Tag Archives: greens

kayajudanelson-4

Tales of Pigweed

This week Kaya Juda Nelson writes about her work as an apprentice at Garden City Harvest’s Youth Farm, run in partnership with Youth Homes. After spending her freshman year at Boston University, a semester of her sophomore year in South America, and a semester of her senior year campaigning with a climate action organization in Denver, Kaya graduated from the University of Montana with high honors in Environmental Studies and a minor in Climate Change Studies. For the past year and a half, Kaya has also been part of a bluegrass band, Local Yokel, in which she plays the fiddle, banjo, writes, and sings. Here’s Kaya: 

We choose to farm because it connects us with our environment and offers a relationship to the cycles of the seasons. Farming feels great as we work our bodies and work the earth under the sun, in the rain, feeling the wind against our faces.  But even more than the connection to place and weather, this season working at the Youth Farm has affirmed my favorite relationship brought about by farming: the relationship with food.

After a morning of weeding and thinning the carrots or harvesting salad mix (a sometimes tedious and time-consuming task), a trio of young adults from various Missoula youth homes and an adult staff member (often myself) break to make the lunch for our 10-20 person crew.

We learn how to properly cook rice and lentils, what you can do with the abundance of radishes, how delicious raw kohlrabi can be, and the fact that cucumbers should never, ever, ever, under any circumstance be cooked. The first days we cook lunch I hear:

“I hate veggies”

“there’s no meat?!?”

“are we seriously eating this for lunch?”

By the end of the first meal, we have converted most of the youth into veggie lovers. I remember getting excited about having agency in the food I ate when I was in high school. Now, watching that agency develop in these adolescent faces as we make lunches each day, I relive it myself. Carrots and onions are chopped with confidence and chard is discovered to shrink when you cook it and sometimes the stir fries are too salty and sometimes the beets are horribly crunchy but the food education is palpable.

Zayne arranging CSA boxesAs you all may have read in Genevieve’s post, Zayne, one of our youth employees tells the story of discovering kale at a mobile market stand while living at the Council Groves apartments. He proudly declares himself as the kale kid, and always asks for an extra bunch to take back to the Tom Roy youth home where he lives, located adjacent to the farm. When his mother or grandmother is in town for a visit, he begs to take them a bouquet of the hearty leafy green. I see part of this as a simple fact that kale is delicious and has become nutritionally notorious both in the local and the mainstream food world, but you can also see Zayne’s pride in his cultivation of his favorite crop and his desire to share a tangible fruit of his labor.

The CSA is the other venue in which the Youth Farm employees have a chance to shine and pass along their thoughts and opinions on produce to the roughly 60 CSA members that come to collect their share each week. For a few weeks in late June, we offered pigweed in our CSA share. Yes, this is a weed that we harvest for our customers. We constantly battle pigweed as it grows rampant through the farm. When we learned from a visting Greek that it is delicious cooked in olive oil and lemon, we made lemons out of lemonade and added it to our CSA offerings.

Pigweed is amazingAs Zayne greeted the CSA customers that week with a giant box of pigweed, he spun the story of the Greek farmer into a personal tale of meeting this man and together sharing the delights of pigweed. This pitch was mostly fabricated, but Zayne encouraged our CSA customers to try this leafy weed with an unappetizing name in such a spirited and hilarious way, it didn’t matter whether it was factual. It was about a connection with this crop and with the CSA members.

We work with groups of young adults that have come from wide-ranging and diverse backgrounds, but who are all living in the Missoula Youth Homes. These teenagers are navigating the difficulties of adolescence, while living in homes that are not their own, and while I wish I could say that the farm provides a fairy tale solution, but I can’t. But when the rusty steel triangle that serves as a lunch bell is rung and the giant cast-iron pan of bok-choy is brought to the table, it is evident that change and connection are happening in ways I’m not always aware of, and the effort, joy, and learning put into the meals we share out here in the sun and rain and wind provides a sense of ownership and accomplishment for the employees of the Youth Farm.

Zayne and the Greek Farmer’s Pigweed

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb fresh pigweed
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 T olive oil  salt to taste

Instructions

Heat olive oil in a pan and add pigweed (whole, not chopped).  Add lemon juice and stir until all the pigweed is covered with oil and lemon juice. Cover the pigweed until it has wilted slightly, then uncover and cook off any liquid that has accumulated. Add salt to taste. Enjoy!

ingredients

Savory Bread Pudding for Dinner

Savory bread pudding is a special occasion dish I use for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The prep is time-consuming and the cooking time a tad long, 90 minutes, but the results are worth the effort. This is a dish my children ask for again and again. It’s also a great centerpiece to a brunch buffet for friends and family.

