Flora, Fauna and Fences

Apparently, despite my best intentions, I’m on the once per month posting schedule. Ooops. Fortunately, I have a steady stream of phone photos I can use to catch us up.

Since the last time I checked in, the new vegetable garden has grown by leaps and bounds.

Thanks to several cool (cold?) misty days, the Fall roots and greens are actually looking pretty lush right now. For the first time ever,  I’ve had success getting rutabaga and Daikon radish established mid-summer for Fall harvest.

I’ve already been pulling the Daikon thinnings as super peppery salad radishes. I guess that’s the trade-off for tomatoes that don’t ripen until mid-August. Speaking of tomatoes, I’ve harvested one Glacier tomato so far, with another one ready today. That’s it, but it looks like within the next week, several more varieties should start to ripen.

I finally have all the vegetable beds prepped. The ones that won’t be planted until the Spring get a cover of compost, paper and grass clippings, but the beds that are planted now, I dig in the compost. I have found that I don’t have a deep enough layer of compost on top for the no-dig method to work here when I want to plant immediately. Anyway, the last bed I prepped received the asparagus transplants I started from seed this Spring. They’ve been hanging around in nursery pots, and I wanted to get them into their permanent home in time to get established before the tops are frost killed. They look so fragile, but I’ve found they are surprisingly resilient.

I managed to get 11 plants into the ground which seems to be the right number for us, but I’ll probably start a few more from seed this winter in case I lose some plants over the winter.

Since I’m finally caught up on the most pressing vegetable garden tasks, I’ve been able to tackle the garden infrastructure. Living in a less densely developed area, with water nearby, means there’s a wide variety of critters that visit the garden. Many of them, like this gorgeous toad that passed through the other day,

or the awesome mantis,

 

are always welcome. However, other creatures are welcome on a more provisional basis.

For instance, this super-cute scampering friend, nicknamed Bunz,

 

was starting to make a habit out of helping me weed the vegetable garden every morning. This was the incentive I needed to finally find the time to install the rabbit fencing. Fortunately I had help, so I was able to get all the lodgepole pine posts set and the welded wire rabbit fence installed, in about 2 days worth of work. I trenched along the perimeter so we were able to set the bottom of the fence about three inches below grade. That won’t stop determined digging, but should deter casual attempts at tunneling under.

I sealed all the posts prior to setting them. Also, we used an auxiliary metal post, ratchet strap and two 2×4 scraps bolted together to tension the fencing before attaching it to the posts. That worked pretty well and I’m quite pleased with the results.
I still need to secure the chain link perimeter and build a couple of gates, but for now, Bunz and all the other rabbit friends, have been staying out of the vegetable garden.

With the fencing installed, I began to pay attention to the inner voice nagging me about how quickly Autumn is approaching. Given that the first Fall frost is probably not too far off, I’ve started installing low tunnel hoops.

I was never very fond of the pvc hoops I used in Albuquerque, so this time around, I’m using 1/2″ EMT. I ordered a 4′ pipe bender, as well as some plastic clips, greenhouse plastic and two weights of fabric row cover to get started. Right now, I have hoops and some old shade cloth over the greens that will be under plastic this winter. I will put fabric row cover over the hardier fall greens and roots, and I will also cover the tomatoes and peppers in a few weeks to provide a bit of season extension. I’ve noticed on my walks around the neighborhood, some folks grow the warm weather crops under cover all summer. Even though we have plenty of searing hot summer days, I think the cool nights slow everything down. I might give that a try next year. Also, next year I will also get a lightweight row cover up over all the Brassicas before they get nibbled to a nub by cabbage moth larva. That’s the other benefit to segregating crop families in the new garden. I will be able to cover the leaf crops without worrying about hindering the pollination of fruiting crops. There are so many new experiments to try – I’m already looking forward to next Spring.

 

Odds and Ends

I’ve been meaning to post on various topics for the past 10 days, but things are so hectic here I haven’t had a chance to pull out the camera to snap any decent shots. So, instead, here’s an update based on whatever photos I can find on my phone.2016-05-15 10.00.07
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The new coop is finally done enough (I still need to  build the storm hatches and nest boxes) that we could relocate the six-week-old pullets yesterday.  I’ve moved Ezzie in with them and she seems pleased to have the company, although there was a bit of growling and gentle pecking at first. The little ones have no sense of personal space, of course,  and it took her a while to teach them that pecking food debris out of her mutton chops is definitely not allowed. Meanwhile, the two Wyandottes are all out of sorts about the addition. They kvetched non-stop all day yesterday, to the point that someone (not me, of course) may have threatened them with the stew pot.2016-05-15 13.08.56

The garden is very full and starting to produce small bits of new interesting things. The cool weather greens are starting to wilt in the mid-afternoon heat, despite the shade cloth, so it’s time to start pulling the turnips and mustard greens, whether they’re ready or not. Yesterday I pinched off a handful of shallot scapes (I think this is the first time the French Red shallots have sent up bloom stalks) which, along with a bundle of herbs and a handful of fresh fava beans, made a great pesto. I’ve been snagging an occasional snap pea snack, with the shelling peas only about a week away from the first harvest. Also, I took advantage of the grape vines needing a bit of a trim, and used the nice big tender leaves I scavenged for a small batch of dolmas (the veggie version, typically served chilled). I followed Claudia Roden’s recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and they were, hands down, the best dolmas I’ve eaten, due in part, I think, to the fresh grape leaves.2016-05-15 16.14.05

Finally, here’s a progress shot of the “giant asparagus” from 2 days ago: 2016-05-14 08.54.39Makes the Jack and the Beanstalk story seem totally viable, no?

