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How to Grow Baby Kale

by Sandy Swegel

Mixed baby kales are the current darlings of the produce section…and in my refrigerator are Lacinato Kale, Organic Lacinato Kale, and Organic Red Russian Kale. Several companies now sell thrice-washed baby kales that are ready to use in salads, stir-fries, soups or juices.  As cute as these greens are, their prices are pretty steep…we pay $4 for five ounces and then there’s all that wasteful packaging.

You can easily grow your own baby kales (or any mixed greens). Here’s how market farmers do it:

The key is succession planting. 

About every three weeks, you should seed a patch of kale seeds fairly close together in intensive planting style. 

First Cutting
Once the leaves are about 4 inches high, use scissors or knife to cut them off about an inch above soil level.

Second Cutting
Let the patch you just cut off continue to grow as regular kale and you can harvest again in a month.  Cut those off again about an inch above soil.  The second cutting isn’t as tender as the first but still great for braising.

Third Cutting
Let the patch keep growing for the third cutting of mature kale.  Fertilize lightly.  The third cutting usually leaves the plant depleted and it’s time to pull those plants and reseed.

Because you kept making a new planting of kale every three weeks in a different section of your garden, you will regularly have both the tender young greens and mature leaves.

It’s that easy. Each packet of kale has over 200 seeds so this is a really thrifty way to get a lot of kale.  You can plant one kind of kale at a time, or mix red russian and lacinto together for a colorful mixture.

Eat more Kale! Yum.

Photo Credit and More info:
http://sixburnersue.com/cooking-fresh-eating-green/2013/03/new-at-the-grocery-store-baby-kale-10-ways-to-use-it/
http://www.fastcoexist.com/3016068/the-largest-urban-orchard-in-north-america-is-now-open-for-business

 

Grow Your Own Food: Best Return on Investment.

by Sandy Swegel

There are so many vegetables you can grow in your garden. If only there was enough time. If you have limited time or space for your garden, think about what is the best return on your investment of time and money as well as the best outcome of flavor and nutrition.  Three things I grow even if I don’t have time to grow anything else are:

Salad greens. Loose-leaf lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, and arugula are up and ready to eat in as little as three weeks after planting.  You can pick what you need for tonight’s salad, and let the plant continue to grow for another night’s salad.  Baby greens and mixed lettuces cost $6 per pound add up at the grocery…and they aren’t necessarily that fresh…sometimes they’ve been traveling in a semi-trailer from California for a week already.  Grow your own greens to get maximum nutrition and taste for a couple of bucks worth of seed.

Tomatoes.  You’ve tasted one of those grocery store tomatoes that look perfect and taste like absolutely nothing?  Enough said. You have to grow tomatoes because homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than anything you can buy.  But tomatoes have also gotten really expensive.  One or two tomato plants easily save you a couple hundred dollars if you regularly eat tomatoes in your salads and sandwiches.  Cherry tomato plants are especially prolific.

Herbs. Fresh herbs are the best way to give oomph to your cooking.  They taste so much better than dried herbs and can often star in a simple dish …such as a basil leaves served with mozzarella and tomato.  Many herbs are perennial (like thyme and oregano) and only have to be planted once.  Annual herbs such as basil and dill produce lots and lots of flavorful leaves.

It’s always fun to grow your own food and everything there is to grow, but if you’re strapped for time or space, let the local farmers grow the long-season crops like winter squash, the root crops like onions and carrots, or the water-hogging melons.  You’ll be enjoying your own magnificent home-grown healthful salads all season.

Winter Sowing

by Sandy Swegel

My first packets of seeds have come in the mail and I’m so eager to start gardening, but the 10 inches of old snow that’s still all over my garden is a real obstacle.  My lights are reserved for tomatoes and peppers….but I want to Garden NOW.  When I’m in this predicament, there’s only one thing to do: head out to the recycling bins and dumpster dive for plastic milk jugs and salad containers and all other types of clear plastic to start some seeds in.

Winter Sowing is my favorite way to start wildflower seeds but it works for all seeds.  Winter Sowing is all about starting your seeds outside and letting nature’s natural rhythms stir the seeds to life at the right time.  It’s also all about getting LOTS of plants practically free without having extravagant indoor light setups or greenhouses.

There’s lots of info online about Winter Sowing…a term coined by the Queen of Winter Sowing, Trudi Davidoff, back in the early days of the internet on the Garden Web forums.  Trudi has it all consolidated on her web page www.wintersown.org  with answers to every question you can possibly have. We all love Trudi because she took something rather mysterious…making new plants…and made it easy and almost foolproof.

To make it even easier for you, here’s your “Short Form” Winter Sowing Instructions:

1. Recycle a plastic container. I’m fond of the gallon water jugs but any container with a clear lid that you can put holes in the bottom works.

2. Label your container at least twice.  Sharpies aren’t really permanent so I use an art deco paint pen from Michael’s to write directly on the container or on a strip of duct tape.

3. Put in 2-4 inches of potting soil.  Wet the soil. Sprinkle the seeds on top. Lightly water the seeds into the soil or press them with your fingers.

4. Secure the top of the container with duct tape. Place the container outside where the wind won’t blow it over.

5. Check periodically (twice a month) for watering. This is really important.  If the soil dries out completely, this seeds will likely die because germination had already started. If you can see condensation on the inside of the container you’re probably OK. A foot of snow on top is probably also a safe sign.

6. Beginning in April or May here in Zone 5, anytime after the seedlings come out you can plant them directly into the garden.

Timing is the beauty of this method…On cold winter days, you yearn for spring and have more time for starting seeds. In my experience, the plants started this way are much sturdier than ones started indoors under warm conditions.

Winter Sowing is an ideal technique for wildflowers.  You can start now and keep making containers when you have time until as late as March or April.

Enjoy!

For more info: www.wintersown.org http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/wtrsow/

Psychic Predictions 2014

by Sandy Swegel

From my early morning dreams: Psychics around the world predict a new rise in human global consciousness this year.  In all catalog14_cover (Mobile)corners of the globe, human beings awake this year and realize the true path to enlightenment is eating good nutritious food especially leafy greens and root vegetables. Millions set up garden sacred spaces in their back yard to grow their own fresh, local healthy food.  In progressive states like Colorado, the new leaf available for sale on every street corner is kale.

Children born this year will be precocious and wise beyond their years.  Unlike the indigos, these “green” children are born knowing to avoid processed foods and wail and throw tantrums when force-fed orange macaroni or dried up Cheerios.

It may be a year of turmoil as hundreds of thousands gather in protests, strikes and boycotts of local governments threatening to occupy the streets until schools and hospitals and shopping malls provide truly healthy lunches.  The earth joins in the protests and sends tornadoes around the world sucking up factories that make the pesticides that poison our farms.  New earthquake faults form under any land that has been forced into mono-cropping. Hurricanes wipe out buildings and urban sprawl in tropical areas leaving only edible native vegetation and fruit trees.

On the celebrity front, new reality shows about farmers and foragers are in demand.  The new Dynasty is led by dads who stand up for values of clean food and air and who know how to grow a mean tomato.  The Real Housewives are moms tending backyard chickens and looking sexy carrying in armloads of fresh vegetables with just a smudge of dirt above their brow.

What a year it can be! So when you’re sitting this winter day dreamily looking at the shiny seed catalogs, follow your inner wisdom and grow a splendid vegetable garden this year.  It’s a wiser kinder world calling you.

When the Garden Stops Making Free Food!

by Sandy Swegel

The hard freeze is upon us here in Colorado.  We’re scurrying to save and process the last of the harvest.  Counters are full of green tomatoes. Winter squash line the shelves of the mudroom. But fresh organic food coming in from the garden is dwindling.  The time of buckets of lemon cucumbers in the walkway is over. (How does that plant produce so much fruit?) Despite good intentions of growing most of our own food, it is time to return to regular shopping at the grocery store when the garden stops making free food.

Paying for food after getting all those zucchinis for free all summer can be a little depressing—especially if you end up paying $1.50 for a tiny little zucchini. For a while, I thought I was just getting old and turning into my Depression-baby grandmother who always complained about things being so expensive.  Even though she had money in the bank and a good social security check coming, later in life she took to having just two little chicken wings for dinner. That’s what I felt like going shopping this week as I bought just one onion, one squash and two pears when I went shopping.  Prices seemed so high.

Turns out prices really are high.  It’s not reported much on the news, but the cost of living is increasing and food prices are worse than the general economy. Since 2006, the consumer price index has risen 14% but the price of food has gone up 20% in the past six years.  Ouch.

So what do you do?  Besides planting even more vegetables and fruit next year, you have to watch what you buy. And you need to remember to keep buying organic produce even though it is relatively more expensive.

Prices are higher now than when you bought groceries last winter. But don’t compensate by eating pesticide-contaminated food.  The Environmental Working Group puts out a list every year of the foods that have the most pesticides even after they have been thoroughly washed.  They call the worst ones the “Dirty Dozen.”  Most of our staple foods are on the dirty list:  apples, celery, kale (!), cucumbers, and zucchini.  If you do have to save money this winter and buying non-organic food seems the only way to go, at least choose foods least likely to be full of pesticides…the items on their “Clean Fifteen” list.

And grow more food next summer!

Dirty Dozen: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ Data on food prices:  http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2013-august/price-inflation-for-food-outpacing-many-other-spending-categories.aspx#.Um5XtvmsgWc

End of the Growing Season

by Sandy Swegel

We had our first big snow…just six inches but very cold and wet followed by more snow and below freezing temperatures so one might easily assume the vegetable garden is done for the year.  It certainly looks forlorn outside my window.  But fortunately, Nature is kinder than that.  For reasons I can’t quite fathom, lettuce that freezes if it’s too far in the back of my refrigerator can handle quite a lot of extreme temperature especially when it’s well insulated by snow.  I expect that when the sun returns in a couple of days, I’ll be able to brush away any remaining snow and harvest excellent crispy sweet lettuce.  Hardier greens like spinach and chard can even be exposed to the air and frozen solid at 8 am but then be perfect and ready to eat by noon with a little mid-day thawing.

The warm season plants like basil and tomatoes have no chance in the cold.  Basil turns brown below about 35 degrees.  Tomatoes don’t taste nearly as good once night time temps dip into the 30s.  Squash leaves croak right at 32 although sometimes the ambient heat from the ground will keep the pumpkins and winter squash edible even though the air is freezing.  Still, the warm season plants are done. Corn on the cob is a memory held by the dried stalks turned into Halloween decorations.

The root crops are another story.  Carrots and beets improve with each freezing night.  As long as you can pry root crops from the freezing ground, you’ll be rewarded with intense flavor and sweetness that improves even more if you roast the vegetables with some olive oil. Many a picky eater who refused to eat turnips or rutabagas, finds November turnips roasted with rosemary and thyme to be irresistible.

It may be the end of the growing season….but the eating season has just begun!