Jeanie and Liz at the Meadow Hill Community Garden

By being a community garden mentor, you can ensure a fellow gardener has a successful growing experience.  Help someone avoid some common mistakes — like planning tomatoes before the average frost free date, or forgetting to thin your beets and carrots.

You don’t have to be a perfect gardener — just remember what it was like to be a beginner.  Watering-in, identifying common weeds and how-to use a turning fork are some basics your mentee might want to learn.

We’ll help you along the way by providing opportunities to connect and some useful resources for you and your mentee.

Interested in being a mentor? Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or 406.239.8236.

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Tomato seedlings in peat pots.

 Missoula experiences roughly 19 frost free weeks each year (approximately 133 days). According to the National Climate Data Center the average first frost free date is May 19th and the average last frost free date is September 27th. For tomatoes to grow and produce fruit they require more than a frost free day; they need ambient night temperatures of 55 degrees or higher. 55 degrees or warmer? That means some years the perfect tomato growing season for Missoula gardeners is limited to July and August, 60 short days! One way to extend this short tomato season is to either purchase sets (plants that are already partially grown) or start tomato seeds indoors.

Buying sets is a great option if you don’t have room for a few trays of seeds or if you realize on May 25th that you want home-grown fresh tomatoes for summer salads. One of the benefits of starting your own seeds is getting to choose from the very wide selection of tomato seeds available. Variety names are as unique as the flavors embodied in the fruit: Chadwick Cherry, Pierce’s Pride, Black Icicle, Chocolate Strips, Violet Jasper, Mortgage Lifter, Ozark Pink, Belize Pink Heart, and Moonglow to mention just a few. Here are my favorite varieties: Oregon Spring, Yellow Pear and Prairie Fire from Fisher’s Seeds in Belgrade, Montana; Cour di Bue and Cosmonaut Volkov from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri; Ranger and San Marzano from Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon. A quick note about the Oregon Spring Tomato: developed at Oregon State University, it is one of the few tomato varieties that will set fruit in cool temperatures and is a great option for an early Missoula crop. The down side to starting seeds indoors is that it requires investing in some equipment and serious attention if you want to grow strong plants.  Plants grown in a window tend to be pretty spindly because they have to lean toward the light.

When choosing sets or seeds, it’s wise to ascertain if the tomato is determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes bear a full crop at one time and top off (stop growing) at a specific height. They are great for containers or smaller spaces and are often the best choice if you want to can your tomatoes as most of the fruit will ripen at the same time. Indeterminate tomatoes produce vines that continue to grow and produce fruit until killed by frost. They provide fruit throughout the growing season but can be “unruly” in the garden when it comes to space.

Six to eight weeks before you want to plant outside (approximately June 1st in Missoula) you’ll want to start your seeds. In addition to tomato seeds, you’ll need sterile seed-starting mix, containers, and labeling sticks. You can purchase seed-starting mix at a garden store or nursery or make your own with peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. Thoroughly combine the starting mix with warm water before you begin. Any container will work for the initial planting. You can use an open tray or swallow box lined with plastic and a few holes poked in the bottom. You can buy seed starting kits with single or multiple cells and clear plastic covers. You can also buy peat or manure mini-pots to start your seeds in.

Once your containers are filled with starting mix, make shallow holes or furrows ¼ inch deep (remember the rule of thumb when planting seeds: plant a seed at a depth roughly twice its diameter – in the case of tomatoes, that’s about 1/4 inch). If you’re depth challenged, measure and mark a chop stick to ¼ inch deep and use that. Sow one or two seeds in the bottom of the hole for individual containers or cells or ½ inch apart in furrows if using trays or boxes. Gently pinch soil together to cover the seeds. Water carefully and label each variety. If you bought a commercial seed starting kit with a cover, put the cover over the flat. For other containers, place the containers into a loose-fitting plastic bag – leave the end open for circulation. This keeps the mix moist; seeds won’t germinate if they dry out. Put your containers in a warm place: 75 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

As soon as the seeds begins germinating and stems show above the soil (around day 7 or so), it’s important to provide a strong light source such as grow lights or white florescent lights. Seedlings need 14 to 16 hours of light per day to grow properly. If using a grow lamp, set the lights just a few inches above the seeds. This will help ensure sturdy plants rather than spindly, yellowish, light-starved seedlings. Putting them in a window tends to grow leggy, light-starved seedlings as well.

After about 30 days, the first “true” tomato leaves begin to appear above the baby cotyledon leaves (those slightly thickened leaves that were first to show after the seed germinated). At this stage, if you used trays or put multiple seeds in mini-pots or cells, it’s time to transplant the seedlings into larger, individual containers (at least 3-4 inches in diameter) so they have room to grow and develop.

