Sow: seed saving

It’s been one of those months. Actually 2014 has been one of those years. I started this post on July 7 and for one of the oh-so-many reasons I haven’t written much this month, including the extra crazy daily harvesting, it got saved to draft.

Well, I’d better get back to writing since believe it or not, in North Texas, late July and the beginning of August is the right time to start getting stuff in the ground for the fall garden.

Yes, I am well aware that it’s the time of year when our little piece of heaven resembles the surface of the sun and children try to fry stuff on the sidewalks and even 5:30 am almost too hot to walk the Gs. But the grass has been unnaturally green for a good long while and the tomatillos and okra are touching the sky. I thank both the random rainfall we’ve had and the fabulous drip system we added to the urban farm.

We are in for another few days of abnormal rainy and cooler weather which seems to be the new normal down here. I hate to say it but it breaks up the sameness even though George has to sleep in his Thundershirt. (I really need to get him a modeling gig with that company.)

One plant that needs to get its seeds planted pretty soon is cilantro. Although you’d think that cilantro would grow wonderfully all year ’round here, it doesn’t. Like many Texas residents, it hates the heat. And the humidity also makes it look ugly, much like my crazy giant Texas hair last Thursday and Friday.

As soon as the weather heads up past 80°F (around 27°C, if I remember right), cilantro goes right to flower and starts tasting like soap. But if the taste of soap brings back wonderful childhood memories of special quality time spent with mom after expressing yourself with colorful grown up words, you’re in luck. You just won’t get any takers in the Mortroski Midcentury. We’ll eat ultra-bitter arugula and like it, but not soap-flavored tacos and guacamole.

I decided instead to let it go to coriander. Yes, that’s right cilantro the fresh green plant makes seeds that are ground into the spice coriander. The plant is also called that in some places, but it’s a little confusing when you ask for it as coriander at the supermarket around here. The dude you ask will take you to the little bottles of spices lined up in alphabetical order, not the produce section.

IMG_5411

Cilantro seeds (aka coriander) drying

So basically, I made my own pack of seeds to plant for the fall/winter crop. And all you have to do is let the cilantro go to seed, then let it dry out on the plant. Then cut the stems and bring them inside to dry out a bit more. I felt a few days was enough.

Next you’ll want to pack your patience or be in an especially cheerful, focused, or maniacal mood because you’re going to pluck the little seeds from the twiggy leftover bits of plant. One. By. One. I actually found it pretty therapeutic, but I also like to destem bushels of basil or shell blackeyed peas before work. Do it at your leisure, however. It does take a little time and if you rush, they go everywhere and one of your dogs will eat them and have breath that smells like an Indian restaurant, which is an improvement in George’s case.

IMG_5420

Coriander up close — looks just like the seed pack or the spice jar!

IMG_5421

The finished result: looks like I’ve got more than enough for fall planting — might have to share

So the cilantro seeds go back in the ground next month. Even though all of the other herbs are growing like crazy it’s the one I miss the most. Maybe it’s that soapy taste. I do have a fondness for spiciness.

Since I know you’ve missed the gratuitous dog photo of the day, I’ll give you a couple:

IMG_5538

Godiva tolerating George

IMG_5542

George tolerating Gadget

 

Advertisements

So: eating okra

I’m not from around these parts, so plenty of people find it very humorous that I grow okra. Usually these native Texans tell me how much they hate okra, how it’s yucky and slimy. Maybe their moms or grandmas made them eat it, but I never ate it regularly as a kid. My grandmother put it in one of her soups and I always thought it was pretty cool since it looks a bit like a flower, but since I didn’t see my grandparents all that often, it wasn’t on the normal vegetable rotation. Still I always scoured my bowl looking for the “flowers.” She probably thought it was pretty funny that I liked it so much.

IMG_5319

how okra grows

Bruce definitely NEVER ate okra until we moved to Texas, at least not knowingly. In Toronto, I don’t remember ever seeing it in the grocery store except in the frozen section. And while it probably grows in California, my mom never bought it.

So here we are in a climate where it’s super hot and dry. Okra likes both of those things as does Malabar spinach, peppers of all kinds, tomatillos, and black eyed peas.Can you tell  I like being a successful gardener (remember my tomato despair)? That’s why we’re eating what grows locally. Just a few okra plants will produce several meals worth per week for two hungry adults until the killing frost comes in November. Nothing is fresher than heading out to the urban farm and picking what’s for dinner right before dinner!

