hrj: (Default)
 I feel like I'm scrambling to get garden-ready at this point. Too many weekends have been either rainy (not that there's anything wrong with that!) or out-of-town. But I've cleared out the remnants of last year's plants and picked up 20 cubic feet of combo steer manure and compost to amend/top off the raised beds. (It's amazing how much compression all that new garden soil gets in the first couple years.) No new beds set up this year but some re-analysis of what to plant. Tomatoes in the same three beds as last year. Cucumbers, definitely. I think I'm not going to bother with squashes or melons this year since they're so heartbreaking. Eggplant again, since they worked well last year. Onions, but first I have to set up some squirrel cages. And then I'll have room for experimenting with some new stuff. My experiments so far over the past half dozen years suggest that tomatoes, cucumbers, and various onion family items are the most consistent bang for my buck in terms of providing close to my entire supply of an item. (Ok, I cheat on the tomatoes a bit at the beginning of the season.)

And I've achieved my ambition of setting up a hammock in the big shade mulberry, though I need to adjust the fastenings a bit to get the most comfortable catenary curve. Now all I need is some sort of side table on a swing arm attached to the trunk...
hrj: (doll)
Ok, wherever you think I was going with that subject line, you're probably wrong. Unless you've been following my facebook posts about manual pollination of my squashes.

The theory is that you plant a few zucchini plants and then one day you turn around and find you need to surreptitiously leave bushels of zucchinis on your neighbors' porches to get rid of them. Interesting theory. I have yet to see it happen. Over the last several years, I think I've averaged fewer than one mature squash per plant. In discussing the behavior of the plants with various other amateur gardeners, the best diagnosis seemed to be a failure of pollination. The plants would flower, but the fruits would turn yellow and fall off rather than growing.

Since I've tried all imaginable combinations of location, sun exposure, and plant density, and since I don't seem to have any problem with other plants getting pollinated (see, e.g., my cucumber abundance), I figured the only thing left to try for diagnosis was artificial insemination. So now it's become a routine part of my near-daily garden tour to look for new female flowers on the squashes at the flowering stage. Keep in mind that I'm usually doing my tour in the evening, when squash blossoms have closed for the night.But it's fairly easy to tell a never-opened flower from one that has opened and closed again. (My, my, is it getting warm in here?)

Then it's just a matter of finding a male flower on the same plant (or at least on a very closely related variety), picking it, stripping it down to the sex organs, then teasing the female flower open enough to apply pollen. Stroking, and rubbing and...oh, yes, *ahem*, where was I?

It's hard to tell how effective it's being, I'll need a few more weeks to get a sense. I've picked one pattypan squash already. There's an acorn squash that has grown substantially but is withering a little and should probably be picked way too early if I don't want to lose it entirely. One hubbard that looks to be holding strong. There are a couple of spagghetti squashes that have definitely "taken". Half a dozen crooknecks that I'm still holding my breath on. And one plant that doesn't seem to have thrown off any female flowers yet.

The cucumbers, on the other hand, seem to be doing quite well on their own.
hrj: (doll)
Today's Random Thursday topic comes courtesy of Sacchi Green, who offered up the request "Fantasy Gardens", leaving the interpretation fairly open-ended.

Garden #1

When I was a little kid, I loved going through seed catalogs, and nursery advertisements, and designing complex gardens with meandering paths and water features, and all sorts of things that our yard in San Diego would never have supported. Nor would my ambitions have been supported by my parents, who were fairly aware of the gap between my imagination and my execution. But there were lots of things designed on graph paper in those days.

Garden #2

I had a Grand Plan for my back yard in Oakland. It's laid out in an Excel spreadsheet--not on graph paper--showing the goals and the accomplished parts in various color schemes. There were brick pathways and beds of various types and trees positioned to match the layout that would eventually surround them. I think I had about a third of my design finished when I sold the place. Never wait to plant your garden.

Garden #3

The house that Margerit Sovitre inherited in Chalanz had a fabulous garden. She noticed once that it seemed designed to be viewed from private spaces, rather than being laid out as a public show. The two wings of the house encircled an inner courtyard with a fountain that would be in riotous bloom around Floodtide, when it was time for Rotenek residents to seek their summer estates. From that courtyard, one wandered along the pergola to a progression of spaces growing gradually more informal and natural (all in a carefully planned manner) that fell away down toward the river. It was a perfect layout for summer parties, where one wanted spaces to wander off alone or in pairs from the crowd of guests one's host had assembled. After the first two summers, Margerit never visited more more than a few weeks at a time, for by then her summers belonged to Saveze.

