Archive for Kitchen Garden

Signs of Spring

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March 30:  black currant leaves just visible.

April 2: 14F (14F!!!!!!) at night. Forecast called for 24. I did not cover my newly planted brassicas. A week later they show damage – the outer leaves show large whitish spots.

April 3: spotted the first green deciduous tree on the way to a client – a weeping willow with its acid yellow-green new leaves.

April 5: Keith installs 2 new bee colonies.

April 7: peas pushing through. No sign of the fava beans. Afraid the mice got them.

April 8: we are harvesting large bowls of salad “greens” from the garden. My favorite fast food available again!

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April 9:  first bear visit of the year. Yikes! A big fellow (or madam?) too, on the porch, at 2 AM sniffing around empty grain bags. He carried out the box where I neatly fold the bags and proceeded to go through them. No damage done. Noise maker in action…

April 10: First dandelions blooming here. Time to start watching for bee swarms.

April 11: Spice berries clouded in yellow. Can the redbuds be far behind? And we all know what that means



Restarting The Kitchen Garden

I wish I could say that year-round gardening is the way of life here. But it has not been true for the last couple of years when several things have – ahem! – come in the way of winter gardening. So it’s spring, and I am planting!

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Lower Garden on March 23, 2014

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On Cardoon

My husband says “cardoon” sounds like something out of The Lord of The Rings. I say it’s more like Deep Space 9.

Either way, we love it here. It’s beautiful in the garden and it’s delicious (recipe at the end of the post)


While I normally start cardoons from seeds, this year I was too lazy/too late/too swamped to start seeds, and so I bought 6 healthy seedlings at one of our local small family-run nurseries Morningside Farm & Nursery. They have a super nice section of herbs, succulent, tropicals and perennials. Morningside sells cardoon as an ornamental – perennial in zone 7 or lower. For us in the Nothern Virginia Piedmont, it’s a perennial if we have mild winters — which we  have had for the last several years. Certainly cardoon is a very striking plant in the garden, with its statuesque presence (if grown well, it can reach 6 feet when in flower — the 2nd year), its large silvery felt-like leaves and its oversized thistle flowers (assuming you let it bloom). It IS a gorgeous plant. And gorgeousness is the reason most people will ever grow them for. But it’s also eminently edible: it’s an artichoke grown for its stem. When properly prepared, they do indeed taste of artichoke. The other artichoke, globe artichoke, is grown for its flower bud. Yep, you are eating a thistle bud when you eat an artichoke!


Cardoons growing with Swiss chard. Both vegetables produce stems that make sumptuous gratins.

Plant them out at the same time the morels emerge. Read more

Postcard from The Garden

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The bumble bees – I have really been noticing them this year – and how hard they are working:  on the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the squash, the blackberries and the raspberries – and yes on ornamental too, like this sulfurous cosmos. Thank you, my ladies!

Growing Ginger In Virginia


Nothing could be simpler than growing ginger in Virginia.

It’s almost true.

Just dug baby ginger in the fall


Ginger is reasonably ornamental – a reed-like plant with clear green leaves. While it can be grown in the vegetable or herb garden, it is not out of place with ornamental plants – provided you can dig them out easily enough — without damaging bulbs or perennials. Don’t plant them with daffodils!

A small clump of ginger growing with other tropicals and annuals


So yes, it is tropical – but that not necessarily a reason not to grow it. We grow many other plants from the tropics and treat them like annuals. You can do the same with ginger.

I have grown it for years in my garden – small yield but it was mine! Ginger requires a long frost-free growing season — about one year for mature ginger, 8 months for baby ginger. That’s more than our climate allows… except that you can start ginger indoors. farmers do it in high tunnels (aka hoophouses). I start it my greenhouse, but a very sunny window or sun room will work. With a warm early start in late winter, appropriate temperatures at all times, abundant water, and judicious shade, you can grow ginger to a harvestable size. Read more

Late Fall Gardening

It’s amazing what a basic (read “scrounged”) cold frame or fleece (agricultural fabric) can do in extending the planting and harvesting season. The simple and inexpensive protection makes a huge difference by giving the plants a few more heat degrees and some wind protection.

Square beds house hardy veggies at various stages of growth with the help of agrofabric


Arugula, cutting celery (parcel), lettuce (lots of lollo rossa), dill and an underveloped holly savoy cabbage


Leeks. As they are harvested, I plant/transplant violas (edible), mustard and lettuce. I also just threw some mache seeds in there.

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Postcard from the Garden

November 6 – first hard freeze, down to 26 this morning. Good thing I harvested all the baby ginger that was growing outside. I still have some in a tub taken to the greenhouse. Let’s see how long it keeps growing.

Ending The Summer Garden

October 31. Let’s call it over. Hurricane Sandy passed through: let’s consider it done with the summer garden – wasn’t that much left any way, between the summer heat and drought, and our early October frost (Oct 12).

The storm uprooted our old apple tree. The wind flattened the Michaelmas daisies, the titonias and the flamboyant dahlias. It also blew over the peppers: they were still going strong – and I have been growing lots of peppers this year.

Some of the pepper plants in August

I picked another peck of green, wax and Merveille de Piedmonte beans on Sunday before the storm. Will harvest all remaining peppers in the next couple of days as it is too muddy now. It’s should be a another decent harvest since  the last few weeks were Indian summer after all – if dry.

And so this year – a brief run down on failures and successes: Read more

It’s Okra Time

I used to start okra early in cell packs. Not until after the spent peas or favas were pulled out in early summer, did they get finally planted out – all miserable after such an over-extended stay in tight quarters. In bad years, I would even try to use them as a late crop and direct seed them sometimes in July – or even early August. Like I do for beans. What a waste. Never could they produce a good crop. Never could I harvest enough. And I resented the space they took too.

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Young okra pods and okra buds

Okra loves the kind of weather I despise: hot, muggy, sultry, air so  thick with suspended water vapor you feel you are in a  steam sauna… bugs a-bonus and no icy fount to cool in. That what they want to grow and fruit. If I must put a sweater on, okra sulks. The wrong side of 60° F for more than 2 days, and okra retires!

So, having decided that okra deserves its own bed early on, and needs not languish until after I belatedly pull up something to make room to cram it in, I  direct seeded in mid-to-late-May. It has been loving it. Make enough mistakes and you can learn too! Read more

February Garden Tasks

Dada! Indoor seed starting. Some hate it, I love it!
200 pepper seeded in late January, up-potted and looking rather good. Peppers take along time to grow: they need to be well established in the garden before summer heat parks itself over us. When it’s too hot, many drop their flowers and one harvests very little until temperatures moderate again in the fall. I plant a mixture of bells, cubanelle, Italian, a few chiles and some odd ones. And I start them early!

The 2 dozen eggplants are looking well and the 15 tomatoes (the ones started in January in hope of a early harvest) are already 3″ tall. This week-end, another 50 cells got seeded with more tomato varieties. In the greenhouse, celeriac and violas have been transplanted to individual cells, chard is germinating and leeks finally got seeded. Some kale seedlings were up-potted and left in the greenhouse – the remainder transplanted outside under agro-fabric.

Outside, I direct-seeded 3 kinds of peas on Sunday: 2 sugar snaps and one dwarf garden pea. I always soak the seeds for several hours until they plump before planting them. Read more