Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I see mushroom clusters

Yellow oyster mushroom clusters

I started the month with mushrooms and I'm ending it with mushrooms. It seemed as if nothing would come of the mushroom kit (yellow oyster) that I had purchased, but this is what it looks like today. The instruction pamphlet calls them "clusters". I'll update once a week with photos.

Mushroom clusters

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ready for a well-deserved beauty sleep

Out with the old

Finally, after weeks of putting off the inevitable task of clearing out the garden, we got it done and over with this past Saturday just before the rains came pouring down in sheets. Autumn in Italy this year has been a real pool party - for the frogs - but not so much for anyone who has had garden work to finish up. The mixed clay soil that we have is easier to work with when the dirt isn't soaked to the gills.

In the meantime I am still waiting for a miracle to happen in the mushroom kit that I picked up recently. It is unthinkable that I could possibly grow my own (there are plenty of weird volunteers in the garden), but I had to give it a try at least once and who could resist the picture of these yellow oyster mushrooms? In Italy there is a mushroom called fungo d'amore - the love mushroom - but are actually the pink version of the oyster type.

And speaking of pink, it will be pinks and whites next spring when the tulips and other blossoms come up. I am going through this Hello Kitty phase...it must be that "second childhood" sort of thing. My husband is fine with it as long as I don't start putting plastic flamingos in the yard.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Uchiki Kuri

Uchiki Kuri

I don't know how I managed to let an entire month go by without one update from the garden, but frequent rains and cool days really did put things on hold. I can't do much clearing out of the spent plants when the ground is soaking wet - clay soil clumps up so much - and all I kept waiting on was for the tomatoes to ripen up. I picked most of the final crops last week, and am proud to say that 2010 yielded 50 kilos! It's fair to say that I am sick of tomatoes, and that next year I will be growing much, much less. I just hope I can use up all of what I've processed for future use.

The last homegrown vegetable to grace the blog will be this lone, single squash out of two vines that escaped the slug invasion in spring. It is so small compared to what I've seen in the markets (850 grams), but I'm expecting that it will taste just great in whatever I end up using it in. I haven't had much luck in winter squash production, but am thinking that it is worth another try since they are easy to grow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Midnight Beauty Seedless Black Grape

Midnight Beauty table grapes

I saw these in the supermarket the other day and only bought them because they were advertised as being 30% off (1.38€ for half kilo). I like grapes, they are great with a platter of italian cheeses and nuts, but as an everyday snack, grapes are not my favorite fruit. Midnight Beauty changed all that as they are the sweetest black grapes that I have ever tasted anywhere, and they don't have seeds!

Midnight Beauty table grapes

I found out that these were developed by the agri-business company Sun World under registered trademark which means that growing them in my garden will never happen. No seeds, no seedling, and being a hybrid guarantees that I wouldn't get the same plant anyway.

Midnight Beauty table grape

Friday, September 10, 2010

There must've been a partridge in my pear tree

Nashi pear-ling

...and it took a couple of bites out of the fruit.

Nashi pear halves

It's been 3 years since we planted the nashi pear tree but this is the first year where fruit, just 2 of them, has successfully managed to hang on and ripen. The tree stands at 3 feet tall - a little too small and still a lot too immature as I can't imagine how the branches could even support a normal-sized fruit. The texture was like a cross between crisp apple with pronounced graininess, but the flavor...it was amazingly sweet and was so intense that it tasted like apples, pears and roses all into one. Even at such a petite size, the pears were incredibly juicy.

Mornings have been a cool 14-16°C and warms up to a mild 23°C by late afternoon. I'm still picking about 5 pounds of tomatoes and a pound of beans each week. So far, 35.5 kilos/78+ pounds of tomatoes harvested. The green tomatillo plants have finally slowed down and I'll be freezing them for future use.

September harvest

Average daytime temperature: 23°C / 73°F

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A totally vegan lunch

This idea of an entirely vegan meal came to mind when my cousin introduced me to homemade vegan hotdogs. Hotdogs that aren't made with meat? Are you kidding me? That's when I learned a bit more about wheat gluten, and how you can turn it into tasty faux-dogs with just the right amount of seasoning and spices. Who would've thought it possible? I'm glad she had extras to give us. The rest of the dishes were put together from our garden harvest. Beets, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes. I have to be honest that everything tasted GREAT, but for us, nothing bests a generous platter of italian cured meats. Put it this way...red wine tastes much better with salame and cheese!

