Learning curves

Last summer slugs decimated the strawberry harvest from my garden. This year I was prepared. Or so I thought. I had a bag of diatomaceous earth stand by, and an old salt shaker to spread it around the plants. But there were no slugs. Instead, chipmunks discovered the strawberry patch and took a bite out of every single ripe strawberry. Continue reading

Guard owl and green harissa

Guard owl

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.

ElderberriesThe 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!

Green harissa

I am not sure my late Tunisian grandmother would call this a harissa but she was a recycler herself so she would understand.

Green Harissa

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

Round and lonely survivors

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.