Onion sauce, onion sauce!

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Growing up in Northern Ohio, garlic is about the spiciest thing I’m prepared to deal with.

Last Fall, I planted one 4×4 plot, half with softneck garlic, and half with hardneck garlic (above).  I covered the planting with a thick mulch of grass clippings, and in the spring, the stalks started appearing.  Because of the thick mulch, I never needed to do much  in the way of weeding, and by mid-June, I was rewarded with a nice crop of medium-sized garlic bulbs, each composed of a nice set of cloves. 

After doing a photo session in an outdoor studio, I left them in the basement to cure, and other than a few that rotted, the rest of them turned out OK. If anybody had wanted to braid them, which nobody did, the softnecks would have been suitable.

 I also experimented with Egyptian Walking Onions this year. Like the garlic, instead of a flower, the top of the stalk grows bulblets, which can be planted to grow more onions.  The fun thing about walking onions is that the bulblets, which are shallot-sized and formed, and can be eaten like shallots, sprout new stalks, which get their own set of smaller bulblets. Eventually, the weight becomes too great for the stalk, and it falls over, usually setting root and forming a new plant. Around mid-Summer, I planted a set of the larger bulbs, and we’ve been treating their sprouts, which are still in good shape, as a sort of green onion. I picked a couple hand fulls of stalks last week, chopped them up, and froze them.  The original bulbs, planted this time last year, have multiplied and need to be separated.  This isn’t considered the most flavorful of onions, but its super easy to grow, reproducing itself year after year with minimal attention from the gardner.

My chives are doing well, also, setting bunches of big purple flowers.  There are two nice big clumps in the garden right now, and they might benefit from separation.  If I get ambitious, I’ll pick and freeze some before winter.

There were two other representatives of the allium family in the veg patch this year.  First were a set of disappointingly small bulbs that I planted from seed.  I thought that they were a variety that would provide green onions, but what I ended up with were a set of tiny little shallot-sized bulbs that might have best served humanity if somebody had taken the trouble of pickling them. I would take the trouble of making gin martinis to use them up.  Elizabeth enjoys anything small enough to be legitimately referred to as ‘cute’, and she took on the task of peeling and using them for kabobs or something.  The biggest onion was a single large bulb type.  A lonely onion in a petunia patch, it was either a volunteer, or one that escaped a previous and less successful planting the previous year.  It grew a huge and complex white flower at the top of a 3′ tall stalk. I cut the flower and spent a week marvelling at it and trying to capture it photographically. We ate the onion.

Thanksgiving week is the traditional time for fall planting of onion bulbs and I took advantage of a lovely Sunday afternoon today, that peaked at 70 degrees, and planted 5 different varieties: Elephant Garlic, Romanian Red (porcelain-type Rocambole garlic), Italian (artichoke type softneck garlic), French Red Shallots (multiplier type), and Yellow Potato Onions (multiplier type).  All of those are on the small side, and I don’t know what I’ll do with them, other than have fun watching them grow.

 Having lucked into one large bulb type onion this year, I’m ready to plant some more. The guy who runs the organic market in Vienna told me last summer that he can get me some onion sets if I contact him in December, so I’ll give him a call soon.

Walled Flowers

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

I had visions of some sort of lush field of lovely yellow sunflowers, visible from my office window. I probably should have planted more than 6 of them.

Sunflowers, at least this variety, are considered a delicacy by just about everything that crawls, walks, or flies.  Half of my darling babies managed to survive a gauntlet of ground hogs, deer, and a bewildering variety of bugs, most of which are stink bugs, but at least one of which looked like a small scarab beetle.

Anticipating the benefits of heliotropism, I just assumed that the flowers would all sort of wave at me in my office window as the sun went over my head at noon.  Imagine my disappointment when the first two blossoms are pointed in almost opposite directions.  The seem to have issues with each other.

These are supposed to be MAMMOTH sunflowers.  One of them is about 5 foot tall, the other twice that (over 2 meters), with the third, which hasn’t yet bloomed, stuck in the middle. I expected a flower like a manhole cover on the biggest of these, if not on all of them.  What I got was a pinheaded sort of thing that barely unfolded today.

As it turns out, only the buds are heliotropic. Once they’ve flowered, they stay fixed, usually pointing east.  I’ve got one more yet to bloom, but at this point, the closest I can come to an entire girasol field, each facing the same direction in military discipline, will be for this one to split the compass difference, just as it split the height difference.  I wonder if it will bloom before the first flower (immediately above) is finished.

