Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, Plus a Springtime-Fresh Garden Recipe: Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs

April 23rd, 2013 § 6

Madi_Vegetable LiteracyVegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

As organic vegetable gardeners, we know how important it is to become familiar with the various plant families and to develop an understanding of how they relate to one another in the garden. Botanical knowledge is key to avoiding many pests, diseases and cultural problems. Having recently reviewed the topics of crop rotation, companion planting and intercropping in the organic vegetable garden —Kitchen Garden Planning, Part One, followed by Kitchen Garden Planning, Part Two— now seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss how this same botanical knowledge can guide creative use of homegrown produce in your kitchen.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been devouring Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, sent to me for review by publisher, Ten Speed Press. One of the most highly-regarded vegetarian cooks of our time, Deborah Madison is author of eleven cookbooks. In her most recent title, Madison explores the relationship between botany and cooking, and how that knowledge can serve us as we prepare produce in our kitchens. A new gardener herself, the author takes a down-to-earth approach; with stories and observations that will be both familiar and inspirational to those who, like Madison, are just beginning to grow their own food. More experienced green thumbs will be delighted by new botanical discoveries and unexpected, creative ways to use the fruits of their labor.

Late_Spring_Potager_michaela_thegardenerseden  Nothing will improve your culinary skills faster than growing fresh produce in your own backyard, and learning how to use those edible flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, creatively in your kitchen

New gardeners will quickly observe that some natural companions in their potagers —tomatoes and basil or garlic and potatoes, for example— are also delightful partners in recipes. In fact, the joy of experimenting with garden fresh ingredients in the kitchen is often what leads a gardener’s hands to soil in the first place. By learning the ways in which edible plants relate to one another, a gardener can become a more versatile and confident cook. Out of onions, spinach or some other key ingredient and need a quick substitute? Looking for a way to jazz up a simple plate of carrots, but haven’t a clue what might work with them? With a bit of coaching from Madison, gardeners may find the creative answers to these culinary challenges, right in the backyard vegetable patch!

Filled with delicious, vegetarian recipes and gorgeous, full-color photographs, Vegetable Literacy is as beautiful to behold as it is delightful to read. Chapters in this cookbook are divided by plant families (Apiacea, Lamiacea, Asteraceae, Brassicaceae, etc.). In addition to 300-plus recipes, the author has included a chef’s notes about her favorite varieties of each edible plant, as well as interesting and useful botanical details for gardeners. I’ve flagged a number of dishes to try with my early crops, but the one featured below, “Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs”, simply couldn’t wait. Although it’s a bit early here in Vermont for garden-fresh peas, I did try this recipe with some of last fall’s bounty (stored in my freezer), and was thrilled with the result. I can’t wait to enjoy this comforting dish again; only next time, with the incomparable flavor of hand-shucked peas, plucked straight from my garden . . .

Peas with Baked Ricotta Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. Photo © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Peas with Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs

A light supper for 2

Olive oil

1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped
full-fat ricotta

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

4 teaspoons butter

2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

5 small sage leaves, minced (about 11/2 teaspoons)

11/2 pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.

If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary, but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much.

Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.

With Pasta: Cook 1 cup or so pasta shells in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss them with the peas, cooked as above, and then with the ricotta. The peas nestle in the pasta, like little green pearls.

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Reprinted with permission from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Madison. Photographs © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

All Other Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Sampling Sweet Heirloom Treasures … Apple Tasting at Scott Farm Orchard

October 20th, 2011 § 4

The Golden Light of Harvest Season at Scott Farm Orchard in Vermont

If a rose is a rose is a rose, does it then follow that an apple is an apple is an apple? Of course —except in the most simplistic of senses— neither statement is true. Each of these closely related species —both of which belong to the family Rosaceae— is tremendously complex; with a fascinating variety of forms, habits, flowers and fruits. Like many gardeners, I’ve long considered adding fruit trees to my landscape and many heirloom apples top the list of this most-wanted species. But with so many fruit trees to choose from, how will I decide which varieties to grow? There are apples for cooking and baking, apples for cider, jam and sauce, and there are even apples for floral arrangements, crafts and decorating. Of course, there are also oh-so-many apples perfect just for eating, and is there anything more delicious than a bite of crisp, tart apple on a cool autumn day? I decided to consult with a true, heirloom apple expert, who also happens to be a local friend …

Heirloom Apples at Sunset: Scott Farm Orchard

Earlier this month, I was invited to local, historic Scott Farm Orchard in Vermont for a private, heirloom apple tasting tour with orchard manager and apple expert, Ezekiel Goodband.  This is harvest season, and with apples to pack, cider to press, guests to greet and a farm business to run, Zeke Goodband has hardly a minute to spare. Yet my kind and knowledgable friend took time out of his very busy day to share some of his favorite heirloom fruits and bits of their fascinating histories. Below is a small sampling, and descriptions of the many treasures I took home from my stroll through gloriously beautiful Scott Farm Orchard

Black Gilliflower or Sheep’s Nose Apple: this beautifully colored, fragrant apple is one of my tasting favorites. When I took my first bite, Zeke advised me to look for the flavor of clove. And indeed, the sweet, floral flesh is followed by just a hint of spice at the end. This old, New England apple dates back to the early 1800s and it is wonderful both for cooking and baking or eating fresh, straight from the hand. I like it with a good, sharp cheddar cheese

Heirloom Winesap: amid all the green foliage and golden light, this pretty red apple really stood out in the trees. The Winesap is an American apple dating back to the early 1800s. Named for its wine-like flavor, this juicy red fruit with golden flesh is incredibly fragrant; with floral notes and a hint of spice. Tart flavor is nicely balanced with sweetness, making this a perfect choice for cooking (excellent for sauce, butter and puree), baking, cider making and eating out of hand

Lady Apples: this variety is the oldest of the heirlooms still in cultivation today. Known for their blushing, delicate beauty, clusters of Lady Apples often appear in autumn flower arrangements and wreaths. Of course I can’t imagine wasting a bite! This apple may be small, but it carries an intense, bright flavor. Try popping a couple in your pocket for a snack on your next autumn hike, or arrange slices amongst whole fruits on a platter of cheese as a beautiful appetizer

Heirloom Golden Russet Apples: this gorgeous gem from New York state dates back to the mid 1800s. The Golden Russet is crisp and flavorful; often called the ‘champagne’ of cider apples, it’s also delicious cooked in apple butter, sauce, puree and for baked goods. Rumor has it this variety makes a wonderful hard cider as well

Pinova: According to Zeke, extraordinary beauty and complex flavor makes the Pinova a favorite apple during tastings at Scott Farm. And without a doubt, an apple laden Pinova is truly a sight to behold. The photo simply can not do the color justice (and then there is the annoying lack of click-and-sniff on the screen!). Originating in Germany, this crisp apple posesses a perfect balance of tart and sweet. It’s a fine choice for baking and for eating out of hand.

Whenever I visit Scott Farm, it occurs to me that in addition to their delightful fruit value, apple trees truly are some of the most lovely ornamental plants for home gardens …

When asked about fruit trees for backyard gardens, Zeke Goodband’s first advice is to grow what you like and what you will use. Beyond peaches and pears, which Zeke recommends and sells to home gardeners, there are heirloom apple trees for sale at Scott Farm as well. Some of the more suitable backyard apple tree varieties tossed about in our conversation? The reinettes and russets were first to roll off the orchardist’s tongue, followed by some specific names; including Calville Blanc, Cox Orange Pippin, Holstein and Black Oxford. When choosing apple trees, it’s important to try many varieties of fruit and research their uses, to be sure that you select the apples you like best. Of course, when it comes to doing homework, apple tasting can hardly be considered a chore! If you happen to be traveling in Vermont this fall, I highly recommend stopping in to Scott Farm for an heirloom sampler and some delicious, fresh-pressed cider.

Below are some more of my favorite heirloom apples; chosen for beauty, unique flavor and usefulness in baking or cooking. Interested in continuing your backyard orchard research? The books listed at the bottom of this post are a good place to begin furthering your education. Many thanks again to Ezekiel Goodband at Scott Farm for sharing his time, delicious fruit and orchard expertise with The Gardener’s Eden

Good things do come in small packages: meet the Lady Apple (also pictured above in the orchard) Though she may be small, this apple is one gorgeous and delicious fruit

Another diminutive treasure, the Royal Medlar apple reminds me of winter-dried rose hips. The fruit is hard when harvested, but after “bletting” (a process of ripening off the tree, on a cool, bright table for a few weeks) these tiny apples become soft, juicy and delicious. Sweet with a hint of cinnamon, this fruit is sometimes used for jelly and is also delicious roasted, or baked; especially in pies. Royal Medlar trees are quite striking, with lovely blossoms, and make fine ornamentals in the garden

In terms of baking apples, Calville Blanc d’Hiver is a culinary favorites among the heirloom varieties. This unusually shaped, blushing, golden, 15th century French apple adds wonderful flavor to cakes and tarts, and it holds its shape and texture beautifully in a hot oven. Eaten out of hand, the flavor is both tart and sweet, with hints of spice and vanilla. If you love to bake with apples, this is one you will want in your home orchard

Ashmead’s Kernel is a delightful old English variety dating back to the 1700s. This gorgeous russet fruit is used for baked goods, cooking, eating fresh and also for both fresh pressed and hard cider. The flavor is truly exquisite; a complex ride that starts off with a kick of lemon, followed by a rush of fruity wine and finishing with lingering floral notes

Another favorite with bakers, the Belle de Boskoop apple originated in the Netherlands and is a commonly used dessert apple. The slightly tart flavor and firm, crisp texture hold up exceptionally well under heat. This variety makes fantastic apple strudel as well as other sweet treats

Books for the Would-Be, Backyard Orchardist …

The Best Apples to Buy And Grow (BBG)The Best Apples to Buy and Grow (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide Beth Hanson

Growing Fruit RHS Harry BakerGrowing Fruit (RHS Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening Harry Baker

the Backyard Orchardist stella ottoThe Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden Stella Otto

The Apple Grower, Michael PhillipsThe Apple Grower: Guide for the Organic Orchardist Michael Phillips

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Spring Brunch from the Kitchen Garden: Shirred Eggs with Shiitake & Arugula …

April 30th, 2011 § 6

Shirred Eggs with Homegrown Shiitake Mushrooms & Garden-Fresh Arugula

I’ve always been a breakfast person. French toast, waffles, eggs, potatoes, pancakes; I enjoy them all. Sometimes, in fact, I would like them all at once. Because of my love affair with breakfast foods, I have developed some pretty liberal ideas about when they should be served. Brunch is a great idea of course, but I also happen to think huevos rancheros make a fine dinner. And those restaurants with the round-the-clock breakfast menus? Those are some of my favorite places.

