Friday, September 28, 2007

Full Circle Farm Groundbreaking

Sunnyvale city officials joined board members from the Santa Clara Unified School District and the Sunnyvale Sustainable Gardens non-profit in planting the first fruit tree, a plum, at the ground-breaking ceremony for Full Circle Farm. The farm returns 11 acres of unused land at the Peterson School to agricultural use as a not-for-profit farm and education center that will supply produce to the school district and local charities, as well as sell directly to the public.

Shovels stand ready for the true 'ground-breaking', digging a hole and planting the first of a small orchard of fruit trees that will echo Santa Clara's agricultural heritage and provide fruit for the Farm's school lunch and market garden programs.

A sizeable crowd turned out for the afternoon's festivities, which included informative displays about Santa Clara farming history, conservation strategies related to agriculture, the concept of 'peak oil', efforts to reclaim the former UC/USDA farm station in San Jose before it is developed and lost, and face-painting and rock-painting for children.

All of the tables were decorated with winter vegetable seedlings, planted in colorful pots that had been painted by children at last weekend's Santa Clara Art and Wine Festival. Visitors were encouraged to take a seedling or two home with them. I chose Italian parsley, as my pot of it was accidentally left unwatered sometime this summer.

The collection of local dignitaries paused for a photo op with the commemorative plaque that will mark the tree. I hope to edit this shortly to include names and affiliations-- please leave a comment if you can help identify people!

For even more pictures, see my
Full Circle Farm Groundbreaking set on FlickR

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Winter Squash Pantry

This year I'm proudly displaying our winter squash as they cure, rather than lining them up along the wall or countertop as clutter. Our printer stand makes a great little pantry for the squashes. Yes, that's a face on one of them. I offered to decorate some pumpkins for someone on Craigslist, and did a sample on a handy squash!

The two squashes in the foreground are both interesting. The big one is part kabocha, and I believe part banana squash. It was saved from a kabocha I bought in a farmer's market. There is a typical-looking small kabocha ripening outside from the same vines, and it is the same lovely gray-green as the very tip of this squash.

Right at that tip you'll see a tiny ridged squash. That is a Black Futsu, a Japanese squash with an unbelievably intense flavor. It starts out a green so dark that it almost looks black (hence the name), and then turns a dusty orange in storage. The parent squash was also small, but at least double the size of this one. There's another tiny one on the vine outside. I hope that they're edible-- one reason they could be so tiny would be that they crossed with some kind of gourd.

I'm starting to think that, while seed saving from the farmer's market is fun, I might want to plant more 'official' seeds next year and get a more consistent harvest. Since I don't have room for more than a couple of plants of any large cultivars, like squashes, a packet of seed lasts me several years and is a good investment. Ironically, I have an unopened packet of Black Futsu that I didn't plant, preferring to use the saved seed instead (as this packet is vacuum sealed).

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Garden Wrap-Up

This is the time of year when we take apart the garden and put it back together for winter gardening. We were so busy doing that, and getting sticky and dirty with sap, compost, mud, etc, that we forgot to take pictures! So I did catch-up pictures of the items left over, minus a couple of big stir-frys. This is the time of year when we have the funkiest-looking veggies, as we clear everything off the plant when we take it out of the garden.

As usual, we got a lovely return on our beans. I think beans are one of the great gifts to gardeners. I plant a couple of dozen beans of various types and harvest a quart of dried beans, plus eating several meals of fresh young whole beans. The plants themselves are great nitrogen fixers, and can be shredded and mulched in place on the garden beds at the end of the season, or composted.

This year we added Painted Lady to the runner bean collection, growing it separately on a carport support. The plants quickly climbed up to the roof, and were claimed delightedly by a couple of the local hummingbirds. The Painted Lady beans are white with black squiggles, in contrast to the pink and black Scarlet Runner beans. I've picked out a batch for next year's planting (and for sharing!), from the longest and best-formed pods. Here the harvested beans are drying a bit more on the shelf, along with previously harvested peppers.

Our melon experiments were much more successful this year than last. We also discovered that a local squirrel or rat likes melons (grr!). Despite losing a couple of melons, our mini-melons did very well in the self-watering planters. We got a couple of tiny yellow watermelons, some mini-charentais, and a couple of a variety I've forgotten. I think all of these were supposed to be larger. I don't know if our soil wasn't amended richly enough, or if the cold snaps in the summer did it. I skipped the usual midsummer composting, being away, and I feel that was a big mistake.

Yes, we're being cute here. Still, we find cardboard egg cartons to be a good place to store veggies that we don't like to refrigerate. They allow good air circulation and are handy. I'm thinking of finding some small wire baskets on drawer gliders and hanging them under my kitchen cabinets over the countertop, which would be less cluttery than the egg cartons, and would be safe from countertop spills. There were several Ichiban long purple eggplants in this carton, too, but they went into the frypan before the picture was taken. Really like the Ichiban and the Fairy Tale (shown here) for tenderness and no trace of bitterness.

