Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The edible terrace

A lot of lamb's quarters showed up in several pots on the terrace in the spring (it's summer now, isn't it?). I can't remember there being any last year so somewhere close by, a plant set a lot of seed. I transplanted about fifteen seedlings to their own pot, so that I could have an orderly crop, but they were terribly unhappy - obviously do not like being transplanted, were in shock: Who transplants us??? We're weeds!!! - and just sat there, with furled leaves, for a week. By that time I had run out of patience, binned them, and planted parsley in their stead. Must have parsley. If you are not up to performing on this terrace you will be asked to leave. Others need your place.

But the weeds that were still growing in the Abraham Darby's pot were very healthy, so I pulled them up and will cook them. Maybe I'll make a little soft polenta-thing. In Cape Town, Selina cooks them up with other wild greens, or morog, as it is known in South Africa, for which she patrols my mother's garden, like a beady-eyed hen: young, tender thistles, the fat hen (lamb's quarters, here), purslane, although she doesn't like that much, and green onions. She mixes this with mealie meal (like fine grits, or polenta) and makes a loose, savoury porridge.

I think it would translate very well into an Italianized dish, and is probably eaten in wild places everywhere, where people do not have enough to eat, and turn to the fields and hills, for vitamins and variety.

I made a braai last night, Memorial Day it was, after all, and holidays call for barbecue. Does anyone remember that we are fighting a war that drains our tax dollars faster than the oil well is gushing into the Gulf? Also, people die. But we're worried about undocumented Mexican workers.

Where was I?

Fennel. This fennel has returned three years running, in the pot right outside the sliding door. Its deep root overwinters, and every spring the fine feathery leaves breach the surface, and by the end of May it is eighteen inches tall. It remembers summer, and comes back for more. I use the leaves for flavouring mushrooms a la Grecque.

I have wanted my own blueberries for a long, long time. I tossed some misplaced liriope, and the awful red lilies (tied them up in bags on the railing in front of the brownstone with notes explaining what and how, and by the time I had returned with my groceries they had been adopted). I think I may buy our terrace neighbour a blueberry as a gift, so that they can cross pollinate. The only trick is to keep the soil acidic.

The strawberries are ripe!

Frankly, they look gorgeous and taste a little tart.

One of two mint forests, for mojitos, for Vietnamese and Thai dressings, for salads of mango and chiles, for fruit punches and for cooking with peas...

And, finally, with its second crop (the first dropped off, as it usually does, for me), the fig is figging.

Speaking of which I must update that nasty story I posted a while ago, about my hunt for someone searching for child porn in Gosport, Hampshire. It came to naught, but I was very encouraged by the effort expended by an intelligence officer at the CEOP (Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre, based in the UK). She would not tell me exactly what their methods are, but she had every intention of pursuing the search that led them (disappointingly for them) to my blog. I lacked a full ISP address for them.

In the meantime, I have another brewing story about chickens and sell by dates, if you can believe it. Same store. Say tuned.

All this latent activism. Clearly I am not gardening enough.


  1. I still have just one fig on my Brown Turkey; no second crop has appeared. But I love the smell of the fig leaves so much that I went out and bought Pacifica's Mediterranean Fig perfume (http://www.pacificaperfume.com/fruits/mediterranean-fig/spray-perfume).

  2. You make everything sound and look so good.
    I love the red color wall on your terrace.

  3. Must have pulled up enough lamb's quarters to feed a mob this spring - didn't know it was edible! May have to try it if the partner will be adventuresome.

  4. Karen, the 2nd may be later for you as it's chillier where you are?

    Lily - thank you :-)

    webb - it's very good, similar to firm spinach and without the bite-back. It sells for upwards of $5 at the farmers' market.

  5. Maintaining soil acidity in pots:
    In broad-acre growing we'd use iron sulphate, but for a terrace? If your tap water is heavily chlorinated that should do. Another tip is to dunk the pot in a bucket of acidic water, like a peat tarn.And to replicate a peat tarn I have brewed a very strong tannin bath. Takes a lot of tea bags!
    Best answer? Talk to the nursery that grew the blueberries.
    Sorry to take comment space, but someone else might want to know.

  6. Activist gardener or Gardening activist? Either way very interesting stories both on the gardening front and the social front.

  7. No, I'm down here in North Carolina (zone 7). I didn't bother to prune it back after moving it out of the garden to a large pot. Maybe that's the problem?

  8. Sorry Karen - I thought you were Karen LR :-)!

    I don't think pruning was the thing...The second crop only appears after the first, on new growth. So maybe the fig will wait for this one to ripen, and then make the 2nd.

