Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lovely Lettuces!

There is a bit of a standing joke in my house about my salads, perpetuated by my oldest daughter, Emily.

When I make a comment about salad  I've prepared for supper, you know like "have some salad", or "pass the salad"- the retort is always this.  "You mean bowl of lettuce?"

Because I guess that is what my salads are.  No sweet tomatoes or crispy carrot chunks, no colourful peppers or cool cukes.  Bowl o' lettuce.

And if that is what your salads are, the lettuce and greens had better be good.  There is nothing to divert your attention elsewhere.  If your lettuce isn't up to snuff, your salad is a failure.  Limp and browned leaves won't cut it.  Leave that to the chain restaurants.

There are far more lettuce varieties in the grocery stores now than there was even 10 years ago.  But, my friend, tip of the iceberg.  The number of lettuce varieties out there is astounding.  And the best ones aren't in the grocery stores.  The best ones are in your garden.

But first a little lettuce primer.

Most lettuce cultivars, (Latuca sativa), are one of five types of lettuce; leaf, romaine, butterhead, summer crisp and crisphead.  Each type offers the grower different desirable characteristics usually related to texture.  Do you prefer a crispy, soft, frilly or succulent lettuce?  Some are easier to grow than others, while some are sweeter, some have a huge range of colours, some are more heat or cold tolerant and some will hold in the garden longer.  Ahh, so many decisions!  But don't think about it too long- just buy some good seed and get growing!

Lettuces have been around for a long, long time.  They were first mentioned in literature in 440 B.C. and were deemed valuable as both medicine and food.  As medicine they were thought to act as a sedative and help with sleep, while also refreshing the body. It was believed that in fact it was a lettuce tonic that cured Augustus Caesar when he was ailing.

According to Greek mythology, when Adonis died, Venus threw herself on a bed of lettuce to stem her grief and cool her desire.  Sounds quite reasonable doesn't it?  I'll give that a try next spring!

Despite this earlier greatness, advice in the 16th century was that children born of lettuce eaters "do become idle foolish and peevish persons".

Clearly a divergence of opinion as time went on.

Intriguingly enough, lettuce is a member of the sunflower family and a descendant of a weed called prickly lettuce ( Latuca serriola).  Prickly lettuce is a very common weed, found all over my farm and probably many properties across Canada and the US.

There are hundreds of known cultivars of lettuce, some unique to the culture they are grown in.  Hundreds are listed in my 2010 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, and reading the descriptions of them can make one a tad hungry for some leafy goodness.

I don't really have a clue how many varieties I grow.  Let's say lots!

But every year there are some that always grace my garden because of their preferred goodness.
Bronze Arrow (aka Bronze Arrowhead) is one.  It is considered a leaf lettuce, and has gorgeous colouring; bronze-purple oakleaf type leaves, and a sturdy crunchy spine.  It holds well in the garden and has a distinctive taste.

Other favourites are Forellenschuss, a gorgeous speckled romaine type, the frilly Black Seeded Simpson and Susan's Red Iceberg.  But I could go on.

A great way to try different types is to buy a mix.  I like the Seed Savers Lettuce Mix.  It can be started in flats and transplanted out early in the season to obtain heads, or sown as a cutting mix which means sowing close together and cutting when several inches tall.

I find lettuce needs a good fertile soil, a smooth and fine seed bed, and lots of water.  It is possible to grow lettuce throughout the year, if watering is paid particular attention to in the summer heat, and the right varieties are chosen for hot or cold conditions. In the winter in Southern Ontario, a cold frame or covering of some sort is essential.
When planting, I generally draw a rectangle around the area I wish to plant my lettuce mix, add a good few inches of compost and scatter the seed evenly over the area.  Because lettuce needs light to germinate, there is no need to cover the seed....just keep it moist.  If your scattering skills are rusty, rows about 6 inches apart work too.

Mesclun mixes are very popular right now, but with many of these mixes, different elements grow at different rates and have different pest problems.  I like to make my own mixes up, but also sow the various elements separately.  All the lettuces go in together, with the funky stuff that grows much quicker like arugula and mustards sown in a separate area.  These two are also very vulnerable to flea beetles, who quickly fill the leaves with holes, sometimes rending them fit for chickens only.  A covering of agricultural fabric can help with this.  When all the various components of the mesclun are 2-3" tall, cut and mix together.

When saving seed, simply let the lettuce remain in the garden.  It will develop a seed stalk and look vaguely reminiscent of -yes-prickly lettuce the weed( also known as sow thistle). It has small yellow flowers, which will dry and look like miniature dandelions with the fluff.  Let the seeds dry on the stalk, and collect.
Lettuce does cross easily between varieties and also with prickly lettuce weed.  If necessary, blossoms can be bagged to prevent cross pollinating.  A makeshift cover of agricultural fabric is ideal for this purpose, tied with string below the seed heads.

A good aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil are my only requirements for good lettuce-enjoy!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Incidental Onion

Onions might be one vegetable that don't garner a great deal of attention.

Most people have them in their kitchens because of the incredible flavour they add to dishes, but they seldom play a starring role or are given a whole lot of consideration.

When my Mollie was little and was learning to graze ( and I mean graze!) in the garden, she hit the alliums first. Garlic, onions and chives, any of those were fair game.  Never mind that I wasn't likely to munch on some of them as is because of the heat.  She did...without hesitation.  She even loved them so much that she called her beloved doll "Baby Onion"(pronounced "on-yon").  I'd tuck her in bed at night with Baby Onion and she reeked to high heaven of onions.  Still did in the morning too.

Most kids don't have that crazy enthusiasm for onions. Or older folks for that matter too.

 My sister won't eat them at all, which is hard to understand.

But it was not always that way for onions.  They have been around forever, and at one point in their history were nearly worshipped.

They are believed to be one of the earliest domesticated crops, but were most certainly consumed prior to domestication in the wild.  They were found in the gardens of royalty as early as 2100 BC, and were held in high esteem in Egypt because their "circle within a circle" configuration was thought to mean eternal life.  It was also believed their strong smell could bring the dead back to life.

They were considered a valued herbal treatment by Indian culture as they were deemed good for the eyes, heart and joints and early Greek Olympians used onion tonics and poultices for strength.  By the Middle Ages they were so important that they were used at times for rental payments and wedding gifts.

Well, we might not get away with THAT now.  What a world it would be if onions could pay the rent.

I'll let the reader dwell on that one.

Amazing really how this once revered vegetable has fallen from grace.  But not with everyone!  My 2010 Seed Savers Yearbook distinguishes 126 varieties- and of course there are more than that.  But most certainly when you go into the grocery store and peruse the onion department, you will likely see one variety of scallions, one red, one cooking onion type and a shallot.  Perhaps a pearl onion for good measure, and a tidy little bunch of chives.

I grew a mere 5 varieties this year, but they were really good ones.  If you want to experience some wonderful onion varieties, you simply have to grow your own from seed.  Garden centres have limited varieties of transplants and sets, but seed catalogues, my oh my!

I find when I grow onions, I really don't end up selling a whole lot of them..with one exception.  The very pretty Red Torpedo onion, pictured above is quite popular and that works for me because it is also one of my favourites.  I also like some of the big ones, like Walla Walla, and Ailsa Craig and the pretty flattened cippolinis.

I start my onion, leek and chive seeds early, usually around mid-February, placing them under my fluorescent lights indoors.  They require deep pots for seeding, so the roots can stretch.  I usually seed them in 4 inch pots that are at least 4 inches deep, and spread the seeds out about 1/4 inch apart. As they grow and the greens shoot up, they require regular trimmings, to redirect the plants energy back to the root.  These trimming make a nice zesty addition to late winter salads and sandwiches.

