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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Garlic Status

My Garlic crop is the largest and most interesting right now, so I decided to write a hole post on just that.

Notes By Variety

Music is growing quite well. They are the second-largest, on average, of all the garlic varieties. I had one Music that seemed to separate into two heads (or, I accidentally planted two in the same hole). I dug that one up, carefully broke them up and planted them separately. I lost a few roots in the process, and for a few days they looked a little droopy (and lonely), but now they are doing well with no problems.

German Red is slightly smaller than Music but still pretty big. I’ve had no problems with these and nothing interesting to report.

Italian Purple is by far the smallest  variety, with the slowest growth. I don’t know if the plants are supposed to be smaller, if my microclimate just isn’t right for it, or if the dirt in that part of my garden is particularly devoid of nutrients. Only time will tell if these produce good bulbs.

Leningrad are about the same size as German Red, and are growing quite well.

German White are the largest of the plants. They are about 3-6 inches taller than the other plants. Hopefully this translates into large cloves at harvest time.

Oddities

Last year, all my garlic looked the same and I had no issues. This year….there are a few. One problem I’ve noticed is that of multiple shoots. It appears as if new garlic heads are growing in the middle of the other garlic heads. Here’s a picture of a normal garlic, with a single shoot, with leaves alternating on each side:

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…and here are some of my weird garlics, with multiple little shoots coming out of the middle:

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It’s hard to find information about this on the internet, because I don’t know what this condition is called. What little information I have found suggests that this shouldn’t be a problem. The only varieties that seem to have this issue are the Music and the Italian Purple. Again, I don’t know if this is an issue with these varieties, if it’s totally normal, or if something in those areas of my garden is causing the abnormalities. I know I have a few voles scurrying about in that bed, so maybe they are up to some hijinx.


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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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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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Garlic Barter

It’s no secret that I’ve been making lots and lots of Jam. Taking stock last week, depending on how you count, I have about 70 jars of jam (jelly, syrup and fruit butters) in the pantry, most of which are 8oz. The goal has always been to use these jars as inexpensive, heart-felt, homemade gifts for holidays and as party favors and things like that. All the jars I can keep out of my gaping maw, anyway. Of course there’s another use for this trove of homemade treasure: bartering [1].

A colleague from work maintains a pretty large garden compared to my little plot, and he has had a substantial garlic harvest. I mentioned that I was going to buy some garlic heads to plant this fall and he suggested something even better: Trade some of his home-grown garlic for some of my homemade jams.

In exchange for three 8oz jars, I got two cloves each of the following garlic varieties:

…for a total of 10 heads. A similar amount from a farm or garlic supplier would have cost me 20$ or more, plus shipping. He has so much to spare (and the amortized per-head cost comes down so far due to multiplication) that the trade makes good sense all around.

Assuming at least 6-8 suitable cloves per head (more or less), and assuming they all do well in my little plot, I could end up with around 60-80 heads of garlic next year. That’s more than enough for us to use in 2014, to replant for 2015, and pass along a few heads to the next interested gardener thereafter.

These heads are all from the “Porcelain” and “Rocambole”  garlic families, both of which are hard-neck and winter hardy. I live right about on the cusp of where winter-hardy garlics are a requirement. The garlic I grew last year came from sprouted leftovers of supermarket garlic, unnamed softneck (probably “artichoke”) varieties from California and China. There are a few other garlic types I would really like to try my hand at eventually (Asiatics, Turbans and Creoles), but this is a very good start for 2014.

Notes

  1. I have to double-check the relevant laws and regulations, but I don’t think I can legally sell my homemade products in PA. Not without some sort of licensing, inspection and lab testing. Considering the size batches I typically work with, it would cost me more in terms of money and effort to get approved for commercial sales than I would probably earn in profit from the whole enterprise. For now, if you want my stuff you have to offer something else home-made in return (and promise not to sue me if you get sick from eating it, which definitely won’t happen).


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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?

 


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Spring 2013 Planting Plans

It’s the time of year to start planning ahead for next spring. Many plants such as tomatoes and hot peppers need to be started indoors long before the weather gets warm enough to put the plants into the ground.  Other seeds and plants can be ordered now and many companies will ship them only when it’s time to actually be planted. Here are some of my plans for the new year:

Tomatoes

I plan to devote almost my entire second bed to ‘maters this year. Last year I had only 5 plants in the ground, 4 of which performed poorly. I would like at least 6 to 8 of them this time around, and I’m hoping my experience and preparations will lead to bigger yields on all of them.

We would probably like one each of an heirloom, a slicer and a cherry tomato, since our cherry tomato plant performed so well last year. The rest of the tomatoes to be planted are will probably be plums.

Peppers

I like peppers so I’m going to try and grow a few. I like making some hot sauces for myself and various hot sauces and other spicy things make great gifts come the holidays.  This year I would like to grow some bell peppers and some new hot pepper varieties. I’m thinking tabasco, cayanne, and maybe more cowhorns or serranos, since they were easy to grow and worked great in hot sauces.

This picture shows my second garden plot. The purple area will be filled with tomatoes. The orange area will be hot and bell peppers. I’ll probably only have room for 4-5 small pepper plants, considering how much space is already devoted to tomatoes.

Garlic and Onions

We’ve already got garlic in the ground and I’m hoping when the spring weather comes some if it will sprout. I would also like to put down at least a few sweet yellow onions if I can find a variety I like. The garlic should harvest relatively early compared to some other vegetables, making way for potential fall crops.  Scallions and shallots are things we enjoy as well, but I worry about devoting too much garden space to these similar things and then having an avalanche of them late in the season.

Here’s a picture of my first garden plot. Red is where garlic is. Blue is where onions will be going. The rest of the plot is reserved for other vegetables to be decided.

Other Vegetables

Dana and I would love to plant some winter squashes, especially butternut and spaghetti.  We do have enough space for one or two of these. I may be dumb enough to try cucumbers again if I can find a variety resistant to diseases. We’ve kicked around the idea of getting more bushy varieties and planting them in large pots on our patio. I would love to grow some little kirbys and make pickles with them.

I would like to grow potatoes, but it seems you can do that better in a large barrel than you can doing it straight in the ground. I would probably do a few russets and a bunch of fingerlings, if I can find a suitable barrel.

We like asparagus, but it represents a long-term commitment which we might not be ready to make yet.

We like broccoli too, if we have room.

Fruits

In addition to vegetables, we’re planning to put some fruit trees in the ground this spring. Maybe cherry and peach or pear. We would also like to plant some grape vines to grow around the back porch. I’ve got a lot of thinking and planning before I commit to any fruit trees or vines.