Tag Archives: garden lettuce

100 Kg of food…not too shabby

I figure at this point in time, we may just have another month or month and a half left of growing season here on Long Island. This year we have stretched our production considerably longer than in the past, and as of this last weekend we had harvested over 221 lbs of food (just over 100 Kg). Whatever we squeeze out of our yard from now on is just gravy, but I do hope to scratch the 250 lb mark before it is all over for this year.

Fall is a pretty boring season when you think of it in terms of gardening, not much to really do apart from cleaning up and start getting things somewhat ready for 6-7 months from now…I have spent the past couple of weeks removing and chopping plants that seemed to beg for a quick yanking out of the ground, and feeding them to our ever growing 2015 compost pile.

I am  now tending to a garden that is barely growing at about 20% capacity. As I remove spent plants I am discovering those that hid and had so far eluded our salad bowl. I am getting a better sense of what is worth growing again, and what is not worth saving the space for next year.

Our main attraction at present is the cut-and-come-again lettuce. We have been eating it regularly out of a 4 sqft section that I planted about a month ago. IMG_5400 IMG_5401

This weekend I decided to add 4 more sqft so we do not run out once they start growing at a slower pace. The spinach in my garden grows very slowly for some strange reason, but thankfully we have plenty of radicchio and chard to cook with in its place.IMG_5381 IMG_5398 IMG_5382

This year I experimented with a few different brassicas, most of them already did their thing a couple of months ago. The only plants of this family that we still have in the ground are Brussel sprouts, which seem to slowly be forming their tiny buds, and the fabulous kohlrabi which we have really enjoyed throughout the whole season.IMG_5383 IMG_5450

At present, we still have carrots and celery growing nicely.  Last week I pulled all the bell peppers out, and left some cubanelles and a mild hot pepper with a nice flavor to finish their show for the year. IMG_5402IMG_5377IMG_5376

Just about two weeks ago my friends Dawn and Mike gave me a small plant that produces about inch long slender but extremely hot peppers (no kidding). I hope to use these in some of my “picante” hot sauce  to see if I can harness and tame their incredible fire power to an edible level. IMG_5395

My plan for the next 7-8 weeks includes topping off my garden beds with the compost I have been cooking all season, plant the 2015 garlic, and perhaps build one last raised bed. I am not sure what is the best way to maintain the raised beds during the winter, should I cover them up or leave them exposed? If I cover them up, should I use plastic, cardboard,  hay or wood chips? Or  should I perhaps  put a thin layer of horse manure on top and cover it with leaves? Any ideas will be appreciated.

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Why is my salad so awful?

It is officially mid-summer around here on Long Island NY.  The days are very hot, sticky and humid. Awesome weather if you are a plant I guess.  It is the kind of weather that makes you crave a cool refreshing salad with produce picked right off the garden. IMG_4272

Since our tomatoes have so far refused to turn any shade of red, we have been hitting our lettuces and the like pretty heavily. So much that some have now grown very tall and look like some sort of palm tree.IMG_4390

A few evenings ago I went out to collect an assortment of greens for a fresh dinner salad. I picked about a pound of leaves altogether. I had red ones, green ones, mottled ones, smooth ones and ruffled ones too, a good looking mixed bunch. IMG_4066

I washed it, spin dried it, chopped it, and then mixed it with cucumber I picked early that day, some red onion and store bought tomato.  For dressing I used a quick balsamic vinaigrette, nothing fancy but a favorite at our house.

I don’t think I exaggerate when I say our salad tasted as if I had made it with freshly picked oak leaves. Crunchy and fresh but awfully bitter.  After washing the taste with plenty of water, my mind rushed to the garden, what were we going to do with all that lettuce still out there? There was still plenty of lettuce, radicchio and Swiss chard to feed our family for a few days.  The thought of having to trash it all was not a happy one, I hate to waste food.IMG_4251

An online search on bitter lettuce will lead you to bolting lettuce, and will give you suggestions on how to prevent or minimize the bitterness in leafy greens. Below are some I have tried and somewhat seem to work for us.

Heat not only makes lettuce go to seed (bolting), but somewhat stresses the lettuce and that makes it taste bitter, so avoid picking leaves during or at the end of the day. I find it best to harvest the lettuce very early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to warm up too much. IMG_4388

Collect all the leaves in a container with cold water. I actually use water with ice cubes, as at this time of year the water coming out of the faucet never gets cold enough.IMG_4289 IMG_4362

Wash, select and hydrate the lettuce by placing the leaves right side up in a bowl with cold water for at least 6 hours.  We make mixed heads of lettuce by placing the smaller leaves in the center and surround them with larger leaves.IMG_4368 IMG_4305

Once the leaves are well hydrated, drain them and store them in the fridge inside zip lock bags.IMG_4392 IMG_4394

Of course, taking care of late season lettuce as detailed above does not make it as sweet as it was in the spring when it was young and tender, but certainly makes it a lot less bitter and definitely edible. Also, once you mix it with other vegetables and a nice salad dressing, any hint of leftover bitterness cannot be tasted. Nonetheless, avoid using the older tougher leaves, or stems of those greens that have turned fuzzy, those are definitely best in your compost.

Hope this works for you too, even if it gets you a couple more decent salads it is well worth it. In a few weeks you can start all over again with a new planting for fall and early winter harvest.

For more information on keeping lettuce check one of my older posts

Sailing through the doldrums

A fellow blogger and gardener now living in Austria said it very well in her recent garden post  “Practically Nothing Left To Do”.  After all the rushing to get things ready for summer growing season, we now enter a phase in which there is little to do but wait. The day to day progress is so difficult to perceive that it seems nothing is happening out there in the garden. IMG_4063 IMG_4062 IMG_4058 IMG_3911

Needless to say this is not my favorite time of year in gardening, I like it much better when I am running around getting things done, not just waiting for nature to do its thing.

This week was definitely quiet around here, I had enough time to build a second compost pen. It is now easy to turn the compost and the whole process seems to be going much faster. On the other hand, I have not been able to dial it in right with the compost tumbler. The temperature does not seem to get high enough in there, and the results have been marginal. I may re start a new batch in it with grass clippings and chopped up brown leaves. IMG_3850

We are still harvesting a nice variety of greens on somewhat regular basis. If last week was salad week, this can be called pea week. I only planted 6 square feet with peas, just as a novelty since I had never been successful with them in the past. IMG_4001 IMG_3934

In eight days we have collected 436 gr of super crunchy and sweet snap peas. The first few batches never made to the table, as we munched them while making breakfast. Now that we have satisfied that craving we will likely have enough to use when we make a stir fry one of these nights.IMG_4045

The tomatoes are growing nicely, all plants have fruit and flowers on them. A couple pepper plants have started showing interest in putting out flowers, this is the earliest I have seen peppers do that in my garden. I hope for a good crop of the extra hot ones I planted this year. The eggplants have been somewhat lagging in development and do not look too happy. I have attributed the slow growth of some plants to the mild, or rather chilly spring we just had, but others like the kohl rabi have been shining all season, let’s just see what the future brings, after all this is the first week of summer. IMG_4059 IMG_4056IMG_3908

Yesterday one of our summer squash gave us its first baby, a happy and bouncing 290 gr baby zucchini. IMG_3990

Like with all of my zucchinis, it was the result of manually assisted pollination, as I still don’t trust the bugs around here to do the job right. That zucchini will also find its way into some delicious stir fry. IMG_4030

This week I also freed some squares after removing the gigantic cauliflower plants that were occupying the space and shading every other plant in the bed. I must admit that the cauliflower and broccoli were somewhat a disappointment. The size of all the flowers was rather small for such huge plants. Next year I may not devote so much space to growing these even if I figure out where I went wrong.IMG_3920 IMG_3727

My new seedlings, spaghetti and winter squash, water melon and cantaloupe are growing nicely in their grow bags. IMG_3905IMG_4061IMG_4060This week I will thin them out further so as to keep a max of two plants per bag. I like the way plants grow in these root air pruning containers, and how easy and inexpensive it is to make them.  Next season I will use them to grow many other crops.

Much less impressive, but equally rewarding has been the production of castings from my one tote worm farm. Last week I collected a heaping 5 quarts of castings and about a  cup of concentrated compost tea, both of which I quickly put to use around the garden.IMG_3941 IMG_3940

My fun project at this time is trying to grow lettuce and water cress in our pond. We no longer keep fish in it, as the herons made away with a few hundred dollars worth of koi over a two year period. Nonetheless, given the growth of all the marginal and submerged plants in the pond, I am confident there is abundant nutrients in the water to support a few lettuces floating on rafts. I will update their development in subsequent posts, if you have experience with this, please share in a comment.IMG_3895 IMG_3892IMG_4076 IMG_4075

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It is salad time

June is always a salad month, not a stew or a sauce month, definitely just a salad month. All plants are surely growing, but most are too immature to feed a hungry family.  This early in the season all I am able to harvest consistently is salad greens and radishes. IMG_3760

No, I am not complaining, we enjoy being able to go out and pick a nice mix of of lettuces to eat that same eve. We always make sure to include assorted color, shape and textured leaves for best flavor and visual impact. IMG_3761 IMG_3762 IMG_3922 IMG_3915

Since we started harvesting our greens about 10 days ago the combined harvest of lettuces and the like (spinach, young chard, etc) has been plentiful, but not excessive. We are harvesting on a cut and come again basis, and so far we have visited  75% of the plants, some of which have been cut more than once already. IMG_3923 IMG_3924

I certainly cannot take full credit for our production, the cooler and wet weather we have been experiencing has kept the lettuce growing and not induced it to bolt.

Last week I reported on our first radish harvest. Our first three square feet of radishes produced over 1.6 lbs. That is a lot more radish than we bought in all of last year, however having it available and fresh, has made it easy for us to include them in our diet. It is so easy to grow, that I have already replaced the harvested squares with new plantings. Today I started picking a different square with long radishes, Salad Rose variety from Burpee Seeds. IMG_3855 IMG_3877 IMG_3881

Beautiful red skin with a pink to whitish center, very crisp texture and live peppery flavor.IMG_3928 IMG_3929 IMG_3930

As for the rest of the garden, it seems all other plants are getting in the mood to grow and produce something. The peas are going mad trying to grab and climb up the trellis, their white flowers and pods popping out everywhere.IMG_3880 IMG_3767 IMG_3868

The tomatoes, have been flowering for a week now, and you can see fruit starting to form in some of the plants. I think this is the earliest I have had tomatoes form on the vines ever. At this rate, we may have cherry tomatoes by 4th of July. So far the plants are looking very healthy, the indeterminate variety clearly growing faster than the determinate ones.IMG_3841

The zucchinis in the grow bags are doing wonderfully, their leaves have not become gigantic as I am used to seeing them. Instead it seem as if the plants are putting more of their energy producing flowers. IMG_3878The first two male flowers came out yesterday, and today the first female flower was fully open. IMG_3839 IMG_3837 IMG_3898

Lucky enough there were also couple male flowers to get pollen from, so for sure we’ll be having zucchini this week. Check out one of my early posts on fertilizing zucchinis  A bees job. Remember also that zucchini flowers are edible, for a great way to use the flowers visit Nonna’s zucchini flower recipe.

