A Gardener's Loss - Update

Update on my gardening friend, Ester, 12-6-08. She's holding up pretty well, missing lots of things from the house, of course. She lost all her houseplants including a very elegant aloe plant she'd had for 20 years. A few fans of this blog have sent contributions to the account (listed below). Any help, especially contributions of checks, going for building materials, are all greatly appreciated by the family. Thank you for thinking of them during this cold winter season. Jim

Ester Shouse is a lifelong friend and an avid gardener. Her late husband, Roy, took me fishing, taught me how to hunt for ducks, and many other outdoor things, when my father didn't have the time when I was a kid. I grew up with Ester and Roy's 9 children, we swam together, fished and hunted together. The kids, 7 of them still living, are all grown, some with children of their own. But Ester's house has remained the central part of this large family's world. Three of the boys, Richard, the oldest, Roy Jr. and Fred, the youngest, all lived at home and drove back and forth to Lees Summit, MO to work.

Ester, now 80, told me last year she had to slow down somewhat with her gardening. She had planted 500 cabbage plants and 200 tomato plants each spring for the past 50 years but this past year she had cut back to only 200 cabbages and 100 tomato plants. "I just can't do that much any more," she said. And nearly all of the produce, plus corn, beans, peas and other things, was all canned, or frozen for their 5 large deep freezes. That, plus the several deer, fish, squirrels and ducks the boys got, was a major part of their food.

I spent a great deal of time in my growing up years at the Shouse's house. When I turned 16 and bought my first 1950 Chevy car (bought with the $75 I'd made raising pigs when I was 13), I would often stop by Ester's house late at night before heading home from a date. There was always something cooking in a pot on the stove and I knew I was welcome to have some. It was Ester who taught me to eat hot peppers and it is to her I give credit to my love for those. My own mother made great chili, but it was Ester's chili that brought tears to my eyes and sweat to my brow. Whatever their household had, it was happily shared and I was always treated like one of the family.

A few days before Thanksgiving in the middle of the night, Ester's house burned. She was upstairs in her bedroom. A grandson, Byron (just back from Iraq) and his wife, Vickie were in another bedroom and Ester's sons, Richard, and Fred were sleeping in their bedroom. Roy Jr. was downstairs sleeping on the couch and it was he who yelled out the alarm that the house was burning.

All got out alive, thankfully. Roy escaped with his billfold and jeans, but suffered serious smoke inhalation and he was airlifted to a hospital in Kansas City. Byron and Vickie didn't even have time to get their clothes, nor did Fred or Richard. Car keys, false teeth, glasses, clothes, all were left behind because the house went up in just mere seconds. Ester's hair was singed, but suffered no physical injuries.

I'm posting some photos here, of Ester and son, Richard, in front of what was left of their old and very modest house. There's a photo of some of the boys sifting through the debris to find anything like car keys or coins. I took a photo of the canning - Ester had canned 157 quarts of tomatoes during the summer and I have no idea how much sauerkraut. The canning sets eerily on some newly built metal shelves that Fred had installed last year in the basement.

If anyone reading this post feels moved to help, the address follows at the bottom of this posting. They don't need clothes or household items, neighbors have been bringing those. Co-w0rkers where Richard, Roy and Fred work took up a collection and bought boots, jeans, etc. What they will need most is cash, to try and rebuild a house for Ester. It won't be the old two story place where everyone congregated, but it also won't have stairs where Ester might fall (she's fallen twice in the past year and broken the same arm, falling down some rickety old stairs from the kitchen). A new house will be built. Pete is a carpenter and cabinet maker; Roy and Fred are welders; all of the boys are hard working and so labor will not be a problem. But buying the materials will be a challenge. There was no insurance on the house.

Somehow out of the ashes another house will arise. This is an amazing family, a family I have been a part of for my lifetime. Not just connected by gardening, but in so many other ways, too. If you want to help, there's an account set up in Ester Shouse's name at the Security Bank of Rich Hill, at Rockville (MO), 320 West Osage Ave., Rockville, MO 64780. (You can barely find Rockville on a map of Missouri; it's in West Central Missouri, near Nevada, Appleton City and Clinton, Missouri. It's a tiny village of about 200 people, a very poor area. Once a thriving town with a railroad and a farming economy, there's not much left any more).

Thank you for any help you can give. Know that your gift is a welcome and badly needed donation to a gardening family who have lost everything and have to start over from scratch.


Chili Suppers at a One Room School

The Ozarks Herbalist
for The Ozarks Mountaineer
Jim Long
Chili Suppers

It’s funny how the smell of something can bring back a memory long forgotten. You can pass by a person while walking down the street and catch a whiff of perfume or cologne and immediately flash back to the memory of your first date in high school, long ago.

The smell of chili powder does that for me, not remind me of a date, but of an event and a time in my life. One whiff and I’m reminded of the chili suppers at Taberville School. The P.T.A., an acronym for the Parents and Teachers Association, which predates the P.T.O., would hold chili suppers in the winter months to raise money for the school. Profits went to buy maintenance items like chalk, toilet tissue, floor sweep for the wood floors and coal or wood for the stove.

In my memory, chili suppers were always on Friday nights. We kids would have to finish our lessons and homework early in order to clean the room before we left for home. The blackboards had to be washed, floors swept and trash cans emptied and their contents burned behind the school house.

The envied job to get on that afternoon was dusting the blackboard erasers. There was always a race to see who could get their hand up first to volunteer for dusting the erasers, and everyone else wanted to go along to help. For some reason it was always a two person job, which was strange because we only had about ten erasers. First, you’d have to wash the blackboards with water from the well outside. Then you’d work on the erasers.

The job of dusting the erasers consisted of carrying them out in a bucket, then spending several minutes on each eraser, pounding two against each other, then one by one on the back of the school house. It was a dusty job, but made more pleasant because you were out of sight of the teacher, and you were outdoors.

The teacher was usually so occupied with overseeing the floor cleaning and straightening up, she would forget about the eraser cleaners and you could count on being outdoors, goofing off for a half hour or more.

After the kids went home at 3:00 p.m., the teacher checked over the room one more time. She’d put away all of her desk supplies and check to see each student had not left anything out on their desk. By that time, the first of the P.T.A. ladies would be arriving and start putting out the tables for cooking and serving.

The school owned a double burner hot plate and the ladies got to work making the chili. Other women unloaded the pies and cakes from their cars and placed them on a cloth covered table.
First, coarsely ground meat, ordered from Motts Locker in Rockville was started browning in big kettles. Just as soon as the meat began to brown, packages of chili seasoning went in, along with lots of chopped onions. The ladies stirred with big wooden spoons as the meat browned, the smells quickly filling the building.

Another pot of vegetable soup would begin to simmer. Most of the ingredients for that had been prepared ahead of time. Celery, onions and potatoes would be added, along with well water and the whole thing brought to a slow simmer to be ready for serving for those who didn’t want chili.

All afternoon people stopped by with donations of pies and cakes. Big bowls of crackers were laid out and a block of cheese cut up. Onions were sliced in thin slices, bottles of catsup and vinegar were placed on the serving line.

I loved the chili suppers because it was always fun for me to see how the school house had been transformed from the everyday drab smells of coal, floor sweep, white paste and children, into a makeshift kitchen of interesting smells.

When people began arriving about 6:00, the first smells they encountered before even entering the school house would be the coffee, freshly brewed, and the spicy chili. Then as you walked in the door of cloakroom, you’d notice cigar smoke, a pipe or two and whiffs of after shave and perfume. But above it all, the smell of freshly made chili predominated.

Chili suppers always included entertainment of some sort. Small children recited poems or stories they’d written. One of the parents would play the piano while the children performed a musical number, usually a song memorized from one of the old song books in the library cabinet. Sometimes a local fiddle or guitar player would play or sing.

But the real reason for being there was to make a donation to the P.T.A. by buying a bowl of chili and a piece of pie or cake. Soft drinks or coffee were sold for 5¢ and the adults visited with each other while they ate.

Kids, of course, ate fast, then went outdoors to play. The one outdoor light was a hundred watt light bulb above the building’s only door. Under that light, kids played games on the old concrete porch. The older men, after eating, went outside to sit on the porch, or lean on their cars and smoke.

That smell, of chili powder, reminds me of all of that, every time I open a package of chili seasoning. I can see the faces of the P.T.A. ladies as they stirred the pots of browning meat. I remember the smell of the school room, of the pies and cigar smoke. That’s what comfort food is, I suppose, a dish that evokes not just the smell and taste of the ingredients, but a time and place when that smell predominated, when you were happy and comfortable. One whiff of chili seasoning and I’m back in the third grade, excited about going to the chili supper at our school.


Tomato Diseases

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Tomato Problems and Some Solutions

It’s been a banner year for diseases on everything from tomatoes and roses to peppers and fruit. All of the excess moisture has cultivated fungal problems in the soil, on the leaves and on fruit such as plums and peaches. Readers who normally don’t have such problems on these crops in a normal year, say they have had lots of problems this season.

On tomatoes, as I’ve written before, tomato verticillium wilt begins in early spring, but is spread rapidly by aphids. I’ve described in this column and on my garden blog how I control the aphids, which slows down or stops the progression of this most common tomato disease.

Verticillium wilt causes the leaves to turn yellow and dry up, starting at the bottom of the plant and working upward. It’s caused by a soil-bourne fungus and can affect many different vegetables, and can stay in the soil for many years. It’s why crop rotation is important, meaning not growing tomatoes and peppers in the same soil bed for more than four or five years. Verticillium wilt inhibits the plants ability to take in water and nutrients, which eventually kills the plant.

There are some treatments that seem to help tomatoes, at the same time helping other soil borne fungal problems. This treatment is reported to help black spot on roses as well as damping off of plant seedlings early in the year and is beneficial for some kinds of lawn grass fungal problems, as well. What’s the magic formula? Just good old cornmeal.

Researchers at Texas A & M Research Station in Stephenville, Texas noticed that a peanut crop planted following a crop of corn didn’t suffer the expected fungal diseases they usually encounter with that crop. Additional research showed that cornmeal contains beneficial organisms that are as effective, possibly more, as are chemical fungicides. Evidently cornmeal attracts a member of the Trichoderma fungus family, which is a beneficial fungus that kills off disease causing fungi in the soil.

According to their research, and others who have used this method, you should work 2 pounds of cornmeal into the soil for every 10 ft. by 10 ft. area, then water well (or, in the Ozarks, wait two days before it rains again). There’s considerable discussion on the web about whether you should use horticultural cornmeal or food grade cornmeal from the grocery store.

The differences are these: Food grade cornmeal from the grocery store is only the interior, starchy part of the corn kernel, without the hard, outer shell. It’s slightly more expensive and some sources say it just doesn’t work as well as horticultural cornmeal.

Horticultural cornmeal is cheaper to buy, can be found in feed stores and any other stores that sell soil amendments and garden supplies, and includes the entire corn kernel. People who have used this say the addition of one or two pounds of dry molasses (available at feed stores) per 100 square feet area works even better.

So here’s what I plan to do in my tomato and pepper beds this fall and winter. After frost and after I’ve removed all the dead plant debris, I’m plan to scatter horticultural cornmeal and some dry molasses on the soil and till it in. Then during the winter, I’m going to use Alden Hembree’s tomato disease control method (which I believe came from garden guru, Jerry Baker): Mix 1 tablespoon of shampoo and 1 tablespoon of Clorox into 1 gallon of water. Mix and spray the soil of your tomato bed monthly until spring planting time.

Next spring, when I’m ready to till up the tomato beds once more before planting, I plan to spread more horticultural cornmeal and dry molasses on the soil just before turning it over. I’m also going to use that method around my roses that suffer from fungal diseases and see if it helps. If Texas A & M says it works as good or better than chemical controls, I’m all for it. (Most sources say one application per year is enough, but that a second application isn’t harmful).

Both methods hold great promise and lots of people swear they work, so I’m going to use both and see what happens. One benefit of the cornmeal addition is that it adds a bit of nutrients to the so, as does the addition of dry molasses.

Cornmeal also works to eliminate algae in water and speeds up the decomposition in compost piles. Just don’t confuse horticultural cornmeal with corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal is used as a weed control and prevents weed seeds from germinating and is a different product altogether.


Growing Gourds

Growing Gourds

I don’t know if anyone has ever actually figured out why people like to grow gourds. In the thousands of years of human culture, the gourd has been not just beneficial but necessary. Big, round gourds served as bowls and storage containers, not unlike the plastic storage boxes we get from discount stores today. Smaller gourds, the kinds with handles, were used as dippers, spoons and ladles. Remains of gourd dishes and tools have been found in archeological sites that date back thousands of years. The gourd accompanied humans around the world as dish, carryall and vegetable.

