Last year, we posted an article about some fun, easy and inexpensive approaches to seed starting, including seeding in eggshells, egg cartons, and toilet paper rolls. Yet another approach that can be fun and educational for the family is seeding fast-growing root vegetables, like radishes, in a Root View.
Root Views are small growing containers with clear viewing panels, which allow small scientists to track the growth of their plants. After all, a good scientist is a good observer! Radishes sprout well and grow fast so your family can watch as the roots develop and the leaves grow. This could be an opportunity to make growth guesses, measure the leaves, and take a closer look at the root system!
Salad radishes can be round or cylindrical and come in many different colors including red, pink, purple and white. Radishes prefer loose, moist soil and cooler temperatures but they do like the sun. Keeping them in a sunny windowsill and watered regularly should do the trick. Radishes should be harvested when they are the size of a large grape. Root Views can be found at Carolina Biological Supply Company.
1 bunch of radishes, rinsed and chopped
8-oz package of low-fat cream cheese
1/4 c plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves, minced)
1/2-1 tsp salt
2-3 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
Use a food processor and blend until smooth, serve chilled
Now that the days are warming up, as soon as the ground is thawed we can take the chance to get out in the garden and start preparing the vegetable beds! The success of your garden depends on the health of your soil, so it’s important to make sure it’s in good shape before planting.
The first step is cleaning your beds- pull weeds that have appeared over the winter, and any leftover vegetable plants from seasons past. Once the beds are nice and clean, it’s time to improve the health of your soil with a soil amendment, ensuring the soil has all the nutrients your vegetables will need to grow. Phipps’ display horticulturist Mike, who tends to our edible garden, uses mushroom manure on the outdoor vegetable beds at Phipps. He applies a layer at least an inch thick on top of the existing soil, uses a four pronged rake to work it into the bed, then smooths it out with a regular hand rake so there’s a nice surface to plant.
Mushroom manure is a good choice as it has all the basic nutrients and essential trace elements for healthy soil, is inexpensive when purchased in bulk, and can be found at most garden supply stores. However, there are other soil amendments to choose from, like garden compost and organic granular fertilizers. Pick the one that is best suited for your particular garden, and get it in the ground! Your plants will thank you, and you’ll reap the rewards.
For local sources of soil amendments, see our Garden Resources page.
You can also read this Soil Biology Primer for a detailed look at the role soil organisms play in the health of our plants.
The holidays are here; but have you ever wondered how these holiday flavors came about? Some winter flavors abound are cinnamon, ginger, chocolate and chai! All are delicious and all the flavors come from plants! Take the time to search out your favorite flavors. Cinnamon is sold in whole quills (shavings of bark!), ginger is sold fresh as a whole root in interesting shapes. Different chocolate flavors are sold in stores, some are dark chocolate, and others are milk chocolate with a number of different spice mixtures. Chai is a fun one to investigate. Many of the spices used in chai come in pod, seed and stem form, a delight for the nose as well as a botany lesson. Try and identify the different spices in chai tea!We see these flavors in holiday dishes and drinks but let’s get to know the flavors!
Cinnamon is a popular spice made from the bark of a tall tree native to Sri Lanka and India. The bark of the cinnamon tree is ground up and used to flavor many different foods. There are actually two different kinds of cinnamon; Ceylon cinnamon, C. zeylanicum, and Cassia cinnamon, Cinnamomum aromaticum. Ceylon cinnamon has a thinner bark and makes a finer, more crumbly texture; it is considered less strong than Cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon uses all the layers of bark making it heavier and thicker. All of the powdered cinnamon sold in America is actually Cassia cinnamon.
Chocolate comes from trees! Pods containing cacao beans grow on the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. The beans are fermented, roasted and ground into chocolate. But, the beans do not taste good alone. In fact, they taste pretty bad! Cacao beans need help from other plant friends to help make chocolate taste delicious! Cacao beans are often mixed with many different plants such as chili beans, vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and sugar to make wonderful chocolate treats!
Ginger, Zingiber officinale is a tangy spice most commonly used in baking and in flavoring beverages. This spice comes from a rhizome or (underground stem).The long plant stocks and grass like-leaves of the ginger plant sprout directly from this root-bearing rhizome. The finest ginger grows in the tropics, particularly in India & Jamaica. Ginger is used fresh, dried and pickled to flavor many Indian and Thai dishes. Historically, gingerbread was made with breadcrumbs, ginger, honey and a variety of spices such as anise, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Chai is actually a century old drink founded in India. It is a spiced-milk tea. It is generally made up of rich black tea, heavy milk and a combination of various spices. The spices used vary from region to region and among households in India. The most commonly used spices are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. Indian chai produces a warming, soothing effect, and acts as a natural digestive aid!
1 teaspoon cardamom or 6 green cardamom pods
12 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 (1/4-inch) piece ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
5 black peppercorns
7 cups water
2 tablespoons Darjeeling tea
1 cup milk
• In a medium saucepan, combine cardamom, cloves, cinnamon
stick, ginger root, peppercorns and water
• Boil for 5 minutes
• Remove from the heat and steep for 10 minutes
• Add the tea, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer 5 minutes
• Strain mixture, discard spices and return the tea to the saucepan
• Stir in the brown sugar and milk
Although it is now November and the weather is getting cooler, our garden is still growing. Garlic was planted in October. It will be harvested next July. Late crops of greens such as chard, bok choi, mustard, kale and arugula were planted in late September and are doing well. Carrots are also still growing, with their bright green feathery foliage visible above ground. A quick glance at the garden and you’d almost think it is spring with all of the fresh new growth.
