Salsify!

I grew up eating salsify (always pronounced SAL-sif-eye at home, but recently I watched a video where it was pronounced sal-sih-FEE!) and assumed that everyone else ate it also, but seemingly that is not the case. We commonly ate it in soup, which was called simply “oyster soup” and it wasn’t until I moved to the East coast that I realized there was another dish with the same name that was quite different. The “common” or folk name for salsify is “vegetable oyster” because it does have a mild oyster-like flavor. Mother also smashed the cooked salsify, mixed it with egg and bread crumbs, formed it into patties and fried them in butter, and sometimes it was mixed with corn and “scalloped.” In all its forms, I found it delicious and it is certainly an inexpensive meal.

Salsify (Tragopogon Porrifolius) is a root vegetable that takes a long growing season. The variety most commonly found is “Mammoth Sandwich Island,” an heirloom that takes 120 days. I usually give it longer in order to get larger roots. The crop shown in the photo was direct seeded on May 31st, after a crop of spinach came out and harvested in mid-December. Like other root crops, to get a good quality, straight root it needs light soil with good drainage, adequate water and sufficient nutrients. I would describe it as very similar in growth and appearance to carrots or parsnips or parsley root in terms of growing it, and in its root shape. However, the above-ground growth resembles none of those at all, but rather like a stiff, tough grass growing in clumps. It grows best in terms of root formation, in cooler temperatures (below 85 degrees F) so I like for it to mature in the fall rather than planting it in early spring and trying to mature in the heat of summer. The photo above is after several hard frosts and the tops are beginning to droop. That’s when it’s a good time to dig, at least here (Zone 5b) where we get long, cold winters and the ground freezes deeply. In milder climates, it can be left in the ground and harvested as needed. Salsify is actually a biennial, so if you do choose to leave it in the ground harvest it in early spring, before it begins to form its seed stalk for best texture and flavor. Or, you may choose to leave a few plants to produce it’s purple daisy-like flower (I think it resembles a thistle bloom) which is quite pretty and collect the seeds after they have matured.

The newly dug roots

Salsify roots are generally long and narrow, and usually have lots of small hairy roots all along their surface. If you have a root cellar or other good storage place at this point you can cut the tops off, leaving an inch or so or green, and layer them in tubs of sand for the winter. Option two is to cut off the tops again leaving an inch, and give them a quick rinse under the outdoor faucet, place them in plastic bags and store them in an unheated garage. With this second method the roots won’t last as long, but at least you’ll have them to use for several weeks. My choice was to bring them into the kitchen for a good scrub and “process” them.

Scrubbed clean and ready to peel.

Peeling is easy with a good potato peeler, or the roots can be scraped with a sharp knife. I was taught to do this under water, because as soon as it is exposed to air, the flesh of the salsify turns an unappetizing brown. Once peeled, each root is popped into a tub of salted water to keep the surface white. Then, as quickly as I can, the roots are sliced into “pennies” and put back into the salted water. Or, the roots can be cut into long, thin slices, dipped in egg and then flour and fried, but we usually cut them into rounds. Once all the roots are cut, the “old, discolored” water is drained and replaced with fresh salted water, put the kettle on the stove on high heat, covered, brought to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until just tender. At this point I do one of two things: allow to cool and spoon into cartons for the freezer (covering with the liquid.) When needed, allow the salsify to defrost completely if making patties or scallop and drain most of the liquid. Or, secondly, continue to cook until fully tender and use immediately.

A steaming, warming hearty bowl of vegetable oyster soup.

To make the soup simply add a generous amount of butter, a bit of cream, some milk, salt and pepper and it’s finished! Normally, there would be more milk/cream than shown here, but I wanted you to be able to see the salsify itself, not just a bowl of liquid with a few floating on top. Serve with crackers or good bread! If making the soup with frozen salsify, allow to defrost and bring salsify and its liquid to a simmer before adding the milk and cream. And, if not all the soup is eaten, it’s even better the second day, or it can be “scalloped.”

So, as you are browsing through the seed catalogs and filling out those orders, I hope you will give salsify a try.

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And now the Flower Half!

Daffodils will be the earliest bouquets…so easy!

As, mentioned in the potager food post, for 2022 half the potager is being planted in cutting flowers for the “Growing Kindness” give-away bouquet project. I’m so excited, because it means trying some new crops, experimenting to get the timing correct, seeing which new flower colors combine well with others, and lots of learning opportunities. That’s a lot of what keeps me interested in gardening. To see more information on the cutting flowers I’m growing, visit THIS POST.

First a complete flower crop list was made listing what I intend to grow. This includes focal, vertical, filler, and favorites, and those plants in my existing gardens that are good cutting material. It’s a pretty ambitious list, but there will be numerous small plantings, so don’t picture long rows. This is the year to learn what goes well with what in terms of colors, what grows well here, timing, and if I like to grow it! Plantings will however, be dense to promote long stems and higher flower count per square foot. Varieties that are already in gardens, or can be expected to self-seed (nigella, larkspur, bachelor buttons, “May Queen” shasta, “Blue Bedder” salvia. etc.) were checked off, other than a note on when they bloom. (This is where the bloom journal from past years really came in handy!) The remaining crops got notes on the date each is to be planted, and other pertinent info on growing or harvesting was added. (The Johnny’s catalog is an excellent resource for this step.)

