Thursday, November 4, 2010

More fall harvests

I regret not planting more leeks this summer. Actually, I did plant a bunch in my planter box, but I wasn't quick enough to use them for grilled ramps.

I let six of them get to full size in one of my beds. Here are the best looking ones after being cleaned and trimmed after harvest.

I have several soup recipes that these will go well in. All are from Thomas Keller's ad hoc. Yes, one can cook recipes from the fancy French food chef! There is an entire chapter devoted to soup and most call for a base of carrots, leeks, and onions that are slowly cooked for at least a half hour. These recipes are a tad involved, but totally do-able compared to his French Laundry cookbook. My favorites are Split Pea with ham hock, fresh peas, and mint; Lentil and Sweet Potato; and Chicken Soup with dumplings. Another favorite, and the entire reason why I decided to grow escarole this fall, is his Heirloom Bean and Escarole soup. Featuring a smoked ham hock (which, by the way, I get from Bob's Quality Meats down the street) that stews for an hour and falls off the bone. It's the perfect comfort food for a nasty winter day.

I was late in planting out my carrots since this summer was cool. I planned on planting then out in early July, but just barely sowed them before the month was over. It's still July, right? No big deal!

I had to use my contrasting blue cutting board against the orange carrots!

Well, as you can see, these Tonda di Parigi carrots are pretty runty. I think planting them a few weeks earlier would have helped. I'll make sure next year I get these in around the 4th of July. I think I may use these as part of my base for my fall soups. The flavor is a bit too pungent for straight snacking.

Even though we've had record warmth these last few days, I'm ready for comforting winter soups.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eggplant Surprise

As my tomato plants waned and I picked the last of those red beauties, I checked on the eggplants. I have grown eggplants for the last few years now and have had either pathetic-looking fruits that have been nibbled on by critters or loads of flowers too late into the season for any hopes of a crop. I even asked another gardening friend of mine--who gets much more sun and has a much larger space dedicated to veggies than I do--about his eggplants. His response, "I gave up a couple of years ago on growing them."

What can I say? I guess I like a challenge. Either that, or I'm terribly optimistic, thinking, "This year it's going to be different!"

I couldn't believe it when I crouched over the plants and spotted not one, but THREE eggplants. They were decent in size with a lovely dark purple color. I hurried them into the kitchen. I wasn't prepared for this crop and needed to bide some time. I didn't want to put them into the fridge and have them rot away. That would've been a shame. I thinly sliced them up and froze them for a later date.

Look at that fantastic jewel-toned color!

Last week, I made a vegetarian shepherd's pie from the UC Davis Coffeehouse Cookbook from 1996. This recipe showcases eggplant and bell pepper in a ratatouille-inspired base that is topped with sour-cream infused mashed potatoes. It calls for wheat germ, but I subbed in ground up quick oats for my wheat-intolerant friend. The perfect dish to start off our fall-like weather in Seattle.

ps: I'm not sure you can still buy the spiral-bound version of the 1996 edition, but the original 1986 edition has been reprinted and is available through the UC Davis Bookstore.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tomatoes--Part II

I'll have to say that I'm super happy with my tomato crop this year. It wasn't looking very promising after having one of the coldest summers on record.

I hate to brag, but these look amazing!

My Principe Borghese tomatoes are continuing to ripen with the mild September days. It helps that they are also fully exposed to the sun in my south-facing garden.

The other thing I like about this variety is that with my laziness in never getting around to staking my vines (see previous post), the tomatoes on the ground seem to be just fine. No mushy spots where they've been resting on the soil. The slugs even seem to leave them alone. It may be that this tomato has a thicker skin compared to the Black Cherry--the other variety I'm growing.

The Principe Borghese is a great tomato to roast or braise with zucchini and eggplant. Toss them in the pan together with olive oil, salt, and pepper and serve over fresh pasta. The perfect way to celebrate summer harvest.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feeling Cagey

Once again I failed to cage my tomatoes this year. They ran rampant through my whole garden giving a whole new meaning to tomato "vine." I liked how full the space looked and the plants were loaded with flowers. I did get a fair amount of fruit, but not as many ripened as I would've liked. It may be because the plants didn't take full advantage of the sun.

