Garden dreaming “I-wanta’s”
This is the dreaming, scheming, and planning portion of the gardening year. The catalogs arriving daily are a font of ideas and “I-wanta’s.” At some point reality must reassert itself, but not yet. Maybe this is the year I will grow every dark red-to-black dahlia cultivar known. Maybe the garden will be only onions, plum tomatoes, and cucumbers. No, beans, onions, plum tomatoes, and lettuce …
One can start to go nuts choosing the gardens of one’s imagination.
Dreaming, scheming “I wanta’s”!
I have some personal “I wanta’s” this year, too. I feel an obligation to Trudy Taylor to plug for regional composting on Martha’s Vineyard. She has been a tireless proponent of this principle for years, and wonders why I have not been doing my part to influence people’s thinking.
We should have regional composting and responsible recycling of organic waste. We are an island — small, unattached, apart. We should be able to sort this out. (Especially since Nantucket has already, now a couple of decades ago.) Can we compel our town leaders to be more environmentally proactive? And why is there such an avoidance of the existing opportunities?
Take the new public safety buildings in West Tisbury and Tisbury: large, south-facing roofs, with no photovoltaic capacity whatsoever installed. I look at the new Y facility — extensive south-facing roof with no PV, and at the Martha’s Vineyard Arena, perennially fundraising for high electricity costs and structural improvements, almost within spitting distance of the Y. One needs to gain heat, while the other needs to lose it. One could be swapping Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) for the heat of the other.
Possibly, the entire campus area of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, MV Arena, the Y, seniors’ Woodside Village, and Schoolhouse Village subdivision could be linked with some combination of biomass gasification and distributed generation that would make dollars and sense for us/them all.
Space needs and cooking ingredients
Most of us come to our senses at some point, and remember what works and what is needed. It is always good to remember what the household uses, and how it cooks. In fact, I would recommend taking a stab at growing the ingredients of the most frequently cooked bases and recipes, the staples.
When my garden starts up in spring, garlic planted the previous fall is already occupying row space. In the limited garden space, it is better for me to grow all the peas I can in the spring, instead of giving over room to items such as brassicas (cabbages, kales, turnips, etc.). Who wants to eat cabbage when there are fresh peas out there? Plus, the peas are easy to freeze, and the brassicas do very well as a second crop, and continue right up until hard winter.
Plan room in the spring garden for the “earlies”: potatoes, onions, beets, spinach, and lettuce, in late March to mid-April. Garden space must be left for tender crops, planted at some point in May, when spring planting takes place. As “earlies” are harvested out, plan on replacing them with, for example, squashes (summer and winter), main-crop tomatoes, basil, carrots, and Swiss chard. Most seed catalogues and vegetable growing manuals contain information to calculate amounts needed and row space required.
For us, a paramount staple is Garden Special (from the All New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook, by Wilma Lord Perkins, Bantam Books, ca. 1970), forming the basis for many soups, sauces, and stews. It contains four garden vegetables: plum tomatoes, onions, green peppers, celery (and basil and bay leaves), all of which we can grow, and we wouldn’t be without it.
We would not want to be without a year’s supply of pesto in the freezer either, and potatoes, onions, and garlic as well, for as long as they last. We try to make and freeze as much stock as possible throughout the year. With potatoes, and broccoli and leeks, two favorite soups are easily put together: cream of broccoli and potato-leek (“potage bonne femme”).
The bounty of bean plants is well known; they form the basis for many summer dishes, and freeze well, in addition to being served on their own, cooked or raw. Less common is growing your own dry beans, for baked bean dishes and soups. This is easily stored, homegrown protein!
Many people harbor hopes of accomplishment, the bucket list of unrealized garden goals (“This year is the strawberry jam year!”). Do we have to enter cucumber pickles in the fair to enjoy a few cucumbers in salads? Easily eaten and processed fruits and vegetables are a good category to consider. Be realistic. If it requires a complicated process to preserve, is it truly worth it? Moreover, is it actually going to happen?
There are many vegetables I have not mentioned here, because people’s gardens reflect individual preferences and places. My brother has sent me seed and complete directions for producing Belgian endive, a lengthy procedure. But will it happen? For some gardeners and cooks, unusual and challenging crops are The Reasons for doing it, and that is what pushes the envelope in gardening excellence.
But for now, in January, it is OK to dream garden dreams and entertain fond hopes and fantasies, the more the better.
New garden product?
Speaking of strawberries, since 2014 was a very frustrating year for us with our strawberry patch, due to the wily Christiantown squirrels, I paid attention when I read about an interesting new product in The Avant Gardener, which I intend to follow up on.
“An advertisement for ‘The All Natural Ceylon Cinnamon Oil Pesticide’ claims that it ‘repels all insects, kills fungus, eliminates powdery mildew. Stop the squirrels … Spray on garden vegetables and fruits. Safe for humans. The most effective insect repellent. Period!’
“The product is applied by means of a spray. Use once a week and after heavy rains. It is nontoxic to humans and can be used the day of harvesting vegetables. Cinnamon has antimicrobial properties that also help to control molds and fungus as a substitute for liquid copper fungicide. For more information visitcinnamonvogue.com.” I hope it repels squirrels.
Reading a book such as Forcing, Etc. by Katherine Whiteside, or going to blogs such as Matt Mattus’ Growing with Plants (growingwithplants.com) can be daunting due to the seeming perfection of the presentation or technique. Matt’s greenhouse is inhabited by “specialist” plants, knowledgeably grown and lovingly photographed. The color pages of Forcing, Etc. are perhaps more populist, with many easily recognized plants among the more exotic ones. They are both guides.
One of the easiest ways to begin is to force or root plants in water. It might be characterized as your grandmother’s rooting the coleus or philodendron cuttings in a tumbler of water over the kitchen sink.
Pieces of ivy, impatiens, or pussy willow in a vase might be a good place to start, or forcing hyacinths, as in the photo (I have thoughtful friends to thank for both Forcing, Etc. and the hyacinth bulbs and the vases). Avocado pits, leaves from succulents, begonias, and African violets are also good starting points. Cool room temperature and frequent changes of water are helpful.
Sprouting on your kitchen counter brings chlorophyll into the diet simply and affordably.