Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Growing food is revolutionary





The growing season is going to end.  While that's true every year it seems heart-wrenching this evening.  Tonight’s overnight temperature is predicted to be in the mid-50s.

We’ve taken the miracles on our back deck for granted.  Although, like so many folks in the City we are land constrained we have been able to grow food.  It has sparked a new love for us.  A reminder that we are stewards of this earth.  It has changed the way we think about the consumption of food and so much more.  This gift of gardening is to be cherished.  We’ve been fortunate. 


A Northbrook woman has found a better use for her front yard than a manicured lawn. She turned it into a vegetable garden.
But that doesn’t quite fit Northbrook’s regulations for front yard use, according to director of community planning Thomas Poupard.
The 69-year old Russian immigrant doesn’t see herself as a revolutionary. She just wants to have fresh tomatoes available for the friends and relatives who frequently visit.
“I wouldn’t do it if I had sun in the back yard,” said the woman, who did not want her name used. “The only way to get sun is to put the garden in front.”
The home in the 2700 block of Shannon Road is owned by her son, Alex Lyakhovetsky, who has been asked by Northbrook officials to remove the garden next year.
The homeowner’s mother thinks more people should grow some of their own food, for both the health and economic benefits. And she doesn’t understand who could complain. After all, she said, “it’s not a barking dog at night.”
But people have started complaining.
“We started to get calls from neighbors,” Poupard said.
The calls started after the village board discussed the problem of unkempt grass and landscaping on foreclosed properties in the village.
Poupard said his department sent a letter to Lyakhovetsky, asking that this year’s garden be the last in the front yard.
“We sent what we thought was a nice note asking the homeowner to harvest the crops and restore the yard by next spring,” Poupard said.
Lyakhovetsky said he doesn't understand the fuss. After receiving the letter from the village, he said, he learned that the response was spurred by a complaint from a single neighbor. The rest of the neighborhood has largely come to his defense.
"[The letter] didn't list any specific ordinance or why we can't have it," he said. "I got nothing but support [from neighbors] for doing this. We're not selling anything; it's just for personal use."
Lee Goodman, who lives near Lyakhovetsky, decided to get involved and has gotten about 20 signatures from neighbors supporting her and her garden. Afer all, many neighbors reap the benefits of the garden’s harvests.
“Just in her neighborhood, about three in four neighbors were happy to sign the petition,” Goodman said.

  There is inspiration to be found in the small acts of resistance people make to nourish their bodies as well as the bodies of their loved ones.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Can the invasion of seedless watermelons be contained?

Tonight we had watermelon.  It was a lovely, old-school one that I purchased weeks ago at Baylor’s Melon Stand.  It was chock full of mature black seeds, the kind that are preferred by children everywhere for seed spitting contests.

This summer we grew watermelon, but it was a bust.  I kept looking at the number of days to maturation on the seed pack.  I think they ripened early.

So I was pulling all of the old plants out and getting ready to prep the box for a new crop of greens when I noticed that out of the old vines, new green ones were present.

Then I saw this


And this


Can you believe it?

As we ate dinner, I read about the dearth of diversity in watermelons coming soon:

From the nytimes.com:
IN this dusty field filled with experimental watermelons off Highway 174, there is but one sound that matters.
It’s a deep, soft pop, like a cork slipping free from a wine bottle. You hear it when a pocket knife cracks the green rind on a watermelon so full of wet fruit that the outside can barely contain the inside.
Terry Kirkpatrick, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Arkansas, spends a lot of time here popping open watermelons. He’s searching for deeply colored flesh that is crisp but not crunchy and so juicy that pools fill the divots left by a spoon.
The taste has to be exceptionally sweet but just slightly vegetal, so you know it came from the earth and not the candy counter.
These days, a good watermelon also has to ship well, which means a thick rind and a uniform shape. It has to be small enough so people pushing grocery carts in big-city stores will buy it. And it can’t have seeds.
All of that describes his small hybrid triploid beauties with names like Precious Petite and Orchid Sweet. They are very likely the future for many watermelon farmers, but they are also heartbreakers for a lot of people around southwest Arkansas who miss the old-fashioned seeded melons that now grow in only a few fields.
In many ways, Hope, a town known for both President Bill Clinton and the giant melons that were celebrated at its annual Watermelon Festival last weekend, is a microcosm of the watermelon world these days.
Next year, I already have plans for planting a seeded watermelon in the Earthbox.  Can you believe people successfully grow them in containers?



Sunday, August 22, 2010

The difference is greater than the pronunciation of tomato

Yesterday a friend came over.  She’s been gardening for over ten years.  We had already left our community allotment. 

I didn’t take pictures but there were a lot of people away on holiday and a lot of rotting on the vine beautiful tomatoes.  There were also a host of vines that had split away from the plant loaded with beautiful (and heavy) fruit.

