Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Garden Update - October 19, 2016

Just a quickie update this week since I covered the garden fairly well last week and not a lot has changed since then.

The biggest change is that I harvested most of the remaining peppers from the garden, cut down the plants, and sowed a row of Robin Hood fava beans in that space. This is a first for me, getting fava seeds sown before the end of October or even generally November. I usually cut down the pepper plants around the end of November when the peppers finally stop producing or the first frost hits. I left the roots of the peppers in the soil and then scattered my usual amendments over the surface and scratched them into the top few inches. Then I sowed the fava seeds and put down a thick layer of composted oak trimmings over the surface of the soil as a mulch. I also sowed a row of Kodiak mustard on either side of the row of favas. If they survive the sowbugs and birds then I can cut them down and dig them in later.

One of the biggest problems I have with growing favas is that the emerging seedlings get attacked by sow bugs (woodlice). There's always masses of sowbugs in my compost so I have to protect the seedlings from the bugs that I've introduced to the garden with the compost that I spread around. I've found that the sowbugs don't or can't crawl up plastic so I'm using protective sleeves made from old plastic water bottles to keep them out. Birds are also problematic so I hope the sleeves will discourage them from attacking.

I mentioned before that the rats discovered how delicious my large fruited tomatoes are and now that most of those have been harvested the rats have moved on to the cherry tomatoes. So I moved most of my vast collection of snap traps to the area beneath the cherry tomatoes and even perched a few traps up in the foliage. I don't even bother to bait the traps, the mice usually clean out the bait without setting off the traps. My strategy is to just make an obstacle course for the rats and hope that they step in the wrong place. Sometime that works.

And so it goes for that tomato thief. It's not the first that I've caught this way. I may have to set a bunch of traps around my car. The damn critters just cost me a few hundred $$ to replace a hose line in the window washer system.

You can see that it's still worth the effort to fight the Damn Rats. There's still lots of life and tomatoes left there.

One of the Mareko Fana peppers was poking out of the swaddling cloth that I've place around the base of the plant and of course it got nibbled by a passing rat which didn't set off any of the traps that are set there. I hope the nibbler was the deceased tomato thief. But I'm sure there's still plenty of tomato thieves still out there.

That's the space that used to be occupied by the powdery mildew infested tomatillos. Do you see the bungee cords that I had to use to secure the corn? There was just enough wind accompanying the rain that came through last weekend to make the corn start to lodge so I had to tie it up.

Puhwem Corn
I don't think I'll grow this corn again, it's just too tall for my little garden and it's taking too long to mature.

I'itoi Onions
But I think the I'itoi onions will be a regular in the garden.

Hestia Brussels Sprouts
The Hestia Brussels Sprouts are still producing blowsy sprouts, one plant in particular. Perhaps I'll cut some off and see if they taste ok and if they don't I'll pull the plants out.

Gustus Brussels Sprouts
The Gustus Brussels Sprouts are doing much better. I'm hoping, nay anticipating some for Thanksgiving. I hope...

That's the latest in the garden. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Variety Spotlight - Piccolo Dattero Cherry Tomatoes

I tried five new varieties of tomatoes this year and the best of the bunch is Piccolo Dattero. The seeds for this tomato came to me from a friend whom I met on a hiking trip and who as since been reading my blog. Last year she was traveling in Italy and came across a great tasting cherry tomato that she managed to get seeds for and so kindly offered me some. Of course I accepted her offer and I am so glad I did. This is one of the best cherry tomatoes I've ever grown.

The name translates as "little date" and is named so because its shape resembles a small date. This type of tomato is called Pomodoro Datterini in Italy, basically "date tomato" and there's more than one variety to be found. I've also read that the tomatoes are supposed to be sweet like dates. Well, they are sweet but not as sweet as the sugary dates that I've eaten.

For size comparison the basket above shows Piccolo Dattero at the top, Sweet Gold which is an average sized cherry tomato, and Camp Joy which is fairly large for a cherry tomato.

The tomatoes grow in clusters that hang on the vines. Some clusters are single stemmed and can be quite long. Other clusters have 2 or 3 stems.

