2/20 leeks, spinach
3/5 lettuce, radishes
4/3 carrots, brussel sprouts
4/22 more lettuce, carrots
And the April gardens, thus far (complete with garden cat):
The Hurricane is not much of a baby anymore, having just forsaken “Frozen” for a reinvigorated allegiance to Hello Kitty and Rainbow Dash. (That I know a Pretty Pony name frightens me terribly.)
At any rate, this gorgeous Tennessee weekend was a busy one. False Indigo seeds imported from Michigan now bookend our gorgeous Autumn Sage, just upstage from our overwintered Blanket Flowers. Perfect timing, as our daffodils have gasped their last and the tulips are about to say goodnight for the season. Snap dragons augment the perennial pansies and self-starting borage, coreopsis, and zinnias have been transplanted from last year’s flower bed (eventually this year’s tomato patch, if Burpee ever gets around to sending us our starts) into the treacherous front hill. Calling all bees!
Lest you think this blog is about pretty things, let me tell you about our beans.
We love beans. And, legendarily, POD has had a rough go of growing this magical fruit. Last year was okay, at best, if you count black-eyed peas as beans. Which I do. I really do. We managed a few great pesto/bean/pasta meals featuring the young pods and enjoyed a New Year’s Hoppin’ John feast from our quart of shelled dried peas, but our Royalty Purple suffered from storms and poor garden positioning and our Kentucky Wonders were not so wonderful.
So this year, because I had to spend money on at least one new gadget, we’re going to plant our pole beans around this shiny new leaning tower, a row of faithful cow peas (black-eyed peas) and lima beans already line the property line fence, and a strip of Scarlet Runner bean will, we hope, will multitask as beautiful and bountiful.
At any rate, the Hurricane and the newest addition to our feline family, Miranda, were pretty delighted to see this little box waiting for them this afternoon.
Moments before the skies opened with a tremendous crack, we managed to plant 25 bare root Flavorfest strawberries. Selected for their promised disease resistance, vigor, yield and adaptability, these gems looked perfect for our newly excavated front hill.
Naturally, I neglected to notice they’re best suited for zones 4-6 — so we’ll see how they deal with a zone 7 Nashville summer. Why can’t things work? Why can’t I read?
And that’s just fine.
Tennessee spring is gorgeous. After 20 years in Philly where the seasons went like this: Snowmageddon to blink-you-missed-it-spring to hotter than hell to freezing rain, I’m easy to please. This Zone 7, unlike our previous one, actually has seasons. And they’re all pretty spectacular.
The parsley and thyme are back in business, the tarragon is making a comeback and the oregano is spreading like kudzu.
Soil has been tilled and beds have started to sprout. Nearly 100 peas are popping along the north fence(planted mid-March), raspberry canes are standing tall, and the fence line is ready for cow peas. The north side of the house awaits the Hurricane’s tomato and cucumber selections (with an emergent seeding of collards to hold us over) while the east hill is naked in anticipation of its strawberries.
And the beds have not been forgotten, all of the following (with the exception of today’s additions) have sprouted.
February 20, 2016: Swiss chard
March 5, 2016: Arugula, lettuce
April 3: chard and lettuce augmentation
February 20: spinach
February 20: leeks
March 5: lettuce
March 5: watermelon radishes
April 4: brussel sprouts, carrots, and more lettuce
And here’s the best: our neighbor to the north, inspired by the Hurricane, has planted her first garden.
Now that this gardener writes posts and website copy for a living, she’s much less inclined to write for POD. It’s kind of like the carpenter’s house that’s in a constant state of construction. There’s only so many nails you can hammer and there are only so many words in a week.
Which is a shame, really, because now there’s no written record of my end-of-season success and failures. And unlike the Hurricane, my pre-occupied memory is a faulty beast.
At any rate, here are a couple of photos excavated from the over-stuffed memory of my phone. Bless technology and date-stamping.
Cauliflower: Ordered as starts from Burpee’s, these beauties were harvested in mid-December. Of the six, though, three fell victim to cabbage loopers and weird slimy heads, likely the work of some cold, wet weather and the aforesaid evil worms.
Cabbage: Also ordered as starts, these tiny potent heads were welcome additions to several burrito and gimbap nights. Harvested January 30, 2016.
Rutabagas: From seed. Yes, yes, yes.
Daikon radishes: Oh my, best things ever. Even if they’re bigger than my arm.
Carrots: These touchon carrots, plated rather late, provided an oh-so-welcome scavenger hunt for the Hurricane. Nothing says January 30 like a bowl full of sugar-sweet carrots. The Hurricane’s squeals of carrot digging delight? Priceless, as they say.
With any luck, these late bloomers will play a starring role this fall/winter. Next year, though, I’m hoping to have a little more time and patience for seeds. Organic cauliflower in December, pretty amazing. Cost-effective? Absolutely not.
