Monday, November 30, 2009

Harvest Monday - 11/30/2009

Harvest Monday is here again. Things are slowing down in my garden these days, we do have something resembling winter here.

The first harvest last week was a picking of Piracicaba broccoli shoots, Kefe Beinwil snow peas, Opal Creek Golden snap peas and various chile peppers. Those are mostly hot peppers with the exception of the yellow peppers at the top which are Grenada Seasoning, a mild cousin of the habaneros. To the right of the Grenada Seasoning peppers are Habanero Long Chocolate, the real deal, although not as hot as some varieties of habaneros. The small yellow peppers are Pimento de Cheiros, pretty hot but less so than the habaneros. The yellow peppers on the bottom left are Datils. All those peppers are Capsicum chinense and they all ripen very late in my garden. Most of the plants didn't set very many pods so that is probably the bulk of my harvest. That's ok, I don't use hot chiles very often. I put the hot chiles in containers and freeze them whole.

I cut a few amaranth seed heads to add to the sunflowers that my husband brought home. He pronounced the amaranth "weird" but it seemed to grow on him once his mom declared it fantastic and said she wouldn't leave without some!

Saturday I harvested more broccoli, snow peas, snap peas, and some dried Petaluma Gold Rush beans. And whoo hoo, the long anticipated first egg!

Sunday brought in another bowlful of Pimento de Padron peppers. The plants are covered in small peppers which take a long time to size up now that the days are short and the nights are cold, but the eventually get large enough to pick and they're still delicious.

Also harvested this week was a very large bunch of Portuguese kale that was braised for Thanksgiving dinner and a smaller bunch of Lacinato kale that was included in last nights Turkey Vegetable soup with Posole. I never seem to get photos of my kale harvests, probably because I always harvest it for immediate consumption. And the parsley patch is still very productive so I've been harvesting that regularly.

Go see what other garden bloggers are harvesting at Daphne's Dandelions, our host for Harvest Mondays.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Harvest Monday - 11/23/2009

Harvest Monday is here again, what a nice way to start the week! I'm still bringing in some "summer" vegetables in spite of night time temperatures dipping down as far as the low 30F's. This is the final harvest of Diamond eggplants shown below. We've already eaten half of them this week and they have still been very very good.

The Pimento de Padrons are still trickling in also. I roasted the picking shown above on the day I harvested them and they were delicious also, not a spicy one in the bunch. There's also two more Chilhuacle Amarillo chile peppers and two ripe Marconi Purple sweet peppers. And the first handful of Opal Creek Yellow snap peas! The snap peas are distinctly yellow when the pods are young and flat. As the green peas inside develop they start showing through the translucent yellow pods, turning the pods a pale yellowish-green. These were sweet and tender.

The pepper plants have been surviving the low night time temperatures, although a couple of the chinenese plants got a little bit of frost damage on their tender young new growth. Here's a trayful of Aji Angelo chile peppers.

And here's a few Petaluma Gold Rush beans, some coriander seeds, and another bunch of fennel seeds.

I used the very last of my seed stock to grow the Petaluma Gold Rush beans this year and they didn't do very well. Fortunately, enough beans dried on the plants to try again next year. These beans don't seem to available anywhere so I want to try to grow out enough next year to offer some seeds.

Piracicaba broccoli shoots.

I finally harvested the Magadalena Big Cheese squashes.

I had two Magadalena Big Cheese plants, but both of the squash that I harvested came off of one plant. These weighed in at 6lb 2oz and 4lb 12oz. The other plant set a couple of squash much later than the first plant. Those squash are still on the vine and the plant is still alive so I'll leave them for now.

Gigantesque and Black Sea Man tomatoes - I'm not sure if these will have much flavor after spending a few nights in the cold. But the Piment Doux Long des Landes sweet peppers are still flavorful.

Cherry tomatoes harvested on Saturday.

The Black Cherry and Isis Candy tomatoes plants bit the dust on Sunday. The cold weather has definitely affected the flavor of the cherry tomatoes and I've decided to pull them out in spite of them still producing. Time to move on...

