March 10, 2011

The artichokes are up!

by Barbara
seedlings

Calendula, zaatar and onions under the growlight

Every morning in March I head first thing into the basement to turn on the “sun” for the flats of seedlings and newly planted seeds. As  I flip on the tiers of grow lights, I say good morning (yes, I do) and ask how they are doing after the long, dark night.  I look closely to see which seedlings have popped through the soil, which have grown a leaf, which look dry, which haven’t germinated well, which need transplanting.  I relish participating in the full life cycle of a plant, from these first tentative days until the plants have gone to seed.

artichoke-emerges

Sicilian artichoke emerges

I must admit, though, that I am especially excited this morning because the artichokes have pushed their rather large leaftips–even at this stage–through the soil. These are the seeds brought to me by my daughter’s boyfriend, all the way from his mother in a small town in Sicily.  We trade seeds and send one another our jams and dried herbs–her oregano is a revelation. I’m eager to taste the artichokes, the same variety she grows halfway around the world.

But that makes me nervous, too.  Last year I somehow forgot that up here in the north, if you want to grow artichokes from seed in a single season, you have to trick these perennials into thinking that they’re in their second year and thus ready to flower.  Because that’s what we’re after–the flower bud (though Kate lets some of hers go to flower every year because they are dramatically beautiful with their fuzzy chokes turning to sensational purple fuzz).

one gets it right

Artichokes go to flower

To trick them , you must vernalize them–give them six weeks of indoor warmth followed by six weeks of outdoor cold–that’s why I plant them so early.  Otherwise you’ll get what I got last year–fabulously healthy, bushy plants with nary a flower.  Sure they were pretty, but they took up a great deal of room.  Of course, you could just buy year-old plants from the nursery and not have to worry about the vernalizing process.

Once they’re ready for the garden, I’ll choose a sunny spot with rich, well-drained soil.  They will grow tall and bushy, and with any luck, those flower buds will appear in July. We pick them young to eat raw, grated in salads, and grilled, sauteed, used in soups and stews, stuffed, sliced on top of pizza–you name it!  See Eating Well’s Guide to Cooking 20 Vegetables for details on simple tips for baby artichokes. They are not to be missed–and what a thrill to pick your own!

artichoke

Artichoke in the garden

So this year, I’m being careful, and making an entry in my calendar for when they need to move to the cool outdoors: April 14.  I’ll let you know how they turn out!

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March 9, 2011

Not Enough Room

by Kate

There’s no question that browsing through seed and nursery catalogues is dangerous. The fruits and vegetables are luscious, colorful and perfect, and even though I have access to organic fresh fruits and vegetables through our local food co-op, I no longer feel comfortable buying produce that has travelled thousands of miles to get to me. Besides, nothing is ever as good as something just picked that day. The seed catalogues waken a longing for fresh. They make me think about last fall’s harvest when vegetables happily ruled our life, and we only went to the store for milk, olive oil, tea and toilet paper.

Just Picked

If I had a large piece of land on which to garden, I would not be able to resist the temptation to try many more new vegetables and fruits.  My husband declares that we will never move out of town if only for the simple reason that he does not want my ideas for a garden to take over (and I suspect he worries about Barbara’s husband in this regard!).

So today I did something radical. I called my friends Margy and Jordan, whose chickens I care for when they are out of town,  to ask if they would let me plant raspberry canes and blueberry bushes at their place.

Oh, and currants. Maybe goose berries, too.  (Secretly I also want to plant an asparagus bed, but am not ready to confess to this.) I haven’t mentioned these other berries out loud yet.

Planting cane berries is not an idle thought.  When I look at the different kinds of food that could be produced in this county, given its soils and climate, berries — cane berries in particular — will grow well here. They are easy to flash freeze. They are wonderful in jam. They are delicious. And they are really, really nutritious.

What I really want is a berry house, like the one my friend George had in Connecticut. He built a house of netting around his berries, so the birds and animals could not eat them, and under it’s roof grew varieties of cane berries, blue berries, goose berries and currants. When our son was three, I remember going into George’s berry house to pick — a giant play pen full of delicious fresh fruit.

Margy and Jordan said yes. We’ll meet soon to decide how many bushes to buy. We’ll have to meet over dinner because we all love to cook. I suspect my husband and I will maintain the bushes, and supervise the pruning. They’ll monitor the watering. We’ll plan together. We’ll harvest together. Chances are, we’ll have to cook together often, too, because part of growing fresh food is savoring it with someone else.

March 9, 2011

Maple Season

by Kate

“Mom, you’re out of your mind! What are you doing?”  In the beginning of March, the days are noticeably longer and the sun actually has some warmth in it. Early mornings feel fresh. But the wood-stove is still lit, and on top of it, in a large flat pan, I am boiling sap.

The sweet steam hits when you come in through the mudroom.

“I hope you don’t have any wall paper in the house,” a friend mentions.  “They say all that steam makes wall paper come off. Besides, your ceilings will get sticky.”

I don’t think so.  Actually I don’t care and the ceiling  needs painting anyway after all the ice damming. I am going to make syrup, if for no other reason than to see if I can.

Maples on the Lower Forty

There are five maple trees on the line between my house and my neighbor’s – the line we call the lower forty, which, in this case, means forty feet. Only four of the trees are large enough for tapping, so I have borrowed four sap buckets, lids and taps from friends who sugar in Shelburne, and I have bought a white felted filter from Paris Farmer’s Union to strain the hot liquid.

It is a far cry from the days and nights I spent sugaring thirty years ago in northwestern Connecticut in Great Mountain Forest. The sugar-house, nestled down in a hollow, was surrounded the sugar bush.  Its eaves were deep,draped with icicles; the woodpile in back a fortress wall. After collecting sap, riding on the back of an old red tanker truck, filling it by hand, bucket by bucket, we piped it into a collecting tank and headed in to watch the boil. Inside the building, all was dark wood and steam, the fire pulsing, and  metal surfaces, evaporating pans, shining; steam wafted up through vents high above.  To a young painter,this was a dream, it felt like being inside  a water-color. But food, actually a kind of nectar, was being produced. We fed the fire. We watched. We measured. We tasted. The sound of bubbling mesmerized: the steam was intoxicating.

I took paper and watercolor paints to try and capture the wet warmth of that room, snug against the chill of the night outside. How to paint the flickering, steamy light? Capture the sweet, faint dirt smell?  How would you describe the taste, a sweet like no other, with its earthiness, the roots of trees and water of leaves within?

As a young child, we collected sap and boiled it in a cauldron slung from a tri-pod over a fire in southern Vermont.  Soft spring snow gave way underfoot. Below the fire circle was the sledding hill.  Our fathers made the syrup; we rode our toboggans.

My attempt to make syrup on a woodstove from the sap of four very local trees on the lower forty, smack in the middle of town, is laden with memories, but in fact represents nothing more than an attempt to understand the boiling better.  As my friend Margy, who has ten taps on six huge maples out front of her Cornwall house every year, says, “It’s a miracle. I mean, who would have thought that from something that watery dripping out of a tree comes something so good and free – it’s just a miracle.”

It is clear that the real syrup makers know things I can only dream of. I visit them every summer at Field Days, check the colors of the syrup, taste the different grades, ask questions, savor the smoothness of the maple cream (my favorite) on my tongue, nibble into the molded maple sugar candies. I visit sap houses every winter. I help friends collect the sap in buckets.  I sample the fresh hot liquid as it reaches perfection, sometimes eat it on snow, and occasionally crunch pickles to cut the sweetness so I can have more. But I have never observed a boil from start to finish.

Frankly, it doesn’t go that well.  It is hard to figure out the right temperature. At first I boil it too hard, and the syrup is too thick for the filter. I start again. Outside, the weather warms, the sap flow alters. Other days, the sap runs so rapidly, I can’t keep up with it. But eventually, I find a rhythm and the right boil, and finally there is a clear golden quart of syrup.

“Don’t touch it!” I tell my sons, “at least, not yet.” My brother calls from New York City, “I’ll take two gallons, please.”

One Quart of Grade B Syrup

In the end, I have four glorious quarts of light brown maple syrup, that my family nicknames “South Street Gold.” We savor it teaspoonful by teaspoonful.  The house smells of wood-smoke and a vague unidentifiable sweetness. The ceiling is not sticky. We’ve lost no wallpaper and we look at our maples with more respect; they’ve sweetened our life.

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March 9, 2011

The Onions Are Growing Fast

by Barbara
early morning onion

Early Season Onion

You can never grow too many onions. No matter how many I grow–and I grow a lot–I always start running out of them by now.  Indeed, I can mark the growing calendar by the number of onions hanging from my rafters, and now it’s telling me to plant some, a lot, many more than last year’s couple hundred!

After all, I use onions in just about every meal I make, from soup to stew to roasted vegetables and meats to the condiments (chutneys, relishes, pickles and jams)–I probably use two-three onions a day on average just for family meals, so 200 hundred onions do not last from final fall harvest to first spring picking.   Eating Well’s Onions -Healthy Food Guide explains why we should be eating onions, and lots of them! I like how they play both the background, foundational note in a sauce or braise, but also how they can play a starring role.  I want to try Eating Well‘s   spicy onion jam recipe and the caramelized onion lasagna and the sweet onion-rhubarb sauce this year–oops, I better plant a few more seeds!

Already they are everywhere in the garden, and through the season in all stages of growth; I stagger the plantings to make sure I have fresh green onions all summer as well as storage varieties to hold us through to spring. They grow in long rows along the edges of raised beds, and tucked by the threes and fours into empty slots of the garden beds.  I grow the little Italian cipollini– both yellow and red varieties–sweet Walla Wallas, white onions, red slicers, Egyptian onions and Welsh.

So far I’ve planted about 100 onions. The four flats of sweet onions seeded on February 22 for early transplanting–onions do fine in cold soil–are growing so fast down under the grow lights that in another couple of weeks they’ll outgrow their space.

That means out through the deep snow I go to shovel off another garden bed and put up another tunnel.  I don’t mind–it’s great exercise and besides, I’ll be chopping tender spring onions into my salads and soups when most people are just planting their gardens!

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March 8, 2011

The Kale Question

by Barbara

frosty kale

I just planted them in unmarked flats under the far, low grow-light, way out of the way. In another few weeks I’ll transplant the hardy, cool-loving seedlings into unobtrusive garden corners, keeping them undercover for as long as possible.  It’s for their own good.

But it’s inevitable.  Sooner or later the kale will be discovered.

busy corner of the garden

kale tucked in between the carrots and collards

This goes on every year. As soon as my husband spots the long, crinkled deep-green leaves, he protests–loudly–claiming he can smell them from the house.  Super-healthy, and to my palate, delicious kale. I particularly love the lacinato variety in Italian dishes, many of which Eating Well shares through its treasure trove of recipes.   He claims that its cabbage-y sharpness offends his very sensibilities; there’s no way he’s going to eat it even if it is among the healthiest foods on earth. Indeed, I could swear that the night before I’m going to pick some, he sneaks into the garden and directs deer and rabbit traffic directly to the innocent plants.

But I’m not giving up.   Kale is incredibly easy to grow, provides visual interest and produces more super-healthy food per plant than almost anything else coming out of a northern garden.  Eating Well gives us all kinds of good reasons to eat kale.

kale patch, early morning

kale patch, early morning

So this year, I’ve got plans for him, to shift his experience of kale: first, I’m sending him the Eating Well article “Retrain Your Taste Buds.” And second, I’m making him some roasted kale chips, which my daughter swears he will love. And then I’m going to tell him that all winter I’ve been lacing his beloved green super juice with kale, and he has not complained once.

With a food this healthy for the spring and fall when few other vegetables are available, I’ll get creative.  And this year, I think I’ve finally found the formula for success, so don’t tell him, but I’ve doubled the number of seedlings growing away in the basement!

