Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How Does My Garden Grow?

The primary focus here at FFT has always been restaurant dining – but sporadically I've indulged in missives inspired by my CSA subscription with Little River Cooperative, and even the occasional backyard planter box tomato. This October, we plunged in a bit deeper. As part of a landscaping project at the house, we installed a raised vegetable bed in the backyard, and also filled in a defunct little kidney-shaped "pond" with soil and planted it with greens and herbs.[1]

I make no claim to having a green thumb; indeed, if I don't kill a plant within a month I feel like I've accomplished something. But despite my very limited experience, this little garden has been a source of a disproportionate amount of joy the past few months.

We started at the beginning of October with this:

Today, it looks like this:

(You can see all my garden pictures in this flickr set.)

I've been giving something of a weekly play-by-play on Twitter and Instagram, but if you've not been following along there, here's a rough recap of the past few months for Farmer Frod.

The raised bed started with a couple tomato plants, some herbs (mint, basil, sage, lavender, oregano), a couple broccoli plants, and was seeded with radishes and carrots. A couple weeks later I supplemented these with a few more tomatoes (Sungold, Black Krim, Purple Russian, Homestead, and Gold Medal) a zucchini plant (romanesco costata, to be precise), a Tuscan kale, a couple shishito peppers, and a jalapeño, all bought from Little River, The other bed also started with some herbs (chocolate mint, opal basil, a couple different parsleys, tarragon, thyme), a few Swiss chard plants, and was seeded with lettuces, kale and mustard greens.

To give you a good idea of just how much of a novice I am: when these little seedlings started sprouting up a few days later, I called my landscaper in a panic, having no clue whether they were vegetables or weeds.

The radishes and greens came in incredibly quickly, and in a month some were ready to harvest.

(continued ...)

The zucchini plant also started putting out gorgeous blossoms quickly, and then also some fruit.[2] A bright yellow zucchini flower standing at attention in the morning is a happy sight. The fruits on these have been small – four to six inches – but they have a nice nutty flavor and firm texture, and the blossoms are a real treat. Lately the vine has been wandering its way out of the vegetable bed and taking over the rest of the backyard, and I'm concerned it's going to start calling out "Feed me, Seymour!" soon.

I don't do anything fancy with these: a zucchini omelet topped with radish green pesto; the blossoms stuffed with a creamy feta cheese mixture brightened with some homemade "calamansi kosho;" a focaccia bread topped with rounds of zucchini and blossoms.[3]

The tomatoes have turned out to be a source of some angst, actually. Not because of the plants themselves, which have been quite productive. Rather, because other critters have been getting to them before me. I've watched plump Better Boy tomatoes ripen for weeks, only to find them cratered open and swarming with ants one morning. I've patiently nursed along Purple Russian tomatoes, only to have them swiped right from the vine. Other than the ants – which now seem to be under control – the primary suspects are a gang of fat, smug squirrels who inhabit the trees in our front yard. To make it even worse, they have an uncanny sense of when the tomatoes are about to turn perfectly ripe and then grab them the night before I plan to pick them. I've been spraying a tabasco and dishwashing soap concoction to deter them, which may be working. Failing that, I'll be going full Spackler on them soon.

I was worried that between the garden and our CSA subscription that we'd be overwhelmed with vegetables, but they've balanced each other out nicely. I often find I can use something from each when we're cooking at home. Kohlrabies from the CSA were turned into a variation on celeri remoulade (recipe from Serious Eats), with some tarragon leaves and flowers from the garden. Various greens from the CSA box and the backyard went into a frittata (along with some chorizo, because chorizo and eggs). I'm currently fermenting some CSA jalapeños along with some garden shishitos for a hot sauce (next to it is some calamansi / cardamom / lavender bitters I'm working on; the batch of hibiscus / allspice bitters I made a few weeks ago came out great).

About a month ago I planted some more seeds: nasturtiums, borage, eggplant, shiso. Just this morning the first nasturtium flower bud emerged. The borage plants seem to be coming along, and a couple eggplant seedlings have taken hold, though unfortunately the shiso has been for naught. But all of a sudden the carrot seeds that were planted a few months ago seem to be showing signs of life.

Maybe in a few more months I'll do another update. In the meantime, if anyone would like to retrieve or otherwise dispatch a half dozen squirrels – perhaps you're making some Burgoo Stew? – let me know. Happy Holidays!

[1] And by "we," I actually mean Brent Knoll of Knoll Landscape Design, who I really can't recommend highly enough. He did great work on the garden and the rest of the yard, and was incredibly patient and helpful with my multiple follow up emails over the the next several weeks after he put it in.

[2] I got to learn a little zucchini sex along the way. A male zucchini flower only produces the flower itself, which forms on a slender, hollow stem. The female flower has a bit of a bulge in the stem, which eventually becomes the zucchini fruit.

[3] Recipes? Except for baking, I'm not very precise. I tend to look up a few and then mix and match what makes sense to me. The omelet was a weak attempt at Jacques Pepin's French omelet technique. Pretty much any combination of greens, nuts, cheese and olive oil can become a pesto. I modeled my "calamansi kosho" (using backyard calamansis and serrano peppers) after the ratios in the fresh yuzu kosho at Japanese Food Report, and then mixed it into a blend of feta cheese, softened cream cheese and more diced zucchini that I stuffed into the blossoms. For the focaccia I used Nick Malgieri's recipe from "How to Bake" and it came out excellent.

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