The Tease of Warm Weather

I don’t know about you, but it only takes one or two sunny 60 degree days for me to catch a wicked case of spring fever. And clearly, lots of the plants feel the same way:PKS_3018The tarragon, and some of the other cool-weather-friendly herbs, are starting to send shoots up through the leaf litter. That’s a good sign that I should start getting some seeds in the ground. Today I pushed the coop litter mulch off of the garden beds so the sun could warm the soil. After loosening up the seed bed, I sowed beets, carrots, peas and a few other odds and ends.2016-02-11 10.35.15Last year I sowed a few days earlier and the seeds took 3 – 4 weeks to germinate, however, I ended up with a pretty good harvest, so I’m going with an early planting date again.

Meanwhile, the once empty looking coldframes are starting to seem crowded. The earliest sown lettuce is already passed its prime, while the pac choi seedlings, along with the mustard, spinach and later-sown lettuce, have just started to grow vigorously. It’s nice being able to temper the heavy winter fare with the first bits of spring green. PKS_3022Today I pulled the last of the 2015 parsnips to make room for the peas, and what might seem like a carb-loaded heavy bowl of sauteed roots, lentils and orzo, was actually a great base for the vibrant bits of mint, fennel and chive that I was able to scavenge.2016-02-11 12.13.16

Almost Over

It’s a beautiful blue sky, sunny, 62 degree autumn afternoon here. Although it’s difficult to tell it’s such a nice day since the sun is low in the sky and hardly any of the rays are hitting the back yard.PKS_2483The bees are flying like mad, but this late in the season, blossoms are few and far between, despite the beautiful weather. Fortunately the rosemary has responded to the recent el nino rainstorms with a smattering of tiny purple blooms. PKS_2477Almost everything else is preparing to close up shop for the season. The leaves are turning on the deciduous trees and shrubs, and normally I’d be cutting back on water to prepare my more tender fruit trees for the cold weather ahead. That plan has sort of been foiled by a couple of recent rain storms, so hopefully the real cold won’t come in too suddenly this year.

Meanwhile, a lot of the summer vegetables are still growing, blooming and setting fruit, albeit very, very slowly due to the short days. I’ve been covering the tomato and pepper beds at night for a bit of extra warmth to try and eek out a bit more ripe fruit. PKS_2482We haven’t had a frost yet, but we’re getting close – I think I have about four days until the nighttime temps dip into the low 30s. There’s still a generous amount of tomatoes on the vine, mostly the small ones, but a couple of big ones too. As usual, I’ll pick any viable green tomatoes before the first frost to use as is, or to set out on trays in the dining room to ripen over the next few weeks. PKS_2485I also have a good crop of mulatto, pasilla (chilaca) and ancho (poblano) chiles that I was hoping I could dry for red chile, but it looks like I may have to harvest it all as green chile this year.PKS_2490Frankly, even though I adore the summer gardening season, I’m ready for the change. The summer garden keeps me pretty busy with the picking and cooking, the watering and composting. I’ll have one or two big work days after the frost, pulling the dead plants, adding compost to the beds, planting the garlic and favas, and setting up the cold frames around the winter greens. After that I get to enjoy a more relaxed daily schedule. And a change of menu- the first batch of lettuce has just reached eating size!PKS_2489 PKS_2479

 

Exhibit #4

Yup, sometimes vegetarians eat exactly what you think they do – particularly when there’s a perfect head of Jericho romaine lettuce growing in the garden. Well, not any more. Behold the Mediterranean-ish salad plate.

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By the way, it is thanks to this:

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That I had this:

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I don’t mess around anymore. Everything gets covered in bird netting.

Exhibit #3

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Yes, more leftover black beans, this time with brown rice and collards from the garden. Oh, and a nice dash of hot sauce. The southerner with whom I reside always chides me for not cooking the collards enough, but I like them when they’re still just a bit al dente. I usually season collards with garlic, chile flake, salt and cider vinegar – which yields a tasty potlikker, although they also find their way into Indian dishes, and, recently, a very tasty batch of gumbo Z.

Something Old is New Again

I’m going to try to stick to my promise to show more of what happens after I grow and harvest the vegetables. So, here’s exhibit #2 in the series of “What is it that vegetarians eat, anyway?”

