Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anthropomorphic Parsnips

After growing a few of my own vegetables, I'm starting to notice something about the store bought ones....they are kinda boring. All uniform and perfectly shaped, they are. It makes me wonder, what happens to the "nonconformists"? Do they even exist for conventional farmers? If so, what happens to them? Perhaps someone is pulling them off the veggie conveyor belt and tossing them out. I hope not. They make me smile. Take this pair, for example:
"Mama parsnip with a baby on her hip"

Can you see it? If not, here is a view of them separated:

Admittedly, it's easier to cook with uniformly shaped vegetables. But it's not as much fun. What do you think?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seed Purchases - whom shall we trust?

I just read an excellent post by Chiot's Run titled "Say NO to GM vegetables". On the surface, this would seem like an easy thing to do. But as she points out, it's not so simple. As it turns out, most seeds companies aren't really seed companies in the truest sense. Many (most!) are in the Monsanto camp, and we all know how scary that is. There are some friendly options, though, like Baker Creek out of Missouri, with whom I just placed an order. By the way, if you are ever near Petaluma, CA, I just found out that Baker Creek has put in a seed "bank" store there. Looks awesome!
I also ordered from, TomatoFest, since I am (apparently) addicted to growing tomatoes. "Hi, I'm Jackie and I'm a tomato-aholic." If there are any other tomato-addicts out there, here is some info from the TomatoFest website:

"TomatoFest is your destination for finding the best tasting, non-hybrid, non-genetically modified, old-fashioned and rarest heirloom tomato seeds from around the world. Truly, the original tomato lovers paradise!

Since 1990, our mission has been to find what are considered to be the most favored heirloom tomato varieties from many different regions and family farms, to grow and harvest these tomato seeds, and to save tomato seeds in our seed bank to share with other gardeners around the world. Our intention is to sustain these precious heirloom tomato seed varieties so they may remain a vital and available food source for generations to come."

Wishing you a GMO- and Monsanto-free garden in 2010!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Easy homemade lemon drop lotion

First of all, I apologize for another non-gardening post. The reality is that I'm just not out in the garden lately...too cold and dark. But I did manage to pull a few carrots for dinner:
Anyway, the main topic of this post is the fabulous homemade lotion that I just made:

I'm calling it lemon drop lotion, since I seem to be obsessed with all things citrus lately. The best thing about it is just how easy it is to make. The recipe has been passing through the blog-o-sphere recently with various modifications as it travels. I saw it on A Sonoma Garden. My version is below:

1 1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup emulsifying wax
1/4 cup olive oil
24-36 drops organic lemon essential oil (it can be any scent)
containers for lotion...the recipe makes 1 1/4 pints

I purchased the emulsifying wax (1 pound for $6.50) and organic lemon essential oil (1/2 oz. for $5.75) at Mountain Rose Herbs. This is enough to make more than a dozen half-pints of lotion...which makes it less expensive than even store brand lotion!

1) In a large (at least 2 cup) glass measuring cup combine the olive oil and emulsifying wax and microwave for 1 minute until melted.
2) Then microwave 1 1/4 cup water for 1 minute in a separate container.
3) While that is heating up, add the essential oil into the melted wax/olive oil mixture and stir.
4) Next, pour the hot water into the wax/olive oil mixture and watch it turn milky white.
5) Then pour the hot lotion into a container(s) and let cool overnight. Poof! Homemade lotion with no weird or scary ingredients!

Friday, November 27, 2009

(Shame-ful) Promotion

I titled this post "Shameless Promotion" and then thought about it... That title wasn't really true. You see, I am not a salesperson. It kind of makes me nauseous to think about trying to sale something to someone. This "aversion to sales" started long ago with Girl Scout cookies. And people actually like those cookies and often want to buy them. But I always felt like I was asking my parents' friends and neighbors to buy something they might not want. "How rude of me!"

Now, here I am peddling my (homemade, unique, customizable) kids clothes on Etsy.com! And on my blog! (See the sidebar at right.) How shameful!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Candied Grapefruit/Lemon Peels

I'm anticipating my first harvest of lemons from my little Meyer lemon tree. There are probably about 25 lemons and I could pick them anytime now. Making use of the juice is no problem, but what about the peels? Candy them! The picture above was my test on an organic grapefruit. Delicious! The flavor is reminiscent of "orange slice" candy. Did you ever have any of it...maybe as a kid? It was jellybean-like on the inside and coated in sugar on the outside. (Probably full of high fructose corn syrup.) Here's a recipe from Whole Foods...just citrus peels, sugar and water!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eat your soil bacteria?!

"...recent studies indicate that treatment with a specific soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, may be able to alleviate depression." Check out this report.

I don't know how much Prozac costs, but dirt is definitely cheaper! Of course, we need to take the results of these studies with a grain of salt. And mice are not humans. But still! I mean, we all know that gardening is good for the soul. But who ever thought that inhaling soil bacteria would be the source of that "goodness". Very interesting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BPA is in our canning lids - very sad

Organic Gardening magazine kindly sent me a free issue last week. Secretly, I pretended that it was a reward for all my fan-tab-u-lous blogging, but let's be real. I'd been enjoying the articles and lovely photos for the past couple of days. Then...WHAM! I get hit with this info:

"Canning jar lids from the brands Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernandin are coated with bisphenol-A (BPA) - an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics and the epoxy resins that line many food containers. BPA is an estrogenic chemical - meaning it can mimic the hormone estrogen - and a wide body of research links it to an increased risk for reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes."