I typically use fresh garden vegetables, but, in the winter, frozen vegetables work fine too. Be sure to thaw and drain frozen veggies before using. Be creative and combine meats and vegetables you like. The recipe is forgiving as long as you don’t add too much liquid to the ingredients.

Savory Bread Pudding

Ingredients and instructions:

1 loaf crusty French bread (baguette), cubed

12 eggs

2 cups milk (Skim, 2%, Whole, or even Soy Milk will work)

Beat the eggs and milk together. Set aside.

The three ingredients above are essential. The list below can vary and I’ve offered suggestions.

1 lb Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled into small bits (or ham, chopped small or other sausage)

1 medium onion, chopped and cooked (cook with the meat)

4 cloves garlic, chopped fine and cooked with the meat and onion

1 bunch of Swiss Chard (or kale, or collard greens, or 3-4 cups of spinach) roughly chopped. If using kale or collard greens, remove the stems. With the Swiss chard, you can include the stems. Thinly slice the Swiss chard stem that extends below the leaf.

1 bunch asparagus, chopped (or 2 cups chopped fresh green beans)

1 zucchini (small to medium, the size usually in stores) seeded and chopped

Optional:  1-2 cups sliced Japanese eggplants, salted, rinsed, and drained

2 cups grated cheese (Swiss, cheddar, parmesan, or whatever you have on-hand)

Place Swiss chard, asparagus, and zucchini (and eggplant if using) in a large bowl and microwave for 2-3 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften but are not cooked all the way through.chard

1 cup fresh mixed herbs: sage, basil, dill, marjoram, oregano (or whatever you can find). Mince herbs together. Dill and sage will be strong flavors so only use a little of each. If you can’t find fresh herbs, just add 1 tablespoon of Italian herb mix or even a tablespoon of Mrs. Dash no-salt spice mix.ingredients

Add the minced herbs and 1 cup of the grated cheese to the microwaved vegetables and stir.ingredients-2

Mix vegetables, cheese and herbs with the meat and onions and the cubed bread and put in a large, buttered, baking dish (a lasagna pan is perfect). Pour the egg and milk mixture over the bread mixture. The ingredients should be just covered by the eggs and milk. You may need to add more or even not use all the eggs and milk you mixed up.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour and thirty minutes. Set your timer for 60 minutes. When the timer goes off, add the remaining 1 cup of cheese to the top of the pudding. Cook for another thirty minutes. The pudding is done when a knife stuck in the center comes out “clean” (meaning no wet egg/milk on the knife when you remove it). Depending on the size of your pan, the pudding may take longer to cook. If you don’t have a lasagna or a 9×12 cake pan, you can split the pudding into several smaller pans. If you bake in smaller pans or ramekins, your cooking time will decrease. The cooked pudding freezes and reheats well.finished-dishThis is a bountiful recipe that easily feeds 6 to 8 people.plated

kamut salad

Kamut® Salad: the newest addition to the Farm Party lineup

The Farm Party is in a little over a week from now. If you haven’t been, it is a big old party up at the PEAS Farm celebrating this great community, and the harvest that abounds this time of year. We cook everyone a big meal, and host some live music (Shakewell and Local Yokel this year!). It’s really fun. This year, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary, which means we’ll have cake and a photo booth and a few other fun things.

One of the longstanding traditions around this party (we’ve been doing the party for 14 years, so we’ve got some serious traditions going) is that Josh (PEAS Farm Director) and the PEAS Farm student crew make the food. They harvest it in the fields, truck it over the First Presbyterian Church’s commercial grade kitchen, and get to work. The party has gotten so big that UM Catering has now taken over cooking the burgers, so we can focus on what’s most important: the veggies.

Chopping onions for Farm Party
Chopping onions for the Farm Party Kamut Salad. Real chefs wear onion eye protection. Photo by Tom Bauer/The Missoulian

This wonderful group makes six salads (green salad, cole slaw, carrot, cuke, roasted beet, and Kamut Brand Khorasan Wheat). It’s a treat for them to show Missoula what they’ve been up to all summer. All their harvesting, weeding, moving pipe, tractoring, educating, more weeding, seeding and re-seeding, and harvesting again, and sweating and sometimes freezing — it all adds up to a rich and new experience. So it is a special thing to be able to invite all of you up to the farm to see a little piece of it in action.

