Friday, May 30, 2014

Bad Video of a Very Cool Caterpillar

I found this beauty when I pulled most of my bolting fennel out of the garden. Fortunately I found it before I pulled all of the fennel out so it still has something to dine on. At the rate it's eating it may run out of food before it pupates.

You can watch a much better quality video here, click on the gear wheel at them bottom of the video and chose one of the HD files. 

Be sure to catch both ends in action at about 5 seconds into the video, it can eat and poop simultaneously. It's fascinating to me how it reaches for the very end of a frond segment and then munches down to where that segment joins another segment, then it reaches to the end of another segment, and so on until it munches all the way to the main stem. Not one segment of the leaf falls and goes to waste.

This baby is one of the larval stages of an Anise Swallowtail butterfly. It can eat all the fennel remaining in my garden. I just hope that I can watch it emerge as a butterfly one of these days.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Harvest Monday - May 26, 2014

Fewer onions were harvested this week! There's only a few Superstar and Candy onions left in the garden and they are resisting bolting better than their former bedmates. I don't know if the onions bolted because of our weird winter heat waves or what, but they are day-neutral varieties that should have done well. The third variety of onion has done beautifully, the Red Candy Apple onions are bulbing up and the necks on a few of them are just starting to flop over. I harvested a couple of those this weekend, cut off the necks and roots and dirty outer skins, then quartered them but left them attached at the root end. Those were then enclosed in heavy duty aluminum foil with a few sprigs of thyme, a glug of olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and placed on the BBQ to roast until sweet and tender. Delicious! I'll be growing those beauties again.

Red Candy Apple sweet onions

We had grilled butterflied leg of lamb to accompany the onions (or should that be the other way around?). I encrusted the lamb with a mixture of chopped fresh green garlic and fresh rosemary and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours before grilling it. The garlic and rosemary produced a rather heady aroma and was delicious on the lamb. This was not just any old lamb either, it is locally raised with TLC by small sheep milk cheese producer - Garden Variety Cheese - whose cheese is superb also. (And their whey fed pork is incredible too.)

Spanish Roja green garlic

The pea shoots are producing well in spite of the recent heat spikes. I used a few thicknesses of row cover fabric to give them some light shade through the worst of the heat and they responded with lots of beautiful shoots.

The rodent that attacked by beets found the juicy root of my Golden Chard plant and gnawed through one side. I figured that out when I noticed two big wilting leaves, but fortunately I was able to harvest them before they were too far gone. (There's a few rat traps guarding the plant now, I hope they work.)

The chard that grows in my garden always seems to produce huge leaves with big succulent stems and the new Peppermint Stick chard is no exception.

It's difficult to get a perspective on the size of the stems in these photos, those stems are at least a foot  long and 1 to 2 inches wide at the base. The inside of the stems in nearly all white and the outside has brilliant magenta stripes.

I think they are beautiful. And the chard is tender and delicious. I have continued to experiment with grilled chard. This time I blanched the stems for about a minute in boiling salted water and then cooled them in ice water and then laid them on towels to dry. I tossed them with a bit of olive oil and then grilled them on the BBQ. This has been my favorite way to grill them so far, they get a bit blistered and browned on the surface and have a nice tender and juicy texture. The stems stayed a bit too crunchy when I didn't blanch them first or they had to be grilled a long time over low heat to become tender.

Other harvests not photographed last week were capers, chamomile, garlic, onions, and the final harvest of fava beans.

Here's the harvests for the past week:

Capers - 6.7 oz.
Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans - 1 lb., 5 oz.
Flamingo chard - 2.6 oz.
Golden chard - 12.1 oz.
Peppermint Stick chard - 2 lb., 8.3 oz.
Inchelium Red green garlic - 3.8 oz.
Spanish Roja green garlic - 3.3 oz.
Red Candy Apple onions - 30.8 oz.
Superstar onions - 24.6 oz.
Pea shoots - 9.1 oz.

The total harvests for the past week were - 9 lb., 14.3 oz. (4.5 kg.)
Which brings the harvests for 2014 up to - 234 lb., 14.9 oz. (106.6 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.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday Spotlight - Chamomile

Chamomile has been springing up all over my garden this year. It is a ready volunteer if you allow it (or make the mistake of allowing it) to go to seed. I first grew a small patch of it back in 2010 (I used a packet of Bodegold Chamomile from Renee's Garden Seeds) and harvested most of the flowers to dry for tea. I allowed the final blossoms to mature into seed heads that year and I haven't had to purchase any seeds since then. Normally I scatter some seeds or toss old plants with mature seed heads into a part of the garden where I would like the plants to grow the next year. Last year I had plants springing up around much of the garden but mostly around one bed. I didn't bother to harvest any flowers and I didn't pull the plants when they started to produce seeds. Oops, that was a mistake. When I finally pulled the plants the seeds scattered EVERYWHERE. This winter that one bed had hundreds, maybe thousands of seedlings popping up around my alliums. I weeded and weeded and they kept popping up. Chamomile seeds need light to germinate so every time I pulled some plants or disturbed the soil it would bring more seeds to the surface and then the weeding started all over again. I resorted to laying sheets of newspaper between the rows of onions and garlic and the weeding job was slashed to a minimum.

Now, four months later, the few plants that I allowed to grow are in full bloom. The plants in the foreground are growing right along the edge of the bed and the ones beyond are taking up about 1 1/2 square feet. That's multiple plants that are tied together to a stake to keep them from flopping around too much. Given enough room and fertility, one plant can branch out and get to be quite big, but I usually let a few grow together in one spot. They are also growing in the pathway along the edge of the bed as you can see below. Since taking these photos the other day I've cut some of them down and harvested the blossoms that were ready. Soon I'll be removing the rest of the plants that are in the bed but I'll leave the plants in the pathway because they attract a lot of beneficial insects.

I love chamomile tea but have had to buy it for the past year because I was too lazy to harvest any from my garden last year. I was especially motivated to harvest my own this year when I noticed how much I was paying for a box of tea bags and the actual amount of tea in each bag.

What a cute image on the box, hmmm? It looks like some charming old farmhouse somewhere in Europe. Well, the tea is actually grown in Egypt and Mexico, but regardless of where it was grown, my motivation to harvest my own was greatly increased when I thought of what it took to get this .9 ounces of tea to my pantry. Not only has it travelled quite a distance and been through a lot of processing, but think of the packaging involved - tea bags, box, inner wrapper in the box, outer wrapper on the box - it's just so wasteful. This brand is actually proud of the fact that it doesn't add a string and label to each bag. Well, I guess that does save some packaging. And they also don't enclose each separate tea bag in an additional wrapper, which is more than I can say for other brands I've tried. But that's not even why I chose this brand, I chose it because they put a lot more chamomile in each bag than the other brands that were available.

Look at this, the jar contains the first round of dried chamomile blossoms that I've harvested and dried. It's equal in weight to all the tea in the box. Not only have I saved a few bucks, but there's a lot less junk to throw away (ok, I do compost my tea bags and recycle the box so less waste there). But, I also know that my tea is really fresh, I read somewhere that the volatile oils in chamomile blossoms dissipate after only 6 months, and who knows how long it took for that tea to get to my pantry. 

Drying chamomile is oh so easy, at least in my climate. I just lay the fresh cut blossoms out on a basket tray and leave them at room temperature for about a week. Every once in a while I give them a toss, or not if I forget, they seem to dry just fine. Just be sure to lay them out in one layer, don't pile them up. 

Harvesting chamomile, on the other hand, is rather tedious. I cut each blossom individually with a small pair of snippers so that there is no stem attached. I've read that some people cut with stems attached and then trim the stems off later. Either way it's a PITA. I did see that Johnny's has a special chamomile harvester that is something like a box with a comb attached, just brush it through the blooming plants, but it seems to me that you would be getting a lot of buds that aren't ready to harvest with that method. The optimal time to harvest chamomile is when the white ray petals have fully opened (they start off standing upright and then are a bit small before they fully open), but before they droop downward. Beware though when you check your chamomile blossoms, the white ray petals droop downward from evening to early morning, go out too early or too late and all the flowers may look like they are past their prime. I've found that harvesting about once a week works well, it takes a bit more than a week for the flowers to open up and then start to fade.

Chamomile blossoms ready to harvest.
Immature blossoms and one ready to harvest.
Chamomile blossoms early in the morning with mature ray petals folded downward.

