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Summer Garden Bounty

The end of July and beginning of August are an exciting time for Vermont gardeners.  Finally we enjoy a huge diversity of sun-ripened fruits, berries, and vegetables from our gardens and farms.  We’ve been savoring first raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, broccoli, onions, garlic, and beets.  Waiting all these months, of course, makes it all much more exciting and delicious.

garden goodies

After several long rainy weeks, we’ve been enjoying a stretch of sunny low-humidity days and cool nights.  Though it’s meant fewer lake swims, it has been perfect weather for daily weeding sessions, keeping up with the ever-growing lush green lawn, and kitchen cooking projects.

End of July Garden

In the kitchen, I excitedly pickled a batch of kohlrabi, fennel, and beets.  They flavors and colors are blending wonderfully, turning bright pink (click here to learn more about natural fermentation).

July Pickles

buckwheat pancakes

I’ve also been LOVING a newly discovered recipe for Sourdough Buckwheat Pancakes.  Buckwheat is a really interesting “grain” and  offers a unique alternative to wheat.  This recipe sprouts and sours the buckwheat, making it even more nutritious and digestible.  The pancakes were nutty and tender with crisp edges (be sure to use plenty of grass-fed butter in your pan), and a perfect vehicle for the delicious fruits and berries that are now in season. 

Happy harvesting, happy feasting!

lake sunset

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To School Gardens Uncategorized

Trellising and Suckers (aka Keeping Tomato Plants Under Control)

Caged Tomato

By the end of June, most gardens are fully planted and have had several weeks to settle in and start to grow.  If your rows were fully weeded when you planted, you’ve probably had a few weeks of vacation from this ongoing garden chore.  Pests can start to be a nuisance, praying on small vulnerable leaves and stems (read more about pest control here).

Right about now is a great time to get ahead of the game and create a plan to sucker, trellis, or stake any plant that will likely grow tall and may become top-heavy with fruit.  In our garden, I tie pepper plants to stakes; make sure beans, peas, and cucumbers have a trellis to climb on; and sucker and cage my tomato plants.  Most of this makes sense to the average person, except: what the heck is suckering?!

tomato sucker

Plants that are naturally bushy and sprawling, like tomatoes and tomatillos, grow new “heads” (or “suckers”) at every point where a leaf grows from the main stem.  When I worked in school gardens, I would tell the kids that suckers grow out of the armpits of the plants.  If you want a huge sprawling bush, that’s great!  BUT, if you want to be able to find all your mature fruits, keep the plant from sprawling all over the row and plant neighbors, and want to keep it off the ground to avoid disease, you’ll need to take action.

caged tomatoes

There are many trellising techniques for tomatoes.  What you choose should be based on the amount of space you have, the number of plants you want to grow, and how many extra supplies you’ll need to invest in.  Feel free to let me know if you want my thoughts on your specific circumstance!  In general, I recommend starting with a large tomato cage, and suckering your plant to keep it airy, growing up, and focused on producing fruit off its main stem.

Now that my tomato plants are over a foot high, they’ve started to grow suckers.  At this age, I can simply pinch them off with my fingers.  If suckers get very large, you’ll want to use snippers or scissors so you don’t rip the main stalk of the plant.  By removing suckers when they are small, I encourage the plant to focus on growing up rather than out.  In August, this will result in a more orderly tomato row with plants that are (mostly) growing within their cages.  This makes for easy harvesting, less spread of disease (which usually happens when rain splashes dirt up onto your plant or when leaves are densely packed together), and less breakage if there are high winds.

Suckering tomato copy

Suckering is an ongoing chore throughout the season, but is quick and easy, and fits into walks through the garden when you can also keep an eye out for maturing fruit, find new pests before they cause much damage, and take a moment to pluck a few weeds.

IMG_6824Want to get creative?  Let a few suckers grow in a strategic way.  Tomato espalier anyone?  Last year in my garden I planted a single plant at the base of a trellis.  I let one sucker grow up each wire, and then removed the rest.  I used string to periodically tie each branch to it’s assigned wire – tomatoes don’t send out tendrils or curl around wires like peas, beans, and cucumbers. My yield per plant was very high because I was essentially growing multiple “trunks” from one plant.

Happy Gardening!

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Winter Recipes

I love cooking in the winter.   Darkness comes early, leaving plenty of time for food prep before I get hungry for dinner.  Warmth and good smells contrast with the brisk cold outdoor air.  And the final result is a hot delicious meal.

