Mahoney’s Winchester Winter Farmers Market-2nd Trip

Another trip to the Mahoney’s Garden Center Winter Farmers Market! Excellent selection of vegetables from 3 farms again.

From Springbrook Farm, I purchased a 5+ pound bag of russet potatoes for $3.
From Oakdale Farm, I spent $8.25 for small broccoli ($3/lb), sweet potatoes ($2/lb), beets ($1.50/lb), and a lovely cabbage head ($2 ea).
From Silverbrook, I bought two large celeriac for $4 ($2.50/lb)
Everything totaled $15.25; I say that is a bargain, considering it’s winter, & I have enough vegetables for the week (plus celery and kale from Whole Foods Market.)

I am so lucky (and blessed) to live near farms that are good enough to grow and share many wonderful vegetables with others.

Life is good!

Winter Farmers Market at Mahoney’s Garden Center

I finally made it to the winter farmers market at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Winchester today. It was awesome; I was very happy I ventured out in the cold!

There were 3 farms, selling lots of vegetables!

Per usual, I initially walked around the floor, checking out the offerings, and I decided to buy a little bit from each of them.

Oakdale Farm had a great selection of root veggies: carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, along with radishes, kale and small bags of greens. Plus I was surprised to see broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Springbrook Farm had small bags of mixed greens and spinach.

Silverbrook Farm offered parsnips, carrots (massive!), beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celeriac, turnips, kale, swiss chard, along with mixed greens and cute micro greens.

I was really surprised and so happy that there really was a lot to choose from, plus prices were not outrageous for most of it. The root veggies were $1.50-$2 per pound. Oakdale farm was selling the broccoli, kale and radishes for $3 per bunch.

The baby greens were pretty expensive, but that’s to be expected in New England wintertime. I paid $4.50 for about a half pound.

Anyway, I ended up spending $15.40 for a bag o’ greens, beets, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, celeriac, and kale. (the kale weighed about 1 lb, so at $3, it was comparable to Whole Foods)

Next time, I’m thinking maybe carrots, parsnips and radishes.

Why Toss Away Those Greens?

I was shopping at Wilson Farm, and this was the second time I got a freebie bag of greens that another customer didn’t want.

The first time, I scored a huge batch of radish greens, and today I gained the tops of chioggia beets.

Funny, during both instances they asked what do I do with them? I eat them!

Raw or cooked. They are great in salads, soups, stir-fries.

In an economy where food prices are soaring, why would you pay $4 for a bundle of beets only to throw away a perfectly edible portion?

It could be the location I was in. Wilson Farm is in Lexington, MA, one of the snootier “higher income” towns in the state. Could be that money isn’t really an issue for most that live there, and they couldn’t be bothered to cook up some lowly greens!

But sadly, I bet that even consumers in my middle class town throw away their root veggie “greens” as well, maybe because they don’t look “perfect”, or maybe because no one knows that you can actually eat them.

Hopefully, my brief conversation sparked something in their minds, and maybe next time they shop, they won’t be so quick to toss the greens. Maybe they’ll actually take them home and try them.

But if not, I’m happy to take the throw-aways! Thank you very much! :)

Gardening Diary: Preserving Eggplant for Winter

I had an over-abundance of eggplant this season. Thankfully I planted the “little fingers” variety which resulted in small thin eggplants.

I added a lot to tomatoes (and peppers) to make sauces, which I froze in freezer bags. But my freezer was getting full, so I searched for a better, more compact way to preserve eggplant.

Yay! Oven drying (or dehydrating if you are lucky enough to own a dehydrator) to the rescue, similar to the process I used for my tomatoes.

First, I chopped the eggplant into smaller pieces. I used my “Vidalia Chop Wizard” – I’ve had this gadget for years. I don’t use it every day, but when I need small, even pieces, it works well. It’s very loud though, when you push down on it.
chop eggplant into smaller pieces
chop eggplant into smaller pieces

I scattered the eggplant pieces on a shallow grill sheet pan (included with my countertop oven) covered with parchment paper.
chop eggplant into smaller pieces

Drying at about 150° in my smaller counter top oven, it took a couple of hours. The pieces should be dried, but not rock hard.
chop eggplant into smaller pieces

I allowed the eggplant to cool for a few minutes, then scattered them on a large dish and put into the freezer to “flash-freeze” – this ensures they stay as individual pieces when bagged later. I’m storing in freezer to add to winter soups and sauces!

I’ve oven dried several batches of eggplant, and just kept adding to the freezer bag.

Gardening Diary: Canning & Preserving the Harvest

canned jelly and apple sauce

Wow, this year, surprisingly I found that I really enjoy the craft of canning!

It’s a lot of work, but once you get 2 or 3 batches under your belt, there’s confidence and organization that makes the process a little bit easier. The rewards will outweigh the work!

There was a lot that I was worried about in the beginning (like most newbie canners), most importantly was I did NOT want to kill myself and my family with deadly bacteria!

But after reading a lot of library books, and scouring the web for good information, I learned that if done properly, following the instructions, you do not have to fear the canning process!

This post is L-O-N-G, and it might be boring to a lot of visitors, so if you want to learn more about my canning experience (and see a few photos), read onward!

Continue reading “Gardening Diary: Canning & Preserving the Harvest”

Gardening Diary: True Vine Ripened Tomatoes

Having a garden really opens your eyes to how produce naturally grows, and it’s a lot different than what’s found at the store.

Grocery stores offer “vine-ripened” tomatoes, but as I recently learned, even those are not truly ripened while attached to the tomato plant. The branch is cut, but the tomatoes are still attached to the “vine” so they can market them as such. They are then ripened by ethylene gas, as it travels across country.

As my tomatoes are growing and ripening, I’ve noticed that the fruit that is closest to the main branch will ripen first, then ripen outward toward the end of the row.

tomatoes ripen naturally on the vine

This morning, as I was harvesting my tomatoes, I got to thinking about the perfectly-colored-red ripened tomatoes on the vine at the grocery stores (like the “grape” variety) and how unnatural it is to have the whole vine ripened at the same time.

At least that’s not how it happens in my natural backyard garden!

Gardening Diary: Preserving Tomatoes by Freezing, Oven Drying & Canning

cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine

My garden will never produce as many tomatoes as I’d like…even though I’m getting full bowlfuls every couple of days, it is never enough! Tomatoes are the perfect food. I adore them!

I’d love to someday grow enough tomatoes so I’d never have to purchase another can/carton of commercial tomatoes again, but that is not a reality this year, but I’m trying to make the best of what I have.

So, I have been learning about the many ways to preserve fresh garden produce for consumption in colder months.

I’ve made a lot of tomato sauce, sometimes with eggplant and peppers. I’m slow-cooking in the oven or in my crock pot. Then storing in freezer bags in my freezer.

I tried something new the other day and I think it’s going to be a favorite.

I was watching the Dehydration class over at breadbeckers.com and it inspired me to learn more about dehydration in the oven. I was thrilled to find out that my oven offers very low temperatures, as low as 100° so I experimented with a batch of cherry tomatoes.

sliced cherry tomatoes before oven drying

It took over 24 hours, experimenting with different temperatures (135-150°) depending on the time of day – it’s helpful if you use an oven thermometer to make sure oven temps aren’t off. The tomatoes dried to little jewels of sugary-flavorful-goodness!

oven dried cherry tomatoes

oven dried cherry tomatoes - close up

Then I spread them on a large plate, and flash-froze them, then bagged them in a quart freezer bag for freezer storage. I know it could be possible to maybe store in a jar, or in olive oil, but I figure that the freezer would be the safest method for now.

I finished drying a second batch yesterday morning, and they went into the freezer as well.

Next, I’m going to try some good ole fashioned canning! I haven’t decided if I’ll do a raw-pack or maybe stewed. I suppose I could try both!

I know I will not have enough of my own tomatoes, so I might be buying some “seconds” tomatoes at the local farm. One farm is selling 7 lbs for $5.99 while supplies last.

I’ve been pouring over canning cookbooks for the last week or so, trying to learn all I can (haha, no pun intended) and I hope that I love canning enough to keep doing it all year long. I have dreams of applesauce in the fall, and orange jam in the winter.

Exciting!

Gardening Diary: Busy Bees Buzzing

I was weeding the vegetable garden this morning, and it made me so happy to hear the sound of working bumble bees buzzing in my blossoms. A few whizzed by my ear, and it’s funny but it didn’t scare me or make me flinch. Oh how times have changed.

I’m in the thick of it, working side by side with bugs!

What’s New?

The weeding has been kept to a minimum because of the thick layer of grass clippings I added around the tomatoes and peppers.

The cabbage is bouncing back. The critter(s) hasn’t been back, so I have only one that has been eaten to the stump. The rest seem to be doing well. My container cabbage is really thriving!

No cabbage worms to speak of for awhile now. I hope that is normal, and they are not just hiding deep inside the cabbage heart ready to pop out when I cut into it after harvest! eeek!

I only have one remaining brussels sprout plant in a container. It seems to be okay, but I’m not really an expert on what it’s supposed to look like at this stage. Let’s just say that the leaves are continuing to grow.

My carrots, well, I don’t think they are going to make it, the greens are stubby and not full and lush like you might think. But I am leaving them in the ground just in case the critter comes back. I’d rather him eat the rest of the carrot leaves and leave the other veggies alone.

I removed all the pea vines a week or so ago, and today, I pulled up what was left, along with the lettuce stubs. I hope to plant some more beets and some Chinese greens in mid-August for cooler harvesting. Yum.

What else?

OMG, the tomatoes are out of control. I’ve harvested a lot of cherry and sun golds. Still waiting for my big ones to turn red.

The ones in containers are doing okay, but they are mostly tall and skinny. Probably bolted?? The in-ground tomatoes are all over the place, branching out in all directions, definitely crowding my poor peppers.

The carmen peppers are goners I think, but I do have hope for my jalapenos.

Pickling cucumbers are awesome. I already made a batch of homemade refrigerator pickles. Oh they were YUMMY!

Eggplant is also excellent. We had some last night, sauteed with some green beans, scallions and cherry tomatoes. I don’t know that I’d plant eggplant again. Yes, it seems easy to grow, but after awhile, what do you do with all of it? haha. Even though the fruit is thin, long without much seeds, I’m realizing there isn’t a lot to do. I’m going to have to google some more recipes. I know I’ll probably be making some roasted veg pancakes using it.

Oh and speaking of beets (earlier), the ones I’ve planted are good. Cute and small. Love the beets!

I still have my two containers of butternut squash. There’s blossoms, but I don’t know if I see any female fruit blossoms. I think by now, there should have been some fruit, no? Oh well, next time I will plant in the ground or in a larger container.

On the other hand, the watermelon seems to be doing super well! DH is very pleased. Both the watermelon in the ground and in the large recycling bin have lots of fruits, getting larger and larger. It’s exciting. We can’t wait for harvest!

I think that is it for now. I still haven’t posted many photos. But I’m taking them regularly so I can see the progress, especially for next year. I’ve been so busy with my new job, that it’s been difficult to juggle everything I used to do now that I have less time. But I’ll eventually manage. DH has been a big help!

Gardening Diary: Tomatoes!

Yay!

