Monday, December 15, 2014

Harvest Monday - December 15, 2014

It feels like the start to a "normal" winter around here. The rain has finally arrived and is drenching the landscape. The garden is soaking it up and growing strong, as are the weeds. The harvests last week looked mostly typical for the season.

The micromesh tunnels that are protecting much of my winter greens held up to the strong winds that ushered in the first storm last week. I got out to the garden to do some harvesting before the storm came in. One of the tunnels yielded a first harvest of rapini...

Early rapini
and some radishes.

Pink Beauty, Helios, and Pink Punch radishes

The Di Ciccio broccoli plants managed to push out a few more shoots. They are fewer and smaller now but still good.


No frost yet means the pea vines are still producing. The fabric covered trellis supporting the vines was the most affected by the high winds. The poles broke but the fabric covering kept the trellis from falling over so I was able to add a couple of poles and prop the trellis upright again with the loss of only a couple of plants. These are the peas I harvested early in the week and I picked a few more yesterday when I repaired the trellis.

Super Sugar Snap and Golden Sweet peas

The Lacinato kale especially loves the cool wet weather. This harvest was sauteed with some garlic and pancetta and paired with Greek Gigante beans.


Summer crops are lingering in spite of the weather. This is the harvest of zucchini and cucumbers before the storm. I thinned the dead and dying foliage from the zucchini trellis which kept it from blowing over in the wind. The vines linger but I'm not so sure the the last little zucchinis will mature in the cold wet weather. The cucumber vines actually produced a few more fruits that I harvested yesterday.


This was my favorite harvest of the week. Many of the baby eggplants that set and grew in the mild weather that we had in November were ready to harvest. I pan fried about 2/3's of these and used some to make a eggplant and ricotta casserole (sort of like Eggplant Parmesan) and the rest were marinated with some preserved sweet peppers seasoned with crushed fennel seed, garlic, olive oil and served with white anchovies and tuna. I made a stew with the rest of the eggplant, some zucchini, onion, lamb, pomegranate molasses, spices, and smoked tomato puree. The smoked tomato puree was part of my smoked pepper experiments this fall, I put a roasting pan (an old one) full of tomatoes into the BGE with a batch of peppers, then I passed the smoked tomatoes through a food mill and froze the puree. I finally tried the puree for the first time with this stew and I'm declaring success - there will be more smoked tomatoes next year.

Bonica and Salangana eggplants

This next harvest shown below was the most disappointing of the week. Well, not the harvest so much, but the dish that I made with them was absolutely awful, one of the worst things I've ever prepared, thank goodness it wasn't intended for dinner guests. It was so bad that I'm not putting the harvest into the tally, it was inedible. What was this awful dish? A simple lamb stew with green peppers, tomato and wine. Quite a simple preparation which actually had a lovely aroma. But when I tasted the broth of the final dish it was bitter. Then I tasted a couple of the stewed peppers which tasted ok to begin with but left a terrible bitter taste in my mouth. But the worst of it was that the bitterness lingered. I had a sip of wine after tasting the peppers, not immediately but a while later - it tasted awful. I tried a different wine, it was equally awful. And the wine continued to taste bad for at least an hour or so - bleah! So it wasn't the wines, it was the peppers. Yuck! Fortunately, the lamb tasted fine. So I plucked all the lamb pieces out of the stew and tossed the rest. The rescued lamb went into the aforementioned eggplant and zucchini stew a couple of days later where it was delicious. The big surprise and disappointment from this dining disaster is that I've used these varieties of green peppers in other preparations and never had this experience. Generally I do not like green bell peppers, but I find other types of green peppers to be delicious. I'm guessing that the problem was that these peppers were less mature than they would typically be when I harvest them green so they hadn't developed their best flavor yet. It was that or perhaps the green peppers did not combine well with the wine that they were cooked in, that's a combo that I've not tried before.


Here's the harvests for the past week:

Di Ciccio broccoli - 11.4 oz.
Green Fingers cucumbers - 1 lb., 4.7 oz.
Bonica eggplants - 1 lb., 10.3 oz.
Salangana eggplants - 2 lb., 11.7 oz.
Lacinato kale - 13.6 oz.
Super Sugar Snap peas - 7.6 oz.
Golden Sweet snow peas - 9.2 oz.
Helios radishes - 4.4 oz. (w/ greens)
Pink Beauty radishes - 3.8 oz. (w/ greens)
Pink Punch radishes - 3.3 oz. (w/ greens)
Early rapini - 10.8 oz.
Tromba D'Albenga zucchini - 1 lb., 9.2 oz.

