Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Fall of 2009Tonight the growing season will come to an end. A fast moving cold front has been preceded by the predictably strong winds gusting to 50 mph today ahead of the frigid air, and the low is expected to be 30 tonight and 19 degrees tomorrow. The chiles, unprotected tomatoes, and squash met their destiny last Tuesday (September 22) when the temp dipped to 31.5 in my canyon, but tomorrow will be the curtain call for all but the hardiest cabbage, brussel sprouts, and fall greens i'll cover through the brief freeze in hopes of a few more weeks of temperate daytime temps.
Harvesting under the tentGrowing tomatoes is easy; harvesting red tomatoes in the high desert climate of Gallup, is not as straight forward. In my experience our cool early fall nighttime temperatures inhibit ripening of most varieties of tomatoes, and without some intervention, most gardeners are left with far more green tomatoes than red when the first hard frost inevitably comes at the end of September.
The big exception has been cherry tomatoes that ripen beautifully without any heating aids; I planted 18 starts in a 30' row this year and harvested over 20 lbs. of sweet cherries. This year I used a medium-weight polyester gardening fabric over my 6 stunted Sweet 100's, that were loaded with green fruit. They quickly began producing ripened tomatoes and the fabric held the daytime temperature around 90 degrees and added 10 degrees to the nighttime low.
Doubled-up 1 mil plastic ($2.77 for 10'x20') and an incandescent lamp warmed my pair of roma tomatoes that refused to ripen.
Canning tomato sauce
After a month of enjoying fresh tomatoes the remainder of the fruit joined chile, onion, and garlic from the garden in becoming 8 concentrated pints of tomato paste/sauce.
Red or Green?
Green chile is the staple food of New Mexico for good reason; it has incredible versatility in the kitchen and thrives in harmony with our weather and soil-- our governor even proclaimed Native Chile Week during the third week of September-- local Badlands Burgers of Grants, NM won the first official Green Chile Cheeseburger competition in the state; I never liked the Owl Cafe's greasy little burger anyway. This year I planted Sandia, Joe Parker, Big Jim, and Espanola varieties of green chile. All bought as 8" 6-pack starts from the nursery, with the intention of drying most of it as red chile.
Late monsoons tease the green chile toward the frost
The Sandia's took off early and grew large, respectable bushes, but the best variety this year was the Joe Parker; bred at the world renowned Chile Pepper Institute at my alma mater. Drying them to red has been difficult and I'll post again in October with my results.
144 starts, 4 varieties, 2 50' rows of green chile
My plan for putting-away a year's worth of green chile was to buy a couple bushels of Hatch chile and have it roasted at one of our grocery store chains-- in college we bought green chile this way from the farms we had ridden past on training rides all that season. I brought the roasted chile home to sort and freeze in vacuum sealed zip-locs. Though it's debated throughout New Mexico, I prefer the method of removing the charred skins after thawing.
I packed three grades of chiles: perfect rellenos, mostly whole, and mostly shredded. A really cheap zip-loc vacuum pump packs it all in tight.
Friday, September 18, 2009
The September shiitakes and NM blue sky
Shiitake logs number 1, 4, 17, and 23, are 'fruiting' this week. A half dozen mushrooms of various sizes are poking above the waterline as the logs soak in the cool rainwater of recent storms, and a dozen more 'pins'- indicate a decent sized harvest is coming, if I keep the conditions just right. The combination of a couple long, cool soaks in rainwater (4 and 3 days within 2 weeks), and cooler night-time temperatures awoke the logs from a long dry dormant period in the shade this summer.
The beautiful lace-covered cap of a fresh shiitake
Each of the Gambel Oak logs, 40" long and bearing numbered aluminum log-tags--PBR can and nail--were harvested in the Zuni Mountains during the early winter of 2007. 35 logs took tens of hours of repetitive work that winter. Each required drilling 60 grid-spaced 3/8" holes, hand packing the sawdust-impregnated spawn, and finally capping each hole with 400 degree beeswax. For the first 5 months of the initial spawn run the logs needed to be kept warm and moist--not the easiest thing in the southwest. But with monthly soakings in the tank and keeping them inside and wrapped in plastic for fruiting, the logs have done well. Harvests of couple pounds come staggered throughout the year.
