Archive for the ‘Veggies & Edibles’ Category
How to start seeds indoors
March is prime seed-starting month for many gardeners. Not only can we direct seed (plant outdoors) some of our cool-season veggie crops like arugula, Asian greens, broad beans, corn salad (mache), collards, kale, peas, spinach, and radishes, but we can also start many of our warm-season crops indoors for transplanting out once the weather warms.
I started a flat of seeds on the weekend, and I thought I’d share the process with you. I did it all indoors, on my coffee table, and managed to make very little mess. Here’s how:
Gather all your necessary ingredients: potting soil or seed-starting mix (a sterile blend of peat or coir, perlite, and vermiculite), a trowel, a large mixing bowl, a watering can, containers (recycled yogurt containers, homemade newspaper pots, or store-bought plastic cell packs), plant tags, and of course, seeds.
Eating your weeds
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
As I was weeding the salad garden yesterday, I found several small clumps of chickweed (Stellaria media). Appropriate that it was in the salad garden, because fresh, young chickweed makes a fabulous addition to a spring salad.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Oh god. I know where this is going. I am so *not* going to start “wild harvesting” lamb’s quarters and dandelion greens. And skeptics? I know where you’re coming from.
In fact, the original manuscript for my book included a sidebar on edible weeds, which I scrapped when I realized that as crunchy as I enjoy my granola, I’m not a let’s-make-“coffee”-out-of-this-dandelion-root kind of gal.
Arugula and radishes: fashionably late to the spring planting party
Finally! I’ve got some seeds in the ground. Normally I’d have had arugula, peas, radishes, and spinach started weeks ago, but all this travel has kept me away from the garden. I’m also totally disorganized this year (normally I’d have one or two of these filled out, too). Thankfully the weather cooperated this weekend and I was able to spend a few glorious hours in the garden.
Okay: there wasn’t much glory in it. I totally neglected to do any fall/winter clean-up, so those hours saw some serious debris removal and weeding.
I started with the salad garden, one of my five garden “areas,” and the most shady. Last year, it produced a ton of leafy greens, earning it the moniker “The Salad Garden.” Doesn’t look like much, right?
After some weeding and the addition of compost and some alfalfa meal (a nitrogen-rich fertilizer that those greens are gonna love), it was ready to plant. I do the “square-foot garden” thing with this particular bed – an intensive planting technique that works really well for greens. Only half the bed is mine (as you might have guessed from the above photo). These raised beds are in a common area of our townhouse complex and are shared with neighbours, which is pretty rad.
Free seed starting and succession planting tools
Normally by this time of year I’d have seedlings sprouting underneath florescent tube lights, and early crops like peas, broad beans, and radishes already tucked into the cool earth. This year, I’m sorry to say, I haven’t ventured into the garden except to refill the bird feeder or hurriedly clip some thyme. Instead, I’ve been busy thinking about gardening, and preparing to talk about gardening at various upcoming events relating to Sugar Snaps and Strawberries. That’s right: I’m going on a book tour! I’ll be in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, and Los Angeles over the next few months, so come out and say “hi!” [Check out my events schedule for details. Some dates/cities still TBD.]
But in the meantime, have you started your spring garden planning yet? If not, check out these nifty planning tools on the lovely new site created for all things Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: a seed starting planning chart and a planting planning (or succession planning) chart for you to download, free! There’s also a pretty seed packet pattern for you to use later in the season.
Need some guidance on spring garden planning? Check out this post about how went from slacker to serious planner.
Step-by-step: How to make seed balls
I spent the morning making seed balls as a promo for Sugar Snaps and Strawberries. The plan is to give them out at various events as little vegetal thank yous. Because the book is all about edibles, I used veggie, herb, and edible flower seeds rather than my usual crimson clover/wildflower mix.
I chose cool-season edibles that can be sown in March and April, since that’s just after many of the events are being held. I also chose things that are relatively easy to grow, don’t require staking, and don’t need loose soil to thrive (since you don’t often cultivate the soil before tossing a seed ball): ‘Lacinato’ and ‘Russian Red’ kales, ‘Red Sails’ and ‘Esmeralda’ lettuces, ‘Sugar Loaf’ endive, arugula, ‘Kincho’ scallions, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, chives, dill, and edible flowers calendula and nasturtium.
