Just a quick post from my phone to share our exciting flowering dragonfruit!! We got the cutting a little over a year ago, and I thought these suckers are supposed to take much longer to flower. The cactus has been tucked in a corner. I hope I didn’t disturb it too much when I turned it around to see the lovely flower. And hopefully she’s opening up not closing!


Tomato overload

I can’t believe it’s been almost three weeks since my last blog!  This August has been quite cool for Los Angeles.  David makes fun of me because I put on a sweatshirt in the evenings, complaining of the chill in the air, and I’m the one who’s lived in Minnesota and Maine before. Don’t tell anyone, but I think living in LA has made me a wimp about the weather.

The past three weeks have also been spent at a conference and professional development for school.  My teacher brain has been taking in copious amounts of information during the day, and my evenings have been spent either in the garden or kitchen.  Blogging has fallen by the wayside.

This coming Monday I have parent conferences with some of my students, and the kiddos arrive on Tuesday!  So, this weekend we plan to take care of the over abundance of produce that has been accumulating on our counters.  We have been eating a lot from the garden.  We’ve had zucchini roulades, roasted eggplant, zucchini soup, red kuri coconut curry soup, caprese salad and more.  Last weekend we had friends over and set up a table in the middle of the garden.  We’ll do that again, and I’ll make sure to take pictures next time!

Since I’ve been at school during the past few weeks, I’ve been harvesting food from our fruit trees and school gardens.  David stopped by campus to help out, and we picked figs from three different trees.


We’re so excited about having fig jam!  We halved 3.5lbs of figs and cooked them down with balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and water (we followed the recipe from Put ‘Em Up).


Canning things as delicious as fig jam present an interesting dilemma- we want to crack the jars open and eat it now, but we’ve spent time canning it so we can eat it later.  We did have a small amount that wouldn’t fit in the jars that we were able to eat right away (with goat cheese and walnuts).  I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to resist this jam.  I’m not sure we’ll need to resist for that long, because I just found out about a fig tree in my community garden that is in need of harvesting!


I found this pumpkin ready to take home at school.  The vine was dead and it was laying in the aisle.  There’s a second one, which I plan to bring into my classroom.  This one will become pumpkin puree. Pamela, from Brooklyn Farm Girl, got me thinking about how great pumpkin puree would be to have in our freezer.  Our baby Casper pumpkin plant is just starting to branch out, so hopefully we’ll have more coming!

Last night I went through our tomatoes, picked out recipes and started prepping them for the recipes.  I devised this new strategy this past week: one day find recipes and clean, core, cut, weigh tomatoes and put in bags for the next day where we cook and can.  It’s been working well so far.

In addition to harvesting from our yard and school, our neighbor has been out of town for two weeks and we’ve been watching his cat and caring for his garden.


His early crop of tomatoes is finishing up, but his yellow and oxheart tomatoes are just starting.  He also has syrah grapes, which we nibbled on and planned to pickle but ended up composting. The bowls above are from the first week’s harvest.  We’ve filled another couple of bowls since then.


David made ketchup and orange tomato jam with smoked paprika this week.  I asked him to take pictures, but that’s not his style.  But you can see how there are lots of jars!

Today I am using more yellow/orange tomatoes to make yellow tomato basil jam.  They are currently macerating in the kitchen and it’s just about time to head outside to pick basil.


The food looks so beautiful while it’s being prepared.  Add a little bit of water, and everything looks better!


The San Marzanos here are getting prepped for coring then fire-roasting.  I’ve been wanting to make a fire roasted salsa all summer, but these will become fire-roasted canned tomatoes instead.  We already have plenty of salsa in jars, but very few whole tomatoes. Fire-roasted whole tomatoes should come in handy.  I’ll have to inventory our cans, as this is our first year of doing this so it’s a guessing game as to how much we’ll really use during the year.



These Isis Candy cherry tomatoes will soon be a balsamic cherry tomato caramelized onion conserve. The recipe looks like a winner! We’re always looking for more ways to preserve cherry tomatoes.


