This time of year, if you want salad fixings for the next couple of months and on into winter, the race is on. On the one hand, you have to get seeds into the ground early enough for them to sprout and grow. Today’s weather notwithstanding, each day the sun drops lower in the sky, cutting back on growth-fueling photosynthesis. And cooler, then colder temperatures are just around the corner. My plants have to grow big enough to eat before cold weather and relative darkness bring growth nearly to a halt.
On the other hand, sow seeds too early and all the cool-weather-loving vegetables that I planted will bolt – that is, send up flower stalks rendering them inedible. The problem is exacerbated in the warmer conditions of the greenhouse. One year I planted too much lettuce too early and, come December, we ended up with too many plants developing seed stalks and small bitter leaves.
Warmth will linger progressively longer in the greenhouse (which is minimally heated, and which I’ll be planting very soon) as compared to the cold-frame as compared to the outdoor beds. When needed, the outdoor beds will get some protection from cold with the plastic tunnels that I’ll put over them. So we’ll see how my sowing dates and fall and early-winter weather translate into what ends up in the salad bowl in the coming weeks. I’ll report back.
After weeks of dry weather, the rains of a couple of weeks ago duped some plants. Perhaps the few weeks of cool weather following on the heels of weeks of searing temperatures also had a hand in the trick. Most dramatically evident are the white blossoms now open on a dwarf rhododendron.
This particular plant’s blooming at this time of year is especially odd because it’s growing in a partially shaded bed near the east side of the house. The bed is also drip-irrigated. So yes, the summer was mostly hot and dry, but the rhododendron plant was in a relatively cool location, and did receive some water, at least.
More intriguingly, there are two rhododendrons of the same variety growing very near to each other; only one bloomed. Then again, the plant with blossoms hasn’t exactly burst (yet) into bloom. Just a few flowers have unfolded here and there. My guess is that most of the flowerbuds will remain asleep until next spring.
I also noticed small blue flowers along the stems of my goji berry plant – a condition that may be de rigueur for goji. In past years, the plant has blossomed anytime from spring through late summer.
Goji berry (Lycium barbarum and L. chinense) is billed as a “superfruit,” high in nutrients and antioxidants. The plants are native to southeastern Europe and China, and the Chinese have planted more than two million acres of them in recent years. I just had to put in a couple of plants to see what the buzz was all about. I once tasted some dried ones, which were awful, with the texture and flavor of bits of balsa wood. I wanted to see how the plants grow and how they would taste fresh.
Goji berry plants do not come as clones with varietal names (as in McIntosh apple or Elberta peach), so there should be variability from plant to plant. That is probably why winter weather killed one of my two gojis, each of which came from a different nursery. Goji is allegedly hardy down to about five degrees Fahrenheit. Both of mine had extra protection from being planted near a sunny, south-facing brick wall. That protection evidently was not enough for one of the plants.
Goji plants are not fun to manage. The long canes root as they arch down to touch ground, as do black raspberries. And like black raspberries, the canes are covered with thorns. Without diligent pruning, an impenetrable thorny mess results.
I did get a taste of the fresh red berries from one of my plants a couple of years ago. They were sweet and tasty. Still, I have some reservations about eating them. Goji is a member of the deadly nightshade family and has also gone under the name wolfberry. Then again, tomato is a member of this same family, and its botanical name Lycopersicum translates as “wolf peach.”
On Saturday, September 25th, from 2-5 p.m., I’ll be conducting a workshop and tasting called “Autumn’s Delectable Fruits” in my garden. This session will cover what fruits are best and easiest to grow, and how to grow them. Everyone will also get to taste delectable fruits such as pawpaws, heirloom apples, persimmons, hardy kiwifruit and more. Space is limited, and the cost is $35 per person. E-mail, or call (845) 255-0417, for more information and to register.
@ Lee Reich
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try answering them directly or in this Alm@nac column. Check out my garden’s blog at www.leereich.blogspot.com.