The Meyer Lemon tree is loaded with newly ripe lemons.

I picked a bunch of lemons yesterday, at least 20, but neglected to take a photograph. Some of them were juiced to make a tart that had a thin layer of bittersweet chocolate on the bottom of the crust, the rest of the filling was lemon curd. That little bit of chocolate was fantastic with the lemon. The lemons that I didn't use were given to a friend who doesn't have her own Meyer Lemon tree yet.

I nearly forgot about the big bunch of Portugese kale that I harvested. It was braised with some garlic and chicken stock - my husband loved it!

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne of Daphne's Dandelions. Get on over there to check out what other garden bloggers are harvesting. And if you're harvesting something, join the fun and show us what you've got!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Harvest Monday - 11/16/2009

Today is Harvest Monday, the time to show off what's coming out of your garden.

Last week I continued to harvest various peppers. I'm drying quite a few of the peppers so I strung some of them into ristras. To the left are Guindilla chile peppers, a medium hot pepper from Spain.

And to the right is a ristra of Chilhuacle Negro chile peppers. These chiles are typically dried and then used to make moles. The flesh is supposed to have a distinct licorice flavor, although I've not yet tried them myself.

In Diana Kennedy's book The Art of Mexican Cooking, published 20 years ago, she says that all the chihuacles (negro, rojo, and amarillo) are (were) gradually disappearing and expensive in Oaxaca, their place of origin. I've had a few email enquiries about where to find these chiles, so if you are looking for them try Peppermania for seeds or Cross Country Nurseries for mail order plants (see my side bar for links).

Shown below are some Chilhuacle Amarillo chile peppers, true to type this time, harvested from my second plant. And sharing space in the basket are the first Aji de la Tierra chile peppers to be harvested. These peppers are a medium hot baccatuum type pepper. I'm going to dry the bunch that you see below, but they're too small to string into a ristra.

The platter below shows the first mild chinense peppers to be harvested. These peppers are in the same family as Habanero and Scotch Bonnet chile peppers and have the same aromatic fruity flavor, but a lot less heat.

There is still eggplant to be harvested, as you can see below. We ate most if it this week in Eggplant Parmigiana and just simply pan fried with balsamico. The rest of the eggplant was sliced, brushed with olive oil, broiled and then frozen. The Pimento de Padrons are still trickling in as well. And the Piracicaba broccoli is also pushing out new side shoots, although they are getting smaller. I have to cut the plants back some to force new shoots from the base of the plants. Oh, and there is the very first Aji de la Tierra that I picked to taste.

A bowl of Kefe Beinwil snow peas. I've been amazed at how tender and tasty these peas stay even when the peas start to plump up the pods. I didn't get around to picking this bowlful until quite a few of the pods started looking more like snap peas, but even the fat pods were tender and tasty. I prepared these last night by melting some butter in a saute pan and allowing it to brown some, then sauteed the peas briefly, added a few tablespoons of water and cooked, tossing until the water was gone and the peas were tender, seasoned with salt and pepper and tossed them with some pomegranate arils. The green peas and red pomegrate were so pretty together. It was delicious. I picked another small handful of peas in addition to the bowlful shown below. The plants are nearly done producing for now. It will be interesting to see if they over winter and start producing in the spring.

And here's one more bunch of fennel seeds. I've got enough now to last a while.

Here's something new that I'm experimenting with. I have a small topiary olive tree in a pot that usually bears a few olives that I leave on the tree.

It's a pretty little tree and you can see below how lovely it is when it has olives on it.

But this year it set a remarkable number of olives and I couldn't resist picking the tree clean. I harvested 14 ounces of olives! So I'm experimenting with curing them to make them edible. Olives straight off the tree are incredibly bitter and tannic. It will be a couple of months before I know if the experiment is a success.

Please head on over to Daphne's Dandelions, the host of Harvest Monday, and admire what other gardeners are harvesting. Join in the fun yourself!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Passion Fruit

One of the few fruits in my garden is passion fruit, Passiflora edulis "Frederick". I posted a photo of the very first fruit off my vine in this week's Harvest Monday post. Thomas commented that he was curious to see what the plant looks like and I wasn't sure if I had posted a photo of the plant, other than the beautiful flowers. So, I thought I would write a post about growing passion fruit. This is a good refresher for me!

Here's a photo of the beautiful passion flower.

The name of the plant comes from the fact that colonizing Spanish missionaries used the flower to explain the crucifixion (passion) of Jesus to converts. The three styles represent the nails used to put him on the cross. The anthers represent his wounds. The filaments symbolize his crown of thorns. And the 5 petals and 5 sepals represent his apostles (not including Peter and Judas).

There are hundreds of species of Passiflora, both fruiting and ornamental. Most of the plants are native to the tropics and will not grow outside in temperate zones. This post is only about growing purple fruited Passiflora edulis, which is subtropical and can grow and fruit as far north as the San Francisco bay area in California. In my zone 9 climate the vine will grow in a spot that is not subject to too much frost. The plants will tolerate brief periods of cold down to the high 20F's and may die to the ground if we get a freeze. They will generally grow back after being knocked down by a freeze.

Here's a photo of some fruits hanging on the vine now. The remind me of dangling earrings.

The fruits start out green and turn purple as they ripen. They can be picked when they turn completely purple, but the best way to harvest passion fruits is to let them fall from the vine. The fruits should be further ripened indoors at room temperature until the skins start to shrivel. After that they can be stored at about 50F for 2 to 3 weeks.

Here's a shot of the upper part of the plant growing on the fence that surrounds my vegetable garden.

In colder climates like mine (cold for passion vines!) the plants should be grown in full sun in a spot that is protected from wind and frost. Against a wall would be an ideal spot. Overhead protection would help to prevent frost damage. You can see that I have neither protective measure here, but the nearby oak trees do provide quite a bit of shelter. This corner of the garden faces south and is the least frosty area in the vegetable garden. The plant made it through a couple of heavy frosts  last winter, just losing some leaves. In areas that are hotter than my cool coastal climate, the vines would do better in partial shade.

In my cool winter climate the plants should be pruned in the spring. Prune after the harvest in warm winter climates. The plants can grow 15 to 20 feet a year when they are established and happy, so they need to be pruned to keep them in check. I doubt that my plant will ever be that vigorous, but I'll prune lightly next spring to promote new vigorous growth. The deer help with the pruning by eating anything that grows outside the fence and is within their reach!

Here's a shot of the whole plant. Rather scraggly when seen in its entirety.

The plants do quite well in large pots. It would probably do fine if I were to plant  it in the ground but I'm sure I would lose it in no time flat to gophers. They will grow in most any type of soil so long as it is well drained and has a fairly neutral pH. Fertilize regularly with high potassium fertilizer such as 10-5-20.

Here's the second piece of ripe fruit and a few more ripening, and some of the seeds.

Passion vines can be propagated from seeds, cuttings, or by layering. I'm going to try growing some plants from seeds. These may not come true since "Frederick" is a cross between "Kahuna" and "Brazilian Golden" , but I think it will be interesting to give it a try. I've seen various recommendation for growing the plants from seed, but the most important things seem to be to use seeds freshly extracted from the fruit and scoring the hard seed coats. The seeds need warmth to germinate so I'll be putting them on heat mats under grow lights.

Now I'm going to finish slurping the pulp out of that fruit - yum!

Here's a couple of information packed websites I found about growing passion fruit:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Fava Beans and Planting Bed Preparation

I got around to planting some of my fava beans yesterday. They are going into the bed that used to be home to the tomato jungle (still a few remaining as you can see). Below is what the bed looked like mid-way through preparing it for planting. I've broadcast some amendments on the right side of the bed, the left side is already done and ready to be planted. The white buckets on the left contain the amendments that I use to prep the beds each time I clear and replant, about twice a year.

