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The Chesapeake Kitchen Garden

This post was originally posted on John's previous blog site on on April 12th, 2013.

Well, it really wasn’t such a horrible winter. Yet mild as it may have been, the icy grip of Old Man Winter still has been hanging on by a thread. He just couldn’t seem to let go even as the calendar tells us that it is now officially springtime. Planting season for our local farms and backyard kitchen gardens is almost upon us, and my radical gardening friends are chomping at the bit to get out there to start planting. But given our late March snowfall they thought it might just take a tad longer for the soil to warm up. And then, wham. Two days of temps in the 90’s this week to heat the soil and wake up the earthworms.

We just recently conducted our first of the season Edible Evergreen Gardening class at the Evergreen Museum on Charles Street in North Baltimore. It’s our third growing season and our farm manager, Jon Carroll, is totally excited about the condition of the soil in our sprawling garden plot. It takes time to build up the soil for a kitchen garden and Jon has been unrelenting in his efforts to create the perfect environment for this year’s seedlings.

By this time of the year, seed selections should be made and seeds ordered. Jon recommends a few of his favorite seed companies:

Meyer Seeds is an old-fashioned seed store located in downtown Baltimore and offers tons of seeds at fantastic prices. The sales people are helpful and tremendously helpful (repeating). Jon especially likes their seeds for arugula, mustard greens, radishes and herbs.

Baker Creek Seed Company is operated by Jere & Emilee Gettle, and their daughter, Sara. In the horticulture world Jere is a virtual rock star of seed saving and distributing. They sell no GMO (explain GMO or have link to explain) seeds and work with over 150 small farmers and vegetable gardeners to source their seeds. Jon likes their tomato, pepper, eggplant & squash seeds.

Johnny’s Seeds is an employee owned company with one of the largest seed catalogs around. They have a great selection of seeds at moderate prices. Their catalog is also a great resource of information for planning your garden; starting seeds, planting seedlings and harvesting crops.

And one of my favorites is Seeds of Change a company that organically grows their seeds and specializes in preserving heirloom and traditional varieties.

Here’s a couple of tips from Farmer Jon when planning your garden:

“Planning your garden ahead of time is a great way to save money and headaches. It is incredibly easy to start looking through seed catalogs and order a ton of seeds because all the pretty pictures make everything seem perfect.

Making a map of how you will lay out your garden lets you know how many plants you will need based on the amount of space. Follow the spacing requirements on seed packets and catalogs and you can judge each plants area to grow.”

In deciding on a space to plant your garden Jon says there are five major factors to consider.

  1. Amount of sunlight

  2. Accessibility

  3. Water

  4. Drainage

  5. Wind protection

While there are plenty of things that you can do to improve four out of five of these, the amount of sunlight that a plot receives is not easily changed.

Simply because the seeds are not in the ground, and we’re not harvesting a tremendous amount of fruits or produce at the moment does not mean that early spring need be a culinary bore – far from it. The first seasonal catch of shad is already here, with beautiful fillets of the legendary Chesapeake fish, accompanied by their delicately sautéed sacks of roe. The bay waters are still cold and our watermen and oyster farmers have a great supply of local oysters ranging in flavor from crispy-clean to the delightful briny flavored bivalves from waters further south, near the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean.

Out in western Maryland and Pennsylvania ramp season is just getting underway. And, at the farmers market this week we heard a rumor that as of next week the celery-like, spring tonic of the Chesapeake (rhubarb) will be making its seasonal debut. I’m foreseeing that Gertrude’s pastry chef, Doug Wetzel, will be going wild with rhubarb on his dessert specials in the coming weeks. Below is his Apple & Rhubarb Cobbler topped with a pecan shortcake and served with a cinnamon ‘ice cream’ that is both vegan and gluten-free. Make sure to check out his new Spring Dessert Menu that includes many seasonal flavors.

Check out a favorite springtime recipe of mine for Rhubarb Muffins. With a little bit of luck, hopefully Mother Nature will be nicer to us this Spring, now if only we could do something about those cicadas - John

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