Monday Recap: A Busy Month

May is usually one of the busiest gardening months for me, with lots of prep work, planting, weeding and mulching to be done. Last week I started seed for the cucurbits that are going in the main garden area. I prefer to start these in pots or cell flats, which I find makes for better and quicker germination. It also gives me a jump on the growing season. The last few years I have been using Pro-Tray cell flats with 24 cells that I got from Johnny’s. I can get the seeds up and growing for 2-3 weeks, then take the flat right to the garden with me for planting.

cell tray planted with cucurbits

cell tray planted with cucurbits

The greenhouse shelves were already full before I started the cucurbits, and now space is even more limited. I’m using the tops of the cucumber cages to hold extra flats. I can’t leave unprotected flats outside or the deer will eat them for sure. Been there, done that, lost the plants. Some folks just throw bird netting over the seedlings but I think that can damage the leaves when they are young and tender. A cold frame also does a great job of protecting the young plants, but our cold frames are all being used. So I jam all the plants in the greenhouse until it’s time to plant.

flats on top of cucumber cages

flats on top of cucumber cages

Speaking of deer, the local herd usually mows down all the tulips before they get a chance to bloom. This year they missed one red one, and it got to show its colors for us. This is in a bed on one side of our driveway, and the deer have easy access to it as they cross the road. It’s a miracle the tulips have even survived this long. My wife really has the bed looking good, doesn’t she? It will have coneflowers, iris and other perennials blooming later in the season, once the narcissus and tulip are done for.

one red tulip

one red tulip

I got my first harvest of rapini last week. This was from the Cima di Rapa Quarantina variety. I cut the plants back when harvesting and hopefully they will give us another cutting or two before the weather gets too hot. It was a fairly small harvest but enough to give us a taste. I have another non-flowering variety planted called Cima di Rapa Maceratese. I started plants for Sorrento but ran out of planting room this spring.

harvest of Cica di Rapa Quarantina

harvest of Cica di Rapa Quarantina

I cooked up the rapini into a simple dish with potatoes called Rapi e Patate, using this recipe as a guide. I blanched and chopped up the greens first, then browned the cooked Yukon Gold potatoes in a bit of olive oil before adding the rapini and some chopped garlic. The dish was a keeper, and I see more rapini in my future. I didn’t find the greens to be at all bitter, and actually my wife and I both thought they were milder than turnip greens, which we both enjoy eating. Hopefully next time I will have a few more greens to work with.

Rapi e Patate (rapini and potatoes)

Rapi e Patate (rapini and potatoes)

It’s the season for greens here, and the Cima di Rapa is not the only player for sure. I pulled the rest of the True Siberian kale from the greenhouse bed. There was a little over four pounds of it, so we will have plenty of kale for a bit. The overwintered kale was a success in both the greenhouse and the cold frame beds this year, and I am pleased with that. I usually grow kale only in fall, but I planted a dozen or so plants this spring to experiment and see how it does. Our weather usually turns hot quickly, making it dicey with spring cool-season veggies.

harvest of True Siberian kale

harvest of True Siberian kale

Some of that kale went into a dish with the Runner Cannellini beans I cooked up last week. I love beans and greens, and this combo works really well for me. A little balsamic vinegar perks up the flavor.

Runner Cannellini beans with kale

Runner Cannellini beans with kale

I continue to cut the greenhouse lettuce for salads. Last week it was Red Sails. Red lettuces don’t seem to get as red when grown in the greenhouse, but the leaves are usually more tender than those exposed to the elements outside.

Red Sails lettuce

Red Sails lettuce

Another green I’ve been enjoying is spinach. The overwintered Viroflay plants in a cold frame bed have proven to be the longest standing variety this year. Giant Winter was the first to start bolting, with Amsterdam Prickly Seeded next. The Space plants in the greenhouse have also bolted. I have a few new plants I set out on April 11th, a mix of Giant Winter and Viroflay. I could extend the spinach season even further if I spring planted a slower bolting hybrid like Space. I try and have a mix of different veggies to choose from at any given time, and it’s always a balancing act to decide how much to grow of each one.

Viroflay spinach plants

Viroflay spinach plants

The lemongrass stalks I put in water last month are now nicely rooted. I got these for $1.99 a pound at a local grocery, and it surely is an inexpensive way to get lemongrass started. I’ll put a couple of plants in the ground, and we’ll have plenty of lemongrass for tea and other uses. I usually put three or four stalks in each clump or pot, and they will take off in no time. In fall, before the first frost, I’ll dig up a clump and put it in pot for use next winter. If you look closely in the below photo you can see the first new leaf emerging from the base of the stem.

rooted lemongrass stalk

rooted lemongrass stalk

Out in the berry patch, we have a few gooseberries setting on the plants we put out last year. We’ll be lucky to get a handful of berries this year, but in a year or two they should be up to full production.

gooseberries setting on

gooseberries setting on

On the back side of the house, and on the way to the garden we have several dwarf Korean lilac planted. They are blooming now, and the smell is sweetly intoxicating. I have always loved lilacs, and these are more compact than the old-fashioned kind. They are also resistant to the powdery mildew that lilacs often get, at least around here. Another plus is they are deer-resistant, and don’t make suckers.

Dwarf Korean lilac blooms

Dwarf Korean lilac blooms

Last week I mentioned that the new queen bee arrived in her own cage. We checked the hive last Monday, and as expected the queen was out of the cage, so we removed it. The worker bees were busy drawing out honeycomb, and we made our visit brief so as to not disturb them too much. We plan on doing a better inspection either today or tomorrow, where we will look for signs the queen is doing her job and laying eggs.

empty queen cage

empty queen cage

That’s a look at what’s going on around here. To see what others growing and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from HA.

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Featured Cooking Bean: Runner Cannellini

This year I am on a mission to cook and eat as many different varieties of beans as possible. This is another in a series about my observations about those beans.

Growing up, the only dried beans I remember eating were white ones. My mother was a great cook and an adventurous eater, but my dad was picky to say the least. If we had dried beans at all, it was usually either Navy or Great Northern beans in a soup. Our baked beans came from a can, as did kidney beans. The only legume my dad really liked were lima beans, especially the big ones he called ‘butter beans’, and he could eat them almost every meal. I would need to venture out on my own before I discovered the many virtues of dried beans myself. Who knew they were inexpensive, nutritious, and they came in all different colors and shapes?

dried Runner Cannellini beans

dried Runner Cannellini beans

Fast forward more years than I care to count, and my new favorite bean is white. But it’s not like those white beans of my youth. Runner Cannellini is a giant among beans. It’s a variety of Phaseolus coccineus, a species which includes the more widely known Scarlet Runner bean. It’s also kin to the Greek Gigantes and the Italian Corona beans. Despite its name, it is not related to the more common cannellini beans, which are usually a bush variety of P. vulgaris.

Three Bean Salad with Runner Cannellini beans

Three Bean Salad with Runner Cannellini beans

Runner Cannellini beans have a buttery taste and a creamy but firm texture. Some say they taste like lima beans, but I don’t really agree. They are great in side dishes, salads and soups, and are flavorful enough to stand on their own. We recently combined them with Good Mother Stallard and garbanzo beans in a three bean salad, which you can see in the above photo. The beans are huge when cooked, easily tripling in size. Like other large dry beans, I think they benefit from soaking before cooking. Despite their size, I don’t find they take any longer than other beans to cook, at least not if they are fresh. Old beans of any kind usually take longer to cook.

cooked Runner Cannellini beans

cooked Runner Cannellini beans

I love beans served along with greens, and the Runner Cannellini beans are great when they partner with kale. In the below photo, you can see the two served together, with a little bacon crumbled up on top. My wife and I can, and do, make a meal off this dish. I cook the beans and kale separately, then combine in a skillet with some chopped onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes to let the flavors combine. I add a splash of balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper before serving. Italian cooks might add a few peperoncino flakes as well.

Runner Cannellini beans with kale

Runner Cannellini beans with kale

Runner Cannellini, like other runner beans, grows as a vine and is generally trained up poles or some sort of support structure. Will Bonsall, director of the Scatterseed Project, writes that white runner beans require cooler weather than lima beans to really thrive. You can read his article White Runner Beans – the Northern Gardener’s Lima at the MOFGA website. While I have grown the Scarlet Runner beans in the past, I have never grown any of the white flowered/white seeded types.

Runner Cannellini beans for eating are available from several sources, including Rancho Gordo, the Seed Savers Exchange, and Purcell Mountain Farms. You might also find them in a well stocked grocery or gourmet food store. I hope you have enjoyed this review of the Runner Cannellini beans. More bean tasting continues here at HA, and I will be back soon with another bean review.

