Homestead, Florida, may show on the map as Zone 10, but we had a Zone 9 winter this year. Seriously, our farm met the chilling requirement for ‘Granny Smith’ apples! And the peaches, mulberries, and raspberries all loved it.
Well, we lost some of the things that are more cold sensitive, in spite of me being up all night on about 12 different occasions. Lost all the peppers, of course. We also lost our cashew tree. The mangosteen did a partial leaf drop, but it’s leafed out again. The fennel ‘Finale’, a test variety for 2010, shrugged off the cold and is starting to bulb now. (Some of the fennel at our farm is going on 10 years old now. The black swallowtails love fennel foliage but do not decimate their food source. Humans could learn a lot from them.)
The two tomatoes that I trialed, ‘Bitonto’ and ‘Blush’, both came back. They got some frost burn, some continued growing from the tips, some sent out new growth from the roots. We should be able to get a month or two of production from them. Days are in the 80’s, but nights here in farm country are still going down to 60’s and 70’s, so we should get a bit more flower set. ‘Bitonto’, in fact, is already being eaten with great relish, or even by itself. ‘Blush’ has set fruit but is not quite ripe yet.
When it was obvious that our winter was going to be colder than usual, I went ahead and planted ‘Magnolia Blossom’ snap pea. These guys performed reasonably well, considering the Florida climate, but now with days too hot, they’re starting to give it up. Never got enough production to cook, but they are great to eat raw in the garden. —Andres Mejides, Homestead, Florida
This has been our week to say good-bye to the 2010 garden as we had low temperatures in the 20’s last night and have been having sporadic frosts for about a month. The autumn weather has been in the 60’s and 70’s during the day, which has been a real treat.
Last weekend we heaped composted manure on 80% of the garden beds after harvesting all but the hardiest: Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, horseradish, leeks, broccoli, and the remaining lettuces. The ‘Sea of Red’ lettuce is excellent in the fall bed and sized up nicely from a mid-August planting. The two Romaines did not really head up but we’ve been harvesting the outer leaves of both ‘Tin Tin’ and ‘Sweetie Baby Romaine’ from each plant. The ‘Tin Tin’ leaf thickness and taste is amazing. ‘Midnight Ruffles’ is beautiful but didn’t get large enough to harvest more than 5-6 leaves from each plant.
On Tuesday we made a recipe that is truly a transition from summer to fall/winter cooking. Roasted Ratatouille is made like the typical roasted “root vegetable” recipes but made with summer veggies. We used the last of our peppers, eggplants, and zucchini and I thought I’d share the recipe as well as “before and after” pictures—it was so pretty. It’s too bad the pictures aren’t scratch & sniff as the kitchen smelled like an Italian bistro. Make sure the whole family tries it as the garlic really shines in this recipe and you’ll have to live with them the rest of the day!
4 oriental eggplants, 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp. salt
2 medium zucchini, 1/2-inch cubes
2 yellow peppers, 1/2-inch pieces
2 red peppers, 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, finely minced
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, finely minced
1 tbsp. fresh basil, finely minced
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
Combine chopped eggplant with 1 tsp. salt and let drain at least 30 minutes. Combine drained eggplant with remaining ingredients except tomatoes and toss like a salad. Spread on a cookie sheet and place the sliced tomatoes on top. Roast at 475 degrees for 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through. We use parchment paper when we roast vegetables for easy clean-up and served the ratatouille with couscous.
“You have tomatoes?” was the incredulous response most people had to their invitation to my annual tomato and harvest party this year. Like most of the summer, the week leading up to it was gray and drizzly. A forecast of partly cloudy and a 30% chance of showers for Saturday made it sound like a great day for a NW garden party! The day dawned chilly and cloudy as I harvested what tomatoes I could, waiting until the last moment to see if they might get a few more rays on the vine.
People arrived in the late morning bundled in coats. We went out to the porch to taste what tomatoes there were. Of the four test varieties I grew, only two had ripe tomatoes: ‘Red Pearl’ grape tomato, which produced a small bowlful, and ‘Blush’, which had only four ripe ones (and one was cracked). ‘Thompson’s Grape’ was just starting to be ready. Of my standbys, ‘Sungold’ (picked many days earlier, after an evening downpour to avoid cracking) did well for the season we had, and ‘Early Cascade’ was not yet totally ripe. In the photo above, clockwise from upper left are ‘Early Cascade’, ‘Red Pearl’, and ‘Blush’.
‘Sungold’, in a class by itself, is offered as dessert after the tasting.
Now the taste test! ‘Red Pearl’ initially got mixed reviews—nice shape, not seedy but mushy and watery, or light and fruity. One person liked how it exploded in her mouth while others thought the skin was tough.
