Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
It's State Fair time, which means it's also the beginning of Minnesota's apple season. Some of the early varieties like Zestar! are already available, with Honeycrisps, Minnesota's most popular apple, soon to follow.
Honeycrisps usually start appearing in mid-September, but they may arrive as early as next week, according to growers. Some apple varieties are two weeks ahead of schedule.
Minnesota's total apple crop will be down this year, about 60 to 70 percent of normal, estimated David Bedford, research scientist and apple breeder at the University of Minnesota (www.apples.umn.edu). But that's actually good news. Growers were on edge this spring after unusually warm weather in March brought early blossoming, followed by April frost that nipped tender buds.
While a few growers were hit very hard, losing almost all of this year's crop, most growers fared better than expected. "Pollination went well," Bedford said. "It's not a total disaster. It could have been a lot worse."
Early-blooming apples might be in shorter supply than usual, Bedford said, because they were a little more vulnerable to this spring's unusual weather. There may be fewer apples available for U-Pick and at farmer's markets. But Bedford doesn't expect apple shortages in stores because most apples are shipped from other growing regions, including Washington state. That's where Pepin Heights, the state's largest producer of apples, will be getting much of its fruit this year, said vice president Tim Byrne. Pepin Heights' 125,000 trees survived the early frost only to lose most of their fruit during May hailstorms.
"There will be plenty of apples," said Mike Dekarski, president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association and owner of Apple Jack Orchards in Delano (www.applejackorchards.com). "We will have enough for a lot of fall fun."
The Apple House at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (www.arboretum.umn.edu/applehouse.aspx) will open Sept. 1 offering freshly picked fruit including U of M introductions. Opening week will bring Zestar! and Chestnut crabapples. For up-to-date information about apple inventory, call 952-443-1409.
Also at the Apple House will be other freshly picked seasonal produce, as well as locally made ice cream, fudge, maple syrup and jams. The Apple House will be open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through early November. It's located about 1.5 miles west of the Arboretum entrance on Highway 5 in Chanhassen.
If you have a favorite apple or a favorite orchard you like to visit, it's a good idea to call ahead, especially this year, to make sure the apples you want will be available. For a list of local growers, visit the Minnesota Apple Growers Association website (www.minnesotaapple.org).
What's your favorite apple? And where do you like to get them -- do you pick 'em yourself at an orchard or buy 'em at the farmer's market or grocery store?
The subject line of an e-mail from my niece was "Help!" It contained no message, just the picture of the mound of kohlrabi on her counter, at right. I asked if that was self-inflicted or perpetrated by a CSA. She assured me it was one of the perils of CSA membership, and that the mound had been much bigger when it first arrived but she was getting tired of making salads with it. I sent along some additional suggestions (cut into cubes tossed with a vinaigrette and grilled in foil packets, for instance) and was glad I'd opted to let the farmers market folks raise the kohlrabi this year.
But it's not just CSAs that sometimes deliver too much of a good thing. CSAs are just macrocosms of our own smaller gardens, where everything turns ripe at once and demands attention right now to be at peak flavor and texture, so it's no wonder the bounty sometimes ends up a little lopsided to a particular veggie.
After wondering when my purple pole beans were going to produce, suddenly there they were, hiding at eye level where only a person intent on the weeds around them wouldn't notice them. And then there were lots of them, handfuls every day, leading to green bean and tomato salad (yum: www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Green-Bean-Yellow-Bean-and-Cherry-Tomato-Salad-103487), green beans Provencal style (to use more of the cute little yellow tomatoes weighing down the vines), and green beans with bacon and shallots. Because sometimes, as my niece said about the kohlrabi, making a healthy thing less healthy can yield very tasty results.
But of course, it's not just the beans to keep up with. There's the forest of kale, thicket of Swiss chard and, most demanding of all this year, the bumper crop of broccoli. Since it needs to be picked before it flowers, there's a narrow harvest window before it's too ripe, and this particular bunch has been rebudding prodigiously. So far this week the broccoli has shown up in pasta, risotto, as a side, and before the week is out, the rest of it is going to be made into a soup and frozen to eat later, when I'm slightly less tired of eating broccoli every day. And unlike tomatoes or zucchini, which you can put out at work and people will eventually wander off with them, I'm somehow thinking that might be less likely to happen with broccoli.....unless maybe I cut it up into florets and put out dip next to it....Hmmm.
Eventually, when the cucumbers threaten to overwhelm the counter, I'll break out the canner and make pickles. And remind myself to plant fewer next year. And to plant no more than two broccoli plants out of the four-pack and trade the rest at the plant swap.
But if you're really feeling overwhelmed with vegetable bounty this year, there's no need to let any of it go to compost. Any amount of fresh produce is a welcome sight at food shelves. Check out the Hunger-Free Minnesota site for links on where you can donate food at a site near you: www.hungerfreemn.org/seeking-good-gardeners
What's your strategy for managing peak produce season? And what would you do if faced with that mound of kohlrabi?
Growing a new vegetable for the first time is a little garden thrill that never gets old.
Saturday I picked my first homegrown pepper. I'd been keeping an eye on the biggest one for several days, watching it gradually turn from glossy green to brilliant red. Finally it was ready, so I plucked it off, sliced it up and popped it into my mouth. It was delicious! Juicy, crisp and sweet.
Since I'm a rookie when it comes to peppers, I didn't know whether my first harvest was early or not, so I checked the Minnesota harvest calendar (http://www.pickyourown.org/MNharvestcalendar.htm). Peppers generally start ripening in mid-July and continue through mid-September, according to the calendar, so mine appear to be on the early side but nothing unusual.
I do have some experience with tomatoes, enough to know that my plants are weeks ahead of schedule. I've been harvesting cherry tomatoes since July 1, although my full-size tomatoes are still hard and green.
This year's early spring and hot, sunny summer is expected to push a lot of crops onto the fast track. What's going on in your garden? What have you harvested so far? Are things ripening earlier than usual?
Spring is fleeting, and so is fiddlehead fern season. These tasty treats are the curled baby heads of the ostrich fern, and they grow wild in Minnesota, New England and Canada.
Some say they taste like asparagus, but to my taste buds, their flavor is more delicate, like spring itself. Plus their shape and texture is amazing, turning any spring salad or stir fry into a gorgeous gourmet delicacy.
I first ate fiddleheads only a couple of years ago, and now, come May, I start to crave them with a vengeance.
Fiddlehead ferns appear fleetingly on the menus of some local restaurants, but if you want to cook them at home, they're hard to find. This year, I tried the Farmer's Market and Kowalski's without success, but finally found some at Byerly's.
I put them in an omelette, along with some mushrooms, and they were wonderful! But at $7.99 a package, they're definitely not cheap.
I'd love to try growing fiddlehead ferns them at home. My yard is not naturally wet and wooded, the kind of environment ostrich ferns are supposed to like, so this may be an exercise in futility.
Anyone out there tried growing fiddlehead ferns? Or lucky enough to have them growing wild?
Flipping through US Weekly last night, I got a big juicy surprise. There, on the back page "Fashion Police" feature, were a bumper crop of celebrities dressed up as garden produce.
The glamorous starlets had been snapped at various red-carpet events wearing designer dresses in gigantic vegetable prints, including tomatoes. turnips and chili peppers.
Veggies have been trending up for several growing seasons. The evidence is everywhere, from urban microfarms and farmers markets, to crop mobs to tattooed hipsters tending their heirloom seedlings.
The new garden books that cross my desk overwhelmingly lean toward edibles and away from pretty flowers.
But the magazine spread was a sign that simple veggies are now crossing from earthy/trendy to high-fashion chic. Which is kind of funny.
The Dolce & Gabbana tomato-print organza dress that Kirsten Dunst was wearing retails for more than $2,000. That's a lot of Beefsteak!
Would you wear a veggie dress? I think I'll stick to showing my love for produce the old-fashioned way -- by digging in the dirt.
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