Showing posts with label Vegetables. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vegetables. Show all posts

May 9, 2017

It's Spring! Planting and Sowing, Planning and Growing

Sturdy Celtuce and beetroot seedlings ready for transplanting were started in the greenhouse and set into the cold frame for a couple of weeks to become strong enough to handle harsh spring winds, late snow and bright sunshine.

Given our all-over-the-place-weather (we're supposed to complain about the weather, right?), it seems that spring 2017 is arriving slow and low, and to be honest - I am totally fine with that. We seem to have escaped late frosts so far (although, the thermometer did dip down to near freezing last night!), all in all, it's a rather typical spring, one perfect for cool weather crops which is what I am going to focus on here. These rather normal or slightly cooler than normal temperatures in the North East mean that asparagus, potatoes, broad beans, sweet peas and lettuce are all enjoying a nice, slow start outdoors - what more can a vegetable grower ask for?

Lots and lots of pics about what I am sowing and growing in the veg garden this year.

April 4, 2017

How to Grow and Force Perfect Belgian Endive

Step-by-step guide on how-to raise and force your own Belgian Endive from seed in your home garden.

Since I have bit more time while being laid off for the summer and deciding what to do next with my life, I am beginning a series on raising garden plants from seed. For now, I will categorize these under "How to Grow...." although, these will be more like "How to Master" series. I hope that you will find these to be a little more useful than most posts that begin with "How to grow..."found elsewhere on the Internet not that there isn't an audience for "hacks" and "DIY" posts but most are over-simplified, and reduced down to "just sow the seeds!" - I want to offer posts that are a bit more useful than that.

Since I am a 'foodie' and not one to shy away for a challenge in the garden, I want to offer advice and guidelines on raising unusual vegetables (and flowers) - particularly ones which are either expensive in the market, or hard-to-find at nurseries and garden centers or even just crops which are often overlooked on other sites. This is how I came to growing Belgian Endive - I buy it often, as it is something I love to make winter salads with and cook with, braising it with bacon and chicken broth but more than anything else, at nearly $5.00 a pound, I know that it is expensive. 

A good sign that I probably write about raising Belgian Endive on this blog is that whenever I Google for HOW TO GROW BELGIAN ENDIVE, it's mostly my photos come up! - Sadly, often on other sites like this, or this site, or this one. They either get my photos from Flkr, or from an old eHow post I once did.  I am realizing that now that I have more time, I might as well begin posting more 'useful How To' posts as I can show both before and after shots, as well as actual "in the garden' images - something which is so  - well, it's what I do, right?

So why are more people not raising Belgian Endive? 
Well, OK, first, it's Belgian Endive, and even trying to get the cashier at the supermarket using the correct code can be a challenge, but if you are a foodie, you know why. Yet growing it oneself is a completely different matter.  The truth is, that to this day, I have met not a single person who has either raised their own Belgian Endive or forced it (aside from the great Roger Swain from the TV show 'The Victory Garden' who mentioned to me a couple of years ago that he wonders why folks are not raising their own old fashioned forcing vegetables, as well as admitting to me that he is an avid blog follower (nice, right?).

If you've never thought about raising Belgian endive, why not consider it this year? A few rows near the edge of the garden will require little care aside from digging up in the autumn to re-pot for forcing, and given that it is one of the costliest vegetables to buy, it's like growing a luxury item - and one which will be superior in quality to anything bought.

The answer may be a simple one - no one knows how.  Belgian Endive thus perfect for the first in this series, because more likely than not, you are not going to find chicons grown locally sold at your farmstand or  find local ones at your farmer market, and you definitely are not going to find seedlings at your local nursery (nor should you as it must be sown where it must grow). 

Belgian Endive may be expensive and its culture seems challenging, but I am going to show you how in many ways, it can be the easiest vegetable crop to grow. That's right, the easiest.

First, lets get the basics out of the way.

Seed - I used a name F1 hybrid called 'Totum' also available as organic seed, available from Johnny's Selected Seeds, as well as other sources. You can choose an un-named old variety too (usually its sold simply as Witloof Chocory).

Soil - Nothing fancy here, but if you research you may find some contradiction in on-line cultural advice in regards to soil. The goal here is to grow large thick roots (not branched ones or multiple root - you want to be able to harvest a carrot-shaped or parsnip shaped root), so rocks are to to avoided, as is a rich, nitrogen-rich soils or any fertilizer high in nitrogen. Commercial growers may add additional superphosphate, muriate of Potash and magnesium (as Epsom Salt) to avoid strong foliar growth) but I would suggest just sowing in place (remember, they are tap-rooted so no transplanting!).

Thin seedlings in-place  Thin your seedlings to 6 inches, do not transplant and you will need the roots to be straight. Aside from identifying what your seedlings look like, (hint - dandelions) let nature do the rest for the rest of the summer(Chicory is a common weed remember? You are not going to have a problem getting them to grow, I promise). 

On Forcing - In realize that the entire process here may seem complex (just think of it requiring 3 stages). Raising what will look like lettuce plants in the gardens, digging the roots in the autumn, and then forcing the roots indoors which just means bringing the potted roots into a warm, dark place.

With Belgian Endive, success is really all about how well one can raise thick roots. Poor soil, or soil which has low nitrogen or organic matter is helpful. A dry summer if often beneficial as well, to cause roots to drive deeper in search of water. Our soil is rich, but consistently moist which perhaps is ideal rather than dryness, then watering followed by drought again, with can cause splitting. Additional magnesium and low nitrogen was key here.

Materials - The most critical tool you will need is a good forcing container, and perhaps finding a dark space ( or blackout cloth). The best container will be smaller than you think, just wide enough to hold all the roots you are growing if tightly packed in.  Imagine taking a bag of carrots and setting them into a pot  - 5 lbs will fill something like a 10 inch clay pot. So no need for a big box or a large container. The bigger the container, the greater the risk of the roots decaying. Just a bit of soil surrounding the roots is all that is needed.

I use clay long toms for 3 or 4 8 foot rows will yield just enough roots to fill four 10 inch long toms. Your forcing container should be mostly roots set in shoulder to shoulder otherwise you risk decay if there needs to be too much growing medium.

Now, Relax - this is totally doable.  You can do it. Trust me. I grow and force Belgian Endive every year, and not only is is something most people can do, it is fun to watch them grow, and more fun to eat. They also happen to be beautiful when forced in pots, and nothing impresses guests more than a pot of forced endive in January - especially as a hostess gift!

Sow Belgian Endive seeds thinly, an inch or two apart in late spring to early summer in USDA Zone 5b.

1. Direct Sow Belgian Endive where they are to grow.  (and later than you might think).
 This was the first mistake I made - sowing Belgian Endive in the early spring, 'just as the soil can be worked' I was told. My crop grew fine, I should add, and by October a healthy crop of roots was harvested, but this year I am trying a crop from a later sowing, as it promises a better quality root.

Seed can be difficult to find, I grew Totum, an F1 hybrid available from Johnny's Selected Seed ad elsewhere, which is the premier selection at the moment. An older strain or selection which may be easier to source is 'Witloof di Bruxelles' 'Perlita'. Many seed catalogs simply market Belgian Endive under the name 'Witloof Chicory', ('Witloof' meaning 'White-leaf').

Avoid sowing seed too early, as in some areas, the roots can 'bolt' or go to seed if temperature and moisture shifts occur and tricks the plant (it's a biennial) into thinking that two growing seasons have passed). Commercial growers have the best success from crops sown in late June, although in New England, seed can be sown as early as late March if one is sure that cold weather won't return in May or June. Always a risk, but I personally prefer to take a chance on the longer growing season versus the risk of premature bolting. It's your choice.

Belgian Endive will grow all summer long, looking like their relative, the dandelion. Keep weeds clear and nitrogen levels low for the deepest and thickest roots.

2. Summer Care is easy. Remember, these are basically dandelions, so growth and vigor in any soil isn't usually a problem. Drought isn't necessarily a bad thing, as one wants long tap roots. If anything, rich soil can cause multiple and branched roots which is not idea. Throughout summer, keep weeded and perhaps mulched with straw or something porous, but I prefer open soil so that the plants can dry out between rain storms. Seedlings have been thinned to about 6 inches apart, but as you can see, a few other weeds and plants are closely planted. This didn't appear to affect my plant vigor, but I could have been more careful and prudent with my weeding to allow more sunshine to reach the plants. Ideally, the distance between rows should be 24 - 36 inches to allow massive foliar growth.

Belgian Endive roots, when properly grown are thick and solid not unlike carrots or parsnips. If some produce multiple roots, trim them down to a single, thick root. Discard those that have many small roots. One needs a thick crown (about an inch in diameter) to be able to produce nice chicons (sprouts). These were sown in mid April, but a later sowing is recommended for better root thickness, I will be sowing mine in June this year.

3. In late autumn carefully dig the roots

You may read on-line that Belgian Endive is grown hydroponically, but this is incorrect. Commercial growers field raise their stock, harvest the tap roots carefully (like carrots) and then ether store them dark and dry, or they set them into crates or special containers where they then are hydroponically forced.

At home, this is unnecessary. All one needs to do is to carefully dig roots just before a hard frost (around here, this is near Halloween but could be as late as mid November). Roots must be repotted unless one has a proper root cellar in which to store them until they are ready to force, but who has a root cellar? For the average home grower,  the roots only need a bit of pre-treatment to prepare them for forcing. The thin tips of the roots can be trimmed, but only to allow them to fit into the forcing container - one wants the tops to sit at the same height.
Well grow roots should be thick as small parsnips or bog carrots, with little to no branching.

The forcing container can be any deep container, a deep 5 gallon nursery pot, a bakery bucket, an orange Home Depot bucket, or a deep clay long-tom. If your roots are branched, trim them down to a single root (a double one is OK). Trim the foliage off of the top (a 'hair cut' to about an inch away from the crown), and then set the roots shoulder-to-shoulder tight together in your container. The medium can be sharp sand (something that drains well), vermiculite or potting soil - I use sterile Pro-Mix commercial potting soil.

The roots should extend about an inch above the surface, perhaps a bit more. Don't worry, they won't look very promising at this stage, but believe me, magic will happen soon. Water slightly, one only wants damp medium, as the roots won't require much water as you will need to keep them cold, and one will want to avoid decay.

Roots are trimmed a bit, and set side-by-side in a deep pot, and stored cold until ready to force.

4. Vernalize roots for one month in cold temps

I store my potted roots in the greenhouse under the bench where it is cold (near 45 degrees) but you may find that a cold, dark place in the garage or cellar will work better. If you cannot find a cold place, you should wash the roots off and keep them in the crisper drawer wrapped in newspaper until ready to force. A few weeks of cold will help vernalize them, which is necessary for proper chicon production. Chicons are what the French call the golden white buds we all know as Belgian Endive.

Some people store their unwashed roots in a cold shed or garage under burlap bags or in a wooden box with soil in it. Much like forcing Dutch bulbs, the roots need a bit of cold to believe that they have survived a winter and that it is time to grow again.

After two weeks in a warm, dark closet indoors, chicons one these Belgian Endive roots are ready to harvest. I cut them off carefully, and store them in the refrigerator (or use them in salads), and then force a second crop, again in complete darkness, which will produce a crop of looser leaves, but still useful in the kitchen.

5. Force potted roots in a warm, completely dark place.

After a month (or more) of cold exposure (just above freezing is ideal) the pots can be brought into the house to force - but here, it's easier than you might think. Unlike bulbs, Endive likes to be forced warm - but, in utter darkness, for even a crack pot light will make them turn green and bitter. It might be harder than you think to find a warm, dark place in your home. I struggled for a bit, but ended up finding that the upstairs cellarway was the warmest part, as in the winter, our cellar is still too cold. Other places that have worked are a closet, especially in an upstairs bedroom.

Darkness and warmth however an pose a problem - mold. I discovered this one year because I thought that a black plastic garbage bag might work perfectly, but even though it was held away from the sprouts with bamboo canes, I still had some mold. Mice to because a problem (yes, we have mice in the bedrooms - - 100 year old house, remember), but the cellar way for us, worked best.

Keep an eye out on the pots, as sprouts (Chicons) can emerge quickly, but here is the best part - the flavor and quality of home grown Belgian Endive made the little work involved so worth it. Imagine the crispiest iceberg lettuce you've ever had, with little fiber or bitterness. Sweet, crispy and really - so much fun to force that I will never be without 5 or 8 pots each winter.

A second crop will produce smaller leaves. but even the loose leaves of the third crop makes the entire process worth while. I can't over emphasize the quality and benefits here. Not the cost savings, although there is - (who worries about the cost of Belgian Endive!), this is all about the experience.

It's not too late to order seeds, or to plan where your might grow your crop. An edge of the garden is fine, as then plants literally require so little labor throughout the entire summer. Hoeing once or twice perhaps, and that's it. The only labor (again) is digging the roots and storing them - what's so hard about that?

September 13, 2014

Preserving Summer - Home Canning, Whole Tomatoes and Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes seem to know when they should ripen - and it's never at a convenient time. I've been traveling for the past three weeks ( a couple trips to both New Mexico and California for work and pleasure) but I've been home every weekend for a day or two to do laundry, re-pack and to 'put-up tomatoes, which this year, have decided to not only ripen when I am at my most busy, they have also decided to become a bit of a bumper crop (which I have no idea why, as we have had a very cold and wet summer). Really though, I am not complaining - as come this winter, we will have lots of heirloom tomatoes canned whole, crushed, sauce, salsa and stewed. Since again this weekend I am just catching up on posts, emails and yes…..tomato canning, here are some pictures from last weekend's bounty.
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June 12, 2013

How to grow the healthiest tomatoes

My tomato seedlings are strong and have good root growth, thanks to my new fertilizer which is lower in nitrogen, and rich with micro nutrients. The roots are at the perfect stage for planting out, just reaching the edge of the 5 inch pots, and the leaves are just reaching their second pair stage. No flowers,  and no hormones or growth regulators used, and in those found at most garden centers.  These will catch up with any tomato planted a month ago, and out perform.

It's scary to think about, but this is about the 48th year that I am planting tomatoes in my garden. I think I first planted tomatoes when I was about 5 years old, with my dad - following along side the wheelbarrow as he dug compost from the larger compost pile where we used to dump all of the garden clippings, raked leaves and old manure from the coops. In the 1960's, dad would do what many Americans did, create rings of paper or felt to keep cutworms off of the plants, and it was one of my first chores to tear pages from Life magazine ( and one year, a Playboy magazine which I was sworn to privacy about, but apparently he ran out of Life, and one could never destroy a National Geographic). It was my job to fold the pages into neat, tight bands, which would then slip over the weak seedlings that we started in the cold frames, and the he would apply the paperclip or masking tape, to hold the ring in place. I would then get to use the trowel to fill the ring with soil.

It all seemed so magical to me - scientific, really, since it involved a wagon with galvanized buckets of manure, fertilizer and limestone. Each element assembled in some sort of alchemy which I never understood, deep in a hole which would then have one of my mothers precious seedlings placed in it. I did understand that this was food for the baby tomatoes, never really appreciating how good a home grown tomato was, they were all I knew. I had little contextual reference at that time.  I think all I really associated with tomatoes was "what's all the bother? There was planting, which was fun, and eating our in the garden in the warm sunshine ( even better, along with a fresh cucumber or pepper and a salt shaker), but there was the weeding, and....the weeding. The staking followed, and eventually the harvest and the massive canning process out at the fireplace that stood near the woods ( the same one we use today when we slaughter the turkeys. 
Oh Mom, really? 801 quarts? Of course I was born 12 years later, but this gives you an idea of what I was born into - child labor - garden labor at an early age.

Today, Tomatoes are precious, so, I must be old. As no work seems hard, even though one may become sore after a day of digging simple holes. Back when I was a kid, dad would brag about how many plants he had planted, and my mother would type long lists of canned goods that demonstrated and documented their hard efforts ' 265 quarts of tomato sauce, 125 quarts of whole tomatoes, 183 pints of piccalilli. I'm lucky if I can 12 quarts every year. Sad, but true. Sorry mom.

But it is tomato planting season again, but on a much smaller scale. The greenhouse and tall trees now stand where the largest vegetable garden once stood, but even through I've reduced the gardening space to 8 raised beds, the soil is still deep and rich, a gift my family has been blessed with for over 100 years on this land. I try not to get too geeky about tomatoes, accepting a few years ago that what will happen, will happen - blight, late blight, Phytophora infestans, whatever, if it comes, it comes, and it will - eventually. All I can do is try to keep my plants as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Tomatoes are best planted in new locations each year, and this year, I am growing a few in some raised beds which I allowed to rest over the past two years ( I grew cut flower sweet peas in these last year). Turned over by hand with a pitch fork, the beds were covered with straw from the duck coops all winter, and ground limestone was added.
I don't know about you, but with all of the rain we've been getting here in New England, I'm a little late in planting my tomatoes, but, waiting until mid-June will have little effect upon my tomato harvest, for regardless of what the garden center sells us in April ( yes, I saw tomato plants being sold two months ago!), June is still be best time to plant warm-loving tomatoes into most gardens. 

My tomato plants are at the perfect size to transplant into the ground. Sown around mid to-late April in the greenhouse ( April 21st this year), the plants have been grown on in sterile soil (ProMixBX), in 5 inch pots, and hardened-off outdoors for ten days. They are now all ready for planting out into the raised beds and containers which I have prepared. 

