Sunday, August 30, 2009

Seasonality


Is everyone in California originally from Ohio? Ai, yi, yi, yi !
It just isn't true that our growing season here on the Central Coast of California is over on September First. Just the opposite - in fact, we have more warm sunny days ahead of us than my old cousins back in Dublin, Ohio had starting in May! We have an incredibly long growing season and, even though we don't have those weeks and weeks of balmy nights, we do have weeks and weeks of frost free growing. So, forget everything your old Midwestern daddy taught you and believe nothing you read on the back of seed packets - plant NOW!
Plant lettuce. It loves cooler climates and sweetens up when the frost sits upon its shoulders. Not freezing weather, but frost, yes! Wonder why we keep lettuce in the refrigerator? It LIKES it!
Plant beets. They get a good start going right now and then those lovely roots sit nicely in colder soil, just waiting to be picked and eaten.
Plant cabbage. You can ignore those monster cabbages that take up all of your garden space and plant the mini-cabbages very close together. Harvest and eat when they are softball sized.
Plant bunching onions. Because you can, year round. Same goes for Chard, Cilantro, Kale of all types, Collards, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts (long season AND short season), Kohlrabi, Cauliflower - all those brassicas that sweeten in cold weather.
Plant peas - if they grow and produce, fine. If not, they will in spring.
Plant fava beans as an overwintering crop, with garlic, shallots, Walla Walla onions, and Stockton Red onions.
Did I mention Spinach, Chinese cabbage, any and all mustards, Asian greens...
Arugula grows great in winter, so does Cilantro. All the perennial herbs overwinter as do many pepper plants.
Now is NOT the time to stop gardening.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Local Nurseries

The peppers in the greenhouse are ripening; coloring up through the pepper rainbow from green to black to purple to red with some yellow and orange phases in there depending on the type. They make a colorful addition to an otherwise muted pallet of herbs and young vegetable plants. Green; dark green, light green, grey green, yellow green, variegated green - but mostly green.
I took three trays of Prairie Fire peppers, in full pepper regalia, up to Roger Reynolds Nursery and Carriage House today, along with some flats of onions, basil, cilantro, sages and a few other things. While I was there a much bigger delivery truck pulled in, unloading racks of flowers and bedding plants. Not a huge nursery, but one considerably larger than ours, and it was nice to chat with the driver, who was also be the co-owner of the business, about plants and greenhouses and delivery vehicles and how much we like Maria at Roger Reynolds and how he just said, "Yes, ma'am" and got along with her fine. I was proud of the plants I was delivering. We drive smaller trucks, bring fewer plants, but we appreciate the niche we have at this nursery and greatly appreciate the fact that Roger Reynolds, and many other local nurseries, support local growers small and large. Roger Reynolds is celebrating its 90th birthday/anniversary this next month, and will honor its suppliers and its customers. If you live in the Palo Alto/Redwood City area, I urge you to pay this fine nursery a visit and enjoy the tremendous variety of plants that they have on hand, as well as the lovely gift shop called The Carriage House.
Back on the road, I drove on up to San Francisco to the Ferry Building to make a much smaller delivery to a much smaller shop selling herbs, succulents and orchids. The Kingdom of Herbs sells our organic herbs and we deliver fresh ones each week. There are lovely gift items in this tiny shop, but very little light which is a challenge for them and the herbs they display. The plants sell quickly though and their new owners - I hope - take them home to a brighter place.
Certified Farmers' Markets continue to be the best place for us to sell our little plants; but having additional retail outlets like Roger Reynolds and The Kingdom of Herbs is a terrific addition for us and for our customers.
We only have four hours each week at our Farmers' Markets; so if you think of us between markets and need a plant or two, pay a visit to these outlets and, as always, support your local nurseries.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Break Time


There are days when you just don't want to work. Today was one of those. We 'culled' the chicken flock yesterday, put some of them in the freezer as stewing hens, buried some that were just too old. Dispatched some goslings and reduced the flock to four - two breeding pair. That is a very hard thing to do but for all those out there who think it would be fun to have a few chickens, the day will come when they are too old or injured or sick and need some intervention. It's not fun, but hopefully kindly in the long run. It's been many years since we purchased strange meat; meaning meat from an animal that we didn't know or know it's owners. I'm always impressed when the young people who work here show up on days when we butcher, because they understand the necessity. And their own personal need to participate. Unless you are a vegetarian, then you probably should at least witness, if not participate, in the harvesting of the meat that you eat. But it is an exhausting business and no one did much work around here today. The plants got water, but not much transplanting took place. The vultures circled most of the day; their intense scenting ability knowing exactly where the offal was buried. The dogs went crazy barking at the vultures, but even their noses couldn't detect the deep graves, the lime added to decrease the scent. Why am I writing this on a blog about gardening; no reason. Except it is part of the farm experience and probably should be more a part of the life experience that we all share. The good news is we have a healthy foursome of geese, a small flock of chickens, two vigorous dogs, seven interesting cats, a passel of useful part time employees whose youth is infectious, and multiple greenhouses full of lovely, healthy plants. And today, we had trees full of bush tits! Thank you, St. Francis!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cilantro

