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Friday, December 1, 2023

Green Wizardries with Maxine Rogers

Green Wizardries, The Harvest Now and the Harvest to Come   by Maxine Rogers

This year, we are having a very good harvest.  The tomato crop has been outstanding for all the gardeners I have talked to.  We are still harvesting tomatoes from our polytunnels.  I spent a large part of today making a batch of catsup.  One of my sisters insists I shouldn’t call it catsup because it is so very good and nothing like the commercial product.  However, I did use the tomato catsup recipe from The Joy of Cooking.  Like everything home made, it takes some time to cook and process it in a water-bath canner but it is vastly better than anything you can buy.

I also made a pint of elderberry syrup from our first crop of elderberries.  I think most gardeners on Hornby and Denman would benefit from growing some elderberry shrubs.  I bought ours three years ago and planted them in the garden.  The first year, we didn’t get many berries and the second year the same but as the bushes were two years old, I was able to prune them close to the ground and this year, they shot up aggressively and set huge bunches of berries.  

The flowers of the elder can be made into a very good sparkling wine.  They are medicinal and can be helpful in many preparations to reduce fever.  The flowers are also much valued by the pollinators and they smell sweet.  The blooms used to be picked and soaked in water overnight and used to wash the hands and face as a beauty treatment.  

The berries were hugely popular with the birds and we produced a stunning crop of white-crowned sparrows on the berries we shared with them.  We even had one pair of white crowns nest in one of our elder bushes.  I did manage to secure some berries for us.  

I suppose these berries could be grown in a berry house to ensure you get all the berries but I am not that organized and the birds are very important to delight us and to keep the ecological balance of the garden.  White-crowned sparrows eat the seeds of weeds and grasses as well as a lot of insects and fruit, particularly elderberries and blackberries.  

Elderberries used to be made into jams, pies and wine.  They seem to have fallen out of favour but should make a comeback as they are so easy to propagate and produce a good crop of nutritious berries.    I grow mine to make a syrup from the berries that is a traditional remedy for colds and the flu.  

Before I grew my own, I bought dried elderberries from Harmonic Arts, a herb company in Cumberland.  They sourced their berries from Poland and Croatia and other foreign parts so it is much better to grow our own here.  The syrup made from fresh berries, ginger, cloves and honey is much more tasty than the syrup made from dried berries but both work well to help people get over colds.  

This January, I will prune my elder shrubs close to the ground and take a bunch of cuttings to give to friends and the Garden Club.  If you want to have some elder cuttings, please call me at 335-1088 to reserve some.  The little cuttings can be pushed into the ground where you want them to grow but they will not do well if they have to compete with grasses and weeds.  I prepare a planting hole by mixing in a couple of spades worth of compost and then I cover the area with maple leaves.  I stick the cutting directly into the soil and leave it.  They make great wildlife bushes even if you are not interested in harvesting the berries for your own use.  

Another crop that did well this year was plums.  A friend gave me a couple of flats of plums and they were so sweet and good I could not walk past them without eating one.  I made them into plum sauce with our own onions, garlic and hot peppers.  This sauce will go really well with chicken and rabbit dishes.  

The harvest to come is much on our minds too.  Today, my husband spent most of the day hauling compost out to the garden to mulch a huge bed for garlic.  Now is a good time to plant garlic.  I will go out and place the cloves of garlic on the surface of the beds.  This way, I can make sure my rows are straight and that I have left large enough paths between the beds.  Once sure of all that, I plant the garlic under the mulch.  To grow the best garlic, you have to lime the soil and give the garlic a lot of nutritious compost.  They love seaweed.  

It is also time to trim excess runners on the strawberry plants.  I will only leave one runner per plant but if you need a lot of new plants, you can leave two or even three runners.  Strawberries only produce well for three years so keep an eye on the age of your plants and if in doubt, lift the plants and throw away any plants that have black, straggly roots.  They are way too old.

Author: TIG

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