Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Garden in Mid March 2018

This is a long post since I'm doing an update on pretty much the entire garden. I do like to do a pretty thorough update at least once in a while. It's always interesting to go back a year or a few to see what the garden was doing at a similar time in the past. Last year my garden in the last week of March was in better shape than it is now and that was after having abandoned it for 3+ weeks while Dave and I were on vacation. This year both the birds and the voles seem to be more hungry than ever, probably because of the lack of rain this winter versus a very wet winter last year. This year my garden is an all you can eat green buffet surrounded by a drought stunted landscape.

Longer, slightly warmer, and definitely wetter days of late have been doing some good for the garden and the wild landscape. And even better for parts of the garden was my work on the vole defenses.

Let's get on with the tour...

Bed No. 1

The favas have gone through a growth spurt. They all have multiple stems and some of them have the first flowers showing. The birds have started pecking at both them and the accompanying Golden Sweet snow peas so I've strung long lengths of flash tape along the trellis. It seems to be helping to deter the birds for now but I've got some long lengths of mesh fabric that I can use to cover things up if necessary.

I still haven't cut down the old tomatoes and peppers that linger at one end of the bed. None of them are dead yet, even the tomatoes.

The cage is protecting young Royal Snow and Little Crunch Snap peas. The Royal Snow plants will have purple pods but the foliage has some purple going on as well.

Royal Snow Pea

Pico Pardal Garbanzo
The far end of the bed is where I set out some Pico Pardal Garbanzo plants. They are all getting started under the protection of water bottle cloches.

Bed No. 2

Vole Ville, at least until recently.

It wasn't enough to erect a 2 foot fence of hardware cloth around the bed, the voles figured out how to dig under the fence to get to the goodies inside. I had to put down more hardware cloth around the entire inner perimeter of the bed to cover the soil and go up the outsides of the fence. Then the critters just went around the perimeter and found any gap that I had left and wormed their way through so I then had to go around and plug the gaps. I hope there wasn't anyone around to hear me as I cursed the critters on each of several occasions when I discovered a new incursion and had to waste a load of time making a fix. The water bottle cloches in the foreground are protecting newly set out seedlings of Filderkraut and Violaceo di Verona cabbages.

One of the few vegetables that wasn't to the liking of the voles nor the birds is the Pink Lettucy mustard. This was supposed to fill the gaps between some broccoli plants until the broccoli plants could fill the space. The broccoli was one of the first menu items for the voles/birds so the mustard became the main crop for the space. All the little greenery growing around the mustard is Cilician parsley. I figured out last year that broccoli and parsley are amicable companions, especially the Cilician parsley which is not as large as the Giant Italian flatleaf that used to be my favorite.
Pink Lettucy Mustard
The mustard is starting to bolt so in a few weeks time perhaps I'll be able to try some broccolini plants here.

Pixie Cabbage
The Pixie cabbage plants were also early targets of the critters. The remaining original plant is making a valiant effort to make a head.

Little Jade Napa Cabbage
I will never figure out the whys and wherefores of critter appetites. Why is plain green cabbage so attractive and Napa cabbage growing right next to it a no go? The fluffy looking one on the right hit the harvest basket the other day and we've already consumed half of it. A nice surprise about that head of cabbage is that it wasn't home to a bunch of earwigs which typically love to snack on my Napa cabbages. That cloche next to the cabbages is home to new seedlings.

New Batavia Broccoli Plants
I'm not going to let the critters get the best of me, broccoli is back, in a small way for now. 

Beni Houshi Mizuna
I interplanted Beni Houshi mizuna with the broccoli babies.

One of the reserve cabbage plants that I set out after the first ones got attacked was in turn attacked. Just when I thought it was safe to uncover it the birds decided that it would make a tasty treat. I should just put the poor thing out of its misery and feed the compost.

Pai Tsai Napa Cabbage
 Pai Tsai is a non-heading Napa cabbage. Wish it luck, it's not covered for now.

Syrian Medieval Chard
I know that's a lot of chard, but you have to grow a lot of chard for seed saving purposes if you want good quality genetically healthy seeds.

Ho-Mi Z/Dragon Tongue Mustard and Italian Scallions
The cage in this bed is where I grow smaller vegetables that need protection from birds mainly, but other critters too. 
Fabric Protection for Arugula, Cress, and Radishes
This part of the cage was where I tried to overwinter some peas for early spring harvests. The plants grew ok through the winter and I kept them trimmed back early on by harvesting the tender shoots a few times. But later on the voles found a way to dig into the cage and started to eat the young peas. And then it started to rain and the crowded plants started to get fungal diseases. So I gave up on the peas, sent them to the compost bin, and sowed a bunch of quick producing spring veggies. Arugula, cress, and radishes sprouted quickly under the protection of some lightweight Agribon fabric.

Baby Arugula

Baby Greek Cress

Baby Radish
I learned from experience that beets do not readily germinate in cold soil, if at all. I also learned from experience that beets sown in paper pots and set out in the garden do just fine.

So that's what's growing in another part of the cage.

Baby Golden and Sweetheart Beets

Baby Queen of Crunch (2 puny Tennisball)
 and mature Red Iceberg and Three Heart Butterhead Lettuces

Lettuces I start en masse in 3.5-inch pots and then separate out the little plants and set them out into the garden. I almost always grow heading lettuces now but when I set the seedlings out I space a bunch of them for growing on to full heads and fill the gaps with the extras, usually 2 or 3 of them clumped together, for cutting as baby lettuces.

Red Iceberg Lettuce
Got to eat more salad.

Three Heart Butterhead Lettuce

Bed No. 3

Old Stuff. Mostly.

Compost waiting to happen. What you can't see are ALL THE APHIDS. Bleah.

Old Celery
Old Brussels Sprouts
Still good, just need to get around to harvesting it.

Old Chard, Fennel (resprouting), and Cilician Parsley
Same Old Cilician Parsley
Frost nipped a few times but hanging in there.

Old Nasturtiums
New seeds in process, the old stash is, well, getting old.

Old Speedy Arugula
Slooow. Turning yellow before it's really big enough to harvest. Time to go.

Newish Spinach
Maybe this round will do better.

New Spinach and A Little Parsley Too

Bed No. 4

A wall and a sea of fabric to foil the birds.

Shrouded Frieda Worlds Snow Peas

There is something growing under there. Kodiak mustard, peas, favas, grasses. Soon to be cut down  if there's a long enough break in the drizzle when I'm not doing something else.

I saved some pretty shots for those of you who stuck it out to the end.

This beauty is either an Allen's or a Rufous Hummingbird, I'm guessing an immature male Rufous because there are hints of the spectacular throat feathers sported by the adult male. Its back is mostly orange which makes me think it might be a Rufous because the Allen's tend to have a green back.  My photos aren't very sharp because they were taken at an angle through my dirty dining room window. He has commandeered the feeder outside my kitchen window and is vigorously defending it from the local year round resident Anna's Hummers. It shouldn't be long before the locals get their feeder back, Rufous hummers migrate through here on their way from Mexico to the Northwest so this guy should be on his way north soon.

Ahhh. Mist. Rain. Clouds. Refreshing.

The End.

At last.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Harvest Monday - March 12, 2018

There was a bit more in the harvest baskets to show for my seemingly epic efforts this winter to grow something edible that doesn't turn into critter chow.

Red Iceberg Lettuce
Lettuces seemed to be down the list of favorites for the critters. The Red Iceberg lettuces came through unscathed. The Three Heart Butterhead lettuces weren't so fortunate. Wouldn't you know it, of the two heads of Three Heart that I harvested it was the one that was critter trimmed that I photographed, the pretty one escaped both the critters and the camera. I beefed up the security of the cages that I use to protect some of the veggies and they seem to be keeping the furry and feathery chow hounds out for now.

Three Heart Butterhead Lettuce
My favorite way to consume iceberg lettuce is to use the larger leaves as cups for a savory filling. My latest filling was bean thread noodles, snow peas, grated Violet de Gournay radish, and shrimp. The seasonings were shallots, garlic, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, fermented pepper paste, and sugar. The butterhead lettuces went into salads.

Joe's Giant Aji Peppers
Frieda World Snow Peas
Aji Amarillo Grande Peppers
The latest harvest of snow peas surprised me when it came in at a full pound. I should have harvested twice but didn't get around to it so some of them are a bit big and wonky again. It's a pain in the neck to have to uncover the trellis every time I want to harvest something so once a week will have to do. I'm pleased with how the Frieda World peas are producing, the taller varieties definitely have a longer harvest time than the short varieties, so in that respect I prefer them, but protecting the tall vines from the birds isn't as easy as the short vines.  I do prefer to eat the snow peas fresh rather than having a glut that needs to be preserved or given away so I'll probably continue to grow the tall varieties with their stretched out harvests. I did actually have another harvest of snow peas but not the Frieda Worlds, I gleaned what I could when I removed the Sweet Horizon pea plants from the cage where I had overwintered them. The critters were getting into the cage and eating the peas so it was time to get rid of the plants and plug the gaps in the cage. The peas weren't a total loss because not only did I rescue a few ounces of peas but I also got a number of harvests of pea shoots through the winter. The shelling pea plants that were sharing space in the cage didn't have any peas ready to harvest, but again, they did produce a few rounds of shoots.

