Garden Notes: Orphan Strawberries, Bolting Kale, and Other Beloved Imperfections

It’s an in-between time in the garden right now, especially as the weather cannot seem to decide what season we are in. Too early for tomatoes, too late for bare root…A gardener composts and weeds, plans and schemes, and tries to avoid planting cabbage where she will want to plant peppers in a few weeks.

The good old kale is finally bolting, having provided us all winter long with tender leaves or every shape and texture. They’ve had a good long life, but they are ready to move on…sniff. The first of their yellow flowers are opening in a cheerful spray over the gray-green leaves. We let them go for a week or two, out of inertia, or a desire to let the bees get a taste of their sunny hues; you can decide which it might be. But then it became clear that if we let the bloom continue, all the juicy goodness would be sucked out of the leaves, leaving them coarse and woody. So we chopped the whole row of plants down, and made use of our old friend Kale. The yellow flowers went into a salad, surprisingly sweet; the extra rain this year has made a bounty of nectar in the flowers! Karla pointed out the other day that she had observed pollinators in each taking more time at each flower as compared to the last few years; there’s simply more nectar being produced. It’s that extra nectar that made them sweet. It’s time for kale chips, again!

One of the nicest things about tending the demonstration garden is the thought that it is a showcase, an inspiration; one of its primary functions is to excite and delight passers-by, to show what might be possible in even the smallest strip between sidewalk and the buildings. As such, we usually always pick the healthiest, best looking plants to put in the ground, and treat them as well as we can. However, a gardener can tend to anthropomorphize a bit, becoming perhaps excessively fond of, say, a kale plant…or a sad, shrivelled little strawberry plant whose roots have been exposed and dried in the heat. So it was that I found myself fishing the last of those bedraggled bareroot strawberries out of a compost pile. In those early weeks of blazing false summer, the bin that held the strawberries was suddenly in full sun, and the bareroot bundles were flying out the door. When the sawdust had settled, there were just a few straggled berry plants left behind, their tender roots exposed to an unfamiliar sun, that had become cooked and crisped in the heat. Some more sensible gardener had judged that they were not worth nursing back to health; some were clearly dead, but most were just damaged. 
From a retail perspective, this might have been true; it would have taken so much time and effort to pot them up, and grow them on in 6 packs or 4” pots for months before they looked good enough to sell. But I had just reworked a row in the garden to have more of a curve to it, and a newly created little winding path flanked by raised berms toward the back of the garden; I could see the berries there, on the slight slope of the hill, holding the soil in place, under no pressure to look beautiful for a few months, at least. So back out of the frying pan/compost they came, and I tucked them in to the soil, scraggly little things that they were. After only a week in the ground, most have survived and even begun to send out new leaves; it’s amazing what living soil and a gentle rain can do to heal even the most compromised of starts. You can’t save ‘em all…but these berries at least, have a fighting chance. It’s a good thing, because we have a killer strawberry jam recipe that needs making, every year. Not to mention the fruit leather…or the shrub… but we are getting ahead of ourselves. After all, they were only saved from the brink of certain death only last week…

Speckled Troutsback lettuce went in, too, in a spot that the cardoon shades in the later half of the day; it’s time to start thinking of cooler spots to move the cool-season crops to. This is one of the favored varieties, not only for it’s tender leaves, crunchy romaine-like midrib, splashy coloration…and yes, the name. What’s not to love? The peas we started from seed 2 weeks ago are sprouted and looking vibrantly healthy, and the ones we planted a month ago are flowering and forming the first of their bright, fresh pods. The mache is almost ready to harvest. Have you grown mache yet? Oh, if you have not, you should, It’s similar to lettuce, but softer, and it tastes of flowers and rain and green shoots. Not just the leaves, but the coarser stalks and even the tiny clusters of white flowers can all be eaten. It’s too delicate to ship, so the only way we get to enjoy it is if we grow it ourselves. It’s too late to start any from seed this year, but you might just be able to get a crop if you begin with starts. It’s particular about weather and won’t grow in the heat, but if you let it go to seed it will come up reliably every year when conditions are right. Trust me on this one.

The white baby turnips we planted at the end of January are swelling at the base, and the kolhrabi that survived a snail attack of epic proportions are swelling their strange, wide stems. Earlier this week, we even snuck a few bean seeds in to the ground; perhaps too early…but perhaps not. One never knows, with Mother Nature. She’s fierce and tender, ruthless and gentle. She can burn the roots of a tiny plant, and then send a cool, soft rain to nurse it back to health.

Here’s to her, green in tooth and claw, and the ripe red berries that may yet come of compassion.

Over to You

It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you grow beautiful, sustainable, gardens wether you have sprawling acres of farm or just a tiny plot along the highway. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.