Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Swiss chard

Those of you who follow this  blog know I love greens (wish all my family felt the same).  I love spinach, but I find it too hard to grow- it never gets lush and big in my garden and it bolts too easily (even the slow bolt varieties).  So I grow Swiss chard instead. Chard is an excellent spinach substitute. The taste is similar, especially when cooked, and is good in salads when young.  And chard is easy to grow: it is sturdier than spinach, is slower to bolt (that is, go to flower), can be sowed late into the summer.  Plus chard is way prettier. The variety above (sea foam) is not a show boat, but "Bright Lights" with pink, red, yellow, green and cream stems is pretty enough for an ornamental garden accent.  Another variety, "Rhubarb," has pretty, deep red stems.

Try chard! And happy gardening!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mystery Plant #3

Can anyone identify this plant?  Here is mystery plant #3.  Grown extensively through the south, the leaves are toxic to all sorts of bugs (and early organic growers used it as an organic insecticide).
Happy guessing!  Happy gardening!  Congratulations to Madeline and Celeste: it is tobacco!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Banana seed?

If you've read this blog for awhile, you know of my passion for bananas- that is, ornamental banana plants.  They add a beautiful, exotic touch to the summer garden. This is a series of photos of one such plant that bloomed last year (see the pink flower on top?  Just below the yellow flowers parts are proto-bananas).  Well, the plant formed little (inedible) bananas and I let them sit on the plant, curious as to what would happen.  The pink bananas stayed intact for quite a few weeks, then burst open into the flower-like structures in the third photo from top. These later formed into boxy, hard seeds (at least, I thought they were seeds).  I planted them and one came up (photo 4).  The photo on the bottom is the banana plant growing, and it will soon need a new pot, as it has outgrown the old one!
So, this answers an important question: do bananas have seeds?
Happy gardening!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another Mystery Plant: Do you know what it is? Revealed

Here is another mystery plant: anyone know what it is?  Hint: An important crop to some native Americans, it is edible in one stage and used for other purposes in another stage.
ANSWER: this is Hope red dye amaranth. Amaranth produces an edible, high-protein seed, but this one is specifically grown to produce a red textile dye.  I will be learning to make solar dye bath soon at Ginter Gardens (Dye Plants class in August) and will post the results!
Happy Gardening!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Stuffed Greens: Recipe

Too many greens from the garden?  Stuff them!
Like some of my other "recipes," this is more a master recipe, rather than a measured approach (which gives you great flexibility). The basic idea is to start with washed greens that have a large leaf (chard works well, but so do collards with the stems trimmed back, steamed cabbage leaves or other green with a large leaf, like a mustard).  Then, decide on a filling. If it's meat, you are on your own, but any meatball recipe or combo with sausage should work.  You can also use rice, beans or lentils, seasoned with sauteed onion, garlic, peppers, and/or mushrooms and herbs, like Italian herb mixes.  Add toasted nuts if you like.  You can also fill with a ricotta cheese mix, like in a lasagna.  Simply put a dab of the filling on the intact leaf (collards and cabbage will benefit from being steamed before), roll the leaf up and place it in a glass lasagna pan, continuing until the pan is full (see photo).  I topped mine with spaghetti and al fredo sauces and baked for 45 minutes (or until bubbly) at 350 degrees.  But I can imagine topping with salsa and cheddar, maybe having put a bit of corn in the filling. Serve over pasta if you like. Be creative!
Happy greens gardening and eating!

