Sunshine! We Northwesterners run outside, squint up at the sky and get that goofy spring grin on our faces. We dance blissfully in the warmth until we realize our neighbors are out in their yard, too, and they are watching us.
Attempting to recover our aplomb, we quickly put a more purposeful look on our faces. "Just checking to see if the trees need trimming," we call over to them. The neighbors smile back knowingly, glad they caught us, instead of vice versa, and we all turn our attention back to our yards.
Perhaps that's why so many of us love to garden. It gives us a grownup reason to rush outside like children when those sunny ecstatic moments present themselves.
As a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible), food gardening is my particular interest, and now is a perfect time to be planning this year's plot. Gardening is a great way to save money on fresh organic food for your family, and there's nothing like just-picked vegetables or fruit for flavor and nutrition.
Whether it's your first garden or your 20th, there's always more to learn. Here are some gardening books I've found particularly helpful.
If you're new to vegetable gardening, "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew is a good place to start. It will help you figure out what to grow and how much, as well as simple techniques for starting a garden from scratch. Even if you live in an apartment, this book will give you ideas for growing some food for yourself.
If you have gardening experience but are new to this area, Steve Solomon's "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades" is a good guidebook for organic food gardening in our climate. Steve goes into more depth about what conditions each kind of vegetable or fruit needs, how to control pests without using harmful chemicals, and he suggests varieties that do well in the coastal Northwest. Solomon was a founder of Territorial Seeds, a favorite seed company of many local food gardeners.
For those of you who are serious about growing as much of your own food as possible, "The Resilient Gardener" by Carol Deppe is invaluable and well worth your study. Carol recommends what to grow, based on caloric and nutritional needs, year-round growth or ability to store through the winter, and resilience to various gardening challenges (drought, flood, heat, cold, even an illness of the gardener that leaves a garden untended for a few weeks).
Carol introduces the idea of saving your own seeds and developing your own varieties. She has also begun selling seeds of varieties she has developed, and some of my gardening friends have had excellent results with her squash and beans.
If you want to make sure that the food you grow not only looks good but has maximum nutritional value (is "nutrient dense"), we're back to Steve Solomon again. His latest book, "The Intelligent Gardener," focuses on soil and how to care for and optimize it. It all starts with a $20 soil test, and Steve describes how to sample your garden soil, get the right tests done and interpret the results so you'll know exactly what soil amendments you need. While the discussion is sometimes very technical, Steve offers some simple solutions for those not interested in scientific details.
Even if you only want to plant some tomatoes in a pot for your deck or some herbs for the window sill in your kitchen, there is nothing quite like putting seeds in the soil, adding water and sunlight, and harvesting food you've grown yourself. It's surprisingly easy, and the books above will help point you in the right direction to learn what you need to know.
Overwintered greens are some of the earliest vegetables to harvest in a spring garden, especially when winter was as mild as this last one. For instance, I've been harvesting and enjoying kale from my garden since last summer.
For today's recipe, though, I couldn't resist Cedarville Farm's beautiful spring spinach. I haven't had particular luck growing spinach in the past, but this was so delicious I've decided to try it again this summer. How about you?
11/4 cup all-purpose flour (Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill, Burlington)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter (homemade with cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
6-8 tablespoons ice water
6 eggs (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
11/2 cups heavy cream (Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped (Cedarville Farm, Bellingham)
1 smoked cayenne pepper, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
11/2 cup smoked gouda cheese, grated (Appel Farms, Ferndale)
3 green onions, chopped (Terra Verde, Everson)
1 clove garlic, minced (Boxx Berry Farm, Ferndale)
With a fork, mix flour and salt in a bowl. Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Using the fork or a pastry cutter, mash the butter cubes into the flour mixture until clumps are pea-size. Mix in water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to stick together and form a ball.
You can refrigerate the dough for an hour or so, or quickly roll it out on a lightly floured surface to be slightly larger than a 9-inch pie pan. Transfer it into a pie pan, trim, and form the edge into a decorative shape, if you like.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Beat the eggs, cream, spinach, smoked pepper, cheese, chopped onions and minced garlic together until well-blended.
Put the pie plate with crust onto a cookie sheet to catch any overflow while cooking. Pour the egg mixture into the crust, and carefully place all into the oven.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, until center only moves slightly when the pie pan is bumped. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.