Thursday, June 4, 2015

How to plant an urban garden

Our garden is up and running again, though this season we were lazy urban farmers. We chose to buy tomato seedlings instead of growing them ourselves. We bought heirloom plants, mostly from Union Square Green Market. We got black cherry and Aunt Ruby's German Green (below) plants from Silver Heights Farm - an organic nursery with a booth at the market. It has the widest choice of heirlooms, though the plants are very long and leggy. I burried the stems very deeply in the pots to make them stronger as they grow taller. We bought two Cherokee Purple and two Brandywine plants from different vendors at the market. Because we went store-bought, we didn't experiment with new varieties the way we do when we buy seeds from, but maybe that's a good thing. We've had some clunkers the past few seasons. This year, we went with our greatest hits. Now, the real work begins - nurturing them to get a bountiful harvest of amazing fruit. We replaced the old Miracle Grow with new organic soil. We fired up the automatic watering system. We pinched the early flowers to give the plants a chance to grow stronger. We fertilized with Jobs Tomato Spikes for the right balance of nutrients. And now, we wait. It will take a couple months, but when the tomatoes come in, they will be truly delicious. There is nothing like a home-grown heirloom!
Of course, we didn't stop at tomatoes. We've got salad greens, arugula, Red Russian kale, sweet bell peppers, Hungarian hot wax peppers, Ichiban Japanese eggplants, and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme - and basil, peppermint, lavender and chives, strawberries and blueberries too!

First Strawberry
Young blueberries
Red Russian Kale
Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato
Basil seedling

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Best recipe for ramps

I didn't grow these ramps in my garden - they were farm fresh from the Union Square Green Market. The recipe, however, is my own. Stir-fried with broccoli and drizzled with a soy-hoisin-sweet-chili sauce mixed in relatively equal proportions, the ramps were delicious and the main attraction. I served the dish with a side of faro (because I ran out of both quinoa and brown rice) and was surprised by how well the grain complemented the veggies.
I have always struggled to find a good recipe for ramps each spring, last-resorting to ramps and eggs, which is certainly tasty, but not terribly exciting. Cooking them Asian-style really brought out the best in the wild spring onion. The ramp bulbs maintained their crunch and the greens wilted like spicy spinach. The WOK made all the difference in enhancing the ramps' earthy flavor. This is a recipe I will come back to year after year.
Fresh from the Green Market

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring flowers make an entrance

On this glorious spring-like day, my hyacinths couldn't resist poking their heads out of the dirt to greet the sun.

This green shoot will become a beautiful purple flower soon

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How my orchid grows

Sure it's frigid outside, but in my home this blooming orchid reminds me that spring will be here soon. Every year around this time, the flowers return in all their glory. It's a sight that never gets old.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Garden Party Is Over

The party's over. Once again, our garden is ready for a long sleep. I've plucked the last tomatoes from the vines and though I see a few flowers here and there, I know they have no chance of fruiting. But there are still some bright spots.
The tomato vines have called it quits

This little eggplant wants to grow up. We'll see...

I'm rooting for these mini bell peppers.

The big bell pepper plants are determined to keep growing

The worms are getting their last meal, munching our collard greens.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yes, we had some tomatoes

This was the best tomato season we've had in three years, though still not as bountiful as in seasons past. We lost our Brandywine plant to the bunchy top virus, a very unusual disease that makes the plant stop growing and the leaves, well, bunch up. Our Cherokee purple produced mediocre fruit. But the chocolate stripes (below) were delicious and our red and black cherries were equally tasty.
Beefy: our chocolate stripe tomatoes tasted the best.
A tomato medley, including cherries and beefsteaks.
This chocolate stripe is ready for its close up!
Japanese oxhearts are great for roasting.
Ugly, but edible. They can't all be beauties.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mystery of the missing Mockingbirds

I've written many posts since we started growing blueberries four years ago complaining about Mockingbirds that view our bushes as as nothing more than giant feeders. But this year, despite a bumper crop of blueray berries, the birds are strangely uninterested. We have seen them on nearby buildings and regularly hear them singing. We even sighted one on our terrace recently. But they have not been feeding on our juicy fruit. Sure, the berries are a little tart, but could that be it. The berries just aren't to their liking this season? Are these birds such connoisseurs that they are rejecting our fruit? Our neighbors Michele and Charles across the street grow blueberries as well. Are the birds stocking up there? I should be overjoyed. After all, when they come, they babble, chirping with verve outside our bedroom window at 5:30 a.m. And when they nosh, they take the berries just before they're perfectly ripe, which leaves us with little worth eating for ourselves. So, I'm thrilled that the birds have found blue-r pastures. I'm just trying to make sense of it all.
A bumper blueberry crop has not attracted Mockingbirds this year

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ants and aphids make for a gruesome garden

Sometimes, rather than bucolic idylls, gardens can be horror shows. Like when you discover squishy white aphids all over your beautiful Japanese eggplant, just as the flowers are beginning to bloom. Couple them with ants crawling all over the plant, not to eat the aphids, but to protect them, and its enough to turn a sunny day black indeed. Turns out that ants are sort of aphid farmers that sup on the tiny bugs' "honeydew"--a sweet secretion they produce. As soon as I discovered this unappetizing scene I went to work to salvage the plant. I pulled out my spray bottle of soapy water and washed away as many of the small bugs as I could (and there were hundreds, maybe even thousands!) Then I sprayed the Ichiban eggplant with Safer Insect Killer (I hate to use it but aphids are tenacious and will kill your plant.) Finally, I squirted tiny blobs of Combat ant killer (it comes in a syringe-like tube) on the pot rim where ants were swarming. Just minutes later, I witnessed a gruesome sight: ants feasting on the poison which is engineered to attract them. An orgy of delight for such a fortuitous meal ensued. The ants were of course unaware of the consequences: certain death. After two treatments, I am happy to report that the aphids and the ants were seriously depleted! But vigilance is a must. Aphids are hard to eradicate entirely. They often return on the young leaves. Still, the plant is back to healthy and plenty of eggplants are growing. What a relief!

This gorgeous eggplant was growing beautifully

But then I noticed aphids.  They are the tiny white dots

Combat attracts ants who eat it and then bring the poison into the nest
This feast will end badly

Healthy again. The lovely purple flower could become a Japanese eggplant in a few weeks

Friday, November 15, 2013

Roast tomatoes to bring out the flavor

In a recent post I said our late season tomatoes tasted good, even though they looked bad. But that's before I picked a few that weren't quite as delicious as I had hoped.  The season may be over now, but I still have a few last tomatoes ripening in a bag. I can almost guarantee that they won't be good to eat without some doctoring. It is especially true for the Japanese oxheart variety, a sort of pink plum tomato that we planted for the first time this year. They just didn't turn out well, even before the frost. But when they are tossed in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, with a splash of olive oil, salt and garlic, the mediocre, mushy tomatoes are transformed into fragrant, flavorful, juicy treats. I've been serving them over pasta with a little grated Parmesan. Mmm.
Roasted tomatoes from the garden with garlic, salt and peppers.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cold weather could spell end of the harvest

The spring-like fall has been great for our tomato plants. Stubbornly barren all summer, they sprang into action in September and have been producing fruit ever since. But with the mercury suddenly dropping and the threat of frost, the late tomato surge may be for naught. That big fat Brandywine beefsteak below may end up as a fried green tomato.
This time of year is always one of life and death in the garden, with new flowers sprouting beside dry brown leaves. I am always optimistic and believe that the growth cycle will continue endlessly, until the first frost arrives.    

This Brandywine may never ripen

Maybe these black cherries will turn rosy in a paper bag

Lonely Serrano pepper is ready to eat

My Red Russian kale will keep growing, even in colder weather