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October 2007
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December 2007

Finding Golden Gate Gardening in December 2007

Larry wrote a comment after my last entry about the fact that he has been waiting for some weeks for a copy of Golden Gate Gardening from I called the publisher today (Sasquatch Books) and they told me that the book is definitely in print and in stock. The problem seems to be a new owner for their distributor. Books are being moved from one warehouse to another in a different state, and so are in limbo. The problem will be solved by early January. Sorry.

Although books aren't flowing into the Bay Area as they should be at the moment, I know there are plenty of them already in Bay Area stores. If you are having trouble finding the book, try local bookstores and nurseries. The San Francisco Sloat Nursery ( has a few, and they can send them to their stores in other cities. Flowercraft Garden Center in San Francisco ( is also well stocked.

The book would make a great holiday gift for anyone gardening in the Bay Area or from Mendocino to Monterey, since right at the end of the year is a great time in our area to be starting some seedlings for planting. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, Florence fennel, and celeriac are the seeds I'll be sowing in the Christmas to New Year week or with my spring class in mid January. In February, I will be sowing radish, peas, mizuna, arugula, fava beans, carrots, beets, and a few other crops directly in the ground.

The Florence fennel and celeriac that we start inside early in the year will be part of an experiment to see if we can avoid damage by a most annoying garden pest. These crops and others at the college garden have been falling prey to some rodent. It has been eating off the roots, leaving the plant standing. When you pick up the plant, it has a gnawed base. Could be a gopher, but I suspect a rat, since I never see the aboveground mounds of a gopher and gophers are more likely to pull the whole plant into their tunnel.

Ccsf_garden_sept_9_003_copy We have taken action. Students removed the soil to a depth of 18 inches from one of our raised beds. In the fall, we lined it with 1/4 inch mesh galvenized fencing (also known as hardware cloth). In February, we will plant that bed and the neighboring, unlined bed with Florence fennel, celeriac, parsnip, leeks, and parsley, all favorites of whatever is eating the roots. Then we shall see if the lining will stop the damage. When we emptied the soil out of this bed, we found a tunnel entering from the side of the bed that was wide enough to stick an arm in up to the elbow. It was just under the wood of the frame. Stay tuned to see if we can outsmart the critter this year!

Shell Bean Succotash

October_07_054_copyGardeners sometimes eat beans at the shell stage, which is after the beans have fully formed in the pods, but before they have hardened. Just about anything you can cook with dry beans, you can cook with shell beans--but faster. You won't find them in the market often, since they don't keep well, so they are mostly a gardeners' secret.

You could eat any common garden bean variety at this stage, but several are sold specifically for it. They often have these splashy red pods. This one is a bush bean called 'Taylor's Horticultural'. Sometimes you find a similar one called 'Tongue of Fire.' At the shell stage, the beans are white or white streaked with red. When they become dry beans, they are bown streaked with maroon, and are often called cranberry beans.

So, in any case, I planted these in July in San Francsisco and harvested them at the shell stage in the second half of October and early November. I grew about 10 cups of beans (out of the pods) in a bed about 6 by 3 or 4 feet. And then I experimented with cooking them. They were great as Boston baked beans, fine in a French soup with pistou, and made yummy succotash.

October_07_102_copy And here is the succotash I made, with some of the beans and an open pod. The recipes I used were from The Victory Garden Cookbook, Marian Morash, Alfred Knopf, 1982. I modified the succotash recipe to make it vegan so I could take it to a class potluck. The recipe, as modified: 2 cups of shell beans, 2 tablespoons of chopped onion, 1 cup chopped tomato (from a can), 2 cups corn kernels (from frozen), 2 tablespoons Smart Balance margarine, a bit of salt and pepper. Put beans and chopped onions in a saucepan and add a cup of water. Bring water to a boil, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and corn. Simmer for 10 minutes longer. Stir in margarine, salt and pepper to taste. (4-6 servings).

The original recipe suggested using a mixture of lima and shell beans, since the original native American dish was more likely to use limas, but limas don't do so well in cool SF, so I just cut to the chase and used all shell beans. Got me thinking about succotash, which I for some reason thought was a Native American dish from the Southeastern part of the continent. But when I looked it up, I found that it was a dish of the Nanaganset, of what is now Rhode Island, who spoke Algonquian. The word, in Algonquian, was m'sickquatash, and meant "corn not crushed or ground." So there you have it.

What was in the original succotash? Not bacon, which was in the recipe I used before I modified it, though maybe other meat. And I read that the tomatoes suggest a Dutch influence, since they were known to add tomatoes and other vegetables to succotash.

Final analysis: great crop; good eating. Worth doing again next year.

More on Brazilian Peas

I am delighted to hear from Erica, who hails from Brazil, about the Brazilian pea mentioned in two recent posts. (The posts are from October 14 and October 26. Erica's comment follows the entry of October 14th.) So it is the "crooked pea with purple flowers," eh? That seems pretty accurate, since the pods do curl quite a bit. I have saved about 100 seeds, of which a few may not be viable. (Some of the pods decayed in those early rains we had this fall, and the peas were not quite ripe when I took them out of the pods.)

The seeds are interesting to look at, sort of mottled. Under a handlens, you can see that they are greenish with brown speckles. I will try to photograph them, but haven't done so yet. I will plant them this spring and see how they fare in the college garden.

Fall and Winter Greens

Here is a photo of a mix of greens for fall and winter gardens in San Francisco and nearby gardens that are being grown as a mesclun. I guess these are really both reds and greens--it's a mix of looseleaf lettuces, arugula, (spiky) mizuna, (spoon-leaved) tatsai, and red mustard. All of these greens are good choices for individual as well as mixed plantings. I started some in late September, but they might work sown now. If they struggle in the cold, try again in early February.

0318301r01032_copy This patch has been sown together for cut-and-come-again harvesting. You cut the plants an inch or two from their bases, and more leaves grow from the stub. You can usually cut them 2 or 3 times before they refuse to regrow. If you have a lot of weeds, it is best to grow mesclun in a container, in container mix, which is weed-free. This prevents accidental eating of inedible weeds that came up between your mesclun greens.

On next Saturday, November 17th I'll be lecturing about year-round food gardening at Ploughshares Nursery in Alameda. See previous post for details.

Year-Round Vegetable Gardening--Nov. 17

I'll be giving a talk on Year Round Vegetable Gardening on November 17, 12 Noon to 1:30 PM at Ploughshares Nursery in Alameda. You can learn more at or call them at (510) 898-7811.

Want to have fresh food from your garden all year long? You can certainly do that in the Bay Area, and I will tell you how. Even a very small space can produce enough to enliven your winter and early spring meals. I will be bringing a winter gardening calendar and some recipes to help you use your harvest. I'll also have copies of Golden Gate Gardening and Wildly Successful Plants for purchase and signing.

Ploughshares Nursery is a nonprofit set up to teach job skills to at-risk individuals. They sell, among other things, food crop plants and native plants. They are located at 2701 Main Street. Check out their website for more information.

Alameda Island, just off of the coast of Oakland, accessible by bridges. is really interesting to explore, with bookstores, coffee houses and restaurants. The town has a small-town feel to it, with detached houses and nice gardens. You might enjoy coming to hear my talk and then exploring the town a bit.