Friday, March 2, 2012

Last Summer's Bounty

So, last summer I had a garden. It was my first ever, and while I had read books and consulted some trusted sources - my mother and step-father - I really had no idea what I was doing. Reading and understanding are vastly different than knowing and doing, so everyone and their brother or sister or mother felt compelled to tell me the how of gardening. Not surprisingly, that grew tiresome and I fear I may have subsequently alienated more than a person or two.  Nonetheless, I hammered together my raised beds and filled them with soil. My co-gardner for the summer, Michael Richman, also helped to fill the beds and we were soon planting our plants, and I had the gall to actually poke seeds into the soil, believing that they'd actually amount to something. The soil we obtained, and I say obtained and not purchased as the losers who delivered the soil and rutted up my yard in the process, never billed for the soil. And since we didn't pay for the soil, we didn't raise a fuss about the rutted up yard. So, not surprisingly, my garden got off to a very slow start. If you study the first photo below you'll see lots of stones. Lots of little stones, and not a lot of compost. 


It's amazing the little seed above could amount to anything, and for a while, I wasn't sure that it or any of it's seed friends would amount to anything. My lettuces, which are supposed to be fast growing took a very long time to grow, each time I planted them. I had a patch of mesclun (but no photos) that grew all summer. That was fun, and Mickey LOVES salad. I also grew a kind of romaine and a leaf lettuce called Red Salad Bowl.


I loved visiting the Red Salad Bowl first thing in the morning as the dew looked like frost upon its edges.


Behind the lettuces below you can see some of my collards. 

My collards did very well, and I learned a lesson. I don't need to plant eight collard plants as you can harvest leaves and harvest leaves for weeks and weeks, so just a few plants will do.

Collards are such a southern green, so I figured since they we're growing well in garden, so should okra. But not so. At least not the okra I planted. I got a few pods off my plants, but not enough to amount to much. But they are fun to watch grow. They're kind of Munchkinlandish, too. Recently, I saw in a seed catalog that there is a variety suited to the Northeast, so I may try those this year. I loves me some fried okra.


I planted my spinach a few times and it never did do a thing. About beets, I read that I should pick them when they are small, and that if I let them get to big their flavor wouldn't be as good. Well, I left my beets in the ground all summer and they never got any larger than a golf ball. Tom and I still enjoyed them. Mickey thought they tasted like dirt. Below you can see my beans, yellow squash, collards, romaine, leaf lettuce and mesclun.


Here you can see more beans, beets, collards, arugula, and my carrots in their pathetic stage.


My mother told me that Grandpa always planted Kentucky Wonder beans, so I decided to do the same. Below you can see them early on, slowly winding their way up the string trellis I constructed.

And once they got to going, nothing could stop them but a good heavy frost.


My carrots were very slowing growing. Some of my advisers were confident they should have matured much sooner than they did, but the seed packet said that they would mature in 90 days, which they did. I want to say that it felt like it took them forever to mature, but 90 days is kind of forever. They looked pathetic for so long, I had my doubts, but one day I had a carrot top forest.


And then one day I had the nerve to pull one up, and what did I have? Mutant carrots. I had never seen a carrot so short and fat in all my life. Then I went back to my seed packet to read the description. What I grew was exactly what I was supposed to grow, Danvers Half Longs. They were the sweetest carrots I've ever eaten. They'll be in my garden again next year.


A mother of one of Mickey's school mates gave me a couple extra cucumber plants. I hadn't really planned a space for them, so I stuck them in with my tomatoes. I'm not sure they liked that too much, but they did produce enough for me to can two quarts of bread and butter pickles. I found a recipe online reminiscent of some bread and butter pickles a lady here in town gave me and man are they good. I loved going to where the cucumbers were growing and foraging around amongst all the tomato and cucumber leaves to discover the little cucumbers. It felt fairytale like.

Speaking of fairytale like, summer squash and zucchini are very fairytale like. The leaves and blossoms are so big, they're right out of Munchkinland.



I used to love to peer under all the giant leaves to look at the blossoms and watch the squash grow right before my very eyes. But then I began to notice there was trouble in Denmark and soon, looking under the leaves didn't look so magical anymore.

All the giant leaves had been attacked by powdery mildew. I tried various things, but it was too late. I babied them along for a few weeks until I decided it was all for naught and then I went at them like Lizzie Borden.


I planted a bunch of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. I did manage to get quite a bit of broccoli, but my cauliflower failed me. They were looking so pretty and growing so well, but after we got back from our road trip to Kansas City, I discovered they had all gone straight to hell. I ended up pulling every one of them out of the ground and heaved them into the compost pile.


One of my main goals was to plant a ton of San Marzano tomatoes so that I could can my own tomato sauce. I planted 24 plants, which to me seems like a lot, but my folks back in Kansas plant 100 plants. I read that there are two kinds of tomato plants, determinate, which do not grow very tall, and indeterminate, which need a very tall trellis on which to grow because they grow and grow. San Marzanos are indeterminate, so I built a trellis eight feet tall. I guess it was my soil, but my silly plants never got as tall as me. But. MAN did they produce! 


I probably could have canned more than I did, I just didn't have all my cans and canner and process lined up. I ended up throwing out a bunch of tomatoes along the way as they would go bad before I could get them canned.


There's an Italian restaurant in NYC called Rao's and they sell their pasta sauces in grocery stores. It's the most expensive sauce on the grocer's shelf, but man is it good. I remembered seeing the owners of Rao's on Martha Stewart's once, so I went to Martha's website and found a recipe for Rao's marinara. The recipe is actually very simple. I think the secret ingredient is the fresh San Marzanos. I forget how many cans I put up, but it wasn't enough. This summer I'll be ready.

I had one bed of nothing but herbs. I wish that I had my act together enough to put some up for winter use, but it was still fun to walk outside and get fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley and sage whenever I wanted. I planted dill, but it didn't do much and my cilantro did even less. Again, I think the soil was the culprit.

I gal I work with started a ton of morning glories and gave me a half ton. I ran strings from my herb garden up to the eaves of the house and eventually had a wall of morning glories. I loved going out every morning to see them all abloom.  



Here's a few photos of some of the flowers that grew on the hillside behind the house. 


Late in the planting season, I planted some pumpkins. Because it was so late, I didn't have much hope . . .

but much to my surprise, they came up and for a while seemed as thought they might actually produce enough pumpkins for Mickey to sell at the end of the driveway.

Unfortunately, they got the danged powdery mildew, too, and all we got one was one little pumpkin a little smaller than a soccer ball I saved it and turned it into a pie for Thanksgiving Dinner, but that's another post.

For a first time garden, I couldn't have been happier.
I just wish it would warm back up so I could get back at it again.