Category Archives: Unusual Vegetables

Sustainable Backyard Tour 2012

While I checked out the yards for this years tour, I thought I would snap some pictures to give everyone a little preview.  I’m very excited about the Carondelet area offerings!  The area I’m coordinating is south St Louis near the river.  Take a look at some of the fantastic things you will see on the tour if you follow my node!  There are gardens, up-cycled elements,  unusual plantings, chickens,  rabbits, solar power, and composting just to name a few elements of our area.

Click on the link to register to go on the tour.  This signs you up to receive a map a few days ahead of time.  Its a lot if fun and free.  Meet some great people, get some great ideas and come out June 24

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

These are pictures of right now.  Think how great these yards will look in five weeks!

Sunchoke, Guiness and Cheese Soup

I first made this over the winter, but it is so delicious and a great way to use your Sunchokes.  The grocery had some beautiful sunchokes today so this is what we are having for dinner.  I’m serving it with some wheat bread I made today topped with some of our home-made apple butter.  Tastes amazing.

Sunchoke, Guinness, and Cheese Soup

  • 1.5 lbs Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 1 1/2 C chicken broth, more if needed
  • 1 C Guinness or dark beer of your choice
  • 3 TBS flour
  • 1 1/2 C Smoked Cheddar Cheese
  • 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 C Buttermilk
  • salt
  • Chili Powder
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce

Place sunchokes in broth until ready to use.  In saucepan, saute onion and celery in 1 TBS butter until soft.  Add sunchokes and broth, cover, and cook for 10 minutes or until soft.  Puree with immersion blender.

In another saucepan, melt 3 TBS butter, add flour, and cook for a minute or two.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1 C beer, then cook for a few minutes.  Add cheese and mustard and continue to whisk until the cheese is melted.  Stir in Sunchoke puree and buttermilk, and cook until soup is heated through.  Season with salt, chili powder, and Worcestershire sauce.

Don’t have sunchokes?  They are a pretty awesome tuber to grow in the garden.  Extremely easy.  I picked some up at the grocery store one year and stuck them in the ground.  If you are worried about local laws, check with your local extension office to make sure they are not listed as a noxious weed in your area.  I grow them in a raised bed so they theoretically don’t spread everywhere.  It does make it really easy to pop out the ones that go out of bounds.  The picture is last year’s patch in June.  I start harvesting them after the first frost in fall and harvest all winter when the ground isn’t frozen.  My chickens love to sit in the patch in the shade.  There are pictures out there of blooms that look like sunflowers, but I have never had them bloom.  I think I would cut the flowers off before they go to seed since they can be spread so easily.

 

Taiwan Spinach

This week at the international grocery store they had Taiwan spinach.  I love this green!  I lack the vocabulary to describe why it meshes so well with my taste buds.  I was first introduced to it at a Sunday morning dim sum located in University City.  Oh, Lu Lu, how I love your food.  Lu Lu Seafood Restaurant makes some killer dim sum.  (And they are one of the few places with bubble tea in town.)  The ladies come around with the carts instead of a weird buffet thing like many of the restaurants here in the St. Louis area.  You never know what is going to come around and be available which is half the fun.  The particular dish that introduced me to this green involved steaming the spinach and dressing it with a soy sauce/ sesame oil mixture.  Fantastic!

Amaranthus gangeticus (Chinese spinach or taiwan spinach)

This edible amaranth grows about 14 inches high, but can be higher when flowering.  The seeds and greens are edible, but the flowers are not.  This is a warm weather crop.  Seeds should be germinated in the dark (with a row cover) at about 50 degrees fahrenheit.  These plants will not stand frost or freezing.  This green likes loose, sandy, and fertile soil.  It can’t stand compacted soil so a good cover of straw or frequent hoeing will help it’s growth.

3 Ways to Harvest (about 6-8 weeks):

  1.  Pinch tips and let regrow.
  2. Pull out whole plant when it reaches about 10 inches.
  3. Cut plant back to about an inch an a half above the ground to regrow.

This plant can put out a pretty hefty harvest apparently with proper thinning or cutting back.

I like this variety of edible amaranth probably best of all I have tried.  It has a really satisfying and hearty taste.  It also lacks the bitterness of some of the red tinged cultivars.  So here is what we ate tonight (I had no idea what call it):

Chinese Spinach and Mushroom Grits Bake

  • 1 1/2 Cups Grits
  • 5 TBS oil
  • 1 C diced onion
  • 2 leeks, finely chopped
  • one large king oyster mushroom (half pound)
  • 2 TBS dry sherry
  • 1 lb Chinese spinach, washed and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 10 fresh Thai basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 lb firm tofu, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 2 TBS Pinoy Curat Spiced Coconut Vinegar
  • 2 tsp sriracha sauce (cock sauce)
  • 1 TBS Chinese 5 Spice
  • 2 TBS Dark soy sauce with mushroom flavor
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook Grits according to directions and set aside.
  3. Heat 2 TBS oil in large pan.
  4. Add the onions, leeks, and mushrooms and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are caramelized. Set aside.
  5. De glaze the pan with the sherry, add the salt and cook until dry.
  6. Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
  7. In a separate skillet, heat remaining oil.
  8. Add the garlic and basil.  Simmer until garlic is golden brown.
  9. In food processor, add contents of skillet, tofu, lemon juice, Pinoy Curat, sriracha, Chinese 5 spice, and soy sauce.  Blend until smooth.
  10. Add tofu mixture to vegetable mixture.
  11. In large casserole, layer half of the grits on the bottom.  Gently smooth vegetable mixture on top of grits.  Top with remaining grits as completely as possible.
  12. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  13. When baking is complete, turn off oven, crack open and let rest in oven to cool for 10 minutes.  Serve.

Now that gardening season is creeping ever closer, consider giving this vegetable a try.  So good.  Why not make a spot in your garden for some new and unusual greens this summer?

Seed Sources:

Evergreen Seeds

Kitazawa Seed Co.

and my favorite local seed company:  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

 

 

The Garden Plan

Insert ominous music here….

So, last year I ran out of things to do outside in my yard.  Very depressing.  Of course that means this year I must have grand plans that may not be attainable.  The lot across the street is one that will test my resolve.  If I can do the 16 beds, I should be able to grow a complete potato heavy diet for four.  I also need to dig a bed or two for my nice neighbors to garden in as well.  They have no sun thanks to a gorgeous linden tree that occupies the whole of their tiny back yard and a strange deck built by an obnoxious bohunk previous owner that overlooks my six foot privacy fence.  Fortunately since the bohunk abandoned the city for renecky parts unknown I have had awesome neighbors in that house and don’t mind the deck anymore.

the lot from the south

Anyway a refresher on the lot (from another angle because I know you can’t remember from my blog entry I made an hour ago, lol).  So, I have some reservations about working over here.  As I said before, there used to be multifamily structures over here.  Those structures almost certainly had basements.  All the houses in my neighborhood have basements.  There are two holes about where I am standing to take this picture that the neighbor has been throwing sod into.  I will continue to throw sod.  What concerns me more is the sunken area at

the sunken spot

the back.  Fortunately I have no intention of building anything and I don’t think I will fall into the ground, but the difference in rain runoff and weight might affect the lay of the land and cause me some problems.  Right now the sunken area is limited to a spot in the back which is easy enough to deal with.  I need a good rainstorm though to see how the water in this area works.

My Mad Plan

So I have mad cad skills and decided one night to work out the garden plan in cad.  Pretty easy to do actually. They lack a polished look and have spelling errors I have to admit.  Across the street is heavily based on the four family garden from How to Grow More Vegetables buy it, it’s awesome.  I think there is a new version than the one on that link however.  Go visit the Ecology Action people they are the same folks and have years of experience with biointensive gardening.

Spring/Summer Side Yard

Summer/Fall Side Yard

So the mad plan is based on my wish list worked into 4 x 20 foot beds.  After laying things out across the street, I have found that up to four more can be put in.  I left one for the neighbors but really they could have up to five.  Two I would be hesitant to put in until we understand the underground nutso stuff going on over there.  I have to guess that the sinkhole is part of a basement that wasn’t bulldozed full.  The rest of the basements should still be under there.  I may check city hall for old building specs for that site.    Theoretically this will also impact drainage on the site, should be a fun year.  Until recently my side yard leaked oddly into my basement, but I think whatever the passageway was has filled in with sediment at this point.  That garden is also on an old building site.

Another note should be that I plan to freeze, can, and root cellar much of the harvest.  There are ways to plant to extend harvesting and some of that will happen, but mainly it works better for my brain to have things ripen at the same time.  I’m not market gardening which also impacts how to plan.

This does not negate my need to use other sites for gardening.  Winter Squash, Summer Squash, Cucumbers, and Gourds cannot be grown in more than one variety within half a mile of each other or they will cross pollinate.  I have three other yards I will be placing varieties of those in this summer as well. (Also, after the Thai Bottle Gourd fiasco, I’m not really allowed to have gourds in the side yard again, lol.  I don’t recommend Thai Bottle Gourds for urban gardening.)  Probably also grow some other herbs and peppers there as well.  I think peppers just need 10 feet, but the ant population on my lot make peppers difficult to grow.  I had much better luck last year.  Previous years have had too much insect damage.

Gardening 2012

Cold Frames

2012 cold frame experiment

With the recent abnorminally mild spell, I’ve officially started the 2012 garden.  A few years back, my brother got the jump on me by planting early peas.  I always like to err of the side of caution when planting, but this year, I’ve decided to try to optimize the growing season and be brave.  To that end I have already planted peas, swiss chard, spinach, and arugula.     If you are going to take risks it’s probably useful to do it in an educated manner.  These are crops that are good in cool temps, but that doesn’t mean that they will germinate in the ground this time of year.  I had planned to haul in fresh manure from a horse stable and make hot beds, but the economy being what it is I don’t have money for the gas.  I did however aquire some straw off of Craigslist for $3 a bale and had a good supply.  I checked a germination temperature list and cross checked the weather and decided to be brave.  We had temps in the 60s and 70s last week.  This particular garden area is nestled between my house and the neighbors house.

between the houses garden space

It creates a peculiar microclimate.  There isn’t as much sun in the winter due to the line of light being interupted by the neighbors two story house.   The sun and heat do reflect off of my two story home however and the ground is slow to freeze.  I’m not sure if the ground is warm enough for germination, but it must have been close.  I soaked the seeds ahead of time and went ahead and put them in the ground.  Using conduit pipe as a canopy, we covered the beds in clear plastic with a tarp on top of that for night time.  On days over 65 degrees, I open the whole thing up while the sun is on it to help it warm.  The straw bales and the plastic should provide a perfect cold frame and allow me to get a jump on the growing season.  Keeping it covered also keeps the chickens from nibbling off fresh shoots.  They live in the vegetable garden in the winter and won’t be moved out for a month or two depending on the weather. 
 
Chickens in the garden?  Yes. They eat bugs and scratch and scratch and poop.  This does some pretty wonderful work on my garden soil and hopefully cuts down on the bugs I will have to deal with in the spring.  Last year I had an amazing quatitiy of potato fleas and crickets.  Neither of them did a great deal of damage, but if I didn’t get to the tomatoes quick enough the crickets were more than happy to feast on them.  Potato fleas seem more like a visual nuisance than an actual nuissance.  I suspect they impact yeilds but I got a lot of potatoes so it was difficult to see any real impact. 
 
I met my neighbor for the first time last week as well and now have permission to garden in the empty lot across the street.  There is significantly more space there than I expected.  You would think I would have a grasp of it having looked at it for 9 years, but no.  It’s about twice the size that casual glances lead me to believe.
 
It’s a wonderful flat space in full sun.  Apparently there were multifamily houses on this lot 15 years ago so I have no idea what I will find as I go to double dig.  My plan is to put in 16 eight by twenty beds with the width of my mower in between.    If I dig two beds a week for the next two months I will have them in on time.  I’ve laid out two of the beds with a paint border and started digging but I broke the handle off my shovel.  Such a brute.  I took that as a sign and quit for the day and haven’t gotten back to it this week.  I still have four days.

my garden helper

This is my helper over there.  Dr. Trivia lives upstairs across the street next to this lot and is a big softee when it comes to cats.  As his four family has rotated occupants, he has taken in any abandoned cats. This one is as big as a terrier.  He is awesomely massive.  I haven’t figured out how many live over there, but I figure it’s built in bird and rodent control.  They are a sweet bunch of cats.  One did get in my chicken coop a month ago, but bygones are bygones and he hasn’t come back so hopefully it was a one time thing. 
 
I used inkscape to draw out my garden beds for both the side yard and the lot across the street.  I’ve planned out what seeds are going in for the Spring/Summer end and then the succession crops for the Summer/Fall end.  Also done is the buying times for when I have to have the seeds for planting them when I want to.  Of particular help to me has been the following books:
 
These are a fantastic resource and well worth purchasing. 
 
So, we are currently building our recycled plastic bottle greenhouse, digging the new garden, moving the old compost pile, and planning out when to buy seeds. 
 
February  garden task recomendations:
  1. Start seeds in cold frames, south facing windows, greenhouses, hot bedes.  Stick with cold weather crops.  Anything in the cabbage family will do well.
  2. Clean and mend your garden tools.  Paint handles, sharpen shovels, clean out storage areas.
  3. Repair raised beds, cold frames, potting benches.
  4. Gather pots into central location.  Sort by size.  Make a mental note of what you have on hand so that you waste less time and money in the busy upcoming months on supplies. 
  5. Sort out your seed stores.  Your envelopes should have a year.  Look up a seed viability table and get rid of seed that are too old.  It’s easy to waste space storing seeds that won’t come up and waste money buying seeds you already have that are perfectly good.  If you don’t want to throw those seeds away try your hand at some crop art!

I’m passionate about food security.  Start a garden and or buy local foods.  There’s a peace and joy to gardening.  If you are a food junkie like I am you will be amazed at the difference locally grown and organic foods can make to your cooking.  So yummy!