Monday, October 8, 2012

Harvest Monday: 18-day radish

18-day radish

All 10 ounces of it, and 18 days my foot. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why a radish would have a specific number of days listed on the package and not follow through. Is that 18 days to germinate or 18 days until harvest? My seeds sprouted in a matter of 3-5 days, but at 5 weeks (that's 35 days) from sowing, all I had were skinny-as-twigs roots. They were pretty with rosy-pink bases and white tips. Having other things to fuss with in the garden, I just left them alone and an additional 3 weeks later I end up with these. I couldn't find anything on the net that explains what 18 days refers to (I hope it isn't that these are still fresh 18 days after harvest), so the mystery remains unsolved. What I like about this radish is the elongated shape, but to me they taste the same as the round ones that I usually grow.

Seeds for 2013

Seeds for spring 2013

I know I can't be the only one to already have seeds for the following spring. A couple of weeks ago we had some errands to run at a garden center and naturally, I end up in the seed section. All I'm lacking are okra, black radish and kohlrabi which I hope to obtain soon. I did a seed trade with a blogger friend from France and scored some rainbow chard, kale and collard greens, but what I'm especially keen on growing next year is capers. Potted young caper plants should be available by the end of this month at a price of 9€.

Todays high: 18°C / 64°F

Monday, September 17, 2012

Harvest Monday: the Big Kahuna

Every year I cross my fingers that my larger slicing/eating tomatoes will yield one big specimen and today was the day for this cherokee purple. Not bad at 19 ounces! There's another on the vine although it could be a close call. We had one day of heavy rain earlier in the week which caused cracked tops, but all in all I'm just glad that there was no problem of blossom end rot this year.

Once again, the harvest for this past week looks pretty much like those from earlier on, and our summer has finally come to an end with definitely cooler temps. I figure I'll take a break from Harvest Mondays until the winter garden harvest is ready, but during these coming months, I hope to visit and report on an italian truffle fair and perhaps a chestnut festival in France. Hop on over to Daphne's Harvest Monday to see what others are reaping from their gardens.

Todays high: 21°C / 70°F

Monday, September 10, 2012

Harvest Monday: peach verdict

Venus peaches, cherokee purples, cayenne peppers, datterini and cherry toms.

The jury is in. Bye-bye peach tree. As much as we appreciated harvesting 17 pounds of fruit yesterday afternoon, the verdict to call it quits on our very first pesco is based on unanimous decision. It's a bittersweet feeling to throw in the towel like this but the Poppa di Venere white peaches, while big and relatively bug-free, are no longer up to the quality like those from the first year the tree bore fruit. They don't even look as smooth and perfect like they used to. The battle with PLC (peach leaf curl) was becoming more persistent with each passing year and the use of a fungicide was going against everything that we believed in about cultivating an organic garden.

Now the good news: cherokee purples! Any gardener who has successfully grown them know how delicious these heirlooms are. I was relieved that the almost ripe fruit didn't suffer split skins when heavy rains fell during the last week of August, and it was tomato bliss to slice and serve one alongside some cherry tomatoes and burrata cheese. The zucchini and cherry tomatoes are beginning to slow down, but there's still a lot of bell peppers and hot peppers on the bushes right now. This week's harvest totals 21 lbs.

Fresh eating: cherokee purple, datterini, cherry toms and burrata.

Linking up with Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Todays high: 27°C / 81°F

Monday, August 27, 2012

Harvest Monday: hot off the grill

Summer grillin' & chillin'

This week's harvest looks just like last week's, so for a change of pace I present the after photos. All of those cute cherry tomatoes, zucchini and bell peppers photograph even better when you spear 'em and show 'em the grill (wish I could say that I also caught the tuna for the kebabs). Throw in some xmas lights and candles to set the mood and you're in for a memorable evening that cost you nothing more than maybe a bit of smoke in your eyes. The peaches are not from our tree but with any luck, as soon as the suckers start ripening they will meet their fate over the hot coals too. Grilling peaches is not something italians normally do at a grigliata/bbq, but when my husband had his first taste, he became an instant fan of throwing fruit on the fire as an instant dessert.

