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Red ruffles and butterhead

Red ruffles and butter head on June 20th

This was a hard spring for many of us – we had frost over here on the upper Eastern Shore of Maryland in May with plenty of rain and cool, overcast days – all of which put most of us into something of a funk and at least two or three weeks behind in planting. In fact, while the rule of thumb around here is: Put tomatoes in on Mother’s Day, we were lucky to get them in by Memorial Day, which is the rule of thumb way up in the Adirondacks!

But the LETTUCE!  It’s the best lettuce year I can remember having. I had started red leaf and butter Bibb in my little greenhouse late (due to a greenhouse disaster, which also set me back), then brought ‘em out to harden off, hauled ‘em back in several times to prevent getting trashed by the cold and critters (it’s been a blowout bunny year — while writing this, I heard a ruckus in the flower bed outside my office window and had to chase — yes chase! — a rabbit out).  In about the middle of May, I finally put the little lettuce plants in the ground under row cover, as both protection and camouflage. It woiked! as Curly (of Larry Moe and…) would have said.

Lettuce , kale, pak choy and garlic

 Lettuce , kale, pak choy and garlic (Plus chives, magic evening primroses and rhubarb)

I only began cutting heads of lettuce a maybe three weeks ago, a time when it’s usually starting to bolt around here – and have almost finished as of this morning. Maybe one or two more days and this first flush will be gone.

I’m going to shove some seeds into a partially shaded patch in the veg garden in another day or two and cover them with row cover in hopes of getting some salad greens despite the young rabbit that let me accidentally step on him (scared us both to pieces and we both screeched) while putting a couple of wizened cuke plants along with some cuke seeds into a patch on the north end of the peas, some of which I had for lunch with shallots and prosciutto for lunch – hooray! We’re actually having a garden this year. Food glorious food!

Unknown     When I first heard of grafted tomato plants, I thought: Grafting? Of annuals? Really? Grafting woody perennials, yes. The time, attention and effort required to produce a successful graft rewards us with years of fruit (trees) and/or beauty (think: roses). But all that work for the tender stems of tomato plants that only last a season? Yet grafted tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, eggplant, and peppers are catching on worldwide — and for good reason.

Grafting joins two plants of the same species but different varieties to create one plant. It’s designed to be a marriage of strengths – usually disease resistant roots (stock) wedded to a top cutting (scion) of a less disease-resistant but more appealing variety, for example vigorous Maxifort tomato root stock joined to the scion of luscious heirloom Tangerine tomatoes.

The process of grafting annual vegetable plants is theoretically simple. Take a plant with a strong rootstock, slice off its green top at an angle then slice through the stem of the desired top-growth plant (scion) cutting off its roots. Mate the sliced ends of the two plants and clip them together until the slice heals.

Grafting Tomato plants

Grafting Tomato plants

“The plant can begin to draw nutrients within 10 seconds,” says Peter Zuck, vegetable product manager at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, ME, which sells grafted plants, “but the after care of the newly joined seedling is critical.”

As soon as the graft is made, plants must be kept at just the right temperature (70-74F) and humidity (80%-90%) and remain in low light to prevent top growth while the graft heals completely.

“Some people incorrectly think of it as similar to genetic engineering,” says John Bagnasco, managing partner at SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables in Vista, CA, “but it’s not at all.”

Unknown-2Grafting has been a horticultural practice for centuries. The Bible mentions grafting olive trees in the book of Romans. The Chinese grafted the strong roots of wild tree peonies to their favorite cultivated stems in the 9th century.* But grafted annual vegetables and fruits are a relatively recent addition to the horticultural pantheon.

“The Japanese began grafting them about thirty years ago,” says Bagnasco, who notes that Japan struggles with depleted, disease-prone, and challenging soils. “They have to graft to get

them to grow.”

Additionally, the 1997 Kyoto Protocols, which outlawed methol bromide used to control soil-borne fungal, bacterial and viral diseases, prompted an upsurge in the use of grafted annuals among its 197 signers, who needed an effective alternative to the pesticide.

Cut the stems of root stock and graft at exactly the same angle

Cut the stems of root stock and graft at exactly the same angle

“Almost 100% of the watermelons grown in Mexico are grafted now,” says Zuck.

