Thursday, March 23, 2023

Rad Radicchio

Rossa de Verona Radicchio

Last fall, while showing off my end-of-the-season harvest, I bragged about my lovely radicchio. Then a friend asked, "What is radicchio?"
Regardless of what this photo looks like, it is not a cabbage. In fact, it is much more closely related to sunflowers, lettuce and other members of the Aster family (Asteraceae). 
Radicchio is a form of chicory (Cichorium intybus), an inconspicuous roadside weed that suddenly becomes conspicuous in late summer when it sends up a stalk bearing bright blue flowers along it. Roasted chicory root can be brewed like tea, or even coffee, to make a lovely dark, rich coffee-like drink. Chicory has often been added to coffee, and is considered a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Although, while the flavor might be similar to coffee, don't expect it to taste just like coffee. 
Start with leeks and carrots.
Endive and escarole are other forms of chicory that you might find in the grocery store or at the farmers market. To grow radicchio, start transplants about six weeks before planting in the garden, or direct sow once danger of frost is past. I have had the best luck in getting my radicchio to head when I plant it as a fall crop, putting in transplants at about the same time as I plant my fall cabbages, as it heads best in cooler weather. When I've planted it in spring, I got no heads, but it did flower in late summer.
This isn't supposed to be a post about planting radicchio, however, but about using it as food. I had thought that one way to keep the blog posts coming during the winter was to switch to sort of a cooking blog -- just how do I use these veggies I grow? Well, it's late March and I've done one... you remember... the apple one?
So here goes.
Like chicory leaves and its relative the dandelion, radicchio is a bitter vegetable. Americans, as a rule do not eat enough bitters, which are good for your digestion. People once ate lots of bitters, recognizing their benefits in aiding digestion, especially of fats and meats. While most people aren't used to the flavor of bitter in their vegetables, one can grow to love it. I have.
Add radicchio.
You certainly can buy bitter herbal tinctures, but those are best left to when a stronger medicine is needed. In general, using bitters (and other herbal things) as a daily food is better for encouraging health than using strong concoctions. Eat bitters, then, like dandelion greens and radicchio. Even lettuce can be a mild bitter, especially when left in the garden a little too long.
The way I use radicchio and other bitter greens most is in salad. A small amount of bitter greens mixed in with sweeter lettuces cuts the bitter flavor a lot. Dressing it with vinegar and oil also dampens the bitterness. You get the benefit of the bitterness (because you are still tasting it, even when you're not tasting it) and the crunch and color of the raw plant.
Another way to tone down the bitterness of radicchio is to cook it with a bit of oil. My first introduction to radicchio was as a plain, roasted vegetable served before the rest of the meal (which is when you should have your bitters). The bitterness was somewhat of a shock, but one that I later sought.
Last fall's radicchio was abundant enough that it lasted into December. It was more than I could use in salads, so I brought out the pots and pans, and grew quite attached to the concoction I made.
It's been a few months, so I will try to remember what I used. Fortunately, it was a pretty simple recipe. 
And I use the term "recipe" loosely. I can give you ingredients, but... What? Me measure? Leeks and carrots were harvested at the same time as the radicchio, so they were the other main ingredients.

Radicchio and Leek Stir Fry
Fennel seed
Oil -- preferably avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil

Thinly slice carrots and leeks. Chop or shred radicchio. Pour oil into heavy skillet (I like cast iron for any kind of sauteeing) and start heating. Toss in a tablespoon or two of fennel seed -- I really like fennel seed, and it's also good for digestion. Add the carrots and cook for five minutes or so, stirring frequently. Add leeks and continue cooking. Leeks are drier than onions, so will burn more readily. Stir frequently. When the carrots and leeks are getting tender, add the radicchio and cook until all vegetables are done.
Serve with some chicken, or sweet potatoes, or potatoes. It might also be a good accompaniment to a game meat. I don't know. I haven't tried it. 

Now you know a little bit about radicchio and how to use it. I'm sure the online gang can provide a wealth of ways to use radicchio. One more tip about radicchio. It's expensive to buy. The last I looked, one head of organic radicchio was nearly $6. So if you want to try it, it's much cheaper to grow.
Get radical with radicchio.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Goings On


Look at this!

