Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wee Leeks & Greens

I always feel good when I have the new season's leeks sprouting while there are still a few of last year's crop in the cellar. I didn't take very good care of my leek harvest from last fall, got most of them in at the eleventh hour and just bunged them in a drywall bucket, kicked that to a corner of the basement. And there they have whiled away the winter, drying slowly, layer by layer, retaining the germ of life at their hearts, coming out to flavor a stock, perk up a stew. I reach into the bucket now afraid that my hand will close on nothing but crepitant, papery husks, but so far that fear is unfounded.

I doubt there'll be anything left in that bucket when these new year's leeks go in the ground. For springtime alliums I rely on Great Nature--ramps from the loamy woods near a trout stream--or the market--spring onions from our farmers at Midtown. Those wisps of green are, right now, as much for encouragement as for agriculture. They're a sign that this, too, shall pass--this dismal in-between-time of dreary rain and melting snow, when fading winter seems all slush and grime, and diffident spring consists entirely of mud and potholes. My little green oasis of leeks and salad greens is a mental bridge to those warm and vibrant days ahead when everything is growth and sun and vigor.

I succumbed to extreme cabin fever and bought a "four-shelf greenhouse" for around 30 bucks at Menard's a few weeks ago. It's a cheap and flimsy metal frame with teetery shelves, the whole thing sheathed in a clear zippered cover that looks like a giant garment bag. But you know what, it works: In our sunny front room the atmosphere on the top shelf was registering around 100 degrees. I moved the flat down to the second shelf, and opened the bag a bit. The leeks we won't be harvesting for many weeks, but the greens--two kinds of Burpee mesclun mix that look exactly the same--we'll be eating tonight.

Encouraged by the excellent growth of that first planting, I seeded several more pots yesterday, with kale, radicchio, frisée, fennel, red oak leaf lettuce, basil, green onions, and more leeks. To get things sprouting quickly, I put the pots in one of our ovens with the door just barely ajar and the light on. It will keep a temperature of around 85 degrees, and many of the seeds will germinate in just a couple of days. Ordinarily I would then put the seedlings under lights, but now that I have a "greenhouse," I may see how they do in there, with spring bearing down and the equinox less than two weeks away, good strong sun in that room on clear days.

I have a cold frame outside on the south-facing side of the house. It's under a wide overhang so the ground might not be too wet. I know it's probably utterly foolish, but I suspect you'll soon see a report here of my first outdoor planting of radishes, spinach, rapini....

It has been kind of a long winter, hasn't it?

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


Patrick said...

Nice start on your leeks! I'm still waiting for my leek seeds from Fedco; it seems like I ordered them ages ago! I was just looking at the one small patch of south facing ground next to my house, wondering how long it'll be before the first seeds go it. In Buffalo, where I grew up, we could plant things some years on St. Patrick's Day.

Trout Caviar said...

Patrick, I've always heard it's traditional to plant peas on St Patty's Day--just not around here, though this year could be the exception. Usually when I've tried to push the season, I wind up with seeds rotting in the cold, damp ground. When I was a kid, no one ever planted anything before Memorial Day! But there has been this little warming trend we've been hearing about....

Best~ Brett