We’ve already had a couple of okra meals in the past two weeks. In North Texas, most people will fry their okra. A few pickle it—I love pickled okra but it’s still too early in the season to do it. You need volume and that won’t really come until August or September. Some people now roast it or even grill okra. All four of those ways are very good, but since we’re of the age where you shouldn’t consume much fried stuff, fried’s not really on our table.

Here’s how we usually eat it:

IMG_5380

Sauté some chopped onions and a jalapeño or any pepper you have on hand in your favorite olive oil (I use a garlic one from Trader Joe’s).

IMG_5383

Chop up some okra into rounds and add to your skillet.

IMG_5384

Let the okra start roasting, then add some frozen corn (or fresh if you have it). 

IMG_5386

Add a can of diced tomatoes (or fresh if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you have nice big tomatoes) and let the whole thing cook down for a few minutes.

Now you could season it all up with hot sauce, salt and pepper and pour it over rice or pasta or quinoa and eat it as is, but we usually throw in some fish and have a one-pot meal. I’m also going to try it with chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) this summer.

IMG_5389

This is thawed frozen cod. I just put it on top and let it cook until done. No flipping necessary. I’ve also used tilapia and other white fish.

IMG_5390

The finished product served over a quinoa/rice mixture! See all the little flowers? Add hot sauce if you like — I usually do.

An easy-peasy delicious weeknight dinner that we’ll enjoy many times over the months to come. Let me know if you try it and what special touches you put on it. If I have cilantro, sometimes I add that. Or I use salsa instead of canned tomatoes. The main thing is if you are afraid of slimy okra, do something like this and cook it with something acidic like tomatoes. There’s no sliminess at all, just deliciousness. You can make it with frozen okra too—I freeze our okra whole, then thaw and slice when I’m ready to use it.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

IMG_5392

Guinness and George are snuggling together a lot more these days. Not sure what has brought this on, but Guinness doesn’t seem to mind at all. Photo by Christine Watson.

sow: dirty gardener

 

IMG_3758Guilty as charged! It was a fantastic Labor Day long weekend for getting stuff done—with plenty of time for relaxing. Although I slept in for the first time in eons, I spent most of Monday afternoon outside digging in the dirt. Perfect timing too since it rained on and off all morning long—a lovely way to start the day lounging about and drinking coffee, although Guinness was not impressed with what the wet weather did to his morning walk.

Monday’s harvest was pretty awesome (notice the seed packet next to the pile of produce):

IMG_3759

 

The chard is the last of what I planted last fall. As you may have gathered from the seed pack, I planted more. The peppers are all still going strong as is the okra (it’s all as tall as me now so it’s getting harder to pick) and they’ll keep going until the first frost hits them. I decided to freeze the nearly 1.5 pounds of okra I gathered up since it will be nice to pull some out in the middle of winter and use it in soups or stews.

But picking wasn’t the most important part about Monday. Serious digging happened. And I’m not talking about the hole that Gidget and George have been making next to the driveway when no one’s looking.

Why? Well, because fall’s here. Ok, truthfully, fall’s not really here until September 21 or so and it’s still close to 100°F almost every day, but it’s time to get fall seeds in the ground. So I started by soaking some snow pea and beet seeds on Saturday evening. The snow peas are already sprouting and they were planted on Sunday afternoon!

IMG_3730

Monday, I dug, added compost and soil, pulled weeds. moved stuff around. And I did a lot of squatting which is why my body was a bit sore yesterday—and my brain was too tired after work to blog.

But not too tired to get one more thing done. Bruce and I worked on clearing out the flooded stock tank (#3) last night. I used about 1/2 of the dirt to augment the other beds and tanks on Monday, then he finished clearing the rest of the soil out into two wheelbarrows. We added three bags of crushed stone, then tested the draining (works fine now). So we loaded the 1/2 of the dirt that was left back in and I’ll get more dirt on the weekend so I can plant carrots and radishes.