When I harvest cherry tomatoes I pull them off the vine with the cap attached. Leaving the cap on reduces splitting significantly. I've found that when the tomato pulls off easily, detaching at the joint where the cap attaches to the main stem, that that is an indication that the tomato is fully ripe. Piccolo Dattero is one of the few cherry tomatoes I've grown that is not prone to splitting if the tomatoes are harvested without the cap, but I still use the ease of detachment as an indicator of ripeness so I harvest them with the caps on.

This variety has a few positive attributes and so far I can't find anything negative about it, although some gardeners may object to it being an F1 hybrid. It is one of the most disease resistant tomatoes I grew this year, a year when foliar diseases took quite a toll on other tomato plants. It's a vigorous grower but not overly so. (One reason I don't grow Sungold anymore is because it's far too rampant). It's a generous producer but not overwhelming. But most important it tastes great.

These little treats have a firm skin that is just shy of being tough. They are bite sized which means you can pop a whole tomato in your mouth, which my husband likes because it means he can safely eat them without having juice squirt on his shirt. And you do want to pop the whole thing in your mouth and bite down to get an explosion of flavor. Chomp down and there's just enough resistance to make them a bit chewy, enough flesh to give them substance, and plenty of juiciness to make them squirt with intense flavor. To my taste the have a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. It's hard to stop eating them once you get going.

When I was trying to find more information about these tomatoes I was surprised to learn that in Italy they are available peeled and canned and used as sauce tomatoes. One name they go by in the canned version is Baby Plum tomatoes. Wow, I'm not sure I would do that at home, it seems like it would be an onerous task to peel enough to fill just a quart jar. Still, I wonder how a sauce made from them would taste since they are so different from the paste tomatoes that I usually use. I don't think I'll find out this year since the plant is producing just enough to keep us happy for fresh eating.

I've grown a number of small plum/pear tomatoes over the years that superficially resemble Datterini tomatoes, including Grappoli d'Inverno, Fiaschetto, Principe Borghese, and others. Those were all good tomatoes, but they didn't measure up to my favorite paste tomato (Amish Paste) for sauce and for fresh eating they weren't as good as cherry tomatoes. They did make great dried tomatoes though, however I dry enough other tomatoes to meet my needs and don't need to grow a tomato specifically for drying. If I hadn't been given the Piccolo Dattero seeds I probably would have passed them by thinking that they would be like other small plum or pear shaped tomatoes I've grown. So thank you again Sue for introducing me to Piccolo Dattero tomatoes, I will definitely be growing them again next year and probably for years to come.

Now the good news for any of you who would like to try them yourself. The seeds came from Franchi Sementi and are readily available to US gardeners through Seeds From Italy (

Monday, October 17, 2016

Harvest Monday - October 17, 2016

I skipped Harvest Monday last week because I was too tired Sunday night after an overnight backpack trip to put the post together and then too busy Monday morning. So here's two weeks of veggies, starting with a parade of tomatoes.

Orange Jazz and Pantano
L to R, Mavritanskite, Lime Green Salad, Chianti Rose
Reisetomate from Transylvania and Jaune Flamme
Sweet Gold
L to R, Piccolo Dattero, Pomme d'Amour, Camp Joy
L to R, Orange Jazz, Mavritanskite, Chianti Rose (top), and Pantano
Camp Joy (top) and Piccolo Dattero
Sweet Gold
That's not a duplicate photo of the first basket of Sweet Gold cherry tomatoes, it's another basketful, my one plant has been terrifically productive. That one plant has produced 29.5 pounds of tomatoes so far which makes it the single most productive tomato variety in the garden this year.

The parade started to thin out last week, most of the large and medium sized tomatoes are about done and the cherry tomatoes are slowing down.

This year I decided to dehydrate a lot of the tomatoes. That actually turned out to be the best use for the Pomme d'Amour tomatoes which I found to be not very tasty raw, but the flavor improved a lot when I dried them. And I continued my experiments with drying the Sweet Gold tomatoes with a salted spice blend. A mixture of fennel, smoked sweet onion, smoked peppers, and Red Boat salt has become the favorite. They were a really nice treat on the trail so I plan on making more. I combined the bulk of the Reisetomate tomatoes and a number of Pantano tomatoes to produce 4 cups of tomato paste which is probably enough to see me through the year. And I really like the flavor of tomato sauces made with the Mavritanskite tomatoes so I turned a bunch of them into sauce.

