Monday, June 29, 2009

Veggie Garden Roundup

Just wanted to give a quick run down of what we have growing in our home vegetable garden (and other vegetable "areas") along with some pics.

Main Garden Bed

Potatoes (2 varieties)
Yukon Gold
Russian Banana Fingerling

Summer Squash (1 variety)
Cocozelle Zucchini (x4)

Tomatoes (16 varieties!)
Brandywine (x2)
Super Sweet 100 (x1)
Caruso (x2)
Prince Borghese (x1)
Yellow Perfection (x1)
Pole Perfect Purple (x1)
Red Grape (x2)
Sun Gold (x2)
Sweet Chelsea (x1)
Mountain Princess (x1)
Caspian Pink (x2)
Mountain Delight (x1)
Margherita (x1)
Cherokee Purple (x2)
Garden Peach (x2)
Green Zebra (x2)

Onions (2 varieties)

Broccoli (x4) - FAILED (bunny food and already flowering)

Peas and Beans (3 varieties) - limited success
Oregan Giant (edible pod pea)
Blauhilde (pole bean)
Royal Burgandy (bush bean)

Container Garden

Peppers (4 varieties)
Thai Dragon (x2)
Red Beauty (x2)
Sweet Banana (x1)
Carmen Sweet Italian (x1)

Carmen Peppers - don't they look incredible? (more on these in a later post)

Tomatoes (4 more varieties)
Matt's Wild Cherry
Sweet Pea Currant
Small Fry
Mr. Ugly

Eggplant (x1)
Garden Huckleberry (x1)
Ground Cherry - Cossack Pineapple (x1)

Cold Frame #1
Swiss Chard (Charlotte)
Carrots (Danvers 126)

Cold Frames #2
replanted with leaf lettuce and arugula after recent tragedy
(not looking particularly promising)

Cold Frame #3 and #4 - new this year
Being re-evaluated after limited success with leaf lettuce, beets, and swiss chard and complete failure with purple dragon carrots (100% failed germination)

Other areas
Asparagus bed
Rhubarb bed
Herb containers (basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro)

Wow. I knew we had a lot, but I've never tried listing everything all at once. And this doesn't even include our small community garden patch! We must be nuts. Seriously, I'm quite happy with what we've accomplished so far - our successes seem to outnumber (or at least outweigh) our failures. Can't really complain about that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Farm-rasied meats

After reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, I decided one of the best things I could do for my family was to avoid meats from animals raised on massive feedlots. Mr. Pollan does a masterful job of laying out all the things wrong with feedlot-raised animals so I won't go into it much here (EDIT: but you can read this online article from The Atlantic to find out more). Suffice to say, I am happy to avoid them. But, since vegetarianism isn't in my nature, I needed to find a viable alternative. I started doing a little research, looking for farm-raised meat that I might be able to get my hands on. It turns out that there are quite a number of farms in New England that sell meat and eggs from their animals. None seemed just right though for this change in diet I had planned - some were too far away, others offered a very limited selection, a few only sold meat "by the cow" (or 1/2 cow) or had a too-expensive "a la carte" system. Luckily, we found Chestnut Farms.

So, now, once a month we pick up our share of 15 lbs of assorted meats from animals raised by Kim Denney and her family as part of Chestnut Farm's meat CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In our red-and-white cooler, we get various cuts of beef, chicken, and pork (we opted out of the lamb) - all are farm-raised, free-range, and hormone- and antibiotic-free. And local. Again, I'm talking about animals that are raised on a place that more-or-less looks like the image in your head when you hear the word "farm" - something like this...NOT like this.

In addition to being better for us and better for the environment, the meat we get tastes unbelievable. The pork is like no other pork I have ever tasted. The chicken tastes more "chickeny". The beef is flat-out delicious. All in all, I couldn't be happier with our decision to go this route. Sure, it's more expensive than buying our meat at the supermarket, but I don't think it is all that much more (we pay $7-$8 per pound for everything - so while $7 for a pound of ground beef is quite a bit more than what we'd pay at Stop & Shop, we even out with the tenderloin steaks). Regardless, I think it is worth it - given the quality of the meat we are getting, I'm happy to pay more. As Michael Pollan explains in Omnivore's Dilemma, Americans currently spend the smallest percentage of their income on their food than ever before. It comes down to choices and we've made the conscious choice to spend more money on our food than our cell phones.

On a non-food level, one of the best things about being part of the Chestnut Farms meat CSA has been the experience of getting to know the people that produce our food. Every month when I pick up our share, Kim is there to greet me. She spends a few minutes chatting with everyone and somehow remembers everyone's name. Each month before the pick-up, Kim sends out an info-packed email newsletter about the goings-on on the farm as well as what has been happening in her and her family's lives. There are regular "open barns" where the public is invited to spend an afternoon on the farm. Our kids have met Kim and they understand that she raises the animals that become our food and they are acutely aware that the food on our plates came from a once-living animal (a fact which makes our daughter Emma a tad uncomfortable, which I actually think is a good thing - more on this in a later post).

In my quest to provide my family with high-quality, healthy, local foods, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Kim and her family. Their decision to do what they do has given me and my family the opportunity to choose where and how our food is produced.

P.S. check out this great article in a recent issue of edible Boston about Chestnut Farms.

(pig and cow images from Chestnut Farms website)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

House Ale

I've only brewed this one once, so I'm not really sure I'm ready to call it my house ale, but I like it enough in its simplicity that I certainly can see brewing it on a regular basis.

This is a basic pale ale (or, more accurately, a "special bitter") with a beautiful copper color and a refreshing hoppiness. And even though clarity has little, if any, effect on overall flavor, I particularly like how clear this turned out. Perfect for any meal or occasion (ideal serving temp: 50-55oF).

Jim's Pale Ale
Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Size: 2.5 gal
Estimated OG: 1.044
Estimated FG: 1.012
Estimated IBU: 31.0
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Mash Grains
3 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter
8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt 60L

1.75 lbs Extra Light Dry Extract
1 lbs Amber Dry Extract

Hop Schedule
1.00 oz Challenger [7.00 %] (45 min) 23.2 IBU
0.50 oz Williamette [5.80 %] (10 min) 2.1 IBU
0.50 oz Williamette [5.80 %] (1 min) 1.8 IBU

1.00 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 min)

Burton Ale (White Labs #WLP023)

Mash Schedule
Single Infusion, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 3.50 lb
75 min @ 150.0 F

bottled with 4oz of fructose

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Community Garden

In addition to our home garden, we decided to sign up for a plot in the Attleboro Community Garden - a partnership between the City of Attleboro and the Attleboro Land Trust (of which I have been a board member for the past year and a half). The community garden is relatively small, so we only wanted to take a plot if there were any remaining after the sign-up period. The City was generous enough this year to expand the garden by about 30 feet - digging up part of the adjacent parking lot and putting down a nice layer of compost. This allowed the Land Trust to add about a dozen more plots. We got the last one - plot #56.

The weather this spring has been pretty terrible for gardening - lots of rain and cold - but we finally had a nice weekend a couple of weeks ago, so Linda and I planted our plot with the cucumbers, onions, and peppers that didn't fit into our home garden. The cucumbers are going to take over this small space, so my plan is to build some trellising for them to climb all over. Hopefully, we'll be able to manage two gardens, but really, the vegetables we get out of this plot are really secondary to being part of this community project. What I am really looking forward to is getting to meet some of the other gardeners and seeing how the different plots grow over the summer - each one has its own personality.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Freezing the Harvest - take one

Eating locally and seasonally as much as possible are two of my major food tenets. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. So, to extend the season of locally-grown veggies, we've decided to try freezing some this spring/summer. We probably won't have enough of a harvest of our own, so our plan is to buy an excess of vegetables at local farmer's markets when they are available instead. This year we'll start off relatively small and see how it goes. Hopefully we'll be eating local produce in January.

Since we are currently in asparagus season and since all four of us thoroughly enjoy good asparagus, asparagus seems like a good place to start this little endeavor. Our personal asparagus patch is only in its second year and, even though we really wanted to, we did not harvest any this year. However, there is plenty of local asparagus available. So, with freezing in mind, we bought 6 pounds of asparagus from Four Town Farm (yes, only 6 lbs - I said we were starting small). After doing a bit of research online (this pdf from Iowa State is particularly useful), our freezing process went like this:

1) Sort the spears into three rough size classes - small, medium, and large. Cut or snap off the bottom inch or two.

2) Blanch small portions in boiling water - 2 minutes for small spears, 3 minutes for medium spears, and 4 minutes for the large spears.

3) Shock the asparagus in ice water - 2 minutes for small spears, 3 minutes for medium spears, and 4 minutes for the large spears.

4) Dry the asparagus

5) Bag the asparagus in appropriate-sized portions and freeze.

Simple as that.

I had never done this before, so I was sort of flying blind. I'm a bit worried that I blanched the asparagus for too long, even though I followed the 2,3,4 minutes guide. They seemed pretty well cooked to my taste, so I think I'll have to be careful not to overcook them come January.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Honestly, officer, it was an accident. I didn't mean it. In fact, I'm not really sure what happened. I'm pretty sure they got water, either via watering can or rain. Though I must be wrong. Still, I've never seen things go so fast from this good:

May 27
to this bad
June 1

Salt Hay Mulch

I hate weeding. I also hate weeds in the vegetable garden*. So, something's gotta give. The past couple of years, the weeds have won. Try as we might, we just can't keep up, and by July 4th I'm often rationalizing the state of our garden by saying that we're just camouflaging the vegetables from the herbivores. Nobody seems to buy it. So, this year, I decided to give mulching a try. I wasn't really sure what the best thing to do was - I wanted natural, but I also wanted effective, and I'm not convinced I could get both. Well, after very little research (which is unlike me), we ended up mulching with some salt marsh hay (actually, we went to our local nursery to get a sheet of black plastic, but they didn't have it and the guy suggested the salt hay. Since the salt hay is a lot more natural than plastic, his suggestion was pretty much all I needed)

First I did some preliminary weeding, hoping to set the little buggers back a bit. Then I laid some old newspaper down between the vegetable rows before placing a layer of the salt marsh hay down. The neighbors had a good laugh watching me try to get both the newspaper and the hay down while the wind gusted up every now and then. But in the end, I used up one of the two bales, pretty much covering the rows between our tomatoes and zucchini. Th onions and beans still seemed too small for me to be messing around them - if/when they get bigger, I'll add more hay - and I left the potatoes clear so I can "ridge" them.

I don't actually expect to beat the weeds. I'm just hoping to stave them off a little while. Hopefully, we don't end up with an abundance of weeds growing up through the hay.

* "weeds" in the lawn however are just fine - in fact, I'm pretty sure our neighborhood hates us since we're most certainly the source of 99.9% of the dandelions in our area. Our lawn is pretty much the exact opposite of uniform, green, and grassy. But it is alive with bees, snakes, frogs, and caterpillars - which is far more important.