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The Garden Blog

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Muns in my garden oct 2011As I mentioned in my last blog post, I love discovering surprises in my garden. Wait, that's not exactly true, so let me clarify: I love discovering good surprises. Bad surprises (like the squirrel eating all my corn), not so much. This week's nice surprise was the absolute explosion of mums that greeted me after a few days away (a few days, I should add, that saw the first healthy rain storm of the season). I knew they were coming -- I'd had a few here and there and could see the buds -- but the explosion of color was really amazing. It's also made the bees very happy. Let's not forget the bees. Also producing is the jalapeno plant -- lots of great big red jalapenos.

Lettuce seedlings in my garden oct 2011Otherwise, the fall garden has been a time for cleaning out and new planting. So far that consists of lettuces and radishes and sweet peas. Because I had a bit of a late start, I picked up some lettuce seedlings at Merrihew's (my local nursery) and am following them with the radishes, sweet peas and other lettuces by seed.

I ordered some of my seeds from the D. Landreth Seed Company after reading about them in an article in the L.A. Times. The "oldest seed house in America," Landreth is trying to raise money to stay in business by selling advance copies of their 2012 Heirloom and Vintage Seed Catalogue. It's just $5 and, according to the site, includes detailed histories and descriptions of heirloom and vintage seeds along with original historic horticultural information. After checking out their site, I ordered both the catalog and some very cool looking seeds (Osaka Purple Mustard and Black-seeded Simpson Lettuce seeds) as well. The catalog is expected in December but the seeds have already arrived -- talk about nice surprises!

Ann olives Oct 2011To say I've been remiss in posting here on the community garden blog would be an understatement. So, in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya (from "The Princess Bride"), let's sum up. This summer could be summed up in one word: tomatoes. As a friend pointed out, there always seems to be a star in the garden each season and, for me, this year it was the tomatoes. They were amazing. I had at least 50 from the three seedlings I picked up from Tomatomania. The superstars were the Purple Russian (in shear abundance) and the Rose (in shear beauty). The Pineapple was also delicious. The fact we had so many amazing tomatoes lessened the heartbreak when other things didn't do so well. Like the melons. Not sure why, but the Ali Baba watermelon showed promise and then petered out at the end, with the small melons that started growing either dying or splitting. I have been enjoying strawberries (a few a week; the seedlings are still young) and the peppers and roses have stayed consistent.

Crows in ann garden Oct 2011As you may recall, one of the reasons last summer's crop was a disappointment was the marauding squirrel(s) that attacked each and every thing I was growing just as it became ready to harvest. This year, the squirrels seemed to stay away, helped I believe by the stuffed crows my friend gave me last year as decoys (one of which is looking over the strawberries in the photo on the left). I would move them around the garden to whatever was about to ripen and the squirrels stayed away -- until it came to the corn. Yet again, each cob was destroyed the minute it was ready to be harvested. Evidently, fresh corn on the cob is worth the possibility of meeting an imminent end by crow and the others are not.

Now that it is fall, most of the tomatoes have been pulled out -- I have one seedling started by a branch taken from either the Rose or Pineapple (at a certain point you couldn't tell which was which plant-wise) still going -- and it's time to start the fall garden. The big surprise as I did the big clean-out to get the garden ready was to find some olives growing on the five-year-old Frantoio olive tree (see top photo -- if you look close you can see them). I have two olive trees -- a Mission (which is self pollinating and has had olive crops before, although not for a couple years) and the Frantoio (which is not self pollinating and has never grown an actual olive). Essentially, the bees have been doing their job (yea bees!). So, here's to surprises in the garden -- always a nice way to start a new season.

First tomatoes July 6 2011

Okay, so, like the first pancakes off the griddle, these tomatoes (the Purple Russians) are not the most beautiful in pure aesthetic terms but they are beautiful because they mean that, yes, my tomatoes have started ripening. After three months of lovingly caring for the plants -- which are humungous and required the purchase of four more 5-foot-tall bamboo poles just to keep them under control -- the ripening has begun. From the looks of things, the Rose and Pineapple heirlooms are not far behind. Also happy to report that the plants I gave out to family members are producing fruit as well.

watermelon seedlingSpeaking of producing fruit, I wanted to make sure and talk about the watermelon seedling I picked up at the Nature's Touch Nursery in Templeton on my way back from Big Sur. This is the Ali Baba, which is the same heirloom variety that did so well the first summer I had my garden (three years ago!). As you can see from the photo -- taken on June 11 right after I planted it -- the seedling is just a little tyke, making it hard to believe that big ole 30-pound watermelons might come from it. But, just three weeks later, it's already making its move (more photos to come) -- a good sign.

Esalen garden 2011

As I mentioned in my last blog post, one of my favorite gardens in the world is the one at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Framed by mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, the gardens feature row after row of vegetables surrounded by an abundance of colorful flowers -- both for their beauty and for the environment they provide the beneficial insects. Unfortunately, I failed to provide a picture, which I have remedied here (right). But on this last trip, I also visited Sweetwater Farm, high atop a mountain in Big Sur. The visit was part of a workshop called "The Land of Milk and Honey," where we learned to make cheese, bread and honey. Liam McDermott led the bread-making, with Esalen cookbook author Charlie Cascio showing us how to make cheese and honey, both of which he does on his mountain-top farm.

Charlie Cascio at Sweetwater Farm

During our week, Charlie told us the story of how he spent a year apprenticing with a goat shepherd and cheese-maker in the Alps of France in the early 1970s. It was after that experience that he slowly began the process of creating Sweetwater, buying the nearly inaccessible land in the early 1980s and slowly but surely taking that land and turning it into a small-scale goat cheese, egg and honey operation. The quality of his products is so good that local restaurants in Big Sur and Carmel buy everything he produces. (Internships on his and other farms are available through WOOLF: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms).

You only have to meet Charlie (left, on his farm) and see the smile on his face to realize that while it took a long time he was able to realize the dream that was born 40 years ago on a mountaintop in the Alps. It's an important reminder to all of us to keep noting those moments in our lives that bring us happiness and never give up on those dreams.

Ann garden June 4 2011

For those who are keeping track, yes, it's been over a month since I last posted here on the garden blog. If it wasn't totally obvious from the fact I was last writing about May Day and we're just two weeks from the summer solstice, I would be able to tell because of my tomato plants. As you can see, they look nothing like the tomato seedlings in my last post. Not only are they almost reaching the top of the six-foot bamboo polls I bought to support them (which are working like a charm, in case you've ever thought about using them) but two already have a number of small green tomatoes getting their start in life. If you look closely in the photo below (taken last Saturday, June 4), you can see the little baby tomatoes on the Purple Russian. 

Ann garden tomato plants

Part of the reason for my  absence from the blog (but not, I will point out, from my garden, which has been getting more attention from me this spring than last) is all the travel I did in May, starting at the Pierre in New York City, traveling through Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs and Marys Lake Lodge in Estes Park, and ending at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. On the surface, they may not have much in common but at each stop I found people making a conscious effort to either grow their own food or get that food from local organic sources. 

There is no place that does that better than Esalen Institute. Their gardens are quite simply spectacular and provide not only a feast for the eyes but one for the belly as well. I was there to take a workshop called The Land of Milk and Honey, where we learned how to make bread, cheese and honey (and really, does anything go better with fresh produce than bread, cheese and honey?). It was a wonderful reminder of the importance of the simpler things in life, whether it's making your own sourdough (which I can do now that I have my very own starter!) or coming home to find a number of baby tomatoes making their way in the world.

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