New Biofungicides Pit Bacteria Against Garden Fungi

March 21, 2023 New York Times, Science Times, D5 announced the discovery of compounds made by bacteria that kill pathogenic fungi in both plants and animals by riddling them with holes. It has proven effective against Botrytis cinera, or gray mold, and against Candida albicans, a fungus that cam infect the human body.

            The Times story was about the naming of the new compounds keanumycins, after an actor who has held “many iconic roles in which he is extremely efficient in ‘inactivating’ his enemies, Keanu Reeves. (Mr. Reeves says he thinks the naming is “pretty cool,” though he thinks it might have been more appropriate to name the compounds after John Wick, the killer he plays in a recent film.) While the article contains no information to suggest that keanumycins are available in any commercial product at present, there has been much research in the area of biofungicides recently. However, some new products do protect plants against gray mold.

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The strawberry on the left is so badly infected with Botrytis, or gray mold, that it will never enlarge or ripen.

            This disease is common in humid locations, such as in a greenhouse or near the coast in and near San Francisco. You may have seen it on strawberry fruits, where it makes a very obvious gray mass. It also grows on leaves and flowers of susceptible plants such as tomato, rose, German primrose, and painted tongue (Salpoglossis). I used to tell gardeners that their best defense against the disease was to pick off all traces of infected plant material before it could spread spores. This is still excellent advice that you should act upon whether or not you have another tactic. You can also select plants for a humid garden that have smooth or waxy leaves and fruit that is not soft. (This is easy unless you have your heart set on growing tomatoes, roses, or strawberries.)

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Botrytis shows itself as colored spots on the petals of roses. To reduce its spread, pick up all fallen rose petals and deadhead spent roses. 

            However, you may also want to try products currently available that promise to kill Botrytis cinerea. The ones I know of contain the soil bacterium Bacillis amyloliquifasciens D747. One formulation that contains it is sold as Revitalize. You can get it as a concentrate or in a ready-to-use spray bottle. It can also be used as a soil drench to control a number of diseases that start there. Also on the label of products containing this bacterium are anthracnose, bacterial leaf blights, black spot of roses, various leaf spots, and powdery mildew. Those diseases are controlled by the product. Only suppression, not control, are promised for downy mildew, early blight, fire blight, and scab. In all cases, it is best to apply the product before the disease shows up or in its very early stages.

            The main point is that a considerable amount of research is taking place in the area of biofungicides, some that has resulted in products already on the market, others in the pipeline. So, it is a good idea to start studying the offerings of your local, environmentally responsible garden center and reading the labels. You will already be pleasantly surprised, and more, even better surprises are likely to come soon.

An Apple Tart--19th Century Style

Recently we attended a Dickens Dinner Party, sponsored by the Bay Area Culinary Historians (BACH). We were asked to make a dish for the dinner from a recipe that was in a cookbook of the era. I chose to make an apple tart, using apples from our tree. The following photos are from the making of my "test tart," the one I made in November, just to see how it would turn out. To see photos from the actual dinner, see the Facebook page of BACH, though for some reason they didn't catch an image of the two tarts I brought to the dinner. 

A tart is like a pie, but the crust often contains a little sugar, maybe some egg, and the tart is much flatter than a pie. You can make a "rustic tart" on a cookie sheet, by just flipping the edges of the crust over the filling all around, but a classic tart is made in a tart pan, which has a removable bottom. This way you can have a nice fluted crust. You can leave the tart on removable bottom after removing the ring that produces the fluted edge. I used 10" tart pans. 

The recipes I used for the crust and filling follow. They are from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, also published as Mrs. Beeton's Cookery Book, Originallly published in 1861, British Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

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Apple Tart

For making a Tart there were several crust, or “paste” recipes. I used the one titled “Another Good Short Crust” For the tart filling, she used the recipe for “Apple Tourte or Cake.” Recipes as they appeared in the cookbook follow, first for the crust, then for the filling, with my notes after each.



  1. INGREDIENTS.—To every lb. of flour allow 8 oz. of butter, the yolks of 2 eggs, 2 oz. of sifted sugar, about 1⁄4 pint of milk.

Mode.—Rub the butter into the flour, add the sugar, and mix the whole as lightly as possible to a smooth paste, with the yolks of eggs well beaten, and the milk. The proportion of the latter ingredient must be judged of by the size of the eggs: if these are large, so much will not be required, and more if the eggs are smaller.

Average cost, 1s. per lb.


To make a single tart of this crust, try:

½ lb. flour

4 oz. (1/2 cup of butter)

Yolk of one egg

2 T sifted sugar

1/8 pint milk (1/4 cup)

Notes: After spending some time looking for an equivalent between cups and pounds of flour, and finding that there is not an exact equivalent, I weighed the flour on a kitchen scale.

When I had added all the ingredients called for, I  found I needed to add a small amount of cold water, in tiny increments, to get the dough to form a ball and clean the bowl—being careful not to “work” the dough, which would develop the gluten, making the crust tough.

I would ordinarily make a pie or tart crust using Smart Balance margarine—better for you than butter.

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I open a grocery bag into a large sheet of brown paper and cut it in half to use for crust-rolling surfaces two different baking events. In the above photo, I have rolled the dough and am inserting the flat bottom of the tart pan under the dough. I will slide it from several angles to free the dough from the floured paper, then center it under the dough, which I have rolled large enough to go up the edges of the pan all around. Then I will set the bottom into the ring and carefully set the extra dough into the ring. 

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In the above photo, I have set the bottom into the rim and trimmed the extra crust by hand, to the level of the top of the ring. If you look closely, you will see s few patches in the crust, where I added a bit of dough to mend tears. If it doesn't stick, I have added a drop of water to moisten the place it has to attach, then pressed it in gently.


