Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe*: Applesauce-Fig Cake: a recipe

 (Couldn't even get a photo of the whole thing before the teen started devouring it!)

An abundance of home-grown apples and home-grown figs?  Applesauce-Fig cake!
The apples on my tree mature in late summer, sort of early to my way of thinking, and I process much of it into applesauce.  Here is a great recipe that was tested on members of my art class, all of whom have discerning palates!


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup reconstituted dried figs. To reconstitute, soak in hot water 10 minutes and drain
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 cups applesauce (I used unsweetened)
Into a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add raisins, chopped walnuts, melted butter, and applesauce. Beat until well blended. Pour batter into greased and floured 9-inch square pan or 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 baking pan. Bake at 350° for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool and spread with cream cheese or butter frosting, or leave nekkid.

If desired, decorate applesauce cake with grated orange peel and walnut halves.
Happy eating!
*Lagniappe: a little somethin' extra, in Cajun.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Heirlooms Break My Heart

Poor sick tomato. When I started gardening, I grew heirloom varieties, like Brandywine, Mr. Stripey, Mortgage Lifter and the like, but soon switched over to the most disease resistant varieties I could find because of problems with disease.  Well, I was recently seduced by "free" packets of organic, heirloom seeds and a healthy Mr. Stripey plant at a local plant sale (and I really like the taste and color of Mr. Stripey).  Big mistake.  The plants quickly succumbed to disease (which one?  I'm not sure, other than it did not have the symptoms of early blight), while my disease resistant Goliath and Whopper were still producing fruit and looking good- and they were all shoulder to shoulder in the same garden area.  Very disappointing.

How do you know if you have a disease resistant tomato?  Look for letters (like V, F, and T) after the name.  These stand in for the names of the diseases like verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt and tobacco mosaic virus (smokers should wash their hands before touching tomato plants to prevent spread of this last one from cigarettes with infected tobacco to the tomatoes).  Tomato diseases are many and varied and can be hard to diagnose, but two sources can help: your local Ag Extension Agent and the Plant Doctor at; http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/DiagnosticKeys/TomWlt/TomWiltKey.html

I am not exactly sure what disease affected the heirloom cherry tomato in the photo above.  When I shop for seeds, I look for descriptions like "most disease resistant"  and "highly disease resistant" and a long string of letters after the plant name!  No more free tomato seeds for me unless they are tough disease fighters!

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wedesday Lagniappe*: A Heck of a Peck of Peppers

Every garden season is different and different plants do well each season.  Last year was "eggplant palooza" and I harvested tons of eggplant.  This year, my peppers are going crazy, and I usually have only fair to middlin' luck with them.  I planted and potted anchos, bells and pimentos and am being reward with lots of them!  I find the easiest thing to do with peppers to preserve them is to wash, de-seed, slice and freeze them on a cookie sheet.  I put them in a one-gallon, resealable plastic bag.  Over the winter, I simply pull out what I need to pop the rest back into the freezer.  This is good for fleshy, thick-walled sweet peppers. I intend to treat my anchos differently, to roast them whole and freeze them.  When I grow other chilies, I string them together in a ristra (bundle) and hang them to dry in a dark closet.

Happy gardening!

* "Lagniappe:"  Cajun for something extra

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Zucchini Fritters

OK, I have heard that many people complain about having too much zucchini and I have never experienced this.  I, perhaps perversely, like zucchini and other summer squash and never get enough before the vine borers and mildew take down the plants.  (I suspect that those people who complain about too much zucchini either plant too much or wait until the squash grows to the size of a baseball bat, but I digress).  I make a lot of tomato-based soups, and zucchini, shredded or sauteed, is perfect to add for body and texture.  I take whole, washed zucchini and shred them with the shredding (cole slaw) disk on my food processor and freeze it in 2 cup batches to use all winter, in soups, stews, quiches, zucchini bread and muffins.

Here is a favorite recipe, for those times where I want something fried and I want it now:

Zucchini (or other summer squash) fritters recipe BASE

2 cups shredded summer squash
1 onion, shredded
2 eggs beaten
1/4 cup milk
1//2 to 1 cup flour (depends on how wet the squash is- the goal is to make a batter that is not runny, but not dense either, use your judgment).
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 150 to 170 degrees.  Put a paper-towel lined baking sheet into the oven. Mix zucchini and onion, add eggs and slowly add flour until thickened.  Add salt and pepper. Heat a thick film of oil in a frying pan on the stove top (a high-heat canola works well, olive oil not so much).  Test the pan by adding a bit of batter- if it sizzles, the pan is ready.  Add tablespoon-size dollops of batter to the pan.  Cook about 2 minutes on each side or until browned and move to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm.
Now here is where the fun begins: VARIATIONS.  I have added shredded carrot, golden beet, turnip and parsnip to the zucchini with delicious results.  Want it it spicy?  Add cumin, cilantro and dried chilies.  Yum!  Add fresh corn cut off the cob (use one ear)  YUM YUM.  Thin with buttermilk, add shredded cheddar or smoke Gouda.  So this recipe is a base you can riff off of!
Happy gardening!  And eating!  Let me know if you have any experiments and how they worked out!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe*: A Juvenile Delinquent?

 [Photo used with permission of Scott Vrana: see his wonderful photos at: http://500px.com/ScottVrana]

I was out picking figs the other day and was startled to see this creature about 2 feet from my nose!  Was he or she eating my figs?  Probably not.  This is a fledgling, most likely a mourning dove (any birders out there to confirm?), and their major diet is seed that they generally eat off the ground.  Doves are not fruit eaters as far as I can tell, so he was just an incidental visitor.  That mockingbird, on the other hand...

Happy gardening and keep an eye out for the wildlife!

*Lagniappe:  "something extra" in Cajun.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Field Trip: Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo NC

When we travel, we look for two things: brew pubs and botanical gardens.  About a 15 minute drive from Nags Head, NC, we found the Elizabethan Gardens, and enjoyed it greatly, despite drizzling rain.  The garden is themed to match the era in which the "Lost Colony" at Roanoke Island was ever-so-temporarily settled, but it also necessarily  includes elements of the New World in which the doomed colonists found themselves.  Started in the 1950's by the Garden Club of North Carolina, the garden expanded to 10 acres and was designed to mimic a pleasure garden, like those created for Queen Elizabeth the First (see second photo above of a contemporary statue of the Queen, located on the main garden walk).

This is a charming garden.  You are greeted at the entrance with a small scale, crenellated castle wall entrance (top photo), and meander down brick and unpaved paths to encounter both antique and whimsical statuary (find the gnomes!  And see a depiction of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World). (By the way, the name of my current home state, Virginia, is derived from Queen Elizabeth, known as "the Virgin Queen").  My favorite part of the garden was the sunken garden (third photo).  This garden is enclosed in a hedge, so you cannot fully see it until you enter it, a "surprise" effect I enjoyed.  This garden is actually ringed with a double hedge- you can walk the paver path in the middle of the two hedges, and come to cleverly designed opening in the hedge, maintained by an arched trellis-very lovely.  An ancient Italian fountain is at the center, and it is ringed by statuary.

Admission is $8 and well worth it to support this lovely garden.  One more note: it is advised that visitors bring mosquito repellent.  We did not have much trouble with bugs, perhaps due to the weather, but were also sprayed up (soon I will be posting on effective herbal mosquito repellents, so stay tuned!)

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe: Like I Need a New Hobby UPDATE

A few years ago I asked readers what topics they would like me to address and several mentioned crafts from the garden.  You might know that I am a needle felter (see www.needlinaround.blogspot.com) and that I am studying botanical illustration at Lewis Ginter Botanical gardens (http://www.lewisginter.org/adult-education/adult-educationhappeningnow.php) .  Well these hobbies have crashed together with a class I am taking "Painting Plants that Paint" on dye plants.  We will sketch a dye plant, learn about them and make a solar dye from some of them.  I thought it would be fun to dye some needle-felting wool using solar dyeing and here are my first three attempt using plants from my garden, left to right in the photo above: red hibiscus, fig and woad.  Mother Earth News has an article from 1983 (!) on one method to do this:  http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/1983-03-01/An-Easy-Solar-Dye-It.aspx which I am trying, and I will also try a more traditional method.  Stay tuned for another Wednesday lagniappe for the results in two weeks!

Update:  Three more solar dyes:  Left to right:  Hopi Red Dye Amaranth, Muscadine grape skins and turmeric!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Planning for Fall

     I know, it's hot out and we are in the worst of the summer (though we are out of that really terrible heat wave for the moment).  However, August 1 to September 15 (maybe a little later on each end of that date range for central Virginia) is time to begin planning and planting the fall garden.  I used to think that, when summer was over, gardening was over for the season.  And that was the case for the most part when I lived in north-central Indiana.  But here in VA, we have an extended fall gardening season.  It is far more pleasant to be out in the garden in the fall than the dog days of summer!
     What can you plant now?  I planted some Swiss chard a few weeks ago and intend to make successive sowings for the next few months (later sowings may need to be grown under cover in the fall and winter).  The plants are coming up and doing well, though there is some damage from bugs (which you cannot see when the greens are cooked!).  I recently planted carrots, which can be tricky in the heat to get to germinate:  one rule, water water water. Fall turnip and mustard green crops (see above) can go in now too. Wait a few more weeks to sow kale and beets- beets especially need to be kept moist until they germinate (some people soak the seeds overnight, then cover the area with damp newspaper or old boards and check underneath daily for sprouting).  Broccoli and other cole crops can go in the ground soon as hardened seedlings (seeds might not work in the heat).  The only veggie that needs to wait until soils temps cool, around Labor day to mid-September, is lettuce.  Lettuce seed is very sensitive to soil temperature, so you need to wait for that cool down.
     Cooler days are coming and with them the "palette" of vegetables change, but what a pleasure to garden in the fall.
     Happy gardening!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesday Laginappe*: Pond Dweller

 ["One More Frog" published with permission of Scott Vrana at: http://500px.com/ScottVrana]

Water gardening is so much fun, and not only for the lovely water plants.  Here is a great photo of one of the singing denizens of our pond.  To see others along with lovely garden photos, go to: http://500px.com/ScottVrana
Happy Gardening!

(*Lagniappe:  "something extra", in Cajun).