Update: Cover Crops

Now that summer’s warmth-loving plants have gone to the compost bin, the kitchen garden has bare dirt exposed in empty beds.  With a few exceptions, like arugula and mache (also known as corn salad), it’s too late to plant winter crops like kale and chard, leeks and hardy roots.  So, what can go into this bare soil?  Cover crops! They cover the soil, protecting it from hard winter rains and slowly building up foliage and roots that will add organic matter and nutrients to the soil when they are turned in the spring. 

Several years ago, I wrote about planting cover crops, explaining that this last step in the garden year was probably the most important thing I do for the kitchen garden.  Part of this process is selecting the right cover crop.  Over the years, I’ve used small-seeded fava beans, Austrian field pea, annual rye, and, as an experiment in a few beds, mache, also known as corn salad.  I’ve abandoned fava beans and field pea because they were attracting pea weevil, but I thought I was making a good choice with annual rye. According to garden authority Linda Gilkeson in a recent interview, I was not.

In a February 2020 blog post from the New Society Publishers, Gilkeson says: “don’t grow fall rye as a cover crop to turn under in the spring: that’s just a magnet for click beetles.”  Click beetles are the parents of wire worms, the pest that has increasingly plagued gardeners growing lettuce as well as larger-seeded plants like corn.  Yikes!  Was I attracting wire worms by using annual rye as a cover crop? No evidence yet that I have, and I hope it’s the same for anyone else who has used annual rye as a cover crop, but I’m not going to use it this year.

Instead, I’ve decided to sow all my open beds with mache. Years ago, a young Lopez gardener suggested I try it as a cover crop, and she gave me some seeds she’d harvested from her crop.  Since then, I’ve always sowed at least two beds in mache; this year I’ll sow nine.  

There are several things I like about mache as a cover crop.  It germinates reliably in the first weeks of October when I am ready to plant cover crops, and its foliage and mass of fine roots break down quickly in the spring. It’s very winter hardy, surviving temperatures in the single digits and even thriving in snow. And as a bonus, between winter and spring, the leaves make delicious salads.  I’ve always grown a bed of mache for winter Now with mache as a cover crop, I have enough for more salads than I could ever eat.

I’ve ordered seeds of mache from Osborne’s Seeds in Mt Vernon, WA. One 10 /M packet holds about 24 grams of seeds, enough to seed two 5-by-18 foot beds.  My friend Carol has ordered cover crop seeds from True Leaf Market. I may order from them next year.  

The seeds are tiny and light but are quite easy to broadcast thinly over a bed. 

I rake them in lightly, tamp the soil down with the back of the rake, and then cover the bed with a row cover like Reemay to protect germinating plants from birds. Once the plants are up, I remove the row cover.  If you’ve never sowed a cover crop, the video on this English site is a good guide.  I was interested to see that this site also recommends mache or corn salad as a cover crop.

If you’re looking for one last chance to be out in the garden before the garden year comes to the end, planting cover crops is a great way to spend a sunny fall afternoon.

Nearing the Autumn Equinox

In the mid-September kitchen garden, corn, beans, winter squash and potatoes are at the end of their growing cycles, their dry and yellowed stalks and vines destined for the compost pile. In the greenhouses, the last of the ripening tomatoes hang near the top of wilting vines and remaining eggplants and peppers still glow purple, red, orange and yellow though their leaves are tattered. These warmth-loving plants promise a few more meals before cold weather cuts off their production.  

In contrast to these drying, end-of-summer plants, the foliage of fall and winter crops is lush and green.  In early morning walks in the kitchen garden, my husband Scott has captured the beauty of leeks, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, chard and kale.  While it’s sad to come to the end of the summer kitchen garden, the freshness of these fall and winter plants and the anticipation of meals they’ll provide temper the change from one season to the next.

Recipes for Late Summer Bounty

In the abundance race playing out in the late-summer kitchen garden, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and corn are vying for first place, easily outdistancing mid-summer’s zucchini, cucumbers and green beans.  Much as I love all summer vegetables, this quartet of deep summer flavors and rich colors is my favorite.  So are the recipes that showcase their flavors.

It’s hard to beat caponata or sheet pan ratatouille to meld eggplant, peppers and tomatoes along with onion and garlic into the perfect late summer meal.

Eggplant caponata

Ratatouille roasted on pan

Narrowing the field to peppers and tomatoes, pepper stew concentrates the flavors of sweet peppers into a warm vegetable confit of peppers, onions and tomatoes.

Pepper stew

For raw peppers alone, there is sweet pepper salad, thinly sliced peppers in a spicy red wine vinaigrette.

Pepper salad

And for the pure flavor of eggplant, there is Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread, our go-to sandwich spread and appetizer dip.

Eggplant spread

I’ve been returning to all of these recipes in the past weeks, serving them as often as I can as a way to hold on to summer even as the daylight shifts and daylight shortens.

I’ve also been making new favorites that have been working their way up my list of best late summer recipes.  Last year, I took advantage of an abundance of sweet corn and shishito peppers to make Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad, repeating this dish as long as corn and peppers lasted.  This year, I eagerly watched the ripening corn until I could pull the first ears and make it again with the green and turning-to-red shishito peppers in the pepper bed.  The other night, we served it with fresh crab. Perfect!

Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad

corn shishito salad

YIELD 4 servings

In this recipe, shishito peppers are sliced, lightly sautéed, then tossed with raw summer corn and a cumin-lime vinaigrette for a summer salad that’s crunchy, smoky and a little spicy. Traditionally used in Japanese and Korean cooking, shishitos are small, thin-skinned green peppers that have become increasingly popular in the United States. They are typically mild in flavor, but the occasional pepper packs a spicy punch. If you can’t find them, use diced green bell peppers in their place. Finally, cilantro-averse cooks can substitute fresh mint.