Filling recipe:



(German Recipe.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—10 or 12 apples, sugar to taste, the rind of 1 small lemon, 3 eggs, 1⁄4 pint of cream or milk, 1⁄4 lb. of butter, 3⁄4 lb. of good short crust No. 1211, 3 oz. of sweet almonds.

Mode.—Pare, core, and cut the apples into small pieces; put sufficient moist sugar to sweeten them into a basin; add the lemon-peel, which should be finely minced, and the cream; stir these ingredients well, whisk the eggs, and melt the butter; mix altogether, add the sliced apple, and let these be well stirred into the mixture. Line a large round plate with the paste, place a narrow rim of the same round the outer edge, and lay the apples thickly in the middle. Blanch the almonds, cut them into long shreds, and strew over the top of the apples, and bake from 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 hour, taking care that the almonds do not get burnt: when done, strew some sifted sugar over the top, and serve. This tourte may be eaten either hot or cold, and is sufficient to fill 2 large- sized plates.

Time.—1⁄2 to 3⁄4 hour.
Average cost, 2s. 2d.
Sufficient for 2 large-sized tourtes. Seasonable from August to March.


I divided the recipe in half to produce filling for one tart:

5-6 cored and peeled apples in slices (these were medium-sized, not very large, fruits.)

Sufficient sugar to sweeten—see above (I used about ½ cup per tart--for 5-6 apples.)

Zest of ½ small lemon (I zested a lemon that was grown, without sprays, on our backyard tree)

1/8 pint of cream or milk = ¼ cup (I used Half and Half)

1 ½ beaten eggs (3/8 cup of egg—approximately, if you want to use egg substitute)

1/8 lb. butter (1/4 cup) (melted)

slivered almonds—I used the ones from Trader Joe’s 

Notes: I used homegrown apples that were sweet with no tartness, hence I used the lower amount of sugar suggested for an apple pie by the Joy of Cooking book recipe. Our apples are of an unknown variety, but may be Baldwin, which is an American variety that was first grown in 1699. While the recipe is British, if these apples are Baldwins, at least they'd be appropriate to an earlier era. 

I used real eggs for the tarts I brought to the dinner, but egg substitute for the single tart I made as a test, which was easier since I could easily measure a “half egg.” It didn’t seem to make a difference which I used.

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The milk, egg, and sugar make a custard that you pour over the apples. The melted butter is not pictured here. I mixed the custard ingredients and then poured them over the apple slices and mixed them in. 

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Then I arranged the apple slices in the crust and poured the rest of the custard recipe over them.

There is no oven temperature in these recipes, in keeping with the fact that the cook was probably using an oven fueled by wood or coal. I set my gas oven for 375° I baked the test tart for 45 minutes, and thought it was sufficient, but perhaps a bit longer would have been better. I determined to bake the  tarts for the party for an hour. After I had prepared the party tarts, I was short on time, so I set the oven for 380°. I baked the tarts for an hour and they were done, but had I baked them at 375° they might have needed a bit longer.

The recipe called for just cutting the apples up small. I sliced them into thin wedges and arranged the slices  in whorls, hoping for a more attractive tart, but the combination of the custard in which they are set and the addition of slivered almonds somewhat masked the design, so they could probably have just been cut small and spread without such care with satisfactory results.

I didn’t strew any sugar over the top when it was baked. It didn’t seem to need it.

The following link is to a half-hour video on making an apple custard tart—it is very helpful to watch someone actually make a tart. Two important tips I got from the video are:

  1. To get the crust onto the false bottom of the tart pan, slide the bottom under the crust.
  2. After the tart is baked, to remove the sides from the tart pan, place it on a wide jar or other sturdy object and carefully free the sides so the ring will drop off. (On the test tart, I used a small hammer to tap gently on the ring in order free the last part of it. At the party, I used a knife to help free the ring, which some of the custard had spilled onto and caused it to stick.

I found it particularly helpful to watch these two techniques being done.

In an earlier photos, I have shown how I slipped the tart pan bottom under the crust. The following photo shows how to get the ring off of the bottom. I used a small bowl. At the party, I was provided with a small straight-sided crock. 

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Here is a close up of the test tart. I used sliced almonds for this one, but for the party I used slivered almonds, as directed by the recipe. Slivered almonds are cut into  square strips, while sliced ones are in thin slices. (I suspect that sliced almonds were not available in the mid-1800s.)

When I was finished making the two tarts for the party, I had some crust dough and apples left over. I made a 7” “rustic tart” in a pie pan, folding the edges of the crust over the apples, clafouti-style. It had less of the custard liquid in it, since I had poured most of that into the tarts, but the apples were coated with some of the custard, and the results were tasty all the same.

Modern cookbooks are more likely to give recipes for “tartlets,” small individual tarts. There are even very small false bottom tart pans made for this purpose, or they can be made in muffin tins, or on a flat pan, simply with pinched corners to keep the filling in. I rather liked making larger tarts, which were beautiful, and which result in less crust per slice and more fruit filling.



An Appreciation of Tigridia--A Summer-Blooming Bulb

In my dry-summer  San Francisco garden, the spring bloom is wonderful, but not as much blooms in summer. So in July and August, when spring's show has faded, I welcome the dramatically large and vivid blossoms of Tigridia pavonia. I like the color they add to my summer garden and the fact that the dramatic flowers face upward, so I see the fronts of the flowers when I look down from an upstairs window or even when I am standing over the flower bed. Each flower lasts only a single day, but each plant has several flowers, so the show goes on for weeks.

Tigridias grow from small bulbs, which are frequently offered in nurseries. They also grow easily from seed, and often bloom the first year from a seed. though it might take two years for a seed-grown plant to bloom. Where winter temperatures do not drop below 30 degrees F, and if soil drainage is good, they are likely to come back year after year. 

