herbs

EASY Sage Recipes

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This cool rainy weather has me reaching for sage a little more. It adds warmth and depth to so many dishes. 
Here is a super quick and easy soup you can make any night of the week: 
Simmer whole leaves of sage in broth in a pot, on low on the back of the stove. In another pot, sauté onions, garlic, carrots until tender and starting to caramelize. Remove (and discard) the sage from the broth and add the infused broth to the vegetables. Add any of these options: shredded cooked chicken, cooked beans, small pasta or rice (cooked), diced tempeh or tofu. Just before serving, add a handful or two of fresh spinach, chopped parsley, and a few grates of lemon zest. Very easy weeknight soup. 

I also love to use sage with roasted meats, chicken and vegetables. I stuff whole handfuls of sage inside the cavity of a chicken before roasting it. Add a lemon, a few cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, and it will add tons of flavor to your chicken. I also like to finely chop 5 or so leaves of sage along with 2 cloves of garlic, a teaspoon or two of lemon zest, and and a 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt. I just smash and chop it all into a paste right on the cutting board, but you could also put it in a food processor or use a mortar and pestle. Then I toss washed and chopped root vegetables with this mixture, drizzle everything with olive oil, toss again, and roast in a preheated 400F oven for about 40 -45 minutes, until soft and caramelized. Or I will take the lemon / sage mixture and rub it all over a pork roast or beef roast before it heads into a hot oven.

These are all simple things to make in big batches so that you can use leftovers for lunches or hurried week night dinners. 


If you aren't able to harvest sage out of your own garden, you can find ours at  Market, Healthy Living Market and Cafe, Shelburne Supermarket, Lantman's MarketNatural Provisions Market & Deli, and Hunger Mountain Co-op. Warm up and enjoy! We will sell bulk herbs (1/2 a pound or more)directly to customers if you arrange it ahead of time. We have thyme, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, and mint. This is a great way to dry and put away herbs for the winter. I keep paper bags of herbs loosely closed all winter long.

Sweet Potatoes Slip Sale 2016

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Sweet Potato Slip Sale

June 11th and 12th, 2016

8:00 to 6:00 pm

 Red Wagon Plants greenhouses

2408 Shelburne Falls Rd  * Hinesburg, VT

Proceeds from the sale benefit the educational programs of Vermont Community Garden Network.

For more information, call 482-4060

Sweet potatoes can be grown in Vermont. Under ideal conditions they thrive and can yield up to 5 pounds per slip. During this benefit sale, we will be selling sweet potato slips in 4" pots, with three slips per pot. These get transplanted 18" apart, in loose, well drained soil. You can also grow them in containers. They like warm, southern exposure, and can be trellised to save space.

Here are some resources for more information on Sweet Potatoes:

The Vermont Community Garden Network has information on their programs and the sweet potato sale here.

This  article on the Mother Earth News website highlights growing methods for northern gardeners and best ways to store the tubers.

 Here is a photo essay on how some ingenious customers are growing their sweet potatoes in Starksboro.

Recipe for Roasted Sweet Potato Fries with Herbs

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch batons

3 TBS olive oil

salt and pepper

1/3 cup finely chopped parsley, chives, and or cilantro

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 small pinch of cayenne

1 tsp lemon juice

  • Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place 2 large cookie sheets in the oven so they are pre-heated as well
  • Toss the cut sweet potatoes with the olive oil and salt and pepper in a large bowl
  • Arrange them on the hot pans in a single layer.
  • Roast for 20 minutes, and flip them over with a spatula, and return to the oven for another 20 minutes, or until tender and browned.
  • Meanwhile, toss the herbs, garlic, cayenne and lemon juice together in the same bowl
  • When the hot fries come out of the oven, sprinkle the herb mixture on the fries and serve immediately

Growing Instructions for Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato slips are cuttings that come from a parent vine. The slips grow best in a loose, sandy or silty soil that drains well. If sweet potatoes are grown in a rich dark soil they may discolor but are still good to eat. • Transplant the slips into garden beds during June, preferably in the late afternoon or on an overcast day. When transplanting, lay the slips on their sides with 2/3 of the slip buried a half inch under the soil. Water enough to keep the soil moist, but not saturated. • Plant the slips 10 to 18 inches apart in rows that are three to four feet apart. The rows or raised bed should be elevated 4 to 8 inches above the ground level to allow the sweet potatoes room to form. • Keep the cuttings watered while they are getting established. The leaves that were originally on the planted slips will dry up and fall off leaving just the vine stem. New leaves will emerge from the cuttings as the slips become established. • The sweet potato vines will cover the ground reaching 5 to 10 feet in length. Hoe around the vines to cultivate weeds and mulch with hay if desired. • Deer love sweet potato leaves, so be sure your planting area is fenced if deer are aproblem. A flying gold colored beetle may chew round holes in the leaves. The vines are tough and will keep growing despite insect damage. • Sweet potatoes are dug and harvested in late September through mid October, a day or two before the first predicted frost. Most of the sweet potatoes will be just below the parent plant. Each plant can produce up to six sweet potatoes. • After harvesting, dry the sweet potatoes on the ground for two or three hours. Allow them another 10 to 14 days to cure at room temperature or above, before storing the sweet potatoes at a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees F. • Unlike Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes should not be kept cold in a garage, refrigerator or outbuilding. If properly cured and stored, they will keep until April. Enjoy!

