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.