The total harvests for the week were - 11 lb., 6 oz.
Which brings the total harvests for 2014 up to - 1187 lb., 6.7 oz.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne on her blog Daphne's Dandelions, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Harvest Monday - December 8, 2014

I haven't been able to claim this for a long time - the rain kept me out of the garden for much of the past week. Yippee, but that doesn't mean the drought is over. There's a study that was just published that reports that the drought that we've been experiencing for the past three years is the worst that California has experienced in 1200 years. I can believe it, I've lived here long enough to go through 2 severe droughts but I've never seen the native Coast Live Oaks suffer as much as they have lately. The leaves on the trees that cover most of the hillside behind my home have been steadily turning brown and I've never seen that happen before. There's dead and dying pine trees dotting the landscape as well. The Carmel river is dry a couple miles up the valley and down to a trickle in the valley below.

Anyway, I didn't harvest much last week, which is pretty normal for this time of year. I thinned the carrot patch again and got a few small nice specimens but mostly babies. The babies were stir fried with the cumulative harvests of Golden Sweet snow peas from the week before and some sprouting broccoli, seasoned with some garlic, oyster sauce ,and sherry. That was a tasty compliment to some Dungeness crab that we got through our community supported fishery.


While I was avoiding the rain a bunch of Golden Sweet snow peas started to get a bit over mature and some sugar snap peas finally got big enough to harvest.


The Di Ciccio broccoli produced another round of shoots and I found one good sized Tromba D'Albenga zucchini.


That was it for the week, here's the details:

Di Ciccio broccoli - 16.3 oz.
Amarillo Yellow carrots - 1.7 oz.
Deep Purple carrots - 1 oz.
Muscade carrots - 4.9 oz.
Mixed carrot thinnings - 7.8 oz.
Super Sugar Snap peas - 4 oz.
Golden Sweet snow peas - 10.1 oz.
Tromba D'Albenga zucchini - 1 lb., 2.8 oz.

The total harvests for the past week were - 4 lb., .6 oz.
Which brings the total harvests for 2014 up to 1176 lb., .7 oz.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne on her blog Daphne's Dandelions, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Crab Meals and Crab Meal

The commercial season for Dungeness crab opened on November 15. That's always a much anticipated event around here, we love crab, especially those big meaty Dungeness, and frankly, around here Dungeness crab is synonymous with crab, there are few other crabs worthy of our gastronomic attention. We've enjoyed four crab meals already thanks to the CSF (community supported fishery) that we belong to, two distributions of two 2-pound crabs. The crab is delivered cooked and cleaned but still in the shell. The only work required is to get out the picks and crackers and pluck the goodness. At the end of the meal there's just a bowlful of empty shells.

Ah, but what to do with those empty shells? Well, feed the garden, of course. The primary source of nitrogen that I put in my vegetable garden is crab or crustacean meal. I buy it in 35 pound bags, one of which will last at least a year. Crab meal, sulfate of potash, compost, and a mycorhizal innoculant are the typical amendments that I dig into the soil when I prepare a bed or a section of a bed for planting. Lately I've also been using a micro-nutrient amendment such as Azomite or glacial rock dust. Crab shells are a good source of nitrogen and phosphorus but contain little or no potassium, which means they have a NPK of (4-3-0), (N - nitrogen, P - phosphorus, K- potassium, the numbers you see on fertilizer packages in the US). Crab and crustacean meals are also good sources of calcium and magnesium.  They are also reputed to help suppress nematode populations because the bacteria that break down the chitin in the crab shells produce an enzyme that weakens the shells of any nematode eggs that happen to be nearby and perhaps even the exoskeletons of adult nematodes. One more benefit to using crab meal is that it breaks down slowly which means I generally don't have to do any supplemental feeding other than for very long standing vegetables that produce for more than 6 months or so.

My sister used to collect her crab shells in the freezer and when she ran a load of garden trimmings through her chipper/shredder she would run the frozen shells through and compost them. I don't have room in my freezer to stash crab shells. So I've come up with an alternative and easier way to process the shells, I simply grind them up in my VitaMix blender. The first time I tried grinding the shells I just put the wet shells into the VitaMix and gave them a whirl. The mix came out a bit chunky but usable. Then I thought that it was going to get stinky if I didn't use it right away and since I didn't have a spot in the garden that needed amending I girded myself to stink up the kitchen a bit and dry them out. First I thought of using the dehydrator, nah, too messy. So I turned the oven on low - 200ºF (93ºC), spread the shells out on a parchment lined baking sheet and popped them in the oven for a bit. What a pleasant surprise it was when the kitchen didn't get stinky.