By April, it is usually possible to find a workable area in the garden, so out they go!  I hoe a planting row about 2 inches deep, add a nice layer of compost into the row, and plug the tender little onions in.  I firm the soil around them, water them in, and keep a look out for weeds.  My experience is that onions are heavy feeders, like to be well watered and don't like weed competition.  If possible, it's a good idea to mulch them with straw, when they have grow a little bit.  They don't mind being crowded in the rows, so you can plant them pretty close together.

One particularly interesting onion is the Egyptian Walking onion.  That is the other picture at the top of my blog. This is a perennial onion, and it reproduces by plunking it's little topsets on the ground, which then root themselves, beginning the cycle all over again. In this way, it "walks" across your garden. These onions are lovely and pungent, and you need never be without onions as long as they are around.

For seed saving purposes, most other onions are biennials- that is, they develop their seed in the second year of growth.  To collect seed they need to be overwintered in the garden( with a heavy layer of mulch), or in cold storage, then replanted in the spring.

Most information from seed companies indicates that onion seed viability is short lived, but I have had onion seed last many years.  Correct storage must be the key-dry and cool.

Want to try a yummy and different dish?  This one is from Canadian Living, and is most certainly worth the effort!

Caramelized Onion Lasagna

This twist on lasagna is great for a Saturday night get-together. Serve with salad and a special loaf of bread.
This recipe makes 10 servings



In skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tbsp (25 mL)
of the butter; reduce heat to medium-low and cook onions, stirring occasionally, for 35 to 45 minutes or until soft and golden. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in heavy saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Stir in flour; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring for 10 to 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 cup (50 mL) of the cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Meanwhile, in large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles for 8 to 10 minutes or until almost tender. Reserving cooking liquid, remove from pot; rinse in cold water. Arrange in single layer on clean damp tea towel.
Squash Filling: In food processor, pulse ricotta with squash puree until very smooth. Transfer to large bowl; stir in egg, egg yolk, bread crumbs, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg until well blended. Set aside.
Return reserved cooking liquid to boil. Add broccoli and cook for about 2 minutes or until almost tender. Drain. Refresh under cold water; drain again.
Set aside 1 cup (250 mL) of the cheese sauce. Arrange 3 noodles in single layer in greased 13- x 9-inch (3 L) baking dish. Spread with half each of the squash filling, broccoli, onions and remaining cheese sauce. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles and reserved cheese sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake in 375°F (190°C) oven for about 40 minutes or until light golden and bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Eat fresh all winter

 I've been outside today pulling beets and it is bloody cold.  But being November in Southern Ontario means only one thing.  It is going to get colder!

Most people with gardens are heading back to the grocery stores at this time of the year to get their produce.  But growing (ha!) numbers of people are not. They are relying on preserved summer crops, stored crops and fresh greens from protected structures such as hoop houses and cold frames

Here on the farm we are in pretty good shape for the winter after a super growing season.  I've talked on this blog about some veggies I store in barrels in the garage-winter radishes, beets, cabbages,carrots and also kohlrabi and turnips.  I've got potatoes and squash in the fruit cellar as well as onions and copious amounts of garlic and some English walnuts from my trees. Dried beans, canned tomatoes, peppers and beans and a wonderful assortment of jams round out the fruit cellar, making it look like a grocery store.  My freezer holds my strawberries, raspberries, huckleberries and cape gooseberries and my cooler, apples from my trees.

We'll eat well.  But I couldn't really just get by with these foods.  I need greens and my two large hoop houses are just full of them.

I sell a fair bit, but of course we eat 'em too!

I pulled the tomatoes out of the hoop houses in September, and after a quick till, started seeding one of the houses. I don't worry about precision seeding.  I practise the "scatter seed" approach.  I put in lots of arugula, mustards, chards, kales, walking onions and a few potatoes for fun.  I watered the seeds in and before long was rewarded with a sea of green. I'm harvesting these greens now, mid-November, but only when absolutely necessary....there still is so much outside!

