Monday, February 1, 2010

April 7, 2009 - Autumn Days

April 7, 2009 – Autumn Days
The hot and humid days are gone now. The cool breeze under declining sun announces the arrival of autumn. Autumn starts in April in the South Hemisphere. In the rainy months, from November through February and sometimes March, when I started gardening, I had lost crops for excessive water that washed away my seedlings and moved carrots from the spot I had sowed. Early yielding vegetables such as arugula and radishes were eaten by pests. Visiting my patch now, I see what the natural talents of this piece of land: cucurbitaceous – watermelon, cucumbers, loofah, and squash of many kinds. They all flowered and fructify regardless of the diseases that roam around my garden.
As the first vine of watermelon spontaneously appeared on my front garden, I kept it to see what it was going to happen. It naturally suffocated one or another plant, but it grew vigorously, climbing on a fence and sprawling on the ground. My front flower garden is still half-barren. It used to be a construction debris disposal place, so the ground is full of bricks and hard materials. Not having enough information, my sister went ahead and planted some jasmine and two other plants without cleaning it. None of them thrived well. That’s why I wanted to give watermelon a chance. It grew in spite of the soil condition.
On the vegetable patch, around and over few other herbs that managed to survive, an exotic green round fruit stood alone. A close look and I knew it was some kind of squash. After all, the leaves look alike. It calls caxi. As soon as it looked grown enough but still tender, I sautéed it, discarding the skin. It may have a taste and texture of the white rind of a watermelon.
Today, I found three wild cucumbers, the same kind I harvested in January by the basketful. It is greener, bigger, with prickly skin. The skin is as taut as any other squash, but inside is similar to cucumbers and we can eat it sautéed with garlic. That is what I am going to have later.
Even regular cucumbers that I thought to be gone, as the only surviving vine was dry, managed to yield one fruit, laid on the ground, already mushy, as its last effort. I am learning that cucumbers don’t like to have their surroundings disturbed. That’s what happened to other vines. As I removed the weeds around, they died. Funny one.
One plant that doesn’t fail to grow on this land is loofah. So much that we often forget to collect it when the time comes. They sprout everywhere and climb on anything. One vine is twisting around a clothes wire, bearing heavy fruits under large foliage. Besides working as a scrub pad, loofah can be eaten when young and use to make art crafts. Unfortunately, I missed the class at the Union. It happened the same week I had Organic Gardening and Rural Entrepreneur classes. Loofah as food doesn’t appeal to me. I even grabbed some very young ones, but it looks rather fibrous and slimy. That is one of the very few vegetables I don’t want to try.
Besides the plants that appeared and thrived spontaneously, MC has a big chayote vine supported by a pergola. My father had earlier detected a disease attacking the leaves but nothing was done, so we enjoyed young chayote only once. Right beside the chayote vine, several squash vines spread on the ground where their leafy vegetable patch used to be. Still yesterday, MC brought me a young, tender, juicy green squash that I ate right away.
I can’t complain. Even without taking proper care of the soil before sowing, I enjoyed fresh corn. After hearing that they start to turn from sugar into starch soon after they are picked, I cooked them immediately. The small grains were already passing their corn-on-the cob time. They were getting orange and hardened. I learned to gather at the exact point of maturation I want my corns: before all the hair gets dry. From several beds of seeds, only about twelve yielded good size corn. Good considering edible, as they were half of the size of the commercial ones. On the second patch, the corns didn’t grow more than half meter. Courageously, they fructify with mini-corns. I may use it whole as in Chinese cuisine.
The sweet basil is the most successful of all I had sowed so far. They are tall, lush, aromatic. A feast for the palate. I can’t think of harvesting them all for pesto. They look so beautiful midst my frail carrots. I collect some bottom leaves anytime I want them for tomato salad or for a spaghetti sauce. Today, we are going to have Margherita pizza.
Some others are surviving timidly. Melissa is next to sweet basil; purple basil has just lost its companion and stands alone as a sample; a medicinal herb called carqueja, rosemary, thyme are undisturbed.
Autumn brings orange, to be fully matured during winter. I have gotten some persimmons as gifts from family and friends that don’t enjoy it much or cannot eat it for high sugar content. Therefore, we get to savor the soft pulp, unlike any other fruit, symbolic of autumn for its color and texture.
After being attacked by some insects, acerola fruits are back. In search for some drink for lunch, I thought of lemon. Half way to the tree, I saw the red ripe acerola cherries hanging. I switched my gears, collected them and made juice with orange, cold water, and sugar. Many of our juices are mixed with water, like lemonade. Even orange juice we serve it thinned.
Not as many, but pitanga cherries are also coming back slowly. My favorite of all small wild berries around, I like to eat straight from the tree. The big pit in relation to the delicate, yet fragrant flesh, it is good just to be eaten like that.
Of many seeds sowed unsuccessfully, soy bushes are carrying bunches of pods, which I am eager to try it green, boiled, as edamane. This famous appetizer served in Japanese restaurants is delicious, lightly nutty, and satisfying. When I sowed soy, I also dropped sunflower seeds. Many of them got eaten by caterpillars. That’s what it is used for in organic gardening. They work as bait, distracting them from the main crops. However, a few of them managed to survive and are blossoming now. They are the small head ones. I wanted the big ones covering the whole field just like in some Van Gogh’s paintings.
Driving back and forth to the town, I get to see the silk cotton trees turning all pink. The tall tree loses its leaves to bloom magnifically. It’s usually the only color to break the monotony of a dark green background of the landscape.
Around the cement patch where my father sun dry coffee beans after harvest, unusually, different kinds and colors of flowers are blooming, mixed with other weeds and of course, some kind of cucurbitaceous. I have already spotted wild cucumbers and watermelon.
I walked up to where the young coffee bushes are, in search for wild cucumbers I got to harvest in January. My father believed it had none as he had used some herbicide to kill the weeds in the plantation. To my surprise, the weeds were dead, but young vines were spreading green and strong. Soon we are going to have a lady harvest of wild cucumbers.
The bananas are still thin and green, but they promise a good bunch of creamy delicacy.

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