Archive for ‘Seeds’

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 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

The Beginning of Walter Mitty Season

by Kate

Raised beds, January

Even though it is 18 degrees this morning, there is a different quality to the sun-light.  Perhaps it is the angle, though I have no way of measuring. It just feels as if it is a little higher in the sky by 10 am. And it is slightly more yellow.  The picnic table is draped under a foot of snow, blue in the shadows of the yard. The raised beds are indecipherable under their white blanket, interrupted only by the browned tops of un-harvested leeks.

I was smug last fall when I left the leeks in the ground. I had thought to harvest them the morning of Thanksgiving so I could boast to my New York City relatives that they were freshly picked  “this very morning!” before the ritual braising with lemon, home made chicken broth and butter.   But the ground was frozen that morning, cement hard, and so they remained. Then snow fell. And there they have remained.

I am desperate to put my hands in soil. This morning saw the final planting of paper white bulbs. I brought the scented geraniums down to the south facing windows in the breakfast nook, away from the grow lights they’ve been hunkering under all winter  (along with bulb starts, and rosemary in pots from last summer’s garden).  One Amaryllis is finally opening; I have a tiny window garden, green and bright, to sit in at breakfast, while through the window, the snow is drifted high against the house.

Amaryllis

Imagine my surprise when, after noting the change in the light, I find packets of seeds just arrived at the co-op. It is only January! Seed catalogues have already arrived at the homes of my more organized friends.  But I don’t subscribe to a single catalogue; never have. Instead, I wander all the farm centers, gathering seed packets one by one, while reading the instructions and savoring the descriptions of succulent fruits, vegetables, and blossoms to come; or I buy seeds by the teaspoonful at Paris Farmer’s Union.  On three tenths of an acre I do not grow vast quantities of any vegetable, but I grow masses of tomatoes and more salad greens than we can eat, not to mention peas, cukes and beans, garlic, and butternut squash. And part of having a garden is, for me, visual:  I choose some plants and vegetables for how they look… My garden is literally a palette of colors and tastes.

I would like to grow more, but the limitations of a village yard, the shifts of light and shade from neighboring buildings and trees proscribe what I can plant, and how much.

Now is the Walter Mitty time of my garden. I sit back and day-dream about what the garden CAN contain, what it might look like. These plans are elaborate because the conditions are perfect.  From my armchair by the wood stove, there are no pests. And it doesn’t take much work: no sweat, no aching back, no mosquito bites.  My tomatoes are large and sweet. I invent a new kind of potato.  My squash plants become self-pollinating….. I find a way to solve the food issues in this country.

Raised Beds, August

Seeds purchased – all from High Mowing Organic Seeds: Provider Bush Bean,Bouquet Dill,German Chamomile, Sweet Basil, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Summer Thyme, Astro Arugula, Sylvetta Wild Arugula, Samish Spinach, Giant Winter Spinach, Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach, Bull’s Blood Beet (for red salad greens), Early Wonder Tall Top Beet, Laxton’s Progress # 9 Shell Pea, Glacier Salad Tomato,San Marzano Paste Tomato