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Archive for August, 2008

Look at them babies!

Soon I will have some yummy pomegranates!

I have loved pomegranates since seventh grade, when I was introduced to these exotic fruits in two classes, my social studies class and my French class. I first ate the fruit in social studies when we learned about ancient Greece. I can’t remember how it appeared in class, if we had a spread of Greek food (if so, I obviously don’t remember what else we had), or if our teacher just brought it in to show us what a pomegranate looked and tasted like. Being a typical kid, I was a little hesitant to try something new, but I was kind of fascinated by the red jelly-like seeds, and when I put one in my mouth and bit into it, I was pleasantly surprised by how its sweetness popped inside my mouth. It was really good!

Then in my French class we had a class where each of us brought in French food. I brought in French onion soup that my mother and I had made, and my fellow students brought other dishes. Someone brought in grenadine syrup (made from pomegranates) and tonic water, and we made grenadine sodas — delish!

After these two cultural brushes with the fabulous pomegranate, I rarely partook again, except for an occaisional grenadine soda. Of course, back in the seventies (yes I’m dating myself) we didn’t have grocery stores with a lot of exotic fruit, though now, at least in Austin, you can throw a rock and hit a fancy and unusual fruit even in the pedestrian local HEB. I’m not even sure how my social studies teacher got a hold of a pomegranate in the first place back in the day. Maybe she had a pomegranate bush!

It’s only been in recent years that I have reaquainted myself with this lovely fruit. Of course, pomegranate is one of the latest health crazes, with people paying 3 bucks for a bottle of pomegranate tea or 9 bucks for pomegranate juice. I like pomegranate tea, and I like pomegranate juice, but I really do like the fruit. Our local food coop, Wheatsville, occasionally carries organic pomegranate, and when they do I like to get me one every so often. They are kinda expensive, however. In my old hood in 78704, I use to walk by a rental house that had a big pomegranate bush in front, loaded with fruit that was just going to waste. I kept wanting to knock on the door of the house asking if I could take some, but I never had the guts to do it. I wish I had.

Anywhoo, when I still lived in an apartment, I’d read about dwarf pomegranates, and thought they would be great to grow in the apartment, but I couldn’t seem to find any locally. When I moved into the house, I thought about the pomegranates again. I could get a regular pomegranate bush, but those get pretty big, plus I didn’t have any experience growing them. I thought the dwarf variant still might be the best thing for me to at least start out with. But I still couldn’t find any locally, not even at the Natural Gardner.

One day, however, I happened to be back out there, looking just to buy a few inexpensive things, when I heard a man ask one of the workers if they had any dwarf pomegranate bushes. She said yes, and I surrepitiously followed them to the back of the place, where, lo and behold, there was a small gathering of dwarf pomegranates. I kind of hung back, watching the man pick up various containers and waiting for him to pick one and go away so I could look for myself. He then sat them back down and started looking elsewhere close by. I couldn’t understand why he was looking at something else other than what he’d seem to come for. Well, I decided just to go on up and look myself. I found one with lots of flowers and one little fruit starting! I was so excited! And it was only $15 — granted, $15 more than I had intended on spending when I set out on my little trip, but it was still a good price.

In the meantime, the man came back, and he looked at me and the bush I’d picked and said, “If I was going to pick one, that would be it.” I felt bad and said, “Oh, I’m sorry — I didn’t know you’d picked this out. You can have it back.” He said that was OK, he’d pick out a couple of others. Then we started talking about gardening. He said he didn’t know anything about gardening, but then he told me all that he was doing, and he certainly seemed to know a lot more than I did. We talked about raised beds, and he told me that you could do raised beds up against a house, which I’d been thinking about doing, but didn’t know if it would hurt the foundation. He said it wouldn’t, and that actually it could protect the foundation. Then he proceeded to tell me how he’d created raised beds out of tires and the soil mix he used. He said though he didn’t know anything, he loved gardening and trying to grow all kinds of stuff. He added that his wife thought he was crazy, but he didn’t really care.

Then he took his two containers and took off. I bought mine and brought it home. That was about a month and a half or so ago. Since then, the one little fruit has gotten bigger, and now I’ve got two more fruits starting! The fruit is suppose to be ready to pick when it turns red, and I noticed today that the big one is just now starting to blush, so I hope I’ll be able to pick it soon. They are a lot smaller than regular pomegranates, but they are very cute, and the flowers the bush produces are a beautiful red orange. If the flower gets pollinated, the petals fall off and what looks like the shell of the flower starts puffing up on the stem end and gets bigger. Some petals and shells just fall off, and I guess those are ones that don’t get pollinated. I’ve just given the bush some fertilizer I bought at Natural Gardener to use on my tomatoes, but it’s suppose to be good for any flowering and fruiting plant. In any case, I’m excited to try my first pomegranate fruit from my bush!

