Monday, February 25, 2008
It’s nearly March. I noticed the other day that I have at least three or four inches of leaves up on my daffodil bulbs outside. It won’t be long now before the earliest bulbs are flowering, and before long it will be time to start gardening in earnest. The official last frost date here in the Philadelphia area is May 15, but global warming is certainly pushing that date earlier and earlier each year. Last year I planted tomatoes in the garden on May 1 and had a lovely crop.
For long season crops, like leeks and celery root, it’s best to get a head start on the season and start the plants indoors. I planted seeds for both on February 18 and, as you can see, the seeds are starting to sprout. If I can keep the cats out of the plants and if I can give these seedlings the love they need, I’ll have a healthy head start on the growing season by May.
I was intimidated by starting my own seeds for a long time, but it’s really pretty easy. I prefer to use Jiffy peat pellets in those plastic greenhouse things for starting seeds. It’s easy, and I have a good sunny, warm spot that means I don’t need to mess with a grow light set up. But you definitely don’t need to purchase peat pellets to start seeds - you can use things you have lying around the house instead.
Lots of people simply reuse egg cartons or yogurt cups for starting seeds. These containers offer a way to recycle your garbage, and they’re a great size for starting seeds. You can use regular dirt from your garden or backyard in the container of your choice, but seeds generally do best in a soilless potting medium (which is one reason why I prefer the peat pellets). A trip to your local gardening center will score you a bag of what you need.
When you’re ready to plant, just take a look at the packet of seeds you have. Read about how deep the seeds need to be planted. In most cases, it’s about a quarter of an inch deep. Make sure the peat or soil or whatever is moist and then plant. Put your containers in a sunny window and cover the containers in plastic wrap to trap warmth and humidity. Check your containers every day or two to make sure the soil is moist, and eventually your seeds should sprout.
It’s at this point where things most often go awry. Seedlings need 12-18 hours of light. If your sunny window isn’t providing the needed light, you may need to invest in a grow light - but be careful not to position the light too far above the plants or they may get too leggy. When the plant gets its first set of true leaves, you may want to fertilize a little encourage good roots and healthy growth. You can normally keep the plants in their original containers until you’re ready to plant, unless you’re growing them indoors for an extended period. In that case, you may want to pot them up into larger containers.
It doesn’t take a lot of work to start your own seeds, and you’ll be rewarded with the most local of locally grown produce!
Posted by Nicole on 02/25 at 09:34 AM
An organizing fool
Friday, February 08, 2008
It’s February and that means I have been nose-first in seed catalogs the last couple of weeks. I suspect many FTP contributors are in the same boat. There’s nothing more ‘local’ than growing it yourself!
I keep a stack near my couch so I can read and reread the catalogs, deciding which company has the best seed varieties, figuring out what I really want to grow. Normally, I’d have a little notebook close by so I can make notes and lists. Now I just keep my laptop handy - I’ve gone high tech. I have become completely enamored of MyFolia.
MyFolia is a program for gardeners that let’s you electronically track, organize, and share what you’ve planted, what seeds and plants you’ve purchased, and what you want to buy. There’s a reminder section for making gardening task notes and a journal. It’s a pretty great idea. The site is in public beta, so not everything works perfectly…but it’s definitely better than the system I was using.
For those of us who are knitters, you might think it sounds pretty similar to Ravelry. It is very similar and even has the same Flickr interface. Like Ravelry, MyFolia definitely appeals to the inner nitpicky organizational freak in me.
I’ve been busily entering in all the seeds I’ve recently ordered. Just this week I placed an order with Territorial Seed Company. Spring will soon be here and I want to make sure I have time to start some seeds indoors. Some of the first things I’ll start inside are the Brilliant Celeriac and Tadorna Leeks. And, of course, one of my first outdoor plantings will be a sea of Hakurei Turnips, the seeds for which I procured from Kitazawa Seed Company.
Posted by Nicole on 02/08 at 02:39 PM
Monday, January 21, 2008
Had to put a recent picture I took of some garlic left over from a garden we were given. Garlic, as I was telling M, is so amazing yet unassuming it is probably my favorite veggie. Well, there’s tomatoes too, of course. And potatoes, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, onions… Oh, dear. Hmm… enjoy!
