Garden Notes: In the temperature chasms

And starting your 2019 garden.

Propagating Schlumbergera segments pruned off older plants. — Susan Safford

We experience it in the now: Heavy January downpours and downward temperature spikes (maybe they are temperature chasms?) seem to be the pattern. As to whether it is the New Normal — that remains to be seen by future data crunchers.

The M.L.K. weekend downpour and subsequent freeze-up locked up henhouse doors and standpipes. Among the casualties was the rain gauge; we were not quite ready for wintertime mode. I would have loved to have had rainfall numbers for the January total here.

As it was, the wetlands brimming and my geese swimming around in the woods were interesting, as all natural events are interesting; but while wet and freezing conditions keep most of us inside, for those who must work in them — it must be pretty much “Ugh!”

My forays outdoors are truncated, but I am hearing increasing birdcall. A flock of bluebirds charms me as it forages for holly berries in the big tree outside the porch. This tree’s berries are usually stripped by flocks of wintering robins, but now I am seeing only one extra-large robin, which sticks to a certain patch of lawn where, I guess, he is finding earthworms.

January indoors

Focusing on indoor gardening matters, I resprayed horticultural oil on inside plants, hoping for the one-two punch on the persistent whitefly and scale insects. Sort of similar to the archaic and obsolete theories of spontaneous generation, e.g., to explain rats in slums, I have often fantasized, in my botanically illiterate way, that there are only a couple of ur-pest forms, which mutate into various genera depending upon what plant is available.

Where does the “camellia scale” come from, when I previously had no camellias, only cyclamen? Where does the “cyclamen scale” come from, when I previously had no cyclamens, only a gardenia and a calamondin? Did they arrive with the plants? Do they acquire their discrete characteristics, and their entomological classifications, once they steal just these plants’ juices? Silly ramblings. Actually, plants’ pests are usually stress responses.

I pruned several of the older, gangly Thanksgiving cactus, botanically Schlumbergera truncata. These plants, which I recently extolled as “lifetime plants,” become woodier at the base as they grow. Eventually the older ones may become top-heavy and unwieldy, with the woody growth yielding nothing in terms of flowers. At that point it may be better to cut them back.

A healthy plant resprouts at the pruned point and produces fresh growth segments. The prunings, however, are material for propagating fresh plants; do not discard them. Leave them to dry overnight and callus over at the pruned-off point. Then insert the segments in dampened gritty potting soil (mixed up with additional perlite, grit, or sand), for a freer-draining mix; or buy cactus-potting soil.

A heat mat would speed rooting, but is not a necessity. Leave the pots in bright light conditions; check in about six weeks by tugging very gently on a segment. Rooting has taken place if the piece remains anchored. If it comes out, simply replace it and leave everything for a while longer.

Planting 2019

It goes without saying that it starts with the soil. I like to encourage home vegetable gardening, because it empowers people. Despite that, the deluge of choices to be made, for modus operandi, for style, for varieties, ranges from slightly daunting to complete paralysis.

Seed and plant catalogues are arriving daily, bursting with the promise of future rewards. If you are new to gardening, Regenerative Gardening, the free series sponsored by IGI and presented by Roxanne Kapitan, is ongoing. The next session meets on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 10:30 to 12 at the West Tisbury library. Please check it out, for inspiration and answers to puzzling questions.

What do you and your family like to eat? What can you reasonably save/store/put up? One of the ways to sort out forays into home food production is to consult the recipe box.

Another question is, Where can you grow? Are you limited to raised beds, or grow bags on a balcony or deck? Consider growing items that make the most of these circumstances, or in a style that makes it possible.

Starter vegetable plants are available, although the selection is necessarily more limited than what seed starting offers. Tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, and herb plants are good entry-level starter plant choices. Maybe choosing something already growing is less daunting than starting from seed, although starting from seed is amazing and can boost confidence like nothing else! Try snow peas or spinach.

Speaking of entry-level choices, most home cooking depends heartily upon members of the onion family, the Alliums. One could say that without onions, much of what we cook is not worth eating. These allium family members (bulb onions, leeks, garlic, scallions, chives, shallots) are often available as starter plants.

Knowing what to do with vegetables growing in your plot is very important. At a recent get-together of MV Times writers, it was mentioned that recipes are welcome. Here is one that uses three easily grown garden vegetables.

Bubble and Squeak

(Recipe by Clarissa Dickson Wright, from “The Two Fat Ladies”)

“There are three things to remember: 1. There is no substitute for lard or beef drippings — if you object, eat something else. 2. You need a really heavy frying pan. 3. The potatoes must be cold before you start.”

3 cups cold, chopped potatoes; ¼ cup drippings or lard; 1 onion, minced; 1½ cups chopped cooked cabbage or Brussels sprouts. Finely chop potatoes and crush slightly. In frying pan, melt half the fat and lightly fry the onion. Mix in the potato and greens; season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add more drippings. Press the bubble into the hot fat and fry until browned underneath, about 15 minutes. Turn the bubble over, add the last of the drippings, and fry until the other side is browned.