Black radishes

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Just harvested out first two gnarly black radishes. Our plan is to sample and refrigerator pickle them. There are lots more that will be ready (hopefully) in a month.

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Avocado regrowth

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Each weekend has passed quickly without time for blogging. We’ve been planting our fall garden and already have many greens and radishes growing. Last weeks we started seed flats with 5 varieties of cabbage, 3 kinds of broccoli and more. Garlic and shallots are going in the weekend and maybe we’ll have time to make tomato sauce (as we’re still getting San Marzanos).

I’ll try to post pictures more often, and keep posts shorter.

Yesterday I noticed that our stump branch on the avocado tree is resprouting! We’re hoping that this will mean we can actually reach the avocados in the future. Until then, our neighbor who is a roofer offered to help us get down frui.

Dragonfruit!!

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.   

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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And our three jars!

I’m just getting started now.

The zucchini pickles have a similar process.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Eggplants, powdery mildew and figs

David has been busy in the yard, playing with power tools.  We have one final stretch of morning glories to get rid of.  Yes, they’re beautiful.  I’m sure that anyone not in California would be happy to have these plants.  But here, they live year after year, stacking on top of each other until…

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It creates a tangled mess probably full of toxic mold and dust.  To be fair, it could be healthy to breathe in the dust that flies out when we touch the dead vines, but we’re both very cautious.  We’ve also decided it’s time to clear out the morning glories from the fence completely.  This process will take a long time.  David has perfected the method, as he originally cleared our garden space this past January.

For now, David used the string trimmer to cut a border along the bottom of the vines. Many of the vines have begun to die, which made me sad to see this morning, even though I thought I had come to terms with their death.  The hummingbirds have been more active recently; I even saw one hovering in front of the kitchen window and it looked at me.

The morning glories were cut at the roots to make space for our new irrigation in the backyard.  Because our house has weird plumping, we decided to run a 100ft hose down the side of the driveway, and then lay soaker hose in the garden. We’ll then have it on a timer and watering can happen with ease.

The tomato, tomatillo and cucumber plants in the former-morning-glory-filled-back-garden are looking really healthy!

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The delicata squash (left) and cucumber (little leaf on right) recently got powdery mildew, like most of our back yard squashes.  The straight 8 cucumber (larger leaves on tripod) is much healthier.  We’re still picking cucumbers and David recently mixed up a milk, Dr. Bronners, baking soda and apple cider vinegar spray to help with the powdery mildew.  Ask if you want to know more about it, as I know he did research into ratios and rationale.

In the back left, you’ll see the basil.  After the pictures I cut back all of our basil and made about two and a half dozen pesto ice cubes to use later.  We added parsley to this batch of pesto, which helps cut the strong flavor as well as keep it more green for future use.
P1020504We have a small zinnia patch, and we’re loving it.

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The eggplants are finally starting to do something!  Most of our pots have stunted peppers and eggplants.  After the fertilizing, and then a fish emulsion treatment, they have finally started to grow!  Again, we’re lucky to be in Los Angeles as our hottest months can be August and September.

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In the backyard, the rosa bianca has a cage around it to protect it from Rosie’s trampling.  Rosie follows us around the garden while we’re working.  She doesn’t notice if there are plants in the way, as she just wants us to throw her ball.

The above picture has two rosa bianca and two japanese eggplants.

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And the japanese eggplant is starting to grow!

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We cheated a little with the poblano peppers in the front yard pots.  When we were at the farmers market last week, the plant guy had beautiful plants and we decided to buy two since ours were stunted.   P1020521

Our tomatoes, for the most part, are doing great!  There aren’t as many flowers as I’d like.  The black krim that we planted late is finally starting to flower, if you can see it there next to the giant bushy San Marzano.

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The San Marzano is laden with green tomatoes, and we’re getting our sauce pot and salsa recipes in order while waiting.

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Next to the San Marzano, I planted arugula, a couple of green onions and a celery plant. The celery is in the foreground, if you can see it without being distracted by Rosie or the giant pepper! We were waiting for it to turn red, but decided today that it was time to pick it.

Lastly, our neighbors have a fig tree that borders the fence.

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Last year I cut back their tree, because it smelled like cat pee.  I love figs.  I think legally even though they’re on our side of the fence, the figs belong to them.  We’re thinking about picking a few.  We could ask our neighbors first.

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Mardi doesn’t want me to mention it, but being the dominant cat in our territory, it’s possible that the figs could smell like cat pee again this season.

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Critters

These days we have had many wildlife spottings in our urban oasis.  As a child, our garden was home to snakes, deer, rabbits, turtles, chipmunks and even the occasional gopher or mole. We have a different ball game in our Los Angeles garden.  We’ve spotted raccoons and opossum, but most of our visitors are insects and birds, with an occasional lizard.

Remember that moment in spring when everyone and everything is searching for a mate?  I am reminded often these days, because I’m spotting parents teaching their newborn babies how to behave.

For the past few days, we’ve been watching a pair of black phoebe’s hanging out in our garden.   

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When I’ve gone outside to photograph them, they’ve moved away a little bit.  They are always together, or one is calling to the other.

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I wish you could see the little tuxedos that black phoebes where- they’re one of my favorite birds!  I’m sure the little fledgling will move on soon.  Until then, it’s fun to spot them perched on our tomato cages; David and I hope they eat the bad bugs not the good.

Last week I attended a training on an urban ecology curriculum at the Center for Urban Resilience where I had the pleasure to meet an animal behavior professor who specializes in crow behavior.  We learned about how crows can live for over 30 years in the same area, and are the second most intelligent animal on the planet.

