All Posts In In Season

Blight or Blossom End Rot?

by in In Season, July 30th, 2009

tomato-blight-2

Thank you to the clever reader who discovered that the “blight” on Miriam’s tomatoes was not in fact late blight, but blossom end rot. Our colleague and fellow gardener Derek Flynn concurred, sending us to the photos of blight here and here, which confirm that late blight starts at the stem and works its way down, while blossom end rot shows up at the bottom of the tomato. Upon further inspection, Miriam also noted that her plants lacked the white powdery spores and brown spots on the leaves that are common symptoms of late blight.

We’re sorry if we misled you–we’re passionate and protective gardeners (and cooks), not botanists–but we want to set the record straight in case we sent you into a premature panic. The good news is, most experts report that while you have to forgo the fruit you find with blossom end rot, it doesn’t spread or infect the plant itself, and the same plant, given proper irrigation and healthy soil, may produce perfectly healthy tomatoes later in the season.

CONTINUE READING

Summer Blight

by in In Season, July 23rd, 2009

Monday morning, I began to write about the collection of tomatoes starting to ripen in my garden, ranging from vibrant yellow beauties the shape and size of gumballs to tiny green striated torpedoes and deep purple-maroon monsters with more crevices than an elephant’s trunk.

My writing was stopped short when our sous chef and fellow gardener Miriam showed up at my desk with news of the late blight fungus that is rapidly spreading throughout tomato plants in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic and likely to hit home gardens hard. The fungus, which is also found and carried in potatoes (think Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century), is sometimes found in small amounts in August and September, but this outbreak is on a scale rarely seen by plant pathologists and agricultural experts.

Although the fungus has been around for centuries, this outbreak is thought to have started in mass-market outdoor and gardening stores. Since Miriam and I buy most of our tomato plants from heirloom producers at the farmers’ market, we thought we might be safe.

Over the next few days, we gathered around every news and gardening report, filtering through the news that that for organic gardeners (like us), there is no known cure or prevention except extracting the plants and disposing of them (in the garbage, not compost). Fungicides can help prevent the fungus from spreading, but that’s an option many aren’t willing to make.  And as an organic gardener in a community garden that lives by that commitment, my own choice is limited.

We all went home, inspected our tomatoes, coddled them, and picked and cherished every healthy ripe tomato straight from the vine. We held our breath and hoped for hot sunny days (reported to kill late blight), exchanged worried glances during the rain, and promised that we’d continue to buy tomatoes from the farmer’s market, even as prices doubled, to support those that are quickly losing their crops.

Two days later, Miriam came in with an almost-ripe orange and yellow striped tomato wearing all the signs of blight. We stood in a quiet circle, inspecting her tomato, and patting her on the back, as if to say “we’re sorry this happened to you.” To lighten the mood, we joked about giving Miriam’s tomato a proper burial, and offered to sit shiva for her crop. But the truth is, the blight is no joke, least of all for the hundreds of farmers whose living depends on it — evidence that the many principles of sustainability, most primarily biodiversity, are wise ones. Planting large varieties of any plant in any garden or farm is the best defense against total crop failure.

Wherever your tomato plants came from, and however many varieties you’ve planted, I sincerely hope they will not be affected by the blight, and that you don’t give up on gardening if they do. And I hope just as fiercely that you’ll keep eating tomatoes, keep buying tomatoes, and keep our farmers (and tomatoes) in business for years and years to come.

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

Seeing Green

by in In Season, July 16th, 2009

Year after year, cucumbers have been the most dependable and prolific plants in my garden, making them an easy sell for me each spring. This year, I got so carried away with tomatoes and peppers, I almost forgot them, until my friends from Teich Garden Systems (who build our Good Food Gardens) gave me an heirloom pickling cucumber plant. I almost forgot them again until this morning, when I found the plant cleverly creeping up the legs of an old-cast-iron trellis, with two chubby cucumbers hanging heavily from its vines. These first cucumbers mark the glorious beginning of weeks upon weeks of green, as well as meals and menus inspired by their vibrant green skin.

Best picked when evenly green, firm and crisp, cucumbers should be eaten as soon after picking as possible, when their cells are bursting with water. It’s that crisp edge that makes them so refreshing raw, dipped in hummus, tossed into a Greek salad, or sliced (any size, skin on) with lemons in ice water, a spa trick that’s easy to adopt at home.

They are also the inspiration behind three of my favorite summer foods: chilled cucumber soup; pickles; and tzatziki, a garlicky yogurt-based cucumber dip that’s perfect with pita and as a topping for lamb burgers, gyros, or kebabs.

