Looking for a fun project this weekend? In RI we’re 10 weeks out from the last frost date. That means it’s time to get started on some of the indoor early spring veggies. Four I’ll be starting this weekend are broccoli, cabbage, kale and collards. A few of my faves really. ( I directly seed some of the more delicate leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach later in the season). For the first time I’ll be planting in these cool velcro pots to reduce transplant shock (in the past I’ve always used small ‘cowpots‘). I love how they’re reusable year to year!
In January, I start taking the simple, but necessary steps to prepare for the upcoming season of vegetable gardening. If you’re interested in having your own garden, I’d suggest doing the same. Testing your soil is as simple as taking a sample and mailing it to a lab. In Rhode Island I send it to this lab. With shipping it comes to about $20, but well worth it. The test results will guide you in the early spring when you fertilize your soil. You’ll learn about your PH levels, nutrients, and any toxins in your soil.
The next thing you’ll want to do is identify your planting zone. Here in RI I’m a 6B. Your planting zone will help when deciding what to grow. All seeds and seedlings identify their zones for growing. You can easily find your zone here.Every year I sketch out my veggie garden. It’s super helpful when buying seedlings and seeds. It’s so easy to go overboard and buy more than I have space for. This site has a great interactive feature to help layout your garden beds. Remember to check which direction is South facing. You’ll want the lower height plants like herbs and root veggies on the South wall, and the taller vines like cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes toward to North back wall. This grid is in square feet, so my veggie garden is 7′x5′. It’s amazing what kind of yield you can get out of such a small space. If you have good soil and sun, you really only need a few of each plant to feed a small family.
Gardening is one of my passions, and I’m always ready with a wish list of coveted items, so putting together this list of gifts for the gardener was simple. I’ve included some of my favorites for indoor gardeners and some outdoor items that will come in handy when spring rolls around. I’m sure all of your gardening friends will be glad to open up one of these gifts.
1. These Wallter Spun Aluminum hanging planters from Sprout Home are as pretty as they are functional. They have holes punched into the bottom, so you can plant directly in them. Perfect! And they come in orange and white too.
2. Looking for something a little different? These Wally Pockets are the perfect gift for the gardener with everything. You can pick the color (I love this green), and indoor or outdoor, just plant directly into the pocket and hang anywhere. They’re made from recycled plastic bottles and in the USA.
3. This hanging planter would look so good in just about any home, but I imagine it living in a beach cottage or bright loft. It’s made in Brooklyn, and can be used indoors or out for planting, or as a bird bath, fruit bowl, or maybe even a bird feeder?
4. These string lights are a splurg for sure, but they are just the best. From Toast, these Festoon Lights are vintage inspired with Bakelite blub holders, a fabric cord, and hand stitched filament bulbs. A special gift for sure!
5. The illustrations in this garden calendar are so sweet, and will keep us all dreaming of spring all winter long.
6. Every gardener needs an arsenal of these tubtrugs in a variety of sizes and colors. They are strong and light enough to haul heavy rocks and dirt, and they can be hosed down to clean up. Fill one with garden tools, seeds, or some good soil and you’ve got the best gift for any gardener.
7. It may seem like a funny gift, but good soil is the only way to grow healthy plant, and for those of us without room for composting, a good bag of compost is always appreciated.
8. This perfume smells awesome, and the best bonus ever, it keeps away the bugs. Good for men and women.
9. Wilder Quarterly is a great gift for gardeners looking for inspiration. Buy one issue or a year’s subscription.
This is the big week for Butternut Squash. With Thanksgiving on Thursday, just about everyone will be cutting into one of these winter squash, and I’ve been asked to come up with something for our family’s Butternut Squash dish. There are the obvious, but still tasty ways to prepare it (roasting/soup), but I want to take a closer look and see what else I can do. Mostly I’ve found tons of very similar recipes, but I did find out that in Australia they call Butternut Squash a pumpkin and make pies out of it, and the Butternut Squash originated in Waltham, MA. Plus, when bought fresh, it will last on your counter for over a month (that’s a long time), and is a great source of vitamins A, C and E, potassium, fiber and magnesium.