The next round of shells went into the oven before I ground them up. That worked so much better, still not stinky, neither in the oven or fully dried. It doesn't take very long to dry the shell enough to get a fine grind, 10 minutes at 200ºF and then turn the oven off and let them sit. Last night we had another crab so after dinner I popped the shells into the oven for 10 minutes and then turned the oven off and left them for the night, this morning they were perfectly dry and not stinky. No fuss and no stinky garbage the next day. Gotta love it, not only do I avert garbage from the landfill but I get to feed my vegetable garden too!


The photo below shows the wet ground and then dried shells on the left and the ground dried shells on the right. It's so much easier to dry the shells, collect them, and then do one big grind, like I do with my egg shells. I prefer the finer grind so I gave the dry chunky stuff another whirl and it ground up nice and fine.


Two crabs produced only 6.5 ounces (190g) of dried ground shells, so I'll still be purchasing those 35 pound bags of crab meal. We don't eat that much crab.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Garden on November 29, 2014 & December Garden Share Collective

We've had very mild weather through the month of November so there's still a few "summer" vegetables lingering in the garden. But now most of the garden is devoted to greens and roots.

The drought continues. We've received less than two inches of rain since the beginning of the official season which starts on July 1. There's been a few "storm" systems that have come through the area but the forecasting seems to have been more wishful thinking than accurate predictions. It seems like there's been just enough moisture falling out of the clouds to make the dust congeal on my car. At least the weather is mild enough that I only have to irrigate the garden about once a week or so. (Finally, this morning as I finish writing this post we are getting some real rain!)

Here's a look at Bed#1. I had to swaddle the pea trellis with lightweight Agribon rowcover because the birds were obliterating the pea plants. They seemed to have discovered the tasty pea foliage one day and started to feast. Of course it was one of the few days that I was away and didn't spend any time in the garden. I walked into the garden the next day and immediately noticed the the plants had shrunk, the birds had pecked the tops of the plants away.


Fortunately, I discovered their dastardly deeds before they could do too much damage. The snow pea plants received the least of their attentions so I'm still harvesting some nice handfuls of snow peas. The snap peas were hardest hit, especially since they were less mature than the snow peas so I lost a lot of flowers.


The cloth covering the soil in front of the pea trellis is protecting a sowing of Kodiak mustard that I'm growing as a quick cover crop. This corner was where I grew Purgatory bush beans. After I harvested all the dry beans I chopped up the plants and dug them into the soil and then I sowed the mustard. At the end of the month I'll dig the mustard into the soil as well and then a few weeks later I'll be setting out some onion seedlings.


Next to the mustard is a few lingering Purgatory bean plants from a late second sowing. There's just a few beans left to mature. I'll clean out the space soon and prep the soil for the onion seedlings that are due to arrive in early January. The trellis behind is where the Tarbais beans grew. I need to clean that out but there's no rush, I don't need the space until January or February when I'll be setting out more allium seedlings.


There were various radishes growing next to the Purgatory beans this fall, most of which have already been harvested except for a few Watermelon radishes. Through the summer there was a block of Floriani Red Flint corn growing behind the space occupied by the radishes. I left the roots behind when I cut the stalks down and I recently sowed some mustard around the stumps. All this will be turned in at the end of the month and then I'll plant alliums in the space in late January or early February.




Next is the fall sowing of carrots (with some cilantro in front). They are growing slowly but not so slowly that I shouldn't be able to harvest at least some baby carrots by the end of December or in early January when I'll need the space for onions.


At the far end of the bed is the garlic patch. The garlic was set out on November 8 and if you look closely you can see the first green shoots that have emerged.


Bed #2 is where I'm growing the overwintering brassicas and other winter greens. Those big beauties front and center are Romanesco. I think they are happy, they've become enormous! They should start developing heads in January, I think...


I'm always testing the limits of the growing seasons, so here's one of the experiments for this winter, a late sowing of chard. I've got them protected (mostly from the birds not the weather) by bottomless water bottle cloches and so far they seem to be quite happy. I hope to be able to harvest some tender young chard by the end of the year and perhaps through January, with luck into February, but no doubt they will bolt sometime in the spring.


I"m less optimistic about the celeriac that was set out quite late. It's putting out some nice green growth but the roots look puny. I don't need the space for now so I'll let them continue on...

Monarch celeriac

The celery was a late comer to the garden as well, but it looks like I'll get at least a few tender young stalks and I should be able to harvest a few quite soon to use in a celery leaf salsa verde. (You might find the recipe here.)

