Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Urban Farming: Fall Vegetable Gardening

In southeastern Virginia, we’re lucky to have a long growing season, and we actually have two cool growing seasons: in the spring and again in the fall. Since the average date of the first frost is November 21 (my honey’s birthday – easy to remember!), we can plant from seed now and harvest into November. We will actually harvest some hardy greens and root vegetables next spring.

2011 Fall Garden

Last week, I went to a lecture by Portsmouth Master Gardener Fred Hersey at the Churchland Library in Portsmouth. Here are my notes from that lecture, embellished with a few tips of my own; we don’t eat cooking greens like collards and mustard greens, so I didn’t take notes on those.

Again, we have two goals for the fall garden:

  1. Eat during the fall – carrots, parsnips, green beans, peas, salad and other greens
  2. Grow through the winter – greens, spinach, arugula, garlic, onions

Check seed packages for for their maturity date and count backwards from first frost. There are now about 60 days left, so bush snap beans, peas, etc., that will mature in less than 60 days can be planted now.

If we don’t get several days in a row of hard frost, we can plant these crops and they will thrive through the winter: greens like Swiss chard, lettuce and arugula and root crops like carrots, parsnips, garlic and onions.

Root crops need loose, well-drained soil so they can grow, and you can leave them in the ground until you want to use them. If you need to get them out of the ground, you can put them in a container of sand, root end down, for storage.

In the garden: Peas and chives

Once you decide what to grow, the next step is to prepare the soil for planting and add nutrients. It’s ideal to have a soil test done by Virginia Tech that will tell you what the pH is and the levels of particular nutrients in your soil, like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus; you can get a quick test done at some garden centers which will only tell you the pH. If you can’t do that in time, it’s okay; just make sure you fertilize properly. The Virginia Tech test costs $10 for in-state testing; you can get a test kit and instructions at any Virginia Cooperative Extension office.

Moisten soil the day before planting and rake or till it up, depending on how large your space is. Mushroom compost is a good choice for fertilizer. You can buy it from Norfolk County Feed & Seed and probably other garden centers. If you use something other than compost for fertilizing, look for something with a low first number (nitrogen) for fruiting plants like beans and peas, since nitrogen increases foliage growth and can inhibit fruiting. Use a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content for leafy vegetables like salad greens, collards, etc.

Fertilize when planting, then side-dress about three weeks later, and then once a month. Root crops in particular are heavy feeders, so they will need nutrients during the growing season. Plant seeds deeper than you would in the spring; the soil is already warm. You can also get a head start by buying transplants from a garden center.

If you have insect problems, try an organic insect control like hot pepper spray or insecticidal soap. Using a general insecticide like Sevin will harm pollinators like bees and butterflies and other beneficial insects like ladybugs.

A few notes specific to garlic:

  • Don’t fertilizer after May 15, because you will harvest them in June
  • Can cut scapes (flower stalks) off when they’re 10 inches long or have a loop in them; cut up and add to skillet dishes or soups/stews
  • Don’t pull – you don’t want the cloves to come apart. Dig them out.
  • Don’t wash garlic heads (or onions); skins will pull off easily once they’re cured/dried. Set on a basket, for air circulation, out of the sun for a month to cure

So let’s get gardening! It’s easier than you think.

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Photo Friday: Delicious

This is one of my favorite summer dishes – maque choux. It’s a little bit sweet, from the corn, and a little bit spicy, from jalapeno, and crunchy, from lightly sauteed fresh vegetables. So yummy and so pretty with all the colors of summer.

Photo Friday: Delicious

This is for the Photo Friday weekly photo challenge. This week’s topic is Delicious.

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Urban Farming: Growing a Salad Bowl

Last weekend, we had a gorgeous spring day – sunny with temps in the low 60s. Perfect for getting out in the garden and planting some veggies.

We use a lot of lettuce and love a good spring mix, so I planted a salad bowl in a terra-cotta pot. One of my gardening goals this year is to integrate beautiful ornamental plants with delicious edible plants so I can extend the time the garden looks good. So for this salad bowl, I added a few violas to the pot along with the lettuce mix. I sprinkled few pinches of seeds in the open area and will sprinkle a few more each week. This is called succession planting – I can harvest it all summer long by continuing to sprinkle in new seed and harvest the leaves when they’re ready.

The parsley wintered over in the pot and I’ve been harvesting a few leaves now and then when I need a tablespoon or two for a recipe. It’s so nice being able to just clip what I need.

Growing a Salad Bowl

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Grilled Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

I am a vinegar fiend. I just checked my cupboard and I have 11 different kinds of vinegar. So when I came across this recipe for chimichurri sauce in Cooks’ Illustrated magazine a few years ago, I really wanted to try it. It’s kind of like a kicked-up version of Italian dressing with a larger proportion of vinegar and uses red-wine vinegar – my favorite.

Chimichurri sauce is a condiment from Argentina generally used as a steak sauce, but it can be used on all kinds of grilled meats. There are variations that include cilantro or oregano, but I found I didn’t like those flavors as well, so I just use parsley. I also am not fond of the bite of fresh onion and garlic, so I reduced the amount of garlic and soaked it and the onion in the vinegar to remove some of their pungency.

Even though summer is unofficially over, there are lots of good grilling days ahead, so try this with your next cookout.

Chimichurri Sauce for Grilled Steak
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

1 cup parsley leaves (reserve stems for another use)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced red onion
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp. water
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Add red onion and garlic to red-wine vinegar and let sit for 10 minutes. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until fairly smooth. Taste and add salt, if needed. Will keep refrigerated for one week.

Steak with chimichurri sauce

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Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Homemade Crackers

Daring Kitchen logoDan gave me a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas, so I could expand my cooking in a new direction. But since I’ve never baked much, I have a hard time thinking of things to do with it! So I decided to challenge myself and try new techniques by joining the Daring Bakers, an online group that comes up with a baking challenge each month. All members bake the same item and publish a blog post about it on the same day each month. The item is known only to the members until the publication day. Which was yesterday. Yes, I’m late on my first challenge, but it turned out well!

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

The only requirement was to use two different methods to make two types of crackers:

  • icebox crackers, where you mix ingredients, shape them into a log, refrigerate to firm up, then slice and bake; or
  • rolled crackers, where you combine ingredients in a mixer, then roll out by hand or with pasta rollers. From here, you can cut out shapes with a cookie/biscuit cutter or cut the sheets into cracker shapes after baking.

Dan and I were out of town the first two weeks of July, so I had limited time to get this done. Last week, I tried a cracker recipe I had printed out years ago – Ina Garten’s Parmesan and Thyme Crackers. But I measured the flour wrong and they crumbled. Lesson learned.

Next I decided to try the Seedy Crisps, an Alton Brown recipe. These are so good! Thin and crisp, filled with poppy and sesame seeds, these crunchy little bites go great with cheese. They rolled out very easily and didn’t stick to my granite countertop, which I love. It’s important to cut them while they’re still warm; otherwise, they just break apart.

Seedy Crisps
Seedy Crisps. Recipe by Alton Brown.

The third recipe I made was really easy, too. I just need to remember to take the butter out to soften! Since I don’t bake much, I’m always forgetting about that part. Anyway, these were Rosemary, Cheddar and Walnut Icebox Crackers from “Garde Manger, The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen” by the Culinary Institute of America. I used pine nuts nuts instead of walnuts since we like those better.

These are like a cheesy, herby little shortbread. These are one of the icebox types; I still have another log in the fridge to bake off later. Because of the high fat content from the cheese and nuts, these will not last as long as the crisps, but the dough will keep in the fridge for days. Now, it just needs to be sliced and baked so we can enjoy it again.

Rosemary, Cheddar and Pine Nut Crackers
Rosemary, Cheddar and Pine Nut Crackers

The recipes and tips are all available on the Daring Kitchen website.

This was a really fun challenge, and I look forward to participating in many more!

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Urban Farming: Baby squash, tomatillos and melon

We came back from vacation to find the garden thriving, for the most part. The only plants we lost were the pickling cucumbers – but we still have full-size cucumbers. I plan to pickle some of those; I’ll just cut them into halves and then slices.

But everything else is doing well, particularly the Roma tomatoes and jalapeno and pepperoncini peppers. But we have some new babies out there that I’m really excited about. I thought they had died while we were on vacation, but the summer squash are flowering again, and there are a few babies, so soon we will have more of those.

Baby summer squash
Baby summer squash

We also have three tomatillo plants. We really love these. Tomatillos look like small green tomatoes, hence the name, but they’re actually a relative of the gooseberry plant. They have a mildly tart flavor similar to a less pungent mix of lemon and lime. I have several recipes in mind for these:

Baby tomatillos
Baby tomatillos

And we have canteloupe again! Last year, we only got two or three fruits out of the vine, but they were juicy and sweet. I can only find one baby right now, but there are a lot of flowers.

Baby canteloupe
Baby canteloupe

I made a really delicious fruity salad with mint and vanilla-fig balsamic vinegar a few years ago, so that may be on the menu.

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