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

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I can just imagine how Noah must have felt...

And the hail too. Looks like it'll be another day spent indoors with the dogs.

Average daytime temperature: 18°C / 64°F

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Baker Creek brightens up the day and more rat-tails

Baker Creek Seeds

After another soggy weekend with more wretched hail, receiving my order from Baker Creek earlier than I had expected was like the fairy godmother come to visit. Of course the harmless act of buying seeds for next year is that you end up visiting a couple more of your favorite sites and getting more stuff to grow in a garden where you have only so much space.

I'm glad to report that this time around, the delivery time took only a mere 17 days! Customs must already know about the crazy american gardener who thinks she can grow anything in tough mountain soil, so I hope that they're wishing me the best instead of laughing at my foolishness. Well actually, at least I can say that I am VERY successful at growing podding radish. That's 26 ounces in the bowl below, and if I sold them for a dollar a branch like I had read somewhere in a gardening forum, I'd be laughing all the way to the bank. There are hundreds of branches out back, and it's a tedious work to harvest the pods from the tangled mess. The real dilemma has been finding different ways to cook them, and pickling was a success. I have also experimented with freezing them by blanching for one minute in boiling water, then plunging them into an ice bath before draining and freezing in 1 quart ziploc bags. Come this winter we shall see if they do mighty alrighty in a hearty gumbo or stew.

26 ounces of rattail radishes Pickled rattails? Anyone?

Average daytime temperature: 25°C / 77°F