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Tigridia flowers are triangular, on stems 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. They are 3-6 inches across, typically 4 inches or more. They can be red, pink, yellow or white, usually with a contrasting, spotted center. As you might guess from the scientific name, it is sometimes called a "Tiger flower," though the typically spotted center looks more like a leopard or jaguar to me. Another common name is Mexican shell flower, reflecting the Mexican origin of the plants, which grows from Mexican lowlands to its higher elevations. 

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I saved seeds from yellow flowers only and grew an all-yellow planting in my front garden, where I avoid pink flowers, allowing only white, yellow, orange, red, and blue. I grew the seedlings I hoped would have yellow flowers in a container for the first year, and when I saw they were, transplanted them to the front garden. This was a successful experiment, so now I have a yellow selection in front, and another that is blooming in red, pink, or yellow in the back yard. 

Here is a close up of the center of the flower, showing the pistil and stamens. The tall pistil has a branched stigma on top. The lower part of the stamens appear to be pressed closely against the lower part of the pistil, with the 3 pollen-bearing anthers near the stigma. I have not seen what pollinates Tigridia, but clearly some insect does so, aiming for that dramatically spotted center. The plants bear many seeds, in a long pod. When the pod turns brown and the top opens, one can cut the pods and simply shake them upside down to let the seeds fall out.

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The Pacific Bulb Society says that the exact origin of this plant are unclear because the Aztecs ate the bulbs, so they moved it around by cultivating it. (It is unusual for a member of the Iris family, the Iridaceae, to be edible, so I will not try to eat it until I learn more.) After it blooms, and I have cut any seedheads that I want to save, I will cut the stems low to the ground and let the bulbs remain dormant all winter. 

This is not a mediterranean plant, but, like Mexican hen and chicks (Escheveria) it is from a location that has summer rain, but is dry in winter. Still, like that plant, it can adapt to our gardens if it is given some water in our dry season and is growing in soil that drains well, like my San Francisco sandy loam. I don't water the plants after they bloom and they will become dormant over winter. 

In spring, the new leaves will emerge, pleated fans that look like palm seedlings. The plants are not very leafy, saving their energy for those dramatic flowers. If I have seed, I will sow it in late winter, indoors, probably on my little heat mat. I may grow the plants in containers for the first year or just plant them out in the garden and see what happens.

The Availability of Watsonia borbonica corms

Watsonias--Wildly Successful Plant of Late Spring

eaders cannot find the bulbs for sale. The most likely reason for this is that Watsonias are out of fashion. When gladiolus bulbs began to be actively hybridized, gardeners were dazzled by the variety of color, and bicolors that were being bred, so fewer people were interested in Watsonia, which blooms only in white, salmon, pink, and red. I grow Watsonia borbonica because I live in  a Mediterranean climate, similar to that of its native land of Mediterranean South Africa, where the mild rainy winter stimulates the leaves to grow and the dry summers allow the plants to rest a bit before fall rains start leafy growth again. Also, when I have tried to grow Gladiolus, they have suffered from a rust fungus disease. I have seen Gladiolus in nearby gardens that were damaged by thrips insects. Watsonias never seem to have diseases or insect damage. Gladiolus, nevertheless, is probably a bigger seller than Watsonia, rendering Watsonia bulbs, or corms, scarce in nurseries. There is also a second reason for Watsonia's lessened popularity. That is that there is an invasive Watsonia. It is called Watsonia meriana, a summer-dormant species described as bearing dull red-orange, purple, or white flowers in late spring. A variety of this species, W. meriana bulbifera, bears bulblets, or cormlets,  on its flowering stems that can reproduce the plant, giving it two means of asexual reproduction (the cormlets could roll away and start new colonies!). While this species is not on California Invasive Plant lists, it has been seen growing wild on roadsides and in fields in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. It is also a pest in Australia, and may partly explain the difficulty of locating Watsonia borbonica corms for sale here and there, since nurseries may confuse it with this other Watsonia and be afraid to sell it. So the first point is that it is hard to find the corms for sale, probably for 2 reasons: Plants go in and out of fashion, and this one has been out of style, and also, the habit of just using its genus name has allowed it to be confused with another, potentially invasive member of the same genus. 

So, what to do if you long for this tall, beautiful, low-maintenance plant. I suspect that your best bet is to notice some growing in a garden in the spring and ask the gardener if you can have some corms when they are dormant in the summer. Since the plants you see were probably planted some time ago, when they were being sold, and since they become crowded and bloom less after they have grown in the same place for several years, chances are there will be plenty of corms to spare. I see Watsonias in a number of gardens in San Francisco, and have seen them in old gardens of Pacific Grove (next to Monterey). Probably in areas where they will thrive on the California west coast, you will see some in bloom this spring. Meantime, I can only hope that nursery propagators are listening.

You can read more about Watsonias and 49 more easy care, drought tolerant plants in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California.       

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In April and May I look for Watsonias. I love these big, graceful plants, with tall stems of trumpet-shaped flowers. These easy-to-grow bulb plants are one of South Africa's best gifts to Bay Area gardeners. They are among the 50 plants I featured in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, as very well suited to our gardens and easy to grow. (See cover, at right) They thrive in cool or hot summer areas. I don't know of an insect pest or a disease that troubles them, and snails don't seem interested either. 

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The red one in the two photos above is a hybrid, one of several usually available in nurseries for fall planting.  

After you plant the bulbs (correctly, they are corms), the leaves begin to grow with the first rains. They usually don't need any irrigation beyond rainfall to mature and bloom. Even last winter, which was rather dry, I didn't water mine, though I might do so in a really, really dry winter. After weeks of glorious mid- to late spring bloom, they die back in early summer. You don't have to water them in summer either. These are truly drought-tolerant plants! If the soil is well-drained, they won't mind a little summer water, but if kept too moist, they won't bloom as well the following year.

