Cinderella’s Limo

Susie's pumpkin illustration

An incredible rendering of the Cinderella pumpkin (really an old French squash variety) was done by my wife, Susie Thorness, for my book Edible Heirlooms.

I just figured out what I liked about the story of Cinderella: the transformed pumpkin.

As you will recall, the mistreated heroine of the story needed a coach in which to travel to the ball, once she herself had been transformed into a beautiful maiden. After all, you couldn’t just hoof it up to the big event in your gown. So a pumpkin was transformed into a glittering carriage, elevated on giant, spindly wheels and presided over by a stately coachman (formerly a rat) who drove a team of spirited horses (which had been mice). Now, that was the way to show up at the ball.

And in a moment, the pumpkin became a star. Just as the girl had been overlooked by the family when she just needed a bit of cleaning up to dazzle everyone, so did the plump orange squash simply need to be freed of its viney headdress and swath of shrouding leaves to be seen at its best: rich in color, with a glossy glow, perfectly unique and shapely. Ready for its Rolls Royce makeover.

Cinderella pumpkin

This year’s model, straight off the vine.

It is not the only transformation of a squash into a vessel of higher purpose (or, for that matter, transportation–see giant zucchini car races), but it is perhaps the one with the most imagination. Of the many things around the farm that could have been transformed into a carriage fit for a princess, the pumpkin might have been the most unlikely choice. But an inspired one.

The Cinderella pumpkin was modeled after the French variety Rouge Vif d’Etampes, a slightly flattened, elongated squash with glowing red-orange skin. It is a far cry from the tall, rotund, pale Connecticut Field variety carved up for Jack O’Lanterns on Halloween.

It’s ironic, really, because if any member of the squash family should be the icon for a transformative night of magic and costumes, this Cinderella really has the foot that fits that slipper.

pumpkinslice

Saving Seeds, Planting Now: Weekend Talks

How do you save seed from a favorite tomato? Will bean seeds dry fully in the yard? How do you keep birds from gobbling all your flower seeds?

Black Spanish Radish

Black Spanish radishes and their edible pods.

Those practical issues, along with a bit of science and philosophy behind saving seeds, will be the topic of my talk this Saturday at City People’s Garden Store in south-central Seattle.

“Saving Seeds of Your Favorite Edibles” is the sixth of seven classes in our Edible Year series. It’s 10-11 a.m. Please pre-register with the nursery.

On Sunday I’ll head the other direction, both literally and figuratively. Going north to Swansons Nursery, I’ll give a slide show and presentation on what to grow now.

In “Edibles for Fall and Winter” I’ll detail what crops you can get started now from seed, what to look for in the nursery, and when to plant them for fall and winter harvests. We’ll also discuss “overwintering” crops that you start now and plan to eat next spring. That talk, also free, begins at 11 a.m.

Contest alert: $1,000 Available

CPGS-contest-small

Do you work with a community garden that could use some new supplies, or has big plans for next spring but could use plants? Then you should apply for the City People’s Garden Store Urban Garden Contest! The chosen entry will get a $1,000 gift card that can be used at the nursery over the next year. Deadline is Aug. 31, so there’s still time to apply.

 

 

Garlic Harvest: Inner Chef Says Thanks!

I knocked my head against a hanging braid of garlic the other day, and instead of the predictable response, I had to smile. That ceiling rack in the garage holds the spice of many meals. And the harvest is the result of nearly effortless planting.

Four garlics

Garlic is harvested in late June to early July, when about a third of the leaves have turned brown.

Please grow garlic. It’s so easy, and it’s so good.

In a post last November, I went through the steps of planting it, which is done at the end of fall, when there’s plenty of open bed space and not much else happening, besides watching the winter vegetables grow.

I planted four varieties of garlic, one head of each. They went into 6-foot-long rows. Here’s

Garlic drying

My garlic hangs in a corner of the garage to cure, from twine attached to a welded-wire grid on the ceiling. Softneck varieties, in the foreground, are braided. Hardnecks are hung upside down.

what is now hanging in my garage, finishing the drying process so it will last me through the winter:

Inchelium Red — This is a softneck garlic with fairly large heads of 12-15 cloves each. I got 10 heads, but 6 are somewhat small and immature.

Spanish Roja — My favorite garlic, this Northwest heirloom (sometimes called Greek Blue) is a hardneck that provided us with a nice meal of “scapes” this spring, the flower heads that you cut when they curl up out of the center of the plant. The yield was 13 heads, with about a third of them smaller than expected.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes are the curly seed-heads that emerge from hardneck garlics in mid-spring. Cut them to send more energy to the bulb, then steam or stir-fry them for a fresh spring garlic dish.

Killarney Red — A new variety for me, this hardneck garlic shows a soft apricot color beneath its papery skin, belying its name. I haven’t peeled any yet, so a brighter red might  be under there. It yielded 8 heads, uniformly on the small side of medium.

Lorz Italian — This reliable softneck garlic braided beautifully. It also produced 10 wonderful heads of a generous size, two of which had irregular bulbils growing along the stem.

Those irregular growths on the Lorz, as well as two or three heads that came out of the ground soft or damaged, went straight to the kitchen to be used immediately. The rest are pretty much dry now, and soon I’ll cut them down and store them in mesh onion bags, hanging in a dry, cool spot in my basement. As I go to grab a new one for cooking, I’ll run my hands through each bag to make sure none have gotten soft in storage.

There are few edibles easier to grow than garlic. Plan now to devote a space in your winter garden to this spicy allium. Next year, the chef in you will thank me.

Rainy Day Veggie Review

Don’t you just love a rainy day?

Our respite from warm-and-sunny couldn’t be more welcome in my garden. The parched corners not quite reached by the watering system are greening up. A friend mentioned over coffee that she noticed marigolds really don’t like the heat, as they looked stressed but now are bright and, well, sunny again. It leaves the sky but shows up in the flowers – go figure.

So I took the opportunity to wander my wet garden with the camera, because the newly refreshed plants photograph well in the flat light of a cloudy day. Here’s my veggie photo review.

Kabocha squash

The Buttercup kabocha-type squash is setting lots of fruit, and offering plenty of male flowers which can be used in a saute.

Kabocha squash vines

Here’s a good use for the lawn in summer: cover it with squash vines! The Buttercup kabocha is very vigorous.

Kale and beans

I wanted beans in this bed, but still had a vigorous Lacinato (Dino) kale there, so I’m just working around it. They seem fine now, but we’ll see if they grow as large as the others.

Purple Bumblebee cherry tomato

These “Purple Bumblebee” cherry tomatoes are voluminous and getting pretty big. Time to start turning their bumblebee colors!

Yellow Banana peppers

Yellow Banana peppers are 2-3 inches long, and the bottom one is looking ripe.

Painted Lady beans

Painted Lady scarlet runner beans are in full flower. They’ve reached the top of a 15-foot bamboo teepee and are looking for more height!

Walla Walla Sweet onions

Walla Walla Sweet onions won’t get as big as the ones from eastern Washington, but they are bulbing nicely. They naturally rise above the soil as they grow.

lettuce in cold frame

The last of our spring lettuce crop is ironically in the cold frame. I’ve long ago removed the cold frame’s top, but I think the partial shade of the walls is keeping this crop from bolting as fast as the ones in the regular garden.

 

 

 

 

 

Think Purple for Winter – Plant Broccoli Now

Purple Sprouting broccoli (my favorite winter vegetable) takes an incredibly long time to mature. A reader comment prompted me to think again about this amazing biennial plant.

PS-Broccoli1

Annual broccoli planted in spring or summer can produce in as little as 65 days, but Purple Sprouting needs to get started during the heat of the summer and size up a bit before fall. If started by mid-July, you should have plants that are knee-high before the days get so short and cool that growth grinds to a halt. But in late winter they’ll take off again and start pumping out the purple in very early spring (February) on plants that can be waist-high.

First you’ll get a small central head, and after you cut that, numerous shoots will appear from the axillary buds at the base of the leaves. PS-Broccoli2Cut when 6 to 10 inches long and look for more to appear. I can often get a half-dozen meals out of one plant, and the harvest time can stretch over three months.

Compared to summer or fall broccoli, Purple Sprouting is an all-star producer, and well worth the wait.

Growing tips:

A note on the cabbage butterfly:

Actually called the imported cabbage worm (Pieris rapae), this is the common white butterfly with black wing dots that jerkily careens around our gardens. It is looking for plants of the Brassica genus.

This pest lays its eggs (tiny white or yellow groups of them) on the underside of the leaves. When they hatch, the larvae (a tiny green worm) feed on the leaves. Their feeding can destroy a young plant,

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so I keep the floating row cover on until the plant is large enough to defend itself.

Another nice thing about winter gardening: this pest is much less prevalent. I rarely see them after about early October.

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