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06 October, 2013

What To Do and When To Do It: October

Seedlings in terra cotta pots getting ready to be transplanted into slightly larger containers.  On the left, broccoli and cabbages have two seed leaves while the two pots on the right must be onions or leeks because they only have one seed leaf each

In all the books from back east and England, you'll find fall as a season of 'going
to rest,' 'putting the garden to bed' and other allusions to 'sleep' and restoration. It is not true for in the Mediterranean Climate! We are in our other Spring and this Spring is really closer to the Spring that other parts of the world experience. This is our shot at carrots, peas, and other cool season plants. We either have all our space filled with plants, or we've just got a part planted and big plans (dreams) for the rest. So the Winter garden is in full swing. Later this month, if I have grown any green manure cover crops I will cut them down, leaving the plant material in place and cover with a thick layer of mulch. I would like to allow this to “mellow” (meaning I want this material to begin breaking down into nutrients the plants can use) for about 2 weeks or more before placing the next crop in.

I tried to plant one chard plant because I only need one to provide me with enough chard for all my needs, but there are so many colors to choose from, I feel a need to grow at least three: yellow, red and the orange really knocks socks off. These plants provide continuous chard over a long season, sometimes even 'over-summering,' obviating the need for succession planting. Almost everything else though, benefits by being sowed at intervals throughout the season, a process called 'succession sowing' or 'succession planting.'

A person plants a garden to get to eat the very freshest of food – you don't pick your veggies and put them in the fridge to 'age' before you eat them – well, at least, that isn't the intent. So, to the degree possible, only plant enough of what can be eaten in a reasonable amount of time. As a single person, I have found that a twelve inch row for most things is the perfect size to grow enough to supply fresh carrots, beets, parsnips, cutting lettuces, for any given time. A typical planting schedule for me might look like this (the words in parenthesis name the varieties I like):

Week 1 – carrots (St. Valery)
Week 7 - lettuce (Yugoslavian Red)
Week 2 – beets (Golden)
Week 8 – carrots (Scarlet Nantes)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown)
Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 4 – carrots (Dragon)
Week 10 – spinach (America)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia)
Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano)
Week 12 – beets (Albino)

Quickly you see that, though I do eat parsnips and turnips, I don't eat nearly as many of them as I do carrots or beets. Your situation might be different in that you could care less at all about ANY parsnips, but spinach is near and dear to your heart so you would have spinach in the rotation much more than I do.

Another way to do the same thing, for a larger family, is to plant three different things per week – carrots, beets and spinach in week one; turnips, lettuce and parsnips in week two; carrots, beets and parsnips in week three. Or spinach planted in one row every week all cool season long. Tailor the program to your needs! You might also find that you need longer rows – I wouldn't imagine that an 18” row would suffice for a family of four! Play around with the scheduling and the row length and the mix of plants you grow until you find what your family needs. At which point, of course,their needs will change, but you'll have a lot more data with which to figure out the new schedule.

In our smaller gardens there is no room for the proverbial 50' row of carrots which means succession planting of a given vegetable is one of the staple strategies for your daily grub. Another good point about putting in many smaller plantings of crops is the ability to harvest these vegetables at a smaller size, which is just the ticket for a garden in containers. Don’t get suckered into the “bigger is better” routine. A huge cauliflower might serve as a great subject in a “look what I grew” photo contest, but the cauliflower you pick at half the size will be the one your tastebuds will reverently remember.

A mark of the very good gardener is one who has his/her succession sowing down to such a science that allows them to place fresh vegetables on the table without lag time or a concentration of over-abundance that fluctuate to nothing to eat for a few weeks in between. Learning how to do this well has been the work of a lifetime for many and is still a moving target. But at least I know what I’m shooting for... and now you do too.

Direct sowing of seeds gets far too much mystical billing. It’s easy. The hard part, in our busy world, is staying disciplined enough to keep them moist. Remember, the seed wants desperately to grow, that is its “job.” If you provide enough water for the seed to break the seed coat, you will soon see a little pair of leaves above the soil. These are called cotyledons and, if there are two of them, you have what is commonly referred to as a 'dicot' (“di” meaning two), horticultural shortcut word for dicotyledon. There is only one other kind of flowering plant we would be concerned with in a vegetable garden and that has only a single seed leaf and is called a 'monocot' (one-leaf). Monocots, meaning 'monocotyledon,' are all the grasses, which includes grains like corn, wheat, rice and barley. And a lot of your weeds!

Take note of all the little cotyledons of the plants you grow and soon you will be able to tell them from the weeds. This is somewhat important. If you can rid yourself of weeds before they get really big, you have a much easier job of it; if you rid yourself of all the wrong plants because you mistook the lettuce for dandelions, you'll be a very disappointed and frustrated gardener! I have done this, I am not too proud to say. Learn them quickly to forestall the sadness of hoeing up your own plants.

