Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Monday, October 5, 2015

Decadent Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Good morning gardening friends,

Zucchini season is coming to an end as the cold Autumn weather takes hold. I imagine we have a couple more weeks to harvest zucchini. Are you sick of it yet? This week I harvested three large zucchinis. With the cooler weather I am baking and using the oven again which is a welcome autumn treat! On this week's menu is zucchini lasagne, zucchini risotto, zucchini cornbread, and minestrone soup.

However, my crowning glory of most delicious zucchini dishes was yesterday's chocolate zucchini bread. Its moist, crumbly, rich, slightly sweet texture was more like cake than quick bread. I cannot rave enough about just how delicious this chocolate zucchini bread is!! That's right, double exclamation point. This chocolate zucchini bread is so moist it will bring a tear to your eye.

Not only did I used up a lot of zucchini, I got to dust off my kitchenmaid stand mixer and use it for the first time since spring. Autumn begins the baking season for me and my husband couldn't be happier. Yesterday he came home from a 2 day trip, walked into the house, smelled and saw the warm zucchini bread and started salivating. He said to me "I didn't know you had any cake mix." Fool, when have I ever made a cake from mix! I am a from scratch baker.

This recipe is so simple and super fresh taste you would never get from a box of cake or quick bread mix. I hope you will try this amazing chocolate zucchini bread recipe I just made up yesterday. You will not be disappointed. Enjoy!


2 cups all purpose white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
2 sticks butter
2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup apple juice
2 cups grated zucchini

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
2. Use a sifter to combine first seven ingredients. Mix in large bowl and set aside.
3. Use stand mixer or hand mixer to beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs and continue mixing. Add vanilla extract and apple juice. Mix until well incorporated.
4. Combine dry and wet mixtures. Mix well for a few minutes.
5. Stop mixing. Stir in zucchini until well incorporated.
6. Grease a loaf pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray.
7. Pour batter into prepared pan.
8. Bake uncovered for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes--until a toothpick comes out clean.
9. Let cool before removing from pan.

Fall Clean Up

Good morning gardeners!

Autumn leaves are falling, mornings are crisp and cool, pumpkins are popping up on porches, and flocks of honking geese are flying overhead. Happy October! I am enjoying all the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes of the season. Several times a week soup is bubbling on my stove and casseroles, muffins, and cobblers are baking in my oven. Planting bulbs, garlic, and cover crops are on my gardening agenda.

As the summer harvest is coming to an end, I am culling and composting tomato, cucumber, squash, and bean plants. Where there are not winter crops planted, I sow a crimson clover cover crops. Fall planted cover crops help build the soil in my edible raised beds for planting next spring. My organic strategy in the food garden is to rotate crops, remove diseased & pest infested plant material, apply compost and compost tea several times a year, use organic fertilizers, plant companion plants for a biodiverse garden and plant cover crops. I find this organic regime is the key to my productive, healthy garden.

While I clean up my food garden, it is another case in my ornamental garden. We are trained to rake up leaves, clean up debris in the fall. We are taught debris harbors pest and disease and a healthy garden is a clean garden. So-called "debris" like leaves and other plant material is actually wonderful organic matter. Mother nature turns this fallen organic matter into nutrients in the soil. Soil is teeming with life that works on composting and building our soil.

I say rake up the leaves on your sidewalk, paths, and lawn, and just leave the fallen leaves on the soil in your garden beds. In early winter once all the leaves in my garden have fallen, I rake them around my plants and spread on top a layer of bark mulch. My garden looks clean and neat but I've left all the organic matter on the soil. This mulched area provides excellent habitat for overwintering beneficial bugs and microscopic soil life.

Many flowers that have lost petals are now an excellent source of food for birds. The bare pods that are left behind look pretty and are packed with nutritious seeds. I leave my sunflowers, rudbeckia, and echinacea all standing in the garden during fall and winter. The birds are working hard to pick them clean of seeds. It is super fun to daily watch blue jays hang upsides down from sunflower heads removing seeds.

Happy Autumn gardening friends! Jolie

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Late September Planting

Good morning gardeners!

Autumn has arrived and you may be wondering if you still have time to plant any vegetables for a winter harvest. The answer is yes and no.

Many vegetables like cooler weather like: arugula, beets, broccoli, broccoli raab, brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, endive/escarole, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, mesclun mix, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, salad greens, turnips. The key is planting timing.

Our average first frost date in Portland has shifted to November 15th. When thinking about planting for a winter harvest, you want all vegetables to be at harvestable maturity by this frost date. So ideal planting time for most cool season crops was July, August and early September. Please see this post for full details on planning and planting for a fall/winter harvest.

