Last week, we highlighted a spring peeper in summer! Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) have a distinct “x” on their backs and are a light tan color. In the spring, you hear their high pitched calls more often than you see them. Did you know that their vocal sac is almost the same size as their body? No wonder they can make such a loud sound!
Everything tastes better when it is cooked over a campfire. It is a truth universally acknowledged. That’s why Dinty Moore Beef Stew tastes like nectar after a long hike. That’s why those extra crispy bits of charred marshmallow are savory and delectable, the stuff of summer memories. There is more to cooking over a campfire than s’mores, but they are the beginning. There is panoply of meals that can be prepared over an open flame – it is your decision whether to take them on the camping trail, or stay in your own back yard.
Preparing your own food as a child is thrilling. It’s nighttime, and you are in the backyard. You’re allowed to play with fire. You’re encouraged to jab with sharp sticks or sharper skewers. You’re in charge. It is the beginning of your journey toward epicurean independence, and the stakes start low – with marshmallows.
There are distinct stages of marshmallow appreciation. It might take all summer for all the lessons to add up; acquiring knowledge and experience can be slow and measured. First: gobble up some raw marshmallows, right out of the bag. They are cold and powdery, with a delightful give as you bite, leaving tooth marks in the plump, yielding sponginess. After skewering a marshmallow, or two, or three, you learn how to delicately twirl and rotate the marshmallow a few inches above the open flame, lightly browning the exterior. You are perfecting your technique while you watch the marshmallows cooking in the hot gasses emitted by the dancing flames. You are learning science and compromise, because, undoubtedly, you are sharing this fire with a sibling. Diplomacy becomes important – which color flame produces the best marshmallow, and where is it in the campfire? Is it possible to share? Compromise or dominate?
After settling back on your camp stool, it is time for another taste test. Hmmmm. There is now a caramelized crisp surface, yielding a warm, runny center. With trial and error you are becoming a judicious connoisseur. Next, smug and secure with your new skill set, throwing caution to the winds in your sugar rush, you allow the marshmallows to catch fire, watching the blue flame engulf the surface: crisping, caramelizing, scorching, blackening, and incinerating before you blow it out. (Remember those lava-lamp marshmallows you weren’t fast enough to salvage? How they bowed and sagged and dripped off the skewer into the grass?) Delicately nibbling the remnants of the next batch, you have discovered that there can be too much of a muchness, and some restraint is necessary in life, and in marshmallows. This is a valuable cooking lesson.
A few how tos: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%27more
Sadly, there are s’mores kits available for the folks who require such things. They are expensive and fussy. The Spy has higher expectations. Remain true to the classic s’mores: https://food52.com/shop/products/2069-diy-s-mores-kit-set-of-2?
Although this sounds intriguing:
And soon it will be time to advance to hot dogs.
“The echoes of beauty you’ve seen transpire,
Resound through dying coals of a campfire.”
If you have not noticed summer is officially here. The hot dry weather can do significant damage to our plants and gardens. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
Outdoor Garden and Yard Tips
- Spotted lanternfly adults may be found feeding on many hosts, especially tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissma). Report any finds to the Maryland Department of Agriculture immediately, collect a sample or take digital photos on what you have found.
- Japanese beetles may be feeding heavily at this time. Brush the beetles into a bucket of soapy water held underneath foliage or branches. The use of Japanese beetle traps near your plants is not recommended. Studies show that traps can attract more beetles to your landscape resulting in increased damage.
- Mulch your landscape now if you haven’t done so already. Mulch helps keep weeds down and conserves soil moisture. Mulch should be applied 1-2 inches deep and kept away from tree and shrub trunks.
- Bagworm caterpillars are now very active. Look for little bags crawling around on evergreen trees and shrubs and be prepared to spray infested trees with the microbial insecticide, Bt by mid-July. Mature bagworms are not well controlled with Bt They are best collected by hand and destroyed or sprayed with insecticides containing spinosad.
- Proper lawn mowing is critical to help it survive the summer. “Mow ‘em high and let ‘em lie” should be your mowing strategy. Cut your cool-season turf (fescues and bluegrass) to a height of 3-4 inches and leave the clippings on the lawn where they will naturally decompose.
- Chrysanthemums and asters should be cut back halfway by mid-July to encourage fall blooming. If not trimmed they will bloom later this month and not in the fall.
