Tag Archives: Garden

We Won! We Won! Six Ribbons at the Ag Fair—Woo hoo!

This morning I got stung by a bee—twice. It was my fault—I was trying to harvest squash blossoms, and the bees weren’t  finished with their business inside them. One bee got so mad at me that he followed me all the way to the compost pile. And somehow, one got inside my pants. Yeah, ouch.

But I’m not in a bad mood—I’m as happy as can be. It’s impossible not be filled with excitement around here. Martha’s Vineyard in August—especially the third week in August—will make your head spin. Fireworks, the Fair, the President. Yesterday the President’s motorcade whizzed by our front door. The family stays just a quarter-mile up the road from us, so this will be a familiar site.

But the most exciting thing of all for us yesterday wasn’t the President—it was the blue and red ribbons we won at the Fair.  This past weekend, we carefully filled out the entry form after looking at what we had in our garden, and decided to enter in two flower categories and five vegetables. Since we grow our vegetables and flowers to sell at a farm stand, we had to enter as commercial growers.

Wednesday morning, we picked our Fair entries after harvesting for the farm stand, took our goodies home and cleaned them up, and delivered them to the Ag Hall. We got a ticket for each entry and sat down at a picnic table to label everything. Next to us was a young family putting the finishing touches on all the artwork they were entering.  Kids and adults alike work all year long on Fair entries, and you see the coolest stuff on delivery day. My favorite was a giant piece of driftwood covered entirely with seashells and other shore treasures—so great.  Of course, I’ve never entered something in a Fair before, so I was pretty darn excited. Not nearly as excited as Roy, though, who was so proud of the gladiolas he grew.  He’d chosen three beautiful white stems that already were capturing oohs and ahs from friends we ran into, and he really wanted to win a ribbon.

So last night, when we made our way past the Rock Climbing Wall, the Diamond Dragon Ride, the Cotton Candy and Fried Chicken trailers, and the Flintstones Game to push through the doors of the Ag Hall, I was worried Roy might be disappointed. No need for that—he rushed ahead and seconds later reappeared with a smile on this face. His glads got a red ribbon for second place, and he couldn’t have been happier.  I really didn’t have expectations on our other stuff, so when Roy kept finding things and coming back to tell me “the onions got a blue ribbon!” “the fingerlings got first place!” I was amazed.  We got six ribbons out of the seven categories we entered! How could that be, I thought? Well, I looked around and it seemed to me there weren’t a whole lot of commercial entries this year (many more home entries), and that we sort of won by default in some cases. No matter, I thought, this is still a thrill. But someone told me this morning that the judges don’t award a ribbon if they don’t think there’s something worthy in a category; so that means our stuff was at least pretty decent! So for now, I’ll let myself feel good about this—after all, some of those darn vegetables started as seedlings in our apartment almost six months ago, and there was a lot of love and hard work that got them to the Fair!

I celebrated with cotton candy (pink, of course)—Roy with a sausage and peppers grinder. We played a game or two (Roy had to win me a stuffed animal, of course). The moon was glowing in a clear ink-blue sky, and the night was as fine as could be—cool and dry. We strolled through the barn to see the draft horses, prize chickens, and magnificent oxen—and then headed back to the car. After all, we still had work to do—closing the farm stand for the night.

Pick a Pint of Pattypans–For a Sizzling Indian Stir-Fry

Every morning when I stock the farm stand, I try to predict what will sell—and how much of it. It’s a fun guessing game, but I rarely get it right. Still, I get a tiny thrill of anticipation every evening as I’m walking up to the stand. Will the bean basket be empty? (Usually.) Sungolds all gone? (These days, most definitely yes.) Any herbs sold? (Most days, no. Though every few days, someone comes along and buys four bunches!)

For some reason, the scallions rarely move, and it has taken a few weeks for the limey-green Flavorburst bell peppers to catch on. I understand that. But there’s one thing that really perplexes me: We have the cutest little Pattypan squash, and folks seem to eschew them in favor of the more familiar zucchini. I adore these little vegetables, not just because they’re charming, but because they have a firm texture and make great stir-fry ingredients. (In fact, they hold together much better than diced zucchini.)

Because our Pattypans (actually a variety called Sunburst hybrid) are so prolific, we harvest them pretty small (between an inch and a half and two inches wide.) So when I’m ready to cook, I simply quarter them through the axis to get nice diamond-shaped wedges. Or if the squash are a little bigger, I cut them into six or eight wedges instead of four. It’s like cutting a pie if you look from the top. I use my stir-fry pan to cook the wedges over medium-high heat until nicely browned and just tender.

