Monday, January 3, 2011

Serendipitous bean crosses

I thought that beans were strictly self-pollinating...until this year!  While shelling my dry beans, I noticed some that looked like this:

and this:

I'm not really sure about the parents of the first one, but this is my guess:
 Momma (Black Runner) - Baby - Daddy (Rattlesnake)

I remember picking the speckled "baby" beans from the Black Runner plant and the pods appeared to have faint stripes similar to the Rattlesnake beans.
The second "new" bean came from this pod on the Painted Lady Runner bean plant:

 You can, again, see the purple stripes on the pod coming from Rattlesnake (aka "baby daddy"):
Rattlesnake beans
 Painted Lady Runner beans

Offspring of Painted Lady and Rattlesnake.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Book Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden

Book Review:

The Alternative Kitchen Garden an A-Z by Emma Cooper

The author of this book started a weekly podcast called "The Alternative Kitchen Garden" a few years ago.  Emma provided vegetable growing tips that were primarily for those with a similar climate to her native Britain.  But the most interesting topics of the podcasts (to me, at least) were those such as "Goji Berries", "Achocha" and "Oca".   Podcast listeners were entrained into Emma's adventures in growing these and other usual food crops.  These podcasts inspired me to grow things like ground cherry and pak choi.

The book originates from the podcasts that Emma created and it's full of interesting topics.  It is not, however, a step-by-step guide to growing fruits and vegetables.  It is a collection of short (1-2 page) discussions of various topics related to gardening told from a sustainable (yet, witty!) point of view.  The part I love best is the honesty of the text.  Readers are not only told about the successes in the garden, but also the failures.  This is so important, and something that gardening books usually do not include.  For example, "From my two containers, I got what looked like a reasonable harvest of tiger nuts (about 200g in total).  However, they were very hard and not at all sweet.  They were fiddly to clean and not at all tasty.  I don't know what went wrong, because tiger nuts are supposed to be nice…" 

Successes in the Alternative Kitchen Garden include leaf beet and Welsh onions, which can be harvested almost all year long.  I plan to find seeds of each and grow them in the spring.

The writing style is highly conversational, which may be pleasant or off-putting, depending on your preference.  When discussing decomposers, the author states, "If they didn't munch their way through all of the dead animals, dying plant material and (let's face it) poo then we wouldn't be knee deep in the stuff because we wouldn't be here - there would be nothing left for us to eat."  I find this style more engaging, personally.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden an A-Z is for garden newbies and veterans who are interested in trying something new. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weck canning jars - important step that I missed...

Remember all those cherries that I washed, pitted, and canned way back in June?  All 18 lbs?  I was so proud to use my new Weck jars.
On this cool, crisp morning, I decided to treat myself to a few cherries in yogurt.  So I opened up a jar...but it wasn't sealed.  I reached for another, snapped off the clips, and IT wasn't sealed.   Panicking, I went to Weck's website and read this:

"Jar after cooling down
A vacuum now prevails in the jar. The normal pressure of the surrounding air outside the jar presses the lid down on the jar, thus firmly sealing it. The spring clamps required during the canning process are now unnecessary and should definitely be removed after the jars have cooled down."

So, the clips should "definitely be removed after the jars have cooled down".  

That's interesting.  I left the clips on.  I wonder why they need to be removed?  The website goes on to say:

"Why is it absolutely necessary to remove the spring clamps after the processed jars have cooled down?
After processing, the spring action of the clamps is replaced by the natural force exerted on the vacuum inside the jar from the pressure of the air outside the jar. If you were to leave the spring clamps on the jar, you would not, by trying to lift off the lid, be able to test whether the jar was properly processed and sealed or not. This simple, but extremely important seal-test ( the "lid-lifting" test) cannot be performed when using jars with a thread type, a wire-bail type of closure or any other mechanical sealing devices."

I'm pretty sure that I read their website when I first purchased the jars.  I don't remember seeing any of this information.  Maybe it's been recently added?  Or maybe I just missed it.

Later today, I removed all of the clips and checked the jars.  Fortunately, I only lost 4 jars of cherries and none of the more recently canned beans or apple pie filling. 

 Note to self (and other Weck users!): Remove the clips when jars are cool and check the seals.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cabbage worm myth - debunked!

Such a pretty little butterfly.  Such a destructive little larvae!  Cabbage worms abound on my brassicas this year, so I just purchased a roll of floating row cover.  But it's too late for the ones that are already being munched on.  What to do?  Search the internet, of course!'s a possible solution: "Simply sprinkle a mixture of flour and baking soda onto the leaves.  Then, when the cabbage worms eat the baking soda, they die."  Sounds easy, right?  Wrong :(

Well, I actually did the sprinkling thing, but I decided to go one step further.  I put 2 large cabbage worms into the leftover baking soda / flour container to see what would happen.  After 2 1/2 days they are still going strong - happily eating all the baking soda / flour they desire.  (I know they are eating, cause I see the poop.)

If anybody has actually had luck with this method, please let me know.  Otherwise, I suggest we save our flour and baking soda for the kitchen!

UPDATE:  I washed off the brassicas today and noticed that the flour/baking soda mixture actually bleached out the leaves in some places.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

We have eggs!

Lucy, the Barred Rock, laid her first egg on Monday morning at about 10:30am!  It was perfectly formed and weighed 1.5 ounces - putting it into the "small" category.  Lucy announced her egg-laying success in a "loud and proud" fashion!

She has since laid 4 more eggs.  Wednesday and Saturday were her days off.  Here latest eggs weighed 1.75 ounces (or ~49 grams).  I believe that the pullets are 24 weeks old, but there's a little uncertainty since I bought them at the local feed store.

This is the story that leads up to the egg:

Several weeks ago, I filled up the nest box with some wood shavings and placed three golf balls on top.  The idea is to give the pullets time to peck the golf balls (pseudo eggs) and get bored of that.  Then, hopefully, they won't ever become egg eaters.  Also the golf balls denote the "egg-laying spot" for future use. 

Well, last week, I noticed that someone (I mean some chicken :) was rolling the golf balls out of the nesting box and into the coop each day.  I didn't want anybody to start laying under the roosts in the coop, so, I decided to move the golf balls back into the nesting box.  On Sunday night, I forgot to do this.  But on Monday morning when I checked the nest box, Lucy had rolled the golf balls into their proper spot, like a champ.  Then, she proceeded to add her own version of a golf ball!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The "sophistication" of chickens is questioned in Carmel

Most people at the recent Carmel City Council meeting were in favor of changing the current ordinance and allowing a few hens within city limits.  However, resident James Jungroth is still adamantly against chickens and predicts that "in just a few years, an unruly flock led by an abandoned fighting cock will disrupt the city, flummox animal control, spark fights between neighbors, make Carmel a laughingstock and generate a costly lawsuit after an aggressive rooster mauls a child."  Wow...doomsday, anybody?  Nevermind the fact that at least 3-4 people are attacked by a dog on Carmel Beach every year.  Forget about that...dogs are good.  Chickens are bad.

Wake up, Lucy.  You are scary!

Others questioned the "sophistication" of chickens, such as Monta Potter, who said, "I would hope that we are not made fun of.  I think it's important that we continue to promote ourselves as a sophisticated city."  Worry, much?

Marlene Martin, proud chicken owner, who lives outside the city limits says that her chickens are much less trouble that either dogs or cats.  She said, "I'm not sure if I'm sophisticated, or not, but I love chickens.  It actually hurts me to think someone would think they're not sophisticated.  We have sexist, racist, ageist - this is animalist."

The council agreed that a new law should be drafted to allow chickens.  The planning commission will first consider the ordinance and then forward it to the council with recommendations.

I can just hear that crazy, child-mauling rooster pecking at the door.

You can download the full story from the Carmel Pinecone, here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Central Coast Tomato Taste Tests 2010 - Black Zebra

The next tomato up on the chopping block is Black Zebra.

Seed Catalog Description:
A natural and stabilized cross between Green Zebra and a black tomato by Jeff Dawson. This is one of the STARS of my whole tomato showcase. A proven success with markets and friends. Our TomatoFest organic tomato seeds produce vigorous, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants that produce 4 oz., 1 1/2", juicy, round tomatoes with purple/mahogany-colored skin with green stripes (like brush strokes) with exceptionally rich, complex, really delightful tomato flavors that contain hints of smoke and sweetness. Its flavor also carries the rich complexity associated with the best of black tomatoes. This this is one of our favorites for looks and taste. A winner! Once tried, you will keep this black tomato a place in your garden.

Production and Earliness: 
Black Zebra hasn't produced many fruit so far...only a couple of handfuls in the last few weeks.  I imagine that it will only produce a few more fruits this year, judging by the amount that has set on the plant.  Not an early variety...mid- to late-season.
Fruit Size, Color, and Shape:
The fruit size is quite small: from 0.5 to 1.5 ounces.  I have a hunch that these tomatoes would be bigger if they had been grown in a hot summer climate.  The color is beautiful!  The picture above doesn't do them justice.  They are striped a deep red and dark green.  The shape is round with some top- and bottom-flattening.

Plant Growth Habit:
The Black Zebra plant has grown to a medium height.  Unfortunately, it's not very vigorous and has been strongly affected by some type of disease.  I only grew one plant this year, so it's possible that a larger sample size might have produced some healthy plants.

Good texture.  The skin was a little bit thicker than I like.

Delicious!  I tasted Black Zebra, Green Zebra and Paul Robeson together and Black Zebra won for me.  It has a complex punch of flavors.  The citrus flavor of one of parents (Green Zebra) comes through and there's also a nice "black" flavor.  Sweetness is also there to balance the acidity.   Really rich flavor when a bit of salt is added.

Cooking and Serving option:
Perfect for slicing into salads or eating right off the vine! 

Is it a winner?
If I had a garden that was big enough I would definitely grow this plant every year simply because of the outstanding flavor it has.  As it stands, I plan to try it again next year and see if it grows stronger and produces more fruit.  (Oh please let it be so!)