Herb Thoughts

Herb garden planning is not a lot of work, but here are some thoughts I have put together on the topic. Herbs are easy to grow for the most part, but they are a big category of plants (we grow 100 varieties of herbs) and it helps to break them down and organize them into categories. This will help any gardener plant the right plant in the right place and give it the preferred amount of water, sunlight, food, and water.

Why grow herbs? For flavor, fragrance, and beauty - it is the easiest way to improve the flavor of what you cook. It is also one of the easiest ways to have a container garden on your porch or deck.  Herb gardening is intimate - you get close to the plants, smell them, taste them, see them respond to regular clippings. They are a perfect way to better understand plant physiology and the best short cut to great food made with little effort.

Propagation: Plants vs. Seeds

All herbs can be planted from plants, and some can be planted directly into the ground as seeds. The herbs that you can seed directly in the ground and expect great results are: cilantro, dill,  and chamomile. Everything else will do much better if you start the seeds in containers in a sheltered environment. You can start your own herb transplants easily if you have grow lights and a heat mat. Many herbs take a long time to germinate and many herbs are propagated only from cuttings. Making your own rooted cuttings is possible too, but that takes a little more of a sophisticated set up with misters, rooting hormone of some sort, and humidity domes. For those herbs, it is generally easier to purchase the plants.

Herbs from Seed:

  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Chamomile
  • Savory (winter and summer)
  • Marjoram
  • Basil (all kinds)
  • Common Mint
  • Sage
  • Catnip
  • Chervil
  • Oregano (basic varieties)
  • Thyme (basic varieties)
  • Shiso
  • Sorrel
  • Lovage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Fennel
  • Salad Burnet

Herbs from Cuttings:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Mints that are true to type (spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, etc)
  • Tarragon
  • Specialty Thymes (lemon, variegated, silver, etc)
  • Specialty Oregano (golden, ‘Hot and Spicy’, variegated, etc)
  • Specialty Sage (purple, tricolor, golden, etc)

Containers vs. in the Ground

Some plants love to be planted in the ground and others would prefer to be in pots.  Generally speaking, the herbs that like it dry and warm will prefer to be in a clay pot that breathes like Italian terra cotta. Plants that like it wet and cool might prefer to be in the ground, but they can also be grown in pots if the right conditions are given (more watering, a glazed or plastic pot, heavier potting soil, a little shade).

Herbs that like to grow easily in the ground in Vermont:

Cilantro, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary, Savory, and Chervil

Herbs that prefer to be in containers in Vermont: EVERYTHING ELSE!

This does not mean that you cannot grow herbs in the ground, it just means that in containers, it can be a little easier.

Some herbs do really well as tiny shoots for micro-greens: chervil, dill, cilantro, basil, fennel are our favorites.  And they are easy to grow indoors year round – just pat down some moist potting soil in a shallow container (only need 2” or so of soil) with holes in the bottom, press in the seeds, cover very lightly with a thin layer of soil, and keep moist. When the first set of true leaves begin to emerge, they are ready to eat. You can also grow pea shoots and sunflower sprouts this way. A south facing, sunny window is sufficient.

You can bring in potted herbs in the fall and keep them in a sunny window for use during the winter. The herbs that do best with this treatment: sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and savory. Basil can be brought in as well, but it won’t be terribly happy unless you have grow lights for it.  If you had some of these herbs planted in the ground, you can dig them up and slowly acclimate them to being in a pot and being indoors.

Herbs can be dried or frozen or infused in vinegar or simple syrup for year round use. Pesto or herb pastes made with oil or water can be frozen in small containers.  Drying is very simple or very elaborate – you choose! A dehydrator can be used, and the leaves can be stripped off of the stems once dried and stored in jars in a dark place. Or you can go the simple route and just harvest whole branches of the woody herbs such as thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, and winter savory. Place the branches in woven baskets and keep in a dark, well-ventilated space. They will dry just fine on their own, and you can keep them covered with paper bags or kitchen linens and use as needed.

Related Upcoming Events

Cooking with Herbs with Molly Stevens and Julie Rubaud – a class and dinner.

South End Kitchen, Burlington, Vermont

March 19th.,  6pm

Red Wagon Plants pre-season Open House

April 4th 10 am to 3 pm. Tour the greenhouses and see behind the scenes.

Herbal Cocktail Party with Caledonia Spirits

April 17th, Red Wagon Plants 6 pm to 9 pm

Help us kick off our season with a bang!

Salad Burnet Dressing Recipe from a Customer

Ruth Henry, one of our many loyal customers, came in a little while ago asking for salad burnet. This is not one of our most popular herbs, and frankly, one that I never grow because I never know what to do with it. She assured me that it is amazing in a special salad dressing she makes. Naturally, this peaked my curiosity and she promised to send along the recipe. Here it is! And now I finally have a reason to plant this pretty little herb that tastes like cucumbers.

Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your "secret" recipe with us! Mum's the word!

" As promised this is my family's recipe for salad dressing using Salad Burnet......It's a big hit with lots of flavor! Enjoy"

Herb Salad Dressing 1 cup salad oil 1 cup honey 1/2 cup basil vinegar 1 clove crushed garlic 1 tsp salt 1 cup of finely chopped green herbs such as burnet, basil, chives, parsley 1  tsp celery seed 1 Tbsp paprika

Shake everything in a jar. Keeps in the refrigerator for a week or so.

Celebrate Spring with us at our Cocktail Party and Greenhouse Tour Friday April 18th, 5pm to 7pm

Please join us April 18th, our opening day, for an evening tour of the greenhouses and a cocktail party with our friends from Caledonia Spirits. We will start at 5:00, take a walk around the greenhouses at 6:00, and get to see old and new friends to kick off our season with a spring celebration. Heidi Mahoney will be serving up some delicious herb-themed snacks, Caledonia Spirits will be serving sample tastes of their award winning vodka and gin, and we will have a cash bar featuring a special cocktail made with our herbs and more of that special gin and vodka.

I first met Todd Hardie, owner of Caledonia Spirits, in 2001. At the time, he had another very special business called Honey Garden Apiaries. Todd and his staff kept bee yards throughout the Champlain Valley and the St Lawrence Valley and they would extract the honey and bottle it raw and unfiltered. It was the most powerful food, full of the bees' adventures and vitality. His operation was based right next to where Red Wagon Plants is currently located. When I needed a little something extra to do that winter 15 years ago, a friend suggested I talk to Todd about helping him with extracting honey. I fell in love with honey and made a life long friend. As Todd would say, it was a fruit example of cross-pollination as our conversations were instantly filled with all of the possibilities of plants, honey, bees, and all of the various ways these things can interplay. Todd's creativity, energy and brilliance have no bounds. He went on to make incredible plant and honey based medicines as part of his business, which was part apiary and part apothecary. While he has moved on to the world of finely distilled spirits, one thing has not changed: Todd is always making products that vibrate with the powerful energy of bees, plants and people. There is an inspired quality in all he makes that can be tasted and felt, and that sets it apart from all the others. 

Please let us know you are coming so that we can plan accordingly. RSVP.

Please join us for a special evening and help kick off the 2014 garden season with a wonderful celebration. 

- Julie and the crew

Sage Cookies

 

I first made these cookies when a group of us from Red Wagon Plants took an herb cooking class with Jessica Bongard of Sweet Lime Cooking Studio last summer. We had such a fun time making herbal treats together, and I thought I would share this recipe. I just made it for our Open House and it was such a tasty way to use sage in a not-too sweet treat.

Sage Cookies 

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal 1/2 cup butter (one stick), room temp 2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage 6 Tbsp milk 1 egg white, beaten with 1 Tbsp water (egg wash) fresh little sage leaves coarse sugar to sprinkle

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Whisk together flour, sugar, and cornmeal in medium bowl
  • Cut in butter using a fork, until fine crumb forms
  • Stir in chopped sage
  • Add milk stir with fork
  • Make dough into 2 balls
  • Roll out to 1/8 inch thick
  • Use 2 inch cookie cutter, onto cookie sheet
  • Brush with egg wash, add sage leaf or two, brush with egg wash again to seal
  • Sprinkle with sugar
  • Bake 12 minutes, until edges brown, turning pan halfway through

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Red Wagon Herbs

What's a greenhouse grower to do when the spring season winds down and there is still plenty of great weather for summer growing and the greenhouses are empty? Well, start a new business, that is what. We are so happy to introduce to you our new sister business, Red Wagon Herbs. We are growing Certified Organic herbs for year round harvest and selling to local stores, restaurants, and food hubs. Our focus is on the popular culinary herbs for now, but we are likely to branch out into the more unusual once we have had a chance to explore our markets and have gotten familiar with our new growing practices. This is a perfectly natural extension of our plant business since we already partner with fantastic stores and we love to grow herbs more than anything else. As a matter of fact, the plant business, in its earliest days, was just a potted herb business. In a way, we are going to back to those days and loving the continuity, evolution, and expansion.

Our herbs are grown using three different methods: in the ground for summer and fall harvest, in a new, unheated greenhouse (paid for in part by a grant from NRCS EQIP) for fall, winter and spring harvest, and in our existing, heated houses for those coldest months. We are excited to be the only Vermont farm offering organic herbs year round and hope you enjoy cooking with them as much as we enjoy growing them.

Please be on the look out for an Open House this fall so we can show you what we have been up to and give you a chance to smell, touch, taste, and see it all.

Our current line up consists of :

  • Basil (March through November only)
  • Chives
  • Cilantro 
  • Dill
  • Curly and Flat Parsley
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Tarragon
  • Rosemary
  • Savory
  • Marjoram
  • Spearmint
  • Bouquet Garni ( a mixture of aromatic herbs for roasting, stocks, and more)

Coming Home

Earlier this week, I went away for a total of 48 hours. This is astounding for a couple of reasons. Not only because it is May, and who do I think I am going away for a whole two days while trying to manage a greenhouse business. No, it's astounding because of the way that I came home.  I landed. I arrived. No stress, no jumping into a chaos of activity, no guilt at being gone, no extra work piled up. I came home to a busy crew doing everything well and calmly. I came home to happy customers loading up on plants while wearing big smiles. I came home to a feeling that all is right in my little world.  Two days off in May is hard to pull off in this line of work, but what helped me so much was that everyone who works here knew what to do, they made smart decisions and I am sure they handled problems with grace.  So, thank you, crew.

