Monday, February 21, 2011

Cuttings...a success story!

The great willow experiment is now in phase 2, with great success. The sweet bay laurel and rosemary cuttings have been transferred to a more permanent home. The cuttings sat in the kitchen window marinating in a hormonal tea created using the heart wood from a branch of a willow tree. The picture on the left illustrates the hearty growth of the roots from one of the jars of rosemary cuttings. During the first stage of rooting a slimy clump can be seen at the base of the cuttings, it is from this goo that the roots start emerging, demonstrated by the bay on the right.

My impatience for dirty fingers, spring fever and a snow storm yesterday brewed up the perfect situation for transplanting the cuttings. I used a seed starting mix with beneficial bacteria and fungi add to facilitate strong growth. When transplanting any plant, make sure that you have all the supplies readily at hand. I soak the planting medium in warm water for about an hour before starting to make sure that the root fibers have a ready supply of water as soon as they are plucked from the jar. Make sure you have enough pots for the cuttings and you are ready to go!

Each cutting with attached root goo and root fibers are carefully lifted out of the jar and gently placed in a 3" pot filled with medium 1" from the top. When transplanting these tender babies, carefully lay the root fibers in a hole you have made in the medium trying not to tangle or break them. Then carefully fill in the hole and press gently to make sure there is good contact between the root fibers and the medium. Then pour a bit of the willow water into the pot. Using a tray under the pots to catch any water will make for a hassle free indoor garden. To further pamper your new plants, you can create the perfect conditions for strong root growth by using a heating mat to keep the root zone toasty warm.

When starting any new plantings in the house during the cold winter months, make sure that you check on them at least every other day, they will be happy to see you. Your biggest concern will be watering, keep them damp, but don't drown them by leaving the tender roots to wallow in water. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts on Garlic

Did you plant garlic last fall? Are you wondering what's happening down there when the weather is cold, the ground is frozen and covered with snow? It's simply miraculous, not to mention delicious. Garlic prefers the security of it's underground home.

Properly planted garlic is in the ground in the fall, thus giving it time to establish roots before a long winter nap. When the ground starts to thaw, that hearty little plant gets going. Often showing green shoots before anything else in the garden wakes up. There are two types of garlic (and possibly thousands of varieties!), hard and soft neck. The hard necks tend to be stronger and more vigorous and perhaps better suited to northern climates. Soft neck varieties are thought to store better and may not emerge in the spring with as much enthusiasm.

So, the plant grows and the leaves emerge and get full and beautiful. Each of those leaves indicates a layer of the papery skin that covers the bulb that is developing underground. Right through the center of those leaves a tall funny flower stem will emerge that will eventually form a curly cue flower on the end, this is called a scape. An often overlooked delicacy that your garlic plant provides.

The scape can be cut off, providing more energy to the plant to make a bigger bulb. The flavor burst from this harvest is an excellent addition to pasta, can be grilled, pickled, made into pesto or sauteed. It is not a typical "dead head", it is a harvest to be sure. A quick pickle recipe would be to throw a few whole peppercorns into a clean glass jar, along with a hot pepper perhaps and the very clean scapes (which can be cut up to better fit into the jar). Make a brine with salt, vinegar and water, bring it to a boil and fill the jar. Refrigerate for 4 weeks and you have a super treat to add to salads, soups or to eat straight from the jar.

Back to the leaves. They are important, because they are the gardeners only indication of maturity without digging up a bulb. The general rule of thumb is wait until the bottom few leaves are dying back, this is an indication of the plant nearing the end of it's life cycle. When digging garlic, be careful, they are tender and thin skinned and can be easily damaged with a careless shovel. Remember that for the garlic plant, it's a bit like birth at this stage, so go easy with them. This is the stage where I receive many a phone call...Why is my garlic dying? It's not, it's ready!

Now what, you have this pile of leaves, bulbs and dirt? Garlic needs curing for a bit. It is really delicious at this stage and can be eaten, but it stores best for future use with a little "hanging out"! Simply bundle the garlic together in bunches of about 15-20 plants and hang them in an area away from direct sun and let them dry (a little breeze is great too). When the skin feels papery, trim off the tops, knock off the dirt and enjoy. It is at this point that I advise selecting those bulbs that will be held back for replanting in the fall. Chose the largest bulbs and remember that each clove will bring you a whole bulb next year.

One of the most rewarding crops in my mind, I have a fascination with it. The tenacity and simplicity the adaptability and the taste, what could be better? An ancient plant that has evolved and adapted based on human intervention and desire, what a treat! If you have never planted garlic, I suggest giving it a try. Start with organic garlic, preferably grown in your area by a reputable farmer or friend. Plant it sometime in early October, about 3-4 inches deep, pointed end of the clove goes up, cover with about 3-4 inches of mulch and wait for the show!

 Happy Gardening! See you in "The Backyard"!