lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

dried rattlesnake bean and vegetable soup

I had the pleasure last summer of growing rattlesnake beans for the first time. I had never heard of them and was intrigued because they can be eaten just like green beans when they’re young or eaten as dried beans when left to grow and dry on the vine. Anyone who’s grown green beans knows how quickly they can grow, so the advantage to growing rattlesnake beans is that if they go past their young, tender stage, you can let them go to dried beans and still enjoy them. Genius, I say! If you’ve been wondering how to grow rattlesnake beans, they’re easy to grow and delicious.

I ordered my beans from Territorial Seed Company and planted them in early May. Rattlesnake beans are pole beans, so you need to give them a fence or support to grow on and boy do these things grow. I did not have the foresight to take a picture of them on the vine but here’s a shot of them while they’re young:

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-rattlesnake-beaans

Aren’t they beautiful? The dark purple striping makes a stunning contrast to the green pod and these really are delicious when harvested at this stage. If you’re wondering how to cook young rattlesnake beans, they can be cooked any way you cook regular green beans. They’re wonderful steamed, roasted and added to soups and other dishes. We had a very healthy harvest of these before I let them go to the drying stage.

Growing them here in Zone 5 was very easy for me. I planted the seeds against a garden fence with some compost and manure mixed in. These are very fast growers and occasionally I had to train the vines around the fence, to make sure they had some much-needed support. I harvested them as green beans until late July or early August and then let the rest of them mature and dry on the vine, picking them as they became fully dry. Then I shelled them and stored them in a storage container in my pantry, where they’ve kept well as I work my way through them.

lola rugula how to grow rattlesnake beans in zone 5

As you can see, the dried beans are just as gorgeous as the green ones – their distinctive markings make it easy to see why they’re called rattlesnake beans.

So here we are, in the middle of a cold Midwestern winter, and what’s the best way to cook these dried rattlesnake beans? In soup, of course! Packed full of veggies, this is a great version of a clean-out-your-fridge recipe. Mine here simply reflects what I had on hand for veggies, so please don’t be afraid to use whatever you love and/or have on hand. There are no rules to veggie and bean soup, except that you make it with the veggies you enjoy. And if you don’t have dried rattlesnake beans, then use whatever beans you like. Don’t like beans? This is still a great vegetable soup recipe, so don’t be afraid to omit or change things up. Be prepared, this is a long list of veggies but don’t be daunted…I’m just cleaning out my fridge for soup…

lola rugula how to cook rattlesnake beans recipe

rattlesnake bean and vegetable soup recipe

  • 1 cup of dried rattlesnake beans
  • 1 cup of small pasta, such as ditalini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 8-10 baby carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 5 small sweet peppers, diced
  • 4-5 medium-size turnip greens, tough stem removed and chopped
  • 1 cup small spinach leaves, torn or chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 15 asparagus spears, tough ends removed and sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup bean broth
  • 1 2-inch piece of Parmesan rind (optional)

In a medium saucepan, add dried rattlesnake beans and fill with water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, cover and remove from heat. Let sit, covered, for 1 hour. In the meantime, cook the pasta, prepare the veggies and start the soup.

In a medium saucepan, cook the ditalini or other small pasta for 10 minutes or just until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let sit until ready to use.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and carrots and cook just until they start to sweat, stirring a few times, about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the veggies and continue to cook until they all start to wilt and soften, about 7 more minutes.  Season with pepper flakes (if using), salt and pepper and stir well. Add vegetable broth, water, bean broth and Parmesan rind (if using).

Add the rattlesnake beans. You will not add the pasta until the soup is almost done. Bring to a boil, partially cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer.

Simmer for one hour or until beans are tender. Add pasta and bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat and serve.

We had a good 2 bowls of this before we sat back and wondered at the incredible flavor of these beans. Rattlesnake beans have a meaty, hearty flavor but cook quickly and stay tender. I love these beans and will definitely add them to my “things you should definitely grow in your vegetable garden” list.

Happy soup season everyone…here’s hoping for an early spring!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

how to grow artichokes as an annual

Hallelujah! After 2 failed attempts, I have finally – successfully! – grown artichokes. If you’ve ever tried to grow them and not had much success either, hopefully my journey this year will inspire you to try again. If you’re not familiar with me or my site, I live in Northern Illinois, which is Zone 5. Previous attempts at growing these failed, due to the fact that we tried starting them directly in the garden. I credit my husband for inspiring me to try and grow these in the first place – he was the one who bought and planted the first seeds.

Growing artichokes in Zone 5 is tricky, mostly because you need to treat them as annuals, even though they’re perennial plants in warmer climates. We may try and over-winter them, just to see if we can do it, but I’m happy as a clam no matter what happens from here.

