Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Review:Fruitless Fall

Ever since I became a beekeeper, I am drawn to learning more about the collapse of the honey bee, and how I can contribute and encourage a healthy eco-system. Reading Rowan Jacobsen's book, Fruitless Fall, I now understand far more about bees. I've learned how they build a community, turn nectar into honey and pollinate flowers, as well as why it's important to preserve natural methods that have been ongoing for billions of years. As humans continue to interfere with nature, bees and other pollinators are losing their way and we are on the verge of an agricultural crisis that will affect our food supply. Jacobsen writes with remarkable clarity, intelligence and vision that reveals how research and scientific evidence are still no match for observation. This book is a reminder that sometimes we need to go backwards, before we can move forward, and taking time to rebuild a system that is not working will bring balance. In the case of the honeybee, this means access to a diversification of crops, and respect for natural pollinators that are weaving an invisible network.

Kitchen Garden Notes #13: Take time to read books about the environment. Jacobsen is on par with Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. He knows how to weave a good story with scientific evidence that will encourage a plethora of changes that can make a difference in how we support and respect our Mother Earth.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reversing the Seasons: Transplanting Bulbs

Spring bulbs reward the gardener with effortless blooms, so I should be happy that green sprouts are emerging in my garden. Yet the Cammassia (otherwise known as wild hyacinth) that I planted several years ago to border my vegetable garden is no longer integrating with my overall design plan that requires neat and orderly. The straight lines have shifted, and once the spiky blue blossoms fade and the foliage dies back, the thrill is gone. Bulbs planted in the wrong place pose a problem, because if the gardener waits until after the bloom, and allows the foliage to brown naturally, it is impossible to find the bulbs again until they reemerge the following season. That's why I choose the spring for transplanting bulbs, along with other perennials. Digging carefully around the roots with a garden fork, I gather clumps and rapidly deliver them to a new location. It's a bit of reverse psychology to plant bulbs in the spring, but with a little luck, they will be quite happy in their new home.

Kitchen Garden Tip #11: Keep bulbs and other perennials outside of the vegetable garden in their own area (see my mistake in this photo). This way you will have a clean canvas to design each season, without the restrictions of working around a clump of brown leaves. Don't be afraid to move bulbs and other perennials, but pick an overcast day preferably with light rain to help settle the roots.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Loving Rhubarb

This time of year, when the rhubarb magically pushes its way up through the soil, I start to gather ingredients for rhubarb streusel cake. A kitchen garden is not complete without rhubarb, especially in Vermont where rhubarb was once a staple. Rhubarb thrives in our cool weather, and one plant yields enough for a family of four and lasts for decades. The brilliant rosy color of the stalks and the flamboyant nature of the giant leaves are more characteristic of warmer more tropical plants that might be found in the Caribbean, yet for this reason alone, planting rhubarb as an ornamental edible is worthy enough, and may take priority over a culinary experience. My grandmother taught me how to can rhubarb to serve over vanilla ice cream during winter months, but in truth - it doesn’t even come close to the flavor of rhubarb fresh out of the ground in the spring.

Kitchen Garden Tip #10: A single rhubarb plant is ample for a family of four. Plant the corm in loose, fertile soil where it will grow as a perennial. Similar to asparagus, allow the plant to establish itself before harvesting - which should only take a single season. A healthy rhubarb plant will produce a wide wing span of foliage, so give the plant enough space to expand, and remove the central seed stalk as the weather warms.

Recipe from my upcoming new book, The Complete Kitchen Garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden - (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, Spring 2011)

Rhubarb Streusel
Makes one 9' X 13' pan / 10 servings
Especially good as a morning treat or with afternoon tea, this recipe balances the sour nature of Rhubarb with a sweet crumb topping.

