Everything’s Coming Up Radishes

Everything’s coming up radishes…and peas and potatoes and shallots and onions and beets and lettuce. So much growing on and that’s just in one little red box! My square of beets are a bit of a mess. So many here, so few there…I may try carefully moving some about.

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Overall, things are growing well at the gardens. And I am learning some lessons about community in the process.

The other night I drove down to the garden to water. Upon arriving, I was secretly pleased to find no one else there. I sighed in contentment, looking forward to some solo watering time.

I had just finished uncoiling the garden hose and dragging it over to the boxes when a father showed up with his young daughter. The little girl was fairly leaping in the air with enthusiasm. I told them to go ahead and water their garden first, hoping they would then leave so I could carry on with my watering in solitude. Don’t judge me.

After they finished the little girl asked if she could water my garden and, of course, I told her that would be wonderful. She flew about spraying water here and there with unabated joy.

I’ll just water it properly after they leave, I told myself as I smiled and thanked the girl for all her help.

“You can leave if you like,” the father said unexpectedly. “We’ll put away the hose.”

The conversation that followed went something like this.

Me “No, no, I’ll do it. You’ve helped enough.”

Him “No, I insist.”

Me “That’s okay, I’ll finish up.”

Him “No, no, we’ll put the hose away. You can just go.”

What could I do? There was nothing for it. I left.

At first (did I already say don’t judge me?) I was a bit annoyed. But as I drove home I thought about that beautiful little girl helping me with my garden and I had to smile. It is a wonderful thing to see a young person taking an interest in gardening. It’s even more wonderful to see a young father taking time out of his busy day to encourage that interest. I hope to see them at the gardens again.

And that, dear Shannon, is what community gardening is really about.

And here I was thinking it was about deeply watered carrots. Pffft. Amateur.

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Five Myths About Tree Care

Myth #1 – Trees have deep roots.

When you see a giant tree in the forest you just assume it must be anchored in by one long, deep root. However, since most of the moisture and nutrients are found on the forest floor that is where most of the roots are as well. Trees have tap roots that spread laterally. Ninety-five percent of a tree’s roots are in the top three feet (one meter) and most of the fine feeder roots are in the top six inches (15 cm). When planting a tree take this into consideration and loosen the soil wide rather than just deep.

Uprooted trees. Fallen pine tree in the forest. Forest landscape. Uprooted trees. Fallen pine tree in the forest. Forest landscape.

 

Myth #2 – When Planting a Tree Amend the Hole with Nutrient Rich Soil

Filling a hole with nutrient rich soil is akin to handing a child a bowl of candy and then scattering fresh vegetables and fruit several feet away. The child will have no incentive to get out of the chair to seek out the vegetables and fruit if there is a bowl of candy right in his lap. Once the bowl is empty the child will likely just sit in the chair circling their hand around the empty bowl waiting for more candy to appear, rather than getting up and going in search of the outlying natural nutrients.

Wow. Okay, even I admit that’s kind of a weird analogy.

Nonetheless the premise holds true for trees. Filling a hole with loose, friable, compost only encourages the roots to stay put and circle around and around the hole where life is easy until they run out of both space and food.

Planting in the same soil that surrounds the tree is tough love at its best. The tree will then send out roots far and wide to search for nutrients and moisture the way trees have done for millennia. If you must amend keep the ratio to ninety percent existing soil and ten percent amendments.

The only exception would be if the entire area for 50 feet (15 meters) around was also amended and rich, in which case the tree will no doubt thrive beyond belief.

 

Woman digging in garden

 

Myth # 3 – Tree roots can be found right out to the drip line (drip line meaning where the outer canopy of leaves drip after a rainfall…in other words not just tight to the trunk).

Mature tree roots actually extend two to four times beyond the drip line. In fact, over 60 percent of a tree’s roots can be found in this outlying area. So if you have to water large established trees, water widely rather than next to the trunk. Exceptions would be new trees that are just starting to spread their roots.

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Imagine how far out the feeder roots of this weeping willow must go.

 

 

Myth #4 – Mulch around trees with bark or compost to add curb appeal, conserve moisture, protect from mowers or to extend flower beds.

While mulching does do all the things listed above, it can also be the death knell for your tree if done improperly. Anything more than four inches (10 cm) will suffocate the feeder roots and can cause crown rot if piled too thickly against the base of the tree. Mulch can also attract rodents which will quickly girdle a tree (chewing the bark around the base) leading to its demise. The tree’s not the rodent’s. Keep mulch well away from the tree’s trunk.

Wild animal forest

Okay, this is mostly grass (and its a cartoon) but if there were a thick pile of bark or leaves rodents would love to burrow into it and eventually feast around the base of your tree.

 

 

Myth #5 – Young trees should be staked and tied tightly so they grow straight and strong.

Once again, tough love rules. Staking a tree prevents it from swaying in the wind, an action that builds tree muscle…a process dubbed Thigmomorphogenesis by the botanical crowd (try to remember that word the next time you’re hanging out with the green thumb crowd…or playing scrabble). Coddle your tree and it will simply become reliant on the stake to hold it up. Plus it looks awful and you are no doubt humiliating the poor little guy in front of his peers.