My first season in this garden was the summer of 2008. I carved my garden out of the hillside where the soil is really no good at all for growing vegetables. I had a soil mix brought in that looked absolutely lovely.  It turned out to be basically sterile, no nutrients, no nothing. My first clue that I had a problem with the soil was when I planted zucchini and watched them do nothing. They didn't grow! Anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows that you put them in the ground and then get out of their way before they engulf you. Of course, by the time I had that figured out I had planted my entire summer garden. I had added some fertilizer when I planted but it turned out to be not enough. My biggest chore that season was weekly fertilizing with a water soluble organic fertilizer, and the garden still didn't do all that well. After some research I came up with the following mix to help my soil.

Here's what's in the big bucket: a mix of crab meal (5 lbs), sulfate of potash (.5 lb), and humic acid (1 lb). You could spread each amendment separately, but I find it easier to mix up a batch and have it on hand to use when ever I'm replanting a bed, or a section of a bed. This is enough to amend about 50 square feet or  about half of one of my beds.

The brand of crab meal I use is made from ground up Dungeness crab shells (THE crab to eat here on the west coast). It contains primary nutrients (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) at the rate of 3-4-0. It is also high in calcium, about 23%, so some gardeners like to use it when planting tomatoes and other crops susceptible to blossom end rot. Crab shells are also high in chitin and its presence in the soil promotes the growth of chitin eating bacteria. High levels of these bacteria can help to control soil dwelling pests that contain chitin, such as nematodes and some grubs. Crab shells break down very very slowly in the soil, thus making it an excellent slow release fertilizer. I've found that I don't need to do any supplemental fertilizing during the growing season.

Since crab meal is not a good source of potassium I add sulfate of  potash to the mix. Sulfate of Potash is a mined mineral that is finely ground and has a nutrient profile of 0-0-50. It's also a good source of sulfur - 17%.

Humic acid is not a fertilizer, although it does contain small amounts of trace elements. What it does is it helps to make nutrients in the soil more available to plants and improves the health and structure of the soil. It increases microbial activity in the soil and improves seed germination. The humic acid amendment that I use is simply ground shale, a rock that is comprised of ancient plant material - basically prehistoric concentrated compost. So, I'm sure someone will ask, why not just use compost? Short answer, I don't have enough aged compost to use yet.

The smaller white bucket contains the fertilizer that I add. Sustane 4-6-4 80% slow release formula, derived from aerobically composted turkey litter, hydrolyzed feathermeal, and sulfate of potash. This provides some immediately available nitrogen and a good amount of nutrients over the rest of the growing season.

All of the amendments that I use are approved for organic growers.

That first season I had reserved one of the beds for winter vegetables. That was the first bed to get the mix. I used a double dose, about 20 pounds of crab meal, a pound of sulfate of potash, 2 pounds of humic acid, and 2 pounds of Sustane and did the back breaking work of thoroughly digging it into that bed.

The difference was amazing. The winter vegetables thrived and produced beautifully. I never once had to apply additional fertilizer over the whole growing season. Last May, when the winter veggies came out and I prepared the bed for the tomatoes, I dug in half that amount of amendments. The tomatoes thrived and if you've read my Harvest Monday posts, you saw the bounty of tomatoes that I harvested.

This time around I used about the same amount, about 5 pounds crab meal for 50 square feet. But rather than digging and turning (I'm getting too old for that kind of work), I went back to my favorite method of loosening the soil with a spading fork. I plunge the fork into the soil, push it back and forth a few times, pulling further back once to lift the soil to break it up a bit. Much of the amendments will fall into the crevices during this process. Then I take a garden rake with short heavy tines, not the type for raking leaves, and break up the the surface clumps and smooth the soil. There a few advantages to this method, it's a lot easier on your back, it's easier on your soil and the good critters that inhabit it, and it's a lot quicker than shoveling and turning.

Here's the other half of the bed half way through being turned. Another advantage for me is that I don't have to pull all the drip lines aside, I just pull up the little U-shaped stakes that hold them down.

And here's the bed all ready for sowing the fava seeds.

