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Archive for August, 2009

Collard Greens (Large)

Phew.  After posts detailing my garden’s tomatoes, root vegetables, nightshades and cucurbits, I am finally ready to close the loop on my summer round-up.  The remaining vegetables are mostly brassicas and herbs, with a few other randoms in the mix.

Collard Greens: I got one good harvest of collards early in the summer, which my southern friend cooked up into a delicious mass of slow-braised greens.  But then the whiteflies moved in, and the collards got covered in eggs and must.  I’ll wait and see if they bounce back in the fall, but right now I’m leaning towards not growing these again next year.

Kale: Ehh, I wasn’t really interested in harvesting the kale this summer – I think of it as more of a fall and winter vegetable.  The kale plants did okay, although they did eventually get a modest amount of whitefly affliction.  But the kale’s real test will be this fall, when I’m hoping it will be productive past the first frost.

Swiss Chard Harvest (Large)Swiss Chard: This leafy relative of the beet is my hero.  It produced big leaves with meaty stalks all summer long without bolting, and I’m told it will keep producing until late into the fall.  I love chard sauteed, in soups, in omelettes, on pizza, in anything, really.  It’s great.  If I grow any more of it, I will have way too much.  But somehow I feel compelled to plant more because it’s been so successful.

Basil: Another winner.  I planted Italian basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil, and all thrived in the heat.  I have a freezer full of pesto now, made from the mountains of excess basil that had started to bolt.  Next year I think I’ll plant about the same amount of basil, although I’d like to do a better job of staggering the plantings so that I don’t have such a boom-bust cycle.

Tarragon: I planted this fine French herb in a little pot, and it did fine, but I never really used it.  I like the flavor of tarragon, but somehow I never find myself making recipes that call for it.

Lemongrass: This was a dud, but I blame the supplier.  I ordered a lemongrass start through the mail, and it never divided out into more than the one original stalk.  But there was a local supplier of lemongrass starts at the farmers market back in the spring, and they looked a lot healthier.  So I might try this again next year.

Parsley: It’s impossible to screw up parsley.  This plant flourished, and now looks to be seeding itself for next year.  Hooray.

Thyme: Someone left a giant old thyme bush in the community garden’s compost pile, so I divided off a section of it and put it into my permanent herb collection.  It’s done great, and will easily survive the winter.

Rosemary: I am very much hoping my rosemary has gotten established enough to get through the winter.  Back in Boston my rosemary plants would always die in the cold.  But this plant has done well, and I put it in a corner of the garden where it’s okay if it becomes a giant bush.

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Vendors at the Dupont Circle farmers market often make dazzling displays of their produce.  Deep red cherries carpeting an entire table, baskets overflowing with green spinach, and gleaming piles of purple eggplants are common sights.  But faced with the sheer diversity of peppers present in this region in August, a mono-color display seems to be impossible.  When I went to the market this morning, mismatched peppers were piled up everywhere.  These spicy-sweet riots of color ended up being more beautiful, I think, than any of the more controlled displays.

Diverse hot peppers.  That's a lot capsaicin, there!

Diverse hot peppers. That's a lot capsaicin, there!

Purple Islands and other sweet peppers.

Purple Islands and other sweet peppers.

Jumbled bell peppers.

Jumbled bell peppers.

I love the contrast of the red bells with those ghostly pale sweet peppers.

I love the contrast of the red bells with those ghostly pale sweet peppers.

Sometimes the peppers themselves are multicolored.

Sometimes the peppers themselves are multicolored.

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The jalapenos in the background are medium to full-size fruit; the little button is just the start of one.

Alright, so I’ve reviewed all my tomatoes and all my root vegetables for the year.  And yet there are STILL too many veggies left for one more post.  I’ll start with the remaining members of the nightshade family, then move on to cucurbits.  Tomorrow I’ll finish up with brassicas and herbs.

Señorita Jalapeño Peppers: All my peppers did poorly this year, stunted by the spring rains I suppose.  But the Señoritas (a milder version of the jalapeño) managed to bulk up a bit by the end of the summer and produced a lot of peppers.  I think I’ll plant these again next year.

Bell Peppers: I had two varieties, California Wonder and Gourmet Orange.  They were severely stunted, and stayed that way.  Each produced exactly one miniature little bell pepper.  If I do bell peppers again next year, I need to keep the plants indoors longer or start them later.  Or maybe just buy someone else’s starts.  Or maybe give up on bell peppers altogether.

Cayennes: These were how I knew everything was truly stunted.  I’ve been growing cayennes and saving the seeds for three years now, and usually they produce two-and-a-half foot bushes with dozens of peppers apiece.  My cayennes this year were tiny and produced only a few peppers.  They also were a little choked by weeds.  But I have such a tradition of growing cayennes that I will have to grow them again next year.

