Monday, August 31, 2009

Preserving Green Beans

With the start of school and soccer commitments I realized that we would not get through all of the green beans in the fridge before they went bad. So last night, I froze them to add to our stock of vegetables for the winter.
I left half of them whole and cut the rest into 1" pieces. This means that there were two piles, each about 9-ounces of beans.

Next, I blanched them for 3 minutes in boiling water, drained them, and then plunged them into ice water to stop the cooking process. The last step before putting them into labeled zip-lock bags was to dry them gently on a towel. This was basically the process outlined in the book Preserving the Harvest, which has lots of helpful info for this type of process.

Doing this sort of stuff makes me think about possibly doing the Dark Days Challenge... but I will need to do a lot more freezing to make this possible.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Setting Up the Fall Garden

This summer I can definitely say that we had a more successful garden than in 2008. With that said, I still want more. I want to harvest as late as possible this year and possibly extend the growing season into November if possible. With that in mind, I placed an order to Johnny's Select Seeds ordering Arugula (Sylvetta), Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia), Scalliona (Evergreen Hardy White), and Napoli Carrots. All of these are recommended in Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Gardener as suitable crops for extending the season. They also are good crops to use to early in the season so I will probably use these again next April.

I sowed the following row of seed: arugala, carrots, beets, miner's lettuce, and scallions. The first 4 of these were sown in an area that I can easily cover with the cover I built for my lettuce last fall to help them reach maturity in late October once the frost is possible. Additionally, I transplanted a row of mesculin greens and beets that I started several weeks ago on the deck. We'll see how these goes.
The reason I was able to do all of this planting today was because I pulled up all of my carrots back on Thursday (along with a less destructive harvest of tomatoes and a couple of beans). These were mostly "little finger" variety (3" baby carrots) and I got about a 1/2 pound harvested. The larger carrots and beets did nothing in this same area so overall I was disappointed with this area of the garden. After the harvest, I mixed in several 5-gallon buckets of compost and some garden manure to hopefully give these new plants a bit better soil to grow with.
September should bring a heavy tomato harvest, hopefully some zucchini (if the blossom end rot finally ends), and a few more string beans. My the end of September/beginning of October I hope to have more peas and potatoes, bush beans, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, and some butternut squash like the one shown above. I have 4 small squash like the one above. They are now in a bit of a race against the frost so I am curious to see if they are actually going to ripen in time. He is hoping for a mild fall and long growing season to help everything along.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CSA Week 11

Here is what we got from the CSA today: 1 bunch beets, 3 heads lettuce, 1 bunch basil, 1 bunch chard, 7 tomatoes (2 of which were cherries), 1 lb beans, 1 squash, 2 hot peppers, 1 lb carrots, 1 lb potatoes, 1 pound onions, and 4 peaches (our fruit share). This is a very hearty bag of vegetables. I still have the beets and most of the beans from last week so I will have to be sure to get to those soon. Typically we are getting through the whole share each week (except the herbs which sometimes only get partially used). I may need to start canning and freezing with the volume coming in to ensure little goes to waste.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blueberry Blondies and Syrup

I took the boys blueberry picking for possibly the final time this summer. Everyone is back in school full time next week so we will not be able make are usual Monday trip. Inspired by a variety of sources, I decided to make some treats with the blueberries while we still had them in excess.
While Calvin napped, Miles assisted me in making blueberry blondies. I used a base recipe for blondies from Smitten Kitchen, adding about 2/3 of a cup of fresh blueberries to the mix. I asked Miles what he wanted to have for afternoon snack and then turned around to see that he had scarfed down one and was reaching for a second. I call that a positive review. As an aside, I do not fancy myself as much of a baker. A cook yes, but not so much with the baking. With that said, almost every time I read Smitten Kitchen I am inspired to bake something... or at least eat some baked goods.
Last night, I whipped up some blueberry syrup. For about 15 minutes I boiled down about a cup and and a half of blueberries, 3/4 cup sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a quarter cup of water. I smashed the blueberries with a spoon and then poured the mush through cheese cloth. I would say that I got roughly 6 ounces of syrup from this which will go on tonight's pancakes.

Now, I just need some inspiration so I can figure out how to deal with all of the hot peppers I have growing on the deck...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tomatoes! (and a rogue Carrot)

The tomatoes are loving the heat and many are turning red every day. Today I picked seven 4th of July, 1 Red Lighting, and 13 Sweet 100 tomatoes. There are another dozen or so who that I could pick tomorrow and many more green ones that could turn at any time.

I also picked one rogue carrot that I have been noticed growing just outside the garden fence. I must have dropped a "little finger" seed when I was planting in the fall and it sprouted between the rocks in the border around the garden. When I weeded this past weekend I noticed this carrot top and decided to pull it up today. Little Fingers grow to 3" and this is 2-1/2" so it is close to full size.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

CSA Week 10

The CSA shares really are in full swing at this time of year! This week, we got peaches (for our fruit share), beets, garlic, potatoes, carrots, a hot pepper, tomatoes, a cucumber, 2 zucchini, a big bag of beans, 3 small lettuce heads, a cabbage, mint, parsley, and kale. Plenty of meals to be made out of this collection of vegetables, now I just have to figure out what they will be!

Unfortunately, this has been a tough summer for the folks at Many Hands Organic Farm, the great place where our vegetables are grown. First, the economic downturn has hit the farm. One way this is evident is that they have several unsold shares this summer. Another way is that they have been hurt by the downturn is by a loss of workers. In the past they have had men from the Almost Home Program (a program that helps former prisoners transition back into society), but in early July the program was closed due to budget cuts. On top of those issues, the weather was very tough in June and July being much wetter and colder than normal. While they have been fortunate to avoid the late blight that has hit many other area farms, they have far fewer garlic braids to sell and the weather has cut back their yield of vegetables for sale at farmers markets.

The good news is that if you ever wanted to try out a CSA, there is great opportunity for you to give it a shot for the next 11 weeks. For just under $300 ($293 to be exact), you can get a big bag of organic vegetables for the remainder of the season. Monday and Friday Summer Vegetable CSA Shares are still available. They have pick-ups in Dorchester (Monday), Worcester (Friday), and Palmer (Friday). They also have Wednesday pick-ups in Fitchburg and Holden, but I think that their Wednesday shares are sold-out.

Go to their website and contact them if you are interested.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This week from the CSA

Last week we were away so we had our neighbors take (and hopefully enjoy) our CSA share. This week we picked up the following: carrots, beets, chard, cilantro, basil, 2 small heads of Romain, 2 pickling cucumbers, 1 small (hot?) pepper, 5 cherry tomatoes, 1 regular tomato, 1 zucchini, 1 summer squash, 8 red potatoes, a large bag of green beans and a bunch of small plums (our fruit share). We ate the potatoes and green beans for dinner with some chicken from Balance Rock Farm. All of the cherry tomatoes are also gone because, well, I left them out on the counter and Sue ate them. This share is quite diverse (not just leaves, leaves, and more leaves) so I think it will shape into many very nice meals for the week to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Farmers Market Trip

Before dinner tonight I ran out to our town's Farmers Market to pick up a vegetable to go with dinner. The corn spoke to me (not in a "Field of Dreams" type of way, but I think you know what I mean). I pulled back the husks, removed the silk, buttered, salted, peppered, and then put back the husks. I then wrapped the corn in foil and I then grilled it for a half-an-hour with dry rubbed pork chops from Balance Rock Farm.
The other thing I picked up at the farmers market was a small collection of pickling cucumbers (7 of them to be exact). After dinner, I put them in a sterilized quart-sized mason jar with dill, garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar and cold water. They should last up to 6 weeks in the fridge like this, I'll give them a taste test later this week.

Vegetable Updates

In the garden we currently have some things old and some things new. Above are the first couple of butternut squash growing in the garden. I have never successfully grown these before so these little fruit are exciting. These plants were put in the garden 3 months ago (yes, they were put out too early), and I wasn't sure if they were going to yield anything. These plants have have had a rough year (too much rain, too many slugs) and are a lot smaller than I would have hoped. With two more months of growing we may actually get a small number of of these squash before the frost (not that I am counting my squash before they get picked, but at least there is reason for a little hope).