The other day, I noticed a couple of my cherry tomatoes were on the verge of “redness” and this morning, I was able to pick some red cherry and sun gold tomatoes! 11 in all! (I picked 1 sun gold to taste to make sure they were ripe)

Unfortunately, there is a critter(s) that’s eating some of my leaves. The planted brussels sprouts plants are gone. I plucked one out of the ground a few days ago, and the other one is also now down to the nub as well. The cabbage right next to it is also being eaten, but I’m leaving that, hopefully it’ll keep eating that and leave the other cabbages alone. We’ll see.

My carrot tops are also being eaten. They were lush and tall the other day, and they’re a bit shorter when I looked this morning. The lettuce I was saving is pretty much gone too. Oh well.

I’ll be pulling the pea vines out of the ground maybe today or later in the week. They have given all they can give. I think it might have been a bit too warm for them this season, I didn’t yield as much as I hoped. I know I’ll plant earlier next season, and maybe that will help.

Hmm, what else? Eggplant is getting taller and bushier. Lots of blossoms, but no sign of any fruit yet. The butternut in the container by the garden is blossoming. I don’t think I see any “female” though, so I’ll keep an eye on that.

Our Sugar Baby watermelon, on the other hand is thriving! The plant in the ground has finally taken off, and there are a couple of little watermelon babies. The one in the recycling bin has a lot of fruit, some getting quite large! We moved the container to the middle part of the yard so it’ll get more sun. I’ll have to google if it’s okay to have so much fruit, or if some should be pruned to make it easier for the stronger ones to flourish. I did notice some blotchy holes on a couple of fruits.

And back to the tomatoes, wow! The ones in containers are a bit leggy, but still bearing fruit. But the ones planted are thriving beyond belief. Bushy branches taking off in every direction! I’m hoping that is a good thing! They seem very healthy! I keep having to re-stake!

Pickling cucumbers are doing very well. I’ve picked a bounty of cukes already, with hopefully more to come well into August!

My peppers, eh, I don’t have high expectations for most of them. There have been some blossoms on the jalepenoes, but unfortunately some are so close to the tomatoes, that they are getting shaded by the low flowing branches. I’ll have to rethink some staking. The bell peppers in containers have shown some blossoms, but I don’t know if they are able to go forward into fruit. I might skip peppers next season, and just stick to the farm stands and farmers market, where they are plentiful!

When I started my garden I had recently become unemployed, but thankfully, I did find a new job, but that means my time in the garden has been cut back considerably. I’m a little behind on weeding, but it still seems to be thriving. I’ve been adding grass clippings and that helps.

So, that is my update! I’ll add some photos later.

Gardening Diary: Fascinating Bug Life

I saw two awesomely interesting things today in the garden.

First I saw a small-sort-of-dragonfly-ish bug with some sort of white stuff under it. Initially I thought he was caught in something, so I touched it with my scissors and he flew off. He landed on another tomato stake and I got a closer look.

Then I thought, is he eating that white butterfly? Or is he mating with it? LOL. You know how it’s so difficult to really tell! hahaa.

Anyway, I watched as the white butterfly got smaller and smaller, yep he was eating it. It was truly fascinating. I wished I had my camera with me!

Then just as I was nearing the end of my garden weeding, I noticed a group of ants dragging a green worm. It looked like they were stinging him, and he was violently thrashing as they carried him into their ant hole. It was like something you’d see in a horror movie, but again, quite fascinating!

It’s funny, two of the pests I dislike (white butterflies & green worms) were being taken out by other garden bugs! I love nature! Life is good!

I am glad that I decided against using BT on the cabbage. No, my cabbage plants are not perfect, but I’ve been trying to keep up with picking off the green worms/eggs, and it seems to be working. In fact, the worm quantity has been reduced drastically. I wonder if that is normal as it gets warmer? I’m still a bit leery; I keep having visions of cutting into a cabbage, and there’s green worms deep inside. Yuck. I don’t know if they eat from the outside in, or the inside out.

PS. This morning, I picked a bounty of pickling cucumbers and peas; I also picked enough oregano to share with a neighbor. I can’t wait until our tomatoes are RED!!!