Bridging the Hungry Gap at Dirt to Dinner

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Fresh peas

No Time to Cook These Peas

Historically speaking, this time of year was often referred to as the ‘hungry gap’ when food stored for the winter was running low–or running out–and spring crops had yet to produce. But this year the Dirt to Dinner garden is doing its best to bridge the hungry gap.

Yesterday we picked a big bowl full of ‘Petit Pois‘ shelling peas so sweet we ate every last one of them before we even started cooking. Today we tried the ‘Telephono‘ peas.  And there are four other varieties of peas ready to pick and six coming on soon.

There are lettuces for salad, along with celery, spinach and the last of the wintered-over kale, arugula, scallions and snow peas. There are still some carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips and radishes in the ground. And the potato patch planted on Christmas is just starting to pass its peak of leaf growth. If we reached around under those slightly weathered branches, I’m sure we could find some new potatoes. And we may have to, as the last Dirt to Dinner ‘All Blue’ potato accompanied a pot roast into the slow cooker earlier this week.

Mini Purplette Onions

'Purplette' Onions Before the Dryer

There are plenty of herbs around to flavor whatever we do find to eat. We have chives, sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary and parsley all doing well, and some marjoram trying to fight its way back to full vigor. Some of the herbs are already finding their way into the dehydrator. Today we did three full trays of thyme leaves. Tomorrow I plan to add slices of green onion to the drying list as there are beautiful stems of ‘Purplette Bunching’ onions ready in the middle of the asparagus bed. There are also bulbing onions tucked here and there around the garden that we could pull and eat if we needed to.

But, thankfully, we don’t. We can wait and plot and plan for summer’s tomatoes, basil, beans, cucumbers, squash and melons. And sip fresh lemonade as we count the blossoms on the apricot, cherry, nectarine and apple trees. For this year at least, no one will be hungry in the Dirt to Dinner garden.

What We’ve Got Growing for 2010

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Petit Pois Peas

The sunny weather has lots of folks asking what’s growing in the Dirt to Dinner garden. We are still enjoying the wintered-over ‘Tokyo Market‘ turnips, ‘King Midas‘ carrots, collards, ‘Rainbow‘ chard, ‘True Siberian‘ kale, rutabagas, lettuces, chicory, radicchio and parsnips.

The 2010 Pea Trial is well under way and at this point two contenders are pulling ahead, the ‘Petit Pois‘ and the ‘Gigante Svizzero‘ eaten as a shelled pea. We had one guest who swears by these peas eaten pod and all. Unfortunately, the early patch we are eating from was interplanted with the shelling pea ‘Telephono‘ so we can never be positive the shells of any pea picked there are going to be edible. The only variety we lost this year were the ‘Laxton’s Progress No. 9‘s’. We used a lot more netting and bird tape this year, and transplanted starts into several of the test beds. By the time the kids get back in April, we should have around ten varieties ready for a taste test.

Thirteen different varieites of tomatoes are growing under glass or lights; ‘Chinese Cherry’, ‘Big Beef’, ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’, ‘Blondkopfchen’, Grandma Jill’s ‘Ugly‘ ‘Homely Homer‘, ‘Roma Paste’, ‘Moonglow’, ‘Speckled Roman’, ‘Amish Paste’, ‘Costaluto Genovese’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Big Rainbow Striped’and ‘Tennessee Britches’. And the much beloved ‘Principe Borghese’, all six of them, are brazenly growing, without covers, right through the 42 degree nights. And while I wouldn’t recommend you try this at home, they look sturdy and healthy. I wouldn’t do this myself if we hadn’t had at least one Principe Borghese flowering by March 20th last year.

Eight different varieties of tomatillos are cuddled up on heat mats with the peppers; ‘Aunt Molly’s’, ‘Verde’, ‘Cossack Pineapple’, ‘Tomatillo Verde’, ‘Toma Verde’, ‘Purple Tomatillo’, ‘Purple De Milpa’, ‘Giant Cape Gooseberry’.

Now that the weather is so tempting, I can’t wait for the kids and Mackenzie to get back to growing in the garden!

Pea Trials Year 2

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Pea pod in hand

Fall Wando Success

This year, rather than start the Pea Trial in January, I decided it might be worth while to try growing different varieties right through the winter. I started with a shelling pea that I always see mentioned along with it’s resistance to heat, Wando, and planted it on August 13th. I figured it had the best chance with our fall weather. Maybe it was just luck, but we have been eating peas in the garden from this small test patch since October right into December. Frost got some of them, but the plant has put out new flowers and started over.

In mid-September some of the Dirt to Dinner kids and I planted two more test patches of peas. One side is Cascadia snap peas and the other is Oregon Sugar Pod snow peas. Pea plantingThese have also survived the three or four frost days and the winter winds. If it gets too cold though, the pods on the vine are ruined. But we pick them off and toss them into the compost and the plant puts out more flowers. I put in a test patch of Thomas Laxton peas on October 31st but as soon as I thought it was safe to take the burlap off of them (11/15) the patch was decimated by whatever evil critter out there chews the leaves off all the sprouting vines. I have to remember that in the Dirt to Dinner garden peas planted directly in the soil need protection until they are well established.

We also have another small patch of Petit Pois peas put in on November 12th with starts from Yamagami’s in Cupertino.

These diminutive peas are authentic French petit pois and are ever so sweet, ready to use at miniature size, when the slim pods are just 3” to 4” long. Each pod contains six or seven tiny peas, less than half the size of regular shelling peas. Their buttery flavor and tenderness cannot be matched! Plentifully produces petit pois on disease-resistant, 18” to 24” vines. These small, delicate vines need support.

Block planted Petit Pois

Petit Pois Perfect

The plants are still pretty petite right now at the end of December. I haven’t seen any flowers develop but they are shaded by a massive tomato plant I was trying to winter over. Not sure that experiment is going to be worth the space or potential shade cast though. The tomato is a very unhappy grey-green right now that does not bode well. Maybe I will cut it back to whatever looks healthy and green and give the poor peas some more sunlight. I’ll check their color more closely when the rain lets up.

On Christmas, which was a gorgeous gardening day here, I put in about 50 Sugar Daddy snap pea seeds, under covers and started another 30 in the garage as back-up just in case those get destroyed. In January I plan to do some of the Italian pea varieties we liked from the trial last year and I swear there is a packet of Laxton’s Progress peas around here somewhere that are waiting to be planted. If only I could remember what I did with them!