In 2011, it was estimated that 1 billion grafted fruiting annuals were sold worldwide. In 2015, the number was 1.5 billion.

“Most were watermelon plants and most were sold in China,” says Bragnasco.

In addition to disease-resistance, the grafted plants tend to stand up to the kinds of climatic and regional stressors — soil salinity, temperature extremes, short seasons, and lower light — that can doom a vegetable garden, especially that succulent emblem of summer: tomatoes.

“Tomatoes don’t care for the broiling hot weather we have in summers around here,” says John Campbell of Annapolis, MD. Campbell has been growing grafted tomatoes in his home garden for ten years. “If the weather stays above 90 degrees for more than five days, they slow up on production. What I have found is that the grafted tomatoes suffer through this rotten summer weather with no problems, and I have not had any problems with disease.”

Tomato graft held in place with a graft clip

Tomato graft held in place with a graft clip

In addition to withstanding stressors, grafted vegetable plants can produce well despite less than optimal light. Most vegetables require six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day to fruit well.

“I had a small lot in Belfast [ME] with mature trees,” says Zuck. The tomatoes got about five hours of direct sun coupled with dappled sunlight and shade the rest of the day. “I found that the grafted plants helped me overcome that. They were much bigger and more productive than the non-grafted plants.”

“The plants produce anywhere from twice to three times the fruit, and they are exceedingly hardy,” says Campbell.

Another advantage for the home gardener with limited space is that grafting bypasses the need to rotate crops, a common practice used to avoid recurring soil-borne problems. Although grafted vegetable plants are obviously more expensive than non-grafted, for many home gardeners it’s worth it.

 

* An Illustrated History of Gardening, by Anthony Huxley, Lyons Press, 1978.

 

 

 

Chaenomeles japonica Photo: Gerry's Tree Nursery

Chaenomeles japonica. photo: Gerry’s Tree Nursery

Until we moved to an old house on two patchwork-planted acres, I had never seen a flowering quince. When I first inspected them in June, I was under-whelmed. Each was a thicket of twiggy, green-leafed branches armed with lethal spikes like something out of Br’er Rabbit’s briar patch. Expendable — or so I thought. Then I tried to extract one.

“To pull it out, you need to dig a big enough hole to get a chain around it and hook the chain to a pick-up!” laughs Brent Walston, owner of Evergreen Gardenworks in Kelseyville, CA.

I left the plant, but spent the next two seasons plotting its removal. Then in February, it bloomed. And its virtue dawned. (A lesson in giving plants a full year before deciding to trash or keep them). Dark, elegantly bent, leafless branches were suddenly covered with rose-red buds in a beautiful burst of color, a spirit-lifting contrast to the general monochrome surrounding it.

Chaenomeles 'Moerloosei' photo: Gerry's Tree Nursery

Chaenomeles ‘Moerloosei’ photo: Gerry’s Tree Nursery

“The flowers are incredibly beautiful,” notes Gene Sumi, garden horticulturist at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, MD. “They are striking in an early spring landscape. That’s when they really shine.”

“The Chinese go crazy for red flowering quince for Chinese New Year,” adds Walston. “Their early spring bloom time coincides with the celebration.”

Their bloom time is not only early, it’s long, another virtue. For several spectacular weeks buds open in leisurely succession, creating an enduring burst of color. Additionally, they force well in water inside. In a vase, three blooming branches look like a Japanese silkscreen –- for weeks.

Though it’s a native of China, flowering quince (Chaenomeles), aka ornamental quince aka japonica has also been cultivated in Japan for centuries and is a favorite plant for bonsai (the painstaking Japanese art of potted miniaturized trees and shrubs). The Dutch introduced flowering quince to Long Island in the late 17th century and by the 18th century, it was popular for hedging in New England due to both its hardiness and its prickly ability to keep out unwanted livestock.

Despite the name, flowering quince is not the same plant as the quince fruit tree (Cydonia sinensis), which is not hardy in Maryland. However, the shrubby flowering quince does produce small, rock-hard fruits (though mine never have; they’re in too much shade) that Europeans use to make a tart jam and that the Chinese use medicinally for liver and spleen complaints and to promote blood circulation.

TYPES

Chaenomeles iwai nishiki photo: Portland Nursery

Chaenomeles iwai nishiki photo: Portland Nursery

While they can also be useful for erosion control and prowler prevention if planted beneath windows, the primary pleasure of flowering quinces are their beautiful, apple-blossom like flowers. (The double-flowered varieties look like camellia blooms).

“Some blooms are pastel shades,” says Sumi. “Others are very bright. There is one called ‘Crimson and Gold’ that has a brilliant red flower with showy yellow anthers.”

Colors range from white `Nivalis’ to the bright red profusion of ‘Texas Scarlet’ and dark red of ‘Simonii’ to orange with shades and hues in between. ‘Rosea Plena’ is pale rose pink. ‘Apple Blossom’ has white flowers that turn pink with age. ‘Falconet Charlotte’ has deep pink flowers and ‘Cameo’ is a rich salmon. Each bloom of ‘Toyo Nishiki,’ is a combination of pink, white and red.

Chaenomeles contorta Portland Nursery

Chaenomeles contorta photo: Portland Nursery

While many flowering quinces range from 4-10 feet in height, there are also prostrate varieties, like ‘Jet Trail’, with pure white flowers and ‘Iwai Nishiki’ whose dark red blooms tend to form clusters sometimes six inches across. Small, contorted varieties, whose stems are exaggeratedly twisted and gnarled, are nice for landscaping but are particularly good for bonsai. ‘Hime,’ with solid red flowers and showy yellow stamens is a favorite, as is ‘Kan Toyo,’ whose pink flowers are only about 1/2 inch across. ‘Red Contorted’ has solid red buds that open to a deep pink.

Chaenomeles chojuraku photo: Portland Nursery

Chaenomeles chojuraku photo: Portland Nursery

CULTURE

Cold-hardy and drought-resistant, flowering quince thrives in almost any soil. They like full sun, though they must be protected from midday-sun in excessive heat, and will bloom, though less effusively, in light shade. Their big drawback is their vigorous growth habit.

“They can get quite large if left unchecked,” warns Walston. “Some of big ones like ‘Toyo Nishiki’ can get to be 10-15 feet tall if you don’t prune.”

Pruning regularly, either during or immediately after blooming, will keep a flowering quince civilized. For least maintenance, Walston recommends buying semi-dwarf and dwarf varieties like ‘Orange Delight,’ which gets only four feet tall.

“They’re the best for most landscapes since they won’t get out of hand and you don’t have to prune to keep them in line,” he says.

SOURCES:

Homestead Gardens

743 W. Central Ave.

Davidsonville, MD

301-261-4550

410-798-5000

410-956-4777

www.homesteadgardens.com

Evergreen Gardenworks

P.O. Box 537

Kelseyville, CA 95451

www.evergreengardenworks.com

email: bonsai@pacific.net

 

Gerry’s Tree and Shrub Nursery

Gerry Holwell

PO Box 311

Twillingate, Newfoundland

A0G 1Y0

Telephone:

(709) 884-2052

email: gerryandmaisie@personainternet.com

Portland Nursery

5050 SE Stark

Portland, OR 97215

503-231-5050

www.portlandnursery.com

This article was first published in The Baltimore Sun in 2011.

Early peas and cabbage

Early peas and cabbage

It’s slightly more complicated than your fourth grade biology project, but a whole lot more rewarding: starting your own garden plants from seed indoors.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says veteran gardener Tina Beneman. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing the seeds sprout, especially when everything outside is dormant and gray.”

For years Beneman has been starting seeds for everything from vegetables to annuals and perennials. One reason is cost. “I love abundance but the cost a packet of seeds versus what you’d pay to buy the plants is incredible.”

Starting your own offers a much broader choice of varieties too. Though garden centers are rapidly expanding their plant and seed varieties, few will offer things like fluted Costoluto Genovese Tomato, Bolivian Rainbow Pepper, or Ragged Robin ‘Jenny’ (Lychniss flos-cuculi), a retrieved Elizabethan favorite whose blossoms are a scrim of tattered pink pompoms.

“When you get the seed and start plants yourself, you can get exactly the varieties that you want,” says Mark Willis, vegetable seed production manager at Harris Seeds in Rochester, NY.

Catalogues, whose jewel-like photos beckon with promises of gorgeous summer gardens and marvelous meals, offer a fantastic range of choices. In addition, many also offer recipes, generations-old garden wisdom, and mini-portraits of vegies, flowers, and herbs, including plant history, seed provenance, taste and hints on cultivation. Yet the wealth of choices can be overwhelming. To winnow, consider what you really want in your garden and on your table.

Heirloom tomatoes just waiting for meals

Heirloom tomatoes just waiting for meals

“We can get a lot more variety through local farmers’ markets now,” notes Ellen Ogden, former owner of The Cook’s Garden in Warminster, PA. “So I chose what to plant [at home] based on what I like to cook and can’t get at the local farmer’s market [or supermarket].”

In addition to salad greens and annual herbs for daily harvest, Ogden always plants Sungold Tomatoes, which can be hard to find in garden centers, and Bright Lights Swiss Chard, which is beautiful, delicious, and produces for months.

Rainbow Swiss Chard, courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

Rainbow Swiss Chard, courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

“You can also choose what to plant based on your garden size, location, and soil type,” says Erica Renaud, home gardener and research farmer at Seeds of Change. A north-facing garden will do better with spinach and salad greens than with sun-worshipers like eggplant, basil, tomatoes and squash. Soil type matters too. “Carrots grown in the clay soil I had when I lived in Ohio just didn’t taste good,” says Renaud.

“It’s a good idea to check with your extension service to find out what varieties do best here and what ones not to plant,” suggests Cindy King, horticulturist at Kingstown Farm Home and Garden Center in Chestertown, MD.

“We’re so lucky in Maryland. All the tomatoes grow well,” says Jon Traunfeld of the MD Cooperative Extension Service. Even so, Traunfeld has some favorites: Amish Paste and San Remo paste for sauce. Celebrity, a good all-round tomato whose plants grow a manageable 4-5 feet tall, Rutgers, Jetstar and Big Beef are good slicers. In heirlooms, he recommends the early-fruiting Russians — Black Krim and Black Tula.

“Prudence Purple is like Brandywine but seems to produce better than Brandywine,” he says. “And we’ve had really good luck with Golden Queen, a yellow tomato from Landis Valley Farm Museum in Lancaster Co. It’s smooth, doesn’t crack and has really good flavor.”

Traunfeld says all eggplant varieties do equally well here in Maryland, but recommends the Italian frying peppers over the bells, which take longer to ripen and don’t produce as prolifically as the Italians. The Italian frying peppers are also beautiful.

Pingtung-long eggplant courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

Pingtung-long eggplant courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

“They come in different colors when ripe,” he says. “And they have very

thin skin not like the thicker skin of the bells.” Marconi and Corno di toro (bull‘s horn) peppers are trusted favorites.

In choosing what to try starting from seed, consider production factors, too. If you have limited indoor growing space as well as limited garden space, you may want to forego the Brassicas [broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts], which take lots of room and produce lots less food per plant than tomatoes and peppers, which keep coming and coming. And remember: something old; something new works for the garden too.

“I always try a little something new to keep experimenting both in the garden and in the kitchen,” says Renaud.

Start peppers, which are slow to germinate and grow indoors, 10-12 weeks from when you plan to set them out about mid-May.

“Start eggplant maybe 10 weeks before you put them out,” advises Traunfeld. “And tomatoes only need about 6 weeks.”

“I’ve learned a lot about plants just by starting seed indoors and watching them grow,” says Beneman. “You get an intuitive understanding about what they need. And you don’t have to contend with rabbits and deer and other attackers – at least until you put them in the ground!”

Catalogue Sources for Seeds

(Some also have seed starting supplies).

Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101, 563-382-5990

www.seedsavers.org

 

Harris Seeds, 355 Paul Rd., P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624-0966, 800-544-7938

www.harrisseeds.com

 

Seeds of Change, P.O. Box 4908, Rancho Dominguez, CA 90220, 888-762-7333

www.seedsofchange.com

 

Select Seeds, 180 Stickney Hill Rd., Union CT 06076-4617, 800-684-0395

www.selectseeds.com

 

Burpee, Warminster, PA 18974, 800-888-1447

www.burpee.com

Early peas and cabbage

Early peas and cabbage

 

Seed Starting

The best way to grow the exact varieties you want is to start your own transplants from seed indoors. Equipment can range from the simple (small tabletop germination station at $20) to a major investment. Regardless of scale, there are four keys to success.

“Start with a good quality seed starting mix,” says Mark Willis, vegetable seed production manager at Harris Seeds in Rochester, NY. Some mixes are sterile to prevent inadvertent disease and bacteria infestations. Others include micro-nutrients provided by worm castings and mealworm guano. Also make sure containers are sterile.

Tomatoes seeded March 15 last year (2015)

Tomatoes seeded March 15 last year (2015)

To germinate well, seeds need bottom heat, which can be supplied by the top of the frig or a heat mat. Once seedlings have popped through, unplug the mat.<

Light is critical for sturdy transplants.

“You want at least 10-12 hours of direct natural light,” says Willis, “or supplement with full spectrum florescent lights.” Artificial light should stay within two inches of plant tops. If light is weak, or too far away, seedlings will ‘stretch’ (grow tall and weak-stemmed).

Seedlings need to be kept just-moist, never sodden. Too much moisture will cause tender plants to rot and die off.

Finally, plant early but not too early. “You have to calculate backwards from the outdoor planting date so you’re not trying to hold transplants in the house too long,” says Thierer. “We have handouts to tell when to plant which seeds, when to start hardening them off and when to plant out.”

 

Gardens Alive!

5100 Schenley Place, Lawrenceburg, IN 47025, 513-354-1482

www.GardensAlive.com

This place has the best seed starting mix I’ve ever tried.

 

Maryland Local Garden Centers

seeds and seed starting supplies:

Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705, 301-937-1100

www.behnkenurseries.com

They also have a month-by-month to-do list for gardeners

 

Valley View Farms, 11035 York Rd., Cockeysville, MD, 410-527-0700

www.valleyviewfarms.com

 

Kingsdene Nurseries and Garden Center, 16435 York Rd., Monkton, MD 21111, 410-343-1150

www.kingsdene.com

 

Homestead Gardens, 743 W. Central Ave., Davidsonville, MD, 410-798-5000

www.homesteadgardens.com

 

Kingstown Farm, Home, and Garden Center, 7121 Church Hill Rd., Chestertown, MD 21620,

410-778-1551, kingstown farm home and garden

  • This article first appeared in The Baltimore Sun

 

NFB ctr delft bl muscari

Delft muscari –perfectly masculine!

 

For a long time, REAL MEN not only didn’t eat quiche, they didn’t get flowers. Imagine John Wayne on the receiving end of a dozen long-stemmed red roses.

Enter bright-eyed delivery boy with the bouquet.

Wayne, scowling: “Wal, whuddaya got THERE?”

Delivery boy, wilting slightly: “Roses, Sir.”

Wayne, leaning forward menacingly: “Wal, who are they FOR?”

Delivery boy, now shaking in his boots: “You, sir?”

Wayne, swaggering across the room to snatch the roses, stabbing himself painfully on the thorns – though he won’t let on – and stuffing them head down into the trash: “The hell they are!”

Nope. No flowers for men in Wayne’s day. But times change. Today, some florists estimate that 20-25% of their delivery calls are for men.

“There’s been a real upsurge in the last couple of years,” notes Lynn Green at National Flora, a nationwide floral delivery service. “Last Valentines Day, particularly, there were quite a few women ordering for men.”

Chris Wilkins, owner of Flowers by Michael in Baltimore, agrees.

“I’ve seen a definite change, especially in the last 5-6 years,” says Wilkins, who has been in the business for two decades. “Flowers used to be considered a feminine gift. Men would feel terribly embarrassed. But this whole push on men being more sensitive has had an effect.”

Maybe men are more sensitive, or more confident in their masculinity. Maybe it’s generational – few older men admit to ever having received flowers (and a couple snarled that they wouldn’t want them, either, when I asked). Or maybe, the more that men get flowers, the more acceptable it becomes. Shipwright Richard Emory remembers the first time he was given flowers. He had sent a bouquet to a (then) girlfriend who reciprocated by picking a bunch of flowers, putting them in a canning jar and leaving them on his doorstep.

“At first, I thought: “Hey, guys don’t get flowers,”” he remembers. “It’s that macho thing. But I liked it. I was flattered.”

Phaelanopsis 3

Phaelanopsis for quiet, sensitive types

CHANGES IN ATTITUDES

One reason for men’s changing attitude is society’s gradual redefinition of what constitutes exclusively male or female behavior. Men are no longer the only ones who slay the dragons, and women aren’t the only ones who appreciate a loving gesture.

“Gender roles have been changing,” observes Laura Moore, PhD candidate in gender and equality roles at University of Maryland. “The attitude about men and women and their roles has been merging over time. Some men appreciate women taking on a more assertive role.”
PUBLIC OR PRIVATE GESTURE?

Yet even if they appreciate a woman’s assertiveness, some men may be embarrassed by a public display. An understanding of the individual man – or a little lucky guesswork – goes a long way toward making the gift successful. Some men love flowers at work, while others prefer a more private sign of affection.

“I dig it [at work] because I tell everybody it came from a chick,” says Gregg Henderson of Country Floral Supply. “I boost that whole male ego thing.”

Editor Steve Millburg, received his first flowers at his office, which was overwhelmingly male.

“I got teased about it some,” he laughs, but notes that in the ribbing, there was also a little envy.   “I don’t know of any man who’s ever gotten flowers who hasn’t had this goofy little grin on his face,” he says, “no matter how much teasing he got.”

Businessman Jack Handy has received flowers at work from his wife.

“It was fun,” says Handy. “Where I work, the atmosphere is friendly, so I wasn’t upset by it at all. I’m not sure everyone would feel the same way.”

“It can either be a bragging tool or it can be a sissifying type of present,” agrees Laura Moore. “You really have to think about the man receiving it.”

“Lots of people send Valentine flowers to the office,” says Chris Wilkins. “This year, we’ll make a lot of our Valentine’s Day deliveries on Friday so the recipient will get them at work.”

The visible sign – which can be simultaneously claiming and honoring – is important to both sexes. But there is still a difference in how men and women receive a public gesture.
“Men really want wives and girlfriends to get flowers at work,” says Wilkins, “but I’d say 50% of guys would rather get them at home.”

IF YOU’RE SENDING A MAN FLOWERS

Christmas cactus.JPG

Christmas cactus, for a macho macho macho man.

  1. Consider the Context

“If it was a very testosterone-y area, a construction site [for example] and he’s going to have to hear it from the guys you have to consider: is that going to be good or bad?”   says Laura Moore.

  1. Consider the Man

“Some would really rather have something more guyish, like electronic equipment,” Moore observes.
In response to the need for ‘guyish’ things, many florists also offer plants, balloons, and gift baskets that appeal to men.

“Food is always popular for men,” says Karen Hayes of Florist Network.   “We have a junk food basket and we can send beer. It’s perfect for something like the Superbowl.”

  1. Consider the Flowers Themselves

    Echinacea

    Echinacea for outdoorsy, environmentalists

Though most people have long forgotten what individual flowers are supposed to represent, there is still a vague sense of the significance of red roses, which have always signified passionate love.

“I might look sideways at a bouquet of red roses from a friend,” says Jack Handy. “I’d think: either she doesn’t know what’s going on, or I’ve got a problem!”

However, Karen Hayes offers another perspective.

“A common question we get is what the flowers mean,” she says. “I always say that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what it says on the card.”

 

SOURCES;

Flowers by Michael

12058 Glen Arm Rd

Glen Arm, MD 21057

410- 593-7187

410-426-2000

800-225-9536

 

http://www.flowersbymichael.net

 

Gordon Florist, Inc.

6707 York Road Baltimore, MD 21212
410-467-6116 /800-541-2372
gordonflorist4@earthlink.nethttp://www.florist

Bloomin’ Wild

335a High St, Chestertown, MD 21620 · (410) 778-5300

Flowers n Things

302 Cedar Street
Cambridge, MD 21613
(410) 228-6331
National Flora Delivery.com
800-949-9986

 

WHICH BLOOMS ARE BEST FOR MEN?

If perchance the man in your life has a favorite flower, send that. Husbands and boyfriends often get red roses for Valentines’ Day.   For a less romantic, more light-hearted gesture, some women send one balloon and one rose. There is a whole language of flowers, which goes back to medieval times and was brought to a hyperbolic boil in the Victorian era. Internet Florist (www.iflorist.com or 800-600-9882) has a list of flower meanings beginning with acacia ( concealed love) and ending with white zinnia (goodness). Two books, The Meaning of Flowers, by Gretchen Soble, and Tussie Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers by Gerladine Adarnich Laufer offer specifics too.

Barring such detailed research, plants and balloons are popular for men as which is a fruit basket, or a specialty basket designed for the fisherman, golfer, or football fan.

  • This article first appeared in The Baltimore Sunpapers Home and Family section in 2011

 

 

 

Bad photo of stocked pantry

Darkish photo of stocked pantry

One of the reasons I love to can is the bounty you end up with in the dead of winter. As long as there are jars of last year’s produce safely tucked away on the pantry shelves, I feel safe (smug even) when the weatherman starts talking about Snowmageddon and urges everyone to rush out to stores. I must admit, I made sure the wine and chocolate were sufficient to a few days’ cabin fever – but otherwise, we were pretty much good to go with what I had stockpiled from last year’s garden.

I know a lot of people don’t can tomatoes – they freeze them instead. But I do both – partly for space (only so much on the pantry shelves, only so much in the freezer) and partly for flavor and convenience of use. I like the flavor of canned tomatoes and you don’t have to thaw them. I can quart and pint jars of tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa V-8 (or my equivalent) and Bloody Mary mix, which is just as delicious in soup as in vodka.

Pantry produce for the soup pot

Pantry produce for the soup pot

There are pickled dilly green beans, which are nice when someone stops in for cocktails – also one of the imperatives when someone slogs through snow or mud to come visit because they’re going nuts at home after several days of shoveling. There are also dried herbs – oregano is particularly easy as is thyme and they taste so much fresher and more flavorful if you do it yourself – and dried beans – calypso beans and tiger’s eye, which I particularly like. (My husband very sweetly shells them out in the evening in late fall).

Sauteed leeks, onions and celery for tomato white wine soup

Sauteed leeks, onions and celery for tomato white wine soup

To complement these home-grown and home-canned things, I stock other dried peas, beans and lentils and tins of things like sardines and tuna, chipotle peppers, and anchovies.There are jars of bread and butter pickles (which is lovely on a tuna melt to say nothing of with chicken sausage or turkey sandwiches or just out of the jar for a sweet-sour snack), pickled lemon peppers for adding to virtually anything needing a little kick, and lemon peppers in sherry for black bean soup, curried red pepper jelly (a great hostess gift when you’re rushing out the door to a party your forgot you were invited to) and great on goat cheese and crackers or mixed into venison stew. There’s raspberry jam, raspberry shrub and raspberry vinegar.  Tomato bullion, a spicy mix of tomatoes, onions, black pepper, a little brown sugar and celery seed is called Ma Comp’s Soup Seasoning in Maryland’s Way Cookbook. A couple of tablespoons in a mug of hot water is a delicious and quick mid-morning pick-me-up.

Tomato white wine soup about to simmer

Tomato white wine soup about to simmer

I freeze a lot of things too, and not just the things that aren’t safe to can in a water bath. Last year I had plenty of tomatoes and peppers and so sautéed a kind of quick sofrito, a tomato-pepper-onion seasoning you can pull out and throw into a frying pan full of chicken or chorizo and rice with a little white wine and have supper in no time flat. I also did something I saw on TV years ago – put about four large tomatoes and one big onion into a Dutch oven with about 2-3 tablespoons of melted butter and let the whole thing simmer on the lowest possible heat until it’s all soft. Maybe 35 minutes. Puree it, cool it and stick it in the freezer in a quart bag or container. Pull it out to make a quick vodka sauce for pasta, or in my case, use it as the very quick base for red pepper soup. I happened to find three beautiful fresh red peppers (when I went back out to the grocery story AFTER everyone had picked the shelves pretty clean), chopped them up, threw them with three cloves of chopped garlic into a pot of that tomato-onion-butter base along with a chicken bullion cube and voila! Soup!

Tomato-and-onion soup base

Tomato-and-onion soup base

Why am I gloating? (AM I gloating?  I like to think of it as encouragement). Because NOW is the best time to start planning what you can plant to have a full pantry next winter, when Snowmageddon 2017 comes. The seed catalogues are here now, you can look with starry-eyed wonder at the perfect garden that you will plant (in your dreams), and you might be looking around your pantry – or whatever shelves or storage you have for what they could hold. (Marisa in Philly keeps hers in the closet along with her shoes).

Having a stocked pantry, or closet or whatever is like money in the bank.

 


Meyer lemon and lime trees in greenhouse

Meyer lemon and lime trees in greenhouse

Three years ago, I fell victim to a sale for something I really didn’t need. Well let’s face it, many of us do. This one was from Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden in Connecticut. It offered a three-fer on little citrus trees. It was like I’d been sucker-punched and went into an auto-order daze. I love Meyer lemons. They cost the moon in the shops — when you can even find them — and limes are a staple here for all kinds of reasons (gin and tonic in the summer being one, fish tacos another). I bought three little trees – a Meyer lemon, a sweet lime and a key lime — in a daze of bargainry, not really thinking about how I’d look after them or the limited space in the small backyard greenhouse that I use primarily to start my vegetable seedlings.

 

I’ve left the trees outside in summer. The first year I brought them into the greenhouse for winter they were only mildly crowded with the vegetable seedlings. Last spring I repotted them (how they’ve grown, I’m so proud!). Now, it’s like I’m trying to cram a four-pound sausage into a two-pound casing and I’m not sure how I’m going to have room to grow all the little seedlings for the garden while they’re still there until the weather warms enough to shove them outside again. But that worry is for another day (coming soon).Meyer lemons and the fruits of our labor

 

At the moment they’re feeling peaky, what with a little bacterial mold (aphid-borne, I’m guessing) and a lack of moisture on the leaves. (They loved it when I hauled them outside on a warm day in December and vigorously hosed off their leaves, but they are as large as I can manage on my own, and even then, I purposely let the root ball dry out a little to make them lighter — every gardener needs a cast-iron back with a hinge in it). I’ll hit them again with an insecticidal soap this weekend and hope for the best.

 

Despite being a semi-clueless tree-mom, those little guys have been generous. We’ve got a bag of little key limes in the crisper, though we’ve finished the 30 or so sweet limes the lime tree gave us. (Not all on gin and tonics, honest). But the Meyer lemon was the start — 40 sweet fruits! I made preserved lemons to use in a Moroccan lamb recipe I’ve been eying for some time, and Meyer lemon curd and Meyer lemon marmalade. But mostly, I’ve been making little Meyer lemon sponge custards. They’re a super little dessert or breakfast. Tartish, sweetish, delicious and, I gotta believe, good for you.

 

Meyer Lemon Sponge Custard

 

3 Meyer lemons

¾ cup sugar

2 Tblsp butter

3 Tblsp flour

½ cup whole milk

2-3 eggs, separated

 

Preheat oven at 325-350. Butter 6 custard cups and put in a bain marie (a water bath in a Pyrex dish or something like it – water about halfway up the sides of the cups). Grate rind of lemons gently, since the skins are thin, and you don’t want pith, which tends to be a little bitter. Then squeeze them into the same container. You should have about ¼-1/3 cup of juice and rind. Cream butter and sugar together, add egg yolks, beating until they are well incorporated and the batter is beautifully smooth. Add the flour, then gradually add the lemon juice and rind, and finally add the milk gradually, beating the whole time. Whip egg whites, and gently fold into the batter. Pour into the custard cups and bake for about 25 minutes or until puffed a little and slightly browned on top. Remove from the water bath and let cool. Chill if your family doesn’t scarf them all up immediately or if you’re keeping them for breakfast.

Meyer lemon custard

Meyer lemon custard

 

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