Greenhouses Grow Optimism

There are times when I still miss the city, okay I miss pizza delivery really, but today is not one of them. I am outside stretching my limbs. I am enjoying the warmth of the sun beating down on my face and soaking up the heat with temps currently a balmy 80°F. My garden gloves are packed with potting soil, seed packets lay empty around me, and all that is left is trudging through 10” inches of snow to fill the watering can.

That is the wonder of a greenhouse. Snow can be swirling around the glass panes with artic temperatures that register a whopping 9°F, but inside it’s Maui. This is my happy place. There is just something about working in the greenhouse in February that cries eternal optimism with a side of profound belief that tomorrow is sure to come with April showers and May flowers.

Greenhouse Basics:

For the next few months, the temperature in the greenhouse will need to be carefully monitored. The sun normally warms the greenhouse effectively during the day, when the sun is shining, but drops drastically at night. Seedling heat mats are a must. I use a temperature probe that continuously monitors the soil temps and keeps it at a recommended 70° – 80°F.  I usually split the difference and keep the soil at an even 75°F.

As the days grow longer and the sun stronger, I worry less about night temps and instead start monitoring the temperature inside the greenhouse. It is important to equip the greenhouse with a fan attached to a sensor that will kick on when the temperature starts to tip over 95°F to allow proper venting.

Seedling:

Deciding when to start seedlings in the greenhouse will not only depend on what you are planting, but on the seed itself. Pay attention to the germination on the package and plan accordingly. As soon as I get my first seed book, I make a list of everything I plan to have in the garden. Using the germination and our scheduled market dates I will lay it all out on a planting schedule.

Here is a sneak peak at some of the produce that will be offered at the Illinois “Market on the Farm.” See the Events Calendar for dates and more details: https://cedaroakfarms.com/the-events/

Unfortunately, gardening is not a direct science. Science can certainly help in the planning, but Mother Nature still plays an important role and she can be a very cruel lady. I have certainly had to learn patience and have been forced to accept the things I cannot control, but there are things that can be monitored and changed along the way to ensure a successful harvest. I look forward to the challenges as I tackle a new growing season. See you at “The Market on the Farm!

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The Gardens

I have always loved plants, houseplants that is, or rather they have always loved me. Growing up my mother killed every plant that was unfortunate to cross her path. I don’t think she was a sadist just never seemed to remember plants needed water. The plant would be withered, croaking, and all but dead when she would quietly knock on my door. “Honey, can you save this?” I did with the promise that she would walk away and never torture the plant again. My room did not have posters of the backstreet boys, a pedestal bed, or pink frilly bedspreads. My room looked more like a rainforest with vivid ferns, exotic croton, and mottled calathea. It even had a bobcat stretch out on the bed purring. Well, Bob, my cat.

Flowerbeds:

Flower Collage
So, when we bought the farm my husband suggested putting in a vegetable garden. “Umm, I don’t know. I’m from the city. I bought my vegetables from the store or the farmer’s market in Lincoln Park!”

“I got this,” my husband assured me. Considering he had been born and raised on a farm I made the mistake of believing he knew what he was doing and agreed we should have a vegetable garden. Only he didn’t. Oh, he was diligent in working the soil every spring, planting the seeds and plants, mostly tomatoes, peppers, and kohlrabi. And then he would promptly forget about it. So the vegetable garden soon became a thriving weed garden with the occasional brave tomato plant that would peep through the weeds.

I did not know much about vegetable gardens but I was pretty sure they were supposed to grow vegetables, not smartweeds. Every time I walked past the garden I swore I heard the tomato plants screaming, HELP! I physically felt sorry for them. I promptly informed my husband that he was no longer allowed in the garden and I would be taking over going forward. He just smiled, like a Cheshire cat, and said, “Okay.”

I think I’ve been played!

Vegetables:

Veggie Collage

I figured if I was going to have a garden it needed to encompass my love of cooking and have an abundance of fresh herbs. I double the size and added more. Along with the tomatoes and peppers there was corn, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, onions, strawberries, kale, and lettuce. Soon I wanted more so we expanded the garden. I added squash, pumpkin, and watermelon. And still I want more! This year I am expanding it once again and adding raised gardens and pathways to better access and enjoy the gardens.

I hope to improve the design and make it an area that people want to hang out in. You will find interesting seating snugged in and around the gardens, borders to create clean lines, and pathways that add visual contrast. Be sure to check out the gardens when you visit the market.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream

We’re taking the classic chocolate mint ice cream up a notch by using the chocolate mint grown here on the farm and letting it soak in Down East Vodka (it’s nice to have neighbors that know how to make a good vodka!) for a robust homemade mint extract that brings the yum to this dish. Like any fine wine, or expensive whiskey, the taste of the extract improves the longer it ages. We let it steep for 3 months.

