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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.

I am so happy to have found this website, Gardens To Tables.  The gardening information is very helpful and reflects my own values for organic, low impact living. Some viewers may also be interested in the website; Super Salads and More, at . 

The following is an excerpt from the site; Super Salads and More. (Used with permission from author)

New mothers who are concerned about the possible effects pesticide residues and food additives may have on their babies can now find organic baby foods in the local supermarket. These are most likely more expensive than regular baby food and there is no way to determine how much sugar and salt they contain.  Babies are more sensitive to pesticide residues and other chemicals as their organs are still developing, and some studies have indicated possible correlations between pesticide residues and developmental disorders in children. The best way to give your child the best start in life is to give him homemade organic baby food where you control the amount of salt and sugar while eliminating synthetic chemicals.

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.

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