Garden Update: Cucumbers and Taking A Risk

We’ve had some weird weather up here in Maine lately. The saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is normally pretty true, but it’s been really interesting this spring. We had a couple weeks of super dry weather that was near freeze at night but warm in the day, followed by a week of drenching rain and general wet, overcast and gross conditions, followed by scorching hot weather over the last couple days.

While most of the garden is tolerating this pretty well, our cucumbers are not happy.

Cucumbers_053113 (1) Cucumbers_053113 (5)

We admittedly took a risk by planting cukes early this year. Our frost date is May 31st and we planted May 18th. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t. This year we haven’t been so lucky but all is not lost, since some of the plants aren’t completely destroyed yet.

I spent about an hour on the internet trying to figure out what on earth was wrong with my plants but couldn’t pinpoint something that exactly matched. It was only then I looked at the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmer and Gardeners Association) May 29th Pest Report, and what did I see as the very first item but “Cucumber Problems“.

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Apparently the weather has caused widespread damping off and susceptibility to disease which seems to be what is our issue too. I was really confused when I was trying to research our issue initially because some of our plants were spotted, while others were missing spots like the spots had merged together, dried and fallen out (no signs of insect damage, no web like items or mildew on back of leaves), and other plants were completely wilted and dead. It made no sense.  I even pulled up one of each to check the roots and stem. I then dissected the stem for signs of insect infestation or disease, but they all looked good. After I read the report I realized all of the smallest seedlings wilted and the bigger seedlings had survived (so far), albeit in rough condition.

Cucumbers_053113 (4)What I read in the pest report definitely made sense, but I’d still like to know what is causing the missing leaf parts and spots in the photos above (I assume it’s the same thing, just at different levels). The “true” leaves (in the center) all look good, but I have a feeling if the issue is bacterial or fungal the disease will pass onto the primary plant. I’d love to know whether I need to be ripping out the plant entirely and amending my soil, just treating the plant with something organic, or leave it alone. We’ll wait a couple more weeks and go buy a six pack of seedlings, which will be bigger and heartier, to replant and we’ll see what happens in that time. I might even email MOFGA to get their perspective.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but at the end of it all we’ll still win. Whether we have cucumbers or not we’ll definitely learn some things, and we’ll have other veggies to make us happy. Growing your own food is definitely a learning curve and there’s always something to keep you on your toes. We had a few years of beautiful cucumber production, followed by insect decimation last year, and now this. I am bound and determined to get some cucumbers to grow in this garden again, but if it’s not this year, that’s okay.

And so it goes…






Coming Up….

It’s been a busy week but here’s a peek at some of the things coming up when I get a minute to sit down, edit photos, and compose my thoughts.

  • Renovation Update – laying flooring and installing stairparts
  • Simple vs. Commercial – a natural deodorant test
  • Garden Update – agrabon, rain, hoops, and cucumbers
  • Redoing the deck – wood maintenance



Easy Homemade Ravioli Fillings

We’re big fans of homemade pasta around here. It may sound fancy, but I promise it’s not. In fact, it takes about as long to make and boil homemade pasta, as it does to boil water and cook regular pasta and oh man, does it taste a lot better. So while we don’t make homemade pasta every time we eat it, we do love it.

When we do make homemade pasta it’s typically linguini, fettuccine, spaghetti or angel hair. For a long time I had been wanting to make ravioli’s but I was nervous I would screw them up. I had no idea how to make a filling for them which would taste good. So many options and so many ways to get it wrong.

Well, let me tell you something—like most things in life I was way over thinking it.

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Pst: As with all of my recipes, my measurements are guidelines more than absolutes. I am more of a “pantry cook” and that’s how I put things together. Measurements for the fillings below are mostly educated estimates which should result in the same flavor/texture.

Spinach, Feta, Toasted Pine Nut Filling

  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • 1 cup (or to taste) good feta
  • 1/4 cup pinenuts
  • 1 pad good butter or 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Toast pine nuts in a dry pan. Do not add oil. Once toasted pour into the bowl of your food processor.
  2. DSC_4726-01
  3. Add butter or olive oil to the pan and add spinach. Wilt the spinach. Once done, add to the same food processor bowl. DSC_4729-01
  4. Add feta into food processor bowl and pulse until fairly smooth. DSC_4736-01
  5. Done! Put in a glass bowl and set aside while you make your pasta dough.

Maple Bacon, Kale & Goat Cheese Ravioli Filling

  • 4 slices thick maple bacon
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 4 heaping tablespoons goat cheese
    1. Cook the maple bacon until crisp and remove onto a plate with towels. Pour the rendered bacon fat into a glass jar to cool if you want to use for later, or add to compost. Just don’t pour hot fat down your sink. It will cool, solidify, and clog your pipes. DSC_4739-01 DSC_4743-01
    2. Laugh as your dog gives the bacon the side eye while pretending she’s not looking. DSC_4749-01
    3. Add either a little butter, olive oil, or bacon fat to the pan and add your kale. Wilt the kale. Add the kale to the bowl of your food processor. Toss the bacon in now too.
    4. DSC_4748-01Add goat cheese to food processor bowl and pulse everything together. Place in a glass bowl to cool while you prepare your pasta dough.

While this post is all about ravioli fillings, here’s some quick info on what I used for pasta dough, how I did my ravioli and a simple red sauce I made to go on top.

Pasta Dough

For my pasta dough I simply altered my regular recipe to be half semolina  and half all-purpose flour. The semolina is a high gluten flour and uses some more upper body strength to roll out smooth but it works very well. It holds up super nice with ravioli. I tried both a mix and a regular all-purpose and I definitely recommend going with the mix.

Ravioli Process

There are a lot of ways to make ravioli. This time around I used my ravioli press for my mixer, once I rolled it into sheets. Pros: it made a ton of ravioli at once. Cons: I had some inconsistent filling because I wasn’t doing it by hand. I think by stretching the dough over a hand press and filling them individually you might get more uniform ravioli, but it will take longer. It’s a trade off. I have a hand press I will be using next time, and my friend recommended using a glass to cut them out too which I will also try. It’s all about testing different methods and seeing what works best for you.

Pasta Sauce

The pasta sauce I made was really really easy and simple. I wanted something that let the ravioli fillings do the talking.

  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • teaspoon basil
  • teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • Small handful raisins (about 1/8 cup if that)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes

Saute your onion and garlic. Throw everything else in and stir. Using an immersion blender to smooth it all out. Reduce over low heat until to your desired thickness. We don’t like watery pasta sauces at all, so we make ours fairly thick.

Once you have everything done, throw it all together and munch on down!

DSC_4774-01I promise making ravioli, and homemade pasta in general, is a lot easier than it seems. Though sometimes when you get a little zealous with your flour your phone takes the hit.

DSC_4760-01I said it was easy, I never said anything about me not being a messy cook.



Getting The Garden Going

Hey, friends! It’s one of my favorite days every year when we get to plant the garden. I mean honestly, let’s face it – I love planning the garden, I like prepping the garden despite my fights with Troy, I like planting the garden, I like harvesting the garden—you get the idea. This time of year while we have been harvesting some early items like onions, chives, asparagus, and jerusalem artichokes, we’ve also been watching the fruit trees bloom and some of our seeds start to germinate.

The pear tree has started showing signs of life, though we’re still waiting to get fruit. I believe we planted this about three years ago but only planted a second pear tree last year. Here’s to hoping this is the year we get some little pears off of it, though we may have to wait another year or two.

DSC_4628-01In the garden, the tiny little buds of beets are finally coming up and just breaking through the surface of the soil.

DSC_4659-01DSC_4657-01 DSC_4660-01The potatoes have gone from being planted in the ground, to starting to show their lush deep green foliage.

