Friday, December 31, 2010

This screen saver bugs me

I was sitting at my computer when the screen saver came on. What? Had I fallen asleep? I haven’t ever done that.

Wait! That’s not a screen saver. I’m awake. I’m typing. That’s a live brown marmorated stink bug walking across my computer screen.

Did he like my draft blog so much that he flew down to read it at close range?

Resigned to catching yet another stink bug, I retrieved our soapy-water bottle, our Stink Bug Collector, from the kitchen and was about to introduce the stink bug to bubbly swimming when I had an idea.

Hummm. Clear text from screen. Type something topical—about stink bugs. Grab camera and take photo. Then introduce bug to suds.

What do you think? Is the photo worthy of screen-saver status?

I don’t think so. But it seems so appropriate as 2010 ends—what I call the Gardening Year of the Stink Bug.

What do you call it?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fennel or anise?

On Christmas Eve I was baking some loaves of Swedish limpa, a bread made with beer and flavored with cardamom, orange peel and anise seed, and it occurred to me to wonder, as it has many times before, what the difference is between anise and fennel.  This time I looked it up (once my hands were washed).  The answer is, not a huge amount, but you do need to know the differences if you plan to grow either one.

Both anise (Pimpinella anisum) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) are native to the Mediterranean region.  They are both umbelliferous herbs in the family Apiaceae.  Anise is an annual, dying after one season, while fennel is perennial.  I've never grown anise, so can't tell you if it self-seeds as readily as fennel, though many herbs in that family do.  Fennel is kind of a nuisance, actually; once you let it go to seed it can be hard to get rid of.  Though it can also work well as a landscape element.

Monarda with fennel as backdrop, in the demo garden
The flowers of anise are white, while fennel's are yellow.  Both plants are grown for their seeds, which taste similar (and also like the unrelated liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and star anise (Illicium verum)).  Fennel's delicate leaves are also nice for adding last-minute flavor to some dishes.

The type of fennel most of us are most familiar with is Florence fennel or finocchio, a variety with a swollen stem called a bulb (but it grows above, not under the ground).  Bulbing fennel can be eaten raw in salads or cooked either alone or in mixed dishes to add its unique light flavor.  I like to use it instead of celery in bread-cube stuffings.  The Giant supermarket I usually buy it at calls it anise - you now know that's inaccurate, but since it's in the computer, good luck getting them to change their minds.  At least when the cashier gives it the "what is this strange vegetable?" look you can say "Anise.  But it's really fennel."

I've never had great luck growing Florence fennel, though I have managed to get small bulbs from it.  This variety is technically a perennial as well, but since you have to harvest the whole plant it's grown as an annual.

Fennel or anise seeds are great for freshening the breath.  I like chewing on green fennel seeds as well as the dry brown ones.  And then I save the brown ones for my other Scandinavian bread recipes that call for fennel seeds.  I think when I run out of the anise seeds in the little jar I will just substitute fennel seeds where anise is called for!  Either way, a bright pleasant taste.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

God rest you merry gardeners

Time to sing to and give gifts to your apple tree? Barbara Damrosch, in her “A Cook’s Garden” column in today’s Washington Post, thinks you should. To read her merry column, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An exhibition for vegetable lovers

If you're in Washington, DC before January 9, it's worth stopping by the National Gallery of Art's East Wing to see the (free!) exhibit Arcimboldo, 1526–1593: Nature and FantasyGiuseppe Arcimboldo created some very weird paintings using food and other objects to form portraits.  Has to be seen to be believed!

I spent most of my viewing time in front of the paintings that used fruits and vegetables, trying to recognize the parts of the whole.  Food historians often use paintings (more usually still lifes and scenes of greengrocer shops or kitchens, but Arcimboldo would be a fun break from that) to discover what varieties were available in different cultures and periods.  Some of the paintings you can see at the link and in the show include ears of corn, which was a very new vegetable/grain for Europeans in the 16th century.  Can you pick out some of the veggies in the painting above?

The title of the painting, by the way, is not Bowl of Vegetables.  It's The Vegetable Gardener.  If you want to know why, just turn your computer upside down (or stand on your head).  (The exhibition has mirrors below this set of paintings.)

Monday, December 20, 2010


Celebrate the Holidays,
Celebrate "Grow It Eat It,"
Celebrate Gardening Year 2011,
--Coming to Your Garden Soon!

Bob & Ellen
December 2010

Our holiday “tree” is a home-grown Simpsons Curled lettuce plant decorated with cranberries

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Something else to do with brussels sprouts

Another in the series of "hey, I made a thing" posts - in other words, recipes, but that sounds too formal for those use-up-stuff-in-the-fridge meals.

What I had was a) brussels sprouts, and b) grated celeriac, left over from making too much for the root vegetable slaw recipe (which looked totally different in my version because I used beets.  Anyway).  My way with brussels sprouts these days is to slice them thin and saute them with stuff, so that's what I did.

Brussels Sprout and Celeriac Saute

About 12 brussels sprouts
About half a large celeriac root, grated
2-3 shallots (or part of an onion), sliced
Olive oil
1/3 cup apple cider
1 heaping teaspoon dijon mustard
dashes of red wine or other vinegar
Salt and pepper

Slice the sprouts thinly.  Heat olive oil in a pan and briefly saute the shallots, then add the sprouts and celeriac.  Cook until softened, stirring now and then.  Add the cider, vinegar, and mustard, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir and cook a few minutes longer, then serve.

We had that with Japanese sweet potatoes (microwaved, with butter) and turkey meatballs seasoned with garlic and arugula, plus English muffin bread.  Yum!

This may seem a simplistic observation, but when you start trying to use local and/or seasonal vegetables in cooking, you start to realize that the vegetables that are harvested at the same time of the year usually go together pretty well.  Convenient, hm?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Try this yummy holiday slaw

Looking for a delightful slaw—slightly different—for a holiday potluck or feast?

Look no farther! The Food section of the Washington Post recently included a yummy recipe for what I’ll call “Holiday Slaw.” Unlike most slaws, this one is served at room temperature or even warm. But it’s “holiday” because it contains chopped dried cranberries and crystallized ginger.

Is your mouth watering yet?

I have a reason for calling this yummy dish “Holiday Slaw” and not the name printed in the Post. The reason is that the basic ingredient is Brussels sprouts, a veggie many people love to hate.

On Saturday we visited Bill & Noelene, friends who also had seen the Post recipe and asked us to contribute this dish to their dinner: “Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Ginger.” The dish was a hit. We’ll be making it again. It replaces roasted Brussels sprouts as our favorite sprouts recipe.

I salivate as I recommend it to you for holiday feasting—while fresh sprouts are available in the stores.

I found it more economical to buy the sprouts by the stalk—with the spouts on the stalk equaling about four and a half 10-ounce tubs of sprouts—and in far better condition. We’ll make two dishes out of sprouts from one stalk.

If this recipe has a downside, it’s that it’s labor intensive—shredding those small sprouts. I do it manually, which takes a half hour or so, but perhaps you have some new-fangled machine that would reduce that job to a minute or two.

When I took the label from the stalk, the brand name caught my attention: “Queen Victoria.”

That gave me an idea for a more inviting name for this recipe: “Victoria’s Secret Slaw.”

Isn’t that a winner?

To go to the Post recipe, CLICK HERE.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Inner child garden planning, and other stages

Like Christmas decorations, the seed catalogs appear earlier every year, and for much the same reason - beating competitors to the sales.  I don't mind, though, because I start planning next year's garden early, and it helps to work from next year's catalogs.  In the gardening part of my brain, it's already 2011!

I'm a lot more organized about the demo garden than I am with my own garden, both in terms of fall cleanup chores (though I did use part of the relatively warm weekend to rake up leaves and get them piled on a new sheet-composting bed) and planning for the spring.  But I think I'll manage to slip the home-oriented tasks in around the Master Gardenery ones.  And at least I have lots of leftover seeds.  Hey Bob - it never occurred to me not to save the remainder of each year's seed packets!  How's that for frugal?  I have seeds dating from 2005 that germinated fine in 2010, though I do check germination rates on the older ones before planting. (More on that later.)

In fact, between my own supplies and those belonging to the demo garden, I have a whole heck of a lot of seeds, too many - alas - to keep in the fridge, but I do store them in the coldest room in the house.  So the first of the fall's planning tasks is to do an inventory.  This may not be necessary for those of you with only a few packets lying around.  My demo garden list came to 3 1/2 single-spaced pages.  I haven't inventoried all of my personal seeds (see what I mean about less organized?) but I did list those I am willing to "lend" to the demo garden if need be.  The lists are divided into vegetables, herbs and flowers, and each listing goes: common name, variety, year (printed on seed packet or guessed), and number of seeds (approximate) if there aren't many left.

Another part of demo garden planning that you probably don't need to do at home is choosing a theme, though by no means would I stop you if you wanted to.  I don't always have an overarching principle, but this year I decided on geography: designing "regions" of the garden based on where plant species originated.  The history of how useful plants have been moved around the world fascinates me, and I hope to convey some of that fascination to visitors and to educate them (and myself!) about where their food comes from in a larger sense.  It's also an interesting way to look at the different families of vegetables and how they developed in one or more parts of the world.

So, after some research, I had several lists labeled "Africa," "Americas," "Asia," and "Europe."  (Asia, Africa and Europe have a lot of crossovers, since the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Western Asia are the source of many familiar edible plants.  So I've just had to be decisive about where I'm putting things.  The labels will be pedantically ambiguous.)  Then I cross-referenced with the seed inventory to figure out which plants I do not have seeds for, or not enough seeds, and started the first draft of the shopping list.

As the catalogs arrive, or as I get onto the websites of seed companies with 2011 information available, I check who's got what I want and note that.  I'll be comparing to see where the best deals are, and which varieties I'm most intrigued by.  Eventually I'll select a few sources to order from, and then budget realities will intervene, along with the realization that although I have a large space to work with in the demo garden it is not infinite in size, and I'll start narrowing down until I reach something resembling a final version.  (Last year my seed order list had four drafts.)  Painful decisions must be made, because I do not really have room for five different kinds of edible Asian gourds, or all the interesting kinds of cucumbers, or possibly even tepary beans.  And any vine that gets fifty feet long if you have an eight-month warm season to grow it in is pretty much out.  Seriously.  Don't even go there.

Part of the order selection process is going to be making a map of what goes where.  Right now I just have a vague idea that the whole left side is the Americas (for one thing, I have to accommodate the selections of my fellow MGs who manage tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and I have already been told that I may not have large squash vines crawling up the tomato cages... so, ample space!) and the right side is everything else, and in fact when I planted garlic and shallots (Asia) and multiplier onions (Europe) this fall I had that in mind.  But just how to manage the specifics, keeping in mind crop rotation and the areas that get some shade, is another matter.

However, right now I'm still in the "ooh, look at that, can I have it?" stage of planning.  Winged beans!  Popcorn!  Rainbow Lacinato kale!  Watermelon radishes!  Pretty flowers!  I urge you, in your own garden planning, to include this stage, because it's the voice of your inner child (speaking to Santa Claus, if that's where you're coming from) and deserves to be listened to.  Just let the outer adult make the final decisions.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Veggie snacks honor your guests

The following sentence from her “A Cook’s Garden” column in today’s Washington Post illustrates why I think Barbara Damrosch is one of my all-time favorite garden writers: “Ordinarily a bowl of carrot sticks wouldn’t have much cachet, but baby carrots in December, just plucked from the near-frozen soil that sweetens them, do honor to a guest.” To read “In the vegetable patch, a snack for all seasons,” CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

22° and windy: Good-bye Red Sails

The last of my Red Sails lettuce surrendered to last night’s 22° F. temperature—and collapsed. It survived increasingly low nighttime temperatures over the last several weeks with frost-burned leaf tips, but 22° was just too low.

This morning the nearby Ruby Red chard didn’t look quite as perky as it usually does either—but I think it will continue to grow slowly for a few more weeks. One chard plant survived last winter and put up leaves this past spring, probably courtesy of the insulation provided by last winter’s record snow cover.

Other than chard, only root crops survive, though their leafy tops are suffering from the below-average temperatures too. Two or three Short n’ Sweet carrots await pulling, and maybe a dozen Cylindra beets. Underground, they should be safe well into January.

Frigid days like today make me wonder whether I should try to lengthen my lettuce season for a few days or weeks with a row cover over wire hoops and anchored firmly all around. It should raise the under-cover temperature about four degrees.

But with windy days like we’ve been having, where would I find the row cover in the morning—in the next county?

And do I really want to go out in the frigid weather and open up and then close the row cover again to pick lettuce?

Most gardeners don’t. Some gardeners do.

I’ll have to think about that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Tis the season to bundle up & hoe, hoe, hoe

Repeated heavy frosts have severely damaged the last of my lettuce, as you can see in the photo, so I’ve got to pull it up some windless day soon. But, hey, what are those small green plants growing in the protection of the damaged lettuce? They’re weeds—winter weeds—chickweed and other winter opportunists.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that even though nighttime temperatures are dipping into the teens, many weeds continue growing. A less cold day here, a warm afternoon there, and many weeds will grow to substantial size by late March, when December’s sprouting chickweed will have grown into March’s thick mat.

So I have a choice to make. Am I going to bundle up now and enjoy the bracing weather on some winter day as I hoe winter weeds, uprooting them so their roots dry, freeze, and die? Or am I going to stay snug in my recliner and be faced with deeply rooted and matted weeds next spring?

I’ve decided that I’ll get pull my blue Polartec blanket up under my chin and stay snug in my recliner, and then when the winter wind stops and the weather warms a few degrees, I’ll dash to the garage, grab my hoe, and chop away at my winter weeds.

What long-term vision—weeding in December!

Hoe, hoe, hoe.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Over the river and through the wood

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Cara and Mika’s house I go;
The Tacoma almost knows the way
Through the flakes of showering snow.

Over the river, and through the wood—
Oh, how the wind blows hard!
It shakes my truck and makes me slow,
As I drive on to deliver the chard.

As I looked at our Swiss chard this morning, I noted that many of the larger leaves were beginning to wilt from the consistent, mid-20s nighttime temperatures. The three-day forecast calls for continuing strong winds with highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s.

So I decided to cut chard this morning. Niece Cara had asked for some so she can try a new recipe, so I cut her the best of the remaining crop, enough to fill a plastic shopping bag.

Chard this year has been a garden stand out. The seed was Burpee’s Ruby Red Swiss Chard. It grew vigorously after early spring planting, right through our extra-hot summer, and past our hard fall frosts. Leaves are large, a deep bronze-green with bright-red stems. I cut enough for a side dish for our Thanksgiving feast, and it continues to grow slowly into December.

But one early morning soon, as the temperature dips to 20 or below, the ten plants will succumb, so better to cut it now, I decided, than to lose all. If the plants survive until Christmas, perhaps I’ll be able to cut enough for another mess.

As I got out of my cab and grabbed the bag of chard, I saw three-year-old Liam smiling through a nearby window. Before I got to the door, he and twin brother, Beck, had it open and were shouting a duet, “Uncle Bob, Uncle Bob, Uncle Bob.”

“Lucky boys,” I said. “I’ve brought you some chard for supper.”

The boys are tolerant of their great-uncle, but seemed unimpressed.

“We’ve just come inside,” said their dad. “What were we playing outside, Liam—with sticks?”

“Lacrosse?” I teased these Canadian-Americans.

“Hock-key,” Liam answered.

Ho, ho, ho, I felt like shouting, as I handed over the sack of green and red chard.

Over the river, and through the wood … maybe this is the last of the chard.

Friday, December 3, 2010

FrugalGardener: Overwintering seed--a cool idea

Veggie Garden 2010 is cleaned out for the most part. Autumn leaves are mulched or composted. Garden notes are updated.

Next? It’s time to throw out all the left-over seeds—you know, all those half-filled, half-empty, green-bean, tomato, chard, and carrot packets.

Stop! You can save those seeds to use next spring.

For years the Ancient Gardener never thought about keeping unused seeds for the next year. He just planted and planted until all were used—or just trashed the extras.

