Tag Archives: peas

Lovely Afternoon Light for Pea Planting with the Farm Dog

DSC_3963And so it all begins. The outdoor work, I mean. There is daylight enough for me to sneak in some garden time before a late supper, after I release myself from the office and the computer and the deadlines imposed by more travel coming.

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Farmer and I spent a lovely hour or two in the leaf-strewn garden (the leaves were our winter mulch for the beds) planting peas and moving a few odd winter greens around.

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We dawdled in the hoop house, too, finally warm and dreamy after days of cloud cover and chilling winds. Farmer is an excellent garden companion.

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Naturally I brought my camera along, mostly because I find it so interesting to look back at the stark reality of early April when August comes around. And vice-versa—I’ve been deep into my photo archives this week putting together three different Power Point presentations. Looking at all those pints of cherry tomatoes and bunches of zinnias not only reminds me that we do actually manage to grow a lot of food, but that warm (truly warm) days will come again.

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On an early April day, objects that will later fade into the summer collage now pop out in relief.

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DSC_3939DSC_3990 Even not-so-pretty objects look better in early spring.

I could do without the constant fiddling with Remay (the fabric row cover that keeps pests and a little bit of chill off early greens) this time of year, but getting my boots tangled up in it and stabbing myself occasionally with the fabric staples (in the very top photo) is surely a whole lot better than being inside staring at frozen, snow-speckled ground. If early April is what I’ve got, I’ll take it!

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Why Did The Chicken Fly the Coop? To Get to the Peas & Carrots, Of Course

I’ve been running inside a lot this week to grab my camera. It’s been one photo moment after another on the farm. On Sunday, we let the babies out of their coop into a temporary outdoor pen—their first foray onto grassy turf. This was hysterical to watch. It took quite a few minutes for the first chicken to advance out onto the plank. Three or four followed, and then the first one changed her mind and turned around and headed back inside. It went on like this for a while—a few would venture out and then turn around. You could just imagine the conversations going on.  (Personally, I had the Cockney voices of the talking vultures in Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book in my head.) “You go. No you go. No way—YOU go. Nuh-huh, I’m staying here.”

Libby waited patiently in the pen for them to come out, approach her, and eventually start hopping on her lap. She is very calm around animals and they trust her. I couldn’t get enough pictures of the interaction between them all.

In the garden we are harvesting the most amazing peas and carrots, so I’m taking lots of pictures of these, too—while they last. I am so happy that I’ve finally figured out how to grow both of these veggies well. I just hope I can repeat the same success next year. (Or even this year with another round of carrots—which should have gone in the ground weeks ago!).

This morning I had fresh peas and carrots and strawberries for breakfast while I washed all the veggies. I smiled, thinking about peas and carrots, because they mean something special to Roy and me, and today is our anniversary. (The anniversary of our first date, that is, three years ago.) For some reason, when we were first dating, the movie Forrest Gump kept coming on TV. If you remember, Forrest says early on in the movie, “From that day on we was always together. Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.” Roy picked this up (in Forrest’s voice, of course) and started saying it to me a lot. Who knew what we’d be doing three years later! Peas + Carrots + 60 babies (baby chickens) + one amazing little girl=love.

(And not to forget Farmer, who enjoyed Libby’s cart ride with one of the chickens.)

Undercover: Health Insurance for Garden Seedlings

The garden looks like a morgue right now, I’m sorry to say. It’s not that anything’s dead—yet. (And I hope it stays that way, though we are really pushing things this year.) It’s just that most everything we’ve planted is under row cover, for one reason or another, and the billowy white fabric sort of looks like sheets over, well, you get the picture.

It doesn’t help that all the pretty stuff is hidden. At least a couple times a day I have to go peek—usually at the peas, which I find unbearably beautiful and promising as they unfurl their wings. (Plus, I am very proud of how well they germinated and the fact that I’ve managed to get radishes and lettuce into this raised bed, too. So I just have to stare at it all, you know.) I also have to remove the covers to water, but then I tuck everything back in, using clothespins, fabric pins, bricks, rocks—a motley assortment of things to keep the fabric down while the fierce Vineyard wind tries mightily to rip it off.

I had to laugh, because one of my favorite garden bloggers (and another former magazine editor), Margaret Roach, posted about row cover this past week, too. Read her informative interview with Paul Gallione of Johnny’s Seeds to learn some different uses for row cover. I also discovered, when I went looking for a “proper” definition of row cover (“sponbonded polyester” is it), an earnest blog site, Whiz Bang Row Cover Hoop System, which goes into great detail about hoop-supported row cover.

We are not quite so technical. We order our medium-weight row cover (Agribon 19) from Johnny’s Seeds or FedCo in big rolls. Then we go to the plumbing supply store and buy 50 or 100 feet of 3/4-inch PVC pipe and cut it into the right lengths using a ratchet cutter like this. Because we splurged on new fabric this spring (our old stuff has a lot of holes in it—fine for wind and some cold protection, but not for pest protection), I am using mostly bricks and stones to hold down the new fabric right now. The fabric pins are more secure, but you have to be careful about poking so many holes in the fabric, which then let tiny bugs in.

That brings me around to the main reasons we use row cover: wind, cold, and bugs. The bugs actually came first. I experimented with row cover our first season to keep flea beetles and cabbage worms from decimating all the brassica crops—especially my greens like mizuna, bok choy and kale. It worked well as long as I kept the row cover in good shape and securely on most of the time. Last year I wasn’t so diligent, and I paid the price. I never covered the kale at all, and I had some very beautiful Brussels Sprouts stalks until I took the row cover off of them in late August after the storm. A few weeks later, not having paid close attention, I realized the cabbage worms had settled in for a feast.

I’ve also used row cover over newly planted carrot seeds in the past, so I am trying that again this year, only earlier. Theoretically the cover keeps a downpour from washing the tiny carrot seeds away. But we’ve hardly had a shower, much less a downpour, all spring so this may be a mute point.

But the main reason we are using so much row cover this spring is to protect newly transplanted lettuce and greens from wind and cold. The medium-weight row cover only offers a few degrees of warmth, but it makes a difference while the roots are struggling to establish themselves. And protecting them from the dry wind we’ve been having is huge. The wind not only breaks the fragile seedling stems, but it also dries the soil out very quickly. And since the soil is so dry anyway, I’d like the little bit of water I’m adding not to evaporate more quickly than it has to.

Lastly, the reason the peas are under cover is crows (and other birds). Newly germinating peas are delicious bird snacks, so until the peas get tall enough to start clinging on to the mesh we’ve hung for them, they’ll be under cover. Peas love cool weather so they don’t need heat protection, but they appreciate the tiny microclimate under the row cover anyway. And the radishes and lettuce next to them are especially happy. The row cover on the pea bed is a real pain in the neck though. Because the trellis runs down the middle of the bed, hoops are not an option. Instead we wrap the row cover all the way around the raised bed like swaddling and then hold the middle up above the peas by clipping it to the trellis mesh with clothespins.

Is all this worth it? Well, considering we have hundreds (maybe thousands) of seedlings out there right now, I hope so. The goal is a nice harvest of greens to open the farm stand with on Memorial Day. So we’ll keep you posted—there are any number of hurdles (or hoops) to jump through (or over) before we get there!

A Potato Salad to Celebrate the Unofficial Start of Summer

I realize that this is Memorial Day weekend, not Fourth of July, so I may be jumping the gun a little by posting a potato salad recipe. But it’s been such a warm spring, and it’s looking like it will be a hot weekend all over the country, so I figured folks might be thinking about potato salad for picnics and barbeques.

Truthfully, this thought got me a little worried, as visions of store-bought, factory-made, gloppy potato salad came to mind.  There is nothing I hate worse than bad potato salad.

But then I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that many of you all will be making your own delicious potato salads. In fact, you might even be scanning the web, looking for a lighter, brighter take on the classic American-style recipe. So I thought I’d post a favorite from Fast, Fresh & Green that’s got all the fresh flavors of spring, but that’s also assertive enough to pair with the grilled fare of summer—a  perfect season-bridger.

I made some of this New Potato Salad with Fresh Peas, Lime & Mint this morning and added a few slivers of baby radishes we pulled up from the garden yesterday. The lime zest and juice are the ingredients that really make this salad feel fresh, but lightening the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt helps a lot, too. In fact, these are two good tricks to remember when making any kind of mayonnaise dressing for a salad: Lighten the mayo with yogurt or whisked cream for a silkier texture, and always add extra lemon or lime for bright flavor. And don’t forget to salt the potatoes while you’re cooking them!

This salad is great with grilled lamb and grilled shrimp, but it’s also good as a main dish for lunch with some Bibb lettuce or as part of a vegetarian supper or picnic.

New Potato Salad with Fresh Peas, Lime & Mint

This recipe yields just enough to serve 4. You can easily double it, but you may find you want just slightly more dressing if you do. You can always whisk together just a bit more mayo, yogurt and lime and fold it in, or  you can start out by doubling all the ingredients, but only increasing the potatoes to 1 3/4 pounds instead of 2.

