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posted: 5/15/2012 3:00 PM

Learn from my mistakes and have a bountiful garden

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  • Cauliflower in the garden looks much different from cauliflower in the supermarket.

      Cauliflower in the garden looks much different from cauliflower in the supermarket.
    Deborah Pankey | Staff Photographer

  • One evening's harvest yielded the ingredients for giardiniera and few days worth of salad.

      One evening's harvest yielded the ingredients for giardiniera and few days worth of salad.
    Deborah Pankey | Staff Photographer


This time last year I was knee deep in dirt.

My husband had constructed a raised garden bed for me (my Mother's Day present) and my sons, and I eagerly picked out plants for our vegetable plot. It marked my first attempt at growing something more than a lonely squash vine or a pot of herbs, and I learned a few things along the way.

I picked many of the seedlings up at my local farmers market, so they didn't come with handy planting directions. And in my enthusiasm to get them in the ground, I didn't take the time to "Google" instructions.

I hope some of my experiences can help you if you plan to try your hand at the ultimate eating local program this season.

• Four cauliflower plants are three too many for a 4-foot-by-12-foot plot. When you buy cauliflower at the store, it's a tight little head with some leaf debris attached. But the actual plant is huge ... and I had four of them. One plant didn't thrive because it was overshadowed by ginormous leaves from another one. The plants were easily 3-feet in diameter. Those leaves, by the way, are edible. You can roast them, add them to soups and stock or chopped them into salads.

• One cucumber plant easily feeds a family of four. Two plants produce enough for the neighborhood and the food pantry's Giving Garden program. That same advice applies to hot pepper plants. I'd be in the garden after work and would hand the cukes and peppers to strangers out for an evening stroll and the neighbor's landscaping crew. I still have several jars of pickles in the fridge if you doubt me.

• Put tomato cages around fledgling plants when you put the plants in the ground. If you wait until the plant gets big enough to need a cage, you risk breaking the delicate stems. Use torn pieces of an old T-shirt to tie the stems to the cage; wire ties can damage the plant.

• Plant brussels sprouts at the back of the plot. These stalks get tall, 4 feet and taller, and can block the sun from smaller plants. Harvest the sprouts as they appear, removing the buds and leaves from the bottom up as you go. Last year we ate sprouts from August to November. In warm weather, shred them into salads or slaw; when the air turns cool, roast them.

You say you want a revolution? An Arlington Heights meal preparation kitchen is taking up arms -- or should I say wooden spoons? -- and joining The Jamie Oliver Foundation for its inaugural Food Revolution Day.

This global day of action, planned for Saturday, May 19, is designed to inspire, educate and empower people to stand up for real food. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., families can head to Mindful Meals, 250 N. Evergreen Ave., in downtown Arlington Heights, to learn how to grow and cook great, fresh food as well as watch demonstrations on worm composting and plant potting.

The event is free, and includes activities, like face painting, for kids. A $5 donation per person is suggested and proceeds will support food education projects for children and adults through the Jamie Oliver Foundation in the U.S., UK and Australia. More at (847) 398-7480 or

Just super: Learn how the foods you eat affect you down to your DNA during a two-hour seminar "SuperFoods and Beyond" with author, biochemist and nutrition instructor Stephen Cherniske at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. or 6 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, 75 W. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights.

Cherniske will be joined by chef Paul Guerrero of the Cooking Skills Academy in Itasca; Geurrero will prepare recipes using some of the "super foods" Cherniske touts in his book, "The Metabolic Plan."

The event costs $99 a person and includes food tastings, a copy of the books and a post-seminar meet and greet. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the American Heart Association. Register at (630) 775-8587.

Barbecue and bluegrass: Tickets are available for the Red, White and Bluegrass Festival, 3 to 10 p.m. June 9 at Heritage Prairie Farm near Elburn.

The event, a fundraiser for the Farmer Veteran Coalition, will feature Bubbly Creek Bluegrass Band, games and rides and a barbecue buffet from farm chef Jeremy Lycan. Festival admission costs $20 (children 12 and younger get in free); add the buffet for $25 (adults) or $10 (12 and younger). Details and tickets at

Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.

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