Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes

The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can't eat it. We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as 'progress,' doesn't spread.
-Andy Rooney
 heirloom cherry tomato

If you're completely overwhelmed when selecting seeds for your garden (and personally, after twenty minutes with a seed catalog, I'm ready to hang it on the wall and shoot darts in lieu of actually choosing), you'll welcome this recommendation:  Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes.

We purchased our seeds from Renfrow's Hardware more than two years ago, and we're still going strong. The plants have never given us any problems with pests or blight, and they produce tons of cherry tomatoes all summer long. The fruit is sweet with rich, red flavor, and its seeds produce new tomatoes so easily that you'll likely end up with seedlings next year from this year's plants - perfect for the lazy gardener (a.k.a. me). If you doubt yourself and start too many, let me also suggest Madhur Jaffrey's sweet tomato chutney, which we ate on everything from tofu dogs to grilled vegetables almost every day for two solid months, and still look forward to eating this summer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Food for the trails

If food isn't the first thing on your mind when you think about backpacking, you probably don't want to hike with my family.  You never know when a snack might be your last: on the same trip in the past three years, we've had second degree burns and two head injuries. Lesson learned: you'd best eat while you can.

Hiking all day is the only way I can possibly burn enough calories to eat everything I want... so for two and a half days, that's what I do. (And the Appalachian Mountains are okay-looking, if you're into that sort of thing.)

To start your packing, Trader Joe's has every kind of delicious snack mix you could possibly want, and health food stores with bulk bins can source your dried fruits, grains (like quinoa or oatmeal) and goodies (chocolate-covered everything: yes, please). But this year, our best meal came mostly from our very own garden.

For Christmas, my parents surprised Abe and I with an Excaliber dehydrator. (If you don't have a dehydrator, come to N.C! Use mine.) We brought it out for the first time before our trip this past weekend, drying zucchini,* squash, rainbow carrots and peppers, as well as store-bought mushrooms.  The vegetables shrank down to almost nothing and I was a little concerned how they would turn out on the trail.

Ben's unimpressed by the crunchy dried veggies from a local health food store; Cash shows the proper attitude.
I picked beef Ramen - now stay with me, it gets better - to eat with our veggies, since it's so lightweight, and added some curry powder and ground ginger to a packet of red pepper flakes (left over from a pizza delivery a few months ago). I also packed some spicy Haitian peanut butter in a mini tupperware, and just to have options, some soy sauce and Chinese mustard packets.

Maybe it was the vigorous exercise (or maybe not, since I offered to make Abe virtually the same meal for dinner on Monday night at home), but the resulting dinner was delicious! We boiled water on our camp stove, then added the carrots, since they would take the longest to rehydrate. After a few minutes, we threw in the mushrooms and then the other veggies, along with the contents of my spice packet.  After the vegetables had rehydrated, we threw in the noodles with a pinch of the Ramen flavor pack and stirred for another minute or two. I added peanut butter to taste, and discovered that a sprinkle of cashews (picked out of the mixed nuts we'd brought along) added just the right richness and crunch.

Bon appetit and happy trails!
*Are you struggling with an over-abundance of zucchini? Are you going to choke if you have to eat another bite of zucchini bread?  Can you just-not-wait until August 8, "Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day"? Dehydrating your vegetables will shrink them down to almost nothing so you can almost forget how many there are! They'll also keep longer, allowing you to mail them to other people with too many zucchini as an ironic joke.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Top left: Charlotte Regional Farmers Market; Top right: heirloom zephyr squash for sale
Bottom left: Rainbow carrots; Bottom right: Heading home to the kitchen (the greens are daikon)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Feeling hot, hot, hot

You know what's refreshing?  Water.  You know what's refresh-o-mazing?  This water.

Ingredients: Garden cucumbers, fresh mint and water.  Steep it all together in the fridge for an hour or overnight.  The cucumber flavor will intensify the longer it sits.  We've had a pitcher in the fridge for the last two weeks (just trade out the cucumbers every few days).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Please don't leave me(ow)

No farm news tonight. We're getting ready for our annual Father's Day backpacking trip to Grayson Highlands, VA. Franc makes it no secret how he feels about getting left behind. I'll be lucky if he gets off my bag long enough for me to pack it.

