January Gardening

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Arugula plantPlease try not to hate me. It might be hard when you hear it was over 70 degrees Saturday and I had to spend the bulk of the day in the garden. I couldn’t stay inside. I know it’s January. I know weather like this can’t last even in California. But it was still wonderful.

I found this giant volunteer arugula growing contentedly on the edge of last year’s bean patch. I may have munched a few of those leaves after the picture was taken, but it clearly has plenty, and it’s not even close to going to seed. Several of the pampered arugula starts in the raised bed nearby are already sending up fuzzy flower stems. I was planning to let five or ten of them go to seed for saving, but maybe I should wait on this one instead.

French Green Lentil SproutsAnother wonderful surprise was seeing how well the lentils have sprouted. In our family, my mother-in-law is a legendary cook. If you want to get the kids to try something new, all you have to do is tell them, “Grandma Susan made it,” and they head to the table salivating. Our youngest is especially partial to Grandma’s lentil soup, which is made with the small ‘French Green‘ lentils that look like little grey rocks. When I saw these available through Bountiful Gardens, I had to try growing some. And the sprouts look healthy so far. French Green lentils are supposed to like cool weather, unlike the Asian varieties that are a lot prettier, if you ask me. But what really matters is how they taste in that soup!

Rat-tailed radish sproutsWe’ve also got some Rat-Tailed Radishes and two small sections of Golden Beets coming up nicely–for once! Germination for Golden Beets here has been a fraction of what we get for the red beets we grow. And I honestly don’t know why. Maybe the red beets do better in warmer weather and the golden ones need cooler temperatures to germinate well? I’ll keep experimenting because I love golden beets and this is the first time I have gotten them started well. Hopefully, I’m on a roll. The patch has already been through it’s first careful thinning. I thought I would need small scissors but it ended up working fine to just pinch the stems of the beets chosen to be eaten as micro-greens with my fingernails. I’ll go through the patch again in a week to keep them spaced far enough apart that their leaves don’t touch.

Persian Cress transplantsThe rest of my day was spent on the Spring Salad Garden, which ended up planted in containers on the patio in the back garden. I transplanted Persian Cress, a variety of lettuce varieties, Bloomsdale and Guntmadingen spinaches. I seeded one pot with Beta Salad Mix and another with two varieties of Romaine, because we like it and because Frank Tozer says it’s one of the most nutritious kinds of lettuce to grow.

The salad garden ended up on the back patio because it’s close to the kitchen and well-lit. Even if it’s already dark when it’s time to put together a dinner salad, we can still pop out to the patio and snip away. And I am hoping that slugs and snails will find it very annoying to have to climb vertically on dry terracotta in order to attempt to ruin my salad greens. Earlier this week we were running late getting dinner together and had to pick spinach by flashlight. We discovered dozens of slugs had gotten there ahead of us. Yuck!

The December Garden

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Yacon Flowers

The tasty tubers are much bigger than the bright flowers

I apologize if it sounds a little sad to say that the yacon plant’s reward for making these sweet little flowers was that we ripped it out of the ground, ate it’s tubers and cut it’s roots into five separate sections before replanting them.  I couldn’t help it. It was delicious. Yacon, also called “Bolivian Sunroot,” has a crisp, fruity tuber that ads a satisfying crunch to salads and can be prepared a number of different ways. I bought this one on a lark from Pam Peirce when she was visiting Common Ground. Now that I have tasted them, I hope to have a stand of five plants next year. They can get as tall as 6′ and should make a nice visual break between the front garden beds and the street.

Red and green tomatoes in December

Glacier Tomatoes ripening in December

I brought in the last of the peppers, eggplant and Armenian cucumbers right after Thanksgiving. If you had to eat out of the garden right now in mid-December, you could have spinach, kale, chard, arugula, lettuce, green onions, a couple snap or snow peas, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage (the loose leaf kinds anyway), rutabagas, turnip greens, chicory, sorrel, radishes, rosemary or thyme, and tomatoes. Seriously. I have tomato plants flowering and setting fruit, in December. I put the ‘Glacier‘ tomatoes my mother-in-law sent over in large pots, uncovered so pollinators could get to them, on the patio set against a south-facing wall. It’s a cozy spot, sure, but we had frost for days running a week or two ago. These tomato plants do not care. And who am I to argue?

Seed flat

Keep 'em coming

This week the plan is to set out transplants we have grown of more arugula, chard, kale, Osaka Purple mustard, Chinese asparagus, winter leeks and mesclun mix. And to seed new flats of rutabagas and spinach. If I get to it before the rains come back, I’m going to try a stand of Alderman shelling peas near where I put in the Green Beauty snow peas. They aren’t in a well protected spot, but last year I had both snow and snap peas grow right through the winter. Frost got some of the pods, but the plants survived and flowered again.

All the weather folks keep telling me to expect an unusually wet and cold winter, which sounds an awful lot like the summer we just had, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Yesterday it was 65 degrees. Those tomatoes were probably sweating. ;-)

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.