Sunset Magazine Festival 2011

Amazing mixed material pathways out of tile, wood, stone, marbles, etc. @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensMixed berries as groundcovers, borders, and hedges @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensMixed herbs planted within reach of the garden's outdoor kitchen @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensFragrant and edible herbs make great hedges and patio borders too! @ Sunset Magazine Trial Gardens Mixed plantings of herbs and citrus @ Sunset Magazine Trial Gardens
Mixed plantings of herbs and citrus @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensOrganically espaliered fig trees @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensMixed media pathways @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensMixed media pathways @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensCalifornia Native Poppies @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensEdible, ornamental, fragrant plantings @ Sunset Magazine Trial Gardens
Raised bed full of various plant starts @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensMixed pathside plantings of ornamentals and edibles @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensMixed pathside plantings of ornamentals and edibles @ Sunset Magazine Trial GardensAlpine Strawberries @ Sunset Magazine Trial Gardens

Sunset Magazine Festival 2011, a set on Flickr.

I finally put pictures up from the Sunset Magazine Festival I went to almost a month ago! What a difference having a SD card reader for my iPad makes. (My computer is a total dinosaur, so I do most of my blogging work from the tablet.) It’s nice to see other people using edibles in place of ornamentals when it comes to landscaping- a lot of them are even as low maintenance as native plants can be! Definitely some great, easy to incorporate ideas in here. Hope you enjoy!

Tiny Mexican Gherkins

Tiny Mexican Gherkins
It’s hard to believe I’ve yet to blog about my favorite new vegetable I’m growing this summer! Mexican Gherkins, or “mouse melons” as you may have noticed in the harvest picture below, are a recently rediscovered heirloom cucumber that have gained some traction in the last few years (and a real treat to have growing in your garden.) Not only are they disease resistant, pest resistant, and drought tolerant, but extremely prolific and tasty too! Not much larger than a grape at full size, they almost taste pickled right off the vine. I tend to eat them straight out of the garden, or toss them whole into my salads for lunch. They’re growing so quickly I may even end up pickling a few!

And I’m not the only one who has recently fallen in love: Bon Appétit columnist Andrew Knowlton, one of my favorite Iron Chef judges, totally agrees with me on this one.

(Note: I am fairly allergic to most melons, but despite these looking like baby watermelons, I haven’t had an issue at all. Just FYI for those with hit-and-miss food allergies like me!)

Summer Zucchini Smorgasbord!

Mini Harvest, July 6th
For many of us, zucchini grows in our summertime gardens quite easily. So easily, in fact, that if you forget to pick a small one when you see it before you go on a weekend vacation, you will often come home to a courgette approximately five times the size of which you initially desired to eat it! In our partially vegetarian household, more food is generally not an issue… but with zucchini and other summer squash, the larger the fruit gets, the more watery and flavorless it can be (not to mention the pithy fibrous mass that the center of it becomes over time.) If you run into this issue like I did last week, here’s how to get the most bang for your buck.

I came up with this “recipe” while pickling and canning vegetables last week. I used whatever vegetables wouldn’t fit in the jars to add as stuffing, but it is such an easily adaptable concept, you can use whatever you have on hand or even get more creative and make it featuring a myriad of International flavor profiles!

Summertime Stuffed Zucchini

1 Overgrown Large Zucchini, 12″+

1 Small Stale French Baguette, Single Serving Size

1 Shallot, Carrot, and Mild Pepper, Diced

1 Large Egg

Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Parmesan, and Herbs (To Taste)

Cut zucchini into 2″ rounds, making sure they are as level and flat as possible (to sit on baking tray.) Using a spoon, scoop out center cavity of each piece so that it forms a bowl, being careful not to entirely scoop out the bottom end.

Cut or break baguette into several pieces. In a food processor, pulse baguette until crumbly. (I use frozen mini baguettes that I keep on hand as bread crumbs because I like the fresh texture better. You are welcome to use pre-made bread crumbs and will maybe need 1/2-3/4c…. I just don’t see the point in buying them when it’s a lot easier to freeze stale bread and use it for this purpose later!)

Filling for Baked Zucchini (Leftover Veggies from Pickles!)

Transfer bread mixture into a mixing bowl and add the chopped veggies, as well as salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. I am a big fan of using Lovage for the celery-like flavor without adding any moisture, but feel free to substitute half a stalk of celery instead (or the leaves that are usually cut off!) to achieve similar results. Add egg, 1tbs. olive oil, 1tbs. parmesan cheese, and mix to combine.

Stuffed Baked Zucchini

Drizzle or brush zucchini bowls with olive oil. Evenly portion one or two heaping spoonfuls of stuffing into each cavity, pressing lightly to ensure it is full. Sprinkle with a little more parmesan, then bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, depending on desired doneness. I served mine up with ketchup, and had the leftovers for lunch the next day with a quick salad.

Plated Stuffed Zucchini with Ketchup

I could also see doing these with smaller squash cut lengthwise and stuffed, or smaller squash cut width-wise, stuffed, and dotted with ketchup as bite-sized party appetizers. Have fun!

Ruh-Roh… Blossom End Rot

One of the greatest fears of the annual tomato gardener is blossom end rot. While I had been fortunate enough to not encounter this problem in previous years, this year it has hit one of my tomato plants with a vengeance, and mid-season no less, which in my head makes it more unpredictable and potentially harder to manage.

For most gardens, blossom end rot is an early season issue, arising on the first fruit of a plant when a rainy weather spell is quickly followed by a heat wave (or vice versa.) This can often be mitigated with the treatment of epsom salts to aid even water retention and absorption, though honestly, salt in the garden tends to scare me. When watering (or the lack thereof) is not the issue, it may also be a surefire tell that your soil is calcium deficient.

Since the tomatoes of various size and pedigree on either side of this particular vine currently show no symptoms, I decided it was safe to assume that watering was not, in fact, the issue. The issue at hand, as far as I could tell, was simply a hungry, finicky breed of paste tomato that originated from the volcanic soils of Mt. Vesuvius. While the soil in my garden may be fertile, I’m not so sure that it is as fertile as volcanic soil, generally high in silica, potassium, and phosphorous. From the six feet of growth that I’ve witnessed thus far, I am sure that it’s high in nitrogen, but too much of any good thing is never a good thing when it comes to gardening. (Though the other four less demanding nightshades in the same row seem to be happy with my soil, thank you very much, prissy paste tomato.)

So this week I set about researching to find a cure for my blossom end rot, lest my dreams of awesome tomato sauces be dashed. I began by cutting off all of the tomatoes that showed signs of rot. As heartbreaking as this can be, it’s better for the plant in the long run to refocus its energy toward getting healthier and creating new fruit. To prevent new fruit from becoming affected, I scoured the internet for answers. All readings led toward a potential calcium deficiency, but getting soluble calcium into an existing garden plot that is full of plants seemed hopeless, as it is generally something you add at the time of planting (or dig deeply into the soil.)

Finally, I stumbled across advice that I remember my Grandmother doing when I was a child: crushed antacid tablets, when stirred into a bucket of water, supposedly provide a simple, effective solution for many calcium plant issues. I grabbed a few Tums, smashed them with a mortar and pestle, and dissolved the fruit flavored powder in a giant watering can which I then used to douse the base of the plant, adding another two cans of water to make sure it absorbed into the soil. I honestly have no idea if this will work, or if my tomatoes will even enjoy the cherry orange and pineapplepalooza snack that I’ve forced on them, but it seems worth a shot.

Just goes to show, gardening is an experiment of trials and errors, and sometimes simple home remedies prove to be the best. Will keep you guys posted to whether or not this works!

Pollination in Progress!

When it comes to gardening questions, I tend to get texts, emails, and phone calls from friends and family several times a week, especially during the height of the growing season. I thought about this a bit while I was visiting family over the 4th, and realized that there are a lot of conflicting answers to be found on the interwebs, but not a lot of reasons as to why. By no means am I saying that my way is always the right way, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to share what I’ve researched and what works for me. (And maybe it will even work for you!)

About a week ago, a friend texted me with a photo of his corn, asking if he should cut the tops of it off like his housekeeper advised. No offense to your housekeeper, friend, but unless you just want tall plants and little to no edible corn, please don’t do this!

Cutting the tops off of corn stalks, or “detasseling”, is often common practice in large fields of corn to create hybridized varieties (and to prevent cross-pollination between different types.) However, these farmers also leave the tassels on select stalks every few rows to ensure proper pollination of the silks. (The top part of the corn stalk, or tassel, is the male portion of the plant, and the lower parts, or silks, are actually the female parts of the plant: individual threads connected within the ears that will each form the delicious kernels you will be slathering in butter later in the summer.) Without the tassel to pollinate the silks, your chances of getting nice, big, grillable ears of corn are extremely low.

Because my garden doesn’t really have the space for a massive self-pollinating corn field, I planted six plants in a block, hoping that they will pollinate themselves within this space. I also tend to hand pollinate (when I’m out there watering and weeding) by brushing some of the pollen into my hand and then dusting it into the silks, making sure at least some of it catches.

