Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Cup of Tea

Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My blog is a secret even to those people that know me best except for a few. One of those few, my friend Eric M., is gone and he took my secret with him. I still see him here on this blog “following” me and to an extent, it’s comforting. Later you'll see why this blog post is important to me and my healing.

Eric was one of those people that I didn’t talk to everyday but when I did it was like we were best friends and we just started talking where we had left off months earlier. He was one of the few business contacts that was a genuine friend and was truly interested in my garden and beekeeping ventures. He used to call me “mini me” because we had the same interests - I was just happened to be a couple decades behind him. We shared soccer war stories, gardening knowledge and bee sting woes… and then there was business talk but that wasn’t nearly as interesting.

The last time I saw him in person was in Monterey in February at a meeting. He was there doing work for his business and I was there promoting one our member services. We got together for dinner with another coworker. Eric was adamant that I HAD to go to a fish and chips place and really, who was I to argue with fried food? He knew where it was (walking distance) “like the back of his hand” so we all walked together chatting it up. Eric came to the realization that the restaurant was not where he thought it was. We ended up walking maybe 5 miles in the opposite direction but we all had a great time and loved every minute talking and laughing in that nice clean oceanic air. We got to the restaurant and dived into big platters of fried fish and potatoes and washed it down with frothy half ‘n half's per Eric’s suggestion. As we were walking back, Eric gave us a mini-tour of a historical site that he said had the most charming garden but that late hour the gate was locked. The next time I’m in Monterey, I’m going to go to that garden and I know I’ll be both happy and sad.

I’ll really really miss his presence and I find myself hanging out on his facebook page a lot just looking at the comments from his beautiful family and friends, looking through his pictures to see the comments people have made and what he said back. But of course, I really like seeing the ones that I commented on where he commented back. It’s like reliving those conversations in real time all over again.

No one that I’m close with nor even my colleagues knew Eric or even knew that I was friends with him so when I found out that he died, I really didn’t have anywhere to turn because people didn’t understand how much his friendship meant to me. When I explained to my friends and family that I lost a friend it was "yawn...ho hum" because they had never heard me speak of him. That’s the hardest part. And that's why I needed this outlet.

A poem was read at his memorial service and it was beautiful – it makes all of the loss so much more tolerable and definitely not as lonely. 

"Death is Nothing At All"

by Henry Scott-Holland

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away
into the next room.

I am I,
and you are you;
whatever we were to each other,
that, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way
which you always used,
put no difference in your tone,
wear no forced air
of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we shared together.
Let my name ever be
the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all
that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.

Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.

All is well.

I’m going to plan my fall garden and have my tea with honey from my bees quietly in honor of my dear friend tonight.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Current Line-up

The vegetables are loving this mild summer. I found myself sitting on the soil hand-plucking little weeds. All of a sudden I had the feeling that I was becoming incased in foliage. I swear I could hear the leaves bursting from the stems as I sat there. When I got up it felt as though everything grew a foot while I was sitting there…except for the sunflowers. Those little guys are having a hard time for one reason or another.

I failed to post a diagram of my summer garden earlier this year but here is a picture. Better late than never I say!

Current line-up:

Tomatoes – I’m not even going to attempt to guess which varieties I have. It will be a surprise to all of us!
Potatoes – French fingerling, red, white, Yukon, russet
Yellow straight neck squash
Buttercup squash
Cucumbers – Armenian, Lemon, Pickling
Carrots – Red and typical orange
Pinto Beans
Cow peas
Peppers/Chiles – Thai, Habaneros, Jalapenos, Big Jims, Poblanos, Hot Banana, Sweet red stuffing (I like spicy!)
Butternut squash
Beets – Golden and traditional
Chard – Rainbow and Swiss
Pumpkins - ???
Scallions and Chinese onions
Lettuce – I’m letting this batch all go to seed so that I can harvest them for next year
Herbs and flowers  

I harvested all of my garlic and shallots this weekend. That was a blast! I loved yanking those suckers out of the ground.  Some were rather small so I saved a few of the largest heads to plant next year in hopes that the natural selection process is prosperous for me.

Some pictures from this weekend:


Volunteer pumpkin. You can see the tip of my toes
near the bottom of the pumpkin for scale purposes.
Apparently a second round of artichokes!
Little corn coming up. It's hard to see with the weeds behind them.

