Lush Green

One of the color families you get used to not seeing in the desert is lush green. Sure, there is a lot of green around, but nothing lush or deep green. Everything seems to have a tan filter. This is not overly surprising given that I have had about 1/4 inch of rain since last fall. This is in stark contrast to the garden this year.

So far the garden has reportedly received over 9 inches of rain this year. Two weekends ago we received almost 4 inches of rain in just one day. All this extra water, combined with more moderate temperatures, has resulted in the garden being a color green I have not seen in a while. The plants look healthy and full. They are full of fruit and vegetables. I can see the error of my ways in planting the plants too close together. Although we have not started harvesting large quantities of anything other than serrano and Shishito peppers and kale, I expect big harvests in a couple of weeks as tomatoes and peppers ripen.

Until the large harvests begin, I just have to enjoy seeing deep green again.

A Very Berry Weekend

Finally, we have berries. Not that they are the first berries we have picked in the garden, just the first time we were able to pick enough to do something other than put a few over ice cream or such. With that many berries there was only one thing to do – a berry crisp of course.

Maybe four or five years ago, basically at the very start of when the garden went in, my sister and her family brought back a few vines of a wild blackberry they found in a river bottom while hiking. Because the garden was not in yet and because it was only one vine and because I had no idea one berry vine could take over a whole yard at that time, I put it along the back fence. There it grew. Slowly for a couple of years, then last year it took off; not the berry part mind you, just the thorny vine. This isn’t one of those “friendly” blackberry vines with soft thorns you can easily get out of your way. Oh no. It is mean and aggressive and likes to hug you every chance it gets.

Then, this year, it exploded in berries. The energy of the plant did not go into vine production like last year. Last weekend I was able to pick maybe four cups of blackberries, two strawberries, and a half cup or a little more of raspberries. Combine that with two peaches, some sugar and spice, sprinkle a little crumb topping over it, bake, and viola! you have a fabulous summer treat. A little vanilla ice cream over the top does not hurt either.

Below is the basic recipe we used. Feel free to substitute berries, do a rhubarb and strawberry version, or anything you are up for. Our berries were very sweet so we did not need much sugar. If your berries are tart or if you are using rhubarb, you might have to adjust the sugar a bit.

The result was a wonderful crisp. The fresh peaches provided a nice taste contrast to the fresh berries.



    Berry Filling
  • 4 – 5  Cups Berries
  • 2 Ripe Peaches, cubed
  • 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon grated Orange Zest
  • 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
  • Juice from 1/2 Orange
  • Juice from 1/2 Orange
    Crumb Topping
  • 3/4 Cup All Purpose Gluten Free Flour
  • Heaping 1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, lightly packed
  • Heaping 1/4 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 3/4 Cup Quick-Cook Old Fashioned Oatmeal (gluten-free if relevant to you)
  • Heaping 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 9 Tablespoons Cold Unsalted Butter, cubed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the berry filling: toss the berries, peaches, granulated sugar and the orange zest together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the orange juice and then mix it into the berries. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-8-inch baking dish and place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

For the crumb topping: in a bowl combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and oatmeal. Stir to mix. Add butter and use a pastry cutter to combine ingredients until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, covering it completely.

Bake for about 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream.


Watching and Waiting, and More Waiting

It’s that time of year when the majority of work in the garden is comprised of waiting. Then more waiting. The garden is planted. I can watch the plants grow, the blossoms turn to fruit and vegetables, and, ever so slowly, things ripen. Some of the early vegetables share a glimpse of what is to come, others are more guarded and secretive. Some of the plants were started in February, which makes for a long wait. As long as the weather holds, the irrigation keeps working, and we don’t have a problem with deer or insects, the garden should continue to come into its own and show me what its got. If I’m observant the garden will teach me what I did right and wrong so I can show it what I’ve got next year.

