Monday, September 30, 2013

In which I don't really say much about oca

(which autocorrect wants me to agree is "ova." No. Really no.)

Oca is one in the great list of Andean tubers, and you can read all about it here (it's William Woys Weaver! You know you want to). I ordered some tubers this spring, got them when it was too cold to plant them outside, forgot about them until well after the summer-vacation-that-happened-right-after-a-frost, and finally planted them (well-sprouted) in a planter. Where they are doing fine:

As you can see, they are an oxalis, related to common wood sorrel and also that gorgeous redwood sorrel we became acquainted with in California (and I nibbled on, mostly to show off).

Anyway, they are daylength-sensitive, and don't start forming their tubers until probably late October-early November (I checked today, and nope, no tubers), so this is going to be interesting. I guess I will cover the planter with some plastic braced up on... something, and hope I can keep them from getting frost-bitten until it's time for harvest.

I was thinking of taking the planter along to the Harvest Festival this weekend, but I don't think I want to explain all of that to anyone who asks. So maybe next year, if I manage to grow them out successfully this year. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Defiance and information

Before I go off to do some actual gardening, here's today's little bit of philosophy.

I had another one of those conversations the other day, the one in which it comes up that I'm a gardener, and the other person says, "That takes special skill. I can't grow anything; I kill every plant I touch. I don't have a green thumb."

Which of course first off makes me think of this bit from my favorite Henry Mitchell essay:

There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises.
Defiance is what makes gardeners, he says, and to a large extent, and especially on a large scale, I think that's true. But the other thing that makes gardeners is information. Of course you kill plants if you have no idea what their needs are, where to put them, how to take care of them. No one would, for example, adopt a dog without finding out how much it needs to be fed each day, that access to water is required, that it needs to be taken out to poop. (Or if they would, I don't want to know them.) This isn't even getting into issues of training or veterinary care, or geeky stuff like clipping poodles or teaching frisbee catching.

You don't get cited for cruelty if you mistreat plants, and their deaths are usually less painful than those of pets, but the need for information is just as critical, and people don't realize that. Nor do most retail outlets emphasize it, though good garden centers have staff members who can answer questions - if customers know to ask them, which they often don't. Just... take a plant home and stick it in the ground, right? Or, sometimes, try to grow it in the same tiny pot you bought it in.

I like to think I've saved quite a few lives in my time as a Master Gardener. (Lives of plants only, I assume.) But anyone who bothers to learn something about gardening can pass on what they've learned, and often it's the really basic stuff that people need to hear. "You need to water this," is likely number one. ("You need to water this less" is certainly in the top ten, too.)

Also: "It's okay to make mistakes." And with that, I'm going to go off and make a few. :)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Snake in lieu of content

Missed another day. Clearly I just don't have something to say about gardening every day, or more likely just don't think of blogging.

I already posted this on GIEI, but have a snake I dug up in my community garden plot:

I believe it's an Eastern worm snake.

It startled me slightly, but I did not scream; I think I said "Hey, you're a snake."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The photo that should have accompanied yesterday's post

Because this is how you get sweet potato greens home from the garden.

I was thinking of posting a photo of the sweet potato latkes and titling it "Things Fall Apart" because they did kinda, but I guess I'll save that for Grow It Eat It. I actually bothered to look up curing sweet potatoes today (I always want to eat them right away, but I do recognize that in general they are better if cured) and frankly there is no way I'm putting a space heater on in the bathroom for ten days without stopping, and it's just not warm enough outside, so they are sitting on the hot water heater now and taking their chances. I'm not sure whether purple sweet potatoes want to develop their sugars, or, not to be anthropomorphic, whether I want them to, but I suppose it won't hurt to sample them at different stages. The latkes were certainly not lacking flavor, but as I've noted before, the flavor isn't what you expect from a sweet potato. But I'm not going to let lack of proper curing stop me from eating them.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Eat your greens

We've been in the habit of cooking up greens to always have in the fridge for lunches and dinners (and, for my husband, breakfast; I'm not quite ready to go there) - because they're nutritious and, if not boiled to death, delicious.

Over the weekend I discovered that sweet potato greens and the leaves of Hibiscus sabdariffa go really well together (if you don't happen to have either of these around, spinach and sorrel (real French sorrel, not the aforementioned hibiscus which is also called Jamaican sorrel) would be a similar combination. Today's batch was Tuscan kale that had been in the fridge too long and needed to be eaten NOW, more sweet potato greens (I have rather a lot of them available), and kohlrabi (roots and whatever leaves looked decent).

The basic recipe (it's one of those I Don't Have To Think About It recipes) goes something like this:

Clean and chop up your greens. If they're on the tough side, steam them for 5-10 minutes (I do this with collards and kale and anything similar). You can also add other vegetables; things like kohlrabi root do need to be steamed, and things like peppers don't.

