Seems as though soil is everything…literally.
I always over-do the onion crop
Its been a weird year. Our three-day winter here in central Texas has mother nature standing on her ear. My fruit trees are still putting on leaves. Best me and Google can tell, this foliage delay is due to insufficient chill hours. I dislike chill myself, but I agree it’s a necessary evil. Why? …
Opal apples will reverse the aging process, make you impervious to disease, and alter your DNA in such a manner as to make you staggeringly attractive and irresistible to the opposite sex…or the same-sex. To the best of my knowledge Opal apples make no distinctions concerning sexual preference or orientation.
In reality, they actually do none of the above. However, at almost four dollars a pound, if an ordinary apple a day will shoo away a doctor, along those same lines an Opal should repel lawyers, politicians, Jehovah’s witness, and the IRS. I like apples. I don’t love them, but in the case of the Opal lets just call it curiosity. Normally, I would opt for the cheaper selections. Perhaps a Granny Smith (get your tart on!) or my personal favorite–Honeycrisp, but the sheer price difference of the opal piqued my interest enough to do some digging on the internet. And what I uncovered encouraged me to, well, bite.
And bite I did. I soon found myself standing in the apple section of Brookshire’s produce aisle, closely scrutinizing each golden, slightly orange orb. I chose four. I later did the math and wished I hadn’t after concluding that each apple cost me approximately $2.50. I winced. These damn well better be good.
I took my shoes off before taking a bite, and propped my feet up to better provide my no-show Puma brand socks an adequate launching pad because they were about to peel free, fly across the room and slam against the adjacent wall with such force that they would imprint the word AMUP into the paneling. That didn’t happen. So far, the only event to ever actually knock my socks off was a motorcycle accident back in 1989. On a lighter note, after biting into the opal apple I wasn’t flung from my recliner and into the highway, and I didn’t wake up in a hospital bed a day later with a headache, and a bruise that started in my butt emanating out in every direction displaying various degrees of color making me look like a tie-dyed version of the Brown Hornet, but feeling considerably less like a superhero and more like a squashed villain. What did happen, however, was a deeper respect, and a far better understanding of how a stable apple cultivar achieves perfection. The first three things I discovered about the opal were as follows:
If the Non-GMO verified part wasn’t enough to interest me to dig deeper, or the fact that this particular cultivar was only grown in one of the United States, the fact that it’s against the law to plant one of the seeds from an Opal apple certainly cinched it for me. Now, I want a tree.
Whaaat? Against the law? Yep, thanks to the Plant Patent Act of 1930, you can patent a seed. And why not? It takes lots of hard work and dedication to perfect a cultivar of any species and create a stable specimen. Anyone who has ever saved seeds from their garden to replant the following year in hopes of growing more of that same awesome variety of their favorite veggie only to discover they planted seeds from a hybrid can give a big amen to that. You can plant ten different seeds from a hybrid and get ten different results. I did this with peppers once, and I must confess, I liked it. (Don’t tell anyone).
Alas, in the case of apple trees, or other asexually propagated plants, planting a seed in hopes of growing a tree that would yield a desired variety is akin to purchasing a slip of paper with a set of random numbers printed on it in hopes of winning millions of dollars. AKA the lottery. However, the act of purchasing a lottery ticket won’t usually land you in jail, whereas the successful propagation of an Opal apple tree sprouted from a seed out of a store-bought apple certainly could. I still want one.
Why do I want one? Because someone is telling me I can’t have one, that’s why. That being said, the Opal apple does have some outstanding, if not curious qualities. For example, after being sliced, the exposed flesh of this variety will not turn brown. I tested this somewhat by accident when I left a core resting in the cup holder of my SUV for a twenty-four hour period. No brown…at all. Weird, huh? I mean, who the hell leaves spent fruit lying around inside their vehicle all day long? This one particular characteristic of the Opal makes it a popular choice for parents who forgo the school provided lunch for a more nutritious, homemade version. It seems as though kiddos don’t care for brown apple slices. Hmpf, in my day we gave the apple to the teacher anyway.
Another outstanding facet of this horticultural jewel is community support. The funds procured from the sale of Opal apples are used to aid local community efforts, e.g. community gardens. And just in time too, because these beauties are only sold from late winter to early spring. When those robins start hopping, and the aromas from the compost piles begin to swell into our nostrils, that Opal money should start rolling in. Is it any wonder they’re called Opals?
As I mentioned earlier, Opals are currently grown only in one place here in the USA. This is because they have only been recently introduced to this continent. They originated in Europe, in the Czech Republic, therefore, I’m certain the costs of establishing an orchard here was substantial. Understandably, it will be a while before saplings, or even rootstock will become available to the general public. Hmmm, guess I’ll wait for that time to come. But if a seed should fall from an apple I am eating, in the garden, over fertile, well-drained sandy loam…welll.
Ok Opal apple owners, don’t freak-out and send the apple police my way. I realize that an apple sprouted from seed will most likely yield crab apple–a spindly, ground hugging vine-like production of an apple tree. I am also aware that apple trees, propagated through the process of grafting if the fruit produced is to remain true to the parent plant, aren’t really worthwhile to grow from seed. I still want one though.
I must say, exploring the heritage of the Opal apple has been an enlightening, if not tasty adventure. Any time I spot a new example of mother nature’s handiwork resting in the fruit bin, my interest stirs, my tummy growls, and I soon get my google on. The Opal apple is just the latest to tickle my brain buds.
