Winter Composting

Don’t stop now, composting and the decomposition of garden and kitchen waste continues all year. It’s better for your soil and the environment to add vegetable trimmings to the garden than a landfill or your local wastewater. These amendments feed the friendly organisms in your garden soil and improve tilth and fertility.
What to compost: grass clippings, leaves, weeds, coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit peels and trimmings and limited amounts of wood ash. When using wood ash add it in layers interspersed with other materials.
What not to compost: meat or animal products, fat or grease, large unchipped branches.
Setting up a new composting system is pretty simple. A pile, while not elegant will break down in time. Many municipalities offer use of small stackable units that do a good job of composting. If your compost doesn’t seem to be shrinking as it works, toss in a little blood meal or alfalfa pellets to act as a starter and heat it up a bit.
Sheet composting involves covering the soil with biodegradable materials. It’s a valuable soil conditioning technique in the Pacific Northwest where we get pounding rains that tend to compact our soil over the winter. The soil in our perennial beds that have a good mulch of leaves and plants in place seems looser in spring than my vegetable garden. The perennial plants and mulch cushion bare soil from the rains and the roots open the soil for worms.
When our home herb garden was originally planted we covered the soil with compost, fish meal fertilizer, layers of newspaper and a layer of leaves on top. The following spring we had a loose friable soil, no weeds and we dug holes for plants but didn’t disturb the surrounding soil.
Our home vegetable garden has a high water table in winter and with our heavy rainfall, weeds can get a head start in spring. The area is too large to start spreading layers of newspaper. Planting in straw bales has been successful and the soil after the bales break down is a gardeners confection.
Recently I attended an Oregon Tilth conference and gained some new ideas about composting that we’re trying. They’ve been using large pieces of cardboard in their demonstration gardens. Even piano and refrigerator boxes were recommended. First step was a layer of leaves, pine needles, a covering of cardboard and more leaves or straw and soil to hold it in place. All these materials will breakdown and improve the soil, helping to control weeds, raise fertility and reduce water use. This just begins to scratch the surface of what can be said about composting, simply begin and let nature help.

Back On Line

Greetings From The Garden,

I’m so pleased to be back online. Our home internet went down December 15th and was repaired today. We had a doozie of a storm with winds 60 to 80 mph. Two houses within a hundred yards of us had trees fall on the roof. Our business, Nichols Garden Nursery, in Albany, OR never lost phone or electrical service. Here in Corvallis, where I live, most households were without power overnight and some people in outlying areas are still waiting for service. It has been the intensity of our storms along with record rains that has been unusual not excessive cold. However, the mountains haver been treacherous, with trapped travelers and mountain climbers losing their lives. It has been a sobering month in Oregon.

The first day of winter is the 21st and I wandered around the garden today wondering what to pick. The curly endive will make a good salad and fragrant rosemary and bay will be added to gift baskets. Rosemary is full of buds with a few blue flowers. In looking around, I realized in spite of the awful storm, violas are still flowering, Cerinthe major is looking perky and has a few blooms and calendulas are full of flowers. I’d love to hear what’s blooming and ready to pick in your winter garden. Stay warm and dry.

Chicken Vegetable Curry With Yacon

Chicken Vegetable Curry with YaconThis Indian style curry includes Yacon. These Andean tubers cook to a tender/crisp translucence and absorb the curry flavors. For a vegetarian dish simply omit the chicken. Serve with rice and a side dish of yogurt and chopped cucumber seasoned with cumin, salt and pepper. Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 chopped jalapeno pepper, deseeded
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely
1 medium yacon (about 12 oz.) peeled and diced into large 1 ¼ ‘ pieces
3 small red potatoes, peeled and diced into large cubes
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves cut into cubes
1 large (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 medium head cauliflower (about 1 pound) cut into large florets
2 cups frozen petit peas
½ cup chopped cilantro

In a large lidded skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add coriander, cumin, curry, jalapeno pepper, garlic and stir for thirty seconds. Add onion, yacon, and potatoes, stirring frequently until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, chicken and cauliflower. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low and cook covered until vegetables are tender about 15 minutes. Stir in peas and cook, uncovered until the peas are tender about 3 minutes. Stir in cilantro and serve.

Thai Chicken Curry with Yacon

Thai Chicken Curry with Yacon

Thai curries are fast and easy when you use a commercial curry paste. For this recipe I used Mae Ploy brand green curry paste. It comes in a 14 oz. plastic tub. Other ingredients like fresh basil and Kaffir lime leaves are optional but they do provide extra flavor and aroma. Yacon in this recipe is lightly cooked and it contributes a fresh crunchy texture and taste. If you have access to yacon and like Thai style curry, I urge you to include yacon in your favorite recipe and see how you like it. We served this with Brown Jasmine rice.

Serves 4-6


2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. yacon, peeled and cut in 1’ pieces
1 lb orange sweet potato, peeled and cut in 1” pieces
2 boned, skinned, chicken breast halves, cut in 1” cubes
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
2-3 tsp Thai green curry paste
2 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce
2 tsps. sugar
½ cup broth or water
½ lb green beans
2 shredded Kaffir lime leaves (optional)
¼ cup shredded fresh basil leaves
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

Prepare and chop all ingredients before you begin cooking. Take a large lidded skillet and place it on medium high. Most coconut milk will have a heavy layer of cream that rises to the top. This is a good cooking oil, scoop out a spoonful and place in skillet. Add garlic and stir, as soon as you smell the garlic cooking, add yacon and sweet potato, cook for five minutes, stirring several times. Add chicken, coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, sugar and kaffir lime. Stir well. Turn heat down to medium low and cover. Cook gently for five minutes and add broth and green beans. Continue cooking for ten minutes. Stir in basil. If beans and sweet potato are tender and cooked remove from heat. Taste and add more curry paste if needed or more broth if sauce seems dry, stir in cilantro and serve. Total cooking time is 20-25 minutes.

Yacon Carrot Salad with Wasabi

Peeled and cut yacon discolors when exposed to the air. Acidity from citrus or vinegar maintains the white color. When making this salad, prepare the dressing first so you can quickly add the julienned yacon to it and preserve the color. Note my suggestion for using the food processor to speed preparation. As I keep working with the yacon in recipes I find I’m mostly trying to adapt dishes that might use jicama, Asian pears, potatoes or daikon. Some have worked well enough to publish on this blog.
Serves 4-6

Dressing ingredients
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp *wasabi paste or ½ teaspoon powder
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar
½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
½ tsp grated ginger
½ teaspoon dark sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a bowl and stir until mixed. Set aside.

Salad ingredients
8 oz. julienned or shredded yacon
8 oz. julienned or shredded carrot
¾ cup cooked edamame beans (shelled edible soybean)

Prepare dressing before making salad. To shred in a food processor peel both yacon and carrots and cut into 2” lengths. Place these in the processor and with a shredding or julienne blade firmly press on the vegetables while the processor is running. A bit of pressure produces a large shred that is almost as attractive as from a mandoline. Mandolines or the Japanese Benreiner version, produce perfect strips but I worry about carelessly cutting off part of my knuckle.
* Wasabi paste or dried wasabi produce similar results in this dressing. This is the green tinged horseradish relative native to Japan.

Gardening is playing Hooky

Because I write our Nichols Garden Nursery catalog in the fall, I have a couple months when I’m mostly in front of my computer and my own garden is sorely neglected. It seems every year, I finish catalog and the rains begin. This year it was a deluge which I partially escaped by going to California to give a talk on container and small space edible gardening. This Sunday and Monday have been radiant and clear and I’ve played in the garden. Time to clear the pumpkins from the front yard and put up a wreath. I went for a walk with a friend Sunday and everyone was out, raking their yards, putting up decorations, and just outside having a jolly time. My own yard is looking spruced up, there’s more to do and I really need to plant tulips and a few pots stuffed with bulbs make good gifts. TIP: If you’re buying bulbs late in the season, it’s often better to buy ones in mesh bags than in the bin. By now the bulbs in bins tend to get mixed up a bit and you may not want a couple yellow tulips with your Apricot Beauties.

Yacon Waldorf Salad

Yacon Waldorf Salad on Radicchio leavesMy friend Joyce and I have been sharing birthday dinners for nearly twenty years. This year, it was my turn to prepare dinner for six, so I seized upon this as an opportunity to prepare not one but two yacon based dishes for for our meal. This salad really shines with the yacon and apple combination.

Waldorf salad was first served at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York in 1896. It was a very simple combination of mayonnaise, apples and celery and became instantly popular. This recipe is adapted from one that appeared in Bon Appetit Magazine. Yacon is a delightful combination with the traditional apples. Served in a nest of radicchio or bibb lettuce it makes an attractive first course.
Serves 6-8
1 # yacon, peeled and diced
3 crisp juicy apples, diced and not peeled
1 tablespoon lemon juice

½ cup lowfat mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream (non-fat a good choice)
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 cup diced celery
1 ½ cups chopped radishes (about 18)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 cup lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
one head radicchio or bibb lettuce

Combine yacon and apples with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Stir in mayonnaise, sour cream and blue cheese. Add celery, chopped radishes and cranberries. Radishes are quickly chopped in the food processor. If serving immediately add nuts and parsley. If not set aside in refrigerator and add just before serving. Serve in a dish or spoon into two nested lettuce or radicchio leaves.