Monday, May 14, 2018

Chile Pepper and Tomato Time



 It is hot and dry, just the conditions that our favorite edibles originating in South America adore. A decade ago, research reported in the Journal of Science concluded the chile pepper may be the oldest cultivated spice in the Americas. A 6,100 year old archaeological specimen, a bowl, was found intact. As scientists scraped the residue, they found it contained both chile peppers and corn. In all, seven New World sites have found chile pepper residues and also the remnants of corn. This would suggest that these two foods, still intimately paired in South American cuisine, have been used as staples since ancient times.
Additionally scientists found chile pepper residues in utensils in both the Amazon basin and on the coast of Ecuador. This is positive indication that cultivation occurred in coastal and tropical cultures, which until now were considered primitive. The peppers were important enough to be traded across the huge mountain range to the home of the sophisticated and advanced Incas.
Within decades of contact with European Conquistadors, the New World plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia where it was met with wild enthusiasm. Upon acceptance on these continents, it was further altered through selective breeding and today it is a cherished for its heat!
 Never to be outdone, researchers in the Middle East have recently claimed Chile peppers have actually been used 1,000 years earlier than the current South American 'oldest specimens'. The birthplace of agriculture has long been considered the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia where peppers were purportedly discovered at 10,000 year old sites.

Until that discovery the three oldest known spices were capers which have been found in Iran and Iraq; coriander found in Israel, and fenugreek found in Syria.  It is not known whether the capers, fenugreek, or coriander were domesticated or wild, however it has been determined that the peppers had been cultivated. *To be considered domesticated, a population of plants must have their behavior, life cycle or appearance significantly altered as a result of being under the control of humans for multiple generations.

Also originating in South America, tomatoes were prized by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD. They were brought to Europe from the Americas by Conquistadors in the early 1600’s but were considered poison by the wealthy.
Unfortunately, the flatware and plates of that time were made of lead based pewter and the acidic tomato caused the lead to leach from their dinnerware to the fruit. When it was eaten, the victims died of lead poisoning… a very unpleasant way to go. Peasants had no such finery in their kitchens and ate from wooden plates with wooden spoons. Thus the tomato was relegated as a food of the lower classes where it was widely accepted as a staple.
Not until the early 1800’s did the upper classes begin to embrace the tomato… by the time of the Civil War the tomato was accepted throughout the south as a garden and dietary staple.  Americans eat over 12 million tons of tomatoes each year, making it one of the most popular items on our menu…  Salsa anyone?
Photo credit: Dreamstime.com

Monday, May 7, 2018

Plantain is More Than a Weed


Plantain… a Cure All
Years ago I was gifted a few sprigs of the weed form of plantain by Marion Wise so I actually chose to introduce it to my garden. Mr. Wise lived several miles from us and we developed a friendship after I stopped by his place for fresh eggs. His home had no electricity and he cooked and heated with wood… his yard was a fascinating tangle of weeds and garden crops. Well into his eighties, he was a singular individual who had lived a life of service to others, taking nothing for himself… I admired him greatly. His parents had both died young so as the oldest, he took in and raised all of his siblings with tender devotion. Later in life he took in a mentally challenged man whose family had died leaving him lost and homeless. Mr. Wise was one of the few who still recalled the old ways to cure and heal… he would pluck something from the weed patch, crush it, adding a bit of oil to make a salve and it was a cure for skin cancer.
Unfortunately as life would have it, the demands of my young family kept me busy and my visits with him became fewer and fewer. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and suddenly he was gone.  With his passing all that he knew drifted out into the universe… and his home and gardens were flattened and bull dozed until there was no longer even a memory of them. I have long wished I had taken time to tap into the wealth of his knowledge for he was properly named... he was wise indeed.     
I planted the plantain and fairly soon it jumped the bed, spilled into the yard and actually took over my world. I could not recall why he had given me this terribly invasive plant and waged war on it until recently when I discovered it is indeed a miracle plant.
It is the only plant brought to the colonies from Europe where it was introduced to Native Americans … they called it White Man’s Foot as it was often found growing along well-trodden foot paths. From bee stings, snake bites and sunburns, to bronchitis, arthritis and cancer, this plant is revered among practitioners of folk medicine for its ability to cure just about anything.
 It kills bacteria and stops bleeding from wounds while preventing infection. The tonic will relieve coughing while it strengthens the heart, and the seeds can aid digestion. A salve using crushed leaves mixed with Vaseline can reduce the swelling and pain of hemorrhoids. A tonic of plantain will reduce fever, kill internal parasites, and also act as a diuretic. Applying crushed leaves will reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis and they will also bring relief to those with various eye conditions.   
To prepare a tea or tonic pick, wash, and pat the leaves dry. Place them in a bowl, cover them with boiling water, place a tight lid on and allow it to ‘steep’ for 30 minutes. Strain it, saving the leaves. It may be sipped as a warm tea or allowed to cool before sealing it in a glass jar to be used as a tonic. Do not toss the softened leaves… put them on a spot of psoriasis, poison ivy, eczema, bug bite, or pink eye… several applications will provide relief. Go to the yard and pick some… it’s everywhere!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Natural Fertilizer and Vintage Decor


An ancient wheelbarrow used as a planter

With the blessed rains that arrived last week, the garden seems to have recovered from the late freezes making this quite possibly the most welcomed spring in memory. Unfortunately many Iris and Peonies were casualties so they have cancelled their show this year. The flowering Quince, Spirea, and Viburnum who were all in bloom also fell to the conquering freeze so those of us who had waited for them impatiently will simply have to wipe away tears and pick up our trowels to plant annuals. Since the soil has finally warmed plant Marigolds, Nasturtiums, and Zinnias, who are all fast growing friends who will cheer us immensely.  


