Monday, April 29, 2013

Harvest Monday - April 29, 2013

 The harvests are starting to get a bit more colorful!

The first Baby Ball beets

No. 1 Chioggia beet

Carrot thinnings

But green still predominates. I continued to thin out baby heads of butterhead and iceberg lettuce.

I am in salad heaven.

Rhapsody butterhead lettuce

Salad almost every day and some evenings too.

The first spinach of the season! You can read more about this variety on my recent Saturday Spotlight post.

Summer Perfection spinach

The first fava beans are mature enough to harvest. The first few beans that I harvested were consumed whole, I just tossed them with a little olive oil and grilled them on my stovetop ridged griddle until they softened and had browned in spots, sprinkled them with some chopped green garlic, salt and pepper and ate the entire beans - all but the tough strings that run down the side. The next harvest was prepared in a similar way, except they were roasted in a very hot oven until blistered and browned. The next harvest was shucked and peeled and a portion of the peeled beans were used in a recipe that my husband chose from an old issue of Food & Wine magazine for a salad of snap peas, peas, edamame, sweet onion, and goat cheese - we substituted peeled favas for the edamame. It was quite delicious.

Extra Precocce Violetto fava beans

Here's the harvest stats for the past 2 weeks:

Baby Ball beets - 4 oz.
Chioggia beets - 2.4 oz.
Beet greens - 8.6 oz.
Extra Precocce Violetto fava beans - 8 lb., 1.6 oz.
Iceberg Superior lettuce - 13.5 oz.
Rhapsody butterhead lettuce - 11.8 oz.
Lorz Italian green garlic - 3.3 oz.
Red Janice green garlic - 2.9 oz.
Summer Perfection spinach - 1 lb., 2.3 oz.

The total harvests for the past two weeks came to - 12 lb., 2.4 oz.
Which brings the total harvests for the year up to - 65 lb., 12.9 oz.

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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Spotlight - Summer Perfection Spinach

Summer Perfection is a new variety of spinach in my garden and I am impressed. But I have to admit, I am not an expert spinach grower, this is only the second time that I've been able to coax a good harvest out of a sowing of spinach, so perhaps I'm impressed because it actually is producing. The last time I successfully grew spinach was with a "winter" variety that I sowed in autumn for winter and spring harvests. I learned a lot about growing spinach with that experience, enough to convince me that winter spinach is the way to go in my climate. But, I just can't leave good enough alone, so when I spotted Summer Perfection in the Renee's Garden lineup of seeds I just had to try it.*

I won't bore you with repeat information if you read my previous post about my superstar spring greens, check out that post if you want to see how the planting has progressed from seedlings to first harvest.

I chose to sow the seeds into a flat of paper pots. The flat is shown below on the right, that's back on March 22, the seeds were sown on the 7th. It seemed like they took forever to germinate and get to that size. The germination rate was great, I sowed 2 seeds into every pot and there are very few pots with only 1 seedling and no pots with no seedling. I set the plants out before they got much larger than this and left the two seedlings per pot to grow together. I've found that the 2 plants will grow just fine together so long as they are spaced far enough apart from the other pots.

I am still very wary of setting out tender tasty young seedlings into the garden without protection from rodents and birds so I totally enclosed the spinach planting under some lightweight row cover.

I left a couple of gaps to allow some ventilation.

We've had a couple of warm spells lately and I was concerned that the spinach would overheat inside its enclosure so I opened up the ends to create a tunnel. The rest of the tender young greens nearby were unscathed so it seemed safe to leave the tunnel open 24/7.

A mere month after setting the seedlings out in the garden I harvested the first 18 ounces of leaves. You can see that I harvested everything from the first young leaves to the largest of the new leaves. I left at least 2 good sized leaves on each plant.

What truly impresses me about this variety of spinach is its eating quality. The first time I served it to my husband he noted how good it was. He really liked the tenderness and mild flavor. I thought - oh, ok, I dreamed up a good recipe (Beans and Greens 2.0). And my high opinion was clinched when he reaffirmed how much he likes the spinach when I prepared it using an entirely different recipe. And yes, I also thought it was very tender and tasty prepared both ways as well.

So there is just one last test of this variety that may or may not convince me to grow it again next spring - just how long will it keep producing before it bolts. Spinach is daylength sensitive - at some point the days will get long enough (technically the nights will get short enough) to give the plants the signal to bloom. Heat can also help to push spinach to bolt, which is one reason why I keep the plants lightly shaded by the row cover. I hope that this variety is as resistant to bolting as claimed. I'm happy to have harvested over 1 pound of leaves with the first harvest and am pretty sure that I'll be harvesting at least that much again in the next week or so. Will I get a third harvest before it bolts? For comparison, the winter spinach that I grew in 2011/2012 produced 6 pounds of leaves from November through January from fewer plants. (If you like, you can read my post about growing winter spinach).

One other note, I'm not sure why this is, but the spinach has been unmolested by aphids and leaf miners so far. I typically have problems with both of those pests in my spinach, especially in the spring. It probably isn't because of any special attributes of this variety of spinach because I also noticed that the aphids haven't infested the neighboring fava beans (yet) this spring. I'm not sure why that is, there don't seem to be any more beneficial insects than usual, although the resident Western Fence Lizard population seems to have increased so perhaps they are helping to keep the garden "clean".

I'll try to remember to update this post in the future once I've seen how this spinach performs through the rest of its growing season. Will it stay mild and delicious as the weather warms up? How long will it  be before it bolts? Will the aphids and leaf miners finally attack... I also want to try starting some of this variety side by side with my winter spinach this fall and see how the 2 varieties compare through the fall and winter.

Is anyone else growing this variety? What is your experience with it?

I'll be linking with Liz's Saturday Spotlight series over at her blog Suburban Tomato.

*Full disclosure, I was doing a thorough perusal of Renee's seed lineup because they offered me a number of free seed packets of my choice as part of a media kit. Quite frankly I was happy to leap at the offer because I am a long time purchaser of their seeds. I've gravitated towards their offerings for a number of reasons, not least of which is because they are a locally based company and have a local trial garden so I can be pretty sure that the varieties they offer will do well in my climate. They are also very supportive of the local gardening community, something I experienced during my stint as a Master Gardener. The selection of seeds in their catalog may not be as extensive as other companies, but that seems to be because they only offer varieties that they have found to be the best both in the garden and in the kitchen. And indeed, a number of the "regulars" in my garden are from Renee's.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Spring Greens, Indeed!

Whoa, now I know why this season is called "Spring". The leafy greens are truly springing into action. Let's see how they have progressed in the last 4 to 5 weeks.

Iceberg (foreground) and butterhead lettuces on March 20
These seeds were sown en masse in 4-inch pots on February 22

Butterhead (foreground) and iceberg lettuces on March 29

Butterhead on April 12

Butterhead on April 25 after harvesting 9 of the 24 original plants

"Rhapsody" butterhead Lettuce

Iceberg on April 12

Iceberg on April 25, these have been thinned quite a bit also

Iceberg "Superior" Lettuce

Napa cabbages on March 22, these were sown on February 22

Napa cabbage on April 12

Napa cabbage on April 25

"Little Jade" napa cabbage

Spinach on March 29
These were sown on March 7

Spinach on April 12

The first harvest of "Summer Perfection" spinach (18 oz.) on April 22.

Spinach on April 24

These are the superstars of the spring garden. I've been enjoying a fresh salad almost every day using the baby heads of lettuce that I've been thinning out. The first harvest of spinach was used in Beans and Greens 2.0 and Asian Stir-Fried Spinach, both tasty treats. And I suspect that I'll be harvesting the first head of napa cabbage fairly soon given the rate that they are growing.

We've been having a fairly typical spring this year, with a couple of almost heat-waves (temperatures hitting the low 80ºF's), but mostly mild sunny days and cool to cold foggy nights. It's been nice to have some warm spells. Last year and the year before we had cooler than normal temperatures, day and night, with hardly a hot day to warm our bones. The spring garden loved it those years, but I didn't. Most of the garden has tolerated the recent warm spikes, with a bit of help from me, I've suspended lightweight row cover fabric over the greens to protect them during the hot sunny days and I made sure they didn't get too dry. Other vegetables suffered a bit through the heat - more on that in a later post when I cover the rest of the garden.

What are the star performers in your garden this spring?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Mighty Meyer And A New Way to Squeeze

Meyer Lemons have developed a mystique in the culinary world of late. And quite frankly, it's a status that somewhat mystifies me. These are common, very common, extremely common, nearly weedy backyard fruit trees in California. They are about as common as the dandelions to be found in your average expanse of suburban lawn. Home gardeners take them for granted here. But common doesn't mean that they are undesirable (like those dandelions), they're just something of a commodity and generally under appreciated.

Like my little tree. If you read my Harvest Monday posts you might have noticed that there aren't any reports of Meyer lemons. Yup, I don't keep track of my Meyer harvests. I take those lemons completely for granted. They are just there waiting to be picked at a moment's notice all year round. They are as ready to hand as salt and pepper.

The tree was here when I moved in 6 years ago but quite frankly it looked horrible and I had my doubts about it. There had been an unusually hard freeze here just weeks before and the poor tree was terribly frost bitten. There were no lemons to be harvested for that entire year and the next year produced a scanty crop as well. I almost thought that I was going to have to plant a new one. Yes, I may take my Meyer Lemon tree for granted, but I can't be without one. I never did get around to replacing the poor little thing and fast forward a few years and look at the tree now.

There is a proverbial embarrassment of riches. This tree more than just recovered from that freeze, it has flourished. It may be hard to believe, but I am constantly picking lemons off of this tree and it doesn't seem to be making a dent.

Here's a side view.

And a view of the back where it has grown over the wall and is starting to envelope my old, rickety, practically unused potting bench.

The view of the other side of the tree. Notice the hummer feeder, I think that it is partly responsible for the proliferation of lemons. The hummers not only slurp up the nectar from the feeder (when they haven't sucked it dry), they also love to feed on the nectar from the lemon blossoms. I do believe the hummers are pollinating an extraordinary number of lemons. Most of the lemons have quite a few seeds.

This is an especially large cluster of lemons, but not unusual this year.

I don't give this tree any particular special care. This year I didn't even get around to covering it up when we had the threat of freezing overnight temperatures. A few tender new shoots got frost nipped but the rest of the tree and the developing fruit escaped damage. It's not on a regular feeding schedule. I toss some granulated poultry poop fertilizer around the base of the tree at least once a year, along with some compost and make sure it gets watered regularly during our dry season. It gets a bit of a trim now and then when branches reach too low or too far or get too infested with scale. It generally gets a scale infestation every year but little birds such as Tits and Goldfinches eventually discover the scale and feast on them until the infestation is practically gone.

The only other pest that causes any real problems are rats. Rats have discovered how delicious Meyer lemon peels are. I have often found lemons hanging in the tree that have been stripped right down to the juicy core, not just the zest is consumed but the white pith as well, the lemons get stripped right down to the membrane that encloses the juicy segments. Unlike "regular" lemons, the white pith of Meyer lemons is not bitter, it's really quite tasty, and the rats know it. The local wood rats also like to trim off small branches to take back to their nests. And a couple of years ago when the local rat population exploded and they were eating everything remotely edible in the garden (or under the hood of my car) they were stripping the bark from the branches of the tree. Fortunately, the rat population is back to normal levels and the destruction has dramatically decreased.

This tree also happens to be growing on the north side of the house (2 stories) where it gets almost no sun in the dead of winter. Even in the summer it doesn't get sun until midday. Yet it grows like a weed. No wonder they are such common backyard trees. They are easy to grow and produce like crazy. So why are they just now achieving culinary stardom? My guess is that they have finally been discovered by the food profession. They are escaping the confines of the backyard garden and the purview of the average home cook. I knew when I saw bags of Meyer lemons for sale at Costco that this lemon had finally hit the bigtime.

I am always on the lookout for new ways to use the bounty of lemons and I've recently found one new way to use them that I'm rather taken with. Charred. I first read about this method from a Tasting Table article. It's a really easy way to jazz up lemon juice and lots of fun to experiment with.

Start with a fresh lemon (it doesn't have to be a Meyer) and slice it in half. I like to pluck out any visible seeds because it is quite unpleasant to crunch into a bitter lemon seed.

Heat a ridged griddle or grill pan or just a regular pan - medium heat works well. I brush my lemons with a bit of olive oil, it isn't necessary but does help to prevent sticking. Plop them cut side down onto the griddle and cook for about 5 minutes.

Listen to them sizzle. Smell the aroma... mmm.

Use tongs to remove them from the griddle.

Be sure to let them cool just a bit before trying to squeeze them, unless you have asbestos fingers.

Squeeze the juice onto -

  • Grilled asparagus - why heat the griddle just for lemons - toss some asparagus spears with olive oil and grill them for a few minutes on each side until done to your taste. Arrange on a platter and season with salt and pepper, perhaps some chopped fresh tarragon or parsley or chervil or any other herb you like. Drizzle with some really good olive oil (one cannot have too much olive oil in my opinion). Squeeze charred lemon juice over all. You may never steam asparagus again.
  • Grilled romaine lettuce - yup, lettuce. First make sure your lettuce is nice and crisp - soak a heart of romaine lettuce in some ice water for 15 minutes or so and then drain well. Cut the head in half lengthwise and place cut side down on a towel to remove any excess remaining water. Drizzle some olive oil over the cut side, place on the griddle cut side down and grill until a bit charred and a bit wilted on the cut side, don't let the whole head wilt, you want a mix of wilted and crisp lettuce. Place cut side up on a serving plate, season with salt, pepper, and grilled lemon juice and grate some parmigiano cheese over all. Serve immediately. Oh yum - that was for dinner last night.
  • If you like lemon juice on fish try charred lemon juice instead. 
  • How about oysters on the half shell with charred lemon juice. 
  • Fresh cracked crab meat with charred lemon juice. 
  • Use it in salad dressing.
  • Squeeze it on steamed artichokes.
  • Sauteed chard is delicious with a squeeze of charred lemon juice.
  • I'm going to try it on grilled whole fava beans when I start harvesting those.

Got any more ideas?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Harvest Monday - April 15, 2013

The harvests were very light last week. I started thinning the iceberg and butterhead lettuces, snipped the first pea shoots, and culled some undersized green garlic.

Superior Iceberg and Rhapsody Butterhead lettuce thinnings

We enjoyed a nice fresh green salad with the lettuce thinnings. The garlic was used in a stirfry of asparagus and chicken in black bean sauce. And the pea shoots haven't been consumed yet, but I'll do a simple saute with them with another stalk of green garlic.

So here's the harvests for the past week:

Iceberg Superior lettuce - 1 oz.
Rhapsody butterhead lettuce - .9 oz.
Lorz Italian green garlic - .6 oz. (trimmed)
Dou Miao (snow pea shoots) - 3 oz.

For a whopping week's harvest total of - 5.5 oz.
Which gives the annual harvest total a boost to - 53 lb., 10.5 oz.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Daphne on her blog Daphne's Dandelions, please head on over there to see what beautiful harvests other garden bloggers are enjoying.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Garden on April 12, 2013

There is so much potential in the garden now. Promises of goodness to come. Spring is such a hopeful time of year.

The old Gigante runner beans are renewing themselves. Most of the plants survived the winter and are sending up new shoots. Will they be even bigger than last year? Most of the old plants are pushing up multiple runners whereas last year the plants had mostly one runner.

Gigante bean sprouting from the roots.

The plants are in different stages of regrowth. The first plant to resprout is already running 2 feet up the trellis. But at the far end of the trellis the last plant is just pushing the first tips of the new shoots up through the soil. Most of the plants look something like the one above. Two plants at the base of this trellis aren't coming back and one of them died last year. The other trellis of Gigante beans is not shown but all the plants at its base survived and are regrowing.

Potential broccoli - Di Ciccio and Purple Peacock.

The garlic is still growing and not engulfed by a rust infection! I am going to start harvesting some of it green very soon.

Beets, just thinned a bit. Chioggia, Golden, and Baby Ball, with room left for the Red Baron seedlings that are coming along elsewhere in paper pots.

Carrots - Spanish Black, Circus Circus mix (orange, white, and purple), Deep Purple hybrid, and Rouge Sang Violette.

More carrots - the popular Sugarsnax that I keep reading about on other blogs and that I must try for myself.

The Good Bug Magnet aka coriander in full bloom.

The Golden Corn Salad is in full bloom also.

Greensville - spinach, cabbage, and lettuce...

Summer Perfection spinach.

Little Jade napa cabbage and a glimpse of the unhappy runty Early Rapini.

Iceberg Superior lettuce.

Rhapsody butterhead lettuce. I harvested the first whole baby iceberg and butterhead lettuces yesterday.

The slow to start Sweetie Baby romaine lettuce. Oldish seeds were slow to germinate and the seedlings are slow to come along. I don't know if it was the seeds or something about the soil that I used - both this lettuce and the Early Rapini (and a couple of other pots of unhappy seedlings) were started at the same time from the same batch of soil so perhaps it's the soil and not the seeds (they weren't all that old).

Romanesco fennel. Just a few plants because I just like a little of this vegetable and my husband isn't crazy about it.

Woo hoo, the fava beans are setting like crazy! A promise of work to come shucking and peeling...

Half of the bed is planted to favas. My experiment with growing them in the tomato cages is working out so far, no flopping around. We had high winds a few days ago and if these had been growing without the confinement of the cages they would have been laying down all over the place. The netting was placed over the cages back in January when the birds insisted on digging around and plucking at the seedlings and pulling them out of the ground. I've kept the netting in place as insurance against pillaging rats.

I like to let the native Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) volunteer in some parts of the vegetable garden. It sometimes develops this beautiful rosy hue.

Snow peas, the latest sowing in front and the first sowing behind. I decided to do a 2 planting succession this year because last year this variety seemed to produce all the pods in a very short period of time and couldn't possibly eat all of them fresh. I would rather have these come in at a pace that I can eat all of them as they come from the garden and not be forced to try to preserve the excess or give them away. So I'm growing the same amount of plants but I've started the two sowings a month apart.

On the other hand, the snap peas tend to produce their pods over a longer period so I sowed all of them at once.

I gave the snow pea shoot planting a trim yesterday.

These are recently planted out seedlings of French Gold climbing filet and Spanish Musica romano type  beans. They got a bit fried the other day when the weather got unexpectedly warm and I didn't remove the water bottle cloches that were protecting them from birds and chilly nights. The cloches are off for good now.

Yes, these are a different batch of beans - my first try at growing runner beans that are meant to be consumed as green beans. Two varieties thanks to David who traded these for some of my Golden Corn Salad seeds. That's Moonlight on the right and St. George on the left.

Three varieties of cucumbers are getting going - Garden Oasis, a self fertile type, Green Fingers, and Tasty Green. I have one seedling of Tortarello Abruzzese that is ready to plant out at the base of the fourth pole.

Zucchini - two varieties, Romanesco and Ortolano di Faenza.

The problem children. I keep trying to grow Fagiolo del Purgatorio beans which are a small white seeded bean but a lot of them have been rotting (operator error most likely). I've got the third round sown in paper pots even now and I'm really trying to not overwater them. And there's another experiment going under the fabric beyond, but let's not go there now...

The last of the old. Bolting but still edible Golden and Flamingo chards.

Wow, look at these. My potted blueberry plants are full of berries. I have got to get these enclosed in cages - I want to eat these and not feed the local wildlife.

And the capers are coming on early this year. I usually start picking buds in May but there's a bunch ready to pluck now.

The promise of more to come. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant and this is only a fraction of what I've sown. Stay tuned!