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Category Archives: Edible Landscaping

Kale’s Misfortune

August 6, 2019

We had grandiose plans; to indulge and savor, to be nourished and satisfied. Our beautifully designed spring kale bed promised countless ways to enjoy this luscious, leafy green. An imaginative plan was developed using five different varieties of kale. Our centrally located statuary garden would be transformed into graceful spirals of translucent whites to radiant pinks. Concentric circles of the lovely Scarlet Kale with her delicious frilly, red curled leaves gently ushered in sassy little Dwarf Siberian Kale, a very hardy and productive Russian variety.

Above: Scarlet Kale

Red Russian, poetically referred to as the peacock of the kale family, adorned our bed with its striking red leaf stalks and delicate purple veins running through silver green leaves. But it was the visually stunning blue-green hues of Blue Curled Scotch that completed the rich and vibrant look of our 2019 Ombre theme. Or, so we hoped.

Above: Blue Curled Scotch Kale

As spring rains gave way to the warm days of summer, we were increasingly pleased with our Brassicaceae family reunion. And then quite suddenly, Mother Nature spoke to us. Her language was somewhat stern and unforgiving. She reminded us that our visit had come too soon. While family gatherings are happy, joyful occasions filled with laughter and sweet memories, a time of separation is sometimes needed before a return.

Shamefully, we had not listened. Members of the same family had previously made a visit to our garden. Two other times to be exact. We should have known better than to include them a third time. Was it the unwelcomed pests harboring in the soil who were waiting for the right moment to “crash” our party? Or, had the lovely cabbage white butterfly swooped down from above to deposit her eggs on the underside of a leaf? Either way, our mistake had encouraged, even invited the destruction to begin. As the tiny little green worms emerged, along with them came a voracious appetite. A simple appetizer wasn’t going to satisfy, they had come for a feast.

After only a few short weeks of devastation, our bed of dreams began to resemble an alien invasion. The chomping and nibbling had wiped us out. Except for one indulgent over-eater, the lacy remnants of frass (aka, solid excreta of insects) was all that remained of our beautiful kale crop. The cross-stripped caterpillar showed no mercy, he was victorious in winning the battle.

Kale Bed in early July after the cabbage worm attack

Moving forward, we’ve learned a lesson the hard way. Instructions for the next family reunion will be respectfully observed.

  1. Members of the same family, in this case…Brassicaceae…won’t meet again for three years.
  2. Rotating plant families is important for managing pests and soil fertility in the garden.
  3. To improve the fertility status of garden soil, members of other families such as Fabaceae, the legume family, can be grown to add nitrogen to the soil.

Should nutrient-rich kale make a future visit, we hope to enjoy her delicious charms.

Linda Alexander

Pictures courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Refer to Caterpillar Alert, Who’s Eating our Kale?


2 Fantastic Classes, Learn, Learn, Learn at our Garden!

Everyone Welcome, no reservations required.

Tomorrow: Wednesday, August 7, 10am, Shade Gardening

Friday, August 23, 10am Texas Plant Tales Class

Balsamic Blooms Basil is a Superstar

I’m infatuated with this new basil, so I asked Linda to write about it-Ann.

Above: Balsamic Blooms Basil

 

Our first encounter with Balsamic Blooms Basil was in April of 2018. While the designation Texas Superstar® caught our attention, it was the beautiful deep purple blooms that we found most intriguing. We were smitten. Thankfully, we were able to locate six plants at a local garden center and then used them to create a border for our newly established hügelkultur bed.

People couldn’t stop talking about the “new plants” in our garden. As they continued to grow throughout the spring and into summer, everyone became more intrigued. A quick explanation convinced them that this was a plant worthy of adding to the home garden.

Balsamic Blooms Basil was named a 2017 Texas Superstar plant by AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturalists after three years of field trials around the state. To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not only be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout the state. Texas Superstars must be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but also reasonably priced.

Balsamic Blooms is truly is a game changer. It is the first basil to have flowers and leaves growing at the same time. You’ll be tempted not to harvest those long-lasting, gorgeous purple blooms, content just to admire their beauty. But you shouldn’t miss the delightful mint flavor of the tender young flowers chopped and sprinkled over a summer salad. The sweet flavor of the foliage may be used for a delicious pesto or other culinary uses.

We were so pleased with last year’s performance that for 2019, Balsamic Blooms took center stage in our ombre basil bed at Raincatcher’s Garden. Once again, it has thrilled visitors to the garden who don’t leave without asking about this lovely herb.

As with most basils, plant in a sunny area in well drained soil. It has a mounding growth habit reaching 18-24” and is a great addition for either the edible garden or landscape.

Linda Alexander

 

 

Thai Basil Sorbet, a Cool Taste of Summer

Thai Basil Sorbet

When one mentions ‘basil’, immediately people think of Italian-type basil – the Genovese variety that is used for pesto and caprese salad.  Thai basil, if it’s thought about at all, is best known as a garnish in the popular Vietnamese soup pho.

But with its spicy licorice and lemon notes, this cousin of mint works well in desserts, too.  Any variety of Thai basil can be used – we have both Persian and Cardinal cultivars in the Edible Landscape and both worked equally well.

An ice cream maker does its magic by keeping the ice crystals small while they’re being created.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker or aren’t in the mood for sorbet, there are other ways you can enjoy this syrup.  You can make a granita or popsicle if you still want an icy treat, or simply take the syrup you’ve made and pour it over a white cake, brownies, or even the olive oil semolina cake from our Grow and Graze event – it’ll infuse the cake with a lovely extra layer of flavor!

Above: Cool and refreshing Thai Basil Sorbet

The recipe below makes about a pint of sorbet – feel free to multiply it and make more.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups water

1 cup sugar (192 g)

1 cup basil (leaves and/or blossoms) (about 55 g)

2 Tablespoons corn syrup*

2 Tablespoon lime juice

*The corn syrup is to keep the sorbet from becoming a popsicle without making the sorbet too sweet.  The alternative to the corn syrup would be a tablespoon of vodka (or rum).  If you’re not making sorbet, but the granite, popsicle, or syrup, you don’t need the corn syrup (or vodka or rum).

METHOD for SORBET:

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the corn syrup and lime juice.

Spin it in your ice cream maker using the manufacturer’s instructions, then put in the freezer to finish hardening off.

METHOD for GRANITA:

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the lime juice.  Don’t use the corn syrup.

Place the syrup in a shallow pan (metal is good, but something it would be okay to scratch with a fork, or use a plastic container) in the freezer for about a half hour.  Pull it out and with a fork, scrape the frozen portions into large flakes.  Return to the freezer and repeat 2-3 times or until the whole thing is a bunch of frozen flakes.  Cover, and store in freezer until ready to serve.  When you go to serve, use that fork again to make sure you’ve got flakes!

METHOD for POPSICLES:

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the lime juice.  Don’t use the corn syrup.

Pour into popsicle molds and freeze!  This is a pretty intense way to enjoy the basil flavor – I’d suggest adding some berries to the mold and have a berry basil popsicle.

METHOD for SYRUP (over cakes, brownies, etc.):

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, dissolving the sugar.  Add the basil leaves and cover.  Let come to room temperature, and then store in the refrigerator until chilled (you can go 30 minutes to 2 days).

Once it’s chilled, strain out the basil leaves, and add the lime juice.  You don’t need the corn syrup for this use, but it won’t hurt your final product, either.

The Edible Landscape Team

Pictures by Starla Willis

 

Edible Landscape Spring and Summer Planting 2019

May 4, 2019

Ana and Linda enthusiastically took center stage last week to proclaim the spring and summer plans for the Raincatcher’s Edible Landscape. The purpose of our edible landscape is to create a stylish and appealing outdoor space using vegetable, fruit, and herb plant materials. On top of that, think partial shade and an area formerly used as a children’s playground. Add in budget constraints and the lack of an irrigation system..

Without the fervor of Ana and Linda and their band of Master Gardeners, I doubt this garden would have flourished. But with its second birthday round the corner, the edible landscape is ready to take off its training pants and mature into a beautiful and thoughtful garden full of edible delights.

In the next few weeks, look for articles giving more detail about the 2019 design plan. The basil bed has just been planted with many different colors of basil. Hint: research the ombré look and we’ll explain later how it’s being used in the edible landscape.

South Sidewalk Raised Beds – Basil varieties/cultivars: Piccolino (Greek), Napoletano (Genovese), Eloenora (Genovese), Persian (Thai), Cardinal (Thai), Balsamic Blooms (Genovese), Red Freddy (Genovese), Amethyst Black (Genovese)

Ann Lamb

PIctures by Linda Alexander

Open this link for a list of the all the plants  and a plot plan of The Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden.

The Edible Landscape Adds a Food Guild

April 30, 2019

The idea of a food guild or food forest is interesting because it is a less labor intensive way to grow food and more sustainable. Everyone likes the idea of low maintenance and more crops, so watch this video to see the food guild we are creating to in our Edible Landscape at The Raincatcher’s Garden.

The food guild utilizes layers of different types of plants. We are fortunate to have towering oak trees for our tall tree layer and also fortunate to have tasted acorn muffins made from acorn flour. So yes, our tall tree layer, the live oak tree is a food source. Next we will have a short tree, a vine will grow up that tree, then a shrub layer, an herb layer, ground cover and a root crop like horseradish or carrots.  As you read this, you should be getting the idea of plants growing together and utilizing each other’s strengths to create this sustainable food guild.

It’s a fascinating concept and you will get to hear of it’s successes and trials, as we watch it over the next few years.

Ana has given us a list of the plants we will be considering for The Raincatcher’s Food Guild. I’m excited about the mandarin orange tree.

Ann Lamb

video by Starla Willis

For more information about planting a food guild click here.

Dandelions are Edible

April 7, 2019

Do you consider dandelions a weed? If so, here’s some nutritional information that might encourage you to grow and harvest dandelions plants in your garden or yard.

Italiko Rosso is the variety we selected for our garden. Notice the bold red stems and midribs which contrast beautifully with the forest green leaves.

Dandelion takes it name from the French dent de lion or “tooth of the lion.” A close look at the deeply indented leaf structure tells you why.

Both dandelion flowers and leaves are a surprising source of nutrients. Dandelion greens contain vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamin, riboflavin, beta carotene and fiber. Some consider dandelions to be a nearly perfect food.

For culinary purposes, the younger the better. Fresh dandelion flowers have a sweet honeylike taste. The greens are commonly used in salads, and the root makes a cleansing and detoxifying diuretic tea.

Dandelions are by nature a very bitter green, but there are some steps to help reduce the bitterness.

First, grow a less bitter variety such as one of the more “gourmet” types: French Dandelion a.k.a Vert de Montmagny, Ameliore a Coeur Plein Dandelion, Improved Broad Leaved Dandelion or Arlington Dandelion.

Second, harvest early. Young leaves are less bitter than more mature leaves.

Third, brine leaves before steaming. This helps remove some of the bitterness. For a short demonstration on cooking dandelion leaves, see the YouTube video featuring P. Allen Smith.

Dandelions are a perennial. After you harvest the plant it will grow back the same season, year after year.

Linda Alexander

Click here to review our dandelion salad recipe. It was a featured salad, cooked to order at our last Grow and Graze luncheon.

Fresh dandelion greens can also be purchased in some grocery stores. Locally, places like Central Market, Sprouts and Whole Foods stock them on a seasonal basis.

— 

Grow and Graze Salad Garden Recipes II

 

See and taste The Grow and Graze Centerpiece of salad greens and to the left is our table-top appetizer featuring the peppery taste of Wasabi Arugula.

“Kick Up the Heat” Spread

Ingredients

¼ cup Wasabi Arugula, chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup sour cream

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger, optional

Dash of sea salt

Assorted crackers

Directions

In a medium bowl, whip all ingredients together until smooth. Spread over crackers. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few days.

Beth cooking dandelion salad for our guests.

