What’s the earliest thing you eat from the garden?

My garden has seen the light of day for about 3 weeks now, even less than that if you count me removing the mulch I put down last winter, which I did last weekend.  In the fall I let a lot of things go to seed, specifically carrots and spinach, and they are usually the earliest things to pop up in the garden.  In fact, when I pulled back the mulch, I had tiny leaves of spinach that were actually edible!  I also had a couple of whopper carrots that were edible after surviving the winter.  Very cool.

But what was the first thing I have eaten out of my garden?  My Egyptian walking onions!  They made it through the winter with green tops and you can eat them just like green onions.  I sauteed them with some red cabbage last night for dinner and I put them in my chicken salad today for lunch.  Mmmmmmm!!

But it won’t be long until there’s a lot more early-season goodies to harvest.  Okay, pop quiz!! Can you guess what some of these things are growing in my garden?  If you don’t know just click on the picture and the caption will pop up!  How many of these do you know?

There’s some exciting things happening in my garden.  Get this: my globe artichoke survived its SECOND winter and is putting up new leaves!  I didn’t get around to starting new plants with the seeds I saved from last year (sorry) but I will try to do that this spring and I’ll plant them this fall so they can overwinter next year.  They won’t produce artichokes this year, but that’s okay!

In other exciting news around my little urban farmstead, we have completed the fence around the front yard and the chickens can now roam freely over about 70% of our property now (it’s all they’ll ever get–the last 30% is to be the ‘chicken poop-free zone’).  I’ve got some netting up on the boxes I don’t want them getting in right now (spinach, strawberries) and we’re going to put up another fence across the front to keep them out of the garden area so that once we get the really yummy things going, like tomatoes, peas, and peppers they won’t destroy the garden.  But for now, I don’t mind them poking around in the garden boxes and finding bugs to eat.  I’ve got a bad case of leaf miners, and I’d like the girls to make a dent in the population.  And they can help turn the compost, too.

IMG_4850
Happy girls!

I spent the weekend cleaning up the yard and digging out more plants from mulch and leaves.  This place is starting to green up nicely!  Time to get some more early season goodies planted.  I’d like to start some kale, green onions, celery, and basil.  Lots and lots of basal of all kinds–Genovese basil, purple basil, lemon basil, lime basil…it’s all great stuff!  The gardening bug has finally hit me after a long winter!

More wonders in the garden

Today I noticed a second, astonishing wonder in my garden this year.  The first wonder I noticed several weeks ago–I had a globe artichoke overwinter.  If you are not familiar with the ways of the globe artichoke, allow me to elaborate briefly.  Where I live in Montana, we are a Zone 4.  That means, on average, our lowest winter temperature drops no lower than -30 degrees F.  This year we bottomed out our thermometer at -21.8 degrees F, so I have no idea how cold it really got this year (I think I saw -26 reported for the airport, which is a few hundred feel lower than where I sit).  However, despite the bitter cold (and we had a lot of it this year), we also had a really good snow year.  For about 3 continuous months we had snow on the ground, and a lot of it.  Snow is an excellent insulator, so things that would normally die in the cold can be protected enough with a snow blanket to coax them through a long, bitterly cold winter.  Enter the globe artichoke.  Last fall I dug up several plants, potted them, and tucked them in a corner in the basement.  By overwintering my little babies, I wouldn’t have to start seed in January in order to plant them out in early spring to ‘trick’ them into thinking they had lived through a winter and thus flower (i.e., produce those luscious artichokes) during their first year of life.  For the record, artichokes are perennial plants in warm climates (no colder than Zone 7, which is about 0 degrees F as the average coldest winter temperatures) and they usually do not flower until their second year.  Well, I missed digging up a plant last fall and earlier this spring while removing mulch from the garden beds, I noticed a queer-looking little leaf sticking out of the soil.  “That’s weird,” I thought, “it looks like an artichoke.  Maybe it’s a thistle?”  But it sure didn’t look like a thistle, it looked like an artichoke.  And it was in the bed I had planted artichokes in last year.  Hmmmm……

I watched the strange leaf for a week or so and when new leaves began to appear, it became obvious to me that this was, in fact, an artichoke that survived a bitter cold Montana winter.  HOW COOL IS THAT?!  I yelled to everyone who would listen.  Other garden nerds thought that, indeed, it was pretty cool.  I thought this was the coolest thing in my garden…until today.