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1 pound baby Yukon gold or Red Bliss potatoes, quartered or cut into sixths for similar-sized pieces

2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more for seasoning

1 pound fresh peas in the pod, shelled to yield 1 cup peas (frozen peas are fine, too)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

¼ cup thick Greek yogurt (whole or 2%)

1 teaspoon (loosely packed) freshly grated lime zest (from about 1 lime)

½ teasoon fresh lime juice

¼ cup sliced scallions

2 to 3 tablespoons finely sliced fresh mint leaves

freshly ground black pepper

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Put the potatoes and 2 teaspoons of the salt in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add the fresh peas (if using) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. (If using frozen peas, simply submerge them in a little tap water to defrost; then drain and dry.) Drain the potatoes and peas carefully in a colander and rinse them gently with cool water for a few minutes. Spread the potatoes and peas out on a small rimmed sheet pan and let cool. If you are in a hurry, you can refrigerate the potatoes like this and they will cool in about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the mayonnaise, the yogurt, the lime zest and the lime juice in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cooled potatoes and peas, the scallions, 2 tablespoons of the mint, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and several grinds of fresh pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly with a silicone spatula. Taste and add a little more salt if desired. Garnish with the remaining mint .

Serves 4

A Hen Party Around the Water Cooler

I have water on the brain. Not literally, I hope. It’s just that the subject of clean water is all around me, all around us. In fact, I found it kind of eerie that it was coming at me from so many different directions last week, almost as if the water gods were trying to get my attention. On the national news, it was the horrendous oil spill polluting the Gulf; in Massachusetts, a giant water pipe burst, leaving thousands of folks in the Boston area to boil water all weekend.

Here on the Vineyard, ironically, this was the weekend a whole series of special events—the “Water is Life” celebration—was scheduled, revolving around the launch of National Geographic’s new book, Written in Water: Messages of Hope for Earth’s Most Precious Resources.  Water is a big deal on an island, of course, not just because of the miles of beaches and acres of coastal ponds, but because we sit on top of our own aquifer. We’re one big watershed. That’s good news when things happen on the mainland like the water-main break; we escape being affected. But on the flip side, everything we put on our lawns, in our plumbing, and over our fields eventually filters into our water.

But the water issue I was pondering most this week wasn’t a national or even a local one. No, in my little myopic world, what I was thinking about most was watering my vegetable garden. With the potatoes planted, the peas (and weeds!) sprouting, and some of the greens transplanted, this was the first week the garden demanded a daily watering. Other than the somewhat heated household “discussion” about who was going to get up (very) early every morning and go over to the farm to do this, most of the thinking centered around sorting through a complex system of hoses, splitters, valves, and connections that lead to a hydrant (sort of an old-fashioned looking pump with a red handle) at the center of the farm where our water supply originates.

By the third morning, we’d figured out the routine—a routine we’ll probably follow every morning for the next several months. After watering (and I am already amazed at how much water we’ll need to dispense for an area like ours), I retraced my steps to the hydrant to close down the pump. As I walked, I found myself thinking about how lucky we are to have a vegetable plot on a farm. Not only do we have amazing soil, but there’s an established system of water distribution in place. And as I turned the corner past the sheep pasture and the goat pen, I also began to think about how important water is to a farm—not just for raising crops, but for feeding the animals. Just one goat or sheep can drink a gallon of water a day. That’s why everywhere you go on a small farm, you see the ubiquitous black rubber water tubs (like the one in this photo) that constantly need topping up. As many of those tubs as I’ve spied since moving to the Vineyard, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about what it takes to fill them.

When I got to the hydrant, though, I had to laugh. The ducks and hens (and guinea fowl) have it all figured out, I thought. They never miss the opportunity to stop and take a drink or a bath (or both—they’re not picky).  In this case, they’ve claimed the drip-catching tub under the hydrant as their own. The spot definitely reminded me of the water cooler in an office—everyone gathers there for a cackle and a drink.  Watching them also suddenly made me think about the poor birds on the Gulf Coast who won’t be as lucky as these ones in the coming months.

I must admit, I don’t think I’ve ever given water as much thought as I did this week. And when we start harvesting those glorious peas (and everything else) later this suumer, I’ll now be thinking about all the things that make them possible—not just the soil, the sun, and the hard work, but the water, too.

P.S. And speaking of peas, I hope some of you live in an area of the country (or world) where peas really are a spring vegetable. On the Island we don’t harvest them until July, so I have a while to wait.  (In the mean time, I don’t mind cooking with frozen peas, believe it or not.) Either way, if you want to enjoy them simply and deliciously, check out this recipe for Peas with Lemon, Mint & Scallions from my book, Fast, Fresh & Green. It’s just been posted as part of a book excerpt on Finecooking.com, the website of Fine Cooking magazine, which I write for regularly.

And if you live on the Vineyard, don’t forget you are invited to Bunch of Grapes bookstore on this Friday, May 7, at 7:30 for a book signing and demo by yours truly.