Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Getting Ready For Tomatoes and Peppers

I'm definitely dreaming about tomatoes and missing fresh ones so much that I actually succumbed to the temptation to buy a small tub of good looking dark striped grape tomatoes. And that experience has got me more motivated than ever to get the tomato growing process into full swing because those beauties were pretty blah.

Tomatoes and peppers are such a high priority for me that I devote one of my four beds just to them. I put the most effort into preparing that bed starting with a cover crop that I sow in winter.

I usually get the cover crop sown into the tomato/pepper bed sometime in January but this year the exceptionally wet weather kept me out of the garden a lot so I didn't get the bed cleared until later than usual. And then I found that one end of the bed was a mass of invading oak tree roots so I had to dig it out and extend the root barrier up the sides of the bed. But before I could do any major digging I had to cover the bed with a huge piece of heavy duty greenhouse plastic to allow it to dry a bit. Anyway, I finally got a cover crop sown by early February.

February 18
This year I used a mix of Kodiak mustard,  peas and oats, favas from an old packet of seeds, and some saved pea seeds from a variety that I don't grow anymore because of their susceptibility to powdery mildew when they mature.

March 22
The cover crop grew quickly and in just over a month was tall enough to turn in, if I had had the time and the weather had been dry enough. So it continued to grow...

April 19
And finally, nearly a month later the weather dried enough and I had the time to sharpen the hedge trimmers and get to work.


Whack, whack, whack, half way there.

All cut and ready to dig in the next day. And of course I woke up the next morning to rain, again, which was totally not in the forecast. So the digging waited another day or so...

April 22
Finally all dug in and almost ready for rot and worms to take over.

April 23
The last thing I do is to cover the entire bed with cardboard. Near the end of May I will remove the cardboard, pull back the drip lines again (they are turned off for now), and dig in compost, pulverized egg shells (a year of collecting), and my usual mix of organic amendments that I dig in before planting. The mix of amendments has change over time, the current mix includes organic soybean meal, feather meal, fishmeal, rock phosphate, kelp meal, azomite, and gypsum.

The mix of tomatoes has changed a bit from last year. There's more cherry tomatoes in the lineup this year. I've found that I really enjoy them dried, especially the ones that I season, and Dave eats a lot of them fresh, he takes a baggieful in his lunch most days in season. Here's the lineup, new varieties are marked with *:

Chianti Rose pink beefsteak
Green Bee crunchy when ripe green cherry*
Jaune Flamme orange salad type
Jazz* pink beefsteak with yellow stripes
Marzano Fire* red with yellow stripes paste
Mavritanskite brown beefsteak
Pantano red beefsteak
Piccolo Dattero red cherry
Purple Bumblebee* purple with green stripes cherry
Sunrise Bumblebee* yellow with pink marbling and yellow stripes cherry
Sweet Gold yellow cherry

You can read the detailed descriptions of each variety here, the seeds sources are also listed.

I sowed my tomato seeds on April 5 and just yesterday I potted most of them up into 3-inch pots. The target date for getting them into the garden is June 1.

My grow list for peppers in 2017 is quite ambitious again. There's a number of favorites returning and some that were new last year but that I didn't really get to try properly because of the raiding rodents, and there's a bunch of new ones that are marked with *.

Aji Amarillo Grande
Aji Angelo
Aji Golden*
Baby Aji Amarillo
Caribbean Seasoning*
Craig's Grande JalapeƱo
Ethiopian Brown*
Hungarian Magyar Paprika*
Joe's Giant Aji Amarillo*

Florina Greek
IPK P 262 (Turkey)
Lady Bell
Odessa Market
Petite Marseillais
Rosso Dolce da Appendere
Shepherd's Ramshorn
Topepo Giallo*
Violet Sparkle

You can read the descriptions of each variety here.

I pre-germinated all the pepper seeds on April 6, setting them on moist paper towels enclosed in plastic baggies. Many of them had germinated and were ready to sow into 2.5-inch pots by April 15. Then it took a few more days for the seedlings to emerge. The peppers are so slow to grow, they still haven't developed any true leaves yet.

I like the pre-germination method of starting peppers (thank you for the idea Margaret!). It takes so long for pepper seedlings to emerge from the soil that by the time I realize that there are germination issues it may be too late to sow a second round. Germinating the seeds on paper towels allows me to see if there are issues so that I can sow more seeds if necessary. That is especially helpful considering that I start my seeds fairly late and most of the peppers that I grow aren't varieties that I can just go out and buy.

Many of the seeds I sow get started indoors, some on a heat mat, some not. The summer veggies in particular seem to need the warmth to get off to a good or at least faster start. But as soon as the seedlings emerge I set them outside during the day. That gets them accustomed to natural sunlight right away and keeps the seedlings from getting weak and leggy. On rainy days they still go outside but they sit in a protected alcove. I bring them inside at night where they are protected from bugs and rodents and the heat lovers get to sleep on that cozy heat mat. Eventually the tomatoes and peppers will get to be outside day and night before I plant them in the garden, but I do put them into a jury rigged mini greenhouse to protect them at night.

I think I'm off to a pretty good start to the tomato and pepper season but I know that there's so much that can go wrong between now and harvest time. I don't even want to think about that... Keeping my fingers crossed!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Harvest Monday - April 24, 2107

 The harvests were rather green last week.

I cut a nice basketful of pea shoots from the cover crop mix growing in the future tomato and pepper bed. That was the second and final harvest of pea shoots because since then I've cut the cover crop down and dug it in. (More on that in a future post). The shoots weighed in at about 1 1/3 pounds and were enough to include in 2 different meals. One night I wilted them with some sliced spring onions that I had caramelized in brown butter. Those accompanied some Duck, Rabbit & Truffle sausages. For the second preparation I chopped the shoots and sauteed them with some spring onions and chopped fava beans and served the mix piled on top of grilled bread with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of truffle salt. Dave declared both preparations to be winners. I will definitely be including peas in the tomato/pepper bed cover crop mix in the future, it's a convenient way to slip a good amount of pea plants into the garden. The plants grow enough to get 2 or 3 harvests of shoots before they are cut down, although they aren't allowed to grow enough to produce peas.

Those Batavia broccoli shoots are sitting on top of the same harvest of pea shoots.

The Robin Hood fava beans are starting to size up. I harvested them twice last week.

And I harvested Batavia broccoli side shoots twice also.

Another dish that I prepared last week used the greens from the Golden Chard that I harvested the previous week. I adapted a recipe from Paula Wolfert's book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen to use chard instead of spinach in her recipe for Maghrebi Veal Meatballs With Spinach and Chickpeas. And I adapted the recipe even further to use Tarbais beans instead of chickpeas since I didn't have any chickpeas on hand. It was most surely not authentic but it also was most surely delicious. I have no qualms about veering away from authenticity to take advantage of what I have on hand. The original recipe can be found online if you do a search.

And I'll also mention another dish we enjoyed that used up a pound of the spring onions that I've been pulling from the garden. I did harvest more of them last week but didn't photograph them. It was an adaptation of a recipe for a souffle that features caramelized onions and goat cheese. I substituted spring onions for regular bulbing onions and used buttermilk instead of whole milk since that's what I happened to have in the fridge. It came out pretty good, still needs a bit of work, but I wrote it up anyway and you can find the recipe on my recipe blog along with some notes on how I might change it.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on is blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Harvest Monday - April 17, 2017

We continue to get rain. And I'm actually getting tired of it. Precipitation totals in some parts of the state have broken records, the most recorded since record keeping began over 100 years ago. The Governor has declared the drought to be officially over in the state with the exception of 3 counties and I don't live in any of those three. So I am officially complaining about the rain.

All that rain has contributed to the poor health of the onions because of a nasty bout of downy mildew. I've sprayed the patch twice with Serenade and trimmed out the infected leaves only to find the infection spreading through the patch again. The good news is that downy mildew infects the oldest leaves first so I can trim those out and still have a good amount of greens. So I've started to pull the onions and plan on pulling the entire patch. That bunch below was the first harvest rescue. So far I've pulled over 7 pounds of spring onions but there's still a lot left.

Mixed Spring Onions

One of the first things I did with the bounty of onions was to grill up a bunch and then use them to make something of a salsa which was a tasty topping for goat cheese and avocado toasts.

Gangbusters Spinach
The Gangbusters Spinach also demanded my attention because it was starting to bolt. I harvested all of it and blanched it and ended up with 2 pounds of spinach in the freezer divvied up into 1/2 pound portions.

Palla Rossa Radicchio
My gamble with sowing radicchio in January seems to be paying off. I cut the first head this week and a few of the remaining plants look like they're developing some decent little heads too.