Isolated young linden tree

Grow Your Own Ketchup and Fries…From One Plant!

You can now buy a plant sold under various names (in Canada it is called Ketchup ‘n’ Fries™) that produces tomatoes and potatoes.

And no, it’s not GMO. Tomatoes and potatoes are from the same family, so are somewhat compatible at the outset. After lots of trial and error the industry has figured out a way to graft the top of a tomato onto the base of a potato. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a nit picky process which demands that the circumference of both the potato and the tomato stalk be of similar size at the time of grafting. The plants then go through a bonding period before being released for sale. As a result, they don’t come cheap. The plants I stumbled upon yesterday in our local nursery were being sold for $25.99.

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By all reports from gardeners who have tried this plant in the past, you can expect modest yields of both tomatoes and potatoes. For the same coin you could easily purchase a bag of two dozen seed potatoes and a packet of at least a dozen tomato seeds. But that’s not the point.

This is a gimmick and a fun one at that. If you are short on space or just want to grow this one for a novelty and can afford to do so, then it could be fun project. Especially if you have children.

It could also be a way of thwarting thieves if you garden in a community space or are subject to garden raids in your front yard. Who would think to pull up a tomato plant to look for potatoes? If you lose all your tomatoes at least you can take comfort in harvesting a few potatoes instead.

Vegetable garden bed

Twelve Ways to Stop Human Garden Thieves and One Cautionary Tale

It’s a thing. And it’s on the rise. People stealing vegetables from under a gardener’s nose. Gardeners are used to finding ways to outsmart such critters as raccoons, squirrels, moose, deer and cabbage moths, but two-legged pests require a whole new set of tactics.

It’s frustrating. Especially since humans, unlike other pests, can read, communicate clearly with each other and know what they are doing is wrong.

Community Gardens almost always have special “share beds” with clear signage directing hungry visitors to designated harvest areas and explaining which beds are rented by individuals and therefore off-limits. Too often the signs are ignored. Gardeners who have labored over their vegetables for months show up with their harvest basket only to find someone else has beat them to it.

Lady vegetable gardener

Gardeners are generous at heart. If asked, they would likely be glad to share extra produce, and many do just that by donating to food banks, shelters and neighbors. However, having their plots pilfered without permission leaves them feeling helpless and violated. Many gardeners pull up all their plants in a fit of frustration vowing to never set foot in a community garden again. Others go rogue, plotting out the kind of revenge that can get you 25 years to life. Don’t do that (see cautionary tale at the end of this article).

For those in the middle, here are some ideas for thwarting that most cunning of garden thieves…the homosapien. A curious creature to be sure

1.     Spiders and Snakes – Many humans have an aversion to spiders, snakes, rats and mice…especially if they aren’t expecting them. Buy a few toy replicas and strategically place them in your tomato vines or wherever you want to deter a thief. This could backfire if the human investigates and realizes they are fake. Worse, if they screamed like a school girl in front of their friends, they might retaliate by pulling up all your plants, saving you the trouble. Or if it’s an elderly person with a heart condition they might keel over right then and there. Maybe a tomato isn’t worth it. Or maybe I am over thinking it.

2.     Disguise the Prize – Buy nylons (green if you can find any) and secure the fabric around your tomatoes, preventing would-be thieves from spotting the tell-tale ripening orbs. This means that you need to be vigilant so the tomatoes don’t become overripe without you noticing.

For produce you are going to peel such as squash or cucumbers, use a non toxic natural based dark felt pen to color blotches on the skin. People are less likely to want your produce if it looks diseased.

3.     Bury the Evidence – In a perfect world root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets and onions can be left in the ground long after they have reached harvestable size. They keep better that way and if you live in an apartment (as many community gardeners do) you won’t have access to a cold room or root cellar.

Many humans don’t have a clue what these root crops look like in a garden anyway, and will leave them alone. Others are savvier, and will recognize the tops from carrots, beets and onions that are sold with the tops on in the store.

Once the roots are mature cut the tops off and cover any exposed roots with a loose layer of leaves, coir or peat moss.

Now it looks like you have already harvested the crop and only you know what is really under there. The downside, especially if you use leaves, is that you might attract mice who will be more than happy to hide undercover and nibble on the roots.

 

Kids picking vegetables on organic farm

4.     Appeal to the Heartstrings – If you have a child or grandchild assisting you with your garden help them make a sign that says “Samuel’s Garden” (if the child’s name is Samuel : ) with little handprints or something that makes it obvious a child is involved. Only the most heartless will steal from a child.

Or you could just make a sign explaining as kindly and politely as possible that this is your garden and asking them to please not take anything. Maybe leave a share basket and indicate that anything in the basket is free for the taking but to please, please, please leave the garden alone.

5.     Make Some Noise – Dangle bells, tin cans, old toy tambourines etc. from fishing line throughout the garden. When a person reaches into the beds they will set off a cacophony of noise and unwanted attention. Some people set up a one-time perimeter fence based on the same principle, hoping the intruder will snag their ankle on the fishing line and be left dragging an assortment of noisemakers. With my luck the person would trip, fall, hit their head and sue me. Or worse, an innocent dog or cat might get tangled up in the fishing line.

