Category Archives: Vegetables

Why I’m back with a CSA.


Four years ago I wrote a post titled Why I dropped my CSA membership. Having gleaned all the info and inspiration I needed from that CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership, I was ready to make a go of it on my own. Things have gone pretty well in the last four years. We have eaten lots of great garden food. We’ve tried many new varieties of vegetables and herbs. We’ve preserved pound after pound of garden goods and enjoyed them throughout the year.

It hasn’t been all glamour though. Blight, bugs, cold weather, an insane amount of weeds and a myriad of other issues continue to plague my garden year after year. Nothing out of the ordinary. but enough to leave some holes here and there in my harvest.

Also, in that time, I’ve added two children to the family. And my other two kids have grown bigger. When I cook meals now, I need to make a lot of food.

Online and in other media, I’ve seen so many beauty shots of produce from local farms, farmers markets and CSA  boxes. I sometimes get veggie envy.

One year I spent the better part of our food budget at the farmer’s market. Now, there’s nothing really wrong with that. But it did make me think about my CSA days of yore and consider the value of purchasing produce that way. Perhaps the CSA did make better economic sense after all.

And then there’s the creative factor. The CSA boxes included items that made me stretch my cooking chops a bit and learn new techniques. I was missing that. Left to my own devices, I tended to buy basic vegetables that I knew my family would eat without complaining. Again–nothing wrong with that. But it wasn’t as interesting or as much fun. I like a food challenge and researching techniques and recipes is my idea of a good time.

So this winter, when I started to notice all the CSA sign up reminders popping up in my facebook feed, I began to reconsider my stance on CSA membership. Maybe I was ready to dive back in? Indeed, I believe I am.

The first box is here and I’m presented with a whole new vegetable (puntarelle, anyone?) to try and lots of possibilities ahead. I can’t wait to see what every new week brings. I’m confident that the produce we receive each week will be helpful in feeding those two new mouths we have, as well as the other four of us. Thankful for the bounty we grow, but also for that which is grown by others.

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Radish Love


Radish assortment from this year's garden.

Radish assortment from this year’s garden.

I probably never ate a radish (willingly) until I was well into adulthood. They just weren’t very good. In the last several years though, I’ve discovered there are lots of radishes that actually taste very good. I just have to grow them myself. They are nowhere to be found in the stores.

Radishes are my go-to early season garden filler. They are the first thing I plant in the spring, as soon as the ground is warm enough to dig. They are the perfect bridge between winter and summer. They grow fast and easily even in cold early spring temperatures, only taking about 25 days from germination to tasty salad addition. By the time they are all harvested and eaten, it’s time to put in more summery crops.

Pink Beauty radishes, early in the seson.

Pink Beauty radishes, early in the season.

French Breakfast radishes almost ready for picking.

French Breakfast radishes almost ready for picking.

Now, the whole radish is edible. The leaves can be added to salads, soups, stir fry, or wherever a bright green slightly bitter and peppery punch is needed. Truth is, I don’t love to eat the leaves. Sometimes they are fuzzy, even “spikey” as my kids say. I prefer to toss the leaves in the compost and let them nourish us that way.

Cherry Belle radishes with their greens.

Cherry Belle radishes with their greens.

For me, the radish root itself is where it’s at. Fresh from the garden they are crisp and full of zip. Even better after being chilled in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

Radishes have varying degrees of “heat”. Seed catalogs usually inform on the level of bite that can be expected. Terms such as “mild”, “pungent” and “hot” give an idea of what to expect.

Here are some radish varieties I’ve grown and enjoyed:

Pink Beauty
Ostergruss
French Breakfast
Cherry Belle
Early Scarlet Globe

Radishes are great by themselves, but they also make delicious dippers. Any veggie dip would work. However, a real treat is to make an herb butter compound and serve that room temperature alongside chilled radishes. Oh my. Butter and radishes are a match made in heaven. If it’s too early in the season for fresh herbs, dried are a good substitute. My kids love plain butter with just some garlic salt mixed in. And if all it takes is a little butter and garlic salt to get my kids to eat radishes, then I’m in. Because I remember being a kid who would not eat a radish. So I consider it a success to have raised radish eaters.

Fresh-from-the-garden French Breakfast radishes with an herb butter.

Fresh-from-the-garden French Breakfast radishes with an herb butter.

While the butter dip is my favorite way to eat radishes, there is no denying that they are perfect for salads. A peppery spring salad of arugula and sliced radishes with a simple drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt and pepper is something I look forward to every year.

It's no coincidence that arugula and radishes are ready to harvest at the same time. They are a tasty combination!

It’s no coincidence that arugula and radishes are ready to harvest at the same time. They are a tasty combination!

If my radishes are getting a little “long in the tooth” it’s a good time to consider roasting them. Like all root vegetables (think carrots, parsnips, etc) radishes can be tossed with some olive oil and salt and roasted in a hot oven.

There are plenty of other ways to enjoy radishes. A quick online search or scan of Pinterest will yield tons of ideas.

I’ve never grown a fall crop of radishes, but maybe it’s time to start. They are pretty much the perfect start to the gardening season, I imagine it’d make a fitting end to enjoy them then too.

Radishes come in many shapes and colors. It's worth seeking out new varieties in seed catalogs.

Radishes come in many shapes and colors. It’s worth seeking out new varieties in seed catalogs.

All in!


All the pots have been moved to this location so they are watered while I'm away.

All the pots have been moved to this location so they are watered while I’m away.

The process of getting the garden in went into high gear this week as we prepared to head out of town.  It was really a family effort, with my husband doing much of the structural work and hauling of supplies and the kids helping me with seedlings, seeds, weeds and watering.

I knew several months ago that the garden was going to be more productive this year, but I had no idea just how many things we would be able to squeeze in.  I’ve used every inch of dirt and nearly every pot we have.  The result is a backyard full of dozens of varieties of vegetables and beautiful flowers.  I can’t wait to see how it all grows and what we are able to do with it.  I’m especially hoping to be able to preserve more to eat throughout the off-season.

Why do it this way instead of planting fewer varieties but more of them?  Done that way, I could have enough tomatoes to make all the sauce we’d need for the year.  But I wouldn’t have anything else.  And it wouldn’t be much fun.

Planting several varieties ensures that there will be successes, even amid failures.  If tomatoes get blight, there are still many other edibles to enjoy.  Variety is also a great way to draw beneficial insects to the garden.  Each one may attract something different.

And of course, variety is beautiful!

Herb garden is planted with parsley, chamomile, dill, lavender, thyme, sage, tarragon and chives.

Herb garden is planted with parsley, chamomile, dill, lavender, thyme, sage, tarragon and chives.

My husband helped the kids create their own little garden.  They have dinosaur kale and begonias.

My husband helped the kids create their own little garden. They have dinosaur kale and begonias.

My husband installed this lattice.  I'm planning to use it for cucumbers and zucchini.  The rest of the bed is planted with garlic, bush beans, nasturtiums, marigolds, two kinds of lettuce, various beets, celery, celariac, onions, radishes and swiss chard.

My husband installed this lattice. I’m planning to use it for cucumbers and zucchini. The rest of the bed is planted with garlic, bush beans, nasturtiums, marigolds, two kinds of lettuce, various beets, celery, celariac, onions, radishes and swiss chard.

This area has three tomato plants as well as pole beans, fava beans and watermelon.

This area has three tomato plants as well as pole beans, fava beans and watermelon.

This bed is planted with tomatoes, marigolds, three kinds of kale, fennel, two kinds of carrots, broccoli, pak choi, walking onion, leeks, red onions, nasturtiums and strawberries.

This bed is planted with tomatoes, marigolds, three kinds of kale, fennel, two kinds of carrots, broccoli, pak choi, walking onion, leeks, red onions, nasturtiums and strawberries.

Leaves & Shoots: A tale of basement gardening success.


It may not be the coldest March on record, but it’s starting to feel like the longest.  At least here in Wisconsin, where I haven’t seen the grass since February.  And the sun, haven’t seen much of that either.

But I can’t complain too much.  You see, despite frightful cold and lingering snow, I’ve been gardening.  Not outside like last year, when record warmth allowed peas and radishes to go in the ground in March.  No, this year I’ve got a basement garden up and running.

I started it back in January so that I could grow wheatgrass for juicing.  That was so successful that I thought I might expand into lettuces.  Success again!  And now that it’s March I have my garden starts growing under the lights too.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter?  Hmmm...

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter? Hmmm…

I’m having so much fun experimenting with this.  My setup is simple–two grow lights hung from the rafters and heat mats below.   The lights are on a timer system, so they come on and shut off automatically.  I just have to make sure everything has enough water.

Basement gardening.  Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

Basement gardening. Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

You should know that I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before and I did basically no research before setting it up.  But it’s working!  And I’m pretty excited about it.

Last week I enjoyed my first salad from the basement and today I had another for my dinner.  Because I planted a whole tray of “cut and come again” leaf lettuce, I’ll get to enjoy 3 or 4 more salads at least.  And by the time I eat the last salad, I should be able to do some potted lettuces outside.  In fact, the spinach that I overwintered will likely be producing by then.  (Fingers crossed!)

Lettuces under the lights.

Lettuces under the lights.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here... if only we had sun like this every day.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here… if only we had sun like this every day.

Tray after cutting of lettuce.  Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Tray after cutting of lettuce. Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

I have also started some herbs with the intent of growing them in a pot in the house.  In addition to that, my kids planted some peas in take out containers so that we can add pea shoots to our salads.

I’m not going to let this miserably cold weather stop me from enjoying my hobby.  I’ve just had to find different ways to grow while I wait out winter.

Pickled Beets


This post is part of my REWIND series!  Pretend it’s July and enjoy.  🙂

It’s been 99 in the shade here all week.  So much heat and humidity has caused the garden to either accelerate growth (as in bolting lettuces) or decelerate growth (like the leeks that would prefer cooler temps).

Beets fresh from the garden and ready for the royal treatment.

Beets fresh from the garden and ready for the royal treatment.

I had noticed that my beets were just the right size for harvesting, and since the heat was doing them no good I pulled them out yesterday and did some pickling. It might seem counter intuitive to boil a huge vat of water on a 99 degree day, but  when the produce is ready it’s time to can–regardless of the weather.  It’s on days like this that I’m thankful for central air!  I’m not sure how our ancestors processed all their food in this heat.

I used a recipe from an older canning book, it didn’t tell me how many pounds of beets I would need or how long to boil the syrup.  Hopefully I guessed correctly!

I used this old recipe and it turned out to be delicious.

I used this old recipe and it turned out to be delicious.

The beets needed to be boiled then peeled.  Most I kept whole, although there were some larger ones that I cut in half before placing into jars.

Cooked and peeled beets.

Cooked and peeled beets.

I truly enjoy food projects.  Working with food makes me happy and I love to think about the time when we will open up the jar and enjoy those beets in the future.  I feel like I’m really participating in the feeding of my family in a completely hands-on way.

As I worked with the beets I admired their deep red color.  So much nutrition packed into those jewel-toned beauties.  Growing beets has been a fun and easy, gratifying experience.

This was an easy and rewarding project.

This was an easy and rewarding project.

[And now a word from present day me, January 2013.]  The final product was enjoyed with a few meals and shared with a special friend.  These beets had that old-fashioned taste I had hoped for, and the spices gave them a bit of a holiday flair.  I only wish I had more than four jars because they are already gone!  I will definitely be canning beets again this year.

