April in Danville

Many grocery stores carry some ho-hum version of asparagus all year long. It may look fresh, but it was usually grown in another hemisphere and shipped thousands of miles before reaching California. That is one of the many reasons it has little or no flavor.

Spring is coming into full bloom at the farmers’ market, and locally-grown asparagus is one of the star attractions. While shopping for “grass,” also check out the new crops of squeaky-fresh artichokes, fava beans, celery, sweet peas-in-the-pod and sugar snap peas, and tender young greens. And who can resist a basket of early cherries or strawberries? Needless to say, now is the time to start carrying a cooler in your car on Saturday mornings.

Processed by: Helicon Filter;After I have returned home and binged on plain roasted asparagus every day of the week, I start thinking of other ways to enjoy it… and the following recipe always comes to mind.

Frittata is one of the original fast foods. It comes together in a flash; is far healthier than anything you could order at a drive-through window; and is as suitable for breakfast and brunch as it is for a light lunch or dinner. It’s simple enough for a family weeknight meal, and good enough to serve to guests. Oh, and did I mention it is economical, too?

If you are fortunate enough to have any frittata left over, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate. Cold frittata—paired with handful of arugula and a slick of mayonnaise on artisan whole-grain bread from the farmers’ market—makes a stellar sandwich.


Spring Frittata with Asparagus & Goat Cheese

8 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons California olive oil

8 ounces locally-grown asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

1/2 cup coarsely crumbled California goat cheese (about 2 ounces)

2 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, mint, or parsley

  1. Break the eggs into a large measuring pitcher or medium bowl. Add the salt and pepper and beat with a fork until the eggs are just blended. Preheat the oven broiler.
  2. Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet with an oven-proof handle*, tilting the skillet to coat the bottom and sides. Add the asparagus and cook over medium-high heat, stirring and tossing until bright green, about 1 minute.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and spread the asparagus in an even layer. Carefully pour in the eggs and cook, using a heat-proof rubber spatula to lift the edges as they firm up to let the uncooked egg flow beneath, until the underside is fully set (lift with the spatula to check) but the center is still slightly runny. Shake the pan now and then to make sure the frittata is loose and not sticking. Scatter the cheese over the top and place the frittata under the broiler until the cheese has softened and the top is very lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Slide the frittata onto a cutting board or warm serving plate and sprinkle with chives. Cut into wedges and serve. Serves 3 or 4.

*If your skillet has a plastic handle, wrap it snugly and completely with a double-thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Asparagus Tips

When buying asparagus, select firm, bright green stalks with little or no white and tight, dry tips. Asparagus breaks down quickly after harvest, losing sugar and moisture, so check the ends: if they are shriveled or dry, the stalks are old.

Choose asparagus spears that are approximately the same thickness so they will cook evenly.

Thick or thin? Like people, it’s all a matter of personal preference. Asparagus plants live 8 to 10 years. Young plants produce thin asparagus; mature plants produce thick spears.

To store, wrap the bunch of unwashed asparagus in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 4 days. If the spears begin to go limp after a couple of days rehydrate as you would flowers—by cutting off the ends and standing them upright in a container filled with about 1-inch of water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and refrigerate.

To remove tough ends from asparagus before cooking: Hold a spear near its middle with one hand, and near its bottom with the other hand. Gently bend the asparagus spear and it will snap apart at the spot wear it becomes tough. (If you prefer things neat and tidy, just cut off the ends with a knife.) Add the tough ends to your compost pile, or use them fresh or frozen when making vegetable stock.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!


