During the long Rochester winters, what I miss most about the summer is my garden. One fall day in early October, when my older son was very small, he accompanied me into the garden as I pulled out the last annuals and put the soil to bed.
As I yanked out the last withering tomato plant, he burst into tears and cried:
“It’s really OVER!!”
One of the favorite dishes of summer for my family that smells as good as it tastes is Pesto.
Take one leaf of basil and rub it between your fingers. The powerful scent it gives off is the stuff of summer. Then, when it is crushed into a paste and mixed with pine nuts, olive oil and cheese, it makes any boring pasta meal a celebration.
To live without basil all winter would be too cruel a reality.
Sure, you can buy yourself some hydroponically-grown basil in the middle of January. One plant, that has about 20 good leaves on it, will cost about 2.99 these days at the supermarket.
You can get out to your nearest public market, like the Rochester Public Market, one of the world’s greatest public spaces. Buy the biggest bunch of basil you can find for about $1.50. It will be waiting for you in a big bucket filled with water and if it’s fresh, will still have the roots attached, dirt and all.
Then, take this green bouquet home. It’s so pretty you may want to photograph it, like I did:
It isn’t long before basil leaves wither. As harsh as it may seem, pick all those leaves off (I amassed 3 cups of basil leaves with this bunch), wash them well in a colander, and place them in a food processor.
I also put in three cloves of garlic that I roasted. Roasting the garlic cloves brings out their sweetness.
Add to this puree 1/3 cup of some very good olive oil and 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts or walnuts. You can add 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese here, but this can be added when you are ready to use your Pesto.
Then, pour the mixture into an ice-cube tray sprayed with cooking oil. (My children think this is very strange and have at times placed a pesto cube, in error, into their water. I don’t recommend this.)
A few months ago, were we ever really complaining about the snow and cold?
A few months from now, will we long to feel as hot as it will be today?
When I visit friends and family “downstate” New York, I get a lot of jabs about living in Rochester.
“So, it’s June… has the snow melted yet?”
“You know what the two seasons are in Rochester? Winter and July 14.”
“Do you get snowed in all the time and how do you go grocery shopping to get food in the snow?”
But guess what, folks? We really do get summer in Rochester, and it’s just as hot as anywhere else, especially this year.
Today, if temperatures reach 100 or above, as forecasters are predicting, it will be the hottest recorded day on this day in Rochester since ….. 1894
One of the many advantages of living in Rochester – less traffic, one of the nation’s most affordable housing prices, and great cultural resources – is our pleasant summer. Usually, after a brutally cold winter, our summers are pleasant and comfortable.
Since I moved to Rochester in 2000, we have had summers where the rain fell more than the sun shone. Some summers, the temperatures barely climbed out of the 70’s. Some summers, we feared we would never get a summer.
Right now, I am glad that I did not sign up for a spot in my community garden, as this has been the driest summers in some time. There, gardeners must haul water in cans to quench their crops. I’m content with my little garden that is watered with several yards of irrigation tubing.
Instead of hauling buckets in the heat like a peasant woman, all that is required is connecting a hose and turning a spigot.
So far, I’m getting plenty of tomatoes – though still green,
a few pumpkins
and some peppers.
Most summers, I complain about the limited hours of sun my garden receives. This year, it is getting just the right amount of heat to grow and the limited sun is preventing it from completely shriveling up and dying.
The only thing, or person, I’m worried about shriveling up or wilting in the heat is my son, who is on his first overnight at day camp. I slathered him up with sunscreen, slapped on his white, sun reflecting hat, packed his frozen metal water bottle, and will hope for the best.
“Mom, is this the hottest summer of my life?” The seven-year-old inquired at the breakfast table.
“Yes” I said, popping his Eggo waffles in the toaster.
“Will summers get hotter than this even?”
For that, I don’t have an answer.
So, besides sweltering day campers, what will most Rochesterians do? They will survive just as they do in the winter:
They’ll duck inside a mall, movie theatre, or museum, if not a chilly office
At camps, they will stay inside and play board games, do lots of arts & crafts. And only brave the heat for a dip in the pool.
But in Rochester, we’ll take the heat. After all, the burn of summer’s swelter is better any day than the bite of winter’s wind chills.
As for me, I finished writing and filing my two newspaper articles for the week. I’ll catch up on some summer reading and spend time with my oldest son, already packed up for summer camp. Then, I’ll settle down for a long summer’s nap.
Joining a CSA Farm is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get.