This year I've chosen 2 new varieties of favas to plant. I want a quicker crop of beans this year so I bought 2 extra early varieties, Early Violet (Extra Precoce Violetto) and Early White (Extra Precoce Bianco). These are supposed to take only 80 days to produce. The Aguadulce Morocco favas that I grew last year took about 4 1/2 months to produce and the Crimson Flowering took even longer, I think, but I'm not sure when I planted them. I've started keeping better track of my planting times, now I need to start taking better notes about when the first harvests start. The first reference I have to harvesting Crimson Favas is May 28. I don't want to wait that long next spring.

Here's a photo of the seeds laid out on the soil. I also used a legume innoculant to encourage the formation of nitrogen producing nodules on the roots.

I planted the seeds 18 inches apart in rows 9 inches apart. The Early Violet plants are so named for the color of their dry seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated and started growing I will mulch with some compost. Last year I lost a lot of seeds to seed corn maggots. I think it was because I had created a favorable spot for the maggots by covering the seed bed with  a nice layer of compost, so this year I won't spread any compost until after the seedlings on well on their way.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Harvest Monday - 11/9/09

It's Harvest Monday, time to show off what's coming out of your garden. The stars in my garden this past week were the peppers.

Here's the first small picking of Aji Angelos. This is a mild baccatum type pepper.

Most of the peppers on the tray below are Aji Angelos. I found a number of  "twins" that had formed. The smaller peppers with the shorter stems on the left are Aleppo, a type of cayenne. My Aleppo plant is a survivor from 2008. I didn't get around to photographing the cherry tomatoes until we had eaten half of them. And there's another bunch of fennel seeds. The fennel seeds are wonderfully aromatic, much better than the store bought stuff. I'm not sure if it's because they are so fresh or because the fennel that I'm growing is more aromatic than the varieties that are comercially harvested.

Can you spot the problem with this basketful of Chilhuacle Amarillo peppers?

Piment Doux Long Des Landes sweet peppers arranged around the rim of the tray shown below. Piled in the center are Christmas Bells. I made a quart jar of pickled peppers with some of the Christmas Bells (thanks for the idea Stefani!). The Piments were seeded and quartered, then roasted with some olive oil, garlic and parsley.

The basket below contains Marconi Purple sweet peppers which I roasted over a fire, then skinned and cleaned and froze. And there's another harvest of Pimento de Padrons.

Another bunch of Piracicaba broccoli.

A box of less than perfect looking tomatoes that came off the plants as I pulled them out. You won't be seeing any more of those this year.

I haven't pulled out the cherry tomato plants yet because they are still producing, especially the sweet little yellow Galinas. There were a couple of cucumbers that looked funky but were still good. And there's a couple of Black Sea Man tomatoes, that plant hasn't been pulled yet - it's still looking pretty good and has a number of green fruits on it. And a couple more Aji Angelos that went into a chickpea salad (along with half the big cuke and a bunch of the cherries).

The passion fruit has has been trickling in, one or two fall off the plant every week. You have to wait until they get wrinkled before eating them. There's the first one that I've eaten and the next one closest to being ready to eat. Actually, that's the very first piece of fruit from that plant that I've eaten.

I also picked a bunch of the Portuguese kale for my own consumption (the chickens have been getting most of it so far). I blanched it and then tossed it with some chopped garlic, put it in a cazuela (a shallow terracotta casserole), put a quartered chicken of top and roasted it all together. That was good...

Other than another bunch of Pimento de Padron peppers, broccoli, parsley, and basil, I can't think of anything else that I harvested that didn't get photographed.

Get on over to Daphne's Dandelions to see what other garden bloggers are harvesting from their gardens. And then join in the fun yourself - show us what you've got!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Garden On November 4 - Part III

My final post about the garden on November 4 is about the pepper bed. Or, I was tempting the weather gods by thinking, evidence of the bliss of growing in a mild climate. All that bushiness is hiding treasure. The tall plants on the right are the Pimento de Padrons.

