Saturday, December 27, 2008
Our dear daughter came running into our room at midnight to inform us that it was hailing outside. Her desire, as is all our kids, is to have it snow here....something it has not done significantly for ten years. Every once in a while we get a bit of frost that lingers in the morning and if you squint and turn your head just the right angle you can imagine what it would be like to have snow on the ground here in the Central Valley. But snow to the degree that my children would appreciate comes maybe 2 or 3 times in a lifetime. The last great snowstorm of '97 closed down schools (all 2 inches of it:). We drove around town taking pictures of snowmen and kids skiing (ok, being towed by their parents) on their front lawns. Great day!
But I digress. Last night it was hail and the suggestion of snow....today its sunny and the dream has disappeared. Oh well. The garden has survived and tho things were a bit droopy first thing in the morning.....
...all plants are alive, upright, and thoroughly enjoying the sunny afternoon....yippee yahoo.
Yesterday was the first of December (son’s birthday…yea!) and I planted another pkg. of lettuce seed. This is the first time I’ve sowed a second crop of greens and tho it is quite foggy and a bit chilly outside I’m hoping that some of what went into the ground will germinate and we can have a few more baby green salads this winter. Our other beds of lettuce and mixed greens are doing well, the black-seeded Simpson and Romaines are about 6 inches tall and still quite tender. The Asian baby leaf (in photo) came up fast and got tough fairly quickly. Next year I will plant those more sparingly, we couldn’t eat them fast enough and they were much more tasty as babies.
We are having a bit of an issue with powdery mildew on our ornamentals. These are our little calendulas growing by the broccoli out in the front yard garden. We have had such a warm fall (see garlic post :) and powdery mildew is especially prevalent in these particular situations…..
To form cloves, garlic must be exposed to temperatures below 41 F (5 C). Thus, if planted too late in the spring, garlic will tend to form large onion-like bulbs instead of individual cloves. In the North, garlic is normally planted in October so that it can establish roots before winter and really take of in the spring. Southern gardeners can only plant garlic if they know the temperature will dip low enough. Often, they can wait until November or December to plant.
This is only our second attempt at growing garlic. The first time it went into the ground at the beginning of May; I guess I now know why that didn’t work out so well. I figured this year we were going to get it right. Maybe I should have paid a bit closer attention to the weather channel my daughter always consults before clothing herself….or maybe I should just ask my daughter :)
We have the garlic planted in one container, another spot by the lavender, and a row by our side fence. I wanted to try a few different locales to see which ones were the most productive, now it may be moot...sigh. At this point I guess only time will tell. It’s so wonderful outside, sunny and warm, that I probably shouldn’t be hoping for a quick drop in temperatures…but I am.
There is something incredibly satisfying about going out in the garden and discovering the first signs of life on new plantings. I start looking the day after I sow seeds….despite knowing that at least a few days will have to pass before nature does it’s thing and this small, hard, shell of a seed can burst from it’s cocoon and push it’s way up thru the soil to greet the sunshine. I am tickled by the green that arises from seemingly insignificant pods of brown. Many times I have gotten excited checking out the raised beds only to discover that for several days I have been cheering on a weed (or in the summer - a morning glory…virtually a weed at our house). No worries…usually the real plants are not far behind.
Today, the onions are up and reaching for the sky. This is one of the Com Reds that were planted last week. The shallots are starting to poke their way thru the composted soil, but are not quite as speedy as the little red guys. I know it will be months before they are harvested but for today I am happy just to see sprouts and know there is hope for our little patch of onions.
One of the many reasons Steven and I are dragging our family along the organic/grow-your-own food road is the abysmal state of the American diet and the long term health consequences of continuing down that path. How sad that the ‘Greatest Nation on Earth’ is now foisting upon the rest of the world our propensity to consume large amounts of sugar, fat and salt. I was dismayed to read the following article out of Greece about the consequences of a fast food diet replacing the heart healthy, and highly acclaimed Mediterranean diet. In countries famous for their diet of olive oil, fish and fresh veggies, the rates of obesity and diabetes are skyrocketing. Call it the McDonaldization of the world, call it whatever you want, we don’t want anything to do with it.
...I would like a flying pony for my birthday...sigh.
This life we now lead started years ago. It is as much the growth of our marriage and life together as it is our desire to eat better and healthier. We thought it might be nice to go back and write about some of the influences that brought us to where we are now. Some things have been forgotten and some remain. Maybe we will remember some that shouldn’t have been lost. Though we didn’t have the current name, the beginnings of our present endeavors came after we were first married. We had a book on the shelf called The Integral Urban House. This was a project of the Farallones Institute in Northern California. It was a normal urban house in Berkley, CA that had been changed and converted into a self sustaining urban farm. We started to incorporate some of the ideas from this book. We started slowly with a compost bin and garden around our little rental house in Visalia. The gardens were double-dug and we planted some vegetables in that first experiment. The double-digging idea came from another book, How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine: A Primer on the Life-giving Biodynamic/French Intensive Method of Organic Horticulture by John Jeavons. Double digging has become one of the staples of our gardens. When we convert a piece of ground to garden, that is what we do to start. Double-Dig, compost, manure at times, gypsum, peat moss and lots of shovel work.
