Thursday, July 29, 2010

Compost, The Lazy Woman's Methods

I am a lazy composter. I don't pay attention to the ratios of greens and browns. I don't turn my compost. I basically make a pile, well, 2 piles and let them rot. But I think that my stuff comes out pretty good in the end.

So here it is, the lazy woman's guide to two methods of making pretty good compost.

First the more complicated method. Start with a big pile of trimmings from oak trees, lavender bushes, and various other twiggy and woody growth. Here's where it gets complicated - send it through a chipper-shredder to turn it into this:

Next, pile it all into a compost bin, preferably adding raw chicken poop as you go. Wet it down as you add layers.  Fill the bin to the top, stick a compost thermometer in it and water it every few days.

Watch the temperature soar and then gradually drop. This is my latest pile which got up to 160F and stayed there a few days and over the last few weeks it has been gradually cooling down. Today's temperature....

The chicken poop really makes the pile cook but it is not really necessary, without it my compost didn't get as hot or stay warm as long but I still got good compost in the end. Next I just wait. I don't turn it. I give it some water every once in a while since we don't get summer rain and it will dry out quickly if I forget to water it.

Below is shown a pile that I put together last fall. The bin was originally full and mounded above the top of the bin. It doesn't look all that great at first glance....

But just under all that dry twiggy stuff is black gold. The worms have been hard at work. (If you build it, they will come). I have to admit, the worms are really the key to my success, they do most of the work. And truly, if you build a compost pile and let it sit long enough they will find it, I've never purchased a single worm.

Here's what it looks like when I sift the compost, this is a portion of the vegetable garden that I'm preparing for planting carrots, beets, and parsnips.

There's one downside to putting all that compost that is full of worms into the vegetable garden - moles. You can see a fresh mound at the top right from a mole that is tunneling through the worm buffet (aka my potato bed) that I prepared last week. I'm fed up with the moles and just ordered some heavy duty professional mole traps today.

The chunky stuff that is left after I sift the compost gets strewn around other areas of the garden as mulch, this batch was spread around my new (and struggling) fruit trees.

Lazy Woman's Compost Method #2 requires no special equipment or livestock. Fill a compost bin with anything that doesn't have to go through the chipper-shredder, just keep filling it as it shrinks down (which it does surprisingly fast), and when you just can't add anything else to it then it's time to start another bin. OK, here's the hard part, when I start the new bin I move the top half of the old bin into the bottom of the new bin. You know you've removed enough from the old bin when you run into stuff like this:

I put the chunkiest stuff in the garbage can where the worms can continue working on it and the best stuff goes into the garden. My fruit trees got this load:

Here's the new cold compost pile, which is really just a big open worm factory (and the sow bugs work hard in there as well):

I put all my fruit and vegetable scraps that the chickens won't eat into this bin. Used paper towels also go into this bin, as well as coffee grounds with the filters, tea bags, used loose tea leaves, etc. I generally keep this pile covered. Empty bags that potting soil came in that I cut open so they will lay flat work well. I use rocks to keep the plastic weighted down. I can continue to feed this bin for at least 6 months or more until it won't hold any more.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Harvest Monday - July 26, 2010

So this perhaps isn't the photo you were expecting for Harvest Monday at the end of July, but I finally got around to weighing my garlic bundles this week. From left to right there are Thermadrone and then Madrid, both artichoke softneck types. Then there's Purple Glazer, a Glazed Purple Stripe type of hardneck. Next are Red Janice, China Stripe, and early Portuguese, all Turban type hardnecks.  I also grew two silverskin softneck types but I've not trimmed and weighed them yet.

I didn't get around to photographing any of the other harvests this week and there isn't anything new in the harvest basket. The rats gave me a bit of a break this week and I got a few strawberries (I've lot count of the number of rats that I've trapped in the last few weeks, but they keep on coming so the rat patrol continues each night and morning).

Here's the harvests for the past week including the garlic:

Piracicaba broccoli - 6.25 oz
Capers - 7.25 oz.
Chamomile - 1.75 oz.
China Stripe garlic - 2 lb., 11 oz.
Madrid garlic - 4 lb., 2 oz.
Purple Glazer garlic - 2 lb.
Red Janice garlic - 2 lb., 9 oz.
Thermadrone garlic - 2 lb., 7 oz.
Early Portuguese garlic 2 lb., 3 oz.
Butterhead lettuce - 15.25 oz.
Cimarron lettuce - 4 oz.
Padron Peppers - 6.25 oz.
Poppy seeds - 11 oz.
Mara des Bois strawberries - 3 oz.
Seascape strawberries - 3 oz.
Yellow Wonder wild strawberries - 1 oz.
Aunt Ruby's German cherry tomato - 1.5 oz.
Gigantesque tomato - 17 oz.
Katja tomato - 19.5 oz.
Zucchini - 21.5 oz.
Zucchini blossoms - 6 oz.

Total for the week - 23 lb., 12.25 oz.
Total for the year - 301 lb., 6 oz.
16 eggs last week

You can enjoy a lot more harvest posts with lots of pretty pictures to ogle at Daphne's Dandelions, the home of Harvest Monday.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Zucchini in Agrodolce

This is one of my husband's favorite zucchini dishes. It can be made ahead and served at room temperature as an appetizer or served warm as a side dish. I use anchovies packed in salt but you could also use oil packed anchovies. If you want to lighten the dish you could brush the zucchini slices with olive oil and grill or broil them, and then prepare the sauce in a small skillet, but fried zucchini is just so yummy.

2 tablespoons raisins
1 1/2 pounds young zucchini
unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons pine nuts
olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic
2 anchovy filets
salt to taste

Put the raisins in a small bowl and add enough warm water to cover them, set them aside to soak.

Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick strips, a mandoline works great for this. Dredge the zucchini slices in flour.

Heat a large skillet or saute pan over medium to medium-high heat. Toast the pine nuts until golden, remove from the pan and set aside. Pour enough olive oil into the pan to film the bottom, add enough zucchini slices to fit in the pan without crowding, fry the zucchini, turning once until golden brown on both sides. Set the zucchini on paper towels and blot the tops with another towel to soak up any excess oil. Continue frying the zucchini in batches, adding more olive oil as needed, until all the zucchini is done. Remove the pan from the heat while you arrange the zucchini slices on a platter, I like to overlap them in a pretty pattern.

Stir the wine vinegar and sugar together in a small bowl. Mince the garlic and anchovy filets. Drain the raisins.

Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of oil from the pan and return the pan to medium-low heat. Add the garlic and anchovy to the pan and saute briefly. Add the raisins, pine nuts, and vinegar/sugar mixture to the pan and cook briefly, stirring in any browned bits in the pan, until the vinegar is slightly reduced and syrupy. Spoon the mixture evenly over the zucchini and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately or you can set it aside at room temperature for up to a few hours.

Makes 4 side dish servings or more as an appetizer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Garden Tour on July 21, 2010

We had a short run of summer weather which made the garden happy. Now summer has taken a vacation and we're back to fog for breakfast, sun for lunch, fog for dinner and an overnight with the fog. Here's a view of the garden from the front gate, you can see that blasted fog obscuring the hills in the background.

The two beds to the right of the main path. The bed in the foreground has been mostly cleared and some of it will be home to beets, carrots, and parsnips for winter harvests.

Here's my little patch of chamomile. The ray petals fold down for the night and don't perk up until the sun comes out.

The other end of this bed is home to eggplant and newly set out Sweetie Baby Romaine lettuce. The cool weather is making for an easy transition from a crowded 4-inch pot into the garden. There's also a very happy African Blue Basil plant that I like to grow to feed the good bugs and bees.

Malaysian Dark Red Eggplant Blossom

Diamond Eggplant

The next bed is all about summer vegetables. Suyo Long cucumbers are being trained up the tower. I think the first cucumber may have set. Behind the cucumber tower the Garafal Oro romano beans and Petaluma Gold Rush beans are reaching the tops of their trellises and twining around themselves in thin air.

The Da Fiori zucchini plants are growing by leaps and bounds. They are producing more male than female blossoms so far, as they should.

The Crane Melon plants are a bit more sedate, but they are starting to take off. I would choose one of the coolest summers to experiment with melons *sigh*.

Marina di Chioggia winter squash are starting to trail along and the last planting of pole beans (Petaluma Gold Rush and Turkey Craw) are starting to climb their trellises.

Across the path, the Monticello Poppy plants are nearing the end of their long run. I don't have the exact date recorded but it was somewhere around the first of the year that I sowed the seeds. The Hollow Pipe of Malines cutting celery in front of the poppies is lush looking. I've allowed Nepitella to take over the pot on the right - the good bugs love its blossoms.

The cool weather is allowing an easy transition into the garden for Thai Tender amaranth seedlings. And the undercover lettuce is still happy. Perfect for BLTs!

I'm really happy with the progress of the Diamante celery root, perhaps I'll be harvesting it this fall. The Gigante kohlrabi behind it is growing like crazy. I've been watching it grow and grow and I'm tempted to just let it go to see what happens. It seems to expand its "bulb" upward as it grows. The survivor Padron pepper plants are not doing as well as I hoped and will soon make way for some cabbage plants that I've started in 4-inch pots.

I just cannot keep up with the Golden chard. Why oh why did I put in four plants when I knew that two would suffice.

Here's a little surprise. I had a heck of a time getting onion seeds to germinate earlier this year and ended up with two seedlings to plant out. I tucked them into a little spot next to the cabbage which soon overwhelmed them and I forgot all about them. When I harvested the cabbage the onions were still there so I let them be. And now they are bulbing up!

The Piracicaba broccoli in the back just keeps putting out new shoots in spite of looking rather ragged. One of the plants is growing tall and produces long stemmed shoots, one of the plants grows low with huge leaves and puts out fat little short shoots, and the other two plants have growth habits somewhere in between. In the foreground are two new Couve Tronchuda plants, a Portuguese type of non-heading cabbage that is used to make Caldo Verde, a delicious traditional Portuguese soup.

The tomato and pepper bed is next.

Some tomatoes that are showing the first signs of ripening:

Chocolate Stripes

Ananas Noir

The green cherry tomato that is isn't.

Aunt Ruby's German Cherry

A gallery of pepper photos, all Capsicum annuum unless otherwise noted:

Guyana, Capsicum baccatum

Manzano Red, C. pubescens


Viego Arruga Dulce

De La Vera

Topepo Rosso

PI 593480 (Morocco)

Madrid Bell Sweet

Donkey Ears

Cuerno de Cabra


Aji Pineapple, C. baccatum

I hope you enjoyed the latest garden tour. The sun has finally shouldered aside the fog and it's time for me to get back out in the garden and get some work done today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chard Gratin

I'm putting this down from memory and notes of ingredients so be warned that it is not precise.

My chard plants have very large juicy stems and the 2 pounds of chard that I used yielded a pound of leafy greens and a pound of stems (including the thickest part of the mid ribs). If your chard is leafier then you will have less bulk since the leafy parts cook down more than the stems so you might want to adjust accordingly. This makes a rather thin gratin, if you want to use a smaller pan and make it thicker you might want to try adding an egg to the creme fraiche so that the gratin doesn't come out somewhat soupy. This dish is fairly rich and was great as a vegetarian main dish accompanied by a salad.

2 pounds chard including the stems
8 oz. sweet onion, coarsely chopped
a few springs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 or 3 cloves garlic, or to taste, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 more tablespoons olive oil
1 cup fresh bread crumbs from a rustic type of bread
1/2 cup creme fraiche
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
3 ounces Comte cheese (gruyere, cheddar, etc.), grated

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Wash the chard and cut the leaves from the stems and mid ribs, set the stems aside. Put the wet leaves in a large saute pan over medium heat and cover. Cook until the leaves have wilted, turning them a few times. Drain in a colander and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Wipe out the pan and return it to the heat.

