Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beans -n- Things

It's all about the beans these days. The bush beans are pretty much done with production, but the pole beans are exploding! I'm picking 1 - 1 1/2 pounds every few days. Luckily it's one of the few vegetables my whole family likes, which is why I planted 6 of both varieties. Next year I will stagger the planting - maybe 2 plants every 2-3 weeks to stretch out the harvest. Learning from my mistakes.
My favorite method of preparing green beans is quite simple and very tasty. I just toss them into a skillet with a little extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, and coarse sea salt. After letting them sizzle a few minutes I pour in a small amount of water and cover for 1-2 minutes to steam. Then remove the cover and continue cooking until they're a little caramelized, but still bright green. So good! The more mature beans from the garden have a natural peppery bite to them and require very little seasoning.
Last night's dinner incorporated several garden ingredients. Without going into great detail this quick summer skillet contained extra virgin olive oil, onion, green beans, zucchini, leftover chicken, and nitrate free turkey kielbasa. And yes, that beautiful golden ear of corn is fresh from the garden. We picked just a few to try them out and were not disappointed. I've been watching the corn closely to assess it's readiness. The husks were tight around the drying silks which have become much shorter. Peeling back a few layers of husk revealed plump kernels that bled a watery substance when pierced. My Sunset Western Garden book says that it is over-done if the liquid is milky, so it looked like they were good to go. Because corn starts converting its sugar into starch the second it's picked the girls and I shucked as fast as we could and dropped them into a pot of boiling water right away. It was fabulous - no butter or salt necessary. Fresh as it gets and without pesticides or genetic modification. I couldn't resist posting this dish because it turned out sooooo delicious. My basil is abundant and was calling out to be whirled up into pesto. I combined a few recipes and came up with this:

2 cups fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
approx. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 - 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Place basil, garlic, pine nuts, and a little olive oil in food processor and start. As it's running add the rest of the oil. Scrape bowl and add Parmesan, salt and pepper. Continue processing until it's the desired texture

To create the above pictured recipe I mixed pesto with cooked and drained orzo. To that I added 1 can artichoke hearts (packed in water, not oil), which I chopped, and a handful or two of toasted pine nuts. Gently mix everything together and serve warm or cold. It was great both ways.

The hard work getting this garden started and maintaining it is paying off. It takes diligence to prevent and manage weed and pest invasions.....I'm doing some homework and will share new findings soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hotsie Totsie

Wilted squash and bolting basil - wow - what a difference a couple of days make. It's 90 degrees at 1pm and the forecast says we'll hit 98 before the day is done. Hello Sac summer heat! Knowing we were in for a warm-up, I watered the garden thoroughly yesterday before leaving for work. I'm always careful about over-watering since I found mushrooms sprouting up under some of these butternut squash leaves.....and I know the zucchini isn't fond of too much water. The problem may simply be the temperature rather than the water level as butternut squash is more of a cool weather crop (hence the nick-name "winter squash"). For some reason I felt compelled to plant it in this summer plot and am determined to make it work.

As for the basil, I must be more diligent about snipping those bolting ends before flowers set. The plant is filling out nicely otherwise, but now I realize a daily survey is in order. I feel the need to whirl up a batch of pesto as the aroma still lingers on my fingers.
Today's bounty: more green beans (some bush beans, mostly pole beans) and the cucumber I should have picked yesterday. It grew at least 25% larger overnight! I sliced it up for lunch and though the seeds were large, they were soft and it tasted delicious on my sandwich.
This photo is of a fix-it job I performed a few days ago and am keeping my fingers crossed it works. As I was moving the branch on the right of the grape tomato plant to the inside of the cage for more support, I heard a snap. UGH! There are several flowers and fruit already setting above the break and this is my daughter's plant - she LOVES grape tomatoes. The first thing I thought of was tape - just tape it back together and it will be good as new, right? Fortunately, it's only a partial break and so far the scotch tape seems to be working. I figure as long as there are a few veins that can still carry water and nutrients up to the top, those guys have a chance.
Time will tell.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Garden Growth

First things first - Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love how alike and how different we are. Your love and devotion to your children and grandchildren is well known and so appreciated. You inspire me.

Now, back to the veggies. I thought this would be a good time to assess growth. The above photo is a view of the garden today (just a little over 2 months post planting). In the front left corner butternut squash is growing strong. To it's right are cukes and zukes, moving toward the back are tomatoes and peppers, then beans and finally corn. At the base of the two empty poles are my bush beans, which I of course thought were pole beans until they didn't climb the poles. duh.
The zucchini plant looks nice and healthy and has a few zukes growing - they are about 4 inches long but quite thin. Still more blossoms look promising. The hammock in the background is like a magnet to all who enter the garden area.
The tomatoes are finally turning red! The hot weather of the last couple days have made these sweet 100s happy. J. will find them in the morning and gobble them up quickly
Corn. I still don't know too much about it and really don't know when it's ready to harvest, but it looks like it's getting close. The silks are looking dryer and are shorter than they were a week ago, indicating.....something.....I don't know......I'll look that one up in my Western Garden book tomorrow.
Basket 'o beans. The bush beans are slowing down production but the pole beans (kentucky wonders) are prolific the last few days. Very crisp and sweet.
This is my second cucumber and it looks almost ready to pick. That's a bean laying beside it for size perspective. I'll give it another day or two before it ends up in the salad.
Above and below are butternut squash. They are supposed to take about 90 days to mature and we're about 2/3 of the way there. The squash above is about 3 time the size of the one below. I love butternut squash so I hope these guys turn out well.