The adventures of my first summer with a CSA continue. Here is what I’ve learned so far:
- Don’t expect to live on what you get in your CSA share. In spring and early summer, you’ll still have to supplement your local produce with things like peppers and other salad vegetables
- Locally grown produce from a Northeast CSA will not include summer plums and peaches and berries, so you will still have to buy that at the supermarket
- Expect to get a lot of Kale. Learn different ways to prepare it, you’ll be surprised how much you like it.
- Don’t expect vine-ripened tomatoes until at least late July
They can be prepared in stir-frys and salads, but my family likes them best raw. Easy enough.
But last week, after getting back from a great trip to see the family back in NYC, I went to pick up our family’s half of the share from our friends. They took the basil because they knew I have a ton of it in my own garden.
What they gave me was this:
This weird, bulbous thing is called Kohlrabi. It’s pronounced: Call Robbie. It looks like it could have grown on futuristic farm on Venus. Just the sight of it made my sons laugh. I have never had Kohlrabi, neither did our CSA partners, so they let me be the brave one and try it first.
So what to do if you encounter Kohlrabi in your CSA share this summer:
- First you peel the purple away. I thought this was a bit disappointing because it was the vegetable’s purpleness that made it so intriguing to my kids. Underneath, you will find a white flesh, like a turnip.
- Slice it thinly with a sharp knife. Kohlrabi is tough!
- Toss it with Olive oil Salt & Pepper and place it on a single baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees. It has a sweet taste and the texture of roasted potatoes
- Make a Kohlrabi Green Apple Slaw, as featured in A Veggie Venture
- Make a Kohlrabi puree, as recommended by Farmgirl’s blog
I will wait patiently for the mounds of zucchini and tomatoes we’ll get in our CSA share. But in the meantime, I’ll have fun with this strange vegetable that looks like it was grown on another planet.
“Where’s the tomatoes?”
Actually, what he said was “Ma kara? Eiphoh ha tomatoes?” But for those of you who do not understand Hebrew, I’ve translated it for you.
This was a question of serious concern from my friend, a native Israeli. And Israelis take their tomato-cucumber salads very seriously.
This is the thing that one must understand when joining a local CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture farm: In early June, in Western New York, those coveted red, vine ripened tomatoes don’t exist. At least, not the kind that don’t grow in hothouses.
For those, we have to be patient.
But, here are some things I have made from our first helping of CSA vegetables from the East Hill Farm, plus the earliest herbs I’ve grown and picked in my own garden:
Lettuce – Not the durable, homogenous pale Romaine hearts you get in a plastic bag at the supermarket. But tender, sweet tasting lettuce. Naturally, these went immediately into a salad.
Kale –Hmmmm, that’s bitter stuff, you may think. But if you join a CSA, be prepared to get a lot of Kale. It really does taste great and is packed with nutrients. It’s best sauteed with olive oil & garlic (the fresh kind provided by the CSA) for a warm salad. Drizzle it with Balsamic Vinegar and toss it with walnuts.
Bok Choy – I sauteed them with garlic and ginger.
Pea Shoots – I sautéed these right along with the Bok Choy.
Finally, something that did not come from my CSA but my own garden.
One night, after shuttling my sons to and from their back-to-back baseball games, I decided not to cook but instead ordered in a pizza.
To jazz up my pizza, I went to my garden. I picked out some baby arugula leaves.Washed them well. Plopped them on top of a pizza slice. Fantastic.
It’s not too late to plant arugula. In fact, it’s the right time to start some arugula seeds now, in a partially shady spot, to enjoy later this summer.
And, have no fear, judging from the yellow flowers that are forming on my tomato plants, I am sure those red globes of sumer deliciousness will be arriving very soon.
There are many magazine articles and blog posts that feature sumptuous photo spreads of gardens in full bloomed glory. Beds of perfect tulips. Rodent and insect-free vegetable gardens bursting with a unbitten, sun-ripened bounty.
This blog post will not be one of those. This is for the rest of us.
Any chance of me having one of those gardens, where the sun actually ripens tomatoes on the vine before the first frost, is gone. I missed out. For whatever reason – maybe it was procrastination, or maybe for lack of believing that winter would ever end this year – I missed the March 1 deadline in signing up for a plot in the Brighton Community Garden. Yes, I believe that day in March, we were under a blizzard warning.
Gardening up North can be frustrating. The season is very short. Veteran Rochester gardeners warn the uninitiated not to plant anything in the ground before Memorial Day weekend. I received gasps of horror when I informed some that I had planted my tomatoes two weeks ago. But they had become so leggy and pale looking under my basement grow lights, I really had no choice.
And my flowers? I’m trying not to have a meltdown after the bunnies in my garden CHOMPED off the heads the poppies that I have waited all winter to bloom. At least those red bugs have not attacked my Asiatic lilies. At least not yet.