Grounds horticultural limestone is added at a rate of 5 lbs per 8 x 10 foot bed makes my hands look like I am an Olympic gymnast. Oh, OK, I know my body looks like one too - shut up!, But that still doesn't make my tomatoes grow any better - with our acid soil, I need lime to neutralize the soil, which allows the plants to access more nutrients ( that's why you apply lime). The proper pH for tomatoes fits within 6.0 to 6.5. 
There are many things to consider with planting tomatoes as study after study has proven many many home remedies as false ( Epsom Salts, Aspirin, Molasses) for simple science is all you need to know about. Proper soil temperature ( 60º - 70º for optimum root growth), proper nutrition ( a granular well balanced fertilizer dug-in at planting, or a balanced organic applied 6 months earlier), a soil test and appropriate pH balance additives such as ground limestone, and not granular lawn lime in my case, and the best varieties you can find - I am planting a mixture of new hybrids as well as some interesting heirlooms.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, but like us, they should not eat junk food all the time. A fertilizer with the analysis of 10-10-10 might make a great kick-off meal, but a diet with this ratio provides far too much nitrogen, and you will have healthy looking plants, but they will have mostly leaves with few fruit. Look for a formula where the first number is the lowest.
Although a good balanced granular 10-10-10 fertilizer is dug into each hole at planting, along with a half bushel of compost and rotted manure, for the rest of the year, I use my special tomato liquid blend that I mix myself ( more on that later, and no....I never use manure tea or compost tea, another legend many we laugh about over beers when I get together with horticulture professors).

I grow most of my tomatoes in containers with fresh, sterile soil which I buy each year ( never, ever save it, for it carries disease and virus'). In the garden, most diseases begin in the soil, so good old black plastic landscape mulch works fine. Sure, there is little else one can do ( leading botanists have even proven that copper fungicide rarely works well), and most diseases arrive through the air, so eventually, every plant will succumb to something icky, but the goal is the discourage any breakout for as long as possible, and to pray for hot, sunny weather!

Check out my Marigolds...this year I was fed up with commercial nursery annuals, as they are all drenched in growth regulators ( just try to find a marigold in a 4 pack that is taller than 5 inches and that does not have a flower on it!). This variety, a tall growing classic Burpee yellow will reach 4 or 5 feet tall, and I am planting these along the back side of the tomato bed - no, not to discourage insects ( so funny, right:? But you'd be surprised at how many gardeners still believe in this legend), but I plant them because I love them.

Pole beans were planted today also, this time where I had tomatoes growing last year. With two days of warm rain coming, and warm soil, it was a rush to get many of these warm-weather loving plants sown including cucumbers, squash and sunflowers. Let the rains begin.

May 8, 2013

Planting Celery and Artichokes

Home grown celery that will be comparable to commercial farm-raised celery is not an easy task for anyone, but with some weekly care ( mostly fertilizer and water), healthy, yet thinner-than store bought, crispy flavor-intense celery can be had throughout a long growing season. Think of home grown celery more as an herb, a seasoning rather than something you would stuff with peanut butter. The greener it is, the more bitter it will be.

Celery and Artichokes are two crops often over-looked by home gardeners, and for a good reason, they are long-growing crops, not particularly easy, and they are not space savers ( although, as you can see in the photo above, I sneak in my celery seedlings into my onion bed!). Both Celery and Artichokes need deep, rich soil and lots of moisture, as commercialy, these are both cool-growing and irrigated crops. So plan on plenty of hose runs, and tri-weekly watering. Still, growing your own is better than supporting commercial growers who are doing God-knows-what to their crops, and then flying them to you. Growing these in your back yard makes far more sense, and, naturally, the results are healthier.

OK, I know - just mention celery to most home gardeners, and they respond "It's just something I don't grow since all I get is bitter, dark green leaves.". It's true that celery as a crop requires lots of fertilizer, rich soil and sunlight, and a copious ( i.e. crazy) amount of constant moisture, to even come near the thick, crispy stemmed type one finds at the market, but don't assume that you cannot grow it at home, it just takes a little planning, and care.
I grow celery because its one of the top 5 toxic vegetables ( commercially, it requires more chemicals than most any other vegetable) but at home, that is unnecessary, aside from a little liquid fertilizer ( or, a lot!), I feel that at least, my home grown celery offers a healthy alternative for a few months to the large, foreign-looking monsters one finds at the market. Here how I do it.

Celery seedlings are set out into the garden after growing from seed, these seedlings are 4 months old, started under lights in January, transplanted into individual pots in the greenhouse, and fertilized weekly to keep them strong. What makes these different than store-bought plants or store bought veggies? I use no growth retardants, no chemical insecticide, and I know exactly what fertilizer I am providing ( 15-16-17 with micro nutrients, and limestone).

Celery takes a long time to grow well, seed must be started early, generally in late January or early February indoors. carefully transplanted, the seedlings are grown on in individual pots ( I use 3 inch plastic pots that I wash out each year, but choose something where roots can spread out and grow while young, for celery has roots like trees, and one wants a good root spread at a young age to avoid tangles and unnecessary disturbance when planting out. I set plants out into the garden in mid-May, and provide them a drink of fertilizer rich in phosphorus and potassium.  Water-in well with a good drink of vitamins, and provide plenty of water every week, and before long, you too can be harvesting celery that actually has flavor. On that note, if you want to skip fertilizer all together, grow celery for the leaves alone, which are essential ingredients in home made stocks ( irreplaceable in chicken or vegetable stock) and a flavorful addition to tuna salad. One can pick leaves right through frost.

Fertilizer is essential when growing celery, as this is a crop that demand plenty of nutrition and constant moisture. Blanching is rarely needed with new varieties, but one can still place boards or even better, tar paper cones wrapped around the plant in late August if you want whiter stems (I like the stronger celery flavor, but after harvesting, I place plants in vases of cool water for a day which tempers the bitterness). Remember...bitter means healthy vitamin-rich antioxidants !


An update here on my artichoke project ( in case you are following along). Now planted out into the garden, my plants are positioned 2 feet apart ( a little close, but plant no closer - 36 inches is best). Like celery, artichokes need a consistent and adequate supply of both water and fertilizer. If you are stingy with either, then you just are not following good horticultural practice, and you will end up with few flowers, and small plants. I eat healthy, take vitamins, eat nutritionally-dense food, and, so do my plants. Just be sure to provide the "right" nutrients, and not unnecessary ones ( like crazy home-made Epsom-salt blends!).

It's might be helpful here to share how weather affects artichokes, for these are plants that prefer frequent fogs, cool temperatures and when combined with deep, rich soil and moisture, you will achieve the maximum yield. Be sure to plant enough plants ( I am only growing 6 due to room) but if I had the space, I would plant a long row with a couple of dozen plants 26 inches apart, for one wants a bowl full of artichokes to work with in the kitchen. Plan on flower buds being about a quarter of the size of the fancy California chokes, but they will have far more flavor and a remarkable texture.  Each plant will produce one to four primary stems with a large bud, and then each stem, after initial harvest, should produce side buds which will be smaller.

Artichoke seedlings require at least 10 days of cool temperatures outdoors ( under 50º)  if they are being grown to produce buds as an annual crop. Thankfully, my plants have been planted out for three weeks now, and each night temperatures have dropped well below 40º F. Called vernalization, this tricks the plant to believe that it lived through a winter, which will stimulate it to produce flower buds ( which, are artichokes!).

The artichoke seedlings, which have been growing on - first in the greenhouse, and then for the past few weeks,- have been set out into the garden where they have been recieving 3 weeks of temperatures below 40º which is needed for proper vernalization. These are being grown as annual plants, as artichokes are not hardy here in New England. Even though I know that these will provide smaller buds than the giants grown on the coastal plains of northern California, they will be fresh and crispy, and - home grown, and nothing beats that. Plus, I can enjoy fresh artichokes in mid to late summer, when they are out-of-season in California.

Another heavy feeder, artichoke seedlings are fed weekly with a balanced liquid feed  and they are planted in a rich, compost created with our own duck manure. The leaves are really huge!

I will share images throughout the season, and then recap the entire process filing it under VEGETABLES and STEP-BY-STEP for you all to follow next year! If you have any questions on other step-by-step projects, just send me a note or ask me on my Facebook page, and I will be happy to either answer it, or grow the crop to perfection and document it! Now....get out into the garden!

February 16, 2013


I found cardoons at my local market - a relative of the Artichoke, the stems are cooked and eaten and they have
the same flavor as artichoke hearts. After trimming off the fuzz and thorns, the stems are cooked and then added to any number of traditional winter dishes.

I came across some Cardoons for sale at our local market Wegmans last week, and it reminded me about a post which I never wrote last year. Cardoons are are a vegetable which more likely is grown by some of you as an ornamental plant - a striking thistle-like vase shaped plant with grayish prickly leaves, a magnificent vase shape and by late summer, a huge, architectural statement plant for large gardens. But this relative of the Artichoke ( Cynara cardunculus) occasionally shows up at the market at a winter vegetable, and one, which I feel deserves more attention. I thought that I might share both how I grow it, and how one can cook it.

My own cardoon stems from last October as I harvested them. The leaf stalks and the midribs have a flavor similar to artichokes, and the best part? With cardoons, you get your moneys worth, as anyone who has eaten a globe artichoke knows, there is far more waste than edible parts.
 The Cardoon has a long history in American horticulture, as it was  common colonial vegetable and one grown at Monticello in long rows. Today, few bother to grow the plant for food, opting for imported artichokes or those flown in from California, but the cardoon offers a more sustainable option to air-shipped artichokes, especially for those who garden in the north, and as an ornamental and a vegetable, it can be planted in the border rather than the vegetable garden.

Young cardoon transplants ready for setting out into the garden in late April. The variety I chose last year was 'Porto Spineless' from Johnnys Selected Seeds, but be warned, it still will have some thistle-like spines along the edges of
each stalk and leaf.
 Cardoon seeds must be sown early, in late January or early February, much like artichokes. Seedlings will not need to be vernalized, or chilled for two or three weeks as artichoke seedlings require, they can simply be set out into the garden and allowed to grow all summer long. They cab behave like biennials in some climates ( I had a couple survive for two years in the garden) but generally, it is grown as an annual, with harvest planned for late October when one cuts the entire plant at soil level.

A crop of cardoon requires space, as they are really large thistle plants, but even if you don't want large, perfect specimen plants, they can be added to the perennial border as ornamental plants, just don't crowd them too much, if you want stems large enough to eat.

Provide lots of space, for a well grown cardoon can reach 5 feet tall, and nearly as wide. I included mine in a perennial bed and then planted some in a small raised bed, so they did not grow as large as they could have, but I was still able to harvest a decent amount of cardoon stalks for Christmas Eve dinner ( it's a traditional Italian dish at the Holiday's) and stored some in the root cellar for later in the winter, when I use it in traditional French gratineés. Peeled, poached and sliced, the tender stems are best in light gratin dishes with béchamel with a bit of nutmeg and alpine cheese, or served with buttered pasta. And what could ever be wrong with that!

By late October, Cardoon plants can reach nearly 4 or 5 feet tall, and able to handle light frosts. Traditionally, in Italy, it is a winter vegetable, often served at Christmas.

One must harvest the entire Cardoon plant before hard frost

Cardoons are easy, and even thought I did not fuss over mine, they still produced plants large enough for a
harvest that has lasted 5 winter months.

Peeled and cleaned cardoon stems must be cooked in acidulated water (lemon juice) until tender, about 30 minutes, not unlike artichokes.

After boiling cardoon stalks, they are cut into small slices, and then they can be prepared in any number of ways, but almost always ( and traditionally) prepared as a gratin, layered with Gruyere cheese, light cream and Parmesan.

As with artichokes, there is still a lot of waste. Nothing that the chickens and turkeys won't eat.

If you are lucky, cardoons will over winter and then bloom with blossoms worthy of cutting.

January 20, 2013


Artichoke seed must be sown early, and mid to late January sowings result in plants large enough to
endure the neccessary cold 'vernalization' temperatures required for 2 weeks in April, which is a trick that
 ensures a good crop in the home garden.

Raising Artichokes from Seed

The lure of home grown artichokes drives many to try growing their own. The truth is, artichokes are not an easy crop,  they take up alot of room and the results are usually poor in most parts of the world. Those large, commercially grown green globe artichokes that many of us are familar are primarily grown in a coastal microclimate, the cool, Monterey coast of California for instance, just south of San Francisco, where most of our commercial artichokes come from.

You've undoubtedly seen artichoke seed for sale in seed catalogs, and I think many are curious about possibly growing a few, especially since they start with the letter 'A', I think I get more mail about How To Grow Artichokes than any other vegetable. Home grown plants can be rewarding, but one must follow directions strictly, as temperature is key throughout their life. There are times when artichokes want to be warm, and there are times when they want to be cold, and if you mess those periods up, you will just end up with nice, prickly thistle plants and never see a flower bud. Using some of the newer seed-raised varieties that have come into the market in the past decade or two. Don't be discouraged, you can grow them -just follow these directions precisely, and as late January and early February (right now - go order them!) is the time to start, here I share how I grow mine.

December 2, 2012

The Winter Harvest Garden


Even without a hoophouse, we are able to harvest fresh vegetables through most of December directly from our raised beds. Napa Cabbage, lettuce and other greens such as arugula and Swiss Chard are still being harvested with plenty left. This surprises visitor since we have had a couple of weeks of very cold weather, where temperatures reached far below 32º F, and as low as 22º F on Friday night. With little protection, these late crops show no damage, aside from some squirrel damage, since now the critters have discovered how crispy and sweet this Napa Cabbage is. Sown in late August, the plants grew quickly into small heads of crispy Chinese Cabbage which we have been using in Chinese Winter Sesame salad ( with a dressing made with mayonnaise, toasted sesame seed oil, rice wine vinegar, siracha tossed and then served with cilantro, cucumber, lime and a sprinkle of brilliantly red pomegranate seeds.).