Quest'idea di un pasto interamente "vegan" mi è venuta in mente quando mia cugina mi ha iniziato all'hot dog vegan fatto in casa. Hot dog che non sono fatti con la carne? Stiamo scherzando? In quel momento ho imparato qualcosa in più sul glutine del grano, e come si può trasformarlo in gustosi faux-hot dogs con la giusta quantità di condimento e spezie. Chi l'avrebbe mai creduto possibile? Sono contenta che lei ne aveva di extra da darci. Il resto dei piatti venivano dal nostro orto. Barbabietole, fagioli, cetrioli, pomodori. Devo essere sincera: era tutto gustoso, ma per noi, e' sempre meglio un bel tagliere pieno di salumi italiani. Mettiamola così...il sapore di vino rosso va molto meglio con salame e formaggio!

Beets, beans and cukes
Roasted beets from the garden is truly a taste sensation.

Vegan hotdog
Like my cousin told us...it's what you put on top that makes hotdogs taste great.

Tomato tasting trio
Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tomatoes every day.

Affettati for lunch
Italian affettati no ka oi!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I really wanted was Cherokee “Purple” sauce

Cherokee purple for summer 2010

Surely I'm not the first. I love the color of Cherokee Purples sooooooooo much (spreads arms wide apart) that I was compelled to capture that deep smoky red within a delicious sauce. Well, I'm sorry to report that the purple in the Cherokee is not inclined to transfer its beautiful self when chopped, cooked, and puréed into velvety smoothness. This is a great sauce tomato as their huge, juicy selves makes less work of chopping smaller types. I cook them skins and all, and puree the heck out of the batch after cooling. This is gonna be great stuff to use during winter.

Cherokee purple sauce

I've never put much into the mystery of numbers and all that bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, but it amused me to note that last week Friday when I did nothing but deal tomatoes all day, the numbers were surprisingly consistent. I used 5 pounds of cherokee purples for the sauce, another 5 pounds of carbons for oven-dried tomatoes, and of which one of the carbons weighed in at 555 grams on the scale. Coincidence? Hmmmm...and then for dinner, I stuffed 5 Rouge d'Irak heirlooms with rice and pork sausage. They were so good that I didn't even think about taking photos. Tonight we eat homemade pizza topped with more tomatoes...again.

The number 5

A lone peanut to emphasize the girth of that thing.

Oven-drying the Carbons
Five pounds of drying carbons.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rose de Berne tomatoes

Rose de Berne

If Snow White's wicked stepmother-queen had run out of apples, she might have tempted her fair skin stepdaughter with these tomatoes instead. Rose de Bernes, reported to be a swiss heirloom, looks irresistible in its rosy pinkish-red color, is just the right size that fits daintily in your palm, and has an equally dainty and delicious tomato flavor. Sweet, a hint of spicy and balanced acidity. The shape is a roundish, squat look. Perfect skin, not much cracking (except for when we had that unexpected downpour after a dry spell), great ratio of flesh to seed, and some had yellow-green shoulders. The color in my image does not accurately reflect that awesome pinkish-red hue, and when I go out to check their ripening condition, how they look on the vine seems to differ a bit when I take them inside.

Rose de Berne halved

I didn't get as much yield as I thought there would be, but the plants were in the section where we had put much less horse manure. I will most likely plant these next year because I like to have a mix of sizes and this one fits right into the small category.

Average daytime temperature: 23°C / 73°F

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happiness is....the first ripe tomato

St. Pierre tomato, originally uploaded by me.

When the day arrives for the first tomato to ripen on the vine, I experience a mix of bittersweet emotions. Bitter because I know that summer will soon be over, sweet because who can resist homegrown tomatoes? As organic gardeners we take special care to do everything that is best for both plant and environment, but the golden fruit - pomodoro/pomo d'oro - it always receive more attention than anything else.

