Saturday, July 6, 2013

Common CSA Dilemma: Too Much Kale

This is what happens when you get one week behind eating all the kale in your CSA:

Over the last two years, I've learned to like Kale. However, this week I've got lots of other great stuff to eat in our CSA share, including three different type of fresh greens that I won't be able to preserve. So, this kale is destined for the freezer. It took me less than hour to convert this into meal-sized servings in our freezer. I know a lot of people that find themselves with too much kale at once, so I figured I'd provide a step by step guide to deal with it.

First, de-stem and wash all your kale. I filled up an entire sink with cold water and it was able to handle this bunch. You'll be left with some tough stems that you probably don't want to eat; bonus points if you cut them into little pieces for compost.

In manageable batches, chop the kale into small - medium pieces, just as you would if you were cooking it for dinner. I put all of my chopped kale into a large stainless steel bowl (it filled it).

Next, prep your cooktop. You'll need a large pot of boiling water, a basket for blanching (or a slotted spoon if you plan to fish all the bits of kale out individually), and a container to safely transport the steaming hot kale back to the sink. Here's my setup (from left to right: large bowl of fresh, chopped kale, wire basket, boiling water, empty bowl).

Place some of the fresh kale in the wire basket (be sure not to add more than your pot can handle). Place the basket in the boiling water, mixing the kale around to make sure it's all covered with water. Blanch for two minutes. (If you don't have a basket, you can put the kale directly in the water, but you'll need to fish it out with a slotted spoon). The kale should be bright green.

After two minutes, remove the kale and let the water drip for a couple seconds. Place the basket in the empty bowl for transport to a waiting, empty sink. Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Get your hands in there and make sure you don't leave any warm spots.

Remove as much water from the kale as possible (I just used a spatula to press it against the basket). Measure the amount of kale you normally eat with a meal or in your favorite recipe, and place it in a freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible (you can use a FoodSaver, but I just used a straw and some quick moves with my fingers). Place in the freezer, and use throughout the fall and winter as you normally would use cooked kale (it will likely need a few more minutes of cooking when you use it).

I ended up with 7 cups of kale. My favorite way to cook it is sautéed with olive oil, onions and garlic, then placed over a hearty grain or toasted bread and topped with a soft boiled egg. Yum.

How do you use up your extra kale?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Driveway Container Garden

We are still eagerly awaiting the arrival of the construction crew to backfill our yard and seed our lawn. Until then, construction of Gross Farms 2.0 is on hold.

However, I couldn't take another day without something edible growing outside our home. This morning we took a trip to the greenhouse and farmers market to get some things growing in pots. I was careful not to go overboard, but make sure we had all of the herbs we like to use fresh.

First, at the greenhouse we came across a beautiful clay planter planted with four different varieties of rosemary. For the cost of what we would normally pay for the empty planter, we have excellent starts of one of our favorite herbs that is very hard to grow here. Yes, I know rosemary grows like a weed in some climates, but it's mainly an annual for us so it's hard to get it growing to a size suitable for harvest until late in the season. From left to right, the varieties are Foxtail, Spice Island, Common Rosemary, and Gold Dust.

The next planter was rescued from the garden pile in our garage and filled with starts picked up at the farmers market. It includes chives in the middle, flanked by parsley and cilantro. There's a basil plant on each end, although the top of one broke off when I transplanted it. There are tiny leaves left below where the stem broke, so I'm cautiously optimistic that it will regenerate. 

While at the greenhouse I came across some attractive, yet affordable plastic circular planters. In the largest I planted Fernleaf Dill surrounded by sage, Italian Oregano, Hot & Spice Oregano (a variety I've never heard of but had to try) and thyme. Hopefully this plant will be overflowing with herbs in a few weeks.

We purchased three of the smaller version of this pot, and each holds its own pepper plant. We got Jimmy Nardello for a sweet pepper, Kung Pao for a medium pepper, and Thai Chili for a hot pepper. I may edge these containers with flowers (nasturtiums?) as the peppers get a bit bigger. Rounding out the driveway gang is another pot of basil (aquaponicly grown basil we got at a dinner last night—I hope it adapts to the soil) and a small pot of spearmint. 

We only get late morning/afternoon sun in the driveway and afternoon sun on the porch. These containers really belong in the back yard but we can't do that until the dirt pile is knocked down. Hopefully they'll do alright in their current location for a few weeks.

Our CSA should be starting any week now, so my need for greens should be fulfilled. I can't wait to start building the new garden.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

No Garden This Year

I haven't updated the blog with the realization that hit me just before we moved into our new house: we won't have a garden this year. Why is that, you ask? Well, it's mid-May and our backyard looks like this:

Until that dirt pile moves and our yard is graded, there will be no garden construction. Unfortunately, we don't know when that will happen. It could be next week, or "sometime before July 4." You can't really tell in this picture, but the yard really is a good size. Right now, we're planning on using the back 35' of the lot for the garden, which will still leave us with a large yard. Of course, all plans are subject to change until the actual garden goes in, but this is what I'm currently thinking of using for a layout:

This plot is approximately 60' x 35' and features a living fence (hedgerow). I'm not exactly sure what I will plant yet, but I want it all to be edible. The key is to find plants that will all grow to roughly the same height (I would like 4-5 feet) and won't be damaged with a little pruning. Our backyard is open to all of our neighbors, so I want the hedgerow to be presentable.

Our new neighborhood has bylaws that restrict fence building. If I were to get approval to build a fence, it would have to match the character of the house, meaning it would be very expensive. I think a living fence is a good compromise - I can sink chicken wire on the inside to keep out critters, and all my neighbors will see is the hedge.

The beds in the plan are 3' x 16' and 3' x 3', giving me 456 square feet of growing space in the beds. My previous garden had six 4' x 16' beds (384 feet). I know I definitely want more space than I had in my last garden, and I'm a bit too short to reach the center of a 4' bed. I'm using the long and square beds because I want to try to plant each bed in the same family for crop rotation purposes...and a 3' x 16' bed of some plant families might be a bit much. It also gives me flexibility in terms of early/late season planting to make the most use of the space.

I anticipate that at least one of the 3' x 3' beds will be planted with strawberries and another with rhubarb, and one of the 3' x 16' beds might get planted full of asparagus. Perennial herbs may not be a concern, because I have plenty of other areas to landscape around the house and could work my favorites (chives, oregano, thyme) into the landscape.

I hope to have the garden in by fall so I can plant garlic, and maybe get a cold frame growing to overwinter some spinach and other greens. In the meantime, I've signed up for a CSA with Three Brothers Farm. They're just five miles from my house and in their second year of transition to organic. They've told me I can visit whenever I like, and they're planning some formal on-farm events. Hopefully this will satisfy my need to get my hands in the dirt.

So, this year the blog will probably be a combination of CSA photos and related recipes and an update on garden construction. I'm starting to feel the void where my gardening (and fresh produce) normally is this time of year, but hopefully our new garden will be even better. We learned a lot at out last house, and hopefully can avoid a few mistakes this time around.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gross Farms 2.0

I'm excited to announce that Gross Farms will be moving this spring. I started a new job in December that results in an hour+ commute. We put our house up for sale in late November and excitedly accepted an offer on Monday. On Thursday we looked at houses, and fell in love with the second. It's a new build, and I can confidently say it's our dream home. It includes an extremely large backyard (105' x 90'), so I will also be able to construct the garden of my dreams.

The new owners of our home will have 100+ heads of garlic to harvest this summer, and we'll have to say goodbye to the first garden we ever built. Many of our friends are surprised that we're not more attached to it, but we feel it was a learning experience and we'll approach our new garden differently.

Right now, moving day is February 28. We hope that we'll be able to start construction in March or early April and start planting in May. We'll sacrifice some early-season harvests, but it will be worth it in the end.

Stay tuned to follow my garden planning process :)