Garden winterizing on Martha’s Vineyard

Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) glow in the autumn mixed border, remaining interesting after the rest of the planting has been cut down.— Photo by Susan Safford

Agricultural Hall on Saturday is the setting for the second market day of the Winter Farmers’ Market. Following the market, from 4 to 9 p.m., Island Grown Initiative and the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society are hosting a dinner event, Local Meat is Good to Eat.

The event will help raise money for, and awareness of, our pursuit for an Island slaughter facility. A feasibility study is under way and it is time to get our community’s support in this process. Tickets are available at Cronig’s, SBS, Alley’s, and the door.

Expectantly, threat of frost loiters everywhere, for this year’s gardens are coming to an end. It is just the right time to start planning for next year. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has already mailed a fall 2010 catalogue that has many, if not all, of the things you need for next year, and I am sure that other mail order seed companies are happy to fill orders, too. While contemplating next year’s plans, please consider reducing pesticide and herbicide purchases and use.

Ornamental gardens are receiving their cutdowns. Beds look more orderly when neatly trimmed and mulched, and from indoors one views a scene that seems tidily snugged-down and ready for winter.

Tidiness in gardens, whether they are ornamental or food, has purpose and merit. Over-wintering insects, insect eggs, and spores of certain plant pathogens are removed when debris is cleared and properly composted. Phytophthora infestans, the fungus-like cause of “late” blights of potato, tomato, and many other crops, over-winters only on living tissue, according to recent research bulletins published by numerous ag/tech institutions. Therefore, it is spread only by such situations as overlooked, infected potato tubers left in the ground. However, other pathogens that also cause diseases may indeed be spread by debris; good sanitation is wise.

However, leaving deadheads provides food for many small birds. It is a reward for me simply to observe them, tenaciously clinging to each swaying stem, as they peck out the seed. (A bigger reward though, is having insect-control on-staff — birds year-round.) This is a contemporary style championed by designers such as Piet Oudolf and Keith Wiley, who elevate the wintry aspects of passé garden plants to art. Members of the Compositae such as echinacea, helenium, rudbeckias, perennial marguerites (anthemis), and sunflowers of all descriptions seem particularly popular with both birds and designers.

On the other hand, seed-bearing parts of oriental bittersweet, barberry, sweet autumn clematis, and multiflora rose should be cut off and put on a bonfire (after checking with the fire dept.)! They are eaten by birds, and consequently are taking over large tracts of open land on the Island. For example, parts of Edgartown and Katama are seas of bittersweet and Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii), altering the very look and ecology of those places.

This year, encouraged by the example and memory of the late Dan Prowten, I decided to dry off and save some of the tubers of the non-stop tuberous begonias we use in so many containers and window boxes. Interestingly, my Wise Garden Encyclopedia (1946 edition) had very little advice; by inference this was simply a commonly done thing then — no need to describe it.

Dry them off for a few days after removing from the soil of the container, then place in a box with a little dry peat moss (if you have it) to cover and store in a cool, dry place, like the cellar, for the winter. Check them in February; there should be micro-mini pinkish bumps (sprouts) on the tuber surface. Pot up in four-inch pots using a soil-less mix, place in a sunny window or under lights. Do not over-water.

The cockerels we grew in a tractor on grass came back, in ice, with those lovely, purely organic, chicken livers… mmm. Whether from paranoia or just common sense, we stopped eating commercial chicken livers many years back. Lightly floured, seasoned, and sautéed in butter, with a little sherry to deglaze the pan, is our classical treatment of the delicacy, but when there are many chicken livers, one is permitted other variations. The following recipe for Gram’s Chopped Liver comes from Jeff Hamelman:

“In a large pan sauté in chicken fat (butter will do) one onion and one half pound of chopped-in-half chicken livers until there’s no pink showing. Season with salt and pepper. Add two chopped hard-boiled eggs.

“All this is blenderized. If you need to add liquid when you blenderize, add a little water to the pan the livers were fried in, adding that liquid minimally, a drop at a time.” Serve on crusty bread with a little watercress or arugula.

Less rat race

Shannon Hayes’s book, “Radical Homemakers,” (Chelsea Green, distributors for Left to Write Press, 2010, 300 pg., $23.95) joins her two previous volumes, guides to grilling and to grass-fed meats. In it she lays out the need for rethinking a person’s place in the home, supported by the (fully footnoted) work of numerous researchers of health and economics. She follows this with the life stories of dozens of Radical Homemakers who have restructured their lives for less rat race and greater satisfaction.

“Radical Homemakers” is family values material of the most bedrock sort, work that people of many differing backgrounds and persuasions — faith-based to iconoclastic — can agree upon. While that might not be “breaking news” on the Vineyard, where there are numerous homegrown radical homemakers, by laying the groundwork for a movement, Shannon Hayes gives timid souls the inspiration to swim out into her current. Pass it on: good read.

The Barn Raisers’ Ball is Saturday, November 13, at Agricultural Hall. Dance with the great Johnny Hoy and the mighty Bluefish from 7:30 to 10 pm, and bring a potluck dessert to share.