Posts filed under ‘Gardening’

Strawberry Landscapes

Mmmm, Strawberry Tart

Your Lips Will Love This

Yesterday we ate the first two strawberries of the season from our front yard. They were amazingly sweet, fragrant and delicious, much more flavorful than grocery-store strawberries, making me wish we had more. Which is why I’m going to take really good care of what’s left after this winter-of-no-water and hope that we can encourage more healthy plants to take over.

I started growing strawberries under my plum trees to create a living mulch that would eventually take over the area. I have to remember to keep up with the watering. I’m a withholder at heart, feeling that in our dry climate, things need to figure out how to live without extra water. However, when it comes to fruit, you must give it decent water when it’s blooming and fruiting to encourage better and more fruit. Berries are so expensive that it’s worth it to spend a little more on water and have super-fresh, super-flavorful fruit, packed with all the goodness of food plucked right from the source.

Strawberries are also pretty easy to grow. They don’t take a lot of extra work once planted and want to move all over the place, so find a spot where they can take over, if they like it. Make sure the soil is well-amended and mulched to help new plants maintain moisture. Then, sit back and enjoy as the berries come rolling in!

June 11, 2011 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

Food of the Month: Raspberries

That sweet-tart burst of spring goodness found in raspberries is something I wait for all year. As soon as truly fresh berries appear in the grocery store, I’m there with bells on. Berries are on the pricier side and they are high in pesticide use, so I decided to grow my own, and nothing is easier to grow than raspberry canes.

Purchase raspberries at a garden center such as Rick’s or find a friend with runaways. Some varieties will produce two or more crops in a season. I favor these because I like to eat raspberries for as long as I can and freeze the rest.

Choose a location in full sun where you can get at the row from both sides to make it easier to harvest. Raspberries need a little room to spread since many types fruit on second year canes and that cane dies once spent. You need a space where you can leave them in place for a year and let the new canes move in to replace the spent canes. In the spring, once you see signs of life, you can prune out the dry, brown canes to leave room for the new growth and air flow through the patch.

Raspberries require little once established. To get them going, prepare your bed with 2-3 inches of rich compost, tilled in to 12″ or as deep as you can get it. Plant the canes before they have tons of leaves and keep them well-watered while they are establishing themselves. After two or three weeks, you should be able to start watering less, but make sure to keep them well-watered through their first summer.

After the first year, raspberries will be fairly xeric. Even with a winter as dry as we had, I only watered them two or three times and they have come back with a vengeance this spring. You will want to give them a little extra water once the canes start to bloom and set fruit to increase production.

Nutritionally, all berries are packed with life-affirming goodness. Raspberries are particularly high in vitamin C and manganese. According to the website World’s Healthiest Foods,

“As an antioxidant food containing ellagic acid, raspberries help prevent unwanted damage to cell membranes and other structures in the body by neutralizing free radicals. Ellagic acid is not the only well-researched phytonutrient component of raspberry, however. Raspberry’s flavonoid content is also well documented. Here the key substances are quercetin,   kaempferol, and the cyanidin-based molecules called  cyanidin-3-glucosylrutinoside and cyanidin-3-rutinoside. These flavonoid molecules are also classified as anthocyanins, and they belong to the group of substances that give raspberries their rich red color. Raspberries’ anthocyanins also give these delectable berries unique antioxidant properties, as well as some antimicrobial ones, including the ability to prevent overgrowth of certain bacteria and fungi in the body (for example, the yeastCandida albicans, which is a frequent culprit in vaginal infections and can be a contributing cause in irritable bowel syndrome).

Interesting to see what might be delicious and generally helpful to overall health at the same time.

Enjoy raspberries in salads, cold summer soups and light desserts. Following is one of my favorite recipes. For a cocktail party, make bite-sized meringues drizzled with the sauce.

Meringues with Raspberry-Cardamom Sauce

8 servings

Begin at least a day before you plan to serve the dessert and you can bake the meringues up to a week ahead.  Don’t make them on a humid day as moisture prevents meringues from drying properly and staying crisp.  Use a 3 ½-inch round cookie cutter or a 3 ½ inch round can/glass to trace the bases.

