Sunday, August 22, 2010

Loving the color red.

So how about these tomatoes I picked this weekend? Our plants haven't been as productive as I hoped (blame that damn heat!), but they sure do taste great.

Basil cornbread. Yum.

It's a little hard to admit this, but sometimes (actually, more than sometimes) the first thought I have in the morning is, What am I going to make today? Lately, I've been thinking about the basil cornbread recipe I spied earlier in the summer in Bon Appetit. So I made it this week with basil from the garden.

I doubled the amount of basil because I always double the basil in recipes, and that change was a good thing. I've been making cornbread for many years, but this is the best recipe I've ever used. It's a little complicated: You pulse cold, diced butter in the food processor a la pie crust, but it is so worth the trouble. We ate the cornbread with soup, for breakfast with jam, and as the bottom layer to Tony's grilled veggie fajitas. Delicious!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hide and seek.

By the time I saw the first cantaloupe in the garden, it looked like a cantaloupe. I never saw the fruit developing, and now I know why.

Yesterday, I spied five more melons: a small bulb growing from one of the vine's flowers, and others, about the size of an orange, that were a lovely shade of green. They blended seamlessly into the vine's leaves.

I couldn't keep from smiling, seeing this happy example of how nature protects its young.

Almost ready to pick.

Here's my first beefsteak tomato, still wet from a few minutes of rain. I was hoping for a downfall, but no luck. Just cloud cover and headache weather.

As most gardeners in Memphis know, it's been a rough summer for tomatoes. The heat has dried up the tomato blossoms before they can develop. Even my CSA share from Whitton Farms has been woefully light on summer's favorite fruit.

Fortunately, I have about two dozen beefsteaks on the vines, plus many cherry tomatoes. The Roma's: not looking so good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm a butterfly killer: Part two.

On Monday at lunch, Susan plopped down her camera. I want to show you my nature photography, she said (or something along those lines).

So what to my wondering eyes should appear? Photographs of two beautiful butterflies (one yellow, one blue) who spent all weekend snacking on Susan's flowering shrubs.

Did I mention how beautiful they were? Or that they were the size of Susan's hand? Did I mention how I will never, ever again mistake a hornworm for a caterpillar?

Cantaloupe feast on Fair Meadow.

Yesterday, after work, I checked on my cantaloupe and was aghast to see several small slits radiating from where the melon joins the stalk. OMG, I said to Griffin. I've let the cantaloupe get overripe.

So after our walk, I knocked on the door of my young garden helpers (I'd promised they could pick the melon) to tell them, "It's time!" They responded with the enthusiasm I'd been counting on: They dashed across the street, tremendously excited.

We carried the cantaloupe inside, where their dad let Forest use a butcher knife to cut the melon in half. (I was a little worried, but Forest sliced like a pro.) After scooping out the seeds and cutting the melon into bite-sized pieces, Lee asked the boys, "Thumbs up or thumbs down?"

Davis raised his thumb up immediately and didn't say a word, because his mouth was full of cantaloupe. Forest was more measured in his response. "I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it," he said. (I'm thinking this kid should be an attorney.)

Reluctantly, I had to agree with Forest. I loved the melon because we grew it, but it didn't have the overly sweet taste I associate with perfect cantaloupe. I'm thinking this heirloom variety is unfamiliar (the flesh of the melon is a light tangerine, not orange) or perhaps letting it get too ripe zapped a bit of its sweetness.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hard fact: I'm a butterfly killer.

The other day, on my early morning (okay, it was almost 10 a.m.) check of the herbs, I spotted this beautiful creature on top of my parsley. She was hungry as well as lovely. There wasn't a parsley leaf left on the plant. I was furious.

The nearby dill plant was equally defrocked.

Since I'd been reading about hornworms, I flew into a frenzy. "Take a picture of this thing before I smash it," I snapped at Tony. His response: "You're crazy." (He says that to me a lot.)

So I took the photo myself, and then stepped on the...well, caterpillar. In my fury, I overlooked the fact that hornworms eat tomatoes. Caterpillars, I now know, love parsley and dill. In fact, people plant these herbs to attract butterflies to their gardens.

Now, I'm obsessing about what type of butterfly I smashed. If you know, please tell me so I can lay this misdeed to rest.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why worry? It's all good.