Dorato d'Asti celery

The Tronchuda Beira Portuguese cabbage has just enough room and light to grow. I've been harvesting a leaf or two from the plants occasionally to use in soups. Two plants are perfect for my needs.


And here's one more winter experiment. The cloches are protecting newly set out seedlings of escarole and radicchios. What the heck, I've got the space.



The radicchio experiments are occupying the space left after I cleaned out the cauliflower plants which I didn't expect to produce so early, and also the space that was occupied by bean trellises until a few weeks ago. I'm reserving the very end of the bed for strawberry plants that I hope to find soon, or at least by January or February. The raggedy plants to the left of the cloches are the spring planting of Di Ciccio broccoli, still putting out delicious if small shoots. Look at the hillside, there's barely a hint of green growth, we've had only enough rain to prompt things to germinate but they aren't growing much. It looks like it will be another year without a wild flower display.


To the left of the broccoli is the Lacinto kale, not yet pecked to death by birds nor infested with aphids. No doubt both will find it soon, it always happens.


Moving on to Bed #3, there's one of the remnants of summer, the Tromba d'Albenga zucchini vines.


They keep blooming, but either the bees aren't around to pollinate the blossoms or the male and female blossoms open on different days, most of them don't seem to get pollinated or fully pollinated. But the squash get big enough to harvest despite the pollination issues, the bulb end shrivels a bit but the neck part of the squash stays crisp and delicious. I hope to get a few more before the first frost hits or the plants succumb to disease.


I've still got two tunnels going in this bed. The original spring and summer greens have been cleaned out and now the tunnels are protecting winter greens and roots.


This is an unusual spinach with dandelion like leaves, Guntmadingen, a Swiss heirloom. I got my seeds from Adaptive Seeds but they don't seem to be carrying it any more. Too bad, it's a very tasty winter spinach. I'm not sure I'll be able to leave these plants in the garden long enough to save seeds since I'll need to clear out this bed in early spring to plant a cover crop. Maybe I can try to move them to another bed.


I'm also growing Summer Perfection spinach, Early Rapini,


a mix of radishes,


Mikado baby turnips and China Rose radishes. China Rose is a large cylindrical winter radish with a rosy skin. My seed packet says the flesh is supposed to be a deep rose color but every other seed source says white, I'll find out when I harvest the first ones. The greens are supposed to be tasty as well, good for stir frys and soups.


And at the end of this tunnel I've snuck in a sowing of Speedy arugula, which isn't quite as speedy as usual at this time of year. And I tried sowing some Cilician parsley which is supposed to prefer cooler weather and is also supposed to be well adapted to mild winter climates. I definitely sowed it a bit late, but again, I had the seeds and the space and I can't resist the temptation to push the limits.


In this corner of the bed is one more remnant of summer, the August sown Green Fingers Persian cucumbers.


Still producing!


The tunnel on the other side of the bed is still protecting strawberry plants which I need to pull out, most of them are riddled with disease. It's easier to buy new bare root plants each winter, they'll start producing in the spring and continue on through summer into fall. The rest of the tunnel is sown with beets and lettuces.


I started the beets in paper pots and set them out not long after the seeds germinated. They are alive (most of them) and growing very slooowly, that's the best I can say for them.


I'm pretty happy with the lettuces, they've only been in the garden a few weeks and I set them out when they were really small, just a couple of true leaves. I start my lettuces in 4-inch pots and then separate the seedlings, setting them out as little tiny "bare root" plants. It's so much easier than direct sowing, I can set out the biggest healthiest seedlings at the desired spacing, no thinning or gaps.

Michelle batavian and Ruby Gem romaine

Superior iceberg and Rhapsody butterhead

Sweetie Baby romaine

Also still lingering in this bed are a few of the old chard plants. The Peppermint Stick and Golden chards are trying to make a comeback from a severe powdery mildew infection. The poor little (once upon a time huge) Italian Silver Rib plant got the double whammy of powdery mildew and bird pecking, it's hiding under the water bottle cloche. I had a Flamingo chard earlier but it decided to bolt early.


Look at the sowing dates - Peppermint stick was direct sown.


Golden was sown in a 4-inch pot.


Now for the last bed. Number 4 was home to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants for half the year. I cut down the tomato plants last week and removed the cages. I'll scratch a few amendments into the soil and then replace the tomato cages and plant favas inside the cages. The tomato cages will support the fava plants when they become heavy with beans so that the plants don't flop all over the place. The cages also provide a handy support for bird netting, it's impossible to grow favas here without protecting the seedlings from birds. Which is why there's mesh over part of the remaining pepper plants, the birds have pecked away most of the tender new leaves. Grrrrrr.


There's still a few little peppers on the Padrons (the covered plants), but not much. The pepper patch is next up on the cleanup list.


Most of the eggplants made quite a surprising comeback from their bout with a spider mite population explosion.


Perhaps you can see the young eggplants hanging in the foliage.


Small but good. I'm waiting as long as possible before I harvest them and clean out the plants.


 So that's it for the latest garden tour. Here's my Garden Share Collective Report.


November sowing and planting activities -

  • Nov. 8, set out four varieties of garlic - Lorz Italian softneck, Mild French softneck, Early Red Italian softneck and Chesnok Red hardneck
  • Nov. 8, direct sowed Speedy arugula and Kodiak mustard. Set out Michelle batavian and Ruby Red romaine lettuce seedlings. Set out Golden, Red Baron, and Baby Ball beet seedlings.
  • Nov. 17 Set out Italian Silver Rib and Peppermint Stick chard seedlings. Set out Iceberg Superior, Sweetie Baby romaine, and Rhapsody butterhead lettuces. Set out French Gray shallot sets.
  • Nov. 19, Sowed more Kodiak mustard cover crop. Sowed Yellow Cippolini, Rossa Lunga di Firenza, and Tonda Musona Binaca seeds into 4-inch pots.
  • Nov. 21, sowed Zebrune shallot seeds into 4-inch pots.
November harvests - here's a summary of the harvests for the month. For more details see my weekly Harvest Monday posts.


November Summary
Lb.
Kg.

Beans, dry
1.7
0.8

Broccoli
7.5
3.4

Cabbage
1.4
0.6

Carrots
0.9
0.4

Cauliflower
9.1
4.1

Corn, flint
5.3
2.4

Cucumbers
5.2
2.3

Kale
3.4
1.6

Onions
2.6
1.2

Peas
0.7
0.3

Peppers
5.4
2.4

Radishes
2.9
1.3

Tomatoes
11.3
5.1

Zucchini
7.6
3.5


65.0
29.5




Here's a comparison chart of this November to past November harvests (all in pounds).


November
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Beans, dry

1.1

9.1
1.7
Beets

2.9



Broccoli

5.7
1.3
4.5
7.5
Cabbage, incl. Napa

7.1



Cabbage, Portuguese


0.9

1.4
Carrots




0.9
Cauliflower




9.1
Celery

5.6
0.7


Celeriac
4.3




Chard
1.0

1.4


Corn




5.3
Cucumber

2.9

2.5
5.2
Eggplant
2.6
3.4
4.1
17.5

Garlic



1.1

Kale
2.8
1.0
0.9
4.7
3.4
Lettuce

1.5
0.1
1.2

Melon



4.7

Onion


6.1

2.6
Pea, snap and snow



0.6
0.7
Peppers
22.1
4.4
11.1
39.8
5.4
Radishes




2.9
Rapini



1.9

Spinach

1.9



Tomatoes
1.9
22.1
53.6
59.1
11.3
Winter Squash
13.2


25.4

Zucchini


2.3
7.9
7.6

47.9
59.6
82.5
179.7
65.0


My plans for December -

  • Sow fava (broadbean) seeds where the tomatoes used to be.
  • Remove pepper plants and sow a cover crop mix.
  • Harvest eggplant (!) and sow favas to complete the row along once side of the bed, the other side of the space to be sown with a cover crop mix.
  • Clean out the dying bean plants in bed #1 and prepare the soil for alliums.
  • Scrape out the remaining old wood chip mulch from the main garden path and replace with gravel.
  • Sow seeds for leeks in 4-inch pots for planting out in February.
  • Remove zucchini, cucumber, amaranth, and strawberry plants from bed #3. Unfortunately I will also have to start to remove soil from the bed because oak roots are invading and I need to line the bed with a root barrier - at least I can do that over the course of a couple of months.
  • Locate bare root strawberry plants to set out in bed #2.

The Garden Share Collective is a group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills. Creating a monthly community to navigate through any garden troubles and to rival in the success of a good harvest we will nurture any beginner gardener to flourish. Each month we set ourselves a few tasks to complete by the next month, this gives us a little push to getting closer to picking and harvesting. The long-term goal of the Garden Share Collective is to get more and more people gardening and growing clean food organically and sustainably.

The Collective is hosted by Lizzie on her blog Strayed from the Table, there you will find links to gardeners in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Europe, and United States. There's lots of garden inspiration waiting for you there!