Fresh heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, homemade mint extract, and chopped chocolate chips makes this one of the best mint ice creams we have ever tasted.

Using Lavender in Food

Lavender is a member of the herb family and like basil or rosemary is edible. We love using lavender in our recipes. It adds a bold citrus flavor to baking and goes will with citrus based baking like lemon and lemon zest. In cooking it complements lamb and poultry and goes well with mint and rosemary

There are many variations of lavender and it has many uses outside of cooking. If you plan to use it in your cooking look for “culinary” lavender. If you want to grow your own plant English lavender which has the sweetest fragrance and is great for cooking.

Add lavender sparingly until you get use to it. Too much lavender will overpower the dish and could make your dish bitter. If you are baking with it, try grinding it in with your sugar to incorporate and distribute the flavor more evenly.

Some of our favorite ways to use lavender:

Lemon Lavender Pound Cake!

Add it to lemon pound cake. We offer a zesty lemon lavender bundt cake in our bakery that delights all your senses. It smells like heaven, has a dense velvety texture, with a fresh and zesty taste. We added a lemon lavender whipped cream and lavender garnish. Go ahead and smack your lips, we understand!

French Chicken!

Check out the recipe: French Chicken

Lavender Peach Crisp!

Using your blender or food processor, grind 1 tablespoon of dried lavender with 1 cup of sugar. Use the lavender sugar in place of plain sugar in your recipe.

Preserving Fresh Produce

The best way to get produce is to walk out into your garden and pull them fresh from the blackened soil. Unfortunately, not everyone can do that. That is where we come in. We are busy planting and cultivating an array of veggie goodness for this summer’s market days (see events).

We Love providing fresh produce to our friends, neighbors, and local businesses. Now that you bought them how do you keep them fresh? We have learned a few tricks over the years to help extend the life of our fresh produce.

HERBS:

As soon as you get fresh herbs home, fill a jar or glass with half an inch water. Remove any bands or ties from the produce, snip a ¼” from the bottom of the stems, and place them in the jar. Cover loosely with a plastic bag. Basically, you’re creating a refrigerated greenhouse where the plants can breathe freely.

If your herbs stay in the refrigerator longer than a week, refresh the water and re-snip the stems giving them new roots to absorb the water.

LETTUCE AND FRESH GREENS:

Have you ever brought home that beautiful head of Romaine lettuce or kale, placed it in the refrigerator, and two days later when you take it out it’s wilted or limp? The reason that happens is the refrigerator creates excess moisture which will quickly wilt salad greens. To prevent that, wrap your greens in a loose bundle with a damp paper towel, place them in a large Ziploc bag, but do not seal the bag, refrigerate them in the crisper drawer.

If your greens, specifically spinach and kale, have been in the refrigerator for longer than a week consider freezing them. Blanche the greens by placing them in a pot of boiling water for a couple minutes and immediately dunking them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Dry blanched greens and lay them on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in freezer until frozen solid. Transfer them to a freezer safe bag. They will keep up to eight months and make the perfect green smoothies. Did you know using frozen fruits and vegetables in place of ice gives you a smoother smoothie without those ice crystals.

BERRIES:

You need to keep berries cold and dry to prevent mold. The best way to do that is to layer them on a paper plate lined with a layer of paper towels. Do not wash or remove any stems. Slide the paper plate and berries into a large Ziploc bag, seal, and refrigerate. Before using the berries, wash under cold water removing any stems.

If your berries have been in the refrigerator longer than a week, it’s time to freeze them. To do this, rinse, dry, and remove any stems from the berries. Layer on a rimmed baking sheet, freeze uncovered for six hours. Transfer to a freezer bag. Frozen berries will last up to three months and can be used in smoothies and baking.

TOMATOES:

Tomatoes can be a bit more tricky and how to keep them fresh depends on their ripeness. If your tomatoes need a bit more ripening place them stem side down in a paper bag and store them in a cool place away from sunlight.

If tomatoes are perfectly ripe do not refrigerate. Rather keep them on the counter away from sunlight. Do not crown them in a bowl, but lay them side-by-side stem sides down. Use within a few days.

If a few days have gone and you still have tomatoes on your counter, now is the time to refrigerate them. The cold air stops the ripening process. Should be eaten within two days of refrigeration. When ready to eat, take them from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. This awakens the flavor.