Dear Friend and Gardener

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Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

I finally figured out how to make a Mr. Linky type of list for our Dear Friend and Gardener posts. I’m using InLinkz because I blog on WordPress instead of Blogger. We’ll see how it goes.

Dear Friend and Gardener: Isn't this romaine a/k/a cos lettuce simply beautiful with the sunlight behind it's tender leaves?

Isn’t this romaine a/k/a cos lettuce simply beautiful with the sunlight behind it’s tender leaves?

In the garden, things are really starting to grow. My pole beans are climbing their poles. The tomatoes are setting down roots, and the small eggplant plants are barely surviving. Maybe I put the eggplant out too early and too small. We had a lot of unseasonably cold weather after I planted them. Oh well, these things happen. It’s supposed to get hot this week. I say bring it.

Garlic I planted last fall with red and green leaf lettuce.

Garlic I planted last fall with red and green leaf lettuce.

We are inundated with lettuce and tatsoi right now. It’s all so good, and the spring or green onions are delicious. I’ve made Grandma Nita’s wilted lettuce salad several times. Here’s the recipe if anyone wants to make it.

Grandma Nita’s Wilted Lettuce Salad

3 slices bacon (or three tablespoons of a good vegetable oil)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 teaspoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Dash of salt
Four cups of leaf lettuce like Black Seeded Simpson – rinsed, dried and
torn into pieces
5 green onions with tops, thinly sliced

1. Fry bacon, remove from skillet, crumble and set aside.
2. To the still-hot bacon drippings, add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir over medium heat until hot and bubbly. (Be careful during this step so that the drippings don’t splatter you.)
3. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce and green onions. Add the warm dressing and toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and enjoy.

I’ve also expanded my salad repertoire. Last night, I made one with leaf lettuce, spring onions, mandarin oranges, dried cherries and pecans. I also made my own poppyseed dressing. We hardly ever buy bottled dressings anymore. It’s so easy to whip up something quick after the salad greens are washed. As for washing, I use a salad spinner like this Progressive CSS-2 Green Collapsible Salad Spinner – 3 Quart Capacity. Mine is an older model, but I like that it collapses for easier storage.

Dear Friend and Gardener: The larger vegetable garden. It's hard to believe these tiny plants will grow into towers of great tasting vegetables in less than two months.

The larger vegetable garden. It’s hard to believe these tiny plants will grow into towers of great tasting vegetables in less than two months.

Last week, I went through the larger vegetable garden and weeded everything. I still need to place straw as mulch between the remaining rows. My pole beans weren’t quite large enough to being attaching them to the poles. When I do this, I will use Luster Leaf Rapiclip Light Duty Soft Wire Tie 839 because it’s easier on the plants than twine, and it doesn’t seem to slip. I use it for all of my roses too. As I hoed the garden, I also hilled up the soil around the sweet corn and side-dressed it with manure. Corn is one of those high maintenance diva plants in the garden, but it’s worth the trouble. Now, that we have hotter weather, I think I’ll sow cucumber seeds in the potager and okra seeds in the larger garden. I noticed my sunflowers and zinnias are up and growing well in the larger garden. I think having flowers in the vegetable garden just makes sense to increase pollinator activity and also, beautify the space–not that vegetable gardens aren’t beautiful anyway.

Things in the garden are heating up this week, and I’m traveling to Austin to be on Central Texas Gardener–I’m thrilled to say–and I’m doing a radio appearance on Field and Feast on Austin’s local NPR affiliate. I will also be at The Natural Gardener, one of Austin’s best nurseries, where I’ll speak on all things edible. I hope you’re both having a wonderful spring.

For any of our gardening friends who want to join in on the fun this month, join up by adding a link to your blog below. Leave a comment here too if you’re so inclined. That way I can find and visit you!

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: vegetable blooms

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Garden Bloggers Bloom Day dawns where we all laud flowers in our garden, but do we consider the humble vegetable bloom? They are exquisite in their simplicity, ready for pollinators or the wind. Prepared to produce fruit and able for their purpose.

They are also beautiful if only you stop and look. What do you see?

Would we think more of them if we called them by their botanical name? Phaseolus spp., green beans

Would we think more of them if we called them by their botanical name? Phaseolus spp., instead of common green beans?

I’m hard at work on The 20-30 Something Garden Guide, and I’m a bit extremely late to the party, but I wanted to join Bloom Day. This will rate as my latest GBBD post yet, but you don’t mind very much do you? A big thanks to Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens who hosts this flowery celebration every month of the year.

What blooms do you think of when you consider vegetables? I know it’s hard when you see veggies in the grocery store to think of them as babies, and yet they once were. Some blooms, like artichokes, are unopened flowers.

Aren't artichoke flowers worth our notice?

Aren’t artichoke flowers worth our notice?

If you ever bought a whole artichoke and cleaned it, inside you saw a thistle, the unborn part of its flower. I know a guy in Arizona who grows artichokes not to eat them, but to watch the bees flock to his patch. It makes me smile to think of all that abundant nectar free for the taking. I’m afraid I would be greedy and eat the chokes myself. I love artichokes.

Did you realize that head of broccoli you eat is a group of flowers just waiting to burst open and bloom?

Broccoli head, flowers in the making.

Broccoli head, flowers in the making.

In the South, we often get to see them bloom if summer heat arrives early. Their florets are yellow by the way.

The next time you plan your harvest, consider vegetable flowers that must be pollinated by either wind or insects. They are, indeed, worth our notice. Just look at the dewdrops on this borage flower. Nature, at its most simple, is exquisite artistry.

Borage always reminds me of the sky in spring.

Borage always reminds me of an Oklahoma sky in spring. It’s the most perfect shade of blue, and blue is a rare garden color.

Borage is an herb that tastes like cucumbers. Why plant it? Because it is beautiful and looks pretty encased in ice cubes for summer lemonade. The flowers are also good atop salads. Plus, pollinators love them. Simple blossoms attract our pollinator friends. A buzzing garden is a living garden, and pollinators, even wasps, won’t hurt you when they’re busy collecting food. I promise.

Is there anything prettier than an eggplant bloom? It looks like a little hat worn by ladies in the 1930s and 40s when such things were de rigueur.

There's nothing much prettier than an eggplant bloom.

There’s nothing much prettier than an eggplant bloom.

I’m always chomping at the bit to get those first ripe tomatoes, or to make my Grandma Nita’s fried squash, but it’s important to stay in the moment and enjoy what’s right in front of me. Before the squash is a fruit, it has the most elegant bloom.

Squash blossom . . . a male. Do you see the green bee coming in for a landing?

Squash blossom . . . a male. Do you see the green bee coming in for a landing?

Eating these stuffed and fried is a delicacy in most restaurants, but if you grow squash at home, you can have them anytime you want. Be sure to pick male flowers because they don’t produce fruit anyway, but leave a few for the ladies. How do you tell a male from a female? A female flower has an ovum at its base while the male does not. Male flowers appear first too. Apparently, you need boys at the party before the girls are even interested in showing up. On my other blog, Red Dirt Ramblings, I show you how to hand pollinate these for better fruit set in years with fewer pollinators.

The prettiest bloom of all is probably that of okra.

The prettiest bloom of all is probably that of okra.

Not to be outdone by other vegetables, okra has arguably the prettiest bloom in the vegetable biz. If you look at it closely, you’ll see it’s related to hibiscus. Also, note the bulls-eye at its center. This is a landing pad for pollinators like the big, fuzzy bumblebees who love this veggie’s sweet nectar. Next time you grow your favorite veggies, watch for their blooms too. Take a picture . . . they don’t last long. Seems they’re in a hurry too.




Grow kale and make kale chips

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Winterbor kale makes a great kale chip

Winterbor kale makes a great kale chip

The weather is cooling; leaves are falling. It’s time to grow kale. We know we’re supposed to eat more of this delicious vegetable, but a lot of us don’t think we like it.

The first year I grew kale I  discovered my family hates it stir-fried or sautéed. Undeterred, I learned to make kale chips. Everyone in the family, except my son–who abhors all green vegetables, loves them.

So, let’s make kale into chips. Those fancy chips in the store are not as good as what you can make yourself.

It’s oh-so-simple too!

Kale grows like gangbusters in soil amended with composted chicken manure. It is easy to sow and grow in late fall. You can also grow it during winter under row covers or in a cold frame. I grew one crop in fall, and now I’ll sow another.

I love lacinato kale, sometimes called dinosaur kale. It can be harvested young or at maturity. It is yummy and doesn’t have as many ridges to clean as curly leafed kales like ‘Red Russian’ or ‘Winterbor.’ However, those ridges really hold the ingredients in the kale chips.

So, grow whichever you like.

Here’s my quick recipe:

Kale Chips

One bunch of kale

Two tablespoons olive oil

Salt to taste

Parma brand of vegan parmesan cheese (composed mostly of ground walnuts and nutritional yeast.) I like the chipotle flavor, but I bet garlicky green is good too. It is gluten free and tastes great on pizza and other stuff too.

Coat kale leaves with olive oil and liberally sprinkle parma. Toss with your hands. Salt to taste. Bake in a 425 F oven until you desired crispiness is achieved.

That’s all there is to it! Don’t you just love it when a plan just comes together?