Spring Peas And Twining Vines

More Peaceful Peas Please

I’m currently living in a second story apartment, waiting for a home in an affordable housing community to open up. It’s a very well laid out apartment but I’m really missing being able to walk out the door and poke around in my garden. Thus, I was delighted to be offered some space in a large fenced plot nearby, where I can plant a little something. I’m starting with peas and greens, compatible cool weather crops that don’t mind chilly nights and wildly variable days.  Since I gave away all my plant supports when I moved, I’m propping my peas with stout sticks and twiggy branches. I especially love curly, crunchy pea tendrils in salads and stir fries, so I grow several varieties bred by Alan Kapuler and his family for their companies, Peace Seeds and Peace Seedlings.

Peace Seedlings is Northwestern partnership dedicated to saving seeds of diversity and breeding public domain plants for organic growers (including Log House Plants). Peace Seedlings continues the work of Alan and Linda Kapuler’s Peace Seeds, co-founders of Seeds of Change and holders of a seed bank of about 1,000 varieties. The two seed companies share growing space and work cooperatively, each following their own particular interests with shared goals of creating true seed strains of delicious, nutritious food crops. One favorite Peace people project has been to develop a rainbow of peas, with flowers and pods in every shade possible. I first grew their Sugar Magnolia snap peas for the gorgeous reddish purple pods as well as the plump, tender peas. Knowing it was also Jerry Garcia’s favorite just makes it that much sweeter. Since then, I’ve discovered a wealth of Peaceful peas, and still haven’t figured out my own favorite.

Green Beauty & Peanut Butter?

Green Beauty Snow-Snap peas are sometimes called snow-snaps because the hand-sized pods are so crisp and succulent. Breeders Dylana Kapuler and Mario DiBenedetto fill the pods with peanut butter, but I like them stuffed with soft goat cheese mashed with minced herbs (lemon thyme and green onions is especially tasty). The pods are excellent in stir fries and salads and make a lovely garnish for spring pea soup, as do the crisp, crunchy peavine tendrils. Green Beauty is definitely a strong contender for best ever snow pea, and the peas are lovely too, should any manage to ripen before we eat all the pods. The vines get 26-32″ tall and need a little support (a cage is perfect).

Magnolia Blossom is another Kapuler snap pea, a tall (8-10 foot) beauty that definitely needs sturdy support. The beautiful blossoms boast warm lavender banners, ruby wings, and burgundy keels, while the jade green pods may be softly striped in purple or rose. The juicy peas are a fresh green and plump pods can be sliced and stir fried or tucked into salads and wraps. A sister snap pea, Spring Blush, is similar in size and vigor, with softly tinted bicolor blossoms and green pods blushed with rose and pink. Spring Blush is also an awesome producer of those tender crisp twirly bits I’, crazy about. It’s what Dr. Kapuler calls a hypertendril pea, meaning that it produces hundreds of twining curly tendrils on each vine. That makes Spring Blush especially easy to support and fabulous for filling the salad bowl.

Tell Me Why The Peavine Twines

Several shelling peas are also generous tendril producers, notably Feisty and Sandy, large podded varieties with fat, sweet peas. Their vines are less leafy than most, but those active tendrils do a fine job of supporting them and the big pods show up well against the lacy vines. Masterpiece peas offer curly, frilled tendrils as well as plump, flavorful peas on compact vines that grow well in large containers. While some tendril-rich peas are multi-purpose, the adorably frizzy Petite Snap Greens is all about the delicious, tender-crisp tendrils, shoots, and flowers. The actual peas are ok, but if you harvest the tendrils and tops every few days, their quality will remain terrific until hot weather takes them down.

The Sweetness Of The First Peas

Crisp, crunchy and delectably sweet, snowpeas rarely make it into real recipes at my house since they tend to get eaten right off the vine. However, I have a few special recipes that set off the best qualities of early peas and they have become family spring classics. As a student in Italy, many, many years ago, I fell in love with a spring dish called Risi Bisi. Basically, it involves hot, fluffy rice with a spunky sauce of clotted cream, garlic greens, mint, lots of pepper, and tender young peas, barely cooked.

