Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Spring Planting

Where does food come from? It comes from the ground, of course. And prior to that, it arrives on earth in the form of sunshine. Thanks to photosynthesis, we have food to eat, because plants have the unique ability to turn sunshine into carbohydrates, providing calories for us and for other animals (some of which we eat as well). But plants wouldn't be much without soil. And with the arrival of Spring (last frost around here is April 10), I'm on my knees, getting my hands dirty. And because we would not eat were it not for soil, I feel perfectly justified writing about it in a food blog.

Today I planted 15 different varieties of lettuce along with some parsley, cilantro, radishes and a new variety of kale for me, Lacinato. All this in just one corner of our yard here in the District of Columbia, about a mile from the White House. Here you see my stirrup hoe, which I use to dig up weeds and turn the soil a bit, and a bucket for collecting all the waste. The weeds all get dumped in the compost pile, where they can do some good later as fertilizer and soil conditioner.

I started planting in our front yard three years ago. This was under threat of eviction from my more far-thinking spouse, who has great plans to turn the yard into a magnificent garden, compatible with our Victorian-era house. But the big plans so far have given way to the smaller plans. The actual plans, I might add, have still to be drawn up, although my wife has a general idea where she wants things. (This translates as, "Don't you dare put a vegetable bed there! That's where the walkway is going!") She has wavered, for instance, on just what kind of dust-inhibiting shrub to plant around the perimiter as a hedge. And now I think we share the same view that our new garden, as far as possible, should be edible.

While the master plan inches along, and while my wife continues to threaten that a crew will be here any day to install a retaining wall, I continue digging and planting. A quick survey shows that a few lettuces along with some arugula, kale and collards survived a bitterly cold February. And the garlic I planted last fall is doing fine. I am gradually improving my knowledge of what to plant where, based on past successes. So this year I am starting with plenty of lettuces. I won't be over-fertilizing (with compost) the radishes and carrots: the extra nitrogen results in too much foliage and funny-shaped carrots. I am finding some shadier spots for the parsley and especially the cilantro. And I will work my way across the yard, preparing the beds, making more compost. This will space out my planting so that everything doesn't come up at once. You don't want a crop of lettuce so big you can't eat it. But I also will be serving it to my catering clients, and selling it at the small produce market we operate in front of my daughter's charter school on Saturday mornings. We use money from vegetables to buy more seeds for the school garden.

I will continue to update you on our urban garden. Chefs should be gardeners. Because gardens provide our food. I don't know how you can separate cooking from growing. And now that we know how much our food supply contributes to our environmental problems, we should all be gardeners/cooks/environmentalists.
Here's the garlic. Hard tomake out. It looks much better in person.


La C. said...

We started our planting last weekend. I am so excited. The first things to go in the ground were our field greens and herbs.

Next weekend hopefully, we can get everything else started up as well.

Our well planned gardens always seem to turn into a free for all. Good luck with the cilantro, last year was the first year that I could keep mine alive for more than a week.

Ed Bruske said...

That's exciting!
Is "field greens" a term of art, or a common name for something very specific.
Do tell about the herbs. I'm curious what you're putting out now, or have you already had your last frost date?
Cilantro is a bitch. It needs cool weather. So I don't understand why it is such a popular herb in tropical, hot climates (North Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Mexico). I had success with a "slow bolt" variety a couple of years ago, planted next to the Thai basil. But otherwise cilantro just wants to bolt, which gives plenty of seeds but no foliage. Anyone with any tips about growing cilantro south of the Mason Dixon line, please give us a jingle...

Today I planted a couple of variety of vining peas along with Swiss chard. We love Swiss chard! You cut it and it just comes back and back. Yet so many people don't give it a second look. I think we need to mount a Swiss chard campaign, with favorite recipes.

Divina said...

I live in the land of Lacinto.. tuscany!

and a although I am a cooking teacher and love the land, I only have a small garden with herbs, and one artichoke plant.

but living in Italy I have access to local farmers and gardens every day and everywhere!

So I support those that know what they are doing..

I just blogged about the lovely baby Lacinto ( cavolo nero here) that I got from the local farm for my salads.

We also use the kale for a kale pesto, twice cooked, in polenta and of course in the Ribollita ( twice cooked minestrone with bread)

Enjoy your crop and let me know how it turns out.
here it is best after a freeze, making the leaves more tender.

If you ever get to Kramer's tell Henry the Diva says hi!!! or to Dino's in cleavand park.. tell Dean.. ciao!

Ed Bruske said...

So nice to hear from you Divina. We love all kinds of greens and I will certainly keep you updated. Meanwhile, I would love to hear more about what you are doing in Italy. But you did not tell us the name of your blog! Please give us a link so we can read about your gardening and food experiences there.

La C. said...

I believe slow bolt was what we had luck with as well.

Field Greens= Memphian for mesclun green mix, spring green mix etc (We planted a spicy mix, a sweet mix, and just a plain ole mix, but I can't remember the specifics of what was in each.

We planted some straight up arugula too, no mix, but I am still confused as to if that falls into the greens category or the herb category.

We also are planting basil, chives, and tarragon. We have a fantastic crop of garlic coming back from next year. Our rosemary bush is also thriving, and surprisingly enough, we have a patch of parsley coming up where we had some planted last year.

We had luck with cilantro when we started it from plant, not seed, so we will plant a cilantro plant at some point a little later in the season and hold our breath.

I think that's all, now we just have to decide what veggies to get in the ground.

Ed Bruske said...

One of our farmer friends specializes in raising winter greens for his CSA, so that means we've become somewhat expert in the brassica family of vegetables. One of his specialties is arugula. It takes on an incredibly rich, spicy flavor when grown out of doors in cold climate. So arugula is one of those many vegetables related to cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc. Some people do consider is a "salad herb," meaning it is probably better eaten raw.

I take it the tarragon you are planting is a French tarragon plant, which can only be grown from cuttings, and not the rank Russian tarragon, which will sprout from seed. Russian tarragon is not edible.

Careful of the recurring parsley. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it does not go to seed until the second year. But what we've found is the second year really is a bust in terms of collecting parsley leaves. The plant is on a mission to bolt. So we just take it out after the first year and plant anew.

La C. said...

We actually planted mexican tarragon or mexican marigold if you prefer. The leaves get kind of tough but it is still good and the bush gets huge which is nice because we tear through it. We will replant the parsley, I was surprised it came back at all. We also have mint and oregano that is coming back from last year.

Ed Bruske said...

I'll bite la c.: What do you use "Mexican" tarragon for? Are there any particular recipes you'd like to share?

Until recently, I had no idea how hardy mint is. We were picking mint right up to the horrible Februrary freeze, when temps went down into the low teens.