I think this how-to-cut-and-cook issue is probably what stops folks from buying the little Pattypans. So I heisted some from the stand this morning, with the specific goal of making a recipe to pass along to both you and our farm stand visitors.

You could certainly put Pattypans in any basic Asian stir-fry, but I opted for a slightly Indian-style approach today, not only because squash goes so well with these flavors, but also because the Pattypan’s firm texture is reminiscent of the kind of vegetable you’d find in a perfect curry.  But if you’re not a cumin & coriander fan, you could drop them from this recipe and it would still be delicious. Be sure to include the onion and garlic, though, for the deepest flavor. (You could also try this recipe with regular zucchini. Just choose small, firm, zucchini and cut them into ¾ to 1-inch pieces.)

If you happen to be growing Pattypans or Sunbursts or any other scalloped squash, remember that large ones (4-inches across and bigger) are perfect for stuffing, too. Also, cut into thick slices, they’re lovely grilled and topped with a bit of parmesan or fresh goat cheese. The slices also work well layered in a gratin. And don’t forget roasting—either the wedges or the slices will do well in the high heat of the oven. For summer vegetable soups, add the squash pieces at the very end of cooking so that they don’t lose their great texture.

Pattypan Stir-Fry, Indian-Style

The mustard seeds, with their surprise pop-crunch in the mouth, are a fun addition to this stir-fry. But you can make it without them. I have a really fragrant peppermint growing in a big tub in my garden, so I use it freely. But if you don’t like mint, cilantro is your next best bet here. Or parsley would be just fine.

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1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

kosher salt

1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil

½ medium-small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 ounces)

9 to 10 ounces small (1- to 2-inches wide) Pattypan or Sunburst squash, quartered if small, or cut into 6 wedges if bigger

½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon unsalted butter

1 to 2 tablespoons finely sliced fresh mint

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In a small bowl, combine the cumin, the coriander, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt.

In a large nonstick stir-fry pan (or 12-inch nonstick skillet), heat 1 teaspoon of the peanut oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (it will shimmer), add the onion and a pinch of kosher salt, and cook, stirring, until the onion is charry around the edges (brown in patches but still a little firm), about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the onion to a plate.

Add another teaspoon of peanut oil and the squash to the pan. Season the squash with another pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is nicely browned on most sides, 6 to 8 minutes. (If the pan seems dry, add the third teaspoon of peanut oil.) Return the onions to the pan, add the garlic, the spice/salt mixture, and the mustard seeds (if using), and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic and spices are incorporated and fragrant, about 1 minute.

Remove the pan from the stove, sprinkle the lemon juice over it, add the butter, and stir well until the butter has melted. Transfer the vegetables to a serving plate and garnish with the mint.

Serves 2 as a side dish

Who’s Eating the Tomatoes? Call in CSI, please!

There is a scene in the Nutcracker ballet where the evil Mouse king dances with his mouse-followers beneath the giant Christmas tree at midnight. When I look at our tomatoes every morning, I envision something like this having gone on the night before. There are tomatoes strewn everywhere, little bites taken out of just-ripening cherry tomatoes, and big bites taken out of bigger tomatoes. Mr. Mouse or Mr. Rat is, apparently, also joined by his close personal friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hornworm (and all their prodigy), and a flock (or several flocks) of sparrows, all of whom enjoy illicit tomato-tastings under the light of the moon. It’s not hard to imagine how fun this is—we planted our tomatoes way too close together, so the two big rows form sort of a hedge. It’s really more like a forrest, and even I can appreciate the magical wonder of that leafy canopy when I am crawling around on my hands and knees in there looking for signs of invaders. It’s like a cool fort, stocked with candy.

Today Roy bought an inflatable owl. A big one. And stuck it right on top of one of the tomato stakes.

Last night, we strung monofilament line between the bamboo stakes, and hung shiny CDs and yellow streamers from it.  I also hung a few red Christmas ball ornaments around, which are supposed to lure birds into pecking at them instead of tomatoes (and thereby discourage further pecking).

Discouraging the rats and birds might work (will keep you posted). But we’ve yet to capture a hornworm. Normally, if you look hard enough, you can spot these big, ugly (and I mean UGLY) caterpillars, but we’ve looked and looked and haven’t seen one yet.