I can't forget about those glowing peppers. The tired old Aji plants rendered up a few more peppers, not prime specimens but perfectly respectable. More fodder for the fermentation jars.

Pink Lettucy Mustard
Mustard greens are not a critter favorite either, at least the varieties that I want to eat. I got a nice big bunch of Pink Lettucy mustard that I wrote about a few days ago. What's odd to me is that the birds were going at the Kodiak mustard greens that I have growing as a cover crop in another bed, they were on the way to prematurely mowing the greens down for me until I covered them up again. Maybe I should try some of the Kodiak mustard myself!

Also harvested last week but not photographed was a bunch of Golden Corn Salad and some stalks of Pink Plume celery. The corn salad volunteers around the garden and tends to not be a target of the voles but it does have to get to a certain size before the birds stop weeding it out for me.

The weather has warmed up and we've had a little bit of rain and the garden has responded positively. It's starting to feel like spring.

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Bunch of Mustard Greens

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when the garden offers up a big bunch of mustard greens?
Pink Lettucy Mustard
I typically think of sautéed greens flavored with perhaps onions, garlic, hot pepper, and a pork product. But they are much more versatile than that. A quick scan of my Eat Your Books list of recipes for mustard greens in my scary collection of cook books and online sources that I follow offered up 169 results for "mustard greens". And that's just my recipes, a scan of EYB's entire recipe database yielded 1,636 results. But do you think I tapped into that bunch of recipes last night? Nope. The first thing I thought was that I need to preserve at least part of that nearly 2 pound pile of greens and my favorite preservation method du jour is lacto-fermentation.

That's about a pound of washed and spun-dry greens in a big bowl. A pound of greens will in time fit very nicely into a 1-quart wide-mouth canning jar.

Initial Salting
But before they will fit into that jar they need to be wilted. There's an Asian method of preserving mustard greens that calls for setting the greens out in the sun for a day to wilt and partially dry them. That's interesting but I took a shortcut and just tossed them with sea salt, 12 grams to be precise. The salt acts quickly. The photo above was taken just after I tossed the greens with the salt. The next part is easy. Wait an hour or 2 or 3 or more, tossing the greens when you think of it.

A Little More Than 4 Hours Later
I didn't have time to deal with the greens until after more than 4 hours had passed. At that point they were soften and a bit of their juices had collected at the bottom of the bowl. It was time to stuff them into that 1-quart wide mouth canning jar. And they fit with room to spare. After I stuffed the jar I added the juices from the bowl and used about 10 ounces of filtered water to rinse the bowl and fill the jar to cover the greens. Before I sealed the jar with an airlock system I ran a long sturdy metal skewer down along the inside of the jar, pressing on the greens, to release as much air as possible.

And there we go - a jar of fermenting mustard greens. They will be ready to eat in as little as a week and can keep in the fridge for months. Or to save fridge space the fermented greens can be drained and dehydrated. I dehydrate fermented foods at about 110ºF to try to keep them "alive". 

The same method can be used to ferment radish tops too.

Fermented Radish Greens Ready For Dehydrating
And then what to do with those dried fermented greens? So far I've cut them up and used them in soups and stir fry dishes and even used some in a rice noodle and dehydrated veggie & shrimp dish that we enjoyed on a recent backpacking trip.

And the other pound of greens went into a Mustard Greens & Apple Galette last night. Sounds a bit strange but it was really tasty.

Now there's another 169 other recipes to check out when I harvest the next basketful of mustard greens.  Clear soup with Sweet Potatoes, Silken Tofu, and Mustard Greens sounds good, as does Farro and Black Rice with Mustard Greens, Gurrants, and Pine Nuts. And then there's Chickpeas with Eggs and Mustard Greens. Or Warm Farro and Mustard Green Salad with Maple Roasted Acorn Squash. But wait, there's Dosas with Mustard Greens and Pumpkin Seed Chutney. And so many other delicious sounding dishes too.

Now I want those greens to hurry up and regrow!

While I'm on the subject of fermentation.

I just keep experimenting. There's a couple other jars keeping the mustard greens company on the counter. There's a jar of Terremoto squash that's been going a while. I tested a piece of squash the other day and found it to be still firm and getting tasty. And my other experiment is with wedges of Meyer lemons. I find traditional Moroccan preserved lemons to be too salty so I've got them fermenting in a simple 2.5% brine solution flavored with a couple of peppers (1 Joe's Giant Aji and 1 ripe Jalapeno) along with a few cloves of garlic. 

What can I ferment next? Dang, there's just not much in the garden right now. Damn voles.