Monday, January 25, 2016

Harvest Monday - January 25, 2016

Welcome to Harvest Monday, this will be my last day for hosting, at least until our usual host Dave needs another break. Be sure to head on over to Our Happy Acres next Monday, February 1, to check out the Harvest Monday action.

The weather around here has been wet and a bit warmer than in December. We haven't had any frost or freeze in weeks. The Brussels Sprouts are responding to the wetter and milder weather by finally sizing up. I harvested  almost 2 pounds of sprouts last week! One picking was roasted along with parsnips and sweet red onions, butter and sage.

Gustus Brussels Sprouts
More Gustus Brussels Sprouts
The other picking was shredded and wilted with bits of Honey & Habañero Bacon from El Salchichero in Santa Cruz (the best butcher shop in the Monterey Bay area), red onion, and slivers of Medjool dates and a splash of wine vinegar.

The snap and snow peas keep coming in a few handfuls at a time.

Golden Sweet Snow and Super Sugar Snap Peas
I'm almost done clearing out the bed where I'll be growing the tomatoes and peppers this year. This week I'll be sowing a cover crop of mustard into the bed. The last edibles to come out of it were beets. They were a bit funky looking but were fine after they were trimmed and roasted. The Chioggia beets occasionally produce an all white beet like the one below. The roasted beets are in the fridge just waiting to be included in one of the many salads that we enjoy.

Chioggia Beets
Red Baron Beets
Back in 2014 I let some Romanesco fennel bloom and set seed and the seeds ended up scattered all around. A few of them volunteered in the center path in the garden and actually produced a couple of decent bulbs. This one isn't perfect but it's good enough to eat after a bit of trimming, it'll add flavor and crunch to a salad or two.

Volunteer Fennel

Actually, half the bulb went into this dish, a warming medley of veggies including fresh broccoli, favas and roasted peppers from the freezer, and onions. I sauteed the veggies and then poured in stock flavored with some homemade tomato paste to cover, brought it to a simmer and then nestled some eggs into the pot, then simmered until the eggs were soft cooked. That was a nice warming dinner after hiking on a showery afternoon.

My heading lettuces are nowhere near ready to harvest as heads, but they are large enough that I can cut leaves from a couple of the Winter Density plants on a cut and come again basis. It is nice to have some fresh lettuce for my salads again. I got my celery and celeriac plants in ridiculously late and they've been just pouting through the cold short winter days. The celery is finally producing some baby stalks worth the trouble of harvesting and I figure I better take advantage of those before the plants start to bolt. I haven't sampled the leaves yet but I'm hoping that they might be mild enough to add to a salad or at least to some soup. And the reliable Batavia broccoli offered up some more nice side shoots.

Winter Density Lettuce, Dorato D'Asti Celery, Batavia Broccoli
Not photographed was the final harvest of tiny shoots of Apollo brokali that I harvested as I cut the plants down to the ground. I also harvested the rest of the baby Red Iceberg lettuces, extra plants that I put in to get my by until the main planting heads up. I also cut more thinnings of Rishad cress and started thinning the Speedy arugula. I'm afraid those will both bolt before they ever amount to much so I've sown more seeds for both of those.

Here's the details of the harvests for the past week:

Speedy arugula - 2.2 oz.
Chioggia beets - 16.5 oz. (after trimming)
Red Baron beets - 6.8 oz. (after trimming)
Apollo brokali - 2.6 oz.
Batavia broccoli - 11.1 oz.
Gustus Brussels sprouts - 1 lb., 15.3 oz.
Dorato D'Asti celery - 2.1 oz.
Rishad cress - 2.1 oz.
Romanesco fennel - 16.7 oz.
Red Iceberg lettuce - 1.4 oz.
Winter Density lettuce - 1.9 oz.
Super Sugar Snap peas - 4.5 oz.
Golden Sweet snow peas - 3.2 oz.

Total harvests for the week - 6 lb., 6.4 oz.
2016 YTD - 23 lb., 5.1 oz.

Harvest Monday is a place to showcase everything harvest related, what you've harvested, how you are preserving your harvests, and how you are using your harvests. You needn't be harvesting anything new to participate, write a post about how you've been using your preserved harvests and then link up. I'm sure we could all use some inspiration when it comes to using up the canned tomatoes and frozen veggies that we all worked so hard to produce and preserve. If you want to join in the fun just add your name and a link to your post in Mister Linky below. Then stop by the other linked posts to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting and cooking up lately.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 Year in Review - Root Vegetables

Let's see how I did with the rooty veggies in 2015, that includes the onion family, carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, turnips, and celery root.

Zebrune shallots
Alliums. Onions were a standout in terms of overall production simply because I devoted a lot of garden space to them in 2015. The alliums overall were disappointing, the onions bolted, the garlic was severely infected with rust and didn't size up, the leeks bolted and got infected with rust. But there was one shining star in the allium show - my seed grown Zebrune shallots resisted rust and bolting, produced a generous crop of 19.5 pounds, and are also turning out to be good keepers. Indeed, they are keepers and I've already got the seedlings for 2016 growing in the garden.

This year I'll be experimenting with new varieties of onions in an attempt to find some that won't be so prone to bolting, but I'll be growing fewer of each variety and they'll get less garden space overall. Leeks will not be returning, they were not worth the space and time and although I like them they are not my favorite allium. Garlic is back already, I love it too much to give up on it, although it is already sporting spots of rust, dang it.

Carrots. Oops, I never did get around to sowing any in 2015 but I did harvest 9.5 pounds, mostly  a bunch of small ones from a late 2014 planting and a few Spanish Black volunteers. So, not a good carrot year. I'm committed to growing them in 2016, I better be, I still have seeds that I intended to use last year and I've ordered some interesting new varieties to grow this year.

