Friday, August 26, 2011

SACG Wins 2011 Sustainability Award from Growing To Green and ACGA

Last night was the tenth annual Growing to Green Awards & Harvest Celebration recognizing the efforts of community gardening in Central Ohio. This is always an inspirational event and a nice time to touch base with other community gardeners. It doesn’t hurt that it is catered by yummy City BBQ (which grills the chicken on site) and is supplemented by a potluck of dishes made with fresh garden produce.

Like last year, it was held in a large tent on the new community garden campus of the Franklin Park Conservatory. Although the invitation indicated that the event goes from 6-9, it generally runs from 6:30 – 8 p.m. The event is organized and executed by the detail-oriented Women’s Board of Franklin Park Conservatory. There was a very good turnout of approximately 150, especially considering that Leadership Columbus was having a big event downtown and the Homeless Families Foundation was having a big event in Franklinton.

The weather could not have been more perfect for the GTG celebration and it was nice to see lots of familiar faces, including Kojo, Ms. Pepper, Marge Telerski, Patrick Kaufman, Barb, Diane and Trae from the Bexley Community Garden, Carla Cefaratti (from the Women’s Board), Wendy Finch McCusker, Susanna Evans and Penny Upp. Then, of course, there's Bill Dawson making sure that he personally hugs everyone in attendance; this is really his night. SACG gardeners attended the event in significant numbers. We took 1-1/2 tables this year. We would have had even more people if Beth and Fred had read their emails earlier. :) Kelly from Godman Guild also joined us at our table.

Su Lok, Director of Corporate & Community Partnerships at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company was the keynote speaker for the evening and was followed by FPC Executive Director, Bruce Harkney. Bruce cited the overwhelming community support for the community garden campus as one of the reasons the American Community Garden Association relocated its national headquarters from New York City to FPC here in Columbus.

Neighborhood Improvement Project of the Year was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. This $250 award goes to the park, gateway, streetscape, school or other community beautification project that does the most to beautify the surrounding community. It went to Highland West Community Garden, which attacked blighted areas of their neighborhood, tore down two dilapidated barns and installed a community garden on two abandoned lots. The garden was fully subscribed within one day (which is impressive in any neighborhood). The improvement to the appearance of the neighborhood was recognized by area landlords who began mowing more frequently and the planting of flowers up and down the streets. Upon accepting the award, their leader just stepped forward and said “thank you.” Short and to the point.

Education Garden of the Year is presented and sponsored by the Hinson Family Trust. This $500 award is given to a school or other organization that utilizes garden projects for educational purposes. It was given to the Imagine Garden of Riverside Elementary School in Dublin which commenced in April 2011. The students and parents were asked to select which vegetables should be raised to share and donate to food pantries. Their leader thanked Bill Dawson from Growing to Green for all of his help.

Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award is presented by the Franklin Park Conservatory's Women's Board and provides $250 to the youth (under the age of 18) for use for his/her community garden or his/her education in gardening. Last year, the award went to the SACG’s own Nykkel. This year, the award was given to Nathanial Applewaite from the New Harvest Garden in Linden. Nathanial chose the garden for his court-ordered 60 hours of community service and says that the decision has probably saved his life. He has learned personal responsibility and the importance of contributing to the health of the community.

This was the first year for the Sustainability Award, which is sponsored and presented by the American Community Garden Association through its Executive Director, Beth Urban. This $250 award recognizes the garden that is utilizing sustainable community gardening practices, including community building activities, sustainable garden design, and green practices (such as rain barrels, etc.) that have proven sustainable over the long term. It also comes with a garden cart (valued at $250) donated by the Gardener Supply Company. It was awarded to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden!!!! (Of course, we greatly benefitted in our in our initial planning in 2009 from the abundance of information and tips on the ACGA website). In addition to our harvesting, utilizing and storing 800 gallons of water through rain barrels and tanks, repurposing and recycling materials to benefit the garden, and keeping the cost down through fundraising, grants and strict frugality, the SACG also works to establish connections with the neighbors by encouraging youth gardening, providing seeds and seedlings to our neighbors, donating food, and making food available to the neighbors.

I did a little jig and tried to get all of our gardeners up on the stage (but Betty and Joe remained demurely at the table). After nagging and cajoling the gardeners all summer about doing their chores and keeping ahead of the weeds, it’s great to be able to celebrate and provide them with some well-deserved recognition. The SACG crew is extremely hardworking and dedicated to the success of the SACG. They come from all over southeastern Columbus and Bexley. They do not come for the crime or to try and save the world, but to grow an amazing amount of food on a very tight budget. We are very focused gardeners and healthy eaters. Everything else flows from that. I bored the crowd with stories about how hard it is to keep digging out construction debris by hand, how hard the gardeners work and the challenges presented by the neighborhood crime. However, we are dedicated to maintaining the garden going forward and to improving lives.

Each gardener on the stage and their efforts were recognized: Rayna Alexander (gardener extraordinaire and SACG Board member), Jeff LaRue (SACG Board member and former gardener), Charlie Kall (SACG Board member and all-hands-on-deck guy), Mari and John Sunami (gardeners who keep us connected to everything and show up to most everything), Joe and Betty Weaver (gardeners who helped with initial fundraising and going door-to-door in 2009 to personally invite all of the neighbors to join us), Louise Thompson (new gardener who tells us how to do everything), and Milgra “Jeannie” King (former gardener who hasn’t met a seed she can’t make bloom and whose prayers have sustained the SACG for several years). Unfortunately, Barb and Frank had to work and could not be on the stage. The ceremony proceeded after the microphone was pried from my hands. . . .

Community Gardener of the Year. This $250 award for the community gardening project (sponsored by GreenScapes Landscape Co.) was to be awarded on account of a person who is exceptionally dedicated to his/her neighborhood garden and/or the movement of community gardening in central Ohio. If you read this blog regularly, you would know that this was the least suspenseful announcement of the evening. There was really only one person whose efforts and contributions to community gardening in Central Ohio stands heads and shoulders over all of us little gardeners: Peggy Murphy. In fact, I feel that 2011 is the year that I have served as Peggy’s press agent;) Peggy is a Master Gardener, and is one of the leaders of the Hilltop Highland Youth Garden, which won outstanding garden of the year in 2009. I met Peggy in April at the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition meeting in Franklinton. Peggy is one of the leaders of the GCGC. This group meets monthly to foster collaboration among the 250 community gardens in Franklin County and generally tries to center each meeting on an educational component. I grabbed a seat in the back next to Kelly. (You can always find Kelly and me in the back of any gathering;) Peggy was sitting with her granddaughter across the table. Some women carry pictures of their grandchildren; Peggy carries pictures of her community garden. (And some people think I’m obsessed;) I had no idea that she was a GCGC leader or even a leader at the Highland Garden; she is that unassuming. She was extremely friendly and immediately set upon trying to convert me to joining the God’s Gardeners group. Speaking of, she is also a leader in that initiative – to start 200 new church-supported community gardens in Columbus during the City’s bicentennial in 2013. She also helped Richard Harris get the Growing Hearts and Hands Community on Garden on Oak Street off the ground in 2009 and is the patron saint of a number of other fledgling community gardens. Finally, she has been the point person to distribute thousands upon thousands of seedlings generously donated this summer by Strader’s Garden Centers. The SACG and pretty much every community garden in Central Ohio has benefitted from the blessings which have come Peggy’s way. If you can’t tell, I am a big fan of Peggy Murphy.

Community Garden of the Year. This $500 award (sponsored by The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company) was to be awarded to the top neighborhood gardening project for beautification and/or food production. It went to the Gantz Road Community Garden operated by Franklin County in the southwest section of the county. Gantz Road currently consists of 2 gardens and provides plots to 151 families. All of the plots had been taken by April 1 this year. Many of the families are Somali immigrants and garden in an uniquely African style (i.e., with moats around their plots to conserve water). A third garden is being added for Burmese immigrants. The garden is the brainchild of Commissioner Jim O’Grady and has been improved by a water catchment system which was installed.

