Archive for September, 2009

Barbara: I was looking forward to this past Saturday morning ever since I read that the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners would be presenting a fall vegetable workshop at the Farm and Food Lab in the Great Park. Irvine is something of a wasteland when it comes to these sorts of things, so the fact that there was a workshop like this surprised me.

The second surprise was the Farm and Food Lab. I was truly amazed when I laid eyes on it. I’d heard that there was something agricultural happening in Orange County’s Great Park, but more than this I did not know. Well, turns out that there’s a not-quite-year-old, 2-acre farm that has produced more than 6 tons of organic row crops that have been donated to local food banks!


This 2-acre plot will be substantially expanded in the coming months.

And next to this very productive field are beautiful raised beds brimming with fruits, vegetables and ornamentals, each planted in keeping with a theme — a pizza garden, fruit salad garden, a Native American garden, etc.


Orange County gardeners explore the Food and Farm Lab.

In the midst of this delightful setting the Park crew set up a large tent for the lecture. And that brings us to the next, and perhaps biggest, surprise. The tent wasn’t big enough to accommodate all the people that showed up! In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have imagined that more than 20 people or so would come, but there were at least triple that number. Bring me my smelling salts!

Kay Havens, a certified Master Gardener, gave a great presentation. It was informative, funny and full of tips for growing fall crops in containers and small gardens. Afterward, I spoke to Tom Larson, chief landscape and farming consultant, who told me that there are plans for a much larger farm and a community garden.

Things are looking up in OC, people! If you’ve lived in Orange County for as long as I have, you too would be pinching yourself to make sure this wasn’t a dream. I think I’ll stick around to see what happens next!

P.S. There are four more workshops scheduled. See the Great Park site for more information. And come to the next one — you won’t be disappointed.


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Barbara: Marybeth and I were so excited, I mean REALLY excited, to learn that our blog has been nominated as a 2009 Blotanical Awards regional finalist in the Best Rhode Island Blog category. Thanks to everyone who voted for us in the initial round.

Now we have a favor to ask of all our loyal readers. Can you guess what it is? Oh! You’re all so smart! Yes, we would be so grateful if you would take a few minutes to go to the Blotanical website and vote for our blog. There’s only a day and a half left to cast your vote, so hurry on over. And, while you’re at it, check out some of the other great blogs that are up for awards.

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Mary Beth: I love this time of year. It’s a time when I like to make a few changes in the garden beds. Some work, some don’t and, while the main bones of the garden will always be the same, it’s fun to have a few surprises to look forward to the next year. And changes here and there are especially nice for those of us who like to take photographs.

Today I dug up one of my favorite plants, the Blue Star Amsonia. This plant looks especially good contrasted with the red poppies that grow next to it (it’s one of my favorite photo subjects) but, it got too big and began to take over the bed.

Red poppy and Blue Star Amsonia

Red Poppy and Blue Star Amsonia

So I moved it, leaving behind an Amsonia seedling I found to keep the poppies company. This also gave my father’s pretty yellow rose some room to be seen. In the Amsonia’s place I transplanted a white coneflower, a dozen crocosmia ‘lucifer’, and a clump of Red Switch Grass that has beautiful leaves blushed with red. I think this combo will look amazing with Dad’s yellow rose and a delicate white rose, ‘Darlow’s Enigma’, that’s nearby. It will also give the bed color throughout the entire season which it lacks this time of year. I planted the Amsonia on the other end of the bed with the yellow daylilies and blue Japanese iris, where I think it will look especially nice and give me more pretty combos to photograph.

I’m planning on more garden changes, but right now they are still swirling around my brain. I’m one of those gardeners who doesn’t plan on paper. The ideas pop in my head while I’m having a bout of insomnia, while I’m working in other people’s gardens, or while weeding in one of my beds. When things start to come together and the picture I’m painting in my head seems right, I’ll  grab my shovel and start creating a new work of art.

Speaking of changes, this fall will be extra busy for me because Ray and I have decided that we won’t be coming back to live on Block Island next year. We’re going back to our home in Colorado and will stay there year round. It’s a very bittersweet time for us. I’m very excited about living all four seasons in the mountains and working in my Colorado gardens again after 5 years on Block Island, but heartbroken to leave this special garden that’s filled with so many wonderful memories.

Laying out the vegetable garden 5 years ago

Laying out the vegetable garden ...

