The Great Tomato Race

Perfect for cooking, canning, freezing…

A Torrent Of Tomatoes

It was 48 degrees when I got up this morning, though the sun broke through the marine layer early, quickly warming the day up by 15 degrees. Even so, it’s clear that summer is waning fast and autumn is already making her moves. As usual, my island garden was just catching up with summer when she wandered off, and now my tomatoes and peppers and soup beans are valiantly trying to complete their tasks without much help from the fickle weather. In July, I wasn’t sure we’d get much of a tomato crop, since some failed to do much of anything in the cool weather that followed our heat bump in late June. However, the trusty grafted tomato plants kept chugging along, picking up speed in August and now racing towards the finish line. Grafted tomatoes are most definitely worth growing anywhere the climate is less than perfect, and in our notoriously unreliable island summers, they consistently out-produce non-grafted plants. They’re also resistant to late blight, which often wipes out the tomato crop just as it’s hitting its stride. Late blight can sometimes be averted and always minimized if you mulch susceptible plants with used coffee grounds, starting as soon as fruit is setting well. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, and using them too early can promote a lot of leaves and not much fruit.

One of the summer’s strongest performers is Matt’s Wild Cherry, a heritage-type tomato native to the Hidalgo area of Mexico. The airy, arching plants get as big as a hoop skirt and are loaded with berry-sized tomatoes that kids find enchanting to hunt for and pop blissfully into their mouths. Adults also find them delicious, but tend to grumble more about having to pick a dozen to get a decent mouthful. We happily pick handfuls of them for salads, where they explode in your mouth like intense little flavor bombs, and they also make a lively garnish for grilled vegetables or fish. Another new-to-me treasure is the Orange Paruche cherry tomato, an exceptional producer; even in this difficult year, it’s always heavily laden with plump little glowing golden-orange tomatoes that are especially sweet and flavorful. My grandkids strip the branches every time they visit yet there are always more coming on, and always totally delectable. I’m still smitten with the Midnight Snack cherry tomato, a black skinned beauty that blushes red on the bottom as it ripens. The flavor is too outstanding fresh to bother with cooking them, but we do tuck the few that don’t get eaten immediately into salads and sandwiches or put them, halved, on pizzas.

Red Or Green Or In Between

Most days now, we can pick a gallon of tomatoes, red or green or in between, and trying to keep up with the torrent can get challenging. The ripest can be dried or canned, but we also love them slow roasted. I do some batches of red and green separately and some mixed together, which gives the results a piquant, slightly tart flavor that’s pleasant in soups and sauces. Can your torrential tomatoes or freeze them in sturdy pint or quart containers to bring a bright taste of summer to winter meals.

It may seem like a bother to make your own red sauces, but store bought ones tend to taste heavy and dull, with a flat flavor profile. Homemade red sauces taste fresher, retaining a lively, nuanced flavor whether canned or frozen. I prefer robust, rustic sauces that include tomato skin and seeds, finding the flavor fuller and more complex than when only the pulp is used. I just core and quarter tomatoes, or just remove the stem ends on smaller ones, and I think the resulting sauces are better than anything store bought, skin or no skin. However, if you prefer a more refined sauce, just use an apple sauce maker or strainer to separate out the bits. Here are some basic ways to ready tomatoes for canning or freezing, though whether sauced or pureed or roasted, they all taste so good you may end up serving them in a fish stew or quick chili right away.

Quick And Savory Sauces

This well balanced sauce cans beautifully, and canning seems to preserve fresh, summery flavors better than long term freezing (especially anything involving garlic). Scale this sauce up for big batches, but try just a quart or two first to see how you like it, and keep notes about changes you prefer. Add any extra ingredients when you that/reheat it for an especially fresh and lively taste.

