19 December, 2018

December in Our Mediterranean Gardens


Winter 2018 in Review: Our Rights and Our Wrongs

It's seed catalog time – I've got two already. Seed Savers Exchange arrived

yesterday (first one of my crowd to get it!) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange came today. I will probably get a few seeds from each one – they have different varieties that entice. This last month, a friend of mine took a squash I had bought and turned it into two delicious pumpkin pies. I see the seeds for that squash (pumpkin) sold by Seed Savers Exchange and so Winter Luxury Pie will be added to my seeds sown this summer – I've already seen a lettuce I cannot live without, but I'll spend time over them, learning and dreaming of the next year's garden which is always sure to be double better than any I've grown before!

Yes, I know they are from across the continent,
but you gotta give them some love - you'll find
stuff here, you'll find nowhere else!
A recap of what has been grown is a great place to start to figure out what you'll grow this year! From my notes, this is what a past winter season looked like in the garden.

Artichoke: We had a great harvest last year of artichokes – mostly Green Globe Improved. They all produced big beautiful chokes with abandon. We had respectable harvest from Violetto which I love, but it wasn't nearly as productive, the chokes are smaller and not nearly as meaty. We are working with a plant breeder to work out some bugs in his purple artichokes, which he has named Winnetka Purple, but so far we've seen good sized green chokes or little sized purple chokes. More work.

Beets: Burpee's Golden and Chioggia - both are dynamite and steady producers year in and year out and both are readily available all over. These are two old standby varieties that form the bulk of my beet growing – Burpee's Golden has a lower than usual rate of germination but it's well worth it – besides fabulous pickles, they don't stain your hands or clothing!

Broccoli: Nutribud is an OP (Open Pollinated, vs. 'Hybrid') of respectable performance; earliness is right up there with the hybrids and the size, though smaller, is comparable. As the name suggests, it is reported to have a higher percentage of glutamine. DeCicco is a smaller, faster and more home garden friendly than some of the older varieties. All the other tight headed broccoli are hybrids. There are loose headed broccoli like Romanesco and Calabrese, but they take a lot more time. With those two varieties I recommend (Nutribud and DeCicco), you can harvest the main head and have more than a month of the sideshoots which can be more worthwhile than the main head.

Brussels sprouts: Between cabbage and broccoli, I get enough of this family to skip Brussels sprouts. OP Brussels sprouts include Long Island Improved which is the standard. The problem I have is that aphids get into each and every sprout and they are labor intensive to clean before eating – if you get a decent crop, grill them! I love them like that.

Cabbage: A good year for cabbage for us. Danish Ball Head, one of my favorite OP heirlooms performed good after we actually got some seedlings started. Winningstadt is a pointy head cabbage that yielded 10 pound heads that were delicious. Both were huge solid heads and we ate and ate and finally learned how to ferment cabbage to be able to eat it the rest of the year. And then I was sick of cabbage.

Carrots: How wonderful, if you decide to plant some of the different color carrots, you'll be able to grow open pollinated seeds! Because carrots didn't become uniformly orange until the last 70 years or so (because of marketing demand), the different colored carrots are all OP. In the orange department you'll find Nantes and Red Cored Chantenay as your big producers. In containers, try Paris Market and other small, 'one-bite' carrots.

Cauliflower: Mark Twain is supposed to have said that 'cauliflower was cabbage that had gone to college' and who can afford the tuition these days, so I'll stick to cabbage. Cabbage is easier to preserve and broccoli will give successive cuttings from one plant. Cauliflower is more work and less results. But, if you must, Early Snowball is the best OP cauliflower available and it is 'self-blanching,' which means its own leaves cover the white curds keeping them from the sun. If the curds are exposed to the sun, they will turn greenish, a detracting trait according to the Regents. There are also purple and a 'cheddar' color of cauliflower that are heirloom varieties.

Celeriac: First year with this and I like it. I don't grow celery because it's a hard plant to grow and home grown celery has always tasted bitter to me. Celeriac, on the other hand, was easy to grow and produced well. You can't smear a hunk with cream cheese or peanut butter and have the same delightful appetizer, but it does a marvelous dance in soups. Large Prague was our selection and I've not had experience with anything else.

Chard: (I'm dispensing with the 'Swiss' part, feel free to join me, after all, is it really Swiss?) We had seed from Seed Savers Exchange of Five Color Silverbeet, (silverbeet is Australian for chard, God only knows why) and seed of Pinetree's Orange Fantasia. Both were incredibly productive – although I've never known chard to be unproductive, so I'm not sure that's saying a lot. Someone gave us a few plants of Fordhook Giant, large leaves with a tremendous white rib down the center, and that one has spectacular production. While the colorful chards are show stoppers and sometimes we skip on Fordhook Giant, but those huge, beautiful, dark-green leaves are loaded with nutrition and flavor.

Cilantro: Let it go to seed and you'll have cilantro returning to your garden annually! I wish we could have it when tomatoes are ripe, then I'd grow a bundle of it, but no. It grows in our winter here. Plant any old cilantro – I have noticed no difference between Slo-Bolt and normal – one good blast of a hot Santa Ana wind it all of them bolt!

Collards: I'm not a huge fan and I've only had experience growing the old standard Vates. Collards, like some other winter crops like broccoli, are long term producers and that is a wonderful trait. Collards, a major part of the southern cuisine, became popular as one of the few crops that could remediate salty soil – like soil that had been inundated with ocean water from storms. As the slaves of the South worked with collards, they made them into stars of their now famous cuisine!

Fava beans: Windsor is my favorite and we get pounds of beans from each plant. I'm growing fewer peas preferring to grow more favas, garbanzos and lentils. Favas, of all of them, are the most productive – once you find recipes for them and are used to using them, they are really prolific! There are some less known favas that are quite beautiful.

Garlic: I love Spanish Roja – one of the hardnecks that are supposed to not like warm climates, but I have great luck with them. Last year, the crows got to them. They don't eat the garlic, but they pull them out of the ground. After three or four go rounds of this (they pull, I replant, repeat), the cloves were hopelessly intermixed so which one was the better producer is anyone's guess. But even without crows, you will find yourself buying fresh seed garlic every year – especially when you grow hard neck garlic which won't keep from one harvest to the next planting.

Kale: Redbor has worked well for me. I had some plants of Dwarf Blue kale, but when I grew it, I felt like that was a very stupid idea – same footprint for half the the food. What WAS I thinking? Lacinato, or Dinosaur Kale, gets a lot of press - and the cooks seem to love it the best. From my northern friends I have heard that kale needs a frost to really bring out its flavor – in some years, we might get to find if that's true. I've had enough kale to last me the rest of my natural life.

Leeks: King Richard is my usual dependable producer but last year was a really so-so harvest. I think I ignored them too much. American Flag is another popular variety.

Lettuce: I'm one of those who can't get through the lettuce section of a seed catalog without ordering four or five more packets! I could supply a large army with lettuce if I were given the land to do it. Marvel of the Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatre Saisons), Drunken Woman Frizzy-head (I kid you not!), Red Winter, Deer Tongue, Buttercrunch, and on and on and on. All delicious and all OP! Please note that the butter heads for which you pay so dearly in the store, are not hard to grow at all (their priciness is in the shipping) and they are actually more heat resistant than most other lettuces.

Onions: I usually buy plants from a local organic farm supply, but they sold out so I had to learn how to grow them from seed. Worked out fine, except that it takes a very long time. I like to grow Italian Red Torpedo – a delicious onion that is absolutely stellar on the grill. The seed I found was called 'Red Long of Tropea,' and they looked and tasted exactly like Red Torpedo, explains, to me at least, why it's called 'torpedo' when it really doesn't look any more like a torpedo than a zeppelin. Onions, unlike almost every other veggie we grow is 'day sensitive.' Most onions offered in the States will not bulb in LA because they are 'long day' plants and we need to grow 'short day' varieties. Folks from the rest of the US are not able to comprehend our experiences and the catalogs rarely indicate short or long day. Onions grown in most of Italy and Texas are usually short-day onions.

Parsnips: Coming back in popularity, parsnips were overlooked for decades. The white roots have the earthiness of beets with the crunch of carrots and are a sweet treat from the earth. I've only grown Hollow Crown, but I hear a lot of good words on Harris Model. Their seeds, like carrots do not last long even under really good conditions, so buy fresh annually on both.

Peas: I remember as a child getting fresh baby peas and potatoes from the garden for one of the finest meals we ever had. Nowadays, there are more pea varieties than you can shake a spoon at! For snap peas, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Snap are two reliable performers and for shelling, Little Marvel and Wando – I grow fewer peas than I used to, mainly because I like to plant other winter crops in the same space. Peas get ripe and in nano-seconds go to over ripe. Pick them thoroughly and often.

Potatoes: The world has changed a lot in the past few decades as regards the white potato. In the first place, it is no longer necessarily white. Now days, there are red, blue, yellow and other colors of potatoes and there are million different ways to cook them. I think that's going to be my 2018 resolution: I'm going to learn more about these amazing potatoes and how to eat them. Growing potatoes is about the easiest thing in the world to do, and having a good chunk Irish in me, I have that down pat! I have already grown the yellow ones – the Yukon Golds and found them delicious as well as easy. The biggest hangup with potatoes is getting them to sprout on your timeline. Most of those sold for food have been treated to NOT sprout, but even if they have not been treated, potatoes are headstrong about starting. They'll not begin to sprout until they have rested the amount of time they want to. Most seed houses will have taken care of that for you, but every so often, when you get nothing, it's because their clock has not been reset.

Radishes: I often forget to mention radishes – they are not one of my favorites (they really seem like a waste of space), but if you gotta have them, you gotta have them. I'm told they are a good source of protein. French Breakfast is one the standards and nowadays you can get Watermelon (outside white, inside red) Sparkler (little red ones) and others that are delightfully colored.

Shallots: Wow! I had never grown shallots before, but I have found they are easier to grow than onions and more productive! I planted seed from Pinetree Garden Seeeds (superseeds.com) and I was impressed, I'm back for more! Olympus and Bonilla were both good performers. And if you lack the patience or missed ordering the seeds, get some seed stock shallots from a reputable seed house – you can find a bag of them in some nursery stores.

Turnips: I used to ignore all other turnips besides Purple Top White Globe which I grew up with and is the only one sold by Seed Savers Exchange. Amber Globe and Scarlet Ohno turnips need to be trialed – and there is still time this winter!

We had some good harvests this last year and this year we are looking for way more – we have Spanish Roja garlic in the ground along with Yellow Dutch Shallots up in the garden, little pokey green things that are very cute! We have just seeded more beets than I have grown since 2008 (when I led a high school class making pickled beets!).

These plants, in the garden are almost all from seed. Most of these, can still be planted on the coast where I am - so I need to get out there and do some more planting!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
I would not start anything in containers – but direct sow
Beets
Fava beans
Cabbage family members
Fava beans

Garbanzos and lentils


Garlic


Lettuce and Other greens
Turnips

Since last month's list, I've removed carrots, parsnips and other long season crops. On the coast, we might get crops in from them, but it gets riskier as the warmer days approach. Remember, the 75 day fava bean, in a cold season will take 90 days or more – you might have time to get a picking or two, but the harvest you could have had will be lost by your lateness.

SEED HOUSE SUGGESTIONS

BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; www.rareseeds.com 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. Anyone who works this hard in putting out a beautiful seed catalog is working with a great deal of love. Drooling is hardly optional here. They have a really comprehensive selection as well.

BOTANICAL INTERESTS; www.botanicalinterests.com 660 Compton Street, Broomfield, CO 80020; 720.880.7293. I 'have been dealing with these folks for only a couple of years - I have seen their seeds on seed racks here and there, but I really got to know them for the quantity of seeds they donate to Venice High School and other educational programs. Good seed.  Clean.  Good variety and a good price. Great packaging!

BOUNTIFUL GARDENS;
www.bountifulgardens.org 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners.

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; www.groworganic.com PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and a lot of other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools. I have used their catalog to teach organic gardening because they clearly explain their products and how to use them.

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; www.superseeds.com PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 Probably the best for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years.

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; www.seedsavers.org Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $50. Free brochure. Organic, and ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust. The other way is to grow 'em. You can find the chance to grow them here. I have been a member for about 10 years and believe in their work.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE; www.southernexposure.com P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, 540.894.9480 (Fax: 540.894.9481) A commercial venture that is somewhat similar to Seed Savers Exchange, but really isn't an exchange. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed. And they have varieties that I've found nowhere else.

BALSAMIC-GLAZED BEETS

3½ pounds beets (4 pounds with green attached, reserving greens for another use), scrubbed and trimmed, leaving about 1 inch of stems attached
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves

Speaking of beets! In a large saucepan cover beets with salted water by 1 inch. Simmer beets, covered, 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender, and drain in a colander. Cool beets until they can be handled and slip off skins and stems. Cut beets lengthwise into wedges.

Beets may be prepared up to this point 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Bring beets to room temperature before proceeding.

In a large skillet stir together vinegar, syrup or honey, and oil and add beets. Cook beet mixture with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, until heated through and coated well. Sprinkle about half of thyme over beets and toss gently. Serve beets sprinkled with remaining thyme.

david

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