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
May 31, 2012
The pesky cabbage butterfly is invading all over gardens everywhere right now. Last week, I was 3000 miles away from my own garden, but I saw these butterflies (not moths) in action. When I got home, there they were flying through my garden too.
Fortunately, my brassica crops (cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc…) are well protected from them. Plastic-sheeted hoop houses keep out the egg-laying adult butterflies. Though, it is time for me to exchange the plastic for floating row cover, which is more ideal in warmer temperatures. But that’s another post for another day.
For now, take a close look at these adult butterflies I found at Tricycle Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. And, if you’ve seen these flying around in your garden, be sure to read more in our earlier post that shows photos of their caterpillar phase and the damage those green, wormy creatures do so very fast in a brassica patch. And, yes, we’ve shared tips for keeping them out of your crops without a drop of ‘cide!
March 06, 2012
Cotyledons are the leaves that emerge from a seed. They precede “true leaves”, and quite often they look very different from the leaves that later clothe the entire plant in food factory goodness.
Right now my greenhouse is filling up fast with tasty edibles I’ve seeded successively over the last month or so. And, watching the seed leaves hint at what’s to come is my latest joy.
My kales, broccolis and brussels sprouts are all emerging with deep green embryonic seed leaves. Pretty, but nothing terribly special.
Napa cabbage and bok choi is showing up in slightly paler greens with whites stems below. Even less exciting.
Sugar snap peas, sweet peas and fava beans are bolting upward fast, which is exciting if not a technicolor rainbow.
Purple cabbage and purple cauliflowers are slightly more interesting with hints of purple on the top side of their emergent leaves. Too beets & chards are popping up in greens and reds, but that’s nothing terribly new to me. Neither are the brown-ish speckles of color showing up in some of the mesclun mixes.
It’s the Ruby Streaks Mustard from Botanical Interest seeds that have really struck my fancy. Known for a spicy bite, this plant shows off mottled tones of deep purple flecked against green right out the gate. Even its tiny seed leaves are striking. I can’t wait until its barely showing true leaves begin their reddish-purple, feathered growth form. How pretty, right?
Yes, this probably isn’t an ideal crop to pre-grow in pots, but with hail still thundering down and slugs in unprecedented numbers, I decided to get them going with a bit of protection this year. And, they seem to be doing just fine after potting up from sterile mix to 4″ pots filled with standard potting soil. If they decide to bolt before I feel they’re strong enough to survive in the open fields, I’ll just snip’m and eat’m young!
(Botanical Interest Seeds supplied these seeds for complimentary test growing. No compensation has been received for this post. But, hey, I’d gladly take some more seeds guys! Maybe some Shiso? Hint! Hint!)
February 20, 2012
If you haven’t started already, now’s the time to start your vegetable garden. It is also time to be wrapping up any dormant pruning of your edible trees, shrubs and vines. (Think: blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears & the like.)
Buds are beginning to swell and break open. Seeds – including self-seeded weeds – are beginning to emerge from the soil. Birds are beginning to migrate and nest. And, slowly but surely, days are getting longer. And when we’re really lucky, those days are even feeling slightly warmer than just a few weeks ago.
In my own garden, I began seeds for plants like cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, watercress, fava beans, snap peas, mizuna, beets and chard several weeks ago when we had that sunny run of 60F days. I have an unheated greenhouse where they germinated rapidly. In a few days, I’ll be moving several of these from overcrowded sterile mix containers to individual pots where they can grow on a bit more before moving to the garden.
As in years past, this past weekend, I even seeded a few warm season crops (think tomato) in the greenhouse. If they take off, bully for me. If they don’t, I can try again indoors under lights in a few weeks and still have plenty of time to bring them to fruition later this summer. (I also started carrots, chinese cabbage and some flower seeds this past weekend.)
