Monday, January 21, 2019

Harvest Monday - January 21, 2019

Welcome to Harvest Monday. I'm stepping in for Dave of Our Happy Acres as the temporary host of Harvest Monday for the month of January while he takes a much deserved break from the task of hosting every week. Harvest Monday is where we celebrate all things harvest related. This is the place to share your latest harvests and what you've been doing with them. If you would like to link up you will find Mr. Linky at the end of this post.

Sorry I'm late with my post today, I had a minor problem come up that kept me from finishing last night.

So the harvests have been wintery looking again. One night I was in the mood to make some soup so I raided the garden for some soup materials and then some. I used the carrots, rutabaga, and fennel in the soup and saved the parsnips and radishes for another day. I use the radishes in salads and the parsnips are still in the fridge where they keep well for a long time.

Gladiator Parsnips, Short Stuff Carrots, Improved Helenor Rutabaga,
Bora King and Mini Purple Daikons,
Orion Fennel

My first harvest of Brussels sprouts is not one of my most impressive, most of the sprouts are quite small but after trimming I still netted about a pound. These were fine in a warm shredded salad and you would have never guessed that most of them were runts.

Gustus Brussels Sprouts

Pink Plume celery is still producing impressive harvests and the stalks are extra crisp and juicy because of the cool and wet weather.

Pink Plume Celery

I finally pulled up the red beets that I sowed way back in July which just never seemed to be happy. Those were the best of the bunch and the rest were so small that I couldn't be bothered to deal with them so they went into the compost. The kalettes are much happier and I got enough to make another couple of servings. Next year, actually this year, I'm going to double up on the number of plants because even though that looks like a fair amount it only weighed 6 ounces.

Sweetheart Beats and Mistletoe Kalettes

This fennel harvest came from a fennel plant that I sowed back in April of 2017 which came back in 2018 and I allowed to bloom through all of last year and after cutting it back at the end of 2018 it started producing new shoots again and some of them are turning into nice little bulbs.

Orion Fennel

I still haven't cleared out the old rodent ravaged broccoli plants and they managed to give me a handful of shoots.

Batavia Broccoli

And the volunteer cress is still growing happily in the winter weather.

Rishad Cress

Surprise! There's still a few lingering peppers in the garden.

Aji Banana

That's the latest from my winter garden. I'll keep this post simple since I'm so late getting it done. If you have a harvest you want to show off then enter a link to your post below and please leave a comment too. And be sure to visit the other bloggers who link up here.


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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Growing Year Round in My Carmel Valley Vegetable Garden

One of my readers is a local gardener who is a member of the Carmel Valley Garden Club. He approached me with the suggestion that I make a presentation to the club about my garden. I was hesitant at first because I have very little experience talking in front of groups. But I thought it would be a good challenge for me so I gave him the ok to put my name forward to the group as a possible speaker. Well, after a bit of vetting I was extended an invitation to talk about growing vegetables year round in Carmel Valley. I even got to choose which month and I chose January so that anyone who was inspired to tackle a year round garden would have the opportunity to do some planning for the year ahead.

Last night was the big (to me) event. I think I did ok. Everyone was generous with applause at the end of the talk and I received a lot of great questions. 

In preparation for the talk I culled through the past few years of photographs to illustrate what the garden looks like through the year as I cycle my beds through the 4 year rotation that I've devised to maximize what I can grow. It was much more difficult than I had anticipated to pack a year of growing vegetables into a 45 minute talk. But I managed to whittle things down and make a coherent (I hope) narrative and it occured to me that that narrative would make a good series of blog posts. Putting the talk together was a good exercise for me because it helped to bring the process of going through those rotations into sharper focus. Putting it on my blog is a great way to document the process.

First some general things I've learned over the years.

Some Keys to a Success in my Year Round Vegetable Garden

  • Sun
    • The more the better but at least 6 hours daily year round
  • Microclimate
    • Know your average first and last frost dates
    • High and low temperatures and when they occur
    • When does it get warm at night
  • Planning
    • Make space in the summer and fall garden for winter vegetables
    • Learn what vegetables can be sown in the winter, likely indoors
    • Know the approximate time from sowing seeds to harvest
  • Know what grows when, i.e. cool season and warm season vegetables
  • Grow vegetables with similar growing requirements and longevity together
  • Keep records of sowing, planting, and harvests dates

A sketch of my garden in the summer of 2016


There's 4 large beds in my garden, each about 6 feet wide by 22 feet long for a total of about 540 square feet of bed space. Each bed is nearly 2 feet high. The boxes are filled with regular garden soil, not potting soil. The beds are irrigated with 1/4-inch drip tubing with in-line emitters spaced 6 inches apart and the lines are laid approximately 9 inches apart. The garden is surrounded by a 6 foot tall deer fence reinforced with hardware cloth a ground level to keep rabbits out. (Nothing keeps the rodents out, boohoo.)


