Sunday, January 23, 2011

Garden Resolutions for 2011

I started planning for the 2011 vegetable gardening season by looking back at 2010. This practice is entirely akin to New Year's Resolutions, although I am very hopeful that I will be more successful with keeping this plans than with any New Year's resolution.

The first step is to contemplate last year's garden - and what I'd do differently...
1) Plant fewer tomatoes
2) Give up on zucchini and summer squash and buy it at the local farm
3) Succession-plant lettuce from spring through fall and pay close attention to its growth (don't let it fry in the July sun alone!)
4) Figure out a way to get pole beans to grow; plant a few bush beans just in case I'm not successful again
5) Plant all squash on the leachfield side of the garden, so that the runners can grow on top of the leach field.
6) Work on growing cilantro better; succession-plant like crazy
7) Lighten the soil for carrots, so that they are not all 1-inch long!
8) Build sufficient trellises for vining crops

The second step is to think about what new things I'd like to try this year...
1) Try new types of cold-hardy greens- beet greens, mache, sylvetta arugula
2) Try growing vegetables that I really like that are hard to find at local farms - celery, cauliflower, parsnips, brussels sprouts
3) Try to start herbs from seed - rosemary and basil (I've planted basil seeds before and they have had spotty success)
4) Get Adam to build the cold frame for one of the garden beds
5) Plant more flowers so that the garden is beautiful, productive and attractive to pollinators

The third step is to draw out how I can accommodate the ideas generated from steps one and two. I haven't quite made it to step three yet - it's going to take some work to figure out how many seedlings I need to plant and where they are can fit in my four vegetable garden beds. I estimate that right now, I've got just over 100 square feet of open garden bed to work with. Even in that small space, the possibilities are nearly endless.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Plans for the Porch Garden

I dropped off my seed order at the Lebanon Coop on Thursday, all in a rush to get to a meeting. I ended up being 20 minutes late to the meeting, so I suppose that there was really no point in rushing. So, I didn't really think too much about my seed order at that time or since then.

But then we had friends up this weekend and started talking about food and gardening and turning the houses we've bought into our homes... and I started thinking about the new crops and flowers that I am going to plant in a few short weeks or months.

I'd like to share some of my ideas and enthusiasm for the upcoming growing season now, because I have the time and the two feet of snow we received this week has made my garden seem like a blank slate. Really, the possibilities are endless, and I'm newly inspired from reading Frances Mayes' memoir "Under the Tuscan Sun" and her experiences cultivating their farm and shopping at the markets in the town. (A side note - the book is nothing like the movie of the same name, although both are worth experiencing.) Wow, what could be better than having an ancient farm with olives, grapes, fruit trees, herbs and a patio with an amazing view to the valleys below?!

While not so spectacular as having fresh figs from your own tree, I'm really excited about trellising vines on the front of the house. now named the Porch Garden. When we were looking to buy our house, the 4-season porch on the front of the house was completely obscured by awful, overgrown arbor vitae. Fortunately, those trees had to be torn out before we moved in, as the septic system needed to be replaced and the arbor vitae roots were in the way of the new leach field. Since then, we have tried something new every year for the front of the house - we planted spiraea and potentilla/cinquefoil, then peas and alpine strawberries between the shrubs, then moved the shrubs and planted tomatoes, asparagus and basil. I still haven't got it quite right... but this is what I'd like to try this year -

Kentucky Wonder pole beans (white flowers), scarlet runner beans (red flowers) and canary creeper (yellow flowers) growing their way up trellises attached to the front of the house. The scarlet flowers of the runner beans are supposed to attract hummingbirds, which would be great... and the vines should help to absorb some of the heat load that overwhelms our front porch. Last fall, we planted two grape vines on either side of the porch steps on the side of the house, for the same solar-heat-gain-reducing purpose. The grape vines will get their own free-standing trellis and will hopefully shade our house and give us some tasty Concord grapes in a few years.

I cannot confess to having come up with this idea all by myself - the grape vine trick we learned from our neighbors Iain and Christine across the park who wanted the grapevines to give them a little privacy from the street. I'm very encouraged by the vigor of their grape vines, which grow profusely each summer. The privacy screening does work quite well, but their beautiful gardens do make me peer more often into their yard. The scarlet runner beans and canary creeper suggestion comes straight from the Fedco magazine. While vibrant green leaves are beautiful, it would be nice to have some primary-color contrast (and more hummingbirds!)

Stay tuned for more plans for the 2011 garden...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Clark's Memorial Salad

Wintertime is a bit slow for gardening, a bit short on daylight and a bit long on cold windy nights that are uninspiring for evening walks. But inspiration never rests! In the winter, I find that inspiration follows us indoors, particularly into our kitchen, transforming our everyday meals into something a little special and our special occasion meals into an adventure.

And by adventure, I do mean the kind of meal where you try something you've really never ever tried before that has the potential to cause bodily harm. Like smoking sweet potato/white potato mash in an applesauce (chinois) sieve and a canning kettle. Unfortunately, I do not have photos from this because I was too busy trying to escape the smoke that completely filled the kitchen. The smoke eventually emptied the room after opening all windows and the exterior door, but it remained infused into the root vegetables and tasted amazing! I must thank Kelley Flynn, chef at the Palette restaurant, for explaining how one might go about infusing smoke into a vegetable. He prepares an delectable smoked parsnip and potato mash at his restaurant. I wish we had learned that trick last year, when we were inundated with root vegetables from our winter CSA.

It is important to recall the dark days of winter and any inspirational recipes when planning for next year's garden. We were fortunate to have sweet potatoes and white potatoes available from local farms, but parsnips are significantly more difficult to find. Thus, parsnips are on my list of things to grow next year! I've been re-reading Eliot Coleman's book "Four-Season Harvest" and I'm newly inspired to try cold-hardy greens and to have Adam build me some cold frames. We love salads year-round and it would be a real treat to pick our own salad greens this time of year. Other gardening inspiration comes from having to buy shallots in the grocery store because my shallots didn't produce much at all this year - and oh! the grocery store shallots are enormous!

Tonight's inspiration came in the form of pickled eggs, much more mundane but still a little adventurous. I use a recipe adapted from the University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation - try the Dilled Eggs recipe.

I first became acquainted with the pickled egg at Clark's Ale House in Syracuse, New York. There was an excellent selection of beers but only two items on the menu at Clark's - pickled eggs and roast beef sandwiches with horseradish. I say "was" because Clark's Ale House closed its doors on September 25th, 2010 - we were very sad to hear of its closing.

So, in memory of our favorite drinking establishment in Adam's hometown, we put together the following recipe, the Clark's Ale House Memorial Salad:

Mixed salad greens, with sliced pickled eggs, grated horseradish cheddar cheese, shredded roast beef, finely sliced red onion and croutons tossed with a honey mustard dressing.

To make the honey mustard dressing -
3 parts Honeycup honey mustard dressing to 1 part olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar to 1 part water - blend together and toss with the salad.

If you can get it, enjoy your salad with any Middle Ages Brewing Company beer, which was always on tap at Clark's and brewed just on the far side of downtown Syracuse.