Monday, June 25, 2018

Harvest Monday - June 25, 2018

I spy the first summer vegetable in the harvest basket! The Tromba D'Albenga vines produced the first squash but none of them were pollinated because none of the male blossoms had opened yet. Another furtle in the potato patch yielded just a few Upstate Abundance potatoes. And the swallowtail caterpillars vacated the fennel so I cut down one of the bulbs that was starting to bolt but still had an edible bulb.

More of the Renee's Golden beets were big enough to harvest. I roasted and peeled the whole lot and then used some of them in a salad that was similar to the one I described last week except that instead of charred scallions I used thin sliced red onion that was briefly soaked in Agrodolce Zinfandel vinegar and a pinch of salt. Dollops of buttermilk blue cheese dressing, toasted sliced almonds, and finely cut Persian basil finished the dish.

The greens on the beets were pristine so I used those in dish, I don't know if it should be called a braise or a stew, but it featured bulk sweet Italian sausage in tomato sauce into which I stirred the chopped beet greens and then nestled in big florets of broccoli and let it all simmer until the broccoli was tender. I served that with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If I was still eating pasta on a regular basis I would have tossed it with some penne or rigatoni.

That was it for the week other than a big harvest of Cilician parsley which I don't keep track of in my harvest tally. I used most of that big bunch of parsley along with some Persian mint in a Turkish bulgur salad called Kisir. It's a cousin of tabbouli but more boldly flavored with pepper paste, tomato paste, and pomegranate molasses. I used my fermented JalapeΓ±o Rose Petal paste and homemade tomato paste. Wow, it was really tasty and I tried one spoonful as a stuffing in one of my lacto fermented grape leaves which was a double wow.

Head on over to Dave's blog Our Happy Acres where you will find links to more Harvest Monday posts.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Harvest Monday - June 18, 2018

Harvests continue to be fairly light, they are down overall about 50% from last year at the same time. No bulbing onions and the loss of most of the favas made a big dent in the totals this year.

The first beet was ready to harvest. It's not the prettiest beet but it was delicious. The photo doesn't convey the size of this beet which wasn't huge but it was large enough to serve the 2 of us as a small side salad.

Renee's Golden Beet
I roasted the beet, peeled an sliced it, laid the slices out on a platter and topped it with slices of charred Italian Scallions which I had harvested the same day. Then I dressed the salad with homemade buttermilk blue cheese dressing. Very yummy. The photo of the scallions doesn't do them justice either, they were all at least the diameter of my forefinger and about 24 inches long from root to tip.
Italian Scallions

The Mizunarubasoi was starting to bolt so I cut all of it down. Most of it is blanched and frozen.


Other harvests included the last of the Royal Snow Peas that came off of the plants as I cleared them out and the last of the Queen of Crunch lettuce that was bolting.

That's it for this week. 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, June 14, 2018

The Garden on June 13, 2018

It's time for another state of the garden tour.

This is my "glass half full" post after my woe-is-me "glass half empty" post last week about my travails with rodents. There are a number of things that I won't grow this year because of my fears of the rodents destroying them, but that doesn't mean I can't grow anything. As I mentioned in my post about my rodent woes there are number of things that I can grow so long as I protect them adequately.

But first, there's a few holdovers from last year. In the back are a couple of Piccolo Dattero cherry tomatoes. Those are possibly my favorite cherry tomato for the time being. Being cold tolerant just adds to their charm but what I really love about them is that they taste great.

2017 Tomato and Pepper Plants

Look, they already have flowers and baby tomatoes. But the real issue is how I will keep the you-know-whats from getting to them before I do. I'll deal with that later.

Piccolo Dattero Cherry Tomato

King of the overwintered pepper patch is this Craig's Grande JalapeΓ±o. Loads of flowers.

Craig's Grande Jalapeno
And they are setting peppers. I'm not too worried about the peppers, the DR's don't like hot peppers. Sweet peppers are another story.

Craig's Grande Jalapeno

Elsewhere in this bed is one long lone row of Hank's X-Tra Special Baking Beans. It's a bush variety that I can grow inside a cage. I had planned on keeping in place the trellis that had supported the tomatoes and growing pole beans on it. But I scratched that plan because I just couldn't face going out to the garden one morning and finding empty bean pods everywhere. That's what happened with the favas and I won't go through that again if I don't have to.

Here's another planting of bush beans in a rodent resistant cage. Baciccia beans are from the central valley of California and seem to be something of a cult heirloom bean. The seeds are hard to come by, they're saved by the farmers who grow them and are passed around by friends and family but it seems there's no commercial seed source available to home gardeners. I got a few seeds from a friend last year (who got them from a friend, who seems to have gotten them from a mysterious source) and grew them out, harvesting just a few to taste (good!) and letting the rest of the beans mature to produce seeds. This year I hope to be able to enjoy more of the crop.

And one last thing growing in this bed is a small patch of Pico Pardal Garbanzo beans. These are a small garbanzo (chickpea) from Spain and they are very different from the big chickpeas that are typically found here. You can see the pods that have set. I'm debating whether I should cover the patch to protect the maturing beans. For now I'm keeping an eye on them and the moment I see signs of munching I'll give them the hot pepper treatment and cover them up. Maybe I'll give them the hot pepper treatment anyway.

Pico Pardal Garbanzo Beans

There's a lot going on in Bed No. 2 at the moment. The corner seen below is full of Cilician parsley. The plan earlier this year was to have the parsley keep company with Batavia broccoli. It was a great combo last year, the broccoli produced shoots for the entire year but didn't overshadow the parsley. But the young plants were some of the first victims of the DR's this year and I ended up pulling them out to keep the critters from munching. The parsley is due for a trim, it seems to do best when I cut it back hard and then it rebounds with a lot of fresh tender growth. This variety of parsley is very resistant to bolting.

Further down the bed a few Yellow Cabbage Collards are coming back after their run in with a rodent. They are getting to be large enough for me to start harvesting.

Yellow Cabbage Collards

Next down the row are a few decapitated Batavia broccoli plants. Thankfully it was me who decapitated the plants! There are a bunch of side shoots forming now which I should probably sprinkle with some hot pepper powder.

Headless Batavia Broccoli

There's a couple of varieties of cabbage that look like they are finally thinking of forming heads.

Violaceo di Verona Cabbage

Filderkraut Cabbage

The Syrian Medieval chard is in full bloom now. I could potentially have enough seeds to keep me in chard for years to come with plenty to spare. What I don't know is whether or not the rodents like chard seeds. I saw some rodent poop on the screen that covers the cage in front of the chard and there was signs of nibbling on the chard shoots but no serious damage. So far I think that they haven't found the chard to be tasty. The DR's were probably hoping to find tender young ears of corn. Last year they were getting on top of the cages that were next to the corn and were munching on the ears of corn. Sorry effers, no corn this year. More pepper treatment is in order.

Syrian Medieval Chard

The rest of the veggies in this bed are enclosed in a hardware cloth cage. I added some lightweight Agribon fabric to the tops of the cages recently when we had temperatures that exceeded 80ΒΊF and the tender greens inside looked like they were stressed.

So, what's inside the cage?

Peking Ta Ching Koo Pai Tsai
Purple Pac Choi

Bolting Queen of Crunch Lettuce

Te You Gai Lan
Green Lance Gai Lan
Baby Shanghai Pac Choi

Tennis Ball Lettuce

Badger Flame, Sweetheart, and Renee's Golden Beets

Italian Scallions and Orion Fennel

Over to Bed No. 3 now. The potatoes are super happy! Me too. Tromba D'Albenga vines are climbing their trellis, cucumber plants are just getting settled in at the base of their trellis. A couple of lingering kalette plants are starting to bloom and I'm allowing them to stay because I don't need their space at the moment and the good bugs like their flowers. Bolting chard at the lower right need to go.

Cucumber varieties this year include 7082 Experimental, Green Fingers, and Little Potato. You can see that I've sprinkled the plants with some hot pepper powder. I also sprayed the plants with hot pepper spray that I make with hot peppers and the cores of hot peppers that I save when I dry or ferment my hot peppers. I whizz the peppers and/or cores with water and then strain out the water and save it in the freezer to be handy when I need it. I dry the pulp from the whizzed peppers and use it to sprinkle on plants. I also just pulverize hot peppers to make a more potent powder to sprinkle around. It seems to help.

And the Tromba D'Albenga vines have been sprayed and sprinkled with hot pepper powder as well because I found a few young shoots like this one that had been gnawed upon. Damn Rodents. 

