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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Today the temperature reached well over 50 degrees and I felt compelled to tackle some of the daunting winter cleanup in the yard.

Since I was planning to spend a few hours outside, I let the girls out to stretch their wings and legs. They were a great help in the garden.

Well, not so much.

Scramble is by far the most entertaining of my chickens; watching her can be quite a distraction from the task at hand. This is her eyeing a wheelbarrow full of just clipped grasses. Surely there’s something good in there somewhere!

What are you looking at?! Get back to work.

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When your garden gives you something this tender and sweet… no recipe is needed.

Shell peas and baby Nantes Little Finger carrots from the garden, June 20.

Shell peas and baby Nantes Little Finger carrots from the garden, June 20.

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To shell peas most effectively: peel the tip at the non-stem end of the pod (on the right in this photo) up over the rounded end of the pod to pull out some of the string - just enough to get it started is fine.

To shell peas most effectively: peel the tip at the non-stem end of the pod (on the right in this photo) up over the rounded end of the pod to pull out some of the string - just enough to get it started is fine.

I've started pulling in this shot; it's just enough to split the beginning of the seam here. Anywhere else and it will still be hard to work with; this is the magic "end" of the pod!

I've started pulling in this shot; it's just enough to split the beginning of the seam here. Anywhere else and it will still be hard to work with; this is the magic "end" of the pod!

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Any questions?

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Fresh salad greens, including leaves of sorrel.

Fresh salad greens, including leaves of sorrel.

Sorrel is one of those herbs that I put in my garden because someone described it to me and it sounded good, although I couldn’t remember ever having eaten it. I figured eventually I’d try it and be glad I added it to my collection.

In the last two years, I’ve added small fresh leaves to my garden salads and loved the lemony taste that they added to the mix. I’ve also discovered that my chickens LOVE sorrel and will decimate it in short order if given the chance! I’m hoping to add a few more plants just for that reason – I’ll bet it’s splendidly good for them, and it will give me a chance to snip off more than just the most bedraggled of the leaves to share with them. However, I’ve cooked with it or explored any other possible uses until somehow, for some reason, I came across the idea for sorrel soup.

I modeled my experiment after this recipe for one basic reason: I had all the ingredients on hand. Most of the lovely-sounding recipes out there called for a potato (and often cream) and I just didn’t have a potato (or cream) at the moment. And I don’t know about you, but I just don’t want to go to the store for a potato! I end up spending $30-40 and bringing home all sorts of other things I don’t need like bread, ice cream, or some kind of funky condiment – when all I wanted to do is try a new fresh treat from the garden.

After searching high and low for a recipe that was even easier than those calling for cream and potatoes, I found what I was looking for. I’ve adapted mine from the Gastronomer’s Guide version to be vegetarian and to accomodate the fact that for now, I just have one good sorrel plant – I cut the entire plant for this recipe and it gave me about half what I figured the original recipe needed (and I’m amazed at how rapidly it’s growing back!). This recipe is so basic, all you need is olive oil and some eggs. And the way I ended up making it, it makes a really small serving – just enough for two people to enjoy it as a refreshing lunch, an appetizer, or a light summer supper with some crusty bread and a salad.

 Sorrel Soup

1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) sorrel leaves, washed and trimmed of stems
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
3 teaspoons sugar
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large or 2 small eggs, beaten
several dollops plain yogurt

Heat oil in a medium pot or saucepan. Add shallots and saute over medium heat until translucent and beginning to turn golden. Tear sorrel leaves into large pieces and toss into pot a handful at a time. Cook, stirring often, until sorrel breaks down into a soft “sauce” and turns greenish-brown (this goes quite quickly!). Add broth, bring to a boil, and simmer 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor (working carefully so as not to burn yourself!). Return to pot and add sugar, salt and pepper to taste, then slowly stir in the beaten eggs and stir until fully cooked and dispersed into soup. Cook soup for a couple more minutes. Ladle into bowls and top off with 1-2 Tbsp plain yogurt for each serving.

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This lovely soup is very light and lemony (which is probably why it pairs so well with the egg and – in my opinion – with the tangy yogurt; it reminds me of the recipes for the Greek soup Avgolomeno). We polished it off in no time and I wished I had more for the next day, but the speed of the sorrel’s regrowth in the garden is promising many more opportunities to enjoy this simple and healthy soup throughout the growing season. Next test: will it freeze well? (I bet yes, as long as you freeze it just after pureeing it and add the eggs later!).

Check out these other great-sounding and easy sorrel soup recipes:
Terra Brockman in the Chicago Food Examiner

Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, in New York Magazine

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I see that I did not have the foresight to capture a photo of my asparagus quiche when it came out of the oven, and it’s a shame to let the day go by without some kind of image to add to the blog. Here are some of the gorgeous flowers that have decided to bloom (this year and last at this time) at the same time that I was wrestling with the bounty of asparagus to make the quiche listed in today’s post.

Claret cup cactus, a Colorado native

Claret cup cactus, a Colorado native

One glorious poppy.

One glorious poppy.

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First spring salad of tiny baby greens

First spring salad of tiny baby greens

This could be the world’s tiniest salad. It’s the perfect, tender little harvest from my first few greens that are finally sprouting enough leaves to begin eating them. Isn’t that first handful of fresh baby greens the most amazing taste experience? It’s like eating pure energy fresh from the ground; and each leaf has its own distinct taste and texture. Here in this little collection I have baby spinach, mizuna, an heirloom red lettuce, mesclun mix, fennel, chives, fresh tarragon, the tiniest arugula leaf, several leaves of sorrel and a few pea shoots. Eating it was pure delight.

Naturally, I had to quickly mix up a bit of dressing worthy of the occasion; even my very tasty storebought Balsamic vinaigrette wasn’t really right, and it would have overwhelmed these tiny greens anyway. I spied a few leftover lemons on the kitchen counter from when Tomas was sick last week, and the aha! moment struck. In a nutshell, here is what I did (and the base for it was a few tablespoons of leftover olive oil from our recent camping trip):

Lemony Garlic Dressing

Several tablespoons olive oil

juice of half a lemon

1/4 tsp stone ground mustard (I had a little jar of saffron mustard from Prague sitting in the fridge that has a very delicate flavor and was just the ticket)

1 clove garlic, minced

several grinds of pepper

1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt

a bit of chopped fresh herbs: in this case, I used some frozen dill I found in the freezer because it seemed like it would complement the lemon really well and, well, it was there. It was probably between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp.

Mix all ingredients together in a small bottle and shake vigorously. Taste and season as needed.

This dressing had a distinct lemony bite to it, but could be softened a bit by increasing the oil to lemon juice ratio. I thought it was just exactly right for the snappy, fresh greens that I’d picked 20 minutes ago, which had a little tart bite of their own. I used the dressing VERY sparingly, just enough to add a little bright zing to the greens, not to cloak their uniquely ‘green’ flavor.

This was my salad two days ago. Today I got to add a few leaves of baby bok choi and some small radish leaves. It’s hard to believe that pretty soon I won’t be able to keep up with the overabundance of lettuces, 4 kinds of spinach, and dark leafy greens taking over the raised beds! It’s so hard to be patient…

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From the garden yesterday: 3 eggs, 1 handful micro-greens (thinnings from my broccoli and kale starts – yum). Herbs: chives, sage and tarragon are all ready to use.

Last year's green onions in the garden.

Last year's green onions in the garden.

All this hype about Victory Gardens, the White House garden, and recession gardens, as I’ve heard them called, is making me want to try out a little experiment this year: documenting all the food that I get out of my garden this year. I am not alone in doing this; many others are conducting some sort of observable food production science in their yards as well.

What I really ought to do is document the money I’ve spent on the garden as well. I’ll try to find my Home Depot receipts and my seed order total – that should actually not be too hard. I’ll report back on that. Meantime, I’m going to track what’s coming out in terms of edible produce. Hopefully, at the end of the season, this will result in a really fun way to see just how productive and economical this hobby is, or if it’s more, well, just a hobby. When it comes to eggs, I already know the answer – but I’m counting them anyway because they’re worth the effort! I haved 4 chickens right now, and this will help us decide if we want more, or if 4 is just right.