The Calabrese broccoli is only putting out a few shoots here and there.

Discus Buttercup
I had to harvest a number of the Discus Buttercup squash because of damage from sunburn and/or sowbugs. And then I found that the sowbugs were starting in on the Candystick Dessert Delicata squash that were in contact with the soil so I harvested a couple of those also (not photographed).

The Tromba d'Albenga squash had a big flush of fruits. I used the bulb ends to make baked rice stuffed squash, no recipe, I just winged it and they came out delicious. The long solid necks got turned into Zucchini Sott'Olio.

The Bonica and Sicilian eggplants eked out a few fruits. I used the Bonica to make a batch of caponata, which also used up some celery, capers, tomatoes, and onions from the garden.

Zuni Tomatillos
I cut down the Zuni tomatillo plants the other day. They were severely infected with powdery mildew and had to go. I was somewhat inclined to toss the plants complete with the tiny tomatillos but relented when it became clear that there was quite a load of them, 5.5 pounds in the husks. They are fairly easy to remove from the husks, otherwise they might indeed have gone into the compost. There are a lot of fruits that are barely the size of a large pea, more that are about the size of a grape, a just a few larger ones.

If I had waited any longer to harvest the kohlrabi I would have had to cut the protective sleeves off of them.

Kolibri and Kongo

Jericho Romaine Babies
I thinned out the Jericho Romaine lettuce to give the main planting room to size up.

Good news to report on the Soberanes fire. On October 12, day 83,  it was declared 100% contained. The bad news now is that we've had some significant rainfall. Rain is bad for the fire? Yes, when there's too much. Just enough would extinguish remaining hot spots and nurture new plant growth, but too much causes erosion, landslides, mud flows, and flooding. The crews that are working on suppression repair can't work when it rains. On Sunday my phone buzzed with an emergency alert that turned out to be a flash flood warning. I'm ok where I sit but Tassajara was included in the area affected by the warning, along with a number of other communities in or near the burn scar. They escaped the fire but now they are in danger of being flooded.  What a mess. I haven't heard any news of floods or problems this morning and the rain is clearing so they escaped the bullet for now.

Other harvests that I didn't photograph included a few and probably the last cucumbers, Mouse Melons, some peppers that got cleared out of the garden awhile ago, and the Zebrune shallots that have been sitting in a basket waiting to be weighed.

I ended up dehydrating a lot of the peppers I grew this year. Most of them were harvested (rescued from the rats) underripe and not as sweet and flavorful as they can be. Dehydrating improves the flavor quite a bit. A lot of the peppers did not get tallied since I lost track of what did or did not get weighed in after they were harvested.

Here's the details of the harvests for the past 2 weeks:

Calabrese broccoli - 6.9 oz.
Green Fingers cucumbers - 3.6 oz.
Mouse Melons - 8.8 oz.
Bonica eggplant - 1.6 lb.
Sicilian eggplant - 8.7 oz.
Kolibri kohlrabi - 6.8 lb.
Kongo kohlravi - 1.9 lb.
Jericho Romaine lettuce - 4.7 oz.
Craig's Grande Jalapeno peppers - 16.2 oz.
IPK P 557 (Italy) peppers (Yellow Bell) - 2.6 lb.
Rosso Dolce da Appendere peppers - 8.3 oz.
Zebrune shallots - 23.7 lb.
Zuni tomatillos - 5.5 lb.
Camp Joy cherry tomatoes - 5.5 lb.
Chianti Rose tomatoes - 9 lb.
Jaune Flamme tomatoes - 5.6 lb.
Lime Green Salad tomatoes - 1.3 lb.
Mavritanskite tomatoes - 9.1 lb.
Orange Jazz tomatoes - 9.6 lb.
Pantano tomatoes - 12.8 lb.
Piccolo Dattero cherry tomatoes - 3.5 lb.
Pomme d'Amour tomatoes - 3.4 lb.
Reisetomate from Transylvania tomatoes - 1.4 lb.
Sweet Gold cherry tomatoes - 12.2 lb.
Romanesco zucchini - 2.4 lb.
Tromba d'Albenga squash - 9.1 lb.

