Margaret Lauterbach

It’s considered a delicacy and you can grow it in the Treasure Valley

Agretti
Agretti

We’ve heard about the rush of Italians to buy Agretti when it comes to market in spring, but it’s easy to grow here, and edible in late spring and early summer as well. It seeds itself and is even growing as volunteers on a berm of compost near my garden.

Agretti is a non-leafy green, also called Saltwort or Roscano, a little salty, and said to grow in Italy in two special places near saltwater. Since it thrives in our alkaline soil, its apparent scarcity in Italy must mean Italian soil is too acidic to grow it in home gardens. Asians use similar vegetables, all of them species of Salsola. The off-putting relationship is that it’s related to Russian thistle (tumbleweed), which is edible when young.

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Last year I grew early eggplant, but it fruited much earlier than I was ready for it, so this year I went back to standard eggplant varieties. I used to love scalloped eggplant casseroles, but now I can’t eat the crushed top of wheat saltines. I now grow eggplant mainly for ratatouille and eggplant Parmesan.

It’s a fascinating fruit, also useful in curries. Those dishes are late summer dishes, freeze-able for winter meals. But on June 20, Eagle gardener Pat Roloff posted a photo on Facebook of her ratatouille ingredients from her own garden. Ripe tomatoes by June 20? Yes. And ripe squash, onion, pepper and eggplant.

She grew Park Seeds’ Season Starter tomato, said to be ready to harvest in 60 days after transplant. She said the plants were pretty large when she transplanted them May 8. They had been growing in her unheated greenhouse. The pepper was Islander pepper, ca. 56 days to harvest from transplant, seeds available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and other vendors. I’ve grown Islander, and it is a pretty bell pepper with very thin flesh. The thinness of the flesh was reason for me not to grow it again, but it certainly is an early pepper.

Her squashes were a zucchini and a yellow summer squash, both early varieties. Her eggplant was Early Midnight, from Burpees, said to be harvestable in 55 days from transplant. She grows a lot of her produce in Earth Boxes, and pre-germinates many seeds in an Aero-garden.

She grew Swiss chard last year, the only damaged leaf was one that poked out under an insect barrier covering a planted VegTrug from Gardeners Supply. Those kits come with a greenhouse cover and an insect-barring cover.

Roloff is an experienced gardener, a Master Gardener in Idaho and in Arizona. She knows the hazards a gardener faces and how to control them, but she was taken aback recently when she learned that the community well water she was using was quite alkaline – pH 7.8. Most plants grow best at a pH of 6.6-6.8, far more acidic than what she was using.

It’s not cost effective to use bottled or distilled water for a garden. Acidic mulches may help, mulches such as Canadian peat moss, grass clippings or pine needles. If Eagle area gardeners have poor garden results, that super alkaline water may be at fault.

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Do you know what a Harvestman is? It’s a spider, but quite different from other spiders. It has only one body segment (other spiders have two segments), and two eyes instead of the usual eight. It even looks like it has only six legs, but it does have eight. It’s commonly known as a Daddy Long Legs spider, and does not come indoors (except quite by accident). The indoor spider we have here has a longer body and longer legs than Harvestman.

“Harvestman” is so called because we usually don’t notice it until about harvest time, although I have seen one or two earlier in the summer. They’re beneficial, eating aphids, mites, flies, small slugs, caterpillars, earthworms, other spiders, decaying animal and plant matter, as well as bird droppings. They’re not sufficiently numerous to make a noticeable difference, however.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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