Carefully, and gently, lift seedlings from below using an old fork or small spoon. Hold gently to the baby cotyledon leaves and try to scoop up the entire soil ball from below so you get all the roots. If roots have grown together, tease the seedlings apart. Transplant each seedling into its own container filled with good quality potting soil. Each seedling should be inserted into a hole in the soil so that the soil comes to the base of its baby cotyledon leaves. Tomato seedlings will grow new roots along their buried stems, resulting in a sturdy, vigorous plant.

When the Missoula’s nights finally stay 55 degrees or warmer, it’s time to plant your tomatoes outside. (You can plant outside before warm nights arrive by using season extenders such as cold frames, wall-o-water or frost cloth around/over your plants.) Before you plant outside, “harden off” your plants by moving them outside into the sun for a few hours a day over a week’s time. Once hardened off, if the plants are more than 6 inches tall, trim off the bottom branches before planting and settle the seedling in a hole so the entire stem is covered up to where the leafy branches begin. Gently pull soil around the plant, firm and water. Even if you’ve hardened off your plants, I recommend you transplant on a cloudy, slightly cool day. Depending on the variety you’ve chosen to plant, you’ll have ripe, delicious tomatoes in July and August (and if we’re lucky, September too)!

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Second Street Community Garden

Community Garden Opening Day is less than a month away and we – garden leaders and GCH staff — have been gathering during the off season in preparation.  We’re looking forward to a successful season with beautiful, well maintained gardens, with more participation and less plot abandonment.  But…we need your help to meet these goals.

Here’s how you can contribute…

1. Give 3 hours of your time per season – Can you imagine the impact if everyone contributed a little bit of their time to turn the compost, weed a communal bed or organize the tools? — it would be exponential!  This year we’re encouraging all gardeners give 3 hours to help with the collective maintenance of our gardens.  You can plug in by signing up for a task on Opening Day, attending a garden workday, or participating in a volunteer event.

2. Land Stewardship – Our gardens are all located on land generously shared with us by — the City of Missoula, Missoula Public Schools, Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, University of Montana, etc.  You can be a good steward of the land by growing an abundance of vegetables while keeping your plots well weeded and watered throughout the growing season.

3. Revised Plot Abandonment Policy – After much thought, research and deliberation, we’ve revised our policy to help us quickly identify and respond to plot abandonment.  Please see the revised policy below…

June 1st – Initial deadline to maintain garden plot

All gardeners need to be actively tending their plots by June 1st, 2014.  Garden plots untended by this date will automatically be given to the next person on the waiting list.  Email reminders will be sent prior to this initial deadline.  We created this initial deadline because of Montana’s unique growing season.

After June 1st – plot abandonment policy after initial deadline

First Contact – Gardeners will be contacted by a leadership committee member or GCH and given at least a two week deadline by which the plot has to be fully maintained.

Second Contact – If the plot remains unmaintained by the set deadline, gardener will be contacted by GCH notifying the gardener that the plot has been forfeited and given to the next person on the waiting list   

We’re also in the process of hiring a community garden assistant to help us keep the gardens ship-shape — can’t wait to introduce this person to you all.

Thank you for growing with us and digging deeper into your community garden — looking forward to thriving, healthy gardens this season!


Posted in Community Garden News, Garden of Eaton, Meadow Hill Community Garden, Northside Community Garden | 1 Comment

Valentine’s Day is approaching and romantic gift giving is in the air. Homemade gifts are the best and the chocolate cake recipe below is for a cake I often get asked to bring to potlucks and family gatherings. You can make this a “high octane” cake (meaning fully laced with alcohol) by pouring a quarter cup of your liquor of choice over the cake once it has cooked. Pour the liquor slowly and carefully – you don’t want a soggy mess! Even if you choose not to add the extra liquor, this is a wonderful, moist chocolate cake to enjoy with coffee or after dinner drinks. Do set aside a couple of hours to make this, especially the first time as there are multiple steps to putting the cake together.


Drunken Chocolate Cake

(from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts)


5 ounces unsweetened chocolate (Bakers, Ghirardelli, etc. The better the chocolate, the better the cake.)

2 cups shifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup instant coffee or espresso

Boiling water

Cold water

½ cup bourbon (or cognac, amaretto, blackberry brandy, apricot brandy, kirsch, Grand Marnier, Chambord – the flavor of the liquor will help determine the flavor of the cake)

½ pound of butter, softened at room temperature (2 sticks, 1 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups granulated sugar

3 large or extra-large eggs

Optional: extra liquor to sprinkle on cake

Optional: powdered sugar to sprinkle on cake


            Adjust rake one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. You will need a 9-inch Bundt pan or any other fancy tube pan with a 10-cup capacity. Butter the pan even if it is a non-stick pan. Then dust the whole inside of the pan with fine, dry, plain bread crumbs; invert over the sink and tap lightly to shake out excess crumbs. Set the pan aside.