The first trick is to grow Imperial Star artichokes. These artichokes are specifically bred to be grown as annuals and I ordered my seeds this year from Sustainable Seed Company.  The second tip is to definitely start your artichokes inside in late winter. I started mine the first week of February and here’s what one of them looked like on February 28:

lola_rugula_how-to-grow-artichokes_2.28.15

You can see that I started them in peat pots, to try and lessen the planting shock that happens when you put them in the ground. When I start any of my seeds indoors, it’s with a base of basic potting soil with about a 2 inch top of seed starter, which is a light mix that is perfect for seed starting. I don’t use any special lights or anything…just a small portable greenhouse with a plastic cover that helps keep the heat and moisture in and helps the seeds germinate. I bought my 3 level one years ago for about 35 dollars and it’s held up well. I keep it in front of a sunny window and it works like a charm. I admit that I have huge walls of windows in my dining room and living room that makes starting and growing plants a breeze. Even before having this luxury, I’ve had much luck with just a mostly-sunny window for a portion of the day.

  • Buy Imperial Star artichoke seeds from a reputable source
  • Plant your seeds in January or early February
  • Use peat pots for planting
  • Use seed starter for the best results (again, I put an inch or two of seed starter on top of potting soil)
  • Keep in a sunny spot and keep damp but not overly-wet, until seedlings emerge
  • Once seedlings emerge, keep damp but not wet, letting dirt dry out a bit in between
  • A few weeks before planting outside, place peat pots outside in a sunny spot, to help them become acclimated to the cooler temperatures, wind and sun. Make sure you continue to water your plants as they harden off.

I planted my 2 artichoke plants in our garden mid-May, making sure to add a healthy chunk of compost and rotted manure to the soil before planting. On June 12, here’s what one of my plants looked like:

lola_rugula_how-to-grow-artichokes_6.12.15

Needless to say, I was pretty excited already with their progress.

  • Select a spot in your garden that will receive lots of sun and has good drainage. You want to water your artichoke plants, not drown them.
  • When planting in the garden, dig a hole large enough to set the peat pot in, plus extra room for compost
  • Add well-rotted compost and/or manure to the hole
  • Bust open the bottom of the peat pot and set into the hole
  • Fill hole with dirt so that the dirt reaches just the bottom of the plant and pack the dirt around it well
  • Soak well with water
  • Continue to water when the soil dries out

Fourth of July weekend, here’s the progress of my artichoke plants:

lola_rugula_how-to-grow-artichokes_7.4.15

Crazy, right? I’ve always know they were part of the thistle family but they were actually more attractive than I thought they’d be. They’re big though, have no doubt. I planted mine with a good 2 feet in between plants and I’m glad I did.

  • Continue to water your plants as they grow, making sure they don’t go prolonged (aka: weeks) without water. Artichoke plants are heavy feeders.
  • If your plants seem to be struggling (or you just want to give them some added oomph), toss on some more compost and/or manure and gently work it into the ground with a trowel. Be sure not to dig too deeply, so as not to disturb the roots of the plant.

On August 1st, my efforts were finally paying off and the first small choke made an appearance:

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-artichokes-8.1.15

Only my true garden nerd friends will probably get this but I was practically jumping up and down with excitement. I’d actually achieved a real, live, honest-to-goodness artichoke.

Their growth was really rolling now and just a few weeks later, on August 19, here’s one of my plants:

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-artichokes-8.19.15

Isn’t that crazy? I was amazed at what just a few weeks could accomplish. I was in artichoke nirvana.

  • While artichokes are growing, make sure to keep them watered but let them dry out between waterings
  • I noticed that black ants really liked my artichoke plants, so I lightly dusted them with organic food-grade diatomaceous earth a couple of times, early on in their growth, and that problem was solved.
  • Do not let your artichokes start to open; this means they’re going to flower and you don’t want that. Harvest your artichokes by cutting them with an inch or two of stem. (if your stems are large enough, you can peel them and prepare them along with the rest of your chokes…they’re yummy)

Labor Day weekend, I took this shot of my strongest plant, which had a good 11 artichokes growing at one time. This is after I’d already harvested 4 or so artichokes off of this plant. So if you’ve ever wondered how many artichokes one plant can produce, now you know.

how-to-grow-artichokes-in-zone-5-lola-rugula

I actually harvested my first artichoke on August 10 – that’s right, August 10 – and have to admit that I was gloating just a bit. I felt this was well-deserved though, after a couple of years of effort. Behold, my very first homegrown artichoke:

lola_rugula_how-to-grow-artichokes_in_zone_5

Victory is mine!