Instead of the "big soak" that was forecasted, we received what I'd call a tizzle - just enough to tickle the leaves and to stand in the passing drizzle. Linking to Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Todays high: 26°C / 79°F

Monday, August 20, 2012

Harvest Monday: peppers are coming in

Picked this morning: Violetta di Firenze eggplant, datterini and regular cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, habanero chocolate, zukes and tomatillos

Judging from other garden blogs, tallying weekly totals is also the thing to do if you've got a lot of different vegetables growing in the garden. With my handful of this and 1 or 2 of that, I didn't think I'd have enough to make it count but boy was I ever wrong. Between the cherry tomatoes, zukes, one-eggplant-a-week and peppers, I was surprised to learn that I took in just under 7½ pounds of harvest within the last 7 days. Enough for just the 2 of us with no extra leftover. This morning, however, was the BIG day as I was able to pick one ripe habanero chocolate and the first red bell peppers along with the rest of what's shown here.

Habanero chocolate Beet seedlings

We are expecting a forecast of thunderstorms this weekend which should temporarily cool things a bit, aside from giving us a good soak, plus it should be easier on the 28 beet seedlings that will be transplanted for a fall harvest. Linking up with Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Todays high: 32°C / 90°F

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvest Monday

Harvest Monday 8.13.12

The garden is still mosying along, offering a little bit of this and that for our own consumption but never enough to share with our neighbors. We may even see a bit of a setback as the temps have gotten cooler. This, I think, is affecting the cayenne pepper plants as they are loaded with peppers yet none have turned red. I like to add them chopped in pasta salad or fried rice, so I'm hoping they'll have enough of a kick.

Shiso | Perilla

The one crop that I'm getting a lot of are shiso/perilla leaves, and I pick them in all sizes. Small leaves go into a mixed green salad, larger ones are used as a "wrap" to hold sushi rice and tuna, and the rest gets tucked into summer rolls along with whatever vegetable that's sitting in the fridge. Summer is a great season for finger food, and these here have shredded cabbage and carrots, romaine, shiso and cocktail shrimp. Served with a spicy peanut butter sauce, they make an ideal lunch with beer!

Summer rolls with shiso

At Lecco's Saturday market

Saturday at Lecco market

Loads of stone and clingstone fruits at the weekly open market and while I've tried the sangue di drago (dragon's blood) plums before, this is the first time I've seen goccia d'oro (drop of gold) or shiro plums. They are sweet, even better than the dragon's blood ones. Prices are ranging between 1.49€ - 1.99€/kilo. Head on over to Daphne's for more of Harvest Monday!

Todays high: 24°C / 75°F

Monday, August 6, 2012

Harvest Monday

Harvest Monday 8.6.12
Eggplant, zuke, yellow bell, a pound of datterini and calabrian chile peppers.

7:15 am, hold the coffee! - I was so excited to be able to finally participate in Daphne's Harvest Monday roundup that the dogs were fed, the husband's bento lunch packed, and I was out the door picking these before the pups could thank me with a burp in the face. Snipping off that dark, shiny Violetta di Firenze eggplant was such a happy moment as it is very difficult to cultivate hot weather crops in this cooler mountain climate. The highest it has been is 86°F and we suffer! Weaklings. This year is certainly not one of my better seasons for gardening, and with the exception of the Cherokee Purple and Marmande heirlooms (which still have a ways to go), everything in this photo started as seedlings from the nursery.

Todays high: 26°C / 79°F

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Harvest Tuesday

Slow harvest this year

I keep thinking that one day I'll get it right and participate in Harvest Monday, but about the only things I've gotten so far are the occasional handful of datterino tomatoes and zukes here and there. We harvested 500 grams of mirabelle plums yesterday and they aren't looking as good as last year's batch. I blame it all on the weather.

The only vegetable not fresh from the garden are the white eggplants; those came from Esselunga supermarket. Our favorite store occasionally brings in uncommon produce to see if the buying public will bite but I'm guessing that white eggplants won't leave too much of an impression. Purple is still king.

Today's high: 25°C / 77°F

Monday, July 9, 2012

Waiting on the green, admiring the purple

Daily watering in the morning and evening was apparently not enough to get the garden on a good solid roll, but a big rainstorm that passed through here last week did absolute wonders for the plants. Where there were a few flowers, now there be more, and small tomatoes, hot peppers and bell peppers are growing even faster on every single plant. Garden nurseries are also doing mid-season sales, so we picked up a Buddleja davidii “Black Knight” that has already begun to attract butterflies. I've read that they're considered invasive but I can't see how they could be more invasive than the stinging nettles.

Datterini and peperone
Jalapeno and calabrian hot peppers
Zucchini in wire pots
Voluntary shiso
Buddleja davidii

Today's high: 28°C / 82°F

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Snake in my house!