Right after I read this passage, my husband walked into the room and he could see that I was upset. I told him why. Then he asked, "What are you going to do?"
Hmm...I thought about the answer to that question. I had several options:
1) Throw out all of my jars of carefully preserved vegetables and fruits. (This seems a bit harsh, especially when I face the fact that all of the food that I have eaten from jars for my whole life has potentially been contaminated with BPA.)
2) Buy new German jars that have glass lids and rubber sealing parts. (Likely expensive. And what will I do with all those old jars?)
3) Write a letter to Ball, Kerr, and anybody else who's address I can find.
4) Pretend I didn't read that page and try to forget. (Ignorance is bliss, I tell ya!)

In the end, I think I've decided to go ahead and use up the goodies I've preserved and look into the German jars for the future. Surely a non-food use for the old jars will pop up. The German Weck glass jars are pretty, but pricey - $15 for six 1/4L jars. In the meantime, I'm going to write a letter to the American lid manufacturers and beg them not to use BPA.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Raised Beds!

It's my privilege to announce the debut of 3 new raised beds!
We used two 2x6s for the sides (rough redwood) and 1/2" wire mesh (galvanized) in the bottom to keep the gophers out. The dump supplied us with 2 truckloads of compost for only $85. (Lots of shoveling and wheelbarrowing ensued). Have I told ya'll how much I love our dump? I don't think so...well, I need to. Anyway, once we got the compost in the beds I planted out some kohlrabi and pac choy seedlings. They may not have time to grow very much before it gets cold, but I thought I'd give it a shot. Cabbage white butterflies are everywhere in the backyard, so I covered the seedlings with black netting. Maybe I won't have to pick off so many caterpillars this time. Can you squish caterpillars with your bare fingers? I can deal with the little ones that way, but the big boys are another story....they require stomping for me.

I found 3 trellises at OSH that fit perfectly in the back of the beds. Being a member of the "do-it-yourself" camp, I had a plan to make the trellises myself. But I found out it was going to cost almost as much to build them myself (and be a royal pain involving ripping several boards), so I bought the pre-made ones. Gotta pick your battles, you know? Peas are just starting to pop up under the trellises - Tall Telephone and Sugar Snap. I also planted snow peas for the first time, but they don't get a tall trellis, since they are shorties. It would normally be time to plant garlic and shallots, but since my garlic got rust this year, I'm afraid it's a bad idea to replant it. (Thanks, Michelle for your advice.) I bought some shallots at the farmer's market and I'm thinking about planting them. Note that this is a "no-no" in all the books, since there is a possibility of disease spread when you aren't using "certified" sets. I did it anyway last year and they grew really well...until the gopher ate them. Maybe I'll plant some more favas, too. Come on rain!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Disappointing ground cherries

I was so excited to be growing ground cherries this year. How special and exotic! Well, maybe they should stay "exotic", cause I can definitely live without them. At least that's how I feel about the Aunt Molly's ground cherry seeds I bought from Reimer Seeds. The fruit they produced were very small, less than dime-sized and the flavor was just too weird for me. It was sweet mixed with tomatillo flavor, but not in a good way. Maybe I should have bought the Yellow Husk variety or the Cape Gooseberry. Or maybe I should have bought my seeds from somewhere else besides Reimer. (They don't have the best reputation...) Did anybody else have good luck with ground cherry this year?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Botany of Desire - ONLINE!

So, I heard that Michael Pollan's book was being made into a movie/documentary for PBS. "Awesome", I thought, since the book was excellent. But I didn't let you fair readers know about it because:
1) Every other garden blogger already did (I felt pelted with this info!) and
2) I don't have a TV anymore and was a bit bummed that I was going to have to miss out

But, guess what?! The lovely people of PBS have made the documentary available for online streaming. Can I get a big "wooo-hoo!" from the TV-free folks? Needless to say, it's good. Really good. Even non-gardeners will enjoy the film. Check it out here!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Spotty germination and carrot seed sandwiches

"Many catalogues, notably Burpee's, offer these ridiculous devices designed for the gardener too stupid to sow seed by himself - and of course charge extra for them; and to put it plainly, they are a swindle. Anyone who can't scrape a shallow trench with a hoe, then walk down it scattering seed from a packet, had better abandon gardening forthwith. Seed tapes are clumsy affairs that have to be unwound and maneuvered into position, then covered with soil exactly as naked seed is. But they don't germinate any better than seed does - rather worse, the difference being that when sees is sown by hand, the inevitable blank spots can be filled with seeds kept in reserve in the packet. When four out of ten seeds embedded in a tape fail to come up, there is nothing to do about it."