At the end of September you can still plant quick maturing crops like radishes, arugula, mesclun mix, and micro greens. If you are providing winter protection like a greenhouse, cold frame, etc you are extending your season and can continue to plant a variety of cool season crops.

Now is the ideal time to plant overwintering crops. You still have time to plant them through September. Look at your local nursery for vegetable start varieties that say "overwintering" or have long days to maturing like 120 days. There are overwintering varieties of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots. Fava beans are another overwintering crop. You can plant them now by seed. Overwintering crops will grow a little in fall, withstand the winter, and begin growing again in late winter/early spring. They are harvestable is spring, much quicker than crops you plant in the spring.

Did you know that garlic and shallots are overwintering crops? Garlic and shallots prefer being planted in the fall. Here in Portland we plant them in September and October. They need the cooler weather for root growth before the cold of winter sets in. Then in the very early spring their green shoots appear. Garlic and shallots are harvestable by summertime.

• Remove cloves from bulb, but do not peel off papery skin.
• Plant the cloves flat side down, pointy side up about 1-2 inches deep and 6-8 inches apart.
• Garlic and shallots need a full sun location with good drainage and free of weeds.

The abundant summer days of basil are nearing an end. Do not despair herb gardeners! Some annual herbs prefer cooler weather, like cilantro and chervil. Now is a great time to plant cilantro from starts and chervil from seeds. They will provide you with herbs throughout the cold days of winter. Parsley, a biennial, stays evergreen and withstands the cold. Evergreen woody herbs like rosemary are a welcome treat in winter.

Happy planting! Jolie

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Time for Planting Cover Crops

Happy Autumn Equinox my gardening friends!

Autumn is officially here. In Portland we had two nights of overnight lows in the 40s. This morning it was back up to 55 degrees. I absolutely love autumn weather. The garden is changing with the season. Leaves are turning color, fall cyclamen & colchicum are peaking up their bright low-growing blooms, and the summer vegetable garden is winding down.

For about the next month tomatoes will continue to ripen if the temperatures stay mild. Zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, basil and beans should continue producing. Pumpkins and winter squash will ripen on the vine. If you planted a crop for fall & winter harvest it should be growing steadily. My spinach is ready to harvest, while the kale, broccoli, and kohlrabi are still immature and growing.

As we begin thinking about putting our hardworking vegetable garden to rest for the winter, be it in-ground, raised beds, or containers, please consider planting cover crops. In Portland, September and October are the perfect time for planting cover crops.

Cover crops are sometimes known as "green manure." Cover crops are quick growing and planted primarily to keep the soil covered for a short period of time, often during the fall and winter. Then they are turned under as "green manure" where they decompose and add organic matter to the soil. In addition to adding organic matter to the vegetable garden, cover crops suppress weeds by providing competition, reduce erosion, and add nutrients.

Common cover crops are crimson clover, dutch white clover, vetch, rye, buckwheat, fava bean, oilseed radish, and austrian peas. There are also cover crop seed mixes that contain a variety of cover crops.

The lush green growth of cover crops returns large amounts of organic matter to the soil. Organic matter stabilizes moisture content and improves garden soil texture. When dug under all the nutrients stored in cover crop plants are returned to the soil.

Crimson clover, dutch white clover, fava beans, austrian peas and vetch are all members of the legume family. This means when they are used as a cover crop they actually return nitrogen to the soil. Legume plants are hosts to nitrogen-fixing bacteria and extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that can be used by plants. Legumes are awesome!

Autumn is a great time to plant cover crops. Unless you are growing winter crops, you are probably cleaning up and putting your vegetable garden to bed at this time of year. Instead of just letting your garden rest during the winter why not plant some cover crops? Depending on the variety of cover crop you choose, they are usually seeded September-November. Plant cover crop seeds by broadcasting; check seeding rates for individual varieties. The seeds need to be covered by soil and kept evenly moist while germinating. Most cover crops need a full sun location.

Last year on October 6th we planted crimson clover in our 3 raised beds we put to rest for the winter. With a daily light watering we were rewarded with germination in under 7 days! Crimson clover has the nitrogen-fixing powers of a legume, it forms a dense green carpet during the winter, it is easy to turn under in the spring, and it develops beautiful bright flowers in the spring that attract bees. Crimson clover is by far my favorite cover crop. I plant it every autumn and highly recommend it.

Fava beans are another excellent cover crop that grow into tall 3 foot vigorous plants with beautiful flowers. In addition to their nitrogen-fixing powers, favas have a deep taproot that loosens up those hard clay soils in Portland.