Composting is one of the more essential parts of gardening. Gardening is a life cycle and composting is that part of the cycle that returns nutrients and fertility to the soil. In our culture, we don't like the smell or the thought of decomposition, yet a knowing gardener loves the smell of rich compost; that ever so slightly 'sweet' smell, incidentally, is from actinomycetes, a fungus that is in the same group of organisms as penicillin.

Somehow, fall always reminds me of composting probably because I grew up in those colder climes where fall signals the oncoming winter and so marked the end of the growing season. And that leads to thoughts of composting. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

You can get absolutely nuts trying to build a scientific compost pile, but let me offer that I don't do all that. Decomposition happens. Simply leave some veggies in your fridge too long and tell me they did not begin to decompose. And you didn't have even think about carbon to nitrogen rations (c:n). You do want to understand the process – especially if you don't have the space to leave something sit for 9 months, which is what I tend to do – to get usable compost in less time than it takes to grow a decent cabbage.

Remember you have 'browns' and 'greens,' names that are somewhat misleading. 'Browns' refers to carbon material which is mostly, or usually, brown. This is dried leaves or woody pieces. 'Greens' are those materials full of nitrogen – usually represented by grass clippings, but all of your table scraps are nitrogen sources too and they too are classed as 'greens' regardless of their color. While we can specify the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio, achieving it is always a meandering attempt to meet a moving and approximate target. Believe me, you'll never have composting materials in the right amounts to achieve an ideal c:n ratio, which is considered to be 25-30 parts per brown to 1 part of green. So, add all the green you have and scrounge around to dig up enough brown to make it work. You can add newsprint or cardboard to the pile to bring up the carbon level ('brown') if you have those around, Mix well and water – keep moist. Make a pile that is at least three feet high by three feet long by three feet wide; this is the minimum size to create a working compost pile. Keep moist. Turn the parts that are inside outside and the parts that are outside inside. Keep moist. Not soggy, but moist. In about 9 weeks of warm weather, you'll be able to use fresh compost. Sift out the big honking pieces and return them to the pile (they will help get the next pile off to a better start) and build it again.

Honestly? I usually dig a trench about one foot across and two feet deep and as long as it needs to be to handle what I have to compost. I pick a part of the garden I won't use for a few months and add the compostable materials, covering with soil as I go. I add to the trench each day I have more to compost. Eventually I'll simply plant right into that soil, starting in the oldest part of the compost ditch. No big deal and it works without a lot of reading. Or thinking. I did this when I had a small garden and kept working compost into the soil in this pattern. On the Plus side, it's not a rodent attractor and it's no muss, no fuss. It's perfect for a single or two person household that doesn't produce a lot of compost. It would also work as an overflow method for folks using worm bins as their # 1 composting method.

You can find the composting technique that thrills you. The important point is that none of these rich materials, food or garden waste, ends up in a land fill. All of the plant wastes from the kitchen and table are the best components for a rich garden and they are free! The benefits of composting for your garden and keeping valuable material out of the landfill are a double whammy of 'why this is important!' You don’t need to worry about doing it perfectly... everything rots eventually.

If you are building a compost pile, you don't need to buy a black plastic container or any other kind of device. The black plastic composters were probably designed back east and made black to absorb more heat; we don't need it here, having plenty of heat (usually) to go around. A simple thee feet by three feet by three feet pile will do. One thing to be careful about is to keep your kitchen scraps covered with some 'carbon' kind of material or you may attract rodents. Just the simple precaution of burying food scraps under a decent layer of dried leaves will help prevent a mouse problem.

A smelly compost pile has too much water. Hold off watering for a few days, work in some dry carbon material without more wet and soon it'll be OK.

Rodale's book on composting is listed in the notes section. Get it, it's a great resource.

For apartment dwellers, condo owners and others with no easy access to land, vermicomposting is the answer you are looking for! And you didn't even know you had the question! It's easy, the result can be used on plants in pots and your garbage need never grace the entrance of a landfill ever again!
You will need
  • 10 gallon bin or 20 gallon bin
  • 1 lb or so of worms (you can start with fewer, the population will expand to account for what you feed them)
  • Cardboard or newsprint
  • Kitchen waste
Most home stores sell two storage bins that work very well for vermicomposting.  The smaller bin is a 10 gallon container by Rubbermaid called Roughneck Storage Bin #2214-08. It’s dimensions are 9” x  21” x 15” , comes with a lid and is available in various colors.  This size works well for a family of two. 

A worm bin can be made of wood, but plastic seems to work better longer because it won't rot. Your bin must be tightly covered – worms cannot live in light and you don't want them to escape! Punch or drill holes around the top third of the vertical walls to allow air to circulate – punching them with a nail is best because any larger of a hole will be an escape hatch for the explorers in your worm population. You should do the same thing with the lid. Oxygen in the bin will allow the breakdown of materials to proceed aerobically, which means it won't stink and your worms won't suffocate.