At some point the Ancient Gardener started keeping the extra seeds over winter. At first he just tossed them into a container on the workbench in the unheated garage and hoped for the best the following spring, when he discovered that most sprouted quite nicely, thank you.

Really, that idea that veggie seeds will germinate after a year’s storage should be no shock. Seeds of our gardening adversaries, weeds, seem to remain viable for decades.

Here’s a simple way to overwinter your unused seeds: Put them in a capped jar (to minimize humidity) and keep them in your refrigerator (below 40° F).

How long do refrigerated seeds last? That depends on the kind of seeds and storage conditions. The Ancient Gardener usually uses a half packet of tomato seeds one year and refrigerates the remainder for use the next year, with no significant drop-off in germination rate. He uses the stored seeds the second year so hasn’t been pushing the envelope—oops, the packet—on the storage issue.

Interestingly, in some European countries seed packets often tell how long the seeds may be stored. Wouldn’t that be a convenient addition to the info blurb on the back of seed packets on this side of the Atlantic?

The lack of storage information, however, is easily remedied on the Internet. Several websites list veggie seeds and the number of years they may be stored. At the Colorado State University website, for instance, the Ancient Gardener picked out representative veggies and the years their seeds can be stored: lettuce, 1 year; sweet corn, 2; beans, 3; beets, 4; and tomatoes, 5.

Buy too many veggie seeds? Don’t trash your extras. Store them in your fridge and use them next year. That’s a real cool—and frugal—idea.

To link to the Colorado State website, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

FrugalGardener: Reasons to buy a cup o' joe

The wind-swirled rain this morning encouraged the Ancient Gardener to stop at Casual Gourmet in Glenwood for a cup o’ joe after his exercise routine in the fitness room and his half-hour walk in the gym at the nearby community center.

The warming cup reminded the Ancient Gardener of four gardening reasons to buy this special treat.

Reason 1: Use the cup next spring to start tomato or other seeds.

Reason 2: Use the wooden stirrer as a row marker.

Reason 3: Use the cardboard insulator to wrap around the stem of a tomato transplant to stymie cut worms.

Reason 4: If you stop at a Starbucks, pick up a free 5-pound bag of coffee grounds to add as a soil supplement. If the “Grounds for Your Garden” basket is empty, ask a barista how you can get a bag or two.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Organize your garden notes now

At the end of a Gardening Year 2010, you’re just brimming over with thoughts and ideas about what worked and what didn’t and what you’re going to do the same—or differently—in Gardening Year 2011. Perhaps you even have a scattered collection of scraps of paper with scribbled notes on them.

But when Gardening Year 2011 begins, how many of those great ideas will you remember—or be able to decipher? How many will you recall if you haven’t even jotted them down in your personal shorthand?

Now that Thanksgiving is past and the weather is turning colder, it’s time draft your gardening notes.

For five years I kept a garden diary in a bound book, but I wrote in cursive and then had the problem of trying to find particular entries and then deciphering my often abbreviated squiggles. So a few years ago I started a garden diary file on my computer.

Each year I start out trying to write notes on a daily … then weekly … then monthly … then … you get the idea. So at the end of the season I force myself to take my haphazard notes, add my current thoughts, and update my computerized garden notes for the year.

I like computer notes for two reasons: (1.) I type faster than I can write and then can read what I typed, provided, of course, I have my fingers on the right keys, and (2) later I can usually find what I’m looking for quickly by using the “Find” function.

I won’t bore you here with all my 2010 veggie notes, but I’ll give you a few edited samples so you can get an idea of how I do it:

1. Overwinter research recommendations for control of the plague of brown marmorated stink bugs, which took a heavy toll on my tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, and green beans.

2. Don’t repeat the four new lettuces I tried this year, but go back to my long-time favorites, Paris Island Cos and Red Sails.

3. Repeat Burpee’s Short n’ Sweet Carrots, which grew impressively, and sweetly, in our piedmont Maryland clay.

4. Dumb-dumber-dumbest: Remember to order rutabaga seeds, not purple-top turnips.

5. Reduce tomato varieties from 8 to 4 or 5: Sungold, Juliet, Yellow Plum, Celebrity, and another “big red.” Reduce number of plants to 20 max. Those tomatoes aren’t getting any younger.

6. Repeat growing squash around a 4-gallon “drip irrigation” bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Plant green zucchini and yellow crookneck again in late June to avoid squash vine borers.

At the beginning of Gardening Year 2010, I looked around the garden and tried to remember where I had planted tomatoes in 2009 so I could rotate my tomato crop to a different part of my garden. Thorough garden cleanup, three blizzards, and six months had left no tell-tale evidence in either my garden or my memory. I went into the house and searched my computer notes—and found nothing.

Learn from my experience. Write your 2010 garden notes now—which is what I did last night.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cold weather gardening

Today, November 27, 2010, the temperature is about 40*F here in central Maryland and we keep growing vegetables in our garden!
Presently, we are growing/harvesting broccoli, peas, carrots, scallions, green onions, parsley, cabbage, potatoes, garlic and green peppers. While the garlic is growing for the next year, the other veggies are for consumption during the fall season or for hibernation over the winter until spring.
Most of the veggies on our list won’t surprise you, except maybe the green pepper, but it’s the perfect example of cold weather gardening. We grew the peppers during the fall when the temperature was above 60*F (until the beginning of November). Now as long as the temperature is more than 30*F, and we keep them covered at night when the temperature is below 39*F to keep the frost away from the plant, they will survive. For the peppers in the garden, a row cover is handy. It now stays on the plants all the time. For Thanksgiving, we harvested the peppers in the garden (about a dozen) and left the 2 plants (another dozen) in the pots alone.

With some planning and preparation, it is possible to have a crop for fall/winter consumption or winter/spring consumption and even some crops will overwinter (a.k.a. hibernating). In the past we have had success in extending the scallions and peppers season and to overwinter broccoli under a plastic cover for an early spring harvest, but this year is the first time we really tried to push on the subject.

For help, we used one of the 3 techniques below.
Row cover. We used it on the peppers and now it’s broccoli time. We want to give the last head a chance to fully grow and we want to enjoy all the little side-sprouts from the 7 other plants. If we don’t harvest, the plant will go in hibernation.

To help the last scallions to reach maturity, we use a cold frame made with chicken wire and plastic wrap. We use the same protection that we use to protect the broccoli when overwintering.

For the green onions we use the double-covered bed technique. The onions are situated in a cold section of the garden and we want to keep the temperature near the ground higher than under a cold frame or row cover. With a double coverage, it can be possible to grow half-hardy to hardy vegetable all winter. The greenhouse is about 3’x 4’ and cost me less than 30$ (2010) in material.

My goal during the last 5 years was always to have fresh veggies for Thanksgiving. Often we ended the season around mid-November. This year, we harvested veggies on Thanksgiving day.

I was inspired for the cold weather gardening by Eliot Coleman’s book : Four-season Harvest

Friday, November 26, 2010

Eat your landscaping

Adrian Higgins, “Garden” columnist of the Washington Post, interviews Rosalind Creasy, author of the “Edible Landscaping,” which moved veggies and other edibles from backyard gardens to landscapes wherever they might be. To read “Romancing the vegetable garden,” CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from Grow It Eat It

I wish it was my home-grown squash, but it is local - and so are the apples holding up the construction since the metal legs aren't strong enough, and so is the real turkey I'll be putting in the oven soon.  The only "home-grown" element of today's meal will be the last enormous sweet potato of the demo garden harvest, and the herbs for the stuffing.  Better next year!

How about you?  What's going into your Thanksgiving meal that you grew yourself, or bought from a local source?

While we're doing vegetable-animal hybrids, here's what happened to the tougher part of that cushaw squash.

The squirrels are thankful that we feed them.  And I'm thankful to be able to show you silly pictures, and grow my own food and chat about it.  Thanks to all of you for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

If life gives you cushaws...

Here's the last of the "pumpkins" my intrepid Halloween shoppers brought home from the farm stand.  It's a cushaw squash, known either as Cucurbita argyrosperma or Cucurbita mixta depending on the source.

Cushaws have a long American history, having been used by Native Americans throughout the continents and then adopted by settlers from elsewhere.  Some varieties are strongly associated with regions such as the Southwest or the Ozarks.  The orange-striped one shown in the photo is one type; others are green-striped or solid green, orange or white.

You hear different tales about how palatable the cushaw is.  It's traditionally grown for cattle feed, after all, or mainly for the seeds.  Some writers swear it's the best for pies and others say you shouldn't bother.  I came across a very simple recipe at a heirloom seed site and decided to try it.

Well, it was perfectly edible, and tasty enough for a side dish.  I added a little soy sauce and some dashes of cinnamon to the basic recipe; it could be jazzed up more with a touch of hot sauce or some minced hot peppers, or made sweet and spicy.  Cushaw has a distinct squashy flavor, but aside from that it's a blank slate that you have to write on.  Here's a recipe for cushaw custard with more information on common varieties.

I haven't grown cushaw myself, but I gather it's one of the easier squashes to grow if you have the room and a fairly long growing season (or a good warm microclimate).  Along with its cousins in the C. moschata species, C. argyrosperma/mixta is resistant to squash vine borers.  It grows big and stores very well, and thus makes an excellent staple food in the same vein as potatoes.  Personally I think I'd get bored if I had to eat it all winter.  If you don't have a huge garden and lots of storage space, I'd recommend growing butternuts instead: similar ease of growth, borer resistance, much better taste, and shorter vines (though they still cover a lot of space).  But cushaws look really cool and are very historical, so if that brings you joy, go for it!

"If you can grow him, he ain't no problem to get rid of"

They’re ugly, disease-prone, and difficult to grow. But Hayman sweet potatoes have been growing in Eastern Shore gardens and fields since 1856. Sweet potato lovers put their names on waiting lists to buy these sugary, creamy-white heirloom treats—which may be available at a farmer’s market near you some year soon. To read “The dirt on Haymans,” by Lorraine Eaton, in the Sunday Washington Post, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Explaining the broccoli cousins without DNA testing

Confused about broccoli, broccolini, broccoletti, and broccoli rabe? Barbara Damrosch takes six paragraphs to set you on the right track in her “A Cook’s Garden” column, “Honey, I shrunk the broccoli (and improved it),” in today’s Washington Post. CLICK HERE to link to her article.

Veggie seed saving--just as in centuries past

You’ve got to meet Lisa Von Saunder, who saves heirloom veggie seeds just like Amish and Mennonite gardeners have been doing for a couple of centuries and then sells them in what Adrian Higgins, Washington Post gardening columnist, calls a “cottage industry, a throwback to the century before last.”

