Apple Days

I’m an apple person. I like it hard and sour, or that’s what fellow human beings always comment – to me they taste fresh and certainly sweet enough (and what does one have teeth for if not for attacking an apple). So, the time of the year has come. I’m told others get diarrhea from just biting into apples at that stage of ripeness, I eat them bucket-wise and feel no uncivilised effect. Nobody wants to try the ones I offer, though (at least not a second time).

Realistically speaking, being surrounded by countless apple trees in great variety, many of them very old and by now under protection, latest at the middle/end of July there are always some which are already ripe. They just don’t taste like the supermarket apples people are used to these days. Some look indeed very green and still have to be consumed immediately, as they turn into brown mud within a couple of days otherwise (very much to the pleasure of the wasps and the hedgehogs). There’s great variety in flavour, and many have a distinct character.

These are not green, but red enough to tempt Snow White:

apple tree

red apples

Snow White better had good teeth, though. These apples can be easily stored for long, and are for most people’s taste probably perfect around Christmas. I like them now, everybody LOVES them in apple pie. Well, unless the plum cake is on the table:

plum cake

September Rose Care: How to Rejuvenate Rose Bushes for Fall Blooms

By late August/early September most roses bushes resemble wild saw briers instead of cultivated, well-tended roses. It’s possible to rejuvenate those puny looking rose bushes with a little extra TLC in late summer and be rewarded with some lovely fall blooms.

Foliar Feeding
If rose bushes are healthy and still have most of their leaves, give them a foliar feeding the last week in August or first week in September to promote fall blooms.
For a potent foliar feeding, mix your favorite water soluble rose food and spray it on the entire bush, soaking each leaf thoroughly. Do this in the early morning before the sun shines on the bush so most of the water soluble food will be absorbed by the rose bushes. Plants take in water and food during daylight hours, and it’s always best to feed and water in the morning. Foliar feedings in the evening will not be absorb and will sit on the leaves overnight, creating a prolonged moist environment that will encourage disease.

Prune and Feed
If rose bushes have lost most of their leaves or if the leaves have black spot, prune 1/3 off the top of each bush. bushes by 1/3 of its height. Pruning roses bushes in late August/early September will encourage new growth that will produce fall blooms.
Immediately after pruning, feed roses with a full-strength water soluble food. If soil is visible around the base of the bush, add a fresh layer of mulch after feeding.

September Rose Care
Continue to remove the spent roses promptly in September and October, and water weekly when there has been several days without rainfall.
Don’t prune bushes again before winter. The new growth prompted by late fall pruning will not be strong enough to survive winter weather.

Observe and Learn
August and September are good months to observe roses growing in your neighbor’s and friend’s landscape, especially if those bushes that are growing and blooming vigorously. Find out what kind of rose bush they have so you can add one to your collection or ask for a cutting from the bush and propagate a new rose bush for spring planting.
Don’t give up on your rose bushes because they are looking puny in late summer, with a little extra September care you can rejuvenate those bushes for a fresh crop of fall rose blooms.


“Louise Odier”, a really nice Bourbon rose


“La Reine”


“Cardinal de Richelieu”, a very deep purple and one of the darkest rose flowers


“Therese Bugnet”, a Rugosa rose (bread by Bugnet in 1950)

rugosa rose therese bugnet


A bouquet of pink roses











Mini Greenhouse – Ugly But Simple

Since this is a problem most gardeners growing from seed run into sooner or later, I though I show quickly the ugly-but-cheap-and-useful (or, in today’s words, recycled-sustainable-CO2-neutral) grow box solution I, well, got somewhat stuck with after trying lots of other things.
I do own many “commercial” grow boxes, which are not less ugly, for small seeding experiments an overkill and much too large to have around randomly. They also tend to wear out / break after a couple of years. I have used mason jars for starting seeds, a very good idea in principle, but if you want the light from the top, the soil has to go into the lid, which is usually not deep enough, or the jar has to lay sideways, which does not hold much soil neither, is awkward to reach into if you don’t have piano fingers, and tends to roll over without a holder.
When I built a new deck, I bought a lot of stainless steel screws from SPAX, which came in plastic containers with handle and transparent lid. I re-used some of those for leftover screws and nails and discovered after a while, that they were quite durable. Not one has broken yet, the lids always fit, the dishwasher at maximum temperature does not do any harm to them.
So, for the last 3 years I mainly used these screw containers to start my seeds. Size is 5x4x4 inches, they fit into any window board and are easy to carry around, going with the best light and temperature over the course of a day. In winter I place a grow light on top.

mini greenhouse
The lids close tight, I normally only have to mist once with some water after filling the bottom third with good soil. The boxes will host the seedlings for the first 10-20 days after germination, then I transplant into bigger pots.

grow box seedlings

Tea Time

Blackberry and raspberry plants are prospering and are gifting several handfuls of delicious fruit everyday. There are plenty of leaves, which actually make for a refreshing herbal tea, if only treated the right way.
While they could be just quickly dried and used as such, blackberry and raspberry leaves are much more aromatic after a short “fermentation”, which is in fact rather an oxidation, similar to the way black tea is processed.
One starts by picking well-developed but young leaves (not leathery). You may want to wear gloves, even some raspberry varieties can be quite spiky on the leaf base. They leaves then should be left to wilt for a day.
Once they have lost most of the water so the leaf lamina won’t break easily anymore they should be squeezed properly, while being exposed to fresh air (=oxygen). One can use a dough roller on a wooden board, for example. During this treatment the leaves will already change colour to a darker tone, quite like “real” tea from Camellia sinensis does. Now that mass can be rolled into a “sausage” and tightly wrapped into a kitchen cloth, if it feels rather dry sprinkle a small amount of water over before. This leaf sausage may then be stored in a warm place, 30 degrees Celsius / 86 degrees Fahrenheit seem to be optimal. Occasionally give the sausage another good squeezing (no need to open it). After 3 days the leaves should have a dark reddish-brown colour and an aromatic / fruity smell. Spread them to dry properly at low temperature, i.e. on an oven tray (try to stay below 50 degrees Celsius / 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the drying process in order to preserve the aroma). Once they are dry enough (at least on the edge of breakage when touched) they can be stored in a mason jar.

To brew a tea, use a teaspoon of your fermented leaves per cup, pour hot water over which just stopped boiling, and allow it to infuse for 5-10min.

Because it was so simple, here’s an alternative way to approach the leaf oxidation: Take the freshly harvested, unwilted leaves, roll them into a sausage, slice coins with a knife or use large scissors, so you get stripes just a few millimeters wide. Throw them into a cotton back, hang it into the sun and occasionally shake the bag. Once the leaves have wilted sufficiently, stuff the whole bag or just its contents into a freezer bag, seal that, store in a warm place (some people had great results on the dashboard of their car, but on sunny summer days it may not only get very hot in there, it may also raise questions what “substances” you are transporting here…) Every day at least once that bag should be opened for ventilation, after a few days the moisture content will have greatly reduced and the leaves crinkled like an Oolong tea.
Another good fermentation device is a baby bottle warmer. Since the little creature is off the milk, that machine stands there for nothing, and begs for new use. The one I inherited has digital temperature control and can be set to 30 degrees Celsius / 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which it will keep quite exactly for however long. A small mason jar in the bottle chamber retains the moisture. Note that at temperatures below 50 degrees Celsius / 120 degrees Fahrenheit mould will appear sooner or later, so again, limit fermentation time to 3 days to be on the safe side.

Strawberry leaves can be processed in a similar way, and many others. Some may have medicinal effects (which means potentially also side effects), so esp. when mixing different varieties or if larger amounts are consumed regularly it’s advised to consult knowledgeable books or people on the matter.

blackberry leaf tea

The result: Homemade, organic blackberry leaf tea

Pumpkin Time

This year I’m growing Red Kuri squash (Hokkaido) from certified organic seeds, and they are doing really well. Within a few weeks they have overgrown everything and anything around them with large, pretty leaves – the vegetable garden looks like a Lotus pond. The flowers have a nice scent. The fruits are very decorative, first bright yellow on the plant, with time and sunshine slowly turning into wonderful orange and red.
Cooked the texture and sweetness resembles sweet potatoes, and also sweet chestnuts. They bring their own taste to dishes and are not just a filler. Will definitely grow them again.

pumpkin red kuri squash hokkaido

Red Kuri squash (Hokkaido), in the background a Zucchini


Samuel Gawith Full Virginia Flake

This one is closely related to the Best Brown Flake, so if you haven’t yet, read my notes on it and my preparation method here.
The main difference between the two seems to be the baking time in the steam oven – Full Virginia Flake undergoes this treatment for several hours longer, and comes out darker with a more pronounced “stoved” aroma, already going in the direction of Rattray’s Dark Fragrant (which I’m very fond of), but without the resin aroma. I found it has less initial sweetness than Best Brown, but the sweetness increases around the middle of the bowl.
samuel gawith fvf
I find it easier to keep cool in windy weather, so for wandering around in the garden my preference would be there. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s a better or worse here, best to have a tin of both. FVF (Full Virginia Flake) might be a good bit stronger, but as long it burns slow (a bowl lasts me 1+ hour), not overwhelmingly so. (Still, AFTER a good meal might be the best time to enjoy it.)
samuel gawith full virginia flake
One flake fills more than one Savinelli KS bowl, but less than two, so I mixed the leftovers with about 30% fire-cured Kentucky. This makes for a very nice mixture, too, it even improves the burn in terms of no relights needed at all anymore, the initial match does it all. The aroma then lingers between stoved and dark tones, later on it has a strong reminiscence of cloves.
In both cases, there was no goop afterwards, the Kentucky mixture seems to burn even more dry, and leaves a very clean pipe.
Update: I tried it again in a roomy egg, which took a whole flake, cube cut. What a nice, slow, cool and steady burn. Again, wind was not a problem at all (as it is with many other mixtures), so if you are an outdoor person, you may want to try that.

Samuel Gawith Best Brown Flake

For many, this seems to be the ideal straight Virginia, so I was naturally curious to try it. While it is straight Virginia, it´s said to undergo several hours of baking in a steam oven under pressure during the production, a process which tames the Virginias, makes them sweeter and burn slower. This stoving method adds a specific aroma, which I believe is the real “pipe” aroma, generally not found in cigarettes or cigars.

samuel gawith best brown
I’ve witnessed some lengthy discussions about the best preparation method for Best Brown Flakes. Straight Virginias high in sugar have a tendency to burn hotter, which flake pressing partly remedies, so perhaps they should not be rubbed out completely (although some people do exactly that, and it works for them). Others fold and stuff whole flakes into the pipe.

samuel gawith best brown flake

Best Brown is (like most Samuel Gawith’s I have opened) perhaps a bit moist for that, and may need some drying time. Others prefer a cube cut (which I like with other flakes). I have tried all three methods, and found option four best: I take one of those good looking flakes and pull smaller pieces off (without rubbing it out). The result looks quite like what can be found in Gawith&Hoggarth mixture tins, like Ennerdale, a kind of loose (almost broken) flake (which, in my experience, have a really excellent burn). These pieces, about the size of a small coin, are stuffed relatively tight into the pipe. Small leftover pieces on top. Not much drying time needed this way.
One flake is enough for two Savinelli KS bowls. The pipe I found to work best has a wide, 4mm bore, freshly cleaned, which lets the air move very freely, without resistance.
One match, and it goes (having some small, even rubbed out pieces on top helps). Burn is very cool, steady and slow. It’s capable of great sweetness (if it’s not sweet, or even turns ashy, it burns too fast, if that happens although you are going real slow, adjust the filling method etc. as pointed out before.) The base note is “stoved”, on top of that very complex aromas appear quietly with every other cloud. It’s worth giving them some attention, although Best Brown also very much invites to look through a book or some maps while it’s scent fills the air.
Occasionally it may go out, and need another match, but it’s not annoying, actually re-lighting does not affect the aroma at all, so one can also lay the pipe down and do something else for a while. If consumed slowly, it has good substance, but is not straight-in-the-face strong. The room note must be quite sweet and pipey (in an unperfumed way). I can see why this is a long standing favourite among many people. Next I will compare it to it’s brother, the Full Virginia Flake.