Sunday, April 17, 2011

Interview with Garden To Be

Gardener Steve Laubach inspects some of Garden To Be's cold-weather seedlings.
Photo courtesy of Matt Goupell

As announced in this month's garden column, Garden To Be sold cold-weather seedlings in the Eagle Heights Gardens this past Sunday, April 17th from 10am - 1pm. If you missed the opportunity to stock up on some of this Mt. Horeb vendor's great plants, be sure to check them out at the Dane County Farmer's Market and mark your calendars for the warm-weather sale. Garden To Be will be back selling warm-weather plants Sunday, May 22nd. More details will be posted in the May garden column.

Eagle Heights Garden staff recently asked Garden To Be co-owners Scott Williams and April Yancer a few questions about their favorite vegetables. Read on for their insider knowledge on some of the plants Garden To Be offers.

1. What is your favorite kind of tomato?
We can't pick just one.  Sun Golds for cherry; Pruden's Purple, Golden Sunray for fresh (salads, sandwich); San Marzano for sauce and salsa.

2. Why do you prefer the Diva Cucumber over other varieties?
It is quite simply the best cucumber on the planet.  It has very thin skin, incredible flavor, and is highly productive.

3. What do you recommend growing for greens?
We like the rainbow chard for fun and attractiveness.  You only need to plant it once, early in the season. Pick and eat greens June through October.  It's really hard to beat.

4. What's your favorite variety of pepper?
Italia frying peppers. They are thick-walled, early peppers and have a really amazing sweet flavor when ripe red.  They're also excellent for roasting whole on the grill.

5. What recipes highlight some of your cold-weather crops?
We love cooking with our red cabbage. Early planting gets you fresh red cabbage slaw for the summer. Does anyone remember the Taqueria Gila Monster on King St.?  We loved their cilantro, citrus, red cabbage slaw - I think there is a recipe in From Asparagus to Zucchini.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 2011 - Organizational Notes

Accepted Eagle Heights and University Houses gardeners received their plot assignments in March. Applications received from now on will go on a waiting list. The Eagle Heights Gardens will hold its 2nd Annual Plant Sale on two dates this spring. Cool-weather seedlings will be sold from 10am – 1pm on April 17th and warm-weather seedlings will be offered on May 22nd (hours TBA – check the garden website). Mark your calendars! The same vendors, Scott Williams and April Yancer of Garden To Be, will be selling the local organic plants by the Eagle Heights Gardens main tool shed.

Garden To Be is based in Mt. Horeb, WI and sells certified organic specialty vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Owners Scott and April believe strongly in providing local seasonal produce while maintaining ecological stewardship. They swear that eating fresh, sun-warmed cherry tomatoes is part of the human experience. Their famous Sun Gold sweet cherry tomato starter plants will be available for purchase at the May 22nd Eagle Heights Plant Sale. Plants available at the earlier April 17th sale include Bright Lights Rainbow Swiss Chard, cabbage, parsley, thyme, sage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, pac choi, tatsoi, kale, mustard, leeks, lettuce, and onions. Prices range from $1.75 to about $4.

You can also find Garden To Be at the Dane County Farmer’s Market and on Facebook. More information about the vendor and specific plants available for purchase can be found at,, or by email:

Now that you’ve received your plot assignment (please use the map and plot markers; ask for help if you’re not sure) and started preparing the soil and clearing weeds, it’s time to start planting! April is the time to plant peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, beets, radishes, and greens like lettuce and spinach. If frost is still a possibility, consider placing a clean milk jug with the bottom removed over your seed sites. Weigh the jugs down with flat rocks or other heavy objects. Also, remember that you will need to carry your own water into the gardens until mid-April, when the garden taps are turned on.

April 2011 - Growing Spring Greens

As the weather has been getting warmer, my thoughts have been turning to fresh spring greens in particular. Lately, I have been paying close attention to the non-lettuce greens that have been appearing in the salad mixes I’ve seen at the store or in restaurants. Many less-common greens tend to hold up better than lettuce and add a variety of additional nutrients. All of the following types of greens should be suitable for growing in our Wisconsin climate as early as April. As a general rule, thin the plants out to 4-6 inches between other plants, water well, and keep in partial shade during the hottest part of summer. Greens can also be planted between other taller plants to save space in your plot and can be harvested for many weeks if pruned regularly.

The first such green to catch my attention is corn salad, also known as mâche, field salad, or lamb’s lettuce. Corn salad grows in a low rosette. It is green and hardy, but tender and mild to eat. Originally corn salad was a foraged food, and it still grows wild on cultivated land in some areas. Corn salad has three times the amount of Vitamin C as lettuce and also contains beta-carotene, B vitamins, Vitamin E, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Harvest the leaves when they are about the size of a quarter or smaller and before the plant grows flowers. Corn salad will re-seed itself if left to flower.

The next green I’d like to try growing is upland cress. Cress has the peppery, tangy flavor of watercress but does not need to grow in water as watercress does. Cress does well in well-watered, fertile soil and should be kept in partial shade during the hottest months. Begin harvesting the leaves when they are “baby greens” size.

Members of the endive family would also be fun to grow. Endives can be cooked or eaten raw, have a slightly bitter flavor, and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Endives are high in folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, and fiber. They are also frost-resistant. One main type of endive is friseé, which has long narrow leaves that are green and curly. Friseé is a great addition to any salad. The other main type of endive is escarole, which has wide leaves that are pale green. Escarole is often sautéed or added to salads or soups. Endives are easy to grow from spring through fall. They can be eaten as seedlings, more mature leaves, or as larger heads that have been forced (deprived of light and kept in a confined space). Endives grow more easily than lettuce in low-light conditions

Radicchio and Belgian endives are also members of the endive family. Radicchio is often found in packaged salad mixes. It has a firmer texture than lettuce and has variegated white-and-red or green-and-red leaves. Radicchio has a bitter, spicy taste, which can be mellowed if grilled or roasted.

Belgian endives, on the other hand, are grown completely underground or indoors to prevent the leaves from sun exposure. Sun causes the leaves to turn green and open, which gives them an unpleasant bitterness. Belgian endives should be cream colored, tightly packed heads. The whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. Leaves can be stuffed, baked, boiled, and eaten raw or in salads. They are particularly good with cheese. Discard the hard inner part of the stem before consuming. To harvest, cut the leaves from the living plant and keep the living stem and root in soil in a dark place.

Winter purslane, also known as miner’s lettuce or claytonia, is another green worth cultivating. Purslane is another hardy green with a mild flavor. Purslane has attractive bright green leaves that are fleshy and triangular, and grows decorative white flowers. The entire plant is edible.

Last on the list are the more common lettuces, arugula, and spinach. Varieties of lettuce include butterhead, crisphead, romaine or cos, looseleaf, leaf lettuce, and salad bowl. They generally are mild tasting and produce larger leaves. They should be spaced 6-15 inches apart, depending on the variety. Arugula is fast-growing and has a spicy flavor. Arugula can be harvested as early as three weeks after planting. The flowers are also edible. Space plants about 6 inches apart and consider placing floating row cover over them to help deter flea beetles. Spinach is a wonderful green to grow in large quantities. Whatever you can’t consume can be briefly boiled and frozen. Place spinach plants about 6 inches apart and start picking the leaves when they are about 2 inches. Pull the whole plant when leaves are 6-8 inches large to prevent bolting (plant gets tall and tough-textured).