March
16, 2017

Epic Salad – Early Spring

A major new study shows eating up to ten servings of fruit and vegetables each day (that’s 800 grams, or about 28 ounces) can significantly increase the chances of longevity. This doubles the previously recommended five-a-day rule. In this series, we offer suggestions for upping your fruit and veggie intake every season of the year.

Early spring salad ingredients grown in Green Valley, Nevada

If eating ten whole servings of fruits and vegetables every day seems daunting, you can start by mixing smaller portions into one big salad. This approach may be helpful for gardeners who are growing a little bit of everything. 

It’s helpful to have a few things ready before mixing your salad. Salad dressing, for one. This will help marry the flavors found in an early spring garden. A simple lemon vinaigrette will combine well with vegetables and fruit harvested in late March through April. This type of dressing is very easy to make– just combine vinegar, olive oil, and grated lemon rind to your taste. Red pepper flakes, olives, and a little bit of honey will also serve you well now.

On a side note, did you know these starter ingredients can all be harvested locally? Yes, there are locals who grow and preserve olives, who dehydrate the rinds of lemons they harvested last year, and who dry many types of homegrown hot peppers. We even have beekeepers who make honey here in the Las Vegas area.

Garlic chives (left) can be tossed with spinach (upper right) and beet greens (lower right.) The gardens pictured here are in Sunrise Manor and Henderson, Nevada.

Now we can start to gather a little bit of everything from an early spring garden, starting with garlic chives. These relatives of onion chives combine well with many spring vegetables, including beet greens and spinach. Garlic chives are an incredibly useful flavor substitute when garlic bulbs are not yet ready to be harvested.

An artichoke harvested in Southern Nevada (L), and basil growing in a garden near the Las Vegas Convention Center (R)

One excellent garlic chives partner is an artichoke, which can be steamed and cooled and added to a spring salad. Artichokes combine well with other herbs, too, such as basil.

Carrots harvested near Sunset Park

Basil, in turn, goes well with carrots, which can be drizzled with honey. Carrots can be your flavor gateway to a variety of spring garden ingredients, including celery, dill, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon.

Spring flowers blooming in Henderson vegetable gardens

This is a good time to throw in a few lavender petals– these will combine nicely with our honey and vinaigrette– as well as some calendula petals, the bitterness of which melds well with the olives, red pepper flakes, honey, artichoke, and thyme. You can even try adding a bitter-to-bland snapdragon flower or two. Please note: Only add edible flowers to your salad sparingly, and only after you have a) carefully identified them, b) gained enough knowledge about them to know which parts are edible, c) learned how your body may react to them, and d) made sure they have NOT been treated with harmful pesticides. 

Local garden goodies

Peppery nasturtium flowers go well with peas. 

Early spring harvest in Green Valley, Nevada

Any asparagus spears poking out of the ground can be picked and added to the salad, too. They pair well with the tarragon mentioned earlier, as do beets. Carrots and asparagus also taste great with tomatoes, if you have any of those ready to pick early. Tomatoes and olives blend beautifully with oregano.

 

 

Locally grown vegetables, flowers, and herbs

While it may be too early to harvest cucumbers, you can pick borage flowers and add them to the salad for a cucumber-like flavor, which combines well with lettuce, fennel, mint, and green onions.

Spring-harvested radish pods in Southern Nevada

Radishes go together with mint and green onions, as well. If your radishes have bolted in the heat, then you may want to allow some to go through the flowering stage and then harvest the seed pods when they appear. Radish seed pods are an excellent substitute for radish roots. They even have a similar crunch.

A pot of strawberries in Green Valley

Most fruits are probably not ready to pick yet, but strawberry season may be underway, so let’s add some of those! Strawberries will go nicely with our lemon vinaigrette, and also with sweeter-tasting edible flower parts like pansy and rose petals. (The white portions of rose petals taste bitter and should be removed.)

 

 

 

The roses behind this raised veggie bed have edible petals (upper left.) Pansies (upper right.) Bok choy (center left) and broccoli with other spring vegetables (center right.) Onion chives (lower left.) Harvesting cabbage (lower right.)

If you still have bok choy growing, then red pepper flakes will help this leafy vegetable mesh with the others. Broccoli combines well with red pepper flakes, too, and with lemon vinaigrette and chives (onion or garlic chives.) Don’t overlook the edible broccoli leaves, or the leaves of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, or of kale and cabbage, for that matter; all of these vegetables are closely related, both botanically and flavor-wise. Sage is a final herbal addition that complements our starter ingredients of vinaigrette and chives.


Garden sage in a community bed of herbs and flowers at an apartment complex in Paradise, Nevada

It will take some experimenting to work out the best ways to combine these spring ingredients– or whichever fruits and vegetables you can most easily access– into one salad. Your trials with flavor combinations will give you opportunities to engage your senses by observing and connecting with the botanical world, even if you don’t have much free time or cooking experience. They will also help you learn which flavor pairings you personally enjoy. Harvesting a little bit of everything at a time means you will have many chances to fine-tune as you go. This is one way to start getting your fill of vegetables and fruits, all year long.

 

SOURCES:

Green, Aliza. Field Guide to Produce. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books, 2004.

Green, Aliza. Field Guide to Herbs and Spices. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books, 2006.

Stradley, Linda. “Edible Flowers Chart.” What’s Cooking America website.

https://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

July
10, 2015

Plan A Fall Garden Now

It’s hard to believe, but fall planting time is just around the corner. Starting the planning process now will help you achieve a great cool-season garden. The first step is choosing your crops. We have made this visual plant menu to assist you. You can use it to create your own garden wish list. In upcoming posts, we will provide tools to help you refine your plant list to suit both your tastes and site.

