Strawberry Beds-Spring Cleanup

strawberry bed in spring with row cover ready to cover when it freezes

strawberry bed in spring with row cover ready to cover when it freezes

Yesterday I raked out all the old leaves from my strawberry bed and sprinkled some fertilizer (I use yum-yum mix) and a fine layer of compost over the bed. This is the first year I’ve done anything for it in about 3 years and I noticed last year my strawberries were smaller so hopefully this will help.

The patch looks pretty rough and dry, dry dry so I watered heavily for about 1 hour after adding the amendments to give it a good drink. I did water it 2x during the winter but we didn’t get any appreciable snow this year so I hope it rebounds. I’ll also need to put the row cover back on tonight as it is supposed to get down to 29-28°F the next two nights as a few plants are already flowering—the cold will kill them if I don’t cover them.

You Little Tart!!

Lately I’ve been into making fruit tarts with our fruit harvest. The latest are these little strawberry-rhubarb tarts. The strawberries are over so I had to buy them but the rhubarb is kicking it and I’m looking for different ways to use it. A fiend of mine, Kathleen, asked for the tart recipe so here is the basic recipe for making tarts (from Julia Childs and Jacques Pepin) I like the tart pastry from Jacques Pepin better as I thought it was flakier than Julia’s so I put it in for the pastry. Get a tart pan if you don’t have one. I have both a big tart pan and little tart pans for individual servings.

 TART PASTRY (Jacques Pepin)

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour

1 1/3 sticks unsalted butter (5 1/3 oz)

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1 egg yolk

1-2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, butter and sugar and mix till butter is crumbly like the size of peas using a pastry blender or food processor.  Don’t overblend. You don’t want it completely smooth as the butter pieces gives it it’s flakiness. In a small bowl, mix together egg yolk and water and add to flour mixture. Knead lightly until dough is smooth-do not over knead or dough will be tough. Form it into a ball and put in plastic wrap and refrigerate it if not ready to make. Then when ready, put it between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and roll out till about 14 inches round. Peel off one side of the wrap and put in tart pan and then peel off the other side of the plastic wrap. Then I roll my rolling pin over the edges to cut off the dough. Prick bottom and sides with a fork and put in oven. Cook from 15-20+ minutes till lightly brown. Your oven may be different so check it a lot. The recipe originally said 30 minutes but that is way too long at this altitude. If the edges get browner before the center, put some foil over the edges to keep from burning. This can be done up to 12 hours ahead. Leave out-no need to refrigerate.

CRÈME PATISSIERE (Julia Child) This filling makes a lot so you may want to cut it in half or even into fourths because you want a thin amount of filling to put the fruit on. I had a ton left over making the full recipe.

6 egg yolks

heavy saucepan

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups hot milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon brandy

Separate egg yolks and blend with a wire whip in a heavy saucepan (cooks more evenly). Gradually beat in sugar until it is smooth. Add flour and whip in. GRADUALLY add hot milk stirring with the wire whip until smooth. Continue stirring CONSTANTLY with the whip till mixture is thick. As it turns lumpy whip harder till lumps are out.  Lower heat and cook a few more minutes till thickened stirring CONSTANTLY. Have I said that word enough-‘constantly’? Remove from heat and stir in butter and flavoring. Put plastic wrap right on top to keep it from getting thicker at the top and refrigerate. Leftover mixture can also be frozen for later use.

ASSEMBLING THE TARTS

Several hours before serving, put a thin layer of filling on bottom of pastry. The fruit is the main star in this recipe not the filling. Put fresh fruit like apricots, berries, kiwi or strawberries neatly on top of filling. Make a glaze using apricot or currant jam. Heat up the jam and add a few drops of warm water till it is the consistency of a glaze-spoon warm glaze over fruit).

In this picture I cooked the rhubarb with lots of sugar (to taste) in saucepan and then added some cornstarch as a thickening agent. Mix about 1 tablespoon cornstarch first with a little cold water so it won’t lump up and stir in and heat till thick.  You could do this with any fruit (take some of the fruit, add sugar then cook down and add cornstarch) if you want to make a glaze instead of buying jam.

Strawberries and rhubarb galore!

Oh yea-my June-bearing strawberries are ripening and the rhubarb is kicking it.  I love both of these perennials in the garden. They are easy and productive without much trouble and they come back year after year. They are also some of the first crops to produce which is great in June while we wait for the rest of the crops to come in.

Here are some strawberries we harvested during one picking session. There are tons on the plants this year as compared to last year when we got zero because of that super cold winter which almost killed them. I cover the strawberries with row cover after they flower but before the berries are red to keep the birds off them. Works like a charm. After the strawberries are finished I will take the row cover off them for the rest of the year. Sorry birds!

Here is the rhubarb we harvested. My variety is Victoria which is a very prolific green variety with a slight red blush instead of the red varieties that are available. There is no difference in taste with either red or green. Be sure to cut off the leaves which are poisonous. The leaves have high amounts of oxalic acid (the same as in spinach-only spinach has much lower safer amounts of oxalic acid). I cut it off about 1 inch below the leaf and at the ground level. The stalk is the part we eat. It is very tart so we need to add a good amount of sugar to sweeten it up when cooking.

So I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie! You mix up 3 cups strawberries with 3 cups rhubarb mixture with 1.5 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in a big bowl and put the mixture in an uncooked pie shell. Then I put a crust on top of the mixture.

Before I could get a picture of the whole pie after it came out of the oven, everyone got into it first. Yum! Juicy and sweet.

What have I been doing?

I’ve been busy in the garden! It is ALMOST  finished. I have 8 more tomatoes to plant tomorrow that I forgot to get that are some of my standards at the SF Farmer’s Market. OPPS! But they will be ready in time.

Two weekends ago I had 7 friends/family help with planting the majority of the tomatoes. A great big THANK YOU to all that helped-Elodie, Flynn, Ronnie, Lava, Tom, Sharon and myself! I couldn’t have done it without you! I also have a few more flower seeds to plant by the entry. Otherwise it’s done-FINITO! Yea right-there is always something to do in the garden! Here are some of the things happening in the garden:

The fava beans are looking good. Here they are flowering. I like the black and white flowers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen black and white flowers on a plant before. They had some aphids so I sprayed them with insecticidal soap and they are looking better. They have baby fava beans on them now.

The beets and carrots are coming along quite nicely. They are outside the pole bean tent area and will fill in nicely

Here are some beet greens I harvested while thinning out the beets to give them room to grow. They are yummy in a salad and are so beautiful.

In the shadiest part of the garden I planted some bok choi and lettuce and have had it covered with row cover since planting to help keep them from the heat and bugs. They both are looking great. I’ve never grown bok choi before so I’ll have to research when to harvest as they are getting to be pretty big and won’t like the heat for too long.

The fennel bulbs are getting bigger and are almost ready to harvest. Maybe another 2 weeks. They also won’t do well in the heat. I wonder if they will get as big as the ones in the grocery store..

About half of the tomatoes I previously planted are growing out of the top of the wall of waters and I need to take them off before it gets too difficult.

It’s been fun growing some early stuff. The bok choi, fava beans, fennel and lettuce are more cool season crops and will have to be harvested soon because of the heat. Probably all of them will be harvested BEFORE July.

I also have potatoes that are growing through the roof, strawberries that are being harvested and rhubarb that is ready to pick but will save that for other posts.

Winterizing perennial vegetables

Strawberry patch shown here in July need protection now

We should winterized our perennial vegetables and fruits. I have rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries. I already winterized my rhubarb, covering it with some straw and the leaves have died back under it but the roots are protected under the straw. Next I’ve been waiting for the asparagus ferns to turn brown and they just started so now I can cut them back to 3-4 inches high and cover them with straw too. Lastly I have a pretty big strawberry patch (about 8 feet x 40 feet) and was most concerned with it as I almost lost it last year when I did NOTHING to winterize it. So after the -20°F we had last winter, I want to make sure I help it for this winter. I’m going to cover it with about 6-8 inches of straw this year. It’s leaves are still green with the underside of them red. This week I will cover them for the winter. DON’T FORGET TO WATER YOUR PERENNIALS THIS WINTER as well especially if we don’t get any snow.

Strawberries

One of my fellow gardeners in the Las Vegas, NM area, Gene, asked me about strawberries and I thought what a good post it would make.

TYPES: Strawberries come in three types: June Bearing, Day Neutral and Everbearing.

June bearing strawberries: The most traditional berry that produces a single crop in early spring or June and are largest in size of the 3 types.  They produce for a 2-3 week period. It is the type I have. I got them from a friend who was thinning out her strawberry bed and I planted them 3 years ago so I’m not sure what variety but for sure they are June bearing type cause that’s when I harvest. Give them room cause they will take over areas. I’ve already let it spread out twice but I love strawberries so I don’t care. This winter I got hit hard with the extreme cold temperatures and lots about half but I’m sure they’ll come back.

