Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bye summer....hello fall food !

                          It is nearly October, and the outside crops are changing.

 The tomatoes are tired, but the beets, carrots, squash, leeks and potatoes are going strong. Peppers too.

The peppers seemed to take forever to ripen this year.  But it is happening now. Slowly.

 Some of the crops seem like bonus crops. They were too easy. I'm doing this again next year...the scatter seed approach.

Forget the rows. Draw a rectangle around the area I want to plant and just scatter the seed. Water, and except for a good weeding when they have popped up, that's it.

A 5 minute job to plant, a better use of space and major results. I'm loving this!

 Lots of Jelly Melons! What to do with them?  Read here (Just eat 'em!)

Still saving tomato seeds. By the way...this is not the colour of my eggs yolks, as per the seed catalogue.
WHAT are THOSE chickens eating that produce eggs with green yolks?

       Montser squash are hiding under the leaves. Lots of eating here. Squash soup. Oh yeah.

And on to the next jobs. One hoop house is completed seeded and in less than a week, everything is up.

The other hoophouse is the recipient of more transplants. Variegated collards...can't wait to see your colours.

The zero mile diet, year round!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jefferson's Ten Rules

The inspirational Mollie at the inspirational Monticello
Life teaches us lots of wonderful lessons.

Sometimes I wonder how my youngest daughter has learned so much at such a young age. She is 10.

She goes beyond being a good kid. She's a wonderful "old soul" my friend Shirley says.

On our recent trip to Virginia she did it again.

I've been grasping onto ideas, quotes and inspirational sayings to keep me afloat the last while. Just to keep me thinking straight and sane.

When we went into the little shop at Monticello, Mollie bought a "Monticello" chocolate bar, and a little plastic souvenir in which oil drops float down ramps, and drip, drip onto the next, drip, drip onto the next, until they all gather into one big oil glob on the bottom. Flip it over and repeat.

As she checked out all the gizmos and gadgets, I stood transfixed in front of a plaque.  Jefferson's Ten Rules.

Me being me, I read the rules and got a bit weepy.

I told my dear child I was just going to wait for her on the wooden bench outside the shop.  Nothing I needed.

When she came out of the shop, she had a big grin on her face and handed me  a bag with something in it.

I love that child.

This is what the plaque read:

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
Never spend money before you have earned it.
Never buy what you don’t want because it is cheap.
Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.
We seldom repent of having eaten too little.
Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
How much pain the evils cost us that never happened.
Take things always by the smooth handle.
When angry, count ten before you speak: if very angry, count a hundred.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It ain't over till...well, it just ain't over. Winter planting!

Yes, it is officially fall.

The asters and goldenrod are making my rolling land sweeping down to the river look like an artists palette.

I love fall. My official favourite season.

Things will slow down a bit, in a month or so.

Right now though it is full steam ahead. Seed collecting, harvesting and readying the hoophouses for winter crops.

Humid this am

The tomatoes and most other things are out...and in with the new. A clean slate. A gardeners opportunity to be artist.

In they go....

And so much more...

Ching Chang Bok Choy seeded on Wednesday is UP on Saturday morning !

I know the arugulas and mustards won't be far behind.

But still it is nice to see a bit of the summer colour holding on.  I just couldn't pull them out.

Watch to see how it all grows, week by week as the temperatures drop.

It is pretty amazing...and there is still lots of good eating ahead. Yahoo!

(One hoop house down and one more to go!)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Monticello and the Heritage Harvest Festival

I don't get away much. It just isn't possible.

Dogs, cats, chickens and the rest of the family and vegetable fields to tend make it hard to ask someone to come in and take over. It is a pretty big job.

It's okay though. This is what I have chosen.

But an ad in The Mother Earth News convinced me that maybe it was time. A big beautiful picture of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home and his vegetable gardens as well as the headline "Heritage Harvest Festival" and I was on my way to Virginia last weekend.

The event was sponsored by Mother Earth News, but the bigger presence was Southern Exposure Seed Exchange . Great seed company, and as expected I came back with a good sized bag of seed for next year. Rice, a few cottons, a bunch of tomatoes, okras, peppers, and well....quite a bit more. 

I'm not sure about the rice and cotton, but Charlottesville, Virginia is US zone 6b and I'm Canadian zone 6b. So we're not too far off.

Mollie hit the heirloom flower seed racks so her garden will be aglow with bright colours next year. Her favourite? Probably the ultra cool cockscomb, which she can now grow in many colours!

The festival was very good. So many nice folks to chat with about gardening. And some great things for kids to do, which has inspired me to have a very different kids area at Seedy Saturday in 2012. 

But the highlight beyond any doubt was just being at magnificent Monticello. High on a hill overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is breathtaking. Seeing the gardens, orchards and vineyards, touring the house and just drinking in all that wonderful history. It would be difficult to not be in awe of it all.

To tell you the truth, I've never given a whole lot of thought to Thomas Jefferson. But fascinating he was. Consumed by a thirst for knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, an avid gardener and a thoughtful, intelligent man. 

But also a man conflicted. He spoke of slavery as an abomination, but over his lifetime held at least 600 slaves.  And Monticello functioned because of his reliance on slaves. 

And the vegetable gardens. Well, they were just spectacular.  Good plots of many familiar vegetables, but also a good southern dose of cowpeas, sesame seeds, Texas Bird peppers and figs.  And clay!

But not my Haldimand clay. This is Virginia red clay, a totally different soil which seems to support the crops very well.
The figs...oh my!

Cow Horn Okra

Ain't she pretty...Hyacinth bean

All this, AND an heirloom tomato tasting.

You just can't tell me I wasn't meant to be there! 

And I'll probably go back. There's just so much more to see.

Thank you, Virginia for your beautiful hospitality.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guest Post: Anatomy of a Tree and Twig veggie basket

Thanks again to my friend Leslie for another great post. Soup is in my future, and I just love soups with dried beans in them. Great protein source for veg-heads like me!
Lots of veggies now my is harvest time!

For me getting a CSA basket from Linda is a lot like Christmas morning. She hands me an over flowing basket guaranteed to be packed with all kinds of great “presents” and a few surprises. I can’t wait to get it home, unpack it, and start coming up with all kinds of great things to do with the contents. Last week when I picked up my basket Linda asked if I would write a blog on what I did with my basket. So here goes! 
My basket included the following; 
Tomatoes – these ended up being used in the soup recipe below and for my favourite toasted tomato sandwiches 
Beets – once roasted in the oven they found their way into a salad of arugula, goat cheese, and pine nuts 
Tomatillos – I read on a menu about pickled tomatillos. Having never tried this I found a recipe online and have made a jar with the ones from my basket. As soon as they are ready to try I will let Linda know how it worked out! 
Beans – I asked Linda if I could purchase extra beans so that I could make some spicy dilly beans. They are great as a garnish in a bloody Caesar! 
Garlic – Garlic goes into everything I cook! The spicy dilly beans, into the soup, with the sautéed greens, you name it, garlic is in it. 
Eggplant – This went into the soup recipe below. Yum…I love eggplant, but don’t worry even if you are not a fan, try the soup. 
Peppers (Red, Green, Hot, not so hot) – The hot peppers ended up in the spicy dilly beans and with the pickled tomatillos. The red peppers went in the soup, and the green were had raw as a snack. 
Greens (Kale, Chard, etc.) – The greens were sautéed with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. A nice Asian flavour twist. 
Assorted Herbs – Most of the herbs ended up in the soup. Any extra get added to salads. 
Cucumber – A giant cucumber, half found a home in a salad, and the other half was used as a snack. 
Morelle de Balbis – This is the little red fruit that has a husk much like a ground cherry or tomatillo. It has crazy sharp spikes on the husk and I can imagine is no fun for Linda to pick. However, this was the first time I had tasted these crazy little things and I must report I like them! So these were just for sampling but I don’t know what I would do if I had lot of them. Jam…maybe? 
Jelly Melon – Another strange find in my basket. It is orange in colour with crazy spikes on the outside. The skin is really tough, but when you cut into it you see this substance that resembles lime green jello. Definitely not what I was expecting. Again, another taste test but unfortunately not my favourite thing coming out of the garden. Sorry Linda, not a fan of the Jelly Melon. 
Potatoes – Ah nice new potatoes just dug from the ground. Around a roasting chicken they went. 
Radishes – Sliced thinly and mixed with vinegar and salt to create a quick pickled radish and then enjoyed as a side dish with dinner. 
Eggs – I always buy eggs from Linda. She has the best eggs around. They get used for potato salad, egg salad sandwiches, or just cooked up for breakfast. 
The same day I picked up my basket I also got a copy of Food & Drink magazine from the LCBO. In it was a recipe for Mediterranean Vegetable Bean Soup. Many of the items in my basket ended up in this soup. It is a great Fall soup, enjoy! 
Mediterranean Vegetable Bean Soup 
12 plum tomatoes (3lbs), chopped    (I substituted Linda’s heirloom tomatoes here) 
2 sweet red peppers, chopped
1 small eggplant, about 1lb peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
¼ cup olive oil 
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme 
½ tsp chopped fresh rosemary 
4 cups water (I used vegetable stock instead of water) 
1 can (540ml) white pea (navy) or kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I used white kidney beans) 
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 4250
  2. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper
  3. Combine tomatoes, red peppers, eggplant and onion. Sprinkle with 1 tsp each salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Toss evenly to coat. Divide among baking sheets and spread out into a single layer. Toss garlic with oil left in bowl and arrange together on one of the baking sheets. Roast in upper and lower thirds of oven, rotating sheets halfway, for about 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft and browned. 
  4. Set roasted garlic aside. Transfer remaining roasted vegetables and all juices to a large pot. Stir in oregano, thyme, rosemary and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until flavours are blended. 
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer about 3 cups of the vegetables to a blender or food processor. Add reserved garlic and half of the beans to blender. Puree, adding a little of the broth from the pot if necessary, until smooth. Stir back into pot along with remaining beans and return to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish each bowl with feta cheese. 
Serves 8 to 10    The flavours do bloom after sitting, so make the soup a day or two ahead and reheat it just before serving.  Enjoy! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Late (but great) Beet Planting Challenge-Pull those Beets!

Little did I know when I wrote the initial posts for "The Late Beet Planting Challenge" that on the day of most importance, that is the day of the pull, I would be out of the country.

Had to go! And it was just so wonderful.

It will all be in the next post I'll write, but Mollie and I zipped down to Charlottesville, Virginia for the "Heritage Harvest Festival" at  scenic and one hundred percent inspiring Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

Now I'm back home though.

And a day late I've pulled some beets. I've also eaten some of those lovely Detroit Dark Reds.


Mine sized up quite nicely, depending as beets do, on my ability to space the seeds well in the rows.  You can see in the picture above that some of them are a good 3" in diameter.

But I will be honest.  I'd already pulled and sold some several weeks ago because I could see they were a good size.

So my review of this challenge?

It sure isn't too late at all to plant your beets on July 15th and I wouldn't hesitate at all to go a bit later with my planting. I am pretty sure even with an  August 1st planting in our balmy 6b planting zone, I would get lovely little beets. 

Don't forget how hardy they are! I have no intention at all of pulling them all now...I'm going to let them get even larger for some very good winter eating. I'll simply wait till I know the ground is going to freeze and pull them prior to this. They store exceptionally well when layered in barrels or garbage cans, with straw or leaves as their insulation.

As you may recall, some seed I soaked while some I did not. Regardless of what I soaked the seed in overnight (kelp solution or water), the soaked seeds did infinitely better in terms of speed of germination and germination itself. 

Consider me a beet seed soaker from here on in. 

You can always learn, can't you?

How did all my seed recipients make out?

I've heard from Cathy from Toronto, who grew hers in pots.

Unfortunately I seem unable to transport her pictures to my blog, but having grown in pots, Cathy's were smaller than mine.

But she says that was just fine with her. They were smaller, but sweet and delicious nonetheless.

Trust me, they just LOOKED delicious.

So how did everyone else make out? Lots of folks to hear from- let me know!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Outlaw's view of the Bash

Thanks Katie for allowing me to post your wonderful and absolutely artistic look at my
"Tomato Bash." I know I'll look at this again and again.
Check out Katie's unique and eclectic blog here.


Tree & Twig Heirloom Tomato Bash

update: 9.07.2011 ||  Check out what other people have to say about the Tomato Bash!
@crackersblog 's lovely article for the Appetizer -- Field Trip: Linda's Annual Tomato Bash 
@treeandtwig herself wrote 2011 Tomato Bash and also The Winner Is
@eatingniagara has great pictures and a writeup here: Tomatoes101

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's Harvest Time!

                                              What's in the garden now?

                                                                Lets see.

                          If you get a veg basket now, it will be overflowing!

Beets, carrots, TOMATOES, peppers, sweet and hot, eggplants, kales, chards, spigiarello, BEANS,

tomatillos, ground cherries, cucumbers, oriental pickling melons, GARLIC, zucchini, potatoes, herbs galore, TOMATOES, onions, squash, leeks, yard long beans, cowpeas, and yes, Morelle de Balbis and Jelly melons if you wish.  MORE...than can fit in a basket. And more.

                                                        Did I say.....TOMATOES!?

Thorny Things-Jelly Melons and Morelle de Balbis

Treachery and evil lurk in the garden.

Morelle de Balbis

Odd things are happening. Unusual prickly things are growing.

They taste good, but can be a bit of a bugger to pick. They prick.

Morelle de Balbis is one of the most treacherous and down right hazardous plants you can grow in the garden, right along with the majestic and well loved Solanum Atropurpureum.

solanum atropurpureum
And I must add people do love it. This year many people came asking for it. 
One woman was particularly memorable. "I've gone to all the garden centres" she said. 'I want the plant that will keep the goats out of the garden, but nobody knows what I'm talking about."

And of course that is how I had described it to her last year when I sold her the memorable and unusual ornamental.

One of my favourite families of plants to grow, (beyond the obvious tomato) is the Solanaceae family (solanum), which is the genus both these plants belong too.

This family has many unique offerings, and Morelle de Balbis (solanum sisymbriifolium), also known as  Litchi Tomato, is another one to get to know.

This solanum is just coolness in plant form.  Another one very worthy of a five minute stare.

This year mine are taller than they have every been. The plants are between 5-6 feet tall, heavy with fruit in sprays on the branches, and each fruit covered by a thorny husk, that pulls up when the fruit ripens to red.  

Did I say thorny? Oh my. 

I picked a quart for Chef Picone to try and blood oozed from the scratches on my arms.

Yes. Gardening can be a hazardous pastime.

Their taste is pleasant, somewhat of a cross between a tomato flavour and a cherry.  But what to do with them?  That , my friends, is what the brilliant culinary minds are working on now.  I'll report back!

Myself, I just like to eat them as is.

Jelly Melon
Another prickler I'm growing this year is the Jelly Melon (cucumis metuliferus), also know as African Horned Melon, Kiwano, or Hedgehog Gourd.

No matter what you call it, it is fun to grow and actually very delicious to eat. The elongated green seed capsules inside  are jelly-like and have the taste of tropical fruit.  An added bonus is that they can sit on your kitchen counter for 6 months without spoiling and also they don't cross with other member of the cucumber family.  

But beware.  The horns, or thorns on the exterior are sharp.  But the flesh inside is worth the pain. Trust me on this one.

Both Morelle de Balbis and Jelly Melons are easy to grow.  Surprising for me though was the fact that the Colorado Potato Beetles seemed quite fond of the Morelle de Balbis.  Taking their lives in their hands I thought, what with the thorns.  No matter. I picked them off and fed them to the chickens who, as usual, devoured them with relish.

I'm saving seed from both these unusual plants, so if you want to try them next year, I'll have  both plants and seed available.

Out with the boring, in with the thorns!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

2011"Tomato Bash" -the winner is!

Hard to imagine, isn't it?

A pirate ship cruising up and down the Welland River to entertain the guests at my "Tomato Bash." "How did you arrange that, Linda?" they asked.

Well, I didn't really arrange it. And truth be told, it wasn't really a ship. More like a small boat with a pirate flag that kept going back and forth on the river behind our home. I assume they were as curious about my tomato event and the people milling about as all the people on land were about the boat.

Just a cool thing.

But now down to the nitty gritty.

The winner of the taste test was.... White Rabbit tomato, followed closely by Green Doctors and White Currant.

In fact the top 5 tomatoes people like best were smaller tomatoes.

The best friends one could ever have! (photo-T. Mayer)
But I have to be honest.

We, or to be even more truthful, my chopping buddies ( and not me) Lisa and Emily were dicing up those tomatoes at record speed, but it was too much to ask. 101 varieties chopped in an hour and a half? What was I thinking?

So not all the varieties made it out to the tasting table. Most did, but not all.

Those friends are a cut above, but just couldn't cut it. Ha!

Honestly, thanks to all my friends and family who carried the event. And thanks also to Mother Nature for deciding that the forecasted 100% chance of thunderstorms just wouldn't happen.

Wow. We just lucked out.

Tomatoes for sale! (photo Tara-Seven Spoons)

So to round out the top five tomatoes that folks enjoyed we have the stunning Michael Pollan, and finally Egg Yolk Cherry.

Kevin Maniaci's Panzanella (photo-Tara-Seven Spoons)

The chefs I invited came and shined. There was yummy Panzanella, created by Kevin Maniaci. Lime Basil sorbet in a sumac cone, with tomato gelatin cubes...Mark Picone how do you do these things? Amazing! I probably didn't even get the description correct at all.  Mark's dishes are very complex and well thought out. Detail, detail, detail!

Marlie Centawer created raw vegan magic with her tasty tomato topped dehydrated veg cracker and cashew cheese. Lee from Truly Organic Foods made it out as well, and it was wonderful to have you here. The Mahtay Cafe's Sawatsky husband and wife team, Jay and Nicole had a fabulous Lime Basil Cheesecake, with tomato topping, and a pretty cool Tomato Iced Tea. Shawn Murphy of the Keefer came up with a green tomato salsa, with grilled corn, incorporating hot Filus Blue peppers and some Szechuan buttons. All super yummy, and a beautiful display of the versatility of tomatoes. From savoury to sweet it was all fantastic.

We toured the garden, which this year is impossible to walk in. Everything is packed in and has filled out nicely. Yes, there were weeds to see too, but trust me, many, many less than last week!

I tried to point out the major points of interest, but after everyone left, of course all the veggies I didn't point out came to mind. Ah well.  There is next year.

Thanks to everyone for coming. Chefs, guests, friends and fellow tomato lovers.  I am indebted to you all for your support throughout the year and am happy we could all share the harvest.

Thanks too, to Jesse and Melanie Senko for coming and featuring my event on their (crackerless) Crackers Blog. Your support this year has been greatly appreciated. 

Here are Jesse's impressions of the day...

We'll do it again next year!

Monday, September 5, 2011

2011 Tomato Bash

Kevin Maniaci from Inn on the Twenty and his biggest fan!
It was a great day!

I haven't quite recovered yet, nor have I  tallied the votes for the  favourite tomato.

The full post will follow tomorrow. But here are a few links to enjoy.

First, my fabulous musician for the day, Paul. Wonderfully talented and very much enjoyed by all my guests. Thanks from the bottom of my heart Paul for volunteering to give up your Sunday to help out a stranger. But strangers no more! 
Please listen to some of Pauls' fabulous music here

And my chefs...more about you and your dishes in the next post. But wow! You all knocked it out of the park.
Thanks Kevin, Mark, Marlie, Nicole and Jay , and Shawn. Fabulous. I can't thank you enough.  Are these people supporting small growers? Oh yes. 

Here is some wonderful video taken by Niagara Watch . Thanks for allowing me to share. And thanks for coming out!

But I have to say this...I'm no hero as the prelude to the video says.. So very far from it. I'm just someone who is very fortunate to have found something I love to do. And most importantly I'm supported by wonderful people in Niagara and beyond. 

Thanks everyone. Till tomorrow!