Sunday, March 12

12 March 2006 - Spring?

Maybe this should be called 'fool's spring'. Middle 50's, a thunderstorm, and the snow is melted, save for those patches clinging to the north side of a rock or wall.

So, what does one do after a thaw like this? In the past, I'd rush out to the garden, start working up the soil, and getting stuff ready for planting. In the past I'd also create globs of clay, lumps that would never work themselves out throughout the season, and ruts in the lawn.

I like to think I'm older and wiser now, so I just rush out and dig up the rest of my parsnips! Well, parsnips and one pretty sad looking carrot. Both are biennial plants, flowering and seeding the second year, and show no harm for spending the winter in the ground. (the carrot looks like it became a midwinter snack for a mouse or vole). All of these had already sprouted some green leaves this year, and if they were in a better location, I'd have left one or two to go to seed - parsnip seeds are difficult to store (or so the books tell me, I've never harvested my own).

Now, for all those folks who didn't grow up with grandmothers used to feeding 9 mouths on pennies, I'll share with you what parsnips are. Parsnips (the things that look like white carrots in the photo) are root crops in the same family as carrots, parsley, celery, and Queen Anne's Lace (the weed). For those that play Trivial Pursuit, the family is known as umbelliferae, due to the umbrella-like flowers. Freezing parsnips converts some of the starches to sugars, giving them a better flavor. Use parsnips boiled, roasted, or stir-fried. They are a good source of vitamin C and Potassium.

I like to add them chopped to soups and stews like carrots. They tend to be more earthy.

Wisconsin Garden Spring Chicken

2 bnls skinless chicken breast halves - browned, cut into cubes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped parsnips
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
28 oz chicken broth OR equivalent water and bullion OR tomato vegetable juice drink
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Dash Hot pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns, smashed or not
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
(optional) cooked noodles

Add everything to the pot except the noodles. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Serve over noodles. If you prefer a more watery soup, add more broth or water while simmering.


Sunday, March 5

Seed Saving

After ordering an average of $20 in seeds each year, I'm loathe to waste them. Now, $20 may not seem to be much for garden plants, but why should I order the same seeds every year when I can get a few years off each packet, and even more years worth by allowing a few plants to go to seed every year?

I use a watchmaker's case to store the seeds. This one was purchased for about $5 at American Science and Surplus, but they can be ordered online. The set has one large aluminum box, with foam padding in the lid, and twenty small aluminum cases with glass windows and friction-fit lids. The cases come in a variety of sizes and can be ordered online from Lee Valley Tools. This small size is 33mm diameter, and holds about a tablespoon. Larger seeds such as beans or corn might do better in larger cases.

Since identifying seeds is not a strong suit of mine, I choose to label each container. White or colored 3/4" inkjet labels are perfect for this. I can print out a whole sheet of labels when the seed order comes in, and use only what I need to store. Using removable labels makes recycling containers easier.

Mark the seeds with the year they were intended to plant, or the year following harvest (if you collect your own). This will help predict germination rates when you use them the following year. I keep the entire box of seeds in an unheated corner of my basement, which stays around 50-60 degrees year round. If moisture is a problem, use a packet of desiccant to absorb the humidity (found in shoe boxes, packing materials, etc, and labeled "desiccant do not eat"). It can be purchased at craft and hobby stores under the names Silica Gel and Calcium Oxide.

Never saved seeds before?
It's only as difficult as you choose to make it. The easiest seeds to save are dry beans and corn, which can ripen on the plant naturally and be collected at will. Some plants, like parsley and dill, can be saved by tying a bit of row-cover around a nearly-ripe seedhead. Let the plant naturally ripen and dry the seeds, and collect them. Other plants, like tomatoes, require the seeds to ferment for a few days before drying. Books such as The Seed Saver's Handbook or Seed to Seed can be valuable resources. Online resources are also available, such as the International Seed Saving Institute, where you can find directions for many common vegetables.