End of the 2016 Season

fall garden harvest

Well, it’s about that time of year when the garden is caput. The weather continues to be ok (meaning no frosts yet) but production is way down and many of the plants are spent. There are still a number of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and tomatillos to ripen. We’ll see how many are ripe before the end of the season.

The biggest issue lately has been deer. They have done their best to eat their way through the garden, including plants I didn’t think they would like, for example, rhubarb. They ate the tops off the beets so we decided it was time to harvest the last of them. We ended up with about 5 pounds. This was made up of a lot of fairly small beets. Now I just have to figure out how to grow them larger. One thing we are thinking of doing is trying new area for them and letting where they are rest for the year. We harvested a bunch of carrots this weekend too. Surprisingly, the deer did not eat the tops of the carrots.

garden grown carrots

I think the deer’s favorite snack was the tops of the sweet potatoes. Although we had great growth above the ground, at least until they were munched, we only found one or two finger-sized potatoes. I’m sorry to say that means the end of sweet potato growing for us. The kale was a close second favorite of the deer. It is now covered with netting. Luckily, only the leaves were eaten and left the stems so it should grow back.

Now that we have all of these fresh crunchy carrots I have to find something fun to do with them. I guess that will be this week and next week’s project.

All Hail Mother Nature

hail storm in garden
Just when you think things are going fine in the garden, Mother Nature decides to shake things up. This has been a weird growing season. I have talked to and heard from growers at various ends of the state and the general feeling is that this has not been a good year to be a grower. I have heard that numerous crops have failed this summer, even for experienced growers. The number of produce growers is down at the farmers’ market which I take as a bad sign. My latest obstacle was a hail storm.

Here in Arizona we welcome rain and thunderstorms. While I have never seen it rain anywhere else as hard as it typically does here, the promise of rain is always welcome. That was put to the test on Saturday when pea and marble sized hail was mixed in with the rain. In little more than an hour we measured about 1 inch of precipitation.

hail damaged plants

As you might imagine, hail and gardens are not the best of friends. The hail ripped apart the plants with bigger leaves, like squash, gourds, kale, and rhubarb. It flattened many other plants, including the beets and lima beans. It also broke branches and knocked tomatoes off the plants. I am hoping this turns out to be mostly cosmetic damage and that the plants will bounce back with a bit of calm weather and sun. Only time will tell.

Despite all this, I harvested about 28 pounds of tomatoes this week and 21 last week. For those of you who have not grown a lot of tomatoes, that is a lot for personal use. Until I heard that many local growers are having significant issues, I was concerned about the reduced production from some of the plants. I chalked a bit of the loss up to the deer eating the tops off many plants and the extra hot July this year. Now I am thinking things are going relatively well.

bowl of homegrown tomatoes

We have been roasting the extra tomatoes for future marinara and roasted tomato soup. The peppers are growing gangbusters; the eggplant plants are the biggest and most productive we have had; and, although we don’t have a large number of banana squash, we likely still have over 60 pounds of them.

I expect out peak harvest is still two or three weeks away. We have lots of green peppers and tomatoes busy ripening and a record number of eggplant blossoms. The one crop not doing well at all is cucumbers. We have made a batch or half-sour pickles, but they are growing very oddly. Any amount of bread and butter pickles we make this year might have to come from cucumbers from farm stands that will be visited on a trip to Colorado. While I would love having a big garden in a more conducive location, I am glad I am not trying to make a living as a farmer.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Bites

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Bites

Every year I plant a few new plants to test them out. One part of the test is to see how they grow and produce. The second part of the test is to see how they taste and whether we can make good use of the product. A number of plants have been abandoned over the years for issues with either of these. For example, we tried growing strawberries and blueberries (you had to see that coming if you know how much time I spent in Maine) and both failed to grow, as did asparagus. This year I decided not to grow one of the peppers I grew the last couple of years, not because it did not grow well or taste well, but because I could not find a compelling enough use for them. The “holes” left in the garden from removing these plants are where I try new varieties. Last year’s star new variety was Japanese eggplant.

