Monday, December 20, 2010

Harvest Monday - December 20, 2010

Jake wants to know what are those things sitting on the bench?

Hmmph, doesn't look like like anything I want to eat.

Jake, it's enough celery root to get some of us through the winter...

That's the last of the celery root for the year. They were getting too big and taking up valuable space so out they came. Ranging from just over 4 pounds to nearly 5 pounds, those babies total 18.25 pounds. It's a good thing we love celery root around here and that it keeps really well in the fridge.

That was the only harvest for the week and the space where those were growing was almost immediately replanted with Ear of the Devil and Sweetie Baby Romaine lettuce seedlings that I had started in pots.

This harvest pushed my total harvests for the year over the 700 pound mark to 710 lb., 7.25 oz.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne on her blog Daphne's Dandelions, head on over there to check out other garden bloggers harvests or show off your own.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Pepper Survival Report

And now, the pepper survival report. Every single pepper plant from the raised bed ended up in the compost bin. But I also grew a lot of peppers in pots and in a bed near the house. In this corner, bleah, it looks pretty bad, but I am actually optimistic about a couple of the baccatum plants, I've seen them regrow from from such states before. The plant in the large terra cotta pot in the corner (Aji Santa Cruz) has dropped all its leaves but most of the rest of the plant is ok. 

Over here is a another baccatum, Aji de la Tierra, a survivor from last year that overwintered in the ground and was then transplanted to a pot this spring and cut down to about 8 inches tall. It looks better this winter than last. The problem with this variety is that the peppers ripen very very late. Last month, just before we had the first freezing temperatures of the year, 99% of the peppers on the plant were still green. I haven't tried any of the peppers that are turning red now. I think that next year I'll move the plant to a more protected spot...

like over here by the house. There's a big leggy Manzano pepper (Capsicum pubescens) which is one of the most cold tolerant pepper species. Plants can survive for years in mild climates.

But there's also an offspring of that now big brown shaggy dead looking African Blue Basil in the garden. This baby was totally unfazed by three nights of freezing temperatures. Still blooming and feeding bees...

And a Suave Orange pepper, a chinense species, the least cold tolerant pepper species that I grow, still very much alive...

And yet one more pot with another chinense variety of pepper, one of the Puerto Ricans, I don't remember which.

I didn't cover any of the plants in that corner, the only protection they had was their proximity to the house. It probably helped a lot that that corner is south facing so the walls warmed up during the day and  kept the area a bit warmer through the night.

Also in front of the house but not as close is a bed where I planted a few more baccatum peppers. All of these plants are still very much alive even though most of them have dropped most of their leaves. It's interesting to me that the plant that I left a lot of peppers on has retained the most leaves.

Christmas Bell Picante


Christmas Bell


My experiment with overwintering pepper plants outdoors continues out back. The next two plants are sitting under the canopy of an oak tree and the overhead protection seems to have spared them the worst effects of the freezing nights. The plant on the left is a baccatum and the other is a chinense.

Close by, these two chinense plants had only partial overhead protection.

And over here these chinense plants had no overhead protection.

This Rocotillo plant has it easy, it gets to stay inside at night and on cold days. This was my favorite of all the chinense species plants that I grew this year. I love the flavor and it was incredibly productive. It's hard to see in this photo, but  it's loaded with ripe peppers.

There they are!

Back in July I received the seeds of a couple of  unusual pepper varieties that I received in exchanges and I couldn't resist sowing some even though it was far too late in the season to get any mature peppers this year. Here they are basking in the sun of a mild December day. I've been keeping them indoors at night and on cold days. These are Pimenta Biquinho, a sweet chinense pepper from Brazil, and Pima Rodrigues, a spicy annuum pepper from the island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean. Some of the Biquinhos have flowers already, although none of them have set.

I hope that a lot of these plants make it through the winter, it depends on how many more freezing nights we get and whether or not any of the plants succumb to fungal diseases. And those new babies are sporting a population of aphids now. One application of Pyganic, an OMRI approved pyrethrin insecticide, took care of a lot of them, but it looks like I might have to give them another application.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Garden on December 15, 2010

It has been quite a while since I last did a garden tour post. The last tour, two months ago, showed what happens when you neglect the garden for about a month. This time we get to see the garden one week before the winter solstice (already, where did the year go???).

The bed shown above was home to all the tomatoes and many of the peppers that I grew this year. A lot of the peppers performed quite poorly because of root competition from the oak trees that grow outside the garden. The tomatoes still produced but the plants didn't grow as vigorously as they should have. So I spent a good chunk of time during the past week completely digging the bed except for one small corner where there are some favas already growing that I didn't have the heart (or stamina) to pull out.

The oak roots were a thick tangled mass throughout the end of the bed from where the photo was taken and that was where the peppers suffered the most. They started to thin out about half way down the bed (10 feet!) and by the end of the bed they were quite thin. I dug down to the bottom of the bed as far as the gopher barrier to sever the invading roots. I probably moved each shovelful of soil at least twice as I worked my way down the bed. The biggest roots are going into the compost pile because they are quite woody and will tie up a lot of nitrogen as they slowly decompose. It was exhausting work for this not so spring chicken of a gardener, but hey, the battle to keep the holiday pounds off has been a lot easier! I planted the rest of the bed with the favas that I grew last year, Extra Precocce  Bianco and Extra Precocce Violetto. Shown below are the Extra Precocce Biancos that I planted earlier after I pulled the tomato plants in that area. Now I need to dig around the outside of the bed to sever the oak roots where they enter the bed... Later, after we get more rain that will soften the rock hard native soil.

On the other side of the main path you can see the volunteer Portuguese Dairyman's kale that grew where the parent plants grew last year. I've got lots of seeds to share if anyone is interested. And you can see the eggplant that I've not yet cleaned out of the garden. Those plants produced until we had a killing freeze just before Thanksgiving. Another victim of the freeze that I've not yet pulled out was the African Blue Basil. It still has a bit of life showing down at the crown so I may leave it and see what happens, I've seen plants just as crispy come back to life. In the meantime it remains incredibly fragrant, every time I brush past it the aroma perfumes the air.

On the other side of the kale is the spot where I had planted potatoes, pulled them out when the vole/mole/whatever started rooting around in that area, and I then replanted because the spot was empty anyway....  Well, the potatoes are growing and even survived a couple of nights when the temperature dropped to 27F for a few hours because I had the foresight to drape some frost cloth over the plants. That was actually a somewhat half hearted effort, I didn't even completely enclose the tunnels, but just having overhead protection was enough.

Can you see the dead twiggy stuff in the left bottom corner of the photo above? That was the little patch of chamomile that produce enough flowers over the course of the summer to keep me drinking tea all winter. Surprise, surprise, the offspring are already volunteering in the potato patch. I had no idea that the plants would grow in the winter! Look at that healthy looking plant down below.

The next bed down is where I've planted garlic. Eight varieties this year, all new for me. There's Rose du Var and S&H Silver, both softneck silverskins. And 2 softneck artichoke types, Aglio Blanco and Island Star. I chose 4 hard neck varieties (gotta have those scapes), Blanak and Persian Star (both purple stripe varieties), and Japanese and Thai Purple (asiatic varieties).  The far end of this bed has been seeded with Monticello poppies and I've left a couple of trellises in place where I'm going to experiment with winter grown sugar snap peas.

Across the way the bolting Couve Tronchuda (Portuguese cabbage) that I left to bloom for the beneficial insects. And a few replacement baby Couve Tronchuda that I hope will grow enough this winter to provide leaves to go into a few batches of Caldo Verde.

Is it any wonder that one of the common names for the kale shown above is Palm Tree Kale? It's also know as Cavolo Nero, Tuscan Kale, Lacinato Kale, and Dino Kale and I'm sure there's other names for it as well. Whatever name it goes by, it is my all time favorite kale.

Romanesco broccoli plants. You can see the plant that I've already harvested from and two large plants behind that I hope will produce proper heads. And below is shown is head forming on a smaller plant (complete with caterpillar poop). This runty head can size up a bit more.

The plant above is Hollow Pipe of Malines cutting celery (leaf celery). This is the last time I'm growing it, I find the flavor to be too strong and somewhat bitter.

The stump of the Testa di Ferro savoy cabbage is sprouting. I read somewhere that sometimes cabbage plants can grow a new head from a side shoot so I've left this plant to see what happens. Look closely and you can see bright green sprouts of volunteering Golden Corn Salad coming up around the cabbage. The corn salad grew in this location last year and I let it go to seed and now it's volunteering all over this bed. I had always wondered why the corn salad waited until winter to sprout and then I learned from a gardener in Mississippi whom I sent some seeds to that corn salad (mache) won't germinate if the soil temperature is too warm (thanks Jim!). Corn salad transplants easily so I'll move some of the seedlings to a spot where they have room to grow. And below is some Gala mache that grew in this pot last year and went to seed. I love veggies that perpetuate themselves if given the chance.