The cutest little Armenian cucumber you could imagine. 

Potatoes. Beans are on the front edge.

In the upper left corner there is a plant that looks like it has round scalloped leaves. I think it
might be a hollyhock that I planted last year and never came up. I'll have to be patient to find out.

Chinese onions

Buttercup squash

An example of the ridiculous amount of squash I'm getting.

Herb and flower garden

Not much diversity here but a good crop for me to enjoy this week.

I hope everyone is finding success with their gardens this year! Mine is off to a slow start but based on what I experienced this weekend I think everything will be here in no time.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Chickpea Update

Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, yummy beans for hummus – whatever you like to call them – I have harvested them. I don’t know if they are ready. In fact I don’t know anything about them except that I planted them as a cover crop and now they have hanging pods. I’m guessing the peas are inside.

To be honest this post was written a while ago so it would be fair to tell you that these pictures and harvesting were from April.

I planted the beans back in November and inoculated them with the appropriate bacteria and they’ve been plugging away, fixing nitrogen in the soil and apparently making new beans.

When I buy the beans at the store they are usually hard as a rock and need to be soaked or sadly canned.

“Have you ever eaten a fresh green garbanzo bean? They can soon be found at our markets in their fuzzy pillowlike pods, and some farmers pull the entire bushy plant from the roots. This means fresh garbanzos are here for a limited time. Not only are they rich in minerals and folate, but just one ounce provides 5 grams of both protein and fiber.”

I had some at home! I yanked them out of the ground and placed them in a paper bag.

After plucking away at them and finding that the pods are very similar to bubble wrap - snap, snap, pop - I found a delicious bean inside. I ate them raw but I'm all you'd need to do is dry them to preserve them for future use.

This is what these gems look like:

Freshly husked chickpeas.

I recommend you try these out next year!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Keeping Basil Fresh

Have you ever gone out to the garden and saw that your basil has grown what seems a foot over night? I try to pick and pinch back my sweet basil to keep it bushy.

The cinnamon basil is another story because I love to see it flower and watch the bees dance on the pale purple blossoms. Plus, how much cinnamon basil can one eat anyhow?

Now, back to the sweet basil. Once you pinch everything back, how can you keep this bushel of basil fresh for a few days so you can use it for pesto one night and a Margarita pizza the next, etc.?

I've tried everything but then I found the answer! Keeping basil in the refrigerator is a move in the wrong direction. I know that this goes against all common sense and rules of other herbs. Basil turns dark brow in the refrigerator. Setting it in a glass of water isn't that much better. I know it starts growing roots and it will stick around for weeks but I don't like how it gets leggy and to me it just isn't worth it since I have access to fresh basil out in my garden at least once a week. My goal is to keep what I pick fresh and perfect for a week.

Basil needs to be kept on the counter at room temperature but it needs a bubble of protection...a zip top bag. Pick your basil or buy a bunch at the farmers' market and don't wash it. The moisture will make it go bad quickly - wash your basil and pat it dry right before you consume it or cook with it.

  1. Put your basil in a zip top bag and make sure you have plenty of air space in the bag. You may need to use a few bags so you don't crowd the leaves.
  2. Zip the bag almost all the way closed.
  3. Put a straw in the opening and blow air into the bag until it is completely full.
  4. Quickly remove the straw and zip it shut so that the air is trapped inside.

Basil put into the bag and then air blown into the bag with a straw.
 The basil will be floating around loosely in the bag. Just leave it on the counter. Again, do not put it in the refrigerator.

Bag of 10 day old basil.
 I've had this bag of basil sitting on the counter for 10 days and it looks great. Some condensation has started accumulating so a few of the leaves that are on the bottom have gotten a little brown from the moisture but the leaves on the top look beautiful and are actually blooming. They've somehow grown so to speak.

This method has worked perfect for me and I think it will for you too!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Count Your Riches

Onion Blossom with three bees.

June has come and gone. A lot has happened since my last post. A lot of personal things and a lot of gardening things…

Since I use this blog primarily as a way to remember important (usually gardening) things, I thought I would include an important event as a way of understanding the progress of my garden. I’ve written about the dramas of the beekeeping club and kitten rearing in the past and you’ve all stuck with me on that. Thank you. : ) I hope you’ll bear with an extra paragraph of personal blabberings just so I can save this moment in time for me to look back on.

