Thursday, May 31, 2012

Flower Companions: The 411

There are so many elements to gardening that many of them get overlooked in the details of climate and pests and nutrition and plant selection.  One of the oft overlooked elements to gardening is the use of flowers in the food garden.  Whether your food garden consists solely of a rhubarb plant, or two blueberry bushes, or is an entire backyard teeming with vegetables and fruits from Artichoke to Zucchini; adding flowers to it will be worth your while.

Cosmos in bloom
The benefits of flowers in the garden:

-As food! 
-They are pretty
-Attract and provide food/homes for beneficials
-Repel pests, or trap crops
-Reduce weeding
-Reduce erosion
-Cut flowers
-Smell wonderful
-They are pretty!

The only reasons not to plant flowers are the costs; space constraints; or that you hate pretty things. ;)

Bee balm or Monarda Didyma or wild bergamot attracts pollinators and makes a tasty tea as well.

So what are some good flower options for your garden?  Nearly any flower will do the job of attracting bees, but if you are looking for flowers that really pack a punch as far as benefiting the garden goes, I have listed a few common flowers below.


Marigold:  Marigolds are one of the most commonly thought-of companion flowers.  They are said to deter some common insect pests, including nematodes; marigolds are often companion planted with nightshade plants (i.e. tomato, potato, pepper, and eggplant).  Some species are deer-, rabbit-, and rodent-resistant.  The flower petals African marigold (Tagetes erecta) can be used as a yellow food coloring.  Marigolds are a food plant for butterflies and certain Lepidoptera caterpillars. 
On the down side, marigolds do NOT smell particularly pleasant, and their roots emit antibacterial thiophenes so should never be planted near legume crops.

Potted nasturtium (center)

Nasturtium:  Nasturtiums are my favorite garden flower.  They grow as beautiful flowing carpets of green with bright yellow, orange, and red flowers.  They actually prefer to grow in poor soil; rich soil will give them abundant foliage but reduce flower production.  Nasturtiums make a great ground cover to keep down weeds in areas you are not ready to plant, or around bulbs that won't come up for a while.  They don't require much nutrition, have small root systems, self-sow year after year, and are very inexpensive seeds.  Most importantly, the leaves and flowers are edible (they have a mild peppery taste); and they repel a great many cucurbit pests, like squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and several caterpillars. They have similar benefits for brassica plants, especially broccoli and cauliflower. They serve as a trap crop against black fly aphids. They also attract beneficial predatory insects. 

Red Yarrow

Yarrow:  Yarrow flowers in a flat cluster of tiny white, yellow, or pink blossoms.  Yarrow has been used as a vegetable in the past, the younger leaves can be cooked similar to spinach or added to soups.  It has a sweet, slightly bitter flavor.  It has also been used medicinally as a tonic, and to treat wounds.  Pasture grasses traditionally contained a small proportion of yarrow, because it's leaves were particularly high in certain minerals, thus preventing certain mineral deficiencies in cattle.  It repels bad insects and attracts predatory wasps, ladybugs, and hoverflies.  It improves soil quality and its leaves are considered to be good fertilizer and a beneficial additive to compost.  It is said to improve the health of plants nearby, and starlings use it to line their nests (inhibiting the growth of parasites).  Common Yarrow can be invasive.  Wikipedia has some great information on the extensive history and uses for yarrow.

Sunflower:  Both a beautiful annual flower, and an edible; the sunflower's seeds and oil are eaten, while the leaves can be fed to livestock, and the stems can be used in papermaking.  The seed is often used in bird seed blends.  Sunflower is also used in phytoremediation to extract toxic ingredients from soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium.  Sunflowers are allelopathic, meaning they inhibit other plant growth.  This can be a good thing!  Plant sunflowers in a sunny area that has major weed problems, or around the outskirts of your garden beds to protect from encroaching weeds.  Don't plant them inside the beds though, the roots exude a substance that will inhibit your plants' growth.  I am seriously considering growing them in my blackberry zone in hopes that they will kill off the remaining blackberries.

Coneflower (Echinacea):  Echinacea produces large, often purple, daisy-like flowers.  Medicinally it is used primarily as an immune booster, but also for several other purposes.  It also attracts beneficial insects to the garden.

Fuchsia:  In my area fuchsia are commonly grown as trailing container plants, and annuals.  Fuchsia are actually perennial plants, though not especially hardy.  Besides being absolutely gorgeous, fuchsia are major attractors of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds; they smell great, look better, and if you are going to plant them anyway you may as well do it near your vegetables.

Catmint:  Nepeta sp. include common catnip as well as several other catmints.  I'm sure most people know the purpose of planting catnip as far as cats go.  Catmints also produce very pretty flowers, and are used medicinally for humans.  It contains a chemical that is a strong repellant to mosquitoes, cockroaches, termites, and flies.  Planting it away from your vegetables can keep your cats out of the area, while planting it within the garden can repel certain insects.  While it is a perennial, if your cats are like mine you may need to buy multiple plants each season because they roll on it so often the whole plant dies.

Hollyhock (Alcea sp.)/Mallow (Althaea sp.):  Tall or short, gorgeous, biennial or short-lived perennials.  A beautiful cut flower and attractor of many beneficial species.  Hollyhocks will often self-sow and are very drought-resistant, they are a great way to brighten up a hot, dry corner of your garden.  Ancient peoples used the Althaea species in both medicines and cooking.  They are also considered one of the mainstays of a traditional cottage garden.

Morning Glory:  Not to be confused with Field Bindweed, a perennial species of Morning Glory that is a nasty weed!  Delicate flowers open in the morning and close in the evening, giving the morning glory its name.  It is a slender vining annual, that will quickly spiral its way up a trellis to offer shade to plants, animals or people below.  Morning Glory will happily cover up a chain link fence with a view of your neighbor's backyard and replace it with a view of green leaves and blue, pink, or white flowers.  The trumpet-like cones of the flowers are particularly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.

Rose:  Wondrously scented, beautifully flowered.  The hips and petals are edible; they have been used in cooking, perfumery, winemaking, as floral arrangements, and are a symbol of love and beauty.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet... and would, obviously, attract plenty of pollinators.  But roses have so many pests and diseases, right?  Yes, and no.  Hybrid tea roses are very needy little things that do require much care (and are very commonly found), they have been developed over many years for the showiest blossoms, leaving the plants themselves weak and of poor quality.  The old garden roses, or heritage or historic roses, are far more independent.  They tend to have highly disease-resistant foliage.  Albas, Gallicas, Damasks, Centifolia, Moss, Portland, and China roses are all fairly safe older varieties of rose.  Also the Tea, Bourbon, Hybrid Rugosa, Noisette, Hybrid Musk, and Hybrid Perpetual.  Modern roses are more demanding and include the Hybrid Tea, Pernetianas or Hybrid Foetidas, Polyantha, Floribunda, etc.  Before purchasing a rose to include in your garden take time to do your homework, they are well worth the effort to plant, but if you buy based solely on the picture you may find they are too much work and too sickly to work for you.  (I did this once and was sorely disappointed by the sad sticks with even sadder single blossoms on top, I have since learned my lesson.)

Violet/Pansy/Johnny-Jump-Up/Heartsease:  Viola tricolor actually has over 200 colloquial names.  The wild variety has been cultivated into the many different sizes and colors of pansy we see in nurseries today.  The pansy in its wild form has been used for centuries as medicine, as a plant dye, and the flowers are edible.  They are hardy plants and will survive a short freeze even while blooming.  Pansies are actually biennials, but are often sold the second year and treated as annuals.  They may reseed themselves, but are susceptible to several diseases and a few pests.  They certainly do bring a bright spark of color to the garden early on though, and I can't imagine a Spring without them popping up all over.  The bonus is that pansies are not only pretty, but incredibly cheap!  They do suffer from aphids, but in my mind that makes them a great trap crop. ;)

So, I know I didn't cover all of the great flowers available and all of the great advantages they offer in the veggie garden, but I did cover most of my favorites!  If you have a favorite garden flower that you just couldn't live without, leave me a comment and tell me why it's so great.  (I probably should have included something about Cosmos and Bee Balm, ... but I'm tired!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

End Of May: Garden Update

I haven't posted in over a week, partly because I've had visitors coming and going, and partly because the garden hasn't done much in that week.  I harvested several more heads of lettuce, and some kale and chard that I sauteed up and threw in the freezer for another time.  There are still no ripe strawberries or peas and the anticipation of them is killing me.  I did pull enough lettuce to get my two earliest tomato plants into the garden finally, both are Oregon Spring and one is already flowering.  Sadly it also suffered a bit of sunburn during the hot days a few weeks ago.

Flowers on Oregon Spring tomato.
The garden as a whole is getting rather crowded.  Not so crowded that the plants are suffering, so I think my spacing is okay, but the carrots and onions are starting to get shoved aside by the cabbage leaves.  The good thing about spacing things so closely is that there's very little bare dirt, which reduces weeds, and the shade of the plants helps keep moisture in without needing mulch.  The bad thing is that sometimes your cabbage gets a little overzealous and completely smothers your carrots.

The garden is getting crowded.
 The broccoli are finally getting some heads on, I wish I had enough room to let them keep growing after the main heads are harvested, but I will likely get one large head each and then rip them out to make room for the tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers.

Broccoli head.  It had better get bigger than this!
 Despite the damage done by slugs, we are still swimming in lettuce.  Sadly, because there are no tomatoes and carrots and other such things, and I refuse to go buy them when we'll have some of our own soon... I have been struggling with making salads.  Plus, the lettuce are so pretty!  Especially the ruffly Red Sails next to Salad Bowl and the tall straight green of Valmaine.  All of these varieties ended up being delicious too.  I was very happy with my mixed lettuce seed, except that it was mixed so I couldn't control the proportion of each variety to each other.  I ended up with 2 Red Sails, 4 Salad Bowl/Slo-Bolt (I can't tell the difference!), 6 Valmaine, and like 20 Buttercrunch! 