It's been a stressful week, and none of it has to do with gardening. But I had a lovely reprieve from worry tonight when I did my evening check on the tomatoes. A few of the cherry tomatoes are actually ripening!

After snapping these photos, I plucked off the first two and saved them for

dessert. Tony and I each had one, sprinkled with a liberal shake of kosher salt. Delicious!

In case you are wondering ...

Remember my surprise cantaloupe? Not ready yet, but ripening nicely.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We have okra!

I know okra gets a bad rap: too weird, too slimy. But I moved past all that last summer when I started making gumbo with fresh okra. And then last week, there was a recipe in the paper for a okra and corn casserole, proving yet again that cheese sauce and bread crumbs can turn any vegetable into a meal.

Growing okra is turning me into a bigger fan. These plants are the sentinels of the garden. Their leaves are sturdy and upright, a nice change from cucumber vines and leggy tomatoes. And the flowers that come before the okra pods are the most beautiful shade of yellow.

Plus the bumblebees love them.

This evening, I finally picked a few pods, along with another handful of beans, and two more cucumbers. Since I don't have enough pods to make gumbo, I'm going to try roasting them with a little olive oil and seasoning. A fellow at the farmer's market today said he throws the pods on a very hot grill with a hefty sprinkling of Cajun seasoning. He said they were delicious. I'm wondering if the high heat dissipates the slime. Anyway, if you have a favorite way to prepare okra, please let me know.

Friday, August 6, 2010

We have bees!

When I was growing up in Maryland, we got stung by bees. I assume this is because 1) we spent as much time as possible barefoot, 2) in our neighborhood, no one chemically treated their lawn so there was clover everywhere, and 3) there were more bees. I don't remember my own daughter ever getting a bee sting, but she might tell you otherwise.

Like most gardeners, I'm worried by the decline in bee populations, a decline I've seen firsthand. Some summers, the only bees I see are the ones burrowing there way into trim on my house.

Happily, I can report bee sightings in my vegetable garden. This is a bumblebee, a fact I confirmed on this nifty site called "the bee hunter." I don't know if I'm seeing one bumblebee or a family, but she/they love the cucumbers and okra.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We have beans!

In the spring, I planted two kinds of beans. Both were from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a company that collects and sells heirloom seeds and spreads the gospel with workshops and advocacy.

When I was pouring over the company's seed

catalog in March, I was so overwhelmed with choices that I opted for the "Virginia Heritage Seed Collection," an assortment of 12 organic and open-pollinated seeds associated with Virginia and the Appalachians. Since Virginia is the same growing zone as Tennessee, I thought the seeds would do well here too.

Anna arrived home from Brooklyn in time to pick the first crop. We were worked up about our success!

The pole beans are a variety called "Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom Bean." They are a beautiful yellow color, and the package says the beans have a mushroom taste. We cooked our first beans this evening, and I didn't taste any mushroom flavor and the bean pods were a little tough. But when we popped open the pods, the light brown beans inside looked like pintos but had a more delicate taste. They were lovely.

The "Blue Lake" bush beans were also delicious, and the plants look like they might keep producing. I'm going to plant a few more beans, in hopes that I can get another harvest before the first frost. I'm thinking the new plants might grow up the same poles.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Where the wild things are.

All sorts of wild animals share my yard: birds, raccoons, squirrels, stray cats, and chipmunks. From my bathroom window, I've seen a red fox and watched a nest of robins hatch and learn to fly.

But nothing at Fair Meadow compares to delight of watching the cottontails frolic in my mom's back yard. Mom

says there are at least three generations of rabbits hanging out this summer, including this charmer. We think he's a teen.

Surprise, surprise!

Tony picked me up at the airport Saturday, and when we turned onto our street, he was smiling like a Cheshire cat.

"What's the surprise?" I wanted to know. I didn't get an answer, so after hugging Anna and Grif, I checked out the garden.

No wonder Tony was smiling. While I was in Maryland, a cantaloup grew in the vegetable garden, and it keeps getting bigger every day. The vine has wrapped it's way around the entire bed. Although it's covered with yellow blossoms, so far, only this one melon has appeared.

Now I ask you: Can anything be more perfect?