Sunday, January 30, 2011

Planting Dates

I know that plenty of gardeners time their planting with phases of the moon. Last year, when I looked that up on the online Farmers Almanac, I was happy to see that the "planting by the moon" times coincided with times I had planned to plant, anyway.

That meant I had one less thing to consider as I completed my planting calendar. I will have to look that up again for this year, but it turns out that there are even more planning methods than watching the moon or counting weeks before or after average first/last frost dates.

It shouldn't surprise me, because I plant peas each year when the trout lilies bloom in my yard, but there is a little booklet, "The Seedling Handbook," published in 1968 by the American Guild Garden Book Club, that lists planting times by what's in bloom.

I am assuming that the logic behind this is something along the lines of "plants are smarter about what's going on above and below ground than we are." I could be wrong, but I watch the trout lilies because I think they are a good indicator of soil conditions. Their bloom-time can vary by as much as two weeks from year to year. That means my pea-planting time varies, too.

The booklet was written by Elda Haring and was "prepared for the members of The American Garden Guild Garden City, N.Y." That particular town is not anywhere nearby, so it is not unexpected that some of the plants listed as being among those to watch are not represented in my neighborhood, but some are.

Here is an example:

When these are in full bloom--Chionodoxa luciliae (glory of the snow), trailing arbutus, border forsythia and weeping forsythia, Lindera benzoin (spice bush), and Scilla siberica (Siberian squill)--it is safe to plant beets, cabbage, chard, chervil, Cos, Cress, Endive, Escarole, Kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onion (sets), parsley, parsnips, peas, spinach, radishes, salsify, turnips, and whitloof chicory.

Among the first few thoughts that sprang to my mind, on reading this list was that I'm not sure the Siberian squill and Glory of the snow bloom at the same time around here. Another was that I have a long way to go in terms of exploring all the kinds of veggies that can be grown in a garden. I haven't yet tried kohlrabi, for example, or endive, or escarole, or whitloof chicory . . .

Since I already watch for the trout lilies, it shouldn't be too hard to watch what else is blooming as I plant my garden. It will be fun to put together a similar set of planting times for my yard!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Last Catalogue

I still haven't worked out exactly what to grow this year in terms of varieties. I took a little stack of seed catalogues with me to Oklahoma to look at while staying with my Mom following her hip replacement surgery, but I didn't have a lot of time to look at them. Hospitals are busy places!

I got back home today, though, and there in the mailbox was the Last Seed Catalogue--the one I've been waiting for-- the one from Sand Hill Preservation.

This coming weekend must be the one in which I make a final plan. Of course, there are plenty of seeds left from last year, stored in the fridge. But I still haven't hit on the perfect carrot, for example, for this yard, so there are decisions to make after doing yet more research.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

'Brave Sallet'

Back in the late seventies, while I was in college, I walked across town a few times to visit a great uncle who lived in the same college town. He was almost completely blind from macular degeneration and had been giving away books. One day I walked home with an old two-volume dictionary set and a little Dover book called "Culinary and Salad Herbs."

The herb book was a 1972 reproduction of a 1940 British publication by Eleanor Sinclare Rohde. The book contains some information on growing herbs that isn't 100% applicable to growing herbs in Georgia, but it also offers a lot of simple recipes and a few tidbits of interesting information. These features are a couple of the great reasons to look more closely at older, "out of date" gardening books when they are available.

One page in particular caught my attention back when I first received the book, and it still kind of amazes me. This is what it says:

I think our ancestors would have had a poor opinion of the few ingredients that compose the modern salad. James II's head cook considered that there should be at least thirty-two ingredients, and a "brave sallet" contained more than that, for it was the decorative centerpiece of the table. John Evelyn gave it as his considered opinion that he "could by no means approve the extravagant Fancy of some who tell us that a Fool is as fit to be a gatherer of Sallets as a wise man," and his ideal housewife numbered among her virtues that she "could in a trice set forth an handsome sallet." She must have been a remarkable woman, for those of us with practical experience know that making an elaborate salad takes time.

I agreed with the author that the person who could set forth such a salad "in a trice" must have been remarkable. However, the little book also offers some shortcuts to achieving the "brave sallet." One is to use up bits of leftovers in the salad (little bits of meats, for example, or bean or macaroni dishes). Another is in the use of herbs. Herbs can easily overwhelm a salad, but she recommends using just a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped herbs, and having those be from a mix of leaves (one or two leaves each of whatever the garden provides).

Every year, I grow enough herbs to make the "brave sallet" possible, but I don't always use them as effectively as I think is possible. Just one more thing to think about . . .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow! Again!

On Sunday night, snow started falling, and it continued long enough to cover our yard with about four inches of snow. At first, it was all the classically fluffy white stuff, but it changed to hard little bits of sleet toward the end. Today, we had more flurries, but not any significant addition to what was covering the ground.

Most winters, we don't get to use the sled even once. This winter, we've been able to have plenty of fast rides down the hill in front of the house over both the Christmas weekend and the last couple of days. Other people have come out to take turns on the sled, too, and the chance to visit with so many neighbors has been great.

One of the things about snow in the South that is both good and bad is that it packs to ice on the roads almost immediately. The situation is made more interesting by the lack of snow-plow trucks to clear the ice or to spread salt or sand on the roads. The icy roads make driving dangerous, so schools and businesses close, and most people stay home.

However, when Joe and I walked the mile and a half to the nearest coffee shop earlier today, the TV there was on, showing news coverage of Atlanta's roads, and it was pretty obvious that a whole lot of people who should not have been driving were actually out in their cars. Plenty of those people were stuck, either on a highway or in ditches or yards.

Roads have begun to look more passable, though, as the day has gone on, which means the return to work and school most likely will begin tomorrow.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Leather Britches Beans

I finally spent a half hour looking into leather britches beans, and I found out a lot in just that little bit of time.

For people who don't already know, leather britches is really a preservation/cooking method for green beans. Mature beans are threaded onto strings to dry, and later cooked, usually with some kind of pork for seasoning (I don't eat any kind of pork, but I'm working on this one step at a time). This is a very "old-timey" way of preserving beans for use in the winter.

I had heard that any kind of green bean can be used for making these, but my experience with the beans in my yard had made me think that some varieties of beans would work better than others. Basically, Burpee's Tenderpod, which is a great green bean for fresh eating, shrivels to almost non-existence in drying, and the flavor is dramatically less than great. After reading my new book "The Resilient Gardener" by Carol Deppe, who found that some squash varieties were better than others for drying, I knew I would have to do some actual work to figure this out.

The writer over at confirmed that thought:
The hulls of today's beans all become very tough as the bean matures. Some gardeners will dry a commercial string bean as a substitute for 'old time' Leather Britches beans but they risk criticism from historians, Southern chefs and anyone who has tasted the real thing.

It turns out that more than one gardener recommends "greasy beans," especially the "greasy cut shorts," for this use. Steve from Western North Carolina, posting at, said:
There are at least 3 different greasy beans grown by seed savers in Western NC. All are pole beans and strong runners. The Greasy Cut short has only 4-6 beans to the pod, so they're just strung and broken in 1/2. The long greasy (my type) has 8-11 beans per pod and then there is the big greasy. It has 8-11 beans and a very thick, fleshy pod.

I like to let the long greasy get very full before picking. The beans have a rich, nutty flavor and are wonderful for canning. The cut shorts make the best "leather britches".

At the site is this comment:
"Black greasy" beans were a popular old-fashioned variety. They could be eaten fresh out of the garden or canned. When strung and dried, they were called "leather britches" or "shucky" beans.

A poster on the gardenweb forums agreed with the above comments:
Until her demise my adoptive granny, Sarah Lou Back, made leather britches every year. Her bean of choice was Greasy Grits, and there were so many strings of them hanging from her porch you couldn't see through what superficially looked like a bamboo curtain.

The writer at added some other bean varieties to the leather britches list:
By general acclaim the best heirloom bean varieties to make Leather Britches include the Barnes Mountain Cornfield Bean, Pink Tip Greasy Bean, Tobacco Worm Bean and the NT Half Runner Bean.

Other writers added white half-runners to the list of good varieties for leather britches, and it sounds as though any bean described as a "shucky bean" is also a good candidate.

The writer at vegetablesofinterest included one more piece of very useful information in his post, the name and URL for a source of heirloom beans: Bill Best's Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center Inc.'s catalogue. Since this is the season for planning, I will be looking more closely at this particular catalogue.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Starting Out Right

On 1 Jan., 2011, my little family ate crowder peas from the yard, cooked with carrots and greens (turnip) from the yard. It seemed like a good way to start the New Year. I'm still not sure that people were meant to eat turnip greens, but Joe seemed to like them just fine.

I made cornbread to go with the crowder peas, using the recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, More With Less, by Doris Janzen Longacre and published by the Mennonite Central Committee. I have had this cookbook since 1980, and its history as a well-used book shows in the stains on many of its pages.

The day before, on New Year's Eve, Joe, Zack, Stephanie and I set off "Georgia" fireworks (nothing is allowed to shoot up into the air, so there were a lot of fountains and things that spin on the ground), and the teenage boys from across the street did, too. A couple of the neighborhood rascals, along with their Mom, came out to help. It was fun. I am very lucky to live in a neighborhood that is actually a neighborhood, where people know each other.

On Jan. 2, 3, and 4, I was at work. Considering that many people are starting the New Year unemployed, this also is good. If I could just settle on a garden plan, my year's beginning would be complete.

It is interesting to me that this year's garden-planning is going so slowly. Last year's goal of more seed-saving went well, and it's too late for a midlife crisis to be getting in the way. I am hoping that when the catalogue from SandHill Preservation arrives, a light-bulb will go off in my head (figuratively), and a plan will coalesce. Wish me luck!
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