Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow? — Part Trois

August 1, 2014 § 1 Comment

Time for the monthly update on my little back yard garden! As we’re coming into August, nightshades are just about ready for harvest, the sage has taken over the herb box, and I have a garden thief!

Nightshades keep on growin'

Nightshades keep on growin’

First up: that garden thief. Or maybe I should say garden thieves. It all started with chewed-up chives a few weeks ago, and was followed by half-eaten tomatoes, and more recently: brand-new baby lettuce plants chewed down to the roots!

Chewed lettuce plants

These were baby lettuce plants. Someone’s been snacking in my garden!

After mentioning the chive thievery during my recent chat with Webb Ranch farmer Deano Lovecchio, I learned that cats like chives — and it’s likely that one of my neighbors’ cats was probably helping itself to my garden. (And I love cats, but DAMN!)

As for the tomatoes and lettuce, I suspect the squirrels. More than once I was excited to pick a pretty, just-ripe tomato from the bush, only to find that, while the front was gorgeous, the back half was gone. So disappointing! What this all means is that between now and next month’s update, I will be getting a pellet gun learning how to install a fence around my garden. (Good thing I’m a DIY kinda girl!) Stay tuned… In the meantime, here’s the rest of the update.

Purple Jalapeños Peppers
This plant has been the star of my garden since Day 1; it’s been flowering regularly, and the peppers are sturdy and ripening on schedule.

Purple jalapenos

Love my purple jalapenos!

If you read the post on Spicy Cucumber Margaritas, then you know that these peppers turn red when mature. The mature peppers have a milder jalapeno heat, combined with a touch of red bell-pepper sweetness. To date I’ve only harvested two mature peppers, which I used to make pepper-infused tequila last month for said margaritas. If you’re looking to upgrade your margarita or tequila-drinking experience, give the recipe a try!

Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

Just this week, half a dozen peppers on the lower half of the plant are starting to change color from black-purple to dark scarlet-red. Because the color is so dark, even through half of the transition, it’s hard to tell that the peppers are maturing until there’s a sudden pop of red amongst the green and purple.

Green Jalapeños
Last month I wrote that “the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well” and “[h]opefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.” Well, guess what? Yes, I can! During the past four weeks, this plant has gone gangbusters with fruit!

Green jalapenos!

Green jalapenos!

A major flowering happened at the beginning of July, and yet lots of blossoms dropped, so I wasn’t sure I’d end up with more than a couple of peppers this summer. My, how things have changed. The plant is just full of big, beautiful peppers, that range from 3 – 4 inches long. While the peppers aren’t quite ready for harvest yet, I see a lot of salsas (and maybe another bottle of pepper-infused tequila) in my future!

Ancho Chile Peppers
My other rock star pepper plant! These babies  are large (6 – 8 inches long), shiny green, and bee-yoo-tee-ful! As they’ve matured, they’ve grown longer, and the color has gone from a darker to a lighter green.

Large ancho chiles

Hellooooo, chile rellenos!

While many of the blossoms from the last flowering didn’t stick around, the peppers that were already on the plant are fast reaching maturity. I think our random weather — which has ranged from sunny, 90+-degrees to cloudy, 70-something days has delayed the maturity date.

The first two peppers, which started growing back in May, reached maturity, and then started to turn red before I could harvest them. I decided to go ahead and let them turn completely red by leaving them on a sunny windowsill. Eh, I have a few to spare, so let’s see what happens! Yep, I’m “making” dried ancho chiles!

Mature ancho chiles drying in the sun

Mature ancho chiles drying in the sun

I could string them up, but they get the most sun right on the windowsill. I turn them daily so that the drying process is pretty even.

Sweet Red Peppers
I don’t know what to make the red bell pepper plant. While it really started to flower and produce fruit once I ran a couple of drip lines to it during the first week of July, the growth has been minimal in the past month. In fact, I’m not sure it’s grown at all — unlike the hotter pepper plants, which are about four feet tall. The fruit on this plant is starting to ripen — especially the first (and largest pepper) — but some of the others are looking a bit anemic.

One pepper starting to mature

One pepper starting to mature

I suspect that this plant needs consistent hot and sunny weather to thrive. With the long maturity time (90 days or so), it looks like a small harvest this year.

