Harvest tally

854 cucumbers

End of summer melons, pumpkins and squash

11 pounds potatoes

251 pounds tomatoes

25 watermelons

31 cantaloupes

49 pumpkins

4 pounds jalapeno peppers

Small amounts of carrots, kale, green beans, basil and onions

In the cupboard, fridge and freezer:

Edamame

29 gallons pickles

3 quarts frozen kale

4 quarts dried tomatoes

14 pints & 15 quarts salsa

3 quarts dilly beans

5 quarts frozen roasted tomatoes

Some critter is getting into the garden and nibbling on the squash

1 quart frozen pesto

6 pints pickled hot peppers

= not enough time to write blog posts.

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Testing recipes

Much of our cooking these days is focused on testing recipes for the wedding. On Saturday we made broiled chicken, coleslaw and potatoes — all three are dishes we plan to serve at the wedding.

We cooked the chicken, which my parents raised this summer, loosely based on suggestions in The New Best Recipe cookbook.

A rooster, just over seven weeks old and big enough for the slaughterhouse

On Friday we started brining the bird, which was pre-cut into legs, breasts, wings and back, in a solution of 1/2 cup salt to 2 quarts water to 1 tsp. dried rosemary. Almost 24 hours later we broiled the chicken until a thermometer stuck inside the breast read 160 degrees (around 30 minutes). The end result was a little too salty, but otherwise juicy and delicious.

We simply cubed the potatoes and cooked them in the bottom of the broiler pan under the chicken. The drippings from the cooking bird made them greasy and delicious. We haven’t decided whether we’ll cook the potatoes this way, make mashed potatoes, or both.

We’ve been trying out different cole slaw recipes trying to find one we like, preferably without mayonnaise. Last weekend we tried Asian cabbage slaw from the Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd cookbook, but we found it somewhat dull. This weekend we tried a recipe I got from my mom for a Swedish slaw. We mixed shredded cabbage with onions, green peppers and carrots then marinated the vegetables in a very simple sauce of 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 3/4 cup canola oil, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tsp dry mustard and 1 T salt. We like this recipe quite a bit, and it’s very easy to make.

Lots of tomatoes!

We also made some mozzarella this weekend. We plan to have fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil as one of our appetizers. We’ll make more mozzarella and other cheeses gradually from now until the wedding. Read more in a guest post Andy plans to write about cheese making.

Andy making salsa

In other exciting news, we picked a delicious yellow watermelon this weekend. The soybeans are forming small furry pods. We picked our first green beans, and we have tons of tomatoes, which we’ve been drying and using to make canned salsa. We finally pulled out the first cucumber crop, but we have a second crop that will be ready soon. The carrots, corn and squash are all looking great.

We still have lots of pickles in the fridge. If you want to give them a try, let us know. We’re selling them for $20/gallon, plus a $2 deposit on the jar. For those in the Portland area, you can pick them up at the farmers market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but you have to order them first. Since we don’t have a certified kitchen, we can only sell our pickles under the table.

Late summer evenings in the garden

I love later summer evenings.

Andy & I in a late summer field. (Photo copyright Sarah Moore Photography)

The crickets hum as brown seed heads of grass wave in the breeze. There’s a coolness to the air – just enough to wear long sleeves. The light is soft and warm, covering the garden with a glow.

Our garden is tucked back away from the road, surrounded by a field and then woods. It’s a peaceful place. We drive up a hill to get to it. As we crest the hill, we look down on our little square of vegetables in the middle of a field of grass, oats, clover and low bush blueberries. I’m always excited to see how it has changed since the last time we were there.

On this evening I kneel in soft clover pathways and pull weeds from the carrots and beets. Finally, after a long day at work, I can let my mind wander. When I’m tired and grumpy, I always feel better by doing a little work and seeing what we have created. I hope I never lose the feeling of gardening as a miracle of nature.

Us in the corn. (Photo copyright Sarah Moore Photography)

Us on our truck. (Photo copyright Sarah Moore Photography)

Slow down melons! Speed up cabbage!

