Thursday, December 10, 2009

Corbezzolo / Strawberry Tree

CorbezzoloI haven't forgotten about this gardening blog, but considering the current state of the vegetable patch itself, there is not much going on to share on these pages. I knew that I wouldn't have much of an interest for a winter garden during the holiday season, which in a way gives me something to really look forward to come next spring's planting season! Only two more months and I get to start tomato seedlings!!

Nevertheless, I'll continue to share what I come across by way of fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants that might be of some interest. This strawberry tree immediately caught my eye at an italian farmstay (agriturismo) that we lodged at in the region of Friuli. Known as corbezzolo, the proprietor said that it is easy to maintain, and keeps it in a shrub style as shown below. We got to taste some of the fruit baked within a breakfast torte and it really has no particular flavor. Wikipedia notes that in the symbol of Madrid, it is a strawberry tree that the bear is leaning up against.

Strawberry tree

Today's average: 13°C / 55°F

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mi è arrivata la lettera dalla dogana

In other words...a letter arrived from italian customs. Oh happy day!

Sometime in the middle of June this year, my father had sent a gift of vegetable seeds from Hawaii. He was told that it would take a total of approximately 10 days to reach Italy, and I awaited its arrival in the mailbox. At this point I would like to say that I have never had any problems with 2 previous seed orders from the United States. If a parcel has been subjected to inspection by italian customs (and it has already happened once in my case), it is clearly evident upon delivery: a clean slit is made at the top of the package, neatly resealed with strong tape, and legibly stamped with the words Effettuato Controllo Doganale.

Imagine my horror, then, when I received a registered notice in the mail informing me that my garden seeds were being quarantined for reasons of questionable origin. As I said earlier, the seeds were a gift. My father gave a rough value estimate on the green declarations form when he sent it, but being that it was a gift, did not include a receipt for its monetary value. For all I know he could have bought seeds from Walmart and thrown them in an envelope.

Now I am aware of certain restrictions in regards to foreign seeds entering Europe, but the conclusion I have come to is that as far as Italy is concerned, as long as those seeds are not genetically modified and you heed certain limitations, your seeds will arrive intact, if not delayed, at your doorstep. Since this is the first time where I've come across problems with italian customs, the following notes might prove helpful to a gardener ordering/receiving an overseas delivery. If you receive a notice in the mail with a form like the one shown here, fill it out as best you can and send it along with the required documents to the proper address.

1. If a gift of seeds is being sent in the mail and you know about it beforehand, ask the sender to compile a list of the contents with receipt of purchase attached. The amount should match the total written on the declarations form.

2. Seeds should be packaged in commercial envelopes that illustrate what it is. I've read about an incident where a woman in Switzerland simply wanted to send garden seeds to her friend in Italy, but since those seeds were not readily identifiable by customs, they sent her a form just like the one I received and requested further information, such as the sender's address (already written on the envelope). The thing is, if the contents are a gift, there is not much info to pass on, especially if you have no idea what type of seeds are in the package. Here's the link (in italian) to this poor woman's headache with the dogana.

3. And lastly, the english translation of a form regarding small quantities (plants admitted in derogation). I had a vague idea of what derogation meant in legal terms, but here's a link to the definition. Suffice to say that I did not receive my seeds because of one reason only - the amount of seed packets exceeded the maximum limit of 5! Odd that my previous seed orders all contained more than a total of 10.

Small quantities (plants admitted in derogation)
Provided that they are not prohibited and there is no danger of spreading harmful organisms, under Article. 38 of 214/2005 the introduction of small quantities of plants is permitted.

The status of small quantity is applied to both delivered and directly transported goods by the passenger.

Considered as small quantity: plants, plant products, foodstuffs or animal feed intended for use by the owner or recipient in a non-industrial, non-commercial, non-agricultural purpose, or to be consumed during transport.

Such goods can also be subjected to agricultural inspection; is not required to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate of origin; and is not subject to the ag inspection fee.

If a person intends to import a small quantity he should only absolve the obligation to submit to the SFR a declaration in lieu of an affidavit, in which it specifies that the products are not imported for industrial, commercial or agricultural purposes. The reference values that identify small quantities are those as specified below:

Type and quantity
Leafy vegetables and small fruits (cherries, blueberries) - two (2) kilos
Other fruits and vegetables (excluding potatoes) - ten (10) kilos
Cut flowers - one (1) bouquet, forty (40) stems max
Succulents for collection - ten (10) units
Plants of ornamental, vegetable, fruit or forest species - five (5) units
Bulbs, corms, rhizones, tubers (exluding potatoes) - one (1) kilo
Seeds (excluding seed potatoes) - five (5) commercial packets or for retail (max 2 grams per package)

Average daytime temperature: 11°C / 52°F

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's getting colder...for this island gal

14°C, 12°, 10°, 8°, 6°. Each morning has been down by 2 degrees for the past week and it's been a real chore of opening my eyelids and keeping them open. Getting out of bed is another thing altogether, and I suspect that it'll only get worse as the early predawn light becomes even less. Ugh. I find myself feeling tired all the time and know it has a lot to do with the weather change. Less light, less heat, less spunk so to speak. Too bad that it doesn't get me off the hook for walking the dogs. It can be 0° out and they don't care (the westie at least), they demand their walks! I tried to shoot some photos today but with two dogs on leashes...all I got was a picture of a very healthy patch of wild mint - not sure if it's the one called nepetella - growing on the side of the road. We passed a small fire that someone had built to burn leaves, but after I heard the familiar pop! pop! pop!, I knew then it was both leaves, twigs and chestnuts. Fortunately we were out of range...I've never heard of anyone being injured from a flying chestnut, but there's always a first for everything!

Wild mint

Today's average: 13°C / 55°F

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two pumpkins are better than nothing

This year wasn't much of success in the pumpkin/winter melon department, especially with the japanese Red Kuri and Shishigatani. Again, I know it had a lot to do with the wet spring, and even with all my attempts at hand-pollination in the rain (why do the female flowers always open up around then?), not one came to fruition. I had loads of male flowers and only 4 females on the Shishigatani vine which should have guaranteed me something, but sadly it never happened. The Red Kuri below was actually from pulp seed out of a squash purchased at the supermarket. I figured that since it came all the way from Holland(!), I may as well try to get more out of it.

Red Kuri

Red Kuri

Italian turban pumpkins from nursery seedlings

Italian pumpkins

Collective Farm Woman

Stunted collective farm womanA reader wanted to see the inside of these, so I halved one that accidentally fell off the vine before they were ready to eat (too much fondling will do that you know). These sweet melons have a beautiful, creamy color, but they'll only ever taste like perfection when they're properly ripened and orange in color. I can't thank Christina (A Thinking Stomach) enough for sharing her informative My Highly Subjective Melon Analysis with the world, and look forward to growing collective farm woman next year.

Melon anatomy

Venus peach

18 peaches is really something to write home about, especially with all that our tree has been through. In May and the first half of June, aphids and peach leaf curl were the problems to contend with, but the odds were successfully beaten with everything from sticky tape and organic concoctions ranging from garlic, chile pepper, pyrethrum and stinging nettle tea applications. To battle the peach leaf curl we had to resort to using Syllit, a fungicide that was suggested to us by the local nurseries. The only drawback was that the peach crop matured a month later than the norm since the tree had to deal with so much stress earlier on. I noticed that while the fruit has excellent flavor (seems much sweeter than last year), it lacks the juiciness that we've come to appreciate. Not so bad really, after peeling and slicing them into a rustic tart. We've been enjoying peach crostata and vanilla custard gelato heaven!

