Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What gardeners are up to in October

Harvesting, canning, cleaning, planting ... did I mention canning? This time last year our garden was pretty much bare earth in the existing raised beds with lots of apples and figs and a single pear. This year, I've got a whole different animal on my hands. It looks so bucolic in this picture.

Stupendously huge black jack figs.
When the figs started ripening last month I ran out into the garden with excitement every time we arrived on Saturday mornings. Six weeks later, I groan when I see them hanging low with cracked skins. It means more work in the kitchen. I've lost count how many jars of fig jam I've made. We visited a music store over the weekend and the elderly owner ran out and begged us to take some figs from her two trees which were over fifteen feet tall. Poor lady!

Fig jam, fig tortes, fig whatever ...
I'm at least thankful that the crush didn't hit me early on or I probably would have fled and never looked back. Not really, but at least I was able to slowly build up my expertise over the past year before September and October hit fast and furious.

Two more batches of applesauce and then I'm done for the year with that! And now we enter squash and pumpkin territory ...

Two different mystery squash, pumpkins, and the lone melon this year.
Well, I thought I planted watermelon transplants from the nursery but instead I got squash. Plus, we have a volunteer squash (in front) who popped up last year. I personally love squash, especially a wonderful squash soup. My husband detests the stuff. Too bad. He can eat out that night!

Cabbages (well, there were cabbages there), beets and onion seedlings.
It's also time for cleaning up the beds and prepping for the winter planting. First project was to replace a dying bed right in front of our fig tree.

The old beet, onion, potato, pumpkin bed.
It's made it hard to access the blackberries and there was a perfectly good trellis a few feet away that wasn't being used. I think the previous owners used it to keep the blackberry thorns away from their toddler.

Peas, turnips, onions and rutabagas.
My amazing husband has been rebuilding all the beds in our yard to keep out the gophers and replace all the rotting wood. Only twelve more to go! This one is now planted with Blue podded Blauwschokkers peas (What. They sounded cool, I couldn't resist). While he was busy building, I was a few feet away clearing out the summer bean bed and nursing my parsnip seedlings (which are very persnickity). The beds look beautiful now all neat and tidy. I planted at least eighty more peas, mostly sugar snap, in the square bed with bamboo poles.

I'm about four weeks late planting the peas (eight weeks before first frost is the rule) but they wouldn't have survived the heat wave that hit last week. We'll see if they turn out as this is the first time I've grown peas from seed planted in the fall, I'm usually of the February variety. Here was the aftermath of the bean bed, shelling. Lots and lots and lots of shelling to be done.

But the end result is lovely. I'm planning on doing a trade with a friend here for some of her tiny haricot verts that taste perfect right on the vine.

Next weekend will include a little tarragon oil making and freezing, thanks to my friend, Shelly, who turned me onto the 101 Cookbooks blog. This sweet little plant will be ripped out to make way for cool season lettuces.

You have to be brutal in gardening sometimes. On the softer side, check out my quickly growing Pinterest board on enjoying and preserving the harvest.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

In the garden in October with a new camera

Finally, finally I can share some overall images of what our garden looks like. I had the amazing chance to buy a new camera this month with new wide angle lenses. Things are definitely a little wild in the garden in these last days of summer.

Today it was in the mid-90's. Good thing I held off planting more of those fall seeds. Fingers crossed the parsnip seeds survive. My sad little rhubarb however hasn't, all flopped over in one of the beds.

The morning glories are going haywire these days.

Strawberries in the foreground, and new beds on the left. My little studio is in the back. One day we'll put in some french doors that lead right out to the garden.

The first area prepped and sown for fall plantings in the foreground. We'll see how those seedlings survive the heat wave this week. That mess of plants behind the clean bed are the tomatoes, still going strong.

A broad view of the garden with the potting shed in the back. My topiaries in the foreground are ready for the fall planting of peas. Now where to put them!

And finally, looking outside the vegetable garden towards the house. This is our daughter's domain. I have plans for this area, though they might not happen for another year.

Let's just say our water bill has been high this summer and I'll be glad to say goodbye to at least some of the grass!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September is here.