- Patrol your yard for mosquito breeding sites. At least twice a week, check and remove water that may be standing in trash and recycling cans, flower pot saucers, children’s and pets toys, wading pools, tires, tarps or plastic sheeting.
- Ticks are active year-round. After spending time outdoors in an area where ticks may be present get in the habit of doing a tick check upon your arrival home.
- Tie all dahlias and lilies to the upper third of their stakes. Stake gladiolus as they gain height.
- Harvest or deadhead dahlias and other flowering bulbs and annuals.
- Check the moisture in plant containers every three to four days. Check small pots and hanging baskets every day.
- The hot July sun will quickly heat up the water in a hose. Run the hose until the water is tepid before watering the garden. A vegetable garden needs at least 1 inch of water per week in the summer.
- Blossom-end rot of tomato, pepper, squash, and watermelon causes the bottom (blossom) end of the fruit to become brown and rotted. Remove injured fruits, water plants well, and mulch to conserve soil moisture. Consistent watering and adequate calcium can prevent this disorder.
- Squash vine borer larvae are feeding inside squash and pumpkin stems. If leaves are wilting, or you see holes in the lower stems, with sawdust-like fresh, or droppings around the holes, slit the stem above the hole and with a razor and remove the larva. Then mound soil around the injured stem.
- Brown rot infects peach, cherry, and plum fruits. Pick peaches when background color changes and before fruits become fully ripened. Bring fruits indoors, submerge them in a 1:10 bleach to water solution to kill brown rot fungal spores, rinse well, and allow them to ripen in the kitchen.
- Leave blueberries on the plants for three to five days after they turn blue. This allows berries to reach their maximum sugar content.
- Harvest onions when tops die back; let them dry in the garden after digging them up, or tie the stems together and hang them up in a garage or attic with good air circulation. Store onions in a cool, dry place.
- Dig up garlic when the tops yellow and die; let dry in the sun, then store in an airy place before braiding, or storing in mesh bags, and hanging in a dry place.
Indoor Plants and Insect Tips
Photo: Tomato Hornworms are active in July. During their three-week lifespan, these caterpillars can gain more than one thousand times their weight. (Photo credit: Rachel Rhodes)
Photo: Squash bug eggs: These little copper eggs are often found on the underside of squash leaves and on stems. Eggs hatch in about 10 days, and nymphs mature in about four to six weeks. Both adults and nymphs hide under leaves when disturbed. (Photo credit: Rachel Rhodes)
Rachel J. Rhodes, firstname.lastname@example.org is the Horticulture Educator and Master Gardener Coordinator for the University of Maryland Extension in Queen Anne’s County. She is one third of the Garden Thyme Podcast. The Garden Thyme Podcast is a monthly podcast where University of Maryland Extension Educators, help you get down and dirty in your garden, with timely gardening tips, information about native plants, and more!
For further information, please visit https://extension.umd.edu/queen-annes-county/master-gardener-home-gardening or see us on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/QueenAnnesCountyMasterGardeners or listen to The Garden Thyme Podcast at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/687509
University programs, activities, and facilities are available to all without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, religion, protected veteran status, genetic information, personal appearance, or any other legally protected class.
The Fourth of July is just around the corner. I am getting ready to start assembling our annual red, white and blue festive and oh, so patriotic, cake. I slather a sheet cake with a thick foundation of whipped cream, pile on stripes of strawberry slices, and fill a square field with blueberries. It is always messy, but invariably it is deelish, so it makes up for heating up the kitchen for an hour while baking it. I’ll do that baking early Sunday morning, when it is still relatively cool.
While the cake is baking, I will start preparing a couple of sheet trays of vegetables to roast under the broiler, to make a vat o’salsa to get us through the holiday weekend. If I am going to be in a hot kitchen, I am going to prepare a significant amount of food that will last us a few days. A sheet cake will be desserts for the next week, and so far, last weekend’s salsa saw us through one cocktail hour, one taco dinner, one grilled chicken dinner, one scrambled egg breakfast, and one chips and salsa lunch. I like its versatility. And I enjoy the cheap pyromaniacal thrills I get in roasting the vegetables.
