Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Garlic Harvest

All my garlic is finally harvested, and there are some clear winners among the bunch. Here’s a review of what I got. I broke the counts up into three categories by amateur visual inspection.  The ones marked “Large” are the ones I will try to plant again this fall, the small ones will probably end up in some pickles, and the medium ones will mostly be kept to eat and use in the kitchen.

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Music

  • Small: 4
  • Medium: 3
  • Large: 3

Music was a pretty good performer this year, though there were a few small cloves in the bunch, and this count doesn’t include the ones that went weird on me.

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The Music plants were among the earliest to sprout last autumn, and were second in vigor through the spring only to German White. In one case, I had two Music bulbs in the same hole so I had to dig them up and separate them half way through the growing season. Both of those two bulbs were on the smaller side. I suspect that if I had broken them up sooner (or been more careful when I planted them in the first place) they might have grown larger. Overall, I am happy enough with the Music cloves that I will definitely plant them again.

German Red

  • Small: 4
  • Medium: 6
  • Large: 1

German Red came out smaller than Music, on average. The plants were the second smallest (larger only that the Italian Purple, on average, though much more plentiful). They seemed to be sprouting well last autumn and had decent vigor through the spring, but they just didn’t produce as much as I was hoping for.

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I probably will not plant German Red again or, if I do, will not plant too much of it.

Italian Purple

  • Small: 4

I planted as much Italian Purple as I did any other variety, but got terrible yields. Only 6 of the plants survived the winter and two of those went weird, splitting into multiple small cloves early in the season. There isn’t enough of the Italian purple to attempt planting again this year even if I wanted to, which I don’t.

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The Italian Purple sprouted well last autumn, but as soon as the spring growing season started they were far behind the other varieties. The Italian Purple plants were all the shortest and had the fewest leaves of any of the varieties, and their resulting bulbs show that they just weren’t doing too well. Maybe it was because of their location: right in the middle of the bed. I suspect this variety is just not right for my particular microclimate.

Leningrad

  • Small: 2
  • Medium: 5
  • Large: 4

The Leningrad cloves were slightly larger than Music, on average. They were among the latest to harvest also, though only later by about a week. The plants did not sprout well last autumn, and I was worried I had lost the lot. However, they popped right up come spring and were some of the largest and most lush plants through the growing season.

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(Shown in the picture is only about half of the Leningrad. The remainder were as large or larger than what is pictured here). I will definitely be planting Leningrad again.

German White

  • Medium: 1
  • Large: 7

I planted fewer of the German Whites because there are fewer cloves per head. Most heads that I planted only had 4 cloves. Those few cloves really aimed for the sky, though. The German white cloves were almost all the largest cloves in my bed, and every single clove that I put in the ground made it to harvest without any issues. They sprouted most vigorously last Autumn, they came up fastest and largest this spring, and they produced the biggest, most reliable bulbs.

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(Two bulbs not shown, including the smallest one) Because the German White were doing so well, and because I was curious about it, I let one of them put up a scape and go to flower. That one plant, perhaps coincidentally, produced the smallest bulb of the bunch. Though, even that single “small” bulb was on the high side of “medium”.

I will definitely be planting several of the German White heads again this year, though not all of the large ones. Because of their fantastic yield, several of them are heading straight into my kitchen for cooking and other projects. I would like to put more than 8 cloves in the ground though, so I can get even more next year.

When you plant garlic, you’re supposed to plant only the largest cloves from the largest heads, to ensure the best yield. I will be planting the largest from German White, Music and Leningrad (Maybe, MAYBE one from German Red), and will fill in any additional space with new varieties. I’ll post more about planting plans when the time comes. I’ll also be posting some of the recipes I’m using the garlic in soon.

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Late May Garden Update

Early spring is a difficult time for blogging for me, because the garden isn’t moving at an appreciable pace, I’m not cooking anything interesting (in anticipation of the growing season) and generally because I’m a lazy sack. Knowing that I wasn’t doing anything worth writing about, I put together a fluff piece about the status of my garden in early April. I didn’t post it, because I had to upload some pictures (pictures which I already took, no less) and that was just too much work.

Now it’s the end of May, and I don’t have any better ideas, so I’m going to just post the same thing.

