Sunday, February 8, 2015

2014 Harvests - Highlights

The new year is already slipping by at a surprisingly fast clip and I have not yet finished my reviews of 2014 so I'm going to make my review of last year's harvests more of a look at what was new and successful, and then a look at a chart that compares the harvests for the past 5 years (actually I'll save the chart for another post).

I grew 4 different varieties of spinach last year, but only one was new, this is Verdil, a giant "winter" type that is supposed to be very cold resistant and have a very aromatic flavor. Quite frankly, it was good but I don't remember it standing out above the competition (Monstreux D'Viroflay and Summer Perfection), although I never bothered with a side by side tasting. It was the first to bolt but only by about a week so that's not a condemnation. It came in second in productivity compared to the two other varieties that I grew at the same time. I'll continue to grow it until I use up my packet of seeds.

Verdil spinach
I finally had some significant success growing pea shoots. These were two varieties - Usui and an unnamed variety. Both have been bred for tender greens rather than flavorful pea pods. Success this year was because I made extra efforts to protect the plants from birds. Again, neither really stood out as being superior to the other, they were both delicious. I'll grow out both varieties until the seeds are done.

Rapini has been an off again on again vegetable in my garden. I've tried a few types, including an "Olive Leaf" variety with long smooth leaves. They've all been good. Last year I grew "Early" from Renee's seeds and found them to be pretty quick to produce a harvest (I do like quick growers), a sowing on January 16 produced the first harvest on March 25 and  later sowing on October 21 produced a first harvest on December 9. I'll be using up the rest of the seed packet before I experiment with another variety (I'm fickle that way).

Early Rapini

The protective tunnels that I set up to keep the birds from munching allowed me to grow cutting greens through most of the year. I enjoyed  a few new Asian greens on a cut and come again basis. Tokyo Bekana is a loose headed napa cabbage that can be harvested as baby greens, good in a salad, stirfry, or braise. Purple Pac choi is a  small and beautiful green that is also suitable for harvesting as baby greens for salads or allowed to mature into a small head, although this variety is prone to bolting before it gets very large so it really is well suited as a cutting green. Ruby Streaks mizuna (mustard) is a quick producer and it's mild enough to put in a salad and if it gets to be a bit large it is equally good cooked. I really liked using these greens on a cut and come again basis, it provides a quick crop of either greens to spice up a salad or stir fry greens and avoids the glut that results from growing greens that have to produce heads before you harvest them. I'll continue to grow these and other varieties of cutting greens.

Tokyo Bekana, Purple Pac Choi, Ruby Streaks mustard
For years now I have been searching for a pretty cut leaf arugula that isn't too spicy and I finally found it. This is "Speedy", it has a lovely arugula flavor without being too hot, just the way I like it. It looks like a wild (sylvatica) variety but it isn't, it's a cultivated variety. Best of all it's not an F1 hybrid so I was able to save enough seeds to keep me in arugula for a few years. It even stays mild when it starts to bolt. It lives up to its name too, if my records are correct I started harvesting on July 23 from plants sown on July 1, of course that was at the height of summer, the seeds I sowed on November 8 produced a first harvest on January 17, although I could have harvested earlier. You'll be seeing lots more of this in my future harvest baskets.

Speedy arugula
While I'm on the subject of leafy things, I tried a new variety of chard this year that turned out to be a winner. Peppermint stick is pretty with candy striped stems and tender semi-savoyed leaves. It has a mild flavor, both leaves and stems, and is a vigorous grower - it is back in the garden again for this year.

Peppermint Stick chard
I added a new snap bean to the lineup last year and was really pleased with it, the yellow bean below is Golden Gate, a pole romano bean. I harvested over 5 pounds of beans from 9 plants from July 26 through September 28. If it weren't for a severe problem throughout the garden with spider mites last fall they might have come back to produce a second crop. The Musica beans on the left, which shared the trellis with the Golden Gate beans, was more resistant to the mites and was overall more productive, but I liked having the two colors and the harvests between the two varieties were more than enough to meet my needs. I'll be growing both of them again this year.

