Underground News

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When we were in the garden doing the first big round of cleanup I noticed the peanut plants, one of this year’s garden experiments, were starting to look a little “done.” Yesterday I took up a fork and harvested them all.

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I wasn’t sure what I was going to find so I was pleased to see that each plant had a fair number of fat pods down around their roots.  Peanuts have a fascinating way of flowering and forming their seeds. After the bloom is pollinated it grows a stem that pushes the ovary down into the soil where the pod forms. They seemed to have enough decent soil to grow in above the more clayey layer below and didn’t look distorted at all. The tops, however, were another matter. Some had been chewed completely off by some rabbit or rodent.

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Once I plucked them from the plants and gave them a good washing I ended up with a decent bowlful for our little patch. They do take a lot of space for the amount we got, though. I’m not sure if the spots on the shells are caused by a soil problem, pests or disease. Time to do some research. I also need to find out how to roast them. We’re sure we won’t be making boiled peanuts, a southern treat. Last weekend we were visiting friends in Alabama and tried boiled peanuts for the first time and, while we thought they were edible, didn’t feel a great need to have them again.

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In other underground news, the oca patch seems to have hit its stride and the plants are looking lush and happy. As I mentioned before, they will have only just started forming tubers after the Autumn Equinox. We’ve had some cold nights since then, but no frost yet. Still, I’m keeping them covered with some row cover as insurance. It would be great if we got a harvestable crop from these, but I don’t see growing them again until I’ve got a lot more space to play around with.

Did you try any garden experiments this year? How did they do?

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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?