Martha’s Vineyard gardeners still picking, and planning ahead


Seed catalogues are arriving. Pinetree and Johnny’s have many of the kale varieties referred to below (and much more!) and by ordering early you are not only assuring yourself of the best selection but are also helping New England grower/suppliers. Vegetable-processing kitchen gadgets make great gifts for gardeners, and Pinetree has one of the best arrays.

Food festivals: kale

Many vegetables gain renown by being the stars of festivals devoted to them. Think of Garlic Festivals in Gilroy, California, or radicchio festivals of northern Italy. Slow Food MV’s kale festival at Mermaid Farm was a successful affair, with a beautiful sunshiny day and setting, many frolicking children, and much eating and discussion of kale.

Planted in orderly rows among cover crops, various types of kale at Mermaid Farm — such as ‘Red Russian,’ the Tuscan type known variously as ‘Lacinato,’ cavalo nero, or “dinosaur kale,” Portuguese galega (Beira Couve Tronchuda), curly Scots kale, and collards — are mostly variants of Brassica oleracea Acephala Group. The rows are arranged so that when serious cold arrives it is easy to protect them with high-tunnel structures.

In the low sunshine of the late autumn day, the plants’ intense green looked appetizing beyond belief. It is said that the chlorophyll in plants has properties similar to blood in vertebrates. Many people avoid eating greens, or just don’t know what to do with them. Perhaps they would change their minds if they knew more good recipes. Cathy Walthers’ recipe references Italian Jewish cuisine and is a surefire pleaser for picky greens eaters:

Kale with Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pine Nuts

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or pecans
3/4 pound kale, washed
3-4 cup water
1 tbsp. best olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dried cranberries or raisins

Toast pine nuts or pecans by baking in oven at 325° F for 5 to 8 minutes, or in a dry frying pan over medium heat, taking care not to burn.

Strip kale leaves off stems, discarding stems, and roughly chop. Add water to a large sauté pan and bring to a boil. Add kale, cover, and cook approximately 8 minutes or until tender. Remove to a colander and rinse with cold water.

Rinse out and dry sauté pan. Heat olive oil over medium heat until it simmers. Add dried cranberries and minced garlic and sauté quickly, stirring to prevent burning. Add kale and stir to combine. Season with salt to taste and cover until greens are heated through. Serve hot, garnished with the toasted pine nuts.

Christmas books: “The Complete Gardener’s Guide”

I confess a predilection for gardening publications that originate in Britain. Dorling Kindersley’s reference works are among the best. It is well-known that the British take gardening seriously, to a degree hard to imagine in our country. My Commonwealth-born neighbor quips that “the British take a child who doesn’t want to garden to a therapist; Americans take a child to a therapist if he does.” (with apologies to Island Grown Schools, working to reverse that perception). If there is a gardener on your list, a perfect present of a book is Dorling Kindersley’s “The Complete Gardener’s Guide,” (1st American edition, DK Publishing, New York, 2011, 448 ppg, $30) written in cooperation with the Royal Horticultural Society. This is a good and useful book for years to come.

With many new gardeners looking for information in this Internet-infused era, one might surmise that a volume like “The Complete Gardener’s Guide” is hardly necessary. However, it is a mistaken notion that one finds the answers to everything on the Internet.

While there are unending garden blogs and web sites, there is a lot of misinformation out there too. Having authoritative resources in one volume, which may be read from cover to cover or checked into here and there as needed, is invaluable. The DK publications policy is content in all its forms characterized by quality, expertise, and accessibility, supporting and enhancing the ability to learn.

This volume is packed with solid information to get both beginners and experienced gardeners on the right foot. Every page is profusely illustrated with well-reproduced color photographs, and, where necessary, boxes augment with greater detail. Detailed table of contents and index are at front and back.

“The Complete Gardener’s Guide” is divided roughly in fourths, devoted to design and planting gardens, growing your own food (fruit and veg), and caring for your garden. The final section, Plant Chooser, contains lists of specific plants, again nicely illustrated, for every use and corner of the garden.

The first two dozen pages are devoted to getting started, straightforward explanations of terminology and botanical nomenclature (a topic that drives American gardeners batty but left un-understood puts them at a chronic disadvantage) soils, and tools. Basics of botany and garden jargon can however seem complicated, and throughout the book you find boxes, Garden Speak, wherever a piece of potentially confusing garden terminology needs to be explained.

The Care For Your Garden section, from pages 288 to 347, is helpful, showing in good detail various techniques required for garden maintenance, such as propagation, lawn care, pruning, watering, and feeding. With many garden tasks, one picture is worth a thousand words, and this is something DK understands well.

UMass landscape message

In October 2011, boxwood blight (Cylindrocladium pseudonaviculatum) was positively identified in Connecticut, the first confirmed incidence of boxwood blight in the United States. This disease has not yet been found in Massachusetts, but the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources is conducting a nursery survey. For information on this emerging issue, including identification and management, refer to this fact sheet provided by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station:

Homegrown & permaculture guild

No Homegrown meeting this month. Permaculture Guild meets every other Tuesday, location to be announced.