A 7" shiitake
I used 5.5 lbs. of sawdust spawn of the WR46 strain of shiitakes--1 of a dozen different shiitake varieties--from the amazingly helpful people at Field and Forest Products. They also sell spawn for morel, oyster, winecap, reishi, maitake, and lions mane mushrooms, as well as all the supplies and tools to get started or become a grower. Oh, and they taste amazing!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Zuni and Acoma Pueblo sourdough and sweets
Among the many great local foods at the Gallup Flea Market-- N. 9th street, 8-1 pm every Saturday of the year-- are the bountiful varieties of Native American breads from Zuni, Acoma, Santo Domingo Pueblo, and of course, Navajo red-clay ovens of a dozen or more vendors. White sourdough loaves, cornhusk wrapped 'kneel down bread,' fruit pies and turn-overs, and the ubiquitous fry-bread are the predominant characters.
Jimmy Paywa's display at the flea market
You have to try all of them at some point, but my favorite is the traditional Zuni sourdough, uniquely shaped for tearing off and dipping in stew, from the Paywa family in Zuni. Their ovens are open for visitors (Wed-Fri), just look for the sign on the right of the main road as you drive into Zuni -- Sourdough goes in the oven around noon on Friday, followed by the fruit pies. Interestingly, all of the half-dozen bakers I spoke with said they used Blue Bird flour from local Cortez, CO.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
After the stormJust as the Albuquerque media began to run stories on the rainfall deficits across the state (-3.66" YTD in Gallup), the remnants of Hurricane Jimena drifted across the western mountains of NM, and a steady rain fell on Saturday afternoon, September 5th. My rain gauge of sorts is the tank that collects water from the front-half of my roof. Using the following formula from Brad Lancaster's Rainwater Harvesting, 0.7" fell in Black Diamond Canyon: 300 gal. / (708 sq.ft roof X 7.48 cu.ft/gal) = 0.7 14" --i've converted the final # into inches from feet, and added 5% lost to collection inefficiencies.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The sharp smell of white vinegar fills my kitchen as I prepped the hungarian yellow peppers and cucumbers for their briny baths.
3 small 'bush pickle' cucumber plants with cardboard-stiff 5" leaves produced 10 pints of dill pickles in the first harvest- 3 pints packed with the salty sweet broth of the peppers. These pickles, all packed with a head of dill from the garden and most with a bay leaf, rosemary sprig, mustard and black pepper seed, will need to age for 6 weeks before eating.
A flat of hungarian yellow peppers (36 starts) cost $22 from the nursery this spring and produced a dramatic display of peppers-- stubborn to refute gravity and the poor soil. I brined them for 24 hrs and then pickled a dozen pints in vinegar, garlic, and sugar. No rest period for these; they're damn tasty. hot, too. And at least another harvest before the first frost.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The leg of a local lamb
My favorite locally owned full grocery store is T and R Market in Yah-ta-Hey, NM (5 miles north of Gallup). In addition to supporting my elementary school and the local community for decades, the Tanner family sells great meat products, including exclusively American raised lamb, often NM local, in fresh whole cuts.
Lamb's favorite herbs from the garden
Last weekend I bought an 7.75 lb. leg of lamb ($4.89/lb.) to roast over mesquite. I boiled the bones for stock (5 quarts) and also canned most of the lamb I didn't immediately eat (6 pints). I canned several pints of sliced meat with stock, and the rest with a curried chutney I made from home-grown green chile, apples, and green tomatoes.
My first butterfly
Black Diamond Canyon's 2009 apples
My garden includes 8 apple trees of different varieties, ages, shapes, sizes and health. Some are old, some tall, some broad, some struggling, most sour, and all beautiful sweet wood. Gallup's late spring freezes often claim my apple blossoms, but not this year, the last freeze never came and I have apples.
Two of the 15+ year old 'Washburn Era' Apple Trees
Despite that upbeat theme, only 4 of my trees produced fruit, and most from the old skinny tree I usually over look. I harvested most of them a little green or just ripening when the flocks of migrating songbirds began feasting on each of the ripest fruit; 12 lbs of various sized fruit filled my basket and pantry just in time.
The rare ripe apples that eluded the birds