Last weekend while preparing a medley of roasted root vegetables for lunch, I popped outside to collect fresh herbs, as I often do, a pair of scissors in hand.
Living in a place where I can see the garden from the kitchen and simply pop outside to pick herbs on a whim was the dream I had when we were looking for our next place to live. While there was a long list of criteria that superseded this small point, it was ultimately this vision that kept popping up in my mind as an ideal.
Prior to that there was always some barrier. In the apartment there was a separation between our living quarters and the rooftop garden. I was never able to look out at it fondly from indoors and popping out for herbs wasn’t really difficult, but it wasn’t accessible in the way our garden is now. Furthermore, a good portion of my herbs were grown in-ground at the community garden plot, which meant planning ahead and cooking with fresh herbs that weren’t minutes or even seconds off of the plant as they are now. It’s one of those small differences that makes me feel happy and grateful to have found this house, regardless of its many (MANY) faults. We’ve affectionately named it “Home of the Half-Assed” for a reason.
But I digress (as always). The real reason for this post wasn’t to tell you about the garden or my small dream. It was to say that while I was outside collecting herbs, I remembered the Jerusalem artichokes that have been waiting in the ground to be harvested. These chunky tubers taste best after they’ve been touched by the cold weather, but I will admit that the real reason I had put off harvesting them was that I was afraid to face the sheer quantity of tubers that are lurking below the surface, and the work I will need to do to preserve some of them. I’m still dealing with the tomatoes, believe it or not!
Kangaroo apple (Solanum laciniatum) is one in a long line of marginally edible foods that I have been experimenting with in the garden. The fruits are considered poisonous when green and unripe, and edible when they turn orange.
That hasn’t stopped the squirrels. As I waited patiently for the fruit to ripen so I could have my first taste, the squirrels got there ahead of me and stole their fill while the fruit was still green, rock hard, and supposedly poisonous. Not only did it not kill them or give them so much as a tummy ache, they probably liked this plant more than any other treat in the garden. Proving once again that the squirrels are superior beings that will be roaming the earth harassing and poaching from some other more evolved humanoid-type creature in the distant future once the aliens have come in the name of interplanetary peace but then accidentally reveal their true intention to farm us for food, which leads to a terrible and epic battle for the lives of all humankind.
Spoiler: We do not win. Squirrels survive on the planet for another 50 million years.
With a heavy heart, I pulled up and composted the roselle plants (Hibiscus sabdariffa) this weekend.
They were done. The cold had become too much for them. Their leaves were turning crispy and dropping rapidly. Amazingly, the false roselle is still going and has not suffered the same damage. It seems to tolerate the cold better so I have left it in for the time being.
I had hoped to make sorrel (the drink) this winter using my own homegrown flowers, but alas none of the hibiscus plants made it that far. The two sabdariffa plants did produce tiny flower buds, but the cold came on and stopped their development before they could reach a mature size.
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.
I wrote about the cosmos recently when the flowers were just starting to open. Well, they’re coming up full force now and I’m loving them even more. The soft, double blooms have begun to poke through a false roselle (Hibiscus acetosella) plant that is growing alongside — it has proven to be an unexpected combination that I would repeat again.
Eventually, if all goes well, the false roselle will bear its own soft pink blooms. It’s a long season tropical — I started the seeds underneath lights back in January with the hopes that the plant would have enough time to make flowers before the killing frost comes. I am loving this plant in it’s own right, even without flowers. I first encountered it in St. Lucia where my friend David was growing a stand of them. Here it is a struggle to get 7-foot-tall plants — mine are not there yet and may never make it, but even still, it’s been beautiful at every stage. Both the flowers (if they ever come) and the young leaves are edible. They taste a lot like their namesake, sorrel (Rumex acetosa), and have that slightly acidic bite.