During the growing season, my work day usually starts before sunrise. I love the early hours, but they seem to go by too fast. Often, I’m juggling a couple of different jobs, scrambling to get things done here in the office or out in my garden, and running off to appointments with landscape design clients. I don’t have time to sit down for a leisurely morning meal. So when I have a free weekend or morning off,  I treasure the opportunity to create an old fashioned breakfast or relaxing brunch. And at this time of year, I especially enjoy cooking with fresh, early-spring produce —mushrooms, arugula and fiddleheads— from the garden and surrounding forest.

Shiitake Mushrooms Emerging in the Woodland Garden at Ferncliff

The woodland mushroom garden began as a small experiment here, but has since blossomed into a full-blown production. There are so many mushrooms popping up right now, that it’s probably time to start selling them. Shiitake mushrooms are surprisingly easy to grow, and early-spring or autumn is the best time to begin a mushroom garden of your own. Wonderful when harvested fresh in spring and fall, shiitake can also be air-dried and stored for later use (soaked in water or wine they are easily reconstituted for use in myriad recipes; including soups, sauces, pasta and rice dishes). If you are interested in how shiitake are grown, travel back to last year’s post —by clicking here— for a step-by-step tutorial on the process. Of course, I have plenty of space for full-sized mushroom logs here. But if you enjoy cooking and eating mushrooms, growing them is within the realm of possibility for any gardener; even one with very little, or no outdoor space. Small, pre-inoculated mushroom logs can even be purchased online (in season) from retailers like Gardener’s Supply Company and Terrain. There’s nothing like the taste of fresh mushrooms, and with the cost gourmet food items like shiitake, it’s really worth your while to start growing your own!

After Great Success with the First Dozen Shiitake Logs – The Mushroom Garden Grew Again Last Fall

This Morning’s Crop

Another Favorite, Seasonal Crop: Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads (learn more about fiddleheads, and find a recipe for a fiddlehead omelette, by clicking here)

With a basket full of fresh shiitake and fiddleheads from the forest –and of course baby arugula from the kitchen garden— I had plenty of delicious produce for my late-morning breakfast today. I decided to save the fiddleheads for tomorrow’s omelette, and made shirred eggs with shiitake, arugula, cheddar cheese and cream. Shirred eggs —baked in ramekins or muffin tins— make a delicious meal; perfect for entertaining a crowd at brunch. And with Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I thought I’d share this recipe and give you a chance to practice before you making it for company (once you taste this delicious combination of flavors, you will definitely want to share). Earthy shiitake have a wonderful, rich flavor that works well with the fresh zing of baby arugula. But if you don’t have access to your own or locally grown shiitake (yet) you can substitute a different mushroom or vegetable of choice . Have access to freshly foraged fiddleheads? Perhaps you’d like to try the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette, which I featured last spring in this post ( click here ).

Shirred Eggs with Shiitake Mushrooms, Arugula, Cheese & Cream

An original recipe from my own kitchen

Ingredients (Makes 12, average muffin-tin sized baked eggs):

12          Fresh, medium-sized, organic eggs

3            Cups baby arugula leaves, freshly washed

3/4        Cup shiitake mushrooms washed & chopped into bite size pieces

3/4        Cup heavy cream (optional)

3/4        Cup cheddar cheese, grated

Softened butter for tins or ramekins

Fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°  Fahrenheit

Generously butter 12 ramekins or 12 regular size muffin tins. At bottom of each container, add one tablespoon chopped shiitake mushrooms, approximately one tablespoon baby arugula leaves (torn into bits if necessary) and 1/2 tablespoon of cheddar cheese. Pat ingredients to settle them in, and (optional) add one tablespoon of heavy cream. Carefully crack each egg over the top of the other ingredients. Place ramekins or muffin tins into the hot oven.

 

Bake at 325 F for 10 minutes or until the eggs are just starting to set. Remove from oven and sprinkle each egg with 1/2 tablespoon of cheese. Return to the heat for approximately 2 – 3 more minutes or until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, arrange a nest of arugula greens on each plate.

Remove tins/ramekins from the oven and gently scoop each shirred egg from its container with a rubber spatula or large spoon (it helps to loosen each container around the edge with the tip of a rubber spatula or butter knife).  Settle each egg atop a bed of greens and garnish with a few arugula leaves, freshly ground black pepper & salt to taste. Serve warm.

These shirred eggs are wonderful with a fresh-squeezed minneola mimosa (click here or on the photo below for recipe)

Minneola Mimosa

You may also enjoy the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette (click here or on photo below for the recipe and more about fiddleheads)

Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette

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Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Getting Rooted: Pretty Potatoes, Colorful Carrots, Radiant Radishes & Beautiful Beets…

February 23rd, 2011 § 6

Now that I have enlarged the potager, I’m planning a bumper crop of colorful potatoes!

Radishes and carrots make great companions, not only in salads, but in the potager as well (see pelletized carrot seed planting tip/velvet carrot recipe here, and read a carrot/radish companion planting article here)

Colorful Salad of Red and Gold Beets Arugula and Feta (Click here for recipe)

I’m getting back to my roots this week… My root vegetable roots, that is. The first carrots of the season were sown in the hoophouses last week, and I’ve just finished ordering a half dozen colorful varieties of seed potatoes from Ronnigers/Potato Garden and the Maine Potato Lady (potatoes are planted when the soil temp. reaches about 50° F, approximately 2 weeks before the last frost date. Usually that is early May here in southern VT).  I’ve been enjoying summertime produce all winter —potatoes, carrots and leeks in particular— pulled up from my cool root cellar. This year I plan on planting even more earthy jewels —in every color of the rainbow— to enjoy throughout the summer and harvest in fall for winter storage. Most root crops are planted early in the season, and some can be repeat-sown for a second, autumn harvest. So, I like to plan out this part of my garden very carefully.

Potato Hills in My Spring/Summer Potager: Here Planted with Early Crops & Flowers (incluing chard, nasturtium, peas)

Root vegetables grow best in deep, loose, sandy loam. I plant my potatoes in trenches and then hill them with soil as they grow. Potatoes may also be planted shallowly and mulched up as they grow with clean straw or other materials, or they can be grown in containers; including barrels, wire cages and bags. Other root vegetables —such as carrots and beets— are best grown directly in deep, loose soil or in raised beds. I like to grow my vegetables in wide, earthen mounds (similar to constructed beds, but with sloped sides, exposed for extra planting space) which give my crops an extra 8-12″ of depth at the root zone. There are many ways to grow vegetable crops, and how you choose to plant your garden depends largely upon your site. Raised beds offer many advantages for gardeners struggling with limited space and/or poor soil. Some vegetable growers choose to adhere to a strict ‘Square Foot Gardening‘ planting plan —popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book by the same name— while others continue to grow crops in straight, narrowly hoed rows. My approach to potager design is a somewhat looser; closely resembling French vegetable gardening in style, with cultural methods similar to those of garden author Ed Smith (I am a fan of his classic, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and always recommend it to my garden clients). I like to encourage gardeners to experiment with their space and adopt methods of cultivation that work best for them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the most interesting horticultural innovations have come from creative, experimental growers.

Colorful vegetable crops delight the eye and jazz up the dinner plate

Last Year’s Delightful Potato Crop

I have two, somewhat overlapping careers. In addition to designing gardens and gardening professionally, I am also an exhibiting artist. And as a painter, my eye is naturally drawn to the full spectrum of color, form and textural possibilities in vegetable gardening. Sure, I grow orange carrots, red radishes and brown potatoes. But I also love electric yellow and rose-colored carrots, pink and white striped radishes, gold and ruby-hued beets, and potatoes in every color from yellow and pink to red, purple and blue. And why not? If I’m growing my own food, I might as well have fun with it. And with many colorful cultivars, the tastes are as deliciously varied as the hues.

This year I am planting Adirondack Blue and Red standard potatoes, and Peruvian Purple, Red Thumb and French fingerlings; among other varieties chosen for color, flavor and texture. As for other roots, I’ll be growing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Yellow carrots, in addition to the usual orange. And planned radish crops include French D’avignon, Watermelon, Purple Plum and Cherry Belle. As for beets? I am growing Golden, Chioggia and Merlin this spring, but if you know of something beautiful and tasty, let me know and I’ll put it in as a fall crop! I buy the bulk of my vegetable seed from several east coast companies; including High Mowing and Johnny’s and  I also order herbs, greens, flowers and gourds from Renee’s GardenBurpee, and Botanical Interests.

Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket and Rosemary (click here for recipe)

Getting the maximum productivity out of a vegetable garden’s usually-limited space is a goal most gardeners can relate to, and with a bit of creative planning, it is possible for a well designed vegetable garden to be both efficient and beautiful. If you haven’t visited this site’s “Potager” page in awhile (over to the left), you may want to click on over for a visit. I have been updating the page —and will continue to do so throughout the season— with links back to vegetable gardening articles and recipes for all of your beautiful garden produce. If you are looking for more potager ideas, I highly recommend the two excellent vegetable garden design books linked below, which I personally own and absolutely love…

Jennifer Bartley’s Designing the New Kitchen Garden is one of my favorite vegetable gardening resources. I highly recommend it. Bartley has a new book out, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook from Timber Press. I have not seen it yet.

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping is a title I chose to review for Barnes & Noble. This is a wonderful new book, filled with fantastic ideas for building a pretty potager all your own.

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Here Comes the Sun, Doo’n Doo Doo: Gettin’ Started with Seed Starting…

February 10th, 2011 § 3

On your mark, get set…

Twenty degrees fahrenheit. Ow… That’s nippy! Yes, the outside temperature still says ‘winter’ loud-and-clear, but the good new is that the days are getting longer, and the sunlight is getting stronger. That means it’s just about time to get a jump on the growing season by starting seed indoors. At this time of year in Vermont, I’m already sowing chives, onions and hardy herbs indoors. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach and arugula are now growing within the spring-like climate created by the hoop houses in my vegetable garden (click here for more information on how to build your own). I’m looking forward to an even more productive potager this year, with more home-grown gourmet vegetables started from seed.

Why start seed indoors when you can just pick up vegetable six-packs in early spring at the garden center? Well, first of all, it needn’t be either/or. Even though I still buy organically-grown vegetable starts from Walker Farm (by the dozen), I have plenty of reasons to start some seed here at home. Starting seed indoors gives me a jump on the growing season; allowing me to plant certain crops outdoors, and harvest before the local garden centers even open. When I start my own seed, I also have the option of experimenting with unusual, gourmet vegetable crops. Seed catalogs (and Seed Saving exchanges) offer far more variety than any local greenhouse can possibly supply (see sidebar and links below for some sources). And if you don’t have an organic grower nearby, starting your own plants from seed insures that your produce will be raised to your own high standards: you control the quality right from the start. Although there is an initial investment in grow lights and other gardening supplies, starting your own seed indoors can save quite a bit of money over the long haul. But the best part? I get to see the entire, magnificent process of life right from the beginning. If you have children, this is a great opportunity for teaching, and a wonderful experience to share.

