Archives For Fruit & Vegetable Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Seed Swap is timed perfectly. As I type this blog, there is snow covering the ground. We’ve not had our mail delivered in days (this is, after all, Raleigh, N.C., where snow is a dirty word). But indoors, armed with seed catalogs, vials, and notebooks, gardeners everywhere are immersed in planning and planting.

That’s why I am so excited to be bringing my tomato stories and seeds to the Seed Swap.

As always, I hope to learn as much from the audience, fellow bloggers, and swap participants. One of my favorite things about gardening is the ability for all who partake to learn new and exciting things to share. It is one of those unique pursuits that no one can do perfectly or predictably. The renewal of each season fires up hope and optimism, and helps us to keep going year after year.

PHOTO: Heirloom tomato harvest, with cultivars labeled.

January: the time when we dream of heirloom tomatoes.


Sign up for my free lecture at the Garden on February 28. Don’t live in the Chicago area? Find more National Seed Swap Day events nationwide in January and February.

Seed swaps are just marvelous events which represent far more than just entering into a fun, interactive way to build seed collections. Seeds are the future—as in flowers, vegetables, or herbs for your garden. Seeds, perhaps even more significantly, are the past. They are a direct way to pass on a bit of history, as well as a bit of your own effort, if the seeds happen to be those that you saved yourself. When passing on seeds, be sure to also pass on whatever history and information that you’ve accumulated along the way.

PHOTO: Heirloom tomato seed collection.

Part of the Craig LeHoullier heirloom tomato seed collection housed with my go-to books.

I’ve got a “small” collection of seeds saved and sent through my 35 years of gardening (if you call more than 5,000 samples of seeds small, that is). There will be some fun, interesting, historic varieties among the packets that I will bring to share at the swap event. I like to tell people that it recently came to me that heirloom tomatoes chose me to be one of their ambassadors. How else can I explain the unsolicited gifts, in the form of letters with packets of seeds, which populated my mailbox in and around 1990? Among them are Anna Russian, Mexico Midget, and two varieties that came to me unnamed—Cherokee Purple and Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom. It is a role I relish, and serve gladly and enthusiastically. I am joined in this by so many—Carolyn Male, Amy Goldman, Bill Minkey, and Calvin Wait, just to name a few of those whose books and/or seed-saving efforts have been but a small part of making this perhaps the very best time for tomato enthusiasts to paint their gardens with such an array of colors, shapes, and sizes.

PHOTO: LeHoullier's garden, covered in snow.

The LeHoullier backyard tomato garden—it doesn’t look like much now, but wait until August!

The challenge of planning is that there is always more to grow than can reasonably fit. Some succeed better than others at narrowing things down. It is a good thing that tomato seeds will keep germination for at least a decade; it helps to ease the pressure of over buying. Hey—how about swapping for some of those extras! Whoops—that means I will then have even more to choose from. Great!

Sources for Craig’s seeds:

As far as what to grow, how does one navigate the confounding waters of tomato choices? Part of that answer lies in the intent of the garden—primary food source, tomato playground for testing or projects, or just one part of a greater whole with many other types of crops. There are choices of heirloom or hybrid, indeterminate or dwarf, and then the more fun projections such as colors and flavors. It all adds up to some pretty intense dreams—both during the day, and for me, occasionally while I sleep.

And so, Chicago, here I come. From lunching with bloggers and sharing gardening ideas and battle scars to my main talk where I can entice you with pictures of my conquests (and challenges, because they are unavoidable), and finally some time to swap seeds and stories, ask and answer questions. I will be happy to share the list of my favorite varieties and why. And stories—lots of stories, because many of the tomatoes I cherish, most have wonderful stories. Each summer, as I cast my eyes over my garden, I envision the faces and names of those who sent me seeds just as much as the appearance of the plants and the excitement of the tomatoes to come.

PHOTO: Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier.

Purchase Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier in the Garden Shop!

In the meantime, come on along on my journey by checking out my website at craiglehoullier.com. I will soon be blogging about seed starting, making choices, and anything else that pops into my mind. There is info about my books, my upcoming events, and the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, from which some swap samples will be made available.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

On September 19 and 20, the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden hosted a fantastic Harvest Weekend for a crowd of enthusiastic visitors eager to learn more about extending their harvest and preserving the fruits of their labor. 

As an interpretive programs intern, I was lucky enough to run a honey-tasting demonstration that introduced many guests to the breadth of flavor, color, and aroma of a favorite sweetener. By extension, I was able to add yet another check mark to the long list of reasons we should actively participate in the protection and conservation of honeybees. 

Getting the goods with a hand-cranked honey extractor

PHOTO: View inside a honey extractor.

Tasting  A view inside the top of a honey extractor. Centrifugal force is used to “spin” the honey from the frames into an attached receptacle. Photo by Audriusa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Harvest Weekend was favored with two beautiful fall days—breezy and clear, with plenty of sun—and I was stationed next to our wonderful beekeepers, who oversee the popular display and free-standing hives.

They brought along authentic beekeeping gear for curious individuals to try on and a hand-cranked honey extractor (generously loaned by Windy City Harvest), positioned near the tent. On Sunday, we featured a live honey extraction demonstration, much to the delight of the onlookers.

Once the visitors had chatted with our beekeepers, they could then engage their palates and senses by tasting three very distinct types of honey: basswood, wildflower, and buckwheat.

The Color of Honey

PHOTO: Basswood (Linden flower) honey.

Basswood (linden flower) honey

Basswood is made from the blossoms of the basswood, or linden tree (Tilia americana). It is especially light in color and very sweet, with a delicate floral aftertaste. Overall, it was the most popular flavor of the weekend.

PHOTO: Wildflower honey.

Wildflower honey

Wildflower honey refers to any honey derived from a mix of flower blossoms, that is—distinct from a monofloral crop such as clover or orange-blossom honey. As such, the flavor is more complex and the color is darker than basswood honey, though not as dark as buckwheat.

PHOTO: Buckwheat honey.

Buckwheat honey

Interestingly, the majority of our Sunday visitors found this flavor to be their favorite. Derived from the nectar of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) blossoms, buckwheat honey is one of the darkest available, and perhaps the most polarizing—people either really liked it or they really didn’t. Our visitors described it as “molasses-y,” “malty,” “smoky,” “yeasty,” and according to one visitor, “like an animal”—gamey.

Want to make your own very local honey?

PHOTO: Bee life-stages models.

Learn more about bees and beekeeping: take our upcoming Beginning Beekeeping workshop!

While lining up for samples, recipes were exchanged: honey mixed with sesame seeds for energy and promoting childrens’ growth, several tonics of honey and cinnamon to soothe sore throats and coughs, and a tangential recipe for cooking buckwheat grains with salt or mushrooms as a side dish. Visitors had questions too, like how to ensure a pure single-blossom crop (hive location and timing), or what makes honey “raw” (the minimal steps used during processing). I heard loads of stories illustrating how visitors have interacted with bees, from the fellow who grew up on a farm with hives to the guests who were just expanding their understanding of bees as hardworking, fastidious insects.

Discover liquid gold.

PHOTO: Tasting honey takes all this small boy's concentration!

Honey tasting requires focus and concentration! Find out more about honey varietals from the National Honey Board.

The Garden visitors also proved to be very adventurous tasters, with most of them sampling each variety of honey. Unsurprisingly, basswood and wildflower were the predominantly favored flavors, although buckwheat tended to be preferred by adults with a penchant for molasses and, surprisingly, by several children with impressively sophisticated palates. Happily, guests were also adventurous about the bees themselves—even the occasional wandering honeybee, drawn by the hopes of a quick meal, was greeted more with humor than apprehension and provided yet another learning experience in what has been a season full of education and outreach!

Things have quieted down for the bees over here at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden as the cooler weather sets in, but I hope that visitors to the Garden will have as much fun as I did, and will take the time to learn from our hardworking and tireless volunteers, and admire the occasional honeybee going about her day.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Swede in Glencoe

Duana Pearson —  July 28, 2015 — 4 Comments

My name is Duana Pearson, and I work as a full-time horticulturist at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England. But this summer I’ve had the opportunity to travel and work at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

PHOTO: Visiting horticulturist Duana Pearson visits and lends a hand in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

Visiting horticulturist Duana Pearson visits and lends a hand in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

When I first joined the Eden Project four and a half years ago, my role was to focus on outdoor crops. These days, that’s expanded, and I get to do a wide variety of tasks: I’m one of nine horticulturists in the outdoor garden, and my areas of responsibility include the Spiral Garden (our children’s garden), Myth & Folk—a woodland glen-type area, and a soft fruit garden. My most demanding and favorite area is Plants for Taste—an ornamental vegetable garden where I demonstrate beautiful vegetable varieties, edible flowers, and companion planting. This was the first area I was given when I joined the Eden Project, even though I didn’t have a lot of vegetable-growing experience. It’s a high profile part of the garden too, so I’ve had a very steep learning curve!

This is why I chose to spend most of my time at Chicago Botanic Garden in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. I’ve wanted to experience working in other botanic gardens for some time now. When I started looking at options last year, the Garden’s Fruit & Vegetable Garden really attracted me. Thankfully, I was able to put together a project—two weeks volunteering at the Chicago Botanic Garden, plus attending the American Public Gardens Association conference in Minneapolis—that successfully received support and funding from my employer, the Royal Horticultural Society, and the Merlin Trust.

But rather than just share a diary of my time in the Garden, I want to talk about food

While working here and talking to other horticulturists in the Garden, we discovered some culinary differences—my favorite was rutabaga. Firstly, in the UK, we call it swede. From what I understand, people in the United States don’t mind eating it in autumn, but few really like it; and mostly it’s fed to animals.

PHOTO: A cartful of Laurentian rutabaga, plus carrot cultivars ‘St. Valery’ and ‘Danvers’ just harvested July 8—all from 1890s vegetable beds!

