“I Didn’t Just Fall Off the Turnip Truck . . .”

The evening's garden pickings--a batch of lettuce and several crunchy Hakurei turnips.

The evening’s garden pickings–a batch of lettuce and several crunchy Hakurei turnips.

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but this is the first time that I’ve ever tried growing turnips.  Based on the Harris County Extension Planting Calendar, I planted turnips, lettuce, peas, and carrots in November, and of all of these, the turnips seem to be doing the best.

They came up thick, and I didn’t thin them, but I reckon I will be doing that as I pull up some to eat.  The tops are full and green, and cover the roots, which are basically trying to push themselves out of the ground.

I planted a hybrid turnip, called Hakurei, which I ordered online from Johnny’s Seeds.  Overall, I like this seed company and feel like I’m getting better quality and more seeds to the packet compared to what I get at the neighborhood big box stores.  Of course, with the shipping the cost is going to be more; however, Johnny’s Seeds has a fast turnaround on the order; I’ve usually gotten the seeds in my mailbox just a couple of days after I placed the order.

These Hakurei turnips are crunchy and have a mild flavor.  I also like a turnip that has a bit of a bite, so next fall, I think I’ll plant the traditional purple-top as well.

Last evening, I also picked some of the lettuce that I had planted at the same time as the turnips.  A lot of lettuce had gotten washed out with the rains in December and January, so what was left had gotten mature and stemy.  I decided to make wilted lettuce (recipe here) and try using some of the turnip tops too.  Even with the combination of flavorings of fried bacon, sugar, and vinegar, the greens were just too tough to make a good salad.

This morning I’ve been out in my little patch pulling up chickweed and caging tomato plants, some of which I grew from seed and some that came up volunteer from the compost I had tilled in last fall.  The best tomatoes I’ve ever grown are Purple Cherokees, so I ordered these and another called Green Cherokees from Johnny’s Seeds.  I’m just learning to get the plants started and then transferred into the garden.  We’ll see how well my little transplants do!

Though my three rows of turnips aren’t that long, I’ll have plenty for snacking and salads for quite a while this spring.  After they are done, in their place will go okra, which I haven’t had great luck with in the past couple of years.  But okra is really only happy in the hot summer sun, and I probably have been trying to plant them too early.

Who’s To Blame for No Garden Photos? Whatever . . . . This Just May Be the Year of the Tomato

The little garden behind the garage, May 21, 2011.

It’s been awhile since I’ve added any garden photos, but this morning after spending a leisurely couple of hours dozing in bed, I got up, made some freshly ground coffee, and headed out to the little patch behind the garage.  Since I didn’t hear any rumblings of earthquakes to signal the end of the earth, I decided to do some picking and watering.  Watering has been absolutely necessary because there has been only one good rain in about the last four months here in northwest Harris County.  This year, I took an old hose, drilled some holes in it, and snaked it back and forth through the garden.  It works well either in shower mode or soaker mode.

The garden is far less organized this year.  Blame it on the lettuce, which when I planted it on January 1st, I got a bit lazy and went for the tossing method of planting, never expecting the abundance of these leafy, salad greens.  Thus, when I planted the beans, tomatoes, and peppers, I had to plant around the already thriving lettuce.  The onions that I planted at the same time as the lettuce are maintaining themselves, but they definitely are hidden under the foliage of the leafy beans and lettuce.

One of the many clusters of tomatoes that have set on.

Now I have a jungle in miniature.  Whether it’s the compost from last year, the added manure and other soil, or the fertilizers, including fish emulsion, that I’ve added, I now have tomato plants nearing the roofline of the garage.  I have just seven tomato plants, and one is a volunteer, but I’ve already picked about six tomatoes.  The tomatoes have certainly set on.  I call one of them “Mrs. Duggar”; it’s so loaded with fruit.  Last year, the garden’s big producer was okra, but it looks like this might be “The Year of the Tomato.”

In fact, I’m having difficulty getting okra planted.  I sprouted about 20 little plants in the bay window in my kitchen, but the process of getting them transferred and growing in the garden hasn’t been a very fortunate one.  Of the 12 that I actually got stuck in the ground, this morning I counted only five still alive.  After I pull out some more of the leggy lettuce, I’ll try just planting the seeds.

On the Road Home: Pickled Okra, Prop. 8, and Lt. Dan Choi

With the red jalapeño peppers, these pickled okra should have a bite!

Maybe it’s the summer heat, but lately I’ve been having trouble getting any posts written.  The work week evenings just don’t seem long enough, and weekends require getting accomplished all the to-do items that have accumulated through the week.

My best thinking time these days takes place after work as I make the 45-minute or a bit more commute home from downtown Houston out to my corner of the “burbs”.   Though I know my posts can be long-winded,  I thought instead of trying to write longer posts on just one topic, I’d start a new series of posts called “On the Road Home” and give a word or two about several of the topics that are on my mind.  (Keeping it to “a word or two” might be difficult.)  So here goes.

Okra is about all that’s left doing anything in the garden, and more of the plants are starting to produce, so I’ve had nice messes to eat for a couple weeks now.  Now that there are more to gather, I decided to try my hand at making some pickled okra.  With two days’ worth of okra, I have enough for a 1-pint jar.  There have been some trials and errors, but I’m hoping for good results after they’ve set for about 6 weeks.

The judge in California disallowed the ban on gay marriage that was passed in the elections of 2008.  The judge seems to have written a strong decision against the ban, but I’m sure we’re going to hear all kinds of screaming about activist judges and a lot of conservative candidates are going to try to use the ruling as fodder in this fall’s elections.  Rachel Maddow had a good recap on her show this evening.  She had a lot of interesting excerpts from Judge Walker’s decision.  Link to the entire decision here.

Actually, the raison d’etre for this new series of posts was what I caught on the radio this evening “On the Road Home.”  Usually, I switch around on the 6 eclectic stations I’ve got locked in, and tonight after making one of the switches,  I caught Democracy Now interviewing Lt. Dan Choi, the army officer, who has just been kicked out of the army based on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for admitting that he is gay.  I was totally impressed by his elequence and convictions.  Also, this interview shows him from quite a few different angles, not just an activist.  I was listening, but click here for the article and video of the interview, starting about the 9-minute point.

The Dog Days of Summer Haven’t Dampened the Spirit of . . . Okra! Try This Easy Skillet-fried Recipe

Fresh garden okra--don't let them get too big, or they'll be too "woody" to eat. Cut them off the plant, wash and dry them, and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you have a batch to eat.

Here in the latter part of July, my garden is already looking a bit sad and tired, but I’ve learned a lot in this first go-round.  The tomatoes have long since hit their peak, and a couple of those plants will probably meet their maker in the composter this weekend.  The beans are still trying, but now with more rain than we need interspersed with the mid-summer heat, try is about all they can do.  What does love all this hot weather is the

Every kitchen should have at least one cast iron skillet. If it gets rusty from disuse or moisture, don't throw it away. Clean it with steel wool; then wipe it well with a paper towel and cooking oil. It will be ready to use again!

okra.

There are about 20 plants, at varying stages of maturity, not because they were planted at different times, but because some of them were almost crowded out by faster growing tomato and cucumber plants.  Now, though, the okra are the kings of the garden, flowering and producing their pods at a faster rate each day.

I’ll pick more today, and if they continue so prolifically, I’ll try my

A mouth-watering supper with all homegrown veggies: skillet-fried okra, yellow and green beans with bacon, sliced turkey, feta, and tomato on jalapeño and cheese bread from my local Kroger bakery. (This bread is to die for!)

hand at pickling.

Most people who eat okra are more accustomed to either having it batter fried or in gumbo.  On the farm in Kansas, my mom pan-fried the okra in a cast iron skillet.  It was one of my favorite summer vegetables.  I have to admit that I haven’t gotten the “do” on my fried okra anywhere near Mom’s.  Maybe the taste is all in the nostalgia.

A week ago, I tried cooking the okra a bit differently. and I really liked the result.  Instead of putting oil into the skillet, I just cut up one strip of bacon into pieces and fried it.  Then I cut up the okra into the bacon grease and cooked bacon pieces, continuing the rest of the cooking process in the same way as always.  The end result was yummy, if I do say so myself!

Pan Fried Okra

5-7 okra per person

2 tablespoons cooking oil, lard, or bacon fat

3-4 tablespoons flour

Salt and Pepper

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil, lard, or other “grease” in a heavy skillet (frying pan).  When it starts to sizzle, start slicing in the okra, about 1/4 inch slices.  Okra cooks down a lot, so I’d recommend 5 or 6 okra per person.  When the okra is all sliced, keep turning as it cooks.  It will begin to change to a darker green and even “blackened”.  Salt and pepper.  When the okra starts to get a bit “slimey”, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of flour over the cooking okra.  Mix the flour into the okra.  Turn with a pancake turner, and sprinkle the other side with more flour.  Let the okra get crispy on one side before turning again.  Cook and turn until the okra is cooked through.

Gardening: Food for the Soul–and Hopefully for the Body

This rough patch that was probably a dog run before is starting to look like a garden! I don't know if old smells still linger, but Annie likes the garden as much as I do.

This morning I spent the good part of another vacation day gardening.  Actually, about four hours straight after getting up with Annie.  I finished moving pavers, then dug up the rest of my garden plot, raked in some bags of soil, and finally planted the space to every inch of its life.

Yesterday I bought one more tomato plant–some kind of heirloom–two containers of okra sprouts, and several packets of beans and flower seeds.  This morning I set in the plants and planted both green and yellow beans.  I added some of the flower seeds in with the veggies, but most I put in the remaining space in my side flower bed.  If everything grows well, then I’ve over-planted, but I’m not sure of anything because the space crowded in behind my garage and the back fence doesn’t have the best of soil.

Gardening itself has to be food for the soul.  There’s plenty of time to think while the hands are busy.  Although it’s been many years since I’ve had a vegetable garden, there’s no question about how to do it.  How deep to plant the different seeds, how to make the little trenches in which to plant the beans, it’s all second nature to me.  What’s amazing is how much pleasure I get out of it.  I had to laugh at myself, enjoying my time in the garden today, compared with the drudgery I had felt as a kid hoeing a row of potatoes.  In some ways, I feel like this little garden has almost taken me full circle, back to the days of growing up on the farm, when I learned all the tasks involved with taking care of a garden, but not liking them all that much, and here I am now, getting so much enjoyment doing what I learned as a kid.

Part of my garden looks good already; onions are growing despite being so close to the fence.  Some of the radishes look like it won’t be long before I can pull a couple, and the two sunflowers are stretching and straightening, trying to get more acquainted with their namesake.  Everything else is moving at a bit slower pace, but I hardly give them much chance, checking at least twice a day, and more now that I’m on vacation.  I realized, though, that everything has grown quite a bit when I compare how my garden looks today with just three weeks ago (see the photo further down the page).