Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Garlic Goodness

Gray stripe sunflower dropping petals and drying down its seed.
Almost September. This week I started planting the cabbages, kale, broccoli and cauliflower in the garden, as well as some lettuce seedlings. Sunflowers are drying down to seed and the birds have discovered the elderberries. The climbing minature rose at the back of the garden continues to bloom, and will do so until frost.
A tall sunflower leans against the rose trellis, otherwise
recent winds would have toppled it.
Roses are surprisingly hardy at times. I have seen fresh blossoms encased in ice following an October ice storm. I am sure there is a poem in there somewhere.
With a little bit cooler weather the tomatoes and beans are starting to bloom and set again. I continue to harvest, but I no longer spend half my day canning and freezing produce.
The now dead oat cover crop on the garlic bed has been raked back and a generous layer of compost and horse manure has been laid on it. In October, about 3 1/2 pounds of garlic cloves (with any luck, a bit more with a contribution from my neighbor) will be planted there, each two inches deep and about 4-6 inches from each neighbor. Yet that might not be enough to keep us in garlic until the next crop is dug.

Garlic is one of my more important crops. We use a lot of it. Not only does it season most of the dishes that we cook, it also serves as an important medicinal.

When we feel that we are beginning to come down with something we cut a clove of garlic in two and pop it in our mouths, between cheek and gum.
Leave it there for 20 to 30 minutes (move it around, if kept in one spot too long, it will irritate the mucous lining of the mouth), spit it out (you can swallow it if your stomach can handle it) and repeat several times during the day. Do this for a day, or two, or three, until you are certain you are past danger. One day of this treatment is generally sufficient for us.
Couple with doses of echinacea tincture and an increase in fluid intake and you have a surefire method of preventing, or at least reducing the severity of general wintertime illness. Neither I nor my husband have suffered from a full-blown cold or flu in several years -- and he works in a medical clinic.

In my Aug. 23 post, I recounted my search for a long-keeping garlic variety. Hundreds of varieties exist, each with their own characteristics.

Soft neck garlic varieties tend to keep longer than hard neck varieties. Hard neck varieties send up a flower/seed stalk that leaves a hard central stalk -- the "hard neck." Soft neck varieties do not do this and are the best varieties for creating garlic "braids."

The flower buds, aka "scapes," should be cut off. If left to develop, bulb size is reduced. The scapes sometime curl quite decoratively and can be used in flower arrangements or the top 4-6 inches can be used to add garlic flavor to stir-fries or other dishes. No sense in wasting a perfectly good scape.

Garlic varieties vary in flavor and heat, time of maturity, hardiness, and clove size, as well as keeping quality. Some are bland, some are highly pungent. Some are best for cooking or roasting or using fresh.

The Music variety that I plant every year has just a few giant cloves per bulb. This means I need to peel just a few cloves for lots of garlic. An important characteristic. Have I mentioned that we use lots of garlic? It is nicely pungent hard neck garlic and grows well in our northeast Kansas climate.
The Silverwhite variety that I ordered for my "keeper" has more, smaller cloves per bulb and, according to the description a nice pungence. I ordered it from Keene Organics.

Catalog descriptions don't always give you information on keeping quality of garlic varieties. The Ashley Creek Farm Web site (click on "Products") has a nice chart with information on a number of garlic varieties that includes the types of culinary uses for which they are best suited (cooking, roasting or raw), heat level and estimated keeping quality.

My husband and I are not the only ones who love garlic. A friend of ours once (perhaps twice or several times) has said that his first step in using a recipe is to double the garlic. I would say that sometimes, more than doubling is required. Any recipe that calls for a single clove of garlic is way too timid, in my opinion. Many recipes are far too timid in their use of pretty much any seasoning, as far as I am concerned. I like to be generous.

Some people are fanatic about garlic. Some specialty restaurants serve such things as chocolate covered garlic and garlic ice cream. I love garlic, but I think that is going a bit too far.

Many garlic growing farms and communities for which garlic is a staple crop hold garlic festivals around harvest time. The most famous is the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California. Unfortunately, it is too late to attend this year's festival, held at the end of July, but you have plenty of time to make plans to attend next year's festival and its garlic cooking contests and other events. I am sure they must crown a garlic queen and/or king.

Suddenly, I've got a craving for some garlic-heavy multi-colored bean salad. Fortunately, a bowl of it is waiting in the fridge. Gotta go now.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Picking Parsley

Late last week I found this little guy and some of his/her pals munching on my parsley.
That is only to be expected, as one of their common names is "parsley worm."
But they are not worms. They are the larvae of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
One clump of parsley, which has already suffered the insults of extreme heat and drought, was completely defoliated and they are starting on the next. The bunch of parsley I picked for bean salad contained a teeny tiny new hatchling parsley worm.