Helios, Malaga, Pink Punch Radishes
I harvested a few radishes and then noticed that most of them were bolting so out they all came.

Golden Chard
The overwintered Golden Chard is showing the first signs of bolting so I cut most of the leaves. The stems were big and succulent, too good to let go to waste and I wanted to find a new way to use them so I tried a recipe that I found at Food 52 for Grilled Chard Stems that turned to be quite good. I made a modified version of the anchovy vinaigrette which was delicious (my modifications were to add some red wine vinegar and I substituted anchovies packed in olive oil). I also made a romesco sauce with some homegrown peppers from the freezer for those who don't like anchovies. And can you guess what else we had with the grilled chard stems? More grilled spring onions, of course.

Also harvested but not photographed was a big bunch of Pink Plume celery, which is most decidedly bolting too. Tis the season.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Harvest Monday - April 10, 2017

Not much new is coming out of the garden right now, just a few radishes. The winter sown Batavia broccoli continues to pop out some nice side shoots.

Red Planet, Malaga, Pink Punch, Helios Radishes
Batavia Broccoli

Bolero Carrots
I pulled all the remaining overwintered carrots. A lot of them were funny shaped, I can only guess that their weird shapes were caused by moisture and/or temperature fluctuations. Ugly, but good! The Starica carrots sized up more slowly than the other varieties which turned out to be a nice thing since it extended the harvest of fresh carrots.

Starica Carrots

Batavia Broccoli
I've been growing Batavia broccoli since 2015 and it has become my favorite variety. It produces beautiful main heads and lots of good sized side shoots and it's really tasty. I also like that the plants stay fairly compact, they don't get as tall as the Di Ciccio and Calabrese heirloom sprouting broccolis that I also like which makes it easier to cover it up if the birds are in the mood to snack on my brassicas. I suppose I should do a spotlight post on it.

Peppermint Stick Chard
I cut most the overwintered Peppermint Stick chard. The big surprise was that it hadn't started to bolt yet so perhaps I'll get one more nice harvest before it goes. I used most of the greens to make another Chard and Ricotta Galette. I'm going to have to write up a recipe for that since I've made it at least 3 times now. And the bulk of the big fat juicy stems are in the process of being pickled. That photo is deceptive, that's more than 2.5 pounds of chard.

One other harvest that I neither photographed nor tallied was a big bagful of baby Cilician parsley that I had growing in the onion patch. It was time to clear it out since it was starting to compete with the onions. It's a very mild and tender parsley that has a distinctive hint of nutmeg flavor. I've been using a lot of it to add to salads because I don't have any lettuce right now. It's been a real treat. I'll have to remember to get a big patch of it growing again next winter.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Harvest Monday - April 3, 2017

Longer days and warmer weather means the overwintered veggies are going through their final growth spurts.
Merlo Nero Spinach
I cut down all the Merlo Nero Spinach which looked good even though it was bolting.

Syrian Medieval Card
The Syrian Medieval chard is also bolting so I cut most of it. That photo doesn't do the pile of chard justice, it weighed in at 5.7 pounds! 1.5 pounds of it is going into a chard and rice gratin. I blanched the rest of the leafy parts and froze it in portions. The stalks await some inspiration.

Gustus Brussels Sprouts
It was also time to start cutting down the Brussels sprouts. The 4 Gustus plants were the first to go.

Pea Shoots and Fava Leaves
I cut a good amount of pea shoots from the plants that are growing in the cover crop for the future tomato/pepper bed. And then I picked a few fava leaves as well. I just realized that I didn't photograph the first harvest of Robin Hood fava beans. We enjoyed those first favas sauteed with some shallots and a mix of pea shoots and fava leaves piled on top of toast with ricotta all drenched with some homemade chicken broth. That is comfort food to me.

Pink Plume Celery
All the celery is bolting now. You can see a flower stalk at the top of the photo. The celery is still quite tasty though and even the young flower stalks are tender enough to slice up and enjoy.

Gladiator Parsnips
The parsnips were putting on some new leafy growth so I figured that the flower stalks would be close behind. That's the final harvest of all the remaining roots.

Nelson Carrots
All the carrots need to be pulled also. There's some funky looking roots in the mix but they still taste great. There still some carrots left in the garden so I'll have more to show next week.

Bolero and Nelson Carrots

Batavia Broccoli
The overwintered Calabrese broccoli hit the compost bin this weekend but the winter planted Batavia broccoli is putting out some great side shoots.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.