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March 8, 2011

Ground Hog’s Day and Seed Catalogues

by Kate

February 2      (Molly’s Birthday)

Help us to be the always hopeful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without the darkness nothing comes to birth, as without light light, nothing flowers – May Sarton

Backyard in February

The days are getting longer, but for the moment all  is snow. Eight inches have come down with perhaps another foot coming by nightfall. I hope so. I went outside early this morning to shovel the walks to the woodpile, the studio and the front door (in case the mail man comes), and discovered coming back in, that I had locked myself out.  Walking to Molly’s to use her phone I note the town is snugged in: no cars on the street, very few driveways and walkways shoveled. The world is muffled. The downtown is a ghost town. One storeowner friend shoveled, salted and swept her sidewalk, but then decided to go home anyway. No one is coming in to shop.

When the boys were little, a snow day was a welcome surprise: an unexpected morning in PJ’s, cocoa, pancakes, books. Invariably the phone would ring and other children would appear since their parents had to go to work. The mudroom floor became a sea of mittens, wet wool hats, snow pants, and dripping boots. After lunch I would kick everyone out to go across the road to the sledding hill or out to build a fort.

Today, boys away in college, a husband traveling, I bank up the woodstove, drink cup after cup of tea, shovel a little, and feast my eyes on Barbara’s seed catalogues before I go work in the studio.

Seed Packets

The choices are dizzying….  Heirloom varieties? New cultivars? Organic? Yes, organic. Shall I build a small hoop bed over one of the raised beds and start things early?  How soon should I start my seeds? As always, it is terribly hard to restrain myself from buying too many seeds. The garden is not large: six raised beds, measuring 7 X 8 feet each. There is a long perennial bed, which stretches 38 feet long, six feet deep, on the north side of the lot.  There are shade beds, and one large patch of earth that gets enough sun where I have finally and systematically begun to plant perennial herbs. Which ones have survived the winter? What will need moving, dividing, replacing?

Shall I start more from seed this year, and buy fewer starts from Judy’s greenhouse? I read in one catalogue that rosemary started from seed has a stronger flavor and aroma. I browse the Basil offerings: Summerlong, Sweet, San Remo, Genovese, Boxwood, Greek, Thai, Lemon.  Each one has a different intensity and aroma. I always grow Genovese Basil for pesto, but last summer, I tried lemon basil which turned out to be a pleasant surprise in salads, but didn’t translate when turned into pesto. My family didn’t like it either,  so I am not ordering it. Thanks to Barbara, I want to learn more about Thai cuisine, so I order Thai Basil as an experiment.

I decide that boxwood basil might do well to edge the herb garden from the lawn. More decisions to come.

March 8, 2011

It’s Too Early to Hanker After Tomatoes

by Barbara
tomato

Perfection

Blame it on Eating Well Magazine that I just ordered seeds for five more varieties of heirloom tomatoes. That’s on top of the four I already have–and considering that only two of us live here anymore, we’re in danger of serious tomato overload.

at long last summer

Summer Beauties

At this point in the early-yet-but-heading-into planting season I can’t be trusted with  seed catalogs or gardening magazines–my itchy planting fingers, my eyes-bigger-than-my garden appetite are easily seduced into buying more seeds than I need.  Even Kate rolled her eyes yesterday when she saw my seed box.  Mindful of my tendencies, I did my ordering a good month ago and then hid the catalogs. Who knew that an innocent evening curled up with a great cooking magazine would land me in this kind of trouble?  Blame it on the new staff gardens and the “First Harvest” article in the April issue. In the SEED SOURCES box, Tomato Fest lists over 600 varieties of organic and heirloom tomatoes.  Six hundred?!  Just a peek won’t hurt.

