Monday, June 30, 2008

Sharing the wealth

A friend just sent me this.  It's funny 'cause it's true. 

This weekend marked the beginning of the endgame. Now that the tomato harvest is on the downside of the curve, every fruit is a little more precious and now is when the little bastards have chosen to strike.

Despite the maiming and the mauling, the squirrels have finally found the treasure. And none of us -- human, rodent or terrier -- will rest until it is all claimed.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Brandywine, all the guys would say she's mighty fine.

Last year, I was just about convinced that I wouldn't grow Brandywines again. They're kind of the Platonic ideal of an heirloom tomato -- good size, sweet tomato flavor, meaty and tender -- but last summer they didn't bother to put on any fruit until about July, by which time I was only able to get about 2 or 3 of them. I figured they were just too big and thirsty for Texas, despite it being the year of the monsoon.

So fast forward to this year and my one Brandywine (I let it back into the garden on probation this time) has just given up a flush of nearly-perfect hefty pink fruits with 3 or 4 more coming soon and a couple of late setters on the vine.

It's good to see they can do so well. Probably all the rain last year caused a lot of the blossom drop, and possibly my new zeal for kelp and bonemeal helped with the fruit set, but it's safe to say that Brandywine will be getting renewed for the 2009 season.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008


While I'm not really known for my flow, I feel comfortable saying that I kick Coolio's ass when it comes to Caprese.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008


Cantaloupe, Ambrosia, June 22, 2008 (seedlings planted March 26th) 89 days, >5 lbs.

Actually the second cantaloupe, the first one having been picked by John and Becky while they were garden-sitting. I've been waiting for the official tell-tale signs -- cantaloupe smell, softness around the stem, easy separation from the vine -- but it still wasn't showing any. It was, however, cracked on the blossom end and ants were starting to explore, so it had to be done, but it's plenty ready. It's not the sweetest one I've ever had, but it's mighty good.

As I was bringing it inside, I was reminded of what was probably a seminal experience for my organic gardening hobby. It was our family vacation to the mid-Atlantic when I was in the 4th grade (generally I date all childhood memories to the 4th grade, but I think it really was in this case) and we were doing some touring of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Driving past Amish farms, the air was heavy with the smell of cow manure. At a restaurant or farm stand, we had a cantaloupe that we generally agreed was the best any of us had tasted and we attributed it to the Amish farmers' use of manure fertilizer. In hindsight, I think it was a basic realization for me that cow shit could grow tastier fruit than the granulated stuff in our shed at home.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Drying tomatoes

Pick a bunch of tomatoes. Generally, varieties designated as paste, roma, or plum are best since they're drier to begin with and are kind of mealy when eaten fresh. These are also the ones you'd want to use for making sauce. Certainly you can dry any kind, but you'd hate to wake up one morning in September and realize you could have had one more tomato sandwich or Caprese salad, but squandered it on tomato jerky instead.

Slice them up. Smaller tomatoes like these, you can just cut in half. I found that these Principe Borgheses had a flattened shape, and that if you cut them parallel to the flattened sides, the seeds where much easier to remove -- other tomatoes may vary.

Poke your fingers into the halves and squish out most of the seeds and gel, then lay them out on a rack on a baking sheet.

You can sprinkle them with a little bit of kosher salt to help get the juices out and add a little flavor. Actually, you could add all sorts of fanciness at this point, like fresh herbs, or balsamic, but keeping it simple will give you more options when you're ready to use them.

Put them in the oven somewhere between 150 and 225 and let them go for a few hours. The time will depend on your temperature and how dry you want them to be, but you can probably count on 3-4 hours. If you start too late at night and want to go to bed, just turn off the oven and turn it on again in the morning. This is some definite low-impact cooking.

When they're done, you can eat them like candy, add them to sauces for extra sweetness, use them whole or chopped in pasta or pizzas, or grind them up in pesto. We put them in plastic and freeze them, which is an especially awesome idea when you remember them in December. You can also cover them in olive oil and store them in the refrigerator for a while, which preserves them and gives you tomato-infused oil.

And that is all I know about oven-dried tomatoes.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

One down

While I may have suspended my squirrel eradication campaign, I neglected to notify junior gardener number two of the change in policy.

Isn't she a sweetheart?

