Thursday, January 23, 2014

A little Harvest

Winter is the grazing time for gardening in Tucson. Because there is less sun available in the winter the vegetables grow slowly compared to summer gardening. This makes greens perfect because you can pick off the outer leaves of lettuce or spinach over the course of the season, rather than harvesting the crop all at once. My family has been having salads from our Jerico lettuce for a while now and I have been very pleased with how this variety has been producing.

Harvesting a little for a fresh garden salad

Another vegetable I have really come to love this winter has been our Kyoto carrots from Kitazawa seed company. These carrots are fantastic. They are everything a carrot should be: sweet, tender, colorful, and delicious. They do require growing longer period than short varieties (because of their long tap root) and apparently the dark color and sweet flavor develop better when grown over a cold season. Not only does this variety makes a perfect winter carrot, but it makes you wish this was the only carrot you grew.

Kyoto Red Carrots are very pretty...

but sometimes when I take pictures of my vegetables...

in the background I see...

my children growing.

Growing winter vegetables is a lot like growing children. Growth is rarely noticed from one day to another, but as you invest time in them - over time you can see great things.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Occasional Warm Spell

Every four to five years here in Tucson the winter fails to deliver a very hard freeze. (Now that I have mentioned this a freak weather event could drop the temperature down to 25˚F tonight). For the most part this winter temperatures in Tucson have generally remained in the 70s during the day and 40s at night. The lowest we have dropped was to just below freezing.

This little tomato plant managed to live through a light frost

Though a lack of freezing temperature can be a real pain for the gardener when it comes to next year’s insect pests, an occasional warm spell enables us to enjoy something that few other U.S. gardeners get to indulge in – a fresh January tomato.

Even in a warm climate January tomatoes are risky. That's why I have one plant!

Growing tomatoes in January is not for the faint of heart. In planting my solitary tomato plant I knew I would be taking my chances. The plant did sustain some damage from a few slight frosts, but being next to a sun-bathed south-facing wall has greatly enhanced its ability to weather the cold and produce a few delicious tomatoes. So – should you be coming upon winter in a southern climate and be thinking of tossing that young tomato plant – perhaps it can be transplanted into a warmer location to extend its life and your harvest.

Black Spanish Radish

Whilst on a trip in Turkey my parents picked me up a packet of these black Spanish radishes. Having never tried them before, I decided to give them a go. I planted them at the very back of the kids’ garden – where they would be watered least. Despite my best efforts they grew so well that they started crowding out the spinach. Perhaps without much foresight I had the thought to actually pluck one of these little radishes out of the soil for a sample – what a mistake!

A Black Spanish radish with its friends growing against the wall

I shared some with my wife – who usually likes radishes. She was a bit taken back by the taste. The taste to me was intensely pungent, so I decided to try sautéing them in oil, then adding seasoning, then more seasoning. Unfortunately the seasoning didn’t help too much. Perhaps these radishes would be good pickled in heavy brine– so that all the taste is removed. 

Cutting up some Black Spanish Radishes for the taste test

Though I do enjoy most veggies I encounter, I have yet to come across a reliably sweet (and not spicy) radish. I almost wonder if this is a genetic trait that cannot be bred into radishes. In any case, the genetic trait of enjoying strong radishes failed to exhibit itself in my taste buds. With this said, I would highly suggest Spanish radishes to be used for one of the most essential components of a healthy garden: compost!

Sadly, sauteing this radish did nothing to change the taste. =(

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The January Garden

One of the best things I learned when gardening in Tucson is to plant in spring for the hottest days of the summer and to plant in the fall for the coldest days of the winter. As the temperature here rarely goes below 20°F then it is pretty safe to plant brassicas, lettuce and many other greens, onions, peas and some other kinds of beans, beets, chard and cilantro.

A view of my children's winter garden

Digging a trench for composting in my summer garden.

Growing year-round with two separate gardens always presents the problem of competition for space and light. My summer garden often comes into my winter garden, though I have never had the opposite concern.
With the summer garden put to rest, the winter garden has light
Jerico Lettuce (which I begrudgingly share with the caterpillars)
Monstrux De Viroflay Spinach
I tend to plant my winter garden very intensively and pull plants as they need the space. Though all plants need light, many of my greens can survive on minimal light until I recognize that they need to be thinned. Conversely, I tend to space my summer plants much wider as each plant requires much more space and any plant that gets crowded out will likely end up being a disease and pest liability, as well as a waste of time and effort to plant.
Small Black/Purple Carrots

Tavor Artichokes

Some of the plants I am growing this winter include Jerico Lettuce (which I plan to save seed from the plants that bolt last), purple/black Turkish carrots, Kyoto red carrots, Spanish black radishes, some small Texas multiplying onions, Viroflay spinach, snap peas, Tavor Artichokes, a lone Celebrity tomato plant and McGregor’s Favorite beets.

McGregor's Favorite Beets

If you want a minimal maintenance garden in the Southwest then Winter is the prime season to do it. When the weather consistently goes above 75°F then I have to water more than once a week. But if not, then I can usually get away with watering once every 10-12 days. With many of the pests and disease vectors wiped out by the first light frost there is little maintenance required for the winter garden. Truly, the Tucson winter garden is a delightful way to grow and enjoy winter salads, greens, and roots to well into the spring.
Some tasty Snap Peas

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Amici Dell'ortodue

Amicidellortodue is a wonderful Italian blog staffed by a group of friends who love to garden and cultivate heirloom vegetable varieties. In Italian, Amici dell'orto  literally translates to “friends of the garden”. Gardening blogs that consist of multiple members are most likely the future of sustainable gardening blogs. Blogs with multiple authors incorporate both many perspectives and consistent posts to enable the blog to remain both legitimate and interesting.

Amicidellortodue's title page does a good job showing the variety of vegetables and fruits their bloggers grow.

The blog was started by Paulo Basso, an Italian gardener with a vision for the blog. Besides sharing information with other gardeners, the members work to provide access to old Italian seed varieties. 

They even enjoy purple colored tubers in Italy.

Although the climate of Southern Italy may differ somewhat from Tucson, the majority of the vegetable varieties that I have seen posted about in the Amicidellortodue blog are very similar to those that do well here in Tucson. 

A beautiful snake gourd flower

The gardeners who staff Amicidellortodue are very kind and willing to answer questions about any variety of vegetables that they have grown. That being said, some of the members of the blog are very busy with their lives and pursuing their gardening niches. Before posting a response, make sure that your thoughts or questions are well organized.

A few of the many tomato varieties grown by the Amicidellortodue group

I would highly encourage all gardeners to learn as much as they can from the Gardening gurus at Amicidellortodue. Near the top of the page there is a drop-down menu for choosing your specific language. For all those who live in a warm dry climate or just want to learn more about growing vegetables, take a moment to visit the gardeners at Amicidellortodue!

Some Armenian type cucumbers and beans

Some Carosello Cucumbers grown by Paulo of Amicidellortodue