Musica and Golden Gate beans
My bed rotations and crop successions allow for a few patches of bush beans, so this year I tried two new dry beans - Black Coco and Rosso di Lucca, both of which produced a decent crop for bush beans, the 18 plants that I started for each variety yielded about 1.25 pounds of dry beans per variety. I haven't actually tried any of the Black Coco beans yet. I used some of the Rosso di Lucca beans in a vegetable braise the other night and found them to be tender and flavorful, and they held their shape well - a good bean and a good use of the available garden space.

Black Coco

Rosso di Lucca
Not new, although it's been a few years since I grew it out, these are one of my favorite dry beans - Petaluma Gold Rush. I'm always looking for new and interesting vegetables to grow and it takes a really special one to get on my "must always have" list. Petaluma Gold Rush beans are good in so many ways, the plants are highly productive (7 pounds of dry beans from 36 plants), the plants seem to be resistant to mites, the beans are beautiful and most importantly I find them to be delicious and I love their creamy texture. I have enough to last a couple of years (they keep quite well, but it seems that home grown beans keep better than store bought ones anyway), so they won't be back until 2016 at the earliest.

Petaluma Gold Rush beans
2014 was the first year that I've grown Tromba D'Albenga squash (zucchini) but not the first experience that I've had with it. I was first exposed to it years ago when I volunteered as a Master Gardener but it didn't make a big impression on me back then (although I did not forget about it). Now that I've grown it myself it has really grown on me. I've decided that this will be the one and only zucchini that I'm growing this year. I love the Romanesco zucchini that I've grown the last few years but I've decided that I don't need the wild abundance of that variety. The Tromba squash produces at a good steady pace, it requires less real estate because it can be trained up a trellis, and I absolutely love the texture and flavor. Another bonus is that it can be allowed to mature and be harvested as a winter squash. It can really be harvested at any stage from tender zucchini to mature zucchini to immature winter squash (I found that this stage keeps particularly well in the fridge) to fully mature winter squash.

Tromba D'Albenga squash
We aren't big consumers of winter squash around here, not that we don't like it, we just don't eat it very often and I find it difficult to get through big squashes, unused portions often go to waste and I find most small winter squash varieties to be boring. We love butternut squash so I was intrigued when I read about a new mini variety and snatched up the opportunity to try the seeds that are carried by Renee's Garden. These are very small squashes, meant to be one or two servings each and as such they sounded perfect. I only grew two plants and now I wish I had grown four of them. Not only are the squash petite, the vines are also, I could have easily fit four plants in the space where I grew two (an area about 4 X 4 feet). It turns out that they are also well suited to growing up trellises so they can be grown on an even smaller footprint. The eating qualities of the squash are very good. The flesh is dense, the seed cavity small, and the flavor is a true and very sweet butternut. The keeping qualities seem to be pretty good. A few of the squash wrinkled up earlier than expected, but I think that they may have been a bit immature (late set), so we ate those first. But the rest of the squash are still looking good, firm and unwrinkled, still heavy for their size. I'm definitely growing these again this year, this time on a trellis.

Honey Nut butternut squash
These are definitely not new in my garden, I've been growing Padron peppers for many years now, what's different this year is that I went back to the first seed company that I ever purchased seeds from, Franchi Seeds. I've had disappointing results growing Padrons from other seed sources  so I was really happy to find the plants were producing a pretty continuous supply of peppers until nearly the end of the season when they were slowed down by birds pecking at the new growth. I don't think I'll have to grow 9 plants this year to get my fix, but I will have to do something to protect the plants from the birds...

Pimento de Padron
Sweet peppers that are well suited to my cool coastal climate are something that I"m continually searching for. There's usually at least one new variety in my garden every year and one of those last year was Giallo di Cuneo from Franchi Seeds. This pepper originates from an alpine area in northern Italy so it sounded like a good candidate. It was quite good, with nice thick crisp flesh and a good sweet flavor. It was tasty both fresh and roasted. It's an OP variety and that shows in some variability in size, shape, and color. You can see in the photo below that some are big, others are small, most have a classic bell pepper shape but others have a more pointed end. Some of them ripen to an pure yellow and others taken on a more orange hue. Regardless of the variation, I found them to have excellent eating qualities and I'll be giving them space in the pepper patch again this year.