Wet a sheet of cardboard or a section of newsprint – soak thoroughly and wring out to where it is as moist of a well wrung sponge. Worms will use this as bedding, and eventually you'll need to replace it
as time goes by.

Red wigglers will reprocess kitchen waste such as: vegetables, fruits, eggshells, teabags, paper coffee filters, shredded paper towels, and coffee grounds. They particularly like pumpkin, watermelon and cantaloupe. Avoid citrus fruits because they are too acidic for them. If you pamper your worms by cutting food scraps into small pieces, the worms can finish them off that much faster. I am not, however in the business of making life wonderful for a bunch of worms – I throw my stuff in whole and they take care of it sooner or later. Burying the food scraps into the bedding will help you avoid fruit flies and adding meat or fish to the bin is not advised for many reasons.

Feed the worms your scraps as you have them available -ideally, no less than twice a wee – however, I have gone on vacation for a week and fed my worms nothing in that time and did not come back to a hell hole of a worm bin. Don't stay up nights worrying about them. These worms prefer a pH of something close to 7 and the temperature needs to be between 50 and 84 F. Don't let the bin dry out – keep it moist like the compost pile.

Harvesting the vermicompost can be done several ways, but the way that is easiest and therefore my choice is called 'side-harvesting.' Feed the worms on only one side of the bin for a few weeks which will cause the worms to migrate to that side. You can then begin to harvest the worm compost from that unoccupied side of the bin where you will eventually, once you've finished harvesting (over a few weeks), begin to add fresh bedding on that side causing them to migrate to the new bedding and allowing you to harvest from the second side.

You can make a it lot more complicated than this, but you have better things to worry about, yes?

In planting seeds, please note that root crops are never planted in containers to be transplanted later. There is a really good reason for this: they do NOT transplant well. Onions, and onion family members are the exception. Carrots and parsnips abhor being transplanted and beets and turnips suffer so much shock it is not worth the trouble.

While I often start lettuce in six packs in a sheltered location, it can sown in the soil directly as well. I like to do both, when a plant will let me do both because they each have advantages and drawbacks. Plants that are transplanted will suffer some shock in the transplant and that will slow them down a bit. However, plants grown directly in the garden are often subjected to harsher conditions that can overwhelm a small plant; a hard rain, pests that consume the whole plant while it's small. If you can, start plants both ways to maximize your chance a good harvest. Fava beans, garbanzo beans, lentils and peas can also be grown either in containers or directly sown.

Slower growing small plants, though, really do benefit from growing in a sheltered location. In this group, I put broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. These are also plants that one should set in the ground lower than they were in the original container, so transplanting them makes great sense.

This is a busy month – and the more you do early, the happier you will be! As the month rolls along, sunset gets earlier towards an unreasonable hour and you'll regret the missing outdoor light.


Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
More of the cabbage family!
Fava beans
Beets
Carrots
Cabbage family members from early September
Lettuce
Fava beans
Fava beans

Garlic
Leeks

Lettuce
Onions

Other green leafy vegetables


Turnips

Refer to the text for exact dates.

Winter Squash With Pecans And Bleu Cheese

• 4-1/2 pounds winter squash
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 cup pecans
• 1 cups crumbled Roquefort or other bleu cheese

Heat the oven to 425°F. Halve the squash, leaving the skin on, and scoop out the seeds, then cut into 1-inch cubes; you don't need to be precise, just keep the pieces uniformly bite sized or so.

Throw into the oven or, in warm Southern California weather, on a grill until tender.

Toss the hot squash into a bowl and scatter the pecans throughout, crumbling the cheese over all and toss together.

This can be a wonderful side or you can get more involved and create a main course dish from it.



What To Do And When To Do It: September

Lettuce is one of our winter crops in Los Angeles – this red lettuce, Merville des Quatres Saissons (Marvel of the Four Seasons) is more like Marvel of the Two Seasons here – 
our summers are way too hot to grow this lovely French belle, but in cooler months this is a true delight that is as tasty as it is beautiful – and it's really beautiful!  Alongside it, not as gorgeous, but still a very good choice for salad is Tango, a reliable and tasty companion in the garden and on the plate!

As the Summer crops begin to decline, we now get ready to see the seasons change in a dramatic fashion, those who say there are no seasons in California have not really taken notice of a garden here in September. The plants that have given you tomatoes all summer, are mostly a heap of sad, brown vines. If there has not been any difficult diseases, I prefer to leave the vegetation where it lays. I chop it up using my trusty pruners or a machete – or a shovel, if it is handy and will do the job. The cut up plant debris is left where it lies and fresh mulch is piled up on top of it – to three or four inches deep. The paths are filled with wood chips if I don't have a clover or other green manure crop growing there. The old vegetation will break down and will be composted in place. Diseased foliage is removed and placed either in trash or in the compost pile. Some diseases, like mildew, I accept and simply deal with year in and year out – other diseases, like Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) have to be taken – carefully – off site.
To the degree I can, though, those plants that are healthy and have drawn nutrients from the soil are left in place, allowing some of that nutritional value to be returned to the soil.

