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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.

Corn in the gardenLet me begin by say, yes, it has been over a month since I've written about my garden. Mostly this has been due to a heavy travel schedule -- with trips to New York City (where I discovered the fabulous Union Square Farmers Market) and to Hawaii's Big Island (see the Fairmont Orchid post, the first of many from an island that is truly an agricultural paradise). This has limited the tales from my own garden but there is one that I have been meaning to tell as pretty much sums up the summer:

As you may recall from my August 26 blog post, my attempts to grow corn were thwarted by the community garden's resident squirrel. After that post, I discovered one stalk he hadn't attacked. I thought maybe he was unable to get to it because it was in the very middle of the bed and surrounded by basil, lettuce and arugula. That stalk continued to grow and, ultimately, bore two big fat ears of corn that I discovered upon my return from New York.

I noted the ears and then, in what would be a fateful decision, decided to go home and check first to make sure I was harvesting at the perfect moment. My research said, yes, it was time so I went back to the garden and just as I did what did I see but that rascally little squirrel running away from my plot with a big fat piece of corn in his hand. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he had WAITED until I came back to take off with my corn, mocking me the entire time. This photo is of the defiled corn stalk. It even looks like a crime scene, doesn't it?

Squirrel-damaged cornYou all may recall from my blog post of July 25 the great luck I was having with my first attempt to grow corn. A big beautiful stalk had grown high in the sky and was starting to form wonderful ears of corn. Then I went out of town for a week -- to Lake Tahoe for a family reunion that included a visit to the Tahoe City Farmers Market (click on the link for to see some of the spectacular heirloom tomatoes found there). Jeff was watering the garden in my absence and when I told him about my trip to the lovely farmers market in Tahoe City, he said that I might want to pick up some corn as the community garden's resident marauding squirrel had had his way with mine. This, my friends, is the destruction left by said marauding squirrel to my lovely corn. To quote one of my neighbor gardener's: Does anyone have a falcon I can borrow?

Baby Hokkaido watermelonOn the flip side, there is some good news. We've finally had a few days of hot weather hit Southern California (don't check your calendars, yes, it is August 26) and on my visit to the garden yesterday I saw that most lovely of sights: a baby Hokkaido watermelon (pictured left). It's interesting that the Hokkaido watermelon is the one finally bearing fruit because, of the half dozen different melon plants currently in the garden, it was one of the slower starters as a seedling. 

I also saw -- and I didn't photograph them for fear of scaring them or jinxing the whole process -- a few baby green tomatoes on the tomato plant that volunteered last month. If it does actually bear fruit, it will be the only one to do well this whole summer. And, yes, again I have to say that it is August 26. It's just over a week before Labor Day and our summer is just beginning. Keep your fingers crossed!

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