3 ½  tablespoons olive oil

2  tablespoons fresh lime juice

¼  teaspoon ground cumin

Kosher salt

⅓  cup diced red onion

1  garlic clove, minced

3  cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 to 6 ears of corn)

6  ounces shishito peppers, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices, or green bell peppers, stemmed and diced

1  large jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, diced

¼  cup grated Cotija or crumbled feta cheese (optional), or to taste (goat cheese works too)

¼  cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more to taste

  1. In a small bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons olive oil with the lime juice, cumin and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in the red onion and garlic and set aside until ready to use. (Do this step first so the onions and garlic have time to mellow slightly in the dressing.)
  2. Place the corn kernels in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium (10-inch) sauté pan, heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the shishitos, jalapeño and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are tender and beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.
  3. Add the peppers and dressing to the bowl with the corn and toss well. corn shishito salad getting shishitosAdd the cheese, if using, and toss. Garnish with cilantro.

My friend Nancy makes beautiful tomato pies, so this year I tried one, following a recipe for Heirloom Tomato Tart.  It was beautiful and delicious, fresh tomatoes melting in a custardy, basil-flavored base.

tomato tart heirloom

I’ll make it again, and I’ll also try a few more of the many tomato pie recipes out there. It’s hard to beat a simple plate of sliced tomatoes, but my husband would argue that one way to do it is to wrap those tomatoes in pie crust.

We’ll keep eating late-summer food until it runs out. And after that?  Luckily, there are fall and winter vegetables growing steadily in the kitchen garden, ready when we need them to feed us in the darker, cooler days ahead.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Vallery Lomas

Yield: 4 to 6 serving

Time: 1 and 1/2 hours

INGREDIENTS

  •  Dough for a 9-inch single crust pie, or use store-bought, rolled into an 11-inch round (see Note)
  • 1 ½ pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (about 4 medium)
  • ¼ cup store-bought pesto
  • ¾ cup shredded mozzarella (about 3 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 3 large eggs
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Fit the rolled-out dough into a 9-inch tart pan, allowing the edges to rise about 1/4 inch above the rim of the pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork.
  2. Line the dough with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes until beginning to brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the foil and weights. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices. Place in a colander to drain excess tomato liquid for 20 minutes.tomato tart crust and tomatoes
  4. Spread 1/4 cup pesto in an even layer over the parbaked tart crust. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the pesto. Sprinkle the fresh basil and oregano over the cheese.tomato tart gettng pesto, mozz
  5. In a medium bowl, prepare the custard: Whisk together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper until combined.
  6. Place the sliced tomatoes evenly over the cheese and herbs in overlapping concentric circles.
  7. Pour the custard evenly over the tomato slices. Swirl the pan to evenly distribute the liquid. Bake until the filling is set and won’t jiggle when shaken, about 35 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving warm. This tart can also be served at room temperature.

Zucchini and Cucumbers

There’s a lot of abundance in the mid-summer kitchen garden right now.  Among all the summer favorites, the two vegetables vying for first place in this abundance are, no surprise, zucchini and cucumbers.  I’ve grown zucchini for years, specifically my favorite Costata Romanesca, and have learned that one plant is enough and sometimes even too much for two people.

Zucchini growing 2020

A single plant produces ribbed and striped squash steadily all summer.  I like to harvest them when they are about eight inches long and an inch-and-a-half or two in diameter.  Any I miss seem to double in length and diameter overnight, but fortunately, their sweet, nutty flavor and dense texture don’t diminish too much in the larger sizes.

Cucumbers are a more recent entry to my summer kitchen garden, thanks to encouragement from my friend Anne.  She recommended Marketmore which I grew last year and again this year because its sweet flavor and crisp texture are so refreshing that even cucumber skeptics like them. Like zucchini, though, cucumbers produce steadily, stealthily on their ever-expanding vines, but I’m learning how to spot the perfect 8-inch cuke under a leafy camouflage and harvest it before it reaches blimp stage.

Cucumber under vine

Two new-to-me recipes have made me glad for this abundance of zucchini and cucumbers.  My current favorite zucchini recipe is David Tanis’ Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil. It’s easy to assemble and, as a bonus, uses another of those abundant summer vegetables, basil. Tanis recommends using “the best artisanal ricotta,” but even regular store-bought ricotta works. Or, you could become an artisan and make your own ricotta. Both Melissa Clark’s very rich version of home-made ricotta and the slightly less rich recipe from the Kitchn website are easy and delicious.  And if you have access to Fresh Breeze Dairy’s superb milk, available on Lopez at Blossom Grocery, it’s sublime.

Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

2 pounds zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces (for larger zucchini, cut in half lengthwise before slicing)

Salt and pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced, or 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic

1 ounce basil, about 2 cups loose leaves

1 pound ziti or other dry pasta

8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Zest of 1 lemon

2 ounces grated Parmesan, pecorino or a mixture, about 1 cup, plus more for serving

PREPARATION

Put a pot of water on to boil. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat as necessary to keep onions from browning. Add zucchini, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until rather soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to pound garlic, basil and a little salt into a rough paste (or use a mini food processor). Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Salt the pasta water well and put in the pasta, stirring. Boil per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.

Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon zest, stirring to distribute.

Zucchini pasta with ricottaCheck seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Add the basil paste and half the grated cheese and quickly stir to incorporate. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with additional cheese. Serve immediately.

Zucchini pasta basil

 

To keep up with the abundance of cucumbers, my current favorite recipe is cucumber and tomato salad.

Cucumber Tomato on counter

There are many versions of this classic combination, and the one I’ve been following lately is Pierre Franey’s 1988 recipe from his New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet column.  The dressing, made with red wine vinegar, red onion, chopped fresh dill, ground cumin and olive oil is the perfect match for the cucumbers and tomato.  It’s salad with a lovely echo of gazpacho.

