Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chattanooga Road Trip and Squash

Last Sunday we drove down to Chattanooga to visit their Farmer's Market. Located at 1829 Carter Street, just across the street from the baseball stadium on Riverside Parkway, the market is housed in the massive First Tennessee Pavilion. Last Sunday was Food Truck Festival, and there must have been 50 food vendors lining Carter Street offering everything from good ole' down home barbecue to Vietnamese ban mi. We settled on jerk chicken ban mi with a glass of Thai tea from another vendor, and elbowed our way through the crowd to one of the tables located at the far end of the pavilion. A local party band was blasting out covers from the 70s and 80s, about right, judging from the age of the crowd around us. Boomers love farmer's markets, apparently. We are always swarming, every time I visit one.

Only a small percentage, perhaps one in 8 or 10, of the vendors was selling farm-fresh produce, plants or nursery stock. The rest were offering everything from hardwoods for DIY smoking enthusiasts, to the sorts of trinkets you might expect at any flea market or county fair. There was plenty of handmade soap, prepared food items like salsa, and a few truly unique offerings.

One of the best vendors at the market, in terms of unique and clever crafting, are the "Pallet Girls," identified on their business card as "Donna and Catrina." They were offering a variety of well-made and attractive planters crafted from old shipping pallets and other recycled materials. Reach them here. We especially liked the pre-planted herb and miniature tomato gardens, like the one in the photo.

We made several selections from among the many varieties of squash and tomatoes offered for sale. One tomato in particular was especially delicious, but we were unable to obtain the name, as the vendor was swamped with customers.

All in all, the Chattanooga Sunday Market is worth the trip, and especially if you are visiting Chattanooga for one of the other local attractions. It is open from 11:00 to 4:00.

Borer-Resistant Squash
We are growing 'Tromboncino' summer squash this year, from seeds we ordered from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Because this squash is the species Cucurbita moschata, it is immune to predation by the squash vine borer. We were skeptical, because most C. moschata are winter squashes, with orange flesh and a hard outer skin. But these, at least while relatively small, are tender and delicious. We will have more to say about this squash as we continue to harvest them at various sizes. But one thing is for certain: we have had no borers!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Greasy Beans and Dry Weather

We are harvesting 'Lazy Wife Greasy' beans in great numbers right now. The "greasy" bean type has a mutation that makes the pods feel oily. They also keep better after picking than other types of beans. In addition, they remain stringless, even when the length reaches a foot! Bloom stems routinely carry 5 to 7 pods. The flavor is excellent, either prepared "Southern style" by long cooking with pork fat, or "Northern style," simmering them in chicken stock until they are barely tender.

The weather remains dry. Despite thunderstorms all around us, we have received much less than an inch of rain this week, forcing us to irrigate on a daily basis. One problem with any vegetable garden project is the demand for water. An inch of rain on a 10 by 10 foot bed equals 60 gallons of water. Keep this in mind when watering. A deep soaking is better than a daily sprinkling.

Try to water at a time of day when the leaves of plants can dry before dark. Early morning is best, but you can also water late in the day if you allow time for leaves to dry. Wet foliage encourages fungal disease. This is particularly true for cucurbits, which need plenty of water now that fruits are forming. This plant group is especially susceptible to mildew, when kept too wet.

Today is the Summer Solstice. We have about two more weeks to plant tomatoes, peppers and cucurbits for late harvests. July 4 is traditionally the last day to plant here in the Valley region. By July 15, it is already time to start a few fall crops. Seeds for fall brassicas, celery, and parsley can be planted in late July, in order to have plants ready to move out in August. If the heat keeps up the way it has been, this will pose a challenge unless you have an air conditioned greenhouse.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Late Spring Harvest

June is a great time in the food garden. We have potatoes, peas, and tarragon in abundance, so all we need is a protein, and dinner is done. Parsley and mint are both thriving right now, too, as the oregano prepares to bloom and its flavor becomes harsh and unpleasant. We have also permitted ourselves to pluck a few sprigs of basil, although the plants remain small. Fresh basil is just too good to resist. Although we have been pulling a few for the kitchen, our sweet red onions are not yet ready to harvest. Some of them are already as large as softballs. We have plenty of green onions from our late March planting of Evergreen White Bunching seeds from Mayo Seed Company, Knoxville.

Straw Bale Update
All the bales are planted, and everything looks really good. We had a couple of bales that collapsed, but the plants in them are still looking healthy. It is too early to tell about harvest amounts or quality, but so far the plants in the bales are behaving much like plants elsewhere in the garden. We will have more to say on straw bale gardening as summer progresses.

Elsewhere in the Garden
From the appearance of our Lazy Wife Greasy beans, we will soon be canning them to enjoy later in the year. The vigorous vines are hanging full of beautiful beans. Greasy beans are Southern heirlooms that lack hairs on the pods, giving them an oiled appearance. The "lazy wife" part of the name is because the beans are stringless. They can be cooked whole or simply broken in pieces without stringing, a boon to any lazy wife (or husband) who finds stringing beans a chore.

The Tromboncino summer squash vines threaten the entire neighborhood, they are so vigorous! This is the only summer squash cultivar that is ignored by squash vine borers, a pest that in some areas makes squash production nearly impossible without extraordinary measures to prevent the insects's gaining access to the plants. We have ours confined to a trellis, but this is not really a plant for a small space garden.

We grew Irish Cobbler potatoes this year, and despite them being attacked repeatedly by flea beetles, we are going to have a decent harvest. This old fashioned cultivar, said to have been developed in New England in the Nineteenth Century by Irish immigrants, bears both red and white tubers on the same plant. The potatoes have rather deep eyes, making them a little trouble to peel. However, this is their only drawback. The flavor is superb, and they are good keepers. They also have the perfect texture for potato salad, a required side dish at every summer barbecue and picnic. At the end of this post I have included a recipe for Southern Style Potato Salad. Mine is based on a recipe from the restaurant at the Soul Food Museum in Atlanta. I have changed a few things to reflect the way potato salad was made in my family. It is important for the eggs and vegetables to be chopped into dice about 1/4 inch or a little smaller. This must be done by hand. Using a food processor will produce a mushy texture.

Southern Style Potato Salad

1 pound Irish Cobbler potatoes
3 eggs
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced sweet pickles (not sweet pickle relish)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes until they offer only slight resistance when pierced with the point of a knife. Drain in a colander, and when cool enough to handle peel and cut them into small dice. Reserve the potatoes in a large bowl.

Place the eggs in a saucepan and add cold water to cover them by one inch. Bring slowly to a boil, remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let stand 20 minutes. Drain, fill the pan with cold water, and let stand until the eggs are cool. This may require two changes of cold water. Peel the eggs, and cut them into small dice like the potatoes. Add to the bowl with the reserved potatoes. Stir gently to combine.

To the bowl add the mustard, vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise, onion, celery and sweet pickle. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add more mustard and/or mayonnaise, if desired, for a creamier salad. Chill overnight to blend the flavors. Garnish with paprika and parsley just before serving.