50 Shade of Green

Reason #6: 50 Shades of PESTICIDE-FREE Leafy Greens

Leafy greens – kale, spinach, swiss chard, lettuces and arugula – are one of the best things to grow in any garden. For one thing, most green varieties are frost hardy and so are one of the first crops you can plant. They are also fast growing, so are one of the first crops to harvest in the spring. The root systems of greens are fairly small and shallow, so you can plant a lot of it in a small space; the Square Foot Gardener recommends 4 lettuce, chard or kale plants per square foot. Finally, with succession planting, because they are frost hardy, greens are one of the latest crops going in the garden. Kale and swiss chard are often still green when the snow starts to fly.

Lettuce, kale, arugula, chard, spinach... It's so easy being green.

Lettuce, kale, arugula, chard, spinach… It’s so easy being green.

Anyone who is reading this blog most likely does not need to be told how amazingly healthy leafy greens are, especially the dark varieties such as kale, chard, spinach and collards. However, buying non-organic greens from the Superstore could be doing us more harm than good. Spinach, lettuce, kale and other leafy greens are included in the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen – a list of produce containing the highest levels of pesticide residue. Seriously scary stuff.

Sure you can buy organic greens at markets like Herb and Spice. But at $3.99/bunch for organic kale, I’d say it’s worthwhile to see what you can grow yourself!

In-Season Recipe (early July): Garlic Scape, Basil & Kale Pesto

Fresh batch of scape, kale and basil pesto. Does it get any more delicious?

Fresh batch of scape, kale and basil pesto. Does it get any more delicious?

It’s scape season! Well, the tail end of it anyway. We have been loving using garlic scapes in place of garlic bulb for the last few weeks. FYI, for those who don’t know, the scape is a long curly stalk at the end of which grows the garlic flower. Scapes are harvested before the garlic actually flowers to encourage the garlic to direct energy to the bulb. And they are delicious. We’ve been putting them in curries, omelettes, stir fries, roasted veg, salads, marinades… you name it!

Curly garlic scapes, ripe for the picking (early July.)

Curly garlic scapes, ripe for the picking (early July.)

But the pièce de résistance has got to be the pesto. We harvested all of the remaining scapes in one big bundle to be sacrificed to the food processor gods to become a few precious jars of garlicy, basily, nutty goodness.

Pesto is a cinch to make. Here’s how I did this batch. (Note that all measurements are approximate… it’s all up to your tastes.)

Put the following in a food processor and blend until smooth:

- 2 cups garlic scapes (chop off the little seed pods first)

- 1 cup chopped kale

- 1 cup chopped basil

- 1 cup lightly roasted pine nuts

- 1 cup lightly roasted walnuts

- 1.5 -2 cups grated parmesan cheese

- 1 generous cup olive oil

- juice of at least 1 lemon (more if you love a lemon zing in your pesto)

- Lots of cracked pepper and dash of sea salt, to taste

This recipe yielded about 6 small jars, but it was so good that Benny insisted on snacking on it immediately with some tortilla chips (as pictured above.) You will too. Freeze what you aren’t using immediately. These small jars make awesome leave-behind gifts if you’re going to a friend’s for dinner or visiting a friend with a new baby.

While pesto is typically made with basil, I used a combination of garden kale and basil in this batch and it worked out famously. We are growing three varieties of kale:

Red Russian and Blue Curled kale (early July.)

Red Russian and Blue Curled kale (early July.)

We have four varieties of basil growing this year, although I must admit that I did buy some basil transplants at the Parkdale Market to supplement the rather meager number of basil seedlings that germinated indoors (from seeds harvested in 2012.) I think we have a Thai, an Italian, a purple leaf and a Greek basil.

Why yes, I do have garlic breath. Thanks for noticing!

The first thing to come poking through the soil as soon as it thawed this spring was… garlic! This is our first time growing garlic, which is strange because it is one of our kitchen staples. Perhaps it’s because garlic is one of those crops that has to be planted a full two seasons ahead of its harvest; planting is done in mid-autumn (October) for a late-spring harvest (June).

Garlic shoots

Garlic shoots peeking through the soil, early spring.

Ben’s dad, an avid gardener with a kick-ass property south of Ottawa, generously gifted us 12 bulbs of his home-grown garlic for planting – a 4-clove hardneck variety. At four cloves per bulb, we planted a total of 48 garlic cloves, spaced about 4 inches apart, taking up about 14 square feet of garden. After planting we covered the soil with a layer of leaf debris to provide some insulation to the cloves for their long winter sleep.

We chose one of the sunniest garden plots for the garlic since it is the first to thaw in the spring, encouraging the garlic to sprout as early as possible. Since garlic is an early-season crop, this primo sun real estate can be taken over by later-season crops, such as tomatoes, as the garlic is harvested and thinned. In fact, “companion planting” tomatoes with garlic can help to deter pests that may be attracted to your tomato plants.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

We have a seriously obnoxious squirrel population in our backyard, and not yet knowing their tastes for garlic, we opted to protect our dear little bulbs with a couple of simple chicken wire cage boxes. These are very easy to make and consist of a rudimentary square wooden frame (using scrap/rescued wood) with a “tent” of chicken wire stapled to it, weighed down with a few rocks, juuuust in case.

Can’t wait for sweet sweet garlic… breath!