Posted by Eliza on 01/21 at 11:23 AM
Rice for the rest of us
Friday, January 18, 2008
For the last couple of weeks I and some of my fellow FTP contributors have had our noses stuck in seed catalogs. Many of us will begin our indoor seed starting for certain long season crops pretty soon and it’s a great time of year to fantasize about gardening - especially in light of the snow yesterday!!
Always interested in growing new things, I stumbled upon a kid’s website recent that describes the growing conditions necessary for growing your own rice. As you might imagine, rice is not exactly native to Pennsylvania. Rather, rice is native to tropical and subtropical southern Asia and southeastern Africa. Most of the rice grown today comes from Asia, and it’s growth requires quite a bit of water.
That said, it’s entirely possible to grow your own rice without flooding your backyard! All it takes is a bucket, a bit of compost and potting soil, some rice seeds, and water. You can grow the rice indoors - as long as your have temps above 55 degrees, that’s all you need (click for the full instructions). The rice needs a long growing season - 90-120 days.
I have to assume that a large number of rice plants would need to be planted to get a decent enough yield. Still, it might make a fun experiment - and think of how proud you’ll be to have rice that you’ve grown yourself without all the pesticides.
Posted by Nicole on 01/18 at 10:59 AM
A little poo is good for the soul
Thursday, December 27, 2007
One of our readers recently requested a list of local resources by county. The other contributors and I are working to put that together, but while I was doing a little bit of Google research I ran into the latest newsletter from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. I found a link of potential value to all of us home gardeners - Pennsylvania Manure Trader.
When I excitedly ran into the other room last night to tell my husband, he stared at me like I had grown horns. I guess it’s a little strange to be excited about manure.
I compost, but my kitchen scraps can’t possibly supply all the nutrients I need for my little garden. Oftentimes I end up purchasing manure to dig in, and then I wish I could find someone from whom I could buy it. Some of the manure listed on the site is purchase-able, but much of it is free. And it seems like nearly all the manure listed is horse manure.
This is the time of year I start daydreaming about next year’s garden, so this is a great resource to have on hand.
Posted by Nicole on 12/27 at 07:55 AM
Monday, December 24, 2007
Although I have not lost locavoraciousness, this time of year—lacking time and wheels and a taste for root vegetables—it’s tough not to skid off the runway of locally grown. I still have a few farmers market apples in the fridge, but that’s about it at the moment. Except for these herbs—the last scraggly tarragon from outside, some sage from a patch in the nabe, and some oregano I brought inside that’s hanging on—that I’ll mince and combine with butter and lemon zest (uh-oh) to slip under the skin of tomorrow’s Christmas turkey breast. (Don’t ask about the turkey part’s provenance, ok?)
Posted by Allison on 12/24 at 04:56 PM
Arrival of the Seed Savers Exchange 2008 Catalog
Monday, December 10, 2007
This is a big fun day for me every year. If you’ve never encountered it, you are in for a treat. And while I am trying to get off most catalog lists, this catalog is worth the paper/inks, etc.
Last summer, the first in several that I was able to have a garden again, I went bonkers for both seeds and plants. (Some turned out better than others, but it was a good learning experience.) Opening to the pepper section, how could you not want to order the “Sheepnose Pimento,” the “Bulgarian Carrot,” or the “Hinkelhatz.” Eggplant varieties called “Casper” (yup, it’s white), “Lao Purple Stripe,” and “Udumalapet” are pictured. There are drying beans and fresh beans, a beautiful spread of melons, herbs, flowers, and garlic. And there are 8 pages of tomatoes. Just try to resist.
A few years ago my stepsister and I (the same one who does organic ag for the Minnesota Dept. of Ag) visited the Seed Savers Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa, at the height of summer. Unbelievable. It’s there that they grow the seeds people send them in order to preserve the germ. The variety of colors and shapes blew me away.
But if you can’t visit in person, visit Seed Savers online.