Indigo Apple Tomatoes
Despite the loss of my first few ripe tomatoes to the local wildlife (ugh, suburban squirrels… so spoiled!), the plant is doing well. I think.

Indigo Apple tomatoes

Indigo Apple tomatoes

Some of the leaves are yellowing and drying out, which probably means that I need to adjust the watering plan, but the plant continues to flower and new baby tomatoes are popping up every day. Not only do the ripe tomatoes look cool, but they are delish, by the way — sweet with lots of flavor and low acidity. What I love is that the indigo/purple top doesn’t change color — just the lower half of the fruit, which does turn red when ripe.

Notice the star-shaped imprint from the stem

Notice the star-shaped imprint from the stem and the purple to red coloring

Lettuces
Lettuces have turned out to be more challenging that I anticipated, mostly due to our weather. The Black-Seeded Simpson went the way of the Little Gems, bolting just a couple of weeks after I planted them. Sure, lettuces are easy to grow and don’t require much more than sun, water, and good soil, but randomly throw in a week or two of 90+-degree temperatures, and they will throw up a stalk and get all bitter in protest!

Fortunately, with 30 – 40 days to maturity, and a long growing season, I can keep trying! This month’s attempt is “Cardinale,” a sweet, mild lettuce that has medium green leaves with a tinge of red.

Baby 'Cardinale' lettuce plant

Baby ‘Cardinale’ lettuce plant, with Lettuce Manoa in the background

Apparently it’s popular with cats… or squirrels… or cats and squirrels. (Again, arrgghhh!) The Lettuce Manoa, which I planted last month, has gotten a little crispy around the edges, but is fighting the good fight, so we’ll see how it’s doing next month.

Herbs
Not much has changed with the herbs in the past four weeks. They’re continuing to grow, seemingly unaffected by the random weather changes. I’m overdue to harvest and start preserving them for the cooler months, although I’m trying to keep the mint population under control by making mojitos regularly. It’s a tough job, but I’m commited to reducing food waste ;-).

Mojitos, anyone?!

Mojitos, anyone?! Or maybe I should say “Mojitos for everyone!”

Sage is the big winner in the herb box this month, which is to say that I have a crapload of sage  — more than I know what to do with at this point. If you have ideas for preserving sage or recipes or, well, anything, please share!

So. Much. Sage.

So. Much. Sage.

Last but not least, the residents of the northeast corner of my yard are a lot happier since I installed drip lines there. Lemon verbena and lavender, which I’ve been harvesting for flavored simple syrups and my baby lime bush are all thriving! I don’t expect to see any limes until next year, but you never know.

Lemon verbena, lavender, and lime

Lemon verbena, lavender, and lime

That’s what I’ve got growing! What’s happening in your garden?

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow? — Part Deux

July 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

Time for the monthly progress report on my little edible garden! (Actually this post should have appeared last week, but the 4th of July holiday delayed things a bit.) We’re about 9 weeks along at this point, for those of you playing the home game. Lots of sunshine and more than a few hot days in June really got the tomatoes and peppers going, but put an end the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix lettuces. Herbs — both sweet and savory — are thriving, which means it’s time for harvest! Read on for more details and photos.

First up, the peppers and tomato plant are definitely rockin’ — check out this photo:

Pepper and tomato plants

L to R: Purple jalapeño peppers, Indigo Apple tomatoes, green jalapeño peppers, and ancho chili peppers

Remember, these babies were about 4 inches tall when they went into the planting boxes. Today, they range from 30-48″ tall, with no signs of slowing down.

Purple Jalapeño Peppers
Honestly,  I bought this plant for the novelty, figuring if it grew, “fine.” If not, oh well. What a wonderful surprise it’s turned out to be! Healthy and hearty since planting, it’s now about 30 inches tall. The delicate purple flowers are so lovely, and the resulting black-purple fruit is really striking against the green foliage.

