2.04.2018

Mushroom Risotto with a Green Salad & Balsamic Vinaigrette - Recipe


Mushroom risotto is a hug in a bowl: warm, earthy and comforting. Add a vibrant salad of mixed greens, shredded carrots with a balsamic vinaigrette and there's a complete meal. This combination has been a regular on our table for the last three years, especially through the colder months. Everyone likes it, even the three and five year old.  For their plates instead of salad, we offer carrot sticks and peas.

I have the recipe for the balsamic vinaigrette in with my everyday salad recipe post. This dressing keeps for weeks in the refrigerator, and gets better after the garlic has had time to infuse. Make it in advance, or at the very least, mix it together before you start the risotto and let it sit out on the counter to meld. This tangy dressing is a balance to the creamy, rich rice dish.

On days I am making stock and have a big pot simmering on the stove, risotto is an easy dinner. I hang a sieve on the lip of the stock pot and use a measuring cup to dip out the strained broth as needed for the recipe.


On days I want a glass of wine, this recipe also creates a viable excuse to open a bottle of Chardonnay; a glass to deglaze the pan and a glass to drink. Serve the remainder with dinner. The wine pairs beautifully since there's already a little flavor of it in the risotto. Feel free to use whichever dry white you prefer; Pino Grigio and Sauignon blanc are also lovely choices.

In the spring, when the first shoots of asparagus are ready to harvest, replacing half of the mushrooms with asparagus is delightful. Add a cup and a half of one inch shoots to the pan in the last minutes of the mushrooms and onions sauteing. You want the asparagus to just turn bright green. It will finish cooking while the risotto stands for five minutes at the end of the recipe.



Mushroom Risotto

1 quart (4 cups) of chicken stock (unsalted)
2 bay leaves

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound portable mushrooms or half a pound of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 medium onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups), divided
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 cloves of garlic, minced

Up to a quart of water

2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (plus more for topping)
Ground black pepper

1.  In a sauce pan, heat the chicken stock with bay leaves and hold it just under a simmer.  Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Then add the mushrooms, soy sauce, and half of the minced onions (1 cup). Cook, stirring periodically until the mushrooms and onions have released their liquid, and started to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, stir until fragrant, and then remove mushroom mixture from the pot into a bowl. Set aside. 

2.  Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in the now empty pot. Add the remaining 1 cup of onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until glassy, about 9 minutes. Add the rice and cook stirring frequently until the sides are transparent, another 5 minutes. Add the wine and continue stirring until it has absorbed or cooked off.

3.  Remove the bay leaves from the chicken stock and pour all four cups of the hot liquid into the pot of rice and stir it together. Decrease the heat to medium, when the pot starts bubbling put the lid on it and drop the heat to medium-low. Allow the pot to cook for 9-12 minutes stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, to the empty pot the stock was in, add about a quart of water and heat it to just below a simmer.

4.  Once the rice has absorbed most of the stock check the thickness of your mixture by scraping the bottom of the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon. If you can see the bottom of the pan for a couple seconds before the rice covers it again, add a 3/4 cups of hot water. Once the consistency is right, stir continuously and fairly vigorously for three minutes to break down the starches in the rice and create the creamy risotto texture. While stirring add more hot water, a half cup at a time, as needed to keep the rice moving, 2-3 cups total is usually enough.

5.  Take the Dutch oven off the heat and fold in the mushroom and onion mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. Put the lid back on and let the risotto stand for five minutes. Before serving, adjust salt and stir in a half cup of hot water to loosen the rice if needed.  The ideal texture for risotto should pour slowly from a spoon. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan and a generous grind of black pepper.

Risotto also makes delicious leftovers. Mix in a tablespoon or so of water to return it to the correct texture when reheating. 

1.24.2018

Greening Our Kitchens

Greening Our Kitchens Title Image
In my kitchen (left to right): compost bucket, silicone bowl covers, drying washed zip-top bags, cloth towels, reusable stainless steal straw

Here are three things we can do to make our kitchens more earth friendly by reducing waste, specifically plastic.  Our kitchens are the rooms in our houses that have the biggest trash can because we produce the most waste there.  Let's look at how we can throw away fewer things by composting, buying wisely, and actively recycle.