Garden #4

Tipersel House sits on the Vezenaf--the most prestigious address in Rotenek. The mansions--though they are mansions only in status and not in size--that back up along the north bank of the Rotein were once owned by the merchant-based elite of the city. Now the private wharves are merely the farthest feature of the narrow gardens that spill down the slope toward the river. The gardeners of the Vezenaf plan with an eye toward Floodtide, with valuable plants kept in mobile containers that can be removed to higher ground, and plantings designed to finish their show before the months when the river might begin to rise. It rarely rises as high as the footings of the house. The gardens aren't large--nothing in these properties can be expansive--and there's no space for natural vistas or hidden corners. But there is usually a space, down near the river, where marble benches (easy to clean after a flood!) offer access to cool river breezes should one have the misfortune to need to spend the summer in town. And a wise gardener will make sure that such a corner can be coaxed into summer flowers, at need.

Garden #5

I have a vision for my Concord Back Garden. It's laid out ambitiously on graph paper, though I haven't entirely followed through in calculating coordinates for every plant to add to the inventory spreadsheet. Block by block I've been roughing it out--setting up beds that claim the space for order and usefulness. What will someday be a small orchard is dropping roots. Other spaces are gradually being reclaimed from crabgrass and weeds of unknown identity. There's a fountain, and a formal enclosure. A space to gather summer guests, though no self-consciously wild pathways for them to stray on. It'll take some time, but one should never wait to plant one's garden.
hrj: (doll)
I guess the seasonal cycle must be stirring something within me, because no sooner have I finished the rose pruning (still have a lot of other pruning to do) than I start getting antsy about ordering bare-root plants. I generally don't have to worry about "last frost" (heck, don't worry much about "first frost") and there's an advantage to getting things planted when the ground is nice and wet. Easier to dig and more chance for the new plantings to get a lot of good soaking.

So last night, almost on impulse, I looked through my rose vendor bookmarks and ordered two each of Rosa gallica and the "Ispahan" Damask rose. These will be going in the formal garden, one in each corner. That was always the intention, but I didn't have the last corner bed ready in time last winter, so I filled in with squashes and cucumbers instead. The general plan is to surround the formal garden with fence-like plantings, so the roses will anchor the corners with the berry canes forming the "walls", with an opening in the middle of each side. Currently the berries are supported by stakes and string, but I've gotten some redwood to build something more sturdy. Energetic boysenberries get a bit heavy!

The next shopping task will be to order a few more fruit trees from Trees of Antiquity. I was reminded last year that the Black Tartarian needs a pollinator. My other cherry is a Morello which is self-pollinating but won't pollinate the Tartarian. I'd love to get another old variety, like a Montmorency, but alas the suggested Tartarian pollinators are more modern: Bing, Coral, Napoleon, Rainier, Lapins, Van. I'll probably go for the Napoleon, which dates to the 1700s (yes, for me, that's "more modern"). It's tempting to toss in a Montmorency as well.

I have room for a few more trees in the designated "orchard" part of the yard and I'm dithering on what to commit the space to. Given my love for plums, there's a temptation to put in a damson, except that I'm 80% convinced that the established plum is close enough to a damson to make no difference, and I'd rather not double up just for the certainty. Pears are tempting, but all the older varieties require a pollinator, so I'd be committing to two trees. Still lots of old apple varieties, but with four apples already (the established tree, the two old varieties that fruited last year, and the multi-variety espalier) I think maybe I have enough! So I'm still dithering there.
hrj: (doll)
I don't think I've blogged here (as opposed to on facebook) about my experiment in growing medlars. This is an interesting fruit with a long history in Europe that has essentially no commercial viability due to its ripening behavior. In short: to become edible, the fruit must undergo a process known as "bletting" which is a sort of edge-of-going-rotten state in which it becomes very soft and mushy. Before bletting, it isn't edible; after bletting, it isn't shippable.

So when I was brainstorming fruit trees it might be fun to try, I settled on medlars because they met my key criteria: foodstuffs appropriate to pre-1600 Europe where I can reasonably grow a sufficient quantity for use and that it is difficult to obtain commercially.

I planted two bare-root trees two years ago, and was somewhat surprised to get half a dozen fruit in the first year. This was just barely enough to share around for tastes with a bunch of historic-foodie friends last year. This year, the two trees presented me with a generous four dozen or so and I was able to make some more general observations about how to handle and treat the fruit.

The fruit are around the size of a ping-pong ball, brown and with a very prominent sepal-end that's prone to splitting under some circumstance of growth yet to be identified. Last year, I picked them when I saw cracks begin to develop on one of the fruits, then stored them in a cool dark place (in a cardboard egg carton in the garage) for about a month. As I recall, they were soft, a couple had split (which makes them prone to mold), and maybe three looked to be edible. I carefully peeled the thin rind, leaving about one tablespoonful apiece in seedy pulp.

