The days (and weeks) are flying by so fast...my intention is always to write about something each day, but that's not how it is currently working out.
So a few odds and ends....on Monday Sue and I took a walk in the Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, and it was well worth it. We finally got to see some of the earliest flowering trees in bloom. Sue is blogging about it, along with some nice pictures - I will post a link once she gets to it. I suspect most people miss them, but the flowering nectarine and apricot trees are just stunning. The other star of the day was the various Hellebores.
As we walk around our neighborhood, it is clear that the flowering fruit trees everywhere are about to burst into bloom - perhaps due to the recent warm days. I just hope that a surprise frost doesn't come in and nip them, turning their blossoms brown...something that seems to happen quite often here.
I am pretty pleased with what I've germinated so far, in terms of percentage and health. I will provide a full update in a blog entry soon.
The 2011 Northern Hemisphere part of the Dwarf tomato project is underway - all seeds are now distributed and it is all about waiting for the many reports that will come in. I am just about to tackle the challenging task of finalizing my own grow list for the year, and hope to get my seasonal experiments planted tonight - tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Again - topics for future blog entries. And tomorrow I hope to start transplanting lettuce and greens.
I can honestly say that I've never quite experienced a season quite like this one....it is not one that I will look back on with fondness!
My checklist of issues are rampant Septoria disease, tomato fruit worms, tomato hornworms, ants, incessant heat and humidity, poor tomato fruit set due to blossom drop (leading to poor yields), fruit cracking due to uneven moisture supply, total failure with radishes (plenty of green, hardly any radishes to harvest!), tiny cucumber yield (plants went down to disease quickly) and rampant weeds (could there possibly be any potatoes under there?).
Now, for the good news of the season so far - no problems with deer, no drought, great flavors on those tomatoes that did set, outstanding yields of both sweet and hot peppers and eggplant, a good crop of blueberries, summer squash, garlic, beets and spring greens of all sorts.
But, since tomatoes are our favorite summer crop, and because I was so ambitious in numbers of plants (especially Dwarf project research), the puny, disappointing yield has hit pretty hard.
The prognosis for the rest of the season: a smattering of tomatoes (most of the pot grown dwarf varieties are looking quite bad, and I won't get much more from them), plenty of hot and sweet peppers and eggplant, a good crop of bush green beans from a later planting, plenty of basil for pesto, and whatever potatoes are managing to have developed amongst the choking weeds.
I am already getting an idea of some adjustments so that next year isn't a failure repeat. There are two major ones - an extensive bleaching of all of my tomato grow bags and pots (more concentrated bleach for a longer soak than I did this year), and a much earlier plant out. The stretch of 90-plus degree days in June, July and August hit at the wrong time for my plants, which I didn't get planted out until mid May or later.
If I can get my plants off to a healthy start and blossoming before the extreme heat and humidity set in, a better yield and healthier plants will hopefully result.
Today was a busy but good day in the garden. I got everything fertilized (the Miracle Gro blue stuff!), and all of the dwarf tomatoes tied up....quite a lot of sweaty work in the intense heat. But it is done, and I am satisfied that a task I don't particularly enjoy is complete (for a few weeks, anyway).
It was also a good day for eggplant - we picked a perfect New York Improved, the perfect Eggplant Parmesan variety. So, without further delay, here are some pictures....and then, a rather unusual recipe for MY version of (healthier) Eggplant Parmesan.
Below, top row, from left: Apple Green, Batu, Casper.
Next row- Casper, purple stem; Neon, New York Improved (which we ate tonight)
Next row - New York Improved purplish stem, Orient Express F2 with purple stem, Ripples
Next row - Rosita
Now for the recipe - this is Eggplant/Summer Squash Parmesan, the healthy way (a perfect use for those summer squash that you don't notice until they are huge!)
First, make a good rich tomato sauce - we had a bag of roasted sauce in the freezer which we used tonight.
Now, get the eggplant and squash ready:
Slice an overgrown summer squash into 1/4 inch slices - at least 3 inches in diameter.
Peel a large ripe eggplant and cut into 1/4 inch slices.
For one recipe, we used enough of each to fit onto a 9X12 inch cookie sheet - one for each.
Beat an egg with 1/4 cup milk - have some seasoned bread crumbs ready. Dip the squash and eggplant slices into the egg/milk, then coast with crumbs - place on a greased cookie sheet, spray with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 min, until crisp.
In a 9X12 inch brownie pan, cover the bottom with hot tomato sauce, then put the eggplant slices on top. Cover with 1/4 lb shredded Mozarella and some fresh grated Parmesan, then put the layer of the breaded squash slices. Cover with sauce, then 1/4 lb shredded mozarella and more grated parmesan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min, until bubbly and the cheese is melted - put under the broiler for 2 minutes to brown.
Serve over the pasta of your choice, sauced with the tomato sauce.
This also freezes very well.....and you save all of the calories of the typical deep frying of the eggplant! We added squash tonight just to see how it would turn out, and it was great! (plus a really good use for those two squash that got too big)