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Tomatomania 2011There are times in a gardener's life when a little inspiration is needed. At least that's the case with this gardener. Maybe it was the disappointment of last summer and fall -- with the gloomy weather inhibiting the usual bounty and the marauding squirrel taking off with everything else -- but I feel like I've been in maintenance mode for awhile now. I have done what needs to be done: keeping weeds at bay, cutting back the trumpet vine and roses (which never stopped blooming) and harvesting greens (mostly arugula). But I haven't put anything new into the garden in awhile.

That's where Tomatomania comes in.  I'd been posting their upcoming events on our Facebook page for awhile and, today, when they were in Encino, I made my way out there. It's hard not to be inspired when you're looking out at skads and skads of tomato seedlings. So I went a little wild and got some for the family as well. Jeff got the German Johnson (a coastal variety) for the bar garden at Big Dean's; my Mom (the traditionalist) got the Brandywine; sis and niece got the Pink Brandywine (a bit of sass added to tradition); and for my dad got the Pink Ping-Pong (just because). For myself, I got the Rose, the Purple Russian and Pineapple. As an added bonus, they were selling some organic seascape strawberry seedlings so I picked up two of those, plus some marigolds and soil amendments and bamboo sticks to support the tomatoes.

Now I can't wait to get to the garden and get them all in the ground. (Speaking of which, here are some great tips on getting the most out of those seedlings from Scott at Tomatomania.) Unfortunately, two things will make me wait: We're still experiencing cool rainy weather here in Southern California (not the best environment for tomato seedlings) and I'll be spending this week in Puerto Vallarta and want to put them in a week when I can check in a little more often (again, see Scott's tips). That's okay -- even if I have to wait a week to get these started it's nice to feel the excitement and eagerness come back. Hello Spring!

Ann garden mid febAh, February. Here in Southern California, we've swung wildly weather-wise between blue skies and high temperatures in the 80s to rain and lows in the 40s. Brrr. And, yes, all of you who live in colder climates, it really is brrr as our houses are not built for anything outside of the 70-80 degree range.

In my community garden, this transition time has been marked by the fact that the Christmas poinsettia is still going strong but has been joined by the first blooms of my sweet peas. I say "my" sweet peas even though I didn't actually plant them. I meant to plant them but somehow November slipped by without me getting any seeds. Luckily I have a neighbor gardener who planted them and one day in January I found a volunteer. I gave the seedling the appropriate structure and, voila, I have sweet peas after all. I've also enjoyed a ton of lettuce and arugula and spicy greens this winter, and the soil I used the cover crop on is looking (and feeling) like it's ready for the beginning of spring and the crops that come with it. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, soon it will be time for tomatomania. Details to come.

Cafe Press dog t shirt

Until then, I am happy to share the details of our new store on Cafe Press, which has all sorts of Gardens to Tables logo items to create. We have two sizes of the logo up on the site that you can attach to an apron, a farmers market tote, a t-shirt -- or even a little cozy for your little dog. I mean, really, what little dog doesn't want to prance around in Gardens to Tables wear as a way to remind them of our motto: grow what you make, make what you grow. Enjoy! 

Ann garden Jan 17 2011 Yes, I know we're 17 days into the new year but this was the first day of 2011 that I got to really go in and clean out my garden. And it felt good. So I thought I'd share. The month of December here in Southern California could be summed up in one word: rain. While a pain, especially during the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays (which seemed especially hustley-and-bustley this year), it was great for the garden and for the cover crop I put on the two beds and in and around some other spaces as well. As the rain stopped right around the 1st, I went in and tilled the cover crop and today went in an tilled some more and started flattening out the soil. I also cut back the trumpet vine and picked a heck of a lot of weeds. Note to self: weeds like rain, too.

Ann garden Jan 17 2011

Instead of leaving perfectly pristine beds, I've left a couple interesting-looking volunteers. In the far corner, I have what appears to be a few sweet pea vines whose seeds must have blown over from a neighbor garden. And in between the two beds, I have a volunteer tomato. There are also various flowers that we'll leave up for the bees and beneficial insects. Crop-wise, it's the lettuces -- including my fave, arugula -- that are doing well. Naturally that's where I've placed my crow decoys to make sure that the garden's marauding squirrel family doesn't decide to enjoy the lettuce before I do. The little lettuce patch is in the same bed as one of my rose bushes, which is still in bloom. Today I decided that roses have a lot in common with cats -- they're both pretty, independent and, even when you're trying to be nice to them (say, pulling the weeds around the base), they sometimes give you a little scratch. Deep (the thought, not the scratch), right? Heck, we're just a couple weeks into the new year. Who KNOWS what I'll think of next.

Ann rose from gardenReally, is there anything more beautiful than a rose? Pictured here is a rose (two, actually) that I recently plucked from my garden. I actually had thought rose season was over and cut back the two that I have (Blue Bell and Royal Amythest) a month ago but then they both came roaring back. Gorgeous, right?

The other crop that's doing a bit of roaring back are late-season tomatoes. I had a crop myself and am hearing stories of them popping up (aka volunteering) in gardens all over the place. After a dismal summer tomato season here in Southern California, it's been kind of nice to now have tomatoes (mostly cherry) almost into winter. And THAT brings me to the following recipe that was sent to us from Cote de Pablo (who plays Ziva David on "NCIS"), via the folks at Prevention magazine, which features an interview with her in their January issue. It's a recipe for pasta sauce that makes great use of those cherry tomatoes and is, officially, our first recipe on the site from a TV celebrity. I mean, that's a milestone, right?

On that note, below is the recipe and, in a nod to this, the frantic holiday season, let's make sure to take some time to stop and smell those roses. Beautiful.

Crow guardians in the gardenYes, I'm going to talk about the squirrel again. Really it's squirrels, plural, as I'm not just talking about the squirrel in my community garden (let's call him RS for resident squirrel) but squirrels in general. What is up with them (in L.A., at least)? Not only has RS become so brazen that one day he stayed and had a chat with me while I was trying to shoo him out of my garden but twice in recent weeks squirrels have come onto tennis courts where I was playing, walked right up to us and wouldn't leave until we chased them.

Then yesterday I discovered that RS had eaten my Marina di Chioggia squash. If you know the Marina di Chioggia, it has an exceptionally thick skin and RS actually bit in and ate a whole chunk out of the middle. Another gardener told me she found acorns in her newly amended soil. Then together we discovered big chunks out of squash in other gardens. My garden is still in the summer-fall transition but I do have one beautiful Hokkaido watermelon growing. So...what to do? Well, I was given two crows recently as a garden gift and decided that they would become the protector of the Hokkaido (above right). Whaddya think? They look scary, right? Scary enough to scare of a squirrel?

Ann garden oct 15In other garden news, check out the mums - amazing, right? These started as a small plant given to me for my birthday a year ago and grew and grew and grew and just recently all bloomed at once, along with my Royal Amethyst roses and the cosmos. It's a pretty spectacular explosion of color -- and a nice way to keep the garden looking festive and attractive during this transition time in the fall.

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