It’s remarkable to see the variation in a garden from year to year; this year growth was slowed by all the cool wet weather with which we started the summer and as a result the chard is still small compared to last year, as is the kale, and a lot of my zinnia seeds never germinated as the cold rain thwarted their efforts. Last year they raged on and on, obsequious to the sun in a hot, long, dry season. This week the sunflowers finally bloomed and the eggplants, cucumbers, peppers and melons are also (finally) starting to produce. Hopeful watermelon are the size of golf and tennis balls. Not sure if they’ll mature in time. What a challenge this bipolar summer has been for all of us slightly demented vegetable gardeners.
I had a moment last week. I said to Chris, “This growing organic food thing, it’s too hard. It could be a full time job. Which is why there are farmers. Maybe next year I’ll do the smart thing and buy into a farm share.” I’m admitting right here, right now, I wanted to give up. I experienced an existential quandary, banging my head against the very concept of floral cultivation and the complete and utter lunacy of attempting to control nature. There is weather and disease and there are groundhogs who outsmart fences and all manner of other life forms competing for the fruits of your labor. Bugs chew holes in stuff. The lower half of the basil plants look terribly yellow. Root maggots dry out pumpkin vines and wilt overcomes the cukes (well not yet, but I’m keeping my eye on them). The potato bags didn’t yield a very impressive crop and I think some bug or disease was to blame. Full-sized tomato horn worms chew and poo. Have you seen them? They are, I promise you, the spectacularly gruesome stuff of horror movies. One was so big Chris drove over it with his truck. So much for ahimsa. There are beets, yes, but they’re not particularly large and I wish there were more of them. I want to keep planting more crops, and sometimes feel wildly pressured by my garden plot followed swiftly by remembering the fact that I’ve only myself to blame. Let’s not forget the result of all this planting being all these (plants!) to thin, water, weed, harvest and stuff into the Jenga-stacked refrigerator, not to mention cook and preserve. I’m as allergic to waste as my Depression-era grandmother stashing bits of restaurant rolls wrapped in napkin in her purse. I don’t even like throwing out the beet-steaming water. Even with all the investment of time and money, if we had to subsist for the winter on what I grew we’d starve. For now, we feast. And we finally canned something! It was my first time ever- fear of canning (the whole endeavor just seemed daunting) conquered. A zephyr squash relish. For another post.
But then, puttering around out there with the dragonflies to the sound of birds and wind chimes, touching dirt, I remember that this is one of the few places on earth (of earth) this engrossing and escapist where time and worries push off to the side. Did I mention how much I love to weed? It’s so straightforward and you see such obvious results. I’d also much rather go outside to gather dinner than into a store. Inspiration was restored when I heard this Ted Talk last Sunday, tears springing to my eyes. Yes, I wanted to hug Ron Finley, if a kid plants kale, a kid eats kale! Praise be, amen, hallelujah!
Here is what we’re growing/grew: nasturtiums, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, garlic, peas, six varieties of tomatoes, flying saucer and zephyr squash, sugar pumpkins, several varieties of melons, butternut and hubbard squash that may have been planted too late in the season (fingers crossed the produce!), several varieties of potatoes and carrots, two types of turnips, pickling cukes, mustard greens, four types of kale, swiss chard, arugula, five types of beets, collard greens, rutabaga, daikon, many kinds of peppers and eggplant, tomatillo, string beans, cutting celery, sorrel, lovage,dill, lavender, fennel, cilantro, basil, parsley, broccoli raab, chinese broccoli, Brussels sprouts and red okra. I may be leaving something out, it’s all a bit of a blur. I’ve been racing to get new fall crops planted many of which you can do up until August 15th. I’m eager to get the kohlrabi in. When the string beans are finished producing, I’ll take them out and use the space for spinach, lettuce and radish; crops that can be planted into early September. Covering the Brussels sprouts, collards and rutabaga with row cover has meant their survival from the onslaught of cabbage worms. I see those little white moths fluttering around my kale and know now from last year’s experience that they are likely laying eggs and will become said dreaded perfectly camouflaged worms. My hope is to cover kale and cool weather crops and see if they will survive the winter shielded from the elements. Greens all year round, here I come!
We are currently overcome with summer squash and doing a few wonderful things with it, but my friend Bethany asked me for my raw kale salad recipe yesterday and I’ve been meaning to post this. There are two recipes I love in particular. The key to kale salad is massaging it in oil and lemon to break down the fibers, rendering it tender and soft.
Any type of kale will do. I particularly love lacinato kale (a.k.a tuscan, dinosaur) but find it more fragile to grow than other kinds because the cabbage worms also prefer it. For those of you lucky enough to have a surfeit of the stuff from your CSA or farmer’s market, here you go:
Raw Kale Salad 1 (courtesy of our friend Peter and in the book Wild Flavors)
- 1 bunch kale thinly sliced, stems removed (about 8 cups)
- 2 medium carrots julienned or matchstick sliced
- 1/2 cup dried raisins, currents or cranberries
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- pinch chile flakes
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (juice from one large lemon)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Ohsawa Nama Shoyu or other high quality soy sauce
- optional: toasted pumpkin seeds or any nut or seed to top and/or thinly sliced radish
Massage the kale in the oil and lemon until soft and reduced in size. Toss with remaining ingredients and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Serve immediately or store in fridge where it will keep for up to 3 days.
Raw Kale Salad 11 (slightly adapted from Grow, Cook, Eat by Willi Galloway)
- 12 Dino or other variety kale leaves, stems removed, thinly sliced
- 1 large julienned carrot
- 1 very large rip avocado, mashed
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice (from about two small lemons)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
- 11/2 teaspoons harissa or another hot sauce such as Sriracha
- freshly ground salt (I love pink himalayan) and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds to top
- chopped scallion to top and/or thinly sliced radish
In a large bowl mix the oil, lemon, mashed avocado and spices. Add the kale to this dressing and massage with hands until the kale is tender, soft and reduced in size. Mix in hot sauce, (I use tongs for this) garlic, carrots, salt and pepper. Top with toasted seeds etc. right before serving.