Entries in vegetables (10)


In My Garden: Artichokes!

In 2014, I had some extra space in my garden along the fence so I decided to try planting artichokes.  Artichokes are a perennial, like asparagus, that come up year after year once planted. Each year they sprout additional plants that can be transplanted to add to your collection, so don't buy too many to start with because over time you will have a good-sized crop. Also, the more heads you cut, the more heads the plants will produce, so don't be afraid to harvest your artichokes. Unfortunately this is not a drought-tolerant plant, you will need to water them at least once a week on the coast and probably more if you live inland where it's hotter.

The first year might be lean, but after five years I have a very good yield already. The artichoke plants have multiplied and the artichokes themselves have gotten much bigger. Some of the hearts are easily three inches in diameter! We steam about eight at a time, and have artichokes and a big green salad for dinner. They are very filling. They are also a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and are high in antioxidants. 

The only downside to planting artichokes is that you won't enjoy the ones from the grocery store anymore, the flavors of artichokes fresh from the garden just can't be beat. 


In My Garden: Fall is upon us


Fall is upon us but it's not the time to put your garden tools away. In fact, fall, winter and spring are really great times for vegetable gardens.

First prep the garden bed with plenty of compost, worm castings and mix a few shovels of cottonseed meal and alfalfa meal into the soil to boost the nitrogen, potassium and potash. Try to prep your bed(s)s one or two weeks before planting and water the bed(s) twice a week to help the soil balance itself out, because digging always upsets the natural balance of bacteria necessary for plants to assimilate the nutrients in the soil. Prepping a week or so ahead of your planting schedule will give the soil time to recover from the intrusiveness of your dig. 

I usually start almost everything in flats that I keep in my greenhouse until the plants are three to four inches high. They should have a good root system by then. You can use your patio, garage, or window inside the house in a similar way, anyplace with good natural light. When you finally take them outside be sure to let the plants get used to full sunlight by placing them somewhere outside that gets only a couple hours of sun at first, and then over the next week slowly increase the exposure to full sun.

Now is the time to plant lettuce, arugula, kale, cabbage, garlic, onions, scallions, broccoli, cilantro, parsley, peas, fava beans, and broccoli raab, just to name a few of the fall vegetables.

Above: Lettuce "starts"

Above: My new cucumber plants in my greenhouse.

Above and below: Broccoli raab plants just starting to peek through the soil.

Above: Young celery plants

Above: Young cilantro plants

Above: Protecting my Snow Pea's young sprouts from the crows, who love to pull the little sprouts up for fun!



In My Garden: Fall veggies!  

Above:  My basil crop. The leaves are as big as my tomatoes! Right now our freezer is full of pesto, made with raw pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts, and no cheese. Laura's vegan version is extremely flavorful and light. Without the cheese, the basil is the prominent flavor, the aroma alone fills the kitchen. 

It's fall and those people living in colder climates are putting away their gardening equipment. But not here in San Diego. In some ways, this is an even better time for gardening than summer. Here in Southern California we are lucky enough to be able to grow our crops all year long. You can be planting lettuce varieties, spinach, kale, cabbage and celery to start with. I like to plant cilantro and parsley for a chimichurri sauce that Laura makes. We toss the chimichurri with soba noodles, and add it to other dishes, especially Mexican food. I also plant a large bed of broccoli raab, a crop we look forward to every fall. See my February, 2014, blog for our pasta with broccoli raab recipe. 

No garden is complete without snow peas for stir-fry dishes. I have a large bed planted now and will plant one more large bed before spring, so that we will have an abundance of snow peas, one of our favorite garden vegetables. I have enough room in my garden to plant 100 or so garlic bulbs, and once harvested and dried, this garlic will last close to a year if stored in a cool, dark, dry place. I also planted a bed of scallions and carrots to grow over the winter for a spring harvest. Right now I have cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil that I planted in the late summer for our normal warm and dry Santa Ana weather in the winter, and the new starts will be planted in the greenhouse when ready. 

I have been experimenting with tomatoes, not the easiest crop to grow on the Southern California coast. Tomatoes and foggy beach weather do not mix. But I have found winter tomatoe varieties that are doing quite well this year, so that 2017 may be the year of the tomato for me. Only time will tell. Our weather is typically mid-60's at this time of year, but our temps are hovering into the mid-70's, and all that California sunshine is helping my garden to flourish.

Above: My lettuce crop this year.

Above:  Winter lettuce and spinach for big garden salads with dinner every night.

Above:  Scallions

Above: Good-for-you kale. Chopped up and sauted in olive oil with lots of garlic and red pepper flakes, it's one of the most flavorful side dishes on the menu. Toss it with rice pasta and white beans, and it becomes a delicious and healthy main course. 

Above:  Fresh cilantro and parsley from the garden for making chimichurri sauce to toss with soba noodles. The sauce is a lighter and thinner version of pesto, but packed with the vibrant flavors of parsley, cilantro, garlic, raw pumpkin seeds, salt, olive oil, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes. Tossed with noodles or rice, topped on a baked potato or a bowl of black beans, it's a compliment to many grain and vegetable dishes. 

Above:  Winter tomatoes


In My Garden: Critters, Part II

Above: Screened frame to keep birds away from small seedlings.

Learning to get along with nature is a part of urban life and the more you can prevent conflict with the wild creatures we all share our yards with, the happier we all will be. Below are a few things I have tried that have been successful in keeping me and the wildlife in harmony with each other. 

Most of the birds in my vegetable garden provide a really good service. They are mostly after the insects and worms that eat and destroy my lettuce and other crops in my garden. It's a win win situation for us. The birds eat the insects to their hearts content, and my garden is pest free without my having to do much of anything else. 

Young crows, on the other hand, are the juvenile delinquents of the bird world, and will pull out my young vegetables and markers just for the fun of it. The other day I came out to the garden to find about ten little radishes, not nearly ready to harvest, pulled out and laying in the dirt. Even though they are troublesome little guys, I still really like crows, and will write a whole blog on them one of these days.

Because of the crows' mischievous nature I use screen frames and/or light weight row covers on newly planted vegetables. The screen frame is a simple wood frame the size of your planted row or raised bed with screen stapled to it. The lightweight row covers consist of 1/8" metal U's (turned upside down and pushed into the earth every three feet) that I clip the row cover to (Gardens Alive at sells the row cover). The lightweight row covers protect the new and more delicate plants such as lettuce, arugula and cilantro, from too much sun in the summer and the cold during winter nights. Once your crop is half grown you can remove the covers. The row covers also help prevent insects spreading to your new plants.

As an alternate to the fenced garden for your existing or new raised beds or garden here is another suggestion. Remove the soil out by about 12" to 18" and lay the same galvanized 1/2" mesh wire fencing into the recessed areas and allow 2" to 4" of that fencing wire to stay above ground on all edges. Then fill the dirt back into your raised bed or garden plot. No one will be able to dig underneath. You can also make a wood frame the same dimensions as your raised bed, staple the galvanized 1/2" mesh wire fencing to it, and place it over your freshly planted seeds. As the seed begin to sprout you can raise up the frame a little by placing small wood blocks underneath it. Don't raise it too high or critters will be able to get in. Once the seedlings have grown, you can remove the frame. 

If you have a small fenced yard, block any holes dug under the fence and check regularly. If the fence is chain link use 1/2" wire mesh fencing about two feet high attached to the base of the fence so that rabbits can't get through. You would be surprised the tiny holes a full grown rabbit can get through. I have seen rabbits in my yard hop right through my chain link fence like there was nothing there. If you have someone to help you dig around the fence base, dig about 18 inches deep and place the same galvanized mesh fencing overlapping the upper fencing by six inches. This will prevent wild critters from digging under the fence and stop gophers from coming into the yard.

If you have a larger yard consider installing a 24" to 30" high rabbit proof fence around the garden which can be made very attractive with an arched gate, etc. When you install the rabbit fencing dig the same 18 inch trench with mesh fencing. This will keep the gophers and other small animals out, as they won't be able to dig underneath it. 

I have tried many different ways to keep the peace between me and the wildlife who live in or near my yard. Above are some of the easiest and most effective ways I have found. I don't believe in trapping or poisoning animals, rather I believe we can all live peacefully together, even with those rascal crows! And don't forget to leave a bowl of fresh water every day for the wildlife out in your yard, especially during the summer. I want to keep the animals out of my vegetable garden and away from stealing all my fruit on my fruit trees, but they are welcome to anything that falls on the ground outside of the barriers and are welcome to share the yard with me. After all, they are a part of our urban life, and as far as I am concerned they do more to help my yard than to harm it. And besides that, they add a spark of life to our otherwise urbanized landscape.

Above: Lightweight row covers

Above: You can open the row covering to let some sun in during the day, if needed.

Above: Alternative to fenced yard, simple frame with wire mesh to protect seedlings.

Above: Another easy fix - metal "U's" with strings attached. The birds won't fly into this.

Above: Wood frames with wire mesh, greenhouse cloth for the top, and a wheelbarrow on one side is an easy-to-assemble barricade to protect your crops.

Above: A young skunk at one of the two water bowls I keep full of fresh water every day.


In My Garden: Lettuce!

Above: Freshly picked lettuces from the garden. Look at those colors!

My garden is thriving right now. My mix of gourmet lettuces gives us huge salads every day. There is arugula, spinach, red leaf, romaine, butter lettuce, etc. We even have enough greens to share with our friend's pet rabbits. I grow my lettuce in raised beds outside my greenhouse because lettuce does not like it to be too hot or it bolts very quickly, going to seed, and then you won't get anymore lettuce. Living on the coast in Southern California I can grow lettuce all year round because it doesn't get too hot or too cold. 

You don't need much space for lettuce because you can pick the lower large leaves and the plant keeps growing. Even lettuce from your local health food store doesn't compare in taste to home grown. Try to find sees that say the lettuce is heat tolerant of slow bolting (slow to go to seed) for spring through summer planting. 

Above: Spinach leaves are as big as Laura's hand!

Above:  This is typical of our every-day dinner salad with Laura's home-made salad dressing.