Lots of Lettuce

lettuce2

We harvested almost 6 pounds of lettuce over the past 3 weeks.     The wet and cool spring keep the greens growing.  We have a gourmet blend of  salad greens, kale and butter crunch lettuce.   We planted kale and butter crunch lettuce seedlings and sprinkled gourmet salad blend seeds.  My son and I could not see the tiny seeds on the ground after we shook them out of the seed packet.  I hoped for the best as we lightly tossed dirt over the invisible seeds.  The next few days it rained.  I did not expect the gourmet mix to produce.   But it sprouted a lovely variety of mixed greens similar to the type I buy at the grocery.   The butter crunch lettuce grew into heads of  tender light green outer leaves and crispy pale yellow inner leaves.   More light green leaves grew even after the head was picked.

We eat lots of lettuce in our home.  Typically, my son will eat all the salad before eating the meat or other food on his plate.   Recently, my son announced, “I am a vegetarian, you know.”   Salad has to be one of my son’s favorite vegetable to grow in the garden since planting it is so quick..shake out the seed packet and toss down some dirt.

Surprises in Our Community Garden Plot

Our Shiba Inu
The first visit of 2012 to our community garden plot at Howard Co. Conservancy on Saturday was inspiring. My husband phoned to tell me, “bring your camera we have broccoli and brussel sprouts growing!” The brussel sprouts were pea size at mid-fall and grew to edible size through the warm winter. I hope they taste good.
Brussel Sprouts
I also found parsley and lettuce sprouting at the edge of our plot. The soil was loose and easy to weed and turn. We planted sugar snap peas, turnips and beets. A community garden friend visited and shared some gardening tips. He told us about a less earthy tasting beet, the Touchstone Gold. Even our Shiba Inu dog reveled in the garden, digging his nose and wiggling his back into the fresh soil.

Turnips and Spinach

We visited our community garden plot at Howard County Conservancy yesterday. We found some treasures in the soft thawed soil.

our winter spinach

one of our many winter turnips
Turnips and spinach are growing under our row covers. Our first experiment of over-wintering our late fall crops worked!  Last fall, I planted lettuce, turnips and spinach seeds a bit late.  We did not have a good fall harvest of these crops.  In November, I covered the growing crops with row covers.   What a thrill to peel back the row covers yesterday to find green turnip tops and purple and white turnip roots, tender dark green spinach leaves and curly bright green lettuce sprouts.  I even pulled weeds out of the spinach bed.  Row covers are good winter blankets for the garden!

The Greens Mystery Solved

This summer, my husband brought home a surprise for me.   Not a bouquet of flowers, but some brown wilted plants in moist paper towels.  He knows I prefer plants over cut flowers.   The plants were starter greens from his co-worker.   I planted them in our salad table.  I assumed the plants were romaine and green leaf lettuce because one had smooth broad leaves and the other had curly thin leaves.   When the plants reached mound size, I questioned their identity.  The leaves felt tough and tasted bitter.   My husband told me it was endive.   A quick search through gardening books and the internet solved my greens mystery.   It was escarole and curly endive, something I never grew or cooked before.

Highlights of what I learned about endive:  1.  Curly endive has the frilly leaves and Batavian endive or escarole has broad leaves.  2.  Endive can grow in winter and is less bitter when grown in cooler weather.  3. Blanching endive can reduce bitterness. Curly endive is blanched by covering it with a porous pot.  Escarole  is blanched by wrapping it with string so the outer leaves will block light from inner leaves.  4.   Endive is  used in a lot in Italian cooking including soups and saute.  5.  Endive is high in vitamin A,B,C and contains Calcium and Iron .

I wrapped my escarole plants with string to blanch the inner leaves hoping they will be less bitter.  I plan to make Escarole Bean Soup and Curly Endive and Bean Soup with my hearty mystery greens.    Do you have any mysteries growing in your garden?

Growing in Our Mini Plot

Mini Plot Salad Table Made by My Husband

My husband built a salad table one Saturday afternoon this past spring.  He followed the plans for the Salad Table from the Grow It Eat It Network.  He built it from wood piled in our garage.   After he completed it,  we had a little more space in our garage and a mini plot on our deck.  A variety of crops grew in our salad table this year.  In early summer,  swiss chard, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce and arugula grew in it.   My son helped me pick  the tender leaves.  The table is the perfect height for him to reach and pick without bending over or standing on his toes.   We ate lots of mixed salads and swiss chard this summer. I sautéed the swiss chard in olive oil with garlic, salt  and pepper then tossed with pasta.  Swiss chard is good in minestrone soup, too.

Wild Fennel

The fall crops are now growing in the salad table.  Recently, this wild fennel shoot popped up unexpectedly.  I learned that wild fennel can be an  invasive plant.  It does not have the celery-like stem of sweet fennel.  Its delicate leaves have a strong anise  or licorice flavor.   Clippings of fennel leaves in a salad are a happy surprise to taste buds.  Along with the wild fennel there is spinach, radishes and two mystery greens growing in the table.   The mystery greens are transplants from my husband’s coworker.   Our mini plot’s first growing season was a success.  It grew some gregarious greens!

The Unexpected Sprouts

A clear blue sky, crisp cool air, warm sunshine plus adventure equals a perfect Saturday in autumn.  We headed for our garden plot this afternoon but had a few diversions before arriving there.    We stopped at a pet store and a fall festival.  We went to the pet store to purchase biscuits for our dog and my son discovered a playful kitten.  My son slipped a thin metal wire through the kitten’s cage.  The cat flipped, batted, jumped and kicked at the bunch of cardboard strips hanging at the wire’s tip.  My son roared in laughter.  He did not want to leave the pet store.  We redirected  him with hope of a hayride at our community garden site.    The Howard County Conservancy was full of activities for its fall festival.   We bumped through rolling fields and woods on a hayride pulled by a tractor with wheels taller than my son.   A master gardener at the compost demo gave my son a bunch of pink and blue balloons.  My son slurped honey from a straw and chatted about bees with a woman from the Howard County Beekeepers Association.  We listened to steel pounding on steel as a blacksmith hammered a hot orange metal rod into a fork after heating it in a coal fire stoked by large bellows.  My son said the banging was his favorite.   While my husband and son lingered and asked questions  in the blacksmith shop,  I finally visited our garden plot.

 

Turnip Seedling

 

Our plot is still producing tomatoes, peppers and beans.  I picked two grocery bags full of red and green tomatoes and peppers.  I pulled out and composted three tomato plants that had toppled to the ground.  Our fall plantings sprouted!  Radish, turnip, spinach and lettuce seedlings  now sprinkle the brown earth in unplanned patterns of curving rows, circles, clumps, pairs and triples.  Some extra seeds must have dropped from my hand during planting.  Many seedlings will need to be pulled out to allow more space for underground growth.

Those unexpected sprouts remind me of our day.   Unexpected adventure and fun popped up despite my plans.  Thank you God, for your goodness and for dropping some extra seeds outside my rows of plans.

The Rain

It started raining early this morning.  We felt the thick air move through our open windows.  We heard our dog whine as he sensed the coming storm.  Then the rain fell.  It felt like water from hundreds of  hoses with nozzles set on “soak” blasting our townhouse.   All day the rain came in mists, showers and  downpours.  The rain caused flood warnings,  some schools districts to close two hours early, a relative’s  roof  to leak,  traffic delays and my hair to frizzle. Rain can be a nuisance in our busy lives, but it is never a bother to my son or to a garden.   The rain gives my son the chance to wear his  big yellow rubber boots,  hold a fancy striped umbrella, and search for the perfect puddle to splash in.   The rain gives our garden the chance  to thrive and grow new crops in autumn.  Last week I planted  lettuce, spinach, turnip and radish seeds in our garden.  They must be  bursting and sprouting strong roots  in all the wet soil.    I hope to see little seedlings peeking out of the ground in our garden plot this Saturday.    Thank you rain.