How to Preserve Arugula

Arugula likes me. For some reason — likely the soil on our property and the not-full-sun exposure — arugula, that spicy green also known as rocket, grows profusely in our garden. We never have to plant it because it just keeps sprouting year after year in our vegetable beds. I weed out the bed interiors and let the arugula grow along the edges, creating a green perimeter where kale, peas, and Egyptian walking onions happily grow in the middle.

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But this spicy goodness only lasts for the summer months and we dearly miss arugula the rest of the year. I make as much arugula pesto as I can and freeze it in small jars for pizza and pasta topping for later. Yet, since I have so much of it, and have been giving as much as I can away, I’ve been searching for a way to preserve arugula, so we can enjoy our it in the cold months of the year.

Frozen arugula doesn’t taste like arugula and doesn’t work well in smoothies, either. Blanching it takes the verve out of it, too. But, preserving arugula in olive oil, and freezing it, helps seal in the flavor!

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Here’s how: I use a pie tin and chop as much arugula as I can to fit just below the rim of the pie tin.

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I then pour in extra virgin olive oil until it’s about an inch deep and put the tin in the freezer. When it’s totally frozen, pop your tin out of the freezer and break your frozen oil/arugula into chunks that you can then store in the freezer in freezer bags or a large glass jar. I never buy freezer bags, but just reuse ones that I acquire through other frozen items we get at the store, or I double bag some Ziploc bags. Please don’t buy plastic bags, as there are so many in our landfills, we can simply make do with what we have, or ask for them on our local Buy Nothing groups.

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So, what do we do with our frozen olive oil/arugula chunks? In the winter, I use one at a time, in salad dressings, on top of pizzas, in pastas, salads, and stir fries. The arugula still has its punch and my crop is extended into the heart of the cold months, reminding me of the dog days of summer.

Purple Deadnettle Purple Smoothie

Purple deadnettle is my new favorite weed. At the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, they have a great description for this lovely purple fuzzy flower to pop up in early spring: “This common weedy plant is a member of the mint family and forms early groundcover mats, with fuzzy, spade-shaped leaves and delicate purple-pink flowers, a lovely addition to a spring weed bouquet.”

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For years, I’ve pulled it out of my vegetable garden, and have given it to my happy hens who devour it immediately. But this year, I’m eating as many weeds as I can, that are within just feet of my front door. For this, purple deadnettle is your friend. It’s a superfood, with known anti-inflammatory properties! I always let it flower because I know it’s one of the first spring flowers the honey bees use for nectar and pollen. Purple deadnettle looks a little like henbit, which is also edible, so there’s little chance of you getting a stomach ache from this beauty.

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So, in our bellies it goes, with morning or lunch smoothies, pestos, or atop our green salads. Here’s a quick recipe that’s our staple for most smoothies, and you can replace the fruit with any favorite fruit you have on hand or replace the purple deadnettle with kale if you no longer have any on hand:

Purple Deadnettle Purple Smoothie

1 small bunch purple deadnettles, flowers and stems included

2 bananas

1 Cup coconut milk

2 Cups mixed berries (we love blueberries, marionberries, blackberries, and raspberries)

1 scoop of your favorite protein powder (I use Vital Proteins collagen)

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That’s it! I throw a sprig of mint into our pretty glasses as garnish and the kids drink it down. When it ends up really thick, we use spoons and eat it like ice cream. Often, our bananas and berries are frozen, so this serves as a meal or an ice cream treat for the whole family.

Sticky Weed Cleansing Drink

You probably know this weed well, for its clingy tendencies. In the Northwest, we affectionately call it sticky weed. It comes in the door on our dog, our socks, and the backs of our sweaters. Also known as clivers, cleavers, goosegrass, catchweed bedstraw, or sticky willy, this little bugger with tiny hooked hairs that’ll stick to you better than velcro, now holds a special place in my kitchen culinary arts: I use it in a simple spring cleansing drink, thanks to the advice of a friend.

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The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens has this to say about its uses:

Galium Aparine — “The whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty, and in China, for example, it is eaten as a vegetable. Its seeds can be roasted to prepare a sort of coffee substitute. It is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties, having been used in traditional medicine (usually as an infusion) to treat kidney problems, skin disorders and high blood pressure among other ailments. Archaeological evidence suggests that it may have been used in this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Cleavers is still used by medical herbalists today, although scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness is still lacking.”

I use it as a spring “cleanse” that might be good for my kidneys but just tastes wonderful, and excites my need to get the most out of the plants around me. As I weed it out of my garden, I set it aside to be washed and then stuffed into a jar filled with fresh water and throw it into the fridge.

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Twenty-four hours later, we have a refreshing sticky weed infusion that tastes like spring green. It thickens the water a little, too, (or maybe I’m just imagining that) making it feel silky on its way down.

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Drink Your Sticky Weed © Liesl Clark

 

Save Your String

We salvage string. Don’t you? When I see rolls of string sold in the hardware store, I wonder who buys it? String is freely available if you just know where to look for it.

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The feed we buy for our chickens comes in large paper feed bags laced up with string. When we pull the string to open the bags, it comes out freely and we have plenty to last us throughout the year. We roll it onto a small roll of paper and it goes into the string box.

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I found an old wooden box that was covered with Christmas wrapping paper a few years ago. This box has been salvaged for the use of storing our saved string. So, shoelaces are salvaged and washed, bungee cord gets thrown in there, craft string, a few pieces of yarn, homemade “plarn,” cordage, twine, even pieces of candle wicking that hasn’t been put in wax go in there. Whenever something has reached the end of its life and we need to throw it away, any string on it gets salvaged and thrown into the string box.

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String is a staple for my gardening, as I use it to create pea ladders between woven sticks for my growing pea shoots, or to hold the hellebore up when the heavy blossoms weigh down the large plants.

The whole family knows where to go when they need a piece of string or shoe lacing to make a repair and tie together a few things. When my son was 5, he connected his favorite truck to its trailer with string when the hitch broke.

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String is the stuff of life, affording us everyday repairs to sew-up, tie together, wrap around, hold up, and weave anew.

Save your string, all forms of it. Don’t throw it away. And find a pretty container to hold it, for all to access for the projects that will come.

How Toxic Is Your Garden Hose?

Think Twice About Your Garden Hoses And How Toxic They Might Be. Photo © Liesl Clark

One of the cheapest, happiest forms of warm weather play for children is a garden hose with a sprinkler hooked up to it. For our children, it means hours of joyous play.

Sprinkler Fun. Photo © Liesl Clark

The challenge for us is the knowledge that most hoses are made of toxic chemicals and hence are full of pthalates and Bisphenol A. Both are known endocrine disruptors and if children drink from a hose their BPA levels will rise significantly.

Be Sure to Play in a BPA-Free Garden Hose Spray. Photo © Liesl Clark

Lead has also been detected in most garden hoses. It’s unknown what the effects are to the soil and plants, but what’s clear is that the next time we buy a hose we should be aware of studies on the chemicals hoses can leach and which hoses are safest. Here’s a 2016 study on the toxicity of hoses done by the Ecology Center.

Photo © Liesl Clark

We do have one PVC-free hose and that’s the one we use for kid water-play. In fact, we use it as often as possible, as we phase out our other old hoses. An irrigation project we’re longing to do is a hose-free drain system from our pond to the vegetable garden so we can skip the hose quotient altogether. No wonder our waters are full of estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are affecting indicator species like fish.

Photo © Liesl Clark

If you’re interested in phasing out your old hoses or reusing one that’s broken, we’ve seen them sliced lengthwise in small sections to be used as blade protectors for hand-saws, or used on the side of a garden shed for wall-art, or woven on an old chair to create some cool outdoor furniture.

But, for the purposes of watering our garden or for kid-play, from now on we’ll be seeking out BPA and lead-free hoses.

8 Plastic Kiddie Pool Reuses

After years of summer aquatic fun in 6 inches of baby pool magic with toddlers, my conscience took over and had issues with the unsustainable reality of the kiddie pool: Most inflatables get holes in them and whether they’re air-filled or hard plastic they’re made of PVC and laden with Bisphenol A, a toxic cocktail for earthlings just starting out on the planet.

We recently found a kiddie pool under our guesthouse deck, left behind by our renter, a mass of vinyl, pine needles, and hidden slugs. We cleaned it up with some high powered squirts from the garden hose and some serious scrubbing. I started inflating the thing by mouth in that way that Moms, Dads, and loved ones dedicated to preserving summer bliss can do, only to find that there was a small leak. Summer bliss had hit a road block.

Repairing inflatables is as simple as fixing a bike tire tube or Thermarest for camping. We got out the tube repair kit and made a quick patch and the inflating resumed. But it got me thinking. How many plastic kiddie pools are thrown out in our community each year? Likely hundreds. All that vinyl, headed to the landfill because someone didn’t have a patch kit or couldn’t deal with the gross slug slime-n-pine grime.

