Garden On, Vashon
Gardening, cooking, building, designing, dreaming…
I hope you enjoyed my article on “Low-OUCH! Gardening” this week for the Beachcomber’s Home & Garden Section. Since they didn’t run a lot of photos, I’ll run them here with comments.
The photo above is of Becky Bumgarner holding some favorite weeding tools. From left is her shrub rake, used to pull deadheaded weeds from garden beds without having to lean so much. Next is my Winged Weeder: my favorite to weed my 6″ raised veggie beds (in truth, at 4′ long it’s a little short for to-the-ground work; the tool to the right of her ear is a better length as I’ll get to).
In her breast pocket is a little Cape Cod weeder—”Like using a fingernail to scrape just under the surface,” says Becky. And arching in front of her chin is a CobraHead: she likes how it can hook underneath paving and pull out those running grass-roots.
In her right hand and by her ear is the head of the Rogue Scuffle Hoe 25S. It’s ridiculously small: a 2.5″ triangular head at the end of a 5′ handle, but like all scuffle hoes, it’s TOPS for razoring off weeds just below the soil surface. (Made in Missouri: www.roguehoes.com.) The article showed Becky in the correct stance, with the tool long enough so her pushing makes it glide across the soil instead of trying to stick and hold her up like a ski pole.
That last tool is what she’s nicknamed “The Thong—and the best tool EVER.” The Pro Radius Transplanter/Weeder with the ergonomic, lime-green handle looks like a bulb planter, but she claims its stainless-steel blade is great at loosening heavy soil to make it easier to dig, weed, or transplant.
Bad Back? Here’s how Carolina Nurik Copes
Carolina Nurik herniated a lumbar disk a few years ago while wrestling with a planted pot too heavy for her. Her place is an Edible Landscape, with dozens of fruit trees and lots of raised veggie beds on top of terraces, so she can’t quit gardening just because she’s got a bad back. So she’s learned to use new tools to adapt.
Over the years she has terraced her sloped property on Maury Island, and she’d added raised beds on top to hold imported soil and composts for her veggies. Having the food at hip-height makes tending and harvest easier on her back. To weed the far side, she sits on a kiddie chair she found at Granny’s Attic.
In her greenhouse she raises tomatoes in five-gallon buckets and other large pots. To tend them, she sits herself on a Step2 Garden Scooter and scoots along from one pot to the next.
Her advice: raise everything to a level comfortable for YOU—don’t wrestle yourself into a position that will hurt you.
Up on Sunrise Ridge, the Food Bank garden starts its growing year with a Everyone Welcome Work Party this Sunday afternoon, March 23, from noon-4pm. Coordinators Jenn Coe and Emily Scott will lead a (hopefully) slew of volunteers to fix the deer fence, pull mulch from raised beds, clean and organize the tool shed, prep flats for the Foster Seedling Program, and weed more garlic!
Vashon Farmers Market will open Saturday, April 5, at the usual 10am bell. I’ll be there selling my book, Garden On, Vashon! under the big white tent of Vashon Writers Coop, a group dedicated to helping Island authors reach their audiences. And if this market opener is like that of years’ before, you can expect first radishes, sunchokes, leeks and carrots big and sweet from overwintering, and perhaps some first spring greens from island hoop houses.
THIS is the time for grafting fruit wood. Last weekend the fruit club put on an APPLE GRAFTING WORKSHOP at Sunrise Ridge, where I learned that RIGHT NOW, before buds crack open and leaves unfurl, is the right time to snip a 12-14″ length of first-year wood from a fruit tree you don’t have yet, but would like to. That strip of new wood—hopefully straight, about pencil-thick—can be grafted onto rootstock you get from a nursery OR onto branches of grown trees. The techniques for whip-grafts, bark grafts, etc are probably in books or on the Internet; I mention this because NOW IS THE TIME!
T’was a day that began beautifully and only got better. Looking east at dawn, blue clouds stained red in a golden sky. And in the western sky just then (or so I heard) a tiny crescent moon hung daintily over the snow-capped Olympics. THANK YOU, Zeus and all ye weather gods for sending us a respite from the recent cold.
This gorgeous spell may last until Friday. So outdoors I hope we ALL GO, to clean up, catch up, do what needs to be done.
