Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Peaches: A Pictorial Essay

(What? Every story has a Scary Part. This is mine...)

Boiling for one minute then plunging them in ice water
makes stone fruits very easy to peel.

Forty-Five minutes later...

After enacting the "No Peach Left Behind" program, the official Peach Total was 11.56 pounds, or about 50 peaches. While this was significantly less than last year's total of about 30 pounds, it was still enough for 6.5 jars of jam and the cobbler above.

Yes, it was as good as it looks.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Urban Garden Tour

A cashier at Meijers once told me that the Fourth of July is the “Wednesday of Summer.” I hold onto that thought, first because it is true, and second to remind myself that sages exist in undreamed of places. — Naked Latte: Conversations Overheard

Is it tacky to quote from your own novel? Hope not. But what’s really unforgivable is that it’s the 4th of July weekend and I haven’t said anything about my garden this year! So let’s get down to it:

Tomatoes – Let’s get this out of the way, okay? I thought I would be clever this year and scatter the spent grass clippings through the garden to keep the weeds down. Instead, I think I gave the tomatoes cucumber mosaic virus (CMV). They look horrible. MP’s roma tomato (for salsa) isn’t too bad — it’s got fruit that should be ready in the next two weeks — and the sungold is chugging along okay, but the Paul Robesons will be lucky to get any fruit at all. CMV is carried by about 800 different plants, so undoubtedly I brought it in with the spent grass clippings. MP pointed out, “If it’s carried in 800 plants, it’s not really a cucumber virus, is it?” He’s right, too — the cucumbers don’t have it at all. The tomato that looks best? A feral sungold that sprouted from last year’s seed in the compost pile.

Kale – I think I may have hit my kale stride. It looks pretty good and tastes great. Needs to be spread out more, though. That’s my fault for crowding them. Believe it or not, this weekend it’s time to replant the kale for the winter season. This stuff has been growing since February. Cabbage loopers provide an extra protein boost!

Lettuce – I’m so proud of my lettuce. It looks like lettuce! Pretty green bibb lettuce for nice salads. I’d love to tell you how fascinating it tastes but… It’s lettuce. Green. Leafy. And that’s about it. I’m actually growing some stuff in a container, but this horrible little hornworm devoured it, so it’s recuperating (the hornworm, however, will not recuperate.

Cucumber – a strange cucumber malaise made me think that I would have no cucumbers at all this year. They just wouldn’t grow. Only one out of six lived, so I planted two in pots and watched them carefully… and then one died. So I have a largish one and a smaller one, and this may actually be enough. Moderation is important when dealing with curcubits, as we shall see… The reason this image looks so green is that the light is green under all those leaves.

Plumgranny(Queen Anne’s Pocket-Melon) – I grow these for amusement, as they have no culinary value. They smell good. They remind my grandmother of her childhood in Appalachia, so I send her a few. On the plus side, with the tomatoes being so puny, the plumgrannies have room to spread out and they look great. Lots of flowers, but I’m not seeing any little green melons yet.

Butternut Squash – These would probably be doing better if they weren’t overrun by the other squashes. I have pruned back the zucchini and they are doing a little better, but ultimately, I don’t think I’d buy the Burpee’s Butterbush again; if it’s going to survive in the garden, it needs a lot of chutzpah. Still, we’ll probably get a few tiny ones for late-summer risotto. Their flavor is really good.

Pipan(Patty-Pan) Squash – Last year we really got into grilling these, so I planted some, and now they are fighting with the zucchini to see which will rule the garden. They look like alien artifacts, vegetal gifts from extra-terrestrial visitors. Actually, all the squashes are so fascinating I think they’re worthy of their own post. We had so many this past week I gave some away to a friend to who promised to take them to a party with him as a conversation piece to pick up women. Good Luck, kid!

Zucchini – We like zucchini. We like to grill it. This is good, because now we are up to our eyebrows in it. “Don’t plant too many!” MP warned me. “They say one is enough!” I planted three hills… with three plants each, but some died early… so I replanted them… They’re fine now. What’s your address? Do you like zucchini? Because MP shot down the “Let’s brew zucchini beer!” suggestion real quick and now I’m stuck for ideas.

Beans – Alas, the beans have disease issues, too, as evidenced by their quilted-looking leaves. It has not seemed to inhibit their will to produce, however; this year I’ve grown some of the longest beans ever. These are pole beans (as opposed to bush beans), which I like for their flavor and the fact that they take up less horizontal space.

Zinnias – I grew these from seed saved from last year. Need I say more?

Peaches – Yes, I know. You have been waiting for this information breathlessly. The good news: No signs of oriental fruit moths this year! I got on the spray schedule early and have stuck to it. At this point we are about 20 days from harvest. Some peaches have begun to blush, and I won’t be spraying them with bentonite clay again. The bad news: some peaches have also begun to split, probably due to uneven watering, though I don’t know. Alas, bacterial spot is a problem of Elberta peaches, and the leaf-drop can look quite alarming. Water conditions aren’t helping. All told I’ve lost ½ to ¾ of the crop from the freeze and the initial drop of peaches. The soil around here is terrible; I need to fertilize next year earlier and more heavily.

That said, I still will have some delicious peaches and enough to make a few cobblers and cakes with. Don’t know if I’ll be canning any PeachStuff this year. I have this completely unfounded fear that the neighborhood kids will come and steal my peaches, but MP pointed out that most kids don’t even know what a peach looks like. That and… well, my peaches are ugly and covered with weird white crap. Steal them? Probably not.

MP’s Pet Pepper (The Drama Queen) – Yes! This plant is dying! Right before our eyes! Every day! Why don’t we feed it? Why don’t we water it? Don’t we love it? And so on. Dramatic Vegetables can be highly entertaining. It doesn’t help that it’s up on the porch in the 100 degree heat, but really, peppers are sooo excitable. Lack of water is making these jalapenos hot as hell.

This is the season I like best, every morning going out with my knife (to fend off the zucchini) and my trug (to haul everything back to the house) and seeing what is new. The bees are extremely happy. I never worry that they will sting me, only that one might run me over. Sure enough, this morning I bent down at the wrong moment and got thwacked upside the head.

Summer is alive. 'Tis the season to get messy in it.