A fine-textured medium (growing mix) is essential for seed starting. Regular potting soil is too heavy, and won’t drain efficiently. Buy or make your own seed starting mix for best results.

Seed Starting Basics

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Start your new plants the right way: Purchase fresh seed from a reliable, organic source, near your region. Seed collected close to your own geographic area tends to perform best. Farmers in my area (New England), almost always buy their seed from New England sources. And although I do buy seed from elsewhere (some from as far away as California) I purchase the bulk of my vegetable seed packets from suppliers in nearby Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. And when choosing germinating mix, remember to always use an organic seed-starter with very fine, loose particles. Never use regular potting soil to germinate seeds. Why? It’s much heavier and it won’t drain well. Seedlings need moist, but not water-logged soil.

Select your containers and trays: Many garden centers and online suppliers have plastic or peat cell-packs available for purchase. These packs are handy, because they usually come with plastic tops to keep the starter mix moist while seeds germinate. But, you can always use plastic wrap for ths purpose if you make/recycle containers. Some of my gardening friends like to make their own biodegradable starter pots from newspaper. You can also recycle old plastic six-packs or other containers, but you must sterilize those reused pots properly with warm, soapy water and a bit of disinfectant (bleach) to prevent the spread of disease. You will also need leak-proof trays to place beneath the seeds, in order to water them from the bottom (prevents washing the tiny seeds to the side of the pots and/or disturbing delicate roots). Whatever you choose to use, get everything ready —in one place— before you start.

Set up grow lights: While it’s true that you can start seed in a brightly lit window (I do this with some windowsill herbs) you will get much better results (stronger root systems, stems and overall growth) if you use grow-lights positioned close to the seed trays. You can use regular florescent shop-lights, or you can purchase grow-lights (available at many garden centers and online suppliers). If you are serious about starting seed indoors (or growing tropical houseplants) grow lights are a great investment. If you already own grow-lights, clean them and check bulbs and timers before you start your seed. Most vegetable seeds do not require heat-pads for germination. But it’s always a good idea to check the back of seed packets before you start, to be clear on requirements. Grow lights work best when they are raised up as the seedlings develop, keeping them close to (but not touching) the leaves. Crafty gardeners can try to construct their own systems, but grow-light systems —either floor or table mounted— can be purchased at all price points. Aim for durable, quality construction – with stands built to last.

Quality grow lights (like the one above, from Gardener’s Supply Company) are a great investment if you are serious about getting a jump-start on the growing season.

Time your starts: Check the back of your seed packets for the number of days to germination, and the start date. Usually the packet will list the start date by referencing the number of weeks prior to the last frost date. Do you know your last frost date? Check with your local USDA cooperative extension service (click here for interactive map) or, the awesome, easy-to-use table for common vegetable start dates on The Farmer’s Almanac website (Just enter your city and state in the pace provided – love the Farmer’s Almanac)! If you live in zone 4 or 5, February is a good time to start onions, leeks, chives, celery and hardy herbs. Later this month (or early March) you can begin cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and brussels sprouts. Unless you are located in zone 7 or warmer, wait to start warm-season crops (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) until mid to late March, or even early April.

Moisten the starter mix and fill containers: One the best ways to insure that your seedlings have plenty of moisture is to soak your germinating mix overnight prior to planting. I like to wet the mix in a big tub the night before planting; adding enough warm water to make it damp, but not soupy. I know the starter medium is ready to use when all of the water is absorbed and the mixture is moist like a fresh cupcake, but not wet and gloppy like mashed potatoes. If you try to form a ball it should crumble apart, but still feel moist to the touch (just like natural garden soil at planting time, remember how great that smells?)

Hello baby!

Plant your seeds in the containers: Plant two to three seeds per cell (you will thin the plants later) Not sure of how deep to plant? The back of the seed packet should list planting depth. But if it doesn’t, aim to plant the seed three times as deep as it is large (measuring by diameter).

Cover the seeds and wait for germination: Once all the seeds are planted and set in their trays, cover them with the plastic tops, or loosely with plastic wrap (to contain moisture and raise humidity) and place them in a 60-75 degree (fahrenheit) room. Be sure that the catch trays are filled with water, and check the seed starts daily to insure that the soil remains moist. A plastic spray-misting bottle can be useful in the early stages of seed starting to insure that the surface of soil remains moist. Seed trays can be placed beneath grow lights, but you won’t need to turn them on until the seeds pop out of the soil. Again, unless the seed requires warmer germination temperatures (or if you are starting plants in a cool/dark spot like a cellar) you won’t need heating pads for the trays.

Sunflowers are an exciting and easy crop for youngsters to grow in recycled milk cartons. But wait a bit longer on this crop. February is too soon to start sunflowers in New England…

Light up their life: As soon as the seeds germinate, they’ll need at least 12 hours of light per day (and for many vegetables 14-18 hours is even better) In these northern parts, this is where grow-lights come in. Remembering to turn lights on-and-off can be tricky at first, and an inexpensive timer can really be your best work-buddy!

Feed me Seymour!: Once the seedlings have a set of “true” leaves (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves, which emerge first), give them their first meal: a bit of dilute, organic fertilizer (I use a very weak fish emulsion solution, diluted in water).

Biodegradable pots allow room for root development, and can be popped right into the soil (no struggling to remove tiny plants without damage!)

Transition time: Once spring closes in, seedlings will begin to really take off. As certain young plants grow, they will need thinning and perhaps later, transplanting to larger pots before being “hardened off” (process of bringing seed outdoors for short periods of time to adjust to outside temperatures and light). We’ll talk more about this process later. In meantime, If you are starting many seeds, it’s also wise to invest in a fan for air circulation. Check with some of the seed supply sources linked here for more information, or visit your local garden center. It’s also helpful to have some larger sized pots and regular potting soil on hand for later. Peat pots (or other biodegradable containers) are particularly good for the purpose of transplanting, because they can be placed directly into the soil. This reduces root-disturbance and makes for a swifter, stress-free transition into garden soil.

And although we are all anxious to get back out in the sweet earth, resist the urge to rush tender plants into a cold garden. Unless you have hoop houses, row covers, cloches or other protection for your crops, it’s too risky to push them out before the recommended date (again refer to the links at the top of this post). I’ll be writing more about the process of seed starting over the coming weeks and months.

For more information and seed sources, please visit previous posts, linked here!

Here comes the sun! It may still be a little early for most vegetable starts, but growing windowsill herbs (like chives and cilantro) is fun and easy anytime…

Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Product images are the property of linked online retailers.

Article and noted photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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The Delights of a Cozy Winter Kitchen: Warm Oven, Fragrant Herbs & Freshly Baked Focaccia with Onion & Rosemary

January 11th, 2011 § 1

Freshly Baked Slices of Focaccia with Rosemary and Onion

Rosemary Blossoming in my Kitchen

There’s just something about cold, wintry weather that makes a girl want to bake… Know what I mean? Yes it’s nippy outside, but here in the house, things sure are warm and cozy. The wood stove is popping and cracking and the kitchen oven is hot, hot, hot! When I know that I’m going to have a busy day, I try to get up extra early in order to prepare something ahead of time for lunch and dinner. And just yesterday, while flipping through my new copy of Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herbal Kitchen over morning coffee, I was inspired to harvest some rosemary from my indoor herb garden for fresh-baked focaccia…

Sunlight, Shining Like Crazy in My Kitchen

In addition to this herbal cookbook, I received two wonderful kitchen gifts for Christmas this year. I love to listen to music while I’m cooking, but my audio system was really old and cranky, and the speakers wired in the kitchen had become so scratchy that I rarely turned them on. Well, lucky me! This year, one of my gifts was a Bose SoundDock system –and it’s amazing. Now I can listen to music again in my kitchen –every single day!

My other favorite gift is ‘Rosie’. See that gorgeous, red, KitchenAid stand mixer in the photo below? Mmm hmm. That’s Rosie, and she’s all mine. I am so excited! See, I’ve never owned a stand mixer before (yes, I know, I can hear the foodies gasping audibly). Well, there’s an explanation of course. Although I love to cook, until recently I haven’t been much of a baker. But two years ago, I was bitten by the bread-baking bug when I discovered Jim Lahey’s no-knead method, (see the post about it, and recipe here). And since then —particularly while experimenting with Rose Levy Beranbaum’s bread, pie and cake recipes— I’ve been having much more fun with my oven.

Meet Rosie: My Christmas Present & New Kitchen Playmate

Of course I’ve always used fresh herbs in my cooking, so it only seemed natural to involve them in bread baking. During the winter months, I grow herbs indoors both on the kitchen windowsill and in larger pots beside the glass French doors. Many of my potted, culinary herbs are located right outside on the kitchen terrace during summer, so they make just a tiny hop inside before the hard freeze in October. In addition to rosemary, I overwinter sage, thyme, mint and chives in my kitchen. I also start fresh pots of basil, parsley, cilantro and other herbs on my windowsills. During the dark, cold months, I reduce watering and hold off on fertilizing my overwintering herbs until late March or early April. Then —when outdoor temperatures begin to stabilize in May— I slowly acclimate my herbs to the great outdoors by setting them out on the terrace during the daytime and bringing them back in —and/or covering them up— at night.

Rosemary has a reputation for being a fussy houseplant, but I’ve never had much trouble with it. I think the key is to give it a bright, sunny location with plenty of air circulation, and to keep the well-drained potting soil on the drier side of moist. I have three rosemary plants indoors: one on the kitchen counter, and one on either side of the French doors. I remember being told —quite a long time ago, because I can’t remember the source of my information— that rosemary plants dislike drafts. But based on my own experience, I have to disagree. My kitchen doors are constantly being opened and closed to bring in firewood, and the rosemary plants on either side of the door look fantastic. In fact, they seem much happier than the rosemary on the counter (I need to repot that plant later this month) and are currently blooming their heads off.

