Friday, October 30, 2009

Cute Fruit

This is, quite possibly, the most adorable vegetable I have ever grown. Although it is technically classified as a fruit, allowing my, oh so clever title. Everything about them is miniature, which I find irresistible. Tiny curlicue climbing tendrils, itty bitty yellow flowers, and small, ivy-like leaves. And the fruits themselves look just like a watermelon, perfect for Tom Thumb.

They are bite-sized, crunchy, and just the slightest bit sour.

This is another treat from Territorial Seeds. It's the Mexican Sour Gherkin, listed in their catalog under "Novelty Cucumbers".

Were I in the business of coaxing children to eat vegetables I would use this as a secret weapon. And I feel justified in writing about these dainty treats on the cusp of November, because the plants are still bearing fruit. I don't know of too many cukes that can accomplish that feat this late in the season.

Best Bang for the Botanical Buck

Oh sure I love the luscious fruits and vegetables as much as anybody; the blowzy, plump, colorful tomatoes, melons, corn, and peaches. But I get the most satisfaction from growing plants that have a longer season and hang around when there is not much in the garden to eat. Greens and some of the heartier herbs are the plants I value most.

This bed of mixed lettuces has been providing crunchy salads for a couple of months now, and some of the varieties will survive through the winter. It is planted with a seed mix from Territorial Seeds, my favorite seed source. Here is how they describe the mix.

"Provencal Winter Mix
32 days. This famous mesclun salad blend is composed of 3 colorful, winter-hardy French lettuces-Continuity, Salad Bowl, and Brunia-as well as Roquette, Corn Salad, Treviso radicchio, Broadleaf Batavian endive, Dark Green Italian parsley, and Chervil. This makes a colorful salad mix as well as a wonderful summer garden landscape planting. Add pansies or violas for a celestial treat." And it's all true.

Also in this salad bed is celery that I started from seed in the spring. 2 plants provide me with leaves that are great in salads and plenty of stalks for soup stocks.

Parsley, chives and oregano have made it through the winters in my garden most years. I just loved being able to go out and grab just a handful or 2 of something, without having to go to the store and buy an amount that may be more than I need.

And then, of course there are my beloved greens, rapini, Chinese broccoli, and mustard greens. Mustard greens are on the menu tonight, along with

Yukon Gold potatoes, and Peruvian Purple potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, and garlic, all from the garden. I intend to roast them in the oven and serve with polenta. But I can't decide whether to call it
Small Batch, Artisan, Oven Roasted, Heirloom Root Vegetables, with Braised Mustard Greens, or Grits, Greens, and Spuds.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Having grown up in southern California fall color might refer to many things, but never to a change in leaf pigment. Palm trees don't turn. But here in the Pacific Northwest the trees shout at this time of year. From sunny yellows to brooding purples, the trees all try to outdo each other in a final blast before they strip and go to sleep.

The real show stoppers are the ones flaunting shades of red and orange. Usually they are maples and the trees positively glow, as if illuminated from within like a lantern. It's like peering into a dark fireplace and seeing the luminous, smoldering embers. My eyes never tire of seeing this intense, incandescent color and light. Maybe I'd get over it if they lasted longer, but the show only lasts a few weeks, and then everything turns gray, well not really, but it feels that way.

I've never been to the east coast for the famous turning leaves, but if it's a whole lot better than it is here in Oregon, I probably wouldn't be able to handle it. Happy Autumn.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mustard Greens and John the Frog

I have a frog in my yard. When the weather turns cool and damp he makes himself known by croaking. He is doing it now and we have lots of rain in the forecast. Maybe he knows something. My husband has named him John. John the Frog.

Here's a pumpkin so it must be autumn. The weather has definitely turned cooler and the days are shorter. But fall in the Pacific Northwest is a treat

And here are my lovely Mustard Greens. I planted them in plenty of time this year for them to get a good head start. The very small leaves are terrific in salads, and the more mature leaves are great steamed, stir fried and in soups, or as braised greens. They have that super sastisfying, hearty, dark green, leafy vegetable taste and a peppery kick.

And here is the other green that I love, rapini. It has reseeded itself since summer and is providing lots of leafy greens that are great with sausage and pasta

Rainbow Chard too

I planted my garlic this week, about 40 cloves so far. I'm going to try to figure out a place to squeeze about 10-20 more in. The problem is that most of my yard doesn't get any sun during the winter months. I am shaded on the south by my neighbors, and by my own house on part of the garden. So maybe if I plant in a less sunny location I will just have a later crop.

Gardening is experimenting.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Disneyland For Chickens

I finally made an open compost bin. I've been threatening to do this for sometime, but the idea has met with some resistance from the aesthetics czar. So I put it in a part of the yard he seldom visits.

I've been using the black plastic Earth Machine composters with some success, but I wasn't able to turn the contents frequently or thoroughly enough. My neighbor, the Compost Chef, uses an open contraption and turns out the most delicious, black, crumbly, rich compost. So I decided to follow his lead, aka copycat.

I assumed this new situation would be of some interest to the chickens, and I was correct. Scarlet, the Rhode Island Red was the first one in and the first one to the top of the heap. But the others soon followed. And they got right to work. They just love spreading stuff out. Anything left in a pile or stack will be evenly distributed in no time.

I'm hoping the hens rearranging the pile constantly will serve to turn and aerate the pile. And the necessity of shoveling it back into the bin makes them my personal trainers.

At some point I may need to restrict their access to the pile, if I get tired of shoveling it back into the bin, or if they eat all the worms. But for now I love seeing them working away, kicking and scratching, digging for gold.