My final Globe and Mail article for the 2010 growing season was on growing and eating cardoon. Cardoon is lesser-known relative of the artichoke that is considered a delicacy in Mediterranean cuisine. Like artichokes it grows into a stately and somewhat dangerous thistle-like plant, but unlike artichokes you eat the stems, not the flower buds. It tastes a lot like artichoke, too.
Back in the spring, I started a few cardoon plants from seed, eventually growing one in my community garden plot and the other at my friend Barry’s.
His spot was ideal, whereas mine fell a bit short. My cardoon grew well enough, but stayed small. The plant at Barry’s got just want it needed and then some. It was really sunny, warm, protected, and in soil that was well watered but very free-draining. Mine was in rich soil with lots of organic matter, but watering was inconsistent (we ran out of water at the garden for a time), and the only spot I could afford was a bit cramped with a taller, more robust plant that shaded out the young cardoon a bit too much.
Last weekend we finally went to Barry’s to harvest the cardoon. It turned out to be the biggest I have ever seen. The yield from one plant was a lot more than I’ve seen in stores or purchased myself. We actually got enough out of it to make 2 batches of cardoon gratin (see recipe below), whereas a typical stalk yields only one.
Many cardoon growers say that going to the trouble of blanching the stems is unnecessary, but now that I have done it, I disagree. For such a large and fibrous plant the stalks we blanched were tender and delicious. I didn’t have to overcook them the way I’ve had to with some of the bunches I have purchased in the past.
I stick by my original assessment. Cardoon is a bit of a pain, and an absolute nightmare to prepare and cook, but it is a stunning plant and a delectable, but acquired taste. What can I say? Some of the best things in life don’t come easy.
I like the droopy, thin leaves.
One of the unforeseen negatives we inherited with the new house is a Legion of Cats who have taken up residence in the yard. They’re not strays, just neighbourhood cats that have decided that since no one else was using it, the’d make the yard their playground. And so they’ve made themselves very comfortable back there: basking in the sun, scratching in the dirt, and pooing all over the place.
Hey, I love cats. I have a 16 year old furry baby of my own. What I do not love is cat poo co-mingling with my food. It’s not just gross, it’s also unsafe.
You know who else loves our yard: squirrels. I like squirrels. I really do. That one squirrel we had on the roof garden was bad enough. So far I’ve counted 4 different squirrels visiting the backyard. It’s like there is one cat for every squirrel. Aren’t cats and squirrels supposed to be mortal enemies? Shouldn’t we have one or the other ravaging the yard, not both, and surely not both AT THE SAME TIME? It’s like the cover of a Watchtower pamphlet back there. Predator and prey cavorting together in a Utopian land. This is not right.
So I’ve taken it upon myself to launch a campaign against the Legion of Cats and their squirrel familiars. Step one is to give the unmistakable impression that there is a new creature in the yard who does not abide by their antics. I run out there several times a day, arms flailing and my voice raised. So far they get skittish when they see me in the window and they run when the back door opens. Unfortunately, they always come back. I can’t say yet whether or not the strategy is working but I’m keeping at it and have until spring to establish some kind of boundary. The problem is, we are die hard cat lovers and I think they are starting to see through my ruse.
I’ve dealt with cats (and squirrels) a few times over the years, but every cat is different. What works for one doesn’t always work for others. I know how to keep them out of particular spots, but what I’d like to achieve ultimately is to get them out of the garden entirely.
I’d send my cat out there to establish dominance but she’s having none of it. She thinks she’s a human and finds these new creatures fascinating and very intimidating.
- Super Soaker: I don’t want to hurt the cats. I just want them to think of our yard as inhospitable. Most cats hate water.
- Water Scarecrow: Like the super soaker, but there when I’m not.Meighan had success with this one. The only negative is that there will be plants in the garden that I’d rather didn’t get sprayed. I also wonder about having the hose hooked up to it all day long.
- Coyote Urine: The trouble here is that I also have a cat and would like her to have the chance to enjoy the backyard. If it scares off other animals, it will surely scare her, too.
Have you had any successes keeping cats and squirrels out of your garden?
This little rosemary is ‘Blue Boy’ a compact variety that grows into interesting no-work bonsai shapes in a pot. I originally purchased several of these as table decoration and parting gifts for people who attended the Grow Great Grub book launch party back in February. I even took one home myself. And then I lost it. I have absolutely no idea what happened to that plant. It just disappeared. By then I had fallen in love with this little plant, so I bought another.
The plant in this picture is ‘Blue Boy 2: The Sequel” and miracle of miracles it didn’t up and walk away. It even made it here to the new house. So far so good.
As of today it is still outside, up against the house where it gains some warmth from the brick. This is unusual for my part of the world. I always leave my rosemary plants outside until just after a hard frost, but then I bring them in for the winter. I learned this secret to their success on my first trip to Portland, Oregon. I’ve been twice, both times in the month of February when it is cold, wet and blah. Rosemary grows very, very well in Portland. It’s not unusual to see plants that have grown into massive bushes and hedges.
Since those trips I take my cue as to when to bring my rosemary indoors based on how cold and wet it was there. Rosemary does not like how dry and warm it gets inside our homes during the winter months. Keeping them happily hydrated can be a struggle. As long as they seem happy, I try to leave my plants outside until the last possible minute, because once they come indoors it’s a bit of a production to keep them going until spring.
So far fall in Toronto has been relatively mild. I went out this morning after the rain to check on my remaining potted plants that are still outdoors (and shoo away digging squirrels). It felt a lot like Portland on those February trips. Even my calendula is still going and is about to bust out another bloom!
This year I have also been gifted with an unheated sunporch that is doubling as a cold greenhouse. I could put my rosemary in there and be done with it, but I’m keeping this one outside as an experiment to see what I can get away with. Although, come to think of it, I should be experimenting with the average rosemary plant and keeping the special one in the safer, protected spot.
I think I’ll go do that right now. Things are good right now, but I don’t want to have to go back for ‘Blue Boy 3: The Reckoning’ should the weather take a turn for the worse.
Once again my attempt at Wordless Wednesdays is a complete failure. As I was prepping this image, I realized I could not post it without saying something about these fascinating flowers.
Begonia plants have male and female flowers that carry the reproductive organs on individual flowers. This flower is the female, aka pistillate flower. The yellow part in the center that looks like a twisted up pipe cleaner is called the stigma. It’s the part that receives the pollen. The entire female reproductive system is known as the pistal. In this photo, you can just see the ovaries peaking out from behind the flower.
And so concludes today’s mini botany lesson.