What a difference a month makes.

Koralik Russian Heirloom Cherry tomato

Well it’s warming up here in the Central Valley and the garden is growing quite nicely so thought I’d give you an update. Tomatoes are ripening and I have enjoyed several of the little jewels as I wander through the garden early in the morning. My favorite time in the garden is around 6 or 6:30am. It’s perfect then, not too hot or cold and it’s quiet with only the songs of the birds to break the stillness.

The first fruit from the Ichiban Japanese eggplant is ready to pick, which I’ll do in the morning and the Astia zucchini has been producing just fast enough that I don’t have to eat one a day. They are nice little (I pick em small) squash and are a really good dipper for the edamame hummus that I have been buying at Trader Joe’s. I haven’t tried any cooked yet. They taste too yummy raw.

 Here’s the difference a month can make. On the left is how they looked on May 9 and on the right June 10.

Here’s a look at the rest of my little plot.

On the left is my bean tepee which is growing green, yellow and purple pole beans, the squash is a zucchini called Zephyr. I’ve grown this one for a couple of years and really like it. Two thirds of it is yellow and the blossom end is light green. Quite pretty. If you look closely you can see one just to the right of the chives.  Squished just past the squash are Persian Baby cucumbers (Green Fingers), an Ambrosia melon and a Romanian Sweet Pepper, that isn’t really taking off like everything else. Think it needs more heat, which is forecast for this week. The little green berry basket is protecting some parsley seedlings from the snails. Herbs are thyme by the beans, chives by the squash and tarragon by the cukes and melon. Tarragon is supposed to be a good companion plant for just about everything so we’ll see how happy the melon is when I taste it later this summer. There are already several 1″ melons growing so that’s a good sign of things to come. The beans have only recently started blooming and I’m looking forward to seeing some sets in the next week or so. The other plants in the foreground are; Sweet Alyssum, Snow in Summer and Santa Barbara Daisy, which was recently clipped to encourage a second bloom and also give the melon and cukes room to spread. Later in the season the squash will flow out over the Snow in Summer which it did last year. That arrangement didn’t seem to hurt either plant.

The beans, cucumbers, container zucchini and parsley were all grown from seed from Renee’s Garden, local seed company. The other plants were from starts I picked up at various local Farmers Markets. The size of the plot is 4′ x 10′ and this is it’s second season as a veggie garden. Last year I had beans, squash peppers, melon and cukes too but this year I rotated the positions of the plants putting the squash where. A mini crop rotation if you please. I also added organic manure before the rains last winter and let it soak into the ground not mixing it into the soil until this spring. Think I’ll try to plant a cover crop of legumes or clover this fall and see what that’s like. Must be why I love gardening so much, there’s always something to learn and it’s always an adventure.

How’s your  garden doin?

How Can I Tell If It’s Ripe?

You would think that a person that has gardened off and on, for fourty years or so would know just about everything there is to know about gardening and harvesting. Not so.  That’s one of the things I love about gardening. Every year it’s different. Every year I learn something new. So join an old dog like me in learning a few new tricks.

Not quite there yet.

So our gardens are doing well. The plants are healthy and they are starting to produce. That’s terrific, but how do you know when it’s time to start harvesting? Trial and error is how most of us learn this phase but there is an easier way.

This one is ripe.

One of my favorite gardening sites is Renee’s Garden. I received an email the other day with an article by guest author, Alice Formiga, it was called When the Time is Ripe: Harvesting Vegetables for Best Flavor. I immediately wrote Renee’s and asked permission to share the article with all of you. Heidi Harris their Customer Service Representative’s response “We would love you to use the article!” The active link to the article is here.

OK, so a few of you are saying to yourselves. Well I don’t garden so this article isn’t important to me. Well it is important if you buy fresh produce (and I hope you do). Just because it’s fresh doesn’t mean it was harvested at it’s peak. You the consumer have to know what you are buying. You have to know what to look for. Alice’s article will give you the tips you’ll need for choosing the veggies that will give you the best flavor.

A personal note:

Renee’s Garden is one of my favorite sources for seeds. This year I’m trying Persian Baby Cucumbers, Green Fingers, French Baby Carrots, Babette, Pole Beans, Tricolor Mix, and Old Fashioned Zinnias, Cut and Come Again. Like the other seeds I have purchased from Renee’s they all germinated well and are growing vigorously. You can read more about Renee’s Garden by visiting her website which also includes more “How to” articles, cookbooks and recipes and a nice gardener’s resources page. They also have a Facebook page.

Spring Garlic

You can see the cloves starting to form on this one.

Sunday I got to the Farmers’ Market later than usual, it was already packed with people but choices were still good. The first thing I wanted to do was find the egg guy and trade in my used cartons. It seems like the only time I remember that I’m going to take them back is when I am at the market buying more eggs. Very happy with myself for finally remembering. Egg cartons returned and a fresh dozen in my basket I was off to see what looked good as far as vegetables go. I bought a nice bunch of chard, a green that I much prefer to kale or mustard greens, some beautiful, thin asparagus, some very nice baby spinach, more Fuji apples, tangerines and the subject of this weeks post, green or Spring garlic.

Garlic is a species in the onion family and green garlic is simply immature garlic, which has been pulled to thin the crop. Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives are close relatives. Since I love all garlic’s cousins I guess it isn’t any surprise I love garlic. I love it in its mature form and delight every spring when I can get it in its immature form.

Green garlic is much milder than mature garlic. To use it trim off the root ends and any tough part of the green leaves. Chop or slice the white, light green and the first few inches of the dark green leaves (using only the leaves that are tender).

I read that the sticky juice within the cloves of mature garlic is used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain in China and that garlic has been around for about 6,000 years and is native to Central Asia. I also read that it was highly prized in early Egypt where it was even used as currency.

Here’s a little dish I prepared tonight using some of my fresh Spring garlic, left over baked Japanese sweet potatoes (Satsumaimo), a little butter and baby spinach.

First I thinly sliced the garlic, then placed it in a fly pan with a little butter and let the garlic gently cook until it had browned and was a little crispy. This isn’t something you would want to do with clove garlic as the taste of the garlic would be bitter. That doesn’t happen with the young version.  I then added the cooked garlic and butter to the Japanese sweet potatoes that had been peeled and mashed with a fork. Once this was done I made some little patties from the mixture then added them back into the frypan with just a touch of butter and gently fried the patties until they were crispy and browned, then turned them and did the same to the other side. When they were browned on both sides I removed them added the spinach and a splash of chicken stock (you can use water) added a lid and cooked the spinach until it had just wilted. That’s it, another one-pan yummy treat. Perfect for a spring evening.

You can find a recipe for green garlic and baby Bok Choy from one of my March 2010 posts here if you’d like another idea on how I’ve used it. It’s also excellent in any egg dish, think cheese and bacon omelet with spring garlic. If you can find Spring or green garlic at your Farmers’ Market or market, give it a try. I think you’ll like it.