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.

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.