Oilseed radish have the same beneficial taproot quality of fava beans, however, they are in the cabbage family so you need to consider them in your garden crop rotation schedule.

Rye germinates fast and tolerates harsh conditions. Their dense mat of roots makes them excellent erosion controllers. However, in my experience rye and other cereal grasses are very difficult to remove unless you use a rototiller. A few years ago in my small community garden it was virtually impossible for me to use a hoe to uproot the plants in time for spring planting.

You can pick up cover crop seeds at your local nursery or garden center. Plant them this fall and reap the rewards come next spring!

Happy Autumn, Jolie

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Late Season Tomato Care & Recipes

Good morning gardeners!

Earlier this week I joyfully completed some garden clean up tasks in the cool drizzling September weather. Our raspberry plants produce twice a year. The fall berry crop is here and their weight actually tumbled the heavy canes over and broke their twine support. Time to harvest, prune up a bit, and retie supports. This type of raspberry will fruit on last year's canes so I need to be careful to not prune too much of the canes that will produce next year.

The garden bounty still includes cucumbers, beans, leeks, 'walla walla' onions, chard, and lots of herbs. We just harvested the last of our spring planted potatoes-fingerling and 'all blue' varieties. The summer squash plant finally fell prey to powdery mildew so I pulled it out of the garden. Our fall/winter crops are slowly growing: broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, and spinach.

Next I spent some quality time with my tomato plants. This has been an incredible summer for tomatoes, the best I can remember! My three cherry tomato, 'San Marzano' paste tomato, and 'Big White Pink Stripe' slicing tomato plants have all finished producing. I harvested the last of these tomatoes, composted the plants, and spread the soil from their containers around some shrubs. I grow a lot of edibles in containers and I never reuse the soil another year for edibles. First, the soil is tapped out of nutrients after working so hard to produce edibles all summer. Second, many fungal problems are soil borne and specific to individual crops or families. Better to spread this soil around an ornamental area of my garden, far from the edibles.

This leaves two tomato plants still standing: 'Lemon Boy' and 'Orange Strawberry.' These sturdy plants are still loaded with green fruit. Our average last frost in Portland is November 15. However, tomatoes do not thrive with night temperatures lower than 55 degrees. Currently our night temperatures are averaging around 55 degrees, with some nights cooler. Additionally, our day lengths are shortening and the sun is moving farther away from us. These are not ideal conditions for the summer-loving tomato.

At this point in the season you want your tomato plants to focus on ripening their existing green fruit. You don't want your tomatoes putting energy into green leafy plant growth or in producing any new fruit. There isn't time for new fruit production, with the exception of the tiny fruit of cherry tomato varieties. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes will just keep growing and flowering until a frost kills them. That isn't helpful by this point in the season. We can encourage our tomatoes to focus on ripening their fruit by literally stressing them out. Tomatoes are seed-carrying fruits as a means of reproduction. When the tomato plant is stressed it stops growing and exerts its energy into its fruit.

--Prune your tomato plants to remove leaves and branches without fruit. Keep only the branches with fruit and a few leaves. It may seem brutal, but it is ok.

--Stop watering your tomato plants. I stopped watering mine in late August. Tomatoes are pretty drought tolerant.

--I know people who swear by root pruning. They slam a shovel into the soil around the base of the tomato plant which chops off the plant roots. I've never tried this technique, but I thought I would pass it on.

--Prune off any flowers, these are trying to produce new fruit. Next prune off any of the smaller green tomatoes. These may not have enough time to grow bigger and ripen on the plant. Let your tomato plant focus on the larger fruits. The smaller green fruits you prune off can ripen on the kitchen counter. Or use them for delicious green tomato recipes like: fried green tomatoes, green tomato chutney, green tomato gazpacho.

Here is my recipe for fried green tomato salad with feta & balsamic drizzle and here is my recipe for vegetable salad with fried green tomatoes & basil dressing.

And finally, what to do with all of those delicious ripe tomatoes? How about my favorite autumn tomato soup recipe? Autumn Garlicky Tomato Soup with Kale is flavorful and fresh with ingredients from the garden. Simple, delicious and nutritious.

This week I just whipped up our second batch of slow roasted tomato sauce. I froze 2 quarts and reserved 2 quarts for cooking this week. I baked a ridiculously good casserole of yam, garden fresh butternut squash, fingerling & purple potatoes, cheese, and I covered the whole mix with slow roasted tomato sauce before baking. Yum. This morning I am cooking a soup with a base of slow roasted tomato sauce, spaghetti squash, lentils, and quinoa. This cooler weather has really inspired me to get back into my kitchen!

Autumn Equinox is just around the corner on September 21st. Enjoy all the flavors, colors, and textures of the season!

Happy Gardening, Jolie

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Welcome September!

Good morning gardeners,

September is my favorite month and autumn is my favorite season. The big storm we had last weekend certainly blew in autumn a little early and quite suddenly. One day it was summer- hot and dry in the 90s and the next it was windy, wet and cool. This morning I woke to 50 degrees at 6am with a welcome chill in the air.

After several days of rain the garden has perked up green and glistening. Ground cover and ferns that have been drooping all summer under the dry heat are looking alive and lush. I am so thankful for the rain we've had this week.

7am in the garden this morning was cool and quiet. For the first time this summer I donned a sweater and scarf. A couple perennials that were flopping into the walkway under the weight of the rain needed pruning back so my husband can safely maneuver his bike through. I harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, and basil. My dahlias were still standing strong after the storm and so ready to be brought inside for a bouquet.

A super winning combo in dahlias is dark wine with shades of pink, peach, and orange. Yummy! Today I complimented the dahlias with zebra grass, pink & apricot agastache, licorice basil, purple sage, and purple statice.

Some of my favorite cut flowers for the home garden:

Flowers-dahlias, peonies, black-eyed susan, coneflower, sunflowers, celosia, calendula, cosmos, lilies
Fillers-sedum, purple sage, tricolor sage, agastache, beebalm, 'licorice' basil, 'red rubin' basil, scented geraniums, statice, strawflowers
Greens-zebra grass, salal, nandina, evergreen huckleberry

I like to keep flowers in every room, and especially on my desk. I enjoy working from home doing garden design and writing. Fresh flowers from the garden are super inspiring and bright! And on a practical level they balance out all my screen time with something natural to look at.

Autumn is in the air. Today I'm cooking pots of split pea soup and mashed potatoes. Earlier in the week I slow roasted tomatoes, and this weekend I am considering a casserole. This is a big shift from a summer of salads and using the stove as little as possible.

Please join me for my last fall gardening workshop of the season on September 20th. I am happy to announce I was just hired by Portland Community College Continuing Education to teach an organic gardening workshop series in the winter term 2016 at the cascade campus in NE Portland. Dates TBA, please watch my website.

Happy September and may your autumn be bountiful and joyful!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Gardening friends,

In my last post I advised harvesting your tomatoes in anticipation of the storm system headed towards Portland. And oh my what a storm we had! 35mph winds, power outages, thunder & lighting, rain, rain and more rain. Today's cooler cloudy weather was perfect for cooking up all those tomatoes to delicious perfection.

Several years ago I came across an article about slow roasting tomatoes for sauce. The slow roasting technique brings about such a rich sweet flavor from garden fresh tomatoes. Oh and roasting tomatoes in the oven for 2-3 hours makes your house smell amazing and your mouth water with anticipation. This year we grew several varieties of cream, yellow, and orange colored tomatoes, so our sauce was pale. I think the more colors of tomatoes you use the prettier the sauce.

Today's sauce included fresh from our garden: san marzano, big white pink stripe, orange strawberry, lemon boy, and purple bumble bee.

My recipe also incorporates fresh garden basil, garlic, and 'walla walla' sweet onions. And it is ridiculously easy to prepare.

Basically the technique is:

1. Wash tomatoes and cut in half. You want tomatoes to be of similar size, so you may need to quarter larger tomatoes. Remove stems and any brown parts. You do not need to remove the skin or seeds.

2. Generously coat the bottom of baking sheets or dishes with olive oil.

3. Place tomato halves sliced side down on baking sheet.

4. Add several handfuls of whole basil leaves, whole garlic cloves, and slices of onions.

5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

6. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and bake for 2 hours.

7. After cooking, dump everything into a large bowl. Add more fresh basil and salt & pepper to taste. Purify with an immersion blender into a chunky sauce.

Today I used approximately 40 tomatoes which filled 3 baking sheets and yielded 3 quarts + 3 pints of prepared sauce.

I freeze all of this sauce to defrost and use throughout the winter. It is an excellent stand alone sauce for pasta or polenta. And it makes a scrumptious base for soups, particularly winter minestrone. Let's not forget winter lasagne. If I make one batch each month in August, September, and October I have a nice freezer full oaf sauce to last us through the winter.

My husband is not a huge fan of eating fresh raw tomatoes, however, he loves the process of growing tomatoes, roasting them for sauce, and then eating his favorite spaghetti with homemade sauce all winter long. That's pretty sweet.

Happy gardening! Jolie