When we harvest a tomato, we are really harvesting the soil's fertility that has been converted via the sun's energy into the vegetables from our garden. Putting the tomato plant back into the soil, without the tomatoes you harvested, represents a net loss for the soil. That's where the additional mulch and compost come in – we try to replace the vegetables we have eaten with organic matter that will allow the soil to recreate its bevy of nutrients nourishing our next season's garden. It is not sufficient, in the long run, to just add fertilizers – we need to add things that will provide sustenance for the fungi, bacteria and other critters living in our garden's soil; a thriving soil ecology will provide better nutrition to your plants without spending needless dollars on fertilizer, most of which will only become pollution in our ground water or vaporize off into the atmosphere.

In a garden where perennial weeds are not a huge problem, I encourage everyone to plant a perennial crop that will assist in nourishing the soil. I like any one of several clovers or alfalfa or whatever else that will take mild foot traffic and will do something to add to the fertility of the soil. If this crop is mowed in a sustainable manner – like with a hand sickle, for a small area, to a scythe for larger areas – the clippings can be put right back into the beds or added to a compost pile for more greens. Unfortunately, growing in most community gardens, control of perennial weeds is only as good as the worst gardener. If one gardener doesn't keep them in check, perennial weeds will infest the pathways and there is no good way to get rid of them without shredding the ground cover as well.
Keep in mind that some kind of soil regeneration must be happening all the time or the soil will eventually not support food crops. It is better to do this regeneration little by little in our smaller gardens. Folks with larger areas, or a long vacation coming up, can plant cover crops to increase the soil's fertility over a season. For gardeners in Sunset Zones 22 and 24, that means a part of the garden can be left without growing crops to harvest every single month of the year. In areas where there is not a huge problem with perennial weeds, the paths supplement this soil enrichment by growing something like clover year round to improve the soils vibrancy. In any growing season, it is better to have the soil covered with some crop – even a crop of weeds is better than leaving the soil barren. Although it would be ideal if you were to get rid of the weeds before they began to go to seed. Just sayin'....

I've had a great crop of peppers this year – which, I find a tad disturbing, because this year was lousy for eggplants due to a lack of consistent heat, and if it didn't get hot enough for one, I'd think it wouldn't be acceptable for the other. Still I have a lot of peppers, go figure. We pickled about 5 pints of the Sweet Banana peppers so far this year, but the jalape├▒os, I'm letting stay on the vine until they turn red so I can dry them until they are crispy. Then I want to grind them into powder for a teentsy little zip in some recipes over the coming months. A little bit will go a long ways, so I might have settled on some holiday gifts for this year without even trying.

One thing to remember when preparing or cooking with hot peppers: either wear rubber gloves or make very sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you touch your face – especially your eyes – the juice in hot peppers are just about one of the most painful solutions you can get into your eyes. Or other very sensitive parts of your body.

Measurements of heat in peppers are in Scoville Heat Units (SHU's), which is based on the amount of capsaicin in the pepper. Here is a chart comparing a selection of different peppers and their varying amounts of capsaicin. If you know the SHU of a pepper, you can avoid blasting the top of your head off. But, remember, along with the note on keeping capsaicin out of your eyes, if you dry peppers, the heat increases by a factor of ten. That's an increase worth remembering!

Pepper Type
Heat rating (in Scoville heat units)
Pure Capsaicin
16,000,000
Red Savina Habanero
350,000 ~ 575,000
Habanero
200,000-300,000
Pequin
75,000
Tabasco
30,00-50,000
Cayenne
35000
Smoked Jalepeno (Chipotle)
10000
Serrano
7,000-25,000
Jalepeno
3,500-4,500
Poblano
2,500-3,000
Pasilla
2,500
Anaheim
1,000-1,400
Ancho
1,000
Bell & Pimento
0


About half-way into the month, it usually becomes cool enough to sow arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, parsnips and turnips. My leek and fennel seedlings ought to be ready to transplant out, as should broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, endive all later in the month. Lettuce is one plant I’ll usually direct sow in the garden AND start in six packs to set out – there are advantages to both and so I’ll use both. Root crops – carrots, beets, radishes and turnips – must be sown where they will grow. If you ignore my advice and try to sow root crops for transplanting, you will find beets, radishes and turnips will produce a crop, but they are so set back by the transplanting process it really isn't worth it – carrots and parsnips simply do not perform at all unless you are incredibly meticulous and then it's just not worth the time.