I didn't want the DR's munching on these so they got sprayed and sprinkled too. That photo was taken yesterday and today the flower has opened.

Over in this corner of the bed are a couple of remnants from last year. The tall plants are blooming Cilician parsley, seed stock to be. The good bugs LOVE the parsley flowers. In front are some bolting Orion fennel plants which I was going to pull out last week but I gave them a temporary stay of execution.

Cilician Parsley Blossoms

Here's why the fennel got to stay for a while.

Anise Swallowtail Caterpillar

And let me not forget a few other flowers. The French Blue Belle potatoes are blooming and it looks like they may produce some berries. I hope so, it would be fun to try growing potatoes from seed. Potatoes don't come true from seed but it would be interesting to see what I can get.

French Blue Belle Potato

Phoenix Nasturtium

 And one more thing to show in this bed is the basil. Rodents don't seem to like basil. Yay!

Corsican, Italian Mountain, Persian, and Profumo di Genova Basil
Now finally Bed No. 4. I devoted most of the bed to peppers. I would usually run a trellis down the length of one side of the bed upon which I would train tomatoes. This year I decided to limit the number of tomatoes because of the challenge of protecting them from rodents and other reasons. I limited the tomatoes to new varieties that I wanted to try. One variety is a low growing bushy type that is enclosed in the fenced in area with the pepper plants. I placed the others in cages at the end of the bed and the plan is to wrap those cages in hardware cloth.

The peppers, 30 varieties and 70 plants, are surrounded by hardware cloth that has been stapled to the inside of the bed. The hardware cloth is low enough for me to be able to comfortably reach into the bed for harvesting and such but I'll be adding taller panels of hardware cloth to make it more difficult for the critters to climb in and it should be possible to cover the bed with fabric if that becomes necessary. The DR's may not appreciate the bite of a hot pepper but they do have a fondness for sweet peppers, especially the seeds inside the ripe peppers.

So that's the latest in my garden. It's not quite what I had planned for the year but part of the experience is learning and adapting to whatever challenges come along.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Baby Quail! Almost Too Cute For Words

This just made my day. I can't help but smiling and feeling happy at the sight of a family of quail. The babies look like they are barely out of the eggs. The babies do leave the nest within a day of hatching and I believe that's the case here. I'm out and around the garden pretty much every day and I haven't seen any quail in the last few days. I have heard their distinctive calls though so I know they've been around.

Mom Keeping Close Watch
 Those babies are the cutest little balls of fluff.

Dad Standing Guard Nearby
Mom and Dad took the troop of 7 fluff balls all around the property. They got a complete tour down and around the driveway, up the side of the property, across the hillside, out and around the veggie garden and back again. It's almost as if they are showing them their home turf. This is it gang, just stay where we showed you and you'll be good!

Run For Cover!

Good luck gang!

Callipepla Californicus, California Quail is the official state bird of California.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Harvest Monday - June 11, 2018

I'm trying to get back in the swing of things here after being in the dumps about the rodent ravages that have been my main preoccupation of late. The DR's have not managed to mangle everything in the garden. I have a rather outstanding bunch of Purple Pac Choi maturing at the moment.

Purple Pac Choi

And my double protective anti-rodent barriers (actually make that triple protection if you count the hot pepper powder that I liberally sprinkled around) kept 3 of the 4 spring planted Batavia broccoli plants safe, and all three main heads were ready to harvest in the past week.

Batavia Broccoli

Apparently the rodents are either too lazy or just not able to get to the bulk of the blueberries that are ripening and numerous long streamers of flash tape have been keeping the birds at bay so I got to pick a cupful of ripe berries off of my potted plants.

Batavia Broccoli

Yikes, the Q of C lettuce is splitting apart and getting ready to bolt. It's still as crispy crunchy and tasty as ever though. I'm definitely going to start more of it and see how it performs in the summer.

Queen of Crunch Lettuce

Oh how fun it was to furtle around in the top couple of inches of soil around the French Blue Belle potato plants and find almost a pound of new spuds!

French Blue Belle Potatoes

That's pretty much been the bulk of the harvests for the past few weeks other than a trickle of Royal snow peas and a few fava beans that I rescued before ripping out the plants to keep the Damn Rodents from eating the rest of the beans.

