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Posts Tagged ‘hoop tunnel’

Cardoon After All

Mature cardoon plants

By autumn of 2015, I had three very healthy cardoon plants in my garden. I had a mistaken understanding that the plants would produce distinctive stems to harvest—perhaps the stalks on which blossoms would emerge. Because no such stalks had emerged, I guessed the plants would need a second season and I built a low hoop tunnel over the two cardoon plants in this photo.

Last spring, I started cardoon from seeds under lights in my office.

Cardoon? I hadn’t heard of it until I spotted some growing in a public garden about five years ago. The plants were striking: tall, rugged, otherworldly, and (so I was told) edible.

Cardoon is a close relative of artichokes. The flowers of both are similar, though the “choke” that precedes a cardoon blossom isn’t edible. The stems that spread into giant thistle-like leaves **are** edible and, I’ve heard they taste like artichokes.

Ideally, before you harvest the stems, you wrap them with fabric or cardboard to block the sun and let them “blanch” for a month or so. This softens them; a necessary step unless you like fibrous, chewy vegetables.

My cardoon adventure

My cardoon seeds sprouted faithfully, but I neglected them on my seed-starting shelf. They started in small containers, and I left them there until June. When I set them in the garden, the plants were cramped in their containers, and the foliage was obviously stunted.

Snow-covered hoop tunnel

We had a mild winter with little snow, but when snow fell I captured a photo of the hoop tunnel protecting my cardoon plants. February of 2016 was so mild, I figured whatever cold days remained until spring wouldn’t be harsh enough to harm the plants more than they’d already suffered.

With some coaxing, my abused cardoon seedlings eventually sprung to life and grew into attractive fountains of green. Here’s where my lack of experience with cardoon became a problem: I should have blanched and harvested stalks from those plants last autumn! I didn’t because I thought cardoon would send up stalks (maybe flower stalks) that I was supposed to harvest for food. So, rather than eat my cardoon, I let it go.

I figured with first frost, cardoon leaves would melt to the ground and the plants would be gone. But that didn’t happen. The cardoon survived many frosts—even nighttime low temperatures in the 20s… and the plants looked pretty good at the end of December. So, in early January I decided to try to get them through the winter. I erected a low hoop tunnel over two plants and tucked the leaves in.

Winter-stressed cardoon

Near the end of February, I lifted the plastic of my hoop tunnel and captured a photo of one of the cardoon plants which was in surprisingly decent shape. Then days became so warm, I should have expected a greenhouse effect in the tunnel to cook the plants. In late March, I removed the hoop tunnel as we started to plant peas and carrots, and sure enough, the cardoon was a mass of cooked and drying glop.

We had a crazy run of summer in later winter this year, and just before it started I lifted the plastic along one side of my hoop tunnel and photographed the cardoon. The plants looked remarkably well preserved, so I reset the plastic. Then I once again blundered.

Those summer temperatures hit and, despite arguing with myself about it several times, I left the hoop tunnel over the cardoon plants. I was torn because it seemed possible the very warm, sunny days might cook the plants… and that’s what happened.

We had a final blast of winter cold—the coldest spell since the previous winter—pretty much as spring began. Had the cardoon not been cooked for nearly a month, having the hoop tunnel in place would have saved it. However, when the cold abated and I dismantled the hoop tunnel, I found cardoon leaves melted to the ground; the plants were done.

Planting peas

Pancreatic cancer has dramatically changed my approach to gardening: My wife now does most of it. So, when it was time to plant peas in late March, I coached her to remove the weeds, loosening the soil as needed.

Cardoon emerges in spring

My wife removed weeds and prepped soil, erasing every trace of cardoon from the garden. I planted peas in early April and winter finally arrived with meaning. We had many nights with temperatures in the 20s and a few colder than that. When finally spring re-started, we erected trellises for the pea plants. In doing so, we stomped repeatedly on an emergent cardoon plant! The damage was minor, and the little survivor has since developed into a gorgeous fountain of foliage.

She got the bed looking well-prepared, and I spent a few hours with a hoe scratching furrows. I laid down three double-rows of pea seeds, as always, and it fell to my wife to erect the trellises. I followed her to the garden when she was working on the third trellis, and helped hold it in place while she hammered on it.