Banana Pepper: Like the Señoritas, my banana pepper plant bounced back after a bad start and ended up producing several long yellow-green beauties.  I may try a different variety of non-bell sweet pepper next year, though.  People seem to love the Jimmy Nardello pepper, so I might try that.

Eggplants: I started one eggplant from seed, and it got stunted into oblivion.  I also ordered one eggplant start (variety: Hansel) through the mail.  It survived, but produced only two itty bitty fruits.  I think it’s pretty clear that I put the eggplants out too early, but my big question next year will be whether to try again.  High quality eggplants are relatively cheap at the market, so it makes less sense to use up a lot of space growing this fussy member of the nightshade family.

MSG_croppedMexican Sour Gherkins: What a star!  These unique little cucurbits were totally easy to start from seed, and did very well through all the weird weather we had this summer.  I had three vines, which quickly took over a fence with their tendrils (but still let plenty of light through).  Every week the vines produced handfuls of little miniature cucumbers, which were a fun snack and quite a novelty among my friends.  I will definitely grow these again.

Crookneck Summer Squash: These were easy enough to grow from seed, but sadly they succumbed to some disease or another after producing only two squashes.  Halved crookneck, with grill marks!True, the flavor was fantastic – far better than something from a grocery store.  But given how cheap squash is at the farmers market, I think I probably won’t try growing this again next year.

Zucchini: Same deal as the summer squash, only more so.  I got exactly one zucchini (zucchino?) from the two or three bushes on the zucchini hill, and then everything withered and died.  Maybe it was disease, maybe it was squash borer, I don’t really know.  But zucchini is plentiful and cheap at the market, so there’s no reason to take up a lot of space in my own garden with something that seems pretty vulnerable anyway.

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AH root veggies (Large)Yesterday I reviewed all the tomatoes I grew this year, and yet there are still so many other veggies that I can’t possible fit the remainder into one post.  So today I’ll tackle all the root vegetables. I’ll start with the alliums and move on to beets and carrots and potatoes.

Cipollini Onions: These have been a lot of fun to cook with (see my cipollini onion tart from earlier this week). I bought these and the next two onion varieties as onion starts from Territorial. The cipollinis grew well in a compact space. Given that these onions are expensive and hard to find, I get a lot out of growing them myself. I’ll do these again next year.

Leeks: I haven’t actually harvested any of my leeks yet, since they’re only now getting nice and fat. A disappointing number of the starts shriveled and died, but those that survived are looking nice. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll plant these again.

Red Torpedo Onions: A skinny, cute Italian variety, I only got these because the starts came as part of variety pack with the cipollinis and leeks. They’ve been alright. But I think I’d rather have a bigger, meatier onion next year.

Shallots: My shallots multiplied nicely, but the bulbs never got very big by the time the tops withered (which is when it’s time to dig them up). I love shallots, so I will definitely grow them again, but I might try a different variety. Does anyone know if they can be fall-planted like garlic?

Early Wonder Tall Top Beets: A classic red beet, with greens that are good in salads as well. I jumped the gun and pulled a lot of these beets up when they were still small. I pickled the few remaining beets, but haven’t eaten them yet. I will probably plant red beets again, either this variety or something else.

Golden BeetsGolden Beets: These took a long time to get big, but they were a real revelation when I finally got to eat them. I absolutely love their flavor. I will definitely plant lots and lots of these again. I think it would be totally fun to make a golden borscht with them.

Chioggia Beets: This is the “bullseye” beet they serve in trendy restaurants. They’re good, but I found I actually liked the true beet flavor of the other varieties a bit better. I might plant some Chioggias just to use up the seed I have left, but I may not buy more seed after that. Plus, I kind of hate having to say the word Chioggia. I feel pretentious if I pronounce it the Italian way, and uncultured if I pronounce it the American way.

Scarlet Nantes Carrots: Don’t let the name fool you, these are not red-colored carrots. These Nantes were supposed to get to be at least six inches long, but most of them stayed kind of stubby. But I think that has much more to do with my soil not being sifted enough. I liked the flavor of these carrots, although I could certainly be persuaded to try a different variety if anyone has suggestions.

Red Bliss Potatoes: I planted the sprouting remains of a Trader Joe’s potato variety pack waaay back in late winter, so I was able to dig up these potatoes very early in the summer. The Red Bliss performed well, producing many large and small potatoes with good skin and crisp flesh.

Red and Yellow Potatoes (Large)Yukon Gold Potatoes: These were also from the Trader Joe’s pack. I’d been told that this variety does poorly here, but mine did fairly well, given how few I planted. This seems to be a good variety for producing new potatoes that will hold me over until the fingerlings are ready.