I also came home to a garden. I love my garden. The moments in the garden are rare and precious for me in May, but the first thing I did when I got out of the car, was go up to the large garden above the barn and finished planting a bed of strawberries. I harvested an armful of asparagus, collected the 4 eggs the hens had laid, picked a handful of chervil and flat full of mache, and I got to work making  dinner. I looked at my haul, as the sun was setting and felt embraced by the bounty.

We ate late. We ate well.

Egg Salad in Spring

Makes enough for dinner for 3 and leftovers for everyone's lunches. 

  • Hard boil 8 to 10 eggs.  (My method is to put cold eggs and cold water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, covered with a lid. Let it boil one minute. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the burner. Set the timer for 8 minutes. Drain and run under cold water for 5 minutes.)
  • Finely chop a handful of herbs - I used chervil and chives.
  • Finely chop a rib or two of celery - I would have used lovage had it been big enough.
  • Finely chop half a shallot or 3 scallions
  • Peel the eggs and place in a shallow bowl. Cut them up with a couple of knives or a pastry cutter.
  • Add all the other ingredients.
  • Add enough home made mayo to moisten the whole thing.
  • Stir gently.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Homemade Mayonnaise

Add to the blender:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • a dash of cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of Dijon mustard or 1/2 tsp dry English mustard
  • Blend for a few seconds and then very slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup of olive oil, grape seed oil, or a blend of the two.  Drizzle it in a very thin stream while the blender is whirring around though the top of the blender cover. Or you can use a food processor and drizzle it in through the feeder tube. Or you can do it by hand in a bowl, with a whisk. If you do that, try to anchor the bowl by wrapping a damp towel around the base. Or get someone to help you with another set of hands to hold the bowl, or beat the eggs, or do the drizzling. Beat or blend or process until it starts to thicken up.
  • Taste for salt and add a little pepper. If it is too thin, you can add more oil, still adding it in very slowly while blending.
  • You can add fresh herbs to the mayo, a little crushed raw garlic, a little chopped poached or roasted garlic (mellower flavor), anchovies, spices, roasted peppers etc. (for cleanest flavors add just one of these other ingredients, not a combination.)

We ate this lovely egg salad with toasted Pain de Mie (or Pullman Bread) from Scratch Baking Company in South Portland, ME and the asparagus was steamed and cooled, served on the side, splashed with some lemon juice.

Mache Salad

Mache is also know as corn lettuce. It is a cold hardy green that germinates only in cool temperatures. We grow it in flats in the greenhouse in the winter and gorge on it from late March to late May. It is a sturdy green with a nutty flavor, and it is eaten as a whole plant, washed well under running water, and dressed lightly with hazelnut or walnut oil and a good sea salt - fleur de sel, Maldon, or sel gris. The small plants have a really interesting texture and a rich flavor that is perfect this time of year when one craves green and fresh.

To the garden, the hens, and the amazing crew at Red Wagon Plants, thanks. You make life pretty, tasty, and lovely.

-Julie

 

Jo Ann Gardner comes for a visit

From Julie.... There are a few garden and farm writers out there that move me to no end. I have had a fascination with homesteading literature since I was a little girl and still to this day I love to pour over books, catalogs, websites and blogs that have to do with growing food, living off the land, making do with things that are around the house, etc. Within this genre, one of my absolute favorite writers is Jo Ann Gardner.

She has written eloquently about the plants she loves for decades and I have poured over some of these books countless times. She and her husband were once back to the landers in Nova Scotia, far off the beaten path, and were able to make a livelihood for themselves in a very short growing season and on very challenging soils. Her writing reads like a series of love letters to a set of handsome, rugged plants that got them through tough times. I am absolutely honored to have Jo Ann visit our greenhouses this Saturday and to share some of her plant knowledge with us. She now lives across the lake, in Essex, NY and is active in gardening efforts at home and at a local senior center. Her talk on Saturday will focus on how to use herbs in pots and containers around the home. I am sure she will bring along her wit, thrift, and cleverness and we will all be a little richer for it.

Brown Dog Books  in Hinesburg is carrying her books, and they will set up a table at our greenhouses on Saturday for those of you who may wish to purchase one or two. But be warned - Jo Ann's writing will fuel the fires of any gardening addiction. Also present on Saturday will be Jess Bongard, of Sweet Lime Cooking Studio. She will be bringing us some herb treats to sip and snack post-workshop. Coincidentally, Jess is teaching an herb class in her home kitchen on Sunday. You can read about it here. A group of us are going from Red Wagon, making it a party, I am sure.

I like June. The bulk of the spring planting is done. The porch is swept off, and it is just the right time to sip a lemon verbena iced tea, make a lovage and butter sandwich, and gaze lovingly at all the herb pots surrounding the patio. I hope to see some of you this Saturday. Psst...there are only a few slots left, so please call or email to register.

FAQ #22: Which herbs are perennial and which are annual?