Lettuces are too pretty to pull... just can't bring myself to do it yet.
 My little boy, Alex, has an amazing green thumb.  He was the one who planted the sunflowers last year that grew over 14 feet tall.  This year he planted some carrots in one of the whiskey barrels.  They are doing much better than mine, though I did have to thin them a bit.  Every day he goes out to check on his carrots and says "They are doin' good!"  He's so excited for them to get big enough to eat after all this waiting.

Alex's carrots.
 My brother informed me that it was way beyond time for me to fill up my potato buckets, so I scooped in more soil to a few inches below the tops of the plants.  I'm still kind of winging it on the potatoes, I just plan to keep them alive this year... I'll work on improving my harvest next time. 

Potato pots, potted kale and more lettuces in the whiskey barrel.
 The pumpkin bed is uncovered, and the beans are putting on their second set of leaves.  Soon enough the entire corner where the pumpkin bed is will be a wall of green, with piles of fresh green and purple beans coming in.
The pumpkin bed; pumpkins, zucchini, pole beans in back, and bush beans.
Finally, my stockpile of canned goods from last year has been reduced to 2 jars of applesauce, 1 bread and butter pickles, 1 pickle relish, 5 jars of strawberry jam, and 1 freezer jam.  Time for the last minute push to get things finished off before the restocking begins.  Guess we'll be eating a lot of PB&J in the next few weeks.  I made a total of 41 jars and frozen 1/2 pints of strawberry jam last year; I'm thinking that worked out to just about right.  Though this year I'll be doing more freezer jams and less canned, they are so much easier.

Soon enough the sun will be back full force and plant growth will take off again!  Can barely contain my excitement!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ewww! Slugs! Garden Update

All this wet weather has led to a major slug problem.  One of my full grown lettuce plants disappeared yesterday, nothing but scraps were left.  Luckily the culprit stayed at the scene of the crime long enough for me to catch it.  A slug the size of my thumb! I chucked him over the fence at the new house in that lot... I didn't mean to hit the house, I just forgot it was there for a minute! 

After a few minutes of slug hunting and removal I figured I was better off sprinkling some more bait around, some of the beasties were so tiny I just knew I wasn't going to get them all.  They eat so much!  So I baited around the most susceptible plants; lettuce, chard, cabbage.  Hopefully the bait will be more appealing than the plants for a bit.  I really should just harvest more of the lettuce before it's too late, but I already have 3 heads in the fridge and wet weather does not make me crave salad, so it may be in there a few days.

This morning I removed the cover from the pumpkin and bean bed too.  The plants had grown high enough to poke through the chicken wire and touch the row cover.  I figured I should remove it before they started growing around the wire, or got powdery mildew from contact with the wet fabric.  The plants all look great, but I damaged a couple bush beans removing the cover.  I'll just replace them this weekend, there were only a couple, and the seeds won't be far behind the ones that have already sprouted.  The pumpkins and zucchini in the bed are looking healthy and are showing some growth since they were planted. 

This weather is depressing, and rough on the garden too, can't wait for the sun to come back.

Monday, May 21, 2012

For Food Preservation, Go To Georgia?

While at the farmer's market this weekend I had a few questions for the Master Gardeners and Preservers there.  Usually, I see their stall and completely draw a blank in regards to what I planned to ask them.  (I also never remember to bring my knives to the market to have them sharpened. Boo.)

Since I was posting this week about preserving brassicas I wanted to ask if they had any ideas beyond my own.  They didn't.  Though they did tell me that the standards for all home canning and food preserving are determined... in Georgia.  Specifically at the University of Georgia, so for those looking to learn the details of food preserving from a legitimate source that sets the national standard, check out the University of Georgia Extension Service Food Preservation Page.

I plan to spend some time there and bookmark it in my recipe folder so that I will have all the safety standards at hand when doing my home preserving.

*In case you don't about Extension Services: every state has an Extension Service, the job of the Service is to provide gardeners and agriculturists with information on pests, plants, diseases, and climate that is specific to their area.  Some states offer a Master Gardener certification as well that allows people to attend classes and learn about agriculture in their area, sometimes this course is paid for straight out and other times it can be discounted by volunteering in the community, as part of the Extension Service, to answer questions of other gardeners.  Check out your local Extension Service to find out more about what they can offer to help you as a budding gardener.

Willamette Valley Weather Rings True

As I've mentioned previously, if Oregon weather has its way, it will be pouring rain through Memorial Day weekend.  Well, it's having its way.

The weather is expected to be gloomy and wet for the next week or so, it's staying in the upper 50s during the day, but will get as cold as 45 degrees overnight until the first of June.  So glad I didn't get over-excited by those 80 degree days and plant my tomatoes and peppers!  From what I've learned in the past, it isn't worth the loss of plants and weeks of struggling to plant them this early.  If I hold out until June I should still get good harvests (fingers crossed) and not have to worry about the cold, wet weather over the next week or so harming them.

This weather pattern is one of the reasons I decided to do consecutive plantings in the same beds this year.  Cold weather plants are either done or nearly done by June, with few exceptions; and the hot weather plants are ready to transplant at that point.  Last year my cold weather bed was nearly empty by late June, only the peas were still producing, and the hot weather bed had lain empty for three months before planting.

From the size of my tomatoes currently, I think I should be starting the seeds a bit sooner than I did this year.  Maybe the same week that the peas and brassicas are transplanted.

Obviously, learning the ins and outs of scheduling and planting in my garden space is still a work in progress.  The purpose of this post is to remind readers that a garden is always a work in progress.  You can live in the same home for 30 years, working the same garden soil during that time... You will still be learning new things about your soil, climate, microclimates in your garden, pests and beneficials for your area, plant varieties and how well they work for you.  It never really ends because a garden is a living thing (actually, MANY living things), and it will change and grow as your understanding of it changes and grows.

So this year my hot weather plants got a late start, but I learned from it and will adjust next year.  Meanwhile, I think I've finally got a good handle on the cool weather crops, though they will likely go in a bit earlier next year.

Harvest Monday: 5/21/12

I actually harvested this on Sunday, but wanted to take part in Harvest Monday for once.  This week's major harvest was kale, Swiss chard, and onions.  The kale in the whiskey barrel has been struggling and just not keeping up with the kale in the beds, since I didn't amend the soil in the barrels at all it was understandable.  So I did the merciful thing and just pulled it out.  Which actually worked out well since it was raining and I felt like making some soup for dinner.  Zuppa Toscana was the soup of the day; I did fancy it up a bit with the two Walla Walla onions I have been trying to get a bulb from for the past three years, a few good sized chard leaves, the kale, and some beautiful oyster mushrooms and new potatoes from the farmer's market.  Served with a hearty loaf of sourdough, also from the farmer's market, it made the perfect treat on a wet Spring day.
Sunday's harvest, onions, kale, and chard.
I also took a little time to thin down the celery, when I transplanted them they were packed into their containers pretty tightly.  Now that it's obvious which plants are going to do well I yanked out the littler ones.  After rinsing them well I tossed them into my stock bag in the freezer.

Celery thinnings.
 A whole different kind of harvest was going on yesterday as well.  I spotted a ladybug flying past, tracked him to the shed, picked him up and set him on my aphid-plagued mini rose.  I actually spent more than a few minutes watching him harvest aphids like a kid gobbles candy on Halloween.  An hour later he was gone, but I'm hoping he decided it was worth his while to stay in the vicinity.

Phone camera does not do justice to this little guy.
 **Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions, stop by to see who else has posted this week, or add your garden harvest to the list.  Have a great Monday everyone!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cooking With Coles

Some of my favorite ways to eat broccoli, and cauliflower are fresh from the garden in salads or as a vegetable tray, or steamed lightly as a side dish.  Obviously those are the easiest ways to make them, but sometimes you have to get creative to get a whole harvest eaten before it's too late; or you need to preserve them for later in the year.

My all-around favorite way to use up brassicas is Colcannon.  Colcannon is traditionally made from mashed potatoes and kale (or cabbage), with scallions, butter, salt and pepper added. It can contain other ingredients such as milk, cream, leeks, onions and chives.  It is an Irish food, and is traditionally served on Halloween.
  • 1 pound cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower
  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pinch ground mace
  • 1/2 cup butter
  1. In a large saucepan, boil brassicas until tender; remove and chop or blend well. Set aside and keep warm. Boil potatoes until tender. Remove from heat and drain.
  2. Chop leeks, green parts as well as white, and simmer them in just enough milk to cover, until they are soft.
  3. Season and mash potatoes well. Stir in cooked leeks and milk. Blend in the vegetables and heat until the whole is a pale green fluff. Make a well in the center and pour in the melted butter. Mix well.
Colcannon pretty much amounts to mashed potatoes and veg.  It is very tasty and can use up pretty much any cole crops you have in excess, it also freezes well for use during the winter when you may feel like something warm and hearty but not feel like spending the time to cook it.

Since I usually eat my broccoli fresh or steamed with little additional flair I don't have a broccoli-only recipe to share, but the recipe below looks good and i plan to try it out when the broccoli are ready.

Awesome Broccoli-Cheese Casserole

For a change in tempo, this is a spicy recipe from India for cauliflower.  The recipe I found online has several vegetables in it, but the proportions can easily be adjusted, for cauliflower bhaji just replace the potatoes with more cauliflower.

Indian Vegetable Bhaji

No one in my family likes coleslaw, except my husband.  He is a slaw fiend and after much browsing last year I found the perfect recipe for him.  There are several comments about this recipe being too sweet, so if you try it you may want to put in about half the sugar initially, then add a bit and taste until it is the sweetness you prefer.  Coleslaw is a great way to use up cabbage, especially since cabbage doesn't freeze well.