Let's start with the first year in the rotation. I'll be looking at a hypothetical single bed as it goes from one year to the next. I hope it's not confusing that I use pictures from from more than one year to illustrate what I try to grow through the course of one year in one bed. Not every year is the same because vegetables fall on and off the grow list from year to year. What I want to illustrate is where I would be growing something if I happened to be growing it.

Year 1

In January I sow the entire bed or nearly so with a cover crop.

January


I usually make my own mix based on Kodiak mustard along with some annual grasses, peas, and favas. Sometimes I use a mix from Renee's Garden Seeds that contains Winter Rye, Hairy Vetch, Daikon Radish, Rapeseed, Purple Top Turnip and Austrian Winter Peas. Either mix works well.

The birds like to munch the emerging seedlings so I cover the entire bed with Agribon row cover fabric.

January

The birds would continue to graze on the cover crop if I didn't keep it covered as long as possible.

March

At some point the cover crop can no longer be restrained by the fabric so it gets set free. At this point the birds can't do much damage. When I mix peas into the cover crop I like to find the tender tops of the pea plants and harvest them as a green vegetable. The key to harvesting a tender pea shoot is to cut it so that it doesn't have a tendril that hasn't started to curl up because the main stem in the area of a curled tendril will already be tough. A little curve is ok, but avoid the tendrils that want to cling to something already.


I cut down the cover crop in April using hedge shears. If things were not in a raised bed I would probably opt for a string trimmer.

April

There's 2 options at this point, either cover up things up right away and let the greens rot before digging them in or dig them in right away and let them rot in the soil.

April

I usually opt to dig them in right away to just get the process over with.

April

And then I mulch the entire bed with cardboard. The worms and other critters in the soil get to work and the greens disappear in a matter of weeks. Another advantage to digging the greens in right away is that they decompose more quickly in the soil than on top of it, even when they're covered with cardboard.


I aim to plant my tomatoes and peppers sometime near June 1. First I dig in various amendments to the soil including a year's worth of egg shells that I pulverize in my Vitamix blender. Other amendments include compost, organic soybean meal, feather meal, fishmeal, rock phosphate, kelp meal, and azomite or glacial rock dust. I never use a tiller, I just turn the soil over once, break up the clods and then rake the top smooth. Then I set up a trellis along the north side of the bed to support the tomatoes. The trellis is made of T-posts and concrete reinforcing mesh which I attach to the posts using cable zip ties.

Memorial Weekend

Each plant gets a sprinkle of Mykos mycorrhizal inoculant in the planting hole and then a drench of Azos beneficial bacterial inoculant. The pepper plants in particular respond well to the inoculants. Before I started using the inoculants I had problems with peppers becoming sunburned because of poor leaf coverage. The inoculated plants grow more vigorously and have larger leaves and I rarely have problems with sunburned peppers anymore.

Memorial Weekend
Tomato and pepper plants grow very quickly at this time of year. I tie the tomato vines to the trellis using strips cut from old cotton t-shirts. I prune a lot of the suckers and remove a lot of leaves to improve air circulation and allow more light into the interior of the plants. I also like to do a prophylactic spray of an organic fungicide once or twice in the first month after the plants take off. Foliar diseases always seem to crop up some time during the growing season and I've found that spraying before the diseases show up reduces the incidence and severity of infections. Occasionally I'll treat them later in the season if foliar diseases start to appear.

July 15


August
The first small fruited tomatoes start to ripen in August but the bulk of my tomato harvests are in September and October. You can see in the photo below how I've removed leaves and suckers from the bottom of the plant. I continue to remove leaves and suckers through most of the growing season and especially target any growth that looks like it is succumbing to a disease.

August
By the end of the season I just let the plants go and don't worry so much about dead and dying foliage. The pepper plants don't need so much trimming and training, although some might need staking. The cages around the pepper plants in the photo below were covered with fabric early in the season when the plants were in bloom to isolate the plants for seed saving.