Friday, July 13, 2012

What was the mystery plant? The big reveal

I posted this photo on Wednesday and did get two correct guesses (from Madeline and Kristina).  The mystery plant used to be an important agricultural plant in the south and has great cultural and historical significance. It was tied in with the slavery system in the south and was a source of wealth for southern planters until the Civil War. The United States is still the largest exporter of it.  The plant, which is not to blame for this history, is Gossypium, in this case, G. herbaceum, not the exact same species grown in the south (these were G.hirsutum and G. barbadense ), but close enough.  It is cotton. Gossypium was nicknamed "vegetable lamb" (for the resemblance of the bolls to sheep's wool).  The fibers of cotton are almost pure cellulose, and lends itself to producing a strong, lightweight fabric.  It is a member of the family Malvaceae, which also includes hibiscus, which the flower resembles.  I will be posting photos of the bolls when (and if) they develop, plus let you know what I will be doing with the cotton.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What is this? A Mystery Plant

Can anyone identify the mystery plant pictured above?  Hint: it is an important crop, though it is not edible.
Happy gardening!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sun Scald

I must admit to great relief to have the power back on after the storm a week ago Friday (5 days no AC), so I can get out of the sweltering heat.  Unfortunately, my plants are not so lucky.  We are expecting one more day of very high heat (over 100 degrees) in this heat wave, then a cool down that will give my plants some time to recover.  One thing you might have noticed are brown, squishy patches on some of your fruit, and this is called sun scald.  I mostly get this on peppers and tomatoes (yes, both are botanical fruits that we treat as culinary vegetables) and have have also gotten some on eggplant.  Above are two photos of peppers suffering from sun scald: the top is a smaller patch of damage and the bottom photo shows a larger patch.  Sun scald can happen at lower temps, but the hotter it is, the more likely it will occur. It occurs when plants have insufficient leaves to provide shade for the more delicate fruits.  Promoting stocky growth through early pruning helps produce more leaves to shade the fruits.  In tomatoes, allowing two main stems to develop (don't pinch back the bottom most sucker) also promotes development of leaves that provide shade.  You can also try to shade individual fruits that have the most sun exposure with a white or light-colored rag or scrap of fabric (though I cannot attest to this method as I have not tried it).  One more tip:  if you plant against a light colored surface (a fence or wall), the reflected light may also cause sun scald, so avoid that spot next summer.
Just like you can get too much sun, your plants can too!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

An easy fruit dessert

If you have an ice cream maker, get it out, because sorbet is incredibly easy to make and delicious, if you follow a few simple rules.  And if you have access to lots of fruit from your garden, it is a great way to use it up!  First off, I use a standard ice and salt ice cream maker. I had the "fancy" kind where you froze the inner container, but ran into 2 problems: it didn't work well for sorbet and I rarely had that much room in my freezer for it.  So, get a basic, $20 ice cream maker that uses salt and ice.  The general idea is to make a smooth sorbet.  I usually start with a simple syrup of 3 cups sugar and 3 cups water, stir together and heat till all sugar is dissolved.
Here is where you need to make some decisions.  You want a smooth-ish fruit sorbet, though you can have some chunks if you like.  The easiest is a citrus sorbet- just add 1 and 1/4 cups of lemon, lime, key lime or 2-3 cups of grapefruit juice to the syrup and follow manufacturers directions to freeze.  As it is unlikely that many of you are growing citrus in VA, you need to use what you have. For peaches, peel, slice between 4 to 8 cups (to taste) and add them to the hot syrup, simmering for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool, then puree in a blender. Put in the ice cream maker and follow directions.  For fruit with small seeds (raspberries, strawberries) you can put them through a  sieve- I just use a fine grained strainer atop a bowl and run my ladle n the bottom in a circular motion to extract the juice and pulp and leave the seeds. Or just leave the seeds in if you don't mind them. I do the same for muscadine grapes (here you must remove the seeds), but I like to then puree the skins with the pulp to get all that purple color and taste into the sorbet. You can also make apple or pear sorbet out of apple or pear sauce, though add 1-2 T of lemon juice for balance.  How about variations?  Nectarine or peach basil is nice, and you can also add lavender.  Green tea can be made into a simple syrup and also adds a nice flavor.  Watermelon or other melon sorbet is best if it is not cooked with the syrup, just pureed raw.  One tip:  put your storage containers into the freezer so they are nice and cold when the sorbet is ready,

Happy gardening!  Happy eating the fruits of your labors!