End Of Summer Canning Sauce

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
8 cups chopped ripe tomatoes with juices
2 cups pureed tomatoes
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons stemmed oregano

In a large saucepan, cook oil, onion, garlic, and salt over medium heat to the fragrance point (about a minute). Add chopped and pureed tomatoes, sugar, pepper, basil and oregano, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until sauce is as thick as you like it, then adjust salt, sugar and pepper to taste. Makes about 5 pints. Fill, seal, and process jars as usual, or follow this link if you haven’t canned tomato sauces before:

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_03/tomato_sauce.html

Ready Or Not, Here They Come

When September fills the kitchen with tomatoes and I’m feeling overwhelmed, roasting is the easiest way to deal with the bounty. It works best to roast ripe ones separately, and at a slightly higher temperature than the green ones, which develop the most luscious flavors when slow roasted for several hours. Don’t be afraid to let them cook for what seems like a ridiculously long time; just check on them every half hour or so, letting them caramelize but not burn (unlikely at such a low temperature).

Roasted Reds

2 quarts medium red tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt

Lightly rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-up in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 300 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (1-2 or more hours, depending on size). Pack in freezer containers as-is or puree first for a smoother sauce. Makes about 4-5 cups.

Slow Roasted Green Tomatoes

2 quarts medium green tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Lightly rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-up in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 225 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (3-4 hours or more, depending on size). Pack in freezer containers as-is or puree first for a smoother sauce. Makes about 6 cups.

A Hearty Red Sauce

This is my go-to sauce for unexpected company meals (which are sadly very rare these days). It’s one of the richest flavored sauces I make, and it’s always a crowd pleaser. The base of pureed Roasted Reds combines with chopped Kalamata olives give this sauce a deep, intense flavor, as if you spent hours making it, though it cooks up in minutes. Serve over pasta, quinoa, or rice or use it as a splendid pizza sauce.

Robust Rustic Red Sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1/8 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives (or any)
2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups pureed Roasted Reds (thawed if frozen)
1/4 cup coarsely grated Asiago or Romano cheese

In a sauce pan, heat oil, garlic, onion, and oregano over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, add celery and olives and cook until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes and pepper, bring to a simmer, add pureed tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, adjust seasonings and serve at once over pasta or rice, etc., garnished with cheese. Serves 4.

Quick Green Tomato Sauce

This speedy, tasty sauce is lighter than red sauces and is a great match with grilled autumn greens (think radicchio) and grilled salmon. If you don’t have any zucchini (what?), substitute green beans, thinly sliced on the diagonal. Capers bring body and depth to this quick sauce, or a tiny bit of anchovy paste works well too.

Fresh Pasta With Green Tomato Sauce

8 ounces fresh fettucini or noodles
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
OR 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
2 cups diced (1/4 inch) green tomatoes (with juices)
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt (optional)
1/4 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup halved ripe cherry tomatoes

Combine oil, garlic, and fennel seed in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat and cook to the fragrance point (about one minute). Add leeks or onion and cook until just tender (5-6 minutes). Add basil and diced green tomatoes, cover pan and bring to a simmer, then stir in zucchini and capers, adding salt as (or if) needed. Cover pan and let simmer on low while you cook pasta as directed. Drain pasta and serve with the sauce, garnished with goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. Serves 4.

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Appreciating Goodness Where We Find It

What to do when zucchini arrives

Garden Bathing As Balm To An Aching Heart

When dire daily news crushes my heart, the garden is the only place that truly refreshes my spirit. Yanking out weeds (with a muttered diatribe against people who can’t hear and would never listen) helps, but planting fall starts is even more soothing. Tucking in the hopeful young plants, renewing the compost blanket for summer weary soil, watering deeply, all feel like balm to my aching being. Though I doubt that I will ever understand what makes some people so staunchly contrarian, so consistently mean spirited, so endlessly angry and so delightedly evil, I don’t even try anymore. Instead, I pull weeds, amend soil, plant vegetables, and sow seeds for a better tomorrow. It’s not much, but it’s what I can do, here and now.

Though I all too often head to the garden in dismay or even rage, the work, vigorous or gentle, gradually absorbs my attention and helps me stop arguing in my head with people who aren’t here. Bird song replaces my own ranting. My hands unclench and begin to sense the life in the soil, the health in this young plant, the fatigue in that aging one as it edges toward slumber or slow decay. Here in the garden, all these states are equally valuable, the growth and the resting, the new life and the ending life.

When Zucchini Arrives In Force

Though September is here, with autumn two weeks away, the garden is still in its productive summer mode. The chilly days of August left tomatoes ripening so slowly that lots of people have given up and started roasting them green. My larger tomatoes aren’t doing much better but the cherry types are all ripening daily in such abundance that I’m carrying basketfuls to neighbors, along with the plums that are finally ripening as well. My beautiful basil is still growing strongly, especially the Everleaf Emerald Towers, which true to its name is rising in slim columns, providing a seemingly endless supply of fragrant, savory foliage, still tender months after planting and still not blooming and going to seed. Its cousin, Everleaf Thai Towers, is similarly tall, with large, piquantly flavorful foliage that’s perfect for wrapping around grilled shrimp or cherry tomatoes and goat cheese. And the zucchini which grew so slowly this summer is now stretching wide arms and popping out more plump produce each week than in all of August. For my family, that’s good news, because summer squash graces our table in so many ways.

Zucchini does not know when to stop (that’s a BIG head of garlic!)

Given the lateness of the season, the best news of all is that zucchini can be frozen and thawed for use in favorite recipes from muffins and sweet bread to casseroles and pancakes. Zucchini holds quality best if picked when moderately sized; about 2-3 inches around and 8-10 inches long. If seeds have formed, zucchini will freeze best if grated; just remove any large seeds, along with any inner pulp that seems soft and soggy rather than firm and crisp. Trim off both blossom and stem ends before slicing, cubing, or grating your zucchini. To avoid having prepared zucchini freeze in a giant blob, arrange it in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze for at least 20 minutes, then wrap in freezer paper and pack in freezer containers with as little air as possible. It doesn’t matter as much if grated zucchini freezes in a lump so simply measure it into freezer containers that hold the amount your favorite recipes call for (usually 2-4 cups). When it thaws, add any liquid to baked goods batter but drain it off if you’re making an egg-based dish to keep it from getting too watery.

Addictive Yet Wholesome

When zucchini starts sizing up all at once, I make golden-crusted garden casseroles, which my family finds almost addictive despite the healthy ingredients. This fragrant, succulent dish started out as an adaptation of one of Julia Childs’ classics, Tian de Courgettes au Riz. Over time, I stopped draining the grated zucchini only to add liquid back in as a later step and just used it as is. I cut back the oil and dropped the butter, finding the slick of oil oozing from each serving to be unappetizing. I tried adding various vegetables, settling on freshly cut corn kernels, minced mushrooms and a chiffonade of fresh basil as the most harmonious. Brown rice replaces white for a richer, nuttier flavor and a more intriguing texture. As for the cheese, pretty much any hard cheese works deliciously, notably Asiago and Romano, though Julia’s choice of aged Parmesan is still excellent.

Zucchini Garden Casserole

1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, grated
1 teaspoon basil salt (or any salt)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup raw long grain brown rice (or any)
About 2 pounds zucchini, grated (6-8 cups)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
kernels cut from 2 ears of sweet corn
2 cups finely chopped brown mushrooms (about 4)
1 cup sliced basil leaves
1/2 cup milk or broth
3/4 cup grated Parmesan or any favorite hard cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Rub a 2-3 quart casserole with oil. Heat remaining oil in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat, adding the onion and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, stirring a bit, until soft and slightly golden (about 10 minutes). Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add rice and cook, stirring a bit, for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the zucchini with flour, pepper, and remaining salt. Add corn, mushrooms, basil, the milk or broth, and half a cup of cheese, toss again, then combine with the rice mixture. Mix well, then spoon into the oiled casserole, cover tightly (use foil if you don’t have a covered casserole dish) and bake for 60 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F, remove foil or cover, sprinkle on remaining cheese and bake for an additional 15 minutes until brown and crisp. Serves at least one, and reheats well. Bon appetite!

