Keeping it inside

Photo by Susie Safford

Driving home in the early December dusk, the headlights pick up fluttering winter moths. They are males (females are flightless) out and about, looking for mates. So far, it does not appear to be a huge flight. The proof will be what happens in spring 2015, when caterpillars begin to feed. Most afflicted seem to be oaks (particularly black oaks), maples, fruit trees, and blueberry bushes.

If I am working in Edgartown, I enjoy stopping at Morning Glory Farm, usually to pick up fruit from the wide selection of apples or pears available there, Island-grown as well as from Carlson’s Orchard in Harvard. Many years I have pleaded with the Athearns, in jest and seriously, to institute a buying club for apple-loving Islanders, after the stand closes.

The standard apple selection that appears in grocery stores across the country is a routine half dozen of the usual insipid suspects. (A visiting apple guru lecturing here quipped that ‘Mutsu’ — large, dual-purpose, yellow apple of Japanese origin — would be one of the most popular apples in the U.S., if not the world, if people only tasted it instead of reading its name!) For those who are considering planting orchard trees, the MGF array, in addition to providing good fruit, provides a teaching and tasting sample. Needless to say, they sell ‘Mutsu’ apples. And ‘Idared.’ And ‘Empire.’ And ‘Cameo.’

Indoor growing

Fresh produce enters a leaner, bleaker period around now, whether sourced from one’s own garden, farmers’ markets and stands, or from the grocery store; and holiday gift-buying is about to go into high gear. Along comes Indoor Kitchen Gardening, by Elizabeth Millard (Cool Springs Press, Minneapolis, 2014, 224 ppg, $22.99) making its appearance at an opportune time.

Millard is organic, practical, and likes to keep things simple. She remains steadfastly committed to showing how rewarding gardening inside your house, on your kitchen counter, can be. This attractive paperback, invitingly photographed in color (one or more chlorophyll-packed images per page), is forthright yet unpretentious, in a style that says “you can do it.”

Although seeds can be sown in standard plastic growing supplies, in the course of her book Millard encourages the reader to look around and utilize more than merely the kitchen counter, with flat-pack shelving, hanging arrangements, re-purposed containers of all sorts, and oddments resting in the basement becoming useful. Millard spends a slim third of the book indoctrinating the reader in the details of growing indoors. Even if you thought you knew all about growing alfalfa sprouts, you will benefit from this section, before proceeding to the nitty-gritty with the sections on microgreens, sprouts, shoots, and herbs.

This mid-portion constitutes about a fat third of Indoor Kitchen Gardening, which is important because research, especially into the area of K vitamins (important for bone health and proper utilization of calcium), has increasingly shown that the nutritional powerhouse of plants and vegetables is actually in the young shoots and sprouts.

Microgreens, shoots, and sprouting — learn the difference from Indoor Kitchen Gardening— is key to unlocking it. (Broccoli sprouts, for example, have been shown to be protective against chemical carcinogens.) Achieving the know-how to produce them for oneself all winter is effective knowledge.

Millard is a hound for good soil. The final third of Indoor Kitchen Gardening is concerned with the production of crops such as radishes, carrots, and tomatoes, which might end up outside, in containers. As such it was of less interest to me, as a grower with a sizeable outside garden, yet this section too contains useful techniques, advice on varieties, and trouble-shooting advice. At the back of the book, in addition to an index, there is a list of resources.

I recommend this book for two reasons: the amount of encouragement it supplies, and the nutritional security of growing something for yourself, as much as possible. Indoor Kitchen Gardening will get you motivated and spells out how to advance beyond alfalfa sprouts.

Garlic rescue

Which factors contributed are unknown, but purchased hardneck seed garlic as well as my own garlic did not keep very well this year. When I went to plant, I found one or more softened, or browning, cloves in each head of garlic.

It was a big disappointment. When you garden long enough you experience poor crops as well as good ones. Quality in vegetables (including keeping quality in storage vegetables) comes from all aspects of their production — soil-seed-harvest — start to finish; so at any point along the life cycle of these heads of garlic something less-than-ideal may have intervened.

Fortunately, David Geiger, the Island plantsman, shared his recovery technique for this unwelcome turn of (garlic) events. This is the way he rescues garlic cloves rapidly approaching the “use-by” date: “I knock all the garlic cloves out of their skins, put them into a vessel to roast them as you normally would roast garlic, covering them with olive oil and cooking the whole mass, 350F for 45 minutes or so, [and then] store it in a container in the refrigerator so you can just scoop some out whenever you want it. Lasts months.”

In the case of my own garlic, 2014’s crop was grown in the portion of my vegetable patch I consider the most challenged, due to the proximity of a beech tree’s roots that are invading this quadrant of the garden. The tree is causing some early morning shadow too. Perhaps these factors compromised the quality. In any case, having this method to save what I can of my garlic harvest is timely, and I hope others find it useful as well.

New England Wild Flower Society

New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS) the Framingham-based non-profit, has created a new publication, Native Plant News, whose Fall/Winter 2014 edition contains an examination of the “New Conservation,” a philosophy that pursues partnerships with large corporations and sanctions natural resource extraction. It is worthwhile reading: