Sunday, August 16, 2009

This Is the Week That Was

Tracking the harvest in photos: what a good idea! Hat tip to Daphne's Dandelions who has organized a Monday photo-share where gardeners in various locales can admire each others' garden output of the previous week. It's so easy to take veggie portraits before bringing everything into the house that it's become a new habit.

Here is a round-up of our harvest over the past couple of weeks.

Week of Monday, August 3 through Sunday, August 9

Above, garden gleanings for Tuesday, August 4, not quite two weeks ago:

Left to right: Kentucky Wonder pole beans, Sungold cherry tomatoes, Blue Lake pole beans, Green Racer zucchini, and two Cochella zucchini on the far right.

Week of August 3 through August 9, continued

Above, quite a respectable haul on Friday, August 7:
Left to right: Blue Lake pole beans, Tavera French haricot bush beans, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, Better Boy tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, Green Racer zucchini.

Week of August 3 through August 9, continued

Friday, August 7 and Saturday August 8 combined:
Above are shown all the pears that could be picked standing on the ground or on a small table, minus about a dozen more that are stored in the refrigerator to stop the ripening process.

Week of Monday, August 10 through Sunday, August 16

Tuesday, August 11:
Clockwise, more or less, from top: One Yolo Wonder green pepper and a few Pimientos de Padron peppers (in bowl), Sungold cherry tomatoes (in bowl), Better Boy tomatoes, Cochella zucchini, Green Racer zucchini, lemon cucumbers, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, Tavera French haricot bush beans (in bowl), Blue Lake pole beans.

Week of August 10 through August 16
, continued

Friday, August 14:
Clockwise from top: Blue Lake pole beans, Green Racer zucchini, lemon cucumbers, Sungold cherry tomatos, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, Better Boy tomatoes.

Week of August 10 through August 16, continued

Sunday, August 16:
Clockwise from top: Red Sails summer lettuce, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, one Cochella zucchini, Sungold cherry tomatoes, Pimiento de Padron peppers, lemon cucumbers, Green Racer zucchini, Better Boy tomatoes.

Week of August 10 through August 16, continued

Sunday, August 16:
A few volunteer mystery tomatoes from a plant that has twined itself among the morning glories. They start out looking like the Sungolds but then ripen red and have a more standard cherry tomato taste, not the distinctive and complex flavor burst of the Sungolds that resonates across the palate. Quite tasty nonetheless. Some stray seeds from the compost got lucky -- and so did we.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Let Us Eat Lettuce

A week ago today, Sunday, I gave some much needed attention to the Red Sails summer lettuce: first a deep watering followed by a drenching with liquid seaweed fertilizer and then an application of a thick layer of "cool mulch."

What is "cool mulch"? It's a theory I have, as yet unproven, that light colored materials -- such as these locust leaves that fall onto our yard in a continuous rain -- make the best mulch for plants that like cooler soil around their roots.

I've read that heat-loving plants like eggplant really spring to life with a layer of black plastic that warms things up the way they like it. I haven't gotten around to trying that out yet, but it makes sense.

Wouldn't it also make sense that if the heat lovers love black plastic, the "cool kid" plants would like something that reflects back more of the sunlight before it warms the soil? I can tell that these lettuce plants like their little shade house -- old lace curtains draped over bamboo stakes -- so, I thought, maybe they will appreciate some nice champagne colored carpeting to go with the lace curtains.

Here's what they looked like early this morning, a week later. They seem to be happy.

And I was happy too. Picking lettuce is a great incentive to be out in the garden as early as possible. Our lettuce turns into limp rags unless I pick it while the dew drops still glint on the leaves. Today is a scorcher -- which, typically, I spent in the sweaty harvest kitchen making green soup and green beans for freezing -- but thanks to the lettuce I caught the garden at the height of its freshness this morning.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

More About Pears

Standing on this small table I was able to reach most of the mid-level pears -- enough to fill a small picnic basket. Aside from some leaves and twigs in my hair and a little bit of bark grit in my eyes (Note to self: wear wraparound sunglasses to pick pears!) it was easily accomplished.

There are plenty left in the upper reaches of the tree so it seems that using a ladder is unavoidable. We will have to borrow one.

Here is yesterday's batch set up in the garage for slow ripening. According to the information from the California Pear Advisory Board, ripening should happen at room temperature. It probably gets hotter than that in the garage, which is a simple, uninsulated, redwood shed with a cracked cement floor. It's going to go up to around 85 degrees today and more hot days are expected this week.

But this is just an experiment to see if we can rescue a few more pears than in previous years. I'll also put some in the refrigerator to see if that halts the ripening process for a while.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pear Awareness

The pears have started to drop. It's a characteristic sound of high summer: the fulsome "plop" of fruit hitting the ground.

I don't know what kind of pears these are. We've always had a pretty laissez-faire attitude toward the tree and its crop. We don't irrigate, spray, mulch, weed, or fertilize. I did do a little bit of pruning one spring after a winter storm had broken off a branch, but that's about it.

Yet every August, like magic, the lovely blushing fruit appears. We pick up the fruit when it drops and bring some of it into the house. B. is much more conscientious about the care of dropped pears than I am. He keeps a close eye on them and knows when one has ripened to perfection. Fortunately, he's willing to share.

To be honest, each year a large percentage of the crop rots away quietly in the ivy, food for all kinds of critters.

But this year will be different! (Too bad, critters -- you'll have to make do with plums.)

I went searching in the great global library called the internet to find out if there were any tips for ripening pears properly. It turns out that they should NOT ripen on the tree. Amazing! We've been living in ignorance all these years. When you see the first dropped fruit, that's the signal to pick the whole crop and store it in a cool place to ripen slowly, or in a cold place to hold the crop until you are ready to ripen it.

There were five or six nicely shaped pears on the ground today, so I picked everything I could reach.

These will go in the garage for an experiment in slow ripening. Of course, there's a lot more left on the tree. Next step -- a ladder!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cute Cukes

Lemon cucumbers are such friendly plants -- perky and cheerful and productive without putting on a big show. Once a vine gets up to speed you can count on a continuous supply until frost. There's more than enough for salads galore, falafal fixings, and no doubt other more exotic uses we haven't tried yet. There's always plenty left over to give away by the handful.

The small bright yellow blossoms are as fragile as tissue paper. The pale-lemon, bristly, egg-shaped fruits are so cute you want to collect them like beanie babies or give them nicknames -- at least until it's time to make a salad. Garden mascots.

We have two vigorous vines growing this season and for a couple of weeks have been picking one or two every few days. They haven't really reached peak production yet.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

STILL Waiting for Tomatoes

Local excitement over the first ripening Better Boy tomato! It is the only one so far. I think I will leave it on the vine for a while just to show the others it CAN be done.

The entire region is waiting for tomatoes. According to today's paper our tomatoes always peak later (as compared to say, the Central Valley, I imagine) because of cool night temperatures. This year there has been untypical daytime coolness as well. "Since June 1, only 24 days have peaked at 80 or above . . . . Thirty-eight days have fallen below 80 and below seasonal average." This was certainly true all last week, which was cool and foggy in the mornings with balmy, perfect afternoons in the mid to high 70s. This pattern is expected to continue through next week but trending even cooler. Normal would be low to mid 80s.

We have had a couple of hot spells to be sure -- in the high 90s -- which somehow always seem to coincide with a harvest kitchen day.

I was surprised to read that local farmers really like this cool weather. Produce such as beans, squash, and corn are thriving, they say. Even the heat-lovers, like eggplant, peppers, melons -- and tomatoes - are expected to do better than when they are sun-blasted. "I think the fog is wonderful for growing vegetables," says one. "This is Salinas weather, which is ideal for vegetables: peppers, beans, and stuff like that."

Evidently this kind of weather makes for better produce: "firm and ripe, with generally better color, flavor, and appearance than usual," according to the UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor.

So far, the only tomatoes we have harvested are a few ripe Sungold cherry tomatoes -- a handful now and then for a salad. Local farmers are just starting to get theirs to market.

But most of ours are still green. We shall see what happens during the rest of the month. August is usually our time of peak abundance. Last year our vegetables and fruits came mostly from our backyard, with plenty left over to stock the freezer.