Archive for vegetable

An Early Taste For Greens

I am not a professional forager, but I do harvest wild plants for eating. The easy ones are summer berries, autumn berries, and pawpaws; the more glamorous ones, morels & chanterelles (although to be truthful, my husband does most of the mushroom hunting);  the prettier ones edible flowers like this one or that one; we even got spice… and the humbler ones are greens. And at the end of winter, I can’t get enough fresh green things to eat.

With the snow finally receding, I go to the garden for those wild greens. Few fields are safe nowadays because of herbicides, and I don’t gather from active pastures! So they are wild in the sense that I did not plant them, not because they are in the wild. In fact, many people think of those early greens as “weeds”, yet they are flavorful and nutritious.

Mache (Corn salad) is hardly wild, but it reseed wildly in my garden… and I have seen it in at least two graveled parking lots around here. It is anyhow very early, actually growing through the winter – with accelerated growth in March and early April. For me, it bolts mid-April. With the help of a cold frame, one could harvest it in any weather. Without, you just wait for the snow to melt. There! Vibrant green. Fresh. A delicious salad. I wrote about growing mache before, but really I have not planted mache in years. I just let it reseed.

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A small rosette of mache

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A big rosette of mache

A big salad of mache, sprouts, homemade pickled beets, diced chicken. Fast food at its best.

A colorful salad of mache, sprouts, homemade pickled beets, diced chicken, pepitas. Fast food at its best.

 

Then we have hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), a small peppery green from the mustard family. It’s native to Eurasia but has made a home in many gardens in North America. I did not realize until recently that it was edible. I don’t find the plant overly bitter, more like a strong watercress (which I am told grow around here but I have not yet found any myself). But I pick it before it goes to flower – flowering generally changes the taste of a plant (lettuce becomes bitter for example). In fact, when in seed, the plant explodes it ripe seed head, projecting seeds away… maybe even in the eyes of the weeding gardener… Gatherer, be warned!  Like mache, hairy bittercress grows in a rosette, so I just cut it at the root level with scissors (which is also how I harvest mache). As for any greens, wash well in a big bowl of water to remove any accumulated soil or debris, and remove any yellowed or tattered leave. Leave the rosette whole or break it. We eat it raw in salad, but it can also be cooked… should you happen to gather several gallons of it.

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Hairy Bittercress in the garden

 

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A large-ish but young bittercress rosette

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A small bittercress rosette, upside down

 

Finally, the third green that’s abundant for me right now is chickweed (Stellaria media), another European native. It’s a bit tattered at the moment now because of the melting snow, but in a week or two, it’ll just be blush againl. Chicken of course adore chickweed, and soon enough, we’ll share. Meanwhile the tips go in salad. If I feel fancy, in early April, I’ll gather whole plants and make a puree soup of the most beautiful green.

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People also harvest dandelion greens and field cress, but I find them too bitter when raw, and I just don’t cook them. If I want cooked greens, I can reach in my freezer; I am hankering for salad right now, so mache, hairy bittercress and chickweed are helping to bulk up the salad bowl. And for that, I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

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)

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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!

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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

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

On Growing Rhubarb

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Until recently I thought tender all-summer long rhubarb was available only in place like England, the Pacific Northwest or Maine. Places with cool and moist summers. Places like Vachon Island where my blog pal Tom of Tall Clover Farm harvest armfuls upon armfuls of crimson stemmed monsters. Makes me turn green with envy…

I was convinced that rhubarb in Virginia was a fleeting all-too brief treasure, the plants sending flowers forth as soon as it got too hot and then considerably slowing down for the summer. Because this denizen of the mountains of Central Asia likes it cool. And since we rarely have a real long cool even-temperatured spring here (let alone a mild summer!), I thought: in Virginia you got rhubarb in May and that was it.

Anyway, that is indeed what I thought until very very recently. Until last week as a matter of fact. Read more

Winter Pickles: Sunroots aka Jerusalem Artichokes

Undemanding. Vigorous. Pretty in a blowzy sorts of way. Tall. You could almost be talking about me. But not quite: Helianthus tuberosus is what I mean. You know: Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes, sunroots, earth apple, tobinambours. Look at them in that somewhat blurry September picture, towering over the arches of the cold frame  – well over 8 feet tall (the arches top at 4 feet tall and the ground is sloping up, so the prospective is somewhat distorted). But tall they will grow in decent garden soil, and that only from spring to fall as they are an herbaceous  perennial –  impressive, no?

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The bright yellow  flower is cheerful and pretty too, in an unsophisticated care-free sorts of way – although small when compared to the overall plant size. Nothing like its fat headed cousin the annual sunflower.

Some people actually things sunroots are “invasive”. Well… for those of us on the Eastern North American seabord, that’s impossible: Helianthus tuberosus is native to Eastern North America (from Quebec to North Florida and as west as North Dakota). How can something native be invasive? Read more

The Taste Of Green

I simply love this time of the year when the days are clear, the nights are cool, the maples are blooming, the buds are swelling on the trees, and so many green things – good to eat too – are poking out of the ground, or just starting to grow for real.

Witness:

  • The acid green of sorrel. Lemony flavor in our salads and tart soups and sauces. Lovely with potatoes.

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Growing Babies

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Seven weeks old (seeded on January 25), and growing. Transplanted once already and soon again!

Those are my super early batch (The main batch was started on Feb22). They are a reliable tasty and prolific cherry tomato for me (Wetsel Red Cherry) and – cross our collective fingers – harvest should start in June. That’s the only reason really to start things so early: to really extend the harvest season.

On Spinach

A month ago, we were under 2 feet of snow with night temperatures in the single digits. This week we garden in short-sleeve shirts and harvest mache, baby lettuce, just-emerging sorrel, baby arugula, escarole and… spinach – lots and lots of spinach. Finally!

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The spinach was not planted in the hoophouse but outside. Last spring we simply did not have enough spinach, not having planted any the prior fall. So this past fall, I did 2 separate sowings, a small one in September to give us some fall spinach, and three long rows in November. We covered the bed with wire hoops, and Reemay. The bed was buried under snow for several weeks, the hoops crushing in the process – they’ll have to be reshaped. Yes, the larger leaves of the spinach are somewhat tattered (but fine enough for the chicken who are happy enough for anything green), but the 2nd planting – much smaller plants – did very well and is starting to grow again. Happily so, too. With enough water, that should provide us with spinach through May. Maybe I’ll even have enough to freeze some later this spring. Read more

A Gross Of Tomatoes

It does roll good off the tongue, doesn’t it? or is it just me?… “a gross of tomatoes”…

Except of course, they are not yet tomato plants, just 144 seeded cells with the promise of 144 seedlings. Seeded on Februray 22 (although the labels read 2/21 because I meant to do it on the 21st but did not get to them until the 22nd, and then was too lazy to change the labels). Hard to look at that one flat and think that’s a potential of 144 tomato plants. Hard not to go and seed an other gross… it seems such a long time away until we can pick tomatoes. Especially when the wind is howling outside.

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