My parents grew what used to be called, “Guinea beans,” in the seed catalogs. They are long, slender gourds that are harvested when 15 to 18 inches long, sliced, battered and fried much like eggplant, okra or green tomatoes. I grow them every year as well, and it’s one of my favorite summer vegetables. The name comes from their being native to the island of New Guinea, where they are also worn as clothing.

Even now, in West Papua, New Guinea where I traveled a few years back, natives still wear the koteka, or penis sheath, a gourd worn for modesty by men in the interior regions of the island, and it’s the same gourd I grew up with as Guinea bean. (Different tribal groups grow different varieties of gourd; Lagenaria siceria is one, while Nepenthes mirabilis is another; not all varieties are edible). Gourd pieces are carved and beaded for jewelry while others are used for canteens and medicine bottles. While I was in New Guinea I traded for some gourd seed, which I received, packaged in another gourd. (Pictured are men from the Dhani tribe).

There is a fascination in our own culture today for growing gourds even though they are no longer necessary in our everyday life. Gourd conferences in Missouri, Ohio and other states, attract thousands of visitors who come to see objects made from gourds. (See the American Gourd Society for more information). Everything from bird houses to works of art are on display, and generally for sale and there are several gourd societies that offer newsletters and trade gourd seed among it’s members.

Possibly it’s the fact that a gourd is a near permanent object that accounts for the fascination. With a pumpkin, you can carve it or eat it, but otherwise there’s not much else you can do with it. With a gourd, once it’s grown and seasoned, it becomes almost like carved wood and can last for centuries if not broken. When I was a child I had a dipper gourd that had a perfect square knot in its long handle. The owner, my next door neighbor, had trained the gourd into that shape and used the gourd on her back porch as a wren house. When she passed away and her family disposed of her possessions, they threw the gourd birdhouse in the trash where I retrieved it.

Gourds are remarkable in how long the seed remain viable. Three years ago a friend brought some decorative gourds to me that I’d never seen before. These had yellow handles with green bottoms, not warty but more with horns. Odd looking things and I kept them on the dining room table in a bowl for about a year. They wound up on the back porch where they remained for nearly two years, where it’s hot in summer and freezes frequently in winter. This spring when I ran across the gourds, I figured the seed were no longer any good. I tossed the gourds out the back door onto the septic tank mound where there are several kinds of decorative grasses and forgot about them.

To my surprise, a plant sprung up. I’d planted pumpkins in the area in the spring and assumed the additional vine was another pumpkin. But long about mid summer I noticed I had lots of the yellow and green horned gourds hanging off of the quince bush, dangling from the variegated cane and several hung like Christmas ornaments from the dwarf cherry tree. Not only had the seed been good all that time, but the gourds had come true to seed and had not crossed with anything else.

Gourds are just one more of the crops that make gardening fun. Happy gardening!


Za'atar, Both a Spice Blend and a Plant

One of the important seasonings of the world, and one which is almost unknown in the West, is za’atar. Za’atar is both a plant, (Origanum maru), and a spice blend known by the same name and used in Middle Eastern foods. It’s used as both a condiment and a cooking ingredient in Armenia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. It is often eaten for breakfast with a yogurt cheese and bread in Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria and is used in hummus, dips, soups and mixed with olive oil for dipping flatbread. The Lebanese believe za’atar gives strength and clears the mind, therefore before leaving home on testing days, school children are encouraged to eat a piece of flatbread spread with a mixture of za'atar and olive oil.

The recipe for za’atar spice blend varies with the region you’re visiting and is usually prepared using ground dried thyme, the za’atar oregano and marjoram then mixed with toasted sesame seeds and salt. Recipes from some areas include the addition of winter savory, cumin and coriander and sometimes fennel seed. A Lebanese version of Za'atar contains sumac berries, and has a distinctive dark red color and this one is my favorite.

The plant za’atar is a pungent tasting oregano with gray-green leaves and native to the Middle East. It grows to about 24 inches tall, although mine after two years of growing barely reached 12 inches. It’s easily winter hardy as far north as Zone 6, and probably hardy beyond that. It spreads from the roots although slower than many of the other Origanum varieties. Grow it just as you would any other oregano or marjoram, in full sun, with well drained soil and lightly mulched to keep out weeds. I grow mine in a raised bed between the rosemary and the Mexican oregano.

