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...


  1. Michelle,

    What a fine tour! Strawberries I can even taste them. Cold weather slowing down chard, wish we could get it to do more here, we over wintered it and the deer ate it. BTW our garlic is even bigger than yours, does not seem to bother with the 15 degree days we had earlier this week.

  2. I was shocked one year to find that my chamomile had overwintered one year. I love chamomile tea and really regretted not having it this year. I've already picked out the variety I want.

  3. How fun, I always enjoy your garden tours and it looks like you still have a lot growing on in the garden. Your Golden Swiss chard looks like it has an actual trunk on it...what a nice big plant.

  4. Thanks for the tour! I can't believe you have strawberries in December.

    Pulling out the oak tree roots must have been are great exercise. Our soil is frozen and I do miss some real garden work.

  5. I'll say it again - I love your garden tours! I feel like I need to move to zone 9 California now. To be able to grow all year round must be such a treat.

    Isn't caterpillar poop the worst! Thank goodness it comes off easily with a light squirt of the hose.

  6. Your garden is delightful! I like that you use concrete reinforcing wire to hold up the plastic for your polytunnels -- I think I'll try that next season. Those strawberries look delicious!

  7. That bed where you removed the oak tree root invaders is probably really beautifully prepared now - for all that work!

    Loved the tour of the garden. So much happening there despite the time of year.

  8. Hi michelle,

    what kind of plant is that? the other photo of you.

    Just like to share with you a beautiful quote...

    "You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life" - Albert Camus

    You can get more happiness quotes at

  9. African blue basil...I was just reading about this plant. But I'm wondering about the taste - what did you think of it?

  10. Jackie, the African Blue Basil is a bit strong for my taste, I by far prefer Genovese basil, but some gardeners like the African Blue. I like to grow it because it is beautiful and the bees and beneficials love it.


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