            The reason Watsonias do so well here is that they are from the Cape Region of South Africa, which has a similar rainfall pattern to ours. The regions where they grow have poor, sandy soil, so our rather poor soils are not a problem, though they can take moderate fertility, if you want to dig in a little compost. They stand up to wind and cool temperatures. They thrive in foggy microclimates. Full sun is best near the coast, but half-day will do. If you garden in a hotter inland microclimate, they will appreciate the hot soil while they are dormant. The spring-blooming Watsonias described here are hardy to 10° F.

            It's best to cut the flower stalks after they bloom and, in mid to late summer, cut brown leaves to the ground, before new green ones start to grow, so that they won't distract from next year's show. The deadheading and cutting back is really the only annual care they need.

            Watsonias are grand at the back of a border, where their 5- 6 foot tall flower stalks will be seen over other plants. Another way to grow them is behind a hedge, so they stand above it when in bloom, disappear when they die back. Or mix them into a narrow border with other plants of similar height--shrubs or other tall perennials. In addition to ornamenting the garden, Watsonias make good cut flowers.

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            Most of the Watsonia plants I see growing are hybrids, with peach, pink, or red flowers, which are readily available at nurseries for fall planting. I also see the pink or white-blooming ones that represent the species, Watsonia borbonica, especially in older gardens.

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I think the pink one in the three previous photos is the species, Watsonia borbonica. It is described as having "violet" stamens, and these look violet to me.

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This white one may be Watsonia borbonica ardernii, a subspecies that was discovered in the wild.

            Plant the corms about 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart. You can plant in a circular area to get a nice clump, or could plant in a row.

            While the plants will thrive with little care, if you have time, and want to groom your plants to keep your garden looking at its best, here is what to do:

            While the plants are blooming, remove spent flowers every few days. They will fall off in your hand at a slight pull. When the top flower of the central stalk of flowers has bloomed and faded, cut that stalk off where it joins a lower flower branch that still has buds or open flowers. (You will need hand pruners for this, as the stalks are tough). When all of the side stalks have finished blooming, cut the entire flower stalk short enough that the cut end won't be visible above the leaves.

            When all of the flower stalks have been cut, you can ignore the plant until all the leaves turn brown, or you can go out every couple of weeks and remove brown leaves. It is up to you. But when all the leaves are brown, cut them as short as you can. You will need sharp pruners to do it. Don't wait until the green "swords" of the new leaves push through in fall, or you will have a devil of a time avoiding injury to the new leaves!

            That's about it, until, a number of years later, you might see that the clump is blooming less, or only near the edge, or that it is a bit too wide for its location. Then you might want to go out when the plants are dormant, in summer, and either remove some corms near the edges to reduce the clump size, or actually dig the whole thing up and replant corms.

            Either way, you will have some corms to plant elsewhere or to share. Full sized corms are 2-3 inches across and will probably bloom the following spring. Smaller ones (cormlets) will take 2 or more years to bloom. If you dig the whole clump, you will probably have more corms than you know what to do with, and may want to discard the smaller ones. (Or maybe go into the Watsonia corm business.)

            One more tip. You can grow Watsonias in a big pot, say 15 inches across for a group of corms, but in a pot you will need to give them a bit more care. From the time the plants start to grow to when blooms are starting to fade, fertilize lightly from time to time, and water regularly. You don't want the mix to be soggy, but unless rain is keeping it wet, water when the top inch is dry.

Learn about 49 more easy, beautiful garden flowers in Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California.

On Eating from a Garden--A Manifesto

When you grow food, you have made food exist in the world. The earth did not previously include that food. From here several things can happen to the food you created. It can show up in some delightful meal you serve yourself and maybe others; it can be donated to someone else who will want to eat it more than you do, or it can sit in your garden until it is no longer delicious but instead is tough and seedy or even rotten. When I have grown some food, I see it as my responsibility to aim for one of the first two destinations for it, and avoid the third as much as possible.

            It feels bad to me to waste food I have created, but neither do I want to feel bad because I am trying so hard not to waste it that it ruins my fun in growing it. Here are the ways I try, without causing myself distress, and without making eating from my garden feel like a responsibility, to avoid wasting what I can grow.

Perhaps most important, I try to grow what I will actually want to eat. If I grew something, but didn’t eat it, I figure I either didn’t want to eat that crop or didn’t plan how much I would eat very well. I sort of like parsnips. One came up uninvited in my garden a few years ago. I roasted it with some other root crops and ate it. It was good, but truly, I could do without it. I'd rather buy a parsnip for the one or two times a year I might decide to roast mixed vegetables.

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Root Vegetables to Roast--Including Homegrown Carrots and a Volunteer Parsnip

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Roasted Root Vegetables: Golden Gate Gardening, page 378

Same for beets. My husband actively dislikes them. A couple of times a year, I like to grate one to make a lovely shredded beet salad, in which the sweetness of the beets melds with the sourness of the vinegar, and the flavors of onion, dill, and olive oil add to the deliciousness.

But in truth, I don’t need to grow either one to enjoy them once in a while. On the other hand, I will harvest all fall and winter from a big bed of carrots. They will become “carrot coins” in soups and stir fries. They will get cut into sticks to eat raw with hummus. They will get matchsticked with celery, cabbage, and green onion to go into a delectable Vietnamese vegetable dish, flavored with a bit of fish sauce, topped with some dry roasted, unsalted, crushed peanuts.