All in all things are progressing. The bell pepper plant seems small (no photo), and I'm still not seeing much action around the other cucumber plant - very few flowers and no evidence of veggie growth.
I'm having issues with rollie pollies eating some of the plants and I'll talk about them next week.
What does one do with a basketful of berries after a day of picking? Make pocket pies. Yum.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I'm going off topic today because we went berry picking yesterday and I just had to share the experience - it was fantastic! The girls and I, along with friends went to American River Cherry Company in Placerville. It is a family owned and run property sitting on rolling hills with a beautiful view.Here's B. picking olallie berries. They were so sweet as long as we stuck we with the dark ones. There were rows and rows of olallies, marions, boysenberries, and raspberries.

Then we strolled over to the blueberry bushes. As you can see, they were just turning ripe so selective picking was in order....and oh are they sweet! My kids can put away blueberries like it's candy. A short walk down the hill brought us to the cherry trees. There was plenty of fruit left on low branches for the kids to easily reach and we quickly filled more baskets. I was a little worried about how much this would all cost. Judging by what we had in our baskets I would expect to pay at least $20-25. I was pleasantly surprised when the extremely friendly and polite teenager (granddaughter of the owners) weighed my baskets and asked for $10 in return. Ten dollars ?!? Nice. Oh, and here's the bonus - they do not spray with pesticides. Very nice.
I can always count on J. to display anything she's eaten all over her face. Mission accomplished - we left the experience with full baskets, great memories, and berry stained fingers and faces.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

back to day one

Since I am the world's greatest procrastinator, I need to backtrack about 2 months to put the beginning of this story in place. I started preparing the bed for planting in early April. It was full of weeds and a mysterious rhizome type of invader that seemed to originate from the other side of the fence (ie, the neighbor's yard). It couldn't possibly be from my yard, right? It probably wouldn't be that difficult for me to identify it but why bother - I just needed to get rid of it - without dousing it with Roundup! A few hours of hubby's manual labor later, the weeds were mostly out and the soil turned. I should mention that the above photo was taken about a year ago prior to doing a pretty good clean-up. April's work wasn't nearly as overwhelming as the photo suggests....but it has come a long way since that mess. Anyway, we then added compost (not from my bin because that stuff doesn't ever seem to decompose. At the rate it's going I'll have compost in about 10 years.....but I'll save that issue for a later date.). I also added lime to boost the ph level of the soil. I didn't test the soil first of course.....that's what well prepared, methodical gardeners do. Us fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants gardeners sprinkle stuff in that looks good and hope it works. We'll see.

A blank canvas

Because of the invasive weeds lurking below the surface, I chose to use biodegradable, weed-blocking paper over the entire bed. It's pretty neat stuff and I found it at my local hardware store. It comes in a big roll and is very easy to use. It's held in place by several plastic stakes.

Next I planted the starts. I was too late and too chicken to start with seeds, so I bought starts at the one of the only places in town that sells organic vegetable starters. Talini's Nursery is located in Midtown Sacramento and doesn't have a website, but location and other info can be found thru a google search. It's an inviting, quaint nursery that makes you feel like pulling up a patio chair and sipping tea for the afternoon while watching the hummingbirds flit about. Really.

This photo was taken a few weeks later. I love watching the beans climb their poles - they grow noticeably day to day. So, here's the list of what's planted: corn, pole beans, bush beans, tomatoes (2 varieties), sweet red bell peppers, anaheim hot peppers (only because I mistakenly picked those up instead of a second bell pepper)....that goes back to the flying by the seat of my pants thing. Also planted are cucumbers, zucchini, butternut squash, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary, and lavender. It smells wonderful out there!

This is a view of what the garden looks like today - approximately 2 months post-planting. We've been eating the bush beans for a couple weeks, but they have not yet made it all the way to the kitchen. The kids and I eat them as soon as we pick them. Next year I will definitely plant more than the 6 plants I put in. The pole beans look beautiful and are just now starting to produce beans. We sliced the first cucumber a couple days ago and it was fabulous. The corn silks are well established and the ears are starting to feel firm - I'm very curious about how they'll turn out. The tomato plants have set plenty of fruit but our weather is just now turning hot so I expect to see even more in the days to come. One other thing I should mention, mulch. Very important especially in this summer climate because it helps the soil retain moisture and also blocks those pesky weeds. I tried something new this year....straw.....and I must say that so far I'm pleased.

I'll give the garden a good soaking in the morning as the weatherman says it will get up to 98 degrees...ugh! I'm taking the girls berry picking in the foothills early in the day. I'm looking forward to returning home with full bellies and purple lips and fingers.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

pollination day

Welcome to my organic garden journey. I use the word journey loosely as I really don't know where this is going - hopefully from the back yard to the kitchen table. I've never planted an all-organic garden until now and so far things are looking pretty good. My intention is to not use any synthetic soil amendments, fertilizers, or pesticides. I feel that keeping chemicals out of our soil, water, and food is an important component of living on a healthy Earth with healthy bodies.

A couple years ago I started making changes in my grocery shopping and now my kitchen is about 75% organic. I love the idea of producing my own food and if I had the land I'd be talking about goats, chicken and cows too. I seem to be a city girl with a country heart.

My garden was alive with pollinators this afternoon. As I relaxed on the hammock admiring the twining tendrils of the pole beans I noticed a great big black bumble bee buzzing about....then another.....and another..... and a couple bees of the yellow and black stripe variety, so I grabbed the camera and captured a shot of this little guy. Thank you busy bees. Can you identify the plant he is visiting?