Muddy Garden


It’s harder than usual to write about gardening, since my soil is actually mud, and rumor has it that we’ll be having rains most of the time until the end of April. Who knows! We actually did get outside and weed all the little winter grass sprouts and chickweed and the snarly bedstraw out of the sweet pea bed after staring at it for weeks thorugh drizzle and downpour. The sun felt like precious honey pouring over us, but it was a breif pleasure. Take advantage of any dry interlude that lets the soil drain a bit to weed perennials, garlic and fall-sown annuals. Cut weeds at the base rather than pull them, to keep the soil in place. Any weeding done soon, especially if you can mulch with manure afterwards, will pay off in much better spring bloom, and it gies you a chance to patrol for bud-biting snails and slugs too.

The only thing in the edible category that doesn’t look trampled and battered is a bed of Rainbow Chard. This fancy five color mix has bright stems in shades of pink, red, white, yellow and orange, and the broad dark green leaves have contrasting veins that make it very ornamental. This 1998 All America Award winner was bred by Johnny’s Select Seeds in Maine from stock originating in New Zealand and is named Bright Lights. There are now single selections of the different colors available, as well as the wide stalked Italian green one. Chard is one of the easiest greens to grow, you can start it almost year round. Mine was sown in August and the tender young thinnings were ready to eat in six weeks or so; it has been a sturdy reliable garden vegetable all winter. Check wintered-over chard now carefully for snails and slugs, clean up any rotten stalks and ugly leaves, and fertilize it well, and it will continue to produce well into the spring season. I’ll start new plants next month because I love the young leaves best. Chard can even be sown during the heat of summer.

Chard can be substitued for spinach in any cooked vegetable dis like soup, enchiladas or lasagna, and used young and tender raw in salads or even in tacos or sandwiches. Surround it with eggy quiche or stirfry it with other vegetables. The easiest way to cook it is to wash a big bunch really well, chop coarsely and put it it a big saucepan. Keep stems and leaves somewhat separate as you chop so you can put the stems on the bottom of the pan, leaves on top. Put in 2 peeled garlic cloves and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, ¼ cup of water and a few grinds of black pepper. Put on the lid and cook at medium heat until stems are tender – 10 minutes more or less. Serve hot, cold or room temperature sprinkled with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. It’s especially nice to season these succulent greens with her flavored vinegars like basil or garlic-chili red wine vinegar or white tarragon.

Bright Lights is one of the varieties from the new Renee’s Garden seed line. Renee Shepherd and I have recently unveiled our  lovely seed packets to garden retailers throughout the country. Both San Lorenzo Lumber Garden Center and Scarborough Gardens in Scotts Valley will be carrying the Renee’s Garden selection. We have 30 charming old fashioned flowers and climbing vines, and 12 aromatic herbs. The 18 colorful vegetables are chosen from both heirlooms and hybrids; many of them are interesting reainbow mixes so you can grow several kinds from one packet. These 60 start out our first season, and we’ll add another 60 by fall.

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