All We Can Do Is Hop: Growing Beer in Your Garden

This is the "safe" ladder

This is the “safe” ladder

“Dad, that ladder is in miserable condition! You can’t stand on that; it won’t work!”
“It should work.” My father said, nonchalantly twisting one broken leg out from behind another. There is no convincing this man of safety sometimes, so I kept my distance and stayed on the same side of the hops arbor as him in case that ladder finally gave way.

My father and I spent part of this Labor Day together harvesting hops off the plants Ben and I planted in my parents’ garden last year. Considering the stress of being transplanted and the the half-assed way in which we watched over them, they weren’t doing all that bad. Aside from a Hindenburg-sized bag worm colony in the upper left corner that somehow everyone missed until just then, things were going well.

I learned earlier that hop vines are sticky and prickly and leave behind long pink welts on the inside of your arms, so I was wearing gloves and delicately snipping off each hop cone with a pair of scissors. My father grabbed at each cone with his hand, tore it off and tossed it in the direction of his bowl, much to the entertainment of our loud audience of stray cats.

Hops as big as my head!

Hops as big as my head!

These plants had thrived for several years at my in-law’s former home. At this point, we can no longer say with any accuracy exactly what variety each of our five plants is. They start as anonymous little sticks — or rhizomes, to be fancy-pants — that magically grow when you shove them in the ground. My husband is certain that when they were planted they had four different kinds: Cascade, Centennial, Golding, and Perle, which sound suspiciously like stripper names to me.  Continue reading

Farmer Dwight’s Blue Ribbon Cabbages

cabbage manOnce farming gets into a family’s blood, it sticks there obstinately. My great-grandparents owned a farm in southern Ohio. My grandfather, the original urban gardener, inspired new city ordinances in Cleveland with his tendency to grow corn in his small front lawn. And my father, though he worked as a financial consultant for most of my lifetime, was always nipping over to the empty lot next to our house to coax something out of the ground and to wage epic battles against the deer that were huge fans of his work.

That’s why I wasn’t really surprised to receive this photo last week, of my father proudly displaying one of his largest cabbages to date. (The photo, by the way, is no optical illusion; these suckers really are larger than his head.)

When I asked Farmer Dwight to share his cabbage wisdom with the world, here are the tips he gave me:

  1. Pick a variety that will grow large heads. (You don’t want to be out of the game before you even start, people.)
  2. Plant early, in April, before it gets too warm. (Frost? Bah! He spits in the face of frost.)
  3. Pray that the varmints don’t eat the plants before they get a good start. (If your prayers go unanswered, you can also see Jason’s post from last week about warding off cabbage worms.) Continue reading

Our Newest Contributor Is…You!

fifties cookSure, we love writing for the blog, but it’s not just about us, us, us. One of the reasons we started PitchKnives is so we could hear your stories about food and gardening. So in our second month, it’s time to make your voice heard. All you need to do is write to us at

Here are some easy ways to get involved:

  • See one of Jason’s Concrete Jungle signs? Snap a picture or tell us about how you found it.
  • Have a great restaurant you’d put up a fight for? Tell us about it and you might just get picked for Grub Match. Next up are NYC brunch favorites, but other themes and cities are already in the works, so elect the place you love most.
  • Need a lunch date? Convince me that there’s a spot near your subway stop that I have to try, and you could be part of our Lunch at the End of the Line series.

But that’s not all. You (yes, YOU) possess the power to write an awesome food feature. Did you just make a rad new chimichurri sauce? Did you just discover the secret to growing the perfect carrot? Did you put together the perfect picnic? Send your ideas to We love photo galleries, too.

So, go on! Make our mouths water!
–The Editors

Concrete Jungle: Laxton’s Progress Shell Peas, Manhattan Bridge, NYC

One of my pleasures in life—one that combines in a strategic way my humanistic impulses with my unbecoming “Told ya so!” competitiveness—is proving to people that they will in fact enjoy foods they now despise, so long as they have them my way.

Dark greens like kale and collards are prime catalysts for achieving this conflation of the altruistic and the vain, but so are peas, an early treat from the year’s bounty.

Most of us know peas as at best little green balls filling up a freezer bag best used as an ice pack and at worst mushy gray globs taking up plate space next to the mashed potatoes.  This is a travesty.

Continue reading

Seedlings of the Night

Cheeky little scamps! I recently came across some personal ads and glamour shots that our seedlings had been planning on posting in the local paper. And you try to raise ‘em right….

Morning glory seedlingMorning Glory

Long, leggy beauty seeks someone to wrap herself around. Enjoys sunrises and hopping fences. Shorties need not apply.

Pea shootEnglish Peas

Fancy a little British invasion all your own? Early bloomer seeks same. We could be like two in a…well, you know.

Rainbow chard seedlingsRainbow Chard

Me: A colorful personality who’s not afraid to be different. You: A connoisseur who won’t skimp on the butter when you saute me over a long, low heat.

Kale seedlingRagged Jack Kale

Tired of that limp-legged sissy chard? Right this way, baby, to the manliest of the greens. Don’t believe anyone who says I’m too tough, though—slide me into your oven and I’ll crumble.

Lessons Learned

vegetable summitPas de Carrotte

Conferences are not really my scene. The crowds, the terrible coffee, the frenzied schmoozing—it all makes me grumpy, even (or maybe especially) if it’s to celebrate a rather quiet and solitary pursuit like gardening. But I’d landed in an auditorium in the Bronx with thousands of other community gardening folk for 2012 GreenThumb GrowTogether, listening to the NYC Park Commissioner tell us that children needed to play with mud pies instead of Xboxes. It’s a sentiment that I don’t disagree with, but something about this preachy and half-assed pandering to the crowd sparked a flame of irascibility in me that was to burn steadily for the duration of the event. Luckily, the political speeches were broken up by a group of adorable Brooklyn dancers recreating a scene from Harlem’s Savoie in the 1930s. Everyone was too relieved to question what any of this had to do with gardening. Continue reading