Friday, December 14, 2007

Garlic Update

Broadleaf Czech

The garlic started sprouting just a couple of weeks after it was planted back in mid-October. All of the Czech Broadleaf, Georgian Crystal, and white-skinned Tochliavri bulbs are growing nicely. About half of the red-skinned Tochliavri bulbs have not sprouted and the rest are smaller than the other varieties.

Georgian Crystal in back, Tochliavris in Front

I've fertilized once with fish emulsion and will be applying some more today.

Olive Leaf Rapini

Last night my husband requested risotto when I asked him if he hand any preferences about dinner. Risotto is one of my favorite dishes for impromptu "what have I got on hand" meals. I always have at least one type of risotto rice in the pantry, Vialone Nano at the moment. And, since my favorite grocery store is 15 miles away, I usually have the fridge and freezer pretty well stocked. Plus, there's usually something to harvest in the garden as well. So I took a look at what I had on hand and came up with Risotto with Olive Leaf Rapini and Teleme.

I use a pressure cooker to make my risotto. The 2.5 liter Kuhn Rikon pressure fry pan is perfect for making risotto for two. The purists are likely looking down their noses as they read this - and perhaps aren't bothering to continue on. I agree, you can make really bad risotto in a pressure cooker. You can also make great risotto in a pressure cooker if you keep a couple of things in mind. One, don't shoot for perfect risotto the moment you open the cooker - cooking time varies according to the type and age of the rice. I cook under pressure for 5 minutes only. I've always opened the cooker after 5 minutes to very al dente rice which allows you to continue cooking the risotto in an open pan until it reaches the desired degree of doneness. Don't add all the cooking liquid at the beginning, reserve about a third of it for finishing the risotto. PC risotto required less liquid so you might want to use a more concentrated stock. Most vegetables will need to be cooked separately and added at the end otherwise they may just disintegrate under pressure. Great for using up leftovers, of whatever.

So, last night's dinner:

Risotto with Olive Leaf Rapini and Teleme

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt to taste
1 cup Vialone Nano rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 to 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, hot
about 4 ounces Franklin's Teleme cheese
1 bunch Olive Leaf Rapini, blanched and chopped
freshly ground pepper
Olio Nuovo or your favorite extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated Parmesan

Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat and let it brown a little. Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is opaque. Add the wine and stir and cook until absorbed. Add 1 3/4 cup of the stock, stir it in. Lock the lid into place and bring the cooker up to high pressure. Reduce the heat to low and cook at high pressure for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and release the pressure using the appropriate quick release method. Taste the risotto for doneness. Return the pan to the heat and continue cooking, using however much additional stock is required until almost done. Add the Teleme to the pan and stir in until melted and completely incorporated. Stir in the chopped rapini and cook until heated through. Season with freshly ground pepper and taste for salt. Serve in warmed bowls with a drizzle of olio nuovo and freshly grated parmesan.
Serves 2.

I also roasted a smoked duck breast in a 500 degree F. oven for about 12 minutes, sliced it thin and served it alongside.

Olive leaf rapini is a lovely looking and tasting variety of Broccoli Raab. It is a little sweeter than the raab that I've found at stores and markets. I start the the plants from seed in the fall and harvest through the winter. The plants start off looking like most other rapinis, with somewhat prickly, serrated leaves. When it starts to send up flower stalks the leaves become elongated and smooth-edged and gray-green colored (vaguely olive leaf like). I pick the outer leaves until the flower stalks start to come. The flower stalks are harvested just as the flowers start to open or before. If you pick the stalks with a leaf node or two remaining at the base the stalks will resprout and you can harvest successively through the season.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gopher Update

The gophers have been active lately. Caught two last week in the same run, which is unusual since gophers don't share runs. A new one must have taken up residence as soon as the previous one was gone. I caught these two before they found tasty treats in the front garden. But, now I've got mounds and holes where they were active. I hate to fill in the runs right away because a new gopher that moves in will block the opening - the first sign of new activity.

Unfortunately, the latest gopher wasn't evident until I found one of my Portuguese cabbages wilting and rootless. I set traps yesterday and found them this morning clogged with dirt and unsprung. More digging and setting. Hope this gopher isn't too smart.

