Archive for February, 2015

The Seeds You Need


Here in the high-desert Southwest, our cold-weather vegetables need to be planted by mid-March, and so late February is my last good chance to review my seed box and order what I need. This resulted in my sending off a frantic order for sugar snap peas. My attachment to them is strong, largely because I love English (shelling) peas but never find time to shell them. My favorite snap pea is the original Sugar Snap. This variety has some disadvantages: it climbs 5-6 feet and has to be provided with support, the pods have strings and need to be de-stringed before cooking, and it doesn’t have much in the way of disease resistance (although I have had no problems with disease.) It has a single incomparable advantage: flavor that none of the newer, neater varietals can live up to. For best flavor, the peas inside the pod have to be allowed to develop. Don’t pick them in the flat snow-pea stage. Then rinse and string the pods, which is a very quick job, and steam them to eat with butter, stir-fry with some scallion and ginger, or cook them in your own favorite way. Yum.

In my opinion they develop a soapy taste when frozen, so I don’t recommend “putting them by.” Eat mountains of the fresh article and give any extra to people you really like.
The important thing is, order those seeds now.

And don’t forget to plant extra so that you can cut pea shoots. Cut when they are 6-8 inches high, pea shoots are delicious in salads and stir-fries.

Joyous Imbolc! Notes on spring planting

When I had a sheep farm, the old Celtic holiday Imbolc was very literal for me. Starting in early February, ewes’ milk flowed and life was everywhere. Today I have a different life in a new place, but this is still the time of year when life begins to flow. Out in the garden, there are warm days when the soil can be dug and manured. The garlic that you planted in the fall pops up at this time of year, and seems to sail through the cold weather to come. The earliest spinach, lettuce, and arugula can be planted as soon as spaces are ready for them. I put frost blankets over some of the patches and don’t cover others, so that they germinate at two different times and provide succession crops.

This is also the time to make sure that all your seed and nursery orders are in. In my last post, I talked a little bit about some vegetables that do very well here. Today I want to talk about nursery stock, and encourage you to try some things that you haven’t tried before. Since I eat a low carbohydrate diet, standard fruits are of very little interest to me, and my interest is in obtaining maximum antioxidants for minimum carbohydrates. Therefore, I concentrate on berries.

I have a few thornless blackberries plants, and last year I planted a lot of goumis. They may fruit this year, but more likely the following year, and I will report back. Three years ago I put in a lot of Crandall black currents, and they fruited heavily last year. They are an American blackcurrant variety native to the west, and do extremely well in central New Mexico. They require some water, but not a lot.The fruits have a nice flavor but are not very sweet, and benefit from a bit of sweetener added. I enjoy a handful of them as a tart treat when I am weeding. I do encourage you to try them. So far I have failed miserably with the English black currents that I love, and I think that in our area they would need a fair amount of shade to do well.

Another success has been the goji berry, or wolfberry. These are fairly drought tolerant, although they require a fair amount of water to get established. The berries taste like a tiny rather sweet tomato, and have large amounts of lycopene. The plants sucker a bit but don’t get out of hand, and do provide you with some offshoots for planting elsewhere.

The western elderberry that I planted a few years ago has flourished mightily, and I will be planting some black elderberries this year. Elders do well in our area if mulched heavily to shade and cool their roots, and they do need watering.

Raintree Nursery has a lot of uncommon fruits, as well as more conventional ones, and the stock that I’ve gotten from them has been very strong. Their catalog is fascinating, full of heirloom varieties, and great for fireside daydreaming.

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