I brought my friend up to our deck to take a look at what we had going on.  She was surprised that we had so many un-harvested tomatoes.  I do most of the harvesting and I haven’t been well for almost two weeks now with the dreaded summer cold.

She suggested I had plenty of tomatoes to harvest.  I agreed I had a lot of tomatoes but they were green and we leave ours on the vine to ripen.  Then she said she always let hers ripen in a windowsill.


That’s when I realized there were indeed two camps of tomato people.  No it’s not the “Two-mato” versus “Toe-ma-to” pronunciation war but something far more serious… vine-ripened or not.


You are starving for home-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes, stand in line - a very long queue extending along the coast of the Bay Area and then some.
It's the height of summer, yet most gardeners are bereft of the succulent orbs that are usually abundant this time of year. As are seasonal-fruit event organizers. And restaurants specializing in seasonal local fare.
"Because of the crazy weather, they are taking longer to ripen," says Carolyn Villa-Scott of the South Bay. With fog thick until midmorning most days around the Bay Area, the heat needed by warm-weather plants such as tomatoes is at a premium.
 This is our first growing season and so far I can’t see a reason to pull the fruit while it’s green.  I know many tomato growers do pull green fruit at the end of the season to avoid a frost.  I’m sure we will do the same, if we are fortunate.

Which camp do you fall in?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Learning to Put Up Food


Wow!  It has been a whirlwind of a day.  I spent today learning both the science and how-to of putting up all of the bounty from our garden and the season.  It was called The Food Preservation Boot Camp.

I learned the difference between pressure canning and using a water bath canner.  These specific techniques were used in order to put up a ton of magnificent food today.

Catherine Lambrecht with pressure canners and water bath canners

Oh yeah, I also learned what headspace is and how to measure it.

The scary part was the fear of what could go wrong.  Did you know that botulism lacks an odor or a taste so you could get an "upset stomach or nerve damage" if the food isn't canned properly?



Fired Up & Ready to Go! Attentive Students hanging on the words of our Instructors

So what did I learn to put up today?  

Can you believe we aren't going to eat these lovely tomatoes until winter?

Beets being prepped for canning
But wait, there was more than tomatoes and beets put up today.

How about a quick bread-and-butter pickle made with... zucchini?

Courgettes, onions, and pickling salt (yes it is different from regular salt)


Thanks to Heidi Hedecker and Catherine Lambrecht!  Fantastic, tireless, and willing to share both knowledge and technique (pectin is a personal choice, but by gosh, that plum jam did gel without it!)



I think a Chow-Chow relish, more pickles, and ketchup are going to be put up pretty soon.


More pictures can be found here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blech! Blight! Blossom End Rot!

You can tell they were going to be lovely can't your?



Blech!  These tomatoes seemed to be beautiful, on top that is.  The undersides revealed something that I had heard about.


Tarnation!  I don’t want to be right but gosh golly that looks like Blossom End Rot (BER).   Why should I be right?  I’ve never gardened before.  I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do so why are the tomatoes experiencing this blight?

Good Question. There are a lot of theories as to the why of BER.  If you google it you get over just under a 100,000 hits.  That’s an awful lot of talk about blight on tomatoes.  Okay so what is it?

A disease, just like it sounds.  It covers the “blossom end” or bottom of the tomato.  It turns black and it doesn’t do what you expect it to do, it doesn’t rot and go gushy.  Oh no, that would be too much like right.  The tomato continues to grow and on top it looks great, but the bottom changes.  Not only does the color change but the texture.  It gets thin and leathery.

What’s the good news?  It won’t infect the other fruit or plants that you have.  You can just cry over the lovely infected fruit and remove it.  The remaining fruit, as well as the plants themselves, can continue to grow fantastic tomatoes.







Onward and Upwards!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dinner from the garden: an abysmal bust

Finally, there’s enough okra to cook.  I was excited.  So I decided to prepare a version of The Slow Cook’s curried okra, eggplant, and tomatoes




All of the vegetables are from our garden.  It looked beautiful.


It smelled even better.



Then we sat down to eat it.  Alistair said the okra scraped the inside of his mouth and that the whole thing fell flat. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tomatoes and cucumbers: a symbiotic relationship?

This summer has been exceptionally hot.  That means most of the greens, lettuces, arugula, spinach, literally jumped out of the earth so fast they bolted (yep it's one of those gardening terms).  Once the greens bolt they taste horrible, although they really are gorgeous.  So what are you supposed to do when it's super hot and you want a salad from your garden?

Last week I ate with my friends from home at Prairie Fire.  This is a great American fare restaurant where those who are looking for hamburger and those who want to know the province of the cucumber can both be happy.  The food was simple and good.  One of my friends got this really extraordinary salad that sounded so ho-hum I couldn't believe she ordered it.  It was tomatoes and cucumbers.

