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.

Growing Raspberries in a Small Space

If real estate in your garden is a hot commodity but you still want to expand the pickings, seriously consider dwarf varietals of plants. There are many unique options on the market and they really can be little powerhouses when it comes to prolific production and harvests.

Perhaps my favorite example of one such dwarf is the thornless Raspberry Shortcake berry from Bushel and Berry. A compact raspberry plant perfect for patios, planters, small gardens, and little corners, it produces the fattest most beautiful little red orbs each July. I purchased my first two plants over ten years ago when the variety was first introduced to the market. Over the years I have divided them, replanting many in big tubs in the garden and planting many in a makeshift raised bed at my organic community P Patch here in Seattle.

The bushes grow only to about 24 inches high so they don’t get tall and leggy. Because they are compact, they don’t shade other things in the garden and they are a fabulous edible plant for the little gardeners in the yard! My kids loved plucking these off the vine and sampling them on the spot. The berries are great in desserts, fruit salads, tarts, and cereals.

As for maintenance and care, they are very low-key! I fertilize and add compost in the spring. I trim the dead branches and divide if the containers look too crowded. When the days get warm and sunny, I water often which is critical for getting the berries luscious, plump and juicy!

Plants can be found at many small nurseries and home improvements stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. They are also sold on Amazon. To find a retailer in your area, search your zip code on the Bushel and Berry website locater.

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!

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.

 

 

The Pike Place Market Urban Garden

Don’t we all love little secret destinations? Spots that aren’t well known but have an abundance of charm? Little places that speak volumes but haven’t been discovered by the masses?

Well, that’s how I felt when I visited the Pike Place Market Urban Garden this morning. Admittedly, this 2,000 square foot garden sits in one of the city’s busiest tourist attractions–the Pike Place Market–but it is deliciously removed from the hub bub.

In 2013, the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority and Seattle Urban Farm Company  teamed up in order to revitalize and essentially energize an underutilized patio in the market. Indeed, their efforts have created a wonderful haven amidst the hub bub of urban life.

Tucked away near Maximilien Restaurant and Market Spice, this community garden is completely run by volunteers and all of the produce is donated to the local food bank and the market senior center. Peppered with raised beds, benches, pole bean teepees, trellised gourds, cucumbers and tomatoes, this garden simultaneously oozes charm and local food! Plus the spectacular views make it a great place to sit and take a breather from the crowds at hand.

Next time you are at Seattle’s iconic and world renowned tourist attraction, visit the garden and take a few minutes to smell the herbs and savor the scenery.

February in the Garden: Organizing a Big Hot Mess of Seeds

Things are getting brighter here in Seattle. We are scheduled for a full week of sun this week and by next Monday, which is President’s Day, we should be gearing up to plant our first round of spring peas.

Compost 2016This weekend we had a “family work party” in the garden. This involved wrangling teenage boys out of the house and into the garden. One of those teenagers picked up and hauled home two cubic yards of steamy Cedar Grove compost which was spread on my raised beds. We also had a family lesson in mechanics because my youngest son learned how to fix the wheel on the secondhand wheelbarrow. Family dynamics took a turn for the worse when it came time to deal with the big messy compost heap in the corner of the yard. I feed that heap with leaves, clippings, and coffee grounds through the winter.  No one likes that arduous and sloppy task but the worms, those quiet garden workhorses, needed a little attention.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli February 2016Last night, I finally got around to seriously perusing the seed catalogs. I have been poking through them intermittently but last night I sat down with pen and paper to craft my list. I must say I was surprised to see how much seeds prices have skyrocketed this year. One of my favorite purveyors wants $5 for ten tomato seeds. This reality check sent me on a housecleaning mission this morning….it was time to inventory my unruly collection of seed packets. I have packets stashed in Ziploc bags in a box. Not the best system admittedly but it has worked pretty well…until now.

This morning I spent a few minutes sorting those packets by variety. I then took note of the date on each packet and how much was left in each packet. Even after that I realized my sorting wouldn’t be very useful while placing mail orders or buying off the seed rack at the garden store. I really wanted to have a quick way to survey my stock and decide if I need to risk using older seeds or if it would be better to buy new.

So, I decided to take an inventory and create an Excel spreadsheet, categorizing each type of vegetable and then noting the variety, date on the packet and how much is left in each pack. Now, some of you might be masters of the Excel spreadsheet…I must admit, however, that I’ve never done one for this type of project but it came out great and I can now easily sort and peruse exactly what I have and what I need. (I just Googled an inventory spreadsheet template, downloaded it and it worked great.)  I’ve even stored the list in my Dropbox so I can access it from my phone while shopping.

I suspect I will still buy a few more packets than I technically need but I think my little seed inventory sheet will be very helpful when buying, planning, and planting for 2016.