After prepping for canning this weekend, we determined that we had 12.5lbs of tomatoes that will be going to our produce exchange this weekend!  This is first experience with a produce exchange and it’s coming at a perfect time.

We’ve already canned whole tomatoes, two batches of tomato sauce, three different salsas, tomato jam and ketchup.  We also have dehydrated and roasted tomatoes in the freezer and will be canning roasted tomatoes, tomato jam and tomato conserve this weekend.


Rosie is great at keeping us company, but she seems to prefer when we’re in the garden as opposed to the kitchen.  Every so often we’ll toss her ball out the kitchen door to keep her retriever genes happy.


As a final picture, we recently spotted one of our praying mantis friends!  I’m pretty certain that the brown coloration means this is a male.  We’ve yet to spot a female, but he should be able to find one.  And hopefully mate.  Then hopefully avoid getting decapitated.



Beginning of August Tour


It’s time for a tour!

The newest additions to our garden come from David’s aunt, with whom we just visited!  She collects orchids, says they’re pretty foolproof down here, and gave us three to get started!  The three she gave us are all cymbidiums.  Two could use splitting and repotting this spring.   


Hopefully they’ll thrive on the little shelf we created for them over the compost bin. This area gets direct sun for a few hours a day.  The plants are light in color right now, and hopefully they’ll perk up a bit.

We’ve been fertilizing and spraying over the past few days.  There’s been a rejuvenation of the plants in the garden.  David and I are done with summer vacation, and we’ll have time to maintain our plants better.


The squashes on the A-frame have fruit!  There are two sugar baby watermelons in the back, and three Pinnacle spaghetti squash in the front.  The Kazakh melon on the left is almost wild, but it hasn’t set fruit in a while.  On the back left, the Malali watermelon vine is growing over the cattle panel trellis and has yet to have a melon on it.  I just pulled out the sweet dumpling squash and two cantaloupe that never did much.


The Pinnacle squash grows on a compact non-branching vine.  While we were on vacation, the vine made it’s way to the inside of the trellis and started to fruit.  I tucked it back through, and hope I can train the new baby to grow on the outside of the wire.


The hairy Malali watermelon finally has a baby melon.  This one is about the size of my thumbnail, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’s a healthy enough plant to start producing fruit.


Buttercup squash have been our most prolific this year.  Of course, we did plant three extra plants by mistake, so it makes sense that we have the most of this variety.  The vines are half dead in some places.  The leaves that were covered in powdery mildew now look great.  We have one squash that’s about ready to be picked and about five that are at this stage.


Even the sprawling Kazakh melon has baby fruit.  Most of them seem to fall off and die, so I’m not keeping my fingers crossed.

The cattle panel arch is now full of buttercup squash, Malali watermelon (cutting through the top), and half dead Kazakh melon on the right side.


This picture was taken before David sprayed the leaves.  They now have no visible white on them.  The plant on the left is the buttercup squash that I hacked back before vacation.


Our crookneck yellow squash is finally looking healthy and producing squash!  In front of it, hiding at this angle, is a new acorn squash to climb the trellis.  On the right are two Sunburst yellow zucchini.  The far right are leaves from a buttercup squash that wants to take over the garden.

Luckily the squash is pretty well confined to the trellis.  Behind it, in the same bed, the eggplant are finally getting big and flowering like mad.


Two of the Japanese eggplants are ready to be harvested. The biggest plant (left) is a Rosa Bianca.  The borage in the foreground used to be quite stunted, and it’s finally growing well.  I must remember to pick the flowers while making a salad.

The beans along the fence are finishing up.  Half of the scarlet runner beans are drying out and the asparagus beans have less flowers.  I decided to plant more of both along the fence, and see what more we’ll get this season.


I started new zucchini seeds, but decided to keep our old one.  The twists of the leaves off of the main vine show it’s resilience.  There is new fruit coming, so our kitchen is happy.


On the other side of the garden, the zinnias and arugula are doing well.  The tomatillos are growing, although the plant looks like it’s had better days. In this picture the tomatoes look like they’re on fire, but they’re fine.


Here they are!  The tomatoes are working out well with their Florida weave.  This is the one area of the entire yard where we have red slicing tomatoes.  The little leaf cucumbers are phasing out, but the larger leaved Straight 8 is producing away.  Currently the one vine has about six fruits growing.  We’re debating trying to squeeze in another round of cucumber plants.  I did plant some Mexican Sour Gherkins; we’re looking forward to something very different.


Under the apricot tree, the golden yarrow has shot up more blooms.  This little plant has come such a long way from when I found it under a trailer.


Also next to the apricot tree and yarrow is our new Verbena bonariensis.  My friend Sheila gave me the seeds and this one was in the nursery for a long time.  I planted it before vacation, and am thrilled to see it’s tall flowers.  Just as I hoped, I’ve seen small pollinators and butterflies on the flowers.  (I saw a tiger swallowtail in the garden the other day, but not on this plant.)


On the other side of the backyard, the fruits are coming.  The avocados are getting bigger, promising a fall harvest. The Ponderosa lemon tree has a few lemons growing and the banana tree is starting to flower.


The rack is on the tallest tree, hanging over the neighbor’s fence.  The flower looks huge and will hopefully provide us with way more bananas than we can possibly eat.  Last year we ended up cutting down the tree too soon, and the bananas didn’t ripen.  The lure of using a machete got us but we’ve learned our lesson in patience.


The huge nasturtium that gave us many pickled nasturtium pods has babies growing.  The plants nearby in mystery garden are ready to pick from, but they haven’t had as many seeds at once as the old plant.  Hopefully the offspring will be good seed producers, like the parent plant.

The tomatoes in the side yard are so funny to look at.  The huge one on the left is the Isis Candy cherry tomato, which we’ve been enjoying in our salads.  Next to it is the Jaune Flamme, which seems to be just about done with producing tomatoes, and a San Marzano. The gap has carrots and radishes that are about ready to pick and then the sad looking Indigo Rose.  We recently roasted a bunch of Indigo Rose, and I’ll be pulling the plant out when my nursery starts to grow.


Here we have the bushiest San Marzano ever.  To the left of it is a cage with a Black Krim tomato and on the right is a red pepper plant.


The serrano pepper has finally started to flower and produce peppers!  It’s just in time, as our jalepeno is finishing up and looking sad.


The banana pepper doesn’t look so great either.  Our purple basil looks great.  I have yet to find a way to use large amounts of the fragrant leaves.


David and I are excited about the lemon grass.  We have noticed that Rosie likes to eat the tips off of the leaves.  We’re trying to discourage this behavior, but Rosie spends a lot more time outside than we do.


The annual flower bed in the front yard is a bit overgrown, but it’s mostly overgrown with cosmos.


It’s a great pleasure to look out the front windows and doors and see huge arrays of bright flowers.

To me, growing plants and flowers is what summer is all about.



It’s a weird time of year

I’ve been reading about planting the fall crops.  I know back in those places where they have a winter, there’s a push to get vegetables in before a hard frost.  Here in Southern California, we don’t worry about frost (our problem is simply heat and shorter daylight).

I’ll post a tour of the garden soon, and you can see for yourself how things look.  We have plants that are smaller and recovering and we have plants that are about ready to be pulled out.  Last week I transplanted a yellow zucchini, some bush beans, a few cilantro and a pumpkin.

I’ve been meaning to get outside and do more work.


Rosie is always eager to spend time in the garden. We decided today would be a good day for starting more seeds.


David and I ate lunch by the table I had prepped (notice his foot) and then I got to work with the seeds.  I planted many things including buttercrunch lettuce (heads), cilantro, romanesco, brussel sprouts, red and green pak choi and basil.

Last September was quite warm, so I planted both warm and cool season vegetables.  We’ll see what germinates, where we have space (there’s a couple of tomatoes ready to be pulled out) and figure out the plan for the beds as we go.

David has been adding layers to the lasagna beds and sprayed everything for powdery mildew.


He used his Ghostbusters-style backpack to spray the plants, filling it with water, milk, baking soda, dishsoap and apple cider vinegar. It was fun to watch him spray the plants, and the powdery mildew just came off the surface!  Hopefully this will help save our young leaves from dying.


There was a calm breeze today, which Shadow appreciated.  I took this after he chased the curtain cord up onto the ledge.

The cats have also been stalking critters outside.


This skipper (I think) landed on a squash leaf in the backyard.


Of course, Mardi enjoyed the sunshine and breeze more than chasing the butterflies.

Hopefully we’ll keep the breeze, as the still air is what can make the next couple of months feel warmer than they are. For now, we have a cool evening, which David is using to roast red kuri squash and cauliflower.  Our kitchen is full of vegetables in need of cooking, and we’re excited to get going!



The Canned Finale

Ah, summer vacation.  For me, it’s wrapping up and next week I switch back into prepping for the school year.  I’ve spent the past two days in the kitchen making sure that I get as much done as possible before time is up.

David and I just returned from a two week road trip (which explains my blogging absence).  I’m going to try to keep this post short, with mostly pictures of food, but there’s a lot that grew while we were gone.

Before we left we majorly trimmed the winter squashes and melons.  After being sprayed for powdery mildew, many of the leaves died.  I got a bit excited with my pruning shears and took down most of the buttercup and red kuri squash plants. The plants were not looking that healthy to begin with, and did not have any new fruit.  We picked what fruit was there, hoping they would set more fruit while we were gone.


We picked our Kazakh melons!  (We had one earlier in the season, bringing our grand total from the sprawling vine to three melons.) They were sweet with a honeydew-like consistency.

We also harvested three pinnacle spaghetti squash, two buttercup squash and four red kuri squash (we ate one before heading out of town).


As we don’t have a root cellar, we’ve put them in the hall closet to store for a while.  I’m a bit embarrassed about the state of the closet, but I’m sure you all recognize the important tools like a salad spinner, food dehydrator, crock pot and lots of towels! The box under the towels holds the canned goods that don’t fit in our pantry.

Before vacation we decided to try canning whole tomatoes in water (Ball Book recipe).  After we make enough sauce and salsa to last the year, we’ll do this again at the end of the season.

Prepping for canning tomatoes, LittleLAGarden

I’ve been getting a system down for canning.  Whole tomatoes requires skinning them first.  I prefer to do this with David’s help, but I think he was outside working in the yard when I did it this time.  Yard work is just as important.


We canned three quart jars of mixed tomatoes.  I love the mixed colors and hope the mixed flavors work just as well!  We used San Marzanos, Indigo Rose, Jaune Flamme and our neighbor’s mystery slicing tomatoes.

Our neighbor helped keep an eye on our cats and garden when we were gone.  We returned a couple of days earlier than we originally planned, and he told us that he had planned on mowing our lawn for us before we got back.  It’s great to have good neighbors!


The first thing we saw when we got back is two Sugar Baby Watermelons hanging from our A-frame squash/melon trellis!  They’re not mature yet, but they look like they’re getting there quickly.  I’ve read up on how to tell if a watermelon is ready to pick, but I’d love some advice if anyone has some.

The morning after we returned, I woke up early and went outside to harvest our veggies.


Our Little Leaf pickling cucumbers were the size of normal slicing cucumbers.  I wonder if I should have been picking them at this size the entire season.  One of the two plants on the ladder held six large cucumbers clustered tightly together.  Notice at the top of the plant, there are still more coming.  These are an impressive hybrid!


Between the two vines in the front and the three in the back, I picked quite a few cucumbers.  We set aside two for salads, and I began slicing and dicing the remaining cucumbers.  After weighing it out, I decided to make a three jars of bread and butter pickles, a half batch of Indian relish and a full batch of pickle relish.


Of course, each recipe had a different prep and lots of chopping.  I did all of the prep one day, and then the canning the second day.  I also sliced up the smaller parts of the zucchini for zucchini pickles.


The bread and butter pickles needed to be salted and iced.  Last batch we made was from the Ball Blue Book, this batch was from Put ’em Up!  We’re quite excited about this new (to us) cookbook and also used the Indian and Pickle relishes from it.