A cartful of Laurentian rutabaga, plus carrot cultivars ‘St. Valery’ and ‘Danvers’ just harvested July 8—all from 1890s vegetable beds!

Well! You can be forgiven for not knowing this, but swedes are an essential ingredient in one of our national dishes, the cornish pasty. Steeped in history and beef, cornish pasty is considered Cornwall’s national dish. You will find versions of the traditional pasty—claimed to have originated as a meal for Cornish miners—wherever those miners moved, and I would love to pass this delicious dish on to you. Swedes are a home garden staple, and I hope you will make them a part of your garden, too.

Disclaimer: I am not Cornish!—though this recipe has come from a real Cornish lady. In 2011, the cornish pasty was awarded a Protected Geographic Indication. This means that only pasties made in Cornwall, following the traditional recipe, can legally be called (and sold as) a “Cornish Pasty.” You can call them steak pasties instead! Enjoy!

PHOTO: Cornish pasty.Pasty Recipe from J. Kendall
(Proper Cornish maid, and my supervisor)

Short Crust Pastry
You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate. (Making extra to freeze, too, saves work next time.)

1 pound all-purpose flour
4 ounces cold butter 
4 ounces cold lard*
Up to 1/3 pint water (1/3–2/3 cup)
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit (220 Celsius).

Mix the dry ingredients together, and cut in very cold fats with a knife. Add water a bit at a time until dough just comes together. Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Knead, but don’t over-knead, or dough will go tough. Roll out the dough, and place a dinner plate over the dough to cut out a circle. 

Filling
(I’ve never weighed this.)

A good handful of chipped potato (1-2 potatoes), heaped in the centre of the pastry disc. (Don’t dice or slice! Hold the potato in one hand, and chip off wedges with a knife in your other hand.)
One coarsely chopped onion
Peeled, diced swede—the amount to match the amount of onion
A handfull of diced beef skirt (belly area)
A generous pinch each of salt and pepper
Add a knob of butter (or clotted cream, to be properly Cornish) if the beef looks a bit lean

Fold the pastry edge up over the innards. It won’t look like it will fit, but be gentle and it will go. Crimp the edges shut using your fingers—we don’t approve the use of forks to do this! Make a slit on the top of the pasty to let out steam as it cooks. For a golden-brown finish, whisk an egg and apply egg wash to the pasty before putting in the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes until done. For presentation: Cornish men think a pasty should at least meet the edge of the plate you are serving it on. If not, hang the pasty over the edge.

*Note for Americans: shortening can be used in place of lard. We at the Garden have attempted to Americanize the measurements in our translation of this recipe—at least for the pasty crust.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Savoring Savory

Karen Z. —  July 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

“One of the pleasantest of the sweet-herbs, and sooner or later to be tried by every gardener.” That’s how Henry Beston sums up summer savory in his classic Herbs and the Earth.

Savory is an under-appreciated herb that doesn’t make many American top ten herb lists. This is your year to change that, as savory has been designated 2015’s Herb of the Year.

Savory stars at Herb Garden Weekend, July 25 & 26, 2015, at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden—it’s our July plant giveaway! (One per family while supplies last.)

PHOTO: Summer savory (Satureja hortensis).

Summer savory (Satureja hortensis)

While there are 30 savory species, two are especially welcome additions to Chicago’s USDA Zone 5 herb gardens: Satureja hortensis, or summer savory, is grown as an annual, and considered more refined than Satureja montana, the winter savory crucial to the cuisine of Provençal.

Both take their genus name, Satureja, from the half-human/half-immortal satyrs who were said to favor the herbs. And both have a well known affinity for beans, Winter savory is sometimes called the “bean herb”—typically cooked with all kinds of beans, even from a can. It turns out that savory helps humans to digest beans more easily, too.

The stronger of the two herbs, winter savory has been known to world cuisines for at least 2,000 years. Peppery and spicy, it’s strong enough to replace garlic or pepper. A semi-evergreen plant, winter savory is a fine addition to flower/herb beds, and sometimes overwinters here. Gardeners with poor soil will be happy to know that it actually prefers those conditions.

PHOTO: Winter savory (Satureja montana).

Winter savory (Satureja montana)

Plant summer savory in a raised bed so it gets the good drainage it needs. Plant two: one for you, and one to go to flower for the bees!

Summer savory wants light, well-fertilized soil. With a taste similar to oregano, it’s great with both meat and bean dishes (think fresh green beans + savory + chunky salt). Sow it from seed, but buy new seed every year (it doesn’t stay viable for long). Harvest regularly, then cut the whole plant and dry it for winter use. Drying lots of herbs? You’ll want summer savory as one of the key ingredients for bouquet garni and herbes de Provence mixes.

Learn gardening and culinary tips and techniques at all three of our Fruit & Vegetable Garden festivals:
Herb Garden Weekend
Heirloom Tomato Weekend
Harvest Weekend


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org