Saturday, January 26, 2008

Winter Greens: Getting Spiky About Spring

Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers!

Not only are winter greens easy and fun to grow, they like to surprise you now and then by deciding that Spring must be here. With all the recent (relatively) warmer rain, some of my asian stir-fry greens seem to have decided to Go For It and see about flowering. Hmm, can you spot the joi choi who is thinking it's Spring?

Fortunately for us, these flower spikes are not only quirkily charming, but are also a special, nutrient-packed treat. Eat flowers? Isn't that just for fancy salads and goat cheese? Nope! For instance, most of us have eaten this edible flower, broccoli!

Broccoli has many tasty cousins to enjoy. There's Italian broccoli raab, and a number of friendly flower spikes that often go by the name Chinese broccoli but which can be anything from flowering choi to various mustards. Here's some tsatsoi that has decided to reach for the sky.

Along with the cultivated greens, we have some tasty stir-frying options mixed among our cover crops. The early flower clusters of culinary seed mustard, such as this lovely example in my side tomato bed, can be snipped and added to other greens, or tossed daringly in a cream sauce over pasta. Yum!

It's not only little Ralphie's mom in Rabbit Hill, always making peavine soup, who can appreciate winter peas extravagant growth habits. The tender tops, not yet in flower, are delicious steamed or gently toss-cooked in light olive oil, with or without matchstick ginger and a little garlic.

Plant some extra peas to snip periodically for the table, or just snip bits here and there for a special treat-- not too much if you want a good crop of pea pods. I think I still have some slack left on the main pea-patch. Thinning them out a bit also helps prevent powdery mildew when the weather gets warmer, but it's not going to be warm enough for that for quite a while yet!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rain and Little Buddies

The recent rain has been bringing all kinds of things out in the garden, including our little buddies, the Western Spotted Salamanders.

The ginormous green thing is a standard garden hose. Yes, this is a teensy weensy salamander. We wondered if we still had a breeding population of these little cuties, and apparently we do! I've been laying down pavers with hollow places and bark under them, where they'll get light winter sun and acceptable summer shade, in the hopes of keeping our garden slugs down by natural means. I think it's working!

One of the adult salamanders, on a half-inch garden stake next to the garden hose. Blurry, but you can get an idea that it's about 4 inches long including tail. I've seen bigger and smaller ones in the past 3 years, as well as once an albino one-- adult, so it clearly found good places to hide.

Are there fewer slugs around? I'll put a cautious "maybe" on that. But every little bit counts, and I've always loved salamanders!

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