We’re Off and Running

garden harvest

It is hard to believe I am about to start seeds for next summer. It seems like we just pulled the garden out and turned off the water. After taking inventory of existing seeds, I placed my order, then added on, and added on again, including new equipment. There will be a few changes in the garden next summer, but it will largely be a return to what has worked and elimination of what has not. That does not preclude a bit of experimentation.

As for the changes, the only squash we will be growing is the banana squash. We roasted some of the pumpkins we grew last summer and they lacked any real flavor. The banana squash on the other hand, have great taste. We have used them in place of other winter squash and even in place of pumpkins in pumpkin bars – no one knew the difference (other than they tasted great). Another big change involves the flowers. The flowers we planted last year grew ok, but they didn’t have that WOW factor and were not good for cutting, a primary objective. We will also be returning to winterbor kale and trying Siberian kale in place of the Tuscan kale we grew last summer. The Tuscan kale was hit hard by aphids, snails and slugs where as the winterbor plant was largely unaffected by any of that.

Another big change will impact the tomatoes. We had such great success with the two hybrid varieties we grew that we are going to try a few new varieties. They are not just new to us, but new to the market. The varieties we grew last year produced great harvests, tasted good, and are reportedly disease resistant. The new varieties should have the same general characteristics as well as mimicking heirloom varieties in taste and appearance. Because we have such limited space and grow a number of nightshade plants, our ability to rotate where we plant different plants to break disease build-up is very limited.

Next week I will start a few habanero seeds, the Cupid peppers, the Siberian kale (the winterbor kale is on back order) and the Shishito peppers. I will also start a new for us pepper – Aleppo pepper. I have used dried Aleppo pepper for a few years, ever since a friend introduced us to the exotic taste. I decided, why not try growing it myself? the Aleppo will take the place of the Carmen peppers we have grown in the past. Although the Carmen is one of the best tasting bell peppers I have tried, we never found a significant use for them. Without success in growth and a significant use, a plant isn’t allowed to take up valuable space.

Stay tuned friends, we are just getting going for 2016.

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.