Chop up or slice some onions. Add some olive oil to a pan and cook the onions about 10 minutes or until soft. Add the greens; stir occasionally so things don't stick. Add any seasonings you want: garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, spices, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are not crunchy.

At the last minute, add some chopped nuts and/or dried fruit (I'm fond of pecans and cranberries). You can also fry up some bacon and crumble that in, or use bits of cooked ham (especially country ham, mm) or sausage. (I'm out of the habit of doing that since Vegetarian Son was home for the summer, but I'll try to remember next time.)

We did this mostly with frozen greens last winter (fresh are usually available, but frozen are convenient) and I'm hoping we'll have enough of our own home-grown in the freezer to not have to buy for a while. I can start harvesting collards next week.

And now I'm going to try sweet potato latkes...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The cycle, not the instant

Crap, I missed posting yesterday. The day got away from me, what can I say: but I'm sure there was something I could have noted.

What I've got for today is another Henry Mitchell quote, which I think illustrates my failure to find an appropriate subject quite nicely. There is always something in Henry Mitchell that fits. He's like Shakespeare, with complaints about too many marigolds.


It is the spectrum, not the color, that makes color worth having, and it is the cycle, not the instant, that makes the day worth living. Sometimes the big thing in the gardener's day is irises and roses and peonies all together in a gorgeousness suitable for keeling over at. Other days it is a squirrel loading a dry oak leaf in his mouth--God only knows why he picks one and not another, but he shops around--and you would think from his nervousness with the leaf that he was carrying a bushel of lightbulbs across the Beltway.

There will be a post tomorrow. About something.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Yes, We Have Purple Sweet Potatoes

And you can't tell from that photo, but they are really purple, both inside and out. They are sitting in the sun curing right now, which improves the flavor and makes the storage time longer.

I grew some of these last year, but they weren't very prolific. This year I gave them more space (under the tomatoes, but still) and left them in the ground longer, and got a lot more. This (plus about 30 percent extra you can't see in the shot) is one plant's worth, and I have six, so we are going to be eating a lot of purple sweet potatoes.

I have described the taste before by saying that orange sweet potatoes are to orange juice as purple sweet potatoes are to burgundy; it's a rich, complicated flavor and not nearly as sweet as the orange or white types. I'll have plenty of experimental volume, but it's good to have recipes to start with, and a blog makes a good bookmarking device, so:

What the Heck is a Purple Sweet Potato and How Do You Cook It?

Purple Sweet Potato Latkes

Mashed Purple Sweet Potatoes

Stokes Purple Sweet Potato Recipes

Stokes Purple Sweet Potato Pinterest page

Note: these are not Stokes purple sweet potatoes - the variety is called All Purple - but I figure the taste is much the same. I'll report back either here or on Grow It Eat It or both.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Musical interlude

I'm in a very musical mood today, so here is a nice little track superficially about gardening: Hem's Things Are Not Perfect in Our Yard. Which is, you know, an accurate description of my life.

Also here they are in a live performance of "The Seed." They do quite a few botanical songs, actually, that fit nicely into a playlist I have called "Soil." The most shocking of which is The Sparrows' cover of "The Gardener" (it's about murder. I own a surprising number of songs about murder).

Tomorrow you get purple sweet potatoes, but that's all for today.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Monticello experience

If I'm trying to post every day, it's probably cheating to link to a post I made on another blog, but that's what you get today:

Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival: my experience, on Grow It Eat It

Here, you can have the photo here too:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Spoonbread and cornfields

Today's post will be mostly incoherent flailing because I drove a lot today and I have a headache, but I just want to say how much I really love my fellow Master Gardeners and the Extension staff who support them, and how fun it's been to go to Grow It Eat It statewide meeting for the last 5 years. I was in on the program from the beginning, November 2008, when some ridiculously huge number of us stuffed ourselves into a meeting room at the 4H center in College Park, and the enthusiasm for the goal of educating people about growing their own food was... well, good enough to taste.

Today was our second annual potluck meeting (somehow it took us a while to think of doing that) and since our Eastern Shore friends in Queen Anne County volunteered to host, that's where we went, at least those of us willing to drive that far. It was a bit short of two hours for me, in rush hour traffic (just in the first half, since hardly anyone commutes Washington to Annapolis let alone over the Bay Bridge. The same on the way back, of course, but not quite as slow). There was a whole nice spread for breakfast, and then after we did reports and took a hay ride around the Wye Education Center's research fields (there was a lot of corn), we had what everyone had brought for lunch.  Which was all great, though there were far more desserts than I could eat.  I brought leek and corn spoonbread.

