Cultivating Life: February 2012


Ways to survive a Northwest winter


Seriously. Winters are rough. Grey, rain, cold, dark, rinse, repeat. As an avid cultivator of great things from the garden, kitchen, and life, February can be a low point. Still reading? It gets better. I have a whole arsenal of tools in my handy tool belt to get me through the wintertime SADs. Here they are.

Read good gardening books. During our sunshine months, who has time to read? Now’s the time. I’ve got my eyes on two new books out, both about edibles. “Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening” by Willi Galloway is one. I’ve been reading Willi’s blog for years and she always has tasty recipes using produce fresh from her garden, like arugula pesto, and simple easy dishes with herbs and eggs.

The other, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces” by Gayla Trail is high on my must-read list. Gayla’s down-to-earth approach to gardening and her writing is refreshing and inspirational, and her book photography and design is beautiful. I’m interested in growing more herbs and edible flowers in our garden this year because they pack so much flavor and visual punch into meals.

In addition, Felder Rushing put out a new book in 2011, “Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons,” whose title alone speaks to me and a need to relax into gardening a bit more. If you’ve never read Rushing’s books, you should. We all should. He’s a breath of fresh air.

Sink yourself into plant catalogs, print or online. A few of my favorites to tide me over, especially in the dark, dismal days of a Portland February, include: Annie’s Annuals & Perennials (, High Country Gardens (, Plant Delights Nursery (, and Territorial Seed Company (

Get your act together and (finally) make a plan. Now is the time to get those measurements together and sketch out this year’s beds, project, or garden. A little planning now can save a lot of headaches later. Make sure you’re leaving space for paths wide enough to get through, and time your crops appropriately. If you have an iPad, check out the new Grow Planner app in the iTunes store from Mother Earth News. It helps you plan, space, and time your garden for your specific location and growing season.


There are numerous activities that can keep hardcore gardeners busy during winter months.


Visit a greenhouse. If an escape to Puerta Vallarta isn’t possible in order to survive our winter, I recommend scheduled visits to a few indoor nurseries where the temperatures are warm and the humidity fills your lungs. My favorites? The greenhouse at Cistus Nursery and Portland Nursery both have a healthy and strong selection of plants, in case you need to increase your winter indoor oxygen.

Craft a terrarium and grow a little somethin’ somethin’ indoors. Get inspiration and everything you need to put together your own tiny indoor garden at Artemisia just off Burnside at SE 28th in Portland. Tiny works of growing, living art are at your fingertips to help tide you over until spring.

Go to gardening talks or shows. Portland Yard, Garden & Patio Show is Feb. 17-19, 2012, at the Oregon Convention Center. Word is all of the seminars are free this year. Learn about garden allies in our gardens, including pollinators and predators with the March 13 speaker at the Multnomah County Master Gardeners ( meeting. Always free, always informative.

Window gaze at the birds in your garden. Hummingbirds, robins, bluejays and bushtits — all are regular visitors to our winter garden and I’m excited about every single one. Commit to cultivating a bird-friendly habitat and you too can enjoy all of the wintertime visitors to your garden.

Immerse yourself in citrus. California is producing the most delicious citrus this time of year, and that means it’s a perfect time to make homemade limoncello or kumquat marmalade. Plus, the aroma of citrus is sure to lift your spirits and enhance a gloomy grey wintertime mood. Here are  some of my recipes.


Kumquat Vanilla Marmalade

Escape to Mexico! Hawaii! Or just to your kitchen as you immerse yourself in the wonders of citrus.

Kumquats are one of my favorite, yet often unheralded, citrus flavors. The tiny little fruit holds a tiny little secret: the peel is sweeter than the inside of the fruit. If you eat one fresh, never try to peel it, and never try to avoid the peel. Just pop one whole into your mouth and chew chew chew.

Or, buy yourself a bounty of kumquats and make some delicious marmalade. Marmalade is a jam with bits of citrus peel in it, and since the sweet part of the kumquat is its peel, kumquat marmalade is puckery and sweet and sour all at the same time. Add some vanilla bean to the mix and you have a concoction of sinful wonder.

In researching different recipes and techniques for this, I discovered that you don’t have to use pectin in the making of this marmalade if you reserve the seeds and use them in the production of the jam since they naturally create pectin. This means your marmalade can just be fruit and sugar. I prefer to not use a lot of sugar in my jam making, but this is how I make my Kumquat Vanilla Marmalade.

3 pints kumquats
5 cups sugar
8+ cups water
1 vanilla bean


Wash and scrub your kumquats. Get comfortable and start slicing. You want thin slices, and remove and save the seeds as you go. It may take a while. With the reserved seeds, create a cheesecloth bag and add it, the sliced kumquats and water to a large pot. Bring to a quick boil and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit overnight.

The next day, bring your pot to a quick boil, and cook until your peels are tender. About 10 minutes or so. Remove the cheesecloth bag of seeds and add in your sugar. Slice and scrape the vanilla bean insides into your pot. Stir well. Cook, while stirring, until your jam is cooked down. This may take a while. Mine took about an hour and 20 minutes or so. It may get steamy.

As the jam thickens, make sure you’re stirring and not allowing it to stick to the bottom of the pan. Skim foam. You can test the jam for jelling point by putting a spoonful of the liquid onto a small plate, and setting in the freezer for a few minutes until it comes to room temperature. Turn the plate sideways to test if the liquid drips: if it’s still runny at room temperature, keep cooking. If it gels and does not drip, it’s done. Ladle into hot jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes 5 jelly jars + 1 pint of marmalade.



Envisioning our fantastic summers, parties on our back patio, and evenings filled with friends sipping on homemade limoncello makes this a perfect project for February. Limoncello is a classic Italian liquor, served icy cold. It’s sweet and lemony and tart and can pack a punch. And it’s so easy to make.

Making limoncello requires a commitment to patience, because it takes at least 90 days to join the flavors together and calm the high proof alcohol. Different recipes use different alcohols, but traditionally limoncello is made with grain alcohol. Lucky for us Oregonians, we can buy grain alcohol at our liquor stores. 190-proof is a fire breather but have faith: the higher the alcohol content the better the flavor extraction from the lemon peel.

Peel or zest 20 Meyer lemons. Don’t include any of the white pith: it’s too tart for our purposes here. In a large infusion jar, or in several large canning jars, combine the lemon zest with 1 large bottle of grain alcohol, or vodka. Pop in a sprig of rosemary, put the tops on your jars, and set them in the back of your refrigerator for at least three months. After three months have gone by, strain and poor into individual bottles. I like keeping mine in the freezer; the alcohol keeps it from freezing solid and only makes it more enjoyable on a hot summer day.


LeAnn Locher is a domestic arts bad ass growing and cultivating all kinds of good things in North Portland. She’d love to hear what you’re growing in the ground or cooking in the kitchen.