Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The Twitter bandwagon has gained another passenger - me. When I first heard about Twitter, I thought I'd never use it. I figured it was more geared to kids with fancy mobile devices than to a middle-aged gardener who has to pay for each text message on her cell phone. But things change. I was sitting on the porch yesterday watching the rain and thinking I wonder when the last good rain was. If I had written it in my garden journal, I'd know. But the garden journal is in the bottom of my bag, where it's been for a week at least. Despite all my good intentions, I don't write in it as much as I think I should. I thought this blog was my garden journal, but it doesn't feel like the proper place any more to record that I saw Monarch butterflies yesterday (or any other small thing I'd like to remember).
So anyway, I was sitting on the porch watching the rain, debating with myself whether Twitter is worthwhile and suddenly it hit me. What if somebody else grabs my username while I'm making up my mind? I am Entangled. I must sign up Right Now. Too late. Some other twit is already calling himself Entangled. So as far as Twitter is concerned, I'm tangledbranches.
We'll see how this all works out. I'm still a little skeptical, but I intend to use it as a way to jot down some mostly-garden-related things on my mind that don't merit a blog post and never make it into the handwritten garden journal.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Flor de Jamaica
I'm not sure what motivated me to order seeds of Thai Red Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa). Maybe it was the description: "Beautiful 2-3’ plants with red stems, leaves, and flowers. The bright red calyxes can be used to make a "zingy" tea, sauce or jam." Hmmm, well, the leaves on my plants are green, the flowers are creamy white with a red center. The stems are more or less red. I agree that it's a beautiful plant. There's a code word in that description however, and fans of a certain popular brand of herbal teas will recognize it. I didn't. Duh.
Let's rewind to last winter. I ordered the seeds. I sowed the seeds. I tended the seedlings in the cold frame and planted them outdoors. I watched them grow. They began to bloom in July.
I watched the Japanese beetles eat the leaves. And eventually I saw the "fruit".
The red bud-like structures you see above are the calyces left behind after the flower drops off. They're small at first and grow larger as the seed capsule inside matures.
Now that the fruit is here what do I do with it? Although I found many references online telling me how to prepare beverages from the dried calyces, I only found one that told me how to prepare the calyces for drying. It was the cutting-away-the-seed-part that I didn't know about.
I harvested and dried the first batch a few weeks ago, and picked a small quantity this morning before the rain picked up again (Hooray!) (for the rain, I mean). This is what I brought in:
And this is what it looks like as you cut away the calyx from the seed, revealing the green seed capsule inside:
And this is what you end up with after you've cut and dried a large number of them:
I brewed a cup of tea this morning from it and thought it tasted similar to but much fresher and fruitier than the commercial stuff in teabags. After I read several conflicting sets of directions for preparing it, I ignored them all and put about a teaspoon of dried calyces into a mug-sized tea fiilter. After measuring it out, I crushed them with my fingers to a more tea-like consistency. I poured boiling water over it just as if I was making real tea (Camellia sinensis) but let it steep, covered, for 10 minutes. It brewed up cranberry red in color, very tart, but with an underlying fruit flavor. I'd be tempted to add sweetening to it next time, but I wanted to taste the flavor by itself first.
The plant and product are known by many different names - roselle, sorrel, jamaica, and karkady are some of the most common ones. The most attractive name, to my mind, is Flor de Jamaica. I plan to grow a lot more of these plants next year - I can envision a long hedge of them.
There are several good write-ups online if you want to know more.
- The Red Tea of Egypt
- Cooking with Saril (already mentioned above about preparing for drying)
- Infuse Roselle for a Tropical Treat
- Bottoms Up - Hibiscus
Monday, September 22, 2008
If the French Revolutionary Calendar had been a global success, today would be New Year's Day. I learned of the French Revolutionary Calendar only recently and I admire the way they tied it to the agricultural year. We've just finished the month of Fructidor, followed by the intercalary days of
- Jour de la vertu (Day of virtue)
- Jour du génie (Day of genius)
- Jour du travail (Day of labour)
- Jour de l'opinion (Day of opinion)
- Jour des récompenses (Day of rewards)
- Jour de la révolution (Day of the revolution), but this didn't happen every year.
In fact, each day of the year had its own name, corresponding to natural and agricultural seasonal events. I don't understand the logic behind naming the 10th days - the days of rest - for tools. Maybe that was to fix one's mind on the week ahead?
Enjoy the rest of your Monday.
Friday, September 19, 2008
This 'n' That, Mostly Wildflowers
This started out to be a belated Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post for Tangled Branches South, but really there are only 2 cultivated plants newly blooming since last month's GBBD. I just don't have many perennials planted here yet and the annuals are looking tired. So the two newly blooming plants are a pale pale yellow Chrysanthemum and a purple Aster. I don't know the names of either one. And I had forgotten all about the Aster - the rabbits ate it down to nothing and I never even noticed that it had resprouted until I saw it blooming this morning.
The wildflowers make up for the lack of cultivated flowers. The meadow is gold and white and blue now with Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Asters (Symphyotrichum spp. if you insist), Blue Mist Flower (Eupatorium coelestinum, now renamed to something I've forgotten), and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica).
There's an interesting plant blooming in the woods now. I feel fairly sure that it's Aureolaria flava or Smooth Yellow False Foxglove, but ID is somewhat difficult owing to the fact that it's lost all its lower leaves. See the thin stems with yellow blobs at the end? That's it.
The flowers are quite pretty, but they don't last long and also the deer nibble on them.
There are several Aureolaria species in Virginia, but apparently all have some type of relationship with oak trees. All the online references I find call it parasitism, but this is a plant with green leaves so I'm perplexed by that. It is growing under some tall oak trees.
Something else that's been nibbled on is this mushroom.
I'd love to know whether this is edible, but my mushroom identification skills are nonexistant so I won't be trying it unless some expert shows up here, eats it while I watch, and stops by the next day in good health.
We haven't tried any of the homemade Inner Beauty sauce on mushrooms, but we've had it on pork chops and chicken wings. I wrote up my lab notes for Batch One over on my food blog. I didn't use any of these 'Yatsufusa' peppers in the sauce, but they probably would be a nice addition. This the prettiest pepper plant in the garden today.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, North
Now that I've got your attention, on to the less flamboyant blooms. That self-sown Gazania is the boldest brightest one of the bunch, by the way.
You've already seen most of the flowers on my lists for September's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Many of them are annuals and they've had about 4 months to grow and weave themselves in amongst their neighbors. That's the thing I think I like best about this time of year. Well, that and the fact that I don't have to water as much. In the photo below, the 'Summer Medley' Cupheas have gotten very entangled with Eupatorium coelestinum and a Buddleia of unknown variety.
There are a few things newly blooming since last month.
'Purple Dome' Aster (There were a couple of flowers open last month, but now it's in full bloom)
Boltonia asteroides 'Snowbank'
Caryopteris x cladonensis? (I think they're all self-sown descendants of the original planting)
Eupatorium coelestinum (I mail-ordered the plants growing at Tangled Branches North, but they're wildflowers at Tangled Branches South)
Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'
Liriope spicata 'Silver Dragon' (The flowers are not all that attractive - a very muddy uncertain purple)
Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Garlic Chives (was blooming at Tangled Branches South last month, but not at Tangled Branches North)
Cyclamen hederifolium (Probably. There were a few flowers last week, but I haven't checked on them since then.)
