October 28, 2014

JAPAN AND IT'S TRADITIONAL SQUASH - KYOYASAI, SHISHIGATANI AND KABOCHA

One of the few precious Shishigatano squashes that I grew this year. 

This year I grew some of the rarest and most treasured of Japanese squashes - particularly an old variety called Shishigatani from the early 1800's, the Edo period.   On of the Kyo Yasai, which means the traditional vegetables of Kyoto, it is prepared in many ways, celebrated on greeting cards, posters and artwork, and eaten to help avoid the flu and colds in late summer. Named for the Shishi valley in the Higashiyama area near Kyoto. It's a great example of what one can grow at home which cannot be found at garden centers anywhere,  nor at farm stands or at the market. I am very excited to try cooking it in a traditional Japanese method, sauteed in dash, sugar, sesame and soy sauce.

 Few would say that the Shishigatani is attractive I suppose, aside from a Japanese person from Kyoto, or at least as squash goes - but perhaps in a wabisabi way, it excels visually. Green, warty and oddly shaped, the Shishigatani has a long history in Japan, particularly in the Kyoto area where there is even a temple dedicated to celebrating it's harvest - the Anrakuji Temple, where in July, it is eaten on a certain day so that one can avoid polio and paralysis. Kind of appropriate that I am writing this on the same day as Dr. Saulk's birthday now that I think about it.





At temples in Kyoto, this squash gets the royal treatment. With it's traditional belt of red wash paper and calligraphy,  eating this squash is said to help one avoid paralysis from polio.



The Shishigatani - Kyoto and the Kyoyusai

It's hard not to love each of the squashes sof Japan, and I really never thought of them in that way, as all squash hail fromCentral and South America, brought to Japan late in the 1700's where they found their way into the culture and cuisine in ways that, well, only the Japanese can do.  Most of us are familiar with the Kabocha types, the buttercup and , and obviously it has a completely different way that it fits into the cuisine there. Braise with soy and tofu, simmered in miso and mirin, fried into delicate starchy rings or crispy tempura - this brilliant orange flavorful squash is transformed into a seasonal delight which shares little with what is found on the streets and kitchens of Paris. Not that any proper Japanese person would mind sipping a bowl of Soupe de Potimarron au neurre noisette, but when it comes to proper squash appreciation, the award goes to the most cherished, and rare, of all - the shishigatani from Kyoto.  You can find seeds here at Kitazawa Seed Company.


On line images of the Shishigatani show just how thoughtfully the Japanese package these treasured curcurbits.








My Shishigatani are ripe, but green still, which means that they are good for eating, but they can also be allowed to mature to a tan color, when they can be used as traditional vases or decorations in the autumn.



In late summer and early autumn


Rarely found outside of Japan, the Shishigatani is worth growing if only for it's great story. But what a rare treat it can be to serve it to guests who may never have even heard of such a squash.

Although green Kabocha types are most common, there are red types too. The Red-Skinned Sweet Chestnut Kabocha is popular in Utsugi, Japan. Also known as the Aka Kabocha, and it is one of the 15 Kaga yasai, a vegetable cultivated in the province of Kaga. It is a traditional seasonal vegetable of Hukuriku, Japan.
Red Kabota types

From the French Portimarron to the Japanese red kuri, the red kabota squash are flavorful and red all the way through from their skin to their flesh. Each as a long history, at least back to the Edo period. Prepared in villages I'm many ways, most recipes include stewing them in a Dashi, with light soy and sugar, sometimes served traditionally with a sesame sauce over them.

Furby, Fitbit and Flex - What Every Dude wants for Christmas


THE POWER BASE transforms into a very innovative system that will save tons of room, but can it change the way we think about lawn equipment? It may.


Not problem getting the Furby and the Fitbit, but you'll have to wait until spring to get your hands on one of the new Troy Bilt Flex. But mark my words - next spring? This toy  tool may change how everyone thinks about lawn equipment -- and here's why. One base, lots of fun attachments.  Simple. What guy (gal) wouldn't want this in his toy box garage. This may be one mower that actually makes it out to do the lawn! It's a Transformers-meets-leaf blower. Oh Mr. Witwicki - Pinch me, it's 2014.





SO when a lawn and garden product makes it to a hip tech trend site like Gizmodo - home of Furby and Fitbits, it's worth noting. A lawn machine being covered by a tech site along side Apple iPhone Watches? Really, what's this world coming too? Furby, Fitbits and Flex.

OK - so upfront? Sure --  I am a spokesperson (Saturday 6 member) for Troy Bilt, but listen - this post has nothing to do with that - this is one that I am posting on my own simply because of it's cool-factor).  While doing my daily hunt for design trends on of all sites, Gizmodo - I see this: The Troy Bilt Flex. And I thought "Holy Cow - they really did do it"(because we in the product design business know that rarely does something that another designer shows you a year before, ever makes it to the market). I saw a sneak peak oh this last February while it was top secret,but honestly, I just thought that it would never make it to market.

But hey,  you gotta admit - it is a little cool.









And the fact that it ended up being covered by Gizmodo shows just how progressive and innovative some products can be - I mean, really - a snowblower along side Apple Watches and Fit Bits? Anyway, I thought that I would steal a hew photos online and cobble them together in Photoshop to show you how they might all look lined up, as most of the publicity photos are too slick and at different angles. I was really tempted to design an info graphic - but I think that you get the idea from these. I

I do hope that it is powerful, as the cost looks higher than I expected, as $400 for just the power base might not convince people to invest as they will still need to buy another attachment to make it work - like buying an Xbox before you buy a TV - but then again, we are sort of used to that sort of thing. The hurdle may be that everyone already has a flat screen TV, no one has this power base yet, and when a customer goes into a Lowes or hardware store asking for the Troy Bilt Flex, will they want to dish out $800 or more for moderate range snow blower? Perhaps. Guys love their toys. My suggestion is that they will need to put a pretty unique ad campaign behind this - something really different and game changing to communicate that values.  Hey - for space saving alone, it's sort of like one snowblower with lots of different attachments. Brilliant. I wish them luck.







I will be honest in that I knew that this product was being release sometime soon, (which now happens to be next spring) because I did get to experience a sneak peak of this product late February ( at least a rendering on paper). Always nice to see when something becomes real. As a product designer by day, I know how sometimes things can take longer, or never make it to market due to quality control, sales or cost reduction.


We always say that product design is like death and unicorns.  Or maybe a better way to say it is that often, great concepts are like concept cars. The prototypes never seem to make it to market.

I will say that I am impressed with this 'Transformer' of Lawn Care.

October 26, 2014

BULBS, FLOWERS, FRUIT AND SQUASH


NERINE SARNIENSIS - 'INCHEMERY KATE'

I so wanted to attend the tri-state NARGS Rock Garden meeting and plant show this weekend at the New York Botanical Garden but I just couldn't get there without sacrificing planting bulbs, planting garlic and digging dahlia tubers which simply could not wait until next weekend.  I am certain that I missed a great event, but next year I will work on attending it as a priority ( if it is held every year - I need to check on that!). Just in case I did go, I would have brought this fabulous pot of Nerine sarniensis 'Inchemery Kate', but alas, it sits on the deck waiting to be brought back into the greenhouse to be seen by nobody. So, I thought that I would share a photo of it here. The Guy Wolff pot is one of my favorites, so I will repot it later, saving the pot for one of the amaryllis which arrived this week. Those, I will be repotting next weekend.

A RARE VARIEGATED CHRISTMAS CACTUS BLOOMING IN THE GREENHOUSE I HAVEN'T DECIDED IF I LIKE IT YET, BUT NOW THAT IT HAS FLOWERED - I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT IT IS KIND-OF NICE


A few amaryllis are already beginning to emerge so I had to pot them up. Always good to have a few in bloom early, I suppose. I also planted a few varieties of Ixia, the South African corm with long, grass like foliage and wiry wands on flowers in late winter, as well as a few pots of Babiana hybrids or selections that I found on-line. Many bulbs have been potted this year, including lots of new lachenalia African beauty series, the hybrid selections which are so beautiful in mid winter, and more narcissus, crocus and Ipheon for spring bloom under glass. I probably over did it this year, but I do have a commitment to enter the new Spring bulb and flower show at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in late February ( you should plan on entering a few pots too!).


THE SPANISH NARCISSUS INCLUDE MANY AUTUMNAL BLOOMING ONES, AND THIS LITTLE BEAUTY IS A FAVORITE - BUT I ONLY HAVE ONE BULB! FOR TEN YEARS NOW IT BLOOMS ALL ALONE IN ITS LITTLE POT. I REALLY NEED TO GET IT SOME FRIENDS. SEED PERHAPS WILL DO IT FOR ME.