As September wanes, probably the most productive time in the Southern California potager begins. If you are eating from your garden, now is the time you can really feast for awhile, the last of summer – peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, sweet corn, basil – is still out there to eat and the first root crops or lettuce will be big enough to munch a bite or two. I enjoy eating BLT sandwiches and for a brief moment in spring and a second brief moment at this time; the homemade BLT is one of my rituals. I bake my own bread, and the tomato and lettuce come from my garden so the only non-homemade items are the bacon and the mayo. It's almost a mystical experience, especially when the bread is still warm from the oven. Finish it off with a dessert of figs heated on the grill or in a broiler, drizzled with a bit of honey on them and a dollop of some fairly stout Greek yogurt. Oh, to die for! Not some store-bought fig shipped in from far away, but a fig that got ripe on a tree in the back yard or from a local farmer at your farmers' market.

Fava beans, lentils and peas are being planted now, too. All of these grow best in our cooler winters. Fava beans were the only bean in the Old World before the American plants became part of the European pantheon; all the other beans are American (as are tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes among others – one wonders how in the world the Italians and French survived long enough to arrive at a culinary tradition!). Fava bean plants, as well as lentils and peas, make a marvelous addition to any soil building program and favas, when combined with artichoke hearts, make a Mediterranean stew so delicious that my taste buds flutter just to remember.

If you missed starting sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) last month, you can still try to have these deliciously scented flowers earlier than anyone else, they must be in the ground by the first weekend of September. Please note that 'sweet peas' refer to a flower, while peas (Pisum sativum) refers to the food plant. The sweet pea flower (which I think has the most divine aroma!), is strictly an ornamental as the seeds are poisonous! Not smart to confuse the two – gives a whole new import to the “no TV for you until you eat your peas!” line. If you succeed with your early sweet pea flowers, I don't want to hear about it. It'll take years off my life to have been beaten in this category.

If you don't start your own seeds, find broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard and onion plants in a good nursery. Don't scrimp on your plants – if they have been cared for with indifference (like one might find at a big box store with minimum wage employees who may even hate working in a nursery) you might not get the quality plants that will produce the best (or the most) food. You are going to invest considerable time in growing these plants before they will be your dinner. Buying a cheap plant is flat out 'penny wise and pound foolish.' If you have to hoard some pennies, skip a couple cups of coffee rather than buy cheap plants.

I think it's better to start your plants from seed, instructions abound and you can learn it easily enough! If you can, find the seminal seed starting book, The New Seed Starters' Handbook by Nancy Bubel. That was the book that started me on the road to starting almost all my plants from seed and is still the best book on the subject. I see it sells for about $14.00 on Amazon; I got my second copy (the first went a-wandering) from a close out bin at Borders for $3.00. Oh gosh! Remember Borders?

Starting from seed, as you saw if you have browsed any decent seed catalog, offers you the most diversity in what you have available to plant and control over when you plant as well – which is a delightful way of keeping your garden looking its best. Mind you, this takes patience and time – but the rewards are equal to those investments. Isn't that the way of everything, though? Mind you, as well as giving you the ultimate control over what goes in your garden and giving you access to twenty or thirty times the varieties available at all your local stores combined, it is way less expensive and way more productive! With so many reasons why growing from seed is preferable and the only reason to not grow from seed is 'I'm too impatient, ' which way are you going to swing? Gardeners, start your seed catalogs!

This is an exciting time to be gardening. Grab your imagination and look at where you are planting. Think about the eventual size of what you are planting – it's OK to make mistakes – that's how we learn! When I'm teaching a class, the truth of it is, I have probably killed more plants than anyone else in the room and yet, they are the ones saying “I have a black thumb.” That's probably the biggest lie they can tell me. When I kill a plant, I usually know why it died and sometimes it isn't my fault. When it IS my fault, it's usually because I wasn't paying attention. Death by inattention isn't a 'black thumb' issue unless you do things like forget to turn your car off; or forget to go to work in the morning. Death by inattention is reformable – it's simply changing your patterns.

 These really are the dog days of summer!

Be good to yourself and you'll learn. It's all good.


I know that traditional 'Dog Days' of summer are July through August, but a case can be made for our Dog Days to come from August through September. Usually our cooling trends don't begin until September 15th or thereabouts. Often, just to make life a little harder on the gardener, you'll find a hot, dry dog day coming between two rather cool nights – or worse, two cool twenty-four hour periods. Planting your cool season seeds (especially carrots) will net you a big fat nothing but a lot of extra work if the days come back too hot. You might be able to mitigate it by watering them a bit in the early afternoon every hot and dry day. Seeds of all plants must be kept moist until they have germinated. This is especially true of carrots and lettuce and other small seeds.

But by mid-September, we ought to be OK – cooling should be in the wind and evidence of yellowing leaves start showing up signaling imminent leaf drop and the season of Fall. Take advantage of the cooler temperatures to be in your garden more this month. The days are appreciably shorter and soon, those of us with day jobs, will be gardening in the evening with flashlights. Those of you who just laughed, be warned: Gardens require attention and don't stop having weeds and water needs just because the sun isn't up in the sky! Flashlights and headlamps – styled after the miners' lights – are effective tools that help a poor gardener through the shorter days of winter. If you think this is the raving a lone, lunatic (and I use that word judiciously!) gardener, keep gardening. One evening, you'll do it too. If you don't end up trying to cure insomnia one early morning in your pj's first. Gardeners who have a few seasons under their thumbnails are nodding and smiling in agreement.