The recent thunderstorms have washed the countryside clean and at last the dust has disappeared. And an unusual oddity has occurred this year… the leaves on everything from the trees to the flowers are incredibly large and dense with many doubling in size. In seeking an answer to this puzzle the difference this year seems to be the amount of lightning the storms produced.

The air we breathe is composed of 78% nitrogen and approximately 20% oxygen. Nitrogen is an essential element plants need to produce chlorophyll (the green) which in turn aids in the process of photosynthesis. Without becoming too scientific, photosynthesis, which means “putting together with light”, is the process of taking water from the ground through roots and carbon dioxide from the air and mixing them together with the addition of sunlight to create glucose, which is food for foliage development and overall growth. Nitrogen, the main ingredient in fertilizers, is not in a usable form for most plants unless it is altered by lightning.

The intense heat and electric charges produced by lightning cause the nitrogen molecules in the air to cling to the oxygen molecules and from this marriage comes nitrogen oxides. The nitrogen oxides will be collected by the rain drops or fall independently bringing a form of nitrogen that can now be used by the plants. With the lightning the plants have received a supercharged dose of available nitrogen, causing them to become brighter, healthier, and greener.
There is a trend in gardening circles that includes a whimsical and nostalgic recycling of old farm items…. the more worn and rusted the better. It is officially ‘shabby chic’ for the garden and everything from wash tubs, discarded wheelbarrows, metal milk containers, minnow buckets, watering cans and weathered lawn chairs are set about the garden to display a dazzling array of sparkling plants.

A visual composition of plants usually contains an uneven number of items… from three to five. The contrast of the old married to the new is a striking celebration of sorts and by planting in items our grandparents owned long ago, we are connecting to our heritage in a special way. Many city dwellers must go to shops and purchase such items however those with a rural background need only go to an old barn and dig around to find such a treasure.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Extended Morel Season




The cool rains that began early Saturday morning have greened up the countryside and extended Morel Season! Celebrated among rural folks from Oklahoma to Minnesota, the magical, mystical, and utterly delicious morel is more than simply a mushroom; it has a cult following. Why? Perhaps because the season is so short lasting only a few weeks with the first onset of spring; perhaps because conditions of temperature and moisture must be met; perhaps because the palate remembers this delicacy long after the season is over; or perhaps because they have never been successfully produced on a commercial level. Regardless of the reason, the arrival of this edible gem is the cause of many culinary celebrations all across the country. Only the subtle French truffle is more eagerly sought than the morels growing in our own back woods.

The elusive morel is usually found in specific locations, many of which are jealously guarded by experienced hunters and often these locations are passed down from one generation to the next. Morels, originating from spores, are found in clusters among fallen leaves under dying Elms, in abandoned apple orchards, under Sycamore or Ash and near decaying stumps. The morel requires a host, preferably a dead or dying tree, in order to produce.

Morels are a genus of the edible cup fungi and the highly porous ascocarps are the prize. It is said that collecting morels in a porous bag helps spread the spores, but this has never been scientifically proven. Morels are a delicacy that commands a hefty price of $20 a pound if found for sale, which is rare as most morel aficionados prefer to eat their finds rather than sell them. Dried morels are available, however much of the flavor and texture is lost in the process.

After a successful hunt, the mushrooms should be soaked in salted water overnight, if one can wait that long. The soaking kills the tiny micro bugs and critters that live on the mushroom. The traditional method of cooking includes patting them dry then rolling them in a mixture of (optional) beaten egg, flour or cornmeal or a combination of both and frying them in butter. Since margarine is one molecule away from plastic, it does not allow for as robust flavor a ‘real’ butter.

There is no better way to enjoy the arrival of spring than a walk through the woods on a fine day. Add the pleasure of searching for morels, an adult version of an Easter egg hunt, and you have a perfect day followed by a perfect meal. Happy Hunting.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Late Freezes



In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Not Quite Spring

 

The Oklahoma weather has been bi-polar at best providing the gamut of conditions from summer-like highs to deep winter lows. Last weekend, we had an arctic plunge with rain turning to sleet and snow over much of the state. The early blooming flowers were sorely damaged and many of the Iris which were earnestly planning a fabulous show were completely frozen. The tulips drooped their heads and much of the early foliage has the tell tale transparency that indicates it was frost bitten.

 

The flocks of geese that were seen flying North last week were absent over the weekend… they knew of the wintry weather so they settled on local lakes and ponds to wait a bit. The rule of thumb in Oklahoma is that we usually have our last freeze on or about April 15th and folklore suggests freezes are over when the leaves on the Oak are the size of a squirrel’s ear. Another freeze is expected on Saturday morning so gardeners will have to set their trembling trowels aside for another week and resist planting the tender begonias and geraniums.  

 

Regardless of the sporadic weather, the song birds have increased their activities with the arrival of mating season and since the trees have not yet leafed, we are allowed a brief moment in time to watch feathered courtship rituals. Their songs have a new sweetness and they are darting about seriously flirting and ‘dating‘. The Titmouse, Chickadees, and Goldfinches are earnest, the lady Cardinals all look like teenagers, and the Woodpecker has begun rat-a-tat drilling to provide a home for babies. Once the trees have fully leafed, the sight and sound of our feathered friends will be minimized but right now they provide delightful entertainment in the garden.

 

It must be noted that early buds are swelling on the Maples and Elms and with them comes considerable pollen and without rain it is floating about. Without going into intricate scientific explanations, it may be simply stated that the pollen of most trees, shrubs, and grasses is lighter than the pollen of flowers. It is carried by the wind as high as three miles up and as far as 100 miles from the original plant. Easily inhaled, it is the culprit of the condition called hay fever (or allergies) as it may irritate an individual’s throat and nose. With our typical breeze often increasing to driving winds, it is impossible to avoid this early pollen. As way of compensation, the pollen on flowers that arrive later in the season is generally much heavier… meaning it does not tend to blow about with such a vengeance. Thus as the season progresses, allergies will ease a bit. However annoying it may be now, it is necessary for the plant reproduction so we must be accommodating… while sneezing our way through spring.

 

Photo: Oak buds swelling.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Darling Dandelions







Easter weekend provided us with the blessing of a perfect sunny Saturday before the chill arrived for Easter Sunday. Many of us received a smattering of frost while others got a light freeze.  The early blooming bulbs have built-in antifreeze, so the Jonquils and tulips are all fine. However gardeners who purchased summer annuals at nurseries may notice a tell tale transparent look to the foliage signaling it has been frost bitten and probably will not survive. In my opinion, it is best to grow annuals from seed since the seeds seem to instinctively know when conditions are best to emerge.  

 

A true sign that spring has arrived are the bright yellow dandelions that began blooming in full force several weeks ago. We can thank the colonist for bringing the dandelion to the New World. Its name is a French derivative which means ‘lion’s tooth‘, referring to the leaves which have saw-like ‘teeth’. The golden yellow head is a cluster of tiny flowers which appear as one. Its roots have hair like tendrils, each of which is capable of producing a plant and the seeds are fertile without pollination. The dandelion was purposefully imported to the Midwest to encourage survival of honeybees and it is among the most widely recognized plants, growing worldwide.

 

The Dandelion has many admirable attributes if one can get beyond the compulsion of having a perfect lawn. In fact the medicinal properties make it a natural garden darling.

Early dandelion greens which appear before most other edibles are a plethora of nutritional benefits. Leaves may be added to salads and have a crisp flavor which resembles chicory or endive and have the ability to ‘cleanse the blood‘. They contain more beta carotene than carrots and are richer in iron and calcium than fresh spinach.

 

They may be sautéed with other greens and onions as a side dish. Used in Europe, China and among Native American tribes, tea made from the leaves or roots is a gentle diuretic and system restorative. Stomach, liver and digestive problems have all been greatly alleviated by drinking dandelion tea, which does not tend to have the side effects of pharmaceutical medications. A tea taken now will cleanse the body of toxins which have built up over the housebound winter and allow an energetic ‘fresh start’ for spring activities.

 

The cheerful little flowers are sensitive to light so they open with the morning sun and close at dusk. The sweet delicate seed head is a wonder unto itself and has its own urban legend. It is said if one makes a wish and all of the magical seeds are dispersed with one breath, the wish will be granted. 

 

*My children grumbled but drank the tea each spring.

Photo: Catherine Dougherty... make a wish!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Crocus Produces Exotic Saffron





Spring is in full swing and the lovely spring crocus are peeking above the ground, reminding us that the early arrivals will be punctual. Native to southern Asia, the Netherlands now control much of the market by producing hybrids of amazing breadth and color. Crocus grow from corms and were introduced to the Netherlands from the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador in the 1560s. A few corms were forwarded to Carolus Clusius at the botanical garden in Leiden and by 1620 new garden varieties had been developed.

Hardy perennials, the plants are found naturally in a wide range of habitats, including woodlands and meadows. However the most fascinating species of all is the Crocus Sativus, which blooms in autumn... saffron, one of the most ancient and celebrated of all spices, is produced from the scarlet stigmas. It takes a mind boggling 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound which explains the expense of this exotic spice... it costs approximately $120 an ounce!


Research yields that Saffron-based pigments have been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric beasts in Iraq. Sumerians used wild saffron in remedies and magical potions. Ancient Persians cultivated saffron for personal use or trade and by the 10th century B.C. saffron threads were woven into textiles, offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Saffron threads would be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops mimicked the practice and brought saffron-bathing back to Greece.

European cultivation of saffron plummeted following the Roman Empire's fall however the spread of Islamic civilization allowed reintroduction in Spain, France, and Italy. Saffron was widely sought as a curative medicine and during the Black Plague of the 14th century, demand exceeded local availability and much of it had to be imported by ships from southern Mediterranean lands. The theft of one such shipment by noblemen sparked the fourteen-week "Saffron War". The conflict and resulting fear of piracy spurred significant saffron cultivation in Basel, which grew prosperous from saffron alone.

