June brings berries to the market

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Column: Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

We will soon be in the month of June, and typical to their name, June strawberries generally ripen at this time. With the very warm March that we had, many things are coming into season earlier than normal, and we have already had a few strawberries at the market this past week.

Verlys Huntley

However, I expect in the next week or so, there will be more strawberries, along with peas, broccoli and beets beginning to show up at the market, along with asparagus, rhubarb, radishes, green onions, lettuce and spinach, and other early garden crops you have been seeing at the market the past two weeks.

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Recent rains have helped the fields and gardens considerably. Although the amount of rain varied a lot in different locations, I think most of this area has received a total of at least an inch of rain over the last week, with more rain in the forecast for this week.

If you haven’t already planted your tomato plants, pepper plants, melons, squash, cucumbers, green beans and other heat-loving vegetables, you will need to be getting them in the ground.

With the warmer than normal winter, you will need to watch for a bigger number of insect pests, with many of them coming earlier than normal. One of the most common pests is the cucumber beetle, which feeds on most vine crops. It will attack as soon as the plants emerge from the soil. They feed on not only cucumber plants, but squash and melons as well. I try to watch for these, as they can kill these newly-emerged plants in just a day or two. I also have heard that some people are seeing potato beetles on their potato plants.


Farmers market update

We have a very exciting season planned for this year at the market. We are again accepting EBT/SNAP cards at the market, with Blue Cross/Blue Shield again generously offering Market Bucks to match the first $5 in EBT benefits used at each market. By taking advantage of this, you can get up to $10 in extra free healthy food each week if you come to the market on both Wednesday and Saturday.

Not only can you get the freshest and tastiest vegetables and fruits, but you can get a variety of baked goods, honey, eggs, meat and other food items available at the market. Most people do not eat anywhere near the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits, and the most nutrition and best flavor comes from fresh, locally grown produce. Healthier eating habits will pay off in improving your health, and save money in medical expenses. And supporting local growers and local businesses will boost our local economy.

And again this year, Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea is sponsoring an Albert Lea Transit bus that will give free rides to the market each Wednesday, beginning June 6. The meal at the market on June 6 will be served by the American Legion, and the popular Dunnell Lenort will be singing for us. Show appreciation to our veterans by supporting the Legion, and Lenort will entertain you with some wonderful music.

On Saturday our local farmers market will extend their hours so we can be involved in Albert Lea’s Open Streets Celebration. Our usual Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to noon, but on Saturday most of our regular vendors have agreed to stay into the afternoon and be part of this special event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In addition, we will have craft vendors and home-based businesses also offering some unique items. Also, we will be offering samples of rhubarb cooler, a radish spread on assorted crackers and maybe some other interesting things using produce in season. As a market fundraiser, we will also be selling rhubarb/berry sundaes, using that delicious bulk real ice cream!

Come and enjoy the day. There will be lots of things happening on the closed portions of Bridge Street and Fountain Avenue, and all along the walking path around Fountain Lake. Don’t miss out on the fun!


Featured produce of the week: rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perennial plant, which you can start by dividing an existing plant, or buying a crown from a nursery. It is easy to grow, likes a rich, but well-drained soil and grows best where the winters have two months or more of freezing temperatures.

The first year after planting, you should not harvest any of the stalks and only limited amounts the second year. It comes up early in the spring and can be harvested until about July. Ideally, you should take no more than one-third of the stalks at one picking and you should pull up the stalks. Remove and discard any seed or flower stalks. If your rhubarb stalks are really thin on an older plant, it probably needs dividing and transplanting, which should be done in early spring. Or you could try working in some compost and fertilizer around the plant.

Rhubarb is high in Vitamin C and potassium. Although in the past many folks called rhubarb the pie plant, it is quite versatile, and can be used in many ways, including drinks, cakes, breads, muffins, crisps, sauce, chutney and even salsa. It combines well with strawberries, pineapple and many other fruits. It can be frozen just by cleaning and cutting up as desired and putting in freezer bags.

With the lettuces and assorted greens now at the market, here is a nice dressing for salad greens:


Rhubarb dressing for salad greens

2 cups diced rhubarb

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup white or raspberry vinegar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3 Tablespoons minced green onion

1 1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt


In saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar and vinegar, cooking over medium heat until rhubarb is soft or for about six minutes. Drain through a sieve, squeezing with a spoon to get out all the juice. Discard pulp and put juice into a jar with lid. Add oil, onion, Worchestershire sauce and salt. Shake well and refrigerate. Just before serving, pour over salad greens and toss lightly.


Rhubarb torte squares


1 cup flour

1/2 cup butter

5 Tablespoons powdered sugar

Mix flour and powdered sugar, and cut in butter until forms coarse crumbs. Press into buttered 9×13-inch cake pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.


3 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups rhubarb, cut up.

Put dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, adding eggs and mixing well. Add rhubarb and stir to coat. Pour into baked crust, and top with 3/4 cup chopped walnuts. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool.


See you at the market this week!


Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.