Plum Season

What I like about living in Europe is that you can still pick fresh fruits for free, even in urban areas. All you need to have is an attentive eye for splattered, rotting fruit underfoot and you begin to notice which fruits are in season.

I was going about my normal jogging route when I noticed black fruit flies congregating on sticky-looking mush on the pavement. I looked up and saw a tree laden with huge yellow egg plums! They deserve the name, it really are as huge as small eggs. I returned with a net and a basket after my jog and hauled a total of five kilos of fruit. My basket was only a fourth full!

The plums were tart with their skins, but they were super sweet with the skins peeled off. And the seed just separated itself so easily, which is a big advantage for fruit. I baked a plum cake, and I still had a kilo left over. Unfortunately, plums don’t keep well, so I had to throw the rest away, despite snacking on them non-stop since last weekend. The cake is safely stored in the freezer, and I now have cake to feed unexpected guests with.

Plum and mirabelle season is  in full swing in Europe, so I reckon you should get out there and pick them plums!

Orchid Babies!

Orchid babies! My orchids just had babies! And I am on a steep learning curve on taking care of them.

I was at my Hardware store of choice last winter when I spotted this Dendrobium orchid on sale, from 16 to 12 euros. It was still pricey for an orchid, but I couldn’t resist its wonderful yellow flowers, and so splurged.

I was soon disappointed when not more than three weeks after purchase, the flowers began to fall off, and the orchid seemed to wilt. I was almost ready to throw them out, when I noticed that it was growing new leaves, or flowers, I wasn’t so certain back then.

So while waiting it out, more leaves began to sprout. Then roots. Ta-DAA! New orchids! I was so excited when it sprouted four babies!

So far I’ve made the mistake of using the wrong potting mix. I chose the cheapest one, which was a few cents less expensive than the top of the line one. It consisted of sawdust with a few pine chips here and there. Big mistake! Two of the babies started getting water rot from the base, I hope I was able to save them in time, but I am not so sure. One keiki is still attached to the mother, and another one is sprouting from the Dendrobium cane.

orchidAll in all, this is a very good year for orchids. Since last year I have finally found the “sweet spot” for the orchids in my apartment where the orchids do very well. As you could see in this picture, my Phalenopsis orchid has sprouted new flowers, after three years of dormancy. They used to be in the living room, but they prefer the bright afternoon light offered by the playroom.

That’s the thing with house plants. The place where you want them to be isn’t necessarily the place they want to be. And boy, they will make it known. Leaves start to fall off, they won’t flower, that kind of stuff.  So move around your house plants, and wait for them to tell you they like it where they are

Cherry, Cherry Cherries!

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This year is turning out to be a good year for fruits. It’s not so hot, not so dry, and the rains have come at the right time. And because of the hot spring/cool summer we are having in Germany this year, the sweet cherry and sour cherry varieties arrived almost at the same time, instead of the sour varieties coming in this July. This may differ from region to region, so I cannot speak for the whole country.

So I have a bucket full of cherries. The darker ones are sour cherries from the backyard, while the lighter ones are from the tree I spoke of last year. I believe the tree is a Royal Ann cherry, but I am not sure what kind of cherry is the one from our backyard. It is not really sour, it’s more tart-sweetish, and quite juicy.

I’ve made three jars of jam, and one wonderful cherry chutney so far. I hope to make cherry cupcakes today, and maybe freeze the rest, if I am not able to harvest any more this weekend.

What amazes me is the difference of the cherries from the backyard tree from this year and last year. It was pruned this spring, and the cherries are huge and juicy! I wish I could learn more about tree pruning, but I guess that is for when I have more time.

 

 

The Balcony is A- bloomin’

Summer is finally here, and I am so glad I was able to organize the balcony using little pockets of time here and there. I think this year, my seventh in tiny balcony gardening, has shown that my collected experience  has finally paid off. The time used from planning until implementation has definitely improved, and spent less money than I have in the previous years, since I already have most of what I need, using seeds from previous years.

 

I mean, look at this strawberry, one from the several plants growing in little boxes on the railing. It is hard to believe that I scraped the seed of this plant from the chopping board two years ago after making jam!

This year would be a special test on my tiny gardening skills, as I have tomatoes, eggplant, and a potato plant all on my balcony. It is generally not recommended to plant nightshade relatives all close to each other, but I couldn’t resist experimenting if I could really grow potato out of a grow bag, and the eggplant unexpectedly grew from seed this year, after three years of trying and failing. I have tried to situate the eggplant and potato in such a way that they are closed from three sides, and only the side where they get sunlight remained open, to minimize possible cross infection of blight, if it does occur.

The onions are doing very well, and I guess i will never be able to grow ramsons in a box. Fourth year in a row that they haven’t bloomed. But otherwise this promises to be a great harvest year

Bee Blues

The Garden has been discussing keeping bees, and I have expressed interest in becoming one of the garden’s beekeepers. One of our affiliated organizations, The Fuchsfarm, held an Open Day at their garden and let guests watch while they harvested the honey and filled them up in jars.

It was so interesting to find out how equipment and time-intensive beekeeping is, especially in the summer. Keeping bees are really like keeping pets!

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So first, the beekeeper takes the honeycomb out of the wooden hive and sprays the bees away with a smoker. The cells are waxed shut by the bees when they are full, so, they won’t spill. They are then put in a bigger box, then taken inside.