Composting

Hands down the biggest difference you can make towards greening your kitchen is to compost your organics.  Even folks in high-rise apartments can compost.   Hear me out if you are skeptical.  One of the biggest problems with our modern kitchens is we buy food, then we prepare and eat it (or not) and the peels, scraps and spoiled food gets thrown out with the garbage.  This linear progression has long term consequences.  As much as possible, we should be looking for a circle.  Composting takes the organic portion of trash and gives it back to the earth where it can be used by soil microbes and then by plants  (aka carbon sequestering!).  Instead of sitting in a landfill where food scraps barely break down because dumps have almost no life in them.

Composting bucket
I use a wooden ice-bucket I picked up thrifting as a compost bowl.  We keep it next to the sink, along with the kids' reusable drink bottles and the brewing kombucha.  

If you live in an apartment, find your local community garden, and ask if you can contribute to their compost.  Or find a friend with a compost pile.  Or get a worm box.  When we lived in an apartment, I took our food scraps to the chickens at a local farm.  The kids loved watching the hens greet us and excitedly start pecking the bits. And after feeding the chickens we'd stop in the farm store and buy their eggs. What a nice circle.

It does take some mindfulness to compost, but it's not labor intensive.  You don't even have to empty your compost that often.  Put a container in the freezer and add your food scraps as they accumulate.   Conveniently the freezing will reduce any odor and burst plant cells which will jump-start decomposition so your container won't fill up so fast.  If you don't have enough freezer space you can keep your container under the sink or where ever and empty as needed.

If you have land, start a compost pile.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  Ours is a pile on the grass behind the garage.  It is amazing how little is left after a couple of weeks of warm weather.  It would take five years or more for the pile to get too big.  Then start a second pile and when the first has finished breaking down move the finished compost soil to your garden or spread long the house or under a bush or tree.  And there are many bin composters you can find on the market if you want something more contained. 

Reducing Your Food's Footprint

Buying groceries with less packaging, that has traveled fewer miles, and grown without industrial fertilizers and pesticides will go a long way towards reducing your food's ecological effects.  This is a admittedly a lot of asks.  Sometimes I can't find a food that meets all these requirements.  An easy way to set your priorities is to first grow your own food.  What you can't grow, buy from your local farmer's market or farm stores.  Here's a handy link to find farmers and markets near you.  This is how we get all our greens, most of our veggies, and some of our fruit.  CSAs are another option. Bonus - the farm stores and CSAs, will often take back the egg crates, berry boxes/produce baskets and grocery bags (both their own and from other vendors to reuse).

When I go to the grocery store, I look for organic produce that is package free.  This also means I don't use the produce bags offered at the grocery.  I bring my own canvas bag of bags, which includes the totes to carry my groceries home, as well as, some simple bulk bags and produce bags.  If I buy ten apples, I either let them be loose in the cart or put them in my cloth produce bag.

I also prioritize the store's bulk options if I can bring my own bag.  Our Kroger/Owens stores offer some bulk nuts, beans and dried fruit.  Check out this online locator to find out if there is a store with bulk store near you.  If there is no bulk option, buying the bigger package also reduces the amount of trash generated.  For example, buying yogurt in the big tub instead of individual serving cups.

For dry-goods I can't find in bulk, I research the brand options and chose the product with best practices.  For pasta, I buy Einkorn wheat spaghetti and fusilli from the company Jovial by the case.  I like that their plastic-free packaging is compostable, and the pasta is made from organic whole wheat.  Plus buying by the case cuts down on the energy used for shipping.

Kitchen Trash
This is my kitchen trash.  

Reduce Disposable/Single-use Things

Let's take a moment together and decide to purchase less disposable stuff.  Avoid plastic silverware, water bottles, solo cups, individually packaged convenience food, and takeout/fast food.  Plastic takes 500-1000 years to decompose.  Why use a plastic straw for three minutes that won't degrade for twenty generations?  We can do better.   It takes a little planning to bring our bags and our reusable coffee cups from home. And a little more time to make food from scratch.  We can do that.

When we do eat out and buy convenience foods, look for the no plastic, less waste options.  For instance, order an ice-cream cone that comes with a small, paper wrapper verses an ice-cream Sunday that comes with a plastic spoon in a plastic bowl.  Choose places that use real dishes or paper/cardboard containers over plastic and Styrofoam.  It's an easy upgrade.  If your favorite place is an offender, encourage them to consider more sustainable options or bring your own reusable containers.

We also need to talk about freezer baggies and plastic wrap.  My relationship with zip-top bags is complicated.  We buy from a local farm that sells their greens in zip-top bags so I have a steady stream coming into the house.   They are useful for freezing garden produce and for when my kindergartner wants to take crackers in her bento box for lunch and not have them get soggy from her apple slices.  I have made peace with baggies by washing and reusing them until they aren't functional.  When they are beyond use, they go in the film plastic recycling bag.

Plastic wrap however, can be all but eliminated by using containers with lids.  If you have bowls without lids you can place a plate on top or there are reusable lid covers that you can invest in.  I use silicone lid cover and baking mats, but after reading this article I hesitate to recommend them.

Recycling Food Packaging 

Recycling bin
Here's our single-stream, curb-side recycling bin. 

If you can't find the kind of food you want package free, look for something with recyclable containers.  Then make sure to clean them out and get them to the recycling bins.   I prefer glass bottles for things like mayonnaise, mustard and juices.  Some of those jars can be reused for buying bulk too. Many co-op grocery stores have bulk honey, syrup, oils and even soaps that you can bring your own jar or bottle to refill.

Here it is also important to know what you can recycle.  With single-stream curbside recycling being more common, a list of what the company actually sorts and recycles is important.  Check with your recycling company to make sure you are only putting in the things they recycle, otherwise those non-recyclables gets thrown away at their sorting facility.  You may have to save somethings and take them to be recycled separately.  In my house hold, the thing we have the most of, that the curbside recycling doesn't take, are plastic bags like what cereal, bread, newspapers come in as well as ziptop bags.  We save that plastic separately and take it to a grocery store that has a recycling bin when we are in the area.  Here's how to find a place to recycle film plastic near you: www.plasticfilmrecycling.org. Look in your trash can, how can you reduce or recycle what's in there?

A friend on my FaceBook Page, shared a website called Terra Cycle that has some free programs for recycling packaging from specific companies: such as Tom's of Maine, Britta, and Bear Naked.  However, after making an account, I tried to sign up for several of the programs and got a message that I had been added to a wait list.  Terra Cycle does have options where we can pay between $80-$150 to get a box to fill and send back to them for specific things like plastic bottle caps.   Anyone have leads on other ways to recycle those difficult things?

Maybe we won't get it right 100% of the time, but if we stick with it, and are aware of the trash we generate, we can put less trash out into the world.  Let's lead by example and encourage our friends and children to take up the cause.

What other suggestions do you have?  I'm always looking for ways to create closed loop systems in my kitchen.  Less waste, less worries!

References:

Compost
https://www.thoughtco.com/do-biodegradable-items-really-break-down-1204144
http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/A-sprinkle-of-compost-helps-rangeland-lock-up-5832244.php

Reducing Your Food's Foot Print
https://zerowastehome.com/app/
http://www.coopdirectory.org/directory.htm
https://www.localharvest.org/
https://www.thebalance.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033

Reduce Disposable/Single-use Things
https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/is_silicone_a_plastic

Recycling Food Packaging
https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/recycle-one-thing1.htm
http://indianapublicmedia.org/eartheats/5-important-items-recycle/
https://www.terracycle.com

1.17.2018

Walnut Cream Cheese Shortbread Cookies - Recipe




I found this recipe when I went looking for the most pinned cookie recipe on Pinterest. This walnut cream cheese cookie came up in several different lists.  It's a Martha Stewart recipe - surprising - I tend to think of her recipes on par with Betty Crocker.  They are easy and straightforward, but not special.  Well, this one is special. Walnut Cream Cheese Shortbread Cookies are going in the permanent rotation.

These shortbread cookies have a simple classic appearance and elegant flavor.  They are an icebox type where the dough is frozen in a log and then sliced into rounds.  The cream cheese lends a nice tang to the dough, and the sugar becomes crisp and caramelized on the bottom without being too sweet, which complements the crunchy, slightly bitter flavor of the walnuts.  These are an excellent served with tea or coffee.

Every December I make cookies to give to friends and neighbors.  There are several recipes that always make an appearance: Grandma Jone's sugar cookies, and the best ever chocolate chip cookies, then there is a rotating recipe or two that I try out for the year.  This December, I had one dud recipe,  a mint chocolate cookie.  I was hoping would resemble a Girl Scout Thin Mint, but did not.  The real winner this year was Walnut Cream Cheese Shortbread!  I have been complimented and ask for the recipe enough times I decided to write it up for the blog.

The ingredients are straight forward.

I have tried this recipe both with English walnuts (Juglans regia), the kind you'll find at the grocery store and black walnuts (Juglans nigra) which are the kind we can forage and are native to the United States.  The black walnuts have a richer, earthier flavor and I prefer them in this recipe and for baking in general.



I found silicone baking mats useful for both shaping the dough logs and freezing them.  They are much more functional than parchment paper, because the baking mats have more structure and the dough easily releases from the silicone after freezing.  I also used the mats for baking the cookies because short breads are easy to burn and silicone mats do a nice job of distributing and dissipating heat.  Plus silicone baking mats are reusable!  In my journey to reducing my family's garbage this felt like a real win.




Walnut Cream Cheese Shortbread Cookies
                               via Martha Stewart Living, December 2004 issue


4 cups unbleached flour
1 1/4 teaspoons course salt
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks), room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups walnut halves (1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped, 1 cup finely crushed)

Whisk the flour and salt together and set aside.  In a stand mixer with beater attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese until lightened and fluffy - approximately 2 min on medium-high.  Beat in sugar and vanilla.  On a slow speed mix in the flour/salt mixture until just combined - do not over mix.  Remove the bowl and stir in 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts by hand.

Divide the dough in half and make two logs of dough about 2" in diameter.    Then freeze the logs for 30 minutes or up to 2 weeks.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the dough log and roll it in half of crushed walnut pieces.  If you have trouble getting the walnut pieces to stick, either crush them smaller or wait for the dough to soften slightly and the bits will stick better.  Slice the log into cookie rounds 1/4 inch thick.  Place them on a baking sheet with silicone mat leaving one inch between each cookie.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating half way through until the bottom and edges are browned.


1.11.2018

How I Plan My Vegetable Garden

How I Plan My Vegetable Garden


In the winter I sit down with my box of seeds, the garden plan from the year before, and a notebook to get ready for the growing season ahead.  Here are the steps I take to make sure we have a full pantry next year.

Evaluating Last Year's Garden

This is our fifth year with this garden plot.  Each year has been different.  Sometimes I try new crops, like last year we grew sweet potatoes for the first time.  We've loved having them in the basement and they have kept even better than the potatoes.  This is probably because our cold storage isn't as cold as potatoes would like.  However, the sweet potatoes and winter squash love it.  I also, had an onion crop failure last year which I'm still frustrated by.    I wrote up an Annual Report on the Vegetable Garden for this blog and at the end there is a list of notes for the coming season.  I read through them to remind myself and then moved on to the next step.

Additions or Changes

I decided to grow sweet potatoes again, we don't have room for more or I would consider expanding.  This coming year I am buying both onion seed and sets to make sure we have a successful harvest.  I also decided to move some of the more water thirsty crops like basil, tomatoes and zucchini to the north end of the garden where they will be nearest the rain barrel and at the front of the soaker hoses.  Other than that, 2018 will be similar to 2017.

List of Seeds, Starts and Sets

This is the step I need to get to sooner rather than later.  I am often slack in ordering and am disappointed when exactly what I wanted is sold out or I have to order from multiple companies.  January is the month to get ordering done.  (Or even earlier - Although, I like to save my garden planning for after Christmas.)

This is an old tissue box (back from before we switched to handkerchiefs) that I cut the top off of and repurposed. 
It is just right for holding seed packets.  

I get out my box of seeds I have saved and the leftover bought seeds (I rarely use a whole packet in a season).  I pull out the packets of seeds for the veggies and herbs I want to grow and make sure there are enough seeds left.  I usually plan for twice as many seeds as I want plants, since not all of the seedlings will make it.  There are certain plants that I have trouble germinating with saved over seed packets, the most notable is basil.  I reorder fresh seeds every year.

I also go check the seed potatoes I have saved in the basement to make sure they are holding on.  So far so good - no rot!

I make a list of what I need to order.  This year that is:

Squash
Basil
Cucumber
Onion sets
Sweet Potato

Crop Rotation


My Crop Rotation Card

Now that I know what vegetables are going to be in the garden, it's time to figure our where they will be planted.  I have four beds, each thirty by four feet which makes crop rotation easy.  I have a four year plan.  I do grow a lot of nightshades, namely potatoes and tomatoes.  They are roughly half my garden; I make sure they don't get planted in the same place two years in a row.  Allium (onions/garlic) and squash are my other two big crops and they are on a four year rotation.   I have a note card to keep track of crop rotation.  It has a small map of the garden and a grid with the bed number across the top and the year in the left column.  Then I can see which crops are in which beds on any given year.  Looking back over the last four years, I decide the veggies that will go in each bed this year.  Since what I grow changes a little each year, it doesn't work out perfectly.  I just do the best I can.

Draft the Garden Plan

Garden Map


With my crop rotation note card at hand, I print out a map of my garden for the year.  I have a map showing the garden by square feet.  With a pencil and ruler I block out each crop's allotment.  Once that is settled, I go through and make a circle where each plant will go and an X where a hill of multiple seeds will be planted.  This information helps me remember spacing when I go to plant in the spring.  It also helps me know how much to order.  Using pencil in important.  Nothing ever quite goes as planned in a garden.

Place Seed and Plant Order

Now I have all the information, I place my seed and plant order.  I don't have a lot to buy this year.  I will only be ordering from one company to save on shipping and fuss in general.  I don't even look at seed catalogs anymore, they just make me question my plans and want things I don't have space for and aren't suited for my climate.  I get most of my advice on which varieties to try from our local market farmers. My favorite seed companies are Johnny's Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Fedco Seeds.  Don't forget to do a quick search online to see if you can find any money saving coupon codes.

This year I am ordering:

1 'Sunshine' kombocha squash seed packet
1 'Genovese' basil seed packet
1 'Harmonie' cucumber seed packet
25 'Mahon Yam' sweet potato slips
2 'Redwing' onion sets (50 per bunch)
4 'Patterson' onion sets (50 per bunch)

Order completed!

And now I'm ready for April when the onions and potatoes will be ready to put in the ground.

10.04.2017

Annual Report on the Vegetable Garden and Harvest


It is October, 2017 and we are approaching our first frost.  The garden is still straggling along; most of the harvest is in.  It is time for the annual report.  We moved into this house in the spring of 2012. After that first year, have steadily increased our gardening knowledge and harvest.

We had four garden beds, each four by thirty feet:
  1. tomato/cucumber/dill
  2. basil/sweet potato/butternut
  3. potato
  4. onion/garlic/zucchini

    and beans on the tee-pee
Potatoes

We started the year in early April by planting potatoes.  I grew four varieties this year, all from The Maine Potato Lady.  I ditched the 'All Blue' out of disappointment that they were not in fact all blue.  I chose four varieties with colored flesh; going back to my old favorites of 'Adirondack Red' and 'Adirondack Blue'.  And also, tried 'Magic Molly' and 'Bora Valley' for the first time.  In the past, I have left all my potatoes to harvest at the end of the season, then stored them and been discouraged when we couldn't eat them all before their eyes grew and the potatoes got wrinkly.  This year, I only planted one bed with potatoes and I dug them as we needed potatoes starting in July.  They were small, but it was gratifying to have those early tastes.


September 3, I began the full harvest digging all the 'Adirondacks' first.  Then as time allowed I dug the 'Magic Molly' on September 24st; and the 'Bora Valley', on October 3rd.  We have been eating the harvest as needed.  I took the bulk of the potatoes down to the basement to store in our cardboard lined milk crates.

We had maybe a peck of each Adirondack and the 'Bora Valley', a half peck of the 'Magic Molly', which is a fingerling potato and not expected to produce as much as the others.  Over all, the 'Adirondack Blue' is my favorite.  The 'Adirondack Red' is more of a pink.  Perhaps there is a better red fleshed potato out there.  More variety trialing is in order.  The 'Bora Valley' produced well, but was a disappointing wishy-washy blue.  The Magic Molly was indeed a magical dark, almost purple, blue and worth its space in the garden even with lower yield. 

Tomatoes

We planned on twenty tomato plants:
  • 12 'Amish Paste', 
  • 4 'Sun Gold' cherry tomatoes, 
  • 2 '100 Sweet' red cherries,
  • 2 slicers - 'Mortgage Lifter' and 'Pineapple'
We always seem to wind-up with a couple extra tomato plants, which we throw along the garage.  This year we had an extra 'Sun Gold' and '100 Sweet'.  Then two tomatoes the kids got from the Farmer's Market Kids Power of Produce program.  One was a red plum tomato and the other a red cherry.  The red plum was surprisingly productive, no splitting or other problems.  The German Baptist woman who was running the tent, said they were seeds she had been saving that had been passed down from her grandpa.  I should remember to save some of the seeds too.  Those little toms were great for Caprese and throwing in the dehydrator for sun dried tomatoes.



My paste tomatoes had a rough go.  They got some type of fuzzy white bug, probably wholly aphids.  I should have tried to manage them, but I did nothing and the plants produced, but not that much.  We also had to put netting over them, because there were birds pecking them as soon as they got color.  They yielded about a bushel in the first big flush.  I used them to make pizza sauce.  I had to buy/work-share for  two and a half additional bushels to reach what I needed for canning.  One of the bushels I got was a lug of heirloom slicers that were very juicy, but mostly water, and to get a nice thick consistency to my sauce, I had to cook them down to about 1/3 of their original volume.  It reminded me why I grow paste tomatoes for canning.

The 'Sun Gold' were slow to get started, but have been producing nicely, despite also being infested with wholly aphids.  The '100 Sweet' cherry are my pick for dehydrating.  It is nice to just slice them in half and pop them in.  I froze about two and a half gallons of dried tomatoes this year, most were cherry tomatoes, but some were from the farms I work-share with and some were random tomatoes that had split or needed to be processed immediately and couldn't wait for me to make sauce.

Of the two slicers 'Pineapple' was more productive and tastier than 'Mortgage Lifter' by far.   All that appealed of 'Mortgage Lifter' was its name.  'Pineapple' was a large, juicy fruit, yellow with a red/orange flame and had a full, sweet flavor.  It was prone to cracking, but self healed and sliced beautifully for BLTs.

Alliums



The garlic was lovely this year.  Last year, I planted five by four feet with cloves.  I have been saving my seed each year, from heads I originally got from the Kindys four years ago.  In the spring, they came up well and scaped in early June.  I made some pesto from the garlic scapes that the kids refused to eat.  It was very strongly flavored.  I froze two batches to enjoy with friends this winter.  I harvested over 100 heads of garlic a month later.  It took me a bit to get them cleaned and into storage.  I held back the best heads to replant this fall and the rest of the garlic is in in the basement ready for the long nights ahead.



My onions were a bust.  I ordered sets from The Maine Potato Lady.  They arrived at an inopportune moment when it was very wet.  They had to sit awhile before I got them in the ground.  And then once they were planted we got a late frost and that was the end for 80% of them.  The few 'Red Wings' that made it past the frost, grew into huge onions. They had a great summer weather and lots of room after most of their brethren bit it.  Hawkins were nice enough to give me a couple trays of their extra bunching onions, which I planted in the now vacant space.  They grew well enough, but they aren't storage onions.  I work-shared for a bushel and a half of storage onions at Joy Field Farm to have something onhand.

Cucumbers and Dill

It seems natural to grow cucumbers and dill next to each other.  We had a good pickle season.  I had more than enough for our dill pickle needs and plenty to share with neighbors.  I planted two kinds of cucumbers 'Harmonie' and 'Northern Pickling'  both were older seed, so I hedged my bets and put two pips of each in my three hills.  Surprisingly both germinated.  The 'Harmonie' were clear favorites.  They have a darker green skin with lots of tiny bumps and a sweet firm flesh.  The 'Northern Pickling' had the larger bumps and lighter green color.  The flavor was watery and the seeds in a four-inch or larger cucumbers were much more developed and harder than the 'Harmonie'.  Guess which one I'll grow again next year?



