Sunday, May 21, 2006

Garden Desktop: Nasturtiums

This week's Garden Desktop is also a Weekend Herb Blogging feature! Nasturtiums are a wonderful addition to any garden. The leaves, flowers, and seedpods are edible, they self-seed easily, and they attract pollinators with their sweet, but low-key, fragrance. They thrive in poor soil, and don't need deadheading of spent blooms in order to continue blooming.

Some nasturtiums are climbers, and some are ground covers. They all enjoy spreading, so don't plant them very close to anything you don't want overwhelmed! They make a great fence cover, with their lovely splash of color, and come in many color varieties and showy double-blossom beauties.

Any list of edible flowers is incomplete without the nasturtium. As you've seen here before, they can turn a simple salad into a fancy gourmet salad, and can adorn cakes and cheese trays. NPR's Splendid Table has a recipe for nasturtium pod capers, slightly differing from the Poor Man's Capers recipe at PlanTea, home of the UpBeet Gardener newsletter.

I was surprised to hear that the young seedpods are used, rather than the flower buds. Given the spiciness of the flowers, I'd think the latter would make more interesting capers. Seeds of Knowledge offers some cultivation tips and recipes, and the interesting tidbit that the dried seedpods were ground and used as a pepper substitute during the shortages of WW II. That's pretty nifty-- and since the capers recipe says use young, still-tender seedpods, if you find the other kind then you can let them develop fully and then save some to replant and some to experiment with grinding.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Garden Quote of the Day

Me, taking apart and washing a cabbage I picked yesterday: "Wow, there's an amazing amount of, um, habitat in a cabbage. It's like some kind of huge condo complex."

Spouse: "I really enjoy the things you are growing and cooking for us. I will enjoy them even more without hearing things like that."

It's some kind of loosely heading cabbage, and let's just say it was a good idea to pull the leaves off and rinse off each one. But it was *nothing* compared to the time that my friend Celeste and I made salad from organic lettuce in New Mexico. Not when the 3rd rinse bowl still looked like the aftermath of the Titanic, with no lifeboats in sight. I guess that there wasn't a single patch of green anywhere in the desert except that lettuce patch. If we weren't so fussy, we could have gotten a full day's supply of protein just from that salad. Eeek.

My cabbage was tame, tame, tame, in comparison, just a slug or two and some venturesome aphids in the onesy-twosy kind of numbers. OK, I had to peel off the huge outer leaves of the cabbage to get the aphids down to onesy-twosy. Next year, floating row cover. Slugs I can handle, they don't multiply geometrically. I wish I knew what to use the outer leaves for, other than the yardwaste/compost bin. They seem way too tough to use for cooking.

Speaking of floating row cover, the little hoop of it that I am using over the chard is working really well, no leaf-miners (thrips) on it yet. In San Jose, they pretty much destroyed the same kind of chard at all leaf sizes. I didn't know to use the floating row cover then, as I didn't know what they were. I just knew they were completely gross. :-)

Steamed fresh chard is turning out to really rock. I didn't like it when I tried chard from the store, seemed too bitter. The key seems to be picking it when small, at about half the size or less of the huge leaves in bunches from the store. Picked small, even the stems are tasty and not stringy. I just put in another patch of beets, and one of Asian spinach. Maybe I will tuck some more chard in somewhere too. It's yummy.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

May Garden Update

I've been on vacation, and catching up with work, and taking TOO MANY pictures. So here's garden set showing the changes since last time. It's astonishing what 3 weeks will do when the weather warms up! The barely 3-foot-high peas of April 24th are now the 9-foot-high peas of May 14th. Yow.

Nasturtium volunteers, 2nd or 3rd gen Jewels mix. Last year they were being a weed, this year I am encouraging them strongly to go up the trellis, and pruning those shoots that go astray. Heavy rains meant lots fewer ants this year, so cleaning nasturtium blossoms for salad has been easier, yay. Thinking of pulling some buds for pickled pseudo-capers this year.

The greenhouse is working out wonderfully, and I'm reminded that I'm once again putting out squash seedlings long before it's really warm enough for them. Next year I have to remember to put my squashes in large pots in the greenhouse and let them get well established before transplanting. The tiny squash seedlings outside have fared vastly less well than their greenhouse counterparts, with most adding only a few true leaves. Look at what the kabochas in the greenhouse are doing in comparison! Live and learn, this gardening stuff is complicated!