I'm not sure if this was a honey bee or some sort of native bee, but it did a very thorough job of collecting pollen as I watched. But not all insects that are drawn to chamomile blossoms are desirable, do you see that out-of-focus speck on one of the blossoms to the right, I figured out recently that those are adult carpet beetles (click on the link to see a photo and more information), not something that you want to bring into your home. Carpet beetle larvae feed on a host of things in your home such as woolens and paper. In the wild they are often times found in places like old bird's nests where they feed on old feathers and such things. The adults feed on pollen and nectar. When I harvest my chamomile blossoms these days I am careful to flick the beetles off of the flowers before I harvest them.

Even if you don't like chamomile tea it's worth growing them for their happy looking blossoms. One thing to be aware of though, if you are allergic to ragweed and it's relatives then you will want to avoid chamomile, it's a relative and may cause a reaction. As to its reputed sleep inducing qualities, I have to say that it has no effect on me, but then I'm a tough case, it takes some serious prescription sleep aids to put a dent in my insomnia.

Here's a recent basketful of tedious snipping that dried down to another .9 ounces of tea.

I like to brew a quart pot of tea with about 3 grams of whole dried blossoms. The first cup is consumed hot and the rest is refrigerated. Chamomile tea is good both hot and cold. I'm not a sweet tea drinker but I've found that I like a dash of cream in my chamomile tea, either hot or cold. When I want a change of pace I add a few freshly snipped leaves from my lemon verbena bush (in season) to the teapot or I slice up a couple of lemongrass bulbs, or add both. Whatever way I prepare it, I like it strong so I let it steep for 15 minutes. And I don't forget to preheat that teapot with some boiling water first.

Tea anyone?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Harvest Monday - May 19, 2014

It's been another week of eating onions, the Superstar and Candy onions have accelerated the pace of pushing flower stalks skyward and I've been pulling them apace.

Candy onions

They clean up very nicely. I trim them down like this before I weigh them. I'm experimenting with a different way to preserve onions. The bulbs from this bunch were thickly sliced and grilled, then I tossed the soft onions with salt and champagne vinegar, packed them in sterilized canning jars, topped each jar with olive oil and put them in the refrigerator. This method worked very well with sweet peppers last year so I hope it works with the onions. They should keep at least a couple of weeks, but hopefully longer.

Some of the fennel is trying to bolt, others are forming bulbs, either way I need to pick the pace of harvesting it. These are straight from the garden but I trim the tops down before I weigh it.

On the other hand, I use every bit of the chard. I'm playing around with a new method of cooking chard, new to me at least - grilling. I cut the stems from this bunch and cut them into thick diagonal slices, then stir fried them on the barbecue in my grill basket with thick slices from the onion stems. Those were served with a simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and vinegar. I grilled the greens also, each leaf was drizzled on one side with a bit of olive oil and then laid directly on the grill until they wilted and started to get brown spots. As each leaf came off the grill I put them into a bowl and then the bowl of leaves was seasoned like the stems and I served them together. I harvested some Flamingo and Peppermint stick chard later in the week and grilled those on my ridged stove top griddle. That time I cut the stalks into about 8-inch lengths, split the largest ones, and grilled them slowly with a bit of olive oil until they were tender and browned a bit. Then I turned up the heat and grilled the leaves like I did on the barbecue. It's a nice change of pace from sauteed chard and I'm going to continue to play around with the concept and try some different seasonings.

The old pea shoot plants continue to put out new shoots.

Ah, the fava harvest is winding down. This is almost the final harvest of beans. I've pulled out about half the plants now and have been gleaning the last of the beans as I go.

There have been more beans than we can consume fresh so I've got about 3 pounds of peeled beans in the freezer, each one in 8 ounce portions which is just enough to make a batch of my husband's favorite fava dip.

More onions, these were a couple of the remaining onions that I had planted to pull as "spring" onions, but they want to bloom also. In the center is a young Inchelium Red stalk of garlic. It's a bit too developed to classify as green garlic, but most of the green stalk is still edible and tasty. I used one of the onions and some of the garlic to make my rendition of a dish of Clams, Green Garlic, and Favas from Suzanne Goin's book The AOC Cookbook. I love her cooking, she uses many fresh ingredients that I grow in my garden and I often find inspiration from her books.

