Thursday, November 27, 2014

Roasted winter vegetables featuring Cape white turnip

I've lived in Southeastern Massachusetts for 22 years, and I married a man who has lived here his whole life. One of the local treats we both love is the Cape white turnip, a rutabaga sized sweet white turnip that has such a devoted following that they actually have a festival celebrating it in Eastham Massachusetts!
These turnips need much love, and lots of space and time to grow. I don't have room for them in my kitchen garden, but they are available every fall at Four Town Farm in Seekonk, after the first frosts make them sweet.
Here are the ingredients for my roast vegetables- my Delicata squash, onions, garlic, sunchokes and rosemary, as well as a big white turnip from Four Town:


Roasted  with olive oil and salt and pepper in an over that starts at 425 and ends at 475 degrees for about 45 minutes (with several stirrings to get both sides of the turnips brown) they come out like this:

Now that's a plate of vegetables worth lingering over:



Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Winter squash harvest -- the year of Delicata!

Winter squash are by far the most unpredictable harvest in my kitchen garden. Even though I plant  the same number of Delicata and Butternut squash seedlings each year, in comparable settings and with equally enriched soil, one variety always produces much better than the other. Last year I had only a couple of Delicata fruits, but 8 big Butternuts. 
This fall I harvested 9 Delicata fruits from my one surviving vine-- way more than the average 4 or 5, and just 4 Butternuts from 2 vines. I also tried to grow Acorn and Spaghetti, with little success. Each plant produced just one fruit before succumbing to fungus. 
I'm happy overall, because Delicata squash is a more versatile ingredient. It does not have to be peeled, and it's subtle flavor can be used in many recipes. Butternut is a better keeper, so I'll save it for holiday cooking. 
Here's a picture of the squash harvest, as well as some tomatoes I just brought in to ripen. The tomato plants are still blight-free and we have not had a frost yet, though temps have been as low as 40 degrees.  Our recent spate of rainy days has led to cracks on the tops of some of the fruit, but the rain has been very welcome.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

My #5 annual flower for the kitchen garden --Nasturtium

This choice was easy-- the common garden nasturtium is easy to grow, colorful and edible.
But while researching the history of nasturtiums I did learn an interesting fact. The common name nasturtium comes from the resemblance between the peppery flavor of the leaves of this tropical annual and several kinds of European kitchen garden greens in the cress genus, Nasturtium. Like so many other plants discovered by European explorers it was given a common name based on a feature that reminded the explorer of home --in this case  high tea with cress sandwiches!
The Latin name of the flower know as nasturtium is Tropaelum majus. I've grown them for more than twenty years, in colors from peach through deep red, with foliage with dark tones and variegation, and plant forms from compact to trailing. They germinate easily and early, and grow fast, providing bright flowes and edible foliage by July, continuing through frost. A quick chop back of worn foliage in midsummer can also result in fresh fall growth.
But naturtiums do have needs, and they like to be well fed and well watered. This fall we've had drought and my late nasturtiums have sufferred.
Here are some pics from last fall, when the self-sown nasturtiums of October were exceptional:






Thursday, September 18, 2014

My #4 annual flower for the kitchen garden -- Moonflower

September is a ragged month in the kitchen garden, with most flowers and vegetables past their peak and on the decline. But the mooonflower (Ipomoea alba) is an exception. In September the dark green foliage is unmarked by disease or pests, and multiple white blooms uncurl nightly, releasing their sweet fragrance into the cooling early autumn air.



Like all member of the Ipomoea family, all parts of the plant are poisonous, which accounts for the unchewed leaves. Moonflowers take a long time to bloom from seed, but during the three months of growth that precede flowering the leaves weave their way through my inexpensive wire garden fence and turn it into a solid wall of green. 
Moonflower is not a self seeder here in Massachusetts, since frost usually hits the plants before the seeds are mature, though about one year out of five I am able to collect  a few seeds from the earliest blooms. And in order to be sure of September bloom Moonflower should be started indoors, about 
the same time as tomatoes, which means late March for me.  In fact,  I treat my Mooonflower seedlings just like my tomatoes -- I start, harden off and transplant them into the garden at the same time.
It's a little bit of work compared to some of the prolific self sowers I have already picked for my top five,  but once you've stepped into a September garden full of Moonflowers in bloom, you'll understand why this flower makes the list.




Friday, September 12, 2014

My top five annual flowers - #3, Verbena bonariensis

Yes, the name is a mouthful, but this is a great little plant.  This tough species of Verbena is such a reliable self-seeder that you you plant one Verbena bonariensis, you may never have to plant another. It also winters over given just a bit of shelter from cold hard winds.
And yet it  never seems invasive, because the neat early rosettes of foliage can be easily pulled from places you don't want this willowy, purple flowered butterfly magnet to grow.... though I 'm not sure where you would not want it!
Here's a big patch of bonariensis I let fill in after I pulled my garlic plants in July. The foliage is still clean and green and new flower shoots are sent up every day:


In other parts of the garden I have left just one plant, and I really enjoy the effect of the tall flowers coming up through the vegetable plants, in this case a trellis of Rattlesnake pole beans.



Verbena bonariensis has several characteristics that keep it from being the perfect kitchen garden annual; it is not fragrant nor edible, and as a cut flower tends to shed a lot.
Bur right now, when so many other garden flowers are tired and ragged, the Verbena stands tall and bright.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Top five annual flowers for the kitchen garden- #2, Cleome

Cleome, also known as 'spider plant', latin name Cleome hassleriana, is an old friend from my first days as a gardener. I was  a lot less attentive to my garden's needs then, and even when I neglected to water or fertilize my Cleome they still thrived and flowered, and produced lots of seeds to save for the next season. Their stately heads of pink, purple and white flowers  still rise above my current garden and provide great nectar targets for hummingbirds and hummingbird moths.
I have not bought Cleome seeds in about 30 years. When the seedling come up too thick I thin them, (the compound foliage makes even small seedlings easy to identify) and they tolerate transplanting on cool moist days. I sometimes select for just one color, but often let them grow mixed.
Because of their spiny stems Cleome are rarely eaten by rabbits, deer or woodchucks, so they can liven up the unfenced parts of the kitchen garden. They also make fine cut flowers when collected early in the day-- rememnber to wear gloves or the spiny stems will hurt you!
They also produce flowering side shoots if the main flower head is removed. The seeds can be dried and stored in the fridge, but I generally just grab a few plants after the first frost and shake the seed heads over any bare patch where I want them to grow the following year.
Here's a pic of late season Cleome flowering behind Sol's doghouse:



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September 3rd tour of my Bay State Kitchen Garden

Well, the best laid plans... I will get back to my picks for top annual flowers soon, but first here is a September tour video: