Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Death of a pear tree

Strong winds blew down the pear tree in the front yard today.    It had been suffering from fire blight the past 3 years,  and now we know the reason:  Crown Rot.    I'm thankful for a couple of things - it didn't fall down on top of my kids (or anyone else for that matter,) and it fell into the empty street as opposed to on my house or cars. 

Can't help feeling sad nevertheless - it was a good tree.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Caprese Salad and Pickled Peppers

 Just a quick update on what I did with some of the items as the season came to a close.

Caprese Salad
The fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes make all the difference.

I came across a recipe for pickled peppers in a recent Bon Appetite magazine and gave it a try.  I used jalapenos and Santa Fe Grande peppers from the garden.  The brine consisted of distilled white vinegar, garlic, salt, sugar, peppercorns and coriander seeds.  After simmering for 5 minutes,  it's added to a jar containing the sliced peppers.  After they cooled in the fridge, these peppers were smokin' good.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reigning Romas

So this morning while I was perusing through the garden with my morning cup of coffee, it struck me how very well everything seems to be doing.  Granted, I've picked and tortured the occasional tomato hornworm, but I really can't complain.  Pest damage has been minimal and the plants are taking full advantage.

I planted two Roma varieties and they are lit with tomatoes.   There's nothing like whipping up a last-minute, fresh tomato-basil sauce to go with your pasta of the day. Very quick and very light.

The peppers are finally coming into form and I'm looking forward to tasting the Anaheims.   That's a new variety for me, so I'll have to consult  the cookbooks to see what else I can use them in besides burgers and chili.  Any suggestions?

The poblanos look great.

"Chili Relleno"
I let one of the oregano plants go to flower and I tried to photograph some bees  while they were working away.  When I transferred the photo to the computer, I noticed another garden helper that I unwittingly captured in the frame.  Do you see him? 

My version of "Where's Waldo?"

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BELT sandwich

The tomato harvest is in full swing and even after numerous giveaways, I still have enough to can.  All of the varieties look and taste great with the exception of the Mortgage Lifter.  The tomatoes looked good, but they had a very bland flavor and tasted like a wet nerf ball (or at least what I would expect a wet nerf ball to taste like).  This is my second go around with this variety, so it was off with its head and into the heap.  In my game of baseball you only get TWO strikes.     Mortgage Shortsale is more like it.

Anyway, here's one of the recipes we've been enjoying with the largest of the bunch.  It's an improved  version of the classic BLT and a slight variation of the one Thomas Keller created for the movie Spanglish (my apologies).

Lightly toast 2 pieces of bread, preferably sourdough.  Spread mayo on one side and add lettuce.  Fry one egg over medium in some butter and add cracked pepper.  Slide onto the lettuce.

Add a THICK slice of an heirloom tomato such as Brandywine.

Add three or four slices of fresh bacon and close.

And there it is!    The picture doesn't seem to do it justice, but this sandwich is amazing. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

$10 tomato

There's nothing quite like the payoff.  With the price of heirloom tomatoes going for $5.99 a pound in the local market, I was thrilled to see several giants appear on my new favorite tomato plant:  Brandy Boy. 

So here's what a $10 tomato looks like.  The first picture is what it looked liked on the vine next to several others of equal or larger size.   The second picture is what it looked like perched on a 4x4 fence post.  That one plant has produced numerous giants already, and there's lots more to come. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Garden update

It's been awhile- again.   Lots of changes in the garden now that the weather has warmed and the tomatoes have set.    I've added a Bearss Lime to the lineup and will try growing it in a pot this time.  The citrus I've grown in the past never gave me any fruit  and I think it had something to do with overwatering.  Well, let's try it in a pot and see what happens.  I planted it in a cactus mix, which seems to drain better and keep the roots drier.  Maybe that's the trick?

I upped the time on my drip system to 90 minutes at three days a week.  Seems to have made a huge difference now that summer has finally arrived.  The tomatoes all look great and I have begun harvesting the SunGold. Should be a couple of weeks before the big ones are ready.    The peppers are running a little behind, but I think was from the watering issue.  They look much happier in the last week.  Zucchini looks strong and the cucumbers are putting on some growth.

Lime tree

Looking like a jungle

Early Wonder tomatoes

Mortgage Lifter and Brandy Boy

Brandy Boy tomatoes

Blue Lake bush beans
I  took the twins up to June Lake  during my vacation and we had a blast.

The Fishermen
June Lake

Friday, May 27, 2011


Tonight it was off to the local big-box store to take advantage of the 2x20lb pack of Kingsford charcoal  for $7.97.  That's a great price and even though I have enough charcoal to host my own version of Burning Man, I couldn't pass it up.  No trip to the Depot would be complete without making a pit stop in the garden center.  You know how some people can't walk through the local animal shelter without taking home the whole lot, I'm the same way in the garden center.

Successful in my restraint, I only came home with three plants:  Lemon cucumber, Santa Fe Grande pepper and the herb Stevia.  I've never seen or heard of it until this week when it was mentioned on two separate podcasts (I couldn't survive my 90 minute commute to LA without that iPod). So there it was, sitting on the shelf. 

The leaves of this plant are reportedly 10 times sweeter than cane sugar.  When I got home, I tore off a leaf and started chewing.  Guess what it tasted like - yup, sugar.   Now I have to figure out where it's gonna live this summer.  I'm thinking it can be added to fresh tea and probably a cocktail or two.  I also read that the aphids can't stand it, so maybe I'll put it next to the cucumbers.

By the way, what to do with all that charcoal?

The new addition to the family

Friday, May 13, 2011


My Labrador Maxie is a pooping machine.  Twice, sometimes three times a day, the world truly is her dumping ground.  Funny thing is, she sees us picking up the poop everyday and I know what she's thinking:  "Look, they must really like my poop since they collect it all the time.  I love them so much, I'll just keeping making more!"   Lucky for her she's such a great dog.   Why am I writing about poop? 
You guessed it:  worms.   That's what I'm after with those things, so I figured I'd give you a quick update.

The worms seem to be doing nicely and I'm learning what they prefer (cantaloupe) and what they're not too crazy about (potato peels).   I've been real careful not to overfeed them - an all-too-common mistake for the newbie.   I am having an issue with some of the worms who like to wander off into the bottom collection tray. It's just a few of them  (maybe the same ones) and since the hundreds of others stay in the top tray I'm not too concerned.  I don't know why these rogue wanderers like to slither off into the abyss since there really isn't anything there for them to eat except a few small patches of castings.  Maybe they're just tired of the obnoxious giant who roots around  the top tray with the plastic rake checking on their status.  I can almost hear a collective moan every time I take the lid off,  "Uggh,   he's back again."   I can't help it!

Worm castings - garden caviar

Top tray progress.  The black things are banana peels.

I did manage to collect a small amount of the fresh castings and scratched them into the dirt around an eggplant and one of my zucchini plants.  I'm interested to see how this "soil inoculation" experiment  works with those plants as opposed to the non-inoculated.

Lots goin' on in the garden - too much for one post, so I'll put up some pictures.  Busy time of the year  with my oldest graduating, baseball playoffs with another, and band performances with the third.  Good times!

Black Beauty eggplant
Tomatoes on the left, bush beans in the middle and carrots on the right

I used all of the compost from the pile I started last year and now have a new one cooking on the side of the house.  Last week, I threw one of the tomato starts which was still in a red cup and looked nearly dead into the pile.  Apparently, it still had some fight left and has come back strong in the compost pile.  Maybe I'll let it be and see what happens.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


It was sunny and 90 degrees today, perfect weather to do a little work in the garden and sip cocktails on the patio with the wife on her birthday.  With a pot full of fresh mint nearby, the mojito was a no-brainer.

Here's what I made:


1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon  superfine sugar
5 mint leaves, plus 1 sprig for garnish
crushed ice
2 ounces white rum
1 ounce club soda

Put lime juice and sugar in a highball glass and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the mint leaves and muddle them with a stick.  Fill the glass with ice, add the rum and soda, and stir gently.  Garnish  with the mint sprig.

 Happy Birthday,  Babe!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Garlic eviction

I planted some garlic bulbs back in early November and they have done well.  However,  I need the space in which they're living for the tomatoes and peppers.  I hate to give them the heave-ho, but everyone changes work locations at some point in their career, right?  We've had something of a mini heat wave  (in the 90's) and the beds are nice and warm.  Looks like I'll be planting everything in two weeks.

I thought about transplanting the garlic into some pots, but wasn't sure how that would work out.   In the end, I decided to replant them along the fence figuring they will be tall enough by the time the tomatoes grow big enough to overtake them.   I really should think these things out in advance, but never do.

I got as much as the root ball as I could,  and gave them a good heap of homemade compost, so here's hoping they do well!

The seedlings have been successfully hardened off and now reside outside.  They're really starting to put on some nice growth.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


The county has a local SmartGardening series they put on throughout the region highlighting the benefits of composting.  They sell traditional compost bins along with worm bins to anyone interested.  I've always been somewhat interested in this endeavor,  I have read that worm castings and tea are some of the most beneficial fertilizers one can provide for their plants.  Plus, I've always liked worms, especially on the end of a hook.

So for $65 I got a Wriggly Wranch stackable worm bin, which included a coconut coir brick (bedding) and a 1/2 pound of "red wiggler" composting worms to get started.  Apparently the traditional garden worm or nightcrawler is not the best "variety" for composting.  I was handed a small sack containing the worms, but when I got everything set up and dumped the worms in, I found that the 1/2 pound of worms was really 1/2 pound of castings/dirt and just a handful of worms.  I was expecting a spaghetti-ball of slimy goodness, but what I got was maybe 50 or so.

I needed a worm fix, and fast.

After a bit of online searching, I found this "dealer," Steve, located in Northridge.  I came across a blog post by a woman who went to Steve's house to buy worm castings ($1 a pound,)  but then wrote about how unkempt and dirty the guy's house was.  She talked about how nice the old man was and how he allowed her in to his backyard to show her his setup (at her request), but then talks shit (and not from the worm) about him in her post. Not cool.

I send the guy an email inquiring about his prices and he promptly gets back to me with his price:  $25 a pound - cash.   He explains that he works out of his house (like most dealers I've arrested)  and that he is available at all hours (also like most dealers I've arrested) - provided I give him a couple hours notice to get everything ready, oh and don't forget - bring cash!

Please don't tell anyone I spent $25 for worms, but his price was actually very reasonable compared to what I found online.  One place was selling them for $40, plus shipping! However, you get approximately one thousand worms per pound, that's alot of hungry garbage chewers.

So after a visit to the mall and dinner at Claim Jumper, I called Steve and told him that we were 5 minutes out.  "I have them ready for you," he told me, "remember to bring cash."   We swung by his house and he met me at the door.  He hands me a damp pizza box containing some of the bedding the worms were living in, and I hand over my cash.  He then produced a coffee can full of worms and spread them out into the pizza box.  A spaghetti-ball of slimy goodness. He tells me, put the pizza box in the wormery, they love to eat corrugated  cardboard.

I told Steve my wife probably wouldn't appreciate the worms slithering out of the unsecured box and into our brand-new car during the ride home, so he generously offered a couple of plastic bags to contain the mess.  In all, Steve was very nice and answered a few of my questions before I left.

We got home and I dumped 'em into their new home.  They've got plenty to eat and lots of work to do. I will keep you posted on their progress.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seedlings and more

I've enjoyed everyone's photos of their seedling progress, so I figured I'd put mine up as well.  I'm growing some new tomato varieties this year including Mortgage Lifter, Caspian Pink, as well as Brandy Boy - a hybrid variety of my favorite Brandywine which promises better yields and disease-resistance compared to the heirloom.  I'm a bit skeptical, but have read rave reviews. We'll have to see how it turns out.

I started my seeds in the Bio Dome again as I was very pleased with how it worked out last year.  It's time to break out the red cups for the tomatoes!

The compost pile I started at the end of last summer is nice and dark now, and will be ready for the spring planting.  I added some to the pot of lettuce still growing and it made quite the difference.   I really enjoy the convenience of snipping fresh, homegrown lettuce from the pots on the patio. 

Sweet Mint
Romaine and Spinach

The Swiss Chard is ready and the colors are phenomenal. They say Swiss Chard is good for the brain, but why do these leaves have to look like little green brain hemispheres?

Swiss Chard
I planted some garlic last fall among the lettuce and chard and while it seems to be doing okay, I'm concerned it won't be ready before I have to make way for the peppers/tomatoes for the summer.  Let's see if we can get it done before the end of April!