Here's a recipe to help you with some of those extra tomatoes. I use the 'roma' or paste tomatoes in this recipe, but any tomato will do – the fresh eating tomatoes, the “non-romas,” will probably be better served to cook a little longer and get rid of some the extra water. Right now I'm sold on San Marzano Roma tomatoes although the less productive Golden Romas make a sweeter, and golden sauce from this recipe.

One summer, I had so many tomatoes, after I had eaten all I could stand and had filled my freezer with sauce (a lot of which I gave away), the final tomatoes of the year were left on the vine. I had too much of a good thing!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
All cabbage family crops
Fava beans
Any cabbage family plant big enough to survive.
Leeks
Potatoes (tubers)
Leeks
Fava beans
Beets
Onions
Lettuce
Carrots
Herbs
Spinach
Parsnips

Fava beans
Lentils

Shallots (seed)
Peas


Garbanzo beans


Garlic (bulbs)


Shallots (bulbs)


Lettuce

Refer to the text for exact dates.


Roasted Tomatoes

2 Table spoons, olive oil (to cover the bottom of the pan)
1 Medium Onion, Finely chopped (or 2 or 3 leeks)
3 Cloves Garlic, Finely chopped
8-10 Plum Tomatoes, halved lengthwise (to fill the pan)
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley (or basil or thyme or oregano)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon sugar

Note: The amounts on all the above ingredients may be varied; substitute liberally! Peppers and other vegetables of a similar size (and cooking time!) to the tomatoes may be added as well.

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  1. Layer in a baking dish, slathered with olive oil, in the following order: tomatoes, olive oil, onion, garlic, parsley (or other substituted herb) then salt, pepper and sugar. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  1. Use as vegetable side dish or puree roughly and (freeze too) use as sauce for pizza, pasta or whatever.

August

A pair of hands sifts through the harvest of Cannellini beans; 12 feet of row netted just shy of 10 pounds. I am thinking a family of four would use about 50 pounds in a year. But this is just one of the many things we are harvesting from the garden this month.

I used to think of August as nap time and in the heat of Southern California's summer, it sure is inviting! Grab a cool drink, a hammock and the Dodgers on the radio and listen for the muffled sounds of snoring... But not anymore! Not since I realized that growing the food was less than half the battle. Of course there's a lot to do on that account, more will be revealed very soon, but getting the harvest in and making good use of it is another important part of gardening.

It's hot work, but this week alone, I've harvested 10 pounds of those famous Italian Cannellini beans (a dried bean sometimes referred to as 'white kidney beans' but that doesn't do them justice!), about as many pounds of peppers – mostly the sweet banana types that I hope to pickle soon. As well as the tons of cucumbers I am hauling in. If you followed my advice and planted Armenian cucumbers, you are swimming in cucumbers by now and have come to realize the reason that pickles have such prominence in our culture – pickles makes good use of all these tons of cukes in a pinch! Which is probably why we have so many pickling methods (from all over the world) as well so many different recipes!

How much you preserve of your harvest makes a huge difference in how well you can eat from your garden over the long haul. When the season is in full swing, like it is right now, dealing with the abundance is the major focus of the home gardener.

There are several ways to deal with fresh produce that will allow you to eat from your garden long after the heat of August is gone. You can dry the produce. This is the easiest way. Beans, like my Cannellinis (above), are simply left on the plant until the pods are crispy and ready to drop the white bean seeds on the ground. I come along, gather them up and lay them in a dry, partly sunny location to dry for a couple of days. In Southern California that should do them nicely. Putting them away with too much moisture could result in moldy beans by the time you want to use them in cooking. I give them a quick two day stint in the freezer to kill any larvae that might be lingering and then seal them up tightly in a glass jar until time to use.

Juicier veggies can be dried too, but they take longer and are a little more involved. If you want to dry tomatoes, or peppers, pick up a good book on drying. Look for a list of suggested books in Appendix K to find one I recommend. Drying has the wonderful advantage of not being dependent on the power grid to continue to be edible, unlike freezing which is totally dependent on electricity. With disaster waiting at the turn of the next power outage.

Likewise, canning definitely cannot be done without careful consideration. Pickling and making jam are a subset of canning and are not as involved as other types of canning though they too need some awareness and strict attention to sanitation. Pickling and jams are easier because the high acidity or sweetness (pickling uses vinegar, while jams and jellies avoid botulism with lots of sugar) keeps the bad organisms from growing in your food without using a pressure cooker. Get a good book on canning and pickling and discover this whole different world you've missed!

I grew up with canning and pickling as a part of the rhythm of life. This was in Kansas and it would be 102┬║ with the typical mid-Western high humidity. We'd be at Grandpa's picking green beans, tomatoes, strawberries, beets, grapes and sweet corn. Grandpa lived by himself and for his day-to-day cooking he used a little electric hot plate which couldn't boil the vats of water required for our massive canning adventures so we'd have to fire up the big stove – a behemoth wood burning stove! So there we would all be in Grandpa's kitchen, every window open and every fan on high, working, and sweating, our butts off to put all these vegetables and fruits into quart jar while Mom kept a verbal tally for us, “That's 16 quarts of beans!” We did strawberry jam, canned green beans (though by the time we got to eat them they were 'gray' beans), sweet corn, strawberry jam, grape jelly and pickled beets. It was hot work and I'm not suggesting that you go through this kind of torture. Canning and pickling need not happen all at once and involve a wood burning stove!

We didn't ferment things, being or a certain kind of mid-Western Christian persuasion, but fermentation has begun to make a comeback in modern times, especially since recent discoveries are extolling the health benefits of kim chi and other fermented foods. Making alcohol has been one way of preserving grape juice and cider for apples. It requires no refrigeration which is why these methods predate electricity by more than a few years. 

Now you can purchase your own still for a couple of hundred bucks and be on your way to compete with Old Bushmills or was that Old Kerosene? Kim Chi is a fermentation of cabbage that preserves cabbage with salt.

At this time, a gardener needs to keep the green (and yellow wax) beans picked (they can be pickled as well) or they’ll stop producing. Keep using the basil, continually pinching the flower tips – flowers and the first pair of leaves and throw into whatever you're cooking or a salad - the flowers are as edible as the leaves. Next month, you can harvest whole plants and make pesto and this constant pinching will cause the plant to grow into a vigorous small shrub! Share the abundance of all your produce with friends, relatives or a food bank. Nature isn’t stingy so carry on that tradition and share too. Everyone needs a fresh homegrown tomato now and then to remind us how blessed we really are.

Anything planted into the garden in August can be seen as an act of desperation. Mind you, you CAN plant, but, baring a spell of unseasonably cool weather, it isn't going to be a cakewalk for you or the plants. You'll both need extra water and both of you will have a shot at sunstroke that could kill them much more readily than you. At least, you should have the sense to move into the shade if you notice symptoms of hyperthermia. Plants, on the other hand, have to stay put. If you do plant on a hot day, it is good idea is to find a way to shade your little darlings. A stick, about 18 inches long, propping up a black nursery flat, with the flat to the south of the plants is a tried and true way for many gardeners to provide shade for their newly planted starts.

Remember to consider how long your new plant is going to take to fruit. Will it still be warm enough to set a crop? Right now in August, I would plant only a very few varieties of tomatoes because most will begin to flower in late November. Yes, I know there are warm days in November, but how many? Can you count on enough warm days to get tomatos from pollination to ripe before the cool nights cause it to rot on the plant? I think that's a poor bet. Instead, I think we should try to get cool season crops in before they really like to be set out or on the other hand, perhaps grow a few quick summer crops like beans.

What to plant in the coming months is a great game gardeners love to play, wiling away long, insufferably hot hours in the shade. It is best to write down some of the ideas you're having for next summer's garden now. while this year's experience is fresh, otherwise the harvest of knowledge could be wasted. Of all the ways to learn gardening, the most sure and least expensive is to keep a garden journal. It is so easy now days and can be very inexpensive. If you have a computer, a digital camera and a word processing program you are set up. It can be a cheap camera (find a used one on eBay) and a free word processing program, and your thoughts will be preserved for the next year's garden. If that's not your bag, get a paper notebook, draw your plans, paste in pictures from catalogs and write your observations in a multitude of colors. Or use a combination! The point is to write down things so you'll remember them and to find a way to write them down that will give you enough pleasure to insure you'll do it. A chair or bench in your garden is the most perfect place to do this. Haul out a few catalogs, something cool to drink, sit down in the shade with your notebook (computer or paper) and think about the year gone by. It can be a meditation that is almost as good as eating from your garden.

But don't throw all your attention in to next summer's garden. Spend some time now to consider what you will grow in our mild winters. I'm looking through some catalogs seeking good varieties of cabbage, broccoli, onion, lettuce and others. If I order them soon, I'll have them by the end of August and I'll be starting little pots of seedlings that will be going out into my garden by the beginning of October. Check out Appendix K where I've listed a few of the vegetables I want to grow along with some varieties that I like. I'll order seeds to start now, and, to save on postage, I'll also order seeds that I'll be using a little later on.