Up on the deck, the peppers and tomatoes are all doing fairly well. There are 4 peppers (2 Bella Hots, 1 yellow bell, 1 red bell) and 6 tomatoes (2 hanging Sweet 100s, 2 hanging Romas, 1 Early Girl, 1 Ramapo) on the deck and they are all currently fruiting. The sweet 100s are the only ones that have produced fruit to pick, but I should have some big tomatoes and some hot peppers in another week.
With all of the old plants finally starting to bear fruit, I have started growing my fall crops. Above is my second planting of peas just emerging from the soil and below are my plantings of beets, salad greens, little finger carrots, and nantes carrots. I hope to transfer these in a couple of weeks. I also have a second planting of bush beans (the first round was pathetic), a second round of potatoes (which in hindsight may have been a bad idea), and one more attempt to get pickling cucumbers. I am going to push to harvest as late as possible this year!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Local Food Field Trip: Meadowbrook Orchards

Today, I ended up taking the boys on an unplanned field trip to Meadowbrook Orchards in Sterling. We left the house heading to Berries & Bloom, but it turns out they are closed until Friday to allow for "Ripening" (according to their sign out front). Needing some fresh fruit and really not wanting to take the boys right back home, I pulled out my phone, went to the web-site and looked for another possibility. Out of all of the possible places listed, I decided to try Meadowbrook Orchards.

The place is a pretty huge orchard with lots and lots of apple trees. They have several rows of blueberries and raspberries which were about a quarter-mile walk from the farm stand through the orchard. The farm stand also sells baked goods, jams, sandwiches, and lots of other food, I just did not spend much time in there with the boys... but the placed smelled very good. For picking, the blueberry price was not quite as good as B & B ($3.20/lb), but it was not an outrageous price and they also had raspberries for $4.50/lb and nectarines to pick for $.99/lb.

We picked 3 lbs of blueberries, 1/2 a pound of raspberries and 4 small nectarines (1/2 a pound) spending about $12. Not a bad trip if you also consider the hour of entertainment we got picking and wandering around the lovely orchard.

The one thing that I can definitely say is that the place is beautiful and we had a lovely day for picking. We will have to go back as a family in a few weeks once it is apple picking season!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Preserving Blueberries

I froze a quart of blueberries (one and a half pounds worth) that we picked yesterday. I filled a quart sized zip-lock bag with blueberries (to make sure I was freezing the right amount), then took them out, washed them and then spread them over wax paper on a cookie sheet:

I stored these in the freezer for a couple of hours and then poured them back into the zip-lock bag:

Now we will have some berries for oatmeal and yogurt in the middle of the winter!

Interestingly, when I brought the boys blueberry picking yesterday at Berries and Bloom, the owners asked me if I was the person who had posted something about their place on-line. Apparently, they got some business because of a visitor to this blog (based on a google search according to the visitor). I am definitely happy that I was able to drive them a little business and that I was able to help some random people find a nice place to get local food!

Monday, August 3, 2009

First Tomatoes!

Today, Sue picked the first 2 tomatoes of the season. I quickly took this picture before she ate them:

These are 4th of July variety, so we they are only 30 days behind schedule. There are a couple more that should be ready tomorrow.

In separate news, we ate a local meal of roasted chicken with thyme, potatoes and carrots. The chicken was from blood farm, the carrots were from our MHOF CSA share, the potatoes were from the garden, and the thyme was grown on the back deck. The butter, flour, salt and pepper used in the meal were not necessarily local, but everything else was. It was very delicious if I do say so myself.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Past Week in the Garden

We had another very wet week in the garden, but I still managed to get a fair amount done in spite of the rain. The brussels sprouts and celeriac continue to plug along on track for a fall harvest. The warm weather plants fortunately got temperatures above 80 for most of the week so they were fairly happy even with all the rain. The 4 peppers that we have growing in pots on the deck produced a lot of flowers.

There are actually a few small peppers out on the deck today! The tomatoes also responded to the warmth and the 4th of July's began to turn red (right on schedule?).

We continue to struggle with BER on the zucchini, but there do appear to be some healthy fruit coming as well. The added compost may have reduced the stress level of the plants even though we had more heavy rains. I hope these stay healthy!

On Saturday, I pulled out the pea and potato plants. The peas had really slowed their production over the past 2 weeks and both sets of plants were being ravaged by slugs and other pests. I have made a second planting of each of the these in hopes of a fall harvest. Since this is my first attempt with potatoes, I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad harvest, but it is what it is. I got just over 1 pound of potatoes.