Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gearing Up For Fall

As summer peaks we are finally getting a small break from the blistering hundred degree days - temperatures have plummeted to the breezy low 90s. Summer crops are starting to pass by, tomatoes are just gearing up, and we are planting fall crops. As we pull things out we are tilling up the empty beds...ahhh a fresh start. We have tilled up about 15 beds.
We are planting mostly root veggies in the ground: carrots, beets and parsnips. We planted one more succession of beans and put in some late squash and melons.

The garden across the street where we planted beans and some chard:
and squash, pumpkins and melons:
We also started some seedlings a week or two ago for some of the cooler weather crops. This way we can transplant seedlings like we did in the spring and have a better chance of a successful fall garden.

Kale seedlings:
Spinach and Cabbage seedlings:
Along with the kale, spinach and cabbage, we planted brussel sprouts!
Most of what is left in the gardens is doing really well. The tomatoes are going crazy, peppers are starting to ripen, and chard is continuing to grow. The melons, pumpkins, squash and other fall stuff we planted a few weeks ago is flourishing - even without enough water!

Sunflowers in the main garden:

Our new favorite vegetable: the red noodle bean. It is a burgundy bean that grows 18 inches long! They are delicious and don't loose their color when you cook them. They are convenient because you don't have to use as many for a meal and so you don't have as many of those annoying little ends to snap or chop off. We will be bringing them to market from now on, but you will definitely see more of these from us next year.

Red noodle bean flower:

Sweet potato plants:
Squash and pumpkin patch:

New England pie pumpkin (it will turn orange when it's ripe):

Melon patch:

Watermelon! It is about the size of a softball at this point, we got them in late:
Amish melon, tastes like a cantaloupe:

We will be on vacation in Cape May, NJ for the next week, and are happy for the break. We are really excited to see how things look when we get back!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Drought

In the past week, we have had rain three times.
It's FINALLY catching us up from the awful drought we've had this summer. The plants (and weeds) are loving it. During the drought we kept our garden alive by watering as much as possible and, so far, we have been lucky to not lose anything. But here is the problem: the drought hit right around the time we needed to start planting a third succession of veggies. During the summer, we plant three or four times to make sure we can harvest things all season instead of having just one big harvest and then nothing. But as we tried to plant during the drought, when it was also exceptionally hot, we had no luck. We planted several rows several times and got nothing. We tried all different hot weather plants and it just didn't work. Even when we watered before and after planting, it was too hot and dry for the seeds to germinate. The gardens looked something like this:What does this mean for our plants? It means that in about a month, we will have a lull in the harvest.
As you know, we are new at this, and we have been learning so much this year. One of the more interesting things we have experienced is having our lives dictated by the weather and the seasons and also the plants and insects. Our day-to-day depends on what the weather is that day, but also what it has been for the last few weeks.
Has it been really wet? Is it muddy in the garden? Has it been really dry? Is it raining today? Is it scorching hot? What bugs have we seen and are they good or bad? If we plant seeds now, will we have to water? When will they be ready to harvest? What else will be ready to harvest then?
Planting and weeding are both hard when it has been really wet and when it's been really dry.
Some plants have a nasty reaction to being really dry and then having lots of water and we check for those symptoms.
We are always on the look-out for "bad" bugs to smash.
Planting depends on timing, there has to be an open bed to plant in, it has to have enough time with the right weather (cool in the spring, hot in the summer, cool in the fall) to grow, and you can't plant it in a bed that has grown something similar before.
There is always something to be done, but it is these questions and considerations (plus many more) that decide what gets done when. Throw in several markets a week (and for some of our farmer friends, a CSA) and you have quite a job on your hands! Quite a rewarding job. :)

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Tutorial: Freezing Veggies

Do you ever have veggies that just sit in the fridge until they are inedible? I think that happens when you just have too many (or not enough time to cook it all). Sometimes when we come back from the farmers market, we have veggies left over. We eat some of them, but when there are too many to eat we usually freeze them to stock up for the winter. We also freeze or can a bumper crop of any one item and, to make sure our winter is full of variety, we freeze and can the final harvest of all kinds of veggies. I think more people would do this if they knew just how easy and fast it can be - so this entry is a step-by-step tutorial for how to freeze greens and tomatoes. Shall we get started?

The Tools

From left to right: A large pot of boiling water, freezer bags, tongs, a large spoon, a ladel, and canning tongs (we won't use those this time since we are just freezing).

Tip: We like to use the quart size freezer bags so that we have individual meal sized servings. Having to thaw large portions just to get a serving size can be difficult. We get 2 - 3 servings from one quart size freezer bag.

You also need a second large pot or bowl filled with ice water close by.

Greens: The following process will work for any cooking greens. (Spinach, Kale, Chard, Bok Choi, etc.)

The greens need to be blanched before they go into the freezer. Blanching is when you boil the vegetable for an allotted amount of time and then immediately dunk it in cold water. Boiling the greens kills the active enzymes that are constantly decomposing the plant matter, if you were to just put them straight into the freezer, they would spoil even at the very low freezing temperatures. Dunking them in cold water immediately stops the cooking process.

Preparing the Greens

For kale, we take the leaves off of the tough stems.


Stems (stems go straight into the compost or chicken yard)

Chard stems are delicious to eat so we just chop up the whole bunch into more manageable pieces.

The Process

1. Place leaves into the boiling water.

2. Stir to make sure they are all submerged, cover if it is really full.

3. Boil for 2 minutes.

4. Use the tongs to place immediately into cold water.

5. Strain the greens and fill your freezer bags.

Tip: When filling your bags, let all the air out and flatten the greens inside the bags. This way you can stack them in your freezer and take up as little space as possible.

6. Don't forget to label and include the date!

Greens will be good in your freezer up to 12 months.

That was easy, right? It is a very similar process with lots of green veggies - peas, green beans, and several others. The blanching times vary from 1 - 3 minutes. On to tomatoes!

Tomatoes should be peeled before freezing. The skins don't taste good after being frozen and peeling them will help them store for longer too. All you need to do to prep your tomatoes is take off the stems and wash them.

The Process

1. Drop the tomatoes, whole, into boiling water and let them sit for 2 minutes.

2. Transfer to a large pot or bowl of cold water. Let them sit in the cold water for a few minutes, tomatoes retain heat really well.

3. Peel the skins off and discard. (Feed to chickens or compost! :) )

4. Remove the tough spot from where the stem used to be. It is easiest to just use your hands, but a knife would work too.

5. Ladle the (mostly) whole tomatoes and juice into freezer bags. Just as with the greens, get as much air out as possible and only fill them to the point where they will sit flat.

6. Label and date.

Tip: Labeling is sometimes easier to do BEFORE you fill the bags.

Tomatoes, like greens, will be good in the freezer up to 12 months.

Here is what they look like stacked in the freezer!
We sometimes put 4 or 5 of the smaller bags into larger, gallon sized bags to avoid freezer burn and make it easier to organize.

When you are ready to use your frozen veggies, you can thaw them and cook them exactly how you would if they were raw. Or, you can dump them in to soups or stews frozen and they will thaw as they cook!

I hope this inspires you to start putting some veggies up for the winter. It is a great way to keep from wasting food and to save a lot of money! There is nothing like preparing a meal on a snowy February day and having everything you need right in your freezer.

(By the way, we prepared all of these bags of veggies for freezing in less than one hour.)