All this is incredibly frustrating, as we have 40 tomato plants, hundreds (maybe thousands because of the prolific little Sun Golds) of tomatoes ripening, and so many visitors (including POTUS, of course) coming to the Island in August, that we are looking at missing our best opportunity to make a little bit of real money at the farm stand.

In the short term, I’ve taken the advice of several farmers and started harvesting tomatoes that are just starting to blush. Apparently once they’ve started coloring, the quality will not be affected by ripening on a windowsill. (This doesn’t work with rock hard, dark green tomatoes that haven’t begun the ripening process.) This is hardly ideal, but right now, leaving anything with any color on the vine seems to be an automatic death sentence for the tomato.

Roy remembered that putting tomatoes in a bag with an apple will help ripen them, too, so we tried that with a batch of Sun Golds.  We put them in a shallow bowl with a ripe apple cut into pieces and covered the whole thing with an upside down stainless steel bowl. In two days, most of the tomatoes had turned yellow and were heading for the even deeper orange color of a perfectly ripe Sun Gold. They tasted good, but some were still a tiny bit green on the inside. They’re best when they’re orange all the way through.

Nevertheless, we celebrated this small ripening feat by making one of my favorite easy summer cherry tomato concoctions last night. It’s a versatile dressing, kind of a loose salsa, that’s delicious over grilled vegetables, grilled meats, and even grilled bread. We had it atop a grilled sirloin and some grilled zucchini from our garden.

The version I made last night (below) is a variation on a recipe in Fast, Fresh & Green which I drape over a roasted pepper that is lightly stuffed with warm goat cheese. It’s a showcase for your tiniest, tastiest tomatoes, but it gets a depth of flavor from a bit of sundried tomato mixed in, too. The dressing has a Spanish-y feel, with a few minced capers, sherry vinegar, garlic, and sometimes a few sliced olives mixed in. I used mint and basil both last night, but any fresh herb would work. Fresh ginger is also a natural with tomatoes, so you could vary the dressing to include some ginger, too. Any way you make it, this no-cook versatile recipe is a fast flavor boost for a weeknight supper (or a weekend party). Of course, it’s a whole lot more satisfying with your own vine-ripened tomatoes, but take what you can get!

Summer Cherry Tomato Dressing, V2

Please don’t make this with those honking cherry tomatoes from the grocery store. They won’t taste great and will be too cumbersome for a salsa-like dressing, even if they’re quartered. Stick with small cherries, Sun Golds, Red Pears, and other fun little tomatoes. Be sure to get a brand of sundried tomatoes that isn’t marinated too heavily with overbearing dried herbs (I’ve had this experience—sundried tomatoes vary in flavor and quality a lot) as they might adversely affect the flavor of your dressing.

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8 ounces small cherry or other tiny tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons very finely sliced, drained, oil-packed sundried tomatoes

1 tablespoon finely sliced basil and/or mint leaves

2 teaspoons drained capers, very lightly chopped

4 green olives, pitted and sliced (optional)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon orange juice

½ teaspoon minced garlic

¼ teaspoon teaspoon kosher salt

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Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir gently to combine. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes (or up to 30 minutes) to let the flavors mingle and to let the tomatoes marinate a bit. Stir gently again before serving.

Yields about 1 ¼ cups, enough to dress up four dinners

The Gold Rush (Or Why We Couldn’t Wait to Dig Up Potatoes)

We cheated. It’s not really time yet to harvest the potatoes, but we just had to check one plant. You know, to make sure there were tubers growing under all that foliage. Besides, it was Friday night and we were looking forward to an all-local dinner. We had just stopped to see Jeff Munroe, the Vineyard’s chicken man, and picked up a freshly slaughtered chicken for the grill. A big salad with our arugula, mizuna, lettuce, and peas was on the menu. All we needed were potatoes, right?

While I butterflied the chicken and cleaned the greens, Roy and Libby ran over to the garden, pitchfork in hand. They came back toting a potato plant—and about a pound and a half of Red Gold potatoes—in the big pink harvest bucket.  I jumped up and down for joy. Everyone giggled. Our own potatoes—how very cool is that? (We are easily amused, I guess.)

