Sunday, October 28, 2007

What's Growin' On 10/28/07: First Frost! Plus Growing Strawberries How To Prepare Your Strawberry Bed ror Winter

Cool Cavendish Strawberry Plants

Realization Of The Day:
Even though I'm usually expecting it, the first frost of the season always comes as somewhat of a surprise.

I think it's because I get spoiled in early October. Things have cooled down (most years anyway), the majority of ravenous insects have disappeared, and autumn rainstorms mean I no longer need to don my Watering Queen hat every day. Garden duties are greatly diminished, and nothing really needs to be protected at night yet. Even the greenhouse can stay open and vented all the time.

October in the garden feels positively luxurious. Then all of a sudden the frost shows up, and I sort of start to panic.

It really isn't too much of a problem yet, though (and everything does look pretty all covered in frost), as it won't be getting this cold every night for a while. Our days should stay fairly warm, too. Next week it's even supposed to pop back up into the 70s. So at this point, protection from the occasional cold snap simply means covering the autumn crops with floating row cover, which can even be left on your plants during the day if you're feeling lazy.

All I have to remember is that this is the time of the year when we need to adjust the temperature forecasts to reflect the cooler weather down here in our little valley, technically known as a 'low lying area.' While the official report was 41° at 8:30am this morning, we were at 32°.

Meanwhile, the strawberry bed doesn't need any attention just yet. The latest issue of Progressive Farmer magazine (you never know where you'll find helpful gardening tips) offers this advice for preparing your strawberry beds for the upcoming winter:

Strawberry plants are hardy perennials, but the alternate freezing and thawing that heaves them from the ground is what you must protect against. Cover the strawberries with 4 to 6 inches of hay, which is loose enough to let them breathe. Wait until after several frosts, but not enough cold to freeze the ground. You do not need to cut the foliage back before mulching.

I've always covered my strawberry bed with a thick layer of hay each year, but I never realized it was to protect the plants from ground heaves. This is the same reason you need to cover your fall-planted garlic (which I meant to plant yesterday!).

The only problem I have is that my beagle, Robin, loves to curl up on what she has decided are hay beds built especially for her. At almost 11 years old, though, she is semi-retired and will probably be spending much of her days and nights curled up next to the living room woodstove this winter instead (where she is right now, in a plush round cat bed that is much too small for her but that she insists on squeezing into anyway).

I created a new 4' x 8' strawberry bed this year, which I filled on May 7th with 30 Cavendish plants I ordered for $9.95 from my beloved Pinetree Garden Seeds. According to their catalog, this midseason variety offers "high yields of large berries with excellent flavor that make this a good choice for home gardens or roadside stands. High resistance to red stele and intermediate resistance to verticillium wilt. Berries ripen over a long season."

So far the plants are doing great, despite having nearly the entire bed eaten down to almost nothing twice over the summer by deer. Covering it with old sheets at night helped with that problem.

As difficult as it always is, especially since my old strawberry bed was history this year, I pinched off all the blooms so the plants could focus their energy on building up a strong root system rather than producing berries. For a while I pinched all the runners off, too, but if your plants are as vigorous as these were, this is a job that can easily away from you.

At one point I left the runners that had already rooted themselves into the ground, but snipped the connecting stem from each mother plant. Basically I filled in the empty spaces for free. Then after the deer damage I just left the entire bed alone as I wasn't even sure if it would survive. But the plants came back with a vengeance and the entire bed is now completely filled in.

I already have high hopes for a bumper strawberry crop next spring. While others are busy conjuring up visions of sugarplums during the upcoming holiday season, I'll be dreaming of bowls and bowls of those sweet, jewel-like berries—and there won't be a single turtle in sight!

Other Strawberry Growing Posts:
6/5/05: Strawberries from Garden to Kitchen
5/21/06: A Beautiful Breakfast!
5/27/06: Cary, Bear, and Me vs. The Turtles
5/28/08: Successfully Growing Strawberries
7/20/08: Strawberries in the Garden & an Orange Yogurt Cake Recipe in the Kitchen
9/7/09: How To Grow Bigger Strawberries Next Year

© 2007, the crisp and cool foodie farm blog where there never seem to be enough strawberries.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What To Do With Swiss Chard: Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip Recipe and Other Ways To Cook and Enjoy My Favorite Leafy Green

Chard art

November 2011 update: I share a great new way we enjoy Swiss chard in Wondering What To Do with Swiss Chard? Favorite Recipes and Ways to Use My Favorite Garden Vegetable. Hint: we love our powerful little $50 Waring juicer!

The best Swiss chard you'll ever eat is that which you grow yourself. Find out how easy it is in my post, How To Grow Your Own Swiss Chard from Seed & Why You Should.

While there are endless things you can do in the kitchen with Swiss chard, I have to admit that every year the vast majority of what I grow gets harvested very young and tossed straight into the salad bowl. But of course I eat a lot more salad than normal people.

The flavorful baby leaves are a wonderful stand-in for spinach and can be happily combined with just about any other salad green you can think of.

When I'm lucky, I have more Swiss chard in the garden than even I can eat in salad form. This happened early last spring when two dozen overwintered plants in the greenhouse came back to life with a vengeance.

One of the things I love about Swiss chard is how amazingly big the leaves can get, but when I step inside the greenhouse and feel as if I've suddenly been transported to Jurassic Park, it starts to get a little scary. That's when it's time to whack them down and hit them with some heat, because even the most enormous leaves will shrink down to practically nothing if you cook them.

It never ceases to amaze me that a bowl of bounty nearly too big to get through the door will fit inside a teacup once you cook it. The concentrated amount of nutrients that must be contained in that teacup is mind-boggling.

You'll find bunches of Swiss chard in supermarkets year-round, but freshness and quality can vary greatly. Peak season in most areas is from June through October, though in milder climates you often can find interesting varieties of just-harvested bounty at farmers' markets from early spring until late fall or even early winter. Look for crisp stalks with shiny, unblemished leaves.

Canary Yellow Swiss Chard in the homemade greenhouse last October

Wondering what to do with your Swiss chard? You can't go wrong if you sauté it with chopped fresh garlic in some nice olive oil. And by all means, don't forget the stalks. I chop them up and cook them in the oil until they're soft, then add the coarsely chopped leaves, covering the pan for the first minute or two.

You can add a smidgen of anchovy paste to the oil to coax out flavor (it won't add a fishy taste). Throw in a handful of chopped pancetta or proscuitto, and you'll probably receive a round of applause. A sprinkling of freshly grated Pecorino Romano might be considered over the top, but only by people who haven't yet tried it.

You can use Swiss chard (and many other greens) in place of spinach in virtually any recipe. Try it in lasagna, ravioli and quiche — or even your favorite stuffing. Toss it with pasta or add thin strips to stir-fried rice during the last few minutes of cooking.

Mix chopped fresh chard or kale into pizza sauce or scatter over homemade pizza before adding the cheese. Stir sliced leaves into soups, and slip steamed greens into scrambled eggs, omelets and frittatas. You can even steam Swiss chard stalks and eat them like asparagus.

Need more inspiration? You'll find all sorts of other scrumptious ideas in the comments section of this post. Many thanks to all the In My Kitchen Garden readers who responded to my request to share their favorite ways to eat Swiss chard. And you'll find links to more of my Swiss chard recipes at the bottom of this post.

Do you have a favorite Swiss chard recipe you'd like to share?

One of my favorite ways to enjoy Swiss chard is in this dip I created last spring. This addictive stuff goes well with practically anything: crackers, tortilla chips, toasted or untoasted sourdough baguette slices, fresh veggies, pita chips, even pretzels.

Don't be afraid to think beyond the dip bowl, either—try putting it on baked potatoes or using it in an omelet. I even like it cold.

Farmgirl Susan's Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip Recipe
Makes about 3 cups

My version of the popular spinach artichoke dip is cooked on the stovetop instead of in the oven and uses chopped fresh Swiss chard leaves and stalks in place of frozen spinach, along with plenty of onion and garlic for extra flavor.

It tastes even better if you make it a day ahead and reheat it just before serving, either in the microwave or on the stovetop (you might need to add a splash of milk when reheating on the stove). You can use reduced-fat cream cheese and mayonnaise, as well as low-fat sour cream, if desired.

When I was creating the recipe, I used red Swiss chard for the initial batch, thinking the chopped stems would add nice bits of color. Instead I ended up with pink dip. It tasted great but looked like salmon spread, which might be confusing to eaters. If you're making it for yourself, go ahead and use whatever color chard you like.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 5 ounces)
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 12 ounces), leaves and stalks separated and both chopped into small pieces
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts (packed in water), drained and rinsed, chopped into small pieces
4 ounces cream cheese (half of an 8-ounce package), softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1½ cups finely grated Pecorino Romano (or parmesan) cheese (about 4 ounces)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped scallions or chives for garnish (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add onion and chopped Swiss chard stalks and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes; do not let garlic brown.

Stir Swiss chard leaves and chopped artichoke hearts into onion mixture. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, about 5 minutes. (Remove lid for last few minutes of cooking if there is liquid in the pot.)

Stir cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, Romano cheese and Worcestershire sauce into Swiss chard mixture and cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dip is hot and thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm, garnished with plenty of chopped scallions or chives, if desired.

Still have some Swiss chard left? You might enjoy these recipes:
Healthy Swiss Chard Tuna Salad with Scallions & Kalamata Olives
Swiss Chard Cabbage Salad with Garbanzo Beans & Cottage Cheese
Swiss Chard & Artichoke Soup

Swiss Chard & Artichoke 'White' Pizza

Can't survive on leafy greens alone? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, the chard crazy foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What's Growin' On 10/2/07: Blink And It's Gone

Golden Globe Turnip & Blue Curled Scotch Kale Seedlings

Realization Of The Day:
It's October.

It's October?! What the heck happened to September?

While there isn't often a whole lot of excitement in the garden in October (unless you count my jumping for joy that the majority of damaging insects have finally disappeared), it's my favorite month on the farm. Autumn doesn't last long in southern Missouri, but when it's here it's very comfortable and very beautiful. In a good year, the colors of the turning leaves rival those in New England. No, really.

The doors and windows of The Shack still stand wide open, and it cools down pleasantly at night, though not enough to warrant having to start up the woodstove yet. That means we aren't hauling firewood into the living room half a dozen times a day, although we do need to start cutting some. This year's woodpile (which is our main source of heat throughout winter) is pretty much non-existent. Okay, there's no pretty much about it, it's non-existent. Months of sweltering heat and humidity make it incredibly easy to ignore that fact--every single year.

Since I haven't been busy dealing with firewood, I did have a chance to plant some fall crops. The seedlings you see above were direct seeded on September 15th, and I guess I was a little heavy handed with the sprinkling. They're in dire need of thinning, but too much germination is always better than not enough. And the cute baby sprouts will be tasty and nutritious additions to the salad bowl.

I planted these seeds in the taller of the two mini greenhouse beds, so once it starts freezing at night I'll cover the frame with thick clear plastic. (Note: there's construction information for the mini greenhouse beds in the comments section of that link. And for those of you who have been asking about what the layout of my garden looks like, you can see most of it in the photos, though it's been expanded since then.) Since I planted only crops that thrive in cool weather in there, I'm hoping to extend my harvest well into winter.

I've had pretty good luck growing turnips over the years. You can read more about my experiences here, including growing tips and how to harvest from your turnip plants all year long.

One of my favorite ways to use turnips is in Garlic Lover's White Bean Soup, a tasty, easy, and oh-so-comforting recipe. It also happens to be vegan and fat free, but you don't have to tell anybody those details unless you want to.

I started plenty of other seeds as well, including several types of Oriental greens, though not everything I'd hoped to. Five raised beds and not a single lettuce seed sown anywhere! I'm telling myself there's still time, but at the rate time has been speeding by, I'm going to blink and it'll be Christmas. Lettuce seeds started or not, I can only hope that my beloved October will stick around long enough for me to enjoy it.

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote acres.