Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Action!

The rains have finally broken out here in soggy California and the sun has returned in earnest.  Now it feels like spring.  The thing about spring is that it comes every year, yet never ceases to instill a sense of anxious excitement in me, especially in the garden.  All the day-dreaming through the winter can be turned into action- soil to prep, weeds to pull, seeds to plant, seedlings to buy, mulch to spread!  Yippee!

These are the garden tasks that I am looking forward to over the next few weeks:
  • Finally take down tomato cages- I just had to admit that one.  Yup, it's March and the tomato cages are still up.  Hey, at least it keeps the cats out of the garden bed.
  • Remove bolted brassicas - What a weird winter.  Tons of rain and hot spells led to confused vegetables.  My broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, etc decided that instead of producing food they'd give me flowers (i.e. bolt).  Oh well, 2009-2010 was a great broccoli year (see the giant broccoli in my photo) so maybe next winter will be great once more.
  • Weed the garden path and around the bases of the fruit trees - Death to Bermuda Grass!!!
  • Lay straw mulch down between the garden beds - Suffocate, Bermuda Grass!
  • Add compost to the unoccupied raised beds and turn the soil - Dig, sonny, dig!
  • Wrangle the bird netting - Don't ask...
  • Install drip irrigation lines - The pipes and lines to all the beds are hooked up, now I just need to figure out how to add drip emitters or soaker hoses or t-tape.  This will be the first season that the MKG is on irrigation rather than hand-watering and I'm holding out hope that things will survive summer trips just a little bit better (or at all- I'm looking at you, potatoes).
  • Plant the asparagus - If it ever thaws out enough at the farm for the crowns to be dug up.
  • Plant root and lettuce seeds - Time to get those carrots and beets and radishes started before the heat comes on strong.
Phew!  I think that just about covers it.  I've got plenty to do around the garden now so that it's in fighting shape come summer planting time.  Hmmm, I should probably quit blogging and get out into the MKG. To action!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The New Additions: Potted Citrus

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the MKG Orchard has been growing. Already an Orange and a Meyer Lemon have staked a claim here, and now they are joined by two new potted citrus:

Oro Blanco grapefruit and Bearss lime!

Oro Blanco is a yellow grapefuit that does better in this climate than red grapefruit. A good rule of thumb for citrus, as recounted to me by my Orchard Instructor, is: "Sweet needs heat!" That means that the sweeter your citrus variety, the more heat it needs to develop that sweetness. It does get really hot here in the summers, but it's just not like Florida for growing sweet citrus. I hope the Oro Blanco will do well at the MKG!

Generally, when you plant a fruit tree the existing fruit should be removed. This allows the plant to focus its energy on growing, rathering than ripening fruit. Since I planted the Oro Blanco in a pot, and I don't want it to get too large (less root-pruning), I decided to leave the fruit on there. I hope it's tasty!

The other new addition, Bearss lime, will round out the citrus for now. It is billed as a "seedless" lime, but I am skeptical. From the aforementioned Orchard Instructor, I've learned that it is basically impossible to grow seedless citrus in California. Know why? Well, you need to prevent pollination to keep seeds at bay. That means different citrus need to be separated by more than 1,000 feet to keep them free of seeds. Do you have any clue how many backyard citrus there are in California? Tons! I would happily wager money that there are at least 100 citrus trees within a 1,000-foot-radius of the MKG. It's almost impossible to isolate your trees here so I'm expecting the occasionial seed.

Planting in pots is always a little tricky. Dilligence is necessary for keeping the plants hydrated and fed. These guys are set up on a drip irrigation system so hopefully they won't dry out. And I'll *try* to remember to feed them their monthly doses of citrus food. Conveniently, I have to walk past them to get to the MKG, so that should improve their odds of survival.

If I do manage to keep them alive, next year I'll be enjoying a mean homegrown mojito!

p.s. Am I the only one who sees the name "Bearss lime" and thinks "bare-@ss lime?" Just curious...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spoiled Rotten

When I started my new job last September (stupid economy) I asked about all the appropriate things- what will my role be, what are the projects like, how much are you gonna pay me. You know, the usual. It never occurred to me ask about the intangibles.

Lucky for me I liked the job for what it was, because it comes with some spectacular intangibles. Namely: mushrooms!

My new boss owns a ranch north of San Francisco in prime mushroom foraging territory. The other day he returned from the weekend with a veritable cornucopia of wild mushrooms. Chanterelles, winter chanterelles, black trumpets, hedgehogs, and candy caps. And just like that he put this basket overflowing with mushrooms on a low filing cabinet and said “Help yourselves.” Woohoo!

My colleagues and I are officially spoiled rotten.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with all of them! I'm told that these mushroom varieties freeze well and the black trumpets also dry well, too. That’s great because I wouldn’t want any of this bounty to go to waste.

