Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Solanum Bed Preparation Is Finally Finished

It has taken over two months to get the solanum bed ready for it's inhabitants this year and it looks great. 

Why did it take so long? I'll show you. Here's the start of the process shown back on February 14. I sowed most of the bed with a cover crop blend from Renee's Garden. The bed had to be covered with lightweight Remay fabric to protect the seedlings from the birds.

When I got home from vacation on March 25 here's what I found. The greens has grown enough to push the fabric off of most of the bed, thank goodness it didn't happen before it got large enough to withstand the voracious munchings of the birds.

On March 29 I cut all the greens down. I didn't use a weed whacker as Renee's Garden Seed recommends for one of their methods, instead I took advantage of the height of the bed to simply use some manual hedge shears. I also didn't bother to cover the greens with black plastic as Renee's suggests, I simply let them sit on the surface and wilt.

A few days later I turned the greens into the soil. This was when I finished that task on April 2. Then I waited.

I forgot to take a photo of the bed before I scattered the additional amendments, but well before yesterday when this photo was taken all sign of any green on the surface of the soil had disappeared. Last week when I dug into the soil to see how well the greens had decomposed I couldn't find any sign of them so I knew I could finish preparing the bed. This is one of the amendments that I added to the bed, crushed egg shells. I save all my egg shells through the year and then when it's time to prepare the solanum bed I used my VitaMix blender to pulverize them. (Beware, if you want to keep the blender container looking pristine don't crush eggshells in it, it will make it look a bit cloudy.)

I ended up with over 5 pounds of crushed shells, about 3 of which I scattered over the surface of the soil before turning it over one more time. I don't understand the practice of adding eggshells or other calcium amendments to the planting hole when planting tomatoes. By the time the plant needs the calcium to prevent blossom end rot the plant roots have grown far beyond the planting hole so I turn the calcium through the soil so the roots can find it when they need it. I also spread some crab meal and sulfate of potash. The crab meal is a good slow release source of nitrogen and phosphorus but doesn't provide potassium (3-4-0) so I add the sulfate of potash (0-0-50) to provide potassium. I mix these two together in a bucket in a ratio of 5 pounds of crab meal to 1/2 pound of potash. Sulfate of Potash sounds like a nasty chemical but it's actually mined potassium and approved for use by organic growers. One batch of that mixture will fertilize a couple of my large beds and I like to keep a bucketful around so that I can amend various parts of the beds as I rotate crops through them. It's actually pretty rare that I prepare a full bed as I've done here.

The drip lines are set out in this bed in three sections with a main 1/2-inch line running along the length of the bed and then branching off in three lines across the bed. The drip lines (1/4-inch tubing with embedded emitters) are connected directly to the branching main lines. It's easiest to dig the bed by pulling the drip lines up and away from the area to be dug. I started at one end of the bed and turned over the first section. I simply turn the soil once to the depth of my little spade, about 12 inches. Then I pulled the lines from the second section over the first and starting digging there, and then on to the third section.

My garden always seems to offer up some surprise, here's the big one I found when turning over the soil in this bed, it is full of red worms, there are hundreds of them in there. I'm learning something new today. At first I thought these were the type of red worms that are used in worm bins, Eisenia fetida. But it didn't make sense because they are living in the soil in this bed. When I did a bit of research I found out that there is a red earth worm, Lumbricus rubellus, which seems to be a much more likely candidate. Anyway, they have done a fabulous job of breaking down the cover crop, there was nary a leaf to be seen.

Red Earth Worms, Lumbricus rubellus?

After turning the soil over I use my old 4 pronged hoe to break up the surface clods and smooth out the surface. I walk through the beds as I turn the soil, but the rest of the work is done from the perimeter of the bed. I like my little old hoe because it is light and it's easy to wield over the middle of the bed from the side. I work back through the sections, raking out one section and relaying the drip lines, then the next section, and then the last one.

Here's the first photo of the finished bed once again for reference, you can see how I've laid the lines out, they are 10 inches apart and each line has emitters spaced every 6 inches. That gives me very good coverage in the very loose soil. I've decided to try mulching the tomatoes with newspaper this year because of the severe drought that we are going through. It's easier for me to use full sheets of paper rather than shredding it first. We don't get rain here in the summer, I rely entirely on irrigation water supplied by the drip lines that run under the paper so it's not necessary that the mulch be water permeable. I'll also lay newspaper down once I've set out my peppers and eggplant, but that's still a few weeks off.

