Garden Wrap-up

Graph of 2015 Garden Harvests by Week

Sometimes life interferes with itself and projects get pushed around. While I have been away, much has happened in the garden. Basically, the garden became patches of dirt again. Other than the herbs and horseradish, the garden has been put to sleep for the winter. For me, next year’s garden has to be planned and started. I have started tallying the harvest totals from this summer, we have been strategizing about why some crops didn’t perform as hoped, and have started to think about what to plant for next summer. Because that last part has to be more or less finalized by the end of the year so I can start the seedlings again, there is only so much time left to make that decision.

A quick look at the data show a significant percentage of the harvest came from three crops, two tomatoes and a volunteer banana squash plant. The two crops that didn’t perform as hoped were the beets and kale. We think we determined what went wrong with the beets and the problem with the kale was the variety. Since we first started the garden and last had success with beets, we planted another row of tomatoes on one side and the blackberry vines grew much larger. These two happenings created more shade over the area we plant the beets. Between the decreased light and a switch to straw instead of pine needle mulch, which corresponds to our largest to-date problems with slugs and snails, we think we found our problems.

As for the kale, we planted dinosaur kale this year instead of the winterbor kale we grew last year. We had one winterbor kale this year and although the dinosaur kale was hit by aphids, then snails and slugs, then deer, the winterbor kale right next to the other was not hit by any of those. All that, plus that we like winterbor kale better, will compel us to grow it next year. One problem easily solved.

At home, peppers I had planted are growing great. A number of the hot peppers and a few herbs were moved to warmer winter weather are enjoying the sunshine. I still have one experimental crop growing, but I think I have a month or so before that is unveiled.

Expert Pumpkin Carving

ray villafane carving a pumpkin

This post is a long way from what I typically write about, the garden and recipes therefrom. However, those of you who know me will understand why this post is being posted. It is at least related to gardens, just not mine.

Some of the produce I grow is for very specific reasons, like cupid peppers being used to make a pickled sweet pepper like those from South Africa. Other items, like tomatoes, have lots of purposes. One thing I do not purposefully grow are giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins for carving. Aside from not having the space, I am not very good at carving pumpkins. One person who is a master is Ray Villafane.

Ray is a master carver. There really can’t be any arguing that. Once you see his pumpkins, you will go on a quest to at least elevate your own carving. I, on the other hand, will go on a quest to watch him and his group carve fantastical creatures right down the road from me. Ray and his many talented cohorts are putting on demonstrations and displays at the Carefree Enchanted Pumpkin Garden, in the Carefree, Arizona Desert Garden.

If you live in or are visiting the metro-Phoenix area the last two weeks of October 2015, and are up for a scenic drive up to Carefree stop in to see the master at work. There are all sorts of events and activities. You can learn more by clicking here.

Standard Units

tomatoes and toy truck for scale

Standard units of measurement are everywhere. They can be as common as a yard, meter, ounce, or quart or as esoteric and specialized as a quire, angstrom, or darcy. What determines the standard unit is based on use, field of study, and where you are. For example, here in the USA we use a completely illogical system to measure length. I generally know about how long an inch or a foot or a yard or a mile is, but who thinks in base 12 to get from inches to a foot long?

In the garden we generally have two standard units of measure. The first is the typical American pounds and ounces. I use this to keep a running tally of harvests. With the press of a button I could change the unit on the scale, but I have not done that yet; maybe next year. The other standard unit of measurement we use is a visual scale. This scale has shown up a few times on the blog, but unless you knew why it was there, you likely dismissed it as folly. I started using the visual standard a couple of years ago when I emailed Jake a photo of a giant tomato and he asked for another photo with an object in it so he could gauge the size. I thought of a ruler, but I didn’t have a small one and I am not coordinated enough to hold a tape measure with one hand while trying to take a photo with the other, and get the tomato and tape measure in focus and in the frame. So, I used what every boy knows – a small toy truck I played with as a kid and that Jake has played with up at the garden.

banana squash and toy truck for scale

When I recently emailed a photo of one of the banana squash to Jake I had to include the truck on top for scale. Even if it provides little help to others, Jake and I understand. The rest of you will just have to adopt the standard unit for visual scale used on this blog to gauge the size of some of the produce. Which reminds me, I harvested one of the banana squash, the one pictured here, and it weighed in at about 11 pounds. Realizing that these can reportedly grow to forty pounds, ours is just a baby, a big baby, but still a baby.

Apple Breakfast Sausage

mortar with spices to grind

Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.
John Godfrey Saxe, quoted in University Chronicle, University of Michigan, Vol. III, No. 23, March 1869.

While I agree with Mr. Saxe, a Vermont attorney turned satirist, about the creation of laws, I disagree with him about the making of sausage. I know, actually, I hope, things were different in 1869 than they are today. Just because sausages were historically made of the bits and ends, that does not mean they have to be condemned to scorn and mediocrity. A good cut of pork freshly ground, mixed with herbs and spices, then left alone in the fridge for a day to let the flavors meld, then cooked up, and viola! a whole new and exciting world awaits you. That is really all there is to fresh sausage. To play in the world of smoked or cured sausage is a whole different experience and one we will not be exploring today.

ground appleEarlier in the summer I decided it was time to make sausage and use the grinder attachment for the KitchenAide for its intended purpose. Having tested a number of recipes, from breakfast sausage to hot Italian and chorizo, I have to say, making fresh sausage is far easier than anticipated. I did omit stuffing the mixture into casings to keep things even easier. If you have made meatloaf or meatballs, you have essentially made sausage, just in a different form. All fresh sausage is, is ground meat, spices, maybe herbs, and maybe other flavorings, mixed together then cooked.

I made a few versions of the recipe below over the summer. Some with apple, some without. I tried using maple syrup; but, grade A maple syrup just doesn’t have the flavor to stand-up in the sausage. If you have ready access to grade B maple syrup, give it a try. I always found pancakes were a justification to being able to pour syrup on my plate to swish sausage or bacon through. With this recipe you don’t even need that pretense.

I found leaving the mixture in the fridge at least overnight helps the flavors come together. If you either do not have a meat grinder or do not want to go through that, try using ground pork from the market. I tried a few different cuts of pork to make the sausage. Some was very lean and I added butter, which just cooked out. While there could well be better cuts than a pork shoulder butt to make sausage, it is readily available to us and has a good fat content without making the final sausage greasy. If you do not like any spicy heat in your food, omit the crushed red pepper. If you want it extra hot, add some crushed dried ghost pepper. I opted against dried ghost pepper flakes as this is for breakfast and I don’t need that level of heat to start my day. Feel free to experiment.

cooked breakfast sausage

Apple and Syrup Breakfast Sausage

  • Servings: 1 pound, about 5 3oz. patties
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  • 1 pound pork shoulder
  • 1 apple, peeled and cored
  • 1.5 – 2 tablespoon Marionberry syrup (or your choice)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed or coursly ground (not into a powder)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • rounded 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika

Cut the pork into about 2 inch cubes, or a size that fits through your grinder. Partially freeze, so firm but not solid, about 45 minutes. Once partially frozen, put through your grinder. I used the fine plate.

Cut peeled and cored apple into long slices that will fit through your grinder. Put through the grinder. Finely dice if using pre-ground pork or you want it to stand out more.

Mix everything else into the meat so it is well distributed.

Cover and put in the fridge at least overnight. Some of the juice and syrup will separate overnight, just mix back through.

Form into patties of your liking. Any of the sausage you are not going to use in a couple of days can be frozen either as patties or in bulk. If freezing patties, put wax paper on a cookie sheet and place the patties in a single layer. Freeze, then store in a freezer bag.

Cook over medium heat. The sausage will brown faster than normal because of the syrup so watch this and cook at a lower temperature if getting too dark too quickly.


Harvest Update

garden harvest on counter
It’s hard to believe it is already mid-September. On one hand it seems like the garden has been in for years. On the other it seems like we just got to the good stuff. I think both are partly correct. The garden has been in for years now and there is never a time we can’t harvest something, even if it is just herbs, and in just a couple of months I will have to organize seeds, evaluate what worked and what did not, and start planning next year’s garden so I can order seeds and start planting.

The last couple of weeks have been peak harvest for us. The tomatillos came in three weeks ago and we made a lot of salsa verde. We now use ghost peppers to spice it up a bit as they seem to be the only pepper we grow that cuts through the sweetness. We also roast 1/3 of the tomatillos, smoke 1/3 in the smoker, and leave the remaining 1/3 raw. This combo gives us a nice final flavor. I got very nervous when tomato fruit worms (different than the tomato hornworms that attack the tomatoes) invaded the plants. I got even more nervous when the plants started wilting. I think the later was caused by them cracking under their own weight.

table of preserved garden harvest

The tomatoes have been going strong and far surpassed our ability to eat. This prompted us to find a canned tomato sauce recipe. We also froze a lot of a fresh pasta sauce and tomato based salsa for winter. I even had enough extra tomatoes to smoke some while I was making salmon jerky (why not use up the smoke and extra space in the smoker). When they were done a few hours later I removed the loose skins and whizzed them in a food processor. I want to try the smoked tomato juice in gazpacho and in a Bloody Mary. While I think the peak harvests are over, the tomatoes should go strong another couple of weeks.

praying mantis in garden

The cucumbers mostly performed admirably this summer, despite some becoming pumpkins and one side of the plants not producing many. Nonetheless, we have made a lot of bread and butter and half-sour pickles. This past year we ran out of pickles and we don’t want that to repeat.

snail eating kale

What we won’t have much of is pickled beets. However, we might have discovered what was eating the small shoots. I knew we had a few snails and small slugs. What I didn’t know is that we really had a lot of snails and slugs. After a couple of evenings searching for them we relocated, or so it seems, most of the snails. We now sprinkle coffee grounds around affected plants and have cups with beer in them to capture the slugs. So, while I might not get many beets this year, we will be better prepared for next year.

banana squash next to yardstick in the gardenI try to compost a fair amount of the vegetative matter from the garden and kitchen. The problem I run into, especially this year, is that it does not get hot enough to kill seeds. This results in volunteer plants in non-optimal locations. The plants that take the “non-optimal location” award this year are a bunch of squash/ gourds/ pumpkins that sprouted up in a new flower garden. There just isn’t the space available that they want. To be fair, one of the vines, at least I think it is just one vine as I really can’t follow its meandering through all the other plants, is about 20 – 30 feet long. It stretches down the garden, around a stand of hollyhock, then back up the garden, taking over part of the garden and walkway.  There are about 10 squash growing on this one vine. From a pounds harvested perspective, this vine will outstrip every other plant in the garden. Luckily, we know what the squash is and we know we like it. We just don’t know what to do with the 125 pounds plus of winter squash I expect to harvest. What we have is a banana squash vine and one of the squash is pictured to the left. I have not weighed it yet and I think it is still growing. The yard stick in the photo is not one of those wily fishermen use to exaggerate their catch; it is a real yard stick. Any guesses on the final weight?

weekend harvest

We have a few new recipes for some of the harvest we are working on that will hopefully make it up on here in the coming weeks. As the crush of the harvest and manic preservation subsides I should have a little more time and energy. Until then, eat well.