The vegetable garden five years later

The vegetable garden five years later.

The flower bed in front of the vegetable garden

The flower bed in front of the vegetable garden...

And five years later

And five years later.

In spite of leaving so much behind, I know that these changes will be good for us. I can feel it. And my Colorado garden, which has endured on it’s own all these years, is calling me.

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Mary Beth: Ray and I were under the weather on Labor Day weekend, so I decided  to make a nutritious soup using all the wonderful vegetables in my garden. As I was picking the ingredients for the soup, I was thinking about the article I read on the Garden Rant blog where the author mentions the occasional bug she may unknowingly serve her family. It made me chuckle, but it made me buck up too — if I don’t eat that kale that looks like it was blasted by buckshot, then what’s the sense of having an organic garden?! So I grabbed a handful of that too. I had to triple wash it and really rub those leaves to get rid of the bugs. I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, I got through it and the soup was delicious. And maybe, just maybe, the missed bug or two were actually the medicine we needed to get better!

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Garden Vegetable Soup with Barley (bugs optional!)

  • 1 bunch kale, with stems, roughly chopped  (I started throwing the entire kale leaves, stems and all, in the soup when I read my niece Kristin’s blog. She has a great blog on nutrition and food. You can read about the benefits and healing properties of food at foodbykristin.)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, with stems, roughly chopped
  • 2 large beets with their greens, beets cubed, greens, with stems, chopped
  • 1 medium Trombetta squash, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 2 large yellow tomatoes, cubed
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cubed
  • 1 large leek, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • handful of basil, roughly chopped
  • 3 small onions, chopped
  • lots of garlic, smashed
  • oregano, sage, parsley, sage, tarragon, rosemary — whatever you have on hand
  • Barley about 1/4 cup, or more
  • filtered water
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil until tender. Throw in rest of veggies and saute until tender. Add basil, sea salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir. Add water, about 4 – 5 cups, and barley. Bring to a boil. Add the fresh herbs. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

I don’t worry about too much about measuring ingredients for the soup. I just add whatever is ripe in the garden, season with lots of fresh herbs, add salt and pepper and add enough water to make plenty of broth. Whatever ingredients I use, it always makes a thick delicious broth and it’s really good for you. Just don’t look too closely… no, seriously I got them all!

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Mary Beth: Oh how wonderful it is to be standing in the garden looking at those beautiful tomatoes, feeling proud of my babies and thinking of all the delicious meals I’m going to make. Mmm.

Almost ready to harvest

Almost ready to harvest

Wait! Something catches my eye. WTF?! Something is chewing big chunks of my plants! My tomatoes!

A shiver runs down my spine as I spot the culprit. A big, fat green monster — the dreaded Tomato Hornworm! And once again the game is on as I become obsessed with finding the beasts.

So good at hiding in plain sight

Hiding in plain sight. Those little nubby feet are strong!

They are the masters of camouflage so it takes a bit of practice to spot them. The best way to find them is to look for their poop; little black droppings on the leaves below where they munch. I track up the plant from the poop. Looking for the damage, squinting, concentrating…yes! Gotcha!!

Warning, the first time you see one of these guys it’s a bit freaky, they’re huge and kind of scary looking. Touching one will be the last thing you’ll want to do, but be fearless and get rid of it. And know that where there is one, there are others. So check each and every one of your plants carefully. Tomato Hornworms are eating machines that will devastate your plants in a day or two.

Look at all those little "eyes"! Eww!

Look at all those little "eyes"! Eww!

I pull the pest off the plant (they have quite a grip) and throw it over the fence, or if I’m feeling ruthless I let the dogs have a go with it (hilarious, but not pretty). They’re way to big to squish, so I mostly take the coward’s way out and toss them as far as I can hoping that the birds will find them. Weird as it sounds it’s very satisfying to find those buggers.

So if you’ve been wondering what’s been eating your tomato plants, here is the likeliest suspect.

P.S. Technically these are Tobacco Hornworms, but most people identify them as Tomato Hornworms. They are the larvae of the Hummingbird Moth. The caterpillars can grow to 4 inches in length and are easiest to spot in the early morning or at dusk when the temperature is cooler. They’ll also eat potato plants, eggplants, and peppers. Here are a couple of links to more info — Colorado State Master Gardener and University of Minnesota.

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