Dandelion Salad

Ingredients

6 ounces young dandelion leaves, tough stems and base ends removed*

2 tablespoons blanched hazelnuts (filberts), coarsely chopped (optional)

3 ounces thick-cut sliced slab bacon, cut crosswise into pieces ½ inch wide

1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground coarse pepper to taste

Directions

Pick over the dandelion leaves, tearing the larger ones in half. Place in a wooden salad bowl. Add the hazelnuts, if using.

In a small frying pan over high heat, fry the bacon until crisp and its fat has been rendered, about 1 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the bowl holding the dandelions, leaving the fat in the pan.

Return the pan to high heat, add the vinegar, and swirl the pan or stir with a wooden spoon to pick up the sediment on the bottom.

Pour in as much additional oil as will be necessary to dress the salad, swirl once to heat a little, and then pour the contents of the pan over the salad. Season with salt and pepper, toss, and serve immediately.

Yield: Serves 6

*If dandelion leaves are not available, the outer dark green leaves of curly endive or spinach may be substituted.

After tasting a smorgasbord of color, flavors, shapes and textures, attendees indulged their sweet tooth with a few garden-inspired desserts:

Blue Ribbon Carrot Cake and Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting

Blue Ribbon Carrot Cake

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 eggs, well beaten

¾ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup buttermilk

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

2 cups grated carrots

1 (3 ½-ounce) can flaked coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts

Buttermilk Glaze

Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting

Directions

Combine flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.

Combine eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar, and vanilla; beat until smooth.  Stir in flour mixture, pineapple, carrots, coconut, and chopped walnuts.  Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans.

Bake at 350˚F for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Immediately spread Buttermilk Glaze evenly over layers.  Cool in pans 15 minutes; remove from pans, and let cool completely.

Spread Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and side of cake.  Store cake in refrigerator.

Yield:  One 2-layer cake

Buttermilk Glaze

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon soda

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Combine sugar, soda, buttermilk, butter, and corn syrup in a Dutch oven.  Bring to a boil; cook 4 minutes, stirring often.  Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla.  Yield: about 1 ½ cups.

Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

½ cup butter, softened

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups sifted powdered sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

1 teaspoon orange juice

Directions

Combine butter and cream cheese, beating until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla, powdered sugar, rind, and juice; beat until smooth.  Yield:  enough for one 2-layer cake.

Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

For the cake

2 medium beets, unpeeled but trimmed of their greens

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

6 ounces (¾ cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pans

1 cup packed brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans

⅔ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups buttermilk

For the frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 to 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons finely grated beets, mashed with a fork

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or scrapings of one vanilla bean pod

1-2 teaspoons milk, depending on desired consistency

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Pinch of salt

Directions

Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven.  Preheat oven to 375˚F.

Thoroughly wash beets under running water, and trim their leaves, leaving about ½ inch of stem.  Place clean beets in a piece of foil.  Drizzle with just a bit of vegetable oil.  Seal up foil.  Place on a baking sheet in the oven.  Roast until beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.

Remove the beets from the oven.  Open the foil and allow beets to cool completely.  Beets will be easy to peel (just using a paring knife) once completely cooled.

Using a box grater, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane.  Measure ¾ cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting.  Set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350˚.  Use butter to grease two 8 or 9-inch round baking pans.  Trace a piece of parchment paper so it is the same size as the bottom of the cake pan.  Cut it out and place inside the cake pan.  Butter the parchment paper.  Add a dusting of flour to coat the pan.  Set pans aside while you prepare the cake.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars.  Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, for one minute after each addition.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture.  Beating on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk.  Once just incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients.  Beat on medium speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated.  Try not to overmix the batter.  Bowl can be removed from the mixer and mixture folded with a spatula to finish incorporating ingredients.  Cake batter will be on the thick side…not pourable.

Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans.  Bake for 23 to 25 minutes (for a 9-inch pan) or 30 to 32 minutes (for an 8-inch pan).  Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove cakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.

To make the frosting

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth.  Add the butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the beets.  Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky   Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

To assemble the cake

Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or cake plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting.  Spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake.  You will have extra frosting left over.  Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make cake easier to slice).  Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

Yield:  Makes one 8 or 9-inch layer cake

Linda Alexander

Pictures by Starla Willis and Linda Alexander

 

 

 

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