We’ve switched from trying to figure out what’s eating our crops to trying to determine when we can eat them. This is not as easy as it might seem.

It’s easy to know when to pick and eat tomatoes and cucumbers and kale, but melons and potatoes are a challenge. Andy has been researching how to tell when melons are ripe. He found a whole list of signs to look for, including raised ridges running from end to end, dead tendrils opposite the fruit, yellow coloring underneath and a tough rind. I simply knock on them, but they all sound hollow to me. We picked and ate one watermelon, but it was definitely not ready. This is good news. We’d rather everything waits until the end of September to ripen.

The potatoes are a challenge because our Yukon Gold plants have completely died off and the Russets aren’t far behind. Right now we’re leaving the potatoes in the ground because we don’t have a dark, 40-degree space where we can store them (we so look forward to having a root cellar some day). We’ll keep checking on the potatoes to see if they are doing okay in the ground.

We planted our short season crops recently – lettuce, peas and hakurei salad turnips – which we hope will be ready just in time for the wedding. Since it’s been dry, we’ve been watering these new seedlings every few days.

Our wedding website has a countdown on it. Every time I look at it, I’m surprised by how soon we’re getting married. I am so incredibly thrilled to marry Andy. We’re writing our own vows, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to say. I often sit back and realize that I’m more in love with him than ever before, and each time I don’t think it possible to fall even deeper in love.

With the excitement, though, comes stress. It’s a lot of work to plan a wedding. We’ve spread out the planning over time, and we’ve delegated some tasks, but I still feel overwhelmed sometimes. Andy’s good at convincing me that everything will work out fine in the end. Also, I’m very aware of the fact that the point is to enjoy the wedding, including the planning (as much as possible). I try not to stress out too much.

Planning the wedding has been a process of discarding preconceptions of what a wedding “should” be like. In the beginning I thought we needed to hire a caterer. I thought we needed to rent nice dishes. I thought we should send out paper invitations and give everyone a wedding favor.

As we’ve planned the wedding, though, we’ve discarded traditions that we don’t see a purpose for. We decided that, with our friends and family, we can cook the wedding dinner. We don’t have to follow fancy recipes that take hours to complete. Fresh ingredients speak for themselves.

Each step of the way we’ve assessed what’s really important. Making a budget helped us prioritize and throw away the idea of renting dishes and sending invitations. Instead, we’ll use the plastic summer camp dishes and we emailed an invitation I made in Publisher.

We’ve focused in on what’s really important to us, which is spending time with people we care about and being intimately involved in our wedding dinner, from seed to plate.

P.S. Sorry I haven’t posted photos lately. My camera died after falling in the Saco River during my bachelorette party. But Sarah Moore is being kind enough to take photos of us and the garden a couple of times this summer, so maybe I’ll post some of her photos.

Family, community and dill pickles

I really do love pickles, but that’s not the only reason I make them. I also make pickles to feel connected to my heritage.

My recipe for half sour kosher dill pickles comes from my great grandmother, Rebecca Eisner, and maybe it’s been passed down for generations before that. I love to imagine my ancestors eating the same pickles before they left Europe for America, before their last name was changed from Dosgozsky (I’m not sure about the spelling) to Davis at Ellis Island, before a quarter of the family tree was decimated by the Holocaust.

Rebecca Eisner's daughter (my nana) and me

I’ve always been interested in my family’s history, and I believe that where my ancestors have been and what they’ve lived through has shaped who I am today. Typical of our mobile society, I grew up a several hour drive away from any family except my parents and brother. It was far enough that I didn’t see them all the time. None of my grandparents are alive now, and my extended family consists of one aunt, one uncle and two cousins. Really, that’s it, except for a great aunt in Pennsylvania I’ve met once. It’s remarkable the difference between my family and Andy’s. I think his family takes up a third of our wedding guest list.

When I was living in Costa Rica, I was struck by the large size and closeness of families in my small town. Extended families lived next door to or across town from each other. There was no option of forgetting where one came from. Everyone in town knew everyone else since birth. No one was anonymous.

In Costa Rica I thought a lot about family and community. Sometimes I felt sad that I didn’t have the kind of close extended family that I saw around me. But then I realized that I did have an extended family. They aren’t related to me by blood, but they’ve watched me grow up.

They’re called the garden group. It started at least 16 years ago when my parents and several other families decided to get  together to help each other out in their gardens. Ever since, the garden group has gathered at a different house each month on a Sunday to work outdoors and then share a potluck lunch.

The garden group has been gathering for work, fun and food for at least 16 years

The garden group has weathered challenging times and experienced joy. Children have grown up. Hair has grayed. Some families have left and others have joined. But it’s always the same – mutual support then energetic conversation over delicious food.

It’s a simple model I think many others could follow. One of my greatest hopes is that when Andy and I settle down we can find a group of friends like my family has found in the garden group.

Pickles for sale!

We planted a few too many cucumbers, and now we are swimming in pickles. Does anyone want to buy a gallon of half sour kosher dill pickles? We’re selling them for $20, with a $2 deposit on the glass jar. They need to be refrigerated. I’ll be in Portland August 6-8 and could deliver them to folks there. If you’re anywhere near Washington, Maine, you could pick them up from us here. They’re delicious! Read more in my next post.

Pickles

Pest report

All we’re harvesting this time of year is bugs. Well, that’s not entirely true. We have picked kale and cucumbers and dug a few potatoes just to make sure that they are there. But the majority of what we’re doing is dealing with pests.

Eric Sideman writes a periodic pest report for MOFGA. We get a lot of good information from him. Here’s our pest report, or here’s what we’ve been able to identify so far…

We first started seeing Colorado potato beetles two to three weeks ago. I’ve always hated potato beetles, especially the juveniles. They’re so slimy and gross. Instead of squishing them, this year we’ve gotten great satisfaction out of feeding them to the chickens. At first the chickens didn’t really know what to do with them. We think they were thrown off by food that moves. Soon they started gobbling the bugs down.

We’ve been picking the potato beetles regularly (two or three times a week). We still find some every time, but we see very few adults. They are doing damage to the potato plants, but we’re optimistic that we’re staying on top of them.

Potatoes probably killed by leaf hoppers

Even with the beetles, the potatoes were doing great until the leaf hoppers moved in. These small, green bugs suck the juice out of plants and inject a toxin that clogs the food conducting tissue. Eric Sideman describes them as “catastrophic.” We’ve been spraying them with an organic insecticidal soap, but some of our potatoes and beans are not going to make it.

Around two weeks ago we first noticed the cabbage caterpillars. These small green caterpillars like to eat brassicas, which include kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. There are several species, but I haven’t learned the difference between them yet. The caterpillars are the same color as the leaves of the plants, so they’re quite hard to find. So far we’re trying to control them by picking and squishing them.

Fungus on the tomatoes, possibly early blight

Our tomatoes have some sort of fungus on them. One extension agent thinks it’s early blight. We picked off all the yellow and brown leaves, and we got some copper to spray on the plants to protect them from fungus.

On a positive note, here’s what Andy wrote in an email about the garden recently:

Lots of green tomatoes

“I just wanted to give you a garden update since earlier this week I sounded so grim.  The potatoes are still not fairing so well, but from what I’ve read, you can leave them in the ground for a few weeks as long as it’s not too wet. The heat and humidity has broken a bit so that bodes well for the suspected fungus infection that the tomatoes have. Fungus doesn’t like dry breezy weather and that’s what it’s been the last couple of days, and will be most of next week. So there is hope!

Pie pumpkin

Watermelon!

Yesterday I picked 68 cucumbers and Julia has made four gallons of pickles so far. We’ve got several pie pumpkins the size of cantaloupe and several cantaloupes the size of grapefruits and grapefruit the size…no wait, no grapefruit. The corn is growing like crazy and there at least half a dozen tiny baby Hubbard squash. No ripe tomatoes, but lots of green fruit.  Watermelons are growing well, peppers are hanging in there and the edamame are looking great. There’s more, but let’s just say that if we are lucky, most things will do well and we will have a feast to remember in September.”

Some of the onions are doing okay after the addition of wood ash

Corn