Cherry Red Potato Harvest

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Cherry-Red-ResultsThis year I grew a trial patch of five ‘Cherry Red’ potato plants from January 27th through June 13th. A crazy-early start, even for Northern California. And 137 days is a long time to wait for “new” potatoes. But the plants did well, grew very tall, and flowered even though they suffered some water stress in the spot where they grew. The harvest was well over 5 pounds. I didn’t include the weight of some of the potatoes because their eating quality was spoiled by growing too close to the surface.

Luckily, high stolon-set is a characteristic I love in a potato variety and this one may have everything we look for in red-skinned urban farm growing conditions. It’s a tall plant that sets stolons high on the stem. The stolon length is among the largest I have seen with potatoes growing over 2 1/2′ from the main stem. The potatoes sized up nicely, are very clean, show no signs of scab or other problems. And five seed potatoes crammed into a 3’x3′ planter all managed to do well and produce a pound of potatoes each. With more space and water, this potato could be a strong contender. Cherry-Red-HarvestI also like that the ‘Cherry Red’ flowered and produced true seed. That means we can try crossing them with some of our other red-skinned, yellow-fleshed contenders and see if we come up with an even better variety in the future.

The ‘Cherry Red’ is a fairly new variety bred from the cross (ND4750-2R x LA1858). Released jointly by the Colorado, North Dakota and Texas Agricultural Experiment Stations in 1999. These potatoes are recommended for boiling or baking, so I think I will whip up some potato salad to try them out. The kids like this recipe from Rachel Ray that uses potatoes, green beans, scallions and Balsamic vinegar. And since my husband was very sick the last time he ate regular mayo potato salad, it might be best to give him something different this time just in case.


June 14, 2014

After simmering in salted water for 15 minutes, these potatoes have an excellent “potato” flavor with just a hint of bitterness in the skins. The flesh breaks apart easily and has a dry, baked potato texture. They could be described as crumbly. There’s a very slightly metallic after-taste from the skin of these potatoes that I could do without. The Balsamic vinegar in Rachel Ray’s recipe wipes it out nicely.


Beaning In the New Year

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Home grown dried beansIt’s done! In honor of the New Year I have finally shelled, frozen, sorted and stored all the beans from the 2011 growing season. Well, all the ones we didn’t eat, that is. We’ve already made chili with 2 cups of the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ beans and had baked beans out of another cup of the ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ beans.

We grew a mix of pole and bush drying beans, runner beans and garbanzo beans. What you see here is ‘White Emergo’ at twelve o’clock, with cut-short greasy beans to their right. The top right corner are ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ pole black beans and below them are the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans we like so much. The big pile in the center is ‘Yellow Indian Woman’ bush beans. I want to try them in this soup recipe. The black beans on the left are ‘Black Coco’ bush beans from Bountiful Gardens. I wanted to try them because Carol Deppe talks about them in the Resilient Gardener. I’m planning to eat half of them and save the other half for seed, unless we don’t like them that is.

I also managed to save a few of lots of other kinds of beans, though it took me a while to sort them all. I’ve been trying to see which types would do best in our climate–whatever that is these days! The ‘Cannelini’ did well, though I’ll have to plant a lot more of them to have enough for dinner. This year I didn’t have much luck with ‘California’ black-eyed peas, ‘Hutterite’ soup beans, or the ‘Borlotti’ beans I wanted for a family recipe.

Here they are matched up with the rest of the harvest. Let me know if you have a favorite drying beans that grows well for you.

Dried Bean Varieties

Red Thumbs for the 4th

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Red Thumb PotatoesI’m making Red & White potato salad for the 4th this year. Red, White & Blue potato salad sounds fun, but I know from last year that all three kinds of potatoes need to be cooked separately and the blues especially are complemented by different flavors than regular potatoes. Patriotic-looking food for July 4th is great, but if it doesn’t also taste good, forget it. And my ‘Red Thumb’ potatoes are already going to look pink at best as it is.

These 2.5 pounds of potatoes are part of the Great Potato Grow Out project, though it doesn’t look like this variety is going to be a candidate to move forward in our tests. The ‘Red Thumb’ potatoes were planted April 10th in Test Bed #3 and at their tallest stood maybe 32″ from seed potato to flowers. The highest stolons were lucky if they were set a foot above the seed potato. I pulled these particular potatoes for my potato salad because one of our other testers harvested their ‘Red Thumb’ planting today and found just a dozen grape-sized potatoes, weighing in at 3.25 ounces. I’m guessing some potatoes don’t like to be buried up to their necks in dirt after all.