Also I brought pickled mouse melons, and yacon roots for everyone to slice up and munch on, and roselle hibiscus stems with edible leaves and flowers to make tea out of. I am resigned to being the weird one, okay? Though I guess spoonbread is pretty normal, at least if you're vaguely Southern. I'd never made it before last week; now I think I'm really into it.

But yeah. All those people are so nice. And you can have meaningful conversations about fig trees and harlequin bugs and the things people say when they visit your demo gardens, and everyone goes home infectiously ready to take on new projects, and hopefully a few of them actually come to fruition, which is the kind of horticultural metaphor I could make work if I weren't so tired.

I promise I'll have photos again someday. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I really think it is time to get one of these:

I'm amused by the perfect lawn sprouting random apples in the photo, but what we need it for is Oh My God So Many Freaking Black Walnuts Month every fall. I was tired of bending over and picking them up when I was thirty, and now that I am considerably older it's just asking for back injury. Last fall I amused myself sufficiently during collections by having a brand new iPhone with actual 21st century music-playing capacity, but I'm accustomed enough to that luxury now that it would take a whole lot more to keep me entertained during the Walnut Torture, and I've already listened to all of both "Cabin Pressure" and "Welcome to Night Vale."

Actually I think this is a relatively light year as far as walnuts go (it does vary according to atmospheric conditions or whim of the Walnut Gods), but still. Last year it was like a carpet.

(By the way, in my can't-help-noticing-typos way: the list of things you can pick up includes "liquid amber seed balls," which I think is autocorrect for "liquidambar" or sweetgum. We have those too, but they're out in the Way Back where we don't step on them all the time. Having the walnuts around is just asking for sprained ankles.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Ah, I forgot what today was: the day I really needed to order bulbs before it got ridiculously too late. So I did.

When you create a new bed, as I did in the spring (curving between the mock orange and the pagoda tree, along the edge of the driveway), you're supposed to put in shrubs and trees first (three viburnums went in, check) and then (because they have to be dug in deep) bulbs, and then perennials after that. Because I'm getting organized so late, that's the only place I plan to plant bulbs this fall ("plan" being the operative word; I may find other spaces that require bulbs, but I'll likely be shopping locally for those).

I'd thought I'd be searching through the John Scheepers website and settling for what was left, but actually a lot is left, so I had to make choices. I got 50 Valerie Finnis muscari (the pale blue ones) for the inner edge, where I won't be able to dig deep because there's so much gravel, and 60 assorted narcissi for the rest. And that was as far as I got; I guess I'll fill in the summer bloom with low-growing perennials.

Jonquilla narcissus 'Curlew' from John Scheepers
Also I quickly solved the "so many daffodils how can I ever decide" problem by (some people who know why will laugh here) choosing the ones named after birds, so I have ten each of Quail, Curlew, Jack Snipe, Dickcissel, Falconet, and Pheasant's Eye. I hope they go well together, because that's it and I am moving on to the next thing.

*dusts hands*

Monday, September 16, 2013

Unnecessary things

So today, true to form, what you get is a Henry Mitchell quote:

In brief, I am no stranger to the anxieties or disappointments of a garden. A fine gardener once said his garden had a certain origin: "This garden is the result of doing unnecessary things which we could not afford at the wrong time of the year," he used to say, and the garden was quite beautiful. Of my own garden I might add, in addition to all that, "and furthermore nothing is doing all that well and it looks utterly hopeless."

He does give the essay an optimistic turn after that, and so do I hope to, with regard mostly to the dreadful jungle mentioned here yesterday. But I do have a lovely and growing pile of weeds of which something may be made: compost, I hope.

More tomorrow, probably about the demo garden, or possibly leek spoonbread.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A celebration of stonecrop sedums

Well, so much for posting regularly, but I'm going to amend that: I'm setting a goal of posting something every day for the next month, even if it's just a bit of whimsy or a photograph or a quote. (Warning: I am rereading Henry Mitchell.)

Anyway, it's the 15th again and that means Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I was going to post a selection of what's blooming in my yard, but what I ended up doing was taking a zillion photos of my tall sedums (stonecrop) which Carol at May Dreams informs me is now known as Hylotelephium telephium, which sounds like someone stuttering on the phone, but never mind. It's certainly the most impressive thing I have right now, aside from the incredibly gaudy magenta aster right on the street edge which people are probably judging me for though I don't care. Okay, I'll throw in a picture of that at the end.

But, the sedums. I don't have the variety names (half of them are probably Autumn Joy and the other half... not) because I've lost the tags and/or I got them as hand-me-downs.


And here is the aster, in all its eye-popping glory:

And there we are: September. See you tomorrow; I swear I'm going to make this happen.