I spend a lot of time telling you about my textile work, but today I thought I’d take a moment to showcase Mike’s interests as well. He is an avid gardener, and now that we’re into summer weather, his work is busting out all over. So I took some photos around our back yard; there’s more in the front, but I didn’t want to go out there in my bathrobe to take photos. Another day for the front!
We’ll start with the herbs. Here is some cilantro – it’s bolted, of course, so no good for cooking, but the flowers are beautiful, aren’t they? And the nasturtiums are blooming at their feet. The leaves are good, too – peppery and pungent, good for salads (as are the flowers).
Next up is the thyme, bursting into beautiful flowers:
And the sage, taking over:
We also have oregano, several (tiny) bay laurel trees, lemongrass, horseradish, chives, garlic chives, comfrey, borage, and three kinds of mint (peppermint, spearmint, and pineapple mint). Needless to say, the mint is in containers so it doesn’t get everywhere.
In the vegetable world, the onions (planted back in December-January) are almost ready for harvest:
The tomatoes haven’t arrived yet, but lots of green tomatoes gives hope for the future:
The tree collard, planted a few months ago, is churning out leaves. It’s perennial in this climate, and the leaves (especially the young leaves) are delicious when lightly sauteed.
Meanwhile, the broccoli is a puzzlement. Huge plants, but no broccoli. We’re somewhat terrified of how much broccoli we’ll have once they actually start producing:
The green beans were one of the last plants started, but they are making good headway. We’ll likely get green beans in a month or so, and these are particularly delicious – purple podded pole beans.
And last but not least, the zucchini. It’s already doing what zucchini plants do best: churn out zucchini like there’s no tomorrow. I think we’ve had five or six zucchini already. Soon we’ll be forced to resort to leaving huge boxes of zucchini in the passenger seat of unlocked cars! (A desperate friend actually did that once. I wish I could have seen the face of the driver when s/he returned to the vehicle!)
There are other vegetables, of course. Several cucumber plants, ten or twelve varieties of pepper (sweet and hot), sweet corn, peanuts, and some melons. Out in front we have artichokes, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and eggplant.
And our fruit trees are doing well. Here’s a photo of our Black Mission fig tree, with the Meyer lemon tree in the background. The lemon tree bears heavily enough that I drink fresh-squeezed lemonade all year. The lemon tree was there when we arrived (it was the only green thing in the entire back yard – the rest was dead, dry soil, with a few hardy weeds barely holding on), but Mike planted the fig tree last year. It’s been growing phenomenally, and I look forward to the figs. I love Black Mission figs – my favorite variety. If you’ve never had fresh ones, you’re missing something!
We have other fruit trees, bushes, and vines as well. Mike has planted aprium, fig, plum, avocado, lime, Kaffir lime, and Key lime trees in the front and back yards. (If you are wondering what an aprium is, it’s a cross between a plum and an apricot that is 3/4 apricot. Pluots are apricot-plum crosses with 3/4 plum, and plumcots are 50-50. You’re not likely to see anything except a pluot outside of California, though – for some reason, they haven’t caught on elsewhere yet.)
We also have an almond tree out front, though the squirrels eat them all, alas! Bush-wise, we have blueberries, pineapple guava, a dwarf pomegranate, and raspberries. And we have passionfruit and grape vines – muscat grapes and the tiny variety sold as “champagne grapes”. (The exact name of the variety escapes me.) Here’s a muscat grapevine for you:
And, finally, there are the flowers. The roses are done with their first burst of bloom, but here are some California poppies for you, to round out the garden tour:
Lest you think we live on a huge lot, we actually don’t. Our lot is only about 5400 square feet, and the house, garage, and driveway probably occupy half that. Mike has done a phenomenal job of fitting many plants into a tiny space, without crowding them. Pretty much the entire back yard is planted, and much of the front yard as well. We’re hoping to convert the rest of the front yard soon. Who needs lawn when you can have tasty fruits and vegetables? Soon we’ll be rolling in delicious produce.
And what am I doing this weekend? Jamming along. I am making seven kinds of jam and marmalade: bergamot marmalade (a double batch – yes, it’s that good!), another batch of strawberry-blood orange marmalade, aprium jam with orange blossom water and almond, aprium jam with orange-blossom honey, blueberry jam, blueberry jam with a little mint added (the recipe sounded unusual and interesting, so I couldn’t resist), and my personal favorite – sun-cooked strawberry preserves. This is a lovely recipe that I encountered in Eden Waycott’s Preserving the Taste – basically, you hull an entire flat of strawberries, macerate them with sugar overnight to bring out the juice, add a little lemon juice, and bring the resulting strawberry-sugar-strawberry juice mixture to a boil. Then – and here’s the magic part – you pour the berries and syrup into large sheet pans, cover them with window screening, and set them out in the sun for a few days, bringing the sheet pans in at night. The sun evaporates the water, and the UV radiation in the sunlight keeps it sterile so it doesn’t get moldy. The one catch is that you need at least three consecutive sunny days for this to work! Fortunately, it doesn’t rain here between late May and October, so that’s no problem for us.
And the proto-jam in the trays looks lovely. Here it is, freshly poured into the pan:
And covered with screening. Mike helped me build special screen frames just for these preserves:
The jam is the best strawberry jam I have ever tasted – rich, sinfully concentrated strawberry flavor, with just enough sweetness to count as jam. I use it in one of my favorite chocolate flavors, strawberry balsamic vinegar truffles, and it’s really what makes that flavor magical.
Amidst all this bounty, it seems a little unfair that the cats can’t be allowed out to enjoy the lovely garden and the sunlight. Alas, there are cars that drive far too fast on the street in front, and there are probably predators in the creek behind the house, so indoors they must stay. They love looking outside, though. Here they are, watching (and chittering at) a squirrel on the fence outside: