Harvesting the Garlic

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The garlic is dug and drying!

Digging it up, it was hard to remember how it was when we planted it back in October.  We were wearing coats and boots, for pete’s sake!  In contrast, when we harvested it just two days ago, some of us were barefoot and the rest of us were wearing the least amount of clothes we could respectably get away with!
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Jasper was taking a nap across the field, and so I made the girls help me, like any good mother would.  I did the delicate work of digging the bulbs out without somehow slicing into them, Avery broke up the dirt lodged in their roots, and Iris stacked them all on the brick wall of the herb garden next to us.

I was so proud of them.  It was hard work,  and it was hot, but we got them all out – over 200 bulbs – and then spread them out in the greenhouse to dry and cure for the next couple of weeks to a month.

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There is so much good information out there when it comes to harvesting garlic, and I’m not going to repeat it all here.  Instead, I’ll just tell you what I did.

I stopped watering the garlic about two weeks ago, and waited to dig them up until the leaves on the bottom part of the stalk began to turn yellow and dry.  If I’d waited any longer (like I did with some of my elephant garlic, whomp whomp) the cloves would have started to separate and wouldn’t store well, not to mention they would have tasted quite woody.

After it’s cured in the greenhouse, (which isn’t ideal but is the only space I had) I’ll cut off the stalk and roots, then store them in a mixture of mesh bags and wire baskets.  Hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll be able to keep and use these for 6-8 months, or maybe even longer.

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Avery asked me what we’re going to do with all this garlic.  We’ll eat a lot of it ourselves to be sure; I usually add one or two cloves to whatever I’m cooking for dinner.  Plus, I’ll add some to all the pesto and tomato sauce I’ve yet to make.

And of course I’ll pick out 100 or so of the best cloves to plant again in the fall.

But a lot of it I plan on giving away, too.  There’s nothing quite like sharing the bounty (and the gift of garlic breath) with friends and loved ones.

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That Time of Year

0626 garlic scapes 1We had the best gift waiting for us when we got back from our vacation: the garlic scapes were ready!

If you don’t know, if you’ve somehow missed the discussions and articles by gardeners or foodies the world over, scapes are the long, curly flower stalks of hard-necked garlic varieties.  Cutting them off directs more energy into clove production, so harvesting scapes is really a win-win situation for all involved.  Scapes have a slightly milder taste than normal garlic, and a nice crisp texture.  They can be used just like garlic, or grilled whole or chopped up and added fresh to salads, soups, pizzas, dips, etc.  There’s just so much you can do with them, and they are so good.

They are also fleeting.  Utterly ephemeral.

June is scape season, and it only lasts a week or two at most.  They’re best to harvest while small and tender.  Wait too long and they get tough and woody.  Wait even longer than that and, well, they become flowers.  If you haven’t cut them from your own garlic already, get yourself to the garden, the nearest farmer’s market, co-op or CSA stand as soon as you can, because by next week they’ll probably be gone.

0627 garlic scapes 2We didn’t get quite as many scapes as we did last year, mostly because back then the garlic had basically been growing wild for a few years.  They produced a lot of plants, but not very good bulbs.  So last October we dug up and replanted the best looking cloves, about 200 of them, to get a better harvest.  Even so, it was more than enough to make and freeze 8 pints of garlic scape and basil pesto.

I usually use all my garlic scapes to make pesto with.  It is delicious, with just a touch more bite to it than traditional pesto.  And I then use it at least weekly in all sorts of ways, namely on pizza, with pasta, and in homemade tomato soup.  But this year I wanted to try some different recipes (like this and this and this) with the scapes, so I kept back about half of them.  Then, because I’m not going to do all that cooking right away, I chopped the scapes into 1/2 inch pieces, steam blanched them, and froze them.  I ended up with a 1/2 gallon bag full, and I’m excited to have them to use throughout the year!

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GARLIC SCAPE PESTO WITH BASIL

  • 1 fistful of garlic scapes, washed and diced (about 12-20 scapes, depending on how garlicky you want your pesto)
  • 1 fistful of basil leaves (or chard)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 splash of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

First, add the garlic scapes to the large bowl of a food processor and pulse these until they’re fairly smooth.  You’ll probably have to scrape down the sides of the bowl fairly often.

Next, add the basil, pine nuts, salt and lemon juice.  Again, pulse until fairly smooth.

Add the Parmesan and process until completely mixed in.

Lastly, you will want to slowly pour in the olive oil while the processor is on.  It should turn into a nice smooth paste.

