Saturday, August 27, 2011

the calm before the storm

Have you heard, we're having a hurricane here in the northeast.  From all the weather forecasts it's starting to sound like the apocalypse is coming.  Like everyone else, I'm worried about my house.  This is the first year we've lived here, and even though we had extreme winter weather this year, we've never experienced anything any where near this.  We are fortunate to have a generator (well water + no power = no drinking water OR flushing toilets) but it's never been tested, so I'm not even sure that it will work.  I'm going to pick up some fruit from my local farmer, and probably bake some muffins and other stuff to get us through the next few days.  Then we will just sit and wait.

This morning though, I headed out to my vegetable garden to pick anything that was at least a little bit ripe, hoping that it will finish up on my window on the sunny forecasted week post-hurricane.  Looking around at all of the unripe tomatoes (probably close to about 40 pounds I'd guess) I'm thinking there's a good chance that they will be on the ground when I next see them.  Plants are tough, yes there will be broken branches and dislodged fruit, but I'm hoping at least a little survives.  My first fall sowings are already in the ground, so hopefully no matter what Irene does it won't wash those little seedlings away.  If they don't make it, then I'll just start over.  Hope springs eternal when you're a gardener - there is just no other way.

Guess we're having swiss chard for dinner, and pesto

Stay safe everyone.  See you on the other side...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Organic or not? Which do you choose?

Do you buy organic produce?  If you don't because of the cost, do you worry about what the effects might be?  What if organic produce isn't all it's cracked up to be? Would you still buy it? The question of what constitutes healthy, safe food is something I've been thinking about for over 20 years.

Back in 1989 I was a freshman in college. Young and impressionable, a new friend suggested I read "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins. Written in 1987, this expose into the business of factory farming and new environmentalism was written years before it's time. If you've seen the recent film, Food, Inc.. you get the general idea of what the book is about. After waffling back and forth for a few months on the issue much to the dismay of my family (my grandparents owned a deli for goodness sake), I decided to become a vegetarian. Tweny-two years on, I'm still sticking to it.

This decision to change my eating habits set me on a course for what I do in my life now. I grow a lot of the vegetables for my family. I shop organic. I feed my kids sustainably raised hormone free meat, dairy and eggs and when they were babies I made their baby food out of organic produce even when it wasn't that affordable. It's been a growing process, these things didn't happen overnight. I'm pretty happy where we are now, I'd be even happier if child #2 would eat more vegetables, but I digress.

Things have changed a lot since 1989. Organic produce, well it's everywhere. It's in our markets and in our news. Have you heard of the "dirty dozen" list? The list of fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide exposure. I even have an app for my iPhone which keeps the list handy for when I struggle with is "local and seasonal" better than "organic from who knows where".

Today, I was catching up with one of my favorite blogs called The Garden Professors (it's for plant geeks, and I know most of you are way too cool for that.) It's written by several college professors, all quite respected in the horticulture world, one of whom is particularly known for debunking gardening myths. Imagine my confusion when I read his summary of a fairly recent scholarly work regarding pesticide exposure (or lack thereof) on conventional produce. Is it possible that conventional produce is not quite as bad as we have been led to believe?  The study seems to suggest that the pesticide levels on conventional produce are so negligible that it poses little or no risk to consumers.  Have the marketing geniuses behind the list (Environmental Working Group) made us afraid of our own shadow? Or is this newer research flawed or sponsored by an organization that has something to gain?  Lots of questions for the idea that "organic is better".  Here's the referenced study from the Journal of Toxicology.

Lest you think that I'm advocating that you stop buying organic, I'm not.  However, what you may or may not know about organic farming, is that organic farms spray pesticides too, they are just organic based.  For example, copper is a highly potent fungicide, and depending on it's mixture and delivery method can be 100% organic.  Copper in some forms can also be highly caustic.   So in other words, just because it's organic doesn't mean it's "safe".  I'll touch on this more in an upcoming post, as it's a topic that surprises many people.

My family and I are very fortunate where we live, that we have access to small family farms for about 7-8 months out of the year.  Apple season has just begun here in the northeast, which means through November at least - all the apples I buy will be local (like 1 mile away for the most part), but not organic.  While the local vs. organic debate is still on my mind, this study provokes even more questions for me than it provides answers.  I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, August 19, 2011

one more time...

So it seems that the whole male/female flower thing on squash plants continues to perplex people.  I ran into a friend the other day, who happens to be a chef.  He asked me how he could tell the male flowers from the female, to avoid picking the females (the ones that will turn into a squash).  The male flowers only bloom for one day, in the morning.  Once they start to fade they are perfect for picking and stuffing.  So I'm going to make it easy, without a botany lesson...

Bloomed this morning

It's a boy!

Of course in the last few days there has not been a single female squash flower blooming in my garden. Most likely this is because I was complaining about this squash plant the other day and now Mother Nature is punishing me.  This is a cucumber female flower, so you'll get the idea.

Speaking of the dreaded jumbo patty pan squash, I managed to turn it into this (sauteed with chick peas and onions) and now I'm not complaining so much anymore.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thanks to the ladies at Garden Rant for posting this yesterday.

I know most of you won't find it funny, but trust me it is...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

just when I thought it was over, there are more cucumbers

My how things can change in just a short amount of time, from this....

to this....

I think anyone who has a vegetable garden suffers from the same affliction.  We all over plant "just in case".  Even when you know what you are doing, there are so many variables that are just out of your control.  Weather conditions, fungus, insects, pollination issues, sudden death for unknown reasons - you really have no choice but to over do it.   A problem follows with all that over planting though - every season you will have at least one crop that does so well you will be begging others to take it off your hands.  This year it's cucumbers here at the homestead.  I'm not sure how my cucumber plants don't have powdery mildew, which slows them down, by mid-August.  That's practically unheard of in the Northeast, but they don't.  They are also still blooming and reproducing like crazy.

I've already harvested 18 pounds for consumption by my family and friends, plus I've made pickles twice.  I was so relieved when a blog post from the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association arrived in my inbox yesterday about an organization I knew nothing about. seeks to connect backyard gardeners and small farmers with local food pantries, where you can drop off your excess veggies. Stuff that is still good enough for your family, but you just can't consume fast enough.

Today my daughter and I will be dropping off 32 pounds of cucumbers (a good lesson for the pre-teen as well) to Operation Hope in Fairfield, CT.  Our organically grown cucumbers will be distributed to their clients through their food pantry.

I actually harvested 36 pounds this morning, 4 I'll keep to make one more batch of pickles.  Brings our grand total on cucumbers so far this year to 54 pounds. Crazy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

mix up in the nursery?

So back in the spring, I picked up a squash transplant at the local nursery to fill a hole I had in my vegetable garden.  I thought I was planting mini patty pan squash. So small you can hold a couple in your hand, and so small that you only need to cut off the end and just saute.  One of the easiest things to prepare in the squash family.  I'd show you a picture if I had one, but I don't.  That little plant tag that was in the pot was wrong.  Instead I have these...

Big patty pan squash, anyone have any ideas what to do with them?

Mix ups (understandably) happen.  The plants look identical, as do the tiny seeds - but I'm still annoyed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

all hell is breaking loose in my garden

And I'm not really doing anything about it.

I've reached that August slump (happens every year) and the plants have taken over  a la Little Shop of Horrors.  Weeds, who cares about weeds?  It's too hot to be on hands and knees for hours picking them all out.  I'll recover sometime soon, clean up things a bit and get the fall sowings in, but for right now I'm surrendering.

My tallest tomato plant tops out at 7 feet 4 inches this morning, and yes there are flowers all the way at the top.  And the race is on to see which will ripen first.  Right now it's a dead heat between Green Zebras (one of my favorite heirlooms) and Sweet 100's (great cherry tomatoes).

I've got cucumbers coming out of my ears, and after 2 rounds of making and canning pickles I'm giving them away to anyone who will take them.  The vines are on the loose, I've given up trying to tie them up. I'll be honest, it looks like a mess, but I love it anyway.  There is something about when all those formal rows and neat little seedlings breaking free that really makes me happy.

next up, I guess I'll be making salsa