While the chard leaves are cooling, saute the onion and whole thyme sprigs in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it starts to turn golden. While the onion is cooking, cut the chard stems crosswise into 1/4-inch thick (or so) slices, diagonally if the stems are narrow. Add the chard stems to the onions, stir to mix, cover the pan and let them cook, stirring occasionally until they are tender. Remove the lid for the last few minutes to allow any juices to cook off.

While the stems are cooking, take small handfuls of the card leaves and squeeze gently to remove excess moisture. Coarsely chop the leaves and set aside.

Toss the fresh bread crumbs with the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil, spread them in a baking  pan and bake about 7 or 8 minutes or until crisp and golden. Remove them from the pan to stop them from browning more, set aside to cool.

When the chard stems have been cooked until tender, remove the thyme springs (most of the leaves will have fallen off, that's ok), add the chopped garlic and cook a minute or so. Add the chopped chard leaves and stir to mix and saute a couple more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread in a 15- X 10-inch oval gratin pan (or similar sized rectangular baking dish), it won't be very thick. Stir some fresh grated nutmeg into the creme fraiche and pour it over the vegetables. Scatter the cheese evenly over all and then the bread crumbs. Bake about 25 minutes until bubbly and hot, serve immediately.

Yield about 4 servings.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Harvest Monday - July 19, 2010

The harvests are starting to look more summery lately and the same can be said for the weather, we've had temperatures in the mid to high 80's. Tomatoes are ripening, at least the early varieties, below are shown a Katja (the pink one on the left) and three Gigantesque tomatoes along with that superzuke. Those 4 tomatoes weighed in at 2 lb., 6 oz. and the zucchini almost 5 ounces (including the blossom). A few cherry tomatoes have been trickling in but the rest of the tomato varieties are still rock hard solid green.

Most of the tomatoes have been used in salads but last night I diced a couple of small misshapen ones and mixed them with some diced Walla Walla onion, basil, capers, olive oil and balsamico and piled it on garlic rubbed toast to make some delicious bruschetta.

I've been harvesting chamomile blossoms for a few weeks now. It's amazing to me how many blossoms just a few small plants have been pumping out. It took only an ounce to fill that dehydrator tray. I've collected a total of 6 ounces so far and should get at least a few more pickings. That will be enough to get me through the winter.

The only other new item in the harvest basket was a sampling of Pimiento Cuerno de Cabra peppers. It's supposed to be a sweet seasoning pepper but it looks like it would make a good frying pepper so I tried a few green ones pan fried with some of the Pimento de Padrons and they were very tasty.

The Golden Chard has been growing like crazy and I picked a huge bunch of it. The chickens got the leaves that the leaf miners attacked and I used the other 2+ pounds to make a gratin. If I get around to writing up the recipe I'll post it later.

Here's the totals for the past week:

Devoy beets w/ leaves (the last) - 3 lbs.
Piracicaba broccoli - 1 lb., 12.5 oz.
Capers - 4.25 oz.
Chamomile - 2.5 oz.
Golden Chard - 2 lb., 4.25 oz.
Butterhead lettuce - 6.5 oz.
Pimiento Cuerno de Cabra peppers - .5 oz.
Pimento de Padron peppers - 5.5 oz.
Monticello Poppy Seeds - 15.75 oz.
Yellow Wonder Strawberries - .25 oz.
Aunt Ruby's German Cherry Tomato - 1 oz.
Galinas Cherry Tomato - 2.5 oz.
Gigantesque Tomato - 5 lb.
Katja Tomato - 2 lb., 6.75 oz.
Zucchini - 1 lb., .5 oz.
Zucchini blossoms - 6 oz.

Total for the week - 18 lb., 5 oz.
Total for the year - 277 lb., 9.75 oz.
11 eggs last week

You can find a bounty of Harvest Monday posts at Daphne's Dandelions. Head on over there and join in the fun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Super Zuke

Zucchini da Fiori, a variety that is supposed to produce more male blossoms for those of us who love to eat the blossoms as much as, or perhaps more than, the zucchini themselves.

As you can see, the less prolific nature of this variety is more than made up for by the size of the individual zucchinis. Does it matter if one of these babies doesn't get pollinated?

I wonder what would happen if one of these got left on the plant for a week? I hope I don't find out . . .