A friend asked me for this recipe today, and it occurred to me that my garden blog might be the proper place to share it, since it uses veggies that I often grow. And since it’s January and not much else is going on in the garden.

1 medium cabbage, finely chopped
5 green onions
2-3 large carrots, cleaned and cut into matchstick pieces
Break up noodles from two packages of Ramen Noodles and sprinkle over vegetable mixture. (Save bouillon for dressing.)

Toss together above ingredients in large mixing bowl.

Toast 2 T sesame seeds in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle over vegetables. Toast 1/2 c slivered almonds, also in nonstick skillet over medium heat, and sprinkle over vegetables.

Mix together dressing ingredients:
1/4 c sugar or equivalent sweetener
1/3 c olive oil
1/3 c sesame oil
1/3 c rice vinegar
1 t black pepper
2 pkgs. bouillon from Ramen noodles or equivalent vegetable bouillon, if desired.

Pour dressing over vegetable mixture and toss. Cover and refrigerate. This slaw tastes best if allowed to chill several hours before serving.

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One of the best vegetables I have discovered since starting my garden several years ago is Swiss Chard. I had seen it before in the produce section, but usually it looked so battered by the time it reached my supermarket that I had always found its appearance unappetizing.

Well, that problem is solved when it grows right here in my garden. Like other greens, it doesn’t require a ton of root space, and it seems to thrive in a bit of shade with sun early in the day and late in the afternoon and evening. This has made it a good crop for the back part of my garden, in what I call the high shade of a maple tree. The lowest branches of the tree are about twelve feet from the ground, which allows enough light to reach my crop of greens.

I have found that Swiss chard can be used in just about any recipe that calls for spinach. I have an enormous bounty of chard this year, and I’m using it in huge amounts nearly every day wherever I can think of something to add it to. I made a large pot of lentil soup last week and added about 2 quarts of fresh chopped chard to 2-1/2 quarts of vegetable broth with a large onion sautéed in olive oil and a quart of cooked lentils, salt and pepper — delicious, hearty and packed with nutrients. I’ve also added sautéed chard to a wild rice mix with baby peas and pecans, with amazing results.

For me, Swiss chard seems easier to grow than spinach, and evidently it grows well even in the hot months, as long as it is in the high shade that I previously described. In fact, we had a full month of mostly 100 degree temperatures this year — unusual here in northern Indiana — and the chard seems to be thriving when all of the other greens have failed. It doesn’t tend to bolt when spinach or lettuce does. An eight-foot double row planted in the early spring feeds us from mid June until early December, as long as we don’t get a heavy snow-fall or a very hard frost before then.

Swiss chard contains a high amount of flavonoid phytonutrients, including kaempferol and syringic acid. Kaempferol is heart-healthy, and syringic acid appears to help regulate blood sugar. Chard also contains high amounts of vitamins K, A, and C and the minerals magnesium, manganese, potassium and iron. One cup of cooked Swiss chard provides 10 percent of your daily calcium needs as well.

While Swiss chard is similar to spinach and can be substituted into most recipes calling for spinach, it has a somewhat more mild flavor than spinach and, for this reason, may be more appealing to people who find they really don’t like spinach that much. And if you, like me, can’t find good Swiss chard in your supermarket, it’s easy to grow in pots on your porch or balcony. The leaves and stems are colorful and attractive and are a pretty addition to any container garden.

Wow. That early super hot summer did a number on my hericot green beans. Still, the harvest is coming in. Tomatoes, squash, my first zucchini ready to pick any day (I plant them late, after I pull out the spring peas), and several giant pumpkins growing steadily for fall harvest.

August has been very wet, following a disastrously dry July. It feels like fall, sunny and cool, but the days still stretch out, giving my crops plenty of rays to bring them to maturation.

I tried a number of new peas and beans this year, including something called Crowder Peas. It turns out that is just another name for what my family calls black-eyed peas. And they’ve been a delight. We’ve not yet eaten a one, although we’ve started picking the dried pods and shelling them for storage. But every visitor notices them right off because of their unusual appearance. So I’ve got to recommend them, as otherwise, how would you know what black-eyed peas look like before they reach the supermarket.

Remember the bok choy seeds that I started back in March? Here’s what they looked like yesterday, right before I planted them in my garden bed.

