food and garden 002 300x225 What Can You Cook for a Delectable Spring Meal?

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. 
chicken What Can You Cook for a Delectable Spring Meal?


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

Becca Fong makes great things happen.  From her work with Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Good Food Team to her current work with Seattle Tilth she has been instrumental in moving urban agriculture forward.

Hear her thoughts on the future of urban ag.

Chicken pasties, designer mulled lemonade, buskers and juicy produce; the Bellingham Farmer’s Market has it all.  Yesterday under the glorious sunshine we got a chance to visit this vibrant place.

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No dogs but everyone else is welcome.

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There is a medicinal herb stand with fresh, living and dried herbs.

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Beautiful wraps.

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Educational displays

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More info on herbs and wild foraged plants.

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Medicinal herbs

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Unusual fresh pasta

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Here’s the fancy lemonade. This stand had one of the longest lines!

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Radishes everywhere

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All sorts of baked goods

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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.

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Fresh rhubarb


  • 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
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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
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Making the streusel.

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

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Ready for the oven.

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


Keeping flies down in your chicken coop is good for the health of your birds, keeps your neighbors happy and definitely makes collecting eggs a lot more pleasant.

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Buck, buck I hate flies!

Over the years what I’ve found works best to keep these pests down are the following things:

  • Using traps to catch existing flies.
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Good old fly strips work well but they need to be replaced often and you need to be careful not to get caught up in them.

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These traps attract flies with smelly bait; when the fly goes in they drown in water. These work great but the odor can get intense.

  • Preventing flies by keeping down the amount of poop.

Putting down a light layer of pine shavings absorbs waste and makes it easy to scoop up.

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It’s better to use pine shavings than cedar as the oils can harm your birds.

I use a small scoop to pick up each day’s waste almost like cat poop in a litter box.  Once the shavings get saturated I sweep them out and put down new ones.  If they are really dirty then I compost them instead of sweeping them into the yard around the coop.

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I save time by collecting a few days worth of waste in a bucket then dump it as it begins to fill.

Once the waste and shavings are composted they make really effective fertilizer.  It’s important to let your compost break down and mellow though as straight chicken poop will burn your plants and the decaying wood chips can rob your soil of nitrogen.  Depending on how often you turn your compost pile, heat etc. it can take six months to a year for your compost to be ready.

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The reward for a clean, pest free coop!

I just ordered these parasitic wasps.  Hope they work!

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Here is what the parasitic wasps look like. I’ll let you know how they work!


What tricks have you found?  I’d love to hear about them!


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Grow peas, grow!

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

By Jennifer Brown

While living and working all over the world, Jennifer Brown has grown gardens in both rural and urban areas. During her time spent in the beautiful and rainy Unites States Virgin Islands, she used a cistern for all of her water needs, from crop irrigation to bathing and drinking, and here she shares some tips for installing your own cistern.

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Rain water tank

Water may not grow on trees, but it certainly falls from the sky. If you’re a savvy urban farmer looking for an easy and affordable way to water your crops, installing a cistern might be right for you.

What is a Cistern?

A cistern is a tank that can hold hundreds or thousands of gallons of water that is usually collected as run off from a roof.

What are the Benefits of a Cistern?

Catching rainwater in a cistern to irrigate crops is economical and environmentally friendly. They help reduce run off that can potentially cause pollution to our streams and rivers as well as cause sewers to overflow. Cisterns are a great way to store and conserve rainwater and irrigate your urban crops while helping your local environment.

Is My Property Right for a Cistern?

In order to install a cistern on your property, you’ll first need to make sure a cistern is the right fit for your yard. You’ll need a level location outside that has a solid base such as a concrete block square or firmly packed dirt. The cistern will need to be placed near a downspout and at least 5 feet from any structure on your property that has a crawl space, attic, or slab foundation. Another 5 feet is required for a structure with a basement. And add another 2 feet for every foot the basement extends below 5 feet deep.

Shop for a Cistern

If your property meets the above requirements, it’s time to start shopping for your cistern tank. To save money, opt for an above ground tank rather than a below ground tank. The best place to buy a cistern would be an agricultural supply shop. You’ll want a dark color that helps prohibit algae growth. While you’re there, think about a purchasing a fence or trellis to hide your cistern from the neighbor’s view.

Installing the Cistern

Once you’ve decided on a location (a shady area is best) and picked out the tank, it’s time to install it. If you’re handy with tools and general plumbing, you can do this yourself. Otherwise, you may want to call in a professional.

Step 1: Once the ground is level, place the tank on the foundation.

Step 2: Place an aluminum window screen over the top to keep bugs – particularly mosquitoes – and debris out of the tank.

Step 3: This is where it can get tricky. Your cistern will come with directions on how to make the gutter connections and how to install your overflow pipe. Make sure, however, that your overflow is let out in a safe area on your property and not into the street or a neighbor’s yard.

Step 4: To use your cistern as an irrigation system, install a drain valve and connect a regular garden hose. This will act as another overflow pipe, allowing the water to soak into your soil.

Installing a cistern on your property can be simple and cost-effective. Be sure to follow the supplier’s directions when installing your cistern and keep up on regular maintenance and yearly cleaning of your tank as well.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Try pressing something unusual! Sometimes colors will fade.

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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.

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Simple but pretty.




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A heated greenhouse.

“There is so much to be excited about right now here at RBUFW,” said Seattle Tilth farm manager Katie Pencke, “We are expanding programs and really looking forward to this growing season.”  All around I could see neatly mulched beds, vegetable plant starts pushing up their Reemay covers and the calls of Redwing Blackbirds were sweet on the cool spring winds.

The ten acre farm is located next to Rainier Beach High School on the shores of Lake Washington.  Formerly called the Atlantic City Nursery it is owned by Seattle Parks and Recreation and since 2010 has been jointly manged by Seattle Tilth and the Friends of Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands.

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One of the washing stations.

Since 2010 the farm has grown an enormous amount of food and provided thousands of hours of training to community members from preschoolers to senior citizens.  “I am a healthier person because of this place” said one of the East African senior farmers.

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Reemay covered bed.

This fall construction will start guided by a community driven design created by landscape architecture firm Berger Partnership.  There will be classrooms, a food processing and storage area and a kitchen for community dinners and farm fresh cooking classes.  Planners are estimating that 20,000 pounds of food will be grown each year on this site!

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Want to get involved? Drop in work parties at the farm, (5513 S. Cloverdale St.), are every Saturday from 10am to 3pm.  Visit here for more information.