Reading about the history of spelt and emmer today, I discovered that Wikipedia has a category devoted to underutilized crops—it’s a term of art in agricultural biodiversity circles—highlighting 95 crops that don’t see a lot of agrarian action these days. There’s some interesting stuff in there, like Dioscorea opposita, the lube yam, and the only one suitable for eating raw. Or the tantalizingly brief entry on Kañiwa, an Andean quinoa relative whose “domestication is not complete.”
That’s it, really. Note to self: read more about underutilized crops.
Over the winter, the neglected remnants of our summer garden had come to resemble the setting of an H.R. Giger painting and, last weekend, C and I could stand it no more. Much cleaning and clearing happened on Sunday and — though the raised beds aren’t ready, yet — I’ve gotten a small start on Herbs 2007 by planting in a couple of reclaimed containers.
I can be tenderhearted to a fault and have let many a plant languish in our garden, being hesitant to seal even the weakest plant’s doom. No more! I have completely cleared the herb garden of slug bitten sage and sprawling, slimy oregano and emptied many a terracotta pot populated with half-hearted plant volunteers (strawberries that rarely fruited, twiggy lavender, etc., etc.). As I dug about, I was reminded that the herb garden had not been as deeply cultivated as the raised beds. I found significant amounts of clay not far below its surface — perhaps the reason for the underperforming herbs of the past?
Now that the once herb garden is clear, C and I are thinking that it might better be used as a tomato patch. I am also interested in seeing if I can create a viable herb garden with only containers (though basil will go into the garden proper when the time comes).
Yesterday, I sowed cilantro in a large green pot — hopefully roomy enough not to cramp the taproots. I’ve had little luck with cilantro in the herb garden up to this point. It is usually weak, leggy and swift to bolt. I hope it will do better in loose potting soil.
Tonight, I sowed parsley seed that had been soaked in water in a dark place for 24 hours. The folk wisdom on the inside of the Botanical Interests™ seed packet suggested soaking as well as watering in, once sown, with warm water. I dumped the entire packet of seed into a container a smidge smaller than the green one containing the cilantro. I followed all the folk advice save spacing the seeds. I figure that there is no need to be stingy — the seed “sell by” date is 12/06 so I’ll be happy if anything germinates. I’ll thin like crazy if it’s called for in the future.
August is a pretty exciting month in our garden. Grapes, peppers and early cascade tomatoes are ripening. We’ve had to pick green beans every other day or so for the last couple of weeks. The potato plants are lush and blooming thanks to some tweaking of the drip irrigation system. The lemon cucumbers are bountiful as are the zucchini and yellow squash.
Some disappointments: The eggplants are still weak looking and the yellow currant hasn’t produced as much ripe fruit as I would have expected by this point in the growing season — certainly not on par with our usual small tomato of choice, the sungold (which we, sadly, couldn’t track down this year).
The Black Krim tomatoes are still very green, I hope we get some ripe ones before the weather becomes unfavorable!
The Italian Honey Fig tree has set an abundance of fruit this year and it looks like the first figs of the season are ready for picking.
From my experience, figs aren’t really ripe until they appear a touch over-ripe and ready to fall off the tree. Look at the fig with brown spots in the lower right of this photo. That looks about right. Figs are very sensual fruits when they are mature, the ripe one appears to be weeping sticky fig juice onto its neighbor. Of course, it would figure that those first ripe specimens would be just out of my arm’s reach.
In all previous years, I’ve taken the presence of ants as a sign of ripeness. They seem to have a sixth-sense about ripe, oozy figs and can be seen running in and out of the fig’s pore when the fruit is at its peak. Strangely, I haven’t seen any ants on the tree this year. I wonder if there has been some trouble in the ant community.
I was going to mention the towering flowering beans, but C has already done so. Of all the plants in the garden, they seem to be the ones that most capture his attention. What can it mean?
All the watering we’ve employed to combat the recent 100+ degree temperatures has really made the weeds in the garden walk happy. They are knee high in spots. It’s a jungle out there.
My poor Correnta Hybrid Spinach. Most of the seedlings died in the last heat wave, and those that survived have now bolted before reaching a consumable, useful size. So much for my summer spinach experiment.
I was surprised to find a few ripe strawberries in the garden this morning. Looks like the berries in the back left of the strawberry patch are ever bearing. I wish I could remember the name of that particular berry (Hood?). The berries themselves are not your typical store-bought strawberry shape, they are oddly lumpy, but they are very tasty.
The Fasolds have long since topped their strings and are now engaged in further sky-reaching endeavors, twining around one-another in an attempt at the Indian rope trick of sorts. They’re all a-flower now — started sometime mid last week — so I should expect to see some wee beanage on them shortly.
The Climbing French, on the other hand, are of markedly different inclination. They’re only half the height of the Fasolds at the moment, but the cunning things put off multiple vines, so it’s not surprising. Fasolds just have the one, central runner from which they leaf, flower and bean-up. The Climbing French are at least bifurcate, if not more — I haven’t rustled about in them to count the number of branchings — so one can imagine that their energy is somewhat divided. No flowers ‘pon them yet.
Ah, and speaking of flowers, the very heavily scented Stargazer lilies began to open on or about July 18th. Man, they have a heady scent. Particularly at night.
One or two of the Italian honey figs (Lattarulla) are looking ripe as well. The recent 100° days can’t have hurt … though come to think of it, I’m not sure if figs care about growing degree days or not. Anyway, figs soon. Hooray.
I was redirecting a few Fasolds that had strayed from their allotted strings the other day and noticed that they were all twining in a counterclockwise fashion (as seen from above). Apparently this is the case for almost all beans, though runners twist clockwise for some reason. Can’t say I’d paid particular attention before. Whaddayaknow.
The lettuce has bolted. All of it. I blame several days of temps around 100°F, but they probably weren’t long for the table anyway. A couple of weeks of salads didn’t begin to put a dent in the rows that I planted (all at once, I might add. Thus the merits of succession planting are made manifest), so there’s a wealth of vegetable matter headed for the compost bin.
The beans are bolting upward as well, in a good way. The Fasolds are much more spry than the French Climbings — the former are climbin’ the twine with a vigor, while the latter are just looking promisingly leafy. Not a lotta vine action from them yet.
Oh, and we have tomatoes. Green, yes, but they’ve all set some early fruit. Strange, given that they’re still relatively wee, height-wise (dwarfed by the 10′ cages they’re planted in), but doing their thing.
And yeah, damn the aphids. Never found anything kind to apply to the Brussels sprouts — not that we looked that hard — and previous experience has been borne out in spades, as they almost vanish beneath a milky-grey layer of insect love. Eh, it was but a lark. I’m not interested in high-maintenance crops anyway. Take that, brassica family!
The beans emerged last weekend — the Fortex were followed by the Climbing French within a day. All the tomato plants are still small, but they are blooming and growing. The strawberries are still producing, but at a lesser rate than last week. Still, I had enough berries for my cereal this morning. The lettuce is still gorgeous and tasty. In honor of our lettuce crop, C and I dubbed last week The Week of Salads and managed to have dinner size salads last Sunday through Thursday. We’ve eaten two whole heads of the Romaine and now I must find some summer friendly lettuce starts or seeds to take their now empty places.
The eggplants have a dusty, sickly look. I wish I had photographed them previously, then I would know for sure whether they have grown since they were planted. I’ll give ‘em a dose of fish emulsion and hope that helps. The brussel sprouts continue to be aphidy — we have yet to try anything to remedy it. We have no good excuse for this.
Inspired by the perfectly ripe local strawberries on the market right now, and the red speckled leaves of our lettuce, I concocted a super tasty salad of my own imagining. I’ve written out the recipe below. Feel free to swap any of the ingredients, but keep in mind that the strawberries must be perfectly ripe for the recipe to achieve super tastiness.
Ms. A_’s Strawberry-Balsamic Salad
- 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
- 3/4 – 1 pint fresh strawberries, perfectly ripe, sliced
Ripeness is important!
- Balsamic Vinegar
I used Lucini 10 year Gran Riserva Balsamico
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 head of Romaine lettuce
Forellenschuss is tasty and its maroon speckled green leaves look beautiful with strawberries
- 1 or 2 handfuls of sunflower seeds, toasted and salted
- 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
We used Rogue Creamery’s “Smokey Blue“
- Coarse salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Rub the inside of a large salad bowl thoroughly with a halved garlic clove (my recommended first step for almost any green salad). Mince remaining garlic and add directly to the bowl. Using your own discretion regarding the amounts, add balsamic vinegar and olive oil in equal proportions directly to the bowl. I think I used about 2 tablespoons of each, but I just eyeballed it so I can’t say for certain. Add coarse salt, fresh-ground black pepper and sliced strawberries. Mix gently. Some of the strawberries will dissolve a bit, creating a strawberry vinaigrette. Wash and dry lettuce, then tear leaves into slightly larger than bite size pieces — we’re going for rusticity here. Toss ‘em in the bowl. Add sunflower seeds and blue cheese crumbles. Toss until every leaf is well coated. Serve and enjoy!
On the subject of the hedge, I had a couple of plant ideas for the curvy bed that C has recently re-exposed. Perhaps we should investigate mosses? Scotch moss likes shade and even flowers part of the year.
Then again, nix mosses — an ornamental grass would be a more appropriate scale for the giant hedges. Japanese Forest Grass (otherwise known as Hakonechloa macra ) is perennial, likes shade, goes well with hostas, and comes in a a number of varieties (Albostriata, All Gold and Aureola, to name a few). I just read about a new variety “Beni Kaze” that turns bright red in the fall, but have not been able to find any pictures. From my cursory internet research, it seems highly sought after and probably a bit spendier than its cousins.