In my case, the Big Chore was to re-skin my little homemade greenhouse with The Good Stuff—6 mil hoop house plastic, guaranteed to last and transmit sunlight fully for four years. Up until now I’ve used cheap clear plastic tarps, furniture wraps, whatever big pieces of plastic I could find, only 12 months later reskinning the darn house when the sun & wind turned its cheap plastic to shreds.
After shopping around, the best price I could find was a 100×10′ roll through McConkey’s wholesale nursery supply for $125. Used 17′ at a time, changed out every four years, I think I’m set for hoop house film until, oh… 2034.
If you want an un-funky greenhouse, True Value has a spiffy little greenhouse on display this week: a 6′ x 6′ x 4′ plastic greenhouse for $229. This is a big version of my little Start Cart that I’ve used indoors to start seeds for years. What I liked about this house at True Value was the shelving: two-level, coated-wire shelving wrapping around 3 sides of the house. You could fit a LOT of flats in there. Also, the thing has a door and a back wall with vent windows. Overheating and condensation might be problems, but a person home during the day could just open it wide on sunny days and let the heat vent off.
Start Seeds Now – and With Some Heat, Please
I’ve got greenhouse on the brain, as I’m coordinating the vegetable growing for the annual garden club sale again. With the high school greenhouse in limbo due to construction*, eight club members have volunteered to grow vegetables in their own greenhouses. Some of us sowed onions and some tomatoes this week, and those without heating coils or pads are finding that their greenhouses can’t do it on their own. “It’s only 48° under my lights!” one of the Greenhouse Gang moaned to me last week. Another found that she was only getting a 5° raise in temperature in her new, not-quite-fully-covered greenhouse.
Folks, a heating-pad or heating coils under your seed flats is a must, around here. At this time of year—when we really MUST sow tomatoes or not have ripe fruit, come September—even the farmers with fully sunlit greenhouses use auxiliary heat to sprout those seeds.
At the very least, save up $25-50 and get a heating mat from Country Store, Territorial Seed Company, or Gardeners’ Supply. (No, your bed’s electric blanket won’t do.) They come in one-flat or two-flat sizes for up to $50. If you cover that warmed flat with a clear dome or a blanket of clear plastic, you’ll raise the temperature up to the 60-80° range that seeds really like for germination. Then once the seeds have sprouted, you can move that flat to a cooler space and start another 1-2 flats of seeds on the heating pad.
A slightly cheaper way is to get a heating coil—a 6′, 12′ or so plastic-coated wire with a thermostat and an electric plug. You thread these across your shelving or in a shallow box of sand (taking care not to cross the wires as they will short out) and then put your seeds flats upon them. I got one from Thyme Garden in Oregon, online, for a reasonable price. Here’s the germination set-up at Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm: you can just see the gray coil in the far corner of the sand-bed. Notice that lid on the back bed: it’ll hold the heat close to the seeds instead of trying to heat up a greenhouse that isn’t being used.
With heat, your seeds will sprout in about a week. Without heat, your seeds will take weeks, all the while enduring the cold moisture of your watering (or the drought of your neglect.)
Warmth. Your seeds need it. Provide!
* LATE-BREAKING NEWS: as of this last day of February, the high school is opening the greenhouse doors for us. A little karmic reward for stepping up with our own greenhouses, perhaps? I meet with officials today…
Seed-Starting, Composting, and Sustainable Vegie Gardening at the Country Store
Tomorrow, Saturday, February 22, I will lead off a series of three one-hour classes at the Country Store with my 10:30 class, “Time to Start Starts.” Late February is the time to start seeds of alliums indoors, followed by the week-to-week sequence of sowing tomatoes, brussel sprouts, kole crops, peppers, etc etc. You’ll get my own Spring Calendar for Seed-Sowing hand-out, plus my tips for equipment you’ll need for starting seeds indoors. I’ll tell you what’s worked for me in my teeny-tiny home greenhouse and how, in the jumbo high school greenhouse, we “Greenhouse Nuns” grow over a thousand transplants for the Garden Club Mother’s Day Sale.
And I may read from, and will certainly sign, copies of my book “Garden On, Vashon!” Also you’ll b able to compare sowing equipments, buy seeds, and hopefully meet some gardening neighbors.
At 11:30, Sue Day will introduce “Sustainable Vegetable Growing”: how to keep your soil and plants healthy and increase yields with less effort.
1:00-2:00 Composting- Join us as we discuss the wonders of turning garbage into (black) gold. We’ll cover yard waste and kitchen waste as well as many different methods including vermaculture (a.k.a. worm farming).
These three seminars are FREE, but if you want to leave with a flat full of planted seeds, it’s $25.00.
Jo Robinson, author of “Eating on the Wild Side” packed the house at the Land Trust two weeks ago. Easy to find folks interested in living longer and healthier through eating MORE of something.
Her NYT best-selling book describes how our fruits and vegetables today have had much of their nutrition bred out of them. Jo claims, “It’s not our fault: our brains need lots of fuel, so whenever we feed our brains with fat, sugar, or starch, the brain rewards us with the pleasure chemical dopamine.” That pleasure response has led over 400 generations of farmers to select plant varieties that have more far, sugar, or starch, or are less sour, bitter, or tough than the wild ancestor plants.
The problem is that many of these nutrients are chemicals the plant uses to protect itself against environmental threats—excess sun, insects, diseases and molds. When we inbibe foods rich in these nutrients, we give our bodies those same protective elements. For instance, the purplish-red in lettuce and other leafy veg is anthocyanin, a nutrient that shields a plant from damaging UV sunrays. Eat a salad of ‘Merlot’ or ‘Red Oakleaf’ lettuce, and you’ve given yourself a dose of antioxidant that “shows great promise in fighting cancer, lowering blood pressure, slowing age-related memory loss, and even reducing the negative effects of eating high-sugar and high-fat foods” (quote from the book).
But you can read the book yourself: it’s available at Vashon Bookshop or through Amazon (print or ebook). And you can see some of the plants this summer, as her garden will be on the VAA Garden Tour. For the rest of this blog, I’m going to list some foods mentioned in her hand-out “Recommended Varieties of Phytonutrient-rich Fruits and Vegetables for Vashon Island” so you can look out for them in the seed catalogs speeding your way in the mail.
Alliums: Cancer-killing properties. Scallions (green onions) have 140x more phytonutrients than white onions, garlic 12x, shallots six times more. If you need a bulbing onion, choose a red onion (she has grown ‘Red Globe’). The greens of scallions, green onions, chives and asian garlic chives are packed with phytonutrients.
Carrots: All were once purple until Dutch breeders, seeking to honor their country’s saviours the House of Orange, crossed a yellow carrot with a purple to get the now-dominant color. Look for ‘All Purple’ or ‘Cosmic Purple.’
Corn: ‘Ruby Queen’ with its red kernels is relatively rich in anthocyanins. Available only from Burpee so far, our local Thriftway sold ‘Ruby Queen’ ears last year.
Cauliflower: purple varieties like “Graffiti’ have 2.5x more antioxidents than white cauliflower—and is SOOO beautiful!
Broccoli: ‘Purple Sprouting’, typically an over-wintering broccoli, is rich in anthocyanins and anti-cancer glucosinolates.
Greens: Arugula and dandelion greens are full of glucosinolates. Red- or bronze-tinted leaves of lettuce have developed anthocyanins that protect the leaves—and you the eater of those leaves—from sun damage.
Potatoes: In order, ‘All-Blue’, ‘Purple Peruvian’, ‘French Fingering’ and ‘Mountain Rose.’
Tomatoes: ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ is a flavor-packed rambler with nearly all the nutrients of the wild tomato; ‘Juliet’, a sweet pear-shaped, highly productive cherry, is nearly as nutritious. You’ll find the ‘Indigo” series of blue-black skinned tomatoes in all the catalogs this year.
Apples: No coincidence that an apple resistant to scab and other surface diseases, like ‘Liberty’ has protective nutrients loaded into its skin. Jo also grows ‘Bramley’s Seedling’, ‘Golden Russet’ and ‘Northern Spy.”
Blackberry: ‘Wild Treasure’ is a cross between a wild trailing and an upright. Prolific and thornless, she hopes it becomes a Vashon icon.
Blueberry: Found to be highly nutritious: ‘Elliot’, ‘Rancocas’ and ‘Rubel.’
Raspberry: ‘Caroline’ is the only raspberry that has shown to reduce breast cancer in animals.
Strawberry: ‘Ovation’ has twice the antioxidant protection of other varieties. Two crops a season.
These recommendations came out of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies published in juried scientific and medical journals— “the gold standard of scientific testing,” she told the crowd. With these plants, you can grow yourself a more health-giving garden in 2014. If you don’t get the seeds yourself, watch for some of these varieties grown by the Vashon Garden Club to be offered at their Mother’s Day Sales in early May 2014.