I will tell you though, one of my plants was much more productive than the other, which makes me suggest that you should definitely plant more than one plant for the best results. Also, these artichokes are not the size of the huge artichokes you find in the store, but they have more flavor and are more tender.

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-artichokes

It’s now mid-September and one plant is still producing heavily, the other not nearly as much. I’m going to let the not-so-productive plant go to flower, and see if I can achieve a flower and seeds for next year. I may be a little late for this, but only time will tell.

Happy gardening!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

my adventures in gardening…continued

Finally, the warmth is overtaking the cool temperatures and our gardens are starting to burst, bloom and flourish.

I always like to give an update or two each summer on how my gardens are doing and what I’m growing.

This year, I decided to try some new veggies – veggies we love but that I don’t typically grow or veggies I’ve tried to grow and had very little luck with.

For anyone wondering, I live in Zone 5  in Northern Illinois, so this may be of some help to you in your own garden adventures.

First up is the plant that I’m most excited about: artichokes! I started my Imperial Star artichokes indoors in early February and put them out in our garden in early May. Here’s what one of them looks like now:

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-artichokes

We’ve tried artichokes in the past by starting them outside and not had any luck at all with them. Artichokes aren’t a perennial in Zone 5 so they have only one season to grow and produce, meaning you better give them a damn good head start. Here’s what one of them looked like as a baby on March 1:

lola-rugula-how-to-start-artichoke-plants-indoors

So far, so good. I’ll keep you posted on their progress. Wish me luck…we love artichokes!

Cool weather veggies that I planted early this spring and didn’t have any luck with are my watermelon, black and daikon radishes. None of them bulbed for me, though my Easter Egg radishes did fine, as usual. I will try again in late summer, for fall crops, and see how they do.

My peas are getting ready for harvest in just another week or two. If you’ve never had fresh green peas right off the vine, you’re truly missing out. Yes, it’s some work to pick and shell them but oh…they’re simply heaven. I’ve not grown peas without edible shells (think sugar snaps and snow peas) for over 10 years now, so I’m really looking forward to these.

lola-rugula-fresh-peas

Fresh green peas off the vine are like fresh sweet corn right off the stalk…pure bliss. For the record, I’m growing fresh sweet corn this year, too. It’s about a foot tall right now and going strong. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve grown sweet corn so I’m looking forward to awing my husband with it’s deliciousness.

Aside from artichokes, peas and corn, I have all the usual suspects growing. Tomatoes, red bell peppers, jalapenos, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, beets, scallions, lettuce, spinach, and all my herbs.

Other new things I’m growing this year are fennel, Parisian carrots, purple kohlrabi and leeks. The fennel is doing awesome and my carrots are on their second planting because the first ones didn’t take. Kohlrabi is supposed to be pretty easy and fast by mine aren’t moving along very quickly. Leeks look great but we’ll see how they’re doing in another month or so.

Hopefully I’ll also be posting some new recipes again soon. Gardening takes up some time but it’s oh, so worth it.

 

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

hello March

Hallelujah, it’s finally March. It’s still snowing here in Northern Illinois but March is here and with it the knowledge that spring is just around the corner. I admit that I tend to hibernate a bit in the cold winter months but now, as the days grow a little longer and the sun shines a little brighter, I can feel my energy level rising.

Also rising are all of my seedlings that I planted in early February. This was the earliest I could start them this year, due to an incredible birthday trip to the French Quarter that my husband surprised me with for my birthday.

Though I used to try and start a number of plants indoors, now I just start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. New this year, I also started some Imperial Star artichokes, which I’m really hoping gives us some of my favorite veggies this summer. We didn’t have much luck with these the last time we tried, but this time we got an early start. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Here’s one of my beautiful tomato plants:

lola-rugula-how-to-start-tomato-plants-indoors

That’s just a little piece of heaven in my book. A lot of my seeds this year are from Sustainable Seed Company and they germinated quite nicely. I don’t usually start my seeds in Jiffy pots but my mom gave me a bunch of them and I think we all know how I hate for things to go to waste. So this year, I’m back to Jiffy pots and everything is looking good.

Here’s a shot of one of my artichoke plants:

lola-rugula-how-to-start-artichoke-plants-indoors

I also started some purple Violetta artichokes, which I ordered from Reimer Seeds, but the first batch failed to sprout so I just planted my second round. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for those.

If you’ve not seen any of my previous posts on seed starting, I plant mine in pots with a base of potting soil and then a 2-inch topping of seed starter. This way, the seed starter is light enough to help the seeds sprout well but the base gives the roots something to really latch onto as they grow.

