25 July, 2020

With Apologies

I have been absent for a good many months here. I apologize. We are all living through "interesting times" and it has taken a toll on many of us, I am no different.

I lost my precious Scottish Terrier, Mr Tre, in May and was already doing poorly, suffering from the effects of the pandemic - masks, no hugs, no hanging out with friends. And, not to put too fine a point on it, there was no baseball when the season ought to have started. It was so very difficult with everything being distanced and masks and excessive hand washing. It took me a long time to get in with it all, even though I was one of the early mask adopters. And no hugs when Tre made it apparent he would not make it through the month was agonizing.

It felt as though I had been flung of a sudden to a different planet where everything was topsy turvey to where it had been before. My writing has suffered and my teaching has suffered. I'm on a brutal pace to learn Zoom in all its intricacies and obfuscations; gone are the days where I could size up a program and learn it on the fly; today's programs are much smarter than I am.

So I am returning at last to my blog, I feel like I can write again. And I'm sorry to have missed a great garden season with you. I hope you have been able to look in the archives to follow along on my schedule because it's a routine every year. As I go along, I add stuff and puff up points that seem more relevant today than they did in say 2009 or something like that.

I promise to make a concerted effort to keep you informed and entertained and not drop off the planet. The Dodgers play their 3rd game of a truncated season today and that helps a lot. I have a new dog on the way that I can goosh over and photograph to his annoyance.

I allowed ads on my blog to beef up my income a little and when I opened it today, I was met with a huge ad from the NRA and another equally nefarious organization.

And so life goes on. I will have some postings on The Learning Garden and SLOLA as well as current topics in gardening. If you have questions you would like answered, hit the reply button below and I hope to steward my blog more judiciously in the coming months and growing seasons.


August – Are We Hot Enough Yet?

No longer is August the month of the hammock and the cold drink in the shade – not since I realized that 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 harvest 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 are simply left on the plant until the pods are crispy and ready to drop their seeds on the ground – yes! Those inner beans ARE the seeds! How easy can you get? Gather them up and lay them in a dry, location out of direct sunlight and splashes of water to dry for a couple of days. In Southern California that should do nicely in short order. Putting them away with too much moisture might result in moldy beans by the time you want to cook with them; to ensure they are dry, whack one with a hammer, if it is dry it will shatter. Once you have beans that shatter and not splat, 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, keeping them cool and dry until time to cook or plant! Double duty beans!

Other fleshy things can be dried in a dehydrator. If you grow to store a lot for the months ahead, consider a dehydrator – these contraptions will take care of an over-abundance in very short order. Not only does drying shrink the size of a lot of what you store, it is a type of storage that depends no power to keep the food from spoilage, making the food wonderful for emergencies and camping trips as well as a regular addition to your daily fare. And while you can use dehydrators on beans, I'd suggest not doing that. The bean seeds will dry plenty fast enough in SoCal without tempting fate with overheating in a dehydrator.

A lot of the food we eat came from humans finding different ways to store food in the days before dependable refrigeration. Cheeses, ciders, beers and wines to name but a few of the ways humans have preserved food through the centuries. And each culture has its own methods and processes to accomplish this. Most of these preservation techniques are held in high esteem in the cultures that created them

What else can you do with all this produce?

Pickling is easy and doesn't require a degree in food processing. Using what is known as the “hot water bath” process, you can make pickles of all sorts as well as jams and jellies from the sweeter produce. Pickling relies on vinegar (acidity) to prevent organisms from ruining your food while jams and jellies use sugar for the most part. You don't need a pressure cooker and while most folks use a dedicated canning pot, it is not essential. Last year, we had a very successful pickling class making Spicy Pickled Carrots. It was fun for all and all the students got to go home with a delicious jar of spicy carrots which was more fun to make than real work!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention all the fermentation going on these days! This is a throwback to what I mentioned above – mankind has had many ways to preserve the harvest before modern appliances. It seems like you can ferment everything including the kitchen sink. Exploring this phenomena is on my to do list and I'll get back to you soon with a report!

Canning – without adding sugar or vinegar, preserving the harvest becomes much more involved process and including owning, or borrowing, a pressure cooker and learning how to work it. It is not nearly the same as pickling or making jam. If you want to keep food that is not sweetened or pickled, you have to learn how to use one of these pressure cookers. While uncommon today, in my youth many families had pressure cookers and used them year in and year out. We 'put by' quarts and quarts of green beans and corn to be able to enjoy something to eat when the ground was frozen solid. Get a good book on canning and pickling and discover this whole different world you've missed and save a lot more of your garden!

The final option is freezing. In many ways, freezing is the easiest method, but it is also rather fragile in that one power outage could loose you the whole lot. By the way, here's a tip I learned to know if your freezer has been without power too long – even if you were away when the power outage hit: take a small container, small cup or bowl, that will hold about a half cup of water. Freeze it. Now, lay a coin on top of the frozen water. If you open your freezer and the coin is no longer on top, you know there has been a power outage and the contents of the freezer are suspect. Inspect everything thoroughly and even if you don't detect spoilage, you might consider tossing the lot if the coin was at the bottom of the ice. Since I've started using this, I've had no chance, thank God, to test it!

Freezing has it's upsides too! Got a couple hundred extra tomatoes? Easy peasy! Slice 'em in half and core them about a dozen at a time. Set into a low pan coated with olive oil. If you have some garlic, chop that up and sprinkle over the tomatoes with some olive oil, salt and pepper. You can add what you might have on hand, parsley, cilantro, oregano, basil – whatever cranks your tractor. Roast in the oven until tomatoes are looking a little blasted. Allow to cool. Put in the blender and whiz 'em for a short time. Measure out the whizzings into plastic bags of two cups of sauce each, more if you have a large family. Toss in the fridge. Use different recipes each time you do this – different ingredients/spices. Use these throughout the winter to sauce pizzas, sauce for pasta and so on.

Beyond these suggestions, let me make a radical proposition: If you have more than you can use, share it with your neighbors and friends. That's yet another way you can “extend the harvest.” With the amount of food wasted worldwide estimated to be 40% of all food grown, let's not add to that figure.

Planting in August – for most the month, at least – is dicey. The weather can be hot and vile – this year we have humidity so it feels a lot like the mid-west. The plants suffer from the unrepentant sun, and watering is almost useless. Large leaved plants will even wilt with enough water in the soil because they cannot pump enough water in from their roots. Wilting reduces the amount of leaf surface that get sunshine diminishing the amount of water left. There are two wilting points: The first is just the wilting point and the plant recovers overnight by pumping in water from the ground. The second is the Permanent Wilting Point. Guess what that means? Try to not freak out at the first and try to never come close to the second.

Which brings to mind – if you have to use extra hand cream, or you are drinking extra water, think about how your plants feel! Give them some too. If you are bad about self-care but you are watering your garden extra, maybe you should drink more fluids too – like water. Non-alcoholic water.

Use an 18 inch stake (available at almost any garden store) and a black plastic flat. Place the flat on the south side of the plant and prop it up with the stake – as in the photograph.
Starting seeds in the garden or setting out transplants can work better if you try this little trick – use an 18 inch stake (available at almost any garden store) and a black plastic flat. Place the flat on the south side of the plant and prop it up with the stake – as in the photograph. This is a transport flat with fairly large holes, a propagation flat with much smaller holes provides much more protection, sometimes too much. Leave this setup until the heat wave abates or until the plant has the stamina to make it without the shade.

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 tomatoes 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. You could also grow a quick summer crops like beans.

Mind you, I'm not saying you can't. I am saying it's a gamble. How much space do you have for gambling? I mean more than just the normal gamble of trying to grow food in a normal world.... (Note: I'm a gambler and I gamble a lot more than I admit to. There are times when something is just too good to pass up!)

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).

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




Fava beans



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 throughout.

Remove from the grill, put a dollop of a good stout, plain yogurt (I like to find yogurt labeled 'Greek') on top of each slice. Drizzle with honey.

It will taste so good, stand carefully to avoid falling over.