December

December - Early favas and mustard.

I may start removing plants as early as November in some years and other years I may not get around to it until the end of the year. I can sow a cover crop as soon as a space is cleared or I can plant some fava beans or I may just cover up the space with a cardboard mulch until I can get around to planting something.

December
Some peppers are tolerant of cold weather and may have peppers ripening as late as December, January or February. I group those peppers in one corner of the bed and provide some frost protection and usually let them grow on through the next year.

December
And now for a few of my favorite tomatoes and peppers.

Piccolo Dattero is an Italian hybrid cherry tomato. They are one of the tastiest cherry tomatoes that I've ever grown with a nice balance of sweet and tart. They hold well on the vine and rarely ever split. The plants are vigorous but not too much so and they are very disease resistant. Sweet Gold is another hybrid with pretty good disease resistance. The flavor is great and fruits resist cracking.

Piccolo Dattero and Sweet Gold

Jaune Flamme is a French heirloom that produces small tomatoes with a big flavor. The color is gorgeous too, the inside of the tomato is usually blushed with pink. It produces over a long season, usually one of the first to ripen and one of the last as well. Marzano Fire is a new open pollinated paste tomato bred by Fred Hempel at Baia Nicchia Farm in Sunol, California. It looks like a typical Marzano tomato but it has gold stripes. It makes great sauce, puree, and paste but it is also very good eaten fresh. 

Jaune Flamme and Marzano Fire

Chianti Rose is a cross between Brandywine and an Italian heirloom. It's a nice large pink beefsteak type with a rich flavor. It has far more flavor than any Brandywine tomato that I've ever grown. Brandywine tomatoes resent the cooler climate in my garden and never develop a good flavor but Chianti Rose just shrugs off the cool weather. Pantano is an Italian red beefsteak that I tried on a whim one year and I found it to be a winner. It produces very large fruits with excellent flavor and even though it's originally from Rome it seems to do just fine in the cooler climate here. Mavritanskite is a Latvian heirloom with dark brownish flesh, oftentimes with greenish shoulders (which some tomato connoisseurs to be a sign of superior flavor) and full flavor. It is a little more disease prone but the great flavor makes up for that.

Chianti Rose, Pantano, and Mavritanskite

I love fire roasted sweet peppers and I've grown a lot of peppers in search of the best and Ajvarski is the best yet. This heirloom from eastern Macedonia has fruits that are large and thick fleshed. The shape being straight and smooth without deep indentations or curves makes them easy to roast and peel. But most important the flavor is fabulous.

Ajvarski

Florina is my next favorite roasting pepper, second to Ajvarski only because it's shape makes it a little more difficult to roast evenly and its flesh is less thick. It does seem to have one advantage to Ajvarski though, it seems to be more resistant to powdery mildew. This is an heirloom from Greece and I'm very fortunate to have acquired the seeds in a trade with another gardener because the seeds are not available in the US.

Florina
I've been searching for a good yellow fleshed pepper for a long time. Most of the ones I've grown have had mediocre flavor or other failings. Topepo Giallo is one of the best so far. It's mostly squat squash shape and thick flesh makes it great for stuffing and roasting but it is also good eaten fresh. It also dehydrates well. It seems that I'll have to save some seeds next time I grow them because my source no longer offers them.

Topepo Giallo

Odessa Market is my favorite pepper for eating fresh. It has medium thick flesh with a thin skin and is incredibly sweet and flavorful. The plants are compact and productive. The immature peppers are lime green which really stands out and they are one of the few green peppers that I find to be tasty. I've noticed that seeds are not reliably available from year to year and this seems to be an off year so they may be hard to find.

Odessa Market

I grow a number of chile peppers, not all of them hot, but my favorites are mostly Capsicum baccatums, which are native to the Andes where they are called Aji which means "pepper". Here you will usually see them redundantly called "Aji peppers". Their notable attribute is their aromatic fruitiness. I like to ferment them and turn them into hot sauces and pepper flakes. The plants are cold tolerant and will usually overwinter easily in my garden with minimal protection. Many of them are also late to ripen.

