How To: Make Hanging Lettuce Planters

By Catherine Winter

There’s a marmot (groundhog) in my garden.

That is to say, there’s a marmot that lives on my land, but I often find him plopped in my potager garden, cramming sorrel and lettuce and various tender herbs into his face, since he knows he’s not in any danger from me. Unfortunately, this also means that rabbits and other small herbivores take a cue from him and follow suit, leading to my own food supply being rather gnawed upon and depleted.

The good news is that I’ve discovered a way around this, at least as far as lettuce is concerned: hanging planters.

Hanging-Lettuce-Planter

Whether you’re short on garden space or you like to keep your food within easy reach, hanging lettuce planters are great options for pretty much any growing zone. They’re easy to make, can be grown indoors or outside, and are as delicious as they are decorative.

What You’ll Need:

  • A hanging wire cage
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Lettuce seedlings

Line your wire cage with a bit of sphagnum moss, then draw some lettuce seedlings through the bars on all sides. Layer with more sphagnum moss, and repeat until the cage is full enough to be secure, so the seedlings won’t just fall out.

Planter

Water this thoroughly and hang in a spot where it gets moderate sunlight for the better part of the day, as lettuce doesn’t thrive in direct, continuous sunshine. Keep the basket fairly well watered, and just snip bits of lettuce off throughout the season as needed. You can either tuck several lettuce varieties into a single basket, or, if you have enough space, hang a few of these baskets around with different lettuce varieties in each, so you can mix your greens and have an assortment of different textures and flavours.

Happy growing!

 

 

sorrel soup, sorrel spring soup, sorrel, French sorrel, garden sorrel, sauerampfer suppe, sauerampfer, herb soup

FTW Kitchen: Sorrel Soup

By Catherine Winter

Here in zone 4, very few greens sprout up until mid May at the very earliest. While friends in England start posting photos of snowdrops and daffodils in February, I have to wait until the snow clears (a few months after that…) to see the first greens unfurl. Fortunately, right after dandelions make their appearance, sorrel springs up in great, abundant heaps, just asking to be devoured.

sorrel, garden sorrel, French sorrel, lemon sorrel, perennial vegetable, perennial sorrel

I grow a variety of herbs and perennial greens in my potager garden, just outside my kitchen door, and it’s always a delight to bite into the first, lemony sorrel leaves when they show up after the long, cold Quebec winter. Springtime came earlier than usual this year (which was a delightful surprise), so I have chives and thyme coming up as well. Since the evenings out here are still quite chilly, I decide to gather a bunch of sorrel and put some soup together for dinner.

I grew up with sauerampfer soup, but my family’s recipe was very heavy on cream and egg yolks, and I found it to be way too heavy. I’ve adapted my own recipe to incorporate whatever’s in season (and in the fridge), and omitted the cream and eggs: I use fat-free plain yoghurt instead.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, sorrel soup ingredients, making sorrel soup

Ingredients:

Olive oil or butter or Earth Balance (for frying)
1 small to medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 small bunch green onions or chives, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, grated or finely chopped
A couple of big handfuls of sorrel leaves, shredded
4 cups of your favourite stock (I use chicken stock, but leek or onion stock works really well in this
1/3 cup plain yoghurt or sour cream (dairy or vegan)
Lemon juice (fresh, not concentrated!)
Salt and black pepper

Heat your butter or oil in a large stock pot on medium-high heat, and add the onions and thyme, stirring often until the onions soften and start to turn golden.

Add the stock, green onions, and potatoes, and stir well. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let that bubble away merrily until the potatoes have softened.

Toss in those sorrel leaves, which will turn a sort of murky olive green as soon as it hits the heat: don’t be alarmed, it’ll still taste fabulous.

Use an immersion blender to puree approximately half of the soup, or scoop out half of it and put it through a standard blender or food processor, adding it back to the pot when you’re done. If you find the soup too thick, feel free to add some more stock to thin it out. Stir in the yoghurt or sour cream, and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. Add salt to taste, and feel free to add more lemon if you like as well.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, immersion blender, pureeing soup

The sour cream or yoghurt are optional and are just used to make the soup creamy, but you can also use pureed cannellini beans if you’d like to add protein and a silky texture. Some people prefer not to mix the sour cream into the dish, but instead add a dollop of it into the bowl just prior to serving, along with chopped raw sorrel, parsley, or dill.

I made this soup with what I had on hand, but it can be adapted so many ways. Fresh sweet green peas make a great addition as soon as they’re available, and swapping out half of the sorrel for spinach adds more iron and greenness to the pot. I’ve added leftover roasted zucchini, used cauliflower instead of potato… but the one common denominator is always the gorgeous lemony bite from the sorrel.

