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Vigorous & delicious Swiss chard

Vigorous, delicious, beautiful Swiss chard

I have often seen school gardens with vibrant, beautiful chard leaves left to wither. How sad! Chard belongs to the same family as Spinach (Amaranthaceae), does not have a chalky taste, and can often be used in spinach recipes. This recipe (an adaptation of one of the many variants of Boston Market Creamed Spinach) can be modified in many different ways, including as a creamy sauce over baked chicken or pork, sprinkled with buttered bread crumbs!

INGREDIENTS

  • Fresh chard leaves from garden, about 1 very large bowl (about 1.5 gal/6 litre capacity).  I don’t use stems but these can be set aside for a stir fry meal.
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1.5 – 2 cups chicken broth, milk or a mixture of both
  • 1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Gruyere also do fine)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (I use mild-tasting non-virgin)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic – minced
  • 1 medium onion – diced

There are 3 parts in preparing the meal:

  1. Harvest a very large bowl of chard leaves and steam till cooked but not overdone.  Overcooked chard or spinach is yech, so it’s best to undercook. You just want the leaves to soften. You should end up with at least 2 cups of chard.  Let drain and cool. Chop them up in large chunks so they’ll be easy to mix in with the sauce.
  2. Make a roux: Melt ~6 tablespoons of butter. Add ~3 tablespoons of flour. Mix well. Then add 1.5 – 2 cups of chicken broth or milk or a mixture of both. Mix well till smooth. Then add about 1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Gruyere also do fine). The consistency should not be too thick/heavy or too watery.
  3. In a separate pan, heat about 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add minced garlic and diced onions till golden or caramelized. Add the chard and saute about 3-5 minutes. Slowly add the roux and mix well. Taste before seasoning with any additional salt. Add spices like pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Bon appetit!

Voilà! A fabulous accompaniment or use it as a flatbread dip

Voilà! A fabulous accompaniment or use it as a flatbread dip

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The publicity surrounding the White House garden just hit The New York Times yesterday, and is spreading like wildfire among avid vegetable gardeners.  We took a peak at the layout as spec’d by Assistant White House Chef, Sam Kass.

To figure out exactly what he had in mind, we recreated the White House vegetable garden layout on Plangarden (click on image):

Check out Plangarden layout of proposed White House veggie garden!

Check out Plangarden layout of proposed White House veggie garden!

It’s fabulous to see that the beds will have good companion flowers like marigolds and nasturtiums to attract beneficial insect and pollinators.  The choice of crops appears to be weighted to those plants most likely to succeed, esp. in the hands of school children who are going to be involved in planting and maintaining it.  However,

  • There’s way too much spinach!  How about some easy-to-grow bok choi? And once July comes around, the four beds of spinach will have to be replaced by something, hopefully a light-feeding, heat-tolerant veggie.  Perhaps a late harvest heirloom tomato.
  • Speaking of which … where are the TOMATOES?  What about potatoes?  Bush 😉 and pole beans?  Cucumbers?  Bell peppers?  Green onions?  Corn?  Gosh, these are no-brainer, sure success veggies.  Malia and Sasha are sure to enjoy cherry tomatoes through the early autumn.
  • With all that nitrogen-hungry spinach, crop rotation has got to be in the plan as well.  We suggest that at least two different plans are created:  one for early, and one for mid-season.  The First Family is sure to enjoy garlic in their meals, so that’s a good one to plant in October.
  • We seem to be missing items mentioned in the NYTimes article like the tomatillos, hot peppers and basil.  An oversight, perhaps.

So what do you think about Sam Kass’ proposed layout?

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Some kids like broccoli!

Some kids like broccoli!

“Mom, can I munch on this onion?”

You get the picture.  Some veggies just aren’t ideal crops for a kid’s first garden.  Children love to graze, and you’ll want to encourage them to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Although there will be exceptions for some kids who really love broccoli or spinach, for first-timers, have a look at our Top 10 Veggies for Kids to Grow.

