Author Archives: Lee Reich

FRUITS OF ISRAEL

Olives Galore

Now I feel foolish buying olives. I recently returned from visiting Israel where there were olive trees everywhere. Irrigated plots of greenery thrived in the broad expanses of the otherwise grays and browns of the desert. Trees popped up here and there in backyards and front yards of homes in streets lined with apartment buildings as well as along cobblestone streets in rural areas. Trees were even prominent in city parks, either as self-sown wildings in less tended areas or as formal plantings.

And oodles of ripe or ripening olives were clinging to branches or littering the ground. Need some hand lotion? Just pluck a ripe olive, squeeze it gently, and spread out the fresh oil that drips onto your hand. 

Want some olives for eating? Not so fast. Fresh-picked ripe or green olives are extremely bitter (due to oleuropein). That bitterness is removed with brine, multiple changes of water or …

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MORE AUTUMNAL NEATENING

An Upbeat Closing

I don’t know about you all, but I have a great urge to tidy up my garden this time of year. Partly it’s because doing so leaves one less thing to do in spring and partly because, as Charles Dudley Warner wrote in My Summer in the Garden in 1889, “the closing scenes need not be funereal.” All this tidying up is usually quite enjoyable.

Moist soil – and not too, too many weeds – make weeding fun. Creeping Charlie (also know as gill-over-the-ground) has sneaked into some flower beds. Its creeping stems are not yet well-rooted so one tug with a gloved hand and a bunch of escaping stems slithers back from its travels forward from beneath and among flower plants and shrubs. What remains are occasional tufts of grassy plants, especially crabgrass, easily wrenched out of the ground or coaxed out with my Hori-Hori garden knife.

This tidying …

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A MONTH OF RECOGNITION

Good in the Lab

National Fruit Fly Month — October — has drawn to a close. (That designation is my own, not the federal government’s.) Sure, a few still flit about here and there. But no longer do clouds of them hover over bowls of fruit in my kitchen. In case you haven’t experienced them, fruit flies, Drosophila species, are cute little (about 1/8 inch long) flies that feast on overripe and damaged fruit as well as other plant material.

I, and perhaps you, were first introduced to fruit flies in middle school biology, raising them on some mix of banana and agar-agar. In those days, I got more intimate with them as part of a science project: My project was to test whether x-rays cause mutations. My dentist agreed to help. After raising a batch of flies, I went to his office and laid a vial of them on the dental …

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YOGI WAS RIGHT

To Do List

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over” said Yogi Berra, and so says I. Yes, the outdoor gardening season is drawing to a close around here, but I have a checklist (in my head) of things to do before finally closing the figurative and literal garden gate.

Trees, shrubs, and woody vines can be planted as long as the ground remains unfrozen. To whit, I lifted a few Belaruskaja black currant bushes from my nursery row and replanted them in the partial shade between pawpaw trees. A Wapanauka grape vine, also in the nursery row, is now where the Dutchess grape — berries too small and with ho-hum flavor — grew a couple of months ago. And today a couple of black tupelos are moving out from the nursery row to the edge of the woods, where their crimson leaves, the first to turn color, can welcome in autumn each …

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TASTING AND TIDYING, OR NOT

Fruit Heaven

Hudson’s Golden Gem apple

I remember a few years ago of having a most fruitful — and I mean this very literally — experience visiting one of the USDA’s germplasm repositories. “Germplasm repository” doesn’t sound like the kind of place anyone would want to be, but these USDA repositories are, in fact, sunny, colorful places, often redolent with enticing aromas. In the case of the one I visited, the aroma was of ripening apples.

Germplasm is the stuff that gives rise to an organism, and the USDA has set up repositories around the country to house various kinds of plants. Each repository is situated where a particular group of plants grows well. So Davis, California is home to the repository for figs, pomegranates, and Asian persimmons; Corvallis, Oregon is the repository for pears, gooseberries, and mint; and Geneva, New York, where I visited, houses the collections of apples and …

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Battle for Figs: Victory

Some History

I don’t know the score over the years, but this year’s victory is mine. The battles have been with scale insects, both armored scales and their cousins, mealybugs (but rarely both in the same year), on my greenhouse fig plants.

Those fig plants are planted in the ground in a minimally heated greenhouse, where winter temperatures can sink to about 35°F. The oldest of these plants have trunks 8 inches in diameter. They thrived for years without any pest problems, scale of otherwise. A few years ago, the insects made their appearance, sometimes ruining almost the whole crop.

Over the years I fought them in various ways. One year it was spraying the dormant plants with alcohol. Another year it was, more aggressively, scrubbing trunks and stems of dormant plants with a toothbrush dipped in alcohol. Ants herd and protect scale insects, so another year I fenced the ants off the …

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Colorful, Sometimes Tasty, Ground

Lurid Ground

Lurid, violet flowers have sprouted in the wood chip mulch beneath my row of dwarf pear trees. The flowers are autumn crocuses, the first part of the two-part flowery show that takes place each autumn in that piece of ground.

The second part of that flowery show, soon to follow, will be autumn crocuses. “But,” you exclaim, “autumn crocuses were the first part of the show!” Let me explain.

This first show is from a flower called autumn crocus but which is botanically a Colchicum species. It’s not really a crocus, not even related. Colchicum flowers resemble true crocus flowers, on steroids. The second show will be from true crocuses (that is, Crocus species) that happen to bloom in autumn. The Crocus autumn crocuses are dainty and in colors like our spring crocuses.

What’s really unique about the colchicum flowers, and what makes them so striking, is that, first, they emerge from …

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GOOD LOOKS, GOOD TASTES

Kale’s Delights

I’m lucky enough to have a French window of two big, inward swinging panels out of which I can look over my vegetable garden every morning. Oddly enough, the garden bed that is catching my eyes these mornings for its beauty is the bed of kale plants.

No, it’s not a bed of one of the so-called colorful, ornamental kales, not even a reddish kale such as Russian Red. I mostly grow just plain old Blue Curled Scotch kale, which is no more bluish than any other kale, or any other member of the whole cabbage family for that matter. What catches my eye each morning is the frilliness of the leaves and how neatly they line up along the stalk. It’s pretty.

My vision could be swayed by the fact that kale is such a healthful vegetable, being especially rich in calcium and vitamin A. Or the fact that it’s …

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SOW NOW?

Next Year’s ‘Chokes

Ahh, such a leisurely time of year to sow seeds. And for some of them, I don’t care if they don’t sprout for months. You might wonder: Why sow now; why so laid back?

I’ll start with artichoke, from whose seeds I did want to see sprouts soon. And I did. The seeds germinate readily. Right now, a few small seedlings are growing, each in its own “cell” of a seed flat, enjoying the cool, sunny weather.

Artichoke is a perennial whose natural life cycle is (usually) to grow leaves its first year, then edible buds its second year and for a few years hence. Especially in colder regions, artichokes can sometimes grown from seed like annuals, with a wrinkle.

To make that transition from growing only leaves to growing flower buds, the plants need to get vernalized, that is, to experience some winter cold. Except that winter cold here in …

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