Well, by now I guess you want to know what it tasted like. Well, let me tell you, it was…aww heck, just go buy one and try it yourself. Delight your taste buds. Besides, when was the last time you helped your community?
“It’s time to plant onions”, the sign read, so I did, and so far all is going well. As a matter of fact, I’m having such good luck with following directions I’m presently keeping an eye peeled for a sign stating “win the lottery”. It’s out there…somewhere. And I remain eager to comply.
My mother taught me that the robin is the first harbinger of spring, but for me the onion holds that honor. Those delicious, pungent beauties are the first vegetables to earn membership in each new garden I create. What meal would be complete without the crisp, clean pop of a fresh, green onion between your teeth? Nothing says “you’re a dear friend” with more conviction than a bundle of neatly trimmed scallions with glowing white socks. Of all the ingredients used in fresh homemade salsa, none complete it more than the satisfying crunch of the zesty onion. Onions complement our chili recipes, and make our cheeseburgers sing. Never has a more enchanting tune thrilled a taste bud as delightfully as the song of a cheeseburger with a slab of onion wedged inside of it. However, I would be remiss and risk forfeiture of my standing as an avid and honorable gardener if I failed to at least mention the other tasty species of garden plants that offer value to the cheeseburger.
Until last frost, the hardy onions stand like rows of disciplined soldiers guarding a precious plot of land reserved for other vegetables less tempered against the cold. It’s only January, but a few gorgeous, sunlit days, unusually warm but characteristic for central Texas, tempt me to rev my tiller, wake the sleeping soil and prepare to plant the remainder of my garden. I resist, drawing inspiration from the staunch row of onions, and stick to my plan. Potatoes are next. Shortly after the winter mongrel squares his two cold shoulders towards the north and withdraws his troops from my southern homeland, I’ll slice them into chunks–two eyes to a piece–and allow them to sit silently and undisturbed in a cool, dry corner of my gardening shed. There, in the permeable darkness, their exposed flesh will stiffen into new armor that will guard them against rot and disease when they are laid into the warm, moist earth. After harvest, these delicious tubers will find their way into roasting pans and stew pots where they will simmer and absorb the succulent flavors of beef broth, or pork loin. But perhaps their greatest contribution will be as golden, crispy french fries– a praiseworthy addition to the aforementioned cheeseburger. Onions? Fries? What could impart even more deliciousness and further impress the palate?
The tomato; star of the garden. If the sturdy onion grants us a slight reprieve from the leaden veil of winter, and instills hope that a harsh season will soon expire as we press plump, papery bulbs gently into the soil, the tender tomato sprout heralds the re-birth of a bountiful age suffused with color that seems to pulsate as it illuminates the landscape. Spirited tendrils intertwine with our souls while stealing their way through trellises and wire cages. Misty green forests erupt and soon offer flashes of robust pinks and reds amid the feathery foliage. Whatever variety–mortgage-lifter, celebrity, costoluto genovese– slightly sweet and pleasantly acidic, sliced thick or thin the tomato is an invaluable cheeseburger ingredient. From the convenient currant (wild tomato) carried by the dozens in shirt pockets, to the hefty beefsteak that boasts the ability to cover the face of a burger with one slice, each variety, flavor and color of this delectable fruit (or vegetable if you agree with the supreme court) has a place in the heart of a gardener somewhere. In my heart, there is room enough for them all. Regretfully, my garden space is not nearly as accommodating, therefore, effectively forcing me to narrow my choices if I am to pursue other interests, e.g., okra, peas, watermelons, etc…
Come October, I’ll have grown weary of the garden, and may even consider swearing it off for a couple of years as I tug at the dried, raspy okra stalks that grip the earth as if it were prey. I’ll roll up string, and wrestle wooden stakes from the stubborn, black soil. I’ll pluck twisted brown vines from tomato cages, and drag piles of scratchy pea vines to the compost heap. I”ll itch, sweat, and decide that this is just too damn much work. But, by mid-december my rural mail carrier will plant that first seed magazine into my mailbox, and as I turn the pages, in my soul will sprout desire.
Jack had his magical beans that brought first wonder, then strife, and ultimately reward. For me, this captures the spirit of gardening. There will be many battles fought between the indisputable passion of placing that first onion in the ground and heaving the last tenacious okra stalk out by its gnarly roots, and in the end, though weary, I shall consider it all worthwhile each time I pluck from my cupboard a jar of spicy pickles, or harvest from the depths of my chest freezer a bag of breaded okra.
I believe all seeds possess magical properties. I challenge anyone to cradle a few of them in their hand and not feel a stir, an invisible, mysterious force inside beckoning to place these sacred vessels into the earth and witness the life contained therein. FYI, though it may sound logical, those tiny seeds that cling precariously to the toasted exterior of certain hamburger buns will not germinate into a cheeseburger plant. Magic, it seems, doesn’t always prescribe to my logic.
February urges my garden plans to full bloom. My supplies, seeds and desire threaten to shirk their dormant state with every unseasonably warm day. The onions stand firmly in the ground expanding layer by layer as hungry roots feast within the nurturing, silent earth. It’ll be a while before they’re ready for the table, but until then I’ll settle for a singing cheeseburger from my favorite diner. Make mine with a thick slice of purple onion, please.
Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming
Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.