I love swallowtail butterflies and am loathe to kill their larvae. At a previous home, I had a lovely stand of bronze fennel and would have just moved the little larvae there, as they love all the parsley relatives -- fennel, dill, carrots -- and I had plenty of fennel to spare. Now however, I have only one tiny little bronze fennel and the dill has long since dried up. If I want parsley, I will just have to cut it all down and use or freeze it.
I hope that in coming years, a stand of bronze fennel will grow so I can give the larvae a new home when they show up in the parsley.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gorgeous Garlic

When choosing garlic bulbs for planting, select the largest and best. The
bigger the clove, the bigger the bulb that will grow from it.
The forecast high for today and tomorrow is 98 degrees F. Then it "cools down" to 89 and 90 for the rest of the week. So it doesn't seem much like fall is nearby. However, I am heavily into preparation for that season.

On Sunday, I ordered a pound of seed garlic to plant in October. That will be added to the 2 1/2 pounds of garlic saved from this year's harvest, making the total 3 1/2 pounds. I ordered garlic, instead of saving back more, because I am ever in search of garlic that will keep through the winter and at least into spring.

The garlic I saved is a variety called Music, a lovely garlic with giant cloves that sometimes are no more than six to a bulb. My husband loves this, as it takes less time to peel garlic when he's cooking. And we always use lots of garlic. However, by the end of December or mid-January, the Music garlic deteriorates beyond usefulness. I won't quit planting it, I just want to add another variety that will last at least into spring.

Last year I purchased half a pound of Georgia Fire garlic, because it is supposed to keep for a long time. I was disappointed in its performance, however. The bulbs I harvested are quite small and it matured much earlier than the Music. When I finally realized it was time to dig it (late June, was it?), the outer wrappers were deteriorated. When the outer wrappers go, the garlic won't keep as well as it would otherwise. I've read that you want some of the leaves to still be green when you harvest, that once they are dried up, the wrappers around the bulbs are gone.

Music garlic bulb.

So the search goes on.

A neighbor offered to give me some of her garlic when it was harvested. She no longer remembers what variety it is, but she said it keeps extremely well. Her husband is Italian, and I imagine that garlic is very important to them. She made that offer a couple of months ago,  however, so I don't know if she remembers it. Anyway, I decided to purchase another variety. If she does give me some of hers, well, you can't really have too much garlic, in my opinion.

I ordered a variety called Silverwhite, one of the soft neck types (which supposedly keep longer than the hardneck varieties). The online catalog said that this variety should keep until I harvest the next year's garlic. That's what I am looking for.

At $25 for the pound ($16/pound plus $9 shipping and handling), I consider this an investment, since I hope to save seed stock and not keep purchasing. I just hope that Silverwhite lives up to its reputation. It will be almost two years (10 or 11 months until harvest and another year of storage) before I know whether the investment pays off. Nobody said that gardening is about immediate gratification.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Goes On

Today I canned the last batch of tomatoes for this year. Six quarts and one pint.
That brings the total to 21 1/2 quarts.
Kansas melon.
Last year the total was 25 quarts, but since we still have half a dozen of those quarts left, I am calling it good. It has been a great year for tomatoes for me. The Amish Paste tomatoes will mostly be taken down, maybe I will leave one for tomatoes to cook with. And I will take a few of the green ones to make pickled green tomatoes. More on that in a future post.
The slicing tomatoes will stay up until they give notice that they will quit.

And the summer goes on...
We've had a little rain the past three days. Let me emphasize the word "little." However, I am quite grateful for what we got, especially since the temperature has gone down to more normal levels. Still hot, but not as...

And the summer goes on...
Kansas melon, mmm-mmm-mmmm.
Yesterday I picked the first ripe Kansas melons, lovely little cantaloupes with a sweet fragrance and wonderful flavor. The vines don't have as many melons as the Prescott fond Blanc, but the flavor is just as good. So this variety will definitely be planted again.
Pickles fermenting in a quart jar,
with a festive display of Thai chiles
scattered in front.
After finishing the tomato canning today, I started a jar of fermented cucumber pickles. Last year, I had great success with the whey fermentation method with the cabbage, so I am trying cucumber pickles this year.

With the highs down to the low to mid 90s (and even some 80s), as is in the forecast for the coming week, I may now put the brussels sprouts plants in the ground and even scatter some kale seed in the garden in a week or so. And I will feel a little more confident about starting a few more lettuces for fall and winter.

I am now reading "The Winter Harvest Handbook," by Eliot Coleman, hoping to find inspiration to grow and harvest more fresh vegetables this winter.

And the summer goes on...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Uh... what's that stuff?

When clouds in the sky
Mean rain in July,
How happy am I!