Sweet Restaurant Slaw

For fresh use these recipes are some different ways to use your harvests.  The colcannon, bhaji, and casserole should even freeze well.  Now what do you do when you have so much harvest you can't eat it all before it goes bad? Or if you want to save some for later in the year?

 Cabbage is not very freezable as far as I know, it can be preserved as sauerkraut though.  I've never tried this, but my sister has and apparently sauerkraut is a hit or miss.  It is made by fermenting and canning the shredded cabbage.  If you have a lot of cabbage and no way to eat it before it spoils give sauerkraut a shot, but be warned it may just spoil rather than coming out right.  Cabbage can be frozen in recipes, like colcannon.

Broccoli and cauliflower should be picked early in the day, washed thoroughly in cold water, chopped into small pieces (florets), then blanched for 1-2 minutes in boiling water.  The broccoli will turn a bright green.  Immediately move the florets to ice water for a couple minutes to stop the cooking process.  Drain the florets and place in freezer bags; if you want to do gallon freezer bags, freeze the florets in a single layer on cookie sheets first then bag them.  This keeps them from becoming one big mass of frozen vegetable, and makes removing a serving size easier.  Label with the name of the vegetable, variety (if you are doing more than one variety), and the date. 

One other way to preserve cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower is as pickled vegetables.  Picalilli is a well-known type of pickled mixed vegetables.  There are dozens of different recipes available for pickled vegetables, personally I'm not a fan.  Though I do like Refrigerator Pickled Vegetables, but they don't help much when it comes to preservation.

A good book to check out for recipes and directions for preserving any harvest is Putting Food By, which even includes directions on root cellaring and drying brassicas.

And lastly, since I didn't discuss it on the culture post we will cover seed saving from brassicas.  After flowering, leave flower stalks on the plant until they make seed pods that are nearly dry, before they dry completely cut the stalks off and place in a large paper bag, seed pods down.  Leave the bag in a warm, dry area for a few weeks, you'll know they are ready when a gentle touch will cause seeds to drop from them.  Strip the seeds and pods off the stem into the paper bag.  Remove the stem and shuffle the rest around in the bag, this should loosen up any seeds still attached to their pods.  Get a clean dry bucket and set it outside on a day with a nice breeze.  Slowly pour the seeds and chaff into the bucket from about a foot above it.  As they pour the chaff will be blown away by the wind and the seeds will drop into the bucket.  If you still see chaff, dump the bucket back into the bag and repeat pouring.  Pretty quickly you will see only seeds.  Store seeds in a paper envelope or bag in a cool dry place, labeled with the species, variety, and year.  Brassica seeds will keep for up to 3 years.

If you have a brassica recipe or preservation technique you'd like to share, please leave a comment below.


Brassicas, sometimes called cole crops or cruciferous vegetables, are a genus of plants in the Mustard family.  It is remarkable for containing more important agricultural and horticultural crops than any other genus.  Most Brassica species are annual or biennial.  The genus is native to Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and temperate Asia.

Some of the agricultural species of brassica today include: rutabaga, turnip, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard, cress, bok choy, and rapeseed (or, in the U.S., canola).

The brassicas provide high levels of nutrients, including Vitamin C, soluble fiber, and several anticancer agents.  To maximize the nutritional value of these plants avoid boiling them, and instead steam them for 3-4 minutes.

The ten most commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables are in a single species B. Oleracea, and only differ by cultivar.  Check out the Taxonomy Chart at Wikipedia to see just how closely related these plants are.

What follows is a brief description of the culture of the cole crops I am most familiar with:
Bolting broccoli

Broccoli was first introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants but did not become widely known until the 1920s.

Broccoli: broccoli is an annual, it will sprout from seed, grow, flower, and seed all within one year.  Like most of the popular cole crops, broccoli can be over-wintered in a sunny spot with a mild climate.  Light frost will not harm it, and in fact, too warm temperatures in Spring and Summer may cause it to bolt, going from dense green (or purple) heads to yellow flowers nearly overnight.  Once broccoli heads begin to flower they become very bitter.  Plants grow in an upright manner, unlike their cousins the cabbages.  Seeds can be started as early as December indoors, then planted outside once soil temperatures reach 50 degrees.  The earlier broccoli is transplanted, the better, as it will be more likely to produce large heads before the weather warms too much.  Broccoli can be planted as a Spring crop or direct seeded in summer for a Fall crop.  It prefers cool, moist soil; it is not susceptible to molds for the most part.  The primary scourges of broccoli, and most other cole crops  are slugs and cabbage moth caterpillars.  Removing plants after harvest can reduce the damage of caterpillars, as can row covers early in the season (preventing moths from laying eggs), and keeping plants indoors until they have at least two sets of true leaves will help with slugs.  Slugs
will eat holes in the leaves but if plants are large enough this is only cosmetic and won't affect the harvest.
Imported Cabbageworm, A.K.A. Cabbage moth larva.
 The best thing about broccoli is that it takes very little care, it is not disease prone, not particular about its soil (though it does best in Nitrogen high soil) and can be grown nearly all year in many climates.  The downside is that it tends to be hit or miss at harvest time, if you wait too long for the head to reach it's full size you may end up harvesting some very bitter broccoli that is ready to flower.  Also, once the main head is harvested many broccolis will put out side shoots; I have found though that unless I have an entire bed of broccoli these side shoots do not make a large enough harvest to be worth the wait and all the space they take up in the garden.

Cauliflower head.
The first reliable reference to cauliflower is found in the writings of Arab Muslim scientists between the 12th and 13th centuries.

Cauliflower:  cauliflower is similar to broccoli in many ways, it is annual, prefers cool weather, is mostly disease-free, and shares the same pests.  Cauliflower is usually planted early in Spring, or in the late summer for Fall harvest, along with its cousins broccoli and cabbage.  Cauliflower tends to be more picky about heat and drying out though, I have heard many a gardener bemoan the cracking and loss of their cauliflower heads after dry spells.  Planting early, even watering, or planting as a Fall crop are some ways to prevent this.  To keep your cauliflower pearly white, you should blanch it by wrapping the leaves over the head as it begins to develop.  Cauliflower most often is found as a tight packed white ball, but is also found in green, orange, and even purple.  Check out the different tastes of these variations at a local farmer's market and ask what the varieties are called so you can plan to plant your favorite in Fall, or next Spring.

Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its medicinal properties, declaring that "It is the cabbage that surpasses all other vegetables."

Cabbage:  much like the previous two plants cabbage is grown in early Spring or late Summer.  It prefers cool weather, has no real disease problems, and few pests.  Cabbage however, is much less finicky when it comes time to harvest.  Primarily this is because cabbage is a biennial, it won't flower or go to seed until its second year of growth.  Because of this a head of cabbage can often be left for several weeks before it has to be harvested; it also means it is far less likely to split, and only extreme temperature or moisture changes will cause the head to split.  Cabbage requires no blanching either.  It is most commonly found as a solid green ball, but is also available in red or purple varieties, Chinese cabbage which is much looser leaved, and in all different sizes as well, from fist-sized to pumpkin-sized.  Cabbage heads are ready to be harvested when they are solid and hard to the touch.

In addition to this, cabbages are one of the prettiest plants to grow in my opinion.  I love the way their flat leaves open up into a massive rosette around the globe-like head.  The blue-tinged leaves sometimes take on a purple tinge as well, all in all they are very pretty.

In square foot gardening, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage each take one square foot to grow.  If you are selecting large varieties though it doesn't hurt to have nearby squares only half filled with smaller plants, such as 2 lettuce, or 4 peas.  Cabbage leaves especially are very wide and can cover up other plants next to them if they are too close.  One way to manage this is to grow cabbages in between slightly taller growing plants, the cabbage leaves can shade the roots of the taller varieties and in return they shade the cabbage a bit.

Saving seed from these crops can be a bit tricky, since the cultivated brassicas are so closely related they can easily cross-pollinate.  A 3-4 year rotation of seed saving can help with this: Year 1, save broccoli seed, not allowing other annual brassicas to flower; Year 2, save cabbage seed from biennial cabbage planted the previous year, not allowing other brassicas to flower; Year 3, save seed from cauliflower, don't allow others to flower; Year 4, repeat with another biennial, or annual brassica.  Since brassica seeds stay viable for 3 years this is a good rotation to follow, any more years would leave you with very old seed that may not germinate from your first year.  If you have more than four brassica cultivars you will either have to resort to trading for or buying seed, or put plenty of space between your cultivars.  There are other ways to manage this, including bagging, spacing farther apart, etc. but this is probably the simplest.  No extra steps but harvesting everything you don't want seed from before it blooms.

A final note on these crops: although we normally eat only the heads of these three plants, the outer leaves and stems are edible as well.  If you find yourself a bit short on cabbage for a recipe you can add cauliflower leaves, outer cabbage leaves, and broccoli leaves and stems (so long as they haven't become woody and tough) to fill in.

I think that's all I have for these crops, I will post some of my favorite recipes for them soon as well.  If you have any other tips or tricks about cole culture to share please leave a comment!

The Lettuce is Out Of Control

Just a quick update, the lettuce has grown so much, so fast, that I fear we will be eating so much salad in the next few weeks that it will start coming out of our ears.  Since my mom is in California visiting friends I can't even give some to her to stifle the avalanche.  We are expecting some last minute cool weather next week, so I am hoping it will give me time to use that lettuce before it starts to bolt.  I'm planning to leave at least one plant in for seed, but haven't yet decided if it will be the Valmaine, Red Sails, or SloBolt.  Those three have been my favorites of the mix I planted.  Valmaine did the best and I have the most of it, so I am thinking that since Red Sails seemed to be in the smallest proportion it is likely the best to save seed from. 

Note to Self: just spring for the individual packs of seed next year, seed mixes are kind of a pain.  As in, more than half the seeds ended up being Buttercrunch, and I can't specifically plant more of a different type because I can't tell from the seed what it will come up as.  And I still don't know if the green leaf is Salad Bowl or SloBolt because they are identical plants!