I wanted to cook them simply to see what the taste and texture was like. We bought our Red Gold seed potatoes from FedCo’s Moose Tubers catalogue, because they sounded like a fun and flavorful alternative to Yukon Golds, and because they were supposed to yield early and abundantly (we could already agree on that point). So I wound up boiling them until just tender and then frying them, cut-side down, until golden (directions below). I was surprised at how flaky the texture was for a red-skinned potato. It was almost as tender as a baking potato. And that rich yellow flesh was nutty and buttery tasting—perfectly delicious.

We’re trying to restrain ourselves from digging up any more Red Golds right now. The catalogue says about 65 days,  and it’s only been about 56.  The plant we did unearth clearly had a few more tubers forming, so we need to be patient. And then there’s that row of French Fingerlings waiting for us…

In the meantime, I guess we can line up with the rest of the folks who’ve discovered how rewarding potatoes are to grow. Our biggest problem has been keeping up with the ravenous Colorado Potato Beetle, who arrived early and with all of his kinfolk. The best way to dispatch them (in an organic garden) is to simply squish them (or their orange eggs that cluster on the back of leaves) with your fingers. Amazingly, this is an activity that Libby actually enjoys. (How many 7-year-old girls do you know who are fascinated by bugs?) So I’m grateful for that. Not so grateful that nature-loving father and daughter brought me a Garter snake as a present yesterday (to live in the garden!?). But I can hardly complain.

Golden Fried Potatoes

Choose small potatoes that are all about the same size and cut them in half lengthwise. Put them in a saucepan just big enough to hold them in one layer and cover them with cold water by at least an inch.  Add a good bit of kosher salt. (I use 1 ½ teaspoons for a pound of potatoes.)  Bring to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and cook until just tender, about 15 minutes for freshly dug potatoes, 20 to 25 for older potatoes.

Drain the potatoes well and let them cool for a bit on a dishcloth. Meanwhile, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and about a tablespoon of butter in a large frying pan (nonstick works fine if it has a heavy bottom) over medium heat. When the butter is bubbling, sprinkle salt on the cut side of one potato (press an herb leaf on, too, if you like), and put the potato in the fat, cut side down. Repeat with the remaining potato halves. Cook, without turning the potatoes (but occasionally swirling the fat in the pan around them), until they are golden brown on the bottom (check carefully with a thin spatula), about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate and serve warm, with or without a dollop of sour cream, a smattering of chives, and another sprinkle or two of salt.

Three Reasons to Celebrate: Baby Goats, Sugar Snap Peas, & A Second Printing

I watched a goat give birth this morning. It was maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

I was going to blog about something else today. Actually yesterday. And then yesterday went by and now today has, too. That is how my life goes these days, here in my new world. When I get up, I think there is something so important to do that I must focus entirely on it—be productive, get it done, do my work.  But the universe always has other plans for me. And if I just remember to pay attention to that, I get to experience the most amazing things.

So while Roy and I went over to the farm especially early this morning—ostensibly to water and harvest and be out of there by 8—Basil and Snowflake, two pygmy goats, had other plans (the goat pen is right next to our vegetable garden). By the time we got there, Basil had given birth during the night to two healthy kids, both females (does). One was a little grey and white patchy thing, already cleaned up and awkwardly skipping and hopping around like a tipsy gypsy. She even managed to climb on mama’s back.  The other little girl was black with white ears, and she was much bigger (and less squirmy) than her sister.

Snowflake was in labor. Never having given birth myself, I wasn’t exactly sure by her bleating and writhing what the whole timing scenario was! Fortunately, Randy and Rebecca (the farm owners) soon arrived to check on Snowflake. Randy had been up during the night helping Basil along with the second kid, who needed a small tug to get out. Basil, though, as it turns out, is a veteran Mom. For Snowflake, this was the first time.

Randy talked soothingly to her, but let her push. Two little white hooves followed by two little black legs appeared. And then, as we all stood watching (Snowflake had positioned herself in the breezeway of the shed so we could all see), swoosh!—the kid spilled out in a tidy (wet) bundle. Not a few seconds later it lifted its head and squiggled in the hay. Bravo Snowflake!

The second kid apparently followed not long after. I missed that but came back with my camera a short while later in time to watch Snowflake lick them (a little black doe and a little black buck) clean.  Even though I had emptied the chip in my camera, I still ran out of space after a half-hour or so. I was mesmerized.

Frankly, I was just as excited about the goats (and the appearance of the first sugar snap peas in the garden) as the other news I was going to blog about—that the second printing of Fast, Fresh & Green arrived in warehouses yesterday.

