Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Mint mulch

Looking for one bigass mojito
Almost a year ago, bob k. mando gravely informed me that I had no need to weed the mint bed. As long on wisdom as he is short on capitalization, his advice proved correct. That mint has now managed to strangle out everything else in a 20' x 10' contained area. And not only the Johnson grass I was weeding, but the flowers and decorative grasses the lovely and gracious Rogue originally planted there.

From 20 cuttings that I transplanted a year ago, I now have 200 square feet* of chocolate mint. That's just in front. In back I have a (much) smaller collection of peppermint, spearmint, sweet mint, and lemon balm. It's a heck of a lot of mint leaves. The question is now: what to do with it?

While the mint is currently used for mojitos and menthol baths, and while I'm eying a really nice essential oil distillery that will convert some of it into a salable product, there still remains the question of what to do with the rest of it. I have a ton of mint, and I'd love to put it to good use.

Luckily, I came across an idea tonight that I had never considered:
Mint is beneficial to the growth of beets, cabbage and tomatoes. The leaves of mint used as a mulch for these crops help to keep away cabbage moths, aphids, ants and flea beetles... Leaves or small sprigs of fresh mint can repel mice and ants. Scatter the leaves or sprigs of mint in any place where you want to repel these household pests. The scent is repelling to them and they stay away from it.
Now, I have comfrey planted for a vaguely-similar purpose. It's one of those plants that sucks tons of nutrients up from the subsoil and stores them in its leaves. Drop the picked leaves in your raised bed and as they rot those nutrients provide a felicitous cuisine for your tomatoes and peppers. I don't like commercial fertilizers, and spreading comfrey leaves in the beds is just one more way to avoid them.

But I hadn't considered dropping fresh mint leaves into the beds to repel ants and such. And I'm not even sure it will work, or if it does, how well.  But everything is worth one shot, so tonight I cut about a 5 gallon bucket full of mint stalks** and spread them thickly in one bed full of peppers and another full of tomatoes. In one case they'll actually be a mulch, as they are covering bare ground. In the second, if they accomplish anything, it will be to repel aphids with their smell and oils.

After discussions with my bride, I plan to give Rogue's strawberry patch a good covering tomorrow.  Maybe it'll do good, and I'll reduce weeding and ant damage with little work on my part. Maybe it'll kill everything dead and I'll have to replant in July.  But since this mint has no seeds*** and spreads by root, I'm pretty sure I won't end up with 400 cubic feet of mint leaves in the yard.

But even if it did, there are worse problems than having a key ingredient of mojitos and relaxing baths growing all over the place...

* or 200 cubic feet even, given that it's a foot tall. The spearmint out back is even taller.
** actually removing the leaves from the stalks would take more time than any normal person has to spare.
*** But man do I have a busload of sage seeds drying. With the right equipment I could turn the whole state purple.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bionic Raspberry Chronicles II - The Jammening

Note the consistent distribution of seeds
The quest for the world's simplest jam recipe continues, though it may have reached a conclusion here:

1) 6 cups of raspberries* and 3 cups of sugar.
2) Mash 'em up and boil them hard for 5 minutes and soft for 20.
3) Seal them in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

It's a bit sour, tbh. Most raspberry jam recipes - and most berry recipes in general - are more on the order of 1 part berries to 1 part sugar.  But this one boiled up just fine and gelled just fine** and it tastes really freaking good on a fresh Bisquick biscuit.

So now that we have passed proof of concept I'll probably can another 8 or 12 half-pints tomorrow.  Because, yeah it's good. And because man cannot live on apple jelly alone, or so I've read.

* the original recipe calls for 5 cups of "perfectly ripe" raspberries and 2.5 cups of sugar, but whatevs. Canning is a rather forgiving science so long as you don't double or triple the batch.
** Though one of the 4 half pints didn't seal I suspect that's on me and not on the recipe.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bionic raspberry chronicles

Someday, Lad,
all this will be yours...
We always had a raspberry patch when I was a kid.  I remember* it being a 10'x20' area filled with singular, spindly stalks, attached to one side of the 'real' garden, that produced berries that I don't remember ever actually eating. But I must have eaten some of them, for I've always wanted raspberries here.  I just could never grow them.** Until last year.

Over the years I've bought and planted a number of raspberry plants, usually on a whim, and usually within a year or two of tearing out the dead stalks of the last raspberry plants that never produced anything for me.

Two years ago I splurged and purchased four at once, which I planted in a circular raised bed in back.  Three of them promptly died. No surprise there.  But like Swamp Castle, the fourth one stayed up. 

It was just a spindly little thing at first. No fruit, but transplants seldom produce their first year anyway. And I was just glad the pathetic thing survived the summer.  I was sure it would not survive the winter. But it did, and how.  Last year it went crazy, overrunning the whole raised bed, crowding out everything else in it but a couple of ragweeds.  No berries in evidence again, but now that I had a raspberry plant that seemed well-adjusted to the yard I could be patient.

This year it's back, twice as big, and sending suckers everywhere. I've already dug and replanted almost a dozen of them along one fence line that I hate to mow, and they seem to be taking to the place like crazy.  And wow do I have berries.  I picked just over a quart in about 20 minutes this afternoon, and it looks like in a few days I'll have at least another.

Which is all I need to make this really simple raspberry jam I found last week. Given the volume of strawberry-honey I put up last week and the leftover apple, cherry, and blackberry in the pantry, if I can get a case of raspberry half-pints, I might be done with jam for this year before the summer even officially kicks off.

Which reminds me: Five Boy's Mom, if you need some tomato plants, I have a dozen foot-tall plants here that I can give you tomorrow.  I have about 30 planted and have no room for any more. Leave me a note if you're interested.

* This doesn't mean that's actually how it was, only that this is how I remember it.  My mom's memory is sure to differ.
** Thus they joined rhubarb, blueberries, and a few others in the Might-Have-Been club.