And if you’re expecting me to write a big long blog post to make up for all the weeks of nothingness, I have only one word to say….Nope! I’m putting together a few small stupid blog posts and scheduling them ahead of time so I can not worry about writing again for another couple weeks. You could say I’m a genius.

Late May Garden Status

Garlic is growing extremely well. So well, in fact, that I’m going to talk about it in a separate blog post. Next week or something. Don’t quote me.

Onions seem a little bit small but they are growing at a consistent rate. Two of them are already putting out little scapes, which I think is weird but the weather has been weird. Hopefully this doesn’t eat up too much of my yield, but we won’t know till harvest.

I planted two varieties each of Carrots, Green Beans and Lettuce, since I either haven’t tried or have tried without success all of these and I wanted to start making some comparisons. All of these were bought from Seed Savers Exchange, an heirloom seed outfit. I picked varieties that would be visually distinct from each other so that I would be able to tell which varieties were doing well and which weren’t more easily.

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I planted two varieties of Carrots, both heirlooms. I picked “Dragon“, a beautiful purple variety that I’ve wanted for a while and “St. Valery“, which is a variety that looks different from Dragon. I knew I didn’t want a Nantes or Danvers relative, so both of these should produce some interesting results come harvest. Rabbits have already started attacking the leaves, so I had to cover them up with chicken wire to keep them safe. In addition to planting three rows in my garden, I planted several in a large bucket (one of my potato buckets from last year). If the ones in the bucket work out, next year I may do that exclusively and save the garden space for something else.

I picked two varieties of Pole Beans, and have them running up some of my unused tomato trellises. The first variety is “Kentucky Wonder Pole“, which would definitely be my stage name if I lived in Kentucky and was considering a career in porn. Kentucky Wonder Pole is supposed to be a popular variety with high yields. The second variety was one I picked mostly because it was visually distinct: “Rattlesnake Snap“. This is a green bean with purple stripes and good reviews.

The two varieties of lettuce I picked were: “Crisp Mint” (a mint-shaped, but not mint-flavored Romaine) and “Red Iceberg“. The two varieties promise great flavor and were interesting-looking. So far they are growing well (the Crisp Mint better than the Red Iceberg).

I planted tomatoes late, because I had to completely redo that garden bed and we were saving money in the early spring. They are in the ground now though, so hopefully they can make up for the lost time. I received as gift two “Orange Wellington” plants, which were doing well but looked a little starved for nitrogen. At the store I picked up one each of “Roma”, “Big Mama”, “Homestead” and “Big Beef”. Homestead is the first Determinate variety of tomatoes I’ve ever planted, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out. I’ve thought about doing tomatoes in pots, and if I have success with Homestead this year I may try it next.

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My Blueberries are growing well and are putting on quite a large crop of berries compared to last year. I’d say the berries are about a third of the way to maturation, so we are looking forward to harvest with licked lips.

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The Cherries are putting out a very small harvest this year. This is fine considering I got nothing from them last year, and they are still getting established. Some of the pollinated flowers made cherries which were (for lack of a better word) stillborn, in that they seemed to have gotten fertilized but the little cherry never grew. Instead, many of them just shriveled up and fell off. Some other cherries grew about half-way and then shriveled up. If all the cherries that had been pollinated had grown, we might have ended up with a pint or two. Now, I expect to only get a handful (and I will cherish every last one). The ones we do have are looking a little smallish, but they are already starting to blush. I expect to be tasting them as early as mid-June.

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Mid-March Garden Prep

I am just bursting at the seams with anticipation for the coming growing season. Progress is happening, slowly but surely, on a number of fronts. Also some of my plans are starting to crystallize as I purchase and prepare to purchase seeds and plants.

Cherries

The cherry trees are looking great, with plenty of buds on each. The Black Tartarian tree is looking healthier than the Stella, with more growth through last season and more buds. The Stella looked like some of its buds last year had been stripped off at some point, which meant less growth through the season and fewer buds over the winter. I didn’t fertilize last year, on recommendation from several sources, but I’m looking into some kind of fertilization this year. Fertilization may be indicated this year because the trees are more established and because there was relatively little growth of twigs and shoots last year. A few sources online have suggested I put down something to feed the trees before the buds open, I am still trying to figure out what and how much.

