The kitchen garden this year has been running a little behind.  Somewhere around February, peak seed starting time, we found ourselves knee deep in barn building, instead of sowing seeds in the greenhouse.  Once the barn was finished, we had to scramble to catch up.

We spent this weekend harvest the last of the early spring crops to clear space in the garden

As such, a few things are getting planted a little late this year, but our growing season is quite long, and I expect it will all work out in the end.

This last weekend I could sum up in about four words.  Pick.  Shell.  Blanch. Freeze.  First it was the favas.

Fava Beans

They were originally intended to be planted as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop, and simply turned into the soil.  However, by the time the barn was well underway, the plants were already blooming, and it seemed a shame to stop them.  At that point, it just made sense to let them go ahead and make beans.

Shelled fava beans

The problem is, we planted a LOT of favas, and they made a LOT of beans!

and with those beans, came a LOT of aphids this spring!

The plants were host to a lot of aphids this spring too, but with aphids, come beneficial aphid-eating insects, including these soldier beetles.

Adult Soldier Beetles (Cantharidae family) will feast on aphids

We also found a lot of lady beetles lurking among the fava foliage too.

This sevenspotted ladybeetle (Coccinella septempunctata) also dines on aphids

I think we’re both officially fava-beaned out though.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love fava beans, especially fresh from the garden, but when you’re drowning in favas, the pod-popping gets quite monotonous after a while.  Then there’s the blanching, and for most of the larger beans, the tedious final step.

Once released from their pods, the favas are briefly blanched

Skinning.

The outer skins on mature beans are tough, so they're removed

I usually think it’s difficult to improve upon nature, but when it comes to favas, I can’t help but feel they suffer from a slight case of over-packaging.

We'll be enjoying this year's beans for some time!

It’s a good thing they’re delicious.

A few found their way into a simple saute with onions and fennel

Moving past the fast and furious fava festivities, next it was time to attack the pea bed.  We’ve had some very warm weather recently, which will soon spell the end for pea season.  We hurried things along though, and harvested the last of the peas to free up some space in the garden.

The shelling isn't over yet...next up...peas!

The snap peas were plentiful, and easy to pick, trim, and blanch for storing.

Sweet, succulent snap peas 'Oregon Sugar Snap II'

The shelling peas though meant more pod popping.

My favorite way to eat shelling peas...straight from the pod

Thankfully though, it’s much easier to liberate peas from their pods than favas.

Spring peas are so sweet, they're worth a little extra effort

The only danger here is that they taste wonderfully sweet straight from the pod, so not all of them made their way to the kitchen.

In recent weeks the greenhouse has been so crowded that even getting in the door has been a challenge.  Thankfully though, with the spring peas out of the way, we freed up some space in the garden.

Over the long weekend we finally struck another project off the list.  We’ve been meaning to add the last of the raised garden beds to the vegetable garden, ever since we finished the greenhouse installation last year.  We kept getting distracted with other projects though, so in an attempt to reclaim some of the space in the greenhouse, we finally knocked out the rest of the raised bed construction.

Two of the new raised bed frames waiting to be set in the garden

This of course meant hauling lots of soil to fill them, and installing the irrigation lines for each of the new beds, but it feels good to finally get it done, and be able to factor these new beds into future rotation schemes.

Our native soil is actually mudstone, so raised beds are the only way we can grow vegetables here

Now the favas and peas have moved on, another round of lettuce is underway.  With the warm weather we’ll need to keep an eye on a couple of these varieties.  Lolla Rossa is a pretty head lettuce, but it has a tendency to bolt, and with our warm spring weather it might do just that.

We didn't plant a lot of Lolla Rossa this year as it bolts quickly in the heat

Unlike the red and green oakleaf lettuces which generally tolerate warm spells better, and we can usually grow these year around.  This spring though we seem to be picking a LOT of volunteer tomatillo seedlings out of the lettuce bed.  You can see a few next to the red oakleaf below.

Red Oakleaf Lettuce

Green Oakleaf Lettuce

A fun new addition to the lettuce bed this year is Freckles.

Freckles is a pretty romaine type lettuce with a splash of red on the leaves

This is a romaine type lettuce, that’s apparently also heat tolerant, and so far it seems to be doing very well.  I love the color too.