So much to eat!  Here’s to more summer days to enjoy kitchen garden abundance!

Cucumber Tomato salad

Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium-size cucumbers
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, 3/4 pound
  • ½ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  •  Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Peel the cucumbers and split them in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers crosswise. There should be about 3 cups.
  2. Core the tomatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. There should be about 3 cups.
  3. Put the onion, dill, vinegar, oil, cumin, salt and pepper in a bowl. Beat briskly with a wire whisk. Add the cucumbers and tomatoes. Toss well and serve.

Planting for Fall and Winter

What comes after spring garden planting? Abundant harvests of lettuce, radishes, peas, beets, carrots and, a little later, beans, zucchini and tomatoes.  But what else comes after spring garden planting?  Fall and winter garden planting!  Even as I’m enjoying vegetables from the spring and summer garden, I’m eyeing the spaces left by these harvests and plotting what I can plant there for fall and winter. If you have extra garden space showing up as you harvest, you can plant some fall and winter crops now and throughout July and August.  The reward will be vegetables from the kitchen garden this winter.

Most of the vegetables I plant for my fall and winter kitchen garden fall into two general categories, greens and roots. Greens that I always make room for are kale, collards, chard, radicchio, red mustard, arugula, mache. Winter roots that have a place are rutabaga, turnip, carrots, beets, parsnips, celery root. Brussels sprouts, cabbage and leeks don’t fit neatly into these categories, but I always leave space for them in my winter garden too.

Greens grown in fall and winter tend to be sweeter and more succulent than greens grown in summer.  They not only thrive in cool weather, but also get sweeter after a frost. Winter roots as well as leeks, Brussels sprouts and cabbage also thrive and sweeten in cold weather, and their rich deep flavors signal fall and winter in contrast to the lighter, brighter flavors of summer’s beans, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. And even when the weather gets really cold, there are lots of ways to protect your winter crops.

Here’s the planting calendar I keep in mind as space opens up in the garden. Some of these vegetables I’ll direct seed and others I’ll start in pots and plant out as space becomes available.

If you use Linda Gilkeson’s winter garden planting calendar, you’ll notice that I suggest dates a little later than those she suggests, but I’ve found that I can push the season a little more in my Lopez Island garden than she can on Salt Spring Island.

Greens:

Kale and collards: mid-July, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Chard: mid-July, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Radicchio: mid-to-late July, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Red mustard: early to mid-August, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Arugula: direct seed, mid-August through October and as late as December in a cold frame

Mache: mid-August, direct seed or plant in flats for transplanting

Roots:

Carrots: early to mid-July, direct seed

Beets: early to mid-July, direct seed

Rutabaga: mid-July, direct seed or start in pots for transplanting

Turnip: mid-July, direct seed or start in pots for transplanting

Parsnips: early June to mid-July, direct seed

Celery root: April to May in pots for transplanting late June

Leeks: late May, direct seed or in pots to transplant

Brussels sprouts: early June, in pots to transplant early to mid-July

Winter cabbage: early June, in pots to transplant early to mid-July

Over the years, I’ve written many blog posts about growing and cooking winter vegetables. If you’re interested in trying a few winter vegetables this year, check out these posts for photos and ideas and explore the site under Fall/Winter Vegetables. For many of these vegetables, it’s not too late to buy seeds. And if planting for fall and winter doesn’t appeal this year, there’s always next year!

Greens for fall and winter: Includes advice on planting arugula and mache.

Plant your Winter Roots: An overview, similar to this post

Undercover Greens: Includes advice on constructing a low hoop house

Kale: The first of many posts on kale on this blog.

Bitter Greens: Includes advice on growing and cooking radicchio and other bitter greens.

Mache: Includes advice on growing, harvesting and serving mache, also known as corn salad.

Red Mustard: Advice on growing and cooking red mustard.

Winter Vegetable Beauty: Includes a delicious recipe for winter cabbage

Gilfeather Turnip: Includes the “back story” of this delicious winter turnip.

January King Cabbage: Includes advice on growing this very hardy winter cabbage and a recipe for cabbage and collards

Roasting Colorful Carrots: Includes my favorite recipe for winter carrots

Sweeter after a frost: Explains why winter vegetables are sweeter!

Growing Dry Beans and Shell Beans and Green Beans Too

I’ve written lots of posts about beans on this blog, about growing, harvesting, tasting and cooking them.  With the renewed interest in growing dry beans in home vegetable gardens, I thought it would be useful to return to posts I’ve written on growing beans and see if there are any tips to share this year as bean planting time approaches.  If you already have bean seeds to plant, I hope these posts offer helpful information.  If you don’t have bean seeds for this year because seed companies have delayed order deliveries or simply sold out of beans, keep these ideas in mind for next year.  As one of my old-timer neighbors always told me, “one of the best things about gardening is that there is always next year.”

A good place to start is a post titled “Beans,” a column that I wrote for the Islands Weekly in 2010 and include in my blog under the section Green Living Columns.

Beans ColorIn it, I share my bean story and my experience with bean varieties and with planting, harvesting and eating beans.  If you’re growing beans this year, read this post and try this planting tip: “Of all the tips I’ve gotten over the years, the one that yields the best bean germination is to set the bean seed in the ground so that the “eye” or “bellybutton,” technically the hilum, is facing down.  Such precision planting is only for the fanatic home gardener, but it really does work.  And cover the just planted seeds with Reemay so that robins won’t see the germinating seeds breaking the soil, think they are worms and methodically pull each one out.”  This tip applies to planting bush and pole fresh beans too!

From this post, go to another included in the Green Living Columns, “Yes, You Can Grow Dried Beans on Lopez,” a profile of Lopezian Carol Noyes who is an even more serious bean fan than I am.

Dried Beans Color

It describes her search for dried beans that will ripen on Lopez and what she found.  Her recommendations after her 2010 research were King of the Early, Ireland Creek Annie and Yellow Indian Woman, all “good quality dried beans that are early.”  For black beans she recommended Black Coco and Hopi Black and for a white bean, she recommended Drabo.  If you’re looking to next year to start your bean garden, you’ll find that many of these and other short season varieties will be available then from local seed companies like Uprising, Adaptive and Territorial. Companies farther afield, like Seed Savers Exchange and Fedco, also offer short season varieties.

One of Carol’s and my main criteria for beans is flavor.  Part of the great flavor of a dried bean comes from the freshness of beans you grow and harvest yourself.  We agree that dried beans really are best eaten in the first year; when they get older, their flavor deteriorates.  We also love shell beans, beans that are fully developed in the pod but haven’t reached the “dry” stage.  Some years ago, we held a bean tasting to compare the many flavors of shell beans.

Bean samples

Using a flavor and texture form we’d made for the tasting, “we filled the flavor column with words like earthy, nutty, sweet, fresh, lima-like and the texture column with words like creamy, meaty, mealy, buttery, dry.  The smaller beans tended to be milder in flavor and creamier in texture.  The larger beans were more earthy, nutty and meaty.  Lighter-colored beans tended to be milder while speckled and darker-colored beans were usually richer.”  Dry beans also share this variety of flavor and texture.  If you grow fresh beans this year and find that some pods fill with seeds before you get to harvest them, try shelling out these beans and cooking them. They can be delicious! Rattlesnake Pole bean, delicious as a fresh bean, is one that I often eat as a shell bean at the end of the season.

If you’re new to the idea of shell beans, check out the 2017 post “What is a Shell Bean?

image

Dry beans make sense to most people, but shell beans often don’t; I address this confusion in detail this post.  And if you grow beans this year, hoping they will dry, but they don’t, you’ll find yourself with shell beans.  As Carol said, “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry, and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.”  Shell beans are wonderful, and I make a point of growing both.

There is one more shell bean that I always grow in my kitchen garden, mainly because it is my husband’s favorite bean: favas.

image

“More than any other plant in my garden favas draw the “what’s that?” reaction from visitors as they point to the rangy, floppy-leafed plants with the shiny, spear-like pods protruding from the stems.”  A raw fava bean has a sharp taste with an earthy, nutty undertone, tasty with olive oil and salty cheese. Cooked, the sharp taste mellows but the earthy, nutty flavor remains.  Another reaction fava beans bring is “so much work!”  It’s true that the process of shelling the bean from the pod and then blanching it, slipping the inner bean from the outer skin is a bit time-consuming, but the result is worth the effort.

image

I used to plant fava beans in late fall, and they would overwinter and start growing early in the spring.  Then I found that I was encouraging pea weevils with this timetable, so I switched to planting them in May when the pea weevil cycle is mostly over.  The planting plan is the same. The new timetable just makes the fava bean harvest later.

Finally, fresh green, yellow or purple beans are wonderful bean additions while we wait for shell and dry beans. I mostly grow pole beans, preferring their rich flavor and texture to the milder-flavored bush green beans.  I also prefer their growth habit.  Rather than producing all at once, the way many bush beans do, pole beans produce over a longer window as the vines climb higher and higher, making more blossoms and pods.  Varieties I plant every year are Fortex, Gold of Bacau, Nor’easter, and Rattlesnake, left to right in this photo.

image

I space them 6-8 inches apart beneath strings on the bean supports and by the end of the season, I need a step-ladder to harvest them.

image

There is one bush green bean that I do grow because my friend Carol convinced me to try it: Maxibel.

image

It is very good, not quite as richly sweet as my favorite pole bean Fortex but certainly tasty, earlier and very prolific.  Planted at the same time as Fortex, Maxibel produces about three weeks ahead of Fortex and is winding down as Fortex begins to produce.

May is the month to plant beans.  I’ve planted mine and hope I’ll get good germination in this changeable weather we’re having. If you’ll be planting too, remember, keep that bean belly button pointing down!

Tips for Planting Spring Vegetables

In my last post, I highlighted some general questions that new and veteran vegetable gardeners had been asking each other as they got going on their spring gardens, questions about seeds, seed starting and soil, and I linked to several earlier posts that address many of these questions.  Since publishing that post, I’ve heard more questions, some about pest control, others about how much to plant, how often, how far apart and how much to thin those sweet seedlings.  Now seems like a good time to return to earlier posts I’ve written about spring vegetables and highlight responses to these questions as well as offer updates and insights I’ve gained since writing them.

Lettuce: In 2013 I wrote about my preference for lettuce mixes , those packets that contain seeds of lots of different colors and shapes of lettuce.  Most seed companies offer them along with single packets of many different varieties.

Lettuce mix small row

Lettuce mix big row

These lettuce mixes are still my favorite way to get a varied lettuce crop in my kitchen garden.  I can plant a 3-foot row of seed mix every few weeks from spring through early summer and get a steady supply of lettuce until summer vegetables like zucchini and beans tempt us away from green salads.

Succession planting is one key to successful, ongoing lettuce harvest.  The other is foiling wire worms, half-inch long yellow worms that, as Linda Gilkeson writes, “are very fond of boring into lettuce roots.”

The other day, a neighbor asked me why some of her lettuce starts had simply flattened down against the soil and died.  What she described is the classic result of a wireworm boring into the lettuce root and killing the plant.  If you pull the plant out and look at the stem, you’ll often see a wireworm lodged in the stem just below the lettuce head and maybe a few other wire worms in the roots or nearby soil.  I grab each worm I see, pull it in two and toss the pieces.

