Monday, March 16, 2009

More Salads, More Pig, More Roots: Oh, My!

I really don't know where to start. I guess I'll start with what is most new, most fun, most exciting on our table, and that is: fresh greens a-growing. I'm talking real, live, roots-in-the-dirt salad greens, which couldn't possibly be more local, as they are growing a mere twenty feet from our kitchen. Check it out:

A few weeks ago Mary and I attended a workshop put on by the Land Stewardship Project . It featured Carol Ford and Chuck Waibel talking about their "Garden Goddess" CSA. Carol and Chuck came up with the brilliant idea of doing a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)--they start deliveries in October, when most normal CSAs are winding down, and go through April. Their CSA shares include root vegetables that they've grown outside the previous summer and stored, but its main appeal is the fresh local greens that they grow all winter in a passive-solar greenhouse attached to their home in western Minnesota.

I want one. Really bad. But while it is fairly simple in concept, actually creating something like Chuck and Carol's set-up requires a fair amount of planning, equipment, and labor. Throwing some seeds in potting soil, getting them started under fluorescent lights, then moving them to our sunny sun porch window, that was a piece of cake.

I began with frisée, lettuce, radishes, beets, and mache. I wasn't expecting roots from the radishes and beets-everything is grown for the tender greens. I planted those in seed-starting mix, because that's what I had on hand. There's not a lot of nutrients in that stuff, so I've fed with fish emulsion once, and ought to again. Those were planted in mid-January, and we were able to take the first snippings by February 21.

For the second planting I used potting mix that I sifted to remove big sticks and chunks, and I made a bed around three inches deep in a plastic container. In this I planted mesclun (Burpee's Spicy Mix, Five Zesty Varieties!), red kale, and turnips. These have been doing great; in the mesclun, arugula and mizuna dominate.

Now, we are not harvesting heaping bowls of robust greens. We are snipping delicate handfuls of greens for small salads, for garnishes, to top a bowl of noodles or scatter over an omelette.
And it is absolutely worth the effort and then some. Based on this limited experiment, I would say that the frisée and mesclun have been most successful. The turnips and kale are looking good now, but have been a little slow. The radishes came along quickly, but were slow to come back after cutting. The beets, no. Too slow, too little. Maybe try chard.

I would do this again even if we got nothing to eat from it, at all. It's such a joy just to see something growing at this time of year, to touch the tender shoots and feel them bounce back, to smell something a little like dirt. As it is, with the sun stronger every day, the equinox just days away (Happy St. Pat's, BTW), we'll be getting more and more salad each week. Then I'll put the flats out in the cold frame, where they'll really get sun, and before long it will be time to actually plant in the ground. Hooray!

Tomorrow look for the root vegetable salad recipe, and the rillettes a couple days later; by then I hope you're hungry for pork again....

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw


HungryinSW said...

New to your blog and loving it! Great idea about the fresh greens - nothing's better. I've been waiting patiently to start my first cutting garden, and may have to adopt this for the next off-season. Thanks!

Trout Caviar said...

Hello, Hungry! Thanks for your note. It's amazing how good just a little bite of home-grown green stuff tastes after a long winter. I wouldn't start any earlier than late January--the sun's just not strong enough, and I wouldn't bother to grow them entirely under lights.

I like your sandwich blog; of course, as a bread baker, I'm also a sandwich aficionado. Stop by and see us at the Real Bread stand at the Midtown Farmers' Market come May. We'll help you take your home-made sandwich efforts to a new level!