That's my latest Harvest Monday report. Dave is our host over at his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Time to Reevaluate

I've been in a fairly deep funk about vegetable gardening lately. There are times when I just want to rip everything out and throw it in the compost and give up trying to grow vegetables. If I could just flip a switch that would turn off the compulsive desire to grow good beautiful things to eat I would do so without hesitation right now. Why, I keep asking myself, can't I just be like a normal person and leave the work and the heartache of growing food to someone else.

Every time I find new destruction wrought by some effing rodent it sends me into a tailspin.

I've been in a lot of tailspins.

The neighbors within earshot must think I'm off my rocker. "She's screaming at the rodents again!"

Oh please, put me out of my misery.

As I spin down into a sea of frustration and anger I still can't stop myself from grabbing at ideas of ways to thwart the DR's with plans of ever more elaborate systems of protection. Egads. Enough already! And yet, and yet, there's another 100 foot roll of hardware cloth that just got delivered.

Sigh. DEEP SIGH. I don't grow veggies to save $$$.

But because I don't have an OFF switch for fanatical vegetable gardening I have to reevaluate what I can grow and the lengths to which I will go to protect whatever ends up in the garden. I can't stop gardening but I will not make it easy for the DAMN RODENTS to find their next gourmet veggie treats.

First step. What are the favorites? Not mine, the pertinent question is what do the RODENTS love to eat.

What has entered the jaws of death? The list so far...
  • amaranth (maybe it was birds and not rodents?)
  • beans
  • beets
  • broccoli
  • broccolini
  • cabbage
  • calendula
  • carrot tops
  • cauliflower
  • celery root (just the sweet fat root, not the tops)
  • chard
  • collards
  • coriander (seeds not cilantro, usually)
  • corn
  • cucumbers
  • fava beans
  • fennel
  • kohlrabi
  • melon blossoms (they don't even wait for the fruit to form!)
  • mizuna
  • napa cabbage
  • parsley
  • peas - snap, snow, and shelling
  • peppers
  • radish tops
  • tomatoes
  • tronchuda beira
  • winter squash (some)
What does that leave that hasn't been attacked yet.
  • arugula (birds eat the babies)
  • basil
  • brussels sprouts (birds like the tops)
  • celery
  • corn salad/mache (birds eat the babies)
  • cress (birds)
  • eggplant (a whole other story of pests and diseases)
  • garlic (no-grow because of rust)
  • kale (birds)
  • lettuce (birds)
  • mustard (mostly)
  • onions and shallots (no-grow because of downy mildew)
  • pac choi
  • parsnips?
  • potatoes (so far)
  • rapini
  • spinach (birds)
  • tomatillo?
  • turnip
  • winter squash (some)
  • zucchini (birds)
Just because something hasn't been attacked yet doesn't mean that given the opportunity and a lack of more tasty targets that just about anything edible will be on the hit list. But, as I've indicated, what's not on the rodent hit list is not necessarily free from the attentions of birds so I have to consider that too.

What on the rodent/bird favorites list can be protected in a fairly reasonable manner. Or perhaps I should start with what can't be protected in a fairly reasonable manner.

So, not worth the effort.
  • anything too tall to grow in a cage.
    • corn (I will not wrap every frigging ear in hardware cloth again)
    • fava beans (sob)
  • anything too big to fit into a cage without being overcrowded
    • large varieties of cabbage
    • large varieties of cauliflower
    • large varieties of anything
    • sprawling space hogs like most winter squash or melons
  • pretty much anything that needs to or can grow on a trellis
    • pole beans
    • tall peas
    • cucumbers
    • melons
    • winter squash
    • one exception is summer squash, so far the DR's prefer the seeds of mature squash
  • tomatoes (if I'm honest but I'm not)
So, what is or should be easy to grow in my hardware cloth tunnel cages. 
  • amaranth (hard to find dwarf varieties)
  • arugula
  • beans (bush)
  • beets
  • carrots
  • celery root
  • cilantro
  • cress
  • kohlrabi
  • lettuces
  • pac choi
  • parsnips
  • peas (dwarf)
  • pea shoots
  • radishes
  • turnips
Things that can be grown in individual hardware cloth cages.
  • broccoli
  • broccolini
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower?
  • fennel?
  • peppers (really just for seed saving, the confined plants don't seem to be as productive)
Things that might be safe to grow "free"
  • basil
  • Brussels sprouts
  • celery
  • potatoes
  • summer squash/zucchini
  • not much else!
There's just no way that I can anticipate just what will or won't be targets for DR consumption. (Aeoniums? really? yes!) So it's been a learning process as the DR's keep switching targets.

So, here are my latest schemes to keep the DR's away from my veggies. It involves a lot of hardware cloth.

One of the first lessons I learned in my battles with the rodents is to not wait until the destruction begins to put up de fences (ha ha, get it? defenses...  sorry). Reams and reams of hardware cloth fences. The second lesson is that the fences are only as good as the gaps that you leave in them. Trust me, if the DR's know that there's something good on the other side of the fence they will find the gaps. And if there are no gaps they will dig their way in. And if they can't dig their way in they will climb in.

So put the fences up before anything goes in the ground. This is important for 2 reasons. First, to avoid smashing and slashing (the plants, not you) as you try to put the floppy "cloth" into position. And second it might prevent the DR's from getting that first bite that will bring them and their family and friends back for more. (Oh wow, have you tried her fava beans this year? You have got to try them, they're fantastic!)

I'll start with my attempt to protect the peppers. I'm going with a 2 layer system for the pepper bed. First a short fence that is stapled to the inside of the bed. All the way around with NO GAPS. At the other end of the bed where it crosses on top of the soil there's about 12 inches that covers the soil beyond the perimeter of de fence.

The next step will be to put up a second layer that will overlap the first layer and extend the fence up to about 2 1/2 feet. That layer will be in removable panels so that I (and hopefully only I) will be able to easily reach into the bed to harvest the peppers. The biggest issue with barriers, aside from cost, is that they must keep the critters out but I must be able to have fairly easy access otherwise it's too much of a hassle to harvest or plant things.

I'm growing some bush dry beans in another bed. I put up a similar system for them, although the sections of hardware cloth running through the center of the bed are buried 6 inches deep in the soil. The panels that will run along the outside edges of the bed will be attached more securely because I shouldn't have to get access to the plants until it's time to pull the plants to harvest the dry beans. I only put one row of beans into the space to allow them room to sprawl inside the enclosed area. I've learned that cramming too many bean plants into a restricted area just invites disease and insect pest problems. At the moment the beans are under cloches to protect them from birds and climbing rodents. My plan is to eventually cover the area with some lightweight fabric or mesh.

Earlier this year the broccoli, cabbage, Tronchuda Beira, and broccolini plants were attacked even though they were in a bed protected by a hardware cloth barrier. That was when I learned that the rodents WILL find the smallest gap in a barrier that they can fit through. It's also when I learned that they WILL dig their way under a barrier. They WILL climb over a barrier. And I learned that they don't like the taste of spicy peppers.

Encaged Batavia Broccoli

This week I managed to harvest a head of broccoli in that bed. The plant was protected by a ring of hardware cloth and I had liberally sprinkled the plant and surrounding area with hot pepper powder. (This year I'm growing a couple of full heat Habaneros just so that I can have an extra spicy rodent deterring pepper powder). The problem with pepper powder is that the rain washes it off the plants so it's not useful here in the winter. Once the winter rainy season is over though it's long lasting and easy to wash off at harvest time.

Post Harvest Batavia Broccoli

I have learned which rodents like what veggies mainly by what I've trapped in proximity to damaged plants. Last year it was voles in the corn patch. In the past it's been tree rats in the tomato vines. The latest was a roof or Norway rat (I can't tell the difference) in the collards (the barrier climber). And I have no idea what the mice are munching. I'm really tempted to get a critter cam that can take night shots so that I can see what is scurrying around where in the garden. It does help to know which rodents are attacking what because different traps are more or less effective at trapping different rodents.

The Best Kind of Rat
So, my rodent woes are why I've not been posting lately. It's just been so frustrating and depressing that I've lost interest in writing about it. But until I find that elusive OFF switch that will transform me from a vegetable gardening fanatic to a normal person I will continue to try to grow good things to eat and my blog will continue to be the place where I try to record both the good and the bad about my veggie garden.

Enough of this, I need to get out to the garden and wrestle more hardware cloth into place.