With a small fine-toothed rake, pry off the wax covers on the cells on an easel that is propped over a tray.

bee2The combs are put into a steel drum, which has a crank that turns the frame that holds the wooden honeycombs. The centrifugal force flings the honey to the sides of the drum and drips down to the funneled bottom of the drum. The bottom of the drum has a tap, which is then flipped open and the honey trickles into a sieve-topped pail which catches the last bits of wax that is still in the honey.

bee3The pail itself has a tap at the bottom, and the honey is filled into glass jars that are sold on-site.

But of course, bee keeping is not without its risks. As I was taking off my protective gear in the shed, an unseen bee stung the palm of my hand! As they took out the stinger, I was given a homeompathic pellet to minimize the swelling, then another pressed a cold onion half-globe onto the swollen area.

A bit later I rubbed crushed Spitzwegerich on the area. It still smarts, but it feels much better now. I am still thinking if I should get into beekeeping, since I may not have the time to invest in it. But I would still like to try!

Bärlauch

Ah, spring. Spring means that the lovely, lovely seasonal fruit and vegetable bounty starts. In the German cycle, early spring means that Bärlauch becomes omnipresent on the menu. People go crazy for this stuff! Known in English as ramsons, or bear’s garlic, among other aliases, it is a wild realtive of chives.

I had bought a bunch of leves from the market and put it into Chinese dumplings, soups, and used it as garnishing. I got myself a lovely jar or leek pesto from my favorite pickle and mustard maker.

Although I have been trying to plant them on my balcony, my attempts to grow them have never been sucessful. Apparently the prefer a speciaI kind of soil, in forests, with slightly acidic soil. I never try to gather them in the wild, as I am not exprienced enough to distinguish it from its doppelgänger, the lily of the valley. The season is almost over in Germany, but it should just be starting in the US, after a long and hard winter.

Pechay is a Winter Vegetable…Who Knew?!!

Germany is having some crazy climate change weather as of late. 2013 dumped a pile of snow on us until May, while this winter is waaay too warm=no snow. Not that I mind, but the grousing of worried Germans exclaiming WHERE’S OUR WINTER???? is quite loud.

So I got a surprise crop of pechay from stray seeds that scattered and sprouted spontaneously from last summer. I thought that they would freeze anyway, so I didn’t bother to pull them up. But the unusually mild winter meant that they thrived all though December. The cold weather also meant that it took them a longer time to sprout.

I bet that people living in a place with mild winters, like Italy or France, or even Hamburg, would be well supplied with pechay. No need for a greenhouse! I am very much encouraged by this discovery and have already turned that beautiful plant in the picture into Adobong Pechay.

Welcome to Tonndorf Castle

One of the many alternative living communities in the area is the artist’s community in Tonndorf, based in a castle located between Erfurt and Weimar. Built in the 12th century and fell into disrepair through the centuries, a group of artists and artisans moved in and are in the process of restoring the castle.

Around 60 people, kids included, live in the castle. The younger kids go to the Waldkindergarten in the castle, while the older kids are bused to the alternative school in Erfurt. There are very definite rules into moving in and out of the castle community, and avoid drama with rules and a 10 thousand euro deposit and a probationary period to see whether the living arrangement will work out.

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Spinning wool thread. I thought they existed only in fairy tales

Two weekends ago was the yearly artist’s and artisanal Christmas market at the castle. Products and creations from the castle’s artists, craftsmen and beekeepers were on display. It’s the perfect place to buy a Christmas present for somebody who has everything.

I really like the fact that it was a very interactive market, that you could directly talk to the people who made your product. The fact that they are locally produced is also a very big plus in helping support these artists and craftsmen.

After a cold day shopping, it was really nice to sit in their warm Cafe and sip a hot chocolate. I would definitely like to go back and enroll in their tree-pruning lessons in the summer.

Seeds Anyone?

Seeds everywhere. The end of the gardening season always means the putting away of seeds for the next year. I have accumulated too many chive, coriander, and Italian flat-leaf parsley for next year, so I am giving them away to anyone who wants a packet.

Send me an e-mail at my contact details or leave a message at the comments and I will ship anywhere in the world. I am also willing to trade!

Building a Neigborhood

Photo Renate L.

Anybody who has lived in Erfurt for years knows that Erfurt Nord is an industrial area. Forged by concrete and steel, it was known for prostitution and violence.

If you told anybody here that Metallstrasse was named the “Most Beautiful Street in Germany,” they would laugh their asses of. There is nothing beautiful about bricked over lovely art noveau buildings and brothels.

However, a group of people wanted to grow their own food, and live with nature, without necessarily having to leave the city. And found a place to do it, in cooperation with the industries in the area.

I am very grateful to have the Garden move where it is currently located. The Garden has become a place for people to gather and connect. It has begun revitalizing a once-dreaded neighborhood. Families are moving back here, partly because of the Garden. Old buildings are being renovated for residential purposes. Old people come and reminisce about the history of the Garden, what the place used to look like before, during, and after the war.

And because of this, the Intercultural Garden Erfurt is one of ten winners nationwide of “Die Schönste Straße Deutschlands,” the initiative of a local chain of hardware stores and Netzwerk Nachbarschaft. Kudos to Karin, the current president of this initiative, and for the current members who all lend a hand in the transformation of an impoverished district.

I am so very glad that this Garden exists, and that I am a part of it. It is certainly well-deserved!