6 stalks rhubarb - leaves removed
1 1/4 cups milk
1-tablespoon cider vinegar
2 1/4 cups unbleached all - purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4-cup plain yogurt

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350*F. Lightly butter and flour a 9 X 13 inch backing pan, tapping out the excess flour.
2. Chop the rhubarb into 1/2 inch slices. Measure out 3 cups.
3. Combine the milk and vinegar and let stand until the milk curdles, about 5 minutes.
4. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt to combine. Cream the butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl of an electric blender until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, and the yogurt. Gradually add the flour and the milk, alternating each until both are incorporated. Fold in the rhubarb to blend.
5. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.

1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Mix together the topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the batter. Bake for 35- 45 minutes. Cool the pan on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kitchen Garden Design

Eat Local, Grow Your Own Produce

Imagine a vegetable garden filled with the foods you love to eat fresh - everyday! Salad greens, culinary herbs, lettuce and sweet basil. I offer creative vegetable garden designs based on the theme gardens from my upcoming book, The Complete Kitchen Garden ( spring 2011, Stewart, Tabori and Chang). I can help you create the garden of your dreams, to fit your landscape, fill your harvest basket and inspire you in the kitchen. I share my knowledge of the best culinary varieties, based on my 30+ experience as a kitchen gardener. We can work long distance with photos or I will visit your site. Call for a quote.

Kitchen Garden Tip #9: Before you sow seeds in the ground, start with a plan. It will help you stay organized, and will bring rewards beyond the produce that you harvest. Don't just settle for raised beds, but think of creative ways to plant your garden that integrate into your landscape.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

08. Garden Art

There is a thin line between garden art and junk, yet there is no doubt it's a personal matter. One of my favorite garden designers is Tara Dillard, who follows the European garden trends and knows just the right color blue/green to paint the patio furniture, or the latest on pillar candles for outdoor lighting. When tempted by a giant toad for the boggy end of the garden or a glass mushroom to tuck under a hosta, I follow her advice "Choose object d'art that your kids will fight over when you are gone." In other words, make it special. Gardens produce memories, and what I place in my garden is usually sentimental as well as beautiful.

Kitchen Garden Tip #8: Visit antique stores in search of garden art to decorate your garden. A few well placed garden divas are a good reminder that they are always ready to offer inspiration.

Friday, January 15, 2010

07. Creating Boundaries

If it weren't for Bella, I might not get out everyday for a walk. She's pretty darn good at reminding me that it's time to stop work and get into the woods. I picked her out of a litter of eight, on a dairy farm in northern Vermont. She's a blue healer/blue tick hound cross, and can catch a Frisbee as high as 6 feet in the air. When she came to live me, it was the day after Country Gardens had sent a crew to photograph my gardens, and I had spent weeks planting and primping the garden. The timing was perfect, since it took a single day with Bella to remind me that puppies and gardens don't mix. Learning boundaries is good for puppies, plants and people!

Kitchen Garden Tip #7: Create good boundaries for your garden with a fence, a natural arbor vitae hedge of a thick mass of flowers to indicate where the lawn ends and the garden begins. Mulch with bark, stepping stones or straw to indicate foot paths, which keeps the garden clear of traffic.

p.s. Bella did eventually learn about boundaries. Here she is as a one year old puppy, patiently waiting for me to put my garden rake down and throw her the Frisbee.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

06. Italian honey bees

I've been listening to my bee hive these days, putting my ear up to the hive for the buzz. Last fall, I wrapped the hive with several layers of Tyvex to keep out the wind, and since the colony was strong, I opted not to harvest any honey, yet instead left four supers for their winter feeding. Sadly, the hive seems silent. Italian bees are not as hardy as other breeds, yet what they lack in endurance, they give back in mild manners and honey production. I shoveled snow from around the entrance to the hive, yet to hedge my bets, I have ordered another colony to arrive on May 1st.

Kitchen Garden Tip #6: Order honey bees early to reserve a colony. I order from Betterbee in Greenwich, NY and pick up a small caged box in the spring with 10,000 bees and a queen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

05. Cooking from the Garden

Kitchen Garden Tip #5: Mastering the art of cooking and gardening requires reading cookbooks that offer more than just recipes and digging deep into garden books that offer more than just pretty pictures...and then there is always more to learn.