If you grow garlic, you can harvest some of the sturdy foliage, which look like green straws. The flowering tips are prized by cooks for garnish, and whole stems, flowerhead and all, also get chopped into stir fries and sauteed dishes. If you don’t grow garlic, you can use garlic chives, or even regular chives, though they are not quite as pungent. Don’t harvest too many greens off any single garlic plant, since plants need their foliage to support the fattening bulbs. Garlic chives or regular chives can be snipped with scissors, and there’s no worry about harming the plant (at least, I’ve never managed to kill chives yet).

Italian Risi Bisi

1 cup raw rice (jasmine or short grain brown)
2 cups shelled young peas (about 1 pound)
2 sprigs minced fresh spearmint (or any mint)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic chives
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 dried hot pepperoncino pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup clotted or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 chive blossoms

Cook rice according to directions on packet. When rice is ready, heat the oil and dried pepper in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat until lightly brown on all sides. Discard pepper, add peas, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 minutes. Add minced herbs and cook for 1 minute. Stir in cream, reduce heat to low and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper, spoon over hot rice and serve, garnished with chive blossoms. Serves four.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Crispy Or Riced, Cauliflower Rocks

Saucy Or Steamed or Sauteed…

My kitchen staples include quite a few vegetables, starting with the mirepoix must-haves of onions, celery, and carrots. My veggie bin usually contains a few leeks, and there’s always a head or two of garlic by the stovetop. Next come the cole family kin, from broccoli and cabbage to kale and cauliflower, which last I find irresistible. Sound weird? Those concerned with health recognize the cole clan as excellent anti-inflammatory aids and (probably) the highest natural source of cancer-fighting phenolic compounds. If plain green or white vegetables seem boring, look for purple and orange variations, each of which offers extra nutrients associated with its color. Besides, they taste terrific.

Um, really? Yes indeed, especially if not cooked to slimy mush. Lightly steamed, quickly sauteed, or roasted to succulent crispness, the coles earn a place on plates in some of the trendiest restaurants on the world. Yotam Ottolenghi, creator of some of the vegetable kingdom’s most delectable eye candy (also exceptionally delicious) dresses purple sprouting broccoli with an incredible dry green curry blend that would make cardboard taste fabulous. His Saffron Cauliflower is a sumptuous dish of baked cauliflower-and-saffron tossed with olives, golden raisins, and red onion. In my kitchen, the coles tend to end in up lively fresh slaws and spicy stir fries, though my favorite way to delight in cauliflower is roasted to golden brown crispness that contrasts perfectly with the creamy insides.


Those colorful cabbages and cauliflowers owe nothing to genetic engineering (as in they’re not GMO constructs). Instead, they are the product of patient tinkering by hybridizers who carefully hand bred selected colorful forms found in the field as chance variations. The results are beautiful, from cheerful orange cauliflowers like Orange Burst, with curds the vivid color of ripe cheddar cheese. Orange Burst is lovely on the plate and palate (it holds its color nicely when cooked), and boasts a bonus of beta-carotene, thanks to its bright coloring. Pinky-purple De Purple cauliflower and bolder Purple Graffiti both owe their tints and nutritional zip to natural anthocyanins, the antioxidants that make blueberries blue.

Sometimes sold as broccoli, heritage Italian romanesco cauliflower is indeed a kissing cousin, that distinctive swirling shape and rich flavor marking the transition of one vegetable into the next. (This blending is a bit like plums and cherries, which are so closely related that’s it’s sometimes difficult to suss out which a given fruit really is.) Veronica a striking Romanesco type with jade green curds. Broken into starburst-tipped spears, it makes a beautiful garnish or an elegant side dish, drizzled with a spritely spring herb sauce. If you haven’t tried stick cauliflower yet, plant a row of Fioretto 60 and prepare to play. This fascinating variation offers beautiful, long-stemmed florets that wouldn’t look amiss in a floral arrangement. The creamy curds atop the fresh green stems are great for dipping and very pretty on a veggie plate. Sweeter than headed cauliflowers, the crunchy stems can be stir fried with sesame oil, garlic and ginger, or tossed as is into salads.

Transformational Cookery

If you’ve always considered cauliflower to be dull, a new cooking technique could change your mind. Personally, I find that cauliflower tastes best when lightly steamed, quickly sizzled in hot oil with shallots or garlic, or roasted into caramelized sweetness, and horrid when boiled or baked to sludge. If raw cauliflower doesn’t thrill you, try lightly steamed florets with pesto yum sauce (much like hummus), Tuscan bean spread, or soft goat cheese mashed with fresh thyme and minced kalamata olives. After roasting, toss cauliflower with sea salt or chili or curry powder, or try nutritional yeast and lemon-pepper. Sprigs of crisply roasted cauliflower also make a great garnish or change-of-pace topping for casseroles, replacing crunched up chips or bread crumbs.

