Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The vegetable garden: winding down

I grew scarlet runner beans for the first time this year, and only a couple of plants survived the repeated nipping by rabbits. Fortunately, the survivors made a beautiful display earlier in the season, with lovely flame-colored flowers. 

I had read someplace that scarlet runner beans are edible, but the large fuzzy pods didn't look that appetizing, and I didn't have enough to make it worth drying them just to get a handful of dried beans. Then I  read a Barbara Damrosh article in the Washington Post  about cooking beans, including scarlet runner beans, fresh from the pod. She claimed that fresh shell beans, as they are called, are a treat, and she was right. Once you pry the pods open, the beans inside are a  stunning bright pink, mottled with purple-blue. I cooked them until they they were white with a touch of blue remaining - about half an hour.  I had just enough for a bit of lunch, delicious with a little butter, salt, and pepper.

Right beside the scarlet runner bean is an enormous plant which I assumed must be a sunflower planted by the birds at the nearby feeder. If so, it never bloomed. Not enough sun? Or not a sunflower? I have no idea. I'll cut it down soon.

Elsewhere in the yard, the kale plants that I set out a month or so ago are doing reasonably well. The peas, unfortunately, have mostly succumbed to the rabbits. I kept row cover on them for quite a long time, but finally took it off. Now only some little nubby plants remain. I rejoice that I don't have a deer problem, and in the past was glad that the rabbits were quite well-behaved, only nibbling a bit of this or that, and not systematically taking out entire crops, as they have done this year. Of course, it's possible squirrels have been the culprits - they delight in destruction just for the sheer sport of it. Their usually modus operandi is to dig things up and just leave them lying about, however, and most of my stuff appears to have been chomped.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Daylight Design at the Green Festival

The Green Festival was fantastic! It took us most of Friday to get the Sunstations, plants, and display materials packed up and hauled to the DC Convention Center and then get everything set up. Starting Saturday morning, it was pretty much non-stop traffic through the booth for the two days. By Saturday night we both had sore throats from talking so much. People were drawn to the booth by the beautiful eggplants we were growing under lights. A common comment was "is it real?" (One woman kept insisting they could not be.)

There was so much interest, including from a couple of educators who could see the benefit of having our grow light system in classrooms, and someone who thought they'd be good in a friend's coffee house. Lots of condo or apartment dweller loved the idea of being able to grow some vegetables indoors. The local news filmed some footage, and Voice of America interviewed us! (They said we'd hear  back from them when it's going to air - we'll see if it actually happens.)

I wish I'd had more time to view the whole show. There were lots of interesting booths, and I made it to a few, but didn't really have time to walk the floor, nor to see some of the outstanding speakers.  I've enjoyed previous Green Festivals as an attendee. Last year's festival seemed so cramped that it was hard to see a lot, but this year the layout was better and I think there was more space. People who go to Green Festivals are such a neat crowd - wanting to do the right thing, interested in innovation, and very friendly, and we had so much fun talking to them.

I can't imagine how it must have felt to John to hear over and over things like - how ingenious; great idea; so simple; great design. Any doubts I had about whether this was worth all the hours of our evenings and weekends he has spent to follow his dream are gone. I'm so proud of him!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cooking With Dirt

This has been a typical scene at our house for days now. A bowl full of dirt on the kitchen counter, bags of dirt on the floor, pots being washed in the sink. We've been starting seeds, transplanting plants to bigger pots, designing a flyer, taking many photos, updating our website.  We're busy preparing for our premiere - the launch of our business, Daylight Design.

This venture is John's brainchild, with some contribution from me. He's been living this evenings and weekends for several years, while I've helped here and there. Of course we've both been living with the fact that our house has increasingly become a greenhouse/warehouse, with less and less room for its occupants. John rented some office space about a month ago - in walking distance and not too expensive. That's rapidly filling up as well.

We had a very late night of preparation last night, and a very long day today, setting up our booth at the DC Green Festival. It's very satisfying that our display looks quite professional and is attracting a lot of attention from other exhibitors. Tomorrow comes the public...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gardening for the insects

 image courtesy Mary Vardigan

Gardeners tend to think of insects as the enemy. It's natural - we spend time planning and tending our gardens, and when we find something munching away on our plants, it's annoying. We know pollinators are good, of course, and we want to see bees and butterflies in our gardens. We probably know that beneficial  insects like ladybugs and lacewings may prey on some of the insects we consider pests. Still, the urge to get rid of a particularly troublesome insect can be compelling.

I have to admit to doing some pretty stupid things myself - like hand picking off the caterpillars eating my parsley. Anyone who know anything about butterflies knows that those were nascent black swallowtails. Mea culpa! I'll never squish anything again without knowing exactly what it is.

What really changed my whole view of gardening was hearing entomologist Doug Tallamy speak. Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware, who is passionate and articulate on the critical importance of native plants in supporting the food webs we all depend on. (I've gone to hear him give essentially the same talk five times now, and I'd go again, so you know he's compelling.) The bottom line is, native insects are a major food source for birds and other animals. And it turns out, most native insects are adapted to eat only the native plants with which they've co-evolved. Many of our non-native ornamental plants are simply inedible to these insects. No food for these insects, and food webs will begin to collapse.

I needed no convincing about planting natives - I was already doing that. But seeing my plants as food for insects - in a positive way - that was a new idea!

Tallamy focuses a lot on butterflies, since most people love them and would like to have more in their yards. But to have butterflies you've got to have caterpillars, and something for them to feed on. Caterpillars are also major food source for birds and for their young. In his talks and in his book, Tallamy's photos of weird and wonderful caterpillars are fascinating. 

If you can't go hear Tallamy in person, buy his book, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants. The book, and his website, lists the plants (mostly trees, with oaks at the top of the list) that support the most lepidoptera species. Visit http://bringingnaturehome.net/. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be convinced.