Jars of pickled beets all ready for storage and gifting.

Jars of pickled beets all ready for storage and gifting.

Shelling Beans


I really enjoy the task of shelling dried beans at the end of the season.  They pop right open and the beans are easily removed.  It’s satisfying to fill up a bowl with dried beans and then run my hand through them, thinking about how months ago I planted a few beans in the ground and now I have a whole bowlful to enjoy.

This year I planted Turkey Craw and Good Mother Stallard both from Seed Savers Exchange.  From the SSE online catalog you can purchase beans for planting and bags of beans for cooking.  So it’s not too late to place an order for some quality dried beans even if you didn’t plant any yourself this year!

Beans are a nutritious, filling bang-for-your-buck food and no pantry should be without.  I’m glad I grew some of my own this year.  And though I didn’t get a huge harvest, I am happy to have been a part of the process of getting this staple into my pantry.  Maybe next year I’ll try a new variety or grow more.

And I should mention, if shelling beans doesn’t thrill you like it does me… it’s a great activity for the kids to do.  My five year old LOVES to shell the beans and it keeps him busy for awhile.

See what I did with last year’s bean harvest.  Beans: Really Slow Food

Two soups to make right now.


The garden and the farmer’s market are still loaded with lots of goodies.  I have two favorite recipes I like to make in October that use ingredients that are super fresh right now.

Celeriac, also known as celery root, has a flavor similar to celery but comes in root ball form rather than a stalk like celery.  It’s pretty ugly out of the garden, but so great in a fall soup.  And I’m happy to report it’s a cinch to grow.

This is what the celeriac looks like after I've significantly cleaned it, but not yet peeled it.

I first discovered celeriac in a CSA box a few years ago, wasn’t sure what to do with it at first.  It’s delicious in a slaw or roasted, but my favorite way is in a soup.  Google “celery root soup” and you’ll find a slew of simlar-ish recipes from the likes of Oprah to the folks at Joy of Kosher.  There are literally hundreds of great recipes at the push of a button.

I’m sharing an un-recipe… in other words, this is how I make it but I don’t really measure and sometimes I throw in other stuff.  But it’s a method that works and is always good.

Fall Celariac Soup  A Gracious Garden

In a pot, saute cubed celeriac (celery root) and diced onion in a bit of butter or olive oil.  When lightly cooked, add diced potato, diced green apple, a large container of chicken broth, and fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme or tarragon).  Bring to a boil, then set to simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked through.  Using an immersion blender (or whatever blending device is available) blend soup in batches until smooth.  Return to pot, reheat and season with salt and pepper to taste.  A drizzle of olive oil and a few croutons make a great garnish to this bowl of fall flavor.

The second recipe I’m sharing is for a rich and creamy carrot soup that utilizes carrots, onions, potato and rosemary from the garden or farmer’s market.  I love this soup on a chilly fall day with some crusty bread.  Very comforting.  I’ve made it without the cream before and since the potato adds a starchy creaminess, it is also good that way.   Though I admit I prefer it with the cream, it’s just so delicious.

Creamy Carrot Soup  Taste of Home
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter or margarine
4 1/2 cups sliced carrots (1/4 inch thick)
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed (I use fresh rosemary)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a 5-qt. Dutch oven, saute onion in butter until tender.  Add carrots, potato, broth and ginger.  Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Cool 15 minutes.  Puree in small batches in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Return all to the saucepan; add cream, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Cook over low heat until heated through.  Yield: 6-8 servings (2 1/2 quarts)

Garlic Update


Remember a few weeks ago I was hanging my garlic in the garage to cure:

Here is my garlic 3-4 weeks ago.

Now the garlic has been brought in, cleaned and trimmed up for storage.  Looks pretty good.

Garlic is now ready to use.

I have a dozen or so bulbs in the garage curing, these were harvested later than this first group.  I’m not sure how long this garlic will last us (we use it up pretty quickly around here) but I’m happy with the crop this year, and the fact that I can cook with my own garlic.

I’ve already been using this garlic in dishes (including last night’s pesto) and so far it’s tasted great.

Gathering Greens & A Few Other Things


Washed, bagged salad greens are perhaps one of the greatest inventions of our modern times.  Sort of.  It’s completely convenient and easy to dump them into a bowl and dress them for a salad, or into a skillet to saute for dinner.  They are clean and crisp, and relatively inexpensive.  But when I think of the gross amount of water and energy used to bring those greens to my table, I cringe a little bit.

Somewhere out in California or Mexico, depending on the season, those greens were grown, washed, bagged, loaded on a refrigerated truck, driven to Wisconsin, kept cold by refrigeration until they made their way to my house and ultimately my mouth.

It seems ridiculous because it’s so easy to just plant a few seeds out in my yard and eat fresh(er) greens anytime I want (as the season permits) using virtually a fraction of a fraction of the amount of energy used to bring me those bagged, washed grocery store varieties.

Don’t get me wrong: I do occasionally treat myself to box or bag of grocery store salad in the dead of winter.  I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination.

But I am thoughtful about my greens, and thankful I can grow ’em myself 7 months out of the year.

I like to grow spinach, arugula, head lettuce, leaf lettuce, swiss chard and will be adding kale to the lineup this year.  In addition we also eat the tops of our radishes and beets.

When I’m ready to make a salad or saute something green, I head outside.  Using a kitchen scissors I make quick work of gathering what I need.  As I cut, I put everything directly into my salad spinner.

I take the salad spinner insert outside to harvest greens.

Arugula fresh from the garden, prior to washing.

Once inside I use the salad spinner to bathe the greens in very cold water… this perks them right up and brings them to the perfect temperature for serving.  At the same time they are getting nice and clean without the use of machinery or bleach or anything else those big salad growers out West are using.

I spin them dry in the spinner and we are ready to use them.

When I want to prep the greens in advance of using them or I just have more than I can eat at one time, I store them in a plastic bag with a paper towel in it.  This seems to keep them crisp and they usually last at least a week in the refrigerator, sometimes longer.

Bagged arugula is ready for the refrigerator.

If I discover a more earth-friendly way to do this that doesn’t involve plastic or paper towels I’ll be happy.  But for now this works marvelously for me.

Now on to a few other items.  This time of year tomato plants are growing very quickly and putting new leaves, branches and blossoms every day.  I am in the habit and pinching off the “suckers” that grow between the stem and branches.  It helps to develop a stronger plant.

"Suckers" grow at the point where the stem meets the branch. At this size they are easy to pinch off.

We’ve also had some excellent bird viewing around the garden these last few days.  Our robins have been carefully guarding their eggs.  I’ve noticed that they take turns, one of them tends to sit on the nest most of the time and when it’s the second one’s turn to be on guard duty he prefers to sit on the edge of the nest or in a nearby location.  The fence that hides our air conditioner seems to be a favorite location.

This nest is so sweet. It's getting more difficult to see and photograph it as the honeysuckle has filled in.

Mr. Robin on his favorite perch at night. He's noticed me taking his picture.

Here is Mr. Robin in the background and the trellis where the nest sits in the foreground. He never lets the nest out of his sight and is quick to run other birds such as cardinals out of the yard.

Mrs. Robin dutifully sits. I wonder if these lights surprised her the first night they came on.

A yellow finch stopped by for a drink at the honeysuckle. I've also spotted hummingbirds here.

And finally, I’ve been very busy putting all the starts and seeds into the garden beds this last week.  I’m happy to report that (for now) everything is in!  There will be some successive planting and late season planting later on, but the big spring dig is done and I’m very pleased with how it’s come together so far.

Herb bed and trellis with honeysuckle.

Vegetable bed with the grid still in place. I've planted using a square foot approach this year.