Posted by Allison on 12/10 at 10:30 PM
Jack and the Bean Stalk
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
We’ve recently been talking about local sources for dried beans, but don’t overlook the fact that you can grow your very own dried beans in a very small amount of space. In my case, I didn’t quite mean to grow dried beans - I just didn’t have time to keep up with the beans in my garden and they became dried beans. As you might be able to see, the limas, green beans, and purple beans overgrew, dried up, and left me with a couple fistfuls of beans. And there would have been many more had I completely ignored my little plot of beans instead of only doing a half-assed job of keeping them picked!
You can plant regular old beans and just let them get out of hand, like I did. But there are quite a few varieties of beans that are intended for use as dried beans. Victory Seeds has a nice selection of heirloom varieties, but you can get them from nearly any seed company. And it’s a good, low maintenance thing to plant in the garden - simply plant, keep watered, and don’t harvest until the end of the season when the seed pods have dried up on the vine.
Posted by Nicole on 11/28 at 08:02 AM
Home Sweet Worm Bin, Day 11 or 12
Friday, November 16, 2007
A quick update on the tenants of my bin.
(Full disclosure: I don’t call them “tenants” any more. It wasn’t long before I began greeting them “hello worms, it’s your mother!” I knew it would happen, just not this quickly. I realize that interviewing as potential “father” to my worms could turn off potential partners for me. Love me, love my worm bin? Updates on this should the time come.)
There’s been a birth! I spied a very little worm among the adults today. Too small for my camera to get a good shot, but should I encounter a creche of them on my next occasion to burrow in the bedding, I’ll try to document it. In the interim, I do have a photo of worms at work on some bits of tomato, potato peelings, and I’m not sure what else.
The smell is fine—earthy, as one might expect. About a week ago I opened the bin and a couple of houseflies flew out, but that’s been it as far as other creatures. The lettuce-y items appear to be the most broken down; onion skins the least. So far, I’m quite pleased.
Posted by Allison on 11/16 at 03:10 PM
Home Sweet Worm Bin
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Or at least, my hope is that my new tenants, a pound of red worms (who knew they’re sold by the pound?), will come to view their bin as sweet home.
I have been itching to compost for years, and now I have the space to do it. Although I’m aware that clever, resourceful people have disguised their bins as coffee tables and window seats, I just wanted to stick it in the corner of the kitchen or out of sight.
Not that it is out of mind—I think about my worms frequently during the day. While preparing food, or course, but also out cutting the last of the zinnias, I wonder: will the worms enjoy some stems? Taking dead leaves off the geranium, I pause: perhaps the worms could snack on these? My work colleagues have already predicted that soon I’ll be making shopping lists with the worms in mind. (Blog readers take note: if start talking about “cooking” for the worms, it will be time for an intervention.)
For those not yet vermicomposting, here’s a quick summary: Go to wormwoman.com, order a kit (there are two sizes), and the UPS person delivers it. The kit includes the bin (recycled plastic), the worms, a sort of fork/rake, and the book Worms Eat My Garbage by the late mother of vermicomposting, Mary Appelhof. (You can also just order worms and book in which there are instructions for DIY bin-maing.) In about 90 minutes—most of it spent sorting out the colored newspaper from the strictly b/w and shredding it—the bedding (“bedding,” that’s homey) was prepared, and I was ready to let the worms move in.
They clumped a bit at first, and at that moment came a big decision: to touch the worms or use the fork thingy. When I was a kid, I had no trouble handling worms for fishing; we also went “hunting” for night crawlers so we could store them in a Pringles can. Ok then, just dive in with the hands. Alas, I found that for good or bad, in my evolution as a person, some things fell off the bus, including comfort in touching naked worm bodies. The fork implement is really quite dull, so I gently separated the big clumps and distributed the worms across the top of their bedding. The instructions said to leave the lid off for an hour or until the worms had burrowed into the bin. Here’s a photo after an hour:
That was 4 days ago. It’s meant to take a few months to break everything down, so I’ll keep everyone apprised of the progress. My goal is to have a big heap of vermicompost for spring planting.
Posted by Allison on 11/04 at 09:43 PM
Eating Locally: Your Own Backyard
Friday, November 02, 2007
You can’t get any more local than your own backyard. Even though we live in the city, I always make a point to plant and harvest my own vegetables and fruit. This year we grew watermelon, herbs, tomatoes, raspberries, eggplant, squash, grapes, blackberries and lots of hot peppers. Because of an unseasonably warm Autumn, a lot of the plants are still producing because there hasn’t been a killing frost yet. I am sure it will happen any day now, so it is best to be prepared.
Here are some steps to maximize what’s left and prepare for next year:
1. Cover the eggplants/squash with a bag or fabric. Not 100% protection, but sometimes it is enough to ward off a light frost for a few days and allow almost mature vegetables to ripen.
2. Pick green tomatoes. I made chili with some green tomatoes and wrapped others in newspaper and stuck them in a dark place to ripen.
3. Bring delicate potted herbs indoors.
4. Dig up your pepper plants, plant them in a pot (with some fresh potting soil) and bring them inside. They can reproduce all winter if they are in a sunny spot and can be replanted in the Spring.
5. Compost any vegetables that will not ripen off the vine or plant them in the ground-you might get a “free” plant growing there next year.
6. Weed. It sounds silly, but if you get rid of the weeds now you might have less after the last frost and it discourages pests and disease.
7. Cover and mulch the garden area.
A brief note: This is my first post as a guest writer for Farm to Philly and quite an honor. I am a food writer and blogger based in Baltimore, which is just within 100 miles of Philadelphia. I plan to occasionally post about food, places and events in my area.
Posted by Guest on 11/02 at 12:44 PM
The green thumb
Monday, October 29, 2007
Feeling how nippy the air is today, I’m feeling much better about my decision to take the garden down two Saturdays ago…even if I did have to pick a ton of green tomatoes. Not that I have anything against green tomatoes, mind you. There’s lots to do with them, other than the now infamous fried green recipe.
- green tomato jam
green tomato curry
green tomato sauce
green tomato and lemon marmalade
green tomato soup
Speaking of gardening, I’ve been giving some thought to next year’s garden adventure. Four varieties of garlic are already in the ground for next year, and I think I’m committed to growing Hakurei turnips. But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people participating in the Dark Days Challenge talking about local lentils. And I’m jealous.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to find locally grown dried beans around these parts. I have no idea why. Every now and then you see them at markets, but not too often. I grew a variety in the garden a few years ago, so I know it’s not difficult. So I’ve been thinking maybe it would be a good idea to grow my own supply again. Of course, my concern with lentils is just growing enough plants to get a decent yield. So far I have not found much information about that. Victory Seeds does sell several varieties of lentils. Perhaps I could email them and ask.
Other than lentils, I’m thinking it might be good to grow Flageolet and White Marrowfat beans.
Posted by Nicole on 10/29 at 11:15 AM
Grow some garlic!
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
It may be coming up toward the end of gardening season for some of us, but if you’re a garlic lover this is only the beginning. Garlic is to be planted four to six weeks prior to the first frost date. In Philadelphia that’s October 15, which puts garlic planting prime time…right now!
I planted garlic in my garden for the first time last year, and I must say that it was one of the most rewarding garden crops I’ve grown in quite some time. I had no idea what was going on underneath our rather clay heavy soil. It was a total surprise when I dug up the garlic, and I had the added benefit of getting to harvest the garlic scapes. The Purple Glazer variety I planted was gorgeous.
This year I’m planting the German Extra Hardy. This hardneck variety has white outside skin, but a dark red clove skin. It’s a very Winter-hearty garlic, even though we really don’t have very cold or snowy Winters around here anymore (now watch, I’ve said this and jinxed us all for this year). I plan to get out into the garden to plant this weekend.
