Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Guild Progress

         If you read the July post regarding my Apple Guild, you may recall that the basic idea with a guild is to create an ecological system on a really small scale, including a wide variety of edible plants.  The established guild is supposed to maintain itself with very little aide from people.
        With all the projects I took on this summer, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked for playing in the old orchard.  I weeded the area, laid down mulch for paths, and planted what, for the most part, I had on hand.  Considering the amount of effort I (didn't) put into the project, I'm a bit surprised and pleased at the results.
Apple Guild spring of 2011.
Apple Guild fall of 2011.

       There's a lot of green in the Fall photo to the right, and very little of the green is weeds.  In the foreground, in front of the bird bath, is lemon balm.  Across from the bath, behind Sam, there's catnip.  Walk down the path between the bird bath and catnip to the sweet potato vines with dill weed growing in the background.  Tiny asparagus plants are hiding on the left behind the oldest tree in the orchard.  A little further along the path and you round the second oldest tree and pass a patch of strawberries.  These are an unknown domestic variety I found growing in the trees near my mother-in-law's old strawberries patch.  They escaped from the garden many years ago and were barely surviving in the heavy shade.  They seemed so wonderfully tenacious that I had to rescue them and see what they'd do in a more favorable site.  They're thriving.  That may change once the tree grows some branches to replace what we trimmed in March.   
Nasturtium's, lemon balm, yarrow
        Loop around the big tree and on the right are lots of lemon balm, nasturtiums, and a little yarrow.  Yarrow has a reputation for being invasive, but in this case I may welcome its spreading.  Among other uses, it strengthens nearby plants.  The nasturtiums are, of course, an annual and will be gone soon, but they seed profusely.  This, too, is good, since I've discovered that nasturtium buds and seeds make great capers.
       The recipe I found for these capers is combine and refrigerate in a glass jar:  one quart white wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons pickling salt, 1 thinly sliced onion, 1/2 teaspoon each allspice, mace and celery seed, 3 peppercorns, and nasturtium seeds (or buds) fresh from the garden.  Drop the seeds into the jar as they become available.  The recipe didn't say how long to let them meld before use, so you can taste one now and then to see how they're doing.  They have a peppery flavor that goes well with chicken, fish, in salads and well, experiment to find what tickles your tastebuds.
       There aren't too many other plant varieties in the guild as yet:  a few rhubarb to provide mulch; chives as a rabbit deterrent; hardy kiwi which is going to require a support to grow on; comfrey to act as a barrier to grasses.  I'll believe that when I witness it!  I'm sure I'm not remembering everything.  I know there's some poke weed that I haven't pulled. It's one of the plants that will draw nutrients from deep down, but there's so much poke week around here that I'm trying to get rid of the stuff, not cultivate it.  Yes, the very young shoots are edible, but I've never been hungry enough or adventurous enough to risk eating them.  Mother's wort is another problem weed, even if I do find it listed as an herb.  Even the chickens won't touch this plant so it must be hand-pulled.
       Several times during the summer, I've rubbed or cut off some of the new growth on all the trees.  If I didn't do this, I'd have something out there resembling green-haired monsters, there has been so much rejuvenation.  But I won't do this any more until spring since my references say that pruning in the fall is generally a really bad idea.  Spring will also be the time for finding more plants to round out my guild.  I have bee balm and St. John's wort growing elsewhere.  Perhaps they'll be moving next year, along with anything else that looks promising.

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