Total harvests for the past 2 weeks - 130.6 lb. (59.3 kg.)
2016 YTD -  800.7 lb. (363.2 kg.)

Harvest Monday is hosted by Dave on his blog Our Happy Acres, head on over there to see what other garden bloggers have been harvesting lately.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Garden Update - October 14, 2016

Sunrise on Snively's Ridge

First I'll entice you in with a shot across the valley this morning. The clouds are gathering with the promise of the first significant rain event of the season. Good news so long as it's not too much of a drencher which could cause significant erosion in the areas burnt by the Soberanes Fire.

And a couple of overview shots of the garden.

So, if you're not in the mood for a mostly downer post than you should stop reading right now. Just leave, I'll understand.

I've been struggling to get any blog posts done because I've just got too much going on right now. (Fortunately some of it is good - like a backpacking overnighter with friends). There are baskets of tomatoes and bags of peppers sitting around that I have to do something with. My dehydrator seems to be constantly running. I can't keep up with critter protection in the garden. My priority in the garden right now is to just deal with what's there and I just can't take the time to plant much of anything new that would require protection from the rats or the rabbit so I haven't sown any seeds or planted anything in weeks. It seems like every time I get something protected from the rats they just move on to a new tasty treat which means I have to waste more time figuring out a way to preserve the veggies under attack or yank them out and do something with them. I just want to get through the fall harvest season and then clear out the old stuff and take a break and reassess.

The curcurbit bed is winding down. All the cucumbers and squash other than the Tromba d'Albenga vines are dying.

The Romanesco zucchini is quickly succumbing to powdery mildew. There's a few blossoms left to open but I don't know if the vine has enough oomph left in it to support one to harvestable size.

Tromba d'Albenga Squash Vines
The Tromba d'Albenga vines however are the most productive they've been all season so I don't have a shortage of zucchini yet.

You can see the bush winter squash in the foreground and trellised squash beyond, both dying back as the squashes mature. The Kiwano Melons and Vine Peaches on the left never did do anything, two vine peaches set and no Kiwano Melons. The melon vines on the right are still somewhat healthy.

Candystick Dessert Delicata
I've brought in some winter squashes but most are still on the vines.

Crane and Alvaro Melons
The melon vines have fruit but I doubt that I'll get any to ripen. Perhaps I can come up with a use for unripe melons.

Tuscan Melon
The Tuscan melons were the first to set but are the smallest of the bunch. They sure don't look like they are on the verge of ripening, and I suppose if they do start to ripen the rats will beat me to them.

Hestia Brussels Sprouts
The Hestia Brussels Sprouts are not promising. I've been pulling the first sprouts off and discarding them because they are just loose and full of aphids. 

Hestia Brussels Sprouts
Gustus Brussels Sprouts
The Gustus Brussels Sprouts that I successfully grew last year look better, at least so far, they are a little slower to develop and the small sprouts seem more firm.

Caged Chard
This is what I have to do to grow tender greens at the moment. I'm slowly putting together a number of hardware cloth covered frames (screens) to create cages to deter the rabbit and rats. The screens will be a longer term solution than fabric tunnels that tear by the end of the season or before.

Tronchuda Beira Cabbage and Russian Hunger Gap Kale
Other greens are still confined to cloth covered tunnels but they are quickly getting to be too large for them. I plan on setting up more screens to surround them. Then I'll probably have to erect fabric over them. I have in mind something like a tunnel over the tops of the frames.

Jericho Romaine Lettuce
I did manage to get some lettuce seedlings into the garden a while back and they are close to being large enough to harvest. I did cut a couple of small heads of Jericho that I had squeezed in for harvesting as babies.

Manoa Crisphead Lettuce

And I had to sow cilantro inside the tunnel (now with new and improved screens!) to get anything to harvest.

Romanesco Broccoli
The Romanesco broccoli is home to a new aphid infestation. I really don't have the patience to deal with this mess so I think I'm going to take the plants out because I can buy really nice heads of Romanesco broccoli at the farmer's market.