Every season we go through the discussion again about whether we should sell cilantro seedlings or not. The good news is that it is very popular and customers buy it week after week, nearly year round. The bad news is that beginner gardeners have a less than satisfactory experience with it. And it's not their fault. Cilantro, or Coriander, is easy to grow. But transplanting it further shortens its already short life cycle.
The commercial value of coriander was, historically, in the seed. So it was selected to go to seed quickly for financial reasons. Now, more and more people want it for its tasty foliage, but they have to be quick about it or the plant bolts, sets seed, and turns bitter.
If you love having cilantro in the garden, buy some seeds, harvest often and plant it frequently, directly into the garden. If you would rather buy seedlings, select the youngest ones available, preferably those without true leaves. If it looks like cilantro, it is probably too old to transplant.
Yes, we will continue to sell cilantro. And we will continue to sell it as a really young plant and encourage our beginner gardeners to purchase some of their own seed and plant it directly. And we will encourage you to try using other herbs in its place, such as young parsley, chervil, and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander); these plants are not the same, and it is their very difference that makes them so enjoyable.



Sunday, August 9, 2009

Container Gardening - Fresh Food on the Deck

I felt obligated to attempt a container garden this year, in addition to our 'house' garden and our test garden. So many of our customers are limited to containers on their deck, patio, balcony, that I felt I needed a little more experience with this. Since this photos was taken, two bean boxes with string trellises were added for pole beans. This was put together in June and we have had the best luck with the cucumbers; Rocky, Suyo, Little Leaf. The tomatoes - I planted Stupice and Sun Gold Cherry in 5 gallon pots - are just now starting to produce. The Zephyr squash looks lovely, but didn't do much zucchini-wise. I don't think it got enough sun. I planted two small pots with radishes and one pot produced quickly as radishes are wont to do, but the other Japanese variety which was said to need 45 days, hasn't produced at all. The eggplants and peppers look great and are setting fruit right now. They are all in 3 gallon containers. We haven't had too many pests, a few white flies, but we also have a lot of hummingbirds who love white fly, so there you are.
I made a big mistake with the pole beans. As soon as they came up from seed, they looked diseased. And, as it turns out, they are not pole beans at all, but a bush variety of Red Noodle. I must pull them up and plants snow peas for the fall. Not shown in this picture, is a big wine barrel filled with lettuce, chard, sorrel (red veined) that has struggled a bit with leaf miners and heat, but by and large look and taste great. Those are keepers for a year round deck garden.
Our deck is a brutal place. Even though our house is painted dark green, there is a lot of reflected light and heat. And wind. So the plants dry out quickly and have to be watered more frequently than if they were in the garden. The area of the deck I chose is somewhat protected from the wind but also gets less light, and I think that is what stymied the squash.
It was a good idea, though, and makes the deck a more livable and attractive place. It's fun to go out and grab a cucumber for the supper salad.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tourism: It's like a Bus man's holiday, I suppose, visiting farmers' markets in other places just to see how they are alike, how different. We just returned from a whirlwind trip to the Midwest to visit family. In the few hours that we had to ourselves, we took off to visit the markets; one in Olde Worthington (Ohio) and one in downtown Columbus, the North Market. The Olde Worthington market was a typical weekend market with vans and trucks, 10 X 10 canopies, and lots of summertime color in the fruits and vegetables. The differences were notable. The vendors were all alike - meaning there were no Latino, no Hmong no Asian vendors. Not surprisingly, there were no fish vendors. The other difference I noted was that there was far less specialization; nearly everyone was selling sunflowers, cut flowers, zucchini and tomatoes no matter what their primary commodity. There were at least three vendors selling grass fed beef and pastured poultry - but it is the Midwest and there is nothing if not green grass everywhere you look.
The North Market is another thing altogether. A permanent structure with a long history as a market place. It's not fancy, something like Pikes in Seattle. There was a standard farmers' market outside on the Saturday when we visited, but that is a once a week activity. Otherwise, the North Market is open seven days a week, year round. Lots of variety and one of the best purveyors of meat that I've seen in ages; fresh duck, duck fat, duck confit, whole rabbits, stewing hens, organic chicken feet, lamb AND mutton and goat - a terrific selection. In addition to all the seasonal vegetables and fruits, there were bakeries, cut flowers, a sushi bar, an organic coffee bar, kitchen wares - and chocolate. If you would like to know more about it, Google North Market Columbus and you will be there instantaneously.
It's fun to visit farmers' markets when you are away from home. Give it a try next time you are visiting far away lands.