What a strange coastal summer we’ve had. It has been exceptionally cool with overcast in the mornings and breezy sunshine in the afternoons. The hens in the henhouse (see Backyard Hencam) have been happy and laying like crazy but my garden languishes; except for the summer squash and pumpkins.
I’ve always had pretty good luck with pumpkins here in cool Cambria. Pumpkins are said to need heat but I get a dozen or so each year, enough to give to grandchildren and make some pies for Thanksgiving. I cook a pumpkin, purée it, and freeze it for our Australian labradoodles to have on occasion. I’ve read that pumpkin is good for their digestion so I mix it into their food when their tummies are upset from eating something they shouldn’t have (which is more often that I like to recall).
This year I’ve got about a half-dozen big pumpkins that are starting to turn orange. I won’t harvest them until they have fully matured and have gained their beautiful rich color. Their skin needs to harden and their stems need to dry and shrivel before they are removed from the vine. Pumpkins do not sweeten after they have been harvested so it’s best to leave them on the vine for as long as possible.
The leaves of my pumpkin are beginning to get powdery mildew (like my summer squash leaves). I ignore it and remove the leaves when they get too infected. It doesn’t seem to affect the production of the pumpkin.
Pumpkins are considered a winter squash because they store well in the winter, not because they grow in the winter. Pumpkins need to be stored at temperatures under 60 degrees. They will lose some sugar as the winter progresses but can be good up to about six months.
If you don’t have a place to grow pumpkins be creative. I plant mine in my rose garden. The vines meander in and around the rose bushes and fill in space that would otherwise be wasted. Pumpkins are fun to grow and fun to eat. Fall is not fall without a few pumpkins in the garden.
You’d think I’d learn my lesson. Every spring I plant “mesclun” (pronounced mess-cloon). Mesclun is a mixture of lettuces and tender greens for use in salads. They do really well in our cool coastal climate and give me a variety of greens. Most mesclun seed packages contain the seeds of lettuce, arugula, endives, mustard, cresses, and escarole. This year I planted a mesclun package that had kale seeds in it. This has happened before but I’d forgotten how well kale grows here. It grew so large and fast that it pretty much obliterated the smaller greens.
Kale is packed with vitamins and minerals and can be put in salads or cooked. Some varieties have curly, frilly leaves and some are smooth. The seeds in this package were that of red kale.
Kale likes rich soil. Sow seeds in early spring about ½ inch deep and two feet apart. For a fall-winter crop, sow seeds in late September or early October while soil is still warm. Keep the soil moist. Thin plants to 1-½ feet apart.
Kale will keep growing for some time and not go to seed as quickly as mustard greens. Harvest outer leaves as needed for recipes. Young tender leaves are good in salads and older leaves are better cooked.
I cook kale like I cook mustard. Here is a simple and delicious recipe that I made last week.
Recipe for Sautéed Kale
1 lb. kale
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
Pinch of dried hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup raisins, currants, or dried cranberries (optional)
Cut off tough stems and the center rib of the chard leaf and discard. Cut leaves into 1-inch strips. Cook kale in a 6-quart pot with water, stirring occasionally, or steam in microwave for about 3 minutes just until tender. Drain in a colander.
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté onion, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 6 to 8 minutes). Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté, stirring, until garlic is fragrant (about 1 minute). Reduce heat to moderate, then add kale and raisins and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar, and salt.
I think you’ll enjoy this easy-to-prepare dish, whether or not you grow kale or buy it at the farmer’s market. I feed my extra kale to my hens and they love it. You can visit them at: backyard hencam. Perhaps you’ll find them eating my overgrown kale.
We’re having such fun with our raspberries this year. They loved all the winter rains and we’re getting a good crop. I’ve even gotten enough to make sauces and jam. Our cool coast is the idea climate for these sweet, flavorful, ruby-red berries.
Five years ago we had the offer from a fellow Master Gardener, to help ourselves to some raspberries growing in her backyard in San Luis Obispo. “They spread like mad so come on over and dig up what you want.” Husband Don had his shovel and bucket out and ready in about three seconds. To us, raspberries are a delicacy. We just can’t get our fill at $4.00 a basket.
Most raspberries bear fruit on two-year-old canes. Our raspberries are the everbearing type that bears fruit on old canes in spring and early summer and on new canes in late summer and early fall. This works well for small families that would like to pick berries for a longer period of time, rather than all at once for canning. The new canes are gray-green and the older canes are brown so it’s easy to tell the difference. It’s best to cut the older canes to the ground after they have borne fruit so that new canes can replace them. Some folks actually mow them in the fall but this will cause you to sacrifice that first, delicious crop in early spring.
