Feeds:
Posts
Comments

June in the Garden!

The weather is warm and the garden is really beginning to take off!

Snap peas

Snap peas

Sunchokes

Sunchokes

Clary Sage

Clary sage

Lavender

Lavender

Culinary sage

Culinary sage

Tiny grapes

Tiny grapes

Pea vines

Pea vines

Beet greens

Beet greens

Raspberries

Raspberries

Chives

Chives

Flowers

Flowers

 

Brining Grape Leaves

Brining grape leaves is best done in the spring or early summer when the leaves are more supple.  These leaves are used to make a Greek dish called dolmades and can also be used as a decorative accent under cheeses.  They have an earthy, salty taste that is complementary to savory foods.

Brining grape leaves

Fresh grape leaves

First pick your leaves, wash them and put them in stacks of about ten leaves.

Brining grape leaves

Pickling salt

Next make up your brining solution with 1/4 cup brining salt to 4 cups of water and 2 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid.  The citric acid is important to acidify the brining solution and prevent botulism.

Brining grape leaves

Citric acid

Once your brining solution has simmered for at least five minutes pack the stacked and rolled leaves in a sterile jar and fill to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Brining grape leaves

All ready!

Gardeners are finely attuned to short-term changes in nature as well as long-term trends. Here in Seattle, we are fresh off one of the warmest winters on record in the PNW and heading into a summer that could be one of the worst forest-fire seasons ever. Over half the state is in drought. While many PNW gardeners are enjoying good spring harvests of greens and berries at the moment, we’re also casting a concerned eye at our thirstier summer crops, like tomatoes. This is a key moment to talk about climate change and its effect on our plants, yards, and dinner plates. In this series, we will learn what climate change effects to expect in the Puget Sound-area garden, how you can adapt your garden to climate change, and how gardening can ameliorate some of climate change’s negative effects.

To begin, let’s summarize the effects of climate change that we are already seeing today, and will see more of in the future. My favorite source for local climate science is the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. CIG is a scientifically rigorous, well-respected crew that publishes some of the best work on climate change in our region. Their recent publication describes the best Washington climate predictions available from climate models (the sets of equations that climate scientists use to describe climate processes and predict environmental change).

According to CIG, one of the major effects of climate change in our region will be an increase in heat. The average, year-round temperature is expected to increase, and heat extremes (record-breaking hot days) are projected to increase as well. Is this a negative or positive? This is a complicated question to answer. Warmer summers: more likely to cause heat stress in plants (and humans!). Warmer winters: our growing season may extend, winter crops may be more productive, and cold-sensitive perennials may have a better survival rate. A longer growing season may result in new cropping systems (of course, we will need to plan and actually make the switch to these new systems to take advantage).

Precipitation is harder to predict than temperature, especially given the variability between summer and winter precipitation patterns. However, the general expectation in the Pacific NW is that summer precipitation will decrease, and winter precipitation will increase. Decreased summer precipitation, combined with increased summer heat, will make drought stress more of a concern for plants. Winter precipitation may lead to wet spring soils, which could be beneficial to some summer garden species and detrimental to others.

Pests, fungi and weeds are the most difficult to predict, say CIG scientists, especially in the complex system of a garden ecosystem. The most consistent prediction is to expect changes from your usual gardening experience.

In the next post, we will discuss general and specific techniques to adapt your garden to climate change in the Pacific North West. If your interest is piqued, further reading on climate science can be found at CIG, and Cornell has an excellent climate gardening website (although it is mostly for the East Coast).

Rachel Aronson is a professional environmental policy specialist, and avid gardener. She’s most excited for strawberry and tomato seasons, and is growing tomatillos and ground cherries for the first time this year. More of her writing can be found at rachelaronson.net, or @RachelAronson.

Lavender Wands

Lavender

Lavender

I love lavender!  I use it in cooking, sachets and many other ways.  The flowers on my bushes are just beginning to bud out now; over the coming weeks I will share some of my favorite ways to use this versatile herb.

Here is how to make lavender wands.  These make great gifts and can be hung in closets to scent clothes and perhaps repel a few moths.

First gather a bunch of lavender with long stems and tie the bunch together right below the flowers.