For many years, I have been writing recipes for the seed catalog, The Cook's Garden that I co-founded in 1985, which resulted in my cookbook, From the Cook's Garden published in 2003 by HarperCollins. The book is no longer in print, so those of you who have a copy hold onto it! Illustrated by Mary Azarian, I am certain that admirers of her work have purchased the cookbook as much for the color woodcuts as for my recipes. Writing recipes is not as simple as filling out a little card to give to friends, yet requires precise measuring, analytical tasting, testing again and again, and then finally writing up the formula in a way that is easy to follow. Learning to cook is built on a solid foundation of knowing the basics: soups, salad dressing, bread baking and how to prepare meats and fish, and then letting go to be inspired by the ingredients. The same is true for gardening, once you know how to blend healthy soil, sow seeds and cultivate plants, it evolves into an activity that yields rewards that go beyond the feast of good food.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

04. Meet Ali

Last summer, Ali and I visited gardens together to take photos for my upcoming book. Her perspective is unique, and she is not afraid to climb high ladders if it results in a good shot. We were visiting Ilona Bell's kitchen garden in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a contained geometric design with arches covered in clematis vines. Ali found a ladder lying in the grass, set it up upright, and scaled to the top rung. Here's the photo she captured from that eagle's eye view.

Kitchen Garden Tip #4: Documenting the garden is the only way to truly capture a moment. Gardens change every day, every year, and in the dead of winter it is satisfying to look back on the colorful weave of plants from the not so distant past.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

03. Garden Events

Kitchen Garden Tip #3: Gardeners can always learn from other gardeners, and that's why I find inspiration during the winter at garden shows. I've signed up to to attend a few late winter and early spring garden conferences that are within a day's drive. Here's where you'll find me:

New England Grows (
Vermont Flower Show (
Perennially Yours(

Inspiration comes from many sources, and I'll admit that some of my best ideas come from other gardeners. One of my favorite ways to branch out to see other gardens is through the Garden Conservancy Open Days tours, held throughout the spring, summer and fall. America's finest private gardens are on display because the best way to learn about gardens and to appreciate them is to simply spend more time in them. Last year, I drove to Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York to see gardens, and while it took time away from my own garden, it was worthwhile to discover new plants, admire designs and meet other gardeners along the way. I've organized a tour in the Upper Valley of Vermont for June 26th, and there will be another tour in the Champlain Valley on June 19th.

Monday, January 4, 2010

02. Create Good Bones

Kitchen Garden Tip #2: Seed catalogs are flowing in, and flower seeds are always the first to go on my wish list. Night blooming Datura and Nicotiana capture my attention, as well as the climbing vines with tubular flowers to attract hummingbirds and a create fragrant entrance to the vegetable garden.

I designed my garden with good bones, so that a structure stays in place even when the ground is buried with snow. Long rows of Arbor vitae are planted around the perimeter, and this time of year the emerald green branches are draped with folds of white snow. In the center, a standard viburnum stands just over 5 feet tall, yet beyond that everything else is buried under more than a foot of snow. Plants and seeds will change each spring, yet the basic design is a good one, and feeds my imagination all year long.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

01. Garden Books in Winter

Kitchen Garden Tip #1: I've created a stack of a garden books to read, to make the most of the quiet, insular season. Winter is hard for gardeners in the north country, when white is the only color in the landscape. I fill in the gaps by seeking bright colors, gravitating to hot orange, sunflower yellow and grassy green to keep my imagination stimulated long enough to keep the sparks alive.

Vermont winters can be long and it's essential to learn how to be resourceful and independent. While wandering on the top tier of Equinox mountain, with the dogs pushing through the fresh powdery snow, my thoughts turned back in time to when cabin fever was a reality with no escape. Farm chores, laundry and leaning, creating menus with crops stored in the root cellar were activities that filled the day with a relentless routine. I am grateful to have options, and the freedom to enjoy the woods on this snowy afternoon.