Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Extra" Lagniappe (or is that redundant?)

I took a cutting of this purple passiflora from a large vine growing near RR tracks near my house. It had a bud on it, which I did not expect to open, but bloom it did, exuding a lovely, sweet fragrance.  I will plant it near a green-tinged one I have. Passifloras are easy to root, just take a cutting, put it in water in a sunny window.  They can be a bit pushy in the garden, but are not too hard to control.
Happy gardening!

Wednesday Lagniappe: Gardeners' Glossary

Here is another useful garden term:  Apical:  Located at the tip of a leaf, root or shoot.  Some plants will not be able to grow if their apex is damaged or cut off, or they will have multiple sprouts if that happens.  The opposite of apical is basal, at the base, and both are different from lateral for the side, as in a side shoot.

Impress your friends! Now you can describe your plants using these terms, as is "the apical bud was snapped off in an ice storm" or "this biennial forms a basal rosette in its first year."
Happy gardening!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Essential Garden Tool

This is not a product endorsement (this is a totally commercial-free blog).  This is a review.  In the summer during mosquito season, which seems to last from April to October (the entire summer, plus some spring and fall) the only way I can get out in the garden is by wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, tall socks, a hat, gloves and a bucket of mosquito repellent.  Being that I am an organic gardener, I do not endorse the use of DEET (one exception: in tick infested areas I might spray it on my hiking boots only).  But do these these natural repellents actually work?  Yes.  Do they last a good while?  Yes.  Here is my review of 4 of them.

Starting from far right:
Repel:  This is my go-to spray.  It is easily available at large chain stores (though read the label, they do have a version with DEET).  It sprays on in a fine mist, I can spray it on my clothes (though these are grimy garden clothes, folks, not nice clothes!) and it works for hours and hours.  I might see mosquitoes approach and swarm, but they do not land.  The drawback is that the smell is a strong, piney, citrus, and eucalyptus smell.  I don't care, I shower after I garden anyway.  One problem is that the spray pumps sometimes break, so I transfer the contents to another spray bottle.  To apply any of these sprays to your face, you need to put them on your hands first, not directly spray them on your face.  About $5 to $6 for 4 ounces. I buy 3-4 per season.

Cutter Natural: this also works, the smell is nicer, floral, the lotion creamier, and less oily, than Repel.  However, this is the main drawback, it is thicker and streams (not sprays) out of the pump bottle, so I cannot apply it easily to clothes (and it does stain) and have to rub it on like sunscreen.  Easily available at large box stores. 

Bert's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent: this is a more pleasantly-scented, though very oily, spray.  Pictured above is an old container and the pumps on these were ineffective.  I have not tried the one in newer packaging, hope the pump is better.  Harder to find at stores.

Skeeter Buster: the most pleasantly scented, like gardenia, as well as the most expensive and hard to find.  Due to the high cost (I paid $7.99 for 4 ounces) I would not search for it, but I would use it if I were going to a place or event where a strong, sharp smell would be a problem.  The pump works OK.  (I bought it at a beach shop in Nag's Head, NC.)

I have not tried the grandmother of non-DEET sprays, Avon's (though I think it was sold to another company) Skin-So-Soft, but I hear people rave about it.

Happy bite-free gardening!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe*: Gardeners' Glossary**

Today, a word that is one my favorite gardening terms:
Allelopathy:  is the reason you cannot grow some plants under walnut trees.  Allelopathic plants are those that secrete a chemical compound that inhibits the growth of another plant.  In walnuts, this substance is juglone.  However, some plants are allelopathy-resistant or unaffected.  It is recognized that these plants can grow under a walnut just fine:  blackberries, grapes, mints, forsythia, ferns, marigolds and most native hardwoods! Eucalyptus, alianthus ("tree of heaven"), garlic mustard, rice, fragrant sumac, and hackberry are other plants with allelopathic properties.

* Lagniappe:  Cajun for "a little something extra."
**My favorite gardening terms

Happy gardening!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Recipe: Tomato Corn Soup

Above: the finished soup

Above: vegetable stock before simmering

It is getting on to the end of fresh sweet corn season, so now is the time time for making soups that include corn.  You can use frozen corn (and there is some decent frozen, sweet corn out there), but fresh is best.  You can make this soup with water or stock. I am a vegetarian, so I make a stock of sweet corn cobs (all corn shaved off), onions, mushroom stems, carrots and whatever else I have to hand (parsley, basil, celery, zucchini ends- no brassicas or beets though, except for borscht).  I simmer for about 45 minutes and keep it around all week or freeze it.  Beef or chicken stock would be frankly richer, but I am happy with my veggie stocks (note: roasted or caramelized veggies make more deeply flavored stock).

So, here is what I do:
Make a quart the stock with odds and ends of veggies as above, or buy it.
2 T butter or olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 package baby 'bella or white button mushrooms.
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 shredded or diced zucchini or other summer squash
3 shredded carrots
1 bay leaf
1 t marjoram
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
1 quart homemade tomato juice, or commercial tomato juice or V-8, thinned with 1 c water
2 c. stock
3 ears corn, freshly cut off the cob.
1 cup cous cous (white, whole grain, cooked according to package directions)

Cook and set aside the cous cous.  Melt the butter in the pan or pans (see next sentence). Saute onions and mushrooms separately, either one after the other in the same pan or in two pans at the same time, with the crushed garlic.  Please, let both cook separately, on medium heat for long enough so they caramelize and not steam (cooking together will crowd the pan and steam them so they will not develop a fill, deep, umami flavor and the mushrooms will be rubbery).  I saute them for at least 15 minutes. Whey they are caramelized, combine them in one heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven, add herbs, and saute for 5 minutes. Add zucchini and carrots. Saute, stirring occasionally,  for 20 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Add tomato juice/V-8 and stock.  Bring to a light, bubbling boil. Test the vegetables.  If they are almost done to your liking, add the corn, simmer and serve in 10 minutes.

