Monday, December 19, 2011

Cabbages and More Cabbages

"Don't think about cabbages."
I had to tell myself that several times after I went to bed the other night.
I know, you have that same problem. You just can't sleep at night for thinking about cabbages...
I had just spent a couple of hours researching cabbages and only after several subtle hints from my husband did I tear myself away from the cabbage research and go to bed. The research was for a newspaper column that I was to write the next morning, and, as often happens when I begin a creative project in the evening, my brain kept wanting to work on the column instead of sleeping.
So I had to tell myself several times, "Don't think about cabbages."
What's to think about? You might ask. A cabbage is a cabbage.
Oh... but if it weren't for the cabbages, my fall and winter garden would be bare... except for the lettuce and spinach.
When I say cabbage, this is probably what you think about...
That's a romaine lettuce between the cabbages.
Perhaps your vision is of a rounder head, but it is essentially the same... a cabbage is a cabbage... right?
Well... this also is a cabbage.

No... you say... that's broccoli...
What about this cabbage...

Cauliflower... you say, with the patience of someone talking to an idiot.
How about this?

No that's.... wait... what is that? you are wondering.
It is collards greens. Georgia Southern Collards, to be precise. I prefer these to the Vates variety.
After all of these we've also got...

Brussels sprouts. Yes, they are suppose to be red. Here is an array of green ones. Look at all of those tasty greens. So yummy after a couple of frosts.

And I actually got a few sprouts off of mine this year. Finally. They were mighty good.

All of these are cabbages. All the same species... Brassica oleracea... All cultivars and selections of the wild cabbage that grows from chalk cliffs, and stalks the coastal areas of western and southern Europe, the Mediterranean and temperate Asia. Thousands of years of selection have produced a widely varied species. The collards pictured above, and kale are closest to the wild cabbage.
But which kale is closest to the original?
This Dwarf Curly Blue Scotch?

How about this robust Red Russian?

Yes, there is a White Russian Kale. Looks the same, just with white ribs and veins.
How about this pebbly lacinato kale, also known as Walking Stick Kale, Dinosaur Kale and Tuscan or Black Tuscan kale.

And there are even more types of kale. These are just the three I grow. So we've got variations on the variations within this species. We don't need genetic engineering to create such variety. Just hundreds of generations of selection and some hybridization within the selections. So we have orange, purple and green cauliflowers and various head types of cabbage -- round, conical, flattened, savoy, as well as red and even white ones.
A bumblee dining from the cross-shaped flowers of collards.
And one final B. oleracea is kohlrabi (I have none growing this year, so no pics), which has few leaves but sports a swollen stem that is eaten. All of them a single species.
Are you giddy yet? Just one step away from these same-species garden plants are a whole range of other closely related members of the cabbage/mustard family, which includes, of course all of the mustards -- leaf and seed mustards. The arugula that laughed at the cold (why don't I have pictures of arugula?) is a member of this family, the Cruciferae (aka Brassicaceae), or cruciferous vegetables, so named because of their cross-shaped flowers of four petals. Arugula and some of the others sport white instead of yellow flowers. Those include horseradish and these little guys....

...little radish seedlings now sprouting amongst some of the lettuces under my low tunnels. You can see the family resemblance in the seedling leaves. All cabbage/mustards look like this when their seeds first sprout, in my experience.
Daikon, a long, white radish also belongs in this family, as do the turnip and rutabaga, and numerous Oriental greens -- bok choy, Chinese or napa cabbage, mizuna, komatzuna, tatsoi...
Daikon growing in the garden.
What else? I know there must be more... oh yes, canola and rapeseed and the head clearing wasabi...
These are only the cultivated species -- the most important of the cultivated species,  anyway. Many more wild species exist. My heart races at the thought of tracing this plant genealogy. But then, my heart also races when I start learning the scientific names of all the plants in my garden... Yes, I am a garden geek.

Am I finished yet? What more can one say about cabbages and their family? Oh, so much more can be said. I won't say it now, though. I have to go have a lie down and let my heart rate return to normal. I am glad that it is morning, or I would have a hard time going to sleep and not think about cabbages.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Diversion

By Lewis Carroll
From "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There"

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

I love Lewis Carroll's work. At one time, I could recite his poem "The Jabberwocky." Perhaps I still can. This poem came to mind as I sat down to write about cabbages... More on cabbages later.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lettuce See...

I finally got out to the garden today to check on the green stuff growing there. Even after Tuesday night's low of 13, stuff was alive. It wasn't all necessarily happy, but it was alive.

The lettuce did fairly well. Some of the plants looked bad, but most looked pretty good. The cabbages are ok, but a bit droopy.

The Red Russian and Dwarf Blue Scotch kales, which had the same amount of protection as the lettuces were wondering what all the fuss was about. "Cold? You mean this fine, brisk weather?"

The brussels sprouts are under only a row cover, with sheets and tarps thrown over for extra protection on the really cold nights. They look droopy when viewed through the row cover. After tomorrow night, when the low is forecast at 16 degrees F., the weather warms a bit (lows in the upper 20s) and we'll see how things are doing with a bit of recovery time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lettuce Worry

An image of late May to brighten the day.
At 7:03 a.m. it is 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The National Weather Service says 11 tonight.
I worry about my lettuces. I worry about the kale and collards.
Three layers of separation sits between them and the outside cold -- a row cover, then plastic and on top of that sheets and blankets.
But I worry.
It didn't get above freezing yesterday and will not again today.
Tomorrow they say it will rise to 38 degrees and be sunny. Saturday will hit the 40s.
So on Thursday (because I am busy all day tomorrow) I will check on the welfare of my "babies."
I hope this is not the end. The lettuce has been so lush and fresh and beautiful.
I will not rest easy until I see it again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Tis the Season

Wednesday's brilliant sunset.
I am slowly preparing for the inevitable bitter winter weather.
Each day I pick a bunch of greens, some to eat now and the rest to freeze, in preparation for the cold times that not even the brussels sprouts and kale will stand up to.

Early this week I drained the rainwater catchment tanks -- all 3,000 gallons (more or less) of water. Some of it was used to water the elderberries and blackberries, as well as the lettuce and greens still growing under cover. The rest was simply left to run down the hillside.

Then on Wednesday, my husband diverted the water flow from the tanks into the in-ground drainage and I -- being the smallest of the two of us -- hopped down inside each 1,500-gallon tank to bucket out much of the remaining water and then suck up the last bit of water and mud with the shop vaccuum and wipe away the ring of algae at the top.

Kale and collards.
That took a couple of hours on a chilly day with a light breeze. I was the lucky one, down inside the tanks, away from the breeze, even though the cold water chilled my feet through my rubber boots. My husband sat atop the tanks (in the frosty breeze), grabbing and dumping the buckets of water I handed up, and then holding onto the shop-vac.

Last winter, we drained the tanks in November, but waited until spring to clean them. I am glad the job is done.

And now I've got a teeny bit of a cold. Not because I cleaned the tanks. It is more likely due to all of the human exposure I received during recent family holiday gatherings and other outings.

It is the season when colds and flu abounds, largely because people are cramming themselves together indoors and not getting out much, going to parties and holdiay gatherings, shopping and just spreading around germs like there is no tomorrow.

The garden is a great place to find preventatives and treatments. So I will, over the next week or so, cover a few of my favorite herbs to grow and use against winter ailments.
My first line of defense is always garlic. At the first hint of something coming on -- a scratchy throat or just that "not 100 percent" feeling -- I peel a clove of garlic, cut it in two and pop it in my mouth, holding it between cheek and gum for 20 minutes or so. (You will need to move it around in your mouth, as garlic can irritate the mucous membranes.) Repeated several times a day, this generally wards off whatever it is that is trying to manifest.

I wasn't quick enough with the treatment this time, so my throat go scratchier and my nose got snifflier. Yet, one day of treatment has significantly reduced my symptoms and it is only a slight annoyance and unlikely to become much more than that. Ideally, I would continue the treatment until all symptoms are gone, but my garlic supply has been affected by some mysterious thing and much of it is not usable.

Some people swallow a whole clove of raw garlic every day to prevent any viruses or other germy things from getting even a tiny foothold. Garlic does indeed have excellent antimicrobial properties and can be used to treat both viruses and bacteria, as well as fungal infections and intestinal parasites.

Garlic can be used internally for many respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, and even digestive tract infections. However, raw garlic swallowed by itself, or eaten in large quantities, can cause heartburn in some people, so eat small quantities frequently in food. Cooked garlic loses most of its antimicrobial properties, but still provides many health benefits. It and its relatives, like the onion, are quite nutritious and of benefit as a common food in the diet.

Garlic also creates an environment in the gut that is friendly to beneficial microorganisms that help us digest food and assimilate nutrients. While it supports the beneficial gut flora, it kills disease-causing microorganisms. It also can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and possesses several other stellar qualities.

Garlic also can be used topically to treat acne, ringworm and other skin conditions caused by bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Cut open a clove and rub the infection with the cut end or mash it and rub on or use as a short-term poultice. Be cautious with even topical applications, as garlic can irritate the skin, even causing "burns" in sensitive individuals. Test it before using it over a large area or leaving it on for any length of time.
Aside from the heartburn when raw garlic is swallowed, negative side effects are few and rare. Except for the "garlic breath." Odor-causing compounds in garlic are excreted through the lungs, so there is just no way around it. Parsley, basil and milk supposedly reduce the garlic breath, if that is of concern to you.

Garlic also thins the the blood, and will interfere with blood thinning medications, as well as certain other types of medications. If you are on any medications always check with your physician and/or a qualified herbalist before using any herbs in a therapeutic manner. Also, because of its blood-thinning capability, which is beneficial in certain ways, cease any garlic supplements a few days before having surgery of any kind.
What?! Me eat garlic?! Me no eat garlic!!

Garlic can even be used as a garden ally. Planted near other plants, it repels some pests. Aphids in particular are absent when garlic and its relatives are planted in close proximity. You also can mash and steep garlic in hot water, then strain for use as a pest repelling and probably fungus killing spray on plants. Some people recommend putting garlic in your pet's food to ward off fleas. My cats would never eat garlic-laced food, but a dog might.

Garlic is an ancient herb and has been in use for thousands of years as food and medicine. It is relatively safe, widely available and easy enough to grow. Since I already covered the cultivation of garlic in my 8/31/11 post, I won't go into that today.

The message here is, grow garlic, eat garlic, and when the bugs start to jump around on the coughs and sneezes, grab garlic for good food, good health and a glossy coat. And you, too, can survive the cold and flu season.