Though I’ve cooked a bunch of new recipes recently, I failed to take any photos or document the ingredient tweaks made as I adjusted each dish to taste.  Oh well.  It turns out I’ve already documented many of our go-to recipes that incorporate stored, frozen, and canned garden harvests.  Here are some favorite recipes for the depths of winter:

Chicken Soup and Elderberry Syrup: Two of our favorite get-well-soon foods.

elderberry-syrup

Squash:  A variety of simple flavor combinations that allow you to enjoy last year’s bountiful harvest day after day.

Butternut squash

Winter Sweetened Kale & Brussels sprouts: Sweetened and tender from frost, these brassicas are nothing like the peppery and sometimes tough summer versions.  You can’t go wrong with these simple go-to recipes.

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

Chili and cornbread: Nourishing and delicious.  Perfect for enjoying in front of the fireplace after a day filled with snowy adventures.

chili-up-close

Tomato soup: A standard in our household.  This is our favorite way to use tomatoes canned in the height of sunny summer.

Tomato-soup-with-toast

Ginger and Turmeric recipes: Miso squash bisque, curried broth, and Golden milk tea: Warming, comforting, delicious, and SO good for you!

Ginger-and-Turmeric1

Cream of cauliflower soup: So creamy you’ll forget it’s packed with veggies.

cream-of-cauliflower2

Enjoy

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November in the Garden

*Note: In light of the election results, seasonal rhythms, gardening, and food might seem unimportant.  My thoughts: to most effectively champion the causes we believe in, it is crucial that we stay grounded, healthy, inspired, and strong.  When we take time to nourish ourselves, we will find greater success in our work to make the world a better place.*

November is the month to finish up any last “to-dos” in the garden.  Though many of the tasks could be done in the spring, checking them off the list in November is a great way to close the growing season and set yourself up for an easy start to the next one.  November is also a more relaxing time to preserve any last vegetables and fruits from the garden, enjoy stored harvest, relax by the cozy fireplace, and take a bath!

I’m feeling tired but pleased after our first year gardening at our new home.  Years spent as cow pasture, Southern facing slopes, loamy soil, and high ground water all contributed to a huge harvest yield.  Of course, hours and hours of spring time weeding and early summer pest control helped too.

before-garden-to-bed
The garden after our first hard frost

We put the garden to bed this past weekend.  This involved pulling dead material out of the garden and piling it into a compost heap, thoroughly weeding the beds that work best for early spring planting, and covering bare rows and paths with grass clippings and hay.  Our garden site is exposed, so covering the beds with mulch will help keep our topsoil in place and protect it from being washed or blown away by the winter elements.

fallen-and-standing
The fallen (unripe tomatoes and watermelon) and the standing (kale and Brussels sprouts)
compost-heap
Dead plant material to be composted
after-garden-to-bed
Cleaned up and mulched garden rows, garnished with flourishing kale and hanging-on calendula and fennel.

In order to completely clean out their row, I harvested the last few cabbage to make kimchi.  The next day I chopped and pounded the cabbages along with ginger, garlic, turmeric, hot pepper, black pepper, and salt.  img_6813

After all that pounding, I decided to rest.  Out of curiosity, I started scanning back through this blog, reminiscing about the growing season and remembering the projects, harvests, and beautiful scenes from the past year.  What a surprise to discover last November tenth’s post: November in the Garden and Kitchen.  The subject?: Putting the garden to bed and making kimchi!  For me, this serves as a happy reminder of how settled into our new home and environment we are.  Today I am grateful to feel in synch with the natural rhythms of the home, yard, garden, field and forest I call home.

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Home Gardens Recipes Uncategorized

End-of-the-Season Recipes

oct-harvest

It’s the end of the growing season, but it isn’t quite time to rest.  With the bulk of our harvest frozen, canned, dried, and fermented, it’s time to deal with the left overs: the harvest that didn’t get processed during the peak of the season.  Though these “ugly” fruits and veggies are now gaining recognition in the mainstream (not everything comes out looking perfect!), they’ve always been part of harvesting and cooking for home gardeners.  I have fun examining the motley selection of veggies occupying my kitchen counters and refrigerator space, determining how they could be combined in delicious ways.  It takes some creativity at this time of year!

Sometimes end-of-season produce is a bit worse for the wear.  This weekend I prepared several gallons of sauerkraut from some cabbages that were admittedly acting as slug hotels in the garden.  After removing the holey outer leaves, however, wonderful fall sweetened crisp cabbage was revealed.  Yum!

cutting-cabbage1

It is also an important time of year to monitor harvest stores in the basement and attic.  Any veggies that show sign of rot or discoloration should be used first.  As last night’s dinner highlighted, blemished squash, onions, and other veggies are often perfectly delicious.   They don’t stay good for long, however, so it’s good to enjoy them right away while they’re still tasty.

Butternut squash

Thankfully, some plants are happy to be outside in the frost and colder weather.  Most of the brassicas: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, get sweeter and more tender after it has frosted.  For now I’ll happily leave them outside and will be ready to enjoy them when I see counters and fridge shelves empty and need to go get vegetables in order to prepare for our next meal.

Find great recipes for fall harvest from some of my previous blog posts:  Sauerkraut, pumpkin, chard, winter squash, frost sweetened kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Enjoy!

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

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Home Gardens Uncategorized

October in the Garden

autumn-breakfast
Autumn breakfast treat: chai, cider donut, and cinnamon apples

Fall is certainly in the air.  Colors have changed dramatically in the last week, and we are now in peak foliage in the Champlain Valley.  According to our climate zone, we were supposed to get a frost by October 1st.  However, the end of the growing season has been unusually long and the garden is still going strong.

We are learning more about our property’s micro climate and have been surprised to have escaped several frosts that nipped our nearby neighbors.  Last Friday temperatures were projected to dip below freezing, so we did a big harvest and covered up the plants we wanted to save.  The next morning revealed a frost so light that even the basil was spared.  Our airy southern sloping garden seems to keep frost from forming on the plants when temperatures hover around freezing!  Though I am excited for the ongoing bounty, I’m also starting to feel tired and ready for the growing season to come to an end.

frost-harvest
Big pre-frost harvest – so many watermelons, peppers, and butternut squashes this year!
survived-the-frost
We escaped another frost! Blankets drying and garden still going strong.

Foliage isn’t waiting around for freezing temperatures.  In the past week, trees in our area have turned dramatically.  The hills are tinged with reds, oranges and yellows.  Forest walks are stunning and smell richly of fallen leaves.  Vibrant colors surround us.

changing-colors
Sugar maple beauty: from green to red in a week.
autumn-house
Our house peeks through the foliage – the view as I make the final decent down Mt. Philo.
autumn-colors
A few fall forest scenes.
mid-oct-meal-prep
Mid-October pesto and veggies!

In the kitchen, it seems like it is still August.  We continue to have bountiful peppers, broccoli, beans, leafy greens, tomatoes, and fruit to play with.  We certainly got our fill this season.  Soon we will transition to winter jackets, squash, parsnips, and frost-sweetened kale and Brussels sprouts.  I’m ready!

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September in the Garden

garden-trellis

fruits-of-septemberSeptember is, quite literally, a fruitful month in Vermont gardens.  Melons finish their journey to ripeness, apples and pears are ready in orchards, fall raspberry canes bow with the weight of fruit, and tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants continue to mature in gardens.  In our sunny southern sloping garden, we’re excited to be growing these heat-loving treats so successfully.  It is also a time for preservation as we prepare for impending frost.  Vegetables like kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans can be blanched and frozen.  Ingredients for salsa, tomatoes, pesto, hot sauce, and apple sauce are all ready to be harvested and canned.  Almost any vegetable or fruit from the garden can be pickled.

Here are a selection of some of my favorite recipes that may help inspire you to enjoy the bounty September has to offer:

Tomatillos-and-tomatoes

Salsa – Our basic recipe and ideas for inventive iterations.

sungold-harvest

This most delicious way to highlight cherry tomatoes.

IMG_8967

Pan Seared Eggplant, which would be great with Dukkah sprinkled liberally on top.

raspberries

Flourless chocolate cake, featured annually in our household smothered in fall raspberries.

pesto-recipe

Pesto – consider swapping another nut or seed for pine nuts, another cheese for parmesan, or another herb for basil.  So many opportunities for great flavored sauces!

pickles

Pickles and fermented veggies – The idea I always fall back on at the end of the day.  Almost any favorite vegetable or fruit can be pickled.  However (even more beneficially) wilty, less favorite, or overly abundant things can be pickled with equal success.

Wishing you a happy harvest season!

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Fresh-from-the-Garden Spring Rolls

Sometimes you just don’t have the time to dive into a multi-step recipe.  Summer days are often quite full of activity.  But summer is also the time when beautiful fresh ingredients abound.   Spring rolls to the rescue!  All you need to do ahead of time is keep a package of thin rice-paper spring roll wrappers on hand.  Follow the directions on the package, adding whatever fresh herbs and veggies are in season to make a beautiful but easy meal.  It can be fun to lay out the different ingredient choices and have each person make their own.  After ingredients are prepped, it only takes a minute or two for assembly.

spring-roll-ingredients

Delicious ingredient options:

-Any fresh herbs on hand: I love thai basil, regular basil, cilantro, mint, scallions, and parsley.

