Friday, August 19, 2011


Every time when I take a stroll through our neighborhood, I am observing other people's fruit-laden apple, fig and citrus trees and I wonder whether they all say, "Boy, we have a huge yield this year! I wonder what caused this?"

While I know, who is responsible, I simply am glad that my girls did find so much food and am looking forward to the loads of honey that they must have been producing.

It is pretty simple to help mother nature out and benefit a bit yourself:  So, plant more fruit tree and other edibles and start keeping bees!

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Passioflora - Passion Fruit - Beauty for one day and common problems

We planted two passion fruit vines with the idea that they will crawl up and around our frontyard arbor and thus creating a neat and eventually edible entrance.

They are located in full sun, so they should have done really well. But they have not. They looked sad, didn't grow and any new vines that grew immediately turned hard without ever even trying to wrap and cling around our arbor. So, Roberto was already making arrangements for their demise.

Until recently. One fine day in July, I noticed new growth.

And then a few weeks later, the very first flower.

Now, if you have never seen a passion flower, it is quite amazing. They are only open for one day and they have special requirements for their pollinator. Typically, only a large bee or better a hummingbird can do the job.

Since our regular Italian bees most likely were not capable of giving this picky plant what it needed, we hope that our many hummingbirds were able to do the trick. Let's see and wait. So far, the flower closed after only one day of beauty and the pedals are still connected but I have not seen any fruit setting yet.

What does the passion flower want?

Well draining soil, full sun, lots of compost (twice a year - one in early spring and one mid summer), frost-free climate (most varieties will grow in USDA 7-10), if possible, plant them in early spring.

Because they are vines, they like to climb up and around some sort of structures.

While it is said, they are fast growers, I cannot say this yet about ours but then again, we have only had them for about 5 months.

While they can be grown from seeds, it may be better to get a rootstock to ensure disease resistance.

They are actually great container plants and not to forget the stunning flower, which start flowering in August.

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Eggplant Heaven - My Mama's Ratatouille Recipe

OK, I admit it, I cheated.... I tried to seed eggplants but nothing would sprout. And I told EVERYONE about it. So, I was overjoyed, when my Master Gardener teacher Florence gave me an heirloom eggplant. Of course, a few days later, someone else gave me two other heirloom variety eggplants. Even better!!! With my zucchini and tomatoe abundance, I was planning on eating Ratatouille for months, which is one of my favourite peasant dishes.

We planted these three guys and when the first little purple flowers showed up, we danced around the plants. And then, the fruit started setting in. OMG!

And guess, what happened next? The long forgotten seeds that I had sown on my kitchen seed-starter shelf sprouted. In the end of July, about a dozen new baby eggplants (all heirloom) showed up. Well, I guess, we will truely have Ratatouille for a while...

Here is my MAMA's recipe for Ratatouille (cannot wait!):

In a large crock pot, heat olice oil.

Chop a red onion (white is ok too, but is only real french with a red onion!) and one or two garlic gloves, toss in pot.

Add 4 large tomatoes (cut in half with skin on), 2 medium size zucchinis (little cubes), 1 large eggplant (little cubes), 1 bell pepper (little cubes).

Pepper, Salt, Bay leave.

Simmer for a loong while.

Fetch the tomatoe skins out and serve.

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Tomatoed out - How to increase yield

So, I read that tomatoes yield more if you snip the majority of their leaves. That perfectly made sense to me since not soo much energy is lost on making leaves but can directly go into producing juicy tomatoes.

It also helps, to every now and then neglect them (read NO WATER FOR DAYS!) until the remaining leaves look droopy. If you water them then, they will shoot out a gazillion of flowers since the plant thinks it has to prepare for its demise and therefore get the next generation on the road. The result: MORE TOMATOES.

Then just before they are perfectly ripe, you turn the water off again to increase the sugars in the tomatoes. Ahhh, you will be glad you did!

So, I did my part on the large tomatoe harvest and my bees did theirs and here we are with already over 20 lbs of tomatoes harvested and simply no end in sight because they just keep making more.

Seriously, I need to start thinking about canning them, because with an Italian in da house, there is always a need for more tomatoe paste. And I have no canning stuff at home and never done it. That is a recipe for disaster....

My sister also anticipated my drowning with tomatoes and found an old book from our Papa's, in which there was a recipe for KETCHUP. She promised to mail it. Cool, as soon as I get it, I will do that, too!

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

To Grow, Harvest and Cook an Artichoke from Seeds

One of my plants
I planted a few artichoke seeds, despite that everyone told me that they are hard to grow from seed. The general recommendation is to buy a plant or get a divided piece from someone you know. Anywho, we seeded a few. Two seedlings emerged.

