Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Foggy weather salsa
As a gardener who loves to grow food, I’d like to grow as many different vegetables as possible. I have the space - three acres. I have the time. I have the inclination. I like to think I have the knowledge. The one thing I can’t control — the weather.

It’s foggy. Most of the summer months are dominated by wet, drippy early morning fog. And then wet, drippy late afternoon fog. On most summer days, there’s about a six hour window of blue sky.  

Before I planted my first veggie garden, I asked  a farmer friend of mine for advice on what to plant. She said, "Look around and plant what you see."

Now, I live in the Salinas Valley, known as the Salad Bowl of the World. We grow more lettuce, celery, broccoli, strawberries and cauliflower than anywhere else in the country. That's what I saw. But I wanted to plant cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peppers and onions. 

I tried. I tried really diligently. But the weather just wouldn't cooperate. It just doesn't get hot enough for cucumbers or peppers or the sweet onions I wanted to grow. My dream of making my own homegrown salsa was not to be. So I adapted. Gardening to me is one giant experiment anyway.

I found cool weather varieties of tomatoes. I substituted zucchini, which are prolific, for cucumbers. I can grow radishes by the bushel, so I swapped out the onion with this peppery root vegetable.

It's not a traditional salsa, but it's uniquely mine ... and the weather was in full cooperation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer Squashed

If you’ve ever grown zucchini, you know it’s not for the faint of heart. Squash, and particularly zucchini, are prolific. One plant can produce more fruit than any one person can eat in a summer. And yet, knowing that, I planted nine of them.

Something about seeing those beautiful orange flowers beaming at me just makes me smile. Squash blossoms are so captivating; they grab my attention like the fanfare of bright, vibrant trumpets sounding a call … a call to plant more zucchini!

Beware! Don’t get drawn in to this cucurbit pepo ballyhoo. Once the fruit comes in, a nightmare ensues of how to get rid of it all. Then it’s a mad rush to parcel it out to friends, neighbors, the mailman, UPS driver, FedEx delivery guy (or girl) and even strangers on the street. I’ve even been known to ship it across country to family members. Yes, they’re still talking to me! The mailman, not so much.

Fortunately, zucchini is quite good for you - that’s the sales pitch I use as I’m throwing it out my car window at passersby on the street. 
“Hey there. Catch. Low in calories!”
“Coming at you! More potassium than a banana!”
“Heads up! Helps prevent cancer and heart disease.”

Of course, if that doesn’t work, you can always just cook it … and then give it away as a gift! People are much more receptive to zucchini when it’s baked in bread or muffins or brownies or cakes. Make a tart or a lasagna; a salad or quiche. Pickle it. Stuff it. Fry it. If your dare, you can even deep fry those enticing squash blossoms which are completely edible and actually considered a delicacy. There are as many recipes as there are zucchini.

Our zucchini woes are of sadly of our own making. The plant was brought to the Americas by Italian immigrants in the 1920s. The word squash in Italian is zucca. Should you by some chance just grow one zucchini, you would say you grew a zucchina. Hardly possible. 

There are, strangely, contests for the biggest … the largest on record was 69 1/2 inches long and weighed 65 pounds. The average zucchini bread recipe calls for two cups of the vegetable, which is about one pound. So, Mr. Bernard Lavery of Plymouth Devon, UK who grew this humongous veggies could have made 65 loaves of bread and celebrated the accomplishment on April 25, National Zucchini Bread Day! There’s a bucket list moment.

The town of Obetz in Ohio hosts a four-day Zucchinifest. That’s one way to get rid of an overabundance of this member of the gourd family. Every year a new Queen reigns over all things zucchini and a parade of costume-garbed zucchini-ites marches through the streets, voices raised in harmonious tribute to this productive plant.

I’m there in spirit. I raise a black beauty variety in unity with those hearty enough to tackle zucchinis every summer. Our rallying cry is: one zucchini, two zucchini, three zucchini, four … five zucchini, six zucchini, seven zucchini, more and more and more and more.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sunflowers and the Sultan of Swing

My favorite flower is the sunflower (helianthus annuus). Something about that big, bright, sunny face chock-full of edible seeds that just makes me want to grow them. They’re happy looking. There’s nothing better than a garden full of happy looking plants … except for a garden full of tomatoes, but that’s another story.

Back to sunflowers. I have one hundred sunflowers in my garden right now. One hundred sunflowers with an average of 2,000 seeds per flower means I’ll have 20,000 seeds. Just imagine how many baseball games that would get me through!

We all owe Reggie Jackson a debt of gratitude that professional baseball players stopped chewing tobacco and started the spittin’ seed habit. Some teams go through as many as 12 cases of sunflower seeds in a season. What must the dugout look like at the end of the game?

Back in the 60s when Reggie was making seed history, he most likely just chewed the original salted and roasted version. Since then a flavor revolution has taken place. The seeds of a native American flower now spice up our national pastime. Dill Pickle, Cracked Pepper, Barbecue, Chili Lime, Ranch, Jalapeno Hot Salsa, Sour Cream and Onion, Sea Salt and Black Pepper, Old Bay, Heinz Salt and Vinegar, Red Hot Buffalo Wing, Bacon Salt Sizzlin’ Bacon - I’m looking at my sunflower seedlings in a whole new light.

I could create a new taste sensation. Like Thai Basil Seeds - the perfect accompaniment to Gai Pad Bai Gaprow. Or how about Chamomile Tea Seeds - a great bedtime snack. Or maybe even Chocolate Mint Seeds - great with ice cream. A little vegetable oil and a spin in the dehydrator and I’ve got a potential no spitter in the works.

With my 20,000 seeds I could hit a full-flavor out-of-the-ballpark home run in my rookie sunflower season. I see a signing bonus in my future; maybe even a spot in the baseball hall-of-fame.That’s why sunflowers point east. It’s not some scientific reason like heliotropism. It’s because that’s where Cooperstown is. I can see it now; me laying a bouquet of my sunny sunflowers, sans seeds of course, at the feet of The Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat.

Now there’s a happy thought. That’s why I love sunflowers.

These are just about ready for me to pluck out the seeds and start drying.