I decided to start with my favorite standby mushroom recipe: Mushrooms on Toast from Canal House Cooking. This recipe is very forgiving and works well for all types of mushrooms. I once doubled it for a tapas party and brought the cooked mushrooms (a mix of button, crimini and shiitake) in a bowl, a platter of sliced baguette and a little bowl of chopped parsley. We each assembled individual little bites of mushroomy goodness and then went back for seconds.

Mushrooms on Toast
from Canal House Cooking, volume 2.
Serves 2-4 (depending on how much you like mushrooms)

3 Tbl butter
1 Tbl olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 lb cleaned halved mushrooms
salt and pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
bread for toast
handful chopped parsley leaves

Melt the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and mushrooms, season with S & P, and saute until the mushrooms have softened, ~5-10 minutes [I rarely time mushrooms- I just saute until they release their juices and start to turn golden]. Pour in the cream and stir; continue cooking for a few minutes more until the cream has thickened slightly. Serve over slices of buttered toast, topped with parsley.

Enjoy! Meanwhile, please drop a note in the comments if you know a great preparation for wild (or regular) mushrooms.

Disclaimer: He’s been doing this for years and knows his mushrooms. Don’t forage without a guide- some mushrooms WILL kill you. You’ve been warned.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weekend Activity: California Artisan Cheese Festival

In case you aren't planning on hitting the SF Flower and Garden Show next weekend, how about the 5th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival? I went last year and it was delicious. I had to pace myself to make sure I didn't come home with pounds of cheese that might go bad before I could eat them all.

On Saturday there will be seminars to attend and a gourmet dinner option. Sunday is the Artisan Cheese Marketplace. This includes cheeses galore, wine and beer tasting, gourmet meats (Black Pig Meat Co!!) and other cheese-philic offerings. If you are anywhere near Petaluma, CA, I encourage you to stop by!

My personal favorites from 2010:

Caproncino: a hard aged goat cheese, it smells like feet and tastes like coconut. Ah-mazing. Bohemian Creamery, Sebastopol, CA.
Two-Faced Blue: a blended sheep and cow's milk blue, creamy & delicious. Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese, Doty, WA.
Point Reyes Toma: a semi-hard farmstead cheese from Point Reyes; it's like buttah, baby. Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Point Reyes Station, CA.

All three of those cheeses are terrific and were quite a hit at last year's Easter Dinner. And it's a credit to my friends and family that they all tried the Caproncino upon my reassurances of its deliciousness... despite the odeur des pieds.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Beware the Ides of Bloom Day! Actually, just joking. There are no assasins growing in the garden at the moment.

It has certainly been an odd season, though. Remember last month when the Pluot bloomed and announced spring? Well, shortly after that happened we had a series of crazy storms including predictions of snow(!) in San Francisco(!) (that snow didn't happen). Even without the snow it has been quite cold (relatively) and I'm not sure those early potatoes are going to hang in...

The bonus of all this wacky weather is that we've had a nice lot of rain for all the plants and reservoirs. Here's hoping that the water table is nicely filled up and when spring decides to spring again, the plants will all thrive in their freshly damp soil!

Without further ado, here's what's blooming now in the MKG:
White flowering currant: Ribes sanguinem (White Icicle)
Golden flowering currant: Ribes aureum

Pink flowering currant- Ribes sanguinem (Claremont Pink)
The orange... almost in bloom
And the Pluot is still going.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Weekend Activity: San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

Are you free in two weeks? If so, may I suggest the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show? It will be in full bloom at the San Mateo Events Center, March 23-27.

I attended last year and in addition to leaving with this fabulous peacock:

I also left with a ton of inspiration. From off-the-wall conceptual gardens to I-wish-this-was-my-front-yard beauties, there is something for every type of garden taste. And, this being the Bay Area, there is an added emphasis on drought-tolerance, natives, and edibles.

In addition to viewing the gorgeous gardens, there is plenty to browse or buy: plants, bulbs, tubers, seeds, containers, books, garden decorations, antiques... And did I mention all the Seminars and Demonstrations? There will be things happening all day, everyday. I've only glanced at the schedule and have already found at least five seminars/talks I'd like to attend- and that's just over the weekend!

For those who aren't in the area, the website for the event has plenty of pictures and links to keep you entertained for a while. And if I can muster the energy to head over the San Mateo Bridge, I'll be sure to post some pictures of my own!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Irish-Twisted Crepes

It was a cold day in January around the turn of the century, the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack was in heavy rotation, and we were snowed in to the apartment. No car to use, just our feet... and fresh snow in the streets up to our knees. It certainly looked pretty, but not the sort of thing you want to venture out into for provisions when the store is a 20-minute-walk-on-a-good-day away. It was time to get creative.

