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Fractalicious Romanesco

Fractalicious Romanesco

Posted 08 May 2010 | By | Categories: Food, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Vegetables | Comments Off on Fractalicious Romanesco
fractalicious romanesco

Fancy fractal food: Broccoli Romanesco, Cauliflower Romanesco, or just Romanesco

Today, with great excitement, I harvested my first Romanesco and made a self-similar salad from it by breaking it into Romanesco-shaped pieces and tossing with a little olive oil and kelp granules. Perhaps the most delightfully geeky of all vegetables, the Romanesco is a nearly exact self-similar fractal form that illustrates a Fibonacci sequence. I have seen it in the marketplace as Cauliflower Romanesco and Broccoli Romanesco, and the French call it chou Romanesco, which translates to Cabbage Romanesco, so we’ll just note that it’s a Brassica and refer to it as Romanesco.

This electric chartreuse coloured vegetable offers a more subtle flavour than both cauliflower and broccoli, with a distinctively nutty note. I find it delicious raw, but it can be steamed or prepared in any way that you would with broccoli and cauliflower. And even though the organic ones often seem expensive at the market, I now know they are well worth it.

The Learning Curve

Romanescos at Yunos Farm stand at Abingdon Square Greenmarket, NYC I first became enchanted by Romanesco at the Yunos Farm stand at the Abingdon Square greenmarket in NYC (right), and noted if I ever grew my own vegetables, I would definitely grow this one. What I didn’t know is how much time, energy and water goes into each one. Because it’s always sold with the leaves stripped away, I assumed that the part we buy was the plant. Turns out it’s merely the flower of the plant. A giant plant. (This goes for broccoli and cauliflower too.) I thought I could tuck a few seedlings into the front of the berry patch, but they took over the space entirely for the season (image below).

giant Romanesco plant

The other growing surprise was that amidst an entire orchard, the Brassicas were voted most desirable plant by leaf-munchers and sap-suckers alike. I imagined the insects would go for dessert first, but they chose Romanesco, broccoli and brussels sprouts over berries and grape vines all day long. The most damaging was the hungry green caterpillar of the white cabbage butterfly. Eventually, I caved in and sprayed a trial of the bacteria Bacillus thuringensis Bt, which worked. Many of the plants bounced back entirely and produced beautiful veggies, while a few others never quite got their health back and suffered aphid infestation after the caterpillar menace subsided.

With broccoli, removing the central head stimulates side shoots for later picking. Does Romanesco work the same way? Let me know in comments if you do, and I’ll update when I find out here.

Update: According to Grow Better Veggies, “once the main head is cut, that’s it. You cannot rely on lateral growth for additional minor heads as the season goes on, which is a nice feature of regular broccoli.”

Companion Flower Salad

Flower salad: calendula, hyssop, nasturtium and borage Not only is Romanesco a flower that makes a great companion plant for other edibles in your garden (since everything wants to eat it), but many of the companion plants recommended for growing alongside it (and the rest of the Brassica family) are edible flowers too: (shown at left, clockwise from top right corner) Nasturtium, Hyssop “sweet marigold,” Borage, and Calendula. I don’t know if they distracted a single predator, but they definitely attracted bees, our friends in need, and kept any uninvited plants from crashing the party. They also add colour, beauty and diversity.

How do they taste? I found the Nasturtium too peppery for my palate, but it’s been brilliant in the garden as the earliest to bloom with bright orange blossoms. Borage, the last flower to arrive on the scene after a long period of leaf growth, features delicate blue flowers atop fuzzy stems that taste of cucumber. Hyssop ‘sweet marigold’ has an anise or licorice flavour. Calendula is slightly tangy and bitter and more appreciated for its use in topical tinctures and lotions than cuisine, but its leaves are lovely tossed into salads.