Redwood Watering

Q. I have a group of establish redwood trees planted on a slope. I thought they were being watered by a natural spring but I’ve come to find out it was from a neighbor’s leaking water line that now has been repaired. Since then four trees have died. How do I go about saving the balance?

isolated redwood tree on a white backgroundA. Redwoods are not a drought tolerant tree like a pine, cedar, deodar and other conifers. They’re also shallow rooted and suffer from water stress with the hot afternoon sun beating on the soil. In their natural habitat, the needles catch moisture from the marine influence. The moisture then drips slowly down to cool and moisten the roots under the canopy of the trees. Hence they need to be irrigated frequently once the rainy season concludes. Stand alone trees, those with no vegetation growing under them, often struggle while those planted in a vegetative ground cover thrive. Established trees on drip irrigation suffer more than those watered by conventional sprinklers. The whole idea behind watering is to get the entire root system wet. The root system of a Redwood is found under the canopy of the tree. A common mistake made when watering Redwoods is that the volume of water is insufficient, infrequent and it’s not uniformly distributed around the tree. When using a drip system, there is a lack of understanding on how to make it work efficiently. First off, a drip system distributes water in a gallon per hour while a conventional system provides water in gallon per minute. A drip system needs to run forty-five minutes to an hour to provide the necessary volume to get the roots wet. In addition, you’ll need a dedicated water line for drip irrigation. A huge conflict develops when a drip system and conventional sprinklers share the same line. The volume of water plants receive is either too much or not enough. The second issue has to do with the number of emitters around the trees. The originally installed emitters need to be reposition every couple of years and additional emitters need to be added so water is available throughout the root zone of each tree. There is a misconception that if you puddle water in one spot, all the roots will benefit. The water absorbing roots are not located at the tree trunk but out toward the drip line of each tree. Redwoods produce a lot of natural litter or mulch to help with the moisture retention. It also insulates the roots from the hot sun, especially those trees where the lower branches have been removed. A two to three inch mulch layer under the canopy and beyond is recommended. It’s not necessary to mulch the base of the trees. In addition, your gardening service should be discouraged from removing this valuable covering. When the temperatures are over eighty degrees, I would be watering weekly. In summary, water and mulch are the keys to keeping your trees healthy.

Q. Can I be assured that the nutrients from a dry fertilizer will find its way to the roots when I water with drip irrigation or should I hand water the material into the soil?

A. With a granular fertilizer, I’d scatter the pellets within the drip irrigation distribution pattern and then hand water it in. After that, the drip system should do the rest of the job. If you were using a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote, it would be absolutely critical. These products only release a tiny bit of nutrients with each watering. If you’re still not sure it s getting to the roots, I suggest you switch to liquid fertilizer.

Q. My Christmas Cacti are not very full and have gotten leggy. If possible, how would I go about taking a few cuttings and then planting them in the same pot to fill the bare spots?

A. This is a workable solution as cuttings can be taken and rooted off the existing Christmas or Zygocactus plant(s). The ideal time to take your cuttings is after they finish blooming. The cuttings should be about five inches long and broken off where the stem is segmented. Next, allow the cuttings to air dry for a day before starting the rooting process. The ends of the cuttings are dipped in a rooting hormone to help with the new root formation. You’ll find a rooting hormone at your favorite garden center. With a pencil or screwdriver, punch a hole in the existing soil and insert the cutting about a half and inch deep. (Although I prefer to root my cuttings in a separate container instead of the existing pots.) I’d take many more cuttings than I needed. The cuttings are then placed in a single pot of pre-moistened potting soil. The pot of cuttings is placed in an area with bright, indirect light and the soil kept moist. Once rooted, the most vigorous cuttings are selected and planted in the gaps or bare spots in each container. The rest of the cuttings are discarded or given away. Another option is to divide the mother plant and this is the perfect time to do so. Christmas Cactus are divided once every three to four years, depending on the pot size. Remove the plant(s) from the existing pot and divide the plant into sections using a sharp knife. Once segmented, decide which sections or the mother plant you like the best and discard the rest. You could also plant two sections in the same or larger container. When transplanting plants into a larger container, the general rule of thumb is to move them up one to two pot sizes; however with Christmas Cactus, I would only go up one size. They like to be pot- bound. They’ll skip a blooming cycle until the roots fill the soil area in the pot, if they are in too large a container. Finally, fertilize to encourage the new growth. While there are lots of right answers as to what to use, I prefer the time-release fertilizer Osmocote. A little bit of nutrients are released over a four month period.