So it finally happened. It got cold. For a minute. But sadly, just long enough to do in the last of the mighty 2015 tomato plants.
After producing seven gallons of grape tomatoes, countless salads, and scads of lunch-sized portions, we laid our dearly beloved front yard tomato to rest. Planted in April, on the very day we signed away most of our future income on a tiny cottage in Lockeland Springs, this big fella’ was a winner. He wasn’t anything particularly special: just a plain old Bonnie from Lowes, but man, respect.
He didn’t go down without a fight, naturally. So those And now that POD hails from the south, it’s time to give chow chow a shot, y’all. It’s seriously delicious. Trust. This, from a woman who despises sweet pickle relishes and green tomatoes. Go figure.
As canning inherently scares me, I followed Garden and Gun‘s (yeah, yeah, I know) and Ball’s FreshPreserving to the letter. Assuming, that is, six cups of diced green grape tomatoes equals six green tomatoes.
I’m liking Tennessee. A lot. Like, a lot a lot.
I preparation for the first killing frost, which stuck a week ago on November 22, POD’s beds received a pretty intense trimming. Leaving the rutabagas, carrots, and daikons to fend for themselves, a lovely harvest of lettuce, poblano chilies, zucchini, herbs, tomatoes, and flowers filled refrigerator shelves and pretty birthday vases.
Just in time for Thanksgiving. Thanks, Nashville.
It would figure that POD’s record tomato harvest occurred during a year when my stomach is less than amenable to tomatoes. Even so, nary a tomato has gone to waste — unless you count the scores of fruits that the *$@%)$! squirrels nibbled, and then left to rot on the vine. The Hurricane’s lunches haven’t been tomato-free since April and the freezer is stuffed with roasted red pepper sauce, tomato gravy, and three gallon bags of plum tomatoes.
Yet the tomatoes keep on coming.
And coming. Although they’re slowing down.
As canning tomatoes is evidently tantamount to jaywalking across Lower Broadway when the bachelorettes still think they can drive, I’ll refrain from posting my very non-expert canning instructions and instead say: without messing with the acid-to-tomato proportions, I sort of followed these recipes:
After it became clear that summer squash had made the Hurricane’s top-ten summer veggie list, we planted a second batch of zucchini soon after the first batch had tapped out. This time around, they occupy real estate formerly held by under-producing purple royal beans. Located at the edge of the bed — which seems to work well and allows them to drape down to the grass — they occupy about four square feet of space. The three young plants (seeded around 8/21) contributed to a delicious Moro side which accompanied the ridiculously chewy good burgers from Porter Road Butcher. And there are more to come. Both burgers and courgettes.
(Note: three plants may not be sufficient unto the day. The zucchini appear to take a little longer to mature in September than they did in July. And, well, three plants weren’t enough in July, either.)
Courgettes with Almonds
(proportions and ingredients customized to POD’s harvest, but adapted from Moro East) — feeds three as a small size
8 oz courgettes (AKA zucchini) topped, tailed, an sliced into thin rounds
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs blanched almonds (I’ve also used marcona almonds and pine nuts)
1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced
8-10 cherry or plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, halved, and seeded (optional) (confession: I have never blanched, peeled, and seeded a cherry tomato. Ever. I’m sure that the chefs would shudder, but come on, that’s crazycakes.)
1 tsp chopped mint (POD’s mint is recovering from a failed attempt at keeping it corralled in a container. Don’t worry, it’s gonna’ pull through, but I substituted fresh oregano last night and it worked like a charm.)
Toss the courgettes with the salt and place in a colander. Allow them to sit for at least 10 minutes over a draining board or sink, then pat dry with some paper towel.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the almonds and fry for a few minutes, until they just start to turn a pale pink-brown, then remove them with a slotted spoon and add the courgettes to the pan. (Keep on eye on the almonds as they will go from perfect to burned within seconds.) Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and half the mint and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, until very soft, sweet and starting to break down. Now return the almonds to the pan an cook for 5 minutes more, squashing any bits of tomato tomato that are too large for your liking. Add the remaining mint, season with salt and pepper and serve.
Then there was gravy. Frankies Spuntino style.
For years I struggled to make a decent tomato sauce. In went the onions, the garlic, the dried herbs(!), the carrots(!), the vinegar, the sugar, the whatever. I’m Dutch. I’m not supposed to make a good sauce.
And I didn’t.
And then I moved to Philly and discovered gravy. Not just any gravy, but my Italian friend’s grandma’s gravy. Which is damn fine. And simple. But I still couldn’t do it right. And then I discovered Frankies Spuntino. Yeah, it’s sauce, but is so much more. With so much less.
Adapted by POD from The Frankies Sputino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
10-20 cloves garlic
8-10 lbs fresh tomatoes (I used a combination of plum tomatoes, Mr. Stripy and yellow tomatoes –which made for a lovely-looking gravy. But Romas are the way to go.)
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp salt