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Vietnamese Vegetables Cooking (carrot, celery, Napa Cabbage, Wild Onion)

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Vietnamese Vegetables--ready to serve, with crushed peanut toping  (Recipe in an earlier post on this blog)

And parsley! How I delight in having plenty of parsley plants all year long. I will add a tablespoon or two to French or Italian dishes, a quarter cup or more to North African and Middle Eastern dishes. I will mince it with a mezzaluna (curved blade) in a wooden bowl and freeze a little extra to have on hand. When the plants bloom I will cherish the syrphid flies that feed at their flowers and use the umbrellas of tiny pale yellow blossoms to back up larger flowers in a bouquet.

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Parsley in my garden.

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Chopping Parsley with a Mezzaluna

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Parsley in Bloom

In the places where I could be growing some crops, but don’t, I enjoy watching hummingbirds sip at abutilons, fuchsias and other flowers, I grow Alstroemerias for bright, long-lasting bouquets, enjoy the exuberant flowers of Tigridia from my window in July, and wonder at the variety of forms succulents can take.

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There are plenty of flowers to enjoy in the areas I don't use for food. The hummingbirds love our abutilon.

            I gave myself a few years to decide what crops I would eat, and therefore where I should put my food gardening energies. While I was exploring that, I watched what grew well that I want to eat, and what grew well that I have not eaten in the past. In both cases, I begin to collect recipes. I have found that having shortlists of favorite recipes at the ready to use crops I grow greatly increases the chance I will eat them. (This is why I put some recipes in Golden Gate Gardening.) Collecting recipes is a personal matter. You may not like the ones I collect; I may not like the ones you collect.

            It used to be that hunting for a recipe that used a particular vegetable or herb was difficult. Even if you had the cookbooks, in our meat-centered food culture, the index often did not tell you if a dish includes, say carrots, or parsley. But now there are two improvements. First, as our diet has become more plant-centered, recipes including specific crops are much more often identified in an index. (And there are more books on cooking from a garden—I will list some in a future post.) Second, of course, is the internet. In fact the internet is so easy to search that many cooks probably depend mainly on a search for a recipe that will use what they have on hand. But even with these ever-so-handy improvements, I encourage you to do a search, try some recipes, print or copy a short list, try them out, and choose favorites to keep for use with specific crops.

            Look for recipes that either use a crop you like and can grow or one with which you are less familiar but can grow well. For example, I found that with good care and timing, I can grow beautiful, large, fennel bulbs. I had not eaten fennel often, and, in fact, am not fond of its anisey flavor when it is raw. But I tried a recipe for it cooked, and found that the anisey flavor disappeared, leaving a quite pleasant and distinctive taste. (See recipe: Sweet lemon-braised fennel, below). So I have been collecting recipes for cooked fennel. A second one I have enjoyed is in the soup Sicilian Beans and Greens. This soup uses other crops I can easily produce, and is a wondrous addition to my repertoire. (I will put it up soon.) Now I am about to try a recipe for a sheet pan dinner with pork chops, fennel, potatoes, onion, tomatoes. If it works out I will have three recipes, probably plenty since I only have room to grow about a half-dozen fennel bulbs a year. But what a lovely contribution they make! I like them so much that I have to buy a fennel bulb now and then to fill in when I have none ready in my garden!

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Fennel Bulb Growing in the Garden

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Cutting up a Fennel Bulb. I will cook the slices on the plate in the rear of the photo.

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Sweet Braised Fennel--recipe at the end of this post

When you are looking for recipes, look for ones that include the vegetable in question, and also represent cooking methods you like—such as roasting, stir-fry, braising, or sheet pan dinners. Also give points for seasonings that sound good to you--curry, middle eastern, tomato-based sauce, whatever. Give extra points for recipes that include more than one crop you can grow and harvest in the same season.

            A small garden will always have an unsteady harvest. At the beginning and end of the harvest period for any particular crop, there will always be wee bits to harvest. And in a small garden, you may never have more than a wee bit of some crops. To deal with the wee bits, what you need is recipes that combine just a little of this and that. The world’s cuisines, many of which started in a garden, offer numerous possibilities. There are omelets and frittatas, salads, stir-fries, soups, and many undefinable options. Keep your eyes open and you will find them.

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A colorful winter salad, made when I had only a tiny bit of this and that. I used chard stems and a bit of purple cabbage as bright vegetable confetti. I parboiled the broccoli before I chopped it for the salad.

In the middle of its season, there may be a glut of a crop. You can always tell what gardeners of the past, in particular cultures, had a glut of in midseason. You will need recipes that can use large amounts of those that came in all at once or in midseason profusion. To find them, look to cuisines of places where the crop is most easily or commonly grown. You will find recipes for gratins of summer vegetables, lettuce wilted with sweet and sour sauce (GGG, page 233 Wilted Lettuce) zucchini fritters (GGG, page 377). You may also want recipes for preserving the glut, such as by freezing canning, making relishes and jellies, or pickling. (That’s when the watermelon rind pickle and the sun-dried tomato were born.)

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Gratin of Summer Vegetables

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Zucchini and Cottage Cheese Fritters

Or you may say hell no, if there is too much of something, I don't want to preserve the extra. I just want to grow less of it next year. But for the immediate situation, do find your extra harvest a kitchen in which it will be eaten. Start with family and friends, who might be delighted for a bag of something you grew, or even a small regular sample, or, you may ask yourself: “Is there somewhere I can donate all this food?” Yes indeed, there probably is. You only need a bit of local research to turn up answers. In San Francisco, there is the Free Farm Stand, in the Los Niños Unidos park on 23rd Street between Treat Avenue and Folsom, on Sundays. They are currently bagging food at 10 AM, due to Covid, but will probably return one day to distributing produce from boxes at mid-day, letting people choose what they want to take. Another option is the local food bank. Just be aware a little asking around will certainly turn up places delighted to receive some home grown produce, including herbs.