Rootless Portuguese Cabbage

As I was sitting here writing this entry I heard a distinctive thunk out in the garden - the gopher trap? Yes. The cinch traps have an extremely strong spring that makes a loud thunk when sprung. That makes four gophers caught in three weeks. Too bad I couldn't get the muncher before it got my cabbage. Fortunately one Portuguese cabbage produces quite enough to keep this family of two happy. Although, It would have been nice to save seed from more than one plant.

One Remaining Cabbage and Gopher Hole Set With Traps

Now I need to figure out what has been beating me to the side shoots on the broccoli plants. Probably rats. Time to set a different type of trap.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Habaneros Without The Heat

Datil Sweets

The habanero is a chile that is guaranteed to be hot …right? Certainly every habanero that I’ve ever purchased has been hot. Macho hot! I don’t go for macho… On a perceived hotness scale of 0 to 10, 0 being totally sweet and 10 being off the chart hot, I max out at about 6 – that’s just toleration, not enjoyment. Habaneros hit the chart at 9 or 10.

A home gardener will easily find generic habanero seeds and plants. But, if you look a little further you can find named varieties, most of them notable for either unique colors or extreme hotness. Just what is the point of hotter than hot anyway? Must be that macho thing – bragging rights - whatever. So, why am I even discussing this cruel capsicum? It’s obviously not the heat that piques my interest, rather, it’s their unique flavor. It has been described as being fruity, floral and smoky, among other things. But I’ve never been able to get past the heat to experience the flavor. How can you concentrate on flavor when your mouth feels like an inferno and you’re gasping for breath and your brow is dripping with sweat and you can hardly get that glass of beer to your mouth without dribbling it down your front?* What can a semi-wimpy chile aficionado do?

I finally learned that habaneros have taste-alike siblings (some of them look-alike) that don’t lay waste to your taste buds. The range of heat in chinense chiles (the species of chiles that includes habaneros and their siblings) starts at almost non-detectable and climbs the hotness scale to the habanero heights. Yippee! Here was my chance to experience that elusive flavor. But, it took quite a bit more searching before I found sources for seeds and plants.

Cross Country Nurseries offers a number of mild chinense chile plants which I ordered from their website. The plants got to me in great condition and they all thrived in my garden. Actually, most of them survived the winter and went on to produce for a second season. The next winter we had a hard freeze and the plants finally hit the compost pile. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to do any proper seed saving. This year I placed another order with Cross Country for a more limited selection of plants including Datil Sweet, one of my favorite chinense varieties from the previous seasons. The chiles this year had only a trace of heat in the placenta and none in the flesh. Oh, and they did taste marvelous.

Chile plants tend to get off to a slow start in my garden because my location only 10 miles inland from the cold Pacific produces nighttime fog and cool evening temperatures well into the summer. Daytime temps are generally delightful until late in the year. And since we don't generally get frost until December I usually pick chiles well into November. I picked the bulk of the Datil Sweets and Rocotos after Thanksgiving and even now there are still some hanging on the plants.

So, here’s a roundup of the chinense chiles that I grew in ’05-’06. They all came from CCN except for the Cachucha which I grew from seed purchased from Peppermania (and not carried by them at the moment).

Aji Brown
Aji Dulce 1
Aji Dulce 2
Aji Dulce - Cachucha
Aji Panca
Datil Sweet
Grenada Seasoning
Puerto Rican No Burn
St. Lucia Red Seasoning
St. Lucia Yellow Seasoning
Trinidad Perfume
Trinidad Seasoning

This year I want to try a few more chinense varieties, including some spicier ones.

Tobago Sweet Scotch Bonnet
Tobago Seasoning
Cheiro Recife
Numex Suave Orange and Red
Bido Tacana
Venezuelan Sweet Habanero
Belize Sweet Habanero
Red Globe

One of my favorite things to make with mild chinense chiles is Pepper Jam. It is a favorite accompaniment to cheese of many kinds. The latest batch was made with mostly Datil Sweets and a cup of Red Rocoto chiles for spice.

Pepper Jam

5 ½ cups chopped peppers, with or without seeds (about 2 lb)
1 box low sugar pectin (Sure-Jell)
3 ½ cups sugar
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup 5% acidity vinegar (apple cider is good)
½ cup water

Mix pectin with ½ cup of sugar. Put fruit and liquids in blender and blend until liquid or leave chunky if desired. Cook fruit until boiling. Mix in pectin mixture and return to a rolling boil. Add sugar until all mixed in and bring to a rolling boil and boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Ladle into clean jars and top with boiled lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Makes about 6 cups jam.