I'll be posting again when it's time to plant out the solanum bed, I've got another trick to share then. In the meantime my little seedlings still have some growing to do before I plant them out. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Harvest Monday - April 28, 2014

This week marks the end of a few veggies from the garden. I harvested the last heads of butterhead lettuce which were getting a bit raggedy looking around the edges but had lovely hearts. Those weren't photographed. The rest of the spinach started to bolt so I pulled all that out as well.

Monstreux d'Viroflay spinach

Summer Perfection spinach

I've been using up the extra onions that I planted close and deep for spring onions. You can see that they are starting to form bulbs and the main onion plantings are bulbing as well. I keep thinning out the fennel as well.

Spring onions and baby Romanesco fennel

Here's the first picking of green garlic, these are a couple of the smallest Spanish Roja.

Spring onions and green Spanish Roja garlic

The fava harvest is hitting its peak. This is one of the few veggies that my husband will help me to process. He loves favas enough that when I threatened to stop growing them because they require so much work he volunteered to help, and he has kept his promise, so we continue to feast on homegrown favas.

Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans

I think it's fortuitous that the lettuce and spinach finished when they did because we have a heat wave coming this week, the highs are forecast to be in the high 80º F to low 90º F range this week. I think I'll be harvesting a fair amount of the romaine lettuce this week, it will probably keep better in the fridge than in the garden.

Here's the harvests for the past week:

Capers - 7.2 oz.
Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans - 13 lb., 9.2 oz.
Romanesco fennel - 1 lb., 6.3 oz.
Rhapsody butterhead lettuce - 2 lb., 7.3 oz.
Spring onions - 3 lb., 3.1oz.
Monstreux d'Viroflay spinach - 3 lb., 2.2 oz.
Summer Perfection spinach - 1 lb., 7.1 oz.

The total harvests for the past week were - 25 lb., 14.4 oz. (11.75 kg.)
Which brings the total harvests for 2014 up to - 125 lb., 8.4 oz. (56.9 kg.)

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.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Harvest Monday - April 21, 2014

There's a lot to report this week because I'm covering two weeks of harvests and the garden is in full spring swing.

This was one of the last of the Kagraner butterhead lettuces.
Kagraner butterhead lettuce
The first harvest of Summer Perfection spinach since February.

Summer Perfection spinach

More fennel thinnings and Purple mizuna.

The final harvest of Kagraner butterhead lettuce, more purple pac choi, and snow pea shoots.

Kagraner butterhead, Purple pac choi, snow pea shoots.

The fava harvest started to pick up the pace.

Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans

The first head of Rhapsody butterhead lettuce, more fennel thinnings, and one of many spring onions harvested over the past two weeks.

Rhapsody butterhead, Romanesco fennel, spring onion.

I finally got around to thinning the beet patch.

These were all roasted and used in a salad, the greens went into a Crustless Beet Green Quiche.

Red Baron, Golden, and Chioggia beets

Yet more spring onions, the white ones are starting to fatten into bulbs.

The capers started producing buds at the end of March and I started harvesting in early April.

The favas are really producing now.

The final harvest of Verdil spinach, it started to bolt.

Verdil Spinach
This is the final harvest of rapini, pac choi, and mizuna for now. I've already sown a new patch which is coming along.

Early Rapini, Purple pac choi, Purple mizuna
The Rhapsody butterhead lettuce has all matured quite quickly and I've had to harvest most of it. I gave my neighbor a couple of heads this weekend and another head to visiting friends last weekend.

Rhapsody butterhead lettuce and snow pea shoots

Here's the harvests for the past two weeks, some of which weren't photographed.

Chioggia beets - 1 lb., 8.4 oz.
Golden beets - 14 oz.
Red Baron beets - 13.5 oz.
Capers - 7.4 oz.
Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans - 10 lb., 10.6 oz.
Romanesco fennel - 2 lb., 6.5 oz.
Kagraner butterhead lettuce - 1 lb., 15.8 oz.
Rhapsody butterhead lettuce - 6 lb., 10 oz.
Purple mizuna - 6.7 oz.
Spring onions - 2 lb., 8.5 oz.
Purple pac choi - 8.3 oz.
Snow Pea shoots - 4.6 oz.
Early Rapini - 11.4 oz.
Summer Perfection spinach - 2 lb., 9.3 oz.
Verdil spinach - 1 lb., 8.7 oz.

The total harvests for the past two weeks were - 33 lb., 15.7 oz. (15.4 kg.)
Which brings the harvests for 2014 up to - 99 lb., 10 oz. (45.2 kg.)

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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Caper Caper Resumes

Last year I took a break from harvesting capers. The 2012 harvest was generous, coming in at 3.1 pounds of raw caper buds. The 2011 harvest wasn't too shabby either at 2.1 pounds. Salt preserved capers keep extremely well in the refrigerator so when the caper buds starting popping out last year and I still had a dozen jars of capers in the fridge I decided to just let the plants bloom. The plan was to harvest the caper berries instead, but that didn't happen because round about the time they were ready to harvest I was sidetracked by a medical problem and I just couldn't give a you-know-what.

The number of jars of capers is much reduced this year so I decided to replenish the stash. What I wasn't prepared for this year was to start the harvest in April, uh, actually in March. I started keeping detailed records of my harvests in 2010 and that year I harvested the first tiny picking of 3/4 ounce on May 10. In 2011 the harvest started on May 19 with a bit more impressive (hah!) harvest of 1.6 ounces. And in 2012 the harvest started off with 1 ounce collected on May 9. You can see why I don't expect to start harvesting capers in March or April. So I was amazed when I got home from vacation on March 25 this year and spotted buds on the caper bushes that were ready to harvest. Unfortunately I just couldn't get around to harvesting them until April 2 so the plants were already sporting showy blossoms. I plucked off the blossoms and every bud that was about to open and discarded them. Then I harvested 3 ounces of buds. This morning I harvested for the fourth time this month. Here they are...

Fresh caper buds

Here's the crop so far this year, the latest harvest on the left, the two previous combined in the center, and the first harvest on the right.

I've changed the method I use to preserve the capers. In the past I've prepared a brine solution and immersed the capers in it. This year I'm just mixing the fresh capers with plain coarse sea salt. The salt draws moisture out of the capers and creates a brine from their own moisture.

I keep the jars in the refrigerator and give them a shake when I think of it. The first batch may be ready soon, I'll know when they taste good, but I haven't tasted any yet.  When they are tasty I'll drain the brine, give them a rinse, and then repack them with some fresh salt.

These are some of the buds on my unusual Pink Flowering caper. This plant is also unusual because the buds develop a lot of nectar on their surfaces which is clearly visible.

These are buds on one of my Croatian plants. They also develop nectar on the surfaces of the buds but not nearly as much as the buds on the Pink Flowering plant. My fingers are always sticky when I'm finished harvesting capers. The ants collect the nectar, you can see one on the bud near the center of the photo.

These are my Croatian bushes. They are really happy this year, which is a surprise because they got very zinged when we had a few consecutive nights back in December when the temperature dipped into the low 20ºF range. Not only did the plants get frost bitten, but I also didn't get around to pruning them when I should have back in January or February. I finally trimmed out a lot of the dead stems when I harvested the first buds a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure why it is, but the plants seem to grow back most vigorously after being zinged by a freeze. If I prune out an equivalent amount of growth after a less frosty winter they don't respond as well. I'm still learning the finer points of winter care for these plants...

Here's the Croatian plants again. They are growing atop a wall and the easiest way to harvest the buds from the tops of the plants is to use the ladder, which is staying there for the season, I'm too lazy to schlep it out every time I want to harvest. Maybe I should find a prettier ladder.

Oh well, if the harvest continues as normal I'll only have to look at it until the beginning of August.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm Sow Happy

I've started sowing summer veggies and another round of spring veggies as well. Here's a classic garden blogger shot of soil filled pots.

Most of these are sown with summer vegetables including bush beans in the paper pots plus some peas for pea shoots. I don't have room in the garden to set up trellises for climbing beans or peas yet so all of these are low growers. The 4-inch pots covered with plastic are mostly sown with peppers and eggplants, I keep them covered with plastic until the seeds start to germinate. The tomatoes were quick to germinate, I sowed nearly all the solanums on the 5th and the tomatoes started popping up yesterday. This morning I spotted the first eggplants to germinate. Once the seeds germinate I start putting them outside during day and then schlep them back indoors to spend the night inside where it's more warm.

I do have a seed starting setup with heat mats and grow lights, but since I've begun starting my summer veggies later in the spring I've found it easier to just put them on a heat mat near the windows (southwest facing) and then put them outside during the day as soon as they germinate. The yogurt "pots" on the right in the top photo are zucchini. I've sown 4 pots but only 2 will go into the garden. I always sow extra seeds to be sure I've got enough plants. I've also got a couple of pots with spring brassicas that will be transplanted directly to the garden when they are large enough.

Here's what I'm trying to start so for this year:


Amish Paste, a proven winner in my garden. Thomas shared seeds with me a few years ago and they became my favorite paste tomato. They produce well in my cool summer climate, seem to be pretty disease resistant, and most importantly make excellent tomato sauce, puree, and paste. I purchased fresh seeds this year from Fedco, I hope they turn out to be as good as the old ones.

Isis Candy cherry tomato, another long time favorite that my husband adores. They are moderately productive, not too much (like sungold), nor too little, just enough to keep the two of us happy. They are tasty and pretty.

Sweet Gold cherry tomato, a new one this year. My standby favorite yellow cherry tomato, Galinas, was a dud last year so I'm giving this one a try. It's supposed to be early and productive.

Chianti Rose, a pink beefsteak that did well for me last year.

Potiron Ecarlate, a red beefsteak that was new for me last year and also did quite well.

Jaune Flamme, back for the third year, a small orange tomato with an internal pink blush that has become one of my favorite tomatoes. It's utterly delicious when harvested at the proper time. It's easy to pick it too early because it turns orange and looks ripe but it doesn't sweeten up until it develops that pink blush.

Black Krim, sort of new, I haven't grown it in years and not in this garden. It has a reputation for doing well in cool climates so I want to try it again.


Bonica, year two for this variety, it's large classic big purple globe eggplant with few seeds, great texture and flavor. It was incredibly productive last year.

Salangana, year three for this one, it's an elongated purple eggplant. This one also has few seeds and tastes great and is possibly even more productive than Bonica.

Sicilian, year two for this one, a white with lavender blush globe type eggplant. Even more finely textured than Bonica, absolutely beautiful and delicious but more moderately productive.

Peppers and Chiles:

Not so crazy this year, but still a lot...

Lady Bell is back for the third year. This sweet red bell pepper is the best one that I've found that does well in the cool summer weather that is the norm here.

Giallo di Cuneo is new this year. This pepper is from alpine Northern Italy so I hope that it will do well in my cool climate garden and I hope that it's tasty. I've yet to find a yellow bell pepper that does well here and that I like so I hope this will be the one.

Odessa Market is also back for the third year. This pointy pepper is thick fleshed and sweet when red but it is also very good green (unlike bell peppers) and it's a pretty lime green. It's also well adapted to cool climates.

Shephard's Ramshorn has become one of my favorite peppers. It's a pointed pepper like Odessa Market, but larger and more productive. It's fabulous roasted and is also good either green or ripe.

Stocky Red Roaster is new in the lineup. Another pointed sweet red pepper that's more tapered than the other two pointed peppers in the lineup. It's supposed to be very productive and good for Northern climates so it should do well in my climate.

Piment doux long des Landes is one of my favorite frying peppers. It's thin fleshed and thin skinned, delicious green or red, raw or cooked, and also dries well. My original seed stock is getting old so I want to grow this out to save seeds this year.

Sonora is a mild Anaheim type chile pepper. I've lost my appetite for spicy peppers so this chile fits the bill for me. It produces fleshy flavorful green peppers that are perfect for roasting. The first peppers on the plants tend to be quite large but succeeding fruits are smaller. It's also very productive.

Tarahumara Chile Colorado was one of my favorite Southwestern chile peppers from the many that I trialed last year. It's mild and tasty either green or red. It has thick enough flesh to be roasted when green and makes an excellent dried pepper for grinding into a mild chile powder. I also found that I could soak the dried chiles and scrape the flesh from the skin and use the resulting pulp to flavor sauces and such. It's a nice multi-purpose chile.

Topepo Rosso. I'm trying it again this year. It's a thick fleshed sweet pimento type pepper. I didn't make good use of my crop last year and I want to give it another try since I liked what I did manage to use last year.

Padron. The pepper line up would not be complete without Padrons. I was disappointed with my crops last year. I used a different seed source and the plants were not as productive and the peppers didn't seem as tasty. This year I've gone back to my old seed source and I'm hoping for a better year.

Christmas Bell. This is a slightly spicy baccatum type pepper. I've grown it a number of times over the past few years and am missing it. It has a unique fruity flavor and is good for many uses. I like to harvest the ripe peppers and use them fresh, they can be sliced and used in salads, or chopped and used in salsas. They are also good pickled whole and they dry well. They produce earlier than most baccatums and they are fairly cold hardy so they can overwinter in my garden with some protection if we have a mild winter.

Aji Angelo. This is my favorite baccatum pepper. I love baccatum peppers but they tend to not do well in my cool climate. This one is an outstanding exception. It is highly productive and very cold hardy. I've got one potted plant that has made it through 2 (or maybe it's 3) winters with no protection other than being near the house. But it's not just the productivity and hardiness that makes it a favorite, I wouldn't bother with it if it wasn't tasty. This is the pepper that I turn to these days when I make salsa (I think jalapeños and serranos are highly overrated) and it's one my favorite peppers to dry for making chile flakes.


It's too early to direct seed beans but I'm pretty sure they will do ok if I start them in paper pots. I've pretty much given up on direct seeding beans anyway. I couldn't wait for space to open up in the garden to plant pole snap beans so I dug into my stash of seeds and found Slenderette and Royal Burgundy bush beans. I generally grow my snap beans as climbers because the harvest is longer, but I can't wait.

Black Coco, a versatile bean that is supposed to be good as a green bean, a shell bean, or best as a dried bean that's good refried or in soup. I'll be letting these go to the dry stage.

Rosso di Lucca. A dry bean that's rosy red with dark stripes and speckles. It is supposed to be productive and early, rich flavored and good with strong flavors such as garlic, sage and olive oil - right up my alley.


Romanesco. This huge and hugely productive variety returns for a second year. It's incredibly resistant to powdery mildew as well, a big plus in my garden where PM tends to run rampant.

San Pasquale. I know, one huge productive zucchini plant should be enough, but Romanesco doesn't produce any male flowers after the first couple of weeks so I'm trying San Pasquale which is supposed to produce a lot of male blossoms and but not too many zucchini. Plus, the female flowers hold well enough to pick small zucchini with the flowers attached. We'll see!


Amazing Taste cauliflower. This is my first attempt at cauliflower in many years. It's supposed to be extra early and mild with a nutty-sweet flavor.

I'm also experimenting with some new Asian greens including Green Lance gai lan and Tokyo Bekana baby chinese cabbage. And I've also direct seeded more of the Purple pac choi and Purple mizuna that have done so well for me the last month or so and are now about finished. In addition, I direct sowed a cut-and-come-again Mustard mix that I plan to harvest as baby leaves to add to my salads. Oh, I forgot that I sowed more Green Fortune pac choi. I waited too long to harvest my winter sown plants and they weren't fit to eat so I'm trying again.

That's it so far, but there will be more to sow in the coming weeks. I need to clear out some space to sow carrots and I'm trying to be better this year about succession sowing for salad veggies. The butter head lettuces are all ready to harvest now so I need to start more of those. The romaine lettuce will be coming in hard on the heels of the butterhead so more of those will need to be sown soon as well. Then I'll get a bit of a breather until the favas and alliums are finished in late spring and early summer at which time I'll have to transition those spaces to pole beans, cucumbers, corn, and brassicas for fall harvests. Ah, but I'll worry about that then.

If you want to know where I got the seeds for most of the veggies mentioned above I've got them listed on my 2014 Planned Veggies page where you can find links to the sources.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Harvest Monday - April 7, 2014

The garden is in full spring mode right now. I've continued to thin out the fennel patch. Most of the fronds from this harvest went into salads and the baby bulbs were braised with a couple of local grown artichokes.

More color for my green salads.

The rest of the Early Rapini had to be harvested before it got to be too big.

Another big basketful of spinach.

I cut the pea shoot vines down to a few inches tall.

These are the tender tops, the rest of the vines went into the compost. These were sauteed with some mixed mushrooms and a dash of fish sauce, simple and delicious.

Another head of butterhead lettuce.

Yet more color for the salad bowl.

The chard was elbowing out the neighboring vegetables so I harvested the largest leaves. I used leaves from the Flamingo chard to enclose a filling of spinach, ricotta, parmigiano, and sage leaves fried in butter, then I baked the rolls in the browned butter with some more parmigiano scattered on top. My husband declared it a successful culinary experiment.

The fava harvest continues.

This is yet one more head of butterhead lettuce. We've been eating a lot of salad lately.

A basketful of baby Tuscan arugula.

Here's the harvests for the past week:

Tuscan arugula - 7.5 oz.
Capers - 3 oz.
Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans - 2 lb., 8.7 oz.
Flamingo chard - 1 lb., 3.1 oz.
Golden chard - 1 b., 11.8 oz.
Romanesco fennel - 7.8 oz.
Kagraner Sommer butterhead lettuce - 1 lb., 15.7 oz.
Purple mizuna - 8.3 oz.
Spring onions - 1.9 oz.
Purple pac choi - 3.8 oz.
Pea shoots - 8.1 oz.
Early rapini - 2 lb., 12 oz.
Monstreux d'Viroflay spinach - 2 lb., 9.2 oz.

The harvests for the past week were - 15 lb., 4.9 oz.
And the total harvests for 2014 are now - 57 lb., 3.7 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.