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DSC_4650-01We also added some infrastructure to the garden this year to help with pests, and to maximize our space. First we put up the hoops we built (and a few more we bent recently), and covered them with Agribon. Underneath of these are our greens we direct sowed. We covered them because we didn’t want the seeds to wash away when it rained. We have since moved the center one over our cucumbers we planted. We’re doing a test where we planted the same cucumbers open, and some under the Agribon so we can see how much of a difference it makes when it comes to cucumber beetle damage.

DSC_4633-01To help save space we also built a vertical grower. The more I read about vertically growing cucumbers/squash the more I decided I really wanted to give it a try. Using some 1/2″ galvanized pipe, I came up with a basic design and screwed everything together. This admittedly is hand tight and isn’t the best way I could have put it together but it works. Once our plants are established and need training, we’ll be stringing twine from the center post and staking it down to each plant to encourage them to grow vertically.

DSC_4609-01Finally, we’ve always used wood posts to stake up our beans and tomatoes. This year however I decided to invest in t-posts. They’re really affordable at Tractor Supply (and I’m sure plenty of other places). I like them because they have hooks right on them to stringing multiple rows of twine very easy. We’ll likely be getting some more for our tomatoes. We prefer not to cage our tomatoes for easier harvest, but I really like the idea of having a t-post I can use year after year that has hooks which will make it easier to tie the plants up. We may stick with wood for the tomatoes though, as it’s pretty easy to tie them to the post.

DSC_4632-01At the time I took these photos (about a week ago) the beans hadn’t quite popped through the surface, but I can tell you that right now there are a TON of them that have surfaced. We are going to be in serious bean mode if all of these germinate and produce! The end of these two rows (closest in the photos) are a new french bean we’re trying to grow. My plan for those is to actually let them dry right on the stalks and then thresh them later on to get dried beans from. We’ll see if the weather cooperates (I don’t want them rotting). If not, we’ll eat them or blanch and freeze them.

All in all, this years garden is all about experimenting. Trying new infrastructure, diversifying our drops to help with disease and pest management, and trying to maximize our space. Our garden last year was nice but we didn’t get anything to preserve, so the goal this year among everything else is to attempt to get plenty of produce to “put up” for the winter.

We’ve already vacuum sealed and froze some green onion tops, so we’re already ahead of the game!




First Asparagus Harvest

Hey friends! I’m so excited to tell you we had our first asparagus harvest at the end of last week. This was not only our first harvest from our patch, but the first harvest of the entire season. It was tiny at a full four stalks, but I can say there is a lot more growing.

Asparagus May (1)We started our small patch last year, and I always believed you had to wait at least two years before harvesting. Then, I started discussing it with my brother-in-law and researching it more. Multiple reputable sources were saying it’s actually okay and encouraged to harvest the first year. The belief is it may cause a denser harvest in future years. Whether this is true or not I do not know, but I was more than happy to test the theory and snap a few stalks off.

Asparagus May (5)If you’ve never had raw asparagus straight from the ground I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance. I don’t mind asparagus from the store, but in comparison to the garden the taste just cannot be beat. Stalks from the store tend to be larger and need to be sauteed or steamed down to be tender enough. Straight from the garden, when picked young enough, asparagus are simply delightfully raw and taste similar to a fresh bean or pea.

Asparagus May (3)Here’s to hoping all the rest of the tiny little stalks will grow up at a similar time so we can have more than a few at a time. If we only get a few at a time though I’ll still be happy as a clam in a mud flat.

I love all things garden, harvest and more. It totally is worth all of the work that goes into planting, tending and weeding on sweltering summer days. Here’s to more garden updates as the season gets underway and many more nights of getting excited as I see little shoots of different plants coming up. No matter how long you’ve done this the feeling of watching a tiny seed slowly transform into your food never, ever, gets old.