Similar in color, more red-veined sorrel, guaranteed to jazz up any basic boring green salads this spring.

As pretty in the garden, as on a salad plate, we planted a lot more red-veined sorrel this spring

Our May planting of potatoes is coming along.  Fortunately we can plant successive crops of potatoes here, usually around March, May, and August.  We missed March (see ‘barn building’ above), but we did manage to get the May crop in.

'German Butterball' potato plants

This is German Butterball, which did fabulously well here last year.  I can almost taste them.  Mmmm…potatoes.

We’re experimenting with eggplants this season in the garden.

We're trying a few heirloom varieties of eggplant this year, including Rosa Bianca (above), Turkish Orange, and Listada de Gandia

This might seem like quite a gamble, considering that eggplants crave heat, and heat was the one thing we were seriously lacking last summer!  However, so far this spring, although it’s been a bit dry, the weather has been much warmer. Last year was exceptional for us, as we’re usually just above the fog-line in summer, so hopefully we’ll have a enough warm days to see fruits on these plants later in the season.

The peppers made their way into some freshly prepared beds too, including these Padrón peppers, also new here this year.

Padron peppers, are from Galicia in Spain. Picked when small and green, they're sauteed in oil, sprinkled with coarse salt, and served as a traditional tapas appetizer

Then of course, there are the tomatoes, but I’ll update on those in a separate post as we’re doing our tomato grafting experiment this year.

Cucumbers, and beans, though will be transplanted out this weekend, before they crawl out of the greenhouse on their own.

We didn't grow cucumbers last year, but we're looking forward to making pickles again this year

We need to pull out the early season garlic too.

The orchard trees are finally growing significantly larger.  All the fruit trees are still quite young, but this year it actually looks like we’ll get a more substantial fruit harvest from some of the trees, including the aprium, the Indian Free peach, and some of the apples.

This weekend we need to thin the last of the apple trees

Aprium 'Flavor Delight' is setting much more fruit this year

We're excited to try our first 'Indian Free' peaches this year

The citrus trees are in full bloom, and delighting the bees as usual, who seem especially drawn to the nectar of the Meyer lemon tree.

The strawberries are in full swing at the moment too, although I admit I need to revamp the strawberry bed a bit this year, as it’s been somewhat neglected.  That was on my spring to-do list…but likely now will get pushed to fall.

Strawberries also have a difficult time finding their way in to the kitchen

The herb garden, like last year, is looking its best this time of year.  The perennial herbs, like thyme, sage, and oregano have filled in a lot this year, and the sage is almost finished blooming.

We planted this border of thyme at the top of the slope a year ago...

A year later, and it's completely covered the edger board...it also looks like I have a little more weeding to do!

The lavender is about to burst with blooms, and this summer I’m determined to make a batch or two of lavender cookies.

'Provence' lavender has a number of uses in the kitchen, and the flowers are as good in cookies, as they are used in an herb rub for roasted lamb

The annual herbs, including basil and sweet mace are hoping I get them transplanted out soon.  Just starting to bloom though is this fennel that was allowed to overwinter in the garden.

We always keep some fennel growing in the garden, and allow it bloom as various beneficial insects are attracted to it

Last year we noted lots of immature lady bugs among the fennel fronds, but this week we found someone completely different.

This is the first Anise Swallowtail caterpillar we've found in the gardens

An Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) caterpillar!  Maybe you’re used to seeing them in your garden, but this the very first one I’ve ever found here, so it was a very exciting find!  It seemed to be enjoying devouring the fronds, I delighted in watching it do just that.  They’re actually quite dexterous creatures.

It was interesting to watch this caterpillar devouring the fennel

I almost felt a little like Alice in Wonderland staring up at this enormous creature, that seemed impossibly large to be supported by something as flimsy as a fennel frond.

This is the largest species of caterpillar we've seen here

If we continue to maintain fennel in the kitchen garden, as this is a preferred food source for this species, I’m hoping we’ll see more swallowtail butterflies in the garden too.

As the gardens transition from spring to summer, we have a lot to look forward to

Despite being a couple of weeks behind this season, we are catching up, and hoping that the warmer weather will continue, and bring us a better summer harvest this year, especially the tomatoes.  We’ll update next time on how our tomato grafting project is going so far this season, but first, I have more transplanting to do!