Seeds of Enlightenment

Seeds of Enlightenment

Posted 25 April 2010 | By | Categories: Plants, Seagarden, Spirit | 1 Comment

seeds of enlightenment One morning, the reclining Buddha’s ear appeared encrusted with tiny jade stones. I thought of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok’s Grand Palace and the Jade Buddha Temple of Shanghai. Perhaps the stone was just a veneer, cracking open to reveal its true nature, like the clay-covered gold Buddha of Wat Trimitir.

But my mind was also full of hungry caterpillars, leaf hoppers and aphids, and I assumed they were propagating animals rather than plants. What’s about to be born here?

The pods dried, revealing themselves to be seeds rather than eggs. I only needed to look up to see what they came from… the exquisite Libertia grandiflora, aka Tukauki or New Zealand Iris. I had admired its flowers in bloom and appreciate the lush tufts of strappy green leaves year round but hardly noticed the distinctive seed pods at all. Happy to be awakened to the beauty of this native New Zealand plant in all its forms.

Saturday Seagarden Spoils

Saturday Seagarden Spoils

Posted 17 April 2010 | By | Categories: Art, Gardening, Plants, Seagarden, Vegetables | 3 Comments

Garden Harvest 17.4.2010: 4 large cucumbers and the last of the cucumber plants; 1 glorious white icicle radish; 2 dwarf beans or french beans; 8 large, 11 small and 17 green potatoes; 1 curvy carrot; 13 ripe strawberries; marigolds (to make space for new plantings); and 6 baby beets. Planted: spinach, purple kohlrabi, cauliflower snowball, cauliflower green macerata, cabbage mix, misome and mustard greens.

Tropical Tuesday

Tropical Tuesday

Posted 10 February 2010 | By | Categories: Container Gardening, Food, Gardening, Health, Plants, Seagarden | Comments Off on Tropical Tuesday

Coffee and bananas are staples — essentials — on my shopping list, papaya and passionfruit whenever in season. But usually, I’m referring to the end produce, not the plant. Today, all four plants found their way into my home.

Is there any scent that puts your heart more at ease than roasting coffee beans? Not for me… that’s the fragrance that wafted through the air of my family’s business across from the Folger’s plant in downtown Kansas City when I was growing up. Apparently though, the scent of flowering coffee resembles jasmine so much that it was first described as Jasminium arabica. And it’s recommended as a plant whose fragrance drifts or wafts on the air. Oh how little I know about my favorite first daily drink (or drug, if you insist). Looking forward to getting to know you in a whole new way, coffee!

Banana plants make gorgeous indoor ornamentals even if they never fruit, but I love the idea of cultivating options beyond the corporate banana monoculture. The passionflower vine twining up the pergola in my NYC Skygarden delighted me with its abundant purple blooms. It was sold as an annual but kept going for years. This golden passionfruit vine aka sweet granadilla looked so beautiful with healthy heart shaped leaves in the store, I hope it can thrive here in the windy Seagarden.

Juicy ripe papayas are divine pleasures, and the green fruits make great som tam (a spicy Thai salad). Alas, the Hawaiian papayas sold in the US are genetically modified and the New Zealand stores are filled with irradiated imports from Australia. Excited to see if they will grow here — the leaves and aroma of the plant itself are lovely regardless.

hibiscusflowermandevilla white fantasyTopping off this tropical Tuesday, my parents arrived bearing flowering mandevilla and hibiscus flower plants.

All of today’s additions will enjoy the comforts of container living, moving indoors or out depending on season and Seatoun weather. If you have any secrets for cultivating any of these exotic beauties outside their native environments, I welcome your suggestions.

  • If you like the scent of roasting coffee wafting over you, Wellington is your town! Cafe L’affare is a delightful cafe (with great daily specials) built around the roaster: 27 College St, Wellington, New Zealand 04 385 9748. Mojo Coffee just opened a new roastery and headquarters at Shed 13 on the Wellington Waterfront. What are your favorites?
Seagarden Log: Weather With You

Seagarden Log: Weather With You

Posted 01 February 2010 | By | Categories: Gardening, Seagarden | 2 Comments

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  • The weather station is up and running (though not yet in its ultimate location) and publishing through Weather Underground. See the day in weather at right. Now where are the beautiful Mac OS Weather Station apps? The Firehouse explores the question in detail, but the answer has not yet revealed itself. Do you know?
  • It thrills me no end to be growing chile peppers — or, as they say here, capsicums. The cayenne is full of beautiful green peppers and the jalapeño is flowering. The orange capsicum has three large peppers on it and the red capsicums are beginning to flower as well. The chiles went into a delicious guacamole and a pot of green chilli that hit the spot on this cold, rainy summer day
  • It was in the red peppers and tomato area that I noticed a profusion of young weta or grasshoppers. Will get a better picture to identify the little jumpers.
  • Testing the EasyBloom Plant Sensor near the meyer lemon tree. Full review coming soon. Check out the little lemons!
  • The blueberries seem to be delighted with recent feedings of organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants and a juniper mulch, as they’ve responded with lots of new leaf and berry growth. The tamarillos are growing huge.
  • Yes, we have tomatoes! And crystal apple cucumbers! And feijoas! Today was my first glimpse of all three.
  • The Chilean guava is full of berries that sure look ripe but aren’t yet ready to release. The blackberries grow in clusters but ripen individually; the few I’ve tasted are sweeter than any I’ve had elsewhere. Oddly, the blackberry plant I purchased hasn’t shown much initiative, the fruit has all been plucked from similar vines that arrived on their own volition.
  • The potato plants springing up through the strawberry patch are growing huge, and the brussels sprouts have started to take off, though they’re getting lots of bites on the leaves as well.
  • In the vegetable garden, the arugula has all gone to seed and the spinach is headed that way. I have been reseeding with many exciting greens, but I suspect that was the last time we shall ever see such an orderly pattern of plants in that area.


cos or romaine lettuce, spinach, kale marigold and nasturtium

Lettuce Begin Early

Posted 31 January 2010 | By | Categories: Gardening, Plants, Seagarden | Comments Off on Lettuce Begin Early

cos or romaine lettuce, spinach, kale marigold and nasturtium

I’d noticed greens harvested early in the morning for omelets tasted better and stayed fresh longer than the greens picked in the afternoon or evening. Now I know why — especially for lettuce — during the night, much of the salt contained within the leaves returns to the roots, as the day gets warmer, the salts return to the leaves. Thanks Backyard Homestead, Mini-Farm and Garden Log Book by John Jeavons.

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): spinach, cosmos, nasturtium, marigold, cos or romaine lettuce, lacinato kale, taken on 17 January 2010 in the vegetable garden.

Opines on Lupines

Posted 23 January 2010 | By | Categories: Plants, Seagarden | 1 Comment

This beautiful bush sprouted up almost overnight in the front natives garden. At first I thought it was gorse due to the yellow flowers, copious seed pods, and speed of conquest. But gorse is a spiky thorny thing, where as this had smooth leaves. Or, as they say at the California Invasive Plant Council, “sparsely pubescent (appearing glabrous), palmately compound leaves.”

The key to identification was the flowers, which reminded me of the lupines that took my breath away riding from Husavik to Akureyri in Iceland. All of a sudden the barren-moon landscape filled up with clean rows of purple blossoms as far as the eye could see. From there, it didn’t take long to figure out it was Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus), designated a New Zealand national plant pest.

The Icelandic Forest Service introduced Lupinus nootkatensis from Alaska in 1945 to prevent soil erosion in barren areas and to nourish the soil by fixing nitrogen from the air. In New Zealand, Lupinus arboreus was planted along coastal sand dune areas in order to provide shelter and nutritional support for Pinus radiata trees, protecting farms from sand encroachment. Both have proven to thrive a bit too well though, and are now considered invasive.

