Tag Archives: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Spring to Fall: Gardening Across the Seasons

4 Oct
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Aunt Ruby’s Green Tomatoes

The changing angle of the sun, shorter days and cooler temperatures signal that Fall is sneaking up. It also tells me it is time to reflect over the past six months and the gardening adventures. This year, starting in March, I went all in with starting seeds indoors and setting up a series of indoor greenhouses outfitted with grow lights. As discussed in my previous post, it was quite the production, including multiple trips to various stores, to get it all set up.

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Hardening off the tomato and pepper plants

It then got tricky. The seedlings had grown into solid leafy plants but the fluctuating weather meant that I had to wait until after Mother’s Day in mid-May before I could safely plant outside in the community garden plot and at home in my patio container garden. So we spent the good part of a month “hardening off” all the plants to get them ready to go outside. This hardening off process was a feat in and of itself because although I was able to use our two outdoor unheated greenhouses, there were many a night where the temperatures would dip too low for tomato and pepper plants.

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Outdoor unheated greenhouses

The challenge was these plants were getting quite big and had already outgrown the indoor greenhouses. So I had to find another home for them when they needed to be shuttled from the outdoor greenhouses where they resided during the day back to the safety of the house at nights.

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Hardening off process. Using a bedroom for overnight protection with unpredictable temperatures in April and May.

I ended up taking over my son’s bedroom where the door could be shut to prevent Hagrid the cat from digging up and destroying the plants. (Previous years’ experience told me he could take on five plants and eviserate them in 15 minutes flat.) The benefit of my son’s room is that I could open up the window out to the patio and hand the plants to my husband who then carried them to the greenhouses. Then we reversed the process the next morning. Tedious? Yes. But necessary.

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Compost. Ready for use.

We then got the community garden plot and the containers at home ready. We used our own compost and compost tea that we had pulled from our Envirocycle composter and collected in empty cat liter plastic tubs. I’m a fervent composting booster. We compost everything we can. It’s very easy because we have a colorful ceramic canister on the kitchen counter and just drop in appropriate food waste in it.

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Rotating the compost from holding bin to Envirocycle composted.

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Compost tea.

Then my husband takes it out to an old scuba box that he had buried in the backyard. It has two compartments so we can rotate. Then when one side is full, we scoop it into the Environcycle composter, add dry leaves that we had collected from our yard and give it a spin periodically. Then when the compost is ready, we store it in the cat liter tubs. The tea is made from the droppings and is collected in a bin under the rolling part of the composter.

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Community Garden Plot.

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Taking an iPhone break in the Community Garden Plot.

Over a series of weeks, we began setting out the plants in the community garden plot and in our home patio garden containers.

This year’s harvest was bountiful to say the least. I am a huge fan of the Hudson Valley Seed Library. From now on, that is the only place I will get my seeds from. Not only are the seeds of high quality, the packaging is fun. There are “art packs” with vibrant colored artwork that differs from pack to pack. I just LOVE these seeds and the art. Here is the link to their website: http://www.seedlibrary.org

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Baby Bok Choi.

We planted baby bok choi seeds indoors. In previous years, I tried to direct sow the seeds but did not have success. This year, the seeds loved being started indoors and when I transplanted them, given they tend to bolt when the heat starts, I put them in containers on my patio so I could move them out of the direct sun when needed. Also, since they also do not like really cold weather, I rolled them into the outdoor greenhouse and put a row cover over them when the nights got too cold.

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Brilliant Beets.

My family loves beets. So we planted seeds indoors from the Brilliant Beet Blend. I had read conflicting reports on whether it was a good idea to plant beet seeds indoors since they can easily be direct sowed into the ground once the soil is ready to be worked. But I was on a planting frenzy and decided to give it a go. I am so happy I did. My beets got a great head start and were ready early. In addition, I went ahead and direct sowed beets later around the existing beets. I had beets all summer and still do. We had beet salads, pickled beets and I froze many for use in the winter.

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Two varieties of Kale.

I also went ahead and started indoors two varieties of kale: Vates Blue Curled Kale and Dino Kale. In the past I would direct sow the seeds but with the varying weather and heat, it was a mixed bag. I also planted Silverado Chard. The key to getting healthy chard is to keep on top of the bug problem. There is a beatle that comes around fairly early in the season and will damage the leaves. But if you frequently check under the leaves for the eggs and scrape them off, then all is well. There is also a beatle that likes Kale and later in the season they can nearly swarm the plant. But these all can be picked off too. The key is to be vigilant and check leaves and pick off the pesky bugs.

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Donation bin: “Produce for the Community”

This year I had more kale and chard than I could keep up with. So I gave away some of my plants to fellow community gardeners. After I had frozen enough to get us through the winter, and the harvest was nearly overwhelming, I brought in bags for my colleagues at work and also donated bags to our local food kitchen. My husband built a bin at the community garden for folks to donate extra produce and every morning after dropping me off at the Metro to catch the train to work, he stopped by and picked up the donations and took them to the food kitchen. In past years I often felt overwhelmed with the combined produce that we grew ourselves and the weekly community supported agriculture share from our local farmer. But having the food kitchen donation was perfect.

