Yearly Archives: 2013

Ugly, But Tasty, Old Fruit

Today’s fruit du jour is medlar (Mespilus germanica), one of the most-disgusting-looking fruits you could imagine. Don’t stop reading! Medlar was a popular fruit in the Middle Ages, and with good reason. Charlemagne was so taken by this fruit that he decreed that it be planted in every town he conquered. Medlar needs some contemporary pr.

Let’s get those bad looks out of the way. Picture a small apple with a rough, russeted skin and the calyx end — the end opposite the stem — flared open. Not very pretty, eh? That homely appearance gave rise to

some not-so-complimentary nicknames. “Open-arse” fruit, for example, by Chaucer. Or, from Shakespeare, more discretely, “open-etcetera.”

Ugliness, for medlars, is not just skin deep. When harvested, which was a few weeks ago here, the fruits are white and rock hard within, and not ready for …

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Mulchercising with a Cat

I’m getting a lot of mulchercise here at the farmden these days. It’s good for me and good for the ground and, in turn, my plants.

Four piles of materials await me: a pile each of new and old wood chips, and a pile each of new and old leaves. The new pile of leaves is going to sit out this year’s mulchercise sessions. After a winter of settling and some decomposition, that pile will be just right for being planted with squash and melon plants. The lanky vines can run wild over the pile through summer and then, next year at this time, I’ll spread the much-reduced pile.

Last year’s leaf pile, from which I harvested this year’s squashes and melons, is part of my present mulchercise. The now dark brown material is getting hauled over to and spread beneath currant bushes, over the asparagus and flower beds, …

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Cold? No Problem.

Brrrr! The mercury plummeted to nine degrees Fahrenheit in my garden a couple of weeks ago. Yet I was still harvesting fresh salad greens. And I don’t mean kale and Brussels sprouts; they’re tasty and still available in my “back forty,” but tender and succulent they are not. Likewise, I don’t mean turnips, carrots, or other root crops that can nestle in the relative warmth of the earth. (My root crops anyway were pulled and packed away into a box for winter storage.)

What I am talking about is lettuce, endive, and Chinese cabbage. These vegetables, which ARE tender and succulent, must have antifreeze in their cells to be able to remain so in the face of such cold temperatures. Actually, that’s not far off: With gradual exposure to increasingly colder temperatures, cold-hardy plants are able to move water out of their cells into the spaces between the cells, …

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Beans, Beans, . . . and Blueberries

Deb and David gather around the kitchen table as the contenders are brought forth, each steeped in its own cooking juice in a custard cup. The event is the long-awaited bean test, home-grown Cannellini beans vs. store-bought Cannellini beans vs. home-grown Calypso (Yin Yang) beans. Mostly, we are interested in

whether the home-grown Cannellini’s would be better than the store bought, a possible reason being that stored, dry beans get tougher with age.

I planted a very short row of the Cannellini and of Calypso beans back in the middle of May. I do mean short, only about 5 feet each. After all, this planting was for testing, not for production.

The beans I planted, as well as kidney beans, pinto beans, and some other dry beans, and green beans, share the same botanical lineage, Phaseolus vulgaris. All can be grown just like green beans …

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A Seedy Time of Year

Around here, eating fruit isn’t always just about eating fruit. Following my last bite of this Macoun apple I’m eating, I flick out the seeds with a paring knife into a cup. Same goes for pears and their seeds. Early in summer, I spit out Nanking cherry seeds into a waiting vessel. All these seeds are for planting,

Seeds of these cold hardy plants won’t sprout as soon as they hit moist, warm dirt. If they did, the young seedlings would be snuffed out by winter cold. It is after a period of exposure to cool, moist conditions that they — thinking winter over — sprout. Seeds in dropping fruits, of course, enjoy this experience naturally and poke up through the ground first thing next spring,

Wanting to keep a close eye on my seedlings, I plant them in pots and seed flats rather than let them do what …

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Fruit of the Gods (and So Easy)

Every taste reaffirms the botanical name, Diospyros, which translates as “food of the gods” (or, more poetically, “Jove’s grain”). And, as usual, this time of year, the crop is good so tastes are aplenty. I’m

Sukis American persimmon & Jiro kaki

referring to persimmons, American persimmons, a fruit you’ve got to grow to enjoy because, when ripe, they’re too soft to travel much further than arm’s length, from tree to mouth. Eating them is like eating dried apricots that have been plumped up in water, dipped in honey, and given a dash of spice.

All this god-like fruit comes at little cost in terms of time or know-how. Once established, the plant does not call out for pruning or even for help against insects or diseases. Just enjoy. The only caveat is to start out with a good tasting variety that ripens within the growing …

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SEEDS OF ALL STRIPES

Finally, after many years, I made it to the library. No, not the book library. The seed library, the Hudson Valley Seed Library.

Hudson Valley Seed Library is neither an ordinary library nor an ordinary seed vendor. It all started in 2004 in a book library, the public library in Gardiner, NY, where Ken Greene was working as a librarian. Working where people borrow and return books got him thinking about — why not? — setting up a library where people “borrow” seeds and return them also. With seeds, the “returns” are even better than with books. One borrowed seed of an annual vegetable or flower gives, in return, hundreds of seeds by the end of the season, in addition to tasty vegetables or colorful flowers.

Ken eventually left the Gardiner Library to put his energy into growing — literally — what became the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which began …

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Too Much Respect, Walnut Tech, and Nasturtium Homage

Last week I wrote that popcorn “don’t get no respect,” but should. This week: garlic, why so much respect?. It may be sacrilege — although it was not the case 50 years ago — to say that I’m not crazy over garlic. The amount of space people now devote to garlic in even small gardens never ceases to amaze me. If pressed for garden space, I’d fill every square inch with tomatoes, peppers, peas, and other vegetables that you can sink your teeth into right out in the garden, rather than garlic. You can’t purchase that experience; you can by garlic.

Okay, I do grow some garlic. But not well. My garlic’s roots don’t get to wallow in soft, mellow, compost-enriched, drip-irrigated soil along with my other vegetables. The cloves get tucked in an out of the way place where neighboring plants force its green shoots to stretch for light and …

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Grainy Successes

The problem with popcorn is that it “don’t get no respect.” Sure, it’s a fun food, nice to toss into your mouth while you watch a movie. But that’s been the case only since the 1930s.

Popcorn is a grain, a whole grain, as good a source of nourishment as wheat, rice, rye, or any other grain. Popcorn was among the foods brought by native Americans to the first Thanksgiving dinner. For anyone who likes the idea of raising their own grain, popcorn is a good choice. It’s easy to grow, it’s easy to process, and it’s easy to save seed from one year to the next. I grow two varieties — Pink Pearl and Dutch Butter-flavored — and have saved seed from my plantings for over 20 years.

Every year I plant two beds of popcorn, each bed 10 feet long by 3 feet wide. Growing popcorn is …

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