The sweet potatoes I set out a couple of weeks ago are producing sprouts! It's particularly exciting because this is the first time I've grown my own slips.

I've cut free five already and stuck them in soil to root. The first to produce sprouts were two of the all purple ones (top of image). A third all purple (lower center) is being pokey about sprouting, but I think I saw a tiny little sprout on it yesterday. 

The next to sprout was one of the Jerseys (lower right), a white variety that is very sweet. Its sprouts are not yet big enough to cut and root, but it's getting close. A second one (lower left) has tiny buds on it, and a third (in a different container) is being stubborn. Three of the six Japanese sweet potatoes (purple skin, white flesh) are just beginning to sprout.

These won't provide all of the sweet potato slips I want to plant. Soon I will order a few Murasaki (like the Japanese ones) and Bonita (white) from K-State through a local hardware store, and in May I'll buy all of my orange variety from a local nursery that gets in huge slips that are already rooted. We are going to be laden with sweet potatoes come fall.

I thought we'd have plenty of sweet potatoes from the 160 slips I planted last year, but we've had to start buying them. 

It's also time to start "hardening off" the baby cabbage and broccoli plants. In two to three weeks, depending on the weather forecast, they will go out into the garden soil. A two- to three-week hardening off period helps them adjust to the great outdoors. 

Tiny eggplants are reaching toward the lights, and bell pepper seeds are just beginning to germinate.

Bees visit the crocus blooms and purple rock iris outdoors, the winter aconite is beginning to fade, and little green shoots are popping up all over.

I've already planted some snap peas and lettuce, and will plant more next week. It's an exciting time of
anticipation. The rosemary plants have been moved from the "plant room" onto the front porch, and the fig and Kentucky coffee tree seedling have been moved from the garage to the porch. 

Lastly, indoors, the walking iris has finally bloomed. Last year it bloomed in late January. I'm not sure why it's so late this year. It probably needs to be divided into two or three pots. It doesn't look crowded, but maybe the plants feel crowded. 

Can't wait to see what's next.

Monday, February 6, 2023



This looks like a bunch of sticks stuck in pots of soil.

And that's exactly what it is.

But they aren't just any old sticks. They are cuttings from two hazelnut (filbert) trees that I hope will develop roots and eventually become nut-producing trees.

The two original trees were planted below the dam at the bottom of our hill. However, they were planted too far apart to pollinate each other properly, so no nuts. I found two nuts on one of the trees one year, but otherwise, none. 

That could be because hazelnuts fall to the ground when they're ripe. The trees are surrounded by tall grass, so even if they produced nuts, unless I happened to see them on the trees (not real likely because I don't visit them often) there isn't any way I would have known nuts were produced. Plus, squirrels and other critters would have scavenged them before I could get to them. 

So I'm going to try rooting these cuttings and growing the trees/large shrubs in the cultivated areas around our house. I took some cuttings last year, but in late March, I think. No luck with those, so I'm trying again. I covered the cuttings with a plastic bag to maintain humidity and left them in our attached garage to acclimate more slowly to a warmer environment. In a few days I'll move them indoors.

After reading a couple of things on rooting cuttings from woody plants, I might shove these a little deeper into the soil, and make up some homemade rooting solution to pour onto the soil in a few days. Rather than buying a rooting hormone I can place one-inch pieces of fresh willow growth in a jar and pour boiling water over them and let them soak in a sunny spot for 24 hours. Pour that into the soil. 

You also can use honey as a rooting solution: 1 tablespoon honey in 2 cups of boiling water. Stir well and let cool. Pour into the soil around your cuttings within two weeks.

Or, apple cider vinegar and cinnamon. Before sticking the cuttings into soil, dip the ends into a solution of 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) of cider vinegar in one gallon of water, then dip into ground cinnamon and poke into the soil.

I cannot vouch for these methods, but I do know that fresh cuttings from the ends of willow branches contain root-stimulating properties. I will probably try the honey solution, because the willows are still dormant and I've already put my sticks -- excuse me -- cuttings in soil.