December
15, 2014

Winter Veggie Garden Walk-through

Follow these steps to cool season success.

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Take a mental photograph of your garden during this coldest time of year. What is growing now? How does the garden compare to itself in other seasons? Try to recall how it was in fall, summer, and spring. When did the garden peform best?

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Observe your garden’s strengths and weaknesses in winter weather. Do plants receive adequate light? Where are the coldest and warmest spots? Notice microclimates– zones in the garden with different climactic conditions such as cold air streams, moist shade, or wind exposure–and take a moment to map them if possible. This will pay off next year when it’s time to decide what to plant where.

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What design problems can you solve now to make your next winter garden even better? Try tinkering with planting plans to maximize your harvest and enjoyment. Does the low angle of the sun in winter cause a nearby structure to cast a long shadow over a crop that needs full sun? Should taller vegetables be moved to the back of the bed? Will you get more peas if you relocate the onions?

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Has any crop been negatively impacted by seasonally active insects or critters? Environmental damage? Persistent cold-weather weeds? Noticing and solving these problems now can stop them from recurring in future winters.

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If you have been gardening for more than one year, think of how this winter compares to previous winters. You may remember harvesting eggplants one December but hardly any spinach. Gardening memories like these tell you something important about the weather that year—it was warmer than average. Recollections of your garden and its seasonal variations will help you notice patterns over time and make weather predictions to improve your yield.

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Did you plant the right amount of each crop? Is there too much of one vegetable or too little of another? How will you update your plant list next winter to better meet your needs?

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Consider your kitchen. How satisfied are you with your winter diet? Do you crave comfort foods in winter? Root vegetables? Sweets? If you dream of making lavender cookies but are stuck with a garden full of beets, note this for next year. Focus on simple, practical changes you can make to “sync up” your kitchen and garden.

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Pay attention to your energy level, mood, schedule, and eating habits as these relate to your winter garden. You may want to keep plantings very simple in winter. On the other hand, the brisk weather might invigorate you to daydream, experiment, and expand, using season extenders like frost blankets, cold frames, or even a greenhouse to grow a greater variety of crops. With each season of experience, you can better tailor your garden to your personality and lifestyle.

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Learn to appreciate your garden’s limitations and idiosyncrasies. Embrace the unexpected by allowing what grows in your garden to influence your meal plan, instead of keeping it strictly the other way around. A veggie bed that ‘misbehaves’ occasionally can introduce a refreshing element of whimsy into a drab winter diet. Maybe you didn’t plan to grow so many rutabagas this winter, but the seeds just spilled out of the packet by accident. That’s what happened—so, go with it!

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September
19, 2014

Fresh Picks: Late Summer-Early Fall Harvest Guide

Basil

Once it is in full flower, basil’s flavor may decline. Continue harvesting the flowers, which are edible. They can also be used to attract pollinators, to make a stimulating bath infusion, or to fill out any floral arrangement.

Cucumber

These vines are delicate, so it is best to harvest with scissors or a knife, rather than tugging at the fruits. Check back often once cukes start to appear (they grow quickly,) but wait to harvest until they are at least four to six inches long.

Eggplant

Harvest the fruit before it has dulled, when it is still shiny.  It can be egg-sized and up.  Cut with the stalk intact.  Do not separate the fruit from its cap.

Melons

Melon harvesting is tricky! It may take several seasons to master. One rule of thumb is to get in the habit of knocking on the developing fruits with your knuckles. If you hear and feel denseness, the melons are under-ripe. Once the melons sound and feel hollow upon knocking, they may be ready to pick. Even after reaching this hollow stage, however, melons may continue to mature on the vine, so a process of trial and error is often necessary.

Peppers

If they survive the scalding summer, peppers come out strong in fall. Sweet bell peppers in particular may shine now. Harvest by cutting each fruit’s stalk near the point where it attaches to the plant, or gently twist the stalk’s midpoint until it breaks.

Pole beans

After a long growing season, pole beans may finally be ready to harvest. Often, they are hiding beneath heavy foliage, so don’t be afraid to do some searching. Snip the beans from the vine near the point of attachment to avoid cutting open the pods.

Radishes

A classic red radish is ready to harvest when it is on the small side, about an inch across near the soil’s surface. Overripe radishes will be spongy rather than crisp. Bonus: If your radishes need thinning, the thinned leafy tops are edible, as long as they have not grown tough and spiny.

Winter Squash

Most winter squash (including pumpkins) should be left out to cure in the sun even if the vine itself has died back. This allows for proper hardening. Periodically press your fingernail into a squash’s skin to determine ripeness. If your fingernail makes an impression, wait longer.
We hope you will share your own harvesting tips in the comments!

September
18, 2014

Agricultural Tourism in Nevada

A recent article in the RJ highlighted the rise of agricultural tourism.  You don’t have to travel far to find a pumpkin patch, hay ride, or freshly harvested food– here are some Nevada farms, vegetable gardens, and agricultural events.

Andelin Family Farm
China Ranch Date Farm (just across the California border)
Cowboy Trail Farms
The Farm
Gilcrease Orchard
Jacobs Family Berry Farm
Las Vegas Springs Preserve veggie garden
Lazy P Adventure Farm
Master Gardener Orchard at 4600 Horse Drive in Las Vegas
Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort heritage garden
Pahrump Vineyard
Quail Hollow Farm
Tractors and Truffles
Vegas Roots Community Garden

Do you have a favorite agritourism site in or near Nevada? Please comment below!