It’s not often a girl gets to feel like Marilyn Monroe. But I could just about quote her when she said, “Oh I Just LOVE to find new ways to wear diamonds!”
In my case, it’s more like “I just LOVE to find new fruit I’ve never tasted before!” In this case, it’s QUINCE.
We fruit clubbers were introduced to Quince by Rachel Petrich, who brought samples, recipes, history, and comments like “If I make my parents a batch of this stuff, they approve of me for a YEAR.” She was speaking of MEMBRILLO, a traditional Spanish confection rather like a gumdrop, often served with slices of manchego cheese.
In an era when “Fresh Produce” equals “raw fruits & vegetables,” we’re not accustomed to a fruit that MUST be cooked before eaten. When eaten raw, quince is too tart and astringent. When cooked for a long slow time, ah MERCY! it’s sensational. Imagine, with your mind’s mouth, a taste somewhere between pear, lemon, cantaloupe and vanilla—but with much more depth and richness to melt on your tongue.
The taste isn’t the only treat that Quince provides. The raw fruit’s skin gives off a lovely aroma that can fill your kitchen for days on end. And with a long enough cook-down, the color of its white flesh blushes a beautiful coral-pink.
Given these many beauties, it’s no wonder that the Quince has ancient associations with love, sex, and fertility. Quince is what Atalanta ran off her course for, what Paris gave Aphrodite to indicate she was most powerful among the Goddesses, what Greeks still give their newlyweds with the command “get into that room and eat this quince.” (Let’s assume the newlyweds get it cooked, pink and delicious instead of raw, pale, and puckery.)
So here’s how to make this Food of the Gods
I bought 6 quince at the meeting. Back home, I found the recipe for Membrillo at SimplyRecipes.com (very helpful photos). I peeled and cored 5 quinces, cut them into 1/2″ chunks, put them into a big pot with the recipe’s required lemon juice & peel, vanilla pod, and sugar. It is supposed to cook down like apple sauce, then keep being cooked low until it turns pink. When after 90 minutes it was still not pink, I gave up on getting color, spread the paste over the bottom of an 8×8 pan about 1/4″ thick, then put it into the oven for quite some time until it got to gumdrop consistancy. (I realize my descriptions aren’t precise; the recipe is better, but this is kinda a play-by-ear procedure.)
With the remaining quince and 5 apples, I decided to make an apple-quince jam. Quince skin is supposed to have tons of pectin (and it’s also eatable), so I diced the peelings fine and cooked them for 25 more-or-less minutes until they were soft. Then I added the last quince, chunked, along with chunks of the five apples. Let that cook down with more lemon juice and lots of sugar.
This sauce seemed very watery, so after cooking it awhile I shoved a wire sieve down into the mash to isolate out some liquid, then sucked it out with a turkey baster and into a juice glass. Wow. If quince paste is ambrosial, then quince/apple juice is NECTAR OF THE GODS! The jam, once put into jars and cooled, set up nearly as thick as the membrillo, so in retrospect I’d leave the juice IN to make a more spreadable jam.
In the week I was making these experiments, fellow fruit clubbers were trying out quince tart, quince pumpkin pie, and quince jam on lamb burgers. In the following weeks, everything I made seem to go better with quince.
Plum Forest Farm has a quince tree and is still selling quinces but THIS WEEK ONLY, until the 9th when they will turn it into cider. They price by size. Plum Forest is in Paradise Valley and their farmstand is always open. So catch this Food of the Gods before they disappear into the cider mill.
This and more will be possible at Vashon Island Fruit Club’s annual FALL FRUIT SHOW, next Saturday, November 2 from 10-3 at the Senior Center and the Land Trust Building. It’s free.
I went last year and had a grand time handing out taste samples from the nearly 100 apple varieties on display in the senior center. And starting at 10 again this year, you can get your “Mystery Apple” identified through the expertise of Dr. Bob Norton, or Jean Williams, president of the Peninsula Fruit Club, or Lori Brakken, present emeritus of the Seattle Tree Fruit Society, and author of the new apple identification site, http://www.applename.com.
But I may spend more time this year in the Land Trust lecture hall. The speakers promise to be THAT good.
At 11am, Vashon’s own Dr. Ethan Russo presents his take on “The Holistic Orchard: Experiences on Vashon with an Organic Spray Program,” which is based on Michael Phillips’ ground-breaking book “The Holistic Orchard,” the focus of a fruit club study group this year. Dr. Russo has worked with the Holistic Orchard method here, which claims to boost fruit growth and plant vigor, reduce insect predation and strengthen the soil.
At 1 pm, Dr. Beverly Gerdeman presents “Backyard Fruit Pests in Western Washington.” Now some of you may have noticed more tiny drill-holes in your fruit or berries this summer than ever before, and you may be seeing the predations of a new pest, Spotted Wing Drosophila. Dr Gerdeman, a research scientist from WSU’s dept. of Entomology’s Mount Vernon station, will present organic, biological, and IPM techniques for protecting backyard fruit from damaging insects, including Spotted Wing Drosophila. Dr. Gerdeman is an entertaining, passionate speaker with an extraordinary series of insect images.
At 2pm enjoy “The Bob & Al Show: a Conversation with Drs. Al Watts and Bob Norton.” Dr. Watts of Appleyard Farms, long recognized for his decades-long experience growing fruit on Maury Island, has just returned from a fruit tour in Turkey and has stories to tell. Club co-founder “Dr. Bob” is a Maury-based pomologist who developed the fruit-growing program at WSU’s extension station in Mt. Vernon. Between them, they have over 150 years of fruit-growing experience, much of it in Western Washington.
So allow enough time to visit the informational tables, sample fruit, get your mystery fruit IDed (bring 1-2 examples) and take in our presentations. I’ll be there with my book-bag & apron, selling copies of “Garden On, Vashon!’ right off my hip (not officially a part of the Fruit Club program, but they’re allowing me to sell on premises) The Fruit Show is free of charge and open to all.
PS: Book Update: I anticipate that copies of “Garden On, Vashon!” will go on sale in local retail outlets just after Halloween. I’ll still be selling books “off my hip and outta my car”, too (cash, check, or credit-card reader, and Gawd do I love my Square Reader…). Kickstarter pledgers should have their copies by end of next Monday, Oct 28.
At last, after three years of writing and about three months of pre-press and printing, my book Garden On, Vashon! is HERE!
And I’ll be reading short excerpts from it at the Farmers Market tomorrow, October 19, starting at 11am on the Music Stage. Before and after, you can find me and the books at the new,brick-red Education Kiosk at the front of the market.
In it, I have written a year-round, years-back look at how we garden, farm, and cultivate our Island, yesterday and today. It’s a how-to book, a history book, a “How the Island Works” book. It has advice from over 100 gardeners & experts, plus (because I thought its history needed gathering) the complete history of the VAA Garden Tour, including the names & gardens of everyone who’s participated since the tour’s start in 1990.
Here’s more info, printed on the back cover of the book, along with the most flattering photo of me ever (thanks, Leslie Brown)—important if you want to get the book right away. More on that below…
So how can you get a copy?
Until around Halloween, I will sell the books myself—literally off my hip from my book bag and the back of my car. I can take cash, checks or even run your credit/debit card on my new Square Reader (see link here if you’re curious what THAT is). Retail price is $22.95, $24.96 with WA sales tax.
This Saturday, October 19, I will read short selections from the new Educational Kiosk at the Farmers Market, starting at 11am. Before and after, I’ll be at the Calico Gardens flower booth at the market and will happily sell and autograph copies. I’ll also read at the Fruit Club’s Fruit Show on Saturday, November 2, again at 11am, at the Land Trust building.
By Halloween, Vashon bookstore will have also copies to sell, and soon after True Value, Thriftway, and perhaps Vashon Pharmacy. There’s no e-books, nor will you find this book on Amazon.com—this is an Island exclusive, entirely locavore, produced in Western Washington product!
So! I hope that makes you excited to have your own copy of Garden on, Vashon!
A comfy chair amidst flowers: it’s one of life’s most appealing scenes. I know: I’ve painted many such in my pleine air scenes, and they never fail to sell.
So back in 2002 when photographer Mary Liz Austin came to visit her friend Pam Haulman, one look at Pam’s front porch must have made her recognize this scene could be a money-maker.
Pam & Bruce Haulman live above KVI Beach in a cedar-sided cottage, and their deck is LOADED with hot-pink geraniums, plus other potted bloomers. Into all their splendor lean big, chunky adirondacks, declaring with their body language, “Hey YOU! Come here, sit back, come enjoy this why don’t cha?”