Know what today is?

Technically the summer solstice is just an instant - the moment in a year when our hemisphere is most inclined toward the sun, or something like  that, which I could explain much better or maybe at the very least understand if I had taken astronomy instead of bio.  Anyway, today the sun is at its highest point in the sky and we get our longest day of the year.

There are lots of traditions around the summer solstice (a.k.a. Midsummer), including bonfires, festivals, and the ancient belief that golden flowering summer plants like calendula and St. Johns wort would have miraculous healing powers if picked on the Summer Solstice. In Seattle, of course, they celebrate with nude cycling.

I may not be picking mystically charged herbs or riding my bike nude today, but I appreciate anything that makes people stop and take notice of our earth. In the U.S. it's easy to settle in to an air conditioned bed at night after a trip to the climate-controlled grocery store or a day at work in a windowless office. To me, the magic of the summer solstice is the invitation to connect with the natural systems and patterns that make our world work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the incredible overnight growth of zucchini

We grow zucchini, squash, and some larger tomato varietals in a fenced garden at the back of our yard.  After fighting a desperately impossible battle with devil's grass for two straight years, Abe finally laid landscaping plastic. He used wood from our woodpile to hold the plastic in place over existing garden rows. Then it was as simple as cutting small holes in the plastic to plant the seeds. (We work hard, but we're very lazy gardeners.)

I was in the back garden this weekend picking some veggies. I noticed a small zucchini nestled up under some leaves, and I knew it was almost or probably ready. But my hands were full, so I decided to leave it for another day.

clockwise from 12 o'clock: spring onions, zucchini, cucumbers, summer squash
The next day, that little zucchini had more than doubled in size.  (You can see it in its enormity in the top right.) Lesson learned. 
So for the summer ahead, zucchini are best picked when they're about five inches long and not quite 2 inches around. Younger zucchini (and summer squash, too) is more tender and flavorful. Mammoth zucchs tend to be tough and bland, and are best used for muffins.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

something chicken this way comes

It was definitely at least sixty five degrees this morning and the sun was shining on my way to work. It suddenly looked like faint snow. There was something wispy and white in the air around my car. Ahead of me, I noticed this truck.

It was full of chickens. (And we complain about overcrowding on US Airways.) White feathers were flying out of their crates, and understandably, because chickens molt in times of stress or poor health. The mud flaps on the truck advertised Hugh Pfaff Poultry Farm in Tobaccoville (I know), N.C. They deal in "wholesale live poultry" and they were 2010 members of Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI's website doesn't contain a complete list of current members).

Although DPI is hard at work cultivating a family-farm-friendly image, I'm not really buying it. The Animal Legal & Historical Center at the Michigan State University College of Law documents a grim picture of broiler chicken production. And if you've seen Food, Inc, you've heard Carole Morison, a now-former contract chicken farmer who founded a justice league for contract poultry growers. (She has since established her own animal welfare approved farm.)

I like to think I've got a healthy understanding and awareness of my food (sometimes, I admit, healthy bordering on snobby). I try to produce as much of my own food as possible. I raise free range chickens. I work at a local, fair food restaurant where I preach to people about building a safer food system. But to be honest, if Abe and I go out for dinner I don't really think twice about the meat that I order and where it came from. That needs to change.

I don't want my food to harm anyone's health. Instead of nourishing us, factory farms and CAFO's pollute our bodies, land, air and water.

Want to know more?
CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations
Facts About Pollution From Livestock Farms (by the National Resources Defense Council)
Food Inc's 9 Ways to Change the Food System

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

rain drops keep falling on my deck

almost done!

It's been raining for the last two days.  After a weekend of sleep deprivation and some spectacularly demanding clients at work, in the words of an illustrious former coworker, "I'm over it."

Any suggestions how Franc and I can beat this summer funk?

Monday, June 11, 2012

summer weekend

Smash, blend or juice your strawberries (overripe is fine). Fill the glass with seltzer or tonic water and vodka (as needed); garnish with fresh mint.

