The California Mediterranean Diet

Since I am a Registered Dietitian and the title of this site includes the term “Diet”, it is reasonable that readers might be interested in specific amounts of foods I recommend for a healthy eating plan. As I have stated in previous posts I define the “California Mediterranean Diet” as a symbiosis of the healthy foods and eating patterns associated with the old food ways of the Mediterranean, with the new and modern creativity and environmental consciousness of California cuisine. The vibrant immigrant culture of California has led to an explosion of unique spices, flavors and cooking styles that are being applied to the locally grown Mediterranean ingredients to form a uniquely tasty and healthy cuisine.

Many studies have shown benefits to a Mediterranean style eating plan. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine most recently published a Spanish study which supported the benefits of the traditional Mediterranean Diet in reducing heart disease in a high risk population.  As in previous studies discussed elsewhere on this site, this study showed that a diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish, as well as liberal amounts of fat from olive oil and nuts, is associated with good health.

California has a Mediterranean climate, and produces over 50 percent of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. By eating these locally grown foods, residents of California can enjoy the health benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet  while also supporting local agriculture and limiting the environmental impact of their food choices.

Below is a rough guideline of how I recommend interpreting the California Mediterranean Diet when planning menus for adults. The ranges show the minimum and maximum amount of food in each category. Younger more active men need higher amounts. Less active, older women need lower amounts. In addition the amounts vary from day to day to allow flexibility with menus but this provides a rough outline of the average intake I recommend.

This is not a diet prescription for any specific medical conditions or for weight loss.
If you have a specific medical condition requiring diet modification I urge you to make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian for further guidance.

Note:  The California Mediterranean Pantry list on this site contains specific recommendations for brands and types of foods marked with * .

These are the foods to eat every day and the approximate amounts per day:

Slide13    Vegetables*: 5-12 servings per day:

A serving is 1 cup raw or ½ cup of cooked vegetables. Onions, garlic and tomatoes should be used frequently. California grown fresh or frozen vegetables (or canned in BPA free cans) should be chosen over imported products.

Slide12Fruits*: 3-6 servings per day.

A serving is ½ cup raw fruit such as berries, 1 medium piece of fruit or ¼ cup of dried fruit. It may include up to ½ cup of natural fruit juice (such as pomegranate or citrus) as one serving of fruit per day. California grown fruit, either fresh, frozen, dried or canned in BPA free cans should be chosen over imported fruit.

Slide17

California grown nuts or nut butter*: ½ to 2 ounces daily (almonds, walnuts, pistachios and peanuts are all grown in California and are very healthy nuts to consume)

Slide15

 Whole grains*: 3-8 ounces per day

 An example of 1 ounce is 1 slice of whole grain bread or ½ cup of cooked grain such as brown rice, oats, whole grain pasta etc.

yogurtMilk products: 2-3 servings per day:

A serving is 1 cup milk or 1 cup yogurt or 1 cup Greek yogurt. Locally produced Organic or grass fed sources of dairy products are recommended.

Slide16   California Extra Virgin Olive oil*: 1 to 4 Tablespoons per day

These are the foods to eat on a weekly or almost weekly basis and the amounts per week:

Slide14   Legumes (cooked dry beans and peas)*: 3 -6 cups per week

Slide18  Fish: 6-15 ounces per week (wild or sustainably raised, fresh or frozen)

chicken    Chicken:  6-15 ounces per week ( Preferably Organically grown or cage free vegetarian fed and grown without antibiotics or growth additives)

The following foods are not necessary but can be eaten weekly in the following amounts if desired:

cheese 2Cheese: 0-3 ounces per week (organic or grass fed dairy preferred)

oil and margarine  Non-hydrogenated soft tub margarine, mayonnaise, canola and/or grapeseed oil: 0-3 Tablespoons per week * (non GMO canola oil preferred)

butter  Butter: 0-2 Tablespoons per week (organic or grass fed dairy preferred)

red meat 3Red Meat: lean cuts of grass-fed beef, lamb, pork: 0-8 ounces per week

eggs Whole Eggs: 0-3 per week (free range or organic, vegetarian fed preferred )

chocolate  Dark chocolate:0-3 ounces per week

sugars and sweeteners   Sweeteners (honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, organic sugar):

  0-7 Tablespoons per week

The foods listed below are foods to eat less frequently than once a week. They are foods eaten mostly for entertainment, not nutritional value. They are not a necessary part of the diet but would be fine to have on occasion if desired:

Fatty cuts of meat such as pork shoulder, ribs, bacon, sausage, salami, marbled beef steaks, etc.
Ice cream
Homemade baked goods (cookies, pies, cakes, etc.) and other baked foods/breads made with white flour and sugar
Candy
Cream
Gravy, cream sauces

There are a lot of foods I do not recommend eating so I did not bother to list those but they are mostly processed foods such as: fast foods, foods with artificial flavors and colors, baked goods made with shortening, sodas…you know…junk food.

Slide36Packaged processed snack foods are not part of a California Mediterranean Diet!