Aside from some interesting trivial tidbits, I found these tasty and alternative recipes:
1. Butternut Squash, Apple and Onion Galette with Stilton – Food Network
2. Squash Pot Stickers – Martha Stewart
3. Butternut Squash Hand Pies – A Cozy Kitchen
4. Roasted Butternut Penne with Pistachio Pesto – Sprouted Kitchen
I had all intentions of posting this yesterday, but as Sundays often go, I wasn’t able to sit down in front of the computer until very late, so here’s a Monday post meant for Sunday. Brussels sprouts may be in my top five fave veggies, and from what I’ve read, they may just be the single best food you could consume on a regular basis. Aside from just being delicious, they are known to provide a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, dietary fiber, and provide protection against certain cancers, cardiovascular disorders and osteoarthritis. That’s kind of amazing from one mini cabbage.
Brussels Sprouts are a member of the cabbage – or brassica – family, available year round, but really best in late fall, early winter. The frost actually sweetens the flavor. The name Brussels comes from their likely origin in Belgium. Here in the states they are mostly grown in California, but we can find them in the North East at the fall farmer’s markets (still on the stalk is best). When picking them out at the market, make sure they are firm and bright green (no yellow or wilty leaves). They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 8 days, but you can blanch them and freeze them for up to a year.
Here are some tasty looking recipes:
Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad – Martha Stewart
Dijon Braised Brussels Sprouts – Smitten Kitchen
Brussels Sprouts with White Beans and Pecorino – Not Without Salt
There are so many varieties of popular houseplants, and chances are you own a few and don’t know much about them (I know that’s the case for me). I’ve been researching to learn more, and I’ll be sharing what I find. This lovely succulant is called a Burro’s Tail or sedum morganianum. I love the bluish/green, bubble like leaves that overlap each other to create the ‘burro’s tail’. Be careful though, they fall off easily, so handle gently. If leaves happen to fall off, don’t throw them out, they can easily be used to propagate new plants. A root will emerge after a few days. When you see it plant the root end in some soil and you’ll have a new plant.
The Burro’s Tail produces small pink/red flowers in the spring/summer, but it’s the amazing foliage that’s really impressive. They make great hanging plants (each stem can grow up to 3 feet). The plant thrives the most in bright sunlight, but can tolerate indirect sun. The more sun, the more interesting the leaf colors will become. The Burro’s Tail likes to be watered regularly (weekly), except in the winter when it goes dormant, only water once a month (excess water during this time can damage the plant).
As far as plant’s go, it’s pretty simple to care for, and it’s amazing to look at. Succulents are inexpensive and easy to care for. The Burro’s Tail is one of my favorites.
Poor celeriac…it’s just not an attractive vegetable. It’s bumpy, dirty and hairy. Pretty much, it’s just not pretty. But don’t let its less than beautiful exterior sway you to pass it by. It’s actually a very tasty (and versatile) alternative to many of the popular fall root veggies, and it only contains 5% starch (much less than other root vegetables). Plus, half a cup has only 30 calories, no fat, and a ton of fiber. Sounds pretty good right? A relative of the well known stalk celery, celeriac takes 112 days to mature, so now is the perfect time to buy it fresh, but the root has a shelf life of 3-4 months (wow!).
