In my cool Pacific Northwest climate, plants that belong in the cucurbit (squash) family, including melons, cucumbers, summer squash like ‘Costata Romanesco’ and ‘Trombocino’ and winter squash, grow best when planted out as seedlings. Seedlings grow faster and produce fruit sooner than plants directly seeded into the garden with one caveat: you must plant small seedlings. If you buy seedlings, do not be tempted by plants that are beginning to vine. It turns out bigger is not always better. These larger plants tend to transplant poorly, grow slowly and underperform.
I have much better luck with very small seedlings. When cucurbit seedlings germinate the first “leaves” that appear are the spoon shaped cotyledons (also called seed leaves). The plants “true leaves” (the leaves that look like the plants regular leaves) emerge next. The best time to plant squash family seedlings is when the first true leaf is beginning to poke up between the cotyledons. This goes for store bought and homegrown seedlings.
Cucurbits really resent having their roots disturbed. Instead of separating seedlings growing in a clump, I ease the plants out of their pot and plant the whole group of seedlings in the ground (or container). I then give the plants a week or so to grow before I cut off the weakest plants at the soil line with scissors, leaving the strongest one to grow on. I like to pour about a cup of diluted liquid organic fertilizer around the newly transplanted seedlings, and I also set a cloche over the plants for a couple of weeks to keep them toasty warm.
I’m getting a bit of a late start on my summer garden, but I’m planning on getting some squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants into the ground this weekend! I’ll let you know what I end up planting. So far I haven’t been able to find seed or seedlings of my favorite cucumber ‘Satsuki Midori’, so I might have to try something new!
May 31, 2012
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Chervil is perhaps the world’s cutest herb. It produces mounds of delicate, ferny foliage, and in early summer lacy white flowers float above the leaves, luring in lots of beneficial insects. Chervil tastes like a very happy marriage between parsley and tarragon. It has a very mild anise flavor that pairs up especially nicely with eggs, potatoes, and asparagus. And best of all, you really only need to plant chervil once. In early summer, after the flowers fade, chervil drops its seeds to the ground where they hang about in the soil, biding their time until the conditions are just perfect for germination (usually when the weather cools down in late summer or early fall).
Chervil is an extremely popular herb in France, but for some inexplicable reason it is almost completely unknown and un-grown in the United States. I’ve never seen it offered at a grocery store and I only rarely spot seedlings at nurseries. Luckily, chervil grows quickly and easily from seed, which you can mail order from Kitchen Garden Seeds. Simple scatter the seeds over bare soil and scratch them in with a rake. Keep the soil moist and the chervil will sprout within a few days. I like to sow it as an understory plant below large brassicas like broccoli.
To harvest, simply snip back individual stems, working from the outside in. Add whole leaves to salads, add chopped chervil to vinaigrettes or stir it into mashed potatoes or potato salad. You can also use the herb as a garnish on egg dishes and to add flavor to roasted vegetables. It is not too late to plant chervil this spring! So get some seed and toss it in the ground. I bet once it sprouts, you will soon decide that chervil deserves a spot in your permanent spot in your garden and kitchen right alongside standbys like Italian parsley and basil.
May 23, 2012
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An acquaintance of mine who grew up in San Diego once told me she had an avocado tree in her childhood backyard, but she didn’t like avocados at the time and never ate them. I almost cried at the thought. I adore avocados. If I could grow an avocado tree in my backyard I would eat them five times a day. They are by far and away my very favorite vegetable (well, technically they are fruit). I often eat them with a spoon, but lately I’ve been topping a platform of garlic rubbed toast with avocado for lunch. I first had avocado served this way at a little cafe (whose name escapes me) in Oakland. It is crazy good, and super fast and easy. Because this dish is so simple use your best olive oil and salt as their flavors will really shine through.
Avocado on Garlic Rubbed Toast
2 1-inch thick slices of good bread
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large avocado
Maldon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Toast the bread until it is golden brown. Firmly rub the garlic over the top of each piece of toast (you should be left with just a nub of garlic by the time you’re done). Drizzle each piece of toast with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Gently peel away the skin. Place each half of the avocado cut side down on a cutting board and slice very thinly. Place 1/2 avocado on each piece of toast and fan the slices out slightly. Squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over each toast, top with Maldon sea salt (or kosher salt if you don’t have Maldon) and plenty of freshly ground pepper.
April 26, 2012
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