Alas, the pickings were slim. We found a couple eggs (protein!) and some flour (carbohydrates!) and started thinking that crepes would be just the ticket. But wait... the only liquids in the fridge were Fierce Lime Gatorade, orange juice, and Piñña Colada mix leftover from the New Year. We thought (in clear desperation), "Gee, Piña Colada mix isn't all that different from milk, really" and went with it as a substitution.

In our haste to eat, the proportions were a bit... off. Instead of Piña Colada Crepes, we had made Piña Colada Pancrepes. Not quite a pancake, not quite a crepe. But you know what? They were ab-so-lute-ly delicious!

Ever since that fateful night it has become tradition for me to start my St. Paddy's Day with a breakfast of Baileys Irish Cream Crepes, the sophisticated older sister of the P.C. Pancrepe. The flavor is subtle and delicious. Sometimes I top them with butter and sugar, other times with fresh whipped cream and a drizzle of Baileys. However you top them, I recommend a nice Irish coffee alongside (Baileys and Jameson in mine, thanks).

So here it is, my St. Paddy's Day gift to you: the Baileys Irish Cream Crepe!

Baileys Irish Cream Crepes
Serves 1-2
This recipe produces an eggy crepe. The following ratio is good for ~four small crepes. Increase the recipe to accomodate your St. Paddy's Day crowd.

2 eggs
1 heaping Tbl flour
2 Tbl Baileys Irish Cream

Put your favorite pan on the stove over medium heat. Heat the pan until a dash of water flicked in the pan balls up and rolls (rather than sizzling and evaporating).

Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly. If you have a bowl with a pour spout, it will make life easier. Add the flour and Baileys and beat until smooth. If you feel so-inclined, add the flour through a sifter to cut down on lumps.

When the pan has reached medium-hot, put a pat of butter in and swirl to coat. Pour ~1/4 of the batter into the pan and swirl, making a thin coating of batter. Cook a few minutes or less, until the edges curl up and batter-bubbles turn golden brown. Flip and cook the other side, ~30 seconds. Repeat with remaining batter, adding extra butter between crepes as needed to prevent sticking.

If you have a large group to feed, turn the oven to warm and stack crepes on a plate until ready to serve.

Serve crepes topped with butter and sugar or with whipped cream and a drizzle of Baileys. And don't forget the Irish coffee! Slainte!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The New Additions: Orchard Espaliers

During the last week, the orchard portion of the Mighty Kitchen Garden has more than doubled! I've been planning and researching these plants for quite a while and I'm so excited to actually see them in the ground. The new additions cover a wide variety from exotic to standard. This installment of the introductions will focus on the espaliers.

The MKG is rather big for a garden and quite small for an orchard. Accordingly, I was very keen to select some trees that can produce fruit in a small space. Enter the espalier.

"Espalier" is a term that basically means to train a tree or vine so that it grows in a single plane. For example, training a tree to grow flat against a fence or wall. This method of growing is ideal for fitting trees into small or narrow yards. It is also a great option for fitting in more varieties of fruit. Enter the 6-in-1 espalier.

With a 6-in-1 tree, you literally have one main trunk with 6 different varieties grafted onto it. The six branches you see in the picture below will each produce a different type of apple! How cool is that?

The MKG is now home to two 6-in-1 espaliered fruit trees. One is an apple and features Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, Gravenstein, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. The other is a pear and features Bosc, Comice, D'Anjou, Bartlett, Red Bartlett and Flemish Beauty.

In addition to looking great and fitting a lot of fruit into a small space, the 6-in-1 espalier also extends the harvest. Each of the six varieties will ripen at a slightly different time, creating a living parade of apples and pears. I can't wait to try them all and determine which harvest window produces the best combination for apple pie!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The beginning of The Wait

If you’ve never tended a garden, take it from me: you will not get everything done that you want to. Certainly not when you meant to, anyway.

I’ve been working on the MKG for the last three years and I still have not planted asparagus. I want to grow asparagus, and I know it takes three years before you get a full harvest, and I know that clock won’t start ticking until those crowns are in the ground… yet they aren’t.

It’s all been a case of wanting the decision of permanence to be well-made. Asparagus are planted as root crowns and are a perennial – they can keep coming up for 20 years and providing you with fresh asparagus that whole time. All you need to do is plant them once and ta-da! But since they are going to live in the same spot for so long, I wanted that spot to be just right before I committed them to it.

Apparently I've been having a Goldilocks moment.

However, I finally have a bed where the asparagus can live in ferny peace for the foreseeable future. In anticipation of a flush harvest (three years from now), I am already excited to make aparagus & pecorino and asparagus spread & prosciutto on toast (yum). I think it might finally be time for me to order that asparagus!

I’ve had my eye on the Sweet Purple from Seeds of Change for at least two years now. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love a purple vegetable? I know I do. So that’s it. It’s been three years and the time has finally come. I will order my crowns, plant them, and begin The Wait.
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