Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Battle of the Giants

giant sunflower seedsWell, the battle of the Garden Giants is finally over for this year. We grew and compared four tall sunflowers to see which was the tallest, most sturdy and had the nicest, biggest heads. I was in love with the cool -sounding name of the variety "Mongolian Giant", which we got from Seed Savers, but it turned out the weakest in germination and growth and sadly uneven in height.
Our own proud Sunzilla shared the first-place ribbon for tallest variety with heirloom Titan, but Sunzilla proved its hybrid vigor in that the stalks were thicker and stood up better to heavy winds. Our soil here at the trial garden is super sandy, so it's a good test for sturdy sunflowers, although
giant tall sunflower gardenwe don't have too many really bad windy days. One useful trick that I just learned at our meeting of the Home Garden Seed Association last month was that if it really gets windy where you garden, you plant 3-5 sunflower seeds in a circle about 4 inches apart, then space these little planting circles about 3-4 feet apart. The sunflowers grow up into amazing tall clumps that help support each other in high winds -- what a great idea! I'm going to try it in our own trials next season for sure and check it out.

Mila just finished shelling all the dry Rattlesnake beans , Christmas lima beans and Scarlet Runners out of their dried pods and storing them in 1 quart glass Mason jars. They are so beautiful with their rich colors and they make me feel quite proud and self reliant to have them
Rattlesnake beans, Christmas lima beans, Scarlet Runnersstored away.

Next week, Lindsay and I are going to make some slow cooked bean recipes with them to prove to ourselves that both of these varieties are really good eating.
I've had lots of requests for Christmas limas in the last two years but have never trialed or cooked with them before. They bore well, but were ready to harvest somewhat later than I would like, so we'll try them again next season and grow them in our trial garden in Vermont too see how they do.

My plan is to offer the Rattlesnake pole beans paired with Purple Podded pole beans as a mixed packet. At the fresh pod stage, Rattlesnake pods are deep green handsomely streaked with purple and in combination with the purple pods it's really a pretty mix to eat the fresh pods as snap beans. Once I know how the mature, dry rattlesnake beans taste in the pot, I'll know if we can recommend leaving some to mature their beans inside the pods to the dry stage to shell out in use in cooked bean recipes. I'm thinking to make them by sautéing some garlic and onions in olive oil, then adding the soaked beans, dried oregano or maybe marjoram, a bay leaf or two and maybe some of my freshly canned tomatoes, plus salt and lots of fresh ground pepper. While adding a ham hock would be nice, I think I will leave the meat out the first time so I get a good sense of what the beans themselves taste like.
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