Tales of an Urban Potato Farmer?

Last summer, I came across a few potatoes in my refrigerator that had sprouted.

(Is it just me, or does the one on the bottom look like a creepy hand?)

Instead of throwing them out, my gardening curiosity got the best of me and into the garden plot they went.  I cut them up and threw them right into the middle, next to the overflowing strawberry patch. Much to my surprise, they grew!

But it was late August and they didn’t have enough time to turn into full grown potatoes so I put my potato dreams on hold.  When I pulled the dead plants out this spring, I was shocked to find tiny potatoes under all that green.  I was inspired by the fact that my old food could turn into new, fresh food so I decided to plant a few rows of potato sprouts this year (denoted by the red square in the picture below).

Only one sprout has come up in the area that I intentionally planted, but in the area I planted last year (and thought I dug up), multiple sprouts have come up!  Obviously we missed a few baby potatoes when we pulled them up a few months ago and now we have rogue potato plants growing in the middle of the plot. I have no idea how many more are down there and have a feeling this could turn out like the “great strawberry takeover of 2010” (more on that later).  Good thing we like potatoes! The plants in the red circles are the potato plants (notice that only one of them falls within the red square pictures above):

Potatoes can handle chillier weather and do best when planted in soil that is about 45 degrees so they were one of the first things I planted. I used store bought potatoes and cut them into cubes that were about 2 inches wide, making sure there was at least one “eye” on each cube. Make sure your soil is damp but not too wet. Extremely wet soil can cause the seed potatoes to rot instead of grow. Some gardeners recommend against using potatoes from the grocery store because large growers often treat potatoes with growth inhibitors to keep them from sprouting in the store. Apparently grocery store potatoes can also carry diseases (which really makes a great argument for growing them yourself) that can spread to other potatoes in your plot. I tend to take the “action first, learn later” approach to gardening so I may learn my lesson, but until then, I am taking the grocery store gamble. I can already taste all of the delicious baked potato I will be enjoying at the end of the summer!

Are you growing potatoes this year? What are your thoughts on the grocery store vs. certified sprouts argument? What plants are taking over in your garden?


Deluxe Apartment in the Sky

The sun has FINALLY made an appearance, the snow is all melted and you can almost get by without a jacket in the morning.  It’s spring in New England.  Which also means it is time for my hiatus to end.  It has been quite the busy winter (more on the later) so I am excited to get outside and play in the dirt this summer.

Despite my lack of yard and somewhat small community garden plot, I am taking the urban apprach to finding more space – building up.

I forgot about this little high rise planter condo that I bought a few falls ago to spruce up my entry way (we filled it with gourds and stuck it in a bale of hay in the front hall) but came across it when cleaning out the basement recently.  So now my rosemary plant is living the life of luxury in a high rise apartment. Here is a closeup of the new digs:

He doesn’t have any downstairs neighbors yet (its a pretty busy time at work so planting has taken a backseat), but I am thinking something along the lines of basil and thyme.  I imagine each basket full and overflowing, maybe with a combo of herbs and flowers. What do you do to create extra space in your garden? What should I fill this guy up with?

2nd Annual Urban Agricultural Fair

Last weekend, I attended the 2nd Annual Urban Agricultural Fair in Harvard Square.  Harvard Square is one of my favorite parts of Cambridge and it was a great opportunity to learn about and meet other urban gardeners in the city so I was pretty excited.  Fittingly, we started the morning with breakfast at Henrietta’s Table, which prides itself on using fresh, local ingredients.  I had an omelet, overstuffed with delicious veggies and we ordered a fresh fruit plate for the table that was sweet, juicy and a perfect start to a gorgeous end of summer day.  Breakfast was delicious and ended just in time for us to take a walk around the square, check out the Harvard Square Farmer’s Market and make it to the festival.

We started at the end of the street and worked our way down, chatting with the vendors as we went.  Some of the tables represented some of the more established community gardens in the city and other represented eco-friendly companies looking for new costumers, including a company called RelayRides which is a new spin on car sharing programs for us city dwellers who rarely need access to a vehicle.  One table was flaunting “grow and go” baskets that allow you to carry your garden with you on your bike.  A little hippie  for my taste, but we were in Harvard Square after all and I like the creativity behind the idea.  We also learned about the Boston Local Food Festival on October 2 on the Boston Waterfront.  We talked to some of the organizers of the event and definitely plant to attend.  I really enjoyed looking at some of the creative container ideas – old wine crates being my favorite – and talking to other urban gardeners in my city.