I am also using this blog as a way to keep a garden diary, since I do not have one in reality (well, I guess the internet is real, but I don’t have a physical one!). I want to know what I did when, how long it took for things to come up and mature, what was most successful, and so on.

So here’s what’s in the garden right now. I planted all of these right about at St. Patrick’s Day in March.

  • Cherry Belle radishes: came up beautifully, all seedlings have since been nibbled off by a little visitor of some kind. I will have to replant this weekend.
  • Helios radish: looking really good. Good-sized seedlings, done first thinning already.
  • Cilantro: nothing happened for weeks, now I am finally seeing several seedlings that I have to hope are the damn cilantro finally making its appearance…
  • Chives: see notes on Cilantro.
  • 3 kinds of spinach: all making progress. One (Melody, planted in a container) is almost ready to start nibbling on; it has a good set of first real leaves and the next round is in the works.
  • Mesclun mix: visible.
  • Mache: nothing at all. This is a big disappointment. I may reseed and see what happens. It does say on the seed packet that it can take 20 days to germinate, and it even says “be patient,” so maybe I should just try that…
  • Mizuna: looking really good. Too tiny to eat yet, but looks like what it is – beautiful teeny toothed leaves.
  • Lettuces: Rouge d’hiver, Speckled, Merveille de Quatre Saisons – all have made an appearance and I’m waiting VERY impatiently for them to be harvestable.
  • Peas: sugar snap, Alaska, and sweet peas – all came up finally in the last week and I’m looking forward to some pea shoots in my salads!
  • Green onions: after a long wait, these too are up, which is a thrill because I thought I was not going to get results from last year’s batch of seeds.
  • Carrots: Nantes Little Fingers and Cosmic Purple – the Cosmic came up first, also after a long and breathless wait, and now the little ones are finally making an appearance. I may have gotten lucky with a whole lot of snow at just the right time; carrots NEED to be moist in order to germinate and my luck so far with them has not been stellar, so this crop looks like it will be a good one and I’m thanking the weather gods for that.
  • Bok Choy: looking good! Waiting to thin the seedlings till they’re at least the size of micro-greens so I can eat them.
  • Swiss chard: very early seedling stage right now. Some of the ones in the first container I planted got smushed by the snow and didn’t come back. I have more seeds and will possibly do a second planting depending on how many of this first batch actually get rolling in the next couple of weeks.

Now for my indoor seed starting project:

I planted a tray of Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Lacinato Kale, and Leeks. All have sprouted nicely, I just thinned them yesterday, and I’m religiously putting them outside in the cold frame during the day and bringing them in at night, so – knock on wood – they look fairly normal and not too leggy or washed-out. The thinnings made for a delicious tiny salad yesterday!

That’s all for now, but I have plenty of work to do…. thinning the bok choi, cleaning out the coop, turning the compost, watering my ‘soil-building’ project which is going on in one of my raised beds (I should post separately about that as well). Happy April!

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Day #2 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. The task: write a list post. I just did that yesterday, in fact I did it on both my blogs. But I feel like I should do it with conscious intent, after reading the tips and instructions, so here comes another one! I’ve had this one waiting in my mental queue for a while anyway.

My assortment of seeds (these are just the edibles) - to me this represents true wealth!

My assortment of seeds (these are just the edibles) - to me this represents true wealth!

A few weeks ago (in January to be precise), some colleagues and I got together and ordered seeds from several catalogs together, thinking we’d share them and save some money. While shelling out $60 bucks for seeds didn’t feel like saving to me, that’s just my eyes being WAY bigger than my stomach. Or than my raised beds. The process was lots of fun, the comeraderie was great, and we all have some great seeds to experiment with this year! Next up: summer potluck and fall harvest party…

So here’s a summary of what I managed to dish out so much money on.

The sources:

  • Seeds of Change (their seeds come in nifty re-usable environmentally friendly plastic packets)
  • Seed Savers Exchange (a most wonderful non-profit in Iowa with fabulous educational programs and a very virtuous mission)
  • The Cook’s Garden (the most expensive by quite a bit, but also had a few of the fun lettuces and other rare items that others didn’t)
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company (by far the best deals, seed packets were only around $2 for most varieties; the catalog was a blast to look at with giant color photos and truly quirky characters scattered throughout. This one was a favorite!!)

The seeds (perhaps I shall number them, just to see how out of hand things got with the ordering):

  1. Chioggia beets
  2. Helios radish
  3. Minnesota Midget melon
  4. Blacktail Mountain watermelon
  5. Purple tomatillo
  6. Giant of Italy parsley
  7. Genovese basil
  8. Broad Windsor fava bean
  9. October bean (a gorgeous native bean from Seed Savers, white with PINK slashes and spots)
  10. Hidatsa Shield Figure bean (another stunning heirloom; half white, half tan with dark brown flecks)
  11. Parisian bush bean
  12. Winter Luxury pie pumpkin
  13. Squash Galeaux d’Eysines (a gorgeous peach-colored pumpkin shape covered in thick light brown warts)
  14. Squash Pomme d’Or (another winter squash)
  15. European Mesclun Salad mix
  16. Merlo Nero spinach
  17. Bloomsdale Long Standing spinach
  18. Rouge D’Hiver lettuce
  19. Speckled lettuce
  20. Merveille de Quatre Saisons lettuce
  21. Sugar snap peas
  22. Sherwood leeks
  23. Summer squash: Cocozelle di Napoli
  24. Zucchini: Lungo Bianco
  25. Jewel peach melba nasturtium
  26. Red Marietta marigold
  27. Broccoli Raab
  28. Early Purple Sprouting broccoli
  29. Lacinato kale
  30. Russian Red kale
  31. Nantes Little Finger carrot
  32. True Gold sweet corn

I guess 32 seed packets, even if you are splitting some of them two or three ways, can’t help but add up to $60+… But here’s the kicker: that’s just the new seeds. Anything I had from last year or the year before I kept and am hoping to reuse as well. I’m learning the hard way, right now, that green onion seeds don’t keep. However, spinach seeds from 2007 are sprouting just fine, as are others (chard, radishes). So here is what I STILL HAVE in my collection; I tossed anything that was more than 2 years old:

  • Cherry Belle radish
  • Daikon radish (bought last year and never planted)
  • Sugar baby watermelon (planted last year, nothing happened; trying an heirlom variety this year, see list above)
  • Tomatillo (bought but never planted, got starts instead)
  • Cilantro
  • Acorn squash: Table King
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Butternut squash (didn’t go last year either, but I’m too much of a sucker to toss the seeds; must try again)
  • Melody spinach
  • Mesclun mix
  • Mache
  • Mizuna (bought last year, planted for the first time this year)
  • Lettuce: Paris Island Cos
  • Lettuce: Buttercrunch
  • Alaska peas
  • Edamame (bought last year, never planted)
  • Green onions (Evergreen bunching)
  • Squash: early yellow straightneck
  • Hybrid Ambassador zucchini
  • Italian Striped zucchini
  • Squash: Early white bush scallop
  • Vanilla Ice sunflower
  • Red Sun sunflower
  • Lemon gem marigold
  • Collard greens
  • Long Island Improved Brussel sprouts
  • Cosmic Purple carrot
  • Cucumber: Tasty green burpless
  • Rainbow Swiss Chard (bought last year to replenish my dwindling stock of this favorite plant; heaven forbid I should actually run out of a packet and not have a backup already on hand!)
  • Bok Choy (bought last year but never planted)

Notice I did NOT number those, because I don’t want to know. A lot of these are duplicates – seeds for which I bought replacements before I ran out of the first packet – or veggies I tried two years ago but didn’t do last year, and still haven’t had the heart to toss. A lot of them were stars in the garden last year, I just didn’t use up the packet and I can’t wait to use the rest of the seeds this year.  (in that category the notables are collards, cucumbers, chard, and all the lettuces).

How do I organize all of these vast quantities of seeds? (never mind where I will plant them all – I’ll try to illustrate that somehow in another post). I keep them in a bamboo drawer organizer that was intended for sorting silverware. Each narrow compartment is perfect for standing several seed packets upright in, in little groups next to each other, so the whole entity looks like fairly neat little rows that I can easily flip through to find what I want. Geek that I am, I have organized them by plant family (brassicas, legumes, etc) – sort of – with the flowers all in one stack and the herbs all in another.

This terrible cameraphone shot shows the compartments a little better...

This terrible cameraphone shot shows the compartments a little better...

I was going to get into what I’ve already planted out into the garden and what’s in a seed tray getting moved back and forth from garden (day) to house (night) but it seems I’ve written a pretty long post already. I’ll stop here, and continue that thought another day!

I love making lists. I love that making lists is an acceptable way to blog, and not just some kind of laziness…

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Well, it’s high time I revived this blog. Way past high time, really. I have spent far too many months feeling way too busy to craft something as complete and complex as an actual post. So I’m going to try a different tack, and write really short little notes – just a few minutes’ commitment – and see if that creates a little life here on this page. Because sometimes doing something half-assed IS better than not doing it at all.

So until I can get some more current photos of my chickens and finish describing all 5 of the girls – who are now laying beautiful eggs – I’m going to write about the only other food- and garden-related topic that I can think of at this time of year: the contents of my freezer. Riveting, I know.

I’m sure we all have equally pathetic freezers at any time of year, but I really did try to take a step in the direction of being a good urban homesteader last fall and preserve/freeze/put up some food from the garden before the growing season was over for good. Here’s approximately what I managed to accomplish:

Dried: some tarragon (I hung it upside down as they tell you to, in the garage – a nice dark, dry place. I don’t actually know if it’s still there, or if it’s since crumbled to green dust. I also froze tarragon so if I really needed any, I’d go for the frozen stuff first anyway).

Stored: some god-awfully ugly, gigantic, not totally ripe Green Striped Cushaw heirloom squash. These guys are huge. I wouldn’t know how to get started on one. I grabbed one really small one, about the size of an average butternut squash, with the idea that I’d make some soup or something. When I cut it open, it really didn’t look ripe – too pale – so now the rest of them are just sitting there in the garage, serving as doorstops for my car. I know when I’ve pulled in far enough when my tire hits the big squash on the floor. I’m hoping they’ll make good chicken food.

Frozen: here’s where I actually got a bit of something done.

I chopped basil and froze it in little ice cube trays. Those are the most useful thing EVER. When I need fresh basil for a recipe, I just pop a cube out and toss it in. I was anal enough about this to ensure, during the prep process, that each cube equaled 1 Tablespoon of chopped basil. It’s awesome. Forget the dried stuff – I just need to do a bunch more trays of this next year. I did the same thing with parsley and oregano. All I have left right now is oregano. Apparently one uses far less of that in soup recipes.

I shredded zucchini and froze it in bags of 2 cups each. For those moments mid-winter when you really just want to make zucchini bread. I envisioned such a moment last fall; it hasn’t happened yet, but with the zukes being about the only green thing left in the freezer, it’s going to have to happen.

I made and froze several little containers of regular and walnut pesto. Yum. This stuff is so amazing; it makes a dinner into something special. Curiously, I still have one container left. One more special dinner. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

When I realized we’d never keep up by eating it fresh, I finally capitulated and chopped, blanched and froze several cups of collard greens and swiss chard. Again, I froze these in bags measuring 2 cups of greens each for ease of adding to recipes. What a lifesaving idea. I’ve used them for quiche, stir-fries and on the side of scrambled fresh-from-the-garden eggs. With baked beans of course. Now it’s January and unfortunately, all the greens are gone. They were just so good. Next year: more of this.

A couple of containers of roasted tomatillo salsa verde. This too has the magical ability to transport you back to summertime and the garden bounty with a single punchy bite. It gets lots of raves from people stopping by for a drink in Tomas’ living room bar – a convenient quick snack to have around.

And that is all of it. Everything else seemed too sacrilegious to cook, or freeze, or otherwise alter, when it had just come out of the garden fresh. Or when it was still growing there, green and beautiful. We slowly ate all the last tomatoes – they lived on the counter for weeks – and I just blew it when it came to saving all the basil, parsley, and greens. A lot of that froze (outside – argh!) or fell prey to the marauding chickens once the garden was mostly deconstructed and they were given free rein in the yard.

Wow, that was so not just a short little note! One can wax on about pretty much anything, I guess, when it’s cold enough outside. (10 degrees now, if you really want to know).

The moral of the story, as I see it, is that there’s room in the freezer for a lot more bags of greens, trays of basil cubes, pints of pesto, and many more such ideas. These are the ingredients you CRAVE when the dark days of winter are at their worst. They remind you that there is life out there. There are long days of sunshine, rich moist soil and healthy, homegrown plants that are willing to give, and give, and give. Enough for you to eat it all fresh AND put up as much as you can get around to. Next year.

Last year's basil in the garden - an open invitation (or is it a challenge?)

Last year's basil in the garden - an open invitation (or is it a challenge?)

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Here’s a quick run-down of what’s growing in my garden right now. I’m doing this largely to keep a record, for next year, of what comes around when; perhaps it will also be of some use to others gardening in high and dry places around 5000+ feet, wherever you are. If you live at high altitude, drop a comment and tell me what you’re getting out of your garden in mid-July!

Ready for the eating:

Rainbow chard

Collard greens

a few last heads of Romaine

Zucchini – still enjoying them grilled with olive oil and Penzey’s special seasoned salt; eventually I expect we’ll tire of that and start looking for other ideas, but for now I can’t keep them on the plate.

A mystery hybrid squash that volunteered in last year’s old squash bed; it’s producing small yellow rounded fruit, kind of like a patty-pan crossed with a yellow crookneck (could be exactly that, but who knows? I’ll try to eat one and see what it does…)

Red onions – I just yanked the whole batch and used them in the chard and onion quiche I made last weekend; had I not done so I’d still have several good ones.

Sorrel

Parsley, basil, tarragon, thyme, oregano, lots of mint, sage, chives

ripening: currants, gooseberries, apples!

On the vine, looking pretty green: lots of heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes of all shapes and sizes. I’m expecting cherry tomatoes to overwhelm us soon: we have black cherry, Sungold, Galina’s (a yellow cherry tomato) and one called Matt’s Wild Cherry that I think will be red. It will make for pretty salads no doubt! The other tomatoes that are looking very promising are an Old Ivory Egg and Grandma Mary’s Paste. A few, like the Carbon, Brandywine and German Heirloom Striped, are setting fruit but look a long way from edible – these are supposed to be BIG tomatoes and so far aren’t, so those will be a longer wait.

That’s it for now; I’d almost call it a lull in the garden, if it weren’t for the zucchini that has gone from nothing to rampant in just a few days. I’m glad for the chard to give us at least a little variety in our diets!

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It’s early June and here is what is growing (and edible) in my Colorado garden.

Spinach (just getting from tender salad greens to cooking-quality leaves)

Chard (we just enjoyed our first batch)

Collard Greens (also just had a first batch a few days ago, looking forward to more!)

Radishes (finishing off the last of these)

Pea shoots, peas are on the way

Mesclun greens (assorted including arugula and others)

Speckled heirloom lettuce

Romaine lettuce

Red leaf lettuce

Herbs: chives, 2 kinds of basil, tarragon, 3 kinds of sage, oregano, thyme, 4 kinds of mint, flat-leaf parsley, sorrel. Yanked the last of the cilantro a few days ago.

The red onions are looking great but I’m going to be good and wait for the shoots to dry up and wilt…

On their way (i.e. fruit already visible, just a matter of patience): Currants, gooseberries, celery, peas, zucchini.

That’s it for now… the abundance of greens is certainly testing my culinary creativity, but boy does it feel good to eat them! I will miss them greatly when they are gone, though I have a late crop of Tuscan black kale seeds in the soil in hopes of a mid-summer plethora of dark green goodness. And the chard tends to last really well through the summer.

Happy gardening – and eating – it’s finally feeling a lot like summer!

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