I'm still waiting on the strawberries, and the peas are getting tall, but haven't flowered yet.  Harvest total is at 1 lb. 10 ozs. today, after picking more lettuce and thinning the celery down (the tiny celery thinnings went into the stock bag).

I think it's about time for another informational post as well.  Maybe a culture post, or a recipe post... Not sure what I feel like doing yet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Always Late to the Party

Many other garden bloggers take part in Harvest Monday, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions, but I tend to forget to post that sort of thing.  So since I am posting about my harvests I thought I'd give Daphne a nod, even though it's actually Tuesday.

Kale, chard, and onions

Ta-Dah!  Ok, so it's not much... the onions needed thinned so I pulled the small ones and those that were a bit too close, then snipped off the largest of the kale and chard leaves.  They were fabulous in quiche last night.  Total weight for this harvest was 1.5 ozs.  Total weight harvested for 2012: 15 ozs.

Not to worry though, most of that was lettuce, which may as well be weightless.  Once the peas and strawberries start coming in the pounds will start adding up!

My Brother Is Better Than Yours!

 The past week has been incredibly busy over here at Chateau Eden.  My brother came up to visit on Thursday; planning to work off his phone bill in the yard.  Saturday we had a small party with friends to celebrate my birthday, Sunday my brother and I went out to see The Avengers, and Monday afternoon he headed back home.

He may never come back after all the work I made him do.

Strawberry bed and path before the work.
Path AFTER the work.
Shiny new gravel path.
Other side of the shiny new gravel path.
 It may not look like much in the pictures but we weeded 70 ft. of path (that was seriously overgrown) laid out landscape fabric and added 3/4 of a ton of pea gravel to the whole thing.  We also weeded and graveled the landing below the front porch steps, but I didn't get a picture of that.  It made a huge difference, the old path was looking so shoddy that clearing it and putting in the new one made the whole yard look fabulous.

Cherry tree
 After all the path laying was done we decided it was high time for the bed of the trailer to be replaced.  Dry rot had done its damage years ago and the holes just kept being covered up with chunks of plywood.  So we removed the dry rotted wood and replaced it with a shiny new sheet of plywood, and the trailer is like new again.  Which is a good thing since I plan to use it to get more bark mulch for the front yard!

Finally my brother and I also cleaned out the second shed, which I had been dreading because of all the spiders.  Now everything we're keeping is up on pallets, everything we aren't keeping is in the trailer waiting to go to the dump, and there is not only room to easily get the lawn mower in and out, but also to park the motorcycle over the winter.  Score one for me!

Garden bed 1
On a final note, I took the above picture yesterday morning and was thinking there hadn't been much growth in the garden considering how nice the weather has been.  Then I went back out to pick a few things for dinner later in the evening and it was like every plant out there had doubled in size since the morning!  The cabbages are starting to put out the first of their head leaves, the broccoli and cauliflower are ready to pop up the central stalk that will become the head, the lettuces have gotten so large you can't see a trace of the soil under them, even the chard were finally large enough for a small harvest.  I am so happy to see things finally catching up.

I also had at least three people in the past month ask if I'm growing the pumpkins on top of the shed again this year.  Lol, apparently they were a hit with everyone!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

33 Degrees Overnight!

There was supposed to be a low of 37 degrees last night, instead it dropped to 33.  So glad I brought in the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants overnight.  This must be my punishment for teasing Granny about her freezing temperatures this week.

I never paid this much attention to the weather, and the movement of sun and moon before I started gardening.  Now it's always on my mind.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finally, It Looks Like a Garden!

 Can definitely tell the difference between the phone camera and the good camera.  Bunch of shots of the garden after nearly a week of gorgeous weather, the sun really helped get things moving along.


Artichokes and cilantro

Alex's carrots.  He checks on them regularly to see if they're ready yet. :)


Leaf lettuce

Romaine lettuce

The tulips are done, but the pansies are taking over.

Oregon Spring tomato just waiting for an opening in the garden beds.

Swiss chard is finally starting to grow at a decent pace.

Potato plant, 3 of the 5 I planted are growing well.  The other two never did anything.
The first bed is really starting to look like a garden now, but the second one has some catching up to do still.

Raised bed 1.
Raised bed 2.

Hot weather starts enjoying some sunshine.

New whiskey barrel (#3) with perennials and bulbs planted.

Strawberry bed, flowering and doing great, but I really need to weed the path next to it.
That's how my garden's growing today, not long now till there will be peas, lettuce, kale, and strawberries coming in on a daily basis.  Over the next few days I plan to make some adjustments to my watering system, and have my brother help me with some work in the front and back yards.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taking Stock

Just had a little fledgling swallow land on the sill outside my window and chirp at me for about five minutes while I sat at the computer.  Apparently he had something important to share with me.  Lol.

