Monday, June 13, 2011

Baba Ghanoush

Fresh eggplants are coming in almost every week at my house and my favorite thing to do with them is turn them into baba ghanoush an eggplant dip with roots in the middle east. If you have ever been in a middle eastern restaurant you probably saw it on the menu and it is very easy to make and tasty to eat. I like it cold but it is also pretty good hot or warm. It goes great with flat breads, wassa crackers, and carrots.

Baba Ghanoush

2 large ichiban eggplants 
1 medium black beauty eggplant 

1 table spoon tahini 
3 table spoons of sesame oil

the juice of half a lemon

big pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of ginger paste 
 1 tablespoon of ground ginger
 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger minced

1 heaping table spoon minced garlic 
1 tablespoon garlic powder

black pepper 
cayenne pepper 
white pepper 
to taste I use a pinch of each  

water to make smooth add it a little at a time

*optional*  1 jigger ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil for richness

Rub eggplants in oil and roast in a baking pan in the oven or on the grill (my preference) until the skin starts to burn or the eggplants split open which ever comes first. If making hot put straight into the food processor or blender. If making cold bag and throw in the fridge a couple hours. Traditionally the skin is peeled from the eggplants before making but I prefer to leave it intact for flavor and small amount of additional fiber and vitamins. Add all other ingredients except water and pulse check for smoothness and consistency if necessary add water until it get where you want it. I like it kind of sticky and thick. Serve as a dip or a topper for greens for a twist on salad. In Egypt it is blended with small chopped onions and tomatoes for a dip like Egyptian salsa. Play around with spices mint, parsley, cilantro and cumin are all popular in different countries. In Israel they leave out the tahini and use mayonnaise. And a lot of countries make it very similarly only instead of making it pureed they chop everything chunky.   Have fun and enjoy this healthy tasty snack!

Rain, Rain, Please stay!

It is me again! I have been busy in the garden and biking with my husband and watching my sister's kids and I haven't made a post in awhile, shame on me! The issue that has been on my mind the most these days has been rain and water. The south is going through a drought lately and I haven't been able to keep up with the demand for water in my garden with the 15+ gallons a day I get from the air conditioner. We have had rain the past two days and all of my water traps are full to include two coolers that were a last minute addition. The other new thing I have been doing to combat water loss due to heat evaporation is to water the plants at night (on the days it doesn't rain)  and that has helped a lot. I am seeing a lot less heat wilt and blossom loss and the ground stays wetter longer allowing the plants to absorb as much as they can, I also have not seen any indication of rot or mildew so far.  I have been watering with coffee water (coffee grounds in my watering can) and spreading the grounds underneath the plants and that has been doing really really well. The leaves looked greener in just two days. The squash plants that I told you I would keep you up to date on have not done so well, out of the five squash and two zucchini that I had, I have three squash that are doing so so and one zucchini that is dying and one that is doing so so. My radishes were over come by a caterpillar attack and I dug them up and composted them and the snow peas I planted a little less than a month ago were put out to late and are suffering in the southern heat. The green beans are doing very well and I recommend those and burpless hybrid cucumbers, ichiban eggplant, all manner of tomatoes, bell peppers, and carrots to the gardener who lives in a hot environment. I have had several eggplants and it produces quite quickly and is one of the last plants to wilt if I forget to water. I have been having issues with blossom end rot on my tomatoes and I think this is due to a lack of Phosphorus I will be purchasing miracle grow organic fertilizer and blood meal this week and I will tell you how that goes.  The basil plants I split up and transferred to pots are doing great, so I guess they are not bothered by transplanting in the heat. My thyme, cilantro, dill, and marigolds are also doing well under the shade of the tomatoes. I had an issue with the tomatoes and caterpillars and some strange red and black bug(looks like a stink big) that was literally sucking the life out of them but I hand picked them off and I haven't seen anymore. All in all for the heat and the drought I am doing pretty well. I will post some pictures soon of the crazy big tomatoes I have coming in!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer squash and zucchini

One of my favorite veggies and one of the easiest to grow in the southern United States is summer squash. When I think of summer squash I think of two varieties yellow straight neck squash and zucchini (or courgettes if you prefer). Both belong to the family cucurbita pepo along with pumpkins,  spaghetti, butternut, and acorn squash.  Yellow straight neck squash are said to taste best when about five to six inches long, it likes hot weather and full sun and needs to to well watered on a schedule. If either type gets un-regular watering it will make the fruit suffer. It is best to water consistently in the early to mid morning or early evening (3:30 ish is when I water mine) if you drown it sometimes and let it dry out others your plant will more than likely not produce or produce poor quality fruit. Zucchini are the same as yellow squash in their water and light requirements but size wise are a bit different they can grow to be a meter in length but are best when they are half that size.  