I love growing tomatoes — few gardening pleasures compete with harvesting (and then eating) fresh tomatoes from my own plants.  The plants are lovely deep green entanglements dotted by red as the tomatoes ripen.  The plants even smell good, sending out an earthy green scent. They grow well almost anywhere in my garden, though I am careful not to plant them in the same spot in successive years, to give the soil a rest. They grow well (and prettily) in patio pots or in small raised beds. Last summer’s Eating Well article on Amy Goldman and her 500 varieties of heirloom tomatoes sings the considerable gifts of this fruit.  But 500 varieties?!

Every year I grow San Marzano for sundried tomatoes (for pesto and sprinkling in many, many dishes) and tomato sauces, both raw and cooked;  Brandywine for luscious fresh-off-the-vine eating and incredible chutney from fruit that doesn’t ripen; Cherokee Purple for its color and citrusy flavor, plus this year, a few of the Sicilian heart-shaped varietal my daughter’s Sicilian boyfriend brought me from his mother.

into the story

oven-dried tomatoes in olive oil

And of course a single cherry tomato plant. Now that my daughters have left home we can barely keep up with the bounty of one productive plant.  By midsummer those little cherry tomato orbs appear in almost everything we eat, plus small bowls overflowing with them dot empty tables, beckoning snackers at every turn. Sliced tomatoes or caprese salad accompany most dinners.  I have a dehydrator to dry them, and I put up jars of tomato-basil jam as well as chutney. Luckily I have bookmarked recipes to help me get the most out of this year’s harvest, such as  Roasted Tomato-Bread Soup and  Tomato Phyllo Tart–I can use several varieties in both of these preparations–hurrah!

Okay, so I probably shouldn’t have ordered those Black Cherry and Camp Joy cherry tomato seeds this morning.  But at this point in the late winter, when the sun shines bright and warm, but the snow holds on tight to its blanket, I don’t care.  Come summer I will need Italian Heirloom and Italian Tree tomatoes to infuse my Mediterranean-dominated cooking (am I a sucker for anything with Italian in the name?), and Dagma’s Perfection,  a yellow tomato I usually spend far too much on at the farmer’s market when I crave golden gazpacho. And in a couple of weeks, I will get the pleasure of planting those seeds and seeing them pop up and grow tall and full beneath the warm grow-lights.

garden refugees

At the end of the season

But I’ll be good and plant only a couple of each of the new varieties as test runs this summer; share seeds with friends and family, grow extra plants to give away.  If these varieties take to the soil, the sun, the ecosystem here, and we like their flavor,  texture, cooking and storing qualities, I’ll plant them again next year and vow to stay off the Tomato Fest website, and perhaps even out of the April issue of Eating Well if they keep on tempting me like that!

March 8, 2011

Planting Peas

by Kate

End of March

Forgotten Pea Trellis, February

It has taken all my will power not to plant the peas in the last few days. After a week when temperatures rose into the sixties and a succession of blue sky days and bright sun, it is almost impossible to hold back.  The sap has stopped dripping into the buckets. The Farmer’s Almanac reads “Chipmunks are waking up and coming out of their burrows.” For a moment, listening to the cry of returning geese overhead, the cacophony of robins, the love calls of cardinals, and even the discovery of the remains of an egg ( surely from one of last year’s broods), I am tempted to think “Tomorrow I plant!”

It is a precious moment when winter starts to dwindle in fits and starts, and spring begins to gain confidence as the days get longer, first slowly, then faster, and it is finally time to get my hands back in the soil, smooth out the lumps, cast off the winter coverings, and put peas in the ground.  It is like the first stirrings of excitement when I begin a new painting:  the markings of the design, the early splashes of paint, the careful building of layers, all herald something new.  With plants, so much is beyond our control, and yet, at this time of year, it is all about planning and potential.

 

Pea pods and blooms

The raised beds between the house and studio where I paint every day are moist, the heavy cold water of melted snow drained away. Covered with the leaves and flecks of detritus from winter blows and bits of straw mulch from last year, the tips of garlic plants are peeping out of the soil. Sorrel, with its red-tipped green tinge is emerging, iris leaves tentatively poke through the leaf mulch, and some of the thymes that line the path have new tiny green leaves. The frothy leaves of giant poppies are unfolding.