Meringues

1-½ c. sugar

2 T. cornstarch

6 large egg whites, room temperature

¼ t. cream of tartar

Position 1 oven rack in bottom third of oven and the other in top third; preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using 3 ½-inch diameter cookie cutter as template, heavily trace 4 circles on each parchment sheet.  Turn parchment over so that marked side faces down, but shows through.

Whisk sugar and cornstarch in medium bowl to blend.  Using heavy-duty or handheld electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat whites in large bowl until foamy, about 1 minute.  Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.  Add sugar mixture, 1 T. at a time, beating until whites are very stiff and glossy, at least 4 minutes with heavy-duty mixer and 6-8 with handheld.  Scoop enough meringue into pastry bag fitted with medium star tip to fill ¾ full.  Pipe small dot of meringue under parchment in each corner of baking sheets.  Press parchment onto dots.

Starting in center of 1 marked circle, pipe meringue in continuous spiral to fill circle completely.  Pipe 1 meringue circle atop edge of base circle, forming standing rim.  Repeat, piping 2 more circles atop first, forming meringue cup.  Repeat with remaining circles, filling bag as needed.

Bake meringues 3 hours without opening oven door (sides of meringues may settle slightly).  Turn off oven; let meringues stand in closed oven overnight to dry completely.  (If making ahead, store airtight in single layer.)

Sauce

¾ c. seedless raspberry jam

½ c. sugar

1/3 c. water

1 16-oz. package frozen unsweetened raspberries (do not thaw) or 2 packages of fresh raspberries

1 t. ground cardamom

Fresh mint, thinly sliced

Whisk jam, sugar and water in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves an jam melts.  Boil until sauce thickens and is reduced to generous ¾ cup, whisking often, about 7 minutes.  Add berries and cardamom; stir gently.  Remove from heat and let stand 1 hour.  Cover and chill at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Assembly (If you freeze the vacherins, the meringues will be tender and chewy rather than crisp.)

Place each meringue on a small plate. Spoon raspberry sauce over.  Garnish with mint to serve.

June 1, 2011 at 6:04 am Leave a comment

Where Is Summer?

Usually winter slides right into summer in Colorado. We might get a week or two with spring-like conditions, but it seems to go almost directly from cold to hot, do not pass “Go”, do not collect $200. This year, however, we’ve had a true spring. The temps have remained low, except for a couple of exceptional days; the sun has not been the dominating feature of the sky; and, over the past month, we’ve received more rain than one normally sees in six months.

Waiting-for-summer Bouquet

While those who are ready for the warm temps to arrive are a little grouchy, my spring vegetables are loving this weather! They are growing a little more slowly than usual, however I harvested my first lettuce last week and made a salad that included baby kale, sorrel and cilantro (volunteer). The leaves were so tender and succulent, it’s almost indescribable. You truly don’t need dressing when your vegetables are so fresh.

On my own grouchy side, the basil that I so carefully tended as sprouts since February got wind-nipped last week and are looking pretty sorry for themselves. (I’m pretty sorry for them too.) I’m hoping I can rescue them, but it’s possible that basil will be a last-minute seeding expedition instead of enjoying the mature plants I normally have.

If you are a beginning gardener in Colorado Springs’s normally challenging, and this year more than ever, conditions, take heart. You can plant some things now and expect a good harvest. Root vegetables (carrots, beets and more) are always a good bet. Just make sure to amend your soil with two to three inches of compost and the looser the better, so the roots can easily grow. There are bolt-resistant varieties of lettuces and spinach. While I would recommend a sunshade for them if the temps start to rise quickly, many grow pretty quickly, so you should be able to get a harvest before it’s too hot.

If you want to plant beans, squash and tomatoes, I would wait until it’s just a bit more consistently warm. I have my tomatoes out with protection in Walls o’ Water, a trademarked items that uses tubes of water in a teepee shape to create a mini terrarium, but I won’t plant my squash and beans until after Memorial Day this year. You want soil temps to be in the 50s to get good germination and growth for both of these.

The biggest thing is just to try what you like and don’t get discouraged. At least a packet of seeds costs very little, so if you have to replant, it’s not the end of the world. The results can be exciting and overwhelming, as evidenced by the more than 200 pounds of produce I harvested out of my city yard last year. Happy Gardening!

May 22, 2011 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

Anticipating Tomatoes

The first fava bean plants poked through the soil this week during that amazing all-night rain party on Wednesday. My body and soul breathed a sigh of relief at the release that a thunderstorm brings. So this weekend, I am completely energized!