I am hopeful. A year ago this past fall I took cuttings from the fig trees my husband was preparing to dig out. I think I took a dozen cuttings and one took hold, even though it was the wrong time of year to do it. That same year, but in the early spring, I took a cutting or two of the elderberries when I pruned them and just stuck them in the ground. They took root and grew leaves. 

So I'm hopeful. I guess that's what my gardening adventures are all about... Hope.

Before I go, here is a link to a Web site with instructions on how to propagate trees from hardwood cuttings. It doesn't mention hazels, but still, I'm hopeful.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Sweet, Sweet Potato Slips


Flowers of the sweet potato vine. Yes, they do look like morning glories. The two are closely related. Both are species of Ipomea. However, morning glories are somewhat toxic, and every bit of the sweet potato plant is edible.

Get ready, set, 

Start! Sprouting, that is.

Last week I put my "seed" sweet potatoes in a paper bag and set them in a warm spot for the "pre-sprouting" process. About the middle of February I'll pull them out of the bag and put them in soil. You can lay them in flats or place them vertically in pots and cover lightly with damp soil. Set them in a warm, bright location and wait for the sprouting to begin -- if it hasn't already started during pre-sprouting.

When the sprouts are six to 12 inches long, cut them free and root them in either water or soil. You can plant them straight into the garden soil, if it's the right time of year. The sweet potato is a tropical plant, so the weather and soil must be warm. 

Last year I started planting sweet potatoes in mid-May (I'm in Northeast Kansas), but can wait until late June. These were robust, rooted slips purchased from a local nursery. I also planted slips ordered from Kansas State University research garden. Those slips don't arrive until sometime in the first two weeks of June, and they are not rooted. While they can be directly planted in the garden, I feel better if I root them first. It is best to root them in pots of soil, rather than in a jar of water. If you root them in water, don't crowd them or cover a lot of the stem with water, as that will encourage rotting. I also ordered some slips from a seed company. They arrived late and were in poor shape due to being shipped during the hottest days we had last summer. I put them in a pots of soil and many of them survived.

This is the first time I've tried growing my own slips. I bought organic sweet potatoes from the grocery store because we've eaten all of the white-fleshed sweet potatoes I grew last year. They must be organic, as conventionally raised ones often have been sprayed with something to prevent sprouting. I will still buy some from the nursery and K-State this year, but the ones I got from the grocery store are different varieties. I will keep you posted. 

Once you've planted the slips in the garden, water them regularly until they are well established. I often water the newly planted slips daily, especially since I'm often watering new seed beds daily at that time.  Hot sun can stress the slips and delay their recovery, so I like to shade them a bit by suspending shade cloth over the beds. And I put up temporary fencing because the rabbits and deer find the leaves much to their liking.

Once the slips are well established, you can almost ignore them, except to water in long, dry periods -- and pruning the vines so they don't cover the entire garden. I've rarely had to water mine. However, in really loose, quickly draining soil, they will need regular watering. 

When pruning the vines, go ahead and eat the leaves. The younger ones are tastier and more tender. Cook them or eat them raw. The vines produce a milky sap, but don't let that worry you.

In late September to just before the first frost in October, I will start digging. Don't leave them until after frost or the soil starts to cool a lot, as that will damage your tubers. 

For more information on a sweet potato expert, check out this video from the Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners YouTube channel. It's from the advanced education segment that followed one of our meetings.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Winter Study

Winter. Baskets of bounty are a thing of the past season.

In the midst of winter
And the garden is so bare.

So what do I do now?
Stand out there and stare?

Now's the time for study,
To learn about the plants.
Then when spring comes
You'll be all out of can'ts.

Because you can.

That's what I say.
Check out these educational links
And learn some more today.

Then head down to the library
To find yourself some books.
Gardening just isn't 
As hard as it looks.

You can do lots in the winter... like, study. Head on down to the library and check out a bunch of books on various garden topics. If you're planning to save seeds from your garden this year, look for "The Seed Garden," published by the Seed Savers Exchange. You'll learn how far apart to plant different varieties of almost every vegetable so you get clean genes, as well as many other tips on seed saving. 

"The Organic Gardeners Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control" is a great book for troubleshooting garden issues. 

