started some seeds indoors in June. Seems odd to be starting seeds indoors, but I figured that way I could have larger plants earlier.  I couldn't start them too early, because squash have wide root systems that don't really like pots, and don't like to be transplanted when they are too big.  Due to heat, other weather, and my busy schedule, I didn't actually get the plants in the ground until late June.  Additional protection against the bugs, sure, but also additional time to wait for squash.

I planted zucchini and patty pan squash.  Three zukes and two patty pans.  Four plants went into the garage garden, and one into the regular veggie bed.  I didn't dig and amend the garage garden before planting, and there was some had dirt in there, limiting my planting opportunities.  And my garlic was late, so I had one less spot to plan then I had planned.  That's why one plant went into the veggie bed.  One of the garage plants didn't survive its harsh conditions. One has survived but not flourished.  But two plants (one of each) have grown quite large.

The patty pan in the back looks like it's starting to wilt, but that might just be lack of water.  This bed isn't irrigated, and hadn't been watered for four days when I took this picture.  The zucchini in front looks fabulous, even though it is competing with my willow stum that still insists on growing.

The plants have been flowering for a while.  Male flowers first, of course.  I saw some little squash buds growing, but the flowers sure took a long time to open.

I was traveling for work over the weekend and into this week.  When I returned home Wednesday, a nice surprise awaited me:  an actual zucchini!  It was really small, but growing.  I didn't check yesterday, so I was surprised today when it was already huge!

I finally have zucchini, and I think I know what I'm going to do with it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pleasing Plums

After my plum tree collapsed under its own weight and I pruned it in haste, I wasn’t sure if the rest of the plum crop would last.  But it did just fine, and by mid-June they were ripe. 

 Despite losing about half of them in the pruning, there were enough for the critters (squirrels, crows, etc.) to share with me.  I was snacking on plums every day. 

I gave plums to friends and brought some to work.  Still plums on the tree.  The last weekend of June I was heading out of town, so I grabbed a bucket and my stepladder 

and picked the rest off the tree.

A little under a gallon - not a bad haul.  There probably would have been two gallons, but I had to toss all the plums that had been pecked-at, and some that were overripe.

 It took me an hour or two to “process” the plums for freezing.  Wash, slice in half, and remove the pit.  (This is where I learned that like peaches, there are freestone and clingstone plums.  My sugar plums, unfortunately, are the clingy type.)  Put the plums in freezer bags and fill the bags (enough to cover the plums) with white grape juice (apple juice works, too.).  I filled three quart bags.

While I was away, we had a big storm (a derecho), and my house was without power for a while.  The thing that concerned me the most?  That I might lose all those plums in the freezer.  Fortunately the power was restored in a little under two days.  I came home to find that a bag of ice I had in the freezer was still ice-cube-shaped, so things in my newish (and apparently well-insulated) freezer must have stayed pretty cold.  The plums were safe!  

I visited my parents recently and brought along a bag of plums.  One night for dessert I made Zwetschgenkuchen (plum cake)


More Cucumbers

Since July 5, I’ve picked 17 cucumbers (or thereabouts – I may have lost count) from my one volunteer cucumber vine.  Five I’ve given away, and the rest I’ve eaten all by myself.  I adore cucumbers, but this is getting to be a bit much. 
Just some of the haul
Most I’ve just sliced into cuke sticks and eaten plain.  The few times I’ve actually had some tomatoes I’ve made greek salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and greek dressing).
Look, tomatoes!  From large to small: black from tula, maremmano, black cherry, sungold
 Last week I decided I had time to make tzatziki.  I love this sauce, and it’s easy to make, but it does take some time (mostly waiting).  Strain the yogurt for an hour or two.  Peel, seed, and chop the cuke, and squeeze out the juice.  Mince garlic and mint.  Mix together.  Voila! (How do you say ‘there you have it!’ in Greek?)

When I stopped at the store to but the plain yogurt and pita chips, I was inspired to go the whole way and make gyros.  So I bought lamb and beef and flatbread, and came home to google gyro recipes.  I found this one from Alton Brown.  (I used half lamb and half beef instead of all lamb, because all lamb is a bit too much for me.)  I didn’t take a picture of the finished gyros, but here’s a leftover plate I made when I’d run out of pitas.

pita-less gyro
I definitely plan to make this again.