Friday, February 26, 2010

Surprises Lurk Beneath the Snow

We were lucky to escape most of the wrath of the storm that raged up the East Coast this week. Overnight it brought a lot of rain and heavy winds that washed out some roads and caused some power outages in surrounding areas. Early today the sun was out and most of the snow that was on the ground was washed away by the rain.

This is how the Square Foot Gardens looked last week:

And here they are today:

The spinach overwintered:

The sage has some new growth:

And the thyme is still alive too:

It looks like this storm is going to linger here over the weekend and provide us with another covering of snow. It was encouraging to view this sneak peek. Spring will be here soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ricotta Gnocchi

Allison at A Tasteful Garden recently posted a recipe for Gnocchi which brought back memories of childhood and Sunday dinners with my family.

I was fortunate to have lots of family surrounding me as I was growing up. The home we lived in was fashioned into several apartments and my grandparents and great aunt lived above us.

My grandmother and her sister came to the United States from Italy when they were children. They and their mother joined their father who had come here previously and became established before sending for his family.

Not surprisingly, Italian meals with various homemade pastas and tomato sauce made from ingredients from our gardens were often served at our large Sunday dinners. Gnocchi was among my favorites.

The most common way to make gnocchi seems to be with potatoes. From the stories I heard, my grandmother and great aunt used to make their Gnocchi with potatoes, but boiling potatoes seemed to take up precious stovetop space when preparing large meals, so they began making Gnocchi with ricotta cheese instead.

I remember the first time my Aunt Mary attempted to show my father and I how to make Gnocchi. She used a large cutting board and her hands to mix the ingredients explaining to us that you had to go by the way the dough felt.

First she placed a few scoopfuls of flower on the board, then made a well in the center where she added eggs, ricotta cheese, and salt. Using her fingers, she gently mixed the dough together until combined. Then continued kneading the dough until it formed a ball, adding a sprinkling of flower every now and then until it “felt” right.

Then she would take sections of the dough and roll out into a long rope shape. Using a sharp knife, she would expertly cut the dough at an angle into uniform dumpling shapes, then flick them down the tines of a fork giving them a scoop like indention on one side grooves on the other.

She would sprinkle with flour and let the Gnocchi set for a bit before placing them into boiling water. Once they floated, they were done.

She made it look so easy.

Over time with lots of practice and careful observation, my parents and I eventually got the hang of it and were able to nail down a basic recipe. Although my Gnocchi will never taste the same as my Aunt Mary’s, and I was never able to mix the ingredients on a board without making a huge mess, it is an acceptable recipe for a comfort food that brings me warm memories.

Ricotta Gnocchi

16 oz. container ricotta cheese (pour off excess liquid)
2 eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour, or as needed
Sauce of your choice

In a large bowl, add 1.5 cups of flour. Make a well in the center and add ricotta cheese, eggs, Parmesan, and salt. Mix until combined.

Turn mixture to a well flowered board and begin gently kneading. Add more flour as necessary until dough stops sticking to your fingers. Form into a large ball.

Divide the dough into four sections, and roll each section into 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut each rope in 1-inch pieces.

To make the ridges, roll each piece down the tines of a fork or gnocchi board. It’s ok if they look a little funny, it will take some practice to get the pressure correct.

Sprinkle gnocchi with a little flower, spread them out, and allow them to rest a bit while you heat the sauce and bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.

Gently add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until they float to the surface. This only takes a few minutes.

Drain and place into a serving bowl. Spoon sauce over gnocchi and stir lightly with a wooden spoon until mixed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February Seedling Update

The first batch of Onions were seeded on 2/7. The first three rows on the left on the Copra onions at 2 weeks:

The last three rows on the right are the Patterson onions also at two weeks:

Not a lot of growth since last week. I think they need to adjust to being both off the heat mat and out from under the humidity dome. It is pretty cool in the basement.

The second batch of Copra onions seeded on 2/14 sprouted and I have added these to the onion flat:

I am going to seed another small batch of Patterson onions in soil blocks to fill this tray. Might as well, right?

While the onions spouted pretty consistently, the other seeds I have planted have not.

Only five out of sixteen soilblocks of spinach seeded on 2/14 have sprouted so far:

Three out of twelve soilblocks of Parsley seeded on 2/8 have sprouted:

I am going to give these a little more time. There is still time to reseed since most of the seeds above were planted earlier than my seed starting schedule. I just can’t help myself.