Bunched lavender

Bunched lavender

Bend the long ends over the flowers to cover them and make a little cage for them.

Almost done!

Almost done!

Now tie the ends with ribbon and trim any loose ends.

Ready to hang in a closet or place in a drawer.

Ready to hang in a closet or place in a drawer.

For more of a wand shape cut the stems longer.

Et voila!

Longer stems

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Garrett Okrasinski

My collard greens have always been awkward. Ever since they sprouted they were either leggy, crooked or had small leaves. I have tried everything to straighten and fatten them up, but I eventually grew to love their “character”. They fed me throughout late summer and fall, tasting better as the frost came. My collards even lasted me through the winter and were a crown dish on Christmas Day. And when in a pinch, they were a great last minute harvest to bring to friend’s dinners that awed guests despite their petite leaves.

All that being said, they now need to go. I have been going back and forth on this for probably two to three months now debating, do I pull them or do I keep them?

Untitled

My collards in the winter sun

In doing some research and talking to garden specialist at a local nursery, I was still on the fence. Things that came up included;

  • Collards taste worse as they get older and become bitter (not mine)
  • The need to create space in your garden
  • Tending to them as they are constantly trying to seed
  • Consideration of soil diseases and pests
  • Loss of nutrients from the soil

Despite all these considerations, I found my own reasons for deciding to pull my beloved collard greens. I was concerned was about soil nutrients and soil diseases that may occur from not rotating crops and keeping my collards.   Additionally, even though my collard leaves never reached their expected large leaf size, over the winter my collards continue to get smaller and smaller. Each leaf started to look “funny” being either leathery or miss colored.

Untitled

Final view after a heavy harvest

Finally, the straw the broke the camel’s back were holes from prolific cabbage moths and the small white eggs I found under the leaves. In my excitement and diligence in protecting my cabbages from the moths, I failed to protect my collards. The collards had always been so sturdy and low maintenance I accidentally neglected them. In a few weeks time, my neglect would turn into ravenous caterpillars. In order to protect my leafy greens, cabbage and soil while creating valuable space, out with the old and in with the new! Sad to see my collards go but maybe this year the new collards won’t be so awkward.

Each year I look at the riot of colorful flowers in my garden and want to save them for the dark winter months.  One of the best ways I have found to do this is by making dried flower bouquets.  After a lot of trial and error the plants that seem to work the best for this are chives, yarrow, money plant, lavender, hydrangea, oregano, pearly everlasting and grasses with showy seed sprays.  Other flowers will dry but a lot of them fall apart or quickly fade.

To dry the flowers cut them with long stems and strip off the bottom leaves.  Next tie them at the top with string or wire and hang them in a dark place until dry.  I string a piece of rope across the rafters in my basement and hang the bunches from there.  Once dry you can arrange them in whatever way you like.

Try out different flowers from your yard and let me know what you like to dry!

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

Now that you have dried herbs making your own blends is easy! These make great gifts as well as stepping up the flavor of your own dishes.

Lavender

Lavender

Here are some of my favorite blends:

Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence usually contains basil, bay leaf, marjoram, rosemary, summer savory and lots of thyme. Lavender can be included too but don’t add too much as it’s pretty strong.  Here is a base recipe to start with but feel free to play around to get the flavor you like.  If you don’t have all of these herbs it’s fine to leave some out.

  • 2 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 1 Tablespoon dried summer savory
  • 2 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon lavender flowers
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ Tablespoon dried rosemary
Rosemary

Rosemary

Rub for Grilling

  • 3 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 Tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 Tablespoon dried savory
  • 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried fennel
  • 1 bay leaf
Oregano

Oregano

Italian Seasoning

This tastes great in spaghetti sauce, on pizza or in salad dressings.

  • 4 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried garlic, (you can leave this out and use fresh instead when it’s time to cook)
  • 1 bay leaf

You can put these blends into small jam jars or metal containers.  Keeping air and light out will help the flavors stay bright.

 

It’s Thyme!

thymejpg-e78ecb03df5c20a7Right now is a great time to harvest thyme.  To harvest this useful herb just take your kitchen shears and snip off bunches.  I usually trim off the top three inches and make sure to leave a lot of the plant intact; if you clip off too much you can kill the plant.