Peas in mid May

To look at these naked beds, brown, grey—clean slates—is to imagine them planted with tidy rows of green and color. Every year, I plant differently, rotating crops, changing the angles of  rows, creating miniature knot gardens from time to time, trying new spots for a plant given the shade that develops when the changing angle of the sun casts tree shadows across the beds. Each spring means a new design, a fresh beginning on a structure sunk into the ground fifteen years ago, on top of what was driveway. Each spring brings the promise of fresh food grown on my own little plot of land, and in a world that seems pretty crazy and chaotic, that feels reassuring.

Mine is an in-town garden.  The house, which dates back to the 1870’s, covers most of the .3 acres we own.  The rest is planted, with six raised beds, and a couple of borders that contain perennials, and an herb garden.  Arborvitae hedges line the periphery, and a crab tree that in 1996 was not much taller than my husband, now towers above the back of the house. Rabbits have found us, even a wood chuck who has seventeen holes in  the meadow across the street (my neighbor Jane counted them) ventures over when we grow broccoli and brussel sprouts, but most people don’t know the garden is here, tucked in behind a sheltering wall,  a little oasis in the middle of town. In fact, it is so sheltered  I can grow things some years that can’t be grown elsewhere in Addison County, which ought to mean the peas can go in the ground soon.

Peas, early June

At this time every year, I have big plans. Even though the air is still fresh and warmer, we  light a fire in the wood stove. There’s the wall of sweet peas I am planning, whose flowers will perfume the air when I step outside come summer for breaks from the paint fumes.  There will be six varieties of eggplant, which I plan not only to eat, but to paint, using the most beautiful ones in a still life. Artichokes, will be planted in the herb garden, not for the fruit, but for the flowers so purple they beg to be painted, along with their silvery, spiky leaves.  Tomatoes, herbs, lettuces, leeks, garlics and greens – all will be planted for both their beauty and because we like to eat them.

I pick up the telephone and call my friend Abi who has a soil thermometer.  It is more fun to call her repeatedly over a season to ask for the temperature of her soil than it is to buy my own thermometer. This way we chat about what we are planting, how it is going, what is different this year from last, and share part of the excitement of another growing season. I add a couple of degrees onto her numbers since my patch is south facing and there are no breezes.

“Soil Thermometer? I haven’t even thought about it yet — though Bill did go outside and plant some stuff in the cold frames yesterday.”

Cold Frames. That could be the key for this need I have right now to dig. The one time I built a cold frame, I moved too fast and situated it below a south-facing roof. When the inevitable early April snow came, it slid off the roof and smashed the glass.  We have found another south facing spot under a gable, and I could build a new cold frame in the next few days.

I pull out my grow lights and analyze my seed packets. It is not too soon to plant the six varieties of eggplant, leeks, perhaps a couple of tomato varieties. I am not starting any brassica this year to insure that the wood chuck will stay away. The labels are neat, with date planted, seed producer noted.  I leave the trays in the vicinity of the woodstove, see that the rain outside is starting to look like snow, and realize it would be okay if the sap run went longer for my friends who make maple syrup.  The peas can wait another week or two.

March 8, 2011

Growing Lemongrass in Vermont

by Barbara

Lemongrass tucked behind hot peppers

 

I’m heading down into the basement today to plant lemongrass. Yes, here in Vermont. A dozen plants or so.  And then I’ll come back up to the kitchen and make some delicious lemongrass-coconut chicken soup using broth I made and froze last fall.

I’m never without lemongrass in my kitchen. Although I’m primarily inspired by Mediterranean cuisine, I do need a Southeast Asian fix at least once a week.  As an essential flavor of that region, lemongrass makes its way through many of our meals. I use the light lemony herb  in soups, chicken, fish dishes; in marinades and pastes like Eating Well’s Thai lime and Lemongrass Marinade;  as grilling skewers; in desserts such as lemongrass pots de crème; in tisanes and syrups.  People think I am adventurous in the kitchen; I think I’m sensible by planting my favorite flavors.