Papa Don in his slippers and socks picking raspberries.
Raspberries (except for the trailing varieties) do not need a tall support as does the olallieberry. Our everbearing raspberries stand up pretty much on their own. We strung two wires about two feet apart on two posts with horizontal arms. The wires run down each side of the planting row at a height of about 40 inches. This holds the vines back so that we can get up close for picking. You can also plant four plants inside a three-foot diameter circle of builders wire if space is a concern.
Pick raspberries early in the morning if possible. To harvest, wait until they are plump, then gently pull on them. If they come off easily, they are ripe. Raspberries are the only berries that leave their center on the bush as you pull them off. If the center of the berry is empty, you know you have picked a ripe raspberry.
Some people have told me that they can’t have raspberries because they spread by underground runners. This is true! We simply take a shovel and go down both sides of the row, cutting the roots and tearing them out. We’ve always found someone who wants these runners to start their own raspberry production. It’s fun to spread the wealth!
I love surprises in the garden. One of them this year has been the appearance of ollalieberries hanging from our two vines. The olallieberry is a biennial, meaning that the berries we are getting this year are from vines that grew last year along wires we strung from one support to another. The leaves appear to have black spot (a fungus common in our damp coastal climate) on them but the vines are thriving and bearing about a cup of berries a day. New stalks are growing upward and the old vines will be cut to the ground after they’ve finish producing and the new vines will take their place. I got one of these vines from a fellow gardener and I grew the second vine from a cutting.
The word “olallie” is the word for berry in the language of Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Olallieberry (pronounced oh-la-leh-berry) was developed in 1949 at Oregon State University by crossing a loganberry with a youngberry. Loganberries are a cross of blackberries and raspberries, while youngberries are a cross of blackberries and dewberries. Genetically, this resulted in two-thirds blackberry and one-third red raspberry. It’s physically characteristics are those of a blackberry but larger in size and somewhat sweeter. They have an intense, tart flavor, and are shiny and juicy. The olallieberry is grown mostly along the coast of California. They ripen in June and early July.
We have some reputation for olallieberries here in Cambria along the central coast. We are the home of Jon and Renee Linn, owners and creators of Linn’s More Fruit-Less Sugar Preserves and Pies. The couple owns a farm just outside town where they grow many crops, among them the olallieberries. They also own and manage bakeries, a gift shop, a coffee shop, and Linn’s Restaurant in town. You can also buy their tasty olallieberry creations at retail outlets.
If you are not inclined to “grow your own” you don’t need to deny yourself this treat. There are places where you can “pick your own olallieberries”. There are several well-known u-pick olallieberry farms that are open to the public. Crystal Bay Farm and Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, Phipps Ranch in Pescadero and Swanton Coastways Ranch in Danvenport are a few. If you know of any others that are along the central coast and within driving distance for a day trip, please share with us. ‘Tis the season for olallieberries. Go for it!
My Komatsuna tendergreen and Japanese Purple Mustard is growing. It has been kind of limping along because our weather has been so cool. I’ve thinned it out and made a wonderful salad with a light oriental dressing. Those tiny tender leaves sell for over $15.00 a pound here. Of course a pound is a bushel so you wouldn’t need but 1/4 pound to make a salad for four.
After thinning the mustard last week, it grew really fast. I’ll harvest leaves for salads a little at a time, and will let some grow larger for cooking in stir fry. The Japanese purple mustard has a real “bite” but being so young, cannot be called “hot”. Last year my mustard grew to maturity in about 3 weeks, but this year, because of the cool weather along the coast, I’m sure it will take 6 weeks. I have several posts on growing tendergreen mustard, the first being last spring. Can you tell I’m an enthusiast? Just search “mustard” and you’ll see them all.
Tillie is helping me thin the mustard. "Can I have it?" she asks.
Our Australian labradoodles both like greens. I’ve had to put bird netting over my vegetable boxes to prevent the pups from eating them before I get a chance to thin them out. One of my Australian labradoodles, “Tillie”, helped me thin the mustard greens last week. The two dogs, at a year old, are becoming more manageable and I love having them as companions in the garden.
