Three New Crops: Part Three

Several years ago a horticulturist friend of mine gifted me with a paw-paw fruit to taste. It had been grown by another friend of his and he thought I’d appreciate giving it a try. I liked the taste and was impressed with the large, beanlike seeds. Since I’m always trying to grow random things, I potted up the seeds in some number one nursery containers I had sitting around and waited to see what happened. If I remember correctly–this was eight or ten years ago–they actually took over a year to send shoots up. When they were a couple feet tall or so I planted them along the west fence in the back garden which was the brightest spot at the time but still shady. Those are the conditions paw-paws like.

Fast forward to the spring? of 2017 when I was looking at the garden and noticed something weird on the largest of the trees. When I got closer I could see it was the pendulous maroon cup of a flower. Closer inspection revealed that there were several more on the tree. It was finally blooming!

As luck would have it, our next-door neighbor also has paw-paw trees and when I told them we had blooms, he suggested we cross-pollinate them since they are supposed to not be strongly self-fertile. We traded pollen back and forth between our trees several times as more flowers became receptive and I tagged mine with the dates. The flowers were also being visited by what may have been small flies. The flowers are not sweetly scented but are rather more carrion-ish.

Not all took and some that started forming small fruits failed and fell off.

In the end there were two that looked promising hanging just above head height.

Paw-paws fall off the tree when they’re ripe and ready to eat so I rigged mesh bags below them to keep them from just becoming squirrel and chipmunk chow.

I think that would have worked, but somehow one of the little buggers managed to chew a fruit through the mesh and ruin one end of it. Not wanting to lose them completely, I picked them a little early and cut them open after trimming off the damaged bit.

The flesh was soft and sweet-smelling, though maybe not as much as if I had been able to leave them on the tree longer. If you haven’t tasted paw-paw you should if you ever get the chance. It’s the most northern growing of the members of the custard apple family and definitely has a tropical flavor sort of akin to banana or mango but unique.

Now that I had some, what to do with them? Two of our best besties were in town that weekend and we were going to dinner at their place so I offered to take care of the cocktail course. I found a recipe online for something called a Paw-Paw Rum Runner that called for both fruit-infused rum and puréed flesh.

They were good, but I think the rum overpowered the flavor of the fruit. Additionally, I felt like I was wasting some of it in making the infused rum. That bit of fruit became inedible and didn’t really impart much flavor to the booze.

Just as before, those many years ago, I saved the seeds from both fruits and potted them up in my homemade compost. There are now seventeen pots sitting in my propagation area waiting to possibly, slowly, eventually bring this tropical-flavored native fruit to the gardens of my friends and neighbors.

Cylindra Beets

 The Cylindra beets I’m trying for the first time this year are growing really well except for one thing. Some of them are sticking up out of the soil which I hadn’t anticipated, so animals are chewing on them. I will have to remember to mound up the soil next time I grow them.

New Resident

This morning I went to the garden, did a little maintenance, harvested some salad greens and spinach, and snapped some images with the intention of doing a little garden post here. Then we went on a long afternoon of hiking at the county’s newest forest. I’ve got a gazillion images from that hike to process and I’m too pooped to write much anyway, so here’s a short video of a bee moving into a hole in the log I drilled and put out only yesterday. I’ll take a shot at ID once I’ve worked a little more through my backlog.

 

New Year, New Look, New Name

Cyp AvIf you’re a regular visitor here you might notice some differences. With spring coming I figured it was as good a time as any to take the leap and rename and redesign the ol’ blog. I’ve retired the old names and am finally retooling all my social media to have one name. I anticipate the content to stay the same and, with the weather warming up soon, I plan to be posting more. I haven’t done this before so I hope I don’t lose anyone along the way. If you’ve managed to stay connected or are a new visitor, I’d appreciate it if you gave a little shout out in the comments and let me know how you found the new location. Thanks!

When You’re Making Other Plans

Long time, no blog posts! Way back a million years ago in August I had plans for the things I wanted to accomplish this fall and winter, blogging among them. I’ve been mulling around renaming/rebranding my blog and other social media so they at least match a little; the Shady Character thing hasn’t made sense since I shut down the website over a decade ago. I also was looking for opportunities to get involved with some interest groups, get out a little more, fight my hermitty tendencies and be a little more social. There was also a goal to get the novel I’ve been noodling away at to the point where I could hand it off to a few beta readers before the end of the year to see if it’s worth really finishing. And, of course, there were the seasonal necessities that come with gardening and keeping bees. But, then things changed pretty quickly.

In December of ‘14 my dad had surgery for cancer. Things looked good at first but then he started having problems and was hospitalized several times again. By the end of August he was pretty bad off. A week or so later, on my mom’s birthday, her sister died. Another week after that my best friend’s husband died. A few days later Dad went, too. Then, of course, my brother-in-law’s sister died. Needless to say, my perspective on what constitutes a priority changed and my ability to write light, sparkling prose wasn’t at its strongest.

Tomorrow’s the Winter Solstice for us here in the northern hemisphere. There are several holidays around this time that mark the change from growing darkness to growing light so I’m going to latch onto that and work on turning things around a little and getting back to the things I’d planned. I’ve got some blog posts in the works that are going to seem a little out-of-date but maybe I’ll go ahead with them anyway. In any case, have a Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Good Yule and a Happy New Year. Love your families, be good to each other, and go ahead and make plans.

