Tips for Starting a Winter Kitchen Garden

Winter? Seriously? Who’s ready to think about THAT when we are celebrating Labor Day this weekend?

Well, here in Emerald City, I’m springing ahead to winter because now is the time to plant cold-hardy greens such as kale, chard, lettuces, and spinach.

Thanks to Seattle’s wet but relatively mild winters, I have had great luck growing a motley variety of greens. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years now and it’s always a great pleasure to go out into the garden on a cold dreary December afternoon to pick lettuce, collards, and sometimes even big Savoy cabbages for dinner.

At this point in the season, it’s too late to start cabbages by seed, as those seeds need to be sown in June for best results. That said, there’s still plenty of time to start some of the chef’s favorites such as cilantro, microgreens, kales, chard, and lettuces.

In fact, it’s exactly what I’m doing this week.

I’ve pulled up many of my spent and depleted summer plants such as Costata Romanesco zucchini, Romano beans, sunflowers, Hasta La Pasta spaghetti squash, and a few spindly tomato plants. In those naked sections of the garden, I’m turning the soil and watering it heavily to reinvigorate it before I sow any seeds. The next step will be to plant quick-growing varieties so they can get established and off to the races before the darker days start to settle in around October. Some of my favorites to plant now?

Try these

Cilantro

Arugula

Winter Bloomsdale Spinach

Chioggia Beets

Winter Density Lettuce

Provencal Winter Mix by Territorial Seeds

Yukon Winter Mix by Territorial Seeds

Arctic King

All of these varieties still have time to get established enough to produce and, in many cases with a little protection like a cloche, an upside-down glass salad bowl, or a frost blanket, they will make it through the winter and spring back to life in late February and March, just when the craving for fresh greens is really hitting home.

As I said, I’ve been winter gardening for over 20 years but as we continue to travel this pandemic pathway and suffer inflation and supply chain shortages of all ilks, I really think it’s time to rediscover the joy and practicality of winter gardening!

Just give it a GROW!

How to Make Raspberry Tarragon Vinegar

Raspberry Tarragon Vinegar

My Raspberry Shortcake berry plants, both at home and at my P Patch, are in full production mode right now. The berries are red, plump, and juicy. Perfect little seasonal moments in time really.

So, this week I decided to pick a pint and make Raspberry Vinegar.  I often make Tarragon Vinegar during the summer months as it makes a flavorful addition to homemade vinaigrettes. That said, I have never tried it with my fresh berries but this year I decided to give it a try. Using a basic Raspberry Vinegar recipe from Taste of Home as a springboard, I crafted my own version, reducing the sugar and adding fresh tarragon as a flavorful counterpoint.

The results? After straining the steeped vinegar, the finished product is a brilliant red with an aromatic raspberry flavor and a distinct tarragon note. In the kitchen, I used it in a simple Raspberry Shallot Vinaigrette destined for homegrown lettuces or perhaps even a grilled zucchini salad.

The vinegar-style storage jars can be found at Amazon or your local hardware or kitchen store in the preserving section.

Raspberry Tarragon Vinegar

A simple seasonal vinegar made from fresh raspberries and tarragon
Prep Time2 d

Equipment

  • Large Saucepan
  • Ball Mason Jar
  • Strainer
  • Funnel
  • Vinegar Style jar

Ingredients

  • 1 pint raspberries rinsed and drained
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh tarragon
  • 3 cups distilled vinegar (I used Heinz)
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Instructions

  • Put the raspberries and the tarragon sprigs in a heat proof one quart glass Mason Jar and set aside.
  • In a large saucepan combine the vinegar and sugar and bring just to a low boil. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the berries and tarragon sprigs. Let the vinegar cool slightly and then cover with the lid. Let the vinegar stand at room temperature for about two days. (The vinegar will take on a lovely red hue as it sits!)
  • After about two days, strain the vinegar through a sieve and into a funnel which feeds into a sterilized jar, preferably a vinegar style storage jar. Discard the raspberries and tarragon sprigs left in the sieve. Cap the raspberry vinegar and store in a cool dark place.
  • Makes about three cups.

How to Make Lavender Honey

Sometimes the simplest things in life really are the most luxurious.

I was reminded of this last week when I decided to make Lavender Honey. I have enormous lavender bushes in full bloom on my urban lot and after I made Lavender Shortbread last week, I began to mull my other options. Lavender Vinegar? Lavender Honey Mustard? Lavender Crème Chantilly?

Then, lavender honey popped into my thoughts. I had recently read an article in Mother Earth Living and had earmarked that page. Then when my friend Marissa came by with a tub of honey made by a family in the neighborhood, I HAD to make lavender honey… it doesn’t get much more local than that, right? Lavender from the yard and honey from the neighborhood!

The process is ridiculously simple. I started with a small sterilized recycled Maille mustard jar. I then added about 1 Tablespoon of lavender flowers (picked off the stem) and poured in enough honey to cover the lavender. For good measure, I added a small branch of lavender too. The article in Mother Earth Living explained that honey is hydrophilic, which means that the honey draws the water from the plants and ultimately makes the honey even runnier. The article also instructs to simply let the lavender honey sit for a few days, during which time the honey takes on the subtle delicious lavender flavor and aroma and becomes runnier.

I left my jar on the kitchen table so I could watch it and by the end of the second day, it was runnier and very aromatic. Since I could no longer resist tasting, the next morning I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of my Lavender Honey to a couple of tablespoons of water with a dash of Penzey’s dehydrated ginger. I then microwaved the mixture in a small ramekin for about 15 seconds to infuse the flavors and poured the Lavendar Honey Ginger syrup over some diced cantaloupe and sliced local organic strawberries.

The result? It was so good that frankly it almost defied logic.

Bees working their magic on my lavender in full bloom!

Fresh, flavorful, aromatic, and healthy it was the perfect start to a summer day!

Thrifty Garden Hack: Easy Greenhouse for Basil

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

I was reminded of this recently while struggling to deal with basil starts in my garden. I love basil but it’s a bear to grow successfully here in Seattle. Our cool maritime climate makes it hard to grow the heat loving Mediterranean herb. I have tried plastic tunnel cloches over the years, and they work to some degree on the larger plants purchased at the nurseries. But this year, I am growing nearly 100% of my plants from seeds, which adds to the challenge with basil. (Slugs love the little plants, and it takes some heat to get the plants sufficiently ramped up and rolling for the season.)

However, while mulling my options last night, I popped into a thrift store to see if I could rustle up some kind of cloche, or protective cover that I could put over my basil seedlings. I trolled the storage box section and found nothing. I considered those large plastic iced tea containers for a hot minute, but the spout proved problematic and frankly, unattractive. In the glass container section, where they have the assorted glass bowls and Pyrex containers, eureka hit! I spied three dusty, yet stylish, glass salad bowls. It immediately occurred to me that they would be perfect over my basil. I turned the pedestaled bowls upside down and indeed they looked like a cloche to me! Adding to the thrill? Bric a brac was 50% off, so each bowl was $1.

At home, they got a quick clean with hot water and ammonia and in short order, they were positioned over my tender sweet basil plants in the garden. To prevent the basil from getting charred on a hot day, I set some bricks nearby so I can vent the cloche and cool the setup.

When I stepped back to survey the results, I thought they definitely have a European vintage glass cloche effect, without the hefty price tag!

In Season: Daffodils!

Daffodils! They have arrived. Strutting their cheerful ruffly flowers in gardens, parking strips and at grocery stores all over town. Without a doubt, they are a very welcome addition to the neighborhood because Seattle has been very dreary and rainy.

I have a few wayward daffodils blooming in my yard and in pots on the front steps, but for those of you who don’t, consider treating yourself to a little bunch…or two. They are generally far cheaper than the hot house tulips and they are just as lovely.

In order to get the most bang for your hard earned buck when buying a bunch of daffodils, choose those with tightly closed heads, and at home, trim the ends and plunge them in a vase of water. If you want to get the flowers to open a little faster, use warm water. If you want to slow the blooming process and make them last, use cool water. However, because daffodil stems release an oozy sap when cut, don’t combine daffodils with other flowers such as tulips because the arrangement will wilt faster due to the sticky liquid!

So, savor the season and buy some daffodils!

 

 

Edible Flowers are Trending for 2018

Flowers. They are gorgeous in the garden…and on the dinner plate.

