Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Garden Like Your Quality Of Life Depended On It - Blast From The Past.

Dear Folks,

You have seen the references before - during World War II 40% of fresh foods were grown in backyards.

Here is a cool poster from 1917, with Uncle Sam urging home gardeners to save money.  Not mentioned is how wonderful home grown food tastes.  Our tomatoes are supplying us with yellow, striped and deep flavored options.  The last of our peaches are ripening and I'm still enjoying our summer apples, plus all the herbs for flavoring things.  My horseradish is getting close to harvesting time and I am awaiting a special order of sweet potato slips to plant for fall production.

Back to the poster - it is part of an exhibit at the National Archives on "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?"

The exhibit explores some of the history of the government in the American dinner table, from farm to gardening, to shopping and menu planning, even the school lunch program.

What's For Lunch?

One of the posters is for something called "Ham Shortcake" one of the very first menu items in the school lunch program in 1946. The poster for the recipe feeds 100.  For a similar recipe to try at home, check out the one on  These kind of recipes arose out of farm life to make the most of what you had available.  In expensive and nutritious, this would make a hearty lunch for children or adults.  Fresh fruit or a salad on the side would make this a pretty complete meal.  By the way, when I say salad, I do not mean just lettuce and tomatoes.  To qualify as a good-for-you salad I personally like to have about 5 different ingredients - not including the croutons!  Greens (add fresh herbs to the mix of greens), tomatoes, celery, carrots, peppers, Jicama, maybe a small amount of shredded cabbage or kale, olives, apple if you want something sweet, dressing on the side so each person can add their own.  That also makes storing left over salad easier, it is not swimming in excess dressing and stays fresher, longer.  If you make up a large batch and store in the frig, it is easy to grab some for meals because all you need is the dressing.

If you are having trouble getting started gardening or don't think you have enough space for what you want to grow, check out community gardens in your area.

In the East Valley, Mesa Community College has opened up a community garden to the public with folks able to rent a 10 x 20 plot for $80 / year.  Considering they provide the water and access to help that is a smoking deal.

Because I am such a cookbook and food research nut, I am constantly reminded of how different foods we eat and meals are today (on average) from 40+ years ago.

In those years we were far more like our European neighbors.  Foods served were more seasonal and fresher.  Leftover fresh were canned.  "Leftovers" were "made over" into nutritious meals with little waste.

Digressing here a bit...
Did you happen to see the info-mercial on the vacuum food-storage ad? (I was at the gym - don't laugh - and working on the treadmill and watching the cooking channel - I said I was a nut.)  Anyway back to the ad, they wanted to show how a family wastes food by simply storing in the freezer, store packaged meats.  They tossed and tallied everything "freezer-burned" after 2 weeks!!!!!  I don't get it.  I think the vacuum storage option is great for some folks, but tossing the freezer-burned foods without assessing whether you can make a stew or soup is mind-boggling.  Once you understand the safe food handling options wasting food is just not right.  I grew up in one of those families where we told repeatedly that people were starving in (fill in the blanks -- now a days it could be your neighbor who is out of work) and I was supposed to appreciate the food I had on my plate.  Well it did make me eat the food, no matter how much I did not want to (flash forward to Bill Crosby's famous ad of children eating without swallowing LOL), and we did not have a lot of food choices - my mom bought what she could afford).

The point is careful consideration to what is seasonal and fresh, making it easier on yourself to prepare meals (for example: making a large batch of grains and freezing in portions for one meal (times how many are in your household), in addition to the easy salad reference above, and maybe sharing an abundance with neighbors is a better 'modern' way to approach food - by going backwards to what worked before.

If I get into one of my cooking modes and prepare more than we can feasibly eat in a couple of meals I share with my elderly neighbor, or my working mom neighbor.

Food can be about community and maybe should be.  What is growing locally, what are you growing and cooking and who can you share it with.  Food binds us whether we are family, extended family or a community - we have choices.

Have a wonderful day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hot Times In The Garden: I Want You To Do What?

Dear Folks,

It is that time of the year when even us desert lizards change habits and concentrate our outdoor activities to early morning, twilight or later.  And I want you to think about gardening!

But first, my ginger is popping up and I'm pleased to find additional locations where it wants to grow more happily.  For all you folks who ask about things to grow in the shade, or some shade, ginger could be one of them.  I have some ginger growing in a south exposure - in front of the asparagus bed, and the asparagus is now in full 'feather and about 4 feet + tall.