Lookit them babies!

Lookit them babies!

I also picked up the baby bell pepper from the Natural Gardener, but earlier, in June. It produced a couple of little bell peppers, but then it exploded with several peppers, some of which have turned, or started to turn red. They are also very cute. It’s good, however, to let them stay on the bush a week or so after they turn red. They seem to get sweeter the longer they stay on the bush. I need to search some more to see when they are suppose to be picked. Today I picked off three for a salad I was making for lunch, and I wondered if maybe they’re suppose to be picked when they’re about to fall off the bush. They were pretty sweet when I put them in the salad, but I think they might have been even better if I’d let them stay on the bush a few more days.

But they were still a lot better than the first one I pick off the bush. I definitely picked that one too soon, as a matter of fact, right after it completely turned red. That one was still pretty bitter. For the next pepper I picked, I waited a lot longer, and it was very sweet.
These are very easy to grow. Just make sure they get watered every day in the summer, and have a little fertilizer, and they do great. I haven’t had any problems with pests or anything like that. I’d bought two plants, and one seemed to grow more vigorously than the other, but now that one is really starting to take off and coming up to speed with the other one.
I like these, but I think next year I’m going to plant regular sized bell peppers. Even though there are several peppers on the bush, it would take several to equal just one regular sized bell pepper. I’m sure that they are probably grown as much for presentation as for food, meaning they are probably served whole in salads at nice restaurants, is my guess. The funny thing is that the seeds are about the same size as seeds in a regular bell pepper, and the seeds really take up the inside of the pepper, which makes it a little difficult to hull them out. Maybe in nice restaurants you’re suppose to eat them whole with the seeds? Maybe I should try that sometime!
Next in my Garden Update series: Butternut Squash and Black-eyed Peas
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Well, I had hopped to keep things up to date a bit more with this here blog, but life just kinda conspires against ya sometimes, doesn’t it? I’ve been a busy little beaver this summer, though unfortunately I haven’t been as busy as I would have liked to have been with my green babies. In spite of this, quite a bit has been going on with my little garden. Everything seems to be thriving, and I’ve actually been able to eat some of the foods that I grew mahself! 

I’ve got quite a bit of updating to do, so I’m going to break this down into several parters w/ pix. Tonight, we will start with the Monster Malabar and Basil!

Lookit them thar greens!

Lookit them thar greens!

I am particularly proud of my malabar spinach and basil, which have grown by leaps and bounds. Both of these have been very, very easy to grow. I’ve grown basil before, but the malabar has been a new adventure. I highly recommend growing it — it has got to be the easiest thing I’ve ever grown. All you have to do is make sure it gets enough water, especially in the summer, give it something to climb on, and it just takes off. It is a beautiful climbing vine, with lovely heart-shaped rich green leaves, offset by deep gorgeous purple stalks and veins. The photo here really doesn’t do it justice.

One caveat though: I don’t think it does as well in a container. I am also growing another malabar spinach in an approximately 3 gallon container, and I really think if it’s grown in a container, it needs to be much larger. The stalk does grow long, and it looks healthy enough, but the leaves do not get nearly as big and full as it did in my little SFG, and the color isn’t as rich. I think it might have done well in a 15 gallon container, like the one I’m growing butternut squash in. It just seems to need a bit more room to really let itself go.

But whether you grow malabar spinach in an SFG, a container, or in the ground, you really need to give it something to climb on, because it is definitely a climber. For the SFG, I took some steel posts that I bought from Home Depot and then I attached plastic chicken “wire” to it. However, you have to train the spinach, and you will have to help it by periodically weaving it through the holes in your trellis. I have kind of haphazardly woven mine, but I think next year I will make a taller trellis for it, rather than weave it around in such a katy-whompus way, though I still think it’s really pretty and interesting that way. For the malabar in the container, I just took the plastic chicken “wire” and attached it to a bambo trellis.

Malabar spinach is also wonderful cooked. Stir-fried in olive oil and onion, it is absolutely delish! You do want to cook it, though — the flavor is too strong for a salad, I think. I have also eaten it with my miso and tahini sauce on it, and this seems to give it kind of a smokey, almost bacony flavor, which is very nice. To make the sauce, I take mellow white miso and then it with water to a creamy consistency, then I add a little tahini and stir it together. You can also add some lemon juice for a little zip, but I often just use water. It is really good and easy and is wonderful with any kind of greens. Yum!

As for the basil, I have used some of it in my homemade lasagna, and it was fab. But I have so much basil growing now, that I think I’m going to have to start making some pesto! Not that I’m complaining! 🙂

Next in my Garden Update: Dwarf Pomegranates!

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