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Over the weekend we had some friends over for tacos on the patio, and I had a mishmash of leftovers stashed away. However, I get bored easily and didn’t want to eat more tacos. No problem, I was able to repurpose some of the leftover seasoned blackbeans by adding a bit of masa, shredded cheese and some herbs from the garden. I formed the beans into patties which were panfried until crispy on the outside. I topped the cooked fritters with some leftover grilled mushrooms and peppers and a bit of creme fraiche. These were accompanied by a salad of radishes, radish tops, pea tops, weeded out amaranth seedlings, arugula and lettuce – all fresh from the garden. The salad was dressed simply with salt, lime, yogurt and avocado oil.

Don’t let the haphazard plating depicted in the cell phone snapshot fool you. The end result tasted quite elegant.

A Lesson in Patience

It’s because of forecasts like this that I don’t rush my tomato starts into the ground:

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Yes, I can cover my hoops and the plants would probably be fine at 34 degrees tomorrow night, but why chance it? Instead I will wait a few more days.

In the meantime, we will continue to eat our greens, although we’re getting near the end of the overwintered bounty. Most of the plants have bolted and are being enjoyed by the bees, while I strip off the last of the leaves. During the cold months, when the greens are at their best and most appreciated, with few other edibles in the garden, they become a mainstay of the quick eats coming out of our kitchen. And since I think folks sometimes aren’t sure how I not only sustain myself, but eat really well, on a vegetarian diet, I’m going to try and do a better job of showing off what it is that we actually cook with the vegetables we harvest. So here is one of the homecooked, garden provided, breakfasts in regular rotation:

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It’s sort of like a southwest-style Eggs Bene: a masa cake (which may, or may not, be adorned with a little melty cheese), a mound of chard quickly steamed in the microwave, a luscious fried egg, and a couple of spoonfools of the tomatillo salsa verde from the freezer stash. The reason that this pops up so frequently when we want a hearty breakfast is that I almost always have masa harina on hand in the pantry and the little hand formed patties take very little time to put together and cook. Also, the combination of rich egg yolk, minerally chard, and tangy salsa is just really, really good. Oh, and you know, chard is one of the easiest things to grow.

Eat Your Greens

Happy Spring Everyone!

It’s sort of suprising to me that we don’t celebrate the first day of spring here in the U.S. I can’t think of a better reason to take a day off and do some feasting. Although, unfortunately, the weather is not exactly spring-like today. Think winter in the PNW. I’m afraid it’s rather dank.

However, thanks to the warm sunny weather we had last week, everything is growing! There’s a lot of fresh greenery to eat. The hens spend much of their day plotting ways to get at the lush stand of alfalfa on the other side of the gate. They come full tilt, skidding across the patio, every time they hear the clang of the metal gate latch. They’ve learned that I will leave the gate open for them while I tend to the side garden and they lie in wait for the opportunity.

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The humans are pretty excited about the fresh greenery as well. There’s nothing like fresh herbs and greens from the garden to elevate humble pantry basics. I know the grainy phone photo below looks like an unappetizing bowl of glop, but, actually, it was a perfect last winter dinner.

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This was a quick, midweek, one pot meal: Onion and garlic were sauteed and then the dutch oven was deglazed with a glug of wine. Green lentils and a can of roasted tomatoes were added, along with some salt, a pinch or two of chile flakes, a bay leaf and fresh rosemary. Everything simmered until the lentils were tender, then I tossed in a bundle of chopped chard and kale with some fresh oregano. When the greens were wilted, I cracked a couple of eggs on top to poach and added some fresh mozerella to melt. The dish was finished off with some smoked paprika and extra olive oil. Yeah, this was a very tasty sendoff for winter. Now, though, I’m ready for fresh peas, spinach and asparagus, even though I know it will be lots more chard and kale for the next month or so.

Bounty

So, here it is, the end of August already, and this is my typical morning harvest from about 150 sf of garden bed space:

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Interestingly, this year’s garden is smaller than previous years’ (I turned over the 50 sf of side yard beds to fruit trees this year because I got tired of listening to my neighbor curse at me whenever I worked in those beds) but the garden, overall, is the most productive I’ve had, perhaps due to the concentration of resources. The Rattlesnakes beans and tomatoes are not having the the best year, but the Purple Podded Pole Beans and Scallopini squash are going crazy. I also have as much chard, kale and collard greens as I care to eat along with plenty of annual and perennial herbs tucked in and around. The yard long beans are almost ready, the Lemon cucumbers are just starting to put out female flowers, and I’m eagerly anticipating the Cherokee Purple Tomatoes that are finally filling out and should start ripening soon. The pickling cucumbers, tomatillos and Guajillo chiles are just starting, so the trickle of fruit I’m picking now will be a flood by next week (all destined for preservation in the pickling jar or freezer). When things peak at the end of next month, I will also be harvesting a bit of late season corn, Cayenne Chiles, dry Tepary beans, the first of the fall lettuce, and by the end of October I may even have a few potatoes. Its a good year for eating!