Addie achieved her second career kill this morning when a very stupid squirrel decided to re-enter the yard after having been chased out. On re-entry, he made it to the safety of the oak tree. But rather than waiting for me to get sick of the dogs barking and bring them inside, like the smart squirrels do, he bolted for the fence and never made it.

Retrieving a squirrel from a terrier is not an easy task, but here are some tips. If you can get the other terrier indoors, the first one will bring the squirrel right up to you to show it to you and receive full credit. She will not let you hold it, however, until you pick her up by her hind legs and hang her upside down.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008


Back from vacation. It was a relaxing week of sleeping, reading, swimming and visiting a most-curious village.

I ate my first tomato sandwich of the year -- Oatnut bread, Hellman's mayo, and a Black Krim, which I can recommend highly. My first BLT was quite acceptable, what with the home-cured bacon. I used a Mortgage Lifter for that, which was good, but I can't say it lived up to the hype.

The garden weathered a nine-day period of 98+ high temps and no rain pretty well, thanks to my gardensitters, one of whom won the raffle prize of the first cantaloupe of the year -- I can't wait to hear how it was. When I got back this afternoon, I picked 7 pounds of tomatoes. Most of those were Principe Borghese, which will get dried in the oven in the next couple of days.

I also picked a Brandywine, a Persimmon (I think) and about 10 of our mystery black tomatoes. Oh, also three skinny white Asian eggplants and a late-breaking artichoke from the second plant that got a late start in the Fall.

And I just finished a dinner of penne with the aforementioned eggplant, a Costoluto Genovese, spinach, and homemade pancetta.

And this concludes my entry for the most-riveting-blog-post-of-the-year award.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

In bloom

Hey, here's what an artichoke looks like when allowed to bloom.

I know! It's crazy, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Let's work together on this, America!

I realize I probably seem a little obsessed with the squash vine borers, but come on! A couple of squash plants could provide us with vegetable dishes for every meal of the summer if left to their full potential. But all it takes is one or two tiny worms to kill a whole plant.

I've officially given up on squash round one. The plant I thought was doing the best failed to bounce back from its daily wilt today (6/4), so I pulled it and slit open its stem to find this guy

and his little brother.

The round-two squash seedlings are doing well and will go in the ground soon. But that's really just an appeasement strategy. What we need is a solution. And today I'm stepping up to the plate to provide the leadership needed to find one.

The Crazy Billionaire X-Prize for Squash Vine Borer Abatement

To the person or team who concocts a reliable method for preventing the infestation of food crops of the family Cucurbitaceae by the larvae of Melittia Cucurbitae I will award a homemade cookbook containing my family's many favorite recipes for the preparation of squash and zucchini. Details of the winning method or invention will be published on this Web site under Creative Commons license for the good of all humankind.

If we can put a man on the moon and make a square watermelon, we can beat this little worm, people. Let me get you started with a couple of ideas:

1. Somehow that moth knows a squash plant when it sees, or smells, it. I don't know if its pheremones or what, but can't we concentrate it, bottle that shit and spray it on a glue trap? Or how about a big fake squash plant covered in glue -- something that will really grab hold of the old ovipositor and never let go.

2. I've noticed my squash plants tend to have ants crawling on them. Now if Monsanto can genetically engineer a potato that will kill a potato beetle, why not an ant that loves to crack open and eat delicious moth eggs?

Anyway, that's just spitballin'. I'm sure you'll surprise me with something better, gardeners of the world.

Let's do this.

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Monday, June 9, 2008


Eggplant, Black Beauty -- first picked 6/2/2008

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Sunday, June 8, 2008


I know this is an awful-bloggery thing to do, but I'm noting that I'm on vacation this week so the thousands of you who spend your work days hitting the refresh button in hopes of finding new photos of produce won't be too disappointed. In an extra-bloggery move, I'm going to try to queue up a few quick posts over the week just to keep things fresh.

In fact, this very post was written in advance and queued. At this moment, I'm likely sitting on the beach drinking a cold beer and eating a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich. I'm not sure where the tomato came from, but I hope it ripened in my garden before we left town.

From last year's crop.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

I must confess

I've been struggling to put into words for some time my discovery that everything I do or think is just a natural response to my particular socio-economic situation and therefore thousands upon thousands of other people are doing and thinking the same things, no matter how unique I may think I am.