“In New Zealand weeds are almost always plant species that humans have introduced to the country,” according to the Department of Conservation. Many of the plants considered weeds here are ones I tended with love in my New York garden. They include Buddleia davidii, Lantana camara and some species of Passionflower.

It’s not just plants introduced from abroad however, “even a native species can be considered to be a weed in a particular site if it affects an important natural value on that site.” Here are some helpful guides to identifying uninvited plants that are taking over the garden party:

It turns out Lupines are as nutritious and problematic for people as they are for the landscape. Italians eat the seeds as lupini beans in brine, and Egyptians make them into snacks known as Termis. (If you’re in the USA and come across Aisha’s Termis in the grocery store, give it a go — it’s delicious. Intriguingly made in Massachusetts from lupine beans imported from Australia.) I love the springy skin that pops open to a tender inner bean in your mouth.

The problem is the alkaloids in the beans make them bitter and can be poisonous if not prepared properly. Mark Bittman details the days — or longer — it takes to get ready to eat. Barbara at DISH’N’THAT suggests at least two weeks. I love slow food and I love cooking, but “soak, rinse, repeat: Forever.” is not a recipe for me.

So goodbye to you Lu, you pretty, poisonous, pesty plant. I’ll smile and be happy to see you out and about, but I don’t see a future for us growing together.

Lotus Lessons

Posted 08 January 2010 | By | Categories: Plants, Seagarden, Spirit | Comments Off on Lotus Lessons

Lotus by David Midgley, 2008, This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License

When collating my dream plants for Seagarden, the lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) was high on my list. With roots in the mud, stems growing up through muddy water, and exquisite fragrant blossoms emerging high above the water untouched, the lotus exemplifies purity and freedom. Heliotropic and self-fertilizing, the lotus is a sacred symbol to Hindus, treasured as one of the eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism, and also revered by the ancient Egyptians, for whom it symbolized the sun, creation and rebirth. And its seeds make a delicious sweet soup I came to love while living in Taiwan, as well as a delectable paste used in many Chinese desserts.

The lotus has inspired significant scientific discovery as well as spiritual. Wilhelm Barthlott studied the Lotus Effect, resolving in an electron microscope the nanoroughness on the leaf surface that repels everything that tries to settle on it, including water, honey, glue, dirt and even fungal spores, leaving it always dry and clean. When a drop of water rolls around it, it picks up the debris and cleans the leaf surface. Today, dozens of self-cleaning products such as paint, glass, roofing tiles, and textiles incorporate the lotus effect. This same quality is now also being used to make solar cells that absorb more energy from the sun, increasing efficiency by up to 25%.

One of the most stunning lotus ponds I’ve encountered is at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, where the images above were taken. The one just above is by Tim Entwistle, Executive Director of the Royal Botanic Trust, who blogs at Talking Plants. The top one is by David Midgley, cc 2008, who also blogs about plants at kipili.com.

As the lotus symbolizes awakening to reality, it was a bit dispiriting to face the reality that lotus plants would be most unhappy in my Wellington water garden. For though they remain untouched by most things, they cannot abide wind and and prefer warm humid temperatures. But I was heartened to discover that water lilies (Nymphaeaceae) might do well.

Water Lily A. SiebertWater Lily George H. Pringwater lily St. Louis Gold

There are two main types of water lilies, hardy and tropical, and between them over 60 varieties. I saw a yellow “Nymphaea Ray Davies,” that I could imagine belting out “Thank you for the days,” but the healthiest plants on offer seemed to be the tropical lilies. So I brought home one each of A. Siebert (pink), Mrs. Geo H. Pring (white) and St Louis Gold (yellow) from Glenbogal, whose site has good information on keeping them happy (as does Nymphaea Fidelity).

  • In this video, Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, talks about Lotusan, self-cleaning facade paint, as an example of the how designers can use biomimicry.
  • Sarah Fain has Starfish Envy is the compelling blog of a lovely lotus chronicling her adventures in self-fertilization.