Gladiator parsnips
A notable success this year was my first ever decent harvest of parsnips. They are a challenging crop to grow. The sowbugs seem to love the seedlings (what seedlings do sowbugs not like?) and a lot of what germinated disappeared. I almost turned the survivors into the soil and replaced them with something else. But I relented got lazy and let them grow and test my patience - they are so slooow. And now they are one of my darlings, they filled in their space with masses of foliage and beautiful long fat (for a parsnip) roots and best of all they are really tasty. After cleaning out the bed last week I ended up with a total harvest of 11.4 pounds (5.2 kg), some of that is in the 2016 tally.

Beets. Good old reliable beets. I usually try for a few sowings each year. The harvests for 2015 were more modest than usual at a total of 12.5 pounds. But I didn't feel like I really fell short whereas in past years I've had to deal with unwanted gluts, so perhaps I've finally figured out how much to grow to meet my needs. I've settled on a few varieties that I like and that grow well in my garden. Chioggia has been an all time favorite.  It's pretty with striped stems and mild tasting green leaves. The root is generally red and white striped when you cut into it when raw, but the stripes melt into each other when the root is cooked. I like it because it is mild flavored, doesn't stain like red beets (so it plays well with other salad ingredients), and it's very productive. The only thing I don't like about Chioggia beets is that the tops are quite large and in a mixed planting of beets they can overwhelm their neighbors. On the other hand, if you like to eat beet greens that profusion of foliage can be a bonus. Another mild beet that I love is the Golden Beet that Renee's Garden Seeds carries. I've tried various other golden beets in the past and have not been crazy about them. Some varieties have golden skins but the interiors are white. Some just don't have any flavor. Some can be huge and overly vigorous. Renee's Golden Beets produce nice smooth skinned well formed roots that don't get too big. They definitely play nice with their neighbors in the garden and don't bleed like red beets. They are golden to the very center of the root. And the greens are tasty too. It's the only golden beet that I grow now. I do like red beets and don't mind that they bleed all over the place if they are going to be the star of the plate. And that red color is downright magnificent in a dish like Ottolenghi's delicious Beet Dip. In 2015 I grew two varieties from Renee's, Baby Ball and Red Baron, both are good, they're not too large, have well formed roots and tasty greens, quite frankly I haven't found them to be all that different and like both. I have seeds for all of these varieties and will be continuing to grow them this year. I also grew a Three Root Grex mix of beets which I didn't photograph and didn't make any notes about other than the harvest weights. I can't remember what I thought of them, so I'll have to grow them again this year and give them some proper attention.

Clockwise: China Rose with foliage, Saisai Leaf, Helios & Pink Punch, Selzer Purple

Radishes. A couple of years ago I was inspired by the beautiful radishes that Mark was harvesting from his Veg Plot to give them another try myself. Additional motivation was supplied by an article in the SF Chron about many different types of radishes that can be grown and various ways to use them beyond salads and crudites. In 2014 I grew 9 different varieties of radishes for a total of 9.5 pounds. In 2015 I grew 9 varieties again, not all the same as the previous year, but upped the harvest total to 24.7 pounds. To be honest that total includes the greens from 2 varieties, China Rose has smooth tender leaves that are delicious sauteed and I grew Saisai Leaf radish, a variety developed primarily for it's tender leaves, good both fresh in salads and sauteed. It was fun growing various colors and shapes of radishes. I found that my favorite use for them is the hum drum typical slices in my tossed salads. I'm missing them now since I didn't get around to sowing any this fall for winter harvests. I sowed some back in December but they haven't done well and I suspect that they will bolt without making any sizable roots.

Round Red and Mikado turnips

Turnips. Not those big strong flavored purple topped ones you find decapitated of their greens in the grocery store. I tried the tender little white ones, a variety named Mikado and a small red one named Round Red (how original). Both were mild and sweet with edible greens. I really loved both of them but don't have any to harvest now because I didn't get around to a fall sowing. (I really got lazy or burnt out this fall).

Celery Root aka Celeriac. Another vegetable to test a gardener's patience. It takes a long time to germinate, it takes a long time to get to transplantable size, and it takes a long time to produce a sizable root, not to mention it takes a lot of work to clean it up. Don't even try growing it unless you love it, which we do. I got a decent harvest from seeds sown in 2014. I've been growing the same variety for the past few years - Monarch and so long as the seeds continue to germinate that's what I'll grow in the future. The 2015 sowing didn't fare so well, I lost my first round of seedlings so started a late second round. Those little things never did get a real chance, the plants in the garden now have roots about the size of golf balls and probably won't do much of anything before they bolt. I'll let them stay for now since my harvests usually last through March so perhaps they'll get a little bigger in the next couple of months.

I am almost, at last, done with the 2015 reviews. Next up will be the final review post about leafy greens and miscellaneous. And then I can get on with 2016!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Harvest Monday - January 18, 2016

Welcome to Harvest Monday, you get another week of me hosting and I'll remind everyone that Dave of Our Happy Acres will resume as host on February 1.

We continue to feast from the garden. I combined the Golden beet below and the previously harvested funky Chioggia beet and giant Gladiator parsnip in a root veggie roast. I noticed that the Chioggia beet retained some of its stripes when I peeled it and roasted it in chunks. My usual method is to roast it in its skin and then rub off the skin and when roasted that way the stripes disappear.

Renee's Golden Beet
The Red Baron beets were roasted in their skins, peeled and incorporated into a salad that I based very loosely on a recipe from Ottolenghi's Plenty More.

Red Baron Beets
My version of the beet salad included baby Red Iceberg lettuce and some thinnings of Rishad Cress, along with some flat leaf parsley that I didn't photograph or include in my tally. The recipe called for entirely different greens that I don't happen to have so I used what I do have. And it called for shelled peas for which I substituted pieces of sugar snap peas.