Sumac, virtually the same one we find growing wild in the Ozarks is a common ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes. Ours, Rhus glabra, grows from southern Canada all the way southward into Texas and across much of the middle part of the U.S. The red berries are easy to identify and can be gathered from late summer to frost, dried and stored for use later. (This is not poison sumac, which is Rhus vernix and found growing in swamps and has white berries. They are different plants. The culinary sumac has red berries and grows along roadsides, fence rows and the edges of well drained fields).

Sumac berries, besides being used in cooking Middle Eastern dishes, make an excellent “lemonade” by boiling the berries after removing them from the stems, straining then sweetening with honey or sugar. I add cracked coriander and apple juice to the sumac berry tea and use it as a refreshing beverage for party get togethers in the fall.
Sumac, by the way, is correctly pronounced, “shu-mack.” A member in the audience once when Mark Twain was lecturing and had mentioned sumac berries, asked Twain, knowing he was a careful wordsmith, if it was proper to pronounce the word, “shu-mack” since it was spelled with an “s-u,” and were there other words in the English language where that rule applied.
“I’m not sure” he replied, and the audience laughed at his quick wit.
To make your own za’atar mixture for winter use, here’s a simple recipe, similar to the one used in Lebanon and Syria. Store it in a jar in the refrigerator, or freeze it. Then to use, mix a tablespoon of za’atar with 2 tablespoons of good olive oil in a dish and serve with warm flat bread, dipping pieces of the bread into the mixture.

You can also make za’atar chicken in the oven if you would like to taste a dish cooked with the spice.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread cut up chicken pieces in a baking dish. Add the freshly squeezed juice of a lemon over the chicken, then pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil over and 1 tablespoon, or more, za’atar, mixing the chicken pieces in the pan to coat all sides with the ingredients. Add 2 or 3 whole garlic cloves and bake the chicken until done, about 40 minutes.

Za’atar Mixture #1

2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, freshly toasted*
2 teaspoons ground sumac**
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

**It’s important to make sure the sumac seeds are dried first as it will make the grinding easier. Grind the seeds completely to a powder in a blender. Then add the minced thyme leaves and toasted sesame seeds and salt. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator. (If using dried thyme leaves you won’t need to store the mixture in the refrigerator, just use 1 tablespoon dried as a substitute for the 2 tablespoons of fresh. However fresh tastes better).

*About using sesame seeds: you can buy toasted sesame seeds in many international markets but you will have a better tasting spice blend if you toast the sesame seeds yourself. Generally the already toasted ones taste a bit rancid, having been on the shelf for awhile.
To toast sesame seeds, start with a small skillet and heat it, without oil. Add the seeds and shake or stir the seeds so they don’t burn, but moving them around until they are toasted well. Cool completely before adding to the remaining ingredients.

Since we grow our own za’atar we use that, but you can substitute any favorite dried oregano in the following recipe.

Za’atar Mixture #2

4 tablespoons dried za’atar or oregano leaves
4 tablespoons sesame seeds, freshly toasted
2 tablespoons ground sumac
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt

Combine ingredients in a blender and pulse blend until everything is a coarse powder (be sure to grind the sumac berries completely to a powder first). Mix well and store in airtight container in the pantry.


Heirloom Herbs

This column appears in the summer 2008 issue of The Heirloom Gardener magazine.
The Heirloom Herbalist
Copyright 2008, Jim Long

Heirloom Herbs

Herbs, unlike vegetables and fruits, have not changed a great deal over the centuries. The food crops, those plants which produce the bulk of our human diet, have been crossed, selected and hybridized, to produce larger yields or bigger fruits, many times at the loss of flavor.

The rose, which I consider first a fragrance and flavor herb, and second a landscape plant, is just one example of what happens when a plant is overly manipulated. This fragrant flowered plant which is used in many cultures of the world as a seasoning herb in ice cream, milk shakes, cakes and other desserts, has been hybridized to the point of being no more useful than plastic flowers. While it’s pretty in the landscape, the modern rose has lost almost all of its usefulness.

Recently I attended the Garden Writers of America annual conference in Oklahoma City, where several rose companies displayed their newest rose introductions for the garden writers to see. At one of the trade show booths I asked the rose grower what his roses tasted like and which ones had the best fragrance. He looked at me as if I’d just announced I’d married a Martian.

“Taste? You can’t eat a rose,” he said.

