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October 25th, 2010

Test Garden Update: Kathy Shaw, Neenah, WI

kathyshaw This has been our week to say good-bye to the 2010 garden as we had low temperatures in the 20’s last night and have been having sporadic frosts for about a month. The autumn weather has been in the 60’s and 70’s during the day, which has been a real treat.

Last weekend we heaped composted manure on 80% of the garden beds after harvesting all but the hardiest: Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, horseradish, leeks, broccoli, and the remaining lettuces. The ‘Sea of Red’ lettuce is excellent in the fall bed and sized up nicely from a mid-August planting. The two Romaines did not really head up but we’ve been harvesting the outer leaves of both ‘Tin Tin’ and ‘Sweetie Baby Romaine’ from each plant. The ‘Tin Tin’ leaf thickness and taste is amazing. ‘Midnight Ruffles’ is beautiful but didn’t get large enough to harvest more than 5-6 leaves from each plant.

On Tuesday we made a recipe that is truly a transition from summer to fall/winter cooking. Roasted Ratatouille is made like the typical roasted “root vegetable” recipes but made with summer veggies. We used the last of our peppers, eggplants, and zucchini and I thought I’d share the recipe as well as “before and after” pictures—it was so pretty. It’s too bad the pictures aren’t scratch & sniff as the kitchen smelled like an Italian bistro. Make sure the whole family tries it as the garlic really shines in this recipe and you’ll have to live with them the rest of the day!

4 oriental eggplants, 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp. salt
2 medium zucchini, 1/2-inch cubes
2 yellow peppers, 1/2-inch pieces
2 red peppers, 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, finely minced
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, finely minced
1 tbsp. fresh basil, finely minced
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
ratatouille1
Combine chopped eggplant with 1 tsp. salt and let drain at least 30 minutes. Combine drained eggplant with remaining ingredients except tomatoes and toss like a salad. Spread on a cookie sheet and place the sliced tomatoes on top. Roast at 475 degrees for 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through. We use parchment paper when we roast vegetables for easy clean-up and served the ratatouille with couscous.

ratatouille2

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September 15th, 2010

Test Garden Update: Debbie Leung, Olympia, WA

DebbieLeung “You have tomatoes?” was the incredulous response most people had to their invitation to my annual tomato and harvest party this year. Like most of the summer, the week leading up to it was gray and drizzly. A forecast of partly cloudy and a 30% chance of showers for Saturday made it sound like a great day for a NW garden party! The day dawned chilly and cloudy as I harvested what tomatoes I could, waiting until the last moment to see if they might get a few more rays on the vine.

tomatoesPeople arrived in the late morning bundled in coats. We went out to the porch to taste what tomatoes there were. Of the four test varieties I grew, only two had ripe tomatoes: ‘Red Pearl’ grape tomato, which produced a small bowlful, and ‘Blush’, which had only four ripe ones (and one was cracked). ‘Thompson’s Grape’ was just starting to be ready. Of my standbys, ‘Sungold’ (picked many days earlier, after an evening downpour to avoid cracking) did well for the season we had, and ‘Early Cascade’ was not yet totally ripe. In the photo above, clockwise from upper left are ‘Early Cascade’, ‘Red Pearl’, and ‘Blush’.

sungold‘Sungold’, in a class by itself, is offered as dessert after the tasting.

Now the taste test! ‘Red Pearl’ initially got mixed reviews—nice shape, not seedy but mushy and watery, or light and fruity. One person liked how it exploded in her mouth while others thought the skin was tough.

Everyone ooh’ed and aah’ed at the looks of ‘Blush’, both whole and cut in half—definitely a beauty. As they took a bite, it got all kinds of compliments for its sweet and balanced complex flavor until one person announced that she thought its great looks prejudiced our opinion about its flavor. She thought it was just sweet, not complex or flavorful at all. Everyone agreed that it should be used in a way that would show off its good looks (like in salads), if not also its flavor.

tasting‘Early Cascade’, one of my standbys, usually gets raves on its flavor but not this time because it wasn’t completely ripe. ‘Northern Delight’ was brought to the party by a guest who grew it to see if it would do well in our difficult tomato-growing region. Nope, it got only poor reviews: “disappointing.” This person also grew ‘Siletz’, developed especially for the Pacific NW maritime climate. Many said it “tastes like a tomato” but many also commented about its watery quality and large seed cavity.

Going back to ‘Red Pearl’, people said it tasted great in comparison to the others. Its bowl was soon empty.

saladThe clouds began to part as we sat down to enjoy a harvest potluck where people brought dishes made with garden goodies if possible. I made a rice salad with arugula, ‘Derby’ cabbage, ‘Sweetie Baby Romaine’ lettuce, ‘Midnight Lightning’ zucchini, yellow ‘Mariachi’ peppers, and the last sunchokes from last year, all from the garden.

peppers‘Gusto Purple’ produced nice hot peppers which made a spicy relish with chopped onion, rice vinegar and sugar. This photo shows the Gusto in all its color stages.


flowersSmall bouquets decorating the tables were made with some of the flowers we are trialing—the one at left includes ‘Moonsong Deep Orange’ marigold, basil, and feverfew.


The afternoon got warm as we finished our lunch with brownies and double chocolate ‘Cavilli’ zucchini cake. With full bellies, we rambled about the vegetable garden and came upon our real dessert, sun-warmed raspberries right off the vine.

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September 7th, 2010

Test Garden Update: Leslie Doyle, Las Vegas, NV

leslie_d_tnI transplanted ‘Shiny Boy’ watermelon seedlings late—on July 31— in a bed I forgot was dedicated to something else. So after they were growing for a couple of weeks I dug them up (2 plants) and replanted them in another bed. I moved them at 10 pm in the dark. I don’t think they knew what happened because they woke up in the morning and kept on growing. I guess it’s not true that melons don’t like to be transplanted!

alvaroI love the intense colors of this ‘Alvaro’ melon, left. It measured 6″ x 6-1/2″, a little bigger than expected and very sweet and tasty. I would grow ‘Alvaro’ again. The bell peppers are ‘Pinot Noir’ and are starting to come in at a larger size since the pump for the well was repaired.

melonsThe two types of melons in this picture are ‘Yellow Honey’ honeydew and ‘Crimson Sweet’ watermelon. The catalog description said ‘Crimson Sweet’ would grow to about 25 pounds, however they are weighing in at 40 pounds. I haven’t got room in the fridge for them, even when cut in half, so I am giving away a lot of watermelons. ‘Yellow Honey’ (the two yellow melons in the photo) is confusing me as the sizes are vastly different. Most weigh over 13 pounds, but this little one is about 7 pounds. What’s up with this?

The melon vines are very long and threaten to enter the house. Bill says he’s “afraid of waking in the morning with melons in the bed.” Today I trimmed their vines so he could sleep at night and so I could get out the bedroom door without wading through them.

yellowhoneyWhen Bill puts down the camera he will have to take this melon from me—I’m stuck like this and I can’t stand up while holding it. When I carried one of the 40 pound watermelons into the house last week I hurt my knee and was limping around for DAYS. I won’t do that again—and Bill is now in charge of harvesting the melons.

The melons are delicious and producing heavily but, sadly, I will have to pull them out soon to make room for my cool season veggies and garlic. Or maybe I will just trim the plants and keep one or two vines with melons, to enjoy into November?


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August 9th, 2010

Test Garden Update: Barbara Miller, Boulder, CO

barbara_tnWhat a nice summer we’re having here. Not enough rain, of course, but July did give us an inch above normal. The weather is hot (90’s) but not too hot and fresh organic food is in abundance just outside the  door.

Bitonto-crop‘Bitonto’ is such a cute little cherry tomato and it is holding its own against those aggressive marigolds—they’re sharing a pot in the photo at left. Good flavor and decorative—what more could you ask?

The  peppers are ripening well. Some of my ‘Cajun Belle’ peppers are red  already.

The ‘Apollo’ broccoli is amazing and we give away bags and bags. The chickens like it when it begins to bloom too.

melons-cropI experimented with growing my melons in pots on top of 55-gallon water drums this year. So far, so good. The barrels are filled with water and were installed to store the sun’s heat in the winter. But I just thought they might serve a useful purpose in other seasons too—and the melons seem to like having warm soil when our nighttime temperatures dip into the low sixties, as they often do, even after a day in the nineties. Melons are almost ready to eat, earlier than I’ve ever had them.

Lime-Crisp-cropLime Crisp’ cucumber, shown at left, is not to our liking due to its bland taste, and all our friends who try it concur. We much prefer the crisp Oriental cukes we also grow. ‘Lime Crisp’ is a beautiful color; it grows like the dickens and churns out tons of cukes, so I’ve taken to pickling them when quite small to keep some measure of control.

All in all, it’s been a good garden year so far.


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July 27th, 2010

Test Garden Update: Barbara Miller, Boulder, CO

barbara_tnWell, I’m in love with the pepper called ‘Pinot Noir’—what a producer! Most of my pepper patch is in bloom or has half-ready peppers, but ‘Pinot Noir’ has magnificent spicy large and dark sweet peppers just a month after planting out. And lots of blooms coming on, so more fruit to come. The plants are quite small—no need to stake for sure. I want these peppers every year!

Pinot-for-web

After an up-and-down spring, here in Colorado we’ve settled into a nice warm summer with even a bit of rain. Lovely growing weather. The tomatoes are really getting big in our bright sunshine, but somehow the lettuce still hasn’t bolted!

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