In the spirit of sharing, I asked Kali, an EVST grad student who is one of the group’s leaders this year, if she’d share a recipe. She did some calculating (these recipes are sized for making food for around 1,000) to make it for around 6 servings, and gave me this year’s version of the Kamut® Salad recipe. Grain salads are great because you can stick all sorts of things in them and they taste great with a little dressing. This year, the crew is adding peaches (that’s right!) to the savory salad. It’s a great way tie many seasonal ingredients into one dish. Eat it as a meal, or as a hearty side. To make this gluten free, sub rice.

Recipe

Ingredients

Dressing
1/4 cup safflower oil or olive oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
A few sprigs of basil
1-2 tsp raw honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Salad
1 cup Kamut® berries, cooked and cooled (shorten the cooking time if you soak the berries overnight — see here for simple cooking instructions — mine cooked for almost 60 min)
3 – 5 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
1/2 sweet onion, diced small
1-2 peaches, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Instructions

Prep all your ingredients.
Ingredients
Emulsify the dressing with an immersion blender.
immersion blender and dressing
Massage the chopped kale with a small amount of the dressing to tenderize it. Then combine all the ingredients in a bowl!
Combine together ingredients
We hope you’ll make this, and come to the Farm Party on August 18th, 5:30 pm at the PEAS Farm to try ours! Come find me and we’ll compare recipes, will you?

Flirting with Tatsoi: 5 recipes for one hot little green

tatsoiWe’re just getting to know one another, tatsoi and I, and this green is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Crisp with a slight heat, and just a touch of bitterness — it is one interesting character.

Tatsoi is considered a cold weather green, a member of the brassica family (cousin to broccoli and cabbage), and many recipes that include tatsoi are called winter salads. That’s because it likes the cold, and will sustain temperatures of -10 degrees Fahrenheit (gardeners, take note!). So Montana is a great place to grow it, and a good reason it is showing up in the earliest batches of your CSAs and farmers’ market runs.

chalkboard

Listen to the chalkboard: “embrace spring greens!” It is that time of year. And there’s a whole world of greens out there to rub shoulders (or should I say tastebuds?) with.  The basics with these greens: don’t cook ’em too much, just add a little ginger, sesame oil, tahini and rice vinegar, and you’ve got yourself a great side. Add chicken, tofu, or scramble in an egg or two and you’ve got yourself a mean stir fry.

If you want to go a bit further, Googling this critter is a bit tricky, because it is not as well known as many other greens–in fact my autocorrect really wants to change the word tatsoi to tats. Hmmm. If you have favorite recipes that include arugula and/or mustard greens, try tatsoi as an alternative. Both of these greens have a little spice to them, and cook for similar times.

A lot of the spring/winter greens are interchangeable or can be mixed with one another (pak choy, mizuna, bok choy, and tatsoi are great combos). These early and quite tender spring greens are great raw in salads, and hearty enough for stir fry. Tatsoi and its cousin bok choy are often recommended for stir fries.

If you want to get more creative, here are my top five recipes to mix up your tatsoi repertoire. All of them are something that you could make on a weeknight — several of them with many staples in your pantry.

ONE: TATSOI & MUSTARD GREEN SALAD WITH GINGER HONEY VINAIGRETTE

An easy, raw salad from Sunday Suppers. And if you want a little more complicated salad, here’s one that made my mouth water. . .I’ve just never been one to follow recipes when it comes to salad.

TWO: GRILLED HALIBUT WITH SPICEY THAI CHILES

A main dish with simple ingredients. Many who reviewed this recipe coated the halibut with panko bread crumbs and pan fried it.

THREE: WHOLE WHEAT SHELLS WITH ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

Wilt your greens in with pasta! Love and Lemons is a gorgeous food blog with lots of solid recipes. This one has lots of alternatives and would be pretty kid friendly and simple.

FOUR: QUICK BRAISED CHICKEN WITH BEANS & GREENS 

This is a great one pot dinner loaded with nutrients.

FIVE: TOFU & WILTED GREENS

This is pretty much the recipe that the PEAS Farm chalkboard recommends, if you want more instructions and proportions from I Can Cook That.

May you embrace your spring greens and have a very happy Father’s Day. Maybe even try cooking some of your tatsoi for a Father’s Day feast? Let us know what recipes you love!

School lunches: 5 ways to veggie it up.

Last week, I dropped my daughter off for her first day of preschool. Big milestone. The cubbies and coat hooks, the circle of carpet, the playdough and paste, the faint smell of library books — so many things brought me back to my own childhood.  And Austen was so excited she was literally jumping in the school hallway over her giraffe stickered cubby label.

Austen goes to school
Off to school. . . Who is more nervous? Definitely me. Maybe my husband.

In the parent meeting a few nights before school started the school director told us to please not experiment in our children’s school lunches.  It could end in a very hungry kid. I love to try new things with Austen all the time. Crap! How will I get her veggies in?

I stood at my kitchen counter the night before the first day of school, palms sweating, wondering what to do. It was that feeling right before the test began, or when I couldn’t think of the answer to the essay question. So I made a sandwich with ham, avocado and cheese.  I chopped up some Dixon cantaloupe, packed plain yogurt sprinkled with a little cinnamon, and stuck in a cheese stick and some carrot sticks.  And a pre-packaged granola bar.  All the things she craves. Yes, it was more food than her little three-year-old tummy needed. I was nervous, people.  This kid has never been to school before. And I have never sent my kid to school before. I did not want to get in trouble on my first day.

PS — all she ate was the sandwich and a little yogurt. She was nervous too.

Next week, I am determined to get more farm veggies in there.  I’ve been researching.  Here are some highlights:

1. Meat wraps

I’ve written about using a collard, Napa cabbage or romaine leaf in place of lettuce, but you can use sliced meat, too. Using meat as your wrap, fill any of your kids favorite veggies (sweet peppers are on the CSA menu for most of our farms — a kid favorite, shredded carrot, slicer or cherry tomatoes, lettuce mix. . . If you have ham, put a little Dixon melon in the wrap).  These can be easier to make than a sandwich.  I spread a little mayo or whatever you child’s fave is (Austen likes guac) on the inside of the wrap. Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo suggests tying a strand of chive or spring onion around the bundle to keep it together. Safer than a toothpick!

This meat bundle is one of Michelle’s many lunch ideas.  She writes all about Paleo foods.  Now, whether you think Paleo is the best thing since sliced onion, or think it is just a passing fad, OR just really have no idea what it is, let me just say this: when you are looking for a healthy, whole foods recipe that makes a lot of use out of veggies and meat — throwing Paleo in as a search term is a great idea.  I am not Paleo, but I’ve learned a lot from the recipes on how to make many, many simple alterations that include my vegetable bounty.  The thing the Paleo diet is – it’s less about eating like our caveman ancestors and more about improving gut health, and eating whole foods. Not really that crazy at all, right?

2. Dips and Sauces

Kids LOVE dipping things, I’ve found. I am not suggesting that you make hummus, baba ganoush or other eggplant dip, salsa or salsa verde (apparently you can ferment your salsa verde for extra health bennies),  or pesto (this one is dairy free and delicious) just for lunch, but you might just want to make some for dinner or a snack — and make lots.  Freeze your sauces in ice cube trays and thaw them out overnight for school. I also plan to use some almond butter and pre-made organic guacamole when there just isn’t anything in the fridge (wring hands here). I think I have made my own hummus. . . once?

And of course, instead of bread (or in addition to the bread) use veggies to scoop up the goodness: celery, cucumber slices or sticks, bell peppers, carrot sticks, zucchini sticks. . . And if you’ve made lots, veggie chips or plantain chips can be great in this area, too.

eggplant dip
A little eggplant dip made from Garden City Harvest staff member, Maria Kendra. With some delicious carrot dip sticks.

3. Veggie Chips

Kids love kale chips.  It is a fact.  And any of your greens you can make into chips.  Here are 7 alternatives from the Kitchn.

And beyond leafy greens — there is SO MUCH MORE!

Beet Chips

Eggplant Chips

String Bean Chips

Winter Squash Chips (They will be here before you know it!)

Zucchini Chips

And, of course with a food processor or mandolin, you can make your own potato chips now. YES.

Also, with apple season upon us, slice your apples thin, and they can sandwich or scoop nut and seed butters like nobody’s business.  I sometimes make Austen a apple and almond butter sandwich with a little cinnamon and a few raisins in the middle.

Leftovers.  The best easiest lunch.

You just need a thermos. Rewarm your meal from the night before, throw some fruit or yogurt on the side and blamo – into the Klean Kanteen and off to school! LunchBots also has some great options that are stainless steel/nontoxic.  I’m still doing research on these options . . . Cause these two are quite expensive. Any advice would be greatly appreciated — comments section!

Some of our favorite kid leftovers (these are especially good now that the weather is cooler): spaghetti squash with tomato 3 meat sauce (that’s ground beef, pork, and bacon) or meatballs, meatloaf muffins (meatloaf baked in a muffin tin — Danielle Walker’s recipe, which I could only find in her cookbook) with garlic faux-tatoes, chicken soup with as many veggies as I can cram (kale, spinach, carrots, celery, celeriac, kholrabi. . . ) — with a bone broth base. With a solid thermos, the food will be hot at noon.

