Monday, August 31, 2009

Rooftop Caponata

This caponata is an essential part of our food supply, especially now when tomatoes, eggplant, and olives are emerging in force on the roof farm.

(Just kidding about the olives, but I couldn't live without them.)

With a tough growing summer here in Chicago--cool and rainy with a few spurts of heat--our plants were mostly confused. The early greens kept on producing happily in their element. The tomatoes got a funk that drove down production to about half of last year.

And the cucurbits--melons, squash, and cukes--are rife with powdery mildew. Check out this photo of the Mystery Greek Squash whose seeds we were delighted to receive from our pal Erik at Homegrown Evolution. Erik says he had two of the best squash he's ever eaten before his succumbed.

It's good for gardeners to share the glory and the gloom.

Top view
(happy little mystery squash)

Bottom view
(making its way upward with alarming speed)

So back to the caponata, for which we used tomatoes of all types (in shorter supply but very sweet this year) and the pingtung and udumalepet eggplant. I'm sold on these smaller varieties. For weeks I've been slicing them in half and laying them into a little oil in a cast iron pan, covering and cooking over medium heat for barely 5 minutes. They soften beautifully, ready to be chopped and added to soba noodles or brown rice.

For the caponata, using smaller eggplants
eliminates the salting, draining, and squeezing the larger varieties require.

Cast your eye back up to the top photo: just dice the eggplant and brown them in a little oil for this recipe. Raisins, olives (we subbed kalamata), capers, and balsamic vinegar come together to create a flavor profile that works on top of crackers with a smear of goat cheese, as a flavoring for your favorite grain, or alongside meats.

Play with the sweet-sour balance if it doesn't seem right to you. But above all, try one of the small eggplants in your SIP next year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Potato Box Update

Back in May, I planted 3 pounds of Inca Gold seed potatoes in a 3' x 3' x 3' cedar box on a strip of land next to my garage.

As the seed potatoes sprouted and sent up vines, I added a new board to each side and covered almost all the new growth with fertilized potting mix. In a couple months the vines were all the way to the top. The idea, cribbed from an article in the Seattle Times, was that tubers would sprout along the entire length of each (covered) vine to fill up the entire box with up to 100 pounds (!) of new potatoes.

Ordinarily potatoes are planted in the ground and produce tubers at the ends of the roots. Here's what a potato plant looks like in normal growing conditions:


By continually covering the growing vine with soil, I'm turning the green vine into a very long tap root. Off of the entire length of that root, the plant will produce tubers.

If you're looking for instructions on growing potatoes in smaller containers, Love Apple Farm has a good tutorial.

This pic, taken August 14th, shows plenty of healthy vines climbing out of the box. A good sign.

They started setting up flowers around the 1st of August. Since these first blooms I haven't seen many more. That doesn't seem right.

Two weeks later, it's time to check for new potatoes, at least according to this link.

"You may begin to harvest your potatoes 2 to 3-weeks after the plants have finished flowering. At this time you will only find small "baby" potatoes if you were to dig up a plant. Potatoes can be harvested any time after this, by gently loosening the soil, reaching under the plant, and removing the largest tubers, leaving the smaller ones to continue growing. If you want late potatoes for storage, wait 2-3 weeks after the foliage dies back."

They said baby potatoes, nothing about peanuts.

After I took off the bottom board on one side, I stuck my hand in about 5" looking for potatoes. All I found was a peanut, probably left by a squirrel when there wasn't much dirt in the box.

I'm going to let them grow a little more and then pull the whole thing apart in mid September in search of my 100 pounds of potatoes.

Stay tuned.

[Update 10.6.09, Potato Harvest results]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Magic of Plants

As I showed in last post, my rooftop garden has been a so-so proposition this year. When mold, mildew, wilt and blight show up my interest in gardening drops.

I haven't read Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, but I found this lecture he gave in support of the book a bit of tonic for my bruised (garden) ego.

The complexity of plants--rice has up to 50,000 genes, humans have roughly 25,000--is another one of those things that I never paid much attention to. The connection between plant evolution and human culture, in particular how plants are intertwined with memory and consciousness, is fascinating.

Unhealthy tomato plants don't seem so important anymore.

And it might be time to read the book.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Rooftop Tour in One Take

Despite my clumsy narrative and shooting style--walking, filming, and talking is harder than it looks--I thought doing a video post was worthwhile. I planned on cutting out the mistakes, but my computer is too old to use the video editing software that Art's professional camera requires.

The major disappointment has been the tomatoes. I can't identify what kind of blight they have, or even if it's blight; to be honest, I don't have the heart to find out.

I'm still amazed that I can grow this stuff in Rubbermaid tubs on my garage roof.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Enough for Supper: Aug 4

Growing food brings worries and joys. There's no getting around the funk on the tomato leaves, though they continue to produce nearly as much fruit as we can eat every day, with a bit left over to share.

On this morning's watering visit to the roof I noticed a nearly grown Armenian cucumber, from Bruce's leftover last-year seeds.

Seeds of Change tells me it's a close relative of the honeydew melon. No wonder I like it. I plucked it for eating raw and cold at 4 pm, when veggies kill my urge to eat. It's a nifty snack, with few seeds, edible skin and a crisp interior.

The eggplant Pingtung Long and Santa Fe Grande peppers will go into tonight's stir-fry, as will the very first of the Red Swan beans--and please click on the picture above to see these beauties all dressed up in their early blush wardrobe.

A little early to be picking many of these, but I'm hungry for them now. Plenty more coming in the weeks ahead.