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Spring incarnate

Spring incarnate

 

“… asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden bed….”

Proust has it right concerning the joys of asparagus. My idea of the perfect spring dinner is a meal filled with this most favored vegetable, juicy strawberries, early greens, tangy rhubarb, succulent chicken and hot crusty bread.

Here are ways I like to cook these foods:

  • Asparagus – Wash and snap off the tough ends.  Drizzle with olive oil, grill or broil until just tender, (about 7 minutes), then sprinkle with salt and lemon juice.
  • Strawberries – There’s nothing better than sliced berries served with freshly whipped cream. To whip the cream beat on high with electric beaters, add sugar and vanilla to taste then continue beating until soft peaks form.
  • Early Greens – New lettuce, dandelion greens, (harvest before they flower) and edible flowers can be tossed with a vinaigrette. To make the dressing whisk together ½ teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of vinegar and a ½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
  • Rhubarb – Ok, now I know this is really gilding the lilly to have two desserts but it has been a long winter so time to live it up. I like making a rhubarb crisp; chop up your fruit, sprinkle it with a generous amount of brown sugar, dot with butter and sprinkle with uncooked oats, nuts, more butter and more sugar. Bake at a 350 degree oven until the rhubarb is soft and bubbling and the top is lightly browned. To make a fancier version I like to use the Joy of Cooking apple crisp recipe.
  • Chicken – Last but not least, comes the noble bird. For a super juicy chicken the trick is to use a dutch oven and sear the chicken on high heat in a few teaspoons of canola oil.  You can use a whole chicken or parts.  Once the meat is well browned take it out, put in a chopped onion, turn down the heat and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Next I throw in whatever vegetables are at hand like turnips, potatoes, celery and carrots. Return the chicken to the pot, top this all with generous handfuls of fresh herbs, a bit of salt and pepper then put the lid on and put it in a 275 degree oven for 1 ½ to two hours. 
Tasty

Tasty

Bon appetit!  In the comments section let readers know your favorite early spring foods and how you like to prepare them… yum.

I had a chance to visit the Beacon Food Forest yesterday.  The forest and the P-Patch are in full bloom with promise of a great harvest to come.  This was my first visit to the site in a while and is pretty amazing to see what the volunteers have accomplished.

The forest is a seven acre site on Beacon Hill to the west of Jefferson Park, 2.5 miles from downtown Seattle. Phase One (2 acres) is up and running and it looks like clearing is happening for Phase Two.

There are great views of downtown and it’s a good way to learn which permaculture plants flourish in our area.

Beautiful and functional architecture

Beautiful and functional architecture

Berry bushes are just beginning to flower.

Berry bushes are just beginning to flower.

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Currants

Currants

Pear blossoms

Pear blossoms

Bees

Bees

Onions

Onions

Shallots

Shallots

Young lettuce

Young lettuce

Collards

Collards

Strawberry plants

Strawberry plants

New trees

New trees

Views

Views

Gathering space

Gathering space

 

Chive Flower Vinegar

Chives in full bloom.

Chives in full bloom.

Chive flower vinegar is delicious and easy to make!

  • Pick fresh chive flowers.
  • Pack a clean jar two-thirds full with the flowers.
  • Add white vinegar.

Let sit for two weeks in a cool, dark place then strain and enjoy!

Someone just commented that they like making a chive butter too.  What do you like doing with this versatile herb?

Cabbage Worms

By Garrett Okrasinski

Worm

Worm

Sitting at my desk today, I looked out horrified to see two white moths flying around. “Cabbage moth” “Cabbage butterfly” or Pieris rapae, though some may think they look beautiful flying around the garden is actually a huge pest. Cabbage moths get their name from its notorious munching on your cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, turnips, kale and collards (amongst many other things).

Not native to North America, the cabbage moth was accidentally introduce in the early 1890s and has spread quickly! They now are common problems for most farmers in the Pacific Northwest.

If you notice your hearty leaves appearing to being eaten, or you find black droppings on the leaves, or even more apparent, you see white moths…chances are you might have a cabbage moth infestation. Most prevalent in the spring, the moths are awaking from winter and are hungry to feed themselves and to lay eggs. Eggs tend to be laid under the leaves and hatch in about 4 days. Once eggs hatch, you now have a caterpillar to battle, as they too will eat holes in your leaves and potentially devour your plant. If ignored you will find your most promising cabbage half gone… unfortunately I know.

Moth

Moth

This year I resolved battling the caterpillar and moth head on.

There are numerous ways try and mitigate the damage to you plants. Below are three ways I have and will tried to control them.

  1. Barriers: Create a barrier between your plant and the moth. I have found row cover (that you may use for frost protection) works well. Some people may use tulle or other light fabrics. As long as you are allowing air and light to your plants but are preventing the moth from landing and laying eggs it should do the trick.
  2. Hand picking the caterpillars: In the evening, I have found it is very helpful to spend a few minutes picking off the caterpillars. Depending on your garden size and the size of your infestation, picking off the caterpillars can not only be helpful but very satisfying. They also make for a good chicken treat!
  3. Biological pesticide: BT or Bacillus thuringiensis is a naturally occurring bacteria that effects in digestion for the caterpillars. It does not harm any insects that do not consume the treated leaves. Apply in the evening between rains. Some BT products can be mixed with molasses so it sticks to waxy leaves. BT is broken down by sunlight so it needs to be repeated every few days.

 

Currently I am using the row cover to protect my young cabbages!

I hope this helps prevent further devouring of our loved greens!

I hope this helps prevent further devouring of our loved greens!

Rhubarb Crisp

The rhubarb is exploding out of the ground – it’s time to make a crisp!  There are many ways to eat this tangy plant but my favorite way is in a crunchy, nutty, sweet and sour dessert.

Fresh rhubarb

Fresh rhubarb

Ingredients:

  • Fresh rhubarb stems
  • 1/4 cup tapioca or flour for thickening the juices
  • 2 cups sugar
  • One cup flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • One cup nuts
Cut rhubarb with tapioca and sugar sprinkled.

Cut rhubarb with tapioca and sugar sprinkled.

Here’s how to make this tasty dish:

  • Harvest rhubarb stems by pulling them firmly up and out of the base of the plant.  Trim the leaves and the ends off so you are left with the ruby stems.
  • Wash off the garden dust and cut into pieces about 1/2 inch wide.
  • Put the cut pieces into a baking dish, set the oven to 375 degrees
  • Sprinkle the tapioca or the flour and depending on the amount of rhubarb and the degree of your sweet tooth, one cup sugar over the cut rhubarb

Streusel topping

  • Mix the melted butter, oats, remaining sugar, nut and flour together so it is a crumbly mixture.
  • Sprinkle this over the cut rhubarb
  • Dust with cinnamon
Making the streusel.

Making the streusel.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the dish is bubbling, the top is brown and the rhubarb is soft.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Let cool a bit then serve as is or with ice cream or milk.

 

Flowering Rhubarb!

rhubabb2.jpgBy Garrett Okrasinski

Last year I planted a new rhubarb plant and excitingly awaited for it to grown large enough to make my favorite strawberry rhubarb pie. However, I was upset to hear that rhubarb take at least a year until it is large enough and producing beautiful stalks for consumption. So patiently I tended my rhubarb last spring and summer. This spring I was so excited to see it coming back and starting to send out beautiful green leafs, knowing this is my year for rhubarb!

It you are lucky enough to notice a young leaf before it emerges, it is one of the coolest things! Tightly bound up, a tinder green leave almost looks like a brain! Rhubarb is an exciting and rewarding plant to watch grow (especially if you have been anxiously awaiting to harvest it for over a year!!).

Today, I noticed my rhubarb had a tall stalk leading to an odd looking bud. Last year, I did not notice my rhubarb had any buds or flowers. Concerned, I first took a picture and then did some research on why in March my rhubarb could be flowering.

rhubarbRhubarb can flower for multiple reasons including; maturity of the plant, stress (lack of nutrients in the soil), variety of plant, or heat.

Due to the age of my plant and the warm winter and spring we are experiencing, I deducted that the heat was causing my rhubarb to flower. Flower heads are common on rhubarb plants during the spring but need to be cut out immediately. If left, the plant sends it energy to producing the flower instead of growing big juicy stalks.

Focus on Rhubarb

A rhubarb plant in its fourth year.

A rhubarb plant in its fourth year.

From being a humble plant that outlasts everything else planted in a garden, rhubarb has become fashionable; it now takes a center role in zingy cocktails, is partnered with various fruits in jams and is a favorite for desserts.

Happily it still is very easy to grow.  Find a spot in your yard that gets some good sun and won’t be disturbed then buy a plant at the nursery or get one from a neighbor dividing their abundant crop.  Be careful to get a plant that has nice ruby red stalks as some types have pale green stems that taste ok but don’t look very appetizing.  These plants do last forever and can grow really large so make sure the spot you pick has plenty of room for growth.

Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and if it looks kind of peaked then hold off for the second year as well.  By the third year you should be all set to harvest a good amount of tart stems.  When you are ready to harvest, grasp the stalk firmly and pull and twist so it breaks off at or near the crown.  Trim off the large leaf and the inch at the base.

Here are some tasty things to do with rhubarb:

Rhubarb Soda

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Bubbly rhubarb soda.

To make a sparkling, spicy soda take several stalks of rhubarb and slice them up.  Put them in a pot with sugar and water and cook the mixture on low heat for 30 minutes.  The mixture should taste quite sweet.  Strain the liquid and let it cool.  Put the liquid in a bottle and add about 1/2 cup of ginger bug starter.   Let sit for three days or until desired balance of bubbles and sweetness is achieved; the longer it sits the less sweet it will become.  Refrigerate your brew at this point to slow down the fermentation.

If you want an instant soda then you can add seltzer water to the rhubarb syrup.

Rhubarb Jam

There are lots of jams you can make using rhubarb.  You can use it straight up, add ginger, mix with early strawberries or even blend it with raspberries.  Here’s a good recipe for freezer jam and here’s one to can up.

Crisp!

Crisp!

Rhubarb Crisp

This is my absolute favorite way to use rhubarb.  The crunchy sweet topping combined with the tangy fruit and a bit of whipped cream is really good.  Here’s how to make it!

Tangy Cocktails

Want to try rhubarb in a cocktail?  Here’s a recipe for a strawberry-rhubarb margarita that is refreshing and new.

What do you like to use rhubarb for?  Share your favorite recipe!

 

So what is all this rain doing to your garden loving heart?  Are you just itching to get out and plant something?  Well here are some ways to calm that itch through indoor seed starting, using Reemay floating row cover and setting up some plastic covered hoop beds.

Now is a good time for cold season starts and, if you are patient, warm season crops like tomatoes.  To start seeds indoors you need pots with good drainage, clean soil to plant in and a good strong light source.  This can be a south or west facing window or better yet, a grow light of some sort.  I also like to use a seed mat and a mini-greenhouse to get faster germination.

Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings

Once your seedlings are a few inches high you can start planting out the cold hardy ones like collards, sweet peas, kale and so on.  The tomatoes, squash and other heat lovers need to stay inside until temperatures warm.  I like to use Reemay to both protect the plants from frost and from the crows in my neighborhood that just love to eat juicy little seedlings.  Reemay can also be used over newly planted cold season seeds, onion sets or potatoes.  Because the Reemay is so light weight I usually weight it down with soil or rocks. You can also use metal pins if you have them.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

If you want to create an environment that is drier and warmer than what you can make with Reemay the next step is to do hooped beds.  I like to use one inch pvc pipe either bent over and put in to pipe brackets screwed to the outside of the bed or pushed deep into the ground.  This creates a warm place for your plants that really can help them to thrive.  One problem with these covered beds though is the issue of watering.  You either need to set up an irrigation system, remove the cover on a warmer rainy day or hand water.

Plastic covered hoops over a raised bed with irrigation.

Plastic covered hoops over a raised bed with irrigation.

Here’s a peek under one covered bed. The chives and peas are flourishing. I do hope the dog doesn’t figure out how to take the cover off; he loves to eat peas!

Grow peas, grow!

Grow peas, grow!

Good luck to you and let me know how it goes with getting a jump on the garden season!

Pressed Flowers

I love to press spring flowers then use them on cards or on stationery.  My favorite plants to press are Johnny jump ups, Bleeding heart and variegated hops but almost any thin flower will do.

Pansies hold their color when dried.

Pansies hold their color when dried.

If you want something like calendula then you need to press the petals separately; if you try and dry the whole flower together the center often rots.

These all press well.

These all press well.

If you still have old phone books around they are ideal for this job.  If not you can use newspaper in between book pages with more books on top to add weight.

Try pressing something unusual!  Sometimes colors will fade.

Try pressing something unusual! Sometimes colors will fade.

Some flowers dry white and others get a little brown.

Some flowers dry white and others get a little brown.

 


Here is a nice example from the She Knows blog of what you can do with the flowers when dry.

Simple but pretty.

Simple but pretty.

 

 

 

Ginger Bug!

This zesty fermented drink is the base of a great ginger ale or beer.  You can also use it for rhubarb or other flavored sodas.

Fresh, organic ginger goes in with the peel still on.

Fresh, organic ginger goes in with the peel still on.

Making it is a easy as chopping up some ginger, putting it in a jar, adding dechlorinated water and some sugar.  The recipe calls for two teaspoons of ginger, two cups water and two teaspoons of sugar but I just tossed in equal amounts of ginger and sugar and splashed some water in.

Cover the jar with a piece of cloth to let in air but keep out insects.

Cover the jar with a piece of cloth to let in air but keep out insects.

Each day give it a good stir and add two more teaspoons of sugar and ginger.  After about a week it will start to bubble and you’re all set.  You can have it as is or I have been cutting it with some soda water.  You can also make a naturally bubbly soda with this starter but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

It's a bit startling to look at but it tastes quite nice.  The fermentation uses up most of the sugar so it's tangy and just a touch sweet.

It’s a bit startling to look at but it tastes quite nice. The fermentation uses up most of the sugar so it’s tangy and just a touch sweet.