To help maintain your child’s enthusiasm for the “stuff” that grows out of her garden, here’s a list of edibles that you might want to OMIT from your kid’s first garden:

  1. Asparagus – can take 2-3 years before produces a strong, harvest-able crop
  2. Cabbage – not munchable, often susceptible to cabbage worms
  3. Cauliflower – high maintenance (blanching), often susceptible to cabbage worms
  4. Eggplant – slimy
  5. Hot peppers – some have oils on the outer layer that can irritate the skin
  6. Okra – fuzzy, spiky, slimy
  7. Onions and garlic – yuck, Mom!
  8. Spinach – can be chalky, though we’ve enjoyed good varieties
  9. Turnips – best to stick to radishes
  10. Zucchini – thorny/prickly, though can equip the neighborhood with baseball bats

For specific projects like pizza gardens where the objective is to harvest ingredients that go into making a finished meal, some ingredients in the list above would not apply.

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Kids love veggie gardening together!

Kids love veggie gardening together!

There are many benefits in introducing children to grow their own food.  Parents and educators may wish to help develop responsibility, a sense of accomplishment and contribution to the home, as well as give kids the opportunity to see the magic of watching something grow.  Your motivations will be your own, but I encourage you to grow vegetables with your kids.

We came up with a list of “kid-friendly” veggies that

  • Kids enjoy – nothing beats picking something and eating it right on the spot
  • Are easy to grow – something you’re pretty sure will be successful

You’ll need to consider these suggestions in light of what grows best in your area.  For instance, melons don’t do well in our cool, foggy summer climate, so alas, we don’t bother growing them.   Lastly, make sure your kids have ease of access to their gardens – either in containers or narrow beds.  Remember they’ve got more limited vertical and stretch reach.  It isn’t much fun having to bushwack your way to get to a bean!

Early season harvest:

1.    Radishes
2.    Sugar Snap Peas
3.    Strawberries (ok, this is a fruit, but so is a tomato! You get the idea.)

Mid-season harvest:

4.    Carrots
5.    Pole or Bush Beans
6.    Cherry Tomatoes

Mid-to-late season harvest:

7.    Corn
8.    Melons
9.    Potatoes
10.  Pumpkins

Root crops like radish help break the top crust and is a good companion to carrots.  Kids may not swoon over the taste, but radishes grow quickly, and allow your little ones to quickly make a contribution to the dinner table.  Carrots are an age-old favorite which kids can munch on as they learn to thin the rows.

Sugar snap peas, strawberries and cherry tomatoes are wonderful “pop-in-your-mouth” food right off the vine or with a quick rinse of water.

Pole beans are fun to trail along teepees, and delicious raw and cooked.  We grow a purple variety (“Royal Burgundy”) that turns green when steamed – a “doneness” indicator!

Fresh, sweet corn can’t be beat (even munching it straight off the stalk), but it takes lots of nitrogen.

Harvesting sunflower seeds

Harvesting sunflower seeds

There’s nothing like the sweetness of home-grown melons, if you’re lucky to have both the space and climate to grow them.  They will require lots of water, but little ones will love harvesting their desserts!

Tall, majestic sunflowers are impressive to little kids.  The hour or two to harvest seeds is a great bonding opportunity on a balmy Indian summer day.

Carving their home-grown pumpkin!

Carving their home-grown pumpkin!

When it’s time to dig out the potatoes, our son invites his neighborhood friends to find the “Easter eggs”.

Pumpkins and gourds can take a lot of room in a garden, but if you’ve got a spare patch that can be left to cultivate the fruit over 4 months, your kids will love to show them off to their friends and schoolmates!

Next up, the “Top 10 Least Desireable Veggies For Kids To Grow” !

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Shoveling dirt into wheelbarrows for HEAL Project

Shoveling dirt into wheelbarrows for HEAL Project

One of the rewarding pastimes of vegetable gardening is observing how much fun kids have digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and best of all, harvesting the fruit!  We hope our readers will have opportunities to be involved in their community or school gardens as we had at the HEAL Project from our school district.  They’ve successfully built veggie gardens over the last 2 years at three of our local elementary schools.

We’ve also enjoyed visiting the School Garden Wizard site for its practical advice and resources in planning vegetable gardens for organizations.

Preparing the beds for HEAL Project

Preparing the beds for HEAL Project

If you operate a school or community garden, please let us know.  We offer Plangarden software at significant discounts to non-profits!

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