Category Archives: Vegetables

Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)

This past spring while wandering my Door County, Wisconsin woods, the ground was covered with beautiful, light green leaves.

Wild Leeks

I knew it wasn’t trout lilies, since the leaves weren’t mottled, but I also knew it looked familiar.  Without a flower, I wasn’t sure what this plentiful plant was.  I sent a photo to my expert and she instantly answered “Leeks”!   My mom went on to remind me when I was a kid, we had people who would pull off the road near our cabin in Western NY and scramble around in the woods harvesting them.  I knew I had seen them before.

Wild Leeks

I did a little more research and realized I had a little foodie gold mine back there in the woods.  Wild Leeks, or Ramps,  (Allium tricoccum) have a sharp flavor, similar to an onion or garlic and come into season in the early spring.  You can recognize them by their smooth green leaves that emerge from the ground, with a hint of purple on the lower stem.

Wild Leeks

You know for sure you have ramps, when you break a leaf and you can distinctively smell onion/garlic.  No smell, no eating!!

I had never used them before, so I harvested just a little to try out in a couple of recipes.  Wild leeks are actually endangered or rare in many areas because of over-harvesting and they are hard to cultivate.  Rule of thumb to maintain a healthy patch is to only pick 5-10% of a patch, or harvest only the leaves.  To harvest, it’s easiest to use a trowel and loosen the dirt to make it easier to pop out the bulb and greens as a one.  Or, just have a clean shears to trim off the leaves and leave the bulbs behind.

Wild Leeks

Once I picked what I thought was enough to try in a couple of recipes, I left the rest alone to grow and be healthy for many years to come.  I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat them right away so I chose to freeze them for later use.

To freeze, first clean off the dirt, peel off any slimy outer skins and cut off the root end.

Wild Leeks

Oh, they look so delicious and the house smells so tasty. I then cut off the white bulbs and and put them directly into a freezer bag.  The greens I blanched for 1 minute in boiling water, plunged into ice water and then placed in a separate freezer bag.

blanching wild leeks

Wild Leeks

Once things had settled down a bit, I finally was able to get them out of the freezer to try.  I decided a Wild Leek Risotto was a good place to start.

Wild Leek Risotto

Using a tasty recipe for Wild Ramp Lemon Risotto from DOC  from The Kitchn, I made my first recipe.  Yum, is all I can say.  What a perfect low sodium side dish for some grilled Copper River Salmon.

Wild Leek Risotto

I still have enough for another meal and I have a bunch more risotto options to try. Check out my Pinterest site for some wild leek/ramp ideas.

Have you tried any foraging foods this spring?

BTW, the two things that are easily confused wild leeks are Trout Lily and Lily of the Valley.  Trout Lily have mottled leaves and white or yellow flowers that will appear at the same time and do not smell like onions.  Lily of the Valley are toxic and have two or three leaves on one stem, come up later in the season, and DO NOT SMELL LIKE ONION. As one who is not keen on foraging, I can attest to the fact that wild leeks smell like onions/garlic and lily of the valley do not.  Use that as your guide and all with be fine and delicious.

Now I’m ready to try out my garlic scapes.

Finally Fixing the Rabbit Fence

There are so many garden pests, but rabbits have to be right up there at the top of many gardener’s list (unless you have deer, then that’s a whole different issue).  Last summer I posted in “Oh Those Pesky Rabbits” about the issues I was having with rabbits eating many of my tender young vegetables.



For many years I hadn’t had issues with rabbits.  I had installed chicken wire fencing a few years back to block rabbits from getting through the cedar fence.  But as the years went by, both the cedar and chicken wire fences has become damaged, removed, soil levels changed and generally the whole anti-rabbit fence system became ineffective.


Last year, I found these cute babies in the yard, just waiting to attack my gardens.

rabbit nest

By the time I realized I had such a big problem, the cedar fence was almost impossible to get to because of summer foliage.  So I was going to have to wait until spring  to fix it.

Last week, Daisy and I scared a huge rabbit out from under the shed who fled across the yard, escaping through this giant hole in the fence.  It was time to get this problem solved!


Off to Home Depot I went to get some chicken wire, wire cutters and a staple gun.


After trying out a few staple guns, I ended up getting a light duty Stanley TR45.  I hope that it’s strong enough, but I had trouble squeezing anything more powerful and I didn’t want to invest a ton of money.



The staple gun worked just fine for this job.


I think this will keep out the rabbits!


I finished off the rest of the yard in an afternoon, and now will enjoy a nice glass of wine celebrating a job well done.


While I raise a glass to the rabbits, my next puzzle to solve is keeping Daisy out of the peppers.  Check out “Little White Pepper Thief” to see what that problem is.


Homegrown Spaghetti Squash

I have to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of squash.  I’ll grow zucchini and summer squash and eat them all summer, but don’t necessarily love them.


At the grocery store, I pass the pile of winter squashes and look, but they just confuse me.

winter squash

What would I do with it?   Does it need to be peeled?  Which one is which?  I have on occasion brought one or two home and they sat in the kitchen, making me feel guilty until they became rotten and I’d throw it away.  My friends all seem to have great recipes for soups and salads, or just roasting and eating.  Not me.  I realize it’s bordering on irrational.

Two things have conspired to get me to finally cook spaghetti squash.  My husband had a side of spaghetti squash at a restaurant, loved it and suggested I try to cook some at home.   Then my mom grew some in her backyard garden this past summer.  I was really impressed with how great her harvest was and she gave me a couple when I was up visiting in October.

Mom also told me that she had read that as long as part of then stem is attached, it won’t go bad.  So when she harvested her squash, she left a couple of inches attached.  She also cured them for 10 days in the heat of her sun porch.  I think she did a good job hardening them off, since they held up really well without any special storage.

spaghetti squash

This was the first time she had ever grown any kind of fall squash so were both going to experiment with them.  I was challenged.  I wasn’t going to let these two beautiful squashes go to waste so I needed to figure something out.

After a very interesting internet search, I found that many recipes were very heavy on cheese, so trying to stick to a low-sodium diet necessitated some creativity.  I finally settled on just a simple roasting, and then sautéing with butter, garlic and parsley for the first time.

There seemed to be no consensus on how to roast the squash so here’s what I did.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

spaghetti squash

spaghetti squash

Place the halves cut side down on a roasting pan and roast until softened, about 45 min.  It’s done when you can easily pierce the skin.

spaghetti squash

Remove from the oven.  Using a fork, scrape the fleshy spaghetti strands from the peel.

spaghetti squash

You can serve as is, it has a wonderful mellow flavor all on it’s own.  I sautéed it briefly in some butter, garlic and parsley.  There are so many things you can do with spaghetti squash.  You just need to be willing to try new things 🙂

What’s your favorite winter squash?


Another Fall Garlic Crop In The Ground

Last year, I successfully planted my first crop of garlic.


You can read about it in “Planting Garlic” and “Warding Off The Vampires“.  I love reaching in the cupboard and pulling out some home-grown, delicious tasting garlic.  I even have a little terra cotta garlic keeper handy right next to the stove.

terra cotta garlic keeper

This past fall I planted another, bigger, crop.  I was a little late in ordering, but was able to get Music, Purple Glazer and Susanville garlic from Territorial Seed Company, as well as French Shallots.

Territorial seed garlic

Next to garlic, I love cooking with shallots!  I’m still using some of last year’s harvest and looking forward to more.

growing shallots

Music and Purple Glazer are hard-necked varieties and Susanville a soft-necked variety.

Planting season is 6-8 weeks before the likely hard frost date for your area, so I planted mine in mid-October, although this winter that was too early.  Can’t plan for crazy weather though.

Last year, I planted in two different locations in the yard, and one was definitely more successful than the other.  Not sure why the difference, but this year I stuck to the raised beds in the backyard where I had success last year.


I also planted a bunch more in our new property in Door County, WI.  Lucky me–it came with a great raised bed all ready for planting!  I’ll talk more about that another time, but I’m excited to have another place to garden and explore.

stephi gardens

Before the cold and snow came, I was not surprised that I had green shoots coming up from the softneck Susanville garlic.

fall sprouting garlic

Not too worried, the same thing happened last year after planting.   I just covered them with a nice layer of mulch and they should be fine.

Can’t wait for the early spring garlic scapes to appear from the hard-necked varieties.


I wasn’t sure what to do with them last year, so they went to waste.  Not this year, I’m going have fun experimenting 🙂  In the meantime, I’ll just keep enjoying my harvest from last year.  So far, all the stored garlic is just fine!

Are you still using any of your stored garlic?  Or trying to grow it for the first time?



Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2016!  I truly appreciate all who have visited my blog this year.  Here’s a look back at some of my most popular posts of 2015!  

Tomato Florida Weave

1.   Taming My Tomatoes With A Florida Weave:  My tomatoes were a mess, so I tried something new to try and keep things in order.



Blue Jay

2.    The Blue Jays are Back (and That’s Not a Good Thing):  What to do when you have nuisance birds at your feeder?




Garlic3.  Warding Off The Vampires:  This was my first try at growing garlic.  Easier than I thought and definitely worth the effort.




Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze4.  So Long Beautiful Maple Tree:  Sometimes things go terribly wrong with plant.  In this case, construction and cold brought about the demise of our beautiful Freeman Maple



IMG_38415.  November in Chicago:  This fall was quite an unusual one.  Here in Chicago, the plants were quite confused as to the time of year and it made for an interesting fall.



clematis wilt6.  Something’s Wrong With the Clematis and Clematis Stem Wilt: An Update to Something’s Wrong With The Clematis:  The wet spring affected a lot of plants.  Many of us saw some terrible die back of our clematis due to Clematis Stem Wilt.  Hopefully next spring everything will rebound.


westie7.  Little White Pepper Thief:  Apparently Westies love peppers.  I didn’t get any sweet or hot peppers from my garden this year because of my little thief 🙁



rabbit nest8.  Spring Surprises:  Even when you think you know everything in your garden, you get surprised!




Callicarpa9.  Beautyberry Bushes:  Did They Survive the Winter?  After a winter like we had, I thought I had lost my new bushes.  But, they are one of the last to leaf out in the spring, so I’m glad I was patient.  



IMG_349510.  Fall in Northern Michigan/Stumbling Upon Club-Mosses:  This was one of my favorite posts of the year.  Not only was fall in Northern Michigan stunning, my mom and I stumbled onto a forest area full of a club mosses.   Very cool to see and explore.


..and a few of my all-time most popular posts:

Curled Leaves On The Bushes (August 2014)

Creeping Thyme Problems (April 2014) and an update in August, Oops, September Garden Update 

Painting Rock Garden Markers (February 2014)

Pelicans In Illinois (September 2013)

Our Family Christmas Tree (December 2013)

Hope you keep visiting, I have all kinds of ideas to keep everyone in the gardening mood all winter.  

Remember, you can also find Stephi Gardens on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and  Twitter.


Warding off the Vampires

Well not really, but that’s what I think of when I see the garlic curing in the screen room.


Last fall I planted garlic for the first time (see “Planting Garlic”) and I can happily say I probably have enough harvested this summer to carry me through the winter.  I planted 3 different varieties, 2 hardneck (Chesnok Red and Purple Glazer) and 1 soft neck (California Early) from Botanical Interests.

chesnok red garlic

Softneck varieties tend to grow in a wider variety of climates and can be grown in warmer areas, last longer in storage and are good for braiding.  They also tend to be a little milder in taste.  Hardneck varieties require some time in frozen ground, so are not recommended for warmer climates.   In the spring, they produce a tall edible stem called a “scape”  that should be cut and can be used as a mild garlic seasoning.  The hard neck varieties are also generally known for their stronger taste.

I planted the cloves in 2 different locations and one location definitely did better than the other.  Within a couple of weeks of planting, green sprouts could be see popping up as expected.  Then winter settled in and the garlic just had to hibernate and do its thing. I tried to mark it clearly, but as usual by spring I only sort of knew where it was planted and which variety was which.  Typical 🙁

By early spring, the garlic was sprouting.


By late spring the hardneck varieties were sending up scapes.  I trimmed them to send the plant’s energy into producing healthy garlic heads, but unfortunately didn’t get around to using them in any recipes.  Next time for sure.



By July, the garlic was ready for harvest.  How do you know when to harvest?  It can be a little tricky, but usually you want to wait until several lower leaves turn brown, but the top leaves are still green.  Harvesting the garlic is easy, but you need to be gentle.  Unlike onions, you can’t just yank it out of the ground.  Too easy to damage the head or accidentally tear off the leaves.  Garlic cures better when the leaves are still on.

So grab a trowel and dig gently around the bulbs to loosen the soil.  Be careful not to hit the heads and damage the tight cluster of cloves.

Gently pull to release the garlic from the soil.


Gently shake off the dirt, without disturbing the head.  It’s fine to leave some dirt on the head and roots, it’ll come off easier when it’s dry.


Now it’s time to find a spot to cure the garlic so that it’ll be ready to store for the winter.  Garlic should be cured in a protected area, like a garage or porch, out of direct sunlight and where there is reasonable air circulation.  It should be hung with the leaves  and roots still attached.  I hung mine in the screen porch.  On particularly hot days, I turned on the overhead fan to keep the air circulating.


Curing can take three to eight weeks and you know it’s done when the roots are dry and shriveled, the leaves completely brown and dried, and the skin feels dry and papery.  This step should not be skipped or the garlic will not last properly through the winter.

Once done, the leaves and roots are trimmed off, and the remaining dirt gently brushed off.  Be careful not to expose any of the cloves.  The garlic is now ready for storage.   Garlic can be stored in any type of breathable, dry container such as mesh bags, paper bags, cardboard boxes or ceramic pots with holes.  Under perfect home storage conditions, the garlic should keep for 6-8 months.  Ideally to achieve that, the garlic should be stored in a cool, dark room with good air circulation.  Not always easy to do, but just do the best you can.  I am going to store some in an unfinished part of my basement and the rest in an open container in the coolest cupboard in the kitchen.  Kind of a test to see what works better.



No matter what you do to store the garlic, never put it in the refrigerator or store in a sealed container.  That will lead to early sprouting and the garlic will quickly become bitter, soft and moldy.  Time to toss it if it starts to sprout, it’s spoiling at this point.  Most importantly, NEVER  store raw garlic in oil at room temperature.  This can lead to botulism and death!

As a last resort if your garlic seems like it’s not going to last as long as you’d like, it can be safely frozen.  It will change the flavor and texture to freeze raw, so to help preserve the flavor the peeled cloves can be put in oil and stored in the freezer (but again, not in oil at room temperature).  Other ways to store garlic include drying, dehydrating or even turning it into garlic butter.

I’ve already ordered more garlic for next year.  I was a little late ordering, so this year I ordered Music, Purple Glazer and Susanville garlic from Territorial Seed Company.   Can’t wait to get it in the ground.  It’s not too late to order yours, but act quickly.  Lots of varieties have already sold out so you may need to check around a few sites.   Planting season is 6-8 weeks before the likely hard frost date for your area, so it is quickly coming upon us here in zone 5.  Some reputable places to try are Botanical Interests,  Territorial Seed Company and Burpee Seeds.  Do you have a favorite place to order from?

Wherever you decide to order it from, don’t try to use the garlic you buy from the grocery store.  Much of that garlic, unless locally grown, has been treated to prolong its life during storage and transportation.  Some may sprout, but anything you get to grow from them will be of undesirable quality.

Happy Planting!


August, Oops, September Garden Update

A while back I thought I was getting caught up, but then sending twins off to college this fall proved to be quite a time consuming effort!  So the garden has been a bit on auto pilot for a little while now.  Thank goodness it got off to such a good start this spring.  Here’s some tidbits on what I would have written about, if I had had the time 🙂

There was a family of chickadees that must have nested and fledged near my feeders.  For weeks, I was so entertained by the hilarious antics of the 3 young chickadees that truly behaved like little kids.

baby chickadee

baby chickadee

I got a lot more green peppers and Mariachi hot peppers as the summer went on.  Unfortunately, Daisy was not at all dissuaded by munching on the hot peppers and continued to eat almost all this year’s pepper harvest (Little White Pepper Thief).

green pepper

Surveying the garden for her latest snack…


A couple of years ago this patch of creeping thyme was a disaster.  I wrote about it in my earlier post, Creeping Thyme Problems.  I was skeptical that the severe pruning was going to help, but it has.  It looks gorgeous and lush, and smells awesome when I walk on it to get to the garden hose.  So if in doubt, cut away, it’ll be better for it!

Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme

I didn’t get many sunflowers this year thanks to the bunnies.  But I did get this one, beautiful Evening Sun Sunflower.  Made me smile.

Evening Sun sunflower

Thankfully Daisy doesn’t seem have found the tomatoes or basil. I don’t ever seem to tire of fresh tomato salads.

tomato basil salad

The raspberries I planted in the spring flourished over the summer.  I even got a few tasty raspberries in the late summer.  Looking forward to having the plants mature and getting lots of berries.   What did I plant?  See my previous post “My Raspberries and Strawberry Plants Are Here!”


Two of my clematis plants got a terrible case of Clematis Stem Wilt earlier this spring (What’s Wrong With the Clematis and Clematis Stem Wilt).  I was hopeful that the plants would survive and I think they did.  Both plants put up a couple of new, healthy looking stems that looked good until the last few days when something has decided to munch on the leaves.  We’ll see in the spring how they look.  At least there’s hope.


The petunias were home to lots of pollinators.  This bumblebee was fun to watch as he dove deep into each flower.  He seemed to really prefer the dark pink over light pink.  While I have no decent pictures, I had hummingbirds also visit my yard late this summer.  I don’t always get them, so it has been a treat the last few weeks to have them visit.


How was your garden this year?

(BTW Go Hokies! Go Blue!)

