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.

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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!

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!