Purple Potatoes: Total dud. This was the last variety from the Trader Joe’s pack, and even though I planted three or four sprouting pieces, I only got one tiny new potato out of it. The vines couldn’t really compete with the other varieties growing up around them, I guess.

La Ratte Fingerling Potatoes: These were delicious and productive and fun. They weren’t ready until late in the summer, since Moose Tubers doesn’t send out their seed potatoes until pretty late in the spring. But I will definitely plant these again. Like cipollini onions, fingerlings are expensive to buy and not always available, so it makes them a comparatively good thing to grow yourself.

A general note about root vegetables: they are SO easy, and so good. I’ve already made my feelings about roots known on this blog, but it’s worth reminding myself of their benefits. Next year I will probably take space away from some of the fussier vegetables and devote more space to roots.

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Summer Round-Up: Tomatoes

Dr Carolyn Yellow Cherry TomatoThere were too many vegetables in my garden to squeeze into one summary, so I’m starting off by taking a look back at my many tomato varieties. What worked? What failed? This assessment will help me when I start thinking about varieties to plant next year.

Dr. Carolyn Yellow Cherry: This heirloom cherry tomato was totally the star of my garden. It produced dozens of juicy yellow orbs and was surprisingly disease-resistant. Plus, my friends all agreed they had the best flavor. I will definitely plant this again next year – maybe I’ll do two plants, in fact.

Silvery Fir Tree: This early heirloom was a total non-starter. The plant, which I ordered through the mail, did very poorly in the spring rains, and had probably suffered from the journey as well. It shriveled up and died before it got even a foot high, though it did manage to produce a couple of fruits. But they got eaten by some pest or another. Maybe it could have flourished under better circumstances, but I’m not inclined to try again next year.

Red Currant: A teensy-fruited cherry tomato, this plant defied pruning and grew willy nilly all over its cage. It produced a huge number of little tomatoes, but I found the taste kind of boring and the skin too thick. Plus, every fruit seemed to burst open after it rained, without healing over as other cherry tomatoes tend to do. I’ll pass next year.

chocolate_cherry_tomato (Large)Chocolate Cherry: Such beautiful fruits, but so few of them. The maroon color and sultry heirloom taste were great, but the plant probably only produced about 10 tomatoes and half of them were lost to the birds. Still, I think if the plant hadn’t been crowded out by the neighboring Red Currant, it might have done better. I might try this one again.

Brandywine: Oh, the frustration. I know how delicious these heirlooms can be, since I’ve had them from the market. But I haven’t eaten a single one from my own plant. Squirrels or birds ate the first four or five tomatoes just before they got ripe. There are two green tomatoes on the vine right now, and I have rigged up protective gear around them. If they’re good, maybe next year I’ll grow one behind protective netting.

Roma: I put in three Roma tomato plants relatively late in the season. They haven’t done all that well, and are only now producing stunted little tomatoes. But I think it’s circumstantial. I might put in some Romas or San Marzanos or Amish Paste tomatoes next year. I want to grow some tomatoes that I can make sauce or sun-dried tomatoes with.

mystery tomato yellow (Large)Mystery Yellow: I never figured out what this funny yellow tomato was. Some suggested yellow pear cherry tomato, but they’re bigger than what you’d normally consider a cherry tomato. The plant was quite productive, although rainstorms damaged many of the fruits. If I can save some seeds from this year’s plant, I’ll grow it again next year.

Purple Calabash: I planted some seeds from last year’s tomatoes, which came from a plant I was given by Kathy of Skippy’s Vegetable Garden. But the plant got mostly choked out by weeds and hasn’t produced anything. I may or may not plant some of the extra seeds next year. I hear Purple Cherokee is a better dark tomato than Purple Calabash anyway.

Sweetie: A regular red cherry tomato. I’ve gotten some tomatoes from it, but they came awfully late and weren’t anything special. I’d like to get a Sweet Million red cherry tomato next year, which my mom has had good success with.

[UPDATE] Sun Gold: How could I have forgotten to write about these little guys??! These orange cherry tomatoes have been delicious and numerous. I bought it as a large start and so it started producing earlier than all my other cherry tomatoes. I love this variety, and definitely plan to plant it again next year.

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One Week Reminder…

Eat deservedly famous truffle fries and drink delicious wine with food bloggers at Poste, one week from today.

Food Blogger Happy Hour

We’ve got participation from all over the DC blog scene: Arugula Files, ModernDomestic, Internet Food Association, Capital Spice, Beets and Bonbons, The Indoor Garden(er), DC Blogs, and many many more who have piped up in comment sections on all these blogs (and right here on Gradually Greener!).

As of now, we have not quite figured out what to do if it rains.  We will repel any incoming storms through the sheer force of our love of al fresco drinking and dining!

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