Make sure to taste it, and adjust accordingly!

Note: To store my pesto, I line muffin tins with silicone muffin liners, and fill them with pesto, usually about 2 tablespoons worth.  Then I freeze them.  Once frozen, I can pop them out of the muffin liners and store them in a freezer bag. 

Enjoy!

2016 Recap: Farm Garden

fall 10.jpgCornstalks on the ground, and Jasper tilling up the old pea patch for garlic.  That’s what it looks like on the farm this week.  The only things still standing are the late sunflowers and the pumpkins, which are slowly ripening.

I didn’t feel as bad as I usually do cutting down the farm garden this year, knowing that next year we’ll probably be living there and will most definitely be sowing the whole field.  We only did half the garden this year, because Gary (the currant tenant) said he was going to use the other half.  He didn’t, but oh well.  We still managed to put an amazing amount of food by.  Gallons of frozen apple cider, shelled peas, beans, pesto, and berries; pickled beans and cucumbers; jars of canned tomato sauce, applesauce and apple butter.

The only real disappointment we had was that we didn’t get as much corn as we’d hoped, and the ears were all very small.  I think I planted them too close together for one thing, and for another we just weren’t able to water as consistently as we should have.  I guess that’s part of the problem of living 45 minutes away from your garden!  I’m consoled thinking about next year, however, and everything I’ll do differently (thank god for “next year” when you’re a gardener!)

fall-8Besides the corn (whose poor performance was squarely our fault), everything else did magnificently.  I really don’t have a Good, Bad, or Ugly list to give you concerning the farm garden.  Obviously, we’d like to grow more of everything, especially corn and peas, which are staple foods in our house.  More potatoes, too, especially Yukon Golds, reds, and russets for baking.

I am reevaluating my cucumber plans for next year, though.  At home they did poorly, but here at the farm they OVER produced!  I had three Tendergreen Burpless slicing cucumbers, seven SMR-58 pickling varieties, and one bush pickle.  As a result, I’ve got dozens of jars of pickles in the cupboard, and we ate more cucumber salads than was good for us.  The plants are still pumping out cukes, too, but I’m kind of sick of them.  I might scale back to just six plants total – three Tendergreens and three SMR-58s.  I guess it will depend on how many pickles we eat this winter.

fall-31 (1).jpgIn the meantime, I’ve been trying to figure out where to put everything we want to plant.  I know that we have a whole winter to get through before we can plant anything again (with the exception of the garlic), but I feel like there’s a hurry to do it, anyway.  Beginning at the first of the year, farmhouse renovation will begin (I’ll do a separate post with all the updates concerning that, don’t worry!).  I’m sure it will behoove us to have a plan for the garden already in place, so we can direct all our problem-solving powers at the house.

I’ve never had such a large area to plant though (roughly 70′ by 30′), and I honestly have no idea what I’m doing!  I want to make an official plan, and permanent open raised beds (not boxed in, just earthen), so that rotating crops will be an easy process.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

fall-5All-in-all, I would say that 2016 on the farm was a resounding success!  What failures we had have a silver lining, serving as lessons for next year.

And, oh boy, I can’t wait for next year!

2016 Recap: Backyard Garden

68R5B0LYU0.jpgIt’s no secret that I’ve been mourning the end of summer since August 31.  But, oh my goodness, today autumn came in like a freight train.  A freight train full of drenching rain. I console myself with the fact that we shouldn’t have a frost for at least another month, so I’m not exactly calling quits when it comes to the garden yet.

Except I’m really kind of calling quits.

I had big plans to grow a fall garden, but between end-of-summer laziness (aka forgetting to water) and an assault on the garden by the neighbor’s chickens, that didn’t pan out.  And now the rain is back, and my work at the college is starting again, and I am just kind of tired.  I think it’s time to look back, sum up what went well and what didn’t, and start planning for next year.


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The Good (what I will DEFINITELY grow again)

  • Flashy Trout’s Back romaine lettuce:  This lettuce was wonderful!  I also grew Parris Island Romaine and Red Sails lettuce, but the family favorite by far was the flashy one.  It’s taste is crisp and fresh and even a little buttery.  The girls liked to pick leaves and eat them plain, just straight out of the garden.  It’s a cut-and-come-again variety, so you can just pick what you need for dinner and it will keep growing.  The best part was that this lettuce didn’t start bolting until late July, so we got four months of salads out of each plant!
  • Sun Gold tomatoes:  Well, no surprise here.  We love these tomatoes.  So sweet.  So prolific.  So tasty that I have been known to eat them all up without even offering any to my children.
  • ‘Roma’ tomatoes:  I picked up this plant at my local farm store, and they labeled it as a Roma, but it doesn’t really resemble that particular variety, except that it’s red and a paste tomato.  Well, whatever it is, it’s delicious and well-behaved and abundant and perfect for sauce.  I’m going to save some seeds and plant 2 or 3 of these next year.
  • Basil:  Of course.  There will always be basil.
  • Scarlet Nantes coreless carrots:  For the last four or five years, I’ve been planting Yaya and Little Finger carrots.  And they were OK.  Sometimes they germinated, sometimes they didn’t.  Sometimes they grew to acceptable snacking size, sometimes they didn’t.  But these Scarlet Nantes Coreless!  They germinated en mass with no problem.  It took them a couple months, but they grew to maturity with no problem.  And the taste!  Delicious and sweet!  I’m sticking with this one.
  • Evergreen white bunching onions:  These things just keep going!  They were planted back in March, and we’re still eating them.  And they are still delicious.
  • Elephant garlic:  We liked these.  They were pretty, they were easy, and the flavor (though milder than garlic) was good.
  • Walla Walla sweet onions: This was the very first year in more than a decade in which I was able to grow onions.  They actually bulbed up and looked like the big onions you can buy at the store!  It was amazing!  I’m so excited to grow these again next year on the farm!

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The Not-So-Good 

  • All the sunflowers:  I have grown a wall of Mammoth sunflowers along the fence every year for four years.  Every year it has been amazing, and people always stop and gawk at them, and I always feel very proud about it.  This year, however, not one sunflower grew!  All of my Mammoth seedlings were eaten by bugs, and the few of a different, smaller variety that I did manage to get growing were then eaten by elk.  So.  Suffice it to say that this particular year, when I was trying hard to make my garden look exceptional, I was disappointed by the sunflowers.
  • Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes:  This plant was touted to me as a determinate tomato variety.  I planted it as such.  It became a monster that I had to cut back severely so that it wouldn’t take over the whole raised bed.  That pruning ended up getting rid of a lot of flowers, so not much fruit set.  I haven’t even gotten to taste it yet – there are five or six tomatoes on the vines right now that will hopefully start to ripen soon – so I don’t know if I’ll give this variety another shot or not.  We shall see.
  • Strawberries: These would have been good but for the neighbors chickens.  I’m going to revamp my strawberry beds anyway though, because next year I’ll be planting them on the farm!
  • Butternut squash:  I just couldn’t get these to grow this year.  All the fruit that set shriveled up.  I’d like to blame the neighbor’s chickens on this, too, but I really can’t.  It just wasn’t the poor butternut squash’s year.

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The Bad (what I will NOT grow again)

  • White Currant tomatoes:  These grew fine, no complaints there.  The thing is, they just tasted kind of gross.  They are touted as a sweet variety, and I’m sure some people love them, but I happen to hold Sun Gold up as the hallmark of a sweet snacking tomato, and these didn’t even get close.  In fact, I thought they were the opposite of sweet – very sour and bitter.  Not exactly what anyone wants to munch on in the backyard.
  • Bush Pickle cucumbers:  I had eight of these plants in my garden.  Do you know how many cucumbers I’ve picked from them?  Five.
  • Delicata Squash:  Why did I grow these?  I don’t like them.  My family doesn’t like them.  I don’t know.  Perhaps reading this next year will shake me out of whatever sort of planting frenzy I’m in and remind me that none of my family likes this squash.

Whew.  Looking back, it’s clear that it was an overwhelmingly good summer out in those three raised beds.  Now to take stock of the farm garden …

These Last Days of Summer

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I never can quite believe it when August rolls in.

To go from desperately yearning for summer to facing it’s waning days always hits me like an unexpected piece of bad news.  It’s over almost as soon as it began, and though lovely, this month will pass mostly in the kitchen putting by all the bounty that the farm and garden have given us.

The tidy rows and well-groomed plots are gone, the plants are wild now and drunk on their own fertility.  The weeds grow as tall as the corn, pushing their blooms skyward toward the phalanx of honeybees that are constantly overhead, also gathering what they can for winter.  We pull and mow as often as we’re able to, but the weeds redouble their efforts and, defeated, we finally surrender and let them grow.

