February Snow Heightens Thoughts of Spring Garden

We got a foot of snow a few days ago and I’m sure the last thing on most people’s mind is their spring garden. Not here, I spent a good part of my snow day planning my new Italian vegetable garden.

February is the perfect time of year for all serious gardeners to begin the seed selection process. If you’re like me the mailbox most likely brings you a new seed catalogue every day and your email box is filled with the latest garden special.

Companies like Burpee, Parks, Johnnny’s Seed and countless others offer so many varieties that making the final decision on what to grow almost impossible. Here are the five things I do to cut through the clutter and make my final selections.

Hot peppers, etc

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Grow What You Eat – Sounds simple enough, but I can’t tell you how many times I purchased seeds based on a recommendation or a pitch in a catalogue. Once the seeds arrive everyone in my family looks at the seed packet like it was a product from mars.  I talk on this blog many times about my grandfather’s garden. His process was simple, he grew what everyone in the house ate. Tomatoes, zucchini, basil, a few lettuces, eggplant and peppers.
  2. Grow What You Enjoy GrowingAnother simple sounding principal but also an area where many gardeners get a little off track. I belong to a Community Garden at my church. 25 plots managed by 25 dedicated gardeners (see photo below). I am surprised each year by how many of these hardened growers moan and grown about how difficult it was to grow a certain variety or crop, or complain about how much space the squash took up. If it causes you anguish than don’t grow it.
  3. Grow What Fits – Let’s face it, that 25 foot by 25 foot plot is just not going to house 5 different varieties of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, beans, peas and the host of other plants that you purchased on a whim. Plan you garden carefully and cut back where needed. Last fall, I took down a huge Ash tree that was diseased and it left me with a nice new 15 by 20 foot area in the perfect south/eastern part of my property. I started pouring through the seed catalogues and had a list a mile long. Common sense prevailed and I didn’t waste a lot of money on seeds that would never see soil.
  4. Grow Something New – Growing the same old-same-old each and every year can cause one to loose their enthusiasm for gardening. Never grown Kale, but find that the family enjoys it and you got a row available, give it a shot. I really enjoy artichokes (see recipe below), but never looked into growing them, as I heard bad things. With my new plot, I decided to  investigate the possibility of devoting them a row. I purchased two seed packets, one from High Mowing Organic Seed Company, a Tavor Artichoke and from Parks an Imperial Star Artichoke. I can’t wait to give these a whirl.
  5. Grow What Works – Don’t mess around with growing vegetables that have garden requirements that you can’t meet. It’s just a waste of time to try growing lettuce or other greens in the heat of summer just as it would be to put tomatoes, peppers and the like out before the last chance off frost has past. Make sure you get enough sun for what you growing and pay close attention to the seed packet or seedling instructions regarding spacing, sun requirements and watering/feeding suggestions. If you can’t supply what the seed or seedling needs, pass on it.

community garden photoSpring shot of our Community Garden 2016

Gracie’s Stuffed ArtichokesFrom “7 Days of Italian Cooking”

  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 1  cup extra virgin olive oil (more if needed)
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 or 3 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups of  seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  •  salt and pepper to taste
Take each artichoke and cut off the stem, so the base is flat.  Remove the bottom most leaves and trim with a kitchen scissors the remaining, easy to get leaves.  Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the artichoke.  Wash the artichokes in cold water and spread open so they can accept the stuffing.  Combine all your stuffing ingredients in a bowl and mix with the olive oil until you get a good consistency.  With a spoon fill the center of the artichokes with the filling and spread some around the leaves. 
Steam the stuffed artichokes by standing them on their base in about 2 inches of water in a pot and cover.  Steam for about 30 minutes but check to make sure the leaves pull away easily from the artichoke.  I always liked to put a little of the stuffing on the leaf as I ate the meaty end of the artichoke leaf. Sprinkle a bit of grated Parmesan over the top.

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