Shoulda been the tree of knowledge of good & evil

Today's average: 23°C / 73°F

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 hits, misses and definite keepers: the Tomatoes

Despite the less than ideal weather conditions in spring, I'd have to say that this year's tomato crop was a success. The harvest may not have been as great, but what few we did get were satisfactory enough in quality to decide whether we'll grow them again or not. The one thing I've learned most about tomatoes is that they need sun. I've grown them in containers, in good amended soil, in lousy mixed clay, and in all sorts of places in my yard and garden, but the ones that did best were those that were exposed to a sunny spot for at least 6 hours a day. The ones that did better were the ones grown in amended soil (manure/compost) or where I had previously grown fava plants. I still remember the neighbor who once said that we couldn't grow anything in this tough mountain clay, but I think he just didn't believe us city folk to possess so much determination to succeed. I can't live without tomatoes, so let's begin!

Pink Brandywine

Pink Brandywine tomatoes

Pink brandywine halvesIn 2008, a shaded corner in the yard was the only space I had for these and while they grew and grew and yielded beautiful, oddly-shaped and enormous tomatoes, the lack of abundant sunshine took its toll. The monsters stayed green, all the way into late October, which is when I told my husband to collect them before it got too cold (I was away) and allow them to ripen indoors on their own. They did turn color, but the flavor was definitely lacking. This year they earned a prime spot in the garden, in soil where fava beans had previously grown. The 5 plants are still reaching for the stars and producing flowers like they were on a mission. What fruit we've already tasted has been an excellent balance of acid/sweet (so good in a caprese salad) that I will be growing these again.

Ananas Noire

Ananas Noire - top view

Ananas Noire halvesIn the end, color does make a difference, and I should have known better than to pick this the day that I did. But after reading Ananas Noir: Hanna’s Tomato Tastings, waiting it out another few days was just not going to happen for me. Like she says, this tomato is sweet, even if it doesn't taste like any pineapple I've ever eaten, or even a tomato at that. It tasted of a fruit that likes the novel idea of being called a tomato, but is probably more in love with its exotic name. Black Pineapple. Ananas Noire...[for a moment there, an image of Gomez flashed in my mind, he obviously going nuts on Caroline's arm.] There's no doubt that Ananas Noire would have been sweeter had I let it blush a little more at the bottom and relied on the old "squeeze test", that is, soft and yielding but not squishy. The interior, when ripened properly, is supposed to be a green, yellow and purple mix. I guess it sounded much more attractive in print? Since this is not your typical red tomato, you may need to hone in on your touchy/feely skills as well. I won't be growing it next year.

Growing notes: going against all gardening logic, I started these from seed on April 2nd just for the heck of it. Six weeks later the seedlings were stuck in the only remaining space in the garden - a hole dug into clay dirt - along with some potting soil and a little helping of bat guano. The 3 plants bravely weathered wind, rain and hail, but in the end only one would grow strong enough to produce anything. Well actually it produced only 2 - this one here at a decent 10 oz. (they are said to grow up to 1.5 lbs), and another that I promise not to pick until it passes the squeeze test.

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple halvesLast year I grew these both in a container and mixed clay soil and they did so-so. Small harvest, but really great fruit, and my husband saved seeds as an experiment for this year's planting. That said, I started Cherokee Purples in mid-March with the sole intention of seeing if his seed-saving experiment would work. Of course it did, and managed to produce 2 tomatoes on a 3-foot tall plant. They tasted as wonderful as they had in 2008, but again, were victims of spring's bad weather — the plants didn't grow as big as they should have. The tomatoes have a smoky, sweet/tart flavor and again Hanna saves my day with her Cherokee Purple Tomato Tastings 2009. Bless that woman! I'll be growing these in a prime spot next year.



Marmande halvesAt Baker Creek where I purchased the seeds from, the description of Marmande was too tempting to resist:

Scarlet, lightly ribbed fruit, have the full rich flavor that is so enjoyed in Europe. Medium-large size fruit are produced even in cool weather.

Produce they did, but I didn't care much for the higher ratio of seeds to flesh as you can see here in the photo. Not a keeper.

Black Krim

Black Krims

What more can I say about this tomato? Love its flavor, its juiciness and its color. I loved it so much that I even stripped it down naked to prove to myself that sometimes, beauty is not only skin deep. A definite keeper.

