What Will Be the New Kale?

Our 2011 crop of spigarello.

Our 2011 crop of spigarello.

Since 2011, we’ve been saying that Spigarello is the new kale. Thanks to a tip from the folks at Winnetka Farms, we may need to wait for BroccoLeaf™ to have its fifteen minutes of fame as the new kale.

The Salinas, California based Foxy Organic is, quite sensibly, marketing broccoli leaves. Broccoli leaves are indeed edible and tasty. Foxy has the recursive media to prove it, a Facebook photo of someone Instagramming Broccoli leaves:

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Now I’ve just blogged about someone Facebooking about someone Instagramming Broccoli leaves. How far can we take this? Will broccoli leaves act as the gateway vegetable to Spigarello?

How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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Did you know that apples should be stored at room temperature for the first seven days and then go into the refrigerator? That ginger should be stored only at room temp? Preventing food waste is a topic getting a lot of attention thanks to a new documentary, Just Eat It. Estimates are that 40% of all food ends up in the dumpster.

UC Davis has an incredible resource for preventing food waste in our homes in the form of a pdf you can print out and post on your refrigerator. We’ve linked to it before, but it’s worth repeating: Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste.

019 Garden Nerd Christy Wilhelmi

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On the podcast this week we review different approaches to backyard vegetable gardening with “Gardenerd” Christy Wilhelmi of Gardenerd.com. Christy is also the author of Gardening for Geeks and has a podcast, The Gardenerds Tip of the Week. During the show we discuss:

  • Biodynamics
  • Biointensive/French Intensive
  • Alan Chadwick’s Garden at UC Santa Cruz
  • John Jeavons
  • Double digging vs. no-till
  • A documentary about Ruth Stout
  • Breaking up soil with permaculture method
  • The power of mulch
  • Square foot gardening
  • Peat moss vs. coir
  • Growing carbon and compost crops
  • Heavy metals
  • Phytoremediation with milk thistle and chicory
  • What to fill a raised bed with
  • How to deal with shade
  • Integrating livestock: chickens and bees
  • What to do with Peruvian pepper trees (Schinus molle)
  • Attracting pollinators

You can also connect with Christy on Facebook and Twitter.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

What Vegetables Are You Growing This Winter?

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Showing remarkable restraint, I came home from the Heirloom Expo with only three packages of seeds. I’ve decided to keep it simple this winter (our best growing season for veggies in Los Angeles) and only grow varieties that:

  • Do well with minimal intervention.
  • Can’t be found in the market.
  • Taste better fresh out of the garden (greens and salad mixes).
  • I like to eat (sorry turnips).

And I’m sticking with my favorite seed company: Franchi.

The winners are:

Cavolo Broccolo Spigariello, what I keep predicting will be the new kale, though that trend has yet to happen. It’s a weedy looking primitive broccoli. You eat the leaves and the small flower clusters. I think it’s my favorite green.

Rucola Selvatica a Foglia d’ulivo (“olive leaf” wild arugula). From what little I can gather from English language sources, this arugula has a broader olive shaped leaf and a flavor that is stronger than cultivated arugula, but milder than other wild arugulas. This will be the first time I’ve tried this variety. And this year I plan on sowing successively so that I’ll have a longer harvest period. In my opinion, you can never have enough arugula.

Tuscany salad mix. You can also never have enough lettuces. I’ve always had good luck with Franchi’s salad mixes. They are beautiful and much stronger tasting than the stuff at the supermarket. And store bought lettuce wilts instantly.

What are you growing this winter? If you’re in a cold climate, do you grow year round?

Note: if you’re in the US, Franchi has several distributors. I got my seeds from the Heirloom Seed Store, run by a very nice family that has a farm in Half Moon Bay in Northern California. The seeds I bought are not listed on their website, so you may need to call them. They can also be found on the website of another Franchi distributor, Seeds From Italy.

017 Heirloom Expo Recap

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On the seventeenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss Erik’s recent trip to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the things and people we mention during the podcast:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

The Mystery of the Zero-Irrigation Squash

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We can’t sit down until we eat our squash.

You guys might remember that last year our entire back yard was swamped with squash vines, as we were growing two types of large squash: Tromboncino and “Long of Naples”.  They were both tasty as juveniles, but our long wait for them to ripen was disappointing. Both were rather bland. Bland yet remarkably plenteous. We tried many things to make this stuff useful and/or tasting: pies, pickles, soups, but in the end we felt like we were always trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Though we had almost no rain this year, a couple of volunteer squash vines popped up out of the mulch near our raised beds, and we let them grow, because we wanted to eat the baby squash as we would zucchini–it’s good that way. We also didn’t think the vines would last very long without water. Well, they did. We couldn’t keep up with the baby squash (they’re so good at hiding) and ended up with a harvest of big, bland squash.

Again.

(The squash is a hybrid, by the way. They look like Tromboncino, but are bigger than the Tromboncinos we had last year. Squash cross-breed like crazy. Volunteers are rarely like their parents.)

I bring this up mostly because I am amazed how well this squash did without irrigation. And to be clear, that means they’ve had no water for months. The chairs in the picture above are holding over 100 lbs (45+ kilos) of food grown with zero water inputs! To top that, this was one of the healthiest squash plants we’ve ever “grown” or rather allowed to grow. How did that work? And more importantly, how can we make it happen again?

I have three thoughts:

1) Perfect timing. Volunteers know exactly when to come up. They’re rarely wrong. We humans schedule planting by when we finally buy our seeds and find time to trundle out into the garden. It’s not good enough. Masanobu Fukuoka had a good thought when he went out and just tossed seed all over the place and waited to see what grew. I really need to figure out how to work that man’s ideas into our garden. In times of stress and hard conditions, it seems best to turn to Nature as a teacher.

2) Mulch/compost basins may work well for some types of plants, and do a good job of retaining water. The area where the squash grew is the site of a huge hole which Erik dug out to harvest clay to make our oven. That pit has been filled with compost and the remains of last year’s straw bale beds, and topped with lots of mulch. The squash seems to really like this compost-y growing medium. We’ve not had many volunteers of other types, though, so I don’t think the appeal is universal. However, it may lead to hints of how to grow squash crops here successfully with little water.

3) Cheating. I do wonder if Mr. Squash stretched his roots under the nearest raised bed (about 2 feet/.5 meter away) and siphoned off some of the water. Certainly if I’d planted a seedling that far from the bed, and told it “Okay, you’re on your own. Just get what you need from that bed over yonder” that plant would never have made it. But volunteers are canny. And it may come down to timing. The squash might have used what little rain we had as a jump start, and got its roots over into the wet zone before the real heat set in.

Have you ever been amazed by a volunteer’s hardiness? Anyone from a dry place have any favorite squash/melon growing strategies?

Flowers from Vegetables

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Whenever possible I let vegetables go to flower, sometimes to save the seed, but more often to share the bounty with insects and birds. The usefulness comes in two waves: the first being the pollinators attracted to the flowers, and once the flowers go to seed the birds will move in. Of course this means that I’m “wasting space” and making my garden “unproductive” but the rewards outweigh any inconvenience.

New gardeners are often surprised to see what amazing flowers different vegetables make. People with no connection to food plants whatsoever may not even know that vegetables make flowers, so it’s fun to show them a carrot flower, a squash blossom, a bean flower.

My new favorite garden flower comes off an old Italian chicory plant left to go riot. I’m not sure which chicory it is, but it’s one of those  long-leaved, bitter greens beloved in Italy and sold by Franchi seeds. It’s easy to grow, pest proof, and we like the strong, bitter flavor. The flowers, though, are amazing. The greens send up narrow stalks 8′ tall or more (approx. 2.5 meters) and the stalks are covered from top to bottom with beautiful periwinkle blue flowers which are about 2″ (5cm) across– classic chicory flowers.

The bees adore these flowers. What’s more, this plant has been blossoming continuously for months now–at least 3 months. Unfortunately I didn’t mark down when it started, but it’s been at least 3 months by now, maybe 4. It’s given me lots of joy.

In our yard the flower stalks have interwoven with grape and bean vines, adding a lot of color to a corner of our patio. The situation is impossible to to photograph, because the flowers are both high and low and tangled up with everything, but trust me, in person it’s charming in its wild way.

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Is Purslane the New Kale?

Purslane in a Greek salad. Image: Wikipedia.

Purslane in a Greek salad. Image: Wikipedia.

Salty, crunchy, nutritious and edible raw or cooked, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) could soon be ready for its fifteen minutes of vegetable fame. We planted some this year in our summer vegetable garden and I’ve used it in a lot of salads this week.

Purslane is a common weed in North America. We’d love to be able to forage it in the neighborhood but, for some reason, it only tends to appear in unappetizing locations: usually the gutter (I think it needs a bit more water than what falls naturally from the sky here). You can eat the whole plant: stems and leaves. It has a salty and slightly lemony flavor reminiscent of New Zealand spinach.

There’s always a huge bin of it at Super King, our local Armenian supermarket. In Armenia it’s gathered in the wild and used either raw in salads or lightly sauteed.

There’s even a World Cup tie-in. The color of the plant in South America is associated with green/white soccer uniforms.

Have you grown purslane? Foraged purslane? How do you like to eat it?

Direct Seeding vs. Transplants

How I used to plant my veggies.

How I used to plant my veggies. An 8 inch spacing guide and some seedlings back in 2009.

To direct sow or transplant, that is the question. I’m as indecisive as Hamlet when it comes to this question. Some caveats here: we live in a warm climate where you can direct sow almost anything unless you want to get an early start on tomatoes and peppers. And we don’t have to start seedlings indoors.

Another thing to note–I fell under the spell of John Jeavons and even took his class up in Willits a few years back. Jeavons transplants everything. One of the best vegetable gardens I ever grew was done following his instructions to the letter. But I’m not big on double digging, nor do I look forward to the twice a year transplanting chores.

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Look what’s growing in the new raised beds–nada!

This year I tried to direct sow the summer garden instead of growing trays of seedlings and I have to say I’m not getting good results. A week of temperatures over 100° F didn’t help. Nor did the long delay getting the vegetable garden planted while I attempted to evict skunks from the backyard. I know I sound like the president of an excuse factory. Let’s just say it’s good that we’re not trying to subsist on our home grown produce.

My conclusion? I’m going to have to go back to sowing seeds in flats and transplanting them out in the garden. It may not be the best practice from a horticultural perspective, but in terms of my own personality and the quirks of our little yard, it may still be the best option.

Dear readers, where do you come down on this question? Do you sow direct or do you transplant? How does your climate influence this decision?

Dry Climate Vegetables

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Here in Arrakis, I mean California, we’re in the midst of a terrible drought. And unfortunately, most of the seeds we buy for our vegetable gardens are adapted to require lots of water. One solution is to find veggies that have reseeded accidentally without supplemental irrigation. Here’s a short list of reseeding rogue veggies from our garden that have thrived with just the small burst of rain we got last month.

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