Tuesday, August 24, 2010

No Dearth of Zucchini

The trouble is, you cannot grow just one zucchini. Minutes after you plant a single seed, hundreds of zucchini will barge out of the ground and sprawl around the garden, menacing the other vegetables. At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt.
~Dave Barry

For my European readers, we’re talking about courgettes today. Doesn’t everyone have a neighbor who’s desperately trying to give away extra zucchini just about now? Have you ever been zucchini’d? You come home to find a mondo bag of zucchini left at your door by some desperate, cagey gardener? I’ve never resorted to that, thankfully my friend Kathy will take all the extra I can grow for her yummy zucchini relish.

Zucchini is a healthful vegetable for your table. It contains Calcium, Iron, and Vitamins A, B-1, B-2 Niacin and C. Growing it is so easy, it practically grows by itself. After the seed sprouts, there is no effort aside from watering it. I also happen to think it is a beautiful plant in the garden. The huge dark green leaves are often marbled with lighter veining. Depending on your locale, look for a seed variety that will fit into the full sun garden space you’ve allocated for it. In my small urban garden I grow ‘Sungreen’, which is a smallish, compact plant that is open, meaning it’s easy to reach in there to find the vegetables. It doesn’t get any more than 4 feet high or wide. In the fall when I pull it out of the ground it doesn’t seem to have a huge root ball either so I think it’s a good candidate for pot gardening too.

For our family of two, one plant yields more than enough. According to the seed package directions, before you plant your seedling, mix an organic complete fertilizer into the hole. I’ve been lazier than that and simply mixed a good shovelful of aged composted manure or compost in first. You should probably do as the seed packet directs. Little known fact: alfalfa meal is a complete organic fertilizer, is inexpensive and can be used throughout your whole garden, but it must be mixed in so the soil’s microorganisms can break it down. If your zucchini plant’s leaves get a whitish film on them toward the end of the season it’s probably just powdery mildew. Mine gets it every year as the late summer night temps begin to drop lower and lower. While the plant looks nasty, the vegetable is still good and healthy to eat.

All summer I pick my zucchini when they are still small, 4-6 inches long (10-15 cm), and after the flowers have closed but are still firm and attached. The flowers are often used in culinary dishes, but I’ve never tried them. Do you cook with zucchini flowers? I’d love to hear your experiences and recipes.

For today’s post I include a recipe. I tweak nearly every recipe that comes my way, and this recipe is great for using whatever veggies you have on hand. It is very much like stew, so you can serve it with your favorite loaf of bread, a fresh salad, or over a bed of lettuce or rice.

Zucchini Vindaloo

In typical Indian fashion you want to dry roast your spices in the pan first over low heat for a minute or so, till they become aromatic, but not too hot or too long, they can burn easily.

To a dry skillet heated on low, add and stir constantly till aromatic:

½ t ground Cinnamon
½ t ground Cumin
½ t ground Cardamom
½ t ground Coriander
½ t ground Paprika
½ t ground cloves
1 t ground Ginger
1 t ground Tumeric
¼ t ground Cayenne pepper (more of you like it spicy hot)

Add and stir till softened:
2-3 Tbs olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
onion or leek minced (I used one small leek)

Stir in:
mushrooms, celery, carrots, leeks, asparagus, zucchini - all chopped
1 14.5 oz can of chopped tomatoes (I puree them more with a blender first)
1 ½ C chicken broth (I use vegetarian “chicken flavored” powder with 1 ½ C water)
2 Tb red wine or wine vinegar
Tofu, drained and squeezed, cut into squares
1 Tb tomato paste
1 bay leaf

Simmer 30 minutes more or less till all veggies are cooked to your liking.

Salt and pepper to taste, add more cayenne if you want it hotter.

Yield 4 large bowls

The original recipe calls for chicken but I prefer tofu or poached eggs in my Vindaloo. If I have tofu I add it (drained, squeezed and cut into squares) early on to absorb the liquid and spices. If I want poached eggs, I add them to the simmering sauce at the last minutes, Cindy style.

Prepare your veggies beforehand. Use what ever you have on hand. This time I used zucchini, mushrooms, celery, carrots, and leeks. I sautéed the leeks, mushrooms, celery and carrots with the spices till they were beginning to soften, then added tofu chunks and zucchini, asparagus, tomato sauce etc. Chopped potatoes or lentils are also nice in this dish but take longer to cook if adding them raw. You can double the canned tomato and skip the ‘broth’ as I did this time.

This is a very forgiving recipe…I usually forget something (like broth, vinegar and tomato paste this time) and it always tastes great! It is also very versatile! For another great way to make this dish, hop over to Shari’s blog and find her crockpot version of Vindaloo.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: green beans, tomato, basil, oregano, zucchini, cucumber, thyme, black mondo grass, lavender, borage, veronica, fushia, rose, nepeta, salvia, russian sage, daphne, echinacea, liatris, coryopsis, caryopteris, begonia, alyssum, lobelia, heather, hosta, gallardia, Star Jasmine,

Author’s photo

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Rose Wars

“The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose”.
George William Curtis

I don’t like fussiness in the garden. And roses are at the top of the fussbudget list. The whole cycle of disease and spraying is endless, week after week, year after year.

Years ago when I began gardening I bought several varieties of hybrid tea roses on grafted root stock. I did as the books say one must do. I planted them all in a stick straight row, like soldiers, properly 3-4’ (1 m) apart for best ventilation, with swept clean grounds underneath to control disease. The books say they need 5+ hours of full sun and mine all got sun from morning till evening. I dutifully fertilized every 6 weeks and sprayed for disease as often. After all that effort, still the black-spot and mildew levels were high and needless to say discouraging. Then I got smart and went organic. Then I got even smarter and got rid of all the hybrid tea roses.

Most hybrid tea roses are grafted onto a different rootstock for some reason which I can’t remember and is unimportant. What is important is that sometimes the root stock will take over and sprout out so your deep red, velvety robust Mr. Lincoln could become something pink and spindly at any given time. That graft is also susceptible to freezing, so it should be buried below the ground level by a few inches. Hybrid teas also all have similar longish buds, which give way to the classic florist rose we are all familiar with. The hybridizers have tinkered so much with the wild roses to get specific colors and supposed disease resistance that they have lost much of the fragrance of olden days. Have you noticed that some roses just don’t smell much at all or if they do often the scents are similar to one another? And in my experience, all that tinkering hasn’t given us any help with controlling disease.

So in my newly found organic gardening awareness, my new efforts must deem chemical spraying and chemical fertilizing and chemical pest control obsolete. Can you just hear the garden and birds sigh a sigh of relief? Birds eat bugs, and when you poison bugs, the bird’s food now has poison residue on it, so you inadvertently poison birds too. Pretty soon you don’t get the songbirds to your garden because they are looking for food elsewhere.

I’d heard that the old English varieties were hardier, more disease resistant, more fragrant, not grafted and certainly less fussy. What can it hurt? Either that or leave roses out of my scheme all together…so I thought I’d give them one last try. Well, let me say I have not been disappointed.

In my opinion the blousy fullness of the old English rose is charming and far more interesting than that of the hybrid teas. In my opinion there is no fragrance better than that of the old English varieties and the differing perfumes are vast, ranging from soft to deeply musky. One deep inhale is hugely rewarding. Have you ever come across the term ‘heady scent’ in a novel…well now I know what that means.

I viewed a few English rose websites and ordered their print catalogs.
Then I spent a few weeks deciding which colors I wanted for my garden scheme, what size bushes would work and which had the highest disease resistance. If I couldn’t tell from the catalog, I phoned and spoke to a customer service representative. Be aware, catalog descriptions are written to sell plants. Read between the lines. Make no assumptions. I went with David Austin Roses. David Austin is a long time rose grower and hybridizer in the UK. His roses are available in this country, although it may take a bit more effort to find a nursery that sells them. Only one of my choices, ‘Pat Austin’ was iffy and the phone representative didn’t want to recommend it for my climate…but…I have seen one in a garden nearby (yes it had the label attached so I knew for sure it was ‘Pat Austin’) and being pretty sure by the ‘relaxed’ state of the rest of the garden that no effort at spraying was going on, I was satisfied with its performance there. That said, also understand no nursery/retailer can guarantee anything in your garden.

I do not recommend mail ordering roses. I have had some experience with mail ordered (direct from the grower) hybrid tea roses, and what arrives by post is VERY small for the price, bare root or in 4” (10 cm) dinky pots, and only about half of what was ordered actually survive. For a few dollars more, literally, you can support a local nursery and end up with a bigger, healthier, plant that will bloom in the same year.

These are what I chose, and would choose again with one exception. Keep in mind the following links are for the American pricing structure. The home page will offer you international links for your currency.

Pat Austin has gorgeous apricot and cream tones. In my garden it gets 4’ (1.21 m) tall and about as wide. A tiny bit of black spot occurs in the wettest of springs (like this one) but overall the healthy plant can keep it from taking over. I pick off the leaves and clean up the ground below. The loose but full bloom has a nice, strong fragrance.

A Shropshire Lad - An intensely coral bud opens to a sweet creamy peach fully packed blossom that turns pale pink as it ages. Not being a fan of pale pink in the garden, I probably would have passed it by, had it not been for the new growth and new leaves on this plant that are burgundy and beautiful. It has a dainty sweet fragrance, and is tall…reaching over 6’ (1.8m) and reaching lazily out to 5’ or more. It obliges me to grow within the confines of an obelisk because I have room for height but not width. The canes have few thorns with some of its tiny prickles just at and under the base of the leaves at the stem. One or two leaves of black spot on this rose have never fazed it.

Reine des Violettes The difficult to describe magenta violet color of this flower is extraordinary. Teensy but sharp thorns are scattered on the canes and under the base of the leaves. And just like the quote that opened this post says, this rose, nay the entire plant, leaves and all have a delicious old rose, spicy, musky scent that lingers on my hands even after I’ve washed them. It’s heavenly, and somehow de-stressing. This rose reaches about 3’-4’ (1 m) tall and about 2’-3’ wide. In my garden, on this variety only, occasionally a group of buds have a quirky habit of turning yellow then brown only to drop off. But the buds following are just fine. This comes and goes. I suspect it may be a cool, wet weather issue. By the time summer warmth comes, the buds usually form and open normally.

L.D. Braithwaite, a gorgeous crimson, is the one I would not get again.

I put two L. D. Braithwaites and two Reine des Violettes together in the front of the house which faces west. But the sun doesn’t get to them till just about noonish. I had an awful time with black-spot on both varieties in this location. Years prior I had 10 hybrid tea ‘Simplicity’ in that area and the black-spot was severe. There wasn’t enough sun there for roses. I waited a few years before planting roses again in that bed but perhaps the black-spot lived on in the soil and would infect any rose I may put there. I moved one Reine des Violettes to the back yard in all day sun and the black-spot reduced dramatically. I did the same with L.D. but to no avail. The black–spot was just as bad. I got rid of both of the L.D. Braithwaites and moved the final Reine des Violettes to the back for more sun. Now and then I’ll get a touch of black-spot on them but not enough to cause de-nuding of leaves or cause me grief. Removing the few leaves with black-spot early on in the game is crucial to gaining the upper hand.

Every spring I lightly work in a shovelful of alfalfa meal around the drip zone for fertilizing my roses. Lightly scratch it in, so as not to break up too many surface roots but to incorporate some of the soil so the microbes will begin to break it down. Alfalfa meal has an NPK ratio of 3-1-2, and one gardening radio host says this is the natural food ratio plants use. It is slow release, so early spring and early summer is what I do. I’d read somewhere that an annual fresh layer of mulch/compost under roses will prevent black spot. Spores settled in the dirt can be splashed back up onto the rose from raindrops and re-infect the plant. However I’ve also learned that black-spot over winters on rose canes. You can see it. An organic oil spray is supposed to smother that, but I didn’t have a lot of success with it. I like the compost idea, so I do that. This will also keep the moisture in the soil longer, reducing watering. I keep infected leaves picked off the plant and picked up from the ground. And by all means keep those leaves out of your personal compost heap. A typical home compost pile doesn’t always get hot enough to kill pathogens. Dispose of the leaves in the city pick up bin, garbage bin, or burn them if you do burn piles.

Perhaps you think me too lax, accepting a touch of black-spot. I don’t expect perfection from my garden, but I do expect performance. A little black-spot that a healthy plant can keep under control is acceptable to me. Perhaps you think plucking diseased leaves is too much work, but still want roses. Maybe one or two roses is enough for your garden, and your time.

Design wise, I dotted my roses amidst the perennials in my garden. I didn’t group the roses together nor did I plant them in rows. It is so much more a relaxed, natural look. I never plant anything in rows as I once did, with the exception of peas and beans.

One last thing. Hybrid tea’s seem to have a nice perpetual blooming, with a brief rest at some point. I don’t think I can say that about the English roses that I have. I would have to say repeating bloom but not perpetual. They have a nice initial full bloom, then rest for a spell, and then re-bloom. After that there is a sporadic lesser bloom that can go on into winter here. It’s not uncommon to have a rose blooming in December in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve never grown Rugosa roses, the toughest most drought resistant of them all I think. I have never seen any disease on them. Their look is not refined enough for my garden. I prefer their style in a wooded or wild garden scheme, where I think they’d be eye-catching. I’ve seen honey bees gathering pollen from Rugosas often but alas, not the English rose.

If you’ve got an empty sunny spot in your garden and are considering roses, I highly recommend David Austin’s English Roses.

In bloom in my garden today: rose, canna, hosta, begonia, lobelia, alpine strawberry, tomato, beans, basil, chives, oregano, borage, thyme, lavender, nepeta, echinacea, liatris, loosestrife, veronica, gaillardia, purple poppy, oriental lily, phygelius, gaura, fushia, astillbe, guem, english daisy, star jasmine, hardy geranium, salvia, anise hyssop, coreopsis, tigridia, mullen, russian sage, ajuga, digitalis, nandina, daphne.

Authos photos