A Weekend at the Farm – Seeds, Divine Food and Croatian Wines

[dropcap1]S[/dropcap1]o we are back, fresh from a weekend in the Ohio River Valley, filled with some great menu experimentation, lots of discussion about what to plant in the greenhouse and tasting a lot of lush Croatian wines. It was a centering respite from the din and craziness of construction. Since we covered a lot of territory over the three days, we are going to split the blog discussions into two entries. The first will be an update on the greenhouse and seed plans and the second will cover a short intro to Croatian wine and a sneak peek at some of the dishes Beth and Dan whipped up this weekend, like the delicious gigante beans you see here.

We definitely ascribe to the idea that the flavor and benefits of the foods we eat has everything to do with how it is raised or grown. With that said, the earliest discussions about any menu evolve from a discussion of “product” a rather industrial term for the fruits, veggies, meats, spices etc. that are the roots from which any menu grows. In our case this translated directly to developing a plan for what we will grow this year in the greenhouse and at the farm. Once we establish that we can decide which purveyors will fill in the blanks in our spring / summer menu and will share news about those suppliers as we finalize our menu.

For both the uninitiated and the veteran gardener alike, growing from seed is its own experience, sometimes intimidating, but worth learning. It allows for tremendous individual tailoring of the herbs, fruits, veggies and flowers that you grow in your own garden. Chicago is generally thought of as a Zone 5a/6b region for outdoor growing. We plan on having our greenhouse for at least three seasons, possibly four (ambitious we know) which gives us more control and variety over what we can grow (space allowing) since greenhouse temperatures can be better controlled. With that said the next question is where to procure seeds? While there are any number of great catalogues out there, two in particular will be focused on here, since we found them exceptionally helpful and prolific in their respective ways. We hope you will too.

The first catalog or site we recommend is Seed Savers which is a not for profit organization based in Iowa, dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties of plants, to ensure that they do not become extinct. Started in 1975, the organization retails over 500 varieties a season from a collection of approximately 24,000 heritage varieties. They have collected seeds from gardeners all over the nation, who assist them in their cause. Their catalog is particularly enjoyable, both online and in print for its fabulous photos of plant varieties, with both standard and organic varieties of seed available. Their website is thorough and informative offering information on tours of their facilities, more about their history and mission and lots of resources. We plan to take a field trip to visit them at some point this year. When we do you will read about it here. We would be remiss if we did not mention that they are a charitable organization so if you believe in the mission, jump on-line and support them, or take a road trip to see them!

The second site/catalog we love is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s is employee owned and is a veritable cornucopia of seeds, supplies, tips and one of our favorite features, a seed starting calendar right on the home page. As we are novices to the greenhouse process and plan to do some planting on the patio, we appreciate this feature. It is a great help to the urban pioneer. The site is also loaded with integrated tips which appear in boxes throughout the catalogue (again available in print or digital form by request on the website). Johnny’s is an excellent resource so if you haven’t started your planning there is still time, check them out.

Now, on to the greenhouse update. It is our plan for the greenhouse, to get our seeds ordered which will include lots of varieties of micro greens, a rainbow of peppers, baby lettuces, herbs and edible flowers. One of the cool things Beth introduced us to, which we can’t wait to try is Par-Cel. It is a Parsley/ Celery hybrid (they are already in the same family) that looks like parsley but the taste is closer to celery. We can’t wait to try it. Our chefs will also continue to grow their amazing heirlooms on their farm (if you saw us at the Berwyn Octoberfest last year you have already sampled them). We will also do some planting around the patio and will be figuring that out as we get the patio built in April and May. Phew!

We have selected the greenhouse we plan to purchase and we will commence with that as soon as the siding is up on the back of the building (most likely early April). Any seeds we start before then will be moved in upon its completion. We will have much more to report in the coming weeks as we complete construction. Tune in later in the week for the second installment on Croatian wines and some food previews.

Also just as a reminder the Chicago area winter farmers market return to Oak Park this Saturday for its second and final installation. The full listing of winter markets can be found at the Local Harvest website.
Until next time happy planting…..and if you like share what you are planting this year with us!