Monday, September 19, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Sunflowers

That thing looks pretty ugly, doesn't it? It's a little hard to believe that it went from looking like this:

To that in only a very short amount of time. I'm waiting for its seeds to ripen and develop before I cut it down.

Sunflowers seem to be all the rage this summer. Every urban garden has at least one growing. I've seen them popping up in random spots such as empty lots in West Philly and in front of gas stations or the CVS. While I'm glad to have grown this one, I doubt I'll do it again. It's a huge use of resources for little pay-off. I mean, sunflower seeds are great and all but it's much cheaper to get them from the bulk foods section at the Whole Foods or wherever than to grow a single giant flower and wait for the seeds to be ready.

The little sunflowers, on the other hand, are very much worth the effort. Look at how sunny they are:

Unfortunately, they had an even shorter shelf-life and gave up the ghost back in the middle of July, aided, as in all things, by those pesky alley cats.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gardentime 2011: The Tomatoes Have Landed

Last year was the first time I tried growing tomatoes. I wasn't impressed. The plant produced maybe 5 fruits, most of them cracked and mottled. This year, I told myself I would stick with a bushy determinate type of tomato. Something small and manageable.

So Lord knows how I ended up with this guy:

That picture was actually taken a month or so ago, which explains why the basil is still small. The plant has only grown since then.

When it comes to eating tomatoes, I prefer the smaller cherry tomatoes. Not really thinking things through, I ordered a black cherry tomato plant from a farm at the beginning of the season.

Small fruit means small plant, right? No, not at all. I'm have really no reason to complain, as this plant has been many times more productive than the Big Boy I grew last year. Case in point:

That's just one day's worth of picking. Last year, the plant capped out around the beginning of August. Here we're into September and the black cherry plant is still being productive.

Of course, this summer was vastly different than last summer. Although everyone looks at me like I am insane when I say this, this summer was actually not very hot. Yes. It was hot. There were a few heat waves. But it was nothing like last summer and as far as being a tomato plant goes, that makes a huge difference. Another giant difference this summer is that I was around during the early parts of it, when it was the hottest, so the plant got more care and attention when it needed it most. I didn't head out on any sort of vacation until August, and by that point, we had plenty of rain and the temperatures dipped down to around 80 to 85 degrees on a regular basis.

I am pretty sure I'll try black cherry again next summer. I may even try to grow two different varieties, one cherry-sized and one larger.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Basil, Basil, Basil

I went a little overboard with the basil plants this year. I picked up two different seed packets, one for sweet basil (or pesto basil) and the other for purple ruffle basil. Basil seeds are super tiny and a lot come in a single packet, so this year, as with last year but more so, I went a little nuts planting them.

A group of purple ruffle basil surrounds the mammoth sunflower (more on that in a later post). Sweet basil covers the soil around the tomato plant and hangs out with the hot peppers, both of them. All told, there's about 15 basil plants in the backyard.

Which means either a lot of pesto or some creativity. I've already put the basil to use in this Strawberry Basil Margarita recipe from The Kitchn as well as in strawberry basil ice-pops, from Mark Bittman at the New York Times.

And that leads us to the pesto. Is it the summer of pesto or does it just seem that way because I have an ass-ton of basil? Saveur had an article on pesto, complete with a gazillion (okay, 11) different recipes. I tried the Pesto Genovese recipe from the print issue. Pesto Genovese is your basic pine nuts-basil-cheese-oil pesto recipe. The Saveur recipe has you blanch the basil first which really affects the color in a dramatic way.

It's hard to believe this much basil:

Produced only this much pesto:

Look at that color. Usually, when I make pesto it's a dark green-gray color, not that vibrant green. While blanching adds a not inconsiderable number of steps and time to the process, I recommend it just for that color alone. I think it also made the pureeing process a little easier. Since I don't have a food processor, I have to use a blender. The blanched, softened basil was easier to chop up, giving me a smoother sauce, compared to the chunky versions I've dealt with in the past.

That batch of pesto only used up about half (or less) of the basil in the garden. The plan is to use it on potato gnocchi tomorrow. As for the rest of the basil, well, I see pesto tortellini in the future. Maybe some more ice-pops and margaritas.