That perfect garden is just not going to happen. So, this year I am just going to relax and keep it in perspective. I think about the ravaged midwest and how lucky we are in boring, tornado-free upstate New York. I think of the farmers who rely on the land and ideal weather conditions to make their living.
It has been one soggy spring, one of the rainiest in record in Western New York. In fact, in April, Western New York received 5.81 inches. So far, in May: 3.32 inches. Upstate farmers are weeks behind in planting their peas and corn. And the farmers at my East Hill CSA have already warned us that this year’s crops are getting a late start because of the soggy conditions.
This year, I am leaving my garden primarily up to nature, because I think She is the best gardener after all. I will embrace my failures.
The Zinnias that I started from seed in the winter are quite puny and can really use some sun and heat:
And tomatoes? These are the ones I planted from seed back in February, they also need some sun and need to dry out:
But some plants do well in cold wet weather. Here is a picture of the arugula I started from seed way back in the winter:
But nature is the best gardener. I call these volunteers. This year, if it is not a weed, I’m letting it grow. And who cares if they are not in perfectly straight lines. If it is a seedling left over from last year, I’m letting it be and will let it grow:
That will go very nice with the cucumbers that will grow on this vine, also a pop-up volunteer:
And as for perennial flowers. If you see one of these growing in your garden, jump for joy. It is not a weed, but the start of a beautiful lupine:
Leave it alone, just where it is, and it may grow up to look just like its mom:
Another week of winter and another tease by Mother Nature. This past Friday sent temperatures soared into the high 50’s, reducing the snow to piles of slush. The birds were chirping, and I took a long walk – my first outdoor walk in almost a month.
My garden re-emerged from under the snow and revealed daffodil shoots peeking up, as if to extend a long finger to winter saying, “curse you winter! Spring is coming whether you want to leave or not!”
But winter isn’t letting go. The weather will fight with itself for another month before it turns spring for good.
It’s this time of year when gardeners like me really need to get our fingers dirty in some soil. I need to plant something. I need to see that moment when a new plant breaks through the soil. After months of unrelenting white, I need to see something green (besides the moldy lemon hiding in the back of my refrigerator).
Hence the garden shows that come to cities around the country this time of year. This includes the Rochester Home and Garden Show March 26 – 27.
I start seeds of flowers vegetables and herbs in my living room. Newly planted seedlings keep warm thanks to the floor vents in my house, which was built in the 1920’s. As they sprout, I bring the seedlings down to the grow lights in my basement. These grow lights are visible from my basement window. So, if you are a law enforcement officer trolling the Internet, let me assure you that I grow NOTHING that is not legal.
So, here is how I start:
I begin with seed pellets. You can buy these at the big box home improvement stores or seasonal sections in a good grocery store. These pellets will puff up with some warm water. Kids like this step because these flat pellets grow right before their eyes.
Then, I filled the pellets with seedlings of
Even the tiniest basil leaf, if you run your fingers over it, carries that strong, sweet aroma and reminds me that in a few months, these leaves will become the ingredients of a Caprese Salad or Pesto when they grow up.
The tiniest arugula leaf also carries that same zippy, peppery taste of its grown counterpart.
And, for a little color, this year I’m going to plant
Not to mention ‘carnival’ bell peppers. And I feel most obligated to grow a tomato variety developed at Rutgers University.
I’ll be taking pictures of my seedlings as they grow.
This week, a friend and I put down the down-payment on an epicurean adventure we will be taking this summer.
Why is it an adventure?
Because we have signed on and invested in a local farm, and all the risks that go with farming. We are taking a bet on Mother Nature that she will bestow upon our local farm the perfect conditions for growing a bountiful crop this summer.
Because this summer, we will have to get very creative with kale and beets.
The rising demand for locally-grown produce and sustainable farming methods has created opportunities for developing a connection between enterprising young farmers and suburbanites through a movement called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.
In December 2001, one source reported a net total of 761 CSA farms registered with USDA. By 2007, an agricultural census conducted by the USDA tallied 12,549 farms that marketed products by way of community supported agriculture (CSA).
Most of these CSA farms are located in California and Texas. Right now, in New York State, there are about 200 farms that use CSA as a method to market their crops.
Oe of them is the East Hill Farm CSA in Middlesex. It is the project of the Rochester Folk Art Guild a sustainable community of artisans and farmers who have worked and created on this farm since the 1960’s.
Though the ground is still covered with snow, the East Hill Farm managers are busy ordering vegetable seeds, recruiting volunteers and processing CSA membership applications. Over half of the farm’s 80 shares have already been sold. A membership for 20 weeks of produce costs $500, or $490 if purchased before March 1. Shares include a wide variety of vegetables, as well as fruit in the later part of the season.
Information on getting a CSA share can be found at www.easthillcsa.org or by calling the JCC at (585) 461-2000. At the website, one can even sign up for a “CSA buddy” to split a share if a boxful of veggies every week may be just too much to consume.
The East Hill Farmers represent a new generation of farmers who may not necessarily have a background growing up on a parent’s or grandparent’s farm. What they do have is a passion for growing food with organic and sustainable techniques.
Cordelia Hall grew vegetables as a child in a community garden and then became part of the “guerilla” urban gardening trend while she was a student at Boston University. Now in her third year as co-manager of the farm, she has observed and worked on farms in Tanzania, New Zealand and Mexico.
Thomas Arminio, another suburbanite-turned-farmer at East Hill, said his experience in farming has taught him that timing plantings just right is crucial for having successful crops. A native of New Jersey, he is looking forward to growing interesting varieties of melons and root vegetables along with heirloom tomatoes, beets, Swiss chard and lettuces.
So, this summer, I can actually say I have become acquainted with the people who will grow my food, because I interviewed them for my column and this blog post. You just can’t say that buying a plastic-wrapped package of hothouse tomatoes from a big box warehouse store or the supermarket.
As I get my box of veggies for the week, I’ll write about what I got, and what I made, so stay tuned.
“I want to grow pumpkins this summer!” said my youngest son.
And so we did. Inside, in the spring, we started a pumpkin seed, which would in the summer turn into Toby’s pumpkin patch.
Knowing that from this seed would grow an incredibly long, invasive vine, I gave this vine carte blanche and let it take over one quarter of my tiny garden plot. And the vine grew, and wandered. Huge pumpkin blossoms bloomed, bees visited them and rested inside. But none of these blossoms turned into pumpkins.
Except this one:
This pumpkin will never become a jack-o-lantern. I would hack through the plastic fencing to free the pumpkin as it grew, but I think the pumpkin took care of that. It may become a pumpkin pie, but it might be too tough and stringy. So, I guess, the only thing our only pumpkin of the year will give us is a good laugh.
At a recent dinner gathering, a friend placed a beautiful mixed green salad on the table and proclaimed that she grew every tender leaf. She and many others living in Brighton are experiencing the pride and joy that comes from working a piece of land at the Brighton Community Garden. And many for the first time, can appreciate what full sun can do do a crop of vegetables.
The Brighton Community Garden is located on Westfall Rd. adjacent to the historic Buckland House. In its second year, it has expanded to 100 10’ by 10’ plots that Brighton residents rent for $25 for the season. Four of these plots, I am told are being used to grow food for a local food cupboard, enhancing the town’s mission of greener and sustainable living.
Brighton residents who live in older neighborhoods enjoy streets with gas lighting, sidewalks, and very large old trees. Growing vegetables, especially those coveted sun-ripened tomatoes, is difficult in dappled sunlight. I have obsessed about the trajectory of the sun and how it moves on my property ever since my first hopeful summer. Each spring, I had high hopes that the sun would burst through the overhead branches and quickly ripen the tomatoes and pumpkin vines that stretched eagerly to meet it. By the time the summer solstace passes, I am usually stuck with green tomatoes until very late August.
This is why neighbors attempt to grow sun hungry tomatoes and rambling raspberry bushes any place the sun may peek through, like strips of property by the curb or alongside a driveway.
It wasn’t until I went for a walk in the community garden did I understand what full sun does. You mean you can have ripened tomatoes before the first frost? Enough eggplants and zuchinni that you are begging strangers to take them off your hands?
As I explored the garden, I saw creatively landscaped plots with decorative garden markers, hand crafted scarecrows, and stone paths between rows of climbing pea and cucumber vines. Others were a bit sparse and badly in need of weeding.
Of course, vegetable plants require regular watering. During my visit, several people on breaks from work quickly entered their plot in office work clothes to water. For irrigation, the town places several rain barrels throughout the garden. They are filled either by a hose, or hopefully, rainfall. Gardeners bring watering cans to these buckets to water their crops.
Brighton resident Sue Gardiner-Smith has been instrumental in the town’s efforts in sustainable gardening. She is growing potatoes, peppers and zinnias among other produce with her teen-aged son. In addition to the garden, she and others in the town have had discussions with Brighton officials about someday founding a Community Supported Agriculture farm on the property of the old Groos Farm. Next year, I just might apply for a plot of my own. If you are interested in Brighton’s sustainable gardening or farming efforts, or just want to grow a garden in true full sun, send an email to email@example.com.