Monday, September 26, 2011

Tips For Fall Brassicas

The primary obstacle to the production of a fall crop of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage or cauliflower is the cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae. Left unchecked, its caterpillars will ruin the entire crop. For many years, we have used Bt to control cabbage caterpillars organically, with only partial success. In the spring, we brought in a fair crop of broccoli by using Bt and keeping the plants under a floating row cover. However, they seemed to suffer from the additional shading.

We started seeds for fall brassicas on August 19 and transplanted them to the garden on September 12. From past experience, we have learned to start a dozen seeds to obtain three or four healthy transplants. In the past, we tossed the extras into the compost. This year, we left them on the nursery bench as a trap crop. Plants were dusted with Bt from the time they had their first true leaves until transplant time, renewing the Bt after each rain. Newly transplanted plants were also dusted with Bt, but the extras were left untreated. They were heavily damaged by caterpillars, while the plants in the garden seem to have suffered the least damage in our experience.

I hypothesize that the added stress of being confined in the cell trays caused the extra seedlings to signal to the butterflies. However, this was not a controlled experiment, and we may have just gotten lucky. Next year, we will try the same thing in the spring, and see what happens.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Late Summer Green Bean Harvest Abundant

Wow! Jerry picked about two gallons of beans from a single 3-pole teepee yesterday afternoon. The warm days, cool nights and abundant rain gave us a bumber crop. The cultivar is "Dwarf Horticultural" obtained from our local seed company, Mayo's. The vines are half-runners and would have done better on wire tomato cages than on the poles we gave them this year, but you live and learn. The only problem resulting from inadequate support was that some of the lower beans were curved due to touching the ground. With a better trellis, nearly all the pods would grow straight, about eight inches long.

This bean variety has a long history here in East Tennessee. Also known as "October beans," it is well-adapted to the late-season conditions here. Although delicious as a green bean before the pods swell, most gardeners allow some pods to almost ripen before picking. The harvest, when prepared for cooking, will yeild both green beans and "shellies," almost mature, brownish seeds.

These beans need the "country style" treatment in the kitchen, i.e., long cooking. This is necessary to tenderize the pods and fully cook the matured seeds. October beans are traditionally cooked with bacon, ham hocks or salt pork. They are equally good in a vegan rendition. Here's my recipe:

Vegan Country-Style October Beans

2 quarts October beans, trimmed, strings removed and broken into one-inch pieces
1/2 a medium onion, chopped, about 3/4 cup
2 teaspoons canola oil
6 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the oil until it begins to color. Add the stock and the beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and boil gently over medium low heat until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes to one hour. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve immediately as a side or cool to room temperature, then pack into 2-cup freezer containers and freeze for up to 6 months. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ending the Season With a Full Pantry

It is always gratifying to have a full pantry of home-canned foods, and this has been a great year for us. Between visits to my Mom in the hospital, I have been spending this Labor Day canning. We are making red pepper relish and picalilli relish. Here's a photo of our last picking from the garden before the rains set in. We have received over four inches of rain in the last 24 hours, with no end in sight. We welcome the relief from the extremely hot, dry weather of the past few weeks. Now maybe our fall crops (beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, peas and turnips) will find the conditions more to their liking. The late cherry tomatoes are just beginning to ripen a few fruits, and the late Cherokee Purple tomato plants have little green tomatoes on them. We started both varieties of late tomatoes from cuttings, easier than germinating fresh seeds. Just remove suckers from your healthiest plants, root them in a glass of water (takes about two weeks) and transplant to the garden when they are well rooted. Keep them irrigated until new growth appears, then water only when needed. Side dress about a week after transplanting.