Protein + Veggie Salad

Good old fashioned chicken salad has always been a hit with Austen.  She and I love mayo. Salads like chicken salad are a great way to slip in carrots, celery, apples, grapes, bell peppers . . . anything with a little crunch. Bean or egg salads works really well for vegetarians.

Put it in a sandwich or lettuce wrap, or just eat it with a fork.  Great with cherry tomatoes on the side! And of course, some of those veggie chips.

Next challenge: how to pack it all.  What has worked for you?

Good luck this week. May the lunch force be with you.

 

Community “Fall” Gardening

It’s that time of year when many spring crops have finished producing and a bare spot in the garden is left in their wake.  But the fun doesn’t have to end yet! There is still time to turn that beautiful blank soil canvas into a fall garden masterpiece. Even though we have a shorter growing season here in Montana, fall gardening is still possible.

At Garden City Harvest, we don’t close down the gardens until October 24th. And even then, if you have some kale left standing or carrots under your mulch, you’re welcome to continue to use your plot as long as it’s cleaned up and looking good.

To start planning your fall garden you must first look closely at your seed packets and find the average days to maturity for the particular crop you want to plant. Many crops, such as cabbage, broccoli, and tomatoes, take too long to mature and there will not be enough heat and/or sunlight in our shorter days to boost them along. For the most part, you only want to plant crops that will mature before our first killing frost or that are cold-hardy and grow well in our hardiness zone.  Missoula’s estimated first fall frost date is September 27 and we are in USDA Hardiness Zone 5b.

These radishes can be sown all the way until the first frost comes, but too be safe, you'd probably want to sow them sooner
These radishes can be sown all the way until the first frost comes, but to be safe, you’d probably want to sow them sooner
These pea seeds are only recommended for fall gardening in zones 8 or warmer. These guys will have to wait until next year to be planted
These pea seeds are only recommended for fall gardening in zones 8 or warmer. These guys will have to wait until next year to be planted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall crops that need some protection

The types of crops that will mature from seed in time to enjoy in the fall include:

  • radishes
  • lettuce (most lettuces don’t germinate well when it’s very hot out, so consider planting these in a cooler area of your plot, where there is still some shade from other plants)
  • arugula
  • chard
  • beets
  • turnips

If planted soon these crops should begin maturing in time for fall, but you’ll want to keep your eye on night-time temps. The leafy greens on these crops need some protection from the cold. Try covering them up with reemay (a white gauzey cloth used for row cover) or even an old sheet or blanket. Covering these crops up at night will help keep their surrounding temperature just a few degrees warmer so they will survive through the night.

Reemay covering crops at Orchard Gardens. Photo by Amy Harvey
Reemay covering crops at Orchard Gardens. Photo by Amy Harvey

Cold-hardy and frost tolerant crops

These crops are a bit hardier and don’t need quite as much fussing. Some of them even taste a little sweeter after a frost hits them, such as kale.

  • kale
  • carrots
  • Asian greens, such as bok choi  and tatsoi
  • spinach
  • kohlrabi
kale
Kale. Photo by Erick Greene.

Other fall gardening tips

If you are buying new seeds, keep a lookout for winter varieties. There are varieties of some crops that grow a bit faster and/or are more tolerant of colder temperatures. These varieties are perfect for your fall garden!

Use extra mulch around your fall crops, especially over top of carrots. The mulch  helps keep the soil temperatures a couple degrees warmer.

Add some compost when planting new seeds to make sure there are still nutrients in the soil, especially if the space you are planting in was previously occupied by a heavy-feeder such as cabbage or broccoli.

For more information about fall gardening or winter seed varieties, check out some of these resources:

Please leave us your fall community gardening tips in the comments below!

 

Vegetable Triage: three things you need to know

curing onions at the PEAS Farm
Hanging onions for curing at the PEAS Farm. Photo by Chad Harder.

It is that time of year when our CSAs and gardens become heavy with produce.  I find myself scrounging for enough bags and stacking leftover containers strategically so I can fit all my veggies in the fridge.

Fresh veggies

Lettuces, kale, chard, collards, beans, zucchini, eggplants, herbs. . . These will all go bad within a week or two if stored in a plastic bag in your fridge.  These are the items you need to use, or freeze/can in the next week.  That can be easier than it sounds.  So long as we don’t get another huge storm with tons of power outages. More about that in a minute.

kale
River Road Farm kale. Photo by Erick Greene.

Storage and Storage-ish Veggies

Carrots, beets, garlic, and onions (the sweet onions — walla wallas for example don’t last as long, but will last up to 3 weeks in your fridge, in a plastic bag — other stronger onions you can cure for 3 – 4 weeks and will last for the whole winter!)  will last a good deal longer in the fridge.  I have kept a bag of carrots in my fridge for months at a time with no problem.  Sometimes they require a bit of peeling before use.

There’s a theme here — they are all roots! Winter squash will be here before you know it, and they are another crop that you can cure and store for the winter.

curing onions
Onions hanging in the PEAS Farm barn, curing over 3 – 4 weeks. Photo by Chad Harder.

Finally, processing veggies

Freezing

There are many resources on how to process and store all of these veggies.  Some have the patience for canning — and as Amy Poelher says, “Good for you, not for me.” I freeze instead.  It is easier, so long as you have the freezer space and doesn’t require you to cook out as many of the nutrients in the food.

Pesto is something I just made this past week — so much basil! And froze it in an ice cube tray which will make getting meal-sized servings out of the freezer a snap in the middle of winter.  There are many herbs you can preserve the same way using olive oil and minimal hassle.

Fruits often can be slipped right into a gallon-sized plastic bag and right in the freezer.  However, blanching is often required for things like zucchini or green beans.

pesto in ice cube tray
Pesto ready for the freezer. When winter comes, pesto and pasta will be easy PEASy

Drying

Drying your food is also a great way to preserve it — it can be used for all sorts of things, from fruits to veggies (ever tried making beet chips? Dehydrated Kale chips can also be amazing.) and even jerky.  I use a dehydrator, but you can also use your oven on its lowest setting for many things.

Canning

I have done it before, and know and respect many who do it.  I am no expert, however.  The folks at the National Center for Home Food Preservation know all about it.  Also,  our local book stores sell some great guides to canning.  You certainly need to know the right methods, cooking times, and sterilization techniques to make sure you keep those ugly bugs out of the cans.

canning at home
These two are prepping cukes for their journey to becoming pickles. Photo by Chad Harder.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor – Harvesting basics

In order to enjoy the fruits of all that labor you put into your garden you’ll have to  harvest, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when something is ready to go. As gardeners we know our food is good even when it doesn’t look perfect, so the good news is that it’s not absolutely necessary that we have our harvesting techniques down to a science (like many of our fellow farmer friends do).  So go ahead and give yourself a break, but read on for some harvesting tips.

IMG_0272

I would argue that as gardeners we are mainly concerned with harvesting crops before it is too late…… Too late generally means the plant has started to flower, which means it is putting more energy into growing seed rather than its various parts that we like to eat. And this generally results in a bitter-tasting veggie that is starting to lose its nutritional punch. But even when it’s “too late,” it’s often not really too late. You’ll see.

On the other hand, many things actually taste a little sweeter when harvested on the early side, for example, carrots, beets, and pretty much any kind of green. We miss out on some growth potential if we harvest our crops early, but they’ll still pack plenty of nutrients! (and look cute too…?) This also comes in handy when you are thinning your rows — big or small, they are still edible.

Carrots and Beets and Greens – oh my!

Crops like the aforementioned carrots, beets, and greens are fairly straightforward. You can tell just by looking at their size if they are ready. In general, if your veggies look like something you could get at the grocery store, they are ready to go! Carrots are typically at their peak around 1″ – 2″ in thickness, while beets are typically at their peak around 2″ – 3″ in thickness. You can poke your finger in the ground to feel how big your carrots and beets or other root veggies are, and of course you can just admire those beautiful leafy greens from afar to figure out if they’re ready for pickin’.

Note that regular, timely harvest of greens (including kale, lettuces, swiss chard, etc.) usually increases the length of harvest. And if you’re not going to eat them right away, it’s best to pick greens in the early morning or evening when the sun isn’t so hot – it helps to keep the greens from wilting.

A few other common crops are harder to determine – like squash, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, cabbage, and broccoli and cauliflower. Here’s a little more info on those:

Squash – summer and winter varieties

Summer squashes are best harvested when young and tender, when their skin is easily penetrated by a fingernail.  Zucchinis grow a ton in a day, so these guys require a careful eye. If you run late harvesting one it will probably taste better shredded in zucchini bread than used fresh. Or, hollow out the seeds, stuff it with a yummy filling, and bake!

Unlike with your zukes, you don’t want to watch winter squash so closely every day – at least not for awhile (unless you enjoy watching water boil). The hard skin of winter squash develops over time and is what helps it store so well, so you don’t want to rush on harvesting these gems. Mature winter squash will be hard and impervious to scratching. Once that thick skin has developed and you perform the fingernail test (press a thumbnail against the skin; your nail shouldn’t leave a visible dent) harvest your squash,  leaving at least 1” of stem attached. It’s also best to harvest before a frost comes, which could decrease their storage time.

Young, tender zukes about ready to harvest
Young, tender zukes about ready to harvest
This big guy should have been harvested a few days ago for best flavor
This big guy should have been harvested a few days ago for best flavor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cucumbers

These also can grow a lot in a short amount of time and so require a watchful eye. Cucumbers are best when slightly immature. Most varieties will be 1.5”- 2.5” in diameter and 5”- 8” long, except for pickling cucumbers, which will be blocky and not as long. Immature cukes are spiky, but will become less spiky as they mature. You can easily wash off the rest of the cucumber spikes after harvesting by running your hand over the cucumber under water. If you get to a cuke too late, it will still taste pretty good pickled!

These cukes will be ready in no time!
These cukes will be ready in no time!

Potatoes

You can harvest potatoes early or late, depending on your preference or what you plan to use the potato for. New potatoes, or earlies, can be harvested soon after the plants start blooming their beautiful flowers. Early potatoes are generally smaller and don’t store well so you want to eat them right away.

Or you can wait to harvest a crop of potatoes later – after the tops have died down and when the ground is dry. These potatoes will store much better, as long as they are cured for 10-14 days in a dark, well-ventilated location at 45 F to 60 F.

Onions

Onions can be harvested at different times according to what you’ll be using them for. If using them fresh, harvest at ¼”- 1” in diameter (basically, when they look big enough to be useful for whatever you need them for). If harvesting onions for storage, wait until they are bigger, their tops have fallen over, and their necks are shriveled. A mature bulb will not be dented if you push your finger into it.  To cure onions, place them in a single layer or mesh bag in a dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight for 3-4 weeks. Remove their tops when fully dry.

An onion ready for some pickin'
An onion ready for some pickin’

Cabbage

A beautiful cabbage head ready to harvest
A beautiful cabbage head ready to harvest

Cabbage is ready to harvest when the leaves surrounding the head start to open up a bit, and when the heads are solid. If cabbage heads become over mature they may split. If your head splits, it’s still edible. It just won’t last as long and you’ll likely have to cut out the parts around the split.

 

 

Broccoli and Cauliflower

Broccoli and Cauliflower may be the trickiest plants in regards to timing their harvest. Broccoli is best harvested while heads are a deep green, still compact, and before buds start to open into flowers. If the buds start to separate and the yellow petals inside start to show, harvest immediately. I often get to my broccoli a little too late (oops), but I still eat it, flowers and all!

This broccoli head should be harvested immediately. Many of its buds are about to pop!
This broccoli head should be harvested immediately. Many of its buds are about to pop!

When harvesting, cut the stem at a slant about 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) below the head. Removing the head on some varieties will produce side-shoots in the axils of leaves and you can get 4 to 6 additional cuttings of shoots per plant over several weeks.

A beautiful broccoli head ready to be harvested
A beautiful broccoli head ready to be harvested

Follow the same rule of thumb for cauliflower, but when the curds are about 1”-2” in diameter fold some of the outer leaves over the cauliflower heads. This helps prevent the head from becoming yellow and/or blemished. Once you cover the heads they should be ready for harvest in 1-2 weeks.

Broccoli buds starting to open and flower
Broccoli buds starting to open and flower

Beef Up Your Greens: A Vegetarian Recipe

Ellie and the greens
Ellie hiding behind her greens.

This week Ellie Duncan, apprentice at our Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm and Community Gardens, is guest blogging for us.  Ellie is a recent graduate of the University of Montana, and helps keep up the farm two days a week thanks to the help of our friends at Missoula Federal Credit Union.  Her fridge overfloweth with greens– sound familiar?  Leave us a comment with how your green burgers turned out.

Is your fridge over-flowing with July’s generous bounty? Are you guiltily throwing away wilted greens as much as you are packing fresh ones in your fridge? Are you beginning to wonder if your housemates will continue to forgive you for completely infringing on their fridge space and burying their tortillas and peanut butter with kale, collards, swiss chard, and so on? See for yourself what mine looks like. . .

Fridge overflowing with greens
This is my fridge. My poor roommates must dig through this jungle for their peanut butter.

At Orchard Gardens, we hear it week after week, directly from our CSA members or through the grapevine: “THIS IS SO MUCH FOOD!” More specifically, “What am I supposed to do with all these greens!?!?”

Well, I’ve got a recipe for you: Green Burgers!

This recipe is modified from another recipe which intrigued me with the title “Green Meat Balls.”  Neither of these recipes include meat, so if you’re going to scoff at them for their counter intuitive names, this is your chance. . .Now, read on!    

GREEN BURGERS

 Ingredients:green burger ingredients

  • 1 bunch greens (kale, collards, swiss chard, beet greens, carrot tops, mustard greens, or any combination of extra greens you have wilting in your refrigerator!)
  • 1/3 c. zucchini (shredded)
  • 1/2 c. onion or scallions (finely chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
  • 3 eggs -1/2 c. bread crumbs
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 2 T sesame seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil for frying (I prefer safflower oil– heat tolerant and local! Available in bulk at the Good food store and Missoula Food Coop)

How to make:

Finely chop the greens into strips (think the size of a match stick.) Mix in a large bowl with chopped onions, garlic, shredded zucchini. Add eggs and water.

In a separate bowl combine bread crumbs, flour, sesame seeds, salt and pepper.

Add to vegetables. With your hands, or a large spoon, form the mixture into burger shapes.

Cover the bottom of a cast iron pan with your frying oil and heat to medium-high.  Fry your Green Burgers, flipping when golden brown.

These hearty green burgers are great as a snack, a side dish, or used as a vegetarian substitute in the traditional burger environment (in between a bun with your favorite condiments.) They are crispy, flavorful, AND help to diminish the unreasonably large mountain of greens in your refrigerator!green burgers - completed

Rolling with the farmies

Garden City Harvest has four farms in our fair city of Missoula: Orchard Gardens, PEAS Farm, River Road and the Youth Farm. Each farm has its own flavor (forgive the pun), created by the farmer, Mother Nature and specific programs that might happen at the farm (like community gardens or youth development).  It is cooler up the Rattlesnake at the PEAS Farm. Scattered showers can hit harder on one part of the city than another.  Hail might ding one farm and not another.

This, my friends, is why we aren’t able to offer a complete list of vegetables for each of our four farms.  Instead, we look at what the farms have on the horizon, and the basics that everyone has now.

So, what’s up this week?

tractoring
The PEAS Farm caretaker, Samantha, working the rows.

Beets

These keep, so bag ’em and put ’em in your fridge if you aren’t ready to deal.  If you are. . . go simple (basil beet salad, using ingredients that will be this week or soon after in your CSA), or go big (beet caviar). Or go breakfast.

Cabbage

We’ve had cabbage for a week or so now. . . Might it be time for sauerkraut?  Packed with probiotics along with the vitamins cabbage carries with it, raw sauerkraut is awesome.  And it extends the life of your lovely cabbage.  My favorite sauerkraut recipe is by Diane Sanfilippo.

Cabbage is also a great topping for tacos, a great bed for salads, and yummy roasted in the oven.

Basil

Oh, basil.  A great Italian herb, and SO MUCH MORE.  Basil got me in trouble last weekend, when my friend made Moscow Mules with basil. (This one uses a basil syrup — not necessary!  Just muddle the stuff – the ginger beer has plenty of sweetness.)  There are so many cocktails that taste so good with a little basil involved.

Now that summer squash and zucchini are in the mix, basil tastes great sauteed with them and a little Parmesan.  Add eggplant and tomatoes when they come on and you’ve got yourself an amazing ratatouille.

PEAS summer school students with GARLIC!
PEAS summer school students with GARLIC!

Garlic

Garlic keeps. And makes almost anything tastes better.  So I am guessing you know what to do. (CHEER!)

Kale

Kale is all over the internet, so I am guessing you can find some great recipes.  Kale chips will almost assuredly be a hit at the kid table.  If you find a recipe that tells you to roast at anything higher than 325, keep looking!

This is just a lovely meatless meal — beans and kale on toast.

And the Smitten Kitchen just does kale right. Check out their Kale Files.

In the Crystal Ball:

I see cauliflower

Cauliflower is great roasted, in stir fry, etc. etc. But have you tried making it into rice or faux-tatoes?  A great way to mix up your rice dishes and add nutrition to your meal.  This cauli-mash sounds cauli-awesome (yup, as usual, bacon included!).

I see cucumbers

Great to add to fresh salads, sandwiches, cocktails with basil. . . I love this Cucumber Radish Gazpacho. And a few ideas from the Kitchn.

A few reminders. . .

  • Eat veggies for breakfast! With eggs, in a hash, in a smoothie.
  • Use your cabbage and collards for sandwich lettuce wraps
  • Salads are a great veggie dump! Here’s some inspiration from Love and Lemons.
  • Feel no guilt if you have to compost or toss some of your veggies. This is about fun and exploration.  It’s bound to happen.

 

An EVST student and his freshly harvested carrots (you'll likely be seeing them this week, too)
An PEAS student intern and his freshly harvested carrots (you’ll likely be seeing them this week, too)