Summer Strawberries

Strawberries.  Practically everyone loves them! Imagine yourself reaching down to pluck a ripe, red strawberry right off the vine.  Still warm from the sun, fragrant and juicy.  Or, have you ever had the chance to go to a strawberry farm and walk along the fields trying each different variety?  ‘Sparkle’, ‘Honeoye’, ‘Annapolis’, just to name a few.  What is it about strawberries?  Whether you like them in strawberry smoothies, shortcakes, pies or jams, strawberries are extremely versatile!

Ripe, juicy strawberries!
Ripe, juicy strawberries!

A Little About Strawberries 

The strawberrry is from the genus Fragaria.  They are literally delicious, fleshy seed containing vessels.  The berries are high in vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.  But, I have to say that I’m drawn to strawberries for their flavor!

There are basically four different kinds of strawberries.  There are June bearing varieties, Ever-bearing types, Day-neutral and alpine.  The first three listed are typical looking strawberries but the last, alpine or fraises des bois, is a smaller European type grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.  I had a row of these in the past and I would really like to get some new plants.  They grow well from seed and make a fantastic border plant, even for a perennial bed or herb garden.  The alpine strawberry is not a heavy bearer, but do produce berries over a long time period.  They are more like wild strawberries than the cultivated ones.  They do not have runners so they stay where you want them.

Beautiful berries!
Beautiful berries!

Growing

You will need a sunny, protected spot for your strawberry bed.  A place in your vegetable garden or a raised bed could work well.  Well drained, fertile soil is ideal.

Choose bare root plants from your local garden center or they can be purchased by mail.  A home gardener could start with as little as 25 plants and go from there.  Getting a strawberry bed going is a multi-year process.  You can find an abundance of planting info in the article at Bulletin #2067, Growing Strawberries from the University of Maine Extension.  This is just one of many articles.

I definitely need help with my berry growing skills.  I do manage to harvest about one berry a day from our meager little patch!  Of course, if I didn’t value my veggies so much I could expand my efforts.

Nothing better than fresh berries!
Nothing better than fresh berries!

U-pick Strawberries 

This year, our favorite strawberry farm, Sand Hill Farm in Somerville, Maine, was not open to the public.  In my search for information on the berry farm, I found an article from a few years back that  explained a lot of the in’s and out’s of strawberry production.  It is called Sand Hill Farm-Happiness and Profit from Organic Strawberries on mofga.org.  I was pretty disappointed to say the least.  My kind of picking is to show up and in under an hour have all that I need for the year.  I used to on occasion bring two teenage boys with me and really clean house in no time!

Just look at that berry!
Just look at that berry!

Low Sugar Jam

One day, many years ago, I set out to make my first batch of jam on my own.  Having just picked a bevy of berries, I flipped open my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook only to find that a traditional strawberry jam recipe called for 4 cups of sugar! Gulp!  How could this be? A ratio of one to one! Thus my quest for a lower sugar jam recipe ensued.

A trip to the local health food store produced the purchase of a packet of Pomona’s Universal Pectin. There are other brands that offer low sugar jelling agents such as Ball and Surejell.  I started making so many variations of jams that I’m sure my friends were sick of them!  The taste of the jam was wonderful.  Having way less sweetener allowed the true flavors to shine through.

Low Sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

Add sweetener to mashed berries and rhubarb.
Add sweetener to mashed berries and rhubarb.

After washing the strawberries and rhubarb, I followed the Pomona’s recipe.  For this batch I used 2 cups of mashed berries and 2 cups of chopped rhubarb.  I mashed the berries and cut the rhubarb into 1/4” pieces.

Bubbling action of the strawberry rhubarb jam.
Bubbling action of the strawberry rhubarb jam.

After following the steps outlined in Pomona’s instructions, pour jam into sterilized jars and process according to directions.

There are so many jam recipes and combinations out there.  Freezer jams are very popular especially if you have freezer space.  This is just one that turned out good for me.  It seems that there is really no good reason to add all of that sugar.