Both have edible flowers which I have heard taste much like the fruits themselves only more mildly flavored they are most commonly fried in fritters or tempura fried and used as a garnish to a dish containing the fruits of the plant. They are commonly eaten in soups and quesadillas in Mexico.  Zucchini like all summer squash has it's cultivation roots in America but the common variety of zucchini that you see being grown today was breed and cultivated in Italy after its discovery in the new world. Zucchini and squash should be stored no longer than three days in the crisper other wise it will suffer from cold damage losing part of its water content and creating sunken pits in the fruits. Zucchini is Britain's 10th favorite vegetable, in Mexico the flowers are preferred over the fruits, in Italy it is usually breaded and fried and the flowers are fried and called flor de calabaza, in the southern US you will most commonly see it cooked in a iron skillet with a bit of pork (bacon, fat back, ham bits) and a bit of water and sweated onions, it was a stable of our diet growing up. In France it is a key ingredient in ratatoullie. In Turkey they make it into pancakes that are served savory fried in olive oil with yogurt dipping sauce. In Levant it is stuffed with minced meat and rice and herbs and eaten as a main dish. In Egypt they cook it in tomato sauce with garlic and onions. Anyway you slice it Zucchini and squash are delicious.

  It is easy to grow in temperate climates but does suffer from some problems. One is insufficient pollination in places where there is a lot of spraying for mosquitoes or near a lot of farms you may not have enough pollinators to handle all the plants. You can tell if this is an issue if you get fruit coming on and then wilting half way through. You can hand pollinate (an electric toothbrush or other vibrating thing works well) or increase your bee population by getting a small hive from your local bee keeper. Another problem plants in this family have (esp yellow squash and pumpkins) in the squash bug, creative name right? It is a small grey brown bug in the coreidae family. They attach themselves to the undersides of leaves and suck the juices out of the plant. They like to crawl down off the plant in the night and shelter under boards or thick leaves (think magnolia) and this is one way you can trap them place boards under the plants and in the early morning right before dawn turn the boards over and smash the bugs. I have not had any (knock one wood) in my garden yet but I would imagine one of the pepper/garlic sprays I have mentioned before would make the plant taste bad to them and make them move along. You can also use organic, vegetable safe, insecticide purchased from your local big box store. Another big problem you can have with this type of plant is the squash vine borer. I just lost a plant to this stupid little grub. The way to tell f you have one is you will notice your plant wilting in direct sunlight even if it has water, if you look at the base of the plant there will be either a small hole, split, or yellowish orange colored frass (excrement) that can be dry and look like sawdust or can be wet and mucky. If you see these signs you have a problem. There are a couple things you can do if it is in the stem of a leaf (the stems are hallow shine a light on them at night and you can see the bug through the stem as a dark spot) you can cut off the leaf stem with the bug in it and drown it. It is is in the main stem you can make a small slit in the stem and pull out the insect and drown it, rinse the stem after words to remove the frass and pack dirt around the hole and water well, if it is higher up the stem and you can't pack dirt rinse and tie a piece of pantyhose loosely around the hole. You can also try a non-cutting method of burying the stem up past where you think the bug is water well and wait for it to root when it does gently dig it out and cut off the end where the bug is. Some people also take a bit of sharp wire or a toothpick and stab it through the plant and the bug and leave it in there and bury the area over with dirt. In any of these cases make sure to water throughly and fertilize a couple days after to increase the chance of saving the plant.  All of these are a fifty fifty shot. If done gently and well you might save your plant and your harvest. Or you can scrap the whole lot of plants cutting off the buggy bits and composting the rest of the plant and till the whole area and re-plant depending on what time of the season it is you may be to late to harvest you may not, they may still be laying (the moth that makes the grub that is) or their peak season may be over.  Some people use floating row covers until their hollow vine plants flower and they say the moth season is over by then. Some people swear by tin foil placed at the bottom of the plant to confuse the bugs into not laying on that plant. If you decide to use a pesticide organic or not make sure to ONLY spray the bottom of the plant stem or in the case of squash bugs the underside of the leaves. Anything sprayed on the flowers or fruits will either kill or dissuade pollinators from coming to your plants and you won't have any fruit that way either! Good luck with your squash plants. Last night my husband picked all of the vine borers out of our infected plants and rinsed and packed them with dirt I  will update you in a few days about how these plants and this method faired. 

Antique plate of the cucurbita family. 

Squash bugs 

Squash vine borers, note the oddly colored frass in the vine. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cucumber sandwiches

Open faced cucumber sandwiches 

2 medium size cucumbers off the vine is good but I like them cold from the fridge for this
1 tub whipped cream cheese 
Fresh Dill for garnish 
1 packet of dry Italian dressing mix
1 pkg rye or white cocktail bread

Wash cucumbers well. Using a fork, scrape down the cucumbers lengthwise leaving "stripes" all the way around. Slice the cucumbers into 1/4 inch slices or thinner. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together cream cheese and dressing mix.

Using a butter knife, spread the mixture onto the individual slices of small cocktail bread. 
Don't cake the slices with the mixture, just a thin layer concentrated in the middle of the slice.

Next, lay one slice of cucumber in the middle of the slice, garnish with dill sprig

Just remember to cover them tightly because the bread will dry and the cucumbers will get soggy,  leave the slicing of the cucumbers and the assembly of the sandwiches for the last minute if you decide to make the cream cheese in advance. 

* If you have all ingredients but the bread try coring the center of regular bread, or using melba toast or large crackers instead. I actually like it better on melba toast than on bread. Works great for potlucks and summer lunches! 

Cucumber season!

I have some lovely cucumbers coming up right now so I thought I would write about their care and problems.  The ones I chose were Burpee Burpless hybrid and I got them in a four pack when they were very tiny. When I planted them I dug the holes deeper and wider than they needed to be and turned very finished compost into the soil at the rate of about 30% compost to 70% soil and planted them in a five by five foot square at equal distance apart. I also tucked a tiny basil in the middle of them because it needed shelter at the time and it is growing splendidly there feeding off the cucumbers water and fertilizer. When the plants were about half grown and started to put on flowers I side dressed them with a combination of guinea pig used litter (with guinea manure obviously) and half broken down compost. I use a bedding made of soft balls of recycled paper (about pea sized) that takes a while to break down in the garden and helps hold moisture in, everything I have put it on has flourished and my guinea pigs like it to! A similar effect can be achieved with compost mixed with shredded newspaper and compost but I think the bedding works better.  Cucumbers are said to need 6 hours of full sun but mine have done well with four hours of direct and two in indirect sunlight. Cucumbers like to spread out and take over and this can lead to the fruit rotting on the ground so I trellised mine with tomato cages on a lark just to get them off the ground and it has worked really well! When the shoot anchor vines out they can attach to their neighbors cage and their own and they make a support system and it has kept all the fruit off of the ground so far. Also I use no herbicides since I am growing organically so when it gets weedy (which is not often since they are shading the ground around them pretty well) I pull the weeds and mound them up around the bottom of the plants to break down and be turned into mulch. It seems to work really well so far and I have started to do it to the tomatoes as well making sure not to mound it to high or to close to the stems of my plants. At first I was concerned about mulching to close because of root rot and mildew but I have been checking throughout the growing season and I have yet to find any. When you water cucumbers it is important not to drown them and don't let them "go to bed with their feet wet" you also don;t want to let them dry out. If your cucumber is wilted water it immediately no mater the time of day. They need about the equivalent of 1 inch of rain a week. If you get a good long rain you may not need to water the plant for the rest of the week. They don't have a lot of pests, my theory is nothing wants to eat those prickly hairy leaves! They do suffer from powdery mildew and bacterial wilt which usually kills plants when they are about half grown. If you see traces of powdery mildew on a leaf in my experience it is best to pinch the leaf and throw it away. A lot of plants have a hard time coming back from that. They also have a pest that loves them so much it is named after them striped or spotted cucumber beetles. I have written a previous post on organic home made pesticides and you should be able to find a solution for that in there. I haven't (knock on wood) had any problems with mine yet and I hope it stays that way. 

Now for a bit of history ( I will try to make it brief! ;D) the term "burpless" as defined by Burpee themselves is: Burpless' cucumbers, both American and Asian types, contain low or no cucurbitacin, the compound that causes bitterness and increases one's susceptibility to 'burping' after eating the fruits.

I did not know that before this year I must confess! Also the most common garden variety burpless is cucumis stativus in the Latin it is in the gourd family or cucurbitaceae family which includes squash and is in the same genus as muskmelon. Some varietals of cucumber grow up to 2 feet looooong. cumbers are fruits having seeds on the inside and developing from a flower ( the strawberry is the only fruit with seeds on the outside). Cucumbers are usually 90% water but carry a good bit of fiber in the peel. In 2009 a team of research geneticists formally announced they had sequenced the cucumber genome. China produces 60% of the world's cucumbers followed by (in order) Turkey, Russia, Iran and the US. Cucumbers originated in India and have been cultivated in Asia for a documented 3,000 years. Cucumbers are listed as one of the foods of UR and the legend of Gilgamesh describes people eating cucumbers. Charlemagne had cucumbers in his gardens in 9th century Francia. Cucumbers are a good source of manganese and potassium which help regulate blood pressure and promote nutrient functions. So eat up, after all it is better to have a cucumber dipped in ranch dressing than a glass of water!  

Friday, May 13, 2011

More sites I trust!

Even more sites I trust! These are sites I use on a regular basis for gardening information and green living. 

The first site is one I visit almost everyday it has lots of wonderful posts about green living, gardening, and new technology.

Next is a great forum for gardening information including info based on where you live.

Also one of the sites I have bought seeds and plants from that has a super selection of organic seeds. 

And for all things green,

Can't be missed! Small not flashy blog that I love!

Enjoy and I will post more as I come across them! 

Tomato pruning

Quick note on tomato types and pruning. When you talk about tomatoes you have two leaf types, potato leafed or PL and regular leafed or RL, and two growth habits determinate and indeterminate. The potato leafed varieties are slow growers at first and then take off like a rocket. they have also been rumored to be more disease resistant. I have one Pl which is a Brandywine. Most notably Pl have a smooth potato like leaf shape. You also have RL which are fast growers slightly more susceptible to fungus and rot, and have saw-toothed gaged leaves. This is your common tomato in everything from hybrids to organics. 
As far as growth patterns go you have determinate which is a small strong compact plant that produces 1-2 times a year on average. You will get high yields but not have them all growing season.  These plants are good for small spaces and containers and would be great if you wanted to can tomatoes or sauce to use later as you would have a lot of fruit at once.  Indeterminate growers are tall and leggy with stems that need to be trellised or staked The benefit of these is they make tomatoes the whole growing season slowing slightly between yields. A lot of times you will have ripe fruit, flowers, and buds all on the same plant.  Indeterminate growers being so tall and leggy need to have the tomato suckers pruned out of them or they will weigh the plant down and possibly cause it to break, or the shade from all the leaves will cause the plant to not photosynthesize correctly. If you have a short stubby indeterminate you mat be able to leave the suckers on the bottom half of the plant to increase yields. The bottom half should be strong enough to support the extra weight but be sure to prune the top to prevent drooping and to much shade. I think all plants should be caged, trellised, or staked to keep the fruit off the ground and help protect it from wind and to much rain. To prune suckers it is best to catch them early. if you catch them early you can easily pinch them off just be careful not to scrape the main stalk with your nails! If you miss some and they do get big use garden sheers or scissors to prune them. The suckers are located in the "crotch" of two main branches (picture below) and are easy to spot. Sometimes if your plant gets out of control tall you have to pinch the very top new growth out to force the plant to concentrate on lower foliage and fruits.  

RL leafed cherry tomato from my garden.

PL leafed Brandywine tomato from my garden

Cherry tomato with sucker tucked in the crotch of the main stem and a main branch also from my garden.  

 * all pictures are free to use.