WINTER SQUASH - IRAN

I spent a good part of today picking up the winter squashes  from around the new garden next to the greenhouse. I should say, picking up the squashes which the dogs did not think were doggy toys! I suppose who could blame them, with their bright colors and bumpy goodness, these squashes are pretty irresistible. I tried about a half dozen of old selections and varieties, some dating back to the 1600's - oh so New England, but where they really perform in in the kitchen. Most of these Curcurbita maxima selections make the best pumpkin pie (remember - one should never use field pumpkins as all pumpkins are C. pepo - far too watery and fiberous). Opt for a hubbard squash or Butternut ( which is C. moschata) but that's ok. It makes a fine pie. No commercial canned pumpkin mix used true orange pumpkins. Always a good tip to know.

THIS FRENCH 'PATISSON STRIE MELANGE' IS ACTUALLY A SUMMER SQUASH, BUT WHEN ALLOWED TO MATURE, IT TRANSFORMS INTO ONE OF THE MOST ORNAMENTAL HEIRLOOMS GOURDS YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE. THIS IS LARGER THAN A DINNER PLATE. WHEN PICKEN YOUNG, IT'S A PALE GREEN SCALLOP SQUASH IN THE SUMMERTIME.





 Most winter squash need to be stored warm and dry, and not refrigerated, or below 45º F. They can remain outdoors until hard frost, but best to bring them in soon if frost threatens. Most should last until late winter, with many lasting well into next spring and summer. An aged winter squash can become more sweet and nutty over time, and many varieties are best if aged until at least December, and are not as fine when eaten fresh from the field.




Dahlia tubers freshly dug. Always good to leave some soil on them.

I've been a good boy this year, and I dug all of my dahlia tubers. Usually I just let them go, out of boredom or laziness. This year, I loved my new selection of cut flower dahlias so much that I can't even imagine leaving them in the garden. Best thing of all is that each large tuber has now grown into a larger clump of tubers. Each will need to be separated (cut) from the main stem carefully, labeled with a sharpie, and then stored in a dry medium like soilless mix or vermiculite for the winter. I will store my tuber in the cellar until next spring when they will be started again in the greenhouse. It looks like I should have many more plants of each variety, which will be nice, as my initial investment was for only one tuber of each variety. Clearly, my population has grown tenfold.


This pot has two labels, both are for a different species of Lachenalia, but these is a self seeded greenhouse 'weed' that I happen to love. The bulbous Allium scorzonerifolium can be invasive in gardens, but it is not hardy outdoors here. 

October 21, 2014

COVET THY CONSERVATORY

On my way up to visit my favorite conservatories at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden last weekend, I passed this impressive pile of New England squashes and pumpkins. Gotta love fall!
Raking leaves aside, we here in New England are in full, blown autumn - and it's gorgeous. It's one of my four favorite seasons, probably coming in second after winter ( I know, crazy, right?). It's true - winter just might be my favorite gardening season - mainly because of my greenhouse. I can totally see why the cold conservatories and greenhouses of the 18th and 19 centuries were so popular - their scent, their collections of plants, and their escapist environments - let's face it, there is nothing like a warm, humid greenhouse on a snowy day - all fragrant with jasmine vines, minty shrubs, forced bulbs and camellias. The same assemblage on a summer day just isn't the same.  This luxury is inexcusably rare - but there are great conservatories around worth visiting, and surely, there is one near you at a university or botanic garden which deserves a visit this autumn.

Underglass, an entirely new season is emerging - so rare and precious that I am convinced that earlier generations really knew the the value of a glasshouse - those Victorians, well, the ones who had money certainly did - a conservatory in autumn is an experience few people get to enjoy.  I can sort-of get close with my greenhouse, but it's no botanic garden. Still, it was something that I wanted to have built - I was one of those kids who decided that a new pick-up truck just wasn't as cool as a greenhouse. I understand that not all readers can build one, but if you can, you will never regret it. In America, it is curious how so few people build a glass house whereas in England, so many middle class people do - then again, they are not buying 30,000 SUV's. It's just a lifestyle choice, and one has to decide what is most important to them. 

In the man time - I encourage you to visit a well-populated greenhouse or conservatory - one with a good collection, such as the sort found at a botanic garden this autumn - bring your kids, introduce them to the wonders of scent and science - It might just be what you need before the onset of the Holidays and the madness.

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