PRAISE FOR THE LOWLY CABBAGE

by Engrid Winslow

Photo of a growing head of purple cabbage.

photo courtesy of pixabay – angelsover

Pity the lowly cabbage, which doesn’t get the love of its sexier brassica brothers and sisters such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower or kale. But this overlooked vegetable is plentiful and inexpensive at this type of year. Cabbage is also a breeze to grow and does great in cool spring and fall temperatures. They actually taste sweeter when exposed to light frosts as do other cool-season brassicas.

It comes in two types: European and Asian. The European types are white or green cabbage, red cabbage and savoy. The most popular Asian types are bok choy and Napa. Napa is an excellent choice for summer slaw when combined with grated carrots, red bell peppers and simple soy and rice-wine vinegar dressing with a touch of honey. Toss in some peanuts for crunch and/or cooked chicken to make it a complete meal. But today we are focusing on a couple of winter cabbage recipes.

If the taste of cabbage doesn’t convince you then maybe this will: cabbage is full of vitamin K and anthocyanins that help with mental function and concentration. These nutrients also prevent nerve damage, improving your defense against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Red cabbage has the highest amount of these power nutrients. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins C, B1, B2 and B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, folate and copper. Additionally, cabbage is a good source of choline, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, pantothenic acid, protein and niacin.

This soup is adapted slightly from the wonderful cookbook: Six Seasons – A New Way with vegetables by Joshua McFadden which you might want to add to your cookbook library. https://www.amazon.com/Six-Seasons-New-Way-Vegetables

The red coleslaw is a family Easter favorite that is great as a side with ham and scalloped potatoes.

Two other favorite cookbooks for you to also consider are Brassicas by Laura B. Russell https://www.amazon.com/Brassicas-Healthiest-Vegetables-Cauliflower-Broccoli and The Book of Greens by Jenn Louis https://www.amazon.com/s?k=the+book+of+greens+by+jenn+louis&crid

 

COZY CABBAGE and FARRO SOUPFront of the Flat Dutch Cabbage seed packet.

Serves 4

Notes: If you use savoy cabbage it will not take as long as green cabbage once it is added to the pot to steam.

  • 1 pound cabbage, savoy or green
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 sprig of rosemary or thyme
  • 1 tablespoon red wine or white wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup uncooked farro
  • About 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Shaved parmesan, to finish
  • Cut out the cabbage core and finely chop it. Cut the leaves into fine shreds or about 1/8-inch ribbons. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cabbage core, some salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to soften but is not yet browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, until the garlic softens too. Add the shredded cabbage leaves and herb sprig. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot and let it steam a bit to soften the leaves, then toss the cabbage to combine with other ingredients. Cook, covered, until the cabbage is very sweet and tender, which may take 30 minutes or as little as 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium and add the uncooked farro. Toast it, stirring, for a few minutes, until half a shade darker.

When the cabbage is ready, stir in the vinegar. Taste and season with more salt and pepper. Add toasted farro and stock. Bring mixture to a low simmer and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, until farro is tender and all the flavors are married. The soup will be very thick, but if you’d prefer more liquid, add another 1/2 cup stock. Taste and adjust seasoning again. Stir in lemon juice.

Ladle into bowls and finish each with a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of parmesan, with more parmesan passed at the table.

Soup keeps well in the fridge for 3 days and for much longer in the freezer.

 

RED CABBAGE COLESLAWPhoto of the Red Drumhead Cabbage seed packet.

Serves 4

Vinaigrette:

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh tarragon
  • ½ cup tarragon or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp dry white wine
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 TBL honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put all in a blender and blend for 1 minute.

Toss with:

  • 1 head shredded purple cabbage
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds

The vinaigrette will keep for 5 days and after prepared, the salad will keep for two days in an airtight container.

 

Here is a recipe from our blog “The Dirt” for Spicy Tofu Tacos with Cabbage Slaw from the kitchen of Michael Scott

and more on planting Cabbage and other uses, here.

 

DREAMING OF SPRING

Rows of Vegetables in a Garden.

By Engrid Winslow

Yes, it is still very cold and very dark but nothing fills the heart in the dead of winter than planning for spring. What should you be doing now that will keep those spirits up? Plan your vegetable and herb garden!

1. First of all, take a look at those vegetable and herb beds and decide what and how many varieties you want to plant next year. Do you want to start those peppers a bit earlier this year? Did you plant tomatoes there last year – rotate tomatoes every 3 years if at all possible to avoid depleted soil and issues with many diseases. What do you want to grow more of this year? Anything you want to try that’s new? What did you and your family really love? Want more tomatoes or basil for pesto or tomato sauce? [4 Tips For Keeping Your Basil Productive and Pesto Secrets] Were there any epic fails? Maybe it’s time to move on to buy those at your local Farmer’s Market and devote the precious real estate to something else.

2. Speaking of soil, this is a great time to start adding mushroom compost in a nice thick layer that can work its way into the soil during late winter freeze and thaw cycles and heavy periods of moisture. You can also cover the compost with a layer of seed-free straw that was grown organically.

3. Peruse the seed catalogs and websites. It is so fun to read those descriptions and they all sound wonderful but be aware of your space and climate when choosing seeds. Take stock of any seed that you saved from last year and organize and assess any leftover seed packets. Seed viability goes down over time. Onions, corn, parsnips, parsley and leeks should be refreshed every year, but tomatoes and lettuce can go 4-6 years and still germinate. Check out these charts if you have questions: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html/ and http://ottawahort.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Seed-Viability-Times.pdf/

4. Gather up your seed starting supplies and order more if needed. Dust off those grow lights, check the heat mats and make sure they still work and clean any seed starting containers that you plan to re-use with a weak bleach solution. Again, assess what worked and what didn’t in prior years. Did lettuce seeds that were direct-sown in the garden elude you? Try starting them indoors under a plastic dome which helps retain moisture until they are fully germinated.

5. Did friends and neighbors share anything they learned with you? Maybe it’s time to get everyone together for a Happy Hour, swap saved seeds and talk about their gardening experiences.

6. Review past blogs, books and articles that you might have saved for ideas, tips and new information. Here’s a good place to start: Care and Planting of Seedlings, Rules You Can’t Break, and Two Ways To Guarantee Your Seeds Grow

 

Saving Seed

by Rebecca Hansen

What are “heirloom” vegetables? An heirloom vegetable is a non-hybrid, open-pollinated variety that has been passed down from generation to generation and, in some cases, can be traced back hundreds of years.  These seed lines have been carefully selected to maintain uniformity and consistency for germination.  Heirloom seeds become ‘heirloom’ because they exhibit exceptional traits desired by the gardener.  Often this means the plants are more colorful, flavorful, unique, or have great germination and vigor.  Often the traits are location dependent.  Meaning, seeds planted in one garden will not produce in the same manner in another location.  We encourage you to try heirloom seeds, see which have the qualities for your area to become your favorites and make them into your own very special seed line.  Saving seeds is easy and fun.

Gardeners have found that as seeds are selected and saved over many years, production is increased and the quality is improved, creating plants that will produce best for that locale and will resist diseases and pests of that locale.  Contributing to genetic diversity strengthens the ecosystem. Historically farmers and local gardeners have created and sustained this rich genetic heritage by learning to save their own seeds from varieties that perform best in their own mini-ecosystems.  The current trend toward mono crops where only one seed type is used to produce a crop worldwide is eliminating the ability to be able to find genetic variations that will withstand emerging pathogens and climate changes.

