A New Year’s Day MUST

Black-eyed peas have been soaked overnight, organic collard greens washed and ready, and all the other ingredients for New Year’s Day are waiting to be prepped for a hearty soup tonight.

Growing up in the Tidewater area of Virginia, my family ate black-eyed peas and collard greens on a regular basis, but I don’t remember them on New Year’s Day. Did everyone in the South except our family eat collard greens and black-eyed peas the first day of each new year?  Is this a new-ish thing or not? I am a little superstitious so I follow along.

My mother always served black-eyed peas mixed with stewed tomatoes. Collard greens was always served alongside a cruet of vinegar that we splashed atop the hot greens. I can’t remember my mother ever combining the peas and collards as I am doing tonight… although better memories of a sibling might correct me!

New Year 2018

Last year I made the traditional Southern Hoppin’ John over rice. This year we are having soup based on a tasty recipe in the New York Times…. minus the ham hock.

Wealth should be breaking down the door!  And if I feel especially lucky after I dine tonight, I’ll be standing in line for the Powerball on Wednesday that has reached over 440 million buckaroos and growing.

collard greens 2018

Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy New Year wishes for all.

PS: It’s been 10 minutes and I’ve already been corrected by a sibling with a better memory than mine. We did eat both black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day. Lucky me!

Know Your Chickweed

There are a number of weeds that germinate in the fall, both grasses and broadleaf.  They are called winter annuals because they can germinate in October and November, then over-winter as small plants until warmer weather in March triggers growth, followed by flowers, then seeds.  By summer the plants often die back October chickweed in Ann's gardenor go fibrous.

One of these winter annual broadleaf weeds is common chickweed, Stellaria media, sometimes called starweed or tongue grass.  It is a low-growing, succulent plant that can form large mats over the ground in the spring.  The branched stems, with rows of hairs, trail along the ground and can root at each of the swollen nodes.  The oval, paired leaves are cool and smooth to the touch and the showy deeply cut white spring flowers can be solitary or clustered at the tips of the stems.  Tiny flat seeds are formed in oval, one-celled capsules and can germinate at just above 32 degrees F.  Seedlings can survive the severest frost and can stay green under snow.

A native to Europe, the leaves, stems and flowers have long been used as herbal folk medicine for skin conditions, however contact dermatitis may develop in those with allergies so caution is indicated.  Records show it was sold by street vendors in Victorian London as food for pet birds and it is consumed by many animals including wild birds, sheep, rabbits, horses, cows, geese, pigs and, of course, chickens, thus the name ‘chickweed.’

As a plant it can serve a purpose, but for most gardeners and farmers, it is a weed. The battle with chickweed can never be won in North America but fortunately it’s not a hard fought battle for me. One interesting fact about chickweed is that it is found growing in rich, moist, fertile soils and does not tolerate poor soil or dry soil or hot sunny spots.  So sadly, chickweed is quite well behaved in my yard, which means my soil needs work.

chickweed leavesTo weed by hand, I simply pull the tender succulent in the cool spring while still in flower and before it sets its seeds.  The roots are very fragile and quite shallow and compact and the plant pulls up easily. If you use chemicals, pre-emergents are the best way to control these weeds.  Use them now before you see the weeds as they work on the germinating seeds.  Post-emergent herbicides for broadleaf weeds are not as effective in the fall since winter annuals are beginning their dormant stage.  Use these in the spring when weeds are actively growing.

Although it can be a pest in our gardens, it’s nice to think of weeds as part of the tapestry of nature.  They can make life interesting and it’s worth knowing a bit about them before we yank them from the ground.

Do you know your Creeping Charlie?  Click here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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The Incredible Edible Fig

Read & Eleanor's Fig PreservesTalk about Time Travel.  Yesterday I bit into my first fig of the season.  One taste and and I was whisked back to my childhood, lying on the warm grass beneath the boughs of a neighbor’s fig tree eating an endless supply of sweet succulent figs. The amazing taste and texture of a fig with all those tiny seeds is an experience like no other.  It’s positively addictive.  With the moist spring we’ve had, 2009 should be a bountiful harvest year.

The cultivation of the fig dates back 4-5 thousand years and before Biblical times, believed first in Egypt, then Crete, and on to ancient Greece, where they are still a traditional part of the daily diet.  Thought to have been brought by Spaniards to the Western Hemisphere in the 16th century and to Jamestown during the founding years, Virginians like to credit Thomas Jefferson for helping to popularize the fig.

Members of the ficus family, fig trees are easy to grow in zone 7 and higher.  They are bug and disease resistant but you must share the harvest with an occasional flock of birds or your dog (they love figs!).  Fig trees reach heights of 30 – 50 feet and can bear two or three crops a season.  In our area, we see two different kinds of figs: Brown Turkey, copper-colored with no neck, and Celeste, purplish and more fleshy.  Locate the plant against or near a south-facing wall so it can benefit from reflected heat during the winter.  If temperatures fall below 15 degrees F, insulate the roots with mulch.

Figs fall into the false-fruit category like strawberries as each fig harbors thousands of tiny fruits. When you pick, make sure the figs are ripe as they do not ripen off the tree.  The taste is fabulous on its own but marries well with a variety of foods and recipes abound.  Preserves is one of my favorite ways to enjoy figs all year and I’m lucky that friends share gifts from their trees.

figs

Read and Eleanor McGehee of Ware Neck often make preserves from their harvest for Christmas gifts but they’re not divulging their recipe and I’m not pressing them.  (Shhhhh….  I know lemon is one of their secret ingredients.)  Some recipes call for ginger, lemon or the rind of a lemon, while others list cinnamon, cloves, or allspice as ingredients.   Eleanor is a member of The Garden Club of Gloucester.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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Fireworks Every Day in the Garden

Every two and a half weeks I stand in line at Costco along with other bulk shoppers, their carts full of king-size supplies of food and my cart containing only two items….two king-size bags of sugar, 50 lbs. of sugar to be exact, just enough to fill 7 hummingbird feeders with nectar for about 18 days.  There is a formula to estimate how many hummers reside in an area by the amount of nectar they consume but we aren’t interested in knowing.  We only know we have oodles of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that are drawn here year after year by an abundance of food, water, and nesting sites. Suburban and rural gardens are ideal hummingbird habitats with trees, shrubs, open areas of grass or meadows, water and flowers.  With the addition of the right flowers, most gardens will attract these miniature thespians to entertain you in the garden.

leucistic Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in Ware Neck VAThese “glittering garments of the rainbow,” as John James Audubon called them, are the most colorful and prolific bloomers in our gardens from early spring until late fall. We recognize the same individuals as they arrive each spring, not only by their familiarity with us, but by unusual markings on some of them.  Several of our hummers are leucistic, a condition of reduced pigmentation in the feathers.  As new generations are born each spring to these birds, it is interesting to see the white leucistic variations on the heads of the offspring.

We are entertained by the raging territorial battles to protect their nectar source. They battle each other, bees, birds, the dogs and people.  As the ‘king’ of one feeder chases an intruder, several others slip in to have a sip from his nectar cache. These jewel-colored birds with their explosive and ferocious territorial dances at speeds of up to 60 mph provide us with 4th of July fireworks every day of the summer.

Did you know?

  • The Ruby-Throated is the only hummer to breed east of the Mississippi yet during migration you can see other varieties passing through.
  • Hummingbirds are great pollinators, often better than bees because they feed continuously from dawn to dusk.
  • Hummingbirds do eat insects: gnats, mosquitoes, spiders, aphids, etc.  In the early spring they will look for insects trapped in sap from woodpecker holes.
  • Females do all the nest building, often attaching it with spider silk and pine resin, and camouflaging it with lichens and fungus.  The nest is walnut-sized and the 2 eggs are pea-sized.  The male continues to court other females after mating.
  • Predators include spiders, preying mantis, dragonflies and other birds. I have witnessed a bullfrog in our pond jump a foot straight up to within 1/4-inch of a hummer at a pickerel weed bloom. We have rescued them from spider webs and nursed them from collisions with each other.
  • At night, due to their small size and lack of insulation, hummers enter a state of torpor, a hibernation-like condition where the breathing and heart rate slow dramatically.

Nectar recipe:  1 part white granulated sugar to 4 parts water.  According to Bill Williams of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology, it is not necessary to boil the solution, just dissolve the sugar. Male Ruby-Throated HummingbirdThe nectar solution can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks. Do not use the commercial red dye solution.  Keep the feeder very clean to avoid black mold that can be harmful to the birds.

Bill Williams also states that the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has recently been documented wintering over in two Tidewater locations.  Is this a new trend? It very well could be he says.

Plants to attract:  hibiscus, flowering quince, currants, weigela, azalea, mimosa, and buddleia.   Flowers to attract: morning glory, columbine, trumpet vine, fuschia, bee balm, bleeding heart, honeysuckle, virginia creeper, and salvia.  Remember, they are attracted to the color red.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester