Wednesday, February 24, 2010

nettle soup

Stinging nettle is a powerful health supporting plant rich in many minerals and vitamins. I especially like that it's high in iron and also has a high vitamin C content which helps in the absorption of the iron.

Here's how I make my nettle soup...

I sauté some onion, garlic and leek in a soup pot with a little bit of butter and/or olive oil.

I chop up some potatoes into cubes, stir them up with the onions, garlic and leeks and then add some vegetable stock.
I wash the nettles (with my rubber gloves on) and clip off the tougher stem bits. Then I chop the nettles roughly and stuff them into the pot.....

Then I add some more vegetable stock and simmer the mixture 'til the potatoes are soft. I then lightly blend with a handheld immersion blender. A little salt and pepper, lemon to taste. Sometimes, if I feel like more of a health tonic style soup, I leave the potato out completely to keep it light and more simply nettley.

Friday, February 19, 2010

stinging nettlez

Seems like suddenly, the nettles are ready for picking.....and so I picked some today. What a glorious green smell they have when first picked. One of my favourite nettle patches grows down by the pond. Stinging nettles love low wet areas near ponds and streams and at my place, they often grow with their good friend, the Alder tree. So, if you live in my neck of the woods, that's where you need to look.

I wear rubber gloves to pick my nettles so I don't get regular garden gloves don't protect as well. I know some people who aren't as sensitive as I am to the 'sting' and so they aren't as concerned as I am about wearing their gloves. I've also heard that a little bit of the sting can be good for you, but I sure don't like it.
The scene of a bright luscious green nettle patch at this time of year is so of the first new growth crops of the year to harvest. And I really appreciate that nature's garden looks after itself, all I have to do is harvest and prepare ....glorious..... no seeding, no transplanting, no weeding! Thank you green faeries of the forest for looking after the garden for me and producing such a delicious and nutritious green food for our early spring eating.
My bag is almost full here and when I came in, I weighed out a harvest of over a lb. of stinging nettles....I'll make a lovely soup with this and when I find a few minutes in the next couple days, I'll post my simple nettle soup recipe here. I always make a soup with my first harvest and then usually a quiche or a lasagna, pesto with the following ones.....
Later, I'll gather nettles to dry and make into teas or to sprinkle on next winter's meals and some more for the freezer to add to future quiches and pastas. What abundance the forest gives us!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

beautiful radicchio

I found this growing in the garden. So beautiful.....

Monday, February 15, 2010

spinach and crocus

For the last few years now, when Valentine's Day arrives I start feeling like it's time to plant my spinach and my shelling and edible pod peas. This winter has been so mild here on the south coast of BC that I probably could have started sooner....but I didn't want to get fooled! I recently read a gardening rule of thumb that goes like this: "Start sowing spinach outside when the crocus begin to bloom."
....well, Valentine's Day has come and gone and the crocus have been around for a couple weeks now so I anxiously ran outside this morning to get my spinach crop started...and with the new moon a couple days ago, it means it's ideal timing for planting spinach!!

This year, I decided to try soaking my spinach seed overnight before planting it outside, I've never done this before.....we'll see if it speeds things up a bit..maybe, especially since I'm planting inside my new hoophouse this time....never done that before either.
I've read that when you put seed in a bowl of water, the good and viable ones will sink to the bottom and the duds will float on top. I'm not sure if this is true for spinach seed...hope not...because look at all those floaters in my soaking bowl!! I've decided that I'm not convinced of this rule of thumb so....I planted all of these anyway and hopefully they'll germinate but since I'm sowing quite generously I probably won't be able to tell.
Spinach is a heavy feeder, I've found it likes a very rich, fertile not-too-acidic soil. So before I sow the seed, I make sure the soil has lots of well rotted compost mixed in and I also work in a complete organic fertilizer, a mixture of good stuff like alfalfa meal, kelp meal, bone meal, greensand, etc....I sow my seed by sprinkling it evenly all over the bed and then I put a light layer of compost over the seed layer. The compost adds even more of those good nutrients that spinach loves so much. When the spinach begins to germinate and grow on, I begin to thin the bed once the plants have their first 2 true leaves...they're still very tiny plants and I put the whole plants into our late winter salads...ooooowhat a treat!...and delicious mixed with the indoor grown pea shoots too.
After the bed has been thinned to a plant every 2-3 inches, I give the spinach a good drink of water mixed with an organic liquid kelp tea. And then I just let it grow, watching for slugs and removing them if I see any. In about a month and a half, I can start harvesting my baby spinach leaves for my garden customers who are patiently awaiting that first spring harvest......they can't wait and neither can I!
Here's a little baby "Olympia" spinach plant. It's a smooth leaf variety and the seed is available at West Coast Seeds. I also grow an heirloom spinach called "Bloomsdale". It's a crinklier savoy leaf variety. Unlike Olympia (who is a hybrid), Bloomsdale is open-pollinated and so is a reliable variety for seed saving.
Here's one of last year's spinach beds with my wooden tomato cages. I discovered that in my garden, it's a good idea to plant an early spinach crop in the summer tomato beds. I can plant the tomato transplants in when they're ready even if the spinach isn't quite ready to get harvested and pulled yet....they grow well together and when the tomatoes get larger they even give the spinach some shade that it appreciates...and by the time really hot summer arrives and the tomatoes take up the entire space the spinach is finished. Every year offers up some new clever ideas!! So off I go to get my peas in the ground....I think spring really IS here!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

musque de provence

I think this lovely squash from last summer's garden is quite possibly my favourite thing that I've ever grown. It's a sculpture! It's a french heirloom squash called "Musque de Provence"....I love growing these beautiful and unusual heirloom squashes. There are so many different kinds. They take up a lot of growing space in the garden but they're so interesting to look at and so delicious too that I think it's worth it. I picked this one in October and it sat decorating our home all fall and winter long....and now we get to eat it!!

Another thing that the cherry tree blooms tell me at this time of year is that it's time to eat up all my stored winter food and make way for the spring goodies...the nettles are almost ready to harvest!! I want to be enjoying fresh nettle soup soon so I better eat up the squash and have some squash soup now since winter is almost over....
Look at this amazing vegetable!

A little challenging to make the first slice but I took a lot of pictures and I'll grow more this year. Sweet flesh that smells a little bit like will make a delicious soup and I think I'll save a little bit to make a sorta puree side dish. yum!

An inspiring to me window display I happened to walk by when visiting New York City in October.....made me even more excited to grow a few other unusual winter squash. This is a gallery that was displaying jewellery with squash!! it!

when the cherry tree blooms

When the ornamental cherry tree is in full magnificent bloom and the bees are buzzing around the gorgeous pink blossoms as they were today, I know it's time to get serious about starting seeds for the summer garden.

Last fall, I planted sweet pea seed outside where I want them to grow (the flowers, not the edible peas) and I added some more outside a couple weeks ago in January.....and just to make sure that I will have lots of beautiful fragrant sweet pea flowers for bouquets this summer, I've planted up four trays indoors as my garden, sometimes the birds like to pull the new shoots out of the ground as they emerge so I like to be ready with replacements!

These sweet pea seedlings are getting quite leggy from low light but I've found it doesn't matter they get more leafy I'll pinch off the top tip which will encourage the plant to put out shoots making it bushier and help it to produce even more flowers.
The onion and leek seeds were planted in their starter pots in January and are beginning to germinate and grow, artichokes and broad beans too.....exciting times!! These are Redwing onion seedlings.