-Eleanor Perenyi Green Thoughts - A Writer in the Garden (1981) p. 207

You know, I've never used seed tape, but I did try a little experiment with paper towels and carrot seeds. See, I'd been having trouble with my carrots. The first 3 sowings resulted in very spotty germination. I now know that this was probably due to the fact that I didn't keep the soil moist enough. But, since I didn't know much about carrots back then, I went looking for a solution. And where do we all go searching for solutions? That's right! The internet. That's when I heard about the "paper towel trick". And I thought this would be my answer. So, I placed the seeds 1" apart between 2 paper towels on a tray and moistened this carrot seed sandwich. Then I waited a few days. The idea was to encourage the seeds to sprout on the paper towels. After seeing what I thought looked like sprout-ation, the little guys got a 1/4" blanket of nice potting soil out in the sunny vegetable bed. Making sure to keep the soil moist this time, I watched carefully as only 1 little carrot seed sprouted. What a let down!

After "The Great Carrot Seed Sandwich Experiment" went bust, I simply planted the seeds without any fanfare, watered them lightly almost everyday, and most of them sprouted. Brilliant.
Any evidence of a successful carrot seed sandwich out there?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Genome of late blight is sequenced - a podcast

I heard an interesting podcast on Science Friday recently. The topic? Late blight. The organism that has devastated tomato and potato crops in the eastern US this year. I had thought that late blight was a fungus...but no! It's now classified as a water mold. With a flagellum and all!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Of germ plasm and royal families

"The fact is that we are running out of a resource as vital as petroleum. The technical name for it is germ plasm and it means the genetic plant material whose biological diversity the hybridist could, until recently, draw on to a practically limitless extent. But the genetic base of our major food crops is narrowing steadily. An analogy might be the royal family that, having pursued a policy of perpetual intermarriage, winds up with many of its members afflicted with hereditary blindness, hemophilia or congenital idiocy. According to a recent study, most modern agriculture has come to be based on fewer than thirty plant species, and some of the consequences are already visible. Genetic diversity is agriculture's first line of defense against pest, diseases and adverse climatic conditions. Endless fields of genetically identical hybrid crops are, on the contrary, an invitation to disaster - disasters such as the wheat stem rust of 1954 and the southern corn blight of 1970, in which thousands of acres were destroyed."

-Eleanor Perenyi Green Thoughts - A Writer in the Garden (1981) p. 102

Sounds like something you might read today. Maybe in Organic Gardening magazine or the New York Times. Eleanor, born in 1918, was far ahead of her time.

She is completely right in defending genetic diversity, but I think we need to take it one step further. It's not enough to just grow the rare varieties, like watermelon radishes and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. We need to continue to seek out well adapted individuals and save their seed. Plagues rise and fall and we, as gardeners and farmers, the caretakers of the earth, must be on the lookout for those plants that have the ability to sustain us through whatever may come. I'm not proclaiming an imminent doomsday here, but I do think this is an important issue. Maybe someone had a tomato plant in their garden on the east coast that was not affected by late blight, when all the others were. Wouldn't that be incredible?!

I personally haven't been successful at hybridizing vegetables. I tried it with my tomatoes this year, but to no avail. (Though I've been successful with fuchsias.) Others say it's easy to do with peas and squash, though.

We really shouldn't depend on seed companies to do all of the seed saving for us...most of those companies are owned by Monsanto, anyway. If you don't want to hybridize, try simply saving your own seeds, it's fun. As an added bonus, it creates a bit of that "stick it to the man" kind of feeling.

Oh yeah, Monsanto? You think you can make me pay you for your stupid, tasteless, F1 seeds?

HaHaHa, I've outsmarted you! So, take this!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

GenY and gardening

Recently, on Garden Rant there have been a couple of guest posts on GenerationY (those born between 1977 and 1986) and how they relate to gardening. I don't believe that everyone in this generation fits the stereotypes of GenY, but overall I think it is possibly a useful exercise to look at generations as a whole.

GenY has been described as "a schizophrenic generation that is simultaneously self-absorbed yet philanthropic, craves information and connectedness, but seeks out only self-referential sources, is materialistic, impatient and in search of instant gratification yet feels a deep and genuine connection to the planet." Again, this is certainly not accurate for everyone, in my opinion.

Isabel Hardman of Fennel and Fern describes her gardening life as a GenY-er and how she feels left out of the current gardening scene. She even believes that maybe she's not welcome there.

I, too, am a GenY-er, apparently. I don't really feel left out of the gardening scene...but that's because I've never been afraid to create my own scene. (For better or worse!) Most of the time, the older generations have been encouraging to me and my vegetable pursuits. My neighbor, who is 81, has given me several cuttings from her garden and a jar of her homemade jam. My other neighbor, who is at least 2 decades older than me, actually asks me questions about what to do regarding problems in his vegetable beds. But not always are my interactions so lovely. I can attest to the occasional discouragement from the "chemical generation". Some of the older folks don't even know what organic means. They seem to believe it is some "new fangled" hippy thing. When really...it's old as dirt - literally. There's a generation gap here, to be sure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free Farm Stand...How Beautiful!

This is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a long time. I'm considering trying to start something similar in Seaside, but on a smaller scale. Just need some friends to get onboard...

The Free Farm Stand from Boris Igor A on Vimeo.

You can visit the blog to find out more.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Review - Golden Gate Gardening

Golden Gate Gardening: the complete guide to year-round food gardnening in the San Francisco Bay area & coastal California (2nd edition)
by Pam Pierce

This book has taught me so much over the last 2 years. It is so thorough and detailed. I believe everyone who grows vegetables near the coast in central California should read it, if not own it. I have checked it out from the library 3 times this year. (Yes, I know I should just buy it!) My Google Documents contain several scanned pages from the book, such as the monthly planting times for all of the major crops, as well as suggestions on crop rotations. The book begins with an introduction to our region (and subregions) and the difficulties and rewards of growing here. There are, of course, lots of tips for beginners, but I truly believe that even the most seasoned gardener has something to learn from Pam. I really enjoy the detailed write up of each type of crop. We're not just talking about the major ones either. Pam lets us in on all her growing secrets, from the mildly exotic kohlrabi, to the obscure Bolivian Sunroot (one of her new favorites). Golden Gate Gardening is a must read for central CA, ya'll!

Just checked Amazon and the soon-to-be-released 3rd edition is available for pre-order ($20). The book cover says that it will now include info on edible flowers and cut flowers, as well as fruit trees and shrubs. It should be shipping to my house in February 2010!

By the way, I just found out that Pam has a blog, aptly named Golden Gate Gardener.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - October 2009

Making a comeback after it was nearly killed to the ground during a freeze last winter.



Orchid: Odcm. Tiger Crow 'Golden Girl'

Orchid: Spathoglottis

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vegetable bartering

There is a restaurant located deep in Carmel Valley. It's only open on Monday nights. There are no menus and the curtains are cut out of paper, like paper dolls. And you have to "know somebody" to get in. That's not to say that you have to know somebody who is rich or famous or powerful. No, you just have to know somebody who knows the chef. The General Store dinners are related to the chef's catering business - a chance to try out new recipes on friends. The cuisine is all about local, organic, seasonal food. A nice change from the typical catered affair. We have only been to the General Store once. It takes about an hour or so to get there on steep winding roads. When we arrived, the place was packed. A lively atmosphere inside the old wooden building. Bare bones everything, except the food. It was absolutely delicious! The meal was not particularly unusual. This is to say that I recognized everything on my plate: roasted chicken, steamed romano beans, roasted potatoes, and a salad with local organic tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. The beauty was in the freshness of the ingredients and the careful preparation!

I have a friend who lives in the valley near the Cachagua General Store. She grows loads of vegetables and has often been asked by the chef to bring in some of her extra vegetables...in exchange for dinner with her husband. That's a reason to live an hour away from civilization in the valley, if I ever heard of one. This year the chef asked her to grow out some Aji pepper seeds that he had acquired from Peru.

To be growing vegetables directly for a fantastic restaurant - what a thrill! Now I just need to find my own local, organic-type restaurant...and another half acre ;)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

If You Ain't Drippin', You Ain't Livin'

I installed drip irrigation for the first time this spring and I will never turn back. It's that good! The plants have grown so much better this year, as compared to last. And the best part - I don't have to spend hours with the hose, wondering if I've watered long enough yet. I don't even have to think about it now, the drip lines are on a timer. The slow, deep watering is the closest thing you can get to a soaking, gentle rain.

I'm sure some people are afraid of the "plumbing skills" required to install drip. I know I was! But it's really not that difficult. Really.

The simplest type of drip line attaches directly to your spigot. You can get a splitter, so you still have a place for your hose, etc.

Or, if you have an underground system of PVC, you can attach your drip to that line. That's what I have in the main vegetable garden in the backyard.

There are lots of websites that show you how to install the system properly. Just google "how to install drip irrigation". I learned a lot here. But don't let that website make you think it's too complicated. It's not.

I spent less than $100 on my system. I really like the "drip tape" that has emitters pre-installed. (Emitters are sophisticated holes where the water comes out.) Plastic pipe with pre-installed emitters means that you don't have to spend hours trying to insert little plastic emitters into your 1/2" plastic pipe. I did just this for the greenhouse. Trust me, it's no fun. The drip line that I installed in the vegetable garden this year comes with emitters spaced every 18", which seems to work just fine. You can buy little T and L fittings and endcaps.

I water for 2 hours twice a week - actually the timer and drip line do the watering, not me. That might be too much for some people with clay soil, but I have very sandy soil. One of my lines (in the front yard) is currently not attached to a timer. So I'll warn you that I've been known to turn it on and forget about it. Two hours comes and goes and I've totally forgotten. Sometimes I've watered for 24 hours - not good. I've learned to set a timer on the microwave (or any other time-keeping device) to remind me to shut it off.

If you get a lot of rain in your area throughout the year, then lucky you! But for the rest of us, drip is the way to go. Especially in CA, where we basically have a monsoon climate with lots of rain in the winter and not a drop for the whole summer.

Go on, get your drip on!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Make way for the vegetables, ye lowly concrete!

