July 10, 2012
Have I ever sung the praises of humble lettuce here? I’ve probably overlooked it despite how much it contributes to our diet and our garden. So, today’s the day!
From the soft, tender crunchy leaves of Buttercrunch, which we grow from seed all season long, to the deeply cut, crinkled rusty leaves of red oak leaf and mysterious, speckled varieties that I bought as starts to “fluff up” the garden before our recent tour, let me remind you that lettuce is a must-have in any garden!
It adds seasonal color and foliage to the garden. It grows well in dappled sunlight and even deeper shade in warmer climates. It germinates rapidly and continues to mature to luscious heads quickly.
It may be harvested by thinning out young seedlings from thickly sown patches to create microgreen goodness. Removing a few outer leaves from each of several young plants creates a baby greens salad quickly. And, when an entire head is sliced at ground level and the root is left behind, a new head of lettuce will likely form from that same root.
True, lettuce is a cool season crop. But, here in the Pacific Northwest, that means it grows well from late winter until the first freezes of fall. And, with a passive protection system like an unheated greenhouse or cold frame, you may be able to grow it even when the freezes hit. If a head or two begins to bolt during the heat of summer, that leafy goodness is great fodder for the compost pile or pecking for chickens. Just re-seed every week or two to ensure a continual harvest.
On the warmer days, get out in the garden early to harvest your salad greens. Dunk them into a sink filled with chilly water. Swoosh it around and then let the garden grit fall to the bottom of the sink. Gently lift the washed greens, place them in a salad spinner, give it a whirl and then put the whole thing in the fridge to chill during the day. Come evening, even greens that were slightly wilty when picked will be perky and perfect for the table.
At our house, we’ve had some health changes that mean we’re eating more green salads than ever before. Some are kale. Others are chard and spinach. Many are cabbage. But, most of all, the basic leafy green dinner salad in our home contains loads of lovely lettuces.
Consider some of our favorite veggie mixes in a rich, nutritious seasonal salad tonight. Something similar to this one will be on our table. How about yours?
- Mixed lettuces, harvested at dawn
- peeled and sliced cucumber, harvested early & chilled
- 6-8 sugar snap peas, string removed and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
- freshly pulled & scrubbed carrots shaved with a peeler
- fresh, raw baby beets, peeled and sliced thin
- a few tablespoons of raw sunflower seeds
- a few shavings of Romano cheese
- a handful of roasted, chopped cashew nuts
- a few pansy petals, borage blossoms or other edible flowers
- Tossed with a tiny amount of homemade vinaigrette
June 28, 2011
I can’t believe we’re just days away from the 4th of July. The weather and the garden haven’t really prepared me for the fact that summer really is here. It’s been all leafy greens — up until today.
Yep! Finally, snow peas, sugar snap peas and even a few strawberries were ready to harvest this morning. In most years, all of these crops would be on the wane — or at least mid-way through their big harvest period.
This year, not so much.
We’ve been trying to stay happy with lots of salads filled with kale, lettuce and chard. But as much as we love these nutritious, generous foods, they do get tiresome after a while.
If your crops are lagging, don’t despair. The salad days of our never-ending cool, wet spring are nearly over. Other slow growing yummies will start rolling in soon, and you’ll probably end up with a huge harvest rush when they do. Keep a close eye on early berries and peas. If you don’t snatch them up, wildlife will. And, the more you pick, the more the plants will continue to produce for you!
Savor all the sugary sweet goodness that comes with early summer harvests from spring-bearing plants that have enjoyed loads and loads of fresh water from the sky — not the hose!
Oh, and try not to squeal too loudly as you find these goodies in the garden. All that dependable kale, lettuce and chard you’ve been enjoying for months now might hear you, feel a bit insulted and decide to bolt. Then you’ll really be sorry (or not).
June 17, 2011
Finally, our garden is starting to yield more than just lettuce. Too, the chickens at Ballard Bee Company headquarters sent a few eggs our way recently. And our herbs are tender with fresh new growth, but they aren’t blooming. This is a a peak moment to enjoy them. And, our basil in the greenhouse was ready to be pinched to encourage it to become more bushy. So, last night I pulled together this tasty frittata to celebrate the arrival of our beautiful Neon Lights Chard from Renee’s Garden Seed, which I planted earlier this season.
Served with warm polenta & a fruit salad, it made for a delicious breakfast-for-dinner kind of meal.