Generally, my guidebook in this existential journey is a publication called the New York Times. Day after day, they publish articles that neatly illustrate activities and thoughts that I have recently "discovered", usually quoting 3 or 4 people from different East coast communities to really illustrate the breadth of the trend.

What can I say? I'm white people.

So seeing this article, concerning the ethical struggles (or lack thereof) gardeners have with varmint-killing, was especially liberating from a garden-blogging perspective.

Concerned that garden-blog readers might not have a lot of crossover with killers of woodland creatures, I might have gone forever without ever writing about the recent time I borrowed a friend's high-powered pellet gun and took a rushed shot at a squirrel lurking around the cantaloupe bed.

I managed only to hit him in the left-front paw, which gave me the chance to fast-track all the ethical dilemmas I had glossed over during my rush to grab the gun. I did all that thinking while gathering up my gloves and a hammer on my way out to visit my new friend who was catching his breath by the back fence. However by the time I got out there, he was gone. I've since seen him scurrying on the fence and power lines with a tell-tale limp.

However, knowing what I know about demographic fatalism, now verified by the NYT, I can tell the story safely with the knowledge that gardeners everywhere are happily shooting, beating with shovels, drowning in rain barrels, snapping the necks of and otherwise killing all manner of squirrel, rabbit, mole, woodchuck and snake on a daily basis.

Hell, with only one gimped squirrel under my belt, I'm a regular Francis of Assisi.

I will say the squirrels have not touched a single tomato so far this year. Maybe they just need some more time to find them, maybe my experiments with cayenne pepper and pepper spray are having some effect.

Or just maybe Squirrelly Tremain is out there telling his friends which yard not to fuck with.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008


By popular demand, here's a post about cantaloupes.

My previous experience with melon growing includes a small hill of watermelon I planted in our backyard when I was about 12. As I recall, it produced two melons, the first of which was proudly harvested at about softball size by the bratty kid from next door. The second was still maturing on the vine when my brother got too close to it while mowing the yard and sucked the whole vine up into the lawnmower.

Attempt number two was last year with a couple of Moon and Stars watermelons that seemed to grow fine, until they succumbed to some sort of fungus or mold, I think, probably brought on by last year's damp monsoon weather.

This year, things seem to be going much better. After I built the new raised bed in February, I never got around to expending the money or labor needed to fill it with growing mix and instead opted to dig into the native soil beneath it and turn in a bit of leftover bagged compost and fertilizer mix. Most of the compost went in two hills inside the bed, where, in each, I planted one Ambrosia cantaloupe seedling from the Natural Gardener and covered the whole mess with a few inches of dead grass. That was March 26th.

They're growing pretty well.

All that foliage keeps the whole bed very well shaded, which I think is helping the water situation quite a bit. Melons are thirsty, I hear. It also makes it a little hard to find the melons. It seems that cantaloupes tend to produce nothing by male blossoms for quite a while at first. I was starting to get worried toward the end of April, when I finally noticed a few tiny melons here and there. A couple of weeks later, I noticed my most promising candidate, about the size of a pecan, had shriveled up and fallen off.

Then I dug around a bit and found three of these.

At this point, they're about 6-inches long and starting to develop those brown ridges and bumps on their skins. They're about 70 days from transplant, so I'm guessing the first could be ready within a couple of weeks, assuming squirrels or terriers don't find them first.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Here come the toms!

So these are the for-real first tomatoes of the summer.* The little ones are Principe Borghese, which are much smaller than I expected -- could be I need to water more. And the crazy-wrinkly ones are the Costoluto Genovese. 

Chump that I am, I took this photo on the patio, then stepped over to the garden to take some other photos. When I looked back over, she was at it again and had devoured both PBs and the multi-colored CG. I blame myself.

Principe Borghese -- first picked 5/29/2008

Costoluto Genovese -- first picked 5/31/2008

Both seedlings were planted out March 15, so that makes 75 and 77 days. Interestingly, these are rated at 75 and 78 days, respectively, but I think time to maturity is supposed to measure from seed under optimal conditions. I plant out relatively early, and these seedlings had some other circumstances to overcome.

*Here I have to admit to having picked a prematurely-ripened-by-BER Black Krim on 5/31 and, after slicing off the damaged portion, eaten it with a little salt. It was good. 

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