Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rule #8: Try "Forcing" Your Radicchio

So, on the list for this year's new things to explore-forcing radicchio.  I got a better idea about how to do this after e-mailing the owner of Seeds from Italy and asking him about how to do this.  I also saw a great youtube video produced by an Italian company that grows the Treviso Tardivo variety of radicchio.  Here is what Seeds from Italy sent me:

Growing fancy radicchio the way they do in Italy. This is based completely on some email conversations I had this past December with one of my favorite farmers. Tim Wilcox grows out in the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts (this is the only place in the state where you can dig down more than six inches and not find very big rocks). Tim has spent a lot of time in Italy and, as am I, he is passionate about things Italian. We were having an email exchange about something and he sent along this report along with some stunning photographs of the Treviso radicchio he grew in good old Massachusetts. This is definitely the way to grow it, at least in areas with more severe winters. I put the description below together from two separate emails.
 In brief, the radicchio was grown like this:
June 15 seeds sown in flats. July 15 transplanted to the field spaced 9-12"x18" for the rows.   (I direct sow in July)Direct seeding would probably yield a higher average final weight, but there's the added work of thinning and weeding. Plants grow well with minimal fertility. Plants are allowed to grow until after a hard frost, with no special treatment. Then they are dug up root and all, the dead outer leaves pared back, and formed into bunches of 15 plants. At this point in time (60-75 days from setting out transplants) the plant has not yet formed much of a head at all in the field. They can be dug any time until the ground freezes. The roots are trimmed level, leaving about 4-6" at least.  Then they are set in a bucket or washtub of water to the level of the root in utter darkness for 2 weeks at 55° or ideally 3 weeks at 45°. (I did mine in the garage for at least 3 weeks) They do not cut the head, but just remove the outermost leaves and bunch the plants tightly together. This forces them to grow very compactly, and the outer leaves shield the hearts from both light and rot. In Treviso they use these huge basins with running water, but it works well on a small scale like this[ using a big bucket filled with water]. When ready they are trimmed of all outer rot and washed well. The unforced roots can be stored in a cold root cellar or refrigerator until needed. They have tardivo as late as April in Italy.
Here are pics of my first results.  I tried two varieties of Treviso radicchio.  The first batch that I picked up was the Treviso Tardivo and they were a bit smaller because I picked from my smaller  (in size) crop where I sowed them.  The transplants, of course, are bigger because they have more space to grow.  The second batch are the plain Treviso type.  A few of the larger ones are picked from my transplants and some are also picked from the sowing bed.  The forcing didn't make them as red as I was hoping for, but they are crisp and tasty.  Good all the way to the root. I am also adding some pics of the endive and other radicchio that I blanched.
Smaller and younger Treviso Tardiva pulled and ready to force

A close up of the roots.  You will see that these are a good deal smaller than the next batch

Growing in the dark for almost 2 weeks
The group of the first batch after about 2 weeks and cleaning off some dead outer leaves
End result of first batch after over 3 weeks (again these are smaller because they started out small)
Batch #2 Treviso
Some of these larger ones were already forming a decent heart
Blanched Castelfranco
Blanched Endive
Blanched Pan Di Zucchero

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rule #7: Build Your Dollhouse

So...many, many moons ago when I was a girl I loved to play with Barbies. The best place to play Barbies was at a childhood friend's house.  They were the family on the block with 7 kids so we lovingly referred to them as the "the house with the 7 kids"!  Colleen was closest to my age so we always played together.  Well, she had the greatest Barbie house ever.  No it wasn't a plastic, buy it at the store sort of dollhouse.  She made hers out of many cardboard boxes, carpet scraps, and wallpaper scraps.  It was the greatest and oh so roomy.  As many of you know, the buy it kind of dollhouses don't leave a lot of room for Barbie and Ken to stretch! Larkyn is not quite into Barbie, but while visiting for the first time we found many fun crafts. So we set out to make the Peppa Pig house to include the characters and props. It was so fun to make and she loves it! Out of curiosity I looked up Peppa Pig on Amazon to see what kinds of plastic Peppa things I could find. The dollhouse price?  (yes there is one and it's pretty expensive since it is a British show).  As I remember around $150 plus shipping!
making the characters, "This is my little brother George."

dining with the dollhouse

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rule #6: Results are worth the time and effort!

So what were my results????  So far really good this year.  I am ridiculously taking pictures of radicchio like people take pictures of their vacations!  Some years the results are not as good, but you learn from them for the next year.  Sometimes it's just the weather that affects your crop.  But this year they are spectacular and blanching them has proven well worth the little extra effort and completely yummy.  Blanching is basically (how I understand it) keeping the inner heart and as many leaves as you can from the light to make the leaves become lighter and also much more crisp and tender.  You can do this a few ways. When I first learned about it mom's friends were telling me in order to get my Castelfranco yellow with the red speckles you see on the seed cover and in the market in Italy, you had to plant them in sand and place them in a cool dark place.  Well this seemed like a little too much work and I never got around to doing it.  This year as a researched it and saw some suggestions from Seeds from Italy about blanching Endive. I tried it on all my heading radicchio.  You can either place a bucket over the plant or tie it up.  I actually found a youtube video of farmers in Italy tying the radicchio up.  I just took a thin rubber band, gathered all the leaves and secured them with the rubber band close to the top of the bunch.  You have to be patient at this point and leave it there for about 10-14 days.  Here are my results.  The taste is just amazing! I am now still in the process of "forcing" my Radicchio de Treviso which is a bit more involved and will be my next post!
Pan di Zucchero

Pan di Zucchero and Castelfranco Bed

Lusia Bed

Heart of the Lusia

Heart of Castelfranco

Opened Pan di Zucchero Heart

Closed Pan di Zucchero heart

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rule #5: Transplant or Thin, You choose

Newly Transplanted Radicchio

They can look pretty sad at first!

