Sunday, August 4, 2019

Of Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Bagworms

Miniature White Cucumbers, my favorite. Productive, crunchy, small seeded, and rarely bitter.
It's been a fruitful summer.

If you come to my house over the next month, it's quite likely I will coerce you into -- I mean -- offer you as many cucumbers as you could possibly want. My neighbor has come up at least twice to pick cucumbers. Today some friends who came over went home with loads of cukes. Last night I took some to a gathering and implored people to take some home with them. I always have more than we can consume, and it is no different this year, even though I planted fewer cucumbers than usual. Why does it seem like I have more than usual?

I eat fresh cucumbers every day and have made more than three gallons of fermented cucumber pickles. Do I really need a fourth gallon? Maybe.

In a quest for something else to do with cucumbers I discovered numerous fresh salads that combine cucumbers with tomatoes, peppers, onions and whatever other summer veggies are on hand, such as Panzanella (minus the bread crumbs for me) and Fatoush (which I fell in love with while dining from the Sunday buffet at a local Mediterranean restaurant). Of course there's tatziki, a Mediterranean sauce/dip made with Greek yogurt, grated cucumber and dill, with the option of adding mint. I love all these. Guess I'll make some Fatoush for tomorrow.

But I've also discovered Gazpacho. Not exactly "discovered." I've known about gazpacho for a long time, but always went, "Cold soup? Um... no." However, desperation sets in and I tried an intriguing gazpacho recipe that uses 1 pound of cucumbers, 1 pound of tomatillos, half a medium onion, one clove garlic, half a poblano chili, and 1/4 cup olive oil.

I don't have tomatillos, so I used Sun Gold cherry tomatoes instead. I doubled the garlic (ONE clove garlic? What good is that?). I didn't have poblanos, so I use a little bit of chipotle. It all goes into the blender and is well-chilled before serving. OK, so, Yum. I mean YUM. I'll make it again and I'm waiting to try another gazpacho that uses arugula and "tender" herbs, such as basil, cilantro, parley when the arugula gets growing well again. It seems that gazpacho variations are many.

But I think tomorrow I'll make fatoush, without the feta.

Of course these salads all use tomatoes as well as cucumbers. That's just fine, as the tomatoes are doing quite well. I'm not so desperate to have other people pick those, as they are easy to preserve, although I do share. The Amish Paste get sliced and dehydrated. The Black Vernissage (apparently the Vernissage group also has pink, yellow and green varieties) that don't get used fresh in the salads will be roasted and frozen in wide-mouth canning jars. Pink Brandywine is best fresh and is The Best fresh tomato, in my opinion. But it's easy to have an excess, so some will be dried, roasted or given away. Fortunately they aren't a super productive variety and I planted just two.

Now we come to the bagworms, of which we also have a bumper crop this year. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware that it would be a bumper crop at the optimum time to manage them (June-ish) by spraying Bt, a biological control. After it became apparent, I just sort of... not "just sort of," I purposely and actively ignored them. By August they've done most of their feeding and so it's not any use spraying. Now they hang like ornaments almost every few inches along all the branches of many of our red cedar trees. With luck, they haven't actually killed any, at least not the important ones.

One of last year's Monarchs shortly after emerging.
I'm not sure why they're so abundant this year, other insects seem to be in short supply. The milkweeds I planted for the Monarch butterflies have not been eaten by Monarch caterpillars, although caterpillars of the Tufted Tiger Moth (I guess they're also known as the Milkweed Tussock Moth) completely devoured a couple of the plants. They tend to swarm the plants, whereas Monarch Butterflies lay just one egg per leaf. Still a Monarch caterpillar can pretty much eat an entire plant.

I've seen a few Black Swallowtail caterpillars -- the benefit of having an abundance of dill and fennel -- but no Silvery Checkerspot larvae on the echinaceas. Even the squash bugs seem in short supply, but maybe that's because the squash also is in short supply. The Japanese beetles also have been blessedly scarce. I'm curious as to what next summer will bring insect-wise. Late cold weather this past winter/early spring might have reduced many of the insect populations...

But not the bagworm population. Why?

I'm not sure even the entomologists can answer that one.