Day Neutral strawberries: They produce continuously throughout the summer. They have smaller berries and fewer runners. These would be good for limited space.

Everbearing strawberries: Produce 2-3 crops per year-one in June, then late summer and again in fall. They also have smaller berries and fewer runners. These would also be good for limited space.

VARIETIES: You’ll have to do some research to learn more about these varieties listed here:

  • Early – Earlidawn, Catskill, Raritan
  • Midseason – Surecrop, Redcheif, Midway
  • Late – Guardian, Fletcher, Sparkle

PLANTING: With all strawberries, they like a soil with lots of compost so be sure to heavily amend your soil before planting the plants. Plant in full sun. Dig a hole that will accommodate the roots in the soil but be sure to keep the crown at or just above the ground level-otherwise it may rot. Plant about 18″ apart. Don’t worry if that seems like a lot of space, each plant will put out runners and baby plants from the runners and soon it will fill in.

Pick off any flowers the first year so the plant can put it’s energy into growing instead of making fruit.

Harvest the second and third year and then thin out, taking the original ‘mother plant’ leaving room for the babies. The babies will produce more fruit if you thin out as the original plants will slow down. So dig them out, start a new patch or give them to a friend. June bearing types put out a lot of runners and baby plants every year and must be thinned out for sure every 3 years.  Trim off the runners if they are running over your boundaries. I don’t know about the other types and how much they run.

PROTECTION: Now to keep the birds from eating them–I DON”T use that ‘bird’ netting as I got a small bird caught in one and it died and I felt awful so now I just cover the patch with row cover. I can water right through it and just pull it back to harvest. Much better. This is my third year so I will see how many I get what with the winter damage. Last year (second year) I got a ton and they were great!

For winter protection, some people put about 6 inches of straw over them after it freezes. I don’t bother, maybe I should have this past winter!

Plant peas, spinach, and arugula on St. Patrick’s Day

Today is ST. PATRICK’S DAY- TIME TO PLANT PEAS, SPINACH AND ARUGULA. I always plant them right around now and use the holiday as a reminder. I stayed home today to recoup after putting Butch down. Getting my hands in the soil is always grounding for me. Lots of things to do right now regarding gardening. Here are some of the things I did today.

COLDFRAME-I inspected the rabbit damage to see if the spinach seedlings are salvageable. All but one of them are starting to grow back from the crown which were undamaged. I planted seeds of the following in the coldframe:

SPINACH-Bloomsdale-45 days in the other half of the coldframe.

CHARD-I didn’t know (or remember) that chard is a biennial (meaning two years) but spends it’s second year mostly growing to produce seed which is why they never seem to produce as big of leaves the second year. I will pull them and plant more chard seeds-white variety.

OUTSIDE RAISED BED-Checked the outside raised beds by the house. Last fall I I dug some old horse manure into one of them and it looks great. I planted the following seeds and covered them with row cover to keep the rabbits from them:

PEAS-Dwarf Grey peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II-60 days

SPINACH-Bloomsdale-45 days and a giant variety of spinach (there I go again!) called Monstrueux de Viroflay-50 days

BUTTERHEAD LETTUCE-Yugoslavian Red-40 days

MESCLUN-Provencal mix-40 days

CILANTRO

CUTTING LETTUCE-a new super red variety of  called Sea of Red-40 days

ROMAINE-Paris Island Cos-68 days

ARUGULA-Apollo-30 days

IN THE SECOND RAISED BED- Took out the last of the carrots from fall that overwintered. They should be extra sweet! The garlic I bought at SF Farmers Market last fall is coming up in it. Lightly dug in some Yum-Yum Mix in the remainder of the bed as I’m going to plant more carrots, beets and shallots which are heavy feeders and need some extra fertilizer especially if you are putting them back in the same area. I will plant:

CARROTS- Purple Haze and Danvers

BEETS-Detroit Dark Red-60 days, Bulls Red Beet-50 days and Early Wonder beet-48 days

DUTCH SHALLOTS-picked up some Dutch Red Shallots while I wait for the French shallots to arrive. Should be a good taste test at harvest time.

MAIN GARDEN-I hooked up the hose and watered the strawberries and the asparagus. Underneath the layer of dried leaves in the strawberry bed I see new leaves starting to grow from the crowns. The asparagus is either dead from our very cold winter or they haven’t started growing yet, we will see..