According to a December 2017 article from Forbes, edible flowers are a predicted culinary trend for 2018. Indeed, why not?

If you have a garden, they are easy to grow and they add a delicious splash of color both in the yard and on the table.  Some easy options? Calendula,  chive blossoms, lemon gem marigolds, and nasturtiums are at the top of the list.

I’ve grown these annuals for years. The packets of seeds or starter plants are inexpensive and the plants don’t require a lot of fussy upkeep.  Many of them even attract bees and ward off those sticky pests known as aphids. Admittedly, however, I haven’t really bothered to sprinkle them on my dinner lately. That might change this year.

Looking for some direction on how to get started in your own backyard or on your balcony? Check out this Edible Flower Collection Seed Packet from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine.   And, while considering this trend, be prudent and educate yourself before chomping.

For additional information and resources read “A Consumer’s Guide to Edible Flowers” published by Penn State Extension.

 

Sow the Seeds of Dinner

Gardening. It’s the ultimate added-value pastime.

Not only do you get fresh air, exercise and Vitamin D when you weed, plant and prattle around in the soil but you also get hyperlocal produce for dinner! Afterall, it was plucked from your garden, patio or even windowsill.

It doesn’t get much more regional than that, folks!

I’ve been an avid gardener for probably thirty years now and I continue to be amazed at how a simple little seed can ultimately work its way through the soil and onto my dinner plate a few months later.

Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb or a sprawling yard,  seriously consider growing something.  Think about what vegetables you enjoy,  do a little planning and give it a shot.

Chives or parsley can be “planted” on a sunny windowsill.  Mini lettuces can be sown in patio planters or in small spaces in the garden. Even tomatoes, such as Tom Thumb and Stupice, which are great for small gardens, can produce prolifically in a pot and taste great in a salad.

Need some inspiration? Here are a couple of my favorite resources for sowing the seeds of dinner!

Seed Racks at the Garden Center or Grocery Store

Don’t snarf at the seed racks in the big box stores. The seeds are well priced and the displays have a great variety. You can also score a deal by using coupons and the varieties featured are usually pretty easy to grow. Read the sowing instructions and give it a shot.  I regularly buy Burpee and Ed Hume from the racks at my Fred Meyer. What do I purchase? Zinnias, lettuces, chards, herbs, cosmos, sunflowers and more. Want a small space variety? Look for the little container icon on the Burpee packets. It’s a great indicator of which ones will work well in a mini-plot.

Mail Order 

Order some seed catalogs and read them on a rainy day. They make great wish books. I circle and mark mine up and then order. I have found some great small space varieties at both Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine and at Territorial Seed Catalog in Oregon. My insider tip? When in doubt, call the customer service folks at these companies. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have steered me in the right direction many times.

IMG_4435

IMG_3944

IMG_3960

IMG_3821

Defrost at the 2018 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival!

Spring fever in January is never a good thing, especially out here in Seattle where it is still a bleak, cold, dark, sometimes frosty, and always rainy.

For me, the best medicine has been a hefty dose of garden therapy. Of course, it’s too early to start digging and planting in my urban backyard or P-Patch, but one thing I look forward to every year is the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. Held at the Washington State Convention Center from February 7-11, this annual garden show has always defrosted my green thumb.

This year the show, which is the second largest in the nation, celebrates a legacy of 30 years. The theme will be “Garden Party.”   Trends in organic and urban gardening, sustainability, and variety of culinary experiences will be embraced and the twenty magnificent and elaborate Show Gardens will reflect the theme. The show will also have a spectacular lineup of seminars led by experts in the field as well as daily DIY competitions with experts.  As usual, the massive shopping Marketplace will be chock full of vendors and will offer a great opportunity for gardeners, both experienced and beginner, to get answers, explore new varieties, ask growers specific questions, and stock up on favorites for the season ahead.

So, if you are itching for spring, check your calendar and plan accordingly.  If you need a little inspiration, check out these photos taken last year:

IMG_1939IMG_1937IMG_1944IMG_1925

 

2017 Northwest Flower and Garden Festival Show Garden

Tomato Season 2017: Digging Those Eastern European Heirlooms

Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.

This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.

That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year.  These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.

I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.

If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at  Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring.  Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.