This is where they were started in July
Personally I have found that transplanting works well. You can thin the rest to eat and leave a few plants where you have sown to allow to grow.  These are the first to be eaten at my house, because they are not under the hoop house.  Because I was a little busy with a newborn  my transplanting was delayed a bit, which turned out to be better because the hurricane came through!  I transplanted my radicchio on September 10th this year.  As you can see they are pretty sad looking for about a week, then they start to perk up.  Just make sure you get as much root as you can when you dig them up!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rule #4: Start your radicchio seed in July

In the Maryland area that is!  This radicchio is actually for harvesting in the fall/winter season.  There are some bolt resistant and fast growing radicchio you can grow in early spring.  You can also have cutting radicchio/radicchio da taglio throughout the summer.  Any radicchio seed could also be planted when you choose if you just want to eat them as "babies" and not let them get full grown. Now there is a lot of controversy about when during the month to plant.  I have looked up several sites on growing with the moon and it says to sow seeds with the new moon.  This doesn't always seem to follow what "the Italians" (how I will refer to my moms Italian friends who have been growing radicchio in this area for years!) tell me.  Usually I just plant when they do and if I miss that window I plant with the new moon.  So my seeds were planted on July 18th.  This was just after the full moon.   It seemed to work just fine.  After planting you must keep the seeds moist, but not over watered.  For me I go out and mist them several times a day and for the first few days I cover them with some burlap. This must be taken off after a few days as the seedlings emerge.  I found a wonderful company called Seeds from Italy and their website is in my links section.  Most of their seeds are from the Franchi seed company.  So this year I started the seeds in my far right bed which still had one tomato plant and other low growing plants in the middle of the bed.  This is where I had a little trouble.  The front of the bed seemed to have gotten more sun than the back because of the tomato plant.  So in the front I planted Pan di Zuccchero, Verona, Castlefranco, Treviso, Grumolo, and Bianca di Bergamo.  These came up great and hardy.  The only one that didn't come up was the Bianca di Bergamo, probably because their seed date was older than the rest. I will need to get new seeds next season.  In the back of the bed I planted Treviso Tardiva, Lusia, Puntarelle, and two varieties of Endive-Riccia Ruffec and Bionda a cure piano.  I also planted some fairly old seeds from my dad that were a strange looking variety.  I seems that they are grown for their stems, but as I expected they did not germinate.  Although these back of the bed seeds did come up they weren't as strong as the front of the bed seeds.  Once I took the tomato plant out at the end of it's season they got stronger.  Lesson learned for next year. This is the first of many future posts on my my trials with radicchio this year.  I am trying many new techniques to "finish off" the radicchio this year including blanching and forcing.  More on that later!

Baby Radicchio
Just a few days old

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rule #3: Just do it.

So this post is about the girls.  I have a ton of posts I need to do about the radicchio but they will take too long and I was thinking about the big steps our household has taken this week.  Funny how they are slightly related in "topic"if you will.  The "just do it" refers to things that I have been meaning to just do, but have been a little hesitant.  First, Larkyn is officially sleeping in underwear.  It's a little scary, but she is doing great. The first night I hadn't meant to leave her in her underwear, but I forgot.  I had to get up with Mckinley at around 4 and I went into her room to check on her and she woke up, so we took a potty break.    We are  so proud of her.  On another note I have also started cloth diapering with Mckinley.  Just like Larkyn I am starting at 6 months.  I actually don't mind it, but it's that first leap that is hard. I got some super cute tie-dye diapers called Butterbears and I have turned them into all in 2's using the lining of my g-diapers so that I can use the same outside several times.  I am also still using my g-diapers with pre-folds.   So there it is....done and done!
Mckinley in her new cloth diapers.
Big Girl Larkyn!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rule #2: Build a Hoop House!

So this year I went a little crazy with my winter garden.  I planted 6 varieties of radicchio and 2 of endive.  Well, a few of the radicchio did not geminate and I didn't have time to replant. I did originally plant 9.  More on that in another post!  So when I went to transplant them in early September I used 3 of my middle beds.  Now in the past years I have only used one bed and we created a small plastic row cover using PVC piping.  This year was another story.  John used some of our old fencing and a new grey electrical piping to create a walk in hoop house!  I am too excited.  It even has a door.  I have my radicchio transplants in there plus some lettuce and arugula.  Unfortunately I did not get to transplant the endive or all of my radicchio in there but they are a cold weather crop and can even do OK at about 30 degrees.  So I have been picking and eating them first.  I may eventually have to put some plastic over them as well depending on the weather and how fast we eat it!  The top pic is mid construction and the bottom pic is John finishing the door.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rule #1: When Life is Busy...start a blog.

Makes sense, right?  Well really I just wanted to have a place to share my love of gardening and my experiences raising my kids.  I'm thinking that, like my garden, this blog will at times be hard to keep up with, overwhelming, exciting, rewarding, and have varied seasons!  Life is busy.  I have two beautiful daughters (a 3 year old and a 6 month old) and husband who is always creating projects for himself in between two demanding jobs.  We also have 3 slightly older, but young acting dogs. So yes, lots of cleaning! I've got a ton of pictures that need to be put into scrapbooks and a million books I would love to yes I am starting this blog.  Take away...when life is busy you have to make some room in it for yourself and what you want to do with those extra few minutes!