Cultivation and trade then spread to Germany where the price of the spice tempted many growers to add various ingredients such as beets to the mix. These epidemic levels of saffron corruption brought on the Safranschou Code, under which those convicted of altering saffron were fined, imprisoned, and even executed.

Saffron cultivation spread throughout England with the Essex town of Saffron Walden emerging as England's prime saffron growing center. As more popular spices were discovered, saffron production decreased and today only southern France, Italy, Spain, and India have continued significant cultivation.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Parsley is Perfect



Spring arrived Tuesday amid chilly howling winds, which somehow seem typical for Oklahoma. This winter produced the deepest freeze since the winter of 2011, which was long and dreadful.

A marvelous cool weather herb is parsley which is lovely with its clear vibrant green and curled leafy texture. Parsley is mentioned often throughout history, and not only for its culinary and medicinal properties. The early Greeks made crowns of parsley to bestow upon the winners their athletic games and it is used in the Hebrew celebration of Passover as a symbol of spring and rebirth. The notoriously wild Romans wore garlands of parsley on their heads to prevent them from becoming intoxicated… of course it did not, however it did settle their stomach as they continued to drink. It is mentioned as one of the plants in the gardens of Charlemagne and Catherine de Medici.

 In medieval times parsley was surrounded by much superstition due to the germination of the seeds. One belief claimed that the extremely long germination period existed because they traveled to hell and back seven times before sprouting. Naturally superstitious farmers were afraid to grow it especially since one belief stated if it was growing near the house there would be ‘a death within a year’.
Parsley is popular once again as people seek natural means to cure or avoid illnesses… and this herb has a wide range of health benefits ranging from strengthening the immune system to regulating blood pressure.   

It is high in  Beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body and reduces the risk of diabetes, colon cancer, and atherosclerosis. The vitamin K in parsley helps regulate blood clotting and may be helpful in reducing bone loss and fractures. When eaten with a bit of lemon the combination will kill 97% of bacteria present in the body!


Everyone who has eaten at a restaurant is aware there is always a small sprig of parsley served with the main course. The history of its use as a food decoration began in the late 1800’s when butchers decided the curly green looked good placed on or near meat displays. In the 1970’s as frozen foods became more common in restaurants, parsley was used to make the meals look more appealing and in 1978, the Southern California Restaurant Association issued a statement saying that ‘We must make food attractive. It’s part of the cost of putting an item on the table.’ And thus parsley once again made its way to the American table.

Since parsley can help cleanse the palate, freshen breath, and settle the stomach it is an ideal condiment to consume following a meal. Don’t leave it on the plate… eat it!

*Plant some since butterfly larva love it!


Monday, March 12, 2018

Raging Red Cedars


 


The drought, high winds, and the pollinating Red Cedars have created a health hazard for practically everyone who ventures outside. Over the years, observation indicates that Cedar pollen continues to increase in potency and if one merely brushes by one, a mist will swirl about the hapless wanderer.
The Cedar is a determined tree, and the product of evolved survival tactics. A Cedar will grow in impossible conditions and each one will selfishly take any and all available water, leaving less aggressive trees to perish. The fact they have adapted so well would be wonderful if they were not so prolific.
This time of year, Cedars produce massive amounts of microscopic pollen which can travel hundreds of miles on the wind. Ranging in color from deep yellow to burnt sienna, this pollen is famous for the effects it has upon the human race, causing much misery as it drifts through the air. The female trees are covered with small blue berries… each one is an infant Cedar tree. The birds find the berries delicious and the baby Cedars are spread through the bodies of the birds. The birds gorge themselves, fly to rest in leafy trees, and drop a Cedar ‘package’ of unprocessed berries to grow at the base of the tree. The aggressive adolescent Cedars surround and literally choke or starve any other species of tree, taking all water and nutrients from the soil for themselves.
In retrospect it is an amazement they were purposefully introduced to Oklahoma as wind breaks to hold the land following the dust bowl… their reputation as invasive had not been established back then. In my research I discovered a helpful site called ‘People Against Cedars’. This web-based Texas group organized to provide the latest information in the battle to control Cedar trees. Their mission statement is ‘to make the public aware of this menace and give them knowledge about the most effective means of reduction. We also encourage the replacement of cedar trees with more beneficial trees like native oak, elm, or other non invasive species’.
Since Cedar pollen is so prolific, it is wise to make efforts to partially protect yourself from allergy based illnesses. Obviously the more time spent outdoors the more problems with allergies so do not invite pollen inside by opening doors and windows for fresh air on pretty days…  there is no fresh air during Cedar season. Wash your hands after playing in the yard, wash your hair before bed, and change your pillowcase daily. If necessary take an antihistamine to relieve allergy symptoms and remember Cedar season does not last forever…. it just seems so.

Photo: The Cedar appears to be dead, but it is just covered with pollen it is planning on tossing to the 4 winds!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Darling Daffodils... Naturalizing Them


Naturalized in a woodland setting... stunning! 

To the delight of gardeners everywhere, Monday brought the unmistakable signs of Spring. The song birds were calling and courting, the current bushes began to swell with tiny blooms, and the Sun was unmistakable as it shone through the windows in an altogether different place making formerly invisible dust shine on every surface.  

