Friday, August 15, 2008

Garden slowdown

The Webmaster's Garden, morning of 8/5/08

The webmaster’s garden has been a pretty quiet place, lately. Sure, some of my veggies have been growing and maturing – I have pulled my shallots and most of my garlic, and I am starting to pull onions. We’ve had a side dish of green beans for dinner once, and there are a few more beans waiting to be picked. Unfortunately, my late start planting combined with the cool weather and torrential rains we’ve been having for the past month or so has not been conducive to plant growth. My tomato plants are smaller than normal and the splash back from the rain has done a number on their bottom leaves; my squash is coming along, but not quite as fast as I’d like it to grow; and, well, I just don’t want to talk about my puny cucumber plants.

Puny cucumber plants under the trellises. (Next year: hills!)

Amazingly, my peppers and eggplant are blooming and looking fairly lush. I think there’s a sweet spot in the garden where I planted most of those – the tomato plant nearest them is also quite vigorous. (So I’ll end up with an abundance of Schemmeig Striped tomatoes – which are hollow like peppers. Maybe I should fill them with bacon, shredded lettuce, croutons, mixed with a little mayo, and enjoy fresh BLTs that way.) I planted a few peppers on the other side of the garden and they just aren’t as big – it’s very odd. Next year: more compost, and somewhat fewer thunderstorms (please). It has been a great year for rainbows.

Busy bee pollinating a squash blossom

Thankfully this week some warm, sunny weather is forecasted – just in time for my vacation. I really hope it gives my tomato plants the jumpstart they need – I usually harvest the bulk of them from September into October anyway (for the past three years, my yard has not received a hard frost until mid-October, and last year it was on Halloween!). So, ever the optimist, I am still hoping for enough heirloom tomatoes so that I can make a big batch of canned salsa. Sure, they take a month to ripen, and right now I probably have enough greenies to make a few capresce salads when they ripen, but my plants will set more fruit.

Leeks, swiss chard, and peppers

OK, so maybe I’m being too optimistic. But that’s why I’m very lucky to work here at Johnny’s, where we have a farm and do product testing that often results in plenty of extra produce. Even though my home cucumber crop will probably be a bust (whatever my internal optimist says), I have been able to bring home enough cukes to fulfill my pickling obsession and fill my cupboard with enough homemade canned goods to last until next summer (even when I give some away as gifts).

Eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, oh my!

I made 19.5 pints of bread and butter pickles last weekend, and have received even more cukes to make dill pickles and probably another batch of B&Bs. Homemade sweet pickles are the way to go – bread and butter pickles aren’t as sugary as the store bought type, and have a wonderful flavor that always makes me think of summer. They’re sweet and sour, with sugar, vinegar, turmeric, mustard seed, onions and peppers melding with the cucumbers to create a sublime delicousness. Opening a jar of those in the winter and using them to liven up hot dogs and beans, or adding them to tuna salad (I know, it sounds crazy, but it is really yummy), or just nibbling a few out of the jar is one of life’s little pleasures. My family’s (secret) recipe is very similar to the Ball Blue Book of Canning recipe. I also use a couple of different dill pickle recipes from the BBB – it’s tough to go wrong there. Having a book on home canning is very handy, and having an up-to-date one is important, as canning techniques have changed over the years.

Bread and butter pickles, yum yum.

Well, another bright side of having vacation next week is that the garden is growing slowly, and I shouldn't have to deal with any pesky harvesting. Once I can the rest of my cucumbers, I can spend the week at the beach. I sure hope the rain stays away!

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