Perennials: Angelica, Catnip, Chives and Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Germander, Anise Hyssop, ‘Munstead’, 'Grosso', 'Provence'  Lavender, Lemon Balm,  Lovage, Mint, Oregano, Rue, Sage, Winter Savory, Sweet Woodruff, French Tarragon, Thyme, Valerian Annuals: Artemisia (self seeds), Basil, Chamomile (self seeds), Chervil (self seeds),  Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Feverfew (self seeds), Lemongrass, Marjoram, Papalo, Parsley, Red Shiso, Rosemary, Summer Savory

Some herbs can be kept as houseplants over the winter. Some that do well are rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and parsley. It is always nice to have a few pots of these in the kitchen to snip into bowls of soup, salads, scrambled eggs and roasted vegetables and meats. You can dig them up out of the garden in the fall or just grow them in pots all summer that you then bring into the house once the temperature drops.

FAQ #21: How can I keep arugula, cilantro, lettuce, and dill from bolting?

The first step to preventing bolting is to understand what causes it. Bolting, or going to seed, is a natural part of the plant's life cycle. Some plants have longer life cycles than others. Arugula, lettuce, cilantro and dill all have relatively short life cycles, so they will try to produce seed within 8 to 10 weeks of being planted. It is an inevitable part of the plant life cycle but can be postponed with good management. It can also be caused by shock during transplanting, by too much or too little water, and around the solstice when the days start getting shorter. Transplant shock can be minimized by careful hardening off and transplanting in late afternoon when the plants will not be exposed to intense midday heat. Water carefully and time your plantings so that a fresh generation is coming along before the previous generation goes to seed. Here is a helpful schedule to help you maximize the harvest:

Cilantro - plant every 3 weeks from late April to mid August. These are very cold tolerant and can be grown early and late to extend the season. If you are very eager to have cilantro for salsa, then make sure to plant some in early July so that it is ready to eat at the same time as your tomatoes are ripe. The flowers of cilantro are edible and are a lovely addition to salads and salsas.

Dill - like cilantro, is very cold tolerant and can be grown early and late in the season. This self seeds willingly, so you can always allow a patch to flower and drop its seeds giving you a perpetual patch. The flowers of dill are tasty in pickles and marinades.

Lettuce - lettuce can be grown at the baby leaf stage or the full head stage.  Please refer to our lettuce post to learn more about the timing of lettuce. It should be planted every week or two if you eat lots of salads and want fresh, non-bitter leaves on your plate. It can be planted from seeds or from plants. If you prefer the texture and flavor of full heads of lettuce, then transplant individual plants every 10" - about 4 to 8 transplants a week is plenty. If you prefer cut lettuce leaves, then use seeds, and sprinkle them in a row, about 2 or 3 seeds per inch. Cut lettuce leaves can grow back and provide you with a second harvest, but the quality goes down each time and the bitterness increases. It is best to replant a fresh row of seeds every couple of weeks.

Arugula - like lettuce, it can be grown from transplants or from seeds. It is best to plant it regularly as it does not grow back very well. Its flowers are edible, and can be a nice peppery additions to salads, sauces, and grilled fish.

Herb Spiral Workshop

 

Our retail greenhouse is co-owned with a wonderful business also located at the same site. It is Queen City Soil and Stone, owned by Charley Macmartin of Burlington. Not only is Charley one of the nicest people you could ever meet, he is also the talent behind all of the stone work you see in our parking area and our lovely display garden. Charley uses the retail greenhouse as the home of his winter workshop series for homeowners and landscape professionals who want to learn or perfect dry wall masonry. The first workshop in this series is a perfect one for the Red Wagon Plants community since it is focusing on herb spirals. These simple and elegant structures are a great way to plant lots of herbs close to your kitchen door and in such a way that you give each herb the type of micro-climate it craves. Herb spirals provide various conditions in one small space - dry and sunny, shady and moist and everything in between.

Here is Charley's description of the upcoming workshop :

Queen City Soil & Stone’s series on garden stone features continues in November with a workshop on herb spirals. An herb spiral is a stone wall twisted in on itself creating a garden bed of varying soil depth and planting possibilities from kitchen herbs to strawberries to cut flowers. The workshop will be held at Red Wagon plants in a heated greenhouse on Saturday, November 12, from 9am to 2pm.

The cost of the workshop is $50 and space is limited. To sign up, call Charley MacMartin at (802) 318-2411.

 

The workshop will be hands-on:  building an herb spiral, discussing herb spiral design and learning about the plantings that a spiraling garden bed allows.

 

 

 

 

 

High Priority - Roasted Ratatouille for the Freezer

I have to admit that I don't love frozen vegetables for the most part. So if you have a favorite way to freeze a vegetable from your garden, please share it with me. Here is one I like and eat willingly out of the freezer come the dark days of winter. I want to share this simple thing with you in hopes you might have a similar beloved thing to pass on to me. For some reason, this year has not been a year when I put up a lot of food for winter. A few jars of tomatoes and this amazing thing I will now show you are the only things I have done. No beans, no salsa, no jams, no chutneys. Well there is still time, so maybe I will play catch up and do a plum chutney with the amazing plums passed on to us by our friend, Yvan.

This recipe starts in the spring. I basically plan part of my garden just so I can have all the right veggies to make this. You need

  • onions
  • garlic
  • peppers
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes
  • zucchini or summer squash

The garlic gets planted the previous fall, the onions go in in late April, and everything else goes in June 1. I like to freeze about 10 to 20 quart bags of this ratatouille, so I usually plant about 6 pepper plants (3 Ace and 3 Italia) ,  6 San Marzano tomatoes, 6 eggplants (usually a combination of Listada di Gandia, Orient Express, and Hansel), and 1 zucchini plant ( I do two plantings, one June 1 and one July 1 that way the plants are always healthy). Most households do not need more than 1 zucchini plant. Really.

Harvest all the veggies, wash them well. And start chopping. This year, I was a bit lazy and bought a few disposable pans to do the roasting. It made for easy clean up, but the veggies did not caramelize as much as they would have on metal or pyrex. Lesson learned.

So basically you just chop up all the vegetables into 1" chunks or so. The proportions are different every year, but it is usually about 1 part onions, 1 part peppers, 3 parts eggplant, 2 parts tomatoes, and 2 parts zucchini. I chop everything separately and then add it to the pans. I then drizzle olive oil over every thing. Add lots of salt, good sea salt is best, and then handfuls of chopped herbs to each pan. I like a blend of thyme, oregano, and rosemary. But other combinations work well.

Preheat the oven to 375F and slide in the pans. Turn and toss every 20 minutes, until everything is cooked and starting to caramelize. The overall cooking time really depends on the amount you are doing, the type of pan you are using, the thickness of the vegetable layer in each pan, etc. Basically, cook it until the whole house smells really good and the veggies are very soft and starting to brown. If I were making this for a meal to be eaten that night, I would do a single layer, in pyrex, and let it get golden brown. This is much harder to do in big batches in a home oven, and since freezing compromises texture and flavor anyhow, I think of these roasted veggies as additions to other recipes all winter long, not the main showcase in a meal.

Once everything is cooked, let it cool down completely, and then carefully scoop it into plastic quart-sized freezer bags. I usually use a measuring cup and one of those funnels for jars, since it makes life a little easier. Once frozen, the veggies can be used in pasta sauces, on pizza, in lasagnas, in soups and stews, as fillings in calzones, or as a topping for polenta, etc. You get the picture. It's such a nice way to have a little taste of summer in the winter and uses up so much of that amazing garden produce. Even in a summer like this one, when I have had to take some time away from gardening and preserving, I made sure to do some of these roasted veggies for the freezer.

Best-dressed pasta goes for the layers

Turn on the oven - 400F. Go to the garden and look for cherry tomatoes.

Take lots of said cherry tomatoes and cut them in half and dump them into a glass or pyrex baking dish, a big one, so that they are in a single layer.

Add some finely chopped cipollini onion. Or red onion, or sweet onion, or any kind of onion really.

Add a few or more tablespoons of olive oil. A good one. Don't skimp here, you want everything well coated, slippy-slide like.

Grab some herbs like savory, rosemary, oregano, sage, (and/or) thyme and chop them up finely or coarsely, depending on the look you want and your tolerance for stems in food.

Add plenty of good sea salt.

Toss together and slide pan into a pre-heated 400F oven. Forget about it for a good 45 minutes. Check and stir / flip once, about half way through. It will start to get caramelized and yummy. You can do this ahead of time and just let it sit in the turned-off oven for a while. Gets better with time, promise.

Meanwhile, do the second flavor layer......

Heat up a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy saute pan (1/2 cup or so).  I used cast iron and it was lovely.

Chop up some sweet onion, red pepper, hot pepper.  (If you need quantities, try 1 medium onion, 1 large red pepper or 2 small, 1 jalapeno or cherry bomb or 2 thai hot peppers, or more to taste. No rules here.)

Add onion and peppers to hot olive oil, and let it fry for a while. Stir every now and then. These will sizzle gently for about 10  minutes. They will soften, get fragrant, etc.

Chop up about 6 cloves of garlic.

Chop up about 4 tablespoons of herbs - a combo of oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme is nice. But really, any woody, fragrant herb will do here.

Find some paprika. My favorite is Pimenton (the smokey kind) but if you don't have that, you can use sweet or hot (if you can take the heat.) If you don't have any paprika at all, just skip it; the dish will be good without it.

Add garlic, paprika, herbs, and about 1/2 tsp salt to olive oil and peppers in the pan.  Stir, and turn down the heat. This will simmer together another five minutes or so over low heat. More time is fine. But 5 minutes is the minimum. Again, expect fragrance here.

You can get the pasta water going at this point.  You know...big pot, lots of water, salt.

Once pasta water is boiling, add the pasta. However much you need and while it cooks finish off the sauce.

Here is how:

Squeeze a lemon. Turn sauce # 2 off ( the one on the stove, not the one in the oven) and take it away from the heat. Add the lemon juice. It may sizzle a bit, so stand back. Stir together. Add some chopped parsley or basil (one or the other, not both, please).

Take roasted cherry tomatoes out of oven. Add the sauteed peppers and herbs to the tomatoes, scraping up every savory bit. gently and lovingly merge the two sauces. Serve in a bowl with a nice small ladle.