The favorite of the 123 tomato varieties she sells: “The best-tasting tomato is a toss-up between two identical varieties, Todd County Amish and Amish Potato Leaf,” two pink beefsteaks, Von Saunder said.

If you’re a tomato freak like I am, CLICK HERE to read Higgins’ article, “Gathering seeds for a growth enterprise” in the Local Living Section of today’s Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two tutus for fall broccoli

Did tutu fabric protect Howard County Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich’s broccoli from cabbage butterflies this summer?

I checked with Susan last week at her plot at Westside Gardens, a part of Columbia Gardeners, Inc., to get a progress report.

“Yes, the tulle did its job. The larvae of cabbage butterflies weren’t a problem,” she said, as she pulled the fabric back to show me a broccoli head. “I’ve been cutting about two weeks now. The first head was pretty large. With the shorter days, the rest of the broccoli are growing more slowly now.”

The tutu worked to keep the butterflies from getting to the broccoli leaves to lay their eggs but didn’t solve a new problem—harlequin bugs.

“Harlequin bugs weren’t a problem before this year,” Susan explained. “The netting didn’t provide total protection against them. It kept them out of the centers of the plants, but then they just sat on the top of the tulle and sucked on the leaves through the fabric’s little holes.”


“I added another layer of fabric,” explained Susan, who gardens organically. “The second layer was a little stiffer than the first and both layers together were enough to prevent the harlequin bugs from reaching the leaves.”

Any other problems?

“White flies. Tons of them materialized about a week ago. But so far they’re just a nuisance and haven’t damaged the plants.”

“The brown marmorated stink bugs weren’t a problem for the broccoli, although they decimated my pole beans. They didn’t damage my chard, lettuce, or root crops, such as potatoes, beets, and carrots.”

Susan’s thought of one possible way of thwarting the stink bugs.

“Pole beans grow over a long season, so it seemed that several generations of stink bugs were able to attack them. Next spring I’m going to try bush beans, which produce relatively quickly. If the stink bugs are a big problem then, I’ll just not plant a second or third crop.”

Susan shared her favorite broccoli recipe:

Pasta with Broccoli and Tomatoes

Briefly blanch or steam 1 head broccoli, cut into flowerets, until bright green.

Toss together in a bowl:

¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped (sauté gently in the oil first for a less pungent garlic taste)
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
The steamed broccoli
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Cook 1 pound ziti or penne until al dente.

Toss together pasta and veggies.

Top with ¼ cup grated Parmesan.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4.

Adapted from The Dinah Shore Cookbook.

If you want to read my August 7 blog about how Susan uses tutu fabric, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Susan's winter crop: Garlic

Most people think of winter gardens in terms of zero—nothing happening, nothing growing. But Howard County Master Gardener Susan Levi-Goerlich knows that something will be growing in her garden this winter—garlic.

“I planted most of my garlic about two weeks ago,” Susan said last Friday, pointing to several green sprouts—garlic leaves—poking through a thick mulch of shredded leaves. “October 15 to November 15 are the planting dates for garlic in Maryland.”

“Garlic likes good soil plus a thick mulch of shredded leaves or straw to help protect it through the winter. And it needs the mulch through the spring growing season too, because it doesn’t compete well with weeds. Planting is simple: two and a half inches deep and six inches apart, pointy end up. I use my weeding tool to make a hole in the soil for each clove.”

Susan bought heads of garlic from several suppliers last year and uses the best of that crop for her seed cloves. “I have six hard-neck varieties. Unfortunately, I didn’t label them when I planted last year, so I can’t really tell them apart, except for the two types that are purple.”

This year Susan has planted about 100 cloves, enough to fill a 4-foot by 8-foot raised bed at her plot in Westside Gardens, a part of Columbia Gardeners, Inc. The 100 cloves, of course, will grow into 100 heads of garlic, right?

“Yes,” Susan replied. “We eat a lot of garlic. Last year I planted 150 cloves and ended up with 12 mesh bags full, which was a lot. I had to go online to find ways to preserve it before it went bad. I pureed some with olive oil and froze it in ice-cube trays for use in Italian recipes. I also chopped and froze some without olive oil.”

Susan expects to harvest her garlic next summer. “Traditional harvest date is Bastille Day, July 14, but I’ll begin checking in late June because some varieties mature earlier,” she said.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Warty pumpkin soup

Yeah, there might be a better title for this dish.  But really, I started with a warty pumpkin:

My family went a little crazy buying Halloween pumpkins at a great farm market north of home, and this was one of them.  No, we didn't try carving it, although some people do - it has very thick flesh, though, as you can see:

Big beautiful seeds, too, that I roasted.  But back to the warts.  This sort of pumpkin (it's really a squash, as are all pumpkins, even the standard jack-o-lantern types) is also called peanut pumpkin, bumpkin pumpkin, and probably other names (I don't know the specific variety name of this one).  Some squashes naturally develop these warts, and this sort is carefully bred to enhance that tendency.  In 2009, a seed company tried to patent all warty pumpkins (see articles here and here) but since warts have been decorating pumpkins for centuries the attempt failed.

So here's my try at a soup (since I had to use the pumpkin for something, and the squirrels on the front porch had nearly finished the carved jack-o-lantern and started chewing on Wartyface, not very effectively).  I scooped out the insides and cut the fleshy part into large sections, then put them in the oven to bake at 375.  They were in there a bit too long - the idea is to make the flesh tender but not soft.  I put some butter on top of each piece:

It might also be interesting to use a little honey, brown sugar, or cinnamon.  Anyway, then I separated the flesh from the skin and chopped it into 1-inch pieces.

Next: saute a sliced medium onion (or half a really big sweet one) in olive oil or butter until tender and browning, then add the pumpkin chunks and keep stirring occasionally.  I also added a bunch of fresh herbs I had on hand (dill, parsley, cress, chives - but whatever you have around that doesn't clash is good) and salt, pepper, coriander and cumin.  And garlic, of course.  Add enough broth (and/or beer) to make it soup-like (the pumpkin itself will still release some liquid) and let it simmer for at least half an hour.  Pureeing is optional, but I did an adequate job with my Really Old Immersion Blender, and it turned out well.  And wow, yummy.  Those warty pumpkins have a great taste.

Maybe call it Herbed Pumpkin Soup, since you could make it with any type of pumpkin, or squash for that matter.  The other squash dish we had recently (also courtesy of the farm market) used a Long Island Cheese and was based on this Dorie Greenspan recipe-in-progress (I like that approach to recipes, since just about all of mine are in progress constantly).  My pumpkin was much bigger than hers, so I had to add extra filling, and used bulgur wheat with a little more liquid to cook it.  I also included onions, sauteed a little ahead of time.  It was a little goopy but good.

It would be interesting to try it without the cheese and with a more typical Thanksgiving-turkey kind of bread stuffing.  But I will have to get another pumpkin for that, because the only remaining one from the farm stand is a big Cushaw, which is shaped wrong for stuffing.  I'll let you know later what I do with that one.

Veggie orchestra--really?

Have you ever listened to an orchestra with instruments made from veggies?

If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. If your garden produces too many veggies, start a veggie orchestra.

No, my tomatoes haven’t been stewed. There really is a veggie orchestra, the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which has been giving the world a taste of fresh veggie music since 1998.

If you’re having a hard time imagining a veggie instrument, think carrot or radish flute. For brass, think carrot trumpet with bell made of—don’t be shocked—a bell pepper. For percussion, think turnip bongo, pumpkin drum, and eggplant clapper. On the mellower side, think cucumberphone.

You’re still not taking this seriously, are you? But the Vienna veggies are for real. They have several CDs out, the latest called “Onionoise.”

“Noise” probably isn’t the best word to associate with veggie music. Perhaps “funky and groovy” or “organic experimental sound” would be better.

And it’s comforting to think that in a world of veggie orchestras, no one would starve. After each concert, the conductor could collect all instruments and cook up a pot of vegetable soup.

“Brass and percussion, report to the kitchen!”

Eat your hearts out, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Lucky you weren’t celery.

Ready to view and hear a 2-minute veggie concert? CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Salsify, in bloom and for dinner

Okay, if I hadn't just given it away in the headline, would you know what this flower is?

Along with okra, salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) goes under the category of Prettier Flowers Than You Thought Vegetables Had.  This particular one also fits into the Biennials Pretending To Be Annuals group - it was not actually supposed to bloom until next spring.  Well, it has been a strange year.

What is salsify, you ask?  It's a member of the family Asteraceae, native to Europe but growing wild along with its "goatsbeard" cousins all over North America.  It used to be a common resident of the vegetable garden - often called "oyster plant" for the faint resemblance in flavor - but is not often grown these days.  So of course I thought I'd try!

Both salsify and its relative scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica, sometimes called black or Spanish salsify) are easy to grow, though they do require a deep loose soil and a long season to grow in (seed sown early in spring; harvest in fall into winter).  I dug some of the plants at the demo garden today, and left some to wait for an early spring harvest (or perhaps bloom).

You eat the roots (although the greens are also edible - I can't say I'm taken with chewing on them raw, but perhaps they'd be better cooked).  Here's a salsify root, about the size of a big carrot:

Under that dirt the root is whitish - it needs to be peeled before eating.  Scorzonera has black skin and a white interior:

There are lots of recipes around for salsify if you search online (and you can use scorzonera in any of them as well).  Since I still have Jerusalem artichokes to use up, I made this recipe for Braised Salsify and Jerusalem Artichokes from the Washington Post.  It was very tasty!

It's a good idea to put both the salsify and the sunchokes into water with some lemon juice added as you cut them.  This keeps them from discoloring.

You  may be able to find salsify or scorzonera now at farmer's markets or adventurous grocery stores, so look around!

Leaves--nature's mulch

Don’t even think of burning or bagging and tossing the falling leaves. In her “A Cook’s Garden” column in today’s Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch, suggests how you can use them in flower and veggie gardens and on the lawn.

I think her lead sentence is a great one for a gardening article: “It’s November, and nature is mulching.”

To read her short article, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turnips, carrots, and garlic: fall garden stalwarts

Plant carrot and turnip seed in the garden in late July through early August in Central MD and you're rewarded with October/November harvests of nutritious, delicious roots- not to mention the turnip greens! The carrot plants (left) and turnip plants (right) were planted in an 8 in. deep raised bed. Cover the bed with some floating row cover to push for more growth and a bigger harvest.

I planted garlic cloves a few weeks ago from the 'German White' hardneck garlic I grew last year. The cloves were planted 6 in. apart in rows spaced 12 in. apart. They started to sprout in 2 weeks time. After Thanksgiving I'll mulch them heavily with shredded leaves. Deer have not browsed my garlic in past years.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vote early and often

Don't forget to vote for Grow It Eat It at the Mobbies!  Click on the icon to the right and follow the instructions.  (You will have to register to access the Baltimore Sun if you haven't already done so.)  Each person can vote once every 24 hours in any category.  You'll find Grow It Eat It under "Foodie."  Votes accepted through November 12 - this Friday!

