Friday, March 30, 2012

Strawberries are about to go loca.

Hey folks.  Sorry I've let this blog slip.  Been busy raising a boy to love his fresh foods.  Anyway, just wanted to through up a note on the impending strawberry season.  Most of the folks out there in Salinas have fruit on their plants.  Swanton farms has had ripe fruit for the past few weeks as well.  The good news for the Salinas Valley folks is that the last rain storm this past week barely made it south to them.  The rain for the coming weekend should have a greater impact, but word is the fruit will make it through. Of course time will tell.  But with some luck, we could see the season open up in the next few weeks.  I'll try to do a better job and keep ya'll informed.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cara Cara Oranges are here!!

What?  An entire post about an orange?  Yes sir.  If you have not tried these beauties, then you are not living.  Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement, but still, get out to the market and check things out.  It always surprises me in winter how uncrowded the markets are.  Sure, summer brings tomatoes and raspberries, but there is more to life than nightshades (and, duh, potatoes are around year long people) and red things.  And if you need the red things, Swanton is still producing some decent strawberries.  Of course, that will soon to change with the new weather pattern setting up.  So if that is your thing, get them this coming week.  But back to the point of this post.  The Cara Cara.

Cara Cara Oranges.  Image from

They really only came on the scene a few years back.  Before that, they existed, but were even harder to find.  They tend to arrive sometime between late November and and early January, like the perfect holiday treat.  They can stick around for a few months or more.  In essence, they are a red fleshed Navel.  They tend to be a bit bigger than a Navel, but smaller than a Grapefruit. Pinkish to light orange flesh.  Kind of like a Ruby, and similar in taste.  But different.  I would almost describe them as a slightly tart orange or a sweeter Ruby Red.  But more complex and interesting than that. Regardless, they are delicious and way more interesting than the typical grocery fruit.  And, even more interesting than an epic Farmer's Market Navel.  So, in short, go buy some from your local farmer.

While I am posting, I should mention that the rain is coming.  Expect some changes to come.  We need the water, so, while the rain may damage some crops (and raise prices) farmer's will not need to irrigate (lowers prices).  Prices should remain fairly steady through the period, but expect lower quality on tender leaf plants like lettuces.  Strawberries, what there are of them, will take a beating.  Otherwise, we are not expecting any terrible cold that kills off stocks.  Coming soon a mid winter market report.  Happy eating.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Water your garden folks.

Not much to say, except that you may need to get out there and give some water love to your plants.  This extended dry period is not all that unusual for winter, but often one forgets to tend their winter garden like they do their summer garden.  The ground is certainly not 'summer dry' yet, but things are not typical for early January.  Check you soil and plants, and water accordingly.  Because the sun is low and the temps are mild, you will not need to be out there too often.  Still, stop in and see how your chard is doing.

Know what this tomato relative is?  It is sweet and perennial, and gives a few winter bites when we have drought.

You may also want to take a moment and do a little weeding.  We get a lot of clover.  A bit is not bad at all, but too much will compete for both water and nutrients.  So we tend to thin them out a bit.  Another task you could accomplish this weekend is planting some new starts.  If you put some lettuces in the ground, they should be able to get established before the rain comes, and you will be making salad with in a month or two.  The great thing about winter planting is how little attention it really needs.  A bit of weed thinning every once in a while.  A bit of water when the rain stops for a few weeks.  A brief check in for damage during the heavy rain.   A protective barrier during the very coldest nights.  A some time to pick the snails and slugs about once a week.  Oh yeah, those guys love winter and they love lettuce.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Time to plant the garlic.

There is really not much better than harvesting your own food, fresh from the back yard.  All those hours of tilling, prepping, planting, feeding, weeding, protecting and harvesting finally pay.  But not every thing needs to be a lot of work.  Some things are wonderfully delicious and super easy to grow.  Garlic may be one of the easiest crops to grow, and is great for even the non-gardener.  All you need for about a years supply is a 4'x4' plot of soil, and several bulbs of organic, disease free garlic.

Loose soil is best, as garlic is a bulb plant, and will grow under the soil.  If the ground is too compact, it will be difficult for the bulbs to develop.  Once you found your spot, make sure the soil is loose, and turning in compost to get a good consistency and nutrients.  Smooth out your plot, and drill trenches about one inch deep, about two inches apart.  You will want to break you garlic up into individual cloves.  To plant, you just place a clove in the ground, with its base down, and cover with an inch of soil.  How close you plant will depend on if you want to harvest green garlic in the spring.  Plant about 1.5" apart for green garlic harvest, or 3" for no green garlic harvest.  Water lightly, and then go back inside and allow winter to happen.  You do not need to water, unless we see a long (6 weeks) mid winter drought.

Fall harvest of herbed and garlic that cured all summer long in the shed.

Around mid December you will see the tips of the plants begin to break the soil.  Around April, when they have at least 5 fronds 10 inches in length, it is time to start pulling the green garlic.  Only pull every other plant, and pull them as you plan to use them.  It will only hold for about a week, or so.  You will want to have them all pulled by late March, so the bulbs can have room to develop on the other plants.

If you planted a hardneck variety, scapes will emerge in April or May.  They look like swan necks with a flower bud tip.  Cut it off, as this will send energy back to the bulb to develop.  Scapes are great sauteed or pickled.  I think of them as a garlicky green bean.  Softneck varieties will not send a scape.  Wait until late May, June or July to harvest.  I usually pull one plant first to see how big the clove is.  If I want more, I wait longer.  If you wait too long, they can rot, so be careful.

Calendula.  Easy to grow wild perennial that happens to be edible.

