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John Francis
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Archive for the ‘TerraGourmet’ Category

New Article by Guest Author: Michael “Green”wood

The most important element of a garden is the plan.  Without a good plan the would-be gardener is inviting disaster. Everything the gardener plants is out for itself.  Your sweet potatoes won’t hesitate to invade . . . well, everything.  The same goes for squash and pole beans.  Your tomatoes have no reservations about toppling over their trellis and smothering whatever is in their way.  Despite thousands of years of selective breeding the law of the jungle still rules.  In other words, your cucumbers don’t give a damn about their community (the garden); they just want to set fruit and spread their seed.

The wise gardener takes this into account in his plan;  He uses this selfish vigor to his advantage without being drawn into the futile exercise of actually fighting it.  If you fight against these natural impulses you will loose.

Someone I can’t remember once compared a garden to a contest between Apollonian order and Dionysian chaos.  At the beginning of the season order reigns, but as the months pass chaos comes increasingly to dominate.  The gardener must accept this.  We are never in complete control.  Without a good plan we have little or no control at all.

I usually start planning my garden in late January. You cannot plan it too early. The more time you have to get supplies together and do all of the necessary preparatory work the better.

One of the most important elements of the plan is soil preparation.  This includes any amendments to the soil to improve texture or add nutrients, as well as building raised beds or grading the soil.  You don’t want to rent a tiller with the plan of preparing the soil and getting everything planted in one day.  Getting the soil ready a few months ahead of time, if possible, will make your life easier.  Unlike planting itself, soil preparation can be done any time the ground is warm and dry enough to work.  Sometimes this is preferable, as some soil amendments are more effective if they are allowed to interact with the soil for a period before planting.  I will go into more depth on the subject in a future post.

Something else that needs to be considered is weather or not you want to buy “starts” or seedlings, or buy and start your own seeds.  For a small garden the extra cost of buying starts is negligible and can save a lot of effort.  For a larger garden the cost can add up quite a bit.  Buying your own seeds not only saves you money, it gives you orders of magnitude more options;  Only a small fraction of the most popular varieties are available at local nurseries.  Occasionally you will get lucky.  If you have access to a local nursery that offers unusual varieties of vegetable, all the better!  Also, while I prefer trying out unusual heirloom varieties or less well known vegetables, there is nothing wrong with the common varieties offered at most local nurseries.  The point is to figure this out ahead of time so that you can plan accordingly.

Seeds and other supplies can be bought locally or through catalogues or online.  I prefer to get my seeds online, as this gives me the greatest variety to choose from.  To save costs I try to get my seeds from as few places as possible; I also try to support companies that are working to preserve older varieties.  Here are some of my favorites:

Terroir Seeds at . An amazing selection of heirloom seeds.

Territorial Seed Company at Also a great selection of heirloom seeds and supplies.

Outsidepride at A great selection of cover crops and green manures.

Gurney’s at A good source for more conventional varieties of both seed and plant, as well as a few heirlooms.

I prefer to get as much of my supplies as possible locally.  Unfortunately, many of the tools and amendments I need simply aren’t available locally.  Some of the best tools for the small-scale horticulturalist aren’t even available in the country.  This is the inevitable result of a food system centered on large machinery and synthetic chemicals.  Fortunately, things are changing, and more and more products for the organic grower are available all the time.

This recipe sounds like a lot of ingredients, but I normally have a lot of these items on hand in my kitchen. Trust me; it’s really, really worth it!

I absolutely LOVE everything about soup. From making the stock through prepping the veggies, I enjoy it all, but of course the end result with a thick piece of bread or salad makes it the perfect meal!  Few things are as comforting as a piping hot bowl of soup or stew to warm the soul on a chilly night or after a day of sledding!  I’ve been making this one for several years and have yet to tire of it.

Tuscan Minestrone

1 t. olive oil

1 c. chopped pancetta, bacon or ham (Note: vegetarians out there-you can certainly eliminate this step & it is still delicious!)

