Picture Sunday: A Winter Harvest in Florida

Root Simple reader Noel Ramos sent the picture above of some local fruit grown in Florida to remind us that winter gardening is big there too. Noel grows over 500lbs of fruit and veggies every year on a quarter acre city lot. In the picture:

Canistel, Rollinia, red navels, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Carambola, pineapple, sapodilla, sugar apple, dwarf Cavendish bananas, ambarella, jaboticaba, jackfruit flowers, papaya, lemon and red palm fruits (inedible).

Amazing.

If you’ve got a picture to share, send it along to us at [email protected].

My Favorite Lettuce Mix

Earlier this week when I decried the sorry state of our winter vegetable garden, I neglected to mention the one big success: lettuce.

We grow lettuce mixes almost every year and we’ve never been disappointed. Homegrown salad greens are much better than store bought. Plus, at least where we live, they are easy to grow. We just sow the seed directly and water them in. We thin by eating the seedlings. Judging from the crowding in the photo above, we need to eat some more salads soon. There’s never been pest problems save for the edible, and aggressive, fennel seedlings you can see amongst the lettuce (memo to self: cut down fennel before it goes to seed this year!).

And, at the risk of repeating myself, I pretty much grow Franchi seeds exclusively. It’s a family run Italian company that dates back to 1783. This year I grew their “Misticanza All Lettuce” mesclun mix. It’s astonishingly beautiful and flavorful. Best damn salads I’ve ever had.

Last year I grew their Misticanza da indive, described in the Seeds from Italy catalog as a mixture of ten or more endives and escaroles. It is also well worth growing. Franchi has several other mesclun mixes that I’m looking forward to trying.

Unlike other seed companies you get a lot of seeds on one package–enough to plant a farm. I’ve had good luck with germination, as well.

In the US, Franchi seeds are available through Seeds From Italy at www.growitalian.com.

Skunks, are they edible?

Skunk issues in the garden this winter have led to murderous thoughts. Those thoughts, in turn, caused an intemperate Google search which turned up the following gem from the March 1959 issue of Boy’s Life:

Incidentally, skunks are edible. The Indians ate skunk and so has many a trapper. I tried it, rolling pieces of cleanly-skinned carcass in flour and browning and steaming them in a skillet. The meat is light in color and well flavored. It is better than raccoon or opossum, but a skunk is bony and not as well padded with meat as a rabbit.

Not that I’m considering this yet. Somehow the thought of a locally sourced Los Angeles skunk is particularly unappetizing. And a reader mentioned that they kept a skunk as a pet. But I am curious to hear if any of you have tried skunk, raccoon or possum. Will we see any of these locally harvested meats on the menus of hip local gastropubs?

Warning: This Blog is Based in a Mediterranean Climate

A fresco from Pompeii depicting many familiar plants.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time: write up a sort of this-blog-is-in-a-Mediterranean-climate disclaimer. There’s a certain amount of awkwardness when discussing vegetable gardening in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months. I imagine that most of the readers of this blog are either taking some time off from gardening or gardening under a hoop house. But for us here in Southern California it’s the prime agricultural season, when rain falls and the hills are green. It’s my favorite time of year. But I imagine most of you are puzzled by discussions of picking veggies in the middle of January. As puzzled as I would be about topics like bursting pipes and hoop houses.

It’s my hope that you can learn from our successes and mistakes during your winter months and apply ideas when your garden warms up. But I’m also happy to get comments from gardeners in other Mediterranean climates around the world such as South Africa. There is a lack of information about Mediterranean edible gardening in English and without that information, growing here can be frustrating. Most gardening books, websites and the info on the backs of seed packages are completely useless here. For an author, it’s not economical to write Mediterranean gardening books since the market is so small–as a percentage of the earth’s surface this climate is exceedingly rare.

Paradoxically, it’s a culturally significant climate. The foundational literature of the west–ancient classical texts and the bible–are full of references to plants such as figs, olives, pomegranates,  and grapes. We have all of those plants in our front yard.

There’s also one big misconception about Los Angeles: that it’s a desert. Mediterranean climates such as ours get twice as much rainfall as do deserts. But like deserts, we have to be frugal when it comes to water. All the rain we get comes at one time. Between the late spring and early fall there is no rain at all. Those of us who live here ought to concentrate on plants adapted to long dry periods.

And because of our climate I have a house rule at Root Simple about not talking about the weather on our blog. Why? Because it’s really, really boring. Nothing ever happens. Most of the time it’s sunny. Around this time of year it rains occasionally. In June it’s kinda cloudy. That’s all there is to say.

For those of you who live here in Southern Calfiornia I’ve found a few good sources for edible gardening information:

The Digitalseed Vegetable Planting Calendar and the Digitalseed Flower Planting Calendar

Books:

The New Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (Sunset Western Garden Book)

Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening (3rd Edition): Month by Month

And for those of you who live where it regularly freezes and snows, you’ll be amused to hear that in all of my years of gardening the first time that I’ve ever had plants get serious frost damage was early Tuesday night (it does occasionally dip just below freezing in the LA basin). And, I promise, that’s the last time I’ll discuss the weather.

Thankfully I’m married to a gifted writer who grew up in Colorado. When it came time to write our books she was able to recall that phenomenon called “snow.”

On why our vegetable garden is such a disaster this year . . .

One of the front beds–soil problems, I think, are causing the gap in the middle of the bed.

I’m having my annual gardening-caused mental meltdown. When it comes to vegetables this winter (the best time to grow them here in Los Angeles) if it could go wrong it did. Vegetables are needy, fussy plants and we’ve not had much luck with them recently. So I thought I would list the factors, natural and human that went into this year’s lackluster veggie garden in the hopes of preventing future bouts of veggie neurosis.

The aesthetic disaster that is the new keyhole bed. And let’s not even talk about the skunks.

Acts of Nature

  • Bad weather—a freakishly hot fall planting season–lost the first round of seedlings despite using shade cloth.
  • Soil issues–clearly time to do a soil test in my raised beds or just bite the bullet and get some new soil. Something is out of balance.
  • Mammals–I’ve never had so many midnight skunk raids. Someone tell me if skunks are edible.

Looking better than last year, but the backyard still needs some design help.

Oh, the humanity

  • Fatigue and frustration–the double knockout punch of skunks and the hot weather left me on the ropes with little enthusiasm for ongoing gardening maintenance.
  • Ego–forgetting that urban homesteading is not about self-sufficiency—to chase self-sufficiency is a fool’s errand. I should be happy just to have a few good salads and be thankful that I can buy good vegetables at a local farmer’s market. I don’t think self-sufficiency is a good goal even on a large piece of land. We humans are meant  to work together, hang out in groups and share goods and knowledge. I’ve got some talented vegetable growing neighbors. Perhaps it’s time we put our heads together and help each other garden. We’ve talked about it in the past, but somehow never got around to it.
  • Lack of engagement with the garden. For me this is the most critical issue and I think it is related to dissatisfaction with the design of the garden, particularly the backyard. I don’t want to hang out in the backyard because it just reminds me of how much work I’ve got to do. This becomes a vicious cycle. I then don’t put in enough work to get plants going. Time to come up with some new design ideas–perhaps the neighbors can help here to.

So how are things shaping up in your gardens? If it’s winter where you are, what are your plans for the coming year?