When I harvested the ginger last time (last October 1st) - I re-planted some of the root in a shady spot - north of one of our peaches (deciduous - keep that in mind) and beside the variegated society garlic. I just noticed the new growth yesterday, 3 times the size of the sunny spot location ginger, so I think my usual experimenting process of trying different locations is providing once again information to pass on to you.  Ginger is one of those foods which is so good tasting and so good for you, it is a shame to NOT grow it.

Harvest ginger when the top dies back or flowers - it can take anywhere from 7-10 months.  The sunny spot ginger has been in the ground now about 2 and half years and dutifully comes up, but I'm hoping for more production out of the shady spot ginger.

Read my post of 2 years ago on ginger and my early attempts to grow it.  The picture above is from that post.

Onto gardening in July.

When we are looking at temperatures of 108 - 114 I sure I'm getting the 'eye roll' when I discuss doing soil preparation and seed planting in the middle of all of that, but if you want a fall garden, you have to consider the fundamentals.  If you want pumpkins you have to count backwards 120 days from the holidays.  If you want root vegetables, lettuces, and cool weather herbs like dill and cilantro as soon as the weather is really more comfortable you have to keep in mind when and how those plants germinate -- in the cooling soil.

For easier seeding in, you need either an existing garden bed or one that you can prepare by fluffing up with compost or well-rotted manure.  Did you miss the planting time for tomatoes this spring?  You can sow seeds in an established bed NOW, or you can also start them inside and transplant, in an established bed in mid to late July -- the key to success with that is to sow or plant in amongst summer flowering plants, so they have some canopy from the growing plants and that allows them to get going, while reaching for the sun.  You will get tomatoes producing as soon as the night time temperatures go below the 80s in September and harvest into November.

Most of the heavy fall sowing time begins August 1st - but pumpkins should be sown in starting July 15th.

The list of seeds to be sown then is impressive.  And while not normally listed, you can start basil seeds along with the tomato seeds so you have more basil growing when the tomatoes start producing later on.

Anise;  Beans, Snap (bush and pole);  Bok Choy;  Broccoli;  Brussels Sprouts;  Cabbage;  Caraway;  Carrots;  Cauliflower;  Chervil;  Cilantro;  Corn;  Cucumbers;  Dill;  Fennel;  Greens, all;  Kale;  Kohlrabi;  Lettuce;  Marigolds;  Mustard;  Nasturtium;  Onions, Green;  Parsley;  Portulaca (Moss Rose);  Pumpkin;  Purslane;  Squash, Winter;  Stock;  Sweet Alyssum.

With those types of herbs and lettuces that you may use the most, you can plant successively every 2-4 weeks through November/December.

Choose leaf varieties over "head" type on lettuces and kales - you will have faster and more production.

If you have portulaca (moss rose) growing - you can break off stems and just stick them right back in the ground next to new plants or seeds - they root very easily because they love our sun.  As invasive as that sounds (and their wild cousin can be really invasive) they do you the supreme favor of dying back as soon as the temps cool in the fall.  (The purslane family is edible.)

Give some serious thought to handling the aphids in early to late fall as they really want your dill and cabbage family.  Aside from the safe soil/soap spray referenced here on the blog site, consider the easy method of making up a quart of water with a finger tip of dawn.  Pour a 1/4 cup of this solution right down the center of growing cabbage and dill plants at the first site of aphids and you can do this once a week without harm to plants or soil -- this works because the aphids start out in the leaf axis and are not always easy to spot to until they mass.  You can even do it preventatively when the temperatures are hovering in the high 80s/low 90s in September after the plants are 6 inches tall or so.

As the heat gets more intense and you ramp up the watering (make sure you use your meter to measure soil moisture) you may see yellowing of leaves particularly on trees and shrubs.  This is usually due to the amount of water (necessary) applied which in turns causes the iron in the soil to bind with the calcium and make it unavailable to the plants (Chlorosis - yellowing of the leaves with the green veins standing out).  Easily treated with green sand (natural) or if you can't find it ironite (issues with source of this treatment).  Apply before next watering and the trees should green up in about 2-3 weeks.

. . .

Recipes, I love recipes and cookbooks and of course I'm always experimenting - right now I'm reading Mark Grant's "Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens" - one of the real original "Mediterranean Diets" :-)

But I am fascinated by a book I have not bought but will purchase shortly.  My kind of cook and writer.

"Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes" by Andrea Reusing.  This Southern gal treats your garden as one of the sources of seasonal produce.  I think this is going to be one of the great cookbooks "of the moment."


And if you need help with when to plant here in the desert don't forget my beginners guide "Edible Landscaping in The Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate"  Also available as an ebook or a special pdf for ereaders like Kindle.


Have a great week!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady