Garden On, Vashon
Gardening, cooking, building, designing, dreaming…
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.
A few weeks ago, I blogged about Jerry Gehrke’s many structures to protect his garden vegetables from pests and plaques. Today we’ll look at his protections for all the fruit he grows in his northend backyard, starting with his cherries. Below you can see his 1-year ‘Lapin” wrapped in a black tangle of bird-netting; on the right, his ’2-in-1′ semi-dwarf.
The cherry on the right, planted in 2005, is a 2-in-1 ‘Bing’ plus ‘Glacier’ on a dwarfing Gisela 5 rootstock. Two years ago Jerry built a 10′ square wooden cage around the tree and wrapped bird-netting around the cage, to the ground. It took three sections of 17′ x 20′ white netting from Raintree Nursery, but Jerry found it worked perfectly. “I watch birds jump up and down on its roof trying to make an opening, to no avail. And no raccoons have gotten past the netting.”
To frustrate crawling pests, he’s slathered “Tanglefoot” goo around each tree’s trunk a few inches off the ground. The wide strip was littered with bugs brought to a dead halt en route to Jerry’s fruit.
When he has picked all the cherries (freezing half), the netting comes off the cherry cage and goes around the soon-ripening blueberries. Here too he’s built a net-supporting cage out of furring strips to keep birds off his ‘Blue Crop’ and ‘Olympia’ blueberries. He planted these bushes in sphagnum moss for the acidity and moisture retention. In the inset photo you can see an even simpler pair of net supports made of furring strips.
The bottom of his yard is fenced, and here in 2005 Jerry espaliered a couple of nectarines. In our climate, both peaches and nectarines tend to get peach leaf curl, a fungal infection that overwinters and breaks out on leaves and bark during spring rains. The infection spreads on wet leaves when air temps are cooler than 61° (most of the year, here!) so planting a fungus-resistant variety and keeping it dry are excellent strategies against this common maritime malady.
Jerry’s trees browned so badly from peach leaf curl, he was ready to pull them out. But his designer’s mind got the better of that. He devised a 4′-deep roof supported on tall posts, framed in wood and covered with translucent plastic that’s reinforced with hardware cloth. Between the roof and keeping the nectarines pruned to the single plane of a fan espalier shape, these nectarines no longer suffer from peach leaf curl.
Raccoons are just as fond of stone fruit as Jerry is, but they’re stopped short at the electrified fence. I have seen such a two-wire fencing before, around Kathy Wheaton’s strawberry patch: the idea is that the coon can neither go under or leap his bulk over the two strands of wire, so he gets zapped every time he tests this little fence. Humans can easily hop right over.
Jerry electrifies this system with an Energizer on the fence, running from it parallel lines of #18 aluminum wire (commonly used for electric fences). Every ten feet is a short steel post, holding a pair of plastic insulators that support the wires (photo left, above). The wires never touch, but are held parallel at 6″ and 12″ above ground. The Energizer is good for a mile of wire, puts out 1000 volts at 6 millamperes, and runs across most of Jerry’s lower yard, protecting the two nectarines and an apple tree. A third short wire runs from the same Energizer ground screw to a steel bar driven into the earth to ground the system (photo right, above).
This system looked so easy, I consulted my gardening partner Bill Green about doing the same to protect our corn. It’s quite cheap if you buy the parts: bags of these insulators (for positioning on either wood or metal posts) are under $5; posts can be either short T-bars or wood; the wire comes on spools, cheap. Bill already had an energizer (apparently you can also use boat batteries, around $75). We’ve already had a raccoon raid in our corn patch, so next week, fence in, let the Zapping begin!
Now I came here motivated by the loss of my own strawberries to chipmunks and a hungry raccoon. So I wanted to see how Jerry saved his strawberries. I wasn’t disappointed: he has short cages over his strawberries, walled with hardware cloth permanently stapled to corner posts, a removable lid of wire fencing roofing the top. If I were building my own (and I really SHOULD), I would make my walls higher to accommodate my taller berry bushes: in my shady garden, my plants throw stems up about 16″ high.
“Why go to all this trouble?” I asked Jerry. “Because the fruit is to DIE for,” said Jerry. But I sense two other motivations: this Fruit Club member succumbs to his plants’ cry for help and the urge to do a little Erector-Set work in his own backyard.
I’ve often thought of Lavender Hill Farm as one of my “Happy Places.” Its fields of purple bloom and views of water and mountain make for wonderful paintings, and the fragrance coming off all those lavender flowers naturally lifts the spirit.
I’m not alone in seeking out that mood-altering experience. When I visited Saturday after lunch, about a dozen others were in the U-pick field snipping their $5 handfuls of lavender wands. Daddy and his little princess. A couple on a “one-year-later” date. A crew from Seattle, coffee cups in hand from the Burton coffee stand just down the hill.
“I can’t believe we’ve been doing this for eight summers now,” said Cathy MacNeal, owner with partner Tom of this lavender farm and Craftsman bungalow. The fields were originally planted by Theo & Gary Christman, but recently Cathy & Tom, with help from gardener Randy Olson, have replaced many aging bushes in the upper and lower fields. “In this upper field, Theo had planted 200 plants. We replaced them with 90 English lavenders and a central staircase perfect for a bride’s entrance to her wedding. Because we’re certified organic, we’ve been installing groundcover cloth on paths to keep weeds down, but those 90 plants have filled in so completely, you can barely see the cloth.”
As we stand talking by the “Potting Shed” where you can buy a glass of lavender lemonade or have them make you a lavender wreath, Cathy tells me that business is good. “Lots of folks come here during Strawberry Festival for a respite, get some quiet.” I can see why: when you’re fried, it’s refreshing to sit in the shade of the big hazel tree or in Tom’s new woodland garden and sip a cool drink.
A pair of Vietnamese aunties and their young nieces arrive, get their snips and quickly descend into the bee-buzzing lavenders—Provence, Grosso, Silverleaf, Betty’s Blue, Folgate, and Royal Velvet. It’s a girly excursion, full of squeezy hugs and photo ops. “Ooo, I like THIS one,” squeals 7-year-old Emily when she spots the rabbit-eared Spanish lavenders at the bottom of the field.
The 1930′s Arts-n-Crafts bungelow is now run, 10.5 months of the year, as a vacation-rental-by-owner through vrbo.com. With 6 bedrooms and 3 baths, it can sleep at least 11 people. When the family’s in residence during the lavender season, they also house an intern—this year it’s Audrey Hutchinson from Colorado, who first read about the farm in a 2008 New York Times article. I asked her what she most enjoys about the farm.
“I like waking up and cutting lavender when it’s cool. The bumblebees come out, and they think they’re going to work, but they end up just napping on the flowers. They’re so sweet, so I just cut around them.”
The Little Princess is ready to buy her bunch, so Cathy serves her in the garden cottage where she also sells her sachets, oils, culinary mixes and lavender-themed knickknacks. If you want to come enjoy the field, the u-pick, the cool shade and that glass of lemonade, get yourself down to Burton before the end of the month and grab yourself a generous handful of happy.
Our climate seems perfection right now, compared to the floods and heat-waves suffered by other regions of the country. Unfortunately, if you look a little closer into the garden, you can find plenty of problems our climate dishes up on the sly. Fungal infections encouraged by warm moist air or by cool rains. Insects that lay eggs in root vegetables or in developing fruit. Bigger pests that can claw, fly, or rear up on their hind legs to reach your precious fruit. Sometimes the best protection for the things you grow is a FORTRESS.
On the morning of Independence Day, I visited Jerry Gehrke’s garden on the north end of Vashon. Some Islanders may know Jerry as the local coordinator for the mason bee growing project, BeeGap. But in his working life, he was a design engineer of heavy equipment for John Deere, and he’s put all that design skill to work in his garden. I came interested to see the many defenses he’s built against pest & plague.
TOMATO SHELTERS: He’s made two, designed to be taken down by winter, then re-installed and re-skinned in 3 mil plastic by May lst when he plants tomato starts bought from Pacific Potager. The idea is to retain warmth in the early & late parts of the season, while keeping August rains off the plants mid-sesaon to avoid late blight, which gets on plants through rain splashing off infected soil.
Built of 2x pine on top of level, pressure-treated wooden beds, the frame is stiffened with knee-bracing and short T-posts driven into the ground, then screwed into the frame. Screws and match numberings make re-assembly easier. Each long side can be rolled down and battened with a turn-block near the base of each corner post, or rolled up and over. The short sides are always open to air and pollinating bees. Jerry says—“I use pine to save money, and the wood is stronger than cedar. Also with pine, the wood holds up better after years of reinserting screws in the same holes. During the really wet season, the pine wood is stored under protection.”
I noticed that his beds are dead-level even though his garden is on a slope, and his frames look plumb and square. He said, “Yes, level beds are a must to have proper water distribution and for a pleasing quality look ( in my mind). It does take a lot more time up front to install.”
PROTECTION AGAINST CARROT RUST FLY: This pest likes our PNW conditions so much, they can squeeze three generations of carrot-chewing maggotry into our long growing season. The only real defense against this egg-laying fly is to keep her off young carrots with tents of reemay cloth (seen in top photo). Jerry uses reemay for both carrots and turnips: “in the two years I’ve used reemay tunnels, I haven’t had one ruined turnip,” he claims.
PROTECTION AGAINST MOLDY BEANS: This one’s mighty simple. At each end of his bush bean plantings stand short wooden crosses. When his beans are in danger of sprawling over, Jerry runs a jute string from one arm to its mirror twin at other end of the row. These strings help hold plants & pods off the ground, keeping them from growing moldy so fast (though not handling the plants in rainy weather or heavy dew is the greatest preventative of all).
PUP TENT COVERS: Because Jerry plants both a spring-summer garden and a fall-winter garden, he needs season extenders to warm soil, encourage germination, and protect plants from harsh weather. So he’s devised these pup-tent lids, a pair for each raised wooden bed. They hinge to their host bed on the short ends; the gardener opens the lids from the middle, propping each up with its built-in kick-stand. In high summer, the lids are stowed under his deck; one of the pair is smaller than the other so it nests within, saving storage space.
I asked him about his pre-planning, thinking that an engineer might even have AutoCad drawings. He said—”For structures, I must have a sketch on paper to start with. I then pause for a few days to run through each and every construction step in my mind before I start buying wood and cutting it.”
In the next blog: Structures that Protect Fruit
Tah Tsai is just one Asian green that my gardening partners and I have grown this spring. They’re all ready to harvest NOW. But how to make them delicious?
A taste memory I’ve wanted to replicate for years is a plate of Gailan I once ate at a dim sum house. The dark green stems in a garlicky broth was just right on a gray spring day—like a deep jolt of chlorophyll. So I took a Chinese path through two day’s worth of kitchen experiments, chasing that savory memory.
Glenn White, who hired me as his garden mentor, had a collection of asian seeds: choy sum, gailan, chin chiang, all kinds of mystery greens that we planted two months ago. The gailan, also known as Chinese kale, grew a 2′ dark green stem that’s supposedly tender if cooked like asparagus. Unfortunately, I harvested it when the plant had sent up slender flowering stems. THEY were tender given a minute-long bath in steaming chicken broth, but the rest of the stem? Even after a ten-minute braise (by now, asparagus would been limp) and the gailan chewed like a mouthful of broom straw. NOT my savory memory.
On to Chin Chiang, a dwarf pak choi under 8″ with chubby stems and big-spoon leaves that’s downright cute. The stems are cross-cut at a slant to make crescents with lots of surface, leaving the leafy parts intact for a last-minute steam on top of longer-cooking ingredients. I took this recipe from “Chinese Cooking Recipes.net”—lots of photos to see how to cut ingredients.
This uses classic chinese stir-fry technique: bits of pork and/or peeled shrimp, vegetables pieces of equal size: chin chiang, white onion, mushrooms, carrot slices (parboiled 1 minute to soften a bit), the Seasoning Triad of a green onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and an 1/8″ slice of ginger, all finely diced together. Have about 1/2 cup of chicken broth handy, plus thickener: 1 tbls cornstarch dissolved in 1/4″ COLD water.
In hot peanut soil, saute the shrimp quickly, add the veg and saute again until tender, put aside, throw in the seasoning triad in a splash more oil for one minute, add back the cooked stuff, throw in the chicken broth & thickener, stir until sauce thickens, and serve. (A splash of fish sauce gives it more savoriness if that’s a taste you like—could also give it some heat with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.)
This dish, while good, was too mild to match my taste memory. On to—
Bill Green and I grew this at GreenDale Garden, and we’ll be taking some to the Food Bank next week. Like Chin Chiang, this vegetable is best if the stems are cooked longer, the leaves held back for a quick steam. In this case, I planned to use the stems in a Har Gow dumping, one of the most popular dim sum appetizers (most commonly served with a filling of shrimp). You have to have some Asian flours—I used wheat starch & tapioca flour—so raid your local asian store or grocery section first. Here’s my recipe:
HAR GOW WRAPPER: 1 cup wheat starch, 1/2 cup tapioca flour, 1 cup boiling water, 1/2 teas. salt. Blend until dough comes into a ball, then knead until dough becomes elastic, smooth. You’ll notice the dough almost squeaks under the hand. Roll into a long tube shape 1″ across, and let rest for 10 minutes. (Gyoza or eggroll wrappers may also work, particularly if you’re going to fry rather than steam the dumplings.)
Meanwhile, make your filling. Chop the tah tsai stems into a 1/4 coarse dice and put over medium heat in a little chicken-broth, maybe 1/2 cup, and a tablespoon diced garlic. After 3 minutes, add in a diced mushroom, about a tablespoon of uncooked meat bits (pork, bacon, or shrimp), and a diced green onion. Let the broth simmer gently, tasting the mixture for tenderness. Then drain in a colander over a cookpot: you’ll want to capture this savory broth to steam the leafy greens in later.
Back at the dough station, cut off walnut-sized pieces, press into 3″ circle with a cleaver or pie roller, peel up with spatula and lay across your left fingers. Put about 1 tablespoon filling in its center, and pinch the edges of the wrapper together on top (I start in middle, then work out to ends.) Put on oiled steam tray and steam over boiling water for 15 minutes. Serve with oyster sauce, soy, or sesame oil dip.
Finally, that broth you held back is diluted with some water, another 3 garlic cloves are sliced and added to that broth, then put over medium heat and the rosette of leaves dropped in, stem-ends down. Steam for 3-4 minutes until the leaves just start to collapse into the liquid. Serve in a bowl as a savory broth with greens.
THERE’s that Taste Memory! And even better—my husband LIKED the Tah tsai dumplings. This recipe made 16-20 dumplings, enough for a meal for two people.