Category Archives: organic vegetables

Still waiting on winter….

We made a stir-fry last night with some of the greens from the garden:  red kale, spinach, mizuna, mustard greens, and leeks.  It’s not totally out of the ordinary to find these growing fairly well in a January garden around here.

However, it is a little unusual to find carrots and radishes growing mid-winter — even when I’ve got the row covers over the beds.  It takes a certain amount of warmth (or lack of hard freezes) for these guys to grow like this:

Unfortunately, the carrot was kind of anemic, and the radish tasted fine but the texture was lacy.

And, along with the warmth comes the bugs — so not only did I bring in greens, but also a big brown caterpillar (boys loved checking him out) and a couple of bluish aphid colonies on the kale.

Oh winter….where art thou?


It’s mid-January and I’m still seeing cabbage worms, slugs, and aphids on the greens in the garden.  The collard greens are lacy with holes (despite the boys helping me pick off the green worms), and the aphids completely coated the dinosaur kale so I had to pull them up and pitch them in the compost.

My older boy found a tick on our dog’s ear over the weekend.  I saw a mosquito floating through the kitchen last night.  We need some serious cold, y’all!  ‘Tis the season to be critter-free!

Well, I must admit I’m not totally hating the recent balminess.  It has been nice enough to hang out at the park with the kids and friends, play in the yard and dig around in unfrozen garden soil.  Plus, we’ve been able to make some great salads as a result of this unexpected extended season.

Mizuna is the big feathery green in foreground, spinach behind, carrots on far right

Spinach, arugula, and mizuna are doing great.  And there are even some tiny carrots coming along. I love to add mizuna to a salad — it’s spicy like arugula but crunchier. I like the light green color too.

I’ve found a few wormy critters munching in this raised bed, but not nearly as many as on the big greens.  At a friend’s suggestion, I’ve been soaking the greens in salt water for about 15 minutes before rinsing and putting them in the salad spinner.  That helps loosen any bugs.

Mâche, or corn salad -- notice there are no bug holes -- I'm liking this green!

In late fall, I planted a few rows of mâche seed in the uncovered raised bed next to the arugula.  The plants are slow growing but they’ve turned into small, close-to-the-dirt rosettes.  I’ve been eating the leaves directly from the garden and they are as mild as lettuce with a taste similar to buttercrunch.  I’m going to try making this salad with grapefruit and avocado — a nice antidote to holiday gluttony (although I can eat my weight in avocado, so maybe not!)

Oh, and I’ve been reading that mâche has 3 times more Vitamin C than buttercrunch, and it also packs alot of iron into those little rosettes. Wikipedia has some more interesting facts about mâche — I also find it interesting that such a little plant can have so many different names.  And it’s a member of the valerian family.  Cool little plant!

A couple of nights last week we had some temperatures in the teens, so I pulled the vinyl covers up onto the hoops to protect the plants.  Here are a couple of other raised-bed, front yard gardens I saw in the ‘hood on a run last week after a cold night:

And this one has a different support structure from mine and the ones above —  metal fencing — definitely stronger in wind/snow – it seems like overkill now but I’m sure in the next few weeks it will come in handy, right??  Come on, winter!

Gardening in a lukewarm winter


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Worm tea and worm castings

Top bin removed before getting castings out from middle bin

A few months ago I bought some worms and made worm-composting bins.  My boys and I have been feeding them kitchen scraps every week or so since then.  It’s been a fairly low-maintenance venture, and worms don’t sting, so I don’t have to don a hot (not figuratively) bee suit every time I need to feed them and/or check on them.

The only real negative was the gigantic fruit fly swarm that materialized mid-August when I hadn’t put enough dirt on top of the veggie and fruit scraps in the bins.  Otherwise, it was just like any healthy composting set-up with no smell at all.

Those redworms have been busy.  I tried to lift up the top bin and almost pulled my back out.  I finally hoisted it off and the middle bin was full of dark castings.

Top bin compared to final product -- castings!

I’d been feeding the worms only in the top bin so they’d pretty much all migrated up, so I only had to fish a couple of them out of there and transfer them to the top.

The bottom bin was about half-full of tea, actually that’s “leachate” — I was informed by James Magee at Blue Ridge Redworms that’s the correct term for the liquid that runs off the castings. ( Worm tea is another form of compost-based liquid that comes from worms, but there’s more involved in making it, including fermenting it with molasses and some other stuff that sounds pretty advanced.  I’ll stick to the liquid dregs for now….)

Adding leachate to raised bed

So, as I’d suspected when we started composting with worms, our system wasn’t big enough to handle all our kitchen’s compostables.  However, they ate more than I’d thought they would — maybe 75% of the stuff that would have gone into our regular compost bins out in the side yard.

I put all the castings into one of my raised beds where I’ve got some dinosaur kale growing.  I poured the leachate around the arugula, mache, and red russian kale in another raised bed.

Putting castings into raised bed

Now it’s time for the worm bins to go back into the basement for winter as we’re getting into freezing temps at night.

And I’ll be keeping an eye on the winter greens on into spring to see how they benefit from our worm composting venture….

Redworms at work in worm composting bin


“Edamame” sounds so much cooler than “soybean”

Time runs fast in the summer.  I’ve already pulled up all late spring veggies that were done, and am now heavy into tomatoes, squash and beans.

Soy plants in the raised beds. They're big. About 4 feet tall and bushy.

And speaking of beans, the edamame that my kids and I planted are coming in strong.  That’s an easy seed for little kids to plant — they are big, round, white seeds– so they’re easy to handle and see going into the ground in late spring. Now we’re enjoying some really robust plants.

When I was a kid, I remember my dad speaking disparagingly of fields of soybeans — I think he was disappointed to see mono-crops taking over the sandhills of South Carolina (I think I’m projecting….). Or maybe he just didn’t like to eat soybeans then.

I really didn’t hear much about soy again until I went vegetarian in college and ate all kinds of incarnations of the bean.  When I moved to Asheville about 15 years ago, I re-discovered it at a sushi restaurant as “edamame”.  Yum.  Anything that has lots of salt, I love.  Plus it’s fun to eat – it’s a Japanese version of boiled peanuts.

Sow True Seed had a variety of edamame seeds this spring, so I planted one row in the smallest (4×4 foot) raised bed, so not alot of plants but they are producing more than enough for our family.

My kids are not into harvesting edamame or any other small vegetable that requires patience to harvest. There are lots of mosquitos out and it’s hot, so it’s not really fun for long for anyone. However, they really wanted to pick every tomato, green and red.

They did enjoy getting to see how much we (ahem, “I”) harvested by weighing them on the kitchen scales.

Another fun thing about edamame is you don’t have to snap and/or string them like you do most other beans.  I just threw them in a pot of boiling salted water for about 8 minutes, drained, then salted them.  Then there’s the best part:

Still a little hot but sure are good

Notice there are no photos of my 2 year old eating edamame.  He likes to lick the salt off, then get the beans out of the pods and look at them.  We’re working on getting him to expand his vegetable repertoire.  Not easy, but at least he has a good example set by his older brother!


Shocking slugs!

I am sure I’ve mentioned my disdain for slugs.  In all my gardens prior to having raised beds, I’ve been plagued by them.  They can be so destructive, and no matter how diligently I picked them off young plants (or set up beer traps to drown them, or sprinkle slug pellets, or whatever cure du jour I’d most recently discovered online) they always managed to be one of the peskiest pests.

Last year I read about putting up barriers (of varying kinds) to keep them out of my raised beds.  The most ingenious one I read about was copper tape.  It supposedly works by giving the slugs a mild electrical shock when they touch it, so they won’t cross it.

And I must say, it has been very effective as I’ve yet to find one on even the tiniest of my seedlings.  My peppers, tomatoes and lettuce seedlings have been growing along untouched by these spineless, shell-less destructors.

This is what the copper tape looks like when unrolled.  It’s got adhesive on the back so you can just stick it directly onto the wood of your raised bed.

Notice that I got smart this year and wore gloves while putting the tape on the beds.  Last year I must have been in a hurry (or lazy) and I didn’t wear gloves, and I got some of the most wicked, tiny cuts from it.  It’s a fairly thin strip of copper so it was kind of like a paper cut, but with thin metal — ow!

This is what it looked like right after I put the copper strips around my two new raised beds.  Those beds are now planted with my tomato and pepper starts, which are safe and sound thanks to the copper.

The copper strips I put around the 4 raised beds last spring are still holding on tight.  They have a slight green patina to them, but they haven’t peeled off a bit, despite a harsh winter and torrential spring rains.

One thing I did read about in a gardening forum is that you must keep weeds and other plants from growing up over the copper strips, because the slugs will use it as a “bridge”  to avoid getting shocked and get to your plants.  Which reminds me, I need to go out and weed right now…..


A good spinach dip recipe and a great book

Yesterday afternoon I needed a quick and easy recipe for an appetizer to take to my book club. With it being a rainy March afternoon, I really didn’t want to load up the boys and head to the store so I made do with what I had….loads of spinach from the garden. And we always have a random assortment of cheeses, so I googled “fresh spinach and cheese dip” and found quite a few, but one sounded particularly good:

This hot spinach dip recipe. It’s from an Australian website so everything is in metric weights, so I kinda guessed at the amounts. (I recently read somewhere that the US, Myanmar and Liberia are the only 3 countries in the world that don’t officially use the metric system. Great.  Along with most Americans, I’m metric illiterate.)

Instead of shallots, I used the same amount of chopped chives, another overwintered herb that is growing profusely right now in the garden. And I didn’t have enough mayonnaise — hard to believe in my house that I didn’t have a stashed jar of it somewhere as I love it — so I just upped the cream cheese a little.

While spinach and artichoke dip is one of my favorite appetizers, this one wins in the looks department because it uses fresh instead of frozen spinach.  It’s bright green instead of that green/brown and pale yellow color that most hot spinach dips have (although that has never deterred me from gorging on it every time it’s in my presence).

I’d have taken a photo of it but I was running late, then there was not much left after book club.  What remained after I got home, my husband finished off.

Oh, and the book we read this month was dogs, by Abigail DeWitt.  We were so fortunate to have the author come meet with us (she lives near Burnsville, about an hour from here).  It was a really good read, and being able to discuss it in person with the author was an added treat.  Thanks Abigail!


Spring planting in Asheville, and another greens recipe

I’ve got the following growing outside in one of the raised beds.  On February 24th I planted the following cool-weather seeds from Sow True Seed:  Asian greens, buttercrunch lettuce, a lettuce mix, purple carrots, scarlet Nantes carrots, watermelon radish, and bulls’ blood beets.

Here’s what they looked like this morning:

A couple of friends have asked me what else is safe to plant from seed outside right now.   The Farmers’ Almanac has planting dates for Asheville listed in chart form. You can also check out the 2011 Planting Guide from Sow True Seed.

Note white PVC pipe. I spent an hour this morning painting it green to match the hoops over the other beds. Gardening vanity.

Another option is to buy cool-weather starts from a nursery center.  You can find all kinds of things right now, like lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower….if you’d rather not wait for the seeds.  My husband bought some red onion sets, lettuce and broccoli starts at a garden center a few weeks ago so we’ve got those going in another one of the raised beds too.

Last year about this time I planted 8 Mary Washington asparagus crowns that are coming up now (although I won’t harvest any till next year….I was so tempted to harvest some of the early shoots, but Dad said it would weaken the plant).  I also planted seed potatoes last March in the beds, and also in some giant pots (that’s on my to-do list for this weekend).

My tomato, pepper, eggplant, tomatillo and epazote seeds are coming along well inside.  I’ve been transporting them outside on warmer days when the March winds aren’t wild like today.

The seedlings are resting happily on top of the radiator in the southern-facing window in my dining room.  I’ve got the trays sitting on top of old cookie sheets.

It’s cold enough today that the radiators have turned on a few times, warming up the potting soil — I hope it encourages some of the peppers to emerge, as I’ve yet to see any Pasillo, Marconi, or Pobanos coming up.

The pepper seedlings are reminding me of my pepper plants every year — they are always the last plants to produce in the garden.  It has to get really hot for a couple weeks for them to start getting peppers on their branches.



There’s still a fair amount of greens out in the beds, so I tried another recipe from the Natural Health Magazine article my neighbor gave me.  This one was “Warm Mustard Greens Salad”.  I used both the red mustard green leaves (really spicy) and the regular ol’ green ones.  










The dressing was lemon juice, honey, olive oil, salt & pepper, and water.  I used some of the honey I’d harvested recently.  So yum.  The other ingredients were:  fresh ginger, red onion, garbanzo beans, cumin, chili powder, shredded carrot and feta cheese.

What a great salad — it was like eating wasabi in leaf form, with the bite and spice tempered by the garbanzos, carrots and feta.  Some of the heat came from the chili powder (it was just a half teaspoon but it had chipotle peppers in it too), but it was mainly from the mustard greens themselves.

Growing up in the South, my only experience with mustard greens was cooked (and cooked and cooked) along with some kind of fatback.  I love most other greens cooked, especially collards, but I never learned to love cooked mustard greens.  I think it was a combo of a texture issue (soggy) and bitter taste.

After finding this recipe, I’ve made peace with mustards.  Now, if you’re not into spicy, be warned that this salad indeed has a kick, but it sure is good (or as my Mississippi-raised grandmother would have said, “Shuh ’nuff”, although I’m sure she would’ve thought raw mustard greens blasphemous).


Mid March, Blue Ridge

Friday morning, just 3 days ago, it was snowing and really windy.  There wasn’t much accumulation but there were a few cars driving around with an inch or so piled up on the windshield wipers.  And the wind….whew!  It made all the bee equipment drying on the back porch go skittering and tumbling.

For the garden, it meant battening down the plastic on my new hoophouse (top right in photo). Three of the beds are already covered with clear vinyl over the pvc hoop frames, and that vinyl is secured to the hoops with zip ties.

One problem with the zip ties is that if I want to undo them I have to cut them.  In a sense, they’re permanent.  It’s worked fine for winter when I didn’t really need to do any uncovering, but now that I’ve got this new covered bed with recently-planted seeds, I need something more temporary with spring coming on.

Here’s where the internet comes in handy when gardening.  I googled “clips for pvc hoops raised beds”. Sure enough, I found a great idea from Dropstone Farm (way out in Washington State).  Jumbo binder clips!  Then I found some by digging through the junk drawer and a pile of my husband’s office stuff, and got him to bring a few more home.

After such a blustery cold day, we were skeptical that Saturday would be up in the 60s as forecasted, but sure enough, it was a most glorious day, and I was able to easily take the binder clips off and let the new seedlings get some rays.

I also got my first sunburn of the season sitting on the front porch planting seeds in trays:

Sow True Seed, off to a sunny start today

I found my favorite tomatoes in the whole world — Amish Paste — in the Sow True Seed rack at the North Asheville Ace Hardware.  I got those started, along with some Mortgage Lifters, and some cherry tomatoes.  I got jalapenos and a couple sweet pepper varieties going and an heirloom Asian eggplant variety (I got into making baba ganouj last summer….)

A note on seed starting: with my kids being so little, I’d skipped the seed starting part of gardening the past few years in an effort to make it simpler because my time was limited.

During that time, I had also forgotten that potting soil mix has a *very* annoying water-repellent quality. And, obviously, wet soil is important for seed starting….

Since I’d thrown out all my old plastic cells in a basement purge, I needed some containers and opted to buy trays that were pre-filled with potting mix.  Ugh.  The water floated on top and it was impossible to stir it around, so I ended up dumping the soil out and mixing it by hand in a bowl, then putting it back in the trays, then planting the seeds.

I’ve not ever tried those peat pellets — I’m curious as to whether they work, might try them on the next round of seed starting.

The rest of this sunny warm weekend included a pasta dinner. James made the sauce from our spinach, some of last summer’s frozen peppers, and stewed tomatoes (we’re down to the last couple quarts in the freezer).  Yummmmm….

I also picked some chives and cilantro to mix in with a tuna salad for lunch yesterday:


And to ward off weeds growing up around the raised beds, I went to the recycling drop-off center and picked up a bunch of cardboard boxes, laid them out flat and covered them with straw.  That worked so well last summer — it not only kept the weeds down but helped keep the paths from getting mud bogged.

At the recycling place, I kind of felt like I was reverting to post-college dumpster-diving days (I was a minor-leaguer, only got magazines from the recycling bins). I was feeling conspicuous, felt like I was a little too old and not hipster enough to be doing that anymore.

I’m also a little self-conscious about getting stuff out of the recycling as my mom likes to find and “save” stuff (on a large scale — she found and got somebody to fish a stove out of a dumpster once — long story).


Sadie and Buster thought I’d put the straw out especially for them.  They found new napping spots within minutes of my scattering the straw over the cardboard.  The boys were also drawn to it, scooting the straw around with their tonka tractors.

And of course, cardboard boxes are the best toys…they ended up putting one long one over the rock steps in the backyard and turning it into a slide.


The end of the overwintered dinosaur kale

I love dinosaur kale.  I really love it when I don’t have to pick off the cabbage worms that like to live on it when the temps are a little warmer.  It also looks so nice before they eat holes in it. (Dang cabbage worms).

James suggested I pick a few leaves of it out of the garden for something he was cooking a couple nights ago.

When I came back in with two whole plants he wondered why I’d pulled them up.  Well, it’s getting just warm enough that they’re starting to bolt, so I figured we should just go on and eat them before they get bitter.

He said (more than once) that was way too much dinosaur kale for what he was making, but he was just forgetting how leafy greens cook down from mountain to cupful in a matter of minutes.

Anyway, here’s what he created with the kale, some of our frozen stewed tomatoes and a dried cayenne pepper from last summer, diced chicken breast, a couple heads of garlic and an onion….

So good!!

Here are some pics of what’s happening with the other overwintered greens….I’ll be pulling them up in the next few days, making room for more early spring seeds…..

Arugula is flowering. Mizuna getting big with a *major* bite.

Tatsoi bolted and flowering

Spinach is really going strong now (on left)


Rough winter. No worries, it’s all green!

Winter blues don’t stand a chance on days I harvest hardy greens to go with dinner. Here are the starring ingredients in our winter salads, clockwise from top left:

Mizuna: textured like frissee, not too bitter, mustardy and a little spicy

Spinach (Bloomsdale):  thick leaves but tender and mellow

Arugula:  rich and spicy

Cilantro:  no wonder these guys always go to seed mid-May…they were happy as clams through the winter and are going strong in the covered beds right now.  I love to toss a few sprigs in with my salads, adds a nice contrast.

Cress:  whoo-wee, spicy  — but so good!  And one of the loveliest rows in my raised beds.

Toss them all together with just about any kind of salad dressing….YUM!   These salads can stand even the most outrageously bold dressing (a la roquefort or something really garlicky) and still hold their own flavor-wise.  But I personally like them with a balsamic vinaigrette.

While I’m crunching away, I can’t help but think of the super vitamins I’m getting from such dark leafy veggies, especially when the toddlers are toting in all kinds of icky viruses this time of year.

I’m sad thinking about these greens going to seed in a couple months, but I’m encouraged by the thought of late-spring salads coming in.  In that spirit, I planted about 20 romaine starts a few days ago.  This is the earliest I’ve ever tried putting them out, but it’s also the first time I’ve had covered raised beds, so we’ll see if they make it through the inevitable final hurrahs of winter:


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