Rosemary Blooming by the Door

Two Great Books for Herb-Gardening Cooks: The Herbal Kitchen & The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking With Herbs

Cippolini Onion Braid

Freshly harvested herbs are wonderful in breads; particularly focaccia. To create the quick bread featured in The Herbal Kitchen cookbook, I used rosemary and some of my braided cippolini onions (see my post on braiding onions here). If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can also make this bread in a food processor or even by hand. The stand mixer just makes it fast and easy. As far as the recipe goes, other than a last minute addition of parmesan cheese, I pretty much stuck to what was printed. But of course with focaccia you can add many different kinds of herbs, olives, tomatoes, etc. I did alter the method slightly, as I prefer Rose Beranbaum’s fold-over technique for herbed focaccia. When the herbs and cheese are placed just under a thin flap of dough —as opposed to spread over the top of the loaf— they remain moist and un-scorched, while the top of the bread turns golden brown. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible is a fantastic resource for home bakers, as is her website/blog linked here. And on a cold winter day, a warm, herb-filled bread is just delicious…

Rosemary & Onion Focaccia

Rosemary & Onion Focaccia

Ingredients:

1 1/2          Teaspoons dry yeast

1 1/2          Cups warm water

1                 Teaspoon fine salt

6                 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 1/2           Cups all-purpose flour

1                  Large onion sliced (or 2-3 med. cippolini onions)

3                  Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4               Cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese (optional)

3/4              Teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Attach the dough hook to a stand mixer. Add the warm water to the mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Wait a couple of minutes and stir to dissolve. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of fine salt. Turn the machine on low and slowly add the flour through the mixing chute. Mix on low speed for a couple of minutes, and then knead on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough will look sticky. Stop the machine and remove the bowl from the mixer. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm location to rise for at least one hour (more is good —Rose recommends a 3 or 4 hour initial rise—but fast sometimes must do, and in this case I think  well).

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and cook the onions on medium heat for about 3 minutes. They will be slightly under-cooked. Add the rosemary and cook one minute longer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When you are ready to prepare the focaccia, preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. The oven should heat up for at least an hour. On a lightly floured surface turn out the dough and sprinkle lightly with a bit more flour. Roughly shape the dough into a rectangle. There are two ways to assemble:

1.Herbs on top method: At this point you can coat the top with olive oil, press and poke to form indentations and sprinkle with the onions, herbs and cheese. With this fast method, you simply cover and let the focaccia rise for at least one hour before baking. If you do this, skip ahead to the last step, or try the fold-over, flap-top method…

In the fold-over method, the herbs, onions and cheese are covered up, just beneath a thin flap of dough.

2. Fold-over method: With a rolling pin, roll one long edge of the rectangle outward to form a thin piece of dough, equal in width to the rectangle loaf. This will be an over-flap for the herbs. Now spread the herbs, onions and cheese on top of the thick rectangle, and cover with the thin flap; as if you are closing a book. Roll the top of the loaf with a rolling pin until the bits of herbs are visible beneath the dough. Press at the top of the loaf with your finger tip to form indentations. Some of the herbs may press through, and some will be just visible beneath the surface. Brush off any wayward herbs and cover the loaf with a towel and let it rise for at least 1 hour (or more).

Last step: When your focaccia is ready to bake: Transfer the loaf to a parchment paper lined pizza peel (or lined cookie sheet) and brush or drizzle the top lightly with oil. Sprinkle the surface with kosher salt and slide the bread into the oven. I use a pizza stone when I make bread in my oven. Bake for approximately 30 – 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool before slicing and serving.

***

Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Love in the Afternoon: Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast…

December 17th, 2010 § 5

Love in the Afternoon: Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast

Oh yes. I know what you’re thinking. What is she doing, lounging about in the afternoon with a plate of French Toast? Oh the sloth, the sloth! It’s just nothing but wickedness {smirk}. OK. Yes, Santa Baby, I have been a little —how shall we say— self-indulgent recently. But, try to go easy on me. During the short New England growing season —with gardens to plan, plant and tend— there are few leisurely days on my calendar. So I really treasure this quiet time of the year, and I like to treat myself a little.

Mid-Day Snow-Squall

With snow flying, and daytime temperatures struggling to reach the double digits, outside work is off the schedule. These days, I like to wrap myself in fluffy office-attire and slip into cashmere power-slippers before I settle into my couch desk for the day. Oh, I’m still keeping busy -of course. I read and review garden and landscaping books. I write. I research. I draw and sketch out new design ideas. I edit photos. I begin to shift focus to my painting studio. And you know, it’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re comfortable. That said, I find it really hard to stay focused when my stomach starts to grumble. And, it seems this little conversation with my tummy always takes place in the late afternoon. So rather than argue, I give it some love. Which brings us, of course, to the Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast…

Love in the Afternoon: Delightfully Decadent, Lemony French Toast

Love in the Afternoon French Toast

Ingredients (serves two with an appetite, divide or multiply according to desire):

6             Slices of day-old, thick, French bread

3             Extra large eggs

1/2        Cup of cream

1/4        Cup of Vermont maple syrup

1             Teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon (plus extra for sprinkling)

1             Teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1             Teaspoon vanilla

1            Teaspoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

A pinch of  Salt

Fresh zest of one ripe, golden Meyer lemon (Do you grow your own yet? Oh… you really must)

For Pan:

1/2           Stick of sweet butter

For Serving:

Real Vermont Maple Syrup to Taste (warmed)

Confectioners sugar for sprinkling on top

Sweet, Organic Meyer Lemon from VivaTerra’s Lemon Topiary

Directions:

If you’re making breakfast for a group, warm an oven to 250 degrees fahrenheit to hold batches of toast on a platter until you are ready to serve.

When I make French toast I mix the batter in a bowl with a fork and then pour it in a shallow dish (a pie plate or any shallow dish will do the trick). Add each slice of bread to the dish one at a time; dunking each slice in and swishing it around as you go, to absorb the batter. Allow the slices to sit in the dish while you warm a couple of tablespoons of butter in a good sized skillet. When the butter is melted, raise the heat up to medium and add the toast. Use a good sized skillet to hold at least three slices at a time.

Add the slices of bread to the skillet and fry each side until golden brown. As the toast is frying, I like to drizzle it with maple syrup and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on each slice. Be sure not to over-cook French toast. You want the bread moist and luscious on the inside, and golden-brown/lightly crispy on the outside.

Sprinkle each serving with confectioners’ sugar and serve with a pat of fresh butter and warm Vermont maple syrup.

Can you feel the love?

With proper care, Meyer lemon trees make wonderful houseplants. A lemon topiary is a beautiful & unusual holiday gift that keeps on giving. Here’s one good source: Organic Meyer Lemon Topiary from VivaTerra. Trees from this company are sent priority, in pretty clay pots. And if you hop to it, there’s still time to order before Christmas.

***

Article and Photos (excepting links from VivaTerra) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. Advertisers do not pay for editorial placement here, but do remit a small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden affiliate links to this site. All proceeds will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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The Sweetness of Summer, Saved in a Jar: Sun Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil…

October 5th, 2010 § 4

Sun Dried Tomatoes on the Terrace

Homemade Sun Dried Tomatoes and Herbs in Olive Oil in My Pantry

Hillside in Autumn Rain…

Beautiful, misty mountain tops and grey, moody skies greeted me when I awoke this morning. It seems that the wet, unsettled weather has returned to New England this week, and I —for one— welcome it wholeheartedly. With such a dry summer and early autumn, the fields and forests need all of the rain we can get. But it’s more than that, really. I actually have a thing for fog and mist. Maybe that’s why I like New England. A bit of gloom can be rather appealing, I think. I lived in the San Francisco area for awhile, and I loved watching the damp fog move like a thick blanket across the landscape.

But what about the sunshine? Well, I suppose I must be one of those ‘absence make the heart grow fonder’ types. I find that when the sun goes into hiding —and then finally makes an appearance after three or four days of rain— I tend to appreciate it more. Ever notice how wonderful home feels, after you’ve been traveling for awhile? That is how I feel when the sun comes out after a stretch of overcast days. Of course this doesn’t mean that I don’t miss the glowing, golden orb. Oh, quite the contrary. I do miss the warm sunlight on cold, cloudy afternoons. In fact, that’s when I usually end up cooking something with orange colored winter squash, bold, yellow bell peppers or better yet – red tomatoes! Oh my, sun dried tomatoes… Of course! Sun dried tomatoes are the perfect way to bring a bit of warmth and color to the table on a cloudy day!

Fresh Tomatoes From My Garden

Tomatoes Drying on a Screen in the Sun

During the long stretch of hot, sunny weather in August and September, I decided to make sun dried tomatoes the old-fashioned way: in the sun! If you live in a hot, dry climate, sun drying fruits and vegetables is easy. But if you live in the northern reaches of the world, regular periods of sunny weather are very unusual, and can be a bit hard to predict. I took full advantage of our unusual hot-spell to dry as many tomatoes as possible in the sun. But tomatoes can also be dried in other ways —in an oven, a dehydrator or even on shelves above a hot, wood stove— with excellent results.

The process is really quite simple. I made both my seeded and seedless sun dried tomatoes the Mediterranean way. Leaving the skins on, I cored and sliced the tomatoes in half lengthwise (I cut in quarters for thinner strips, and remove seeds from those strips, as shown above), sprinkled them with sea salt, sandwiched them between two screens and placed them out on my sunny terrace to dry (I brought the trays in each night to thwart critters). One week later: presto, sun dried, leathery goodness! I put all of the dried tomatoes up in ziplock storage bags and set them in the pantry to enjoy in pasta, on pizza and in appetizers. I also enjoy sun dried tomatoes in olive oil. To make them, I just put a handful in a canning jar, add herbs like dried basil and oregano, and fill the jar to the top with good quality, extra virgin olive oil. Then, I place them in the refrigerator to use as needed. You can add garlic too, but it’s important to always store these mixes in the refrigerator for safety, and use them within a week or so.

Sun Dried Tomatoes are Great Eaten As-Is, and They Add Intense Tomato-Flavor to Appetizers, Pasta, Pizza and Many Other Dishes…

If you would like to make sun dried tomatoes, but can’t get a break in the weather, try drying them in your oven instead. They taste just as good and the process is much faster (you can also buy or borrow a dehydrator). Preheat an oven to 200 degrees fahrenheit (approximately 93.33 celsius) and prepare the tomatoes as described above. Roma tomatoes do work well, but you can use any kind, including heirloom and cherry tomatoes. If you like, you can remove the seeds, or leave them in (I prepare them both ways, depending on how I am going to use the dried tomatoes). Spread the salted tomatoes out on wire-mesh racks if you have them (or on cookie sheets if you don’t). Be sure they aren’t touching. Roast them in the oven at 200 degrees fahrenheit (or around 93.33 celsius) for about 6 hours, maybe longer if the tomatoes are extra juicy (if the tomatoes are super wet, I usually remove most of the seeds and pulp and/or cut them into wedges). Check the tomatoes frequently toward the end of roasting time. The strips should be completely dry and leathery, but not crisp. Remove the tomatoes to cool, and then seal them in ziplock bags, or store them as described above in olive oil (be sure to refrigerate to prevent botulism).