Red & Yellow Rocotos

*Beer is my favorite fire extinguisher. Other chile wimps that I know swear by milk or something sweet like maple syrup or hard candies. Keep away from water though – capsaicin is water soluble and a mouthful of water will just spread the hot stuff further around your mouth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Not-So-Fun Aspect of Gardening

Some aspects of gardening are not for the squeamish. Such as pests. I still get the willies when I come across some big yucky bad bug. Some gardeners whom I know can just pick them up and squish them with their fingers, bare fingers even. Yuck…. Not me, I prefer to use some sort of object for their demise, such as the bottom of a shoe. Maybe I’ll pick them up, with gloves on, and toss them over the fence into the wilderness. No, I’m not throwing them into the neighbor’s garden – just the other side of the deer fence. Small insects get insecticidal soap or some other organic treatent.

Other pests are not so easily dispatched though. The furry underground type that love to drag your plants into their runs and have a lovely meal. Once you lose enough plants down a gopher hole you will learn to deal with them. I’ll never forget going out to the garden to check on a plant that had been in the ground for just a few days. There was nothing there. Bare dirt. Not a hole or a mound or even a stem or a leaf. It looked like a spot just prepared for planting.

There are a number of options when those varmints move into the garden. One, you can surrender and let them feast. Not likely! Two, put a pest control company on your speed dial. Expensive! Three, buy some traps and get over your squeamishness and learn how to use them. Four, lots of wire baskets and/or raised beds lined with hardware cloth. Great until they rust out or a gopher gets over the top of the bed and trapped in there – it does happen. Actually, wire baskets are good for protecting those one-of-a-kind precious plants that you just don’t want to take a chance on losing to gophers. Five, poison bait. Ugh, not good if your pet or another animal eats the poisoned gopher. Let’s just say NO to poison.

I learned how to trap gophers about 5 years ago when I moved from a nice safe 1/4 acre suburban gopher-free property to a 1/2 acre spot in a rural(ish) neighborhood that was overrun with gophers. It seemed like if I dug a hole in the ground and set a trap that I could catch a gopher. Just exaggerating, but I did catch 2 dozen, that’s 24 gophers, the first year. And that doesn’t include what the cat got. After the first 24, the work continued at a slower pace as the gophers that were breeding in the neighbor’s neglected orchard continued to migrate into my garden. Now I’m living in a much more rural area where the bulk of the property is mostly undisturbed natural hillside which is home to quite a variety of wildlife, including gophers.

The Garden in September

Last week I suspected gophers in my garden when I saw a subtle sign of activity. Rather than the usual mound of dirt or the incredible disappearing plant, what caught my eye was a 2-inch diameter spot where the soil was more loose and crumbly than the surrounding hard-packed ground – a “feed hole” perhaps. It was perfectly level with the surrounding soil, the only difference was texture. I dug up that area and found a run. I set a Cinch trap, tucked it into the run and covered the opening with an overturned nursery tray weighted down with a handy stone (lots of those close at hand). The next day, darn, the opening was stuffed full of dirt and the trap unsprung. So, dig some more and find the main run. More often than not I can catch a gopher in a feed hole or an exit tunnel using the Cinch trap, but not this time. So, two traps this time, one down each direction of the main run.

Cinch traps, the bottom one is tripped

Next morning – gotcha!

Pocket Gopher

There’s a lot of good information on the web about controlling gophers. One helpful source is on the University of California IPM website. They have information about setting Macabee and box traps as well as other methods of control. I started with Macabee traps but did not always find them to be effective. Occasionally I would find a gopher that was trapped but not yet dead – a horrible experience. I learned to keep a bucket of water handy to drown the poor things. I learned of the Cinch trap at a training session for Santa Clara County Master Gardeners. It has two big advantages, in my opinion, over Macabee and box traps. One, it’s easier to set because it generally requires less digging. Two, it’s more humane because it kills the animals instantly. More good information about gopher control can be found at Gophers Limited including information about setting a Cinch trap and a link to an excellent article in the SF Chronicle.

This is only the second time in the ten months that I’ve lived here that I’ve had to set a gopher trap. The first time was in a run that didn’t seem to be active. I’m hoping that the gopher population is naturally limited because the area that they are invading from has more natural predators and fewer unnatural food sources than a cultivated area.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Winter Tomatoes

For the typical home vegetable gardener fresh winter tomatoes are just a dream. You can enjoy preserved tomatoes if you've grown an abundance of them and have the time and energy to peel and can and chop and cook and process and... well, you get the drift - it's a huge chore. I got over the urge to can tomatoes years ago. I will make my Lazy Cooks Tomato Sauce or simple tomato purees and store them in the freezer. Or I dehydrate tomato slices. Or, for the ultimate in preserving laziness, I just pop whole ripe tomatoes into the freezer. But I'm resigned to enjoying a juicy ripe tomato only a few months out of the year. I will not touch a mealy tasteless pseudo-tomato offering from the store, regardless of how pretty it might look and especially if it has been shipped from the other side of the world.

Now I've come across another method for enjoying homegrown tomatoes in the winter - not quite fresh but not really preserved either. Lynn Rossetto Kasper has a piece in her book The Italian Country Table about Pomodori d'Inverno of Puglia. Certain varieties of tomatoes are grown to be harvested in late summer - the entire plant is cut and hung in pantries or shady porches - the ripe tomatoes shrivel slightly but don't dry. The flavor supposedly becomes more intense as they hang. Imagine, what could be easier than cutting a plant full of ripe tomatoes and hanging them up! The basic requirements for this method are a dry airy place that stays somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees F. Lynn recommends small fruited varieties of tomatoes such as Red Currants, Sweet 100's Sun Golds, Early Cascades or Principessa Borgheses. I found some seed sources for Italian varieties that I think are the real deal - Inverno a Grappoli and Pomodori a Grappiolo d'Inverno. Here's another source for Grappoli d'Inverno. And a source for Italian Winter Grape. I also think that a determinate type of tomato would work best (as the Italian varieties that I found are) since they ripen all of their fruits at once.

So, it's November and I'm already dreaming about next year's tomato crop. But, I have to confess - the weather has been so mild that I'm still picking a few tomatoes from my plants - the Aunt Ruby's German Greens have been particularly tasty even if they are on the small side. Omar's Lebanese haven't fared as well since they have a strong tendency to crack at the least hint of rain so that they spoil before they get ripe enough. Although they do have some nice green fruits that I'm going to fry up using a recipe that I like from Food & Wine that has Parmesan in the breading.

And as for the Lazy Cooks Tomato Sauce. Take a large roasting pan and drizzle some olive oil in there - more or less to your taste. Slice a bunch of tomatoes in half horizontally and lay them cut side up in the roasting pan. Cut some onions into halves (or quarters if very large), peel and remove the root ends, and put them cut side up in amongst the tomatoes. I use about 4 parts tomatoes to 1 part onions. Peel some garlic cloves and tuck them amongst the tomatoes and onions. Tuck some basil leaves into the pan (or not), you can also tuck a couple of bay leaves or a few sprigs of thyme, or some parsley into the mix. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Roast in a 350 degree F. oven until the tomatoes and onions are tender - about an hour or more depending on the size of the tomatoes and onions and how big your pan is. Cool, remove bay leaves or thyme stems if used. Pass through a food mill (much nicer texture than a food processor plus it removes the seeds and skins). Portion out into containers of whatever size you want. Cover and freeze. If you omit the herbs it allows you to season the sauce however you like when you use it. You can also just roast the tomatoes alone and pass them through a food mill for a simple tomato puree.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Soup Time for Portuguese Cabbage

I've been experimenting with Portuguese Cabbage aka 'Couve Tronchuda' in the kitchen. It's the essential ingredient in Caldo Verde and it was delicious in the version that I made using Jean Anderson's recipe from The Food of Portugal. Kale and collards seem to be the most common substitutes suggested for Portuguese Cabbage so I thought to try the reverse - use the cabbage in kale recipes. I've had varying results, none really outstanding. It was ok in a gratin with potatoes and would probably have been better if I had had the time to leave it in the oven longer. So I've returned to soup since that seems to be the raison d'ĂȘtre for this vegetable (see the article that Barbara Damrosch wrote about Couve Tronchuda for the Washington Post). I came up with the following soup after reading a recipe for the Spanish soup Caldo Gallego. This is not Caldo Gallego by a long stretch but it delicious and therefore worth recording so that I can make it again.