First cut of the blushing Aker's West Virginia heirloom tomato



Summer's tomatoes and cucumbers are perfect.The salad at Prairie Fire was tomatoes, cucumbers, nice parmesan, crouton, and a light-colored vinagerette,  I didn't taste it but I could just imagine using an easy hand with some champagne vinegar and perhaps avocado oil to dress with a touch of mustard.  I've been thinking about this salad all week.

Then I saw this in the garden a few minutes ago.
Tomato plant is on the left and the long arm of the Cucumber on the right will not release it 


Guess what we are going to have for a meal tomorrow?

Monday, August 9, 2010

The tomato lovers' dilemma





Today’s dilemma is a great one.  When to harvest the tomatoes?

No I don’t mean the Sungold, they have been lovely the whole season.  I mean our lovely and exotic full-sized heirlooms. One's called Aker's West Virginia.  Another is called Omar's Lebanese.  The last wonder is called Crnkovic Yugoslavian.


They are all red or pink beefsteak type tomatoes.  Next summer I think I want a canning tomato as well.

Still, do we wait until they are almost ready to drop from the vine?  Or do we pick them now and let them ripen inside?

Yes.   I’ve looked online but I’m not finding the answer I want.  I suspect that means the correct answer is more akin to how an attorney answers a legal question. 


It depends.  Don’t worry, once we start harvesting them we will let you know when we think is the best time to take them. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sharing the bounty


It started last week.  There was a bumper crop of Sungold tomatoes.  He scooped up a bowlful for Kasha next door.  Then I scooped up another bowlful for Patrick (he keeps everything watered if we can’t get to it) and his family.
Then yesterday, folks started to take me up on my offer to drop by and take a look.  Oddly, they thought they would just take a look and they were reluctant to take some food.  Where I grew up, that’s what having a garden was all about.
My parents both came from families that farmed.  My mother’s family had a vegetable patch and (she just told me) a goat.  She had eight brothers and sisters so the vegetables helped feed them.  My father’s family was much smaller.  They were farmers however and they sold tobacco and hogs plus they grew everything else they wanted to eat.  Largely because of their backgrounds, they passed on any gardening of a vegetable variety.  They planted border shrubs, a few roses, azaleas, pine trees, a maple, and a magnolia tree.  Still we didn’t lack for fresh vegetables during the growing season.  Our neighbor Mr. McFadden is an artist. He and my father were both professors in the same department at South Carolina State University.  In addition to being an artist he was a consummate vegetable grower.  They had darn near an acre next to their home that they farmed.  It had everything from corn, to zucchini and yellow squash, plus cucumbers, tomatoes, and snap beans.  Another neighbor, Mr. McDaniel was an assistant principal at Felton Laboratory School.  My sister and I both graduated from Felton.  He too, grew everything, but on a much smaller plot in his back yard.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t a big fan of vegetables back then.  Still, I knew it was a very kind gift that they offered us the bounty of their gardens.
So flash forward to my first attempt at making anything grow.  My friend Joan came by yesterday.  She had a lightly sweetened iced Earl Grey and she showed me pictures of the Portuguese Water Dog pup that her brother and his family would soon get.  She’s a cat person but Lirio was determined to lavish her with kisses and jumps.  Joan seemed to like it.  So  after I showed her the garden I began to gather things she liked(no cucumbers, she despises them).  Sungold tomatoes, lavender sage, Santa Fe peppers, and lettuce, she popped a tomato directly into her mouth and declared it delicious.  Joan is thoughtful.  She sent me a lovely little email telling me how delicious her lunch of lettuce and tomatoes was along with the additions of a bit of goat cheese and some cherries.
Lavender Sage, Lettuce, and Santa Fe Peppers

We had other visitors this weekend.  You’ll hear more about them very soon.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The struggle continues

Not the pole beans, these are the bush bean seedlings with a second planting of lettuce

It’s Friday but there is work to be done. The pole beans and bush beans have gotten tall. Planticide is imminent this weekend because we have lots of healthy seedlings and they need to be thinned.

That means it was time to unravel the darned netting for the Earthbox trellis. This took me well over an hour. It was frustrating. Little Wonder didn’t want to be away from the garden and I didn’t want her harvesting all of the tomatoes and checking the status of the watermelon.


This evening's work is done.



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Thursday, August 5, 2010

We didn't get the first heirloom tomato

Gravity at work

She did.  Don't worry we weren't going to eat this tomato.  It was a controversial removal in our household.  I saw signs of disease and removed it.  Why let the energy be wasted on this over a pound (and still growing) wonder if it wasn't going to be edible?  He of course likes to tell me that he thinks I made the wrong decision.

Why?  Because look at it!  It's a gorgeous blushing huge juicy heirloom tomato.

