The absolute last of last year’s garden

April 1, 2010

Here it is April 1 (with no joke intended) and we just harvested the very last of last year’s garden. As you can imagine the last things were parsnips (humongous ones … 4″ at the shoulders and 16″ long, when I was able to get them out with out snapping them off in the middle of the root. Tugging parsnips out of the ground without heavy equipment may be the death of me. They taste great … really sweet. Deep fry them with a dusting of salt and hot curry powder and then eat them splashed with malt vinegar.

The other thing that I cleared out was kale … the remaining young centers. Sooooo good. Best kale ever. Hardly needs to be cooked. Stir fry a bit with olive oil, onions and a hot Thai pepper or two.

Spring 2010 activity

March 19, 2010

I have just finished performing my St Pat’s day duties. On the 17th of March I planted some taters and some peas. The potatoes were from last year’s garden and had sprouts about 6 inches long. I did them in a small trench. These are going to be a small planting for eating as fresh potatoes. I’ll do my keepers a bit later with certified seed. My peas were actually snow peas … Oregon Giants. I stopped doing real peas when i discovered that frozen peas from the store are quite good for almost any purpose and for the one or two times that I want fresh, I can do a local farm stand.

Over the next two days of lovely ground-warming weather, I put in a 4′ X 8′ bed of favas (Superaguadulce from Seeds from Italy), a couple of rows of radish (French Breakfast, OP), a broad swath of arugula (sel Ortalani – Franchi from Seeds from Italy) , one row of golden mustard (Territorial), three rows of beets (Detroit, OP) and three rows of colored carrots (Territorial).

This weekend I am planting out yellow, cooking onion plants that I started from seed, in my other garden.

Winter surprise

February 10, 2010

It is Mid February and i got a terrific Winter surprise. I went out to my snow covered, been through below zero nights, garden and there, under snow and some floating row cover were a few remaining radicchios that were planted in the late summer for fall growth, I fully expected them to be rotten since we had several days and nights that were very cold with almost no snow cover. We also had some days that were above freezing. Usually, when you get fluctuation like that, plants don’t hold in the garden. So, imagine my surprise when i pulled out one head of radicchio that was the size of a vollyball … I kid you not even though I didn’t snap a picture of it. I put it in the fridge to see if it would rot when brought above freezing.

I came home last night to a dinner that my wife had prepared.

It was both beautiful and delicious. It is a recipe I got from the NY Times. One makes a “sauce” out of anchovies fried in olive oil until they dissolve with a splash of vinegar put in at the last minute. This sauce is poured over the raw radicchio when very hot. Toss to wilt the radicchio, add pasta, toss again. Serve with grated cheese.

The head was so big that my wife only used the outer leaves for this dish … these leaves being extremely beautiful in varigations of red, white and many greens. What was left was the head seen below in its traditional red and white. This inner head is as big as the head of a normal 1 year old child. What a gift!

BTW … this is Radicchio di Chioggia from Franchi Seeds via Seeds from Italy

First Action in 2010

February 4, 2010

I put some onion seeds in starter trays about 10 days ago and now they are mostly up and under my grow lights. Both of my onions are from Stokes, who I still think are the best in North America for hybrid onions and carrots. I am repeating my planting of Red Zeppelin which at the time of writing I still have hanging in my pantry with minimal sprouting and that’s incredible for a red onion. For my cooking onions I am trying Fortress, a late season (120 day) variety that is said to have very good keeping properties.

Beginning of Winter

December 4, 2009

Work is what you get paid for that keeps you from doing things like writing in your blog … that and being a good husband and getting to what your wife asks you to get to … like rehab’ing the old house that she wants to move into some day. I am, as you can tell, apologizing for not having posted since October.

Actually … not much has changed in the garden since then, which is another reason for not posting. We have had a terrific Fall here in NE Ohio (or not depending on how you feel about global climate change making our Falls milder). We have been eating out of the garden right along. We had our last lettuces a few weeks ago but that was just because we ate them all. I still have lots of endive, escarole, spinach (getting eaten up ), mustards, methi, and radicchio (tons). Then, of course, we have the cabbage family plants. Broccoli is getting eaten up and the cauliflowers never headed for some reason, brussels sprouts (with loose heads as others around me have reported this year) and tons of kale and collards. I also have about 6 small napas left even after making tons of kimchi. By the way, tons translates into many pounds in my hyperbolic writing style. It also means enough to last the two of us quite a while.