Giallo di Cuneo sweet peppers
My grand experiment in the garden for 2015 was flint corn. I chose two varieties, one of them an OP variety selected for growing in the Pacific Northwest. I often turn to varieties developed for that region because they are generally quite well suited to my cool coastal climate. Cascade Ruby Gold was developed by Carol Deppe and she offers the seeds for sale through her mailing list, but I got my seeds from Adaptive Seeds. This variety is good for preparing cornbread (it was great in this recipe) and polenta, and it also made a very tasty posole (more about that in a future post). I have enough corn kernels to keep me happy for a while so I won't be growing it again this year. I'll be trying one of Carol's recommended corn varieties, Mandan Parching Lavender.

Cascade Ruby Gold flint corn
The other flint corn I grew was Floriani Red, an Italian heirloom variety selected for making excellent polenta. Not only does it make great polenta but it's beautiful too. I will definitely grow this corn again, just not in 2015. It's not a good idea to allow flint and flour varieties of corn to cross pollinate, just as it's not good to allow sweet corn and field corn to cross, it can be detrimental to the eating qualities of each type. The Mandan corn is a flour corn so I'll be growing another flour corn this year (as yet undetermined). If you are a polenta lover then I highly recommend growing some Floriani Red corn and grinding your own polenta, you may never be able to eat store bought polenta again.

Floriani Red flint corn
Another first in the garden for me this year was bulbing onions. I've grown plenty of scallions over the years but never thought it worth the garden space to grow bulbing onions. Boy was I wrong. One thing I loved about growing my own onions is that it is not necessary (or desirable) to wait until the onions are mature to start harvesting them. I used the extra seedlings that came from Dixondale (their bunches are quite generous) to thickly plant one space for harvesting spring onions. Then as the main crop onions started to size up I started to use those fresh. Then continued to use the onions as they cured and then as storage onions. I started harvesting spring onions in March and continued to use the onions into November (I tallied the cured onions as I used them).

Red Candy Apple onions
I grew three day-neutral varieties - Candy, Red Candy Apple, and Superstar. Red Candy Apple was the only one that didn't bolt, a significant number of the Candy onions bolted, and some of the Superstar onions bolted. I suspect the problem was the summer weather we had instead of winter weather through those months designated on the calendar as "winter", at least I hope that was the problem since I've planted out the same trio this year. The bolting wasn't a huge problem, the onions actually formed good sized bulbs and I just used the bolting onions first. If bolting is problem again this year then I'll have to try different varieties next year. (I'm trying two new varieties from seed this year).

Red Candy Apple onion
Onions and garlic curing.
Garlic is definitely not new in my garden but it can be problematic because of rust. I think the drought was in the garlic's favor last year because the dry conditions didn't favor the rust. I don't remember which variety this garlic was, either Inchelium Red or Spanish Roja, both varieties produced some really impressive heads.

Radishes are usually on every gardener's list of easy veggies to grow, at least they are on every list for beginner gardeners. But I can never seem to get my timing right, either I sow them at the wrong time or I neglect to harvest them at the proper time. This year I wanted to change that, plus I wanted to try some unusual varieties after reading an article in the San Franciso Chronicle about using radishes for something other than salads and using unusual varieties of radishes. So I started off with some typical and not so typical "salad" type radishes and enjoyed some success. The ones below are Pink Beauty and Pink Punch (I can't tell them apart but they are on either end), mildly spicy and delicious in salads... Helios is yellowish brown and the interior has something of a star burst pattern, very pretty. I enjoyed those both in salads and sauteed. To the left of Helios are two Selzer Purple radishes, much more prone to bolting, but delicious even so and also quite suited to sauteing.

I also tackled growing Watermelon radishes, a variety that is much more fussy about timing, it's a "winter" radish and much more prone to bolting when sown at the wrong time. The problem I had with the Watermelon radishes is that something started to bore into the roots and spoiled much of the crop, so this year I think I have to grow them under cover. It's too late to start them now, late summer and early fall is the time. But these will be back! My latest radish harvests included China Rose, a dual purpose radish with beautiful rosy skinned roots and greens that are wonderful braised or sauteed. For 2015 I've added a variety that is grown primarlily for its greens. Let the radish adventure continue!

Watermelon radish

I'm loving these Spanish Black carrots, an old OP variety that is nearly impossible to find seeds for (thank you Emma!). I first grew them back in 2013 and let that bunch go to seed which was ready to collect in 2014. A number of the seeds that scattered when I cut down the plants germinated and I let them grow. The carrots that I harvested in 2014 are from those volunteers. This is the only OP black carrot that I know of, all the others to be found are F1 hybrids, so I love this carrot for that. It's not a sweet carrot so it's not necessarily what I want for snacking, but the true carrot flavor (not bitter at all) is wonderful in savory dishes. I'll be sowing more of these for 2015.

Spanish Black carrot
It's finally time for dessert! The only fruit that gets included in my tally is melons, don't ask me why, I just don't weigh the fruit. Year two of a successful harvest of Alvaro charentais melons proves it wasn't just a fluke the previous year. These melons are really delicious. My husband is picky about melons and this one meets with his approval. I only wish it was an OP variety so I could save seeds. This melon will be back for 2015 and I'll be trying another melon named Napoli. I would be nice to have more than one melon variety, but so far the other varieties I've tried have not done well. Napoli be good...

Alvaro charentais melon
My potted blueberry bushes produced a good crop, good enough to convince me to pot up two more bushes of the same varieties - Sunshine Blue and Misty. I'll never harvest enough to meet our needs, but it sure is satisfying to enjoy the ripest most delicious home grown berries.

Do I dare tempt the rodents again? The strawberries escaped their notice last year and we enjoyed a number of harvests of fresh from the garden berries last year. I'm being quite superstitious and refuse to weigh and tally the strawberry harvests for fear of tempting fate. I've already set out a new round of plants in a different bed for 2015 harvests. Strawberries seem to work well as a virtual "annual" fruit in my garden. The new plants that I set out in the spring of 2014 produced enough to keep us happy, really just the right amount of fresh berries. I'm hoping for the same results for the new 2015 plants since I'm removing the old plants because a number of them seem to be fighting some sort of fungal disease and it's just not worth doing battle. Last year I grew only Seascape, this year I'm adding Albion to the mix.

Seascape strawberries
This was a surprise last year, a bumper crop of grapes. I've got a poor neglected plant with it's roots growing through a pot into the ground. The vines are entwined in a rosemary hedge. It doesn't get fed (not directly but probably benefits from what I provide for a nearby fig tree) and doesn't get properly pruned (just hacked back when it gets in the way), and yet it produced baskets of sweet ripe fruit. Most of the grapes were converted to raisins which are now fueling a starter that I use to make an unusual raisin bread because it contains some of the fermented raisins. (The subject for another post).

That was the highlights for 2014. I'll try to be back before too long with a post that compares the harvests over the past 5 years, the chart is done but this post is already too long.


  1. Your produce always looks so amazing, Michelle. Beans are definitely going to be a focus of mine this year. However, I've switched to all bush varieties because I've never been good about trellising them property. I have a potted grape as well. I plan to plant it in the ground this spring but hopefully, I'll still get a few grapes from it.

  2. I always love looking at your harvests. Especially that corn. The red is so beautiful. I used to grow grapes. But I just couldn't stand harvesting them. The spiders get into the inside and come out when harvested and spiders freak me out. The harvest was too nerve racking so I quit growing them.

  3. Just a gorgeous parade of harvests throughout the year. I ordered Padron seeds this year and was originally going to get them from Baker Creek, but by the time I placed my order, they were sold out so I ended up getting them from Renees. Hopefully they produce at least moderately well - it's funny how the "same" seeds from different sources can give you such different results.

    You made a very interesting point about the dried beans (and flint corn) that I had never considered - growing enough of one variety to last a couple of years. Then I could grow other varieties in the intervening years...

  4. Wow, this post is as good as many seed-merchants' catalogues! Anyone who read it and still didn't want to grow their own veg would be a very strange person indeed!

  5. Great harvests. I really like that huge red onin, and the big garlic.


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