Monday, March 21, 2011

Harvest Monday - March 21, 2011

Hmm, it's already March 21 and I haven't posted for Harvest Monday yet this month. It's not that there haven't been any harvests, I've just been distracted from blogging and I confess that I've been a bit uninspired as well, one of my occasional funks about the frustrations of gardening. The garden is demanding a lot of attention after being rather neglected for a while and around here it's not good to neglect the garden in winter, there's huge weeds everywhere. I've also been busy trying to thwart an invasion of gophers and moles, and the rats are up to their usual antics. I had to start setting mouse traps around the garden to catch the baby rats that were destroying the young lettuce and pea plants. And just when I started getting back into the swing of things in the garden along comes a big ol' end of winter storm to get things good and wet and unworkable, and then another wild and wet storm, and then another, and there's still more on the way. Sheesh, I feel that funk coming on again...

Anyway, I'm still reaping the benefits of previous efforts in the garden. Here's one of the more interesting harvests of late, a basket of Guntmadingen Winter Spinach.

It's a very pretty spinach with a distinctive oak leaf shape. This spinach isn't just a pretty leaf, it's also delicious and seems to have less of an oxalic tang than the typical store bought varieties.

I haven't been very successful at growing spinach in the past so it's been a nice surprise to have this variety do fairly well. That's in spite of pushing the limits by starting the plants very late last fall and leaving the baby plants totally unprotected out in the garden through the winter. This variety is best for overwintering but it should be started early enough in the fall to develop some good growth before cold weather and short days slow growth down to a crawl. The plants are supposed to keep well through the winter and then put on a good burst of growth as the days warm up and start to lengthen. Winter spinaches are cold hardy but supposedly bolt more quickly than varieties that are suitable for starting in the spring. I think I got lucky this winter because we had a very warm stretch of weather through January and the first half of February. That warm weather produced a nice growth spurt but the days weren't long enough yet to trigger bolting so the plants are still putting out good leafy growth. Spinach is triggered to bolt when daylight reaches 12.5 to 15 hours per day. Now that we're getting 12+ hours from sunrise to sunset I expect the plants to bolt soon. I'm looking forward to giving this variety a proper start next fall.

The rest of the harvests over the last few weeks have also been quite leafy. I harvested nearly 2 pounds of Olive Leaf Rapini. That got blanched and then sauteed with garlic and pine nuts. I paired that with some mashed Petaluma Gold Rush beans and crispy bacon on some bruschetta. The Couve Tronchuda (Portuguese cabbage) produced a couple more pickings that I used in a couple of different soups - a batch of the traditional Portuguese soup Caldo Verde and a batch of Celery Root and Farro soup. And there's been lettuce, lettuce, and more lettuce. I've been playing around with my favorite Lemon-Honey-Mustard salad dressing. The latest version uses the juice of half a Meyer lemon, about a teaspoon of honey, about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, a dash of truffle oil, chopped fresh tarragon and chives, and olive oil. Butterhead lettuce with that dressing, toasted sliced almonds, and perhaps some crumbled bacon has been delicious.

Here's the harvests for the last three weeks:

Cilantro - 1 lb., 6 oz.
Couve Tronchuda (Portuguese cabbage) - 1 lb., 4 oz.
Golden Corn Salad - 5 oz.
Butterhead lettuce - 1 lb., 10 oz.
Ear of the Devil lettuce - 1 ounce
Sweetie Baby Romaine lettuce - 2 lb., 15 oz.
Olive Leaf Rapini - 1 lb., 15 oz.
Snow Pea Shoots - 1 oz.
Guntmadingen Winter spinach - 13 oz.
Yu Choy - 5 oz.

The total for the month was - 10 lb., 8 oz.
The total for the year is - 26 lb., 6 oz.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne on her blog Daphne's Dandelions, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Garden on March 11, 2011

Not a cloud in the sky early this morning, it sure feels like spring today! Let's take a gander at the garden and see what's springing up there.

Outside the garden fence the lemongrass has survived the winter chill. The plant sits under the south facing edge of the canopy of a large evergreen oak tree which provides some protection from the occasional frost (and snow this year!).

I'm trying another experiment with an edible that might resist the appetites of the local deer, some Monticello poppies. All too often the deer seem disinterested in the plants that I experiment with until they bloom, so we'll see about this latest effort. So far the biggest problem has been with the deer trampling the plants.

Purple leaf sage, also out in the path of trampling deer, I've been protecting it with a cage. So far, so good...

I'm really happy with the rosemary, it's filling in nicely and blooming like crazy right now.

Tuscan Blue rosemary

Arp (foreground) and Santa Barbara Blue rosemarys

Inside the garden, the favas are really starting to take off and will soon be shading that row of lettuce that I slipped into the middle of the bed. The favas that I sowed earliest are already sporting small beans!

Across the way I'm growing water bottles, or so it seems...

The water bottles are protecting the little pea plants that I'm growing for their young tender shoots. Apparently, small rodents also have a taste for young tender pea shoots and I almost lost all the seedlings. The water bottle cloches also worked well to protect the regrowing seedlings from the snow and freeze that we had about 2 weeks ago. I harvested the first shoots just a couple of days ago which is why this plant is looking so truncated. The first harvest was so tiny that I simply munched the sprouts raw and unadorned, they were incredibly delicious. The plants should produce side shoots now that the central leader has been snipped out so the harvests should get larger. Still, I realized that I didn't start enough plants so I've got more of them starting in a flat of paper pots now.

At the other end of this bed is a patch of Olive Leaf Rapini. I think that it has become a bit stunted by that cold snap that we had recently so I've got another batch sown in paper pots already.

And some Yu Choy seedlings coming along under their protective water bottle cloches. Yu Choy is also called Edible Rape and is closely related to Rape Seed (aka Canola). I didn't plant very many of these since I wasn't sure that they would do well this early in the season. From what I've read they are more heat tolerant than cold tolerant, at least this variety. This is the first time that I've tried growing this vegetable so I'm not sure what the optimal time is for planting them, nor how many plants I should start at one time. I think that this bunch will produce enough to serve 2 people. I've already got another larger sowing coming along in paper pots.

This mess over here is my garlic bed. It's looking to be a bad year for garlic *sigh*. Garlic rust is hitting the plants extra early and very hard. Normally I would be keeping the garlic bed free of competing plants but I just don't give a fig this year, it's going to be that bad. At least the cilantro is being an over-acheiver this year...

Cilantro, cilanto, cilantro, with a few sugar snap peas, parsley, and that blasted garlic peeking out. Chicken with Cilantro is on the menu tonight, it calls for 2 bunches of cilantro. Anyone have another recipe that uses LOTS of cilantro?

We've been eating salad almost every night...

Butterhead lettuce

Sweetie Baby Romaine lettuce

Ear of the Devil lettuce
I think the Ear of the Devil lettuce is the most beautiful lettuce I've ever grown. These plants come from a few seeds that Gintoino shared with me. I want to let these go to seed so that I can grow lots more.

The Golden Chard is still hanging in there. I keep expecting it to send up flower stalks so I've already got the replacement plants started. You can see the leaning Lacinato kale plants to the right and left. Those are in full bloom so I've been cutting the plants down one by one and giving them to the chickens. I'll need to have half of this bed cleared out in 8 or 10 weeks so that I can plant the tomatoes.

Another salad green, the Golden Corn Salad is quite happy and some of the most mature plants are starting to push out flower stalks. I've found that the easiest way to grow this plant is to let it sow itself around the garden.

My experiement with late sown winter grown Portuguese Cabbage (Couve Tronchuda) has been a mixed success. It has grown enough to produce a few harvests of leaves but is already starting to form flower heads. I need to tinker with my summer/fall sowing times to get it to grow through the fall and into the winter without bolting. I seemed to have started them too early last year and they bolted early  in the fall, although that could have been because we had an unusually cool summer and then a really warm fall and the plants got confused.

Not your typical spinach, Guntmadingen Winter Spinach is a Swiss heirloom that sports oak-leaf shaped leaves and has very spiny seeds. I harvested the first crop from my patch of plants this week. Wow, was it delicious, sweeter and with less of the "fuzziness" that I find typical of most spinach. I hope my plants don't bolt too soon, I want lots more of this green.

Claytonia perfoliata (Miner's Lettuce) is a native edible that I like to let volunteer around the garden.

The fog did one of it's typical dances in and out of the valley at dawn this morning and in its wake the spider webs were revealed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Great Snow Event (hah!)

The great snow event here was nothing compared to what much of the rest of the country experienced, but for coastal California at an elevation below 2000 feet, it was a BIG DEAL, and a photo opportunity...

Some highlights from the garden.

Ear of the Devil lettuce


Snow Angel, Coastal California style

Butterhead lettuce

Early Champagne rhubarb


Couve Tronchuda