Sure, you can roast vegetables on the grill. It is fast, and creates a more uniform char than roasting under the broiler. But it is not as thrilling. How often do you get to blow out a blackened home-grown tomato that is engulfed in a little blue flame? Tiny, domestic fireworks, that are completely legal. Perhaps I do need to get out of the house a little more.
I did not realize until I had made this particular salsa that Mr. Sanders has never been a big salsa fan. Usually I made it in the summer for small cocktail parties – but we haven’t had any of those lately. I had been bringing home store-bought deli containers of pre-fab salsas. Luckily, this salsa he gobbled up, because the vegetables were sweetened by the roasting process, and we were using homegrown tomatoes. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh, local produce.
The corn, tomatoes, jalapeños and onions (both Vidalia and green onions in my adaptation) were scorched and sweetened by the gas broiler flame for about ten minutes (five or six minutes for each side). I added a goodly amount of garlic and a handful of fresh cilantro, whirred it all up in the food processor. Yumsters. There is summer, in a mouthful of sweet, hot goodness. I imagine you can recreate this all year ’round, but we have a windowsill-full of ripe tomatoes, and I don’t intend to waste a single one. Bring on the chips!
You can easily adapt the proportions to your own needs. It all depends on your available storage. I took the measurements as mere guidelines.
Roasted Corn and Tomato Salsa – adapted from The New York Times recipe by Martha Rose Shulman.
1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes
1 or 2 jalapeños (halved, and remove seeds and stems)
1 ear of corn
½ small white onion
4 garlic cloves, peeled
Salt to taste
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
⅓ to ½ cup chopped cilantro
2 chopped green onions, for decoration
You will need a couple of baking sheets, covered in aluminum foil. I sprinkled them with a little oil, so the vegetables wouldn’t stick.
Preheat broiler and set rack 4 inches below.
Place tomatoes and jalapeños on one of the baking sheets and set under broiler, about 4 inches from heat. Broil for about 6 minutes, until skins are charred and blackened in spots. Using tongs, flip over tomatoes and jalapeños and continue to broil for another 5 or 6 minutes. Put tomatoes and jalapeños, along with any juices in the pan, into a bowl and cool.
Put the corn on baking sheet and set under the broiler. Broil 2 to 4 minutes. Corn should be nicely browned on one side. Roll over and broil again for 2 minutes Remove from heat, cool, then cut kernels from cob and set aside.
Turn heat down to 425°F. Break up Vidalia onions into rings and place on baking sheet in a single layer. Add garlic. Roast, stirring every 5 minutes, until onions have softened and are browned and charred on edges and garlic is soft and browned in spots, about 15 minutes.
Once all the vegetables have cooled, slide the charred skins off the tomatoes and discard. Keeping all the juice, put the roasted veggies into a blender or food processor. Add cilantro, vinegar and salt. Whirr it up for a couple of seconds, until you arrive at your preferred chunk size. You might want to thin it with a little water, but we found ours was juicy enough. Add chopped green onions. Test with a nice, crisp, salty corn chip. Repeat. Yumsters.
Here are some variations:
Perfect Grilled Corn Salsa:
Roasted Corn Salsa:
If you want to roast your corn over an open flame, here is the recipe for you!
Fire Roasted Corn and Tomato Salsa:
Welcome summer. We are ready for you!
“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”
– Lewis Grizzard
For National Dairy Month, the University of Maryland Extension (UME) is releasing a new virtual tour of a working dairy farm, giving the public the opportunity to meet and learn from a Maryland farm family. As a natural expansion of the UME annual event, Breakfast on the Farm, the Day on the Farm program now offers the same educational experience in an online format, accessible to everyone.
The public is invited to follow the farm owners, on-farm experts like the herd veterinarian and nutritionist, and UME experts, through a guided tour that demonstrates the birthing and growth cycle of calves to cows, the milking process, animal nutrition and care, and other farming topics like equipment and conservation.
“The pandemic made it impossible to hold the annual event in 2020, and it inspired us to find a way to offer the experience in a more accessible format for the opportunity to see what a working Maryland dairy farm is like,” said Racheal Slattery, Day on the Farm program coordinator. “Now folks can do the tour on their own time, no matter where they live.”
