Gardening in late winter, hope for spring

Tomato in winter.

About the time I’m thoroughly sick of winter, despite the brisk, clear weather or the blessed, blessed rain, I start to think of planting. I start thinking flowers and food. I’ve never really had a great winter garden. I plant garlic successfully every year (with one notable failure) and watch it in hopeful expectation in its winter greenness when it’s all of about three inches tall. It’s starting to grow now, with these few days of sun and suddenly, it’s six or eight inches tall and they are starting to look like real garlic plants.

However cold and rainy, though, I bought plants in February because the urge for renewal was strong. Two salvias that are already growing robustly from Annie’s Annuals in Oakland, and a six pack of Swiss chard and another of “little gem” Romaine-type lettuce from Mix Garden. I planted the chard a few weeks ago but didn’t get around to the second salvia or the lettuce until today.

And, I bought a tomato plant last week. Yeah, yeah, I know, “It’s too early to plant tomatoes.” Meanwhile, it’s gorgeous in a five-gallon pot and it makes me happy. It cost me a whopping $4.

The sun is shining and it’s actually warm in the yard. I saw the first butterfly yesterday, though I couldn’t identify it, and what was probably a common-checkered skipper, today. I wasn’t close enough to identify it, either, except that it was blue-ish. The most common butterfly in my yard that is blue is the checkered skipper.

And, so it begins on a warm day the first of March 2017. (Two-thousand seventeen! How did we arrive here so quickly…but that’s for another day.)

Count your blessings today and every day. Tomorrow is promised to no one.


Robust chard grows in our garden. Event the little bugs like to chew on the leaves.

Robust chard grows in our garden. Event the little bugs like to chew on the leaves.

Discipline! I need to be more disciplined in my life. Unfortunately all the talking to myself hasn’t reaped results. Anyway, I tell myself to write a blog post weekly but that hasn’t happened yet.

However, I still cook, write, shoot (photos) and think. These are all positive “events.” Yes, thinking even has sometimes taken on the status of an event.

Today, after cooking an incredible lunch, I started thinking about the soils that brought about that lunch (and, yes, my mind really does run in those kinds of circles). To further stimulate my thought processes, I found in my Facebook feed, a link to a Jim Robbins article, where he writes:

“Soil is the foundation on which the house of terrestrial biodiversity is built. Without robust soil ecosystems, the world’s food web would be in trouble.”

Click here to read the article.

The opinion piece is a good read, if you are the least bit interested in eating, gardening, soil, species extinction and other weighty subjects. And it brings me back to food…local food, mostly. And compost, particularly since they moved Sonoma County Compost out of the county.

Just as we depend on pollinators for our food, we depend on diversity and health in our soils to produce the food we need to live. So, when you’re out walking today–think about what’s under your feet. It’s all alive.

Back to our “incredible” lunch: It consisted of pork loin from Ritual Farm just outside Healdsburg, Swiss chard from our own garden (fresh picked 10 minutes before washing, chopping, cooking) and organic yellow onion from a local store (but probably was grown in Mexico), avocado oil (cold pressed and “naturally” refined in Mexico) and balsamic vinegar (a product of Modena) from Costco, coarse ground black pepper and Maldon salt. It’s an imperfect world, and, while I could get olive oil and wine vinegar here, they are often out of my price range to use in copious amounts.

Gluten free breaded and fried celeriac

Gluten-free breaded, fried celeriac. Copyright Ann Carranza, February 2016.

Breaded, fried celeriac. Copyright Ann Carranza, February 2016.

I bought celeriac at Mix Garden this week, thinking to make puree, but somewhere (maybe Facebook) saw it breaded and fried. I looked up a couple of recipes, then tweaked them for my own gluten free recipe. How do we say success? The rounds were incredibly delicious.

The recipe:
1 large celery root, peeled and sliced in ½ inch rounds (Reserve the small stalks of celery for another use—like soup—if your root has them.)

In three separate shallow dishes place:

½ cup potato starch (I used it instead of flour because it’s gluten free) mix in a little salt

3 local, pastured eggs, lightly beaten. (Thank you, Ritual Farm.)

1 cup gluten free bread crumbs (I used Glutino). Add 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon turmeric, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, salt to taste. (I like it spicy hot, reduce amounts for a milder blend.)

Olive oil for frying

In a cast iron skillet, heat oil to medium high.

Dip each celeriac round into the starch, shake off excess.
Next dip each slice in egg, then in the bread crumbs.

Add each slice to the hot oil and fry about five minutes on each side. If the oil starts to smoke, turn down the temperature.

Drain rounds on a paper towel. If not eating right away, keep warm in a 200 degree oven.

I dipped mine in Greek yogurt and salsa.

The rounds stayed firm (I half expected them to turn mushy but they didn’t).


Lettuce for the garden

CARRANZA-LETTUCE BED_MG_6110Yesterday I went to Mix Garden to buy vegetables, particularly one of my favorites, celery root. I also picked up broccoli.

And, while I was there, I decided it is time to add to our garden production by buying two six packs of lettuce starts. I bought one Little Gem and one Flashy Trout’s Back. They are Romaine-type lettuces and both are my favorites.

I’m quite pleased by the quality of plants at Mix Garden. Their plants are robust and, apart from some leaf miners in chard once, they are healthy. Mick and his crew make sure their veggie starts have a healthy launch into life.

The other thing I’m pleased and surprised about is their six packs contained more than six plants. I got 35 plants out of what could have been as few as 12. Nice.

I’d estimate the seedlings to be about 20 days old (I may be totally off on this). If they are about 20 days old, I may be able to harvest as early as March 15, though, of course, it will depend on temperature, sunshine hours and rain.

Garlic in a gopher-proof bed. Copyright Ann Carranza, 2016

Garlic in a gopher-proof bed. Copyright Ann Carranza, 2016

Meanwhile, the peach buds are starting to swell, the garlic is about six inches tall and the chard continues to give healthy harvests of greens.

I so hope for much more rain. Though our reservoirs are full or nearly full, the rain needs to continue through at least April. The early end of rains again this year will mean we’ll have another very small garden, watered with as much captured water as possible. I so hope we’ll be able to grow corn again. My husband usually plants it in the middle of March.

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!

Sun and food reflections

Wha'chu doin' in my yard?

Wha’chu doin’ in my yard?

I made that lovely persimmon fruit leather and dried those pears, then I tried to dry quince into fruit leather. The first thing I noticed was that it smelled “perfume-y” not a good flavor for food. Then, as it dried, it cracked and broke into pieces. I ended up peeling it off the parchment paper in chips large and small.

My husband likened the texture to jerky but he likes the flavor, so that’s a good thing. I would have composted it. For me, it’s like drinking from a perfume bottle.

Today, though, I have a blend of persimmon-quince drying, along with lemon disks. We’ll see how that turns out. I hope the flavor of the persimmon will tone down the perfume.

Late last week, I noticed the change in the light. In the summer, I always get sad at the dimming of the light, which I seem to be noticing earlier and earlier each year. Last summer, I noticed it in July, not my usual August.

In the spring, I don’t usually notice the light first, what I notice is the softness of the air. That winter-to-spring air change is sensual and remarkable. But this year, for the first time, I noticed the light’s return and I celebrate the sun.

Without the sun, there would be no life.

And, speaking of life, the robins are wildly active and assertive in the yard. I took photos of a female robin sitting in the fig tree. With the first click of the shutter, she hopped down from the tree and move closer. With each additional click, she moved closer and closer to me, trying to drive me away from her leaf litter, where she was scratching for worms.

She was trying to intimidate me but she made me laugh.