Summer Happenings 2012

We are well into summer which means it’s extremely HOT here in Arizona! Since we have such warm summers, not much can flourish in the garden. Right now we have our shade tent covering our tomatoes and tomatillos. This shade really helps our crops last longer through the summer heat. We have had good tomato and tomatillo production and have been cooking with them all summer long. Here are some of our favorite recipes:

  • Tomatillo Salsa. I often add a few roasted green chilies to the recipe.
  • Margherita Pizza. There is nothing like fresh picked tomatoes and basil on a pizza!
  • Tomato Cream Sauce. We substitute fresh tomatoes for the canned. The sauce turns out best if you peel the skins off the tomatoes. The skin can be easily removed by blanching them in boiling water until the skins start to tear (about 1 minute). Then simply peel off the skin and add to your recipe.

We harvested sweet corn about 1 month ago and our blue corn is currently drying. Once the blue corn is dry, we will harvest and store the kernels for cornmeal. We also planted several varieties of beans in the spring, but they have not produced very well due to the excessive heat. The cucumbers and zucchini did not do very well this year either. In both cases, the plants died off without producing many vegetables. We have never had much luck with cucumbers, but we have had great yields of zucchini in the past. We believe it was either bad seed or they picked up a disease. This is the risk that comes with growing your own food!

In mid June, we planted sweet potato slips purchased from Burpee. These have all done very well and are growing rapidly! We should have a large harvest in October. We also harvested the Yukon Gold and baking potatoes that we planted back in February. We experienced success with both varieties and methods of potato planting.

The trees in our orchard have produced an abundance of fruit this summer. The Florida Prince Peaches and Katy Apricots were ready to harvest first. In fact, we knew they were ready because the birds told us so! They couldn’t stop eating them! We purchased some wildlife netting from Lowe’s (it comes in a 7′ x 100′ roll) and wrapped the trees to protect the fruit. The netting was secured with common wire twist ties. Had we not taken this precaution, the birds would have certainly devoured all of the fruit. We had so many peaches we could not eat them all and froze most of them. To freeze the peaches we peeled them, cut slices off the pit, then placed the slices in freezer bags. Some websites recommended making a sugar syrup to place in the bags of slices to help preserve for freezing. We did not do this since they produced so much juice when they were being sliced. Our other peach trees, which we thought were yellow Desert Gold variety, are just starting to ripen. As it turns out, these peach trees are actually a white variety. This shows you that when it comes to buying plants and trees you don’t always get what is labeled at the store. Luckily, they are still delightful, and we are enjoying them!

Next, the figs and apples were ready to harvest. Freshly picked figs cannot stand at room temperature for long or they will spoil, so we either freeze them right away or turn them into jam. Fig jam has a very unique flavor, and it’s a great way to enjoy figs all year long. Apples have to be processed shortly after harvesting as well. We love making applesauce and apple butter. We make these in large batches and freeze the excess. We also freeze apple slices in freezer bags with a little sugar. They hold up very well and can be pulled out later to make cakes, pies, and crisps. As you might imagine, our freezers are absolutely packed this time of year! Here are some of our favorite fig and apple recipes:

  • Fig Jam. I get the urge to double this recipe, but I have heard that’s a no-no when it comes to jam. So I follow it exactly.
  • Fresh Fig Ice Cream. This ice cream is so refreshing during summer and a great way to use fresh figs!
  • Applesauce. I double the amount of apples called for and use this handy tool to peel, core and slice the apples.  This is the exact same one I have and it works great!
  • Apple Butter. I cut the sugar in half to 2 cups and it still turns out plenty sweet. When it’s done cooking I use a hand blender to puree it and it turns out very smooth.
  • French Apple Cake. This is a yummy, light, and easy cake. I usually add a touch of cinnamon to this recipe and use extra vanilla instead of rum.

We have also been harvesting grapes from our vines. We had a large harvest this year, but have been battling Grape Leaf Skeletonizers (GLS) since the beginning of summer.

Here are some resources on these little pests:

We have done several things to try to control them, including manually killing them (SQUISH!), using insecticidal soap, and spraying Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). BT is an organic pecticide that is specifically used to destroy caterpillars. It is supposed to be highly effective against GLS, but after several applications, we had zero luck with it actually working. To this day, we diligently kill them by hand in hopes that our grapevines survive.

Happy Summer Everyone!