Friday, July 31, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Trials - part 6

Some initial tasting results are in. My husband and I tasted 4 varieties and picked our favorites. Three contestants were from my garden [Sungold, Stupice (pictured at left), Camp Joy] and one from my grandmother-in-law's garden (Celebrity). The taste test was blind for my husband. [It reminded me of those taste tests in the 80s between Coke and Pepsi.] Anyway, I chose Sungold and my husband chose Celebrity. I know it wasn't his fault; but I was so disappointed that my husband chose his grandmother's tomato over mine (darn him!). But in the end we decided that they were all good tomatoes - head and shoulders above store bought ones.

I'm thinking about hosting a neighborhood tomato taste test. Ya know, line up several bowls of tomatoes, pass out toothpicks, and have everybody pick their favorite. It sounds like a lot of fun and would give me better results (or at least a larger sample size) for judging taste. As a matter of fact, this is how the famous Carmel TomatoFest began. It all started in Gary Isben's backyard, with a few friends tasting some of his heirloom tomatoes. After a few years it grew so popular that he had to move to a larger location. And then people told him to start charging an entry fee. Last year there were a few thousand people at the TomatoFest. And apparently, that was the final year for TomatoFest. I did a quick search to find out if someone has taken it over since Gary Isben retired in 2008, but nothing turned up. If anybody knows what happened, please let me know. It was a very popular event, with tickets selling out every year.

Guess I'll just have to host my own little TomatoFest in the cul-de-sac...

As far as the tomato trials go, the leaders in production are Stupice, Early Girl (F2), and Sungold (F2), with close to 2 lbs each per plant. I have had ripe fruit from these varieties: Camp Joy, Early Girl (F2), Glacier, Stupice, Sungold (F2), and Sweetie. I'm still waiting on these: Lahman Pink, Paul Robeson, San Francisco Fog, and San Marzano.

Standard-issued lunch at my house:
An open-faced tomato sandwich with gouda and fresh basil (from the garden). Does it get any better than this?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Canning Strawberry Jam

According to our local paper, canning is making a comeback! Ball is the largest supplier of canning products in the US and they report a 30% increase in sales over the last year. Current sales for 2009 are continuing to rise.

This is my second year of canning and it's a lot of fun. I really enjoy saving all of the organic summer fruits and vegetables. It's a great feeling to see all of the finished jars lined up on my shelves. And the best part is that it's so easy! So far I've canned plums, plum jam, tomato sauce, salsa, pickled zucchini, and pickled cucumbers. The only real concern is to always follow safe and current canning procedures. There are 2 main methods: (1) boiling water canner (big pot with a lid and rack on the bottom), and (2) pressure canner. The simpler boiling water canner is used for food that have a lot of acid (e.g. fruit), while the pressure canner is used for foods with less acid (e.g. salsa).

High Ground Organics is a great local farm that hosted a strawberry U-pick last weekend. The tasty berries were only $1.50 per lb - a great bargain for making jam! So I bought 25 lbs.

Strawberry Jam Recipe
4-6 half-pint jars (8 oz.), lids, and rings
4 lbs stawberries, wash, hulled, and crushed
1 cup apple juice
sugar (optional, sometimes I use none, sometimes 1 cup)
1 packet Ball® No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin

The fruit pectin is a natural substance found in apples, from what I understand. When you buy the Ball® No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin, there is a handy insert with complete instructions for making strawberry jam, as well as other fruit jams and jellies. These are the instructions that I follow. In addition, there are other Ball recipes and tutorials on their website.

I always get my jars, lids, and rings at Wal-Mart because they are so much cheaper there. This recipe only requires a boiling water canner, which is basically a big deep pot and a lid. Place a rack in the bottom of the pot, so that the jars won't be directly sitting on the bottom. If you don't have a rack, make a layer of extra rings (screw cap thingies). This will prevent the jars from breaking. The pot needs to be deep enough so that the jars will be covered by at least 1 inch of water when sitting on the rack. No fear! You can make jam!

Monday, July 27, 2009

$50 Worth of Zucchini and A Day of Grace

Exponential zucchini
I've grown 25 pounds of zucchini so far on only 2 plants - that's alot of food! The Italian Romanesco zucchini seed from Peaceful Valley Farms has proven to be a keeper.

Last year I lost a battle with powdery mildew on my yellow crookneck squash. So I went looking for a variety with some resistance. And it looks like I might have found it. Needless to say, I haven't kept all of the zucchinis for our tiny household of 2. Instead, I put the extras in a basket and place it at the end of our driveway. It always goes fast! I've also pickled zucchini and frozen bags of grated zucchini.

The picture at left shows the Italian Romanesco variety with a sidekick lemon cucumber.

I wish summer's bounty would last forever!

A Day of Grace
I checked out a cookbook from the public library a couple weeks ago - The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Very simple recipes with few ingredients are my favorite and this book is full of them. I was enjoying the book so much that I decided to renew it for a few more weeks. But that was not to be, since someone else had placed a hold on it. So, I had to keep it 1 one more day past the due date in order to scan all of the recipes I had marked. I hate breaking rules, well actually I hate breaking good rules. And I deemed this to be a good one, since I know what it feels like to wait for a good book to become available. Anyway, when I returned the book the next day, I put a quarter on top of it and slide it to the librarian. "I believe I owe you a quarter," I said sheepishly. She proceeded to scan the book and typed something into the computer. Then, she slide the quarter back to me, smiled warmly, and said, "There is a day of grace." A day of grace. I smiled happily and bounced down the stairs toward my car. A day of grace. I wish you a day of grace today.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Community Gardens Act of 2009

There is a bill in the House in support of community gardening - H.R. 3225. You can read all about it at the Library of Congress Website or check out the full text below. The "purpose" of the bill is to:
      (1) establish community gardens to enhance the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
      (2) promote healthy lifestyles; and
      (3) educate and train the public on the importance and value of community gardening.
Sounds good to me. I asked my representative to support this legislation. Maybe you will, too? Here's how to look up their contact info.

Here's what I sent Sam Farr:

"Please consider supporting H.R. 3225, the Community Gardens Act of 2009 (Introduced in House). Community gardening promotes a healthy lifestyle, as well as a sense of community and well being."

Here's the full text of the bill:

Community Gardens Act of 2009 (Introduced in House)

HR 3225 IH

1st Session

H. R. 3225

To help provide funds for community gardens, and for other purposes.


July 15, 2009

Mr. INSLEE (for himself, Ms. NORTON, Mr. BLUMENAUER, Ms. MATSUI, Mr. MORAN of Virginia, Mr. CONYERS, Ms. BORDALLO, Mrs. CHRISTENSEN, Mr. MOORE of Kansas, Mr. ENGEL, Ms. KAPTUR, Mrs. MALONEY, Mr. MCGOVERN, Mr. CARSON of Indiana, Mr. GRIJALVA, Ms. LEE of California, Ms. EDWARDS of Maryland, Ms. WOOLSEY, and Mr. CLEAVER) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Agriculture


To help provide funds for community gardens, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the `Community Gardens Act of 2009'.


    The purpose of this Act is to establish a program to--
      (1) establish community gardens to enhance the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
      (2) promote healthy lifestyles; and
      (3) educate and train the public on the importance and value of community gardening.


    In this Act:
      (1) The term `community garden' means a garden for individuals in a local community.
      (2) The term `eligible entity' means--
        (A) a non-profit organization;
        (B) a public entity;
        (C) a community development organization;
        (D) a Native American or tribal group;
        (E) a technical, educational, or outreach institution;
        (F) a State or local government; or
        (G) a State or local governmental organization.


    The Secretary of Agriculture (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the `Secretary') may make grants, with such terms and conditions as the Secretary determines appropriate, to eligible entities for activities under section 6.


    In order to receive a grant under this Act, an eligible entity shall submit an application in such form and containing such information as the Secretary may require, including the costs associated with a community garden for which the eligible entity will use the grant.


    An eligible entity that receives a grant under this Act may use that grant to engage in activities to establish, build, or operate community gardens. Such activities may include any or all of the following:
      (1) Acquiring any interest in real property.
      (2) Construction.
      (3) Community outreach.
      (4) Operations.
      (5) Any other appropriate activity.


    In making a grant under this Act, the Secretary shall consider the following:
      (1) Geographic diversity among grantees.
      (2) The number of individuals in a local community that are likely to participate in a community garden.


    (a) In General- The eligible entity that receives the last grant made under this Act for a community garden shall ensure that the community garden is operational not later than an opening date that is 2 years after the grant, unless the Secretary provides an exception.
    (b) Subsequent Grants to Violators- The Secretary shall treat as an exception a failure by the eligible entity to ensure that the community garden is operational not later than the opening date if the eligible entity receives a grant under this Act for the community garden on or after the opening date.