Bean and Sausage Soup with Portuguese Cabbage

1 1/2 cups dry Runner Cannellini beans, presoaked
1 smoked ham hock
Dittmer’s Venison Andouille sausages, about 9 to 10 ounces
2 8-inch stalks of celery
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered through the root end
2 1/2 quarts cold water (part poultry stock)
3 medium new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 large leaves portuguese cabbage, stems removed and cut into 1/4-inch by 2-inch shreds, about 6 loose cups
Salt and pepper to taste
Best quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Put the presoaked beans, ham hock, whole sausages, celery, carrots, onion wedges, and water into a stock pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down and simmer, partly covered, for an hour.

Remove the ham hock and sausages and set aside to cool. Remove and discard the vegetables (they are meant to just flavor the broth). Continue to simmer the beans until they are quite tender but not falling apart – this could take up to an hour longer. If you’re in a rush and the beans are still quite crunchy you can transfer them with half of the broth to a pressure cooker and cook under high pressure for 10 minutes and quick release the pressure. Transfer the beans and broth from the pressure cooker back to the stock pot. Remove the meat from the ham hock and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Slice the sausages into 1/4-inch slices.

When the beans are tender, add the cubed potatoes and shredded cabbage to the pot. Simmer about 15 minutes longer, or until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart. Add the ham and sausage to the pot and simmer a few minutes more. Season the soup with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with a generous drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil in each bowl.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's Time to Plant Garlic!

Oh boy, am I excited – I get to plant garlic this year! Last year I couldn’t be bothered to plant garlic for whomever was going to own my patch of dirt at harvest time. That was one of the worst things about moving – why bother to plant for someone else? I still can’t believe that they mowed down all those delicious fava beans (next project!). It’s soooo nice to do long range garden projects again.

I can never remember from year to year the particulars of growing garlic so I’m going to write up my own personal Garlic Primer. My favorite food gardening book - Golden Gate Gardening – says that Mid-October through November is the best time to plant garlic sets in the sunnier micro-climates of coastal California (that’s means my garden). I might get away with planting garlic as late as the end of February but the later you plant the smaller the bulbs will be. Harvest time is in late June or July.

Garlic prefers soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter but it will grow in most soil types. Dig in a fertilizer that has more phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen when preparing the soil to plant. Or – another source says to dig in up to half the nitrogen the plants will need over the growing season at planting time. Whatever – I dug in some E.B. Stone All-Purpose 5-5-5 organic fertilizer and some alfalfa. Plenty of nitrogen – hopefully not too much too soon. That’s what happens when you do your research after you prepare your garden bed. Mulch the garlic with compost or some other organic material to suppress weeds – garlic does not compete well with weeds. Weeds must be controlled early since garlic does not like to have its roots disturbed. When the garlic is actively growing fertilize with something that has more nitrogen such as fish emulsion. Stop fertilizing about 60 days before you expect to harvest, at the latest by May 15th. When the tips of the leaves start yellowing it means that the bulbs are near maturity and need less water. (Move those inline emitter lines!)

Harvest the bulbs when about 40 percent of the leaves are dead. There should be 4 to 6 green leaves left for softneck varieties and 6 to 8 green leaves left for hardneck varieties. If you wait until all the leaves are dead you will have larger bulbs but they won’t have enough of an outer skin left to protect them and they will have a shorter shelf life. Cure the freshly dug bulbs by putting them in a well ventilated, dark space with humidity below 70%, and with a temperature between 40 and 60 degrees F. Direct sun and heat will also shorten garlic’s shelf life.

I planted the cloves 6 inches apart in rows 6 inches apart (6-inch centers), although Golden Gate Gardening says they can be planted 4 inches apart. My gritty soil tends to be lean in nutrients so I figure that the more space for individual plants to find nutrients the better. Six inches also works well since I irrigate with inline emitter lines that have emitters every 6 inches, thus allowing me to place one emitter between each plant. Once planted I laid some bird netting over the soil - not to keep the birds out - to keep the cats from doing their business in that nice loose soil.

This year I chose three varieties that I purchased from the Seed Savers Exchange online catalog Remember to order early, some varieties that I was interested in were already sold out when I ordered on August 18th. Two of them are softnecks – Broadleaf Czech and Tochliavri. The third one is a hardneck – Georgian Crystal – which I’m trying even though hardnecks supposedly grow better in cold winter climates. SSE obtained all of them from The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben, Germany (The Gatersleben Seed Bank). I bought two heads of each variety and ended up with 59 cloves to plant. That means that if the Gardening Goddess is with me I may end up with less than an average of 1 head of garlic to use per week for the next year. After all I will have to pick some very young green garlic (smallest cloves planted in front for easy early picking). And whatever varieties I end of liking I’ll have to save some to plant next year. I’m not sure that will be enough – I’ll have to remember to plant more next year.

Broadleaf Czech is described as mild and full flavored, but hot to very hot when raw. The cloves are tan with a hint of red and there are 8 to 12 of them per bulb. It seems to be a rare variety – only available from SSE.

Tochliavri, aka Red Toch, originated in the Republic of Georgia near the town of Tochliavri. The cloves are streaked medium to light with red and pink. There are 10 to 18 cloves per bulb. SSE says it is the standard by which all other garlics should be judged – very tasty, very popular, and widely available. It supposedly matures earlier than most softnecks. When I separated the cloves from my two bulbs I found that one bulb had white-skinned cloves and the other bulb had darker skins with read streaks. I’ve read varying descriptions of this variety from other catalogs so perhaps this is normal variation. I segregated the two different groups of cloves when I planted them so I can compare them when I harvest them.

Georgian Crystal, aka Cichisdzhvari, is one of the hardneck varieties that supposedly can do well in warm winter climates. It’s a porcelain type with only 4 to 7 big fat cloves per bulb. The flavor is described as mild when raw, smooth and buttery when roasted. This variety also seems to be readily available.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Caldo Verde

I've just harvested the first leaves of Portuguese Cabbage. The leaves are huge - 2 of them weigh in at 1 1/2 pounds! This veggie is the star in the Portuguese soup Caldo Verde. Jean Anderson says in her cookbook The Food of Portugal "If Portugal has a national dish, it is without doubt this lusty green soup...". I'll be using her recipe to make it tonight. A google search turns up numerous recipes for the soup that are virtually identical to her recipe. A very informative article by Barbara Damrosch about Portuguese cabbage and Caldo Verde can be found on the Washington Post's website.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bugging the Garden

Bee on African Blue Basil

I like to be sure that there are plenty of insects in my garden - at least the good ones such as pollinators and predators. One plant that is a magnet for bees and other beneficial insects is African Blue Basil. It starts blooming in the spring and just keeps going until cold weather whacks it back. If it's left untrimmed through the winter it usually comes back in the spring and can last a few years. It is a beautiful plant that always has a place in my garden. I usually take a few cuttings in the fall,root them in water, pot them up and keep them in a protected place just in case there's a freeze that's hard enough to kill the mother plant.

African Blue Basil

Other ornamental plants that have reliably enticed good bugs to my garden are Sweet Alyssum, Cosmos, Sunflower, Penstemon, and various Verbascums. Many herbs and veggies have also proven to be extremely attractive when in bloom, one of the most attractive in my experience being cilantro.

Bumble Bee on Penstemon

One interesting insect that has visited my garden a few times recently is the Tarantula Hawk. It's a very distinctive jet-black wasp with bright orange-red wings. This critter would be handy to have around if you have a Tarantula problem. The female Tarantula Hawk deposits an egg on the live spider- I won't go into the gory details here, but the spider eventually gives it all for the developing Tarantula Hawk.

I'm working on getting plants into the garden that are attractive to beneficials, off the top of my head what I have so far includes
Alyssum, African Blue Basil, Variegated African Blue Basil, Thyme, Yarrow, Penstemon, Chrysanthemum, Rosemary, Eriogonum, Cosmos, Nasturtium

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

State of the Garden

I took my camera out to the veggie garden this morning to catalog what's there. It seems to be a good starting point for this project.

This eggplant, if I remember correctly, is Fairytale. The label was lost sometime shortly after I planted it. Generally I like to grow my own plants from seed, but this year I did my summer veggies from 'store bought' plants because I was moving into my current home right when I should have been starting my summer seedlings. The largest eggplant shown is only about 3 inches long and is nearly large enough to pick. These beauties are tender and not at all bitter when they are picked young and still glossy. Paula Wolfert's recipe for Stuffed Eggplant from her book Mediterranean Cooking was memorable when made with this variety. The recipe is easy and unusual - slits are cut into the halved eggplants and then filled with a paste of capers, anchovies, Pecorino, and garlic. The eggplant is pan roasted and then topped with oregano, white wine, and red wine vinegar. Yum!

