Aug 24 2009

The August Garden


Despite the tomato crisis and the cucumber mystery,  I have loved this garden–my first real experience growing something that didn’t come already potted  from WalMart or HomeDepot.  When I read this poem in the “Writer’s Almanac,” I thought of the day I wrestled the carrots out of the ground.  After the experience of coaxing a carrot from the soil, I can’t imagine willingly eating a packaged baby carrot ever again. 

“Vegetable Love”
by Barbara Crooker

Feel a tomato, heft its weight in your palm,
think of buttocks, breasts, this plump pulp.
And carrots, mud clinging to the root,
gold mined from the earth’s tight purse.
And asparagus, that push their heads up,
rise to meet the returning sun,
and zucchini, green torpedoes
lurking in the Sargasso depths
of their raspy stalks and scratchy leaves.
And peppers, thick walls of cool jade, a green hush.
Secret caves. Sanctuary.
And beets, the dark blood of the earth.
And all the lettuces: bibb, flame, oak leaf, butter-
crunch, black-seeded Simpson, chicory, cos
Elizabethan ruffs, crisp verbiage.
And spinach, the dark green
of northern forests, savoyed, ruffled,
hidden folds and clefts.
And basil, sweet basil, nuzzled
by fumbling bees drunk on the sun.
And cucumbers, crisp, cool white ice
in the heart of August, month of fire.
And peas in their delicate slippers,
little green boats, a string of beads,
repeating, repeating.
And sunflowers, nodding at night,
then rising to shout hallelujah! at noon.

All over the garden, the whisper of leaves
passing secrets and gossip, making assignations.
All of the vegetables bask in the sun,
languorous as lizards.
Quick, before the frost puts out
its green light, praise these vegetables,
earth’s voluptuaries,
praise what comes from the dirt.

Aug 23 2009

Tomato Tragedy: Late Blight Fungus


Well, it’s the worst disaster to hit my tomatoes in all my gardening career.  If you’re a gardener, you know how bad the late blight fungus is this year — a veritable epidemic in the eastern U.S.  Evidently, the cool, damp Spring and a bad infection among some major growers created a perfect storm. You can read the Maryland Cooperative  Extension Service’s info here:

Region’s Tomatoes & Potatoes At Risk of Devastating Disease

I noticed it first on three plants at the end of our “tomato alley.”  But when I went to pull and dispose of those plants the next day, it was clear that the entire crop is infected.  I did pull those three plants as planned — indulging that helpless feeling of having to do something — but I left the rest.  Basically, the fruit that is on the vines is mostly ripening and usable.  Maybe 15% spoiled.  But the vines themselves are rapidly dying off, and no more fruit will be set.

That said, we’ve enjoyed quite a number of tomato sandwiches, and tomato-mozzarella salads, and last night we sent off some of our guests from Nicole’s send-off party with small bags of tomatoes, and today I made maybe 5 or 6 quarts of homemade tomato sauce.  But we won’t be doing the massive canning that we anticipated.

It’s sad, because the plants were so big and beautiful and loaded with nice fruit.  I just hope the fungus doesn’t overwinter.  It typically does not, but there is concern that it may have mutated.  We’ll take some precautions.  Meantime…

Lessons Learned

  1. Plant further apart.  No matter how far I space them, it’s never enough.  I will plant fewer and further apart next year.
  2. Be cautious about evening watering.  I’ve never been too disciplined about this; after all, it rains at night, right?  But I’ll avoid this practice in the future.
  3. Water from the bottom.  I will set up a drip or seeping irrigation system next year.  I’ve always meant to do this.  Now I have incentive.
  4. Start our own plants exclusively.  I really doubt any of the plants from Dana’s, our favorite nursery, brought it here, but who knows?

Aug 8 2009

How To Pick, Wash & Store Lettuce & Greens


Seems like a no-brainer I know, but there really are some tricks to making the most of garden-grown lettuce.  One important thing to remember:  good hygiene is very important with lettuce.  Try not to let any of the leaves stay in contact with the ground, and if the lower leaves yellow, wilt, or start to rot, remove them immediately and discard in the compost pile.

Harvest: If you’re growing head lettuce, then just let it go until it’s a good size to pick.  If you’re growing leaf lettuce or picking head lettuce as leaf lettuce, just remember to pick only the largest outer leaves; leave the interior core and it will keep producing.

Washing: Remember this rule:  Give lettuce a bath, not a shower. It’s virtually impossible to clean off the garden dirt with a stream of water.  You have to put the lettuce in a large bowl of water, swish it around, then lift the lettuce out before discarding the water (leaving the dirt, grass, etc. to sink in the water) page.  It usually takes three rinses.  (Commercial growers must do this, because it’s never an issue with store-bought greens).  Then spin dry in a salad spinner.

Storing: The right humidity and air flow are critical for longest storage.  I use an old-fashioned, single-hole punch (probably can get one at Staples) to punch a series of holes all around the perimeter of a one-gallon zip-lock bag.  Then I put 1/2 of a paper towel in the bottom, add the spun-dry lettuce, put another 1/2 paper towel on top, then seal and put it in the vegetable bin in the fridge.  I know, I know, there are probably toxins in the paper towel, but it’s not making that much contact.  Open for better ideas if you have any.

Jul 30 2009

Squash Ducks


Natalie noticed this interesting visual when we were getting the bushel of squash ready to freeze.  Quack!


Jul 29 2009

Garden Bounty: Squash Gone Wild


Things got a little out of hand while we were at the beach.  Yes, that is a laundry basket…

Squash, Etc.

Jun 14 2009

Lettuce and Clotheslines


Yesterday, we put in the base poles for the clothesline.  Roger says that we can start hanging clothes by Wednesday!!!  We ate this beautiful lettuce for dinner.lettuce-06-14-09