Planting your crop:  Start with good Heirloom Seed varieties.  Keep in mind that to allow the plants to produce seed and to allow the seed to fully mature, you will have to allow for a longer growing season.  This can be done by starting plants indoors and arranging for protection from frost in the late season. You will be growing some for food or flower harvest and some for seed production.  Fully mature seeds will be viable (able to germinate) and produce vigorous plants.  You may want to do some research on the different flower types for proper pollination techniques and plant with row/species separation in mind, to prevent cross-pollination.  You may look into caging procedures to isolate species that are in flower at the same time.  By caging different plants on alternate days, you can take advantage of the pollinators to do the work without cross-pollinating your crop.  Cage one plant or group on one day and early the next day, before the bees wake, transfer your cage to a different plant or group.  Some crops are biennial and do not produce seed until the next year, so you will need to determine whether you should leave the roots in the ground over the winter or dig and store them.

There are many publications with detailed information on seed saving and growing techniques for each species.  “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth, 2002 by Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. is a good way to get started. www.seedsavers.org.  Also, Easy instructions for seed saving, written by the International Seed Saving Institute, a non-profit established to teach seed saving, can be found at:http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html

Harvesting and collecting seed:  When selecting plants for saving seeds, look for favorable characteristics such as; freeze and cold tolerance, heat tolerance, adaptability, winter hardiness, early maturation, vigor (strong germination and growth), flavor, color, size, texture, etc. Also, look for desirable traits such as; vine or plant type, seed type, specific disease resistance.  Plan to be ready to harvest the seed as they mature.  Often the pods will pop open when you are not around to collect the seed and it will be lost.

Allow the seed pods to remain on the plant in the ground for as long as possible.  Usually, the seed will not continue to mature after the pods are cut from the plant.  The process of cleaning and separating (thresh) the seeds from the chaff (pods and stems) is easy for a small home gardener.  Break apart the pods by crushing or breaking the pods and collecting the seed.  Sometimes the chaff can be blown away from the seed, by pouring the seed onto a pan in front of a small fan or by using cleaning screens that come with different sized openings.

 

The Essential Pollinator

 

Those pesky critters that buzz by, causing us to dance and flap our arms when we are outside, are far more than a mere annoyance.  We don’t give these tiny powerhouses the credit they are due.

Native pollinators such as bees, butterflies, flies, moths, beetles, and bats are essential for human survival but their populations are in a serious decline.  Our fuel, food, drugs, and fiber are directly and indirectly taken from plants that depend on pollinators for their existence.  Some have estimated that one out of every three to four mouthfuls of food we eat results from the actions of pollinators.  Pollinated crops contribute an estimated $20 billion to our economy each year.   Native pollinators control the healthy function of our natural ecosystem.  The documented decline of native pollinators, as well as that of the introduced European honeybee, concerns the scientific community.  This decline results from the fragmentation and destruction of native habitats which has reduced the food sources for many native pollinators.  The traditional corridors of nectar- and pollen-rich plant sources have been destroyed by development and changes in land use.  Isolated habitats are further degraded by non-native and invasive species.  Misuse of pesticides and the introduction of non-native pollinators have contributed to the extinction of many of our native species.

The bright side of this issue is that we can help our native pollinator populations by choosing to plant nectar- and pollen-rich vegetation species that are native to a specific area that will provide nutrition and cover.  Remember to include plants that provide food for the larval stage and also to provide a water source.  The flowering plants that are native to your area have co-evolved along with their pollinators to provide the perfect combination of petal shapes, fragrances, and colors for their mutual benefit.  Make sure to plant a variety of native plant species of mostly perennials to ensure an appropriate and dependable supply of nectar and pollen for the bees, butterflies and other pollinators throughout the spring, summer and fall.  Select nectar-rich species with clusters of brightly colored tubular florets and plant them in groupings rather than as individual plants.  Avoid cultivars of plants grown mainly to produce larger flowers as these often do not have the pollen or nectar that the pollinators require.  Bees are attracted to purple, blue, and yellow flowers and hummingbirds prefer red and orange flowers.  Try to include night blooming varieties to attract bats and nocturnal moths.  Use pesticides sparingly or not at all.  Have patience, most perennials will take one or two seasons, with good care, to bloom.

Thoughtful plantings, whether in pots and containers or backyard gardens and conservative, appropriate use of pesticides or better yet, an integrated pest management system, can create and establish a stable ecosystem that is pollinator friendly.

 

 

7 Stocking Stuffers Under $25 for Gardeners

by Sam Doll

Here are 7 must-have tools to keep in mind if you are looking for great garden gifts for your favorite gardener.

–Nisaku Japanese Hori Hori Garden Knife for 24.95 on amazon.com

Photo of a garden knife and sheath to give as a garden gift.

photo courtesy of Nisaku

 

These compact garden tools feature serrated and straight edges that are perfect for a variety of garden needs, including cutting back weeds at the root. They also feature handy measuring marks, so you know the exact depth when planting and sowing. Get this handy little tool for the gardener who can appreciate a tool that can get the job done!

 

Photo of tan leather gardening gloves.

Photo courtesy of Home Depot

–Leather Gardening Gloves for $10.98 at homedepot.com

 

Upgrade your favorite gardener’s glove game with some stylish and comfortable leather gloves. The more your green thumb works in these, the better they’ll fit! These pigskin gloves from Home Depot will last for years.

 

 

 

–Wildflower Seed Mixes from $5.79 at bbbseed.com

The front of the Monarch Rescue seed mix.

Wildflower mixes can provide season-long color and important forage for bees and butterflies. BBB Seed has a variety of regional and specialty wildflower seed mixes that will make any gardener, novice or expert, smile all season long!

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Gardening Knee Pads for $8.49 at amazon.com

Photo of green strap-on gardeners knee pads.

Photo courtesy of Fiskar’s

 

Save your friends knees with these waterproof and forgiving knee pads. These knee pads are designed specifically for getting your hands dirty in the backyard.

 

 

 

–Garden-Themed Jewelry from Etsy

Silver watering can earrings.

Photo courtesy of Glitterartijewellry.

 

 

A little costume jewelry can show a personal touch for someone you care about! We love how many cute, garden themed charms, pendants and earrings you can find on Etsy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Snips from $11.99 at Fiskars

Photo of gardener's snips.

Photo Courtesy of Fiskar’s

You can always use new snips. Especially nice ones from Fiskars.

 

 

 

 

–A BBB Seed Gift Card

Gift Card from BBB Seed.

 

 

Still don’t know what to get someone? Don’t worry about it. Just get them a gift card to bbbseed.com and they can get whatever they want!

 

Tools to be a Better Gardener

by Sandy Swegel Photo of the bbbseed $25 gift card.

Today I’ve been thinking about how the tools I use have made me a better gardener. I have spent a lot of money over the years on tools that break or tools that seemed clever but end up unused. I garden at least twenty hours a week for other people, so my tools need to be effective and efficient as well as durable. 

(Keep these in mind if you are trying to figure out a good holiday or birthday gift for a gardener friend or relative!  One of these and a great gift card for seeds is sure to be useful and welcome!)

My Must-Have Tools include:


Good Hand Pruners naturally. Felco pruners are great if you can afford them. A sharp edge is the more important feature of a hand pruners and you need a high-end pruner that does have cheapo soft metal that dulls the first time you use it. I like Felcos, but Corona and Fiskars both have high-end pruners that are good. For my use, I need a replaceable blade because no matter how much you sharpen, at some point you need a fresh blade. I have hand pruners in two sizes…a smaller pair for perennial maintenance because they are lighter weight and a larger pair for shrubs, roses and trees. Last year Costco had a great deal on a generic version of Felcos in a two-pack.

A Soil Knife. The original name of this tool was a hori-hori knife and my first one came right fromSoil knife with orange handle Japan. Now I like the bright orange soil knife from AM Leonard. The plastic resin handle holds up better than wood and the bright orange is easier to find when I lose it. You have to be careful of the extremely sharp edges (one side serrated and one side flat) but this is my combo trowel, weed digger, shovel, tool for dividing perennials etc.
Pruning loppersFiskars Power Gear Bypass Lopper 15 or 18 inches. I love the Fiskars PowerGear line. They really do give you more power per effort than any other lopper. I use the smaller loppers the most because they are lightweight and because they fit more easily between dense branches.

Black and Decker cordless (18V) sweeper. They don’t call this a vac because it’s not strong enough for big piles of leaves…but it ‘s the perfect quick cleanup at the end of working in the garden whetherCordless Yard Sweeper you’re “sweeping” a path or blowing debris lightly off of rock mulch. I also use it to sweep my kitchen floor. Sawsall pruning blade

Milwaukee Sawzall pruning blade. This vicious jagged blade is one of the secret weapons that let me do the work of your average 20-year-old male landscaper. Perfect for cutting trees or cutting right in the soil through old roots.

Mini Shovel and Mini Mattock Pickaxe. OK, laugh if you want, my friends do….but then they goMini Pickaxe out and get these mini tools when they see how much work they let me do. They are the same tools the aforementioned 20-year olds use in full-sized versions, but lightweight enough for me to use without ruining my rotator cuff, a common gardening injury. I use both while kneeling in the soil up close and personal to my job. Don’t get a wussy camping pick or a garden pick made of thin metal…get the real thing in the hardware store.

Those tools and a colorful TubTrug or two, (those bendable colorful garden buckets that are worth every nickel) and you’ll find yourself able to work faster and stronger in the garden without trying too hard.

Orange garden trug

 

Seed Hoarders

Chipmunk sitting on a sunflower head eating seeds.

photo courtesy of pixabay -evitaochel

Thank goodness that “Hoarders” TV show doesn’t ever focus on seed hoarders. Gardeners who are very tidy and organized and otherwise not people who collect or hoard things can secretly have boxes full of seed from years and years of saving.  Sometimes the seeds are gifts from friends, or seeds ordered because you forgot you has some left over and bought more or just surplus seeds from generous seed packages. I knew my seed habit was getting out of hand once I started collecting seed myself – now I have paper bags full of saved seeds and had to move from the tiny shoebox to a big box.

This year, I’ve come up with a way to use those old seeds without feeling too guilty…and I’ll save some money, too.  Early Fall is the traditional time to put in cover crops…seeds that will germinate and grow some but die back with a freeze or simply be chopped down and turned into the soil to replenish it in the Spring.  Cover crops get lots of organic matter into the soil without much trouble. But there’s no reason you have to use an official “cover crop.”  The idea is just young plants that get chopped up and mixed in with the soil. This year, I decided to turn some of my seed hoards to cover my garden soil this winter. (Let’s not be ridiculous and use all those good seeds.)

So as I have clear patches of the garden after harvesting, I’m going to remove the big debris, lightly rake the soil and sprinkle out old and gathered seed.  Many of the old seeds won’t germinate but there’s enough that will make a good protective cover.  And as long as you PROMISE to turn the cover crop in before perennials establish themselves, you can even include old packets of grass seed.

My cover crop won’t be as cute as when I put in just winter rye and get a nice even green lawn effect….but it will be great fun to guess what is what!

My hoarded cover crop this year includes:

Years of half-used radish seeds, hybrid tomato seeds from 1996, leftover lawn patch seeds that got wet in the bag, cabbage seeds I forgot about and never gave garden space too, dill, cilantro, caraway and fennel seeds collected from previous years gardens, hollyhocks collected from alleyways. Lots of black-eyed susans, marigolds and cosmos.  While I’m on the seed purge, I’m cleaning out the kitchen pantry and throwing in old spices (coriander, dill, mustard seed) and old whole wheat berries that have bugs, or old beans I’ll never like. Talk about recycling!

You can decide which seeds are iffy by checking out this list of lifespans of vegetable seeds:

http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html

Phew. Now that I understand which seeds will happily last until next year, I can order from the End of Year Seed Sale and have good viable fresh seed to save in my seed box for next Spring.

 

What Is Green Manure?

By Engrid WinslowBlooms of Alsike Clover.

So, you’ve heard of cover crops, right?  Green Manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while it is still green and alive.  There are many different types of plants that are used as cover crops but are most commonly peas, clovers, vetch, rye, oats, buckwheat, barley and mustard. Always trim them back before tilling in and before they go to seed. This green plant matter provides a burst of microbial life to the soil which is important in enriching your vegetable or flower beds in the spring. Different types of cover crops provide different benefits to the soil ranging from:

 

  • Preventing soil erosion
  • Stabilizing soil temperatures
  • Reducing water loss
  • Reducing weeds
  • Fixing soil nitrogen (peas and vetch)
  • Providing habitat and food for pollinators (clover, vetch and buckwheat)
  • Accumulating phosphorus in the soil
  • Reducing nutrient loss during the winter

 

When choosing a cover crop you should be aware that some form deep roots (i.e. rye) and can be more difficult to till into the soil.  Peas, barley and oats are much easier to work into your beds and never, ever let vetches go to seed or you will have a rampant weed on your hands.

 

A great time to plant cover crops also occurs in the fall after the first hard freeze and you have pulled out all those dead tomato and cucumber plants. Check out our Green Manure which contains a great mixture of peas, two types of vetch, rye and oats. You’ll be giving your soil something to do over the winter. Gardeners have become more aware in recent years that there are microbes living in the soil all year round. They have a symbiotic relationship with plant roots and need them to stay alive.

Package of Green Manure Seed Mix.

 

 

Tomato Staking 101

by Heather StoneTomato plant in a cage for support.

 The ways in which to support tomatoes are as varied as the gardeners who grow them. Staking your tomatoes is important for many reasons. Keeping your plants upright and off the ground helps keep not only insects and critters at bay but can prevent many tomato diseases as well. Click here to check out our comprehensive guide to tomato diseases. Staking maximizes growing space, makes harvesting easier and keeps the garden looking tidy. Here is a little information about three different methods you can use to successfully stake your tomatoes.

Tomato plant supported by a cage.

Cages

Caging tomatoes is an easy and efficient way for the home gardener to support tomatoes. Store bought cages come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. The smaller cages are more appropriate for determinate tomato varieties which are more compact in size averaging around 3-4’ tall. The larger cages will best suit the large, sprawling indeterminate varieties which can range in height from 6-12’.

 

You can make your own tomato cages too. Hardware stores sell rolls of wire fencing or mesh that when cut in 5’x5’sections can be rolled into a circular cage and placed over the plant. This is best done while the plants are still small. Pin the ends together with wire or zip ties and anchor the cage into the ground with stakes. Make sure your grid openings are at least four inches in diameter. This will make pruning and harvesting a breeze. These cages are sturdy and will last for years.

Tomato plant supported by a section of wire fence.

Stakes

Staking tomatoes is also an effective way to support your tomatoes. This method simply requires driving a stake into the ground near the plant and tying the plant up the stake as it continues to grow. To avoid any root damage, place stakes in the ground before planting or when plants are still young.

For indeterminate tomato varieties, stakes should be at least 7 feet tall and driven a good foot into the ground. This will keep the stake from tumbling over with the weight of the plant. Stakes can be wood, plastic, metal or made from salvaged materials. When tying up your tomatoes, it is best done loosely and with a soft material. I like to use old t-shirts cut into strips.

The Florida Weave

http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/supporting-cast-for-tomatoes.aspx

In the Florida or basket weave technique you are essentially sandwiching your tomato plants between two walls of twine. This technique works best when you are planting in rows. Begin by placing one stake at the end of each row, or space stakes every 3- 4’ apart for longer rows. Drive stakes into the ground at least one foot deep. Next, tie your twine to your end stake about 8-10” from the ground. Pull the twine past one side of your tomatoes to the front of the next stake. Loop the twine around the back of the stake and pull tight. Keeping the string taught continue down the row until you reach your last stake. Tie off at the last stake. Now, loop back the other direction until you are back where you started. Tie the twine to the first stake. As your tomatoes grow you will need to add another layer of twine about every 6-8” to keep the plants upright.

Check out this video demonstrating the Florida or basket weave technique.