The mist Sunday managed to moisten the garden and before the winds could dry it out, the darling daffodils began to swell and bloom. Daffodils are among the first to arrive at the garden party, ushering in the joy of spring with their shiny faces. They have so few requirements that they may be successfully grown by anyone… even novice gardeners and children will be enthralled by their ease. There are early, mid, and late blooming varieties and the colors range from traditional yellow to apricots, pinks, and even whites. Planting some of each will allow for a continuous show all spring.

Daffodil bulbs multiply underground and over time become truly spectacular if left undisturbed. Unlike the tulips which bloom only once, one bulb eventually becomes ten or more so they should to be planted with enough room to spread. A large bag of Daffodils will not break the bank either and for this reason they are perfect candidates for a process called ’naturalizing’.

Naturalizing is a show of blooms that has been left undisturbed until over time the bulbs have evolved into a large and spectacular show. The site chosen may be at the edge of a field or orchard, on a hill, or any random unexpected place a spot of spring beauty will be appreciated. To naturalize with spontaneity, randomly toss the bulbs and plant them where they have landed… children love this unexpected fun and will be eager to help. Or choose to plant in swirling drifts, so the blooms seem to be drifting as a sea of early color… a large display of daffodils is truly show-stopping. 

The area chosen for naturalizing bulbs needs good drainage but since Daffodils bloom before foliage appears, sun light is not a factor and they may be planted under trees. Plant six inches deep and allow for their expansion. Following blooming the foliage must be left for six weeks or so to collect and store energy for blooms the next year. It may be cut or mowed once it has dried and becomes brittle… it is spent and the bulb no longer needs it.

We have planted bulbs in our woods and each year their show is more amazing… and Lake Aluma located in NE Oklahoma City has a show stopping display right now. Since non-residents may drive around the gated addition to view it, try to do so this week.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Saved Seeds... A Gift


A worker sorting and saving seeds at the Vavilov institute
A week ago we thought Spring had arrived then last Thursday Winter reappeared with a vengeance. Sleet and thunder snow, a rare occurrence, was followed by a welcome albeit cold rain, with many receiving over an inch. As the weather warmed over the weekend, the greening of the garden began, sending shivers of delight to the gardener’s heart.

Last week an important announcement for mankind was made very quietly, lost among frivolous news. I have written before about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway and this week it will open so scientists can add 60,000 new seeds to the existing collection of millions. The vault, located at the coldest point on the planet is referred to as the Doomsday Vault. It houses seeds from all parts of the world which contain seed biodiversity that will assure mankind’s survival. Should a man made or natural disaster wipe out existing crops, seeds from the vault may be called upon to begin agriculture once again. Syria is an example as chemical bombing has rendered former agricultural land a barren desert… it will need new seeds at some time.

The concept of a modern seed vault became a reality as warfare during WWII caused famine across Europe. No stranger to famine, Europe had suffered many before, losing thousands of people to starvation. In St. Petersburg, a family of scientists had studied plant genetics and decided that preservation of seeds was paramount, for without them famine was inevitable. A Seed Institute was founded by a man named Nikolai Vavilov and his collection of seeds became the largest in the world.

When German forces began a 900 day bombardment, blocking food and supplies to the city of St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) Vavilov was targeted, arrested, and tortured because of his work. The Germans wished to confiscate the contents of the Seed Institute to preserve their ‘scorched earth’ policy which would leave their Russian rivals no way to recover from the war. Refusing to cooperate, Vavilov died in prison of torture and starvation.  

 Following his death, his staff persevered in secret counting, sorting and storing seeds. Even when discovered, arrested, and tortured, all refused to reveal the hidden location of the seed vault. Although they too were starving none of them consumed the seeds in their care. Following the War, when the vault was discovered and opened, the body of one the scientists was found slumped over the bags of rice seed he was guarding… they were safely sealed.

 Nobility is the highest calling and those who value humanity over their own survival deserve honor. Throughout history, gardeners have proven their love of mankind and this story illustrates it beautifully.  

Monday, February 19, 2018

Fresh Produce Alert


Enjoy a winter salad after the produce has been thoroughly washed
*Do NOT eat a salad at a restaurant if the lettuce id dry... it has not been washed! 

The weather is finally somewhat stable and we actually got a bit of rain. The garden is grateful and the moisture gave hope to the emerging spring flowers… buds of the Redbud and Lilacs are swelling and three Jonquils are in bloom!
We have had another alert about produce and we were told to avoid Romaine lettuce. The recalls began in 2006 with spinach and the culprit was finally assigned to hog waste and rightly so... religious texts are full of references to avoid hogs. Several years ago the tomatoes were apparently poisonous, causing severe illness, then peppers, and the list grows weekly. Fresh produce is available year round, but at a cost… most of it is produced in third world nations that are notoriously dirty.

What plants utilize from the soil goes directly into what they produce and thus care must be taken to properly wash them. Contrary to popular belief, produce is often unwashed when packaged. On a television special I noted workers packaging strawberries in the field. The strawberries arrive at the supermarket with whatever the worker had on his hands at the moment… and my visual of a worker harvesting while ill is not good. 
I also watched a popular cooking show and noted the lady making the luscious cake did not wash either the strawberries or the blueberries she put between layers of whipped cream. Always assume produce is dirty upon arrival in the market… enjoy it after it has been properly washed.

Lettuce, tomatoes, squash and the like must be carefully washed, onions must be peeled, and celery and potatoes scrubbed with a vegetable brush, and so forth. Don’t wash off dirt…cut it out and toss it. Although she was not Jewish, my grandmother, an excellent cook and a thrifty lady, kept a kosher kitchen. She never used the same cutting board for meat and vegetables and knew cooking kills much of the bacteria naturally occurring on meat but that it may be transferred to raw produce. She utilized yesterday’s newspaper to catch vegetables peelings then tossed it‘s folded contents into the trash or the compost bin.

Wash your hands between preparation of raw meat and vegetables and sanitize the counter often. Women are encouraged not to place their purses on the counter as purses are notoriously filthy on the bottom… the very thought of what my purse has ‘seen’ makes me wince. The same is true of school supplies and back packs…keep them off the counters as they are a germ fest.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Natures Antibiotics


Wild Rose Hips... to ensure health
The weather of late has been schizophrenic to say the least and the forecast predicts more erratic behavior in the coming weeks. With temperature fluctuations, pollen floating about, and the influx of flu it would be wise now to look to nature to boost the immune system and prevent illness.

Until the advent of antibiotics, Nature provided all the ingredients to ensure survival and health for the inhabitants of the planet. Here in North America our own Native Americans survived severely harsh conditions with an intricate knowledge of healthful foods. The Plains Indians ate as they nomadically traveled and the Apache alone had over 200 items in their yearly diet. Much of what they “found” along their path was both nutritional and medicinal.

An example of one of their naturally occurring health boosters are the Rose Hips found on wild bushes from Texas to North Dakota. Rose hips have long been a valuable source of Vitamin C, which easily boosts the immune system. The hips are the berries formed on wild roses following their flowering and contain as much ascorbic acid as an orange. In fact the portion of the orange containing the most health benefits is the bitter white inside the rind that most people discard. During WWII the federal government recommended that citizens add rose hips to their stews as a vegetable and recommended brewing it as a tea for the health benefits.

Another valuable immune boosting plant is the Echinacea. Results of archaeological digs indicate that Native Americans have used this marvelous plant for over 400 years. It was used to treat everything including infections, wounds, scarlet fever, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Considered a valuable cure-all for hundreds of years, its popularity declined with the advent of antibiotics. Today Echinacea is used to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold or flu, and the symptoms which accompany them such as sore throat, cough and fever.

Recent reports from the medical community have issued alarms that antibiotics no longer work; our systems are saturated with them. It is not necessary to actually take an antibiotic to ingest substantial amounts of them either. They arrive in our bodies from consuming milk and meat from cattle that are overly medicated, eggs from chickens that receive a daily dose, and so forth. I consider this medical warning a strong indication that we best seek natural cures that have been around for eons. Nature contains an arsenal of plants and herbs that were put here for us to use... they are the plants that kept our ancestors alive and well. They are easily obtainable as supplements and teas today and they are perhaps a necessity as winter continues along its frigid path.

Medieval Gardens



There is little action in the garden as the deep freezes continue so noting historical events is interesting. In 2003, the buried remains of a 700-year-old garden at Whittington Castle in Shropshire, England changed historian's understanding of medieval gardens.

The 14th-century garden had one of the earliest and largest viewing mounts ever found in England, an unusual layout, and an elaborate ditched water system. Viewing mounts were created to provide elevated views of a castle's garden, grounds, and surrounding landscape and symbolized the owner's wealth and high status… Wittington had one of the first such mounds.

The Whittington Castle mount, a 16-foot man-made mound, puzzled archaeologists for years. However historical researcher Peter King discovered in records dating to 1413 reference to ‘a garden with a ditch of water around it,’ which led archaeologists to conduct a geophysical survey of the area. Employing techniques such as magnetometry, ground penetrating radar, and soil resistivity surveying to look below the site's surface, the archaeologists traced the buried outlines of the paths and rectangular plots of the garden. The findings suggest the mount and garden were built sometime between 1300 and 1349.

It is the earliest example to survive in the United Kingdom and was quite ornate in its heyday. Wittington had been built as a stronghold for the protection against Welsh raiders, the French and Scots, and when the hostilities ended in 1282 the landowners turned their attention to such leisure luxuries as gardens.

The Nearby streams, no longer essential to the defense of the castle, were diverted to fill trenches surrounding the castle thereby creating a moat. Small footbridges needed to be crossed to reach the garden while another footbridge connected the garden and the viewing mount.

Following Wittington, lavish water features became common in medieval high status gardens and a special pavilion was perched on the top of the mount so vistas of parkland with unusual imported animals and fruit trees could be viewed from above.


These gardens were statements of the owners' wealth and power, designed to imitate a vision of paradise and to impress visitors. The Wittington castle was owned first by Fitz Warin and his family… Knights of the First Order, wealthy from dutiful Service to the Monarchs they owned it from 1204 to 1420 and it is they who built the spectacular gardens for their enjoyment.

Several hundred years later it would be in ‘utter ruin’. It is unfortunate Wittington has been reduced to piles of stone however it is amazing that technology has allowed us to view this long buried British treasure.

* Of note: The ruins are said to be haunted.
*Photo is of the gate houses, all that remains of the Castle.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Gardeners: The Eternal Optimists

As you can see, mine is a mess!

As January continues to drone on, there is little to do in the garden, and dusting the house is not nearly as satisfying as playing in the real dirt outside. Now is the time to review your gardening journals to note seasonal happening of the past.
Year after year, depending upon one's memory becomes impossible as a first garden slowly turns into successive decades of them. Lovely gardens visited, names of plants, and often disastrous experiments may be lost to memory entirely unless there is a reminder of them. Not to mention the sorrow of accidentally severing sleeping bulbs while planting new ones. Left to chance, the established garden may suffer unless careful records are kept and a five year journal is best.

Now, when the garden is resting is a good time to review the endeavors of the last season and make note of exactly which plants thrived and those we accidentally killed. I have a list of those I have loved and lost, and often wonder if my favorite roses will greet me in heaven. I also have a list of those that will not acclimate to my garden; like the detestable Rhododendron which was finally sent to the rubbish heap, banished forever. Year after year it was a struggle to keep it alive, moving it from place to place, from sun to dappled shade, from various drainage and variable soils, until at last I forced myself to abandon it altogether and promise never again. The same is true of Hydrangeas who will absolutely refuse to live here for any reason and are a waste of otherwise well-spent money.

The winter months are perfect for planning for the next season. By reviewing a journal, one may note when to expect the early Crocus, the Stars of Bethlehem and Peonies. Or when the last freezes arrived and how the fruit trees fared. Journals may include diagrams of the location of perennial plants and bulbs so there will be no mistakes when adding new guests in the garden. The growth cycle from planting the seeds to enjoying full bloom may be noted, as well as the scent of flowers and the taste of vegetables at their peak, and which years were best. If left to recall crops may not be rotated yearly, which may result in poor vegetable yields.

 Photographs of the gardens according to year are helpful as well; to look back five, ten, even twenty years and see how plants grew, how light changed is an amazing trek. Gardening is so dependent on the weather that some gardens that were spectacular in May were gone by July with no rain and 107 degree heat, yet some years have been rewarding all season. The beauty of the garden is really at the whim of circumstance no matter how much we try otherwise. Late freezes, freak hail storms, torrential rain, no rain, wind, temperatures over 100 degrees for days on end, hoards of locust… we gardeners face some daunting obstacles and yet remain the eternal optimists!

 Finally, please remember to water at least twice a week, weather permitting… it is far too dry without significant rain for several months and the garden is suffering.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

Catalogues and Cedar Trees

Seasonal Thoughts
 
 
The weather is that of deep winter and but for the birds scurrying about there is little action in the garden… it is resting, awaiting  Spring. After the fervor of the holidays many gardeners are content to relax and browse the catalogues that begin arriving this time of year to temp us with new and amazing gifts we may bequeath our gardens.  Considered the gardeners ‘dream books’ they are generally poured over until threadbare as they feature the latest hybrids. Always intriguing hybrids, which are genetically modified to alter the look and performance of a plant, often produce a product which is astounding.
The cramped and simple gardens belonging to poor laborers and factory workers in Europe were the birthplace of the hybridized flowers we now know. In the early 18th and 19th centuries the Carnation, which was once the size of a dime-sized Dianthus, grew to the proportions we now recognize. Petals were doubled and redoubled as enthusiastic breeders toiled in their tiny spaces after working long hours at their jobs.  Plant breeders today work as tirelessly as their predecessors so plan to add something totally new, unusual, and fantastic this coming season.
Being house bound this time of year is perhaps a blessing since the Cedars are currently pollinating and if one merely brushes by one, a pale yellow mist will swirl about the hapless wanderer. This pollen causes considerable misery to those who dwell among them and they are prolific throughout the state. It is an ancient tree with the oldest known living tree to be over 500 years living near Tulsa… it is obviously a determined tree and the product of evolved survival tactics. It will grow in impossible conditions and each one will selfishly take any and all available water, leaving less aggressive trees to perish at their feet.
The female trees are covered with small blue berries; each one is an infant Cedar tree. The birds gorge themselves in a frenzied feast, fly to rest in leafy trees, and drop a Cedar ‘package’ of unprocessed berries to grow at the base of the tree. The aggressive adolescent Cedars surround and literally choke or starve any other species of tree, taking all water and nutrients from the soil for themselves.
In retrospect, it is an amazement they were purposefully introduced enmass to Oklahoma as wind breaks to hold the land following the dust bowl. At the time the public was unaware of their aggressive nature and their rapid growth and hardy habits were considered a miracle. Forestry folk encourage the replacement of cedar trees with more beneficial trees like native oak, elm, or other non invasive species.
Photo: Princess Parizade Bringing Home the Singing Tree from The Arabian Nights, 1906, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish.  
*I wish to see a singing tree!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

In Praise of the Potato

You know we have turned the corner with Winter when the potatoes begin to sprout!
Julia and I will plant the sprouts since I don't have the heart to toss them!
Wednesday the Potato Expo will begin in Orlando Florida. Potato growers from all over the country will gather to share all their insights on the potato... exciting vegetable news is rare!

Cultivated globally, the potato has long been considered the world’s most perfect food and has been credited with saving people from the brink of starvation. The failure of the potato crops in Ireland created a famine causing thousands of people to flee that tiny nation in search of food... thus the Irish immigrants arrived on our shores.   

The potato is native to Peru with the earliest tuber remains found dating back to 2500 BC. Potatoes provided the principal energy source for the Inca Empire and its Spanish successor. In Bolivia and Peru in altitudes above 10,000, tubers exposed to the cold night air are made into chuño. Making chuño, which means frozen potato in Spanish, is a five day process during which the potatoes are frozen for three nights then subsequently exposed to bright sunlight each day. By the end of the process the chuno is chopped and may be stored for years with no loss of nutritional value. The potato was introduced to Spain and cultivation traveled throughout all of Europe by the 1600's, reaching the American shores by 1621 when the Governor of Bermuda sent a chest of them to Jamestown, Virginia. 

Astounding potato news was released last year as a new scientific study was begun in Lima, Peru. Lima's International Potato Center is a nonprofit research facility that seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security for millions globally. They have chosen the La Joya Pampas, a sector of the Atacama Desert in southern Peru, for an experiment in growing potatoes in harsh conditions. The La Joya Pampas are considered perhaps the driest place on earth... nothing grows and there is no insect or animal life. It was selected because it resembles Mars.

Of the 100 potatoes selected for the experiment, 40 are native to the Andes Mountains, all are conditioned to withstand sudden climate changes, and to reproduce in rocky, arid terrain. Sixty have been genetically modified to be immune to viruses and survive with little water and salt. The head of the experiment, Peruvian Julio Valdivia-Silva is concerned as cropland disappears and population grows, millions may starve. He is hopeful that perhaps food may eventually be farmed on Mars to feed our ever-growing population.
 A potato will draw poison from a wound. Michael had a bad toothache once and the dentist put an intricate drain in the wrong place so he was in agony. I had him put a thin slice of potato on the gum line above the abscess and after about 15 minutes it popped and drained. After swishing with hydrogen peroxide, he was good to go.
 Other uses of the Potato:
Place raw slices on broken bones to promote healing
Carry them to prevent rheumatism
Treat facial blemishes by washing you face daily with cool potato juice.
Treat frostbite or sunburn by applying raw grated potato or potato juice to the affected area.
Ease a sore throat by putting a slice of baked potato in a stocking and tying it around your throat.
Ease aches and pains by rubbing the affected area with the water potatoes have been boiled in.
Place potato slices on the eyes after receiving welders flash to reduce pain and swelling.
Photo: We have turned the seasonal corner when the potatoes begin to sprout!


 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Entertaining Angels Unawares... A Christmas Story



 It was late December and our children were still little so naturally we were broke. Christmas was coming and although we were not extravagant, we still provided special food and thoughtful gifts for all eight of them. We were entering the on ramp on I-40 to drive home from a grocery excursion and saw an elderly gentleman standing on the side of the hi-way, leaning on a wooden crutch. He was about 75 with a stubble of beard, dressed in ragged clothing, wearing an old gray hat. His belongings were in a small stained bag, and he had an old woolen blanket pulled tightly about him. I felt sudden sadness upon seeing him and asked Michael if we should stop. He said no because we had three of the children with us and he would have to squeeze him in the backseat with them. He said that surely someone would pick the old gent up for me not to worry. And yet both of us felt a nagging sadness at the old man’s plight.

The following morning we realized we had forgotten some necessary items and again made the twenty mile run to the adjacent town. It was overcast, drizzling and a very cold blasting North wind made conditions miserable. As we drove I asked Michael if he thought someone had picked up the old man. He promised me that surely someone had. We bought the last of our necessities and had only forty dollars left as we entered the on ramp.

Sweet Jesus, he was still there! How could he still be there? We stopped just beyond the old man and Michael got out of the car to help him to his seat. He settled in and I turned the heater to warp while he began thanking us. He said he was trying to make it the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico where he knew he could stay for the winter. He was Canadian and had served in WWI for the US but had been denied benefits due to his citizenship status. He had fallen on hard times and just needed a bus ticket to get on his way but could find no help in getting one. He had been standing on the side of the road for many days.

Michael suggested that we take him 15 miles to the Travel Plaza where all of the truckers stopped for gas and that perhaps he could find a ride from someone there. He gratefully accepted the idea and said he was warming up a bit. Michael stopped at the plaza and pressed our last forty dollars into the gentleman’s hand as he helped him into the building.

As we drove away we kept feeling a nagging worry and so after unloading our bundles, we drove the seven miles back to the plaza to check on him to see if he had gotten a ride. Our inquiries were met with puzzled looks for no one knew what we were talking about. No one had seen him... not the people Michael had nodded to as he opened the door, not gas attendants nor any the truckers. Only we had seen him and I have often wondered if he was there as a holy test for us... a test of our humanity, our faith, and to show our children by example how to generously love.

As this recession deepens, let us remember that many times our sense of compassion, our sense of brotherhood and our ability to unconditionally share with those less fortunate than ourselves may be tested.

And let us remember:
‘Forget not to show love unto strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares‘. Hebrews 13:2