And still blooming from previous Bloom Day posts:
Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' (just had a hummingbird visit a short time ago)
Salvia 'Coral Nymph'
Salvia farinacea 'Evolution'
Cosmos bipinnatus (self-sown)
Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'
Hydrangea 'Pee Gee'
Passiflora incarnata (this may be the year I start trying to eradicate it - it's sprouted everywhere)
Sedum 'Vera Jameson'
Tangled Branches North has suffered this summer and last from drought and neglect. I've finally admitted to myself that I can't keep up with two gardens and last week I started the process of simplifying my life by simplifying the old garden. Anything that doesn't absolutely delight me is getting an eviction notice. Anything that delights me but not enough to justify the upkeep is getting an eviction notice. I hope to end up with something like office park landscaping - trees, shrubs, groundcovers - but more interesting. We'll see what happens. At the same time, I plan to continue to develop the gardens at Tangled Branches South and eventually all my gardening will take place there.
Right now I'm off to dig up some more plants. It feels very liberating.
Labels: in bloom
Monday, September 15, 2008
A Day at the Beach
Let's not work in the garden this weekend - let's go to the beach.
So we did. After living in Virginia for over 20 years, we visited Virginia Beach for the first time this weekend. For a longer vacation we prefer the relative seclusion of Hatteras Island, but Virginia Beach is closer and doable for an overnight trip.
The beach is completely lined with high-rise hotels behind a long "boardwalk" (actually concrete) and adjacent bike path. The view is better looking out from the hotel than from the beach looking back. The beach itself seemed quite clean and orderly given the number of people there. This photo was taken Sunday morning when there were fewer people than Saturday afternoon.
We'd probably go back, but not in the middle of summer and not for a long stay. A night or two is about right.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Who Stole the Hot Sauce?
The hot sauce in question was discontinued by the originator, not stolen, but either way it's gone and I miss it. Details follow.
Who Stole the Hot Sauce has been playing in my head ever since last weekend, when I read a post at OurFriendBen's place about the Chile Festival they attended. It dawned on me that almost everybody who grows a lot of chile peppers eventually ends up thinking of spicy condiments. What else can you do after you've filled the freezer with fresh green peppers and the pantry with dried red peppers and the pepper plants keep on making more peppers?
The spouse and I consume a good many chile peppers, but hardly any hot sauce. We're fairly capsaicin-compatible, so generally when I cook with chile peppers we're both satisfied with the heat level. But I mentioned the Chile Festival post to him and we got talking about hot sauces, salsas, BBQ sauces etc., and the conversation dredged up memories of an old flame we hadn't thought about in years. Inner Beauty. You can't buy it any more because its creator tired of the hot sauce business and sold the license.
We haven't tasted this sauce for at least 10 years, but talking about it made us want to taste it again. There are several recipes floating around the internet, so last Monday I hybridized them and created one of my own. I was intending to write up my version and how I got there over on my food blog, but my notes and I are 100 miles apart. So, look for my version of Inner Beauty on Satiated next week.
Pepper ID for the photos above, top to bottom: Ají Dulce, Prik Ki Nue Rai, Fish, and Lemon Drop. All those photos were taken a week ago before the storm. A couple of the taller plants are now much shorter due to being flattened by the wind and rain. I think they'll be fine - just shorter - we're still going to have plenty of peppers for Indian food, Mexican food, Thai food, Korean food, Caribbean food, and um, hot sauce.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Are you tired of reading about vegetables here? How about flowers and butterflies for a change?
The meadow below the vegetable garden has turned gold with these exuberant Tickseeds (Bidens sp.). What you can't see from that photo is the huge number of tiny skippers flitting about them.
The flowers have an attractive honey-sweet fragrance too, but you'll just have to trust me or find some and do your own sniff test.
One of my favorite fall wildflowers is Ironweed (Vernonia sp.). I don't have many of these and I wish I did. It takes a lot of them to make an impression.
The one above is past its prime, but the flowers are pretty close up. The photo below shows the individual fringe-y florets, but if you want a good look, click through and magnify the image (button will be above the photo, right corner).
Near the Ironweed, you can clearly see the path the deer made through the meadow between the woods and the vegetable garden. But I'm not going to talk about vegetables today.
