The grape that ate the world

grapefail or grapewin?

We’ve posted about our grape problems before. Pierce’s disease makes it hard to grow grapes in SoCal. We’ve been trying to get resistant varieties to grow on our patio arbor (aka The Masculinity Pavillion) with no success. Our most recent planting attempts are stunted and unhappy, meaning that once again we’re experiencing A Summer Without Shade.

While our “resistant” varieties are proving not-so-resistant, there is at least one grape that laughs at Pierce’s disease: the native California grape, Vitus californica. I believe this sturdy wild grape provides the root stock for the vineyards up North. We planted one of these near our north side fence maybe five years ago now. While the rest of our grapes wilt and struggle, this one is completely the opposite. It is monstrously huge, cheerfully indestructible, and absolutely out of control.

Without water or any encouragement whatsoever it has grown all along the side of the house, from the back yard to the front yard–some 50 feet. It long ago swamped the 6′ chain link fence and now entertains itself by making grabs at both our house and our next door neighbor’s.

This week we have to go next door armed with pruners and machetes and flame throwers and beat it back out of the neighbor’s yard. Meanwhile, tendrils of the vine are reaching into our kitchen window. I’ve allowed this to go on because it pleases me to be reminded of the supremacy of nature–and also, it ensures we can’t forget to go save the neighbor.

(And yes, we really should have done this over winter, when the vine was bare. As I recall, I made noises about it, and Erik grumbled, “Put it on the list…” Anyway, the monster didn’t lose its leaves until quite late–maybe December or January, then seemed to sprout again immediately.)

The grape grows about six inches a day. Since I took these photos, 3 more vines have made their way in and one has reached the ceiling. It’s going beyond cute to somewhat alarming.

Oh, and do we at least get fruit from this beast? No, we do not. It has never fruited. Not a single grape. californica does make fruit, supposedly, but we’ve never tasted it. Our vine is too busy putting all of its energy into swamping the world.

You may be asking why we don’t plant a Vitis californica on our arbor. The answer is we probably will next year. Erik had his heart set on a tastier grape, so resisted that option, but judging how the newest set of contenders are struggling out there, I’m thinking we have a native in our future. Perhaps the beautiful Roger’s Red.

If we do so, we will definitely be better about staying on top of the pruning. This is our lesson learned.

Why we love fennel

Fennel is an invasive plant, and there are plenty of fennel haters out there, many of them our friends, but every year we let a stand or two of wild fennel take root in our yard anyway. We just had to pause now, while the fennel is high, to say that we love it, because it is hardy and beautiful and grows with no water and no encouragement. Feral fennel bulbs aren’t as good as cultivated bulbs for eating, but we eat the flowers, the fronds and the seeds from these wild stands.

But the real reason we let it grow is because fennel attracts more beneficial insects than any other plant, native or imported, that we’ve ever grown in our yard. It’s impossible to photograph, but our fennel stand is swarming all day, every day, with flying insects of every sort, honeybees, wasps, butterflies, ladybugs and many, many small pollinators which we cannot name. At least ten species at any given glance. It is truly a sight to behold.

Quick and Easy Fire Starters

I came across these fire starters this week while sorting out our camping gear, and thought I should blog about them. Then I realized we already have–long, long ago: way back in 2006, when we were all young and innocent.

These little babies are made out of paper egg cartons, dryer lint and old candle stubs. Once lit, they burn long and mightily. I always keep one down at the bottom of my backpack, along with the first aid kit. They’re really handy for starting fires, especially for the fire-challenged, or to give you extra security when you’re working in difficult conditions. Best of all, they cost nothing, and take only a few minutes to make.

Read our original post for the how-to’s.

Vertical Garden Success!

Regular readers of the blog know that we’re dubious about vertical gardening, but this is a vertical garden we can really get behind. Here, a cherry tomato is growing out of a crack in a retaining wall in our neighbor’s yard. (It’s just off our front stairs, and is almost certainly an offspring of one of our tomatoes) It is thriving with no water whatsoever. You can’t see them in this picture, but there’s tons of fruit on it. And its tomatoes were ripe before any of our pampered plants were bearing. 

Moral: Plants grow well where plants want to grow.

Cornmeal Zucchini Pancakes

  
More things to do with zucchini!
Many of you know Rosalind Creasy, Queen of the Edible Landscape. If you don’t, look her up. She wrote Edible Landscaping, among others. It turns out that she’s not only an amazing gardener, one who makes colors and textures sing, who makes edible gardens more beautiful than any ornamental garden I’ve ever seen, but she cooks, too.  Darn her and her…her…competence!!!
Erik found her Recipes from the Garden at the library and brought it home. This is the first thing we’ve cooked from it, but we liked it a lot. These are savory pancakes that suit for breakfast, brunch, or even dinner. I imagine if you made them without the onions they could be served sweet, with syrup or jam, as a veggie-infused breakfast pancake. 
Note: She calls for yellow zucchini or summer squash, but we used green zucchini.
Cornmeal Zucchini Pancakes
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon of sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 cup of grated zucchini, yellow or green, or yellow summer squash
3 tablespoons yellow bell pepper, diced fine (we skipped this)
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
Salsa for serving, homemade or store-bought, optional. 
(We just chopped up some red onion and cherry tomatoes and called it salsa, but I think a fruity salsa (e.g. mango) would be really good with this.)
In a big bowl fork together the dry ingredients (the first list). In a smaller bowl mix the wet ingredients (the second list). Dump wet ingredients on top of the dry and mix just until incorporated–Creasy says “until barely moist.”
Cook these like any pancake: in a greased skillet over medium heat until they’re golden brown and the sides are firm. Keep the finished ones warm in the oven while you cook the rest.
They keep well in the fridge. I just ate one for breakfast after rewarming it in frying pan. Still tasty after 3 days!

Droopy Leaves are Not a Good Thing

Droopy Dawg

Mrs. Homegrown here:

So I just learned I’ve been taken in by a popular myth. You know how in the summer, the leaves of some plants go droopy in the heat of midday, then bounce back when it cools off? I’d heard…somewhere…who knows how these things get planted in your brain…that this was nothing to worry about. I’d also heard that was ineffectual, anyway, to water them midday.

Well, I was wrong. Erik just sent me a link to a post from one of his favorite blogs, WSU Extension’s The Garden Professors titled Hot Weather and Not-So-Hot Advice, which scientifically refutes this myth, and gives us permission to water midday, if necessary, to save the plants.

In a nutshell, droop is bad. Droop is stress. There should be no droop.

Cheerful but Depressing Infographic

Cheerful Seeming but Oh So Depressing Infographic*

National Geographic has an article about seed saving and the importance of biodiversity in the food supply: Food Ark. I know many of our readers are seriously savvy on such subjects, so the material may be too basic for some of you. But for those of you who are new to the subject, or want to share with others, this is a good overview.

And as always, National Geographic is best at the pictures. Attached to the article are several photo galleries. These are my favorites:

Potato Porn
 
Chicken Porn 

*If you can’t read the infographic labels, it is comparing the number of seed varieties found in seed catalogs in 1903 (upper register) with the current number of varieties in the National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983 (lower register). An astonishing loss of biodiversity over an 80 year period. This is one of the ways in which the 20th century really sucked.

Tassajara Cookbook

Mrs. Homegrown here:

A quick cookbook review for ya’ll. I’m having lots of fun with the Tassajara Cookbook which I have out from the library. So much fun that I’m considering buying it. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a Buddhist monestery here in California. This book is based on their famous bagged lunch offerings for their guests. This means it’s all picnic/finger food sort of stuff. This suits me fine because summer is here, and I like making meals that require chopping rather than cooking, and that keep well in the fridge.

I love the simplicity, the pure pleasure and endless variety, of chips n’ dips, bruschetta, tapas, mezza… I could live entirely on appetizers and finger foods. This is why I like this book so much. Mr. Homegrown is not as happy–he’s a more of a three-square meal a day sort of guy. But he’s surviving, because for now, in the heat, he’d rather scoop up pesto with crudités than break down and cook.

This book is vegetarian, with plenty o’ vegan recipes. It focuses very much on spreads, dips, pestos, tapenades, sandwich fillings–that sort of thing, as well as various composed salads. It also has a large cookie section, which I’ve not allowed myself to explore yet. The tone of the food is cheerfully high end California hippie: healthy, vibrant, and heavy on the nuts. (No, that’s not a California joke!).

I was surprised by all the haters at Amazon when I checked the reviews of this book. The primary objections are that it’s 1) all snacky stuff–to which I answer they should read the cover and 2) that it’s poorly edited–to which I answer it hasn’t bothered me yet. For instance, if the recipe says preheat the oven at the start, and then goes on to say something has to marinate for two hours before it bakes, I’m not going to blow a gasket. I’ll just hunker down and ponder my way out of that deeply confusing situation.