Baby Aji Amarillo peppers
I cannot buy Aji Amarillo peppers anywhere so I covered an old tomato cage with 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth and managed to slip it over the plants without too much damage. There's fabric enclosing the top of the cage too. So now I hope the f-ing rats don't figure out how to get under the cage to the goodies inside. The Aji plants, both the baby and Grande versions of Aji Amarillo are much more resistant to powdery mildew than the other pepper plants, perhaps baccatum peppers are in general more resistant than annuums, although the Mareko Fana plant which is an annuum is holding its own against the PM.

Turkish Pimento Peppers
And I had a small cage to enclose the Turkish Pimento peppers without too much fuss and hassle so it's enjoying some protection also.

Aji Amarillo Grande
The Aji Amarillo Grande peppers are only protected by fabric bunched up around the base of the plant. I *think* the rats don't like to crawl over the fabric, so far no munching, but the peppers aren't ripening yet either so they aren't as tempting.

A few more remaining plants with ripening peppers are tucked in with more fabric and so far the rats haven't bothered them. But why go to the trouble when there's big beautiful tomatoes that are easy munching? The rats seem to be really lazy, they go for the easy targets first.

L to R, Pomme d'Amour, Jaune Flamme, Reisetomate
The small fruited tomatoes other than cherry types seem to be much more susceptible to foliar diseases than the beefsteak types. The Pomme d'Amour and Reisetomate From Transylvania especially so and poor Jaune Flamme was stuck in the middle. I learned last year to not use 70% Neem extract on tomatoes, it just finished the job that the fungal diseases started. Serenade seemed to slow the progression of the diseases without harming the plants and remaining fruits, so there's still good tomatoes to harvest and the less intense sun of fall isn't scalding the tomatoes for the most part.

Beefsteak type tomato plants
The beefsteak type tomato plants grow quickly enough that the new foliage is helping to protect the fruits from the sun. The larger tomatoes seem to be more likely to get sunscald than the smaller ones. There aren't many fruits left on the vines now, I had to go through and harvest most of them because the rats discovered how delicious they are. Fortunately most of the fruits were ripe or nearly so, so there wasn't much loss in terms of quality. (Do you see all the rat traps? They aren't helping much...)

Cherry tomato plants
The cherry tomato plants are still growing and setting tomatoes. The vines are loaded and the harvest hit its peak in the last couple of weeks.

Piccolo Dattero

IPK P  852 (Italy)
I may get to sample one pepper from the late planted IPK P 852 (Italy) pepper plants that were left out of the main bed and stuck in a fabric pot.

Puhwem Corn
The Puhwem corn seems to be developing some ears. It's set so late that I'm not sure what its fate will be.

Brinker Carrier Bean
The beans are making a half-hearted attempt to bloom and set beans again, but I doubt they will produce a second crop. Fodder for the compost bin.

Zuni Tomatillo
I can't be bothered to glean the tiny tomatillos that have set on the Zuni Tomatillo plants. I tasted one that fell off the plant, usually a sign of ripeness, but it was sour and not tasty. The plants were hit hard by powdery mildew which may or may not have effected how the fruits developed, I'm not sure.

The rabbit discovered the few Rosso di Lucca bean plants. Oh well. I can buy more seeds.

I'itoi Onions
I am grateful that the critters don't seem to like the I'itoi onions. They are certainly a bright spot on the gardening scene.

That's the mess that is supposed to be the fall pea crop. I haven't removed the protective fabric because the instant I do the critters will start to munch and I haven't had time to deal with putting a larger protective cover over the plants so they are all mashed up.

Hopi Chinstripe Corn
If I don't wrap each and every single ear of the ripening corn than this is what happens. Just another big time waster.

Blue Speckled Tepary beans
The rabbit hasn't breached the barricade around the tepary beans, but when I got in there to gather the beans that had dried on the plants I found that the rats have decided that it's a cozy place to build a nest. Yuck.

Sweet Potato Pots
There might be some sort of sweet potatoes developing. When I poked around in the soil I touched what felt like a fat root. We'll see at the end of the season when I empty the pots.

So that's the latest and not so greatest from the garden. Now I have to get back out there and harvest some tomatoes and dried beans before it rains.

Yay for rain!