  9. now that's a lot..in le jardin and le general. must hear more about child porn hunt(?)...figggg figging beautifully etc...i love your blueberries but hpw do you keep soil acidic for them? and strawberries looking scrumdillyumptious!

  10. Marie
    How lucky you are not to have that dreadful pest, the grey squirrel, the scourge of my Bergvliet garden, who systematically ate every one of my precious strawberries,as they ripened, forcing me to abandon strawberry growing forever!


  11. Lyn I do have a grey squirrel but the idiot hasn't figured out the strawberries. Perhaps Estotbo is a deterrent, although squirrels terrify him for some reason. Ever since one startled him by popping into the window on Flatbush Avenue and he did a backflip...

    I know a gal who is prepared to shoot squirrels and bunnies on sight..maybe we could export her to you :-)

    Dinahmow and Bonbon, I use coffee grounds for acidifying the soil, but sparingly - they are highly acidic.

  12. Hi - I just clicked on your blog. Love gardening and feel I'm going to love your posts. However, I just wanted to add a comment re: immigration. I'm a Dem and feel open minded. Living in the southwest (with past stints in AZ, CO, and now CA), I do think immigration is something that needs to be looked at - not in a "keep someone out way," but as a fairness issue. We see many columns re: what the costs are for taxpayers vs. illegal immigrants - basically, if you follow the rules you pay through the nose and if you don't you qualify for scholarships, reduced school tuition, gov. support, etc. Illegals are also taken advantage of by people claiming to help either smuggle them into the country or get them work once here. It's funny that other countries, including Mexico, have stringent immigration laws, and yet we don't even uphold the ones we have. I'm not advocating for a specific law, but do think a bit more open-mindedness and fairness should play a larger role. The protests we see here are mindless and disheartening - since when is it bad to be a citizen and actually participate in society? Why is it that more and more people are being rewarded for working the system? This is our system after all...

  13. Hi kirsten - thanks for commenting and I hope you come back...

    Immigration is complicated, I know. I have views on both sides of the, er...fence.

    Yes, on the face of it, it seems very reasonable that citizens should protest against illegal immigration...

    Speaking as an immigrant, though, I can tell you that it is very, very difficult ,and expensive, to work here legally as a foreigner. If you are a professional, with certain degrees, certain visas are open to you. My husband was denied a work visa, for Pete's sake.

    But it is almost impossible if you are an unskilled worker, with no means, unless you claim some kind of asylum, or marry a citizen - and that is no cake walk either, having been through that, too...

    Who is picking our produce? Mexicans. Who is washing the dishes in your favorite restaurant? Who is bussing the table, cleaning the vegetables at the bodega, planting the tree, mowing the lawn? Mexicans. Or Guatamalans, or, or or.

    We need unskilled labor. We need cheap labor. Without it, restaurant prices and the produce prices we have come to rely on will go though the roof. Why? Because no American will work for the wages that undocumented workers typically earn.

    If you are fine with that, so be it.

  14. Hi Marie -
    Thanks for writing back - I appreciate your honesty and opinion. I agree that the system is broken and hard to work with. That said, with all the politicians that we employ, we should demand a better system - something along the lines of "equal opportunity, equal responsibility."

    If it so difficult that so many people are going around the system (as it seems now), something should be done. I don't believe that this will result in higher prices for everything. It may for some things, but with so many people out of work many people are re-looking at the opportunities out there. As a business owner, I would say that companies remain competitive, change their offerings, or go out of business.

    Is it really better to keep a broken system because of fear?

    As someone who went through all the trouble to become a citizen, are you are really okay supporting free programs for people who choose not to? Wouldn't it be better to reform the system so that it is fair?

    In our area of California, we have a police chief who won't enforce immigration policies, gang members from other countries who repeatedly commit crimes that we as citizens pay for, etc. On the other hand, there are numerous stories of people getting taken advantage of - having to pay to come into the country, pay for work, etc. There are also numerous programs to help the working poor gain access to free or highly reduced healthcare, schooling, and gov't programs. It just feels that by failing to fix the system we aren't really helping people. I'd rather see immigration policies become easier as long as people contribute to society as citizens.

    ...and people should garden more ;)

  15. Kirsten - I'm not sure that people who are desperate for income have the same freedom of choice that we do. They choose to come here: but look at what is motivating the choice.

    Of course it is the system that needs reform. In the interim, we should not criminalize people who want to work. I cannot speak to the gang issue as I am not familiar with the facts.

    But if I had the choice - and I do not - I would rather my tax dollars subsidize programs for undocumented workers than pay for a war. How many billions is it now?

    But you summed it up neatly:

    More gardening for everyone. Swords into ploughshares.

    Or trowels.


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