Gently pull from the ground, tie plants together with their fronds, and hang in a cool dry place to cure.  You will want to keep them hanging at least two weeks, and it will reek of garlic.  I like to use my shed. Cut the clove from the rest of the plant and gently wipe of dried dirt and the outer layer of skin.  Compost the rest.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fruit. Time for the change up.

I make a fruit salad almost every day for my wife's lunch.  I know, what a great guy.  But this is not about me.  It is about fruit.  Summer fruit is pretty much gone.  A few weeks ago, we were making a mix of strawberries, blueberries, melons, peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines.  Not so much anymore.  Some plums keep showing up, but soon, even these hardiest of stone fruits will be moving on.  But do not fret, there is still plenty of good fruit to play with.

Satsumas.  Ripe and ready.

Sure, apples are in, but these are not my favorite for fruit salad.  Unless eaten right away, or doused with citrus, these favorites of mine turn soft and brown.  Instead, I've been looking at what else has shown up at the markets recently.  Grapes have been around for at least a month, and probably only have a few weeks left.  But some of the locals organic options are wonderful.  And don't get me started on their awesome raisins (and I don't even like raisins!)  So you have grapes.  What else.  Persimmons have started to show up recently.  Be sure to get a firm Fuyu variety if you want them for salad.  They have the rounded bottom and a texture not unlike an apple.  The pointy tipped Hachiya is astringent, and even though they are more palatable when softened, I feel they are best left cooked  for fruit tart.  Add in some figs and pomegranate and you have a pretty good mix started.

Fall sunset on Main Beach, Santa Cruz.  Empty, but for a few strollers.  not quite like the summer crowd.

Citrus is starting to show up, and this is really the final ingredient.  My favorite are the seedless Satsuma and Clementine.  So sweet, easy to peel and the perfect size for salad for one.  Or even just to snack on alone.  Valencia oranges are around.  More varieties will be showing in the next few weeks, along with grapefruits.  We are just at the leading edge for citrus season, and should see a great variety coming soon.    Lemons and limes are also, of course, citrus, and abound at the market today.  Maybe a month of more , and we will begin to see the blood and the cara cara orange show up.  Good times.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Peppers hold out a bit longer. Corn is gone.

I just put the last of the corn on my salad for tonight.  It was a pretty amazing season for the stuff, with the last harvest during the first week of November.  When the regular farms started to go thin on corn back in late September, I thought that the season was ending.  Then one farm after another popped up with their late season crop.  Some of these folks only plant the stuff as a wind break, and had very small quantities,  And because it was not in the most ideal of locations, it took a while for the plants to mature.  Viola! Late season sweet corn on the cob.  And of course, you paid late season prices.  But as long as it is sugary sweet, I say it is well worth the price.  As long as you picked the right ears.  Those worms can do a lot of damage by November.

Last week for cheap peppers.  Last month for local peppers.  Get 'em now.

As for peppers, those tropical plants are holding out.  As are tomatoes and eggplants.  Come on, it is almost Thanksgiving, and we are still getting fresh, local heat loving nightshades.  You got to love it in Central Cali.  But, get them while they are hot.  Prices from on farm this week are at $1.20 a pound (as they have been all summer), but they plan to go up to $2.80 a pound next week, as supplies will dwindle.  It is not so much the cold, as the shorter days, that will drive production down.  These guys need a lot of sunlight to ripen up to those beautiful red, yellow and orange hues.  And allow those sugars to develop.  Still, doubtful we will see much left for December.  We can expect a similar decline in tomato and eggplant stocks.

Autumn means a lot of things, including earlier sunsets.

And keep an eye out for "soggy bottom" tomatoes.  These are dry farmed reds that saw a bit too much rain and caught the blight. Some farms are selling off their stock real cheap.  While these guys are not great for eating in salad, they sauce up just fine.  And one farmer gave me a great idea, while I hemmed and hawed about having enough time to make sauce.  Throw them in a stock pot, and forget about it.  Last night, I cut about 10# of tomatoes, and did just that.  I added just a bit of Italian herb blend for good measure.  This morning, I am packing pasta sauce sized portions into freezer bags, and, yup you guessed it, throwing them in the freezer.  Not quite a gourmet as home canned stewed tomatoes, but this will work, and give me some fresh tomato sauce come winter.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Apple Season. We are smack dab in the middle of it.

Gala apple ready for picking, near Watsonville California.
When I first moved away from Upstate New York and went off to college, I experienced for the first time in my life a truly upsetting apple.  Or so I seem to remember.  I was in New York City, and I walked into one of any of the markets that carry beer, sushi and produce, and bought an apple.  It was waxed, and basically lacking in taste.  Then, a few years later, I moved to California and figured my apple eating years were at an end.  Oddly, this was well before that I realized how much I enjoy eating seasonally and locally.  I thought is was just about apples.

About a decade ago the local Safeway started to carry a variety of locally grown organic apples.  They were smaller than all the rest, but with out the glossy finish.  I decided to try one.  And they were good.  Then, a few years later, I saw some apples that arrived at the Farmer's Market that opened near my home.  Now I see them every where.  And I suggest that you go out and try some of these real apples.  Empire apples have finished off their season.  These are my favorite and one of the variety that was grown near my  childhood home.  Galas are on their second picking.  A picking that many folks feel is superior to the first.  Pink Ladies are just showing up the past few weeks.  And there are countless other varieties that are currently available.  Find some that you like and do not miss out on this fantastic fall treat.  And the nice thing about California apples is that the season can stretch throughout most of the winter and spring.