Looking closer at the Padrons you can see plenty of peppers and flowers. These peppers are harvested immature. I'm still harvesting about 1/2 pound of peppers about twice a week. At the height of the harvest I was picking up to a pound about every other day. As the days have shortened the peppers are sizing up more slowly so the time between harvests has been lengthening. The Padrons get a bit sneakier late in the season - it's more difficult to cull out the spicy ones. At the peak of the season the spicy ones tended to be misshapen. But now there are more perfectly formed, perfectly innocent looking peppers that turn out to be hot. The best indicator of heat now is size, the bigger ones might be spicy, which was not necessarily true early in the season. At this time of year I'm careful to harvest while the peppers are still small.

The Marconi Purple sweet peppers are loaded with ripe and ripening pods.

Here's a baccatum species pepper called Aji Angelo, medium hot but sweet. The baccatum peppers tend to be late producers but they are also more cold tolerant than other species of peppers since they are native to the Andes. It is not unusual for baccatum species plants to overwinter in zone 9. The one thing I need to remember about growing these plants next year is that they are tall and gangly plants, I really need to use cages and plant them so that they won't overshadow the lower growing varieties.

I harvested a bunch of these earlier this week and experimented with making a pepper paste. I screwed up one batch and ended up with some crispy but still very tasty slow roasted pods that I ground into flakes. I was pleasantly surprised by how good they ended up, but it wasn't what I had envisioned. I was more careful about keeping an eye on the next batch and it came out more like I wanted. But more on that later...

Another baccatum pepper called Christmas Bell. This pepper started producing early and is now loaded with ripe and ripening pods. I haven't quite figured out how to preserve this one. It's very sweet and flavorful with just a touch of heat. So far I've been chopping it raw to add to salads and slicing and cooking it also. Maybe I'll slice it, saute it a bit and freeze it. I did save some seeds from the very first pods I harvested. I didn't isolate the plant but it was one of the very first to bloom and set pods so it may not have had a chance cross and if it did maybe I'll end up with something new and interesting.

Here's Aji Dulce Yellow, a sweet chinense pepper. This species of pepper is better know for the blistering hot Habaneros, which the Aji Dulce certainly looks like. Chinense peppers are also renowned for their wonderful fruity aroma and flavor. I don't know about you, but I've never been able to get beyond the heat of a Habanero to experience the aroma and flavor. Their sweet cousins, the Aji Dulces, have all the aroma and flavor and a lot less heat, some have almost no heat.

Piment Doux Long des Landes, a sweet pepper from France. Delicious!

There's more than just peppers in the pepper bed. Diamond eggplant has been a wonderful producer. Other than having a problem with munching rabbits early on, these plants have been a breeze to grow. They have had spider mites and a touch of powdery mildew which I have done nothing about they still grow and produce some of the best eggplant I've ever grown.

Coriander (cilantro) seeds nearly ready to harvest. The coriander flowers have been a magnet for beneficial insects. Last year my eggplant and pepper plants were infested with aphids. The aphids showed up again this year but the populations have never boomed, there have been enough beneficials around to keep the little sap sucking pests in check. I also have sweet alyssum, another beneficial magnet, growing all around the garden.

At the far end of the pepper bed are the cucumbers, beets, and frisee. The cucumbers are pretty much done now but there's a few big ones left on the vines. These are hybrids and won't come true, but I'm tempted to let one ripen so that I can show my fellow volunteers at the aquarium how the Warty Sea Cucumber got its name. The beets are struggling along but I'll get a few. The frisee, dang it, is starting to bolt - must have been that hot spell we had a while back. Darn, it was just starting to whiten in the center of the heads. It may not be too late to start a few more for winter/spring harvests, I'll give it a try.

And down at the very end of the pepper bed are the winter squash. The oldest parts of the plants have lost their leaves to powdery mildew but the younger growth scrambling up the fence is still doing ok.

I got two good Magdalena Big Cheese. These have passed the fingernail test and could probably be harvested but I'll leave them on the vine for now. There's a couple of younger Magdalenas on the vines but they haven't hardened yet. One good Berrettina Piacentina squash set and is nearly ready.