Baby biscia

Natrix natrix. Grass snake. In the spare room on the ground floor in the dark. Not pleasant. This is one of those italian biscia that proliferate in this area but I am glad that it was only a baby one. It was about 18 inches in length with a body diameter that of my pinkie finger. They are totally harmless. I don't know how it got into the house, only that it took some nerve to coax it into a shoe box (not easy since it just wanted to stay where it was) where I then carried it gingerly through the garage before flipping the whole thing upside down onto the ground. The snake just lay there and I'm like, WTFudge? So I go upstairs to look from the terrace to see if it was still in the same spot.

It started to slither BACK towards the garage! WTFig?

I grab a broom, run down to the garage and find it motionless not more than a yard from the entrance. In my mind I was WTFeck?, so I start sweeping. Deliberate, exaggerated strokes. Stomping my foot too. If the neighbors had been looking out the window they would've thought I had really lost it, but the sweep seemed to do the trick as finally the snake started slithering away FAST and never turned back. That oughtta show you who's boss.

Peas, tails and scapes

In other less slightly titillating news, we enjoyed the first harvest of the season: peas, rat tail radishes and garlic scapes. Spring's prolonged visit with cooler temps and rain ensured that there probably won't be a load of tomatoes this year, but we're happy to get whatever we can. We're also seeing major fruit drop from the persimmon tree which, while necessary, is sad to see. All those possible persimmons. That's what happens when you apply a load of sh*t and the tree goes bonkers in the production department.

We all fall down

Today's high: 27°C / 81°F

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Saturday market in Beaune, France

Well it took a recent holiday to France to put some cheer back into our routine, but the magic pill to chase away gardening blues was a morning spent at a french market. I am cured! We had a wet and windy spring season in northern Italy where intermittent rains and cooler than normal temperatures delayed any ideas of getting off to an early start. The young tomato plants started in February began to show signs of blight, there was no end to the rain, and there was nothing left to do than to grow sprouts, a few peas, and wait.

So I waited, we all waited, and then I said what the heck, why not just go away on a trip. It was just what I needed to brighten my mood. The Saturday market in Beaune is said to be one of the very best there is and I agree. Look at all this fresh produce! We didn't buy any since there would be no way to keep them cool until we returned home, but market vendors had two of my favorite french things: soaps from Provence and canelé pastries.

Strawberries at Beaune's market

Wild asparagus at Beaune market
Asperge sauvage. Much different from the wild asparagus gathered in Italy.

Artichokes and tomatoes
Artichauts et tomates.

Beaune's Saturday market
A beautiful late spring day at Beaune's Saturday market. I made sure it was on our itinerary in bold.

Loads of radishes
Radis (listen to that one on google translate).

Tiny new potatoes
Pommes de terre. 12.90€/kilo? Did I read that right?

Canelés at Beaune's market
Canelés. Never imagined that I would come across these!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fenugreek and red cabbage sprouts success

Sprouting seedsMaybe it's a little too soon to be doing the happy dance but for this second do-it-yourself attempt, growing sprouts (germogli/jehr-MOH-l'yee in italian), was ridiculously easy. So easy, in fact, that I've got it in mind to try whatever's out on the market, starting with the Geo brand by Bavicchi seeds.

The process for sprouting basically reads all the same from the internet to the back of the packaging itself, but I must make mention of the website Sprout People ( for going into such detail regarding text and images in coaching first-time growers. I only wish they could ship overseas (and pass through customs) because the prices on their website makes my seeds look like iranian caviar. Until I can source a bulk supplier, buying the packets is costing me approximately $31/lb for fenugreek seeds and a whopping $89/lb for red cabbage seeds.

On with the show... After soaking the seeds overnight, I drained them the next day and placed them in their respective containers: the box from the mushroom kit for the fenugreek and a 2 quart glass jar for the red cabbage. I rinsed and thoroughly drained them once in the morning and once in the evening, giving it a 3rd rinse only if I felt that the room was too warm.

Red cabbage seeds
Red cabbage seeds after soaking overnight.

Red cabbage sprouts 4th day
Sprouts on the 4th day. Package directions state 4-6 days so I left them for 1 more day. A paper towel secured with a rubberband is used to close the mouth of the jar, allowing the sprouts to breathe.

Red cabbage sprouts
Red cabbage sprouts - 5th day. Excess moisture needs to be removed in order for sprouts to keep well. A salad spinner does the job fast, but I also had to use a paper towel since the holes in my spinner bowl are biggish. Total weight of seeds pre-sprout: 12 grams. After sprouting: 82 grams or less than 3 ounces.