This is a rich, olive oil intense sauce. Use sparingly over the pasta with lots of freshly ground black pepper. The flavors add up to more than the sum of the parts. Really.

Some possible additions, if you must:

  • anchovies ( with the peppers and onions on the stove)
  • olives (pitted and chopped, added at the end with the lemon juice)
  • capers (can be added at the beginning or at the end. Gives you two different flavors either way, experiment with which you like best).
  • scallions (toward the end of the cooking time in either of the two sauces)
  • freshly grated parmesan (to pass around at the table)

But really, the beauty of this sauce duo is the simplicity. Don't overdo the flavors right off the bat. Try it as is. Just swoony and simple.

 

Fall Planting Guide

Mid-August is rolling around, and with it comes some vegetable planting possibilities that will feed you late into autumn and early winter. This is a great time to clean out some of the garden beds that have finished producing and replant them with some fresh crops for late season harvest. Here are a few options that you might want to consider incorporating into your later summer gardening routine.

A note on flea beetles and row cover. Flea beetles are little, black and jump around on your plants while making tiny little holes. They love anything in the brassica family - cabbage,broccoli, arugual, mustards, collards, etc. Row cover is a white fabric used to keep out insects and/or to warm up the soil and air around the plants. It does not hurt to use row cover to speed things along and to keep out the flea beetles. Broccoli - seed a small amount directly into garden beds, or buy transplants up to mid-August. If you are direct seeding into a garden bed, remember to thin or prick out and replant the broccoli babies so that they have proper spacing (15” or so). Cabbage - same as broccoli. Choose shorter day varieties. Seed packets usually list the days to maturity for all crops. In early August, you can usually get away with planting a 60 day cabbage that will be ready in early October. Kale - this is a great time to put in a few more kale plants or seeds, they will size up before snow flies, and will withstand lots of wintery weather. The good thing about kale, is that once it is full grown, it will just stand around in the garden waiting to be picked. It does not get “too old” or bolt (jump into seed production mode). This makes it a great early winter crop and a joy to harvest under snow fall. Collards can be treated this way as well. Arugula - a nice addition to salads, this tender green with a mustard-like flavor is also a great survivor of cold temperatures. It can withstand many hard frosts and will continue to add a little spike to your salads well into November and December. You can put row cover on it to keep away the flea beetles and to give it a little extra protection from cold winds that can dry it out. If it starts to turn a little purple in the colder temps, don’t worry about it, it is still fine to eat. This is just a symptom of not being able to absorb phosphorous in cold conditions. Turnips - a short season salad turnip can still be sown in August. I like the Hakurei variety from Johnny’s. It is delicious raw in salads, sliced thinly or finely diced, or sauteed in a little butter with fresh herbs (winter savory makes a special appearance at my house, often in this dish in particular). People who think they hate turnips will just be shocked when they taste these buttery slices that just melt in your mouth. Spinach - in the first half of August, it is a good idea to plant a large patch of spinach. It will germinate in the cooler night time temperatures (spinach does not like to germinate in the heat) and will last a long time in the field in the cool temperatures of October and early November. Carrots - fall carrots are best seeded right around July 4th. This gives you a chance to do an early batch of carrots for late spring, early summer eating, and then a second (or third) batch for fall eating. Fall carrots are considerable sweeter than spring seeded carrots and are definitely worth the trouble. Boc Choi - this is another crop that does really well in the cooler temperatures of fall. It is not a heat lover, and therefore should only be planted in April and May and then again in mid to late August for fall harvest. This benefits from row cover if you have a lot of flea beetle pressure. There are quite a few different versions of boc choi, and if you like the crunchy texture and delicate flavor of this crucifer, then please consider trying baby boc choi, red boc choi, or full sized boc choi. While it is easier to start with plants, it is certainly possible to direct seed this crop. Beets - fall time beets are sweet, tender, and do not have that “dirt” taste of beets grown in full summer heat. Last planting date for fall beets is around August 10th. They should be direct seeded in the garden and then thinned to one plant per 2 to 3 inches. You can space the rows 10 to 12 inches apart and fit about 3 rows in an average bed with a 4 ft width. The greens are tasty too, and the little delicate plants you pull out when thinning are a great addition to sauteed greens, soups, or even salads if very young.

Cilantro and Dill - these herbs can be planted directly in the garden from seed as late as mid-August. They grow well in the cold, and actually prefer it. The cold slows them down and prevents them from going to seed. Plant a good sized patch since you can harvest the plants well into December. They can take a frost, a snow fall and still will bounce right back.

Mustard Greens - these can be planted just like arugula. See instructions above.

Radishes - are a great addition to the late season garden. They can be planted right up to early September, and will maintain a high level of quality right up until it snows.

Lettuce - you can direct seed certain varieties of lettuce for fall harvest. Some do better than others in the cold. I like to plant Merveilles des Quatres Saisons and Tango for their beauty, taste, and cold hardiness.

Parsley - this herb can take very cold temperatures, so make sure, in mid-July or so that you have a nice patch of this going into fall and later summer. If this is an herb that you use frequently, it does not hurt to plant two or three different patches over the course of later April to mid - July. It is a slow grower, so after mid-July you can only plant it from transplants, not seed.

 

Things to Plant Now. You Will be Glad You Did.

August is rolling around, thundering ahead,  and with it comes some vegetable planting possibilities that will feed you late into autumn and early winter. This is a great time to clean out some of the garden beds that have finished producing and replant them with some fresh crops for late season harvest. Here are a few options that you might want to consider incorporating into your later summer gardening routine.

Broccoli

- seed a small amount directly into garden beds, or buy transplants up to mid-August. If you are direct seeding into a garden bed, remember to thin or prick out and replant the broccoli babies so that they have proper spacing (15” or so).

Cabbage

- same as broccoli. Choose shorter day varieties. Seed packets usually list the days to maturity for all crops. In early August, you can usually get away with planting a 60 day cabbage that will be ready in early October.

Kale -

this is a great time to put in a few more kale plants or seeds, they will size up before snow flies, and will withstand lots of wintery weather. The good thing about kale, is that once it is full grown, it will just stand around in the garden waiting to be picked. It does not get “too old” or bolt (jump into seed production mode). This makes it a great early winter crop and a joy to harvest under snow fall. Collards can be treated this way as well. A note on flea beetles: It does not hurt to use row cover to speed things along and to keep out the flea beetles. They are little biting insects that make little holes in the leaves and generally slow down a plant’s growth by stressing it a bit. All vegetables in the brassica family are susceptible to flea beetles - broccoli, kale, cabbage, mustards, arugula, collard greens, and boc choi are all in this family.

Arugula -

a nice addition to salads, this tender green with a mustard-like flavor is also a great survivor of cold temperatures. It can withstand many hard frosts and will continue to add a little spike to your salads well into November and December. You can put row cover on it to keep away the flea beetles and to give it a little extra protection from cold winds that can dry it out. If it starts to turn a little purple in the colder temps, don’t worry about it, it is still fine to eat. This is just a symptom of not being able to absorb phosphorous in cold conditions.

Turnips

- a short season salad turnip can still be sown in August. I like the Hakurei variety from Johnny’s. It is delicious raw in salads, sliced thinly or finely diced, or sauteed in a little butter with fresh herbs (winter savory makes a special appearance at my house, often in this dish in particular). People who think they hate turnips will just be shocked when they taste these buttery slices that just melt in your mouth.

Spinach

- in the first half of August, it is a good idea to plant a large patch of spinach. It will germinate in the cooler night time temperatures (spinach does not like to germinate in the heat) and will last a long time in the field in the cool temperatures of October and early November.

Overwintered Spinach - overwintering means keeping a vegetable alive through the winter for spring harvesting and eating. Not all vegetables can survive our VT winters, but the few that can include spinach, parsnips, leeks, garlic, and parsley. Spinach for early spring eating (mid to late April) should be sown in the first two weeks of September. Once it germinates, allow it to grow without harvesting or touching it. You can eat a little if you want, but ideally you will leave as much of the plant in the ground as possible. Once very cold weather hits, in early to mid-December, you can protect the spinach under a layer of straw, or leaves, or a few layers of row cover. In the spring, as soon as the ground has thawed out, remove the layers of protection and you will see the spinach come to life, long before any other plants begin to stir. This is such a delicious treat for early spring and really worth the trouble. A future post will be just about overwintered vegetables, so if this is something you have been wanting to try in your garden, check back here in a few days!

Cilantro and Dill

are good herbs for fall planting since their cold-hardiness is unmatched, and it will give you something to add to autumn salsas, salads, and pickles. Just sprinkle some seed into a shallow trench, press them in, and lightly cover with soil. The planting depth is very shallow here, just 1/4 inch or so. One of the most common problems with crops seeded directly into garden soil, is that they get planted too deeply. Remember this basic rule of thumb: the seed needs to be planted only 2 times deeper than its own size. Cilantro and dill will live until the first snow! They thrive in the cold. They are true soldiers of season extension.

Let us know if you feel inspired to try your hand with some of this season extension - we love to hear about it!

What Can I Plant for a Little Early Color Around the House?

It's been a pretty cold spring in Vermont this year. I cannot remember a spring like this in recent memory, with night temperatures dipping into the twenties in mid-April and day time temperatures hovering in the low 40's. Many of our customers are ready for some color around the house, and it's still not safe to put out hanging baskets, or most annuals for that matter.

What I suggest for early spring containers is a selection of cold hardy plants, especially the ones that seem unusual in containers, but will feed the need for signs of life around the yard!

The following plants are just great for a year like this and look really cute mixed together.

  • Violas and pansies
  • Allysum
  • Cold hardy herbs such as parsley, chervil, mint (ginger mint cascades down the side of the container), cilantro, dill. The textures and different greens at dimension to the arrangements. Plus you can snip at them and bring them into the kitchen for some spring time flavor boosts.
  • Colorful kales such as Redbor and Red Russian.
  • Fennel - the bulb kind or the bronze herb kind
  • Lettuces - especially the green oak, red oak, and cherokee red batavian
  • Frisee endive - it has a lovely frilled edge, and an unusual lime green color.

The beauty of this kind of planter is that it is multi-purpose. The violas and pansies and their "companion" foliage are all edible. What a nice gift for someone special, or a treat for yourself to celebrate the slow unfurling of spring.