Thursday, December 10, 2015

Captivating Kohlrabi

My memories of kohlrabi are full of fond nostalgia. When I was a little girl in suburban Cleveland, weekly visits to my grandmother's wonderful garden were a highlight of summer. I couldn't wait to go look at all the growing plants, and then I always helped her pull up a bunch of plump kohlrabis for afternoon snacks. My grandmother would carefully cut off the leaves and peel the bulbs, then slice them up in thick juicy rounds that kept me munching all afternoon.

Now that I'm a grown-up kitchen gardener, I continue the tradition and grow both violet and green varieties of kohlrabi. I plant them in a pretty mosaic pattern each spring and fall and then stand back to watch and enjoy visitors' reactions to the eye-catching shape of this unusual vegetable. Kohlrabi plants form bulbs, actually edible swollen stems, just above the ground that are shaped like round tennis balls. They are green or deep violet-purple depending on the variety, with ruffled foliage that looks like broccoli leaves growing out of the bulb's tops and sides.

To buy our kohlrabi seeds, CLICK HERE.

Many friends gaze in amazement when they first see my kohlrabi bed. Neighborhood kids have always called it my "flying saucer" or "space ship" vegetable. Yet anyone with a Slavic or Asian background smiles fondly and licks their lips because they know how tasty the crunchy mild flesh of these eccentric looking bulbs can be both raw and cooked.

Kohlrabi's name is a combination of the German words for cabbage and turnip, but to me, the flavor of the bulbs crisp flesh is sweeter than either of its family members. Peeled kohlrabi bulbs are juicy with a delicate sweet flavor that I would describe as a cross between apples and very mild baby turnips. Elizabeth Schneider, in her classic Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables (Harper and Row 1986), says that to her, kohlrabi tastes "like the freshest, crunchiest broccoli stems, touched with a hint of radish and cucumber."

The origins of kohlrabi are a matter of debate since some plant historians think it was cultivated as long ago as the Roman era, while others claim it was developed from the mallow cabbage as late as the 16th century. Although its antecedents may be obscure, kohlrabi is a very popular staple throughout Asia and Eastern Europe. In the USA, it is harder to find, but you can usually buy it in markets of many areas of the Midwest and Mid Atlantic states, or wherever there are heavy concentrations of German or Eastern European communities.

Kohlrabi is a reliable, productive and easy growing ornamental edible to grow in cool spring weather and again in fall when summer heat tapers off. The tasty bulbs and leaves are good sources of vitamins C and A, calcium, potassium and fiber and they are low in calories, about 40 per cup. Like all brassicas, kohlrabi is a potent anti cancer vegetable. The biennial plants are very quick to mature, bulbing up quickly to harvest in just 60 to 70 days after planting. Newer hybrid varieties offer much more vigorous plants that grow rapidly and produce big crunchy bulbs without the pithy or stringy qualities that plagued older, more traditional kohlrabi cultivars.

Growing great kohlrabi is easy and rewarding. It needs a good rich soil, preferring a neutral to slightly acid pH. Prepare your garden bed for planting by digging in lots of well aged manure or compost. While you can grow a fine crop of kohlrabi by direct sowing, I prefer to set out young seedlings started indoors from seeds no more than 5 to 6 weeks before the last expected frost date. I find that healthy, sturdy transplants are better able to survive lurking slugs or snails and unexpected inclement weather.

To start kohlrabi indoors, sow seeds about 1/2 inch deep and an inch apart in a container of seed starting mix. Keep evenly moist and provide a good light source. Germination takes 10 to 14 days and seedlings thrive in 65 to 75 degree conditions. When well established with at least one strong set of true leaves, thin seedlings to 3 or 4 inches apart or transplant them to deeper containers. Keep evenly watered and feed every 10 days with half strength liquid fertilizer. As soon as outside temperatures reach 50 degrees, acclimate seedlings to outdoor conditions for 4 or 5 days out of direct sun, then plant into the garden about 6 to 8 inches apart and water in well. Do not wait too long before transplanting your young seedlings as stressed or root bound kohlrabi will not produce good bulbs. In the garden, keep plants well weeded and evenly watered to ensure rapid development. Feed every three weeks or so with a balanced liquid fertilizer, compost tea, or fish emulsion and kelp solution.

