Thursday, March 22, 2018

Quick March Update

I got one Big Important Task done earlier this week before the Pineapple Express rolled in. It was time to cut down the cover crop growing in the solanum bed.

This year I approached the task differently. Usually I chop down the cover crop then dig it into the soil and cover everything up. It's a time consuming task that requires me to pull all the drip lines aside which isn't so easy when each one has to be pulled out of the tangle of greenery. Then I would use hedge shears to chop down the greenery in 3 or 4 passes to make sure it was pretty well chopped up. Then I would go through the bed and dig it all in. Then reset all the drip lines. And finally cover it all up with a layer of cardboard.

This year I skipped the bit about pulling the drip lines and chopping up the greenery and digging it all in. I just chopped down the greenery in one pass and then covered it all up with cardboard. The work of maybe a couple of hours.

Ta Da!

Now I'll wait until about the middle of May when I'll pull aside the cardboard and hopefully find that the worms went to work. Then I'll pull aside the drip lines and dig it all in with my usual amendments. I figure one round of digging is better both for the soil and my back.

I'itoi Onions
One item that I forgot to cover in my last tour was the I'itoi onions growing in the fabric pots that used to contain rodent treats, um, strawberry plants. My poor little I'itois sat in little pots for months while I tried to figure out what to do with them. Then one day when my frustration with the rodents reached the boiling point and I started to toss out just about everything that they like to snack on it occured to me that the pots might be a solution to the I'itoi problem. So far, so good. The onions are growing and the rodents have no dessert.

The tangle of overgrown chard got whacked back. I'll cover more of that on Monday.

Yikes, the last Little Jade napa cabbage absolutely had to be harvested. More on that come Monday.

I've got some Yellow Cabbage Collard plants ready to put out there to replace the Napa cabbage but it's too wet to dig.

That's what it has looked like for the better part of the week. Gray, misty, wet, and fortunately not too cold. The Pineapple Express is an atmospheric river that originate in the vicinity of Hawaii so the temperatures have been mild.

Red Shouldered Hawk
Yesterday while I was doing some work in the garden during a break in the rain I was delighted to hear the kee-yeeear call (click to hear) of a Red Shouldered hawk. Vole Control! It was hanging out in the top of a oak tree just below the garden. And I could hear another one up on the hillside. Stick around my friends.

And speaking of birds, the hummingbird that I thought was a juvenile male Rufous is probably a female. I still can't tell if it's a Rufous or an Allen's, they are very similar and the most reliable way to tell the difference is to check the width of some of the tail feathers. Not likely. Anyway, I spent most of Tuesday working in the kitchen where I had a front row seat to watch an epic battle between a mature male Rufous/Allen's hummer that had showed up and seemed to be showing off for the female. He was putting on the most amazing aerial displays as he fought to wrest and then keep control of the feeder outside the kitchen window. I got to watch bird bill sword-fights with the male Anna's hummers that were trying to drive him off. He would zip around at high speed chasing the other hummers. He would put on a big show and then go chase down the female - like he's trying to show her what hot stuff he was. Unfortunately it was raining all day and my windows were streaked with rain so it was nearly impossible to get even a half decent photo. But I did manage to get one where you can see his iridescent red throat feathers and a hint of the coppery feathers on his belly and sides.

Mr. Rufous/Allen only stuck around for the day (wham, bam, thank you ma'am?), but the female is still hanging around. She seems to be tolerated by the Anna's hummers now. They allow her to sip at the feeder and I've even seen her there at the same time as another female Anna's. It will be interesting to see how long she stays.

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Harvest Monday - March 19, 2018

Two new items made their way into the harvest basket this week.

Little Jade Napa Cabbage
The incredible rodent resistant, avian averse, even earwig free Little Jade Napa cabbage. Winner! Weighing in at nearly 4 pounds it delivers at least a 4 meal punch. First round went to Dave's request of Okonomiyaki pancakes. Round 2 delivered a quick and easy Hot and Sour Cabbage Soup thanks to a recipe from Mark Bittman at NYT Food. Oooh, it was tough deciding between his Hot and Sour or the quick and easy Beef Pho, Hot and Sour won because it required no shopping. Next up, I have my eye on a recipe from Food52 for a Napa Cabbage Wedge Salad with Apples and Buttermilk Dressing. And then? And then, actually, I have to harvest the second head of cabbage still growing in the garden so then I really have to get creative.

New item #2. The winter potato experiment comes to an end.

They looked a lot better when they were still really dirty because after cleaning them up a bit they looked pretty rough. Nothing, I hope, that some scrubbing and peeling won't resolve. Overall I would say that the experiment was something of a success. From three not so perfect to begin with small spuds I got a bonus crop of 2.7 pounds from a spot in the garden that would have produced at most a cover crop. Not bad considering that all I did was put them into the soil back at the end of September with no special treatment other than to fence them off to protect them from critters. Perhaps they might of looked better if I had dug them up a month or two ago? I'll report back another time on their edibility.

And finally I uncovered the snow peas one more time and got nearly another pound of peas for my effort. This round looks quite good!

Dave wanted me to take a photo of the Okonomiyaki so here it is. A food photographer I am not.

Remember those jars of fermenting veggies I showed a few posts back (HERE)? One of the jars was filled with Terremoto winter squash. This week I used most of the fermented squash in combination with a fraction of a freshly cut up Terremoto squash to make a Fermented Squash and Sesame Dip. I did make a few alterations to the recipe based on what I did and did not have on hand, but I didn't deviate from the recipe too much. It may sound a bit weird but it is absolutely delicious. I'm going to ferment another jar of squash just so that I can make the dip again. Another fraction of that freshly cut up squash went into a Thai Style Winter Squash and Tofu Stew from Deborah Madison's book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but for that one I made some significant alterations to the recipe, like adding a pound of cauliflower and using red curry paste instead of curry powder, but I don't doubt that her recipe would have resulted in a dish at least as delicious as what I made. There's still a LOT of squash left, I think I'll have to find a recipe for something with it and cabbage.

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.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Garden in Mid March 2018

This is a long post since I'm doing an update on pretty much the entire garden. I do like to do a pretty thorough update at least once in a while. It's always interesting to go back a year or a few to see what the garden was doing at a similar time in the past. Last year my garden in the last week of March was in better shape than it is now and that was after having abandoned it for 3+ weeks while Dave and I were on vacation. This year both the birds and the voles seem to be more hungry than ever, probably because of the lack of rain this winter versus a very wet winter last year. This year my garden is an all you can eat green buffet surrounded by a drought stunted landscape.

Longer, slightly warmer, and definitely wetter days of late have been doing some good for the garden and the wild landscape. And even better for parts of the garden was my work on the vole defenses.

Let's get on with the tour...

Bed No. 1

The favas have gone through a growth spurt. They all have multiple stems and some of them have the first flowers showing. The birds have started pecking at both them and the accompanying Golden Sweet snow peas so I've strung long lengths of flash tape along the trellis. It seems to be helping to deter the birds for now but I've got some long lengths of mesh fabric that I can use to cover things up if necessary.

I still haven't cut down the old tomatoes and peppers that linger at one end of the bed. None of them are dead yet, even the tomatoes.

The cage is protecting young Royal Snow and Little Crunch Snap peas. The Royal Snow plants will have purple pods but the foliage has some purple going on as well.

Royal Snow Pea

Pico Pardal Garbanzo
The far end of the bed is where I set out some Pico Pardal Garbanzo plants. They are all getting started under the protection of water bottle cloches.

Bed No. 2

Vole Ville, at least until recently.

It wasn't enough to erect a 2 foot fence of hardware cloth around the bed, the voles figured out how to dig under the fence to get to the goodies inside. I had to put down more hardware cloth around the entire inner perimeter of the bed to cover the soil and go up the outsides of the fence. Then the critters just went around the perimeter and found any gap that I had left and wormed their way through so I then had to go around and plug the gaps. I hope there wasn't anyone around to hear me as I cursed the critters on each of several occasions when I discovered a new incursion and had to waste a load of time making a fix. The water bottle cloches in the foreground are protecting newly set out seedlings of Filderkraut and Violaceo di Verona cabbages.

One of the few vegetables that wasn't to the liking of the voles nor the birds is the Pink Lettucy mustard. This was supposed to fill the gaps between some broccoli plants until the broccoli plants could fill the space. The broccoli was one of the first menu items for the voles/birds so the mustard became the main crop for the space. All the little greenery growing around the mustard is Cilician parsley. I figured out last year that broccoli and parsley are amicable companions, especially the Cilician parsley which is not as large as the Giant Italian flatleaf that used to be my favorite.
Pink Lettucy Mustard
The mustard is starting to bolt so in a few weeks time perhaps I'll be able to try some broccolini plants here.

Pixie Cabbage
The Pixie cabbage plants were also early targets of the critters. The remaining original plant is making a valiant effort to make a head.

Little Jade Napa Cabbage
I will never figure out the whys and wherefores of critter appetites. Why is plain green cabbage so attractive and Napa cabbage growing right next to it a no go? The fluffy looking one on the right hit the harvest basket the other day and we've already consumed half of it. A nice surprise about that head of cabbage is that it wasn't home to a bunch of earwigs which typically love to snack on my Napa cabbages. That cloche next to the cabbages is home to new seedlings.

New Batavia Broccoli Plants
I'm not going to let the critters get the best of me, broccoli is back, in a small way for now. 

Beni Houshi Mizuna
I interplanted Beni Houshi mizuna with the broccoli babies.

One of the reserve cabbage plants that I set out after the first ones got attacked was in turn attacked. Just when I thought it was safe to uncover it the birds decided that it would make a tasty treat. I should just put the poor thing out of its misery and feed the compost.

Pai Tsai Napa Cabbage
 Pai Tsai is a non-heading Napa cabbage. Wish it luck, it's not covered for now.

Syrian Medieval Chard
I know that's a lot of chard, but you have to grow a lot of chard for seed saving purposes if you want good quality genetically healthy seeds.

Ho-Mi Z/Dragon Tongue Mustard and Italian Scallions
The cage in this bed is where I grow smaller vegetables that need protection from birds mainly, but other critters too. 
Fabric Protection for Arugula, Cress, and Radishes
This part of the cage was where I tried to overwinter some peas for early spring harvests. The plants grew ok through the winter and I kept them trimmed back early on by harvesting the tender shoots a few times. But later on the voles found a way to dig into the cage and started to eat the young peas. And then it started to rain and the crowded plants started to get fungal diseases. So I gave up on the peas, sent them to the compost bin, and sowed a bunch of quick producing spring veggies. Arugula, cress, and radishes sprouted quickly under the protection of some lightweight Agribon fabric.

Baby Arugula

Baby Greek Cress

Baby Radish
I learned from experience that beets do not readily germinate in cold soil, if at all. I also learned from experience that beets sown in paper pots and set out in the garden do just fine.

So that's what's growing in another part of the cage.

Baby Golden and Sweetheart Beets

Baby Queen of Crunch (2 puny Tennisball)
 and mature Red Iceberg and Three Heart Butterhead Lettuces

Lettuces I start en masse in 3.5-inch pots and then separate out the little plants and set them out into the garden. I almost always grow heading lettuces now but when I set the seedlings out I space a bunch of them for growing on to full heads and fill the gaps with the extras, usually 2 or 3 of them clumped together, for cutting as baby lettuces.

Red Iceberg Lettuce
Got to eat more salad.

Three Heart Butterhead Lettuce

Bed No. 3

Old Stuff. Mostly.

Compost waiting to happen. What you can't see are ALL THE APHIDS. Bleah.

Old Celery
Old Brussels Sprouts
Still good, just need to get around to harvesting it.

Old Chard, Fennel (resprouting), and Cilician Parsley
Same Old Cilician Parsley
Frost nipped a few times but hanging in there.

Old Nasturtiums
New seeds in process, the old stash is, well, getting old.

Old Speedy Arugula
Slooow. Turning yellow before it's really big enough to harvest. Time to go.

Newish Spinach
Maybe this round will do better.

New Spinach and A Little Parsley Too

Bed No. 4

A wall and a sea of fabric to foil the birds.

Shrouded Frieda Worlds Snow Peas

There is something growing under there. Kodiak mustard, peas, favas, grasses. Soon to be cut down  if there's a long enough break in the drizzle when I'm not doing something else.

I saved some pretty shots for those of you who stuck it out to the end.

This beauty is either an Allen's or a Rufous Hummingbird, I'm guessing an immature male Rufous because there are hints of the spectacular throat feathers sported by the adult male. Its back is mostly orange which makes me think it might be a Rufous because the Allen's tend to have a green back.  My photos aren't very sharp because they were taken at an angle through my dirty dining room window. He has commandeered the feeder outside my kitchen window and is vigorously defending it from the local year round resident Anna's Hummers. It shouldn't be long before the locals get their feeder back, Rufous hummers migrate through here on their way from Mexico to the Northwest so this guy should be on his way north soon.

Ahhh. Mist. Rain. Clouds. Refreshing.

The End.

At last.