The other hoop house is a different story.  I purchased it from a different company and the design was poor - exposed screws on the top of the structure weakened the plastic, and a huge wind mid-September ripped the plastic right off.  Best greenhouse, hands-down is the one from GGS in Vineland.

We had this greenhouse completely tilled and ready to go, but without the plastic, I wasn't too worried about getting it planted.  And getting the plastic on isn't a job I can remotely consider doing myself.

So on a fine breeze-less morning in October, we got the plastic on.  But a really great thing had happened....the house had seeded itself!

I have chefs who like the flowers from the crops I grow in the winter-the cheery yellow mustards,white arugula and purple radish flowers that inevitably start appearing when the longer days of March and April send up the seed stalks.  So I let lots of these crops flower, then go to seed.  And although the hoop house was fully planted to heirloom tomatoes this summer, I tried to "dry farm" the plants, that is I didn't water them after they were established.  And because of this minimalist approach to watering, the plants that went to seed didn't grow.

When the plastic ripped though, the rain came down and the seeds germinated like crazy.  That house is packed with mustards and chards, mizuna, choi, claytonia, cress, lettuces and of course lovely little tomato plants which will expire when the deep freezes hit.

I'm done watering the hoop houses now.  Obviously much less water is required in the cold weather.  From here on it is just a matter of covering the crops with agricultural fabric when the temperatures dip quite low, and of course harvesting. And the taste?  Oh my. Winter greens, sweetened by the frost are so good and fresh tasting.

Eating local has become the mantra of so many.  But I am a stickler for good food, be it local or not. And much of what is in the stores is intolerable crap, sadly whether it is local or not.
I firmly believe the best food people will ever eat is the food they grow themselves.

Got a bit of ground?  Time to think garden for 2011!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Crazy for Carrots

I love carrots.

When we go on trips here and there, Mollie likes to play the "three' game.  We ask each other questions requiring three answers.

Like, "What are your three favourite kinds of trees?"
"What are your three favourite songs?"
And always "What are your three favourite foods?"

Well, for me, carrots are always one of the three.

Good carrots that is.

To me that means freshly pulled, quickly washed and munched noisily.  Or properly stored, with the dirt on, washed and eaten.

It means grown without chemicals too.  Carrots grown in the ground fertilized with chemicals often have a petroleum taste from these fertilizers.  My opinion.  Carrots grown in a mineral rich soil have  full flavour, earthy and sweet.

Carrots have been with us forever.  Well, nearly.
Seeds from carrots were found in the tombs of pharaohs in the third millenium B.C. They were at that point not distinguished  from parsnips in literature and were used not for eating but for their pretty and delicate foliage.  It was not until the 1700's that they were clearly deemed distinct from parsnips by a Swedish botanist, given the Daucus carota title.

Early carrots were red, yellow, green, white and also purple. It was the Dutch whose work at refining the taste produced the orange carrot, and they used its juice to colour cheese to make it more appealing as well as feeding the carrots to cows to brighten the colour of butter.

Fifty one varieties of carrots are listed in my Seed Savers Exchange yearbook for 2009.  Wow- Fifty one! This year I honestly don't know how many varieties I grew, certainly more than twenty.  Of these, some are ideal for my heavier clay soil: Paris Market, a lovely round little orange carrot, as well as Oxheart and Danvers, two stump rooted varieties.  The lovely French yellow variety Jaune du Doubs, the white Belgium White, the purple Dragon , and Atomic Red.  A staple is always the wonderful sweet Scarlet Nantes.  It is not scarlet but orange and a tender and juicy treat.

This year I thought I'd explore the purples a bit more, and grew three purple hybrids to compare them to Dragon.  Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Purple Pak.

Deep Purple was probably my favourite of the three.  It was a very dense carrot to eat and dark nearly to the point of being black.  I did like it's flavour, and it made for some pretty stunning carrot soup.

Carrots can be a bit of a challenge to grow well, especially if you have clay soil like mine.  I have a terrible time with germination if I don't have a trick or two up my sleeve.

I draw my planting row with my hoe, usually about 3 or 4 inches deep, then fill it with a good compost.
If I don't do this, my sad little seeds can't pop through the soil crust, but with the lovely light compost it is not a problem.  The key is to water, water and water, keeping the planting row moist at all times until germination.  And then make sure they continue to be well water through the season.  This is one crop that can't do well without water.  I think the regular watering also ensures they don't fork when they hit that layer of clay beneath the compost....they just keep growing through it.

With carrots an overly rich soil can cause the growth of those little fibrous hairs on the root.  They don't really need or want heaving feeding, and do well in your garden rotation if they follow heavy feeders.  I've also read  about the wisdom of interplanting them with tomatoes.  Some people swear they greatly increase tomato production.  I don't know if it was effective when I tried it but I'll do it again!.

I like to leave much of my crop in the ground as long as I can. Once they have had some good heavy frosts they become candy-sweet and so, so good.  I have tried keeping them in the ground all winter, with a very thick layer of straw covering them.  But the temptation was too great for the mice who had a marvellous feast.

When I know the cold weather is going to freeze my ground pretty hard, I dig them all up.  To store I lop off the greens,and store them in barrels, layering them with straw.  These barrels stay in my garage for the winter, with lids to prevent the mice from enjoying.  I see no need to freeze carrots when they store so very well, remaining crisp and sweet when stored this way.

For super long fair-winners, dig a good deep trench as deep as you can go and fill with compost, seeding into the compost. I've won the longest carrot prize with Belgium White.  I've never known another carrot to grow quite so long.

Carrots are considered biennials in terms of saving seeds....that is they produce their seed in the second year.  In our climate that means digging up your carrots and storing them overwinter, then replanting in the spring. Carrots will cross with other carrot varieties as well as with it's close relative Queen Anne's Lace.  Varieties need to be separated or the blossoms bagged to prevent cross pollination.

We eat a lot of raw carrots, but they are very versatile too, showing up in soups, stir fries, baking and more.
One very simple dish that I rely on frequently is a carrot-tofu scramble.  I crumble a pound of organic firm tofu into a frying pan with some olive oil in it.  Onto this I grate a good bit of carrot, maybe about 2 cups.  When my tofu is nicely browned and the carrots are tender, a good sprinkle of soy sauce or Braggs and voila! Even Mollie likes it, so it must be a good thing.

Enjoy your carrots, they are too good to miss out on!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A day in the life

Things are quieter here now.

The kids, one big and one little are back in school.

Sales and production have slowed and not as many people stop by.  My summer help is gone.

The days settle into a routine.  I get Mollie on the bus, feed "my guys"-that's 24 chickens, 5 cats, 4 ducks, 2 bunnies, 1 pig, and walk the puppies Ellie and Darwin.  It's a big event for them, they can't wait.

We head down the road, past Liz's house and they look expectantly for Pepe, her dog.  He runs around his fenced in yard, barking, howling and greeting I guess. When they know they've been seen, they fix their gaze straight ahead, with the occasional sniff and tug when good things cross their paths.  You know.  Dead frogs, poop and such.  Things that they find immensely appealing.

We turn down Sideroad 42.  There is no sign.

I've only recently found out it has a name.  I always call it the gravel road, and it is great for walking.  Fields and bush outline it, and a mere 5 houses at the far end.

I often sing to my dogs as we walk.  I have a whole repetoire of puppy songs.
Like this, for example:

"If you see the puppies now
You would just say Holy Cow
Puppies they are just so fine
I got mine at the store for 249 !"

The tails seem to wag a bit more and the pace picks up when I sing my puppy songs. That of course could be my imagination.  Of course neither of them are from a store, nor were they $249.  They are fine if the songs fudge the facts a bit.

I hit the business mode when we get home.  It's Thursday and I know I'll hear from Kevin today.  I can pretty much start picking before I hear from him.  I know his order and I know he's game to try other things.

Kevin is Chef Kevin Maniaci from On the Twenty in Jordan.  Week in and week out for years he phones and I get his order together.  He's a great guy to deal with and my most loyal customer.  He doesn't make a big splash out of the fact he buys as much as he can from local growers, he just does it.
I appreciate that.  Too many chefs talk the talk, but don't walk the walk.

Today it's the microgreens, sturdy greens (like kale, chard, spigiarello), carrots, beets and arugula.

As I pick I'm swarmed by my chickens.  They are curious.  "What's she doing?  Is there something we can EAT?"  As I pull the beets and put them in my bushel, they start pulling them out and munching on the greens.

When I look at my watch I realize I have to make a dash to Winger school to watch the Remembrance Day ceremony.  Mollie has been chosen to wave the big Canadian flag and I wouldn't miss it for the world.  I stuff a few tissues in my pocket.  I'll be emotional and "weepy" as my girls call it.

It's nice.  Really nice.  To hear those sweet young voices recite Flanders Fields is touching.  But none of us know, do we?  My dad knew those times.  He was in the war.  They tell us to remember.  But my dad just wanted to forget and he didn't talk much about it.

When I'm leaving a friend down the road offers to bring his tractor down to plough up the garden. That sounds good, once things are out of the ground I'll take him up on that offer.

After lunch I'm in the garden again, pulling the beets and digging the carrots.
 I wonder-what will it be like out here next year?  The school whose yard borders on my garden has just sold on Monday.  I used to get a bit (ha!) upset when the kids would climb the fence and run through my freshly planted field.
But when the school closed it's doors for good a year and a half ago because of declining enrolment, September seemed sad.  I liked hearing the kids laugh and whoop it up.  It's pretty darn quiet without them.

I have a feeling my new neighbours won't be kids.  Time will tell.

It is such a gorgeous day.  I take a minute to water the greenhouse crops, then see a van slowing down in front of the house.  By the time I get up to the house, Roger my Rooster has gone to investigate the new arrival.

It's Irena.  I only know her because she is a fellow gardener.  She's 94 years old.
She's looking for Snow apples, but mine are all gone.  Eaten.
I ask her if she wants to try some walnuts and crack one open for her.

They are really good this year, and she agrees.
"I'll take 3 pounds, Linda.  I'm going to do some baking and they'll be good for that"

I bag them and weigh them.  She fishes for her money, and pulls out a toonie.  I wave it away...I've got lots, but she tries to insist.  She wants to do something for me if I won't take the money.  I tell her just come back and visit.

Every time she drives away, I wonder if I'll see her again.  I hope I do.

When Mollie hopes off the school bus, the order is done.

We feed "the guys", gather the eggs.  She asks me a hundred times if I liked the concert.  "Mom, how would you rate it on a scale of one to a hundred"  Of course I rate it one hundred, but she's convinced it can't be quite that.  We settle on ninety nine.

I have more grey hairs on my head than I did years ago when I was a social worker. I'm older. But the grey hairs must have been inside me then, strangling my heart, making me tense and terse as I did a job I believed in less and less.

Peace of mind.
(Thanks, BD)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The unappreciated winter radish.

How many BLACK veggies do you know?

I mean really black.

There are black tomatoes of course...but they aren't really black.  More like a brownish-purplish- reddish colour.

Black carrots look dark purple to me as do black eggplants.

Well, you must admit that the Round Black Spanish Radish pictured at right IS black!

As is the Long Black Spanish Radish erupting from the ground in this picture.......
These are cool vegetables!!

But why is it when people come over and tour through my garden they are inevitably stumped as to what  they are?

We know rutabagas and turnips, whose taste is so similar.  But why do we neglect this garden superstar?