Strawberry rhubarb jam!
Strawberry rhubarb jam!

Our gardens have been very dry here on the coast of Maine.  The beautiful weather has been a welcomed change from many past rainy June’s.  Yesterday we got 2 1/2” of rain.  I guess I can hold off on the watering for a while!  Have a terrific week and I hope that you can get your hands on some scrumptious strawberries!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Succession Planting

While I was preparing last weeks blog post, How To Grow Lettuce , it occurred to me that the concept of succession planting may be a new thought for some.  This may not sound like a particularly exciting garden topic, but if you incorporate succession planting into your garden plan you can look forward to higher yields and a longer harvest window.

Radishes are great for succession planting!
Radishes are great for succession planting!

What Is Succession Planting?

The idea of succession planting is sowing seeds more than once.  Instead of planting all of the seeds that you have, save some for a few later plantings.  It can also mean that when a quick crop is finished, immediately plant another short term vegetable.  These methods ensure continual harvest.  Even small gardens can incorporate this method.

Bush bean seeds going in the ground!
Bush bean seeds going in the ground!

Let’s discuss a few examples.  Bush beans can be harvested in as little as 50 days.  They usually produce beans for a while and then are pulled.  Now you’ve got some valuable real estate!  There are so many short crops to plant.

Garlic is typically harvested in August in Maine.  This leaves several months of growing for some salad greens or another batch of bush beans.  I usually work some good compost or organic fertilizer into the soil and plant something new.  Depending on how long your growing season is, the more you will be able to plant.

Radish seedling coming up between lettuce rows.
Radish seedling coming up between lettuce rows.

Interplanting

Another aspect of this method is interplanting.  I do this all the time in my lettuce beds.  In between the rows of greens, I plant a few radish seeds every few weeks.  This way I have some here and there to add to salads.  I just keep the seeds out and try to remember to put more seed in the ground.  A great thing about interplanting is that the seedlings are shaded somewhat by their neighbor crops.

These lettuce plants are now ready to start being harvested.
These lettuce plants are now ready to start being harvested.

A longer growing crop like winter squash could be interplanted with an early crop of beets.  It takes a long time for all of those vines to grow.  Beets can be planted very early and don’t take up a whole lot of space.  In their book The Four Season Farm Gardeners Cookbook, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch picture interplanting a crop of arugula around rows of pepper plants.  Also pictured is head lettuce and scallions together.  The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Perpetual Spinach slowly coming along.
Perpetual Spinach slowly coming along.

What To Grow

Some types for mid to late summer planting include: chard, kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, turnips and broccoli.  You can also try a huge variety of salad greens, spinach and kale.  Many veggies benefit from the cool temps of spring and fall.

Read your seed packets.  Some carrots are short season varieties and some are best kept in the ground until after a frost or even later.  Pole beans are in the ground for the long run but as I mentioned bush beans are not.

Baby lettuce coming along!
Baby lettuce coming along!

Succession planting can be achieved by even the most disorganized gardener.  Believe me, I know!  Most vegetable gardening books discuss succession planting if you need more information.  Just pay attention to your harvest and see if you can put some later items in the garden.  Your meals will be filled with more home grown produce from the steady supply and your wallet will thank you too!

Summer is here and it’s going by fast already.  We got some much needed rain this week.   Hope that you all get to spend a little time in the garden this week!  Afraid of missing your weekly dose of Everlongardener?  Subscribe by email in the sidebar.  It’s always free and setup is easy!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Grow Lettuce

What vegetable do you think we could potentially spend the most money on in a year?  I haven’t done any calculations but I feel that salad greens are high on the list.  If you’ve read my very first post Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen you know that I’m all about the salad greens.  I believe that anyone can grow delicious greens even if you just have a small space.  The fancy triple washed salad mixes at the grocery store are lovely but they are no match for what you could be growing right in your own back or front yard!

Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.
Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

As you may already know, I aim to have salad greens all year long.  It’s just my thing.  Now, you may be saying that it’s easy to grow lettuce in early spring and in the fall but that summer heat makes your greens bolt.  I understand, I’ve been there.  Some people like to grow head lettuce and that’s fine.  For me, leaf lettuce works best.  You can start harvesting a few weeks after planting and you have a large window of time for picking.

Baby summer lettuce.
Baby summer lettuce.

One major thing that allows me to have a decent crop through the summer is lettuce variety.  Many seed catalogs sell slow-to-bolt types.  This takes a bit of planning because not all garden centers will sell seeds specifically for hot weather.  I order my ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco Seeds ahead of time to ensure my lettuce harvest.  A few other varieties include ‘New Red Fire’, ‘Slobolt’ and ‘De Morges Braun’.  The many other seed catalogs I have also listed summer varieties.  Just read descriptions and you’ll find some that suit your needs.  Slow bolting salad greens are a wonderful addition to the garden.  They retain good flavor instead of turning bitter.

Other veggies go really well in a salad mix.  I use small beet leaves, garlic chives, pea shoots and baby chard.  This adds color, texture and lots of flavor.  Mustard greens and kale can be added too.  Whatever you have.

Beet greens can be added to summer salad mix.
Beet greens can be added to summer salad mix.

Planting

Summer lettuce seeds can be planted in spring as soon as the ground can be worked.  Wait until a sufficient amount of moisture has left the soil.  I can plant my raised beds fairly early.  Lettuce can be started indoors but direct seeding is pretty easy.  If you haven’t planted any greens yet, it’s not too late.  Plant seeds 1/8” deep, 1” apart and 12-18” between rows.  Keep soil moist while germinating.  Planting in a 2-4” band also works well for leaf lettuce production.  Lettuce germinates well between 45-75 degrees.

Succession planting is also a great way to ensure a continual harvest.  I usually keep my seeds handy and if I have a few minutes, I run out and plant a row.  As I rip spent lettuce out, I plant more in it’s place.

image

Harvest

The best time to pick lettuce or any leafy green for that matter, is in the morning.  Anytime before 10:00 a.m.  If it’s a cloudy day, anytime of day will generally be fine.  As the day goes on, the sun makes the plants wither a bit.  Wilted lettuce is nearly impossible to revive.  So, pick at it’s peak.  Get out there in your pj’s if you can for the best time of day to harvest.  On hot days, I’ve even put cold water in my bowl to immediately submerge them.  This is a huge help.  Then I rush them inside to wash them and get them in the fridge.

Scissors, pinching with your fingers or a knife are all acceptable picking methods.  For my very long harvest window, I prefer using a lettuce knife.  This knife is not at all necessary but it makes nice, clean cuts.  I think that I purchased mine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds many years ago.

Using my Victorinox serrated harvest knife.
Using my Victorinox serrated harvest knife.

For leaf lettuce, simply cut all outer leaves of adequate size.  Try to pick clean.  There is not need to leave good greens.  This will also encourage new growth.  Sometimes I have to pick every other day.

Washing and Storing

Washing your salad greens is very important.  I use two different size salad spinners.  For the quantity that I grow this just makes sense.  You can always use a colander to drain the greens and gently remove water with a towel.  There is the old trick of filling a clean kitchen towel with wet greens, going outside and winding your arm around like a windmill.  (Insert instructional video here!)  Just kidding!  Works like a charm but maybe not always convenient!

When summer and winter lettuce are harvested simultaneously!
When summer and winter lettuce are harvested simultaneously!

Once the greens are sufficiently dry, place them in a bag that can be sealed.  Placing a paper towel in the bag prolongs there fridge life.  Leave some air in the bag also.  Homegrown salad greens last so much longer than store bought greens.  My mother once found a bag of my salad in her refrigerator two weeks after I had visited and they were still fine.

A salad elevates your meal to five star quality!
A salad elevates your meal to five star quality!

Salad green production is my favorite part of vegetable gardening.  I feel spoiled with all of the high quality greens that I get to eat.  With a little effort, you too can be downing daily salads that cost you no more than a packet of seeds.  This will not be the last post on salad greens.  There is so much more to share.  But for now, think about adding lettuce to your summer garden.  You’ll be glad that you did!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

For The Love Of Rhubarb

If you are anything like me, you spend the months of spring waiting for your patch of rhubarb to be ready.  Those first curled leaves emerge from the ground and you know that many delicious treats are on their way!  Many a home garden would not be complete without a clump of rhubarb.

As kids, my nephew and I would run out and pick rhubarb stalks to dip in sugar.  Raw eating is very tart but tolerable with the sugar.  Talk about sweet and sour!

You may think that rhubarb has always been growing in North America, but it apparently did not show up on our shores until the late 1700’s.  Records of rhubarb cultivation go back to around 2700 B.C. in China.  Traveling along with exotic spices, it made it’s way across Europe and eventually to America.  Prized for it’s medicinal benefits, it has been known to have cathartic and laxative properties.  Not a true fruit, it is considered a vegetable.  I found some captivating history on rhubarb in the article Rhubarb History The History of Rhubarb also had chronological facts about how rhubarb got from there to here.  Probably more than anyone ever wanted to know about rhubarb but great info for plant geeks!

Harvesting the rhubarb.
Harvesting the rhubarb.

When we moved to our property, we were able to move a rhubarb plant from my husbands grandmother’s patch.  She always said to plant it by a rock.  Does ledge count?  As you can see in the picture, our clump has really done well.  Whether you are digging a plant from a friends garden or purchasing a plant, make sure you get a good healthy plant.  Prepare soil well and amend with aged manure or compost.  Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders and benefit from yearly applications of manure.  This is especially important if you have poor soil.  But if you do absolutely nothing at all, the rhubarb will still put out some stalks.  Choose a sunny, permanent spot.  If you don’t have rhubarb growing, you can ask someone if you can pick or local markets usually carry it this time of year.

Rhubarb crowns coming up out of the ground!
Rhubarb crowns coming up out of the ground!

To harvest, firmly grasp individual stalks and pull.  Broken or cut pieces can leave the rhubarb susceptible to disease and rot.  In general, the rhubarb has very few problems.  When the plant sends up a seed stalk, simply pull it out.  Always leave some stalks when picking.  Leaves should be discarded and not added to your compost piles because of the toxic levels of oxalic acid.  The stalks are low in calories and high in nutrients.

But now, on to the good part.  Eating!  Cooking with rhubarb is only limited to the imagination.  Rhubarb can be steamed, sauced, frozen, canned or pickled.  It can be made into pies, muffins, scones, juice, syrup, jam, jelly and wine.  With the addition of some form of sweetener, the rhubarb is transformed into a highly edible treat!  Pair it with strawberries and you’ve really got something.  My mother always made her rhubarb coffee cake which involves a box of strawberry Jello and sour cream.

Look at that gorgeous rhubarb!

In this post, I would like to share a recipe that I adapted from an apple crisp.  I had this combination a few years ago at a restaurant and I had to create a version of my own.

Rhubarb Blueberry Crisp

Prepare a 9×13 pan.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine rhubarb and berries in pan and sprinkle with desired amount of sugar.

  • 4 cups rhubarb, cut in 1/2″ pieces
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 1/4 cups light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup melted unsalted butter 
    Assembling the crisp.
    Assembling the crisp.

    Stir together last six ingredients until well combined.  Spread evenly over fruit mixture and bake for about 30 minutes.  It should be nice and bubbly.

    The crisp is ready for the oven!
    The crisp is ready for the oven!

    A perfect combination of sweet and tart!  I always thought that I had to use strawberries with rhubarb, but one taste and I knew that I had to make this recipe!  The crisp is perfect served alone or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

    Rhubarb Blueberry crisp!
    Rhubarb Blueberry crisp!

    I hope I’ve tempted you today with the thought of a pie, crisp or other fantastic creation!  Consider adding a rhubarb plant or two to your garden.  They are undemanding and generally high yielding.  It will repay you for years to come!  Have a great week! And don’t forget to subscribe over in the sidebar! Or follow me on Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram for daily pics!

    Hilary|Everlongardener

Fabulous Fiddleheads

Every year, spring is filled with much anticipation for the fabulous fiddlehead!  Never heard of a fiddlehead?  They are the curled new fronds that emerge from the Ostrich fern, or Matteuccia struthiopteris.  The young growth can be eaten and is quite a local delicacy!  They are a glossy green with a papery brown, scaly covering. The flavor is fresh, earthy and maybe a bit like asparagus but really these little spirals have a flavor all of their own.

Spring soul food, fiddleheads!
Spring soul food, fiddleheads!

Fiddleheads are not only delicious, they are very good for you.  They provide a good source of fiber, Vitamins C and A, and Omega fatty acids.  Not too shabby!

Where To Find Fiddleheads?

Where do they grow?  Fiddleheads thrive on river and stream banks.  You may be able to identify the Ostrich fern in summer and return the following spring to harvest the tender new growth.  Fiddleheads range from Alaska to the Northeast, British Colombia, northern and southern parts of Canada.  They can also be found near the Great Lakes and Southern Appalachians.

A full grown Ostrich fern.
A full grown Ostrich fern.

Finding fiddleheads can be a bit tricky.  First, make sure they are indeed fiddlehead ferns.  I actually don’t have a place to go harvest them.  In many parts of Maine they are plentiful, but here on the coast fiddlehead patches are a closely guarded secret.  I can show you my fiddlehead patch but… you get the picture!  I buy mine at a local health food store or farm stand.  The best deals are found roadside.  Locals make a quick spring income on their harvest.  When I was growing up, a family friend used to bring them over by the five gallon bucket.  Paying for them seems silly but they are only here for a very short time.

Fiddlehead ferns or Ostrich ferns.
Fiddlehead ferns or Ostrich ferns.

As usual, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension has some substantial information on identifying fiddlehead ferns properly.  Fiddlehead biology and proper harvest are discussed in Bulletin # 2540, Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads.  You can find more than you ever wanted to know in Bulletin #4198, Facts on Fiddleheads including tons of fiddlehead recipes.

It is usually necessary to clean freshly harvested fiddleheads.  A good soaking with several water changes will do the trick.  Pick off the papery covering as you go.

Getting ready to steam some fiddleheads.
Getting ready to steam some fiddleheads.

Cooking Methods

When I worked as a waitress, the diner where I worked served fiddleheads in many ways.  Quiche, cream of fiddlehead soup, as a side dish and the ever popular, deep fried and served with Ranch dressing!  Yes, this was the much sought after appetizer!  I can still taste them.

At our house, we usually steam them.  Some people saute  or boil them and serve with butter or vinegar.  I was surprised to find that the previously mentioned articles said that no one should ever eat raw fiddlehead ferns.  Apparently they have been the source of some food born illnesses.

Getting ready to make fiddlehead pesto.
Getting ready to make fiddlehead pesto.

Last week, I picked some garlic chives from the garden and put together a pesto.  I added the fiddleheads, chives, parmesan cheese and olive oil to my mini food processor.  I guess after finding out about the raw fiddlehead issue, I would briefly steam them next time.  The result was a creamy, comforting pasta topping!  A definite keeper!

Finished product. Fiddlehead and garlic chive pesto!
Finished product. Fiddlehead and garlic chive pesto!

To preserve all of that fiddlehead goodness, some people love pickling them.  Blanching and freezing are also good options.

If you are interested in more information on foraging for wild food, check out Enjoying and Preserving Dandelion Greens.  I hope you get to try fiddleheads before the season is over.  Thanks for giving this article a read!  Feel free to subscribe in sidebar!

Hilary|Everlongardener