Last summer Joe Hanchar and his parents, long-time friends of the farm, spent hard working hours building a pergola at the back of the herb garden. With the help of Paul, another enthusiastic volunteer, Joe was able to see his senior project rise from the ground to become a beautiful and versatile structure.
After digging twelve deep holes and filling them with concrete and rebar, the work crew continued to erect, plumb, square, and nail the Pennsylvania hemlock to completion. The result resembled a railroad trestle, but Rusty reassured Joe the beefy beams were necessary to support the proposed planting of a variety of vines.
Gracing the entrance to Joe’s accomplishment one will find two “Aunt Dee” wisteria vines. Running down the sides on cables are an assortment of grapes. The bulk of the pergola will soon be covered with vines that very few farmers from this temperate climate know anything about – the hardy kiwi.
This kiwi lacks the fuzziness of its tropical cousin and it is the size of a large grape. The flavor is likened to a combination of a banana, strawberry, pear and its fuzzy relative. They grow on vigorous vines and once established are winter hardy perennials. They require a male and female plant to insure pollination and may take up to nine years to produce 50 to 100 pounds of fruit per vine. Hardy kiwi will “after” ripen meaning that when picked it will continue to sweeten in cold storage for up to two months.
Joe’s pergola stands proudly and patiently in anticipation of loads of sweet fragrant flowers and fruit.
Joining the grapes and kiwi on Quiet Creek’s pergola is “one of the most beautiful of all flowering vines” according to Michael Dirr, wisteria specialist.
For years we have admired wisteria vining on the stone walls of New England and trained on arbors in North Carolina. A special memory is sitting under Edith’s vining canopy of wisteria’s fragrant purple flowers in Providence, Rhode Island while sipping fresh lemonade. She was a former landscape client whose garden was over fifty years old.
Growing wisteria in western Pennsylvania is just as easy. Our experience involves two vines in two-gallon pots that patiently waited two years to grow on an honorable structure.
This vigorous vining plant will quickly choke out living trees and crush a weakly made arbor. We recommend a strong cedar, locust, Eastern Hemlock or metal pipe frame to permit the vines to crawl.
Getting wisteria to bloom can be a challenge. Start with a sunny location with lots of damp sandy soil. Soil too rich will provide foliage but no flowers. Pruning the vines heavily and root pruning (cutting the roots with a sharp spade each winter) will encourage blooming. If this doesn’t produce flowers try giving the plant a good beating. All your gardening frustrations can be bestowed on the wisteria with a wiffle ball bat.
The hypothesis is that the plant is “shocked” into thinking it is going to die from the abuse, so it then flowers to produce seed to keep its legacy alive. Rusty has used this method successfully with fruit trees and flowering shrubs.
The sweet grape-smelling wisteria blossoms are worth the extra care, but don’t fall asleep under them for too long. You may wake up engulfed in revengeful vines.
Recently we were introduced to a gastronomical guide called Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America. It is a Peterson field guide that promises to please our palate for years to come.
There are hundreds of misplaced plants growing at Quiet Creek that have been under utilized. Based upon the book, we now are broadening our horizons of wild treats to include spruce pitch chewing gum and wild ginger root candy.
Many roots, nuts, tubers, bark, and pollen yield many delicacies. We’ve been a big fan of elder flower fritters for years, but now we’re eager to try black locust flowers. In addition, young pickled marshmallow flowers sound like an appetizing substitute for capers.
Using various plant species has many benefits. It is a free source of locally-grown, organic food and medicine which mentally and physically empowers the collector. For example, our boys gain a huge sense of freedom and self-reliance knowing the plants they harvest will nourish and cure them.
Lee Peterson, the author of this field guide and the son of Roger Tory Peterson, shares that foraging for wild edibles will give a feel of natural cycles and the flow of energy. Searching for wild food increases our awareness of the climatic seasons and how plants store their nutrients. In spring and summer a wild crafter searches for leafy shoots for green salads and in the fall -- seeds, fruits, and nuts. The best time to harvest plant roots is after a heavy frost.
If we are willing to try something new, there are treats to be had from the wild. It is exciting to explore these free gifts from God, especially with young students. So grab a reliable field guide, step outside the (cereal) box, and discover the delectable delights for an outdoor dining experience.