So, if you’ve got onions to place, seeds to sow, soil to test, berries to prune or weeds to pull, there’s no time like this very moment to get out there and get started. Even if your soil is frozen, sowing seeds now indoors or in a protected outdoor spot, will mean your garden will be well on its way by the time the Spring thaw comes. Find ideas for inexpensive season extenders here.
Thinking you need help planning, designing or installing your garden? Pretty sure you need a lesson in how to prune those fruit trees, shrubs and canes properly so you don’t kill them in the process?
Don’t keep waiting. Get in touch now to get your project scheduled and your education underway. If you wait until Spring to reach out for help, you’ll be waiting much longer to get your garden growing!
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 13, 2011
One parent pest landing on one food crop start can lead to disaster. Even well protected crops can still be at risk. But, with regular monitoring, it is possible to save even an infested crop before the pests win out. And, you still won’t need a bottle of poison.
This weekend I noticed some damage on my brassica crops — broccoli, dino kale and purple cabbage. I knew right away that despite my best efforts to protect these plants, somehow a pesky cabbage butterfly momma had gotten to them. And, she laid her eggs. And, they hatched. And, the baby caterpillars were eating my crops!
All it takes is one. One day when the greenhouse is venting, and a butterfly gets in. One hot afternoon when the cold frame where they’re hardening off is cracked to cool, and a butterfly gets in one. One day when the plastic hoop house blows open, and a butterfly gets in. That’s all it takes. She lands. She lays and egg, and she’s off. And, what’s really unfortunate? These white butterflies (not moths) hatch and fly in cool, moist temperatures (as well as hot ones), so they’re out earlier than many other flying insects looking for their favorite cool season crops like cabbage on which to lay their eggs.
So, what happens when you’re got cabbage caterpillars? Well, they eat your crops, and they chow them down fast. They eat with chewing mouth parts, so the damage looks like a chewing. They poop blackish-green all over the interior of of the plant, if they haven’t eaten that part first and really killed the plant. Those are the signs; look for them. Often they’re much easier to see than the the green caterpillar itself.
These caterpillars are quite well camouflaged for most brassica crops. They’re a bright green worm that tends to blend very well with their favored food crops. A large portion of the brassicas are tones of grey-greens that allow these little wormy critters to blend into. Think broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and the like.
If you see the signs, guaranteed you’ve got the pest. Start by looking at the interior of the plant and along the up-side mid-rib of each leaf. Those are their favored spots when at rest. If you don’t find a caterpillar on one plant, move to the next, and you may find it there. If you happen to find a cottony looking casing, that’s likely the caterpillar getting ready to metamorphosis into another of the white butterfly parents that will be flittering about the garden.
So, what to do when you find one of these worms? Well, if you’ve got a kid with a butterfly cage, go ahead and collect a leaf and a caterpillar. Watch it finish its life cycle. Then kill the butterfly. Yeah, sounds cruel, right? If you don’t, that butterfly will kill your crops…or your neighbor’s crops. Really, I’d skip the whole “watch it grow up” thing and just advocate for squishing each green, creepy crawler as you find them.
And, if you find one caterpillar, odds are momma laid several eggs, so check your crops every day over the course of several days until you are certain that you’ve gotten rid of all of them. Odds are, if your crops have been well protected, it was just one day when the butterfly laid her babies in your veggie garden. So, within a few days all of her progeny should have hatched and, under your careful watch, been dispatched with a quick pinch between the fingers. Guaranteed you’ll have a green thumb after this kind of work!
Too, usually, I try to cut out the most damaged outer leaves on my crops, so I can easily keep track of the signs of new damage. (This isn’t always possible if you find the problem after a lot of damage has been done; if you remove too much living material from your crop, you may take away its ability to rejuvenate. This is a balancing act!)
Now, if your cabbage is purple like mine, these suckers just can’t hide. They stand out & are really easy to see and kill quickly. Just pinch’m and let their juicy guts mingle with the soil where hopefully they’ll give back some of those nutrients they’d drawn from the plant above.