Of course I took the challenge, explaining I had written a book about that very subject. I sniffed the various roses on display and chose a pink one that had a hint of fragrance. I plucked a flower and ate it and suggested the rose grower do the same. With little fragrance, there was also not much flavor. While the roses were beautiful to look at, were continuous bloomers all season and didn’t require sprays or special care, they might as well have been artificial. Why grow a rose if it has no fragrance or flavor? Those are the very reasons the plant was domesticated in the first place, centuries ago!

The more standard herbs, those like rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage, hyssop and others, have not changed over time. Certainly a few varieties have been selected for specific reasons. ‘Hill Hardy’ rosemary, for example, came about as a seedling found growing on an old farmstead in Texas by Madalene Hill many years ago. It was a natural cross, or a seedling of one, that had shown some specific qualities of being extra-hardy in Texas, was found blooming in January with beautiful blue blossoms.

Oregano is another example of a plant that remains unchanged over time. There are many varieties of oregano, and most of the ones you will find for sale are named by the region where they were discovered. Origanum dictamus, commonly named “Dittany of Crete” comes from Crete, while Sicilian (O. x majoricum) is a cross of oregano and marjoram that was originally found growing in Sicily centuries ago. Origanum vulgare, a wild oregano that came first from Italy, likely transported by immigrants centuries ago, at some point crossed with O. hirtum and was found growing wild in the mountains of Greece and goes by the name of ‘Greek Mountain’ oregano.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is an herb that is seldom used today, but was one of the important herbs in biblical times. You will find it referred to by Moses when he commanded the elders of Israel to take bundles of hyssop, dip them in the sacrificial lamb’s blood and sprinkle it upon the doors of their houses before Passover.

Hyssop was also used in preparations for cleansing rituals, as well as medicinally for sore throats and improving digestion. The plant remains just as it was two thousand years ago, possessing the same bitter oils that gave it the unique flavor and fragrance as in the distant past.

The Greeks and Romans spread many of the herbs from the Mediterranean in their travels and conquests. Later the trade between the so-called New World and the Old, saw plants being shipped between the continents, with European herbs being introduced into the Americas, and American herbs collected and sent back to Europe.

A large number of the hundreds of herbs grown today, are the basic, heirloom herbs that could be found centuries ago. Many of them have remained unchanged for a thousand years or more.
That means when you smell or taste the leaves from lemon verbena or lemongrass, you know that someone living centuries ago, smelled and tasted the exact things you are experiencing today. When a chef, writing in a cookbook in the 1700s included French tarragon in a recipe, you know you can reproduce that same dish, with the exact flavors he did, because French tarragon is an herb that is unchanged.

How do these herbs come down to us in this unchanged state? Many, like French tarragon, rosemary, thyme and others, are propagated almost exclusively by cuttings. Starts of those plants would have been brought to this country as cuttings or dug plants from Europe and passed along from one generation to the next. Some, like peppermint and French tarragon do not produce seed and must be propagated by division or cutting.

It’s satisfying to know, I think, when you taste lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus), Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens), garden sage (Salvia officinalis) or any of a thousand other herbs, that their flavors remain unchanged throughout the centuries. Nearly all of them taste and smell exactly the way they did a millennia ago and are true heirlooms of the plant world.

Questions and comments always welcome through Jim’s website: www.LongCreekHerbs.com.


World's Hottest Pepper

Saga Jalokia, Bhut Jalokia, Naga Jalokia

This is my Ozarks Gardening newspaper column for this week. It appears in newspapers across the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks. Copyright, Jim Long, 2008

No More Elephants in Your Garden!

Much like clothes and technology, plant fads sweep through the market. Some new plant comes along and everyone wants one. Think back to the so-called “mosquito plant” of a decade ago. Promoters claimed it would repel mosquitoes by simply planting a few around your deck or patio. It didn’t. Or the sweet-leaf plant (stevia) that everyone wanted. It actually does what it claims - sweeten foods without adding calories.

Two or three years back, the hot new plant was Salvia divinorum, or diviner’s sage. Supposedly used by shamans in Central America to see visions, it was soon being sold as a “drug for a legal high.” (It was quickly discovered the hallucinogenic properties weren’t that interesting and caused severe headaches, unpleasant side effects and occasional insanity by the user; several states have outlawed it's growing and sale).

