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So, I got “schooled” by a gentleman named Mansur on Saturday. I commented on his fabulous corn (looks like the stuff real farmers grow) and that opened the floodgates. Turns out, Mansur is a scientist (of what sort, he did not expand upon, only that it wasn’t botany). He told me (are you writing this down?) that nitrogen starved soil will be rife with clover. He said something about what shortage caused the nasty, low-lying dandelions we get, but I was distracted and didn’t catch it. He also reinforced something I’ve heard before — never walk directly on your soil. Lay down 2X4s between rows and walk on those. He promptly examined my garden and, even though I had pulled out all of the clover, he pronounced it short on the middle number of the fertilizer — nitrogen. I told him I had some organic fish fertilizer and he said that it was “OK” but far too expensive.

Turns out, I Don’t Know Sh*t
Chicken manure is the answer to my prayers, he tells me. Mansur instructed that chicken poop is added to cattle feed to enrich it (who knew?) and so, by the time it’s been through the cow (insert bad visual here), it’s wasted a lot of its nutrients. So you gotta go with the chicken manure itself. But, oh, there is a METHOD!

You need furrows (the ones between my eyebrows were deepening as he spoke). Mound up the soil around the plants. This conical formation allows better root development. This develops furrows beside the plants. This is where you must put the water and, when the time is right, the chicken manure. I asked him if the time was right for my tomatoes. He said “two weeks ago…”. Great. He told me that tomato plants go through three complete cycles. They form green growth, form flowers and then form fruit. They do this exactly three times. When Mansur examined the new flowers on my tomatoes, damned if they weren’t a bit pekid looking…perhaps even a bit shrivelly. I wasn’t about to have my beautiful babies go into the dark night. I scrambled back on Sunday with my fish fertilizer and carefully fed them underneath their leaves. Mansur had made it quite clear that you should not put this stuff or any water on the leaves, especially this time of year. I heard this from another very experienced gardener (who I *think* was named Trudy?) who said that if the leaves don’t have time to dry before nightfall, they get blight (which originates in the soil).

More of Mansur’s wisdom
Mansur harvests his green onions, uses the tops and then replants the bulbs and gets more green onions. I’m not sure why he doesn’t just lop off the tops and leave the bulbs in, but maybe they like an outing now and then. He tells me he uses his beet greens in borscht (I did NOT know that middle eastern people knew borscht from ham soy gah).

I told him I stir fried mine. He didn’t seem interested. He has an incredible variety of food in his garden. Oats (I must ask him about those next time), arugula, basil, tarragon, rosemary, beets, corn, beans and more. He says that it’s really his wife’s garden. He was contemplating disentangling the beans from the corn (apparently she envisioned some sort of symbiosis here) but he was afraid she’d kill him. Apparently she’s on a road trip for two weeks. I said, well, you could start running now and you’d have a really good head start! Apparently, Mansur’s fear of the fairer sex didn’t filter down to his daughter. If she so much as showed up at his side, he told her to get away and not interrupt, chalking a point up to my mother who’s current crusade is to have all children mute and immobile in her presence…but THAT is another blog entirely.

So, I’m harvesting about 18 gorgeous romas a day from our plants. I guess that makes one per plant, per day. We’ve eaten them sliced (SOOOOO sweet), I’ve made sauce and I’m toying with canning my own tomato paste. They have been a great joy. The arugula babies are coming along as are the striped beet babies. The weather is perfect. I’d swear I was in San Gimingnano. Other than the looming deadline of teaching starting in a week and a blessed increase in work for us, I’d almost believe it.

My idealized garden, the view from San Gimingnano. photo by Casey Hrynkow 2006/

My idealized garden, the view from San Gimingnano. photo by Casey Hrynkow 2006.

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OK, I’m a lousy blogger… I’ve had issues with the garden, largely because an enthusiastic co-gardener has basically taken over and I find myself merely watching when I go to the garden. Such are the politics of neighbours and well-meaning people who insist on control. I haven’t had the gumption to push back as day-to-day has been a bit of a challenge in the last two months. Mom has had a precipitous surgery  to replace a hip and then found herself out of emotional control since the surgery. Then, of course, there was the 10-day hiatus to get away and here I am. I’m writing course outlines for next week, coping with the frenzy of business returning to its normal rainy-season pace and still trying to work in visits with Mom in the hospital. Welcome to the sandwich generation.

Speaking of sandwiches… I made a pit stop — literally — at the garden yesterday. My well-meaning neighbour was nowhere in sight, so I knew I had a chance of getting in and out in under an hour. I made a mad dash to survey the garden and see what I could snatch from the branches.

The plum tomatoes are thick as thieves on the plants. None ripe yet, but I suspect they will all explode into riotous reds in unison. I’ll get the pot ready to make crushed tomatoes for the winter. There are some dazzling little Japanese eggplants tucked under leaves near the ground. I grabbed a couple with the intention of throwing them into the green chicken curry I made tonight. And the beets! Gorgeous little things, no more than 2″ in diameter with sassy green and red leaves. I hatched a dinner plan on the strength of the beets alone. (That’s where I was going with the sandwich segue).

My sister, Libby, had kindly picked up some of my favourite Bortolotti beans at the vegetable market down the road a couple of days ago. They are so exquisitely beautiful. Pink and white pods containing beans of wildly varied pink and white striations and spots! And they taste amazing.

The bortolottis in their natural (as well as naked) state.

Boiling the Bortolottis

Boiling the Bortolottis

Bortolottis ready to serve, tossed with garlic, EVO and sage

Bortolottis ready to serve, tossed with garlic, EVO and sage

 I shucked these and boiled them. Then I tossed them in extra virgin olive oil (EVO) and sage from (my herb pots outside the back door) with kosher salt.   

 

 

 

 

Fresh sage leaves gathered right outside the back door!

Fresh sage leaves gathered right outside the back door!

 I cleaned up the little beets, split them in two lengthwise and tossed them in EVO with four peeled garlic cloves. They sat in a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes. I stir fried the beautiful greens with a bit of minced garlic, some EVO, organic toasted sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce. I like arugula, as I have said so many times. The arugula from the garden failed because of the horrible spring weather (I’ve since replanted for later on). I bought some organic arugula, dressed it with an EVO, champagne vinegar and sugar dressing and sprinkled it with chopped, toasted hazelnuts.    

Sauteed hazelnuts

Sauteed hazelnuts

Oh, I forgot! I’m not a vegetarian. We had a little ribeye steak in the freezer which I pressed into service with a red wine deglazing sauce. It never ceases to amaze me that, no matter how busy I am in a day, coming home to fresh produce and my kitchen lulls me into a Tuscan haze and I happily create meals that we eat late and slowly. It’s “slow food” of a different kind — not necessarily cooked over a long period of time, but prepared lovingly at a pleasant pace, allowing all of the senses to be delighted by each step of the process.

Ribeye steak with deglazing sauce, sauteed beet greens, roasted beets and bortolotti beans.

The plated meal, clockwise from top: Ribeye steak with deglazing sauce, sauteed beet greens, roasted beets and bortolotti beans.

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