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.