Monday, September 20, 2010

The sweet smell of autumn

Autumn is right around the corner, and -- despite the 90 degree day that we are facing tomorrow --there is no more insistent a reminder of this turn of seasons than the scent of concord grapes. The arbor hangs thick with ripening fruit right by the door of the garage. I arrive home every evening to the heady scent of sun-baked grapes. The birds are getting a lot this year, and I am not sure I have it in me to make grape jam this season (especially since we never finished the jars from last year!). But the vines are worth it just for this sensory luxury of inhaling the scent of their fruit.

Concords can startle people with their scent, as for many their sheer grapey-ness conjures memories of Welch's juice and PBJ sandwiches and hard candies. There is no subtlety to the perfume of the concord -- it smacks you in the nose with its fruitiness. But I love the rich aromas that hit me as soon as I step out of the garage -- the ripening concords are a gentle salve to the wounds of a hard work day. We often find our son sitting below the small arbor, sniffing ardently as he maneuvers his trucks.

I arrived home today with a sense of relief -- my month of burdensome work hours is over and I can return to the normal pace of life. Leaving for the hospital before dawn, I have missed the quiet mornings in the garden with my son. The garden looks ragged and deflated, a horticultural reflection of my inner self right now. Fortunately both I and the garden will soon be renewed by late mornings and early afternoons spent outside, enjoying the fall weather.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Good and Sweet Year

Tonight begins the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah. Apples and honey are the traditional foods, symbolizing a sweet new year. Our family is not observant -- actually not religious in the slightest! --but I try to celebrate the traditions of my mother-in-law and her family with my young son. He is an easy mark on Rosh Hashanah -- what 3 year old wouldn't want to dip apples into honey as a snack? As a gardener, I also gravitate to a new year celebration tied to the autumn seems more in keeping with nature's cycles than the usual January gloom of the secular celebration.

Round challah bread is traditionally served on Rosh Hashanah as well, symbolizing the cycle of the year. I am making this recipe from Martha Stewart tonight-- it will get a second rise in the refrigerator while we sleep and tomorrow will it bake up into a gorgeously round loaf. The recipe gives a delicious twist on the traditional challah by incorporating apples directly into the dough. The resulting bread is eggy and rich, but not cloying. It is a comforting way to start this new year...and may these coming months as good and sweet as the bread.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The second coming of the nasturtiums

July was a cruel month to my nasturtiums and, by the end of the month, they had withered away to straggly, yellowing stems. I ripped the nasturtiums out of the corner of my yard, as the dying foliage looked particularly horrible against the lush August green of the rest of the garden. As I tore out the plants, I noticed little rootlets hanging off the main stems. I decided to replant these rooting stems and see what would come of it.

A month later, I have a thriving little nasturtium plant. It isn't the length of my old plant, but this salvaged little chunk of rooting stem has impressed me with its vigor. What otherwise would have gone into the compost pile has surprised me with a second life.

I had grand plans when this project started to pickle the seed pods as a homemade version of capers. No seeds appeared on the first growth of the plant -- I think it withered in the heat before it could think about reproducing. Maybe this second chance will offer some seeds. I know what to look for, thanks to an educational post from Mr. Brown Thumb. I fear there may be no homemade capers in my future....if there are, I will post them next month in the final installment of this project.

“I’m growing Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’ for the GROW project. Thanks, toRenee’s Garden for the seeds.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

Passiflora incarnata alba

The most anticipated flower in my garden bloomed today -- passiflora incarnata alba, the passion flower. I started these seeds early in the winter and have been nursing this plant along ever since, first under a cloche and then against the onslaught of the slugs.

All of my careful ministrations were worth it when when I returned from a long day of work this evening to find two blossoms quivering in the wind. The scent is tropical and the flowers look other-worldly. Neighbors gathered around for examination and discussion, as the vine is climbing my front fence. I have a feeling these passion flowers may be "shoplifted" off the vine, much like the moon flowers that grow nearby. Every morning, I notice a blossom or two has been plucked off. Such is the fate of showy flowers grown along a busy sidewalk.

I imagine a a teenage girl took one of these giant moon flowers, to tuck behind her ear, like a flamenco dancer. The petals look like rumpled white silk. I personally would pick the passion flower, although the numerous ants scurrying on the underside of the flowers would be an unwelcome surprise in the hair.

Of course, I should just rest on my laurels and enjoy the flowers, but now I am calculating the days until the first frost and wondering whether the vine will set fruit. Given the autumn chill and winds right now, it is hard to imagine I will have any passion fruit cocktails in my future. But a long Indian summer may be right around the corner, so who knows? And if not this year, perhaps next - the woman who sent me the seed says it is hardy to zone 5 if mulched carefully.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Time warp

No matter how carefully I tend my home life of urban farming and slow cooking, there are times when my professional duties overwhelm any homesteading reveries. The past 10 days have been a harsh reminder that the skills that pay my bills have less to do with my green thumb, and more to do with my medical training. I am tending patients right now, not plants. I leave early in the morning and come home in the evening, exhausted. As I stumble through my garden on the way to my house and bed, I am lucky if I remember to pick the ripe tomatoes off the plants. Forget about cooking with them! They are getting thrown in the freezer, for a big batch of sauce once my workload eases in a few weeks.

I will admit that given the small size of my garden, I sometimes micromanage every single pot and bed. I take great pleasure in this daily intimacy, watching every seedling emerge, charting the slow growth of an individual fig, plucking each withering leaf off the tomato plant. This time of intense work has forced me to step back and let my garden grow on its own, untended. Despite negligent watering, my fall container lettuce ('pot and patio blend' from Territorial) is up and thriving.

The red kuri squash is large and deepening in color. The last I checked, they were yellow and fist-sized, with the blossom still attached!

My pole beans are finally nearing harvest, at least two weeks later than last year. Fortunately my bean plants grow right by my back door, so I will remember to grab a bowl of beans before I head in to crash on the couch.

The heavy work load has made me watch my garden in time warp. Rather than the slow, minuscule daily changes, I am now only able to observe week by week. My garden feels more productive -- is it because we are now in the heady days of early September or because a watched horticultural pot never boils?