Friday, November 29, 2019

black Friday seed planting

Everyone's at the mall and I'm planting seeds! I planted seeds for some herbs that I plan to grow on my kitchen window sill in February and March. I also planted arugula that I plan to grow in the garage under lights to add to our winter salads. I have not planted at this time of year before - so don't take my word for it that this will work! But I love to experiment.

Photo two days later: the arugula is up. Why do I always plant arugula so dense? I need to move this tray to the light shelf now. There is hardly any light from the sun these days. I just wanted to watch them sprout on the windowsill.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

my honey bee order is in

I just ordered a package of bees for April 17. I didn’t keep any honey bees last year and I missed having all those pollinators in the vegetable garden. It’s nice to think ahead to spring before winter even starts.

Friday, November 22, 2019

crispy pickled peppers

peppers canned IMG_2756

I harvested a lot of peppers the day before our first frost. (100!!) Bell peppers, cayenne, Tex Mex, Shishito, even some heatless Habanero's called Habanada.

pepper harvest IMG_2504 peppers in bowl IMG_2737

We've been working our way through eating them fresh, but we weren't making much of a dent. Time for pickles! I've made pickled peppers a few times, but never liked the way they end up mushy - not at all crispy like store bought ones. So I tried out a new method - I made fresh pickles. Fresh pickles aren't processed in a boiling water bath. They end up fresh and crispy tasting, but only last a few months in the refrigerator.

I like this recipe a lot, very fresh and simple taste. Very crispy. (I adapted it from

1.5 lb peppers (preferably Shishito), cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips
5 cups rice vinegar (50/50 rice and white vinegar is OK)
4 cups water
6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
4 tsp pickling salt
2 Tbs sugar
4 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
4 small red chiles (optional)

Blanch the peppers in boiling water about 2-3 minutes. Drain. In a medium saucepan, simmer all ingredients except the peppers until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Place the blanched peppers in canning jars and pour the vinegar mixture over them. Seal the jars tightly and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before eating. These pickles will last 1-2 months in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Brussels sprouts

B sprouts IMG_2884b

I ended up with a nice pile of Brussels sprouts. Just over a pound, 5 cups. They taste really really delicious raw! Mild. Like sweet tender broccoli. I think the many nights of hard freezes sweetened them up perfectly. Now I need to find a recipe for roasting them. Since they taste so good raw, I think a simple recipe will work fine.

Its my first year of growing Brussels sprouts that have matured. I've tried 4 or 5 years now. For me, the trick was to start the seeds in May, use lots of composted manure, and grow the plants in full sun. It's a long process.  

Monday, November 18, 2019

today's harvest


This is the last of my kale and Brussels sprouts.

cold weather makes super sweet carrots!

Baby carrots! I harvested them last week and I'm amazed how delicious they are. Really really sweet and very crisp. I wonder if the frosts and cold weather improve their flavor. .... Internet search .... Yes, it does! I didn't know that.
"In order to defend itself against the cold, [carrots have] developed all these amazing physiological responses, including increasing the sugar content. Increasing the sugar content helps defend against ice crystal formation, which can do all kinds of terrible things to cells like dehydrate them, crush them, rupture them. ... this increase in sugar content helps defend the carrot against frost and cold." UCLA's Liz Roth-Johnson
This is called "cold sweetening" and happens to lots of vegetables. I knew it happened with parsnips, kale, and Brussels sprouts. I just didn't expect these carrots to be so sweet!

The variety is Mokum. I planted in the middle of August, worrying that it was too late in the season to get a crop. I'll make this date for the future and will plant lots more of them!


Sunday, November 17, 2019

choosing tomato varieties

All America Selections (AAS) is a great place to start when looking for new tomato varieties to try. It's is a national, non-profit plant trialing organization that tests new, never-before-sold varieties and selects winners with superior performance. I toured a dozen seed breeders in CA with AAS last summer and they are a fantastic organization.

My wish list has a bunch of AAS Winners that I'd like to try out next year. First, Mountain Rouge, a brand new 2019 AAS Winner. I visited its breeder, Bejo USA, last summer and saw this tomato growing in the field. It's really beautiful - a big red slicer with great flavor, plus very good resistance to tomato diseases, especially late blight. Here's a video of Mountain Rouge out in the field and shown by its breeder. (I was visiting Bejo with AAS when this video was made!)

Mountain Rouge DSC01563 Midnight Snack DSC02071c
--Mountain Rouge F1 and Midnight Snack F1

Midnight Snack is also an AAS winner that I saw growing in the field (at PanAmerican Seed). It is a tall, highly productive cherry tomato with a glossy black color that develops in the spots where sun hits the fruits. I love it and look forward to trying it in my garden. I usually only grow Sun Gold cherry, so this addition will give me some interesting variety.

Chef's Choice Orange is also a fantastic AAS Winner (2014) that I have grown for several years now with great success (bred by Seeds By Design, a really nice family-run organization that I enjoyed visiting last summer). I'm planning to grow this one again next year.

Chefs Choice Orange DSC02469
 --Chef's Choice Orange F1

Next year, I'd also like to try a variety from the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project. It's nice that this Project is producing OSSI seeds, which means they are all OP and the seeds can be saved and you'll get the same plant again next year. You don't need to keep buying the seed. Rosella Crimson Dwarf looks like a fun one to try growing in a hay bale or pot. Maybe it will nice in my Mom's small garden. I love the idea of compact, highly productive, and newly breed plants.

I also like the totally random method of looking at lists of heirloom tomatoes and choosing varieties to try. There are more than 3,000 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in active cultivation! Baker Creek and Sand Hill Preservation Center have enormous selections. Dr Lyle was one of my random selections this past year and it was super. A huge and delicious red slicer that was very vigorous and productive. I will definitely grow it again next year.

IMG_1854 IMG_2546
 -- Dr Lyle (heirloom)

Tomato varieties I grew this year:
   Cherokee Purple
   True Black Brandywine (large purple slicer) (OP)**
   Pink Brandywine
   Martha Washington
   New Girl
   Mortgage Lifter
   Dr Lyle (large red slicer) (OP)**
   Pink Beauty
   Raspberry Large Red
   Chef's Choice Orange (large orange slicer) (F1)**
   Orange Blossom
   German Old Sterling
   Sun Gold (orange cherry)**
   Principe Borghese (for sun-dried tomatoes) (OP)**
   San Marzano
   Opalka (large paste) (OP)**
   Polish Linguisa
My wish list of varieties to grow next year:
   The six varieties with ** above
   Mountain Rouge (large red slicer, high disease resistance) (F1)
   Midnight Snack (black cherry) (F1)
   Rosella Crimson Dwarf (a large red slicer on a compact plant) (OP)

(OP means open-pollinated, which means I can save seeds and they will produce the same plants again next year. F1 means it's a hybrid. It will have "hybrid vigor", but I won't get the same plant again next year if I save seeds. I'll have to buy these seeds.)

Maybe I'll add to my list of varieties in the coming months. I usually end up with a list that's longer than I meant it to be.

What varieties are you planning to grow next year? Let me know your suggestions!

Friday, November 15, 2019

today's harvest


 ...a handful of kale and broccoli greens