Quando arriva il giorno in cui il primo pomodoro matura sulla pianta, sento un misto di emozioni agrodolci. Amaro perche' l'estate sta per finire, dolce perche': chi puo' resistere ai pomodori coltivati nell'orto? Come giardinieri biologici prestiamo molta attenzione a fare il meglio sia per le piante sia per l'ambiente, ma il Pomo d'Oro... riceve sempre piu' attenzione di qualunque altra cosa.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Shopping at the fruttivendolo

Big haul from the fruttivendolo

One of the sublime and romanticized experiences that you read about in italian travel is the fresh produce markets held outdoors in large public squares. The colors, textures, sights, sounds and constant chatter makes for a totally immersive scene that is truly impressive for the first-time visitor. We don't usually go to these because it's much easier to stop into a fruit and vegetable shop - fruttivendolo - and walk away with a full crate of great things. Locally-grown community markets are not popular events because for the most part, home growers cultivate exclusively for their personal consumption. Imagine if we could create gardens to sustain the immediate area - that would be one humble victory for locavores and zero food miles/chilometers.

Plum picking time: love those mirabelles

Mirabelle harvest on the 1st of August
I suppose I could say that we plumb struck gold this year with our only plum tree. This is the first big harvest since we planted it 3 years ago, and so far is the only fruit tree that has done really well in our garden. Mirabelles are a major crop in the Lorraine region of France, so it was very fortunate to be able to source a nursery here. The tree itself has been very resistant to pests (unlike our cherry tree) and since we refrain from using pesticides, it's all organic. The fruit is popular in jams, desserts and liqueurs, but we like them fresh as a snack or chopped into a simple fruit salad.
Plum picking time
Average daytime temperature: 24°C / 75°F

Friday, July 30, 2010

Make room for the cabbage...and the onions

Cabbage and cauliflower

Heavy rains from a few days ago meant death to the just emerging carrot seedlings so it gave me some much needed space to stick half of the above (the cabbage) into a new home. They should do well in this cooler spot. The carrots were sown again, this time in a large pot because I have no more space!

Squeezing in the cabbage

Unfortunately, they didn't get to enjoy their "space" for too long because I dug up some young onion seedlings and through the miracle of the innernetz, found out that cabbage and onions make good neighbors, and in they went, all in a neat row.

Onion seedlings

Average daytime temperature: 22°C / 72°F

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jumping the gun on Bull's Blood beets

Bull's Blood itty bitty beet

I should probably be slapped on the wrists for doing so, but I read somewhere that when the top of the beet root is clearly visible above ground, then it's time to harvest. Harvest is the operative word here, because in higher altitude prealps, we always wait longer than the green thumbs down at lakeside. Nevermind the fact that you should also take into consideration the days to maturity of which I totally, outright, so-sue-me-I-don't-care disregarded in this case. How pitiful that beet looks, nowhere near the 2-3 inches in diameter that it is supposed to be. The thing with yanking something out of the ground early is that you learn not to do it again, so I am happy to leave the rest where they are until well after summer.

Mirabelle plum cluster

These mirabelle plums are almost ready for picking; they just need to turn a little more yellow in color. The persimmons, on the other hand, have a long ways to go. Typically they appear on supermarket shelves around November, but have shown up earlier in the season if it has been a particular warm year. We have never gotten anything from the tree since it was planted 2 years ago, so it'll be the first harvest if strong winds, bugs or hail don't get to them before they reach full maturity.

Young persimmon

Average daytime temperature: 23°C / 73°F

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tess's Land Race Currant

Tess's Land Race Currant, originally uploaded by me.

I ordered seeds (Baker Creek) just out of curiosity because I don't put too much importance on cherry tomatoes. They are great in salads and that's about it. You can't use them in sandwiches (too small), stuff them, or chop them into fresh salsas (too much trouble). For me it is easier to just buy them and turn all of my energy towards growing large tomatoes. They are the ones that everyone gushes over anyway. Oh wow! You grew these yourself???

Well I've changed my mind. These currant tomatoes are cute, and naturally the first to flower, take shape and turn red, and makes a tasty tart-sweet snack when you're poking around in the garden. I admit to having felt a small touch of disappointment upon realizing that they would not grow much larger than a currant, but that's what labels are for. I don't know what I was thinking...jumbo currants?

These were sown indoors on February 23rd; repotted twice until I set them outdoors under a polytunnel in mid-May. In our prealpine environment, it took almost 5 months from then until today to be able to start harvesting. I'll likely grow these next year but maybe in a large planter on the terrace.

Today's high: 25°C / 77°F

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rampion | Rapunzel: is there no one else that believes in fairytales anymore?

