This month may not be quite typical, if La Nina continues to play fickle games with our weather. However, we can be thankful that we aren’t having the record breaking tornadoes being experienced in the Midwest. The end result, for us, may be that our tomatoes won’t ripen up as fast as usual; but if that’s the case, we can keep our eyes peeled for green tomato recipes!
Last Chance for Summer Starts:
Better hurry, if you haven’t got your summer garden in. While it is too late for seeds of many summer favorites, you can still tuck in plants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash and melons. Pumpkins and winter squash can be planted from starts or even seeds if you do it this week. The longer you wait to get your starts in, the larger the plants you ought to seek out. This week, any healthy well established plants ought to work out fine. By the middle of the month or later, look for plants in four inch pots. A little extra TLC may be called for, unless you have been working on your soil. Dig in some compost or water with the dilute organic fertilizer of your choice. Keep your plants well mulched and a careful eye on soil moisture, until they get established. These dreary sometimes drizzly days can be deceiving. There is a lot less moisture in the soil than you might think. However, you don’t want to over-water, especially while it is cool and cloudy. That can encourage root rot and blight. Check the soil for moisture and water accordingly, and you will be sure to pick the best tasting produce you can imagine, should the sun take pity on us and burn off these clouds.
Seeds to plant this month:
While it is too late to plant many summer veggies from seed, bush bean seeds can go in right now. There are varieties that make tender snap and string beans, while others are most commonly grown for dry beans. When shopping your favorite seed rack or catalog, be sure to check out all the marvelous colors for snap, string, and shell beans. What we once called “green beans” can be grown in every shade of yellow, purple, and, of course, green. Shell beans are even more varied-- black turtle beans, red Cherokee wax, yellow Indian Woman, and the variegated Jacobs Cattle and Anasazi--among a host of choices. If you aren’t happy with the local choices or those in your favorite catalog, you can shop for bush beans on-line see: www.seedsofchange.com & www.bountifulgardens.org.
Don’t Forget to Pick Your Produce!
Early spring planted greens, peas, and roots are in their prime right now. Take a basket out in the garden and pick yourself the fixings for a nice green salad or a simple stir fry. Radishes should be picked soon after they plump up, when they are tender, sweet, and crisp. If they are left in the ground too long, they may get hot and woody. If you have a radish bumper crop, besides salads, they can be added to soups and stir fries; cooking mellows their flavors. Radish greens, if they are not too prickly, also make good eating. The young tender leaves can be added to salad. The more mature, but not yet tough leaves, can be added to soups and my favorite – an old fashioned mess of greens.
Pick peas frequently to ensure the plants keep producing. Shell peas should be picked as soon as the pods are plump. Sugar peas are best picked just as soon as the peas barely start to develop; snap peas are best a little in between. Once any of your peas produce mature seed, it will quit making pods, having accomplished its life mission. However, if you plants are happy and kept picked, they will continue producing until the weather finally decides to warm.
If you are growing lettuce, be aware that it tends to bet bitter when it starts to bolt. When you notice your plants getting taller instead of fuller, it is time to cut it back near the ground, and remove the leaves; unless you want to experiment with saving seed. If the leaves taste a bit on the bitter side, here is an easy fix. Put them in a large bowl, and slowly fill with cold water. Place the bowl in the fridge and let sit for a few hours. You may need to pour out the water and replace it a few times before your lettuce loses its bitterness. But this really works, so give it a try.
Fresh Produce in the Kitchen
Fresh barely braised vegetables make a tasty side dish. Start by collecting a basket of veggies from your garden. Here are some suggestions of things you could include, but your recipe will be based on what you have available. Try to choose veggies in a variety of colors, especially if you are cooking for guests. Check for roots to pull--carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, or rutebegas, for instance. Next check your peas and fava beans. Whole young pods or green shelled peas or favas work equally well. Next, if you have any early peppers or squash, grab a couple. (I have just started picking squash, but my peppers are a long way off.) Or perhaps you have broccoli or cauliflower ready to eat. Last but not least, pick some greens, if you have them. Beet tops or tender radish leaves will work great, and leaves from cabbage or broccoli are tasty too.
Carefully wash your leaves, pods, broccoli, or cauliflower, and scrub up your roots. While warming a bit of olive oil on medium, begin slicing your veggies into bite sized pieces. Keep the pieces a little on the large size, for the most visual pizzaz. Keep an eye on your olive oil, and as soon as it is warm, gently add the veggies, a few at a time. Your roots may take the longest to cook, so start with them, then the pods, peas, or favas. Next add the broccoli and cauliflower, followed by peppers and squash, and last add the chopped greens. Allow each addition a minute or two of cooking time, before adding the next ingredient. Stir between each addition, and after you add the greens, add ½ cup of water or broth and turn heat to low. Your veggies will only need another five minutes, max. You can stir them every minute or so, to check for wilting and tenderness. As soon as the greens are wilted, it’s ready to serve.
To make this simple dish a full meal, you can add tofu, boneless chicken, or savory sausage and cook thoroughly, before you start adding your veggies. Serve with pasta, rice, or a whole grain pilaf, a bit of bread or salad, and garden fresh strawberries for desert. Yumm!
Small Buildings, Small Gardens - Creating Gardens around Structures:
If you are thinking of updating or expanding your landscaping, do yourself a favor and check out this book. I learned more about landscape philosophy and design from Small Buildings, Small Gardens than I did from college horticulture classes and the UC Davis Master Gardener’s Program. The ideas presented here are easy to understand, make sense, and are applicable to all we do in our yards and gardens, whether or not we have small buildings. If you are thinking of adding any small buildings, arbors, trellises, or other garden structures--you will find tons of tips on placement and design. These tips could make the difference between ho-hum and spectacular. Author, Gordon Hayward, trains your eye--through easy to understand text and the inclusion of pictures that are worth a thousand words. The very best designs are not the result of spending more money; but rather the result of developing a careful level of observation. Small Buildings, Small Gardens - Creating Gardens around Structures, by Gordon Hayward, published by Gibbs Smith, 2007, ISBN 978-1-58685-705-9