Slide35Processed, nitrate-preserved meats, and packaged meals are not part of a California Mediterranean Diet either!

Vitamin Mineral Supplements:

Women over 50 may benefit from Calcium Citrate (The most easily absorbed form of calcium): 1000 mg (or less depending upon current dietary intake of calcium sources) per day with Vitamin D.

Men and women over 50 may benefit from B complex (mostly for B12)

If fish intake is on the low end of the range consider omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil). 1200 mg total EPA plus DHA per day.

(If you have any medical conditions or are taking any prescription medications check with your doctor or dietitian before starting any supplement regimen)

Pomegranates: How to get the seeds and how to make pomegranate juice

Dayna’s sister Janet Leisen, and her husband Corrie, of Leisen’s Bridgeway Farms recently started selling some of our Burgeson Family Farm produce at Farmer’s Markets in Sonoma County. They have been selling our Limes, Quince, Persimmons, Satsuma Mandarins and Pomegranates.

Janet said that several people at the market have asked her the best way to open a pomegranate to remove the seeds so I thought I would re-post the directions for getting out the seeds. I also love making juice, so for you industrious types, I am including directions for that as well. This is all from a page that I had posted in the past on my California Mediterranean Diet blog.

Often the pomegranates you buy in the store have been picked before they are fully ripe. The best pomegranates are the ones that are so ripe they have started to crack. Obviously at this point they do not store well but this is when the color is the darkest and they are the most sweet. We try to pick our pomegranates right before they crack. Unfortunately when I picked today for the market on Tuesday, we had waited so long most of them looked like this.

I won’t be able to sell this pomegranate but it will make great juice and it will be easy to open!

We use most of the pomegranates we grow to make juice. We love to
mix the juice with tonic water, or spirits such as vodka or tequila to make
cocktails. It also can be boiled down to make pomegranate syrup to use in
cooking.

We tried using citrus presses and other easy methods to make
the juice, but we have found that the skin and pulp impart bitter flavors to the juice
so we have gone back to using a somewhat laborious method which involves
first removing the seeds from the pomegranate, then getting juice from the
seeds.

Here is how tp get the seeds from the pomegranate:

First remove the skin from the top and bottom of the
pomegranate. Cut around the circumference but only through the skin, not
deep enough to cut the seeds. This will prevent the task from becoming a big
juicy mess!Cut around the circumference of the pomegranate both top and bottom but do not cut through the seeds, only through the skin.

Now peel off the skin. Notice the seeds are whole.This is because they were not cut with the knife.

Peeling off the top and bottom to reveal the lovely seeds inside.

There can be some pomegranate spray, so I usually do this step and the steps afterwards holding the pomegranate under a bowl full of water.  The water contains almost every bit of spray. If I do this while watching TV rather than outside or in the kitchen, I cover the sofa with an old sheet as an extra precaution.

Now cut from top to bottom in about 5 or 6 locations around the perimeter of the pomegranate. Again, these are shallow cuts that only cut the skin, not the seeds.

Now  break the pomegranate apart along the natural segments, and remove the seeds from each segment. This is less messy if it is done under water.

Note the natural segments of seeds that have separated from the skin and membrane.  Gently scrap away those seeds from the membrane and let them drop into the water.

The white pulp will float to the top and the seeds will sink to
the bottom of the water. Now skim the pulp off the top of the water,
and strain the seeds, and they are ready to go.

If you dry the seeds on a cloth and then store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator, with folded paper towels on the top of the seeds, they can last for weeks. You can sprinkle them on salad, on your yogurt and oatmeal or just grab handfuls for snacks.

If you want to take it to the next level, you can make juice.

Here is a huge soup pot filled with pomegranate seeds ready for making juice.
Adrian often does this job while he is watching TV. He covers the sofa with a sheet because he prefers to not use the water, so it can become a somewhat messy job. Check out that sheet.The juice can be made with either raw or cooked pomegranates. We have found it is somewhat sweeter if we cook them. If you are planning to make juice and do not have a juice press, you should heat them to get the maximum yield. Put a small amount of water in the bottom of the pot, smash them down slightly with a potato masher to release more liquid, put on the cover, and slowly heat the pomegranates, stirring occasionally, until they have come to a simmer and have broken down but have not boiled, and the juice has been released. Then let them cool.

These are the pomegranates after heating and cooling. They are now ready to be pressed.

Cooked pomegranate seeds ready to be made into juice.

The seeds are then placed into a juice bag which we purchased, along with our little tabletop press, at The Beverage People, which is in Santa Rosa. It is an Italian Fruit Press and is made by Ferrari. You can also use a large piece of muslin if you are planning to squeeze the juice by hand.

The pressing-1Pouring seeds and juice into tabletop press

Before we had this tabletop press, we used a large old wine press we had, and before that we just used muslin or a cloth bag and squeezed by hand. The little tabletop press is by far the best way to go when you have a lot of pomegranates and are planning to make juice every year.

