Gardeners’ Question Time

I’m not Bob Flowerdew, but tomorrow I get to play him on the radio.

You’ll get that reference if you’re a fan of the British radio gardening show Gardeners’ Question Time. I get the BBC 4 show via podcast, and greatly enjoy the experience of listening, learning and laughing along with their panel of witty experts.

And tomorrow, I get to channel a little bit of Mr. Flowerdew (yes, his actual name) on the KIRO radio show of Ciscoe Morris, Seattle’s own version of a beloved expert radio gardener. Gardening with Ciscoe is on at 11 a.m. every Saturday on 97.3 FM.

Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe’s program can also be heard via podcast, in case you’re not near a radio on Saturday mornings or not within range of KIRO’s towers.

Interestingly, many of the gardening questions posed to Ciscoe and his guests could be lifted (minus the lilting British accents) from GQT. Our Maritime Northwest climate has a lot in common with the mild climes of the British Isles. I often hear advice on that show that is applicable to my own yard–another reason to listen, if I needed one. For example, the British grow familiar vegetables on a similar timetable in their “allotments” as we do in our P-Patches.

GQT has been educating and entertaining gardeners since 1947, inspired by the country’s postwar “Dig for Victory” campaign, similar to the “Victory Garden” program in the U.S. that urged people to grow food as a method of self-sustainability during wartime. Its amazing longevity can be attributed to the British love of gardening, although you could say that it has contributed to their perennial plant fever.

As proof of my GQT fandom, I even have attended a live taping. Amazingly, the GQT’s website provides the proof. Two summers ago, my wife and I took a walking trip in England, and after strolling the farms and gardens of the Cotswolds, we ventured to Wales for a weekend to attend GQT’s Summer Garden Party at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.

In this photo on their website, you can clearly see me in my green shirt (and Susie next to me) to the left of the sign, waiting for the taping to begin. We were present for the taping of two shows, but alas did not get any of our questions chosen for consideration by the panel.

And what an amazing panel of experts on their stage. Flowerdew, Bunny Guinness (which reminds me, Happy Easter!), Pippa Greenwood (you can’t make these names up!), Toby Buckland, Chris Beardshaw, James Wong and other panelists are certainly pedigreed.

Guinness is a landscape designer who has won six gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show (and is the niece of rose breeder David Austin). Beardshaw is a landscape architect, BBC television garden program host, and was a judge at this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show (also presenting some delightful seminars). Wong is a botanist, and Greenwood is a plant pathologist. Buckland heads London’s oldest plant nursery. Flowerdew is one of England’s leading organic gardeners whose family has been farming in East Anglia since the Tudors ruled the land in the 1500s. All of which makes me realize that I should study more and work on my credentials.

Although I can’t hope to match either the panel’s expertise or their wit (a recent edible gardening discussion devolved into testing the soil temperature by getting naked in the garden to decide whether it is warm enough to plant), I will try to pass on my vegetable-growing tips and inject levity where possible in with Ciscoe’s banter. He’s a great host, an expert in just about everything green, and a fun person to chat with, and I always look forward to the show.

So listen if you can, call in if you’d like, and don’t worry about the weeding. As they say on GQT, “you’ll be back to the garden in 45 minutes.”

Here are a few photos from the National Botanic Garden in Wales, which is about an hour north of Swansea. It’s an amazing place you should visit if you ever get the chance.

Favas & Garlic: Savory Spring Recipe

The garlic has just begun its sun salutations. Bouquets of fava bean leaves are catching the Garlic and favasspring rains as they emerge on sturdy stems. The promise of these two early summer delicacies is just coming into leaf, but already it’s blooming in my mind. What awaits is a rich, savory saute of succulent beans and fiery garlic in butter and oil.

So it’s a little early yet, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes:

Fava Beans in Spring Garlic

Ingredients:

4 handfuls of fava bean pods (pick when the pods begin to droop on the plant; use immediately, as the bean’s sugars will turn to starch in 1-2 days)

2 heads spring garlic (pull while tops are fully green and perhaps 12 inches high; choose plants that have ended up overly close to their neighbors, thus enabling the adjacent plant to fully develop its bulb)

3 T olive oil

3 T butter

Directions:

Shell the beans, and drop the bean seeds all at once into a pan of boiling water (enough to cover). Swirl and cook for a very short time, perhaps 30 seconds, until the beans begin to turn brighter green. Use a sieve to quickly remove the beans and drop them into a bowl of icy water to stop the cooking.

As the beans cool, pluck them from the water and pinch off their rubbery outer skin. It will be loose and easily removed, the bean slippery within. Use a knife to cut a slot in the skin if necessary to pop the bean out. Discard the skins and reserve the beans to dry.

Rinse and trim the garlic. Discard the outer green leaves. The young garlic bulb will not have differentiated cloves, and you will use the entire thing, plus some of the greens. Roughly chop the garlic into half-inch chunks.

Warm the olive oil in a saute pan to medium heat and add the garlic to the sizzling oil. Cook the garlic for a minute or so, tossing regularly, until limp and giving off a pungent odor.

Add the fava beans. Add the butter. As the butter melts, stir to coat the favas. Reduce heat if sizzling and cook for up to five minutes, testing the beans for doneness. When the beans have softened and can easily be speared with a fork, remove from heat.

Sprinkle with sea salt and eat immediately. Serves 2 people.

 

Worth waiting for

I love this recipe for its simplicity, and its fresh taste of spring. In fact, watching these plants develop is one of the joys of the spring season.

Young garlic, pulled before the bulb has had a chance to differentiate into cloves, has an onionlike texture and a flavor that is equal parts spiciness and grassiness.

Fresh fava beans, freed from their tough, grey seed coats, seem to be equal parts sugar and substance. Once cooked, they retain a meaty toothsomeness like the interior of a firm baked potato, but with only a light starchiness.

It’s too soon to be whipping up this recipe, but I mentioned it in my column in the current issue of Edible Seattle. (If you’ve come to this site because of the column, thank you for supporting that fine magazine!) You might not have these two crops growing in your garden right now. Plan to grow them next year, and this spring, look for fresh favas and young garlic at your local farmers market. The dish is worth the wait.

Pest Hunting: A Brassica Task

My many fall and winter Brassicas are sizing up nicely, but the ones not tented with floating row cover are showing a little chewing and some curling leaves. The culprits are cabbage butterfly larvae, snails and aphids.

Predator insects are still plentiful in the fall, but these pests can stunt the growth of young plants at a time when they need to be powering into winter with a strong growth spurt. To ensure robust, healthy plants, I am going hunting.

Cabbage butterfly

The larvae of the cabbage white butterfly or imported cabbageworm (Pieris rapae), often called the cabbage moth, are my first prey. Mostly what I’m finding right now are the slender green worms. They can hide — almost — by stretching out for an afternoon nap in the stem of a young leaf. They are further protected from my predatory grasp by secluding themselves inside the youngest leaves, the curled and furled ones sprouting from the plant’s center.

Cabbage butterfly larva

Cabbage white butterfly larva, on a fingertip.

Cabbage butterfly on leaf

Can you spot the green cabbage butterfly larva on this leaf? Hard to get a good camera focus, but it’s on the lower right edge.

Carefully, so as not to snap the tender growth shoots, I unfurl the rolled green shoots and lightly scoop through the inside with a fingertip.

Then I bend back the plant’s slightly larger leaves and unfold them one at a time, checking the base of the stem for the pale green body. Finally, I flip the leaf over between fingers and eye the back, in case one of them is on the move. (I look also for the elongated eggs, white or yellowish, on the undersides of the leaves. Those get squished too.)

Just the act of inspecting the plant can cause these critters to fall to the soil below, where they would pretty promptly inch under a leave and climb back on the plant, so I scan the soil surface too.

These pests can go through 3 to 5 life cycles per year, and can be in the garden from April through October. The jerky white butterflies with black wing dots flit around from plant to plant. Amazingly, they mate in the air. Their eggs take 4 to 8 days to hatch, and the green worm larvae lives for 3 weeks before pupating, where they cocoon themselves for a couple more weeks before emerging as a butterfly and beginning again.

I think — I hope — they’re on the year’s last life cycle.

 

Aphids

Green and grey aphids are a regular presence in my garden, and I’m finding small colonies on the broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale. They take up residence on a stem or in the folded end of a leaf, and as they suck the juices out of the tender leave edge, it curls, providing them a cozy home.

Ones hiding in the leaves are fairly easy to spot, as the leaves also turn slightly purple on the edges when attacked in this way.

Aphids curling leaf

A colony of aphids on a fall broccoli start has caused the leaf to curl due to their feeding.

predator and aphids

Predator to the rescue! This native bee, just peeking over the leaf edge, happened to be checking out the aphid supply as I took pictures. I did not see him feed on them, but I hope he came back for dinner.

Again, my preferred method is to gently curl back the edges of the leaf and expose them. As they are also soft-bodied insects, they also will get quickly smooshed in between a thumb and forefinger. There is a little inevitable damage to the leaf area that was their home, but it’s much preferable to letting them form a stronghold there and begin to feed farther down the leaf and fill the stem, as they would like to do.

Aphids on Russian Red kale

These aphids crowding the stem of a Russian Red kale are doing plenty of damage.

When the aphids have colonized the base of a set of leaves, or the stem of a plant, a hard spray of water from the hose, straight down into the center of the plant, will wash them all off and drown a lot of them. Most of the rest are too weak to climb back onto the plant. I find that I need to return and do this again in 3 days to make sure I’ve gotten them all.

 

Snails

I used to see a lot more slugs, but the garden ecosystem has evolved to be more hospitable to snails. They are moving from my dying summer plants into my winter beds. It’s happening at a snail’s pace, but that’s fast enough for me to put on my camo gear and start stalking them.

These guys are a lot more visible than the others, as their brown shells stand out on a green leaf, even at a smaller size. They especially come out on a cool or rainy day, or right after dark.

Sometimes I’ll find their gelatinous, round white eggs in a cluster on the edge of a bed, usually near a rockery or some other good hiding place.

Snail eggs

These snail or slug eggs were found about six inches down along the inside edge of my stacked-stone raised bed.

But the hatched snails, or slugs, are most often found on the underside of the leaves, and they are quickly transferred to the underside of my foot on the path. Score another one (or ten) for the big guy.

These creatures are fascinating, and are all part of nature’s plan. And I don’t mind sharing a bit of my food with them. But this time of year, when the tastiest things on their menu are the young plants that will comprise my winter dinners, I am in a less permissible mood. Fall is for hunting.

 

Quinoa, Orach Harvest

What do quinoa and orach have in common? Along with being planted in large patches by me this year, they are both members of the Chenopod (Chenopodiaceae) family. They also both are beautiful, adding striking swaths of color to the garden.

Another thing they had in common is that I recently harvested both of them from my garden for seed.

Quinoa heads

“Brightest Brilliant” quinoa delivers yellow, orange and red seed heads. Purple orach stands behind it.

I planted purple orach and Brightest Brilliant quinoa. It was a two-year plan. Last year I had small quantities of the seed, and wanted more, so I planted both and saved their seed. This year, I could plant a miniature field of them. Felt like I was back on the farm.

When I realized that both plants were part of the same family, I understood better why I was so attracted to them. The Chenopods also include two of my other favorite garden veggies, beets and chard, which also provide striking reds and oranges to the vegetable garden.

I’ve always connected orach with a third Chenopod, spinach. In fact, orach is sometimes called “mountain spinach.” Orach delivers smooth, thick leaves on a long stalk. We plant thickly, then thin the plantings and strip the leaves off the stems. It seems best for salad when the leaves are still young and tender, but the older, larger leaves can be enjoyed if lightly steamed.

It surprised me to find that quinoa is also part of this clan. To my knowledge, it’s the only family member whose seed is part of the plant that we consume. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in gnawing on a mouthful of spiky, tough beet seeds.

Quinoa’s small, round seed puffs up nicely in hot water to make a pleasant light grain that can be the base of a salad or used in a pilaf-type dish. It pops softly between the teeth. It takes quite a bit to include in a meal — at least a half-cup of seed — so my goal this year was to grow enough to do that.

Drying seeds

Quinoa and orach plants are cut and hung on an improvised drying rack. A sheet beneath will catch the drying seed.

I haven’t yet stripped the seed off the drying quinoa plants. I have a hunch that it’s going to be a challenging job to clean the crop, and I’ve read that it is a bitter seed unless repeatedly washed.

But we did eat a lot of orach this summer, and have enough seed to cover the “back 40” next year. That’s probably the case with the quinoa too. And as beautiful as the two were together, I can always just replant them for the color.

Start Now for Fall, Winter Harvest

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? What you want is this:

Brandywine in hand

and if you want to feed yourself this winter, you should be thinking also about this:

Lacinato kale

Oh boy, kale!

Yeah, right now I’m feeling that too.

But consider: plan ahead now, not just for kale, but for the Asian greens, beets, carrots, endive, European greens, lettuce, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.

Some of those foods will taste very good long after the last tomato has been sliced open. And some take a very long time to cultivate.

So here’s a quick list of what to plant when, with a few suggestions of varieties to try for fall and winter:

  • Asian greens: Plant July-September, harvest October-April. Try Green-in-the-Snow, my friend Carl Elliott’s favorite.
  • Beets: plant July-August, harvest October-March. Try Boro, a flattened globe that is very reliable. Mulch these guys if you’re leaving them in the ground over winter.
  • Carrots: Plant August-October, harvest May-June. Try Merida. Cloche or cover with floating row cover in the coldest part of winter.
  • Endive: Plant June-September, harvest October-May. Try Tres Fine Marichiere. Treat like carrots in winter.
  • European greens: Plant August-October, harvest October-May. Try arugula, corn salad (mache), cress, miner’s lettuce. Treat like carrots in winter.
  • Lettuce: Plant August-September, harvest October-March. Try Black-seeded Simpson, Green Deer Tongue, Little Gem, Continuity, and Red Oakleaf. Cover with a cloche for fall, or protect with a cold frame into winter.
  • Parsnips: Plant March-mid-July, harvest December-March. Try Cobham Improved, Gladiator, or Javelin. They take forever to sprout, and forever to mature, but will sit in the bed a long time and be there when you want a sweet roasted root veggie dish in mid-winter.
  • Peas: for fall, plant by July 10, says my friend Lisa Taylor, author of Your Farm in the City. I agree. You can try shorter-season varieties into early August, for an October feast. For overwintering peas, plant by early September for a harvest between March and May. Cover with floating row cover in fall, or a cloche in winter.
  • Radishes: Plant the winter radish Black Spanish in July and early August for a harvest in May and June. Might need protection from floating row cover or a cloche if we get a hard winter. Let them go to flower, then eat the pods when tender and green.
  • Spinach: Plant July-September, harvest February-April. Try Bloomsdale, Giant Winter or Tyee. Cover with a cloche for winter, and don’t eat the biggest outer leaves.
  • Swiss chard: Plant June-September for harvest in September-May. Try Bright Lights/Rainbow, or Fordhook Giant, the king of the winter chard. Cover with floating row cover or cloche in mid-winter.
  • Turnips: Plant July-August for harvest in October-March. Try Gold Ball or the small Japanese varieties. Mulch in winter. Later plantings may produce only greens.

But, you might ask, where is the kale on this list? Chill out, kale lover. I’ll tackle the Brassicas (kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) in a future post.

Look at all that food! You have plenty of opportunities to try new vegetables in your garden this year. When a bed comes open as you harvest your summer crops, try one of these as a culinary experiment.

Bon jardinage and bon appetit!

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