Rouge d'Irak

Rouge D'Irak

The seeds for these were from another seed-saving experiment that my husband did last year. I didn't grow them for production (they did fantastic in 2008), but just as a test to see how they'd do in the soil (mixed clay) in our back garden. As you can see, Rouge d'Iraks came through with flying colors, even with the wet weather in spring, so I will grow these again in 2010. For production purposes this time.

Japanese Black Trifele

Black Trifele Harvest

My only big disappointment for 2009. Baker Creek described them in this way:

Attractive tomatoes are the shape and size of a Bartlett pear with a beautiful purplish-brick color. The flavor is absolutely sublime, having all the richness of fine chocolate.

Well mine were perhaps, the size of half a pear. Color-wise they looked like the above for the whole season. And fine chocolate? Not in the least bit...for me anyway. But I'm cutting Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes some slack because they were on the front line when it was cold and rainy, stuck at the top of the garden slope where it's more exposed to the elements. They also got nailed by hail, poor things, and didn't stand a chance when the slugs came along. If I can manage a free spot in the garden next year, I'll grow at least two plants to see how they do again.

Average daytime temperature: 19°C / 66°F
Snow has already been reported at higher elevations in the region of Trentino!

Monday, September 7, 2009

From garden to table: Black Aztec success in the kitchen

Blueberries, move over. There's another blue food to earn a spot in the garden, but it's no berry and the name is Black Aztec corn.

I thought it would take more than a week to be able to share results on a so-not-yellow corn experiment, but I didn't realize that at the time of the last post, the cobs were just about 99% dried and ready to be ground into meal. What do I know about drying corn? I've only ever harvested them when they were ready for boiling, so with a little intuition, a quick test trial in the grinder, and lots of dry, hot weather for 3 days in a row, all of that corn pictured in the previous entry became the makings of a really great meal. You know how they say that you learn something new everyday? Well now I can add making my own organic blue cornmeal to the list — never thought I'd be able to say that.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have worried about knowing when the kernels were dry enough to work with. A coarse, stoneground-type texture is what I was aiming for, and a pinch test between thumb and forefinger was the first indication used (if it held up then it was definitely dry). Each day I ran a few kernels in a spice grinder to check if all moisture had evaporated. Really nothing to this at all!

Blue corn kernels
I harvested the corn when the husks were completely parched and devoid of any green color. The kernels were removed (still plump as you see here) the following day, but after 3 days under a hot sun, they shriveled quite noticeably and were dry enough to spin in the grinder.

Blue cornmeal
Ready to cook. A very modest yield of 3½ cups total. The old spice grinder did the trick in small batches, but a large coffee grinder will prove indispensable if I'm to cultivate more corn next spring. 3½ cups is not enough! I keep the cornmeal in an airtight container in the freezer.

Blue corn tortillas
Blue tortillas from scratch. Insanely great stuff, and it was so quick to make that my husband took an interest and watched intently as I rolled out the pieces of dough. I used this really easy tortilla recipe from Hillbilly Housewife, following the directions down to the last word. Her recipe makes 10 but I wanted smaller rounds and divided the batch into 12 balls, rolling each to about 7½ inches in diameter.

Blue cornbread
Woohoo! It's blue! I really don't know who was more excited about the cornbread, me or my better half. Make that my better half because after one bite with turkey chile, it was seconds, then thirds. I made the sweet cornbread from All Recipes, substituting an equal amount of blue cornmeal for the yellow, but cutting the sugar to 1/2 cup.

Blue tortilla cone
The tortilla cone. My husband's answer to Konopizza, only there is nothing here that you'd find in a pizza cone. Leftover turkey chile, plain yogurt and homemade tomatillo salsa. I didn't get much from my tomatillo plant, but I do know that I will grow them again next year. The purple ones this time.

