29 July 2012

July 2012 Flowers In The House

In July we hosted Dinner on (the) Deck. It was a hot evening, and the garden was melting. A few greens and cool colors were used on the table to chill down my guests without turning the garden hose on them. White buddleia adds some sweetness. Coconut Lime echinacea join a few purple coneflower seed heads with loosetrife greenery.

Dinner consisted of spiedies, chopped Mediterranean salad, and grilled vegetables with seasoned potatoes. A guest brought homemade pickles. Raspberry sorbet with fresh berries and a Ghirardelli raspberry chocolate wafer topped off dessert. Better living through food.

Visit and bring your vase to Flowers In The House at Jane's blog Small But Charming.

18 July 2012

One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer

One tomato, one pepper, one cuke. Singing the gardener's blues. With all the work in the garden thus far, that's all I got. It's enough to drive you to drinkin.

One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer came to mind when picking the first tomato and first pepper this morning to join the one cucumber - before the temperature climbs above 100 (38° C) again for the sixth time this summer. I was not looking for the weather to grill my vegetables while still on the vine.

It's the middle of summer and there's not much to show yet. Thankfully we don't have the drought conditions here that a good part of the country has. Rainfall in our area is way down for the year, but there have been a few quick storms that left a little in their wake.

The surprise cucumber was accidentally discovered yesterday evening. I have been watching the tomato for the past week as it tried to ripen and held my breath that a squirrel would not take a chunk out of it.

The pepper is new to me. Seeds were touted by a lady at the February seed exchange [posted 2012.02.11] as a 'Hungarian Pepper' grown every year because it was the best. The internet tells me there are oodles of peppers with this name; some hot, some not. Fast forward to last month, and a few long yellow peppers appeared on the plant. They were left to see how large they would grow, and if they would turn red or orange. This one started to turn, so I brought it in today with the tomato. My 8-inch long (20 cm) Hungarian pepper's appearance is not unlike those infernal red Thai peppers - let's hope not - I don't need peppers to go along with the weather.

PS - The pepper was not hot. It was very flavorful but there's not a lot of pepper.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: zinnia, rudbeckia, cleome, cosmos, sunflowers, nicotiana, echinacea, platycodon, cardoon
  • Harvested: 1 pepper, 1 tomato, 1 cucumber, several cherry tomatoes

07 July 2012

Addition To The Manscape

Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) became one of my new additions to the manscape, joining the canna, sunflowers, knipophia, castor bean, cactus, and large leaf hostas. Plants in the mascape make a statement. They have big in-your-face thick foliage and rugged unique flowers. There is nothing dainty or subtle with their imposing architectural stature. They are tough, mostly tall, need their space, love to compete and win. They don't need constant attention or tender loving care, easily surviving winters, summer droughts, pests, and harsh soil conditions. You don't find a lot of neutrals, pinks, or lavenders.

On a visit to Wililamsburg a few years ago, I stopped at the colonial garden plot. There was a 8-foot tall (2.5 m) cardoon with intense blue flowers on the top, and large 1-foot long (30 cm) leaves. When my landscape architect friends offered a few cardoon plants to me last fall, I eagerly accepted and planted them in the south-facing side yard against the brick house. They stayed green all winter, began growing in March, and reached 6-foot (2 m) in height. Now they are blooming atop the artichoke bud.

The 4-inch (10 cm) spherical cardoon flowers look like a thistle on steroids - ten times as large and with an ice blue color. Cardoons are members of the artichoke family and are a type of thistle. I find them big attractions for pollinators like carousing bumble bees who spend the night on the flowers, and awake in morning sleepy and lethargic as hangover victims.

One source states "I've found that cardoons offer excellent habitat for Ladybugs to breed and multiply in, so our cardoon patch not only serves as a food crop, it's also an insectary that benefits the rest of our more common vegetable crops." I have seen ladybug nymphs on my cardoons this spring.

Native to the Mediterranean region, the stalks have been a food for centuries according to ancient Greek records, and were even cultivated by American colonists. Some sources claim they are an invasive species - so I guess they fit right in with my gardens. They are sold in a handful of farmer's markets today, and can be found in French, African, and especially Italian cuisine. Recipes for Cardoon Gratin, Sauteed Cardoon with Thyme and Pine Nuts, Cardoon-Pasta, Pureed Cardoon Soup, bechamels, and stews can be found on the internet. So can growing instructions.

I was intrigued enough to look into harvesting them for grilled pizza. The stalks (resembling celery) are blanched while growing for about two weeks before harvest - and they are harvested before they bloom. One method for blanching includes include wrapping the stems with straw and manure, which unfortunately (or fortunately) I don't have a lot of on hand. It is too late in the season to harvest my cardoons, but maybe next year.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with a few amendments
  • Full sun, normal water
  • No fertilizer
  • Pests include leafhoppers, black aphids, spider mites

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, rudbeckia, cleome, echinacea,
    lavender, cardoon, zinnia, platycodon, echinops, nicotiana, monarda, liatris
  • Harvested: 28 cherry tomatoes

03 July 2012

Greenie Beanies

This post was written 6/30 but because of the nasty storms then, could not be posted until power and internet access was restored today.

The goodie bag I was handed at the February seed exchange had a packet of seeds for green beans, "Contender." String beans are not my favorite vegetable (yes, I love broccoli) but I can eat them. Because of this, the limited space in the vegetable plot is usually reserved for only most-favored status.

I planted all the seeds (about two dozen) and fertilized with hope, but not with expectation. If I got a harvest, I needed to dig out the bean salad and almandine recipes I never made. If not, the plants could party in the annual compost pile with the radishes. But at least the legumes could fix some nitrogen to the soil, right?

The Contender bush beans sprouted first as food for the night stalkers. After a little treatment with Sluggo and diatomaceous earth, they were off to the races.

Some very hot days and some nice cool days passed and I quickly got my first harvest. Some of the beans were curled into C-shapes. I asked a farmer at a local farmer's market how he grows nice straight beans while my beans were naturally curly. I was told that some varieties do that better than others, and that dry spells between watering can also contribute to this. He grew a variety called 'Valentino' and found "Contender" not to his liking. My green beauties eventually ended up in a 5-bean salad with some of the farmer's yellow beans. (After cornering the market on every type of canned beans in the grocery store, I saw the fine print on the recipe that it could be a 4-bean salad, or 3-bean salad...next time.)

Recently I harvested some red romaine after arriving home from work one sunny 90 degree (32° C) afternoon. It was beginning to grow a stalk, and begging to be eaten. Thank goodness it was not bitter for leaving it in the heat, so for companionship, I gave it some red cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100) and a red 'nonion' (marble-sized onion) all from the garden. Other store produce was incorporated too. The resulting salad was intensely relished. The rest of the red romaine will be picked today after yesterday's 104 degree record (40° C).

Since this is a garden blog, I usually don't photograph food, but maybe once in a while I can show the final outcome of the garden goodies.

For The Record:
  • Good garden soil with good drainage
  • Full sun, 90% of day
  • Small amount of organic fertilizer
  • Munching insects in early season

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, zinnia, rudbeckia, monarda, hosta, loosestrife, cardoon, daisy, echinops,
    platydcodon, cleome, echinacea, daylily
  • Harvested: lettuce, cherry tomatoes, green beans, 1 red onion