Monday, June 28, 2010

Harvesting garlic

I should have mentioned in last week's email about harvesting that this is the season for harvesting garlic. Those of you who took a garlic from me last spring and put some bulbs in different places have noticed that they are turning brown. That tells you it is the time to pull them.

Actually, I'm a bit tardy on this. When I pulled one this weekend, the stem was so dry it broke! This makes it challenging to hang to dry the bulb, so I'm digging the others now, which is a bit more work than pulling.

The books say you should hang the garlic from their stems in the attic to dry out the bulbs, but I have a place in the kitchen where I can hang them. When they are dry, it is easy to remove the stems and fuzziness on the bottom of the root and put them in a cupboard to use -- or separate them into bulbs and put them in different places in the garden for next year.


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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Peas, Malabar, Broccoli, Collards, Basil

One of you wrote, apparently surprised, that some of his pea plants are dying. Yes, they usually start this time of year and are all gone by mid-July. Both the super-hot weather and the early tendency of everything would accelerate this. I picked as many as I could today and froze them, taking my solace in the tomatoes that are now plentiful for salads. I won't have nearly as many peas in my freezer as two years ago, but far more than last year.

The early summer demise of peas is why I like malabar spinach so much to replace them on the fences. One of you lamented that her malabar is only about an inch high. Yes, malabar spends a LONG time in infancy. Some of mine is two inches, but most has not gotten to that lofty height. When the weather stays hot, it will take off.

Yesterday and today the woodchuck (I assume) ate most of my broccoli plants' leaves. The plants hadn't begun to form heads yet, so I almost feel the woodchuck is welcome to them. However, what does it forebode? It intensifies the woodchuck-dread I feel this year. One plant has a head (more than an inch in diameter), and the woodchuck spared that one until I was inside this afternoon taking refuse with a (room) air conditioner. This evening I cut off a piece of an anti-woodchuck plant and lay it over the top of the struggling broccoli plant.

I might as well remove the other broccoli plants and hope that the garden centers can provide me more eggplant and pepper plants. Has anyone had success with broccoli this year? The only responses I've had to that question before were negative. Judy says it's been too hot, and she may well be right. That 90-degree spell in April may have done them in. They should have borne edible heads by now.

We gave lots more collards to Toni's Kitchen today. The woodchuck has nibbled at the chinese cabbage too, but not to devastate it. I think the same is true for lettuce, but I've been pretty greedy there too. The arugula is in, which will do for salads, but it's not like lettuce.

I heard an NPR feature on a basil disease that is plaguing NY. We should pick that and enjoy the flavoring and pesto now, and freeze as much of the latter as is available. The narrator said she picked hers in August last year instead of November to make pesto for winter. I can't imagine making a winter supply at one time. I've already begun, and will continue throughout the season, basil willing.

The early zucchini is wonderful. Win some, lose some.


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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Harvests: when, how, and preservation

I've spent an amazing amount of time harvesting and preserving in the past 24 hours, and I thought my practices might be of interest to others. Beans, peas, and raspberries need to be harvest "now" when they are ready.

I froze my 12th serving of Roma bush beans of 2010 this morning. They are growing as they never have before -- like the weeds! But such nice weeds. I remove strings if there (not many), and par boil them for 3 minutes. This is supposed to preserve vitamins better. Then they don't need much cooking when you serve them in winter. When I pull them out of the boiling water in their strainer container, I run it under cold water and let it cool for a few minutes. Then I run it under cold water again. After the third time, they are ready to put in ziplock bags in my kitchen refrigerator's freezer.

It won't be too late to plant bush beans for a couple of months. I planted these after the April 24 Open Garden because I wanted to show visitors my cold frame and its contents then. I started harvesting the beans last week, an incredibly quick growing season.

It's pretty obvious when to harvest beans, and they wait a couple of days, but peas are more challenging. I try to harvest sugar snaps when they are bulging, but not withered or dry. It means checking them over at least once a day these days. As I harvest, I pull down on the strings to remove some of them. Removing the rest of the strings before par-boiling is a much bigger job than for beans. Then I precede as for beans.

Raspberries need to be harvested when they have turned dark and come off the plant easily, but not TOO dark. They last only two days in the refrigerator, so picking raspberries takes lots of my summer time -- pleasantly! One should always nibble as one goes, of course.

I've never frozen raspberries before, but this morning I put some rolling separately in a container in the kitchen frig freezer, as my 8th grade friend told me last month she does. I'll then put them in a ziplock bag and see how many I actually use this winter. They roll out of the bag separately, Ann says.