It was a lovely evening. Kelly showed Mari, John and I her plot at the FPC and then Mari, John and I strolled around a bit more. I finally strolled around even more with Miss Jeannie and drove her back to Stoddart Avenue. While there, I ran into a group of our youth gardeners and showed them our new trophy. They wished they had been there and promised to come and help me plant more Fall crops on Saturday morning. Then, I went home, poured myself a glass of cava and then dropped the check off with SACG Treasurer, Beth.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some Other Interesting Gardening Websites

Occasionally, I happen upon or am referred an interesting or inspirational website with useful or just fascinating information about gardening. I’ve added a few to this site in case you get bored, but want to keep reading.

Wizard’s Harvest to Table. Earlier this week, my friend Mary recommended a website by a California master gardener who has parlayed his gardening into useful tips and even a book. She thought of me because he had recently blogged about how a hot summer (like the one we just had) would delay the ripening of tomatoes (and even delay the setting of fruit) because tomatoes won’t ripen at temperatures above 85 degrees or below 55 degrees. My harvest is at least three weeks behind because of our July heat wave (on top of BER and cracked tomatoes). His website has lots of useful tips and is particularly well organized. So, check out Wizard’s Harvest to Table. Unfortunately, he does not include pictures with his posts, but that probably makes it easier to read from your cell phone.

The BBC. The British pretty much mastered all things gardening ages and ages ago. The BBC website understandably has a load of information. It was fascinating to read about “allotments.” This is basically the British version of community gardening. It has been legally required for each community to “allot” land for cultivation by the masses since 1908. Nonetheless, two-thirds of communities had a waiting list of 57 people for every 100 plots, although there was some concern that some people remained on a waiting list after getting a plot somewhere else or had their names on multiple lists.

Another fascinating article had to do with essentially creating an underground pond beneath your vegetable garden or hoop house that will collect rain water from your property so that you never have to water again. It was called a self-watering polytunnel. It reminded me of moats and tunnels I’ve seen. My brother-in-law was born and raised in Cameroon and surrounded his plot in Dublin with a moat which he dug himself. It looked like a lot of work to me, but he said his father always did it and he believed that it prevented flooding and helped conserve water. Last year, Jeff dug deep trenches between his rows of tomatoes and his tomatoes were large and beautiful. Again, it looked like a lot of work to me. I plant on flat earth and spread straw everywhere in between my rows to keep the weeds at bay.

Wilmington College’s Grow Food Grow Hope. I went home to God’s Country a few weeks ago for a family reunion to celebrate my grandfather’s 96th birthday. My Uncle Marshall is a serious gardener, my Aunt Brenda puts up a serious amount of food each summer and their grandson, Tyler (making him my second cousin or first cousin once removed), will be graduating in December from nearby Wilmington College with an agriculture degree. (I should mention that he is also a rodeo champion and has competed in national high school events. His aunt (my cousin) Rhonda is also a champion barrel rider). This summer he is interning on the college farm and I was fascinated. He says they harvest 300 pounds of produce each day. Half goes to the college cafeterias and the other half is donated to area food pantries. That’s a lot of food. We commiserated about tomato horn worms and he looked at me like I was from outer space when I suggested planting basil between each tomato plant (because they have over 300 plants). He recently helped to build a hoop house and was telling me how financially lucrative it is to grow winter tomatoes. He observed a farm where easily half of their income comes from growing cherry tomatoes in a hoop house. The plant is still planted in the ground, but the vines are trained up twine, which is suspended from the ceiling. As the tomatoes are harvested, the spent part of the vine is coiled on the ground and the newly grown vine continues to grow up the twine. This way, they can grow the same tomato plant for six months or more. Isn’t that riveting?

Anyway, Wilmington College also has a community garden program which provides plots to members of the community to grow their own food. Clinton County has been particularly economically distressed since the closing of the Airborne facility and this is one way that the college is helping out. I think it’s sweet and I’m proud to be from the area. (For that matter, a church is my hometown is cultivating eight acres for the to grow fresh food for area food pantries. Be sure to check out the video. They don't measure their harvest in pounds, but in bushels). My only complaint is that WC does not sell their nifty GFGH t-shirts online.