I have to admit, I have very mixed feelings about bragging about my book. I wasn’t brought up to flaunt success, and yet I know two things: One, I didn’t do this book all by myself, and the folks who helped me deserve to share in the good news. I owe it to them (and these are not the people who are logging on to Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis, so they are not going to see the reviews) to keep them updated. Secondly, I know what it feels like to be grateful. In my post midlife-crisis world, not only do I get to be present for a lot of cool stuff, but I also get to know that terrific feeling of gratitude—of knowing you’re the recipient of good karma that you’re not necessarily wholly responsible for.

So to celebrate Fast, Fresh & Green (and those sugar snap peas I’m going to harvest for the farm stand tomorrow!), here’s a quick recipe, Sautéed Sugar Snaps with Salami Crisps. It’s one of my very favorites in the book for its inarguable simplicity.  And for anyone with lots of time on their hands (that’s you, Mom and Dad!!) who would like to see some of the recent coverage of FFG, there’s a list of links after the recipe. I’m particularly grateful to the articulate Tom Philpott of Grist.org for acknowledging my primary goal—to encourage people to cook at home more.  To me, there’s no better way to practice being present—and grateful—than spending time cooking (and eating) at home every day with friends and family.

Sautéed Sugar Snaps with Salami Crisps

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1 ounce very thinly sliced Genoa salami

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ pound sugar snap peas, tails removed

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

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Stack the salami slices and cut them across into ¼-inch wide strips. Pull the strips apart and spread them in one layer on the cutting board; they are much easier to add to the pan when they are not clumped together.

In a large (12-inch) nonstick skillet, heat the 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot (it will loosen up and spread out), add the sugar snap peas and season them with the 1/8 teaspoon salt. Toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas turn bright green, blister, and begin to turn a very light golden brown in spots, about 3 minutes. Add the salami strips and toss well.

Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are browned in spots on both sides and the salami strips have shrunken, turned a darker brown color, and feel crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. (The salami will probably be crisp on the edges but still somewhat pliable after 3 minutes. You can stop at that point if you do not want to cook the peas further, but I like the texture of the fully crisp salami, and the peas stay crisp even when cooked more.) Transfer to a serving platter or dinner plates.

Serves 3

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Here are links to some recent reviews of Fast, Fresh & Green.This is only a partial list and my thanks go to the many bloggers who have taken FFG for a test spin and enjoyed the ride!

How to Be Fast, Fresh & Green in the Kitchen (Grist)

To Market, To Market: 10 Top Summer Cookbooks (NPR)

Book Report: We Pick 11 New Cookbooks (Washington Post)

Ideas For What to Do With Summer’s Bounty (Associated Press)

Favorite Cookbooks: Fast, Fresh & Green (Eat Well, Eat Cheap blog)

Oh What A Week–In the Garden, and the Kitchen, Too

Maybe it’s a cheap shot to blame it on the stars, but when I heard there was a rare planetary alignment going on this week, I felt relieved. Apparently this is the kind of event that makes everyone feel a little crazy, a tad more pressed and stressed. Now we had our excuse for running around like chickens with our heads cut off all week.

We were dog sitting and house sitting. Still working madly on building structures in the garden, still harvesting greens and herbs for the farm stand every morning (photos above), still watering, weeding, and bug-picking. Amen. Roy was working on three different jobs, and I was developing recipes and taking pictures for a new book proposal.

Yesterday I spent a couple hours on my belly crawling around a hoop house clearing out nasty weeds. (This was pretty fun, actually. At least hot air rises, so it was cooler on the floor.) This morning we got up early to go rake up some hay from a friend’s field, still needing more for our garden pathways and for mulch.  (And this, I have to tell you, wasn’t just fun but incredibly calming. When the planets are conspiring to drive you crazy, grab a pitchfork and head for a golden rolling field dotted with apple trees and pines, cows grazing in the distance. All will be right with the world.)

So no complaining. Absolutely not. It’s all good stuff, and productive, too. Here’s a look at what emerged from our crazy week. And for this we thank our lucky stars.

Over in the kitchen of the lovely house we were camping out in, I spent some time salvaging tiny bok choy and kale leaves from thinnings I’d plucked in the garden (above left). Once I got the roots off  and washed them well, I had just enough leaves for a side dish— the fastest and simplest of sautés with slivered garlic. One morning I roasted and sauteéd a bunch of summer vegetables (yeah, a little ahead of the season) for a main-dish salad I’m developing. My doggy friend Wally (right) got pretty interested when I put the dish on the floor to photograph.

Back in the garden, Roy built a trellis for our pole beans (left) and a cool support structure for our tomatoes (center), both from bamboo that we had also gone on safari to retrieve. (Well, not really, but it felt like that. If you’ve ever been in a forest of bamboo–and tried to cut some down without a power tool, you’ll know what I mean. We got out the power tool.)  We also prepared the squash and eggplant beds and planted both. We  weeded the new lettuce bed and laid down a thicker layer of hay than we’d originally thought was necessary. Darn weeds.

Meanwhile, I lopped off several heads of Tat soi (left) and dinner-plate sized lettuces (right) every day for the farm stand. The next crop of baby lettuces and more arugula are not far behind, planted a few weeks ago. (It may be getting too hot for arugula now, though. It’s pretty spicy.)

Lots of other veggies are making progress, and I’m most excited about the peas which have started to emerge from a flourish of little white flowers. It’s hard for me not to eat the shoots and flowers right now, but I know I need to leave them alone to produce more actual peas.

I’m also ridiculously excited about the carrot bed, which I have been weeding and thinning meticulously. (And photographing–those boots of mine wind up in more garden shots than I can count!). We’re growing three kinds of carrots including Little Finger and Scarlet Nantes. We planted Sunburst Hybrid summer squash (the little Patty Pan shape) and Wee-B-Little pumpkins, among other squashes (middle). And under the row cover, more chard and bok choy are on the way.

Tonight we’re going to transplant the Brussels sprouts. Did I mention I love vegetables?

Lettuce for Sale! Get your Greens! We’re in business!

There is so much happening over at the vegetable garden that I haven’t even had time to write about it. After two years of trotting around this Island from farm to farm, getting to know farmers and watching how hard they work, you’d a thought I would have anticipated this. But no, I thought doing a “part time” production garden would tuck right into my schedule. A little cooking, a little writing, a little gardening. Ha! (Many “Ha!s,” in fact.)

The really tricky part is finding time to market your product when transplanting, weeding, and watering are calling. All of a sudden I have lovely lettuce on my hands—Royal Oakleaf, Lollo di Vino, Red Sails, Tom Thumb Bibb, Salad Bowl, Butterblush Cos—that needs to be harvested, and now! With this unusually hot weather we’ve been having, it is getting almost too hot for the poor things. All the hearty greens (Red Russian kale, Cavalo Nero, Mustard, Tat Soi) we transplanted several weeks ago are also ready to be harvested. The young leaves are just the right size for stir-fries and sautés, but the two of us can only eat so much of this stuff. And the gorgeous purple pak choi we grew is looking just perfect right now (except for a few little holes from the flea beetles).

Since it’s early in the season here on Martha’s Vineyard, we don’t really have the traffic up at the Native Earth farm stand on North Road to sell much volume, but I’ve decided to keep a cooler of greens and lettuce out there every day nonetheless, just in case folks stopping in to get some of Rebecca Gilbert’s tomato plants might be tempted by a bargain. Also, I convinced our kind land lady, Rhonda, (who also manages Alley’s General Store) to take a basket of baby lettuces today for the Alley’s farm stand. So we are officially in business. Now I’m off to buy more soaker hoses. I said we were in business, not in profit-mode!

P.S. The pygmy goats at Native Earth are due to give birth any day now! Can’t wait to see those little kids.

Seaweed & The Scarecrow: Lessons from the Garden So Far

It’s only mid-May, and already the vegetable garden is leading me by the hand, showing me things about myself and my world that I sometimes ignore, don’t appreciate enough—or might not choose to think about all the time. Like the fact that I have pale skin (#30 sun block, my new best friend), am not in great shape (achy back and knees), and HELLO, I can’t do everything myself. Lately, I’ve been feeling really, really grateful for my partner Roy, who, when I suggested the crazy “production” garden idea last fall, embraced the idea enthusiastically. I’m quite sure I’d be a complete nervous wreck by now if he weren’t on the case, what with my book just coming out, deadlines swirling, etc., etc.

I bring this up only because I thought if anyone else is contemplating a big garden project like this, you might appreciate the suggestion to do it with a partner. The funny thing is, it’s not so much the (physical) load-sharing I appreciate. (Though there’s plenty of that, like the hour Roy spent fertilizing seedlings last night while I did some writing). It’s the cerebral stuff—the great ideas and the practical solutions that Roy brings to the garden because he thinks differently than I do (and often acts more quickly, too). Watching Roy work out the solution to some garden problem we’re having often turns into an “a ha!” moment for me, stimulating some long-sleepy area of my brain. Better still, the solutions in action are almost always some of the most fun garden moments we have.

Last week we needed to take the row cover fabric off of our baby pea plants and little bok choys, but we were still concerned the crows might get to them. “We need a scarecrow!” Roy kept saying. Sure, that sounded like a good idea to me, but I know if it had been up to me, we’d still not have a scarecrow. It was Roy who rustled through his old clothes to find a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, a tee-shirt for the face, and a hat, and then stuffed them full of hay. He tied Mr. Scarecrow up with twine, took him to the garden and tied him to the deer fence, and all Libby (his daughter) and I had to do was come in at the last minute to draw a face on Mr. Scarecrow and take his (and Roy’s) picture! So far Mr. Scarecrow is doing a great job, even fooling several human passers-by.

This weekend it became clear that our newly planted beds of lettuce, chard, arugula, and spinach were in bad need of mulching. We’ve had very little rain this spring, we don’t yet have drip hoses in place, and the soil is so dry that it isn’t holding the water from our morning douses very well. We’re also trying to keep our expenses down, so buying mulch for all these beds isn’t a great option. “We need seaweed,” Roy said. At first, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this. I’ve heard seaweed makes a great addition to compost, and I thought it was something you laid out (in its wet form) on your garden beds over the winter. It hadn’t occurred to me what a great mulch dried seaweed makes.

“Get in the car,” Roy said Saturday morning, dragging me away from the computer. “We’re going to the beach.” He had stuffed a couple of tarps into the back of the car, and off we went. It was one of those big blue-sky days, warm and sunny, breeze gently blowing. We wore shorts and tee-shirts, dug our toes into the sand, and scooped up two tarp-loads of dried seaweed. I looked around at one of the most breathtaking vistas on Martha’s Vineyard – Rugosa roses and beach plums already blooming along the sand dunes that spilled out across the shore—and thought, what in the world could possibly be a more enchanting activity? Back at the garden, it felt so satisfying to spread the seaweed around the seedlings (like this arugula, right), knowing the soil would now stay moister (and a little less weedy).

There are lots more ways that Roy has made the practical solutions fun for us—like the cold frame he made out of an old sliding door. At first we had it positioned outside the deer fence, but found that awkward. “Let’s move this inside,” Roy said. Now it sits centered along one edge of the garden, surrounded by pansies that Libby and I planted. It doubles as a perch; at the end of a working day, we close it, sit on top it, and look out to admire our beds.  And then there’s the bamboo pea trellis (another adventure to collect the bamboo) and the refurbished wooden wagon (from a church).  But again, it’s not the trellis or the wagon—the material things—that matter so much. It’s what the garden offers as a true microcosm for everything in life: Without our friends, without help, without fresh ideas, we—and the garden—can’t thrive. I know the garden has more lessons in store for me this summer, but I’m glad I learned this one early on.

Hold the Green Beans, Olive the Berkshire Pig Loves Pizza

One of the very coolest things about the vegetable garden we will tend this summer is that it lies squarely between a hog pen and a goat yard. All summer long we’ll be in the good company of Olive the Berkshire pig, who is (cross your fingers), hopefully pregnant, so we’ll be joined by some little black piglets, too. Soon, Thunder the boar will also be back at Native Earth. He’s been on loan to another local farm for the last three months.

The goats, who are the very cute mini-goats known as pygmies, will probably move around a bit, as they have a job to do—clearing brush. But they’ll be close enough for us to say hi to every day. And these gals are expecting, too, thanks to a new billy goat who’s joined them.

Besides the goats and pigs, there are sheep and hens and guinea fowl and ducks and geese and I- don’t- know-what-else at the farm. I am beside myself with excitement. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I get kind of goofy about pigs and goats, and pretty much every other kind of farm animal. I’m just crazy about them. Fortunately, Roy and his daughter Libby (with Olive, above) share this passion of mine. We dropped by the farm today, ostensibly to add some kitchen scraps to the compost pile. But secretly we’d brought along a few slices of last night’s pizza (plain cheese) to offer to Olive, even though we understand she’s getting plenty to eat right now. Hopefully we won’t get in trouble. We just thought it’d be nice to make friends early on. It seemed to work. Olive smiled. So did Libby.

