Failure in the Garden

Hubby and I went to the garden per usual Sunday afternoon and were saddened by the sight that greeted us.  Our beautiful corn stalks, the very ones I was asking about last week here, are gone.  Destroyed.

IMG_0693

IMG_0694

I was really disappointed.  Like, irrationally disappointed.  I was so looking forward to tasting corn I had grown myself! And we only had about 4 stalks to begin with, so I wasn’t going to have that much.

So, with a heavy heart I started looking around the garden and saw all the other things this year that haven’t gone so well.  Don’t get me wrong, for our first summer gardening ever, trying to grow a whole bunch of new things we’d never done before, I think we’ve done really well.  But a look at our failures:

  • Golden chard. I didn’t even take a picture of it today because it looks exactly the same way it did over a month ago.  Small and fragile. It’s like permanently stuck in an early state, and definitely doesn’t look very appetizing.
  • Strawberries. The three plants we got from Pigliavento early this spring didn’t fare too well.  We think the birds (or some other small animal) keeps taking the strawberries, because there are never any!  We see unripe ones, but they are always gone before we see them red and ripe.  Luckily, the alpine strawberry plant we bought at Honest Weight Co-op and planted in a pot on our deck has done fabulously, and we plan to transplant it to the garden before winter comes (because it won’t last in the pot over the winter).  We ate little alpine strawberries all summer long on our back deck, and apparently fed a local squirrel too (which entertained our kitties looking on jealously from the inside).
  • Melons. We started the melon plants in pots on our deck a little late this spring, and it took them a long time to get used to the garden.  They’ve only started flowering the last few weeks, and there’s no sign of any fruit.  Boo.  Clearly, nothing’s going to have time to grow before the first frost hits sometime next month.  K and I have realized we need to start the plants inside earlier in the year (we didn’t do that at all this year), but we’re unsure how to do that in our condo.

    Melon vines with flowers

    Melon vines with flowers

  • Garlic. We ended up with 6 bulbs of garlic from the transplants Terry gave us in the spring.  However, they didn’t like being moved and didn’t grow very big.  Puny little garlic, and it was very mild garlic too. We didn’t save any cloves to use to grow new garlic next year because I didn’t like it.
  • Zucchini. Well, really, they were a mixed bag.  The beginning zucchinis were great.  But I think insects started eating them and they died a quick death.
  • Green beans. Oh, woe are the green beans.  This was totally our fault.  They grew nice and thick and we started off with a great crop.  However, we picked a few quarts the first few weeks, then left it in the fridge and let them go bad.  Then the Mexican bean beatle got a hold of the leaves and killed the plant.  We didn’t use any insecticide (even natural) this year and boy, we learned to never do that again!  Luckily, today we dug up and threw out the plants, killed the insects and larvae by hand, and saved a few of the last green beans that were still there. (The Mexican bean beetle only eats the leaves, it doesn’t touch the actual green beans).  Tonight, I blanched the green beans and froze them (no more canning, I’m all canned out right now). We have enough for one meal this winter, no more.
Destruction

Destruction

So, those were our failures in the garden this summer.  Tomorrow I’ll go over our successes.  I continued to feel badly about my corn until I saw our neighbor Lev’s corn:

Lev's corn

Lev's corn

He has a lot more of it that hasn’t been destroyed yet, but it still looked pretty bad.  Oh, and we’re pretty sure squirrels were the culprits.  We saw one sitting on top of a sunflower in town today, looking pretty smug 🙂 .

Farmers Market Sunday

After a rainy two days, this morning turned out to be shyly sunny.  It looked cloudy and threatening early on, but by the time the Farmers Market was in full swing, the sun had come out to play.

Our booty for today.  I was sad because there weren’t any fairytale eggplant:

For this week

For this week

  • One delicious french baguette and 1 butter poppy danish from Our Daily Bread
  • 1 dozen eggs and 1lb of chicken (thighs and legs only)  from Coopers Ark Farm
  • 1/2 gallon reduced-fat milk from Battenkill Creamery
  • 1 canteloupe (ooh!) and 2 huge ears of sweet corn from Barber Farm
  • 4 nectarines and 5 plums from Maynard Farm
  • 1 small ball of fresh mozzarella and 8oz maple almond yogurt from Heamour Farm

Our farmers market takes place on the street in front of Schenectady City Hall.  Off one side is a street mall with lots of little local shops.  Previously, those shops were closed every Sunday (to tell you the truth, I have rarely seen them open) but they seem to finally be getting the hint that lots of people go to the Farmers Market on Sundays because I finally saw a big sign pointing people to check out the local shops.  K and I took a walk down the street mall.  There’s a really cute crepe place that was closed today (why? they could have done so well!), a couple of local book stores, a coffee shop, and lots of artsy/gift stores.  There was also one on New York folk art, which was really cool.  They had a couple of pieces of furniture and quilts and stuff, but I only ended up buying a $.50 postcard (yup, big spender I am).

