Ample Bites Farm Update #3

Despite an extended drought and a string of high temperatures in the 90s the Ample Bites vegetable garden is in full bloom. The green beans have recovered from an early season infestation of some type of bug, probably an aphid of some sort. The garden has already yielded several meals worth of lettuce and spinach and a few zucchini – with many more to come soon.

The tomato plants look like they will produce a bounty of beautiful and delicious fruit.

Less than a month from juicy tomatoes

The mustard greens are the most recent harvest.

These beautiful, healthy greens were prepared using the following recipe:

Mustard Greens with Chipotle and Bacon

Serves 10

2 ¾ lb curly mustard greens (2-3 bunches), stems and coarse ribs discarded
4 bacon slices, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
3 Tbsp EVOO
1 tsp minced canned chipotles in adobo
½ tsp salt

Coarsely chop greens, then cook in 2 batches in a 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water uncovered, stirring occasionally, until wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of cold water to stop cooking process. Drain greens in a colander, pressing gently to release excess moisture.

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until crisp, 4-5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, reserving fat in skillet. Add oil, chipotle, greens and salt to fat and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with bacon.

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Ample Bites Farm Update #2

Despite a paucity of rain the Ample Bites Vegetable Farm is coming along nicely. In fact, we have already harvested some of the lettuce, spinach and radishes and used them in a salad.

The tomatillo plants that Sandy was given by a co-worker, and nurtured by our neighbor while we were away, did not survive. The beans are under siege by some sort of bug and a couple of the potato plants seem not to be emerging. Otherwise, all of the plants are doing very well thanks to some watering by friends and family and Sandy’s persistent weeding.

The farm really looks cool with the emerging plants and the hay that we have placed around them to help subdue the omnipresent and aggressive weeds, which seem to grow as quickly as any vegetable with or without water.

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Ample Bites Farm Update

Phase two of the planting of the Ample Bites vegetable farm is nearly complete.

Plot ready for planting of tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and squash

The month-old plantings of onions, beets, lettuce, carrots and beans are coming along nicely. The potato plants have been in for a couple of days. Today we planted the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. Seeing the plants in place is a joy and makes me think about the tastes of summer.

In order to plant every thing we need to re-till the soil by hand and shovel and pull out the weeds that have grown in the month since the plot was roto-tilled. After the plants were in the ground the areas between them was covered with a layer of newspaper and a topping of straw. The final step was watering the plants, and the newspaper and straw to keep it from blowing away in the strong winds.

Now we have our fingers crossed for a nice soaking rain that is predicted for the overnight hours. Rain water seems to bring nutrients that we just can’t get from the well-water available to us at the garden plot.

Now it time for Ample Bites to hit the shower to rinse the sunscreen and dirt and soothe some tired old muscles.

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The 2012 Ample Bites Vegetable Farm

The Ample Bites vegetablefarm” is ready for planting.

After seeing Thomas Keller’s garden plot directly across the street from The French Laundry in Yountville, California, his iconic Napa Valley restaurant, Sandy and I were impressed by the value of having an abundance of high-quality fresh produce ready to go from the ground to the kitchen and onto the table the same day.

Sandy has had a garden – or as she has called it a “farm” – for years. Initially her “farm” was next to our home. After a home addition made it difficult to find a place in the yard with enough space and suitable sunlight, the “farm” is now located in the communal garden plots that are operated by the St. Charles Park District. The basic plot of about 20 feet x 20 feet is rented for $25.00 from about the 1st week in April until October 31st. The James O. Breen Community Park, where the Ample Bites plot is located, is divided into a total of 233 plots. Many of the gardeners rent more than one plot and a handful of the regulars have had the same plots for more than a decade.

The Park District does an initial pass with a roto-tiller in late March or early April, which is enough to churn under the weeds that have grown up during the late fall and early spring. We have found that a couple hours of roto-tilling is necessary to get the soil ready for planting. Once the soil is tilled and weed barrier is in place, all we need is some warmer weather to start some of the heartier items like onions, potatoes, spinach, lettuce, peas, and beans.

The vegetable garden will, as always, be organic. No herbicides or pesticides will be used. Weed control is done initially by the weed barrier and then later by hand-pulling and mulching the weeds and grasses.

Next month the summer vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, Anaheim peppers will be planted once we are fairly certain we will not have any more frost. Frost can occur in the Chicago area as late as mid-May.

The initial photos of the “farm” are far from exciting. Once we have vegetables sprouting, blooming and producing fruit, you will see much more compelling images and, of course, dishes being prepared using the bounty of the “farm“.

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