If you are doing this by hand, just place the pomegranate seeds in a fine mesh strainer and let the juice run out freely. Then put the seeds in a muslin bag or in the middle of a large muslin piece and twist the top until the juice is squeezed out of the bag. Continue to twist and squeeze the bag or fabric until you can get as much juice out as possible. You can get about 3/4 of the juice out without using a press. We got about 1 cup of juice per pound of seeds squeezing by hand. This is the seeds from 2 large pomegranates.

We put the bag of pomegranate seeds in the press, gradually
screw it down to create pressure on the seeds and the juice runs out of the
spout into our collection device.

The juice-1This may be the best pomegranate juice you have ever tasted!

From there we pour it into bottles and freeze or can it to use year round.

Nutrition Note: pomegranates are high in phyto-nutrients
associated with a reduction in disease. Much of the strongest research has suggested that eating pomegranates or drinking the juice can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. The research on reducing the risk of prostate cancer has been especially promising.

California Summer Farro Salad

The finished saladCalifornia Summer Farro Salad

This salad showcases a unique method of preparing zucchini for salads by shaving and salting it. Every fresh ingredient in this recipe is in season right now, making this salad a showcase of healthy California summer produce.  Serve California Summer Farro Salad as a light main course for lunch, or add some grilled chicken or fish, or perhaps some cooked dried beans or other legumes for a heavier, higher protein dinner.

For the farro in this recipe I use the 10 minute farro from Trader Joe’s.  I empty the whole bag in 6 cups of boiling water with ½ teaspoon salt and cook it boiling and uncovered for 10-15 minutes until it is tender, then drain it. The whole bag makes about 4 cups, which is the right amount for this recipe.

Unprocessed farro can take a very long time to cook, whereas quick-cooking or pearled farro will take less time to cook and will be less chewy when done. Read the directions for whatever product you plan to use and cook it accordingly.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking the farro for this recipe, add the chopped kale or chard if you are planning to use it.

Ingredients for Salad

  • 4 cups warm drained cooked farro (½ teaspoon salt used in cooking water) with
  • 1 cup of washed chopped greens such as chard or kale.added to the farro during the last 5 minutes of cooking (these greens are optional but add color, flavor and nutritional value)
  • 2  Tablespoons California Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 cups (about 3-4 medium) zucchini, shaved, salted with ¼ teaspoon salt, mixed and drained according to these directions (It will be about 2-3 cups after salting, draining and pressing)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 cup chopped red and/or green bell pepper
  • ½ cup sliced pitted Kalamata olives
  • ¼ pound low-fat feta cheese, crumbled.

 The salad dressing ingredients:

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (this is the juice of about 2 large juicy lemons)
  • ½ cup California extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large fresh cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped.
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

Directions:

  • Mix all the dressing ingredients together and set aside
  • Cook the farro (and kale or chard if using) and prepare the zucchini (the zucchini must sit after salting for at least ½ hour)
  •  Once the farro is cooked, drain it and immediately stir in the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Let the farro sit until it is no longer hot. Lukewarm is fine.
  •  Add all the other salad ingredients to the farro.

All the ingredients ready to mixCalifornia Summer Farro Salad Ingredients

  • Pour the salad dressing over the ingredients and mix well. Serve right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 days before serving.

zucchini and farro salad_edited-1A Healthy Sized Serving of California Summer Farro Salad

Shaved Zucchini for Salad

shaved zucchini 2

The summer garden in California brings an abundance of perfect ingredients for salads. Delicious, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes. Peppers of all colors, both mild and hot.  Cucumbers, fresh herbs, garlic, onions and the last of the lemons for the year. But one thing is missing for those who might want to eat a home-grown salad: lettuce. Unless you live in a cool coastal or mountain climate, the heat that ripens the other delicacies of summer causes lettuce to turn bitter and bolt into flower and seed prematurely.

The summer garden also brings an over-abundance of zucchini. I think I have chucked at least a thousand zucchinis in the compost pile over my lifetime as a gardener. Ever on the watch for new zucchini recipes, I recently found some salad recipes using shaved zucchini prepared in the manner described below. What a revelation! Some of my success with this may be due to the wonderful, dense, sweet European varieties of zucchini we grow (Romanesco and Cocozelle ) but it still is surprising how the character of zucchini can change so much with this simple technique. Zucchini prepared in this manner is now replacing lettuce in many of my salad recipes with unique and often sensational results.

I recommend that you give this method a try. Start off by dressing it with a simple lemon based vinaigrette, or maybe a Caesar dressing with a touch of shaved parmesan. If you have plenty of fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes, and crisp mild peppers, use it in my California Summer Farro Salad recipe.

You should use medium sized zucchini for this recipe.

zucchiniThese are a mix of Cocozelle and Romanesco Zucchini.

Cut the stem and flower ends of the zucchini off.  If they are very long you may want to cut them in half so the final shavings will be about 3-5 inches long.  Then one by one, set the zucchini on the counter-top for support and using a potato peeler press down hard and cut long shavings on the top of the zucchini. Cut about 4-6 shavings, until you see the seeds, then turn the zucchini a bit and start on another side. Eventually you will have circumnavigated the whole zucchini. Don’t use the center, which is the watery, seedy part. It can be stored for another use, or thrown away.  The goal is to have firm, relatively thick shavings with not too many seeds or watery pulp.