Do you grow this plant in your garden? How do you like to prepare it? Let us know!

 

Photos by the author, and lead image is by Neal Foley via Flickr Creative Commons.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Keyhole Gardens for Small Spaces

By Catherine Winter

One of the most common concerns we hear is a lack of gardening space. Many people who have access to an outdoor garden are city dwellers who only have a small front yard or tiny lot behind their homes to play in, so they feel that they are very limited in what they’re able to grow. A great way to maximize space (and increase growing yields) is with a keyhole garden: read on to learn more about what they are and how to set one up.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Keyhole gardens are so named because they have a notch in them much like their namesake. They’re ideal for small spaces because that lovely little notch allows you to walk into the centre of the garden so you can reach all the glorious plants you’ve packed the space with: you don’t have to crawl over anything, possibly damaging delicate greens while doing so.

Some people also sink an active compost pile into the centre of their keyhole beds: this is ideal for areas that are prone to droughts, as the compost (which should be kept damp!) releases both moisture and nutrients into the surrounding soil on a regular basis. This method of keyhole gardening is quite popular in parts of Subsaharan Africa and various regions in Texas for precisely this reason.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

If you have limited space, map out the closest thing you can get to a circle (mark it with chalk or non-toxic paint), decide where you’d like your notch to be placed, and then build up a wall. I’ve used old masonry blocks for mine, but you can use everything from stones and bricks to woven branches. Use what you have on hand. If you’re renting your home, you can reassure your landlord that these keyhole gardens can be disassembled quite easily, though they’ll probably be so impressed by what you’re able to grow in there that they just might keep them around if and when you move.

Once you’ve created the walled exterior, decide whether you’d like that active compost tube thinger in your garden. If you do, make a simple tube out of chicken wire and place that at the sharp V point inside the garden. Prop it into place with some bricks or stones.

Create a layer of loose pebbles at the bottom of this garden for drainage purposes, then create layers inside it as though creating hugelkultur or a “lasagna” garden: some rotting logs, topped by cardboard, yard clippings, old hay, and then compost-rich garden soil.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Determine where the sun hits over the course of the day, and plant your vegetables accordingly, placing those that need the most light in the sunniest spots, and those that can thrive in partial shade in the areas that get less light. If you plant zucchini or cucumbers, place those along the edges so they can spill over the sides, and don’t be afraid to grow upwards! You can secure some poles or sticks around that composter and use it as a trellis to grow peas, beans, or even climbing tomatoes.

Be sure to intersperse herbs and pollinating flowers in amongst your plants! Take note of which will be the best companions for what you’d like to grow, and get planting!

Photos via Wikimedia Commons, as well as McKay SavageJulia Gregory and K. Latham via Flickr Creative Commons.

Low-Maintenance Food Plants for Novice (or Reluctant) Gardeners

By Catherine Winter

Are you interested in growing your own food plants, but you’re intimidated by the prospect of doing so? Or is it something you’re reluctant to do but feel that you should be doing for health, wellbeing, and planet-saving? Well, don’t worry: there are some delicious, easy-to-grow plants you can try out that won’t break your spirit, and might just encourage you to keep at it.

lettuce, leaf lettuce, cut-and-come-again lettuce, salad greens, organic lettuce, heirloom lettuce

Cut-and-Come Again Lettuce

Lettuces are pretty easy to grow anyway, but the kind that will re-grow after it’s been snipped is ideal for newbie gardeners. Most lettuces’ leaves will happily spring back after you’ve snipped them for salad, so you won’t have to fuss over re-sowing over the course of the growing season: just trim off a few leaves now and then (sparsely, so you don’t take more than 30 percent of the plant at a time), and your salad bar will re-stock itself in no time.

Iceberg, arugula, mizuna, tender mustard greens, and most loose-leaf varieties are ideal for this method, and since lettuce grows really well in the shade, you can grow it on a small balcony or patio, or even indoors.

cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, currant tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Tomatoes are considered the gateway to gardening, as just about every gardener out there started with a tomato plant, even if it was just a teensy potted one on a balcony. Cherry (or grape, or currant) varieties ripen much earlier than full-size ones, so you have earlier gratification for your gardening efforts.

If you have the space, get yourself a few different plants to see which ones you like best. Maybe an orange or black cherry, grape, or currant, etc. Each one has a unique flavour, and since they’re so easy to grow, you can expand your palate while revelling in the joy of being a new gardener. (And honestly, who doesn’t love tomatoes?)

potted herbs, culinary herbs, basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, savory, cooking herbs, pot herbs, potted herbs, kitchen herbs

Herbs

Culinary herbs are wonderful for small spaces, as you can grow them on a sunny windowsill or patio and just trim off bits here and there when you’d like to cook with them. Hardy aromatics like thyme, sage, and savory thrive on neglect, and will survive if you forget to water them as regularly as you should. Leafy herbs like parsley and basil are a bit more high maintenance, and both chives and oregano are stubborn survivors, and perennials to boot: they’ll come back year after year.

If you’re more interested in medicinal plants, calendula is really hardy, as is chamomile. Lavender thrives in sunny spots, yarrow can do quite well with neglect, and if you really are terrified of killing your plants, get a pot of mint. That stuff is damn near indestructible.

You can do this! If you need any help or advice about which plants would do best for your space and your skill level, don’t hesitate to contact us for help: just leave a note in the comments section below, or drop us an email at farmtheworldorg AT gmail.com

Photos by Dan Gold, Dwight Sipler, and Patty Mitchell via Unsplash and Foter creative commons.

raised beds, raised garden beds, vegetable beds, raised vegetable beds

Permaculture Principles: Observe Your Land Before You Plant Anything

By Catherine Winter

One of the first lessons in sustainable permaculture is to observe your land for at least a year before planting anything in the ground. You can plant anything you like in pots and containers as you can move those around easily, but plunking seeds, bushes, or trees into your land requires a whole lot of research and awareness first. Many of us get reallyreally excited as soon as we have a plot of land to play with—we go nuts with planning and ordering seeds and planting all kinds of stuff, and end up sabotaging our vegetable gardening attempts with our impatience.

I’m just as guilty of this as many others have been before me, and although it’s been a pain in the arse to sort out and I’ve kicked myself for my stupidity, I’ve also learned from my mistakes. Hopefully you can learn from them too.

raised beds, raised garden beds, garden beds

Royal Screw-Ups

Case in point: when I moved into this house in 2013, I was delighted to see a beautiful little flat patch of earth on the NE side. I promptly squeed myself and plopped two raised beds onto it, filling those beds with herbs, lettuces, and brassicas. Well, fast forward a month and those beds were completely shaded once the trees’ foliage filled out completely. The beds were also under constant onslaught from the fuzzy poplar catkins that fell from above, so I was weeding and cleaning the soil every day just to keep up.

This is exactly why it is of vital importance to observe your property during all four seasons before committing to any permanent structure or long-term investment like nut trees or berry bushes.

I have raspberries, blueberries, serviceberries, and blackberries in a nice acidic patch of soil in one corner of my property, and I’m happy that I really observed and took note of the changes in that area before planting anything. See, it’s on a rather steep slope of the mountainside that my home is perched upon, and winter’s meltwater takes a very specific path through that very berry patch and into the stream below. If I hadn’t taken note of the water’s course in late winter/early spring, I might have planted some bushes right in that pathway: the plants would have died and I would have gotten screamy.

cabbage, green cabbage, savoy cabbage, brassica, brassicas

As frustrating as it is to be patient, it’s even more frustrating to regret hasty actions… especially since seeds and plants can be a costly investment. I can’t tell you how many plants I’ve lost thanks to sudden May heat waves, crazy July frosts, and local wildlife discovering what a lovely buffet I’ve provided for them.

Take Photos, Make Notes

Seriously, take pictures of your property every couple of weeks throughout the year so you can see how changes take place over time, and get out there so you can experience things firsthand. Make notes about everything from little microclimates you may discover to dips and hills: you can use these to full advantage when planning your garden, such as keeping water-loving plants in the dips, and those that need better drainage in the raised areas.

rabbit, wild rabbit, rabbit in the garden, rabbit eating plants, bunny, garden bunny

Keep an eye on the animals and insects that visit your property, and determine whether they need to be attended to. These are just a few aspects that should be monitored:

  • Are there a lot of bees and other pollinators? Or will you need to entice some to your land with indigenous flowers?
  • Do squirrels, rabbits, deer, or other herbivores stop by often? Take note of which species visit so you can sort out an action plan for dealing with them humanely so they don’t eat all of your plants.
  • Does a lot of snow fall on your property? Where does the meltwater go?
  • Does your region have a history of inclement weather such as droughts or summer hailstorms?
  • Which areas get the most sun throughout the year? Which get the most shade?

Once you have a really clear idea of all of these facets, you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions about the types of plants that will work best for the space you have to work with. Remember how we talked about working with your land rather than against it? It really is in your best interest to determine what would work best, and then go that route rather than dreaming up what you’d like and then trying to force Mother Nature to comply with your wishes.

…don’t even try, because she always wins.

If you have any questions about which plants would work best for your zone and the space you have available, please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments section: chances are someone on our team will have answers for you.

 

Photos by Local Food Initiative and Nathan Anderson via Flickr Creative Commons and UnSplash.

soil, garden soil, garden earth, acidic soil, compost

Seeds n’ Soils

By Catherine Winter

Just about every person who’s tried to grow vegetables or herbs has had to deal with “failure to thrive”, whether it’s from seed failure or seedling death. It’s disappointing (even devastating if someone’s dependent upon gardening endeavours for their food), and there are a number of different reasons why it happens. One of the most common reasons is that the plants haven’t been cultivated in the right soil, so it’s important to determine what type of earth your plants need so you can give them the most optimal conditions from day one.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that you’ll find different plants in different areas. On my land, there’s a ton of coltsfoot and mullein growing in the sandy soils around the creek, but I’m not going to find those plants tucked in amongst stands of birch in the loamy forest soil. They’re growing in the areas that are best for their development, and will fizzle out and die if forced to swap spaces.

peppers, capsicum, hot peppers, chili peppers, jalapenos, piri piri, banana peppers

Acidic Soil

Radishes, peppers, and potatoes all thrive in acidic soil. You can add sphagnum peat moss into an all-purpose organic seed-starting mix, and the sphagnum will increase the soil’s acidity and increase the chances that your plants will germinate successfully.

Sphagnum is a good option for container gardening, but if you’ll be planting a large garden’s worth of food, you can get sulphur at your local garden centre and work that into the soil you’ll be planting into.

Here’s a tip: If part of your land is naturally acidic, take full advantage of that area and plant a bunch of perennial berry bushes. They’ll grow really well there, and you won’t have to put any extra effort into making the soil a happy place for them to be.

Cabbage

Alkaline Soil

Brassicas, peas, beans, and most leafy greens (like chard, lettuce, and spinach) prefer alkaline soils, but can do just fine in pH neutral soil as well. If the earth in your garden is on the acidic side and you’re really keen to have a ton of broccoli and beans, you can add some pulverized limestone to increase alkalinity.

If you’re uncertain as to just how acidic or alkaline your soil is, you can test it with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and plain white vinegar: take two samples of soil, and add a bit of baking soda to one sample, and a bit of vinegar to the other. If the sample with baking soda in it fizzes, then your soil is acidic. If the vinegary one fizzes, it’s alkaline. If nothing happens at all, it’s neutral.

You can, of course, also use pH testing strips, but this is an easy way to test your soil using items you likely already have at home.

carrots, root vegetables, roots, orange carrots

Sandy Soil

Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, and beets tend to do best in sandy soils, as do aromatic culinary herbs like thyme, summer and winter savoury, oregano, and sage. Just like amending your soil with sphagnum, you can work sand into your soil prior to planting your seeds.

*Note: root vegetables can also be stored in sand in a cool, dry place over the winter. If you have a root cellar or cool, dark basement, try this method after you harvest them.

squash, squash seeds, heirloom squash, cucurbits, organic squash, Baker Creek

Rich Soil

Squashes, pumpkins, zucchini, melons, broccoli, and cucumbers are heavy feeders that suck up a lot of nutrients from the soil, so it’s important that whatever they’re planted into is very nutrient-dense and rich. Work aged compost into your seed-starting mixture, and work a good fertilizer into the soil they’ll be planted into about 3 weeks before transplanting them. Once they’re in the soil, it’s good to re-fertilize every few weeks (compost tea is ideal for this), but along the “drip line” (around the edges of your plant) so you don’t burn or damage the plant itself.

 

Many seed companies (especially organic and heirloom dispensaries like Baker Creek) have in-depth information on the backs of their seed packets: they’ll tell you exactly what type of soil is best for your plant, as well as their sun and water requirements. If your seed packets don’t give you this information, a quick Google search should work wonders. We’re in the process of compiling a rather large database of information that will let you know exactly what each species needs, but it’ll take us a little while to get all of that sorted out.

Have you had to amend your soil to suit different plants’ needs? Which techniques did you use? Please let us know in the comments section below!

Cherishing Food as Sacred

By Catherine Winter

How diligent are you about not letting any food go to waste? Do you find yourself throwing out wilted greens or furry fruit on a regular basis? Or letting leftovers go bad at the back of the fridge because you didn’t want to eat the same thing two days in a row? If you have, you’re not alone. Most of us have allowed this to happen on more than one occasion, and although we might have felt a pang of guilt, we may not have felt the solid gut-kick of irresponsibility and remorse that we should have felt at the time.