Gettin’ Funky Underground

Every gardening season I like to try out a new crop. We’ve got a big enough plot for our needs so allowing a square yard or two for experimenting with something that might be a bust is no big deal. When I asked the Co-Conspirator what we should grow this year the suggestion was peanuts. I ordered a bag of seeds from an outfit that was having a free shipping sale since I didn’t think I’d find any seeds locally.

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Look at that! Peanut seeds look like peanuts! OK, they are peanuts. I will admit I actually spent a minute or two wondering if they should be planted in their shells or taken out. They’re legumes, like beans, and those are shelled before planting so I liberated some and potted them up. I should probably check to see if that was the right thing to do.

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Peanuts need a long growing season and the weather has made spring so late here that I wanted to get a jump on things. They’ll be inside for four or five weeks and then, with luck, I’ll be setting out the plants around the end of May.

The other “new to me” addition to the garden this year is a selection of my own. Some time ago I was reading some 19th Century gardening books to satisfy my curiosity about what Victorian Era gardeners grew and to see how different it was from what we commonly plant now. In “The Field and Garden Vegetables of North America” by Fearing Burr (1863) one of the plants sounded particularly interesting, producing sweet, nutty tubers. Re-reading the description I realized it was nutsedge! Cyperus esculentus is a weed most gardeners would rather not turn loose in their plots. I also read about several Oxalis species that also produces tasty tubers. I remembered these when I happened upon a nursery that had some unusual ancient Andean crops including Oxalis tuberosa, also known as oca. I decided to give them a go, ordered a handful of mixed varieties, and was immediately taken with their beauty when they arrived.

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On a couple of the tubers I could see the remnants of their three-part leaves that are characteristic of this genus. Some species of Oxalis are sold as “shamrocks” as houseplants.

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I left the tubers in a paper bag in the cool part of the basement since it was still a little early to plant them out. When I checked on them the other day it was clear they were starting to grow shoots so I decided to pot them up and let them, like the peanuts, get a head start on the season. Wish I’d remembered to weight them first. They’ll be grown similarly to potatoes, planted and then hilled slightly. Sometime after the Autumn Equinox they should start forming new tubers so I’m crossing my fingers that the frost stays away late this fall.

This is one of the cool things about gardening, no matter how long you’ve been doing it there’s always something different to grow. What exciting, funky, new-to-you crops are you growing this year?

The 2014 Garden Has Begun!

The temperature got up to a toasty 4°F/-21°C this morning so I went for a walk up to the garden and I’m glad to report it’s well on its way for 2014.

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What? You don’t believe me? Here, I’ll make it easier to see.

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See? A few crops are already in place and nicely protected by this deep blanket of snow and the straw beneath it. When it warms up again this spring the plants will begin to grow again and I’ll have a jump on the season. While it’s normal for me to plant garlic in the fall, I tried a couple of new things this year.

Last spring when I was planting other things, I kept coming across spinach plants that had survived the winter and were growing new leaves. The same was true for some onions and shallots that I missed harvesting. This fall, instead of ripping out all the spinach to work in organic matter like I usually do, I just harvested the leaves that were left and then mulched them with a thick layer of straw.

The onions are another kind of experiment. When I had harvested all the large onions I left the smaller ones to grow some more. When the time came to sow a cover crop of buckwheat, they really hadn’t put on enough size to make them worth keeping, but I pulled them anyway. I dried and cured them along with the rest and stored them in the basement. Then it occurred to me that I could try planting them again when it got cold, just like the garlic so I did. Some straw mulch was put down as insurance against a dry winter without enough snow cover. I can’t wait to see if they survive and grow again this year.

Free Dinner!

OK, I exaggerate. It’s the last time, I promise. But today I did score some comestibles free of charge by doing a little foraging while hiking on some beautiful public land. I wish I knew more of the edibles out there, but for the time being we were focused on one seasonal treat I frankly don’t even like all that much.

 

 

That ugly fungus is a morel, a member of the genus Morchella but I couldn’t tell you which species.  If you live where they grow, I don’t need to tell you some people are positively crazy for them. The appear for a brief period in the spring and lure hundred, probably thousands of Midwesterners to the woods. I found a few while hiking with friends today so they’re going to work their way into dinner somehow. Right now the dish in the lead combines them with shallots and brown rice. That will make a nice accompaniment to the main course which features the leaves you see to the left of the morel.

 

Garlic mustard, is an invasive exotic weed that, unfortunately, carpets much too much of the woodlands of this region. Its only, meager saving grace is that it’s edible. So, in the event I could find some inspiration for how to use it this evening I pulled a bundle and brought it home.  Here’s what I came up with:

 

First, we’ll enjoy some hummus that is made with garlic mustard instead of garlic. I was hoping it would be more green.

 

 

Then I’m going to broil some lambchops and slather them with a garlic mustard pesto.

 

I must say, there’s something uniquely satisfying about stuffing an invasive, exotic weed in the food processor and gleefully mashing the power button.