Red cabbage sprouts

Fenugreek seeds
My mother used to make fenugreek tea and I remember that it had a really horrible off-putting, medicine-like smell. After an overnight soak, I noticed a gel-like substance after draining. Totally harmless.

Fenugreek seeds 1st day
Repurposing the mushroom kit.

Fenugreek sprouts
Fenugreek sprouts on the 4th day. They taste like soy sprouts to me. Total weight of seeds pre-sprout: 35 grams. After sprouting: 146 grams/a little over 5 ounces.

Friday, April 27, 2012

When tulips don't deliver

This is the first spring where I'm not all that happy for how the tulips turned out. Instead of going the usual supermarket or nursery route like I usually do, I ordered bulbs from Holland, specifically from a company called Floral Dispatch. The bulbs weren't that expensive and shipping was reasonable enough, but so far only 1 out of the 4 have turned out like what they look like online.

Ollioules Darwin hybrid Ollioules Darwin hybrid

Ollioules - these are the ones that lived up to their description of being 55 cm tall with rose-pink petals edged with silver-white. They are large tulips and mine was already up and blooming around the third week of March.

Apricot impression Darwin hybrid

Apricot Impression - the second group to emerge in the early part of April. Online photos showed blooms with a pale orange-pink hue, but these are definitely not going there. I was also hoping that they would top the 55 cm height as described but so far I've got a variation between 40-46 cm.

Jaap groot Darwin hybrid

Jaap Groot - I like how intensely yellow these are but they don't look anything like the two-toned blooms in the catalog. The petal edges should be pale yellow or white and height description suggest 60 cm. Mine tops out at 45 cm but maybe it's a little too early to tell since they recently bloomed about a week ago. I'm still waiting on the 4th tulip - Florosa viridiflora - pinkish white petals edged in fuchsia with long greenish-yellow flames.

Today's high: 20.5°C / 69°F

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mice, moles, voles beware!

Vintage mole trap
Vintage mole trap.

This is undoubtedly one of the least favorite topics about gardening of which hardly anyone can give a sure and definite solution: getting rid of garden varmints. Poison and traps (inhumane or natural types) or keeping a cat all pop up repeatedly in the various strategies, but the end result is still the same - kill or be rid of them one time and another comes to take its place. Compromise between a gardener and his enemies is like conceding defeat because let's be real here - who in their right mind works under the hot sun only to have their efforts undermined by some beady-eyed critter?

Mole trap demo

My father-in-law gave us both a spring-release mole trap and a young mole plant in the event we encountered problems; I hope we never need to use them. As for mice or voles (not sure which) I'm taking a defensive approach and transplanting my zucchinis in these wire cages. They're made from low-gauge chicken wire and take a bit of patience cutting and fasteninng together, but I'm hoping that it'll be enough to deter the rodents from eating the roots like last year.

Wire cages for plants

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mushroom-growing box sprouts new use

Daikon sprouts

Reduce, recycle, repurpose. I don't put the last one into practice nearly as much as I'd like to, so to turn out a small batch of daikon sprouts using an old mushroom kit just opened another door into kitchen counter gardening. Sprouting always seemed a big mystery that included a set-up with multiple trays and constant rinsing - too much trouble when I can purchase a half pound tray of soy sprouts for a little over 1 euro - yet the thought of throwing out more trash simply bothered me.

A packet of daikon seeds had been sitting in my stash for quite some time, and when I came across last year's plastic black bottom/clear top mushroom kit, the idea of sprouting popped into my head. After giving the kit a good sterilizing wash and rinse in hot water, I placed the rinsed daikon seeds (soaked overnight) onto a damp paper towel and plastic netting (cut from a mesh bag holding oranges). The reason for the mesh was that I figured that the sprouts would need something stable to adhere to as they grew taller but a second experiment proved that they only need a paper towel.

I followed the exact steps for sprouting by rinsing twice a day and using a fine wire sieve to drain them into before replacing the seeds back into the box. Once the seeds began sprouting it became more tricky to rinse them but again, a fine sieve makes an indispensable kitchen tool. When the sprouts put out leaves, I stopped rinsing and placed the box in a spot with indirect sunlight. When they grew to about 4 inches in height, I snipped them from the root bottoms and used them in temaki sushi. From kitchen counter to plate, what more can I say? This experiment had me wanting to discover what else I've been missing out on and I found these at the natural foods store NaturaSì. Mung beans, red cabbage, fenugreek and a mix that contains alfalfa, garden cress, fenugreek and mustard - it should be interesting to see how they taste.

Sprouting seeds