We got a real “mother load” of artichokes this year. Maybe it was all the rain. Maybe it was a fact that these plants are now two years old, mature enough to have high yields. Whatever the reason, our artichoke plants soared to five feet in height and have born beautiful blooms continually for the past month.The artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is in the sunflower family. I wrote about my first year harvesting artichokes (here) but this year was spectacular and I’ve learned a few things.
First of all if you live inland, it may be too hot in the summers for this tender perennial. Our cool humid days along the coast is the perfect climate for artichokes, as witnessed by the huge fields along the coast of San Francisco and Monterey Counties. Buying the rootstock is the fastest way to get a crop but I had great luck starting my plants from seeds indoors, then transplanting them outside when they were a few inches high. Add plenty of organic matter and slow-release fertilizer to your soil and provide supplementary water. These tough plants will grow in vacant lots with little water, but their blooms will be woody. Not something you’d want to eat, so be sure your plants get a moderate amount of water.
Clean up the dead leaves that appear at the bottom of the plant as they turn yellow. Cut them off with loppers and not tearing it off so that you don’t pull out some of the developing shoots. According to some local growers, you can cut the plant down to the ground after it has finished blooming. Let it rest a few weeks, then begin watering again. You may get a nice fall crop. I’ll try that this year but my plants are still producing and I’ll let them do their thing first.
I haven’t had problems with aphids but I know that artichokes are susceptible to them. I do have a problem with earwigs that crawl into the scales of the bloom. I soak the harvested blooms in water with a tablespoon of salt for a half an hour before putting the blooms into boiling water to cook. I boil artichokes for about 45 minutes until tender in the center when a fork is inserted. The earwigs usually abandon ship in the first rinse so I’ve never encountered an earwig on my plate. Thank goodness!
Artichokes washed and ready to cook.
We make an easy dipping sauce for our artichokes. This is enough for four large artichokes. I take about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon, 1/2 tsp. cumin, and a sprinkle of salt and mix it and serve it in a small dipping bowl beside each dish. Half the fun of eating artichokes is dipping the thick end of each leaf into the dip and biting or scraping the flesh from the leaf. When you get to the heart, you need to remove the hairy center with a spoon. You are then rewarded with a large, sweet morsel of artichoke “meat”. Paradise!
I’ve spent a few hours a day in the garden this week. Partly because it was neglected due to our trip across the U.S. to visit sons and granddaughters. I always hate to leave home. I don’t like leaving those dear labradoodles to which we have become very attached. And then there are the hens. See Backyard Hencam. But those little girls in Raleigh grow so quickly and we do love them so.
Our trips to Raleigh usually includes a visit to a few of their fabulous gardens. This year, we visited Duke Garden in Durham. It has become my favorite garden ever!
This garden has something for everyone. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens, occupies 55 acres of the West Campus of Duke University near Raleigh. It is divided into areas: The Historic Gardens contain floral terraces ablaze with color, and hosts stunning purple allium globes and pink and purple foxglove. Smaller gardens surround the terraces: a butterfly garden, a memorial garden, an azalea court and a rose garden. Duke Gardens contains six acres of native plants and an Asiatic Arboretum. The Asian garden (my personal favorite) was filled with deciduous magnolias, Japanese maples, epimediums (dry shade plants), daylilies, and tree peonies.
Don and granddaughter looking at turtles in the Asian Garden.
We wandered through the Asiatic Arboretum on serpentine paths, admiring bridges, gates, small shelters, stone lanterns, water basins, and lakes filled with water lilies and lotuses, and inhabited by turtles, geese, and ducks.
I’ll return to Duke Gardens. It defines the art and science of horticulture. The environment invites contemplation and study. Duke Gardens is open eve
My garden adjoins open space.
While visiting gardens in far-away places, my own garden was thriving on its own. No, it’s not an exotic arboretum, nor a terraced perennial garden. It does not have lakes and ponds. But it is a creation of my imagination and the result of our hard work. It is backed by majestic green pines and spreading oaks. It has colorful spring flowers, fruit trees, hens, labradoodles, sea breezes, and friendly neighbors. I’m inspired by other gardens but I love to come home to my own!
Finally, I’ve gotten started with planting my vegetable boxes. I’m late this year in getting my seeds in the ground, but I don’t think it will really matter because, at least in our coastal village of Cambria, it’s been quite cool. We don’t have to worry about plants going to seed as soon as they mature like you do in warmer climates. So I should have an adequate harvest even if it is a bit late. I’ve planted cilantro, lettuce, mesclun and mustard greens this week.