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Full House

The greenhouse shelves are full right about now. It’s amazing how fast they fill up this time of year. But then, that’s why I installed shelving, to hold plants. Right now the plants are mostly warm weather veggies like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, plus herbs and the Wave petunias. I also have a few cool weather plants like brassicas, lettuce and other greens that I have as backups or to fill in bare spots as needed.

looking in the greenhouse door

looking in the greenhouse door

Many of these are in 3.5″ pots now, which take up quite a bit of room. But they also make for bigger plants with more roots, and that’s why I like to give them ample quarters. And if I have to delay planting due to soil or weather conditions, they hold better in larger pots. The 3.5″ size square pot fits perfectly in the standard 1020 flats, and the pots themselves last for many years.

pepper plants sizing up

pepper plants sizing up

Even as the shelves are full, I made room for new plants in the greenhouse beds. Last week I pulled the rest of the spinach plants, and yesterday I pulled the overwintered kale and harvested it. Both the spinach and kale did great in the greenhouse, and gave us greens in the late winter/early spring time frame when fresh homegrown veggies are really appreciated.

cucumbers in greenhouse bed

cucumbers in greenhouse bed

Yesterday I planted cucumbers where the spinach was growing. I’ve had good luck growing them in the summer greenhouse in years past. It gets quite hot in there in summer, and the cukes usually hold up well to the heat. I grow parthenocarpic types that don’t need pollination, and this year I planted Manny, Tasty Jade and Corinto. For supporting the cucumber vines I use some old remesh tomato cages that were here in the shed when we bought HA. They are smaller than I prefer for a tomato cage, but at about one foot in diameter they work great for the greenhouse cukes.

closeup of Corinto cucumber plant

closeup of Corinto cucumber plant

I started the cucumbers inside about four weeks ago. These days I start all my cucurbits in pots or plug trays, and they do quite well that way. I am careful when planting, and avoid damaging the stem of the plant or burying it any deeper than it was growing in the pot. I always have problems with pill bugs in the greenhouse, so I will avoid mulching until the plants get bigger. The bugs and slugs love to hide in the mulch, and I don’t want to encourage them! I also spread a liberal handful of Sluggo Plus around the plants after I got them in the ground.

Apollo and Speedy arugula in salad box

Apollo and Speedy arugula in salad box

While I was working in the greenhouse yesterday, I took the time to replant one of the mini salad boxes with more Speedy and Apollo arugula. I love both of these quick growing and mild tasting arugula varieties. I should be able to continue harvesting arugula until it gets too hot in there and the leaves get tough or strong tasting. I still haven’t decided what I will plant in the spot where the kale was growing. I have lots of greens to choose from, so it will probably either be a quick growing cool weather type, or one that can stand some heat. Outside, the main garden is finally starting to dry out, and I hope to get out there this week and do some work prepping the beds for planting. I also need to do a bit of weeding and add some mulch for the garlic.

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Monday Recap: It’s the Bee’s Knee’s

The bees are back here at Happy Acres. Our nuc last year never took off and did anything, and by the time we figured that out it was too late to get a hive going in time to make it through the winter. So we started over again this year with a package of bees. The phone rang at 6:30 am last Monday. It was the Post Office, calling to tell us our bees had arrived. My wife went to pick them up, and the folks there were happy to get them out of the P.O. facility.

About 10,000-12,000 worker bees (three pounds of them) are shipped in a little screen container that has a can of sugar water in the middle to feed them. Enclosed in her own regal cage is the queen. The queen and the workers are not from the same hive and are not acquainted with each other, so the queen is kept separate until they accept her as their new queen. The new hive will be populated with offspring from the queen, so these workers are all ‘temps’ so to speak.

package of bees

package of bees

We got them in the hive that same day, along with the queen in her cage. The entrance to the queen cage is protected with a plug of candy, which the workers will eventually eat away to free the queen. By that time, the pheromones released by the queen will have spread throughout the colony and everyone will know that she is present and o.k. Once in the hive, the workers go to work doing what bees do, things like making wax and building comb so the queen can lay eggs in it and they can store honey and pollen.

