First song of the morning. What a wonderful way to start the day!
There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.
-Janet Kilburn Phillips
Warm-weather spinach substitute #2.
You might wonder for a moment about the poor timing of my warm-weather greens posts this week. This is definitely not the time to get anyone excited about planting this stuff, but this has been the best time to take photos!
The cooler weather has made way for the Malabar spinach to flower and produce these dark little berries, or seed.
Malabar spinach, like the Magenta Spreen lambsquarters in the previous post, is not actually a true spinach, but it works well as a substitute. They both thrive in heat and can be eaten both raw and cooked. I am a little biased towards the Malabar spinach, though. This stuff I can eat straight off the vine; it’s so crunchy and clean. It works well in stir fry, too. It actually holds up better than true spinach. It does have a mucilaginous texture somewhat similar to okra, but I never really noticed it when used in stir-fry. When eating it fresh, straight off the vine, it takes about five or six good leaves before I notice it. Doesn’t keep me from continuing to eat it. A Vietnamese neighbor told me that he used it to thicken soups.
A word of warning, though. It really does thrive in the heat. It loves it… and plenty of water. This crazy plant grabbed on to the patio posts and started taking over my neighbors balcony. I’m definitely growing this again next year, so I’m saving the seeds from the little dark berries now. Good stuff!
Warm-Weather Spinach Substitute #1
I haven’t really had too much luck growing spinach in containers. Maybe its another one of those things I underestimated. When I did get a bit growing in the spring, it was quickly destroyed by pests. The few leaves I did harvest and eat were delicious, but I never did get enough to even put together a salad.
A few years back a friend gave me something she called wild spinach and told me to make sure I planted it in the ground. I was a little wary of digging holes in the common areas of my apartment complex, so I gave it a nice five gallon bucket to live in. It was beautiful. It grew to about five feet high, had a stem streaked with red and a purple “powder” on its newest leaves. She explained that it was a spinach substitute, and while the tender leaves were edible, both the taste and texture were less than appealing to me. The powdery feel on the tongue was a bit strange and the flavor was a bit metallic.
It took a little research to find what I had in that bucket was lambquarters. It is considered a weed by most standards. It withstands many different climates, it roots deeply, and it self-sows. This particular plant is a semi-wild cultivar of lambsquarters known as Magenta Spreen. Tender, new leaves can used from the plant at any time, but the whole, young plant can be used when it under a foot tall. Alternatively, they can be kept cut back and will continue to grow new, tender foliage.
Maybe I never really gave it a chance, but I did let the thing grow and it hit about five feet tall when it flowered and produced hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny seeds. From my research, I learned that these seeds could be used as a grain and cooked like porridge or turned into flour. I’m fascinated by the possibilities and the resilience of this plant, but I must admit that I’ve not yet tried to use it since the first disagreeable taste test. I saved that seed, though, and a few dropped to the ground and just sprouted where they landed. One of them found a nice spot by a potted plant and enjoyed a nice, consistent watering schedule. The darn thing is now about ten feet tall and has begun to flower. Now I get why one of its common names is Tree Spinach.
It’s beyond time for me to give this plant another chance. Maybe a little porridge this winter? Some baby greens next spring?
It is trying very hard to be autumn here in south central Texas. We have lovely, cool mornings and warm days here right now. Highs are in the low nineties and when the humidity drops, even that is easily bearable. Who knows? In a couple of weeks, the low may drop below 65°F and we can all break out that one sweater we own.
There are changes going on in the garden. The marigolds have had it. The basil is trying to bolt. I’m easily getting two and three okra a day off my one Red Burgundy plant. The drop in temps have revived the peppers and vining tomatoes, and they have begun to flower once again.
Some things have been given new life. Others are done for the season. Some, like the yard-long beans, just keep going and going. The marigolds interplanted with the tomatoes back in March just up and quit on me recently, but I was able to save some seed. I can’t seem to remember what kind they were or if they were a hybrid or not. I guess I will find out next spring. That was easy to do because they called it quits on their own terms. The determinate tomatoes are another story. The cooler weather has caused them to begin to flower again, but none of them seem to set. A quick run on the math tells me that, if they were to set, they may not have time to mature. This is “thinning” at its worst. Do I hang on to the tomato plant with hopes and prayer, or do I yank the thing and make room for something new?
While I go back and forth about that, I went ahead and yanked the runner beans that never really caught on to make room for carrots and radishes. I’m still waiting for evidence of the parsley seed I planted in place of the marigolds, and I’m jammin’ radish seeds anywhere I can find a wee bit of space. I’m trying my hand at collards, kale, and cabbage. The seedlings are looking good and growing well and it looks like I may just have some success with the broccoli I planted.
Right now, I’m just trying to pace myself. I want to just plant everything all at once, but I know if I’m not careful, I may end up eating radishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week. I have a new fondness for the crisp sweetness of a homegrown radish, but I don’t want to ruin that, so I have to reign myself in. What is making that even more difficult right now is a big box full of seed packets a neighbor gave me. She said she had been admiring my little container garden from afar and when she finally caught me out there watering, she explained that she, too, loved to garden, but was pursuing a graduate degree and didn’t have the time. I can’t wait to show her which of her little seeds have become seedlings now. Hopefully, I’ll have some nice cabbage and lettuce to share with her soon… and carrots and broccoli and radishes!
Late night visitors
Got to see a little raccoon looking for snacks on the fence line tonight. Actually, what I heard was crunching in the dark and then saw two spooky little reflectors that gave away the masked bandit’s location. I stared at him. He stared at me, but kept eating the whole time. “Crunch, crunch, crunch.” It sounded like he was eating Frito chips! I watched him for a bit and then let him be. When I poked my head back outside to see if he was still there, I saw a second set of “reflectors” and assumed he had family come to join him; then I saw the tail. I guess I wasn’t the only one who heard crunching because right next to the little raccoon was an even smaller skunk! Well, everything was small except for the tail. That was big and, thankfully, distinctive. They ate together peacefully for about a minute, then came the chittering. Mr. Raccoon carefully grabbed the last snack he thought he could snag and reluctantly headed back into the woods. Though, I swear I could hear him calling that skunk every name in the book on his way out.