            Break or cut chocolate into small pieces and place in a small glass bowl. Microwave for 60 seconds. Stir, if chocolate is not melted, microwave another 30 seconds. Stir until all chocolate pieces are melted. Be careful to not overcook! You can also melt the chocolate on the stove in a double-boiler. Set chocolate aside and let cool slightly.

            Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

            In a 2-cup measuring cup dissolve the instant coffee in a bit of boiling water. Add cold water to the 1 ½ cup mark. Add the liquor. You will now have 2 cups of liquid.

            Cream the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat to mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each egg. Add the chocolate and beat until smooth.

            Then on low speed, alternately add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions with the liquids in two additions, adding the liquids gradually to avoid splashing, and scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Be sure to beat until smooth after each addition, especially after the last. The final batter will be a thin mixture.

            Pour into the prepared pan. Rotate the pan a bit briskly, first in one direction, than in the other, to level the top. The batter will reach almost to the top of the pan, but it is OK, it will not run over and you’ll have a beautiful, tall cake.

            Bake for 1 hour and 10 or 15 minutes. Test by inserting a cake tester into the middle of the cake and bake only until the tester comes out clean and dry.

            Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then cover with a rack and invert. Remove the pan, sprinkle the cake with a bit of optional liquor and leave the cake upside down on the rack to cool.

            Before serving, sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar through a fine strainer.

            This is a no-icing cake, wonderful as is or with a spoonful of vanilla or liquor flavored whipping cream.






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Get your calendars out — community garden dates to jot down!

Devon at the Northside Community Garden

2013 Gardeners reconfirm their plans to return in 2014 – returning gardener deadline is – Friday, January 31st.

We’re hiring a Community Gardens Assistant to help maintain the community gardens this summer!  The position is currently open and closes Monday, February 24th. Send a cover letter, resume, and references to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Does gardening in community interest you?  We’d love for you to join us and we’re accepting new gardener applications through Monday, March 24th

Garden plot lottery ends Monday, March 31st.  We have so many garden plot applicants, we conduct a garden plot lottery to award open plots.  We’ll notify applicants if they were selected by the end of March.  

Let’s get diggin’ together – Community Garden Opening Day – Saturday, April 12th 10am-2pm.  Garlic planted last fall will be emerging from the soil in anticipation!


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Holiday worm. Photo by Ken Lockwood

Winter has arrived and the garden is dormant. Or is it? On the surface, annual plants have died and are decomposing. Hopefully, the decomposition is taking place in a compost pile to forestall any pest or disease transmission in the spring. Perennials have withered, or been cut, back and have concentrated their energy in their roots. They wait for spring’s warm days to leaf out and bloom.

A quick glance at my garden reveals mulch, mostly leaves with a little straw, and a few bare branches above the soil. But things are happening on the ground’s surface or deeper in the soil. Even when temperatures drop below freezing, soil is alive with microorganisms — protozoan species, nematodes, insects, arthropods, and the largest common soil dwellers, worms.

Of course, during winter everything in the soil slows down. Some of the less complicated organisms, like bacteria, can tolerate freezing. Bacteria membranes can stretch so they don’t burst when their internal fluids become ice. Soil that is rich in humus (that wonderful end product from the compost pile) is the perfect hibernation habitat for bacteria and other organisms. Humus provides a rich carbon habitat that shelters overwintering creatures so they can get a jump on soil activity in the spring.

While bacteria overwinter, soil fungi set spores. When spring temperatures rise or a warm spell heats up a string of days during the winter, they sprout. There are many harmful and beneficial soil fungi. One beneficial fungi, trichoderma, attacks destructive fungi in the soil and on plant surfaces. It prevents snow molds that can form on lawns underneath snow cover. Healthy winter soil is alive with fungal microorganisms and gives plants and seedlings a boost come spring.

Worms, the big workhorse dwellers in the soil, have their own strategy for surviving winter. Common earthworms burrow deep into the subsoil before the soil freezes. They’ll travel down, aerating and loosening soil as they go, as deep as six feet! Once below the freeze line, they form a slime-coated ball and hibernate in a state called estivation. As a mucus-wrapped bundle, they can survive the long months before the spring rains wake them from their hibernation.

Worms will survive above the freeze line too. They’ll congregate in a warm pocket of soil; say, against a concrete wall or under a rain barrel or a plastic bag of leaves. The thermal mass of the wall or barrel heats the soil, creating a micro-environment for the worms. In January, it’s fun to find a tiny Florida filled with a wriggling mass of worms. Occasionally, I disturb my compost pile in the winter. When I do, I always find common earth worms nestled as tight bundles inside uncrushed egg shell halves.

Not all worms hibernate. Some lay eggs in cocoons, ready to hatch when conditions are ideal. Once their eggs are laid, they freeze and die under the leaf litter or mulch. One Northern worm, S. niveus, has evolved to manufacture glycerol as “antifreeze” in their internal fluids. They supercool their bodies and can survive even the coldest winter weather.

How can you promote beneficial fungi, healthy bacteria growth and a happy, wriggling worm population? Consider planting a winter cover crop in the fall. Add compost to your soil. Mulch the soil to prevent moisture loss and reduce soil temperature fluctuations. Mulch also protects perennials from wind damage. Even though winter has fully arrived in Missoula, it’s not too late to mulch. Purchase a straw bale or two from any of the feed supply stores and spread a six to eight inch layer over your garden. In the spring, your soil will reward you with strong, healthy seedlings and plants!

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of The Regular Joe.

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So. Josh spoke at TEDxMontana. . . And he was pretty amazing.  He talked about the origins of the PEAS Farm, what it is like to work there among so many diverse people, and how much of the experience is made of who shows up to work the land, rather than what the land produces.

A little background on the TED tradition: TED is all about “ideas worth spreading” and TEDx was born to allow local groups to reproduce the model in their own backyards.

It takes them a bit of time to get these videos cut and ready to go, but all of the TEDxMontana talks just showed up on YouTube and ready to rock.  So watch, and pass it on . . .

Josh's TEDxMontana Talk

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Squash and Kale. Photo by Ken Lockwood.

As the holiday season approaches, most of us attend potlucks or host events that require food for all types of eaters: omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. I have several recipes to satisfy “omnis,” and “vegies,” but I have struggled with feeding those dedicated vegans in my life. No eggs? No milk? No cheese? It can be hard to change our cooking habits, but don’t despair; the answer to those three questions comes in the form of a delicious casserole.

Vegan Quinoa & Kale Casserole
(Makes 6 servings, about 2 cups each)

4 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 large onion diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced (divided)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
4 teaspoons cumin (divided)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons cayenne (divided)
½ teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups cooked white kidney beans (cannellini); or any cooked or canned beans of your choice.
3-4 cups freshly roasted tomatoes, skinned and chopped. (To roast fresh tomatoes, place on jelly roll pan under the broiler; broil for 10 minutes with the pan placed on a rake in the MIDDLE of the oven, not right below the broiler; turn the tomatoes and roast for another 5-10 minutes. Skins should split and blacken some). You can also use two 14.5 ounce cans of chopped tomatoes.
6-8 cups chopped kale, stems removed; microwave 1-2 minutes to wilt. Once wilted, you’ll have 2-3 cups of kale. You can also use Swiss chard, collards, or the greens of your choice.
1 cup quinoa, uncooked
½ cup raisins
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt, divided (If you’re on a low-salt diet, omit entirely).
1 medium to large butternut squash baked and mashed. You’ll have 3-4 cups cooked squash. If you have more, that’s fine. You can use any cooked winter squash you prefer. If the squash you use cooks up “watery,” drain in a strainer for a few minutes before using.
½ cup finely chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)


Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Over medium heat, pour 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large oven proof skillet. Add chopped onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add half of the chopped garlic, paprika, turmeric, 2 teaspoons cumin, coriander, 1 teaspoon cayenne, and allspice. Cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in white kidney beans, tomatoes, kale, quinoa (uncooked!), raisins, water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.

In a separate bowl, mix mashed squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the rest of the chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon cayenne, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Carefully spread the squash and spice mixture over the top of the bean and quinoa mixture in the skillet. The quinoa mixture should be completely covered by the squash.

Cover the skillet with a lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Let cool uncovered for 5 minutes then sprinkle with cilantro or parsley and serve.

Note: if your eaters like “spicy” add a little more of each spice listed. If you’re serving eaters who prefer less spicy, cut back as you deem fit. Also if you’re still not willing to say no to dairy or meat,  serve grated cheese, sour cream, or even bacon crumbles or chopped, browned ham on the side and let each person add what they like to their own portion.

This recipe is adapted from the September 2012 issue of Eating Well and originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of The Regular Joe.