Red Iceberg and Rishad Cress

The Rishad cress is a very finely cut cress from Iraq that tastes much like the Dutch Broadleaf cress that I grew last year. I first read about the Rishad cress in William Woys Weaver's book 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. I got the seeds from a member of the Seed Savers Exchange who got her seeds from Mr. Weaver. It's fun to know that the cress I'm growing is undoubtedly the same as the one in the book.

Spigariello Foglia Riccia

The branches on the Spigariello Foglia Riccia plant remind me of octopus tentacles, they reach out all over the place. I cut off another branch and trimmed off the shoots and ended up with a nice basket of kale like leaves. This time I steamed the little shoots in my pressure cooker for 3 minutes and they came out perfectly tender. I used half of the steamed shoots in a sort of stew with Cotechino sausage, tomato puree, onions, and crispy bits of duck skin from some confited duck legs from which I had used just the meat. 

Spigariello Foglia Riccia
The spinach plants were starting to fill up their cloches again so it was time for another harvest.

Summer Perfection
My Dave requested an old favorite spinach preparation - wilted with pancetta, garlic, raisins, pine nuts, pepper flakes, and a splash of vinegar.

And I got another couple of handfuls of snow and snap peas. Most of the peas that I harvested still showed signs of frost damage from a few weeks ago but I also got a few that escaped the old man.

Golden Sweet and Super Sugar Snap peas
The broccoli plants aren't so vigorous lately but I'm still getting some small side shoots.

Di Ciccio and Batavia broccoli, and Apollo brokali
The side shoots came in just in time because I had used up the last of the previous harvest in a stir fry with tofu, snow peas, onions, garlic and ginger. My favorite sauce for broccoli and tofu stir fry is oyster flavored sauce with some chile garlic sauce and sherry. It was a nice change of pace from my usual Mediterranean style of cooking.

It's time to get a cover crop started in the bed where the parsnips have been growing since July so I harvested all the remaining roots.

Gladiator Parsnips
Dave said that I needed to put a yardstick in the photo to get some perspective on the size of the roots, the largest ones are over 18 inches (45 cm) long. The whole lot weighed in at 6 pounds (2.7 kg.) as shown.  So my total parsnip harvests, including the 2.7 pounds from 2015, came to 11.4 pounds (5.2 kg.). I can't complain about that, I didn't really expect to get much of anything since I had such a hard time getting the seedlings started and lost a lot of them to sowbugs.

Here's the details of the harvests for the past week:

Red Baron beets - 1 lb., 2.8 oz.
Renee's Golden beets - 8.5 oz.
Apollo brokali - 2.5 oz.
Batavia broccoli - 4.1 oz.
Di Ciccio broccoli - 5.2 oz.
Spigariello Foglia Riccia broccoli - 1 lb., 5.8 oz.
Rishad cress - 1.4 oz.
Red Iceberg lettuce - 1.8 oz.
Gladiator parsnips - 6 lb.
Super Sugar Snap peas - 5.5 oz.
Golden Sweet snow peas - 3.6 oz.
Summer Perfection spinach - 7.8 oz.
Verdil spinach - 8.7 oz.

Total for the week - 11 lb., 10.4 oz. (5.3 kg.)
2016 YTD - 16 lb., 14.7 oz. (7.7 kg.)

Harvest Monday is a place to showcase everything harvest related, what you've harvested, how you are preserving your harvests, and how you are using your harvests. You needn't be harvesting anything new to participate, write a post about how you've been using your preserved harvests and then link up. I'm sure we could all use some inspiration when it comes to using up the canned tomatoes and frozen veggies that we all worked so hard to produce and preserve. If you want to join in the fun just add your name and a link to your post in Mister Linky below. Then stop by the other linked posts to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting and cooking up lately.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

2015 Year in Review - Curcurbits

Tasty Treat and Green Fingers Cucumbers
I've been guilty of growing too many cucumbers for a number of years. They are so prolific when the plants are happy. Once upon a time I would cover an entire 3 x 5 foot trellis with cucumbers, and one year ages ago it was 2 trellises. In 2015 I grew only 4 plants, 2 each of Tasty Treat Japanese and Green Fingers Persian. I harvested over 35 pounds of cucumbers from July through October and even though I was giving them away it was still too much for fresh eating. I'm not a big fan of pickles and even though Dave claims to like pickles he doesn't get around to eating them when I make them, and besides, these varieties are not good for making pickles anyway. Next year it will be only 1 plant of each variety.

Candystick Dessert Delicata
The two varieties of winter squash this year were stellar performers. Both Candystick Dessert Delicata and Honey Nut Butternut produced healthy and vigorous vines. The Delicata was especially vigorous and productive. I tried to train the vines up a 5 foot trellis but had to give up on that after I went away on vacation for a week and came back to find the vines spreading all over the place. My four plants produced 30 pounds of mature squash, 20 squash averaging about 23 ounces each. Productivity isn't their only asset, they are as sweet as their name implies and delicious.

Honey Nut Butternut
The Honey Nut Butternut vines were more manageable and I was able to keep them mostly confined to their trellis. They produce individual sized squash, most are actually big enough for 2 people the way we consume them. I got 19 mature squash averaging about 14 ounces apiece for a total of 17 pounds. The one surprise with the Honey Nut Butternut is that they not keeping as well as I expected. The squash are already starting to shrivel up a bit and the necks are getting hollow. The squash that I've baked recently are still excellent eating but I need to use them up. The Delicata squash is keeping much better, they are all still firm and heavy, but I probably need to use them up before too long before they lose their sweetness and flavor.

Tromba D'Albenga and Romanesco
Zucchini. There's two varieties that I've found that perform exceptionally well in my garden. If you've read my blog for a few years you might recall reading about how wildly successful the F1 Romanesco zucchini from Renee's Garden Seeds can be for me. It grows like a monster and one plant can provide me with 100 pounds of zucchini. This year it wasn't quite so vigorous and the plant died earlier than usual but not before it provided 26 pounds of zucchini. I didn't mind though because I had planned to remove it early and let a later planting of Tromba D'Albenga squash carry on it it's place. The Tromba squash plants, two of them, produced 83 pounds of zucchini-like squash over their life, so I still ended up harvesting 100+ plus pounds of zucchini. I liked that rotation this year and I think I'll try to do the same next year.

I don't mind having a glut of zucchini, it's one vegetable that we eat a lot of when it's fresh and I also have a couple of ways of preserving it that we enjoy eating throughout the rest of the year. Both the Romanesco and Tromba squashes are good dehydrated, some varieties of zucchini get bitter when dried, but both of these keep their good flavor. I use a lot of the dried zucchini in the frittatas that are Dave's favorite lunch item. It's also excellent in soup and cooked in a tomato sauce. The rehydrated zucchini has a nice texture, pleasantly al dente, not at all mushy like cooked fresh zucchini can be.

Frittata with dried zucchini and other preserved garden veggies
The other method of preserving zucchini that we love is Zucchini Sott'Olio, an Italian method of preserving zucchini that involves salting thick slices of zucchini to draw out moisture, then briefly cooking the slices in a vinegar solution, then draining and drying the zucchini, and finally packing it in olive oil with seasonings. It's a great method for reducing a big pile of zucchini into a few modest jars and it keeps forever in the fridge, but most importantly it's delicious. I won't go to the work of preserving something just for the sake of using up a glut if it isn't something that won't get eaten. I had to admit to having tossed lots of jars of old flabby pickles that we never ate, so I don't make pickles anymore.

Melons. Total failure for 2016. I didn't find space for them in the garden until very late in the season but decided to take a chance since we were having a particularly warm fall. The plants grew and set melons, but it was definitely too late in the season to allow any to fully mature and ripen. That's one succession that I'm still refining.

There's still a few review posts to go, root vegetables are next.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2015 Year in Review - Brassicas

Top Row: Di Ciccio Broccoli, Di Ciccio side shoots, Batavia Broccoli, Batavia side shoots
Row 2: Apollo Brokali, Atlantis Brokali, Spigariello Foglia Riccia, Spigariello Foglia Liscia
Row 3: Romanesco broccoli, Sicilian Cauliflower, Express Red Cabbage, Pixie Cabbage
Row 4: Purple Peacock Broccoli, Lacinato Kale, Little Jade Napa Cabbage, Tronchuda Beira

When accounted for as a group the large leafy and heading brassicas - broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco broccoli, cabbage, and kale were star producers - the group produced about 160 pounds for the year. The generally mild weather here, neither too hot nor too cold makes for good year round brassica production. I could have grown even more but I don't eat them as much in the summer and early fall because I enjoy the summer vegetables so much. There are other brassicas that I grew, such as arugula and turnips, that I'll be grouping in different reviews such as salad vegetables and roots.

We love broccoli here and last year I grew 7 different varieties if you include the broccoli/gai lan cross that is often referred to as brokali or broccolini. I use the brokali interchangeably with the sprouting broccolis that I grow. The list includes one of my long time favorites, the heirloom Di Ciccio, and a broccoli/kale cross called Purple Peacock, and 2 varieties of brokali - Apollo and Atlantis, and 2 leafy sprouting broccolis - Spigariello Foglia Liscia and Spigariello Foglia Riccia, and a standard heading type broccoli called Batavia.

Di Ciccio isn't a huge producer, the 6 plants that I've had this year produced 9.3 pounds, but I like it because it is good tasting and if I'm careful about how I harvest the shoots it can produce over a very long season. My fall planting is still producing side shoots. The brokali varieties did well, 2 Atlantis plants produced 4.5 pounds of shoots and 3 Apollo plants have produced 6.9 pounds to date. If I had to choose between the two of them I think Atlantis produces better side shoots. Perhaps I'll do a side by side test this year to see if that impression is correct. Purple Peacock is a modest producer, the three plants gave me 4.3 pounds of shoots. I grow it mostly because it is so pretty. The Spigariello varieties are grown as much for their leaves as their heads. The Liscia variety has strappy smooth edged leaves. When it produces heads they look a lot like rapini. The Riccia variety has frilly leaves. I had one plant from my spring planting that has refused to form heads, it just keeps growing long branches covered with short leafy shoots which is what you see in the collage. It will be interesting to see what it does this spring.

Batavia stands out as a big producer. I sowed 2 rounds of Batavia, one in May and the second in July for a total of 5 plants. Those 5 plants produced nearly 22 pounds of heads and side shoots and the second round of plants still has some side shoots developing. The first side shoots on Batavia are more like small heads and once those secondary heads are cut those side shoots will produce more small shoots. It's a pretty amazing broccoli and I will definitely be growing it again next year.

Romanesco, so called broccoli, which is more like cauliflower but is really a unique vegetable in its own right. I love the stuff but it is a space hog. Fortunately the best time to grow it is in through fall for early winter production. I can usually find room for a few plants in the garden. The photo in the collage is the best of the heads I harvested last January and February. I think I had 5 plants and the heads ranged in size from 5 pounds down to 1.25 pounds. One aspect of my record keeping is that I need to keep better track of how many plants I set out.  I'm still waiting for the Romanesco that I sowed seeds for on July 10 and set out in the garden on August 19 to start forming heads, they're late this year.

