Monday, August 31, 2009

Harvest Monday - 8/31/09

It's Harvest Monday again, join the fun at Daphne's Dandelions. Show us what you've got! Here's what I harvested this week. First, a big bunch of amaranth leaves. This bunch was wilted in olive oil with a bit of bacon and chopped garlic and served as a side dish. Leftovers were scrambled with a couple of eggs.

Next, the first ripe Marconi Purple sweet peppers, a few cherry tomatoes (Isis Candy, Galinas, Black), a Giantesque tomato, Pimento de Padron peppers, basil, and zucchini (of course). The tomatoes, sweet peppers, and basil went into a Tomato and Bread Salad.

And then Piracicaba broccoli shoots, more zucchini, the first Christmas Bell pepper, one little purple tomatillo, more Pimento de Padrons, cherry tomatoes, and a couple of Black Sea Man Tomatoes. It's interesting how the Black Sea Man tomatoes are slightly different colors, off the same plant. That's my very first Christmas Bell pepper (C. baccatum) ever, it's very sweet and fruity with just a hint of spice, I really liked it. The plant has a lot of pods on it!

Other than what's in the photos I harvested more basil, zucchini, and a few tomatillos as they fell off the plants.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Vegetable Garden on August 28 - Part II

The weather is much more civilized today. Yesterday the temperature peaked at 100+F. This morning the valley was blanketed in cooling fog - yeah! The fog cleared out early and now the temperatures are in the mid 70'sF. Aaaah, relief. So, on with the garden update based on the photos I took on the 28th. Here's the view down the center path.

Looking down on the garden from the hillside.

Another angle of the garden from the hill. You can see a pall of smoke on the horizon. That's from wild fires burning in the county. Later in the day the smoke worked its way up the valley.

The (mostly) pepper bed.

The eggplant is coming along. The plants in the foreground had all their lower leaves munched by rabbits. And, yes, that is a rat trap in front of the stump from the rat-tail radishes in the lower right. I cut all the rat-tail radishes down last week because they were shading the peppers and eggplant too much.

The mild chinense peppers are doing well, so far, under their covers. They were getting sunburned earlier so I covered all of them. I don't generally start harvesting chinense peppers until October or later. These plants are just starting to bloom.

The "Palace King" Japanese cucumbers are starting to climb their trellis.

And there's little baby cucumbers developing. Unfortunately, two days of triple digit temperatures have turned a number of the leaf edges crisp. I haven't checked on the baby cukes yet.

The end of the pepper bed is home to a couple of "Magdalena Big Cheese" winter squash. Under the water bottles (rat protection) are some frisee seedlings.

And one small Berrettina Piacentina winter squash.

In the morning I've noticed that the soil at the base of the upright leaves on the Magdalena Big Cheese is moist. The dew condenses on the leaves and trickles down the leaf stems and wets the soil. You can just barely see the root that develops on the stem at the leaf node, it goes straight down into the soil.

The remains of my current attempt to grow beets. The rats and the heat have been doing them in.

The bed across the path is home to tomatoes and tomatillos. Looking down the center of the tomato jungle...

The plants have topped their cages and are leaning over the path on this side.

Tomatillos and basil at one end of the bed.

Lots of lovely green tomatoes, this one is pretty. Can't wait for some ripe ones...

And this one is "Chocolate Stripes". Still waiting...

These "Giantesque" tomatoes look promising.

But no, they all have blossom end rot.

The "Blue Beech" paste tomatoes are starting to ripen. The tomatoes look good in spite of the plants looking bad.

Look at that mess. I think I may be responsible for that... a bit too strong of a sulfur solution perhaps.

Purple Tomatillos, aren't they lovely!

The foliage on the "Plaza Latina Giant" tomatillo seems to be developing some fungal problems though.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Vegetable Garden on August 28 - Part I

Today is going to be hot. Yesterday got up to 95+F in the shade of the oak tree next to the vegetable garden. Last night it didn't get below 60F. Wednesday morning it got down to 45F. Weird weather... So I got out early today to check on the garden, harvest some vegetables and take some photographs before it got too hot.

I took lots of photos so I'm going to break this into 2 posts. Here's the front half of the garden 2 weeks after my last general update.

This is the bed where I'm trying to grow beans of various sorts but this end has carrots, amaranth greens and red florence fennel along with a couple of pots of mild chinense peppers.

There's a better view of the fennel that's mostly hidden in the view above . On the left are the Chaco Canyon runner beans in bloom.

In the mini tunnel that I recently put up are the remains of the Roland haricot verts and the tricolor bush beans that have been munched by...

these little &$%#%$. This one got zapped in a rat zapper that I put out (amazing what 4 D-cell batteries can do). The amount of damage these pests can do is horrifying. I started with about 30 seedlings and now you can see what's left. Silly me (probably) I've gone ahead and reseeded that area - who knows, if we have a mild autumn I might get a few beans so long as I can keep the pests out of there *sigh*.

The view down the back side of the bean bed. The major insect pest on the beans, technically not even an insect, has been spider mites. The plants in the bottom right of the photo are already infested... *sigh* again. I'll try treating them with neem oil or insecticidal soap but have to wait until the weather cools because of possible phytotoxicity problems when applying either of those when it's hot.

Chaco Canyon runner bean blossoms and one tiny bean. All the blossoms at the bottom of the plant have been eaten by the rats.

Petaluma Goldrush beans, originally brought to California by a Chilean family back during the California Goldrush. These are a dual purpose bean, good as a snap bean or dried. Keeping my fingers crossed for a warm autumn...

Tarbais beans from France - THE bean for Cassoulet. Loved by spider mites and rats... I've got enough seeds to try again, third attempt, next year.

Across the center path, the last Senposai plant in full bloom and the bees and other beneficial insects are loving it. Not much longer though, I've got some Opal Creek Golden Snap peas and Kefe Beinwil Snow peas started in paper pots that will be going in there.

The lengths I will go to try to get something going... Rat-tail radish seedlings - bird netting to keep out birds and rats - cloth to keep them shaded from the scorching sun. I pulled out all the rat-tail radishes from the pepper bed because they were too big and happy, however, the bees and beneficial were just gorging themselves on the blossoms so I wanted to get some more in elsewhere and the only real spot I had was a pot. I just want them to bloom for the good bugs, I don't even want the pods this time around.

A Thai chile (damn hot) producing for the third year and looking rather worn out. The zucchini is getting powdery mildew and slowing down. I'm not ready to give up on zukes yet, so when the weather cools I'll treat it with some Neem to slow down the powdery mildew.

Two hot peppers: Datil and Pimento de Chiero, sharing a pot at the end of the bean bed.

Aleppo pepper, a very nice cayenne type. This one is producing for a second year - not as big and beautiful as last year, but I'm not complaining. The soil level in the pot has fallen considerably, probably because of red worms munching on all the nice organic matter in there.

Passion fruit 'Frederick' has set a number of fruits. It's growing in a large pot in a corner of the garden.

The Cavolo Nero (in front) is recovering from the earlier aphid infestation and the Portuguese kale is still going strong.

Experimenting with blanching Puntarelle. Behind, under the bottomless water bottles, I'm trying to get Romanesco broccoli started for the third time. The rats got the first seedlings and the second set of seedlings succumbed to birds (most likely). This time around I'm both direct seeding under the bottles and have some seeds sown in 4-inch pots.

The Piracicaba broccoli keeps putting out new shoots.

And look, I really do have chickens! Poor things are wilting in today's heat (100F at the moment, only 17% humidity thank goodness).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tomatillo Time

The tomatoes may be taking their good ol' sweet time ripening, but their cousins the tomatillos are starting to come in. The platter of Plaza Latina Giant tomatillos that I showed in my harvest post last Monday and again above weighed in at about 2 pounds. The purple tomatillos are ripening and actually turning purple. I thought the fruit wasn't exposed to enough sun to turn them purple because they're in cages, but I was really just being impatient.

The big fat giant tomatillo that had the big cracks was quite ripe and when I sliced it in half to remove the spoiled part I found that the other half was perfectly good. That tomatillo had a distinct tropical fruit aroma and a nice fruity flavor. The greener ones that I picked because they seemed to be on the verge of cracking open as well were not quite as fragrant and fruity, but still had a very nice flavor. I roasted all those tomatillos and some went into a sauce for Queso Fundido and the rest went into Salsa Verde. I'm going to keep a closer eye on those giant tomatillos and try to wait until they are as ripe as possible before I pick them again.

Tomatillos can be picked as soon as they get large enough to break open their enclosing husks, although it seems like a lot of the tomatillos that I've seen at the store are picked as soon as they fill the husks. The husks start to dry out as the fruit ripens, and when fully ripe the fruit falls off the plant. Often times I harvest only the ones that fall off, but it seems that might not be possible with the giant ones. I think the ripe tomatillos are quite good raw in salsas and salads, but I prefer the more acidic green fruits cooked.

Queso Fundido

This is a hybrid of recipes that I culled from books and online that suited what I had on hand last night. Basically, it seems that you can just melt cheese in your favorite version of Tomatillo sauce. There were various recommendations for cheeses to use such as white cheddar, Manchego, mozzarella, goat, or more authentic Mexican cheeses such as Oaxaca or Chihuahua (don't know anything about those). Optional ingredients are sauteed chorizo sausage or fire roasted strips of poblano chiles. I decided to roast some of my glut of Pimento de Padron peppers and include those. Here's what I came up with and it was delicious, you take it from here....

1/4 cup raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1 thick slice of sweet onion such as Walla Walla
3 cloves garlic, not peeled
1/2 pound tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed to remove stickiness
olive oil, about a tablespoon
5 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
1 large ball of buffalo mozzarella (8 oz?), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
12 roasted Pimento de Padron peppers, stems and caps removed (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Toast the pepitas in a dry skillet until lightly browned and they stop popping. Remove from the skillet and let cool.

Brush the onion slice, garlic cloves, and tomatillos (I cut the giants in half) with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven 12 to 15 minutes until softened and the tomatillos are starting to release their juices. Peel the garlic cloves. Puree the vegetables along with the toasted pepitas in a blender until smooth. Add salt to taste.

Smear a shallow baking dish with a little bit of olive oil. I used a 10-inch terra cotta cazuela that I preheated over a low flame on the stove. Pour the warm sauce into the baking dish, scatter the cheeses evenly into the sauce, top with the peppers if using. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the cheeses are just runny.

Serve immediately with warm flour tortillas or tortilla chips, be prepared with plenty of napkins for a cheesey gooey mess.

My husband and I managed to devour most of this all by our porky selves... but it should be enough to serve 4 people as an appetizer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Harvest Monday - 8/23/09

It's time once again to join Daphne in sharing what has come out of the garden in the past week. I'm really envious of her tomato harvests. This week I picked 2 more Black Seaman and a few cherry tomatoes - no photos of those. Shown in the photo above, not beans, Rat-tail radishes and Donkey Ears sweet peppers. I tried some of the radishes sauteed with garlic and a splash of white vinegar - good but not a wow. Most of the rest have been pickled. I pulled out the plants because they were crowding the pepper plants too much, I want the peppers far more than I want the radishes. The chickens loved picking the leaves and flowers off the radish plants. The Donkey Ears were used in my favorite Turkish Eggplant and Lentil Stew featuring eggplant from the farmer's market.

I thinned the carrots again, shown are St. Valery, Daghestan White, and Afghan Purple. Most of the Atomic reds did not survive the sow bugs.

And I didn't notice until too late for one of the Plaza Latin Giant tomatillos that they were starting to split. Half the split one is still ok.

Also harvested in the last week:
  • many sprigs of basil plus one large bunch for pesto
  • zucchini, zucchini, zucchini....
  • Piracicaba broccoli
  • a couple of quarts of Pimento de Padron peppers

If you've got a lovely harvest to brag about, join in the fun at Daphne's Dandelions and then take a look at what everyone else is harvesting.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tarantula Hawk

Good bug? Bad bug? Both or neither? Technically, they're not bugs. These are wasps, probably Pepsis thisbe, but I won't guarantee that.

I've been spotting of lot of them lately. This one, along with 2 others, was feeding on the Red Florence Fennel blossoms in the vegetable garden. They've been regular visitors in the garden and I've also seen them hanging out in the dry grasses on the hillside. I know what they are looking for on the hillside. And I'm pretty certain that they will find what they are looking for there because I've seen them. Tarantulas...

Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about Tarantual Hawks:

During the spiders's reproductive season male tarantulas are usually emaciated from ignoring food while searching for females. The tarantula hawks thus prefer female tarantulas and seek them in their burrows. They capture, sting, and paralyze the spider, then they either drag the spider back into her own burrow or transport their prey to a specially prepared nest where a single egg is laid on the spider’s body, and the entrance is covered. The wasp larva, upon hatching, begins to suck the juices from the still-living spider. After the larva grows a bit, it plunges into the spider's body and feeds voraciously, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep it fresh. The adult wasp emerges from the nest to continue the life cycle. Tarantula wasps are "nectarivorous". The consumption of fermented fruit sometimes intoxicates them to the point that flight becomes difficult. While the wasps tend to be most active in daytime summer months, they tend to avoid the very highest temperatures. The male tarantula hawk does not hunt; instead, it feeds off the flowers of milkweeds, western soapberry trees, or mesquite trees.[1] The male tarantula hawk has a behavior called "hill-topping", where he sits atop tall plants and watches for females that are ready to reproduce.

So, I suppose that if you have a Tarantula problem you might consider Pepsis thisbe and their relatives to be "good bugs".

On the other hand, Tarantula Hawk stings are reputed to be one of the most painful insect stings, possibly putting them in the "bad bug" category. More from Wikipedia:

The tarantula hawk is relatively docile and rarely stings without provocation. The sting, particularly of Pepsis formosa, is among the most painful of any insect, but the intense pain only lasts for 3 minutes.[2] Commenting on his own experience, one researcher described the pain as "…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one's ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations."[3] In terms of scale, the wasp's sting is rated near the top of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, second only to that of the bullet ant and is described by Schmidt as "blinding, fierce [and] shockingly electric".[4] Because of their extremely large stingers, very few animals are able to eat them; one of the few animals that can is the roadrunner.

Since I don't have a problem with Tarantulas and do what I can to avoid getting stung, I tend to be neutral about the good vs. bad aspect of these wasps and regard them as simply beautiful and fascinating.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Preserved Zucchini (Zucchini Sott'Olio)

Or how to squeeze five pounds of zucchini into two 1-pint jars. This technique for preserving zucchini has proved to be invaluable when the mid summer glut of zucchini arrives.

First, start with 5 pounds of zucchini, the big ones are best.

Trim the stems and the flower scars off the zucchini and cut each zucchini into 2 to 3-inch lengths. Cut each length in half vertically and scoop out the guts. I find that a melon baller works great. We've lost about 1.25 pounds already! (The chickens loved the zucchini guts, what you do with them is your business).

Slice the zucchini into strips about 1/4-inch thick. My trusty mandoline made short work of this step.

Put the zucchini strips into a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/4-cup of kosher salt. Toss to coat the zucchini with the salt. Let sit for 2 hours, then drain. Rinse and drain to remove the salt. Rinse and drain again if the strips are still salty.

Put the drained zucchini in a large pot and add 3 cups of wine vinegar and a cup of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. The zucchini should be cooked but not falling apart.

Drain the strips in a large colander. Discard the cooking liquid.

Next you need to put a heavy weight on top of the zucchini that is just a bit smaller than the diameter of the contents of the colandar, a large pot full of water works well. Let the weighted zucchini sit for at least 15 minutes to squeeze out the excess liquid.

Spread the strips out on a kitchen towel (I put the towel on top of a couple of baking sheets) and leave the zucchini to dry for 24 hours.

The strips after 24 hours. We're down to 1.5 pounds of zucchini now.

Put the zucchini strips into a bowl and toss with a few thinly sliced cloves of garlic (I forgot the garlic in ths batch!), sliced fresh hot peppers or dried chile flakes to taste, 1/4-cup of chopped mint, and about 1/4-cup of extra virgin olive oil. Divide the zucchini evenly between two 1-pint canning jars or the equivalent. Press the zucchini into the jars and add olive oil to come to the top of the zucchini. Slide a long thin knife blade down inside of the jars between the glass and the contents and press down on the zucchini to release air from the contents. Add more olive oil as needed to come to the top of the contents. At this point I cover the jars and refrigerate them a few days to harden the olive oil, then I add more olive oil to make sure no zucchini is exposed.

The preserved zucchini must be kept in the refrigerator where it will keep for a long time. Serve it on crackers or crostini.

Preserving five pounds of zucchini hardly made a dent in the glut that I had on hand that day so I also whipped up a double batch of Zuni Cafe's Refrigerator Zucchini Pickles (the recipe is in their cook book). That used up another two pounds... Here's a big jar for me and two smaller ones for gifts.

What are you doing with your glut of zucchini?