Pickling cucumbers

Most pickle recipes call for a large number of small pickling cucumbers, which contain less water that slicing (English) cucumbers.  If you have an excess of slicing cucumbers, though, they’re suitable for pickle recipes in which the cucumbers are sliced rather than left whole.  I’ve prepared the following recipe using a mixture of pickling cucumbers that grew too big, and Straight Eight or Marketmore cumbers, and they’re always a hit.

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Dill sandwich slices

  • 3 tbsp. pickling spice, placed in a piece of cheesecloth and tied off to make a bag
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup coarse salt
  • 5 large bay leaves, or 10 small
  • 5 cloves garlic, or 10 small
  • 2 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 5 heads (flowers) fresh dill
  • 13 cups cucumbers

Trim the ends off the cucumbers, as well as the peel on two opposite sides.  Cut them into 1/4 inch thick slices, so that each slice has peel on its thin, long sides.  If the cucumbers are quite long, you may need to cut them again lengthwise so they’ll fit in your jars (and on a sandwich).  Place in bowl of cold water to keep them crisp.

Prepare 5 canning jars and lids according to the instructions for your specific canning system.

In a large saucepan, mix vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spice bag.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Boil gently for 15 minutes.

In the bottom of each hot jar, place 1 large or 2 small bay leaves, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 head of dill.  Pack cucumber slices in jars to within 1/2 inch of top.  Ladle hot pickle juice into jars.  Use a table knife or similar implement to remove air bubbles; add more liquid if needed to reach 1/2 inch of top.  Clean rim, centre lid on jar, and screw band on to fingertip tight.

Place the jars in the canner and process, covered, in boiling water for 15 minutes, then uncover the pot and let the jars sit in the water for another 5 minutes.  Remove jars to cool on the countertop.  After you have verified that they’ve sealed (listen for the pop!), store them in a cool, dark location.  Let the pickles sit for a few weeks before you try the, so the flavour has time to develop.

Harvesting and storing garlic

When the tops of your garlic plants begin to die back, it’s time to think about harvest!  Stop watering your plants so that they will get a chance to dry out (Mother Nature may make this difficult).  When about half of the leaves have died, your garlic should be ready.  If you want to be certain before you dig it all up, you can carefully feel around in the ground to get a sense of how developed the bulbs are, or dig a couple up to inspect them and ensure that the cloves have filled out.

Use a spade or fork–inserted well away from the garlic–the loosen the soil so that you can remove plants without damaging them.  Gently brush off the dirt that clings to the plants, but don’t wash them or remove their leaves or roots.  Hang the plants in bunches of 6 or so in a dark, dry location with good air circulation.  Leave it there for at least a month, until the leaves, roots, and husks have dried.  At that point you can cut off the roots and leaves (leave the latter on if you plan to braid them).

Store garlic in a dark, cool area.  I keep mine in a basket, but you can use a mesh bag, or continue to hang it.

Softneck types of garlic can be stored for 6-8 months; hardneck varieties may begin to sprout within half of the time.  Check your stores every now and then to ensure that your garlic is not sprouting or drying out.  Remember to save some garlic for planting in the fall.

Garlic scapes

Although we have to wait until fall to harvest garlic bulbs, in spring, garlic plants produce another delight that we can use–scapes.  These tender, mild-flavoured loops emerge from the central, tough stalk of hardneck varieties of garlic.  When you remove them, the plants direct their energy into the bulbs rather than into producing bulbils from the end of the scapes.  Bulbils can be planted to grow new garlic, but this process takes a few years.

When to pick them?

Pick scapes before they circle onto their second loop.  If left too long, they become tough and wooden.  You can cut them or snap them off where they break naturally.

How to use them

  • Chop them and add them to salads.
  • Sauté them and add them to stir-fries, or any dish that calls for garlic.
  • Toss them with oil, salt, and pepper, and grill them.
  • Pickle them.
  • Make scape pesto.
  • Add them to soup.
  • Be creative!

 

Growing vegetables in hot, dry conditions

Following are some tips on how to encourage a productive garden during a hot, dry summer:

  • Choose varieties that mature quickly and produce smaller fruit.
  • Lay your garden out so that plants that need similar amounts of water are grouped together.  Raised beds retain more water than open beds.
  • Plant in groupings or hexagonal offset patterns rather than rows so that the leaves can provide shade.  Space plants 1.5 to 2 times further apart than usually recommended to provide plants with access to a larger area from which to draw moisture.
  • Sow tall plants, such as corn and tomatoes, on the south side of heat-intolerant plants such as leafy greens, to provide them with shade and lower the temperature.
  • Add large amounts of organic compost to the soil; this helps trap moisture and encourages deep roots.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch to the soil to prevent moisture loss and keep the soil cooler.  This will also help prevent the growth of weeds, which compete with your plants for water.  You can use natural materials such as grass clippings, straw, dried leaves, pine needles, or shredded bark.
  • Water plants heavily when they are very young, and producing blossoms or fruit.  During other times, they can do with less water. Use drip hoses, which direct water into the soil, rather than spraying the plants from overhead where it is wasted on the leaves.  Water in late evening and early morning.
  • You can place shade cloth over the south sides of eggplant, pepper, and tomato plants.  This will reduce the temperature by 5-15 degrees and may prevent sunscald.  Plants like peppers and eggplants may produce less during a drought, but they will still produce.

Avoid planting these vegetables

Vegetables like peas, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc.), and leafy greens like cold weather, so they won’t do well in the heat of summer.  You can try planting them in the early spring or late fall, when the heat is less extreme.

Do try these drought-tolerant vegetables

  • Amaranth
  • Artichokes – Jerusalem and globe
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Chickpeas (I made the mistake of overwatering these and they started to germinate in the shell!)
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cowpeas
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Melons
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Oregano
  • Peppers
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Squash
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon, especially the sugar baby variety