Yet more blooming (nearly) onions, these were harvested on Sunday.

Superstar and Candy onions

This bunch of onions got trimmed down like the previous bunch and then I sliced the bulbs, but this time I slow cooked them in a huge saute pan with some butter and olive oil and a bundle of thyme, pepper, and fresh bay leaves. They cooked down to a slightly caramelized soft sweet mess that was fraction of the previous volume. I used most of those to make individual crustless quiches. Whoa, what a great way to use up a big bunch of onions.

There has been carnage in the beet patch. The effing rats, at least one effing rat, I hope it's only one and not a whole gang, discovered my beets.

I pulled everything out and salvaged what I could. No more fresh beets for a while. At least I have their replacements already started, I just need to get them planted out and I obviously need to give the next lot more security.

My two little potted blueberry bushes provided a nice little treat. I have to keep them secure also, as soon as the berries start to show a little color the birds start to munch. I don't know how many berries I lost before I realized the berries weren't slow to ripen, they were disappearing before they ripened. The bushes are now enveloped in a rather unattractive tent of row cover fabric.

The only other harvests this week that were not photographed were more capers, lots of capers (for me), we had very warm weather last week with highs in the low 90ºF's and the capers loved it. One other harvest not photographed was a big basketful of chamomile blossoms which will be weighed when they are dry, the chamomile in the tally this week was harvested last week.

Here's the harvests for the past week:

Chioggia beets - 1 lb., 3.3 oz.
Golden beets - 15 oz.
Red Baron beets - 1 lb., 4.5 oz.
Capers - 9.3 oz.
Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans - 9 lb., 4.9 oz.
Chamomile, dried - .9 oz.
Flamingo chard - 15.5 oz.
Golden chard - 1 lb., 9.1 oz.
Peppermint Stick chard - 10.8 oz.
Romanesco fennel - 1 lb., 14.7 oz.
Inchelium Red green garlic - 5.4 oz.
Spring onions - 15.2 oz.
Candy onions - 11 lb., 1.4 oz.
Superstar onions - 4 lb., 8.7 oz.
Pea Shoots - 3.5 oz.

The total harvests for the past week came to - 35 lb., 10.2 oz.
Which brings the total harvests for 2014 up to - 225 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.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Growing Lemongrass

Lemongrass is easy to grow in my zone 9b garden. I used to grow it in a pot near the house for fear of losing it to frost or a freezing night. The warmth of a southern facing wall and/or an overhang can provide a few degrees of protection on the coldest nights and I've kept quite a few tender plants alive through the winter with that minimal protection. But a few years ago I took a chance on growing it out in the garden, albeit under the protection of the edge of an overhanging oak tree. The plants there have done quite well in spite of enduring a few freezing nights every winter, down to about 23ºF last December. They do tend to look rather raggedy by the end of the winter though. Here's my two plants this morning. They may look brown and on the verge of expiring but...

there's plenty of life remaining in there.

All I need to do now is to put on a pair of gloves and start pulling out the dead blades. Gloves are a necessity for this task because these leaf blades are indeed sharp. But the task is easy, although tedious. Most of the blades can be simply pulled out. Grooming the plants is not just a matter of aesthetics though, if the dead blades are not pulled out they rot and the rot can infect the entire plant and kill it. The dead leaf blades are quite tough though and in spite of tending to rot at the base they don't seem to like to rot in the compost unless you chop them up. I generally send them through my chipper/shredder before putting them in the compost.

The stalks aren't very big at this time of year but they are still flavorful and these two will be a nice addition to my next pot of chamomile tea. I generally just pull a couple of stalks from the periphery of the plant, I can usually just give them a twist and they pull right off. On a younger plant you may damage the plant if you harvest that way so you may need to cut the stalks off with a knife or a pair of clippers. Lemongrass is best when fresh, it seems to lose most of its flavor and aroma when dried. I haven't tried freezing it though since I've not really found it necessary to preserve it because I can always find a fresh stalk to harvest.

Look closely at the stalk on the right and you can see a bud near the base. This stalk can be rooted to grow a new plant and that bud will grow into a new stalk and so on until you have a nice clump of lemongrass. You can read about how I propagate new lemongrass plants here.

Few things seem to bother lemongrass other than the cold. This is one of the few edibles I grow that are not bothered by deer, rabbits, gophers, or other rodents. They don't seem to be bothered by insect pests in my garden although the sowbugs, earwigs, and snails like to find shelter in them. They can be too happy to be fed in mild climates and can take over a space quite quickly so I generally don't feed my plants. They can tolerate fairly dry conditions but do best with regular watering, don't overwater though, rot seems to be the major problem that I've had with them.

For gardeners in cold climates who wish to grow lemongrass you can find some excellent advice from Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Harvest Monday - May 12, 2014

The onions are misbehaving, not all of them, but most of the Superstar and some of the Candy are sending up flower stalks. That means that the bulbs won't get much bigger and they definitely won't store well if I allow them to completely mature. So it has been the week of eating onions.

Candy onions

The bulbs are large enough to cut into thick slices and grill on my stovetop ridged griddle. My husband loves sweet onions prepared that way and eats them like they're candy...

Superstar onions

I prepare them very simply, just grilled and then tossed with salt, pepper, and a dash of agrodolce vinegar such as my favorite Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc vinegar from Katz. The grilled onions keep well in the fridge so I always grill more than what I need for immediate use. I think I'm going to see how well they freeze.

Superstar onions

The garlic is not misbehaving, but it sure is delicious when harvested green, either in the scallion stage or when it starts to form bulbs. I used the entire bulb from this garlic to make a Romesco sauce with some roasted red peppers from my stash in the freezer. The sauce is delicious on grilled vegetables - such as onions. That was dinner last night, along with some grilled artichokes and haloumi cheese.

Inchelium Red garlic

Additional rooty matters came from the garden last week. We had a salad with roasted beets for dinner one night.

Red Baron, Chioggia, and Golden beets

If the beets aren't colorful enough for you, how about hot pink chard stems.

Flamingo and Peppermint Stick chard

Flamingo chard lives up to its name with pink stems from root to leaf tip. Peppermint Stick chard has brilliant pink strips along the base of the stem. These leaves were quite large but still tender. I blanched them and then stuffed them with a mixture of - you guessed it - grilled onions, pork sausage, chopped chard stems and a bit of Parmigiano. Those were baked with a bit of creme fraiche and chicken stock. The filling didn't hold together well but it sure was delicious.

Flamingo and Peppermint Stick chard

The volunteer chamomile is blooming like crazy. I harvested twice this week but the tally only shows the first harvest after it was dried. I don't use my dehydrator to dry the blossoms, I just spread them out in a basket and let them dry at room temperature. That method works fine here because the climate is very dry. The greenery in the center of the basket is my first trimming of the new patch of snow pea shoots.

The fava harvest is coming to an end. This basket of beans is what was left on the first four plants. Those plants were sown earlier than the rest of them and are the first to be done. I also picked a big basketful of beans from the remaining plants later in the week but I didn't photograph them.

Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans

Other harvests this week that weren't photographed were more green garlic, capers, and a few heads of romaine lettuce. The lettuce is looking less photogenic these days because it is quite mature and getting a bit raggedy around the edges. The hearts are quite dense but still tasty. I've been experimenting with stir frying and sauteing it with good results. Unfortunately I haven't been keeping notes about my experiments and my memory is failing me at the moment.

Here's the harvests for the past week:

Chioggia beets - 1 lb., 6.4 oz.
Golden beets - 13.9 oz.
Red Baron beets - 1 lb., 10 oz.
Capers - 6 oz.
Extra Precoce Violetto fava beans - 17 lb., .6 oz.
Chamomile, dried - .9 oz.
Flamingo chard - 1 lb., 4.1 oz.
Peppermint Stick chard - 1 lb., 7.5 oz.
Inchelium Red green garlic - 4.8 oz.
Spanish Roja green garlic - 2.5 oz.
Sweetie Baby Romaine lettuce - 3 lb., 15.2 oz.
Candy onions - 1 lb., 9.3 oz.
Superstar onions - 7 lb., 8.8 oz.
Usui pea shoots - .5 oz.

The total harvests for the week were - 37 lb., 10.5 oz.
Which brings the harvests for 2014 up to - 189 lb., 6.4 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.