Kohlrabi is not prone to serious pest problems, but to totally avoid predators and make my gardening easier, I usually cover the seedlings after transplanting with floating row covers which are permeable to both light and water. While they are not the most beautiful garden accessories, I find these row covers stabilize growing conditions and protect crops against any insect infestation. I remove them when plants are well established and beginning form baby bulbs, at about 6 to 8 inches tall. If you don't use row covers, a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap solution controls aphids or white flies and 2 to 3 inch cardboard collars averts cutworms. Non-toxic BT is an effective way to deal with cabbage moth larvae or other caterpillar pests. Limit disease potential in your garden by planting kohlrabi and all its brassica relatives in 3 year rotations.

I begin to harvest kohlrabi when they reach 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Cut the stem about an inch below the round bulbs. Trim off the leaves to cook separately and store the thick skinned bulbs in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. They will keep well for at least 3 weeks to cook up as you need them. I still enjoy kohlrabi sliced up raw best of all, but now I like to use both leaves and bulbs as cooked vegetables too. The leaves make a wonderful greens. Cut out and discard the stems, then drop the leaves into a pot of boiling salted water. Cook until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Then heat some olive oil in a skillet, add garlic or chopped onion and sauté until fragrant and softened. Toss in the kohlrabi leaves and cook a few minutes more. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Peel and slice kohlrabi bulbs raw for snacks, just like you would slice up an apple. Thin slices make crispy sweet dip holders or can be used instead of crackers for creamy spreads. Slices are great to add to green salads instead of cucumbers. You'll find shredded raw kohlrabi makes especially mild, sweet coleslaw, and you can also make kohlrabi pickles.

Kohlrabi's mild flesh cooks up to tender sweet succulence. Peel off the outer skins and slice or cube to sauté slowly in sweet butter, or steam the unpeeled bulbs whole, then peel and cut up. Traditionally, cooked kohlrabi is served in a rich homemade cream sauce and it is quite delectable this way, especially with a few gratings of nutmeg added to the sauce. Stir fry kohlrabi with carrot slices, and scallions for a delicious and colorful side dish, seasoned lightly with fresh gingeroot. I've found that cooked kohlrabi pairs beautifully with fresh herbs like lemon thyme, marjoram, summer savory, garlic chives, broad leafed parsley, or dill leaf and aromatics like curry, nutmeg, ginger or paprika. To finish a dish of herbed kohlrabi perfectly, add a dollop of sour cream  or fresh, whole milk yogurt.

Unpeeled, trimmed kohlrabi bulbs can also be baked in the oven. Just put them in a covered casserole with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until fork tender. Cool, peel and slice, and dress with a little butter and lemon and your favorite herbs or spices as above. I find that baking the bulbs is easy and really seems to intensify and concentrate their flavor.

Plant a second crop of kohlrabi for fall eating once summer heat begins to diminish. You can start the seeds in a container outdoors in light shade, then plant out seedlings in the garden, shading them for a few days until they are established. Fall kohlrabi is an especially sweet and tender treat you'll savor as an end of the season gardening reward every year. Sautéed kohlrabi has become a standard part of my families' Thanksgiving repertoire that everyone expects and looks forward to every year. Try some of these curious and delicious vegetables in your garden this season.

To buy our kohlrabi seeds, CLICK HERE.

Kohlrabi Sauté

4 medium kohlrabi bulbs
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh low fat sour cream

Peel the tough outer skin from the kohlrabi, then coarsely grate bulbs. In a skillet heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic, onion and kohlrabi and sauté, stirring for 5 to 7 minutes or until kohlrabi is tender crisp. Stir in lemon juice, parsley, then season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir in sour cream, and serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Pickled Kohlrabi

3 kohlrabi peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 large carrots peeled, cut into sticks, parboiled 3 minutes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
3 large sprigs fresh dill

Pickling Mixture:

3/4 cup white vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon dill seed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt 

Combine kohlrabi and carrots and pack in a 1 quart glass jar along with garlic, bay leaf and fresh dill. In a saucepan combine pickling mixture ingredients and heat, stirring, until it boils and sugar is dissolved. Pour boiling mixture over kohlrabi filling jar completely. Cover jar. When cool, refrigerate for 3 to 4 days before using to let flavors blend.

