The busier we get, the faster the seasons seem to fly by. I’m sure that in mid-summer there used to be a lull, a time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the results of the spring planting rush.  Between goat shows, professional conferences, and various other distractions though, this year we seem to have skipped the ‘relaxation’ part, and now fall planting is already upon us!  Not to mention that as of last week, the Curbstone Valley Farm blog turned 3 years old!  Where does the time go?

The summer kitchen garden (click any image to enlarge)

Native Garden

We could almost set our watches by the native plant bloom cycles here. The end of July to early August is where most of the native plants around the gardens are rushing headlong into dormancy. This is also the time of year we start to plan what to plant in the native gardens, as prime planting season is in the autumn here.

Of the remaining spring blooms, the sages are still managing to push a few new flowers, especially the late season bloomer, ‘Winnifred Gilman’.

Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ is the darkest colored of the native sages growing here, but not the hardiest

I’ve now succeeded in killing three of these, but also have five of them that seem to be holding up. I’m a bit of a miser on the watering-front, so those losses were my fault. However, I am convinced, at least here, this cultivar is simply not as robust, or reliable, as either ‘Pozo Blue’, or ‘Alan Chickering’.

Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’ is still blooming, and has been since early May!

Not all the native flowers are done for the season though. A few late summer native bloomers do thrive during this warm and dry period, including the vibrant California Fuschias (Zauchneria sp.), which are just starting to bloom, and the Asters that grow wild all over the property.

California Fuschia (Zauchneria californica)

I’m not sure why, but this year seems to be a particularly good year for the Asters, and there are numerous clumps that have popped up around the edges of the vegetable garden, perhaps due to the extra moisture in the soil in the cultivated areas.

Native Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense)

Regardless, the skippers, and bees seem to love them, and with flowers becoming somewhat scarce here at the moment, their cheery blooms are very welcome.

Native Aster with Syrphid Fly

Herbs and Flowers

Of course, there are still some blooms to be found in the herb garden, including this ever-growing fennel that we left for the pollinators to enjoy.


I’m actually curious now to see just how tall it can get. It’s already over 8 feet in height!

Honey bees relish the fennel flowers this time of year

Bees can be found buzzing around the flowers all day long, but at the moment their favorite is the oregano that started to bloom in the last couple of weeks, and certainly an herb we should consider planting more of here, as it blooms now, after the majority of native flowers fade.

Oregano in bloom is a favorite of the honey bees this time of year

A new addition to the herb garden this year is Sweet Mace (Tagetes lucida).

Sweet Mace

Apparently the leaves of this plant are used to make a pesto, especially in the southern United States. Always eager to try something new in the kitchen, and unable to find it anywhere else, I decided we’d grow our own. I’m curious to see how such a pesto would taste, but I need to wait a few more weeks for these plants to mature.

We also planted plenty of Genovese basil too!

As they tend to take over, this year we’ve planted a lot of Nasturtiums in containers.

Nasturtium ‘Alaska’

These edible flowers bring a fun splash of color, both to the garden, and to summer salads.

Nasturtium ‘Alaska’ has variegated leaves, and produces orange, red, and pale yellow flowers

We didn’t plant any sunflowers in the garden this year, well, not intentionally. We’ve learned we can’t direct sow them here with much success, as the voles gnaw through the stems while they’re young. That said though, we have had a few volunteers that have survived the clutches of our resident rodents.

This appears to be a cross from last year’s heirloom sunflowers that we planted.

This volunteer popped up near the compost pile

There’s just a faint hint of the rust color on the petal margin of these flowers that was present on the ‘Autumn Beauty’ sunflowers last year. This particular sunflower plant is a poly-headed variety, and has no less than NINE blooms on a single plant at the moment. Regardless as to what specifically this may be, the flowers are very much loved by all the pollinators that visit them.

Earlier this season though, this sunflower was vandalized. Something absconded with its head (we’re suspecting squirrels).

Vegetable Garden

In the vegetable gardens, after two unseasonably cold, and foggy, summers in a row, where we seemed to spend more time whining about the weather, than actually harvesting fruits, this year the weather has been much more conducive to growing heat-loving plants.

The tomatoes, although planted a little late with our schedule this spring, and slowed down somewhat by our first foray into grafting, have really taken off.

Our tomato plants are much healthier this year

They’re setting lots of fruit, and providing we can keep the woodland creatures off them, we should be harvesting plenty of fruits throughout the remainder of summer.

We’ve had a few cherry tomatoes, but the majority aren’t quite ripe yet

Well, except for ‘Blondkopfchen’.

Blondkopfchen, at least here, seems to produce ample blooms, but struggles to set fruit with our cool nighttime temperatures

Again this year, this variety is struggling to set fruit. Our nighttime temperatures are still frequently below 50 degrees, and of all the varieties of tomatoes growing here, this one seems to resent cold coastal nights the most.

Although fruit-set has been much better this year, we did lose most of the initial early crop of ‘Stupice’ this year, as well as ‘Crnkovic Yugoslavian’, to rodents.

This ‘Crnkovic Yugoslavian’ tomato was devoured this week before we could harvest it

The downside of trying to grow food at the edge of a woodland is that rodents, in various shapes and sizes, abound. They’re always willing to take produce from the garden long before we would, and as we don’t bait here, again, we’ve resorted to trapping for voles and rats.

We set numerous traps, which need to be checked, and reset daily. Trapping is labor intensive, but much safer than using bait (don’t enlarge image if you’re squeamish)

We do seem to be seeing some difference in overall plant health between the tomatoes we grafted, and those we sowed conventionally, but in regards to yields and overall vigor, it’s still too early to tell how much better our grafts will perform. We’ll update more as the season progresses though.

The tomatillos this season are producing masses of fruits again, and just in time too, as we’re down to our last jar of tomatillo salsa verde from last year.  We’re looking forward to restocking the pantry with salsa very soon.  It was too good not to make again!

Tomatillos! The bees love the flowers, and we love the fruits

Before we ramped up our rodent-trapping in the garden, we also lost a number of beautiful baby eggplant fruits. This is the first year we’ve grown eggplant here. The last two years probably would have been a disaster if we’d tried, as eggplants want warm soils. However, this year we seem to be having a run of beginner’s luck, most likely due to our improved weather.

These smaller Japanese-type eggplants, ‘Little Fingers’ and ‘Long Purple’, have been very prolific!

Although the rodents gnawed some young fruits in the early season, the plants themselves were left alone (which is more than I can say for our beans), and this year may prove to be the ‘year of the eggplant’ here at Curbstone Valley.

Not being particularly fond of the classic large Aubergine’s, instead we’re growing a few assorted smaller eggplant varieties, so we’re not inundated with too much eggplant all at once.

Thus far, our favorite is the ‘Long Purple’ Eggplant.

Eggplant ‘Long Purple’

The plants are gorgeous, with stunning blooms.

Eggplant ‘Long Purple’

The leaves are gorgeous, and the fruits are sweet, and tender, and grill absolutely beautifully, with no bitter aftertaste.

These smaller ‘Little Fingers’ are prolific too, and as tender as they are beautiful.

Eggplant ‘Little Fingers’

The larger ‘Rosa Bianca’ though is absolutely stunning, with its lovely lavender purple fruits, mixed with white.

Eggplant ‘Rosa Bianca’

I’ve had my eye on this one for some time, which is almost ready to harvest, and we can’t wait to see how this tastes…grilled, with a little olive oil and salt.

The most anticipated eggplant growing in the garden though, is this!

These small eggplants are known as ‘ Turkish Orange’

No, it’s not a tomato, I promise.

This is ‘Turkish Orange’, and not your typical looking eggplant. Unfortunately, the rodents sampled a few of the early fruits, long before they had any color. We removed those fruits, and now we have these beauties that are just about ready to harvest. I have read they can be slightly bitter, but hopefully we’ll get to try these for ourselves in the next few days. Regardless, they certainly stand out in the garden!

Giving the eggplants a run for their money, the peppers are no slouches this season either.

The peppers this season are producing much better than the previous two seasons

There’s no question we’re having our best pepper year ever here.

‘Corno di Toro’ is producing large peppers in impressive quantities this season

Part of that is no doubt due to the warmer weather, but it seems that part of it is also a result of soil improvement. As we continue to amend our raised bed soils with compost, our soil structure has improved tremendously. As our native soils were so poor, we had to bring outside soil in for the beds, but it needed…work. Fortunately, between the chickens, turkeys, and goats, we’re not short of compostable material here, and the results for us are very noticeable.

The Padron peppers (center) are prolific

The bell peppers this year, including ‘Purple Beauty’, ‘Orange Bell’, and Golden Cal Wonder’, are producing beautiful healthy large fruits.