About five years ago there were rumors circulating in plant forums on the internet of a new ghost chili that reportedly topped one million Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). Previously the hottest chili on record, according to the Guiness World Records, had been the Savina habanero, rated at 570,000 SHUs. Later debate over whether the record was set with the raw pepper, or with the pepper oil has challenged the world record, however, and the pepper is now accepted as between 300,000 and 579,000 SHUs. (For comparison, the standard jalapeno rates at between 5,000 and 8,500 SHUs; the Savina comes in at 65 times as hot as a standard cayenne).

This so-called “new” pepper, comes from northeastern Assam, India, near the Equator where all of the hottest peppers originate around the globe and is also known by the names, “ghost chile,” and Bhut Jolokia. The University of Mexico has been testing this new pepper and was able to prove in 2007 that this was, indeed, the world’s hottest pepper. (In India, according to my friend Puneet, from New Delhi, this pepper is called "tatayyia mirch," which translated from Hindi, is "wasp chili," because he said, it is like having a very big wasp sting your tongue).

Why, you might wonder, would someone want to grow a hot pepper that is so hot no one can eat it without mixing it with a lot of other foods? When asked that question of the growers in India, we were told, besides eating the peppers, they are also ground up and made into a spray which is applied around crops and gardens to keep elephants out.

So there you are. If you want to be on the cutting edge with the most sought after plant this year, and be able to keep elephants out of your garden, too, you might want to plant some Naga Jolokia peppers. Be forewarned, however, the seeds are rare and those selling them are charging as much as $5 per seed with a minimum of ten seeds.

I’ll be letting you know here if this pepper really does keep elephants out of my garden. Since I’ve not had a problem with elephants before, I’m guessing the plant will do exactly what it claims!

Happy gardening! Questions or comments always welcome at Longcreekherbs@yahoo.com and through my website at www.Longcreekherbs.com.


Save Gas, Plant Vegetables

Jim Long
Ozarks Gardening column, week of 3-31-08
Save Gas, Grow Vegetables!

Rising gas prices combined with increased food costs and a fluctuating economy are the likely causes of a significant new trend developing in the gardening market. As reported in the 2008 Early Spring Gardening Trends Research Report just released by the Garden Writers Association, more consumers plan to purchase vegetable and fruit plants as part of their early spring gardening purchases.

In a national survey conducted last month, consumers were asked what types of garden-related purchases they expect to make for spring. Lawn and grass purchases take the lead (54%), followed by vegetable or fruit plants (39%), annual flowers (38%), trees and shrubs (35%), and perennial flowers (31%). When asked the same question this time last year, vegetable and fruit plants were fourth on the list of priorities for consumer spending. Perennial flowers which held the number two position in consumer spending in 2007 are in fifth place for 2008.

This means lots of people recognize running to the grocery store for a pound of potatoes or a couple of tomatoes, doesn’t make good sense when gas prices hover in the three dollar range. Driving a few blocks, or a few miles, just because you need a cucumber and a head of lettuce for dinner can easily be delayed if you have those growing on your patio or in your back yard. Saving a trip to the store means saving on gas money.

How much does it cost to grow your own tomatoes? Just a few dollars if you buy the plants, even less if you start your own seed. For less than $2, you can buy a packet of bean seed and produce enough beans to feed your family for several meals. Add some inexpensive lettuce seed, a few onion plants, a few rows of corn and a few other vegetables and you can grow several weeks of groceries for less than the cost of a tank of gas.

Even though it is too early to plant annual, tender plants, such as peppers and tomatoes outdoors in the garden, it is a perfect time for planting these seed crops: Lettuce, late onions, spinach, carrots, radishes marigold seed, cilantro and dill and a second planting of peas can go in the ground now. Plants such as cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and rosemary, can all be planted now, as well. Home grown vegetables taste better, save you money on gas and make you glad you grew them.

To see what’s growing in my garden this week, visit my blog: http://jimlongsgardentalk.blogspot.com/ Questions and comments always welcome at longcreekherbs@yahoo.com. Happy gardening!


See Us in Nature's Garden magazine

We are pleased to mention we are in the Spring Issue of Nature's Garden magazine, on the newstands now. The magazine folks, James Baggett, editor, Marty Ross, writer, Jay Wilde, photographer, and Jarret Einck, layout designer, did an excellent job and were a delight to work with. They gave us 8 pages, wonderful photos and make the garden and me (and Molly twice) look great.