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The Garden Blog

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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.

Ann garden April 28 2011

Happy May Day! As the celebration of agriculture and spring (and my mother's birthday!), it's the perfect time to catch up on what's new in the garden, right? As you can see from the photo, the tomato seedlings I put into the ground the first week of April have each grown about a foot. To keep them company, I recently added some basil seedlings I picked up at the Santa Barbara farmers market and Italian parsley and celery seedlings from the farmers market I go to in Santa Monica on Saturdays (Cloverfield and Pico). All are good companions for the tomatoes. Speaking of which: If you want a great reference for companion planting, try Carrots Love Tomatoes. Jeff got me a copy for Christmas and I've been referencing it all the time as I add to the garden.

The celery is something new for me. I'd never really considered growing it because I assumed you just waited until the whole plant emerged and picked it by the root and that was it. Seemed like a lot of work for just one bunch of celery. But then I heard this tip from a fellow gardener: There is no need to pick celery by the root. The plant can grow for more than a year. Just pick the ribs off and leave the little ribs connected to the roots in the ground to grow more celery. 

I love the idea that I can just take a few stalks at a time and let the plant keep growing. Similarly, here's a great tip to keep your tomato plants going from the folks at Tomatomania: With tomatoes growing fast and sturdy side branching inevitable, this year try creating a new plant with a cutting. Cut a six or seven-inch stem, soak the stem in water for a couple days, plant out (deeply) next to the parent or in a container.  Keep moist for a week or so

Ann garden April 9There is something about the spring that brings about thoughts of beginnings and endings. These are, of course, often exacerbated by events in our lives. For instance, tomorrow I'm attending the funeral for a friend who died recently after a sudden illness, while this morning I visited friends with a 15-month old. Ending meet beginning.

I was visiting my friends today to look at their yard and give suggestions on where they might put in a vegetable garden. Looking at some of the spaces they were considering made me realize how far my garden has come in just three years. Above is a photo taken a week ago. There's a lot to look at: the garlic on the right, which is about ready to be harvested; the rose bushes, continuing to bloom; the strawberry and tomato seedlings in the middle, which were just planted; the olive trees on the far left...

Ann garden first year

This is that same space (and those same olive trees) right after I first started working on it almost three years ago. Pretty dramatic difference, right? Perhaps it's that ability to bring life where there was none before that makes gardening such an enjoyable activity. It is definitely part of it and also something that brings solace during those times when an ending comes as unexpectedly as it did with my friend Nancy.

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