You can use the fresh thyme right away, strip the leaves and freeze them or dry them on a rack or in a colander.  Once the leaves are crisp and dry rub them between your hands and the leaves will fall off.  Store in an airtight container in a dark place;  I usually put them in a small mason jar.

Be careful and add only a little at a time.  It has a tangy, strong flavor that can overwhelm instead of accent if too much is used.

Drying thyme

Drying thyme

Here are some of my favorite ways to use thyme:

  • Mix fresh or dried thyme with butter to make a lovely spread for tea sandwiches or toasted bread.
  • Mix thyme with cream cheese for a deliciously flavored spread.
  • Stuff a chicken with thyme and roast it.
  • Mix dried thyme with sea salt and let sit for 5 minutes.  Use this as a roasting or grilling rub on your favorite fish or meat.
  • Use a pinch of fresh or dried in an herbed vinaigrette dressing.

If you haven’t planted any of this great herb yet then now is a good time to do so.  Most plant stores carry this herb and I would suggest getting plants rather than seeds.  (You can grow it from seed but it takes a lot longer.)  Plant in full sun and especially during the first year, water regularly.

 

Focus on Collards

Collards grow well in the Seattle area so it’s one of those fail safe crops that I plant every year.  To get a good yield enrich your soil with some compost and manure then sow your seeds once the soil has warmed.  I often start these indoors then plant them out to get a jump on the season.  The plants grow quickly and aside from the rare caterpillar or aphid, seem to have few problems.

Over the years I’ve come up with lots of ways to prepare this versatile and nutrient packed plant.  Here are some of my favorites:

Stir Fried Collards

Fresh collards

Pick and wash the collard leaves.

 

Stack, roll and cut leaves into thin ribbons.

 

Mince garlic.

 

Heat oil in pan, lightly saute garlic then add collards. Cook until tender. May need to add a bit of water and cover if they are tough.

 

Delicious with collards.

Here is a corn bread recipe that usually turns out well.  The combination of cornbread and zesty greens is great!

I also like to:

  • Harvest the greens then cut them into thin strips and freeze them.  These frozen greens can then be tossed into almost anything to boost nutrition and flavor.
  • Make green smoothies with collards, bananas, orange juice and apples.  Sometimes we add nuts or protein powder too.
  • Collard chips – To make these heat your oven to 400 degrees, tear the collards into bite sized pieces and arrange them on a cookie sheet.  Lightly drizzle with oil then bake until crisp and sprinkle with a small amount of salt.  We sometimes sprinkle on some brewer’s yeast as well.
  • Make a massaged collards salad.  To do this cut the greens into thin strips then massage until they turn from light green into dark green.  Add cider vinegar, olive oil and salt to taste.  Garnish with toasted pecans, red onion, apples and dried cranberries.

What are your favorite ways to prepare collards?  We’d love to hear from you!

Focus on Arugula

This week I think my arugula plants have grown about three inches.  This spicy plant can be eaten in salads with an oil and vinegar dressing or used as a zesty garnish.  We really like to top a just baked pizza with this richly flavored plant.

Yum

Yum

Arugula likes cool weather and a nitrogen rich soil.  You can plant it when soil temperatures are between 45 and 60 degrees.  Scatter the seed then cover with 1/4 inch of soil.  It likes to be moist but not soggy.  Because this plant grows so quickly I like to plant some about every two weeks to keep a good supply on hand.

A zesty arugula plant.

A zesty arugula plant.

Here’s a tasty recipe for a quick summer dish:

Arugula with Pasta and Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4

One package of pasta, (I like to use whole wheat)
About 8-10 cups arugula
Olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved, (you can also use dried tomatoes that have been soaked for 20 minutes in boiling water to soften them up)
2-3 ounces goat or feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta and drain it.  Chop the arugula if the leaves are big. Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add a little olive oil. When it is hot, cook the arugula, letting the first few handfuls wilt completely, and leaving the last few just barely cooked.

Add the basil, tomatoes, cheese, and pasta with the last handful of arugula. Turn the heat to high and cook for another minute or two – until everything is hot. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.