This afternoon I spent with my ex-neighbor, digging in aged chicken manure to the other half of her ex-garden plot. (Yes, my new neighbor is letting me garden it in exchange for veggies).  Susie and I were discussing layout for what was to come and it occurred to me, “It’s the middle of April – time to get the Walls o’ Water out and start warming the soil for the tomatoes.”

Yes, you really can plant earlier with some kind of set-up that keeps the warm-season plants warm. In fact, they are sort of like a terrarium, moist and warm inside, which tomatoes, peppers and eggplants just love. Best of all, you can build your own.

First, start saving plastic milk jugs and water bottles. When you have at least five or six, make a cage where you intend to plant the tomatoes. Place the  jugs, filled with water, on the inside perimeter of the cage. Wrap heavy-duty plastic around the outside of the cage, more than one layer if you have enough, and make sure that you can secure the top, yet open it easily. Binder clips and clothes pins often work well. Secure the top closed for now and let it sit for a week or two. This set-up will insulate the inside and help heat the ground up more quickly. The filled water jugs will help moderate our fluctuations in temperature.

By May 1, I will be out planting my tomato starts. I’m going to set out a small tomato in the middle of the “Walls” and keep an eye on the temperatures. If it’s going to be very sunny and warm during the day, I will open the top a little by folding back the edges, just to let some fresh air in and keep the little plants from frying. Then, in the evening, I’ll come along and close them back up again to keep them toasty during the still chilly nights.

It’s a boon to get a jump on the season and have tomatoes before everyone else. You should try it!

April 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm 2 comments

Nurture Non-edible Plants for Great Edibles

Yes, that’s right – it helps to have an integrated landscape. Some people call this permaculture and the principle is simple: If you integrate many different plants into your garden, mixing annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and edibles, it does many things.

First, those beautiful flowers attract beneficial insects and help preserve the bee population along with other pollinators. Beneficials, like ladybugs, will more effectively reduce your aphid population than any amount of pesticide and they’re cute too.  All plants that give you fruit from a flower such as tomatoes, squash and beans, require pollinators to create that fruit. Plus, if you have a neighbor with a beehive, you can get the freshest honey with all of its nutrients intact, made from the pollen of your plants!

Next, you can landscape to use water more wisely and create a more interesting look. Installing swales will catch the water when it does rain. You can put in plants that like more water at the base of the swale and those that can take it drier on the top, maximizing your rainfall. Additionally, plant lots of groundcover which will act as living mulch and its roots will stabilize the soil so that it doesn’t run off when it rains.

There are a few notable perennial edibles:  fruit trees, berries, asparagus and rhubarb. Plant these and, once they are established, you will be rewarded with fresh food from early spring through the summer, depending on what varieties you choose to plant. Plus, they look really great in the landscape. Both rhubarb and asparagus die back, but when they are in full regalia, they are an architectural addition to any garden landscape.

Then there is the care of what you already have. Today, even with gale force winds, I was out cleaning up the dead plant matter from last year and getting things freshened up to thrive this spring. Now the yard looks fresh. Air and water can reach the plant roots. I’ve top-dressed with some aged chicken manure from a friend’s little chicken ranch. I’m ready to see what else I want to add to my palette. It’s still early enough that I was able to whack off the dead stems just above the new growth and not damage much. What did get a little shorn will fill in quickly now that longer, warmer days are coming.

Thinking in terms of the whole picture is a great way to landscape and enhance your edibles.

April 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm Leave a comment

Don’t Sweat the Cold

It’s springtime in Colorado. We occasionally get nights where it dips back into the 20s. It’s part of the Earth’s cycle of waking up, like when you yawn, stretch and then fall back onto the pillow to snooze for a few more minutes.

If you’re like me, you’ve already gotten excited and have been out preparing your beds and maybe even planting some cool-season seeds. I’ve already got peas, lettuces, kale, radicchio, chard, potatoes, onions, favas, beets and carrots planted.  Most of those should be just fine, but if it gets a little too cold for the beets and carrots, I can always replant. There are easy ways you can protect them if you want to extend your season.

The Beginnings of a Hoop Cover

Tonight is one of those nights where it’s going to get cold again – down to the low 20s, if the predictions are correct (which they have not been most of the winter). We also could see a little rain and snow. If you have planted your cold season veggies, they should be fine, but if you are concerned, it would not hurt to get out and cover them for the evening.