Well, the deck wasn't finished, but I can report excellent progress. We'll celebrate when we're finally done with these delicious sparkling strawberry mint drinks.

Friday, June 8, 2012

seven chicks a-laying

Remember these girls?  They're all grown up and laying eggs.  Thanks, ladies! I'll take mine scrambled.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Anyone else getting tired of all the powdery mildew around here?

(Hi. Are you new here, or do you suffer from short-term memory loss? Or maybe you saw Men in Black 3 and had to wipe your memory to forget? You can catch up on our epic battle against powdery mildew in the greenhouse here and here.)

Life is like a box of what comes home with your husband when you send him to the garden supply store. You never know what you're going to get. 

fighting powdery mildew in the greenhouse garden

Last week you got Elementals Garden Disease Control instead of potassium bicarbonate.  But tomatoes, tomahtoes - it's still approved for organic gardening and our bemildewed vegetables need all the misting we can muster.

fighting powdery mildew

Abe took this picture shortly before I read the label to find out that (a) the active ingredient is copper, (b) you should be careful not to get this on your clothes or skin, and (c) I had just spilled it all over myself. But I don't seem to have suffered any deleterious effects, which is lucky since I also spilled it intentionally all over the vegetables I plan to eat.

The directions indicate that, like everything else, this is best used preventively for powdery mildew (once weekly or twice monthly or something), but since prevention is too late for us, we've sprayed twice this past week. So far, I can report that it either doesn't work or we need to give it more time lethal doses.
*For a helpful, searchable list of products approved for organic gardening, check out the Organic Materials Review Institute's website.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

corny classified

Me: 26/F, petite, willing to cook. You: husky, golden, DDF. WLTM! Let's get together and make summer magic.

Monday, June 4, 2012

what to do with overripe fruit

Farmers are terribly sly, and I'm hopeless at picking fruit. The big box of peaches we brought home from Saturday's farmers market had at least half a dozen that were bruised, smashed, and overripe underneath a layer of perfectly delicious-looking peaches.

Only a few things are more disgusting than mushy fruit. I was mad until I juiced them, added a little plain yogurt, and shook it all up in a mason jar.  Yum: local peach drinkable yogurt! It's a treat with protein and without added sugar.

You old Strawberries, almost-rotten Apricots, Blackberries we forgot were in the fridge, and (coming soon!) past-your-prime Blueberries - come on in! The yogurt's fine.

If you don't have a juicer, you could get the same effect with a blender or food processor. Just remember to remove the pits.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

powdery mildew strikes the peas

pests in the greenhouse garden

Mildew found my snap peas, because Mother Nature is a hater, and because these things happen when you start greenhouse gardening with hardly two specks of know-how.  I did learn something from the loss of our bean plants, so I picked up a spray bottle from the dollar store and got to spraying with an ACV/water solution.  I used about 1/2 TBS of vinegar for this spray bottle full of water. Even after dousing the entire greenhouse, I have more than half the bottle left. I can't tell if it's helping yet, but I'll keep trying, since it's as close as I can get to shooting Mildew at point-blank range in the face.
natural fungicides

I'm actually feeling frantic, because the mildew that affects beans can also affect tomatoes. I did a bit more reading and stumbled across Growing A Greener World. I'm no longer sure why the rest of the internet still exists, because they have everything: episodes (great news for those of us who have inadvertently become internet-addicted by not owning a television), recipes, blogs, a store, and salvation from powdery mildew: potassium bicarbonate.  It's the only natural treatment for powdery mildews I've come across that left me any hope it could treat the mildew that's already there. Potassium bicarbonate is similar to baking soda, but with sodium instead of potassium, it's gentler on plants. And tougher on mildew. Disclaimer so you don't get false hope for Actual Science around here: I'm not so much great at chemistry as highly skilled in google-ing. 

Just like everything imaginable, it's available on amazon, or they also sell it at our local homebrew store ($3 for 4 oz).
4 tsp of potassium bicarbonate in a gallon of water is enough to treat 100 square feet, so it doesn't take much.  I'll let you know how it goes.