Buttoning Cauliflower

In 2014 I had great success with a variety of cauliflower called Amazing Taste. In 2015 all the Amazing Taste buttoned, probably because of unusually warm weather. I harvested the tiny heads but didn't bother to photograph the harvests. I also tried a Sicilian Purple cauliflower that got to be huge and produced funky heads. Weird stuff and I thought it might also be because of the warm weather. I've got more in the garden now that I was hoping would produce a fall crop, but one of the humongous plants is just now starting to produce a tiny head - very disappointing. I don't think Sicilian cauliflower will be back. It wasn't a great year for cauliflower, I guess it was beginner's luck in 2014, or maybe I'll blame the weather.

I had really good cabbage production for the spring - 55 pounds of Express Red, Pixie, Little Jade and Tronchuda Beira combined. But I had no cabbage harvests for the fall and if I don't get on it soon I won't have any for spring either.

Only one variety of kale made it into the garden last year. Lacinato was actually a holdover from 2014, producing in January through March when it bolted. Those holdovers did well though, producing over 8 pounds of greens. But I had no kale harvests for the fall, nor for this winter.

I'll give myself a B- grade for growing brassicas this year. I really fell down on the job getting a fall planting of cabbage, kale, and cauliflower into the garden. The really shameful thing is that I sowed the seeds and had seedlings ready to set out and then I just didn't get them into the garden. We  had plenty of broccoli, too much really, so that wasn't great planning on my part either. And my timing was off with the Brussels Sprouts. I had hoped to be harvesting the sprouts by the end of November (Thanksgiving), but totally missed the mark. I'll chalk that up to my inexperience with growing Brussels Sprouts, it's been at least 10 years since my last attempt which was a complete failure. At least I'm harvesting some of them now and though they are small they are nice and firm and good tasting. I'll see if I can improve my sprouts timing this year. Overall it wasn't a bad year for brassicas, but I know I could have done better.

Next up in the Review Parade is the Curcurbit family - squash and cucumbers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015 Year in Review - Legumes

Left: Royal Burgundy and Slenderette. Right from top: Rattlesnake, Purple Pole, Stortino di Trento.

Snap Beans. I did what has become my usual succession, starting the season with a couple of varieties of bush snap beans. I prefer to grow pole beans because they tend to be more productive but garden space doesn't open up for them until later in the season so I start with the bush beans. By the time the bush beans have stopped producing the pole beans usually start so it makes a nice succession. I grew a couple of varieties of bush beans that have done well for me the last few years - Slenderette and Royal Burgundy. I think I'm running out of seeds for those two so perhaps this year I'll try a couple new varieties.

All the pole beans I grew this year were new. I'm surprised I took a chance on three new varieties and didn't grow at least one proven variety, but I got away with it. Rattlesnake, Purple, and Stortino di Trento were the chosen varieties this year. Purple turned out to be a somewhat shy producer, but it also turned out to be attractive to some critter (birds or rats?) that took a liking to it so that reduced the harvests. It's a tasty bean but I think I'll move on to something else that I don't have to compete with the critters for. Stortino di Trento was a very good producer of interesting purple striped curved beans. It is tasty but the skins tend to slip a bit when the beans are cooked and I'm not crazy about that texture so I'm not sure that I'll grow them again. The star of the snap beans was Rattlesnake. It turned out to be incredibly productive, 6 plants produced 7 pounds of snap beans and then started a second flush which I allowed to mature to produce 1.1 pounds of dried beans. It's not just productive, the snap beans are big and beautiful and very good eating. I think Rattlesnake will become a regular in my bean lineup.

I keep a number of pieces of 3x5 foot concrete reinforcing mesh that I zip tie to poles to make trellises for various vegetables. Over the years I've gone from growing a single variety of beans on one trellis with multiple trellises in the garden to this year doing 3 varieties on one trellis. I always ended up with far more beans than I needed. I always ended up freezing and pickling a lot of beans. I was never able to finish the frozen beans before the fresh ones came in again and we tended to tire of the pickled beans pretty quickly. I like to have a variety of snap beans of different sizes, shapes, and colors and I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me much sooner to do more than one variety of bean per trellis. Next year I think I'll go to 4 varieties on a single trellis. I got 23 pounds of beans from the one trellis and 11 pounds of bush beans, all of which is still more than I need, I did end up freezing some and gave away quite a few as well.

Clockwise from top left: Monachelle di Trevio, Purgatory, Rattlesnake, Pico Pardal garbanzo.

Dry Beans. I had mixed results for dry beans. Monachelle di Trevio was a new bean that I had high hopes for, it is a pretty bean and very unusual. But the plants seem to be highly susceptible to damping off and I lost most of what I set out. I let the survivors grow and got about 3/4 pound of dry beans. I may try growing more from my saved beans this year, perhaps the beans from the surviving plants may be more resistant to damping off. I experimented with garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and my small patch produced a little over a pound of beans. I'm not sure that I want to devote space in the summer garden to something that produces that little, but I've read that garbanzos are cold tolerant so I'm experimenting with a winter sowing this year. The good news so far as dried beans go is that I finally had success with Purgatory beans. They are a very small white bean from Italy that are my favorite for bean salad. I had been trying to renew my stock of the beans for the last 2 or 3 years and kept having various problems, mainly with spider mites killing the plants before the beans matured. Spider mites weren't quite so problematic in 2015 for some reason so I got a nice crop - 3 pounds of dried beans which is good production for bush beans.

Extra Precoce Violetto favas

Fava beans (broadbeans) are a must grow veggie every year. Dave can't imagine not having them and they are one of the few vegetables that I will grow with preservation in mind. The blanched peeled beans freeze beautifully and there's a number of vacuum sealed bags in the freezer. One of the best things about favas is that they grow in the winter. I usually sow the seeds directly in the garden some time in November and/or December, they go into the space where the tomatoes had been. I start harvesting the beans some time in April and they are usually done before the end of May, just in time to be replaced by pole beans. 2015 production was 78 pounds of pods, right about average. I used to grow twice as many plants, enough to fill an entire bed, but it always proved to be too much so now I only fill half of a bed. It also works better in the spring time since it frees up the space that I allocate to the bush beans. I've been growing Extra Precoce Violetto (Extra Early Purple) for the past few years, it's the earliest variety of any that I've tried.

I usually grow snap and snow peas in the spring and again in the fall, but this year I didn't get anything going for spring or fall production. I finally got some Golden Sweet snow peas and Super Sugar Snap peas very late in the year which I'm harvesting now. But pea production for 2015 was a bust.

Next up will be my review of the Brassicas for 2015.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015 Year in Review - Solanums

There it is, a snapshot of most of the harvests for 2015. I had fun putting together a collage that used most of the photos I used in my Harvest Monday posts for the year. It's not everything that I harvested since I didn't photograph every single harvest, but it gives a pretty good idea of what and how much was coming from the garden through the year. It's arranged in 12 equal sized collages arranged in horizontal rows with the top row showing January harvests and on down through the year to the last row showing December harvests. It wasn't that difficult to put together, I let Picasa do the work of putting together the individual collages - just select the photos and the size of the finished collage and Picasa does the work of arranging the photos. The I arranged the individual collages into rows by month.

So, on to the review. The weather in 2015 was for the most part conducive to plentiful harvests. It warmed up early in the year and stayed warm with the exception of a cool and very foggy May. Then it turned to summer in June, which was actually earlier than usual since we typically get a lot of fog and cool weather in June, July and sometimes into August. "Summer" usually starts round about September here. This year it was warm and too dry for most of the year, downright hot in the fall and well into November, and then it turned cold and wet and has stayed that way since then. Now the prediction is for a wetter than normal winter thanks to El Niño.

I've been taking forever to work up this post and it's getting to be quite long so I'm going to break it up. I'll start off with the solanums.

Tomatoes of 2015

From top left - Top row: Chianti Rose, Spike, Jaune Flamme, Amish Paste. Middle row: Penn State Plum, Caspian Pink. Bottom row: Camp Joy, Sweet Gold, Mavritanskite, Pantano.

Tomatoes. Considering all the years that I've been growing tomatoes you might think that I've figured them out, but I always seem to learn something new. This year I learned that they do not like a 70% Extract of Neem Oil. My tomato plants got heavily infected with more than one type of fungus on their foliage this summer and the leaves were moldy and dying. Neem is a very effective fungicide, I've used it for years on curcurbits with success. So I tried it on the tomatoes and it worked, it stopped the fungus from spreading, but it killed the new flowers. I normally get a second flush of tomatoes that ripen in October and November, last year I harvested 51 pounds in those 2 months. This year I got 2.5 pounds in October and November. The harvest was still good at 201 pounds but could have been better, last year the tomato harvest came to 220 pounds from fewer plants. Lesson learned, next year when the fungus shows up again I'll use Actinovate instead of Neem. Actinovate is a very effective fungicide as well but much more pricey.

I tried six new tomato varieties in 2015 and three of them turned out to be good tasting and relatively productive (considering my Neem mistreatments) and the three others didn't do very well. Mavritanskite is a beefsteak type from Latvia. It produced medium to large slicers that tended to be ugly but were absolutely delicious. I used a lot of these for making sauce, which came out a bit dark but really rich tasting. I'm going to grow them again next year and if they do well again they could become a regular. The one plant produced more than 26 pounds of ripe tomatoes.

Pantano is an Italian heirloom variety from Rome. It produces red beefsteak type tomatoes that are good for slicing but are also very good for making sauce. The plant was vigorous and productive, producing 26 pounds of tomatoes. It will be back again next year also.

The other new winning tomato was a classic looking red cherry tomato called Camp Joy. This had to have been the most vigorous and healthy plant of all. We enjoyed 24 pounds of tomatoes from the one vine. Much of the fruits were eaten fresh and a lot of the rest went into the dehydrator. It was the best tomato for making Tomato Poppers (sauteed cherry tomatoes that pop in your mouth). It's not a sweet tomato like Sungold, but it's packed with flavor.

The three tomatoes that didn't work out were Penn State Plum, Spike, and Caspian Pink. I wish Penn State Plum had done well, what few tomatoes we got from the one plant that survived (started with two) were very tasty. But the plants were sickly and never grew well so they won't be back next year. I had high hopes for Spike, it seemed like a good candidate for my garden having been bred in a similar climate not very far from here. It got off to a good start and set a lot of tomatoes and then it suddenly got sick and the plant started wilting and dying back and was dead in no time. Caspian Pink also seemed like a good candidate for my garden. It's known to be adapted to cooler climates and is also supposed to be quite tasty. But it just didn't thrive in my garden.

The rest of the tomatoes - Jaune Flamme, Amish Paste, Sweet Gold, and Chianti Rose are proven performers in my garden and did well for me again. Amish Paste is one of the most reliable paste type tomatoes that I've grown. It seems to be well adapted to cooler climates and has less of a problem with blossom end rot than any other paste tomato I've grown probably because it is not as elongated.

In 2015, rather than using individual tomato cages, I set up a 5.5 foot tall trellis the length of the solanum bed and trained the tomatoes up the trellis. It was more work to tie the tomato vines to the trellis rather than tucking them into the cages, but harvesting the tomatoes was easier, and I think the beefsteak tomatoes benefited by getting more light and warmth. I'll try the trellis method again next year. If I cut the tomato vines back harder I might even be able to get a couple more varieties into the lineup.

Sicilian and Bonica eggplants
Eggplant. There always seems to be some problem with eggplant - most years it is spider mites, this year it was verticillium wilt. But I had better luck with my treatments for the eggplant than with the tomatoes, the Actinovate drenches that I treated the soil with seemed to do the trick. I also followed up the Actinovate treatments with a drench that contained beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae. The plants made a pretty good recovery and had time to bloom and produce a few more fruits before the end of the season so I ended up harvesting 30 pounds. Next year I think I will pretreat the soil with Actinovate before I set out the Eggplants and then keep an eye out for any wilting and treat again ASAP if I see any. So not the best year for eggplant but not entirely a failure.

I actually grow 3 varieties of eggplant in 2015. My favorite classic globe type, hybrid Bonica, came through with 14 pounds of eggplants. I've been growing an unnamed Sicilian eggplant the last few years from seeds that I got in a swap. It should be a lavender and white globe type with very white and tender flesh. The last couple of years I've been growing it from seeds that I saved from a single fruit from a single plant. The eggplants have been variable, some coming true to type and others more elongated, darker, and dull skinned - still good but not as good as the original type and not as good as Bonica. I've got one plant from the original seed stock. It's growing in a container in a protected spot. I hope to get it to survive through the winter so I can collect another eggplant for the seeds - it has a few fruits on it now which are true to type but they may have crossed with other plants. I'll use those for seeds if I need to, but I'd like to get it to flower again this year and this time I'll bag the blossoms. The third eggplant I grew was a mix of long "Fingers" eggplants, the Asian types, but I just didn't get around to harvesting them while they were at their best so I didn't use or tally most of them.

Best Peppers of 2015
Peppers. I'll just mention them briefly because I did a complete review earlier. I had my best year ever for peppers, the highest production I've recorded in the past 6 years even though I didn't have as much space devoted to them as I've had in other years. That may be in part because I've been growing more large fruited sweet peppers the last few years and those weigh in heavier than the smaller fruited chile peppers that I used to favor. But I think that the bacterial and mycorrhizal inoculants that I've been using have also made a difference. The plants seem to grow out of their usual awkward, runty early growth that seems to afflict them every year and become larger and more productive than they did before I started using the inoculants back in 2012. Better production this year may also be because, as I mentioned earlier, we had warmer than usual weather. I didn't mention this in my review post, but I think the spacing I used was a bit too tight. Next year I will try to restrain myself and set out fewer plants spaced further apart.

If you're curious to see what my total harvests for the past year were, indeed the past 6 years, I've posted a comparison chart here.

I'll be posting more reviews in the coming week or so about the rest of the veggies of 2015, next up is Legumes.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Harvest Monday - January 11, 2016

Welcome to Harvest Monday. Our usual host, Dave of Our Happy Acres, is enjoying another week of vacation from being the host, he will return on February 1.

The harvests have slowed down a lot in my garden, the cold and wet weather has put the brakes on most of the growth other than the weeds. The Kid (El Niño) has started to deliver his stuff here. We've had one storm after another come through and wet things down and the garden is quite soggy. It's not been conducive to getting out to harvest much less get some work done.

I did deem it time though to start harvesting the Brussels Sprouts. They have been very slow to size up. Not having grown them before I'm not sure why, but I think it may be because I should have started them about a month earlier and also that they may be a bit crowded. These were the largest from one of the plants and though small they were firm and needed very little trimming.

Gustus Brussels Sprouts
They were very good tasting and we enjoyed these in a Winter Panzanella based on a recipe from Michel Chiarello's book Casual Cooking. I used some homemade bread to make Garlic Parmesan croutons using some of the Garlic Crema in my stores. It's a delicious salad of the croutons, brussels sprouts, red onion, parsley, and roasted squash all tossed with a simple vinaigrette. I deviated from the recipe in a couple of ways, roasting rather than blanching the sprouts and I piled the salad on top of roasted slices of Delicata squash rather than tossing roasted cubes of Butternut squash with everything else.

Garlic Parmesan croutons

Batavia and Di Ciccio broccoli,
Golden Sweet snow peas, Super Sugar Snap peas

More broccoli shoots were ready to be harvested on Saturday but I've not gotten around to using them yet. Same goes for the snap and snow peas. The peas were a bit damaged during a couple of frosty nights but it seems like the damage is just cosmetic.

Gladiator parsnips

I pulled a few more of the Gladiator Parsnips to make a Spiced Parsnip Soup. The photo does not give any perspective on the size of the roots, that long one is about 18 inches not including the stem and weighed in at 3/4 pound. They are still very mild, smooth textured, and sweet even though they are large, probably because of the cold weather and ample moisture.

Tonda Musona onions sauteed in butter or olive oil or seared

I had to deal with the bulk of the remaining onions in my stores. Most of them were starting to sprout and there were far too many of them for me to use fresh. So I spent one morning chopping and slicing, sauteeing and searing. The result was a number of packets of onions sauteed in either butter or olive oil and some packets of sliced onions that I had seared to give them some nice caramelization. I use a FoodSaver machine to vacuum pack the finished product. My method for freezing such things is to pack the bags but not seal them right away. I make sure the veggies are thoroughly chilled before freezing them because the faster they freeze the smaller the ice crystals and the less damage is done which makes for a firmer and less watery veggie when it's thawed. So I lay each packet of veggies in a single layer on a metal sheet pan, pop it in the fridge for a few hours, then pop the tray into the freezer overnight. It's much easier to vacuum seal the packets after the contents are frozen since there's no oozing of juices out of the packets as the machince sucks out the air. Each packet above is about a half pound of cooked onions.

Another dish that I prepared from my stash of frozen roasted and peeled Shepherd's Ramshorn peppers was stuffed peppers. I made a mixture of ricotta and parmesan seasoned with Meyer Lemon zest, parsley, and dried oregano. The filling was put on a wide strip of pepper which was rolled up. All the rolls were placed snugly in a baking dish with a drizzle of olive oil and topped with crunchy olive oil baked bread crumbs and then the whole lot was baked in a 375ºF oven until hot and bubbling. Sorry, I didn't take any photos, I rarely pause for a photo shoot when dinner is ready! We enjoyed that with a salad of spinach from the garden.

Here's the details of the harvests for the past week:

Batavia broccoli - 16.5 oz.
Di Ciccio broccoli - 6.8 oz.
Gustus Brussels Sprouts - 10.7 oz.
Gladiator parsnips - 2 lb., 10 oz.
Super Sugar Snap peas - 3.9 oz.
Golden Sweet snow peas - 4.4 oz.

Total Harvests for the week - 5 lb., 4.3 oz.
2016 YTD - 5 lb., 4.3 oz.

Harvest Monday is a place to showcase everything harvest related, what you've harvested, how you are preserving your harvests, and how you are using your harvests. You needn't be harvesting anything new to participate, write a post about how you've been using your preserved harvests and then link up. I'm sure we could all use some inspiration when it comes to using up the canned tomatoes and frozen veggies, (and  my wrinkling winter squashes) that we all worked so hard to produce and preserve. If you want to join in the fun just add your name and a link to your post in Mister Linky below. Then stop by the other linked posts to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting and cooking up lately.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Harvest Monday - January 4, 2016

Welcome to Harvest Monday! I'm stepping in for Dave of Our Happy Acres as temporary host of Harvest Monday for the month of January. Don't worry, Dave is just taking a break, he'll resume as host on February 2.

The most exciting thing to come from my garden this week was fresh spinach. I got my winter spinach plants off to a very late start but my trick of growing them in cloches helped them to produce a decent first crop just before the end of the year.

Summer Perfection spinach
I used the Verdil spinach in a sort of soupy preparation, I wilted the spinach in some broth that was flavored with some tomato and sweet pepper conservas (pastes) that I made this fall. Then the spinach was piled onto some garlicky toasts in wide bowls with lots of the broth poured over, the whole garnished with seared sweet onions, toasted pine nuts, feta cheese, and Mareko Fana pepper flakes. The Summer Perfection spinach was used to make a salad with pomelo, pomegranate, and hearts of palm with a Meyer Lemon dressing.

Verdil spinach

I pulled a couple more parsnips to roast with some Brussels sprouts and onions. These were the mildest and sweetest ones to come from the garden so far thanks to a number of frosty nights. The tops of the plants are looking a bit sad with their foliage all flopped over, but the roots are marvelous.  Dave remarked at how creamy the texture was yet the chunks were not mushy and falling apart. I'm definitely going to try growing parsnips again next year. It's a veggie that requires a lot of patience to grow, they start off so slowly and take a long time to get to harvestable size, but these have been better than any parsnip I've ever purchased so they are definitely worth the effort. It's such an underappreciated veggie.

Gladiator parsnips

The one Spigariello Foglia Ricca broccoli plant left from the spring sowing just keeps on growing and shows no signs of forming flower buds yet, but it's producing lots of beautiful leafy shoots that can be used like kale. I cut one branch off the plant and then cut all the shoots growing on it.

Spigariello Foglia Ricca broccoli
I ended up with a basketful of leafy greens which I braised with some onion and garlic and other seasonings and paired it with some San Franciscano beans that I had purchased from Rancho Gordo a while ago.

Spigariello Foglia Riccia broccoli
Here's a beet that only a gardener could love, definitely one for the ugly veggie arcade. It is a rather warty looking thing, but the flaws were all on the the rootlets and the main root was just fine. I'm not sure why it produced the bulbous growths but I suspect it may be the beneficial bacterial and mycorrhizal inoculants that I've been using, they can produce benign growths like that on roots.

Chioggia beet

Chioggia beet
I used quite a few of my preserved veggies in the past week, including some Negro de Valle dried chile peppers that I grew back in 2013. The split dried peppers have kept remarkably well in a canning jar that I keep vacuum sealed with an attachment for my FoodSaver machine. I also used a few of my homemade chipotle peppers with the Negro de Valle peppers to make a spice paste for a shoulder of goat that I slow cooked based on a recipe from the book In The Charcuterie and served with some of my Taos Pueblo Blue corn that I nixtamalized to make posole. I made enough posole to have extras and that went into soup with green beans and roasted sweet red peppers from the freezer along with some dried Tromba D'Albenga zucchini and canned tomatoes.

Veggie Packed frittata
My latest fritatta used a number of veggies from my stores including onions, frozen fava beans, dried tomatoes, and dried zucchini as well as fresh broccoli.

I am relying heavily on my stash of preserved veggies right now because the garden isn't producing much and my favorite farmer's market which runs all year - rain or shine - is on Fridays so it was closed for both Christmas and New Years Day.

So here's the harvest totals for the past week:

Chioggia beet - 11.4 oz.
Spigariello Riccia broccoli - 14.4 oz.
Gladiator parsnips - 10.9 oz.
Summer Perfection spinach - 11.8 oz.
Verdil spinach - 11.9 oz.

Total harvests for the past week - 3 lb., 12.4 oz. (1.7 kg.)
Final total for 2015 - 1232 lb., 9.1 oz. (559.1 kg.)
No harvests yet for 2016...

Harvest Monday is a place to showcase everything harvest related, what you've harvested, how you are preserving your harvests, and how you are using your harvests. You needn't be harvesting anything new to participate, write a post about how you've been using your preserved harvests and then link up. I'm sure we could all use some inspiration when it comes to using up the canned tomatoes and frozen veggies, (and  my wrinkling winter squashes) that we all worked so hard to produce and preserve. If you want to join in the fun just add your name and a link to your post in Mister Linky below. Then stop by the other linked posts to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting and cooking up lately.

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