So, initially we had two plants. Then I transplanted them close to our sidewalk, resulting in my neighbors dog to mistake these tiny plantlings for a tree. So, I had to transplant them AGAIN and this time my man thought I had killed any hopes for harvesting artichokes. These two guys looked sooo sad: their leaves were wilting and for weeks they looked just miserable.

Since we WANT artichokes, I seeded a few more and another 4 seedlings emerged, who I planted alongside the other dead-thought-ones.

So we kept caring for the first ones, they eventually started to look better and when we returned from our trip to Utah, one of my first chokes was sporting a flower bud. YES!!!

It is the flower bud that we are eating in artichokes. Once the flower starts blooming (a beautiful blueish thistle), it becomes inedible.

Ready to pick
Of course the question is: When to harvest you artichoke. You want to leave it on the plant to allow it to be just perfectly ripe but you don't want to wait too long for it to start blooming.

So, every day, we have been checking on them and TODAY I thought, it was time for artichoke appetizer!

Cut them about 2-3 inches below the bud.

How do we eat them?

We boil them in a pot with about 3 inches of water for 25-40 minutes. When you can pull one of the middle pedals out, they are done.

While they are boiling, I prepare the dip: Melted butter with lemon juice, pepper and salt.

See the two sideshoot buds. Yum on the way.
Ahhhh! Cannot wait for the next choke to be ripe.

Harvesting time for artichokes is from late July until frost. The centre one is typically the biggest one and the sideshoot buds are called 'baby artichokes'. Pretty misleading, huh? I always thought that they harvest them prematurely but it is simply the next 'generation' of buds.

More on Artichokes

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Monday, August 1, 2011

JULY 2011 - HARVEST TALLY and gardening mistakes to avoid in Southern California

Waiting for the tomatoes to ripen
This marks the fifths months of our homesteadying adventure! And yes, I have made lots and lots of mistakes, and hopefully can avoid them for next year.

Here are some of the silly mistakes I made and what I have learnt:
  • Cutting zucchini stems while pruning them - now bacteria can get into the plant. I save it by putting bandaids over.
  • Staking tomatoes too late, causing the fruit to sit on the ground (not good!)
  • Planting zucchini and tomatoes too early in a soil that wasn't warm enough (blossom end rot)
  • Planting a number of zucchini, cukes and squash in each other neighborhood, causing cross-pollination, making the seeds unusable for next year
  • Planting corn too close, stunting its growth
  • Not separating seedlings, stunting their growth
  • Too much water usage
  • Planting cabbages in each others neighborhood, creating an aphid block-party (luckily it attracted these tiny wasps who will take care of this problem)
  • Buying ladybugs to eat the aphids - Now this really is a big problem: When you buy ladybugs, someone has collected them in the wild and when you release them, they will try flying back home. While attempting this, they will die. Also, when you release them, they rarely stay to eat anything. DON'T DO THAT. It's simply not worth it for you and it puts another species in danger. Instead just wait for the native ladybugs in your hood to show up and do the job. Trust me, if you leave the aphids alone, they show up!
  • And last but not least: Allowing the free range birds to forage EVERYWHERE with the result that many tomatoes have been picked in. Not we are fencing in a portion of the backyard to keep our feather-heads out.
  • Planted the cabbages according to the European growing season, which is too hot for them. In Southern California, we need to plant them in fall.
July 2011 Harvest Tally:
1/2 lbs of strawberries (bit by bit or I should say berry by berry from plant to mouth they went - this variety is just too good)
2 lbs of Arugula
1 lbs of salads
64 lbs of zucchinis - everyone got to benefit for this abundance
6 lbs of savoy cabbage
3 lbs of cucumbers
4 lbs basil for pesto
20 lbs of lavender flowers, which I am in the process of turning into essential oils, soaps and sachets.
1/2 lbs of white peaches
1/2 lbs peppermint

41 Duck eggs


  • Planting beds for Blueberries (done)
  • Planting beds for tomatoe seedlings (Black Krim - half of which the wild bunnies ate... argh!)
  • Tear out lawn in front (bit by bit it goes)
  • Move perennial flowers (rose, lavender)
  • Start a kombucha culture (in the making)
  • Start a yoghurt culture 
  • Plant tea plant, hibiscus and jasmin for making tea (planted jasmin and hibiscus; waiting for the tea plants)
  • Planting the pumpkin patch for our pumpkin (again, most got eaten by the bunnies)

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis