Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wild cucumber

The mystery volunteer from earlier in the season has been identified (again, but for sure this time).

It's a wild cucumber.

Check the link for better pictures than I could take.

We noticed the fruits today while doing some weeding. We're moving the bed where garlic grows wild into an unused corner of the garden, where weeds and grapevines and these wild cucumbers had taken over.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pickled peppers

Despite the cold weather, we've had excellent peppers this year.

In the past, the banana peppers have been ignored once the bell peppers started maturing, but this year we found a recipe for pickled banana peppers that everyone likes and is incredibly simple.

Start by putting a bay leaf and a couple chopped cloves of garlic in a quart jar. Fill it up with slices of banana peppers (or, as in the photo, mixed with strips of other peppers). Generally, about a dozen peppers will fill the jar.

Combine a cup of white vinegar, 1 1/2 cups of water and about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of pickling (or kosher) salt. Mix until the salt is dissolved and then pour into the quart jar (adding a little extra water if necessary to top off the jar).

Crumple up a piece of plastic wrap and stick it on top of the jar to keep the peppers submerged. Cover the jar and refrigerate for at least a week to let the flavors develop. Reportedly, they'll keep in the fridge for 6 to 8 weeks, but ours have been eaten long before that.

This recipe was inspired by one in Linda Ziedrich's book, Joy of Pickling.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ripple effect

I was chatting with the plumber while he was fixing a broken faucet, and even he has noticed how bad this year's growing season was.

He's not a gardener himself, but he's used to receiving excess veggies from friends and customers. Nothing this year, though. "It's terrible," he says.

When the gardens suffer, everyone feels it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Next year

We've been more fortunate than many in our region, but this was not a good year for hot-weather crops. The tomatoes were the main failure, but the basil plants remained smaller than usual, and both the cucumbers and the summer squash were less productive than usual.

Still, we're looking toward next year. Among the items on the wish list already:
  • more asparagus, possibly the purple variety
  • more garlic (there's never enough)
  • another thyme plant or two
  • a lemon balm plant
  • strawberries, perhaps the Alpine variety
  • bigger rhubarb!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Growing garlic

The easiest way to grow garlic is simply to get a head (the clump of cloves) of garlic in the fall (for us New Englanders, other times elsewhere), break it into individual cloves, plant the cloves (pointy end up) in rich soil, mulch them well and then weed, as needed, until harvest time.

We grow some of our garlic that way. But we're also cheapskates. Or at least I am, and my co-gardeners are garlic-lovers, and are willing to go along with whatever gets them the most garlic.

The harder and more time-consuming way to grow garlic is to grow it from what amounts to seed. Garlic sends up a stalk with a head on it called a "scape." The scape, if allowed to grow to maturity, consists of dozens of miniature cloves (the smaller examples in the photo).

The standard advice is to cut off the scapes before the heads mature, so that all of the plant's energy goes into forming the garlic head. I don't know if there's ever been any real scientific study of the issue, and I've seen anecdotal evidence that it doesn't really make any difference.

If you cut them off, you can eat the miniature cloves in the scapes pretty much the same as regular garlic. It's a little milder and, obviously, you're not going to roast such itty-bitty things, but they work great in stir-fries or sauteed and added to anything you'd add regular garlic to.

Otherwise, if you've got some space and some patience, you can use them to grow more garlic plants. Let the scapes mature, and then dry them until they crumble into individual cloves. In the fall (or other appropriate planting time), broadcast them in a prepared bed. In the spring, you'll see little green sprouts, looking almost like a newly seeded lawn. Just ignore them. (Here's where the lazy gardener and the cheap gardener coincide in me.) You don't even have to weed, other than to remove anything that would become invasive over the long term (e.g., briars, tree seedlings or pokeweed).

Over the summer, each sprout will form a single clove (like the larger examples in the photo, about the size of a nickel, although some can be barely larger than the miniature cloves in the scapes). If you wish, you can thin them out a bit in the summer, eating the small cloves, which, like the scapes, will be a bit milder than garlic grown the traditional way. At stome point, the sprouts will fall over and disappear (with the cloves still underground), but the next spring will come up with even more vigor, eventually sending up scapes, just like traditionally grown garlic. If harvested that summer, they will likely have two cloves instead of the initial single clove, or if left another summer, they will have 2 or 3 cloves.

They never get as big as traditionally grown garlic, but they have the advantages of being: a) free, b) care-free and c) just the right size for cooking a meal for one or two people. The disadvantages is that they're a) slow to produce a harvest, b) space-hogs for gardes with size limits, and c) a nuisance to peel if you're trying to make a meal for six or more people.

For our Recovery Garden, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, since we have more space than we need, and we can sow 'em and forget 'em without having to sacrifice some other crop. We've found that they actually seem to thrive when competing with weeds. This summer, we decided to clear out the bed where they've been growing for at least five years, so we could plant something else there next year, and the biggest clumps of them were tangled up in the roots of briars and tree saplings.

We have between five and ten pounds of these first-year garlics to be planted in a new bed (still being prepared), along with a few thousand of the miniature cloves from this year's scapes. The plan is to divide the new bed into thirds, with one-third ready for harvest (second or third year cloves) each year. The one-year-old cloves will go into the first third of the bed this fall, the miniature cloves from the scapes into the other two thirds. Then, next summer we'll harvest the transplanted first-year cloves and replant that bed with new miniature cloves from next year's scapes. After that, we'll just keep harvesting and replanting a section each year.