Omar's Lebanese Tomato

Tomatoes are still - or should I say finally coming in. I only have 4 varieties this year - Paul Robeson, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Omar's Lebanese, and SunCherry. I've a repertoire of tomato recipes that I go through every tomato season and the season just isn't complete until I make them all. Fortunately, I think that the tomatoes will keep coming well into October. My poor plants were really set back when they got well trimmed by the deer while vigorously growing in 1 gallon pots awaiting a spot in the ground. Generally I start picking by mid-July or so but this year I picked my first tomato at the start of September! Thank goodness the farmer's market had some very tasty tomato offerings to fill the gap. More on tomato recipes later.

Guindilla Peppers

Piquillo Peppers

Datil Sweet Peppers

I ordered a dozen (minimum order) pepper plants from Cross Country Nurseries this year. It's the second year that I've purchased from them and I must say that I've been very happy with the plants each time. All but 2 of the plants are growing in large terra cotta pots and all the plants seem to be very happy. This years plants from CCN are Pimento de Padron, Piquillo, Datil Sweet, Guindilla, Lamuyo, Red Rocoto, and Yellow Rocoto. I also added a Thai pepper to round out the spicy end of the scale.The Rocotos are planted in the ground since they are very cold tolerant and should survive the mild winters here and grow for several years. The only varieties that I haven't grown before are Guindilla, Piquillo, and Lamuyo. Guindillas are seasoning peppers that I read about in Penelope Casas' book La Cocina de Mama - one of my favorite Spanish cook books. Piquillo peppers are also a Spanish pepper - the roasted peppers can be purchased in very expensive little jars. My home grown piquillos may not be grown in a special region of Spain but they are exceptionally tasty (no exaggeration). The Lamuyo turns out to be a Spanish type bell pepper - picked the first one yesterday to use in Classic Gazpacho (a great recipe by Anya von Bremzen from her book The New Spanish Table). Good pepper, great Gazpacho. Pimento de Padrons - another Spanish pepper - have had space in my garden for several years now. The Padrons are picked when very immature and pan fried to serve as a tapa. I've served them to people who don't like peppers and made converts of them - at least with regard to Padrons. Gotta have them every year. Datil Sweets are in the same family as Habaneros - but they don't have the blistering heat. On a scale of 0 to 10 with Habaneros around 10 and bell peppers at 0, Datil Sweets are about a 1. So if you've ever heard about the unique and wonderful flavor of Habaneros and their cousins but could never experience it because of their heat - try one of mild members of the family such as Datil Sweet (not Datil - hot hot hot). I made a batch of pepper jam with the Datil Sweets last year - great with cheese.

My excuse for too much zucchini

Every year I grow too much zucchini. I did it again this year. So I have a binder full of zucchini recipes. I don't really mean to torture myself with excess zucchini - every gardener knows that ONE plant is enough. But... one plant doesn't produce enough blossoms to make my favorite Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms recipe. I hope I've finally found the cure - Courgette da Fiore Toscana - a zucchini that produces mostly male flowers! I just ordered the seeds so I won't be able to take the cure until next year. In the meantime - that binder is getting a workout.

Portuguese Cabbage

Lacinato Kale

De Cicco Broccoli

I've learned to save space in the summer garden for some of my winter veggies. Just when the tomatoes and other summer veggies are growing like gangbusters and not necessarily even producing yet - it's time to start seeds for some of the winter veggies. That's gardening in California - never any rest. Seeds for Portuguese Cabbage (Couve Tronchuda), Lacinato Kale, and De Cicco Broccoli were sown in 6-packs on June 27th this year. I potted the seedlings up to 1-gallon containers so that I could put off putting them into the ground until the end of August. The pictures above are what they looked like this morning. I picked the first leaves off the kale this past week. The Portuguese Cabbage is ready to start harvesting. The Broccoli - an heirloom sprouting variety - has yet to form florets but is already producing side shoots so the harvest should be prolific. The Cabbage is an interesting heirloom vegetable with ancient roots. It doesn't form a head like regular cabbage - the oldest leaves are picked on a 'cut and come again' basis. The seeds are actually very rare in the seed trade in the U.S. - I got my seeds from Comstock, Ferre & Co. and they've stopped carrying it. There's 2 other sources that I've found recently - and that's it. Redwood City Seeds and Gourmet Seed International are the only U.S. seed sellers with online catalogs where I've found it. If we weren't still enjoying summer temperatures I would harvest some and try it in Caldo Verde - but I'm just not in the mood for a hot soup yet.

Other cool weather crops that I'm starting now are Golden Mache, Olive Leaf Rapini, Super Sugar Snap Peas and Oriental Giant Spinach.