Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Garden Update - August 24, 2016

I'm not quite ready to call this the regular Wednesday Garden Update, but I am going to try to do my garden updates on Wednesdays and be regular about it. (That leaves me an out if I get lazy!)

So what's new this week?


These are, rather, they were my winter sown broccoli and brokali.


They were actually doing quite well still, they had recovered from the recurring rabbit and rat attacks after I covered them up. But I needed the space for the new Romanesco broccoli and cauliflower seedlings.

Batavia broccoli side shoots.

It would have been much more difficult to remove them from the garden if I didn't have 3 newer Batavia broccoli plants already producing and 3 new Calabrese broccoli plants coming along.


The plant above was one of the winter sown Batavia broccoli plants. It produced a beautiful main head but then none of the leaf axils had any buds. But I left it in place and eventually the plant produced numerous shoots from the beneath the soil line. I thinned those to just a few strong shoots. You can see the ugly ragged remains of the main stem and the shoots that sprouted from the base. Below you can see the shoots before I cut the plants down.

Batavia broccoli

And that's the replacements. Two plants each of Romanesco broccoli and Purple Cape cauliflower. I know that the Romanesco broccoli plants get to be HUGE and I assume that the Purple Cape plants will also so I gave them plenty of room. They are set out 21 inches apart, which is just the right spacing to take up 1/6th of the bed. I've got them protected with water bottle sleeves and some tulle fabric for now. Later on I may have to erect a tunnel over them for a while.


I enlarged the tunnel that is protecting the Brussels sprouts and Calabrese broccoli plants by making it higher which required using 2 lengths of MicroMesh fabric. I left a gap at the top in the hope that the good bugs (but not the bad critters) will find their way in.


The first little head of Calabrese broccoli is forming. The heads on this sprouting broccoli are always small but the plants usually make up for it by producing lots of side shoots. This plant already has a number of big shoots growing from lower on the plant.


The first signs of sprouts on the Brussels sprouts plants! Maybe a harvest by Thanksgiving?

Little Rosebud Romaine Mix

Manoa Crisphead
The lettuces are definitely showing signs of bolting. I hope there's enough room in the fridge for them all. Big salad for dinner tonight!


The carrots have germinated. I hope the sowbugs don't feast.

Green Fingers Persian Cucumbers

The Green Fingers cucumbers have revived a bit and are setting a few cukes.

Tasty Treat Japanese cucumbers

The Tasty Treat cucumbers are growing. I'm pretty confident that they will have time to produce this fall.


Yay, the Tromba d'Albenga squash got their blossoms coordinated and some squash have set. Not the most perfect straight specimens but I don't care.


I finally got fed up enough about the raiding rats that I wrapped each pot of the Mara des Bois strawberries in tulle. It's not perfect, I've found a few spots where they've tried to munch right through the fabric. On the other hand one big fat rat went for the bait (a strawberry of course) on a trap that I had set beneath some low hanging fruit and well, that was the end.

Chianti Rose Tomatoes
The first Chianti Rose tomato is starting to ripen.


And the first Reisetomate From Transylvania tomatoes are ripening as well. And yes, they are supposed to look like that.


Still waiting for the first Florina pepper to fully ripen. They are sweetest and tastiest when harvested fully ripe.


The potted up IPK P 852 (Italy) plants are growing. Keep going babies!


I don't hold out much hope for the Sweet Potato experiment. They are growing soooo slooowly. Perhaps if we get a few heat waves this fall they will do something. But I doubt it. Anyway, they aren't any trouble to just leave them be so I will. At least they have some pretty flowers.


That gap in the Blue Speckled Tepary bean patch shouldn't be there. I thing the rabbit is plowing it's way through, munching as it goes. I'm going to try to erect a barrier around the plants. Damn, this is getting to be ridiculous. The DR won't go for the bait in the Havahart trap (however, a couple of rats have). Anyone around here want to do a little target practice?


I should be harvesting Brinker Carrier snap beans pretty soon.


And the 4 surviving (out of 20) Rosso di Lucca dry bush beans are growing. I really messed up and overwatered them so most of the beans rotted before they had a chance to germinate. These 4 are real survivors and I hope will provide my seed stock for next year.


The Hopi Chinmark corn is in full tassel mode now.



The Puhwem corn isn't showing any signs of tasseling yet but has grown taller than the neighboring 6 foot tall bean trellises.