It always kind of amazes me that there are so many people of my generation (and younger) that have no idea how to make certain things from scratch and assume those things just come from the store.  A good example of this is stock.  Vegetable stock, chicken stock, beef stock... so many people think it comes in a can from Swanson and either don't know how to make it or think it is a huge time-consuming task.

The other day I was watching the Food Network and caught Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) discussing her recipe for making stock.  Now, I appreciate that Ina makes good food with high quality ingredients, but I find her show a disappointment for the average viewer because she lives such an elitist lifestyle and it shows in her food choices.  Not too many of us can sit around nibbling crab cakes for a Sunday afternoon apperitif before moving onto the main course of fresh caught salmon steaks, with caviar and caper compote, arugula chantrelle salad and sherry trifle for dessert in December.  Sorry Ina, but most people can't afford these things.  So I stumbled across Ina showing how she would make a lovely chicken noodle soup for lunch using her own homemade chicken stock.

Ina's recipe for stock sounds delicious, but who can afford to use three whole chickens just to make broth? And piles of fresh veggies, and fresh bunches of herbs as well?

Here's my recipe for stock, it's simple, inexpensive, and yes it does take a lot of time, but like doing laundry, you're actual involvement in that time is negligible.

First of all you have to have a system in place for stock-making, the goal with stock is to use every part of the food and waste nothing, it is what poor people have done for decades to get the most flavor from their food.  A good system involves a "Stock" bag in your freezer, to which you can add the leftovers of whatever mirepoix (meer-pwah) ingredients (that's carrots, onion, and celery) you use.  The centers of celery with the short pale stalks, the ends of carrots, skins of onions... so long as these trimmings are not dirty or moldy they will work fine.  Each time I use these vegetables in the kitchen, or if they start to fade before I can use them, I toss them into the "Stock" bag in the freezer. If my stock bag is slim I will fill in with fresh veggies, but I prefer to use the trimmings in the stock bag.  Appearance of the veggies in this doesn't matter, you just need the flavors.  I know this post isn't very garden related, but if you have a garden it's a great way to fill your stock bag, veggies that were nibbled by pests make a great addition to the stock bag, as well as those that bolted or became woody or failed to bulb (the flavor's still there, they just don't have the right texture or appearance).  Why toss them in the compost when they can be used in stock? 

Stock bag from the freezer.
Secondly, you need a source for your meat flavor (obviously this isn't needed for vegetable stock).  Generally when I make a roast chicken for dinner, the first night it is served as roast chicken, the second night the remaining meat is served as some kind of soup or casserole, and the third day the bones and drippings are used for stock.  This is why Ina Garten seems very wasteful to me, one chicken should be able to provide nearly three meals for a family of four.  So my third day chicken carcass provides the meat flavor.  This also works with pot roast leftovers and beef bones, or ham bones and hocks to make ham stock, or turkey bones and drippings, etc.
Ingredients collected
 Finally, you can throw any seasonings you'd like in your stock, in my case I tossed in some garlic cloves that had sprouted a bit and then dried out in the fridge and a handful of thyme I had accidentally cut off while trimming out dead branches on my thyme plant.

Veggies and herbs go into the pot.
 Throw your chicken carcass, including all of the skin, bones, fat, and drippings into the pot.

Looks terrible, smells and tastes fabulous.
 If you want to, you can add salt or pepper to your stock, I usually save that step for when I'm ready to use it in preparing a meal though.

All set for a nice long simmer.
 Fill the pot with water, you need enough to cover all the ingredients, but leave a little room at the top of the pot to avoid a boil over.  Put a lid on it, bring it to a boil, uncover, stir, and let simmer for several hours until the liquid is reduced by about half.  Every 30 minutes to an hour it helps to walk by and give it a quick stir to ensure nothing scorches on the bottom of the pot.

Reduced by half.  3-4 hours later.
 Once your stock is reduced turn off the heat and let it sit for another 30 minutes to an hour so you don't burn yourself when you strain it out.

Colander full of strained chunks.
 After cooling set a colander in a large bowl (for a super clear broth lay cheesecloth inside the colander), then pour the entire pot into the colander.  Be careful as it may still be hot, and be sure to use a large enough bowl to hold it all.  Lift the colander out and dispose of the now flavorless remains.

Stock! Well, almost.
 What you are left with is a bowl full of beautiful, flavorful stock.  It's not quite done though.  Pour the stock into a freezer safe container (or two), label it, put a lid on it, then place it n the refrigerator overnight.

Ready for chilling overnight.
 The next day uncover your stock, you should be able to see a top layer of pale fat over the stock itself.  Spoon off this semi-solid fat for a nice lean stock.
Fat separated to the top of the container.
 Finally, you are left with your chicken stock, low fat, flavorful, ready to use in soups or whatever meal you'd like.  It will keep for months in the freezer, but only another day or two in the fridge.  Now wasn't that easy?  Time consuming yes, but really not that much work.

Ready to freeze for chicken and dumplings!
And I didn't even need 3 whole chickens and 6 handfuls of fresh herbs.  Plus, if you started with organic chicken and veggies it's completely organic too.   ;)