These are presented for your reading pleasure and edification.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Community Garden Does Not Mean Free-for-All Harvest

[Editor's Note: Within eight days of posting this article, the SACG experienced a massive produce robbery of only expensive produce, like Nappa Cabbage, colored greens, ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, and Tuscan Kale. This was not the work of deparate folks, but someone who selectively took certain produce and left nothing behind to continue growing.]

Today, the Columbus Dispatch ran an article and the NBC and Fox affiliates all ran stories about the rampant thefts of produce from community gardens. When confronted by us or our good neighbors, the thieves either run or protest that it is a community garden, therefore, the community is allowed to help themselves. We have to explain that it is a community garden in the sense that the community can sign up for a plot where they then can plant, weed, water and harvest themselves. It is not a place for somone else to literally steal the fruits of the gardeners' labor. I then invite them to join us in the garden the following year, but they virtually always shake their head and leave.

We know that the thieves at the SACG know this already. Most of them come at night. Because the SACG is surrounded by a fence and has locks on the gates (only once we start noticing the disappearance of produce), people come in with bags by knocking down the fence or jumping the gates. We do not have a problem with trespassing where the fence has strong metal stakes or is covered with raspberry bushes. Our fence is not strong enough for people to climb, although people have clearly tried (as evidenced by the broken prongs on brand new fence).

Other gardens have put up No Trespassing signs (which are not terribly attractive) and we are all considering security cameras so that the thieves can be prosecuted. The Fox story noted that locked gates and security cameras were not enough to protect the FPC garden plots from pilfering. A Joyce Avenue community garden has since put up a fence, but the gardeners were apparently so discouraged after last year that only two of them returned this year.

When we first began having a problem two years ago, I put an article in our neighborhood newsletter explaining the "miscommunication" and threatening to move the garden if it did not stop. As far as we can tell this year, the theives are not from the immediate neighborhood (at least no one says they have recognized any of the individuals). A few of the individuals who have shown up at the garden seemed to be legitimately confused about their right to help themselves to a free supermarket.

All this being said, some of my suburbanite friends think I am being stingy by begruding the theft of food in this anemic economy. (A certain General Counsel joked earlier this week that vegetarians are a pretty shady crew:) However, the problem is that we have plots outside the fence along the alley where anyone can help themselves to tomatoes, peppers, brocoli, colored greens, turnips, cucumbers, etc. We also always give food upon request to anyone who asks (rather than simply takes). We also donate over 200 pounds each year to food pantries. Finally, these people are not taking just a few tomatoes. Most of them bring bags in order to take a week's worth of food (or more) at a time. You cannot imagine the disappointment to the gardener who has been tending the plot carefully each week -- in the extreme heat and mud -- only to find that the peppers and tomatoes were taken the day before s/he was planning to harvest.

We have been resigned to a certain level of shrinkage and I always encourage gardeners to grow a little extra every year to make up for some losses. However, we already work so hard when it is hot or extra rainy (and, thus, extra weedy) that several of my gardeners have already told me that they want smaller plots next year, not more work . . . . .

Anyway, here is the Dispatch article:

Community gardens plagued by thefts

Despite signs, people are helping themselves to crops at harvest time.

By Courtney Hergesheimer Dispatch

Val White of the East Side weeds her plot in the community garden at the Franklin Park Conservatory, accompanied by her dog Mo. Thefts of crops at another local community garden got so bad that gardeners now plant extra vegetables, anticipating such losses.

When Bill Dawson returned to the community garden at the Franklin Park Conservatory on Tuesday, he saw someone who was busy reaping what others had sown.

Dawson parked his car and walked up to the woman who was wandering through the 40 garden beds, filling a trash bag with plump green tomatoes.

“I had to explain the system and that these vegetables were not hers to take,” said Dawson, community-garden coordinator for the conservatory.