When I visited and took the above photo on this, summer’s last day, her geraniums were still blooming strong with a dose of fertilizer two weeks before. “I feed them with Miracle-Gro twice a year—in June/July, then in early September—and they’ll keep blooming until November.” She normally leaves the pots outdoors all year; these particular plants are survivors of the last two winters. “Like the plants in the photo!”
She brought out Austin’s stunning image, framed and matted, and then fetched a basketful of magazines that had published the photo. Pam’s geraniums have brightened up Easy Beds & Borders, Birds & Blooms, Ideals Country, and on the cover of Backyard Living. “Sunset put it in one of their special inserts. They even called to interview me.” Pretty thrilling for a Chautauqua kindergarden teacher.
When I asked her how long she’d been growing geraniums, Pam said, “Oh, as long as I can remember. I used to plant them for my mother on Mother’s Day. Then in my first home, my stepfather built me wooden planters that I always planted with geraniums. I used to always plant red because that’s what my mother wanted, but later an artist friend of mine said, “Get away from the red. Hot-pink goes with everything.”
It’s natural that most of Pam’s garden is potted up on the porch: the soil here is stiff Vashon Till, with a cliff-edge that Pam daren’t dig into. (“though the soil just across the street is pure sand.”) Deer, now rampant, eat much of what grows around the porch (“though not the dahlias.”)
And it’s fitting that this porch, now roofed to be enjoyed rain or shine, should offer guests these chairs to come and sit awhile, because the view over Tramp Harbor is breathtaking, reaching all the way to Mt. Rainier. And the visitors can be pretty spectacular, too, like the pileated woodpecker that came knockin’ on their old dogwood, his red crest flashing in the sun, while I was there.
Sitting in a deck-chair over KVI Beach—a great place to spend summer’s last great afternoon.
Two Updates: first, “60 Minutes” unexpectedly and without explanation cancelled on Jo Robinson. Darn…
Second, I have a printer’s proof in hand of my book, “Garden On, Vashon!” The book will be printed 2-3 weeks after I return the proof to them, so I’ll probably have books to sell by October. Kickstarter pledgers will get their copies first, then I’ll take a couple weeks of selling them myself. By November, expect to see copies for sale in your local retail Island outlets. It will NOT be available as an e-book or through Amazon: you gotta get yours directly from me or other Island vendors. But what a great Christmas present it will be… (hint!)
Lyn Buscalgia’s Garden
In return for her Kickstarter pledge, I owe Lyn a painting & blog of her garden. I haven’t painted at all this Great Recession, so thought I’d kickstart my own return to oil painting by promising to go paint a few gardens.
Lyn’s is the first. Her home is, to my eye, very Northwest Style: wood-sided, dark-stained two-story modern with interesting angles, very architectural, just north of Burton. Though you can see Quartermaster Harbor through the trees, in truth the home & garden is set back into the forest and is thus shady and sloped. And this being in well-populated Burton, her outdoor space is not much bigger than an urban yard and has all its problems: smallness, highway and neighbors close by, big tree roots to cope with.
All these problems are met beautifully in the Buscalgia garden. I first went there during a summer’s garden club fete, when this small space easily accommodated 50 women, all drinking mimosas and NOT tripping over each other. The space succeeds because it’s so much divided: here a pair of adirondacks, behind them a pergola over a cafe table and more chairs. Many terraces makes levels out of the slope, and a central stair divides those levels yet again. A kiwi arbor shelters three more chatting women shaded by its big leaves. Artworks and gorgeous plants such as hostas and lilies, astilbes and ligularias are displayed along brief pathways to make visitors stop and stare. All these spatial divisions make a small garden seem larger because there’s so many places to be, to look, to gather, within it.
So that became the subject of the painting. Lyn and her husband like to come out to the adirondacks and read, favorite drinks on the side-table between them. I took photos, then at home, drew a grid and color-washed in with oil washes the major elements. Over the following week, and drawing inspiration from my art library including a copy of John Singer Sargent’s “Carnation Lily Rose,” I came up with this—
The book by Islander Jo Robinson, “Eating on the Wild Side,” has spent several weeks this summer on the New York Times’ bestseller list. “60 Minutes” will be visiting next week. But Jo opened her Piner Point garden first to the Vashon Garden Club, so we Islanders got to see first-hand some of the oh-so nutritious plants she discusses in her latest book.
“Eating on the Wild Side” is a tale of nutrients lost from our fruits & vegetables—whether by human preference or by breeding for market values like transportability & storage—and how we can get those nutrients back by choosing or growing the right varieties of produce. Those bred-out nutrients aren’t vitamins & minerals, but something called phytonutrients—chemicals that plants produce to protect themselves from too much sunlight, predators, or diseases. Phytonutrients benefit the plants and can benefit us, too, if we make those plants part of our diet.
Take, for example, looseleaf lettuce. Jo writes, “all leaves have a love-hate relationship with the sun: they need sunlight to grow and produce carbohydrates, but the sun’s UV rays can destroy them. In order to survive, they have to manufacture their own botanical sunscreen—pigmented antioxidants that block the harmful effects of UV light. Looseleaf lettuce is the most vulnerable to UV rays because most of its leaves are exposed to direct sunlight. As a result, the leaves have to produce extra quantities of phytonutrients. When we eat looseleaf lettuce, we absorb those compounds, which then become part of our own self-defense system—not only against UV rays but against cancer, chronic inflammation, and cardiovascular disease as well. The plant’s protection becomes our protection.”
So Jo grows, not Iceberg Lettuce—that pale, compact head so easily transported, eaten by Americans more than all other vegetables combined but with 1/40th of the nutrition of parsley or dandelion leaves—but RED Iceberg, here pictured, as well as red Merlot, red Continuity, and other red-leafed lettuces. The healthiest lettuces are loose-leafed with tints of red, bronze, and deep green that reveal the presence of those health-giving phytonutrients.
Red Iceberg growing in Jo Robinson’s garden. Note how sturdily it’s resisting the midday August sunlight. Back in my home garden, my green looseleaf, at this hour, is tissue paper.
Each chapter of her book describes a category of produce—greens, brassicas, melons, apples, berries—and tells you how to select the most nutritious varieties. She also describes how to store these fruits and veg to retain nutrients the longest, shares recipes, describes good garden varieties—even tells you what kind of bag to put your produce in. There’s also recommendations for gardeners, many of which we saw in her garden. Here’s an Indigo Rose tomato, so obviously full of anthrocyanins that it really should be called ‘InkSpot.”
Lycopene is the phytonutrient that gives a tomato both its latin name (lycopersicon) and its deep red color. For humans, lycopene’s antioxident power works to strength cell walls, which helps prevent sun damage and skin cancers, macular degeneration and aging skin, and the effects of diabetes. Jo has found that cherry tomatoes are more nearly like the original wild tomato in nutrient load, so she grows ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ and a grape variety called ‘Juliet’ that has 3x more lycopene than another Island favorite, Stupice from Czechoslovakia. I’ve grown a ‘Juliet’ bought at Pacific Potager, and I can attest it just keeps going all season with wonderfully sweet little fruits.
On the right is an old-fashioned apple, the ‘Newton Pippin,” a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and Queen Victoria. “Eat Your Fence,” said Jo, whose fence supports two espalier apples, the grape ‘Glenora’ and a thornless blackberry.
The old adage that “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away” depends, Jo has found, on what varieties of apple you’re eating. In her garden, she has planted an object lesson—the popular ‘Fuji’ apple that, in our climate, she says “Must be sprayed 15 times to prevent apple scab.” Her tree, not so heavily sprayed, showed the telltale dark pits of scab on the skin of nearly every fruit. Fuji is popular, but it’s not particularly high in phytonutrients and not a good variety to plant here.
But just a few yards away is ‘Liberty,’ an apple scab-free in our climate that’s higher in phytonutrients than any of the supermarket varieties. She also grows ‘Golden Russet,’ ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ for cooking, and on her fence the Reine des Reinettes, “France’s favorite apple.” She told us that she chooses plants for their nutrient load and anti-cancer properties—though it’s obvious she also chooses plants that do well in our maritime climate.
Her backyard, with its anti-cancer garden, purple garden, berry cage, lettuce line-up, and eatable fence, looked practically perfect in the hot August sun. Then she told us that, since “60 Minutes” told her they would be coming in mid-August, she tore up her June garden and replanted so things would look great in late summer. Jo, it did. Congratulations on your success and your book.
For you that haven’t read the book, go get “Eating on the Wild Side” in your local bookshop, then read it, practice it. Your body will be glad you did.