On our way home from Native Earth, we stopped in at Whiting Farm to see the newborn lambs. The Whitings’ sheep are a handsome breed known as Cheviots, and even the babies have distinctively upright ears. Allen Whiting let Libby help him bottle-feed a lamb who’s not getting quite enough milk from Mom. Libby asked if he had named the lambs, and he explained that he usually doesn’t, as most of these lambs will become meat. Libby understood that, just as she did when we mentioned the piglets would be raised for meat. “Bacon?” she asked. Yes, really, really good bacon.

Between our vegetable garden and being around the farm, Libby’s going to learn a lot about where her food comes from this summer. (Jamie Oliver would be proud!) We’ve picked out some vegetables—like baby carrots and mini-pumpkins—just for her, and she’s hoping we’ll get a hen or two for her to help take care of. (She loves fresh eggs, too.) I can’t help but feel grateful for this: The chance for her to learn and be challenged—while we all spend time together outdoors—is just one more bonus to our vegetable garden project.

My Secret Urge to Be a Farmer: The Great Vegetable Growing Experiment Begins

I am pretty sure I didn’t turn out the way my parents had planned. They sent me to good schools and had high hopes for my future. When I was in college, my father announced that he had found the perfect graduate program for me. It was a combo law-school-and-business-school all rolled into one. Was he kidding? Sounded like pure hell to me. “Sorry, Dad,” I said, “I am going to New York to be a writer.” Yikes, could there be any words a father would rather not hear?

I give him a lot of credit for being a good sport then—and for standing by for the next 25 years as I pursued not one, but possibly two of the worst paying career choices a girl could make—publishing and cooking. I shifted back and forth from one to the other, finally managing to splice the two together to earn a halfway decent salary as the editor of a cooking magazine. But then I longed to be poor again and quit that job a couple years ago.

Now, unbelievably, I have found a third passion to pursue that very definitely has the potential to earn me even less money than the first two careers—growing vegetables. It could, however, be the most satisfying pursuit of all. Who wouldn’t want to play around in the dirt all day, sun screaming down from a perfect blue sky, little green edible jewels poking up all around you like candy spilled out from a piñata?

Okay, I know it’s not all like that. Not hardly. I went to work on a friend’s farm in upstate New York last summer to try and see if I had what it takes. I spent one entire week on my hands and knees weeding carrot seedlings. My friends were really polite and claimed that I “saved” the carrot crop, but all I could think about was how slow and out of shape I was, and how hard (REALLY hard) they worked.

Still, I can’t get this growing urge to go away. I’ve had little vegetable gardens over the years, but this year I’ve really gone and done it. Along with my partner Roy Riley, I’ve rented a big plot from my friend Rebecca Gilbert over at Native Earth Teaching Farm here on Martha’s Vineyard.  By big, I don’t mean huge, as in acres; I mean big by backyard vegetable garden standards, about 2800 square feet. Much of that will be paths, of course; what Roy and I have drawn on paper is actually 16 beds, each 24 x 3 feet, plus two longish borders with perennial herbs. (So it’s really more like 1400 square feet.) Roy, thankfully, is a builder, so he has already started crafting useful garden stuff for us, like cold frames to harden off the seedlings (and the seed-starting shelves in the photo at right).

We’ll be growing peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas, pole beans, bush wax beans, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, winter and summer squash, lots of different kinds of cooking greens and salad greens, fresh herbs, and flowers. All winter long we’ve been hoarding vegetable gardening books from the West Tisbury library, ordering seeds and equipment, and figuring out a budget for this project. We’ve already started a few hundred seedlings inside, and we hover over them like ridiculously nervous parents.

Our plan is to help Rebecca get the farm stand (on North Road in Chilmark) to be a more robust destination for veggie-, herb-, and flower-hungry Up-Islanders. So Roy and I will be selling our harvest there, and possibly at a few other places. My goal is to see if there’s any way that this growing thing could become a permanent part (albeit a really tiny part) of my future livelihood. So while it’s not exactly farming, I’d be proud to call myself a grower if I can learn the secrets to this art. I’m optimistic and excited, because I know how much I’ll enjoy the process even if our yields are less than stellar the first year.

By the way, I realize this website (and blog) is supposed to be dedicated to cooking vegetables, so I’ll try not to get too sidetracked with talk about growing them. I will, however, give you an occasional update on the garden as the season gets going. Because, after all, what better excuse to develop more new vegetable recipes!