Tall-vined 'Guisi' PotatoesThe tallest potato vines we’ve recorded here for the trial are ‘Guisi’ potatoes. Their beautiful white flowers are about 56″ from the seed potatoes below. I’m afraid there are actually longer vines in the trial but the ‘Guisi’ have such a nice, upright growing habit that it makes them easiest to measure. ‘Lumper’s Gold’ and ‘Satina’ are solid contenders in our patch as well. Then there are the ‘Muruta’ potato vines.  This trial plant is reported to be 62″ tall at this point with about 36″ inches of it covered in soil. That’s a good long section of stem to be setting stolons–if we’re lucky! No idea how it’s producing yet. Apparently it did flower but the vines are still strong and green eleven weeks after planting.

A number of my potato vines are dying down. The ‘Red Thumb’ vines were so limp they were hard to find. The latest  heat wave is certainly helping. But I should have harvested the ‘Norkotah’ potatoes before today. About a third of the potatoes in one of the bags were already sprouting while still firmly attached to their stolons underground! I’m planning to put them straight into potato bags of their own and let them keep growing in a spot that gets some afternoon shade to keep them cooler.

If you’ve got tall potato vines growing this year, I’d love to know what kind and how they’re producing for you in all this weird weather.

The 226 Day Beet


Yellow Beets

This is my first post for Fight Back Friday.

I love yellow beets. They hate me, but I adore them. I crave them no matter how stubbornly they refuse to germinate for me, or how long it takes the few that deign to grow in my garden to finally develop to eating size. I could grow red beets in the dirt that accumulates in the trunk of my car. Yellows are carefully seeded into flats and coddled atop the hot tub as I pray for germination. Then, carefully, with a special $7 tool purchased for no other purpose, I transplant the tiny four-leaved beets into the prepared garden bed at the tender age of three weeks. By the next morning, half of them fall over dead just to spite me. Or perhaps slugs crave yellow beets even worse than I do.

But today, after 226 long, anxious days, I lunched on yellow beets braised with their greens in homemade chicken bone broth. I dribbled tamari on a third of my bowl, some really snooty French apple cider vinegar on a third and left the center portion au naturel. The bliss! After lunch I seeded a new flat with ‘Touchstone Gold Beet’ from High Mowing and ‘Golden Detroit Beet’ from Natural Gardening Company.

Yellow and orange carrotsAnother root vegetable I struggle with is carrots. They are happy to sprout in my garden but the second I look away something, or someone, mows their tiny tops down to nubs and whatever is left of the seedling dries up and blows away. I got three patches of carrots to grow this fall and they have overwintered well. We’re still eating them in May, which is wonderful. But I would love to grow more. I have tried covering the seed bed with straw, I’ve tried covering it with burlap, I’ve tried interplanting with cabbages–which actually worked in one of the patches but not the other two.

Maybe it’s time to pre-sprout the seeds on paper towels and then transplant into a bed? I got some red carrots that look gorgeous in the catalog, but half the seeds are already gone with nothing but an empty garden patch nicely lined with onions to show for it. I know carrots are supposed to like tomatoes, but do they hate onions?

If you have a favorite way of growing carrots, please share it with me in the comments. I need suggestions!

Garlic in May

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This was the year that I discovered “young” garlic. I had never tried it and didn’t know that, like a leek, you can use all of the white base of the plant, as well as the tender, lighter-green part of the stalk. And I do mean all of the white part, newly forming garlic head included. The papery wrappers we’re all used to painstakingly peeling away from our cured garlic? They are soft and savory and you just cut right through them when you prepare the immature head and the fleshy bottom of the stem.

I must have stolen at least a dozen of these treats out of the garlic patch before the rest of the heads were fully plumped up and the leaves were starting to dry down. I used them to flavor stocks, frittatas and stews, in stir-frying and fed a few of them to my husband raw to help clear sinus gunk from a cold.

This year we did two patches of garlic, a softneck, ‘Chinese Pink,’ and a hardneck, ‘Music,’ both from Territorial Seed. The ‘Chinese Pink’ said it was an “extra-early-maturing variety” and to expect it to be drying down late-May to June. ‘Music’ has a mid-late harvest, which usually means late-July in our part of California. They were both planted on October 4th, 2010. The ‘Chinese Pink’ went into a 4’x4′ raised bed. I may have planted more than 50 cloves. I harvested 30 of them, there are another ten still in the ground and I “borrowed” quite a few out of the bed to use green.

Measuring Garlic HeadsThe ‘Chinese Pink’ garlic has a mild, fresh flavor even after it has been cured. The heads, when they aren’t still covered in soil from the ground, have thin, pink vertical stripes on the outer wrappers. The ‘Chinese Pink’ was harvested even earlier than I could have imagined and rates as a big winner in our garden this year. Some of the heads are over 2″ across and the majority of the cloves in each head are a good size for peeling.

It looks like the ‘Music‘ is just starting to dry a few of it’s outer leaves. Better get out there and try some of it green before it’s too late!

When the Garden Gets Ahead of You


Cauliflower Bigger Than Your HeadSooner or later something growing in the garden gets away from me. The lettuce plants go to seed one hot afternoon, the peas fatten up way beyond sweetness, that nice round cabbage turns oblong and splits. But how I managed to miss this monster in development, I will never know.

Just the other day I made a video of the back garden calling this plant collard greens. I almost cooked the leaves! Wonder what that would have tasted like? As it was, I caught this cauliflower at the perfect moment and sent it straight into the curry pot. I simmered it with some newly dug fresh potatoes, onions, green garlic (my new favorite food) and peas.  It took no time at all and will be delicious for days.

When the arugula went nuts this winter and sprouted up faster than we could eat, even with friends pitching in, I cut big batches of it to process into pesto. I simply washed the leaves and stuffed the food processor full of them, drizzled in olive oil, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Then I tossed this sauce with crushed up walnuts or good Parmesan, or both, and served it over pasta, crackers, spaghetti squash or bruschetta. As the plants got closer to flowering the peppery taste got intense so I added balsamic vinegar to the pesto to cut the spiciness. Delicious!

Onion growing in the groundLast winter there were way more onion plants that there was room, so many of them got tucked into odd spaces in bunches to be scallions or green onions this spring. When those got thick and bushy, I cut the stems, sliced them into rounds on the thin side and put them in the dehydrator. Not too long though! The first batch didn’t hold color and flavor as well as I wanted because I must have dried them too hot or too long. The rest came out a beautiful green, with good onion flavor that will keep the rest of the year.

When I don’t pick the peas as regularly as I should, I let the pods that are now too big to eat fatten on the plant until they dry. The best ones I save for seed. The rest I store like my dried beans and toss them into soups over the winter. I do essentially the same with hot peppers. Grinding up the whole peppers once they are thoroughly dried. Though this year I plan to ferment many of them into homemade Tabasco sauce.

Any fava beans and ready-to-bolt cold weather crops I didn’t keep up with are about to become compost, which is also a worthy goal. If your vegetable plant gets past you as food this time, you can always turn it into something delicious next season by thinking of the plant as much-needed biomass and adding it to the compost pile. Toss it in there with the coffee grounds and dried leaves and fertilize next season’s dinners with whatever gets ahead of you now.

Salad Days

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Green onionWe actually managed to over-winter a few loose-leaf varieties of lettuce and a surprisingly hardy French chicory whose leaves turned a gorgeous deep burgundy in the cold weather. But most of our winter salads are made of chard, spinach, mustard greens, beet greens, radish sprouts, arugula and green onions we discovered bursting out of a compost pile. Now that we are on the far side of the Winter Solstice, I’m starting the Asian greens–the Pac Chois and Chinese Asparagus–and a much more expansive salad garden.

I chose High Mowing Seeds ‘Beta Mix’ to anchor the salad garden this spring. It’s a blend of beet and chard varieties that should have no trouble germinating even if we have a cold February. Of course, that’s anybody’s guess. The next ten days of weather here call for Sunny and 60’s which will make a wonderful germination window for just about anything I want to plant as long as I can keep all the seedbeds moist enough.

I plan to include spinach, mostly the Guntmadingen from Adaptive Seed, several Romaine varieties and some ‘Rubin’ lettuce they gave me yesterday when I made the pilgrimage to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Petaluma. The ‘Rubin’ leaves have a warm red-gold color that just has to be good for you.

If I can bear to cut and compost more of the favas and other cover crops, I’ll also put in some of Territorial Seeds Italian Saladini blend. But the problem with lettuces is that you really don’t want them all at once, you want them over time. Unfortunately, the window of optimal eating for any individual lettuce plant is actually very short. I’m using two different strategies to try to keep the family in salads this spring. First, I’m planting mixed varieties, so not all the plants in the mix are ready at once. And, second, I’m planting in small sections every couple of weeks from here until the weather gets settled and really warm and we switch over to eating orach and other summer greens and tomatoes and cucumbers fill our salad bowls.

Are you starting the spring salad garden yet? What are you putting in this year?