Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zucchini Factory

The great green machine is revving up. Above is the zucchini patch as of mid-June, a couple of weeks ago, and again as it is today. This is a row of three plants, rather close together. In the top photo you can see the lid of the sunken, plugged flower pot that serves as an irrigation reservoir. There is one next to each plant.

Planting History:
Variety: Green Racer zucchini
Source: Whole Foods (Sweetwater Nursery) seedlings
Seedlings planted out: May 10, 2009
First harvest: June 14, 2009

These are the first few pickings in chronological order left to right. You can see that the earliest blossoms are brown and dry and the first couple of fruits are smaller and tapered toward the tip. Probably they didn't get fertilized (that's my theory, anyway) because the bees didn't get the press release. The news is out by now for sure. This past weekend there was a big bag of beautifully shaped zucchini in the fridge. Time for green soup!!! Who cares if the temperature is pushing 100 degrees -- summon up that old pioneer spirit.

There's no recipe for green soup, just a general process. The ingredients change according to the seasons: winter is kale and chard and broccoli; summer is mostly zucchini. Here's a description based on this weekend's batch:

1. Heat up a thin layer of good olive oil in a favorite soup pot.

2. Smash four or five cloves of peeled garlic, stir them around in the oil to infuse the flavor.

3. Saute chopped onion and celery -- enough to make a half inch layer on the bottom of the pot.

4. Add peeled, chopped carrots and potatoes -- as many as you feel like and have on hand. This batch has four big carrots and a couple of medium new red potatoes.

5. Stir it all around until coated with oil. Put lid on and let mixture soften up a bit.

6. Cover with vegetable broth -- homemade mushroom broth can't be beat. Let simmer to soften up the carrots and potatoes some more.

7. Add as much chopped zucchini as you can cram into the pot, along with any other greens you have around. This batch used the whole bag of zucchini -- about 10 lovelies of various sizes. It also includes the last few volunteer kale plants from a corner of the yard. This is the point to add any quicker cooking veggies you have on hand. Some chopped parsley is nice.

8. Add some cooked beans if you have them -- garbanzo or small white beans are great -- for extra heft and nutrition.

9. Simmer until everything is soft.

10. Put in the fridge to cool. It makes blending easier. If you have hungry people hanging around, go ahead and blend right away.

11. Eat some now.

12. And freeze the rest. I take these little packages to work for lunch so often it causes comment. But I am unabashed. Green soup is nectar and ambrosia in one fragrant, sustaining brew, the elixir of life. H. loves the stuff so whenever he comes by he takes a couple home.

More Bean Ballet

Vaulting vines leap into the wild blue yonder. Now they have flowers and we've been picking a few full-sized Kentucky Wonders -- five or six, nothing to get excited about yet.

Planting History:
Variety: Kentucky Wonder pole beans
Source: Whole Foods (Sweetwater Nursery) seedlings
Seedlings planted out: May 10, 2009
First harvest: Sometime around June 24

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Holding on to the Air

The twining vines of the Kentucky Wonder beans reminded me of the wonderful remark from fabled ballerina Suzanne Farrell about her mentor George Balanchine. When she complained that a particular balanced pose was impossible because there was "nothing to hold on to," he said, "Hold on to the air."

That's what the vines have been doing, until today. They have curved over gracefully and most balletically onto the lattice. As I suppose even great ballerinas must do eventually -- give way to gravity.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reach for the Sky!

The Kentucky Wonder beans are in a Kentucky Derby race into thin air, creating their own self-twined green pole and climbing up each other. These are the same tendrils pictured on June 8.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink," cried the Ancient Mariner. "Green growth all around," I think to myself, standing in the midst of the burgeoning backyard, "and barely a bite to eat." Only a few lettuce leaves, a handful of peas, some arugula are worth bringing in as dinner fare. It's the time of waiting -- as the winter garden goes to seed and the summer plantings are not yet harvestable.

As always there is plenty to marvel at: the kale plants, for instance. Bold stalks between three feet and six feet tall are in various stages of seed production. "Going to seed" is a process with many stages.

Stage 1: Here's a three-footer with a demure little bouquet of buds in the center.

Stage 2: As the stalk grows -- this one is taller than I am -- the bouquet of buds lengthens out into a spiky spiral of short stems with a yellow blossom at the tip of each stem.

Stage 3: Over six feet tall, waving in the breeze, a self-contained forest of elegant pods carries hundreds of seeds for next year's kale harvests.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes

I didn't know that zucchini blossoms bloom and fade in one brief day, just like the morning glories. Here's the same female flower from yesterday all folded up. The first baby zucchini of the season is ready to get growing. Did pollination occur? We shall see. Often the first few zucchinis are like the first few pancakes -- a bit misshapen and undersized but representing the best of intentions and promising more to come.

Yesterday's male zucchini blossom has also wilted overnight. It's on a different plant from the female blossom. Each plant produces both kinds of blossoms, but one male and one female on two different plants is all that's happening right now. Who knows if the bees managed to find them in time. RIP brave, life-affirming little flowers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

First Bean Tendrils Reach the Top

These are the first Kentucky Wonder bean tendrils that have snaked their way to the top of the bean poles. As they get taller they will wave around unsupported in the open sky for a while and then drape themselves over the lattice at the top of the poles.

First Squash Blossoms

First squash blossom -- or, to be more precise, first male Green Racer zucchini blossom. A zucchini plant has separate blossoms for stamen and pistils. Here you see the stamen offering up pollen to a waiting world.

Here is a pistil-packing mama: a female Green Racer zucchini blossom (that's just the way it is in zucchini-dom). Behind the blossom, out of view, is a tiny zucchini. As I understand it, they don't develop much unless the blossom is pollinated. Hear that, bees? Get with it! People are waiting for their summertime green soup.

First Morning Glories

Not quite the first of the season, but close: an heirloom Grandpa Otts morning glory explodes into the morning light, ready for its brief but glorious one-day span of life. With all due respect to Grandpa Otts, it's Georgia O'Keefe who should be invoked.

Below you can see deer depredations -- the denuded stems left behind by a twilight browser -- some bird droppings, some of the day's glories already starting to droop, and yesterday's beauty -- the rightful and true "first" curled up and folded in on herself. Sic transit gloria mundi.