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Those that know me, or have read this blog over the years won’t be surprised that at this point a new notebook was created. Some people like spreadsheets and computers; I prefer a hands-on notebook that can go where I go and the pictures jog my memory! There are also sections to note bloom times, lists of filler plants by season, bouquet ideas, seeding times, succession planting notes, and more. Last year’s seed catalogs get cut up as the new issues arrive, and it’s a pleasant way to spend a dreary afternoon.

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The first sweet peas of 2021…so very fragrant!

In determining which crops will be planted in the Cutting Garden, and which will go into the potager one of the main factors was protection. Those crops that are very prone to rabbit or deer damage will go into the potager’s beds. In early spring wild critters are looking for new menu items after a long, dull winter’s fare and seem willing to try about anything that’s newly planted. The first year I tried growing sweet peas, they were planted on the fence between the greenhouse and the Lady Cottage. Almost immediately, they were devoured by rabbits despite the fact they are reputed to be poisonous. Sweet peas will go on the potager’s metal trellises, especially since they go in weeks before our last frost-free date, along with the earliest sunflowers and other crops that need protection.

Zinnias, celosia, statice and tansy…needs more “filler” and water!!!

Flowers that are said to be deer resistant (dusty miller, feverfew, lavenders, marigolds, mountain mint, rudbeckia, scabiosa, statice, snapdragons, yarrow, zinnias, salvias, etc.) go on another list. Many catalogs have a symbol on flowers that are deer resistant (not deer proof, mind you it depends on how hungry they are and how many there are in one’s area) but finding out which flowers the rabbits might avoid is more difficult, and I’m basically relying on my experiences in past years and instinct. Lupines were a rabbit favorite last spring, so this year they go inside the potager. The first zinnias always get nipped off by rabbits (not eaten, just bit off and dropped!) but later ones are not usually bothered. So, I plant out some of the inexpensive seeds early, and save the expensive “Queen Lime” to set out later.

I love Jewels of Opar, also know as talinum as an airy filler. My favorite is “Kingwood Gold.” Also included, roses, larkspur, sumac leaves, lisianthus, scabiosa “Black Knight” and feverfew.

Also in spring our heavy clay soils are very soggy which makes early planting difficult. That’s not a problem with raised beds. Stock, bupleurum, calendula, the earliest snapdragons, Chinese forget-me-nots, annual phlox, Bells of Ireland, Rainbow chrysanthemum, and ranunculus need to be planted very early, so they will go into potager beds. Bupleurum will need several succession plantings, but stock and ranunculus will be finished and out as soon as the weather warms and be replaced with other crops like lemon and cinnamon basils for bouquet filler. Another advantage of the potager beds is the ability to protect young seedlings from late frosts with the plastic-covered berry beds. Anything that is deer resistant and doesn’t need to be planted extra early will go into the Cutting Garden.

Definitely need LOTS more lisianthus!

Most of the Lisianthus will go into the potager’s beds so that netting support can be provided easily. I loved the lisianthus I grew last year in the Cutting Garden, but it was prone to falling over. I could stake each plant, I suppose, but that sounds like a lot of extra work. Four electric fence posts per bed and some twine run back and forth seems much easier.

Lots and lots of sunflowers!

The very first sunflowers will go in the center of some of the 6′ potager beds. There will be a wide variety of sunflowers, beginning with white and yellow ones with green centers for late spring and early summer sales, more traditional gold and orange ones for summer, and darker oranges and reds with brown centers for autumn bouquets. The earliest ones are single stem, one-cut-and-done varieties, so as a plant comes out of a potager bed, they will be replaced with tall zinnias or other crops. Some of the varieties are branching and will produce flowers slower but over a longer period. Those will go in the converted berry rows.

One of the last bouquets, just before our first frost…celosia, zinnias, tall verbena.

Lastly, a few crops like dianthus (even though they are deer and rabbit resistant) may be wintered over to produce flowers next year, and that will definitely be more successful in well-drained raised beds rather than out in the open, clay soil.

For a full list of the plants intended for the 2022 “Growing Kindness” project here at Herbal Blessings, visit this post.

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The Last Tomato

The last fresh tomato of the 2021 season…

January 7th, the date we ate the last fresh tomato of the 2021 season! It was only after I diced it up to put on tacos that it dawned on me that I should take a photo of the final tomato, a “Chef’s Choice Orange” that was still luscious and juicy after being picked before an expected frost in mid October. It was the last tomato of the many that were simply picked, put in a single layer in an empty growing flat and set in the unheated garage. Our outdoor temperature was 1 degree F on the morning of the 7th, so it’s probably a good thing that it was the last, although there is still a flat of “Sweet Apple Green” bell peppers out there that look fine.

“Juliet” grape tomatoes

There won’t be as many tomatoes in the potager this year, but if I could only grow one, it would probably be the prolific grape tomato “Juliet.” She definitely needs a tall support, but if kept watered and given an occasional feeding “Juliet” produces baskets of delicious 1 1/2″-2″ red tomatoes that are not watery, but firm and sweet. They are D’s favorite to eat fresh, and my favorite for canning as diced tomatoes because they are so meaty and hold their shape in the canning jar. Mid-winter, we open a jar and spoon them onto our tacos or salads and they nearly taste fresh.


CCO is a prolific indeterminate!

Of course, “Chef’s Choice Orange” is a must as well because it’s my favorite slicing tomato. I prefer an orange or pink tomato over a red one (and it’s not just color) because of lower acid content. CCO is extremely prolific, seldom bothered by disease and produces fist-sized gorgeous fruits throughout the entire season. It does need a sturdy, tall support; not some wimpy wire tomato cage.

The first “Polbig” tomatoes of the season…harvested mid-July..and remember we had that freak freeze in May!

“Polbig” is also a must because it wins the “Early Tomato Comparison” each year despite new contenders. It seems to tolerate cooler soils, fluctuating temperatures, spring deluges and high winds better than any others. A medium-sized red tomato with good flavor, I’d grow it even if it weren’t such an early producer. It does sometimes get blight, but because it starts so early, and is determinate, the plants are usually ready to come out about the time the blight shows up. By then, the CCO is producing so that’s fine and the space can be used for other crops.

Just one of many batches…

I can a lot of tomato juice because D likes to drink it for breakfast. The old stand-by “Rutgers” is the one I usually grow because it is reliable, determinate and produces a lot of tomatoes at once. When I want to can salsa or marinara sauce, “Yaquii” has been my choice for the past couple of years. It’s a large, firm “plum” type tomato. This year, I’m adding a plant or two of “San Marzano” just to see what all the fuss is about.

The final tomato in the plot is a “Sun Sugar,” which is one of the sweetest cherry tomatoes available. It’s a gorgeous 1″ orange ball, just perfect for munching on when I’m working in the potager all summer. I throw a few of those in with the CCO when making the best gazapacho (orange of course!) on the planet. I’ve looked through my photos and apparently I didn’t take any of “Sun Sugar” but you won’t have any trouble finding it in your catalogs.

That’s my “Six on Saturday” and the tomato news from central Indiana. It may surprise you to know that little Indiana is second only to BIG California in tomato production and processing! We know our tomatoes!

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December: Monthly Review

The potager is nearly ready for winter…covered berry boxes in place, paths weeded, greenhouse tidied, and nearly all the furniture moved inside the cottage.

This post closes out the final month of 2021, the dreary month of December that would be nearly unbearable if it were not for the cheery holiday decorations, Christmas movies, special dishes (even if there is no one to share them) and maybe a gift or two under the tree. The glow of the Christmas lights , the scent of cinnamon incense in my little German smokers, a tin of freshly baked cookies and a stack of newly arrived seed catalogs certainly help to lift my spirits. The “Feast of the Seven Fishes” was the only entertaining for the month and it was much appreciated.

Yet another foggy morn. You can barely see the black tubs of walnuts that were collected that day.

Overall, December was milder than normal and unusual in that there was so very little snowfall. Rainfall was unusually high beginning on the very first day of the month and filling several more. There were many foggy mornings and cloud-filled skies. There were only ten days with any sunshine at all, and I was actually surprised when I reviewed my journal that there were that many. Happily, there were a couple of clear nights when we could view the beautiful full moon. The characteristic that would have to be used to describe the month over all was “WINDY!” I just can’t remember such windy weather in all my many years.

The only snowmen this year are made of wood! One of our few sunny days, and warm enough that the greenhouse door was propped open.

On the very few nice days that I was able to work outdoors, the mulching was finished for this year, the last of the bulbs were planted, the number of walnuts picked up for the season surpassed 18,000, outdoor decorations were put up, and the Addition Garden was finally cleaned and tidied. The deck and gazebo furniture were moved into shelter for the winter. The Lady Cottage was cleaned and organized for winter and the potager’s furniture was moved in. The potager’s paths got a final weeding, some seeds were collected.

Indoors, a lot of baking was done, gardens were mapped, seed orders made, and some drawers cleaned and organized. The seed starting area in the basement was given a cleaning, light bulbs replaced in the light stand, and potting soil moved in. Seeding trays were carried in from the pole barn and washed. The first amaryllis bulb was potted up, followed by one each week. And I learned how to use my new soil blocker. The first lisianthus seeds were sown December 10th, followed by violas, snapdragons, stock, and some perennials: columbine, delphinium, two types of dianthus, three rudbeckias, mountain mint, lemon eucalyptus, yellow feverfew, yarrow, gold moss feverfew, gaillardia, perennial scabiosa, rhubarb, lemon savory and some collected lavender seeds. The Christmas letter was written and cards mailed. There were lots of football and basketball games to watch as well, and I read three books.

There wasn’t a lot of harvesting from the potager, only 15.5 lbs, although lots of herbs were used during the month that weren’t weighed. Last year’s December harvest was over 50 lbs! I didn’t get the leeks or carrots dug, and this year the fall crops of turnips, and late cabbages were a bust. Too hot, too many bugs, and not enough watering. Both the salsify and parsnip crops were dug, cleaned and stored and there was lettuce to use the entire month. Hopefully the crops under the berry boxes will provide a few fresh leeks, carrots, spinach, lettuces and parsley over the coming weeks.

Farewell 2021. Can’t say that 2022 is off to a great start, but we’re still healthy, the seedlings are growing, and the seeds are arriving in pretty good order. It’s a quiet time for planning, reviewing the journals to make needed corrections, and reflection. The temperatures are dropping so it may begin to feel like winter, even if it doesn’t look like winter. AND, the days are already lengthening, so certainly spring is on the way! Blessings to you all!

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Saving seed

Some of my favorite catalogs have already arrived…still waiting on others!

This time of year, when I’m searching through the seed catalogs and seeing the increased prices I wonder “WHY in the heck didn’t I save more seed?!?!” Or course, I’d still peruse the catalogs for any new, exciting varieties but I grow a lot of the “tried and true” things and could easily have collected and saved seed for much of this coming year’s gardens.

Well, maybe not “easily.”

The main problem of course, is that I grow too many varieties of a single crop so they get cross-pollinated by active insects. If one grows more than one type of tomato or pepper or lettuce or beans or squash or corn or zinnias or marigolds or whatever, and two or more of them bloom at the same time, then cross pollination is bound to occur unless drastic steps are taken, like covering blooms with organza bags, clipping off flowers from related crops, hand-pollinating just as a bloom opens, etc. This sounds easier than it actually is, because it’s hard to be observant enough and speedy enough to get those bags on buds, or catch a flower just as it opens but before a tiny insect bearing pollen sneaks into that opening! Tiny wasps, beetles, bees and ants are often out and working before I am. And they have better eyesight! And there are armies of them all determined to move pollen about. I am only one…

An heirloom red lettuce.

So, I don’t attempt to save a lot of seeds currently, but it’s something I’ve done lots of in the past, and could do again if needed. Right now, in terms of vegetables, I’m only saving the seed from an heirloom, very dark red Deer Tongue Lettuce that I’ve had for decades. Although I grow many types of lettuce, I let very few go to seed, and am careful if I do that only one variety is blooming at a time. I can do this with beans by carefully planning the timing, although it’s much harder to do if one grows pole beans because they bloom over such a very long period. And since I’m only growing Green Arrow peas this year I could collect seed from those, except that I’m growing sweet peas and snow peas, which will likely be blooming at the same time and since they are closely related, that won’t work. I’m unwilling to forego those two crops just to be able to save seed, but I could if the need arises.

Saving seed from a pumpkin or a squash is useless in my small garden because I grow so many types of each and all of them can cross. I only grow a plant or two of each, and I really want them to be exactly what they are supposed to be, not some weird combination. So, I purchase small packets of seed from a company like Pinetree that sells smaller quantities at lower prices per packet, seed only what I need, and carefully store the leftover packets in a tightly sealed bag in a cool, dry, dark location. The seed lasts for years if properly stored so I only have to purchase those once every five or six years. Since I only grow French Breakfast radishes, I could let a few go to seed and collect it easily.

It’s easy to save seed from most herbs: cilantro, cutting celery, parsley, lovage, dill and many other herbs and they will all be fine because there is only one variety of each. However, it would be useless to save seed from the basils, because again, I grow many kinds: clove, cinnamon, lemon, various purples, Geneovese, Spicy Globe, columnar, etc. Of course, if I just want to use them as bouquet filler, it might be fun to collect some seed and just see what I get! Wouldn’t a purple-leaved lemon basil be fun?

The parsley seed is easy to collect when it’s ripe, as are nasturtiums and calendula.

Larger seeds are harvested when they are dry and spread on horizontal window screens to finish drying. If husks or seed coatings need to be removed they are done indoors, usually in the Lady Cottage, and then the seeds are put into envelopes with the name and date written on the front. Tiny seeds are often put into coin envelopes and labelled.

Portulaca or Moss Rose doesn’t always come true from seed!

Two years ago I grew a lovely orange portulaca and saved the seed. The following year, most of the flowers were again orange but there were a few yellow ones. I carefully collected only the seed from the orange ones, but this year there were lots more yellow, some pink, some bordering on red, a few of the original orange, a few white, and a few soft peachy-apricot. I saved the seeds from the peachy-apricot ones and wonder what I’ll get this year.

These are the ones I like best.

I grow lots of hollyhocks from seed I’ve saved because I’m not overly concerned about what color they will be. I do only collect the seed from the ones I like best, but often a pink or red one shows up when the new plants begin to bloom. They end up in the garden club plant sale eventually. The same with sweet peas, although I tend to purchase one “fresh, new” variety each year because some of the more valued colors tend to disappear over time. Columbine seeds are easy to collect and if one doesn’t mind about specific colors, easy to grow. Columbines are notorious for crossing, and again over time the more rare colors can be lost and varieties that were dwarf may eventually be tall. This also happens often with sunflowers, with seeds saved from shorter plants growing very tall the following year but if one doesn’t care about height it’s a cheap, easy way to get a lot of sunflowers.

Rudbeckia “Chim Chimnee”

Recently, seeds collected from Gaillardia “Arizona Apricot” were seeded in the basement, and they are germinating nicely. Since it is the only gaillardia I grow, it “comes true” from seed, at least it has for about 8 years now. I also save seed from perennial blue flax, bread seed poppies, talinum, feverfew, hellebores, larkspur and nigella. I collect seeds from rudbeckia and am often happily surprised at the shapes and color combinations that result. I love the quilled one shown above, but so far all the seeds collected from it and grown are yellow or a combination of yellow and rust, some quilled, some not. However, in my view, one can never have too many rudbeckia and all of them are excellent garden flowers (except for the common Black-Eyed Susans, which can take over an entire garden in no time!)

Perennial bunching onions in mid March…ready to harvest! No winter cover or care required!

Bunching “Evergreen” onion seed can also be saved, because the only other Allium family members that are allowed to bloom in the potager are the chives, which bloom earlier and the garlic chives, which bloom later.

Seed from broccoli and kale are easy to collect, but since they are cousins they should not be allowed to bloom at the same time, and generally the broccoli I grow is a hybrid in order to get a good crop before the hot weather arrives. Collecting seed from a hybrid is generally a “risky” thing because it’s likely that the resulting plant will revert back to a grandparent that may be very unlike the hybrid in growth pattern, timing of maturity, disease resistance, etc. And, in all the years I’ve gardened, I’ve never seen a cabbage produce seed, but obviously it happens. Maybe I should do some research. Maybe they have to winter over and produce their bloom stalk the following year. Many other vegetables do that, like salsify and carrots.

So, it’s likely that I will attempt to be more observant and take some steps to get “pure” seed for saving, but it’s also very likely that I will just order from the catalogs as usual. They do such a wonderful job,and I’m willing to pay for their efforts. But, if shortages begin to be more commonplace, I have the experience that I could collect, cure and save the seeds for the foods we need most and that’s a valuable tool. I’d just have to greatly reduce the number of varieties I grow. Let’s see…if I could only grow one pepper, one tomato, one squash, one bean variety…what would they be? What would you choose?

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Farewell 2021….

The first amaryllis of the “winter.”

As I sit here pondering what to write on this final day of 2021, I feel as though it’s all been said before. Most of 2021 was a repeat of 2020, but with slightly different timing. If I just reprinted last year’s post it would be fairly accurate. The biggest difference is that we started 2020 totally naive and unprepared for a pandemic year while most of us began 2021 with high hopes for vaccines, but also with guarded skepticism so we continued to stock up, take precautions, and grow as much as possible. We felt prepared for the “few months” it would take to get the vaccines distributed. We didn’t dream that at the present moment, the USA would be racking up over half a million new Covid cases in a single day! I just can’t wrap my head around that statistic and all it’s ramifications. Another difference is that last year we had a lovely snowfall covering the ground. This year, we’ve just had rain, rain, rain. I wish we could send some of it to the areas in Colorado being devoured by wildfires. Both years seemed to be filled with unusual tragedies…the massive wildfires across the globe, record-breaking flooding in new-to-flooding places, amazingly destructive tornadoes, famine-producing droughts, plagues of locusts and more. That doesn’t even include all the suffering from civil wars, protests, and crimes. The toll taken in terms of economics is nothing compared to the mental and emotional toll. So many people have been lost in one way or another that we are almost becoming numb.

And yet “time marches on” and I find myself once again looking back and looking forward, wondering if we are now living in “the new normal,” although as one commercial states, “there is no normal.” I really didn’t think I’d still be ordering masks, but we are and now we are told we should have a home test or two on hand as well. Some local stores have closed, but there are also some new ones just opening!

During that brief “cheerier” spell, we booked flights to go visit family in Florida in January. Now with so many flights being cancelled and warnings that the “big surge” is two to four weeks away, I’m wondering if we will actually travel or if this will be yet another “stay at home” year. Whatever happens, there is the garden, with it’s magical explosion of growth in a rainbow of spring colors to anticipate. The new Kindle can be loaded with fascinating books even if we still can’t visit our library, and there are amaryllis bulbs in various stages of growth to brighten the table all winter. The one above opened early this morning to provide beauty for our New Year’s Eve Day.

There are many, many blessings if we just look around us. There are also many ways to help those less fortunate. So tonight, I’ll raise a glass and toast the New Year, and wish “happiness and good health to each one of you!” May you find many, many ways to make it a good year, regardless of what happens. Blessings!

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It’s Potager Planning Time again!

Visions of the potager dance in my head!