 

When you’re done with your pool, hopefully it’s still in working order for you to pass your pool on to another family that will frolic freely in their BuyNothing-ed frog pool. Or, if you have a hard plastic kid pool, donate it to your nearest animal rescue center for use by aquatic birds, fowl, and domestic animals escaping summer heat.

You might want to hang on to it, however, when you discover some of the upcycle options for that prized pool.

Hard Plastic Kiddie Pools:

1) Turn your pool and a few others into a raised bed garden. Wandering Chopsticks has a simple tutorial for you to follow for adding some green (and veggies) to your backyard.

Wandering Chopsticks’ Kiddie Pool Raised Bed Garden, Photo by Wandering Chopsticks.

2) If you have a party coming up and need to keep a lot of food cold while serving, Thrifty Fun’s wading pool cool food server might be just what you’re looking for.

3-6) Here are 4 more great ways to reuse your hard plastic kiddie pool, presented by Hint Mama. Among them are a ball pit, a beach playpen, and a toy bin.

Inflatable Kiddie Pools:

 

7) Turn your deflated pool into a slippy slide! Just turn it upside down on a little slope and add a trickle of water.

8) Then add a few drops of environmentally-safe liquid soap and watch the fun and bubbles explode!

Our kids are now older and I can proudly say that we never had to take a kiddie pool to the landfill. The reuses were too good and then the pools were passed on to others. Do you have a reuse we haven’t mentioned here?

Plant An Extra Row

Extra Romaine Lettuce is Easy to Grow For the Hungry. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Do You Have Any Leftovers?” was written on the sign next to the man sitting humbly on a street where popular cafes and restaurants have sidewalk seating on a Boulder, Colorado street. We were struck to the core by these words.

He wasn’t asking for money or even for “food.” This street beggar simply wanted what we were going to throw away, reminding passers-by that if they had a few morsels they weren’t going to eat at that streetside cafe, he’d be happy to gulp it down. My son had half a bagel wrapped in a napkin that he was going to eat for lunch. He promptly put it in the man’s hands and they smiled at each other as the man gratefully ate the food.

Potatoes Harvested For the Hungry. Photo © Liesl Clark

This direct experience with someone whom we knew was hungry got us thinking creatively about our food and where we have leftovers that might help others. If you have a garden, you’ve likely experienced the good fortune of excess produce to share with friends and neighbors. Why not share it with neighbors who are in need of food? Plant a row for the hungry, and at harvest time take your produce to your nearest food bank to augment the traditional canned goods people donate. A box full of lettuces, tomatoes, squash, or carrots will bring joy to those who might not have had a fresh locally-grown vegetable for months.

Digging for Treasure. Photo © Liesl Clark

My friend, Rebecca Rockefeller, and I planted a garden together with our children that donated over half the produce to our local food bank, Helpline House. Potato harvest was particularly fun for the kids. It’s like digging for treasure. I always make room for a few extra rows of greens, too, to share on our local Buy Nothing group. Anything we can’t eat is shared with our neighbors. It helps us to meet new people who have moved to the neighborhood.

Children Love Harvesting For Others in Need. Photo © Liesl Clark

The children enjoy bringing the boxes of produce we harvest into our local food bank. Last year we donated 148 lbs of food and hope to double our contribution this year. Of course, potatoes and zucchini do add up! Planting an extra row or 2 has helped us rethink our bounty in general. When we have the time, homemade yogurt is donated, along with extra eggs from the henhouse and a loaf of fresh-baked bread shouldn’t be too hard to contribute once a month or so. We’re shifting our food-production model to include more hungry bodies. And we’ll think of the man on the Boulder sidewalk happy to eat our half-eaten bagel because he simply was that hungry. Imagine if we could’ve given him a handfull of fresh strawberries, apples, and carrots picked minutes before.

These Greens From My Garden Went to Helpline House. Photo © Liesl Clark

If you can’t plant a row for the hungry, you can find edible bounty around you to donate. We’re looking forward to doing some foraging for our less fortunate neighbors for watercress and blackberries when the season is right. There’s plenty out there, so why not take a little time out of your day to provide for a few more mouths than your own? It brings joy and a feeling of connection to those around us through the food we grow and harvest with our own hands.

Nasturtiums and Peas. Photo © Liesl Clark