Little White Pepper Thief

Now that I had replanted my peppers after a “failure to thrive” issue (Not a Great Year for Sweet Peppers), I was all set to harvest bushels of sweet green and red peppers.

Green pepper

But the new plants just didn’t seem to be putting out many peppers.  I thought I saw peppers growing, but then they’d be gone.  It wasn’t the rabbits, none of the leaves were ever touched.  It was very puzzling.

Until we were out barbequing one night, and  Daisy went exploring around the yard like she always does.




Right in front of us, she went over to the garden and popped a pepper right off the plant, laid down and munched happily away!


Now I have to add dogs to the list of garden pests!


Summer Sunday Visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden

This past weekend, we had the pleasure of having my husband’s cousin visit from Australia.  In trying to decide what to do, we tossed around heading downtown (hmm, Lollapalooza weekend), heading to Brookfield Zoo, Morton Arboretum or maybe even up north to the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  Much to my surprise, it turns out he’s quite the garden fan himself, so off we all went to the Botanic Gardens.

It’s been quite a while since we had been to the CBG, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I was more than pleasantly surprised and it was well worth the drive!  I loved seeing the different gardens, plant grouping ideas and especially seeing it through Australian eyes.  We spent the day comparing growing notes and found many similarities, but of course lots of differences given the much warmer weather where he lives.

Here’s just a little bit of what we saw–

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Pretty sun garden. I’ve only used Lantana in pots and love the display as a planted annual. I’m trying to figure out how to grow my own from seeds or cuttings, but in zone 5 it doesn’t look very easy.

Chicago Botanical Gardens

I think it’s time for some Allium in the spring and summer garden.  While this is labelled Allium nigrum, according to CBG’s “What’s In Bloom 8/1/15” this would be the summer blooming Allium “Millennium”.

Chicago Botanical Gardens

This is a beautiful Physic Garden, a garden filled with plants of medicinal value. Reminds me of my first science fair project, a research project on the medicinal value of local native plants. I got second place to a model of an eye.

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria “Royal Purple”). I need to find someplace for this interesting shrub/small tree. Seems to be manageable with pruning, and the color and form are so interesting.

We went through the model railroad exhibit.  It was a fun trip across the country, with all the models (except the trains) made from nature. 
Chicago Botanical Gardens

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Then came the vegetable gardens…

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Looks more like a decorative border, than an edible border.

Chicago Botanical Gardens

I’ve toyed with the idea of building cold frames over my raised beds to extend the season. These were filled with fennel, which apparently are not friendly garden inhabitants. Most other plants will not grow well next to them, and if grown near dill will cross pollinate and will alter the flavor of both.

Chicago Botanical Gardens

A great example of a vertical garden.

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Tomatoes and onions. Their tomatoes look about as messy as mine.

Chicago Botanical Garden

I’m always looking for new ways to trellis and contain my tomatoes. I like the zig-zag idea for a narrow garden space. Seems pretty easy to handle the twine.

Then the storms moved in and we couldn’t go in the butterfly house.  Got a rain-check so we’ll be back!

Chicago Botanical Gardens

Have you been to a local botanical garden lately?  Where is your favorite?

Not a Great Year For Sweet Peppers

I had a great experience with YOLO Wonder and California Wonder sweet peppers last year after buying them as nice healthy plants at the Morton Arboretum Plant Sale.  The plants produced tons of delicious peppers.  Since I knew I was going to miss the plant sale this year because I was out of town, I decided to grow my own.  

green peppers

I started them indoors about 2-4 weeks later than I should have. I didn’t think that would be a big deal, but I was wrong. Especially this year.

green peppers

I transplanted them in late May, and this is what they looked like in late June.  June was an especially cool and rainy month, so combined with the late seed starting, there is no way I’m going to get any peppers from these plants.

green peppers

green peppers

So what to do?  I could wait and see what happens, but it really doesn’t look promising.  Instead I called my local family run nursery to see if they had any pepper plants left.  Bingo!  They did and even still had lots of interesting kinds.  Look at these great plants, peppers already set, ready to go.  I picked up North Star, California Wonder, Tomcat and Big Bertha varieties.

green peppers

They were a little root bound, but that is to be expected buying them this late.  I just rubbed open the roots on the bottom and they’ll be fine.

green peppers

So much better and already mid-July and I have peppers (and some great looking celery).

green peppers

Sometimes in the garden you just need to cut your losses.  Next year, the pepper seeds are going in on time.  Or maybe I’ll just leave growing peppers to my friends at the nursery and stick to growing the things they don’t carry myself.