The cover should be made of some material that won’t get wet and  heavy, thereby crushing your seedlings. A tarp is a great choice. You could lay it directly over your seeds, but again, if you don’t want to crush them, some support would be helpful. I use small hoops and either binder clips or clothespins to attach the tarp to them, making sure that they are covered at the ends.

You should cover them when there’s no sun to fry them. For instance, this morning it’s sunny and in the 60s. I won’t go out and put the tarp over the seedlings until I’m sure the sun is gone for the day, or at the end of the day when it is not as intense.

If it’s going to be sunny the following day, I will uncover them before I go to work. If it’s going to be cloudy most or all of the day and remain cold, you can get away with leaving the tarp over them for the day.

Finally, this may actually mean that we are going to get some moisture. Snow is actually one of the best things for spring veggie seedlings. It provides a layer of insulation until the sun comes back and as it melts, your veggies get a more even application of moisture. I usually shake off snow that is on the tarp directly onto the beds as I uncover them.

Just a little time and effort gains such great reward. With only about 350 square feet of gardening space, I harvested over 200 pounds of vegetables last year and was harvesting root veggies and potatoes well into December. But that’s another season extending technique that can wait until fall to discuss. The Butternut Hunter is ready to get out in her yard for the day.

April 3, 2011 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Get Out and Plant!

The Butternut Hunter is ready for spring.

Technically I’m ready for summer and fall because I’m so looking forward to fresh garden produce again. This year, once again, I am expanding my garden. My neighbor has a plot that she’s not going to have time to put to good use, so I’m going to take it over and do a CSA of sorts for her – a basket of fresh veggies each week while they are out.

The best news: The neighbor who used to live next door is also interested in fresh veggies, but will be gone for significant blocks of time this summer, so she wants to help put everything in and all I have to do is tend it through the season. It’s so great to have help!

So, tomorrow we start amending that soil and getting it ready to plant so that we can have even more peas, lettuces, hearty greens and such in short order.

Even if you only have a few minutes, you can have a garden too. It can be as simple as gardening in a pot or a small 4×4 raised bed, but the seriously fresh taste of carrots, tomatoes, lettuces, whatever you like, will turn into a love affair once you start. It’s addictive and every year, I add more edibles to my yard.

This year is also the year of the fruit tree. I started a peach from one that sprouted in my compost. Looking for another one this year. Hoping to put in three apple trees and then maybe I’m done for a little while. The Butternut Hunter loves her yard.

March 20, 2011 at 9:11 am Leave a comment

The Sunchoke that Ate My Garden

Sunchokes are related to sunflowers and blossom as such.

The Mighty Sunchoke

I dug in the garden today, March 11, because it was close to 70 degrees here in Colorado Springs. Glorious to spread compost – there’s a worm party in my pile! I put a light layer of organic fertilizer in there as well.

As I’m moving down the row, I get to the place where the sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) grow. I keep trying to quell them, but they insist on coming back every year.

As usual, I dug down and found a bigger patch than ever! After half an hour of digging and sifting, I probably pulled out 30 pounds of those suckers.

The sunchoke is a vegetable that provides a bit of a quandary, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, the good news: Sunchokes look like a cross between ginger root and a potato. The flavor is potato-like, but a bit more earthy. It does not need to be peeled and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are delicious sliced and sauteed in a little bit of butter, but you can also boil and puree them with broth and spices or roast them in the oven.

The quandary comes in the form of gas, and I don’t mean petrol. Sunchokes can cause a digestive reaction that is uncomfortable for some, but not everyone, and it seems to depend on how they are cooked. My personal experience is that if I eat them once in a while, and cook them pretty well, there’s no issue. I assume there are no guarantees that everyone will react the same way.

So, now I have approximately 30 pounds of sunchokes ready to do something with. That’s, of course, way more than I will be able to use, so I’m going to try to pawn them off on my friends and garden centers.

One more bonus – sunchokes are in the sunflower family, so they get tall and get a really beautiful sunflower on top in the late summer. It’s an architectural plant that looks great in the garden, in the right spot, maybe as a windbreak for your more tender annual edibles.

Enjoy!

March 11, 2011 at 5:49 pm Leave a comment


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