Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer in the Garden - Part III

Aww! It's so cute. It's the incredibly small red bell pepper. No, I'm not kidding. It is only about 3 inches in diameter and maybe 2 inches tall. At least, it's ripening. 

A couple of the Roma tomato plants are starting to fruit. Very excited about that. Not sure if we will get enough to can this year. Things are going better now in 'tomatoland.' Even with some our earlier mishaps this year, we are having more success with them than we did last year.

I am keeping a close eye on our Brown Turkey figs. They are almost full-size now and should start to ripen soon. My concern is the squirrels. Except for a couple of figs, those little furry bastards ate all of them last year. I'm hoping to beat them to it this time around. I am determined to make fig jam from our own figs. 

I could not believe my eyes the other day when I noticed that our Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree was blooming again. This is first time that we have seen it bloom twice in a year much less just a few months apart. Will this lead to more lemons? I have no idea. We already have about 16 of them on the tree. Not sure if this little dwarf tree can hold more but we would thrilled if it did.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pumpkins? Maybe?

After planting more pumpkin seeds, one finally germinated. One...out of the dozen that I replanted. Maybe a few more will sprout. I certainly hope so. It would be really, really nice to have more than one pumpkin plant growing since it will increase the likelihood that at least one of them might reach maturity. And, given my lack of gardening success these last few months, I need all of the help I can get. 

This variety of pumpkin is a French heirloom variety  called Rouge Vif d’Etampes. It is also referred to as the Cinderella Pumpkin because they look like the pumpkin that magically turned in to Cinderella's coach. These are lovely pumpkins that are great for use ornamentally. I had one that I purchased last fall at a farm in Somis that lasted till this past week. That is almost ten months. But, I hear that they also make delicious pumpkin pies. It would be nice to find out using a homegrown one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer in the Garden - Part II

Things are finally starting to pickup in the garden. We have more of our Isis Candy cherry tomatoes starting to ripen. And, the new tomato plants that I planted last week are doing well and growing.

The three basil plants are doing very well. And, it feels like a miracle since we have had several basil plants in the last few months get eaten up my some mystery pest. 

The first flower on our Japanese eggplant plants. Hoping for a few more on this plant and that the other one will start flowering soon as well.

And, after several weeks of worrying, some of our winter squash and gourd seeds are starting to germinate. The seedling above is for ornamental gourds. But, we have a couple of seedlings from our Waltham Butternut Squash seeds starting to come up as well. Now, if only the acorn and pumpkin seeds would germinate. If not, I have a feeling that I may be planting some more seeds. I want to see part of our front yard overtaken by squash and pumpkin vines and I'm not ready to let go of that little dream just yet.

The Meyer Lemons are almost the size of large eggs. There are 13 of them on the tree right now.

Last but not least, one of our red bell pepper plants is starting to produce. This is the largest pepper on it so far. Which is not saying much, since it's about the size of a ping pong ball. But, we are hoping that we will have peppers we can harvest next month.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Time Canning - Apricot Jam

Well, I finally did it. Or I guess I should say we did it. Dan and I made homemade jam (yep, it took two of us). It's my first time canning. I've been wanting to give it a try for over a year now but I have been too intimidated. I had already purchased all of the appropriate equipment. However, all of that safety stuff and fear of pathogens can make someone a bit nervous about giving this age old form of food preservation a try. But, I finally committed after buying a box of apricots a few days ago. It was that or make a lot apricot crisps. Next up, homemade pickles.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Airing My Clean Laundry

For the most part this blog has about gardening and food but the goal has really been to write about our efforts at sustainability and self-sufficiency. So in an effort to live a more sustainable life and reduce our carbon-footprint, Dan and I are trying our hand at drying our laundry outdoors. I’m aware that we are not actually on the cusp on this trend since it been around for the last couple of years but we are making changes as we get to them. It’s simply impossible to tackle everything all at once.

So now the challenge is ‘greening’ our laundry. We already use eco-friendly laundry soap and have, long ago, given up things like chlorine bleach, softener and dryer sheets. The next logical step seemed to be reducing our energy consumption. And, the best way to do that was to reduce the number of loads of laundry we dry in the dryer. We live in Los Angeles and the weather here is pretty damn perfect for doing this. If we lived in Seattle or Portland, we might be a bit more challenged drying clothes in this manner.

Dryers are great but they are energy hogs and cost about $0.50 per load to run depending on your utility rates. In fact, using a dryer consumes approximately 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year for the average U.S. household. This means that Dan and I were probably spending around $130 per year just drying our clothes. If we could reduce our energy use, we could also reduce our monthly costs which makes this a win-win situation for the environment and our bank account. And, another added benefit is that your clothes last longer when they are dried on a line or a rack.

The only problem was that I am a complete newbie at using a clothsline or rack. My family may have had a clothsline when I was a child but I don’t remember one. Dan’s family used to use a clothsline for part of the year but he didn’t remember the specifics. So, I did a little bit of research and ended up deciding that a drying rack would be the best option for us. You can use the rack outdoors and indoors which makes it a versatile choice. I ended up ordering one from e-tailer Abundant Earth. As you can see from my lovely photos, I have no idea how to hang things on the rack. But, I’m trying and I hope that I’ll get the hang of it (no pun intended) at some point.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer in the Garden - Part I

The summer solstice was a couple of weeks ago so I thought is was finally time from a little update from the garden. We have had some success as you can see above but a few misses as well (see below). Though our beet and carrot harvest has been nice, our bush beans have not been going as well as planned. Though we had some success in the beginning, the plants have just withered and died. So, this being southern California, I'm going to try again and plant another round. It's nice to live in a place where you have a year-round growing season.

Speaking of hits and misses, some of our tomatoes are doing well, especially the Isis Candy above. However, we had a few casualties with these as well. And, I had to replace 5 plants in our tomato bed. Now all of the tomatoes are at different stages of growth so it'll be interesting seeing what matures when. I have a feeling that we could be harvesting some into September or even October. We're just hoping that most of the plants survive.

If nothing else, the mint is growing like crazy. Yes, it is safely confined to a container so it doesn't go crazy and take over the yard. I've seen that happen to other people and it's not pretty.

When things don't grow as planned, you can start over. This is what I spent a few hours on yesterday. Tearing out two of our raised beds and prepping them for new plants and seed was a lot of work. A number of the plants, like the kale, arugula and snap peas just bolted and you cannot salvage them once that happens. Then the other bed had the carrots and beets so those got harvested. 

So, the bed that gets the most hours of sun got the heat loving plants. Those would be red bell peppers, jalapenos, eggplants and a couple of more tomatoes (Romas). I will be working on the other bed today. That one is going to be lettuces, snap peas, radishes and may be, some more carrots.

No, that is not a sunflower, it's a Black-Eyed Susan. I wish I could say I grew it but I didn't. I bought the plant at the nursery. I tried growing some sunflowers this year but the seeds never germinated. I was very sad about that. So I got these instead since they make me smile.