 

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Havens For Beneficial Bugs

Bees are beautiful

Nurturing pollinators yard by yard

Despite dire daily news about climate change and ecological destruction, I’m heartened to observe increasing interest in protecting and nurturing pollinators. Cute, fuzzy honeybees still get the most media attention, but there’s more understanding that thousands of species of native bees and other pollinators are also dwindling. Researchers report that hundreds of important pollinators are struggling, from bees to bats, birds, butterflies, and more (mosquitoes pollinate bog orchids, who knew?). Those “important” species aren’t just those with immediate impacts on humans; it’s been amply demonstrated that the loss of any single species of any kind adversely affects at least 30 others in their interconnected foodweb. That said, it’s probably easiest for gardeners to relate to the loss of bees, our most obvious natural allies. When our gardens attract and host beneficial insects of many kinds, both gardens and critters thrive. When we make our gardens into havens for those tiny helpers, we reap benefits from better food production to healthier plants, since many beneficial bugs and birds feast on bothersome garden pests.

The single most important way to create a safe haven is to make sure that no toxic pesticides (including herbicides) are used on your land. If neighbors persist in using chem-lawn services (however “green” the name), ask them for safety paperwork for each chemical used on their property, as wind may cause chemical drifting that’s just as deadly as a direct application. On your own land, find places that can become “bug banks”, protected zones where native plants, certain “weeds”, and garden escapees will provide food and shelter for an astonishingly wide range of critters. Such hospitable safety zones can be as small as an untended strip between neighboring properties, behind the chicken coop, along a woodland edge, or in any out of the way place where it won’t offend the eye of the tidy minded. The nearer such areas are to orchards and vegetable beds, the better they will serve both you and the pollinators.

Banking With West Coast Natives

Not surprisingly, native pollinators largely prefer native plants, especially specialist bees which restrict their foraging to specific families. Like honeybees, other native pollinators are generalists, happy to feast on garden plants from pretty much anywhere in the world. Early bloomers will lure in numerous insects, including Mason bees, small but mighty, and more efficient pollinators than European honeybees. To get the full benefit of local pollinators, stock your bug bank with huckleberries, Indian plum (Oemleria), flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), native rhododendrons, and various species of Oregon grape (Mahonia), often the first and longest to bloom. All these shrubs can be blended into ornamental borders and woodland gardens, sharing space with garden imports from camellias to hydrangeas. Native violets, creeping veronica, foamflower (Tiarella), Mother of thousands (Tolmia), and fringe cup (Tellima) are often volunteers that are commonly weeded out if unrecognized as valuable and pretty natives with a pollinator following of their own.

Eradication is also the usual fate of “weedy weeds,” which are far more appreciated by insects and other critters than by control-oriented gardeners. The bug bank that supports a few thistles will also support goldfinches, and those dockweeds, buttercups, and dandelions are much appreciated by the non-human garden users. Most garden herbs are equally popular and often have a haze of humming insects over them in midsummer, including tiny hoverflies and even moths by night. Food growing gardeners can edge veggie beds with perennial herbs, including various kinds of oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary as well as annual flowers like feverfew, calendulas, California poppies, and sweet alyssum. The greater the variety of plants on offer, the greater the assortment and quantity of insect helpers that will call your garden home.

That Promised List

I’ve shared this list many times over the years, as I’ve never found one more comprehensive. I was first introduced to it at a workshop on beneficial insects at Interbay P-Patch some 30 years ago. You’ll note the dearth of native plants because at that time, very few edible gardens-or gardens of any kind-included natives. Just know that any native plants you leave or add to your own garden will quickly attract native pollinators with no effort on your part. Back then, the presenter, Sean Phelan, was the Site Coordinator at Seattle’s Judkins P-Patch, and he had carefully documented the P-Patch’s most popular plants for pollinators through the year. Sean arranged his list of nectar-producing flowers by blooming season to help gardeners make appropriate and attractive planting choices.

Sean’s Non-Native Plants For Attracting Beneficial Insects

Key

P= perennial; B=biennial; no notation=annual; I=intermittent through the year; F=through to frost; **=super nectar producer

ULTRA EARLY (through winter)

Autumn croci (**; P; pulchellus, albus, zonatus…)
Hardy cyclamen (**; P; neapolitanum, hederifolium, coum…)
Helebores (P)
Mahonia (**; P, I)
Snowdrops (**; P)
Aconite (**; P)
Borage (I, **)
Calendula (I, **)
Earliest narcissici (**P)

EARLY

Snow crocus species (**; P)
Early daffodils and narcissi (**; P)
Species tulips (**; P; tarda, hageri…)
Glory-of-the-snow (**: P; Chionodoxa)
Iris reticulata (**; P)
Rosemary (P, **)
Primrose ( P; early)
Bolting cruciferae (**)

MID-SPRING

Single daffodils (P)
Species primrose (P)
Scillas (**; P)
Violets (P; **)
Violas ( P, I, **)
Anemones (**; P; Spring-St. Brigid’s mix, monarch de caen…)
Alyssum (annual-I; and perennial; **)

HIGH SPRING

Late Single Daffodils (**;P)
Tulips-single (P)
Dutch iris
Aquilegia (P;columbine)
Armeria maritima (P; **; native-sea pinks)
Candytufts (annual-F, &P, **)
Dianthus (sweet Williams, some F; and per.pinks)
Creeping phlox ( P; **;incl. native P. subulata)
Campanulas (P)
Centaurea (**; A-I; &P)
Digitalis (**: B; foxglove)
English daisy (B; **;bellis)
Godetia ( F; **;s summer’s herald-native)
Clarkia (F; **; native-mountain garland)
Linaria (F; **0
Lupines (A&P)
Lunaria (B; money plant)
Pyretheum ( P; painted daisy)
Saponarias (P; soapwort)
Stocks (F, **)
Cal. Bluebells (**, Phacelia campanularia)
Nemophila (**)
Tidy tips (**)
Myosotis ( B; **; forget-me-nots)
Poppies-single (all, A &P, **, California poppies-I)
Sweet peas (**ù)

EARLY SUMMER

Anagalis ( P; blue pimpernel)
Bidens (P; golden goddess)
Achilleas ( P; I; F; **; incl. native A. millefolium)
Nasturtiums (F, **)
Chives (**; P; both garlic and regular)
Parsley (**: B)
Cilantro (**)
Erigeron
Dill (**)
Mints (**)
Dymorphotheca ( F; African daisy)
Dahlberg Daisy (F)
Shasta Daisy-single ( some F)
geranium ( some F; true geranium-NOT Pelargonium)
Gilia ( **; birds eyes)
Purple tansy (**; Phacelia tanecetifolia)
Silene (**; P; catchfly)
Hesperus matronalis ( P; **; sweet rocket)
Linums (**; A & P)
Lobelias (A- F; &P)
Monarda (**; P)
Nepetas ( **; P;F; catnip, catmint…)
Potentillas (P, F)
Spireas (P)
Viscaria (**; rose angel)
thymes (**; P)

HIGH SUMMER

Agastaches (**; P; licorice mint…)
Asclepias (**; b-fly weed)
Asters-single (A&P; F; **)
brachymone ( F; swan river daisy)
Basils (**)
Catananche (P; cupid’s dart)
Centranthus ( P; F; jupiter’s beard)
Cleome ( F; spider flowerù)
Annual chrysanthemum (F)
Convolvulus (F)
coreopsis (F; **)
Cosmos ( F; ; A&P)
Dianthus ( F; A &P; carnations, ann. pinks… singles)
Eupatorium ( **; joe pye weed)
Gaillardia (F; **; A & P)
Gazania (transvaal daisy)
Hollyhocks-singles (**; P, B & A; singles)
Marigolds ( **; F; singles-“gem” series T. signata)
summer savory
Zinnias ( **; F; singles; Africans “profusion”series)
Salvias and sages ( some F; **; A & P)
Oreganos ( **; P)
Malvas (P)
Mimulus
Penstemons ( P; some F; incl. natives)
Gauras ( P; F; **)
Phlox ( F; A & P)
Physostegia (F; P; obedient plant)
Portulaca (F)
Sunflowers-singles ( **; F; A & P)
Tahoka daisy (**; F)
Torenia (F; wishbone flower)
Trachymene ( F; **;blue lace flower)
Verbenas ( F; **; A&P)
Verbascums (**; P)
Veronias ( P; **; F; speedwell)
lilies (**; P)
Daylilies-singles (**,P;some F)

LATE SUMMER

Asters-singles ( F: A&P: late)
Amaranthus (F)
Echinaceas (**; P; F; coneflowers)
Cal´liopsis( **; F)
Rudbeckias-singles (**; F; P; black-eyed susans)
Ratibida (**; F; P; prairie coneflower)
Ornamental grasses (P- important part of beneficial bugs’ life-cycle)
Oenothera (**; P; F; evening primroses)
Sedums (**; F; P; incl. natives)
Early, single mums (F; P)
Tithonia (**; F; Mexican sunflower)
Solidagos (**; F; goldenrods)

FALL

colchicums (**; P)
late single mums (F; P)
late sedums (**:F; P)
fall anemones(**; F; P)
saffron crocus (**;P; all autumn crocus)….

Remember, slugs are pollinators too!

Flower Slug mosaic by Raquel Stanek

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From Monoculture To Pollinator Picnic

Bees adore oregano

Transforming Lawns Into Lunch

I’ve written a fair amount about how trading monoculture lawns for pollinator patches can fight climate change, help the environment, save water, and bring your yard to life, but there’s always more to say. Several readers asked for specific information about transforming lawns into pollinator smorgasbords and others requested a list of pollinator plants, so here you go. There are a number of good ways to do a lawn makeover, depending on your budget of time, energy, and money. The easiest way is to cause such work to be done by others, but most folks will find it most manageable to remove the lawn in stages. Start by exposing a strip or area of soil perhaps 3 x 3 feet, or 10 x 3, or as much as you feel you can reliably take care of. This is easier if there are two people available to help, as one person can cut or chop the turf roots with a flat-edged shovel (sharpen the shovel’s cutting edge with a bastard file) while the other person rolls up the turf in strips like a carpet. The turf pieces can then be stacked where another future pollinator bed will go. Layer the turf green-side-down, water the pile, then cover it with soil and/or a tarp and leave it to compost in place. In a year or less, you’ll have a nice heap of improved soil to use in your veggie patch or another new bed.

Most pollinator plants don’t need wonderful, rich soil, but they will definitely grow better and fill in faster if given a well prepared bed. To make bare, post-lawn soil more hospitable, scatter pelletized humic acid over it at the distribution rate suggested on the package. This is not fertilizer, but it’s a good soil conditioner, one of the active ingredients in compost that buffers soil Ph and improves soil texture and quality. Next, layer on several inches of top soil and another two inches of compost. If the soil is dry and hard (clay soils usually are in August), aerate the bed with a garden fork, just stepping on the fork to penetrate the soil but not actually lifting or disturbing it. Top this off with 1-2 inches of medium or fine grade wood chips (NOT bark), which will protect the soil from heat, drought and erosion. Water the whole business well at each step, wetting the soil to a depth of at least 2-3 inches. This will work best with a sprinkler if your bare patch is sizeable. Now you’re ready to plant!

What To Plant For Pollinators

There are plenty of lists of good pollinator plants (and I’ll offer a comprehensive one next week), but we can also make our own by observing where bees and other pollinators spend a lot of time in our own gardens and elsewhere. My bee visitors are busy from dawn to dusk, the buzz of their wings making a happy hum that tells me they’re well provided for. Hands down, the most constantly active sites are the many patches of oregano, including at least a dozen varieties that range in size from low growing mats to great sheaves of stems that can exceed a yard in length. Most oreganos keep on producing blossoms from mid spring into late autumn, making them a reliable source of nectar and pollen for a great variety of bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other little critters. Most of mine are forms of the mother of kitchen oreganos, Origanum vulgare. Native throughout Europe and the Mediterranean and into Asia, it’s been both a common culinary herb and a traditional medicinal plant for thousands of years.

Many of its forms and subspecies have been selected and preserved by gardeners and cooks and today, a little searching will introduce you to oreganos that offer a surprisingly wide range of tastes and textures. The straight species forms dense mounds of aromatic, deep green foliage, threaded in summer with soft purple flowers on slim stems up to 2 feet high. There are quite a few variegated forms of which Aureum Gold is is especially pretty in the spring, spreading in joyful splashes of clear lemony yellow. Golden Crinkled (O. vulgare crispum) is quite compact (to about 6”) and the quilted leaves are lovely in salads. Westacre Gold (O. vulgare variegata) boasts old gold foliage and rosy flowers on foot-high, copper-pink stems.

Kitchen Cousins

A tiny-leaved creeping oregano, Mini Compact (Origanum humile), has equally miniature flowers from spring into high summer. It makes 6-inch mounds that look at home in the rock garden and do well in kitchen garden containers, where its delicate sprigs can be gathered for tasty garnishes. As with any plant with so much variation and human history, there is some discussion about the legitimacy of various names. Some folks insist that Origanum compacta (or sometimes compactum) nana is the same plant as Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum Humile are identical, though different nurseries sell quite different plants under each of these names. the same plant. I’ve ordered both plants from multiple nurseries and what I received were different plants.

The version I got as Greek Kaliteri (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum) has fuzzy silver leaves on rather open mounds, with tall bloom stalks. This one has amazing flavor, especially if grown a bit dry. It was imported from Greece, where it is a commercial crop for high-end herb sellers. Kaliteri means “the best” in Greek and I believe it! My form of Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum is sold as Greek oregano, which it is, being a wild form collected from Greek mountainsides. Its smooth green leaves have an intense, spicy flavor that makes anything that includes tomatoes taste fabulous. There are also a number of lovely ornamental oreganos with reticulated bracts like fish scales, including Amethyst Falls, Bristol Cross and Kent Beauty, all pretty enough for front of the border placement.

More Garden Favorites

Hardy fuchsias are also wildly popular plants with scads of forms. I’m growing over a dozen different upright fuchsias, all of which are visited frequently by hummingbirds as well as many kinds of bees. All upright fuchsias are hardy to zone 6-7, and it’s fun to explore the range of smaller ones (12-24 inches), as they fit so nicely into pots and containers and can be tucked into odd corners and crannies in the garden. They all seem to be equally happy in sun or shade as long as they get a reasonable amount of water, and all are quite drought tolerant once established. There are always bees on the catmints as well, long blooming perennials in the mint family that produce an almost endless succession of flowers as long we we keep trimming off spent stems. Like oregano, catmint (Nepeta) has many forms of all sizes from Little Titch to Six Hills Giant.

Allowed to flower, almost any herb and vegetable will attract a pollinator following, from lavender, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and horehound to spinach, lettuce, kale, beans and beets. Santolina, an ornamental subshrub with fuzzy little ball blossoms, is equally bee-attractive in green or silver foliage forms, as are all single daisy-type flowers from calendulas and sunflowers to feverfew and rudbeckias. However, the Agastache clan may be the winner of the visited-by-the-greatest-variety-of-insects prize. Though not especially showy, this long blooming perennial is also called Hummingbird Mint for reasons that become obvious when it begins to bloom. Did I talk about salvias? Salvia elegans, or pineapple sage is another pollinator pleaser that also keeps the hummers happy… Ok, I’ll stop now but next week will offer you an extensive if not exhaustive list of pollinator plants.

bee video

 

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