I'm willing to wait for this winner, sans signs of disease.


Or perhaps these candidates

The crops really are coming.  

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peppers in a perfect storm

Santa Fe Peppers

It sounded like someone was walking across our roof. Then it sounded like someone had dumped a bucket of marbles across our roof. This morning’s rain was fierce.  It certainly wasn’t the worse we had heard this summer. We didn’t think there would be any damage from this storm.

We were wrong.

Late in the afternoon, when I went outside to see what was going on I had tomato plants heavy with fruit hanging almost to the floor of the deck. Even our attempt at rescuing fruit that broke off (it had nothing to do with the storm) was tilted.

Heirloom tomatoes-- hyrdroponic experiment


I started to tie up some of the tomato plants. He did the manly thing and decided that the peppers could support themselves by turning the Earthbox around. No additional garden ties required for the Santa Fe and Rooster’s Spur peppers. The Santa Fe peppers are also changing color to a fantastic red. We didn’t capture it today. But a vibrant red is present and more will follow.
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The tomatoes are coming! The tomatoes are coming! I love these Redcoats

Tomato from flower to fruit

As a kid, I didn’t like raw tomatoes. I liked ketchup. I liked spaghetti with sauce. I adored pepperoni pizza and yes there was tomato sauce.

My original thoughts on tomatoes were they were mealy and just (you should see the look I have on my face just remembering them) blech!

Note to those who are trying to get someone to like something, this includes parents: Please offer the very best specimen when introducing a food to someone.

It took years to undue my belief that raw tomatoes were disgusting. It also took baby steps. First, I fell in love with salsa. The taste of chopped raw tomatoes with peppers, onion, garlic, and cilantro couldn’t be beat. I could eat it by the gallons. Anyone who knew me in the 90’s will tell you there was always a jar of Pace salsa in the fridge, until I started making my own.

After salsa, I was able to use diced roma/plum tomatoes to make my own gravy. It was not inexpensive, but it tasted better than anything I had ever had in a jar. Then summer came and I didn’t have air conditioning but I still wanted pasta and sauce. I would dice up tomato and add roasted garlic to the mix with rough torn bits of basil, salt, and pepper, but I wouldn’t let any heat touch it. This went on top of the pasta.  Raw!

Now, as these long awaited beauties form before our eyes. I’m looking forward to doing what my cousins back on the Sea Islands of South Carolina would do. They would take a love apple to hand and bite into it as if it was a regular apple. I thought they were insane. I saw them do this numerous times when I was a girl visiting them. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a good tomato.

Tomatoes Kissing and Blushing simultaneously
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Monday, August 2, 2010

How can you grow all of that in there?






Tonight I was at a local dessert exchange.  At some point, someone asked me what I was growing in our garden.  I told them about the Earthbox collection we have.  Then they asked me, “what’s an Earthbox”.  I explained that Earthboxes were these miraculous little gems that let those of us with practically no space grow our own fresh produce.  The Earthbox holds about 2 cubic feet of potting media.  They have great guides and an active forum of users.  Apparently, some folks with a bit of yard even prefer Earthboxes to digging up dirt.


We don't have that kind of space but a friend walked it out heel-to-toe and announced we have about 100 sq. feet on our deck.


Right now we have watermelon, 2 types of peppers, sage, lettuces, arugula, collards, okra, crowder peas, four different types of tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers


Some of the nicest folks in the world, over at Green Roof Growers, have made the concept of fruit and vegetable gardening even more affordable and accessible for those who are even remotely handy (I’m not).  They give step-by-step instructions for making your own gardening containers at a substantially lower price.  They also tell you as much or as little about planting seeds, heck, crops in your containers.  If you are an early bird they may offer you some seedlings at a nominal price to get you started.


If you want to know more about Earthboxes or growing your own food here in Chicago, just ask and if I can’t answer it the folks over at Green Roof Growers (yep they are also right here in Chicago) most certainly can.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Food everywhere and yet how easily we forget that hunger persists

Them Belly Full But We Hungry- Bob Nestor Marley

This lyric kept running through my mind as I read the news yesterday:

From Suntimes.com:
It's the case of the mystery garden weeder.
A Skokie resident called police July 12 after his security camera caught a man sneaking into his vegetable garden to weed it.
The homeowner in the 8900 block of Kenton Avenue said the security system, in fact, had captured the bandit on videotape sneaking into the garden on five separate mornings during a six-day span. Sometimes he weeded, sometimes he sprayed the vegetable garden.
And sometimes he picked tomatoes and cucumbers and chowed down on the spot.
Prolific Cucumbers-- they are very sweet

While I suspect this gentleman is mentally ill and perhaps homeless, it causes me to wonder; how in this great country can we tolerate anyone going hungry? On this continent? In this world?


Blushing tomato
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