Archive for April, 2012


Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Driving around Austin during the past couple of weeks I have seen hundreds of loquat trees, Eriobotrya japonica, loaded with ripe fruit.  Here the trees are mostly planted as an ornamental, in part due to their tropical looking foliage.  The fruit, however, is delicious.

Loquat Leaves

The tropical looking evergreen leaves make loquat a popular ornamental

Loquats are originally from China and are distantly related to apples.  My friend Bianca says that growing up in San Antonio, they referred to loquats as ‘Chinese plums’.  I find the flesh similar in texture to a plum but both tarter and sweeter at the same time.

My own loquat tree is only a couple of years old and is not producing fruit yet.  A friend was more than happy to let me pick a shopping bag full from his backyard tree.  The fruit is tasty raw, but does not keep long, so I decided to cook most of it down.

Bowl of Loquat Fruit

Loquat Fruit

I blanched the fruit for thirty seconds to make the skin easier to peel.  Using a paring knife, I cut off the end of the fruit as well as any bad spots.  After peeling all of the fruit I then picked out the large seeds.  They are easy to remove, but make up almost half of the fruit.  I cooked the fruit down with enough sugar to make a thick sauce.  For the amount of fruit that I had, I used a half a cup, which made the batch a little too sweet.  By the end of the process my bag of fruit had shrunk to a cup and a half of preserves.

Cooking Loquat with Sugar

Making loquat sauce

Use the preserves as a sweet topping or to flavor your own homemade ice cream.

Getting Down in the Trenches for More Spuds

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Potato Beds

I tried something new (for me) this year in planting my potatoes.  Geoff mentioned this method to me years ago and I never got around to trying it.  I kind of forgot that it was he who told me, but he was quick to remind me when I showed him what I did.   The logic is simple.  Plant your potatoes at the bottom of a trench, then hill up the dirt from the ridges of the troughs around the plants as they grow.

Potatoes only grow up, that is, their tubers won’t go down deeper than the mother spud used as a seed start, so hilling is a common practice to give the potatoes deeper soil to grow in and all kinds of methods are used to create the hills.  In years past I’ve never bothered to hill my potatoes.  I just planted them deep in my soft raised beds and hoped for the best, which was usually okay.  We’ll see if we get more production this year.

To create the troughs I first thoroughly broke up the beds with my broadfork.  I did two passes with the fork, first going from the center to the edge on each side of the bed, then moving along the length of the bed.  Breaking the soil in both directions made it easy to rake up the beds into troughs with a steel rake.  I put the finishing touches on the troughs to get them mounded as high as possible using a concrete workers draw hoe that I found at a garage sale years ago.  It comes in handy for exactly this purpose.

Tools for Troughs

Then it was down on my hands and knees, using my small planting board so I didn’t destroy the edges of the bed, to get the potatoes into the bottoms of the trenches.  I used a bulb planter to put holes as deep as possible and planted the potato seeds, which I had earlier cut in half and allowed to dry, spaced roughly a foot apart.  This is all new for me, we’ll see what happens.

When the potatoes send up their sprouts from the bottom of the trench and and get about six inches high, I’ll pull  soil from the middle ridge and mound up soil around the individual plants.  As the plants  get taller,  I’ll use the soil from the outer ridges to get as much soil surrounding the individual plants as possible.  I may even use some mulch, I’m thinking of straw mixed with soil, to get the mounded plants as tall as possible.  The plants should be setting more tubers as they grow upwards and the harvest should increase significantly depending on how good a job I do of building the mounds.

One of the two beds is planted with Adirondack Blue, a blue fleshed potato that we’ve grown before and like a lot.  The other is Carola, a yellow potato that I have not grown previously.  I still have to get in a bed of Rose Finn Fingerlings that I have seed for and I’ll probably plant a red skinned potato of some type, as well.

It’s not at all late to still plant potatoes, in fact you have a very wide window of opportunity with this crop.  The grower I bought my seed from actually plants his crop in June.  He says that gives him two advantages – a later harvest means a longer period for storage, important as he’s selling seed, and he says he has much less problem with potato beetles.  I’ve planted potatoes very late several times, too.  Only because I was behind in my garden tasks, not for any scientific reason, but I’ve still had good crops.  I’ll let you know how this method turns out for me.

Cream of Sweet Potato Soup

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

I still have sweet potatoes from my fall harvest.  I made this soup a couple of weeks ago for some guests.  Easy and filling.

Cream of Sweet Potato Soup

The soup, garnished with fresh Mexican oregano.

  • 3-4 large Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped or crushed
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Caraway Seeds
  • Vegetable stock
  • Rice Milk (or soy or dairy)
  • Fresh Mexican oregano or other fresh herb for garnish

Sauté the onions and celery in olive oil.  Add the sweet potatoes and enough vegetable stock to cover.  Add the garlic, caraway and fresh ground pepper.  Cook until the sweet potatoes get soft.

Use a blender to puree the soup.  Be careful and never fill it more than half full at a time.  Put a towel over it when you blend so that you don’t accidentally splash yourself with hot liquid.

The mixture will probably be very thick.  Add some warmed rice milk until it gets to a more soup like consistency.  You could use dairy milk or even heavy cream here if you wanted a very rich soup.  Garnish with fresh Mexican oregano or another fresh herb like thyme and serve.


Seed Giveaway Winners

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

We are pleased to announce the two winners of the Botanical Interests’ Seed Collections!

Janiece won the Basic Bounty Veggie Garden Collection.  Her favorite vegetable to grow is the  Sugar Snap pea.

Basic Bounty Veggie Garden Seed Collection

Basic Bounty Veggie Garden Seed Collection

Chris McDiarmid won the Heirloom Tomato Seed Collection.  That’s good, because her favorite vegetable to grow is the tomato.

Heirloom Tomato Seed Collection

Heirloom Tomato Seed Collection

We picked our two winners at random from the 94 entrants who all left a comment on our blog naming their favorite vegetable to grow.  Tomatoes were the top choice, with the second pick probably being Sugar Snap peas.  But entrants named vegetables as varied as sorrel and bitter melon, with more well known choices like cucumbers and zucchini also making an appearance.  See all of the comments in the original post here.

Thanks to Botanical Interests for providing the seeds and thanks to everyone who participated!