Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’


June is bustin’ out all over!

June 13, 2009

So, I’ve been pretty lazy about posting anything about our garden over the past couple of months, but it’s going gangbusters at this point.

Ripe loquats, strawberries, and cherries: Not enough cherries to do much but snack on them, but this year we made some loquat jam (since I’m still at a loss as to what one is supposed to do with loquats, beyond just eating them fresh….last year we made loquat-infused vodka). The rest of the spring fruit is also well on its way to ripeness, so we’re excited to have Santa Rosa plums, blueberries, and several varieties of pluots later this month.



Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! We planted several different kinds this year since last year’s plants did so abysmally—the idea was to experiment with different types and locations in the yard. So far, though, all of them seem to be flowering and setting fruit like crazy, so we may be drowning in tomatoes soon!

This year, we’re growing:

  • Taxi, an early determinate yellow tomato that is supposed to do well in containers;
  • Paul Robeson, a Russian determinate black heirloom that’s supposed to be especially good for both containers and the mild Bay Area;
  • Carmello, a French indeterminate red heirloom purported to be prolific;
  • Glacier, an early indeterminate [well, sold to us as a determinate, but has clearly shown itself to be otherwise!] red heirloom;
  • Yellow brandywine, an indeterminate heirloom that produces large yellow beekfsteak tomatoes; and
  • A mystery cherry tomato variety from a Forage Oakland gathering.

All but the cherry tomato and the Taxi plant came from Kassenhoff Growers, an Oakland-based grower that sells at both of our local farmer’s markets. We had good luck with a couple of their plants last year, so this year pretty much the entire garden (or at least what I didn’t grow from seed) came from there.

Tomato box

New tomato box

We’re growing tomatoes in both the beautiful new tomato box (for the indeterminate varieties, since it’s deep enough to accommodate their root systems) and in a small bed along the side of our patio that has a concrete bottom, and thus seemed most suitable for determinate types. (Interestingly, though, one of the tomatoes we planted was supposed to be determinate but has now outgrown just about every plant in the garden and is sprawling over itself—and is heavy with tomatoes, so clearly the depth of the bed wasn’t as a big an issue as we thought it would be!)

Squash, cucumbers, and eggplant. We’ve also got both summer and winter squash going strong. The only issue they’ve had this year has been that they’re easily double the size of last year’s plants, and are taking over their 18″ x 18″ garden squares and overshadowing the eggplant, which just can’t seem to get enough sun to grow. Next year I need to come up with a better plan for that.

Zucchini plants

Zucchini plants

We harvested our first funky-looking zucchini last week. The green ones are the creatively-named Dark Green zucchini, while the striped variety is Cocozelle. Both are having some blossom-end rot issues, so I’m trying to get that sorted out—but otherwise they’re tasty! (We made zucchini pancakes with these, complete with herbs from the herb garden and one of the last spring onions still growing from last winter.)



Greens. The lettuce bed is also growing like crazy, though we’ve been doing a terrible job keeping up with it since we keep getting fresh greens in our CSA box. Once we do finally eat through this, though, my new plan is to try some decorative edible greens in that bed, since the last edition of Sunset had some interesting ideas on how to grow greens a little more aesthetically than these (which look like gangly plants about to bolt—but are still a huge improvement over the arugula that used to be in this bed, which had bolted and had progressed from “bitter” to “inedible”!)

Lettuce bed

Lettuce bed

Asparagus! This little guy is one of two asparagus plants that a friend gave us last fall; I thought they’d died since they vanished for several months, but both have suddenly started sending up stalks and feathers. Asparagus takes a while, so we still have a few years before we can harvest it—but exciting nonetheless!

Baby asparagus

Baby asparagus

Everything else is truckin’ along, looking pretty good so far this year. We harvested a few of last winter’s baby carrots today, and will eat the last of the peas for dinner since I had to pull the plants to put in some pickling cucumbers this morning. The basil seedlings finally got big enough to transplant, so they’re settling into the herb garden too. The first powdery mildew of the season showed up on one of the squash plants this week, though, and the whiteflies are multiplying in spite of our best efforts to keep them off the plants. So we’ll see how things go—but off to a good start.


The bees and butterflies are back….

April 22, 2009

….and the garden is loving it!

After a shaky first year with our garden where I wondered if the lack of fruiting had to do with the dearth of bees and other beneficial insects, I’m cautiously optimistic about this year’s crops.