Japanese Eggplant on plantThe eggplant variety I grow is named Orient Express. They are long and thin. They cook fast and easy, no salting or frying required, and the skins are tender enough that no peeling is necessary. The primary reason I started growing eggplant was to make cabonatina. Make it we did and it tasted great. With successful growing comes the inevitable issue of excess production. We tried all kinds of recipes. Now that the eggplant are ripening again, I have been refining what I started last year. As you can tell, patience is a key component.

Last year, using traditional methods, I fried the eggplant rounds after dredging in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, all gluten-free. That took a lot of time and added a lot of oil and bread crumbs, two things I don’t need more of in my diet. So, this year I tried baking the eggplant rounds without frying them, then making as usual. It was a very tasty success. The sausage I used was homemade spicy Italian sausage (that is not on the blog yet). I realize most people are not as obsessive as I get, so use whatever Italian sausage, spicy or not, that you prefer. I also usually make this and most recipes on a two-oven Aga. If using an Aga, I did all this in the upper oven. I also usually eat them as an appetizer, but they could easily be substantial enough for dinner.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Bites


  • 1 Japanese Eggplant (or more depending upon your needs)
  • 1/4 Cup Marinara Sauce
  • 1/2 Pound Italian Sausage, spicy or mild
  • 10 Fresh basil Leaves, sliced thin
  • 2 Pieces Provolone Cheese
  • Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch thick rounds, or lengthwise. Spray a cookie sheet with oil. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer. Cook for about 8 minutes, until just cooked through. You can do this step ahead of time and refrigerate until needed.

Cook sausage until cooked through and a bit crispy. I do this in the upper oven also.

Put a small amount of marinara sauce on each piece of eggplant. Don’t use too much. Put a small amount of sausage on top. Put a few slices of basil on top of the sausage. Top with a piece of provolone cheese and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake about 8 – 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and browned. You can also broil on Hi for about 3 minutes.


Let the Fun Begin

bowl of fresh picked vegetables
It’s about that time of year the last eight months have been building to – weekly harvests. This past weekend we were able to start what should be weekly harvests of various produce. This is always an exciting time in the garden. It is also coinciding with the start of monsoon rains. The weather report shows we have had about 2″ of rain this week. I know for some of you that is an average week. For us in the desert it brings not only a bit of rain, but cooler temperatures, an always welcome occurrence.

Thanks to help from my two favorite helpers this last March we harvested almost 2 pounds of beets. This too is welcome as we have not harvested many beets the last couple of years. The equally good news is that this was just a thinning of the larger beets and we have lots still growing.

ripening tomatoes

The peppers are really starting to get going and there are lots on the plants. I thought I had reduced the number of Shishito peppers enough so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed, but that is not the case. I guess we will have to step-up our consumption. We also have a bumper crop of Aleppo peppers ripening. I am saving the seeds so hopefully they are stabilized and the pepper we get will be close to what we have now. I have a few I just planted so I should know before next summer.

The tomatoes are also growing gangbusters – our Lady’s in Waiting as I refer to them. Most of our preserved tomato supply, whether canned or frozen, is dwindling so this is just in time. Other than the plants being a bit shorter than expected there is hardly any evidence the deer munched them a couple of months ago.

Lazy Days of Summer

orange tomatoes on a plate
The garden is in the lazy days of summer these days. Actually, the garden is super busy, but I’m not, and that is a good thing. The garden seems to be progressing well and has been generally incident free lately. Everything is growing nicely, the banana squash are poised to take over, and we have more tomatoes on the vine than is typical for this time of year, even though most of the plants were topped by deer.

cucumber blossoms

We have had small harvests of most things so far but I expect that to change in a few weeks. Last weekend I harvested almost 8 pounds of the red creole onions. They are hanging out under the house where it is a bit cooler and dry. The weather forecast shows a good probability of rain so the temperatures have moderated some.

red creole onions

For the next few weeks I guess I’ll just watch and wait while fixing the occasional irrigation leak.

banana squash on vine