Hands in the Dirt: Crocus
Photo and article by Donna Iverson
Two of the first spring flowers to emerge in March are snowdrops and crocus. As one of the first signs of spring, they make a welcome appearance, and are much heralded by pretty much everyone despite their diminutive size.
After a long Michigan winter and a frigid February, crocus emerges while there is still snow on the ground. And although they look delicate, they are the hardiest of flowers, comfortable in temperatures well below zero. And once planted, naturalize in yards and fields, covering the ground with a blanket of white, pale lavender and iridescent blue blooms.
Crocus bulbs are available in nurseries and garden centers in the spring. Officially called corms, the bulbs are best planted in early fall. If planted to naturalize in a grassy lawn, gardeners should resist mowing in the spring until the crocus leaves have turned brown.
Once established, crocus will return year after year in larger and larger numbers. Deer, squirrels, and rabbits will leave them alone. As for pollinators, they are bee friendly. When planting avoid deep shade areas, but otherwise the corms can be planted just about anywhere in the garden or yard.
A member of the iris family, crocus are native to the Alps, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. According to Wikipedia, there are 90 species of crocus including the snow crocus which is the earliest to bloom. Unfortunately, they are poisonous to people and pets. So no nibbling.
Recently, a Farmers Almanac article mentioned crocus in an article about phenology, the art of looking to nature as a planting guide. Following the phenology principles, the best time to plant radishes, parsnips and spinach is when the crocus are in bloom. Wait till the forsythia bloom to plant peas, onions and lettuce. When daffodils bloom, it’s time to plant beets, carrots and chard. Potatoes are best sown when the dandelions flower.
Not surprisingly, crocus symbolizes rebirth, new beginnings and the cycle of life. It brings joy and cheerfulness to its many admirers. In Greek myth, a young man named Crocus was granted immortality by the gods who turned him into the crocus flower. Check out the many crocus myths at https://www.atozflowers.com/crocus-flower-meaning-and-symbolism/
Garden note: consider not cleaning up your yard and garden until temperatures are consistently about 50 degrees. Butterflies and other pollinators are wintering over in leaves, dead plants and twigs. Removing the debris could mean their demise.
Hands in the Dirt: Celery Root
Photo and article by Donna Iverson
While I’m a dedicated community gardener, I’m a forager at heart. Any outdoor space is game, even the local farmers’ market.
So recently when I spotted this odd looking vegetable in a farmer’s market bin, I inquired of the vendor, “What is this?” “Celery root,” he replied. Say what ??
Searching my memory banks, I realized that I had heard of it but had never actually seen it. And I didn’t expect it to look like a rotted turnip. The farmer proceeded to extol its virtues and how it could be diced and roasted, added to soups, or grated into a winter salad. He didn’t have to sell me. I was sold at first sighting.
Although it is biologically related to celery, it is not the root of the common celery plant. Neither is it native plant, but rather it is indigenous to the Mediterranean basin. Harvested in winter, its closest veggie relatives are carrots, turnips and parsley.
And while it requires a long growing period of about 120 days, celeriac root can be grown from seed in Western Michigan. Baker Creek Heirloom seed catalog describes it as a “moisture loving Old World crop grown since antiquity. In the early 1900s celery root was the third most popular item in New York City restaurants,” the catalog reads. The first most popular items being coffee and tea.
Celery root (Celeriac) requires preparation before cooking. Begin by scrubbing the bulb from top to bottom and then remove the outer brown skin. While online directions recommend the use of a veggie peeler, I found that I needed a sharp paring knife. Then depending on the recipe, you can slice or dice it before cooking, or grate it for a salad.
As it is low in carbohydrates, it can be mashed with potatoes or used as a mashed potato substitute. I cubed it and added it to homemade vegetable soup which gave it a unique and pleasant flavor, vaguely reminiscent of celery, apples and walnuts.
As for storage, it can be kept for six to eight months in a cool dry place, like a basement.
Chef Rick Martinez of Bon Appetit calls it his “favorite vegetable. And if you can get by its ugly appearance, it is beautiful on the inside.”
As for me, I doubt I will be growing it in my community gardening bed, but will definitely purchase it as often as I find it at my neighborhood farmers’ market.