Rampion seed

Forget about the young lady with the long braids stuck at the top of a tower. I can hardly imagine how she managed to wash all that hair! The reason why I even considered growing this is because I have never seen rampion in anybody's produce section, and if Franchi goes through all that effort to put these out then there must be something to them, right? Search for rapunzel roots on Flickr and you get an eyeful of hair. Query rampion and it turns up a mass of purple flowers. I scattered the very, VERY fine seeds in a large bucket of dirt today. We shall see next spring if the fairytale vegetable will come true.

Uva spina | gooseberry

Garden update: the non-cherry tomatoes are much bigger, but still green. Really, all that manure in the soil did a lot of good even if I don't think we'll see any ripe ones before the end of this month. I am already planning on what I'd like to stick back there on the slope in the fall - gooseberries. Picked up this little container for just under 1€. Again, these were never available in Hawaii and while they do have a tart flavor, I like their unique appearance. If you have any growing tips, please share!

Average daytime temperature: 27C / 81°F

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mosquito control

Anti-mosquito arsenal

Recent late evening thundershowers and hot sunny days may have done a ton of good in the garden, but the rains have also given the mosquito population an edge. I have an extremely bad reaction after being bitten by a zanzara, and regardless of what's been said and written - all positive - on mosquito-repelling plants, I still find it necessary to supplement the geraniums and marigolds with chemical products. In the typical italian home there are no window screens(!) which further exacerbates the problem of keeping skeeters out. I remember one sleepless summer night in Tuscany where it was so hot that I simply had to open the windows - the bloodsuckers wasted no time coming in.

The above items are conspicuously stocked on major supermarket shelves just before summer comes along and I noticed that this year, brightly colored repellent wristbands were a fast-selling item. We mainly use heat-activated insecticide tablets (they look like small pieces of cardboard) outside, never indoors. There's also the vaporizer that plugs into an outlet but we no longer use it. The spray is for enclosed spaces like the tool shed or garage, but it's the coil repellents that ring a bell with me. They've always been a regular household item in Hawaii (we used them to light firecrackers on new year's eve) and recent visitors from the islands commented that the citronella and geranium-scented mosquito coils would probably sell like hotcakes (only the green ones are available in Hawaii). My husband did take it upon himself to install retracting window screens in the kitchen/living room where we spend much of our time, but the biggest improvement has been the double screen door panels with a doggie entrance - it keeps the insects out but lets the breeze in. The only hurdle now is to convince the dogs to use it.

There's a whole new world on the other side

And lastly, the gratuitous tomato shot since it's all about tomatoes for a lot of gardeners right now. Tess's Land Race currant on June 23rd, July 6th and today. They are so tiny but have good tart/sweet flavor.

Tess's Land Race Currant Tess Land Race currant tomatoes Ripe Tess's Land Race Currant

Today's high: 29°C / 84°F

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Live long and prosper

That's what I tell my plants when I'm out there pinching off persistent tomato suckers. In the past 13 days the temperature has gradually increased to where it is now averaging about 27-28°C. Coupled with the cooler nights and occasional rainstorm, this has been a tremendous benefit to everything in the garden and front yard, and I've been spending a couple of hours each morning doing weed control. There has already been beautiful and bountiful harvests from other gardeners on the web, but since our season starts a little later, this is the period where I wish summer would fastforward so that the tomatofest can begin. No zucchini, no cukes? Bah! I can get those anytime at the supermarket, along with lettuce, eggplants and beans, but heirloom tomatoes is another thing altogether, because in Italy we just don't have pomodoro (tomato) madness like everywhere else. The cuore di bue and san marzano types are the staples in most gardens, so I'm trying to figure out how I'll explain why mine are pink and purple when I share some with the neighbors. No, this is not genetically modified, I swear! It's still another month or so away and anything can happen (like a swarm of locusts or baseball-sized hail), so in the meantime, here are photos that I took this morning of what's thriving in the orto.


Tomato patch in July

13 days ago

Tomato patch in June

Bulls Blood beets and young japanese pear

Bulls Blood beets nashi-pear

Wild strawberries and purple & green shiso

wild-strawberries purple-and-green-shiso

Carbon and Cherokee Purple tomatoes

Carbon tomatoes (around 2 weeks old) Cherokee purple (around 2 weeks old)

Tess' Land Race Currant - today and 13 days ago

Tess Land Race currant tomatoes Tess's Land Race Currant

Average daytime temperature: 27C / 81°F