Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Reveling in a rainy garden

We'e been so starved for rain these past five or six years, I was starting to forget what it was like.

The past two months, we've had a series of nice, durable, gentle rains.  Heavy enough to soak but not to wash out. Frequent enough to foster growth, but not so frequent as to drown the seedlings. For us farmers, it's like having a self-gardening plot: we just have to go out every week or so and ooh and ahh over how fast everything is getting big.

Of all the gardens we've ever planted, I think this one has been the most rewarding.  The conditions -- timing, moisture, sun and season -- have come together perfectly.  We have plenty of mulch down so the weeds aren't even raising their heads.

We grew cabbage one summer (probably not the best season for that) and it seemed to take forever to see anything cabbage like. It's too early to see any embryonic cauliflowers, but the transformation from one week to the next is dramatic.

The lettuce is growing so well that we're able to harvest it for the dinner table!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winter planting in the garden

Sego's winter planting offerings
My first gardening experiences were in northeastern Oklahoma. There, the gardening season ended when the tomatoes quit producing.

By then, there was a nip in the air. The zinnias were stained brown and crispy. The nastursiums were shriveled and starting to be hidden by falling leaves. Crisp, juicy apples were filling the bins at the local grocery and it wasn't pleasant to hang around outdoors unless you were moving -- fast.

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.