Why is that? Well, it’s likely because the average person is so far removed from the process of growing food from seed to harvest that they really aren’t capable of appreciating just how much work goes into growing everything they buy. They don’t consider how soil (black gold, really) is made from organic matter breaking down, and how the nutrients in that soil are sucked up by little seeds to grow into edible plants.
They don’t think about the diligence needed to keep little seedlings alive with regular waterings, or how vital pollinators like bees and butterflies are in order for these plants to develop and go to seed.

Plums

Growing one’s own food cultivates an appreciation that just buying pre-packaged items at the grocery store doesn’t provide. It can’t. There’s too much of a disconnect between the plastic-wrapped, pre-made items bought at the supermarket and the plant or animal from which it originated. It’s not until a person has taken part in the process of coaxing life from a seed and nurturing it to maturity, or drawn an egg out from beneath a clucking hen, that they can really comprehend how sacred food really is, and how devastating it is to let any of it go to waste, ever.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer touches upon the “Honourable Harvest”: the idea of only taking what is given (and not more than what is needed), to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate it in kind. When we pick wild berries, we only take our share, and leave the rest for our forest cousins. Similarly, when we purchase food from the grocery store, we should ensure that we’re not depleting the shelves for our own selfish whims, but leave enough for others. When we harvest items from our garden, we need to make sure that we let a portion go to seed: both so we can re-sow the following year, and to allow wild creatures to take their fair share as well, in exchange for having helped to pollinate and fertilise our gardens.

Children Gardening

There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that occurs when one takes an active role in cultivating and raising food, and the awareness that food is a gift, and not to be taken for granted. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to get children involved in food gardening from a very young age: if reverence is nurtured from day one, they’re far less likely to be wasteful and irresponsible about food later in life. Hell, they might even become avid gardeners themselves, but we can only hope and pray that’ll happen.

It’s time that we re-learn what it is to treat our food as sacred, and revere it as such; to take a moment before eating to acknowledge all the work that was poured into growing every morsel on our plates, and have sincere appreciation for the sun, soil, rain, and toil required to feed us. It is with these small gestures that we can start to move beyond our consumerist leanings and connect more deeply with the world around us, and the life-sustaining gifts that we receive from it.

dandelion, dandelions, edible dandelions, foraged edibles, foraged food, wild foods

Early Spring Dandelions? Use Them for Salad

By Angelina Williamson

A lot of people associate salad eating with summer. There’s no denying that summer yields fantastic salads, but I’m a big fan of winter and early spring salads too. Here’s one that I made using three things from my (zone 9b) winter garden: mache, flat leaf Italian parsley, and dandelion greens.

I don’t buy many out-of-season vegetables but one exception I make is for hothouse cucumbers. I happened to have one so I included it. Before I tell you how I put this salad together I’d like to list some other great ingredients you might have on hand that make fantastic cold weather salads.

dandelion greens, edible dandelions, edible wild greens, wild dandelion

Great Winter/Early Spring Salad Ingredients

Beans are a fantastic substantial ingredient to include in salads that will help give you the energy and protein you need to get through cold dark days that may or may not include activities such as shoveling snow. My favorite bean to use in salads are navy and cannellini beans which taste essentially the same but cannellinis are larger. Other great beans to include in salads are chick peas (garbanzos), black beans, and kidney beans. But don’t be limited by this list. If you grew your own dried beans, cook them up and try them out in a salad.

When summer vegetables and fruits are out of season there are a lot of other fantastic vegetables and fruits to add to your salads such as roasted: beets, cauliflower, carrots, winter squash (cut in cubes first), celery root, potato, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. Crisp apples, European and Asian pears, grapefruits, and oranges (mandarin or blood oranges are extra wonderful), all work well together.

Some other great ingredients are nuts and seeds (walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, and pepitas), marinated or pickled summer vegetables, dried fruits (cranberries, sour cherries, and tomatoes), and baked tofu.

In my growing zone, late fall to early spring is the best time for growing any greens, especially tender greens. If your winters are too harsh for lettuces, try growing in a cold frame or indoors. But even if the more tender greens don’t happen in your zone until summer, experiment with the heartier greens as your salad base.