I did have success with the vines that tumbled over my rockery in the south-facing front garden. Even with the milder temps as summer drew to a close, the tomatoes continued to ripen. The rocks' radiant heat nicely warm the fruit--an extra bonus as I ate then straight from the garden.

The two varieties I chose this year were Black Cherry from Fedco Seeds and Principe Borghese from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Both did well in the areas of the garden with optimum sun exposure. Black Cherry has low acidity and very sweet. I love mixing them whole in my pasta with fresh pesto. Or, I'll even munch on them along side a tuna sandwich.

The Principe Borghese is more acidic with a very bright flavor. This is recommended as a sauce tomato. Since I had so few of them, I've been eating them straight from the garden.

I will definitely grow the Black Cherry again. The fruits are a deep rose color. And as long as they're not shaded by other plants like mine were, they readily ripen.

As far as tomato cages go, I really wanted to get the Ultimato cage. By June, everyone was sold out of them. I've also heard that most tomato cages are too small, and by the looks of my vines, I'm glad I didn't make the investment. So, maybe I'll jump on the Topsy Turvy bandwagon. It will make a lovely accent to our brand new porch next year!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oh! Snap!

Don't you just hate it when this happens? I couldn't believe it. I was just readjusting the side branch that was established after last year's pruning. Just needed to bend the branch a tab bit more and...


There it goes. No saving that branch. Nothing left to do but to prune it and hope some buds break for both a new leader and side branch. It seemed hopeless since I pruned out the possibilities.

Or so I thought.

A few weeks later, there were two buds where I had pruned out another leader. I had goofed the previous year and angled the cut so it was facing west. It seemed unwise with our long, warm summer days. I tried to switch the leader as the side branch and looked like it would have worked just fine. Until, I didn't realize my own strength and broke the branch.

Turns out the new branches are better positioned.

You can see the cracked branch just to next to the new left side branch. You can also see where I made that pruning cut in the front last year.

I'm relieved that I have a new start with these branches. I'm going to be extra careful next time!

In the meantime, I've been pruning out the water sprouts and eying potential fruit-bearing spurs for next year. Last year, I had several apples which I should have gleaned off and not left any on the tree. But, I wasn't able to do it. I left a couple on just to see what would happen. The fruit wasn't that good given it's only it's third year in the ground.

I had flowers, but no fruit this year. I hope it's not because I stressed out the tree last year by leaving the fruit on to ripen. Maybe the tree has to gain more energy. I promise the next time to not leave any fruit on the tree!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Little Box of Leeks

My eyes are bigger than my garden. Every gardener out there has experienced this at least once. Some of us, it's a weekly thing as we decide to just take a spin through a nursery to see what's there without the intention of buying anything.

I tried to convince Eldon that we should go to the Seattle Tilth sale earlier this month. His response, "Do we need more edibles?" Um, yes!

Regardless, I've been on a quest for a culinary bay laurel. I noticed they were at City People's at the end of winter so I went back a few weeks ago to check if they were still there. Alas, no. But, I found a few other edibles to cram into my garden. I replaced my oregano that didn't survive a transplanting and my accidentally stepping on it--oops!

For a couple weeks, I had been eyeing leeks. I scratched them from my seed list and immediately regretted it. Well, I know how to solve that. I'll just buy starts! It will save me some work. And there they were at City People's. I couldn't buy just one pot. I took two. Never mind that each pot has at least 10 leeks.

When I got home, I realized that one pot was probably sufficient. But, with my wall-mounted planter box, was able to stick 12 leeks in there. Eldon loves grilled ramps, essentially baby leeks, so I don't have to worry about them getting too big. I'll just harvest them when they are the size of a green bunching onion.

It's crowded in there, but I still found a way to plant nasturtium seeds in the middle of the two rows of leeks. Why not? Who knows? It may just turn out great.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Empty Space

There's the "right plant, right place" mantra of gardening. We've all been guilty of breaking this rule; getting carried away with the "gotta have it" specimen that has us drooling in the nursery. Before we know it, the back seat is packed with plants and we're headed home.

The pair of trees I had in my garden, Ginkgo biloba and Trachycarpus fortunei, were a part of my "nice plant, wrong place" syndrome. Both were planted a couple feet next to each other (not my doing!). The ginkgo was also too close to our fence. It would never have enough room to grow to its potential.

One of the great things about being a gardener, is you've got friends who garden and are on the look out for something cool and can always use another plant to add to their collection. I found a good home for the ginkgo--one of my coworkers snagged it. Since the tree was about 15' tall, in its new place there was instant landscape satisfaction.

The trachycarpus on the other hand was a little hard to find a home for at first. Then it dawned on me that my friend, Riz, would be the best person to take it. The size of the tree was a bit of an issue. It reached six feet to the crown and was another 5 feet of fronds. I invited Riz over to take a look and he was impressed. I felt like a match maker! After arranging the logistics, Riz successfully transplanted the palm to his nursery at Landwave Gardens in Shoreline. You can see the process here: I'm thrilled that this fine specimen found such a great home!

So now what to do with all that space? I found a 4-way combo Asian pear at City People's in Madison Valley in February. Eldon has been asking and asking and asking for an Asian pear tree ever since we planted the apples for espalier. He actually wants an orchard, but settled on one tree since our garden is small. The 4-way combo was a way to guarantee pollination since I'm not sure if any neighbors close enough have Asian pears.

I have lots of breathing room for this tree, but I also now have a huge blank slate. What to plant? This may be prime space for my 'Rouge d'Alger' cardoon. I'm tempted to plant artichokes, but rumor has it that I'd be lucky to get a single choke. At least with cardoon, you can eat the stems of the leaves and the flowers are pretty to look at.

I will keep you posted on what I decide to plant. I'm hoping for as many edibles as possible. And stay tuned for pictures!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Seeds are in!!!

I wasted no time this year ordering seed, and have received my long-awaited back orders. FINALLY!

Every year around this time, I am anxious to start sowing seeds, getting the garden prepped for spring. I've been super impatient this year with the warm winter we've been having--thank you, El Nino!.

So far I have sown two--only two!--of my crops this year: Cardoon Rouge d'Alger and dwarf orange Allegro poppies.

The Rouge d'Alger cardoon supposedly has red-tinged petioles. I check my starts every day to see if they're starting to show signs of blush. So far, right at the soil level, some plants have a little hint of red.

I'm a HUGE fan of dino kale, or lacinato kale. It has great texture and great flavor, and is takes on an interesting shape in the garden. I've also heard it described as palm tree kale since the plants look like little palms has you harvest the leaves from the bottom. Well, Fedco Seeds came out with a Rainbow Lacinato kale when they crossed dino kale with Redbor. I'm not sure if it will be as colorful as Bright Lights Swiss chard, but one can hope!

Two eggplant varieties I'm looking forward to are 'Galine' and 'Applegreen' both from Fedco as well. I was sold on 'Galine' since it was described as dependable and not fussy. It's also supposed to mature in about 70 days. The 'Applegreen' is supposed to produce tiny little green eggplants. Also supposed to mature in 70 days. I'm a little concerned that the seed packet tells me to wait until June to transplant. June just seems so far away!

I'm going to give it a shot with melons this year with Charetais and Sakata's Sweet. Our local radio gardening show says not to bother with melons as they take too long to ripen. I love a challenge. With a little help from indoor starts and some black ground cloth, I like to think have enough heat to have at least a couple fruits. I love Charetais--so crisp and sweet. One of our Columbia City Farmers' Market vendors has carried this gem. Hopefully, I won't have to buy any this year since I'll be enjoying the ones I produced in my garden.

Another crop I'm super excited about is the Beer Friend soybean from Fedco. I like this purely for the fact that edamame and beer go hand in hand. I've never grown soybeans before so it should be fun to see how this one does.

The weather is getting warmer, light drizzles of rain here and there, lots of blooms on the trees all around town. It's beginning to look a lot like spring around here!