I started planting my rows of brassicas — broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, and now the bok choy — once our April night time temperatures were pretty reliably above thirty-five degrees. Now, these cabbage relatives, also sometimes called crucifers, are pretty tolerant of cool temperatures, and even hold their own well against light frosts, especially when planted, as I have done, in a somewhat protected plot of soil (I have them on the south side of my garage).

Additionally, I have covered each seedling with one of my improvised two-liter bottle cloches, which not only gives them cover from the frost, but also insects, such as the dreaded cabbage worm. As they outgrow the cloches, I will put them under floating row covers for the rest of their growing season.

Another enemy of my garden seedlings are cutworms, which gave my poor peas duress last year. As I’ve been readying the soil (I work a double row at a time), moving from east to west, I found no evidence of cutworms in that the section of the garden where my fall leaves had covered the soil. However, the section with little leaf cover seemed to have many cutworms buried in the soil. So I have begun to use additional protective measures in this area of the garden. All winter long I have been saving my empty oatmeal boxes for this very purpose. I cut each box in half, and when I use the smaller, 18-ounce boxes, the two-liter bottle cloches fit nicely over them.

I planted each seedling inside the protective collars offered by the oatmeal boxes, and then, covering them with the bottle-cloches, I anchored the cloches in place by submersing about an inch of the plastic beneath the soil and piling up additional soil around the outside of the bottle. There was room for all twelve of my bok choy seedlings in the double row that I prepared for them. I normally have back up seedlings, in case of some gardening disaster (such as an unexpected hard freeze), but in the case of my bok choy, I have none, which is why I saved them for planting outside last.

We had heavy rains last night, and the forecast is for rain all day today as well. My little bok choy seedlings appear quite content in their new location. And I’m grateful for a rainy day, because it means I can rest up a bit from all of the binge-gardening I’ve been doing this week.

Last frost date in my region is May 15. That is a date locked into the DNA of all serious gardeners. This is when we can safely sow our seeds and our tender seedlings outside, into the garden beds that we have lovingly prepared for them.

My sun porch is anxiously waiting for that date. Ten more days. My tomatoes are waiting as well. As we get closer to May 15, I’ll be checking weather forecasts to see if I might fudge a little and set them free a few days early. But ten days . . . that’s a little risky.

Tomatoes are the primary seedlings in my sun porch, waiting for planting in the next week to ten days.


Last spring we actually had frost in late May, so this year I’m a little worried about rushing my plants outside too fast. I always start twice as many seedlings as I actually need, so that I have back-ups in place in case the worst happens. But these tomatoes, the ones I started in late February, have gotten large very quickly. I don’t know how long I can hold them back without causing them distress. I expect many of them will find homes in buckets and other large containers as I wait to see whether or not I should be giving them away to family and friends. And I’ve purchased row covers to use in the early weeks outside as another precaution for my tomato crop.

Thankfully, I have nearly finished putting in my very ambitious brassica garden. I saved my old station wagon, retired last year, to use as a green house this year, and it performed admirably. At one point I had more than a dozen large flats of brassica and lettuce and greens seedlings growing enthusiastically inside this defunct 1993 Mercury station wagon, awaiting transplantation into the garden. Except for the bok choy and my back ups, everything is outside now. Among my brassicas, I have hearty plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage and Brussel sprouts, all under cover, not only protected from the cold, but also those dreaded cabbage worms that I found so discouraging last year. The floating row covers will stay in place for the entire season, right up until this spring planting is ready for harvest.

I can’t believe I once thought a garden starts in May. This year, my garden began in the middle of January, when I bought the seeds and started planting my seedlings, starting first with the herbs, which need the most time to get established. Then came the tomatoes, then the lettuces and greens, and finally, in March, the brassicas. Last, I began planting the marigolds and nasturtium, the flowers that will help protect my garden from pesky insect infestations. And, in early April, the cold-tolerant greens began moving out to the garden and I planted my peas. In late April, the brassica seedlings were added.

Now we wait for May 15.

Today is Pete Seeger’s 91st birthday, and while he did not write the Garden Song, I think of him every time I hear it.

Celebrate his music and plant a row today.

I’ve been so busy putting my cold-tolerant seedlings into the garden that I haven’t had a chance to brag about the veggies I sowed during the winter in containers and have been enjoying for several months.

Greens grow very well in containers, and many greens, such as this spinach do thrive in cool temperatures. I started this spinach and cilantro in December, it sprouted early in January, and grew quite well under lights until I moved it to my sun porch in early March. On warm days, I moved it outside. On the few nights of hard freeze, it came inside into my living room. Today, in late April, it sits virtually every day and night outside on my front steps.

By mid-March, I began harvesting a couple of times a week — not much, but enough to add to omelets here or soup there. Now it’s all I can do to keep up with what I’ve planted. It’s been lovely, and next year I intend to plant several containers — of lettuce, Swiss chard, arugula, cress, and, yes, spinach.

Greens don’t need much root space. My spinach is growing in a plastic sweater box. I recommend using prepared potting soil, to avoid aphids, and of course you must be careful not to overwater. But it is a very inexpensive project that anyone can do with little special equipment. Once the seeds have sprouted, fluorescent lighting is required and should be only a few inches from the green seedlings. A desk lamp or two with a couple of those energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs are all you need for this. A sunny spot is useful, but not necessary. (Mine grew in my basement.)

I can’t wait to try this again for this fall. Perhaps I can keep a box of greens or two going all winter long.

Before I started my garden last year — my first year as a vegetable gardener — I didn’t realize there were an abundance of veggies that could be moved out to the garden early in the season, once the soil can be worked. Instead, I thought I had to wait until after the last frost date here in northern Indiana — May 15 — before my garden could start to take shape. As a result, my garden got a late start. This year, I moved in the opposite direction and have tried to push the envelope, so to speak, to see how early I could get away with planting my salad greens. I began putting out Swiss chard and spinach seedlings in early April, which have taken advantage of the frequent spring rains. (Of course, I had plenty of back-up seedlings in case my experiment failed.) I expect to begin eating from these earliest plantings within a couple of weeks.

I also planted lettuce seedlings two weeks ago. These were not quite as successful. It looks like I lost about half of my plants, although I’ve been left with plenty for a first planting, and of course I’ll be adding more soon. I’ve decided that my lettuces should be the first seedlings I start each winter, so that they will be plenty big with good root growth to survive the April temperatures. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to begin planting lettuce seedlings in late January.

While we’re on the subject of starting seedlings, I’ve decided that I really like using peat pellets for lettuce seedlings, as well as seedlings of other delicate salad greens. They are exactly the right size for these particular vegetable seedlings, and the pellets are much easier and faster to plant once the greens are put out into the garden. I have about twice as many seed failures using pellets instead of traditional potting soil and peat pots, but the unsuccessful pellets can be replanted a second time when the seeds don’t sprout, so they aren’t wasted.

I discovered last year that lettuce and other salad greens do very well in high shade. I have mine in the section of the garden that is shaded mid-day by several old maple trees. They don’t need as much root space as other vegetables — about four inches is plenty — so the roots of the tall trees nearby don’t interfere their productivity. And the soil beneath the trees is rich and loaded with decades of organic material that has fallen from the trees. Yet there is plenty of light in the morning to keep these plants happy and growing. Additionally, this particular section of my garden lies along the south side of my garage and benefits from the protection this structure offers during frosty nights.

The only difficulty of growing near the trees is that I suspect they are a source of aphids. As I did last year, I cover my lettuce seedlings and the young seedlings of other salad greens with cloches made from two-liter bottles that I have been saving since last summer. This protects them from the cold, rabbits (I haven’t yet made needed repairs to last year’s fence), and insects. I’m also going to try covering the paths between the rows with plastic (last year I used dried leaves and pine needles) to see if this inhibits insects from spreading to my greens once the temperatures have warmed and I’m forced to remove the cloches. Additionally, I plant my greens in double rows, and I surround them with plantings of known aphid repellants — right now, those are onions and garlic, as these members of the allium family also are tolerant of cool temperatures. Later I will add cilantro, basil and anise.

Now that my greens and my peas are in, and I still have one week remaining in April, my goal next week is to move my sturdy and thriving brassica seedlings outside. This year I should have half my garden planted before we ever get to mid-May.

This is the mystery: I plant my seedlings in their little peat pots, and a week later, they’ve been pushed up and out of the garden.

I’m guessing grumpy moles who don’t like bumping their heads when they are out on the prowl. What’s your guess? These are lettuce seedlings, planted under the protection of my improvised cloches (made from two-liter soda bottles). I simply can’t think of any other way these seedlings might be jumping our of their garden beds.

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