Speaking about not being able to help myself…

Even though I have planned out the garden and developed a seed starting schedule, I still can’t resist seed packages in the stores. I thought I should use fresher seeds for broccoli, spinach, and wanted a different variety of cucumbers. So I justified picking up a few packages…but the Swiss Chard wasn’t in my plans:

Thomas’s celery seedlings looked so cute, that I wanted to try some too. I found Tall Utah seeds at one of the big box stores, next thing I knew the package was in my hand:

Right now, the plan is to build a couple extra Self Watering Containers to accommodate extra plants. I am thinking that celery may do well in a SWC since it requires a lot of water.

This weekend I seeded some more Patterson Onions, Celery, and another variety of Spinach.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Update on the Onions: Week 1

I love the way onions emerge from the soil. They break through the soil with an elbow or knee first, then straighten out and stretch upwards towards the light.

I moved the onions from the salad trays to a regular flat over the weekend. The humidity dome was removed today.

Copra Onions are on the left side:

Patterson Onions are on the right:

So far they seem to be growing at the same rate even though the Copra sprouted one day before the Patterson.

I tested the Evergreen Bunching Onion seeds to see if they would sprout by sprinkling them on a wet coffee filter, folding it in quarters, and placing it in a zipper bag. The seeds are old and as suspected, never sprouted. So I am planting more Copra and Patterson Onions instead thinking they can be harvested early like I would scallions.

Some of you warned me that seed starting was addicting. I couldn’t help myself and planted some lettuce, parsley, spinach and cilantro over the weekend since I have the space.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

First Seeds Sprouted - Onions

Today when I got home from work and checked out the seed starting area, I saw two little soil blocks of onions have sprouted! I planted the seeds on 2/6, but didn’t place the flats on a heat mat until yesterday 2/9.

I planted four onion seeds per soil block and covered them lightly with a bit of the soil block mix. I left one uncovered and it looks like all four seeds sprouted:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

First Seeds Planted – Onions

It is actually earlier than my seed schedule, but I really wanted to plant something. I hope I have better self control in the weeks ahead. My seedling heating mat is on order and should arrive by the end of the week. Looks like I am going to need it for germinating. The temperature in the basement is around 50˚F/10C.

For those of you who plant according to the Farmer's Almanac Moon Calendar, February 6-7 is a good time to start onion seeds. I don’t follow the Moon Calendar, but came across this information and thought it was an interesting coincidence that I planted my onions on these dates.

I am planning on at least 130 onion plants in the SFG, plus 64 bunching onions to be seeded at a later date. It seems like a lot, but a MOFGA article titled, “Start Onions From Seed Now (February/March)” by Jean English, suggests that if you eat one onion per day, plant 400 seedlings, of you eat two onions per week, plan on growing a little over 100 onion plants.

There are many options to consider when planting onion seeds. Some plant mass seeds in an undivided flat and separate the seedlings at transplant time. Some plant one or two per cell in flats. At first, I wanted to plant one per 2-inch soil block, because I thought it would be easy to transplant into the Square Foot Gardens (SFGs). Then I realized how much space 130 onion seedlings would require and most of my seed shelves would then be occupied by just onions. I have a lot more seeds to plant so needed to conserve space.

In the book, Four Season Harvest, Elliot Colman describes a Dutch multiplant idea and used onions as an example. He suggests planting four onion seeds in a group then transplant to the garden as a unit, “The onions growing together push each other aside gently and at harvest time are lying in a series of small circles rather than single rows.” (p 100).

This multiplant idea is also echoed in MOFGA’s article, “Start Onions From Seed Now (February/March)” by Jean English, which also suggests grouping onion transplant seedlings and onion sets in four and plant 6-inches apart.

To conserve some space under the growing lights, I decided to plant four seeds per soil block requiring only 32 soil blocks. So in the SFG, instead of the recommended 16/sq ft spacing, I will plant four soil blocks/sq ft.

We will see how it goes. I can always thin if I find that the onions are looking a bit crowded.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Seed Starting Area

I set up a seed starting area in the basement on the workbench. For several weeks, I have been shopping around for shelving units that would accommodate a 4-foot shop light per shelf. I wasn’t able to find one, but I did find two 24-inch shelving units.

Placed side by side, I am able to hang two 4-foot shop lights across each shelf. The shelves are 14-inches deep and can accommodate two 4-foot shop lights each if I find that I need to place two rows of plants on each shelf.

I just need to find a heating mat, power strip with a timer, and settle on a soil block mix and I think I am ready.