1 lg. red onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (add more if you really like garlic like me!)

3 carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 diced turnip

1 bunch kale, roughly chopped

1 each:  fresh rosemary & thyme sprig (or about a teaspoon of each dried)

2 cups cooked white cannellini beans (canned are fine, or if you can find dried to soak yourself)

2 cans (14oz) diced tomatoes in juice

8 c. chicken or vegetable stock

1 loaf Italian bread, very stale or toasted, cut in cubes

1 bunch broccoli rabe

1 c. chopped fresh basil

Grated Parmesan or Asiago

Using a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and brown the pancetta, if using.  Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 10-15 min.  Add the kale, turnip, rosemary and thyme and cook for 10 min.  Add beans tomatoes and stock. Lower the heat to low and cook partially covered for 1 hour.  Add the bread cubes to pot and push down until they are immersed.  Cover, cool partially or completely and refrigerate overnight.  Add the broccoli rabe and basil, gently cook until heated through.  Garnish with more basil and grated parmesan, if desired.

Notes:  I know it sounds weird adding bread to a soup; but it breaks down and “thickens” the soup.  It becomes very rich and hearty.

Although I make a lot of my stocks, there are many great ones on the market today.  Don’t feel like you have to make one homemade.  I just happen to cook a lot and have the ingredients.

At the tail-end of garden season I found myself with a late crop of beautiful red & green bell peppers.  Seeing as how I NEVER have any luck with peppers; I felt I needed to take advantage of this unexpected gift from Mother Nature!  Also, I absolutely HATE wasting food unless it’s unavoidable or unintended.  I created this recipe from “taco night” leftovers and my garden peppers.  I also made a fresh salsa verde with the plentitude of green tomatoes left in the garden which is much healthier than “fried green tomatoes!”

Tex-Mex Stuffed Peppers

*Large Bell Peppers (any color, but bigger, the better), tops cut off & seeded (save tops if you like them for presentation, or chop them up and add to mix))

*Taco Meat (whatever you use for your tacos: ground beef, shredded beef, chicken, meat substitute, etc…)

*Spanish Rice (according to box directions)

*Any garnish you want to throw in from leftover tacos (black olives, cilantro, tomatoes, corn, black beans, jalapenos, etc…)

*Cheese (sharp cheddar, jalapeno-jack, mozzarella or queso blanco)

*Tomatillo Sauce or Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Mix the leftover taco meat, rice & leftover garnishes (except lettuce!).  Fill peppers almost full, but leave enough room for cheese.  (Tip:  you really want to fully stuff them, spoon in filling and pack down with spoon, repeat) Also, if you’re feeling very “cheesy”, add cheese halfway through stuffing and again on top.  Place in baking dish large enough to fit all the peppers you are using; you want them to be a little snug so they don’t fall over while cooking.  Top each pepper with cheese.  Spoon salsa verde or tomatillo sauce around and over peppers (this will create a sauce as well as flavor the peppers.  Top with a little more cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 min or so uncovered.  You want the cheese to brown a little; but if they start to brown too much, place a foil “tent” over baking dish and continue to bake until peppers are desired texture and mixture it completely heated through.

Serve with mashed potatoes, creamy polenta (more carbs!!), grilled potatoes, black bean salad, sliced ripe tomatoes, etc…

Salsa Verde

(This is one recipe which I usually make more of, or adjust to the amount of tomatoes I have)

6 green tomatoes, cored and chopped coarsely

1 lg jalapeno, seeded and diced (leave seeds if you like it hot!)

6 green onions, chopped

1 ½ Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs lime juice or red wine vinegar (or I like combo of both)

¼ c. white onion

Kosher salt & pepper to taste

Combine and leave at room temp. for a couple of hours, then refrigerate if not using right away.  Can be made ahead of time & also great w/tortilla chips!

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