Ok, so what does it taste like, and what can you do with it? Celeriac has a fresh flavor, somewhat like the better know celery stalk, with hints of parsley and parsnip familiarity. Peeling it is always a requirement (although I’ve seen recipes calling for skin-on I wouldn’t recommend it). Use a paring knife or peeler and remove the tough outer skin to reveal a fresh white root inside. After peeling, drop into a mixture of water and lemon juice to keep the root from browning. Now it’s ready to use (it’s great fresh and raw, or incorporated into stews, soups, mashes and roasts). Here are a few good looking celeriac recipes:
Jamie Oliver’s Smashed Celeriac
Martha Stewart’s Celeriac Slaw
Rick Rodgers’ Celeriac Bisk
I love terracotta pots more than any other planter option. They are porous which perfect for growing healthy plants, but because they can absorb water, they also absorb minerals from the soil and chemicals in the fertilizers and environment. Cleaning and sterilizing the pots at the end of each season is pretty important. I actually like the look of the white rings and other green fungus that grow on my pots over the summer, but the problem is, this pretty aging can actually infect next year’s plants. So, it’s best to take care of it now and give those pots a good cleaning. The process is simple, but can be a little messy. Here is what you’ll need:
1. Newspaper to cover your table and keep it clean
2. A soft scrubbing brush
3. White vinegar
Here’s what to do:
Completely empty the pot of all soil, and rinsing the remaining debris with warm water and your brush (I say keep away from the harsh chemicals that you may see recommended. They can get into your plants when you replant next season). Once the dirt is removed, there are three trusted methods to remove harmful fungus, but I would only recommend the baking method or white vinegar methods, but I’ll include the bleach alternative so you can decide for yourself.
Pots can be placed in an oven (depending of their size). Bake at 200 degrees for about an hour. Allow to cool completely before removing from the oven. They are extremely brittle (and hot) at this high temp. Only use this method if you don’t have any cooking planned for the day.
Cleaning Pots with Bleach
Another method is to use household bleach diluted with water. Mix it at a (maximum) 1:10 ratio of bleach to water and submerge the pots completely into the mixture. If they are too large, use a brush to wash them. These pots will require two day drying time outdoors for the residual bleach to dissipate. Harsh chemicals can damage the clay and eat away at the surface, so be careful not to add too much bleach to your mixture.
Cleaning Terracotta Pots with White Vinegar
This is my top choice. Same as the bleach method, use a 1:10 ratio when mixing your solution, one part vinegar to ten parts water. Either submerge the pots into the mixture or brush the mixture on with a soft bristle brush. Allow pots to dry for two days outdoors. This same method can be used in a dishwasher too (super easy). Set the dishwasher to the highest heat, add the vinegar solution, and run the cycle.
To Remove White Build Up From Water Deposits - mix baking soda and water into a thick paste and then scrub pot with brush and mixture and rinse. Allow two days to dry outdoors before storing for the winter.
This cranberry compote recipe is one of those that is so super simple, but looks impressive on a table. It’s versatile too, you can really play around with your ingredients to change the flavors. Want a sweeter compote? Savory? Spicy? These are all really easy.
How to eat it? We all know the traditional use, with turkey, but try this spread on a sandwich with avocado, make a parfait with granola and yogurt, top a cheesecake, serve with good bread and sharp Cheddar or Gruyere, top ice cream…and these are just a few ideas.
INGREDIENTS: 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries, 3/4 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of water
ADDITIONS (pick one or two, not all): 1 tbsp red-wine vinegar (for zing), 1 tbsp grated orange or lemon zest (for freshness), 1 shallot finely chopped and cooked with 1 tsp olive oil until translucent (for savory), 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger (for spice), 1/4 cup of bourbon (for smoke), 3 cups red seedless grapes (for sweet), 1/4 cup apple juice (for sweet), 1/4 cup orange juice (for citrus), 1 finely chopped fresh jalapeno (for spice).
DIRECTIONS: Rinse the cranberries and pick out any duds. Combine all ingredients (all basic ingredients and two additions) in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until most cranberries have burst and are soft. About 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, allow to cool, refrigerate. Keeps up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Moving my gardening operation indoors always gets me excited for some new planters to dress up the houseplants. Etsy is a great resource for fun planters (from traditional to odd-ball ideas). This year I’m really into hanging plants in clusters in front of South facing windows. The plants like the proximity to the sunlight and I like freeing up space on window sills and shelves. After some searching on Etsy I found some great options. Who know you could wear plants as accessories?