IMG_3298The tomatoes were amazingly hardy and productive. In past years, the blight, being a common problem in our region, was a constant battle. But this year it was not so bad because we had a surprisingly mild summer and the humidity was not as oppressive. I grew Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Goldie, New Yorker and Mama Leone. I had an abundance of fresh tomatoes throughout the season (and still going even now).

photo-3The peppers were just as successful. I grew King of the North bell peppers and Gatherer’s Gold Sweet Peppers from seed. I also picked up a sweet banana pepper plant at our local nursery. With the harvest, I was able to fill up my freezer with homemade pasta sauce and salsa as well as can whole tomatoes for the winter.
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IMG_0529Of course I had lots of basil and have lots of pesto cubes in the freezer. Finally, as in past years, I had two shelves of herbs, strawberry plants, spinach and lettuce on the patio. In the community garden plot, I grew a few cucumber plants to ensure a supply for pickling.
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The community garden plot and my home container garden is starting to slow down but still producing. I figure we have another four weeks or so before it will be time to call it a day and clean up for the winter. I had planned to do some Fall planting but frankly am worn out. It has been six very active months, my freezer is absolutely full, I still have some pickled cucumbers left from last year and I have canned enough tomatoes to get us through the winter.

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Pulled from the composter: a few vegetables that sprouted and looked like little compost creatures 🙂

So all that I planted is some lettuce. I am going to conduct an experiment to see how they do in the indoor greenhouse and then the outdoor greenhouse when the weather dips. So with that, I am bringing this gardening season to an end.

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Hagrid jumped in the little greenhouse as soon as I had removed the seedlings.

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How Do You Like Them Tomatoes?

9 Aug

So many tomatoes from the community garden plot and my patio pots, now what? So, I decided to whip up a few batches of tomato sauce to freeze and a batch to use for a tasty recipe I found for rigatoni that also called for eggplant and squash. Both of which I had on hand thanks to the recent Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery.

The recipe went by ounces rather than tomato count.  So, the first challenge I had was to figure out just how many tomatoes equal a pound? Well, thanks to the following conversion chart, the mystery was solved.  Source: http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodequivalents/a/tomatoequiv.htm

Tomato Equivalents
• 3 medium globe tomatoes = 1 pound
• 8 small plum tomatoes = 1 pound
• 25 to 30 cherry tomatoes = 1 pound
• 2 cups chopped tomatoes = 1 pound
• 3/8 cup of tomato paste plus 1/2 cup water = 1 cup tomato sauce
• 1 cup canned tomatoes = 1-1/2 cups fresh, chopped, cooked tomatoes
• 1/2 pound or 1 tomato = 1 serving
• 1 cup firmly packed fresh tomato = 1/2 cup tomato sauce plus 1/2 cup water
• 1 pound fresh = 1-1/2 cups chopped
• 1 (16-ounce) can = 2 cups
• 1 (35-ounce) can = 4 cups undrained
• 1 (28-ounce) can = 3 cups undrained

Once I had the number of tomatoes needed sorted out, I could begin the chopping, dicing and cooking.  The result?  Ratings from Patrick, Calvin and me:  Five peas ••••• each (on a 1 to 5 scale)

http://cookeatshare.com/recipes/recipe-baked-rigatoni-with-garden-eggplant-and-zucchini-468757

Baked Rigatoni with Garden Eggplant and Zucchini

Ingredients:

ROASTED VEGETABLES:
1 1/2-2 lbs combined of zucchini, eggplants or other squash, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp sea saltSAUCE: 
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
28 oz. various medium sized, ripe tomatoes or (1 can 28 oz. plum tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basilPASTA: 
1 package (16 oz.) whole wheat rigatoni
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp. chopped basil
Roasting Vegetables:
Preheat oven to 450˚. In large bowl, toss eggplant, 2 tablespoon olive oil, sea salt and zucchini. In a baking pan lined with a foil, layer the vegetables in an even layer. Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes, switching racks midway for the vegetables to cook evenly. Avoid mixing them with a spoon because it bruises and mushes the vegetables. It also prevents the nice caramelization on the vegetables to happen evenly. I move them around only once, gently, when I switch racks from middle to top. Remove pans from oven, let cool and set aside.
Tomato Sauce:

Cleaning Fresh Tomatoes:
First, peel and deseed the tomatoes. Do this by making a small incision in the skin on each tomato. Mean while, boil a large pot of water. Bring to simmer, and dunk the tomatoes in the water and let sit for 5 minutes. You will see the skin begin to peel back. In a separate bowl, fill with ice water. Strain the tomatoes, and dunk them in the cold water. The coolness will help contract the fruit away from the skin and allow them to be cool enough to handle. Let them sit in the water for 5 minutes, adding more ice if needed. Strain again, and carefully peel the skin off the tomatoes. When done, it is time to deseed them. With your hands, puncture the middle and tear open the tomato, and empty the seeds in each “pod”. Put the empty tomato aside, and continue along for all the fruit. Now you have fresh tomatoes ready to use in recipes. (I ended up saving the seeds and pods and adding them to the tomato sauce that I made and then froze, see below.)
With the tomatoes, crush them with your hand until broken up and “mushed”. Now, in a 3 qt. saucepan,  heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add garlic and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and add in all the tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, pepper, salt, breaking up the tomatoes with the back of your spoon as you stir.
Let simmer for 5 minutes, then add the bouillon, and stir. Heat to boiling than simmer for 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened. Add basil for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Set aside.


Pasta and Assembly:

Preheat oven to 450˚. Cook pasta according to package directions, and drain. Return to the sauce pot. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta and toss. Add the tomato sauce and half the Parmesan cheese and toss. Butter a 12 x 9 Pyrex pan and pour the pasta mixture evenly into the pan. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the rest of the Parmesan. Using a spoon and your fingers, add the dollops of cheese on top and nestled into the pasta. Sprinkle with the chopped basil, and cover with tin foil. Bake the pasta for 30 minutes until hot and cheese is melting and bubbly. Uncover for the last 5 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes and serve with extra Parmesan.

With the rigatoni in the oven, I turned to making a batch of tomato sauce that I could freeze. I added green peppers, fresh oregano, fresh thyme and sugar to the recipe above, as well as the discarded seeds and pods. Thanks to canning jars that are freezer safe, I have three jars stored away in the freezer that I will see again come winter.
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