Monday, September 16, 2013

Fall feels like spring around here

After moving to San Diego, I had to learn rather quickly that my perception of the height of summer being when the garden was busiest was very, very wrong.

In my head, I thought... the weather's warm, sun is out, bees are buzzing, plants are happy...

It only took a few years of searing, dessicating, I'm-afraid-to-step-outside heat and the kind of sunshine that made my skin feel like it was charring by the minute to make me realize that plants felt no different. With the exception of a few that defied the intense Southern California summer, most living things seemed to wilt and give up after a few days of 100+ temperatures.

The winters, though -- when many parts of the country are tucking their gardens to sleep and crops do things like "hibernate" or "winter over" that make absolutely no sense in our neck of the woods -- are mild, and moist, and even occasionally rainy. So while tomatoes won't exactly be pumping out ripe, red fruit in weather like that, you can get by growing a lot of things right through those winter months.

Which means right around now is basically like our springtime!

All the summertime vegetables have been pulled out of the beds now, and new compost put down in preparation for our cool season crops. The Earthbox that used to house cucumbers now has baby peas poking their heads up:

Swiss chard seedlings are growing well and just need to hang on for one more weekend before the weather should be cool enough for them to be transplanted out:

Lettuce seedlings are also hanging out, waiting. Not sure what I was thinking planting these, as there is no way we will ever eat this much salad... and in the corner, those are beet seedlings that I just may have jumped the gun on. Oops.

The experiment in growing leeks from seed is going okay... I may just end up tucking these in among other plants vs. dedicating space to them. I'm reading that planting alliums (onions, leeks, garlic) among other plants, especially brassicas, may even help deter some pests. All for that!

The next few weeks will be a flurry of planting and transplanting. Garlic, onions, potatoes, kohlrabi, beets, greens, herbs... all will hopefully thrive as the weather finally cools down over the next few months.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hanging on to the last of the basil

Every summer I set out to grow a ton of basil. Coming-out-of-your-ears basil. Can't-keep-up basil. Why-on-earth-did-I-plant-so-much basil.

Some years, it does well. The best year was when I had 6 plants set in a homemade Earthbox on a very sunny patio. Between the constant moisture, abundant sunshine and just-right planetary alignment, that year had us in pesto for 24 months, give or take.

The next year, life factors intervened and the baking sun of a new home on a hilltop dessicated my plants before they ever had the chance to take off.

This year, good intentions but then being 9.999 months pregnant during the world's longest heatwave meant my basil plants were gloriously ready to be sheared back in June... but never got sheared back... and so my hopes for massive bushes of basil fizzled like my skin in the Escondido sun.

But I got some. SOME. And I won't tell you about how I kept cheating by planting more even though it was way too hot and I couldn't get myself out there to water them enough. But still, my love of basil persisted and I was determined to try and preserve it into the fall, winter... and maybe even spring?... until I could plant more basil, yet again.

So I hopped on the Internet and found a few articles about how basil can be preserved in the refrigerator almost indefinitely if stacked with salt and olive oil. And not only do you get perfectly preserved basil leaves that can be singly dropped into dishes all winter long, but you get beautifully basil-scented oil, too.

This isn't much of a recipe, and I certainly didn't come up with it, but the crux of it is simple.

Wash and dry your precious, precious basil. Gently. GENTLY. And it'll take more than you think to fill even a very small jar.

Then you just layer it in your jar with salt in between layers.

Top off with olive oil (it's going to take quite a lot) making sure to fill all the air bubbles, then tuck away in the fridge.

I have yet to see how well this turns out, but am hopeful we'll have basil flavor to take us through the (relatively) dreary days of winter.

Monday, September 9, 2013

End-of-summer kick in the pants

My daughter (now a five-year-old wise to the ways of the world) and I were commiserating yesterday about how, in the heat of summer, we long for winter... and yet in the dreariness of winter we pine for summer. How true it is.

I remember how anxiously I waited for the first of the season's tomatoes, watching the plants I packed into one of our terraces grow and bloom and yet those flavorful fruits seemingly never to appear.

 And then, bright green globes that were so reluctant to blush red.

And then finally! our first ripe tomato of the year, savored piece by piece. And yet I still waited for that dead-of-summer onslaught that meant I could really start making big batches of tomato sauce.

Well the onslaught came:

...and then went, and there are now 35 pounds of tomatoes patiently napping in our chest freezer, waiting for the day I muster up the courage and energy to pull them all out and can a dozen jars or so of pasta sauce (that will last us all of 3 months probably, but hey, we love our pasta). And as I looked out at the plants showing their age even as they continued to pump out more tomatoes, I longed to pull them all out -- ruthlessly yanking them out by the roots despite all they had given us -- so I could clean and replenish the beds and start afresh with the kales, lettuces, chards, greens, onions, garlics, leeks, beets, and other mellower crops of fall and winter.

Of course that leaves me with 10 pounds or so of the last stragglers. What to do with all those green tomatoes? I could wait for them to hopefully ripen on the counter, or I could make an amazing green salsa that has me wondering why I ever waited for those tomatoes to ripen at all! Maybe next year, we grow tomatoes just to pull green fruit?!?

Green tomato salsa (makes about 4 cups)
~5 pounds of green tomatoes, any kind
~2 pounds of ripe tomatoes, any kind
~6 jalapeno peppers, or more/less according to your taste (yes there is a theme here)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 medium lime (though being sadly lime-less at the time, I used a lemon and it worked out just fine)
1 bunch of cilantro
Salt/pepper to taste

In a pot, dump the green tomatoes and jalapenos and barely cover with water. Simmer until soft, which shouldn't take long -- 5 minutes or so should do it. Drain the water... you don't need it anymore.

Throw in the onion, garlic, juice from the lime, and ripe tomatoes and blend away. I like to use my immersion blender... makes it so easy! Then roughly chop the cilantro leaves and throw those in too. Blend to your preferred consistency, then taste and add salt/pepper as you like. If you're feeling particularly spicy, you can try adding other seasonings too -- oregano, cumin, paprika, smoked paprika (ooooh!), chili pepper...

Chill. Taste again. Then try and have this last for a week in your fridge. I dare you.