What’s a hardy kiwi, you wonder? These fruits are cousins to our fuzzy supermarket kiwifruits, with a few notable differences. Hardy kiwifruits – or “kiwiberries,” as David and his partner Holly Laubach call them – are grape-sized and have smooth skins, so can be popped into your mouth just like grapes. Inside, they’re green with black seeds, just like fuzzy kiwifruits, except that hardy kiwifruits’ flavor is much sweeter and more aromatic. (I know this from what others say and because I have about a dozen fruiting vines myself; I devoted a chapter to kiwifruits in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.)
What really dazzled me on this visit was the beauty of the plants and the care that is lavished on each one of them. The beauty was no surprise, because hardy kiwifruits, since their introduction into North America from Asia at the end of the 19th century, have been grown mostly as ornamental vines for clothing arbors and pergolas.
Lavish care further enhanced KiwiBerry Organics plants’ natural beauty, starting right at ground level with the neat, weed-free strips in which the plants were growing. Weeds were not kept at bay with herbicides, but with careful use of a grape hoe, pulled by a tractor, that rolls over the soil to bury weeds in the soil ridges beneath the plants. From the ground, each plant rose as a sturdy trunk up the center of a T-trellis whose eight-foot-wide arms are joined by wires running down the length of the trellis. At trellis height, the trunks branch into two permanent arms that run along and are supported by the middle wire. Fruiting arms growing off the two fruiting arms reach perpendicularly out to the outside wires.
I’ve tasted David’s kiwiberries and can attest to their especially fine flavor – the result of careful training and pruning that lets the plants bathe in sunlight. Excess growth is pruned off throughout the growing season to reduce congestion. Fruiting shoots draping down over the ends of the outside wires are repeatedly shortened. Stems that will yield fruit-bearing shoots for the following year are positioned in readiness. All this pruning is in addition to dormant pruning in winter.
My only regret with this visit was that the plants were in flower – very pretty, but I would rather have been tasting fruit.
June 6: My third planting of sweet corn went into the ground this morning. Rumor has it that backyard gardens are too small to make sweet corn worth planting, especially when supersweet corn is so available at farmstands and markets. Not so!
This latest corn planting went in between lettuce plants in a bed that has been home to four rows of early-season salad fixings, including arugula, radishes, mustard, erba stella and four varieties of lettuce. That bed now yields more than can be eaten on a daily basis – plus I have other beds of greenery.
So I sighted out two rows in the bed, and every two feet in each row yanked out a clump of greenery to make space for a clump – a “hill” (cluster) of eight seeds – of sweet corn. Once those corn seeds sprout, I’ll thin the seedlings out to the best four plants. Once those “best four plants” start growing strongly, the salad fixings between them will be well past their prime and I’ll just pull them out, leaving the corn to thrive alone in the bed.
All sweet corns are not created equal, and planting sweet corn lets me choose which varieties to grow. I’m partial to old-fashioned sweet corn. It’s not nearly as sweet as modern supersweets, but has a rich corny flavor. My favorite variety, Golden Bantam, was the standard of excellence for sweet corn a hundred years ago.
Not everyone is a fan of Golden Bantam today; my friend Kit says that it tastes like “horse corn.” Still, growing your own corn lets you seek out and grow whatever variety you like best.
David Austin, rose-breeder extraordinaire, has done it again with Strawberry Hill rose. Two plants of this variety went in last spring near two south-facing brick walls. One of them, the one in more sun, is now drenched in soft pink blooms. As with many of Austin’s roses, the flowers have the shape of old-fashioned cottage-garden roses, and the bushes are full-bodied and robust. I was a little disappointed in the lightness of the fragrance: “fine myrrh” for this variety. But “Every rose [and even Strawberry Hill] has its thorns.” Everything else about the bush makes it a winner.
Join me for a workshop in my garden on “How to Grow Lots of Vegetables with Little Space, Time and Effort.” The workshop runs from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on June 26. The cost is $40 and space is limited. Call (845) 255-0417 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for registration or more information.
@ Lee Reich
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at email@example.com and I’ll try answering them directly or in this column. Check out my garden’s blog at www.leereich.blogspot.com.
Wild Earth Wilderness School in Lyonsville offers Earthen Oven Workshop next two weekends
This time of year, you want to be baking your bread and homemade pizza outdoors. Wild Earth Wilderness School, a nonprofit organization based nearby the Shawangunk Ridge, is hosting a special workshop over the next two weekends, June 18 and 19 and July 30 and 31, that actually makes it possible. The “Building an Earthen Oven Workshop” will be led by natural building expert Jim Luckner, a longtime engineer who has been building cob ovens for the past six years.
Cob, which consists of mud or clay, sand, straw and water mixed together, is one of the most ancient of building materials, lending itself to free-form structures that look as organic as the loaf itself. Luckner will demonstrate the construction and cover everything you need to know about building one that will last, from the siting, design and materials selection to protection from moisture, heating and insulation. When you have put the finishing touches on that oven in your backyard, you can rest assured that the bread will turn out just fine.
In the meantime, attendees will have a roaring good time at the “Gypsy camp” setting, which is the homestead of Dina Falconi and Tim Allen, located in the hamlet of Lyonsville. (No, it’s not located in the wild country near the Canadian border, but right here in Stone Ridge.) Falconi will serve meals made from produce from her own garden, and after the 9-to-5 oven-building sessions are finished for the day, participants can sit around the campfire making music. They are also welcome to camp out overnight at the homestead.
The cost is $315, including camping accommodations and most meals. Registration is limited to 15 people, so if you’re interested, don’t wait too long before signing up at http://wildearthprograms.org/building-n-earthen-oven. Call David Brownstein at (845) 256-9830 for more information.