Monday, August 23, 2010

Bountiful Harvest

This is the first summer for me in the new house, and all winter I was dreaming about the garden I would create in the back yard.  I tried a new concept (for me) called square foot gardening, and had tremendous success!  With only six 4'x4' raised beds and a load of Leafgro compost, we managed to raise a garden that has produced probably over 100 pounds of vegetables.  Last weekend I tore out all of the non-producing crops and diseased squash vines so that I can start over with a second season planting of fall vegetables.  It may be a little late in August, since we have a 50% chance of a 28 degree kill frost by November 1, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I really wanted to preserve our harvest through canning, but we purchased a freezer this spring for keeping meat (sadly, our free freezer from a rummage sale was a dud that ran great but never got cold).  This left little money in the budget for start-up supplies for canning, and religiously searching Craigslist and rummage sales has not yielded any significant gains.  I'm guessing this economy has forced those with stockpiles of canning jars and a pressure canner to dust them off and put them to good use. 

Here is a list of our crops:

Swiss Chard: I let it go during the hot months and cut it all down to the ground this weekend.  It is already making a comeback

Gurney's Sweeter Yet Hybrid Cucumbers: approximately 75 cukes, so sweet and crisp, no matter how big they got.

Green Beans: This crop was something of a failure.  I diligently picked them as they came on one by one, and got tired of going through every plant daily to search for the one or two beans that had matured.  I gave up for about a week and a half, and the beans had exploded and gone to seed.  I picked everything at once, but most of the beans were too tough to eat, and the plants started to die back.  Better luck next year!

Salad Mix: More than we could possibly eat, and more than the in-laws wanted to take with them every time they came over!  The last harvest was so huge it filled a giant shopping bag completely full.  Two huge sink loads of washed lettuce later, we took a bite and threw it all away.  It had gotten too bitter with the hot weather.

A baby Baby Hubbard
Spaghetti squash (note that it is as long as the trowel)
Our most plentiful crop was the squash.  We planted baby hubbard and spaghetti squash, and two varieties of mini pumpkins (which are edible): Baby Boo (white) and Jack Be Little (orange).  I painstakingly wrapped the base of each plant with aluminum foil to prevent squash vine borers and squash bugs from decimating the crops.  I picked eggs off of the vines religiously, and killed every moth I could get my hands on, but eventually the bugs won.  I won't complain too much.  They may have taken down the vines, but only after giving us a bountiful harvest.

Cantaloupe the size of softballs proved to be the sweetest with firm flesh.  They were the perfect single serving fruit size.  We also grew little Sugar Baby watermelons with the same sweet success.  We cracked open the first watermelon when my Mom was visiting.  She and I took a picnic to Mount Vernon and ate watermelon along the banks of the Potomac one afternoon.  It was a memory I'll never forget.

Bad dog!  She does this to get attention
Here are some more pictures.  This is our Bad Dog who loves to provoke us by standing in the garden.  She looks at us and waits for us to stomp our feet, then she takes off and runs circles around the yard!  She is too cute to be mad at for long.

 Mr. JP and the squash
Mr. JP named the squash plants Audrey, after the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors.  The squash took over about half of the yard, and several of the neighboring raised beds.

Loads of sweet everbearing strawberries
We also planted strawberries along the patio early in the spring.  It was hard to cut off the blossoms for the entire spring, but since these are the everbearing variety, they had a second crop in mid-summer that we were able to harvest.  Cutting the blossoms off of new plants stimulates strong root development and leads to greater yields in the next season and hopefully, for next spring, as well.

Calendula is an edible flower

These beautiful flowers are called Calendula, and the petals are edible.  They are a hardy variety of flower and can also be used in herbal medicine.  A tincture or salve made with calendula is supposed to be good for the skin, and provides cooling properties.  I made an oil infusion from the petals and it has the most beautiful golden hue.  I will be making some lip balm with the oil this winter.

Eight Ball zucchini from a friend's garden, and cucumber salad (from my garden) in the background
This variety of zucchini, grown by a friend, are small and round.  They made a wonderful meal!  I came up with my own recipe, and it was to die for!

Stuffed Zucchini
Slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Gently place the squash in a pot of boiling water and cook until the flesh is tender.  Remove the squash from the water with a slotted spoon, and submerge in a bath of ice water (this stops the cooking process and allows you to handle the squash without burning the flesh off your hands, like I did.)

While the squash is cooking, saute some sweet onions until they are translucent, or go all the way and caramelize them for a sweet treat.  I added a bit of crushed garlic at the end.  Always add your garlic at the end of the recipe, as it burns quite easily and imparts a bitter, burned taste that will permeate the whole dish.  Dice up some tomatoes (it was early summer and cherry tomatoes were plentiful) and fresh basil, and mix with the cooked onions and garlic. 

Scoop the flesh out of the shell, taking care not to break the shell in the process.  Place scooped squash in a colander and press out the excess moisture.  Chop the flesh and mix with the onion and tomato mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Fill the empty squash cups with the mixture, top with crumbled feta cheese, and add a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top.

Broil until the mixture is heated through and the feta has a lovely golden brown roasted look.

Bon apetite!

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