Can you tell that I’m excited to get new stuff in the ground? Here’s what what I planted on Sunday (all seeds are from Botanical Interests):

  • Oregon sugar pod II snow peas
  • French filet bush beans (had to plant more since I think the birds may have eaten some of the seeds I planted a few weeks ago)
  • Gourmet blend beets (check out the seed pack above)
  • Detroit red beets
  • Five color silverbeet Swiss chard
  • Nero Tuscana kale
  • Red velvet leaf lettuce
  • Qs special medley mesclun
  • Cilantro
  • Italian parsley
  • Bok choi

Here’s what’s sticking around from the spring planting:

  • Malabar spinach (going crazy still)
  • Oregano (moved into a planter)
  • Thyme (moved into a planter)
  • Mint
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Anaheim peppers
  • Clemson spineless okra
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Green bell peppers
  • Marigolds (moved to the bed with the fall tomatoes, they help attract bees)
  • Black diamond watermelon (a gift from a friend that is finally just starting to produce watermelons)
  • some of the basil (see below for details)

My arugula patio planter experiment is going very well. We’ve been harvesting handfuls for sandwiches and burgers—it’s really yummy. Definitely going to do it again next summer and maybe try a couple of additional planters to increase the volume.

I picked up some sprout seeds over the weekend and will be trying out growing those on the window sill just as soon as I get some quart mason jars (I thought I had some, but I only have 1/2 quart jars). I really love them on sandwiches and am a little worried about all of the illnesses that store-bought sprouts seem to have. (The instructions explain how to properly disinfect the seeds so there is little chance of getting sick.)

The fall tomatoes are cranking away. There’s fruit on the Indigo Rose and Celebrity plants, flowers on the rest and I’m already dreaming of tomato sandwiches and caprese salads. The warm days and cooler nights appear to be working their wonders. I pulled a tomato (sweet 100 so Bruce won’t care) and a bell pepper (green) plant that were formerly in the flooded stock tank and really didn’t appreciate being moved. They weren’t doing well, so it seemed a better idea to use the space to plant something else.

I’ve had an exceptional season for basil. I’ve made pesto several times, frozen some, given tons away. Last Thursday I gave away 10 1-gallon bags of the stuff to some coworkers:

IMG_3718

 

I love basil and it’s so gratifying to grow—that’s why it makes me so happy to share it. While I have had great plans to make another couple of batches of pesto to freeze (I have everything I need, just need to do it), I haven’t gotten around to it yet. But I did make a lovely basil-watermelon-feta salad from a recipe one of the basil beneficiaries suggested (thanks, Lauren):

 

IMG_3735

Martha Stewart’s Basil-Watermelon-Feta Salad

 

It was pretty and delicious and I plan to make it many times—I even made a small batch of it for our work lunches today.

The basil is also doing double duty as housing. If you look carefully at the photo below, you will see the toad that has lived in Raised Bed #4 all summer. He arrived when the tomato jungle was making tons of shade and has stuck around. Last night, I saw that he’s made a little hut from the mulch around the basil. Hopefully it keeps him hidden from Gidget (she keeps looking for him, perhaps because she has a taste for toads).

 

IMG_3743

Toad in a hole

But as cute as it is, a toad isn’t a dog.  And it won’t satisfy your desire to see gratuitous G photos from the long weekend. Here are a couple of my favorites of George and Gidget, who are quickly becoming best friends:

 

IMG_3720

George has a ball in his mouth that Gidget really wants

IMG_3729

 

Hope you’re having a great week!

Sow: it’s alive!

I almost gave up on it completely. Little did I know, it would be brighten up my day today.

20130201-170456.jpg

I’m talking about cilantro. You might call it coriander or Chinese parsley, but I call it a plant that doesn’t like growing in North Texas.

I never had any trouble growing it in a little pot in my tiny backyard in Toronto. But try as I might, I could not make it flourish in Dallas.

I planted some last spring. It became crispy in the North Texas sun. I tried again in the fall. The same thing happened. Or so I thought.

Apparently my sickly cilantro likes winter!

Today when I wandered outside to check out the garden and make sure the 3G Network wasn’t feasting on kale or rolling on fresh compost, I saw three bushy mounds of cilantro where my once scraggly plants were planted!

Of course I picked some. It will grace a dish of Quinoa and Roasted Corn from Mark Bitman’s excellent cookbook How to Cook Everything for tonight’s dinner. I’ll savour every mouthful — and hope that I’ve finally found the proper growing time for cilantro. Maybe it’s also an annual that’s a perennial down here. One can only hope!

Other crops that are getting closer to harvest:
Brussels sprouts (they’re purple!)
Romesco broccoli (looks like a Gaudi house’s turret)

Ongoing harvests:
Nero kale
Mixed salad greens
Parsley
Mustard greens
Spinach
Collard greens
Swiss chard
Thyme
Oregano
Red romaine

PS: Thank you to everyone for their well-wishes while I was so sick with the flu. I am feeling much better though I found that I got tired easily today.