Get Growing: Brighten your Space with Cyclamen!

Now that the holidays are over and the decorations are packed away, the house always seems a little less exciting. That said, last weekend I decided to take a lead from my mom and spruce up the space with some indoor flowering plants.

When I was growing up my mom always had amaryllis blooming in the house after the holidays and well into January. I missed the boat on planting amaryllis and narcissus this holiday season so on Saturday I strolled over to Seattle’s Swanson’s Nursery and was cheerfully greeted at the entrance with a sea of cyclamen! Small in size and featuring bright pink, red or white flowers, these little plants are the perfect antidote to the dreary weather we have been having here in the Emerald City. Priced at about $8 and long blooming, I figured they were a thrifty way to satisfy my antsy green thumb and bring cheer to the kitchen table!

A sea of cyclamen at Swanson’s Nursery

I bought two pink ones. At home I removed them from the four inch pots and nestled them in a small brass planter purchased the day before at the thrift store. My little flowering composition now sits at the breakfast table and indeed brightens the room. Easy to care for, they only require water every few days and a pinching off of any dead blooms. With a little TLC they will continue to bloom, and apparently, they will die off in spring but they will come back to life next year!

For me, this “kitchen garden” keeps my itchy thumb active until the seed packets come out…

My Organic Kitchen Garden Year in Review 2021

As a gardener I am constantly reminded that life can often be mysterious but it always comes full circle! Now that the leaves are falling here in Seattle and the winds are howling around the neighborhood, it’s always fun to do a Garden Year in Review!

Throughout the gardening season, which starts in January for me, I take photos and try to document what I did and when I did it! This proves helpful on many levels as it acts as a prompt for the next year. While perusing my photos this morning, I was reminded how this was a particularly busy (and beautiful!) year for us in the garden!

This year we added a flock of hens, a custom chicken coop, raised beds, an herb garden, multiple miniature David Austin roses, scented geraniums from Christianson’s Nursery, and an array of trellises to grow beans. I also kept my 200 square foot community garden plot and the food bank bed going at the Haller Lake P Patch near my home.

In review, the rewards were huge both in terms of produce, herbs, and flowers harvested as well as in the personal rewards of starting many things from seed and seeing them come to maturity, both in the garden and on the dinner table!

Tulips with Spode Milk Jug and Chinese Porcelain Bowl

For me, gardening isn’t a chore, it’s a creative outlet that lets me experiment and dabble, hoping it all comes to some form of fruition! Some things did great. My herb garden is booming. I harvested a ton of tomatoes, cabbage, chards, kales, and lettuces.

That said, our pole beans were more challenging and I had to replant one plot three times as some evasive and annoying critter was devouring the tendrils before they could get a grasp on life. I never solved that problem in that corner of the yard, gave up on the bean plot right there and decided to plant something else. In the end the pole beans planted elsewhere in the yard did ok so that one corner of my garden world remains a mystery!

I could certainly say a lot more about all this but for now, here’s a photo tour from my Kitchen Garden 2021!

Now, it’s time to spring ahead to 2022!

Yellow chard starts
Lavender drying in a willow basket
Costata Romanesco zucchini-a fabulous Italian heirloom
Chard with eggs
Sweet peas, mint and lavender

Laura Bush Petunias

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.

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