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We’ve had a few warm days here and there in March, and I’m really hoping that my Cherry buds don’t start trying to open prematurely.

Blueberries

I took a pH test of the soil in the blueberry pots, and the result was far too high. The soil was nearly neutral (7.0) when Blueberries seem to prefer soil which is acidic (5.5 or thereabouts). Blueberries need Iron for health and production of large crops of berries, but the roots can’t absorb and transport the iron unless there’s some acidity around to help. Some sources suggest using Iron Sulfate as a fertilizer, to both add extra iron to the soil AND produce sulfer-related acids to decrease the pH. I couldn’t find that, so I just picked up a bag of elemental sulfur soil acidifer. I added something like a cup and a half per pot, mixed in with the top level of soil (being careful not to disturb the shallow roots). The sulfur requires some water and some time to turn into acids and permeate the soil, so I’ll test the pH again later and see how things are progressing.

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Garlic

The garlic survived the winter with ease, and now is starting to grow a little bit when the days are warmish. Even the Leningrad garlic, which probably the slowest to sprout in November and had me worried that it was dead on arrival, is poking up with some deep green leaves. The German White garlic, which had the largest cloves but also the fewest, has the biggest leaves and is looking like it’s ready to explode when the weather gets warm.

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Miscellanea

Some Daffodils and Tulips are starting to sprout in one of the flower beds. Some leaves had blown into the bed during a recent storm, so when I raked the leaves out I saw the wonderful little green shoots. It doesn’t look like all the bulbs we planted survived the winter, but that just means we have some space to put more flowers this year. We can’t (or, shouldn’t) eat these flowers, but I mention them here anyway because I’m super-excited about anything that appears to be alive.

I have some Rosemary and Mint in pots that I kept over the winter. I was hoping both of them would come back but I’m not seeing any signs of life  yet. I’m making sure the pots are getting as much light as we can get on these short, dreary winter days. I’m also giving them a little water when the days warm up. If they do come through, I may try to find a permanent in-ground home for them this year.

I tried to identify the large maple tree in my front yard, and I think it’s a Black Maple. At least, I think so. Black Maple is one of the two species that can be tapped for maple syrup, although the time to do so has just barely passed. When some leaves come out I’m going to try to confirm my identification of the tree and maybe next winter I’ll try to tap it for some syrup.


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2013 Retrospective

2013 was a pretty decent year in my kitchen and garden. Here’s a short retrospective post since it’s the time of year when everybody is obligated to write one.

2013 Garden Review

2012 was a lousy year for tomatoes so I overcompensated in 2013. I ended up with way too many. I made a batch of from-scratch sauce, but my sundried tomatoes were the stand-out success story. I have a few jars of those floating around, and they’re very good.

Hot peppers were hit and miss. I ended up with two large containers of pepper vinegar and a small batch of an interesting fermented hot sauce. It’s more than enough to last me a year, and I probably won’t sow any peppers (or, not many of them) next year because the yields are never very good. Maybe if I can find a high-yield, short-season jalapeno variety to make pickled jalapeno slices…

Most of my squash were weird-looking hybrids, and I ended up not really eating any of them. I got three pumpkins, but all three of them were rotten before or shortly after halloween. I won’t bother with pumpkins again. We only got one or two butternut squashes suitable to eat, and we roasted those and made a small batch of butternut squash bisque. We had a heck of a lot of powdery mildew, so I probably won’t plant these sorts of things in the future unless I find varieties resistant to it and I’m really having a craving.

Garlic and onions were awesome, early success stories. I’ve already planted a very large bed of garlic, and have plans for onions come the start of spring.

Potatoes were a little weird this year. The plants were small and sickly looking all season, but when I dumped the buckets there were plenty of potatoes hidden under the dirt. Most were small and we didn’t really eat any of them (most had a weird, spongy feel to them). My hopes are raised that, maybe, next year I can do things better and get better results.

My new cherry trees didn’t produce any fruit this year, probably as a function of shipping/replanting stress and wacky weather. I’m hoping to see a few fruits next year. They both are covered in buds, and I can’t wait until they burst open next spring. My new blueberry bushes outperformed my expectations, and are almost double the size they were from putting on so many little shoots and new budding clusters. My hopes for next year are very high.

2013 Kitchen Review

I got a pressure cooker this year, but haven’t had much opportunity to put it to good use. Food and especially meat prices have been too high lately to justify making and shelving large batches of soup, broth or ready-to-eat meals. When prices of the raw ingredients go down, I’ll definitely be pressure cooking them up. We’ve got the jars ready and waiting.

Jams and jellies went very well this year. For the winter months early in the year, the orange and blood orange jellies were my favorites. They were simple but bright and sunny, like a summer day or a warm winter morning in a jar. From the summer months my 50/50 cherry jam was my  standout personal favorite, but my tart cherry jam and peach-cherry jam recipes also brought in some rave reviews. People just love cherries, it seems.

I’ve started a very interesting little hobby in homebrewing. I’ve made some test batches of hard apple cider and now I’m playing with meads and melomels. There are a few more varieties of mead I’d like to try making before the summer fruit season rolls around and I can start playing with some fruit wine concoctions.  All my test batches are still aging for now, but I’m hopeful about the final results.

2014 Plans

I’m going to write up a whole post or two for my plans in the kitchen and garden, 2014. Stay tuned!


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Garlic Planted

It’s mid-October, so the time has come to plant garlic. I brought the munchkin out to help, and he did. For about 3.5 seconds. There’s nothing like a little bit of good father-son bonding time.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the barter, I had 2 heads each of 5 varieties of garlic. They are, in the order that they were planted: Music, German Red, Purple Italian, Leningrad and German White. Here are some initial notes about them:

  • Music: The cloves were decent quality and size, and there were several of them. One or two cloves were not suitable to be planted, but the majority were just fine.
  • German Red: Many of the cloves were a little creepy, between being dried and shriveled or starting to rot. I was able to salvage enough to plant, but maybe a half of the cloves were not usable.
  • Purple Italian: Better than the German red, a few of the cloves of the Italian Purple were rotting or otherwise unplantable, but not too many.
  • Leningrad: These cloves were bigger but less numerous. Only one clove seemed creepy, the rest were planted.
  • German White: Each head had exactly 4 large cloves. These were the biggest cloves of all the varieties I planted, and all of them were healthy-looking.

I can use this information to try and direct my planting and harvesting habits. If the German Red and Purple Italian varieties are more less robust in long-term storage, I can try to use them up earlier for eating, be more careful in how they are stored, and plant them earlier in the fall before some of the problems set in. The German White and Leningrad varieties, on the other hand, can maybe be saved till later in the season without worrying that they will go bad.

Of these five varieties, we haven’t eaten any yet. We won’t know until next year how they taste, and which ones are really worth keeping and propagating for the long term.


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July 11 Garden Update

The garden is just humming along right now, and we’re getting tantalizingly close to harvest time for some of the goodies. It’s amazing how much better things are going this year than last year. I heard a report on the news yesterday that late blight has been confirmed across the river in New Jersey, but I’m hoping that a few days of westerly winds and dry heat will help keep my little plants safe.

If things continue the way they’re going now, our tomato plants are primed to give us a monster crop. I took a quick count of tomatoes that are currently growing, and have these numbers:

  • About 55 Slicer Tomatoes (“Big Boy” and “Better Boy”) on 4 plants
  • Over 150 plum tomatoes on 6 plants
  • more cherry tomatoes than I can reasonably count

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Not all of them will become ripe at the same time, of course, so we will avoid a major flood, but there are still going to be enough for us to play with in the months ahead. I’m thinking about putting up a few quart jars of tomato sauce, and maybe dehydrate a few too. I’m not super interested in canning salsa or bruschetta again, but if volume gets high enough we’ll have to consider it.

I can already see 2 little cherry tomatoes turning orange and red. I’ll pull those in soon and we’ll just eat them raw while their siblings ripen up.

We have three large spaghetti squash forming already, which is awesome. However, I haven’t yet seen anything that looks like a butternut squash or a pumpkin. Considering that the plants are right next to each other, in the same soil, with the same watering schedule, I can’t figure out why the spaghetti squash are so far along and everything else isn’t. Maybe I just can’t see them under all the vines and dense foliage. Maybe I just have to be a little bit more patient.