    An eligible entity receiving a grant under this Act that acquires an interest in real property for a community garden using the grant shall ensure that the interest in real property is used for the community garden for a period of not less than 10 consecutive years, beginning on the opening date.


    (a) In General- A grant under this section may not exceed 80 percent of the costs specified in the application and associated with all community gardens assisted with the grant.
    (b) Eligible Entity Contributions- An eligible entity may cover any of those costs that are not covered by the grant using cash or an in-kind contribution.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Trials - part 5

I've got good news and bad news....
Let's start with the bad. It's really not that bad, anyway. I noticed some sort of disease on the lower leaves of many tomato plants a couple weeks ago.

Some plants were more affected than others. The west bed seemed to be suffering more than the east bed. But that could be because the west bed was planted first, which gives it more time to show problems. I believe it's some form of early blight (a fungal problem) or it might be a different fungus, such as Septoria leaf spot. Anyway, it has appeared as black spots which become larger and eventually kill the lowest leaves on the plant. It is progressing relatively slowly. To defend myself (& my tomatoes), I've chosen 2 approaches: (1) milk spray and (2) corn meal spray. The milk spray is a 1:1 dilution of 2% milk and water.

Milk spray residue showing on the doesn't seem to hurt anything.

The corn meal spray is created by letting a cup of cornmeal sit in a quart of water for a few days. I'm spraying each of these weekly. The milk is going on the west bed and the cornmeal spray on the east bed. So far the milk spray appears to be slowing the disease, but it's hard to sure.

The other bit of bad news is that a gopher has killed one of my tomatillos - the purple one. He chewed up so many roots underneath the plant, that it actually died. This surprised me because the plant is protected within wire mesh. And the gopher didn't actually get inside the mesh, he just chewed from underneath and on one side. Next year, I'll plant farther from the edge of the underground wire mesh. And while I'm at it, I'll plant more than 2 tomatillos!

And now for some good news! I've been picking tomatoes most everyday for the last week or so. Mostly cherry tomatoes - Sungold and a few Sweetie. I've also picked a few small Stupice and one Camp Joy, for a (not-so grand) total of 1.4 lbs and savings of $5.60.

But wait, there's more! I can see lots of greenies on the vines, so I'm still looking forward to an increasing harvest in the coming weeks and months.

As a side note to anyone local, I'm planning to go to the NorCal Cacti and Succulent show in San Francisco this week. If you're into drought resistant plants, I've heard it's something to see!

UPDATE on bogus milk spray:

Sometimes the treatment is worse than the disease.

In a knee-jerk reaction to seeing some yellowing of the lower leaves on my tomato plants, I decided to spray a milk and water solution (1:1). I sprayed half my plants once a week for 3 weeks with this organic and "safe" alternative. At least I thought it was safe. After the 3rd application, I noticed a fuzzy black mold on the leave surface that got the milk treatment. I'm 99% sure that the mold is due to the milk. Maybe a weaker solution would have been better? We don't get rain in the summer, so there was no chance of the milk solution washing off. In fact, I began to hate the look of the leaves with the crusty dried milk solution..which then morphed into mold. I'm pretty sure there would have been less damage, if I'd just left the plants alone. The other half of the plants that didn't get my "treatment" look much better. No black fuzzy mold. I actually sprayed them once with a cornmeal solution. But then I ran out of cornmeal and forgot to spray again - probably for the best!

Don't believe everything you hear...or read...please...for your garden's sake.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Great Use for Zucchini!

I don't know about you, but the zucchini are overwhelming me! I've been picking ~1 per day for 3 weeks. My harvest calculator says that's equal to over $41 worth of organic zucchini. I've given some away to cul-de-sac neighbors and anyone who visits our house cannot leave without taking one. It's a house rule :) I've come up with an easy way to preserve the zucchini that only takes a few minutes and won't take up freezer or fridge space - pickled. Actually, I must admit, the idea was my husband's...but I made it happen. Nice teamwork against the zucchini.

Here's the recipe

Pickled Zucchini
a few small zucchini
pint jars with lids and rings
2 c. distilled white vinegar
2 c. water
1/4 c. Kosher salt
red pepper flakes (optional)

Dice garlic and put 1 clove in each jar. Slice the zucchini into 'coins' and fill each jar (leave 1/2" headspace). Add dash of red pepper flakes. Heat water, vinegar, and salt to boiling. Pour in jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Seal jars. Wait at least 10 days for flavors to develop. Enjoy!