Today I was weeding a bed with a bunch of spinach and garlic and I saw this:

morels
What the…could those really be…?

Now I’m no mushroom expert, but my first thought was, “Those look like morels.”  And then, “That’s crazy talk.”  Fortunately my neighbors, who I know are wild mushroom hunters, were outside in their garden.  I walked across the street.

Me: Hey guys, do you know your mushrooms pretty well?

Neighbor: Well, we know a few edible ones that we hunt for, and a few that you shouldn’t eat.

Me: I have some mushrooms popping up in my garden box and [I was almost too embarrassed to say this] they sort of look like morels.

Neighbor: Well…probably not, but we’ll come take a look.

At this point I am 1) curious as hell to know what these mushrooms are and 2) a little embarrassed to think that I might actually have morels in my garden box.  I mean, c’mon!  I think of them growing in the forest–particularly forests that have recently burned.  Not in a cultivated garden box that housed tomato plants last summer.  Did I confuse them with another mushroom?  Was I a complete and total idiot?  We arrive at the garden box.

Me: See all these coming up around my spinach?

Neighbor: Well I’ll be darned, those are morels!

He plucks a mushroom and turns it over.

Neighbor: There’s another mushroom that looks similar, but that one is detached here at the base (he points to the stem).  These are definitely morels.  Wow!  Where did you get your mulch?

Me: Someone at the gym had some pine needles he was going to set out by the curb and I just happened to overhear him talking about them with another person at the gym.  I asked him if I could have them to use for mulch in the garden.

Neighbor: Wow!  That’s pretty unusual.  Amazing!

Me: Schew!  I thought I was crazy for thinking that they were morels.  Please take as many as you want!

Neighbor: Wow!  Thanks! What an unexpected surprise!  You probably shouldn’t tell any mushroom hunters about these…

Me: Yeah, no kidding!  Some people search high and low for these gems!

My neighbor came back over a few minutes later with a paper bag and cut some mushrooms.  She showed me which ones were the prime ones for eating and which ones were probably too dried out and past their prime.  I am sooooo grateful for them!  I learned something new today about mushrooms!  These neighbors have shared their hard-sought Chanterelles with me in the past, they share garden plants, and garden mulch/compost/soil.  I provide them with eggs, garlic, and now, morels!  We have a pretty nice arrangement, but I always feel like I get the better end of the deal.  I know I shouldn’t feel that way–it’s just farmgal kindness between garden nerds–and gardeners love to share (especially that zucchini)!

I’m not 100% sure the pine needles were the source of the morels.  I have other boxes with the pine mulch and they do not appear to have any mushrooms in them.  I don’t think it was the soil, which is a sheep manure-compost mix I get from a local garden shop.  I don’t think it was the soil the tomatoes were grown in last year–though I should ask the gifter where they got their potting soil, just to be sure.  The pine needles seem the most likely source.  Many of the mushrooms were past their prime, but that means they have already set spores–so I am hoping for more morels to show up next spring!

pile of morels
Pile of morels

I can’t help but think over and over how special my garden is.  Nature is a wonderful, mysterious force, that’s for sure.  What a neat gift to have these much sought-after mushrooms appear in my garden!!  Secret: I have never eaten morels.  Which makes this all the more special.  I am beyond giddy for tonight’s dinner:  morels and fresh asparagus.  I’ve got plenty of spinach in the garden and eggs, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find a scrumptious way to prepare these ingredients.  I’m going to eat like a queen!