Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
I’m reminded of those childhood summers every time I look out the back door and see the huge mimosa growing in the woods behind our house. Its limbs arch almost 40 feet high and nearly as wide, overhanging our fence, filling the air with the fragrance of its fuzzy pink flowers, and dropping seeds that pop up everywhere. And that’s part of the problem. The mimosa (Albrizia julibrissin) is one of those trees people hate or love- sometimes both at the same time. I love to look at it, with its delicate ferny leaves and those fragrant fluffy pink blooms that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. But I hate to pull the lebenty zillion little mimosa seedlings that pop up in the flowerbeds, veggie beds and a hundred other places they don’t belong. And when those pretty pink flowers turn brown, die, and are washed loose in a rain, they cling tenaciously and refuse to turn loose from whatever they land on, leaving ugly brown stringy wads on everything, including the chicken run fencing, the bush beans, the tomatoes, etc. Then there’s the fact that the mimosa is yet another of those imported species that has become invasive and is now threatening native flora.
Friday, June 20, 2008
While I dispatched a number of weeds today, one weed I like to leave in place, or sometimes transplant to a more appropriate place, is mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Common Mullein is an herb that grows wild throughout North America in fields and along roadsides, but is often referred to as a weed, and has actually been classified as a noxious weed in Hawaii. I once thought that common mullein, being so widespread, was native to North America, but according to Steve Brill, mullein is Eurasian. It grows throughout most of Europe and temperate Asia, and has been used in European folk medicine for centuries. Soon after its arrival in the Americas, Native Americans discovered mullein’s healing properties, and adapted it to their own healing traditions. Known by various common names, including Our Lady's Flannel, Blanket Herb, Velvet Plant, Rag Paper, Candlewick Plant, Clown's Lungwort, Jupiter's Staff, Shepherd's Staff, Beggar's Stalk, Adam's Flannel, Beggar's Blanket, Old Man's Flannel, Hag's Taper, mullein has been used for everything from candles and candle-wicks to bandages to cures for colic, catarrh and diarrhea .
The mullein in my garden keeps guard beside the greenhouse, rising tall and erect from it's fuzzy gray feet, with a spiked cap of yellow flowers to beckon airborne pollinators (as you can see in the photo, one little winged critter is zooming in toward the flowers). In past times, mullein had a reputation in Europe and Asia as having the power to drive away evil spirits. Unfortunately, it does not drive away evil , seedling-chomping, seed-eating mice;it allows those nasty little greenhouse squatters free reign to come and go as they please. But I can forgive mullein this failing, and enjoy it for the many virtues it does possess, including those lovely yellow flowers.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
But Kudzu does have its virtues— every part of the kudzu plant can be used: the leaves not only make a great compost, but are high in vitamins C and A, and can be eaten (as long as they haven’t been sprayed with herbicides). You can boil them, steam them, fry them, pickle them, or even eat them raw. Bees love kudzu flowers, and produce a wonderfully scented honey from them. The flowers are also used to make tea and a delicious kudzu jelly. Kudzu vines can be woven into baskets and fiber from the vines can be used to make paper and cloth. The roots can be ground into a powder or used to make a tea. The tea and powder have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a number of conditions, from skin rashes to alcoholism.
I've always been fond of kudzu, despite it's nasty habits, except when it invades my own garden, and thought it might be interesting to use it in soap. So I convinced poor Mr. G to wade into any likely kudzu patches he might pass by on his travels. That dear man willingly risks snakebites, chiggers and who knows what to bring me big bunches of kudzu flowers, which I make into tea, then freeze for later use in making soap. In years when the flowers are not abundant or easily accessible (or when Mr. G is unwilling to risk life and limb), I use tea made from the powdered root. It makes a nice soap that smells delicious- kind of like grape jelly ( I have to admit to adding fragrance to this soap, since the kudzu scent doesn't survive the saponification process, but the fragrance oil does make the soap smell more like the blossoms). The flowers are really quite lovely, but they're hard to see, since they're often hidden under the large leaves. But if you walk or drive past a patch of kudzu in mid to late August and smell the scent of grape jelly, look closer- you just might see some of them, and understand why people fell in love with kudzu at the Bicentennial Exhibition. I don't know why people fell in love with my kudzu soap, but I'm glad they did.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
The trip home yesterday was a little harrowing- it rained buckets--so heavy at times that you could barely see the car in front of you. Fortunately, the car in front of me during the worst of it turned on his flashers, so I didn't rear-end him(or her). At one point, though, I was behind a truck pulling a trailer with some tall box-like containers. The straps holding the boxes looked to be vibrating an awful lot and the boxes seemed to be swaying. I wondered whether the straps would break, sending the boxes crashing onto my car. Thank goodness they didn't, because when the rain let up and I was finally able to pass him, I saw the truck was hauling porta-johns. I have no idea whether they were full or empty, but if they'd fallen off, it would have been one stinking mess, for sure! I was so happy to finally exit off the Interstate for the last ten miles of the trip. Except that last ten miles took over an hour, thanks to a resurfacing project.
The rain here was good for the garden, but getting home at dusk/dark both nights, and being in a rush to leave in the mornings, I didn't check to see how the veggies were doing, so this morning I was picking some cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash that had grown to elephant-like proportions! Since I don't like to cook humongous zucchini as a veggie, I'll probably grate them. I can see a zucchini cake in our future.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Caught in the act!
I nearly missed this little critter. He's almost the same shade of green as the bean pods that he was happily boring holes in, thinking, no doubt, that he was well camouflaged and would avoid detection.
I have no idea just what he is, although in trying to identify him, I've learned a great deal more about caterpillars. I looked here and thought he might be a cabbage or soybean looper or a green cloverworm, but he doesn't have the right number of leg segments or otherwise fully fit the description. Then I went here, and became fascinated by the diversity of caterpillars. Some I'm familiar with, like the tomato hornworm that nearly wiped out all my tomatoes one year. But being mesmerized by the images on the first two pages and spending much more time than I'd planned, I gave up, so still don't know what my little bean borer is. If you recognize him, please let me know.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I used some of our yellow squash last Sunday in a recipe from Tables of Content, the newest cookbook from the Junior league of Birmingham. It's a lovely book; not only are the recipes very good, but the book contains photographs of the "tables" of food in landmark settings in and around Birmingham such as Sloss Furnaces, the zoo and botanical gardens, with information about the landmarks. The squash casserole was quite delicious, as are most of the recipes I've tried from the book. This recipe serves 6 to 8; I halved it for us and adjusted the cooking time accordingly.
The beets from Saturday's trip to the farmers market provided roasted beets using a recipe from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook another of my favorite cook books that gets a lot of use. Growing up, I never cared much for beets . We always had them either boiled or pickled, but since discovering roasted beets, I love them. They have an entirely different, deep flavor, and this recipe really brings out the delicious beet taste:
Monday, June 09, 2008
Saturday, June 07, 2008
I bought peaches from Chilton County (Although they had a booth at the market today, the blackberries in the pic are from a mid-week trip back to Petals from the Past), hothouse tomatoes from Blackjack Farms near Birmingham, little red potatoes from Blount County, goat cheese from Notasulga, AL, some herbs from Cullman and some carrots and beets from Snow's Bend Farm near Tuscaloosa. The Snow's Bend Farm booth is one of my favorites- David Snow and Margaret Ann Toohey display their vegetables, herbs and flowers in such an eye-catching, artistic way that you have to stop and look. And having stopped, of course you can't resist buying. Once more, the camera wasn't functioning, but here's a pic of the Snow's Bend booth from a past market, when we had a neighboring booth. David can also be quite inventive; I remember being amused last year by the sign over the watermelon display: H2O melons, because, he explained, he couldn't fit "watermelon" on the sign.
Once home, I went out to our own little garden and found bush beans and summer squash ready to pick. We'll be eating well this week!