Monday, May 1, 2017

What I'm Growing & Some Delicious Ideas with Spring Arrivals

Happy Spring!

Learning a  new gardening technique
What a glorious time of year for growers, gardeners, cooks and folks who just love real food!  I mentioned awhile back that I was going to be experimenting with some of our planting beds using the Square Foot Gardening Method.  Over the winter months I did a good deal of reading on the subject and decided it was just what I was looking for by way of producing enough vegetables, berries and herbs for two people. And it seemed to be what I was looking for in terms of making the absolutely best use of the growing space I had. I highly recommend the 2nd edition of the book, “All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew.  A few weeks ago, we measured out the growing areas, divided them, used the special “blend” of soil and compost he recommends (which is available already blended by the way), and planted just a few seeds and placed just a few seedlings.  We also added lettuces and spinaches. As of this writing, the bed is completely planted (see photos).   A major concept of Square Foot Gardening is avoiding “thinning” seedlings, when just a few seeds will most likely all take.  Check out Bartholomew’s thinking and techniques.  I will keep reporting here on our progress. So far, the early greens and radishes are growing like crazy.

Our Largest "Square Foot Gardening" Bed
This year’s garden:  i have long been an overachiever at the start of each growing season.  This year I promised myself that I would reign in my, “let’s try this, let’s try that” and the “well, we have to plant this” inclinations of past years. We discussed what we really love to be able to pull out of our garden and use, and what was regularly available at reasonable prices to us from our wonderful Farmers Markets.  For example, I rarely put in more than two or three tomato plants of different varieties.  I have access to fabulous Jersey tomatoes and lots of Heirloom tomatoes and frankly,  they do take up a good deal of space in my garden. for tomatoes I will support our local farmers.  Same thing with asparagus and cucumbers.  And I gave up on zucchini a few years ago.  I have confessed here in the past that, for the life of me, I just can’t grow zucchini.  As someone who thinks they are pretty accomplished in growing, I’d rather not talk about it anymore. I can, however, smile about it now.
So, here’s what made the cut at the Il Moya Homestead Garden this year.  I offer it up to get you thinking if you are struggling with how to use your space to get the most enjoyment out of it - especially if you are an urban gardener and your growing space is not big.

Herbs - Don’t discount planting a good deal of herbs that you enjoy and will use.  They are expensive to buy and, along with cooking with fresh herbs, many of them either freeze or dry well.  You can also flavor oils and vinegars with herbs. 
We have our usual line up this year:  Italian Parsley, Sweet Marjoram, Common Thyme, Greek Oregano, Italian Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, French Sorrel, Culantro (stronger and easier to grow than Cilantro), Chives, a small patch of Garlic, Genovese Basil, and Pesto Basil.  - 
Vegetables - We have put in:  Potatoes, Okra, Haricot Vert Beans, Bush Beans, Radishes (lots right now), Tomatoes (just two plants), Eggplant (3 different types), and nine types of peppers, plus a pot of “ornamental” peppers that overwintered in our kitchen window.  From sweet to hot and in between, we love peppers and they are so versatile. Peppers offer a good yield too. 
Greens - We particularly love four different kinds of Lettuces (heirloom romaine, bibb, black seeded simpson and mixed leaf), along with:  Tatsoi, Spinach, Black Kale (Lacinato), Mustard, Arugula, Mint, Raspberry Dressing, Collard Greens and Swiss Chard.

Some of our Baby Herb Pants
Butterhead Lettuce

Potato Beds
Fruit - We have three pots of Ever Bearing Strawberries and a couple of Blueberry bushes; these return each year. We also have a two year old Dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree.  We always put pots of Marigolds around and in recent years some boxes of “pollinators” - bee and butterfly attractors - they work!  I urge you to plant attractors.

My best advice to you is to remember to make what you are doing and planting work for you.  Some shortcuts and modifications are fine.  For example, a number of things we grow are Heirlooms, but not all are.  Much of what we grow we start from seed, but we also buy starter plants.  Go easy on yourself.  If you are a beginning food grower, it will probably take a few seasons to have your firm plan in place.  
Lastly, consider your schedule and your time commitment.  Don’t plant a  big beautiful garden that you can’t water, weed, control pests, and tend DAILY, preferably at least once in the morning.  During the very hot weather, you will probably need to water twice.  Remember, Gardens are living things in which you have made a considerable investment. I have seen way too many thriving gardens that have been deserted for vacations.  Hiring out long term garden maintenance is sort of a sad thing to do, as well. In the current epidemic in America of people feeling that they have to constantly reinforce how they have "no time" for anything, committing to a garden maybe just the anecdote.  The many and most wonderful benefits of gardening include spending time and effort watching things that you have planted grow and produce real food.  The other benefits are hard physical  work, meditative down time, and stress reduction.

Delicious Spring Treats
At this time of year, there are wonderful things available at the Markets.  Nothing announces "Spring" like Fiddlehead Ferns, Ramps, Morel Mushrooms, and of course, Asparagus.  Baby Greens also start to appear, along with Green Garlic, Chives, Radishes and New Potatoes.  What a time!  All of these delicious foods are extremely versatile.  

Here are just a few ideas:
Fiddleheads and Ramps are delicious pickled.  Flavored butters can also be made with both, then slice the butter into rounds and freeze.  Great for grilled meat, vegetables poultry and fish.
Ramps are also wonderful seared in a pan with fried eggs.
Morel Mushrooms make for a fabulous Risotto.  They are also amazing fried - what an appetizer!  Cream of Morel soup is over the top delicious.  Sautéed in butter with some fresh thyme and spooned over good toast is a lunch you will crave over and over.
Asparagus - in our home this is THE early season winner!  Local asparagus is packed with flavor and should be used as close to harvesting as possible.  Along with a quick steam, with butter, salt & pepper and fresh lemon juice, we also like to oven roast it or to cook it quickly over hardwood coals.  Cream of Asparagus soup, sprinkled with the asparagus tops and a little bit of crumbled bacon, is a Spring dish that you will become addicted to believe me.  Also, a puree of asparagus, topped with seared scallops is an easy, and oh so delicious dish.  Like with a number of other seasonal things, we like to quick steam asparagus (very quick), let them cool, and pack them up in freezer bags for the winter.  And do not forget great Radishes, sliced, with softened butter on slices of baguette and sprinkled with Sea salt.  THE Spring appetizer!  Get yourself to the Markets and grab these early season - and quickly gone - treats!

Support your Farmers’ Markets!  Many are opening for the season soon. 

Remember to Eat Real Food!