Steamed cauliflower is admittedly a tad tame, so drizzle it with a blood orange vinaigrette and toasted coconut flakes or flax seeds. Riced cauliflower makes a splendid (and very low-cal, if you care) substitute for rice or pasta and partners pleasingly with any savory sauce you wish to try. Thin slices of purple or golden cauliflower add crunch and color sandwiches and wraps a well as raw salads. Roasted with avocado oil and a little sea salt, cauliflower one of my most comforting suppers for one. Broaden those culinary horizons, play around a bit and before you know it, cauliflower will be your new go-to veg.

Irresistible Cauliflower Cakes

Crispy Cauliflower Cakes With Capers and Lime

1 large head cauliflower, cut in florets (about 8 cups)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Asiago cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour OR rice flour
1 tablespoon avocado oil
2 tablespoons butter
juice of 1/2 lime, rind grated
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Steam cauliflower until tender (5-7 minutes). Mash, cool, and stir in salt, eggs, green onions and cheese if using. Form into 8 balls then pat into flat cakes about half an inch tall. Dip into flour to cover lightly and set aside. Heat oil in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat and cook cakes until crisp, turning once (4-6 minutes per side). Remove to a warm plate and add butter to the pan. When melted, add lime juice, capers and paprika and salt to taste, then spoon over cakes. Serves 4 as an entree.

Riced Cauliflower

Light and delicate, riced cauliflower brings our the best in sauces, and can replace pasta or rice. It can also be used instead of mashed potatoes atop a shepherd’s pie.

Quick Riced Cauliflower

1 whole head cauliflower, cut in florets
1 tablespoon avocado oil or unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Steam cauliflower for 5-6 minutes then press through a ricer into a serving bowl. Gently stir in oil or butter and salt, set aside and serve with Spring Garlic sauce, sauteed mushrooms, or any savory sauce you prefer.

The Surprising Sweetness Of Young Garlic

When newly harvested, garlic has a sweetness that mellows its bite. If you don’t grow garlic chives, use fresh garlic greens from your spring-planted crop.

Spring Garlic Sauce

1/4 cup toasted almonds
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 organic lemon, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons pitted, chopped brine-cured olives
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon stemmed thyme
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
2 tablespoons minced garlic chives

In a food processor or blender, grind almonds to a coarse paste. Add garlic, lemon and olives and again grind to a coarse paste. Add oil, parsley, thyme, salt and paprika and puree for 3-5 seconds. Stir in minced chives and serve at room temperature. Makes about 1 cup. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.


Posted in Early Crops, Genetic Engneering, Nutrition, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

What’s For Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner?

Plant A Little Extra; Better Yet, Plant A Lot

All across our beleaguered, beloved country, food banks are proliferating, most of them feeding upwards of a thousand people each week, some in urban areas feeding that many a day. The maritime Northwest is no different; Seattle alone has several dozen food banks and pantries, some general, others serving specific populations with specific dietary requirements (Asian and Pacific Islanders, for instance). While a few food banks require photo ID (who knows why?) and proof of a current address (third box on the left under the overpass?), most places figure that if you need food, you are welcome, no proof required. That’s good because today, over 41 million Americans are “food insecure”, meaning they don’t get enough food on a regular basis and often don’t know where the next meal might come from, or if it’s coming at all.

And who are these hungry people? While some are homeless, the majority are working people with homes and families and often multiple jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the cost of living. In 2014, fully a quarter of military families relied on food banks to keep children fed and if anything, that number is rising. Campuses are reporting a food crisis for students whose resources don’t stretch to cover both tuition and nutrition, let alone shelter. Overall, one in seven Americans gets significant amounts of dietary needs met through food bank assistance. In Seattle, the Ballard Food bank fed 26,00 families during the 2008 crash, but in 2016, when the local economy was back in boom mode, they served 40,000 families. In Oregon, 14.6% or over 550,000 people lack food security and rely on food banks. In the Bay Area of California, the Second Harvest food bank now feeds over a quarter of a million people each month.

How Can We Help?

During WWII, families all over the country raised Victory gardens to increase food security at home and free up food for our troops. These days, our wars don’t affect our daily lives much unless we have family and friends in the military or in war ravaged countries. However, food security is a bigger issue than ever, especially since our increasing urban populations rarely have space to grow food or raise chickens, as many Americans still did in the 1940s. Those of us who do have garden space can definitely help feed our neighbors in need by growing an extra row or two. If we have room, we might even double our plots and grow a lot more than we might for our own use.

And what is needed? Fresh produce is always the first thing to run short in food banks. Greens, vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers are all expensive treats for anyone whose limited budget is largely taken up with housing and medical expenses. While well off folks spend about 30% of their income on housing, those of us with less money may spend 40-50% or more. Add in skyrocketing medical expenses and it’s easy to see why fresh food is all too rare in all too many homes. The good news, of course, it that we gardeners can clearly make a difference there.

Food For Our Neighbors

Knowing that children and oldies make up a large percentage of our hungry compatriots, why not grow some extra fruit? Berries of all kinds are highly recommended by medical practitioners but fresh fruit is expensive at the grocery store. Shared strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, apples and pears will build health and wellbeing in our community. Tomatoes are America’s favorite backyard crop, beloved as well by the landless. Growing a few extra heavy producers will let you take boxes of ripe tomatoes to the nearest food bank, where they will be eagerly awaited. Greens of all kinds are also in great demand; at our neighborhood community dinners, salads are especially popular and any leftovers are always packed up to take home. Lots of us freeze our extra produce, but we don’t all actually get around to using it up. If your freezer is still full of last year’s rhubarb, take some of this year’s to the food bank. Add a few bunches of parsley, some rosemary, a little thyme and oregano while you’re at it. Fresh herbs can do more for simple food than any packaged “helper” mix and fresh herbs are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients that packaged foods utterly lack.

If you enjoy human contact, consider volunteering for a weekly shift at your local food bank as well. Getting to know your neighbors and seeing which foods are taken first can give you an excellent sense of what to plant. If you, like me, have that need-to-feed gene, helping or hosting regular community meals might be even more pleasurable. Here on Bainbridge Island, local churches offer terrific dinners for the last week of each month, when money runs short and food can get scanty. In season, we like to put our fresh food to take home as well as sending home any leftovers. If that sounds fun (it sure is), find out which local churches serve free meals in your part of the world and take your extra produce there, or better yet, sign up to serve at a meal and take along a big pot of soup made with your own garden vegetables.

Make A Plan

It’s a good idea to plan out the planting of your extra crops, so they don’t arrive all at once. When growing for yourself and others, plant on a staggered basis; sow a few feet of lettuce every other week, and keep root crops like carrots, potatoes, and beets coming by sowing early, midseason, and late varieties. Follow early and late peas with beans to be eaten fresh and dried. Extend cool weather crops like spinach, cabbage, chard, and kale with heat-tolerant types, planted where they’ll receive afternoon shade.

To reduce repetitive chores (as in feeding, weeding, and watering), apply deep (3-4 inch) mulches of mature compost to each bed while the earth is still damp. For extra strong roots, bury 4-6 inches of each tomato plant’s main stem. Give vegetable crops an initial feeding of a mild (5-5-5), balanced fertilizer. Follow up every three weeks with a booster feed of fish emulsion and liquid kelp. Gross feeders like tomatoes and peppers want lots of feeding early in the season, but for best flavor, taper off both food and water by August.

Remember The Pollinators

To ensure good crops, plant long blooming annuals between the clusters or rows and along the ends and edges of each bed. Among my favorite pollinator-attracters are sweet alyssum, calendulas, marigolds, and any kind of herb. Year after year, I’ve noticed tons of bees and many other pollinators drinking deep on rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, fennel and dill, so I always include those easy going herbs in any edible planting. Naturally, since you want to keep those pollinators alive, never use any kind of sprays intended to wipe out pesky insects or diseases when bees or other pollinators are present. Even organic pesticides can harm bees and other beneficial insects if they take a direct hit or visit sprayed crops too soon after an application, which is bad news if we want a good crop set. Onward!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Friendly Fungi To The Rescue

Contamination Reparation

This year, just when spring seemed to be drawing near, winter has made a few surprise comebacks. Even in the middle of March, sudden snow flurries interrupted a warming trend that had gardeners out in happy droves. Finally, spring seems to be creeping closer for real. As so often happens, a lingering winter makes for a rushed spring and suddenly it feels like it’s almost too late for chores put off because of cold weather. However, it’s a bit of a jumble out there, as day-length sensitive plants continue on their usual growth schedule while temperature-sensitive plants are still waiting warily in tight bud or lingering dormancy.

At the library, we’re having a massive renovation of a bed long plagued by residues from a former car repair shop on what’s now the site of our largest border. Cool, overcast weather is ideal for such a venture, but no sooner had we dug out all the plants and arrayed them on a tarp than out came the sun, with surprising warmth. We hastily rigged a tarp tent over the poor naked plants as we scattered a restorative mixture of sawdust and wood shavings and remedial fungi blended for us by the wizards at Fungi Perfecti (www.fungi.com). Led by genius Paul Stamets, these amazing people specialize in all sorts of ingenious applications for fungi, including remediation of soil contaminated by petroleum products.

Mushroom Magic

Perhaps best known among gardeners as the leading source for kits for growing edible mushrooms, Fungi Perfecti is also the place to look for help for beleaguered bee colonies. Since 2014, Paul Stamets has been working with entomologist Dr. Steve Sheppard, head of the Washington State University APIS Molecular Systematics Laboratory, exploring ways in which specific fungi may prove beneficial for honey bees. So far, for example, they’ve found that worker bees resist viral diseases and live longer when fed extracts of certain polypore mushrooms, perhaps in part because such extracts provide B vitamins and a wider range of phytochemicals, micronutrients, and myconutrients than the simple sugar syrups bees are usually fed. Another research effort involves introducing a fungal insect pathogen (Metarhizium spp.) to hives infested with Varroa mites. Bees easily groom away the fungal parasites, which prey heavily on the Varroa mites. Check the website for ongoing information about this and other fascinating fungal projects.

April Garden Warm Ups For Couch Potatoes

After a day of digging, I for one am definitely feeling at least a little of the daunting effects of age. I know I’m not alone, since at the first hint of spring, we gardeners all start bustling around, digging here, pulling up weeds there, carting bales of straw or bags of compost. Before we know it, the tweaks and twinges begin and by the next day, at least some of us will be too sore to walk properly. This year, instead of rushing out unprepared, take a little time to get yourself back in shape before attempting a full-on gardening day.

Here’s a great way to start you off on the right foot: First of all, find a place with safe footing and plenty of room for outstretched arms. Put on comfortable shoes and clothing that doesn’t bind. Next, holding a 5-pound potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try for 30 seconds and work up to a full minute over the next few days. The following week, up your game by using 10-pound potato bags. Gradually work your way up to 20 pound bags, then go for the gold and see if you can manage 50 pound bags. Once you’re confident in your new abilities, put a potato in each bag and take it from there.

Here’s A Real Stretch

While April traditionally starts with silliness, it’s quite true that warm ups will boost your garden performance and leave you less achy later. Years ago, when arthritis cramped my style, the gentle stretching and slow movements of tai chi helped me get back in the garden. Whether you practice tai chi or simply work on stretching and balancing each day, it can make a dramatic difference. Just walking attentively, shifting weight through the feet, dropping the center of balance, keeping the lower back open, all work to restore some suppleness to stiffening backs and knees. I especially appreciate my balance practice when I have to bend, stoop, crouch or kneel, and even more when I pry myself up again. I can also highly recommend practicing a straight-backed squat rather than kneeling. Keeping your spine straight and elongated helps counteract the spinal compression caused by excess sitting time. (Who, me?)

To prevent soreness, warm up all your joints before gardening. A few minutes of Saturday warmups can pay off all week! Start with 10 neck rolls, avoiding the backward position (tilt an ear to your shoulder, tuck your chin on your chest, then roll the other ear to its shoulder). Next, circle both shoulders 10 times, forwards and backwards. Raise your arms and rotate them at shoulder height 10 times in each directions. Now, with your arms at your sides, lightly clench your hands and circle your wrists 10 times forwards and backwards, then squeeze and release your hands 10 times. Shake out your hands lightly; they should tingle just a bit. To loosen the waist, do 10 hip circles in each direction (like using a hula hoop). Shake out each leg for a few seconds and jump almost-but-not-quite off the ground on both feet together 10 times. Gently shake out your hands and arms again for 5 seconds. After all that, you should feel brisk and warm, with all joints loosened up and ready for action. Onward!


Posted in Garden Prep, Pollinators, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment