Thursday, July 30, 2009

Garden Notes, End of July

It's been 3 months since our plants went into the ground, and we've been able to harvest tomatoes for about 2 weeks now and okra for maybe 3 weeks. This has been the strangest July. Usually it is beastly hot (upper 90s or even 100) and the last two summers have seen us in a severe drought by this time, but this year we get rain at least 2-3 times a week and the temps have been in the 70s and 80s for almost a month. I am definitely not complaining! All the rain has kept everything growing so well, and it's been nice to see green instead of brown.

Both Will and I regret not planting more okra, as each plant has about one pod ready to pick at a time. This has made it hard for us to cook the okra immediately, and we've been letting the pods collect in the fridge for a few days to give us a larger serving. Our favorite way to prepare the pods is to cut them crosswise about 1/2 inch thick, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a handful of cornmeal, then saute them in a skillet with a little olive oil until they are golden brown. This is my mother-in-law's "fried okra" and it is delicious. I think the super fresh pods make it even tastier than usual, and I've noticed that the okra from our garden are completely slime-free. Roasting, grilling, sauteing, or frying okra usually gets rid of any sliminess, but our pods have been different than what I've had before, even the fresh okra I've gotten from our CSA or the organic farmer's market. We try to pick the okra small, about 3 inches in length, but even when we accidentally let them get past that point, they have still been very tender. We planted a second batch of seeds about 4-6 weeks after the first, so we are hoping our production increases soon so we are able to blanch and freeze some.

The tomatoes have all come from the same plant, the Hawaiian Currant. All of our other plants (the heirlooms and the volunteers) have lots of green fruit, and we are not-so-patiently waiting for them. The currant tomatoes are grape sized and so tasty and sweet. The plant literally has thousands of fruit ripening, and it's been a chore to stay on top of them. We've picked some at the dark orange stage instead of leaving them to reach the red stage, and the orange tomatoes have been just as good as the slightly more ripe, red ones. A bunch of these get eaten in the garden, but mostly I've been putting them in a bowl with some tiny balls of fresh mozzarella cheese and drizzling them with tiny bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, then scattering basil chiffon over everything. I would be happy if this was my entire lunch or dinner. The only negative thing about this tomato plant is that it is huge! It grew the fastest, and quickly got bigger than all the other varieties of tomato. Now it is growing on top of everything else in the garden, so there are Hawaiian Currant branches on all sides, and I'm afraid it is choking out the other tomatoes and okra. Next year, this plant will get a wide birth.

We've also been getting a few yellow pear tomatoes from the plant at the office. They are coming in a few at a time, so I haven't eaten enough to report on them yet.

A few other thoughts at the end of July:

- we definitely planted too many things in our little garden plot; when the plants are tiny, it is hard to realize how big they are going to get; next year the plot will have to get much bigger to match our eagerness

-all of the tomato plants need to be planted further apart; while I read that 18 inches is permissible, 2+ feet would have been much better for us

-okra gets huge and the leaves get huge! we needed the maximum spacing specified on the seed packet; Will actually tells me he pretty much ignored the specified spacing altogether so that might be part of the problem

- the Florida weave tomato trellis method has worked great; you must stay on top of it, but it wasn't hard for us to do that since our plot was small; the only negative I see with this method is that the plants become very dense which makes picking the tomatoes in the interior of the plant harder; I think spacing the tomatoes further apart next year will also help with this problem

I'm curious what my end of August report will say. With a garden, so much happens in four weeks.