I can't believe September is here and summer as we knew it in Sonoma is over. We're only able to come up again on weekends. I'll miss our long stays in the heat and sun.

There is a lot of canning happening this month. Sometimes in Sonoma and sometimes back in San Francisco. It's easier in Sonoma with the fantastic new range but the cold fog in the city sure makes it easier to stand over a hot stove for hours.

Grape jelly happened last week in Sonoma. We had about 12 pounds of grapes that ripened all at once. Tasty as is, I knew we couldn't consume that much in a week!

We also have plenty of cherry tomatoes to harvest. I've taken to freezing them. They look great in quart jars in the freezer.

And now the larger tomatoes are ripening. The gophers ate all but one of my canning tomatoes so I hastily bought more to replace them without thinking what varieties I was buying.

Let's hope our stomachs can handle tomatoes with every meal for the next few weeks. And of course the apples are ready too. It came so fast this year, I didn't believe my daughter when she told me they were ripe. We'll see how these pears do. There are a lot on the pear tree but not sure when they'll be ripe enough to eat. Last year we had one pear when we moved in.

And of course, the harvest is accumulating on the kitchen counter, including a second flush of green beans.

Tomorrow I will plant more seeds for the fall and winter crops, including parsnips. We'll see how those do as I hear they have a hard time germinating. I think I'm looking more forward to the winter crops this year.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August - the peak

Summer has officially kicked in. Two weeks straight of 90+ degree weather has made some plants go crazy and others wilt away. I don't even want to think about the water bill for this month and last. I finally have chairs in the garden although it's been too hot to sit out there until late evening.

Charantais melon and amaranth in foreground with kale beyond.

The upside is I'm gearing up for fall planting already. I couldn't wait to get some winter radishes started to see how they would do. Remember this picture? This was on July 14th.

Daikon, black and china rose radishes, carrots, onions and celery.

Here's what the bed looks like on August 16th below. Amazingly, some of the radishes are ready for harvesting one month after planting the seeds. Winter radishes usually take three months to grow to maturity. I was finally able to put in a proper shade cover structure that I'm using elsewhere as well.

Radishes take over.
The tomatoes are picking up speed too. The cherries are going full guns right now and the larger varieties are just starting to ripen. They all taste SO good. That's one tomato plant behind all of the basil below. I bought it to replace one a gopher ate, it's called Anna Banana. The fruit is awesome and makes a salad so beautiful with it's bright yellow fruit.

I was able to plant seeds in one of my new beds and we'll see how they come up. The mushroom compost I bought this season looks disappointing so far. I bought from a different supplier. It wasn't as broken down as much as last year's so I worry the drainage and acidity might be an issue. Time will tell. At least I can use most of it on the lawn.

Kale, radishes, carrots, beets and broccoli grow along with
some charming flowers at the corners.

The rest of the garden beds have survived another year. We will likely replace a few more beds this fall before the rains hit.

And sooner than I expected, it's apple season! I just realized that the Gravenstein apple fair was last weekend and I thought that's way too soon. Then I realized my own apples had almost grown overnight. They're sweet and tasty.

Time for applesauce making!

And almost time for pumpkins too. It all goes by too fast it seems.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Almost a year

It was almost one year ago that I first walked through our cottage garden. We looked, we drooled and dreamed before walking out and thinking this couldn't be ours. It was the first home we toured on our house hunt in Sonoma.

Bed D : chard, calendula, peppers, red shiso, beets, bachelor buttons and corepsis.
Little did we know months later the cottage was still on the market. It seemed to be waiting for us. This is what the garden looked like on one of those first walk throughs. In need of some love but the bones were there.

Cottage garden in summer 2011
And here's how it looks now. The paths have been mulched, the beds have been planted and we're working on a seating area in the middle of the garden.

It doesn't look like much of a difference but tilling and adding compost to sixteen beds was  a slow task. And we finally reap the rewards. This was just a smidgen of last week's harvest: plums, strawberries, tomatoes, beets and basil.