Also, I have a smallish, portable 3-shelf greenhouse with a cover that I use for starting my seeds. This helps hold in the heat and moisture until everything has sprouted. Lastly, I’m very lucky to have tons of windows to provide lots of sunshine and warmth for my seedlings.

It won’t be long now before we’re tilling up the garden and planting leeks – these will be another “first attempt”, so wish me luck. Man, I love leeks! Then come radishes, beets, peas, lettuce, greens and onions – I ordered some cool black radishes this year that I’m very excited about. Finally, typically in mid-May, everything else will go in – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, beans, fennel, carrots, etc.

I can’t wait! Are you growing veggies this year? What’s on your garden planner? I’d love to talk veggies, flowers, herbs and dirt…let me know what you’re looking forward to the most.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

preparing for the summer garden

Well, the tomatoes and peppers for my summer garden are on their way. I started my seeds about 2 weeks ago and just thinned them down to 2 plants per pot. I like to start mine in 3 to 4 inch pots  because, in my personal experience, transplanting the seedlings only stunts their growth.

how-to-start-tomato-and-pepper-seeds-indoors-lola-rugula

I start them in pots with a base of potting soil, topped off with a good 2 inches of seed starter mix. Seed Starter is a lighter soil mix that’s perfect for starting seeds. I have a little 4-level greenhouse with a zipper cover that I place the trays of pots in and place them by one of our huge sets of sunny windows.

Once the seeds have sprouted and reached about 2 inches in height, I thin them them down to 2-3 plants per pot. Once they’ve really reached a size and strength I’m comfortable with, then I thin them down to 1.  I also then unzip the cover and let them get regular air, as this helps strengthen the plants.

I admit I tend to do a mix of heirloom plants and hybrid plants since we live in a pretty wooded area and sometimes my plants need a little more stability than just the heirloom varieties provide.  As much as I’d love to do all heirloom plants, I’ve discovered through many years of gardening, a mix usually provides me with the best results. I do, however, try and make sure that the seeds I purchase are non-GMO. I try not to support Monsanto whenever possible.

When the springtime finally arrives and, believe me, I can’t wait, I take the entire greenhouse outside and, leaving the cover on, but unzipped, let it sit for another week or two. Then, I remover the cover and let it sit another 2 weeks before finally transplanting into the ground. This process is called “hardening off” and helps make your plants more resilient to real elements they’re going to encounter outside.

Just a side note – make sure you always put a marker with the plant name in your pots so, if one or more of them doesn’t sprout, you know what you need to re-plant. Also, I do recycle a lot of my old pots, but only after washing them really well and then letting them soak, fully immersed, in a solution of bleach and water. You have to be really careful when reusing pots, as you can transfer diseases to your newly-sprouted plants.

Is anyone else starting their garden seeds? I also have some peppers, eggplants and herbs going. This time of year always gets me excited for my summer gardens.

Have I mentioned how much I love digging in the dirt?

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

seed catalogs galore

I was having a discussion about seed catalogs recently with my blogger-friend Jen over at Roscoe Ramblings. She asked me which catalogs were my favorite and, though I told her Park Seed, Jung and Totally Tomatoes, I have to admit that every catalog I get holds its own fascination for me. Here’s a shot of all the seed catalogs I’ve received in the last month or two:

garden vegetable flower seed catalogs Now, before you start thinking that I’m wasting paper by continuing to get all of these in the mail, instead of browsing their websites, let me say this: There’s still something about actually paging through the actual catalogs that I love. It may seem a little old-school in this internet world we live in, but I find it a little easier to dream, to imagine, while looking at the printed pages and photos.

You see, in my head, I envision a yard full of fresh herbs, vegetables, berry vines, fruit trees, flowers, and foliage. My husband and I continue to work on this vision every year and, little by little, our dream is becoming a reality.

We have patches of asparagus, rhubarb and horseradish. We have blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and grapes.

We have lilacs, hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, Russian sage, lavender, hostas, coneflowers, dahlia’s, false indigo, daisy’s, phlox, bleeding hearts, columbine and other flowers galore.

We have a magnolia tree, pampas and maiden head grass, boxwoods, smoke bush, and canna’s.

We have daffodils, tulips, calla lilies, lilies, crocus and hyacinths.

We have so many, many beautiful plants that we’ve added to our yard over the years and the list just keeps growing.

Of course, we also have perennial herbs alongside the fresh veggies and annual herbs we plant every spring.

We are lovers of all things nature.

Deer, rabbits, fox, turkeys, birds and raccoon all visit our yard frequently. And though some of those give us trouble with keeping plants around, we wouldn’t change it for the world.

Do you love seed catalogs or do you think I’m a little crazy?

Okay, I may be a little crazy, but there are a lot worse things I could be crazy about.