How else to combat wireworms?  Potato bait!  Gilkeson has great advice for trapping wireworms. I’ve used potato bait successfully since reading her advice.

Skewer chunks of potato on short sticks (they act as markers so you can find them again), then bury the potato piece an inch or so in the soil. Check the traps every day or two and destroy wireworms. Some bore right into the potato (just pull them out); others are in the soil beside the bait. I use a trowel to scoop up each bait chunk so at not miss those nearby wireworms. Wireworms can move several feet through the soil so placing the baits at 1-2 foot intervals in the bed is close enough. Once a bed is cleared, the potatoes chunks can be re-used elsewhere. Wireworms are common in sod and readily migrate into garden beds adjacent to lawns or weedy pathways; along the border of such beds is a good place to put the bait potatoes.

Click on her link to see pictures of wireworms and potato bait.

Carrots: In 2013, I wrote about growing carrots, emphasizing a planting technique I learned from Steve Solomon in his Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and a harvesting technique I learned from Shepherd Ogden in National Gardening Magazine.  For planting that encourages germination and minimizes thinning, “Mix carrot seeds into fine compost and distribute this mixture along the row.” To harvest the sweetest carrots, be patient. “Carrots can look ready, full and orange, but Ogden writes: ‘It is only when the sugars have built up that we get the full flavor of a first-class carrot, which can take an additional week or two depending on soil moisture and the weather.'”

Carrots growing 1

One more growing technique I’ve benefitted from since 2013 is using insect netting or fabric to protect carrots from carrot rust fly.

Once again, Linda Gilkeson has been my guide. She advises: “Even if you usually don’t need to cover spring-sown carrots to prevent carrot rust fly damage, most people should cover their July-sown carrots. By late summer there are a lot more carrot rust flies looking for carrots to lay eggs on than are present in the spring.”   To be safe, I usually do cover early carrot plantings, and I definitely cover early July plantings, leaving the covers on through October.  These early July plantings provide carrots throughout the winter in my kitchen garden and, thanks to the insect barrier, they are free of the worm tunnels that carrot rust fly larvae leave.  See this June 29, 2018 entry from Linda’s List.

Spring Turnips: In 2011, I wrote about spring turnips one of my favorite early spring roots.

_Turnips growing

Like carrots, turnips benefit from being covered by insect barriers, both to protect the roots from maggots and the leaves from flea beetles.  “To minimize root maggot and flea beetle damage, I covered the just planted seeds with Reemay and kept the germinated seedlings and then maturing plants covered until they were nearly ready to harvest.”  If the weather is warm, I use a row cover lighter and thinner than Reemay to avoid trapping too much heat on the new seedlings.  Territorial Seed Company offers a summer insect barrier  I’ve used and liked.

In this spring turnip post, I also note seed spacing and thinning techniques: “I planted the seeds about an inch apart and began thinning and harvesting turnips when they were an inch across.  Those that stayed in the ground grew quickly to two inches across.”

Finally, I planted two crops of these lovely turnips, a succession that stretched turnips meals over two months: “I planted the first crop in early March this year and another in late April.  The March planting was ready to harvest by early May and the April planting was ready even sooner, early June.”

Beets: In 2011 I wrote about beets , another crop that works well planted several times over the season.

beets in basket

“Beets are a perfect crop for succession planting.  This year, I planted my first block of three three-foot rows April 26th, another block May 30th, another June 12th and a last, longer block July 23rd, a bit late but they are doing fine and will mature by late fall and hold into the winter.  If I’d planted three fifteen-foot rows all at once in April or May, I can’t imagine what I would have done with all the beets.”

Beets also benefit from early thinning.  As Nancy Bubel writes in her New Seed-Starters Handbook (1988), “The beet seed that you plant is actually a seedball, an aggregate of two to six individual seed.  Consequently, even when you follow the recommended spacing of 2 inches apart, the seedlings will need to be thinned.”  I do my best to thin beet seedlings when they are very small, about an inch and a half tall, and the soil is moist.  The tiny, thinned beets are delicious washed, dried and added to salads.

Peas: in 2011, I wrote about Sugar Snap peas , explaining my fondness for the flavor of the original sugar snap despite its vast height and tendency to get powdery mildew.

Peas support

There are also the challenges posed by birds and rodents: “For years I direct seeded them, hoping that rodents and birds wouldn’t eat all the seeds or new sprouts.  Row covers helped deter these pests, but I often needed to replant. Then a few years ago I began starting the seeds indoors in 1-inch cell trays.  By carefully setting each seed a half inch deep with the hilum down and keeping the soil barely moist, I got nearly 100% germination.  Here in zone 7B I start seeds in mid-February and set them out a few weeks later; I plant a second crop in mid-March.  Even in those years when the seedlings grow a little taller and are more root-bound than I’d prefer before setting them out, they grow quickly once they are in the ground.”

Pea weevils are one more pest that has challenged my sugar snap pea crop for the past several years.  Fortunately, Linda Gilkeson has a solution:

You can sow peas every month through June to ensure fresh peas into October. I start my early plantings of peas in vermiculite indoors to avoid the main egg-laying period of pea leaf weevil, which is now common in my area (for damage, see: http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/root_feeders.html#74). The weevils have one generation a year and only lay their eggs in the spring. Peas planted later than mid-May after the egg laying period is done generally escape damage from the weevil larvae, which eat the nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots. Pea attacked by weevil larvae can’t make their own nitrogen, but still grow well if the soil is enriched with nitrogen sources, such as fish compost, blood meal, alfalfa meal, etc.

Following her advice, I’ve been planting my sugar snap peas as well as fava beans, later in the spring the past few years and think that I’ve had success discouraging pea weevils.

