Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Asparagus Recycling and a special therapy offer

Dear Folks,

Asparagus -- one of those spring time vegetables that gets cooks and food-lovers hearts pitter-pattering.  We just finished 6 weeks of harvesting our asparagus (mature beds can be harvested for up to 6 weeks) and we had a bumper crop this year.  Deane was cutting as many as a dozen or more a day on most days.

And it is one of those vegetables that he and I have differing opinions on due to preferences for eating them.  Deane likes his vegetables cooked to super soft stages and if given the choice I like mine raw.

Raw asparagus?  Direct from the garden they are fabulous and sweet - I will rinse them off and eat them right there.  Or slice them into a fresh salad.  Deane "will" eat them that way, but he prefers them with mayo and cooked.

Now when the typical cook prepares this veggie they do the 'bend-break' method to secure the most tender tip part and many toss the harder stem end - my recycling mind won't let me do that - even if I could throw them into the compost pile.  I roast them.

Then they can be pureed with broth some additional flavoring like onion, garlic and herbs and voila you have a great soup or cut up tossed with a fresh tomato, sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice and coarse salt (fresh thyme or basil too) and you have a simple side salad.  (Or, if you are like Deane you grab the mayo jar and smear a disproportionate amount on the just roasted stems and have at them - "shudder" :-)

I roasted these stems with Queen Creek Olive Mill's blood orange extra virgin olive oil (a taste of OUR Phoenix-Mediterranean climate) at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.  Luscious.  (If you have never seen the purple variety, they are the really fat ones in amongst the standard green -- our bed has both varieties in it.)

By the way - I use my wonderful toaster/oven for roasting or baking in the warm weather - no where near the heat of the big oven and does a great job.

Gardening Tip:  Asparagus beds can take 2-3 years to get really productive so you need to limit harvest to 1 or 2 weeks the first year, about 3-4 weeks the second year and no more than 6 weeks in subsequent years.  Then you let the following growth go to feathers until late fall to put energy back into the beds.  The 'feathers' are cut down when the are mellow yellow about December or so.  You are then rewarded when the first tips pop up in late February or early March.  They can grow as much as 5 inches in one day.

. . .


My friend Rihab is offering a free introductory session to Rolfing SI in return for a donation to the great organization Native Seed Search.

See the information here.

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Container Gardening - My "BIG" Mantra

Dear Folks,

If you have been following me for a while you know when someone asks about container gardening or gardening with raised beds or pots - I ALWAYS say BIG!

The reason is always our temperature extremes.  We can swing about 100 degrees through the year, and while this year's hard freezing temperatures were unusual, our summer heat is not.  A small container is simply an exercise is how the Native Peoples made adobe bricks.

Choosing a big pot allows proper root growth, enough soil to act as an insulator to temperatures, and the ability to have several things in one place for those who need ease and simplicity.

AND, as always, if you plant at the right time you do not need to shade or protect our edibles in the garden.

Here is a picture of one of my big pots I use to experiment and/or grow different things.  The pot is approximately 2 feet wide and about that tall.  In it I planted parsnips (the real big leaves), Purple Dragon Carrots (the frilly leaves) and Johnny JumpUps, for fill (one of the many edible flowers).  I checked my calendar and the seeds went in December 6th.  The next picture is yesterday, April 25 when I harvested some of the parsnips and carrots for a stew.  By the way, the purple and red carrots have higher antioxidants than their orange cousins.

The ancient / original carrots were NOT orange, but  purple or red.  More modern carrots (500 years ago) were cream or white, before the Dutch developed the orange varieties to make them less bitter than their yellowish cousins.  The reds and purples we can grow now are wonderful sweet.

As with other red fruits and vegetables, the red carrots have lycopene and the purple ones have the same anthocyanins as blueberries etc. (so does the purple varieties of basil for you herb lovers).

Here is a fun site - the carrot museum in England

Cold does not normally effect our desert winter garden edibles.  I could have harvested the carrots a while back, but I kept looking at the top of the carrot forming (it protrudes above the soil line a little) and wanted some bigger.  I will let one or two of each of the parsnips and carrots go to flower and seed so I can capture the seed for planting late summer/early fall for the new winter garden.

When planting in containers or raised beds ALWAYS plant at least 6 inches from the sides so the soil can do its insulating job.

Check out my irregular newsletter for more information on gardening in the heat click here

Don't forget my "Edible Landscaping..." book contains a month-by-month planting calendar.  Also available as an e-book.  Publishers Site.

Besides the Mesa Farmers Market - Fridays - Center Street south of University - I am participating in a Farmers Market this coming Thursday for you folks in Gilbert.  The Mercy Gilbert Hospital is hosting a farmers market for employees and the public in their Healing Garden from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  See a facebook page here.

 Have a great time in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady