Tag Archives: lettuce

A little insurance…

“Like a good neighbor…” tonight it wasn’t State Farm, but my garden that was there.

I had planned to make a salad using leftovers, including a giant bag of pre-washed, pre-cut kale.  I’ve resorted to these resource-guzzling bags of greens trucked in from who-knows-where in an effort to keep up our healthy greens intake during the off-season.  I’m so glad THAT is coming to an end.  And hopeful I won’t resort to this next year.

As I poured the kale into the salad bowl I discovered that much of it was rotten and moldy.  Ugh!  Such a waste.  And worse–it was the main feature of my dinner for the night.

Realizing there was nothing to salvage in that bag, I took the whole thing out to the compost and tossed it in.  While out there I glanced over to some lettuce I had put in on a whim last month.  It looked good!  I pulled it out.  Then, I went in the house for a few supplies and came back out to find other things for the salad.

I ended up with a delicious combination of romaine lettuce, baby kale (2 kinds), arugula, chives, radishes and pea tendrils.  This mix was so far superior in flavor and freshness to that sad bag of kale that I immediately realized (once again) how amazing a garden can be.  This was actual green food.  Not some trucked-in greenish food that was picked three weeks ago and put in plastic.

Chives and French breakfast radishes

Chives and French breakfast radishes

(From left to right)  Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, arugula, pea tendrils, chives, romaine lettuce

(From left to right) Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, arugula, pea tendrils, chives, romaine lettuce

Because I had a garden, my family ate better tonight than if I had not had one.  Because I had a garden, I did not have to leave my house to go to a store and purchase a new bag of kale.  Because I had a garden, I stopped for an extra moment–outdoors, in the rain no less–and thanked God for the food he was providing.  I’m so thankful to have a garden.

Now, take a look at tonight’s dinner!

The beautiful blend of greens!

The beautiful blend of greens!

Salad with chicken, chickpeas, chives and radishes added.  To the side you can see the homemade ranch dressing.

Salad with chicken, chickpeas, chives and radishes added. To the side you can see the homemade ranch dressing.

You didn’t think I’d forget dessert did you?  I went out in the light drizzle of rain today and happily harvested some rhubarb to make the pie my six year-old had requested.

Rhubarb pie, a perfect sweet-tart end to my garden inspired meal.

Rhubarb pie, a perfect sweet-tart end to my garden inspired meal.

There were a few things I wanted to share regarding tonight’s meal.  The first, is that my kids wanted to play a game in which I told them to look for a certain thing and they would find it and eat it.  So I would say, “Find the arugula!” and they would find one and excitedly hold it up to show me.  They got the idea to do this because I told them there were seven things from the garden in the salad, they wanted to find each one.  For once they were happy that I let them “play” with their food.

Second, the ranch dressing we had tonight was leftover from my son’s first birthday party this past weekend.  It went over BIG TIME with the crowd, so I thought I’d share a link to the recipe with readers in case you were looking for something new to try.

Ina Garten’s Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

There’s even a video of her making the dressing.  Check it out!

And finally, I just want to encourage anyone who may be reading this to try planting  a little something.  You don’t need to have seven things available to go in a salad in order to grow your own food.  One thing in a pot is good too!  In this day and age when we don’t know who grew our food or where it was grown, there truly is insurance in knowing that you grew something–anything.  It’s good practice to plant something if you can.  So, give it a try this season.  And may God bless your garden!

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.

Photos from the month of April.

To better view the photos in this edition of “Photos from…” click on a photo.  You’ll be able to scroll through a slide show of all the photos.

The beet ravioli recipe is here:  Michael Symon’s Goat Cheese and Beet Ravioli.  I substituted ricotta cheese for the goat cheese and sage for the tarragon with delicious results.

Photos from the third week of June.

Lavender is beginning to flower. Soon it will be attracting beneficial insects to the garden.

My honeysuckle has been attacked by aphids.

Garlic scapes are the flower stem of garlic. I harvest them and use them for pesto and salads. They have a light garlicky flavor.

Beet greens with water beads after a rain.

Fennel fronds hold beads of water after a rain.

Nasturtium leaves also make a nice resting place for water beads.

This rosemary plant is getting bigger by the minute, I've already harvested from it too! I'm so happy I decided to replace the rosemary I overwintered in the house. This one is much healthier.

I use this veggie bed to rotate crops during the season. Currently it has lettuce, tomatoes, peas, corn (which gets eaten every night, I wonder if we'll get any of it), beans, squash and garlic. Seem like alot? The peas, lettuce and garlic will soon be pulled to make more room for the other plants.

A look at the final baby robin to leave the nest as he contemplates taking the leap.

Photos from the first week of June.

"Tennis Ball" lettuce is a gorgeous color.


Looks like we'll have lots of peas soon!


This honeysuckle looks like a delicious buffet to the hummingbirds.


A radish assortment.


Somebody is looking for his mama and some food.

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.

Photos from the third week of May.

Salad mix just picked from the garden and ready to take a spin in the salad spinner.

Momma robin has been sitting on the nest quite a bit.

Hidden Picture: Find the friendly backyard insect eater.

Leaf lettuce right out of the garden is fresh and nutritious.

Peppery, bright arugula is one of my favorite things to grow.

Lots of garlic is doing really well in the garden bed adjacent to the garage.

French breakfast radishes.

Planning my garden, graciously.

Working a small urban garden requires creativity and planning.  With limited space and sometimes odd sun and shade patterns, a gardener needs to have a strategy for working the space.

My 2010 garden was the first garden I planned in which I purposely planted early and late crops, tall and small crops, quick growers and slow growers together but in harmony with one another in order to make the most of my space.  For a first timer, I did pretty well! 

Before and after, the vegetables filled in the entire space.

In one raised bed I started the season with peas, lettuces, arugula and radishes.  As those were being harvested, the cucumbers began to take precedence in the space, happily climbing up trellis in the middle of loose leaf lettuce.  I was picking the cucumbers by the time the pumpkins really needed to sprawl out, and was able to pull out the cucumber vines when they were done producing so that the pumpkins could have the whole bed to themselves for the end of the season.  When pumpkins were done in October, I planted garlic.  The garlic will kick off the 2011 season when it shoots out of ground in about a month.

Peas and lettuces fill this bed in May and June.

By the end of June, cucumbers are climbing up the trellises.

Pumpkins take over the space to close out the season.


In the other bed, things got even crazier.  Carrots were planted in a line down the entire length of the bed, dividing it.  They took a break in the middle of the bed to give the leeks a 1′ x 1′ space to grow.  I only grew 8 small leeks in that space, but they did grow!

Beneath tomato plants, I planted beets; next to those, marigolds.  Cabbages and radicchio were neighbors to the spinach.  Beans grew on both sides of the bed, and in the last remaining space I put fennel seedlings. 

Close quarters for the fennel and beans.

Leeks filling a small space.

Marigolds, tomatoes and beets.

It was about mid-season when I realized how much the sun was affecting one corner of that bed.  A tree was keeping it shaded for a few hours more than the rest of the garden, so the beans on that side did poorly.  And the insects really liked the damp microclimate that was created by the shade.  This was compounded by the fact that things were planted closely together, essentially shading each other.  This year I will know this and plant accordingly. 

There are many ways to plan a garden, I prefer to sketch things out beforehand, making sure I’ve got a spot for everything.  Besides the raised beds, I use pots and flower beds along my house as well.  All of these end up on my sketches, labeled with the intended occupant.

Once I’m out in the garden putting the plants in, I often make changes to my plan.  It’s the gardener’s prerogative I suppose.  Sometimes something doesn’t feel right, or look right.  I change it.  Sometimes what seemed like a good idea during a February planning session turns out to be a ridiculous idea in reality.  I’m open to that.

Last year I wanted to grow celeriac–arguably the ugliest vegetable.  I love soup made with celeriac, onions, apples and potatoes in the fall.  It didn’t work out though.  Turns out celeriac needs to be started really early, and my plan didn’t call for that.  When I realized this I had to make some changes.  No big deal though.  A garden is a very fluid thing.  It ebbs and flows.  It changes itself depending on sun, water and other weather conditions.  The gardener takes a cue from the garden itself and adjusts accordingly.

I’m working on my 2011 plan right now.  It looks like I’ll need to buy some new supports for beans.  I also need to think about how many vining plants I can realistically grow in a small space.  I’m so tempted to try melons and squash as well as cucumbers, but how to manage so many vines?  It really does require a plan, and probably some prudence as well.

I’m reminded of The Parable of the Sower (Matthew, chapter 13)  in which the farmer scattered seed over various surfaces with equally varied results.  We all know you can’t grow a seed on a path, a rock or among the thorns.  Good soil produces good results.  Likewise, God’s Word works on the soil that is ready to receive it.  My heart needs to be a vessel of good soil, ready for God to work it.  I can’t let the thorns take over my heart or let someone or something steal the Word from me because I’ve covered my heart with a path.  And I certainly don’t want God to find a rocky place when he comes to sow his seed. 

I’m making my garden plans, and I’m also preparing my heart for God.  It’s something I am reminded of when I think of my garden and the act of sowing seeds.  I know my heart can be a beautiful garden filled with the scent and beauty of God’s love.  “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13:23

I hope my garden here at home is as abundant as that in the parable!

An "abundance" of eggplant grows next to the house.