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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not pretty, but late season tomatoes taste good

We were shut out all summer, but now our tomato plants are giving us a little fruit. They don't look terribly attractive. They're cracked and pocked. They're not very red. Still, when you cut them open and take a bite, they're pretty tasty. They don't have the flavor of juicy, mid-summer tomatoes, with that perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. And they're smaller by far. But they're still better than anything you can get in a store.  Nothing is ever as good as homegrown. So, thank you tomato plants, for finally coming through. Better late than never!
Cherokee Purple tomatoes

Meager harvest better than nothing!

Friday, September 20, 2013

More fun with Serrano pepper recipes

Our Serrano pepper plant finally offered up its last fruits on the weekend. But the cooking is hardly done. I have dozens of them in the fridge. A few weeks ago, I made these roasted chiles with a recipe suggested by my friend Kim in Texas. Eat one of these babies and it will burn your face off! Really. Another idea, chop up one or two of them to add to dishes that need some spice. Though they're usually picked green, I could not keep up with them and some ripened to a rosy red. They're still hot as...
Freshly washed peppers from the garden
Flatten the peppers with a large knife; be sure to wear gloves or you might get hot hands


Coat with oil (I used canola) and saute in a skillet on med/high heat

When the skin is browned and bubbled (on both sides), they're ready to eat. But proceed with caution!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ripe tomatoes at last

Tomatoes! We've finally got some tomatoes! If this were July, we'd be thrilled. But it has taken until September to finally see a ripe tomato. Well, better late than never. These black cherries will be sitting in a salad by later tonight.

Some of the beefsteaks are coming along too. Maybe by the time we're back from vacation next week, an heirloom Cherokee Purple (above) or Brandywine (below) will be ready to pluck. 
We're still waiting for Aunt Ruby's German Greens (below) to ripen. They get to be a deeper shade when they're ready to eat.

All told, we won't get much of a harvest, but for all the trouble of growing these puppies from seed to vine, at least we'll get a small taste of deliciousness for fall.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Recipes starring Serrano chilies

Sure I'd like to be cooking with tomatoes about now, but since our tomato harvest was a bust  (I'm still holding out hope for the green fruit that has finally sprouted on our vines) I've started preparing some fun dishes with our Serrano peppers. We have one very productive plant, and faced with an abundance of hot chilies, I began seeking out recipes calling for them. I found one for Chicken Enchiladas Verdes at Simply Recipes through Tastebook (my favorite food app). I'm new to cooking Mexican food (though not eating it) so it was a fun experience and it turned out to be a tasty--and spicy--meal.  Fresh corn salad with cucumber, cherry tomato (from a farm stand), red onion, cilantro and a mustard vinaigrette  made the perfect side dish.  Next, I will try my own hot sauce with a recipe from my friend Kim in Tejas. I can already feel the burn!
Oh, p.s., if you are cooking with hot peppers be sure to wear gloves! I got a case of hot hands last week that kept me up half the night. After trying soap and water, aloe, olive oil, and a few other Web remedies, I rubbed ripe banana all over my hands and the burning finally subsided. Maybe the enzymes in the fruit neutralized the capsaicin. I'm just glad it worked.
Yummy chicken enchiladas made with my Serrano chilies

Monday, August 19, 2013

Blueberry bird feeder

That didn't take long! I removed the nets from my blueberry bushes and within days the Mockingbirds were back. I woke this morning to the sound of chirp chirp.
I thought they'd left town since I hadn't seen or heard from them since one had slipped under the net and I had to help it get out. That was a few weeks ago.But these are persistent little buggers. As I peered out my window, I saw the grey bird on the terrace railing, berry in beak. It did a head tilt, a quick swallow and off it went, laughing, I'm sure.
Well, it's end of season and there are just a few berries left so what the heck. Go to town little critters. Enjoy the fruits of my labor!
This Jersey berry bush was netted last week. Now it's fair game for the birds.