Category Archives: Growing Challenge

Back into the Garden

I bet you were starting to think that there wasn’t much ‘garden’ left in this Sonoma Garden, weren’t you? Well now that all the other to-do list chores have been caught up on, we were able to plant a few things for fall which I’ll be sharing with you this week. The first thing to note is that if all works out well, we are going to be having cabbage coming out of our ears soon. We’ve planted both red and green cabbage, all starts from our favorite nursery, Sonoma Mission Gardens. We haven’t had great success with cabbage in the past, it just hasn’t formed very well. But being the gardening masicists that we are, we are trying again.

We’ve also grown some Napa Cabbage from seed. This is the first time we’ve grown that so I’m anxious to see how it works.
Napa Cabbage

And while this isn’t cabbage, look, the raddiccio is actually starting to form! We planted these seeds quite a while ago, maybe six weeks ago or so?
I was starting to feel pretty ho-hum about the progress of our yard at the end of summer, but now that we’ve pulled out all of the old, ugly stuff it’s rejuvinating to get some new happy green growth back.
Update: Carrie asked for some cabbage growing tips so I thought I would share some things that we’ve read. Now mind you we are not cabbage experts, so we are learning from this too. Cabbages like a sunny spot with well drained soil. They are also heavy feeders and heavy drinkers, so be prepared to give them ample nutrients and water. Heavy mulching is also a good idea. While the cabbages are still young you can interplant them with lettuce and radishes since they have such a short growing period. Where as cabbage takes anywhere from 60-180 days to mature depending on the type you are growing. If you want to read more, check out Mother Earth New’s article.


Filed under 1, Growing Challenge, Leafy Greens, Seeds, State of the Garden

A Peppery Success

I’ll be the first to admit that our vegetable garden isn’t looking its finest right about now. That’s why you haven’t seen many outdoor photos lately. Its been hot and dry recently. So dry that it is hard to keep things looking green and lush. The melons ares are done, the first round of zucchini have hit retirement and truth be told, our minds have drifted over to other parts of our yard.
Carmen Peppers
We always had it a goal to own a small house on a large lot, which we gratefully have. However, having a large lot means having a large list of things to do. This summer has been titled ‘The Summer of Taking Care of Business’. A summer filled full of to-do’s which we didn’t accomplish last year, which was ‘The Summer of Getting It Done.’ So we’ve set about the business of reseeding the entire back lawn, building new and repairing old fences and planting large landscape plants to give us a bit more privacy.
Quadrato d’Asti Giallo Peppers
One thing we are having great success with in the vegetable garden are with peppers. We planted enough to feed a small army. We planted all sorts, Carmens, Quadrato d’Asti Giallos, Serranos, Gourmets (remember when we ordered them from Territorial?) and a few from some fellow Seed Savers, Colossal Kim’s and a few pimentos. All are doing outstanding. Peppers take a long time to grow (some long time readers might remember our post about planting the seeds) and needs lots of sun and heat. Things that we have in abundance here in our Sonoma garden.

What’s your most successful crop this year? What have you been disappointed by?


Filed under Growing Challenge, In the Kitchen, just picked

Ali Baba is the Best!

We’ve had a troublesome history with watermelons. It’s like us and watermelons never really jived. We started to think that maybe we just weren’t watermelon-growing kind of people. But this year things have been different. Maybe it’s because we planted two different kinds together. Or maybe the stars are just aligned like one big watermelon this year, but it’s been a good year for us and watermelons.
Sugar Baby
Sugar baby

We grew Sugar Babies and Ali Babas. The Sugar Babies, they were pretty good. Smallish and roundish with dark skin and a nice red center. But they were only mostly sweet and they were full of countless little black seeds. Which made for a lot of spitting. So much spitting that we barely got to taste the flesh.
Ali Baba
Ali Baba

But the Ali Babas…. Now those are our kinds of melons. So sweet that you don’t even know what to do with yourself. So full of flavor. And the seeds are big and not so plentiful, so when you take a bite, it’s an easy ‘patooie’ to spit them out. And did I mention the flavor? Oh, we’re in watermelon heaven. It’s a good thing that it’s so incredible because so far we’ve harvested two and this one here is 14 pounds. The previous one wasn’t far from that weight. We’ve got a lot of melon eating to do.
Inside the Ali Baba
The story behind these Ali Baba’s is pretty cool too. The seeds were given to Rare Seeds from a man who collected them from Iraq before the war started. Now its virtually impossible to get seeds from that country. “A rare genetic treasure” reads the description.
Ali Baba
And look, it’s beautiful growing in the yard. You must all put this melon at the top of your list for growing next year. You won’t be disappointed.