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Peppers are doing well. I have two large bell peppers (one “California Wonder” and one “Orange Bell”). A few more teensy little ones are set on other plants. I have two large cayenne peppers, and a large cherry pepper just starting to change color. There are a handful of small, narrow “Thai Long Hot” peppers starting to grow, and one tiny yellow “Tabasco” pepper, sticking straight up off the top of the plant.

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The last garlic plant finally got ready. They say you’re supposed to wait for a dry spell to pull garlic, so it cures more quickly and is less prone to disease, but the string of rainy days seemed endless so I pulled it anyway. In total I have 6 garlic cloves just waiting to be used. They’re resting with my remaining onions (3 large and 8 medium, the small and weird ones went into soup). I’m already looking forward to buying some new garlic to plant this autumn.

Blueberries are almost completely done. The last few stragglers have been getting nabbed by the birds as soon as they turn blue, so we’re done with them for the season. The harvest this year was small but rewarding. I hope they’ll really do well. Maybe, if Dana hasn’t killed me by then, I’ll pick up a third plant.

Potatoes are limping along. A few of the plants are starting to take off, but several of them seem like they’re just giving up and rolling over to die. My hopes were never particularly high for them, and I really don’t expect to be getting anything out of them this year. Next year, maybe, I’ll do some better planning and try for a better crop.


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Garden Planting Complete

This post is a little bit delayed, but I have finally finished planting things in my garden. The last few seedlings were transplanted outdoors for the wonderful weather on Mother’s Day (minus a few last-minute changes). The weather was warm and absolutely perfect, so I figured it was as good a time as any to transplant out the last of my seedlings.

…And then there was a bunch of wind and the temperatures got down almost into the 30’s, so I had to rush out there and cover all the delicate little plants up for the night to keep them from frosting and getting killed. Maybe I should have waited? A coworker of mine lost all his pepper plants in the turbulent weather. Mine didn’t die, but some of them look like they’re hanging on for dear life. If they do die, I’ll run down to the garden store and pick up some replacements. For right now, however, it seems like disaster was narrowly averted.

The final garden breakdown looks something like this:

  • 14 Tomatoes. 4 Beefsteak (“Big Boy” and “Better Boy”), 10 of assorted plums or cherries (I’m not sure which are which)
  • 12 Peppers. 1 Tabasco, 1 Cherry Hot, 1 Cayanne, 1 orange bell, 8 assorted (pepperoncini, “California Wonder” bells and thai hots)
  • Onions.
  • Garlic.
  • 1 Butternut Squash
  • 2 Pumpkin
  • 2 Spaghetti Squash

Here’s the first bed, showing the tomato plants I started from seed. They’re growing like crazy, and I just finished putting down a mulch of cardboard and straw:

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Here’s the middle bed, showing my pepper plants (still caged in chicken wire to keep the varmints out), onions and garlic (and one little tomato plant, in the back-right):

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All my peppers are still alive but several of them are looking awfully scrawny and sickly. I’m hoping the warm weather and plenty of rain we’ve been getting will help to jostle them back. If not, if they’re going to do as bad as my from-seed attempts from last year, I’ll rip them out and replace them with already grown versions from the garden store.

Most of the garlic is growing huge, but a few little stragglers are not doing as well. See if you can tell the difference:

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Finally, my new bed has the four tomato plants we bought in gallon pots (so they were already pretty large) and my 5 squash plants. This one has also been generously mulched with cardboard and straw, and a few of the smaller-looking squashes have some cages around them as well for protection:

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One of my little squash seedlings died yesterday, but luckily I found a young squash plant of unknown variety growing in the compost pile (I suspect it’s a spaghetti squash, but time will tell!). After a quick switcheroo, nobody will ever know what happened.

 

To top it off, we finally bought a hose that’s long enough to reach all the garden beds, so I no longer have to stand several feet away and spray the hose on it’s highest setting to try and reach the really far away parts. I also don’t have to fill buckets with water, and carry them around to my cherry trees. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?