21 April 2010

March and April in the Gardens

Amy Belkora, for the Gardening Program

Two full moons have passed since my last newsletter greeting. Sap Moon came in late February and brought with it the first signs of winter’s end: the pulsing of sap through the trees and the sweet harvest of syrup that it brings. In late March, we enjoyed Egg Moon. The children and I discussed the importance of Egg Moon. For some cultures eggs symbolize the universe in a microcosm-the yolk the earth, the white the galaxies that surround it. In concrete terms, the egg is an important nutritional rite of spring. It’s often the first bit of fresh protein a farmer gets in the new year as the chickens begin to lay with the lengthening days. To celebrate Egg Moon we’re making deviled eggs with fresh garden herbs.

We are also experimenting with potato towers this year as a way for the plant to grow vertically and capitalize on the potato’s method of growing its tubers above the original seed potato. Potatoes grow on stolons which are underground branches that grow off the stem. I’ve heard many growers say that when stems are covered by dirt, they produce more stolons, hence more potatoes. However, dissenting research shows that only very young stems grow stolons, and once the stem hardens off above ground from exposure to the elements no more stolons (and therefore potatoes) will grow.
The plants in our towers are quite tall now, at least three feet, and the stems receive more dirt monthly, so only the top 6-8 inches of foliage remains above ground. When the plant dies back this summer, we’ll dig through our tower and compare the yields to our in-ground planting. Stay tuned for the results!

It’s finally time to think about getting tomatoes in the ground. Tomatoes originated in South America and spread northward to Mexico and then over to the Mediterranean. Our cool climate is hard on these heat-loving plants. My tomato seedlings have only spent one night outside so far; otherwise, when nighttime temperatures are below 55, I ferry them outside for sunlight during the day, then back inside the garage at night. I’m growing my most successful varieties from last year: Stupice, Gajo de Melon, Black Plum, and Isis Candy Cherry. I’m also trying some new varieties: Snowberry, Mountain Princess, and Tigerella. The important thing for the cooler Western side of SF is to choose small fruited varieties so they have the best chance of ripening. Another tip: when you plant your tomato, make sure to bury a good portion of its stem below ground. All those little hairs you see on the stem will turn into roots and make for a stronger, healthier plant.

The children continue to work hard in the gardens. They are planting lots of seeds, maintaining our thriving raised beds full of lettuces, peas, turnips and radishes, and sifting the gorgeous finished compost we made last fall. The bee garden is a riot of color and bees. In particular the poppies are bright and ubiquitous. Our apple tree has blossoms and our fig tree is leafing out.

Here’s the recipe for the tasty deviled eggs:

Mix hard boiled egg yolks with mayonnaise and add chopped fresh herbs, such as wild onion greens, oregano, thyme, coyote mint, marjoram, a bit of rosemary. Stuff mixture into egg whites and serve.