Blogs for March, 2014
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
Do you remember your first artichoke? With an almost prehistoric look growing in a garden, to the untrained eye, they appear impossibly inedible. And, as a thistle that was cultivated to be eaten, they lose their deliciousness once they bloom. Did someone teach you how to prepare and eat this armored veggie? There are YouTube videos on everything now, from how to massage your cat to how to eat an artichoke. But why watch a video, if Adrien Brody has offered a private lesson?
I am actually kind of uncomfortable name-dropping from my days as an assistant in film. Omg, did you know about that time I talked to Bono on the phone, and he gave me his digits…for my boss to call him back, but still. I had to tear up the paper, for fear I’d drunk dial him.
I digress. Back to not-name-dropping and my first artichoke experience. I was doing oh-so-glamorous assistant work, 16-17 hour days working with director Keith Gordon on The Singing Detective, a film version of Dennis Potter’s acclaimed BBC series. We’d broken for lunch, and I was sitting with Adrien in the area cordoned off for meals. (I may have had a slight crush on him.) The folding chairs around us empty, we chatted over plates of food, until the caterer interrupted us with an artichoke requested and prepared especially for Brody. Oh, the life of an actor.
Giving myself away as a rube raised in the sticks, I admitted I’d never eaten an artichoke, and with great detail, he showed me how to dip each petal in the melted butter, and scrape the goodness off with your teeth, then removed the heart to share it with me. I know. Stop it, Adrien Brody.
Who knew artichokes were so dreamy? Will you plant some this spring? In mild zones, they are perennials, so choose a spot where they will grow for up to five years, keeping in mind they can spread to four feet wide, and just as tall. In zones 6 and colder, you can plant them two feet apart, as the freeze will keep them from reaching full maturity, according to Bonnie Plants website, which also recommends light, fertile, well-drained soil—sandy or loam is ideal. Artichokes produce buds in the second growing season, so if you live in colder climates where your Cynara cardunculus will only survive one season, check out Organic Gardening’s tips on vernalization – tricking them into thinking they’ve lived through one winter so they’ll produce when planted. And when you’re ready to harvest, enjoy your artichokes with a little seasoning from these Salt and Pepper Shakers.
“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, who grew over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants.
(Photo credit: NPR – Thomas Jefferson’s Vegetable Garden)
I got a little distracted this week while researching beets – the recipe for a beet, arugula & goat cheese grilled sandwich is calling to me to grab the ingredients, and not just inhale, but savor its goodness. How great would it be if you could get them out of your garden? (Extra points if you’ve got a goat and make your own cheese.) It’s rumored that beetroot was offered to Apollo in his temple at Delphi. This is the root vegetable of the gods, people. You better be on the beet bandwagon.
March is a great month for planting your beetroots, which thrive in cooler temperatures. Beets grow best in loamy, acid soils, with the pH ranging between 6.0 and 7.5, according to Organic Gardening. And if you’re city folk without the room in your garden for these space craving plants (they are best planted three to four inches apart, and need to be thinned), a container that is at least one foot deep will work, as well. Be sure to water often, to maintain moisture. The Farmer’s Almanac notes that it can take between 50 and 70 days for most varieties to mature, but to harvest them before the greens grow more than six inches. And don’t throw away the tops, cut and store those greens for salads; they too are packed with nutrients.
Because this is the internet, there is the space, and time, for Love Beetroot, a website dedicated to all things beet, including the history of its evolution. The beet evolved from the sea beet, first domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. At the beginning of its life with humans, it was mostly used medicinally, to treat constipation, and various skin issues. Sexy beet. In the same species as chard, its leaves were more often made into a meal. Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension has a rather dry page dedicated to the history of the beet, which informs us that what we Americans call chard, applies specifically to the leaf beet (Beta vulgaris variety cicla), or beet that develops no enlarged, fleshy root. (Sidenote: Enlarged Fleshy Root is a GREAT name for a band.)
According to Love Beetroot, “the rounded root shape that we are familiar with today was not developed until the sixteenth century and became widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe 200 years later. Many classic beetroot dishes originated in this region,” including borscht. But beet recipes abound beyond borscht, and if you’re not eating your beets, you should: the veggies are chock-full of fiber, are rich in vitamins A and C, and have more iron than spinach. The View from Great Island site has a Grapefruit and Roasted Beet Salad with Lime Vinaigrette, here. You can even sneak them into your kids’ diets by baking them into cakes.
Next time you plan a trip to southern California think about planning a whale watching trip. We have one of the best spots in the world to offer – the Santa Barbara Channel. Truly, I’m not kidding. Not to mention its actually a marine sanctuary. Year round there is a possibility of seeing whales – all kinds. Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and about 25 other species of whales and dolphins have been identified within the waters of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
My favorite are the humpbacks, they tend to visit during the summer, especially June through September. They can be playful and engage with the boats that go out to look for them. The grays are on a mission when they pass through the sanctuary, traveling from Alaska to Mexico to their breeding ground, there is little time to stop, this happens around December/January. Then on the way back up the females travel with their calves and that takes place around the months of March, April, May. This is when you can and will see gray whales from the beach. When they travel north the moms tend to keep the young close to the shore, especially when they get a little further north, around Monterrey. This is because the Orca’s are known to lay in wait and prey on the calves. Orca’s need depth to attempt an attack and staying in shallow waters close to the shore gives the grays and their young some relative safety.
Sitting on the beach in Malibu one year around May, I saw no less that 15 gray whales pass by me during that day – it was like a super highway of whales. Just beyond the break point were the spouts from their blowholes. It was amazing, such a sight to see.
I have yet to see Orca’s on these trips – they tend to make random visits, usually in the winter months. The transient killer whales making a stop in our channel, looking for something good to eat. I have tracked them over the years, once they arrive on our shores I try to guess if they will head north or south during their visit – and then waking up and trying to make the decision if I head south to Captain Daves (www.dolphinsafari.com) or head north to www.islandpackers.com or www.condorexpress.com for a full day out at sea.
All the whale watching boats are excellent. Captain Dave’s is a little further than I like to drive – its a good two hours away, but if its a nice calm day and they have had some good whale sightings I will head down. The nice thing about their boat is its a catamaran and the hull of each pontoon has underwater viewing windows that you can climb down into and see the whales and dolphins underwater. They literally have to drag me out of there when I go down – its captivating and I never want to leave.
Island Packers is the closet for me – in Ventura and probably the one boat I go out on most. Condor Express is a bit further north in Santa Babara and I will head up there if the Orca’s have been sighted going north.
I highly recommend dressing for winter – even in summer. As I stand on the dock and prepare to board I look around at the pour tourists in their flip flops, shorts and t-shirts and know that its too late to warn them of the impending cold. This is what I normally take on any trip, does not matter what time of the year. Always jeans, a polartec top and a waterproof shell. Then I pack in a bag with the following: a down jacket that can be worn under the shell, a beanie, gloves, a scarf, sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat, a cooler with snacks and beverages, binoculars, my cameras/lenses, an arm to attach my iPhone to so I can get video from different angles, a seat cushion (you’re on this boat ALL day on a plastic seat!) and lastly a thin polartec blanket. You may snicker at this list, but you will be grateful to be so prepared. At the very least if there is no wind and it gets warm (usually on the way back, in the summer) you can use all that clothing for resting your head on when you take a nap in the sunshine.
It has never done me wrong!
Below are some more of my photographs from numerous trips.
I can’t remember when I fell in love with ranunculus, but it seems to be about the same time the rest of the U.S. did. So much for my dream of being a trend-setter. I started seeing them everywhere, from wedding bouquets to my farmer’s market flower stand.
Justine & Jessica, those lovely ladies over at Foxglove Brooklyn who gave us tips on buying sustainably sourced flowers, said the ranunculus craze fully formed about four years ago, and it’s still going strong. Jessica noted that they’re an alternative to that old classic, the rose, and while other blooms like orchids or tropical blossoms have had their moment in the glory of the wedding bouquet, the ranunculus isn’t fading as fast, continuing to hold its place in the hearts of hipsters, brides, and flower stands around the country.
The brighter the better for my house, as they add pops of color to my love of white bedding and collections of green plants. A potted bunch, an impulse buy at Trader Joes, grows on my front stoop, so that I have them both to cut and put in my kitchen, and to enjoy outside, as I sit with a book in the warm early spring sun. (Sorry to those who don’t live in Southern California!)
The name Ranunculus is Late Latin for “little frog,” perhaps, according to Wikipedia, for the fact that it thrives near water. (See? Everything about it is adorable.) If you’re looking to tell someone how you feel with flowers, and want replace the language of the rose (yellow for friendship, white for purity, orange for passion), Real Simple claims they mean “radiant with charm,” while Teleflora says that a bouquet of ranunculus states “I am dazzled by your charms.” I wouldn’t hate on that message delivered to my door.
A close relative of the buttercup, the common name for the ranunculus is the Persian Buttercup. But unlike its cousin, that ubiquitous buttercup you held under your chin as a child to find out if you love butter (and who doesn’t?) it’s not listed on weeds that will overtake your yard. A perfect addition to your cutting garden, plant the ranunculus in the fall to see spring flowers in March, and if you plant them now, you’ll have flowers in June and July, that last up to six weeks. According to Garden.org, “ranunculus are frost-hardy cool-season perennials. They perform best where winters are relatively mild and springs are long and cool. … [They] are most popular in the mild-winter regions of the South and West, in states such as California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana (USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 11), where they grow best.”
When you’re buying your bulbs, go big. The “jumbo” choice, 2-3/4 to 3-1/8 inches in circumference, will produce up to 35 flowers for you to cut for your home, or to share. And if your yard isn’t ready for spring yet, you can plant them indoors, to transfer outside. Garden.org suggests you “place pots in a south- or west-facing window or under grow lights,” and to keep the temperature around 55°F. Once early spring has sprung, slowly introduce the potted plants outside, for increased increments of time, bringing them indoors at night.
There are so many images to grab one’s attention at the Tate Modern Museum in London. The room covered in floor-to-ceiling war propaganda posters, Lee Ufan’s piece “From Line,” so spare, so haunting, its meaning about space that “appears within the passage of time, and when the process of creating space comes to an end, time also vanishes.” So how did a daffodil stop me in my tracks?
In his 1937 painting, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Salvador Dalí captured the exquisite anguish of Facebook, errr … self-love-gone-wrong. The daffodil, the birth-month flower of March, is also known as Narcissus pseudonarcissus – Narcissus, of that Greek legend of yore, where the young man was so entranced by his own reflection, he died from the frustration that he could not embrace his own mirror image. (Heed the warning, all ye who post multiple selfies and then can’t. stop. looking. at. them.)
As the Tate describes him in Dalí’s work, Narcissus was a “great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. The gods punished him by letting him see his own reflection in a pool.” When he died from his inability to embrace his reflection, the gods immortalized him as the narcissus, daffodil, flower. For this picture Dalí’s play “with ‘double images’ sprang from Dalí’s fascination with hallucination and delusion.”
Every spring at my local Trader Joe’s, there are bunches and oodles of daffodils for mere pennies on the bloom for sale. If you’re giving them to the March baby in your life, and don’t want to write the words hallucination, delusion, or obsession with image on the birthday card, take a look at some of the common meanings for the flower: esteem, regard, and as the Daffodil Society notes, “in China, it is associated with ‘good fortune’ and in Japan, ‘mirth and joyousness.’ A French Language of Flowers postcard attributes the Narcisse with ‘esperance’ – “hope.’”
If you want to obsess over the beauty of the blooms in your own backyard, plan to plant them in the fall. The Farmer’s Almanac suggests choosing high-quality bulbs that have not dried out, and the bigger, the better. Two to four weeks before your first fall freeze, plant the bulbs 1-1/2 to 5 times their own depth. The site notes that “where winters are severe, make sure there is at least 3 inches of soil covering the bulb.” I’m looking at you, polar vortex people.
And the beauty of daffodils, beside their bright, sunny colors and reminder that spring is on its way? They’re perennials, so be sure to allow the plants to grow and yellow after the bloom – so the bulbs can gain the energy they need for the following spring. And, as Southern Living suggests, use a bulb fertilizer at planting time, and then sprinkle it over the bulb bed each fall (follow instructions on the bag) and water it in. Look for a 10-10-20 formulation with controlled-release nitrogen.
Talk to me: about your favorite work of art that sparks your imagination, about your selfie-obsession, or about daffodils. Do you have any in your garden? Are they starting to poke their way up into your garden? Send photos to us via Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely or share them with us on Facebook!
(Photos: Daffodils via LesleyLyle.com; Metamorphosis of Narcissus: Tate Modern)