Time For A Rain Dance?
It’s early August and we've seen less than four inches of rain over the last ten weeks. Even the native plants are drooping, and it’s hard to think about anything but watering. It makes us feel rewarded for all that mulch we spread in the spring, but still, we can’t help thinking it wasn’t enough. Also, the irrigation is showing its age, apparent in the time spent puttering about plugging holes and repairing hose ends. All gardeners tend to get weary this time of year, but on the flip side, produce is rolling in now at a steady pace!
This week we look at fall-bearing raspberries, New Zealand Spinach, making refrigerator pickles with all those cucumbers, and preserving those tomatoes in a new and delicious way.
It's August now so our fall-bearing raspberries are flowering and all abuzz with bees. A few have ripened, but the bulk of the crop will come in at the end of the month and last through till the first hard frost.
What is the difference between a fall-bearing rasp and the rest? Fall-bearing raspberries are called Primocanes, which means a perennial raspberry that bears fruit on first-year canes and completes the cycle in one year. Alternatively, summer bearing raspberries - or Floricanes - are also a perennial raspberries but bear fruit on the second-year canes taking two years to get raspberries from that cane. The pruning requirements are different and can be hard for some people to remember and execute.
Here are the main reasons we prefer the fall-bearing primocane raspberry:
They are very productive
They fruit all at once so we can make jams and freeze large amounts of fruit.
They are easier to prune. The fruit is borne on the current year’s canes and therefore at the end of the year, all the canes can be cut back to the ground - no wondering if this cane fruited last year or not
They are very yummy!
Wondering about growing raspberries? Here is a video on the basics of how to grow them. Either way you go, summer or fall-bearing raspberries, you won’t regret having those yummy red orbs to pick next year!
New Zealand Spinach
We have been so impressed with our crop of New Zealand spinach this year. Spinach is a favorite with everyone in our house but our lame attempts to grow typical spinach have ended with few leaves harvested before it bolts under the July heat. So last year we trialed a few New Zealand Spinach plants and, though it was tricky getting the seeds started, the results were amazing and this year we have had a summer-long of abundant green leaves from a prolific plant that doesn't seem to mind the summer heat.
New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) - also known as ice plant, ever-bearing spinach, everlasting spinach, and perpetual spinach - has been grown in New England since the 1700s. It is technically not a true spinach but is very similar in texture and flavor. We have enjoyed having this dark green, leafy veg for salads, stir-fries, and smoothies. Maybe think about trying it in your veggie garden next year!
It may seem early for many crops, but now is a good time to start thinking about saving seeds for next year. As we’ve said before, there are plenty of reasons to save seeds and it's not just that you can save a few bucks.
Seeds you save tend to have better germination rates, and the plants tend to be better adapted to your climate and soil conditions. If you are choosing the plants that you notice thrive and taste good, you are improving the quality of your crop year after year. That’s why it’s good to think about which plants out of your crop you want to carry through to next year right now, while they are at their peak production and you are harvesting and tasting.
Thinking more globally, seeking out the less common heirloom varieties helps to keep alive a more diverse gene pool of plants. The commercialization and industrialization of food production have led to a loss of 90% of the varieties that were grown 100 years ago. This has meant that the few varieties we still grow are vulnerable to greater decimation by disease and pests because they are so genetically similar. See this video to learn more about why we should save seeds and encourage diversity in our crops.
Finally, you have control over what seeds you save. You're going to choose the plants with the best vigor, best taste, best disease resistance, etc., while seed companies just harvest the entire crop.
Next time, we will bring you information on saving seeds from five different plants common in vegetable and flower gardens in our southern MA region. Seed saving can also be a wonderful community-building project, as you can share extra seeds with neighbors and friends, trading for new varieties of plants you haven’t grown before.
Recipe Ideas: Cucumbers and Tomatoes
You're busy, and we're busy, so we are keeping it simple this week with quick recipes that don't require a lot of prep work.
Quick or "fridge" pickles are an easy way to spread out garden abundance and use veggies in a new way. You can quick pickle almost any sturdy veggie (zucchini, beets, and carrots to name a few), but cucumbers are a good place to start. Since they're destined for the fridge we don't need to be as strict about acidity, sugar content, or other variables that preserve pickles safely in a canning jar, making them good for beginners and experimentation.
This recipe comes from Leda Meredith's book Preserving Everything. We highly recommend this how-to guide if you're thinking ahead about preserving some of your harvest. It offers simple explanations of why different food preservation methods work and how to apply them, and the recipes aren't bad either :)
Two-Day Refrigerator Dill Pickles
Fills 3-4 quart jars
1 pound of cucumbers (2 medium or 4 smaller)
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoon non-iodized salt
1 tablespoon sugar OR 2 teaspoons honey
Spices (adjust to your tastes)
½ teaspoon turmeric
2-4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
1-2 sprigs fresh dill (or 1 tablespoon dried)
Cut off the very ends of each cucumber and discard
Slice cucumber into rounds or spears of your desired thickness (½ - 1 inch)
In a small pot, bring water, vinegar, salt, sweetener, and turmeric (if using) to a simmer. Stir and remove from heat when combined
Spread the rest of your chosen spices among your jars (these can be anything glass with a top since we're not truly canning the pickles)
Pack jars tightly with cucumber rounds - fit as many as you can in!
Pour your water-vinegar brine into the jars, covering cucumbers fully
Screw on lids and store in the fridge for at least two days to let flavors develop. Keep in mind that over time they will get less crisp. Enjoy!
Tip: try substituting zucchini for cucumbers and see what you think!
We grow a lot of cherry and plum tomatoes every year. They are delicious fresh off the vine, but with so many, it seems a shame not to save some for winter when the days are short and we miss those summer flavors. Here is a super simple recipe for roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic that we love to freeze and save for winter. We also love to zip up the final product in the food processor to make a garlicky roasted tomato sauce for pasta and pizza, also very freezable.
Simple Roasted Tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Halve all the cherry and plum tomatoes and place them in a large bowl.
Drizzle enough olive oil into the boil to coat the tomatoes liberally, but not so much that it will pool in the pan when you transfer them over. The amount will vary depending on the number of tomatoes you use.
Peel the garlic cloves and add them whole, and then add salt and pepper to your liking.
Toss tomatoes, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper until well coated and transfer to a baking sheet.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the tomato skins are slightly shriveled and some of the edges are starting to look caramelized.
Tips: You won’t get the same caramelized effect if you chop up larger tomatoes because the water content is too high, so stick with bite-sized toms or plum varieties.
We just toss these into a plastic bag and freeze for eating later in a variety of dishes. If making a sauce, seriously just dump the whole pan into a food processor, add some fresh oregano and thyme if you like, zip it up to your desired tomato sauce consistency and you’re done!
Overpowered by weeds? Want to have less of them next year? Check out this article from NOFA MA's August newsletter to learn how to set yourself up for success (hint - more mulch, more compost).
“Climate grief” is caused by an awareness of the challenges we face and cognitive dissonance between this awareness and our continued contribution to the problem. Many of us feel similar grief in around racial oppression. Often we dismiss these feelings or leap over them to grasp at solutions. But are we missing something by not stopping to acknowledge or share these difficult feelings? Do they have something to teach us?
Check out "The Best Medicine for Climate Grief"
Need a pick-me-up? Check out these 20 inspiring stories of sustainability, resilience, and justice in our food system amidst the pandemic from Civil Eats (a great news source for everything food systems).