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!

Say “Seeeeeeeds!”… Time for Seed Harvesting

Call it the “after thought harvest”… seed harvesting is not something that you might do or even think about if you are a newbie (or even seasoned) veggie grower. But if you don’t like forking out $3.50 a pack for organic seeds, then I suggest you give some thought, and a tiny bit of energy, to harvesting some seeds from your own crops to plant next year.

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Of course each crop variety has a slightly different method for harvesting its seeds. In the case of “fruiting” crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins, the seeds are inside of the fruit, so must therefore be harvested from a picked fruit. I will leave those to a separate blog post later in the season… for now, let’s consider legumes and leafy crops, since that is what we’re harvesting right now.

Legumes (i.e. beans and peas) are the absolute simplest seed to harvest. Just allow a few of your pea and bean pods to fully mature and dry out on the vine. Harvest only after the pods are fully dried. A word of caution – don’t allow too many beans to fully mature off the bat or you will reduce the output of your plants. In the case of beans and peas, the more you pick, the more they produce! So wait until the plants are getting close to the end of their productive life before allowing pods to fully mature for seed harvesting. We have had excellent results with all peas and beans to date!

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

In the case of leafy crops the concept is simple – allow some of each crop to bolt, flower and go to seed, then allow the seeds to dry on the live plant before harvesting. I really cannot stress enough the importance of allowing the seed pods to dry fully on the plant before harvesting. If harvested too soon, the seeds may not be viable, or they may be difficult to store without rotting. This takes patience! For the last month we have been annoyingly stepping around a tangle of bolted cilantro to water our swiss chard, biding our time til the seeds are fully dried and ready to harvest… all for the love of sweet, sweet crushed coriander seed. (In the case of coriander, we save a few seeds for planting, but we use it religiously in all sorts of cooking.)

Cilantro (coriander) seeds... almost dry!

Cilantro (coriander) seeds… almost dry!

Over the last few years, we have had really good results harvesting seeds from the following leafy crops: all lettuces (… and did you know that lettuce plants have beautiful yellow flowers when they bolt?); spinach; arugula; dill; cilantro; and basil.

Once you have harvested the dried seed pods from the plant, release the individual seeds by rolling the pods between your thumb and fingers, gently crushing the dried pod. Place your harvested seeds in paper envelopes; I would advice against plastic since trapped humidity can make your seeds rot. Label, and store for next year in a cool, dry place. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, make yourself a cute seed box to keep them all in …

Say Seeeeds!

Say Seeeeds!

FYI, to date, we have not had any success harvesting seeds from kale, although recently I started chatting with a man on an airplane who turned out to run a small cooperative farm. He said that you can totally harvest kale seeds, and that they are good for eating as a nutrient-packed sprouted seed! We are definitely going to try this in the fall… will keep you posted on that one.

 

In-Season Recipe (early June): Spring Mix Salad with Shaved Radish and Baked Goat’s Cheese Medallions

Spring mix salad served with portabello mushroom and asparagus fritatta. Spring eating at it's best.

Spring mix salad served with portabello mushroom and asparagus fritatta. Spring eating at it’s best.

Randy for radishes!

Randy for radishes!

Early season harvests are the best!… tender greens, baby spinach, crisp spring onion and the pièce de résistance – ravishing ripe red radishes. Planted in early April, these tangy, peppery little delights are now ready for the picking… and the eating! It’s so tempting to eat them right out of the ground, with just a wipe on the shirt sleeve to clean them off. But they are also amazing in a salad of fresh garden greens.

Here is a delicious and simple recipe that is a perfect way to enjoy early season greens and radishes. Serve this as a light meal or as a side. It’s pictured above paired with a portabello mushroom and asparagus frittata. Enjoy!

Spring Mix Salad with Shaved Radish and Baked Goat’s Cheese Medallions

For goat’s cheese medallions:

  • Soft unripened goat’s cheese (quantity is up to you!)
  • Egg, beaten in a bowl
  • A couple handfuls of bread crumbs on a plate. (If you’re eating gluten-free, try using some ground flax and cornmeal, or whatever “breading” substitute you are using.)
  • Olive oil.

Gooey baked goat's cheese. Drool!Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a baking pan with olive oil. Shape goat’s cheese into 1tbsp sized medallions. One-by-one, dip medallions into the beaten egg and then press lightly into the breadcrumbs, making sure they’re well-coated. Place medallions on the baking pan. Bake for approx. 15 minutes, flipping once. They’re ready when golden brown on the outside and gooey soft on the inside… Mmmmmm.

While goat’s cheese is baking, toss the following in a salad bowl:

Early June harvest basket.

Early June harvest basket.

From the garden:

  • Assorted lettuce (Jericho Romaine, Red Oak Leaf and Curly Green Leaf)
  • Giant Winter spinach
  • Astro Arugula
  • Bunching spring onion
  • Cilantro
  • Raxe radishes, finely “shaved” using a carrot peeler, or chopped very thinly
  • Walnuts (or any nut you have in your cupboard)

For the vinaigrette:

  • 2-3 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used a raspberry balsamic)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • tsp honey
  • tsp grainy mustard
  • sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

As soon as goat’s cheese medallions are done, toss salad in the vinaigrette and top with 2-3 medallions. Drizzle with balsamic glaze if you have it.

 

Early Season Planting… Hurry Up and Wait!

Getting the garden going in the spring is always an exercise in patience. The snow melts, then it comes back. The temperature jumps up to 20+ degrees for a few days but then is back down to near freezing. It can be hard to know what should be planted and when, and how to plan for a garden that doesn’t all get planted at the same time.

Several crops can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, and actually prefer to germinate in cool soil, including spinach, radishes, beets, greens, kale and peas.

Sprouted Giant Winter spinach, Jericho romaine lettuce and Early Wonder beets, early May

Sprouted Giant Winter spinach, Jericho romaine lettuce and Early Wonder beets, early May

Here is a list of everything that we planted outdoors in the month of April and the source of the seeds. The items that are in bold are things that we’ve done before that we’ve loved and would recommend:

  • Romaine lettuce (seeds harvested from 2012 season, originally Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Red Oak leaf lettuce (seeds harvested from 2012 season, originally Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Curly green leaf lettuce (seeds harvested from 2012 season, originally plant given by friend)
  • Astro Arugula (seeds harvested from 2012 season, Greta’s Organic Garden)
  • Black Seeded Simpson lettuce (Page Seed Co)
  • Giant Winter spinach (Greta’s Organic Garden)
  • Rainbow Dinosaur kale (Urban Harvest)
  • Vates Blues Curled kale (Urban Harvest)
  • Red Russian kale (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Plum Purple radish (The Cottage Gardener)
  • Raxe radish (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Atomic Red carrot (Urban Harvest)
  • Scarlett Nantes carrot (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Jerusalem artichoke (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Detroit Dark Red beet (Ferme Tourne-Sol)
  • Early Wonder beet (Greta’s Organic Garden)
  • Sugar Snap pea (Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Fordhook Giant swiss chard (Urban Harvest)
  • Sweet Peas flowers (Aimers – bought at Lee Valley)
Plum Purple radish and Sugar Snap peas, early May

Plum Purple radish and Sugar Snap peas, early May

This year we really had our shit together and got our early planting started as soon as the ground was thawed enough to turn over the top 12 inches of soil. But we didn’t just bury the seeds any-old-where in the garden. We planned the early planting with a few things in mind this year – succession planting, crop rotation and interplanting with later season crops.

Succession planting -  Some crops mature quickly, which means that you can/should plant several “batches” of them throughout the growing season to maintain a constant supply of your favourite salad fixin’s! These include lettuce, arugula, spinach, beets and radishes (and carrots to a lesser degree.) Successive rounds of planting can be done every 2-4 weeks for these crops.

This has implications for your first round of planting in the early season; it means that you don’t need to plant all the beets you can eat in one go! Plant some now and more later…  We planted our sunniest garden plot with a small assortment of salad greens, beets and radishes. 2 weeks later, we planted another plot in the garden with radishes and beets. Another round of lettuces will be planted in the coming week. It should be noted, however, that certain crops don’t do well when it gets hot, hot, hot. Spinach and beets will likely not do well when planted into July and August; best to do a couple of plantings in spring and wait for later summer to plant again for fall harvest.

(Tip: The book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew has some extremely helpful and simple planting charts to help plan succession planting. Highly recommended for urban gardening newbies!)

 Crop rotation - Each crop in the garden needs a different balance of mineral nutrients (namely nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) from the soil. As a result, the soil can become depleted of one or more nutrients when the same crop is planted in the same place year after year. To avoid this, we are doing our best to switch up the location of crops in the garden. For example, cucumbers are nitrogen-suckers! We will be putting cucumbers in a different spot this year and planting beans – a nitrogen-replenisher – in their place. This is an important consideration in the early season as you plan out the location of your crops in the yard and put in some of the longer-growing early season crops such as kale, chard and peas.

Interplanting – This year we are going to dabble much more with interplanting – the art of planting more than one type of crop together in a harmonious and beneficial way. As noted above, we did our first spring planting in the sunniest garden plot, which is also occupied by our garlic, planted last fall. (See previous post Why yes I do have garlic breath.) This sunny spot is primo tomato growing location, so our plan is to interplant tomato seedlings with the early season greens, radishes and beets. As the tomatoes grow and require more space we will be eating the radishes and beets and will thin out the lettuce. In the heat of the summer the few heads of lettuce that remain will enjoy partial shade from the towering tomatoes and (in theory) will not bolt as quickly as lettuce that is exposed to the direct blazing sun… stay tuned to see how that works out!

If you haven’t planted anything yet and are reading this thinking “Aww man, I’ve missed the boat and now it’s too late!” then please stop worrying. You can plant now. Or next week. Just please do plant this spring!