The Green File - Mark Cullen
I have been thinking about food a lot lately. Every time I go out into my 10-acre garden I am reminded that the food that I grew with such pride through the summer is melting away into pockets of rot. The garden becomes ‘dark’ as they say in the theatre business. But I am here to tell you that there is an encore happening in your garden and celebration is not finished.
Leeks. Leeks are running my life these days. I grew more than I can count on account of the fact that when I sowed four packets of their seeds I had 110 per cent germination (an impossibility, I know, but this is how it feels to be successful in the garden). Every gardener has had this experience. Often it is with zucchini: you sow a few measly little seeds in May and they all germinate into steroidal plants with fruit the size of dinosaur eggs.
I am in just such a situation with leeks right now. My wife Mary makes leek soup and freezes it. Her criteria for using the recipe that she does? It uses more leeks than any other recipe that she could find. You will find it online at www.markcullen.com under the Hot Topic heading. My 92-year old mother-in-law is hoping that Mary will see the light and divorce her son-in-law. Find a nice doctor or lawyer who, when he brings home his work, she does not have to clean up after or cook it to get it out of the way.
Leeks enjoy the cold, especially temperatures below freezing. They get bigger and better by the day.
Carrots are much the same. Bring on the cold weather, they say to one another as they huddle shoulder to shoulder in the cold, sandy soil. I suggest that you dig them soon and put them in bushel baskets of dry sand to hold them over the next couple of months in your garage or cold cellar.
Ditto with parsnips.
Pumpkins. You will no doubt be picking up a pumpkin at your local food retailer soon. I suggest that you keep it on your porch or in your garage until Halloween just to prevent it from being hit by hard frost and going gooey and rotten before the big day. Best of all is to drive out to a farmers market and pick your own. Shouldn’t every kid have this experience? Show them where pumpkins grow and help them understand why you cannot grow one in your townhouse back yard. They would take over the neighbourhood if you tried, much like the zucchini.
I remind you that pumpkins are 90 per cent water. Therefore throwing them out or disposing of them at the end of your driveway makes no sense. Think about all of the garbage trucks in early November that are driving around with large orange vegetables: neat packages full of water. It makes so much more sense to just place it on the surface of the soil in your garden and let Mother Nature rot it down into something useful for your soil. In time it will assist in building microbes and organic matter there. The family pumpkin does not belong in a garbage truck.
Garlic. The whole routine of planting and harvesting garlic is counter-intuitive. You plant the cloves now in open, well-drained soil. Come July they will sprout a long stem with a pigtail and flower on the end of it: this is called a scape. Three or four of these sell for big bucks at the farmers market in July so cut and use them. Every part of the garlic plant is edible so be creative and use the flowers in salads or whatever you are cooking on the barbecue that time of year. Harvest the garlic in August and leave the bulbs in the sun for a few days. Then tie the stems together and hang them in a cool, well-ventilated place until you are ready to use them in the kitchen.
It is my view that you can tell a ‘fine’ restaurant from a run of the mill eatery by the type of garlic that they use. Fresh garlic is expensive. My brother-in-law Guy, who grows and sells a lot of the stuff, gets four dollars for three bulbs this time of year. The difference between fresh garlic and powdered garlic is amazing. Accept no substitute for the fresh, locally grown varieties.
Rhubarb. If you have a large rhubarb plant in the garden, now is a good time to dig it up, divide it into smaller root portions and replant it or give away some of the divisions. This is also true for hostas, daylilies, monarda, and many other perennial flowering plants.
It may be late October and you were planning on going for a walk in the park this weekend, but don’t forget that the garden still needs some of your attention.
Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is spokesperson for Home Hardware Lawn and Garden. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com.