This Small Plate of Sun Dried Tomatoes Represents Approximately 6 Large Roma Tomatoes After Drying for One Week in The Sun. The Pretty Plate is by California Artist, Aletha Soule.

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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A Garden of Bold Tastes and Colors: Oven-Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Ruby Red Chard, Fresh Herbs and Vermont Cheddar…

September 12th, 2010 § 3

Golden Tomatoes, Stuffed with Chard and Cheddar, Oven-Roasted to Perfection

Every garden year is different, and in the northeast, 2010 couldn’t be more opposite from 2009. A summer ago, the weather was cold and wet, and I was rained out of more projects than I care to remember. By the end of last year’s growing season, I expected my toes to have webs. Cool, wet weather is perfect for growing crops like leeks and leafy greens, but 2009 wasn’t a great year for tomatoes – not at all. And what of 2010? Well, my goodness! Suddenly, the kitchen island is overflowing with a crop I usually consider quite precious. I honestly don’t know what to do with all of my tomatoes. I’m canning them —of course— and preserving them in other ways, and enjoying them daily at meals. I’ve been giving away baskets of the golden and ruby fruits to friends, and heck, I’m even handing out heirlooms to total strangers. The hot, dry conditions this year have been absolutely perfect for heat-loving plants —including the herbs, peppers, cucumbers, and squash of various kinds— and they are all doing remarkably well. But for me, late summer is all about the Queen of the Nightshades. Finally, I am enjoying a great tomato year!  And in order to continue enjoying my crop straight through early October (and beyond with hoop-houses) I water my tomatoes daily (at the root zone to avoid wetting the leaves and fruits), and pinch off late blossoms, which haven’t the time to mature before frost and only drain energy from the plant…

2010 Crop – One Day’s Harvest of Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Early Girl, Jet Star Tomatoes

Of course, some vegetable crops wilt in the heat, and other plants stop producing fruit altogether. Spinach —one of my favorite vegetables— is a cool-season crop, which bolts quickly and tastes bitter in high summer. I have begun —and will continue—  to sow spinach and other leafy greens for autumn harvests. But when conditions are hot and dry, many gardeners —myself included— consider chard to be the perfect spinach-substitute. I love chard, and I grow several varieties; including bright-lights, rainbow, old-fashioned red and the standard Swiss. Brilliant as stained-glass in the afternoon sunlight, chard is beautiful both in the garden and on the plate…

Rainbow Chard – The ‘Spinach’ of Summertime

Ruby Red Chard with Orange Blossom and Early Girl Tomatoes

When fresh tomatoes are plentiful —literally falling from their vines as they are this year— I enjoy them stuffed with herbs and vegetables; oven-roasted  and topped with melted cheese. Tomatoes can be filled with a wide variety of savory stuffings. But when the garden is producing such an amazing range of red, purple and chartreuse-veined, leafy vegetables, I am most inspired to fill them with color! Yesterday afternoon I took a break from my weekend chores and loaded my harvest basket with ruby red chard and golden tomatoes from the potager, and headed into the kitchen for an artistic lunchtime experiment. The recipe below can be made with or without the bread-stuffing base. If you opt to go with a lighter version, simply double the amount of steamed chard in place of the bread/egg/milk base. If you eat meat, you can add cooked chicken, beef or shellfish to the stuffing in addition to the vegetables and herbs. I think it’s fun to experiment by using different ingredients in each tomato. Kids love to carve out vegetables, and because the scooping is done with a spoon, this is a really fun and safe harvest-cooking project to share with them…

Stuffing the Tomatoes

Oven-Roasted Golden Tomatoes Stuffed with Ruby Red Chard and Cheddar Cheese

Ingredients: Serves 6 as a side-dish

6      Large Orange Blossom or other orange or yellow tomato

2      Cups of chopped, steamed Ruby or Rainbow Chard (leaves only), drained on paper towels

3      Cups day-old bread, crumbled into pieces and lightly toasted

3/4  Cup of milk

2      Eggs lightly beaten

5      Tablespoons Freshly Grated Reggiano Parmesan Cheese

1      Clove garlic chopped

2      Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped fine

1      Tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped fine

1      Cup Grafton Sharp Cheddar Cheese

2      Tablespoons artisan quality extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Select a shallow baking dish, large enough to hold 6 tomatoes. Wash the tomatoes and remove lower stems. Cut just the top off each tomato, as if you were carving a jack-o-lantern. Chop up the leftover top pieces and set the aside. With a spoon, carve out the inside of the tomato very gently, removing all of the seeds and pulp. Sprinkle the inside of each tomato with salt and pepper and arrange in baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the lightly beaten eggs, milk and bread crumbs. Add the garlic, basil, parsley, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and parmesan cheese. Mix well. Finally, add the chopped tomato tops and the drained chard, lightly tossing together. (For lighter stuffed-tomatoes, or for vegans, simply skip the bread/egg/milk base, and combine the other ingredients to make your stuffing. If you are vegan, use an appropriate cheese-substitute). Divide the mixture evenly between the tomatoes and top each stuffed-shell with the grated cheddar. Lightly drizzle with olive oil to prevent burning. Place the stuffed tomatoes inside the oven and roast for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese topping is brown and bubbly. Be sure to watch the tomatoes carefully, it’s easy to burn them. Serve hot, garnished with fresh basil leaves.

The Colors of Summer – Beautiful and Delicious…

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Dinner in the Sun-Drenched Garden… New Potatoes in a Bistro-Style Salad: Pommes À L’Huile from Patricia Wells

August 29th, 2010 § 4

Pommes À L’Huile – Warm Potato Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette

Late Summer Dinner on the Terrace

There’s something absolutely delicious about the last weekend in August. What brings on this delightfully hypnotic, wonderfully relaxing mood? Perhaps it’s the warmth of the sun radiating from the stone-slab terrace, or maybe it’s the color of the sky; deepest topaz blue? There are so many subtle ingredients to this hopelessly intoxicating, late-summer cocktail, I could never unravel the recipe. Let’s just say it’s pure bliss.

Knowing that we are nearing the end of this sweet season, I spend every moment possible outdoors. Lunch and dinner on the sun-drenched terrace, surrounded by the smells of warm earth and pots of aromatic herbs, is one of the simplest —yet most treasured— of my summertime rituals. And there’s so much produce to enjoy —pulled straight from the garden— at this time of year. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun harvesting new gourmet potatoes from the potager; gold, pink, red and amethyst jewels. These beautiful gems, grown from Ronniger’s seed potatoes, make the most wonderful salads I’ve ever tasted. Message to self —in bold letters, underlined and circled at the top of my gardening journal— “Grow Twice As Many Potatoes Next Year”…

Harvesting New Potatoes from the Potager

Potatoes Scrubbed Clean and Glowing, Bright as Easter Eggs

Potato salad, particularly with herbs and vinegar, is such a wonderfully uncomplicated, perfect summer dish. My favorite recipe comes from Patricia Wells’ classic, and brilliant book, Bistro Cooking. Do you know it? True, it’s not as flashy or glamorous-looking as some —but it’s a true treasure-trove of culinary delight. And just between us? While I grant the award for world’s best gurkensalat to my Tante Maria, this potato salad from Patricia Wells gives my Tante’s kartoffelsalat a serious run for her money (shhh. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t use the internet). The key to this salad’s rich flavor is in the warm-marination process. Allowing the potatoes time to absorb flavors of the highest quality white wine vinegar and olive oil, makes all the difference in the world. If you grow your own potatoes, this is a great way to really show those spuds off. There’s nothing like the taste and texture of fresh potatoes pulled straight from the earth; washed and steamed to perfection. Don’t grow your own potatoes yet? Well, grab some new reds from the farmers market or your CSA, and make yourself a BIG gardening note for next year: Grow Potatoes. They are a super-easy, undemanding crop (they can even be grown in bags on decks and terraces). Enjoy. And remember, there are still three and a half weeks of summer left!

Pommes À L’ Huile

Based on the recipe from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking

Ingredients (Serves 6-8 as a side dish- divide or multiple to suit your needs)

3           Pounds new potatoes, washed and scrubbed clean with skin on

1           Cup plus 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

6           Tablespoons very high quality white wine vinegar

4           Tablespoons dry white wine

2           Teaspoons Kosher salt

4           Small shallots, minced fine

Fresh parsley  (3 – 4 tablespoons) chopped fine

Fresh chives (about 3 tablespoon) chopped fine

Fresh thyme chopped very fine (perhaps a tablespoon, to taste)

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

**Other herbs may be added as substitutes or, as strike your fancy**

Directions:

Steam the potatoes with skin on for 20 minutes, or until tender when pricked with a fork. Drain and let cool. Meanwhile whisk together 1 cup olive oil, 4 tablespoons vinegar, 4 tablespoons of white wine and 2 tsp. Kosher salt. Peel potatoes and slice 1/2 inch thick. Toss with the vinaigrette and set aside for about 1/2 hour, allowing potatoes to absorb the liquid.

In a small bowl, combine remaining vinegar, olive oil parsley, shallots and chives. Add fresh pepper to taste.

Before serving the potatoes, quickly toss with the fresh herbed vinaigrette. Wonderful served warm in the sun.

Pommes À L’Huile

‘Autumn Beauty’ Sunflower (Helianthus annus) The Brilliant Color of Happiness in the Potager

Doctor Woo, Enjoying Her 11th Summer, Stretched Out on the Terrace

‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glory along the Garden Gate

Burgundy Hued Sunflowers in the Potager (Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ Mix)

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Preserving the Harvest: Fresh-Frozen Herbs in Oil, Butter, Broth or Water…

August 26th, 2010 § 51

Frozen Herb Cubes with Olive Oil: Photographs Copyright Michaela Medina – thegardenerseden.com

At six o’clock this morning, I was rather annoyed to be awakened by a gang of squawking bluejays. But when I rose, I discovered a beautiful rainbow on the western horizon. Suddenly, I found myself feeling more than grateful for the wake-up call from the noisy, blue boys in my ‘hood. The rain has ended for now, and the morning sun is warm on the terrace, where I have set up my office for the day. But before I start work on plant lists for a garden design I’m working on, I have a neat garden project to share with you. Inclement weather kept me indoors early this week, providing me with a bit of free time and the opportunity to freeze fresh herb-cubes for winter. This project is simple and fun; easy as making fruit-pops and a great way to teach children about preserving food from the garden. If you also make a few juice pops at the same time —to reward the little helping hands— so much the better!

Fresh Herbs from the Garden

Begin by gathering empty ice cube trays (or egg cups or small freezer molds), zip-lock or other storage bags, and bundles of fresh herbs from the garden. Bring the herbs inside, and as you wash, dry and pick through the leaves, think about how you might like to use them over the coming months. Do you make lots of soup in winter? Set aside a few bundles of your favorite soup herbs. These can be frozen in cubes of room-temperature water, vegetable broth or chicken/beef bouillon. Do you like to fry or roast with herbs? Bundles of your favorite cooking herbs can be preserved by freezing them in vegetable oil (I like to use light olive oil for high-temp pan frying). If you like to use herb butters or herb-infused oils for bread dipping, you can freeze them in butter (softened or melted over very low heat and cooled a bit) or in extra virgin olive oil, to pull out of the freezer later and enjoy at room temperature all winter long.

Separating Fresh Herb Leaves for Simple Frozen Oil Cubes

Tear or chop the herbs into small pieces or individual leaves, depending upon how you plan to use them at a later date. Next, load ice cube trays, egg cups or other freezer molds with the clipped herbs. You can separate individual herbs into molds or you can mix them in combinations you frequently use together. I make both individual herb cubes and various combinations. I started with olive-oil cubes for pan-frying this time. Once my compartments were filled with herbs, I began filling the cubes with oil, topping each herb mold with one or two tablespoons of light (frying) olive oil. Then I made herb cups with melted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Finally I put away large quantities of herbs preserved in vegetable broth (you can use any kind of broth) and water (for herb tea and soup).

Simple Cubes of  Olive Oil with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil with Fresh Rosemary – Ready to Stick in the Freezer

Once the molds are filled, freeze them overnight. You may wish to make a note of the herb content and oil/water measurement in each tray. Once frozen, it can be tricky to identify the herbs. I do freeze in batches and make notes to avoid confusion later. Once removed from the freezer, pop the cubes from the trays and slip them into labeled plastic bags. I write the name(s) of the herbs, the fluid measurement, and the date on my bags. Then, I store them flat in the freezer (they should remain in separate units, unless they melt – so work quickly!). Now, you can enjoy fresh herbs in your cooking all winter long, at a fraction of the market cost!

After Freezing for 24 Hours – Remove the Cubes from the Trays and Separate into Labeled Ziplock Bags. Store Flat in the Freezer.

There are many ways to preserve and store your garden produce. This particular method of freezing herbs has been around for a long time —my mother and grandmother used to preserve them in this way— and it works very well. If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve your garden produce, I highly recommend the two books pictured and linked below, which I reviewed for Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety Blog in June (click here to read the post on B&N, where you can also purchase either book). Both titles contain new & old ideas —freezing, drying, root-cellaring and more— for preserving the harvest.

Buy How to Store Your Garden Produce from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

Buy Putting Food By at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

An Early Morning Visit to the Potager – Gathering Herbs and Edible Flowers for Lunch

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

DIRECT LINKING OR PINNING THIS PAGE TO PINTEREST IS WELCOME! HOWEVER, PLEASE DO NOT REPOST, RE-BLOG OR OTHERWISE USE PHOTOGRAPHS OR TEXT FROM THIS WEBSITE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION. 

CONTACT INFORMATION IS AT LEFT. THANK YOU! MICHAELA.

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Savoring Summer: Harvesting and Drying The Garden’s Finest Herbal Treasures…

August 19th, 2010 § 4

Drying Herbs in the Stairwell

One of the great pleasures of living in New England is, of course, the seasons. The natural world operates on a distinct schedule here, and all life flows along with it at a steady pace. On these late August days, the song of the hermit thrush —an ever-present twilight melody enjoyed throughout summer— begins to fade as flocks of songbirds gather for migration before the full moon. And the sun, shifting position and setting earlier each day on the horizon, glimmers low and gold in the trees now. Although the noontime hours of late summer can be quite hot, and evenings are still spent bare-shouldered, it won’t be long before downy quilts and lavender-scented sweaters are pulled from closet shelves.

August is a month of preserving; of putting up and setting things by. Jars of jam and pickled produce form neat rows in the cupboards, and my freezer is packed wall-to-wall with summertime’s bounty. This is the time of year when my voluptuous herb garden literally spills from its neatly-edged confines. Borders? Fiddle-dee-dee, the mint seems to say, as it runs wildly wherever it may. But I never mind a bit of excess in the garden -it’s so nice to have plenty to spare. Mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender and lemon verbena; their scents perfume my fingers and fill the cellar stairwell with beautiful fragrance. …

Freshly-harvested basil – Tied with twine for drying…

Basil and Mint Bundles

With dry air and scant rain, August is a great month to begin harvesting and drying herbs for winter. In the coming months, I will be grateful for a hint of summertime’s pleasures in warm cups of tea and fragrant breakfast scones. Drying herbs is simple and economical; an easy way to trim your monthly grocery budget and add flavor to daily meals. Have a look at the price of dried, organic basil next time you visit a grocery store. If you need a bit of convincing before bundling up the harvest and making room in your rafters, that little bit of sticker-shock should do the trick.

I grow herbs in my potager amongst the vegetables, on my terrace in containers, and throughout the ornamental gardens as well. Once the morning dew has dried —usually by 10am— I head outside with harvest baskets to gather whatever tempts my eye. Some days, I focus on aromatic herbs for cooking; including basil, rosemary, thyme and mint. But I also keep other uses in mind; gathering lavender, bergamot and hyssop for scenting oils, soaps, and sachets. Dried bundles of artemisia, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and other herbs are also useful for wreaths, swags and dried flower arrangements. Once the cellar stairwell and loft are filled —mostly with herbs for teas and cooking— I string clothesline in my dry cellar to hang bunches of herbs, protecting them from dust with loose paper bag ‘hoods’…

Herbs in the Potager

Keep potted herbs attractive by frequently pruning. More than you need? Try drying bundles to use in recipes —including soup and salad dressing— throughout the winter…

Once I’ve collected herbs, I spread them out on the terrace and pick them over; stripping lower leaves and forming small bundles. I like to use natural twine to tie the herbs together, but I will use recycled rubber-bands as well; particularly for large bouquets of flowering herbs. Once bundled up, I hang the herbs in a dry, dark place. When they have completely dry-cured, I will strip the leaves from the stems and store the herbs in tightly sealed jars (clear is fine for closed cupboards – use dark glass if storing herbs in brightly-lit spaces). Although I try to harvest most culinary herbs before flowering —for best flavor— I do allow some herbs to blossom, in order to provide pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in my garden. Flowering herbs make great companion plants in the potager…

Bundles of herbs are picked over and thinned, then bound together with twine…

Harvesting Herbs in Late Morning, After the Dew Has Throughly Dried

Sorting and Bundling Herbs in My Kitchen

Some sage is left to flower in the potager. Other plants are kept tightly pruned through regular harvests…

Rosemary is a beautiful, as well as a useful herb. I like keeping aromatic herbs near my door, where I brush against them as I come and go. Here, I can quickly snip bits to flavor teas, salad dressings or garnish cocktails…

And as wonderful as dried herbs are in winter, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of fresh rosemary and basil —is there? I keep pots of herbs just outside my kitchen door all summer long, where I can easily access them if I need to add a sprig to a special sauce or evening cocktail. Come late autumn, I will bring the potted rosemary inside to my windowsill, and in late September, I will begin sowing flats of basil to grow indoors beneath lights.

Yes, I enjoy thinking ahead to the coming seasons, but I’ve never been much of a pleasure-delayer at heart. I believe that being prepared for the future should never detract from the importance of the present moment. From lemon-mint sun tea and caprese salad with fresh basil at lunchtime to ice-cold mojitos and herb-infused ice cream enjoyed by the light of the moon; savor the rich tastes and sweet smells of the season while you can…

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea (Click Here for Post and Recipe)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint flowering in the garden)

Cuban Mint Julep (aka the mojito) – Click here for recipe and story

Some great herb gardening resources to give as gifts, add to a wish-list or purchase for your own horticultural and culinary bookshelves…

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Simple Storage Solutions with Style: Beautiful Braided Onions…

August 15th, 2010 § 8

A Sweet Onion Braid – Drying on a Late Summer Day

Warm, dry air and sparkling blue skies; here in Vermont, these are the first golden days of late summer bliss. As I swing in my big, old hammock —surrounded by the meadow-song of crickets and chattering finches— my mind drifts to nothing more important than the thought of spicy gazpacho and homemade crackers for lunch. Mmm… Gazpacho – one of my summertime favorites. I love the flavor of fresh, pungent onions, herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes. And speaking of onions, with the nights growing cooler —filled with showers of shooting stars— and the days growing shorter, it’s time to think about digging up those tasty bulbs and putting some up for winter…

Wondering when to pull? You can begin to harvest when most of the tops have flopped…

I’ve been harvesting baskets of onions from my potager this week; taking advantage of the long, dry spell to cure them on the sunny terrace. (Click here to read more about growing and harvesting onions, and find my favorite French Onion Soup recipe in a post from last year)  Cippolini, Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig —sweet members of the Allium cepa species— are my favorite garden onions. Because these mild onions are poor candidates for long-term, winter storage, I braid them and hang them in my kitchen and basement for immediate and continued use throughout late summer and fall (pungent, globe-type onions in red, white and yellow are the best long-term, winter-keepers in my root cellar). Shallots, garlic and onions are all easy to braid, and I find this short-term method of storage to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing in my kitchen…

Sweet Onion Style…

Many readers of this blog are long-time gardeners and cooks, with years of experience growing and storing produce. But for those of you who are new to putting food by —or with curious, young gardeners-in-training— onion braids are a great, creative way to begin preparing a pantry of stored produce. I start the process by gently pulling onions from the garden during a clear-weather stretch (carefully loosening them from the soil by rocking the earth with a fork positioned at least 6-8″ from the bulbs), dry-curing them on my terrace (or, if rain is in the forecast, spread out on newspaper in a protected porch or shed) for a week. As the onions dry, I gently turn, brush and shake them to remove dirt (be careful not to bruise the tender flesh). While the tops of the onions are still green and pliant, I gather bunches in groups of 6-12 for braiding. The smaller onions (especially the coin-like Cippolini) look particularly attractive in long braids with 12 or more bulbs per chain. The larger onions —such as the Walla Walla— need a bit more room, so I braid these bulbs in groups of 6-8…