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We give away hundreds of pounds of apples every fall.

Fruit trees are a special case, in that one tree typically bears more fruit than a family can eat up in a timely manner. You can hunt for recipes, make preserves, give fruit away (look for gleaning organizations that specialize in harvesting fruit to give away). A separate kind of solution is to prune to keep your tree or trees small, so they won’t produce more than you can possibly eat. This is best done from the beginning, when you first bring home a sapling fruit tree, but it can also be done when a tree has grown larger. Use the book Grow a Little Fruit Tree, by Ann Ralph, Storey Publishing, to guide you. It tells you what you need to know simply and clearly.

Sweet Lemon-Braised Fennel

Adapted from Fresh From the Garden, by Perla Meyers, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1996.

One large or 2 small fennel bulbs                   Juice of ½ lemon (or more, to taste)

3 Tablespoons butter or margarine               salt and pepper, if desired

1 Tablespoon olive oil                                     ½ cup chicken broth, vegetable broth, or bullion

½ teaspoon sugar                              

  1. Trim the root and leaves from the bulb(s), leaving only the pale green and white “bulb.” Cut each bulb in half or quarters if it is large, then cut into narrow slices, with some central stem holing each slice together. Try to make the slices under ½ inch at the wider, outside, edge. If some pieces get separated from the core, save them to use as well.
  1. In a large, heavy skillet, melt the butter or margarine (such as Smart Balance) with the oil, over medium heat. Add a single layer of fennel and brown it nicely. When one side is brown, use a fork to turn the pieces over. When they are done, place them on a plate and add more slices to the skillet until all are browned. Reduce the heat to medium low, return any pieces you have set aside to the skillet, and sprinkle with the sugar and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, turn gently with a spatula once or twice to mix the ingredients. Continue to sauté until the fennel is glazed and brown.
  1. Add the half cup of broth and braise, tightly covered, for 10 minutes, adding more broth if needed. When the fennel is tender, but not falling apart, transfer it to a serving dish.
  1. (Optional) if you want to, you can add another half cup of broth, more lemon juice, and some extra butter, heat through and serve with this extra liquid poured over it. I don’t do this, so can’t report the result.


My Book Lists on a New Website

A new website asks authors to create lists of "five best books." I created two lists. One is a list for "The Five Best Books for Gaining Garden Know-how." Here is a link to it:

The second list is to "The Five Best Books for Understanding California's Mediterranean Climate. Here is a link to that one:

Of course my own books, Golden Gate Gardening and Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California are good ways to learn both topics, but, though Golden Gate Gardening is shown, I was asked not to include my own books in the lists. Fair enough, but do check out these lists and consider the books for yourself or as gifts. 


Growing Yacon (Bolivian Sunroot)

In the United States, the crisp, sweet, crunch of yacon roots is a secret known mainly to gardeners. When I began to grow it, late in the last century, it was even less known, though it has been a popular food in its native South America for centuries.

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Yacon Leaves.             Credit: Pam Peirce

After I read about this plant in the book Lost Crops of the Incas, it took me three years to locate starts to grow. The low point was the first trip I took to a tropical plant nursery near my parents’ house in San Diego County. I had spoken to the proprietor on the phone. He assured me he had the plant for sale if I could pick it up, but when I got to the nursery, employees told me he was on a plant-hunting trip in South America. They were sure there was some yacon somewhere in the nursery, but they had no idea how to identify it, and I, having seen only a written description, didn’t either. So that was that.

 I tried again the following year. This time, a nursery worker told me the proprietor was somewhere in the nursery, but who knew where? I wandered amid the dense, tropical foliage lining the labyrinthine nursery paths, until I rounded a blind turn and practically walked into the man who could locate yacon for me!

Yacon is much easier to find now, so now many people enjoy its crisp, juicy roots. They are sort of like jicama, but more tender; sort of like watermelon, but a bit firmer. And their sweetness is from a sugar we don’t digest, so the roots are low in calories. Marketers are even touting yacon syrup as a healthful sweetener, though I’m sure the fresh, raw roots are even better for you, plus you get to enjoy their crunchy and juicy texture.

            This exuberantly large perennial plant, with its broad, furry, gray-green leaves, is, botanically, Smallanthus sonchifolius, a relative of sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) and sunflower. (In the fall, the small orange daisies that bloom atop the tall plants show the plant family relationship.) Besides yacon, it has been called Bolivian sunroot, Peruvian ground apple, strawberry jicama, and, by teenagers who so enjoyed my harvest, simply “the root.”

In mid- to late fall, when the leaves start to die, you can cut the stem back and dig up the harvest. When you do, the first structures you will see are the rhizomes, which look like Jerusalem artichokes. You will save these to replant for next year. What you eat are storage roots that dangle from the rhizomes. They range in shape, from spindle- to globe-shaped, and from a couple of inches in diameter to 6 or 7 inches across. Under a thin brown skin, they are white inside. (The storage roots are delicate, so dig carefully.) They are said to be sweeter after a frost, or after storage in a refrigerator for a couple of weeks. I often eat roots as soon as I dig, and have found them variable in sweetness, but always worth eating.

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Yacon rhizome and storage roots. Pam Peirce

            Break or cut the roots from the rhizomes, wash them, peel them with a vegetable peeling tool, wash again, and slice them into pieces. I have found them welcome in lunch boxes and useful in salads. (For example, I have used slices of yacon in place of jicama in a salad that includes blood orange and avocado. The recipe is in Golden Gate Gardening.) They could, I suppose, be cooked, but I have never been inspired to do that.

            If you are cutting back several plants, leave a foot or so of the stems, so you will know where to dig later. Divide and replant the rhizomes by late winter, before they start to grow again. A full plant will grow from a small rhizome, so you may have extra to share with friends.

