Beautiful Brassicas

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By Teresa Woodard

Yes, I’ve planted flowering kale to add fall color to borders and containers, but I had no idea how amazing brassicas — kales, cabbages, turnips, kohlrabi and mustards — could look in the landscape until last week when I visited the spring display gardens at the Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical Garden in Columbia, SC.  Brassicas are best grown in cool seasons – spring and fall, so consider purchasing some plants to add this spring or planting some seeds in August for a fall show. Fellow blogger Deb Knapke will follow up this post with another on growing tips.

The Riverbanks’ spring display garden offers plenty of inspiration. Just check out these fanciful and edible leaves and clever planting combinations.

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Ornamental Kale: Brassica oleracea (Acephala Group) ‘Peacock Red’

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Curly Kale: Brassica oleracea (Acephala Group) ‘Starbor’

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Kohlrabi: Brassica oleracea (Gongylodes Group) ‘Azur-Star’

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Cabbage: Brassica oleracea ‘OS Cross’

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Kohlrabi: Brassica oleracea (Gongylodes Group) ‘Delicacy Purple’

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White ornamental kale: Try the Crane series for cut flower arrangements.

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Upper right corner is Siberian Kale or Brassica napus (Pabularia Group) ‘Winter Red’

 

Giant Red Mustard produces a contrasting yellow flower.

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Cool season flowering plants like pansies and violas make great companion plants for brassicas.

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Kohlrabi paired with violas

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Collards take on more beauty as they flower here in yellow blooms.

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An planting of curly kale beneath a Chinese fringe tree

 

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Visit Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical Gardens’ spring display in its 34,000-square-foot walled garden area.

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Radicchio Cichorium Intybus ‘Fiero’ (Not a brassica but a beautiful edible.)

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Radicchio add eye-catching conical shapes in the spring display garden.

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A 300-foot-long canal featuring cascades and pinwheel fountains serves as the focal point of the impressive spring display in the walled garden at Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical Garden.

Favorite Edibles: Peas

Dwarf Gray Sugar Snow Pea from Johnny's Select Seeds

Dwarf Gray Sugar Snow Pea from Johnny’s Select Seeds

By Debra Knapke

“If you don’t like peas, it is probably because you have not had them fresh. It is the difference between reading a great book and reading the summary on the back” ― Lemony Snicket, Shouldn’t You Be in School?

My childhood perception of peas was based on peas out of a can: mushy, tasteless, army-green-colored excuse for food. My dad had a garden, but it was filled with tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. I’m betting peas were absent because they needed to be started early, and that just didn’t fit into my dad’s schedule.

In college I helped shuck peas and discovered their true flavor and texture. What a revelation.

I don’t plant peas every year, but when it fits in my schedule, peas are my food-harbingers of spring and early summer harvests. Their only competitor is asparagus, but that is a post for another day.

When do you plant peas? The rule of thumb is to plant them as early as you can work the soil starting in mid-March; St. Patrick’s Day is often given as a target date. My target range is closer to April 5th to April 15th which is when I can get into the garden. Right now my peas are about one to two inches tall.

I am impatient and don’t usually plant peas that need to mature and be shucked. I gravitate towards the snow and snap pea cultivars which are delicious in their raw state or when lightly sautéed or stir-fried. I confess to using frozen peas in recipes that call for the “seed” (pea) instead of the “fruit” (pea-pod). At a restaurant I had an elegant appetizer that consisted of a pea and mint pesto spread over baked ricotta. I have yet to replicate it; maybe this year.

Here is a simple side dish for freshly harvested snow or snap pea pods (all amounts are determined by what is available from your garden):

Pasta with Sautéed Peapods and Mint Pesto – for two

Pesto:

½ to ¾ c       spearmint leaves and tender upper stems, rinsed and patted dry

3-4 TBS         olive oil

1 clove          garlic

In a food processor, combine the above ingredients.

 

3-4 cups       peapods, rinsed and drained

1 TBS             olive oil

Sauté the peapods in the olive oil until they are bright green and tender-crisp.

Toss the pesto and peapods with six to eight ounces of your favorite pasta. Garnish with toasted pine nuts or pistachios. You may wish to dress with one tablespoon of high quality olive oil. A fantastic olive oil – available online – is Lucero Meyer Lemon infused olive oil.

 

Favorite Edibles: Carrots

Credit: World of Carrots Museum

Photo Credit: World of Carrots Museum

By Debra Knapke

Bugs Bunny did for carrots what Popeye the Sailor did for Spinach.bugs bunny book How many lip-locked, head-swelling children were coerced into eating their carrots by mothers cooing, “…but Bugs Bunny eats HIS carrots.” Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny of Looney tunes fame)

Carrots are one of my favorite snacks, especially ones just harvested from the garden. I am envious of Michael’s success with his carrots – bragging rights, indeed – as the past few years have not been the best carrot-growing years for me. But, this is the year. I have: five varieties I’ve not tried, good compost, a dedicated spot and I will be planting in late May/early June to avoid the carrot maggot. Well, that’s the plan.

I decided to go back to basics and grow all orange varieties this year, except for ‘Atomic Red’. I am intrigued with the health claims for this lycopene-loaded carrot and its reputed deep, deep red color. The others are all faster maturing, smaller varieties. ‘Parisienne’ and ‘Romeo’ are small round carrots while ‘Little Finger’ and ‘Babette’ have slender, cylindrical forms. Another goal this year is to do more pickling; ‘Little Finger’ and ‘Babette’ will be perfect for pint-sized jars.

As I looked for ways to increase my success with carrots, in my books and on the web, I stumbled upon a website in England that is dedicated to the glory of the carrot. John Stolarczyk, founder and curator of the World Carrot Museum has gathered an impressive body of information that is useful and a bit quirky. I’m thinking I need to make a “flutenveg”, a variation of a set of pan pipes. I’m not sure of the tone quality it produces, but who cares? Laughter will cover any off-pitch note.

If you want a more comprehensive list of carrot cultivars by color, Edible Cols springtake a look at my picks in the “What to Plant” section in the latest Edible Columbus.  There is a carrot for everyone’s taste. There is still time to order seeds or visit your favorite garden center to pick up a few varieties. Below are a few quick notes that will help you be a successful carrot grower.

  • Carrot seeds are usually directly sown into the garden; the taproot is easily damaged if transplanted.
  • Sow carrot seeds shallowly; consistent moisture is important for good germination.
  • Longer roots need deeper, friable soil; if you have clay or rocky soils, choose shorter carrots.
  • A potential pest is the rust fly maggot; plant at the very end of May or early July to avoid the first generation of egg-laying flies or use row covers to exclude the fly.

And, if carrots are not your ideal vegetable, here is another point-of-view from the incomparable Mae West:

I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.

 

Fall Veggie Crops

By Michael Leach

If you want fresh vegetables for Thanksgiving and perhaps New Year’s Day, start planting.

 

Most of the vegetables typically planted in spring are equally adept at producing in fall and sometimes into winter, if weather is mild. They prefer cool growing conditions, not the tropical, summer warmth that prompts tomatoes and peppers to flourish. (I’ve found peas are more prolific in fall because temps keep ebbing rather than rising.)

 

Don’t forget, growing your own food is trendy. Cold weather harvests will keep you stylishly ahead of the mere zucchini growers on the block.

 

Besides being nutritious, the bodacious foliage of kale, collards and chard play well with asters, mums and other fall flowers. ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard even sports colorful stems.

 

For best chances of success in having fresh veggies in the Thanksgiving cornucopia, keep the following in mind:

 

* Look at seed packets for the maturity date (time from sowing to harvest) and subtract from the first frost date, usually about mid-October in central Ohio. The longer the time to maturity, the sooner you need to sow for best chances of success. You may want to add a week or two to that maturity date to allow for slower growth due to lower temps and shorter days.

 

* Don’t worry about frosts or even some freezing for cold-tolerant kale, collards and Brussels sprouts. The flavor improves after a few frosts.

 

* Check garden centers for small broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants. Direct sowing seeds of these plants probably won’t beat the clock.

 

* Prep the soil before planting. Spread an inch or two of compost or other organic amendments. Scatter organic or other fertilizer at package-given rates. Till all this into the top two or three inches of soil.

 

* Use floating row cover after sowing seeds. This lightweight agricultural fabric keeps bugs off plants, yet it’s so lightweight, seedlings easily push it up as they grow.

 

I leave it on all winter for wind protection. Despite the infamous polar vortex, I harvested a few greens for bragging rights on St. Patrick’s Day. In mild winters, some greens can be picked almost every week.

 

* Plant only what you like to eat and enough to meet your family’s needs. If there is excess, donate it to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank or a local soup kitchen.

Good eats: Strawberries

strawberry quart

By Teresa Woodard

Can you smell the super-sweet, extra-juicy strawberries ripening in backyards and fields across the Midwest? With names like ‘Jewel’ and ‘Earliglow’, these berries will be in season for the next few weeks, so be sure to enjoy them while they last. You’ll find them at local farmers’ markets, u-pick fields and specialty grocers. Personally, my favorite ways to savor these fresh-picked fruits are in preserves, a fresh strawberry pie (see recipe below) and strawberry shortcake (using the biscuit recipe on the back of the Bisquick box and topping it with a premium vanilla ice cream and sliced berries).

To learn more about picking, storing and even growing your own berries, check out this First Fruit story I recently wrote for Edible Columbus.  As a teen, I worked at a berry farm in western Ohio for a couple of seasons, so I was delighted to talk with central Ohio growers about new growing techniques, harvesting tips and their experiences with customers who take extremes to make the most of the fleeting berry season.

Fresh Berry Pie (from American Discovers Columbus cookbook)

  • Baked 9” pie shell
  • 2 quarts berries minus 1 cup, chopped
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp., cornstarch (more for very ripe fruit)61I3Wf0eURL
  • ¾ cup water
  • Red food coloring (optional)
  • Whipped cream

Bake pie shell. Fill with clean hulled sliced berries, minus 1 cup. Heat 1 cup chopped berries and 1/3 cup water to a slow boil, about 3 minutes. Mix sugar and cornstarch with 3/4 cup water and add to warm berries.  Add red food coloring if desired. Heat for an additional 3-4 minutes. Cool, then pour this thick syrup over the fresh berries. Top cooled pie with whipped cream.

 

 

Spring Countdown: 1 day

Leach garden (22)How to grow a winter garden without raising the heating bill

By Michael Leach

Wearin’ o’ the green is one thing. I prefer eating greens, especially those fresh from the garden. With floating row cover, and a bit of Irish luck, this is doable on St. Patrick’s Day and weeks before — even in the Midwest.

By chance I discovered floating row cover does more than keep cabbage butterflies away from the kale, collards, turnips and other cold tolerant greens. I plant these in late summer for a fall, winter and spring harvest. This lightweight agricultural fabric helps the plants resist winter weather, apparently by offering some wind protection. Even without row covers, kale and collards have grown well into December in some years.

While Debra was gathering rosemary during our spate of Zone 7 winters in our Zone 6 world, I harvested small amounts of greens almost weekly. Dim winter days slowed production to mere bragging rights over a few leaves in darkest December and January.

But by the end of February, the combination of warmer readings and longer days triggered new leaves and harvests two or three times a week.

This year things are different, due to one of the coldest winters in a generation. The lush, venerable greens, planted last spring, died despite the row cover. A cursory check shows little hope of new life arising from the roots.

The younger plants of late summer provided the season’s  first small harvest of greens — just in time for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That’s no Blarney. Seasoned with a bit of butter, sea salt, pepper and bragging rights they were awesome.

(For inspiration on growing your own winter garden, check out Eliot Coleman’s books based on his experience of year-round vegetable gardening in Maine without  heated greenhouses. Visit his website.)

Spring Countdown: 4 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Debra Knapke

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a recipe that I’ve made many times.  This is comfort food!