So, it's August. I made up this little poem last week -- when it was still July -- and some clouds rolled across pretending like they might give us some rain. But how do I rhyme August? This photo is from this morning, and it is raining lightly. I was getting ready to take a basket of clothes out to the line to dry, when I heard the welcome sound of rain pitty patting on the garage roof.
A damp sidewalk.
It stopped and I went ahead and took the clothes out, even though a light rain started again as I was pinning them to the line. If it doesn't stop long enough to dry them, I will bring them in and put them in the dryer. I hope that it doesn't just lightly rain enough to keep the clothes from drying, but not enough to give the garden a good drink.

Anyway, the reprieve from the heat is welcome. For the first time in more than a month I have shut off the air conditioning and opened the windows.

Mmmmmmmmmm.... Brandywine! I ate the first Brandywine tomato of the season last night. They can look kind of funny, but they are the tastiest (in my opinion) tomato around.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tomato Time

This Orb Weaver, aka Garden Spider, has set up shop
in the Sun Gold tomatoes. I work around her.
In spite of the heat, the tomatoes have overflowed my expectations. On Monday, I picked 58 pounds of tomatoes. That brings the total so far to 148 pounds of tomatoes.
Abraham Lincoln was the first red tomato to ripen, producing many small, orange-red fruit. Not "large" as the propaganda would have me believe, but the plants are very productive. The two plants have produced more than 32 pounds so far.

The next red to ripen was the early-season Black Krim. A poor producer during the past two or three years, it has redeemed itself, giving me 39 pounds so far from four plants. Black Krim fruit are prone to cracking, but the dry, hot weather (I presume) has kept most of them from rotting and allowed the cracks to seal when left on the vine.
Boxcar Willie made its debut in my garden this year. Unremarkable production, but pretty, uncracked fruit.

Amish Paste, in a return performance, shows its variability in size and shape. The major flush of ripened fruit is now appearing. On Monday I picked 33 pounds of this sauce tomato, compared to the mere 5 pounds I had harvested until then.
The long-season Brandywines, which are tops in flavor in my book, had yet to ripen when I shot this. On Monday, however, I picked several mostly ripe fruit, which should be ready to eat today or tomorrow.
The perfect, cherry-size Sun Golds are always the first to ripen and have never disappointed me. I give boxes of them away even when the other tomatoes are doing poorly. Even people who don't like tomatoes love these.
Just part of this year's canning.
So far I have canned nearly as many quarts of tomato sauce as I did in all of last year, and all of Monday's harvest (except for what I gave away) is still waiting to be processed.
Canning sauce isn't quite the chore it has been in the past. During a party last month, someone told me about roasting tomatoes. Core the tomatoes and cut off spots, then put them whole or halved in a shallow baking dish in a single layer. Roast them in a 200-degree F oven overnight (I do it for 10 hours).
You can put garlic, olive oil and seasonings in at the start. But I roast them plain and put them in bowls in the refrigerator until I have enough to warrant firing up the canner. With the pace the tomatoes are turning, that is just a few days.
I put the cold tomatoes in a large pot, use that wonderful invention the stick blender (or you can use a food processor or other method) to puree the tomatoes, heat them to boiling, then put them in sterilized jars and process. I leave the peels on, but if you don't want the peels, they slip off easily after roasting.
This gives me a thicker sauce than cooking them down in a pot and I don't have to watch and stir a pot on the stove top for hours.
Clockwise from top: Boxcar Willie, Black Krim, Abraham Lincoln, Amish Paste
TASTE TEST: I started with Amish Paste. I have grown it for several years but had not yet assessed its raw flavor. It is sweet, with no tangy overtones, a little bland. However, the raw flavor asserts that it will be quite fine when condensed into sauce. Not a slicer, a saucer.
Next I tried Abraham Lincoln. Not as sweet as Amish Paste, but very "bright," sort of tangy but not tart. Classic tomato flavor. Just what you would expect from an orange-red tomato.
Then Boxcar Willie was on my fork. Also a classic tomato flavor, but not quite as "bright." A little deeper. I prefer this one to Abe Lincoln.
Black Krim was last. No tanginess in this tomato. Much subtler flavor, not quite the classic flavor of the orange red varieties. Still quite good, but I think I have to put Boxcar Willie at the head of my list today.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


The high hit 109 degrees F today. Blister beetles are chewing up the eggplants. Squash bugs took out the winter squash (again. Why do I even bother?). Raccoons got my sweet corn. But today I picked the first melon of the year, the 7 1/2-pound Prescott fond Blanc pictured above. I probably should have waited another day or two, but it looked ripe to me and still is tasty.

When I was out Sunday evening I found two yellow gladiolus in bloom. A third is ready to open in a few days. No matter how dire things get, something beautiful pops up. They say the high tomorrow is going to get up to only 98.

Woo hoo. Where's my sweater?