Monday, March 31, 2014

Kale...

Winterbore Kale

If I had to choose one winter crop to plant, it would be kale. Prolific, tough, cheap seeds, grows fast, repeat harvest, tasty, adaptable to many cuisines, and tolerant of heat (until May, at least...). I grow Tuscan (Lacinato) Kale and Winterbor Kale (from Johnnys). The Winterbor is probably a bit tenderer and a bit more prolific.  We love kale in any recipe that calls for spinach or chard--yeah, different flavor, different texture, but no big difference really. Since it's a fairly substantial green, it can be used in any recipe that calls for collards, too, with some slight adjustments for its faster cooking.

Finally, a real favorite in my household is any raw kale salad recipe. I like this one from Food & Wine... and the one below, which comes from (I think I'm getting this right) a Lebanese friend of a friend... It's so easy and really tasty.

Kale Salad - the King of Greens

Ingredients

1 large bunch black kale, torn into bite size pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
1 -2 lemon
1/3 cup currants or 1/3 cup other dried fruit
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup pecorino cheese, grated
1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Directions:

Tear kale pieces off the main fibrous center stem. Add the kale to a large mixing bowl, season with salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Massage with your hands making sure to coat the kalewith oil and begin to break down the cell structure.

Grate the zest and squeeze the juice of the lemons over the massaged kale. Add the currants, toasted pine nuts, pecorino and toss to combine. Serve with a pinch of red chili flakes, if desired.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 (34 g)
Servings Per Recipe: 6
Amount Per Serving: 6 servings Calories 156.6 Calories

Loquats... Recipes, processing.

Well, it's that time of year. A friend dropped off four gallons of loquats, just a small part of the harvest from one tree... Loquats are delicious, I think: A sort of citrusy apricot with mango. The flesh is very tender and dense, like the best apricot flesh.

They're very perishable. I suggest immersing them in a lot of water immediately after harvesting, and letting them sit in that water for a few hours, adding ice if the water doesn't feel cold to the touch. This cold water bath stops them from perishing and cleans them. (One reason I suspect they are so perishable: The stem wound tends to ooze when they're picked, and the sugary juice hastens spoilage. So, the water bath solves that problem. It also seems to plump them up a bit... Makes them easier to handle.)

The work is processing them: They are small and have large seeds and a seedcoat that need to be removed. Some people skin them, too: I don't think it's necessary, but it's not difficult to do. With a little practice, you can process--skin seed, and clean--a gallon of loquats in around twenty minutes. Slice the stem and blossom ends off, cut the fruit open from pole to pole, shift the knife back into your palm, and use your finger to remove the seeds and the seedcoat in one motion. Drop the seeds and ends into one bowl, and the fruit in another. It's nice to have a sliced lemon in the fruit bowl---from time to time, toss the fruit with the lemon juice and reduce the browning.

You can make whatever you'd make with apricots, more or less following the recipe. Personally, I don't like my fruit over-sweetened, and I find loquats to be rather mild and sweet. They lack much acid for balance. So, I add less sugar than most recipes call for (recipes that call for loquats or for apricots), and I like to add some lemon juice and zest for balance. Taste and adjust the jam, jelly, filling, etc., starting with a lot less sugar. (A rough guide: Half the weight of the processed loquat seems like just the right balance for me.)

Anyway, I discovered the wonders of a pressure cooker when dealing with lots of fruit: Just a splash of water in the pot, fill it to the "fill" line, and 5 minutes on high pressure got the seeded loquats cooked perfectly. The skins fall off the cooked loquats, so if you want to seed them, and are going to cook them anyway, then wait until after you cook them. In the (fuzzy!) picture below, you see some loquat puree I'm going to dry.

Two jars of "varenie"--a Polish/Russian way of preserving fruit that's not quite a jam: Think whole fruit in a sugar syrup. I used half the weight of the fruit in sugar, let the processed fruits sit for a couple hours, drained off the (copious) liquid, and boiled it to just at the soft-ball stage (134° on the candy thermometer). The syrup caramelized a bit, but the resulting product was really tasty. Oh, I threw in a few pieces of dried Meyer lemon zest and half a vanilla bean. Tasty! Like apricot jam, only better.

The seeds can be made into a nut liqueur (haven't tried that yet, but will!). The seeds are very flavorful, but, like apricot seeds, contain a bit of cyanide-producing compounds... Like bitter apricot pits, they have a culinary use in moderation.

I'll make a small batch of jelly from the juice. (The juice you see in the pics came from the skins and trimmings. IT's very sweet and very tasty.)

I'll probably use the remaining cooked fruit in a pie...

Adding: A friend tells me that in southern Italy, where these fruits are considered a regional delicacy (nespoli), that they're commonly served, pitted and halved, in a bowl of ice water... so maybe I'm onto something here with the water bath.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rat snake...

I found this snake entangled in a castnet that i keep in a lidded bucket... it had gotten in the bucket somehow, tangled with the net, crawled out of the bucket and under the shed dragging bucket and net with it. i was, to say the least, surprised to find it while cleaning up my fishing equipment. who knows how long it was there? but the snake was alive and ANGRY. it took me the better part of half an hour to slowly and carefully snip it out of the net--the nylon strands had buried themselves in the snake, but not cut its skin that i could tell. the last part, the head, was the hardest. i couldn't use gloves because the operation was too delicate, so i held the head with one hand and the scissors with the other... it lay there for awhile before slithering off into the burn barrel...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Onions!

Gardeners! Lowe's has onion sets in right now... For their ease, and given how expensive sweet onions are, onions are among the best things to grow in the Florida garden. Plus you can eat the onions at any stage, from just swollen to huge.

I often come across old onions in the fall during my cleanup. They last,what, a week in the pantry? Or six months in the garden....