No matter what's going to happen, August is the time to contemplate the fall and winter garden; in addition to the stuff above, I'll plant seeds of artichokes (a perennial) and I’ll plant several different heirloom varieties of sweet peas – maybe some blends of antique varieties, two seeds per pot. I love the scent of sweet peas and I've had a contest with myself to try to get red sweet peas for Valentine's Day. So far, no luck. They just sit there and sulk until March and then they flower – too late for romance! That could be a theme song.

Consider not only planting seeds from the seed companies, but commit to learn how to save your own seed from year to year. It's not only fun thing, but it makes you a much better gardener in the long run. It helps our generation to connect with our past – my Grandpa, and probably yours too, or at least his father, planted seeds they saved from year to year. This saving of seed comprises a huge heritage in our collective history that we today do not enjoy. Saving seeds from the plants you grew, connects you with your plants and our collective past in a whole new and delightful way that has a magic and satisfaction that is close to sacred.

Saving seed can be as simple as saving the seeds from your beans – bean seed is the bean in the pod. Leave the pods on the plant until the pod is crispy and viola! You have the seeds for next year. No fuss. Dry them thoroughly, give them the freezer treatment, as above, for two days and store in a cool dark place until next year! Other plants can be more complicated but all are easily learned. By leaving a few plants in the garden, you will provide forage for bees and other insects that makes your garden a more integral part of nature. It almost makes the free seed your bonus!

Allow me to make a shameless plug for the Seed Library of Los Angeles (slola.org) an organization that has its headquarters at The Learning Garden. SLOLA provides free seeds to its members for a $10 lifetime membership – every meeting features a presentation on how saving seeds of different types of plants and time to check out seeds from the collection of several hundred seeds, almost as much as some commercial seed houses! 

Over time, these varieties of seeds will become more adapted to the climate and soils of Southern California and will become our own vegetables. This is important because the coming years (if Global Climate Change is real) we will experience some difficult years for all agriculture. If we learn to grow our own food and there is a crop failure in the traditional crop growing regions, not only can we be self sufficient, but we might be able to provide famine relief for them as well. I know most of us don't think of our gardens as a hedge against starvation, and maybe that's too fine a point on it, but to me this is a reasonable scenario and one that adds a sense of urgency to what we do. Growing your own food and doing it well is a fabulous hobby and a worthy enterprise without considering climate change, but there is that reality right behind the curtain that haunts our day to day lives, much like the threat of nuclear war animated society's thinking in the late 1950's and early 60's.

One of the oddities in the chart below is that often one vegetable will appear in two columns, 'Start These in Containers' and 'Start These In The Ground' in the same month. This just means that there are two ways to grow this crop – I will usually use both to attain my goal of X number of plants. Some plants planted directly will grow faster and be harvest-able before the plants started in containers for transplant later – but, the ones in the ground are more exposed and are likely to suffer a greater percentage of depredation. Therefore, I average my desire for fresh eating sooner with the reality of fresh eating later being a more sound bet.

Others are stated one month earlier in containers and are seeded directly in the Garden next month. I will use both probably, again, to get the results I want. Sweet peas started in containers in August will not be any faster to flower than sweet peas direct seeded in September. Usually I do both just to make certain I don't have a sweet pea crop failure!

As we get ready for the coming plantings of Fall, this is a good time to introduce you to my own technological advancement, The Planting Stick. It's not really complicated.


Observe The Planting Stick. It is about nine inches long and once was a part of a longer stick that was holding a vine or a small tree upright in a 10 gallon nursery pot. Once the plant was planted, this stake was removed (many are not and are available by simply scanning your own or your neighbors front yard for anything that was planted by some mow, blow and go guys recently). I cut it to nine inches because that is the size I find works for me, a bachelor who lives with a dog that doesn't eat a lot of vegetables.

The stick is pushed down, lengthwise, on the garden ground with an edge pointed down. It makes a straight indentation in the soil and into that indentation, I drop seeds of whatever is the veggie du jour today.

Carrots are covered with a light sprinkling of vermiculite. Vermiculite will hold moisture against the small seeds and help them to germinate. Many of our soils will crust over after being wetted and under that hard crust, carrot seeds will be entombed never to see daylight. You don't need to use vermiculite with other seeds – their plants can break through the crust. You'll use this stick in the coming months, so get it ready. Guess how long you'll want it – it's free so if you guess wrong, it's easy to start over.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Sweet peas
Sweet peas

Broccoli


Cabbage


Kale


Cauliflower


Fava beans


Onions


Leeks


Refer to the text for exact dates.

Figs On the Grill

This is only a 'recipe' in the loosest sense of the word, but it's worth your attention. Gardener's in the Mediterranean Climate should be seeing figs getting ripe right now or soon. Pick figs that are soft to the touch and slice in half. Put face down on a grill until warm, flip over and warm on the back side as well – you are not trying to 'cook' them so don't overdue it. Just leave them long enough to heat through out.

Put a dollop of a good stout, plain yogurt (I like to find yogurt labeled 'Greek') on top of each slice. Drizzle with honey. Eat carefully to avoid falling of your chair.