Today is the first day in I don’t know how many weeks that I dared to carefully walk anywhere else than to the compost bin without the risk of breaking an ankle, or having icicles on my eyelashes after a few minutes out in the cold. Continue reading
It is the nature of gardening that after you have solved one problem the next challenge already lurks around the corner. After we moved the elderberry patch to a new location with moister soil last fall, the bushes are thriving. They developed many blossoms, albeit unusually late in the season, and some of them are still flowering.
The birds would be just as happy about the elderberries as I am so the next question was how to protect them. We looked into bird netting and quickly dismissed the idea as too involved and too expensive. Then I remembered the plastic owl we had not used in years. So up on a tall stick it went. To give it more weight and make it sway more in the wind, my husband filled it with insulation foam.
If the birds won’t get used to the sight of the owl by the time the elderberries ripen, I am slightly optimistic that we will have elderberries this year!
Green bell peppers are an unwanted by-product from my garden. I do not like them and they only land in my kitchen when a stem breaks off, or when I harvest all of them before the first frost, regardless of their color. I have not been very successful in ripening peppers in a brown paper bag or cardboard box; they always soften before turning orange or red.
Yes, I do not like green bell peppers but that does not mean I would ever dump them on the compost. I usually freeze them, hoping that I will eventually find a recipe that uses lots of green peppers. The only recipe I make on a regular basis is Black Bean Soup with Cilantro, however that is only one green pepper down. I have looked for recipes using lots of green peppers but they always ask for so many other ingredients I do not have at hand that making those recipes would defeat the purpose.
Cleaning out the freezer the other day left me with two large bags of green peppers from last year. They had to go, with minimum effort and other ingredients. I decided to try my hands on some sort of mild harissa, hoping for a miraculous green pepper metamorphosis. Worst thing that could happen would be to throw them out after all.
A few hours later I had three jars of a smooth tasty olive-green spread for sandwiches or crackers. A generous amount of ground coriander and caraway gives it a distinct “Tunisian” flavor. And I was able to use up some leftover jalapeños in the process, too!
I am not sure my late Tunisian grandmother would call this a harissa but she was a recycler herself so she would understand.
2.5 pounds cored and seeded green bell peppers
12 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
5 cored and seeded jalapeños, to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup olive oil, more for covering
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place all ingredients in a large cast-iron Dutch oven. Cook in the preheated oven for 2 to 3 hours until the liquid has been absorbed and the peppers are mushy, turning once in a while at the beginning, and more often towards the end.
3. Puree in the food processor or with a stick blender. Fill into sterilized jars with screw-top lids and pour a bit of olive oil on top. Keep refrigerated and use within 2 to 3 weeks.
Makes 2 to 3 medium jars
Calamities are part of gardening reality but I still cannot get used to it, and probably never will. Last year there were no eggplants due to flea beetles. This year, several dozen cucumber, summer squash and melon seedlings died on me, either chewed into oblivion by the striped cucumber beetle, or killed later by the bacterial wilt that the beetles transmit. The latest victim to the disease were the Hubbard squashes, which had grown as tall as the fence and just started to set fruit. I pulled the entire patch last week. Don’t mention it. Two cucumber plants are just hanging in there. I am trying not to get my hopes up too high for cucumber salad.
None of the gardeners I spoke to around here seems to have the same troubles. Driving by a pumpkin patch yesterday and seeing that field of healthy verdure made me jealous. Yet I should not forget that unlike many other parts of the country, we had plenty of rain here in northeast Pennsylvania. We are very fortunate; there could be many more failed crops.
And, there is a consolation prize in my garden! A friend of a friend had given me two plants of Tondo di Piacenza, an Italian heirloom zucchini. Although the beetles are populating them as well, the plants seem to be resistant (so far) and I am picking one or two beautiful round zucchini every other day. They are great for stuffing but now that I have more than just a couple, I can finally make my Zucchini Quiche with Goat Feta that I have been craving all summer.
Maybe I will switch to growing Tondo di Piacenza next year. But next year there might be no trouble with striped cucumber beetles, and some other calamity will hit a different crop. You never know.
As much as I like my vegetable garden to be neat and tidy, and as fiercely as I fight unwanted visitors there, I can also let things go and tremendously enjoy the areas where nature takes its course: the meadows where turkeys like to nest, white from Queen Anne’s lace right now, a hillside filled with Staghorn sumac and pokeweed for bird food, and, of course, patches of milkweed for monarchs.
We gave up on growing fruit trees a long time ago because deer were running them over or devouring them. The only survivors are two pear trees. In the last few years, some animal, most likely a groundhog, was faster than us and picked the loaded trees clean just when the pears were starting to ripen. This year we decided to take action and try to keep the critters away with Epsom salt and Plantskydd, a deterrent that has worked well so far.
On my pear protection mission today I found a bunch of pears on the ground that the wind must have knocked down. Before I could lose myself in fantasies about what to make with them, I had to find a way to bring them back to the house. It was sweltering hot and I had no intention to walk up to the house to get a basket or a bag. For a brief moment I considered taking off my T-shirt to carry the pears but the idea of bugs eating me alive made me discard that idea quickly. When I looked around at the edge of the woods for some suitable receptacle such as giant leaves, I found a large piece of bark – perfect for the purpose.
The pears will go into my favorite Spiced Chocolate Pear Cake.