Planning & Planting: A Culinary Garden

Published on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 00:00 - Written by Christine Gardner

Anytime of year, garden fresh vegetables are always a treat. In the fall and winter, the choices are limited, but during spring and summer the selection increases as farmers markets and produce stands open., With a little planning and planting, perhaps you can create a kitchen garden in your own backyard or from patio containers.

Growing an herb or vegetable garden is a completely satisfying accomplishment, and even if your yield is low, the flavor of just a few homegrown tomatoes is definitely worth savoring.

Gardening, on a small or large scale, has become more feasible in recent years as the farm-to-table movement has become more popular. Garden centers at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Tractor Supply or various nursery’s in the area offer seminars, classes and advice for anyone interested in developing a green thumb.

There are also community resources through the farmers’ market organizations, the Agrilife Extension Office and Master Gardeners. The East Texas Community Food Coalition oversees the Rose City Farmers Market (formerly The Fair Market) and offers opportunities to get involved with neighborhood gardens and/or seed programs.

The Agrilife Extension office has representatives and offices in most East Texas counties, as well as Master Gardener organizations that offer a free call center for horticulture advice.

When it comes to planting, you can start from seed or use starter plants purchased from garden centers or nurseries.

Renee’s Garden is a seed company that offers a large catalog of seed for flowers, herbs and vegetables. Based in California and established in 1985, this seed line is personally selected by owner Renee Shepherd and offers new and unusual seed choices from time-tested heirlooms, USDA certified organic seeds, international hybrids and open-pollinated varieties. The varieties are tested and guaranteed for every major U.S. climate zone.

With seeds from around the world, Renee’s Garden selects from trusted growers in the U.S., Holland, Italy, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Thailand, Japan, China and New Zealand. All seeds are carefully trialed and evaluated in multiple test gardens in various climate zones.

They also work to find sustainable and organic growers with the skill and expertise to grow the high-quality, high germinating seeds that have a successful yield. All varieties are chosen for excellence in flavor, color, ease of growing and garden performance for home gardeners. The seeds are never chemically treated or genetically engineered.

Also available are two cookbooks featuring almost 300 recipes from the kitchen garden. Each cookbook, offers a great variety of vegetables, aromatic herbs and edible flowers organized alphabetically by type.

From appetizers to desserts, the dishes are simply prepared, nutritious and full of flavor. Created with the gardener in mind, there are great ideas for planting and sharing your harvest with family and friends.

Seeds, cookbooks and catalogs can be ordered through their or by calling 1-888-880-7228.

Baker Creek Seed Company, based in Missouri, is another resource for quality seeds. The first Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog was printed in 1998. The company has grown to offer 1600 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs — the largest selection of rare, heirloom varieties.

All seeds are nonhybrid, non-GMO, nontreated and nonpatented. Offering unique seeds from over 75 countries, the company works with a network of 150 small farmers, gardeners and seed growers. Seeds and catalogs can be ordered through their or by calling 417-924-8917.

For local tips, advice and resources:

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension or access Texas county directory

Smith County Extension or 903.590.2980

Cherokee County Extension or 903-683-5416

Smith County Master or 903-590-2980

East Texas Community Food , 214-649-2688

Rose City Farmer’s Market (formerly The Fair Market): Opens May 3rd for information


Tips for a Successful Vegetables Garden

Site Selection: The more direct sun, the better the yield. Leafy vegetables, like lettuce and cabbage, and root crops such as carrots and turnips, will get by with some shade. But beans, okra, tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, squash and other fruiting vegetables need at least 8 to 10 hours of direct sun for healthy plants and maximum yield.

Soil Preparation: The best garden soils are rich and highly organic.

Soil Test: For the best results, have your soil tested by a reputable soil testing lab. Every county Extension office has the information you need to submit a soil sample.

Variety Selection: Find out what varieties are recommended for our specific area. Every county Extension office has a list of recommended varieties that should produce well under local conditions

Planting Date: Timing is everything. Got to the Smith county extension office website for a chart of suggested planting dates. And you can find specific bulletins for most vegetable crops in the Home Vegetable Gardening section of Aggie Horticulture.

Tips condensed from Success with Spring Gardens by Keith C. Hansen, Extension Horticulturist, Smith County – Tyler. To see the complete article go to

You can also read his gardening column every Thursday in the Tyler Paper.


Fresh Tomato Bisque



2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 pounds plum tomatoes, cored, coarsely chopped (about 6 cups)

1/3 cup white wine

8 whole cloves - tied into a small square of cheese cloth

2 small bay leaves

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus four whole basil leaves for garnish

1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup whole milk

Salt and fresh black pepper to taste



In a large saucepan, heat oil, add onion and saut← until softened. Add tomatoes, wine, cloves, bay leaves and chopped basil. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then cover and simmer 25 minutes. Remove cloves and bay leaves. Put 2 or 3 cloves back into soup. Puree mixture in blender. Return mixture to pan, and add brown sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add milk, and season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Heat and bring to simmer. Remove from heat and serve, garnishing each bowl with a fresh basil leaf. Serves 4. Recipe .


Lavender Shortbread Cookies

These rich but not too sweet shortbread cookies have just a hint of sweet lavender fragrance and flavor. They are perfect to serve with tea, milk or lemonade. I make several batches to divide up and tuck into pretty decorative boxes or tins I’ve lined with pastel tissue paper. Be prepared to share the recipe — or, better yet, write it up on lavender-colored paper to include in the box.


1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound) butter, at room temperature (no substitutes)

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons very finely chopped lavender florets (fresh or dried)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

2 1/3 cups flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt



Preheat oven to 325ᄚF. Cover bottoms of two baking sheets with parchment or brown paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, lavender, and mint with an electric mixer. Mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour, cornstarch, and salt and beat until incorporated. Divide dough in half. Flatten into squares and wrap in plastic. Chill until firm. On a floured board, roll or pat out each square to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut the dough into 1 1/2 -inch squares or rounds. Transfer to baking sheets, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart. Prick each cookie several times with a fork. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until pale golden (do not brown). Cool slightly, then transfer to a rack. Sprinkle with lavender powdered sugar. Garnish with lavender powdered sugar: Put a 4 or 5 sprigs of lavender flowers in a sealed jar with powdered sugar for a day before using the sugar. Makes 4 dozen. Recipe .


Orange-Scented Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This moist cake is not too sweet and has enticing highlights of chocolate and orange. A welcome change from ordinary zucchini bread or carrot cake. My cooking partner Fran’s husband loved this from his first bite.



2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest

1 whole egg, slightly beaten

3 egg whites, slightly beaten

2 cups finely shredded, unpeeled zucchini

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Sifted powdered sugar



Preheat oven to 350