Start with three onions…

Are you familiar with the classic French braid? My hair is quite long, and I often wear it pulled back in this manner when I am working. Braiding onions is quite like French braiding hair. The chain starts out like a normal braid, (see photo above) with three onions layered one on top of the other. A slight tapered angle looks nice, varying the start lengths, but this is a subtle detail and it isn’t necessary for beginners. Begin by making one braid chain from the onion greens as you would with hair, yarn or rope. Simply pull greens from the outside edge, holding them at the center to make an ‘x’, alternating sides as you go. If your onions are very large, you may want to make two or three links before you begin to add more onions…

Add onions as you go – alternating sides, just as you would with a French braid…

Now here is where the process begins to resemble the French braids that girls use to tie back their hair. Do you remember how you pull sections of hair from alternate side of the head, adding them to the main braid as you go? The same method applies when you are braiding onions or any other bulb. When you bring the onion greens toward the center to make an ‘x’, add another onion (as shown in the photo below. Hold this in place with the fingers of one hand as you bring greens from the other side, making the usual cross at the center. Once you have one link (or more or larger onions), repeat the process on the other side. To make your braid attractive, keep your link pattern even as you go…

Spacing can be one onion per link, or skip a link or two if onions are very large…

You can make your onion braids as long as you want, that part is up to you. Once you have reached your desired length, it will be easier to tie the onions with twine if you make a few links with greens only and hold the end together tightly. Once you have the hang of it, you can simply tie the onions at the base if you like, without adding extra links. That is a creative decision. You can also make your braids from different varieties of onions, or add bits of dried herbs. It’s all up to you…

Stop the braid when you have reached the desired hanging length. I usually aim for 8-12 onions per braid, depending on variety and size…

I tie the ends of my braids with garden twine. You can also use recycled rubber bands…

Tie the end of the chain tightly with twine, ribbon, string or looped rubber bands. Hold the chain by the greens and give it a good shake to be sure it’s solid and to remove any loose dirt. Hang the onions in a dry, sunny spot for another week or so to continue curing. Then bring them indoors to store in your kitchen for immediate use, or in a cool, dry spot (floor joists in cellars work well). Onions can also be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in baskets or woven bins (for airflow) once they are dry cured and their greens are removed…

The Braided Onions – Tied and Ready for Storage…

Cippolini Onion Braid – This storage method works for all kinds of onions, and for garlic as well…

Cippolini Onion Harvest and Braiding…

I think braided onions, garlic and shallots look beautiful hanging from the beams in my timber-frame home. As the harvest season continues, herbs and dried flowers will join the onion braids hanging in my kitchen, bringing wonderful, warm and pungent smells, earthy colors and attractive textures to the room. Even if you don’t grow your own onions, you can make braids for your kitchen by asking a local farmer to sell you uncured bulbs with greens attached. And, some markets sell cured onions in braids or bunches at the early part of the season. Be aware that because kitchens tend to get hot and steamy, unless you plan to use your onions and garlic immediately —and regularly— it’s best to store them out of the kitchen, in a cool, dark place.

Cippolini Onions Hanging from a Beam in the Kitchen… Ready for Roasting!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Sweet Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil & Golden Peppers & Cultural Notes and Tips from the Kitchen Garden…

July 22nd, 2010 § 6

Summertime Risotto ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Endless summer. Between the deep green leaves in my kitchen garden, zucchini plants offer up their tender, young fruit and bell peppers glisten in the morning sun. Green and purple basil plants —pinched to form bushy mounds— brush my ankles, scenting the air as I walk along the pathways. Sungold tomatoes drip sweet from their vines and haricots verts fill my harvest baskets.

This certainly is the season of abundance, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is a simple summertime meal of risotto and garden-fresh vegetables. There are many, many wonderful possibilities when it comes to cooking risotto, and I like to use whatever is plentiful and freshest at any given moment. This week, another half dozen zucchini seem to present themselves every day, and the first ripe peppers have just begun to appear – what a delightful combination with a handful of basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan…

Summertime Risotto – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Summertime Risotto

Ingredients: serves 4 moderate dinner servings or 6-8 as a starter. Double recipe to increase portion size or quantity

2          Tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

3          Small zucchini, washed and  diced (4-5 inch freshly picked zucchini for best flavor)

1          Orange or yellow bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced

1          Clove fresh garlic, chopped fine

1          Small to medium sweet onion, chopped fine

1 3/4   Cup Arborio Rice

3          Tbs dry vermouth or dry white wine

3 1/2    Cups homemade or high quality vegetable broth, on simmer

1           Tbs unsalted butter

1/2       Cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

1/2       Cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into small bits. Plus a few whole basil tips for garnish

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on high heat. Add zucchini and orange pepper, quickly sautéing (about 2-3 minutes) until gold. Lower heat and stir in garlic. Cook for another half a minute or so, stirring constantly. Remove and set aside to a plate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil on medium. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Toss in the rice and cook another 2 minutes, coating the grains in oil. Add the vermouth while stirring. Immediately follow with a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is absorbed, add another ladle, stirring steadily. Continue to ladle in stock as the rice absorbs the fluid. After about 20 minutes, taste the risotto. It should have a very creamy, but firm to the bite, consistency. At this point, stir in the butter, reserved zucchini and peppers and their juice. Add the torn basil and grated parmesan and stir gently. Remove from heat. Drizzle with oil and serve hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and a garnish of fresh basil.

Summertime Risotto with Zucchini, Basil and Orange Bell Peppers – Photograph ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Cultural Notes and Tips for Growing Great Zucchini – From the Kitchen Garden

My vegetable garden is growing and producing well this year, but I still keep a watchful eye for signs of trouble. In high-summer, when the weather in New England tends to be quite humid, I apply a homemade, organic fungicide to prevent powdery mildew on cucurbits (this plant family includes zucchini and other squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more). This simple remedy (see recipe below) is mixed fresh in a pail and applied when the air is still, with a hand spray-bottle. Try to water the garden in the morning, focusing the shower at the root zone. I also patrol the garden for squash bugs (they attack all cucurbits, including cucumbers) removing them by hand when I spot them and applying insecticidal soap to plant leaves. Mint, oregano and nasturtiums are good companion plants for deterring squash bugs, though you may wish to contain aggressive mint —and rambunctious cousin oregano— in planters. Keep in mind that zucchini and other squash should be picked daily to promote fruiting and avoid the dread “door-stop zucchini”. Try to harvest small fruits (4-5 inch long zucchini have the best flavor and texture) in the morning.  Squash are heavy feeders, preferring compost-rich soil with a high nitrogen content. I plan ahead by amending the soil in next year’s squash bed (rotate to prevent disease) with ample compost and dried blood. If the soil in your garden needs work, then squash will benefit from supplemental feeding with fish emulsion during the growing season.

Homemade Anti-fungal Baking Soda Solution

3 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs vegetable oil

3 gallons (plus) warm water

In a medium sized kitchen bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water. Add the oil and whisk together. Pour the mixture into 3 gallons of warm water. Transfer to spray bottles and use immediately, spraying the undersides as well as the tops of leaves. If any is left over, store in the fridge and warm in sun before using.

Use on cucurbits during warm, humid spells and at first sign of powdery mildew. This remedy is also useful for black spot.

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Chinese Proverb: The Best Fertilizer is The Gardener’s Shadow…

July 18th, 2010 § 2

The Gardener and Her Shadow Delivering Fish Emulsion to Cippolini Onions… Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Morning Chores After the Rain Storm. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

High winds, driving rain, thunder and lighting; a violent band of storms shook me wide awake last night and when I heard hail on the tin roof, I immediately began fretting about the garden. Fortunately, when I headed to the potager this morning to inspect the damage, I discovered but a few minor knock-downs and some torn leaves on the summer squash. A wren house, no longer occupied, fell to the ground, and my weeding baskets were tossed about here and there. Lucky this time, even the morning glories seemed to smile at the new day…

Morning Glories in the Potager ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

We gardeners can not control the weather, but there are some other hazards we can at least try to prevent. Fungal infections, insect infestations, excess competition from weeds; these are a few of the expected garden threats which I can control. I tend my vegetable garden daily, and by doing so, I keep my work load light. If the weather is particularly dry, I may spend most of my time watering the root zone of thirsty plants and potted herbs. And if things are wet and humid, evening hours will be occupied by plucking slugs from my broccoli plants and alpine strawberries. There’s always something to do…

Serenade Garden Disease Control from Gardener’s Supply Company Online

Serenade and Bonide organic disease and insect control products are also available to order online at Amazon.com and in most garden supply stores

Last year, much of the United States was troubled by late blight, causing the loss of tomato and potato crops, particularly in the Northeast. I was fortunate, and the blight missed my garden last summer, but I didn’t want to take any chances this year. There is no cure for late blight, and once infected with the disease, tomato and potato plants are doomed and must be removed from the garden and burned. Prevention is the key, and although there are no guarantees, OMRI approved copper fungicide has proven somewhat successful in keeping late blight at bay. I regularly dust or spray my plants with Serenade or Bonide (copper fungicide) and keep my tomato and potato plants clear of weeds and debris. Burpee also sells organic insecticides and fungicides for online…

Burpee Organic Fungicide/Insecticide

In truth, diagnosing a problem can be difficult without seeing, and learning to identify diseases first hand. Such skill comes to all gardeners eventually, with time, experience and education. Vegetable MD Online, the diagnostics page from Cornell University’s horticulture department, is an excellent, free online resource for all gardeners. Good photography combined with a wealth of great, up-to-the-minute information on plant disease and control makes this site my top choice for diagnostics. If you want to be a successful organic gardener, then learning natural ways to maintain healthy plants is key. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, from Rodale, is my favorite resource for the latest information on disease and organic trouble shooting. Keep in mind that even organic solutions can be harmful to beneficial insects, such as honeybees, when applied to plants indiscriminately. Insecticidal soaps and oils should only be used on targeted problems as they appear.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control

Weeding, pinching and pruning, mulching, dusting, fertilizing and harvesting; yes, my garden is frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow. But unlike Peter Pan, I haven’t quite figured out how to separate from my silhouette. If I could, maybe it would be willing to do half of the work…

The Ever-Present, yet Elusive Shadow ⓒ TGE

Disney’s Peter Pan

Hello Shadow, Won’t You Come Help With the Watering, Weeding and Harvest?

See these gorgeous steel baskets and more wire caddies, plus metal flower buckets and other garden treasures I have found online in The Potting Shed.

Inspiration/Image: Walt Disney’s Peter Pan

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other images are copyright as noted or linked.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Some Like it Hot! Keep Things Cool & Enjoy Long, Slender Haricots Verts: Chilled Green Bean Salad with Feta…

July 16th, 2010 § 9

Chilled Salad of Haricots Verts with Feta – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina

The Long, Hot Summer. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Some Like It Hot. I don’t know about you but I just love a sultry summer, and we are sure getting one this year in the Northeast. Summertime humidity… It makes your hair curl and your skin glow, and dapples your water glass with beads of condensation. I think it’s kinda sexy. Of course, not everyone agrees with me, and plenty of my friends are getting fed up with the heat.

So what do you do when you’re feeling wilted by the mid-day sun, dabbing away at your dewy brow and glistening collar bones? Well lately, my answer is to get daily chores out of the way early and to avoid a hot kitchen like the plague. When I have a little extra time, I like to prepare cool salads and sun tea (lemon-mint is my favorite) in the morning, so that I can enjoy a languid lunch in the hammock or a slow dinner on the terrace later. Chilled summer salads are particularly wonderful when it gets this hot. Cucumber, tomato, arugula, pea and pasta; why the combinations are almost limitless in high summer. But at the moment, my favorite just happens to be a cool salad of haricots verts and feta…

Haricots Verts – French Style, Slender Green Beans- Photo ⓒ  2010 Michaela at TGE

Haricots verts —or French-style filet beans— are slender, beautifully green and very flavorful. All beans should be picked frequently in mid-summer —daily when hot— to insure a steady crop. Unpicked beans will stop producing if allowed to go to seed. When the mercury rises, I think it’s best to pick beans very early in the morning, to enjoy later in the day. Summer savory, which is believed to improve the growth of bush beans and deter beetles, is a fantastic companion plant for haricots verts. Soil enriched with well rotted compost and regular foliar feeding (applying liquid fertilizer to leaves in a spray or shower) with Neptune’s Harvest or fish emulsion will help to provide a beautiful, tasty crop. Always wash beans thoroughly when harvesting, especially after applying fish emulsion or any fertilizer. I like to freeze bags of haricots verts to enjoy in wintertime, but I also love them steamed, sauteed, served in soup —and of course— in chilled salads…

Freshly Harvested Basket of Haricots Verts in my Garden – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Chilled Salad of Haricots Verts with Feta – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Chilled Salad of Haricots Verts with Feta


Ingredients – Serves 6:

1           Pound of freshly haricots verts (filet beans) end stems trimmed

1           Large red onion chopped coarsely

1           Clove garlic minced

5           Tbs fresh chopped cilantro (more or less to taste)

2           Tsp fresh chopped oregano

4           Red or pink radishes sliced thin (other colors may be used, the red is a nice contrast)

1           Pint sungold or other cherry tomatoes cut into quarters or 2 heirloom yellow and/or red tomatoes cut into small wedges

6          Ounces freshly crumbled feta

4          Tbs fruity red wine vinegar or raspberry/red wine vinegar

6          Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Pour an inch or two of water into a pot with steamer. Bring the water to a boil. Place beans in a steamer (or colander) above the boiling water. Cover and steam for approximately 7 minutes. Check frequently and remove from the heat when just tender (the texture of fresh beans is ruined when overcooked). Rinse the beans in cool water and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar.

Transfer the beans into a large bowl.  Add the onion, garlic, cilantro, oregano, radishes and crumbled feta. Add in fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste.  Add the vinegar and oil and toss.  Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.

For a a pretty, colorful presentation, arrange the salad on a large platter and top with red and orange tomatoes and a bit of cilantro. You can also simply toss everything together and serve on individual plates or bowls.

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French-style filet beans, or haricots verts, as they are commonly known – Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Of course, when it comes to loving summer, a little, steamy, celluloid-inspiration can’t hurt…

The Long, Hot Summer

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Some Like It Hot

Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Leisurely, Alfresco Lunches & Summer Garden Inspiration: Italian Style…

July 12th, 2010 § 4

Dining Italian Style – Inspiration from Italian Country by Robert Fitzgerald

Food, wine and alfresco dining beneath the shade trees… I can’t stop thinking about Italy’s Amalfi Coast today, and I am going to go ahead and blame it all on my new Italian friend, Rosanna. I am working on an interesting, long-distance landscaping project with Rosanna; designing a garden for her home on Long Island, (I will share some of the details of this project later this week). Because she is in New York and I am in Vermont, Rosanna and I have been spending quite a bit of time on the phone these days as we work through project details. Over the weekend, our conversation slowly took a leisurely turn, meandering back to our international childhoods. Although our extended families come from different nations, we have discovered many things in common. Rosanna and I are both first generation, European-Americans (though for me, this is but one set of Alpine roots on my mother’s side) and we both maintain connections to our families and cultural histories abroad.

I love all of South Central Europe —homeland of my extended family—but like many romantics the world-over, I lost my heart somewhere on the Amalfi Coast long ago. Those effortlessly stylish Italians, is there anything they don’t do with perfect flair? From an intimate table beneath a wisteria-draped pergola or a secluded cafe setting inside a shady loggia, to a casually elegant stone terrace or grand plein air dining room bound by clipped hedges and formal topiary; when it comes to meals out of doors, Italians always get the garden setting right. Lucky Rosanna will be vacationing in Italy later this summer. I may be a little envious, but although a trip abroad is not in the cards for me this summer, (maybe fall?) I can still enjoy a bit of Southern European style in my garden here at home. Looking for some outdoor dining-room inspiration? Flipping through my dog-eared copies of Italian Country, Mediterranean GardensItalian Style and Tuscany Artists Gardens,with a glass of chianti in hand, I am reminded of why it is that I always fall for the Italians…

Understated Elegance on the Terrace  – Italian Country by Robert Fitzgerald

Refreshment – Italian Styleby Jane Gordon Clark with photography by Simon Upton

Wine and Bread, the Art of Living – Italian Styleby Jane Gordon Clark and Simon Upton

Italian Eye Candy – Tuscany Artists Gardens

Here at Ferncliff, I seem to be revealing my Southern European roots. Raised Goshen stone terrace and steps by Vermont artist Dan Snow

A rusting bench for sipping wine and a rustic clay pots for oregano at Ferncliff. The stone terrace is by artist Dan Snow.

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Some European-inspired outdoor dining and decorating pieces for the garden, found online at the always stylish
Terrain

Rustic, Beer-Garden-Style Table and Benches from Terrain

For Casual Elegance Beneath a Porch or Pergola – Terrain’s Scrolling Teak Chair and Graceful, Matching Settee

Terrain’s Miniature Garden Torches Light Up the Dining Area by Night

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Article and photographs of Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other photography is copyright as noted and linked below the images.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Shop at SpringHillNursery.com to save $25 on a $50 order!

Ruby-Red, Fragrant Fraises des Bois: Life’s Sweetest Little Luxuries…

July 2nd, 2010 § 5

Fraises des Bois, or alpine strawberries, offer a continuous supply of summertime fruit – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Oh the magic of Fraises des Bois! To me, they look as if they belong at the center of a tiny table in an enchanted forest; one set just for leprechauns, fairies, nymphs and elves. Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are fragrant, delicious and easy to grow. Sometimes called ‘the wood strawberry’, this rose-relative is a separate species from the common garden strawberry, (Fragaria x ananassa), and is native to North America, Europe, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. Unlike their runner-forming cousins, these lovely mounded plants produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring to fall. Many cultivars are available, including the delightful red ‘Alexandra’ and ‘Mignonette’, and for the more kaleidoscopic plate, there are even white and yellow alpine strawberries! Strawberries of all kinds are best planted out to the garden in early spring – but it is important to prepare the site well in advance (unless you are growing in containers). So if you would like to grow alpines in your potager next year – read on….

Alpine strawberries are herbaceous perennials (the foliage dies back in fall and then returns from hardy roots in spring). Many cultivars are very cold hardy (some to -30 degrees fahrenheit) and they can be grown directly in the garden, or in containers – especially strawberry planters – on decks, patios, steps and terraces (if grown in containers, the berry plants are best moved indoors for overwintering in cold climates). Alpine strawberries are easy-care perennials, and they are usually propagated from seed (collected or purchased),  or easier yet, by division of plants. All strawberries prefer slightly acidic (pH 6-6.5), hummus-rich, well-drained soil. Growing strawberries on a slight slope  –raised bed or in containers– helps to provide both drainage and air-circulation. When grown directly in the garden (as I grow mine), spacing plants at least 16″ apart will result in best fruit production. Mulch is important both to protect the shallow roots from dehydration and temperature fluctuations. In winter, I heap mounds of clean straw over alpine and common strawberry plants, and I try to protect them from late spring frosts with removable row covers (though as patches increase in size, this becomes much less feasible). Alpine strawberry plants can and should be divided every few years – in cold climates this is best done in early spring so that the root systems will have time to establish. Early fall division is also possible, though much riskier in zones north of USDA 6. When the task is undertaken early in the season, the easiest way to make more alpine strawberries is through division of the underground stolons (though collecting and drying seed for germinating indoors works too, if you are patient). I fertilize all strawberry plants with good compost, and I regularly test the soil in all of my garden beds to assure a proper balance of key nutrients (particularly phosphorus)…

The jewel-like color of the fruit, sensational fragrance and sweet flavor more than compensate for the tiny size of alpine strawberries. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Alpine strawberry blossoms ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Frais des Bois at harvest ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Competition for alpine strawberries comes in many forms; from weeds and insects to chipmunks, mice and birds. In my garden, the boisterous mocking bird clan living in the adjacent scrub seems particularly interested my strawberry crop this year. I do love their singing and bug catching, but I wish the mocking birds, robins and other winged-robbers would stay away from my strawberries! Now, don’t you feel too bad for my feathered friends – they have plenty of wild elderberries (Samubus canadensis), bramble berries and bugs to feast upon. If birds are snagging your berries, you can always cover them with safe Bird Netting, which allows air flow and pollinating bees to fly in and out. Alternately you could use insect pop-ups (such as those linked below) set in place when berries are close to harvest, and then removed at intervals for critical wind and bee pollination. Slugs can be a real problem during rainy periods (copper edged raised beds, beer traps and diatomaceous earth are some commonly used deterrents), and insects –particularly sap beetles, tarnished plant bugs and bud weevils — are always an issue with strawberries of all kinds. Never apply an insecticide, even an organic insecticide, during bloom periods, as you will kill beneficial insects (including our precious honeybees) along with the less desirable, ‘bad bugs’.  For backyard berry growers, I advise hand-picking insects and the limited use of row covers (see below) when berries are close to ripe.

For more on berry growing, check out my review of Barbara Bowlings excellent Berry Grower’s Companion (linked here) available through Barnes & Noble online. And say tuned… More berry growing tips will be coming soon!

Containers with pockets, like the one pictured from Amazon above, are a great way to grow alpine strawberries.

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Article and photographs, (excepting last four by affiliates), © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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US - MANTIS® ComposT-Twin -Free Activator - 2010

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