Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Cleaning up the garden for autumn

In September and early October, work to be done in the garden waned.

The tomato plants had fallen to disease and gravity. The lettuce had bolted. The deformed carrots had been pulled. The chives were wilting in the heat and the drought. The marigolds were more deadheads than blooms. It was the end of the road for the garden.

We'd kept up a steady pace of two hours of work a week in our small plot. But once the tomato plants lost the fight, there really wasn't much to do in the garden but clean up. Given that we'd planned a road trip for mid-October, we put everything on hold until this week.

We pulled out the remaining tomato plant tangled in its cage.  We picked up all the tomatoes we could find in the mulch.  We'll have volunteers next summer without a doubt, but we did what we could to limit that.  We pulled out the old salad greens, but there's signs of self-seeding.  Looks like we may have more arugula.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Harvesting the butternut squash

We worried about when to harvest the butternut squash. There's no greening, yellowing, reddening, deepening or other particular sign of ripeness once the squash grow to a certain size. Google Extension Service suggested harvesting before the first frost.  In California, that would be the day before Never.

In Nature's wisdom, the plants told us. The huge green vines that had sprung up on their own, just turned brown and shrank back on their own, leaving six heavy butternut squashes dangling from their red and yellow net bags. (We'd strung them up to keep them away from the wetness of the earth and the mouths of the snails.) We cut them down and divided the harvest.

My first butternut squash, I simply seeded, roasted and scraped the flesh from the shell. Butternut is bland, a lovely gold color, but -- yawn -- not much flavor.  But it was fresh and home grown. That imparts something wonderful to it, if you have the stillness and focus to be aware.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The fall of the great tomato plant

Our great tomato plant -- great in productivity, great in flavor, great in height -- has succumbed to gravity. Fortunately, it appears to have been a gentle collapse of the bamboo supports rather than a stem-snapping disaster. We're still harvesting tomatoes from it.

During the week, we harvested enough to make another batch of DWP-dried tomatoes. But we also got a great tip from Dorothy Reinhold, the shockingly talented creator of Shockingly Delicious about roasting and preserving tomatoes using a recipe from heartbeetkitchen.com.  Trying that recipe is definitely in our future -- if we can squeeze enough tomatoes out before our prize plant curls up its roots and dies.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Preserving the tomato harvest

With our tomato harvest coming in fast, we were faced with the need to:
  • Cultivate an untiring passion for tomato-centric meals;
  • Distribute the harvest to friends; or
  • Find a preservation method. This usually means canning (or cooking and canning, if you want tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes), which doesn't have a lot of appeal on hot days.
Several years ago we did try canning. Tomato canning is a good starting place for a beginner because the acid in the tomatoes helps prevent botulism, so you don't have to worry quite so much about wiping out a dinner party with home-canned tomatoes.

As I recall, a neighbor had a bumper crop of San Marzanos. They did their own canning and distributed the overflow to friends. 

I loved the name. "San Marzano" just rolls off your tongue -- like, well like Italian with a really good accent.  It's just such a pasta-ready name. Until then, the tomatoes I knew were anonymous as soon as the Magic Marker washed off the little plastic stake. And "Beef Steak" just doesn't have the ring of "San Marzano."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Getting rid of the aphids eating our tomatoes

One day we were congratulating ourselves on our tomato harvest, and it seemed like the next minute the plants were turning brown and dying.

To the best of our ability to discern (with the help of the Google Extension Service), we have aphids. We noticed some dark colored insects flying around initially.
From Natural Living, I learned that of the more than 4,000 species of aphids, about 250 are a danger to crops. Sometimes called plant lice, these pests pierce the stems of plants to suck out nutrient-rich sap. In the process, they spread viruses and secrete a fluid that attracts sooty molds that can cover a plant's leaves and block the sun. The viruses they carry can kill potatoes, citrus fruits and grains.

Mystery plants: compost volunteers

This summer, the mottled umbrella-like leaves of an butternut squash plant have popped up on the west end of Fink Farms.

It's interesting since we never planted butternut squash. In fact, we have never had butternut squash in the farm. But we have composted butternut squash remains, and we have had other volunteer plants from using compost.

(The ever-helpful Google Extension Service offered up an anecdote about a man who scattered his rich homemade compost over his front yard -- and ended up with butternut squashes shading his St. Augustine grass. True? You tell me . . . )

It's hard to keep a compost pile running hot when you're feeding it out of one and a quarter kitchens. (Karen is the one because she just has to take a short walk from her kitchen to the compost pile; I'm the quarter, because composting for me requires collecting decaying veggies, putting it in my car and driving it over to Karen's. For awhile, it got to be such a problem that I was freezing my compostibles to avoid the smell and liquification if a trip to the compost pile was delayed. Eventually, I decided there were better ways for me to be green.)

And with no lawn clippings or fallen leaves, we don't have much in the way of brown stuff to add to the green stuff to keep the composition of the compost pile balanced.

We spent part of our gardening hours recently getting the ripening butternut squashes off the ground and out of the path of bugs, slugs and other vegetable chompers. We put them in the plastic net bags that little cuties or potatoes come in and hung them from plant stakes.

When we talk dirty these days we're debating how you can tell when a butternut squash is ripe. Karen learned from Google Extension Service that butternut squashes are best left on the vine until the first frost.  Here in L.A., we might have to wait a year or two for frost.

For now, we're waiting awhile, and flipping through our recipe files for butternut squash recipes.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Water saving ollas

When you're saving water, the first step is to get the water where it's needed in the most direct way possible.

No sprinkler heads rising like swans in a ballet to spew water 18-inches above the ground, splashing sidewalks and gutters. No sprinklers nodding back and forth sending sprays of water as tall as a child. Nope, it's irrigation dripping directly at the base of a stem or water bubbling at dirt-level.

You can't get much more direct than an olla (pronounced oy-ya). In the irrigation world, an olla is a clay pot, usually with a round bottom and a longish thin neck that is planted in the dirt next to plants that need water.  The dirt is mounded around the pot so that only the end of the neck shows. Water is poured into the opening to fill the buried pot. The clay absorbs water that in turn is absorbed by the dry earth surrounding it.  The plant gets a slow steady supply of water. Because the pot is buried, there's little exposure to the air and evaporation.