So that's the latest that's happened in the garden in the last week. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Harvest Monday - August 22, 2016

It seems like I've been holding my breath in more ways than one. I keep waiting to have some sort of glut of summer vegetables to deal with, but apparently my continual attempts to moderate the quantity of what I grow is finally showing some results. I'm not complaining, it just seems weird. I'm getting a steady supply of vegetables to eat fresh and about the only thing that I have extra to deal with is some zucchini. So let's start with the new items in the harvest basket.

Sicilian Eggplant

The Sicilian eggplant is the first to be ready to harvest. I thought I might have held off too long to harvest it because the skin was turning dull, generally a sign that it is getting old and seedy, but it was actually quite good. The flesh was firm and dense and the seeds had started to form but they were still light colored and soft. I cut it in thick slices, panfried it in olive oil and served it topped with fresh sheepmilk ricotta and a fresh tomato and cucumber chunky salad/salsa.

Rosso Dolce da Appendere
I had to harvest one of the Rosso Dolce da Appendere peppers green because the tip had been damaged and the sowbugs were going to work on it. This variety of pepper is actually pretty good green, a lot more tasty than a green bell pepper, so it wasn't a total loss. I can't remember what I used it in, possibly stir fried broccoli.

I'itoi onions
And I finally cleaned and weighed the I'itoi onions which I wrote a Spotlight post about a few days ago.

Mixed Harvests

This  has been a typical harvest lately, broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes, and mouse melons have been coming in at a steady pace. The cucumbers are taking a break for now, that little one was the only one for the week.

Romanesco Zucchini
The zucchini in particular has been regular. My stash of dried zucchini is growing at a modest pace.

Pink Plume Celery

And there's plenty of celery to cut so we've been eating a lot of it. It's been nice to have a steady supply of celery. I like the crunch of it in salads and it's been a nice addition to the frequent veggie saut├ęs that I prepare and other veggie dishes. (We do eat a LOT of veggies!)

Pink Plume Celery

Little Rosebud Romaine Mix
A couple of the Little Rosebud Romaine Mix lettuces were starting to bolt. One was a short head and the other a tall one, neither had really formed a solid heart.

Manoa Crisphead Lettuce
This head of Manoa Crisphead lettuce was growing a bit sideways and I think it was on the verge of bolting so I harvested it. The Manoa lettuces do form a nice tight crunchy heart, not a ball like an Iceberg lettuce, but good and solid nonetheless. At this time of year the heads can bolt extremely quickly, but they keep really well in the fridge so I try to cut them as soon as I see signs of bolting. I may end up with a lot of lettuce hanging about the fridge pretty soon...

Tropea Rossa Tonda Onions
Many of the onions have cured enough to trim and bring in. The Tropea Rossa Tonda onions did pretty well this year, they formed good bulbs without too many splits and only a few bolted. That one with the long neck was one that bolted and I used it right away since it won't keep well.

Exhibition and Rossa Savonese Onions
The Exhibition onions are big. These three came in at 2.7, 2.5, and 2.4 pounds apiece. There's still a few of them that I'm still waiting for the tops to completely dry. A number of the Rossa Savonese onions split and more of them bolted also.

Typical Foggy/Smoky Morning

Well, one other thing that makes me want to hold my breath is the ongoing Soberanes Fire. There hasn't been a day in over a week without smoky skies. Some days are stinkier than others, but nights and mornings are nasty because the smokes settles in the valley and mixes with the fog. Everything has collected a fine film of ash. The fire has been burning for a full month, it started on July 22. Currently the most rugged and wild area of the county (perhaps the state) is being allowed to pretty much burn as it will. There was a huge and successful effort to keep the fire from burning through the community of Big Sur on the west side of the fire. Another massive effort kept the fire from consuming the community of Cachauga on the east side. There are crews on the ground on the southeast side spiking out (aka going coyote) working the fire line on foot and camping out near the fire. It is extremely difficult and dangerous work but there are no roads in that area so that's the only way to do it. They are trying to keep the fire from running into the southern portions of Carmel Valley. I don't know what the plan is when the fire reaches the Tassajara Zen Center. The northern end of the fire is completely contained. But the south side is just going up in smoke. Ventana Double Cone - poof. Ventana Cone - going. Miller Mountain - going going. Uncle Sam Mountain, Elephant Mountain, Island Mountain, you get the drift, there's a lot of peaks there and they're all burning. So many areas that Dave and I have hiked or have been meaning to hike are burning up. Over 86,000 acres have burned so far. The new estimated containment date is now September 30 - not likely. Funny how the containment has stayed at 60% while the fire continues to spread day by day. One damned illegal campfire. And I read recently that people continue to camp illegally and burn illegal campfires. Mind boggling.

