You Bet Your Garden! And Your Chipotle Sauce, too?

By Lenora Dannelke

If you listen to Mike McGrath—and there’s an opportunity to do so every Saturday morning when he hosts You Bet Your Garden on WHYY 91 FMthe bounty of your garden will be limited by neither space nor season. In an inspiring presentation that focused on small-space gardening, the author and former editor of Organic Gardening magazine delivered a convincing expostulation (seasoned liberally with humor) on year-round growing—right here in the Lehigh Valley! And, considering that the “Grow Your Own Kitchen Garden Goodies” lecture was sponsored by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF), diners may discover homegrown tastes on the menus of their favorite restaurants this winter.

The event, recently held at Northampton Community College, culminated in a two-course tasting prepared by students and instructors in the school’s culinary program. Fresh and crunchy summer rolls with Asian slaw, followed by pesto-splashed pasta topped with herbed tomatoes and crisp bruschetta, offered a delicious preview of the flavors of summer. (One of the benefits of hanging out with professional cooks is counting on great refreshments being part of any occasion.) Naturally, the gustatory theme continued in the door-prize drawing, which explains the gallon-size jug of Hellman’s Real Ancho Chipotle Sauce now occupying a large chunk of real estate in my fridge.

Shawn Doyle, chef/owner of the Savory Grille in Macungie and NCC alumnus, recently became president of the ACF’s local chapter and stands fully committed to energizing the efforts of the group. Meetings this year have included a demonstration of molecular gastronomy and a mystery basket cooking competition. “The mission of the ACF is education and the sharing of knowledge, and I look forward to getting people of all ages involved in lively exchanges of ideas and information,” Doyle informed members in an ACF newsletter. “When we talk to each other, everyone benefits,” –especially those who come into their restaurants to eat.

Here are some great gardening tips from Mike McGrath:
  • Ladies, listen up!  To banish varicose and spider veins, add 5 pansy blossoms to your daily diet. The flavanoid rutin contained in the flowers strengthens vein walls, which contributes to improved circulation. Plant an abundance of pansies in fall and they’ll winter-over with minimal fuss.
  • Green beans are great for container gardening–just be sure to choose the bush, rather than pole, variety. Harvest early and often, which stimulates production, and you’ll be treated to the skinny type of young string bean that carries the hefty price tag at the grocery store. If possible, place the container on a table: Increased air circulation is beneficial to the plant, and the gardener doesn’t even have to bend over to harvest!
  • Plant vegetables such as hot peppers and small eggplants among your flower beds. Not only are they attractive, but avoiding a cluster of plants in one spot offers a level of insurance: If disease or insects strike one plant, you’re not providing an “I-95” for the problem to spread.
  • Garlic is a terrific year-round crop that’s pretty enough to plant as a border. Save cloves and replant them five times, and you’ve created your own personal “heirloom” variety that you get to name!
McGrath offered enough tips on growing tomatoes to fill a book — which he happens to have written. Check out You Bet Your Tomatoes! Fun Facts, Tall Tales, and a Handful of Useful Gardening Tips. (And, on the author’s advice, skip the Topsy Turvy planter.)
Four Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman, came highly recommended by McGrath, who says that if his farmer friend–who lives in Maine–can grow crops year-round, Pennsylvanians have no excuse.

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