6.     Dust Your Vegetables – Dust ripening vegetables such as pea vines, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cabbage, kale and lettuce with organic flour. It won’t hurt the plants but thieves might think it is some kind of pesticide and steer clear. If your community garden is strictly organic-as most are-be sure to let the manager know what you are doing to avoid getting kicked out!

7.     Wire the Root Crops – After you have seeded your root crops-but before anything has come up-stretch chicken wire over the whole bed and secure with stakes or staples depending if you have a raised bed or regular plot. The plants will have no trouble poking their way through, but thieves will have a lot of trouble trying to pull potatoes through a two-inch hexagon. Of course, the same can be said for you, and it will make hilling potatoes impossible so you will have to rely on mulching over the chicken wire instead. And there is nothing to stop the marauders from pulling the wire off or using wire snips to expand the holes (as you will have to do come harvest time) but most will likely decide it is too much bother and move on.

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Growing unusual produce such as these ground-cherries might confuse the thieves. If they don’t know what it is they are unlikely to take it.

8.     Unusual Offerings – The best thing about growing your own vegetables is that you can plant the types of things you will rarely find in a grocery store. This also means people likely won’t recognize what is right under their nose. Yellow tomatoes are delicious but not instantly recognized as ripe the way red ones are.  Mystery Keeper tomatoes ripen from the inside out and are picked green. Tomato heirlooms such as Black Krim are so dark they look like they are rotten even though they are absolutely delicious .

Ground cherries, edible flowers, edible vegetable leaves,  yellow raspberries, purple broccoli, orange cauliflower, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke (tasty roots but very invasive), okra (unusual AND requires long sleeves and pruning shears to avoid prickles) and purple beans are just a few choices that you can grow in plain sight but are anything but plain and can be used to your advantage.

There is a plant on the market that produces both tomatoes and potatoes. Thieves might make off with the tomatoes but would never suspect potatoes were growing beneath. For more about this plant visit our post Grow Your Own Ketchup and Fries…From One Plant!

9.     Just for the Shell of it – Humans are cunning creatures but notoriously lazy. They are unlikely to go to the trouble of stealing vegetables that require further labor intensive processing. Plant shelling beans and soup peas…they are not tasty fresh but absolutely delectable dried and used in soups or stews. Some gardeners have interspersed plantings of garden peas with shelling peas or beans to maximize crop space and to hide the coveted fresh garden peas from marauders with the munchies.

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10.    Plant Stinging Nettles – This is pretty mean, but also pretty effective. Once stung by nettles, thieves are unlikely to return. And you might have cured their arthritis. I personally know someone who swears that running her bare hands and arms through a nettle patch relieves her arthritis for weeks. I know for sure that nettles are ridiculously good for you, so you aren’t just planting them as a deterrent. You can harvest them too. That said, nettles are very invasive, so consider that before planting. For all the health benefits and reasons (other than deterring would-be thieves) to grow and harvest nettles visit our previous post Are Stinging Nettles the New Superfood? They even promote health in the vegetables that grow beside them!

 

Life cycle of dandelion

11.     Just Grow Weeds – Stinging nettles aren’t the only so-called weeds that are good for you. There are lots of weeds that put the nutrient value of common garden vegetables to shame.

Consider this comparison from our previous post about stinging nettles…

Protein content of Broccoli – 3.0 mg

Protein content of Lambs Quarters – 4.2 mg

Calcium content of Leaf Lettuce – 18 mg

Calcium content of Purslane – 65 mg

Magnesium content of Spinach – 49 mg

Magnesium content of Dock – 63 mg

And don’t even get me started on dandelions. See post What are dandelions good for? Absolutely everything! for more information on their all-encompassing health benefits. Some varieties (yes there are varieties of dandelions!) taste better than others. Try French or Italian dandelions both available from Richters. Growing them deliberately in beds makes the roots easier to harvest as well!

Other weedy but very nutritious options include plantain and chickweed. Plant and harvest these weeds deliberately and you will be sure to foil the thieves and be healthier for it. A dried combination of these plant’s leaves can be used as an immune boosting tea over the winter months or added to shakes, smoothies and juices. You will have an economical green powder that will put those pricey commercial products to shame.

 

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12.     Go Under Cover – Floating row covers, plant tents and wire mesh lids with hinges and padlocks for raised beds are all deterrents for someone trying to do a quick grocery grab.

And One Cautionary Tale…

If none of these tactics work then I leave you with this cautionary tale I once heard from a friend who heard it from cousin who heard it firsthand from a wise elderly man named Hank.

Now Hank was a kindly, older gentleman with a tanned face and piercing blue eyes. He had one of those calm demeanors that tell you he is a man who has made his peace with the world.

One afternoon my friend’s cousin came upon Hank in the community garden. Hank was patiently pruning and retying a tomato plant to a stake that had been knocked over by someone trying to get to his peas. The cousin expressed indignation, but Hank just smiled soft and slow and told him the story of Rose, a former fellow gardener who had been killed-according to Hank-by plain vindictiveness.

