Thursday, December 6, 2018

December Garden Chores

     December is not my favorite time of the year for gardening but there are still garden chores to be done. I must admit I am a fair-weather gardener and try to get all my garden chores done by Thanksgiving.  This year, however, I headed to the garden in early December to find my asparagus still green and lively.  If any asparagus ferns are yellow or brown, December is the time to trim them back and compost them. At this time, it is also wise to lightly prune dead branches of cane berries and shrubs like currants, no hard pruning until later in February. 

Photo courtesy of Jane B.

     As night temperatures dip, you may extend the growing season for lettuces and other hardy greens if you set up cloches or hoop houses for them. When you're covering plants for the night, ensure your protective coverings touch the ground. Frost protection covers work by trapping radiant heat in the soil. As soil releases its heat, the cover holds the heat around the plant. Use fabric covers, such as row cover cloth. It's easy and quick to build a shelter around tender plants such as artichokes and other tender perennials. Be sure to anchor stakes in soil and attach a cover to stakes.

     If you do not plan to extend your season, harvest everything you can before a freeze-thaw cycle turns your produce mushy. Cover your garden/raised beds with leaf mulch, straw, cardboard, or burlap; this keeps weeds at bay until spring.  Once your garden is tidied up, you can spend the rest of winter looking over seed catalogs and planning your spring plantings.

One final note, if you are so inclined, feed the birds.  Many of our feathered friends would benefit from a supply of food when we’ve cleared our gardens of the things they love to eat.


Monday, November 12, 2018

The Bitterest of Gourds

The bitter melon has many names and its other name bitter gourd are used interchangeably.  Some of the most common names are : African Cucumber, Ampalaya, Balsam Pear, Balsam-Apple, Bitter Cucumber, Bitter Gourd,  Karela, Kareli, Korolla, Kuguazi, K'u-Kua, Lai Margose, Margose, Mel√≥n Amargo, Melon Amer, Momordica, Momordica charantia, Momordica murcata, Momordique, Paroka, and Pepino Montero, just to name a few. Its botanical name is Momordica charantia and it originated in India.  Its popularity and use has spread all over southeast Asia and beyond. 

The bitter melon tastes exactly as its name states think a broken aspirin, uncured olive, apple seed, or grapefruit rind. It looks like a warty cucumber; when sliced in half, there is a spongy white pith that is easily scooped out with a spoon.  The seeds are also removed before preparation, however, if you grew up eating this type of gourd, the nostalgia can be very strong.  Most people either love the flavor or straight up hate it.  Its reverence is akin to the love or hate of durian. 

One of our gardeners, grew a bounty of this melon, he shared some with me and although I prepared it in more than one way, my children turned their noses up at it.  This "hot crop" must be treated like tomatoes and peppers.  Since it is hard to find in retail outlets, one has to start the plants from seed. Once the seedlings are hardened off, they must be protected from cool weather and planted out when the nighttime temperatures are at least 55F at night. Maintain evenly warm temperatures, even watering, and feed at least once at planting time and once again when the flowers set. Once the fruit starts to come, pick them when they are firm and the size of supermarket slicing cucumbers. 


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Eggplant Profile: Little Fingers

"Little Fingers"  (Solanum melongena) is a compact eggplant cultivar from Japan. It forms small purple, finger-length eggplants and is tolerant of the verticillium fungus. The flesh has a silky texture with few seeds and mildly sweet flavor needing very little cooking time. Tender, thin skins do not require peeling or salting before cooking. Grill whole. A great variety for large containers! This productive plant does not need much support, fruit can be harvested small or left to grow without sacrificing texture or flavor. ~65 days

Remember eggplants are a hot weather crop. You can start them indoors 8-12 weeks before planting outside, BUT you must take precautions. Before planting them out, nighttime temperatures must be above 55F.  Harden them off well, at least 7 days, before planting out. Make your you have good drainage with plenty of organic matter.  Bring the heat with row cover, cloches, raised beds, or plant them in containers. This is an easy eggplant to grow and these simple tips should improve your eggplant crop.

This is a fasciated eggplant. Parts of the flower have elongated or fused together and after they were pollinated, they produced triplet eggplants.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Pepper Profile: Mad Hatter

It is not hard to see why this pepper is called the Mad Hatter. You won’t have to fall down a rabbit hole to bring the ‘Mad Hatter’ to your garden!  The shape of the fruit resembles a flattened hat. This exotic looking pepper is unique, vigorous, and delicious. Mad Hatter is a member of the Capsicum baccatum pepper species from South America commonly used in Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine. This is a mild pepper with a Scoville rating of 500, meaning it is mostly sweet with a floral scent. Flavors intensify as the fruit ripens. Hot, dry climates may produce fruits with a hint of heat at the center, but the outer parts remain sweet.  I picked these peppers before they were fully ripe but I will update this post if I get any red peppers in the near future.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Not Your Backyard Blackberry

There is no shortage of blackberries in the Pacific Northwest, as a matter a fact, we are inundated with the invasive Himalayan blackberry.  This extremely prolific but tasty "weed" is a serious problem in our open spaces, woodlands, shores, and forested areas.  As much as I enjoy the flavor of blackberries, I know better than to plant this thorny pest in the garden.

Almost a decade ago, I did some research on thornless blackberries. I knew my children, at the time 1 and 2, would appreciate picking the fruit from a thornless bramble.  After a few months of research, I settled on the cultivar "Loch Ness."  This is a very large fruiting blackberry that is similar to wild blackberries in flavor.  One of the other advantages of this variety is that it grows upright and does not need much support. A decade later, this wonderful berry is still producing.  I recommend it highly to those who have the space to host this tall yet tameable beast.  It grows 6+ feet in height but not much in width.  The blackberries are perfect mouthfuls of deliciousness, come by of you want a taste. We are at plot A17.


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Tomato Profile:White Cherry

Several years ago, I wrote about a tomato called Great White. This season I have found its miniature counterpart in a cultivar called White Cherry. This is a cherry tomato that is reported to be easy to grow, prolific, and resistant to cracking. (This can happen naturally or when your tomato plant is left to wilt or dry out and then is flooded with water.)

These genuinely adorable pale, yellow fruits keep producing right up to frost. They are sweet and very delicious, with a light tomato taste that is very refreshing. The one-ounce fruits are larger than Sweet Million and larger than SunGold (in our garden). They require no special care but staking or caging is recommended.

Note: These cherry tomatoes are not truly white but the less sun exposure they get, the lighter in color they will be.


Sungold next to White Cherry.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Shrubs- The Kind You Drink

 Yes, shrubs are a category of plant, but as of late, they are also a very trendy drink. Shrubs are also called fruit shrubs, drinking vinegar, and in my experience, they are a fruity drink with spice flavoring and a little hint of vinegar. The concoction is concentrated and very flavorful. It is used to make many different types of cocktails but in and of itself,  it’s just fruit, sugar, and vinegar. My favorite way to enjoy shrubs is with lots of ice and sparkling water. Pour the shrub concentrate into the sparkling water and ice to your liking.  In colonial times, shrubs were used as a method to help colonist preserve fruit.  As modern refrigeration gained popularity, drinking shrubs fell out of style until recently!

 Here’s a link to a recipe I’ve tried:

My co-gardener Alessandra made raspberry shrub with our berries.