Thursday, May 31, 2012

Transitioning from spring to summer, and a kohlrabi stir fry recipe

Most weekends in May have been spent working hard in the garden. The growing season is early this year, so it's a challenge to keep up! Yet we're making good progress on the water garden (yay!) and moved a giant pile of rocks that was next to it. Now that area is much more beautiful with small native plants we planted. I'm so excited about this new spot in our garden! I hope to follow up with a post on it next month.

This month we enjoyed lots of sugar snaps, which are now gone, but with okra seeds planted in their place. For lunches and dinners we have been eating many salads with arugula, buttercrunch, endive, and purple lettuces. As the temperatures rise, those salad days are also coming to a close. The young tomato plants that we started from seed are now in the ground, with pesto and thai basil plants nearby.  Green been plants are growing, the grapevines are heavy with tiny green grapes, and a row of carrots are waiting to be dug up. Bouquets have been full with daisies and bachelor buttons. This week the first echinacea and African daisies opened and so begins the transition from spring to summer. I eagerly await the first zinnias!

This month we picked a lot of kohlrabi, which grow great around here. In a previous post I mentioned one of the ways we like to fix kohlrabi is in a stir fry.  Last night I made a stir fry with garlic, shiitakes, kohlrabi, and bok choy, and the last of the sugar snaps, all from our garden. It was delicious! There was also onion from the store as ours aren't ready yet.  If you need a (sort of) recipe for this, here's how I made it.
1. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a wok or pan on medium heat and add chopped shiitake mushrooms. Sprinkle with a little sea salt. The mushrooms soak up the butter fast, but continue to cook them for a few minutes until they shrink a bit and release some liquid.
2. Add sliced onion and cook for a few minutes. At this point the pan was a little dry so I add a small drizzle of wok oil, flavored with thai basil and lemongrass.
3. Add chopped garlic and the chopped kohlrabi. Stir and add a swirl of soy sauce. Cook the kohlrabi a few minutes until they begin to get just tender.
4. Add the chopped bok choy, stir, and put the lid on.
5. Add the sugar snaps and a cup of hot miso broth. Simmer just until the bok choy and sugar snaps are tender.
6. Add soy sauce and sriracha sauce to taste. Serve over rice or noodles if you like. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


We are excited to welcome Luke Freeman, Natalie's other half, to this week's Tend. Luke is an organic farmer & educator on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Luke spends his days building compost piles, planting vegetables, tending to six acres of certified organic land, preparing compost tea, caring for his red wiggler worms & teaching others about organic practices. In addition to farming, Luke enjoys good beer, bicycling, a long run, & spending time with Natalie in the kitchen.


Recently, I've been obsessed with fermentation. And I'm not talking about beer or wine. I've been fermenting vegetables.

The source of this fascination came from the artisan bakery where my wife and I used to work. The cooks there made delicious sauerkraut and kim chi for reuben and bahn mi sandwiches. I remember five-gallon buckets stuffed full of shredded cabbage with plates on top to weigh it all down.

There was a book those cooks referred to in their fermentation explorations: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. This was the book I turned to when I was eager to explore the world of fermented foods. Soon I discovered that Katz was publishing a more extensive guide, titled The Art of Fermentation, which I excitedly bought for myself. These two books have been my go-to guides when it comes to vegetable ferments, and they extend much further into grains, milk, beans, and meats.

Fermenting vegetables is a great way to preserve an abundant harvest. On the farm where I work, we have been harvesting bushels of green beans, which I have been fermenting to make delicious "Dilly Bean Pickles." Unlike traditional canning, which requires sterilization and high-heat, fermentation takes advantage of beneficial bacteria that acidify and "pickle" your produce at room temperature. The key is to provide an environment that encourages the growth of these lactic acid bacteria and discourages the growth of molds and pathogenic organisms.

In the case of vegetable ferments, it is as simple as soaking the vegetables in a salty brine or generously sprinkling them with salt and then packing them into a jar so that they are submerged in their own juices. At this point, the lactic acid bacteria go to work acidifying your fermentation and producing byproducts like alcohols and carbon dioxide--making your fermented vegetables delicious! You can eat the ferment at any time during the process, but when it tastes just right you can set the jar in the fridge to halt the activity of those bacteria. At cool temperatures, fermented vegetables can last for years!

These lactic acid bacteria that ferment your garden produce are also really good for you. They are some of the microorganisms that live in your intestines and help you digest food. The Lactobacillus genus of lactic acid bacteria are that same organisms that make yogurt so good for you. They have actually been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression when present in the gut. These are some pretty cool microbes!

The great thing about vegetable fermentation is that the options are limitless! You can try cabbage, carrots, radishes, turnips, green beans, cucumbers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, watermelon rinds, etc. seasoned in any way that you see fit. And all you really need are some mason jars and salt!

Happy fermentations!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a favorite salad dressing

we love our salads in the spring. nothing is much better than a plate piled high with greens... unless it is a plate piled high with greens & the perfect dressing on top. that's just fantastic. i want to share with you a salad dressing i came across from one of our favorite farms in northern arkansas. we've adapted it to our own liking & the ingredients we find in our pantry most days. 

sunflower seed & herb dressing
makes 1 quart

1 1/2 cups olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup liquid aminos
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
handful of herbs- basil, cilantro, parsley

blend together in mixer until sunflower seeds are chopped well. pour into a quart mason jar & enjoy for one week!

Friday, May 18, 2012

radish sandwich

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even though radishes are not one of my girls favorite foods we can't help but plant them in the spring. they are a great crop to grow in the garden for young people.
they germinate fast and grow fast too. and harvesting them is such fun!

we always grow the 'easter egg' variety. they come in a beautiful variety of colors and the girls love the name. we try to harvest them when they are small and on the younger side to avoid them getting too hot.

i love eating radishes whole with just a pinch of salt but my girls have not quite caught on to to my radish enthusiasm until recently when i remembered how my mother would like to eat her radishes with butter which i believe goes back to our irish roots.

 it's true that most things taste better with butter and believe it or not radishes and butter are truly delicious.

 i introduced this sandwich to an after school garden club last week and it was quite the hit. the students devoured an entire baguette with generous helpings of radish.

radish sandwich

slice of your favorite bread
generous amounts of butter
thinly sliced radish
a pinch of sea salt
chopped up chives or other herbs are nice too


Thursday, May 17, 2012

A good day in the garden

bird's eye view, left side
bird's eye view, right side
This afternoon began my summer break! I knew that once school was out, I wanted to be in the garden. And so I was, for three plus hours, weeding, planting, etc. Above are two peeks at our sprawling garden as seen from my studio deck. Photos show it as is, with no prettying up, or removing hoses or weed buckets.
Here's what I worked on today: 
` Cut back the rose bush that had finished blooming. 
` Walked to the garden center that is dangerously close to our house and yet returned with only a 4-pack of spilanthes. After clearing spent daffodil leaves, I planted them between the bulbs. 
` Weeded between the onion rows. Boy was that a mess.
` Heavily trimmed back the catnip and mint, and put some mint leaves in my ice water, and gave catnip to the kitties lounging lazily inside. 
` Thinned the African daisies. 
` Cut dead canes on the raspberries and ate a ripe golden raspberry or two in the process. 
` Cleared a place to finally plant cosmos seeds. 
` And weeded throughout other plots. 

It was a good day!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


we're still seeking out wild edibles here since our garden isn't producing much yet. i found two small patches of ramps recently and brought a small bundle home to transplant. i hope they take. anyone ever have success with this?

dandy syrup                                     
i made two big batches of dandelion blossom simple syrup and plan to make dandelion fritters soon.

baby brassicas                                  
all of our brassicas are in the garden with their cute little makeshift collars made from yogurt containers. down with cutworm i say!

japanese knotweed                                

this spring i tasted japanese knotweed for the very first time in an almond cake. if you like rhubarb, you'll probably like knotweed. it's an invasive, which means it's good to pull up some to be used in your kitchen.

as always, be sure you can confidently identify the plant before you cut some for use in your kitchen. my rule of thumb is to find someone in the know to go with you the first time you gather wild edibles. remember not to gather knotweed by the roadside. you'll often find it in polluted areas. check out what wild man steve brill says about knotweed here.

first aid kit in the making
and finally, the beginnings of my herbal first aid kit. yarrow and plaintain which i took home to dry. yarrow stops bleeding and plaintain pulls out poisons. plaintain is particularly good for bee stings. what's new in your neck of the woods or city?

Monday, May 14, 2012

i'm addicted to plants


i think i have a problem. though, i'm pretty sure i'm not alone. this time of year, when seedlings are sprouting and even beginning to flower, and plant sales abound, and the farmer's market has begun, and the seed racks are everywhere you look, and everyone's gardens look so incredibly lovely i just can't help myself.

despite the fact that i am positively swimming in seedlings (mostly tomatoes, chard, kale, and peppers), i decided to go to the plant sale last friday evening. this is a very large plant sale that i've always been intimidated to go to for fear of the hoards of people. for some reason, still unknown to me, at the last minute and totally unplanned i decided that this would be the year that we would face this sale. so off we went. friday night, just an hour and a half before they closed, proved to be a great time to go. they were out of a few things i wanted, but mostly not and it was not crowded at all.

some of the highlights of what i brought home were: a bay laurel tree (which i'll put in a pot and bring inside for the winters), french sorrel (which someone here suggested for my new front garden, thank you!), summer and winter savory, anise hyssop, victoria louise oriental poppies, goodwin creek lavender, and a niobe clematis. i feel justified in these purchases since they were mostly perennials and i consider those an investment (especially if they are edible or medicinal!). i didn't even look at the vegetable section!

