Fermentation is the bacterial and fungal process of decomposing sugars that gives us wine, beer, cheese, salame, pickles, kimchi, and so much more. Recently I made a post about making homemade ginger beer, a process that uses wild bacteria to ferment ginger brew. (The bible for kitchen fermentation is Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation.) Today I would like to talk about using fermentation to safely convert the valuable nutrients in kitchen waste into effective fertilizer for the garden.
The Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus), seen here, is a native of western North America, from the Rockies (and sometimes farther east) to the Pacific and from British Columbia to Baja California. Coastal Northern California, where I live, is one of its favorite habitats. It is a large butterfly, with a wingspan of about three to four inches (females are larger than males). It can be seen flitting about from spring through fall, and occasionally even in winter.
Art Shapiro, professor of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that “The Western Tiger Swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse. In the high country and on the Sierran east slope its usual host is Aspen.”
A few photos from through the years.
This is one of the best times of year here for flowers in the garden.
Not everything in the garden has to be obscure. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ is one of the most widely available cultivars of Brugmansia for a reason. It’s fragrant, attractive, and reliable. Today I enjoyed playing with photography of some of its large, trumpet-shaped flowers.
Mine is growing at the property line under oak and plum trees, as well as bottlebrush and other shrubs. This is an area that gets some morning sun but it is protected from the hottest and most intense sunlight. Under these circumstances the plant has grown tall, maybe twelve feet or more. I give it occasional water during our dry summer season, but not a lot, since it seems to manage pretty well on its own — though the flowers (which are about a foot tall) will wilt a bit in hot, dry weather (but generally recover in the evening, when the fragrance is greatest). It flowers pretty much continuously, year round in my location.
Today’s fluid delight is something I’m calling a Neap Tide. Neap tides are when the difference between high and low is the least. Steady as she goes. (And this is similar to something Laird’s calls a Tidal Wave.)*
1.5 oz. Laird’s Applejack
0.5 oz. Campari or Bruto Americano
4.0 oz. Orange juice
Stir with ice and strain. You can add an orange garnish. The result is a refreshing drink, with a flavor the evokes grapefruit, that it would probably be all too easy to overdo.
I’m temporarily out of Bruto Americano, so I used Campari, but the Bruto would, I’m sure, be great. As long as you like that kind of thing (as I do) — if bitter isn’t your taste, you could try substituting Apertol, which is sweeter and more citrusy. Hey, they love it in the Veneto and the Alto Adige. If, on the other hand, the OJ is too sweet for your palate, rebalance it with the Campari, or add something like Old Tom’s Aromatic Bitters.
A Tidal Wave is a combination of 1.5 oz. Applejack, 4 oz. OJ, and a splash of cranberry juice.
I’ve talked about Grüss an Aachen roses before. I don’t grow a lot of roses, but I like this one. The problem with modern roses is that they were bred strictly for flowers, and the plant and its foliage lack the nice bush form of old-fashioned roses. But after our wet winter this year, the Grüss an Aachen looks fine. It is blooming profusely, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Calandrinia spectabilis — the rare plant with no real common name (though some commercial growers are trying to brand it as Rock Purslane) — is native to the deserts of Chile. In does very well in our area. For one thing, it needs virtually no water. After five years of drought that’s a big plus, even if this last year set records for wetness. I mean, it doesn’t just manage for a while without water, it outright laughs at drought. So it’s a great plant to put in that corner that the garden hose is hard to get to.
Next up on our tour of seed catalogues is my favorite of all, Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s, based in Winslow, Maine, is a large operation that was started in 1973 in New Hampshire by a 22-year-old named Rob Johnston. Back then it was briefly called Johnny Apple Seeds, but that name had already been taken. Now employee owned, Johnny’s is a member of the Safe Seed Initiative, pledging that it will not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.
One thing I love about this catalogue is the wealth of information in it. It’s better than
many most of the gardening books I’ve got from the library. Growing guides are provided for many varieties of vegetable. Second, extraordinary comparison images show differences among varieties. And, finally, the photography is excellent. All three features can be seen in this excerpt from the bush beans section:
I’ve changed the look of this blog (but not the content very much). Mainly what you will see now is larger images. (The typography and sidebar configuration is also changed.) I think this makes sense because much of the content here is photographic. Previously I used a distinct homepage with small square thumbnails linking to the posts. Let me know if you have any thoughts about the new look. Here’s what the homepage used to look like:
I’ve been traveling and haven’t posted much here for a little while. So here’s some Star Jasmine to tide us over.
Returned to the Bay Area after a while away. I was worried when I heard about a local heat wave while we were gone, but fortunately a neighbor agreed to do some watering. Almost everything came through marvelously, and there are a lot of spring blooms (more on that later).
So much depends upon an orange wheelbarrow, scarred from rough use, beside the green citrus.
Some leafstalks are marked by outgrowths at the base, usually on opposite sides. These were named stipules by Linnaeus, from the Latin word stipula, meaning “straw” or “stalk.” Not all plants have stipules, and among those that do, they vary greatly in appearance “and might appear as glands, scales, hairs, spines, or laminar (leaf-like) structures.” The remarkable, conspicuous stipules of Cunonia capensis, the African Red Alder, or Butterspoon or Butterknife Tree, are a focal point in the garden, almost always remarked upon by people who see them for the first time. The paired stipules are reddish in color and pressed together like cupped hands — or like butterspoons, I guess, whatever those are. (I say “butterknife” rather than “butterspoon.” I can see how the stipules are spoonlike, but I don’t apply my butter with a spoon, do you?)
An evergreen multistemmed perennial shrub or small tree from South Africa, this is one of my favorite specimen plants. I used to have several that I lost in our severe, years-long drought. The plant doesn’t need constant water, but it doesn’t like being dry, and I was careless (or all too responsible a California citizen). It also dislikes heat, and I’m now growing this one in a large container in part shade. While the tree can reach thirty feet in damp forests, it is seldom seen above fifteen feet in the open. Several sources report that it can be kept for many years in a container, and this has been my experience. It grows in zones 9–11 and prefers good drainage.
This brings back memories of my commute to San Francisco’s Civic Center, right down to the honking and passing along the shoulder. The traffic here is just moving a bit faster.
At this South African vineyard, a thousand Indian Runner Ducks keep the vines free of snails. The ducks are probably more enthusiastic workers than most of my fellow commuters. But then, they get paid in snails.
I guess all our garden needs now is a few hundred ducks.
Crabapple, hands down.
This California native mugwort, here growing in a container, is happy after this year’s wet winter. I acquired a couple of specimens last summer, and they looked pretty rangy during those dry months. Like many native plants, mugwort is pretty resilient, tolerating shade and aridity up to a point, but in nature it favors moist locations.
It’s an underappreciated perennial plant for the garden. While top leaves are whole, lower leaves are lobed in a sharply jagged cleft pattern. The evenly-spaced leaves are dark green above and silvery (and a little wooly) below. The plant is aromatic, especially when the leaves are crushed. It attracts butterflies and birds, and is said to be deer resistant. Stems grow erect from runners (which are not too difficult to control); some sources say they get to six feet tall, but I have never seem this plant above about three or four feet. Flowers (summer to fall) are insignificant.
Artemsias are in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. Artemisia douglasiana is sometimes classed as Artemesia vulgaris var. douglasiana, but it is much more bitter and strongly flavored than the European mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) referenced in many herbals. (There is also a Korean variety, which is closer to the European than to this native California mugwort.)
Also known as Dream Plant, the leaves of mugwort contain some of the same substances (notably thujone and cineole) as those of another Atemisia, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). When smoked or drunk as a tea, they are said to produce vivid dreams, and to ward off the spirits of the dead. Native Californians sometimes wore mugwort necklaces for protection against such spirits. In the European tradition it was held that pillows stuffed with mugwort could reveal one’s future in dreams. One herbalist calls mugwort “ the star of any dream pillow.” A reference more to my taste is “The Natural History of Orange County, California and Nearby Places,” which cites several print sources.
Lots of new growth on the Donkeytail Spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) this mid-March. The new growth is bright green; older leaves are blue-gray. Also called Myrtle Spurge because the Latin word myrsinites alludes to myrtle (Myrtus communis), which the plant was thought to resemble, this is a succulent spurge native to Southern Europe and West Asia. It is a low-growing (to about six inches) evergreen perennial. The “tails” grow to about one to one and a half feet long, spreading radially. The bright new growth resembling flowers is actually a specialized leaf called a bract.
In some respects this spurge can be nasty. It projects seeds quite a distance and can overrun other plants. It is illegal to grow in Colorado, where it is classed as a noxious weed because of its invasive habit, though San Marcos Growers say this is not a problem in Mediterranean climates like ours (I would not recommend it in inland climes, except with caution and vigilance). In addition, like many spurges, it produces a sap that can cause fairly serious skin irritation in some people (and other animals); children are especially susceptible. You don’t want to get the sap in your eyes, that’s for sure. Finally, it is alleopathic, meaning it produces a substance that can prevent other plants from growing nearby. For these reasons I grow mine in containers and use gloves when repotting.
Despite all this, I am fond of this plant, as I am of most spurges (for an opposing take, check out the spurge haters at Dave’s Garden). Annie’s Annuals describes it as “an easy, tough, tidy groundcover that lends marvelous texture to rock gardens and is great trailing over rock walls.” I also have several Honey Spurges (Euphorbia mellifera). Both plants have not only interesting forms but also an almost electric brightness. You feel like this plant knows something. I just don’t know what.
Did the spider that wove this strange web outside one of my dining room windows get into somebody’s stash?
It’s a new one this year. Kind of pretty, but it sends out long tendrils that choke out everything.