And if you happen to have a garden bursting with green, or a good farmers’ market nearby, take the color and run with it with a summer supper made of tzatziki with grilled flatbread, pesto stuffed into grilled arctic char, a summer squash carpaccio, and a peppermint and lime herb refresher. Bon Appetit!

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

P.S. If you didn’t get your cucumber plants in yet, it’s okay to plant some now for a fall harvest. Cucumbers grow quickly and like lots of space, sun, and water, so give them room to grow either out (at least two feet apart) or up (they work well when trellised or allowed to creep up a link fence) and keep the soil moist.

Ripe For The Picking

by in In Season, July 9th, 2009

On Saturday, just hours after getting home from a two-week vacation, I headed to the garden and felt like I was suddenly greeted by teenagers when I left toddlers behind. Every plant was twice its size and blooming fruit and flowers that were just days away from ripening.

Thankfully, I hadn’t missed any significant harvest, since I had plucked the blossoms off the tomatoes and peppers before I left, encouraging the plants to put their energy toward growing fuller before producing fruit.

These are the kinds of garden smarts I’ve learned from watching other gardeners year after year in my community garden, and I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.  If you love tomatoes and peppers too, here’s another tip: Plant early and plant often. Thanks to early and successive plantings (I’ve planted tomato seedlings every three weeks this summer), I have plants in every stage of ripening-which means we should have handfuls of tomatoes from now until October (unless I just jinxed myself by putting that in print).  I share more tips like that one with you on the next few episodes of our Good Food Garden documentary, so tune in, and dig in.

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

Resurrecting a Garden

by in In Season, June 25th, 2009

As a recent New York transplant, I have been wanting to resurrect my green thumb for some time, but I find myself slightly overwhelmed by the difficulty of finding a community garden with open plots.  I’ve heard stories of people waiting for more than five years for a plot to open–with wait times like that, it would probably be easier to get a kidney.

Using the most recent database I could find, my husband and I located some gardens in our neighborhood and the surrounding areas.  We set out to scout, filled with hope and excitement. The first garden was right down our block. It’s called the RING (The Riverside-Inwood Neighborhood Garden) and while it’s a wonderful community effort, we discovered it was strictly a flower garden, so we had to move on.  Much to our disappointment, garden after garden was either boarded up or abandoned. Six gardens in all were closed or had vanished.

I could only assume that my research had been poor, but after digging a little deeper I discovered that many of New York’s community gardens are at risk of either encroaching commercial development or simple neglect due to a lack of community support.

We came home defeated, stopping for a quart of strawberries to lift our spirits.  Washing away the dirt from our fruit, I began to question my idea of finding a plot.  Sure, it would be great to find an already established and flourishing garden where I could plant tomatoes and kale to share with family and friends, but how many people would benefit from that? Could I possibly do more?  I thought of the boarded-up gardens again and their depressed neighborhoods.

Perhaps there is still a need for a resurrection, and I decided to redirect my research.  I’m not exactly sure how to go about organizing a community garden, but I am open to education from anyone with experience.  In the meantime, we have joined a local community-activist group and bought a small tomato plant for our windowsill.

Leah Brickley, Recipe Tester

Beans Talk

by in In Season, June 18th, 2009

Mid-June in the garden is a thriving time, when flowering tomato, pepper and squash plants give signs of good things to come. In the meantime, I’m thankful for an early harvest that provided handfuls of radishes for summer salads — and, just this week, lots of little beans in every size and shape. English peas, sugar snaps, and haricots verts  quickly blanched in salted water and shocked in ice water make a perfect side for any lunch or dinner. I like them with (or even inside) an omelet, or tossed with some fruity olive oil, cannellini beans, radishes, and snipped herbs for a protein-packed picnic salad.

Here are a few other fast & fabulous bean recipes for your summer table:

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

Inner Farmer

by in In Season, June 11th, 2009

As a kid, I looked forward to three things about my summer trips to my grandparents’ 160-acre Iowa farm: hiding out with my favorite book in the abandoned chicken coop, letting the calves suck my thumb, and feeding piglet runts from a baby bottle. Other than that, I thought everything about farm life was utterly uncool. The infamous swine smell, the coffee cans of rendered pork fat, and early-morning chores. Those things gave me the heebie-jeebies. I never dreamed that the habits of my grandparents, like collecting kitchen scraps for compost or putting up green beans for the winter, would be ones that I adopt, embrace, even exalt.

