A little urban gardening update is in order before more goodies, and the true 2009 harvest gets under way. Beginnings are pictured above and a recipe is at bottom. A timeline of winter urban gardening follows:
In early November, bracing the settling chill of the City, D and I haphazardly construct a cold frame in our garden plot and set out some seed. When I say haphazard I mean it in the truest sense: with no hard design plan (though two conflicting views in our minds) we enter a second hand building supply store near the garden. In approximately 1 hour, after much debate as to which plan to build, we leave with 4 pieces of wood (2 long; 2 short) and a large glass door I bargained down to $20. In 15 minutes, fighting the cold, we hold the wood together (no nails/ screws) and push soil around the sides to keep them in place. Getting cold and dark, I toss random cold hardy seeds inside our new cold frame: kohlrabi, mustard, arugula, tatsoi, spinach, radish, and potentially some others I mark as “?” in the garden journal. The glass door is set over top and we return in approximately 1 month.
To great surprise, makeshift cold frames have appeared in other garden plots constructed out of clear plastic and held down with rocks. To even greater surprise, many of the seeds we threw down actually sprout, specifically the tatsoi, radish, mustard, arugula and spinach. “Take that farmers!” We call to cold streets and abandoned buildings around the garden. We consider ourselves trendsetters in winter gardening. In the fading daylight hours of winter we had created a fabulous self-watering greenhouse (thank you condensation).
By late December we have the first of a measly harvest, not even enough for a side salad and we question if this is worth it– $30 for the wood and glass and about $10 in seeds (with seeds left over for future plantings come spring).
January is brutally cold and surprisingly snowy for New York City. We question our shoddy cold frame construction.
Early February arrives and after diligently ordering $60 of seeds for a 2009 planting season and reading many a garden book, my faith is renewed in our winter plants: we had simply started a few months too late. If we really want to benefit from a winter harvest, seeds must be planted in August to allow maturity in long days of sun and hibernation in shortened days December to mid-February.
We return in mid-February to find our once sad plants have taken off with the lengthening days. “Take that brutal January!” There was even a rogue something or other we could not yet decipher that had sprung from a late summer planting, not intended for the cold frame. Chamomile, planted late last season has survived the winter exposed to all elements. We harvest a small salad.
By late-February I start a few seeds indoors and we return again on an unseasonably warm day to prepare our soil for spring planting. We chopped up and turn under corn stalks from last year and take a long inspection of the cold frame goodies. The rogue something or other turns out to be broccoli rabe, an excellent surprise. I harvest a large bag of mixed greens that last four dinner-sized servings.
In mid-March we return again, this time finishing off soil prep and sow a few of the prepared beds with spring seeds: radish, spinach, arugula, mixed salad, carrots, swiss chard, scallions, cilantro, mint, sorrel and sage. I note in our garden journal that it is 3 weeks to the last frost date (April 13 in New York City). The newly planted radish are supposed to be ready to eat April 17 according to the 4 weeks-to-maturity date. The outlook is doubtful. This is not good news as I had hoped to pull the radish to make way for sugar snap peas, tomatoes, and cucumber. I harvest another large bag of mixed greens that last four dinner-sized servings.
Late-March I return again and transplant some purchased strawberry and kohlrabi seedlings as well as some home-grown fennel, leek and kale seedlings started indoors. Sugar snap peas also find their home in the ground next to the slow-to-mature radish, as well as some marigold, mustard and another patch of arugula and mixed greens. The two-week-old radish, spinach, arugula and mixed greens are now all peeking at this point. Swiss chard, carrots, scallions and herbs are not visible (grumbles and curses ring out). I harvest another large bag of mixed greens that last four dinner-sized servings.
In early-April I remove the glass from the cold frame. Leeks are looking straggly. Fennel is teetering on the edge of existence. Kale is kicking butt. November-planted greens continue on their course. I allow them to rest and grow before another harvest.
We come to present time, mid-April. Yesterday (estimated last frost date) I transplanted cilantro, cumin and basil into the garden that were started indoors. I am hoping this batch of cilantro holds on. I also direct-seeded parsley and another round of sage and mint. I harvested another large bag of mixed greens, including a single wintered radish and the rogue broccoli rabe. These should last four dinner-sized servings, potentially longer.
In total, the $40 I spent on supplies for the winter garden has served us 17 servings and counting. If these meals were at a restaurant it is a definite savings. Compared to farmer’s market organic purchases, I’m not sure just yet– though the winter crops will continue to feed us until the new seeds are large enough to take over at which point they will be pulled for some summer fare. The savings will no doubt be great as the original $10 spent on winter green seeds are still being seeded.
For these last few harvests I made a grapefruit Caesar salad dressing to enjoy with the spicy greens. Caesar is one of my all time favorite dressings and I order it liberally at restaurants, though often finish it with disappointment. Who says Caesar needs Romaine lettuce?! Or only croutons for adornment?!
With these slightly spicy mixed greens, simply served with a slice of wild salmon, the meal could not be more perfect to welcome in the spring (though April showers are doing a fine job of that). For something slightly more filling and exotic, I topped the salad with toasted hazelnuts and a few feta pieces, as pictured above.
Spicy Greens, Salmon and Grapefruit Caesar
2 servings. Active time= 10 minutes. Cook time= 8 minutes.
3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
2 large handfuls mixed spicy greens (mustard, arugula, kale, tatsoi, etc)
1/4 pound feta
Grapefruit Caesar Dressing (recipe below)
two 1/4 pound pieces wild salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt/ fresh-ground black pepper
In a dry skillet, toast the hazelnuts over medium-high heat until lightly browned, set aside to cool slightly. Toss the mixed greens and feta with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the Grapefruit Caesar Dressing (recipe below). Warm a skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add olive oil. Salt and pepper the salmon and cook, skin side up first, 3 minutes each side (for rare fish, longer for more done). Set finished salmon over the dressed lettuce, add hazelnuts over top.
Grapefruit Caesar Dressing
12 servings. Active time= 8 minutes. Cook time= 0.
3 large cloves garlic (or 2 teaspoons garlic powder)
8 anchovies, patted dry
3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
2 teaspoons grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon mustard poweder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
fresh-ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a blender and blitz until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. NOTE: I use a raw egg in my dressing because I know the farm my eggs come from. You can alternately boil the egg in the shell for 1 minute.