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Posts Tagged ‘mybayareagarden’

Recently someone commented on an older posting of mine that some of last year’s veggies seemed to have no flavor. I think my reply may be of general interest, so I thought I’d post it instead of just replying privately.

Hi Raqui,

The discolored bean leaves I would say are cold damaged. The plant should recover.

For veggies with flavor problems, hmm. The seed being old is ok and won’t affect flavor. If it germinates, it’s got all the goodies. 🙂

Some varieties of veggie are bred for ripening at the same time, or being drought/cold/heat hardy, etc, rather than flavor. If you feel you were using a good variety, though, the next thing to look at is your soil diversity. Trace minerals account for a lot of the flavor, as well as nutrition, in food. It may be time to get a multi-mineral supplement such as greensand or some custom organic preparation, to enrich your soil.

Just like you can make bread with only flour, water, and salt, you can grow a lot of veggies with only NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) but they’ll be pretty wonder-bread bland!

One reason that composting is such a good idea is that you’re returning minerals from the non-edible parts of the plant into your soil. We were putting our plants into the city compost bin and picking up free city compost until last summer. Then we realized we were swapping our huge peavines and tomato plants for grass clippings and who knows what. Wups! So now we have a leaf-shredder that we use to shred garden waste, and our own compost bin.

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The warm weather continues to draw up delicious flower stalks from my Asian greens. I harvested a large colander full of tsatsoi leaves and flower spikes, as well as spikes from my joi choi in the hydroponic fence planters. The choi in the ground-level planters is barely starting to form central buds, as it gets less sun.

I did a very nice stir-fry with some Trader Joe’s gyoza (they have both chicken and veggie, btw) in garlic and ginger slices, then added some leftover red rice and red quinoa. I rinsed the stalks and made sure there was plenty of water on them, and put them on top to steam, covered. When they turned bright green, then started to deepen in color, I added the tsatsoi and choi leaves, also dampened, with a little extra water. Another 2 or 3 minutes of steaming and everything was done beautifully. The stalks are substantial, but not crunchy or mushy, and the leaves are still squeaky.

And now for the surprise– ripe tomatoes! I pulled my poor dead Costulato Genovese tomato bush a couple of weeks ago, as a windstorm had blown off the floating row cover and it had gotten obviously frost-bitten. I harvested the tomatoes still on it, and brought them in to fry up green. After a couple of days, though, they were clearly ripening! So I left them alone to go at it, and they ripened up beautifully. I just had a couple last night over brown rice with yellow split-peas, with broccoli and soy sauce and cheese. Yum! A nice taste of summer from the garden, long before time.

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Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers!

Not only are winter greens easy and fun to grow, they like to surprise you now and then by deciding that Spring must be here. With all the recent (relatively) warmer rain, some of my asian stir-fry greens seem to have decided to Go For It and see about flowering. Hmm, can you spot the joi choi who is thinking it’s Spring?

Fortunately for us, these flower spikes are not only quirkily charming, but are also a special, nutrient-packed treat. Eat flowers? Isn’t that just for fancy salads and goat cheese? Nope! For instance, most of us have eaten this edible flower, broccoli!

Broccoli has many tasty cousins to enjoy. There’s Italian broccoli raab, and a number of friendly flower spikes that often go by the name Chinese broccoli but which can be anything from flowering choi to various mustards. Here’s some tsatsoi that has decided to reach for the sky.

Along with the cultivated greens, we have some tasty stir-frying options mixed among our cover crops. The early flower clusters of culinary seed mustard, such as this lovely example in my side tomato bed, can be snipped and added to other greens, or tossed daringly in a cream sauce over pasta. Yum!

It’s not only little Ralphie’s mom in Rabbit Hill, always making peavine soup, who can appreciate winter peas extravagant growth habits. The tender tops, not yet in flower, are delicious steamed or gently toss-cooked in light olive oil, with or without matchstick ginger and a little garlic.