This year, I picked them when I first spotted a fallen fruit (since one of the traditional bletting methods is to leave them on the tree through a frost). A couple fruits were already soft, but the rest needed to sit for a while. I simply piled them in a basket in the kitchen (not too warm, but not cool) and checked them every couple of days for softness, transferring the soft ones into a separate container. (This was more to monitor the progress than from any expectation that the bletted and unbletted fruits would affect each other.)

When I first picked them, I tried the few that were soft and discovered that a much more efficient method of processing is to gently split the rind from the stem end, then scoop out the soft part of the pulp from this back end. This avoids having to pick out remnants of the sepal area which greatly increases the labor. The result is about 50:50 pulp and largish seeds and I simply ate it plain, straining the seeds out with my teeth.

I can see why the taste is described as a sort of "apple custard" taste. Definitely an apple-ish flavor, but the bletting process seems to add an overlay of "oxidated apple" (what you might expect if you let apple slices brown overnight). This is probably a fairly accurate description of part of the results of bletting, as the bletted flesh is also a medium brown in contrast to the more whitish unbletted flesh. It's a very mild, subtle flavor.

When all but about half a dozen of the rest of the fruits were soft, I scooped out the pulp into a bowl. At least, I did that for the properly bletted ones. Successful bletting seems to require a completely unbroken rind, for the fruits that had developed cracks around the sepal area were a bit dried out and spongy but not soft and pulpy. It may be that picking them earlier will prevent this, but it's also possible that watering and temperature conditions during ripening are relevant. At this point, the remaining half dozen fruits probably will not blet properly as they're beginning to shrivel a little without general softening.

I wanted to see if I could find a way to separate the pulp and seeds easily in order to do something more interesting than simply direct eating. First I tried squeezing it through several layers of cheesecloth. This might be successful and efficient for larger amounts of pulp, but for what I had (about one cup in all), too much of the pulp was staying stuck to the seeds. So I switched to the very inefficient method of squeezing the seeds out of the pulp between my fingers and periodically wiping the pulp off my fingers into a container. This took maybe 20 minutes for the cup of pulp. It occurs to me that mixing in a bit of water and agitation to separate the pulp from the seeds may help. Next year I hope to have enough fruit to try several options. At the moment, I popped the half cup of de-seeded pulp into the freezer to contemplate what I want to do with it.

The literature suggests that unbletted fruits can also be used to make jelly and I may try this option some year when I have a large enough harvest for it.
hrj: (doll)
And it’s not that I’ve minded the thorns, .
I was born rather prickly myself. .
But there’s a place.
on the shelf by the phone.
where a vase would go nicely, .
And my garden has roses to share.

(refrain of a song that I wrote too late in my songwriting career for it to have gotten much play – also: very much not the sort of song that would have caught on in the filk music community)

Today’s Random Thursday prompt is courtesy of [ profile] aryanhwy who asked, “Tell us about the desk roses.”

It will take a little while to get to the desk-rose phenomenon.

With a name like “Heather Rose” I could have gone in two directions: embracing the potential for floral iconography or rejecting it entirely. From the title of my blog, you might be able to guess that I went with the former (perhaps a bit out of character, given that I did reject a lot of stuff categorized as “feminine”). When I was a kid and came up with some ghod-awful pseudo-heraldic designs (after reading the Encyclopedia Britannica article on heraldry – this was long before I found the SCA), both heraldic roses and some unidentifiable sprigs of heather featured prominently.

When I finally owned my own home, I started planting rose bushes, focusing on old roses (100+ years old), fragrant roses (my favorites being Double Delight and Bewitched, as well as the fragrant old roses), and single roses (still having a penchant for the heraldic-style rose). I think my Oakland house got up to 20+ different plants by the time I sold it. And given the mild California weather, I always had a bit of fun teasing my cold-weather friends by complaining mid-January that the roses wouldn’t stop blooming long enough for me to do the annual pruning. When I was house-shopping in Concord, one of the pluses of the house I chose was the plethora of rose bushes in the extensive front yard (as well as plenty of space for more). My garden spreadsheet currently lists 34 plants, only about 10 of which I’ve added myself. It wasn’t in any way a deciding factor in choosing that house, but it made the decision feel right.

I don’t really have a green thumb, and a preference for old varieties means that I’m always struggling against rust and black spot and all the other ills that rose is heir to. But for all their reputation for being finicky plants, they’re able to take a surprising amount of abuse and neglect and come up blooming. I tend to confine myself to regular watering, periodic dead-heading, and an annual massive pruning that always feels more drastic than it really is. If not for that annual massive pruning, I probably could have cut roses from my garden year round. It would be tempting to do the pruning on a rolling basis just for that reason, but it’s more likely to get done if I do it in two or three massive sessions.