(hint: serve this anytime of day)
- 1 bunch chard, leaves washed and torn, stems composted
- 2 spring onions chopped
- olive oil
- 1 garlic clove (or scape)
- 1 T. fresh thyme
- 1 T. fresh basil
- 3 T. fresh parsley
- fresh ground pepper
- coarse salt (kosher is ideal)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- 4-6 T. chevre cut into 1/2 teaspoon bits
- 8 large eggs
Add about 1 T. olive oil to omelet pan. Heat over medium and then saute chopped onion until soft. Add in chard in batches, adding more as each addition wilts. Cook until most of the moisture has evaporated. Season with salt & pepper, emove from pan and set aside. (Wash out pan to use again.)
Crush garlic with a pinch of coarse salt. Add in torn herb leaves and continue to crush. (Parsley may require a brief chopping before crushing.)
Whisk eggs to break up. Then stir in herb/garlic combo, chard/onion saute and cheeses, reserving about 1-2 T. of Parmesan.
Add about 1 T. olive oil to omelet pan. Heat until pan is very hot. Pour in eggs and shake briefly to distribute egg mixture across the pan. Let sizzle on medium-hot 1-2 minutes, then reduce heat to very low. Run a spatula around the edge of the frittata at this point to be sure it isn’t sticking. Then cover and let cook on low for about 15-20 minutes, checking frequently.
When the eggs are cooked through but the top is still moist, sprinkle reserved Parmesan over top. Insert pan under broiler and watch carefully. Broil to brown the top. Usually this takes about 2-5 minutes. Again, watch carefully so you don’t burn it!
Shout out to cooking goddess Deborah Madison for all of her great frittata recipes, which inspired this modified version of one of hers! If you don’t have a copy of Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, I suggest you pick it up. Regardless of what your garden produces this season, she’ll have a recipe to get you started cooking anything from asparagus to rutabagas!
Note: Seed from Renee’s was provided to Garden Mentors for free; however, no compensation has been provided for this article.
June 10, 2011
I write a lot about using floating row cover (aka horticultural fleece) and hoop houses to protect crops. Yesterday, I noticed that some of the floating fleece was getting a bit taut over a rising crop, so I took a couple peeks under the hood to see what was going on.
Turns out, over the past week our beautiful Neon Glow Chard, sent to Garden Mentors courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds, is looking fantastic. Actually, it’s time for us to start harvesting the outer leaves to eat &/or to share with the local food bank.
Nearby this well protected crop, I’ve installed another patch of the same chard. This other patch has no fleece protection. When it gets hit with leaf miner later this season — and don’t worry, it’ll happen — I’ll snap shots to show you what a difference a little row cover can make!
And, while I had the camera out, I grabbed a shot under the tomato hoop house to share. This area was planted just a week ago, so everything is still small and young, but so far it’s all doing fantastic. I just wish today’s 50F drizzle would go away so the sun could come out to power these babies up for the season!
Oh, and did I mention? I planted 8 more golden nugget cherry tomatoes yesterday. They aren’t protected or hooped to retain heat. I sure hope they continue to grow happily despite our chilly, soggy summer weather!
**note: Renee’s Seed was sent to us for free. This article has been written without any compensation other than a free packet of seeds to try growing.
April 04, 2011
By now gardeners are either shopping for cold hardy crops at nurseries and plant sales, or they’re finding that their seedlings are ready to go into the earth. Even if early season crops can handle cool, wet temperatures, a hardy hail may destroy them.
To protect tender, young starts from the snow, hail, wind and even birds that peck away at newly planted tasty goodness like broccoli, kale, chard, lettuce, and rabe, consider adding some sort of hoop or cloche to get them started.
Although floating row cover (aka horticultural fleece) is a nice protective layer that will also raise soil temperatures a bit and keep out flying pests, but it won’t do much to keep the plants from crashing under the weight a rapid-fire hailstorm.
Instead, something like a plastic hoop house or a glass cloche over your new plantings will help keep out the flying pests, raise temperatures to speed up growth and provide transitional protection for plants just out of a greenhouse, and scatter any pummeling ice hammering down from the sky.
Keep in mind that hoops can end up raising temperatures too much if days get really hot and sunny, so be sure to check and vent them regularly. Venting will also keep up airflow, which helps deter fungal damping off, which will kill your seedlings just as rapidly as a good icy beating.
Also, be sure to check soil moisture. By sheeting your crops water-repelling substances, you may be sheeting water away from their roots too. Open your hoops on days when the rain is gentle; close them at night and when freezing rains sleet down to earth.