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Garden progress

After a rocky start, the garden is actually looking pretty good. Our first cherry tomatoes were ready to harvest around the third week of July and they are delicious. I’ve harvested around 60 of them so far, with many more to come.

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So far the PVC trellis is working really well. It supports six potted tomato plants, some in large plastic pots and others in fabric Smart Pots. As they grow, I tie the plants to the trellis with old tights, which are gentler on the stems than twine. I wear tights a lot and this is a great way to recycle them when they become torn or stretched out.

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Abe Lincoln heirlooms

I think the plants are a little too close together, but so far there haven’t been any problems. One of the plants is just slightly taller than the trellis right now, but putting them in pots controls their size somewhat.

The bell peppers are also doing nicely so far, and if all goes well we will have a really good harvest.

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The eggplants have blossoms, but no fruit yet.

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I also got my first batch of finished compost from our tumbler. I had to sift it to remove some pine needles and whatnot, but it looked really good. I applied it to the existing plants and worked it into the soil for the fall crop of radishes and greens. I’m hoping for more success with this new round of vegetables.

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Seedlings

While we have grown vegetables in the past, starting them from seed is a new experience for us. I have been trying to do everything right, with the knowledge that if our seeds fail, it’s not too late to buy some plants. In mid-March, we planted tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers in peat pots. The tomatoes have recently grown big enough to thin and transplant, and the others are well on their way. I planted three varieties of tomatoes (two cherry and one heirloom) and chose two of each to transplant into plastic containers. They will stay here until they are big enough to transplant again into large pots.

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The miniature tomato leaves are so cute.

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At the end of March I planted some herbs, including basil, mint, and catnip. I love how tiny the mint seedlings are–they’re practically microscopic!

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Last weekend I planted another tray of peat pots with lettuces, beets, and spinach. It is amazing how these tiny little seeds (if all goes well) will provide us with delicious vegetables. Isn’t nature wonderful?

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Raised garden beds and PVC trellis

Now that the weather is (more or less) consistently warm, we are making progress on our garden. When we moved in, there was really no garden space at all, so we have a lot of work to do. We decided on raised beds since we thought they would keep both weeds and pests down and be easier overall. A few weeks ago we constructed two 3′ x 6′ cedar garden beds, anchored at the corners by 4 x 4s that we sunk into the ground for stability. Then we filled them up with topsoil.

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We made a list of which vegetables to plant. Tomatoes were at the top of my list. We decided to plant tomatoes in containers so as not to take up too much space in the boxes. I’d also had great success planting tomatoes in containers in the past. But tomatoes need support, and the tomato cages I purchased last time weren’t cutting it. After doing some research on how to make an easy, durable, and inexpensive tomato support, I decided on PVC pipe. We went with 3/4-inch pipe in 5-foot lengths. We wanted to go a bit taller, but ultimately decided to choose the length that would fit in the car, thinking that we can add on if necessary. After some experimentation, we ended up making a 5′ x 5′ by 1.25′ support that would fit in the space between a garden box and our shed while leaving enough space to walk.

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Before we assembled the trellis, J drilled holes at regular intervals so we could attach twine. We set it up so that one side can support peas and beans grown directly in the garden box and the opposite side could support the tomatoes in containers. We used a rubber mallet to drive the ends of the pipe into the ground and I attached the front side of the trellis to the box using copper pipe straps. The straps are slightly too small, but that’s okay because they hold the PVC really tightly.

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I used a tapestry needle to thread polyester twine through the holes in the PVC pipe. I attached the vertical rows to the garden box using screws and washers, and J knotted the ends because I am terrible at knots. We didn’t fully string the tomato side because the tomatoes won’t be there permanently until mid-May, after the last frost. Once we put them in place, I will string the trellis around them.

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We didn’t glue the PVC together because we want to make sure the design works. I really like the flexibility of the PVC design–it won’t be too difficult to add to it later if we want. Also, it will be simple to add more twine if necessary. It definitely seems sturdier than those wire tomato cages, but we’ll see. And, best of all, it cost less than $30.

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Tomato sauce 2.0 (with food mill)

We’ve been getting lots of tomatoes from the CSA, so I’ve been making sauce every week. Wanting to save some time and make a more authentic Italian pasta sauce, I bought a food mill. I chose an inexpensive model with three disks since it seemed the most versatile and had good reviews. I used the same recipe as last time, except I didn’t blanch and peel the tomatoes; I just cored and chopped them, then tossed them in. For my second batch I didn’t even bother chopping the tomatoes first. I also added a pinch of sugar.

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I cooked them for about 35 minutes on medium-high, then passed them through the food mill to remove the skins. I used the coarsest of the disks since I wanted the sauce to be a bit chunky and I don’t mind seeds in my sauce. The result was lovely–I liked the consistency better than my previous version with the immersion blender, and passing the sauce through the food mill was strangely satisfying. I have to admit that I was a bit grossed out by the slimy tomato skins and remnants when I cleaned off the food mill, but I am a bit strange when it comes to food scraps. I thought the tomatoes might stain the white plastic of the food mill but it came out of the dishwasher looking like new.

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The result was quite good, though I can’t help but feel there is still just a little something lacking. Maybe more garlic next time?

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Frozen pesto, herbs, and tomatoes

The growing season is drawing to an end and it is time to preserve some of my beautiful herbs. The best way I know to preserve basil is to make pesto. I took about half of the remaining basil from the garden and removed the best leaves, which gave me about three cups of basil.IMG_4368

I used the same recipe as last time, but I think I added too many pine nuts, as it turned out nuttier than before. I spooned the finished pesto into an ice cube tray and covered it with a thin layer of olive oil. I added some fresh rosemary to some of the empty slots in the tray and covered it with a generous amount of olive oil, then popped it into the freezer.

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The result? Beautiful cubes of frozen oil and herbs.

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I took them out of the tray and put them into plastic bags in the freezer. When I want pesto, I can add a cube or two to hot pasta. I’m planning to stir the rosemary cubes into roasted potatoes. I made some roasted cherry tomato cubes as well and I’m looking forward to using them in pasta. They start to melt pretty quickly, so I think adding them to dishes will be no problem. I plan to preserve more of my herbs this way–I like that the cubes are a nice serving size.

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Mid-September garden update

The past several weeks been very hot and dry, which has taken its toll on some of the plants. I gave up on the strawberries a long time ago, but everything else is holding up fairly well. It has been two months since my first tomato harvest and there are still plenty of tomatoes and even new blossoms.

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I’m ashamed to say I’ve let a lot of them go to waste because I can’t keep up with them. I’ve frozen some (just popped them into the freezer whole in a single layer, then transferred them to bags when frozen) and today I’m slow roasting some more.

There is one tiny eggplant and we will probably get at least one more. I haven’t been the best about watering this plant, which is probably why it has taken so long to get fruit.

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The herbs are doing fairly well. I cut back my Italian basils significantly to remove the flowers and some yellowed leaves, and removed quite a few leaves to make pesto. I plan to make another batch of basil soon. My Thai basil looks a bit sad and I haven’t used it at all. The rosemary is fine; I don’t use it as much as I had anticipated, though. I will look into preserving it by drying or freezing soon. The mint is huge.

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I haven’t used any of it–I bought it with the thought of using it to flavor water and tea, but I never think of it. I’ll need to figure out something to do with it fairly soon.

It was a small garden this year, but it turned out fairly well despite my negligence when it comes to watering.

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Pesto!

I love, love, love classic basil pesto and I’ve been meaning to make it for quite some time. My basil plants are huge, though they suffered somewhat from the heat and lack of rain (and my forgetfulness when it comes to watering them). I used this recipe as an inspiration, though I used a food processor rather than chopping everything by hand. Firstly, I do not have a mezzaluna, and secondly, I was way too hungry and impatient to do things the old-fashioned way.

The original recipe is kind of vague, so I interpreted it using what I had on hand and by skimming a few other recipes. Here’s what I used:

about 2 cups of basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 cup freshly-grated basil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cloves of garlic

I began by toasting the pine nuts in a skillet until they began to brown. I was pretty cautious, as I’d read that they burn quickly, They turned out nicely, though. Then I added everything to the food processor.

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I transferred the pesto to a small container, then covered it with olive oil.

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I served it with tricolor rotini and a simple salad of chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and freshly-ground pepper.

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I now see why pesto is so expensive. It takes a lot of basil! Fortunately, I have plenty more and I anticipate making as much pesto as possible before the frost kills my basil plants.