Making quince liquor
Vodka + shredded quince = quince liquor. What could be easier?
I love growing unusual fruits, herbs and vegetables. The more obscure, the better. Bonus points if someone says, “I’ve never heard of that.”
Enter quince. A pome fruit related to the pear and apple, quince has been imbued with some pretty weighty symbolism throughout the ages (many historians believe that it was a quince—not an apple—that tempted Eve in the Garden). I was in my late 20s before I first encountered the fruit (in jam form, at a B&B in the Loire Valley), and despite this late introduction, I have probably eaten more quince than most North Americans.
Now Harvesting: late November
This cabbageworm-chewed bunch of ‘Lacinato’ (Tuscan) kale may very well be the last thing I eat from my garden for months. It’s been incredibly — record-breakingly — cold here in Vancouver, and even my cool-season edibles have succumbed. But not the kale, bless it. Hardy, and delicious to boot.
What are you harvesting now?
Now Harvesting: early November
Tomatoes and basil? What is this, August? California?
Nope. Just proof that sometimes, green tomatoes will ripen on the vine if you leave them long enough, even if it is nearly freezing out and all the other heat-lovers have given up the ghost.
What are you harvesting now?
Now Harvesting: mid-October
The theme song for this week could have been “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Hello autumn in Vancouver. On the upside, it’s time to break out the cute rain boots. And on the upper upside, here come the greens again.
After an absence of many months, I’m once again harvesting arugula, Tuscan (lacinato) kale, broccoli raab, and a whole mess of Asian greens. Yay!
What are you harvesting now?
Now Harvesting: Early October (plus reflections on the Three Sisters)
Before you scoff at my teeny corn, let me explain. This corn almost didn’t make it. At each turn, my crop was beset by terrible weather and thieves. The remaining six baby cobs almost didn’t get harvested, and thus, almost didn’t make it onto our dinner plates last week. Which would have been a gross travesty, because they were terrific.
I planted a block of ‘Sugar Buns’ corn in my community garden plot in early June after pre-sprouting the seeds (to ensure germination in our unseasonably cold, wet soil). Because my plot is small, the block of corn was, by necessity, small. I think I planted 4’x3′ for a total of 12 plants. After the corn finally reached 4 in. (10cm) high (which took FOREVER; this June was surely the coolest on record), I planted ‘Fortex’ beans next to each emerging corn stalk and ‘Black Beauty’ zucchini at the edges of the plot. My plan? To grow the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash.
The Three Sisters companion planting technique was first practiced by North American indigenous groups. The corn stalks provide vertical support to climbing beans, while in turn, the beans supply nitrogen to the corn and squash. The squash shades the soil, retaining moisture, while its prickly vines discourage squirrels and raccoons from accessing tender corn cobs—at least in theory.
I wouldn’t say it was completely successful for me, largely because of the slow start to summer we experienced. Corn needs really warm soil to truly thrive, and mine didn’t get that until at least mid-July. The beans quickly outpaced the corn, and I ended up adding a few poles to support the more vigorous vines. And while the zucchini might have kept squirrels and raccoons from my corn, it didn’t stop human pests, which took the earliest and biggest cobs. At that point (mid-August) I considered ripping out the corn (because surely it wasn’t going to produce a second crop by the time the weather cooled) but left it in simply because many of the stalks were supporting beans.
I’m glad I did. Last weekend, when I finally decided to replace the corn, beans, and zucchini with spinach and mache, I decided to open up the tiny cobs that had formed in spite of my predictions. And wouldn’t you know it? I had corn! I thought I’d find shriveled, unpollenated kernels, too small and hard to be edible, but instead I found plump, yellow pillows just waiting to be cooked and slathered with butter. Of course, I obliged.
One last thing: yes, I chose ‘Sugar Buns’ largely because of the name!
What are you harvesting now?