I'm getting new raised beds in the backyard! Whoo-hooh! Last weekend we went to work breaking up part of the concrete slab in the backyard. I said "we", but really it was my husband who did the concrete busting with the sledge hammer. I brought him ice water and helped pick up the broken pieces. It only took us about an hour to complete our mission. We thought we were going to have to rent a concrete cutter to cut the slab off. But lo and behold, when we moved the pavers, the slab below was already cut...almost exactly where we had wanted! I was very glad we didn't have to deal with a scary, loud concrete cutter. Now I have space for 3 raised beds on the east side of the yard.

"Make way for the vegetables, ye lowly concrete!"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review - Harvest: a year in the life of an organic farm

Harvest: a year in the life of an organic farm
by Nicola Smith

I grabbed this book from the library shelf for 2 reasons:
1) the title
2) the cover picture

I was slightly afraid that the book might inspire me to give it all up, buy a little plot of land, and start a CSA. That's basically what this married couple of farmers did after finishing their Master's Degrees in Science. Sounds romantic, no? But then comes drought, animal sickness, and a harsh Vermont winter. The farming couple struggles to survive all of this while simultaneously raising a small child. I read this book rather quickly, in 2 days. I admit skipping through some paragraphs that I believed were extraneous. There is a strong emphasis on the "animal" side of farming, with very little said about the growing of the vegetables. It is a personal tale, not a how-to book. I shouldn't have been surprised to see so much text devoted to the animals, since this was the primary focus of the farmers. I guess I'm just biased toward plants, since I don't raise animals and eat very, very few of the ones that live on land. Anyway, I liked the book, but I'm not rushing out to tell my friends about it. And no, I don't want to become a professional farmer. This book scared that dream right out of my head!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tomato-pesto-cheese Savory Pie

It's been cool around here lately, so I've been thinking about warm, savory dishes for dinner. Tonight I made a "Tomato-pesto-cheese Savory Pie". The original recipe was posted on FarmGirl Fare - thanks, Susan.

It's a great way to use up a bunch of homegrown tomatoes and basil. Since I don't have a wheat field or a cow, I had to purchase the other main ingredients ;) I added some soy chorizo to the pie (not in the original recipe) and we liked the spicy kick that it added. My husband thinks that artichoke hearts would also be good in there and I agree. That's one of the beauties of this recipe - it's adaptable to what you have on hand. Another is that you can freeze the leftovers for later. I was surprised by how nice the "crust" came out. It tasted like a moist, cheesy biscuit!

Here is the recipe from Susan.

For The Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use
Heartland Mill organic)
4 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it's fresh!) **
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick/ 4 ounces) cold butter
1 cup (about 2-1/2 ounces) finely grated pecorino romano (or other hard cheese, such as parmesan)
3/4 cup milk

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix in the butter using a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers until the largest pieces are pea-size. Stir in the pecorino romano. Pour in the milk and use a fork to gently form a soft dough. Do not overmix. Divide the dough in two pieces, making one slightly larger than the other.

On a generously floured surface, use a rolling pin to gently roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle about 12 inches across, rolling from the center outward. Sprinkle dough with flour if sticky. Gently fold the dough in half and transfer into a 9-inch pie pan. If the dough tears, simply press it back together with your fingers. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a slightly smaller circle and set aside (or wait until you have the filling in the pan and then roll it out).

Assembling The Pie:
1 cup pesto, divided
2-1/2 pounds of the best plum tomatoes you can find, sliced lengthwise into 4 or 5 slices each (I used San Marzanos & Golden Romas to add extra color as well as more flavor)
8 ounces mozzarella, grated or thinly sliced (I used a fresh log which can't be grated)
1/2 cup (about 1-1/4 ounces) finely grated pecorino romano (or other hard cheese such as parmesan)

Using a spoon, spread 1/2 cup of pesto over the bottom layer of dough in the pie pan. Layer about half of the tomatoes over the pesto. Cover the tomatoes with about 2/3 of the mozzarella. Layer on the rest of the tomatoes (you may not need them all to fill the pan). Carefully spread the remaining 1/2 cup of pesto over the tomatoes. Cover with the remaining mozzarella and the pecorino romano.

Roll out the second piece of dough if you haven't already, and carefully place it over the pie. Fold the edge of the bottom piece over the top piece and press together to seal. Use your fingers to make a crimped design around the edge. If any dough falls apart, simply press it back together with your fingers. Don't worry if it isn't perfect. The handmade look has much more charm.

Cut four slits in the top of the pie for steam to escape. Bake at 375 degrees F in the center of the oven until the crust is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cover the edge with foil if it starts to brown too quickly.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Crust edges may be sampled much sooner. (As with nearly any fruit pie, if you cut into it while it is still warm, some juice will seep out. If you plan to store any leftover pie right in the pan, simply drain off the juice so the bottom crust doesn't become soggy.) Or cool pie completely, cover, and refrigerate.

You can also freeze this pie. I wrapped a hunk in foil then put it in a zipper freezer bag and tossed it into the freezer. I defrosted the whole piece overnight in the refrigerator, then cut it in half and reheated the slices in my beloved toaster convection oven for 15-20 minutes at 325 degrees, each on a fresh piece of foil and covered lightly with the foil so the tops wouldn't brown too quickly. The bottom crust was a bit soggy, but I'm pretty sure that was because I let the pie sit in the fridge three days before deciding to freeze it. Otherwise it looked and tasted as if it had just come out of the oven the first time. Hint: If you plan to freeze the entire pie and don't want to freeze it in the pan, use a disposable pie pan or line your pan with a piece of heavy duty foil so you can simply lift the whole cooled pie out of the pan.