Just be sure that you buy southern onions, those that are marked "day neutral." Otherwise, you'll end up growing scallions... In the past, I've grown onions from seeds. This year, I got a batch of bad seeds (need to figure this out) that never germinated, so I don't have the long row of red onions I have had in the past...

Monday, February 10, 2014


Never tried this in Florida, but seems appropriate: A way to avoid our poor soils & nematodes.

(HOO-gul-culture) meaning hill culture or hill mound. Instead of putting those branches, leaves and grass clippings in bags by the curbside...build a hugel bed. Simply mound logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available, top with soil and plant your veggies.

Much more here...



Monday, February 03, 2014

An incomplete list of open-pollinated seed sources in Florida...

Mary's Heirloom Seeds http://marysheirloomseeds.com
They offer all organic, open-pollinated, non-gmo and non-hybrid seeds. All the seeds that you order will be "Free shipping" and will be delivered within 24 hours except for holiday. You can contact them thru the online form in their website.

They sell homegrown meat, dairy produce, pantry items and non-GMO plants and seeds. Contact them thru the online form in their website or Email: crispyfarms@earthlink.net

Eden Organic Nursery Service Inc. http://www.eonseed.com
They offer organic and hybrid seeds for vegetables, tobacco seeds, medical and healing plants and many more. Contact:(954) 382-8281

Grower Jim's Plants and Produce http://growerjim.blogspot.com/p/buy-seeds.html
They are a small sustainable farm selling fresh produce, plants and seeds. Their seeds are hand-picked, open-pollinated, non-hybrid, non-GM, and heirloom types grown chemical-free in a natural environment. Their selection includes both edible and ornamental varieties of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Contact them through their website or Facebook page.

Florida Backyard Vegetable Gardener http://www.growincrazyacres.com
All of their seeds and plants are non-GMO and open-pollinated. Contact:352-650-7343 and Email: desiree@growincrazyacres.com

Healthy Harvest Seed Company, LLC http://www.healthyharvestseedcompany.com
Healthy Harvest Seed Company is a small, family owned and operated, seed company located in Central Florida. They sell different kinds of vegetable, herbs and many more. Contact: 855-340-3451 and Email:customerservice@healthyharvestseedcompany.com

Organic Sanctuary seeds are Non-GMO, Non-Hybrid, and grown in a Honey Bee friendly Open-Pollinated environment. You can contact them in their online form.

QR Seeds Inc. http://qrseeds.com
They offer non-GMO vegetable garden seeds. They have signed "The Safe Seed Pledge of The Council for Responsible Genetics" Contact:352-345-7387

The Pepper Gal http://www.peppergal.com
The Pepper Gal sells many kinds of non-GMO pepper seeds including hot pepper seed, sweet pepper seed, ornamental pepper seed and many more. Contact: 954-537-5540 and Email: peppergal@bellsouth.net

Self Reliance Strategies, LLC http://selfreliancestrategies.com/hub/
They are selling 100% non-GMO and non-hybrid of a large varieties of seeds. Contact: (321) 348 - 4113 and Email:info@selfreliancestrategies.com

Two Seeds in a Pod http://www.twoseedsinapod.com
They have a large varieties of non-GMO and heirloom vegetable seeds. They have signed "The Safe Seed Pledge of The Council for Responsible Genetics" Contact: contact@twoseedsinapod.com

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Spring cleaning...

Yeah, I  know... I need to get back to the garden blogging. I pulled a banana clump out (never easy), and cleaned out from beneath it, and found these humdingers. Also: SPRING! Tomato & pepper seedlings... A week or so behind, but, hey, they're up.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Starting from scratch...

I harvested the sweet potatoes, peanuts, and Southern peas from my garden this weekend, leaving this bed more or less clear. A rare enough thing in the Florida garden, so I took the time to dig it deeply (without bringing up too much sand from below) and added a few hundred pounds of a compost/peat mix from the local landscaping yard. I also scratched in some 10 10 10 fertilizer and removed a bunch of roots that had infiltrated. This bed only gets OK sunlight in the winter, but I've always had plenty of luck with cabbage, beets, salad greens, broccoli, onions, peas, etc... The usual winter crops.

The next few days are sunny and warm, so I'll wait until mid-week to set out the many transplants I have ready for the garden. They're forecasting plenty of rain for the end of the week...

Peanuts!


Monday, September 02, 2013

Green!

Green is the color of the Florida late-summer garden. Solid green. Peanuts, southern peas, sweet potatoes, scallions, lima beans, some "sweet" peppers that long ago turned hot, and some struggling oregano, basil and parsley. Lots of okra rising from the waves of green...

Persimmons are ripening! Looks like I won't get any bananas this year. Banana hands that emerge this late in the season won't beat the frost. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Beginning of autumn!

Onions, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, rocket, and various asian greens are planted in their containers. I also direct-sowed some Fortex green beans, hoping not to have a problem with rust this year. The first day of autumn (hah!) is duly marked. By the way, we got 1.5 inches of rain here in DeLand last night. Another weird storm--so much energy in the atmosphere at 8pm. Adding... Since there wasn't any of that excellent coir-based seedling mix at Lowes, I got a bag of perlite and am mixing it about 3 parts peat::1 part perlite. That seems to absorb a lot of water while still having the right looseness. Seedlings need water, filtered sunlight, and gas-exchange at their roots. Whatever you use, make sure it doesn't smother the roots. I hadn't noticed that the moss had a little slow-release fertilizer mixed in. No biggie. Generally I hold off on the fertilizer until I know the root structure has formed, and then I prefer to add it very often, but highly diluted. Miracle-Gro is a great product... I love that my moss bag recommends 9 parts moss::1 part perlite, while my perlite bag recommends (predictably) a 1::1 ratio.