Put the shaved zucchini in a colander. For every 4 cups of shavings, which is about 3-4 zucchinis, sprinkle on ¼ teaspoon salt, mixing the zucchini with your hand as you sprinkle. Continue to mix the zucchini well to distribute the salt, and let it sit for ½ hour to drain. The zucchini will look like this.

the zucchini shredsShaved salted zucchini

After about half an hour (you can go for longer, up to an hour if you like), press the liquid out of the zucchini and use it in salads or refrigerate it for up to one day to use later.

The Farm Bill: Unhealthy for You, Unhealthy for California Farms

veggies farm market

beets and carrots farm marketBeautiful displays of healthy food at a California Farmer’s Market showing foods receiving minimal subsidies.

Slide36Display of foods made from ingredients heavily subsidized

I think almost every American feels that small family farms should be supported. Stories of ancestors who lost their farms during the great depression are a part of many of our family’s heritages, including my husband’s. If farming in America were to decline, the consequences for our food security could be dire.

However, from good intentions of protecting farms, our government seems to have created a federal monster that is harming the health of America. The farm subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) in the farm bill are an example of a federal program gone astray by a broken political process.

America is suffering from an obesity crisis, yet rather than addressing this by providing subsidies to healthier foods, or at least NOT SUBSIDIZING less healthy foods, the farm bill continues to subsidize the foods that are causing us to become fat and unhealthy. The numbers associated with the subsidies to California farmers tell much of the story.

California produces more dollar value of agricultural crops than any other state. It is FIRST on the list of agricultural producers, followed by Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. However, the types of crops produced by the top states differ significantly. Most tellingly, California produces one half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the US. ONE HALF of all the foods that have been shown to be some of the healthiest components of a traditional Mediterranean diet. ONE HALF of the agricultural foods Americans need to be eating more of…

If the farm subsidies in the farm bill were in any way tied toward a reasonable agricultural policy, it would seem to me that they should provide some support to the California farmers who are putting fruits and vegetables on the plates of America. Ideally, these subsidies would help keep fruit and vegetable farmers in business and assure reasonable prices of these foods so Americans could afford them. Or at least, they would not subsidize farmers growing less healthy food (such as corn to produce high fructose corn syrup). But sadly, this is untrue. Instead, the majority of the farm bill agricultural subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) go to large wealthy farmers producing 5 crops: corn, soybeans, rice, wheat and livestock. In addition 70 percent of the farm subsidy payments (including crop insurance subsidies) go to 10 percent of the farms in America.

Even if things were just fairly distributed, with no preferred crops, it would seem that the top states in agriculture production would be those that got the most subsidies. For example, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, California and Minnesota should be in the top 5 in terms of the states receiving agricultural subsidies. That seems at least fair. And in fact, Iowa is first, Texas is 2nd, Nebraska is 4th and Minnesota is 5th in terms of the percentage of farm subsidy receipts.

But get this: although California is first in agricultural production and produces the most of what I call “healthy food”, and California pays more federal income taxes than any other state, California farmers are tenth in terms of their receipts of Farm Bill subsidies.

Even more disconcerting are the numbers behind California’s farm subsidy receipts. Almost all of the receipts go to producers of cotton, rice, wheat, livestock and corn. Almost  NONE of the farm subsidies go to producers of fruits, vegetables and nuts.  Even tobacco farmers in other states receive more subsidies than California fruit and vegetable farmers. Over 90 percent of California farmers receive no subsidies, and  much of the farm bill subsidies are now going to large, wealthy farm conglomerates.The environmental working group has prepared an excellent analysis of the negative impact of the farm bill priorities on farming in California and it is available at this link. 

The simple math of the farm bill’s impact on California is this:

  • California taxpayers pay 12 percent of all the federal taxes collected
  • California farms produce 13 percent of all the agricultural crop revenue in America
  • California farms produce 50 percent of all the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in America but
  • California farms receive only 4 percent of the farm subsidies in the farm bill and almost none of those subsidies are for fruit, vegetable or nut production

The way this adds up to me, California fruit and vegetable farmers are paying extra taxes to support corn, wheat, rice, soybean, and livestock producers. This is just plain wrong. I know so many California fruit, vegetable and nut farmers who are struggling to make ends meet. The price of good agricultural land in California is going up every day, and pressure to sell the land for development is an ongoing temptation faced by California growers. This lack of support by the federal government for California farmers adds insult to injury.

Every time the Farm Bill works it’s way through Congress these inequities are debated and changes are discussed, and every time the bill that finally passes continues this same pattern of encouraging growers of corn, wheat, even tobacco, more than the farmers growing the foods that Americans SHOULD be eating. The farm bill is being debated right now, and the bill that has passed on for a vote in the Senate last week continues the same old pattern. In an attempt to disguise the pork, they are now attempting to reassign some of the direct payment subsidies to additional “crop insurance subsidies” but it is just more of the same. There is an excellent blog post by Mark Bittman of the New York Times addressing that specific component of the program.

