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Friday, July 29, 2011

Report from Greco-plant auditions-what worked, what didn't

                                                           Growing baby purple artichoke from seed.

Growing artichoke from seed is reported in garden books  as   a problem---Why ? Beats me. Garden  myth!  Not actually even very  good at growing stuff from seed , but this was easy. Seed came from 3 different organic seed houses (Baker’s,; Territorial and Island Seed (Goleta,CA). Soaked the seed overnight, planted the first batch in plantable pots inside.

Everything grew-Violet de Provence, Violette di Chioggi, Violetta Precoce , and Purple of  Romagna. Most of them are now about 2  ½ feet tall. Violet de Provence is outgrowing all the others. Not too surprising as his native heath resembles our climate  more than those of  the other varieties. Used soaker hose to keep the ground moist.

Chioggi from seed in ground

Once it warmed up, planted more of the same seeds in the ground, having soaked them overnight (June). These also came up without a problem.

. Never grew fennel before. It turned out to be easy, long bearing, delicious raw or cooked. ( It comes in 3 kinds: Florentine, Bronze and vulgare. Grow the first 2 to eat and vulgare for the swallowtails. Florentine fennel is the celery like vegetable, Bronze an herb used much like dill, (and also is reported as a host for the Anise Swallowtail).

                                Black swallowtail on bronze fennel
He's not a pretty baby but he won't eat your tomatoes. However, what swallowtails like best is fennel vulgare. That's the one you see blooming all over the hills of the Central Coast.

 Use Florentine  fennel  like celery. Easier to grow than celery in this climate, though celery might be a really good winter/spring  crop here on the Central Coast.

                               Long Island celery- easy for them!

This is normally the time to start winter cole crops from seed.

Broccoli—had good luck with Veronica ( 85 days) which seems to use a little less water than conventional broccoli. However, given the weather cycle, won’t plant cole crop seed until late August which still gives the veg 2 hot months to get started.

 Ideally, plant some now and some later. Later, you can use starts which means you don’t have to be such a dedicated farmer. Best in this garden was Veronica (also known as Romano).

                                   Glamorous Veronica

Qualified success: the roof garden. Only the real desert plants were happy—barrel cactus, agaves, etc. The sedums fried.

The roof garden depended entirely on rain water. The sedums would have to be watered every 2 weeks to survive in this climate. If it’s from the Sonora Desert—it’ll do fine without water, otherwise no.

Unqualified success: new terraces planted with dwarf citrus using grey water.
Scarlet Runner Beans:
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Ours came from 6 seeds. We have been harvesting about a 2 lbs. a week from these plants. They get watered once a week unless we have a scorcher (100° or more)

Harvest when they are about the size of a mature French Filet bean.( Or let them mature a little into lima bean size, then steam them, serve with butter. Or let them dry and give every child you know Magic Beans for Christmas.

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Coming up next: Vermiculture Revisted

Friday, July 8, 2011

Return of the Native/ East Coast Farmer's Markets & Other excitements

                             Drought proof aloes (Chihuly -MFA,Boston)
Farmer's Market, Falmouth, Cape Cod
Been wandering in the flesh-pots of Cape Cod and Long Island, with a side trip to Boston and the MFA there. Chihuly, the extraordinary glassmaker was having a major exhibit. Check it out at As you can see he has completely solved the water problem. Cape Cod is basically one big fish-hook shaped sandspit. God knows how the Pilgrim Fathers managed to grow anything at all. The Farmer's Markets on the Cape have beautiful lettuce, kale ( learned how to cook), herbs, peonies, rhubarb and lots of stuff for tourists to buy- lobster buoys,straw hats,fish prints (some very good) and lighthouses for your refridgerator.
 The North Shore of Long Island, on the other hand, is still farm country once you move away from the coast ( wall to wall summer houses, mostly very opulent-think Malibu on steroids --- but you already knew that.) There are vineyards looking very prosperous, fields of potatoes and other edibles.
                                               Montauk geese
                              Roadside stand, Long Island near Perponix

Small fishing is still viable --clams, mussels and lobster as well as lots of fish-haik, sea bass, flounder.

Potato field
 Both Cape Cod and Long Island are filled with very small towns such as we only encounter on the Disney Channel. Everyone really does know everyone else, and whether X actually managed to make it home last night, and if not, where was X and with whom?

 There's a deep patriotism and pride in the local people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan--- and an intense communal grief if one is lost --- the whole town turns out for the funeral, a street is named for the soldier.
The past is present in a way that it simply isn't in the West. So many of the towns are lifted straight from the English coast, Falmouth, Truro, Yarmouth, and Wellfleet. New England, indeed.

Urbane farmers and backyard gardeners along the Central Coast now dealing with climate changes---both hotter and colder--- can take heart. We can still grow almost anything here. It just may take more attention and ingenuity than we are used to expending. If the Pilgrims could learn to farm on Cape Cod, we can adjust to the climate changes. The longer colder weather gives us a chance to grow more stone fruits, berries and lilies. The cooler spring with more rain encourages us to grow more leafy vegetables for a longer season. It pays to be horticulurally adventurous.