Yup, that's what upstate NY looks like

Yup, that's what upstate NY looks like

It made me laugh.  It’s true for any rural area in the U.S., but it’s definitely true for upstate NY here.

That butter poppy danish was delicious! Sweet and seedy, it was K who wanted to try it, and I was a bit dubious, but I loved it!

The maple-almond yogurt was also yummy (we sampled it before we bought it) but we didn’t realize how expensive it was for only 8 oz.  $4.50!! OMG, insane.  Yea, we won’t be doing that again!

Canning Tomato Paste

There isn’t a lot out there on teh Interwebs about making and canning tomato paste.  My canning bible, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, doesn’t have a recipe for it, and it’s widely known you aren’t supposed to use your grandmother’s canning recipes anymore (or random web canning recipes) because of new food safety standards.

I’ve also found conflicting advice on canning tomatoes.  Some websites say tomatoes are high in acid, some say it’s questionable.  So that really wasn’t helpful.

Tomato paste is the base for many tomato-based meals, so I thought having some made of my own tomatoes on hand would be a great thing to have.  After going through the process, it is so time consuming, and you end up with so little for so many tomatoes, I would say the only time I would do this again is if I had made sauce, salsa, and anything else I wanted first and still had so many tomatoes, I needed something else to do with them.

5 lbs of tomatoes

5 lbs of tomatoes

I started with about FIVE POUNDS of tomatoes and ended up with 4 oz. of tomato paste.  Yea.  At one point, I almost gave up and added them to my hubby’s tomato sauce he was cooking, but I decided to see what I would have in the end.  Not much!  As you can see, all of my tomatoes were Green Zebras (plus one big Pineapple tomato) so I was going to end up with green tomato paste!

I first peeled and cored all the tomatos, which I’ve decided is a time consuming task in itself that I don’t really like.  Another reason to stop making tomato-stuff.  Afterwards, I stuck it all in the blender (I hadn’t even de-seeded yet) and gave it a whirl until it turned into a big mushy mess, full of lots of water.

Peeled and cored tomatoes

The blender nearly exploded with all the tomatoes

The blender nearly exploded with all the tomatoes

And then, it all went into a pot just big enough for all the tomatoes to touch the bottom.  It was full of water and I knew I had a long time ahead of me.  After one hour of cooking, I pressed the tomato mush through a mesh sieve to get out all the seeds, and then put it back in the pot to cook it down, adding 1 bay leaf and 1 clove of garlic.  You’re supposed to add 2 bay leaves, but I figured that was for double the amount of tomatoes I’d had.  I still put in the same amount of garlic though, because I like garlic!

The tomatoes disappeared to almost nothing

The tomatoes disappeared to almost nothing

And I cooked it down and cooked it down and cooked it down.  Good lord, it took FOREVER!!  Thank goodness it was 60 degrees and raining here because there is no way I’d want to make this over a hot stove on a hot summer day.  I was going to remove the garlic clove before I canned it, but it turned into mush and melted into the paste.  Oops.

Mounded tomato paste

Mounded tomato paste

Finished tomato paste

Finished tomato paste

I scraped it all together when it was able to mound on a spoon and smushed it into a little quarter pint jar we had bought to use for gifts.  Then I realized I was suppose to add lemon juice to the tomatoes (while in the jar, not beforehand). I searched the house fruitlessly but we had no lemon juice!  Luckily we had citric acid laying around (seriously, citric acid just laying around?  I can’t believe that sentence just came out – without the co-op I never would have even known what citric acid was.  By the way, it’s the outside sour stuff on Sour Patch Kids).  I looked up online and it says to use 1/2 teaspoon per quart of paste.  So I stuck 1/16 of a teaspoon in my little 4 ounce jar and then filled the rest of the jar to the brim with paste. Got that?  Put a little paste in, then your citric acid, then more paste.  I processed it in a boiling water processor for 45 minutes and ended up with this cute looking jar.

All that work for this

All that work for this

Yea, not worth all that work for this.  Oh well, live and learn.

Great Flats Pic This Week

August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009

Huffington Guest Blogger: Killing Your Own Meat

Wow, the below link is a fascinating article about getting your meat right from the source – raising your own chickens and killing them for dinner.  It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, namely, how much I don’t want to do it, but feel I should be willing to.

You are forewarned: this is a very introspective blog post for me. Some strong opinions, some soapboxing, some insecurity.  Don’t go any farther if you’re not interested. 😉

I feel very hypocritical about my carnivorous tendencies.  I can’t deny them, to a certain extent.  I’m a Puerto Rican who grew up in a very Puerto Rican household, which means more pork and chicken than you can shake a stick at.  (BTW, what does “shake a stick at” mean anyway? I’ve always wondered). Pernil was a common “event” meal – by which I mean, an event was any time we had more than immediate family in the house.

To this day, I can never order chicken when I go out. It’s too “common” to me – and when I was younger, we didn’t go out very much, so I always wanted to get something I wouldn’t get every day at home.  Steak, seafood – that was living!

Since taking my Animal Law class last year, and becoming vegetarian for about 6 months, I carry enormous guilt about those meat-eating tendencies.  I’ve tried to assuage them by at least forbearing on fast food and eating local meat, but in my head, it’s not enough.

Part of it is that I love pets.  My cats, and growing up we always had dogs – I would (obviously) never eat one of them.  How can I justify it to myself that they are “untouchable” but other animals are fair game?  One of my friends is vegan, and he has a quote on his Facebook page (not sure who said it) – “If you love animals called pets, why do you eat animals called dinner?”

Kinda sorta true.

Another friend of mine is a “vegetarian,” by which she defines it as refusing to eat anything she wouldn’t be able to kill herself.  For instance, she’s ok with eating fish occasionally (perhaps it depends on the fish).  Beef, she couldn’t do it, so she wouldn’t eat it.  Same thing with chickens.  I generally like that “standard.”

My problem is that, I try to live my life by the “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  I try to not be rude to people, but you better believe that if someone’s rude to me, I have no problem giving it right back to them.  Mmm…very much eye for an eye, huh?

So, in regards to that, I generally worry about my hypocrisy in eating meat for much the same reason as Goodman writes in her last line, “at the same time…what if robots descended upon earth and decided to farm us? I might not like it.”

No, I’m pretty darn sure I wouldn’t like it.  And that’s why I feel a pang of regret every time I take a bite (like of that delicious lamb we had Tuesday night).  Some people think animals were put on the earth just for us.  That’s fine for them.  I don’t happen to be one of those people.  I tend to think that the majority of people today (majority, not all) would become vegetarian if they were suddenly responsible for the killing of the animal that they ate.  At the very least, the amount of meat consumed would decrease dramatically.  It sure as hell would for me.

But at the same time, I don’t necessarily begrudge hunters who hunt for food (I definitely begrudge hunting for sport).  I just happen to think that many (again, not all) enjoy the kill.  I don’t mean they’re salivating over bloodlust.  But much like is described in the article here:

It’s not an easy thing to watch a chicken slaughter. While it may be common knowledge there’s post-mortem thrashing–ever heard of “like a chicken with it’s head cut off”?–seeing it live can be a bit gruesome. But unlike a public prisoner execution, we were there to celebrate the chicken’s life, and what it had to offer us. And what better way to experience death for the first time. There was no: “take that, you sucker!” No proving our cultural masculinity, nor prowess. Therese was as careful and as kind as could be as she cooed to the bird, and quick as a wink in her execution with the knife. There was no suffering or stress on the bird, and it died in a habitat it’s come to know quite well, with familiar smells and familiar views.

And I think that’s what I think of when hunting comes to mind.  Sure, you may eat that animal, but I tend to think that for hunters, there’s a certain joy in killing as well.  I don’t feel joy in death.  It may have to be done, but I would rather it be done like the way Native Americans supposedly used to do it, by praying for and thanking the animal for what it was about to give them.  Its life.

Am I weird in feeling that way? Probably. And obviously, I’m a big ol’ hypocrite because I have eaten meat much of this year.  But I’m not entirely comfortable, and maybe one day, I’ll change.

Killing Chickens at Home: Would You Do It?

Guest post by Makenna Goodman, Chelsea Green Publishing

Last night, we had fourteen people over for dinner. And they wanted chicken. Good thing we had some…but they were running around. And so it was–all in the name of well balanced meals–farm life came down to its grittiest.

I live and work on a farm in central Vermont, and there’s always family around. That means a lot of emotional turmoil (and joy, ehem), a lot of secretly chugging whiskey in the closet (not really, but really), and best of all–extra hands. No one visits without pitching in. And now that it’s late August, the farm work is at its peak. Harvesting, preserving food for winter, and chicken killing.

Read the rest at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/25/killing-chickens-at-home_n_268663.html

In The Garden This Week…

…I am running out of things to do with tomatoes!

Ok, not really. I suppose I could can stewed tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste, but between the tomato sauce we’re making (yes, making, this is taking multiple days, stay tuned) and the salsa we made and canned, and the tomatoes we throw into almost every meal lately, I’m looking for more things to do with them.  We got about 10 more pounds of tomatoes out of the garden this week.

CDCG sent around an email saying that they’re going to do inspections of all the garden plots for tomato and potato blight.  I’m still pretty sure we don’t have any (we didn’t plant any potatoes), as it supposedly devastates your crop of plants within 5 days, and we’re still pulling pounds of tomatoes out each week.  But even if we do, I feel like we got enough tomatoes out of it for the season already.

So, here’s what we took home from the garden this week.

Garden bounty

Garden bounty

A big bag full of tomatoes, a bunch of carrots from thinning the carrot patch, a sandwich bag stuffed full of parsley (to be used in our tomato sauce), and 2 cubanelle peppers.

The carrots have really grown since the last time we thinned them out.

It looks like a real carrot now!

It looks like a real carrot now!

And the two small bunches of parsley that looked like this on May 30th?

Curly parsley

Curly parsley

Yea…it’s turned into this behemoth:

Out of control curly parsley

Out of control curly parsley

So…to my farm girls out there – how do you know when corn is ready to be picked?  Because some of ours started “falling” outwards this week.  They look like this:

Is it ready?

Is it ready?

Instead of being straight up, it’s kind of fallen over a little.  So, should I pick it this weekend?

K tells me our brussels sprouts are finally..sprouting?

I don't see anything, but apparently hubby does

I don't see anything, but apparently hubby does

Do you see the tiny white dot in the “crook” of one of the plant leaves?  Apparently that white dot will become a brussel sprout.  In each crook, a sprout will form.  I’ll have to see it to believe it 🙂 But brussels sprouts are cold weather plants, so it has longer time to grow than my corn.

We left the garden looking in great condition this week, well, at least compared to most of this summer.  Hubby got out and learned how to use a real weedwhacker – a very scary tool if you ask me!  That little plastic whipper thing that goes ’round and ’round doesn’t seem like it should be able to cut through brush in seconds, but I’m scared to get too close to it.  He finally “mowed” the pathway to our plot, and the walkways between our beds.  He cleared up the dead sugarsnap pea plants and turned over the beds, I collected red lettuce seeds and then he mowed the spinach bed down too.  I can see beds again, lol!  Hopefully this weekend we’ll do more weeding and turning over of old beds in preparation for fall planting.

Weekend Wrap-up

The weekend is over, darn it, and I stil have so much to do, inside and outside the home.  However, I did get most of my To Do List done…berrying and jam is made, butter is finished, and the garden actually looks like a garden again.  More on the garden tomorrow.

Our weekly bounty from the Farmers market:

Market booty

Market booty

  • 1 sourdough french baguette
  • 1 loaf honey whole wheat bread
  • 2 half-gallons of reduced-fat milk (I plan on making lots of smoothies this week!)
  • 10 Fairytale eggplants from Barber Farm
  • 1 quart juicy peaches from Maynard Farm
  • 1lb of lamb from Mariaville Angus Farm
  • 3 ears of fresh sweet corn from Barber Farm

This week was a lesson in changing our planned menu to using what’s available in season and at the market.

  1. We planned on getting some trout from the local grocery store dinner Sunday night, but there was none, so we settled for halibut (no, it’s not a good compromise – fresh water fish to ocean fish that lives way more than 100 miles from where we are, but oh well.) We grilled up some of that delicious sweet corn to eat with it, and made a delicious raspberry/blackberry salsa-chutney to go on the fish.  Yum!
Raspberry-Blackberry Salsa/Chutney

Raspberry-Blackberry Salsa/Chutney

Fish, chutney and corn! (salad not pictured)

Fish, chutney and corn! (salad not pictured)

  1. 2.  We had planned to make another yummy pizza with homemade tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella bought at the market sometime this week, but the cheese lady was not there! I was really disappointed and we walked around trying to find a new meal to replace the pizza.  Perusing the market stalls, we came across this!
So cute!

So cute!

Are they not the cutest little things ever?  These are fairytale eggplant.  The vendor handed one over to us and told us to bite in.  It was soft, sweet, and very mild, so we bought 10.   For dinner tonight, we sauteed these little vegetables with carrots, green and cubanelle peppers I had just pulled out of our garden, onions that were still curing on my garage floor (don’t worry, they were well washed :)) and served it all over brown rice for a very healthy dinner.  I’m hoping they are at the farmers market again next week because I think it will be great sauteed with some ginger and garlic in a quasi-Asian recipe!

Veggie medley

Veggie medley