So I’ve grown up a little. And embraced my farm heritage. And experienced my first recession. It seems the rest of the country is right there with me—we’ve all grown up a little, and are finally seeing farming for what it really is—challenging, necessary and beautiful.

It doesn’t hurt that farmers, food journalists and chefs have laid the groundwork of making farm-to-table the chicest catch-phrase of the decade. So it won’t hurt for me to use that phrase just one more time—farm-to-table starts with you, in your own backyard (or fire escape, or windowsill). You don’t have to own overalls or piglets to embrace your inner farmer. Just a pot, some dirt, and a few seeds. And go ahead and collect your kitchen scraps while you’re at it. Ask a neighbor or a farmer at your local market if you can add them to their compost pile, or better yet, start your own.

Watch for more tips on how to get started when our second episode in our Good Food Gardens series airs this Friday.

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens spokesperson

Feed Them Well

by in In Season, June 4th, 2009

I hate to be dismal and risk ruining my Pollyanna reputation, but with a record 32.5 million Americans on food stamps, and more American families facing hunger for the first time in their lives, food insecurity is a very real part of the American fabric.

The Victory gardens of the early 1940s, inspired by wartime need and promoted by a Department of Agriculture campaign, proved that many folks are willing to dig in and become a part of the solution through growing their own food.

The government is now at it again, with a Victory garden on the White House lawn and a People’s Garden on USDA soil, soil that was blacktop just a few months ago. Yesterday, in our nation’s capital, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack lent his own green thumb to support our fourth Good Food Garden, at the SEED School, a pioneering charter school in DC. He led the students, our new Good Food Ambassadors, in planting cucumbers, squash, eggplant and artichokes, among dozens of other plants, and joined us in tasting some of the varieties of melons, tomatoes and herbs that the students will grow.

One of our Good Food Garden Ambassadors with her prized zucchini plant
One of our Good Food Garden Ambassadors with her prized zucchini plant

While Good Food Gardens are intended to teach and inspire interest in where food comes from, give students valuable skills and growing methods, and encourage students to eat a larger variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, their larger message is that anyone, anywhere, can grow their own food, becoming part of Secretary Vilsack and President Obama’s goal to end childhood hunger by 2015. The Food Network and Share Our Strength share their mission.

He left us with these words:

“The first directive President Obama gave me when I came into office was this: Feed our children; and feed them well.”

We hear you, Mr. President.

Check out Goodfoodfun.com for more about the Good Food Gardens, and a few ideas how you can feed your children well too.

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens Spokesperson

Free Food

by in In Season, May 28th, 2009

If you’ve been reading the Good Food Gardens blog, you’ve probably figured out that I consider gardening the best way to get free food. Not only does food you grow yourself cost virtually nothing after the initial investment of soil and seeds, it’s also the surest way to have quality, locally grown ingredients and make sure that the things you love to eat are always available to you.

Of course, you can’t grow chardonnay smoked sea salt or vanilla beans in your backyard (although I’d love to hear about it if you are), but you can grow a huge variety of lettuces, vegetables, and herbs — exactly the kinds of garden goodies that make it easy to layer summer meals with texture and flavor. Farmers’ markets are also superb, and I still count on real farmers to do the heavy lifting, but even they can’t beat the ease and freshness of picking greens from the garden just hours before dinner.

So you live in a tiny apartment in a big city with no light or backyard? Trust me, you can do it. We’ve proven that anyone can grow a garden by planting one, tended by school-aged kids, between high-rises in the middle of New York City. Okay, my can-do attitude is made significantly easier by the help of Teich Garden Systems, who build our Good Food Gardens, but my own little plot of dirt at the Two Coves Community Garden in Long Island City should be even more convincing. My garden, now packed with strawberries, lemon verbena, rhubarb, Hungarian peppers, and over 10 varieties of lettuces and leafy greens, started out as a packed plot of dead soil just a year ago. Its success is the result of several bags of organic compost tilled into the soil, a few sunny weekends with a shovel, and the occasional rain dance.

Probably the easiest and most prolific garden doesn’t even require a plot of soil at all. The Earth Box, used in schools in Harlem, rooftops in Chicago, and by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for a international program called the Growing Connection, requires little more than an upfront investment and the desire to grow food—a lot of food. 4 to 6 boxes, some say, can feed a family of four for a summer.

So, what’s your excuse now?

Sarah Copeland, Recipe Developer and Good Food Gardens Spokesperson