My mystery wildflower continues to bloom. I've looked through several wildflower books and websites and I'm still stumped. It's about 8 inches tall with thin opposite leaves. There were 3 plants scattered in various places at the edge of the woods, but 2 of them vanished during the August drought. The survivor was the largest of the 3. I don't remember seeing this flower last summer.
This Cloudless Sulphur butterfly is a big one, much larger than the more common Clouded Sulphur. I've seen them a few times this summer and always on these pale orchid-purple petunias, where their color is complemented perfectly. According to Butterflies through Binoculars, they have the unusual habit of migrating north in the autumn.
And just like caterpillars into butterflies, pepper flowers turn into fruit! More later about my cooking experiments with Ají Dulce and associates.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Plant Tip from Tropical Storm Hanna
Don't leave your biggest best green tomatoes on the vine when over 2 inches of rain is predicted.
To be fair, some of these cracks are from the previous rain. But now that the rain is over I think I could stand in the garden and watch these cracks develop (if I had enough patience).
Fried green tomatoes for lunch tomorrow!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
I've been spending a lot of time with cookbooks lately, trying to find new ways to use up the tomato harvest. When it's lunch time though, well, we've been eating a lot of BLTs. I try to vary the ingredients to keep it interesting and having a choice of tomatoes helps here.
'Persimmon' is new to the garden this year. I'd have to characterize the flavor as average. It tastes like I think a tomato should, not too tart, not too sweet - but nothing you could really single out as interesting. Nevertheless, it has some qualities that may earn it a spot in the garden next year.
- Very little cracking
- Even ripening (no green shoulders)
- Remains firm when fully ripe
- Makes picture perfect slices
Monday, September 01, 2008
Greetings from the last day of my stay-at-home vacation! The weather is beautiful! It rained for 2 and half days and again Saturday night. I'm completely serious when I say this is beautiful weather. The garden looks happier than it has in weeks and I got a chance to catch up on some reading and basically just loll around the house.
As I leafed through a stack of magazines, I found a theme emerging - extreme gardening. I suppose I was primed to look for it. Early in the week we watched a video about competitive growers of giant pumpkins. This video, Lords of the Gourd, is worth seeing even if you don't think you're interested in enormous cucurbits. The focus was on the human drama of competition - the motivations and emotions - wrapped in a humorous package. Even the spouse enjoyed it and he usually has little patience with films that don't feature car chases or espionage.
I picked up the September issue of Saveur and browsed the cover story on watermelon, where I learned that Hope, Arkansas (of all places) is the Giant Watermelon Capital of the World. Some neat old pictures of the festival are here (scroll down). There must be something about cucurbits that inspires competition. But then I discovered that there's an entire forum on GardenWeb devoted to Giant Vegetables, including okra, sweet potatoes, tall amaranths, and I don't know what all else. Doesn't appear to get much traffic though. Probably the growers of giant vegetables are all specialists and only hang out in specialist forums like bigpumpkins.com.
Then there's the chile peppers. You may have noticed the huge interest this year in growing Bhut Jolokia (the spouse says Bhut means ghost in Hindi and Jolokia is the name some use for chile peppers). Bhut Jolokia is the world's hottest pepper as measured by the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State. Dr. Bosland of the Chile Pepper Institute wrote up some tips for growing it in the March 2008 issue of Chile Pepper magazine. If you want to know more about how this pepper became a global sensation, there's a looooong article at fiery-foods.com that covers just about everything. I'm not growing this pepper, but Ki, Layanee, and Miles are. Anybody else?
Well, if I have an extremely long life I should still have plenty of time to grow extreme vegetables. Sunset magazine did a feature in July on California centenarians, and at least some of them attributed their longevity to gardening. The article prompted letters to the editor (published in the September issue) with more anecdotal evidence supporting the theory.
We've been extremely lazy in the garden during our stay-at-home vacation. The most strenuous thing I've done is pick some big tomatoes. I guess I better get back to work if I want to live to be 100.