Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The garden in August

It's the middle of the dry season, and everything is burning up in the summer's heat. I'm cheating in these pictures. They only show the pretty details, and leave out the brown lawn and the crispy perennials that need trimmed. Kind of like I do as I walk through the garden: try to look only at the pretty bits.

Here, Rudbeckia makes a brave show, being one of the few flowers to thrive in the summer's heat, given a bit of water.

A single hollyhock, Creme de Cassis , blooms against the blue sky. Amazingly, it escaped the usual rust invasion this year, though the bugs made lacework of the leaves.

A lone Dianthus just coming into bloom, poking out of the weeds and the dry ground. Yes, I need to water, but we're supposed to be conserving around here, and the water bills can get outrageous this time of year.

Out of a ruin of dried leaves at the base of a sword fern, a cluster of cyclamen emerge.

Chelone (turtleheads) blossom against a bright sky. These normally like boggy ground, so they need an extra hit from the hose now and then.

In the back yard, a variegated butterfly bush is still blooming away.

The asparagus we ate last spring is now a small forest, with the peach tree peeking up from behind:

Rejoice! My very first home-grown cauliflower! This variety, "Cheddar," has the added benefit of being packed full of carotenes. I cut this, steamed it just until tender, and served it up with just a bit of butter. It was amazingly sweet and flavorful. As the nutritional scientists now say, eat colorful food!

The red raspberries are late this year, but they're worth the wait:

The golden raspberries put on a crop earlier, but they're back for another show:

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Featured on Blogger!

Wow! I'd been away from the blogs for a while, dealing with family and personal business, and while I'm away the stat counter shot up, with hit after hit from the Blogger home page!

I'm thrilled! I'm honored!

And you're all welcome guests. Please come in, pull up a chair, browse around for a good book, or just enjoy the pretty pictures.

Here are a few popular posts from the past that you might enjoy:

Superfoods! Article 2: Beans

"The Army gets the gravy but the Navy gets the beans, beans, beans, beans..." goes the song, and indeed, beans have gotten a bad rap over the years as a cheap protein substitute. Long have beans been the food of the poor, and during the two World Wars, beans were promoted as a meat substitute for meatless meals during times of rationing.

But a mere substitute? Beans deserve a better reputation than something to fill up the kiddies while the meat-eating men march off to war. According to SuperFoods Rx (see SuperFoods! Article 1), beans are a low-fat source of protein, are full of fiber, and contain a good dose of B vitamins, iron, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and a variety of plant pigments collectively known as "phytonutrients." The fiber in beans has been shown to lower cholesterol in people with cholesterol problems, so not only do beans "substitute" for meat, they also help control some of the problems associated with eating high-fat protein foods. Beans have been found to help stabilize blood sugar, so they may be useful for people with type II diabetes. Beans may also help reduce some cancers, particularly colon cancer. Of course, some people have a problem with -- er -- the "inflatable effects" of beans. People who eat beans frequently tend to produce the enzymes necessary for digesting them, and have fewer problems. For those who just can't eat beans without the musical after-effects, it's Beano to the rescue! This product, in liquid or tablet form, contains the enzymes that will solve the problem.

The superfoods "beans" group encompasses most legumes, including dried beans, lima beans, lentils, green beans, fava beans, and garden peas. Think of the variety of flavors, colors, and cooking methods!

True beans are summer crops, usually planted late in May and ripening late in the summer. Because beans are legumes, they form associations with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that create nodules on the roots of the plants; hence beans and their bacterial friends put nitrogen into the soil, and beans don't require much in the way of fertilizers. In fact, too much fertilizer will make beans run all to leaves and produce too few flowers and pods.

Most beans will need a trellis to climb on. The good old "bean teepee" is easy to make from bamboo poles. Tie a half-dozen or so poles about six or more feet long together at one end, and sink the opposite ends in the ground. Run string around and around them as you would string lights around a Christmas tree, winding the string around the poles themselves to anchor it. You can also run twine between two sturdy stakes, running it across the top and about six inches from the bottom, then run twine up and down vertically between the two horizontal strings. Or run deer netting or bird netting between two tall stakes. Either of these will provide support for a row. Keep the beans watered well for full growth.

Beans can be picked when green to steam, stir-fry, use in soups, or freeze. To freeze beans, trim the ends and cut into pieces, blanch in boiling water for three or four minutes, and cool immediately in ice water before putting in freezer-safe containers.

Bean pods can also be left on the plant to dry if you want to grow dry beans. While dry pintos, navy beans, and garbanzos are cheap to buy in the stores (and can, incidentally, be used as cheap seed source), more exotic, flavorful heirloom beans must be home-grown. Want a full list of heirloom bean varieties? Try The Bean Bag. The more colorful the beans, the higher levels of substances called polyphenols. These phytonutrients are important antioxidants. Dry beans are super in soups, can be served cold on salads, or used for bean dips. Try a traditional French cassoulet for a warm winter meal.

Fall and spring are the time to plant two other important members of the bean group: Fava beans and peas. Favas are much better known in Europe than in the U.S. These broad beans have skins with a slightly bitter flavor that some people love and others detest. The immature beans can harvested when they're thumb-nail sized. They can be simmered until tender, sauted lightly in butter, then seasoned with salt, fresh thyme, and a good vinegar for a full, rich flavor. The vinegar helps alleviate some of the bitterness. Favas are also great in soups.

Favas for planting are huge, and should be soaked before planting. Late in the summer, plant them in rich soil where you've pulled out summer crops. They'll enrich your potato patch. They're also a good follow-up crop to corn. The plants will get a head start in the warm days of late summer, grow very slowly in the winter, and produce a crop in the spring. They can also be planted as early in the spring as the soil can be worked.

Peas are a familiar garden favorite, and another member of the bean group. Peas are most often served as fresh, immature peas, lightly simmered. Traditional peas are harvested for their seeds, but snow peas are eaten as immature pods, and sugar peas are eaten at a more mature stage, pod, seeds, and all. This gives the gardener a lot more food for the effort. Still, there's nothing that can beat the taste of fresh petite pois peas, barely simmered, and seasoned with butter and a touch of dill.

My grandmother always said to plant peas on Washington's birthday. That may be a little early for those north of zone 8, but the idea is to plant peas as early as the soil can be worked. Peas benefit from the use of pea innoculants, which add those nitrogen-fixing root-nodule-making bacteria to the cold soil. Soak the peas, toss them with a light coating of the innoculant, then plant immediately, sinking the peas about two inches into the soil. Early planting helps prevent pea enation, a fungal disease that strikes in early summer. Spring-planted peas are usually ready in June. Many parts of the country can get a second crop of fall-planted peas as well.

With the wide variety of beans available, it shouldn't be too hard to get the recommended four 1/2 cup servings per week.

Superfoods! Article 1: The book

Have you seen SuperFoods Rx?

Dr. Steven Pratt and co-author Kathy Matthews teamed up in this book to present fourteen categories of food that have super health benefits. Now mind, you, I've been teaching science for, oh, quite a few years (longer than I care to admit), and I have a pretty critical stance when it comes to health claims. Most diet books that I've seen are worthless (all that talk of "detoxifying," claiming that it's toxins that make you fat, is bogus -- "detoxifying" teas are mostly diuretics, as are the "fat flushing" potions). But SuperFoods Rx impressed me. It has its share of hype -- it's hard to get a health book published and noticed these days without resorting to hype -- but most of the claims are backed by real research that appeared in real research journals, not vague claims of "some studies suggest..." or support from various unscientific testimonials.

All of the foods in the book contain more than the usual vitamins and minerals. Pratt goes into various anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and otherwise health-enhancing substances in common foods, from the isoflavones in soy, to omega-3 oils in fish and leafy greens, to the colorful lutiens, xanthophyls, and anthocyanins in fruits and veggies. The best part is that you don't have to search the back shelves of esoteric health food shops to find these super foods. You can find them all at your grocery store -- or better still, most of them you can grow yourself to get the full benefits of fresh, organically-grown food!

So, as we move into fall harvest time, winter gardening time (for those of us in mild climates), and winter garden planning, I'll be running a series of articles on how to grow foods in most of the groups of superfoods. I'll skip over turkey (low-fat protein, high in three B vitamins, iron, selenium, and zinc, and supportive of the immune system), since I don't know anything about poultry-raising, and likewise I'll skip wild salmon (high in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and selenium, since it's not exactly something you can plant in your raised beds. As for the whole grains group, I'll discuss corn and a few other garden-appropriate grain foods, but leave the growing of oats, wheat, and rice to the farmers.

That still leaves plenty of superfoods you can grow in your garden or your kitchen, so we'll begin at the beginning of the book with the next article: Beans.