Radishes are ancient vegetables.  They were first mentioned in literature in China as early as 1100 BC and it is believed this is the country of their origin.  They are a member of the mustard family as are many other veggies that are standard in our diet such as broccoli, cabbage, turnip and more.

Radishes most commonly known in this country are the spicy sweet little round reds, found across the country at the early spring farmers market.  But radishes come in many shapes, sizes and colours.  There are reds, white, ambers, purples ...and blacks!  They can be small, huge, round, long or bulbous.  And don't forget the rat tailed as I mentioned in an earlier post.

Last year I had a Wwoofer helping out on the farm who hailed from Japan.  I didn't realize the importance of the Daikon in the Japanese diet-it was by far his favourite veggie.  I've since read that the Daikon makes up fully 25% of all vegetables grown in Japan...that's a lot of radishes!

The Black Spanish types I grow are appreciative of a loose and reasonably fertile soil.  I plant mine in May or June, direct seeding them in the garden.  You can wait till early July to get them in too-but I like mine big for storage purposes so put them in on the earlier dates.

The beauty of these veggies in my mind is their ability to store so darn well over the winter.  As I do with many other veggies, I lop off all the greens, and layer them in barrels with straw.  The barrels stay in my garage. They remain exceptionally firm and tasty all winter.

If I want to save seeds from them I simply replant the root come spring- and being a biennial, up shoots the seed stalk. The seed develops, I let it dry on the plant, then collect and store (or replant).

If I want to eat them, that's another story.

Eaten raw at the larger stage they are terrifically pungent.  Elizabeth Schneider, in her wonderful book "Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables" describes the Russian habit of eating them as a cold spread; coarsely grated , then mixed with sour cream and chives or scallions.  And of course accompanied by black bread and a healthy swig of vodka-what could be more invigorating!

The pungency subsides when cooked and they take on the very true taste of rutabaga.  When boiled and buttered, they are yummy.  Or alternately, try them with a cream or cheese sauce.  That will make a believer out of you.

But perhaps the most entertaining thing to do is to take advantage of that wonderful black skin, and peel some of it off in strips, so you are faced with a prospect of eating what may be the worlds only black and white striped vegetable offering.  Boil the striped delight, pop on a bit of butter and salt and be prepared again for the question, "what is that?"

From garden to table, people aren't familiar with this veggie.  But it is a really good one to get to know!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Need seed? It's for sharing!

I like to get mail.

You know, the old fashioned kind that comes in the mailbox across the road.  Not bills or advertisements but personal stuff.

Or of course SEEDS!

I just love being a test gardener for Rodale's Organic Gardening Magazine.  Fellow testers are a fantastic group of experienced growers who are willing to share their knowledge (and wit).
And I get a big surprise package of seed in the mail to play with as the growing season approaches-how great is that?  FREE seed- yahoo!

At this point in the year I am beginning to get seed ready for 2011 sales.  I've collected a lot of great seed from the garden and am happy about some new varieties of seed I'll be adding to the seed listing.

But, alas.  There still is some seed left over from 2010 sales.  I haven't counted, but probably a few hundred packages.  It is good organic seed and has been stored properly all season.

So here is my thought. I know how great the feeling is to get free seed in the mail, so I'd like to pass that feeling along. If you would like to have a package, just send a self addressed, stamped envelope and I'll send a package of my choice to you.  If you live outside of Canada, no problem-wherever you are I'll send it to you as long as you affix sufficient postage.  There really are no strings attached.

Most of the seed is heirloom vegetable seed, but there are a few flowers, and minor annual fruits too.

If you want to send me a note about yourself and your garden...that would be cool.  I'll post some stories on my blog if I get them so we all have an idea about each others efforts.

If folks are interested in saving seed next season from what I have sent, all the better. If you don't know how to save a particular seed, just ask.

If I start to run low on seed for this giveaway, I'll post on my blog that supplies are dwindling.  Keep checking back in!