I've left our big Early Girl tomato plant alone, but the Green Zebra is history, as is the Pineapple Beefsteak and the Persimmon, so we have plenty of green tomatoes ripening up. The startlingly dark one is the Purple Russian; they never got more than a pale pink outside before something four-footed harvested them, or we did in self-defense. I had great hopes for a complex, smoky flavor in this, as is supposed to be true of many black or dark tomatoes, but I found it actually rather bland. Purple Russian tomato won't be returning to my garden next year. I'll try Black Krim or Black Prince, and rig netting so that I'll have a chance of ripening them on the vine.

When you're picking green tomatoes for later ripening, especially if you're pulling out the plant, take a good chunk of stem along with them. The ripening tomatoes will pull sugars from the stem, which slowly withers and hardens. The resulting tomatoes are almost as sweet as vine-ripened, certainly far and away better than supermarket tomatoes, even hothouse ones.

Our plans for a bountiful potato harvest were dashed by the construction of new fence between our property and the neighbors' in the back, as we didn't find out it was coming in until the workmen were already there. They dug out my potato patch to put in a posthole, and I was only able to salvage the area where I'd laid down the standing plants straight out from the fence and covered them with dirt for an extended harvest. That led to a nice batch of small new potatoes, about half of which are pictured here. They were delicious! They are mostly Russian Banana, with a few Russets here and there.

A few larger potatoes survived the shovels of the fence-builders. They'll be chowder someday soon!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Days of Squash and Roses

Summer is clearly coming to a close here in Silicon Valley. Breezy days in the high 70's wind down to chilly evenings and cool nights. I've got floating row cover over our peppers already and one of the eggplant beds.

Our roses are blooming again after a severe pruning in early August. The ultra-hot weather didn't do them any favors, even though I cut back on watering them to try to stave off any mildew or fungus problems. I'm participating in the Apartment Therapy 8-Week Cure, and one of the first things that comes up is to bring in fresh flowers. OK, they say 'buy', but I can just go out front right now, so I did.

Normally I'd have cut dahlias, but mine, alas, were just destroyed this past weekend by workers putting in a fence replacement. They might come back for the season or they might not-- they were completely uprooted. I reburied them and watered; worst case, they die back for this season. I'm planning on moving them this winter anyway. Still, there were a LOT of blooms left, and I'm sad about that.

What I think will be the last of my squashes are in now; I planted the ebicata kabocha too late, and it got hit with powdery mildew during our hot spell and hasn't set fruit yet. Too bad! But the red kuri / kabocha cross came through very well, and I may get another straggler from my Waltham butternut.

When the nights get cold, the squashes toughen up and get ready to pick. If you still have some ripening, be sure to gently lift them off the ground and make sure they're clear of little pillbugs or other critters trying to eat into the rind. Use a piece of old potshard or a tile to get them off the ground, or even rest them on the vine itself. There are two primary signs to look for in squashes. The first is that the stems will start to get hard, and may turn tan or shrivel up. Butternuts typically need a pair of bolt cutters to snip off the vine! The other sign is that the skin hardens to the point where it is difficult to mark it with a fingernail. Store fresh-picked squashes on a screened porch or on an open, well-ventilated shelf for at least a week or two to let them shed excess moisture. I keep mine on an open shelf as decoration, and gradually use them up in winter.

If you haven't grown your own squash, don't worry-- the ones at the Farmer's Market are perfectly lovely. Buy them now, when the markets are fairly swimming in them, and store them yourself at home for later. Don't wash them, but if they're dirty or mucky, you can polish them off with a barely damp cloth. Treat as you would your own fresh-picked, and let them cure a while before putting in a cupboard.

The rest of the garden is still busy turning out, as Mike's late grandmother would say, "a bissel of this, and a bissel of that". A friend of ours came over and we responded to the plethora of ingredients by making ratatouille, a perfect solution to lots of ingredients in quantities too small to make any one of them the centerpiece. OK, there are always huge quantities of zucchini; we balance them off against the rest of the ingredients that way!

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Harvest Snapshot: Sept 10

September harvests usually end up to be something of a mish-mash, and this one is no exception. Fortunately, the best veggie stir-fry has lots of different kinds of veggies, and we're definitely getting good material for that!

Time to round up the winter squashes and bring them inside. Make sure there's plenty of airflow where you store them, and let them 'cure' for a bit in the open air before putting them into a cupboard. Butternut squashes may drip slightly from the stem for a day before settling in, so make sure they won't drip on another squash.

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