So about the desk roses…

I’ve gotten in the habit, over the last year or more, of keeping a rose on my desk at work all the time. Always one from my own garden. I cut one on Monday morning and as long as I make a good choice they generally last all the way through Friday. And then I tweet a picture of it, which is also a sneaky way to get in some book promo, because the background includes my computer desktop with rotates between my two book covers. So why do I do desk roses? There are three main reasons.

1. Because I can. It’s that same teasing impulse that leads me to “complain” about finding a slow time to do the pruning. I may occasionally long for actual changing seasons, but I do love my year-round growing weather. The other part of “because I can” is having so many that I can always spare one. It’s the same reason that I’m always happy to cut a rose for a passer-by who asks for one when I’m working in the yard. And the reason why I don’t mind people taking the occasional one unasked. (Though I did admonish one person who was helping herself to half a dozen that I’d prefer that she only take one so that others can enjoy them.)

2. Because I spend such a small proportion of my waking life at home in daylight, that I don’t get to enjoy the roses in situ anywhere near as much as I’d like to. Any time I’m at my desk, the rose is there in view. If it’s a fragrant one, I can enjoy the scent simply by leaning closer. The roses are an always-available stress break.

3. Many many years ago, I decided that I wouldn’t wait for another person to give me roses. (Not a specific “other person”, any person.) I’ve developed several garden-related life philosophies. One can be summed up as “I will plant my garden.” The unpacked meaning of that one is: there are projects/activities that don’t have immediate pay-off, and that you may never be in a position to benefit from, but you need to plant those seeds anyway, because by the time you might get the pay-off it will be too late to start. Another can be summed up as “it’s all very well to stop and smell the roses, but you also need to stop and grow them.” This is somewhat similar to the previous, but more along the lines of: that perfect experiential moment doesn’t necessarily happen spontaneously; someone else has been digging and pruning and watering those roses so you can just happen to stop and smell them. And the philosophy that comes out as “never wait for someone else to give you roses” is all about not predicating your own self-worth on the opinions or acknowledgment of others. It’s about asserting that I am worthy of being given roses even if no one else except me gives them to me.

And so…desk rose!
hrj: (doll)
I did one of my "give me a blogging topic" calls on facebook yesterday and got a suggestion that I talk about gardening and the change of the seasons. Well, it was "inspiration" not "instructions", so I'm riffing sideways from that.

My father grew up on a farm and as a consequence he's always tended to take gardening rather seriously. But ever since I was a kid, I've been much more of a "let's make grandiose plans and then just throw things at the dirt and see what sticks" sort of gardener. I know it looks like I'm all organized and energetic and virtuous about growing things, but really I'm not. As in so many of my hobbies (and gardening is definitely a hobby), my principle is "If a thing is worth doing, then it's worth doing half-assed if that's the only way you're going to do it at all."

Now if I were seriously depending on my garden to supply a full balanced diet, or if I needed it to be a net economic plus in my household economy, I might take a different approach. But I'm not and I don't. So I'm free to take the approach that works for me. What are a few components of that? Laziness, inspiration, self-gratification, and forgiveness are a good start.

Laziness doesn't mean avoiding work. I'm perfectly happy to put in long weekend hours digging and building and laying out irrigation systems and whatnot. But I'm less likely to keep up a tedious, grinding routine of day-to-day maintenance. Hence the irrigation timers, the anti-weed systems, the raised beds, and so forth. I'm less likely to grow something that needs persistent persnickity care.

Inspiration and self-gratification are closely tied together. I don't necessarily pick my crops based on the most efficient things to grow, or the best nutrition, or even the ones best suited to my climate. I grow the things I'm excited about. The ones I get a charge out of being able to provide for myself. I grow the things that contribute to my sensory environment. The ones that have that "just because I can" factor. I grow tomatoes because no store-bought tomatoes can ever compete with ones from your own garden. I grow berries because I'm delighted by the experience of wandering through my yard eating berries right off the bush. I grow all manner of fresh herbs because I delight in crops that will supply my entire need for that particular item. I planted two medlar trees because they're just bleeping weird and I get to explain them to people all the time who've never even heard of the fruit. I grow plums because plums are my totem fruit--I've had a close emotional relationship with plums since I was a little girl. Wherever I go, I must have plums and roses. If growing and eating a thing doesn't make me supremely happy, what does it matter how well it grows or how nutritious it is? Nutrition can be had much more cheaply.

And forgiveness. Forgiveness is important. Forgiveness means that if my life goes utterly crazy during the month when the apples come ripe, it's ok if they all go to squirrels and raccoons. Forgiveness means that if I decided that I've gotten tired of Swiss chard and can't imagine eating any more this season, it's ok to let it go to seed. Forgiveness means that if I discover I planted something with the wrong sun/shade balance, I'll just experiment differently next year. Forgiveness means that no one growing season is the end of the world as long as I can regroup and keep the perennials limping along.

I know that I seem to brag about my garden a lot, but it isn't really to boast about my skills and triumphs, it's more to marvel that I have any success at all.
hrj: (doll)
...of a regular blogging schedule is knowing when it's perfectly ok to blow your schedule to heck and just natter on randomly. (Even if it isn't random day.) I'm just feeling a bit discombobulated currently. Part of it is still Worldcon hangover. (My suitcase is still sitting there in the entryway waiting to be unpacked.) Part of it is losing the weekend to lung crud (which was probably allergies after all, given the trailing symptoms, but does it really matter?). Part of it is realizing that even though I deliberately cleared the decks of pretty much all my non-writing-related social obligations for the year, I still look around at my house and think, "What I wouldn't give for a solid week to get this place in order!" Part of it is a day job that swings between boringly routine and Entirely Too Exciting. (Which country has decided to do an inspection next month? If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium. Oh, oops, Canada. Or was it Japan?)

I returned from Worldcon to discover that one of my automatic garden watering timers had decided to become recalcitrant. As in: all the timer data displays properly, but when the timepoint rolls around to open the water valve, nothing happens. That put an end to the cucumbers, although they were reaching the end of their productivity anyway. None of the perennials were too badly affected. It's been a bad tomato year and I don't think it's just me. The usual display of locally-produced "heirloom" tomatoes has been absent from the supermarket for several weeks now and only the more standard varieties (and non-local ones) are available. The only one of my plants that's giving me much is a lovely dark-purple cherry variety. Maybe next year will be another bumper crop. I think another one of next year's projects should be to install a more reliable timer system for the backyard watering circuits. The current one is battery-driven and attaches directly to the spigot (which means I've got an arrangement reminiscent of an electrical octopus set up to manage five different watering loops plus manual hose. I don't want to lay out a permanent in-ground system because I'm still working on where everything will go eventually, but maybe at least a permanent control box that will allow for a dozen different independent water loops.

The heirloom apples have all come ripe and been picked, though I haven't tasted the second variety yet. Their keeping fairly well on the shelf despite the heat, but I need to do something this weekend. There are still a bunch of the standard apples left on the tree and I need to rake up what's fallen so I can shake off another batch to dry. The dryer has been working very nicely: each batch dries in 24 hours and the time spent in peeling/coring/arranging the next day's batch is minimal enough to fit into the evening routine. I think I have about 8 bags of dried fruit in the freezer (ca. 8 large apples worth in each) and I took one on the Worldcon road trip for snacks. It makes a nice change from processing for applesauce. Maybe next year I'll try turning some of the ornamental plums into prunes. They're small enough that the processing-to-fruit ratio for plum puree is a bit high (though well worth it). The quinces (only a few) and the medlars (oodles and oodles) are still way off from being ripe, but the walnuts are starting to fall, which means I need to begin the raking-up schedule if I don't want the squirrels to play havoc in the vegetable beds. I really do need to come up with some more efficient way of dealing with the walnuts or just give up for this year and toss them all in the green recycling.

And next year -- I swear -- I will figure out how to get this glut of zucchini that everyone else complains about!
hrj: (doll)
At some point after I moved to Concord, five years ago, I decided that I needed a "signature party" like all my friends seemed to have. I have a hard time dealing with the details of planning social events, but I figured that some sort of open-invite theme party would be within my cope-scope.

As my garden started taking shape, it became clear to me that it needed to be the context for my signature party…which gave me an excuse to put it off for a while until I felt the yard was in the proper shape. At some point this winter, I set myself the goal of getting everything in shape to have my first garden party this year.

The second part of my party theme came courtesy of [ profile] thread_walker, who suggested that I invite all my author friends to come and read from their works. It sounded like the perfect excuse for bringing together friends from all my different social circles, and everyone could be audience, after all! So I scanned the calendar and picked a date that didn't conflict too badly with anything I was aware of. That would be next Saturday. (If you're local, would like to come, and haven't received an invitation either because you aren't on facebook or because I didn't think you'd be interested, let me know.)

In addition to the incremental improvements to the garden, the big project in preparation was taking out the annoying concrete walkway along the back side of the yard. This was necessary so that I could finish installing the last bit of the "formal garden", which overlapped the walkway slightly. I haven't gotten very far at filling in the shallow trench this project produced, but we'll cope.

So today's project was cleaning up the back yard: mowing, raking, some pruning. Tomorrow I finish laying out the walkways in the formal garden and get the fountain cleaned, adjusted, and running. Oh, and clean up the inside of the house a little bit. Heck, maybe I'll finish the "complete once-through housecleaning" I started back in January.

