When to plant

Years of experience and plantings have taught me to plant seeds and seedlings by soil temperature, not by the calendar. Planting while the ground is still too cold causes the seed to sit dormant until it warms up enough to germinate or kills it. Soil temperature is clearly dependent on the lengthening daylight as the sun warms the soil top down. But the length and severity of winter can keep the ground cold longer as it thaws from the bottom up. The best gauge of when to plant is soil temperature.

So hang in there just a little bit longer.

P.S. Although the soil is still too cold for planting, it’s prime time to be soil blocking or creating plug trays indoors.

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Spring at last!

Now that the only snow appears in little pockets on northern exposures, it’s safe to say spring has finally arrived on Chicago’s Southside. The crocus are blooming and many little greenish nibs are protruding through dried leaves.

And those leaves are so important right now! Resist whatever notions of Protestant cleanliness would advise you to clear away all those dried leaves!

Those leaves are actually protecting your perennials — both flowering and edible. Spring here comes with huge swings in temperature in the matter of hours and days that can stress plants to the point of extinction. It’s pretty common for us to have 20-degree snow flurries one day and 50-degree sunshine the next. These huge shifts in temperature stress and strain plants often to death.

Leaves and leaf mulch protect the tender new growth from these extremes. They also preserve much needed moisture in the soil from spring winds. You can help your perennials by gently breaking up any clumps of leaves and scattering the mulch loosely around your garden plants. And don’t be asking your help to be blowing the leaves and lives of your garden plants away!


Yipes! This time of year, these boy toys can kill your tender spring garden growth


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Rhubarb ready for cooking

This year, the rhubarb has flowered or bolted early and has an abundance of tender stalks for cooking now.

Since rhubarb stalks dry out quickly once picked, here’s two tricks to storing the stalks in the refrigerator and preserving their moisture before cooking. First, it’s best to pull the stalks straight off the plant rather than cut them.  Just give the stalk a good tug and it will slide off the plant. Second, rather than cut off all the leaf which is indigestible,  trim the leaf to look like a duck’s webbed foot so the moisture stays in the stalk while you refrigerate it. (Make sure you remove all the leaf when you’re ready to cook your rhubarb.)


Rhubarb harvested by pulling the stalks off the plant and with trimmed leaves to preserve the moisture and tenderness of the stalk. Taken at the Madison Farmers Market, Memorial Day weekend.

And, if you do cut the stems top and bottom, all is not lost. You can cook it right away and freeze it. Or you can put the trimmed stalks in a freezer bag and freeze them until you’re ready to cook them.

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Passel of parsnips

The Kitchen GardenerAll winter long, the parsnips were caramelizing under ground and under snow. I planted these parsnips late Spring 2013 for harvest now.  Lovely to spy their feathery, deep green tops in the early spring garden.

Parsnips are related to carrots, only sweeter and much more deliciously flavorful. Before the potato was brought from the New World to Europe, parsnips were immensely popular in everyday dishes from baby food to stews to chips to cakes. The Romans adored parsnips, considering them a great delicacy, and used them to make cakes. (Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has a recipe for parsnip cake with fresh grated nutmeg and a not-too-sweet buttercream frosting (p. 852). I will let you know how it turns out.)  Sadly parsnips are ignored and unknown now.

I am roasting mine because roasting condenses all the sugars and flavors. It’s also nice to roast carrots with parsnips for your Easter dinner. Parsnips are wonderful steamed until soft and mashed with butter. You can also add sautéed spring leeks or onions with them for a savory dish.

And parsnips are relatively easy to grow. I will be planting my seeds for the Spring 2015 harvest next month in May. Plant, water, enjoy the pretty foliage, and let them do their parsnip thing.

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Learning organic gardening


Photo by Patricia Evans

As some of you know, I started my professional life as a librarian so it gives me pleasure to see public libraries serving the needs of our changing, churning society. The New York Times covers why libraries have not gone the way of the postal service: “In upstate New York, the Library Farm in Cicero, part of the Northern Onondaga Public Library, lends out plots of land on which patrons can learn organic growing practices.” Just how cool is that? Got your library card ready to garden?

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Lettuce trays, take two

Greens are growing!IMG_0575

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Great success growing tomatillos this past growing season. A huge crop which allowed me to experiment with different recipes.

Of course, I made salsa verde.


Best of all, the roasted tomatillos mashed into a green sauce. The roasting brought out delicious citrus flavors along with a tart sweetness. Amazingly delightful. I put it in sandwich-sized zip lock bags and froze it. All winter I’ve been defrosting a batch to stir into guacamole or use as an enchilada sauce.

And a little spice too. These serano chili peppers are hot! Both fresh and dried.


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And we give thanks

Sam GuardOn Thanksgiving, my dear friend Sam Guard shared this grace written by his father Sam Sr. My friend’s father was an agricultural writer and radio host here in Chicago.

Thanksgiviing Grace0001

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And even more to do with green tomatoes

IMG_0880Fall is here. Cool days and nights. My tomatoes ripened into early October which is quite a wonder to have red, sweet tomatoes so late into the year. I don’t mind harvesting green tomatoes because I’ve learned how wonderful they are to cook with and to eat. In fact, in the Middle East, green tomatoes are a cuisine staple. Tonight I’m making green tomato soup, my favorite.

Nourished Kitchen, a great site for preserving and other how-tos, has a great recipe for fermented green tomatoes and hot pepper pickles. Fermenting is an easy and tasty alternative to vinegar pickling. And a good way to use up the last of the garden’s harvest.

See the topic cloud to the right and click on green tomato to find more tasty recipes to use your green tomatoes this season. Enjoy!

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Smoky eggplant dip

IMG_0891Great video with Melissa Clark from the New York Times about what to do with eggplant.

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