Urban Farming: Planting fall garlic

Last summer and this fall, I missed having my blog to refer to regarding which varieties of flowers, herbs and vegetables I planted last spring, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to keep a record here of my activities.

About a month ago, my friend Pam gave me three different types of garlic to try out and today, I finally got them in the ground. The larger vegetable garden we have is mostly in shade until the sun comes back around next spring, so I planted them in the new raised bed Dan built last spring. It gets lots of sun and the soil temperature today is 68°F, while the air temperature is 50.

The three types are (in order of planting – left, center, right, in the front of the bed):

  • German Extra Hardy – unique and strong taste that lingers for a while after eating. Winter-friendly and produces very large bulbs each with 4-5 cloves. Long roots give it the ability to winter over without heaving out of the ground. Strong raw flavor and a high sugar content making it one on the best for roasting.
  • Viola Francese – softneck variety grown all over SW France and NW Italy. Large purple and white cloves and excellent flavor. The bulbs are huge — 4-5 bulbs per pound. About 15 cloves per bulb.
  • Transylvanian – the famed artichoke garlic of the Dracula legends. Harvests in late spring/early summer – stores into winter. Can get quite large.
  • Clove of German Extra Hardy Garlic
    Clove of German Extra Hardy Garlic

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Photo Friday: Best of 2013

Another year has gone by and with the new year, I, like many others, try to set goals for actions and activities. There are so many things to do and learn, places to go and people to see!

One of my goals is to blog more regularly. So for my first post of 2014, I’m participating in the Photo Friday challenge. This week’s theme is Best of 2013. I looked through my archive and I like this picture of part of our Christmas tree the best.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my Christmas tree. I like a lot of color and sparkle. I’ve collected the ornaments for years; some are gifts from friends and family, some are souvenirs from trips, some Dan and I bought together. And when I open the boxes and unwrap them to put them on the tree, I’m reminded of people and places they came from and it makes me happy.

Photo Friday: Best of 2013

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The World’s Best Lasagna

Yes, it really is. If you disagree, make this one and then tell me why yours in better ;-)

I’ve been perfecting this recipe since I started making it after I got married. It’s based on one in the old Betty Crocker cookbook; the cinnamon is a tip from Dan’s mother, who got it from her Italian neighbor, Mrs. Oro. The flavor gets better if you make the sauce the day before. Since there’s only two of us, I make this recipe in two 8×8-inch pans, then bake one and freeze one. Just cook a few more lasagna noodles and cut them to fit the pans with kitchen scissors.

Lasagna and salad
Lasagna and salad

I generally make it once a year, for Dan’s birthday. This year, though, he talked me into making three huge pans of it for a group of 35 teachers he and a couple of colleagues took on an overnight trip as part of a professional development class they conduct. And he’ll get another one next month for his birthday! Lucky guy ;-)

I’ve never made that much sauce or lasagana before, but apparently the recipe scales well because I got a lot of compliments and a few requests for the recipe. So here it is.

The World’s Best Lasagna

1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 16-oz. can whole tomatoes
1 24-oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup Chianti
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped, divided use
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided use
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces provolone cheese, sliced
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided use (reserve 4 oz.)
9 uncooked lasagna noodles

Cook and stir Italian sausage, onion, and garlic in 3-quart sauté pan until sausage is lightly browned; drain. Add tomatoes with liquid, tomato sauce, wine, ¼ cup parsley, sugar, basil and ½ tsp. salt. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until mixture is consistency of thick spaghetti sauce, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook noodles as directed on package. Reserve ½ cup of the sauce. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese, ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tbsp. parsley, cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt and oregano.

Layer ingredients in ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking dish, or two 8×8-inch baking dishes, in this order: thin layer of sauce on the bottom; 1/3 of lasagna noodles; 1/3 of ricotta cheese mixture; 1/3 of sauce; 1/3 of provolone cheese; 1/3 of mozzarella cheese; repeat for two more layers. Spoon reserved sauce on top, sprinkle with reserved mozzarella, and top that with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

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Kitchen Tip: Preserve Fresh Ginger Practically Forever

Do you use fresh ginger in your cooking? There’s nothing like its pungent flavor to perk up a stir-fry and candied ginger makes a sweet and tangy addition to quick breads and cookies. Dried ground ginger is a poor substitute; it just doesn’t have the same flavor.