Today's high: 23°C / 73°F

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Collective Farm Woman and Black Aztec trials

Stunted collective farm woman

I feel like I'm sounding like a broken record with yet another reference to spring's less than ideal weather conditions, but the outcome on Collective Farm Woman melons and Black Aztec corn ends on a positive note! This 4-ounce melon decided to turn color and fell off the vine all by itself while we were away on vacation - it was like the Easter bunny come to visit! Smooth, blemish-free skin with a sweet fragrance, it may have been a good thing that we were absent while it matured because now I know that I should just let them slip off the plant by themselves. The pale flesh was very sweet, with the texture of a properly ripened cantaloupe. Sizes of 7-10 inches in diameter are the norm (this one here was about 3), so hopefully if next year brings a better primavera... could also mean a much better crop of Black Aztec, a blue corn that caught my eye because of its heirloom status. I have only known yellow corn in my entire life, but the idea of making my own blue tortilla chips was a tempting experiment. I have the corncobs drying outdoors and when the kernels are ready to be shucked, I'll grind them to make this Golden Sweet Cornbread recipe, substituting yellow cornmeal with my homegrown blue.

Black Aztec Corn

Average daytime temperature: 21°C / 70°F

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tigger melon trials

Stunted tigger melons

Given the wet, cool weather earlier on, I wasn't expecting much success with these tigger melons. I had read that they are particularly susceptible to powdery mildew, and that the best conditions for growing them was sun and heat. Tiggers are said to reach about a pound in weight but the one on the right was barely 4 ounces!

Tastewise...oh brother. I snipped these off the vine because their perfume fragrance was so sweet! Unfortunately, that did not extend to its flavor - bland as bland can be - but then again, they weren't matured to an ideal size/weight. Next year I'm growing these in the ground instead of containers. And I'll pray for reliable spring weather...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tomato roulette: I'm placing my bets on Black Krim

Black Krims and Brandywine

In a perfect world there would only be 3 types of tomatoes: the canning kind, the slicing kind, and the kind you pop into your mouth while working in the garden. Naturally, they would only be in a single color - red - so figuring out when to snip them off the vine would never pose a problem. Tomato sauce, BLT's and stolen bites of cherry-sized orbs would continue to live happily ever after, that is, until word got out that not all tomatoes are created equal. Boy am I ever glad that the world isn't perfect.

The Black Krim tomatoes (first two in the photo) measured up to everything that I had seen written in tasting reviews. Smoky, intense, exotic tomato flavor, with a coloring so sexy that I had to strip one naked just for you to see. Certainly they aren't black in the truest sense of the word, but more of a dark, burnt, orangish-red color that I tried to capture best in natural light. The shoulders are greenish and typically cracked, a minor "blemish" that is easily dispensed of with the swipe of a sharp knife. While the harvest from two plants was very small this year, I expect to grow at least 5 or more the next. The third tomato in the image is a Pink Brandywine, and while I am not totally sold on the flavor, I love the funky, weird shapes that they develop into.

The tomatoes were quickly blanched and skins slipped off to recreate a dish seen on KennyT's Chic Eats. While his was a greenhouse tomato in wasabi-sesame sauce, the idea of blanched tomatoes with an asian-influenced cream sauce was too good to put on hold. The one that I put together was basically sautéing minced shallots, deglazing with white wine, then adding heavy cream and cooking on low until heated through. Sesame seeds (toasted) were quickly spun in a spice mill before adding, along with wasabi paste, at the very end. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and for a really special touch, shiso flower makes a delicious garnish. Black Krim is the one to the right in the image below. Check that gorgeous color!

Black and pink tomato tasting>

Average daytime temperature: 25°C / 77°F

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Black Trifele Harvest

One hundred seventy-five days from seed (sown February 10th). Even if this won't be a banner year like 2008, I'm satisfied with the outcome of our new tomato trials. The flavor of these japanese black trifeles weren't anything spectacular like how I'd seen in product/grower descriptions, but I'm more than willing to bet that this spring's abundant rain had a hand at turning Trifele into a bland gal. The only "black" that seems to have beaten the odds is Black Krim, and there are two left on the vine.