‘Golden Cal Wonder’ pepper, not quite ripe

The first year, comparatively, our pepper plants seemed almost stunted.

New to this year’s garden is both yellow, and red, ‘Corno di Toro’ (Bull’s Horn) peppers.

Corno di Toro yellow pepper

So far, the yields seem superior to ‘Lipstick’, and ‘Quadrato D’asti Rosso’ that we’ve grown previously, so we’ll be interested to see how this variety performs throughout this summer season.

Somewhat less successful, at least so far this season, are the cucumbers. Early in the season, before the vines had gained much height, many of the early fruits were stolen from the vines.

Now the cucumber vines are taller, the trellis helps to keep the fruits away from ravenous rodents

Occasionally we’d find remnants with teeth marks in them, which would usually cause me mumble a few expletives that would even make Gordon Ramsay’s toes curl. However, now the vines are tall enough to trellis them up off the ground, the fruits seem to be surviving much better. At the moment ‘Lemon Cuke’ is producing a lot of moderately sized globes.

Heirloom ‘Lemon Cuke’

What we’ve learned this season though, is for us, we need to avoid ‘bush-type’ varieties, and commit to trellising our cukes if we want to actually harvest any fruit.

Despite a few losses in the garden, when you have cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, and mint growing in the garden, Tabbouleh is great way to use them all.

This is just an example of the level of damage to the garden this year. We grafted 20 different varieties of heirloom pomme fruits this spring. All but 11 trees were killed outright as a result of having their leaves and/or bark stripped.

Every single one of this spring’s grafted apples were defoliated over the period of a few nights. This time we suspect a rogue rabbit.

These poor hapless grafted trees should be getting transferred to 5 gallon containers about now, but sadly, due to the damage to these plants, it’s not clear if any of these will be thriving by year’s end.

We’ve moved the grafted apples back into the greenhouse, where we hope they’re safer. Although I forgot to mention the vole I had to chase out of the greenhouse recently.

We’re just not sure how much of this is voles/rats, versus possibly a rogue rabbit, so the rabbit live-trap is out to see if we can answer that question once and for all.

This bean leaf is too far off the ground to have been chewed on by rats or voles. More likely squirrels or rabbits.

There are days I’ve been tempted to take down our ‘Certified Wildlife Habitat’ sign. When you lose produce almost as fast as you can grow it, it really starts to take the joy out of gardening.

For now we’ve left the sign up, but we did scale back the squash planting this year, significantly, primarily to avoid providing too much cover for the meadow voles, that have been officially nominated as THE most destructive rodents on the property (sorry squirrels, you came in second).

Squash Blossom

So far, unlike last year, the voles seem to be leaving the plants alone, but it’s still early yet, so we’ll have to wait and see.

As robust as the summer garden is, we’re also in the midst of fall planting. We’ve  uprooted the last of the summer crop of potatoes, and will save some of these for our late season fall crop.

Summer potatoes. German Butterball (left), Purple Majesty (middle), and Russian Banana (right)

Kale, spinach, tatsoi,and chard have been planted out on the shadier side of the garden in the last week.

A late warm spell may cause the kale to bolt, but on the shady side of the garden we can usually plant a late summer crop

In an adjacent bed, a new crop of assorted lettuces.

At least some varieties of lettuce can usually be grown under row covers throughout the season

Carrots will be hitting the dirt this next week, along with some beautiful Chinese Red Meat radishes, and beets.


In the meantime, in the orchard, the ‘Frost Peach’ tree suddenly has a bounty of fruit that is ready to harvest, and the ‘Indian Free’ peaches are just starting to turn.  We’ll eat some fresh, but no doubt turn a few at least into peach jam.

‘Frost’ Peach

Our very first, albeit small, harvest of the exceptionally sweet dessert pear ‘Seckle’ seems imminent…

The ‘Seckle’ pear is a small, sweet, dessert pear

…and we’re still harvesting a few Pluots too.

‘Flavor King’ Pluot

What we’re really looking forward to though, is the apple harvest!

The question is will the squirrels beat us to the apple harvest!?

With so much growing in the garden, we still have a lot to look forward to throughout the remainder of the growing season.  Before long, the kitchen will shift from canning and freezing summer produce, to infusing the air with the scent of cinnamon and apples.  Pie, anyone?