Sorry for the diversion, but this has become my place to vent and document my frustration. So, back to the harvests.

Here's the details of the harvests for the past week:

Batavia broccoli - 8.6 oz.
Pink Plume celery - 2.9 lb.
Green Fingers cucumber - 1 oz.
Mouse Melons - 4.2 oz.
Sicilian eggplant - 1.4 lb.
Little Rosebud Romaine Mix lettuces - 1.9 lb.
Manoa Crisphead lettuce - 1.3 lb.
Exhibition onions - 7.6 lb.
I'itoi onions - 3.3 lb.
Rossa Savonese onions - 3.9 lb.
Tropea Rossa Tonda onions - 10.2 lb.
Rosso Dolce da Appendere pepper - 3.4 oz.
Camp Joy cherry tomatoes - 3.9 oz.
Jaune Flamme tomatoes - 3.4 oz.
Lime Green Salad tomatoes - 12.5 oz.
Piccolo Dattero cherry tomatoes - 1.2 oz
Sweet Gold Cherry tomatoes - 7.4 oz.
Romanesco zucchini - 3.5 lb.

Total harvests for the week - 38.9 lb. (17.7 kg)
2016 YTD - 454.2 lb. (206 kg.)

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Variety Spotlight - I'itoi Onion

Cured I'itoi Onions

I do love to try rare and unusual varieties of vegetables and the I'itoi onion (pronounced E-toy) is a rarity. It has been grown by the Tohono O'odham people in the Southwest but it isn't actually native to the Americas, rather it was introduced by the Spanish in the late 17th century. From what I've read the onion was not commercially grown until fairly recently, it was kept going in the obscurity of home gardens. It is still not widely grown but seems to be slowly developing a devoted following. Slow Foods has included it in its Ark of Taste, which is their collection of distinctive foods that they consider to be in danger of being lost. 

I think it's a shame that it's not better known. This is a gem of an onion. It's a survivor, having adapted to desert conditions over the course of over 300 years. Yet it seemed to thrive in the more pampered conditions of my mild climate, well amended soil, and regular water. That ability to survive was quite evident from my experience with starting them. I ordered 10 bulbs from Native Seeds/SEARCH very late last fall, apparently at the very end of the season because the bulbs that I received were incredibly shriveled up and seemingly lifeless. I planted the bulbs anyway since some of them seemed to have a bit of substance left in them. I wasn't going to take any chances on putting them directly into the garden though so I planted each tiny bulb into it's own individual 3-inch pot. So I was absolutely amazed when 7 of the 10 bulbs sprouted. And then, grrr, I lost 2 of them when some critter dug into the pots. Then I was down to 5 plants. Oh well, I was still willing to give them a chance, although I wasn't going to give them any significant garden space.

March 30

They ended up along the edge of one of the beds and I had so little confidence in having much success with them that I didn't even bother to try to photograph them as they grew. So I don't have photos of the babies in pots or any of them while they were getting going in the garden. The first photo I could find of them was incidental - I was photographing the spring cabbages and greens. You might understand why I had so little faith in the little things, they had been in the garden for 3 months in that photo above. (BTW, they are tied up so that I wouldn't damage them as I worked around them digging and setting up the tunnel.)

April 22
But then, as plants seem to do in the spring, they really started to take off. These are "multiplier" onions, 1 onion splits into 2, then those 2 turn into 4, 4 into 8, 8 into 16, and so on.... Then I really started to pay attention to them! That clump above started with a single onion that produced 1 sprout.

May 9

You can get an idea of how the process goes in the photo above. I wonder what the plants would have been capable of if they hadn't been squeezed in along the side of the bed and nearly overshadowed by the cabbages on the other side.

June 30

The green tops start to die back in the summer and that's the time to lift the plants and cure the bulbs. Although, I have read that they can be kept in the ground and allowed to regrow which should start in late summer or fall. Since I didn't put the plants in an ideal location I chose not to experiment with that and lifted all of them. 

July 5

That's one of the clumps photographed after I cleared away some of the soil and just before I lifted it.


July 5

And there's that same clump separated into individual onions or clumps of 2 or 3. Wow, all that from 1 little desiccated bulb. I'm sure there would have been even more if I had planted them in September or October rather than December.

August 17
I tied each clump into individual bundles to cure so I could see how much each one produced. Rather than trying to count each individual bulb I just weighed the cleaned and trimmed onions. So there was a range of yields from each clump - 16.1, 13.1, 9.6, 7.6, 6.4 ounces each for a total of 52.8 ounces - or 3.3 pounds! I'm not complaining considering what I started with. I set aside 6 bulbs from each clump for planting in the garden. I have space opening up soon so I'll try a very early start this year.

Here was my timeline for growing them in 2015/16:

December 8 - plant bulbs in individual 3-inch pots
December 18 - bulbs showing sprouts
January 30 - plant in garden
July 5 - Lift and bundle to cure
August 17 - Clean cured bulbs

The bulbs were actually ready to be cleaned earlier but I just didn't get around to it and if I hadn't been interested in keeping track of the production of the individual clumps I would have just started using them as soon as I lifted them. 

I can't wait to see what's in store for me for the 2016/17 growing season. With an earlier start and more space per plant I hope to get a more generous yield next year. And with more plants I'll get to sample them while they are still young. The green tops are supposed to be an interesting substitute for chives so I may grow a few in pots just for trimming the tops. These should grow through the winter, unlike chives which go dormant, so it will be nice to have some spicy onion tops to liven up winter dishes. 

Now is the time to buy them if you want to grow them. Seed onions are currently available from Native Seeds/SEARCH. Baker Creek has them in their offerings but doesn't seem to have them in stock at the moment but probably will soon. And it looks like Crooked Sky Farms also offers them, they seem to be Baker Creek's supplier. 

Check out Crooked Sky Farms story about their experience with I'itoi onions, it is very similar to mine, they started with a few shriveled bulbs also and are now growing literally tons of them. They also have some growing tips there that I'm not going to repeat.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What's Happening in the Garden - August 17, 2016

I'm going to try to start a new type of post. My blog as a garden journal has some major gaps. I post regularly about harvests because of Harvest Monday and I post an occasional state of the garden type of tour. What I have in mind in to try to do a regular post (hopefully every week) about new activity in the garden so I can get a better idea of the timing of various events and activities. I keep notes about when I sow and plant things, but I don't keep any sort of notes about things like when plants start to bloom or veggies start to set, or when plants poop out and get removed, or when pests show up, or other such things. Today seems like a good day to start since the wind has shifted and lots of smoke from the Soberanes Fire is choking the valley again and I should confine most of my activities to inside.

So let's start with the up and comers.


I did a bunch of seed sowing in the last couple of weeks. On the right are new basil seedlings (Corsican, Italian Mountain, and Profumo di Genova) just potted up yesterday. The basil in the garden has gotten to be huge and is in full bloom so rather than trying to trim it down and get it to regrow I decided to start over with new plants. The long growing season means that I can harvest basil through October and well into November if the plants are healthy. These new seedlings are growing really quickly, they were sown on July 27, so I should be able to get them into the garden in a couple of weeks and then start harvesting from them a few weeks later. The flat in the center has pots of recently sown chard (Golden, Peppermint Stick, and Syrian Medieval). Those will be for overwintering, I don't expect to be harvesting anything from those plants for a few months. The other pots in that flat are sown with Tronchuda Beira cabbage (kale), Russian Hunger Gap kale, Jericho Romaine lettuce, and Rosencrantz Crisphead lettuce. And the flat on the left has Manoa Crisphead lettuce, Ramata di Milano onions (for scallions), chives, Purple Cape cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli, and Monarch celeriac.


This tunnel is home to a couple of recent additions to the garden.


The agribon is protecting newly sown seeds of Gladiator parsnips and a variety of carrots including Bolero, Nelson, Purple Sun, Pusa Rudhira Red, Rotild, and Starica. I've grown all of those before except for the Starica carrots.


I also set out 6 kohlrabi seedlings. Each plant is protected by a bottomless/topless water bottle to keep the sowbugs and possibly the rats from munching. The tunnel keeps the birds and the bunny out but the rats are more clever and can find a way in. The sowbugs won't or can't climb up the sides of the bottle.


The only other new activity in this bed is that the birds discovered the kale so I've had to cover it up with tulle. I should be calling my garden the "Veiled Garden".


The end is nearly here for the Black Coco bush beans. I've been pulling the pods off the plants as they dry and there's just a few left. This is only about half the patch. The rest of the plants were sown earlier and they are finished - the pods gathered and the plants chopped and in the compost. I'm not in a rush to clear out that space shown above, I've decided to put the I'itoi onions there and they don't need to be planted right away.


The rest of the beans made way for some peas. I was so pleased with the spring peas that I grew this year that I'm inspired to try a fall planting. There's 3 varieties here, all low growers that don't need a trellis. Two are shelling peas - Canoe and Green Arrow, and the third variety is Sweet Horizon snow peas. And they are of course veiled! I started all of them in paper pots sown on August 4. There's 12 of each variety except Green Arrow which had 2 that didn't germinate so I direct sowed 3 seeds to fill the gap. I also have another variety of pea I'm going to try later  - Frieda Worlds is bred for fall sowing to be overwintered, it is frost resistant but grows to 6 feet so I'll need a trellis for it. Space on the other side of the bed should open up in time to plant it.

Blue Speckled Tepary Bean Blossom

The tepary beans are finally starting to bloom. Blue Speckled has pink blossoms and Hopi White has white blossoms. I sowed the Blue Speckled on June 20, I'm not sure but it seems like nearly 2 months is a long time from sowing to first blooms (this is where this type of post will be helpful). The Hopi White were sown even earlier on June 7. It's a good thing I've got a long growing season.

Hopi Chinmark Corn Tassle
Hopi Chinmark Corn Silk

Another new event in this bed is that the Hopi Chinmark flour corn has started to tassle. The seeds were sown on June 8 and I have no idea what the time to harvest is but I guess 2+ months from seed to tassle isn't too long especially considering the cool climate here and a cooler than usual summer too.


Caught sight of this critter on the corn, I don't think it will do too much damage, so I let it be and perhaps one of the numerous lizards in the garden will get a treat!

Golden Gate snap bean

Signs of good things to come. Golden Gate is the first of the 3 pole beans to set beans. And the Zuni Tomatillo plants have been blooming like crazy and are setting fruits also.

Zuni Tomatillo

IPK P 852 (Italy) Pepper Plants

It's difficult to see through the hardware cloth, but the newly planted (Aug. 3) previously overlooked IPK P 852 (Italy) plants that I omitted from the main pepper planting and which had nearly been defoliated by rats before I rescued them are putting out new growth including flowers. If we have a normal run of warm weather this fall I might have a chance to see what kind of pepper they make. I think they're doing great considering I didn't get them into the pot until August 3.


I've got another coverup job going on in the pepper patch.


I'm not sure why it happened now, perhaps the plant dropped a leaf or 2, but this big beautiful Etiuda sweet bell started to get sunburned so I wrapped it in some Agribon. I also wrapped a Lady Bell that is starting to ripen but looked like it was getting sun damaged also.

Orange Jazz Tomato
Not really news, but I noticed that one of the Orange Jazz tomatoes is starting to develop some stripes. It looks like it's still got quite some time left before it ripens. Actually, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to ripen after developing stripes. Patience....

Rat Snatched Strawberry

The DRats are still up to their nasty tricks. They snatch a strawberry and then drop it in the garden without even finishing it. I see this time and again and it's always an infuriating sight.

Very mature Aurelia basil plants.

Here's the patch of basil that needs to be replaced. I think it might be an interesting experiment next year to try to do succession sowings of basil.

Profumo di Genova and Corsican basils

This patch of Profumo di Genova basil isn't quite so far gone as the Aurelia basil, but the Corsican basil is nearly gone, it got sick and started to die so I cut it back to the nubs.

Tromba d'Albenga squash
Elsewhere in this bed the Tromba d'Albenga squash produced the first blooms. Three female blossoms opened but nary a male blossom so I doubt this one will set. Tromba squash is a moschata type squash and the only other moschata squash in the garden hasn't started to bloom yet and the pepo and maxima squashes blooming in the garden now won't pollinate moschata squash (or each other). So I guess I'll be harvesting some baby Tromba d'Albenga squash soon.

Honey Nut Butternut Female Blossom

Candystick Dessert Delicata Squash

The Candystick Dessert Delicata squash (Curcurbita pepo) plants are blooming profusely and setting squash.

Candystick Dessert Delicata Blossom

Discus Buttercup Squash

The Discus Buttercup squash (Curcurbita maxima) has been blooming for a while now (would have been nice to note when it started).  There are a number of squash that have set.

Discus Buttercup Squash

And it looks like there are more setting. The plants are supposed to be bush types, spreading to about 3 feet, but each plant has sent out at least one long vine. Fortunately the vines want to grow out over the edge of the bed so I'll let them do that and direct them along the path.


Melon Vines
It remains to be seen if I started my melon plants in time to get ripe melons this fall. September and October bring the warmest weather of the year and that's the time I'm aiming for to have melons on the vines. The plants have started to take off. Hopefully they will have a major growth spurt in the next couple of weeks.

That's the latest in my garden. I hope to be back in a week with another update. Next time should be easier since there will be less catchup work to do.