Scoop a generous 1/2 cup of cous cous into the side of a bowl (can use rice, pasta, other grains or lentils instead).  Ladle in the hot soup.  Serve with bread !!!
(optional: you can change the seasoning family to more of a Tex-Mex taste with adding cumin, ground chilies and smoked paprika or chipotle powder to the sauteing onions, or a curry mix for Indian flavors).
 Happy fall eating!  Get out and harvest those remaining veggies!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe*: Flutterby

[Photo taken by Scott Vrana: Visit his photos at http://500px.com/ScottVrana  ]

The only reason I will let a few of the spreading Physostegia virginiana, or obedient plants, stay in my yard is because they attract butterflies.  If you have this plant, you know it spread by runners and will pop up several feet away from an existing plant.  Otherwise, it is pretty easy to pull to control, but you will need to do this, unless all you want is a garden full of obedient plant! (The name comes from the habit of the flower to stay in position when you bend or twist it).

Enjoy the butterflies as they flutter by!

*Lagniappe: Cajun for "something extra."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Update: The Tyranny of the Garden...Produce

Each season I wonder "How many years will I be able to keep this up?"  as I process and can yet another batch of something.  But it is still way worth it.  Here are the "fruits" of my labor with some of my muscadines (see last week's blog): top, muscadine sorbet (recipe to follow) and bottom, muscadine syrup. (A big thanks to my husband who did a lot of the initial separation of inners and outers).  The sorbet is not subtle, it hits you in the mouth with a big grape flavor!  YUM!  (By the way, you can use fox, Concord, Niagara or any native grape for this recipe).

Muscadine Sorbet Recipe

1 quart muscadine grapes, purple or bronze
2 c sugar (to taste: the mix must taste pretty sweet before it is frozen)
2 c. water
1/4c lemon juice

Wash the muscadines,  At the stem end, cut a slit.  Squeeze the pulp into one bowl, place the skins into another.
Cook skins and pulp separately.  Skins only need to be simmered on medium for 15 minutes (you need to do this because muscadine skins are very thick, but contribute a lot of flavor). Cool and puree the skins with the water in a blender.  Cook the pulp, simmering on medium for about 20 minutes.  Put the pulp through a fine-grained sieve (or a mesh colander, jelly strainer) and stir with a wooden spoon to force the pulp, minus the seeds, through the sieve.  Discard seeds.  Mix pureed skins and pulp in a stockpot, add sugar and lemon juice.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste and add sugar if it is not sweet enough (desserts served cold usually need more sugar than ones served warm, because your taste buds cannot register the sweet as well when they are cold).  Follow manufacturer's directions to freeze in an ice cream maker (I have a standard Rival brand, water and salt, bucket ice-cream freezer and processed this for 40 minutes).

(Syrup is made the same way, but is cooked longer to reduce the volume of water.  Process 20 minutes).

Have fun!  
Happy garden produce processing!  And eating!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

VA State Parks Go Native Program

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, Professor and Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and the author of the book Bringing Nature Home is the featured speaker at the Go Native! plant symposium.
The event will be held on Wednesday, September 12th at First Landing State Park in the Trail Center. Tickets are $20 each and includes parking and refreshments. A portion of the proceeds will go to First Landing State Park.
If you are interested in attending or would like additional information, please contact Renee' Wampler at 757-425-0724 or email pagcrw@cox.net

From VA State Park enews 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesday Lagniappe

In bloom at my house:  the stunning, deep red, perennial, dinner-plate hibiscus!  The bloom is HUGE!
Happy gardening!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Tyrrany of the Garden...Produce

Above is a photo of what is lurking in my fridge.  See those two large glass bowls and the smaller metal one?  They are full of the fruit of the Isom muscadine vine.  What you do not see is the gallon zipper bag full of them in the crisper too. I tend to anthropomorphize my garden and I know that my garden does not care that I am very busy at the start of the semester. It does not note that I have sandwiched two trips with 4 days in between and have to process almost 4 bushels of peaches that all came ripe early and at pretty much the same time.  It does not care that I have guests and forget to get to the zucchini before it grows into a baseball bat.  The garden moves on without me, though it cannot go too long without my labor.

So what am I going to do with all these muskies?  I still have jam from last year, so this year I am experimenting: muscadine juice concentrate, muscadine sorbet and frozen yogurt, muscadine syrup for pancakes and waffles.  And if any of these concoctions come out well, I will post the results on the blog.

Oh, by way, I am not yet half way through muscadine harvest season.  Wish I liked muscadine wine.

[FYI, unlike other grapes, muscadines, native to the southern US, are hardy, sturdy and grow with little to no trouble, but you do have to prune them.  For example, my neighbors driveway is next to the fence they are on.  One week, he left his car, which has a roof rack, parked for 4 or 5 days and...wait for it... the vines twined around his roof rack and he had to cut them off!  The vine that ate the car!].

Happy gardening!