Flower on purple jalapeno plant

Flowers on my purple jalapeño plant

Purple jalapeño plant with unripe peppers

Purple jalapeños and a few that have turned red

A few of the older peppers have matured during the past week, transitioning through a range of intense colors from black-purple to purple-red to magenta, and finally to a deep scarlet. (The fruit actually starts out green with purple shading when small, and then turns completely dark purple as it grows.) I’m thinking about using them for an infused tequila or syrup for cocktails. Gotta plan ahead: National Tequila Day is coming up on July 24!

Purple jalapeños, red at maturity

Mature red jalapeno in the foreground; deep-purple peppers will be ready in a few weeks

Green Jalapeños
Unfortunately, the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well. The plant is growing and spreading — it’s now about 36″ tall — but during the first and second flowerings, most of the blossoms died off. There are a couple of 3-inch peppers near the base of the plant from the first flowering, which are probably ready for harvest. Otherwise, I’ve seen some new baby-thumb-sized green nubbins appearing in the past couple of weeks, but there’s not much to photograph. Hopefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.

Ancho Chili Peppers
Like the purple jalapeños, the anchos are going gangbusters! This baby really blossoms in heat — literally. After the first round of hot days in early June, the plant was full of creamy white blossoms, and most of those have turned into peppers! I lost one pepper to a bit of mold/rot, but the rest are a luscious, shiny green. The peppers on the lower part of the plant are from the first flowering, and should be ready for harvest later this month. I’m looking forward to an August filled with chiles rellenos!

Ancho pepper plant with half a dozen or so peppers

Ancho peppers

Sweet Red Peppers
This plant has been slow to start, and like the ancho, really thrives in the hotter temperatures. Oddly enough, the plant itself hasn’t grown much; it’s only about 18 inches tall. Right now it’s filled to capacity with peppers that have just blown up in the past two weeks. With a long maturity time (90 days), I don’t expect to see any red peppers until late August.

Nope, those aren't green bell peppers -- they're unripe red, sweet peppers. Just another 30 days to go (more or less)

Nope, those aren’t green bell peppers — they’re unripe red, sweet peppers. Just another 30 days to go (more or less)

Tomatoes
Tomato plants can be touchy — my neighbor has already lost a couple this year, despite all of his experience and attention. Fortunately, my friend Jill had some helpful advice that I took to heart for my Indigo Apple plant: lots of water and remember to fertilize. The tallest and widest of my nightshades, that little 4-inch start is now about 4 feet tall!

Indigo Apple tomato plant

Indigo Apple tomato plant

Like the purple jalapeño, the Indigo Apple tomato starts out green, turns purple (more violet than indigo so far), then red at maturity. Maturity is about 75 days, so the fruit from the first flowering should be ready in August — maybe the end of July, if we have another round of hot days.

Closeup of unripe Indigo Apple tomatoes

Unripe Indigo Apple tomatoes

Lettuces
Oh, my poor lettuces! Unfortunately, I let the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix stay in the ground too long, and they bolted during the 90-degree days. What’s “bolting”? It’s when the lettuce throws up center stalk, preparing to go to seed. It’s the lettuce’s way of saying: I’m done, outtie, see ya. The leaves become bitter, and all you can do is pull the head and replant.

It was a newbie mistake not to harvest entire heads sooner, but the great thing about lettuce is that the maturity is only about 28 days, so there’s plenty of time for a do-over. I planted three new varieties a couple of weeks ago.

New baby lettuces

New baby lettuces: Black Seeded Simpson, Lettuce Manoa, and Wildfire Mix

I’m planning to try an early harvest this time around, taking more baby leaves than I did with the Little Gems.

Closeup of new baby lettuces

Closeup of Lettuce Manoa (left) and  Wildfire Mix

Herbs
The herbs are doing really well, but admittedly, they’re low maintenance. Water, sunshine, the occasional cutting, and they’re good. The spearmint and lemon verbena are flowering, which means that it’s time to cut some back so that I can get another harvest or two this season. It’s also time to start planning for preserving them for use in the fall and winter.

Spearmint

Spearmint, starting to flower

The flowers are pretty, but it’s time for harvest. (Hello, mojitos. How you doin’?)

Peppermint

Peppermint, overflowing the container

Hmmm, might be time to make mint-chocolate ganache…

Sage

Sage

The sage has reached critical mass; time to harvest and preserve

Chives

Chives

Chives: my go-to herb. They’re going into every savory dish I make.

Lavender

Flowering lavender

Flowering lavender: so pretty, and it’s bringing pollinators to my yard!

Lemon Verbena

Flowering lemon verbena

Flowering lemon verbena

So, that’s the latest here in the 650! How is your garden growing? Are you preserving yet, or just enjoying the experience of eating garden-to-table?

Want to see how my garden has grown up? Flash back to the post in which I commit to creating my own edible garden and get all the nitty-gritty details of how I did it. Follow the progress of the first month and find out how my 4-inch plant starts fared — plant porn included, of course.

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

As we’re heading into the last weekend of May, it’s time for the first update on my attempt to grow food. After just about a month, my little garden is flourishing! To date everything I planted is thriving, and much to my surprise, the lettuce is overflowing the planting boxes.

Burgundy mix and little gem lettuces

Lettuce explosion: burgundy mix in the front, little gems behind

As a comparison, here’s what they looked like when I planted them four weeks ago. Amazing what good organic soil, sunshine, water, and a little TLC can do!

Left to right: Little Gem lettuce, Burgundy Red Mix lettuce, purple jalapeno

Awww, they were just babies then…

Just this week I’ve started harvesting the outer leaves for small salads, pulling only what I need from the garden. I hope I can keep this going through the summer — continuing to harvest leaves as I need them, without having to harvest entire heads of lettuce that might go to waste.

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

I’ve also (cautiously) started snipping the tops of the chives, for the occasional garnish. If they continue to thrive, I might get a bit more aggressive and really give them a haircut. The sage is popping, too, so it might be time to pull some leaves and fry them up. (No, it doesn’t matter what you put them on — fried sage leaves are delicious! Ideas? Try them with sausage and pasta or grilled swordfish with olive oil or roasted veggies with brown rice…)

Herb box: Sage and chives

Sage and chives, little gems to the right

The peppers and tomato plants are taking their own sweet time, but they do have a longer growth time (75-90 days) compared to the lettuces and herbs (30-60 days). The anchos are the frontrunners right now, with three peppers, while the purple jalapenos are a close second.

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

If you’re thinking about starting a garden, it’s not too late! Lettuces are much easier to grow than I ever imagined, and they give an abundant return for your time and effort. Peppers are sturdy and do well in containers — but you need some patience because they do take up to three months to really produce. Tomatoes do amazingly well in the 650 — my plant start was four inches tall with no flowers a month ago, and now it’s almost 24″ tall with lots of flowers (which means, if all goes well, fruit will follow!).

Tomato plant

Tomato plant

You can check out how I put my little garden together here. The post also includes resources for more gardening info.

So what’s this all leading to? Hopefully a summer of creative, simple meals made of local ingredients. Just to give you an idea of how you can “eat local,” at home, here’s a simple meal of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients:

Eat local: West coast halibut with Nut 'n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots and Marin feta.

Eat local: West-coast halibut with Nut ‘n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese and chives from my garden. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots, and feta.

The run-on, menu-style description: Baked west-coast halibut, topped with Nut ‘n Bean Jalapeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese “sauce,” and chives, served with late-spring rainbow salad. The salad brings together lettuces from my garden, carrots and beets from my CSA delivery, a sprinkling of feta from Marin, and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice (yes, from local lemons). With the exception of the fish and the olive oil, every ingredient on this plate comes from within 85 miles of where I live. How cool is that?!

Of course, you can vary the protein based on your budget and diet (chicken or tofu could work, too), and the salad fixin’s based on what’s available in your garden or market. The point here is that it’s so easy it is to create a good, fresh dish from local ingredients. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time to cook something like that.” Au contraire! Halibut takes 13-14 minutes to bake; other fish or proteins might time a little more or less time. During that time, you can wash, chop, and assemble the salad ingredients. Overall, figure about 30 minutes to prep and assemble a meal like this.

The best way to enjoy a meal like this in the 650? Grab a chilled bottle of wine (or some homemade sangria), your favorite people, and head to the back yard for some nice al fresco dining. What more could you ask for this weekend?

 

 

 

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