If you’ve never planted garlic before, I heartily recommend it. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and you can even grow garlic in containers if you don’t have a yard. Last year I grew about 25 heads of garlic in a 2 x 3 foot space. That’s a little crowded, but it didn’t make a difference in taste or the size of the heads. One word of caution: do not use garlic that you’ve purchased at a grocery store. Commercial garlic growers use breeds that are specifically made to retard sprout growth. You can use most varieties sold by a farmer you trust, or you can order garlic online (Ebay is an especially great place to order garlic, believe it or not).
To plant garlic directly into the ground, take a bulb of garlic and divide it into cloves right before planting. Plant the clove root-end down about an inch below the soil. Plant each clove about four inches apart. Before planting, consider amending the soil with a bit of well rotted compost and a good, complete fertilizer. Keep the plot well-weeded, as garlic does not like competing plant life. But you can pretty much forget about the garlic until next Spring.
To plant in a container, fill a big pot with some good soil mix and make sure you’ve got great drainage in there. You can keep the pots outside in a sunny spot unless it’s really, really cold…just make sure they get water.
In any case, next Spring you’ll get garlic scapes. And then when the garlic plant above the ground is about 80% brown, you harvest the bulb. I think I did that in late July or early August this year.
There’s nothing like fresh garlic!
Posted by Nicole on 09/12 at 10:39 AM
Monday, August 06, 2007
The garlic I harvested out of my garden a few weeks ago has been drying on my back porch. Last night I took it off the hook and trimmed away the stalks and roots, and wiped away the excess dirt. Success! I now have more garlic than I know what to do with!
These pretty purple-streaked cloves are the Purple Glazer garlic - it’s a mid-season, hardneck variety. Originally from the Republic of Georgia, the garlic is supposed to be great for baking. The cloves are not supposed to be hot, but you could have fooled me - I accidentally cut a garlic bulb in half with my shovel while I was digging up the bed, so I popped a clove in my mouth. Uh, yeah, the garlic is super spicy fresh out of the ground.
This was my first attempt at growing garlic, and I must admit that it was a little thrill to discover the cloves did actually grow into bulbs. Our soil is pretty clay-ish, so you just never know what’ll happen. The bulbs didn’t get huge - my guess is the clay soil kept them from getting too big. I do plan to grow garlic again, so the plan is to build a raised bed so I can get the soil just right.
Do you grow garlic in the Philadelphia area? What are your favorite varieties? While I love the look of Purple Glazer, I think I might try something else next year - perhaps Music, Ontario Purple Trillium, Chinese Pink, or Chet’s Italian.
So now I’ve got all this garlic - what to do with it all? I dried the garlic, so I can at least rely on it to last for a little while. But in thinking of longer term storage, what then? There are several different preserving methods that work for garlic -
- Freezing - freezing garlic will produce a slightly mushy clove, but retains the flavor really well. Place peeled whole or chopped cloves in a freezer bag and, well, freeze it.
- Drying - You can dry cloves that have been cut in half in a dehydrator or your oven (140 degrees for two hours and then 130 degrees until the garlic is totally dry and crisp).
- Oil and vinegar - cloves of garlic (both whole and chopped) can be preserved in both oil and vinegar. In refrigerated vinegar, the cloves will keep for about four months. For oil, it’s best to freeze it - otherwise, you run the risk of botulism. The oil will keep for a few months.
- Salt - dry a few cloves and then give a whirl in a blender until the cloves are a fine powder. Add four parts sea salt for each one part garlic powder and process for just a second or two to combine the two ingredients. Do not process the garlic salt too long because it will cake. Store the garlic salt in an airtight glass jar.
- Pickling - Loosely fill a glass jar with peeled garlic cloves. Add enough red or white wine vinegar to cover the garlic and then add about one tablespoon of sea salt per cup of vinegar. Dried (not fresh) herbs such as red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and oregano may be added to taste. Cover the jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake to distribute the salt and herbs. Refrigerator garlic pickles will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator, as long as the garlic remains submerged in the vinegar.
I wondered, though, whether garlic could be preserved in other ways. What about roasted garlic? The answer is yes: it can be frozen! Just roast the heads, squeeze out the garlic and mash - spread thinly onto sheets of wax paper and freeze it. I also found a great recipe for garlic and basil pesto that can be frozen for a few months.
