The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
May 15, 2013
The sweet melon, prized by gardeners and gourmands, appears to have its origin in the area surrounding the Black Sea and was first imported to Italy in the fifteenth century. Philip Miller described its introduction in The Gardeners Dictionary (1754) “This Sort was brought from Armenia, on the Confines near Persia, where the best Melons in the World grow…[it] has been long cultivated at Cantaleupe, a little District about ten Leagues form Rome.” Cantaleupe, or “house of wolf’ now provides us with the common name for this noblest of kitchen garden fruits.
True cantaloupes are seldom seen at market today as they have largely been replaced by the musk, or netted melon, and by the winter melon, such as the honey dew. Also known as rock melons, for their thick rinds and warted skins, they were the orange fleshed melons our ancestors knew. The oldest varieties of musk melons generally had green flesh. About the time the true cantaloupe disappeared, the orange fleshed musk melon appeared, so we have simply borrowed the name.
For a complete examination of the melons and their kinds you are invited to peruse Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press)
May 8, 2013
We start sweet potato slips in late March by burying a potato about two inches deep in fine compost on a gentle hotbed. The frame is kept well watered and when the foliage is about six inches tall the slips are harvested by gently pulling them from the potato. These are then planted on ridges in well composted soil and then thoroughly watered in to settle the soil around the roots. Ridges are particularly important if your soil is stiff as the best shaped potatoes are formed in a light, well-drained soil.
For a complete description of the culture of sweet potatoes we invite you to investigate Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press)
May 1, 2013
The cucumber is, by nature, a climbing plant and nature has equipped them with tendrils for just this purpose. Providing them with a suitable trellis not only allows them to be grown in a fraction of the space required for plants that are allowed to ramble on the ground but the fruit are more uniformly formed and much easier to find.
It is only recently that cucumbers have been admitted to the English salad. In 1616 The Countrey Farme averred: “The use of Cucumbers is altogether hurtfull.” An entry in Samuel Pepys’ diary on Aug. 22, 1663 reads: “Mr. Newburne is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.” By the end of the century opinions were changing as attested by John Evelyn in 1699: “The Cucumber it self, now so universally eaten, being accounted little better than Poyson, even within our Memory.” Despite Evelyn’s optimism Landon Carter recorded in Virginia on July 24, 1766 his concern for his teenage daughter Judy; “She does bear ungovernable the whole summer through, eating extravagantly and late at night of cucumbers and all sorts of bilious trash.”
For a further explanation of the nature of cucumbers you are invited to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press)
April 24, 2013
The heads are smaller but more prolific, the stems eat as well as the florets and in my opinion is a much sweeter and tenderer broccoli than is the modern variety. It is also preferred by the organic gardener as the caterpillar of the cabbage white butterfly is much easier to clean from the florets should you be bothered by this pernicious pest.
More delicate and rarer than the Roman broccoli is what gardeners call the Naples, Neapolitan or cauliflower broccoli. James Justice, author of British Gardener’s New Director (1771) declared: “I prefer the White Brocoli, or what is called the Neopolitan Brocoli…it is a crop [that] will hold [remain good] for a considerable time, and many persons esteem them more than they do the best Collyflowers.” Although it is remarkably similar in appearance to the cauliflower, the taste is distinctly broccoli-like. Like the Roman broccoli, it too, must be planted in the fall for a spring harvest.
For a complete explanation of broccoli and its kinds you are invited to examine: Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press)
April 17, 2013
It was well known in 18th century England however and its potential ravages were calculated by Richard Bradley in 1720: “Those Caterpillars which feed upon the Cabbage, and change into the common White Butter flies, breed twice every year, each of them laying near 400 Eggs at one time; so that from the second Brood of one single Caterpillar we may reasonable expect 160,000.” Anyone who has attempted the culture of Brassicas can well believe these extraordinary numbers.
There have been a number of chemical remedies recommended for this pest over the years but all of the organic recipes require a diligence and constant application that discourage many gardeners from attempting their culture. The easiest, and surest, remedy is to simply prevent the butterfly from landing for if it cannot land, it cannot lay its egg. In Williamsburg we use a lightly woven cheese cloth to cover our plants. When the plants are young, we protect individual rows and as they mature, we cover the entire planting with the cheese cloth laid over a table like structure fashioned from sticks. The modern gardener has the benefit of more durable row covers in a variety of sizes than can be used in a like manner.
For a complete consideration of the Brassica tribe we recommend: Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press)
April 10, 2013
The cabbage, cauliflower, turnip cabbage (or what the Germans term, kohlrabi), artichokes and lettuce have all been transplanted from the hot bed frame. The last denizens of the frame to be moved to the garden are the leeks. Leeks have long been of special significance to the residents of Wales and, indeed, are now part of their national identity. Legend has it that in the year 640 CE, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd, last of the Briton kings to rule the British Isles, met the invading Saxon army on a battlefield in ancient Wales. As neither army wore uniforms, chaos reigned. Then Cadwaladr ordered his troops to stick leeks in their bonnets to distinguish themselves from the Saxon foe. Order was restored and the Saxons defeated. It was, alas, a temporary victory and the Saxons eventually over ran the island. The wizard Merlin prophesized that one day Cadwaladr would return to drive the Saxons from the land but before Cadwaladr was able to muster a reincarnation, the Normans arrived in 1066 and performed the service themselves.
To set the leeks into the garden we follow the advice given by John Abercrombie in 1790: “prune the long weak tops of the leaves, and the root fibres, and plant them by dibble, in rows a foot apart, by six inches in the row, inserting them down to the leaves, with the neck part mostly into the ground to be long and white.” As leeks require a rich, moist soil and a long season to perfect their stems it is important that the soil be well dunged where you intend to raise them. We also find that in areas such as Tidewater, Virginia, where summers are long and hot, planting them in a location that receives some shade in the afternoon would not be amiss.
For a fuller explanation of the culture of leeks and other Alliums you are invited to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press)