Tuesday, April 12, 2011


A Queen Village Tree in all of its Glory!
Oh, how happy are we folks?  Is there a more thrilling time of year for urban gardeners, mini-farmers, cooks, and Farmers' Markets fans?  Look at those bulbs, those trees, those early flowers and those perennials - not to mention the herbs that return!  I know I am biased, but Spring is such a wonderful thing in an Urban setting. The city is tough in the winter and  it really brings our souls back to life when the blooming starts, doesn't it?  Also good to see folks in my neighborhood out on their stoops and working in the back gardens and talking seeds and plantings.  It just feels like life returning.

So, we do have our trusty sage, oregano and chives returning; along with catnip and mint.  Someday I will figure out how they survive under tarps in our side alley during the winter!  In a completely unexpected turn, our Fordhook Swiss Chard from last year is returning in the standing planter!  On a whim a number of weeks ago, I threw some commercial jalepeno seeds into a saucer to dry, planted them in some seed starter and guess who has little jalepeno pepper plants - with 3 or more leaves at this point?  Now, THAT amazed me.

The 2011 Urban Garden:  The plan - over the past few years -  for our urban piece of paradise, has been to learn what works/what does not  in our yard and gardens and gradually develop more edible plantings and planting "systems".  We have landed on the use of "standing" planters - ours come from Gardeners' Supply Company but they are available at many garden centers and especially online.  I used one planter last year - on wheels - and had very good luck with it.  To be honest I also enjoyed working with a planter that is large and deep with a planting area that is at my waist.  We can do our bending exercises later! So, this year we are planning on using three of these standing planters - a few large lightweight pots are still around  for Potatoes, and Mint and, of course, cutting flowers.  And my built in Herbal Garden remains and will be very full this year.  But if it's an edible product, it is will be growing in the planter stands lined up against the side of our house.  We get amazing sun on the side of the house for long periods of the day - the wonder of being the "end of the row"; this also provides us with a growing area that is NOT in the middle of our garden and dining and sitting area. One "twist" we are going to try this season is growing Sun Gold tomatoes in amongst our 4 O'Clocks.  We read some really good information about mixing edible plants and flowering plants in the garden so we'll see. I will be reporting regularly with photos of how this all goes as the season progresses. 

OK - 2011 Edible Plantings in the Urban Mini Farm:  what's in right now:  lettuces, mesculun mix, arugula, white radishes, 5 types of heirloom peppers - sweets, hots, and longs; Potatoes; Rainbow Swiss Chard; Fordhook Swiss Chard (returning plants); Spring Garlic; Puntarella - another returnee from last year; and White (another heirloom) Cucumbers.  Herbs in right now are returning Oregano, returning Sage, returning regular Chives and Garlic Chives, Mint, Par-Cel (more about this little gem in another post, but if you see it, buy it and plant it!),  French Sorrel and Italian Parsely.  To go in a bit later, the Sun Gold tomatoes - these are my "candy" when I am gardening; I can't stop myself from picking them and popping them in my mouth as I work - heavenly and warm; two types of Eggplant - the miniature. "Fairy Tale" type and regular full size eggplant.  Herbs to go in soon really are just some assorted varieties of Basil and a couple of Thyme plants.  The Nasturium seeds are already planted and hang in a window box over one of the planters - the little Nasturium flowers are peppery and delicious. I also have a big pot of variegated Marigolds - sown as seeds -  nearby - I will probably split this up around the growing edibles.  Say what you want about Marigolds, but they keep the cats away and other critters away!  Speaking of, the catnip - returning from last year is doing quite well.  We have to keep it in a pot hanging out of reach of our two cats - they don't know when to stop with fresh catnip!

And just a quick note:  we have stopped taking up a lot of space with full sized tomatoes!  You have probably noticed that we have at our finger tips some of the best tomatoes in the country!  I can't wait until our Farmers' Market vendors start laying out the Heirlooms and the Jersey Toms, so frankly, I see no reason for me to try to replicate - I already now I can't - their art.  I"ll take the space for something else.

Next Post:  Flowering Plants, Perennials (what's doing well/what's not) and New Additions to the Cutting Gardens

Food News:  I am loving Mark Bittman's columns for the New York Times and his articles in the New York Times Magazine on Sundays.  Good recipes in the latter and good, reasonable approaches to the "big" questions facing us as a culture around Food.  Mark "gets it" without being so strident as to turn off potential readers (I have to learn that from him!).  If you haven't see any of his writing, check out back issues of the New York Times.  I am also already missing Rick Nichols in the Inquirer.  I really appreciate Craig LaBan and consider him a really good critic; I just so enjoyed the twist Rick Nichols would take on a story - a foodie story.  He is missed.

An early Spring Recipe:   So, the asparagus has made its first appearances and we could not be happier.  We eat it in every possible way we can because we believe the local asparagus is the only asparagus worth eating and when it's gone, it's gone!  I came upon this sauce in the new Canal House Cooking, Volume No 6 (http://www.thecanalhouse.com/).  We just tried it and it was an orgy of asparagus!

Asparagus with Blender Lemon Butter Sauce

The Asparagus treatment:  we generally rinse off any sand, break off the woody ends, and quickly - very quickly - blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water and dump them in ice water to stop the cooking.  We like our asparagus crunchy!  We then melted a bit of butter and a few drops of good extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron pan, got the pan really hot, and dumped the asparagus in for some quick "finishing".  You are looking for a little brown/black on spots of the asparagus - but it's quick if your pan is hot enough!  So don't leave the pan!

The Sauce:  Put 4 Large egg yolks, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, a big pinch of salt and pepper into the jar of an electric blender.  Cover and blend for one minute.  With the motor still running, add 8 tablespoons of warm melted butter in a slow, steady stream - you want it to emulsify. Makes 1 Cup.

Adjust the seasonings and serve with the asparagus.  Absolutely proof that Spring is here and that the goddesses love us and want us to be happy.  Enjoy!

So, . . . what are YOU planting?  Please, let's share this adventure of "growing our own" in the City!!

Happy Spring!