The water melon, cantaloupe and spaghetti squash growing in bags are doing great. I am considering dedicating the small area of my yard with Southern exposure to growing plants in bags next year. IMG_3905 IMG_3823

Not everything is picture perfect though… The corn I planted a couple of weeks ago has failed to impress me. I was concerned since the beginning that the area would not get enough sun, and indeed it doesn’t. I have just a couple corn plants struggling to survive, if it wasn’t because I don’t have anything else I want to grow there I would have pulled their plug already.  My biggest concern currently is with the potatoes. Some of the plants in one of three bags started to wilt and died after the last dirt fill. Perhaps I did not leave enough leaves out of the ground, but it has been so cool and wet around here lately that I started to fear fungal infestation. I have been checking carefully for signs of fungi, but cannot see anything so far that would suggest that is the cause, in any case I just hope for warm sunny days ahead.

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Keeping them fresH2O

I have spent part of this summer trying to figure out how to preserve the two most perishable vegetables I grow. Lettuce, and zucchini (courgette) flowers.

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It is fairly easy to keep fresh one, or perhaps a couple heads of lettuce in the crisper section of the refrigerator. However, when you end up harvesting more than you can fit in the whole fridge, you know you need to try something different. The solution came to me simply, but out of necessity.

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Right after collecting a batch of lettuce leaves, I thoroughly rinse them in the sink in cold water to get rid of sand any other stuff still on them. I put them stem end down in a bowl keeping the larger leaves on the outside. I then fill the bowl up with cold water to keep the lettuce fresh. In this manner, the lettuce keeps very crispy, without drying up or browning for at least a day and a half right on the kitchen counter, without the need for refrigeration.

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Whatever lettuce we want to give away, we tie lightly in a bundle with a cord and put it in a plastic bag. I have been able to keep and transport lettuce like this for a few hours. When I have different types of lettuce available I make bundles with assorted leaves for an instant salad mix.

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Now, if figuring out how to keep lettuce came easy, zucchini flowers, on the other hand,  were a real challenge. The flowers comes up very early in the morning and if left on the plant they will close up and start wilting by early morning. As much as they are delicious for breakfast, we had seen some great recipes that we wanted to try for dinner. We had also offered flowers to friends who would not come over early enough to get them fresh off the plants.

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I tried everything: keeping the flowers on the counter; keeping them in the fridge; putting the flowers  in a vase; keeping the vase in the fridge, etc. The results were at least consistent, in the afternoon the flowers always looked somewhat sad, petals starting to curl, a little bit soft and dull yellow.

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My final try was last week. I cut the stems at the base, removing everything and leaving only the petals as a hollow tube. I rinsed the flowers and refrigerated them immersed in a bowl of water. It was not until the next evening that my wife took them out of the fridge and declared “this is it”. After more than 30 hours, the flowers were still firm, bright yellow and open all the way. We decided to eat them following Nonna’s recipe, they were delicious.

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Unfortunately, I got these promising results with the last flowers I collected before discarding and mulching the spent zucchini plants. My next batch of zucchini plants is still germinating, and will not be available for me to try again for a few weeks. If you are still getting flowers, and happen to try this, please leave me a note below, I would like to know what kind of results you get.

try some awesome zucchini/courgette flower recipes

Getting Ready for Round #2

By the end of June, we had already cleared out a couple of rows of veggies. One row had Romaine lettuce, but with the regular harvesting the plants started getting to look too scraggly, so we have ended up pulling them out and using them. The other empty row is where once again the snap peas failed to grow…

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Some of our daily harvest
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After washing the lettuce we separate it from their stems and tie it up in mixed leaf heads.

We have enjoyed the almost daily harvest of different lettuce varieties, and have been able to share with friends, neighbors and with the local church that runs a nice soup kitchen once a week.  So we have made a decision to re-plant our empty rows with new varieties of lettuce and salad greens, as well as turnips and beets. We planted the turnips and beets directly in the empty rows, and while we free up more room in the garden we started the greens in newspaper pots. There is a very good Youtube video on how to make the square pots.

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We first tried the round ones, and then found out how to make the square pots in YouTube

For Round #2 we have chosen to grow arugula, oak leaf lettuce, Swiss chard and red lettuce. As of today the seedlings were coming out of the soil, so we’ll probably be ready to plant them in another 10 days or so.

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Here they come