Reporting my best and worst varieties, my loves and grumbles for the growing year. Here goes.Read More
or, What to Do With All this Squash?
Saving and Savoring Last Year's Goodness
Processing and Recipes, never buy canned again
2017 was a great year for keeper squash. My Boston Marrow, Butternut, Greek Sweet Red and Stella Blue all produced copius amounts of food. One-third of one bed produced 200 lbs for me. I visited a friend recently and found a wheelbarrow full of butternut squashes in his garage. A good problem to have, but what to do with it all?
Keeper squash, aka winter squash, are planted in spring, but are harvested in fall and keep well for months if stored in cool, dry conditions. My garage became the haphazard root cellar, and we enjoyed squash all winter. Now that it's spring planting season again, I'm feeling the need to process what's left and move on to summer veggies.
My solution is simple. Bake it, puree it, and freeze it.
Simple Baked, Pureed Squash
• Cut the stem and blossom end off of your squash
• Cut the squash in half and scrape out the seeds and fiber*
• If your squash is large, cut into manageable pieces
• Place the pieces on a baking tray, pour 1/4 cup of water into the tray
• Bake at 350° until tender, about 40 minutes. Cool.
• Scrape the flesh from the skin, place in a food processor, and process until smooth.
• Fill your jars with the puree, and freeze.
*If you've got large, plump seeds like Boston Marrow, you can rinse them, pat dry, and roast them with olive oil and salt until crisp. Delicious snack!
I use the puree for creamy smooth squash soup, add it to smoothies (it makes them thick and delicious), and my favorite--Buckwheat Pumpkin Pancakes. Recipe below.
Buckwheat Pumpkin Pancakes
1 Cup buckwheat flour
1 Tbls brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 Cup (approx.) lowfat buttermilk (or 1 Cup young coconut milk...yum!)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 Cup pureed keeper squash
In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk or coconut milk, vanilla and eggs together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the pureed squash. If the mix is too thick and pasty, add a bit more buttermilk. The batter should be just thin enough to level itself out on the griddle, but not run or spread thin.
Ladle a portion of batter onto a buttered or greased skillet over medium heat. When the top begins to bubble and the bottom is golden, turn the pancake and cook until the bottom is golden.
Enjoy your tender, moist, fluffy, healthy, hearty pancakes.
How We Plant
Here's a guide to how we plant our tomato beds, step by step. The amendments noted (except the aspirin and eggshells of course) can be purchased at nurseries, hydroponic stores, and many hardware stores.
What You'll Need:
• Fish Meal
• Worm Castings
• Organic Fertilizer, such as Down to Earth All-Purpose
• Crushed Aspirin
• Crushed Eggshells
1. Weed your bed. If you have a digging fork, it's easy to loosen the soil over the whole bed and pull the weeds out of the loosened soil. No need to turn the soil, just loosen it.
2. Spread a 2" layer of compost over your bed. As you dig planting holes the compost will begin to filter into the soil, allowing air into our compacted soils.
3. Dig your planting hole as deep as the height of the whole plant. Throw a handful of compost into the hole and loosen the edges and bottom of the hole. The compost will mix in a bit.
4. Add the goodies. Into the hole, put in a small handful each of fish meal, worm castings, and organic fertilizer. Add 2 each of crushed aspirin and eggshells. Mix it up, spreading the amendments around the hole. Add an inch or so of soil over the amendments.
5. Now it's time to plant. Clip the lower leaves off of the tomato plant (don't cut the stem), up to about mid-stem. You should now have a stem with leaves only in the top half of the plant. Remove the plant from the pot and gently pull apart the root ball--just enough to lose the shape of the pot. This encourages the roots to grow outward and down, instead of circling around. Place the plant into the hole so that all of the root ball and the naked part of the stem that had the leaves removed is below the soil line (the buried stem will produce roots for a healthy, more productive plant). Backfill the hole gently. DON'T tamp the soil down! You can pat the soil in place, but you don't want to compact it. Make a donut-shaped moat 12-14" in diameter around the plant, so that you have a trough to apply water to that will sink in around the plant without soaking the stem or running away from the plant.
6. Water. Fill the moat around your plant with water and let in sink in. Repeat 2 more times.
7. Mulch your bed. You'll water a LOT less and improve your soil condition. I like using 2"-4" of compost as mulch in my tomato beds.
Watering: Less is Best!
For the first few weeks, while your plant is getting established, water enough to keep the root ball moist, but not overly wet. Don't rely on sight. Soil, especially clay soil, can look bone dry on the surface yet be wet just a couple of inches down. Stick your fingers down into the soil and see how moist it feels at root depth.
After your plant is established, decrease your watering frequency so that roots will go deeper and wider for water. Think deep, less frequent waterings. You may only need to water once per week now, depending on your soil and weather. Too much water will stress your plants and make them more susceptible to disease.
For the best tasting tomatoes, reduce watering even further once fruit is set. Too much water makes tomatoes taste bland and watery, and can cause them to crack more easily. Again, think deep, infrequent water.
Every 4 weeks, move the mulch away from your plant and work a handful of fish meal into the soil, and water it in. Be sure to move the mulch back in place.
Best wishes for a productive garden!
It was the winter of amazing rain, and I expected a good growing year. All in all, I think it was. In our regional parks, it was a stunning grass year. I remember being in Briones in mid-May and the hills were still incredibly lush and green, the grasses thicker than I an ever remember.
In my garden, tomatoes did well, as did hot peppers. Sweet peppers took a long time though. What really did well though, was squash. I had a bumper crop of keeper squashes. In fact, I still have an embarrassing amount in storage now, so much that I've been requested to not grow any this year. Rodgers Ranch struggled with leaky irrigation lines and other challenges early in the season, so they got off to a shaky start. All worked out, though, and they had a good year.
Here's my somewhat annual list of varieties that caught my attention, good and bad. Tomatoes first, then the rest.
Best Newcomer: Cream
Oh my, what a find! This became the new favorite cherry of several people I talked with. Super sweet and fruity, and ridiculously productive. It rivaled Blondkopfchen in volume, and that's saying something! I grew mine in a corner of a raised bed, and I had to keep hacking it back to keep from smothering everything nearby. It was the first to produce ripe fruit, and the last plant to give up in winter. Honestly the easiest, happiest tomato plant of the lot.
The Worst, well sort of: Blue Boar Berry
Are you old enough to remember wax fruit--the perfect, pretty colorful, fake edibles in Grandma's decorative fruit bowl? That's what Blue Boar Berry reminded me of. Perfect and postcard pretty, yet best left to look at, not to eat. The plant was healthy, it produced well enough, and it was a good size for picking. The bummer was it just didn't taste like...anything. Bleh. I let them hang on the vine forever, thinking they'd develop more sugar or some semblance of flavor, and they did neither.
The All-stars, Every Year:
It's the same three poster children (+1) as last year, and most years. They really do well here and have stellar flavor. If you want consistent, top notch varieties, these do well for most gardeners in our area.
Ananas Noir: Amazing flavor as usual. Our most popular variety. A tropical sweet flavor bomb with psychedelic colored flesh.
Sudduth Brandywine: My personal favorite, every year. The quintessential heirloom. Very balanced, rich flavor without big acid. Another good year for this one.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Not quite as productive as years past, but still unmatched for flavor. Another great heirloom. Sweet, subtle and juicy, with great texture and a reasonably thin skin.
Azoychka: Always early, always easy, and tomato with great flavor. I'm so glad I found this variety.
The Rest of the Good and Bad:
JD's Special: Production was fantastic, you could feed an army from this plant. It was hardy, sturdy, and totally easy. Flavor was good. I had fruit well into winter. I'm pleased to bring this one back for 2018. Highly recommended.
Blue Gold: A beautiful, productive, yet totally underwhelming tomato. Countless times I went to the tomato beds and there were loads of these smooth, golden, lovely fruits with deep blue caps, begging to be picked. And I'd walk past them. Meh. Not invited back.
Bear Creek: My favorite black tomato in 2017! A nice, medium-large, mahogany brown beefsteak with wonderful rich flavor. I gave some away to friends and they raved about this one. It produced reasonably well.
Amazon Chocolate: This one confused me. It produced really well early in the season, and the flavor was good. Then, as the season wore on, it became less productive and much less flavorful. Exactly the opposite of what most varieties do. In late summer it gave up altogether. I'm not inclined to bring it back in 2018.
Marianna's Peace: Fantastic! It rated way up on my list, rivaling Julia Child and Dester for flavor, and it produced very well. While it was my first year growing and offering this one, it's a much loved heirloom. I'll bring it back for 2018.
Bear Claw: For a large beefsteak, this one produced early, and quite well for a while. Then it was the first to give up and die. Flavor-wise it was fine. Not bad, not great. There are better red beefsteaks, so I'll pass on this one.
Tobolsk: I really love this tomato. For three years running, it has been a great variety. It produces very well, the flavor is one of the best, and the fruit is smooth and pretty. It's coming back for 2018. I highly recommend this one.
Hatch Green (Big Jim): Absolutely delicious! IMO, there is no better chili flavor than a roasted green hatch. These plants were amazingly productive. The plants were weighed down all summer and into winter with big, long, mildly hot chilis. I stuffed mine with Manchego cheese and grilled them and they were the bomb.
Jalmundo Jalapeño: The best jalapeños. Large, thick fleshed, and super crisp. I know jalapeños are cheap and available at any market, but really, these are superior. Super productive plants pumped out lots of chilis, for a very long season.
Habanada: A totally new taste experience. I was very excited about growing this new, heatless habañero, and it was a winner! They were truly heat-free, which allowed the sweet, floral, citrusy flavors to come forward. At first bite, your taste buds tingle as though a super hot and very painful thing is about to happen, but then it doesn't. I loved these. They did take a long time to produce, but once they started, there were lots of them.
Boston Marrow: I always love this keeper squash, and 2017 was a super year for this one, as with all my keeper squashes. I got quite a few 30lb+ bright orange, delicious squash. If you have room, I highly recommend growing this one.
Luffa: Not so much an edible, but useful and cool looking luffa sponges. Vines were vigorous and produced lots of long, large fruits, that are dried and used for scrubbing. Really easy to grow.
Zataar Oregano: I'm so pleased with this middle eastern oregano variety. It's hardy yet polite, and the flavor is far better and less pungent than greek oregano. It is quite happy in my garden right now, and I'm happy to have it.
Cucumbers: No love from cucumbers this time. None of mine did well. Maybe an anomaly in my garden. Or maybe it was other vigorous plants invading their space and bullying them into submission. Could be.
There it is, and here we go into 2018. Based on germination of this year's crop, I'm guessing it will be the year of herbs. Many that I've had trouble producing in the past are happily coming along. We'll see.
See you out there.
Tilling is an age old response to compacted earth, but we now know that it creates many problems, including the same problems we seek to remedy! Here's 5 reasons to leave that rototiller in the shed.Read More
The concept behind using ollas--vase shaped, unglazed terra cotta vessels with lids, is to bury them in a garden bed, fill them with water periodically, and plant around them. Water slowly wicks into the soil surrounding the unglazed ollas, where plant roots colonize.Read More
When most of us think of rainwater capture, we think of rain barrels, tanks, or cisterns. That’s ok, but it presents a couple of problems—cost and space. Installing a storage system that holds a meaningful amount of water gets expensive. It would also take a proportionally large amount of space from my postage-stamp-sized property.Read More
We know about self watering containers, but how about self watering garden beds?
|Ollas before they were buried, placed about 4 or 4-1/2' apart in my beds.|
|Buried up to their chins and filled with water. Now just waiting to see how the plants like it!|
From what I've read, olla irrigation has been traced back as far as 4000 years in China, and is thought to originate in Africa. It is and has been used by cultures all over the world.
Water tends to seep through the wide, bulbous part of the pot which is deeper in the soil, not through the neck, so the surface soil stays on the dry side. The surface soil would act like mulch, reducing evaporation. With the surface soil dry, it is said that fewer weeds will germinate. I will still mulch deeply, to keep as much moisture in the soil as possible, and keep the soil life happy and thriving.
- Amend your soil. Work lots of compost as deeply as you can into your beds—up to 24” deep. Loose soil with organic matter encourages bigger, deeper root systems that can find moisture and nutrients. Your plants will be healthier and tastier too!
- Plant intensively and with diversity. Leaving lots of space between plants makes for lots of exposed areas that dry out and compact quickly. While you don’t want to crowd your plants to the point where you lose production, you can tuck different plants into bare spaces. For instance, if you plant your tomatoes 24” apart, you can tuck some herbs, peppers, and beneficial flowers in between. It’s pretty and all the plants tend to do better. The soil stays covered (which slows evaporation) and the plants tend to take care of each other.