(From farmgirl fare blog)

I didn't need the foil on the crust and 40 minutes was the perfect amount of cooking time. Susan gives a more detailed discussion of the recipe on her blog post.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Golden Rule of Corn

I grew corn this year for the first time. Although it's maybe not the best choice for a relatively small garden, I decided that I had genetics on my side. My grandfather grew it for a living. And really, I simply love the taste of fresh sweet corn. The reason many people with small gardens choose not to grow it is because the ratio of food to growing space is very low for corn. In addition, sweet corn is relatively cheap at the market...usually around $1 for 2 organic ears. Nevertheless, I forged ahead and decided to grow corn...in the front yard. It grew quite well, I'd say.
Happy corn growing - check out the pink silks!

After picking about 2-3 ears from each of the 8 corn stalks over the last few weeks, I chopped down the plants today. My husband looked at me in dismay and said "That's all?" "Yep, that's all...that's corn," I said.
This is the first ear I picked:

You may have noticed that I said 8 plants. The Golden Rule of Corn planting is that you should have at least a 4x4 foot area planted in solid corn. That's about 16 plants spaced 12" apart. This is so that there is enough pollen present to pollinate the silks. Planting only one long row is said to result in low pollination. Imagine if the predominate wind direction is perpendicular to the row...little to no pollen will fall on the silks.

For some reason, I thought that this rule really didn't apply to me and my corn. I planted 2 rows of 4 plants each. I would have planted more, but tomatoes were dominating the garden this year, so space was at a premium. As it turns out, several ears looked like this:

Notice all of the unpollinated kernels!

Next year, if I grow corn, I'll be playing by it's rules.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Paul Robeson

The next tomato in the taste test series is Paul Robeson.

Paul Robeson, the man for whom the tomato was named (from Wikipedia):
Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American actor of film and stage, All-American and professional athlete, writer, multi-lingual orator, lawyer, and basso profundo concert singer who was also noted for his wide-ranging social justice activism. A forerunner of the civil rights movement, Robeson was a trade union activist, peace activist, fellow traveler, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate, and a recipient of the Spingarn Medal and Stalin Peace Prize.
Sounds like a cool dude!

Seed Catalog Description:
Seed for this Russian heirloom was made available by Marina Danilenko, a Moscow seedswoman. This favorite tomato was named after the operatic artist who won acclaim as an advocate of equal rights for Blacks. His artistry was admired world-wide, especially in the Soviet Union. This "black" beefsteak tomato is slightly flattened, round, and grows to 4-inches. It’s deep, rich colors stand it apart from others…a dusky, dark-red, with dark-green shoulders, and red flesh in it’s center. Very flavorful fruits with luscious, earthy, exotic flavors and good acid/sweet balance. Paul Robeson (aka Pol Robeson) won "Best of Show" at Carmel TomatoFest. As this variety originates from Siberia and sets fruits at lower temps, it is an excellent choice for cooler growing regions.

Production and Earliness:
My plant has produced 24 tomatoes so far this season. The total production weighs in at 5 lbs. I picked the first ripe tomato on 8/03/09.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
On average, the fruits weigh 3.4 ounces each, though the size varies quite a bit. They are prone to "funkyness" on the bottom:

It's hard to categorize the color of this tomato...reddish, mahogany, greenish, orangish. Each tomato is different. Some have an orange "base color" when ripe and others have a red "base color".Plant Growth Habit:
This plant is regular-leaved. It was relatively more susceptible to the disease that affected my tomatoes this year. (I don't know for sure what the disease was, but I'm guessing early blight.)

The texture is a little bit mealy and somewhat crumbly.

The taste is hard to describe. It's earthy, slightly citrusy, medium-low acidity. Each bite is different! Because the fruit ripens to different colors, the flavor of each tomato is a bit different. I like the flavor - definitely. But it's hard to put it into words.

Cooking and serving options:
It's a slicer, through and through.

Is it a winner?
I like the flavor a lot. I appreciate the fact that every tomato tastes slightly different, but all are good. Drawbacks include the low yield and the fact that disease symptoms showed up early and strongly. In spite of this, I'll be growing it again next year because of the "delicious factor".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Corn freaks?

I'm seeing something strange on my corn plants:

Underdeveloped tassels and silks on the same node.

It's occurring not just on one plant, but several.

This tends to occur on the upper nodes - above 2 regular ears.

Is this common or freaky?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tomato Lady

A couple of friends from Oakland stopped by our house recently. They had been touring Monterey all day with some other friends from DC. One of the male urbanites saw my "tomato table" and asked to try one. I said "Sure", since there were only about a hundred on the table.
The table of "honor and glory"!

Then, here it comes..."That's the best tomato I ever tasted!" says the urbanite.

I beamed.

Later that day, I found out from my friend that the tomato taster had nicknamed me "The Tomato Lady". Oh, yes, this made me happier than if he had nicknamed me "The Beautiful Lady from Monterey".

