Thomas Jefferson once wrote (in a letter to John Adams) “But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
I’m beginning to gain a new appreciation for that quote. Accustomed to gardening in the Texas Gulf Coast, the Hill Country is proving to be a bit more challenging. The acidic gumbo soil I battled for so many years in the southeast has done little to prepare me for the alkalinity of the Hill Country dirt.
There have been some pleasant surprises. Apparently this is the promised land for banana peppers, and the Kale and Swiss Chard are giving us more than we can use.
Banana Peppers, Radishes, Cayenne Pepper, Okra
Of the five varieties of tomato I planted this year, only the San Marzanos are healthy and producing like champs. Especially disappointing are the Carmello tomatoes and the Abraham Lincolns, both heirloom slicers. There are a handful of Carmellos on spindly vines, and not a single Abe Lincoln. Next year I’ll have to try different varieties. That’s part of gardening though, isn’t it? You try new things until you discover the perfect combination of vigor, production and taste. Someday I’ll have a complete list of go-to varieties for all the fruits and vegetables I grow, but until then I’m enjoying the journey.
Just when I was wondering what we were going to do with all of the zucchinni we were harvesting, I walked out to the garden and saw this:
The plants are wilting because the larvae of the squash vine borer are feasting on the stems. This video will give you a closer look at the tiny creature doing the big damage:
Believe it or not, this is my first run-in with the squash vine borer. It’s also my first real garden in this part of Texas, so maybe the regions that I gardened in before were fortunate enough to not be plagued by this particular pest, or maybe I just haven’t grown that much zucchini or squash in gardens past. In any case, the best offense is a good defense when it comes to this bug. Apparently panty hose or tin foil wrapped around the stems when the zucchini is just coming out of the ground will do the trick. I’ll re-plant and give the tin foil a shot then let you know if it worked.
If you have this problem and want to save your zucchini (or pumpkin, or squash) you can slice open the infected part of the root, remove the larvae, and cover the damaged part of root with soil. If the plant isn’t too far gone it can recover.
I battle constantly between the forager and cook aspects of my personality, loving the fresh, crisp wonder of eating straight out of the garden but also marveling at the alchemy that takes place when transforming an ingredient into something more sophisticated than its humble beginnings. Blackberries off the vine burst with a riot of tartness and a surprisingly sweet finish; blackberry jam is a remembrance of summers past (and promise of those to come) on dreary winter mornings. Sometimes my preference is determined by the day of the week: in our house on Sunday we like to watch a good movie and indulge in finger foods, so when I found a few ripe banana peppers and French breakfast radishes this past weekend my decision was practically made for me.
Peppers and Radishes
The radishes were topped before slicing, the greens put in a drinking glass with water to be used later when juicing. Then the banana peppers were halved and mostly seeded before I moved on to a few cloves of minced garlic. It seems that whenever I’m doing the prep work I always have an assistant.
Mia Likes to Help
Once the jar was sterilized and filled with the peppers, radishes, garlic I put a pot on to boil with one part white vinegar to one part water, a few tablespoons of coarse sea salt, along with coriander, peppercorns and a bay leave, as well as a tablespoon of sugar.
Ready for Pickling
After the brine mixture came to a boil I turned it down and let it simmer for about ten minutes.
Then it was just a matter of filling the quart jar with the brine, screwing on the lid, and waiting for it to seal. Once the jar was cooled to the touch I moved it from the counter to the refrigerator, where it will need to sit for about a week so that the flavors can blend.
Pickled Banana Peppers
I’m really looking forward to next month, when the San Marzano tomatoes are ripe and we can make sauce.