While most gardeners expect rabbits, birds and squirrels to feed on their fruits and vegetables, many are learning that human bandits are lurking among the carrots, peppers and squash.

"’Tis the season,” Dawson said. “It’s harvest time — everyone wants to come home with a bright red tomato.”

The American Addition Garden on Joyce Avenue, one of about 250 community gardens in the Columbus area, is experiencing the same. “We put up signs telling them not to take the vegetables, but no one listens,” said Marie Mooreland, a garden volunteer. “We started planting extra (vegetables) to make up for the difference.”

Mooreland said that so much is taken from the 10 plots there that the gardeners looked into installing a security camera.

“It’s such a problem because the plot is on the main thoroughfare,” she said. “We have to educate them.”

Lori Kingston, spokeswoman for the Franklin Park Conservatory, said people misunderstand the word community. “They don’t understand it means people gardening together in a community,” Kingston said.

The conservatory asks all plot owners to donate a portion of their harvest to a food pantry of their choice.

Beth Urban, executive director of the American Community Gardening Association, which is based in Columbus, said people can take precautions.

“Some people put raspberry or blackberry bushes in front of their gardens because they are thorny and deter people from entering,” Urban said.

She added that others put up fences or hang signs asking visitors not to sample the fruits of their labors.

Although these vegetable bandits can be a nuisance, Dawson said he tries to convert them to the craft.

“I tell them, ‘Weed a little, take a little,’” Dawson said. “We want to educate them and encourage them to take part.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Curse of the Cracked Tomato

About three weeks ago, the SACG received five inches of rain within 36 hours. It was greatly needed and revived quite a few plants that were steadily drooping their way to The Great Compost Bin and saved me from a week’s worth of lugging my watering cans. However, there was an unfortunate side affect. Our tomatoes had already set fruit and July’s dry spell had caused the skins on the fruit to thicken. Then a sudden burst of rain caused the tomatoes to start swelling again. This, faithful readers, causes cracked tomatoes -- a curse that affects most tomatoes every other year or so. If left exposed to the elements with such cracks, bugs and mold can find their way into the tomato. Of course, it is mostly a cosmetic flaw that makes no difference to canning or most recipes which call for removing the cracked skin.

Fortunately, cracking is not caused by bugs or viruses and is not contagious, but there is very little you can do to prevent Mother Nature from releasing a gusher. Keeping tomatoes too damp can inhibit the uptake of calcium (leading to blossom end rot). There are some tomato varieties that are more resistant to cracking than others, but popular beefstake tomatoes are notorious crackers.

Of course, not every agrees on the causes of cracking. The University of Illinois Extension Office blames severe pruning: “Cracking varies with the variety. Many of the newer varieties are resistant to cracking. Severe pruning increases cracking. Keep soil moisture uniform as the tomatoes develop and plant resistant varieties to minimize this problem.”

But I like the explanation of Texas A&M:

Cracking is a physiological disorder caused by soil moisture fluctuations. When the tomato reaches the mature green stage and the water supply to the plant is reduced or cut off, the tomato will begin to ripen. At this time a cellophane-like wrapper round the outer surface of the tomato becomes thicker and more rigid to protect the tomato during and after harvest. If the water supply is restored after ripening begins, the plant will resume translocation of nutrients and moisture into the fruit. This will cause the fruit to enlarge; which in turn splits the wrapper around the fruit and results in cracking. The single best control for cracking is a constant and regular water supply. Apply a layer of organic mulch to the base of the plant. This serves as a buffer and prevents soil moisture fluctuation. Water plants thoroughly every week. This is especially important when the fruits are maturing. Some varieties are resistant to cracking, but their skin is tougher.

Iowa State agrees:

Fruit cracking is a common problem on tomatoes. Cracks usually appear at the top or stem end of the fruit. Cracks radiate out from the stem (radial cracks) or circle the fruit in concentric rings (concentric cracks). Fruit cracking is associated with wide fluctuations in soil moisture levels. A heavy rain or deep watering after a long, dry period results in rapid water uptake by the plant. The sudden uptake of water results in cracking of ripening fruit. Generally, fruit cracking is most common on the large, beefsteak-type tomatoes.

Fruit cracking can be prevented by supplying the tomato plants with a consistent supply of moisture during the summer months. During dry periods, a thorough soaking once every seven days should be adequate for most tomato plants. Conserve soil moisture by mulching the area around tomato plants with dried grass clippings, straw, shredded leaves or other materials. Also, plant tomato varieties that possess good crack resistance. Tomato varieties that possess good to excellent crack resistance include Jetstar, Mountain Spring and Mountain Fresh.

Montana State University takes a hybrid approach:

Tomato harvest is a highly anticipated event in our gardens. But after tending to these plants for an entire season, it's sure disappointing to find the fruit cracked and rotted. Or fruit that doesn't ripen at all. There are two kinds of fruit cracking in tomato - radial and concentric.

Radial cracks are the more common, start near the fruit stem, and develop down the sides of the fruit wall. Concentric cracking appears as several circular cracks around the stem end of the fruit. So is there anything you can do to prevent tomato fruit cracking?

Cracking of tomatoes is most common during hot, rainy periods when temperatures are in the 90s, and particularly following long dry spells. It is most severe on fruit that is ripening in full sun. The high light intensity and warm summer temperatures in our area make the situation worse. Here's what you can do:

Mulch the soil around your plants to keep it consistently moist. Use drip irrigation instead of overhead impact sprinklers. Fertilize your plants judiciously and encourage good foliage cover. Plants that have been heavily pruned, or those that have lost their foliage to insects, disease or weather issues will have their fruit exposed to the bright sunlight. These ripening fruits will heat up and most likely crack. If this has been a problem for you, next year, keep in mind that there are tomato cultivars that are resistant to cracking. "Beafsteak-type" tomatoes are known for cracking. Cultivars like 'Early Girl', 'Daybreak' and 'Valley Girl' resist cracking. And just as there are some cultivars resistant to cracking, there are others that have the tendency to crack, like 'Sungold' and 'Sun cherry' cherry tomatoes.

In any event, generously water your tomatoes at least once a week when it is hot and dry or you risk a gusher rain storm blowing up your tomatoes when you least expect it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Abundance of Cucumbers

While the extraordinary heat at the SACG has affected the timing of our tomato crop and adversely affected our beans and lettuce, our cucumbers have been growing out the whazzoo. I’ve never had so many cucumbers at the SACG or at home. Beth has been similarly challenged. What is a girl to do with all of these cucumbers after you have chopped a few up for salads and already made pickles and overwhelmed your neighbors with your productivity? How much gazpacho can you make? Cucumber sandwiches? A few slices in chilled water when you want to pretend that you live in a spa?

Well, this weekend, I decided to try Tsatsiki (which is a Greek cucumber salad) and I highly commend it to you for something easy, quick and nutritious. You can eat it by itself or in pita sandwiches or on top of spiced roasted meat (like lamb or chicken). It takes all of five minutes to make (the way I cook); you can find more complicated and time consuming recipes on other websites if you are interested. Best of all, it's a one dish meal that you can make and eat out of the same dish. :-)

Tsatsiki (one serving)
• 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt (preferably plain, but honey or vanilla will do)
• 1 chopped garlic clove
• 1/8 cup EVOO (but you can decrease this a bit if you are not a fan like I am).
• 1/2 tsp chopped dill weed
• 3/4 cup chopped cucumber

1. Mix the garlic, yogurt, oil and dill together well.
2. Add the cucumbers and stir.
3. Serve and enjoy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Picking Cucumbers Before They Turn Yellow

This is the first year that I have been able to grow cucumbers in any quantity. I’ve already canned 3 pints of kosher dill pickles and eaten a few just for grins and giggles. It has not always been so, and thus, I rarely have any words of wisdom for gardeners with struggling cucumbers. In our first year at the SACG, Mitch had some interesting looking yellow cucumbers growing up a trellis. We could not decide if it was a special variety or if it had just rotted on the vine. Knowing him; either was likely. This Wednesday, I belatedly discovered some yellow cucumbers in the food pantry patch which I had apparently overlooked when harvesting the prior Saturday. This caused me to research the age-old question:

Are yellow cucumbers edible?

The answer: No (unless you are growing round, lemon cucumbers – which I am not).

So, faithful readers, be careful looking under your large green leaves for those sneaky green cucumbers because in this heat, they will turn yellow before you visit your garden patch again and you won’t be able to eat it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kale: I hardly knew ya

Every year I try to grow something new. In 2008, it was chamomile and, well, almost everything I grew. In 2009, it was regular and black garbanzo beans. Last year, it was chard, new varieties of tomatoes and several types of shelling beans. This year, I am growing Chinese Cabbage and Kale for the first time (and a few other things that I’m still evaluating). I also tried growing some Quinoa this year, but it never germinated.

I’ve never been a big fan of kale – or any greens for that matter, although my mother (as a farm girl) loves kale over all other kinds of greens. She would make kale occasionally for us as children and it was always either soggy and vinegary or stiff to me. Yuck.

Last year, as faithful readers may recall, I attended an impromptu cookout at Jay and Cozy’s house. Jay made some kale in a cast iron skillet over an open fire pit in their back yard from some extra kale donated by their neighbors, who participate in a CSA. Although everything he served that night was very, very good, the kale was great. I became obsessed and they became confused. I conducted some research on the internet and discovered that kale is one of the superfoods. It is related to colored greens, cabbage and broccoli. One cup has 200% of the recommended requirement of Vitamin C, 180% of Vitamin A, 1,020% of Vitamin K (that is not a typo), and 15% of calcium and Vitamin B6. Whew. It’s a multivitamin tablet by itself. That being said, it interferes with the absorption of calcium, so there is no point of eating it with milk or cheese.

When we received our free seeds this year from Botanical Interests through Christ Lutheran Church, I pulled some Tuscan Kale aside. I planted some in both my back yard and at the SACG. Both grew with wild abandon with virtually no assistance from me. That’s a plus in my book. It’s pretty, too. I could grow it in flower beds in the future even if I never cook it.

Last week, I finally harvested some of my kale and tried out a recipe (as well as trying Jay’s vague directions for what he created last year). I highly recommend both and will be making both regularly for until Christmas (since I’m starting my second kale crop and can grow it throughout the winter in my backyard with the assistance of a hoop house).

Tuscan Kale Caesar Slaw (modified from Bon Appetit magazine July 2011)

Ingredients (for one serving)
• 3 tbsp lemon juice
• 4-8 anchovy fillets, packed in oil and drained
• 1 garlic clove chopped
• 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• ¼ cup EVOO
• 1/8 cup finely grated Parmesan
• Dashes of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
• 2 cups Tuscan (or black) kale, thinly sliced and large stalks removed. (Yes, you can serve and eat it raw).

• In a blender, combine lemon juice, anchovies, garlic, mustard and EVOO. Pour into a bowl and add half of the parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. Can be made two days ahead.
• Chop the egg into tiny, tiny pieces. Chill. Can be made 6 hours ahead.
• Wash and cut the kale. Put it into a large bowl. Toss it with the dressing. Then top with the chopped egg and remaining parmesan.

Serve and enjoy.

Jay’s Yummy Cast Iron Kale

Ingredients (for one serving)
• 1/3 cup sliced mushrooms
• ¼ cup sliced onions
• 1 slice bacon, sliced longways and then chopped into quarter inch pieces. I cheated and had two slices
• Two cups of kale (including stalks) sliced into inch-wide strips.
• 1-2 tsp of red wine vinegar

• Cook bacon in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until it shrivels up to the shape of bacon bits (but before it turns black). Cover it with a splatter guard (to protect the rest of your kitchen).
• Tilt the skillet to distribute the bacon grease evenly. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook for five minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and replace the splatter guard.
• Add the kale (and keep the splatter guard over the skillet). Cook until the kale wilts, but before it is soggy. About 3 minutes.
• Splash the vinegar over the kale. Stir.

Serve hot and enjoy.

Life is good.