of course, now i have to find the time and space to plant all of these beauties, but given that i spent about 75% of my weekend outside (both at the community garden and in our backyard) i'm thinking i shouldn't have trouble finding the time for these. of course, there is also that wildflower seed packet i just couldn't resist at the hardware store today, and that nice big creeping phlox my friend dropped off on sunday, and...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beginning a water garden

digging the pond, day one

Last year I talked about wanting to convert an area of our garden into a bird and butterfly garden. Well this is the spot. This is prime gardening property on the south of our house, but for a while it has been a blend of plants we want and things we have neglected. For instance, we like the sedums, bachelor buttons, forsythia bushes, and the nectarine tree, but there is also a pile of rocks covered in sprawling chocolate mint, a pond liner that had been waiting to go in the ground, and a host of weeds.

Well, last weekend my husband and I began tackling this project. While my husband was digging the hole for the pond, I pulled weeds. We worked out there Saturday and Sunday, sweating in the 90+ degree heat and I'm happy to say it's starting to come together. The next step this weekend will be to get more flat rocks to surround the pond and figure out how we want to move the water. This may be one of those projects that gets bigger the further you get into it. But I know once it's done, we will surely enjoy the water feature. And the birds will too.

To get started we have been consulting our local pond and water garden store, Water's Edge. They have a page on their website with a host of information about planning your water garden, water quality, plants, fish, moving the water, etc. 

If you have a water feature of your own or know of any resources, please share with us!

digging the pond, day two

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

deep into the season


garden notes:

+ we are deep into the spring & early summer season down here. it amazes me to see our bell pepper plants beginning to flower & sugar snaps heavy on the vine. our green beans are revealing some beautiful purple flowers, too!

+ we are almost at a year in this home & every time i step outside into our backyard, i am in awe of what we have planted & built. five large raised beds, a perennial bed {much of the plants from our home in missouri & missouri native plant sales}, a chicken coop & run, a rabbit hutch, an impressive compost pile {i can take no credit!} & a beautiful volunteer pumpkin patch. it is not perfect, but it produces plenty of harvests & joy.

+ that volunteer pumpkin patch came up after we left a raw pumpkin for the girls to munch on. the girls scattered the seeds, we moved their coop to another side of the plot & an amazing patch took root. 

+ we have harvested two baskets full of wild blackberries behind our home. many more harvest await as the fruit slowly ripens. blackberries in may? yes!

+ this weekend we headed to our local farm & picked four gallons of strawberries & a pint of blueberries. i have since preserved 10 jars of jam,  baked two berry rhubarb crisps & frozen the rest {thanks, julia!}. i plan to share my jam recipe here soon!

+ we harvested the last of our freckled lettuce. we had much more success with our starts from the greenhouse than direct seeding. it got too warm too fast for those little seeds to really mature.

+ our black simpson summer  head lettuce is impressive, growing heads of fluffy neon green goodness the size of basketballs. a favorite around here, too- piled on our plates both lunch & dinner.

+ we cleared out the broccoli after harvesting four heads & replaced it with two rows of okra. i love pickled okra & cannot wait for the summer's bounty!

+ we gave the girls our scraps of greens leftover from the bolting salad mix & planted zucchini & yellow squash in its place. i am closely watching out for aphids this year, our biggest pest last year.

+ what are you planting & growing in your garden? please share!

Monday, May 7, 2012

thinning out & a salad

thinned arugula and radishes

baby radishes

microgreens salad

am i the only one who hates thinning out seedlings? all i can think is that these little babies that i'm trimming could have the potential to grow into full sized plants, producing delicious veggies or beautiful flowers or herbs. (i actually found myself so incapable of thinning my tomatoes that i ended up transplanting them all into their own little pots and i'm now saddled with about 100 tomato seedlings! i have some very lucky friends and neighbors...)

last night i found myself desperately needing to thin out my radishes and arugula if i wanted any of them to grow to their full potential. so thin i did. but those little greens that i pulled out were not destined for the compost. instead, they headed straight for the salad bowl for a light dinner. if i were feeling fancy, i'd call it a microgreen salad.

toss some mini arugula and radish greens (or whatever you have, baby chard or kale would be delicious too) with sunflower seeds, some chopped gouda (chevre would have been delicious, but this was all i had on hand) and a little balsamic vinaigrette. some of the radish seedlings had begun to produce tiny fruits, so i washed those off and sprinkled them on top. delicious.

no seedling left behind!

Friday, May 4, 2012

what's growing on

Untitled DSC_0423 DSC_0414 Untitled DSC_0409 Untitled Untitled life has been a bit busy these days and without much help on my end, the garden has been busy too. all i have time for this week is a little tour of what's growing on. i look forward to the next few weeks as things slow down a bit, allowing me more time in the garden.