Monthly Archives: June 2013

Woes of Weeding

          After days and days of steady rain, interspersed with occasional ferocious thunderstorms, crops at Heart & Sole Gardens are becoming weed-infested.  June 11th was the first day in recent memory with no rain in the forecast and I decided to take advantage of the bright sun and damp soil, so I headed to the farm with weed-gripping gloves, given to me by daughter Kate, my trusty heart-shaped hoe and a small forked hand tool that is great for loosening weed roots from those of plants I actually want to grow.  When I saw deep mud standing in most of the fields, I pulled on my knee-high rubber boots.

          Upon arrival, my worst fears were confirmed; okra and beans, plants that should have been growing in rows, were almost hidden by an assortment of rapidly spreading weeds.  How do weeds grow much faster than plants we try to grow?  And, have you noticed how many weeds mimic the “good” plants growing close to them?  For example, there is a type of morning glory at the farm that intermingles with beans and the leaves of those two plants are almost identical at certain growth stages.  Last year, I discovered the vetch I thought I was weeding was actually my black garbanzo beans!  Vetch actually is not an abundant weed at Heart & Sole, but it certainly became a “friend” of those beans, much to my dismay. 

Weeds almost obliterate a row of young okra.

Weeds almost obliterate a row of young okra.

          I first set to work with the okra “row” and after crab-walking and hand pulling, I was rewarded with a nice row of okra plants.  Since one variety did not germinate with the first planting, I finished the empty space with another type of seed.  Next, the Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans’ row emerged as I diligently pulled weeds and smashed Mexican Bean Beetles as they feasted on tender bean leaves.  Pleased to note only one small spot of yellow bug eggs, I hope to keep the adult pests under control before they can breed more of their kind. 

Pest Nemesis:  Mexican Bean Beetle

Pest Nemesis: Mexican Bean Beetle

Okra plants, able to breathe after weeds are removed.

Okra plants, able to breathe after weeds are removed.

          Friends often comment about what hard work is required to hand weed.  True, it is not pleasant to squat low to the ground for hours on end, but hand weeding is the most effective method of clearing space for plants to grow.  Every time I weed, I recall a story told to me by a man whose father was a World War II Bataan Death March survivor.  After being captured by Japanese soldiers, this man’s father was made to walk, with hundreds of other prisoners, for miles and miles.  During “rest” breaks, prisoners were forced to squat for hours without allowing knees or other body parts to touch the ground.  If a man became too exhausted to hold the pose, he was shot.  When I weed, squatting in position for the time required, I always remember that story and I imagine how grateful those prisoners would have been to have a task that kept their minds occupied and off the terrible waiting.   Hand weeding is certainly not the worst job.

          After admiring the two beautiful vegetable rows, I took a “break” to dig a few potatoes.  Not from our 2013 rows, but from potato plants that emerged in areas where last year’s crop grew.  Overlooked tubers and cut pieces, turned under in the soil last fall, have become strong plants, producing potatoes that are beautiful and delicious.  Since we plan to grow other crops in this field a bit later, I acted as gleaner and harvested potatoes that would, otherwise, be wasted.  In a short time, working in soft soil, I had about five pounds of potatoes in my basket.  Red Thumb, a rose colored fingerling that is pink inside, Purple Majesty, a deep purple potato that has a juicy, dark purple, almost beetlike, flesh and French Fingerling, a light pink-skinned potato with golden flesh, highlighted with a dark pink ring, were prizes I found and I looked forward to using them in a fresh potato salad. 

