January in the Garden: Community Gardening

P-Patch Community Garden Seattle
New Year’s Day 2016 at my P-Patch Community Garden. Wonders await under burlap!

2016 marks a new year and a gardening adventure revisited for me.

Twenty years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle, I wrote an article for The New York Times on Seattle’s wonderful P-Patch Community Gardening Program.

Back then I was enchanted with the program and eventually landed a plot of my own. Located only a stone’s throw from our rental house in View Ridge, this garden, which was once an orchard, was a beautiful oasis.

Nestled on a hill overlooking Lake Washington and surrounded by heirloom fruit trees, my P-Patch plot was a blank slate for me. Gardening in the Pacific Northwest was new to me back then and I loved getting my boots wet by working in that lovely garden. I met fellow gardeners, surveyed their plots, gained inspiration and learned many tips and tricks for growing in Seattle’s temperate maritime climate. I was shocked at how easily plants grew here and I was delighted when I was told that I could grow a winter kitchen garden!

My  P-Patch participation was short lived because we eventually bought our first home, which had an enormous sunny garden suitable for growing all sorts of fruits, vegetables and berries. Sadly, that P-Patch garden itself was eventually mowed over and the land is now occupied by offices for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

I’ve been an active gardener since and still maintain an organic 400-square foot kitchen garden. Last spring, I spontaneously decided to visit a few community gardens around town and without a doubt the P-Patch bug bit me again…hard. I loved the diversity displayed between each of the individual plots and was fascinated with how the program has grown and expanded over the years.

With little delay, I decided to sign up for a plot. I was put on a waiting list for various gardens in my area and last fall I received an exciting email informing me that I was being offered one. Did I still want it? Yes, of course.  I replied within minutes.

With little delay, I went through P-Patch orientation on one ridiculously cold and rainy morning, paid my annual fee of about $40, and loaded up my 100-square foot plot with additional compost, numerous bags of foraged leaves, and lots of manure. Now, nestled under a cozy layer of recycled burlap, my P-Patch awaits. I’m planning, researching, gathering and plotting.

Not sure what my community garden plot will yield, but it sure feels great to come full circle.

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Garden Tips: Washing and Spinning Salad Greens

Seattle's mild maritime climate allows me to have a wonderful winter garden each year. This Arctic Butterhead always survives the winter and springs to life in the spring. The slugs love to hide in the crevices so it's important to wash it WELL!
Seattle’s mild maritime climate allows me to have a wonderful winter garden each year. This Arctic Butterhead always survives the winter and springs to life in the spring. The slugs love to hide in the crevices so it’s important to wash it WELL!
Without a doubt, a bountiful garden is indeed an awesome way to control the family food budget. But, I know from my own kitchen garden experience, that a garden glut can easily overwhelm the cook. It’s a pleasure to have lots of fresh homegrown vegetables to work with, but if you don’t know how to prepare them quickly and efficiently, all of your green thumb effort will be pitched right back into the compost heap when the items deteriorate in the fridge.

With that in mind, I am going to discuss how to wash and dry homegrown lettuces, greens, and spinach. Although organic mesclun mixes are widely available in produce departments, lettuces are some of the easiest and more rewarding things to grow. The supermarket lettuce mixes can’t compare to a diverse selection of homegrown greens destined for the salad bowl. And, of course, freshness is unsurpassed.

It’s well known that slugs and grit take refuge in the leaves’ crevices, so the greens need to be washed properly. Cleaning is generally done by plunging the greens into a bowl of cold water, swishing them gently, removing them and pouring off the dirty water. It can take a few rounds to completely remove the grit and slugs, and once the lettuce is clean it needs to be dried properly so you don’t have a soggy salad once dressed.

Kitchen towels can work, but the best tool for the task is a salad spinner. Both the rinsing and drying can be done in the spinner, so the task is simplified. I like the Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner. The three piece dishwasher safe device has a bowl, a perforated basket, and a lid with a non slip knob. It’s easy create the drying centrifugal force by pumping the large knob on the lid. The patented pump mechanism features a brake button that quickly stops the spinning process.

The large spinner has a bowl capacity of 6.22 quarts. The mini spinner is suitable for small families and for drying fresh herbs.

So, getting to the root of things, it’s obvious that having the right tool can put a whole new spin on dinner!

This blog post originally appeared on Amazon’s Al Dente blog in May 2009.