Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Commence Eating

Now we begin my favorite part of all this vegetable business--the eating! We purchased a share in a local organic farm this year, so I'm preparing to meet the challenge of eating very seasonally. We like this in theory, but it's a bit more difficult in practice. We've got greens coming out of our ears right now, and I suspect for the next month, so tonight I concocted something a little different to use the gorgeous bounty that's started coming in. Almost everything in these recipes is from the farm. Love it!

Spring Greens Tart with Smoked Cheese


2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 leeks (I used 2 leeks and some garlic greens)
6 cups of cooking greens (chard, mustard greens, spinach, or similar)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (1 large sprig)
salt & pepper
6 oz smoked gouda
1 refrigerated pie crust
1 cup heavy cream
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

    Preheat oven to 400°F. Let pie crust stand at room temperature 15 minutes to soften. Press into pie plate and fold crust edge in, forming double-thick sides. Pierce dough all over with fork. Bake until light golden, about 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

    Split leeks in half lengthwise and cut into half-moons. You may need to soak them to remove all the grit. Melt butter in a dutch oven over medium heat and sauté leeks for 5 minutes. Rinse and coarsely chop greens and rosemary, then add to the pot. Mix the greens and let them cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Layer ½ the vegetable mixture on the bottom of the crust. Grate the cheese and scatter over the vegetables, then layer the rest of the greens and leeks on top.

    Whisk cream, eggs, salt and pepper in medium bowl to blend. Pour custard over vegetables. Bake in bottom third of oven until custard sets, 20-25 minutes. Cool tart 5-10 minutes in pan on rack. Cut tart into wedges and serve warm.

    Serves 8 (or 4-6 as a main course for dinner)

    Quintessential Spring Salad

    1 small head red lettuce
    4 radishes
    1 carrot
    ½ can chickpeas

    lemon-infused olive oil
    sherry vinegar
    salt & pepper

    Tear or coarsely chop the lettuce. Slice the radishes and carrot as thinly as you can—a mandoline comes in handy. Chop the chives, and combine all of the vegetables in a bowl. Drizzle over the lemon oil and sherry vinegar to your liking. Season with salt and pepper, toss, and enjoy.

    Serves 4

    Note: If you can find lemon oil, you should snag it. The flavor is wonderful. If you can’t find it, substitute highest-quality olive oil and some lemon juice or zest.


    We're just now recovering from a brutal weekend of backbreaking labor, constructing and filling two more raised beds and planting four of them. All I can say is this red mulch (which is really just a red plastic sheet) had better be worth it, because cutting all those holes in it and planting the tomatoes through it is a real bitch. We also lightened the nice compost topsoil with a bit of peat and added bone meal to the tomatoes and peppers when we transplanted them.

    It didn't help that Nico was a total menace, pulling up plants throwing objects over the stone wall and narrowly avoiding serious injury every five minutes. It was quite an ordeal, but at this point we've planted everything but the squashes and melons, which we hope to finish this week.

    The oak leaf lettuce and spinach are pretty voluminous; it's everything we can do to harvest them fast enough. Since our CSA share started last week, the fridge has been bursting with greens. Anyone know any creative recipes? I've started making up my own.

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    First Harvest!

    Today we harvested 6 ounces of spinach, which is actually a decent amount. The oak leaf lettuce is almost ready, too.

    In this strange, mercurial weather we've been moving the tomatoes, okra, peppers, and basil outside in the morning on clear days and bringing them inside in the evening.

    We also moved the enthusiastic tomato plants to larger, proper containers that sit in plastic trays and allow us to water from the bottom.

    Pole and bush beans were planted last weekend; no sprouting yet.

    Mark built two more boxes for raised beds, and we'll be planting zucchini and melons in them this weekend.

    Other than that it's all about watching the peas and broccoli spring up and keeping an eye on the pests.

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    Who's Ready For Next Year?

    Here are a few more lessons we’ve learned this year:
    - Use Saran Wrap instead of plastic dome covers for seed starting. The Saran Wrap can be removed from cells in which plants have sprouted but remain over incubating seeds.

    - Plant heat mats are not warm enough to make much difference in soil temperature. Next year we will invest in some variable temperature reptile heating mats.

    - Don’t plant more than one seed per cell. It’s better to end up with an extra flat of cells than to try to separate seedlings with tangled roots.

    - Be sparing when adding compost to seed starting mix. We used a 50:50 mix of compost to Promix when transferring the seedlings from the seed starting trays to larger containers. This ratio should probably be 10:90 compost to Promix. The excess amount of fertilizer from the compost probably caused leaf yellowing and curling in the pepper plants. The stressed plants lost some leaves and made easy targets for those infernal aphids.

    - Have a water source nearby. Bringing water from the kitchen to the basement one pitcher at a time is a drag.

    - Don’t overplant. Make sure that enough space will be available for all of the seedlings. Take into account the final pot size each plant will end up in, not just the number of 72 cell trays needed. Plan for some extra space for unforeseen events.

    - (For Mark) Don’t freak out. Plants are surprisingly resilient. Even though the peppers seemed pretty sick when they were attacked by aphids, they have recovered now and are doing well. Gardening is a lot more art than science and is subject to the freakish whims of nature. No amount of pre-planning is going to avert every problem. Besides, isn’t problem solving part of the fun?

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    State of the Garden

    I’ve already started to think about my mistakes from this last season and how to correct them for the future. Plant varieties have individual space needs and can’t all be started and transferred to the same types of containers. Here’s what I’m going to do next year:

    - Peppers, tomatoes, okra, broccoli, and eggplants can be started in 72-cell trays and then transferred to 4½” x 4½” x 4” tall plastic greenhouse pots until planting out.

    - Herbs can also be started in 72-cell trays and can be transferred to 3½” x 3½” x 3½” plastic pots.

    - Lettuce, spinach, chard, onions, and leeks should be started in flats and then transferred directly to the garden. The flats for the leafy greens can be relatively shallow, like a seedling tray. The alliums should have a container that is a few inches deeper than a seedling tray. The container should facilitate easy bottom-watering and soil removal.

    Space is another issue. We’ve spent a lot of time this year running around the house with flats looking for the best and most light. Until recently, the seedlings were kept well illuminated by eight 4’ fluorescent shop bulbs in the basement. The space quickly got crowded once the plants are moved from the 72-cell trays into larger containers. Although some room was gained as plants like broccoli, chard, and spinach were moved outside, the sheer number of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants have exceeded the available artificial light capacity. The problem of space was further compounded by the aphid problem with the pepper and basil seedlings. These susceptible plants had to be relocated from the basement and brought outside during daylight to deal with the infestation.

    The obvious solution to the space problem is to either increase capacity or decrease the number of seedlings we start. Of course, the second option is out of the question. Even though we expanded our seed starting enterprise substantially this last year, we will need to find even more space next year. To see why, here is a summary of our current situation:

    (2) 4’ fluorescent shop lights contain (4) bulbs and accommodate (2) trays/flats end-to-end. The tray/flat dimensions are approximately 24” x 12” x 2” tall and are perfectly sized to fit under the shop light. Right now, we have four shop lights and two 2’ fluorescent lights, each designed to fit one seedling tray. Our maximum tray capacity at one time is six, and right now we have a total of ten. You don’t need to be a math wizard to figure out the dilemma we’ve run into.

    Fortunately for us, the weather has turned warm enough for the surplus seedling trays to go out during the day. Moving the trays inside and outside every day is a pain in the ass and is obviously not a good solution. [Kate: And makes it so we can’t eat at our dining room table.] Mark is pushing for a hobby greenhouse for next year, although we’re not really in a financial position to justify one. Donations, anyone?

    Thursday, May 1, 2008

    Leafy Greens

    As for the plants we are attempting to control, here's the lowdown. After several weeks of waiting, we're thrilled to see potato plants popping up all over. We mistakenly thought they were wandering mint plants at first, since the leaves are all shriveled and round and furry-looking. They don't taste like mint, though. Hope we don't get poisoned from eating them!

    Both kinds of lettuce are flourishing, although still tiny, and the spinach is doing great. The garlic is getting so tall, and we're getting new scallions every day. The peas are shooting up like crazy and sending out tendrils in all directions, so it's good we gave them all those strings to climb.

    We planted carrots and some more leeks, but generally we're just waiting until the next wave of planting in a couple of weeks after the most serious threat of frost has passed.


    Even as we hover over our tiny seedlings and coax potatoes to sprout, spring is busting out all around us. Right now the most gorgeous flora is that over which we have no control, like the forsythia and dogwoods and azaleas. The green helps keep us going during this strange limbo between plantings.