Like the weeds, the fruits and vegetables are increasing their output.  My buckets and baskets are full every time we go.  We’ve gathered gallons and gallons full of Italian plums so ripe that the merest touch of my fingers on their purple-black skin cause them to split open and spill their sticky-sweet juice down my hands and arms;  the first of the red and yellow plums that we turned into the most delicious jam last year; pounds of lemony-yellow wax beans destined for pickling, freezing and fresh summer dinners; and the last of the green garden peas until fall, when the freshly planted crop is ready.  The pioneer apple trees (probably planted at the turn of the 20th century and still going strong) are so weighted down with ripening apples that I fear disaster for their old branches.  Corn is filling in so fast and abundantly that I can’t quite imagine what we’ll do with it all.  Cucumbers ready to be picked every two days.  Squash.  Tomatoes.  Beans.  Peas.  Potatoes.  They’re all growing with a palpably desperate need; their lives only as long as these last golden summer days.

And so, sticky and hot, I pick the fruit, and wander the rows, and stop to watch the bees hard at work.  I stay up late into the night, pickling and blanching and canning over the hot stove, and get up early to go out and pick some more.  Because even though in my head I can’t quite believe that it’s August already, in my heart I know.  The abundance will not last.  The leaves will fall and the crops will brown.  Even the weeds, supernaturally strong and growing faster than any mere mortal thing possibly could, will die.  The winter will come, and we’ll all be yearning for summer once again.

Chimera

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I didn’t even think about this when planting, but sowing the Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers right next to the Lincoln (Homesteader) peas was just asking for some cross-pollination.  The Lincolns don’t seem to have any purple pods among them, but the Blauwschokkers are riddled with green pods, and many are also marbled a pretty green and purple.  Then, there are some like this pod, where it seems it is perfectly half of each species.

Personally, I prefer the taste of the Blauwshokkers when crossed with the Lincolns – the peas from the pure purple pods are rather bitter.  I probably won’t grow Blauwschokkers again next year because of it, but there is no denying that they’ve been some of the prettiest produce in the garden this season.

Any chimeras in your garden?

Small, but satisfying

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Lincoln (Homesteader) and Blue-Podded peas freshly frozen

Yesterday Jasper and I made a quick* trip out to the farm to check on the progress of the peas.  I just knew some of them would be ripe, and my hands were itching to start picking and shelling them.

Peas are kind of a staple food in my house – or at least they were until all the listeria-caused recalls pulled them off the shelves at the grocery stores.  It’s so scary to think about modern industrial agriculture and the many ways it’s bad for us and for the earth, not least of which is the massive scale with which it can sicken people.  Listeria, salmonella and E. coli are all deadly pathogens that are (relatively) commonly found in foods now, and I’m not even going to go into all the additives, hormones, pesticides and GMOs that are routinely used.  It seems like there is always some kind of disease, some kind of recall, some kind of really good reason to spurn industrial food.  And so now we are.

Starting with the peas.

We picked about a pound of pods this time.  There were so many just on the verge of being ready, but we decided to give them another couple of days to plump up.

That pound of pods yielded up one cup of shelled peas, which don’t taste or even look like those shriveled balls of mush that you can buy at the store.  They all have the cutest little stems attached to them, and even after being blanched (cooked for a very short amount of time to kill the enzymes that cause decomposition) and frozen, the peas tasted fresh, sweet and summery, just like if I’d eaten them straight off the vine.  They still had a hint of crispness to them without being hard or chewy, and there was not the slightest bit of mushiness to be found, which is a big plus for the girls.

The biggest plus for me and Jasper is that we know who planted and grew these (me!), we know who harvested, shelled and washed them (me, again!) and we also know that said person washed her hands and employs very hygienic practices in the kitchen.  There is no listeria or salmonella to be feared in this particular bag of peas!

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Peas, ready for eating!

I don’t know if I planted enough peas to preserve and get us through the entire year though.  This is the first time we’ve ever done this, but I’ve read that you should plant about 30 plants per person.  I think we may have planted 120 peas, but I’m not sure.  I didn’t count as I planted this year, but you can be sure I will be taking much more detailed records next year.

I do know, however, that it will take about 16 cups of peas to fill a gallon bag and I want a LOT of gallon bags in my freezer.  So I think it’s safe to say that we are going to have an equally lot of pea picking in our future, but that’s OK.  Growing and preserving safe, healthy and homegrown food for our family is what’s important and we consider it time well spent.

* Quick ended up being about 2 hours.  There is just so much to DO out there!