If you'd like to check out insect material, look for "Bees, Wasps, and Ants," by Eric Grissell. A really lovely book to read if you have any interest in honeybees is "Sweetness and Light," by Hattie Ellis. Also look for "Letters from the Hive," by Stephen Buchmann, and "The Hive," by Bee Wilson.

There are so many books on gardening that it is impossible to list them all. These are just a few on my bookshelf that I like to go to from time to time. Comment with your favorite book about gardening and how the rest of nature impacts your garden.

Lots of material also can be found online. Kansas State Research and Extension has an online "bookstore" from which you can download for free numerous publications. During the pandemic, K-State also started producing a monthly online event call the Garden Hour, at noon on the first Friday of each month. You must register to receive a link to access the live broadcasts, but you can find previous episodes on the Garden Hour Archive. 

Also during the pandemic, my Extension Master Gardeners group created a YouTube channel where we now post recordings of the educational presentations that follow each monthly meeting, as well as a few Speakers Bureau videos, short, educational videos by individual Master Gardeners. We also developed a more extensive Web site that includes upcoming and past activities, as well as blog posts about various topics.

Counting seeds and conducting germination tests on them is another winter activity. I went into detail on how to do a germination test in a Barefoot Gardener post last year. The next post detailed results.

I will try to post, from time to time, links to other sources, as well as helpful books. Mother Earth News is a good place to look for information, as well, both the hard copy magazine and online blogs.

Remember, winter is a time for rest, though. Don't get too caught up in being productive. Study and rest.

However, it is time to start transplants for onions, leeks and cabbage, as well as to start sprouting sweet potatoes for slips, which I will discuss in my next post.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Apples of My Eye

 Apparently, yesterday (Jan. 17) was a traditional date for wassailing the fruit trees.

I missed it again.

I don't know what is magical about that particular date, so do your wassailing whenever it suits... but in winter.

For those of you not familiar with this tradition, wassailing the fruit trees means having a party and parading through the orchard, banging drums, pots and pans, cymbals or making any other kind of raucous noise, presumably to scare away evil spirits that might harm the trees. Or maybe it's to wake up the trees. It's not clear. Then you select the main tree, or the most productive one and pour hard cider (preferably made from the recent harvest) on its roots, blessing it. You and your entourage must have cider, too. In some traditions the poorest tree would be threatened if it didn't shape up. I'd prefer to give it kind words and extra fertilizer. Sometimes toast is hung from the tree branches. I don't know why toast. It's just a thing that's done. Whatever, whenever, make it a party... even if it's just for you and the trees. Have fun. Hug the trees.

The prettiest apples from this past year's crop.

It seems more than coincidental that wassailing falls in the midst of pruning season for apple trees. A couple of weeks ago we spent about a week pruning ours, one tree a day. We've still got a couple more to do, but that needs to wait until some more urgent projects are taken care of -- like cutting firewood for next winter. We've got until March to finish the pruning. Other fruit trees are pruned at a different time of year.

Pruning goes much easier when two people are working on the same tree. One of us pruned from the ground, while the other climbed onto the ladder. When one of us was uncertain about whether to make a cut here or there, we had a second opinion readily available.

Our homegrown apples are all gone, except for those I made into apple butter. Apple butter is very simple to make, especially with a slow cooker. I used my 5-quart slow cooker, but any size will work, depending on how many apples you have. 

The most time-consuming part for you is cutting up the apples -- especially when they are as dinged up and chewed up as ours were. Slice, core and chop the apples, no need to peel. Fill the slow cooker to slightly mounded, but so the lid will stay on. Add seasonings, if you wish. I added a teaspoon or two of cinnamon to my recent batch, but I don't always add spices. Our apples were a little on the dry side, so I added about a cup of apple juice. However, I have made apple butter without the apple juice. Turn the slow cooker on high for about an hour or so, until you see the apples begin to cook down, then turn to low. Then leave them be, except for an occasional stir, for eight or 12 hours, until it's as thick as you want it. At some point, you'll want to crack the lid to allow moisture to escape. That will allow it to become really thick. 

I canned this year's batch of apple butter, but I often just put it in small jars and freeze it. Canning it requires the addition of lemon juice (but, oops, I forgot it) and the extra steps of  processing. Fortunately, it can be processed in a boiling water bath.

Another way we use a lot of apples, besides fresh eating, it to bake them, freeze them, and use them in cobblers and crumbles (we haven't discovered a way to may a serviceable pie crust, or there would be pie, too). After baking the apples, we put them in the pans in which we'll bake the cobblers and freeze. We release them from the pan by setting it in a little hot water and turning it upside down on a cookie sheet. We the stick it in the freezer to harden the slightly thawed bottom, then wrap in waxed paper and stick them in a plastic bag in the freezer.

 Then we can put together a cobbler or crumble at short notice, by taking out the formed apples and setting them in a baking pan. (BTW, they are really tasty when still frozen.) It doesn't take long for it to thaw enough to add the topping and bake. Please feel free to adjust seasonings and such in the following recipe to suit your taste.

Baked Apples
Approximately 4 quarts of cut up apples
½ cup brandy, apple juice, or water
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
Mix seasonings with brandy and pour over apples in a large bowl. Toss until apples are well coated. Put in baking dish; cover. Place in preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour or more, until very soft.

Put in dishes in which you want to freeze them, or cool a bit, top with crust of your choice, and bake.

 Up next: Wintering and sweet potato slips
To be followed by more recipes!

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Fire Tale

Sometimes things don't go as planned.
Or maybe they go as planned, but not quite the way you thought.
For weeks we contemplated the task of burning some brush piles in a grassy area north of our house and garden. Over a couple of years my husband has pruned up a lot of trees, most red cedars, and piled the limbs in that grassy area because it was out of the way and not really visible.
We had planned to eventually burn it, but it was not a priority until recently.
This past fall we decided to install a bank of ground-mount solar panels before our electric company met its net-metering maximum -- which is appeared it would meet sometime in November.
After considering a couple of other locations, this spot north of everything seemed the most ideal, given our choices. (The most ideal spot, in truth is an open area a little closer to our house, but it's the most open area because it's over our lateral field.)
So we had to get rid of the brush piles and some standing woody invasive plants before installation. We had already decided to postpone the installation to January, but knew there was no way we could be guaranteed appropriate weather for a burn if we waited.
We needed a perfect day for the burn, i.e. "not windy." Stiff winds are never good for a burn, but our site added a little extra anxiety because the brush piles sat in tall, dry grass with a substantial grove of large cedar trees looming too close for comfort. If you've ever seen a red cedar tree burn, you know why we were concerned. They go up whoosh. If the fire got into those large trees, it would have been hot and furious. No way would we be able to push it back on our own.
We contacted neighbors asking for help with the burn. The area is small so we didn't need many. Four volunteered. Six of us should easily contain it, barring any unexpected gusts of wind.
We watched the weather forecast and a Sunday three weeks ago appeared to be, not ideal, but workable. The high was expected to reach into the 40s and air calm winds. We told our volunteers the burn would begin at 11 a.m. and promised them a hearty lunch after.
We prepared -- rather, my husband did. 
My husband, the wizard, conjuring fire.
He gathered together several pairs of old jeans with which to beat out any escaping flames. All volunteers were asked to bring hand sprayers to douse little flames. We strung more than 200 feet of garden hose from our outdoor tap to the burn area and began by spraying the mowed fire break, making the short dry grass less appetizing to hungry flames and prevent fire from creeping toward the cedar trees. 

We had found two old cans of camp fuel (essentially, gasoline) in our garage and decided to use that to get things going fast. My husband dumped some on one of the brush piles. A match was struck and, fwoomp -- fire. 
But it didn't last long. Once the fuel was burned, little fire was left. The dried grass burned slowly, if at all. 
Contrary to our fears, the fire was not in danger of blazing out of control, things didn't burn easily.
It was maybe a little too cool, a little too damp, and a little too calm. The brush piles were not very dense and just didn't burn. 
We kept trying, though. Eventually we started consolidating the piles. I kept trying to light grass and some piles of dried garden debris near one of the smaller piles. A slight breeze sprang up, giving breath to the flames and sending them toward the wood piles.
The burn took a little longer than we anticipated, but we didn't have a blaze in the cedar trees.
And our volunteers were well-rewarded for their help with a hearty chicken soup lunch topped off with not one, but three kinds of desserts.
We are grateful for helpful neighbors.