(NOTE: You can make this recipe with any container, if you don't have canning jars. If you use something else, then the pickles will need to stay in the refrigerator and won't keep as long. But, the pickles will still be good for several weeks.)

These pickled zucchini taste a lot like pickled cucumbers, in fact this is the same recipe for pickled cucumbers. So you can substitute, if cucumbers are trying to take over your house! I like this recipe because the zucchini remain crisp. Soggy zucchini kind of bothers me. Hope you like it!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What's it all worth?

Inspired by Daphne, I've decided to figure out how much money my vegetable garden "makes". I think I've spent about $250-300 on supplies for the garden this year. Much of that was spent on wire mesh to keep the gophers out. It's absolutely necessary here. For instance, I planted 10 potato plants in January. Last month I harvested potatoes from 9 of the plants:

What happened to potato plant #10, you ask? Well, it was the only plant not protected by wire mesh... = gopher dinner.

Anyway, back to my statistics on the garden's production. I weighed the potato harvest and the total was 8.4 lbs. Organic potatoes are only worth $0.80 per lb, so my total 'savings' on potatoes was $6.72. As it turns out, I paid $15 for the organic seed potatoes (including shipping). The order was much more than I could plant, so I gave away about half of the seed potatoes. Because I paid $15 for seed and only "grew" $6.72, I can safely say that it's not really profitable to grow potatoes at these prices. Potato growing was kind of fun, but kind of high maintenance at the same time. What with all the diseases, hilling, digging, and annual re-ordering. So maybe next year I'll just buy my potatoes at Trader Joe's and give the garden space to something else. Unless of course, I see some unusual potato variety that really catches my eye on some cold winter night while pouring over a seed catalog...

So, in order to keep track of my potential 'savings', I've created a Google spreadsheet that is located on the front page of my blog - see the link? It can be found just below the poll "What vegetable grows the best for you?" (BTW, feel free to join in on the poll...I'm interested to see the results!)

Anyway, Google spreadsheets are great because they can be updated in real time. You can view my veg stats here: Veg Harvest 2009.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Central Coast Tomato Trials - part 4 - Gaining tomato independence!

How appropriate that on July 4, I should gain my tomato independence. From store-bought tomatoes, that is!
Behold, the first tomato of the season, "Stupice":

Though it only weighed in at 1.125 oz., I'm still proud. It is common for tomatoes to be smaller than normal in our cool summers. That's part of the reason I'm growing 17 tomato plants! And yes, it was delicious!

During the winter months, when I see tomatoes at the grocery store, I often feel a little bit sad. Pitiful little specimens, forced to grow out of can we expect them to taste like anything but wet mush? It's not fair to blame the tomatoes, since they are genetically programmed to sprout when given certain growing conditions. We can't really blame the farmer/grower; they're just trying to make a living. The only one at fault is the buyer of the wintertime tomatoes. The buyers are the ones who ultimately bring these poor, wretched tomatoes into existence through their buying power ;) Ok, snap out of's summer!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some plants are bad for the bees...

I just read an interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Apparently, there are several California native plants (e.g. corn lilies, death camas, locoweed) that are toxic to non-native honeybees. Native (American) bees are immune to the toxin. Buckeye trees are among the worst for honeybees. It seems that some plants produce either pollen or nectar that can injure or even kill them.

Poor bees...they seem to be takin' it on the chin lately. But not in my garden...I've actually seen loads there lately. All over the lavender, squash, cucumbers, and tomatillos.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Artichokes Bloom! And new baby artichoke plants...

As discussed earlier, artichokes are not only great to eat, but they also produce large, lovely flowers. However, in order to actually see the flowers, one must resist eating the artichoke. The dilemma here is that we tend to eat the immature flower bud. I had a series of out-of-town work trips recently that kept me away from my garden for a couple weeks and so several artichokes got too big/mature for eating. Thus, paving the way for artichoke flowers:

I'm thinking it's about time to cut the leaves and flowers off the artichokes.

I believe this is what the local farmers do around this time of year when the plants start to look quite raggedy. It seems harsh, but it's supposed to encourage new growth and possibly a fall crop. Any ideas, or advice?

Due to the success of my first plant, I decided to go out and get it some friends. So, I've now added 2 more "Green Globe" artichokes to the front yard:

Once they really settle in, they should take off!

Also, in case you were wondering ;) - this is what chard gone to seed looks like:

It's about 5 feet tall...more funky-ness for the front yard!