Sometimes, gardening projects simply fail. Hail, deer, squash borers, hurricanes – peril can strike at any time. For the home gardener, this can be disappointing. But if you are growing something particular for a magazine photo shoot, then you need a Plan B.
As happened to me this summer with the popcorn patch I had planted for Easy Garden Projects magazine. Oh sure, the 100 popcorn stalks were pretty and green and getting tall at mid-summer. Then a gang of raccoons began gorging on the new ears of popcorn. I tried a repellent, sprinkling it liberally around the perimeter of the patch and through the rows. Then life got in the way and when I returned in late August to check on the patch, it was gone. A mess of broken stalks and ravaged husks.
We could have cancelled the project, but I had a backup plan.
Tom and Diane Decker, farmers in Calhoun County, Iowa, run a non-GMO popcorn farm. One brilliantly fine autumn day my brother and I went to visit the Decker farm and pick up some ears of popcorn. Combine tractors were just starting their soybean harvest in surrounding fields and the air had that Midwestern scent of dry husks. Tom and Diane greeted us and graciously gave us a tour of everything from the fields where they grow the popcorn to the white metal sheds where they store and package the dried kernels. Their popcorn business, Farmer’s Best, is a true Mom & Pop business. They do everything from growing to packaging and driving the popcorn to regional stores. It hasn’t been the most profitable venture, but Tom was looking for a way to diversify. And he found it.
They taught me a few things about growing popcorn. “Chicken manure.” Diane said it works the best for popcorn. Also, the roots of popcorn are more shallow than sweet or field corn, so it’s more susceptible to strong winds. Popcorn also doesn’t get as green as regular corn, and the tassels are wispier. My brother, who has lived amidst corn and soybean farms most of his life, was suitably impressed and curious.
Diane sent us off with a good supply of Farmer’s Best popcorn, a bushel of popcorn ears and several stalks, which I threaded through the seats of my car to take back to the office. A few days later, we recreated a popcorn patch in the Better Homes & Gardens test garden and I sat down to shell the dried popcorn kernels from the cob under the camera’s watchful lens. Yes, it wasn’t the popcorn I had planted last May, but a magazine gardener has to get a little creative now and then. A humane raccoon trap wouldn’t have hurt, either.
For ordering Farmer’s Best popcorn, go to http://www.farmersbestpopcorn.com
Less than 24 hours ago I paraded through the North West appointment gate (near 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue) and onto the White House grounds. Of course, I was not alone— and we were on a mission. Photographer Bob Stefko, art director Nick Crow, contributing editor Debra Prinzing, and I were in Washington, D.C., to produce a story on the White House Kitchen Garden and we were escorted by a press secretary from the Office of the First Lady, a White House intern, and a very friendly Secret Service Officer. The garden was bursting with every imaginable edible: figs and raspberries and Cinderella pumpkins and Delicata squash and beans and okra and carrots and sweet potatoes and cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes and zucchini and sweet bay and radishes and rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano. You will see the results in the Spring 2016 issue of Country Gardens, but in the meantime, here’s a snapshot of the hot and sweaty (and proud) CG team. And, no, we didn’t get to meet Michelle. Or Bo or Sunny for that matter.
When I was young, one of my mother’s close friends had a garden tucked with all sorts of interesting things, such as dill, horseradish, and strawflowers. But my favorite plant was her Lunaria because it yielded bouquets of silvery, translucent disks. Though named the “money plant” or the “silver dollar plant”, to me the seedpods looked like bundles of tiny moons tethered to the earth by slender but tenacious stems. The Latin name ‘Lunaria’ means “moonlike.”
Last year, my 7-year-old son discovered “money plant” seeds at the nursery and was instantly attracted to the idea of growing money. Lunaria is easy to grow, though we actually forgot we had planted it until this summer when the distinctive pods emerged. The Lunaria plant itself looks unremarkable in the garden, with broad, floppy leaves and clusters of shy, purple flowers. When the seedpods sprouted, they looked like flattened sugar peas. Then they turned a dirty brown that definitely looked unappealing (in fact, when I harvested a Lunariaplant this summer and left it on a patio table to dry, my husband tossed it on the compost pile). But peel back the dry husk and a shiny, papery moon reveals itself, ready to last for years in a dried flower arrangement or on its own.
My son, though, was a little disappointed he couldn’t spend the “money” we raised in our garden.
Lunaria, a member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family, originated in Europe and migrated to America with early settlers. The plants are biennials, growing one year and flowering the next. The seeds sprout easily, making them a nuisance in tidy gardens. They bloom spring through early summer. In Zone 5, where I garden, the pods were dry and ready for cutting by early August.
How to Grow:
Direct sow Lunaria seeds in the spring and cover lightly with soil, then water.
Lunaria thrives in most soil types (even my clay!), prefer sunny sites but deal with partial sun. Fertilize once a year, if you’re into that sort of thing, and water if they seem droopy (but remember that Lunaria dislike consistently soggy soils). After the seedpods have turned brown, they are ready for harvesting. If not quite ready, you can hang upside down and dry for an additional week or two. Then simply peel off the brown layers on each side of the pearly “coin” and your Lunaria are ready for display.
Pure-white calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) are a classic, either in the garden or in a vase. But hybridizers have introduced many new callas in recent years. New cultivars with yellow, rose, deep pink, even purple-black flowers are to be found in catalogs and in garden shops in early spring. They are striking cut flowers and provide a surprising elegance in the garden. This past spring, I received a shipment of a new yellow calla lily (‘Golden Chalice’) from Longfield Gardens, so I planted the rhizomes in a nice-sized square glazed blue pot that greets visitors to my front porch. Callas are an excellent choice for containers or for the front of a flower border because plants range from 8 to 36 inches tall. Most, like ‘Golden Chalice’, have white- or silver-spotted foliage. Here they are blooming their heads off in the summer heat. Check out their other bulb offerings at longfield-gardens.com.
Seeds surround us. From our morning coffee to the cotton in our clothing, the spices in our foods, and the cosmetics we use, seeds are part of nearly every aspect of our lives. They give us food and fuels, intoxicants and poisons, oils, dyes, and fibers. Without seeds there would be no bread, rice, beans, corn, or nuts. So it is no surprise that in the past few weeks no less than three new books on the topic have landed on my desk.
• There is more to a seed then the plant it will someday become. Seeing Seeds: A Journey into the World of Seedheads, Pods, and Fruit (Timber Press; August 2015) proves seeds, seedheads, and pods have their own dazzling beauty that sometimes even surpasses that of flowers. Photographer Robert Llewellyn uses his unique macrophotography to reveal the hidden beauty of an oft-ignored plant part: seeds. Alongside Llewellyn’s stunning photographs, evocative descriptions by Teri Dunn Chace explore the ecological role of seeds and how they do the fascinating things they do.
• In his new book, The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernals, Pulses & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History (Basic Books 2015), conservation biologist Thor Hanson turns his eye to the ubiquitous seed plants that dominate landscapes and define entire ecosystems. Following the winding path that seeds have paved through evolution, natural history, and human culture, he examines the traits and habits that have allowed seeds—and the plants that bear them—to be so successful, and to so thoroughly transform our planet.
• Filled with advice for the home gardener and the seasoned horticulturalist alike, The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving provides straightforward instruction on collecting seed that is true-to-type. In this comprehensive book, Seed Savers Exchange and the Organic Seed Alliance bring together decades of knowledge to demystify the time-honored tradition of saving the seed of more than 75 crops—from heirloom tomatoes and long-favored cultivars of beans, lettuces, and cabbages to century-old varieties of peppers and grains.
In the Fall 2015 issue of Country Gardens® we feature a honey-themed party hosted by organic herb and vegetable farmer, Val Jorgensen, in Westerville, Ohio. Bees, integral to her farm, provided the central ingredient to the pulled pork piled atop corn cakes, ricotta sauce, figs drizzled with thyme-infused honey, and pumpkin tea bread served with honey butter. Enjoy the sweet and timeless flavor of honey yourself with Jorgensen’s scrumptious recipes.
Jerry’s Pulled Pork with Honey-Balsamic BBQ Sauce
COOK: 10 hours in slow cooker
1 3 to 4 pounds organic, boneless pork roast
1½ cups water
2 tsp. seasoned salt
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. smoked, Spanish paprika
1⅓ cup organic balsamic vinegar
1 cup organic ketchup
½ cup organic brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. organic Worcestershire sauce
¾ tsp. salt
⅛ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1½ tsp. organic garlic, minced
½ cup local, raw honey
1. Add roast to slow cooker. Stir salt, garlic powder, and paprika into water and pour over roast. Cook on low for 10 hours or until meat falls apart.
