Thursday, November 30, 2006

What's Growin' On: 11/30/06

Realization Of The Day:
It's time to harvest everything still growing outside in the garden.

Five to nine inches of snow are predicted to fall tonight, and the rain that has been steadily coming down for about 20 hours has turned into something that crackles when it hits the windows. There are flood warnings in effect until tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised if our wet weather creek started flowing.

It's not the snow I'm worried about, though--it's the several nights in the single digit temperatures supposedly on their way. A heavy snowfall can actually be a friend to the cold season gardener, as the snow acts as a wonderful insulator on both the mini greenhouses and the large greenhouse. But since I can't be sure that we'll end up getting those 5 to 9 inches, I'm taking the Better Safe Than Sorry approach today rather than gambling with the goods like I usually do.

While I may be able to (for once) ignore my obsessive leave-it-in-the-ground-because-you-know-you-want-it-freshly-picked mindset, I naturally waited until the last minute to do the actual deed. I harvested the Oriental greens yesterday, but there is still half a raised bed of mixed baby lettuces and another filled with Batavian Full Heart endive, Russian Red kale, Nero di Toscana cabbage, and Swiss chard. There's the original spring planting of Nero di Toscana, too, with its larger leaves that I decided yesterday should definitely be put into some soup. I think I may leave the few struggling beets out there as an experiment. So as soon as my wet gloves and overalls hanging by the woodstove are dry, and I've finished my Tension Tamer tea, I'll be headed back outside. The ground is already turning white.

The unheated pantry will be perfect for storing all of these greens, which is good because there's no way they'll fit in the fridge. I will go ahead and take my chances in the greenhouse. Like I do each year when it gets this cold, I'll cover the arugula and Swiss chard and various flourishing herbs with floating row covers and old bedsheets, plug all the holes up the best I can, turn on the little radiator type electric heater I use out there on just such occasions, and hope that nature's insulated blanket falls before the temperature does. Everything out there (except for the rosemary) has survived previous winters just fine. One of the rosemary plants is growing in a pot, and I may move it and a few other potted herbs into the house for the next several months. Okay, yes, it's all coming back to me now. I really do think I must block out much of what goes on during the previous seasons. Either that or my memory is simply shot.

I'd by lying if I said that when the weather people start bandying about phrases like "ice pellets" and "accumulated sleet," and the wind is whipping across my wet face and my fingers are stiff with cold, the thought "I left Northern California for this?" doesn't flit briefly through my head. But then a more immediate question comes to mind: "How badly do I really want that last bit of lettuce?"

There is often great beauty to be found during these arctic blasts. Thousands of frozen water droplets glisten from every branch, and when the entire landscape is encased in ice it truly does look magical. But this is the kind of beauty I much prefer admiring from behind a pane of glass while snuggled next the fire, slurping up a cozy bowl of soup. With a fresh garden salad on the side of course.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What's Growin' On: 11/24/06

Realization Of The Day:
This would have made a perfect Christmas salad, but it sure tasted good on Thanksgiving.

The tomato is a VFN, an easy to grow, disease resistant, heirloom salad variety that has been a mainstay in my garden for years, and whose boring name comes from the first letters of the three diseases it is resistant to: Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and Nematodes. I picked it (and many others) back in mid-October when the nighttime temperatures began to plummet. It's been living in the cool pantry all these weeks, slowly turning from green to red. While the flavor was (understandably) not comparable to its warm from the sun, vine-ripened counterparts, it was still very, very good--and a glorious addition to the holiday table. Is it wrong to be so thankful for a tomato?

The tomato is resting on a pile of freshly picked arugula and baby Swiss chard from the greenhouse. What you can't see are the perfect little Nero di Toscana Cat Cabbage leaves hiding underneath. I have several dozen small plants still thriving in a raised bed outside, as well as a few from my original spring planting. If it's possible, I think I love this stuff even more than when I wrote about my romance with it back in September.

And yes, believe it or not, that is indeed a tiny worm on the arugula. I was surprised to see it, considering we've had several mornings in the teens, and even if it had been hunkered down in the greenhouse it still must have been awfully cold. But, while its hundreds of ravenous and ruinous friends and relations were one of the banes of my organic gardening existence throughout the spring and summer, my first thought when I discovered this one last night was that it was actually kinda cute.

It must have been the champagne.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What's Growin' On: 11/21/06

Chinese Pak Choy Direct Seeded In Early September

Realization Of The Day:
If I don't get caught up soon, I'm going to look back at this so-called garden journal and think nothing was growing in November--when in fact this has been my best year yet for fall crops.

Because I can't seem to get around writing the detailed posts about all of the wonderful greens and other things I have been harvesting for the past two months, here at least is a list of what is growing now, with links to previous posted photos or write-ups about them.

From Garden To Table:
--Chinese Pak Choy
--Canton Bok Pak Choy
--Batavian Full Heart Endive
--Nero di Toscana Cat Cabbage
--Russian Red Kale
--Several varieties of lettuce
--Three kinds of mostly red beet greens (sort of still alive)
--Kohlrabi (bulbs too old to eat, but still putting on new leaves)
--A few scraggly garlic plants, started as an experiment in late summer to see if I could get another crop of green garlic
--Garden Mint

And in the greenhouse:
--Arugula (in the new permanent arugula bed)
--Swiss Chard
--Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
--Lemon Thyme
--English Thyme
--Greek Oregano, Lemon Balm, Pineapple Mint, & more Rosemary in pots

Yes, I've been enjoying enormous, freshly picked salads almost every night. And they taste all the better knowing that I've been using my Gardening On The Cheap tricks to outwit the weather and extend the harvest--my plants have no idea it was 16 degrees the past two mornings. Okay, they might have a slight idea. But still. This gives a whole new meaning to the term Victory Garden. Yes!

Monday, November 06, 2006

What's Growin' On: 11/6/06

Realization Of The Day:
It took me so long to get around to posting this photo that it is now completely irrelevant. (But I really like it so I'm putting it up anyway.)

This is a close-up of one of the three Aconcagua pepper seedlings I transplanted into the greenhouse back on August 12th. They were leftovers from summer, and rather than simply toss them into a compost bin, I figured I'd put them in the ground and see what happened--knowing full well that it takes something like 80 warm days for these peppers to mature and that we would probably be seeing frost in about 60. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a poor, forgotten plant. In the photo you can also see some of the basil I transplanted at the same time--more seedlings that had been languishing in tiny plugs for months.

Both the peppers and the basil were thriving despite a few nights at 21 degrees F. There were even several peppers a couple of inches long and looking very hopeful. But last week the temperature dipped into the teens, and despite my covering the plants and the protection of the greenhouse, well, all that's left now is a soggy, stinky mess. Yeah, I really should have harvested that basil.

The way I see it, though, is that not only did I enjoy having those warm weather plants in the greenhouse for a while, but now I have more available growing space. This also shows that if you live in a slightly warmer climate than I do (we're Zone 5), you might just be able to keep peppers and basil growing well into winter. And maybe even tomatoes, too. On the other side of the greenhouse was a lone Thai Pink Egg tomato plant that sported several blossoms and even one cute little tomato. (Another forgotten, pathetic, rootbound specimen I didn't have the heart to toss out last summer.) It's history now, too, but many years ago I did harvest ripe greenhouse tomatoes in January, and ever since then I've been willing to take my chances.

If you do plan to nurture tomatoes through the colder months, I suggest growing cherry tomatoes as the fruits take much less time to mature than larger varieties. Those January tomatoes I enjoyed so much were actually teeny tiny red currant tomatoes. They are cute as can be and practically as sweet as candy. I've found the plants to be easy to grow and resistant to diseases, pests, and weather fluctuations.

Hmmm. I wonder if I should start some seeds now. Ripe garden tomatoes on Valentine's Day, anyone?

Realization #2:
I have no idea why I thought I'd suddenly have tons of time to spend blogging once fall arrived. Instead I seem to be busier than ever. So much to write about, so much still to do in the garden. But I hope to be back to posting more frequently soon. (And I'm also behind on answering questions. Thanks for your patience.)