 Fancy French lettuce varieties are so crispy and freeze resistant when grown outdoors, that I am amazed at how low they can go, where if grown in the spring or summer, they would die if exposed to freezing temperatures. These Lollo forms are choice in fancy markets, and hard to find around here since the closest Whole Foods is an hour away. They are so curly that they look like curly parsley which is why they are popular in European markets and garden centers. This varieties make perfectly perfect salads especially when paired with our homemade dressing which is made with garden fresh heirloom Russian violet garlic, home made cider vinegar and our own honey.

October 29, 2012

Late Autumn Vegetable Harvest

Organic Chinese Cabbage 'Minuet' (F1) is a fast growing mini variety which is best grown as a fall crop in the north. 

As the storm rages outside, I thought that I might share some of the late crops which we are harvesting before the storm today. The garden can provide some excellent food crops for home gardeners in the fall. Everyone things about planting seeds in the spring, but more often than not, cool-growing crops grow better in the autumn, since the shortening days and colder weather keeps insects at bay, and reduces the likelyhood of some varieties 'bolting' - going to seed before they are mature due to hot weather. In fact, Chinese Cabbage and rutabaga are often only grown in the fall.

 Many gardeners call it a day once the tomatoes freeze, but we replant fall crops in our raised beds  each August, often while tomatoes are still being picked. Seeds of lettuce, turnips, Chinese or Napa cabbage, spinach, Swiss chard and radishes are sown as soon as soil is made available. These crops can all handle light to heavy frosts, and they mature in less than 50 days, so they are perfect for quick-crops in the fall as the weather begins to cool. Best of all, many veggies grow best when planted in late summer for fall harvest - take the Chinese Cabbage for example. A spring sowing will often bolt to flower as soon as the weather becomes warm, but when sown in late August, the plants form heads easily in the cool weather. Also, insect damage is less likely to occur, especially when crops are covered with fiber coverings, as I did this year. 

Grown under Remay fabric to discourage pests, the only pest left to bother the Chinese cabbage this year, was slugs. With the outer leaves removed, the inner core shows no damage at all. We soak the heads in salted water for an hour to kill any hidden slugs in the outer leaves.
Napa Cabbage, or Chinese Cabbage is a fast crop. 'Minuet' (F1) is a smaller growing variety which matures in only 48 days when sown in late August.  These heads will make many sweet, crispy salads.

'Livigna', a green Lolo Lettuce is often pricey in high-end markets. Known as a European mini head or a garnish lettuce, many prefer it's crispy, green curled leaves better than any other lettuce variety. Pansy seedlings can be seen on the left.

 Lettuce is another plant that often grows better in the autumn. I like the fancier European mini heads of lettuce such as the Lolla series. We can often harvest lettuce right up to Christmas, especially if we cover it with remay fabric. The longer nights and cold weather makes the lettuce grow denser, less lush yet more in-character to well-grown fancy lettuce found in gourmet markets and restaurants. Sometimes seed can be costly for these fancy varieties ( $8 per packet) but when a head costs $6.00 at Whole Foods, one doesn't seem to mind so much!

'Red Cash' is a new variety of Red Romaine bred for the commercial restaurant trade. This organic seed-raised variety forms beautifully dense, tiny heads for the specialty market, or, for ones home kitchen.

Hurricane Sandy is blasting at the coast here in Massachusetts, but so far, we are only getting wind gusts to 65 MPH. We still have electricity, but I am not confident that we will have it for long.

I'll probably think otherwise once our power goes out, but so far, Hurricane Sandy isn't living up to the hype. Sure, like most people in the eastern part of the US today, we are hunkered down, watching the weather channel, and trying to get some remote work done on the computer before we lose power, but as far a storms go, this might as well be a mid-winter nor-easter. Which reminds me - have you heard that this year the winter storms are going to be named? 

Autumn in the greenhouse -  as the hurricane roars outside the glass, the Nerine sarniensis bloom feeling rather safe, even though a tree could fall on the greenhouse with the strong winds coming from the east. I feel that the storm is about a strong as a typical nor-easter in the winter, but seeing that we have few leaves left on the trees, we might be OK.

Green Chrysanthemums (Kermit) and some Japanese mini bonsai-style mums bloom along with the Nerine bulbs as the hurricane blows outside. Maybe we are getting used to these late October fierce storms, as we seem to have taken fewer precautions with this one. At least it isn't snow. Still, with a glass greenhouse which sits next to tall spruce trees, it's a little disconcerting.

 Lydia Puppy Update.

Sad news - we lost the two small males last night, but clearly they had problems anyway. We felt now that we did all that we could. The one small female is finally feeding by herself, which means not only is she getting the nutrition that she needs, it also means that we now can get some sleep!