Diamante celery root in need of harvesting, which happened after the photo shoot. Come back on Monday to find out what this root and its 3 companions weighed in at.

Golden chard, unfazed by overnight freezing temperatures. Thank goodness the cold weather slows the growth rate down.

Turkish parsley, a flat leaf variety similar to Italian parsley but with smaller leaves that are a bit more tender. I got the seeds for this variety from Peace Seedlings, they offer it direct when their website is up (only part of the year) and they also offer it through the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook.

Another welcome winter volunteer is the native Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). These plants are coming up in the garlic bed and will be harvested young before they compete too much with the garlic.

And outside the garden, in the land of giant antlered rats, um deer, one of the lone survivors in the what-herbs-won't-they-eat experiment, lemongrass!

But wait, there's one more surprise from the garden, the Yellow Wonder strawberries are still producing sweet berries, a tasty reward for all that hard labor.

Next up, the pepper survival report, there's more surprises to come...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Harvest Monday - December 13, 2010

Harvest Monday is here again and I've got a fat funky looking but still delicious head of Romanesco broccoli to show off. This head started to form early, one other plant at the moment is showing signs of one small head developing, and the other two plants in the garden seem to be on track to produce late winter or early spring heads as planned (I hope). The photos aren't the best since the low light required me to use the flash, but you'll still get an idea of how this head came out. There's lots of leaves growing up around each floret in the head so the head doesn't look typical.

Each floret also has a rather long stem. I cut off a number of florets from the bottom of the "head" before I started taking photographs. The florets that were cut off of this head weighed in at 1 1/2 pounds.

After cutting the main stem down some more the head weighed in at just shy of 4 pounds.

Now I've got the challenge of eating 5 pounds of Romanesco, but fortunately it keeps quite well in the refrigerator. The first florets were blanched and shocked to get rid of the aphids that had taken up residence, then I peeled the stems and cut it all into chunks and braised it with garlic, capers, and mild pepper flakes. I think I'll make a pureed soup with some of the rest of it, that will use up a big chunk.

The only other harvests for the week were some Lacinato and Portuguese kales that I used to make kale chips for the first time. Those were good! And easy. Just remove the mid ribs from the kale leaves, tear the leaves into pieces, toss with some olive oil to lightly coat the pieces, spread them out on a baking sheet and bake in a 300F oven for 30 minutes until crisp, sprinkle with salt and serve.

Here's the harvest totals for the week:

Lacinato kale - 5.75 oz.
Portuguese Dairyman's kale - 6.5 oz.
Romanesco broccoli - 5 lb., 6 oz.

The total for the week was - 6 lb., 2.25 oz.
The total for the year is - 692 lb., 3.25 oz.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne on her blog Daphne's Dandelions, head on over and check it out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Harvest Monday - December 6, 2010

I'm glad I weighed and photographed the kale that I picked last week, otherwise I would have nothing to report for Harvest Monday!

That's it for the week - 10.25 ounces of Portuguese Dairyman's Kale. I used it in soup made with turkey broth, leftover turkey, Petaluma Gold Rush beans, half ripe Christmas Bell peppers, tomato puree from the freezer and other aromatics. It was delicious and warming.

That brings the total for the year up to 686 lb., 1 oz.

Check out more Harvest Monday posts at Daphne's Dandelions.

Gotta go now, the sun is out and I've got lots of catching up to do in the garden.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Slow Roasted or is it Quick Dried Chile Peppers

This year I've been experimenting with slow roasting chile peppers to a crisp in the oven. This experiment actually started by accident last year when I attempted to slow cook some peppers in a 200F oven hoping to get some tender melting soft peppers that I could puree into a paste. My efforts rewarded me with crisp toasted peppers instead, at least I managed not to burn them. I didn't want to throw them out so I experimented with grinding them up to sprinkle on various things and found them to be absolutely delicious. That first batch was cooked with some olive oil and salt which I figured wasn't the best for long term storage and was rather messy to grind so I did one more batch without the oil and salt and, wow, they were even better than the first batch. Those were Aji Angelo peppers, a mild baccatum pepper with just a hint of heat and an aromatic fruity flavor. I've found that in general I prefer to use the ground Aji Angelos in place of store bought pepper flakes since the Ajis have a lot more flavor and are less spicy.

Here's a photo of the last of my ground Aji Angelos from last year.

Shown below are Christmas Bell peppers, another mild baccatum pepper, cut in half, seeded and ready to go in the oven.

It took about three to three and a half hours for the peppers to become crisp. The thinner fleshed Aji Angelos take about two to two and a half hours to become crisp. You have to keep your eye on the peppers as they get close to crisping up, they go quickly from a nice red color to brown. I pull the pan out of the oven when the peppers become leathery and let them cool in the pan, they crisp up as they cool and any peppers that still have soft spots go back in the oven for 10 minutes or so and cooled on the pan again.

I grind the peppers using the food grinder attachment to my mixer. The Christmas Bells came out as a coarse powder as you can see below.

The Aji Angelos were ground using the same method as the Christmas Bells but came out as flakes rather than powder. I think that that is because the Aji Angelos are thinner fleshed and have tougher skins than the Christmas Bells. Today I'm roasting a batch of Kaleidoscope peppers, another baccatum pepper that is similar to the Aji Angelos in texture but is not at all spicy. It'll be interesting to see how the Kaleidoscopes grind up. I keep most of my roasted peppers whole in glass jars. I've only ground the Christmas Bells so far this year and am going through the last of the 2009 Aji Angelos. Once I've ground the peppers I like to keep them in the refrigerator to preserve the color and aroma which dissipates more quickly once the peppers have been ground.

I dry most of my peppers in a dehydrator but I've found that I really like the way the Aji peppers taste when they are slow roasted in the oven. The roasting caramelizes the sugars in the peppers a bit and seems to intensify the aromas and flavors. You wouldn't believe how delicious the peppers smell as they roast and when you open a jar of dried peppers, either whole or ground, the aroma is still fabulous.

One of my favorite uses for the ground peppers is to sprinkle them on cooked vegetables, eggs, open faced toasted cheese sandwiches, pasta dishes, etc. Lately I've been incorporating them into crispy parmesan breadsticks. They are fantastic used in marinades for just about anything. One of my favorite quickie marinades is olive oil, fish sauce, garlic, and pepper flakes, fresh cilantro or dried oregano is also a great addition. So, how do you think you would use ground slow roasted peppers?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Harvest Monday - November 29, 2010

Are you tired of seeing peppers on my Harvest Monday posts? Well, you won't being seeing much more after this week, here's almost the last of the bunch. Freezing night time temperatures swooped down upon us out of the Gulf of Alaska last week so I stripped most of my pepper plants of all their peppers. I say this is almost the last because I brought one potted plant that was loaded with ripening pods indoors and you'll get to see those peppers in the next week or so.

Here's the bulk of the pepper harvest last week:

Christmas Bell


Aji Santa Cruz

I tried some of the green Aji Santa Cruz peppers pan fried like padron peppers but the skins were too tough and they just didn't have the same great flavor so I won't be trying them that way again. Next, I'll be trying some of them stewed in their own juices with some garlic and herbs to see if that works better. Most of the green Christmas Bells turned red after sitting at room temperature for a few days so today I dried them in a 200F oven to grind into flakes.

I also harvested a bunch of the Portuguese Dairyman's kale to braise with some artichoke hearts for Thanksgiving dinner, but of course I forgot to weigh it, again. And I didn't weigh the ripe and ripening Aunt Ruby's German cherry tomatoes that I stripped from the plant either...

Here's the harvest totals for the past week:

Aji Santa Cruz peppers - 3 lb., 11.75 oz.
Kaleidoscope peppers - 1 lb., 14.25 oz.
Christmas Bell peppers - 2 lb., 6.25 oz.
Guyana peppers - 2.5 oz.
PI 593480 (Morocco) peppers - 8 oz.
Madrid Bell Sweet peppers - 13.5 oz.
Tobago Sweet Scotch Bonnet peppers - 3.25 oz.
Suave orange peppers - .5 oz.
Aji Pineapple peppers - .5 oz.
Topepo Rosso peppers - 1 lb., 15.25 oz.
Cuerno de Cabra peppers - 9.5 oz.
Christmas Bell Picante peppers - 9.25 oz.
Andine Cornue tomatoes - 1 lb., 15 oz.

The total for the week was - 14 lb., 13.5 oz.
The totals for the year are - 693 lb., 8 oz.

If you would like to see more harvests that other garden bloggers are gathering then head on over to Daphne's Dandelions, the home of Harvest Monday.