Harvesting the garden has already begun! Yesterday I shared my second strawberry harvest of the year with my family; each of us got 2-1/2 strawberries. The first strawberry harvest a couple days before that had consisted of 3 strawberries. As always, I had just missed getting to the first ripe berry of the year before some critter got it. So that was when I put the netting over the strawberry bed because I’d rather share my berries with my family than with visiting critters.
Also pictured above is the first fragrant rose from the plant in my bed of herbs and edible flowers. I just LOVE edible flowers! However, I don’t actually eat many roses. Later this summer I will freeze some pretty pink rose petals in ice cubes. Blue bachelors buttons have also started blooming, and I like to freeze those flowers in ice cubes, too.
That herb bed comes to life each year before I get anything else planted, and it contains a few other things I’ve already harvested from this year’s garden. For example, I used lovage leaves as well as chives to make egg salad because I didn’t want to run to the store for organic celery. The taste from the lovage leaves was much stronger than celery would have been, perhaps a bit too strong. I also used some tarragon in this new recipe: Egg Tagliatelle with Ham and Peas. This meal tasted very good, and I will try putting tarragon in more pasta dishes from now on.
The first thing I actually planted in the kitchen garden this year was snow peas. It will be another month or so, I think, before I actually get to pick and eat any pea pods. However, I have already enjoyed two “harvests” from those plants because I used the pea shoots to make salads when I thinned the plants. I used the second harvest to make a salad with hibiscus vinaigrette from some hibiscus vinegar I bought at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s gift shop earlier this spring. Yes, I just LOVE edible flowers!
It’s a lot easier for me to thin the pea plants now that I know I can EAT the thinnings rather than throw them away. Growing some peas exclusively for their shoots is another new thing I’m trying this year. Today I planted a few seeds around the three pepper plants in containers along my driveway. We’ll see how those go.
And speaking of thinnings and plants coming back on their own, I began harvesting and using amaranth leaves a couple years ago. Amaranth is something I’ve grown in the kitchen garden for a number of years, just for visual interest at first. But ever since I started to avoid buying non-organic lettuce and greens (both are very high in pesticide residues if conventionally grown), I’ve taken to making better use of this green that seeds itself very readily in my garden. Last week I used some amaranth greens to make amaranth dip and served it with pretzel bread and carrots. To make amaranth dip, I just substituted blanched amaranth leaves for the spinach in a favorite spinach dip recipe. It came out with a pinkish hue, and I decorated it with a chive blossom. (I just LOVE edible flowers!)
I still let a few amaranth plants mature and flower so I can enjoy their tall burgundy plumes in late summer and fall. And then then the seeds will sprout everywhere again the following spring–a magical crop of greens that I did not have to plant myself.
It’s the first week of June (2013), I just finished planting the kitchen garden beds, and thus far this year I have harvested two bowls of pea shoots, a handful of strawberries, and three plastic shopping bags full of amaranth leaves plus a few leaves of herbs here and there. Not bad!