After a decade, does my garden remember me?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The last time I grew any veggies in my garden was 2000, and I didn’t have time to do much. That December, we packed up all our things and moved from Vienna, VA to Vienna, Austria, and for nine seasons, my garden was at the mercy of our tenants.  I’ve missed the feel of dirt in my hands, the thrill of God’s gift of life, and the taste of heritage tomatoes, fresh from the garden.  I knew that some gardening had taken place during the last 9 seasons, but I just didn’t know what I was going to find.

View from my office before cutting trees (looking north)

I didn’t really want to do any gardening this year without dealing with the trees that had always prevented the garden from having full access to the sun. Hundreds of white pines had been planted in our neighborhood in the 1980s, and three of them that were along the south edge of the vegetable garden, and what is left of the orchard, had grown into 50′ monsters. It was time to take them down.

Looking SW across the veggie garden

Looking SW across the veggie garden, 1 more tree to go

The photo above shows the last, and smallest of the trees, just after it was topped. The stump of a larger one can be seen just to the left of the compost bin. Besides the shade, it was making a mess of the garden, sending big roots diagonally underneath at least 6 of my 15 garden squares.  I ended up chopping out 2 big sections of root that are about 3’ long, and 3” in diameter that were distorting a frame and hiding berry roots. I put my new mattock to the test, and it held up better than I did, although a new shovel is not.

Raspberries have been dug out, but it still needed a lot more digging

I’m a follower of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening method.  Arguably it is not the most productive method, but I sure think it is the easiest, keeping the weeds to a dull roar and minimizing the need for digging, fertilizing, and spraying.  Someone had planted raspberry, which for very good reasons is not normally co-located with lettuce and beans, so this week saw me trying to clean the canes out of the 3 garden squares that were playing host to what was becoming a huge prickly weed that was ready to take over the rest of my garden. The photo above shows the 3 squares that needed to be cleansed of berry cane roots, which required removing the pavers between the squares.

I ended up pulling one of the wooden frames out to dig the root and berries out, I took the opportunity to dig down farther on the uphill side and level it, making it into sort of a mini terrace. I pulled up all the pavers around it, and the ones on the cross path heading to the edge of the garden, and did some grading, hopefully improving the drainage.  The last tenant also had at least one dog, and had nailed wire mesh fence around most of the squares, so I spent a couple hours pulling those off, instead of taking advantage of 78 degree weather to plant.   One of the garden squares had a small bush growing in it, so I ended up disassembling the wooden frame to dig out the bush. Putting in a new frame is a project for later. Maybe I’ll grow potatoes there.  I’ve never done ‘taters before, and I’m going to plant 4 different varieties later this week. 

Raspberries have been dug out, the bush and mesh fencing is next to go


Berries and bushes and other barriers aside, I was pleased with the dirt.  Unlike the red Virginia clay a few inches underground, the plots that I dug up were filled with rich dark soil, with lots of fat earth worms.  I was more than a little worried that after a decade without me, all the organic matter would have leached out, but that seems not to be the case. Although they are well dug at this point, I decided to leave the raspberry squares for later, on the assumption that any roots left behind would sprout and be easier to find later.  I quickly and lightly fluffed up one 4×4 square and planted peas, spinach, lettuce, and radish. I decided to take a chance and went no-till on the 2nd square. I find that lots of plants do just fine without my wasting time doing preparation that they don’t need. Besides, all that digging freaks out the worms.
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Little Lambs Actually Eat Lettuce

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

I know I’m not the only person in the world who loathes iceberg lettuce. Switzerland is the source of my saladic salvation. The French take credit for the discovery of lambs lettuce (reputedly, Louis XIV’s gardener first cultivated the thing), but its the Germanic people who popularized it. Yes, you guessed it, Rapunzel is one of several German words for lamb’s lettuce, a salad green that has only recently come to the general attention of the English speaking peoples.

So how does some poor German kid end up with a name like lambs lettuce? Well, as the Grimm brothers tell it, a couple expecting their first child lived in a small flat backing up onto a witch’s garden. The wife, apparently craving Vitamin C, along with B6, B9, Vitamin E, beta-carotene and some omega-3 fatty acids, asked her husband if he wouldn’t be so kind as to sneak over the wall into their neighbor’s veggie patch to pick her up some supplemental greens. Anyone who has been in this situation knows that this was not an optional request.

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