Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Garden Journal - June 12

Ok, so I didn't panic and rip out all my tomato plants. After chatting with Danielle of Beet Happening (an awesome local farm - they grew all kinds of beautiful heirloom tomatoes last year) I felt a lot better about the situation. She said sometimes the leaves can curl and it's not the curly top virus, especially if they aren't yellowing. Mine look nice and green still and they have lots of flowers, so I decided to just hope for the best.

After poking around on the internets, I found that transplant shock and too much nitrogen can cause leaf curling. This year I used a whole lot of alpaca manure in my raised beds, and even though it is supposed to be very mild and doesn't burn the plants, that is a lot of nitrogen... maybe I could have gone a little easier on it. Also, I decided to try out a Master Gardener tip and planted the tomato starts about 6 inches deep - they are supposed to grow lots of roots from the buried stem. However, you can go overboard with this technique too. I know that in the Master Gardeners' demo garden, they had some tomato plants die because they were planted too deep and basically got smothered. So the curled leaves certainly could be a sign that this kind of transplanting is a little hard on them at first. But hopefully it will pay off.

June is a bit of a slow time in the garden... the peas are done, though the strawberries are steadily producing a handful or so each week. Not much else is ready yet. The kale is still tiny, as are the cabbages (although I wonder if I'm doing something wrong, since I haven't really tried growing cabbage before). The beans, chiles and okra are just seedlings. It's an ongoing goal of mine to figure out how to fill this "June gap". Which is why I need a cherry tree - they are the earliest of all tree fruits.

The most exciting thing, other than the tomato blossoms, is that the day lilies have developed a few flower buds. Every part of the day lily is edible! Not that I'm going to be chowing down on them yet - this is the first year I've tried growing them and the plants are still small. My mother-in-law has huge clumps of gorgeous day lilies. Hers are not blooming yet, because she lives about 2000 feet higher in the Jemez Mountains, but I saw some blooming in Espanola this weekend, which is closer to our elevation.

I mulched all the beds (except where seedlings are just starting) with straw, about 3 inches deep, to try to keep the soil cooler and more of the moisture in. I've never tried this before, but I keep hearing it's a good idea. I'm always worried that it will harbor more bugs and snails, but hopefully the benefits of keeping more moisture in will outweigh this possibility.  It will be interesting to see if we have less trouble with snails and pillbugs eating our strawberries, or more.

And finally, I planted a few seeds of Tarahumara squash and Hopi squash! I'm not really sure whether they are even winter or summer squash, but we'll find out. I usually don't bother planting squash at all, because the squash bugs are the most dastardly creatures - there really is no way to kill them except by hand (or maybe some super-scary industrial pesticide). But my plan this year is to cover the plants completely with Reemay cloth, until the first squash are ready, then uncover them and harvest until the squash bugs or the frost kills them, whichever comes first.

Green Gazpacho

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Gazpacho is an incredibly refreshing, yet filling, cold soup made from bread and vegetables. It's the perfect summer meal when it's so hot you don't feel like eating anything.

This one features spring vegetables, which is great because June always seems to be the hottest month here, yet the succulent summer vegetables are still a month or more away. It can be made with practically any combination of green leafy veggies. You can use green onions, garlic scapes, or garlic cloves depending on how pungent you like your gazpacho.

1 C. dry bread cubes
1 1/2 C. chilled water (plus more for soaking the bread)
1 C. almonds
1/2 t. salt
1/4 C. olive oil
2 C. chopped lettuce leaves
2 C. chopped spinach
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped (optional)
4 chopped green onions or garlic scapes (or 1 garlic clove)
2 T. any combination of fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, thyme, dill, rosemary, mint, chervil, lovage, basil or cilantro)
2 T. sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Soak the bread in just enough water to cover. After 5 to 10 minutes, when it is soft, drain and squeeze out most of the water. Combine with almonds, garlic, salt, and 1 cup chilled water in a food processor or blender. Puree until a smooth paste is formed, then drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified. Transfer to a bowl, then add the vegetables and herbs to the food processor or blender. Puree with an additional 1/2 cup of chilled water. Whisk this puree, along with the vinegar, into the bread mixture. Add pepper and additional salt and vinegar as needed. If you like your gazpacho silky smooth, puree it once more in a blender at top speed. Chill thoroughly. Serve with garnish of fresh herbs or blanched garlic scapes. Serves 8.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Garden Journal - June 5

Tragedy strikes! I'm afraid all our tomato plants may have the curly top virus....

