Archive for Easy Edibles

My Spring Veggie Garden

My Spring Veggie Garden

I’m trying some new things to improve my early spring garden this year.

Carol standing at the entrance to community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina 7 23 2014

Community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina

Early Spring Garden

Overall I’m happy with my edibles  garden experience but I miss out on the early spring garden because I don’t get my plants into the ground soon enough.  My landscape design work is seasonal and by February I’m so busy it’s too late for me to get organized for my personal garden. I’ve been vague about planting start dates.  Is it still too cold?  What is the last frost date?  This year instead of wondering about it, I’m using the Portland Nursery calendar to get out of vague and into organized.

Buying veggie starts

I called my favorite place to buy starts so I’ll know when I can purchase.  Turns out they use the same calendar and will have my starts for mustard greens, kale, collards and more by March.  My grandmother was very thrifty and every penny counted.  Her huge vegetable garden was one of the ways she contributed to her family income.  I’m playing.  The amount of greens I go through in my kitchen is significant but would not break the bank if I bought them.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I buy 80 percent of my plants as starts  in 4 and 6 packs.  I don’t have room in my house for setting up seeds and starts provide instant gratification and cover my soil quickly.  My neighbor Betty grows a lot of interesting plants from seed for fun.  I often benefit.  I grow spring greens from seed in my tabletop salad garden and I can start seeds for my favorite smoothie green, arugula in late February.  If it’s too cold I’m out the cost of seeds.  I sow spring greens seeds every two or three weeks until mid June.  I will purchase veggie starts for my summer garden and plant them in May and do starts again in late summer for my fall garden.

Soil Test

I’m doing a soil test this year which I’ve not done before.  My root vegetables don’t do well and I’m curious about lead.  I understand that adding certain nutrients can help lock up some of the lead in the soil.   I hope to dig out one of my beds, lay down a weed barrier and a metal grid.  Why?  One reason is to keep the ground soil which probably does have some lead in it (the garden is below Hwy 30), separate from my nice new clean soil, and the 2nd is to keep the gopher or mole from bringing that soil up into my garden and keep them from moving the soil around and messing up the roots of my plants!!  It’s a lot of physical work so I’m only going to do one bed, probably with help this year.

That’s my plan, we will see what happens!

grafted tomatoes

My husband Bob harvesting tomatoes on our floating home.

My favorite place for vegetable starts is City Farm on N. Lombard.  They grow their veggie starts in a nearby greenhouse. New Seasons often has great veggie starts.  Cornell Farms is serious about their veggie starts so you can expect a good selection.  Portland Nursery, Garden Fever, Livingstone……..lots of choices for every part of town.

Safe Soil in the City

Portland landscape designer Carol Lindsay

Daizzie and I in my edibles garden

Safe soil in the city – smart and healthy practices for urban gardens

I love having a vegetable garden. It’s healthy, right? I love eating kale and I grow a lot of greens for smoothies year-round.  There are a few concerns about growing food in urban areas. Two concerns that apply to us all, city and suburban, are lead paint and lead exhaust from the past in our soils. Let’s be practical not scary about this.

Is my food safe to eat? What are the most important practices I can do and how can I keep it simple?  My garden is below Highway 30.  It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

There’s no way I’d grow my food in the ground here.

My current garden practices

I’ve been assuming my food is safe to eat because:

Our community garden has raised beds with new clean soil from just three years ago.
I apply lots of compost at least three times a year.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I use an organic fertilizer. (OK it’s boxed Dr. Earth, not a truckload from Natures Needs because it’s very convenient and my garden is small.)  I don’t know what my NPK ratio is which makes me a bit of a lazy gardener but the food I like to grow does fine.  NPK being Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorous.  And yes I was trained as an advanced master gardener and yes that was a very long time ago………they teach you all about soil in the master gardener program.

I wash my produce, no nibbling right out of the garden bed. (OK once in a while a strawberry or tomato).

According to some experts I’m doing OK but I could do a lot better.

My improvements

  1. Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Reducing exposure to dust is the most effective thing you can do to reduce lead hazard in your landscape. It is typically in the first few inches of soil. This is the most important thing in the blog.  Mulch and compost applications cover your soil and protect it from dust with contaminants in it.    We want to keep the dust and soil off human skin and out of the mouth.  This is critical for babies and small children and good for the rest of us too.  Adding compost has many benefits for improving conditions for plants.  Adding compost at least twice a year can only benefit, there are no drawbacks.

  1. Here at my community garden, we could have put a barrier between our new soil and the existing ground soil. I can still do this once my winter Kale are done in March. I’ll have to get a tarp and dig out a lot of my soil so I’m going to install a metal grid and landscape fabric.  The grid is to keep the moles and gophers out of my raised bed. They may have brought some of the lead contaminated soil up into my new clean soil, and they caused a lot of havoc with the roots of my plants.  Some died or did not produce well because of the soil disturbance.
  1. I could improve the efficacy of washing my veggies by using a 1 percent vinegar solution instead of only using water. I’m thinking a large spray bottle under the sink could be used for my final wash. It’s got to be simple or I won’t do it.

Beyond these good soil management practices, I will need to do a Nutrient Analysis soil test to know what I need to add to my raised beds to improve the health and productivity of my vegetables and bind up any lead and keep it locked into my soil where it won’t cause problems for me.

Portland landscape designer in edibles garden

My garden is below Highway 30. It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

Lead Soil Test

My client Katy had an older home in SE Portland.  I suggested a lead soil test.  She collected the soil and submitted samples for a lead test. She discovered the area where we wanted the kids play structure to go had high lead.  It was next to the neighbors’ garage.  Several inches of contaminated soil were removed.  She brought in new soil and playground chips and now has a safe play area for her toddlers.

What’s one new thing you could do this year to improve your landscape or edibles garden?  Get your soil tested.  I’m planning to collect soil from my vegetable garden and submit it to a lab for testing.  I’ll share that experience with you in another blog.

Landscape Design for tiny steep backyard

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple set into boulder wall

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple

Big ideas for tiny steep back yard

My new clients were from southern California and now lived in Ridgefield, Washington.  They were  new to the Northwest.   They loved their new home and neighborhood and believed all their difficult small back yard needed was the right designer.

Their lot was challenging.

Their lot was challenging.

The Bodes wanted to make Ridgefield feel like home.   Their list was extensive and precise – their lot was tiny and challenging.  It was one of those small and steep up hill lots.  The builder gave them a slice of level land by building a high utilitarian block wall.  This divided the yard into half and neither half was big enough to do much with.  It’s great that people understand that a good designer can work miracles.  I was flattered they chose me to bring their new outdoor home to life.  It was not going to be easy.

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Lauren and Kathryn’s wish list went like this:

•Large covered outdoor area for year round entertaining

•Covered hot tub room

•Dwarf fruit trees and raised beds for edibles – this was a serious hobby for them

•Convenient access to smoker and BBQ

•Water feature to see from inside the great room for year round enjoyment

•A Sangu Kaku Japanese maple-because they loved it so

They hired me after looking at several designers and we met early one fall morning.  As soon as I saw their lot I knew I’d recommend D & J Landscape Contractors for the installation.  We had teamed up for a similarly difficult site.   Although I am a Portland landscape designer I have several Ridgefield Washington landscape design clients.  See Mastersons swamp to paradise blog.

The Bodes and I  worked together to create their plan using my landscape design in a day process.

Before back porch addition

The basic grading was completed so the back porch addition could be built.

The big items were first.  For seamless outdoor living the thing to do was extend the roof of the house for the cover.  Not inexpensive but an important priority.  We made the ceiling high in this addition so it would add light to the great room and make it feel bigger.  Adding onto the existing small back porch rather than adding a new covered area elsewhere in the landscape kept it simple.  With all the items we needed to add, it would be easy to turn this tiny yard into a hodgepodge.

After back porch addition

After back porch addition

 

Next the harsh straight wall dividing the landscape in half had to go.    The design broke the steep slope into three levels.   Using naturalistic boulders artfully placed changed this landscape completely.  This is where I have to stop bragging about my spatial skills and brag about the landscape contractor.  It isn’t financially practical or practical in any manner to draw a design that precisely places every boulder.  Sometimes I am on site during construction and I work closely with the excavator to place the boulders but even then it is a very collaborative effort.  Donna Burdick and Brian Woodruff of D & J landscape Contractors  took the design and brought it to life.  It was such a tough site that we were planning to have me on site to help with the artistic efforts but the fall weather was threatening and if they had waited for me, they would have lost an opportunity to install until the next year.  We met on site once and they ran with it……beautifully.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

A place was made for the smoker just on the edge of the covered back porch.  Nestled among the boulders it sits at a height that makes it an easy reach.

Now that we had created usable space it was easy to nestle the gazebo and tot tub into a curve of the boulder walls.  The hot tub feels private and there is good access.  It is planted beautifully.

 

The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it's own private hot tub room.

The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it’s own private hot tub room.

 

Lauren and Kathryn are get it done people.  Lauren built the hot tub gazebo using a kit, designed and built a potting table and storage cabinet for the back porch.  It was such a pleasure to visit them and hear how much they love their new outdoor heaven.

Their easy access raised beds are a delight to use and to behold.

The water feature, a drilled rock with the hidden echo chamber under it is beloved by their young nieces, they love to play in it.  The sound calls them outdoors.

They are home.

Sometimes I feel a little like Santa Claus –  All the boys and girls deserve a wonderful outdoor heaven to play in.

Scarlet Runner Bean

Gardener and guest blogger Chrissy Lavielle tells us how to grow and cook scarlet runner beans.  Her recipe below, “Scarlet Runner Bean Soup”,  is fantastic.

Scarlet Runner Bean. Photo courtesy of Seed Savers.

Scarlet Runner Bean.  Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

Early in April, when the soil is just beginning to warm up, I plant the scarlet runner beans.  It seems so cruel to bury those beautiful, thumb sized black and purple beans in the cold, damp earth, but they always burst happily to the surface in two or three weeks – depending on how cold it is.  When they get to be about six inches tall, I tie long strings onto a wire I’ve strung in the eaves of the porch, just above the bean plants.  I tie the other end of each string around the upper part of a plant.  As summer begins to progress, the beans spiral gracefully up the strings.  By mid July they’ve made a 15 foot tall, thick, green curtain dotted with brilliant scarlet flowers that shades the west side of the porch from the worst of the summer sun.

By late autumn, the flowers have been replaced by long dry parchment brown pods filled with those beautiful beans.  The cotton string doesn’t compost well, and it’s slimy remnants catch on trowels and shovels and weeding forks for several years.  And so I choose a sunny afternoon in November and spend it picking beans and unraveling string and summer from the twisted vines.

Shelling the grocery bag full of bean pods takes an easy hour – less if someone helps.  I put the beans in a pottery bowl and leave them on the kitchen counter to dry.  Whenever I find myself standing next to them, I push my hand down into the mass of cool, satiny beans and stir them around.  It feels wonderful and makes a comforting, pattering sort of sound.

I use the spiral cut ham bones from the Yule Ritual to make a fabulous stock for the beans.

To make the stock:

Put a bunch of ham bones or bones saved from several pork roasts in a stockpot and cover with water or chicken broth.  Add some salt and lemon juice to pull the calcium out of the bone.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 4 hours.

After about 2 1/2 hours add:

A few yellow onions, carrots and ribs of celery

A large can of diced tomatoes

10 pepper corns

Fresh sprigs of parsley, sage, rosemary and/or thyme

After the 4 hours, strain stock from bones and vegetables.

To make the soup:

Soak about 1 1/2 – 2 cups of beans in water overnight.  Strain and rinse beans.  Put them in a 1 1/2 – 2 quarts of stock and bring to boil.  Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  Add a few spritzes of Tabasco sauce and adjust seasonings.  Puree about 1/2 the beans in a food processor and add back to thicken the soup.

You can add pasta and/or garnish with fresh chopped basil.

Family’s Rhubarb Mousse Connects Generations

Rhubarb makes a dramatic and tastey addition to designer pal Adriana Berry's garden.

Rhubarb makes a dramatic and tasty addition to designer pal Adriana Berry’s garden. Photo by Carol Lindsay

I found this story about rhubarb and a family’s history in my vacation house kitchen cupboard.  It was left behind by friends using the house.  I enjoyed reading it and learned it’s a part of a series written by Chrissy Lavielle to pass down her family’s recipes and their history.  She generously allowed me to share it with you.

I really like rhubarb.  It’s big and dramatic; it looks tropical, but survives sub zero winters and anything else you can throw at it; and you can eat it – it’s the only fruit that’s not a fruit.  My rhubarb plant flowered last summer.  A two-inch diameter club shaped stalk shot up six feet and exploded in a mass of tiny greenish white flowers.  The effect was prehistoric and vaguely ominous.  I watched it carefully, ready with my trusty loppers, in case it got out of hand.

Both my mother and Craig’s mother grew rhubarb.  Craig remembers pretending the leaves were clothes and I remember using the leaves and stalks for everything from flags to parasols.  Mothers now days would never allow this, they know that the leaves are toxic – chock full of oxalic acid.  I guess maybe mom told me not to eat the leaves, because I never did.  Or maybe she didn’t.  Why would you eat a boring green leaf when you could bite into a bright red stalk?  That eye watering, tooth roughening, mouth shriveling bitter sourness is a childhood memory of Cincinnati summers that is hardwired into my brain.

Every February my mother began to look forward to the “spring tonics” – stewed rhubarb and dandelion greens from the golf course.  I wasn’t fond of either one.  Her philosophy on fruits and vegetables was to cook them until they were really, really dead.

Red stocks are the tasty part, the leaves are toxic and bitter.

Red stocks are the tasty part, the leaves are toxic and bitter.

My mother in law’s recipe is a much better way to enjoy rhubarb.  I helped her make it once, and smiled to myself as I watched her cut the rhubarb.  Holding the stalk over the saucepan with her left hand, and the paring knife curled in the fingers of her right hand, she put her thumb on the opposite side of the stalk and cut against it.  Pieces of rhubarb fell into the pan in a quick series of metallic plops.  This is exactly and precisely the way my mother, another Ohio girl who lived through WWII and The Depression, cut up rhubarb.  Neither one of them had any use for a cutting board and to my knowledge, only used one occasionally – usually for cheese.

Mother planted her rhubarb at one end of the asparagus bed.  In the years after she died, the rest of the garden gradually faded away, but the rhubarb plants outlived both my parents.

Rhubarb mousse is one of Craig’s favorite deserts.  He also likes rhubarb pie or pan’d outy – but he is dead set against adulterating it with strawberries or blueberries.

Rhubarb Mousse

1 lb. rhubarb cut in 1″ pieces (3 cups) or 1 pkg.

1/2 cup water, divided

1 cup sugar

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

2 tsps. lemon juice

1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Red food coloring

Cook rhubarb with 1/4 cup water until it strings.

Soften gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water.  Stir into hot rhubarb until dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Add lemon juice and chill until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon.  Fold into whipped cream and mold.

For more information about growing rhubarb see my favorite garden guru’s article, “Grow Strawberries Tasty Companion: Rhubarb” by Vern Nelson at The Oregonian web site.

Rhubarb at market

Buy rhubarb at a farmer’s market and ask them what variety it is and why they grow it.

His favorites are ‘Chipman’s Canada Red’  which is nearly identical to ‘Crimson Cherry’.  ‘Victoria’ is not as sweet but is a vigorous  “do gooder” plant.

My guest blogger Chrissy got her plant from her mother, and many people get a plant from a neighbor.  There’s nothing wrong with this method but if it were me looking for a new plant I would go with Vern’s suggestions.