2. After 9½ hours, combine vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, and garlic in a medium saucepan and bring to boiling over medium heat. Continue gently boiling over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Let cool to about 130°F and then blend in honey. Mixture should be thick and syrupy.
3. Shred pork and stir in half of the prepared sauce. Serve remaining sauce alongside pork. Makes 12 servings.
Skillet-Toasted Cornmeal Corn Cakes
1 cup organic, all-purpose flour
¼ cup (generous) coarse-ground, organic grits
¼ cup (generous) organic cornmeal
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 large organic egg
3 Tbsp. local, raw honey
3 Tbsp. unsalted, organic butter, melted and cooled
1¾ cup plain, organic yogurt
1. Toast grits and cornmeal in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat for 8 minutes or until fragrant and a deeper yellow.
2. In a large bowl add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, toasted cornmeal and grits. Combine with a whisk. Set aside.
3. In another bowl blend one egg with honey and cooled butter. Add yogurt, and whisk until combined.
4. Pour yogurt mixture into dry ingredients. Blend with a whisk just until combined—do not overmix. Let mixture sit for 6 to 8 minutes.
5. While batter is resting, preheat a griddle to 375°F and coat with a thin layer of coconut oil or butter. Drop generous tablespoons of batter onto hot griddle and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. When underneath is golden, flip corn cake and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Makes 12 medium corn cakes.
Pumpkin Honey Bread
1 cup local, raw honey
½ cup unsalted, organic butter, softened
1 can (16-oz.) organic, solid-pack pumpkin
4 large, organic eggs
4 cups organic, all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cloves
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large bowl cream honey with butter until light and fluffy. Stir in pumpkin. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated.
3. Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Stir into pumpkin mixture, blending thoroughly without overmixing.
4. Divide mixture equally between two well-greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Bake on middle rack for 1 hour or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let loaves cool in the pan for 10 minutes; invert pans to remove bread and to finish cooling on racks. Makes two 9x5x3-inch loaves.
Dorothy Mae’s Honey and Lavender Biscotti
2¼ cups unbleached, organic, all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
⅔ cup granulated sugar
3 large, organic eggs
3 Tbsp. lavender and rose petal-infused honey
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. minced zest from one large organic orange
1 Tbsp. dried, organic lavender
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Oil baking sheet and cover with parchment.
2. Sift first four ingredients together in a small bowl.
3. Whisk sugar and eggs in a large bowl to a light, lemon color. Stir in next four ingredients. Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture. Fold into dough until just combined. Do not overmix.
3. Divide dough in half and transfer each portion onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Using floured hands and working quickly, shape each portion of dough into a log shape, roughly 13×2-inches. Allow about 3 inches in between the two portions on baking sheet. Smooth each shape by patting gently.
4. Bake, turning pan once, until loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, about 35 minutes.
5. Let cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
6. Using a serrated knife, cut each loaf diagonally into 3/8 -inch slices. Lay the slices about a ½ inch apart on baking sheet, cut side up, and return them to the oven. Bake, turning over each piece halfway through baking, about 15 minutes or until crisp and golden brown on both sides.
7. Transfer biscotti to wire rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for a least a month. Makes approximately 4 dozen.
6 oz. (1½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup local, raw honey
¾ tsp. salt
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl by hand or with a mixer. Makes about one cup.
1 cup Dijon mustard
½-¾ cup local, raw honey
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mix honey and mustard together until smooth. Add salt and pepper. Refrigerate leftovers. Makes about 1½ cups.
Honey and Herb Ricotta Spread
3 cups fresh ricotta cheese
¼ cup local, raw honey
1 tsp. fresh, whole thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. good-quality olive oil
Coarse sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
1. Warm honey and thyme gently in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the bottom should not touch the water). Do not heat the honey above 100°F.
2. Place ricotta in a shallow bowl. Pour honey mixture over ricotta. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Makes 10 servings.
Figs ’n Honey Topping
12 ounces dried figs, chopped
¼ cup local, raw, thyme-infused honey
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. water
Juice of 1 organic lemon
Combine dried figs with honey, olive oil, water, and lemon juice. Warm gently in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water). Warm thoroughly and continue heating for 10 to 15 minutes or until figs swell up. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers and use within a week. Makes 1 cup.