Today's average daytime temperature: 23°C / 73°F

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Today's harvest

Plucked from the garden just this morning - 3½ pounds of heirloom tomatoes and a few other goodies. Beginning from right of the lens cap: 1 pink brandywine, a bunch of french marmandes off to the side, hot peppers, a couple of black krims at the bottom, 1 round pugliese cucumber just under the lens cap, and the zukes. At this stage in summer, I'll take whatever vegetables (toms especially) that come my way, blemishes and all. After having read how unlucky of a year - brutto cattivo! - that it has been for quite a few tomato growers, my only plan is that in 2010, I will simply have to plant more, more, more! Just about everything here (save for the zucchini and lens cap) went into a cold heirloom tomato soup with sweet-spicy pepitas.

Yesterday's high: 29°C / 84°F
Today's average daytime temperature: 25°C / 77°F

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Collective Farm Woman's a hardy one

Baby Collective Farm Woman melons Collective Farm Woman

Two weeks ago I was ecstatic to see anything forming at all on my Collective Farm Woman vines. Melons in a pot? My husband was skeptical. Well the proof is on my terrace, and so far, the dogs have not bothered to push/nose under the net barrier to investigate something new to eat. The photo on the left was taken on July 14th, and the one on the right just a few hours ago. My how my melons have grown!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

And the winner is...Brandywine!


I really, really thought that the Japanese Black Trifeles would be the first, but as of today, they are still yellow-orange in color, and nowhere near the purplish black hue that I've seen in other images. So much for being the first tomato to arrive on the scene back in June.

Anyway...this is merely a documentation as the qualification for winning Tomato-of-the-Year in my garden is very simple. #1 - be more than 8oz in weight and entirely edible (no rotten spots). This one weighed precisely 300g/10.5 ounces, and I don't care if it turned into Scarface because of the hail. The important thing is that I don't need to cut and chuck anything away. I'm so happy today - I could cry!

Average daytime temperature: 28°C / 82°F

Saturday, July 18, 2009

ET tried to land in my back yard

Picking up from where I left off (yesterday), last night's gusts were reported to be up to 40 mph, and this is what I witnessed this morning. It wasn't the best way to start the day, as I really don't know if I should try to prop the stalks back up and risk injuring them further, or just wait and see what happens next. I'm ready to chalk up this summer as a lost cause for gardening. At least the accompanying hail didn't seem to do much damage.

Average daytime temperature: 22°C / 72°F

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mirabelles for a rainy day

Clouds over Lecco

Temporary? or here for the rest of the day? I really couldn't tell at 7:30 this morning, but by 11am, the heavens parted to let the light shine through. Fortunately, just a tiny bit of hail, even if I had moved the more fragile potted plants under shelter. Whew! These days the local weather page is the first thing that I check each morning, almost to the point where it has become an obsession (and ultimately, worrisome overreaction). Case in point: yesterday we picked what mirabelle plums that seemed ripe enough, even if the color wasn't a dark yellow color like it should be. I was already sick to my stomach at the thought of the plums getting hit with more hail, so I told my husband, it's plum pickin' time! Heck, I knew that it wouldn't be more than a couple of handfuls. In theory it always sounds moderately acceptable when you tell yourself that fruit can ripen on the table, but I know that nothing beats tree-ripened fruit.

Mirabelle plum pickin'

Of course it was a milestone event because we were told that there would be a wait of 2-3 years before the tree was ready to bear fruit. We purchased this Mirabelle de Nancy plum tree in 2007 (at a nursery in Milan) after having discovered them in Alsace one summer. They are very sweet and juicy, in the shape and size of a cherry, and I've read somewhere that the flavor is similiar to greengages.

Homegrown mirabelle plums

Not supermarket perfect, but 100% organic nevertheless. The color is more chartreuse...probaby a few days shy from obtaining the deep yellow like we had seen in France. We tasted a few and they were so delicious even with a hint of tartness. The rest were pitted, quartered, and baked in a short pastry crust with sugar. With softly whipped cream they were simply sublime!