- Mulch! This will drastically reduce the amount of water your beds need. Once planted, mulch your garden beds with several inches of organic matter. You can use compost, straw, fir bark, dead leaves or wood chips to layer over your beds. You will be amazed how moist the soil below will stay. It’s like an insulation layer. It also tempers heat and cold.
- Water judiciously. The fact is, overwatering is a very common error gardeners make. We want so badly to take good care of our plants, and watering seems like such a kind and nurturing thing to do! We tend to water when we feel it’s hot, and when the ground looks dry. Just because it looks dry on the surface though, doesn’t mean it’s dry 6” down. Get in the habit of poking down into the soil periodically and feeling with your fingers or hand. If it’s moist, you shouldn't need to water.
We thought a curbside sale would be in order in April, but the plants got together and voted for this weekend instead. How could I say no?
The plants are prime right now, so come by and get your garden going!
Each year we grow tomatoes and peppers in the ground, in containers, and in raised beds. Almost always, the plants grown in-ground out perform the others. What, you ask? In our heavy soils? For most of us here in the Diablo valley, our soils are high in clay. Heavy, sticky, compacted, hard as concrete, cracks-open-in the-summer clay. Frustrating. The upside, though, is that clay typically holds nutrients well and transfers those nutrients to plants well, and when we prep and maintain our beds appropriately, our soils produce great gardens.
Our practices have evolved over the years as we observe our gardens and become more educated about soil. The fact is, there is an entire universe living below our feet. It's an incredibly complex and diverse ecosystem that, when kept healthy, is responsible for producing and nurturing healthy, abundant plant life.
For quite awhile we've advocated double-digging beds. We still do as an initial step in establishing a bed. We used to double dig each spring; however, we are evolving out of it as a yearly practice because it disturbs soil life too much on a continuum. Besides, it's a labor intensive process--a deterrent to actually doing it every spring. BUT, there is no substitute for this method as a way to start a new bed and plant it immediately.
Essentially, double digging is a method of loosening, aerating, and incorporating organic matter into soil to a depth of up to 24". It's a proven method that improves soil tilth, fertility, drainage, water holding capacity, organic matter content and overall soil quality, providing a much improved environment for beneficial soil life, and a superb medium for growing an abundance of great food. What more could an eager gardener want? So, to start, here's a how-to on starting a new garden bed, and how to keep it healthy. Then I'll tell you how we treat raised beds and containers.
You'll need a digging fork, a spade or shovel, a piece of plywood as wide or wider than your bed (you'll be standing on it), enough compost to cover the bed about 1"-2" thick, plus some compost in reserve--enough to cover the bed 1/2" thick. Also, you want the soil to be evenly moist, not wet. When you get the moisture right, the whole process is WAY easier.
1. Define and mark the bed layout. I like to mark the corners of my new bed with stakes. A 4' or 4 1/2' wide bed allows most people to reach into the center without stepping in the bed. Any length will work, I like mine 10'-20' if space allows.
2. Using the plywood to stand on while in the bed, weed the bed by sinking the digging fork into the soil as far you can and just loosening the root zone. No need to turn the soil, just work the tines up and down a little, then pull the fork out and move it over a little, and sink it again. Do this to the whole bed, then pull the weeds. This step also makes double digging easier.
3. Time to double dig. It's honestly easier to understand if you watch this video, Be patient. Watch it. It gets a little goofy about how to hold your tools and such, but these folks are farming acres this way and are interested in saving their backs. (You'll note that they aren't adding compost during the dig. You DEFINITELY want to add a compost layer as I note in the next paragraph). If you want to cut right to the double dig portion of the video, fast forward to 3:12. It continues on the second video to about 3:15.
Before you begin digging, spread a 1-2" later of compost over the whole bed. As you are merrily digging away, before you loosen the bottom of each trench, place 1/2" of your reserve compost in the trench.
4. Sprinkle your organic fertilizer nutrients over the bed, and work in to the top 2"-4" of soil. If you're not planting right away, water it in.
5. Plant! Make sure you don't step on the bed now. Use the plywood to stand or kneel on if you want to be in the bed.
6. Mulch mulch mulch! Place compost, straw, dry leaves, or other organic matter several inches deep over your bed. Pull the mulch away from plant stems a little so as not to smother your crop. Mulch will keep your beds moist much longer and as the mulch breaks down, it trickles down into the bed keeping it aerated and loose.
7. Keep the beds covered. Even after your crops are done, keep a mulch layer in place, and/or plant a cover crop. Cover crops send roots down keeping the soil friable, and when cut provide nutrient rich organic matter that you can chop and leave on the bed, or send to the compost pile.
So what happens next year? If we cover crop and keep organic matter on the bed, we have less compaction, and we ideally won't continue the double dig process every year. Which is fine by me. I'd rather spread mulch and seed than dig relentlessly, and the soil life is happier when not disturbed.
We use raised beds for various reasons. It's a popular alternative that reduces the need for digging and with the use of hardware cloth on the bottom can keep the ground varmints from obliterating a garden. But, it's also more expensive and materials intensive. If you opt for raised beds, here's how we prep them.
1. As the beds are built, we loosen the native soil below with a digging fork and add a bit of compost. This improves drainage and encourages roots to populate the soil, rather than acting like a barrier.
2. We fill the bed with a planter mix, not a potting mix or pure compost. Planter mix has some mineral soil in it which is key for transferring nutrients to the plants.
3. As noted in #4-7 in the in-ground prep section above, we work organic nutrients into the top 2"-4" of the bed, then plant, then mulch. Ideally, we keep the beds mulched or cover cropped between planting seasons.
4. Each year, we top off our beds with compost as the planter mix level recedes.
When growing in containers, we use potting mix. Not planter mix and not soil. Each time we plant a new crop, we top off the potting mix with a blend of potting mix and compost. We work organic nutrients into the upper 2"-4". With container growing, it's challenging to get and keep healthy soil life, and we find that foliar feeding is a great supplement to just relying on nutrients in the potting mix. Every 3 years or so, the containers get cleaned out and filled with new potting mix, as the old mix has deteriorated. I wrote a more detailed post about container planting for tomatoes some time back, and you can read that here...
However you choose to garden, I'm happy you're doing it. The world is a better place with gardens and gardeners in it.
posted by Marian
- We use less than half the water a commercial grower will use (even less if we're on drip irrigation and have mulched).
- We slash our carbon footprint as there's zero fuel involved other than you coming either to Rodgers Ranch for the farmers' market to select your favorites.
- The food is tastier and more nutritious because we pick it at peak maturity and eat it soon thereafter.
- What we grow is much safer because we know what has gone into growing the plants. (And you KNOW the plants are coming from a great home - Kelley and I use only open pollinated seeds, make our own transplanting medium, use compost and worm castings as Best.Fertilizer.EVER, and grow the seedlings so they're accustomed to our climate.)
...posted by Kelley
Posted by Kelley...
About every January, as we plan for our seedlings, we review some lessons learned from our past years and make adjustments to improve our little venture. Of course, our #1 concern is raising healthy plants, and as such I get obsessed with improving our potting mix. After all, it all starts there.
We’ve put together a nutrient mix that includes a healthy dose of vermicompost and bagged it. It’s suitable for both in-ground planting and containers. Good stuff! We’ll have it on hand for our customers at the Expo, the farmer’s market, and our curbside sales.
...is what I wish we had more of, but oh well -- I'll take any amount of precip we can get. Short of acid rain, that is.
|"My" baby CA buckeye|
However, changes are afoot in our business. I am "retiring" after this year mostly because I'm just getting too old to lift approximately 1-2 tons of soil and plants in a 4 month stretch. Instead, I am going to go deeper into native habitat restoration and preservation for homeowners.
|Be there or be square|
Strap on the seat belt and pull it tight. Keep your arms and legs inside and hold on. Time will warp. That's what the last 6 weeks have felt like. It peaked today as we wrapped up our final tasks for the Urban Farm Expo tomorrow. Time has found a speed that I've never seen. I'm not moving faster, but the days are really really short!
It's been quite a ride, and we're about to see what our weeks of hard work and planning will produce. We hope to see a lot of curious, happy, excited gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners enjoying the event, the workshops, the gardens, and each other.
Urban Farm Expo.
We have some great workshops and presentations. Kathy Echols will lead a workshop on propagation. If you know of Kathy, you know how amazing she is. Chris Shein will talk about permaculture and his newly published book on the subject. Another very knowledgable person. We'll have workshops on garden irrigation, biodymamics, chickens, bees, garden planning, and much more.
I hope to see many friendly faces there. Wish us good success.