The bread and butter pickles look so pretty while they’re cooking.  This recipe didn’t seem too sweet and seemed to have just the right amount of liquid.

And our three jars!

I’m just getting started now.

The zucchini pickles have a similar process.


They had to salt and ice for two hours.

Then instead of cooking the zucchini in the brine, they were supposed to soak in it for two hours THEN come to a boil.


I decided that these would have to wait until the next day, as I had a lot going on already.  So, they went into the fridge while in their brine.  Hopefully they won’t be too soggy.  To attempt to compensate, we’re going to throw a grape leaf (thanks to our neighbor) in each jar.

The relishes took the most time.  We also have the most jars of them!


The Indian Relish (top) contains cucumber, onion, carrot and cauliflower.  It is seasoned with cider vinegar, curry powder, turmeric, mustard powder (which I ground myself), and fresh ginger.


We canned six 4 ounce jars and four 8 ounce jars of this fragrant pickle that will be a great addition to our dinners.

I’m having a hard time accepting the pickle relish because of how it looks.  Earlier this summer I made a sweet relish that looks bright and colorful in the jar. The pickle relish is brown and dingy with flecks of celery seed.


Our pickle relish is also with cider vinegar.  The brown is from ground allspice, peppercorns and celery seed.  Typically we grind our own allspice, but I dug around the cabinets and found some pre-ground that I brought back from Belize a few years ago.

I hope that was a smart decision.

And now the tomatoes.


The Indigo Rose are beautiful, a little meaty and not that strong of a flavor.  They are consistent in size.  All of this makes them perfect for roasting, which will concentrate their flavor.


The amount that we had fit perfectly on two trays.  I sliced them, brushed them with olive oil, and then sprinkled them salt, pepper and fresh thyme. They were roasted in the oven at 275 for about 4 hours.  After they cooled, I put them in a ziploc and tossed them in the freezer to be used.

I also have one tray of cherry tomatoes to roast.  Roasting is perfect for cherry tomatoes that split, and our Isis Candy have been splitting like crazy these days.


The San Marzanos are ready!!  They are perfect: large, meaty and very few holes.

These will make a great salsa (later) and make a great tomato sauce (now).


The San Marzanos were added to a sauce pot with a chopped onion and a handful of garlic cloves.  We kept the sauce simple so that we can add more to it when we use it.  After it cooked for a bit, we used an immersion blender to chop up the chunks.  When it was thick enough, we canned the sauce (with a little bit of lemon juice to assure the right acidity) and processed it for 35 minutes.


We figured out that a full bowl makes 8 pints of beautiful sauce. The small jars for when we make pizza.  We decided that we need to make one more batch of sauce this summer, and we’ll be good for the year.  From looking at the plants, we think that we’ll easily have enough for that and for canning salsa.

While we didn’t make tomato salsa (this time), we did make a salsa verde.


I picked all the large tomatillos that I found out back.  There are many more coming from the two plants in the back yard.  And our two purple tomatillos in the front yard are finally starting to set fruit.

As we planned on canning the salsa verde, I decided to follow the Ball Book recipe.  I also included some green tomatoes that came off the plants while I was tidying them up.


I added onion, garlic, the one jalepeno we had growing, crushed red pepper, vinegar,and lime juice.


After it cooked down a bit, we used the immersion blender to chop it up. When we tasted it, we decided to put in a little sugar also.


We made three pints and two half pints.  The sauce is a little thin for a dipping salsa, but will be perfect for enchiladas!

Our dining room table is full of jars.  My next step is trying to make space in that closet for more jars.  I’m also working on arranging a food swap in my town.  We tried to register for the Los Angeles one, and it “sold out” in 4 minutes!!  We figure that means it’s time to start another one.  With all of our food that we just made, it’s hard to think about parting with any of it, but it’s exciting to think about exchanging it for things we haven’t made.

As I look at the window, I see a cucumber that needs to be picked.  Looks like it’s time to think about the next round of canning.  Oh wait, I mean it’s time to think about heading back to teaching.

backyard farming pic