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Squash bounty
Squash and Pumpkin Beauties. Photo by Cori Ash

Youth Farm Winter Shares. The changing weather signals that it is time for putting up food for the coming winter months.  If you are a Youth Farm Winter Share holder you will have lots of food to do just that.  As all of the crops prefer different storage conditions, I wanted to share with you all some storage information that has helped me to stretch my local food long into winter (and even spring!).

The Crop Run Down..


*The key to good potato storage is to keep them away from light, at temperatures around 42- 55°F, with a relatively high humidity.

*Try storing your potatoes in places like an unheated entrance, spare room, attic, basement or garage. Choose a place that is insulated to protect the potatoes from freezing temperatures.

*Since potatoes like a bit of humidity store them in a perforated plastic bag, but do not tightly seal the bag — air flow is crucial to preventing mold and decay.

Bringing home the goods.
Bringing home the goods. Photo by Cori Ash

Winter Squash and Pumpkins 

*Winter squash and pumpkins store best at 50 -60°F with a low humidity.

*Good places to keep your squash are similar to the potatoes with a bit less humidity. Just think cool and dry.

*Winter Squash and pumpkins are a relatively easy storage crop. That said, their typical storage life is anywhere between 8-12 weeks. Hubbard and spaghetti varieties store a bit longer, acorns a bit shorter.

Carrots, Beets, Cabbage, Kale and Kohlrabi  

*Carrots, beets, kale, and the monster kohlrabi do best with near freezing temperatures, a.k.a. the refrigerator.

*High humidity is also critical for long term storage of these crops, so keep them in a perforated bag. Watch humidity, if the bag is full of condensation open it up a bit to let some moisture out. If your crops are drying out close the bag up tight.

*If you are willing and able to give up some space in your refrigerator for these winter crops they will easily last you till the spring!

Onions, Shallots and Garlic

*The important factors of good storage for onions, garlic, and shallots are low humidity, good air circulation, and cool temperatures.

*The mesh bags you took these crops home in are great for storage. Try hanging the bags in a closet, or in an unheated room of your house.  It is as easy as that, and you will have these jewels to spice up your meals all winter long.

 A few more storage tips…

*Be sure to check your vegetables frequently and remove any crops that are starting to go bad.

*Always protect your crops from freezing temperatures.

*Experiment with storage locations, new recipes, and most importantly enjoy!

If you would like more information about the Youth Farm and our goings-on, please check us out and, and check out more blog posts!

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Amy and Kate are joining forces this week to bring you a joint blog post. Kate spoke with Kristy Hawes, one of our regular volunteers. Amy concocted a delicious potato leek soup from the farm, and she’ll share the recipe below.

This season, I’ve become accustomed to seeing Kristy appear every Friday around mid-morning, with the work ethic of a former trail crew member, a smile, and a genuine enthusiasm for farming. Kristy moved to Montana last year from New England, but is relatively new to Missoula. While working for Montana Conservation Corps out of Kalispell, she volunteered at Purple Frog Farm in exchange for fresh produce. Upon moving to Missoula this year, she sought out a similar opportunity to connect with the local community and a quick Google search led her to Garden City Harvest and Orchard Gardens. Kristy has always relished being outdoors, whether on the trail or digging in the earth, so weekly farming adventures keep her grounded.

It turns out that a penchant for agriculture runs in Kristy’s family. Her great-grandparents once ran the largest carnation farm in New England! In addition to helping us weed beds, plant flowers, haul winter squash, and now, disband trellises, Kristy has been trying her hand at growing her own garden this year. She has been especially excited about her tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Kristy has been using the fresh produce to expand her vegetarian cooking repertoire.

Thanks, Kristy for your hard work, and being a fantastic volunteer – we hope you’ll join us again next year!

It is officially the soup season here in Montana. As a consequence, our house soup pot has been rotating for weeks between different concoctions including vegetable lentil, squash chilli, and tonight, potato leek. This recipe is easy and delicious. Stay warm!

Potato Leek Soup

from The Kripalu Cookbook by Atma JoAnn Levitt

  • 3 cups sliced leeks (3-4 leeks, well washed)
  • 7 cups chopped potatoes (6-7 medium potatoes)
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup sliced celery
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • Sprig fresh dill

In a large pot, layer 2 cups of the leeks and all of the potatoes. Cover with stock and bring to a boil. Add the salt. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized skillet, heat the oil and saute the remaining leeks and garlic for 4-6 minutes. Set aside.

When the potatoes are tender, blend together half of the potatoes mixture and the milk in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy. Return the mixture to the pot and add the reserved leek mixture, the celery, herbs, and spices. Simmer for at least 10 minutes. Garnish with the dill and serve.


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