The cherry tomatoes are always the first to ripen. So far we have picked one Fox Cherry tomato. We have a lot of tomatoes on the vines and the vines look healthy. We even have a mystery tomato plant that is starting to look like a paste tomato. If it is a paste tomato and if we get a bumper harvest, I just might have to try making a fermented tomato paste. I have tasted one made by someone else and the flavor was so much deeper than typical store-bought paste that they are almost incomparable.

Over the past week the tomatillos have started forming their lanterns and inside little tomatillos. These will eventually be used in our salsa verde and Colorado Green Chile Pork.

One of the serrano chile peppers I overwintered is quite large and setting lots of fruit. I think we will have an ample serrano supply this summer between that plant and the others in the garden. For now the chilies are small and look like ornaments decorating a tree.

The Shishito peppers at the top, which seem very abundant on our two plants, were simply roasted until charred in a hot pan with a little oil than sprinkled with sea salt.

As I sit and wait, the insects are busy enjoying the the flowers and blossoms. Over the past few years we have made an effort to grow more flowers for bees and butterflies. That effort seems to be working.


Let it Rain

The rains have started up by the garden. This was one of the longest dry stretches we have had, lasting about 68 days. Luckily, we did not have the crazy hot weather we had last year. Because of better temperatures, the garden looks much healthier this year – it is greener, fruit has set, and we had fewer plants die. Being a recently converted optimist, I have high hopes for our eventual harvests.

A lot of the tomato plants have tomatoes on them. As usual, the Avamatoes are growing out of control and volunteering additional plants all around the garden. I gave up trying to cage or stake the Avamatoes as that just made harvesting the tiny tomatoes harder. What is scary is we have more blossoms at this time of year than I remember having in the past. The big tomato varieties are slower for now, but I expect that to change.

We are experimenting with three new-to-us sweet pepper varieties: Shishito, Cupid, and Carmen. So far they are all growing great and we have had quite a few Shishito peppers to eat.

The blackberry plant decided to put more energy into growing fruit than last year. Last year we had very long vines and little fruit – not really what we were after. This year is just the opposite. It is also the first year we have had raspberries from that vine.

Scents through the Garden

Those herbs which perfume the air most delightfully, not passed by as the rest, but, being trodden upon and crushed, are three; that is, burnet, wild thyme and watermints. Therefore, you are to set whole alleys of them, to have the pleasure when you walk or tread.

Frances Bacon, Of Garden, 1625

As I walk through the garden, running my fingers through the mints and lemon balm, stopping to smell the flowers, crushing thyme between my fingers, smells mingling and combining, a smile comes over my face. Am I smiling because of the scents themselves or because I know what will come from them – teas and rubs, flowers in a vase, something soon to come from the kitchen, miraculously transformed by a little leaf or bud. Does it matter? I think not.

Smelling the herbs is always something we do when the kids are in the garden and I give them a pop quiz – to help them remember, to associate a smell with a visual cue, with a name. Maybe one day they will actually taste one of the herbs. Until then it is fun to hear some of their responses.

When we get to the lemon balm and I rub my fingers through, I smell lemon. I know, not very creative or imaginative. When I ask Ava what she smells, her answer is always “lemon cake!” Much more imaginative and hopeful – hopeful because it is unlikely there is any lemon cake in the kitchen. When Jake smells lemon balm he smells lemonade. The two go so well together on a hot summer evening, especially with a bit of ice cream on top.

For another few weeks most of the plants ready to harvest are herbs, and kale, lots of kale. Most everything is planted and growing, waiting only upon the plants I’ll put in for fall. We have little tomatoes starting on some of the plants, which look much healthier than this time last year because of a better weather pattern. There are Amamatoes popping up all over the garden while the Big Jake’s are nice and orderly – somehow the tomatoes are mimicking the behavior of their namesakes. The peppers are coming on strong, and there will be plenty to try in various recipes; some of the peppers being new to us and others old favorites. Our biggest problems so far have been that something keeps eating the little cucumber starts and a hiccup in the irrigation killed a few sweet potato starts. The cucumbers are well covered now so hopefully they will still be there when I get back up to the garden. The irrigation to the sweet potatoes has been fixed, twice, so hopefully it will keep working.