My amazing little artichoke is flowering

Upon re-reading my title, I realized it might actually sound a little bit naughty…if you are the type that keeps your head in the gutter, that is (and apparently I am one of those people if I thought this in the first place.  Hmmm.).  Upon even further reflection though, I think the thought came to mind because years ago, when I was teaching biology, I was doing an internet search for an image of an artichoke to use in a lecture.  One would think that searching for “artichoke” is innocent enough, but I guess I was naive because I stumbled across an image of a very well-endowed woman wearing, well, not much of anything.  How exactly was that related to artichokes?  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  If you happen to know the answer, please let me know.

Anyhoo…moving on.

My artichoke–the plant…in my garden–the one that survived the -22 degrees F winter last year.  Oh, right…that one!  Yes, well, I let a few of the flowers bloom in the hopes that I can save the seed and propagate some Montana hardy globe artichokes.  Because starting the seed in January is sort of a pain and I would rather not dig up my plants every year to overwinter in the basement, only to have the aphids hatch out of the soil and suck them dry a few weeks before they were to be replanted (Harumph!).  You see, I would absolutely love to offer artichokes to our CSA members!  And I will make it happen.  Maybe next year, maybe not next year, but it will happen.

Have you ever seen an artichoke in flower?  They are BEAUTIFUL!

artichoke-bloom

And they are humongous.  And the bees love ’em.  This one actually has a bee on it (on the right side you can just barely see some its black & yellow fuzzy body tucked down in the purple petals).  Here’s a few more pictures:

artichoke-plant

And these were the small heads I let bloom!  I harvested the big ones!

artichoke-flower

We have at least a month, and possibly a lot longer, before the first freeze is expected, so these babies should have plenty of time left to set seed.  When the time comes to clean the seed from the flower head, I’ll post some photos and/or video because it is quite a process to clean them!  The first time I cleaned the seed, I was surprised at how involved it was.  Teaser: needle nose pliers were involved.  That’s all I’m gonna say.

This weekend Hubby is continuing work on the fence.  It’s been on the wish list for a few years now, and I’m so happy it’s finally coming to fruition.  The deer will have to find other peppers, cucumbers, beans, strawberries, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, rhubarb, sunflowers, kale (the list is pretty much endless) to eat because this buffet is closing its doors.  The chickens will have a much larger space to roam, so that will make them very happy.  It will make me very happy, too, because it means the Girls won’t have access to the backyard and the deck anymore–which means: I won’t be stepping in chicken poop anymore when I go out on my deck!

Ah, it is the simple things in life that bring me the greatest pleasure.

Garden Pop! And…my favorite way to preserve spinach.

I got back from my long and very awesome trip back to the Motherland a little more than a week ago.  One of the first things I noticed when I got home was the lack of snow!  I left the day after a 3 inch snow dump, then there was a 6 inch snowstorm while I was away.  I also saw a fair share of snow along my trip–so I wasn’t expecting to see green grass in the yard and all sorts of things popping up in the garden boxes.  But when I peeled back the thick mulch I put down last fall, there was all sorts of things to be found: baby lettuces EVERYWHERE (they are even popping up in the grass outside the boxes), chives, oregano, garlic, Swiss chard, garlic, Egyptian walking onions, new strawberry leaves, garlic, violets, and spinach. Did I mention the garlic?  Spring has sprung!

Spinach is coming up in four different boxes because last fall, when I let my spinach go to seed, I sprinkled seed all over several boxes so I would have gobs of spinach this spring.  Right now just the long, slender cotyledons are out (some still with the seed coat stuck to the ends) where I tossed out seeds with reckless abandon, but in places where I had spinach plants last fall–and they overwintered–I’ve got tiny, but edible, spinach already!

Why would I want four 8’x4′ garden boxes filled with spinach?  Well, I hope to sell some it to the CSA this year but I also love spinach and I add it to just about everything I eat.  Plus, I can afford to fill four garden boxes with spinach early on because it will be done by early summer and I can plant something else in its place by late June.  I’ll let some plants go to seed, and I’ll get another flush of spinach in the fall.  Then I’ll sprinkle more seed right before I mulch the boxes in late fall so I can do it all over again next year.  I haven’t had to buy spinach seed in years–so that initial packet of seed I bought for a few bucks has paid for itself many times over by now.

You might be thinking, “But all of that spinach is going to mature at once, how are you going to deal with it?” That’s true, it will all mature at once if I don’t cut leaves here and there throughout the spring (which is what I do).  But when it starts to overwhelm me, and I if have no buyers, then I will freeze it.  Spinach freezes incredibly well.  Most sources will tell you to blanch the spinach before you freeze it, but I don’t do that.  I wash the leaves, spin them dry in my salad spinner, chop them roughly and toss ’em right into a zippered freezer bag.  I have blanched my spinach in the past, but it ends up as one huge frozen wad of spinach unless I parse it out into tiny little packages.  I prefer to throw my spinach into a single large bag and I don’t want to hack pieces of the humongous frozen spinach wad when I want to cook with it.  Instead, the leaves stay separated from one another and I can reach into the bag, grab a handful of frozen leaves, and toss them into a soup, casserole, stir fry, bread batter…whatever.  No hacking, AND…no thawing required.  I find the quality of the leaves is just as good, perhaps even BETTER than if I had taken the extra time to blanch before freezing…so it’s not just because I’m lazy when I have tons of spinach to process.  This works well for other leafy greens, too, like Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens.  Just be sure to squeeze most of the air out of the bag each time you open it and the leaves will stay just as beautiful as the day you froze them.  I’m still eating frozen Swiss chard from last summer and it’s still delicious.  Maybe you’ll try this method and like it too!

The mosaic below shows what else is emerging in my garden right now.  I spent last weekend tidying up the garden, turning compost, removing mulch, planting snow peas, and planting out the artichokes I overwintered in the basement (unfortunately the aphids got to most of them so I only had 2 survivors).  This weekend I need to separate the garlic that is coming up and replant individual cloves.  That will be a huge task in and of itself, but it’s now or never if I want decent-sized bulbs this summer!