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This is the palm in front of our house.  If you look closely, you’ll see there are two crows here.  These two have been noisy recently. The day I came home from learning about crows, I noticed they were squawking at each other.  So, I asked about it the next day and was told that the parents are reprimanding the baby crows this time of year. I’m not sure, but my guess is the baby is the one on the right.

I pulled some long grasses and weeds from the front bed.  I plan to re-pot the succulents soon so I prepared the area around them.

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I found one of our baby praying mantises after pulling weeds!  It was camera shy, starting to run when I pointed the camera at it.

So I grabbed it.  The mantid lept from my fingers, I scooped it up again and pointed the camera at my hand.

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It’s alien-like face cracks me up.  This little guy seemed curious why I was holding it. After snapping my photo, I dropped it again and then grabbed it to place it on the nasturtiums.  Slippery little one.

We have more critters, and evidence of them, in the back yard.

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There are squirrels that visit the avocado trees.  Sometimes we we spot them; Rosie usually sees them first.  Usually we find signs that they have come around because they leave their leftovers on the ground for us to compost.

The avocados are growing and our October harvest looks promising.

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The Bacon avocado tree will have it’s larger crop this fall, while the Zutano will have its smaller one.

Both trees are going to have a much smaller harvest, because they were pruned… probably for the first time ever.  P1020511

Pruned is a gentle word for what was done.

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There used to be a large branch practically resting on David’s red SUV. Now we will need our neighbor’s roofing ladder to pick any of the avocadoes that mature.  Sometimes the squirrels help us out by nibbling on a corner, and then knocking them down.  It’s probably not the best practice, but I just cut off their corner and eat my side of the fruit.

While our avocado harvest will be smaller, our mint harvest is not in jeopardy.

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The mint is flowering and the flies love it!  It’s kinda gross to see so many flies swarming around the flowers.  I just try to remember that it’s important to have all sorts of critters and pollinators in the garden.  We’ll be pruning the mint that is growing over the sidewalk, so I just brought a huge bunch into the house as a bouquet.

In the backyard garden, we also have flies on the borage.

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The borage with the ants and aphids will get pulled out this week. This is the other borage flower, near the eggplants and squash. I love the colors on this fly!

I try to snap insect pictures when I can. (Sometimes I catch the insect in the process.)  The last picture to share today is from over a week ago.  I just finished posting a blog, and went outside to pick tomatoes.  And I found this guy:

IMG_2102As it was so large, we considered keeping it to watch it pupate.  Then I read that the cocoons are buried in the soil.  We haven’t had a hornworm problem (this is the only one I’ve ever seen in three years) so we let it be.  Hopefully this isn’t a sign of what’s to come.

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Trellised melons, squashes and our first okra

With summer in full swing, we’ve noticed more growth and vibrancy in the garden.  Our neighbors have a pool on one of the adjacent walls, and we often hear children splashing and smell grilled meat in the air.  It’s quite odd to be working in the garden and hear the sounds of play in the city.

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The vines on the back fence are growing well, but they still aren’t cutting it with covering the fence.  I just transplanted two more scarlet runner beans, and may toss in a few more pole beans.  The morning glories did a much more through job of hiding our neighbors from us.

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When I was next to the fence, I looked at the section in between the garage and the fence, and found Mardi sleeping away!  I ran inside to get David (and the camera) and he still didn’t wake, as we were quiet.  Once us humans continued to poke around the garden, the needy cat awoke and started meowing at us.

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The two squash trellises are holding up. The melons and squashes are each climbing on their own. On the left is buttercup (big leaves), Kazakh melon (small) and Malali watermelon (on cattle panel by wall, but hard to see).  There’s a sugar baby watermelon on the far right side of the A-frame, by the window.  Next year we’ll move the A-frame; I plan to put a window box under the window.

The right hand side is mostly part of the Kazakh melon!  It’s quite a climber, has three large melons and tons of small ones.  I’ve been making sure the plant gets plenty of water, as I think it suffered a little from our vacation.

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The Kazakh melon has a visitor.

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The Sugar Baby watermelons are starting!  There are a few of them, and each has hooked itself over the wire, preparing to grow on the trellis. These little guys are so fuzzy; it was a little surprising for me.

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We’re getting more buttercup squash, and have two that are nearly ready to pick.

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I planted a small parsley patch (and two spinach plants) under the squash A-frame.  We hope that it is shady enough to grow these without them bolting.

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Rosie, as always, enjoys hanging out in the garden with us.  She finds the best shady spots to relax.  I think she’s just as happy with the new arch as we are!

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Our delicata squash has five new squashes coming!  Five!  That’s great, especially because these are the only ones on the entire plant.

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Our string beans are sad.  I planted new ones in the nursery and plan to transplant them in.  Gardening in a new bed, I think this area dried out too quickly after watering.  When the new ones are ready to transplant, I’d like to dig in compost and worm castings to prepare the area. I planted two salvia here to spruce up the area in the meantime.

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Our tomatillos are starting to take over. The ant/aphid covered borage hasn’t flowered in a long time. It looks like it has buds forming.  Near the wall are three tomato plants that David staked using the Florida weave technique, more or less.  We’re happy with the support technique and may use it more in future.

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We picked our first two okra!  I’m hoping that it stays hot enough for them.  I just planted a Santa Fe Grande pepper behind them.

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There will be more cucumbers in a couple of days.  Looks like I’ll be making pickles again this weekend, and have just selected a fermented pickle recipe.  It’s almost time to play with lacto-fermentation!

This week I’m hoping to get the last of the transplanting done (for now) and play in the kitchen a little.  I’m at a training for work during the day, so I don’t have hours to spend canning.  Although, David says he’ll make the peach-jalepeno jam that still needs to get made.

The peaches are telling us it’s time!

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