Potimarron Squash–Kitchen Garden Victory with a French Heirloom

I love my little kitchen garden. Admittedly very small at only about 400 square feet, my garden produces a vast array of produce year round—tomatoes, figs, cucumbers, squash, beans, micro greens, and lettuce during the summer months and kale, cabbages, broccoli, garlic and shallots through the winter and into the spring.

Last June, I purchased a vintage book called Vegetable Gardening in Wartime. Published at the height of World War II and meant to be a reference for newbie patriotic gardeners who wanted to transform their yards into productive kitchen gardens, the book features an array of charts and illustrations designed to educate the reader on how to extend the season, maximize the harvest, and plant in succession. I studied these charts and although I didn’t follow them to a T, they inspired me to rethink how I garden and use my precious kitchen garden real estate each summer.  One of my gardening goals this year was to utilize the space throughout the bright and sunny months of summer. This involved planting a little earlier, harvesting conscientiously each day, and pulling the plants once they were spent in order to vacate the space and get going on another fruit or vegetable.

Victory Garden
Found at an estate sale, this vintage book is a treasure trove of information and advice for those who want to maximize their kitchen garden yields.

My best example of this ruthless approach occurred with my Costata Romanesco zucchini and Potimarron Squash. I planted the Italian heirloom zucchini in early May and by late June/early July the plants were five feet tall and producing far more zucchini than I ever imagined could come from a few plants. At that time, I also purchased a packet of Potimarron Squash seeds at PCC.  Produced by Uprising Seeds, the packets were on sale and the description of the winter squash was alluring—a small French heirloom that tasted like a cross between a pumpkin and a chestnut. I also liked the fact that the squash were small and grew on compact vines. I decided to push the envelope so to speak and plant a few seeds. Admittedly, I was doubtful that my French heirlooms would REALLY produce. After all, they were getting a very late start and I wasn’t sure they could possibly grow to maturity before fall set in.

Well, much to my delight, my Potimarron squash did great in the sunny corner of the yard where I had grown those Italian zucchini. The vines grew vigorously, the squash fruit set and last week we pulled the vines. Although the squash weren’t the exact telltale red, they continue to turn that gorgeous deep red color as they sit outside on my little sunny deck. I probably only got about six or seven squash of varying sizes but from a culinary perspective, I’m thrilled to discover that these little French heirlooms don’t need to be peeled because the skin doesn’t get that tough. (A true time saver in the kitchen and a score for thrifty cooks!) I’m also tickled that the squash store well, which means I can keep them handy for the colder rainy days ahead. And, because they are relatively small in size compared to some other monster winter squashes on the market, the Potimarron are great for individual serving sizes and small families.

So, if you want to savor a little victory in the garden, seriously consider planting in succession throughout the season and be brave, exploring new varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Potimarron Squash
After harvest, the squash continue to turn that telltale rich color…

Tomato Season 2015-A Whopper!

Heirloom tomato harvest
My late September harvest of heirloom tomatoes.

Well, I’ve been growing tomatoes here in the Pacific Northwest for at least twenty years now. And, without a doubt, I have to say that the Tomato Season 2015 was a blockbuster. Given that we had a warmer than usual spring, I trusted my instincts and planted my tomato plants one month earlier than usual. This was indeed a risk on my part because I normally don’t plant until May. That being said, I sensed that the tomatoes would do okay and much to my delight they flourished…yielding an abundance of big fat tomatoes in large quantities.

I always lean towards the heirloom tomato varieties and this year I opted for Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter, German Striped, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Stupice and a multitude of others.  I’ve been growing Stupice, an heirloom variety from Czechoslovakia for many years now. It yields a moderately sized tomato and does well even in those years when the Seattle weather doesn’t exactly cooperate with an abundance of sunshine. My Stupice tomatoes were some of the first to ripen this year and the plant is still producing.

Matt's Wild Cherry heirloom tomato

One of my biggest surprises this year was Matt’s Wild Cherry. I had never grown this heirloom before and I opted to buy it this year because I wanted to experiment with cherries. I purchased one plant and nestled it into a far corner of the yard, planting other varieties nearby.

During the course of the summer, I tried to keep that tomato bed under control by clipping and pruning the plants but somehow I never got around to tending Matt’s Wild Cherry…it was just too far back in the garden. Well during my fall cleanup yesterday, I uncovered Matt’s Wild. Over the summer,  this plant clearly had its own agenda and went wild in the back corner…rambling over the wood pile and up the fence. I was thrilled to find a jackpot of mini tomatoes back there. Growing in little clusters, the very small tomatoes have a wonderful sweet flavor and a great snappy skin. I think they are quite elegant and can easily see them being used as a brilliant little garnish on a salad or an hors d’oeuvre tray. This variety is going on my tomato list for next year.

How did the tomatoes grow in your neck of the woods this year? Did you grown any new and unusual heirlooms or varieties?