by William Woys Weavers
As far back as I can remember, I have always been surrounded by seeds. During my preschool years, I farmed with my grandparents, and it was my Grandfather Weaver, with his acre or so kitchen garden in West Chester, who raised me at his knee.
My grandfather ran an accounting business, but his heart was in plants. He started collecting seeds in the early 1930s from relatives in Lancaster County where he was born. Before long, his entire property had become a botanical showplace, with fruit trees, bee hives, a pigeon house for racing pigeons (which provided manure for the gardens) and all sorts of wonderful things no one sees today, like Pineapple Rhubarb with yellow stems.
Though slowly gaining a name for itself, bok choy is far from common here in the states. Travel to China however, where the ingredient has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years, and you will find that bok choy is a staple.
This month’s featured gardener Beth Bowman grew up in the Philippines, where the vegetable has been popular since the Spanish conquest of the Asian islands in the 1500s, when many Chinese immigrated to the Philippines and brought their beloved bok choy with them. In 1974, Bowman moved to the U.S., but it wasn’t until the past 10 years or so that she could easily find bok choy in seed catalogs.
In partnership with Hidden City, Plain Sights highlights historic buildings with compelling stories hiding in our midst.
This building at 40th and Filbert Streets in West Philadelphia is where Dr. Albert Barnes manufactured the wildly successful (read: lucrative) antiseptic Argyrol. It is also where he hung his paintings, which would become part of the regular seminars Barnes held for his employees on his theories of art and learning. For more on this story, visit Hidden City Daily, hiddencityphila.org.
My cutting boards are my most treasured — and most used — kitchen items. I rely on these workhorses many times a day, and since they have contact with just about all my food, I’m very careful about how they’re maintained.
My gorgeous butcher block board is near and dear to my heart, but is off limits when preparing animal products. Since wood is porous, secretions from meat and fish can become trapped in the wood when the knife breaches the board’s surface. Caring for this type of board requires specific attention and care. The product you use to clean a wooden cutting board could potentially end up in your food. So I make my own cleaning product using only food-grade cleaning products.
“Beekeeping is a meditative practice,” says Adam Schreiber. “When you are working the bees, they require your full, undivided attention. If you don’t give that to them, they will let you know. They have a very demonstrative way of letting you know.”
A hobby apiarist and former president of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild, Schreiber, 41, works bees in colonies throughout the Fairmount neighborhood. He keeps hives in a community garden, in nearby Fairmount Park and even on the roof of his rowhome.
As anyone with the gardening bug knows, the bleakness of midwinter in Philadelphia has a way of making you dream of warmer times, often hatching ambitious plans for your raised beds. I had one of those moments this winter while looking through the glossy pages of a seed catalog. Among the hundreds of pages of colorful fruits, flowers and vegetables, a particular plant caught my attention: the Fish Pepper.
With distinct white-striped leaves and young green fruit, the pepper bush was interesting in on a purely visual level. But what really got my attention was the pepper’s history as an African-American heirloom plant popular in Philadelphia and Baltimore, dating to before the 1870s. Heirlooms are plants whose seeds have been saved over generations, replanted year after year, consistently reproducing similar traits. Many vegetables offered at nurseries and big-box stores are hybrids that can produce sterile seeds or offspring with erratic traits.