Heres's where the party will be held (or actually: in the shade of the mulberry tree off to the right of this).

hrj: (doll)
The big infrastructure project this year was to remove the odd little concrete sidewalk from the back part of the yard (done) so I could finish installing the raised beds for the square formal garden (done) and then level out the trench where the concrete was (to be done) and make the yard presentable for my literary garden party in June (to be done).

The formal garden still needs to have the fountain cleaned and set up to circulate, and I need to lay down some sort of covering for the pathways. (I have a few ideas of mulch-matting sorts of things that will have the effect I want.) The mainstay of the formal garden is herbs, as well as smaller vegetables. A probably incomplete list is: basil (several types) chard, sage, marjoram, oregano, thyme (a couple varieties), tarragon, summer savory, sorrel (2 varieties - very vigorous!), peppermint, garlic, shallots, bunching onions, fennel, dill, parsley, cilantro, lovage, borage, eggplant (3 varieties), kale.

I just may have gotten the positioning, number, and varieties of summer squashes right. I decided that rather than scramble to try to set up the corners of the formal garden with their permanent inhabitants (Rosa gallica with alpine strawberries at their feet), I'd stick the various Cucurbitaceae there: summer squashes, one winter squash, cucumbers, and a melon. Three plants to a corner (since there's plenty of room for them to spread out over the edges of the box) including seven different summer squash varieties.The ones that are blooming are already setting fruit (4 of the 7 so far) and they all have plenty of flower buds of both sexes, so I have high hopes of being inundated.

The eventual effect is intended to be "fences" of berries (rasp, black, boysen, Marion) in the outer ring which will take a few years to get established. So far only the Boysenberries are dense enough to be fence-like. Eventually I'll need to set up something more durable in the way of supports. These beds then have a wide variety of strawberries at the base. (There are also an assortment of berries along the back fence: blackberries, Boysenberries, blueberries of several types. In theory I've still got a currant and a gooseberry back there although I have a poor record at keeping them alive. Also grapes, although I've yet to bring any to edibility.)

Elsewhere in the yard I seem to be making a go at starting half a dozen rhubarb plants as well as the every-happy artichokes. And having planted 12 different varieties of tomato (about a third are cherry tomato, one roma, the rest assorted standard and heirloom) I just might have enough tomatoes.

The fruit trees, old and new, all look happy this year. The only one of the new trees (put in last year) not to flower is the apricot and I'll forgive it for now. The pomegranate is flowering this year, the old apple tree has set its usual abundance of fruit as has the old lemon. The quince has maybe a dozen fruits this year. Both the heirloom apples (White Pearmain & Calville Blanc) have set fruit for the first time. The Morello cherry may give me enough for a tart but on further research the Black Tartarian needs a different pollenator so I think next year I'll add a Napoleon as well as a Montmorency. There's room. And both medlar trees are setting over a dozen fruit at this point.

The orangery in the side yard will be the focus of the next infrastructure project (but not this year). For now, I'm still waiting for the various citrus trees to settle in enough to start bearing. Thinking about adding a grapefruit and still looking for a standard citron (though I did break down and get a Buddha's Hand). The multi-graft espaliered apple and pear trees are coming along and flowered though I doubt I'll get any fruit yet. They're still rather spindly and are part of the long-term planning for that area rather than expecting immediate returns.

So that's it for now. I'll probably plant some more salad things, especially successions of radishes, although I tend to have bad luck with lettuces. I'm not going for a big variety of vegetables, just a focus on the ones that are best home-grown (tomatoes), that I love (squashes), and where I can grow all my own needs (onions).
hrj: (doll)
The quince tree that I planted last year has offered up three nice large quinces. I was waiting for them to inform me that they were ripe with that heavenly quince-smell that the little ornamental ones always got, but instead one decided to fall off and another started developing a little brown spot, so clearly it was harvest time. They have now been peeled and cored and are simmering away in water to cover in my mini-crockpot. The end product will be jelly or jam.

One of the two medlar trees that I planted just this spring has offered up three fruits. (I never expect much in the first year, so no fault to the one that didn't fruit.) Medlars are an entirely new experience for me and I know that at some point I'll need to pick them and "blet" them. But I don't know what picking-readiness looks like.

The swiss chard is doing it's second crop. For some reason, the two chard crops are separated by an obligatory aphid season when the plants look like they're going to curl up and die. The leeks are ready to start harvesting, though none of them are the enormous inch-thick ones you get in the stores. Tomatoes are still coming along, though not as plentiful as earlier. And I finally have one (1) eggplant ripening (out of three plants). Also a second bitter melon which I think I'll pick and play with tomorrow because it's the same size the other one got to when it suddenly decided to ripen. I have one tiny little regular melon (possibly the "nutmeg melon", in which case this may not be an abnormally small size). I've been digging up and drying the shallots so I can re-use those beds. They aren't as large as store shallots and I'm not sure that I did more than double or triple the original number of bulbs, but they were reasonably successful. I planted a larger variety of onions this year, seeds, seedlings, and sets. The bunching/spring onions are doing ok and the regular yellow and red (misc. varieties) are supplying all my needs. In theory I have some garlic in there somewhere but I haven't worked out if any of it did well yet. (I have a map of where everything got planted, in theory.)

The strawberries and most of the cane-berries are busy putting out runners and setting themselves up for good productivity next year. I'm keeping up with stringing up the canes and thinning out some of the excess enthusiasm.

Last weekend I trimmed the flower stalks off all the lavender in the parking strip and saved some for sachets. Also trimmed back the trailing rosemary. I definitely made the right call for what to plant in an unirrigated parking strip. Need to add more mulch/bark around them since it suffers from foot-traffic-related attrition. But all in all, much better than the weed farm it started as. I also got out the long-handled chainsaw and took off half a dozen old palm fronds which are slowly being chopped up for the green bin. Had a guy stop by and knock on the door after seeing the clusters of ripening palm fruits and ask if he could come back some time and harvest them. Since my experiments last year at processing them for food indicated a very low product:labor ratio, I told him he was quite welcome as long as he took them before they started dropping all over the place. (He wants them to start palm seedlings. My experience suggests that there's a sweet spot where the trees are mature enough to fruit but still short enough to be able to harvest easily. So it may not be as odd as it seems for someone to keep an eye peeled for the opportunity.)

All in all, I'm happy with this year's experiments, even if the only produce in some cases was knowledge. Next year I'm going to try the cucurbitaceae out in full sun (and not mixed in with the tomatoes). There's no reason why I shouldn't be drowning in zucchini like all the stories promise.
hrj: (doll)
Sorry to all of you who are still mired in winter snows, but I have daffodils and crocuses and tulips and roses. I have blooms on my plums, quinces, cherries, and medlars. The strawberries and raspberries and blueberries are flowering. The tomatoes and eggplants are thriving. I'm harvesting fresh herbs. And there is a mourning dove nesting on the gardening shelves under the patio. Yeah, we have a major serious drought. But pthbbth! We have Spring!
hrj: (doll)
Because the girlfriend-from-New-York is visiting this weekend, and because she finds it quaint and exotic that people in California actually ... like ... GROW things in their yards, I am planning a dinner that will be based around the produce of my estate. To wit:

A Greek-style salad of sliced *cucumber and *tomato with feta and *olives

An *artichoke-*herb tart a la Messisbugo

A stir-fry of *eggplant, *zucchini, and *red onion with *basil and aged cheese

Lamb chops (with a mint-cocoa rub) served with spiced *plum sauce

An *apple tart with almond-crumb topping

As my grapevine still shows no signs of producing fruit, the wine will be provided by [ profile] thread_walker who will be joining us for dinner.
hrj: (doll)
My tomatoes outgrew the little wire cage I set up when I planted them. Today I got a much larger, more extensive expand-as-you-go support cage and managed to tame them a little. I'm almost at the point where I can harvest every day ... and the season's just getting started. Time for a garden survey:

* swiss chard (lots, half a dozen plants seems to be optimum)
* red onions (as many as I can use, but I think I should put in a second wave for later)
* artichokes (half a dozen so far, I think about 4 plants would do me for all I need)
* green beans (never enough for a whole serving, not sure this is a good use of space)
* cantelope (barely surviving, not sure why it's unhappy)
* cucumber (1 so far, several more on the way, I think 3-4 plants would do me)
* zucchini (2 plants, nothing produced yet but some promising flowers, maybe the deluge will come later?)
* bell pepper (4 plants, just starting to set, we'll see what the output is)
* eggplant (2 surviving plants, one has set four fruits but the other has yet to start flowering, I like eggplant so I think the optimum is going to be 4 or 6)
* tomatoes (2 cherry, 2 regular, as noted above, almost at the point of "as many as I want", unless I plan to preserve, this may be the optimum number of plants)

I ran out of space long before I ran out of things I wanted to plant. With the automatic watering system, the upkeep isn't too bad. But I'll need to get a major headstart on building more beds for next year. Not a last-minute scramble like this year.
hrj: (doll)
Fisher, Celia. 2004. Flowers in Medieval Manuscripts. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. ISBN 0-8020-3796-8

The University of Toronto Press has a series of relatively thin books of thematic groups of elements from manuscript illustrations. I find them a valuable source of image inspiration (an brainstorming for historic artifacts to collect or reproduce) when they intersect a topic I'm interested in. This volume presents an array of depictions of flowers and foliage, both from illustrated herbals and included in marginal decorations. The flowers are often vibrantly naturalistic, allowing not only species identification but showing a range of color variations for items such as pinks (dianthus) and irises. My own interests tend to lean towards inspiration for my own gardening, but this collection could also serve as inspiration for needlework project (or for manuscript illumination, of course). The text discusses not only the context of the manuscripts in which the images occur, but botanical details of the plants and their habitats, as well as why they were relevant to medieval life and so chosen to be depicted.
hrj: (doll)
One of the assorted trees already thriving in my yard on purchase is an olive tree. Not sure what variety because I haven't bothered to do the research. It's in a suboptimal location and last year I didn't notice anything resembling fruit so I'd marked it down tentatively for removal at some convenient time. But this year I spotted some olives (who knows, maybe I just missed them last year) so the tree gets a reprieve pending evaluation. (Not that the "convenient time" was likely to come within the year anyway.)

Today I went out to pick the fruit and evaluate it for processing. One of the things that had kept me holding off on picking was that the olives didn't appear fully ripe yet, and definitely didn't feel very soft. But when I took a closer look, some of them were beginning to shrivel up so further waiting didn't appear to be appropriate. In fact, some were in a semi-ripe color (about 3/4 black but with green at the stem end) while still beginning to shrivel. This suggests to me that the tree variety may not be optimized for Concord seasonal patterns. Another interesting thing is that the shriveling seemed to be more prevalent on the south side of the tree, whereas the best looking olives were mostly on the north-east corner. This suggests to me that sun patterns are a significant influence on whatever's going on.

The olives are very small, about the size of the smallest commercial olives I've seen (that is, in the "olive bar" section of the deli, not your standard canned olives).

I picked about a gallon of fruit of all qualities. They're currently soaking in water, after which I plan to sort them out according to visual appearance, probably into three categories: black and plump, black and semi-shrivelled, and mixed-ripeness. The first category will get cured. I'm still researching historic curing methods but I'm inclined to try both brine and dry-salt cures. The second two categories I'll probably try pressing for oil, just to see how well it works. I wonder if you can get a very small-scale olive press?

More details when I've had a chance to play with them.
hrj: (Default)
I've been getting home well after dark a lot lately, so today it came as a bit of a surprise when I stepped into the back yard to water the potted trees and discovered a carpet of green where there had been only dry dirt. This means, of course, that if I hope to stave off another jungle like the one that took half the year to clear out, I'll need to keep on top of the growth in my occasional spare weekend day. On the other hand, the previously rock-hard ground is softening up nicely with a little moisture, so it should be easier to get the potted trees into the ground ... once I decide where they go. Decisions, decisions.

In landscape reflections, I'll also note the continuing success of the Parking Strip Project. The combination of the anti-weed mat and the assorted mulches have successfully kept the weeds down to what can be managed in an occasional removal session. And the rosemary and lavenders fulfilled their promise of drought tolerance. A couple lavenders died, but mostly they're doing ok (and will do even better over the rainy season).

More randomly: It's about time to start dealing with fallen leaves. And it's past time to start a compost heap, so I need to make some motions in that direction. That will help for dealing with the autumn's pruning and thinning. I need to see about getting my shredder in working order. (Not that it's in non-working order, but I haven't actually used it for over 5 years, so I think a tune-up might be in order.) One of the tree roses out front has died. Not the new one I put in this year, but the one that I noticed was pretty much girdled at the base back a year ago. So I was expecting it to kick off at some point. The big shade tree in the back yard really really needs some serious shaping-pruning after it drops its leaves and I don't know that I can avoid having a professional in to do it. And then there's my vow to have something resembling a vegetable garden ready to go by spring, even if it doesn't match my Big Vision for the yard.
hrj: (Default)
20 2-cup frozen bags of pureed Italian/damson-type plums
5 2-cup frozen bags of pureed red-leaf ornamentals

8 cups reserved to play with and put through a jelly bag resulting in:

4 cups clear juice, to which I added 3 cups sugar and cooked to the jelly point resulting in 7 half-cup jars of jelly. Pretty good percent-recovery!

4 cups thick pump, to which I added a glob of honey and assorted medieval spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise, cubebs) to taste and cooked with ca. 1/4 cup rice flour to thicken. This resulted in 8+ half-cup jars of spiced plum goo.

The jelly is to give away (since I wouldn't use that much jelly in a decade). The plum goo is either to use or give away as it pleases me. (And note that I've only used about 1/8 of the total puree at this point.) I think, although I'm not entirely certain, that I don't need to plant any more plum trees. (Although a nice little Santa Rosa wouldn't go entirely amiss ....)


hrj: (Default)

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