It’s that time of year when my thoughts are filled with next year’s potager. At my age thoughts come and go, so it’s best to get them down on paper. You may recall that last year I did an extended version of my planning map inspired by the handsome gardener Huw Richards. If you haven’t watched any of his gardening videos, give it a go! However, instead of monthly maps as he suggested, I did one for every two months. It was an interesting process, and was a pleasant way to spend some winter afternoons, but I found that I didn’t really use them much beyond the first one, the crucial one. I think what will work best for me is a “March-May” map because most of what is planted early doesn’t come out in mass until June or July. Focus is on the front (east) half of the potager, which will be mostly food crops again this coming year.

The 2022 map…notice all the erasures, and probably more to come!

The initial spring planting map is essential for several reasons, so I’ll be spending quality time getting it just right. First of all, the beds that are already filled or have areas planted are marked. The strawberries in 2b and 2e and 7a and the bunching onions in the center of 7d and there now and will stay there the entire growing season. The garlic that was planted late October in the center of 2d, and in 3a, b, and c will be there throughout spring into early July. There are also some beds holding over-wintered crops, like the carrots and leeks in the photo below, taken in March. I pencil those in, knowing that most likely they will be harvested and empty by planting time, but if I don’t need the planting space until April, they can stay until I need them in the kitchen. The space that is left is available for spring planting.

An overwintered bed of carrots and leeks in March!

Next, there’s a list of all the food crops I want to grow this year. The ones that can be planted in early spring are put on a list for planting first (pak choy, radishes, onion sets, onions, lettuces, chard, spinach, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, snow peas, peas, kale, fava beans, etc.) These are all the easy crops, not too fussy about where they grow or who their neighbors are. Most of these will be harvested early and followed by something else that likes warmer weather, and that brings us to the reason mapping is important. Many of these early crops actually go onto the map last!

I begin with last year’s map so I can see where crucial crops like (1) tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and group (2) squashes, melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers grew. I used to be able to remember, but now I find the years kind of blend together, so relying on the map is a much smarter method. A good gardener knows these plant families should not go in the same space the following year to help prevent diseases. Nothing in group 1 can be in any space where anyone from group 1 grew last year, and the same for the members of group (2). In a very large garden, this is not a big problem but in a small garden like mine it can be frustrating, and since only the front half of the potager will be in food crops this year, space is at a premium. So first I block in the spaces for group 1 plants. I’ve already decided how many tomatoes of each variety I’ll be growing, and the same with peppers. Their numbers are greatly reduced from former years, and I’ve decided to skip potatoes entirely in favor of more flowers.

It’s easy to forget where a pumpkin or squash was tucked into an empty spot. Good records are important. Notice that there are mature crops, as well as just emerging succession crops in this photo. A well managed potager always has both!

Next, the two obelisks I built last year will be moved from 3b and 6b to the centers of 3d and 3e because they will have cucumbers and melons growing on them again and those are “safe” locations since no cucurbits (group 2 members) grew there last year. Finding “safe” spots for summer squash, and more melons took a while longer because I grew so many winter squashes and pumpkins last year. Once their locations are set, the hard part is done!

Now the early crops can go in, but where each one goes depends on their timing. Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower go in as transplants, but need their space largely through this March-May map so they get plotted next. However, the space between them can be filled with pak choy or spinach that will come out as the cole crops expand. Fava beans also take longer, but I’ve learned that if I leave plants out in each row, spaced 2′ apart, pepper plants can go into those spaces once the danger of frost is passed. By the time the peppers need more space, the favas are coming out. The number of varieties and the number of each variety is greatly reduced this year. We just don’t eat pecks of peppers, even if they are pickled, and as long as I have six each of my favorite “Fehr Ozon,” “Green Apple,” and a couple of green bell peppers and early jalapenas that’s all we’ll need.

In an area that is “safe” for tomatoes, onion sets or plants can fill the bed. If some are harvested as green onions, strategically to make space for tomato plants, that works great and as the tomatoes spread additional onions can be pulled. The onions also seem to help deter pests. This also works with summer squash. We love Baby Napa Cabbage (from Renee’s Seeds) and they seem to mature at staggered times even when planted all at once, so as they are harvested, other transplants of tomatoes can go in. I don’t need to can any tomatoes of any kind this year as the shelves are full of diced, juiced, sauced, salsa, etc. so only those we eat fresh go in. One “Juliet,” one “Sun Sugar,” one “Chef Choice Orange,” two “Polbig,” two “Yaquii” and maybe one large slicer to come on after the “Polbig.” The “Juliet” and “Sun Sugar” will go in pots (different pots with new soil) on the Lady Cottage posts again this year. And, I resolve that any unsold tomato and pepper plants left from the garden club plant sale WILL NOT even come home with me. I’ll drop them off at the food bank to avoid the temptation of planting them all like I did last year!!

This photo of the potager in May shows lots of bushy peas climbing their fences…8 double rows!

Peas are one of my favorite crops. I only grow “Green Arrow” now, after trialing many, many varieties over the years. They grow on pea fence down the center of 8 beds in four succession plantings. A crop planted 3/3 comes out 6/21, which can easily be followed with cucumbers or “Dragon Tongue” beans to climb the pea fence. A crop planted 4/24 came out 7/6, so the fence can be pulled and leeks, parsnips or salsify, or succession crops of beans, cipollini, or carrots can go in.

Finding space for shallots is next. I once thought they could be tucked in between other plants here and there, but this has to be done carefully because many plants want lots more water than shallots can tolerate. Since they are a valuable crop to me, I give shallots and cipollini their own spaces where the amount of water can be controlled.

The beloved “Royal Burgundy” beans that can be planted in late April while the soil is still wet and cold are essential. Last year, the beans went into the space between over-wintered spinach rows and as the beans grew, the spinach was harvested. That worked out very well so I’ll likely do it again. Many varieties of lettuces are grown in the potager, but most of them are tucked here and there in the interior border between edible flowers, or around cabbage and broccoli for early harvest.

Beets, kohlrabi, and carrots go on the map next. D loves kohlrabi so I try to have lots of small succession plantings of those and carrots. They can be planted in rows, blocks, or just a few here and there in various beds. One area that was garlic earlier will also be planted in carrots for over-wintering. He also loves pickled beets, but I canned so many this year that I just won’t need to can any next year. I’ll just do a few for roasting. Surprisingly there is still room for some fun things like Italian dandelions and frisee endives, and the beneficial calendulas and nasturtiums that get tucked in near summer squashes to add color and attract pollinators.

The foliage and blooms of any peas make excellent filler for early bouquets in spring.

The metal trellises will be used in spring for growing flowering sweet peas and snow peas, and extra regular peas so I can use the foliage in early spring bouquets. I have some old “purple” flowered and “blue podded” pea seed that we didn’t really enjoy as “food crops” that should be perfect filler material. I’m still debating whether to move the trellises from the east-west path, which I prefer, to the north-south path, which is better for crop rotation. I don’t have to decide until it’s time to plant the snow peas and flowering sweet peas, so that gives me until March to debate the matter.

Maybe this has been helpful, maybe not. Personally, I find that the better I plan the garden, the better it produces and the easier it is to manage, especially when things get hectic. I suspect that when the rest of the seed catalogs arrive, there may be some revisions! And I will do the second map, which will be June-frost. That will cover varieties planted when the garlic and shallots that come out in early July to be followed by winter squashes and pumpkins, French Horticultural beans or late “Wando” peas; refining the succession plantings for the rest of the growing season, and planning for the overwinter crops. Gosh, this is fun!

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Our “Feast of the Seven Fishes”

The appetizer course!

For a good while, I’ve been wanting to experience the “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” a meal traditionally served on Christmas Eve, generally by Italian American families. Although my ancestors were not Italian, I appreciate Italian food immensely. In this time of Covid especially, when the future seems even more precarious than usual, I’ve decided that some of the “do-able” things on my bucket list should be experienced while I am still able! Fortunately, my friends agreed that it sounded interesting and thus, the first of what may become an annual feast!

As the name indicates, it is a sumptious meal that includes at least seven different fish or seafood dishes. Apparently it became popular when religion dictated certain days, including Christmas Eve as non-meat meals. Our first course was appetizers: In the shell, my son-in-law Mark’s recipe for Clams Casino. Mark once owned a restaurant, lives part of each year in Italy and it shows in his excellent cooking. Top is his wife’s (my daughter Alicia) version of a low-carb crabcake with a Dijon mustard sauce. It has been a family favorite for several years. And bottom is my friend Sharon’s famous beet-horseradish cured salmon, which I begged her to bring because I’ve had it at her house at other parties. We all decided we’d be happy just eating these three dishes as the entire meal; they were SO delicious! But, that was only three and we were determined to do all seven.

One of the BEST salads of my life!

This certainly doesn’t look like a typical salad, and I assure you it wasn’t, but it was definitely one of the very best salads I’ve ever eaten. My friend Ruth found the recipe on-line and assures me I can find it if I type in winter squash, fresh tuna salad. It’s fresh tuna, cranberries and Garam Masala baked in a winter squash, topped with sliced almonds. She even made the garam masala spice mixture from scratch! I’ll be serving this as a luncheon dish to friends often.

Zuppa di pesce Bianca

This soup took the longest of any dish I prepared for this feast. The day before I was to make a “Fish Broth” using the heads, bones and tails of fish, bay leaves, onion, peppercorns, parsley, white wine and water. Here in landlocked central Indiana there are no fish heads, etc. to be found unless I wanted to go fishing in a neighbor’s pond, and no fish stock available in stores so I purchased a piece of catfish, some vegetable stock, a bottle of clam juice and made do. Actually, the finished, strained broth was delicious. The next afternoon, 2″ pieces of cod, more bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley, garlic, and a splash of white wine vinegar were added to the warmed stock and cooked just until the cod was done. The fish was tasty, the broth had a bitterness none of us appreciated. What a disappointment! So, we ate the fish and tossed the broth. Luckily, there was better to come!

Grouper with caper and butter sauce…YUM!!

Another recipe from Mark, this pan-fried grouper with lemon and caper sauce was a big hit. Mark and Alicia even shipped the grouper to us from a company called “Wild Fork.” It was terrific, and it was only when I saw this photo that I realized I forgot to add the finely chopped parsley to the sauce! It was wonderful even without it!