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup

From Moosewood Daily Special with a few changes…

2 TBL      olive oil

2 c.         chopped onions*

1 tsp      ground caraway seeds (fennel is another option)

½ tsp     salt

4-5 c.     coarsely chopped green cabbage

2 c.         sliced potatoes

3 c.         water or vegetable stock

2 tsp      dried dill**

4 oz.       chevre

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions, caraway and half the salt until the onions are translucent; about 7-10 minutes. Add the cabbage and remaining salt and cook until the cabbage is beginning to wilt.  Add the potatoes and water and bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat.  Add the dill and chevre, and stir to combine.  Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.  Simmer the soup if it has cooled too much, add salt and pepper to taste and add water if the blended soup is too thick.

*   When in season, I use leeks instead.

** If you have fresh dill, use at least 2 tablespoons; other herbs to use: thyme or sage; both are especially tasty with fennel instead of caraway.

Seasonal Serendipity

Apple orchardBy Debra Knapke

I wasn’t looking for a new apple; it found me.

On a chilly morning at the end of October I picked my last two pecks of apples, Goldrush and Staymen Winesap at Lynd’s Fruit Farm in Pataskala, Ohio.  At the checkout, Andy Lynd offered me an apple that hasn’t been named yet.

Imagine a glowing, golden, perfectly formed apple accented with a red flush.  My first bite was apricots and summer wine with a hint of mango and kiwi.  The texture was crystally, crunchy… there are no other words to describe its texture.  And, like a fine wine, the best flavor notes lingered; reminding me of the perfume of apple flowers.

It is dangerous to be driving and eating an apple that is this good.

Even though the apple picking season has ended, there are plenty of other apple-based pleasures to anticipate.  While Michael is looking forward to the lull in the garden tending, I haven’t left fall – yet.  I am thinking of what all my apples will turn into: muffins, apple pie, applesauce, baked apples, dried apples and more.

And, I am dreaming of that golden Atalanta* apple that I hope to pick soon at Lynd’s.  Next year?

If you would like to explore more apple offerings, check out Debra’s article, “The Apple ”, beautifully illustrated by Brooke Albrecht, in the Fall Issue of EdibleColumbus.Apples on tree

* For those who may not remember the myth…  Atalanta was a fierce huntress devoted to Diana.  She avoided marriage by setting up a challenge:  she would only marry the man who could best her in a foot race.  Any suitor who could not outrun her would forfeit his life.  Hippomenes (or Melanion, in some renditions) fell in love with Atalanta and appealed to Aphrodite for help.   Aphrodite gave Hippomenes three golden apples along with the instruction to throw one out each time Atalanta started to pass him.  These enticing apples slowed Atalanta enough to allow Hippomenes to finish first and end Atalanta’s unmarried state.

Good Eats: Berry-cherry cobbler bars

By Teresa Woodard

I was delighted to return home from a visit to my sister’s in Alabama to find ripe cherries and black raspberries in our backyard.  Yes, the bluejays beat me to several of the cherries, and I always forget the chore of pitting the fruits, but I gathered enough to try in a new recipe.  It’s one I flagged in the recent issue of Southern Living which I fittingly read on the porch of my southern sister’s lake house.  While the recipe called for blackberries and peaches, I swapped those fruits for cherries and black raspberries.  The bars were a fun alternative to a traditional cobbler recipe.  Plus, pre-cutting the bars helped with portion control and made them easily portability.  They were so simple to grab and go for a breakfast treat on the way to our son’s baseball game.  Click here for the Southern Living recipe.

Good Eats: Pomegranates

Watch an Oscar Nominee and Peel a Pomegranate

PomegranateBy Debra Knapke

Not a recipe this time, but a delicious fruit that is available in the winter and is fun to eat.  Some may consider it a pain to peel; for you, pomegranate arils (seeds) are now available in most supermarkets, already separated from the fruit.  For me, this is a jigsaw puzzle.  While watching an old movie or listening to music, I sit and peel.  The arils then show up as additions to salads, hot rice dishes – so good in wild rice recipes – and anything else that seems to need a burst of flavor.

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