Cambridge is such a great, unique city.  Yes, it is sometimes a little too liberal for even my taste (and has a reputation for being a little…..”left” of the norm), but it is filled with passionate people coming from different backgrounds who blend together to create a vibrant, interesting and “pretentiously unpretentious” city.  There is something here for everyone, the food scene is arguably better than across the river in Boston and there is always something going on.

After walking through the vendor tables, Ryan and I of course gravitated towards the beer tent which was serving my absolute favorite fall brew – The Great Pumpkin Ale from Cambridge Brewing Company.  Surrounded by interesting people, tents full of urban gardens and fresh, local food, we enjoyed a few pints on the haystacks in the middle of Harvard Square.  All in all, I would call it a success and I will definitely attend next year.

Eating Fresh in Maine

Well, it has finally happened – I have fallen in love with Maine.  Specifically, the restaurant Primo in Rockland, Maine.  If you watch No Reservations on the Travel Channel, you may remember it from Anthony Bourdain’s trip to Maine (my boyfriend being a born and bred Mainer, we still have it saved on out DVR).  I fell in love with the concept of this restaurant when I saw it on TV and have been dying to try it since.  The restaurant is in an old Victorian house that just screams “New England charm” and sits on almost 3 acres of land filled with green houses and hugely impressive vegetable gardens, as well as a pig pen and chicken coop.  All of the food is either grown on the land or bought from local farmers and fisherman.

The pumpkin patch

James Beard award winning chef and co-owner, Melissa Kelly, only cooks on Monday nights so my boyfriend, Ryan, and I made sure to make reservations for Monday night well in advance.  Gourmet food made from a huge, on-site veggie garden?  Sign me up!

I had high expectations and it did not disappoint.   I ordered a salad to start, made from all fresh greens picked that morning and homemade dressing.  It is amazing how much of a difference fresh veggies really make.  It was crisp and delicious.  Ryan had frito misto and while I am normally not a seafood eater, even I tried a bite of his appetizer and liked it.  Additionally, they brought out a sample of the lobster bisque and a corn fritter “courtesy of the chef” before we received our food.

My adorable dinner

For dinner, I ordered homemade pasta with hot Italian sausage (made on site from the farm’s pigs) covered in a spicy tomato sauce with basil and goat cheese.  It was just incredible.  The pasta was cooked perfectly and the spices all blended together wonderfully.  Spicy and fabulous.  I felt a little bad when I met the pigs a few days later, but it was so delicious, I didn’t even care.

Ryan ordered a New York strip that was cooked so perfectly that I swear he actually stared in disbelief at each bite he cut.  For dessert, we split a summer pudding filled with fresh blueberries and raspberries from the garden and a blueberry and plum cobbler.  The pudding was fresh and sweet but the cobbler was to die for.  Ryan ordered a coffee and our server, who was fantastic on his own, brought me a french press with tea leaves that tasted like licorice because, he said, “I could grow the leaves in my own garden and should try them.”  Our server was extremely impressive and added so much to the experience.  I talked to him about my own garden and he recommended a few books about urban gardening (all of which I forgot to write down and now cannot remember).  All in all, the experience was amazing and I highly recommend the restaurant.  The same chef has two other restaurants of the same name – one in Orlando and another in Phoenix – so if you are in those areas, I highly recommend checking it out.

The greenhouse

A few days after our amazing dinner – on my birthday – we went back during the day so that I could explore the garden (and meet the pigs).  I think the thing that impressed me most was the greenhouse full of tomatoes and peppers that were growing upward attached to string.  I would love to try to work out some sort of system like that for my garden next year.  They also had three bee hives and the garden was buzzing with bees and butterflies.  The veggies were well organized based on size and water/sun requirements.  It was really cool to see all of the rows and rows of beautiful veggies.  I loved it!

Other than just Primo, Rockland is a great town.  We came across a used bookstore that sold amazing coffee and another store that sold some of the best olive oils I have tried.  Most flavored olive oils are infused, but the store, Fiore, hand presses the olives with the additives.  We bought a chipotle olive oil that I think Ryan has seriously added it to everything we have eaten this week.  All in all, it was an excellent week, a great vacation and a fabulous dinner!

Tortellini, Sausage and Veggies

My friend and fellow newbie gardener/blogger, Farmer Ran, had the idea to post a recipe for each successful veggie in her garden.  So I am stealing her idea – thanks Randi!  I am typically not the cook in my house, but my boyfriend wasn’t home for dinner tonight and I was on my own.  I’m not gonna lie, I considered take out but then I decided to find a use for the overabundance of fresh garlic in my kitchen (and the kielbasa I got at work today).  After a quick recipe search, I came across a recipe using tortellini, sausage and veggies that I have growing in my garden.  My dinner was delicious!

Tortellini, Sausage and Veggies

2 cups cheese tortellini
2 cups broccoli florets
4 tbsps olive oil
4 tbsps butter
4 gloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
7 oz sausage
1 cup bell peppers
1/2 cup chicken broth

1. Cook broccoli in large pot of boiling water, about 2 minutes.
2. Using slotted spoon, transfer broccoli to bowl of ice water to cool; reserve water in pot.  Drain broccoli and pat dry.  Return water to boil.
3. Add tortellini and cook until tender.
4. Meanwhile, melt butter with olive oil in large skillet over low heat.
5. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until garlic is tender, about 3 minutes.
6. Add sausage and saute until heated thoroughly, about 6 minutes.
7. Mix broccoli, pasta, red peppers and chicken broth into skillet.
8. Increase heat to high and cook until pasta has absorbed most of the liquid, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes.
9. Sprinkle with cheese if desired.

Rotten Tomatoes

I have blossom end rot!  I noticed it a few days ago and spent some time yesterday reading up on what it is and how to fix it.  Blossom end rot is just what it sounds like – rot on the end of the fruit furthest from the stem.  It starts out looking like a damp spot and as the tomato grows, it turns into a brown, mushy, rotten bottom.  It is caused by dried up roots due to a lack of water and/or lack of calcium.   I also read that the lack of calcium can be caused by too much nitrogen (the nitrogen makes the plant grown so fast that it needs more calcium than it can take in) so I think that may be my problem.  I use coffee grinds for nitrogen and egg shells for calcium but I drink way more coffee than I eat eggs (perhaps my blossom end rot is a result of my poor dietary choices?).

Everything I read said that there is no way to fix the already damaged tomatoes, which I pulled off and threw away, but there are ways to prevent it from affecting the new ones.  Since calcium is the issue, I bought some dry milk at the grocery store rather than spending a fortune on some cure at Home Depot that would cost more than buying a bag of tomatoes.  I sprinkled it on the soil right before a rain storm.  I also dug a few holes around the plant, where the roots are probably growing below, and buried the milk there too with the hope that the rain would help the roots drink up the calcium.  I will be keeping a close eye on the tomatoes.

My first homegrown salad

In better news, I harvested some lettuce leaves and the first couple red onions so I made a homegrown salad (with store bought peppers) to go along with our dinner tonight.  My boyfriend was a bit scared to eat it at first – I think he was freaked out by how dirty the lettuce was when I came home with it – but it tasted good and healthy.

My jalapeno plant is exploding with jalapenos and my bell peppers are finally started to grow.  I can’t wait to harvest them!

Garlic Harvest

When I cut the scapes off of my garlic, I left one just to see what would happen (experimental gardening at its finest).  I thought it would kind of fall over and plant itself in the soil, turning into another bulb next summer.  So imagine my surprise when I headed over there today and popping out of what I thought was a garlic bulb I saw this:

It looks just like a real flower (which shouldn’t shock me since it is, after all, a garlic flower yet somehow I was still surprised).  I obviously have no idea what to expect next and am really curious at this point to see what happens!

I have now harvested more than half of my garlic plants.  I learned that they are ready to eat when about 4 or 5 of the leaves have died off and turned brown.  My bulbs did not get very big and look like mini garlics, but at least they grew.  They are actually fully formed bulbs that smell delicious – just tiny!  Now I need to figure out what to do with all of this garlic.  I am definitely going to pick up some avocados for guacamole, but I also want to preserve some of the garlic for use during the winter.

A few of the harvested garlics hanging up to dry

I did notice some tiny black spots on a few of the smaller plants and am worried that this is either a disease or eggs (I would prefer neither, but the idea of bug eggs really freaks me out). I did see a little white spider-looking thing crawling around when I was digging up the garlic today. Hopefully it did not lay eggs on my garlic stems.  You can scrape the spots off using your fingernail but they wouldn’t just rinse off with water.  Any ideas as to what they might be?