Now Hank had a theory that everyone is wired a bit differently and Rose’s wiring was tight. Every fall the garden held a friendly competition with categories such as biggest pumpkin, most oddly shaped vegetable, best tasting tomato and best basket of assorted vegetables etc.

While most viewed the competition as a way of bonding with fellow gardeners and having a bit of fun, Rose saw it as a way of establishing herself as the best gardener period. She had won the prize for best overall gardener twenty years in a row. When some of her prized vegetables started disappearing from her patch she was…well, less than pleased.

There were some thefts and vandalism every year so it wasn’t anything new, but for some reason, that particular season, something inside of Rose snapped. Try as she might, she could no longer accept her losses.

She took to counting her tomatoes, beans, squash and finally even her pea pods. Every morning she would take inventory and every morning it seemed like something had been subtracted.

At first she blamed the “hooligans” that roamed the neighborhood. Hooligan defined by Rose as anyone under the age of forty with free time to roam the neighborhood. She tried to ignite interest in an electric fence to keep the aforementioned hooligans out of the gardens.

“High voltage, mind you. None of this mammy pamby small jolt stuff that just makes your hand tingle for a couple of hours. I want to fry the little bastards. Knock ’em unconscious!”

At this point even fellow members who had been sympathetic and even somewhat intrigued by the possibly of an electric fence started to get alarmed by Rose’s escalating wrath.

When she failed to get enough interest in her high voltage fence, she festooned her garden plot with a cobbled together affair consisting of old raspberry canes and rose pruning’s held together by rusty barbwire. One day she badly cut herself trying to access her own garden. The wound quickly became infected and at one point doctors thought they might have to cut off her hand.

“Can you believe it?” she asked, several rounds of antibiotics and a tetanus shot later. “I almost lost my hand because of those lazy, thieving, good for nothing hooligans.”

Soon after she took down her prickly fence and put up a sign that said, “Nuclear Waste Test Plot…Eat These Vegetables and Die!” but the manager made her remove it on the grounds that the garden was-and always would be-strictly organic. The last thing they wanted were rumours flying around town that the gardeners were testing the effects of nuclear by-products.

After that came a sign that read “Organic Human Urination Fertilization Experiment Underway. Please Don’t Eat The Vegetables.”

It was hard to say who was more surprised; fellow gardeners who noted Rose’s unprecedented polite usage of the word “please” or Rose herself, when she came upon a note attached to her sign a few days later that read:

“Dear Gardener, I have heard about the benefits of urine on plants before, especially tomatoes and rhubarb, but have never tried it myself. I am intrigued. I have been adding my own “specimen” to your interesting experiment every morning for the last week and am looking forward to learning of the results.”

After that she stopped making signs and went on to alienate her plot mates by deciding the thievery was obviously an inside job being carried out by a jealous competitor.

No one escaped her interrogations or constant scrutiny. Every morning she counted her produce down to the last radish. She would yell out things like, “Aha! Seventy three pods of peas…yesterday I had seventy-nine. Didn’t think I would notice did you!”

Clearly things were getting out of hand, but the real thief, according to Hank, lurked inside poor Rose. Anger coupled with an insatiable desire for retribution and revenge had stolen her peace of mind.

Rose lost whatever joy she had found in gardening. While others sighed over missing produce or a few vandalized plants, they were able to move on. Soon they were back at it, once again taking pleasure in the pungent smell of tomato leaves, the uplifting sound of birdsong and feel of rich soil sifting between their fingers. Not so with Rose.

When August arrived Rose started talking about injecting her tomatoes with poison and dusting her beans with arsenic. She was clearly coming unhinged and the other gardeners were getting concerned. What if she actually carried through on her threats and ended up poisoning someone…maybe a small child? Should they call in the police? They eyed both Rose and her vegetable plot with much trepidation.

Then one day Rose failed to show up at the garden. A week went by and then two. This was unprecedented. Fellow gardeners started to wonder what could possibly have happened to her. Word finally came that she had suffered a massive heart attack and died in her sleep.

“With gardens it is always something,” said Hank philosophically, as he finished staking his tomato and took a step back to admire his handiwork. “Late frosts, hungry crows or people with no respect for all your hard work. Or maybe they’re just hungry and need it more than you do. Either way, at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s one of life’s many lessons. And between you and me, there is nowhere I would rather learn life’s lessons than in a garden. Sometimes you just have to learn to let things go. Otherwise you might wake up dead at ninety-two.”

“Wait…Rose was ninety-two?” the cousin asked in disbelief.

“Yup,” said Hank. “That’s all. Who knows how many more years she might have had if she hadn’t got so worked up over a few tomatoes and beans.”

So there you have it.

Maybe some of the tips mentioned above will trick the grocery grabbers, but if they don’t, in the spirit of Rose, do your best to take a deep breath and carry on. Because ninety-two is too young to die from anger.

Rabbit Holding Vegetables

 

 

Are Stinging Nettles The New Superfood?

Stinging nettles are often hated, always feared and rarely invited to dinner. And that’s a shame because this herb packs an astonishing wallop of great health and eating in every bite. In other words, bite back! Just don’t eat the mature leaves raw, since that would be the equivalent to squatting down in a patch of poison ivy. Same pain, different cheeks. However, once the leaves have been wilted, dried or cooked they no longer sting.

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The proper Latin name for stinging nettles is Urtica dioica. Uritca meaning ‘to burn’. And baby, do those leaves burn! But fortunately that’s not all they’re good for. Nettles have been used for centuries as a potential cure for everything from the common cold to cancer. The leaves are rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, silica, iodine, sodium, sulfur, tannin, beta-carotene and vitamins C and B. In fact, there is not a single vegetable in your garden that packs more protein than the stinging nettle. So if all you ever manage to successfully grow in your garden is weeds, there is no need to despair. If you learn how to harvest those weeds might end up healthier than the neighbour with the pristine patch of vegetables. While we’re on the subject of weed nutrients versus those of vegetables, here are a few other interesting comparisons:

Protein content of Broccoli – 3.0 mg

Protein content of Lambs Quarters – 4.2 mg

Calcium content of Leaf Lettuce – 18 mg

Calcium content of Purslane – 65 mg

Magnesium content of Spinach – 49 mg

Magnesium content of Dock – 63 mg

What do Lambs Quarters, Purslane, Dock and Stinging Nettles have in common?  They’re all classified as weeds. So when that neighbour looks askance at your weed patch, look him square in the eye and say, “Yeah well, I used to grow vegetables too, but then I decided to use the room for more nutritious plants instead.”

But back to the winning merits of the green dragon.

Nettle tea in glass, fresh and dry nettle.

Nettle tea can be made with either fresh or dried nettle

Recent studies indicate that nettles are a natural antihistamine and enjoying a daily cup of nettle tea can alleviate seasonal allergies such as hay fever.  Nettle tea heavily laced with honey and lemon is also a great decongestant when you’re suffering from a cold or flu.  As if getting rid of your red eyes and running nose hasn’t made you attractive enough, regular ingestion of nettles also leads to thicker hair, clearer skin and stronger nails.  For all you know, a lack of Stinging Nettles are all that’s keeping you from striding down that catwalk with an angry expression on your face and pulling in seven figures a year as a super model. Nettles can even provide you with a whole new wardrobe. During the first World War, nettle’s fibrous stems were used in place of cotton.

Nettles pack the greatest potency in their earliest spring shoots, but can be harvested all summer long for fresh tea, drying or for greens.  However, by fall the leaves will start to get tough and lose a lot of their nutritional value.

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Dry on the lowest setting to preserve maximum nutrients

To dry nettles, cut the entire plant off at the stalk (be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves!) tie into bundles and hang in a dark, airy place until completely dry – usually five to seven days. Of course, if you have a dehydrator that works great too. Store the dried leaves in glass jars with plastic lids. Herbs keep their nutrients best if left in their full leaf state and crushed up as you need them.

Here are some great uses for nettle. Warning!  Keep in mind, as with all herbs, that if you’re pregnant or taking medication, you should always consult your doctor before indulging in herbs of any kind.

Spring Tonic Tea –  Toss a handful of freshly washed leaves into a heated tea pot. Cover with boiling water and steep. Serve with honey or lemon.  Don’t pour out the leftovers!  Stored in the fridge Ice Nettle Tea is just the boost a gardener needs on a hot summer afternoon. It also makes nourishing water for houseplants.

Winter Tea – For a winter pick-me-up pour 250 ml (1 cup) of boiling water over 10 ml (2 teaspoons) of crushed dried nettles.

Mock Parsley Sprinkles – Add dried finely crushed nettle leaves to soups, stews, cottage cheese, eggs or any dish that could use a lively dash of green.  This is a great way of sneaking extra nutrients into your family’s daily diet!

Nettle Seed Salt – Collect seed clusters and dry thoroughly.  Pulverize the seeds with a mortar and pestle or put them in a blender.  Makes a healthy alternative to salt.

 

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Nettle leaves wilting in bowl. Once wilted their sting is gone.

 

Stinging Nettle Pot Herb – Nettle leaves are similar to spinach only milder and more tender, especially when young.  Simply steam or boil the leaves until tender and then season with butter, cheese, sauce or lemon juice.

 

Nettle savoury tart

Nettle Quiche (my favorite nettle recipe of all!) –

unbaked pie shell, 250 ml (1 cup) grated sharp cheddar cheese, 500 ml (2 cups) cooked nettles drained, 57 ml (1/4 cup) minced onion, 4 eggs, 170 ml (3/4 cup) light cream or milk and salt, pepper, cayenne to taste

Sprinkle cheese in bottom of chilled pie shell. Spread prepared nettles over cheese. Beat remaining ingredients and pour over nettles. Bake in 400 F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake another 30 minutes or until custard is set.  A knife inserted into the centre should come out clean.

Plastic compost bins

Nettles are a natural compost accelerator. Be sure to pick nettles for the compost before they’ve set seed to avoid introducing any unwanted seeds to the garden.

Even if you have no interest whatsoever in nettle’s culinary properties, your garden can still benefit from its presence.  Not only does stinging nettle make neighboring plants more insect resistant, but its high iron content helps other plants become less susceptible to slugs and snails during wet weather. Mint, valerian, sage, marjoram, mint, angelica and tomatoes are especially strengthened by having nettles growing in their vicinity. A ratio of one nettle plant per 10 of the other plants is perfect, but given nettle’s highly invasive properties it can be a challenge keeping them down to just one!  Nettles in the orchard will deter fermentation, keeping fruit trees free of mold. Nettles (as well as Yarrow) act as a natural accelerator for compost heaps. So if you must pull it up, at least put it in the compost so you can reap its benefits there.

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Using a high power blender add equal amounts of nettle greens to water. The resulting liquid can be froze in ice cube trays to give a nutritional dash to soups or smoothies or used to make a liquid fertilizer for plants.

You can also use nettles to make an all natural fertilizer for your garden or houseplants. Simply pour water over a bucket of nettles and then let the mixture sit in a warm place until it you can’t stand the smell.  You will end up with an iron rich solution perfect for promoting healthy foliage and building up humus in the soil. Clothespin for your nose optional.  Mix the fermented brew with rainwater (if you have it otherwise tap water is fine) at a ratio of 10:1 (ten parts rainwater/one part nettle garden tea).  Some people spray the solution directly on their foliage with great success, but others claim this leads to burning the leaves.

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If you try out all these uses for nettles the unthinkable might occur – you might run out of nettles!  Nah. It will never happen. Not only does each plant produce thousands of seeds that practically germinate the second they touch the ground, nettles also spread rapidly by root.  So once you have them, you will never get rid of them, which turns out to be a good thing, not just for you and your garden, but for butterflies too (see end of article for more on how stinging nettles are necessary for butterflies).

 

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To sum things up, it’s not the nettle we need to get rid of, but our hateful attitude towards it.  So pull on your gloves, grab a basket and get ready to bite back with a vengeance.  I guarantee once you’ve experimented with nettles, you’ll never look at them in the same way again.  In fact, you may even welcome them into your garden with open arms.  Long sleeved and gloved open arms, but open arms just the same.

Some Nettle Recipes…

Cream of Nettle Soup

.45 kg (1 pound) of nettle leaves 30 ml (2 tbsps.) oil or butter 1 minced onion 20 ml (4 tsp.) chopped chives 45 ml (3 tbsp.) flour 500 ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock 250 ml (1 cup) water 10 ml (2 tsp.) seasoned salt 5 ml (1 tsp.) fresh ground pepper 250 ml (1 cup) cream

Heat oil or melt butter in soup pot. Sauté onion until soft. Add chives and flour and stir until blended. Slowly stir in stock, beating with wooden spoon until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, except cream, and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add cream and once again heat to just boiling. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Pour soup through a sieve into heated tureen. Sprinkle with nutmeg and enjoy!.

Stinging Nettle Hair Tonic 

For shiny hair, simply simmer 3.75 litres  (4 quarts) of freshly picked nettle leaves in .95 litre (1 quart) of water for three hours or until infusion is strong. Cover and let steep until it cools.  Strain. Add 125 ml (1/2 cup) cider vinegar, bottle and cork.  This solution can also be massaged into the scalp as a potent dandruff treatment.

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A parting tip…

In the early spring it is possible to forgo the gloves but you have to be confident. Grasp the stem of the nettle quickly and firmly right at its base and you won’t get stung! If you have any qualms whatsoever, by all means glove up. If you do get stung rub the affected area with a dock or plantain leaf which–perhaps by grand design–are usually growing nearby. Some people believe getting stung by nettles is actually beneficial. I know one person who suffers from arthritis and swears that a deliberate interaction with a nettle patch helps alleviate the pain.

Others plant nettles in their garden to deter human thieves. See 12 Ways to Stop Human Garden Thieves and One Cautionary Tale

Nettles are also Necessary Butterfly Havens

Those of you who cultivate butterfly gardens already know that many species of butterflies and moths depend on the nettle for their survival. This may seem odd, given the nettle’s inhospitable properties.  After all, apart from a few sheep, goats and herb healthy humans, few animals dare to venture near nettles.  And that’s precisely what makes the insects relationship with this plant so perfect.  Since there is little risk of the adult insects or larvae ending up in the stomach of an animal, the nettle patch provides them with a safe haven in which to lay their larvae, or simply hang out, ensuring the survival of these beautiful winged insects.

Nature is amazing.

In fact, some species won’t leave their larvae anywhere else. If you’re worrying about the larvae ending up in the stomach of a human–namely your own–fret not! Butterflies seek out mature nettle patches in which to lay their larvae and since you’ll be harvesting the bulk of your nettles while they’re still small, there’s no need for concern.  However, if you’re still harvesting once summer arrives, you might want to quickly check the underside of the leaves, just to be certain. Otherwise it could give a whole new twist to the expression, “I have butterflies in my stomach.”

Stone pile in a Zen Garden with butterfly balanced on a Earth gl

Don’t Leave these Leaves Alone! 12 Sources for Edible Nutrition Packed Leaves That Might Surprise You.

Many vegetables and fruits produce leaves that are not only edible, but very, very, good for you. Others, such as tomatoes, potatoes and rhubarb produce leaves that are toxic and should never be ingested. A good rule of thumb is if in doubt, leave it out.

Here are a dozen vegetables with leaves you should definitely not leave alone. Not only are they ridiculously good for you, they add variety to your harvest and allow you to get more groceries out of your garden.

Raw broccoli on wooden background

1.     Broccoli – the leaves on a broccoli plant are too often ignored or discarded. Instead add them to your salads, stir fries or if there are some on the stems of your florets when you are putting them on a fresh veggie tray, leave them there for an added nutritional boost.

 

growing beetroots

2.     Beets – Aren’t beet leaves gorgeous? Imagine how striking they would look in a salad. While the beet root has a wonderful, earthy taste (especially roasted) you can get more from your beet patch if you harvest the beet greens for salads before harvesting the roots. Just be sure to leave enough leaves on each beet to sustain healthy growth. If you pick a single leaf from each beet and work your way through the patch you will have more than enough greens without hurting the future main harvest. That said, you will want to harvest your beet roots before they get too big for optimum flavor.

 

Dancing for love of your fruit and vegetables

Check out her gorgeous hat of hair!

3.     Carrots – Back in the early 1800’s women often tucked carrot tops into their hats in lieu of feathers. Not sure why I focussed on that when this article is supposed to be about edible leaves. Now I am imagining the dance partner dipping the carrot festooned lady and nibbling on her hat adornment. And he could, because the tops can also be eaten. Try adding sprigs to open faced sandwiches, hats, appetizers or soups for decoration instead of parsley…or feathers.

 

Head of ripe cauliflower with green leaves (isolated)

4.     Cauliflower – while not as abundant as broccoli or cabbage, all members of the brassica family produce tasty, edible leaves including the cauliflower.

 

 

Celery

5.     Celery – the leafy tips of celery is another too often overlooked source of greens. Lovely in salads or sandwiches, they can also be used as a parsley replacement. Simply work your way down the row snipping a little here and there off the tops.

 

Homegrown fresh kohlrabi in a garden

6.     Kohlrabi – This fun looking vegetable produces tasty tentacles and leaves that go great in salads or stir fries. As with beets they do need the leaves to provide nourishment for the bulbous part, so don’t leave them bald.

 

growing peas

7.     Peas – the young leaves are really nice in salads and sandwiches, as anyone who is into sprouting can attest to. But you don’t have to sprout pea seeds when you can just clip them off the vine.

 

 

Ripe oval red radishes

8.     Radishes – The leaves pack the same spice we associate with radishes and are a wonderfully creative way to add a bit zing to your salads, sandwiches or garnishes.

 

fresh strawberry in burlap sack on wood

9.     Strawberries – The next time you eat a strawberry, eat it leaf and all. The leaf caps on the strawberry are packed full of nutrition. Tea made with the dried leaves is traditionally used for relieving arthritis and gastronomic upsets and is an excellent source of iron and Vitamin C. So put that leaf pincher gadget away and eat those leaves. At the very least, stop removing the leaves before throwing whole strawberries into the blender for a smoothie. You won’t even notice they’re in there and your body will thank you later.

 

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10.     Sweet Potatoes – while the regular spud has poisonous leaves, those on the sweet potato are perfectly edible and even have a history of being life sustaining in hard times due to their prolific nature in warm climates. They are flavorful and packed with antioxidants, fibre and all kinds of nutrition. Serve them up raw or cooked the same way you would spinach greens.

 

swiss chard

11.     Swiss chard – obviously the leaves are edible, since that is basically all there is to this plant, but did you know you can remove the centre ribs of the leaves and cook them up like asparagus? You can also use the ribs raw on vegetable trays. They are a real treat and if you plant some of the rainbow blends out there, they will look as good as they taste.

 

turnip plant

12.     Turnips – The greens from a turnip are an acquired taste, but once you have it you will look forward to the greens as much as the roots. The greens contain four times the calcium content of other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower. As with all root vegetables, turnips do need the leaves in order to grow healthy roots, so pick a few leaves here and there rather than denuding a single plant. Although some people crave the greens more than  the roots, so if that is the case pluck to your heart’s content. It’s your garden after all!

 

Range of healthy green vegetable on a white table

From left to right…Ruby Red Swiss Chard, Red Russian Kale (with a few garlic cloves beside it), Bloomsdale Spinach, Celery, Blue Curled Scotch Kale, Flamingo Pink Swiss Chard.

With a snip, snip here and snip, snip there you will be amazed how quickly you can fill a salad bowl with garden fresh, antioxidant rich leaves without looking as if you even touched your garden. If you have some herbs be sure to throw a few leaves from those in as well. Add some edible flowers for a finishing touch and you will have a blend that cannot be duplicated by any plastic boxed offering in a grocery store. Some people even make up their own specialty, trademark blends that family and friends look forward to with great anticipation. So grab your bowl, go out to your garden and grow wild.

Dandelion

And if you come across a dandelion growing in your vegetable patch, throw its leaves in your bowl as well. It probably has more antioxidants than all the “tame” leaves put together. See our earlier post on What are dandelions good for? Absolutely Everything!

And now I must leave you. Wishing you an abundant, leafy harvest.

 

 

 

 

For a Longer Harvest Do NOT Pull These Vegetables Up By Their Roots

 

Broccoli

It’s NOT just the florets you can eat but the whole stalk and leaves as well!

Broccoli – When it comes to broccoli, the focus is unfairly put on the florets. Once they are harvested the rest of the plant too often gets yanked and tossed. Which is a shame. The thick stem of the broccoli plant is not only perfectly edible, it’s delicious and dependably worm-free. Kids even seem to prefer the stalks and they contain just as many nutrients, so it can be a great way to get broccoli into your family without the fuss. It is also nice if you have ever been frustrated by your florets going to seed before you had a chance to pick them. The stalks are delicious diced up into salads, steamed, tossed into soups or fingered like carrots for dipping. If you are still all about the florets, the plant will grow a few more even after cutting them off. And THEN you can eat the stalks! The leaves are tasty too.

 

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Cabbage – If you have the room and aren’t planning on replacing your cabbage with another plant during the harvest season, leave the roots intact. Cut off the main head and “baby” cabbages will grow back in its place. Those big leaves around the cabbage can also be used in salads or for wraps. If you live in a mild enough climate the cabbages can be left in the ground all winter and come spring you will have early cabbage greens for salads. If you live in a colder climate you can pot up your cabbage plants and put them in a root cellar for the winter and then plant them out in the spring for the same “early spring greens” result. Once the greens are harvested you should (finally!) pull up the entire plant and start again. Or if they are open pollinated (not hybrid) let them produce seed for saving.

 

Celery

Celery – Simply cut individual stalks from the plant as needed and the plant will regrow more. The leafy bits on the end are delicious as well. This is another vegetable that can be potted up and stored in a root cellar until spring for early greens and stalks.

 

Curved beautiful arrows garlic

Garlic – It’s not all about the bulb! Young garlic stems are delicious and can be used to add garlic flavour to salads, soups and as a sprinkle for roasted vegetables, baked potatoes or egg dishes. When the garlic gets older it will form “scapes” (seed heads) right at the tip of its stem. These are delicious fried up in butter or, for a healthier version, in olive oil. Moreover it is a delicacy that you are unlikely to ever encounter in the grocery store.

 

Bundle of a green onion on a light background

Green Onions – Unless you are really coveting the entire white end of the onion, simply cut off the stems and the greens will grow back several times. If you do pull up the entire onion you can still plant the hairy root ends back in the soil, or simply set them in a dish of water on your kitchen counter and they will grow back!

 

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Kale – I don’t think anyone ever pulls up a kale plant until the season is done, but if you do…well, cease and desist! Simply pick the leaves off and the plant will continue to produce more. If you live in a colder climate a touch of frost only improves the flavor. In warmer places kale can keep in the garden all winter long, even producing a few more leaves in the spring before needing to be replaced.

 

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This cooler has been made into a portable planter for mesclun mix. Fancy speak for a mixture of colorful lettuce greens. You can have lettuce for your campouts and picnics all summer long by simply clipping the leaves instead of pulling up the entire plant.

Lettuce – Mesclun Mix is probably the best packet of lettuce seeds to reach for if you want to plant a “cut and come again” salad patch. However, spinach, Swiss chard and most greens (including the kale above) should not be “once and done” harvested by pulling up the entire plant. Instead snip or gently tear off however many leaves you need, leaving the plant to grow more leaves for another day until they become too bitter or go to seed.

 

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Potatoes – Do NOT even think of eating potato leaves. Stop it! They are poisonous. But if you want a few baby potatoes without sacrificing the entire plant you can practice a harvest method known as “robbing”. Wearing a camouflaged jumpsuit and a mask sneak out to your potato patch at night (kidding, but it does make it more fun) and gently brush the soil away exposing some of the roots and those beautiful, baby potatoes. Work your way down the row picking a few from each plant and then, of course, cover your tracks by gently replacing the soil so the remaining tubers can grow to full maturity.

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Radishes – these belles of the springtime garden go to seed with maddening rapidity. It seems like you have scarcely dropped the seeds into the soil before they are shooting for the sky and bursting into bloom. At this stage the roots taste terrible and usually the entire plant becomes fodder for the compost heap, But wait! All is not lost. Those seed pods are actually a real treat and add a zesty dash to salads. Some people even deliberately leave radish roots to set seed pods so they can pickle them. Others collect the seed to use for sprouts for sandwiches and such as shown in the picture above.

I am sure there are other vegetables that can be used in a multitude of ways I haven’t learned about yet. That’s what I love about vegetable gardening…you are always learning new ways to make the most out of growing your own groceries. And you get to try new, delicious, treats you just can’t buy for love or money.

Grow on!