The Snarky Gardener is ready for the growing season
Spring has been a fun and interesting time to be a snarky gardener. I’ve taken in some workshops, and taken in some new edible varieties. Last year was all about growing my own starts and saving seeds. This year so far seems to be about expanding my knowledge, contacts (through Food Not Lawns and the Kent Community TimeBank), and perennial plantings.
In March I took two workshops – one for bee keeping and one for tree pruning. Looks like bees will be a future project though now I’m now a member of the Stark County (Ohio) Beekeepers Association (even have a cool membership card in my wallet). A very passionate group but I’m not quite ready to have so many little lives dependent on me. The tree pruning workshop did pay immediate benefits as there’s an old apple tree way in the back yard. I’m not real fond of getting up on a ladder but the tree is 30 feet tall so not much a choice. It did produce (small and holey) fruit last year and I’m hoping for better this season. In early May, I attended a WordPress “camp”, where I picked up new knowledge to help these blog entries and this site be better for you. I also concluded my permaculture class prematurely as my schedule has been full as of late.
With permaculture slowly but surely changing my point of view, I’ve taken some steps to make my domain more permanent and perennial. My two part article written earlier this year discussed perennial plant possibilities and I’ve taken steps to make them reality. For the Snarky Garden, Egyptian Walking onions, ground nuts, mushrooms, strawberry spinach, and perennial kale (from Territorial) will be added to compliment already established sunchokes, strawberries, corn salad (via self seeding) and comfrey. The whole north part (top in the plan) is evolving into only perennials. I’ll never move to a whole perennial garden (I love tomatoes and potatoes too much), but half would be nice. Also, my foraging is getting more serious with grazing of garlic mustard, dandelion greens, hostas and violets picked right out of the yard. I wanted to do maple syrup, but missed the February/March window, but there’s always next year.
The Snarky Gardener has given away dozens of Seven Top turnip packets this season.
Last December, the Snarky Gardener made the crazy decision to give away his extra turnip seeds. He let 20 or so of his Seven Top turnips go to seed last spring, providing an abundance to be shared with others. So far at this writing, there have been about 35 or so packets sent through the mail (sometimes with other free and paid for seed). He will continue to offer up these wonderfully organic seeds to those who place an online order as long as supplies last (which will probably be another year or so – sigh).
In case you have Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) and don’t know what to do with them, here’s what I decided to make with my own turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, and garlic. I made a few modifications, including adding turnip greens and not peeling anything (I’m lazy if not anything). I would make this again so, but alas, I’m out of turnips for now. Could always buy some at the local farmer’s market.
1 leek, trimmed
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Fine sea salt
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 pounds turnips diced plus greens
1 1/4 pounds sunchokes, diced
2 tart apples, cored, and diced
Coarsely ground black pepper or Aleppo pepper
Medium-coarse sea salt
1. Cut leek lengthwise in half and rinse well. Finely chop leek together with onion and garlic.
2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat. Add leek mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a gentle simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until water is almost completely evaporated, about 15 minutes.
3. Add turnips, artichokes, apples, and remaining 2 cups of water. Cover and simmer until apple is soft and flavors have blended, about 30 minutes more.
4. Puree soup using an immersion blender until smooth. Add salt to taste. Serve drizzled with oil and sprinkled with a grinding of pepper and with salt, if desired.
Thanks to Shop.Cook.Make for this wonderful recipe. I’ve modified it several times over the last 6 months, sometimes using turnip or mustard greens (instead of spinach), green onions (instead of chives), and/or cilantro (instead of cumin). I finally arrived at that point in summer where it could be made using just ingredients from my garden (except the cumin). With this batch, I also added a Jalapeno pepper to give them a little more kick.
3 Potatoes (any type)
3 cloves of Garlic
2 or 3 cups of Spinach fresh or frozen (or any other leafy green) – I used turnip greens
1 tbsp Basil
2 tbsp Chives – I used green onions
2 tbsp Parsley
1/2 tsp Cumin
2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast (optional)
3 tbsp White Wine (optional)
Chop the potatoes in big chunks and boil until done but very firm (about 6 minutes). Add some salt to the water if you want. You can use frozen spinach. Just make sure to get all the water out before cooking.
Chop the Spinach (or other greens). Cook in a pan with the chopped garlic and the wine (or substitute for water) for 3 or 4 minutes until it’s soft.
Chop the herbs (if fresh). Dried can be used also.
Mix everything in a bowl, (including the nutritional yeast if you have it on hand) and let it rest until it’s cool enough for you to touch it without burning your hands.
Then proceed to make small balls (like meatballs). Use cooking spray in the pan.
It’s been an eventful 2013 spring for the Snarky Gardener. He has learned humility and patience, especially since it’s taking forever for everyone to know how wonderful he truly is. Mother nature has given many lessons this year, and it’s possible the Snarky Gardener won’t make the same mistakes next year. Here’s the summary of highlights and lowlights (is that really a word?) for this spring.
Starting my own plants
This year started with much (probably too much) enthusiasm as January can make a gardener in Ohio a little nuts. Overall it went well, with lots of tomatoes, and basil plants to plant and trade. I do need to improve on starting dates, labeling, and hardening off. All of these issues come down to one thing – patience. I tend to want to start seeds earlier than they should be, forget to label and/or record properly, and to rush plants outside too soon.
Spinach was a little hard to get germinated (maybe one in two seeds actually sprouted). I used the AeroGarden starter kit, so maybe spinach just doesn’t do very well with that system. I’ve done some research on soil cubes and could go that direction for spinach and others next year.
Frosts and freezes
Last year we in Northeast Ohio got spoiled with an early spring with warm weather in March and April. This year we had freezes and frosts into late May and I lost quite a few tomatoes and peppers. I’ll make a concerted effort not put out the majority of my frost intolerant plant until late May next year.
This is the second year I’ve had issues with groundhogs in my garden. Last year in July, a little guy (named him Woody) terrorized my garden for a week or two until I finally caught him in the act of trespassing and theft. He took out half my early corn and green beans before I was able to finally capture him. Let’s just say that he’s in a better place now.
This year the fun started earlier in late May as a momma and her little one moved into Woody’s old house, which is a burrow under a stacked pile of pine trees 5 feet behind my garden. It began with a few carrot tops missing and culminated with the loss of spinach, peas, kale, broccoli, and even Jerusalem artichokes. I called in the experts this time as my own trapping efforts were getting me nowhere. First morning we had a raccoon, who had been stealing my trap bait of corn and apples. My trap is obviously cheap and worthless. Since the raccoon, we caught two more raccoons, Mama and another baby groundhog. On July 4th, I added some 3 foot chicken fencing to the north side with 1 1/2 feet on the ground and 1 1/2 feet attached to the current fence. This will keep future groundhogs (there will be more) from digging under (crossing my fingers).
My long-term plan is to remove the wood either by having the landlord move it or by acquiring a chain saw. The cleared area will make a good place to expand my composting efforts.
Overwintering and collecting seeds
I overwintered several different plants this year, mostly because I wanted early spring produce. Carrots, kale, onions, mache, and turnips all made it back for 2013. I let the kale, mache, and turnips go to seed with a concerted effort to collect the Seven Top turnip green seeds. I ended up with a giant bag of turnip green seeds on 7/14 (more than I’ll ever use), so if you want some, just let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get them to you. I’m still planning to collect tomato and bean seeds for sure, with a possibility of collecting peppers and eggplants this year too.
The Snarky Gardener lists the best vegetables for Northeastern Ohio gardens
The list is ordered by asking, “If I was starting a new garden today, what would I grow to (almost) guarantee success?” An important fact to remember is that success includes planting them at the right time of the year. Some can withstand frosts and prefer spring or fall. Others love the heat of July and August. Also, some can handle a bit of shade where others must have at least 6 hours of sun a day to grow well. All these variables are noted below.
When to Plant Tomatoes in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed.
By onions, I mean the bulbs you buy at the garden store and use as either green onions (tops and all) or later as full onions. Onions (and other related plants – garlic, leaks, chives) are also mammal resistant, as deer and rabbits and groundhogs will usually leave them alone.
When to Plant Onion in Northeastern Ohio: These can first be planted in March or April and can be continuously planted through the fall.
3. Green Beans
Easy to grow (once the spring frosts are over) and will help to improve the soil with their nitrogen fixing. They also produce food quickly (under 60 days) so they can be planted later in the season (through the beginning of August here in Ohio). Beans are a favorite food of groundhogs and rabbits though so you’ll need to fence them in.
When to Plant Green Beans in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed until August.
Very prolific, zucchini are always welcome in my garden. I tend to go with the all-female varieties – like Burpee’s Sure Thing. Plant Zucchini in mounds with 2 or 3 seeds per mound.
When to Plant Zucchini in Northeastern Ohio: around the end of May after all danger of frost has passed and the ground has warmed up.
Planted in spring, potatoes are really easy. Just put in the ground and hill up dirt or mulch (leaves or straw) as the plant itself grows up. Just wait for the plant to die off and then dig up your taters. You will need store bought seed potatoes as grocery store potatoes are usually sprayed with chemicals that keep them from sprouting.
When to Plant Potatoes in Northeastern Ohio: as early as St. Patrick’s Day through May.
Garlic, like potatoes, are super easy. I did find out the hard way, you must split the bulbs up into cloves before planting. But after they are in, you are good to go. Garlic can be strategically planted to help deter critters (deer, rabbits, etc) from eating other crops. Many animals do not like the smell of garlic.
When to Plant Garlic in Northeastern Ohio: mid October to be pulled in July or March/April (though this will grow smaller bulbs).
7. Turnip Greens
Easy to grow and very nutritious (a so-called “super food”), though somewhat bitter to eat sometimes (colcannon anyone?). I’ve been going with Seven Top turnips over the last year or so, which are only grown for their greens. The standard Purple Top White Globe turnip is also good for it’s greens, though you do have to worry about the roots getting tough and dried out as the summer temperatures spike. Turnips prefer cool weather and can be sown in early spring or fall and will overwinter (and then promptly go to seed if not harvested in time). They can also handle partial shade.
When to Plant Turnips in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.
These are an issue for some gardens as rocky or clay soil can make for forked carrots. Red Cored Chantenay is the 6 inch variety I grow that’s just perfect for Northeast Ohio’s clay soil. They also overwinter well, coming back up for a special spring treat. The tops are loved by fuzzy animals, both mammals and caterpillars.
When to Plant Carrots in Northeastern Ohio: April to August.
Think of peas like green beans (i.e. they fix nitrogen) for the spring and fall. They can be planted as early as St. Patrick’s day in Northeastern Ohio. And like green beans, they are loved by bunnies and groundhogs, so you’ll need to fence the peas in and the rodents out. Also, they are tasty right off the vine, so there’s a chance they never make it back to the kitchen.
When to Plant Peas in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.
Kale is a relative to cabbage and broccoli but easier to grow. Red Russian kale seems to be a winner as I know several other local gardeners who also raise it. You’ll need to keep an eye out for little green worms as they love kale.
When to Plant Kale in Northeastern Ohio: April through September.
I threw spinach in because it’s one of my favorite “super foods”. I like it better than most other greens (including lettuce and kale). But it’s a little hard to get started and will bolt (go to seed) once the weather gets hot. Also, spinach can handle some shade.
When to Plant Spinach in Northeastern Ohio: April / May and again in August/September.
I was at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market in Kent Ohio this winter and ran across some Jacob’s Cattle beans from Breakneck Acres (located just around the corner from Snarky Acres – aka my house). I had read about Jacob’s Cattle beans in one or two of my many gardening books and wanted to eat (and grow) some myself. After a Google search, I found a recipe I could adapt to make my own special local chili. Converting it into a crock pot recipe made it quick and easy.
Note: I saved back one bag so I could plant them this spring. Maybe in the fall I’ll be doing this same recipe with my own beans.
1 pound (aka bag) of Jacob’s Cattle beans
1 or 2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp. Garlic powder)
Olive oil for frying
1 pound ground beef
3-4 T. chili powder
2-3 T. cumin
2 Jalapeno peppers
Dash of cinnamon
Large can crushed tomatoes (2 1/2 cups fresh)
1 tsp. local honey (instead of brown sugar)
2 T. vinegar (white, red wine, apple cider or balsamic)
Salt and pepper to taste
Turnip Greens (optional)
Soak the beans in water about 2-3 inches above the beans in the crock pot or a non-metal bowl for 6-8 hours or overnight. Discard the soaking water and cover with fresh water an inch or two above the beans. Cook the ground beef until nicely browned and crumbled, set aside. Sauté the onions in a oil until soft, then add everything to the crock pot and stir well. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 to 10 hours.
– Jalapeno peppers – fresh from the AeroGarden
– Turnip Greens – frozen from last year’s garden
– Tomatoes – frozen from last year’s garden
– Onions – fresh from the garden
– Garlic – fresh thinnings from the garden
– Cilantro – fresh thinnings from the Front Yard Herb garden
– Jacob’s Cattle beans – from Breakneck Farms
– Ground beef – from Sirna’s Farm CSA in Auburn Ohio
– Local Honey
– Olive oil
– Chili powder
– Salt and pepper