            This is an easy plant to grow. Other than an occasional nibbled leaf, mine have not seen pest damage. The plant is so big I thought it wouldn’t do well in a container, but it is so tough and productive that it has even produced a small crop of roots in a big pot. The fact it was in a pot made the roots easier to dig.

            Look for yacon propagation rhizomes in winter, when the plants are dormant, or in early spring. Annie’s Annuals (, 888.266.4370) carries them. You can also purchase yacon from the fruit nurseries Raintree Nursery (, 1-800-391-8892) and One Green World (, 1-877-353-4028).

Is There a Seed Shortage?

Recently, as I browsed online seed catalogs, I noticed more varieties than usual listed as “Out of Stock.” In addition, some seed companies are warning that delivery may take longer than usual. Some are even shutting down periodically while they catch up on orders. I’ve wondered: “What’s going on? Is there a seed shortage?” At a National Gardening Bureau-sponsored panel presentation in March, I learned from seed suppliers what challenges they are facing and also their advice for gardeners.

Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the Bureau says that last spring, seed retailers were selling to 100-400% more customers than in previous years, and this year is headed in the same direction. Last year, the greatest sales increase was in vegetable seeds; this year, more people are also buying flower seeds and plants, fruit plants, and bedding plants.

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Packaging small amounts of seeds in small packets like these is more time consuming than selling seed in bulk.

The main reason for last year’s increased sales of vegetable seeds was probably insecurity—like the rush to buy toilet paper. Last March, people noticed food shortages at the grocery store and decided to take matters into their own hands. Then also, people were at home more, looking out the window at their gardens and imagining food growing there. (It’s telling that more time at home revived the urge to grow food, along with an inspiration to bake bread. It seems these enthusiasms are running just under the surface, only waiting to be daylighted by having more time to partake in them.)

            This year, many people feared that the mails would be slow, what with holidays and so much online shopping taking place, so they sent orders on early, in December and January. Meanwhile, seed companies are having problems filling so many orders while dealing with the pandemic. They have been struggling to keep employees safe—requiring temperature taking, masks, and handwashing; spacing workers farther apart and adding deep cleaning between shifts. Some of these policies slowed the processes of packing seed and filling orders, sometimes requiring work into the evening and weekend, or two shifts a day. If seed companies sought more workers, they found them hard to come by, especially in rural locations. Larger companies have automated filling seed packets, but smaller companies that can’t afford the expensive packaging equipment, are less able to increase seed packet preparation without additional workers.

            Add to this that very real Postal Service slowdown, the storm in Texas and the East that caused several FedEx offices to close down temporarily, a shortage of labor to unload container ships at ports, and a shortage of air transport, and you have a bottleneck that starts with wholesalers and then impacts retail customers.

            So is there a seed shortage? Seed wholesalers and retailers say mostly there is not. Seed retailers on the panel reported “Out Of Stock” situations for only 83 out of 2,300 varieties (Jung Seeds) and 136 out of 2,000 (Johnny’s Select Seeds). In some cases, the problem is just a lack of time to get the seeds out of cold storage and into seed packets ready to mail. In a very few cases, the seed has not yet arrived from a wholesaler. It could be in one of those ships waiting to be unloaded or could actually be not ready for to harvest. However, because seed production now is a worldwide business, and includes tropical and southern hemisphere locations, seed could be arriving soon to bolster the supply. While few shortages are expected this year, Jeannine Bogard, of Syngentia Seeds, said that seed of biennial crops, such as carrots, could be scarce next year because of this year’s high demand.

            Advice to this year’s wise gardener is to order seed well in advance of the date you plan to plant, avoid ordering more than you need or hoarding seed, and to read websites or catalogs carefully to learn how long delivery might take. (Don’t clog communication avenues by calling or emailing before this time has passed.) In addition, you may find, this year and next year, you’ll need to substitute a different variety for one that has been your favorite.

            It’s good news there are so many new gardeners, and especially good news so many of them are younger than the previous average age of Americans gardeners that they have lowered that average. There has also been more interest in organically produced seed—which is good news for the earth. Those of us who have been growing food a long time will have much help to offer new gardeners when they need it. Grow on!

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The harvest from my San Francisco community garden on one day in the early summer of 2020. 

Victory Garden 2.0

As we emerge from a winter of isolation and worry, I hope you are imagining the glory of next year’s garden. Seed companies are announcing new seed lists on their web sites and in print catalogs. Local nurseries are open, with seedlings and, if you lack space, attractive containers. Never underestimate the mood-raising ability of a single beautiful plant or a tiny harvest! Either can be immensely effective.

            Many started a “Pandemic Victory Garden” last spring. They found that having a nearby source of fresh greens or other produce, at a time when every trip out was fraught with caution. provided great comfort and a feeling of security. 

            But some surely had failures, pests that showed up, crops that didn’t grow well, overproduction that went to waste. In 1943 the New York times published a story for wartime Victory Gardeners who were about to begin their second year. “The first year is the hardest,” it consoled. This is so true! Soil prep, starting seed, learning what you will eat, what you won’t, and how much you will eat of each crop—this the first-year gardener learns. 

            You have learned so from much last year’s successes and failures. Dream again! Plan an even better garden next year, more beautiful flowers, a sparkling and colorful edible harvest. Try new varieties, looking especially for ones that resist any pests you had last year. Create critter excluders, or buy some. (Check out the crop cages on the web site  Plan to build or purchase a better trellis to support climbing crops. Invest in a headlamp for hands-free night snail and slug hunts. If you are watering with a hose, put a timer at the faucet so it will turn off automatically and prevent the waste of water.

            May the beauty and productivity of your 2021 garden reflect your high hopes for the coming year!

