Wondering what to get a good friend or special relative for Christmas? A subscription to Grainews comes to mind immediately. It’s an excellent way to say hello and remember someone with a thoughtful gift during the holiday season. He or she will truly appreciate your kindness and who knows? I, Ted, might also gain a new reader to my Singing Gardener page. For subscription inquiries call Grainews at 1-800-665-0502.
LAST COLUMN FOR 2012
Maybe you’ve an amaryllis on the go. Christmas cactus, poinsettia and other colourful seasonal plants are always welcome. But what do you really want for Christmas and what does your heart most desire? Perhaps for many the answer might be getting together with loved ones and renewing acquaintances. Family and true friends are wealth untold and the real blessings of Christmas.
WANT TO BE HEALTHY AND STAY THAT WAY?
Then look to the plant world. This December, I sense a compulsion to focus on nutritional kale and cucumber salad with honeydew for dessert. Both are wonderful additions to traditional family meals of turkey, goose and/or ham with cranberries and all the trimmings.
Leafy kale is one of the most nourishing among the top 10 super foods and is actually termed “the beef alternative” from among plants. Kale tolerates cool weather better than a gaggle of geese swimming in a circle of water to keep it open as long as possible before finally freezing over.
Have you ever heard of kale leaves needing a massage? Well you have now and no training as a masseur or masseuse is required. Start with the following:
One big bunch of large-size kale leaves. Cut off the bottom stems if desired. The ribs on the outer side are similar to ribs on cabbage leaves. These can be trimmed down or pared off a bit to suit yourself or left intact. With clean scissors cut kale leaves lengthwise into one-inch-wide ribbons.
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup almond, canola, sunflower, walnut OR hemp seed oil
One apple cored and cut into bit-size chunks
1/2 cup raisins, dried apricots, blueberries OR cranberries
1/4 cup toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Place prepared kale ribbons into a large bowl, sprinkle with sea salt and lemon juice. Using clean hands, massage kale strips with thumb and index finger for three or four minutes. Next, drizzle your choice of oil over kale and massage for another minute or two. The salt and lemon juice eventually wilt the kale greens. Toss in apple chunks, raisins or other dried fruit and sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Generously garnish with fresh cucumber slices on top. This kale salad keeps well in the fridge for a day or two. Think of it as your beef replacement. How about initiating meatless Mondays with a large kale salad as key ingredient?
You’ll do your heart a favour and reduce chances of getting diabetes, colon cancer and other health concerns. Anyone who smokes will also benefit from regular consumption of kale several times a week. It’s really the very best vegetable for pulmonary wellness.
SOME KALE VARIETIES
Red Russian is a Siberian kale brought to Canada in the mid-1800s and is very disease resistant. It’s sometimes referred to as Canadian broccoli. Winterbor is a Scottish kale producing very tall plants with thick, ruffled blue-green leaves. Winterbor handles winter well at maturity and is so tough that leaves can be harvested even when covered with snow. Improved Siberian also resists late-autumn and early-winter chills. This is a shorter kale (30 cm/12 in.) whose succulent stalks are stout and heavy set on dwarf plants. Another cold-resistant kale is Redbor. Tightly curled dark-red kale leaves lend a striking addition to salads and are sometimes found in the fresh salad fixings section of food stores. Many kales are sweeter once touched by a light frost. Seeds of these and other named kales including a winter kale blend are listed in seed catalogues.
Kale belongs to the cabbage family and that includes broccoli, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts and even rutabaga, turnip and mustard greens. The main antagonists of kale varieties are flea beetles and cabbage moth butterflies. Left unchecked they quickly eat holes in leaves. Young plants in particular succumb quickly. These pests can be controlled by Reemay floating row cover draped over the plants. The lightweight material keeps bugs out while daylight and rain are able to penetrate. As plants grow, they lift the covering. Reemay is reusable and can be stored for the following season.
AH! TIME FOR DESSERT
I never pass up this part of a meal when it’s garden-fresh, homegrown, juicy honeydew melon. Flavour is exceptional without the strong taste often found in some cantaloupes and muskmelons. Let me briefly review a couple favourites. Passport honeydew produces those big five- and six-pounders with green flesh and great taste in about 75 days or less. Seeds are available from Early’s in Saskatoon. Gardeners in shorter-season areas or cooler-spring conditions should start melon plants inside about four weeks prior to transplanting them out into the garden, usually in June.
Diplomat hybrid honeydew matures a wee bit sooner than Passport with similar-size round fruits on vigorous vines that are powdery mildew resistant and tolerant of other fungal and bacterial diseases such as anthracnose. You can’t go wrong with either and I, Ted, like them both for their exceptional eating quality.
Most melon plants benefit from extra nitrogen while growing. Also, a solution of one tablespoonful of fish emulsion in four litres of water is beneficial while plants are young. Later a kelp-based plant food from sea plants can be applied as a foliar spray when plants are in full bloom. Outer skin is smooth and turns light yellow to golden brown when ripe. The rule of thumb for ripeness is when a melon easily slips from the vine when you gently nudge it.
Surprise, surprise! You can make a delicious cantaloupe pie similar to an apple pie recipe baked between two pieces of pastry. Use a little less sugar and thicken with some instant tapioca, cornstarch or flour.
SHARING AN EMAIL
It’s courtesy of Trudy Clavelle from near Plunkett in central Saskatchewan. She writes: Dear Singing Gardener, I just wanted you to know I have been gardening for many years and have always used the same varieties that have been tried and true. This year I decided to be adventurous and try the Cool Breeze cucumbers you had raved about. I was amazed at how good these are and I told everyone that went by my garden that they are just the best cucumber. Never got bitter and maintained their exceptional taste right until the end of the season. It does not matter how long you have planted a garden or how old you are, Mother Nature and fellow gardeners can always pleasantly surprise you. You just have to be willing to go out of the box (no pun intended). Thanks for the tip! I purchased the seeds at Early’s in Saskatoon. I seeded them directly into the garden the same time as I planted the rest of my vegetables. Mother Nature provided the only water. I did not use many in pickles or relish as they were just so good fresh eating. Compared to my other varieties (straight eight and national pickling) they had a much different skin texture (somewhat smoother), smaller seeds, never went bitter, and maintained a crisp, sweet flavour. Ranked 10 out of 10 on my scale. We will see how they perform next year. Happy Gardening. I am Trudy and I am near Plunkett, which is central Saskatchewan.
Isn’t it wonderful to hear such a success story? I, Ted, agree with Trudy’s assessment that “Mother Nature and fellow gardeners can always pleasantly surprise you.” No need to try the following with Cool Breeze. Who would have thought I’d end up writing about cucumbers in December? Here’s what my mother taught me long before I discovered some varieties had a bitter taste. She’d cut off a 1-1/2-inch piece from the stem end where the cucumber joined the vine. Then she rubbed the cut-off tip vigorously back and forth for a few seconds over the remainder of the cuke. The friction drew out a white foaming substance (said to be the bitterness) that was then washed off the main section of the cucumber. The cut end was discarded to the compost heap. Cucumber sandwiches are among “the best.” †