When I spot pale stalks in the market going for nearly $20 a pound, I feel rather pleased with myself.  I don’t need to buy lemongrass.  Nope, not even here, halfway across the world from where it originates.  Perhaps it seems all upside down to grow it in Vermont, but then again I also happily grow lavender, eggplants, tomatillos, artichokes, figs  and all manner of vegetables, fruits and herbs not associated with these cold climes. I’m determined to use them,  I want them fresh, and there’s such satisfaction in pulling a stalk of lemongrass out of its grassy clump right before I need it in the kitchen. I’m sure it tastes different from the same plant grown in a Thai garden–our soil and climate conditions make that inevitable–even so, I’ve never tasted store-bought lemongrass that can rival what comes straight from the garden.

Young lemongrass

Lemongrass grows easily as an annual herb, started from seed right about now, or as transplants found at garden centers.  There are two varieties, East Indian and  West Indian; the first is what you get in seed packets, and the second what you buy at the nursery.  Supremely grassy, the Eastern cultivar sends out lots of thin leaf blades.  The stalks do not, in my experience, swell into fat bulbs.  The Western variety seems to grow faster, taller, with much thicker bulbs, the kind you see on green grocers’ shelves.  I grow both kinds–Eastern for infusions and broths, Western for recipes calling for the chopped tender core of the stalk. I love the herb so much that I grow it in patio pots, tuck it into empty corners of the garden beds and all through the grass garden.  It provides visual as well as culinary interest–a double winner!

So here I go to dream of light summer curries and iced lemongrass teas as I plant the seeds and wait a couple of weeks for them to surface.  They take their time, all through the season, but I’ll wait for them, gladly.

March 8, 2011

Planting Juice & Smoothie Beds

by Barbara

Snow piles up and drifts, drifts and piles up–welcome to March in Vermont.  But the thick white blanket doesn’t reveal what’s happening beneath the skin of earth and tree, bush and branch. Sap runs in fits and bursts, buds stir in their pre-swelling-almost-out-of-dormancy state. Kate’s maple syrup pan steams happily away on her woodstove. My grow-lights shelter and warm new seedlings.  My cold storage room and freezer stock dwindles– I’m completely out of some jams and frozen pestos; the chutneys and pickles, the mostardo and mulled fruits are thinning out.  That means I can soon stop eating out of jars and find dinner in the garden.

-garden-after-snow

The Kitchen Garden Before Spring

While I wait for things to come to life, I’ll check the fruit trees for branches to prune, canes in the raspberry beds that need removing. I’ll  set out for the orchard on snowshoes, shovel in tow. In the center of a ring of young fruit trees we have four 16′ X 10′ raised beds–now under a good three feet of snow. I’ll remove the snow over one bed  and put up a grow-tunnel to warm up the soil.

gardendinner

Garden Dinner

I’m planning a “green super-healthy juice” bed, where cucumbers, kale, spinach, broccoli, greens, cilantro and parsley will grow. I’ll be able to go out with my basket and gather the makings for our morning  green juice without moving from one spot!  And nearby is Smoothie Row — red and black currants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries; and  apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries–the making of many an Eating Well healthy smoothie!

It’s amazing what we can grow ourselves–most of us– if we have access to even the smallest bit of land or some patio pots.  I love how Kate has transformed almost her entire small yard into a stunning garden packed with vegetables and herbs, and how urbanites are transforming yards into gardens and saving money. I have friends in the city who grow pots of herbs and salads, peppers and tomatoes on their windowsills much as Eating Well suggests.

When we grow our own food, we invest in our own health, our family’s health and the health of this planet–at least this has been my experience. We connect to the earth’s rhythms and our role caring for its well-being; we participate actively in promoting our family’s health; and we find new pleasure in kitchen creativity.  We can save money.  And hey, we can make up any kind of healthy smoothie flavor combination that stirs our fancy! I can’t wait to try new juice pairings this year–spinach and pear? Kale and apple?  Carrot and black currant? Cilantro and cucumber?

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