Also, if you follow the Home and Garden Information Center on Facebook, please vote for them under Facebook Fan Page!

All of us approve this message.  Thank you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chickweed: Kill it or eat it?

Barbara Damrosch takes aim at chickweed, king of winter weeds in our area, in her “A Cook’s Garden” column in today’s Washington Post. To read her article, CLICK HERE.

Enjoy Damrosch's article. A little weeding now and then through this fall and winter will minimize your need to weed next spring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ornamental sweet potato fries

Another in the We Eat Them So You Don't Have To... No, Wait, You Should series.

Last night at my house we had oven-baked sweet potato fries, made with this recipe.

Tasty although I used a little too much paprika and should have kept them in the oven longer, since they were soft but not crispy outside.  But hey, we were hungry.

Try the recipe!  But that's not the point of this post.  See the yellow-colored fries in the above photo?  The orange ones are regular Georgia Jet sweet potatoes from the demo garden, but the yellow ones I dug up yesterday from under my ornamental sweet potato vine (the purple-leafed kind) that has been spreading out at the base of my mailbox all summer and fall.  After the frost, it was ready to go, and since I'd already done the research that showed its tubers would be edible, I threw in the three I found that had fattened up.  (Neglected to take a photo, sorry.  They look like white sweet potatoes.)

Ornamental sweet potatoes are bred for pretty leaf color, not taste.  And these tasted... kind of bland compared to the others, but not offensive.  Rather like regular potatoes, in fact.  So, dig up your sweet potato vine and if you have tubers, try them.  I am still fine seventeen hours later.  (Actually I have a cold, but that's not dinner's fault.)

Warning: always check authoritative sources before experimenting with new foods you may have inadvertently grown!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Celebrating Pumpkin Weekend, Day 2


In Quebec, we say "Halloween!" and not "Trick-or-Treat!"

As with every Sunday morning at the Donna-Nicolas House, we bake muffins and enjoy a pot or two of tea while reading the Sunday newspaper. For this edition we had pumpkin muffins, a recipe from this wonderful recipe book, because it's Pumpkin Weekend!!!!!!

After enjoying the beautiful fall temperature by raking some leaves and winterizing the drip irrigation system in the garden, it was time to come back to the kitchen for more festive cooking. First, Donna made an acorn squash bisque and the pumpkin butter for the pecan-crusted pork. As for me, I prepared the tomatoes Provencal , some whole roasted tomatoes, and the salad. All the tomatoes are fresh from our garden.

Naturally, some dessert is essential for celebrating Pumpkin Weekend (Day 2). We had in our freezer some unused phyllo sheets, which I used to make a Bulgarian dessert called Tikvenik, or in other words, Pumpkin-filled phyllo. It can be made in a spiral or, like ours, in a long strip.

Tomorrow, Monday, we will go into overtime with roasted pumpkin bits as a side dish. By the way, all our festive feasting this weekend was courtesy of a single pumpkin. An average "big size" field pumpkin, a.k.a "Jack-O-Lantern", will give you north of 6 cups of puree, with some chunks left over for an additional side dish. Oh, and be sure we will be eating pumpkin left overs for a few more days.

Happy Pumpkin Weekend!

Demo garden, late October, winding down

Our second-to-last official workday at the Derwood demo garden was this Thursday.  We hadn't had a serious frost yet, but it had been chilly and wet. After the previous day's rain, the early morning garden, covered with many-hued fallen leaves, looked magical.  Even the ubiquitous and much-maligned fennel had taken on a new look.

We took out most of the summer plants: tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc.  Many green tomatoes were harvested and taken home to fry or make relishes with.  Most of the flowers, and the hot peppers since they look so nice, were left until next time.  We dug out the lemon grass, which was a big job but worth it.  Always add a lemon grass plant to your vegetable garden or landscape if you have a few square feet available!

When we were done the garden looked very empty.  We added compost to the beds we'd cleared, all ready for next spring.

I would have taken out the mouse melons on the arbor, since they are pretty much done producing and the first real frost will kill them, but either the same praying mantis who's been hanging out there since the Harvest Festival, or a relative, was still there... disturbing us by chowing down on a bumblebee.  (As you can see, the mouse melons are still making flowers, and the bees love them.  Fatally, in this case.)  Ria's encouraging example shows us the value of these fascinating insects, but they will eat any bug that gets in their way, not just the ones we don't like.  But we're thrilled to be finding lots of mantis egg cases, and are keeping them safe for the spring.

Another task for next time is harvesting luffas for sponges.  Our crop is almost ready.  If you want to know how to grow your own sponges - and, if you harvest them younger, edible and tasty gourds - visit this site for lots of useful information, and also check out Wendy's Greenish Thumb post on how to process the sponges.

When we're finished with clean-up, all that will be left is to visit occasionally to harvest fall greens.  I took off the remaining row covers this week since the cabbage butterflies and harlequin bugs are gone, and everything we're growing will be fine in the cold (the kale and collards will probably survive being buried in snow).  Broccoli is heading up and will be ready soon.  We have some tasty upland cress, and parsley which I'll leave in the ground to come back next spring.  And we have a charming little row of pak choi under the maple tree!

I hope your fall garden is giving you lots of good things to eat!  On to spring planning - my favorite part of the gardening year, since the possibilities are endless and the problems are easily forgotten.