And now comes phase two, the rebuilding of the sixteen raised beds. It will likely take a few years as some beds are still holding together well. Next weekend these four small beds will be pulled out and replaced with two 4'x6' beds that will be lined with gopher wire.

This weekend I pulled up all the remaining beets to make way for the first of the new beds. All of these grew in the space of two square feet. How's that for square foot gardening success? I canned two pounds (which wasn't much of this pile) and passed along the rest to friends.

There's always planting to do. I'm gearing up for the fall harvest by sowing radishes, daikons and carrot seeds. I'm now sold on 'cloud cover', the miracle cloth.

Daikon radish seedlings with carrots and onions surrounding.
Hopefully come winter, I'll have lots of our own daikon to use in the Japanese soups we make during the cold months.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

First weekend in July

There are plenty of flowers in the garden finally. I still wish I had planted more among the vegetables. Next year, I'll add more, including more flowers for cutting. The sunflower seeds I planted were gobbled up quickly so I had to resort this year to seedlings from the nursery.

I planted them next to the beans and they've become friends. Those are purple podded bean flowers below.

The calendulas I planted from seed are doing well at least. I need to harvest them more quickly but so far the plants seem to be going strong.

The red flowers below are coreopsis tinctoria. Any plant with tinctoria in its latin name means it will be excellent for natural dyeing.

And you can't go wrong with marigolds growing next to tomatoes. These have all but been engulfed by the monster tomato plants surrounding it.

A lot of those early spring flowers have rapidly turned into ripe, luscious fruit. We have about two dozen santa rosa plums that are ripe. They taste beyond divine! We can only eat them outside leaning over because the juice content is so high.

We also have strawberries and blackberries ripening daily. I'd forgotten what those fruits tasted like right out of the garden.

And last but not least, the vegetable harvest is starting to pick up again. We still have way too many beets (not complaining there) and chard. We also had kale, carrots, padrone peppers (which were waaaayyy too hot) and the last of the broccoli.

And anyone want some herbs? I can finally say I have enough parsley to harvest nightly now that I've gopher proofed one of the beds. I am in the process of gopher proofing the carrot and parsnip bed. What carrots I have harvested (they left me a handful) have been huge and flavorful.

Monday, June 25, 2012


I feel like the garden is almost, almost starting to reach it's potential. I still have a long way to go learning the quirks and little rodents that enjoy feasting here but I've managed to keep most things alive.

I've figured out with the strawberry bed that pill bugs LOVE strawberries. It took me a few weeks but now that the plants are large enough, if I carefully lay the unripe strawberries on top of their leaves, the pill bugs can't reach them.

This weekend was herb harvest central in the garden. Mint, chives, chervil, lemon balm, german chamomile, thyme, sage, oregano, basil and more basil were cut for drying and making pesto. Above is summer savory, something you don't find too often in the grocery store. Eating them with green beans is sublime. A gopher ate one of my plants but this one is already 2' in diameter and still growing. Speaking of beans ...

Here's batch one of Kentucky Wonder and Purple Podded beans. The bed is about 5' square. After planting them all and seeing the gopher destruction on my other plants, I wanted some insurance so I planted more last weekend.

This was where the english peas grew, underneath a weeping Santa Rosa plum tree. I can see beans climbing up the branches now. There's another spot that I've planted even more beans. We'll see how much is too many soon enough.

Other plants are growing quickly too. This is a Rouge Vif D'Etampes pumpkin that I planted far away from the watermelons this year. I overhead someone at the garden store mention this and took their advice. So, we won't have pumpkiny tasting watermelons this year.

And here is one of the watermelons. A little small for my liking but I'm hoping the growth spurt kicks in soon enough.

Our next big project is to rebuild and start to organize some of the raised beds. This little area as you first enter the garden from the house is screaming for some order. I plan to build 3 3''6"x6' beds to replace the four hodge podge beds  located in the back. We'll keep the strawberry bed for much longer. As soon as my beets are ready to harvest in one of the beds, we'll get started. Speaking of beets, they are the best growing thing I have. I thought they would be done but they taste great. We love the greens the best.