The first Day on the Farm tour introduces the DeBaugh family from Washington County, Md and their fifth generation dairy farm. A virtual map and guided stops takes the public through a video tour of their dairy farm, explaining farm management, facilities, animal husbandry, and punctuated by helpful 4-H youth who explain difficult scientific terms and concepts.
“This virtual tour is a perfect complement for school and youth groups learning about Maryland agriculture,” Slattery said. “Our goal with this program is to not only create an interesting and fun video tour, but also have it be educational and informative, while allowing kids to experience a real Maryland farm.”
Sponsors for the Day on the Farm program include Frederick County Farm Bureau, MD Dairy Industry Association, Inc., Washington County Farm Bureau, Catoctin Soil Conservation District, Dairy Farmers of America, Frederick Soil Conservation District, Interstate Batteries (Potomac Valley Distribution, Inc.), Maryland Agriculture Council, Inc., Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, Mid-Maryland Dairy Veterinarians, P.A., Washington County Soil Conservation District, Clopper Michael Unit #10 Auxiliary, Farm Credit, Kemin Animal Health and Nutrition, Lallemand Animal Nutrition, Lancaster Farming, Martin’s Elevator, Inc, Renaissance Nutrition, Inc., Thomas, Bennett & Hunter, Inc., Willard Agri-Service of Frederick, and Willard Agri-Service of Mt. Airy.
The past couple of days of early summer have been sunny, bright and breezy. It has been a pleasure to walk with Luke the wonder dog. The heat of the afternoons had slowed down his pace, but instead of darting from shadow to shadow, looking for relief from the sun these days, we have been lengthening our steps and enjoying ourselves. The self care is suddenly more enjoyable and less dutiful; it is an early summer pleasure.
Nothing perfectly symbolizes summer like a watermelon. The best ones are cool and sweet, dripping with juices, seeds, and dreams of summer vacations. Whoever came upon the devilish idea of creating seedless watermelons was never a child. I still cling to the memories of sitting on the back porch steps, spitting seeds back at my brother, who had much better aim. Those are high quality memories of an un-air-conditioned house, where we were outside, waiting for the fireflies start twinkling on and off near the forsythia bushes. It was summer, and we were amusing each other.
Now we are gearing up for the Fourth of July. There are so many summer treats we are going to rediscover. It’s my time of the year to abandon the stove, and stake out a shady corner on the back porch, while Mr. Sanders approaches the podium, and fires up the grill. Summer is time for steaks, burgers, brats, hot dogs, Italian sausage, ears of corn, and watermelon.
I feel like such a johnny-come-lately with my recent discovery of Chef Matthew Raiford. I guess I haven’t been paying enough attention. He is, after all, a James Beard Best Chef finalist. https://www.chefarmermatthew.com And he is all over Food52 and other food publications of note as well as podcasts such as Splendid Table and Jupiter’s Almanac. He is a sixth-generation farmer of Gilliard Farms in Coastal Georgia. The farm was established in 1874, is organic, and has never used chemicals. “I always loved the food that I came from. I just loved it. Growing up, I had my Nana, my great-grandmother, my dad — all these people cooking around me.” His enthusiasm for food is palpable. I wish I could eat one of his Rattlesnake Watermelons. (Look for his video of grilling watermelon on his Instagram feed if you want some divine inspiration: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQRPvg9gkUs/)
It never occurred to me that watermelon could be grilled, let alone paired with tomatoes. What have I been thinking? It is summer, and the watermelons and tomatoes are ripe. At least I have the homegrown tomatoes and basil to contribute to the recipe, along with my basic, farm stand watermelon. It’s not fancy, just delicious. Let the summer games begin!
Matthew Raiford’s Watermelon Steak Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sangria Vinaigrette: https://food52.com/recipes/85796-watermelon-steak-salad-recipe
If you don’t want to grill your watermelon, here is another recipe for tomato and watermelon salad: https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/marinated-watermelon-tomato-salad
Perhaps you would like to entertain yourself with an adult beverage? Allow me to suggest a Watermelon Margarita. Completely enjoyable and deelish: https://www.acouplecooks.com/watermelon-margarita/
If you have a rainy day, and must stay inside, at least you can use your time productively, and make some pickled watermelon rind: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pickled-watermelon-rind-51242090
“But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.”
This will answer any questions you might have about the care and feeding of watermelons: https://www.watermelon.org