I urge you to call your representatives and tell them to stop giving subsidies (including crop insurance subsidies) to unhealthy foods and big ag. The way I see it, if they can’t redesign farm supports to encourage healthy eating, or at least be fair in their distribution of support for different states with different crop profiles, then they should stop subsidizing farms altogether.

Preparing for the 2013 Summer Garden

For the last few weeks our dining room has been a bit of a mess. It has large south-facing windows, so this time of year it becomes a surrogate greenhouse of sorts. Seeds of our favorite garden annuals from previous years are started in these little Jiffy greenhouses.

Slide29The first plants we start are the slower growing peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. Then we will move on to the squash and melons.

Last year we really overdid it with the garden. We planted 30 types of tomatoes and a boatload of eggplant, squash, peppers and melons. A lot of what we grew was just not that great, including heirloom tomatoes susceptible to disease and with poor taste, bitter eggplants, peppers with thin walls…So I made a list of my favorites at the end of the year, and I am doing my best to stick with those this year and keep things smaller.

These are the tomatoes that “made the cut” for replanting again this year :

For the best flavor and reasonable amount of disease resistance for an heirloom I chose:

Slide90For the earliest, most productive and most disease resistant tomato I chose:

Slide87

For the most flavorful, disease resistant and easy to grow hybrid tomato I liked:

Slide85However, I found out you can only buy plants of the Bonnie Original Hybrid tomato. So I planted seeds of a variety called Bonnie’s Best and we will see how that works out.

I like some color in my tomato salads so I like to plant a yellow/orange variety. Last year I had good luck with:

Slide88 I also planted Green Zebra, which has been very productive and can be used successfully as an alternative to tomatillos in green salsa.

Slide89I like to grow a few cherry tomatoes, as they are by far the most productive of any tomato variety. They also can be incredibly sweet, sweeter than any large tomatoes.  My favorites are:

Slide86

I have had a lot of problems with blossom end rot on my paste type tomatoes. Any tips on good varieties for this area are appreciated.

Last year I planted a lot of sweet peppers and only a few made the grade to be planted again this year. These were by far the winners:

Slide91Sweet lipstick is a very productive pepper with thick walls, and when roasted they are very easy to peel. I roasted, peeled and packed zip-lock bags full of them in the freezer. They are great added to pasta dishes, or pureed as a simple sauce to perk up my cooking in the winter.

I also planted this pepper, which is great eaten raw or roasted. They are very large, and have thick, sweet crispy flesh.

Slide92I planted the standard jalapenos, as well as a moderately hot chile called Ancho Gigante, which can be used fresh and green for stuffing or can be harvested when red and used in chile sauce. I use frozen chile sauce all year-long for tacos and posole soup.

We face a lot of challenges growing eggplant in our area. It seems to get bitter and seedy. Since I do not eat a lot of eggplant anyway, I have decided to only grow one type this year. I have had excellent success with:

Slide96The only other seed I have started so far this year is my favorite summer herb:

Slide93

In our garden cucumbers tend to get very bitter. I have been quite disappointed by some of the cucumber varieties we have grown over the years. Cucumbers are also one of those vegetables that you can easily over-plant. What do you do with 50 pounds of cucumbers all at one time? Adrian likes pickle relish but how much can a person eat in a year? I am planning to stick with only two varieties, which I will plant in a month or two when the soil is a bit warmer:

Slide95

Slide94

We have not planted our squash yet, but I do not like watery, seedy summer squash. I also do not want to be picking a 5 pound squash to chuck into the compost bin every few days. Therefore, I am planning to plant the one variety of summer squash I plant every year:

Slide98Romanesco has firm, creamy flesh with minimal seeds.

I have not decided on what type of melons to grow but I will be planting them along with winter squash in a month or two. Every year we grow the old favorite winter squash:

Slide100This year I am also looking forward to growing “Sweet Meat” which is a delicious large, thick-walled, meaty winter squash our friends grew successfully this year. It was so flavorful that we loved it just simply baked, and it was excellent added to soups and curry.

We have poor luck with beans, both fresh green beans and dried beans. I may simply pass on even trying to grow those this year. However, our hot climate seems to be great for growing cowpeas (also known as black-eyed peas) so we may give those another shot this year.

Slide97I was not aware until this year that there are so many different types of cowpeas available. I found a great selection at Baker Creek Seeds which is where I purchased most of my seed. I also got a few from Seed Saver’s Exchange.

I hope you will give a few of these favorites a try. If you are planning a summer garden, now is the time to get those seeds started. Do you have any favorites that you plant every year?

The Edible Yard

Growing your own food has so many rewards. It saves money, reduces the carbon footprint of your diet and provides you with a great form of exercise (we call it “exercise with a purpose” in our household).  And of course there is nothing that tastes as good as your own fresh produce harvested right before eating.