Happy spring vegetable gardening!  Enjoy the warming and lengthening days.  And remember:

Don’t be discouraged by pests.  There are lots of clever ways to foil them.

Try succession planting.  If you have the space and the time, make several short plantings every few weeks rather than one big planting only once.

Think about seed spacing and seedling thinning.  With many vegetables, careful spacing and steady thinning give you a continuous supply of food.  And if new seedlings are really crowded, be brave and thin them; they’ll thrive in a bigger space.  Think of it as social distancing.

Thanks to the Lopez Island Garden Club for including  Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens in its list of Useful Resources for Pacific Northwest Gardening.

Purple Cape Cauliflower and Uncertain Times

After last year’s happy experience with overwintering cauliflower and broccoli  , I’ve been eager for this year’s overwintered brassica harvest to begin.  I planted these overwintering brassicas indoors in early June and set them out in the kitchen garden in mid-July where they grew steadily through late summer and fall, then settled into winter, surviving cold, snow and winds.  The first overwintered treat to mature this year was Purple Cape Cauliflower, its intense purple startling me as much this year as it did last.

Purple Cape two

I’ve been harvesting heads for the past several weeks while the curds are still tightly packed, unlike last year when I, in my inexperience with them, let them grow out onto their stems.

For dinner the other night, I paired a head of Purple Cape cauliflower with emerging flower buds of Dazzling Blue kale and January King cabbage, nice color matches.

Purple Cape and flower buds

I roasted the cauliflower and lightly wilted the flower buds.  While the cauliflower finished roasting, I sautéed the wilted flower buds in lots of olive oil and garlic and then added some cooked black beans. When the cauliflower was browned and soft, I added it to the pan with the other vegetables and scattered all with finely grated lemon zest.

Purple Cape side

On its own, this mixture would be a lovely side dish, but by adding pasta, it becomes a hearty main dish.  Any pasta would be fine, but orecchiette is especially fun for the way the beans nestle into the little ears of orecchiette.  Sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and toasted bread crumbs, this pasta dish makes a perfect early spring meal.

Purple Cape pasta

In the days before social distancing, I’d make this pasta meal again and invite friends over to enjoy it, or I’d bring the vegetable side dish to a potluck.  I miss these dinner table connections and conversations, but I’m grateful for another connection between friends that still continues.  On the phone and over email, even sometimes at a distance of six feet during a walk, gardeners are asking each other questions and sharing advice.  “What are you planting, now?” “Are you planting out in the garden or starting seeds indoors?” “What kind of potting soil do you use?”  “Do I need to buy new seeds of that vegetable, or will my old seeds still work?”  And, as I asked my friend Carol on the phone the other day, “When will the rest of my overwintered brassicas mature?” “Soon,” she answered reassuringly, “April or maybe May.”

In addition to friends, I’m grateful to Linda Gilkeson whose “Lists” address gardeners’ questions every couple of weeks.  If you already subscribe, you know how useful her advice is for maritime northwest gardeners.  If you want to subscribe, go to her website http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/gardening_tips.htmland click on Gardening Tips in the menu.

In her March 22, 2020 list, she makes a very generous offer to all gardeners: access to her gardening courses.  She writes:

I am getting emails from first-time gardeners wanting to grow food in this year of the pandemic, yet my gardening classes, workshops and talks in the region have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. SO, I am making my Year Round Harvest gardening course slides available to everyone. These are pdf files of the PowerPoint slides that I show in my two 10-month gardening courses and are normally only accessible by the people registered in the classes. The two courses are sponsored by the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific [https://hcp.ca/ ] and the Salt Spring Garden Club [https://ssigardenclub.ca/ ] and I appreciate their support for releasing these presentation to anyone who wants to see them.

 You will need to use the class password to view these files, which will be available until December. Here’s how: 

Go to: http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/coursenotes.html

Use this password: honeycrisp

Click on SUBMIT (hitting ENTER doesn’t work)

 Around the middle of each month from January to October I put up a new module on a different topic appropriate to the season. So far, there are 3 files:

  1. Garden Plans and Seed Starting 
  2. Soil, Nutrients and Amendments 
  3. Spring Garden 

If you have questions about the material in these presentations, there is much more detail in my book Backyard Bounty. If you have access to a copy, please try to find your answers there first: I am becoming overwhelmed by emails. My priority is to answer questions for people in this year’s gardening classes and from Master Gardeners in BC and I will try to answer others as I have time.

Thank you to Linda for her generosity.

My blog also provides answers to some of our spring gardening questions.  Check out the post on  Starting Seeds Indoors and another on Transplanting vs Direct Seeding.  And if you’re ordering seeds, this post provides a chart on seed viability and if you’re wondering when you can eat the vegetables you’re planting, read this one on Days to Maturity.

I’m very grateful to have the kitchen garden right now, both because it provides food and because it provides a point of connection with friends, family and blog readers.  We’re comforted by growing food in this uncertain time, comforted by the sense of normalcy that germinating seeds and growing plants offer us each day.

Winter Vegetable Galettes

As February comes to an end, longer daylight length and warmer temperatures are awakening the hardy vegetables that have been holding in the winter kitchen garden since last fall.  While kale is already forming flower buds that I can harvest soon and throughout the spring, other remaining winter vegetables, like cabbages and leeks, really need to be harvested now, before they send out seed buds that compromise their flavor. Luckily, winter vegetable galettes are to a perfect way to use these end-of-the-winter-season vegetables.

A galette is basically a freeform, single-crust pie baked on a flat surface like a sheet pan or baking stone rather than in a pie pan, though the galette technique works well in a pie pan too.  Roll pastry dough into a circle, spread filling onto the dough to within about 2 inches of the pastry edge and fold the pastry edge up around the filling.  The result is a rustic-looking pie with the filling exposed and circled by a pastry crust.