We’ll make it a little easier for them and feed sugar syrup for a few weeks so they don’t have to travel to find nectar sources. It takes a lot of time and energy to build the comb, and we want them to concentrate on that. They set out that same day to forage, no doubt looking for pollen and propolis sources. Propolis is a ‘bee glue’ they make to glue the hive together, and they gather resinous secretions from tree buds and other botanical sources. I love to watch them coming and going from the hive.

honeybees coming and going from hive

honeybees coming and going from hive

If you look closely at the above photo you can see little specks on the landing board at the front of the hive. That is bee poop, and after being cooped up in the shipping cage for a few days one of the first things they usually do is make what is delicately called a cleansing flight. It’s messy but harmless and the first good rain should clean most of it away. I am excited to have the bees back here, and I guess you could say it’s the bee’s knee’s!

Asparagus Mimosa

Asparagus Mimosa

In gardening news, we continue to enjoy the daily harvests of asparagus. It is averaging about a half pound per day, though the amount does fluctuate from day to day. One night for dinner I made a dish for Asparagus Mimosa using a recipe from the cookbook Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. This recipe adds capers to a classic but simple dish featuring lightly cooked asparagus topped with chopped hard boiled egg then sprinkled with coarse sea salt and drizzled with some good olive oil. It looks like a lot of egg but it’s just one. We paired it with fresh baked homemade whole wheat rolls and made a meal of it. I do love asparagus, and when it’s fresh I don’t think it needs complicated preparation.

potatoes with lamb chop and homemade kraut

grilled Purple sweet potatoes with lamb chop and homemade kraut

We’re still enjoying sweet potatoes from storage. I sliced up one of the Purple ones and grilled it for lunch one day, along with a lamb chop. My wife has not acquired a taste for lamb yet, so I occasionally fix it when she is out. I also added a bit of homemade fermented red turnip and kohlrabi kraut as a colorful side. The Purple sweet potatoes are great in so many dishes, and I also roasted some of them last week along with chicken.

black lentil salad

black lentil salad

I’m also still experimenting with various dried beans and lentils. Last Monday I made a Garlic Dal using some split Pigeon Peas (aka Toor Dal), plus green garlic and cilantro from our garden. I can’t believe there are no photos of it but in my haste to eat I neglected to document the occasion. Saturday I made a salad of black lentils that wasn’t camera shy. Along with the lentils it had grated carrot, dehydrated tomatoes, cilantro and parsley from our garden plus a bit of avocado from faraway places. I tossed it with a light dressing of walnut oil and Meyer lemon juice, plus a little Dulce Rojo paprika from last year and served it atop some leaf lettuce from the greenhouse. It made a tasty meal for lunch that day.

tomato seedlings in 3.5" pots

tomato seedlings in 3.5″ pots

I got all of the tomato seedlings potted up into larger containers next week. That not only gives the roots more room, but also lets me bury the tomato seedling a little deeper in the pot to keep it from getting leggy. I used 3.5″ pots since you can fit 18 of those in a standard 1020 tray. I’m guessing it will be two or three weeks before I plant them, depending on when the soil dries out and warms up. We had two mornings with frost last week, as you can see in the below photo, so I’m not in a big hurry to get them in the ground just yet. They’ll do better on the greenhouse shelf for a while longer.

frost on the clover

frost on the clover

Also in the greenhouse, some Baby Oakleaf lettuce is growing fast in one of the mini salad boxes. I planted this lettuce in a cold frame bed about three weeks ago, but had plants left over. I wanted to see how it could do in a container planting. It’s looking good so far. Since I’ve never grown this variety before, I don’t really know how big it gets, except it should be more compact than a regular oakleaf lettuce.  I guess we will know in a few more weeks.

Baby Oakleaf lettuce in salad box

Baby Oakleaf lettuce in salad box

I pulled the rest of the bolting spinach in the greenhouse bed last week. There was a little over three pounds of it, and I blanched and froze most of it. I saved out enough to make a side dish for us one night, sauteed along with some mushrooms and garlic.

spinach from the greenhouse

spinach from the greenhouse

That’s the buzz around here lately. It’s my turn to cook again this week and I am hoping to get a taste of the Cime di Rapa (aka rapini) I planted in one of the cold frame beds. I also need to pull the Siberian kale in the greenhouse, since it is starting to flower. I’ll plant that space to something else, more greens no doubt. I have plenty of seedlings waiting for a home. To see what others are buzzing about, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from HA.

