Native to Russia, China and northern Europe, sea berries are relative newcomers to this part of the world. And even then, they’re often planted strictly as ornamental shrubs. Their silvery leaves make the perfect backdrop for their bright and abundant orange, yellow or red berries. As a fruiting or ornamental plant, sea berry is easy to grow, needing only abundant sunlight and well-drained soil. A (non-fruiting) male plant is needed to get fruit on nearby female plants; each male can sire up to eight females.
Years ago, someone sent me some sea berry juice, the flavor of which was something like very rich orange and passionfruit juices. Some people liken the flavor to pineapple; hence “Siberian pineapple,” another common name for the fruit.
The reason I only nibbled on sea berries up to this year is because harvesting the small berries can be a problem. They press closely to the stems, and the stems are armed with intimidating thorns. Someone suggested freezing the branches and then shaking off the frozen berries. That’s what I tried back in September, cutting berry-laden branches into foot-long sections and putting them in a large plastic tub with a tightly fitting lid. Once everything was well-frozen, I shook the tub with the lid still on – a lot. The berries fell off and settled to the bottom of the tub, and after winnowing what was left in front of a fan outdoors, I had a couple of quarts of clean berries.
The fruit allegedly makes excellent sauces, syrups and jellies; my plan was to replicate that delicious Siberian pineapple juice. After heating the berries in a saucepan with a bit of water, mashing them with a potato masher and straining, I had three cups of a beautiful but nose-wrinklingly tart juice. I added about half a cup of water along with half a cup of sugar, mixed well, and was ready to try out the juice on some dinner guests. Served before dinner in apéritif glasses, the juice was a hit. Everyone asked for more.
I next turned to the bowl of tawny stems and grains that has been sitting on the kitchen table for a couple of months. That bowl represented the sum total of my wheat harvest, planted in spring into three-feet-by-three-feet of garden bed.
The cut stalks of wheat, with their fat heads of dry grain, had been hanging upside down from the kitchen ceiling up to a few weeks ago. The contents of the bowl – chaff, grain and bits of stalk – represented the results of putting the stalks into a pillowcase and beating them up vigorously, and then removing the long stems remaining. That was a couple of months ago.
Yesterday, as long as I had my winnowing fan set up outdoors for the sea berries, I thought I might as well also winnow the wheat grains. As with the sea berries, slowly pouring the grains and other debris in front of the fan sent most of the debris flying away, leaving the crop – the grain, in this case – settling into a waiting bowl below.
My crop was relatively paltry: about half a cup of grain. This half-cup per nine square feet translates to about 16 bushels per acre. Average wheat yields are 30 to 50 bushels per acre, with some farmers harvesting over 100 bushels per acre. I guess I’m not much of a wheat-grower – yet. I’ll try again next year, perhaps planting more densely or earlier.
With the shortest day of the year past, it’s time for hints of the sights and smells of spring – indoors. Paperwhite narcissus, potted up back in November, is already blooming and perfuming the air. And I’ve brought up a jasmine plant (poet’s jasmine, Jasminium officinale) from the basement. That jasmine plant, along with a few others, was outdoors this past fall through a few light frosts, then has sat in front of a sunny window in my cool basement. The cool temperatures – perhaps also short days and occasionally dry soil – will contribute to abundant bloom in weeks ahead. I’ll extend the bloom by bringing up a new jasmine plant every few weeks.
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try answering them directly or in this column. Check out my garden’s blog at www.leereich.blogspot.com.