There's nothing to be done - once they have it they won't produce much if any fruit and the only thing to do is to remove them. They get it from the leafhoppers, so there's no worry about spreading it through the soil, but it's good to get the plants out so the leafhoppers don't spread it from them to other plants. I don't feel quite ready to rip them out just yet, but unless they start looking better this week, I guess I'll have to buy all new tomato plants. It's too late to start them from seed - it takes so long for the plants to mature, I'd hardly get any tomatoes. The only way to keep the leafhoppers off is to seal them under a cloth, like the Reemay I used on the cabbages.

On the bright side, the marigold seeds I planted have already sprouted. You can tell they're marigolds by the tiny serrated true leaves coming out between the seed leaves. Last year I completely forgot to plant any marigolds. I wonder if they would repel leafhoppers - maybe I should have planted them sooner!
The yard-long beans have sprouted too! Beans are very gratifying because they are so quick to sprout and easy to grow. The trellis is re-mesh, my new favorite garden material - used for reinforcing concrete slabs, you can buy a 4x7ft section of it for $7 at Lowe's. It's also great for making tomato cages, because it's tall enough to support a great big plant and long enough to make a cage about 2 feet in diameter. And best of all, the holes are big enough to pull a 2-pound tomato through!

The strawberries are starting to go into full production, even though they're still such small plants. The sowbugs keep eating the bottoms off the berries, though! This mulch needs to be much thicker - two or three inches at least, and maybe that will stop the little buggers. This week I need to get out there and really mulch everything. I had been waiting for the spring winds to stop so my straw wouldn't blow away, but they seem to be continuing later than usual this year.

We love volunteers! Not sure what this is, growing next to one of Dave's chiles, but I'm guessing some type of melon or squash. Last year we had a gigantic kabocha squash vine growing out of the compost pile, across the yard and up the plum tree! It produced 6 or 7 healthy squashes and they were delicious. I've often had the yellow pear tomatoes volunteer in different places around the garden, and the arugula was great last year.

And to finish up this week's garden journal, one of my favorite plants, the walking onion. Dave's mom gave me a few of these several years ago, and they just keep hanging out, spreading and coming back every year. Aren't they beautiful? They're tasty too.

Rhubarb Tart

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Oh, I just LOVE this photo! Rhubarb is my absolute favorite spring treat – I look forward to it even more than strawberries or asparagus, maybe even more than peas. Some varieties are a gorgeous deep red, but Victoria, the variety many home gardeners grow, is mostly green. I love its tanginess tempered with plenty of sugar in pie, sorbet, trifle, or just plain sauce. I've been making rhubarb soda with the sauce and a little seltzer water. I'm really excited to try making a rhubarb barbecue sauce this year. But this tart might be the most beautiful way I know to serve rhubarb.

Baking the rhubarb allows it to keep its shape and color. I first had a tart like this at the fabulous P'tit Louis Bistro downtown, made with tiny green rhubarb stalks, and I've been meaning to re-create it ever since. I think the secret is to macerate the rhubarb in sugar and let it sit overnight to absorb some of the sugar, and by this logic it may actually be better to use small stalks.

3-4 large rhubarb stalks (or a big handful of small ones)
A few sprigs of lemon verbena or zest of an orange (optional)
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1 pre-made pie crust or puff pastry
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Trim the ends off the rhubarb stalks and cut them into roughly square pieces. Toss with sugar and chopped lemon verbena or zest, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lay the pastry in a pie plate or square baking dish, folding the edges over to fit. Strain the juice from the rhubarb to remove the lemon verbena leaves. If there is a lot of juice, pour it into a saucepan and begin simmering to reduce it. Arrange the chunks of rhubarb in a single layer on the crust. I like to do an alternating pattern, by turning each piece so the ribs face the opposite way from the one next to it, so that it looks like lattice. When the liquid is reduced to a small enough amount of syrup that it won't overflow the crust, drizzle it evenly over the top of the tart. Bake 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serves 4.