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In The Berry Patch

I often get questions about the various berries we grow here, so I thought I would talk a bit about them today. When we bought Happy Acres back in 2007, it came with three mature blueberry bushes. Since then we have increased the blueberry planting, along the way replacing two of the original bushes, and added other fruits like blackberries, raspberries and gooseberries. My wife and I share the duties taking care of all these fruits. We are certainly not experts on growing berries, but have learned enough to keep us fairly well supplied over the years, and often enough to share with friends.

row of blueberry plants

row of blueberry plants

We now have a total of nine blueberry bushes planted, with six of them at bearing size and age. One plant was here when we arrived, so we don’t know the name of that variety. The ones we planted are Chandler, Elizabeth, Patriot, Nelson, Elliot and Blueray. The yield of these has steadily increased, and last year we harvested over fifty pounds of them in total. Actually, my wife harvested them, since she is in charge of that operation. Last year they began bearing on 6/12, and continued for almost eight weeks until the last harvest on 8/3. When they are bearing, we eat blueberries every day, and freeze the extras for use throughout the rest of the year. Chandler makes the biggest berries for us, and they have a nice flavor as well.

Chandler blueberries

Chandler blueberries from 2014

We planted them about five feet apart, in soil we amended with copious amounts of compost and peat moss. We mulch the blueberries annually with pine bark chips. I test the soil around them regularly with a pH meter, and add elemental sulfur as needed to lower the pH. I also fertilize the bushes using a blend made for acid loving plants. This year I am using Happy Frog Acid Loving (6-4-4) fertilizer. I split the total amount into two applications, one in early April and the second in June. The blueberries have been flowering for a couple of weeks now, with the flowers coming in clusters that will eventually turn into blueberries.

cluster of blueberry flowers

cluster of blueberry flowers

There were no blackberries here when we moved in, though I did dig up a few from my old place and move them here. We’ve tried a number of different blackberry varieties since we moved in, trying to find ones we like best. In that time we’ve grown Triple Crown, Apache, Arapaho, Navajo, Ouachita and Natchez. At my old place I grew some of the same ones, plus older varieties like Hull and Dirksen. After much taste-testing and comparing yields, we have settled on Apache and Natchez as our favorites. Both make large, sweet berries here.

Natchez blackberries from last year

Natchez blackberries from last year

Apache and Natchez are both varieties that have erect growing canes that don’t need trellising. We planted those about three feet apart, after amending the soil with some compost. During the first couple of years, the plants put out smaller canes that may flop over on the ground. In the below photo you can see a Natchez plant that was set out last year. The larger round canes grew last year, and will bear this years fruit up further on the cane. The new growth just coming out of the ground will grow into canes that will leaf out this year, overwinter, then bloom and bear fruit next year. In early spring I fertilize the blackberries, usually using Happy Frog Fruit and Flower (5-8-4). And no, I am not getting kickbacks from the Happy Frog makers at FoxFarm, but I do like their products and I can get them (almost) locally from Worm’s Way in Bloomington.

canes of one year old Natchez blackberry

canes of one year old Natchez blackberry

To help the canes branch out and bear more fruit, we will ‘tip’ the new canes by pinching out the terminal growth when they get to about 42-48 inches tall in summer. That will cause them to put out lateral shoots. More shoots mean more bearing wood next year and that means more berries. As the plants get older, the canes get bigger. Some of the Apache floricanes are almost an inch in diameter, like the one in the below photo, and stand up quite straight even under a full load of heavy blackberries. We mulch the blackberries too, usually with straw. In the below photo, the new growth coming out of the cane is what will flower this year and bear fruit. That whole cane will die back to the ground after fruiting, and we will remove it. OSU has a Fact Sheet that explains the whole pruning process in detail for erect blackberries. It’s really not that complicated once you get the hang of it.

one year old cane of mature Apache blackberry plant

one year old cane of mature Apache blackberry plant

Last year we ripped out some of the older blackberry varieties, to make room for gooseberries and rhubarb. While botanically speaking rhubarb is a vegetable, it is most commonly used like a fruit, and since it is perennial it really benefits from having a permanent location of its own away from our main vegetable garden. In our case, it made sense to share a spot with the berries. So the area we replanted wound up with four gooseberries and four rhubarb plants. The gooseberry varieties are Captivator, Invicta, Amish Red and Hinnomaki Red. I have grown gooseberries in the past, but never these varieties, so they are all new to me. We should get a taste of them this year, with full production in another year or two. Last year the Invicta plant didn’t make it through the summer, so I had to replace it this spring. We recently mulched those plants with a cypress bark mulch, and they got a helping of the Happy Frog 5-8-4 fertilizer.

