Taking a cue from Barry, a friend from whom I have stolen several good gardening ideas, I bought this $20 metal side table from Ikea over the summer with the purpose of using it to display some of my 16 agave plants (or is it 17? Someone make me stop.). For months I scoured the thrift stores for something used, hoping to find a table that would match Barry’s, a quality, heavy metal base with what may be a granite top. Luck was not on my side so I gave up and opted for Ikea.
I chose metal because it is lightweight and can hold up to the weather outdoors. Unfortunately, I can no longer find the product on the Ikea website — they may have discontinued it. However, if you are interested in something similar, I also purchased this metal, white side table with the intention of painting it a bright (yet undetermined) colour.
Besides weeds and a stronghold of goldenrod, Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) aka sunchoke was one of the few plants that we inherited when we moved into this place. At the time only dead stalks remained and I wasn’t quite sure what member of the Sunflower Family they were.
In the spring I pulled a few rogue stems up and the tell-tale tubers came out of the soil with them. My first thought was, “Yay, a surprise food!” and my second was, “Oh shit.”
For those that are unfamiliar, a bit of background. Jerusalem artichokes are a Sunflower Family plant that grow edible tubers that taste sort of like artichokes, hence their name. The tubers are often used as a “healthier” substitute for potatoes as they have a lower glycemic index. For this reason you will often see them for sale in health food stores, and if you are looking to grow the plant I would suggest going there first as a local tuber source rather than buying online. These plants are so easy to grow. If you have trouble growing potatoes, you will not have a problem with Jerusalem artichoke. They grow themselves.
This cluster of hanging baskets photographed in the Tropical High Elevation House at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens harbours a secret. It took three trips to the room before we spotted them.
The reality of leaving the garden during the growing season is that you will come home to some small or large disaster. You roll with the punches, accept the losses, or you never leave home. I love my garden, but since travel is a part of my job (and one that I enjoy), I have had to do some adept rolling as well as learn a bit of acceptance along the way. I also try to plan my trips for cooler parts of the season when my constant attention is unneccessary.
I have just returned from a trip to Georgia to an aphid infestation of epic proportions on two of my Spigarello plants. Of course, they are my favourite two. The prettiest two. The two I am allowing to bolt so I can harvest seed. Were this a Sophie’s Choice situation I would say without hesitation, “Take the ones at the back of the garden. Heck, take ALL OF the kale if you must. We’re pretty much sick of it anyways.”
But no. Alas, we gardeners do not get to choose which plants the pests will descend upon. And often times they want the very plants we want to keep most. That is how it goes. I have loads of nasturtiums in my garden right now (a known aphid attractant), and amazingly enough they are completely unscathed. Nary an aphid in sight.
The concept is so simple I wish I had thought of it: take the throw-away tomato skins that are left-over in the preserving process and make them into something useful. Something other than compost.
With over 80 lbs of tomatoes (and counting) harvested from my garden this year, it is safe to say that I have been knee deep in canning these last weeks. While I am experienced and adept at canning tomatoes in many forms, I had never heard of drying the skins into a powder until I came upon it a few weeks back in Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff.
Drying the skins is easy. Simply lay the wet skins out onto a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet and slow dry in the oven at the lowest temperature setting until they are crisp. I recently ran out of parchment (and my Silpat is too big for our tiny oven. Long story) and used a paper bag cut open. That works in a pinch, too. You can do this in a dehydrator as well, but I put mine away recently and have been too lazy to lug it back out to test.
Once the skins are dry, grind them into a fine powder using a coffee grinder. I have one exactly like this that is reserved for grinding herbs and spices only. A food processor will work, but it will turn out something more like tomato flakes than powder.
The result is a colourful and tangy flavouring that you can sprinkle on top of your meals. So far I’ve used it on breakfast eggs and in ricotta cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms. I’m sure I’ll discover more applications in the coming weeks as the possibilities seem nearly endless.