Friday, August 7, 2009

Squash Update / Kabak Güncellemesi

Yeah, I know what you're thinking...This guy is really obsessing on the winter squash!

Yep, I am! There aren't many other vegetables in the garden (okay, it's technically a fruit) where you plant a seed, watch it sprout and get established, then get to watch it bloom and begin growing with amazing speed, but have to watch through the entire summer to bring those fruits to maturity. Maybe corn would compare but it's still much more gradual and subtle. Tomatoes, okra, even melons, are harvested as they become ripe, with more constantly on the way; but with winter squash, your fruits set, and it's those same fruits you nurture over the months until it's finally time to harvest them. (Potatoes are another matter - you plant them, know they're growing down there, but you really don't know how many you'll get or how well they did until the moment of truth arrives. My potato harvest? Um...let's talk about squash!)

Above is a large and still-developing Rouge Vif D'Etampes fruit; it probably weighs about twelve pounds now and it hasn't even started to flatten out or turn color. Rouge Vif D'Etampes is interesting that way; whereas some squash make their eventual shape obvious even before the blooms are fertilized, this one starts out as a little yellow golf ball that doesn't show its eventual flat shape until fairly late in the game. Below is another one that is coloring up nicely. It is a bit smaller since it started forming earlier but I let several fruits form on its vine. I gave seeds to friends in Iznik as well, and there seems to be quite a bit of variation in shape; some of the fruits are deeply ribbed while others are smoother. This one is on the same plant as the one above; it grew round until just a few weeks ago when it began to flatten noticeably.

Below is another one on a different plant; all of this plant's squashes have a distinct green mottling that may fade as they mature.

Here's the same one just a couple weeks earlier. Though it had not begun to color up at all yet, it already had the green mottling.

The only "bad news" about Rouge Vif d'Etampes is the flavor reviews I've seen. The description was "delicious sweet flesh, perfect for pies and custards." Others, notably Amy Goldman, author of "The Compleat Squash," (more about her later) beg to differ. In her own words:

"This one coasts by on looks alone, being insipid and watery. It's enchanting, but I wouldn't cook with it."

Well, dang. We'll see. It was quite good when it was still yellow.

So what about Marina di Chioggia? Goldman gives it rave reviews, and even if its flavor were mediocre, I'd still be glad I planted it because it's an amazing looking thing. Unfortunately because of its situation, and the fact that a pack of dogs came into the garden are badly damaged the vines, I'll only get two of these for all my efforts. The larger of the two is just starting to develop the characteristic warts:

As a diversion from the squash, here's a picture of that nice Amaranth, "Hopi Red Dye," coming up among the leaves. There is a Rouge Vif d'Etampes lurking under the leaves though!

And then there's Futsu. I had something unusual happen with this one. Usually winter squash start blooming male, and after a succession of male flowers it finally opens the female flowers. My Futsus did exactlyl the opposite. As the fines took off, lots of male flowers developed at the nodes but they progressed very, very slowly. Meanwhile there were female flowers coming on quickly. I got two female flowers before I had any males. Since Futsu is a C. moschata, it technically can't cross with C. maxima (though it has been done artificially). But I thought "what the heck" and tried it anyway. The seeds may come out sterile but the fruits did set! Here's one of them - the picture's a little old and they're now much larger and a very dark green.

The Futsu plant is probably one of the most ornamental squash plant I've ever grown. I find the leaves beautiful with their generous white marbling, and the flowers are enormous! The mid-90s weather we have been having has seemed to put a bit of a damper on their fruit set but it's cooled a little now and some more females have started to grow instead of yellow and drop.

I've also finally found the place where gourds like to grow. Before I arrived my housemate had grown gourds in the upper garden but I've tried for 2 years in a row and despite manure and generous watering, I just can't get them to take off. I made a small arbor in the lower garden and planted a tiny ornamental bottle gourd with fruits only about 6" long at maturity. They really took off and are well on their way to to the top of the large plum tree next to them. They should be fun to decorate as Christmas or other ornaments. There are at least 14 out there and many more on the way.

If you are even remotely interested in squash, I can't say enough good things about the book "The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower's Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds," by Amy Goldman. I knew there were lots of different kinds of squash but the illustrations in this book will have you drooling. She goes through the three major squash species and gives descriptions of both common and rare varieties' uses, table quality and origins. It's interesting how many heirloom varieties are stringy and unappetising; perhaps they grew them because they didn't have another variety available and were used to them. Other types, especially some of the large pumpkins, were grown as cattle feed. I'm already planning which new (to me) varieties I'll grow next year, and I'll definitely have to clear at least another 50 square yards of planting area!

And since you made it this far (well, I'm assuming), here is a compleat-ly squash-unlrelated picture: A bloom on my neighbor's giant white Datura just on the point of popping open. This is a plant with a strategy! The scent starts emerging from the flower long before they unfurl even to this point, and like hungry campers in the food line, they swarm around the flowers trying to find the entrance. Then the flower suddenly pops open, and it's dinner time!

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Botanic Garden in Istanbul! İstanbul'da bir Botanik Bahçesi!

I remember once when I was about 5, looking everywhere for my superball. It was my favorite toy. I'd just seen it a little earlier, and I was looking everywhere...under the couch, behind all the chairs, in my room, in the hall. I asked my mom if she'd seen it. "Yes, I did see it!" she said. "Where?" "Oh, I think you'll find it soon enough," she said. A couple of minutes later, I started pestering her again to tell me where it was. "It's very close to you!" she said. When I couldn't stand it any longer and was about to get whiny, she said "take a look in your hand."
It was there. And no, I was not a head-start drug user!

Beş yaşı civarındayken en sevdiğim oyuncağım olan "super top"umu arıyordum. Koltukların arakasında, yatak odamda, koridorda, her yerde arıyordum ama nafile... Anneme gördün mü diye sorduğumda, gülümseyerek "evet, senin de çok yakında bulacağını zannediyorum" dedi. Aramaya devam ettim, yine bulamayınca anneme mızmız etmeye başlayınca sırıtarak "eline baksana" dedi. Oradaymış. Ve o küçük yaşta narkotik kullanmaya başladığımı zannetmeyin...! Sonuçta bazen çok aradığımız şeyler burnumuzun altındayken nedense farkına varmıyoruz. Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanik Bahçesi ise tam öyle bir vaka...İstanbul'da yaşadığım dokuz yıl boyunca otobüste bilmem kaç kez oradan geçmişim, ama varlığının bile farkına varmadım! Onların ayrıntılı web sitesinde burada yazdığım bütün bilgileri bulabildiğinize göre (hem de tembel olduğum için) bütün yazımı Türkçeye çevirmeyeceğim. Fakat hiç gitmediyseniz, hiç zaman kaybetmeden bu bahçeyi ziyaret etmenizi kesinlikle tavsiye ediyorum!

The point is, sometimes something you wish you had can be right under your nose and for some reason you just find out very late. Such was the case when, almost two months ago now, I learned that Istanbul had a botanic garden! I did know about one at Istanbul University but it is famously unkept and neglected; this one is a real jewel in a very unexpected place. As a matter of fact, I've gone right by it on the bus to Kozyatağı, and never even noticed it! And since it took me so long to find out about it, I think it's only appropriate that my post about it is late as well.

I actually was not out looking for botanic gardens; a gardening friend of mine invited me to a lunch by a group called İmece Evi. İmece is Turkish for a traditional village work party. In the old days, and sometimes still today, certain jobs like boiling, drying and pounding bulgur, making dry lavash for winter, food for weddings, etc. are easier to do as a group effort and all the women or men of the village will pitch in. The İmece Evi group has a communal village in the Kazdağı area, where they grow organic produce, learn to live naturally and sell the products of their (joint) labor. They are also planning to begin restoring and farming in an old abandoned village in the mountains near Izmir. The lunch was at the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden in the unlikely area of Ataşehir, Istanbul. I say "unlikely" because...well, look at this! If anyone doubts the resourcefulness of the Turks, this should be enough to set them straight:

The garden is literally surrounded and bi-/tri-/quadrisected by freeway. And I have to admit that when I first heard there was a botanic garden there, I was not expecting anything very impressive; the entrance to the garden off the freeway did little to make me any more optimistic.

Sometimes it's really nice to be wrong though. In Istanbul, where there seem to be about 20 plants available in most nurseries, there were truly interesting things growing along the path up into the garden, Verbascums, rare Centaureas, Salvias and more. With over 75 species, Turkey is the center of distribution of the genus Verbascum, or mulleins. But even though there are some dandies here, they are ubiquitously seen as weeds, and even among those interested in flower gardening, it would be a rare gardener who would actually plant one! So I was thrilled to see this specimen, a Vebascum I saw in the wild near Selçuk, site of the ancient city of Ephesus. It's a truly beautiful thing with its white fur and half-appressed leaves up the flowering stem.

But the really amazing thing to me was that even though the garden was in some of the bleakest concrete high-rise sprawl of Istanbul, they had done a beautiful job of hiding it. The garden is divided by the highways into five "islands." From the main garden there is an overpass into a large picnic area which is also nicely planted. Another beautifully planned section is accessed via a drainage tunnel that runs underneath the highway. They have camouflaged this so well (see the first picture above) that you really have no idea the highway is there, and the walls of the tunnel on either side are outfitted with lighted panels explaining different aspects of plant evolution, adaptation and survival strategies.

In addition to the purely ornamental plantings, there are plantings representing a variety of habitats throughout Turkey, where local plants with specialized soil needs thrive. To the left is a beautiful scarlet Glaucium that was growing in a bed devoted to the salt plains near the Salt Lake (Tuz Gölü) in Central Anatolia.

The garden was first planted by Mr. Nihat Gökyiğit, not as a botanic garden at all, but rather with a double purpose: as a memororial to his wife Nezahat as well as an attempt to repair the land that had been degraded as a result of freeway construction. Over time it grew, and was declared a botanic garden in April 2003. It is now a member of the International Association of Botanic Gardens, and operates its own foundation.

Below is a spectacular Delphinium species native to the volcanic steppe soils of Anatolia.

Though many who visit it undoubtedly see it as simply another place to have a picnic (and in Turkey, a picnic means a grill, a gas canister to make tea and lots of meat smoke!), and a picnic area has been opened, accessed by an overpass, the hope is that people who come for the green space will also explore the rest of the garden and become more aware of Turkey's incredible plant diversity and the need for protecting it. To the right is a poster about an endangered species of Centaurea which grows in the area of Konya. And of course the plant is being grown in the garden; below are some of its unopened flower buds.

The garden has a herbarium, propagation areas and classrooms with courses and workshops on urban gardening, composting and botanical illustration. It also has an ever growing botanical library, and puts out a quarterly gardening magazine, the only one I'm aware of in Turkey which is really devoted to plants instead of "expensive crap you can buy to stick in your garden!"

In addition to the two planted islands and the picnic area, there are two more islands which are not open to the public. The reason is that although they belong to the garden, the only access to them is by dashing across the busy freeway! One of them has been allowed to develop completely naturally, as a living museum of plant life in the Istanbul area.

You can find further photographs of the garden on its home page under the "Album" header in the English section, as well as on this site.