Dill grew fine, like dill seems to do.  I have been growing a variety called 'Dukat Leafy' dill.  It is nice, four plants produce more than my needs.  For the first time this year, I didn't cut the heads off to prevent self-seeding.  Instead, I let the seeds mature and (tried) to cut them when the seeds were starting to dry on the heads, but hadn't yet started to shatter.   I saved a lot of seeds if any local friends would like any.

Basil



I allotted four by four feet to the basil.  Basil is a finicky seed, and doesn't have a long shelf life.  Maybe my seed was old, but multiple sowings did not yield any sprouts.  We got 30 seedlings from grandpa.  Sixteen went in the sixteen square feet of space.  The others in random openings around the garden.  It was a great year for basil, very wet and mild.  We did a good job harvesting regularly to prevent flowering.  Last year we had a low harvest of basil and ran out of frozen provisions in April.  We had to go several months with no pesto and as noted in the allium section, the kids don't like garlic scape pesto.  So I was more ambitious this year.   Over the last couple months, I froze 52 batches of pesto!  That's more than I've ever done.  It's the outside goal of one batch a week for the whole year.

Squash

Zucchini is something Jeff insists we grow.  We've both come to like the yellow varieties because they are easier to see and pick than the green versions.  'Yellow Fin' is a nice straight variety that has become a favorite.  We had old seed and poor germination.  Then once new seed was acquired, we over seeded and then didn't thin, so production was low over all.  We did have a couple weeks of plenty in early September.  I didn't freeze any this year.



Butternut Squash is one of my favorites.  It gets sweeter as the winter gets darker and is one of the foods we can enjoy in the lean months of February and March.  My seed for this year was also not cooperative.  We wound up growing random bulk seeds from the hardware store.  They had a late start and are maybe going to make it to maturity before frost.  I've been bringing the squash in as they get ripe and harden up, we will probably yield 10-12 small ones.  I would have loved to have 20-30 butternuts to store for winter.  I got ten more from Joy Field to supplement our harvest.

Sweet Potato

It has not frozen yet and I'm letting the sweet potatoes keep growing.  This is my first year growing them.  I bought six slips of 'Beauregard' and six of 'Covington' from The Maine Potato Lady.  I'm excited to see what they have produced in their hilled rows.  I'll have to come back and update after the harvest.

Green Beans

When Junebug was little I decided she needed a space of her own in the garden, a tee-pee to play in.  I didn't think much about what would grow on the tee-pee, that wasn't the important part.  It turns out neither of my kids liked playing in it much, but it has been an excellent place for pole beans.  We grew 'Blue Lake' green beans because they were available at the hardware store and said they were string-less.  From the six plants, we yielded around three gallons of beans.  Most we ate fresh, but a gallon or so, plus another gallon and a half from the Kindys, were pressure canned into pints.  I've always frozen my beans in the past, but there wasn't room in the freezer this year.  I hope we like canned beans.  After the initial flush of beans in late August/early September, I've been harvesting a handful here and there. There are still flowers coming, but the season is almost over.

Closing Thoughts



And that's it for the 2017 Growing Season.  This was the year of the bountiful basil and the pathetic onions.  In our 480 square feet of space, we grew veggies and herbs to eat fresh and enough to fill most of my canning jars and the chest freezer.  The old coal-shoot in our basement that we use as the root cellar needs more shelves to hold all the goodies we stored for winter.

Next Season 

After spending time reflecting on the garden writing this post up, I have a few ideas I want to write down for my future garden-planning self.

Things to try next year:
  • Nasturtiums - you can eat the flower and the seed pod, plus they are pretty.
  • Save more of your own seeds, particularly try cucumbers and tomatoes - the wet seeds are always intimidating - just go for it.   
  • Be more proactive if onion sets don't take.  Make sure you are buying storage onions like: 'Patterson', 'Copra', 'Red Wing', or 'Red Bull'
  • One bed of just potatoes and one of just allium is good for our family of four.  
  • Maybe expand so you can have more room to try more pumpkins and winter squash.  Wouldn't some French Cinderella pumpkins be awesome for eating and decorating with? 
For more on my gardening and cooking adventures follow me on Instagram where I post daily @FoyUpdateBlog