Trying something different again — cardoon
We’ll be making room in the garden again this summer for cardoons. For years we were tempted, but resisted cardoons. And two summers ago we finally did. Often found as seedlings at local springtime plant sales and exchanges, these exotic looking plants that are relatives of artichokes are enough to captivate any gardener. Statuesque and succulent too, cardoons add a lot more than just an element of mystery and magic to any garden. They taste divine, but only if prepared correctly.
That was the mistake we made the first time around — not preparing the plant by blanching it at the end of the season. Even so that first time I tried cooking those spiny leaves, I was mesmerized by the mouth-watering fragrance that wafted from the pot. If you like fresh artichokes, you know about that tantalizing aroma, and that’s just what those simmering cardoons smelled like. Only problem was that even after two hours of simmering they were just as tough and woody as pine bark and twice as bitter. But boy-oh-howdie did the kitchen ever smell mouth-watering good!
However this time we’re educated and prepared to have another go at cardoons again. It was an article on cardoons I found in a Fine Cooking magazine that rekindled the interest, plus a recipe for cardoons with garlic butter and parmesan. They say fragrance is one of the most powerful incentives, and I believe that is true. At least it is powerful enough to get us to follow a complicated routine that can get cardoons to our table.
Cardoons like rich soil and plenty of moisture and full sun too. Give them some extra room as they can grow quite wide and up to 6 feet tall. Feed them well and often for the most tender and delicious cardoons. Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) have attractive silvery green leaves and will produce a thistle-like bloom. Toward the end of the growing season (in September) the gardener will need to “blanch” the plant which makes the leaf stems more tender and reduces their bitterness. Provide a long stake for each plant to prevent the wrapped plant from being blown over by the wind. On a dry day to ensure that the leaves show no signs of moisture to prevent possible rot, gather the leaves together and loosely bind them with twine. Then wrap the plant with heavy brown paper to the soil level, so that the tops of the leaves protrude. You can mound dirt around the bases of the plants as well. Leave the trussed and wrapped plants en situ for at least two weeks.
Cardoons are native to southern Europe and North Africa where they are perennial in Zones 7-10, but here consider cardoon an annual. To prepare cardoon, use the fleshy stalks that look like celery. Remove and discard the outer stalks as well as the narrow leafy stalks in the center of the bunch. Trim away spines and fibrous exterior from each stalk. Parboil, which will reduce bitterness and tenderize the stalks. Then prepare in a number of ways, including pureed, braised, sauteed, battered and deep-fried and more. I know all this sounds like a lot of work, but one whiff of cardoons cooking and you’ll see what I mean. Grow it for looks, grow it for taste, cardoon is indeed something different.
“Now ‘tis the spring, and weeds are shallow rooted:
Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden,
And choke the herbs for lack of husbandry.”
— Henry VI. Act III
Stop weeds before they sprout and do it organically
It proceeds slowly. When we get the garden up and running each spring the sight is simply gorgeous. Neat rows of green march up and down the plot. Everything is tidy and anticipation is high. But give it a few weeks and before long weeds begin to appear.
“That’s because of those dormant weed seeds that lie buried in the soil, ready to sprout the instant the right conditions occur,” says Sally Fergusen, spokesman for Organic Preen weed preventer. “And sprout they will, leaving fledgling beans, zucchini, herbs and tomatoes to compete with fast-growing, naturally-adapted weeds for space, water and nutrients in the garden.
“Ironically, the very act of preparing a vegetable garden encourages weeds,” she adds. “Turning and tilling the soil, and creating the furrows in which to plant vegetable seeds, exposes these dormant weed seeds to the light they need to germinate and grow.”
In the past we’ve tried putting down a layer of mulch, only to have slugs move into the favorable conditions that mulch can provide. One year the mulch layer actually prevented the soil from warming sufficiently and actually stunted crops like tomatoes.
But now that we’ve discovered Preen, an organic pre-emergent option for vegetable gardens, weeds don’t have a chance, and it is something we all can feel good about using in any garden.
“Research at Iowa State University found that corn gluten has properties that prevent seeds from germinating, making it an effective organic pre-emergent weed preventer for food crops, usable all season long, right up to the day of harvest,” says Fergusen. “Pre-emergents don’t kill weeds. They’re weed preventers. So existing weeds must be removed manually or killed by other means.”
Organic Preen is easy to use and comes in a jug-handled bottle with a flip-top shake applicator. Sprinkled atop garden soil or mulch, Organic Preen stops weed seeds there from sprouting for up to four weeks per application. During that period, it also stops weed seeds carried in by wind, birds and animals.
Of course because pre-emergent weed preventers don’t distinguish between weed seeds and vegetable seeds you won’t want to use it until crop seeds planted in the garden are fully emerged, have attained a height of close to three inches and exhibit what are called “true leaves” (the stage beyond the initial leaf-like furls that tiny sprouts put out). While it is true what someone once said about gardening — that it requires a lot of water, most of it in the form of perspiration, you shouldn’t have to sweat those weeds. Not having to weed the vegetable garden when the heat returns is priceless. For more information visit the Preen website at www.preen.com, or watch how-to videos: www.youtube.com/preenscenes.
Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the National Garden Bureau's Exemplary Journalism Award and the Florida Magazine Association's Silver Award of Writing Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or “friend her” on Facebook.