Mother Earth News is conducting a survey of all US tomato growers by region. Anybody who wants to participate can click here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=e1HH0dD96LHer4kqCFZFpQ_3d_3d. A summary of the results thus far is here. Mother Earth News plans to write up the final results for the February-March 2010 issue.

I wish they would have split up the regions a bit more. I'm included in the "Southwest" region for the survey, but I can guarantee you that I've got little to nothing in common with folks in Arizona.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Early Girl F2

The next tomato I'm tasting is Early Girl F2. I saved see from a (hybrid) Early Girl tomato last year. This year I planted out two F2 seedlings. They are vastly different from each other! The one I'm tasting today has potato leaves and produces enormous (for me anyway) tomatoes up to 1.25 lbs. I named this one "Early Girl F2 East", since it grew east of the other seedling. (The other, regular-leaved plant produces small tomatoes.)

Seed Catalog Description:
No description, since it's an F2 (offspring of a hybrid). F2 is the abbreviation for the second filial generation.

Production and Earliness:
Early Girl F2 East produced the first ripe tomato on 7/24 - not bad for a huge beefsteak type tomato. I have collected 27 tomatoes from this plant weighing a total of 11.2 lbs.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
Ruffles galore. They are pretty, no doubt, but can make slicing complicated when catfacing occurs on the blossom end. The average tomato weighed 6.6 ounces. This plant definitely produced the largest tomatoes in my garden this year.

Plant Growth Habit:
Big, bushy and heavy plants. They need a strong support.

Typical beefsteak texture. Not the greatest, but not bad either.

They have a good flavor that is enhanced by salt. Medium acidity. Most of the flavor is in the gel, but the meat isn't bland. Traditional tomato taste.

Cooking and serving options:
This is a big slicing tomato. But I wonder what it would be like stuffed and roasted... Some of them are too much tomato for one person to eat in one sitting, so better to grab a friend.

Is it a winner?
The taste is good and the size is great. It's relatively early and has heavy production. Since there is no way to know what the offspring (F3) will be like, I'll probably have to grow out a few of them due to my curious nature.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

2009 Blotanical Awards

Well, I guess it's time for the 'superbowl' of Garden Blogging - the 2009 Blotanical Awards. I was quite surprised to see Jackie's Secret Garden as one of the top 5 nominees for "Best Vegetable Gardening Blog". Thanks to everybody who nominated me! The best thing about winning (if only I could be so fortunate) is not the fame (yeah right) or money (sheesh), but the award picture I could display! Witness the pic from 2008:

Cute, huh? Hey, wait! I didn't even have a blog in 2008, so how did I get that award sticker?!

And that one!

And THIS one?!

Ahh, the magic of computing... But, seriously, the Blotanicals are a real thing, just in case you think I've made them up. So, if you haven't voted, here's your chance! And you can go ahead and exclude this post when you are choosing the "Best Vegetable Gardening Blog". Thanks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lady Who Will Grow Anything Except Grass

The neighbors in the cul-de-sac know me as "The Lady Who Will Grow Anything Except Grass In The Front Yard". They are not snide about it, just the opposite. One neighbor is tired of paying so much for water. He is constantly trying to get his grass to grow by moving around a sprinkler, so that he can spend his free time mowing. (Just kidding, he hates mowing.) Needless to say, he liked my installation of drought-resistant plants in the main part of the yard. Also, I believe the nice flowers and textures gives the neighbors something to look at besides a sea of green grass. I mean we are all facing into a circle, right? You hope that there's something nice to see outside your front window. Sometimes when I see the neighbors out in the cul-de-sac, they'll ask me questions about the garden. "Is that an artichoke?" "Did you eat any of them?" "Is that corn behind it?"

One neighbor told me that "The Crazy-Looking Lady Who Lives One Street Over and Walks Her Dog" had a plan/plot to take my artichokes. Oh, no, I thought. I also found out that she's the one who lets her dog take a dump in my yard and doesn't pick it up. I don't want to have to confront this lady. I tend to avoid confrontation as much as possible. But I WILL stand up for my ceanothus plant!
The only bright side of this story is that the color of the dried poo blends in with the wood chip mulch. Hey, I'm trying, here!

My ceanothus doesn't deserve to be covered in dog crap. An utter disregard for plant life might be why "The Crazy-Looking Lady Who Lives One Street Over and Walks Her Dog" grows a wide array of unchanging plastic and also metal plants in her front yard. Nice.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Stupice

The next tomato up is Stupice.

Seed Catalog Description:
This potato-leaf heirloom from Czechoslovakia is a cold-tolerant tomato that bears an abundance of very sweet, flavorful 2 to 3-inch, deep red fruit. A 1988 comparative tasting in the San Francisco area gave it first place for its wonderful sweet/acid, tomatoey flavor and production.
Days: 52
Size: Indeterminate
Color: Red
Season: Early-Season
Type: Heirloom

Production and Earliness:
Stupice is my queen of earliness this year. The first ripe tomato was picked on 7/4. I'm growing 2 Stupice plants this year and the average number of fruits per plant is 139 weighing a total of 8.65 lbs.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
The average Stupice tomato weighs one ounce, but in reality there is quite a range of sizes. My plants have produced tomatoes between 0.5 ounce to ~2 ounces or so. The shape is also variable from roundish to heart shape. They seem to be prone to fasciation, but that doesn't bother me. The color inside and out is the classic red.

Plant Growth Habit:
Stupice is a potato-leaved variety. The plants are around 6 feet tall.

Good texture. Average meat to juice ratio.

Stupice has a good, bright and sweet taste. It is similar to Camp Joy, but not quite as flavorful. Medium acidity.

Cooking and serving options:
Hmmm...Stupice is a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of tomato as far as cooking and serving goes. It doesn't really lend itself to any particular purpose, but slicing for a side dish, salad, or sandwich would work just fine.

Is it a winner?
I feel like I'm really supposed to love Stupice. I've heard other people talk about how great it is and it's been hyped as great for the cool, coastal climate. It is good, but it's definitely not my favorite. I did appreciate it's earliness - first in the garden to ripen. But Camp Joy is similar in size to Stupice and I like it's flavor better. I hate to let Stupice go unplanted next year, but I just might do it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Good People Make Good Neighbors

I'm sure you heard the saying, "Good fences make good neighbors." I can't deny that this isn't true, but I do know that there's more to it. We moved into our house on February 29, 2008, but had already met one set of neighbors back in January while looking at the house. They pulled into the cul-de-sac one day as we walked around looking at the house from the sidewalk. "Are ya'll the new neighbors?" "We hope so!" "Well, alright. Good luck!" We were lucky...and we continue to be. Since our initial meeting we have been blessed by this couple time and time again. They are that genuine, "down home" type of people and they've been married for 50 years. We have borrowed every manner of tool from them. Pipe wrench? They've got all sizes - even the ultra-huge 2 footer, which is what we happened to need. How do we get some screws in this cement? Oh, you'll need to use my hammer drill...be right back. Sawhorses? I've got 2 kinds.

Today they really went over the top for us...rhubarb clumps! Several of them. They originally came from another cul-de-sac neighbor many years ago. Yes, we have the best cul-de-sac in town!
Look at this beast. Those look like tree roots!

Strawberry-rhubarb pie, here we come!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2009 - Camp Joy

The next tomato up is Camp Joy.

Seed Catalog Description:
Heavy bearing heirloom variety that offers an abundance of luscious 1" fruit with huge, well-balanced, sweet tomato flavors. One of Gary Ibsen's favorite cherry varieties. Strong disease resistance. Perfect for snacking or salads.
Days: 81
Size: Indeterminate
Color: Cherry
Season: Mid-Season
Type: Heirloom

Production and Earliness:
Camp Joy produced a ripe tomato on 7/8. Great, I thought! But then my 2 plants made me wait until 7/24 for another taste. So I consider this pretty good earliness. The average plant has produced 96 tomatoes so far, weighing 3.27 lbs.

Fruit Size, Color and Shape:
This is a small sized tomato, think cherry to golf ball range. They are nice, round, and red. The average Camp Joy tomato weighs half an ounce. I like how all of the Camp Joy tomatoes are a similar size - there are very few little runts. This doesn't seem to happen with most of the other varieties I'm growing, which have a much larger range of sizes.

Plant Growth Habit:
These plants can grow! The catalog description says they have "strong disease resistance". I think their strategy is to simply outgrow diseases. I'm thinking that if my plants weren't growing all over the place, but were instead tied to a really tall stake, they would be 12 feet tall by now!

Lots of gel and seeds and juice. Rather creamy texture - nice.

They have a nice, sweet flavor with a hint of earthy-ness. There is medium acidity and salt enhances the flavor. Most of the flavor is contained in the gel, not in the 'meat'. I really liked the flavor and so did my husband. We both picked Camp Joy over Lahman Pink and Nepal.

Cooking and serving options:
Camp Joy is a snacking tomato, and a darn good one. Though it's not meaty enough to be considered for sauce, that's ok. I've enjoyed slicing the larger ones for topping my tomato sandwiches. And the smaller ones are great in salads.

Is it a winner?
I like this tomato. The great, sweet flavor and (relative) earliness are it's best qualities. I'll likely be growing this one again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - September 2009

Sunflower for the "Great Sunflower Project". The goal of the project to understand the population dynamics of bees throughout North America. Individual people are encouraged to report bee sightings on their sunflowers to scientists who are studying the awesome creatures. Unfortunately, after 2 bee watching periods, I have seen no bees! In spite of this, I don't really think my garden is a "bee desert". In fact, I see lots of bees, but they are just on other plants, like lavender and squash.

The rest of my blooms are on orchids. This is Masdevallia coccinea alba "Snowbird" AM/AOS.

Mormolyca ringens

Masdevallia carruthersiana

Paphiopedilum Asteroid

Masdevallia Machu Picchu ''Crown Point" AM/AOS - 1st prize winner at the local fair.

Maclellanara Pagan Love Song var 'Golden Realm' HCC/AOS
I love the really tall spike...

...and the big, waxy flowers. They look like yellow starfish with black spots.