Vegetable Garden/Compost

The Last Garden Tomato - December 2016

Indigo Blue BeautyIt hung from the ragged vine with blue shoulders shining in the late fall light. It wasn't the only one. I picked several. They were firm but unripe.I picked them all before tossing the vines and pulling out the stakes. These tomatoes, while not in my garden, were ones I had started from seed and given to my daughter, Emily. Indigo Blue Beauty. That about sums it up. For an heirloom tomato it is quite prolific. It has dark navy/black shoulders at a young age and as it matures they ripen to deep aubergine while the bottom of the tomato turns bright red.

Two weeks ago I went to my daughter's to help her with fall bulb planting and garden tidying. She lives about 20 miles east of me in the city of Cranston. Emily has created a small, suburban garden complete with a bit of lawn for play, containers for fun, vegetables for sustenance and a party pavilion. The party pavilion is transformed into a carport for winter. This garden is an oasis for a busy life. Emily's gardenShe has incorporated a few vegetables into her tiny plot of land. Tomatoes, eggplant, squash and one year she planted corn behind the shed. Only a dozen stalks but they were lovely if not overly productive. This year there were two or three tomato plants which I started from seed and gave to her. By the time November rolled around, bulb planting time, the vines were spent but there was still fruit hanging from the vines. I picked four firm tomatoes. Emily had had enough so I took them home to ripen on the counter. One by one three of the four tomatoes succumbed to rot. The fourth ripened.  One tomato is really not enough to share especially when the quality is unknown so I made the executive decision to eat it for lunch. It is said that the worst garden tomato is much more flavorful than the best store bought tomato. I believe that is true. This little beauty was divine. The flesh was still quite firm when it ripened and it resisted the knife just a bit as I sliced it for the plate.  I had little expectation of any true garden tomato flavor. The first bite was a revelation. I was transported back to the last warm days of summer as I tasted the tang and tartness only a well tended, garden fresh, hand picked tomato can possess. I wish there had been more to share but it is December, DECEMBER. As Christmas Carols played softly in the background, I ate that last tomato with a bit of burrata cheese, some olives and flatbread. Tomato lunchGardening is regional and in New England, the growing season is shorter than in many areas of the country and the world. Some people love to break the record for having the first tomato of the season. I am happy to have this last tomato of the season in New England, in December. The best things in life truly are free.


Tantalizing Tomatoes

Orange tomato
Hawaiian Pineapple

Has a gardening season ever flown by as fast as this one? No, that's not a pumpkin, yet. It is a tomato and the tomatoes tell the tale. They ripen during the hot days of August here in my garden and August is the beginning of the end.  The tomato vines look a bit dismal with the yellowing and spotting of leaves (no, I am not going to show you)  but they are laden with fruit and the fruit is perfect. For some reason I planted these 30 vines much too close together this year. I don't know what happened and can only offer the explanation that the snow did not leave the garden until mid-April which condensed the season's spring cleanup and rattled the brain of the head gardener. I plant mostly heirloom tomatoes starting them from seed in April. The vines are about six feet tall. Well they would be if the cages made by the Equipment Manager were six feet tall. As it is, they are tumbling and spilling down the sides of the cages. It is a jungle out there. A divine smelling jungle. I try to plant a variety of different tomatoes each year although there are favorites.

Pink Berkeley tomato
Pink Berkeley

'Mortgage Lifter' is one which I won't do without. It is delightfully acidic and huge. One slice for each BLT sandwich.  I have come to adore 'Pink Berkeley' for its dark green and red striped skin and great taste.


This year I have grown 'Copia' for the first time and it is also quite large and golden orange. It has a surprising 'punch' of flavor and very large fruit. The early tomatoes, 'Early Wonder' and 'Sioux' throw out a few small tomatoes in July but the bulk always ripens right along with the late tomatoes.

Indigo Blue Beauty
'Indigo Blue Beauty'

One other stand out favorite is 'Indigo Blue Beauty' which has a mantle of shading on its shoulders. It is a medium sized tomato with excellent flavor.

White Queen
'White Queen'

Paler than pale, 'White Queen', looks a bit insipid and drab. It has very soft skin, almost mushy but I decided I must at least taste it and was pleasantly surprised with the sharp, pungency of its flesh. There is consolation to hot days, dry weather and withering foliage when you have a table full of tomatoes. Table of tomatoesI believe that tomato flavor results from the 'terroir' of the soil in which the tomatoes are grown, much like wine. I have tried 'Brandywine' and they have had little flavor although it is the heirloom with the best press agent. That said, the worst tasting home grown tomato is always better than the best tasting grocery store tomato. The dark and cold days of January will come all too soon but here, for now it is tomato soup, tomato salad, tomato heaven.


Dog Days

CooperIs it possible that summer is on the wane? It is August already and this month has arrived with decidedly cooler temperatures, less humidity and, wait for it, corn! Almost everyone loves corn and no one more than Cooper pictured above. Every time I wander the garden he makes a dash to the corn patch and picks an ear usually with the stalk attached. I have no picture of him dragging that corn stalk and dismembering the ear of corn but here is the corn patch. CornI wish you could smell its sweetness. The smaller vegetable garden is also producing and a late crop, if one can call three rows a crop, of carrots is starting to emerge.  Vegetable garden
The pepper plants produced the first peppers and then a nice little hornworm stripped three of the plants before I could locate him. The hornworms are very well camouflaged among the stalks and stems of peppers and tomatoes.
We have picked swiss chard, yellow squash, a few cherry tomatoes, beets, dill, basil and cucumbers and there is much more coming along.  There is nothing better than home grown. Long BorderThe borders are full and lush with phlox at this time of year. The tall garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, is a rampant self-seeder and reverts back to its plain purple parentage. It is plain but pretty and oh so fragrant. GlobeSummer nights scented with phlox were the beginning of my lifelong garden dreams.  Its fragrance takes me back to my grandmother's garden. Do you have a color, fragrance or particular plant which brings back a childhood memory?

Digging Potatoes

DSC_0002When does digging potatoes go from being a chore to a score? When you involve a 3 year old, of course. Hailey came for her weekly visit this past Thursday and I told her we were going to the neglected garden to dig the potatoes. This statement was met with a bit of a blank stare and a bit of reluctance since the swing seemed like a better choice to her. Once we got to the forgotten row of potatoes which did grow despite mid-season neglect I pointed out to Hailey that we had to look for the now shriveled remnants of the vines among the nice green weeds. In went the fork, over went the soil, down went Hailey to her knees. She really loves to have soil under her nails. DSC_0004By the time I reached the third hill of potatoes and turned the soil I heard her shout 'Score'  as the tubers tumbled forth. Hearing a 3 year old cheer at the sight of potatoes just made me laugh right out loud. Who taught her 'score' and in what context? Certainly not finding potato treasures but that is perfectly in keeping with my thoughts on the subject. Sports hold little allure for me and other than my kid's forays into a bit of high school competition I have rarely cheered for a team. I am a rarity in a family of siblings whose lives revolve around the successes of the Boston Red Sox and the Patriots. I am content to hear the cheers of a 3 year old as the meager bounty of the potato patch unfolds. We all pick our passions. Or maybe they pick us. DSC_0007Have you dug your potatoes yet?

The Corn Thief

Morning fogIn August, the air is heavy and there is often a morning fog which rolls in from the lower field. It occurs occasionally and the fog leaves as quickly as it arrives. It lends a mystical and ethereal air to the garden. DSC_0003Colors seem a bit brighter but shapes and textures are more diffuse. I am enjoying the mistiness in the air as the clear, cool mornings of fall will soon be upon us.  DSC_0029August is also the time of sweet corn and ripening tomatoes. The tomatoes are taking their time (my fault) but they have promise. The promise of sweet corn has been realized. The EM loves corn. Well, I love it as well but he really loves it. Many summer evenings, when the corn is ripe and the air hangs heavy, we eat just corn for dinner outside on the patio. Corn 'bodaceous'The butter drips down the chin and all is right with the world. The corn season is short. We have found that we are not the only ones who love corn. We have discovered that we have a corn thief. The corn thief is often seen running frantically around and through the corn patch trying desperately to catch the fat rabbit who has the poor judgement to try and co-habitate in a garden with two yellow labs as guardians. Tucker is getting a bit old to chase rabbits but Cooper makes up for his lack of interest.  

Cooper runningWhen Cooper tires of the chase he grabs an ear of corn. Perhaps it is a consolation prize for missing that elusive rabbit. I would rather see the dregs of an ear of corn, often with the stalk lying there in the grass, than the remains of a rabbit. Cooper the corn thief
I have not actually seen him rip the stalk out of the ground but the evidence is there. I just don't have the heart to deny him a sweet ear of corn but it is a good thing he has a cute face and only takes one or two per day. What would you do with this corn thief?


A Ten Carrot Day

DSC_0003The garden in January is often covered in snow but not this year. While there is ice on the fish pond, mild weather has forced a few plants to throw flowers. Prunus budThe Prunus x 'Hally Jolivette' decided to entertain in December and the daffodils DSC_0010are showing green. The European ginger has retained its green leavesDSC_0004 and this little bulb is pushing up among the fallen maple leaves. DSC_0006Today my granddaughter, Hailey, wanted to walk in the garden and since there was no snow I noticed the carrot tops glowing green. DSC_0011I planted these carrots too late for fall harvest. I know they should be planted here in July but I ran out of time and just took a chance on sowing them later. They were planted about the second week of August.DSC_0013Today was a ten carrot day. They are small except for this one Hailey is holding. Hailey had great fun picking, washing and eating them. Is the love of gardening born in us or is it learned?     


Confessions - Vegetable Garden -2011

Veg garden 10

Vegetable garden - Last year in October
Confession time. I failed at keeping the vegetable garden in prime condition this summer. It has become a tangled mass of rampant, wild, twisted weeds. This slide into depravity happened gradually and almost imperceptibly and toward the end of the summer. I blame Irene. Irene arrived with a fury at the end of August. Irene tomatoesShe whipped the tomatoes into mush. She tangled the squash vines and saturated the ground. She sapped the energy of the gardener and stole the power for over a week. IMG_5264

Vegetable garden this year in October

For days, the EM, the dogs and I were at the mercy of the length of the days. After the first four days with no power, water or night lights we left for the wilds of Maine where 'off the grid' living is the norm. Swan Farm, Seboomook Lake, MaineA generator runs the shower and lights. The outhouse handles the daily essentials. There is a hot shower on demand. The comforts of a porcelain toilet and a hot shower should not be taken for granted. Irene did make me a bit more grateful in some respects. I digress, mostly because of the embarrassment of letting the gardens slide back to nature. In August I did plant a late crop of carrots. Carrots and swiss chardI found them this week. I also planted butter lettuce and swiss chard. Butterhead lettuceUnfazed by the weeds, they appeared after the weeding. I had a few fingerling potatoes left in the garden. Bounty! Fingerling potatoesIt felt like a prize when I uncovered them while pulling and tugging and neatening up the beds. There is more to do but now, with the fragrance of soil in my nostrils and the clean beds begging for a bit of compost, I am filled with the anticipation of next year's perfection in the vegtable garden. Clean garden bedIt will be productive and beautiful. Of course it will. Did you manage to keep all gardens neat and tidy this year? I vow to do so next year.   



Deadheading the Garlic

Garlic flower scapes
Between work and dinner I found time to head up to the vegetable garden, clippers in hand, and cut the scapes from the garlic plants.  The scapes are delicious when steamed, sauteed or pulverized into hummus and they really should be removed from the hardneck garlic when they start to curl and the flowers bulge. Scapes in a trug
You can check out some excellent recipes over at this website. Deadheading helps the bulb to enlarge as energy which could have been spent producing seeds is diverted to the roots.  I will have to find time to water these garlic plants. The soil in the vegetable garden dries out quickly as the beds are raised.  Maybe one more watering before the harvest in a few weeks.  The foliage has some slightly yellowing tips right now so it won't be too long before this bed is ready for a late crop of carrots or turnips.  This next picture shows the new cucumber fence tilted for the ultimate hanging of the anticipated fruit which should make for easier picking. I plan on planting lettuce under the tilt of the fence. I do need to thin the plants just a bit and I hope for a good sized crop of cucumbers. They taste so much better than those in the grocery store. I always wonder how long that store cucumber has been off the vine.  Veg garden end of JuneStay tuned on this.  Many things can go awry as with any plant and I have already noticed a few little chew marks on the leaves of the cucumber plants.  I couldn't find the culprits though. On another note, the very first Japanese beetle was spotted today which is a week earlier than usual. First Japanese beetle of 2011
There was just one but a gardener knows where there is one, there are many more to follow.  


In Pursuit of Parsnips

DSC_0073If New Englanders were to have to rely on local food in January, parsnips would be more popular.  Related to the carrot, Pastinaca sativa, is the less well know cousin one invites to dinner only if necessary.  Parsnips look like carrots but they are white and the flavor is unique.  They are best left in the ground until after a good freeze since the cold turns the carbohydrates into sugar giving them the honor of being the sweetest of root crops.  Parsnips are rich in potassium, folic acid, and fiber but I grew them because I wanted something to harvest in the middle of winter.  I used a crowbar to plant the seeds in a compost filled hole in May.  DSC_0005Parsnips are biennial and the seed must be fresh as it loses vigor quickly. The tops were lush and green in September.  DSC_0071In November, I covered the parsnip bed with twelve inches of straw to protect the ground from freezing so that winter harvest would be an option. DSC_0078Last week I decided to have some parsnips for lunch.  A nice roasted parsnip salad with mozzarella and olive oil would just hit the spot. It was time to take a walk to the garden. This was not as easy as it sounds.  There is two feet of snow on the ground.  The bottom eighteen inches have a hard crust which sits just below the new, powdery six inches of fresh snow.    The garden gate looked quite a bit lower as I approached it and the option was to shovel a three foot swarth so I could open the gate or simply climb over it.  DSC_0010I say simply but the last few months of inactivity have not kept this gardener limber or, it could possibly be that the heavy boots were just enough weight to keep the foot from swinging high over the gate.  It wasn't pretty and yoga is now on the list.  I made a less than graceful entrance into the garden in search of the burried parsnip covered mound which was the second from the last at the far end.  DSC_0012With all that snow, the mounds looked pretty similar.   I had only brought the garden fork with me thinking that would be enough.  DSC_0020Forks do not work well on snow but I was already committed so the fork broke up the hard crust and then the mittens went to work until they hit the straw.  The fork was employed to loosen and lift it to get at the parsnips.  No lunch has given me this much trouble in quite a while and it was a reminder to be thankful for the rows and rows of produce lined up and easy to pick at the grocery store.  DSC_0015Once the straw was lifted, there was an earthy pungence in the air. The fork easily plunged into the rich dark soil, the parsnips, although I admit they are not pretty, emerged from the depths. DSC_0018I have read that too much nitrogen fertilizer will cause the roots to fork and while I did use an organic fertilizer, perhaps a bit less would have yielded the long thick roots of perfection.  DSC_0019Perfect or not, the parsnips were carried to the house, cleaned and roasted.  DSC_0034-1Added to the salad, they were deliciously sweet with a bit of a nutty flavor.  There is much satisfaction in harvesting a vegetable in the middle of winter.  The EM does not really like parsnips.  Next year, there will be carrots planted in one of the other beds and covered just the same.  For now, I am planning the next meal with parsnips once my flexibility increases, strength returns, and I can get back to the garden.  I guess I need to eat a few more salads.  Have you ever planted parsnips? 


October tomatoes

It has been quite a few years since I picked tomatoes in October.  Last year there were very few fruit on the vines which succumbed to late blight.  This year, in spite of planting early, mid season, and late tomatoes, all the vines started to produce in the middle of July.  DSC_0053 'Early Wonder' was not early.  It was productive though as were all of the other tomatoes which I grew.  The only tomato I did not grow from seed was the cherry variety 'Sungold' which is most delicious.  One of my favorites is 'Mortgage Lifter' which is the biggest tomato in this basket.  'Brandy Boy' was also large in size. DSC_0020 I did post a tomato tasting here.  The last of the tomatoes were picked yesterday.  DSC_0109
It has been raining for a couple of days and prior to the rain there was a great deal of wind which caused the overburdened tomato cages to collapse.  DSC_0102
It is over.  It is time to plant winter rye in the tomato patch.  Last night's tomatoes were especially tasty.  No store bought tomato equals the flavor of the home grown.  There are many ways to serve tomatoes.  Sliced, sliced and paired with mozzarella and basil, or, Hailey's favorite way.  DSC_0019
Warm from the sun and eaten like an apple.  What is your favorite way to eat tomatoes?