I also made my first batch of pesto this morning and froze it. Last evening when I harvested the basil, I was startled to see that the basil around my pea-tomato circular fence was dead and dying. This morning I was even more startled to see it had risen from the dead. I guess basil doesn't like heat. The basil not far from the neighbor's fence was wonderful to harvest last evening. I gather now that basil likes some shade. I'm not sure how much.

However, tomato plants have popped up on my compost heap and under my apple tree. I think I'll let them live and see how well they thrive. I know from the front yard that tomatoes don't need nearly as much sun as advertised. If the newcomers bear...

A garden is full of surprises.


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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Zucchini, collards, and NJ wind power

Both sex therapies on my zucchini flowers were successful! I will harvest at least two zucchini in the next few days. Until two years ago I harvested my first zucchini on June 26, and last year I was surprised that it was June 21. This year I expect to have zucchini dinner on June 13.

Oddly enough, none of my broccolis are showing any signs of heading. Usually I harvest broccoli weeks before zucchini. Life is endlessly surprising.

We had our first full meal yesterday with snap peas as the vegetable. We're each eating a small tomato every day this week, which is early but pleasant. We have enormous quantities of collards, Chinese cabbage, and lettuce, so we're eating well. Other good news is that I still do have sugar snap vines.

I forward below first a message from Gray Russell, Montclair's Environmental Outreach Coordinator in response to my query about local wind power.


Montclair's Water Bureau employs two wind turbines which are small, helix-type generators. That means their blades look more like an egg-beater than a wind mill. They are really experimental, but serve as a good model for further wind technologies. Although these are small turbines, Montclair is one of the only towns in NJ with any wind power at all.

Of course, we have the beautiful 7.5-megawatt (MW) Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm in Atlantic City - visible from the Atlantic City Expressway (more than 30 million visitors see it every year) - which is the first coastal wind farm in the United States. It consists of five (5) 397-foot-tall wind turbines, each generating 1.5 MW of electricity. The project produces approximately 19 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which is enough emission-free energy to power over 2,000 homes. The electricity is used by both the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) Wastewater Treatment Plant, and delivered to the regional electric grid.

And the NJ BPU is studying plans for the nation's first off-shore wind farms, off the coast of NJ, which could host as many as 300 wind turbines and supply 3,000 megawatts - far more than a nuclear power plant - while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in the next decade.


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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Zucchini sex successful!

Or at least I think it was. Read on!

Earlier this week I realize that both my lead zucchini plants had female buds. The books all say that male flowers come before females and drop off. I found that to be true until last year, when I had three females before any males. The morning that the third female blossomed, I wrote an email titled, "Zucchini male needed!" and Ranae wrote back offering me help. I went to her home, couldn't rouse a human, but found a male flower on a squash plant. I ruthlessly plucked it, took it home to please my female, and -- lo -- had an early zucchini! Later Ranae wrote that her plant was a yellow squash, but it seems that intermarriage is
fine for summer squash.

When I saw those females early this week, I emailed Ranae and the closer neighbor who had helped me last year and asked if I could have blanket permission this year to kidnap their males if I had early females. Both were obliging. However, yesterday morning I had BOTH males and females on both plants. I gave the needed help, and it seems that both are growing instead of falling off the plant.

Too fast? Perhaps I should explain zucchini biology and humans' contribution to it. Each plant grows both male and female flowers. You
can tell the females before they blossom because they look slightly pregnant -- a little (very little!) zucchini is behind the bud, bulging the stem. The males look like more typical buds. When they blossom, they do so for only a few hours each in the early morning. The challenge is to get some pollen from the male to the female orifice. Worker bees typically perform this service by visiting first the male to eat whatever he offers, incidentally getting some pollen on her body, and then flying to the female. The bee probably has other motives than delivering the pollen to her, but she does that too. This works fine in mid-summer, but the bees are just beginning to fly around now.

I have different skills than a bee, although I can use my finger like a bee body for short hauls. More certain is to clip the male flower from his moorings, and rub him affectionately over the female. I did this yesterday -- twice! Today I THINK the zucchini are growing, which bodes a good dinner within a week. If I failed, that baby zucchini will soon wither and die, but both look promising today. If you too are hoping to have zucchini soon, I thought you would enjoy this tale.

Better news, which everyone can appreciate without explanation, is that Fred and I each had one sun gold tomato for dinner. Yum! Summer has arrived early, and I like the tomato part of it. It's interesting to note that the sweet-100s were planted earlier and get more sun, but they also have been exposed to more wind and the sun golds are next to the south-facing wall of our house, which is warmer. Maybe tomatoes need heat more than light.


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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Energy Independence - Yes, we can!

Last evening on Channel 13 I saw a feature on a town that decided in 1998 to become energy independent. Samso in Denmark has about 4000 residents and is on an island. It succeeded in a decade. Last evening's show pictured the many solar panels and wind mills.

I now want to share a paragraph I read this week:
Energy experts like physicist Daniel Goldstein (the former vice-provost of Caltech and author of "Out of Gas") tell us that within a decade all of energy for America's homes can be generated by solar power in an equivalent of the area of 80 square miles in our southwest deserts. Americans should be aware that the United States has been called, "the Persian Gulf of Wind." Two-thirds of our nation's needed electricity could be generated by the winds of North and South Dakota with the other third by the winds of Texas. But hydropower still accounts for the
majority of the so-called alternative energy today, with 7% of the energy produced.

["Tikkun" July-August, 2009, p. 56]

The article concludes with my sentiments: "As Amory Lovins famously says, "because saving energy is cheaper than making it, pollution is avoided not at a cost, but at a profit." It is time to create an electricity system for the United States that relies neither on fossil fuel nor nuclear power. We can do it starting now - yes we can!"

If Samso can generate all its power without fossil fuel or nuclear power, why not New Jersey? Our solar panels have been surprisingly financially satisfying. Does Montclair have any windmills nearby yet?


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Friday, June 4, 2010

Tomatoes and coming open gardens

Tomatoes are beginning gardeners' favorites. Garden tomatoes usually taste much better than those you buy, and they are preposterously easy to grow. One of you worried this week that a deer had come through for the first time (near the Upper Montclair shopping center!) and nipped off the tops of his tomatoes. Would they survive? I think so. Some books advocate actually "pinching off" tomatoes, because they grow back more fully. If someone removes your head, you won't grow a new one, but tomato plants are different. Eat their heads and they will grow more, probably more than one.

There is the tale that they need light. There must be truth to that, but I've had tomatoes volunteer on my compost heap and actually bear. More convincing is the tomato plant that volunteered in the front of my north-facing house. "You silly thing!" I said to it when I first saw it. "You won't get any decent sun here, and I've done nothing to enrich the soil." But it impudently kept growing, so I gave it a cage, and it bore tomatoes -- not as many as in the good soil of my garden in the sunny back yard, but nice.

This week I discovered it had more great-grandchildren (or were they great-great grandchildren?) than I had realized. I potted them up and put them on the right of my steps at 56 Gordonhurst Avenue. Jane brought some more, so if you are still tomato-plant-hungry, you can pick them up.

Are there any folks willing to open their gardens on the morning of July 10 or the afternoon of Sept. 11? First and second year gardens are especially welcome. We experienced gardens can be a bit intimidating, and people like to see what can be accomplished "soon."

I took off my floating cover this morning. The root crops are not germinating quickly where I reseeded, but they are thriving in the mini-plots where they did grow at the first sowing. Gardens are mysterious, like much of life.


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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Small gardens

After attending a wonderful memorial service for a wonderful uncle who was born in 1920, I spent last night with my little brother (now 6'2") in Providence and his family. They served an amazing salad with lettuce and a PEPPER from their home garden. Last year I learned how early tomatoes can be grown; this year it is peppers I now learn I must start much earlier with hope. That pepper was unbelievably tasty.

Of course, I wanted to see his amazing garden. He kept saying modestly that it was "very small." It is that. It is between his driveway and a wall "next" to the driveway. It is about 10 feet long, a yard wide at the shortest distance fanning out to about two yards wide at the longest. It has, as he said, only one pepper plant, which he was able to buy individually from some garden center. Along with the delicious pepper he has already picked, it has one over 2" long and another over an inch long. The sunlight comes down the driveway since on the other side is the house. I didn't know peppers could grow in midsummer with such little light. He also has some tomatoes and squash plants, but they are only hopefuls.

His lettuce is in two rows. When I pointed out a semi-empty spot between his bean plants and commented that the next crop of lettuce could be planted there when this one ends, he said that last year this type of lettuce was harvested all season long, so he didn't expect to replant.
Here, I've been telling you falsely that you have to replant every few weeks for a continuous harvest!
I asked what kind they were, and he hesitated. "Butter..." he said of the one with roundish green leaves. "Red sails" I guessed for the red one that has ruffled leaves. Today I confirmed it is available in the current Gurneys catalog separately. For many years I've been buying just "blends" so I get lots of types, and have lost track of the names, which I knew better before blends were available.

As we were driving from his home toward the superhighway, we passed a tomato garden between the sidewalk and curb! I don't think I've ever seen that before. This one already had small green tomatoes on at least one plant, large enough to be seen from my car. It reminded me of the statistic I've heard often enough to believe that Havana raises half its vegetables without the city limits. Americans are beginning in our cities!

I arrived home to a garden that is growing nicely with no obvious pest damage. Whew! I'm paranoid this year after last year's woodchuck devastation.


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