Then I noticed I was standing on a young cardoon plant! Apparently, despite having had its leaves cooked and then frozen to mush, the cardoon had healthy roots. We hadn’t done it any favors by walking on it while trellising, but two months later it has grown into a gorgeous, mature plant ready to harvest.

Well… it’s not entirely ready to harvest. I’ve read that if you don’t “blanch” cardoon stalks for a month before harvesting, they’re very fibrous and unpleasant to eat. I’ll get out in the next week or so and wrap several stalks in fabric to block sunlight. In early July, I’ll harvest those stalks and sauté a bit of them to get the full cardoon experience. The big plan, however, is to make a cream of cardoon soup—perhaps curried… but I’ll figure that out in July.

The good news is, cardoon is way more cold-hardy than I expected, and despite my having given up on it, it looks as though I’ll get to try some after all.

Small Kitchen Garden – Cardoon After All

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Cold and Snow in my Small Kitchen Garden

No 2016 Seed Giveaway

Apologies to anyone looking for my annual seed giveaway. I’ll be out of commission during the critical weeks where I’d organize mailing lists, package and label seeds, and put together a mailing.

We experienced a very tame autumn and early winter. There was no measurable snow, and there were few days of winter cold. I was still working on season-end garden projects when, finally, cold and snow set in.

My last project was to put a rodent fence around my black raspberry patch. Critters have grazed there casually for months, and I wanted to stop the damage while more than half the canes were intact. I was working on the fence two weeks ago when I became ill and spent a week in the hospital.

Black raspberry brambles in snow

Building a fence around the black raspberries wasn’t a precision operation. I’ve pounded in 10 “posts” to hold 24” chicken wire. I need to add, perhaps, four more posts. Except for a grape vine at the front right corner of the frame, all the canes among the stakes are black raspberry brambles. Many at the far end have been gnawed to short sticks.

I received an unpleasant diagnosis: I have pancreatic cancer. Medical science says my tumor is removable, but it’s not going to be a fun experience. I have six more days before surgery, and I’m not excited about gardening in snow – just after I returned from the hospital, the epic storm that buried Washington D.C. buried my yard in about seven inches of powder. Unless the next few days are unseasonably warm, I won’t finish the fence and my first black raspberry crop will remain in jeopardy.

In any case, after a week of being a hospital patient, it was nice to get out in the snow and photograph some of last year’s projects. I’m looking forward to getting things going as I recover from surgery and begin chemotherapy. The blog may be even more quiet than usual for the coming month, but I’ll post again as soon as I’m able.

Caged blueberry bush

My blueberry bushes have had hard lives. Just when they started looking bushy, they spent too long out of cages and got pruned back to sticks by rodents. This season, several of them lived inside fairly generous cages and recovered a lot of ground. I don’t expect a big crop in 2016, but I’ve some hope they’ll bulk up this year and start feeding us well in 2017.

Caged quince trees

Last year I started quince trees from seeds. I nursed seedlings in planters until autumn, and then planted them in the yard. The two in this photo are intact because of the cages around them. Rodents chomped the third seedling down to the soil line; it’s not likely to grow back. I had devised a protective barrier using plastic nursery pots, but wind blew it away… I’m starting more quince seeds this winter with hope of replacing the eaten seedling in my yard.


I started cardoon indoors early last year. I didn’t treat it well, so the plants were tiny when I set them in the garden. Eventually, they flourished, but they never produced harvestable stalks and I assumed they’d die with the first frost of autumn. Several frosts and cold nights did little damage, so I decided to test the plants’ resolve…

Low hoop tunnel over cardoon

I haphazardly erected a low hoop tunnel over two cardoon plants. Just a few weeks later, temperatures plummeted; we had some nights in the teens. Given the plants’ hardiness until then, I hope the low hoop tunnel holds things closer to 30 degrees and my plants manage to shiver through alive.

Fig tree shelter

In fall of 2014, I erected a simple tent over two fig trees I’d planted on the south side of the house. Unfortunately, I didn’t erect the tent until we had had a very early, crazy deep freeze. The fig trees died back to the soil. This past fall, I got the tent up before any severe cold… I managed to stretch it over a rosemary plant as well. With luck, the tent will provide enough protection that my trees won’t have to grow back from the soil line this year.

Small Kitchen Garden – Cold and Snow in my Small Kitchen Garden

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