Growing unusual fruit: Cornelian cherries

The third unusual fruit I ordered some weeks ago is a cornelian cherry tree.

Not a real cherry, but a dogwood relative, cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), offers appeal year-round. In the winter, enjoy its beautiful, patchy bark.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABark_of_Cornelian_cherry_Cornus_mas.jpg

Bark of Cornus mas by Downtowngal (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

In late winter or early spring, before it leafs out, bright yellow flowers cover the plant. These beautiful flowers often precede forsythia bloom.

flowers of Cornus max

Cornus mas, Paris, France, 13 march 2005. Source: Bouba, (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bouba), via Creative Commons {{cc-by-sa}}

In summer, Cornus mas produces olive-sized fruits. Astringent until fully ripe, their flavor has been compared to sour cherries, cranberries, and interestingly, carnations. Cornus mas is native to the southern and eastern Mediterranean, and its fruits are frequently used in Persian and Eastern European cooking. Often made into liqueurs, jams, and sauces, the fruits contain high amounts of vitamin C.

Fruits of cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)

Fruits of cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) by CarTick at English Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:CarTick) via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The plants grow well in full sun or partial shade, reaching 20 feet tall in 25 years, and are hardy to USDA Zone 4. For best fruit production, site the plants in full sun and improve the soil with mulches of compost, and plant another variety close by to improve pollination (the plants are self-fertile). Unlike many fruiting plants, cornelian cherries are largely free of pest and disease problems, and do not suffer with anthracnose or powdery mildew like their cousin Cornus florida. And in autumn, their foliage turns a stunning scarlet.

When it arrived at my home, it did not look like much:

The mighty Cornus mas, fresh from its wrappings.

The mighty Cornus mas, fresh from its wrappings.

It came wrapped in plastic, its root ball embedded in damp shredded paper to keep it moist. I immediately gave it a soak in a pail of water to which I’d added a tablespoon or so of liquid seaweed.

Soaking bare-root plants overnight before planting helps to refresh the roots and get the plants ready for installation.

Soaking bare-root plants overnight helps to refresh the roots and get the plant ready for installation.

I planted it promptly the next day, spreading out the roots over a small hill of compost mixed with the native soil in the planting hole. I firmed it in, watered it with the brew in which it had soaked the night before, and mulched well with old wood chips.

All planted up amongst some pale yellow daffodils. Can you even see it?

All planted up amongst some pale yellow daffodils. Can you even see it?

It will probably be two years before I see any fruit at all, but perhaps I can enjoy my lingonberries and honeyberries in the meanwhile.

Read more about cornelian cherries and their culture:

Snow pea harvest and sesame peanut noodles

Peas are not easy for me to grow. I suppose the key to success lies in timing the sowing just right, because springs here can go from frigid to tropical in very short order. But fall weather is somewhat more reliable, and this year I successfully grew sugar snap peas in containers. I’ve just pulled out the last of the vines, which are going into the compost pile.

sugar snap peas

One of my family’s favorite dishes makes wonderful use of sugar snap peas: Nigella Lawson’s recipe for sesame peanut noodles. As she notes, this is a great dish to have in the fridge for quick lunches. I make a few modifications to her recipe.

My dressing is the same: combine 1 tablespoon each of sesame oil, garlic oil, and soy sauce, 2 tablespoons each of lime juice and chili sauce, and 100 grams (1/3 cup) of peanut butter. Combine all ingredients until smooth. Natural peanut butter is best, hands-down. When I don’t have garlic oil, I use canola oil instead, and mix about 1 tablespoon of chopped, seared garlic to the noodle mixture.

For the salad:

  • 1–1 1/2 cups of fresh snow peas (I had no idea what “mangetout” was).
  • 1 fresh red or green bell pepper (or 1 cup of frozen “stop light” pepper strips, thawed)
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, julienned (I use a julienne peeler, which is a brilliant invention for those of us whose skills with the chef’s knife are still in development)
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped haphazardly into small pieces.
  • 3/4 pound of whole-wheat pasta, cooked (my family doesn’t like egg noodles).
  • On the side: chopped cilantro, alfalfa or bean sprouts, sesame seeds, and red chili flakes, for those grown-ups in the house who like such things.

Boil 1 quart of water in a saucepan. Wash the snow peas and plunge them into the boiling water for perhaps 10-20 seconds, then drain and plunge immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

Blanched snow peas

Blanched snow peas

In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, the blanched snow peas, and the peppers, onions, carrots, and celery. Add the dressing slowly, stirring with a spatula until all ingredients are lightly coated. I seldom use all the dressing; perhaps I’ll reduce to 1/4 cup of peanut butter and 2 tsp. each of the oils.

sesame peanut noodles

Garnish as you like with sesame seeds, nuts, chili flakes, etc. This recipe easily serves 10-12 and keeps well in the fridge.

Growing garlic

In my household, we eat a lot of garlic.

Garlic is great for your health. It contains cancer-fighting chemicals, relaxes blood vessels, and increases blood flow. But an increasing amount of garlic in supermarkets comes from China, which produces 75% of the world’s supply of the pungent herb. Concern about levels and types of pesticides and soil contaminants found on food imports, both fresh and processed, is causing many people, including me, to look for safe and reliable sources of food. So I am starting to grow my own.My garlic shipment has arrived!

I was late in placing my order this year so I didn’t get the specific variety I wanted, but I think the organic ‘Red Toch’ softneck garlic I got from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Mineral, VA will be more than satisfactory.

Red Toch softneck organic garlic bulbs and planting instructions

I was really pleased with the bulbs when they arrived: They were heavy and solid, with no mushy or moldy cloves. I’ll be ordering from them again.

I’m mixing up my vegetable and herb plantings this year, starting some in containers and mixing some in with ornamentals in established beds. In fact, I got a few of these cloves into the new rose bed last week, just before the temperature plunged.

container-readyBut now I’m ready to start my containers. I started with a clean, frost-proof pot, to which I added a mixture of potting compost, perlite, and sand, about three-quarters of the way to the top.

Homemade compost (left) and worm castings (right).

Homemade compost (left) and worm castings (right).

To that, I mixed in a tiny bit of lime per the planting instructions, as well as a quart of worm castings and some additional homemade compost.

garlic cloves planted in containerI planted the individual cloves about six inches apart, with skins attached. The skins help protect the cloves from rotting in the ground. Some of these cloves are planted a bit too close to the side of the pot; if I can get out to the shed and find more containers of a suitable size, I’ll transplant a few of these before they put on much growth. Finally, I topped off the container with an inch and a half of the compost and castings mix.

container-topped-off

Keeping the garlic watered is essential during the growth period. It’s been dry lately, so I’m hand-watering the containers and topping them off with a mulch of shredded leaves and bark to the rim of the container, to conserve the moisture we do get.

And now I wait. Between now and spring, I’ll be reading up on harvesting and curing. This sowing won’t be anywhere near enough to get us through the year, but I’ve got to start somewhere. Even after 20 years of gardening, I’m still finding that patience is a difficult concept for me to learn.

Before the freeze

It’s going to get really cold tonight (for here), and possibly snow a bit, though not enough for the kids to miss school (hurrah!). The schools often cancel classes at the slightest suggestion of snow, so I’m proud of them for holding off. For now.

A bag of garlic sits on my kitchen counter, patiently waiting for me to plant it.   Unfortunately, I don’t have ground prepared properly for it, and life, as it so often does, reprioritized things for me so that I never got the containers I planned to use to grow it.  I am interested in companion planting and in mixing ornamentals and vegetables in the same garden beds, though, so I ran out as it began to almost-sleet to pop in some of the garlic by Rosa ‘Sophy’s Rose.’ Five cloves, six inches apart, right in front of the shrub. I  write this to help me remember they are there, because in spring I expect their greenery to be mixed in with lots of other green bits. Already I realize that the garlic is likely mixed in with the pale pink Chionodoxas I planted but forgot to mark.

I planted one fat clove in a crowded container with Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ before realizing there wasn’t room for more. Roses are said to combine well with alliums and their relatives (onions, garlic, and chives): gardening folklore, if not science, advises that alliums repel borers, aphids, moles, and black spot.  Half a dozen cloves went into the container with the snap peas, and a dozen cloves in with the mixed herbs and sorrel. I still have half a head to go. Maybe this is not the time to order shallots.

Growing garlic at home

We at the MHM household run through tons of garlic. Between heavy habits of Italian, Mexican, and Asian foods, and our semi-regular practice of roasting a whole chicken stuffed with lemon and garlic, I could probably grow an acre of it and still wish I had a bit more. But we must start somewhere.

‘Somewhere’ means half a pound, two weeks late. I meant to order my garlic several weeks ago, when I spent a rainy day picking out attractive starter packs from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalogue. I forgot that I was not the only one interested in starting some garlic. When I placed my order first thing this morning, I had to settle for my fourth choice, as my top three had sold out.

Garlic planting season begins October 15 for me, and runs through the first of December. Garlic likes fertile, well drained soil rich in organic matter (who doesn’t?). Individual cloves planted two inches deep in the fall develop substantial root systems before winter–all three weeks of it–sets in. Increasing warmth and light in the spring cue the plants to fatten their bulbs. At this time the gardener should ensure a steady supply of moisture, or suffer puny bulbs come harvest time. I promise that it is worth the trouble of watering regularly. Little is more disappointing than to seize a handful of garlic greens, intent upon unearthing one’s own weight in pungent, papery glory, and come up with little more than what was planted six months prior.

I ordered a half pound of Red Toch softneck garlic, an heirloom variety originating from the Republic of Georgia that performs well in the Southeast. The catalogue promises “spicy fragrance and consummate flavor.” I am considering interplanting some of it in my perennial beds, partly because I don’t have adequate space to dedicate to vegetables, and partly because I am intrigued by the lore of companion planting and want to discover if any benefits can be observed. We shall find out next spring.