Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Pantry is Ready

Guest author: Susie Hill, Frederick County Master Gardener
This article originally appeared in the Frederick News Post
“Why does Grady have canned peaches in his closet?” my daughter asked. I’ve seen my kids stash stuff in their rooms before. Usually, it is some combination of the following: It comes in plastic and has artificial dye, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Stashing peaches? This was a refreshing change. I would like to stash peaches in my closet too, but the pantry is where they belong. For me, stocking the pantry with summer fare is a hobby. My first introduction to preserving the harvest, however, was quite different.
As a young adult, I worked as a literacy tutor in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky. There, tucked away in the hollows, food preservation was a way of life. Historically, a well-stocked pantry was essential to survival. It was there that I began to appreciate the art of preservation, and more importantly, to appreciate the people who were kind enough to instruct me.
As a literacy tutor, I visited the homes of women who were thrilled to learn to read and write — in their 60s. Gratitude overflowed from them and onto a dinner plate made especially for me. Everything was grown fresh and homemade. A typical summer meal might include fresh tomatoes, corn and green beans with skillet cornbread and jam. A winter meal might have pan-fried apples, canned peaches, potatoes, sauerkraut and biscuits with jewel-toned jelly.
Wanting to share knowledge with me, my favorite student, Cinda, taught me how to dry half-runner beans on the car hood and how to make drying racks for apple rings. She shared her methods for canning peaches and sauerkraut. But the most valuable thing I learned was the story behind why these literacy students were so good at feeding others. Cinda had grown up during the Great Depression. In the hollows of the mountains, many children had to drop out of school at a young age because their families needed them to help grow and preserve the crops. Polly, another student, was the eldest of nine children. Her father worked in the logging industry. He would head out on a train every Sunday evening and not return until Friday night. “I was out working every day from the time the sun came up, and I didn’t come home ’til the whippoorwills was awhippin’,” she would say. Without Polly, her family would have really suffered during the winter months.
For Polly and Cinda, the cost of feeding their families was their education. Fortunately, things turned around for them later in life. While I taught them how to read and write, they taught me an immense gratitude for a steady food supply. Cinda taught me the joy of growing, preserving, serving and sharing what you had grown with your own hands.
Recent frost has brought my pantry prep to a screeching halt. I have plenty of garlic, dried chilis, jams, sun-dried tomatoes, dried apricots and the like. Some of the peaches are missing, but at least I know where they are. Potatoes and squash are in the root cellar, but I certainly don’t have enough to get a family through a winter. Fortunately, my family is not reliant upon my ability to preserve the harvest, so we can survive a winter. I do these things in memory of my friends in Kentucky, because it is a great way to avoid doing boring chores, and because it brings me great joy.
I think part of the reason Grady made off with the peaches is because we made them together. Another reason is that they are just SO delicious that he was afraid that he wouldn’t get enough of them. Perhaps I will make sun-dried tomatoes with him next year. I’d be thrilled to find that under his bed rather than another candy wrapper.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Farewell Fall

Guest post by Kurt Jacobson

On my morning dog walk the grass was frosted silver from last night’s cold temperature. The parsley and other herbs seemed to hang on through the punishing cold but soon they too will succumb to a wintry death. So goes the seasons in a gardener’s life. The Caribbean Red Habanero gifted me with 24 orbs of hot-as-hell goodness before saying farewell. It was the star of the pepper show this year and even though it was late to the party it produced over fifty bright red peppers for my hot sauce making machine.
Soon I’ll rip out the withered remains of my summer crops and let the soil rest until February or March and then start digging it all up again, blending in compost for a new start. Until then I have home canned salsa, diced tomatoes and red habanero hot sauce to remind me of the fruits of the garden. It was a great year that saw my best green bean crop ever. Somehow even though I planted two dozen bush bean starts at the same time; they were staggered two weeks apart in maturing. That gave me over five weeks of good bean picking and eating. I don’t know why they grew at different times as they were only ten feet apart but I’d rather be lucky than good.

My zucchini and yellow squash did the best ever of the four years I’ve been gardening in Maryland. It could be due to the weather or due to the mushroom compost I lovingly blended into my raised garden beds? Either way as a no-spray, organic gardener I was thrilled to get several nice squash before the vine borers got the best of them in August.  Okra did the same for me this year as in past years by producing enough for 1-2 okra dishes each week from late June through September. 

Late summer plantings of arugula, beets, carrots and herbs had mixed results. The arugula did fantastic; while the beets did nothing more than raised their little heads then drooped. The carrots are still growing but when the killing frost comes I’ll pull the little orange spears and relish the last fresh carrots of the year. It will soon be time to clip the thyme and set it about the house drying for my herb cabinet. As a chef, there is nothing like cooking with my own home-grown herbs to add that special taste to soups, sauces, roasts and stews.

In many ways it was the most memorable of my four years of backyard veggie gardening. I had a neighborhood eleven year old boy take an interest in veggie gardening and loved teaching him what I know of growing your own. I gifted him one of my five raised beds and gave him about ten seed packages to choose from to plant. He chose three types of tomatoes, two types of lima beans and Italian parsley. He would come over every week or so in the beginning and we would work the whole garden together. I called him when the seedlings came up and he rushed over to see this new life he had planted. 
When we started harvesting I’d send him home each week with a basket of greens in June, and tomatoes, beans, and herbs throughout the summer. I didn’t see him much after school let out, just once every three weeks, but he was always happy to help and loved carrying home fresh produce from our garden. It wasn’t until a party at his house yesterday that I heard from his parents and grandparents how much my garden project changed him. They said he talked about our gardening often and started eating many more types of food never tried before this new gardening education. The big surprise was he liked all these new veggies and ate them with pleasure. It was good to hear just how positive this joint gardening project was for him and we made plans to go over my seed catalogs in December to design his plot for next year.

The other most memorable event of my summer gardening was the arrival of a Yellow Agriope spider. I was picking Sungold Tomatoes one morning and found myself staring at a big spider just inches from my face. I have never been fond of spiders but have a truce with them. If they don’t land, or crawl on me I let them be. With this particular visitor I sent a question for the UMD experts as to what it was and was it good for my garden. That was when I found out what type of spider it was and that it would be good for my garden. For days I would be extra careful not to disturb it when I picked the Sungolds, and even took such a liking to it that I started catching and tossing bugs into her web. It was great fun to watch her attack the bugs and spin a cocoon around them for a stored meal. I was sad when I came back from a trip in early September and she was gone. I suspect my neighbor who is allergic to bees and hates bugs in general killed the Agriope while watering my garden in my absence. Or maybe a bird got her? Either way it was a great experience and I believe she protected my garden well for the two months she was there.

As winter approaches I hope you all have fun planning your gardens for 2016 and don’t get too carried away with seed ordering this snowy season ahead of us. May we all have the best gardens ever next year and an early spring!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Grow100 2015 RESULTS!

Grow100 2015 RESULTS!

Unlike last year, we are not awarding prizes or winners, but just highlighting some cool photos and stories from participants' growing seasons. With that, let's proceed and check out some gardens!

Click here to read all Grow100 posts on this blog

Pam Hosimer, UME Master Gardener and the Montgomery County Public Library, Germantown Branch

Pam provided a detailed write-up, so I will quote her:

"This garden, in its second year, was a huge success! We expanded from 2 containers to 3 containers. I changed the soil mix. Last year it was 50% topsoil/50% leafgro in the whole container. This year it was 50% topsoil/50% Leafgro on the bottom 2/3 of the container with potting soil on the top 1/3 of the container. This worked much better.

Here is what I planted - Container #1 – PIZZA GARDEN ('Patio' Tomato, Italian Oregano, 'Arp' Rosemary, Prostrate Rosemary, 'Spicy Bush' Basil), Container #2 – SALSA GARDEN ('Patio' Tomato, Bush Cucumber, 'Jimmy Nardello' Sweet Pepper, 'Jalafuego' Jalapeno Hot Pepper), Container #3 – FRUIT SCENTED HERB GARDEN (Lemon Verbena, Lemon Balm, Pineapple Sage, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Basil, Cinnamon Basil). It all grew robustly and produced a wonderful crop of herbs and vegetables. 

"I used the garden as a successful teaching tool for the monthly kid’s garden program I ran at the library from June through October. The kids loved picking the vegetables, which we proudly donated to the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg. The staff and the public responded positively to the garden by stopping to look at it as they walked by, asking questions whenever I was out watering it, and not vandalizing the plants.

"The biggest challenge was getting the library staff and volunteers to water the garden on a regular basis. With all the rain we had in the spring they didn’t do much watering. Then they didn’t have a regular watering schedule in place when we stopped getting rain. Next it was hot and dry and no one was watering the plants and the plants stopped thriving. That was frustrating.

Montgomery County Derwood Demo Garden

The folks from the Derwood Demo garden sent in quite a bit of information, so I'll just quote them here:

"The Derwood Demonstration Garden’s 100 Square Foot Garden continued to demonstrate how to bring creativity to a small garden, incorporating many familiar and several unusual plants into the the international garden theme. In early summer, warm season crops typical of Asian, Latin American, French and Italian cuisine replaced the cool-season crops of the spring garden. Tomatoes, peppers, chilies, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatillos, beans, Mexican herbs and three types of basil highlighted the summer garden. Fall crops were planted in August, many of which were similar to those planted in the spring garden--Asian greens, carrots, chard, spinach, lettuces and other salad greens.

Cabbage worm damage led to heavy losses of our plantings of 'Lacinato' kale in the Italian garden. (We may have applied row cover too late, after cabbage moths had already laid eggs—lesson learned!) Flea beetles devastated our first planting of eggplant. Cucumber wilt, a bacterial infection carried by cucumber beetles, resulted in early removal of cucumber plants from the Asian bed. In late summer, harlequin bugs appeared in large numbers on turnips and other brassicas, and were partially controlled by hand-picking.

The wet and warm early summer gave rise to lots of fungal diseases. Basil downy mildew infected our Thai basil ‘Siam Queen,’ although the basil varieties ‘Purple Tetra’ and (alleged) partially-resistant Genovese variety ‘Eleonora’ both escaped infection. Early blight and Septoria leaf spot affected tomato plants. Constant removal of infected leaves helped keep the disease from advancing, and we had a successful tomato crop.

The biggest challenge was a rabbit or rabbits that took a particularly liking to the 100 Square Foot Garden, perhaps because of its location near an entry gate. The rabbit’s noshing made it difficult to grow bush beans until very late in the year and impossible to grow edamame, which was particularly disappointing in the Year of the Bean and Pea.

Tomatoes, peppers and chilies, carrots, and tomatillos were particularly successful crops for us this season.

We love this smiling Fava Bean plant plate from earlier in the season as well!

Paul DiCrispino - Baltimore County

Paul had a good crop of sugar snap peas and planted indeterminate tomatoes in the same space with success. He had success growing peppers in 5 gallon buckets, cucumbers in oak barrels, and broccoli in a box. 

Wow! Paul also grew potatoes in a cylinder.

David Marcovitz - Baltimore County

David faced a lot of challenges this year. The deer ate the leaves off 4 of his 6 zucchini plants just as they were starting to get some good zucchini. Something had been eating his cucumbers, and something got into the tomatoes even with deer protection. David even found some huge "parsley worms" (black swallowtail caterpillars) eating the parsley on his deck.

A caterpillar munching on parsley.

David had success with broccoli despite battling cabbage worms.

David tried some carrots and pole beans from seed this year, and both seemed to be growing nicely at the time of check-in.

Asparagus crowns which may yield some food next year.

So that's it for 2015!  Thanks to everyone who participated and sent in info and photos about their gardening season this year! We plan to move a lot of the great photos, tips, and stories from the past two years into a new "small-scale" section on the GIEI website.

The Grow It Eat It Team (MGs, staff, and faculty from all parts of Maryland) will be discussing the future of Grow100 at our December meeting. We expect that we may drop the 100-square foot garden theme and pursue some other subject and manner of interacting with our readers.  Perhaps something related to tomatoes, as 2016 is the Year of the Tomato!  Let us know if you have any ideas for a fun way that readers can send in their gardening exploits for us to share with you! (Comment below.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why I Love Fall Gardening

I love fall gardening, especially after the dry, hot months of August and September.  Most of the bugs of summer are long gone, although I'm still spraying BT for imported cabbage worm larva and hand picking Harlequin bugs.  The hard frost we had in mid-October sweetened up the kale and other brassicas, which I've been feeding the family on a regular basis.  Last week I picked a couple of heads cauliflower, some pak choi, broccoli and a bag of arugula.

The cauliflower was so mild, I ate half of one head raw while preparing dinner.  My cauliflower and other brassicas always have a milder in the fall versus the same varieties grown in the spring and maturing during warm weather.  

If you are in the neighborhood of Columbia Md., this Saturday stop in at Howard County Community College, Health Sciences building for a Healthy Eating Fest event sponsored by Transition Howard County. This link will take you to the the flyer for the event, registration and the .pdf files for the speakers.  I'm bringing some fresh vegetables from my garden for a taste competition against those purchased from a local grocery store.  I'm sure mind will win hands down.

While I picking Premium Crop broccoli, Snow Crown cauliflower, Late Dutch flat head cabbage, 

a couple varieties of pak choi, arugula and Dwarf Siberian kale, I have Jade Cross Brussels sprouts, beets, turnips and kohlrabi that haven't quite matured. If there are frost warnings issued, I cover the half hardy fall vegetables with row cover that I have staged beside the row.  

So if you have never tried a fall garden, try one next year.  The Maryland GIEI MGs regularly offer courses on fall vegetable gardening along with many other vegetable gardening classes.  To find classes near you, just go to the GIEI page and click on the take a class link and look through the county listings. While it's too late to start additional vegetable crops, Howard County's Fall Vegetable Gardening PowerPoint can be found here.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Turnip jack-o-lantern!

Got any big gnarly turnips hanging out in your garden, or have you discovered one at the farmer's market? Tired of carving pumpkins for Halloween? Historically minded? You may want to try a turnip jack-o-lantern!

Before pumpkins became the thing to make faces in, there was a long Celtic tradition of carving turnips - the largest vegetable available in the old country, I suppose. You can read some of the mythology behind this in the tale of Stingy Jack. Turnips take a bit more effort to carve than pumpkins, since the flesh is firmer - or so I hear, since I haven't done it myself.

But my mom has! Here is the pictorial history of Lucy Edwards and her turnip jack-o-lantern.

Scarlet Ohno Revival Turnip - grown a bit large for eating
The harvested turnip
Prepared for carving - looks like a huge heart
The carving begins
Partly hollow inside - this saves time!
The finished product! Note how the stem bases are left for "hair".
With a light placed underneath
Instructions for carving your own turnip are here. Or, if you like your advice in historical format, try this (and make sure you procure your turnip righteously and honestly).

The above turnip was spring-planted and grown in New Hampshire. Anyone here in MD managed to get a turnip to this size and keep it going till October?