We haven’t started eating the parsnips, the fennel nor most of the winter carrots. Garlic is in for next year.

The big issue for me is getting the garden thinned out so I can fertilize for next year.

I’ll see if I can get a few picts in over the weekend … in and around making some holiday pandoro.

The End of Summer

October 12, 2009

It’s mid-October and un-officially the end of Summer. This weekend I cleaned out the summer garden. The tomatoes and eggplant all came out and were shredded by the lawnmower and put into the compost. None of the tomatoes were worth saving. All of the ones that I had brough into the house in the past week rotted instead of ripening … the pernicious effects of late blight finally hitting my tomatoes. Even the hybrid cherries (Sweet Millions) were gone. I pulled up my Thai Hot peppers and hung the whole plants up in the garage to dry. I have a huge crop of them this year. I did leave in my sweet peppers since they have a lot of fruit still on them and I can cover them with row cover to provide enough protection from frosts. If it looks like a freeze, I’ll pick them.

I also pulled out the brassicas that were either gone (cabbages starting to split, early broccoli that have no sizable side-shoots anymore) or were too under-developed to make it successfully to maturity. My garden size (too small) makes it really hard to double crop. I need to find a way to start my fall broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts earlier. I have some sprouts but they are small. Maybe if we have a good Indian Summer they will fill out.

The Kale and Collards are terrific. So are the Napas. The red radicchio are heading up. Fennel was a relative bust. My careful planting that I detailed in an earlier post was wiped out by sluggs and when I replanted it was too late. I’ll miss the big fennel bulbs I had last year. I have a planting of green beans that have very small beans on them now. I may get a crop. I have great endive, escarole and romaine lettuces. My arugula is still going strong. Two plantings of beets are yet to be harvested. Finally, I have great fall spinach, asian mustard and methi (fenugreek). We will still eat well for a long while.

In my other (new) garden, I am harvesting terrific, huge late carrots; I have very nice leeks and my Belgian Endives have nice tops … we’ll see if they produced nice roots for forcing Belgian Endive heads. I have cover cropped the new beds with buckwheat, oats and left-over bean seeds. I’ll turn over one bed soon for a fall planting of garlic.

Our biggest disappointment was that our fig has about a hundred figs on it and they probably will not ripen … the product of a damaging winter and too cool of a summer.

So … it is an average year with some successes (green things) and some failures (hot weather things).

Wild Mushrooms

October 8, 2009

We had a perfect start to the Fall relative to wild mushrooms. The second half of September was quite dry and then we had a very heavy few days of rain, just what it takes to get a good bloom on some fine mushrooms. I harvested two varieties from the surrounding woods.

Most common in the Fall are armillaria mellea, the Honey Mushroom. Here is picture from Wikipedia:


These are easy to dry, have a good strong mushroom flavor but can be a tad on the tough side. I got several pickings of these and I now have some in the freezer.

I also was fortunate enough to find a lot of Grifola frondosa, aka, Mitake, aka, Hen of the Woods. These are one of the fine mushrooms that have been “domesticated” and the spawn sold in wooden plugs. Here is a picture from


I found several of these (one is good, several is very lucky). My first was about 3 pounds and the second (discovered originally by my wife and dog on a walk) was about 5 pounds. On the oak where the second one was located there were three others of a similar size. We now have six bags in the freezer.

These will be great flavorings all through the winter.

Wild Grapes

September 8, 2009

Wild grapes and apples heating up.

Wild grapes and apples heating up.

One of the great pests of the Ohio, Penna, West Va area is wild grape (Vitis Labrusca, aka Fox Grape). While it is the primitive form of Concord and Niagara cultivated grapes it is decidedly not cultivated itself. It is cross-pollinated readily among instances and thus has many uncultivated variations. The seeds are spread by bird droppings and new plants grow profusely. It is a pest because of how easily it is spread and it will quickly grow to choke out more valuable trees and shrubs. Its deep roots (seeking the deep limestone of the region) make it as hard to eradicate as any invasive plant there is. But there is a small positive side to the wild grape. It makes terrific jelly … much better than classic grape.

The wild grape does not fruit well since it is seldom pruned for fruiting. It loves to just vegetate (with a vengeance). However, it will often fruit when last year’s vines (grapes fruit on second year wood) find their way to the sun. Walk along wooded trails where the vines have access from the shaded woods (where their roots like the cool humus-rich soil). Roads, railroads, power lines and other wide cuts in the woods are good candidates. The fruit is ready in Mid September. Harvest fruit from as many different vines as possible so that you get a blend of flavors. While you are out, pick some wild apples for pectin or use a very tart cultivated apple … even unripe ones.

You are making a high quality product. Do not use Surejell, Certo or other artificial pectin. If some of the grapes are not fully ripe you will not need artificial pectin in order for the jelly to set. Moreover, artificial pectins require too much additional sugar. Put the grapes (stems and all) and the quartered but unpeeled apples in a heavy pot. Do not clean the fruit … it will purify itself as you make it and you will be straining it. Heat gently until the apples soften. The grapes will have given up their juice but you still need the pectin from the fully cooked apples. This may take a while depending on the hardness of the apples. Sour wild apples are best for pectin but take the longest to soften. When the apples are soft, remove the grape stems from the pot, scraping off the fruit with a dull knife. Sieve the remaining pulp. Hang the sieved pulp in a jelly bag (remember we are after a high quality product so do not ever squeeze the jelly bag! Let it just drip). At this point you can freeze the juice for later processing. Mix four cups of the juice with 4 cups of sugar. ALWAYS do 4 cup batches. (Now comes the art). Heat in a heavy pot or confiture pan until it reaches the jelly point. Use a jelly thermometer or your knowledge of jelly making to know when it is done. Put the jelly into jars and hot-pack process for 20 minutes.

Now comes the hardest part. While the jelly is pretty good jelly right away it is TERRIFIC when it is 3-4 years old. Jelly, especially this jelly, oxidizes slightly in the jar like wine does. Beneficial conversions take place. In 3-4 years your guests will think it is amazingly good but will not know it is grape … because it tastes nothing like Welch’s. It is as complex as a vintage red wine. So make a few batches, some for now and some for “laying down”.

This is a jelly that is especially terrific with either meats, palachinka (eastern European crepes of which there are many variations and spellings depending on the country and culture) or blini. And of course, you can always eat it with peanut butter.

Update on floating row cover

August 31, 2009

Here is an important lesson I learned about using floating row cover with raised beds. DON’T SKIMP! You have to have floating row cover that is wide enough to cover the width of the bed so that it can reach 3-4′ high and still have enough left so that you can anchor the sides to the ground (mine is 10′ wide and my beds are 4′ wide so this works). Then you have to cut it long enough so that you can gather the ends and weight them down. You do not want any gaps. So you would do at least 24′ for a 16′ long bed.

The problem is that on the one hand you don’t want to waste expensive row cover, even if you buy it in the more cost-effective commercial quantities. But, if you skimp and insects get under the cover, they are in heaven while you are assuming that your plants are safe. When you take off the row cover, you will be in for a rude awakening.

So … do not be penny wise and a pound foolish … use enough to do it right. I learned the hard way.

Penultimate planting

August 31, 2009

Yesterday I put in the next to the last seeds of the year. The last will be my wintering-over spinach that will go in as soon as I take out some cooking onions.

My planting yesterday consisted of a 4′ by 4′ section that has a row of radish (French Breakfast), a row of fenugreek (“Methi” as it is called when it is a green) and two rows of mustard (a yellow and red, both of which have very finely cut leaves). It is a good time to plant mustard as it will not bolt and can stand cold. Remember that Italian rapa is a mustard so you could do that too … I was out of seed.