Makes 1 quart. 

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Seed Harvest

At this time of year, our warehouse is getting filled to overflowing with new crops of seed that were just harvested this fall, carefully winnowed, sorted, cleaned, tested for germination and purity and finally shipped to us from all over the world. The warehouse floor is filled with the sweetly pungent odor of carrot seeds, the spicy scent of very fresh dill seed, and the simple physical beauty of dozens and dozens of different seed shapes, colors and sizes. In the old days, just 10 years ago, seeds were routinely shipped in muslin or linen sacks, but nowadays they come in airtight buckets or foil packages; not as romantic but probably much more moisture proof. When they arrive, we take out a sample and send it off to the seed lab to be sure that the germination rate has stayed as high as when we first arranged to purchase the crop.

Many of these purchase agreements were made long before the seed was planted last spring, so getting the seed into the warehouse means we finally can relax, knowing that variety has been successfully grown and we will have plenty of seed to fill our packets all season long. When we place our purchase orders to growers, there is no guarantee that a crop that meets our standards will result nine months later. Too much or too little rain; disease or pests; harvesting too early or too late; improper postharvest handling; all of these factors can mean we will get no crop that season and we never know for sure until the harvest is complete and the seed is inside our doors.

All of this involves lots of communications throughout the growing season with growers in very far-flung places. It reminds me again that in today's world, planting a garden can be a truly ecumenical act because we enable gardeners to grow vegetables and herbs from all the world's regional cuisines, and flowers from every continent. The seeds we are offering have been grown by producers both large and small in the US, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, England, Israel, China, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. All have their histories and stories in their home countries.

I think one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is the annual process of connecting with our growers to hear about their varieties and how they are used. When I first started in this business, I really had to travel to far away places to find new varieties, but now the Internet has meant that I can more easily find out about new introductions and track down the varieties that we need from among the world community of seed producers. I have been working with many of these folks for over many years. The next step is getting and beginning the long process of growing them out and evaluating, first in our California trial garden and then in our other regional gardens. The end result is where I began -- the seeds coming to our warehouse so I can share them with all of you!

Friday, August 28, 2015

New, Helpful Videos from Renee's Garden!


Trial Garden manager Lindsay Del Carlo and Facebook Master Rocky Festa have just finished and put up two new videos on our Renee’s Garden YouTube channel that we think our customers will find useful and enjoyable:

If you’ve grown our loofah sponge gourds, you’re probably wondering what to do with them all once they are ready to craft with. In our new video, Lindsay shows when to harvest, prepare and make home-grown loofah into terrific bath and shower exfoliating scrubbers. These make great holiday gifts!

Check it out:


Now that we sell seeds for delicious and authentic Italian “Mama’s Cannellini” Beans, Lindsay and Rocky have created a brand-new video that shows you how to get the mature dry beans out of their shells in the fastest, most fun way and then goes on to give direction on both storing and cooking them

Check it out:


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tips For Gardening in the Drought

In our current drought situation, you can still enjoy your garden and conserve water by paying careful attention to good soil stewardship practices:

Lettuce with drip tape at the root zone.
ADD ORGANIC MATERIAL into your soil when preparing your garden beds each spring. Plentiful organic material, added each season will help your garden soil retain moisture

USE COMPOST. During the growing season, add an inch or two of compost every time you plant a new crop in your garden beds because in addition to providing nourishment and texture to the soil, the compost also increases water holding capacity.

MULCH HEAVILY. Mulch prevents moisture from evaporating, keeps irrigation water from running off, and enables your plants to use water more slowly and effectively.

Strawberry plants with drip tubing at
the root zone, and straw mulch on the bed
To conserve moisture, put straw mulch around
lettuce plants, completely covering the drip tape
Irrigation line with 2 gallon per hour drip emitters
at the root zone to water grape vine
NEW PLANTINGS ALWAYS NEED WATER INITIALLY. If you don’t give your new plants adequate water they won’t succeed: when seeds are germinating and plants are still at the seedling stage, a little hand watering is the most effective way to get them established. Once water wise plants reach full size, drip irrigation will keep them thriving over the long term. The trick is to use water thoughtfully and effectively, and mulch heavily.

USE WATER SLOWLY: Deliver only the amount of water the plants need to thrive, but don’t use more than necessary. DRIP IRRIGATION supplies are easy to install and economical, and using drip will reduce your water use very significantly.

A ring of drip tubing
in container vegetables
CLUSTER PLANTS. Cluster plants with similar water needs together. The more you learn about the water needs of your plants, the better. Remember, watering frequently and shallowly results in shallow roots; less frequent, deeper watering of established plants entices roots to grow downwards.

CONSERVE WATER for outside use: Put a bucket in the shower/sink to save the water while you’re waiting for it to heat up, then use it outside. Put a bucket near every hose bib, so when you start/close a hose, you can save excess water when you start or stop watering.

Cover crop mix in bed
PLANT A FALL COVER CROP. The foliage of cover crop plants help prevent erosion and water run off and the roots hold onto your garden soil’s organic matter through the cold and rainy season. When spring weather comes, weed wack or pull and chop up the cover crop plants, then turn them into the soil in your beds. The plant residue will break down quickly as the weather warms, adding moisture holding capacity and additional fertility to the garden for later spring planting.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

“Garden Easter Eggs” for Kids

As kids look forward to Easter egg hunts and candy, why not divert their attention to hunting for fast growing Easter Egg Radishes in the garden? Imagine how pretty your child’s Easter basket will look when it is filled with these colorful radishes. They are also delicious added to salads and to use as a vibrant garnish.

Our Easter Egg Radishes are perfect for Easter season harvesting in mild climates or growing in later spring in cold winter climates. These roots come out of the soil in shades of pink, purple, red and white with very crisp and white interiors. Kids can easily sow the seeds themselves and in under a month, they’ll be harvesting the tasty multicolored radishes.

Have your child read the back of the packet to learn when to plant, how much sun is required, how deep to sow, days to germination, and days to harvest. Have your child mark a calendar to count off the days from sowing to harvest. A small 2 x 2 or larger area in your garden with 4 or more hours of sun will be ideal for growing radishes. You can plant more seeds every couple weeks for a continuous harvest – one packet has several hundred seeds!

To get started, choose a site in the garden, loosen the soil to a shovel’s depth and turn in about an inch of well-composted organic matter to amend the soil. After the compost is well mixed in, rake the soil flat.

Take a ruler and lay it on the garden bed and have your child make a hole every inch along the ruler and 1/2 inch deep using a pencil. Drop 1-2 seeds in each hole, gently cover with soil and water.

Keep the seed bed moist and germination takes place in 4-7 days.

When the seedlings are large enough to handle, help your child gently thin out the seedlings, so you are left with 1 seedling every 2 inches. This is an important step, because each radish seedling needs room to grow into a nice sized radish. If not, thinned, crowding will prevent them from maturing properly.

In about 24-28 days, simply push back a little soil around several radishes to see if your Garden Easter Eggs have grown to a good size to harvest – anywhere from the size of the cherry to a walnut. Don’t leave radishes in the ground too long.

Original article by UC master gardener  Susan Schieferle appeared in Raise magazine. Photos are from Renees Garden

Monday, February 16, 2015

ROSE COMPANIONS: Seed-Grown Favorites to Compliment the Beauty of Roses – with Desserts!

The lush blossoms and complex perfume of blooming roses makes them the true queens of the garden. And every season I also plan and plant a new court of companion flowers, grown from seed, to set off and nurture my roses. These flowers attract pollinators and add beauty and grace to the landscape surrounding the rose bushes, and many are pretty in bouquets along with roses. All can be handily started from spring sowing for a long season of enjoyment. Here are a few favorites.

Compact Cosmos
Cosmos Sonata
Dwarf Sonata Cosmos are dainty looking but sturdy, reliable and easy to grow. These compact 2 ½ foot tall plants have fine-cut, lacy, bright green foliage and flowers in pretty magenta rose, white, and pink, all with bright yellow centers that nod gracefully around rose bushes, adding a tapestry background.

My own favorites are the Cosmos Snow Sonata, and we sell them in a separate packet. They are milk-white dancing blossoms that form a soft but striking background for dramatic rose colors. Sonata Cosmos are carefree and simple flowers to grow from seed and they attract butterflies and pollinators to your garden. They can be sown directly into the garden each spring in any good soil in full sun. I often make several sowings of Sonata, so I can have a continuous sea of their satiny blooms to display with my ever-blooming roses all summer long both indoors and out.

A Sweet Carpet of Alyssum
Alyssum makes a perfect ground cover to sow at the feet of rose bushes. These low-growing spreading plants quickly flower creating lovely patterns. We offer them in peach, or mixtures of pastel rose, pink, lavender, violet, and white. Their dense, tiny flower clusters have a deliciously honey-scented fragrance. Alyssum is one of the best flowers to bring regular visits from a wide variety of pollinators and beneficial insects. These scented low growing flowers bloom vigorously to mid summer; then I cut them back with shears, water well and am rewarded with another flush of soft velvety bloom that covers the ground beautifully around my mature roses. Click here to see our selections.

Charming Nigella
Nigella’s common name “Love in a Mist” gives you some sense of this old-fashioned cottage garden flower's charm. The very filigreed, lace-like foliage fronds almost float in the air around delicate stems of faceted flowers in pastel hues. The seed pods that follow the flowers make wonderful everlasting displays. Nigella blooms effortlessly in early spring and self-sows itself easily. Plants reach about 12 inches tall, and provide a romantic backdrop for roses first full blushes of spring bloom. Click here to see our selections.

Lovely Perfumed Lavender
Lavender can be tricky to start from seed, but with new cultivars like our French Perfume and White Ice you can have reliably grow dozens of sturdy handsome plants from packets. Follow our growing instructions carefully, and by the middle of spring, you can plant 2-3 inch seedlings into the rose garden, 2 feet apart and 2 feet from your rose bushes. Seed-grown lavender gets established and will have just a few flowers their first season, but will mature nicely so that in their 2nd and 3rd year they form handsome mounds of narrow gray-green foliage. In mid to late June their deep purple or snowy white, richly scented spikes flower gloriously along with summer roses at their peak. Even after their flowering is finished, the silvery aromatic foliage of lavender is a perfect compliment to roses in the garden.

Special Desserts To Enjoy in Your Rose Garden
Because roses and their floral companions lend themselves to garden parties, here are several of my favorite dessert recipes to help celebrate. These are wishes to serve for a tea party, a candlelit dinner, or a special brunch.

Coriander Spice Cake
This is a moist, gingerbread-like cake that keeps very well and actually improves in flavor the second or third day — if it lasts that long.

2 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter, melted
1 cup light molasses
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Sift flour, baking soda, salt and all the spices together. In a bowl, blend the sugar with the melted butter. Beat in the molasses and eggs. Stir in raisins, walnuts and orange peel. Add sifted dry ingredients and hot water alternately to egg mixture, beating after each addition until just combined. Don’t over-mix.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or top with our Orange Butter icing.
Serves 16-18

Orange Butter Icing
1 pound sifted powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, at room temperature
3 to 4 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (orange part of the peel)

Sift powdered sugar into mixing bowl, add salt and mix. Beat in the butter and add the orange juice a tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Add orange zest and frost cooled cake.
Makes about 2 cups   

Luscious Lemon Pudding Cake
A tempting dessert with lovely lemon flavors. Not at all rich, so you can indulge yourself!

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (yellow part of the peel)
5 tablespoons lemon juice
3 egg yolks
1 ½ cups milk
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tarter
¼ cup sugar

Garnish: Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350°F
Lightly grease a 1 ½-quart baking dish or 6 custard cups. Set into a slightly larger pan, at least 2 inches deep. In a mixing bowl, combine the 3/4 cup sugar, flour and salt. Add butter, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix until thoroughly blended. With a whisk, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon colored; add milk and mix well. Combine with lemon mixture, stirring until blended.

In another bowl, beat egg whites until foamy, add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Add the ¼ cup of sugar gradually and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold the whites into lemon mixture. Spoon into baking dish or custard cups. Pour 1 inch of hot water around them.

Bake until set and top is golden brown, about 35 minutes for custard cups or 45 minutes for baking dish. Remove from water and let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or chilled with a dollop of whipped cream.

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