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June 2003 I
Gardening in
"Little Siberia"

Advice and tips on
Companion Planting

2003 Janelle N. Seavey


Companion Planting a gardening system using the natural affinities of plants to promote or inhibit growth in their neighbors. Knowing which plants like each other and which ones don't can increase the health and vitality of your garden, improve the taste and nutritional value of your vegetables, confuse pests so you can eliminate toxic chemicals, attract beneficial insects and add to the enjoyment of gardening.'

Janelle gardens on about four acres on the Messalonskee Stream, an outlet from Messalonskee Lake, one of the Belgrade Lakes Region Lakes, one of which is Great Pond, made famous in the movie "On Golden Pond". 

She is an "enthusiastic and a tad obsessed" gardener who has been companion planting for over 20 years.

Gardening in "Little Siberia" index

also see Books - Companions

The Dreaded Algae Season

I thought I had cover crops, well, covered. As I wrote in a previous article, I have very heavy, clay-clogged soil. My garden has had more amendments added to it than the Constitution. Manure, peat moss, compost, grass clippings, leaves and chopped straw have all done the "Dance of Death" with the clay. Many a fall I have cleaned up the remnants of the garden, tilled it and planted winter rye as a cover crop of "green manure". If we are blessed with a mild autumn, I have been able to till it under before the ground freezes and the snow flies. Some years, it has wintered over to be tilled under in the spring.

As I write this, near the beginning of June, we are entering something like our 1002nd day without sunshine or any discernable let-up of rain. Oh, I know what you West Coast folks are saying, "Get a grip, you big baby, we dont see the sun for 2 months at a time!" With all due respect, I know that to be true, but neither do you have the kind of winters we New Englanders do. We kind of feel entitled to something better than this, especially after peering at the world from over the top of a scratchy, wool scarf for the past 7months.

There is an upside to all this, however. I have discovered what I believe to be a revolutionary, new concept in cover crops! Algae! Thats right, green slime! The paths between my planting beds are hosting a bumper crop of algae. With all the rain, I have not been able to work up the soil between my plantings. The surfaces that are not sprouting veggies are instead turning into an amusement park for frogs. I swear I saw two frogs sliding across an algae patch on their backs into a puddle next to my weary looking tomatoes. I figure if I ever get onto the garden again with my little tiller, I may be applying for a patent for "Frog Fun Fertilizer". It is said Maine ("Little Siberia") has 5 seasons, summer, fall, winter, spring and "mud" (a totally mucky time between winter and spring). I will now add to this, "algae season".

Obviously, this has caused a delay in some of our spring goodies. I have managed to come up with a couple of tasty uses for those delicious, tender stalks of asparagus that have struggled to pop up, as well as some of the baby lettuces and greens the frogs have been sliding past on their way to the puddle.

(* Please note: I encourage the use and growing of locally and organically produced ingredients where possible.)

Grilled Lemon-Asparagus Pizza
(With roasted peppers, roasted garlic and goat cheese)

1 medium bunch asparagus spears
1 medium sweet red pepper
1 medium head garlic
fresh lemon
cup goat cheese, crumbled
cup grated cheese of choice (I use a mix of mozzarella, asiago, romano, parmesan and provolone)
cup Alfredo sauce (homemade or purchased)
Italian seasoning, to taste (or any dried or fresh herbs)
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
cup warm water (110 degrees)
2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tsp. salt
Olive oil

Early in the day or 2-3 hours before serving, prepare the veggies for topping the pizza. Cut the tough ends from the asparagus and place in a bowl or rectangular pan that will accommodate the length of the spears. Drizzle them with a generous amount of olive oil, sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh, black pepper. Toss well. Prepare the grill or broiler, preheating the grill on high for 10 minutes. Turn the grill to low heat and oil the grates with a bit of canola oil. Place the stalks on the grates, turning and moving them about until they are slightly charred, but still retain a bright color and a bit of crunch, 5-10 minutes. Set aside. When cool, cut into 1-2" pieces.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top off the top of the head of garlic and set it on a piece of tinfoil large enough to enclose the entire head. Sprinkle the cut top with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap loosely with the foil and roast in oven for 30-40 minutes, until the garlic is soft. Set aside, with foil opened up. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the softened cloves from their skins onto a small plate. Next, using grill, gas burner or broiler, roast the red pepper. Whatever method, char the whole pepper (do not cut) until the entire surface is well blackened and the pepper is soft. Place whole pepper in a plastic bag, seal shut and set aside for 20-30 minutes. Remove pepper from bag and rub off as much charred skin as possible, leaving some for flavor. Cut open, remove seeds and slice or dice into pizza topping size.

For the crust*: Combine the yeast and warm water in a bowl until it is foamy, about five minutes. In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until dough forms, adding more water if needed. Gather the dough in your hands and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough until smooth and not sticky, about 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed. Warm a large bowl with hot water and dry well. Form the dough into a ball and place into the bowl. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the dough and turn over several times until well coated. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel, and set in a warm place to rise, until double in bulk, about 45-50 minutes or longer.

When dough has risen, punch down and knead a couple of times and cut in half. If only making one 10" pizza, wrap the other half in freezer wrap and freeze for later use. Using a rolling pin or your hands, form the dough into a 10" circle. Pinch up a small rim to contain the toppings. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If using a pizza stone, heat it as well according to manufacturer instructions. If using a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little corn meal before placing the formed dough on it. I use a wooden pizza peel and put the corn meal and dough directly on it to slide the pizza onto my heated stone.

Spread the Alfredo sauce on the dough, followed by half the grated cheese and half the goat cheese. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the asparagus. Arrange the asparagus, roasted pepper and roasted garlic over the cheese, followed by the remainder of both cheeses. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is golden and toppings are bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the herbs. Enjoy!

Asparagus lends itself to all kinds of helpers. Parsley planted beside the asparagus will give each of them added vigor. Two other friends of asparagus are tomatoes and basil, which help each other greatly as well and taste great together and the tomatos solanine will shoo away asparagus beetles. If there are lots of the beetles present they will attract their own predators (they apparently harbor a death wish!), so not much else would be needed (read: NO SPRAYS!)

I realize I said "a couple of tasty uses" earlier in this article, however, seeing as how this has become more a short story than an article, Ill try and have recipes on a fairly regular basis for your future enjoyment. Until then, I have to go out and ask the frogs to tone down the rowdy noise. Come to think of it, Im pretty sure I saw a frog Ferris wheel going up next to the tomato cages! Happy and peaceful planting!

* Crust recipe is from a pamphlet that came with my Williams-Sonoma pizza stone.

 

copyright 2003 Janelle N. Seavey