I’m sure some of you are wondering what kind of crazy garden gets started in mid-winter. Well, this is California and had I planned ahead (and not been a lazy bum and actually cleaned up the mess the back yard had become while I was off working in Florida and…) I could have had a garden going right now. In fact, this is the “wet season” in California and you simply can not grow a garden in summer without irrigation water, so I’ve had a “winter garden” just to assure I could grow things without power / pumped water. Things like Fava Beans, Peas, Kale, Chard all do great. But right now I’m starting my Spring Garden. (This will give me time to get motivated enough to clear the yard, prep the beds, and actually find what condition the place is in.)
The normal Planting Calendar for this area has a last frost date of mid April as pretty much guaranteed. In many (most) years you can push that back into March or sometimes even February. As long as you have excess seeds and don’t mind restarting if needed, it’s OK to start sprouting in January with setting out / hardening off in February, especially for things that have some frost tolerance (kale, if only I liked it ;-) and those Fava Beans…)
So what did I do? I put seeds for 2 fast growing fast maturing varieties of core foods into cups of warm water to “imbibe”. I’ll let them soak for a day or two, then plant them in little plastic cups that will sit under a lamp on the desk next to me. In a couple of weeks after sprouting, I’ll “plant them out”.
What prompted this was going through the freezer and hauling out a couple of jars of seeds. This is not the Seed Freezer outside. This is the house freezer. This was “overflow”. Well I’m not going to be packing “overflow” for shipment to Florida, so I decided to see what I’ve got in them. These were mostly some “cheap seeds” I’d bought at end of one “growing season” when they were on closeout pricing. See, places like Walmart and CVS Pharmacy (yes I bought seeds at the pharmacy of all places) don’t understand that California is a year round growing season. They assume it’s like Iowa and nobody buys seeds after August… Some of these were already “dirt cheap” and others made cheaper on sale.
I would buy a jar worth and chuck it in the freezer “for that day” and not care too much exactly what they were. I did tend to foods I like and short season or heirloom varieties if available (they are in opposite ends of the growth habits). Now, a decade later, opening the jar can be a bit of an adventure. I’ll also get to find out how well they stored after a decade of “defrost” cycles. (The seed freezer does not have a defrost cycle.)
So what am I starting?
Contender Green Beans:
These are in a package from American Seed company that IIRC was bought at Walmart. (Some were from CVS too I think). The package is priced at 30 ¢ but I likely paid half that on clearance. The date on the package is “Sell by 12/2008” so about a decade out of date. This will be a very good test of the home freezer and jar combo as an emergency seed bank.
Part of why I bought these batches of seeds were for exactly this use, testing a less than ideal storage, but one everyone has. Now it’s time to “run the experiment”.
The Contender is not my usual kind of bean. I very strongly prefer long season pole beans. Slower to start, but they give lots of beans for months on an easy to pick with little bending over trellis. These are a Bush Bean so “bending over required” I also prefer colored beans as they are much easier to find and pick. These are regular old green. Finally, the bush habit is preferred by commercial operations who push for “harvest once” all maturing rapidly and at the same time. I prefer the home garden “small part harvest every day” for months. I’m not canning my garden beans, I’m cooking and eating them as harvested. Picking 2 bushels on one day does not amuse…
So why in heck have these?
Well, they are very fast to maturity. In a real “aw shit” I’d like some ‘quick start’ things in the emergency seed package. These guys have a claimed “40 Days to Harvest”. Starting some in pots indoors, then setting them out when a week or two grown, in theory you could (maybe) get a harvest after just 2 to 3 weeks in the garden. Though more likely you will hit the 4 week mark; most seed companies seem “generous” on the speed to harvest…
You get a clue that these are fast to grow, and harvest all at once, from the description on the package:
One of the earliest varieties with an average maturity of just 40 days. Large crop of tender stringless 6-inch pods are produced for a concentrated harvest. The compact bush plants tolerate hot weather. Excellent for canning and for freezing.
Yeah, “concentrated harvest” sounds a lot better than “you will be picking these all in the same few days so hell yeah you better know how to can them up”. The way around that issue, of course, is just to start 2 to 4 plants each week. Now you will be getting 2 to 4 plants worth of harvest each week. Adjust the number of plants to match just how many green beans your family can eat without an uprising ;-)
My approach is to plan on a square of Bush Beans early, while the square of trellis beans gets going for the rest of the season. Then in 50 to 60 days (whenever they stop producing) plant something else in that square for the mid-summer grow (like hot season things: corn, tomatoes, etc.)
I’ve put a dozen seeds in to soak. Letting the seeds “imbibe” in a good soak gives better and faster sprouting, I’ll be planting them in cups of potting soil in a couple of days. Don’t go over 48 hours of soak or things can start to ferment. 24 is usually quite enough. Sometimes I’ll put soaked seeds on a mat of a folded paper towel in a “Tupperware” container with the lid loose but sitting on top. Then check daily to keep moist and observe germination rate. I’ve found that when they germinate you can fairly easily then put them in potting soil and they do fine mostly. By doing this you can only plant the good seeds that sprout quick AND save about a week of ‘pot of dirt sitting there’; but at the cost of a bit more labor. I mostly only do it on very old seed sample with low germination – but so far my freezer stock has not ended up in low germination. Only things not from the freezer have “had issues”.
Figure in a week I’ll have ten to a dozen “pots” going for setting out about the start of April (though I can “hold over” for a week or so if it’s too cold then by using fairly generous pots) then ought to have some beans end of April into early May, depending on warmth and growing speed.
Offset from them, and to be started a couple of weeks later to avoid crossing, I have a package of “Cherokee Wax” beans. A Yellow Bush bean. Days to harvest is given as 52 days. Also from American Seed company but price was marked as 10 ¢ for the package. Interesting to note that, like the Contender, the package planting map / calendar says they are for Sept-Feb. in California and across The South. I’d intended to trial these as a winter garden crop, but got busy with other stuff. So these will be started in a couple of weeks.
In theory, here in California, I could grow this kind of bean most of the year as long as water was available.
8 Ball Squash
I posted a description of these earlier. This particular package is from saved seeds. It is a “Pepo” type. There are 3 or 4 main types of squash that will all cross inside their type but not outside, so for seed saving you need to know not to plant two of the same type if you want to prevent odd crosses. I’ve gone ahead and let them cross to find out how it turns out. I.e. how many seasons until my seeds are crap. I’ve gotten several interesting new crosses, and all of them were fine to eat, just not as expected. So the answer is “one season to lose variety characteristics” and “several years+” of eating odd types but enjoying it.
This package is labeled:
Squash – Pepo – 8 BALL
8/2008 “Darwin’s Garden”
Center plant of 5 in one pot!
1 package of 3
Green w/ yellow ribs
Now the 8 Ball is smooth, green, round and without ribs. They make about a 5 to 7 inch mature squash for seed saving in ideal conditions. Closer to 3 to 4 in “Darwin’s Garden” ™. That is what I call my “way less than ideal hyper stressed” selection process. In this case I had a round tub of about 2 feet diameter with 5 of these plants in it. Occasionally watered, but nothing special in the way of fertilizer or placement. Next to the sidewalk on the way into the house. Shaded on one side (setting sun side) by a fence, so they got morning to noon sun.
I was growing some yellow zucchini over the years so the “yellow ribs” is a note that perhaps these guys have a bit of cross in them. It may also just be that at maturity they yellow a bit and get less spherical. As I like a bit of color in things, I’m fine with that, should these be some odd cross. So this will be a ‘bit of an adventure” as I find out what I’ve got.
I’ve again started soaking a dozen seeds, and will pot them up in a couple of days (though I might do a germination test pad on them…)
These will not get the Darwin’s Garden ™ treatment, but just planted out with decent spacing in a real garden square. Similar expected first harvest of April / early May. At which time I ought to have squash and beans in quite acceptable quantities ;-) With some kind of cloche or cold frame against the house wall I could likely grow these year round (the house providing enough warmth and the cloche keeping frost from biting).
The better method is to grow “Summer Squash” early in the season for eating fresh from the garden, with re-plantings until frost takes them. Then, mid-summer, plant some “winter Squash” that gives the usual hard squash full of seeds. These store very well over winter. Realize that the American Indians ate the seeds of these as the preferred product. That’s where the bulk of the nutrients are found. So for a “survival food” expect to eat the seeds. Learn to roast / shell / and turn them into flour. There are very large seed varieties for just that reason. (Not Pepo, but things like Maxima or Moschata are usually larger seeds). Note that you must look up the species name to know what you’ve got. It’s not enough to just say “Oh, it’s a pumpkin”…
Cucurbita pepo; C. maxima; C. moschata; C. mixta
Pumpkins and squash belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. Generally pumpkins belong to the Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima, and C. moschata species. The C. pepo species are usually recognized as the true pumpkin. Pumpkin varieties within this group have orange-yellow flowers, and fruits with bright orange skin and hard, woody, distinctly furrowed stems. This group also includes gourds, vegetable marrow, Pattypan summer squash, scallop summer squash, gray and black zucchini and summer crookneck squash.
The maxima species also contains varieties that produce pumpkin-like fruit but the skin is usually more yellow than orange and the stems are soft and spongy or corky, without ridges and without an enlargement next to the fruit. They don’t really make good handles for jack-o’-lanterns. Varieties such as Atlantic Giant, Big Max and Show King are often listed as pumpkins but are more properly called pumpkin-squash or squash- type pumpkins. Other members of the maxima group are Hubbard squashes, banana squashes, buttercup squashes and turban squashes – in short, most autumn and winter squash.
The moschata species contain varieties that produce long and oblong fruits . Mature fruits have tan rather than orange skin. The stems are deeply ridged and enlarged next to the fruit. Members of this group are used for canned pumpkin pie production. The other non-pumpkin members include the squash-like cushaw, winter crookneck squash and butternut squash.
The mixta species contain varieties that have yellow to green or orange flowers, and produce cylindrical, curved fruits that are bulbous at the apex. The rinds are hard to soft , and they have hard, five angled, large fruit stem. Some of the white pumpkins, blue or blue-green pumpkins belong to this group. The other members of this group include Cushaw squash.
The Squash (and the pumpkin sub-set of squash) are a very interesting group! There’s even a squash native to Florida that can be grown up trees and are hard enough that the critters can’t get them! I hope to plant some once there.
By planting a rotation of summer type fast and early, winter type late and slow, you can have some squash food products year round. Similarly, green beans early and dry beans late to over winter. A Garden Calender is very important to ability to survive from a garden. IMHO that is why the ancient peoples spent so much time worrying the skies about what season it was. When live or die depends on having your planting rotations down to the ‘week or two’, a reliable calendar matters. Plant too early, the frost and birds get your seeds and seedlings. Plant to late, you look at frost kill and not enough produce (or drought kill in California – we have a drought every Summer as the rains stop about April – May and it’s a long time to November… It is called “The Golden State” for the golden color of the dead grasses on the hills all summer long.)
The Garden Status
I don’t know that I’ll plant any winter type squash this year. We’ll see how the garden project goes. Right now it is a 4 to 5 year established weed patch. The “kids” decided to “clean it out” and then let a mix of Bermuda grass and weeds and some Lilly type bulbs they planted take over. I came back from Florida a year later and was just not enthusiastic about starting over… Now there’s even a couple of trees growing in it. I posted a note about one of them a while back. An avocado relative, the California Bay Laurel or Oregon Myrtle. As it has a lot of uses, I’m not settled yet on leave it or remove it.
Umbellularia has long been valued for its many uses by Native Americans throughout the tree’s range, including the Cahuilla, Chumash, Pomo, Miwok, Yuki, Coos, and Salinan people. The Concow tribe call the plant sō-ē’-bä (Konkow language).
The leaf has been used as a cure for headache, toothache, and earache—though the volatile oils in the leaves may also cause headaches. Poultices of Umbellularia leaves were used to treat rheumatism and neuralgias. A tea was made from the leaves to treat stomach aches, colds, sore throats, and to clear up mucus in the lungs. The leaves were steeped in hot water to make an infusion that was used to wash sores. The Pomo and Yuki tribes of Mendocino County treated headaches by placing a single leaf in the nostril or bathing the head with a laurel leaf infusion.
The chemical responsible for the headache-inducing effects of Umbellularia is known as umbellulone.
Both the flesh and the inner kernel of the fruit have been used as food by Native Americans. The fatty outer flesh of the fruit, or mesocarp, is palatable raw for only a brief time when ripe; prior to this the volatile aromatic oils are too strong, and afterwards the flesh quickly becomes bruised, like that of an overripe avocado. Native Americans dried the fruits in the sun and ate only the lower third of the dried mesocarp, which is less pungent.
The hard inner seed underneath the fleshy mesocarp, like the pit of an avocado, cleaves readily in two when its thin shell is cracked. The pit itself was traditionally roasted to a dark chocolate-brown color, removing much of the pungency and leaving a spicy flavor. Roasted, shelled “bay nuts” were eaten whole, or ground into powder and prepared as a drink which resembles unsweetened chocolate. The flavor, depending on roast level, has been described variously as “roast coffee,” “dark chocolate” or “burnt popcorn”. The powder might also be used in cooking or pressed into cakes and dried for winter storage. It has been speculated that the nuts contain a stimulant; however this possible effect has been little documented by biologists.
The leaf can be used in cooking, but is spicier and “headier” than the Mediterranean bay leaf, and should be used in smaller quantity. Umbellularia leaf imparts a somewhat stronger camphor/cinnamon flavor compared to the Mediterranean bay.
Some modern-day foragers and wild food enthusiasts have revived Native American practices regarding the edible roasted fruit, the bay nut.
Umbellularia californica is also used in woodworking. It is considered a tonewood, used to construct the backs and sides of acoustic guitars. The wood is very hard and fine, and is also made into bowls, spoons, and other small items and sold as “myrtlewood”. It is also grown as an ornamental tree, both in its native area, and further north up the Pacific coast to Vancouver in Canada, and in western Europe. It is occasionally used for firewood.
According to a modern Miwok recipe for acorn soup, “it is essential that you add a generous amount of California laurel” when storing acorns to dry, to keep insects away from the acorns.
One popular use for the leaves is to put them between the bed mattresses to get rid of, or prevent, flea infestations.
The wood is used as lumber in furniture making, especially highly figured specimens.
As it looks to be everything from food to medicinal to insecticide to furniture and flutes, I’m leaning toward keeping it. But it does get rather big.
It presently shades the north 1/2 of the yard so shrinking my sun garden space by about 1/2. Then again, I’m mostly just “prepping for sale” and not doing a “feed the family garden”, so “whatever” comes to mind.
Most likely I’ll just trim it up to a nice central stem, thinning the mass of green around the trunk.
I’m using the beans and squash start as a motivator to actually deal with what my garden area has become. Hopefully I’ll also get a load of beans and squash from it, and that will induce me to continue the clearing and cleaning effort.
I’ve got a few things that are way over grown. Several small shrubs that either ought not be there at all, or are no longer small. A couple of “weed trees” started. No idea what type, but persistent suckers. I’ve cut one down 3 times already… I think it will require toxins… Then there is a nice little clump of tall timber bamboo that was hiding an ugly pole but is now about 1/2 of the end of the garden. That needs a serious reduction. (I’ve given it one every couple of years, but it is winning at the moment… Anyone want’s a “carbon capture system”, just plant some bamboo…) I’m going to need some serious shovel and ax time in the yard, I fear.
Hopefully looking at some squash flowers being shaded bit too much by “something” will be enough encouragement to remove the something ;-)