Apple Pie Recipe Repeated

Apple Pie--An illustrated recipe

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Our tree with ripe apples. They are starting to ripen now. I plan to post a entry soon about the recent heat waves that caused some apples to be sunburned, but decided first to repost an older post that has become hard to find--for apple pie.

Start by peeling and cutting up 6 medium-sized apples. (Of course if they are from your tree, they may be different sizes, so you may have to do more or maybe fewer.) I have tried not peeling them, but our particular apple has a kind of tough peel, so I am back to peeling. I quarter them, then peel the quarters. I cut into the inward side of each peeled quarter-apple in a broad V, to remove the core. Then I slice the quarters crosswise, or, if they are wide, I may cut each quarter in half before I make the final cuts. To help remember how many apples I have prepared, I set the part of the core with the stem attached aside for each--one stem = 1 apple.

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Here you can see the little row of core sections with stems attached, the bowl for peels and cores, and the bowl of finished, chopped apple.

I used the 1953 Joy of Cooking when I first made apple pie. It's recipe suggests mixing the apples with 1/2 -2/3 cups brown sugar, 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons of cornstarch, and (optionally) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Joy of Cooking authors, writing at a time when many more people were cooking from their own tree, and more kinds of apples were being sold. They are clear that apples vary. "Only very tart apples need the larger amount of sugar, only very juicy apples require the larger amount of cornstarch." "If the apples lack flavor, sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice."

In my case, I usually add the lower amount of sugar, the cinnamon, extra cornstarch (maybe 2 Tablespoons), and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, since my apples are sweet, juicy, and don't have any acid tang to add to their flavor. In any case, add everything you are going to add, toss well, and set apples aside.

I think making pie crust requires a very personal interaction of cook and recipe. I tried several recipes before I found the one that makes good crust for me, and offer you the one I chose, but you may find another is better for you.

My father's mother used lard, baking several pies at a time for her large family. Lard didn't appeal to me, but her crust was quite delicious. I used to use butter. Now I use Smart Balance Buttery Sticks, a vegan, no trans fats margarine, and it works fine. The recipe I use is 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, 1 stick of the margarine, and a few tablespoons of icy water (2? 3? something like that).

The first step is to cut up the margarine and put it in a bowl with the flour.

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There's the flour with the cold margarine cut up in it. Next to it is a quarter cup, with some water and an icecube or two. And behind that is 1/2 of the paper from a large brown paper grocery bag, laid out for a surface on which to roll the crust, and the rolling pin, at ready.

Next, I crumble the margarine into the flour, using my thumbs and fingers to rub the two materials together.There's nothing tricky at this point, as long as you do it while the margarine is still relatively cold.

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When the mixture looks like coarse meal, it is time to add the cold water. I pour a little in and begin immediately to try to form a ball of dough. This is the sort of tricky part, because you don't want to actually work the dough. No kneading in this recipe, or the gluten will begin to develop and the crust will be tough. Just push the stuff together, getting it all moist until it will form a ball that isn't sticky but will clean the bowl if you dab it on the unattached pieces.If you run out of water, add a tad more to the cup with the ice and pour from it, a bit at a time.. Then smear some flour on the working surface, and set the ball on it.

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OK, now the fun begins. Roll the crust, gently at first, then more firmly as you begin to develop the round think shape you need. Roll from one direction and then another. Change directions if the shape isn't round enough. Make it pretty thin and rather bigger than your pie pan, which should be standing at ready on the table by now.

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If your dough has the right amount of water in it, it won't stick too much, but be ready to add a little more flour to the surface, or even lift a corner of the dough after you begin to roll it (using a knife to lift it if needs be) and add more flour. Also, if the dough is correct, you can mend it where it tears or cracks just by placing one piece over another and rolling it, or by moistening both sides with a little water and then rolling.But hopefully, you will have no problems with either, or only minimal ones.

When you get a nice large round, fold it in half, lift it carefully, and place it in one half of the pie pan. This one is a Corningware pan. It looks small, because the sides are vertical instead of at an angle like most pie pans, but it holds the same amount of stuff. I know because I filled it and a regular pan with water, and they held the same amount.

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Now carefully lift the folded over half and ease it into the pan. You have to kind of push a little from near the edge inward to get the crust to fall into the pan without tearing. That is, don't try to stretch it, as that won't work. Next you will make the crimped edges that make the pie pretty. You fold the crust under about 1/2 to 3/4 inch above the edge of the pan, and use your fingers and thumbs to make the fluting pattern. Any extra crust, extending below the crimps, on the outside of the pan, cut off with a knife. At any low places, where there isn't enough dough to make the crimp, use water to glue on more rolled dough from the pieces you cut off elseshere, and use that to make the fluted edge. (The crimp, or flute, is made to the measure of your fingers, a very individual form, unlike that of a machine crimped crust.)

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Here I'm making the fluted edge. You can see that there will be some extra crust to cut off in this part of the edge.

I like to cover my pie with a Danish apple pie topping. I put any extra bits of trimmed off crust into a bowl and add a little brown sugar (1/3 cup?) some margarine cut into bits (3 Tablespoons), a little flour (2-3 tablespoons?) and maybe 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. This recipe isn't exact, because it depends on how much crust dough was left over to use and how much topping you want on the pie. I crumble the ingredients all together with my thumbs and fingers.

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I put the prepared apples into the crust and then crumble the topping evenly over the apples.

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In baking the pie, I follow the recipe in my old edition of Joy of Cooking. First bake the pie at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, or a little bit longer, to let the crust brown a little bit. (If you are going to let it go for longer than 10 minutes, keep a close watch on it.) Then turn the oven to 350 and bake until done, from 3/4 to 1 hour total. To tell if it is done, you can insert a knife in an apple to see if there is any resistance .

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Ta dah! The finished pie. Hope yours turns out to be delicioius!