Mirabelle tarts

Yesterdays high: 29°C / 84°F
Today's average: 25°C / 77°F

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Old World Swallowtail much for the climb in temperature that was predicted. I don't dare gripe for not having any sun or 30°C degrees because I know that it must be unbearable in other areas of Italy. It was actually very cloudy and muggy this morning - ideal conditions for taking photos without the sun shining brightly all over the place. The green caterpillar that I shared last month decided to make its grand appearance this morning - it's always a thrill to see nature up close like this. Now if only the owls would be as easy to spot. We always hear them in the late evening and at night, but never see them.

Old World Swallowtail Old World Swallowtail

Average daytime temperature: 25°C / 77°F

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It makes it all worth it

Worth what, you say? Well just about everything that goes into growing and maintaining your own organic garden, that's what. From waiting for that seed order to clear customs, to cursing at the slugs who demolished your first spring transplants, it is all worth the pleasure of finally enjoying the first crops of a summer harvest. It will be another few weeks before I'm rolling in vegetables, but working a full day in the garden yesterday was mental and spiritual therapy like no other. I love being around plants that will eventually give me something to feed my family (that's husband and 2 dogs).

This year I plan to "extend" our family somewhat by sharing a few vegetables with the brazilian neighbor that for whatever reason, started up a conversation with me while I was out hanging laundry on the terrace. She has always kept to herself since moving here and I don't intrude if a person likes their space so... A shame that her unit does not include a garden plot because then I would also be shoving seeds at her!

Round zucchine

Round zucchini are so great as stuffed vegetables. I've also seen them sliced into wedges and used as a side dish to chicken in morel cream sauce.

Dragon tongue beans
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Exotic name and fancy coloring make for a guaranteed sell but these beans would still be excellent even if they were all green. The few that I've harvested were crisp-tender and slightly sweet in a quick saute with olive oil. The purple streaks fade and the whole lot turns into a pale cream shade when cooked.

Baby Collective Farm Woman melons

This is the first time that I've tried growing melons. A problem of fruit flies in Hawaii has always made it near impossible to cultivate melons unless you're using pesticides. I remember that the flies would also nab our cucumbers and bittermelon too. The name of Collective Farm Woman seemed just the thing to plant in the garden, but these are actually growing from a 3 gallon pot on the terrace.

Teddy Bear Sunflower
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I always plan for sunflowers each spring but with every new veg under the sun vying for my attention in the catalogs...the allotted space keeps diminishing each year.

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May as well be the first one to say it. The image of the full-grown plant shown on Wikipedia's description page of Dysphania ambrosioides looks like something you can smoke? This shouldn't cloud the fact that this plant is also helpful in ridding intestinal worms.

Average daytime temperature: 27°C / 81°F

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Mighty Warriors

Complete turnaround in weather today, and as you can see, I wasted no time in getting out in the dirt. A big relief that yesterday's rain didn't cause any disaster in the sloped garden, but I had to throw away the first tomato that I wrote about last month. The hail had caused too much damage and it rotted from all the pelting. A pity, because it was just starting to turn color.

Wild fennel

The reason why I've titled this entry The Mighty Warriors is because there are 3 plants that have done quite well even in the weird and often brutal weather that we've experienced. Come rain, hail, strong wind or blazing sun, they brave the elements and push on. The wild fennel (well, that one is an old-timer) is dauntless, but the Lau's leaf lettuce and Black Aztec corn are new experiments for me. I was particularly worried for the corn because I had to grow them on a slope, knowing it would be suicide to keep the ground entirely free of weeds. All it would take was one serious downpour to wash the whole lot away. Still, as transplants in peat pots, they took everything that Mother Nature threw at them and are still growing! I know that I probably planted them way too close but I'll be happy even if I manage to harvest a few ears at the end of the season.

Lau's pointed leaf lettuce  Black aztec corn plants

Average daytime temperature: 24°C / 75°F