Garden Notes: Turning to the light

Rebirth and renewal goes for your garden, too.

Winter garden interest, Ackermann hybrid camellia ‘Winter’s Interlude’. — Abigail Higgins

We approach the solstice, time of least light. It is Advent season too, which places the focus on the child. The symbolism may be understood that at the darkest part of year, we long for rebirth, light, and renewal, symbolized by the candles of the Advent wreath, the Menorah, the lights of Diwali, Christmas bonfires, and Yule logs. 

If we are serious about our commitment to the welfare and future of children, we must undertake more to ensure that they do indeed have a future on Earth.

Winter garden 

Way to go — Pinetree Garden Seeds and Johnny’s mailed their catalogs before Thanksgiving. Talk about having your act together! It is late fall, and camellias, roses, and greens feature in the garden. Rapini, confusingly known also as broccolini, broccoli raab, or cime di rapa, is a bitter, cold-hardy green, something like a cross between broccoli and mustard or turnip greens.  

Like other brassicas, such as the kale and Asian greens groups, rapini is made sweeter by frost. It is an extremely satisfying but easy crop that can be managed in a low-effort manner. Pinetree is my source of the rapini seed, plants of which we are enjoying out of the garden now. More gardeners should know this anti-inflammatory, nutritious green. 

My way with it in the garden is to plant it out in spring, either direct-sown or started in trays/ or modules. We might not get around to eating it much then, with all the other spring vegetables competing for the table, but it is installed. After it bolts, I leave the seed heads from the pretty yellow flowers to shatter and self-sow, much like with arugula. I can then collect these seedlings and line them out in successor rows. The plants form large, rough-looking green leaves and extend to bud up like loose-headed broccoli. Bud stage is the point when stems are cut; they resprout. 

My way to use it in cooking refers to a recipe in “Vegetarian Table: Italy,” by Julia della Croce, Cime di Rape in Padella. She says American cooks have a tendency to sauté this green without first boiling it, because of the current aversion to boiling. This is a mistake. Boiling it briefly before sautéing rids it of excessive bitterness, and tenderizes the stalks. 

“2 lbs. cime di rapa, 1 Tbsp. salt, 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, 1 or more large cloves garlic, pinch of red pepper flakes. Wash the cime di rapa well and chop into three-inch lengths. Blanch in a pot of rapidly boiling, salted water, about 5 minutes after it returns to the boil.

“Meanwhile, place oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in a cold skillet or sauté pan. Turn heat to low and sauté gently just until garlic starts to color (do not let it brown), about 5 minutes. Drain the rapa and transfer to the skillet (it should still be dripping somewhat when transferred to skillet). Stir, cover, and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes longer.”

At this point the rapa can be used in different ways, much like collards: served immediately as a vegetable; chopped and mixed with pasta such as orecchiette, boiled potatoes, cooked rice, or quinoa; chopped with ham hock or other meat added; or all the foregoing mixed together with a cheese or mushroom sauce and popped into a casserole.


Winter moth

Speaking of “turning to the light,” the apparently robust crop of winter moths, revealed principally in porch lights or during the after-dark drive home, help us to see out-of-sync phenology, “turning to the light” gone amok. 

Spraying, sticky bands, and pheromone traps are the principal human forms of winter moth control. However, we must remember that birds are far more efficient and motivated to do this than sticky bands and hit-or-miss toxic spraying are. They are our allies when it comes to controlling these leaf- and bud-destroying “worms,” or at least, they should be. 

The issue is that light pollution and warming temperatures hasten insect hatch cycles, including winter moth eggs. Hatching should be occurring just as migrating birds arrive to begin their breeding season; however, light pollution and lack of seasonality everywhere, which fouls up trees’ leafing-out schedules, nixes the synchronicity. Spring comes earlier, buds break dormancy earlier, but the birds are not yet here. Or may not exist.

Chimney cleaning

As well as a reminder to perform chimney maintenance that may help avoid fires from wood-burning creosote buildup, the soot that remains in the bottom clean-out port after scouring with chimney brushes is carbon. It is a good additive to garden soil and composters; it is a mistake to discard it. I would not, however, add coal-burning soot to composters without first mellowing it. 

Ivy happens

A friend recently called and asked us to come over and plant his wall with some ivy. I actually declined, and said I didn’t think it was a good idea. What’s with that — everyone loves ivy, right? 

Again, it is a climate change issue. Ivy is appreciated because it is an attractive evergreen groundcover, its leaf iconic of gardens and greenery, and very much a part of the Christmas lore of the British Isles. Now however, ivy grows all year round, not being knocked back at all by wintry conditions, as it was in the past. It is rampant down-Island, swamping trees and stealing their light. We find its seedlings in every garden. 

On the log slips we note this aspect of garden work simply as “ivy control” — it amounts to significant billable hours. Ivy does not creep on the surface if it can wiggle its way under shingles and into foundations. It slides beneath decks to push its way up between the decking, rooting safely beyond reach. It pulls down stone walls and outbuildings, if given a chance.

Point of view

An expert contends the Vineyard has too many deer. Depends on your point of view. How about too many vehicles? Too many people? Too much development?