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July 26th, 2012

Summer Update from Wisconsin

kathy_tnIn Wisconsin we’ve been sweating in above-average heat, and watering due to below-average rainfall, to say the least. I do have to say that the melon vines are more vigorous than any we’ve ever grown so I’m hoping we get a good crop.

yellow Romano-type bush bean 'Capitano'

yellow Romano-type bush bean 'Capitano'

We harvested the first ‘Capitano’ beans (left) and the flavor is better than I expected since bush varieties usually fall short in the flavor comparison to our pole beans.

The ‘Cherry Stuffer’ pepper has come in second place for earliest pepper, and we actually picked it red! The first in were ‘Garden Sunshine’ peppers, which we picked in the yellow phase. I can’t wait for them to turn color before picking them. We’re still waiting on the other peppers as well as the tomato varieties.

zukeAnd also the zucchinis, believe it or not. They got ignored and made it through blisteringly hot temperatures with no watering only because they were mulched. They’re starting to look like real zucchini plants again (right) and we should have zukes shortly.

speckled and streaked flowers of zinnia 'Pop Art Red & Yellow'

speckled and streaked flowers of zinnia 'Pop Art Red & Yellow'

I should also tell you that the zinnias (left) and salvias are blooming their heads off.

Well, back to eating salads, cucumber salsa, gazpacho, and grilled summer veggies (I love this time of year!) while keeping cool.  —Kathy Shaw, Neenah, Wisconsin


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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
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.


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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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August 31st, 2010

Test Garden Update: Kathy Shaw, Neenah, WI

kathyshawOne of my garden goals was realized this year. Due to the varieties grown and our above-average rain and warmth this year, we have achieved “Squash-henge,” the name our family has given to the pergola completely covered with squash and gourd vines. Surprisingly, most of the upright-growing squashes don’t have any powdery mildew even though we had over 12 inches of rain in July. The exception is the ‘Kumi Kumi’ squash we are testing this year—a bit of it is visible on the upper left foreground of the photo below.

I also am posting a picture of one night’s harvest a couple of weeks ago, below. Included in the picture are some of this year’s test varieties: green ‘Cajun Belle’ peppers, ‘Pinot Noir’ peppers, and ‘Midnight Lightning’ zucchini. We love to make “no-fry stir-fry” for supper. Make some couscous, cut up all the veggies like you would to stir-fry them, add the swelled couscous, and dress the mixture with a blend of olive oil, toasted sesame oil, garlic, ginger, soy, and lemon juice or whatever seasonings you like in your stir-fry. Let it sit and marinate for a half hour then eat. Yum! And no standing over a hot stove in the summer.


The ‘Cajun Belle’ peppers are a winner here. Good size for use at the green or lightly colored stage in a single serving salad, and when they get red and hot, they are a great addition to our salsas and other recipes where heat is welcome. They are not as hot as a jalapeño and the burn goes away quite quickly. They are prolific enough that we may try drying some red ones and making some chili powder out of them. The ‘Pinot Noir’ bells were very quick to take off, however they slowed way down after their first flush of fruit. I will probably grow these again since they were earlier than the other varieties I grow.

The ‘Midnight Lightning’ zucchini is another winner. This plant started producing earlier than any of our others and is still pumping out several zukes a week. The plant itself has stayed pretty compact for a summer squash too.

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July 22nd, 2010

Test Garden Update: Debbie Leung, Olympia, WA

DebbieLeungIt finally got hot in this corner of our country, up into the 90s. We’ll probably continue in the 70’s/80’s for a bit. The lettuces have been great. I sowed ‘Sweetie Baby Romaine’ indoors in early March and the ones I haven’t harvested yet are still holding their own. Two additional plantings are growing nicely.


‘Sea of Red’ leaf lettuce was planted with the ‘Sweetie Baby Romaine’ in early spring and is beautiful—very red where the sun penetrates, but green inside the head. It’s starting to bolt now. That’s the two of them in the photo at left. ‘Midnight Ruffles’ was sown in early May and June to test its purported bitterfree-ness in heat. It isn’t big enough yet to sample, but is quite beautiful.


I must have gotten the zucchinis mixed up, but good thing! I thought the ‘Cavilli’ zuke died and I had no more seeds to replant. I sowed more ‘Midnight Lightning’ so I’d have plenty of zukes to harvest LOL. But the early zuke plant that survived got big quickly and started producing really early, like by a couple weeks even in this year’s cool early summer (due to it being parthenocarpic?), and was a creamy light green color. Must be ‘Cavilli’! Tastes good, too, nice and creamy.

I think I’ve discovered the secret to gardening side-by-side with wild bunnies. For years, I’d brag that they weren’t a nuisance for me—until now. Why were my test bean leaves chewed to nubbins, and the test marigold leaves, also the zinnias, spinach, chard, and some of the lettuces? I found a few slugs, but not many and none where some of the damage was. Then it dawned on me: bunnies! I’d been negligent on keeping the grasses mowed, some getting really tall and thick, providing good bunny hiding places. No one has been spending hours every day in the garden and my dog has aged to the point of no longer being a threat. The secret? Eliminate hiding places and putter in the garden a lot!

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