If you want to grow corn, find a nice sunny corner of your garden to plant it. Be sure to keep the area mostly weed free, and give it at least an inch of water a week. (I have no idea what that means actually. I just remember reading it. In real life, I soak them 1-2 times a week at least six inches deep, depending on the temperature outside and whether or not the pole beans growing up them look droopy.) It’s also a good idea to plant them in very fertile soil that has been amended with compost, or supplement a natural food throughout the growing season. (I switch between sprinkles of Dr. Earth maybe every month or so and a thin layer of Bumper Crop Soil Builder halfway through the summer. Again, finished compost would work just as well.) Good luck!

Growth Check-In

IMG_20110625_081453 by Veronica in LA
IMG_20110625_081453, a photo by Veronica in LA on Flickr.

Something I’d recommend all new gardeners do, and something I really started doing more this year (thanks in part to my trusty new smart phone!): take lots and lots of pictures of your garden’s progress throughout the growing season. Why? Well, as we barrel into July, it’s easy to say “oh everything is just getting bigger” and not realize the magnitude at which your garden is growing, nay, exploding this month! Between watering and weeding and grumbling at insects that aren’t so beneficial, it’s easy to get caught up in that summer womp-womp of your garden that’s not quite producing edibles yet. But when you begin to compare pictures from two months, two weeks, and even two days ago, you see the progress, where you started, where you’re at, and you’ll remember why you’re doing this. Try it! You might be amazed too. 🙂

The Lettuce Bed

The Lettuce Bed by Veronica in LA
The Lettuce Bed, a photo by Veronica in LA on Flickr.

Having a full bed dedicated to greens and herbs is one of the most fantastic things I can imagine. Given the proper conditions, lettuces grow quickly, and are ideal ornamental edibles that need little care or space and have few pests (aside from the occasional slug, who rarely touches the arugula or more pungent herbs.)

To set up your own lettuce bed this summer, pick an area of your yard or patio that gets early morning or midday sun, but partial shade when it gets hot later in the day. I navigate the summer growing season by planting both varieties that are slow to bolt (like Red Seas or certain heirloom butter lettuces- check your zoning for what will succeed in your area!) as well as by broadcasting new seeds throughout the growing season. If you’re starting from scratch, try finding a six pack of greens at your local nursery to begin, and plant with room to grow. Once they are established and harvestable (about doubled or tripled in size) begin broadcasting seeds by scattering a few dozen or more around and between the established plants. Water thoroughly, and within a week or two you should start to see new seedlings! I find that the established plants help to shade the seedlings, ensuring a higher percentage of survival, and good practice in succession planting so that when the original plants begin to bolt or get too tough, you will still have a garden full of fresh organic salad greens all summer long.

Lettuce Planters

Lettuce Planters by Veronica in LA
Lettuce Planters, a photo by Veronica in LA on Flickr.

Even though I grow a lot of lettuce and herbs in the raised beds at my house, I often have to remind myself while blogging that not everyone has the gardening space that I (am lucky enough to) have. But just because you don’t have a yard doesn’t mean you can’t grow food!

These three pots of organic herbs and lettuce live across town at my boyfriend’s house. The lettuce and herbs in them rotate throughout the year depending on the season (and what we feel like eating) but they’re easy to keep fresh and beautiful because they’re self contained, and even easier to remember to use since they’re within arm’s reach of the kitchen.

When creating a food-centered focal point for your patio, try to pick herbs, greens, or container-friendly veggies that compliment each other in texture and height, with the tallest planting in the center of the pot and lower-growing crops spaced around it. Make sure to leave a little space for your crops to grow out! And finally, choose crops that you will use (and enjoy!) regularly. (You can buy seeds for a few dollars a packet, or 6 packs of organic seasonal plants at your local nursery for around what a bag of pre-cut greens would cost at the grocery store… except your home-grown salad will have way more nutrients and provide a few more weeks worth of food.)

When it comes to containers, I like to try a few large vessels in a similar color or pattern (rather than buying a dozen tiny pots or a large wooden box.) I found the pots pictured for $14.99 each at my local nursery 6 months ago. They add that much needed pop of color outside, and are guaranteed to last for years. Happy Patio Gardening!

Grow Baby Grow!

A Month or Two In by Veronica in LA
A Month or Two In, a photo by Veronica in LA on Flickr.

Snapped this picture this morning before I left for work. The tomatoes are little monsters, and the squash, cukes, and corn are doing their best to catch up! (So many gardeners hate this time of year, with the weeding, watering, and staking that it can entail, but I love it! There’s nothing better than watching my garden explode with life.)