Japanese mustard seeds in damp paper towel
I’m conducting an experiment with Japanese purple mustard and tendergreen mustard. I traded some of my Komasuna tendergreen mustard seeds with a fellow gardener for Japanese purple mustard seeds. I’ve had great luck with the tendergreen mustard (see post) in the past, and save seeds from a few plants every year. Japanese purple mustard is beautiful to look at with a spicier taste. It can also tolerate cold winters if planted in the fall. I’m sure I’ll enjoy growing and eating this attractive plant.
Wow, these tendergreen seeds really want to grow!
I started the seeds in damp paper towels in the kitchen. I wanted to see how quickly each of them germinated. As you can see by the photos, the tendergreen mustard germinated quickly (in 3 days). I had to scurry to get them in the ground. I’ve planted them side by side in a small area of the planting boxes. After all, I can only eat so many mustard greens! I’ll see if their growing attributes are similar. So far, it appears that the tendergreen may be faster growing. It should be ready to thin in about 3 weeks and ready to eat in its most tender stage at about that time too. I love gardening. It is all one big science experiment!
Pride of Madiera (Echuim candicans) is displaying its magnificent blue spires around my garden. The garden hums with honey bees, bumble bees, and the smaller cousins, solitary bees, as they gather pollen from the pride of Madiera blossoms.
This interesting plant is endemic to the island of Madiera in the Portuguese archipelagos. It is a short-lived perennial and only survives a few years. But oh, those short lives are lived so well.
The plant grows to 6 feet and thrives along the coast of California. I remember the hillsides in San Francisco ablaze in blue in the spring and early summer. The “Pride” grows best in full sun in a temperate climate. I’m sorry to say that it cannot survive frost.
Honeybee enjoying a bloosom.
You can propagate from cuttings but I’ve found that if you lay a few of the spent spires across a large pot filled with moist potting soil, you’ll get volunteers that you can transplant into one gallon pots when they are a few inches tall. When the gallon plants have grown to 12 inches, set them into their permanent locations. They can be planted in the spring or fall.
I cut off the spires when they turn brown. I wear long-sleeved shirts when I perform this task as the “Pride” has tiny hairs that irritate my skin. While I wish this plant was more permanent, it has some attributes that I value: drought tolerant, deer resistant, fast growing, tolerates clay and sandy soil, grows well on hillsides, and is beautiful!
I first wrote this article for the SLO Master Gardeners “Question and Answer” column for The Tribune. I don’t make up this information and because I don’t have experience with planting in the warmer regions of the county, I used a handy little guide put together by the SLO Master Gardeners called “The Gardener’s Journal” to write accurately. You can buy this month-by-month guide to gardening by visiting the Master Gardener’s desk at 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo or calling 805 781-5939. I’m entering this revised piece in my blog because I think we can use a list of things to do in the garden during this busy time of year.
April is prime planting month throughout the county. Continue to plant cool season vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, snow peas, radishes and spinach and begin planting summer vegetables such as beans, corn, and summer squash. In warmer areas you can plant pumpkins and melons; seeds that need warmth to germinate.
Think color and plant perennials like: agapanthus, Japanese anemone, daylilies, chrysanthemums, coreopsis, dusty miller, Gaillardia, gazania, gerbera daisy, verbena and yarrow. Choose a pretty clematis while they are in bloom and a vibrant clivia for a shady corner.
In shady areas, plant annuals such as bedding begonias, caladium, coleus, and impatiens. For “fun in the sun” annuals, put out marigolds, petunias, phlox, verbena and zinnias.
Sub-tropicals such as Bougainvillea, gardenia, hibiscus, citrus, and avocadoes can be planted in light-frost areas. Potted roses are blooming now. Choose and plant a favorite.
Planting is fun but other chores should be done now to keep your garden looking sharp. Deadhead bulbs that have completed their bloom cycle and feed with a complete fertilizer. Leave foliage until brown. Divide cymbidiums. Feed bearded irises with high phosphorus and potassium food to encourage blooms. Citrus may be looking a little yellow. Feed them with a high nitrogen food to green them up. If citrus and ornamentals have yellowing leaves with green veins, feed with chelated iron.
Your garden is preparing to “turn up the volume” this month. Be sure the growing plants have the nourishment they need. Read labels and talk with experienced gardeners on the best fertilizer to use. A well-fed garden is a happy one!