Besides weeds and a stronghold of goldenrod, Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) aka sunchoke was one of the few plants that we inherited when we moved into this place. At the time only dead stalks remained and I wasn’t quite sure what member of the Sunflower Family they were.
In the spring I pulled a few rogue stems up and the tell-tale tubers came out of the soil with them. My first thought was, “Yay, a surprise food!” and my second was, “Oh shit.”
For those that are unfamiliar, a bit of background. Jerusalem artichokes are a Sunflower Family plant that grow edible tubers that taste sort of like artichokes, hence their name. The tubers are often used as a “healthier” substitute for potatoes as they have a lower glycemic index. For this reason you will often see them for sale in health food stores, and if you are looking to grow the plant I would suggest going there first as a local tuber source rather than buying online. These plants are so easy to grow. If you have trouble growing potatoes, you will not have a problem with Jerusalem artichoke. They grow themselves.
This cluster of hanging baskets photographed in the Tropical High Elevation House at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens harbours a secret. It took three trips to the room before we spotted them.
The reality of leaving the garden during the growing season is that you will come home to some small or large disaster. You roll with the punches, accept the losses, or you never leave home. I love my garden, but since travel is a part of my job (and one that I enjoy), I have had to do some adept rolling as well as learn a bit of acceptance along the way. I also try to plan my trips for cooler parts of the season when my constant attention is unneccessary.
I have just returned from a trip to Georgia to an aphid infestation of epic proportions on two of my Spigarello plants. Of course, they are my favourite two. The prettiest two. The two I am allowing to bolt so I can harvest seed. Were this a Sophie’s Choice situation I would say without hesitation, “Take the ones at the back of the garden. Heck, take ALL OF the kale if you must. We’re pretty much sick of it anyways.”
But no. Alas, we gardeners do not get to choose which plants the pests will descend upon. And often times they want the very plants we want to keep most. That is how it goes. I have loads of nasturtiums in my garden right now (a known aphid attractant), and amazingly enough they are completely unscathed. Nary an aphid in sight.
The concept is so simple I wish I had thought of it: take the throw-away tomato skins that are left-over in the preserving process and make them into something useful. Something other than compost.
With over 80 lbs of tomatoes (and counting) harvested from my garden this year, it is safe to say that I have been knee deep in canning these last weeks. While I am experienced and adept at canning tomatoes in many forms, I had never heard of drying the skins into a powder until I came upon it a few weeks back in Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff.
Drying the skins is easy. Simply lay the wet skins out onto a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet and slow dry in the oven at the lowest temperature setting until they are crisp. I recently ran out of parchment (and my Silpat is too big for our tiny oven. Long story) and used a paper bag cut open. That works in a pinch, too. You can do this in a dehydrator as well, but I put mine away recently and have been too lazy to lug it back out to test.
Once the skins are dry, grind them into a fine powder using a coffee grinder. I have one exactly like this that is reserved for grinding herbs and spices only. A food processor will work, but it will turn out something more like tomato flakes than powder.
The result is a colourful and tangy flavouring that you can sprinkle on top of your meals. So far I’ve used it on breakfast eggs and in ricotta cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms. I’m sure I’ll discover more applications in the coming weeks as the possibilities seem nearly endless.
Having a new garden to work with has driven my flowering bulb frenzy to a whole new level. At last count I have purchased 17 packages of bulbs and the planting season has only begun. There are lots of tantalizing bulb sales to happen upon yet, and plenty of time left in which to find space (somewhere) for “just one more.”
When we moved here late last fall, we made a last-minute $88 impulse bulb purchase even though we did not yet have a dug up patch of earth, or an inkling as to what we would be doing with the yard come spring. Propelled by the anticipation of springtime blooms, we haphazardly dug up some grass close to the house (where we would see them from the back window) and managed to get them into the soil the day before it snowed.
Despite their rocky start, the bulbs did bloom, and while we enjoyed seeing them, the overall look of a bunch of random bulbs coming up willy-nilly in an empty plot of earth was, for lack of a better term, some cheap-ass Gong Show shit.
Now, as we head into our first full fall with this garden, I can’t say that next spring is going to be much better. The garden looks lush and full and has grown into something more than I expected it to in five short months, but the entire east side is just one, long, slightly chaotic, landing strip. You know, the cottage garden look.