          With the potato basket safely stored in a shady spot, (potatoes should never be exposed to sunlight) I headed across the small stream that bisects the farm to the field where Granny’s beans are growing.  Thrilled to see tiny beans forming and vines climbing their twine trellis, I set to work to rid the row of weeds.  With the twine and stakes in place among the bean plants, I first weeded one side and then headed down the other side to pull remaining weeds I was unable to reach on my first pass.  Almost to the end of my task, I realized the day had become very warm and I needed to stop for a drink of refreshing, hydrating water.  Promising myself I would finish in just a few minutes, I spied a Mexican Bean Beetle and decided to take a quick photo of him before his life ended.  With my phone in hand, I attempted to step over the twine trellis, but my boot, weighted with heavy mud, caught in the top layer of twine and over I went, my arm catching on the twine and then breaking it as I fell into the muddy garden.  Saying words I shouldn’t have, I pulled my phone from where it was buried in mud and took stock of my injuries.  The twine scraped my arm, just below the elbow, and there was a bit of blood, but the injury didn’t look too bad.  My shoulder caught the brunt of the fall and I knew I would pay for that later, but I brushed off as much of the dirt and mud as I could and repaired the broken twine.  Next, I finished weeding the beans and squashed every beetle I could find.

Score: Weeds, 1; Arm, 0

Score: Weeds, 1; Arm, 0

          After harvesting a basket of beautiful Rocky Top mix lettuces, digging four huge garlic bulbs, pulling a few tiny carrots and picking a handful of peas, I decided to call it quits for the day.  Another row of beans needed attention, but I just couldn’t make myself pull one more weed.  My shoulder was beginning to stiffen and a startling bruise was emerging on my arm. 

          After showering, I took stock of my body.  The bruise on my arm was swollen and already beginning to form some interesting colors.  Other bruises were appearing on my legs and other arm and a catch in my back was noticeable, but, for the most part, I seemed to be in pretty good shape after that spill.  With an aging body, I guess I just don’t bounce the way I used to. 

          I have spent the past few days resting my arm to allow it to heal.  I know those farm weeds are gleefully growing and trying to choke my plants, but I offer them fair warning:  I will be back!

Those weeds better beware!

Those weeds better beware!

 

If you are fortunate enough to find some newly dug small potatoes and fresh lettuce mix at your farmer’s market or in your garden, you might like to try this recipe.  Seasonal and delicious, it’s perfect as a side dish or a main course for warm summer evenings. 

 

Fresh Potato Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

Fresh Potato Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

Fresh Potato Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

 

About one pound of scrubbed fresh potatoes, left whole if small, or cut into bite-sized pieces

Cook potatoes in boiling water, seasoned with sea salt, until softened, careful not to overcook, drain water and allow potatoes to cool and add the following to potatoes, tossing to mix:

1 teaspoon olive oil

2-3 fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

½ tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, discard woody stem

 

Place about 4 cups of fresh spring lettuce mix in a large bowl

Meanwhile, make dressing:

1 whole garlic bulb, roasted, soft garlic removed, place in blender
Add ¼ cup olive oil and the following:
1 tablespoon honey (local, raw is best)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or herbed vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice from ½ fresh lemon
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Blend until smooth and add to fresh salad greens. Toss to coat.

Top salad with potatoes.  Serve with crusty bread.

 

Di-VINE Cukes!

Granny's Heirloom White Cukes, Growing from 2012 Seeds

Granny’s Heirloom White Cukes, Growing from 2012 Seeds

          I know people who do not like cucumbers.  Not many, but a few.  Personally, I love cucumbers, especially when they are fresh and crunchy.  Add them, sliced or chopped, to a sandwich or wrap already loaded with fresh summer goodies, and I am a happy camper.  And then, there is a tasty treat that is a staple at my home:  pickled cucumbers.  My family absolutely loves anything pickled, but cucumbers are by far the favorite.   Every summer, I pack my largest jars full of fresh cucumbers, herbs, hot peppers, spices and a healthy dose of our dried pepper flakes.  After pouring a pickling solution over the ingredients, I store the jars in my basement refrigerator.  When our children were young, they dubbed these “Kick Your Can Pickles” because they were so spicy.  Often, I would bring a jar to the kitchen during the winter and they would disappear in one evening. 

          When I was a child, I remember a large crock that stood on Granny’s kitchen counter.  Inside was a delicious pickle she made with her small white heirloom cucumbers which she called “Salt Water Pickles.”  I loved these pickles best of all and, sadly, do not have her recipe.  When she gave me her recycled notebook full of special recipes, many in her handwriting, it was not included.  I am afraid the salt water pickles, her creamy “Soupy Potatoes” and her peppery cream gravy were dishes she just knew how to make, so the recipes were never recorded. 

          Although I do not have Granny’s special pickle recipe, I do have seeds from her cucumbers.  A small jar of cucumber seeds was included in the treasure trove of seeds my parents gave me.  I first grew Granny’s cucumbers three years ago, but it was not a good year for cucumbers at our farm.  Excited to see Granny’s white cucumbers (and an equally delicious small green cucumber she grew) for the first time in over twenty-five years, we eagerly ate the first fruits.  When production suddenly stopped and the vines died, I was saddened to think I missed an opportunity to save seeds for future planting.  With only a few seeds left in the jar, last year I gave Granny’s cucumbers a special place in my garden, prayed over the tiny seeds and diligently cared for the vines.  Fortunately, I saved seeds from several fruits, but I found that saving viable cucumber seeds is a difficult task.  The fruit must be overly ripe, almost to the point of rotting, before seeds are harvested.  I slice the cucumber in half, lengthwise, then scoop seeds and pulp with a large metal spoon into a glass jar, add water to cover and give it a good stir.  The mixture must stand, uncovered and not refrigerated, for about three days and should be stirred each day.  Seeds left too long in water will begin to germinate, so they must be removed before that happens.  Next, I add fresh water and pour off the mixture that floats to the top.  Viable seeds float to the bottom, so I try to get many of the floaters off before I place the remaining seeds in a large sieve.  After a good washing, I spread the seeds onto parchment paper or newspaper and allow them to dry for several days.  If seeds curl, they are not good.  The first time I attempted to save Granny’s cucumber seeds, I left them in water too long and with my second try, there were few good seeds, so perhaps the fruit was not quite ready.  Finally, I was able to store two small containers, one with white cucumber seeds and the other with green, in my freezer, but it was with trepidation I planted the seeds a few weeks ago.  I just can’t let Granny’s cucumbers die in my hands; I am hopeful I can pass these special seeds to my children and they, in turn, to their children. 

          On May 15th, I planted Granny’s cucumbers, one hill with white seeds and another with green.  On the 27th, I joyfully recorded in my garden notebook:  Granny’s White Cukes Up! and I replanted green cucumber seeds that day.  Rain has kept me from the farm for a couple of days, but I am hopeful we will enjoy Granny’s cucumbers this summer and I will successfully save seeds for next year. 

Planted on May 15, 2013, these four cukes popped up on May 27th.

Planted on May 15, 2013, these four cukes popped up on May 27th.

          If you have an abundant crop of fresh cucumbers and would like to make refrigerator pickles, try this recipe.  I am excited that, for the first year, I also have a pot of Granny’s dill growing at my home.  These heirloom seeds are incredible!

 

Granny's Dill, growing from seed she saved in the 1980s.

Granny’s Dill, growing from seed she saved in the 1980s.

Refrigerator Pickles, aka “Kick Your Can Pickles”

 

In a large glass jar, preferably one with a wide mouth, place a few sprigs of fresh dill, a couple of garlic cloves and about 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns.  Add a fresh jalapeno, sliced in half lengthwise, and about ½ teaspoon dried pepper flakes.  Pack the jar tightly with cucumbers, whole or sliced.  Pour the following brine over the cucumbers and wipe the mouth of the jar before tightly securing the lid.  Store pickles in the refrigerator.  After a few days, taste to check for “pickling” and enjoy whenever you are in the mood for a spicy pickle. 

 

Brine (may be doubled, if needed)

2 cups white vinegar

1 ¾ cups water

4 tablespoons salt

In a large saucepan, heat vinegar, salt and water over medium heat, stirring mixture occasionally, until salt is dissolved.  Allow to cool before adding to pickles.