A pasta from my Puglia cookbook!

Obviously, by the pasta course our appetites were not as hearty as when we started, but we still truly enjoyed this fettucini with shrimp and olives. It began with “melting” anchovies with garlic, olive oil, pepper and a bit of finely chopped hot red pepper. Then some chopped dried tomatoes, some diced tomatoes to provide liquid, chopped black and green olives, capers and when the pasta was almost cooked, the shrimp. I’d make this again today!

If you’ve been counting, that’s clams, crab, salmon; cod, tuna, grouper, anchovies and shrimp! Yes, we are over-achievers! There was barely room for dessert, but we managed.

I just managed to snap a photo before it was all gone!

Sharon teased that she’d turned some of the beet-cured salmon into a dessert, and it was almost believable since they were the same color! However, it was a luscious cranberry curd in a gingersnap crust. The perfect holiday, slightly tart ending to a rich feast!

So that was my “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” and I’m so very glad we did it. I hope we are all here to do it again next year….. but with a different soup!

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Merry Christmas to All!

This year’s tree…extra candy canes to last me through January!

Merry Christmas to all! I hope your holiday is special in some way. Right now we’re having a thunderstorm! There’s a creek running through our back yard because it’s been pouring since midnight. Interestingly, my mother who lives a little over an hour away has sunshine and has had no rain. I’m filling my day with Christmas music and cooking a special dinner. Of course, we miss having family or friends over, but whenever I need a lift, I look at these smiling faces!

Love my nutcrackers!

Well, okay, not all of them are smiling, but whenever I look at them it makes me smile! I’ve collected nutcrackers over the decades, but I only brought in a few for the mantle this year. I have also been enjoying my German smokers, with “cinnamon” being my favorite incense to burn in them this year. And here’s something to make you smile…

The ugliest parsnip crop I’ve ever grown!

A couple of beautiful parsnips were dug a few weeks ago to have with roast chicken, so I expected the entire crop to be lovely. Imagine my surprise when each parsnip dug yesterday for our Christmas dinner today was a short, stubby, twisted root that hardly resembles a parsnip at all. Go ahead, laugh! I give you permission, because I certainly did! Hopefully they will taste better than they look, but I certainly wouldn’t be winning any prizes this year.

Holiday blessings to each one of you. May you find things to make you smile. Hugs!

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Do you see what I see?

Lisianthus seedlings are miniscule!

Yes! The first seedlings for the 2022 season are emerging! If you’ve never grown lisianthus from seed, it’s not for the impatient or the feint of heart. Last year was my first time, and I’ve never grown anything so darn slow or trying in my over 50 years of growing! But, the flowers were so worth the wait, and so I’m growing (at least attempting!) even more in number and variety this year. As you can see from the toothpick for reference, the seedlings are exceedingly small. In fact, I think a couple were actually up before I even saw them. One almost needs a magnifying glass, or at least better vision than mine.

This is my first time using soil blocks. Not sure if I like them yet or not. The first (100) lisianthus seed (ABC 1 Mix) was actually divided into three groups. I attempted to seed 40 into soil blocks, but I can already tell that obviously instead of one seed per block, in some cases there are two. Will one block be empty because I seeded another block twice, or did the impossibly small (even though they are “pelleted” to make them larger!!!) seeds stick in a group on the end of the moist toothpick during seeding? Time will tell. The second group went into a row tray, another first for me, and unless something changes, I don’t think I’m going to like them. They dry out way too fast, but maybe keeping the roots in a smaller area will make seedlings easier to transplant. Another wait for judgement situation. The final group went into my usual, standard seeding flat like the one shown below.

First seeding tray for 2022.

Because I’m growing more seedlings than usual, and attempting to get earlier blooms for cutting, I’m getting an earlier start, although this is the time of year that I always seeded violas, pansies and perennials for sale in my commercial greenhouses. The flat above contains left to right: Dianthus “Bodestolz”, as yet to germinate Delphinium “Blue Donna”, Dianthus “Summer Mix” and then five rows of Viola “Penny Orange.” Yes, violas are back on the list. I missed their sweet faces too much last spring but these are mostly for containers rather than edging the potager’s main paths. The plan is to utilize the greenhouse a couple of weeks earlier than usual, moving plants through to the hardening off stage a bit quicker, and utilizing some “low tunnel” hoops with plastic and frost cloth. Many of the “new” additions are plants that like cooler weather so hopefully it will work even if Mother Nature is not totally cooperative. This is what makes gardening fun for me: the unknown, working through problematic situations, the challenge, the prospect of new flowers!

I’m getting a lot of teasing from friends who know me and my gardens well. Bonnie came for tea yesterday and after hearing that I plan to grow bouquets for the “Growing Kindness” project, laughed and said “Well, I think you’ll need to expand your color pallet!” (Implying that not everyone is as fond of orange and apricot as I am, as difficult as that is for me to comprehend!) My reply to that is, “Well, at least I won’t have any trouble at all making myself cut flowers this year. Anything that cracks open pink or red will be in a bucket before it knows it!”

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