Garden Notes: More fruit, leaf use, Kale soup tips

Spectacular fall color of Japanese maples is one reason they are popular additions to any yard.
Photo by Susan Safford

Spectacular fall color of Japanese maples is one reason they are popular additions to any yard.

Most of us are interested in adapting our gardening efforts to more sustainable principles. While we wish to avoid adding invasives to our ecosystems, we are looking for ways to expand fruit and vegetable production for our families and ourselves, in combination with busy working, civic, and parenting activities.

As with other useful fruits attractive to birds — such as members of the bramble family: red raspberries, wineberries, and blackberries; or autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata) — unintended consequences sometimes develop from their landscape use.

According to “Connections,” the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s publication, hardy kiwi vines are invasive: “left unchecked [they] climb trees to form dense, intertwined mats that overwhelm trees, leading to canopy destruction and eventual forest collapse.” Sounding as if it could have been written about oriental bittersweet or kudzu, this warning was surprising; adventurous Island gardeners have been heartened by the introduction of Actinidia arguta, the hardy kiwi vine.

Other invasives, especially those that are purely ornamental, continue to be sold and used in disregard of environmental consequences. These include Miscanthus grasses, burning bush Euonymus alatus, and Lythrum cultivars.

Hardy kiwi fruit, though similar in taste to the pricey, large, and hairy New Zealand import, is small and smooth-skinned and able to grow in our hardiness zone. Male and female plants are necessary for fruit production. In the case of hardy kiwis, a word to the wise about invasiveness is probably sufficient.

This and other aspects of food production are discussed at Homegrown, the vegetable growers’ collaborative that meets on the third Sunday of each winter month at the Agricultural Hall, from 3 to 5 pm (the November meeting is coming up this Sunday, the 20th). In addition, the Martha’s Vineyard Permaculture Guild schedules gatherings twice each month, alternating between book discussion groups and film screenings focused on various aspects of permaculture design and sustainability. For those interested in updates, email kaila.binney@gmail.com.

Fallen leaves: year’s final harvest

The autumnal wintry look is descending upon the Vineyard, notwithstanding that up-Island has been greatly denuded since tropical storm Irene: the pace of dilatory leaf fall is finally quickening. The balmy days we have had, while not normal, have been supremely pleasant nonetheless. I personally find the scattering of fallen leaves on the lawn gives a romantic, decadent feel; still, the grass beneath them appreciates air and light so I man my rake and think of this, leaf collection, as the year’s final harvest.

Raked and piled, fallen leaves gradually become leaf mould through the action of soil-dwelling animals, and micro-fauna and -flora. This stuff can be used as mulch, as is, or added as a brown (carbon) layer to compost piles. The process is speeded by running leaves through a shredder or using the lawn mower on them to chop into finer pieces. The last thing it should ever do is become filling for curbside plastic bags awaiting removal from your land or lot.

End-of-season blows may also leave heavy deposits of seaweed on beaches. Eelgrass is a papery cellulose-like material not so different, once it has dried out, from old-time shipping packaging from the pre-plastic era. I find it breaks down slowly and while doing so hosts myriad earwigs: an outcome that does not thrill. However, rockweeds, such as bladderwrack and Irish moss, and the bright green algal codium, “dead man’s fingers,” are excellent sources of minerals and micro nutrients that enrich composts and soils. Relax about contaminating the garden with salt or sand; the amounts are minute, not enough to harm anything, and winter rains rinse the seaweed.

Kale soup revisited

A recent meeting of Slow Food MV contained a discussion about how everyone’s growing kale, but no one knows what to do with it.

The end of daylight saving time brings me inside earlier in the afternoon, where it seems inevitable that forays into my “files” fill the extra time. Out come stockpiled garden reading, LRBs, and back issues of Gourmet. A quest I have been on is to find authentic uses for the gorgeous, tender Portuguese kale I grew this year, and to acquire a shredding mill.

This is a neat hand-cranked machine, meat grinder-like, used for slicing kale at markets in Portugal, so you can buy it pre-shredded. It looks like grass clippings — much better than my inept chiffonade. My search has led me to Caldo verde, a kale soup that has similarities to the Tuscan ribollita made using Tuscan kale or cavalo nero, and to local stand-by kale soup as we know it over here: usually made with Scotch or curly kale, simmered for hours to tenderize the tough leaves.

There are differences, however: no beans, and quick cooking time because the chiffonade kale shreds do not need hours of cooking.

Caldo verde

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 pound Gaspar’s chouriço or linguiça, cut in 1/2″ slices

2 yellow onions

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound peeled baking potatoes, cut in one-inch chunks

4-6 cups water, or stock

1 pound Portuguese kale or collards, stems and ribs cut out, and leaves very thinly sliced (chiffonade)

Heat one-tablespoon olive oil in a heavy soup pot until it shimmers; then brown sausage over medium high heat, stirring often, 2-3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add 2-tablespoons oil to fat in pot and cook onion and garlic with salt and pepper (1/4 teaspoon each) until softened, about 7-8 minutes. (Optional: a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.) Add potatoes, water or stock, 1-teaspoon salt, and simmer, covered, until potatoes are very tender and softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Mash some potatoes into soup to thicken, and then add kale and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in linguiça and cook a few minutes until heated through. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and adjust seasoning with salt pepper.