The Milkweed Diaries

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Full Bloom

Photos from this morning in the garden:

Dino Kale


A whole lot of garlic and potatoes

Valerian & Ironweed

Onions, leeks, and brassicas

Love in a Mist

Leeks flowering, with sorrel in the background

The incredible, edible day lily


Red Milkweed

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bring the Scapes!!!

Every Spring around this time, the modest, unadorned, hearty hardneck garlic plants that have been stoutly soldiering along since October become for a brief moment the most glamourous and exotic plants in the garden. Rising above their plain, strappy, green leaves are suddenly: SCAPES!

Serpentine, delicate, gorgeous and elegant, garlic scapes are the flowering stalks of hardneck garlic plants. They curl and spiral up and out from the plant, with a smooth, green, snake-like grace.

The flavor of scapes is a pure, intense, garlicky burst of spring green. We've eaten them all kind of ways: sauteed in butter, mixed in a stir fry, finely chopped raw in a green salad or with grated beets and carrots.

I would love garlic scapes even if they were common and abundant over a long season. But the fact that they can only be had for a short window of time, and a time before much else in the garden is producing heavily, makes them all the more precious and delightful.

It is good to pick the scapes as soon after they appear as possible so that the garlic plants won't spend energy flowering and will instead put all of their spring plant juju into growing large bulbs. Seeing as how we planted 1,500 garlic plants last fall, we have a lot of scapes to harvest and quick. Thus, we are cutting scapes fast and furious these days, and coming up with new scape recipes pretty much every day.

Christopher with some of the scapes we harvested last evening.

MF dropped by last eve just in time to help cut scapes (and squish a few potato beetle egg clusters), and Sandi came over later for dinner and scape escapades. We made pesto (see recipe below) and feasted on scapes until it felt like we were exuding garlic juice out of every pore.

Here are some of my favorite new ways to eat scapes:

Garlic Scape Pesto

I cannot describe how good this is. We ate it on pasta, but I also downed a few spoonfuls straight. It is a bright green, full-on, intense garlic experience.
  • A whole bunch of raw garlic scapes
  • A handful of mild greens (we used chard) if desired
  • Walnuts, pine nuts, or sunflower seeds (we used walnuts)
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Parmesan or Asiago cheese (optional - we made a vegan batch and a cheesy batch)
Throw everything in the food processor and pulverize to desired pesto texture. Enjoy!

Sandi gets her pesto groove on

Garlic Scape Risotto

So creamy and garlicky and delicious!
  • A handful of garlic scapes
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 4-5 cups stock or water
  • Parmesan, Asiago, or another hard cheese, grated
  • Salt, pepper, olive oil, and butter
Chop garlic scapes into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces. Saute in butter and olive oil (about 2 Tbs of each) until soft. Add arborio rice and continue to saute for a few minutes until the rice is
slightly toasted.

Add 1 cup of water or stock and stir. Stir. Stir. Stir. This is the key to a creamy risotto. Keep stirring and cooking over low to medium heat until all of the first cup of water or stock is absorbed. Add another cup of liquid and repeat. Stir constantly. Cook until water is absorbed.

Continue adding liquid a cup at a time and stirring, stirring, stirring until you have a super-creamy risotto. At this point, I added a tablespoon or so of pureed sweet pepper to the mix, but that is optional. About 5 minutes before serving, add 3/4 cup grated cheese.


Lastly, I am trying a brine pickle with some of the scapes.

I chopped them up and layered them with salt in a ceramic crock (the first ferment of the season!), covered them with salty water and am now watching and waiting to see if they will ferment into a pickled, garlicky condiment of some sort. It seems like it will have to be good.

Anyone have other ideas of ways to eat scapes? We still have hundreds to consume!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

War on Slugs: Slugs Winning*

As I've mentioned before, it was the wettest May on record last month with more than 9 inches of rain.  We have inadvertently discovered the following tried and true garden formula.

Recipe for an Ultra-Slugerific-Slugtastic Slugfest:


  • 9 inches of rain
  • Thick mulch
  • A large serving of tasty young edible plants 

Sprinkle garden with plants. Apply mulch generously. Gradually add rain and let sit. Viola!


Thanks to our perfect execution of this recipe, we have found ourselves fighting a war on slugs that seems almost as futile as the war on drugs.  My usual slug-fighting weapon, Sluggo, an organic slug-killing product, has proved insufficient.   

So this evening we've pulled back our beloved mulch (to which I am deeply philosophically attached and the absence of which pains me as I watch the sun dry and leach the soil), applied a boatload of Sluggo, and prepared to host a massive Slug Beerfest tonight.  Christopher sacrificed his last three Pabst Blue Ribbons to create a buffet of beer saucers for the slugs.  And now we wait.

Anyone who thinks growing vegetables, even organically, doesn't involve killing things should come visit our garden this month.  Let the garden pest hunting season officially begin.

Hugs not Slugs!

*An homage to one of my favorite The Onion news stories of all time: Drugs Win Drug War 

On Interplanting

We just planted our first bean and squash bed for this year: 41 feet long by 3 feet wide with 160 Cherokee Trail of Tears Black Bean seeds and 21 Waltham Butternut Squash transplants from our Spring seed-starting bonanza. It's a modified Three Sisters planting since we have consistently had problems with our heirloom pole beans choking out corn and other "living trellises" such as sunflowers.  So this year we're trying Two Sisters.  

Beans and squash in last year's garden

Interplanting, a fancy word for planting more than one thing in the same bed, makes better use of space in the garden and can also help deter pests.  

Also called companion planting or polyculture, interplanting is old hat for most home gardeners, who are used to making the most of small spaces. But most food eaten in the US is produced in large-scale monoculture operations where companion planting is nowhere to be found. We're experimenting with interplanting on a scale somewhere between home garden and small farm: we'll plant 1,000 pole beans and 120 or so winter squash plants in our Two Sisters beds by the time we're done this spring.   

Aside from the practical benefits of interplanting, I think it makes for a more aesthetically interesting garden.  Beauty is not one of the defining characteristics of most food production in the US.  But we're interested to see if we can produce a relatively large amount of food in a beautiful, lush garden more akin to a permaculture food forest than to the image of a field of  row crops that comes to mind when most of us think about food production.  

And more important than all of the philosophizing: we want to eat a lot of dried black beans and butternut squash (protein! beta carotene! vitamins! minerals!) all winter long.  These bean and squash beds in the garden should supply plenty for us, and maybe we'll even have some to trade and sell.  

In the meantime, here's a good resource on companion planting: Sloat Gardens blog post, and another: companion plant table from Urban Grange.