Monday, January 17, 2011

Jalapeno problems

Given the situation with the weather this summer its probably not worth getting the least bit upset when things fail to grow properly. The most obvious victim seems to be my Jalapeno peppers. The first crop I planted some time in early December went as far as to die back to ground level completely with the exception of a few plants. After that sobering experience I decided to rear a second batch in pots until they were strong and established before putting them in the ground. They did well in pots, developed healthy strong roots and had vivid deep green leaves. Then I moved them into the garden bed and the problems got started again. As you can see the lower leaves start to yellow and brown at the edges. Then they drop and it appears that i'm pruning them to look like standard roses, which I probably wouldn't do.
Information on the issue is lacking on google but i'm starting to think its because this issue is more broadly applicable to plants rather than some rare Jalapeno disease. I toyed with the idea that it could be some kind of soil borne fungal disease like Verticillium. But in the end the most likely cause would appear to be overwatering. Thats right, the first year in a decade that we've had any decent rain and it turns out to be the worst year anyone could have imagined for growing anything except grass and weeds. Still, you've got to laugh.

There are a few faint glimmers of hope. Probably enough for one pizza.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jam Jam Jam

Any jam making day needs to get off to a good start with croissants and a pretentiously small strong coffee. Also if it happens to be your first jam making day ever in your life, then its advisable to invite your experienced jam-making mum to help with the endeavor and also to drag you out of bed at 11am if required.

At a whopping 2.763 kilos, here is the majority of this years apricot crop. Apparently its advisable to have slightly under-ripe fruit for jam but when your tree only produces a small crop and ripens each individual fruit as it damn well pleases this is difficult to achieve. Only a temporary problem.

And here they are stored in a disturbingly regimented and anal fashion awaiting their sugary fate. I kept them for two days in the fridge in air tight zip-lock bags to stifle their ripening.

The night before the jam making I quartered 1.5kg of the apricots taking extra care to remove the little hard bit up the top where the fruit connects to the tree.

The fruit spends the night steeped in sugar. Technically to steep means to soak a dry thing in a wet thing for a period of time and here its a wet thing soaking in a dry thing, but failing the existence of a better word to steep it did.

We were well prepared to deal deal with the simplest recipe in terms of ingredients with the exception of two minute noodles. Jam is all about technique and process though and it would be easy to stuff it up without the right advice.

Here is the jam making process as it goes through it's various frothings and convulsions. It starts out looking a bit like stewed apricots followed by a swelling foaming mess and then finally it calms down to a bubbling scalding lava-like state. As the lava stakes shape the jam is continuously tested on a chilled plate standing in the fridge for a couple of minutes to test its consistency.

At the end of the heating process a small amount of remaining froth needs to be skimmed off and you get to notice that even after all its writhing and bubbling the quarter sized chunks of apricot have held their own and will be entombed whole in the finial product. I thought they'd melt down, i was wrong.

Jam jar filling is messy business, the jars have been pre-heated to avoid inadvertent voilent explosions.

The deed is done, the jam is finished. It's a seriously thick consistency which I attribute to apricot's naturally high pectin content and also to my naive insistence to cook the jam till it almost solidified in the saucepan. The flavor is superb, it starts out intensely sweet which gives way to burst of tartness and then you wake up on the floor several hours later. All due credit and thanks goes to my wonderful mum for passing down her jam making skills.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ripening Apricots and Mariposa Plums

Most of the apricots are only a few days off being ripe now. They were still a bit firm when I took these shots this morning but they certainly look ready to eat. I'm thinking about some sort of apricot tart and also stewing a few based on the success of the stewed plums. The tree is 3 years old now, the first year there were three fruits, the second year ten and this year about forty.

The mariposa plums are a few weeks behind the Pizazz and this is the first time (year 2) that the mariposa has fruited. They are developing a nice red blush which will intensify over the next few weeks. Next year the plum trees are going to get some serious cherry slug treatment so they don't look so flea-bitten.

Plums for peaceful purposes

Many years ago, plums were nothing more than seasonal munitions for an arms race of increasingly more powerful and dangerous slingshots, those were the days. I could never have imagined finding another, better use for them but it appears that time has come. Also, plums of this size would require a PVC pipe gun and it seems i've found another, more mature use for PVC as well... plumbing.

Skinning these guys is a real effort. They don't go easy like tomatoes! In the end I had a good system going though. With a big pot of water boiling on the stove, I dropped the plums in (halved and left them to it for about thirty seconds. Then straight into a bowl of chilled water and ice cubes. Its much the same as with tomatoes but more aggressive and with a big stone in the middle that i'm going to use needle nose pliers on next time.

This was the second harvest to be stewed and came in skinned at just over a kilo. Even though they are a yellow fleshed plum there is a layer of red just under the skin that stains everything it touches.

The recipe I used called for a 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 a cup of water to 0.9kg of plums. It also mentioned something about a cinnamon stick which I chose to ignore. The water can also be ignored as I discovered. Your plums would have to be bone dry to need extra water and i found myself draining off 80% of the liquid to get everything to thicken. The plums only need about ten minutes to become soft on the brink of mushy.

This is what its all about. Stewed plums still hot from the stove with vanilla ice cream. What could be better? Bombarding surrounding houses and spreading rubber band accelerated high velocity plum violence thoughout the community? Maybe there could be room for both.

Phase One Cornholio

The first crop of corn looks good from this angle but is a cause for some concern. With the relentless wet weather and being sewn quite early i'm not sure how they're going to go. Their heights vary wildly and some have started pollinating long before showing any ear hair to receive said pollen. Luckily this is a small planting compared to Phase Two.

I always plant beans under the corn to take advantage of their nitrogen fixing properties. We've been eating plenty of beans and I consider them the easiest thing you can grow hands down.

The pumpkins are also hard at work creating a 'living mulch'. Not sure if these little guys will grow up though, a few have shriveled up and dropped off in response to what I assume is a lack of pollination