young gooseberry plants

young gooseberry plants

I planted three Green Victoria and one Crimson Red rhubarb. I have a few plants in another location, and so far the Green Victoria has been the most productive. Rhubarb can be a bit tricky to grow in areas with hot summers like ours, so it may not like the sunny location we gave it. If so we will have to find a spot with a bit of shade. I do know of other local gardeners who grow it successfully, so it is not too difficult here. We should get some stalks to cut this year, with more in years to come. I’ve been fertilizing it with a blend higher in nitrogen, like the organic pelleted chicken manure I use called Chickity Doo Doo (5-3-2). It too is available locally, and I use it for a number of things.

one year old rhubarb plant

one year old rhubarb plant

It’s only the stalks that are edible on the rhubarb. The leaves contain poisonous substances, including oxalic acid, and are not eaten. Supposedly the green stemmed varieties like Victoria are more productive, which has been the case here so far. Those in the below photo should be ready for cutting soon.

stalks are the edible part of rhubarb

stalks are the edible part of rhubarb

We also have a test planting of raspberries. I planted three varieties, two reds (Autumn Bliss and Caroline) plus one yellow one called Anne. All three of these bear on the new growth (primocanes) in late summer to early fall, with a few berries coming on the overwintered canes if you don’t cut them down in spring (or earlier). In my experience, raspberries do better in areas with cooler summers, but they do produce for us here. I have not trellised these yet, and if we decide to keep on growing them I will need to set up some sort of a support system. Until then they are sprawling, as unsupported raspberries will do. The below photo serves as a ‘before’ shot – before the plants are weeded and thinned. Hopefully it will look better after a bit of work, once the soil dries out a bit and I can get in there. After the weeding and thinning I will mulch them with straw. Raspberries spread quite readily and that’s what the planting looks like just two years after I set out a dozen skinny little plants.

raspberries before cleanup

raspberries before cleanup

We do have a couple of currant bushes in another area, one white variety (Primus) and one red (Cherry Red) that are just now getting big enough to bear a full crop. You can see in the below photo that they are loaded with little currants this year. They are experiments, and we will know more about them later after the harvest.

currants in early spring

currants in early spring

Perhaps conspicuously absent in my list of berries is the strawberry. I did grow them here briefly. In fact, the beds I made for them is where the raspberries are growing now. But in my opinion, strawberries are the most labor intensive of all the small fruits. It’s true, homegrown ones are tasty. But the beds need a fair amount of work to keep them productive and weed free, and the plants need to be replanted every two or three years.

It doesn’t help that when I lived on the farm I grew about 1/8th of an acre of them for sale. I picked them and sold them to neighbors and family, and ate my fill of them every day. That went on for six or seven years, and I guess I pretty much got tired of growing and harvesting strawberries during that time. So I don’t want to discourage anyone else, I just don’t want to grow them myself anymore. We have a lovely berry farm about a mile from the house and I am happy to buy their strawberries – already harvested!

I hope you have enjoyed a look at some of the berries we are growing here, and how we grow them. I’ll be back soon with more adventures here at Happy Acres.

Shared at Green Thumb Thursdays.

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Monday Recap: April Showers

It has been a rainy April this year, which isn’t that unusual here in our area. We’ve had over six inches so far, and it has rained thirteen out of the twenty days. It’s the season for many green things like spinach, kale and asparagus, and they all seem to be loving the rainy weather. It’s also the season for green garlic – those young garlic plants harvested before they start to bulb up. I planted some sprouting cloves of garlic last November, and the plants are now giving us lots of flavorful green garlic. It goes well in many dishes, wherever you might use onions, scallions or garlic cloves.

green garlic fresh from the garden

green garlic fresh from the garden

Green garlic and asparagus go quite well together, and they have been seen on more than one plate here lately. In the below photo they were stir-fried, and join a baked Beauregard sweet potato and some curried chicken salad my wife made.

asparagus stir-fry with sweet potato and chicken salad

asparagus stir-fry with sweet potato and chicken salad

The green garlic also joined a big bunch of the overwintered greenhouse parsley to make a batch of pesto. Along with the parsley and green garlic I added some Umbrian olive oil, pine nuts, salt and one clove of crushed garlic. I made this pesto to go on sandwiches I was planning for lunch yesterday. But I made the pesto on Saturday, and of course it needed to be tasted ASAP. So I spread it on a seeded Kracker where it made a great snack.

fresh parsley pesto

fresh parsley pesto

More spinach in the greenhouse is starting to bolt, this time the Amsterdam Prickly Seeded variety. I pulled the plants, blanched the leaves, and my wife used it to make a Spinach Pie. She steamed a bit of asparagus to go with it. And I did have more than the three spears in the below photo! I just didn’t want the big pile of asparagus to block the view of the spinach pie. I generally get to eat my fill of asparagus during the months of April and May when we are harvesting it daily. We’ve harvested six pounds in the first two weeks, and I for one have been enjoying it.

Spinach Pie with asparagus

Spinach Pie with asparagus

Though it was my wife’s turn to cook last week, we collaborated in the kitchen to make a three bean salad. I cooked a batch of garbanzo beans using the pressure cooker, and then fixed a pot of Runner Cannellini beans slowly simmered on the stove. These are big beans, more like a Corona or Gigante bean in size and much bigger than the usual cannellini beans. They held their shape well for the salad. The third bean was the very last bit of our 2014 Good Mother Stallard beans I had cooked up earlier and froze. The salad made for a great meal, along with some crusty whole wheat rolls I baked up. A little fresh parsley added a nice flavor, and a bit of chopped celery added some crunch.

Three Bean Salad

Three Bean Salad

It is my turn to cook for the next two weeks. I started off yesterday with some grilled sandwiches I made from a freshly baked loaf of bread (Ken Forkish’s Overnight 40% Whole Wheat). I spread some of the parsley pesto on the bread and then added Canadian bacon plus Swiss cheese for my wife’s version. I grilled the sandwiches along with a batch of my Grilled Asparagus.

grilled asparagus with sandwhich

grilled asparagus with sandwhich

In other news, the carrots I sowed back on 4/9 started coming up in about nine days, and I removed the row cover material on Saturday. They’re still coming up, and it looks like I got a good stand of them. I sowed a few radishes at the same time and they came up in about five days and now need thinning. I’ll wait a week or so to thin the carrots.

spring carrots sprouting

spring carrots sprouting

And in the greenhouse, Speedy arugula is certainly living up to its name. This is my second planting of it in a salad box, and I have more young plants waiting in the wings. Though it looks like a wild strain of arugula, the flavor is mild and sweet – unusual for arugula! This one is a keeper for sure. The seeds are available from a number of sources.

Speedy arugula

Speedy arugula

Today the weather forecast is for cool and rainy, at least for most of the day. So it sounds like a good day to bake pita bread and replenish our supply in the freezer. I plan on making a green garlic dal soup using some split yellow Pigeon peas (aka Toor Dal). The fresh baked pita bread will go well with the soup (though some naan would too), and it should make for a warming meal on cool spring day. To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from HA.

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Nesting Chickadees

I was pleased today to learn the true identity of the birds nesting in one of the PVC nest boxes in our back yard. I had posted the below photo on my FB page on Saturday, after I was convinced it was a Tufted Titmouse nest. Two small speckled eggs are hidden in the bottom of the nest, covered with what appears to be rabbit fur. I did wonder about the fact I hadn’t seen any birds around the box, but that’s not always unusual since they often come and go quickly and discreetly to avoid drawing predators to the nest.

nest  in bottom of PVC nest box

nest in bottom of PVC nest box

Today when I checked on the nest, the fur was pulled back and the eggs were visible. And as I examined it, there was a Black-Capped Chickadee perched on the nearby Black Cherry tree. It was singing and chirping as only a chickadee does, so there was no mistaking its identity. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in my earlier ID of the nest? I went back in the house to do a little research, and decided it was likely a chickadee nest. That was confirmed when I went back out with my camera, and a startled chickadee flew out of the box!

chickadee eggs

chickadee eggs

At this point there are six tiny chickadee eggs in the nest. According to Sialis.Org, 6-8 eggs is the norm for Black-Capped Chickadees, though as many as 13 have been recorded. Incubation lasts for 12-13 days. It also mentions the egg covering behavior of the female after she leaves the nest. The nesting material serves as a blanket to help insulate the eggs. I’ll keep monitoring the next few days and share any developments. Hopefully the next news will be the successful hatching of the eggs.

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