Joe's Giant Aji, Sugar Rush Red, and Sugar Rush Peach

I also experiment with Capsicum chinense peppers on occasion. That branch of the pepper family includes the blazing hot Habanero peppers and other notable scorchers but I prefer their milder cousins. Unfortunately a lot of the chinense peppers are late to ripen and are not tolerant of cold weather so I usually don't get much of a harvest. One chinense pepper that I've had fairly good success with is Habanada, a completely mild habanero that has the aroma and fruitiness of it's spicy cousins that is usually undetectable to those of us who are pepper wimps. Another pepper that has become a favorite is a pepper from Ethiopia that goes by a few different names including Ethiopian Brown, Mareko Fana, and Berbere. It has become a favorite of mine for making chile pepper flakes.

Habanada, Aji Cacho de Cabra, Yellow Pointy,
Ethiopian Brown, Aji Angelo, Aji Amarillo Grande

Thus ends the first year in the 4 year rotation through the beds in my garden. My next post in this series will cover year 2.



Monday, January 14, 2019

Harvest Monday - January 14, 2019

Welcome to Harvest Monday. I'm stepping in for Dave of Our Happy Acres as the temporary host of Harvest Monday for the month of January while he takes a much deserved break from the task of hosting every week. Harvest Monday is where we celebrate all things harvest related. This is the place to share your latest harvests and what you've been doing with them. If you would like to link up you will find Mr. Linky at the end of this post.

It was a quiet week both in the garden and in the kitchen the past week. There were 3 nights straight that I didn't have to cook which meant fewer trips to the garden. But I did rescue a couple of heads of Queen of Crunch lettuce that had decided to bolt along with some Rishad cress that was also starting to reach for the sky. Some of that harvest went into a lunch salad.


And other than that I pulled a few more Bora King daikon radishes.

Bora King Daikon Radishes
The photo does them no justice, that large radish fit snugly into my open hand. The smaller radishes went into a couple of salads and the large one I cut into chunks and used in a vegetable stew.


One dish I made last week that Dave really liked and has requested that I make again was a slight variation on Yotam Ottolenghi's Ultimate Winter Couscous. His recipe called for butternut squash, amongst other veggies, and instead I used some zucchini that I had on hand (amazingly good zukes from a grower at the farmer's market). But I also got to make good use of carrots and parsnips that I harvested the week before plus chickpeas and pepper flakes from the garden, plus homemade harissa made from peppers from the garden. And of course as usual I didn't take a photograph of the finished dish. I'll be making that dish again but next time I'll use winter squash.

That's the latest from my winter garden. If you have a harvest you want to show off then enter a link to your post below and please leave a comment too. And be sure to visit the other bloggers who link up here.


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Monday, January 7, 2019

Harvest Monday - January 7, 2019

Welcome to Harvest Monday. I'm stepping in for Dave of Our Happy Acres as the temporary host of Harvest Monday for the month of January while he takes a much deserved break from the task of hosting every week. Harvest Monday is where we celebrate all things harvest related. This is the place to share your latest harvests and what you've been doing with them. If you would like to link up you will find Mr. Linky at the end of this post.

My harvests took a decidedly wintry turn this week. Last Friday was warmish and sunny but the forecast for the next week was for the "storm gate" to open, rain was and is in the forecast for days to come. I took the opportunity to get out to the garden to do some harvesting before it got to be too soggy.

There's a couple of new things in the harvest baskets this week. The first good sized parsnips were ready to pull. Those should be a fairly regular item in the basket in the coming weeks. The fennel is still coming from the plants that I sowed back in the spring of 2018. The bulbs are small now but still good eating. And I pulled a couple more celeriac which are holding very well in the garden in the short and cooler days of winter.

Prinz Celeriac, Orion Fennel, Gladiator Parsnips

The new item in this basket is the first Improved Helenor Rutabaga. I'm still harvesting carrots and celery as I need them. The carrots are getting fatter and fatter but are sweeter than ever. Those 2 carrots weighed in at 1.25 pounds without their tops. The celery is growing more slowly but is now more crisp and juicy than in warmer weather. The one stalk of Autumn Star kalettes that's in the garden produced enough mature sprouts for a couple of servings.

Improved Helenor Rutagaba, Short Stuff Carrots,
Pink Plume Celery, Autumn Star Kalettes

I used that one lone rutabaga plus one of the celeriac and some lingering potatoes to make a Smashed Root Gratin that Dave declared to be delicious and which he said was worthy of writing up so I could make it again. To accompany the gratin I sautéed the kalettes with some shredded duck confit, the recipe for which you can find HERE.

If you have a harvest you want to show off then enter a link to your post below and please leave a comment too. And be sure to visit the other bloggers who link up here.


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