Winter Salad.png
White Bean, Sun Dried Tomato, Kalamata, and Dandelion Salad

  • 3 cups navy beans, cooked
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dandelion greens, julienned
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 tsbp of your favorite vinaigrette

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a bowl and let it sit in the fridge (or covered on your counter) for about a half an hour. You can eat this just as it is or you can add this to a bed of greens (dress the greens with additional vinaigrette) and top it off with feta cheese as I’ve done in the picture above. I happened to have a hothouse cucumber in need of being used up so I decorated the edge of my salad with them.

Dandelion leaves are packed with potassium, vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as iron and magnesium, making them powerhouses of nutrition after winter’s scarcity. Just please remember that if you’re living in a colder zone, dandelion flowers are the first real food of the year for many bees and pollinating species, while the leaves nourish wild rabbits and other mammal friends. If you gather wild dandelions for food, please do so sparingly in order to ensure that others have food too.

tomatoes, growing tomatoes, tomato plants

Gateway to Gardening: Which Plant Got You Started?

By Catherine Winter

We all had one. You know what I’m talking about.

That first little plant that sparked a love of things that grow, and set you on your path to being a gardener, farmer, and/or homesteader. It could have happened when you were a child, or when you moved into your first apartment with a partner, or perhaps even after you retired. Maybe you adopted an unloved seedling from a garden centre and nursed it to verdant health, or someone gave you a plant as a housewarming present and they sparked a green fever that just keeps getting stronger.

Cherry-tomato-plant

For a lot of people, the one that got their green thumbs twitching was a tomato plant. There aren’t too many folks out there who don’t love tomatoes, and they’re as easy to cultivate in a container garden as in a standard grow bed. Cherry tomatoes are ideal as starter plants because they combine the ease of growing with the early gratification of jewel-sized tomatoes that you can pop in your mouth at least a month before larger varieties even begin to ripen.

In my case, it was a bean.

Miss Emmanuel’s first grade class, 1982. We had all been given a couple of beans to poke into our paper Dixie cups full of soil, and we lined those little cups along the sunny window ledge and made sure to water them any time the soil seemed a bit dry. Within no time at all, there was a little green seedling popping up through the earth, and I watched as every day, it unfurled a bit more until it was a merry little plant in its own right.

Bean-sprouting

Naturally, I hounded my parents to let me have a garden space so I could plant more (MOAR!!!), but the apartment landlords said no. I had to make do with a few containers of plants on our patio, but I’d caught the bug. We lived in that place until I was seven years old, and as soon as we moved into a house of our own, I was allowed to cultivate a little patch of earth in one corner of the backyard. Now I have a massive berry patch, hugelkultur piles, a dozen grow beds, bean and pea tipis, and a couple of hazelnut bushes. It just goes to show that a love like this can sprout (hurr, hurr) from very humble beginnings.

Which plant got you started as a gardener?

Claytonia, miner's lettuce, perennial greens, winter purslane, purslane, winter greens

Bored of the Usual Greens? Try Something New This Spring!

By Catherine Winter

There are over 20,000 edible plants on the planet, yet most people never branch out from the smattering of greens offered at their local grocery store. Sure, basic edibles like lettuce, spinach, kale, and cabbage are great and all, but there are so many other edible green vegetables to enjoy, from salty agretti to frilly, anise-flavoured chervil.

Many of these vegetables have far greater nutrition than the standard offering, and have gorgeous flavours and textures that are worth exploring. While you’re putting together your shopping lists of the great vegetables and herbs you’d like to explore in this year’s garden, consider trying some of the following greens. You’ll expand your palate, increase biodiversity, and might discover some new favourites along the way.

agretti, salsola soda, barba di frate

Agretti

Also known as roscano or barba di frate, this frond-like Italian green has fleshy, needle-like leaves that look like chives and taste like a cross between samphire and spinach. They’re best braised with olive oil, garlic, and a bit of lemon.

  • Scientific name: Salsola soda
  • Zone: 3 and above. Sow seeds directly into your garden about 5mm (1/4 inch) deep once daily temperatures average around 23 to 26C (73 to 78F).
  • Soil and sun needed: This plant thrives in poor soil, and doesn’t need too much direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked. Since this plant grows wild near the ocean and is often grown in saltwater-irrigated soil, it tolerates areas with a high salt content very well.
  • Details: Agretti seeds are only viable for a Known as callaloo in the very short time. These are not seeds that you can store for years and expect to germinate sometime in the distant future—you need to plant them within three months. This plant is very easily killed off by frosts, so if you live in a place that has a short growing season, start it very early.

Smyrnium olusatrum, Alexanders, biennial food plant, Tudor monastery farm

Alexanders

  • Scientific name: Smyrnium olusatrum
  • Zone: 5-10
  • Soil and sun needed: Partial shade, in moderately fertile soil, though it seems to thrive just as well in poor/depleted soils. It’s often found among ruins, particularly along walls where it can get plenty of shade, and it does very well as part of a hedgerow polyculture. The seedlings don’t transplant well, so it’s best to sow it in place in autumn so the seeds can striate over the winter.
  • Details: The Romans were extremely fond of this ancient vegetable, and introduced it to the UK when they settled it a couple of thousand years ago (which I learned while watching Ruth Goodman’s Tudor Monastery Farm. Yay!) Alexanders were a vital food throughout Europe for centuries, and the estates of France’s Carolingian kings were packed with these plants, as they were favourites of the court as well as for the general population. It’s been used in a similar manner to lovage and parsley, and its leaves, buds, roots, and stem are all edible. Even the seeds can be used like cumin in soups and such.
  • Note: Alexanders are biennial, so it’s a good idea to plant two patches of them, a year apart. That way you’ll have a crop every year as the beds alternate.

amaranth

Amaranth

With its gloriously colourful seed heads, amaranth is as beautiful as a decorative plant as it is a food source. Very young leaves can be picked and eaten raw, but in general the leaves are best when cooked in the same way you’d cook chard, collards, or spinach. (Again, you really can’t go wrong sauteeing or braising greens with garlic and olive oil.)

  • Scientific name: Amaranthus tricolor/Amaranthus hypochondriacus/Amaranthus caudatus
  • Zone: 3 and up
  • Soil and sun needed: Well-drained, loamy soil that’s rich in nitrogen and phosphorous, and full sun. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your areas last frost date, and transplant outdoors once there is no risk of nighttime frosts. You can also sow directly once the soil has warmed, but be aware that the seeds are very well liked by birds, and they’ll likely eat them before they can sprout.
  • Details: Amaranth can thrive pretty well when neglected, but be sure to keep it well watered during dry periods. Nourish with compost tea or organic fertilizer a couple of times a season if you find that growth has stunted.

Arugula

Arugula

  • Scientific name: Eruca vesicaria sativa
  • Zone: 3 and up
  • Soil and sun needed: Arugula does best in well-drained, fertile soil, but doesn’t thrive in extremely hot weather. It’ll do well in springtime and autumn, or in zones where summers don’t get too warm. Sow directly where it’ll get full sun. It’ll benefit from fertilizer once in a while, and keeping the soil moist will help to prevent it from bolting if the weather gets warmer than it likes.
  • Details: Also known as roquette (or “rocket” in the UK), this spicy green is as beautiful raw in salads as it is sauteed or braised.

Cardoons

Cardoon

  • Scientific name: Cynara cardunculus
  • Zone: 6 and up; hardy to zone 8
  • Soil and sun needed: Cardoon loves deep, rich, compost-filled soil and full sunshine. Although it will tolerate partial shade, it won’t thrive in it.
  • Details: Grown mostly for its fleshy leaf-stalks and delicious stems, this Mediterranean plant is certainly one to try if you live in a warm enough hardiness zone. Close relatives to artichokes, cardoons have very similar growing requirements and can be fussy to cultivate, but they’re well worth the effort. You’ll need to start seeds indoors about 6 weeks before you’ll be transferring it outside, and it can’t be planted in your garden until 3-4 weeks after your area’s final frost date. They don’t do well in container gardens, nor do they tolerate companion plants well: plant these as solitary creatures.
  • Note: Hummingbirds LOVE this plant, so be prepared to see a lot of them.

Chervil

Chervil

  • Scientific name: Anthriscus cerefolium
  • Zone: 3 and up
  • Soil and sun needed: High compost, loamy soil, in partial shade. Chervil is ideal for cultivating in guilds beneath fruit or nut trees, but it needs to be sown directly: the seeds do not transplant well at all.
  • Details: This beautiful, flat-leafed herb has been cultivated for both food and medicine for centuries, and was extremely popular during the medieval era. It has a subtle anise/liquorice flavour, and is lovely when minced finely and added to summer salads, especially those with fruit and nuts added to the greens. In French cuisine, chervil is one of the  four herbs that make up the “fines herbes” group, along with tarragon, parsley, and chives. Chervil’s medicinal properties are subtle: it’s mostly used as an infusion to aid digestion, and to lower blood pressure. It may also ease insomnia.

Claytonia

Claytonia

  • Scientific name: Claytonia perfoliata
  • Zone: 2-12
  • Soil and sun needed: Full sun to partial shade, sown directly into moderately fertile, moist soil. If you’re growing it in a container, make sure it has plenty of coir or peat, along with compost-rich soil.
  • Details: Also known as miner’s lettuce and winter purslane, this hardy green thrives in cool weather and is an ideal winter green in zones 8 and up. Unlike regular purslane, this has no bitterness and instead has a sweet-ish flavour that’s somewhere between baby spinach and water chestnuts. Rich in vitamin C, these leaves will keep you from getting scurvy if you eat them regularly.

Escarole

Escarole

  • Scientific name: Cichorium endivia, varlatifolia
  • Zone: 4-10
  • Soil and sun needed: Full sun, in neutral, compost-rich soil that has high potassium and phosphorous, but low nitrogen. If the soil has too much nitrogen, the plant might bold instead of growing into a proper head.
  • Details: Escarole (or broad-leafed chicory) is a gorgeous leafy variety of endive that grows well in most climates, and is great both raw and cooked. It has a mild-but-pleasant bitterness, and is a key ingredient in many Italian dishes. (Here’s a tip: try escarole and white bean soup with a good, crusty bread and your favourite Pinot Grigio.) You can either start it indoors and then transfer outside after the last frost date, or sow directly once your soil warms.

Gai-Lan.png

Gai Lan (Flowering Broccoli)

  • Scientific name: Brassica oleracea var. italica
  • Zone: 3-10
  • Soil and sun needed: This is a heavy feeder, and likes a rich soil full of composted manure. Start seeds indoors, transplant outside after the last frost. It does best in cooler climates, and bolts very easily during heat waves or hot summers.
  • Details: More commonly referred to as flowering broccoli or Chinese broccoli, this is an Asian green in the brassica family that’s definitely worth exploring.
  • Note: like any other brassica, this plant can be destroyed/devoured by cabbage moth larvae. It’s best to grow it beneath fine netting to keep the wee beasties away, unless you have chickens or ducks controlling such pests in your garden.

Good-King-Henry

Good King Henry

  • Scientific name: Chenopodium bonus-henricus 
  • Zone: 3-9
  • Soil and sun needed: Full sun to partial shade, and although it does best in fertile soil, it tolerates poorer soils well and pretty much thrives on neglect. The seeds need cold striation in order to germinate properly, so it’s best to sow it in the autumn, or else in flats stored in the fridge for a few weeks before planting after the last frost.
  • Details: Few people have even heard of this vegetable, let alone tasted it, but this popular iron age and Medieval green is well worth re-discovering. It’s been called goosefoot, poor man’s asparagus, Lincolnshire spinach, and markery over the centuries, but in any case it’s a wonderful perennial green that’s packed with iron, calcium, and vitamin C. It’s also one of the greens that was most commonly used in pottage, alongside leeks, peas, and chard.

Chenopodium album, lamb's quarters, goosefoot, fat hen, wild edibles, foraging, wildcrafting

Lamb’s Quarters

  • Scientific name: Chenopodium album
  • Zone: 3-10
  • Soil and sun needed: Nitrogen-rich, depleted soils, and full sun to partial shade.
  • Details: Chances are that you already have this plant growing somewhere in your area, so it’s best to wildcraft for it first before deciding whether you need to plant it! Also known as goosefoot or fat hen, it’s a prolific edible that’s usually considered an invasive “weed” rather than the delicious, nutrient-rich food source it really is. Even if you don’t want to eat them, they’re ideal for feeding poultry, livestock, and even domestic herbivore pets.
  • Note: Lamb’s quarters are high in vitamin A and calcium, which is great, but they’re also high in oxalic acid and should be eaten in moderation so as to avoid causing any strain on your kidneys.

Rumex acetosa, sorrel, garden sorrel, perennial vegetables, perennial greens

Sorrel

  • Scientific name: Rumex acetosa
  • Zone: 3-9 (perennial in zones 5+
  • Soil and sun needed: Full sun, in slightly acidic-to-neutral soil that’s well drained and moderately fertile. You can either sow it a couple of weeks before the last frost date in spring, or in late autumn so it can overwinter.
  • Details: Sorrel, also known as garden sorrel, French sorrel, and spinach dock, is a gorgeous perennial pot herb with a tart, lemony flavour. In German, it’s known as sauerampfer, and is a key ingredient in spring and summer soups. It’s one of the first greens to pop up in springtime, often sprouting while snow is still on the ground. Its bitterness comes from oxalic acid (so don’t eat too much of it!), but it’s full of vitamins C, A, and magnesium, so it’s a good spring herb to replenish that which was depleted during the winter months/hungry gap.