Colors of spring

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Raspberries leafing out

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Passover parsnips

IMG_3927Yesterday I harvested parsnips to roast and serve for my Passover seder. These parsnips I seeded exactly one year ago and overwintered in a bed of leaf mulch. The winter intensifies and carmelizes the sweetness and flavor of the parsnips.

 

Happy Passover! Happy spring!

 

 

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Snow babies

Gardener’s spring nightmare: it snows.

That’s what happened. After days of rain, snow flurries and then snow covering all those baby seedlings. Turns out the bed of snow actually saved the seedlings and seeds by insulating them from the 20 degree weather and a killing frost next day.

IMG_3900Here’s the microgreens thriving and the same spinach pictured last week. And, despite the weather, now the peas are up.

Go figure.IMG_3901

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Plant after final frost

spinach's first leaves

spinach’s first leaves nestled in the leaf mulch

Seed packets always say to plant after the danger of the final frost. But when is that exactly?

Despite the snow flurries and cold, frosty mornings, the ground is sufficiently warm, and the seeds adequately prepared to germinate and sprout. This is the earliest I’ve planted early spring vegetables. So this cold weather is making it a tad nerve-wracking. All, however, seems to be doing just fine: the microgreens, pak choi, spinach, romaine and kale are up and growing; and the peas and lettuces are staying warm below ground for the time being. In another month, we can be confident as the gardens flourish.

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First sightings

Last week I planted earlier than I usually do. And, of course, it rained and then snowed a few days later. Today as I made garden rounds, I spotted the first tiny sprouts having germinated from last week’s seed plantings. Phew! Delightful!

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What’s up, Doc?

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Rhubarb, a perennial, sprouts early in the spring. Don’t you want a new spring frock of the same intense colors?

Last year, spring was five to six weeks slow. Spring 2016 seems to be coming more quickly than last.

As you may recall from earlier posts, I plant by soil temperature, not length of day. This spring the soil is already warm enough for planting.

So I planted this week. I put in seeds for all the early spring vegetables: lettuces in abundance, spinach, French arugula, microgreens galore, kale, Swiss chard, pac choi, radishes, peas.

IMG_3836As I pull back the blanket of leaf mulch from herbs and other perennials, I am finding nubby spring sprouts everywhere. Here is the first asparagus. Since this is the third year for my asparagus plants, it will be the first year for eating these delicacies.

I also harvested brussel sprouts which I overwintered. Somehow the cold enriches and intensifies the flavors. Most of them made it through the winter without rotting or dying. I learned too that the best sprouts come from survivors who were more deeply buried in leaf mulch.

I also wintered over a crop of parsnips that are now pushing up new green plumage. I will harvest these when the plants are fully leafed out, perhaps for Passover next month. For parsnips too, winter concentrates the flavors of an already flavorful parsnip.

Happy Spring!

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New beginnings once again

IMG_3810“For gardeners, this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness; hundreds of thousands of bewitched readers are poring over their catalogues, making lists for their seed and plant orders, dreaming their dreams.”  – Katharine White, Onward & Upward in the Garden (1979)

And so I too have been dreaming all winter. Ordering seeds and seedlings. Drawing garden plots and planning what to plant. Now I’m meeting with exuberant customers to hear what they want to grow and eat this coming season. Even though spring doesn’t officially arrive for another few days, there’s a wonderful, hopeful spring-quality to the air and the soil.

 

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Bounteous harvest

IMG_3166This long, lingering Indian Summer — or whatever the weather is doing with several weeks of hot, sunny days — is bringing in a huge crop of warm weather vegetables. Great, flavorful tomatoes. Great peppers of all shapes and colors. Prolific eggplant. What a treat!

I must admit I was worried we’d see none of these fruit vegetables this year. The long, long cool spring with nights under 60 degrees into July portended a poor tomato crop. So glad to say, “Not so this year.”

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Shrubs, part 2: cold process

IMG_3049I attended the Yum Yum Fest in Madison, Wisconsin, last month and enjoyed several excellent shrub-based cocktails. Refreshing. The chefs I spoke with all used the cold process for making shrubs because it leaves the most fruit flavor in the drink. And that’s the process I’ve been using most often to make my shrubs. (I will write about the hot process and why to use it next.)

In theory, a shrub is made from equal parts fruit or vegetable, sugar and vinegar. The book I’ve been using as a guide, Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times by Michael Dietsch, is the result of Dietsch’s meticulous research, and each recipe modifies the basic formula to achieve the best taste. It also allows for you, the chef, to modify and adapt the recipes to your preferences. For example, a Madison chef with whom I spoke discovered that using less vinegar improved the ultimate flavor of his cocktail concoctions.

The cold process recipe runs roughly like this. Put fruit, let’s say a pint of blueberries, in a medium bowl. Add 1 cup of sugar. Combine and crush the berries. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 2 days. The blueberries macerate, soften and release their juice, in the sugar.

Meanwhile, Dietsch recommends, put 8-10 sprigs of lavender in a container and cover with 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. (This is an extra step and could be omitted.)

Strain the blueberry mixture in a fine-mesh strainer over a small bowl. I repeat this step at least 3 times to get all the juices and to remove any sugar that may still be clinging to the blueberry solids and wash it into the juice. The finer the mesh strainer the clearer your final shrub.

In this case, also strain the vinegar to remove the lavender sprigs. Otherwise, add the vinegar to the juice and combine. You can also do the rinsing step after you’ve added the vinegar.

Pour the syrup-vinegar mixture into a clean mason jar or glass stopper bottle. Cap it, shake it well and refrigerate for one week. Discard the berry solids or re-purpose.

After a week of storing in your refrigerator, your shrub is ready for mixing with water, sparkling water, sparkling wine or other cocktail choices.

Obviously, you have choices of fruits and vegetables for your flavoring, varieties of sugars from white or raw cane to turbinado to agave, and species of vinegars from apple cider to white wine/champagne and red wine.

So imagine strawberry-balsamic vinegar shrub. Or watermelon-basil-white wine vinegar shrub. Myer lemon-champagne vinegar shrub. Cherry-mint-red wine vinegar shrub (with dark rum). You get the idea.

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Birds in the garden

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Butterfly on a Mexican sunflower

Perhaps because the garden is very luscious this year, there are a lot of birds. Sparrows raise their chicks and peck for insects. A cardinal pair nests nearby. There is always the robin couple who raise their broods on the earthworms I cultivate along with the vegetables. And every year I see hummingbirds in the bee balm, scarlet runner beans and Mexican sunflowers.

For the first time, I saw yellow finches feasting on the sunflowers.

 

 

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