Stacking Functions Garden

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Before and after

Oh early June. It was a time of great hope. Few if any vegetable-eating insects. Barely a day over 70 degrees. Full of excitement, I leaned out my upstairs window and took some pictures of the garden. They turned out so neat, I said to myself: “I’m going to do this every week all summer!”

Two and a half months later I remembered and took some more. So you’re just going to have to imagine everything in between:

view of garden from above

June 5, 2011: cabbages, garlic, and some new beets and celeriac on the right. Beans just sprouted under the trellises.

garden from above

August 14, 2011: cabbages and garlic long gone, beans reaching for the sky

another view of the garden from above

June 5, 2011: looking towards the back yard. Beets, celeriac, more garlic and some tiny pepper plants. Cucumbers barely sprouted.

Garden from above

August 14, 2011: beans and cucumbers reaching the second story, some prairie flowers we can't kill, and... another project.

Wait, what’s that in the back yard? Adam and the kids have been working on it all summer: a new garden shed! I plan to do a full post about it, when it’s finished. Since we’re patiently seeking out secondhand cedar siding, it might be another month or two.


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Recipe: cucumber-mint sorbet

What do you do when you accidentally end up with a couple of giant cucumbers? We sought the answer to this very question last week:

Fortunately we now have an answer: cucumber mint sorbet!

2 very large cucumbers
1/2 c. honey
handful of mint leaves – bruised/chopped
1 lime or 1/2 lemon

Peel and seed cucumbers. Roughly chop and place in food processor or blender. Add a generous pinch of salt, and let sit for about 10-15 minutes — they will start to release their liquid.  Add both the zest and the juice from the lemon/lime, along with the honey and mint leaves. Process to a fine purée.  Refrigerate for at least two hours so the flavors can mingle.

Put it in an ice cream maker and run it for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a freezer-safe container, and freeze it for a good hour or until it firms up nicely.  (Or you could just skip the ice cream maker and put it directly into the freezer in a metal bowl and stir it once an hour or so until it’s ready.)  Check on it though, because once it gets really frozen solid (e.g. the next day), you will need to let it sit out at room temperature for a good 30 minutes before you’ll be able to scoop it.

Many sorbet recipes that we looked at called for 1 c. or more of sugar, which we felt was a little excessive. This was just the perfect hint of sweetness, so that you could still really taste the cucumber.


If you have texture issues with pulp, you may want to strain the mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth after it’s been refrigerated and before you put it in the ice cream maker.

Add gin or vodka to keep it from freezing completely solid.

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Vine-ripened tomatoes

green zebra heirloom tomato

Green zebra tomatoes - a little trickier to know when these are ready!

A neighbor asked me recently when was the best time to pick tomatoes. In the past, I always left mine on the plant until they were very ripe. Recently, I’ve been picking them sooner.

Last year we visited Natura farm and learned that CSA farms pick tomatoes a bit sooner than fully ripe. Generally, vine-ripened means the tomato has started to ripen on the vine. This allows growers to ship when the tomato is still somewhat hard, and deliver it to consumers just as it reaches perfection. Makes sense. The farmer I spoke with said there’s little to no difference in flavor between partially vine-ripened and fully vine-ripened.

So how do you define partially vine-ripened? My definition: the tomato is starting to turn red.  It might not be fully, bright red, but it’s more red than green. You can see there’s a range of colors that fit this description:

Of course some of these pictured are yellow ‘blondkopfchen’ cherry tomatoes, which often do end up being fully ripe before I pick them because they ripen fast (they get eaten fast, too).

If you, like me, are cursed with squirrels eating your tomatoes just as they reach perfection, here’s one solution — pick the tomatoes a few days early and let them ripen on your counter top.

Those green zebras at the top were tricky — I’ve never grown them before so I wasn’t sure what their final color actually is (I could have just googled it). But Tracey, you were right: they are absolutely delicious.

One final word: never refrigerate tomatoes–home-grown or store-bought. They lose flavor in the fridge. Even the Washington Post agrees with me on this one.

This just in: apparently storing tomatoes stem-side down makes them last much longer. (Thanks Laura!)


And now, squash vine borers

Well, that’s it. I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel on 2011’s garden. It’s been one thing after another around here — thank goodness I don’t have to actually sustain my family on this garden because we’d be facing one lean winter. Earlier this week I noticed my squash and pumpkin vines were looking a little wilty. Then today they seemed a LOT wilty:

I could see this little guy from several feet away:

squash vine borer

It’s a squash vine borer. This is my first experience with them. We ended up pulling out ALL of the squash and pumpkin plants. So depressing. They were full of these little worms. I didn’t dare compost them, so we bagged everything up and threw it in the garbage.

The good news: these borers do not attack cucumber plants, so hopefully my pickle crop is still safe.

U of M Extension has some really great info on preventing squash vine borers.  Among the ideas:

You can physically exclude adult borers by placing floating row covers over your vine crops when they start to vine (or for non-vining varieties, starting late June or early July) or when you first detect squash vine borer adults. Keep the barriers in place for about two weeks after the first adult borer has been seen. Be sure the row covers are securely anchored to prevent adults from moving underneath it.

Caution: Generally do not use floating row covers anytime crops are flowering. This prevents bees from pollinating your vegetables…

My favorite garden pest book suggested pulling out all the diseased parts, squashing every worm you find, then pushing the healthy part of the vine into the soil and piling some compost on top in hopes that it will send out roots and maybe (maybe) I’ll have a chance of still getting a pumpkin.  I tried it with one really healthy-looking vine, but I’ll be surprised if it works.

Well, there’s always next year I guess.  Here’s a picture of the adult, for future reference:

adult squash vine borer

I never saw these guys in late June, but they look a bit like boxelder bugs — which we had A LOT of, so they probably just blended right in.

First time I’ve tried to grow pumpkins and squash, and it was a fail. Really, maybe I’ll just plant my entire garden with garlic, chamomile, and mint next year. Fail-proof, right?


Garlic and squirrel war

Here’s the garlic, all cleaned up and tied into a nice, neat (huge) bunch:

Thank goodness the garlic turned out, because everything else has been rather uninspiring. Here’s yesterday’s harvest:

Those turnips were rather small and woody. I did not thin them out enough. Turnips: easy to grow but need a lot of room. Then there’s this:

My biggest, most beautiful “Big Rainbow” heirloom tomato, only days from being picked: attacked by squirrels. This is war. Adam was looking at wrist rockets and blow guns online today. How do you combat squirrels?