How to preserve fresh gingerTo keep ginger fresh, and also make a yummy condiment, I keep it in a glass jar filled with dry sherry in the fridge. The alcohol in the sherry prevents any microbes from contaminating the ginger. I use a Microplane grater to put minced ginger in a stir-fry sauce or to garnish fried rice, and as you use the ginger, small pieces of it end up in the sherry. That flavors the sherry with yummy ginger, so you can use that in a recipe as well.

Just make sure to top off the sherry as you use it, so the ginger stays submerged. It will last practically forever.

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Urban Farming: Fall Vegetable Gardening

In southeastern Virginia, we’re lucky to have a long growing season, and we actually have two cool growing seasons: in the spring and again in the fall. Since the average date of the first frost is November 21 (my honey’s birthday – easy to remember!), we can plant from seed now and harvest into November. We will actually harvest some hardy greens and root vegetables next spring.

2011 Fall Garden

Last week, I went to a lecture by Portsmouth Master Gardener Fred Hersey at the Churchland Library in Portsmouth. Here are my notes from that lecture, embellished with a few tips of my own; we don’t eat cooking greens like collards and mustard greens, so I didn’t take notes on those.

Again, we have two goals for the fall garden:

  1. Eat during the fall – carrots, parsnips, green beans, peas, salad and other greens
  2. Grow through the winter – greens, spinach, arugula, garlic, onions

Check seed packages for for their maturity date and count backwards from first frost. There are now about 60 days left, so bush snap beans, peas, etc., that will mature in less than 60 days can be planted now.

If we don’t get several days in a row of hard frost, we can plant these crops and they will thrive through the winter: greens like Swiss chard, lettuce and arugula and root crops like carrots, parsnips, garlic and onions.

Root crops need loose, well-drained soil so they can grow, and you can leave them in the ground until you want to use them. If you need to get them out of the ground, you can put them in a container of sand, root end down, for storage.

In the garden: Peas and chives

Once you decide what to grow, the next step is to prepare the soil for planting and add nutrients. It’s ideal to have a soil test done by Virginia Tech that will tell you what the pH is and the levels of particular nutrients in your soil, like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus; you can get a quick test done at some garden centers which will only tell you the pH. If you can’t do that in time, it’s okay; just make sure you fertilize properly. The Virginia Tech test costs $10 for in-state testing; you can get a test kit and instructions at any Virginia Cooperative Extension office.

Moisten soil the day before planting and rake or till it up, depending on how large your space is. Mushroom compost is a good choice for fertilizer. You can buy it from Norfolk County Feed & Seed and probably other garden centers. If you use something other than compost for fertilizing, look for something with a low first number (nitrogen) for fruiting plants like beans and peas, since nitrogen increases foliage growth and can inhibit fruiting. Use a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content for leafy vegetables like salad greens, collards, etc.

Fertilize when planting, then side-dress about three weeks later, and then once a month. Root crops in particular are heavy feeders, so they will need nutrients during the growing season. Plant seeds deeper than you would in the spring; the soil is already warm. You can also get a head start by buying transplants from a garden center.

If you have insect problems, try an organic insect control like hot pepper spray or insecticidal soap. Using a general insecticide like Sevin will harm pollinators like bees and butterflies and other beneficial insects like ladybugs.

A few notes specific to garlic:

  • Don’t fertilizer after May 15, because you will harvest them in June
  • Can cut scapes (flower stalks) off when they’re 10 inches long or have a loop in them; cut up and add to skillet dishes or soups/stews
  • Don’t pull – you don’t want the cloves to come apart. Dig them out.
  • Don’t wash garlic heads (or onions); skins will pull off easily once they’re cured/dried. Set on a basket, for air circulation, out of the sun for a month to cure

So let’s get gardening! It’s easier than you think.

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Photo Friday: Delicious

This is one of my favorite summer dishes – maque choux. It’s a little bit sweet, from the corn, and a little bit spicy, from jalapeno, and crunchy, from lightly sauteed fresh vegetables. So yummy and so pretty with all the colors of summer.

Photo Friday: Delicious

This is for the Photo Friday weekly photo challenge. This week’s topic is Delicious.

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