Everyone ooh’ed and aah’ed at the looks of ‘Blush’, both whole and cut in half—definitely a beauty. As they took a bite, it got all kinds of compliments for its sweet and balanced complex flavor until one person announced that she thought its great looks prejudiced our opinion about its flavor. She thought it was just sweet, not complex or flavorful at all. Everyone agreed that it should be used in a way that would show off its good looks (like in salads), if not also its flavor.
‘Early Cascade’, one of my standbys, usually gets raves on its flavor but not this time because it wasn’t completely ripe. ‘Northern Delight’ was brought to the party by a guest who grew it to see if it would do well in our difficult tomato-growing region. Nope, it got only poor reviews: “disappointing.” This person also grew ‘Siletz’, developed especially for the Pacific NW maritime climate. Many said it “tastes like a tomato” but many also commented about its watery quality and large seed cavity.
Going back to ‘Red Pearl’, people said it tasted great in comparison to the others. Its bowl was soon empty.
The clouds began to part as we sat down to enjoy a harvest potluck where people brought dishes made with garden goodies if possible. I made a rice salad with arugula, ‘Derby’ cabbage, ‘Sweetie Baby Romaine’ lettuce, ‘Midnight Lightning’ zucchini, yellow ‘Mariachi’ peppers, and the last sunchokes from last year, all from the garden.
‘Gusto Purple’ produced nice hot peppers which made a spicy relish with chopped onion, rice vinegar and sugar. This photo shows the Gusto in all its color stages.
Small bouquets decorating the tables were made with some of the flowers we are trialing—the one at left includes ‘Moonsong Deep Orange’ marigold, basil, and feverfew.
The afternoon got warm as we finished our lunch with brownies and double chocolate ‘Cavilli’ zucchini cake. With full bellies, we rambled about the vegetable garden and came upon our real dessert, sun-warmed raspberries right off the vine.
What a nice summer we’re having here. Not enough rain, of course, but July did give us an inch above normal. The weather is hot (90’s) but not too hot and fresh organic food is in abundance just outside the door.
‘Bitonto’ is such a cute little cherry tomato and it is holding its own against those aggressive marigolds—they’re sharing a pot in the photo at left. Good flavor and decorative—what more could you ask?
The peppers are ripening well. Some of my ‘Cajun Belle’ peppers are red already.
The ‘Apollo’ broccoli is amazing and we give away bags and bags. The chickens like it when it begins to bloom too.
I experimented with growing my melons in pots on top of 55-gallon water drums this year. So far, so good. The barrels are filled with water and were installed to store the sun’s heat in the winter. But I just thought they might serve a useful purpose in other seasons too—and the melons seem to like having warm soil when our nighttime temperatures dip into the low sixties, as they often do, even after a day in the nineties. Melons are almost ready to eat, earlier than I’ve ever had them.
‘Lime Crisp’ cucumber, shown at left, is not to our liking due to its bland taste, and all our friends who try it concur. We much prefer the crisp Oriental cukes we also grow. ‘Lime Crisp’ is a beautiful color; it grows like the dickens and churns out tons of cukes, so I’ve taken to pickling them when quite small to keep some measure of control.
All in all, it’s been a good garden year so far.
It’s sizzling HOT in the desert. 108 degrees yesterday in the shade on the porch and 110 today. It is much hotter in the sun out in the garden, probably 130 or more on the crushed granite paths. My vegetables are green and lush and growing fast in the heat and I am still putting transplants into the garden.
I’ll go out in the garden about 11 pm tonight, turn on the floodlights, and make sure the soil in the beds is still moist. Then I’ll look at the backsides of the veggie leaves for insects and put in a couple more veggie plants. So far I haven’t see any whiteflies, aphids, or squash bugs. This may be due to my June planting.
In past years I’ve started transplanting my seedlings in April. This year it was very windy and I decided to wait for the spring weather to settle down. This was a good decision, because the spring insect pests hatched before there was anything in the garden for them to attack, and I think they must have starved to death or left my garden. Maybe they went to your garden? Sorry.
Because we have a long growing season in Las Vegas it is not important for me to transplant veggies into the garden in the warm days of late winter and early spring. But this has been the practice in Las Vegas and is widely taught. Not just because the farmers practice this, but because the weather has warmed and gardeners are anxious to plant, and for the most part, they can. But I am not convinced that early planting is the best thing to do, or the easiest for the home gardener, given the insect and disease issues that accompany zillions of hungry hatching insects.
So, I am watching my plants to see if I can determine if there are less insect problems this year, with my June transplanting, as opposed to last year with an April and mostly May transplanting.