-Edible flower petals: It never hurts to add extra color inside and out!

-Thinly sliced veggies: really this can be any veggie you like eating raw.  Be conservative in your amounts – it is easy to be tempted to over-stuff your rolls.

-Protein and fat: A great way to use leftovers!  Sliced avocados, already cooked fish, pulled or ground meat, tofu (see below), toasted sesame seeds, strips of omelet, or bits or sausage or bacon turn your spring rolls into a satisfying and complete meal.

-Pickles: I prefer the garlicy gingery spark of kimchi in my spring rolls, but really any freshly fermented veggie will do.

-Leftovers: Do you have small amounts of cooked veggies, meat, or beans left over from a previous meal?  Include them in your ingredient offerings.

-Sauce: Dipping sauce is what really makes spring rolls so yummy.  The simplest option is a mixture of whatever of the following items you like and have on hand: soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger, grated garlic, hot sauce, miso, olive oil and/or sesame oil.  Be sure to include at least one salty ingredient, something sour, and an oil.  I like to mix in a generous dollop of peanut butter for a wonderful peanut dipping sauce.

Thinking ahead?  Marinate some tofu. This is great to do in the morning before going to work.  Drain tofu and put into a container with soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger, grated garlic, and sesame oil and shake gently.  Smear with a thin layer of miso paste and leave to marinate during the day. You can also give the same treatment to shredded carrots or sliced cucumbers for some yummy quick pickles.

spring-rolls

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Summery Garden Recipes

harvest

I’ll admit it: I’m not a recipe follower.  My approach in the kitchen is to start with whatever item we have in abundance, add spices or flavorings that we didn’t just eat in the past few meals, taste, adjust, and enjoy.

This leads to a broad diversity of results that carry us through weeks of enjoyable seasonal meals.  But sometimes I feel the need to switch things up.  To try something new.  Or to use some new combination of flavors I just wouldn’t have thought of when trying to pull together a quick dinner from scratch.

Sometimes, especially starting around August, I also start to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of certain veggies and tired of my standard way of preparing them.  Bring on the recipes!

Here are a few ideas we’ve enjoyed this summer:

beet-risotto

Beet Risotto: Crafted by a friend and creative chef, this fun combination, enhanced by a generous amount of lemon zest, was a great way to enjoy our first true harvest of beets.  Check out her other recipes if you ever need in-season inspiration!

kale-ribbons

kale-salad

Raw Kale Salad: I was doubtful at first – I don’t love raw kale or dishes without enough sour, salt, and fat to balance out kale’s strong bitter green roughage.  It turns out the trick is in fine cutting and dressing ahead of time.  Yum!

rainbow-pizza

Rainbow pizza: When I saw this online in January, I immediately thought: “I can’t wait to try this in August!”  If the cauliflower crust in this recipe intimidates you, try it with a regular crust.

zucchini-fritters

Zucchini Fritters: After inventing a handful of variations on meals featuring zucchini and summer squash, I was excited to find this one to add to my repertoire.

Homemade fudgesicles: Ok, we didn’t grow any of the ingredients in this one.  AND, we ate them all without taking a picture.  BUT, it is a simple recipe with relatively whole foods and very delicious results!  I especially appreciated how the subtle sourness of the yogurt enhanced the overall flavor of these delicious cold treats.

Be sure to send your favorite summer veggie recipes my way, I’m always in need of new ideas!

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Home Gardens Musings Uncategorized

July in our Vermont Garden

Ahhh, July.  In our Vermont garden, July means…

Days that actually feel summery.

sunny-cucumbers

Drought.

Followed (hopefully) by dramatic afternoon thunderstorms (hopefully not too dramatic).

lake-storm

First tastes of beans, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, blackberries, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, husk cherries, tomatillos, basil, summer squash, raspberries, and sweet corn.

late-july-harvest

Followed quickly by an overwhelming abundance of beans, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, blackberries, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, husk cherries, tomatillos, basil, summer squash, raspberries, and sweet corn.

Saying goodbye to peas and asparagus.  See you next spring!

end-of-pea-season

A chance to try out colorful sunshine-infused recipes I collected in the dark depths of winter.

Rainbow-Salsa-Ingredients

A relief from constant mowing as dry parts of the lawn turn crispy brown.

A proliferation of one garden bug, worm, beetle, or another.

japanese-beetle-harvest

Knowing that the hotter, sweatier, and dirtier I get, the better jumping in the lake will feel.

Lake-Champlain