The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
October 16, 2013
They delight in a light sandy soil, and not too rich, for that makes them sticky and rank.
The turnips are now well up and require thinning. This is particularly important for the White Egg turnip, for experience has shown that if this variety is not well spaced, leaving at the minimum six inches one from the other, they will come to naught and are useful only for their greens. The common Purple Top turnip seems somewhat more tolerant of crowding but it, too, must be given room to achieve its full luxuriance.
Perhaps the most delicate of all turnip varieties are the French turnips, best represented today by the Boule d’ Or. This is a particularly mild turnip that is often used raw for a dip in the hors d’oeuvre. For all of these varieties the greens from the young thinnings make an excellent salad.
Turnips have long been the premier root vegetable of the kitchen garden and were found at every table in colonial Virginia. Not only are they an important staple root for the inhabitants of this colony but are equally useful for the feeding of livestock and for improving the soil as a winter cover crop.
As to their situation Mr. Randolph advises; “They delight in a light sandy soil, and not too rich, for that makes them sticky and rank. Fresh lands suits them better than land worn out, and will communicate to them a sweeter flavor.”
The most common pest encountered in the garden is the “fly,” known today as the flea beetle. As Mr. Randolph observes: “The great danger Turnips are liable to, is from the fly in dry weather, when the leaf is tender and smooth, wherefore you ought to sow a little soot along the drills, which will keep the fly off, till the rough leaf comes on, and then the fly wont touch it.”
It is a remedy used by gardeners to protect young turnip plants in the seed leaf stage to this very day with great reliability.
October 9, 2013
Some writers separate the varieties, classifying the Lima as Phaseolus limensis and the butter bean as Phaseolus lunatus. It appears, however, that both originate from the ancestral Phaseolus lunatus var. sylvester and were domesticated in two different areas giving rise to the two distinct forms. It is likely the smaller type, also called the Sieva bean, that was the form known to the Virginia colonists as the bushel or sugar bean.
We grow a variety known to Mr. Jefferson as the White Carolina. It is a vigorous climber that will cover a 12-foot arbor by the middle of September. The arbor is constructed with five upright poles sunk in the ground and bound together with a horizontal cross pole and three support legs. The three inner poles are planted with climbing varieties of snap bean and the two end poles are planted with the White Carolina butter bean.
After the season of snaps has passed in August, the butter beans will completely occupy the trellis forming a solid wall of beans. It requires that one employ a ladder to harvest the upper beans but if you are limited in regards to space, a vertical contrivance such as this may answer.
The greatest chance for disappointment comes at this time of year when the great storms blow through the coastal plain of Virginia for as sturdy as this structure is, it will not withstand the fury of a hurricane and must be disassembled before the storm arrives resulting in an early conclusion to the crop.
This year we have, so far, avoided this great annoyance.
October 2, 2013two forms of hot peppers we grew in the garden this year, but it would be amiss to forget the sweet peppers that, while not near as common in Virginia cuisine as their fiery cousins, were certainly known and appreciated by Virginia connoisseurs.
Of the sweet peppers, the bell and pimento forms were best known in 18th-century America. The bell pepper was first recorded by an English buccaneer named Lionel Wafer who was marooned on the Isthmus of Panama in 1681 and found it growing in the native gardens. The pimento pepper received its name from the Spanish pimiento, a variation of pimeinta which is the Spanish word for the black pepper of India. It was better known as the tomato pepper in English North America for its flat, ribbed shape that much resembled the form of the ancient tomato.Sweet peppers were most commonly used as pickles. Sir Hans Sloane, while residing in Jamaica in 1688, first recorded the process: “I saw them [the blacks] likewise here preserve, or pickle green Indian-Bell Pepper. Before it turns red, this Capsicum is cut and cleaned from its seeds, then has a gentle boil in water, and so is put into a pickle of lime juice, salt and water, and kept for use.”
One of the oldest cultivars of bell pepper is known as the bull nose. While a cultivar bearing this name is still available, it is a larger, rounder fruit than the historic bull nose recorded by Thomas Jefferson in 1812 and illustrated by Raphaelle Peale two years later. This more slender, ancient form known to Mr. Jefferson is probably now extinct.
My personal preference is the Pimento pepper as I find the bull nose to have a somewhat sharp flavor. The pimento is a sweeter, more aromatic pepper and there are both mild and spicy forms to choose from.
September 25, 2013
This week we are pulling the pepper plants. They will often last in the garden until mid-November but as space is dear they must be removed to make room for the winter crops.
Peppers are New World plants, native to Central and South America, and were among the first of the American vegetables transported across the Atlantic and quickly adopted into foreign cuisine. It is now hard to imagine Thai or Indian food without peppers but prior to the 16th century these regions had not the benefit of these fiery fruit.
The most common Capsicum with the English is the cayenne generally known in the colonies as the Guinea pepper. This name is a result of confusion over the origin of the pepper first propagated by John Gerard in 1597 when he wrote, “These plants are brought from forrein countries, as Ginnie, India, and those parts, into Spain and Italy: from whence we have received seed for our English gardens.” Guinea is a country on the coast of western Africa where the slave trade with the Americas originated. Enslaved Africans quickly adopted the pepper in the New World which gave rise to the name; “Guinea” as it was nearly synonymous to “African” in common speech. As explained by Charles Bryant in Flora diaetetica (1783): “This plant is cultivated greatly in the Caribbe Islands, where the inhabitants, and also the Negroes, use the pods in almost all their soups and sauces, and by reason the slaves are exceedingly fond of them, the whole genus has acquired the name of Guinea Pepper.”
We grow two types of hot peppers. The Cayenne and the Scotch bonnet, a form of the habanero pepper.
For a fuller dissertation of the Capsicum genus you are invited to refer to “Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th-century methods for today’s organic gardeners” (Rodale Press).
September 18, 2013
The last of the summer squash has been harvested and it is now the season for winter squash. The distinction between these two classes of Cucurbits is that summer squash are harvested while the fruit is still immature and is meant to be consumed shortly after gathering. They are almost all members of the Cucurbita pepo species.
The winter squash and pumpkins are members of several species and are harvested when fully mature. At this stage they have generally thicker skin and can be stored long into the winter months. The distinction between a squash and a pumpkin is a bit arbitrary and relies more on shape than on taxonomic classification. Simply put, pumpkins are generally roundish and squash are not.
This does not serve as a universal distinction. A case in point is what I call the cheese pumpkin and is known by others as the Long Island cheese squash. If we are to follow the roundish rule, I propose that pumpkin better fits the fruit. But it is an issue for the lexiconographers to decide and far beyond the understanding of a simple gardener, so I withdraw from the argument and let others produce a verdict.
We are growing two varieties of winter Curcubita this season: the cheese pumpkin and the Canadian crookneck squash. Both are members of the Cucurbita moschata species and have the singular advantage over members of the common Cucurbita pepo species in that they are not susceptible to the squash vine borer that is so devastating to all members of the latter class. This insect has become so pervasive in our garden that we have decided to leave off planting any winter squash of the Cucubita pepo species for several years which will hopefully exhaust the reservoir of vine borer pupae left in the soil.
For an exhaustive survey of the Cucurbita genus, you are encouraged to examine “Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners “ (Rodale Press) .
September 11, 2013
It was almost certainly the Spanish who first introduced the watermelon to North America which was then disseminated by the native population. Watermelons were recorded as far west as the Mississippi River in the present state of Illinois by Father Jacques Marquette in 1673 who wrote that they “are excellent, especially those with red seeds.” These early citations led many authors to assume that the watermelon was an American native.
While the watermelon is a rare amongst the English for their colder climate will not support its cultivation it has always been among the most prized of fruits in the American colonies. The Swiss botanist, Peter Kalm, while traveling between Philadelphia and Canada in 1748 – ’49 recorded: “In English North American colonies every countryman plants a number of watermelons which are eaten while the people make hay, or during the harvest when they have nothing upon their stomachs in order to cool them during the great heat, as that juicy fruit seems very suitable for refreshment.”
Judging the ripeness of a watermelon is an art that only experience can teach. There are indicators that will help the gardener determine their fitness, such as the tendril at the first leaf junction from the fruit turning brown ant the belly of the watermelon turning yellow but experienced gardeners still rely upon the tone of the fruit when rapped by the knuckles. A ringing, hollow note will signify its readiness for the table.
For a complete examination of the watermelon and its care you are invited to peruse Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg way, 18th century methods for today’s organic gardeners (Rodale Press) .