First, our bees are back! Where they disappeared to last year I can’t say, but this year the garden is literally crawling with pollinating insects (including our resident hummingbirds). More importantly, fruit is setting like mad on the fruit trees. The orange trees didn’t have much to say for themselves last year, but this year there are literally dozens upon dozens of small green oranges on them. Same story with the plum tree. I did spend some time last year putting in plants rumored to attract bees and butterflies, but I’m not sure this is related to the visits—few of them are in bloom right now. So it may just be a fluke (though hopefully one that’s not going away anytime soon!)

This guy is a honey bee (I think) but we've seen no fewer than four different types of bees---plus a bunch of parasitic wasps, which is exciting!

This guy is a honey bee (I think) but we've seen no fewer than four different types of bees---plus a bunch of parasitic wasps, which is exciting!

We also had a mini heatwave this week, and the squash and tomatoes are basking in it. The arugula is even trying to bolt—and it’s only April!

Greens---yum! (I snapped this before the Oakland heat record was shattered on Monday when we hit a whopping 88 degrees....these plants are even larger now!)

Greens---yum! (I snapped this last weekend, before the Oakland heat record was shattered on Monday when we hit a whopping 88 degrees....these plants are even larger now!)

But my favorite find, nestled in my fennel plant, was this little bugger.

Anise swallowtail caterpillar

It's an anise swallowtail caterpillar!

A bit of digging on the Internet revealed that he’s an anise swallowtail caterpillar, and pretty common in California. After reading that they typically infest a plant, I went back to look. Sure enough, there were several other very, VERY tiny caterpillars eating up my fennel! Unfortunately, the fennel hasn’t been doing so well, and while I’m happy to sacrifice it to the butterflies, I have a feeling they’ll run out of fennel long before they’re ready to pupate. For now I’m leaving them there, since apparently in this very early stage, they just eat and eat and don’t move around a whole lot, so it’s a safe bet that (barring a hungry bird) they’ll still be there when you come back. But if they make it to being beautiful big caterpillars, I’m contemplating bringing them inside for a butterfly-raising adventure. (Apparently their foods of choice are anise, fennel, dill, parsley, carrots, parsnips, Queen Anne’s lace, seaside angelica, and—augh!—citrus trees. I don’t really want them eating up my dill seedlings or my parsley, and definitely not the citrus, so once they start wandering, it could be hazardous to the rest of the yard.)

Now that I know they’re out there, though, I’ll be putting in a lot more fennel plants this year—even if we don’t get super bulbs from them, it would be wonderful to have some nesting space for these guys.

And in miscellaneous other garden news:

Yes, those are teeny tiny grapes on there---our first crop!

Yes, those are teeny tiny grapes on there---our first crop!

We’re on track to start harvesting the loquats this week, with the cherries, plums, and pluots following late next month. (Sadly, this will be our last cherry crop for now—we took one tree out this winter, and the other tree is deathly ill with bacterial canker, which is contagious, so it will go sometime later this year too. Next winter, we’ll be in the market for a new cherry tree or two, though, so there should be some fun market taste testing in the offing this spring!) Strawberries, blueberries, and the breba fig crop should show up in June or July, and by mid-summer we’ll be rolling in apples. Hard to believe, but we’re already more than halfway to this year’s persimmon season, too!


Winter gardens

January 28, 2009

Our winter garden is trudging along, although a lot more slowly than I’d like. (We got a late start on our summer garden this year, in part because I got a late start on building our raised beds; consequently, the winter garden is also running a bit behind, and our carrots and celery are still teeny-tiny.) Since the February Sunset just arrived with its detailed instructions on all the junk I’m supposed to be doing in the garden before spring arrives, I figured I should actually start doing some of it….even if it is feeling awfully wintry right now (for California, at least—we hit freezing and cracked out the mittens and scarves, which is a rarity around here!)

Teeny tiny carrots---grow, won't you!!

Teeny tiny carrots---grow, won't you!!

Here’s what’s happening in our garden right now:

  • Our fruit trees are all getting professional haircuts. The persimmons in particular had a very rough year, and we lost three large boughs to either the abundance of fruit or (more likely) the abundance of raccoons eating the abundance of fruit. (Our current raccoon tenants are a family of five—yes, that’s five!—who are now just about full-grown.) Last year I pruned all the trees myself, but that clearly didn’t work out so well! I’ll still do the fig, plum, and pluot trees on my own, but I’m leaving the big boys to the pros. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the cherries have some drought damage.
  • We bid a final farewell to the tomato and pepper plants. I left the eggplant there, since it has a new blossom—it hasn’t produced a single eggplant all season, though, so that’s probably wishful thinking. In the spring, all of these plants (or rather, their successors) are moving to their new home against our south-facing breakfast room wall in the hopes that they’ll get better sun there, and maybe produce more than a handful of fruit.
  • We’re getting a new blueberry bush and two new raspberry bushes to replace the ones that didn’t make it, and an elderflower bush so I can make elderflower syrup next summer. Yum!
  • The big vegetable bed just got a new half-inch drip irrigation system that will hopefully work better than the old quarter-inch one. While I was at it, I tested the soil, which came up as fine on potassium but not so hot on nitrogen or phosphorus, so it’s been supplemented accordingly. I’m going to try transplanting the winter crops that are there and maybe they’ll enjoy the new dirt, but we may have to sacrifice them.
Winter garden