Mail your seed request to:

Tree and Twig
84039 Reg Rd 45,
RR#1 Wellandport, On
L0R 2J0

(please request before 2011!)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mon petit chou-Cabbage, I love you!

I really like vegetables.

If I am faced with the prospect of a meal or snack, veggies usually figure prominently in what I create.

Of course this might seem a given because I grow vegetables for a living.   They are always here and they are always fresh.  I love popping out to the field and pulling a carrot, munching on a pepper or tomato or chewing a kale leaf or broccoli floret.

But surprising, I do know people that grow vegetables, and don't like or eat what they grow.  Seems can you promote what you do if you don't like it?
  Interesting but not the point of this at all.

The point is cabbage.  And I do grow a pointed variety! It is called Kalibos and it is a marvellous red conical cabbage.  Lots of varieties exist, but I know cabbage is one crop some folks tend to not bother with.  Why would you?  It is so cheap in the stores, and in your garden it can tie up space for the whole season.

Taste is the reason I grow cabbage.  Fresh cabbage just out of the garden is not your grocery store cabbage.  It is sweet and juicy and delectable. It is one of the reason vegetables are my favourite food to eat. It is" cut- off- a- slab -and- crunch- it "good.

 I realize most people don't eat cabbage this way. They shred it, or cook it or do something with it other than just enjoy it straight up.  But homegrown cabbage is up to that challenge.  It can be that good.

I grew only 3 varieties this year.  My Seed Savers Exchange yearbook refers to 48 different varieties that it's members offered this year.  Savoys and loose heads, red , greens, conicals and in betweens.

I picked Kalibos, Couve Tronchuda (a looseheaded Portuguese heirloom) and Drumhead Savoy.  Despite the fact I limited my varieties, I still managed to come up with a heck of a lot of cabbage .  Which can only be a good thing.

Yesterday was my day to yank them from the ground roots and all.

Even after selling quite a few, I still found myself with lots. Storing them properly is even more important, so I can get them to remain firm and crisp throughout the winter.

Instead of cutting the heads off, I pull them out by the roots.  This is preferable for two reasons. Quite simply they store better, and they also are ready to produce seed in the spring if the root is still attached, if that is the direction I want to go.

To store them I layer mine in barrels or old garbage cans with straw.  I try to ensure they don't touch, and that I leave a little bit of dirt on their roots.

If seed is what I am interested in, I replant my cabbages, root and all in the spring.  I cut an "x" in the head, and from there the seed stalk shoots up.  I allow the seed pods to dry on the plant, and make sure I separate out different varieties of the cole family so cross pollination doesn't occur.  It's fun-try it!

Cabbages are pretty easy to grow.  They tend to be heavy feeders and appreciate that extra scoop of manure or compost you add to their planting hole.  They can be planted anytime from April to early July, and I usually start from transplants I have seeded myself 6 weeks earlier.

They should toot along just fine unless the inevitable happens....and it will.  Those pretty little cabbage butterflies will find them, deposit their little eggs.... and voila!  Chomp, chomp-the tender young greens of your cabbages are disappearing.  You can cover them with agricultural fabric, effectively blocking them out IF your fabric has no points of entry, but you can also just hand pick the worms (loopers) until you have them under control.  Then feed them to your chickens or ducks, squish 'em, or drown them in detergent water.  They can completely destroy your cole family crops, so get the jump on them!

My friend Helen was here tonight, and she shared a little thing her Hungarian mom did with cabbage when they were young.
Fry up some finely shredded cabbage in butter until it is lightly browned, season with salt and toss with freshly cooked pasta.  Yum-it's good!  I actually did it for supper tonight and added a bit of onion too.  Easy- squeasy!

I'm thinking too that a little sauerkraut is on the agenda.  Although traditionally made with green cabbage, I'm going to see how I do with red.  Stay posted for further adventures with cabbage!