We are experimenting with growing broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower late in the season by creating mini-hoop houses. Wire has been bent to form hoops and will be covered with clear plastic or spun fabric to provide some protection and moderation of temperatures. In this same way, depending on the weather, we should be able to continue harvesting lettuce and other greens for a while, probably at least into December.
Crops such as carrots, beets, onions and potatoes can be left in the ground to be harvested as needed. They can be covered with a 10” thick layer of straw mulch to keep the soil temperatures even. The straw can be pushed aside to harvest and then the beds recovered.
Niki Jabbour, among others, goes beyond extending the season to gardening year round. In fact, she has a book out, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, where she talks about her favorite crops and varieties and how she extends the season to allow her to harvest vegetables 365 days a year, without a greenhouse, in Nova Scotia! If she can do it in Canada, we should be able to do it here. Of course, some gardeners may prefer to take a bit of a break for the winter and be fresh for the next gardening season.
Whether part of a fall arrangement, carved with fun faces for Halloween or prepared for Thanksgiving pies, pumpkins are a common site these days-a true mascot of fall all bright and plump. While pumpkins come in many different sizes some are good for eating, like smaller sugar pumpkins; while other larger varieties are better for carving.
Pumpkins are native to Central America and have a colorful history. The name pumpkin originated from “pepon”, the Greek word for large melon. Many uses for pumpkin have been documented by Native Americans, who historically dried and pounded flat strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Pumpkin flesh had also been dried for food. Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops; removed the seeds and filled the inside with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and was the origin of pumpkin pie!
Ever wonder why pumpkins are orange? It’s because they contain large amounts of beta carotene and vitamin A, which can help to protect our skin and eyes. If you want to try pumpkin and don’t want to make pie or bake the seeds, try pumpkin butter. A pumpkin butter tasting here at the Conservatory was a hit with our guests and most preferred the pumpkin butter over apple butter.
To get started on this seasonal spread, scoop out the pumpkins. The flesh and pulp are used in pumpkin butter preparation; it is called pumpkin puree. Pumpkin scooping can be messy, but not to worry this is a fun job for the kids! You can discuss with older children that pumpkins are botanically a fruit and be sure to point out the seeds. You could even save some seeds for next year’s growing season.
Once the pumpkin is cleaned and hallowed (a 10 lbs. pumpkin is recommended), cut the pumpkin in half, placed on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes
Let the pumpkin halves cool and scoop out the remaining flesh
Blend pumpkin flesh to a smooth puree
Mix in a crock pot:
2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon of allspice
4 cups sugar
Let the spiced puree cook down for 6-8 hours
Pumpkin butter goes well on breads and muffins
Microgreens, often used by chefs in upscale restaurants or sold in specialty grocery stores, can be easily grown at home, either in the garden or indoors. They are a great addition to salads, soups or sandwiches and make a tasty, edible garnish, adding a bit of color. And there are indications that these tiny greens may be packed with nutrients.
Microgreens grow from seeds that have just germinated and produced their first set of true leaves. (The very first leaves are cotyledons or seed leaves. True leaves come next.) Generally these plants are ready to harvest in just 7 – 14 days. Many salad greens, herbs and vegetables, including arugula, basil, beets, kale, cilantro, red amaranth, wasabi, radish, mustard, cabbage, and Swiss chard, can be grown as microgreens.
It’s very easy to get started.
Pick a small area in part to full sun to start, loosen soil and rake smooth to create a seed bed. Sprinkle seeds about ¼” apart and cover lightly with soil. Keep soil evenly moist. This may require watering lightly daily, depending on the weather.
Place moist, soilless seed starting mix in a container with drainage holes. Sprinkle with seeds and keep moist, then cover lightly with moist soilless mix. Place in a bright location. You may want to cover the container with clear plastic to help keep the soilless mix evenly moist.
Whether growing inside or out, harvest your microgreens by cutting them off above the soil line when the second set of leaves has formed. These plants will not re-grow, since the growing tip has been removed, so replant with a fresh batch of seeds and repeat.
Since microgreens grow so quickly, they will not need fertilizer. For the same reason, it is unlikely that insect pests will be a problem.
Before using, greens should be gently washed, then dried on a paper towel. Once dry, wrap in a paper towel and store in a resealable bag with the air pressed out. They can be stored in the refrigerator for anywhere from 1 – 3 days to a week, depending on the variety.
The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are turning bright colors as they ripen. Squash and pumpkins are swelling as does our anticipation for the coming season. But before you pick those fruits and vegetables, take the opportunity to explore them with your children.
An activity that has worked well in Phipps’ Edible Garden is our garden detective game. We ask children to help us find fruits and vegetables. We describe the shape of the plant, its color and flowers. We talk about what part of the plant we eat and how to prepare it. Then we send them off armed with a garden ID guide. What happens next is fantastic; children scavenge the garden like scientists with an enthusiasm for fruits and vegetables that is hard to believe!
Harvesting your late summer crops can also be a time to talk about taste. Sampling cherry tomatoes and comparing them with bigger tomatoes like an ‘Ox Heart’ tomato has been a hit in our garden. Comparing size, shape, and color of tomatoes are great ways to introduce tomato varieties.
So now what? Once you have collected the harvest, have you wondered what to do with all of it? Canning and pickling are great ways to preserve vegetables. Below is a recipe for dill pickling so you can squirrel away some of those summer favorites. Your green beans, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and zucchini will all work well. Kids can help by preparing the vegetables, washing, cutting and stuffing the jars.
- 3 cups white vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 2 to 4 small red chiles (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 cups fresh dill fronds (about 1 bunch)
- Prepared Vegetables
In a medium saucepan, combine white vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seed, celery seed, red chiles (optional), and ground turmeric. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Arrange prepared vegetables and dill fronds in one or more jars. Pour hot brine into jar to completely cover vegetables and seal jar. Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours (or up to 1 week).