I make galettes throughout the year, fruit galettes in summer, especially apricot galettes when friends give me apricots, and summer vegetable galettes with caponata-like fillings of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  But winter vegetable galettes are my favorites.

Deborah Madison has a wonderful selection of winter vegetable galettes in her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (1997).  I make her winter squash galette often.  Sage, roasted garlic and a little cheese are all she suggests adding to roasted winter squash.  The result is a savory squash galette that makes a perfect main dish served with a pilaf of farro or brown rice and wild rice.

I also make her leek and goat cheese galette. It is a slightly richer version of Alice Water’s leek galette that is sautéed leeks only, wrapped in crust.

Leek galetteLeek galettes have been a winter standby for years, both for dinner and as a finger-food appetizer.  I’ll be making them often in the next few weeks as I harvest the final row of leeks.

And then there is cabbage.  Who knew cabbage could make such a tasty galette!  I hadn’t made Deborah Madison’s Cabbage and Mushroom Galette until this year, and I’m wondering what took me so long.  The combination of lots of wilted cabbage with sautéed mushrooms, diced hard-boiled egg, sour cream or goat cheese, tarragon, thyme and dill is truly delicious, rich, but not too rich, and full of flavor. I’ve made it for us several times and for company once, and I have reserved the remaining January King cabbage for a couple more.

Cabbage and Mushroom Galette

(My adaptations of this recipe are in plain text below)

For the pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour (I like using whole wheat pastry flour or Bluebird Grain Farms all- purpose flour milled from hard white wheat berries.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon of sugar (for fruit galettes; little or no sugar for savory galettes)
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ tablespoon-sized pieces
1/3 to ½ cup ice water

 For the filling

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely diced
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly diced (
I’ve substituted 1 pound of crimini mushrooms and think that this galette is better with more mushrooms.)
1 teaspoon chopped thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped dill or 1 teaspoon dried
6 cups thinly sliced cabbage, preferably Savoy, or 4 cups cabbage plus 2 cups other greens, such as beet, chard, or kale
salt and freshly milled pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped (
I often use two hard-boiled eggs.)
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt (
I subsitute ¼ pound goat cheese and omit the tarragon vinegar. I really like the tang the goat cheese provides.)
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Cabbage galette ingredients 

For the horseradish sauce(I’ve never made this sauce, but I bet it would be good!)
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1 cup yogurt or sour cream

1. Make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar (if using) and salt. Cut in butter by hand, leaving some pea-sized chunks, or, if using a Food Processor, add half the butter and process until the mixture is like coarse meal; then add the rest of the butter and process briefly, leaving pea-sized or slightly larger chunks of butter. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle ice water over the top by the tablespoon and toss with flour mixture, using a fork or your fingers, until you can bring the dough together into a ball. Press into a disk and refrigerate for ½ hour or more.

2. Prepare the filling: Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, and herbs and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water. (The cabbage from my garden is so fresh that I omit the ½ cup of water. The cabbage cooks in less than 10 minutes.)Cabbage galette filling start

Cover and cook slowly until the cabbage is tender, 15 to 20 minutes, turning it occasionally. Add more liquid. When tender, uncover and raise the heat to evaporate any excess moisture. (I do this step about 10 minutes after adding the cabbage.) The mixture should be fairly dry.

Cabbage galette filling finishedStir in the parsley, egg, and sour cream (I substitute ¼ pound goat cheese for sour cream). Season with vinegar (Omit if you use goat cheese) and taste for salt and pepper.

3. Assemble galette: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll the dough into a large thin circle, about 14-15 inches across and about 1/8 inch thick, and set it on the back of a sheet pan or cookie sheet. (I like to transfer the rolled dough to a piece of parchment paper and assemble the galette on the parchment paper then transfer parchment and galette to the sheet pan.)

Cabbage galette pastryAdd the filling, leaving about 2 inches of pastry edge,

Cabbage galette assemblythen fold the edges over and brush with the melted butter. Pour any extra butter into the vegetables. Bake until browned, 25 to 30 minutes. While it is baking, mix the horseradish and cream to form a sauce, and season to taste. When galette is done, carefully slide it onto a serving plate. Serve with the horseradish sauce on the side.

Cabbage galette done

When I’ve harvested all the cabbages, I think I will follow the recipe suggestion and substitute kale, chard or collards, even the last of the Brussels sprouts, for cabbage.  I love winter vegetable galette fillings.  My husband likes them too, but what most delights him is all that pastry, so both of us are happy with these late winter dinners.

Delights and Disappointments of 2019 and Plans for 2020

My annual seed ordering always includes looking back on the past year and noting what vegetables delighted, both in the garden and at the table, and what vegetables disappointed.  I order more of the vegetables that brought delight, and for the vegetables that disappointed, I find replacements or try harder to grow them successfully this coming year.

The biggest disappointment by far was Territorial Seed’s Ancho Magnifico Pepper.  As I wrote to Territorial at the end of the season: “What happened to Ancho Magnifico Pepper seed this year?  I’ve grown them for years, appreciating their habit of turning from ‘green to bright red’ and their ‘classic poblano flavor.’  This year’s peppers turned from green to a chocolate/purple color and, more troubling, had no poblano flavor, instead just a dull bitterness.” Territorial responded: “We have made note of the inconsistencies to our buyers,” and they refunded the cost of the seeds. Still, nervous about another off year for Ancho Magnifico, I’m trying a new poblano, Caballero Ancho from Fedco , advertised as having “a perfect balance of heat and sweet rich flavor in their thick flesh and ribs” and maturing to a “deep brick red.”  I hope they will delight and give us lots of peppers to roast and freeze for winter 2021.

Other disappointments were my fault.  My winter squash crop was very light this year, and I think a factor was that I let the plants grow too many leaves while still in their pots before setting them out.  This year, I’ll try to follow my usual practice of starting squash seeds in 4” pots and setting them out as soon as the first true leaves form.  My onion crop was also light, a result, I think, of neglecting the starts as they grew in their 1-inch flat, letting them dry out and then overwatering them, so that the starts that finally went into the ground weren’t strong.  Finally, I had a very poor basil crop, both because the plants got a little pot bound and because I set them out in a less-than-ideal spot. The plants produced enough leaves to flavor platters of tomatoes but not enough for lots of pesto.

Despite these disappointments, the delights, both in the garden and at the table, were many. As I look down the list, I see that a lot started with the letter C: Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumber, Chard, Chicories.

Flame Star Cauliflower: In 2018, I thought Purple of Sicily was my new favorite cauliflower, but then I tried yet another colorful cauliflower, the pastel orange Flame Star and think I have a new favorite.  Not only is it beautiful in the garden, glowing orange against the crown of green leaves, it is gorgeous and delicious at the table.

Cauliflower flameIt keeps its warm orange color after roasting and, more important, it has a rich, sweet flavor and creamy texture.  I grew it in both spring and fall and will plant again for each season this year.  And, not to leave out classic white cauliflowers, the over-wintered cauliflower All-the-year-round was a delicious wonder in early winter 2019.

Café corn: I’ve grown Café corn from Fedco since 2017, and 2019’s crop was the best so far.  As in past years, the seeds germinated well even in cool early May soil, and the plants grew quickly, setting 3 to 4 full ears on each stalk along with some half ears. What impressed me this year was how long the ears held on the plant without getting tough.  This meant I could bring corn on the cob to potlucks and serve it to guests at my table over several weeks.  And there was still plenty of corn to make a new favorite corn salad with Shishito peppers: Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad and to put up corn for the freezer.

Cucumbers: I haven’t grown cucumbers for years because I thought I was the only one in the family who liked them.  They are so tasty with tomatoes in a summer salad, though, that I had to grow them again.  My friend Anne recommended Marketmore 76, a classic green cucumber.  Even though my starts got a little pot-bound and I didn’t set the plants in a very good spot, they still produced lots of sweet, crisp cucumbers all season long.  I’ll grow Marketmore 76 again this year and also try Marketmore 86 for comparison.

Chard: As summer cooled into fall, we started eating chard from plants I’d started in mid-summer, and I was reminded how sweetly earthy and tender braised chard can be.  How could I have forgotten how good chard is, and how beautiful, especially Rainbow Chard?  The harvest has continued into late fall and early winter and, given chard’s hardiness, we should be enjoying it for the rest of the winter despite our recent cold and snow.  I will plant a larger crop for 2020.

Chicories:  I’ve relied on red radicchios and pale green sugarloaf chicories for many years for colorful winter salads.  Last year, I added variegated chicories and radicchios, plants whose heads and leaves are shades of red, pink and white as well as green with red speckles.  Variegata di Castelfranco Chicory and Variegata di Chioggia Radicchio both from Adaptive Seeds, are not only beautiful, they have the perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness characteristic of this Italian green.

Chicories:Radicchios 1.2020They make gorgeous salads on their own but also mix well with fall pears or roasted winter vegetables like turnips, rutabagas and carrots.  I’ll keep growing these beautiful winter greens and keep looking for more varieties to try.

Various peppers, radishes and tomatoes also delighted this past year.  Shishito pepper Takara from Fedco produced dozens and dozens of thin-walled, 1×3 inch peppers that blistered beautifully in a little oil in a hot frying pan to make a quick appetizer.  These shishitos were also the star of the corn and shishito pepper salad I mention above. They were delicious green and just as tasty when they turned red.

Radishes were also especially good this year and I most often sliced them and mixed them with yogurt to make a refreshing salad, tasty with roasted meat but also delicious on its own.  Varieties I grow are Cheriette and Champion from Fedco.

Yogurt Radish Salad

Makes 2 cups

 1–2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar, optional

2 teaspoons coarse salt, or to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

2 cups thinly sliced radishes

1 clove crushed garlic

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, drained if watery

 In a medium bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar, salt and a little pepper. Toss in the radishes and allow to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Toss in the garlic and yogurt and serve.

Finally, my friend Carol give me a start of Green Doctors cherry tomato, named for Dr. Amy Goldman and Dr. Carolyn Male, both authors of excellent tomato books. I planted it between some already established plants, and it was slow to catch up, but when it eventually set tomatoes and they ripened, I loved the sweet/tart flavor and the pretty green with yellow blush of this one-inch cherry tomato. Carol is going to give me a few seeds to start my own plants this year. With Sweet Million, Orange Parouche, and Sunchocola, Green Doctors makes a colorful bowl of delicious red, orange, purple and green cherry tomatoes to take to potlucks or serve at our table or simply for snacks.

Looking back on past gardening years and ahead to the new gardening year are especially pleasant ways to spend cool, dark January days. Soon seed packets will be arriving, days will be getting longer, and it will be time to plant.  There’s lots to delight in the garden year ahead.  Happy seed ordering!

Note: In January 2018 I published a post listing all the seeds I was planning to plant that year, some brief comments about why I’d chosen these vegetables and these varieties, and links to posts I’d written about many of these vegetables.  In January 2019 I republished this table with updates on what I especially liked in 2018, what didn’t work so well and new varieties I was going to try in 2019. Today’s January 2020 planting plans post updates 2018 and 2019 posts in another format, paragraphs that describe vegetables delighted, both in the garden and at the table, and vegetables that disappointed.  Return to the 2018 and 2019 posts for a full alphabetical listing of all I’ll be planting.