Garden Planning and Zucchini Frites

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This is the first in a series of weekly farm reports from our own Tom Hirschfeld, complete with recipes, cooking and gardening tips, and wisdom dispensed.

Today: Tom on garden-planning baptism by fire and Zucchini Frites with Lemon Basil Mayonnaise.

  • garden
  • Tom's daughter Vivian doing the I-found-a-zucchini victory dance.

It Only Takes One Shiny Bean

- Tom

It is one of those pre-sunrise mornings where, while staring upward from the comfort of your bed into the faintly bluish first light of day, you outright question your sanity. If you were in your right mind wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, you just go to the grocery? It hasn’t rained in over a month and it has been just as long since there has been dew on the grass.  Funny how in spring you had to replant twice because you were flooded out. Seems you got all your rain at once this year.

Shiny Bean the dog is stubborn. There is a reason we call him Shiny Bean. First, he doesn’t know shit from Shinola, and second, he has a big head just like the Beans in The Beans of Egypt, Maine. That aside, he has developed this stubborn streak and he thinks he owns the mud room porch. He won’t leave it but for certain reasons. He follows me wherever I go, but always lays back down in front of the door before I can go into the house. When we aren’t outside, he still stays on the porch, laying right up against the screen door, a door stop in fact, rendering this door useless to anyone who might want to enter the house through this particular ingress. He won’t move. Not even when the UPS man drives up in his big brown truck does he even flick an ear, and what dog doesn’t like to sniff the UPS man?

Shiny Bean  Zucchini blossom

So lately, every morning at sunrise, I slog myself out of bed and wander, sometimes wonder, out to the garden and traipse through the mud of yesterday’s folly, move the sprinklers, and walk back to the spigot and turn on the water. Never mind the many mosquito and deer fly bites when I have a 96-pound black lab to contend with. Always so close I am tripping over him at every turn and having to yell, “Move!, damn it.” like I was trying to get a five-year-old ready for kindergarten while cartoons are on the TV.

I have a door on every side of my house for a reason. Simply put, I don’t want to have to walk around the house in order to get into the house, so you can imagine how this is making me mad, this dog that won’t move from in front of the door. I have even tried to sneak up to the door. Acting like I am pulling weeds from around the steps of the porch, trying to get in in front of him so I can go inside, only to have him nudge me out of the way to cross the finish line first and plop down with a tail wag of victory.

Zucchini batons  Zucchini Fries

So it is when I set down the big basket full of beautiful and perfect zucchini of all kinds that I realize I am spoiled, that I get to cook with great ingredients every day, and that I am not insane, just stubborn. That I have taken to my garden like the dog has the porch and I will do whatever it takes to keep things growing, including using the door on the opposite side of the house.

Tom On Planning a Garden
These are a few of the things I have learned. Baptism by fire, so to speak.

1. Watch the sun before deciding where to put your garden (since this advice is really for your next growing season, start watching that sun now). If you want to do spring, summer and fall plantings make sure your garden gets lots of sun, and I mean lots. You need to get the plants up and out so you can get the next crop in. A couple of hours less sun per day can add weeks to a plant's fruiting date.

2. I have a kitchen garden with raised beds dedicated to herbs, onions, garlic, and salad greens. I originally planned it to be the whole garden but I didn’t think about the above sun issue. Fortunately, salad greens do better in the heat of the summer with lots of shade and it is a good control mechanism for herbs that might be invasive, oregano comes to mind. Mint is invasive even in the shade.

3. I have a huge garden that I plant in rows because I have the space. I didn’t start out this way. I started out with two little raised beds before we lived on the farm and I grew more then enough for our family to eat fresh all summer. Both these methods have specific advantages. Study both methods and decide what is best for you. I grow way more than I need personally, but no one in my extended family ever complains about the excess. I like being able to give it away.

4. Remember, the bigger the garden the more the work load.

5. Don’t work in the garden when it is wet with rain or dew. You will potentially spread any diseases you might have to all the plants. Unfortunately, this means working most of the time in the heat of the day or, as many folks do, in the evening after dinner.

Fried Zucchini

Zucchini Frites with Lemon Basil Mayonnaise

Serves 4

3 cups zucchini batons, approx. 2 1/2 inches long and 1/4 to 3/8 inch square, you want to use firm and relatively seed-free zucchini
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup of milk, or more
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
peanut oil for frying

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Shiny Bean

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Comments (109)


about 4 years ago mariaraynal

Just so happy to read your new column, Tom. Gorgeous words and photos. Food52, I love you so...


about 4 years ago J-Dizzle

Enjoyed reading your article! Great writing....beautiful daughter; lovely dog (with his tongue sticking out!)....Used the lemon basial mayo with fish = delish!!! :o)


about 4 years ago dymnyno

Tom, I'm looking forward to your next post. Will you have a regular day each week?


about 4 years ago Ms. T

I so enjoyed reading this post (out loud to my husband, who loves all things gardening and dogs) and seeing your gorgeous photos. We just planted our first vegetable garden this summer--it's only 4'x6' but we call it "the farm" and dote on it like proud new parents. When our baby zuchinis grow up, they want to be Zuchini Frites with lovely Lemon Basil Mayonaise.


about 4 years ago cookinginvictoria

Great column and lovely photos. Your daughter is adorable and how could you say no to that dog? It looks like he really knows how to turn on the charm. Thirschfeld, I am so thrilled that you will be doing a cooking & gardening column for food52! It will be wonderful to get gardening tips from you. (I echo jestei's request to write about fall/winter gardening.) This is only my second summer of vegetable gardening, and it has not been without its challenges, mostly due to a cool and damp summer this year in the PNW. However, I have been bit by the gardening bug, and now there is no turning back! I have found it so rewarding to grow some of my family's food, and I have loved introducing my daughter to the joys of growing things. Looking forward to next week's installment!


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

Thanks, he is not without his charms, but notice he is sticking his tongue out at me in the above photo. That is great that you are growing stuff and I find the kids just love it even if they don't always eat it when it winds up on their plate.


about 4 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I want to be on the same oyster boat.


about 4 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Great dog.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

he is a handful, along with the hound dog and the other mut they are in trouble most of the time


about 4 years ago Greenstuff

Chris is a trusted source on General Cooking

"thirschfeld" has become "Tom." I am feeling really good about food52. You (plural) took an opportunity and went with it. Great news!


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

Thank you nannydeb


about 4 years ago Jaynerly

Love this, look forward to reading more!!


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thanks Jaynerly


about 4 years ago monkeymom

Yay Tom! So looking forward to seeing your world view every week. I am getting raised boxes put in so I will be paying close attention to gardening and planting information and tips.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

Sometimes it is a little skewed and twisted, raised beds are great you are going to love growing stuff.


about 4 years ago Musette

You kiss that Shiny Bean on the head for me, okay? No zucchini for us - I learned my lesson several years ago - 2 plants + 23,000,000 zucchini. Oh, no.

Instead, we planted tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. I've been processing tomatoes for a week now. 2 bushels work. 3 pecks of peppers, unpickled.

But no zucchini.

Though the frites do look divine.



about 4 years ago thirschfeld

I don't process a lot. I do tomato sauce and pickles and that is about it.


about 4 years ago lastnightsdinner

Congrats, Tom. Next up, world domination ;)


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thanks, and LOL


about 4 years ago Waverly

Wonderful post all the way around from the gardening tips to your adorable Vivian, and that naughty Shiny Bean, who FYI is smarter than you think because he has your number! (My first child was a black lab, so I know these things). PS. Your recipe looks divine.


about 4 years ago MamaCanela

I love it! My two favorite subjects: gardening and cooking. Can't wait for next week.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld



about 4 years ago lorigoldsby

Congrats Tom! Looking forward to reading a weekly column from you!


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thanks lorigoldsby


about 4 years ago Bevi

It will be great to get weekly tips from you, Tom.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thanks Bevi


about 4 years ago wanderash

Congratulations Tom! I have to say, I knew it was only a matter of time before they found a permanent place for you on Food52. (You are that good and they are that smart! :)) Great first post. Recently relocated to Illinois, I look forward to learning how to tackle a Midwestern garden!!


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thanks wanderash, and welcome to the heartland. I guess you are in for some culture shock coming back from Mexico. Did you land somewhere near Chicago or are you in the hinterlands?


about 4 years ago Jestei

love this new feature! it is just great! would love to hear more about what one plants in the fall.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thank you, you being in DC I would think peas, probably sugar snaps would be good. I don't know how big of a garden you have but arugala, broccoli, kale, anything that is cold weather and frost tolerant which is different from a freeze. Look for 40 to 45 days to maturity.


about 4 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Hooray thirschfeld! LOVE the new weekly reports - what a perfect fit.

Yesterday, at mom's rehab facility, I saw these really cool moveable raised beds built out of 2 x 4s on top of a large garden wagon. For folks like me with a postage-stamp yard surrounded by their neighbor's trees, this might be the answer to my lack-of-sun-hence-no-garden dilemma.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thanks mrslarkin. That sounds like a good way to do it


about 4 years ago soozbooz

Loved this article. The picture of the plate with the steak and frites is a work of art.


about 4 years ago thirschfeld

thanks soozbooz