Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
Flower Power: What's Blooming?
Some things that I planted, and some that volunteered are blooming up a storm, making me realize that I need to get a bunch of my summer annual standbys started in flats! No, I'm not one of those virtuous folks that grows everything from seed, I wish. I've certainly enriched the coffers of Orchard Supply Hardware, Loew's, and Yamigami's Nursery this year, especially after losing various plants to various mishaps (too much sun, too much water, That Which Eats in the Night, etc). I adore pink and white snap dragons, and put up with the yellow ones in the mixes, but I usually buy them at stores as they have them earlier than I have the patience to start them.
But there are still things that I love to grow that are too expensive or hard to find in stores, or that are just so *easy* that I can't imagine buying them, like the cornflowers I've been planting from a $5 shoebox of seeds that my husband brought back one day from the ham radio flea market. "I saw these, and figured, why not?" Lots of folks have enjoyed those seeds, as I've given away packets to individuals and then donated most of the rest to the Sunnyvale Community Gardens-- if you see bright blue and pink cornflowers, deep red single poppies, and lots of baby's breath, they may have come from that shoebox!
The other half of the Blue Celeste "exhibition" sweet peas are blooming-- all but one rotted out last year in the spring rains, but fortunately I didn't plant the whole package, and saved the rest for this year. They are marvelous, and I've completely fallen in love with sweet peas. I'd never seen the kind on long stems before, and didn't quite understand what all the fuss was all about! There's a garden bed in the community garden that has some nice lattice put up and is growing sweet peas on the shady side of it-- gorgeous!
This is the first year we have no nasturtiums in the backyard beyond a few around the corner. Fence got 'em when it blew over in the storm and had to be replaced-- the contractor had to dig, alas. But the ones in the side yard seem to be doing really well in the partial shade on the side of the house. They haven't blown out yet for the season, nor been aphid infested (keeping my fingers crossed). They keep naturalizing from seed, and I was able to move some clumps before the contractor got to them all. These are the 5th or 6th generation from some 'Jewel' mix that we bought back in 2003. Still going strong!
The day lilies are blooming, and a couple of very early gladiolas. While I wanted both for cut flowers, I usually don't have the heart to cut them! Dahlias and Asian Lilies are coming up, yay! Gotta stake 'em up before they get much futher along, lest they fall over and pull themselves out of the ground. Ditto on some of the gladiolas.
Old-fashioned stock, with its wonderful pinks and pastels, is a sweet-smelling favorite. It's either re-seeding itself of it blooms a LOONNG time! The honey-sweet smell of alyssum is always welcome, and while I do buy a six-pak of it now and then, once I plant it (and stop overwatering it!) it naturalizes and stays pretty. The clove-spicy pink carnation in the corner smells marvelous, but needs to be dead-headed regularly or it will stop blooming. I usually try to pick things that don't need that kind of hand-holding. Sprays of lavender, a big french lavender that started out as a small pot 2 years ago, bring all the bees around to visit.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Snap Pea Trials for 2007
One shortcoming in our South Bay clay soil is that it can be hard to balance moisture without waterlogging plants. The peas I'd been growing, Super Sugar Snap, did okay in San Jose, in 95112-land, but here in Sunnyvale they had big issues in the combination of clay and my-yard microclimate. Seemed like it was too cold and wet for them to grow, or too hot for them to avoid awful downy and powdery mildew. I tried Oregon Sugar in 2006, hoping that they'd do better than the Sugar Snaps.
I figured that the 'Oregon' part might protect them, as it's kind of wet there, but it seems to be the drainage issue that did them in. I also found them to be perhaps excessively vigorous, producing vines taller than my head but not with the volume of peas you'd expect from vines that huge. As you can see in this photo from a year-and-a-week ago, that makes for pretty pictures, but I wanted more peas. And I got 'em!
I tried Sugar Snap, Cascade, and Suffolk Snap peas this year, in 3 separate areas of a dozen or so plants each. I've been feasting on whole-pod peas for the past few weeks, eating fresh right out of the garden-- another joy of Not Spraying for the organic gardener. Have only put up a couple of quarts in the freezer, but them's the breaks! Would rather munch them fresh.
The Sugar Snap and Cascade both turned out to be 'compact', e.g. only about 3 to 4 feet tall, and bushy. I had to patiently keep turning their attention to the trellising. I suspect they'd do as well or better free-standing in a spare tomato cage. Next year I'll endeavor to remember to try that, and plant spring peas of those types in a cage where I want a tomato. The Suffolks reached for the sky nicely, topping out at 7 feet. Picture is from Jan 29th, sown in ground without pre-sprouting on Jan 1st or 3rd.
Flavors? The flat-pod stage definitely favored Cascade over either of the other two. Sweeter and 'greener' tasting. Once the pods began to swell, though, and we had a dash of unseasonable heat, the story changed. The Suffolks are by far sweeter tasting, with a large measure of sugar moving to the peas inside the pod. The Cascades also have sweet peas, but the pod flavor flattens and has a slightly bitter aftertaste. The Sugar Snaps are pretty consistently 'good' in both stages, which is to say that they taste great until you taste the better of the other two, at which point you say, "hey, these only go up to 5 and these others go up to 11, hmf".
I have gotten some peas from the Suffolks that have some very different characteristics from the main batch. Namely, the pods have shrunken to almost translucency and withered, but without splitting. The peas inside are whole and sound, and beginning to dry. I speculate that this is a recessive coming out that has potential to be a shelling pea variant. Some of the standard pods have the tan-n-wrinkly thing going, and a few remained plump and green but split open when fully ripe. I'm saving the wrinkly pods to dry for seed, and will sow a small test patch in the fall, away from other peas, to see what happens. Will post pictures when I get a chance.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Harvest Snapshot: Spring Herbs
My garden and a book project have been keeping me way too busy, but the book project is finally put to bed and I am going to give myself a mini-vacation for a week or three! I celebrated by going out this morning while it was still cool, but not damp, and snipping a big basket of herbs to dry. They looked so good that I thought, hey, I should send this to Weekend Herb Blogging! From left to right, marjoram, variegated sage, greek oregano (spicy!), and variegated oregano. A couple of young garlic that I pulled as well are laying across the basket.
The herbs I will separate and dry on a plate, indoors on the bookshelf or armoir top, out of any direct sun. The young garlic I snipped up like scallions or chives, and put in the freezer. I don't pre-wash it, so it freezes up nicely without ice all over it. Put it in soups, stews, or drop in a roasting pan with veggie end-snips (which I also freeze), spray with oil, and pan-roast as the base for a rich veggie stock.
I don't pre-wash most veggies, since I don't use any sprays or pesticides in my garden, other than point-treating any stubborn aphids with Safer Soap. This year, knock on wood, no real aphid problems other than some Gray Plague in my broccoli when it got too hot for a week, and I took the floating row cover off (doh). I've been letting various weeds stand as attractants to the aphids, and sure enough, the 'phids go there instead of on my tender beans and peas, at least so far. When they have frighteningly infested the attractant weeds, I carefully snip those off and get them the heck out of the garden (carefully! so none will fall off!). Seems to be working so far.
Oh, my usual Garden Help does not care for garlic, but was coaxed into happiness with a treat and a kind word. Here is her little smiling face for all my fellow kitteh lovers out there. :-)