Winter garden with old drip system


Broccoli, trying really hard

Where’s the new drip system, you ask?? I wondered the same thing myself, since I swore I snapped a photo of it….but apparently I got sidetracked along the way. Here’s what it looked like pre-install, though:

New watering system!

New watering system!

It came in a kit from Lee Valley Tools, a great gardening supply place. (They also have awesome cabinetry and other DIY supplies.) Will it work? Who knows…..but I’ll probably post occasional updates as we get into the growing season for real, since I’m determined to actually get the garden growing this year! (On the upside, the artichokes we planted right after we moved in are looking very, very happy right now….small victories!)


On kitchen gardens and backyard fruit trees

November 7, 2008

Most people who know us know that we have a mild obsession with the local food movement and, especially, with growing our own food. There’s a long tradition of kitchen gardens in some of Oakland’s older neighborhoods, and one of our house’s major selling points was the backyard orchard with 15 mature fruit trees; after we moved in, we added another six trees and two vegetable beds to our tiny city lot. D.’s initial plan was to have everything in the yard be edible, though we quickly thought better of that when we discovered how much work small patches of garden could entail! The first year has yielded mixed results—we’re not exactly experienced gardeners, and bugs and critters like our yard a lot too—but we’re getting better at it, and we’ve had some incredible harvests this year. It’s exciting to be able to plant whatever we feel like eating and then watch it grow. Even the Labradane gets into the act: he’s a pro at nibbling the flesh off of loquat pits and loves-loves-loves apples.

So when I discovered this project, I thought it sounded pretty amazing:

It’s a campaign that’s advocating for a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. The really exciting part is that another Bay Area blogger recently reported that during the campaign, Michelle Obama promised Alice Waters that she’d plant exactly that if they wound up being the house’s next tenants. It’s a promising step in the right direction!

It wouldn’t be the first time there’s been a White House garden, though:

Sure, it’s not quite up there with fixing the economy or ending the war, but I’d still be thrilled to see this pan out in the Obamas’ first year there.

Next up: White House chickens! (C’mon, it’s Washington, they’d fit right in….)


Things to eat

August 14, 2008

We have beautiful front and back gardens, mostly thanks to the previous two owners of the house. It’s a little overwhelming at times, but our lot is one of the largest in the area (at least as the bungalow lots go around here). Our backyard bordered the estate of the deFremery family up until the early 1970s, but unfortunately it’s now lined with condos and apartments on two sides. They tower over the yard and cast some shadows, so we’re working on ways to make the yard more private (two baby avocado trees for starters, and we might go the clumping bamboo route soon). Suggestions welcome!

We put in two raised veggie beds this spring that are growing with mixed results so far. We’re a little too close to Oakland’s Broadway Auto Row to gamble with planting directly in our soil, and it’s heavy clay to boot, which edibles aren’t keen on. We’ve had one tomato, some lettuce, a few beans, and a squash so far, and the bugs have had a field day with the rest. (Turns out everything in the neighborhood showed up to lunch, so we have scale, aphids, whiteflies, cutworms, spider mites, and more. Yuck! We’ve tried to keep the yard organic and pesticide-free, but have resorted to neem oil, a theoretically-organic-but-still-toxic treatment for chewing insects, to try to quell the whiteflies before they re-infest the citrus trees.)

We’ve had much better luck with our fruit trees, though. Our yard currently has:

  • Avocados (Hass & Fuerte, but both babies!)
  • Santa Rosa Plums
  • Pluots (one tree, three types: Flavor King, Flavor Supreme, Dapple Dandy)
  • Figs (three trees, probably Mission)
  • Apples (probably Gala)
  • Oranges (Valencia & Navel, three trees)
  • Lemons (Eureka & Meyer, plus Ponderosa lemons that hang over from our neighbor’s yard!)
  • Cherries (two trees, dunno what kinds)
  • Loquats
  • Persimmons (Hachiya & Fuyu)
One of the raised beds, early in the season

One of the raised beds, early in the season