My grandma passed away a few weeks ago. She was always present in my life and a wonderful example and role model of what a human being should be. Losing her is a really huge deal and a definite end of an era. She was the matriarch of the family and her family was what she counted as her riches. She will be missed and thought of every day.

She and my mother were the ones that taught me the basics of gardening. My grandma was the one that said never to react to gardening woes because the plants will fix themselves if they are fixable at all. She was a lady of great commonsense wisdom.

Mysterious pumpkin
We put her on home hospice the day before Memorial Day. I had just planted my garden when her health severely declined. I spent a lot of time with her during this time so my garden was neglected for a few weeks. Luckily all of the volunteers that popped up really gave me the jump that I needed during a time like this. Because of them I currently have zucchinis which I’m calling “Bicchinis” (pronounced Bikinis) because I’m certain they are a cross between a zucchini and a butternut squash. They are medium green in color and no matter how small they are, they have the distinct butternut squash shape – narrow on the stem end and bulbous on the blossom end. I also have what I’m calling “Paushi” – which looks like a mix between yellow squash, zucchini and a pumpkin. These ones are really weird so I think I’m just going to harvest the blossoms and call it a day. I have so many random tomato plants!! Last time I spoke of my 20 volunteers that I transplanted – well, since then I’ve found many many more all over the place. I’m going to leave them be unless I they turn out to be those putrid yellow pear cherry tomatoes. Those were not a favorite of mine. They were mealy and lacking acid.

Just before my grandma went ill I wrote a post about my garbanzo beans which I never published. I’m going to publish that in a few days although I realize they aren’t something that you’ll be able to find at the farmer’s market any longer. I think it’s still interesting if you have never seen a fresh garbanzo bean. And hey, maybe you’ll decide you want to plant some next year because of it!

Long-winded story short – the garden is doing absolutely fabulously. Because I had some things already planted there are so many wonderful textures. Fresh little guys standing next to the old-timers. I think it’s rather cute. The potatoes are doing great despite the fact I couldn’t get my act together and try the “Garbage Can Potatoes” like my friend Anna at Back to Our Roots. I’ll try harder next time!  

Out of control Hairy Vetch with tomatoes being
smothered (there are really tomatoes in there!).
 One of my cover crops has really created a problem. It’s the Hairy Vetch and it’s not dying like it’s supposed to. My poor little tomatoes are trying to break from its clutches but it just climbs the tomatoes. Every week I have to go in and cut it back but I have to wait until sundown because during the day it’s riddled with various types of bees and wasps because of the gorgeous purple flowers. Before I know it, I’m accidentally ripping out tomato plants because I’m working in the dark. However, one great thing is the soil beneath…oh the soil is divine!! It is very rich with organic material and I think in the long run I’ve made the right choice. It’s just a bit more high maintenance than I imagined.

For now here are some pictures. I have some before (meaning a month ago) and after (meaning about a week ago).


Garlic and Shallots

Potatoes (French Fingerling, Red, Yukon, Russet)

Cucumbers (Lemon and Pickling)

Herbs and flowers

Zucchini, Buttercup and Yellow Squash

Tomatillos (I transplanted these from all over the garden)

Beets, Chard and Onions

Peppers being protected from the ducks and the upside down
crate is protecting the soil from the peacocks that like to dig. 

Give your loved ones a hug,


Monday, May 23, 2011

All the Volunteers I Can Get

My new compost bin!

What a glorious weekend. The sun and breeze cooperated with me and I was able to accomplish a lot. Last week I was just about ready to throw in the towel and decide to go to the farmers’ market instead of doing my own garden. The hail and rain and treacherous wind seemed like it would never end.

Volunteer Tomato

I was surprised to see that half of my garden was already planted for me. I had over 20 volunteer tomatoes and probably about the same amount of tomatillos. The hairy vetch came in and did its job while I was missing in action. Sadly, the weeds did their job too.

 To start off the day in a positive fashion, I installed a new compost holding bin by upcycling pallets. Fortunately someone abandoned some in the garage of my office building and I was granted new ownership. All that you need are three pallets and six t-posts. I also used two screws for a little added support. Voila! I have a new bin and I think it’s pretty cool. My dad has been juicing so he had a lot of carrot pulp to contribute to the pile. By the end of the day I had a lot of green stuff so I added a bit of dry hay to the mix. I’m going to be better about this composting stuff this year.

Weeding was another story but I got it done. I saw one weed that I’ve never seen before and that is pretty amazing because as you know from my Demeter 101 post, I spent a lot of time out playing in the weeds. This weed was quite beautiful and reminded me of something you’d see near the water’s edge. If you can identify it, I’d love to know what it is.

Once the weeding was finished, I started planting my volunteers in appropriate places. The sole purpose and plan for the hairy vetch was for the tomatoes. Tomatoes love vetch – the hairy vetch adds nitrogen and acts as a mulch for the soil. You can review my previous post for more information on that. I simply ripped the vetch down to a workable length as the vetch is probably five feet tall if you straighten the vines out. Then I stomped them down flat and pulled back 20 circular areas to dig holes in. Once those where ready, I searched around in the garden for my volunteer tomato plants. I have no idea what varieties I’ll end up with but I’m up for a surprise. I’m going to start a few seeds and buy a couple hybrids as well in case all of the volunteers are cherry tomatoes.

Hairy Vetch before pulling and trampling.

20 newly planted tomatoes.
One little tomato volunteer in his new home.

Tomatillos were transplanted as well. They look really sad in this picture but I’m hopeful they’ll perk up.
Three rows of potatoes and one row of sweet potatoes.
 The potatoes and a few sweet potatoes also found their new homes. I took a cue from where some volunteer potatoes were growing and made a few rows of my own.

Ladybugs love my fava beans!

The fava beans look great. They have a zillion aphids on them but there were plenty of ladybugs working on them. From this picture, I spy with my little eye 10 ladybugs and one fava bean!

Beets! They were horribly tough becuase the bolted but they make a nice picture.

Garlic with artichokes to the right.

Pretty little hairy vetch flower.


Freshly weeded area ready for my new seeds and starts.
I’m wondering how everyone else’s gardens are doing. It’s a little early (at least for me) as I’m a late planter but I know some folk are gung-ho in April.

Seed and starts planting will continue next weekend. I can’t wait!

Hope everyone is doing well! Welcome to spring!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thankfully I'm Tall Enough

Life is a roller coaster that we’re all so lucky to have been allegorically tall enough to ride on. There are ups and downs but in the end we all are thrilled to be on it – or we should be. The ride stops and some have to get off and new ones come aboard. We can’t keep everyone on the ride forever.

This is the circle of life. The garden is a rapid representation of this ride – the seed, the fruit the dormancy or death. My personal roller coaster has kept me away from my garden although maybe it’s just what I needed. Since I’m direct sowing this year maybe I required something to distract me while I’ve waited for the sun to heat up the earth.

Mother’s day has come and gone and that is usually my cue to plant the summer garden. Spring is calling my name with the rich aroma of orange blossoms and honeysuckle. I made a browned butter syrup for some Meyer lemon ricotta fritters the other day and it was really the best thing in the world when I came home from a walk of smelling the piquant and fragrant scents of spring and then walk into the warm smell of browned butter at home. There’s really nothing better than that.

I watched a video from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply on setting up a more sophisticated irrigation system and it brought back memories of my old days in irrigation class. I love that stuff! I’ll be setting that up sometime this month.

A few weeks ago was the last time I was out at the garden. It’s been dismal since the bees have been gone. The garden was full of weeds again and the cover crops weren’t looking too pretty due to the major storms we had. And yes, it's storming again. I feel as though my city has been picked up and moved to Seattle.

But now I hear there are blueberries on my freshly planted shrubs and I’ve been told that hairy vetch is in full sprawl. The next step is to turn over the new soil that I’ve worked so hard to enrich and then I’m two weeks away from planting.

I took some pictures.

Beet Greens

Crimson Clover cover crop mixed with Winter Rye

Fava Beans

Early picked garlic is called green garlic and it is lovely to eat and cook with.

Lettuce - Can't remember which kind.

I had to add a picture of a ball of onion blossoms because they are one of my favorite things to add to a salad. Sweet, slight onion flavor and a fresh floral essence.

And I've slipped in one picture of the Amgen Tour of California international bicycle race that came through my town yesterday. Wow it was fun! What amazing athletes.

Hopefully I'll get my tilling done this Friday night...that's the plan!