Plant some extra peas to snip periodically for the table, or just snip bits here and there for a special treat– not too much if you want a good crop of pea pods. I think I still have some slack left on the main pea-patch. Thinning them out a bit also helps prevent powdery mildew when the weather gets warmer, but it’s not going to be warm enough for that for quite a while yet!

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Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers. Doesn’t that look scrumptious? A crisp, shiny rosette of tsa tsoi, a tangy Chinese green that makes excellent stir fry material.

The best part is that I’m getting these delicious winter greens with almost no work, and I won’t be composting them or digging out the planters to refill them with dirt for a second crop. I also don’t have to worry about scrubbing dirt out of my sink; a post-harvest rinse and I’m done. How can all this be? I’m growing them hydroponically!


A colorful head of forenschluss speckled lettuce, plus more tsa tsoi; I’d better start my next batch of seedlings, and harvest these beauties soon.

About a month ago I had an ‘aha!’ moment while cleaning up in the back yard. In an untidy pile were a bunch of 3-foot long self-watering planters, the long window-box type, sitting empty. They’re very shallow, so they’re only good for things with shallow roots. Another item that needed putting away for winter was a giant 2 cubic yard bag of perlite. It was purchased by accident when I wrote “perlite” instead of “vermiculite” on a shopping list for someone else. Wups. Perlite, though, is one of the better mediums for hydroponics. I knew that I still had a good-sized container of dry mix for hydroponics solution in my garden storage bench. A plan was born!


My favorite red mustard seedlings, about 2 weeks along, with assorted lettuces and some ruby chard. The brown is harmless algae– my fault for watering the seedlings directly from the top once. Note the handy little water level gauge built into this planter.

Now why did I have hydroponic fertilizer mix around? Some long-time readers may recall that when I lived in San Jose in 2003 and 2004, I had very little usable yard space for gardening– our rental’s sunny space was white pebble landscaping. Undaunted, and because I’d always been meaning to learn this stuff, I went out and got some hydroponic units and grew marvelous cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes, and peppers hydroponically. I’d started out buying gallon jugs of nutrient solution to dilute, but soon realized I was paying a lot for what was mostly water, and that buying dry mix would be better. A tiny bit goes a LONG way, so I still had plenty left over.


My San Jose hydroponic garden in late April 2004. Imagine everything tripled in size about 6 weeks later!

The main cloud around this hydroponics silver lining is that I don’t like using artificial nutrient mix. I want to try doing hydroponics on filtered compost tea– it should work just as well as the mix, as long as I dust some greensand into the perlite for extra minerals. I’ll try that in the spring, or next fall, now that I have a baseline to work from and compare.

Self-watering planters are a really excellent choice for lettuce and greens, as so much of the plant is dependent on abundant water to grow crisp and strong. Even if you don’t try hydroponics, it’s worth putting some lettuce or stir-fry greens into a self-watering planter and letting them party on. You’ll usually see a noticeable improvment in growth vs typical ground soil conditions.

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This week’s Garden Desktop doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Well, actually, wait, it DOES. Several hills, in fact!

This past weekend I finally shucked the beans I had drying on a table out on our porch. There are big white and brown Painted Lady beans from the side yard. These did so well, and are so delicious, that I will grow them on ALL the carport pillars next year, rather than on just one. The hummingbirds love the half-white, half-red flowers, too.

The big pink/red and brown beans are Scarlet Runner beans, whose all-red flowers are so popular with the hummies that they fight over them! They are wonderful to create a shady arch or temporary patio cover. I’ve been thinking of pulling up a couple of the foot-square pavers on our back patio and planting Scarlet Runners there on arches, to make a little afternoon nap nook. I have to figure out first if it will shade the veggie garden beds, though. I don’t want that!

The smaller rounder beans are the heirloom that I call Monte’s Italian, the nth generation of those given to us by our photographer and diver friend Monte Smith. They hybridize readily, so this year we tried to be careful about growing them away from the other beans. Even so, we got a few crosses with the Scarlet Runners, as shown by some of the pink rounded beans, and possibly with the Painted Lady as well– the beans are usually a creamy tan color with one to three small dark-brown streaks, and some of them are suspiciously paler, and more similar to the Painted Lady beans in color.

Last year’s bean drying, didn’t take a pic of this year’s.

I saved bean seed earlier in the year, and made sure to save from long, well-formed, plump pods with a minimum of 5 beans per pod. I was usually able to save 2 or 3 seeds of a 6 or 7 pod bean. Last year I just shelled them all and picked out the plumpest beans, and then realized “doh!”, I was only selecting for part of the story!

As always, feel free to use and share this Garden Desktop. It’s okay to link and publish with a link back and/or attribution, and to use in print for personal or nonprofit use. There’s a 1280 x 960 version for larger desktops too.

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Just in time for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by the talented Pille, we celebrate the beginning of the fall and winter greens season with some heirloom lettuce and a great salad greens that is often overlooked: mustard!

The cool weather coming in is the best time for growing delicious green things for salads, sandwich layers, and garnishes. Our lettuces, which hid from the summer heat, are starting to peek out from where they self-seeded. In the meantime, we’ll plant to make up the difference!

Pictured here, on top of some Early Girl tomatoes (which are ripening late, under floating row cover), are fresh leaves of Forenschluss and Cimmaron romaines, and a crinkly red mustard leaf.

Mustard is the great “sleeper green” of the instant gourmet and adventuresome home gardener. Leaf mustard, unlike mustard grown for seed or as a cover crop, has broad leaves that range from mildly zingy to mule-kick strong. The variety I chose, sheerly for robust good looks, is Red Giant, and falls somewhere between those two extremes. I find the leaves by themselves too strong, but they layer nicely between a couple of romaine leaves in a lunchtime sandwich. The zingy pick-me-up of mustard leaves can let one skip the prepared mustard or mayo, handy for a bag lunch brought to work.

If you can grow lettuce, you can grow leaf mustard. Look for it on racks of Botanical Interests gorgeous illustrated seed packets, where Giant Southern and Giant Red are prominently displayed, as well as Mizuna, a sawtooth-leaved oriental cooking mustard green. In your local Asian market, look for “Gai Choi”. Mustards come in a gorgeous palatte of colors and textures, too. High Mowing’s Organic mustards include the stunning Purple Osaka and their striking “Hotshot” mix.

I picked up six-pack sets of lettuces and mustards at our community garden’s fall plant sale. Forenschluss, which means “Speckled Belly”, is a beautiful variegated romaine with an upright, compact habit. The bronze tones of Cimmaron go very well with Forenschluss, so I’ve planted them in alternating rows in my garden.

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Most commercial strawberry growers rely on heavy applications of methyl bromide or similar fumigants to combat black root rot, an endemic problem for strawberries. New agricultural research shows that growing strawberries in compost medium can substitute for soil fumigation. Fumigants, in addition to their toxicity and negative effects on the soil ecosystem, are increasingly expensive. Many small-scale growers cannot afford fumigants, yet the poorer yields of associated with black root make going without it unaffordable as well.

Mesh tube bags, sold commercially under a variety of names, were filled with compost and set up with drip irrigation. The strawberry plants were set directly into the compost tubes, and did not pick up the black root from the infected soil. Yields were increased a whopping 16 to 32 times!

Photo courtesy of USDA

In a lovely example of synergy, not only does this represent a more natural and affordable method for strawberry culture, the method frees growers from the ubiquitous use of black plastic. Acres and acres of black plastic are used to mulch between rows in large-scale operations. The tube bags, sometimes called “socks” are available in a wide variety of materials, including natural materials such as cotton or burlap, and biodegradeable plastic meshes.


In the photo above, I’ve taken a wide shallow planter and used some landscape edging to add a second tier to it. Making a multi-level strawberry planter with compost in mesh tubes would be even easier. I could try adding strawberry plants in a compost mesh tube as a raised edging on my planter beds, or around the base of the beds on top of the chip mulch I use to suppress weeds. I’ll have to try that!

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