Saturday, July 24, 2010

Garden Runaways

I cannot post any new photos or tell any stories of my garden this week because I am out exploring the American West. We've been camping on federal lands, enjoying tall trees, clear aquamarine rivers and now the Pacific coast. July in the western mountains is wildflower season, and I have been surprised to find some garden flowers out staking a claim along the highways and riversides.

On the drier east side of the Cascades, I found yarrow growing tall and exuberant, just the white flowering kind. On the east side, pink sweet peas clamber up road cuts, along gravel banks and in open blackberry meadows. Less pervasive but also present are blue and purple bachelor's button, something I never would have expected to see outside a garden bed.

I don't know if it was just happenstance that these garden seeds escaped the garden, or if the sweet peas were deliberately introduced, but the effect is truly interesting. I know that when people come visit the Northeast in the summer, they often ooh and aah over the beautiful spiky purple flowers in the marshes, not knowing that purple loosestrife is a serious invasive plant. I hope I'm not falling prey to complimenting a nuisance species also, but I must admit the bright colors of these garden escapees are indeed beautiful.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Antidote to 90-Degree Days

It's been hot here... I know that rural northern New England has it easy compared to urbanites in NYC, Philadelphia and DC. But still it's darn hot out.

It's been great for the weeds, most of the garden plants, but definitely hard on the peas. I've been working hard at doing very little, especially when it comes to moving around outside. But I've had to do a little bit of gardening...

Just to keep up with the cucumbers. In the first 9 days of July, I've picked over 2 pounds of cucumbers. It's even been too hot to do any pickling (and we didn't have any dill), so I took a cue from my childhood and made cucumber salad, very similar to how my mom makes it. This is a nice simple way to prepare cucumbers without needing to make a trip to the store. At some point, I'll have to try pureeing cukes up into a cold soup, but our blender has been dedicated to smoothie production.

The Cucumber Salad I grew up eating:
Cucumbers (1 lb makes enough for 3-4 servings)
Miracle Whip (for true childhood authenticity)

My version (for adults - kids may prefer the less tangy version.)
Substitute olive oil mayonnaise for Miracle Whip. (could also use yogurt)
Splash of white wine vinegar (I couldn't find the sherry vinegar)
Dried dill weed (use liberally)
Black pepper
(Salt, if you think you need it - taste it plain first)

Peel and thinly slice the cucumbers. In a bowl, scoop and plop two large forkfuls of mayo and pour in a small amount of milk and vinegar (1 Tbsp or so of eaach.) With the fork, mix together until smooth. Shake in 1-2 Tbsp dill and 1/2 tsp pepper, adjusting to taste - I prefer a lot of dill. Make sure the dressing tastes good now, as it's easy to distribute the flavors before putting in the cucumbers. Add the sliced cukes and stir together. I usually have to pull apart the cucumber slices by hand as they tend to stick together.

If you haven't already eaten the whole thing immediately, store this covered in the fridge for a day or two. It doesn't last terribly long as the cucumber will get soggy.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Peas, Please

It's the height of pea season in New Hampshire, which is a very good time. I have been enjoying my own snow peas as well as Vanessa's sugar snap peas this past week. You can plant peas in late April or early May here. The seed guides indicate "as soon as the ground can be worked" but I tend to plant whenever the spirit moves me; this year I planted mid-May. For having gone to science "do things by the book" school for four years, my gardening ethic is rather lackadaisical.

Peas are fantastically tasty, raw or cooked. I especially like sugar snap peas straight from the vine, as they've got a great crunch raw. Adam is not a fan of raw peas, so I put snow peas in with some potstickers for a picnic dinner. I also tried doing a quick 90-second steam in the microwave and then rinsing the snow peas in cold water before chopping them for a green salad. I was surprised at the difference in flavor with that short amount of cooking - it definitely mellows out the flavor.

I have experimented with several types of pea fences, although I did not follow the scientific method. (That would be a great science fair project - which pea fence provides best support?) Peas naturally vine and trellis themselves, wrapping thin yet strong tendrils around anything they come in contact with. (Botany Quiz - What's the name for this differential growth habit stimulated by plants "feeling" a surface? - the answer is at the bottom of this post. Bonus points if you can remember which plant hormones are responsible for this!!)

I've tried two different trellis systems this year. One is a line of vertical tree saplings with twine running between the saplings. The other is a wattle made out of crisscrossed branches. There are pros and cons to both, but both are now too short! I've had to re-purpose part of my pole bean trellis for the pea plants. The peas are rapidly maturing, and I'll probably pull them out this weekend - peas do not take well to 90-degree heat. For the second planting this fall and the years to come, I may need to follow my some "by-the-book" advice and set up a regularly-spaced wide mesh netting for the peas that's at least 4 ft tall.

Quiz answers: this growth habit is called thigmotropism - and the hormones responsible are our dear old friends, the auxins.