Last week we drove up to Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in Grass Valley. I buy some seeds from them but mostly use them for soil amendments, cover crop seed, and fertilizers.
Came home with about 500 pounds of stuff including 200 pounds of winter rye. A 6-acre piece near my garden has come back into the family after several years of benign neglect. My middle son worked with me last year, but now is spending most of his time on this piece. When people ask me about starting an organic farm or garden I always strongly recommend starting with a season or two of cover cropping to build the soil and reduce the weed seed bank. So we’re actually going to practice what I preach on most of the 6 acres.
I’ve been getting a bit more rigorous about cover crops in my garden as well. About 8 beds got rye grass cover last winter and were very strong in tomato, winter squash, cukes, and long beans this summer.
I didn’t do much buckwheat cover this summer, but where I did I got a great crop in about 40 days. Heck, I had beds lay empty longer than that—which does no good at all. Quick summer cover crops are definitely on my to-do list for next spring and summer.
I’m also playing with mustards as a cover crop. Harvest a few baby greens before turning most of it under. The leaves are tender and break down pretty quickly. Next thing I want to try is rolling the mustard down and transplanting into the mulch instead of turning it under. I really need to work on weed suppression as opposed to hoeing, digging, pulling… Hand weeding is getting kind of old and I am too!
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.
Dozens of press releases cross my desk every day. Most get no more than a glance. But the folks at Bonnie Plants know how to grab my attention: photos of giant vegetables.
Since 1995, Bonnie Plants has sponsored a program that encourages elementary students to try their hands at vegetable gardening. Third-grade teachers sign up their classes (more info at bonnieplants.com), then Bonnie provides free transplants of a cabbage variety that is bred to grow to monstrous proportions. The kids do the rest. After harvest, Bonnie awards $1,000 scholarships for the best and the biggest, one winner in each state.
That’s great, but the best part of the electronic press release I got from Bonnie Plants are the smiles—happy faces that are dwarfed by the vegetables they are posing with. Olivia Utley and her plus-size cabbage are shown in the photo above. Below are a few more proud gardeners and the states they represent.
Lydia Robert, Connecticut
Jonathan Cunningham, Alabama
Ravin Williams, Illinois
Way to grow!
I came back from vacation at the end of August to find— surprise!—just a few overgrown pattypan squash, as you can see in the photo at left. Whew, those pattypans breed overnight and grow huge while you’re not looking. For a while I just begged everyone who came by to take some, but then inspiration struck and “Mrs. Scarecrow” was born. She’s a bit lazy, but she loves to chat to all the kids..
Now I have only 27 more overgrown squash left.
What a wonderful autumn we’re having (but I just have to add that it is too dry).
This was sitting on our little harvest table at the office yesterday, so I promptly picked it up and put it on display. A pretty pumpkin, what could be better? Then Doug, our Senior Editor, informed me that this was a Kumi Kumi, a winter squash, it’s meant to be cooked and eaten. I first made sure he wasn’t teasing me, as my lack of plant knowledge is a running joke around here. When I deduced he was serious, I decided to take it on as a project and cook something totally new to me. Ginger, our Marketing Assistant, suggested cooking it with brown sugar and butter. And I was off…
…until I had to cut it open. That thing was rock solid, and it took me three knives, three laughing roommates (I believe one person said it looked like I was murdering the squash), and about thirty minutes to crack it open. It looks so innocent, sitting up there, but it did NOT want to open up. Once it finally gave in, defeated, I scooped out the seeds and strings. Then I put it in a pan with brown sugar and butter.
It baked at 375° for about an hour, until I could stick my fork through it.
Then I just kind of looked at it, proud that I had managed to cook it, but confused about what to do next. Just eat it right out of the plant? That didn’t seem right. Chop it up? No, I’d had enough chopping for one night, thank you very much. So I pulled out my Top Chef (watching) skills and decided to make squash puree. I scooped out the cooked squash, put it in the food processor with some milk, cinnamon and more brown sugar.
It was quite delicious. Of course, adding butter and brown sugar to asparagus would probably make it taste good.