However I end up preserving my garlic, one thing is for certain: I’m going to have garlic breath for months!
When Fresh Truly Counts
Friday, July 27, 2007
I suddenly feel so accomplished! I made something I thought only restaurants serve. After all, how many times have any of us come to the call of “Dinner’s ready!” to find fried squash blossoms stuffed with fresh herbed goat cheese? I certainly haven’t had the pleasure before. Readers extraordinaire, you must give this recipe a try if you can get your hands on some fresh squash blossoms. It wasn’t nearly as hard as one might think to make these delicate and tasty beauties.
Indeed, the beauty and the flaw of this dish are the squash blossoms themselves. First, they are not a common supermarket find. Second, if you do find them but you don’t get them very very fresh and take good care to keep them cool and moist, they get rather difficult (read: rubbery) to handle (although you can still make it work). That being said, I know there are some of you out there dutifully growing squash plants up the side of the fence in your tiny Philly rowhouse backyard, in urban plots/pots or, for those luckier ducks, in your large suburban kitchen gardens. You, my friends, have no excuse not to give this one a go. In fact, I think you owe it to those that don’t have easy squash blossom access to put your good fortune to use.
How, pray tell, does one harvest a squash blossom? Since squash develop from the blossoms, you don’t want to pick the “female” blossoms that are found low and in the center of the plant. Rather, pick the “male” blossoms that are on long slender stems higher up in the plant. You’ll easily be able to tell the difference once you’re actually looking at a squash plant.
For those of you without your own squash plants, check out the Headhouse Farmers Market on Sunday’s in Philly. This new and unusually lively market is located in the historic “shambles” on 2nd and South Streets. There you’ll find loads of local produce, including a few vendors, such as Weavers Way Farm, selling squash blossoms picked that morning. You really must get them as fresh as possible!
Once you’ve aquired your delicate blossoms by hook or by crook, store them in a ziplock bag filled with air (to cushion them) and with a damp paper towel. Keep in the fridge for up to a day.
Let us know if you try this recipe and how they turn out. Also, what other uses do you know of for squash blossoms. According to my trusty kitchen garden reference book, they are suppose to be good in salads and stir frys. I’m so fixated on the fried stuffed version that I haven’t gotten around to trying either just yet…
FRIED SQUASH BLOSSOMS STUFFED WITH HERB CHEESE
Adapted from Chez Panisse menu
12 large squash blossoms
8 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
1/4 c. finely minced fresh herbs (thyme, basil, chives, sage, or others)
1 large shallot, finely minced
salt and pepper
1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. corn meal mix (look for one that includes salt and baking powder) or masa harina (available in some larger stores)
Freshly ground pepper
1 c. vegetable oil
Place the goat cheese in a small bowl. Mix in the minced herbs, shallots and salt. Mixture will come together easier if the cheese is at room temperature. Once mixed, cover and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes or until firm again.
Prepare your “assembly line” by beating the eggs and milk together in a shallow bowl. Place corn meal mix or masa harina in another shallow bowl and mix in the freshly ground pepper. If blossoms have not already been prepped, gently remove all but a small tip of the stem and look closely for any dirt or insects. If you find anything, gently wipe clean with a damp towel.
When cheese mixture is firm, take teaspoon size amounts and roll into small balls with your hands the way you would chilled cookie dough. Place a cheese ball into the center of each blossom and twist the ends of the petals together to fully enclose the cheese.
Dip each blossom into the egg mixture. Let excess drip off. Quickly and gently roll blossom in dry mixture, shaking excess off. Set blossoms in refrigerator until ready to fry.
Place vegetable oil in a skillet and heat to approximately 350 degrees or until a tiny pinch of corn meal dropped in produces a good sizzle. Carefully place half the blossoms into the hot oil. Turn them over to brown evenly on all sides. When golden brown, remove and place on a paper towel to drain. Bring oil back up to temperature and fry the remaining blossoms.
Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and serve immediately with any leftover cheese as a garnish in the center of the plate.
(makes 12, serves 4)