Tuesday, August 9, 2011

a new project

Tiny cherry tomatoes peeking out
from behind cheery Rudbeckia.
Hello readers. A little note to let you know what the U of M edible landscape is up to this year, and where I've been lately. The edible landscape garden at the University of Minnesota is back in it's original spot, just in front of the plant growth facilities on the St. Paul campus. Quite a few edibles have been planted in other parts of the demo gardens, so if you visit, be sure to take a walk through all the gardens.

I've been a bit quiet on the blog because another project has been taking up much of my writing time. I'm in the midst of writing a book about landscaping with edibles, which is due to hit the shelves by early 2013. It has been a very fun, challenging and enlightening endeavor. Last week, a crew of us (photographers, editor, art director and me) descended upon a few homes and gardens in the Twin Cities area to capture the work of some creative and dedicated gardeners. The shots are beautiful, and I'm excited to start putting the whole thing together. 2013 seems like a long way off, but there's a lot of work to be done on the book before then, so it'll likely go very quickly.

I'll do my best to keep you updated on the project and keep up a little better with my writing here. If there are any topics you'd like to discuss, or anything that's been going on in your edible landscape this year that you'd like to discuss, leave a comment below. It would be great to hear from you and find out what you've been doing in your gardens this season.

Happy landscaping!

an interesting season

Bolting Swiss chard.
Photo borrowed from
As many of you know, it's been a funny year for gardeners in Minnesota. Our long, cool spring really slowed things down, and the recent burst of rain and heat has caused things to flourish in an almost uncontrollable manner. It's been wild to watch how quickly plants have grown over the last several weeks. Some elements designed into the edible landscape have gone a little overboard, and not quite how I expected. We've had quite a few of the glorious chard plants bolt, which I have never seen before. A flower stalk on a chard plant is a rather impressive sight. Generally chard won't bolt in our northern region because of it's biennial nature. But with fluctuating temperatures and some dry spells, this robust plant can surprise us and send up that giant, fleshy flower stalk. The leaves are still edible after bolting, but may take on a different flavor. To keep them looking better, I plan to cut those stalks out, clean up any old, cracked or overgrown leaves, and see if I can keep them going. I'll keep harvesting from my un-bolted plants, which seems to help prevent bolting in the first place. (Just cut a few of the outer leaves without damaging the crown, and the plant will keep pushing out new leaves from the center). And maybe I'll even scatter a few seeds to get some lovely, tender new leaves before the end of the season.

If you're into seed saving and your chard has bolted you can give that a try too! This little factsheet from the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service has a list of seed-saving resources that might be helpful.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

edible landscaping...it's everywhere

Looking for a little inspiration to help plan your edible landscape this year? Think outside the rows and check out this slideshow from the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's one image that reminds me...if you need a fence to keep critters out of the garden, make the fence a feature!

Monday, April 4, 2011

what do you do with all that chard?

Golden chard, zinnias and dill.
One of my favorite garden combos.
For anyone who has heard me speak about edible landscaping lately, you've probably noticed I have a thing for Swiss chard. A big thing. A somewhat overly-enthusiastic thing. But I can explain. To me, it's just the perfect plant for the edible landscape. It's easy to grow - meaning it is easy to start from seed, grows quickly, is perfectly happy in cool or hot temps, will not send up a flower stalk like many other greens, and has virtually no issues with insect pests or diseases. The gardener can harvest the outer leaves all season long and it will just keep growing and growing...all the way through the first few frosts of fall. In fact, it responds best to regular harvests, since the outer leaves will become very large and likely crack in half if left on the plant all season. If all that weren't enough, the various colors are fabulous for designing into the landscape, and chard looks great paired with other colorful greens and backed by bright pastel zinnias (just to name a few).

But when I expound the virtues of chard to a group of gardeners, I'm often met with several crinkled brows. Inevitably the question arises, "But what do you do with all that chard?" And that is indeed a great question, because the point here really is to have food to eat, not only to grow it because it looks good in the garden. I didn't really know what to do with chard before I started growing it, but once I had baskets of chard coming out of the garden day after day I knew I had to figure it out. Google helped me find a wide range of recipes, from omeletes to stir frys and everything in between. Here are a few recipes I use regularly with chard from my garden, or from the market in the winter. If you have chard recipes you'd like to share, do so in a comment below. I'd love to hear how others use this fabulous vegetable in the kitchen.

This recipe for a Swiss Chard Tart: Pasticcio di Bietole al Forno, from Mario Batali on the Food Network has become a standby for me. It's easy to throw together, and I'll sometimes make it for a weekend breakfast treat only to eat the rest of it a few hours later at lunch. It's great hot, but also really good cold for lunch. If it's in fridge, I find myself cutting off wedge after tiny wedge as a little snack until, poof, somehow it's gone! The recipe says to cut off and discard the tough stems, then to boil the leaves for 15 mintues. No and double no! The leaves absolutely do not need to be cooked down so much. And please don't discard the stems! They add so much body and flavor. Cut them off, dice 'em up and sautee them in a little olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Then add the chopped up leaves, a little water and put a lid on it for about 5 minutes. That'll soften everything just enough, but not wilt it down to nothing. The rest of the recipe works well and the result is delicious.
Provencal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart. Photo borrowed
from Andrew Scrivani, The New York Times.

I also really like this recipe for a Provencal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart that appeared in the New York Times in 2009. This is similar to the above recipe, except this one has a crust. I made this for a summer progressive dinner with a French theme, and it garnered rave reviews. I highly recommend making your own crust. If you're not fond of whole wheat crust, use another savory crust recipe you like. It is absolutely worth the effort to make your own. I used to be scared of making my own crust, but with a pastry cutter or a couple of knives you can make a crust that is flaky, light and delicious (no food-processor required)! You just have to be good at following directions. But back to the chard...this recipe is a nice pairing of chard and zucchini, and the Gruyere gives it a wonderful richness. You could always use any cheese you have in the fridge, but the Gruyere is worth the trip to the market. The flavors balance really well. If you don't have a tart pan, just use a pie plate...it'll be just as tasty.

If you're short on time and need a quick dinner, this recipe for Penne with Swiss Chard from a 1997 issue of Gourmet magazine is for you. Again, sautee the stems first, then add the leaves. Now I know the nutmeg sounds a little strange, but don't skip it...trust me. It brings out the flavor of the chard, and along with the cream and red pepper...let me just say yum. It's quick, easy and super-delish!

Just as I was pulling these recipes from my browser bookmarks I came across this one, also from the Food Network. Haven't tried it yet, but it sounds wonderful. This'll be the next one I try.

Friday, January 7, 2011

seed catalogs and the promise of spring

Winter is beautiful...but is it time to start gardening yet?
At this time of year, it is common for those of us who live in the snowy north to start dreaming about sandy beaches, crystal blue water, flip flops and tiki bars. We sign up for email updates on airfares to warm places, to remind ourselves warm places do indeed exist, and that we might just hop on a plane for a long weekend if the price is right. We try to remember that someday soon, this frozen land will be alive again with sun and leaves and flowers and sweet smells. And though it seems impossible right now, we will once again be able to sit outside dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, pick fresh tomatoes from the garden, eat dinner on the patio…only go indoors to sleep. Ahh, I feel a little better just thinking about it.

But then again, winter isn’t really so bad if you just embrace it. Some days I feel bold and hearty, so I pull on my big boots and down parka, leave my car to rest, and go for long walks in the “muffling silence of the eternal snows”. When I breathe in the crisp-cold air I feel refreshed, and not so afraid of the long winter. I realize I am proud to live in the north, where the people don’t let frigid temperatures keep them from enjoying outdoor fun – take for example ice fishing, pond hockey, the Holidazzle parade, the St. Paul Winter Carnival. (For those of you who do not live in the Twin Cities, you’re missing out on some true winter fun!) Ok, so maybe I do like winter. But not quite as much as I like summer. You see, when I’m on those long, brisk walks, as my eyelashes are just slightly starting to freeze together, I dream not of islands and palm trees, but of next year’s garden. I imagine how moist the soil will be after it drinks up the water from all this snow. I can almost smell the cool, wet earth…the fragrance of lavender and marigolds. I picture the faint shimmer of morning dew on leathery kale leaves. Hmmmm…is it spring yet?

No? Well....ok, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk gardens, right?

Just today the seed catalogs began arriving. In fact three of them were stuffed in my mailbox. What timing! The perfect antidote to my far-too-early-in-the-season cabin fever. They do this on purpose, of course. To get us to buy far more seeds than we could ever use, they send us these gorgeous, colorful catalogs right after the holidays, when all the sparkle and magic is starting to fade, and we’re faced with the reality of 3 (at least) more months of winter. Perfect! Hide my credit card! But truly…it is perfect timing. These enticing pages inspire us to make grand plans for our gardens. We need this time to decide how many varieties of colorful lettuces we can squeeze in. To narrow down our choice of tomato varieties to 6, no more….okay, maybe 8. To determine if there’s a spot we can devote to asparagus, even though it’ll be a year or two before it really produces much of anything. To accept, once and for all, the challenge of growing artichokes - with their spikey, menacing foliage and their finicky nature in this northern clime.

All these things and more are spinning through my mind this cold, January day. The time is here to start planning. So join me as I delight in these myriad, vibrant images of gardening promises…and dream of warmer days ahead.