Filed under Growing Challenge, just picked, notes for next year

All about our Carrots

Purple Haze Carrots
I’m quite convinced that everyone needs a few purple haze carrots in their life. Especially sliced thin. So beautiful. This is what I like about growing our own food. We have the option to fill our meals with little works of art like these. They say it’s the small things in life that make you rich. This is one of those small things that we try and fill our days with. Sliced purple haze carrots. And our lives are ever so slightly improved because of them.
The carrot harvest
We picked (or rather Scott picked) all of the carrots around the tomatoes Saturday. He was inspired after reading the “All About Growing Carrots” article in the new Mother Earth News. They wrote that you shouldn’t leave mature carrots in warm soil any longer than necessary because critters start to find them. And we have started to notice that a few were getting nibbled on.

We also learned that carrots are divided into five types: Nante, Chantenay, Miniature, Imperator and Danvers. our Purple Haze falls into the Imperator category which means that they have long, tapered roots with stocky shoulders and that they store well.

Our little Thumbelinas rightly fall into the Miniature category, who’s notes say that they have a sweet flavor when mature and have only limited storage potential.

So what can we do with this carrot bounty? Well, we can freeze them, eat them raw, can them, pickle them, but I prefer the carrot cake option. Yes, I see a carrot cake in our near future.


Filed under Growing Challenge, just picked, what we've learned

If you come to Sonoma…

Purple Haze Carrots
….be sure to wear Purple Haze carrots in your hair..
Purple Haze Carrots
You got the song reference, right? Yes, my sense of humor does border on cheesy, or rather is firmly planted in cheese.

Anyway, we’ve taken the Growing Challenge from seed to harvest! They taste good too (the carrots that is). Sweet, but not too sweet.

In Our Fridge
Since we’re in the kitchen, I opened the fridge door a few minutes ago and saw that Scott had harvested our first zucchinis and blossoms. Also our first pesto of the year augmented with spinach which we enjoyed on our leftover gnocchi. A tupperware full of last years defrosted nectarines. And three dozen eggs. Anyone have any good egg recipes?


Filed under Growing Challenge, In the Kitchen, just picked

Another Tomato & Squash update


It’s amazing what a few days will do. Our little San Marzano is getting so big and look, he has brothers!

The cucumbers (both lemon and japanese) and getting there and the beans are happy and growing. (oh and that’s Bo, our cat, in the background looking for bugs to catch).


beans and cucumbers

squash blossom

Oh, and remember how I wrote that although these portofino zucchini’s were planted at different times, they had all caught up in size? Well, the one we grew earlier from seed is blossoming earlier, so there you are, it IS worth it to start earlier after all. Below is it’s neighbor who’s seed was planted about four weeks later:

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Filed under 1, Growing Challenge, notes for next year, State of the Garden, Tomato

ever curious about what horseradish looks like?

So were we, so we grew some:


Filed under Growing Challenge, Sprouting

triple digits

Hanging laundry
Really now? Do we really need to be having this 100+ degree weather already? This is coming from a couple who dream of summer days getting to a maximum of 80 degrees. You know it’s going to be a toasty day when you open up the doors and windows of your 85 degree house at 7am and the air outside is not much cooler. Days like this are a tough one for the garden, but at least good for air drying laundry.

Saving the cherries
The cherries that we tried so desperately to save from a huge flock of cedar waxwings that decended on us last Friday are now a deep dark burgandy. It seems like last week they were just blooms, but already it’s been two months! How quickly time flies. It is wonderful to taste our first fruit of the season. Last year the birds for some reason let us have every last cherry on our tree and we made tarts and pies and we canned jars and jars of jam. This year they left us with only enough to eat, which is just fine. We have plenty of last years jam. The below photo is a cherry tart I made last Mothers Day from Mario’s book, it was incredible.
cherry tart

The first pea
I noticed our first pea on the vine. Last year we were also bombarded with peas. I spend a lot of afternoons pureeing them into Charlie’s first food. This year, not so much. Maybe we planted too late?

garlic is ready
The hardneck garlic is ready for picking and drying. We stopped watering it because we noticed that one started to rot.

We also ate our fill in artichokes last night. Even our three year old has demanded his own artichoke, eating not only the leaves and the heart but the stem too. Our three year old is the defination of a locovore. The only, and I mean only time he eats vegetables is if he sees them coming from our garden. Not a green veggie has passed by his lips all winter until last week when we picked our first spinach salad, then he kept asking for more. Hopefully his little body gets all he needs during these summer months because once winter comes he won’t touch anything green. Each winter I get worried that he’s not eating any vegetables but Scott keeps reassuring me that he’ll get his fill once summer comes.


Filed under Fruit Trees, Growing Challenge, In the Kitchen, just picked, what we've learned

happy may day & the left side

Happy May Day! We sent our oldest to preschool this morning with a bouquet of backyard flowers to decorate the May Pole. The teachers were busy attaching streamers to the pole and it brought me back to fond memories of my own preschool May Days. After dancing around the may pole, we’d fill a basket with flowers and excitedly run across the street to leave on the neighbors front porch, ring the bell, then quickly dash away giggling. As Julie and I discussed the other day, its a lost holiday these days. Its too bad, what a nice uncommercial cheerful day to celebrate.
chive flowers
On the left side of the garden, to wrap up our tour, I thought we’d start at the back. In our back bed we keep an odd assortment of herbs, garlic and chard. These chive flowers are fairytale like this time of year. I keep expecting a Peter Cottontail to come along and nibble on these.
And the garlic? It looks like long graceful limbs of dancers in this light.
more garlic dancers
In front of them is our potato trench. We dig a deep trench (notice I use the royal we here, actually Scott digs a deep trench) about 18″ deep and plant the potatoes there, then as they grow and sprout we keep filling the hole over the plant to encourage new potatoes to grow until the ‘trench’ becomes ground level. These are yukon golds:
yukon gold potato
In front of the potatoes is a bed with currently two peppers and two eggplants with basil seeds just sprouting. Oh, and what else is that you see in the picture? Oh, yes, that would be even *more* wonder berries and amaranth!
Ahead of the ‘mediterranean bed’ is an entire bed devoted to strawberries which in hopefully another week will be bright red and ready to eat.
And at the very front of the left side is a bed of onions and leeks:
Notice how much bigger these are than the garlic in back? Planted on the same day too. The magic of raised beds, I tell you!


Filed under Growing Challenge, State of the Garden

The Center Plot

It’s windy today, and sunny but with big huge clouds looming in the sky. I wish it were just plain sunny and warm because tonight is the farmers market in town and the new Ben and Jerrys on the square is giving away free ice cream tonight! Now of course I’ll take free ice cream in any weather, but wouldn’t it be so much nicer if it was warm? Anyway, I’m taking you on a tour of the middle of our veggie garden today, please don’t mind the weeds. It was recently covered in favas and vetch, but now that those have been pulled and tilled, its full of little seedlings. Oh and one more artichoke plant:
Behind the artichoke and the new raised bed (that’s waiting for cucumber seeds to sprout), we have the melon row. Here’s one of the few melons that survived the frosty mornings, a crenshaw.
Behind the melons is tomato alley:
tomato alley
In the tomato bed is a sea full of volunteer amaranth, wonder berry and purple haze carrots (those we actually planted).
purple haze carrots
As you’ll notice in all of our pictures we have those purple amaranth and little wonder berries. Both of those things we started a few years ago, just with one plant and now they come up *everywhere*! The wonder berries were advertised as being just like huckleberries, but I’m here to report that they are not at all like huckleberries and I wish those stinkin’ little sprouts would just go away already. The amaranth, however are a beautiful and welcome surprise to find around the yard. Both the leaves and seeds are edible. You can eat the leaves young in salads, older steamed like spinach and the seed is a grain that you can eat like rice or quinoa.

Behind the tomatoes is our new three part bed that Scott just made. This bed receives quite a bit of shade in the summer because it’s right by three huge cedar trees and our weeping santa rosa plum tree. So in go the cooler season crops like another lettuce bed (lettuce is so easy to grow, its a sin to have to pay for it at the store):
and French breakfast radishes:

Throughout this middle section is a scattering of borage (again another one we started with just one plant and now have little volunteers everywhere):

Well, the little ones are up, so I must go. Next up, the right side of the garden.


Filed under Growing Challenge, Sprouting, State of the Garden, Tomato