Edible extras

Brassica flowers: edible!

Leftovers, really, as bok choi and mizuna make their way toward producing seed by putting out bursts of cheerful little flowers. Normally, these plants would be tilled under way before this stage, making way for a new seeding, but since the ground is still too wet to work where they are, we’ve left them in for a bit, to harvest and toss into salad mix at the market. The stems can get woody at this point, the farther down you go, snipping off the tops or only the petals will do the trick. Mildly flavorful, mainly for the color!

The other sunflowers…

Early Russian sunflower

There are pretty ornamental cutting sunflowers, and then there are these monsters of the field, towering Early Russians, and their almost as imposing kin, the rugged Jerusalem artichoke (last photo). They’re the genus Helianthus, North American natives, supposedly dating back 8,000 years, and by the look of it, really not too disturbed by the crazy weather right now.

Both of these are experiments. This is the second season for the Russian giants, grown exclusively for their potential as a plant-protecting wall. It’s the third time around for the JAs, a crop that can do double duty as a living wall… Neither were strategically placed for action this year, but the idea is mainly to use them as shade during scorching summers. They get to a pretty good height by sometime in July, so the timing works. Even at 7-8′, they won’t protect too far out, a dense and high-value crop like all-lettuce mesclun would make it worthwhile. They could be good as windbreaks as well, but I haven’t considered for what…

Wall of Early Russion sunflowers

The sunflowers are around 8′ tall now, it’s quite incredible (with a longer season, they can apparently get up to 14′). You’d think with them growing so fast and big, they’d always stand out, but with all that’s going on in the field, you can forget and then one day, turn around and BAM, there’s that wall o’ green, STARING at you…

Sunflowers big as your head

The flowers are practically as big as my head, and so heavy, they eventually wind up completely face down.

Jerusalem artichoke

The Jerusalem artichoke are a little more refined, but still big and resilient. They’re around 7′. Both sunflowers and JAs are planted in double rows, and held up to this year’s helping of storms and massive winds no problem. Reliable…



The sunflowers have been following the days for a little while now. I was not a sunflower fan until we started growing them a couple of years back, along with a bunch of other direct-seed cutting flowers—nothing like growing your own for attitude adjustment! Now, I love ’em (well, I really like them), especially when they’re standing tall in the field. These are Sunrich Orange, a one-to-a-stem “pro” cutting variety. There’s also a really rich, multi-color, multi-bloom variety called Go Bananas, you can see a couple tucked away in the corner of the pic… This season’s small flower garden is getting some use, as a few CSA shareholders take advantage of the there-for-the-taking standing offer. And I enjoy that they’re there for the seeing!

Fieldwork: Day 1

Pounding in stake to mark hoophouse location

Sunny and quite warm (not as chilly as Mel’s deep-winter-ready, ear-flapped headgear might suggest). Probably 50°F+ (10°C) in the sun. Not the first nice, dry day this season, but this one became this farm’s official first fieldwork day of the year, just like that. We were only out for around three hours (including a walk to check on the beehives—there are some bees!—and the creek), but got a lot done, so it definitely counts as work in the field!

First, we selected a spot for the greenhouse, moving it from where we’d originally planned, to a more sheltered, overall all more PLEASING site. Pound in stakes at the roughly measured-in four corners, and admire the spot. The stakes are graphite tent pole sections Bob got at a yard sale long ago; flagged with orange surveyor’s tape, they’re great field markers. Normally you can just push ’em in, but here, Mel is using a mini-sledgehammer (above), because the ground is still frozen from a couple of inches (5cm) down…

Sorting out the hoophouse pieces

Next up, sort all the hoophouse pieces. The steel ribs and braces are on the right. There’s a surprising amount of wood involved, and that’s now divided into what goes where. And then, we dumped all the hardware out of the barrel it’d been moved in: a bucket of assorted, screws, nuts and bolts, plus springlock (wire that attaches the plastic to the frame) and aluminum springlock channels.

A surprise find: the last five potted wintergreen plants (Mel is chosing some to take home). I’d put them in the barrel on top of a bunch of parts when we were moving the greenhouse, and forgotten them there. After spending an entire winter totally exposed outdoors, and the last couple of weeks tumbled down into a barrel full of wiry metal, they’re still alive and looking cheerful. Tough and pretty. With minty berries…

And so, the return of the greenhouse is underway. The GH is sorely missed and really needed! Just gotta wait till the ground thaws, so the area can be tilled up and the 3′ (0.9m) t-bar anchors that keep it from blowing away can be driven into the ground…!

Hardy berry

Wintergreen fruit

These guys are pretty impressive in the low maintenance department, definitely the toughest, hardiest potted plants I’ve known. They arrived out of the blue last January, about 20 of them. After a bit of coddling under the fluorescent lights along with the spring seedlings, I set them outside in front of the Milkhouse, and there they’ve sat, untended, in 4″ (10cm) plastic pots, for the last seven months. In recent weeks, they’ve been basically frozen solid in their pots for much of the time.  And here they are, leaves glossy, setting a couple of berries… Cool!

Wintergreen in 3" pots

What are they? Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), aka teaberry, a small, creeping evergreen shrub with minty, wintergreen-tasting berries (the leaves and stems can be made into a medicinal tea, and the plant also produce wintergreen oil, used as a flavoring). They’re healthy, but they’ve only set a couple of berries amongst the remaining six plants (I gave away the rest). Hmmm… I’m comfortable with the many varieties I grow of 40 or so veggies and herbs, I’m still getting used to several varieties of a dozen types of cut flower, and I’m working on ID-ing ALL of the various grasses and weeds around here. WINTERGREEN is barely on the map… So many names, so much to know…! UPDATE: Case in point… Thanks to comments below, these guys were properly identified, I’d thought they were winterberry… I’ve corrected the post!

Finally, frost!

Frosted basel

Overnight, the first real killing frost finally hit. A couple of nights it had gotten close, touching some plants in the field, but this was the real deal. At 8am, the lower end of the garden was still in the shadow of the drive shed, and the frost still hadn’t burned off. Basil (above), the tenderest crop in the field, is the first thing I check in the morning for frost damage. Right beside, the zinnias are goners, but still holding color—as the day progresses, they’ll shrivel and turn brown…

Frosted zinnias

All in all, nothing unexpected or terrible—sooner or later, frost always arrives, and this time, the eggplants and peppers under row cover did fine. Besides, frost in the early morning light is pretty…

Frosted grass