...to be continued...
Planted onions and shallots this week. We love onions, and by ‘we’ I mean Steve and I. The kids are not quite sure about them and tho I put them in tons of recipes I usually dice them as tiny as possible so no one will notice. Lately I’ve been substituting shallots for onions in most recipes because they get more tender after cooking and therefore more easily disguise-able (is that even a word? :) Part of being a good parent is learning the fine art of subterfuge.
Years ago when we first switched over to organic milk, the kids were unsure of how this alien milk would taste and hesitant to drink it. So for about a month I poured organic milk into a couple of normal milk cartons that I had saved. After a month of drinking it without noticing, we told them they had been drinking the organic stuff and all was well from then on (neener neener). I also used to put tofu in quite a few dishes without informing the young ‘uns. I distinctly remember the evening Wilson found out he had been eating it in my enchiladas….. said he thought it was cheese. Months later, after finding a tiny piece of soy in the eggrolls, he asked me if I had put mushrooms in them. When I told him that it was tofu, he was relieved. Maybe our kids just need to learn to eat with blindfolds on.
But I digress. Onions, shallots, and garlic. These antagnonists of peas and children everywhere went into the ground this week for our winter garden. I have grown onions only 2 other times so I am still a novice….still plenty of mistakes to be made. I got my sets by mail order - Comred onions, Dutch Yellow and French Red shallots, and California hard and soft-necked garlic. No pics of the garlic, they went in the ground last week and I forgot to take photos.
Here is the onion bed….inter-planted with 4 broccoli plants and surrounded by mixed greens and an unfinished concrete pathway (long boring story)
but the instructions said to plant just deep enuf to cover the crown…so that’s what we did.
...Specifically we have cabbage loopers… nasty, voracious little buggers. I wish I’d take a before pic of these purple cabbage plants; they were quite healthy …were being the operative word in this case. 3 days ago they looked a lot like the ones in the Cat guard post…those are in front yard and for some odd reason completely escaped the onslaught.
—BT….Bacillus thuringiensis var Kurstaki, a naturally occurring bacterial insecticide. After consuming Bt, caterpillars stop eating and die within a few days. Controls tent caterpillars, gypsy moths, cabbage loopers, tomato hornworms and other leaf-eating caterpillars. Derived from natural ingredients and does not remain in the environment for long. May be used up to the day of harvest.
I was so intent on squishing the invaders that I forgot to get a photo of the green monsters. More info on loopers can be found in this article from Organic Gardening. Hopefully the plants will recover and I can post pics of the patients well on their way to a long and healthy life….until we decide to eat them :)
We picked the first greens of the season…Yippee, Yahoo! Always a treat to start gathering the baby lettuce for the first yummy salad from the fall crop. Here in the Central Valley we can’t grow lettuce in the summer…well, we but it’s a LOT harder and frankly not worth it. I just buy Earthbound Farms during the months of hell and we eat more zucchini. With temperatures around 110 for days on end it fries the poor greens; ours start bolting when the temp gets into the high 80’s! Our climate, however, does allow us to plant lettuce several times from fall thru early spring so we theoretically can have baby greens for 7 months of the year. I tend to be lazy, plant a couple different varieties over the course of a few weeks in Oct. and then eat it all winter at whatever stage it happens to be. This year we are going to experiment with staggered plantings because the young growth is so tasty and we just want to see what happens. I’ll keep you posted on the results. The plan is to plant a small bit on the first of Dec. and then again in Feb. and March….depending on the weather and the soil conditions. My research (aka googling - see tips) says these should germinate at temps as low as 40 degrees at night, 60 during the day…so we’ll be following the weather reports a bit more closely than usual. This salad is mostly Black-seeded Simpson, because it grew the fastest, served with goat cheese, pecans and a glass of wine…not optional.
We have (choke choke) 11 cats; I’m not sure why, I wish I did, but I don’t. Cats are wonderful, snugly, sweet, independent, mischievous, and on occasion, naughty animals….and we love them. But cats and gardens don’t always mix. Many times we have had to replant beds and shore up plants knocked over by playful kittys, not to mention the digging involved when felines need to ‘do their business’ and decide to do it on a newly planted garden bed. Several years ago we came up with the idea of using plant trays around transplants as well as on top of seed beds to discourage our cats from using the garden as a big litter box.
I usually cut the edges off and secure with drip irrigation anchors. Most of the time I just leave them in all season; occasionally we will remove them once a bed is established.
I used to turn the trays in to our local nursery for recycling, now I just keep them and add to our collection of plant protectors. We have also used metal shelving (this green one was found in the neighbors trash) and old refrigerator shelves.