We live in the country on 2 acres, so we have a fairly traditional garden plot, as well as a fruit orchard, where we grow much of our own food.

A traditional garden plotOur garden plot in the spring.

Obviously, not everyone has a large plot of land to grow food, and that is not required. To survive on a planet with diminishing resources, at some point in the future, humans will need to develop local food sources. The traditional lawn in the front and back yard will need to be re-purposed. These small plots of urban land can be used to grow food where it is eaten.

An edible landscape does not need to be quite as wild as this front yard in downtown Sacramento.

berries and avo in jungle-1Bananas, avocado, berries and other edibles in a front yard in Sacramento.

Is this an “urban jungle”?

An interesting tidbit about this particular front yard is that a neighbor reported the owner to the city, and they were told that they do indeed have a right to grow edibles in their front yard and it is not a code violation. This is much better than Orlando, Florida where one couple has been told they are not allowed to grow edibles in their front yard. To really appreciate the insanity of this type of pro-lawn regulation check out this U-tube video.

I am proud to say that Sacramento has been recently designated America’s Farm to Fork Capital and a recent tour of urban edible gardens reinforced that well deserved title.

One homeowner showed that ornamental edibles can be tamed with raised beds.

front yard bedsPeppers in a front yard raised bed

For those of us who are not skilled in the carpentry trade, I love the raised beds that can be made with no nails and minimal carpentry skills by using these great recycled steel M-Braces from Art of the Garden, a local company.

art of the garden instant bedsRaised beds made with M-Braces from Art of the Garden

In this front yard, pathways and other hard-scape give an edible landscape a more civilized look.

front yard garden

Ornamental edibles can also be used as borders in a backyard. Citrus is especially attractive used this way.

lemon, mandarin landscape-1A mixed citrus tree (grafts of lemon, grapefruit and orange on one tree) and Satsuma mandarin tree used in a border surrounding a pool.

This gardener replaced their water hogging lawn with a pebble beach, complete with a fire-pit. The irrigated border areas are filled with a mix of edible and ornamental plants. The tall tree in the middle is a peach

fire pitA back-yard beach complete with fire-pit and edible and ornamental border plantings

Some gardeners can get very creative. All of these edibles are in pots, grown on an unused driveway between two houses in East Sacramento:

evelyn yardAvocado, peppers, tomatoes and herbs in an urban driveway.

Another way to conserve space is to go vertical. One of the best materials for going vertical is concrete wire. There are some great ideas for using concrete wire in this article in Mother Earth News Magazine.

My friend Rhonda uses a side yard in her Elk Grove home to garden, and concrete wire keeps her squash and cucumbers in check. She also uses string as a trellis for her “string beans”.

Rhonda's hardware-1Cucumbers and squash growing on a concrete wire and steel trellis. String beans…

Concrete wire can also get a more upscale look as seen in these garden structures at Theodore Judah School in Sacramento.

another use of concrete wire A concrete wire and wood trellis systemconcrete wire arch-1Concrete wire arbor

Bamboo can also be use to train plants vertically in an edible landscape. These tomatoes look very attractive in their planting box with a bamboo trellis support structure.

tomato wallTomatoes in a wooden planter box with bamboo trellis system.

Some gardeners just run out of space. This is a “thinking out of the box” solution.

growing onto roofYes those squash are being trained to grow up on the roof!

Anyone who has grown their own fruit or vegetables has had the experience of harvesting a bumper crop of one item, much more than they can possibly eat. For an urban gardener, sharing with the neighbors can be a solution. A really great idea is a weekly neighborhood produce swap, where everyone brings their excess produce and exchanges. Some groups, like Magowan Farm Stand in Santa Rosa, turn it into a weekly party and potluck. What a great way to socialize with the neighbors and eat locally!

How about you? Have you any great ideas to share about how to grow your own food in a non-traditional space?

How to order Owari Satsuma Mandarins fresh from our California Farm

Here is Adrian beginning the mandarin harvest. A fully loaded tree can have over 300 pounds of fruit!

Our Satsuma mandarin harvest usually begins around the first of December (if the weather cooperates!). Our Satsumas are grown by us (Dayna and Adrian Burgeson) on our small family farm, and are hand selected for ripeness, picked and packed by us in USPS Priority mail boxes and shipped immediately. We guarantee the quality and freshness of our fruit. Our mandarins make a great tasting, healthy and environmentally sustainable holiday gift.

Every mandarin is inspected by us when picking, and again when packing the box. We guarantee beautiful fruit for you and your loved ones this holiday season.

We are no longer taking orders for shipped boxes for the 2012 season. Check back with us in November, 2013 to place your order for next year’s harvest. Thank you to all of our great customers who once again purchased everything that we had to sell!

Food Day 2012: From Garden to Table References

For Food Day this year I presented a lecture again for UC Davis Medical Center Employees and the topic was gardening. I admit, although I have a Satsuma Mandarin farm, I feel like I am still a novice when it comes to gardening. I have no advanced degrees or formal training, and everything I know about growing food is partially due to reading books and looking stuff up online, but mostly due to trial and error. However, there are a few references and resources that I go back to again and again, year after year, and I thought I would use this post to share these references with my readers and those who attended my talk yesterday.

Here is a photo of our fairly traditional garden, taken in the spring.

From the back to the front and left to right you can see raspberries, English peas, artichokes, onions and garlic, “Lacunato” kale, chard, shallots, thyme, rosemary, parsley, dill, mesclum salad mix, “Little Gem” lettuce and “Bloomsdale” spinach.

Almost all of my favorite seeds come from the following 4 companies:

Baker Creek Seed company: http://rareseeds.com/

Renee’s Garden Seed: http://www.reneesgarden.com/

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply: http://www.groworganic.com/

Botanical Interests: http://botanicalinterests.com/

These are recommended sources in the Sacramento/ Northern California area for plants and seeds:

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply Grass Valley: http://www.groworganic.com/

Eisley’s Nursery Auburn: http://www.eisleynursery.com/

Harmony Farm Supply Sebastopol: http://harmonyfarmsupply.com/

Orchard Supply: http://www.osh.com/

Sacramento Natural Foods Coop: http://www.sacfoodcoop.com/

Whole Foods Market: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/

Talini’s nursery East Sacramento: http://www.talinisnursery.com/

Next, my favorite gardening books (I admit, these are oldies and may only be available used). When I started gardening, the web was not available, so I had to look every thing up in books. Can you imagine that?!!“How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons, “Vegetables: How to Select, Grow and Enjoy” by Derek Fell (HP Books) and The Sunset New Western Garden Book.

Of course, nowadays, most of us use the web instead. How lucky are modern beginning gardeners to have so many great online gardening resources available for free? These are some great links:

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply   www.groworganic.com

Dave Wilson Nursery  http://www.davewilson.com/

UCDavis Garden Web  http://ucanr.org/sites/gardenweb/

UCDavis Home orchard  http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/

The following download is a full gardening book for beginners:

Vegetable garden handbook for beginners http://ucanr.edu/blogs/food/blogfiles/12709.pdf

This download is a vegetable planting guide. I like it because it has planting dates and harvest dates. Many guides only list planting dates:
UC Davis Plant Science Vegetable Planting Guide:
Even though I like to use the web as a primary gardening resource too now, I have found that when I am pruning fruit trees, I want to take a book out in the field that I can refer to while pruning.  The following are my well worn pruning handbooks:
The Sunset Pruning Handbook, Pruning: How to Guide for Gardeners by HP books, and my all time favorite: How to Prune Fruit Trees by R. Sanford Martin.
Years before he became famous for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” I read “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education” by Michael Pollan, and it has remained on my short list of all time favorite books ever since.  It is highly recommended as an entertaining and enlightening read on the challenges and rewards and philosophical dilemmas of gardening. You might call it his “gardener’s dilemma”.
Finally, you will want to know what to do with all that beautiful food you have grown. The next step from planting and harvesting is preservation of the harvest. I highly recommend using a reputable source for preserving food, especially when canning and drying. The following are my trusted sources for food preservation:

National Center for Home Food Preservation: nchfp.uga.edu

Ball Blue Book :

http://www.freshpreservingstore.com/blue-book-guide-to-preserving/shop/229696/

Also Ball has a good website with recipes: http://www.freshpreserving.com/home.aspx

UCDavis: includes USDA Complete guide to home canning pdf download: http://ucfoodsafety.ucdavis.edu/files/26457.pdf

UC Davis home food preservation and storage website:

http://ucfoodsafety.ucdavis.edu/UC_PublicationsUC_Home_Preservation_and_Storage_Publications

Check back on this site in the future when I will post my all time favorite plant varieties for edible gardens in my Placer County California climate.

Garlic culture: successes and failures of a novice

Flowers form on the stalks of hard-necked garlic.

Well, my last post clarified my opinion on the reasons why you should know where your garlic is grown. I did not know last year that much of our garlic was coming from China, I just knew that recently I had been very unhappy with the quality of garlic I had purchased in the stores. It was often very dry, sprouting, and green in the center. It seemed “old”.  It also seemed to have gotten quite expensive. I had grown garlic years ago, and remembered how juicy and fresh the cloves seemed when they were first harvested, and I wanted some more of THAT kind of garlic so I decided to plant some again.

The good news is that garlic can be grown almost anywhere. My friends in Wyoming grew garlic successfully, even with their crazy weather. It is all about choosing the right variety. Garlic also is very space efficient, so you do not need much room to grow garlic. In fact, you could probably grow the average American yearly supply of fresh garlic (about 3 pounds) in a few  good-sized pots on your deck. Hopefully, I have motivated you to think about growing your own garlic if you have not done that yet.

We planted our garlic last fall, and began our harvest in mid June.  It has been a long time since we grew garlic successfully, and as a result, there are a few things I had forgotten that I had to “learn the hard way” this year.  I thought I would share with you a few lessons I re-learned this year.

1) Garlic should be planted in the fall. Last year we tried to plant in the spring, and ended up with tiny little heads.

This is a garlic plant in our garden which I photographed this winter

Garlic is one of the crops you just plant and sort of forget about. In cold winter areas you might put a bit of a mulch over it, but for us, we just stick it in the ground, control the weeds and wait until Spring. It is easy to grow and if you pick the right variety, you can grow it almost anywhere.

2) Make sure to plant the garlic cloves with the root (flat end) down and the top (pointed end of the clove) pointing up. It seems obvious, but I gave a beginning gardener friend of mine some cloves to plant last year and she admits now she planted a few of them upside down!

3)  Don’t wait too long to harvest. This is especially important for the garlic that has a thin outer skin with large cloves such as the hard-neck type of garlic.  For example, Spanish Rojo has amazingly large, easy-to- peel cloves, but should be harvested when only a few of the lower leaves are dead.  If you wait until the majority of the top of the plant has died, the skin on the outside will become too thin and the cloves will bust out of their skin, like this:

This garlic was harvested too late and the cloves are separating from the head

A garlic like that cannot be sold, and is not going to last very long either. In general, harvest garlic when only some of the bottom leaves have turned yellow and died.

The two other types of of hard necked garlic we grew, Kilarney and Metechi, took longer to mature and we got decent heads with not as much separation of the cloves as the Spanish Rojo. However the Spanish Rojo cloves were giant and easy to peel, so they definitely are worth growing again.

4) Dig out the garlic heads carefully with a shovel.

Do not try to pull them out by their tops, even if the soil has been loosened. If there is any resistance, especially with an over-ripe head of garlic, the top will come off from the top at the base, like this:

          Top of the garlic separated from the head

This is another garlic that cannot be sold or stored.

5)  When digging the garlic, give a wide berth. Some of the heads of the Spanish Rojo garlic were monsters, much bigger than others, and I ended up nicking some cloves with the shovel.

These cloves of garlic were cut by the shovel while digging the heads out.

This is one more head of garlic that cannot be sold or stored.  I am starting to think homemade garlic powder would be a good use for all of this booboo garlic! I also will try freezing some. Even the longest lasting garlic only stores for 8-9 months max, and I think frozen home-grown garlic would be an improvement over the shriveled-up and green sprouting (Chinese?) garlic left in the the grocery stores at the end of the winter!

6)  After storing your garlic for several weeks in a shaded dry place, clean it up. Rub off the outer dirty skin leaving as much intact skin as possible to protect the cloves. Remove all the dirt from the roots and trim them up if you like. You can also clip off the top of the plant leaving just the bulb. However, I have read that the garlic stores best if you leave as much of the roots and top of the plant as possible.

7) If you grow several varieties of garlic, grow some that are good ” keepers”. When you harvest your crop, know which garlic lasts better in storage and which doesn’t. Use the most perishable garlic first. I grew 5 varieties of garlic this year.

The garlic varieties we grew (from left to right)

Back row:  Metechi, Kilarney, Spanish Rojo (all hard-neck) and not great keepers

Front Row: Silver Rose and Ichilium (both soft-neck) and good keepers

As a side note: supposedly the hard-neck varieties of garlic we grew are said to grow better in places with cold winters. We do not have cold winters here at all, with seldom even a frost, but other than the few over-ripe Spanish Rojo garlic heads, we grew beautiful large heads of garlic successfully.  Since over 80 percent of the commercial garlic grown in the US is grown in California, my guess is most varieties will grow here successfully.

One way to store soft neck garlic is to make a garlic braid. I am very proud of the braid I made with the Ichilium garlic I grew this year. It is the first time I have made a garlic braid. The directions on this website were very helpful.

Ichilium garlic braid

8) Pick out some of the best heads to save for planting in the fall for next year’s crop.  Each clove of garlic will be planted to make a new head of garlic so keep that in mind when you are deciding how much to save. If you notice ANY white fungus on the heads of garlic at harvest, do not save those cloves, and do not reuse that area for growing garlic again.

Overall, we got a good sized harvest, some of which as you can see here.  This cart contains only the Spanish Rojo, but we had 4 other varieties to harvest as well!

All of the garlic was cured in a shaded, dry spot with plenty of air circulation (ie our garage with the garage door open during the day) for several  weeks. Then we cleaned up the heads by rubbing off the dirt, tied them in bunches by variety and stored them on these racks in a cool, dry place.

Garlic bunches on racks for storage

A few nutrition notes:

The health benefits of garlic are still being clarified, but the strongest research so far suggests that garlic has natural compounds that thin the blood. Small blood clots are often the initial insult that leads to a heart attack. Garlic also seems to have anti-bacterial properties although how this works once the garlic is eaten is still unclear. In addition garlic contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects. Studies on the health benefits of garlic have focused on it’s role in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and infectious disease.

How about you? Have you grown garlic successfully? What challenges have you faced? What varieties have grown well, or not, in your area? Feel free to share your comments: