Monthly Archives: September 2015

Fall Garden Report

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Well, we finally got three days of rain, which is good because the ground was bone dry, even if the air continued to be a sauna.

Most Valuable Non-Native Player is usually Walker’s Low catmint, an unspeakably durable non-reseeding perennial, but this year it’s getting a run for its money from a tropical annual cuphea, which is still flowering even now, and the Japanese salvia, Koyame, which is a late flowering part-shade salvia. Both very attractive to bumblebees, although the cuphea is also bringing in small pollinator wasps.

Not doing as well are the lion’s ear and the black-and-blue salvia. The lion’s ear is an annual here, and reasonably attractive to hummingbirds, but so are a lot of other things that aren’t as floppy and picky. The black-and-blue is very vigorous (wildly vigorous) on a dry slope but I think would do better if I cut it back about once a month. Hummingbirds like it, too, but nothing else seems to care that much.

The fig has lost its mind and I’m gonna have to take after it with a saw once I’ve harvested all the figs. It went from a stub to a roaring green giant that’s approaching the second story.

Can’t say that the swamp milkweed is thrilling me. I grow milkweed because I hope for monarchs, but I’ve never had a caterpillar and the plants…ah…do not hold up well to the weather. Limp, brown, dead and aphid riddled, with moldy seed pods. I’ll keep growing it, of course, because someday a monarch will wander in, but I may move it to a low traffic zone, because at the moment it looks like something you’d find in the bottom of the veggie crisper four months after the CSA ended.

This leads us to the problem of soup beans, yet again. “Leave the beans to dry on the vine,” suggest the various books, written mostly by people who do not live in the South. This is how you’re supposed to harvest the seeds for next year, too.

Har har. One year in three, maybe, I get that option.

The rest of the time, in late summer/early fall, the bean pod turns into a thin, moldy tissue over the beans, and the ones I don’t get to fast enough actually sprout inside the pod from the moisture, so you get little white snouts poking out of the bean pods. They are not going to dry on the vine. They are not going to dry anywhere, except inside the house. Autumn is the season of mold here.

(This, incidentally, is the reason that the much-maligned Ojo de Cabra has failed me, I come to find out. It finally threw dozens of heavy pods, a month after all the other beans had mostly finished. The problem is that a month late gets us firmly into slime-and-mold season. The plant is extraordinarily vigorous, so the leaves are brilliant green and the older pods are hanging sorrowful and slimy underneath it.)

So now my ideal bean is short season, heat and humidity tolerant, vigorous and mildew-resistant. The astonishing thing is that I’ve got at least three that fit that bill. Beans are a remarkably gracious plant. I’ve harvested enough beans to make soup and chili a couple times this fall, and next year the hard part will be finding room for all the new varieties I’m experimenting with.

Frogs and Reapers

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gardenjournal9-19-15

Kevin eating the Reaper was…painfully epic. He said it was the hottest thing he’s ever eaten, substantially hotter than the Reaper we bought from Fiddlehead Farm last year. He said this between spoonfuls of yogurt, gasping, and then dumping sugar directly on his tongue in a desperate attempt to break up the oils. He had eaten a very small slice off the end, with no seeds.

Then he got some of the juice on his face and was scrubbing it with Tecnu, the poison-ivy remover, trying to get it off. It’s…um. Quite a thing.

I feel this weird mix of satisfaction and horror. On the one hand, I didn’t get into gardening to make things that destroy the taste buds. On the other, I have succeeded in what we’ll call a mid-level gardening challenge–peppers aren’t hard at all, but the super-hots can be dicey, and part of the challenge is making them come out super-hot, since we get so much water here in NC. (In another year, I might not have succeeded as well–the drought helped. I hand-watered them all, no irrigation, so I could balance the watering against the weather.)

On the gripping hand, they’re dangerous and also useless. You can’t cook with them. If I dried one and ground it into powder, other than the screaming as grains got in my eye, I could put maybe two grains in a gallon of chili. The guy who makes Cackalacky sauce wants a couple for a special Halloween blend, so a few will go to good homes, but there’s honestly no point in growing them again in the garden. You can’t use them for anything. I might save seeds from a couple Reapers just to have them, but I don’t know that I’ll bother, since their germination rates are really poor.

Next year, I’ve got a single Thai pepper from the owner of Thai Lanna restaurant, who brought her seeds over from Thailand, and twenty seeds of a Bolivian pepper, the name of which means something like “Lunatic Caterpillar.” I’m growing just those two, widely separated, so that I can get enough seed to save. In practice, it seems like we use Habeneros, Jalapenos, and Thai peppers, and I bet we’d use Shishito, too, so I may give them a try in 2017.