Sunday, July 26, 2015

What we are harvesting in the late July edible garden

Sunday, July 26, 2015

We continue to have a wet, but hot July.  Summer veggies are behind their usual production while spring veggies have continued weeks past normal.

Our tomato and pepper plants are smaller than usual.  The short, stocky plants are putting out a good output.  Fairly typical production for this time of year.  Getting about a quart of tomatoes a week.  We were getting 1 cucumber per plant.  Now that we had a week without rain, we are getting 4 huge cucumbers within the week.

The pole green beans are still giving about a half quart a week.  The bush beans of the same variety, Roma’s, have just started flowering and there is one bean on all of the 10 bush plants.

The sage, basil and parsley have loved this weather!  The basil is ready to harvest for pesto.  The other Mediterranean herbs have done fine, but not growing as quickly as usual.

Getting the first fruits on our tomatillo plant.  Nothing on the eggplant yet.  I replanted the zucchini that died.  Seeing the first flowers on them. This is a couple of months behind the norm.

Have already harvested the garlic.  Not seeing any action on the bulb onions.  The Egyptian walking onions did great.  Nice, big bulblets to replant.

Our lettuce has lasted a couple months longer than normal.  Most has bolted, but many leaves are still sweet.  Have re-seeded for the next crop.  In the meantime, will use cultivated dandelion, sorrel, baby chard, and sprouting broccoli leaves for salads until the lettuce is ready to eat.

To keep the greens sweet, cut them back.  The new leaves will be tender and tasty.  I also add sweet clover, salad burnet and tarragon leaves to our salads.  They have the flavor similar to a Granny Smith apple; very fresh.

The carrots, beets, and broccoli are not quite ready to harvest.  The cabbage is close.  The sunflowers no longer have the yellow centers and are making seeds.

So far, have only had to water the pots and fertilize everything once a month with an all purpose fertilizer and a side dressing of compost.  Been an easy summer in the garden.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Growing zucchini and summer squash

Baby zucchini
Saturday, July 25, 2015

Zucchini is a summer squash.  All summer squash love heat, fertile soil, and sustained moisture.  You can plant them as soon as all danger of frost is past and they will be producing in just a few short weeks.  You can even plant them now and they will be producing a few short weeks.  They go right through until fall if you keep them picked.  All plants are programmed to reproduce so if you keep the fruits picked, the plant will keep trying to replace it.

Squash originated in Mexico.  There are cave drawings from 8000 to 6500 BC depicting squash.  Squash was grown extensively by Native Americans as part of the “Three Sisters” of squash, corn and beans.
Squash love organic matter.  If you throw a few seeds in your compost pile, you will be rewarded with exuberant vines.

Zucchini is full of nutrition.  It contains antioxidants, carotenes, lutein, folates, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins.  For more specific nutritional information, Summer squash nutrition info

Zucchini bush

Plant when nighttime temps are 55F or warmer.  Add a fertilizer rich in phosphorous a week after transplanting, when flowers first appear and again when fruits begin to form.  They love water, too. 
Give zucchini a mid summer side dressing of fertilizer or compost if planted in the ground.  

Zucchini can be easily grown in a container, too.  Look for compact bush types like Bush Baby, Yellow Crookneck, Eight Ball, Cue Ball, Golden Delight, Anton, Patio Star, Giambo, Astia, Raven, Cosmos Hybrid (look for bush types versus vining types).  If growing in a pot, keep well watered and don’t let dry out.  Fertilize every couple of weeks with a liquid fertilizer if in a pot.

Don’t panic when the first blooms fall off without producing any fruits.  There are male and female flowers.  If yours falls off, it was likely a poor guy that withered without the love of a gal.  There can also be some false starts with malformed fruits.  Don’t worry, the plant will put on more blooms and you will be on your way to zucchini overload before you know it!

If you allow the fruit to get too big, the skin gets tough and the seeds hard.  Optimum length is no longer than 6 inches for the juiciest fruit and the smallest seeds.  We just picked 2 that were more like a foot long and they were still delicious.  

Our favorite preparation is to slice and grill it.  We slice them lengthwise, brush on olive oil, dust with sea salt, and put them on the grill with whatever we are cooking as the main course.  Grilling or roasting brings out the sweetness in the fruit.  Olive oil does not reach smoke temperatures until 350-400F so is still a good choice when grilling below 325.

If they grow large, you can use them for zucchini bread or cut in half, scoop out the seeds, stuff with a sausage tomato sauce and bake until tender.  

For more ideas on what to do with an abundant zucchini harvest, check out  What to do with all that zucchini?!

There are a couple of pests that you have to worry about with zucchini-the cucumber beetle, the squash bug and squash vine borer.  Cucumber beetle can infect the vine/bush with bacterial wilt.  When you see them, pull them off and drop in soapy water.

In late summer in areas with high humidity, you can get powdery mildew.  This can be treated by spraying with baking soda, copper or fresh whey.  I have found that planting a second plant around the first of July is the best approach.  This plant will be kicking in as the second starts slowing down.

If you bought a heirloom or open pollinated variety, you can easily save the seed to grow next year's plants.  From your best plant, let one get large, remove from the vine and leave it out in the garden bed.  the inner flesh will deteriorate leaving the seeds.  Just scoop out the seeds, put in a plastic baggie, date and keep in the frig for next year.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix

Home made pickles

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July is prime cucumber season!  Cucumbers love heat.  If you have more than you can or want to eat fresh, there is always homemade pickles.  Homemade pickles are sooooooo easy!  My husband loves those “Stacker” type pickles, the big slices you lay across the bun for a juicy hamburger.

I enjoy making pickles.  I slice up my extra cucumbers to just the length and width my husband likes them for his burgers and use my homemade pickling herbs and spices with organic apple cider vinegar.  The trick is to make sure you do not put less salt or vinegar in them.  Salt and vinegar are preservatives.  They keep the dilly solution acidic enough so your pickles do not spoil.

You can make either picklers or slicers cucumbers into pickles.  Picklers have been bred to be smaller and have smaller seeds, but both have the same fresh cucumber taste.  Don’t let the cucumber get too big, this results in big seeds and slows down cucumber production.

I can a jar at a time.  You want your cucumbers fresh for preserving.  I harvest the cucumbers before they get too large.  This does two things, it keeps the size of the seeds in the cucumber down and it keeps the vine producing.  All vegetables are in the business of insuring survival so they give everything they have to producing their seed, the vegetables we harvest.  If you keep removing their seeds, they keep trying to make more!

I typically can 2-3 cucumbers at a time.  These will fit nicely into a quart canning jar.  Make sure the jar and lid have been sterilized.  I slice them lengthwise to the size that will fit on a bun; make sure you remove the ends of the cucumber as some ends are bitter.  I add 2-3 flowering dill heads, 4-5 sprigs of salad burnet or tarragon, 2 cloves, 4-5 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teas of caraway seeds, 1/4 teas of peppercorns, one cardamon seed pod, 3 tablespoons of salt, a bay leave, fill the rest of the jar with water (about 2 cups is all that is needed).  If you like 'em spicy, throw in a pepper or two with stem removed.  Slice the pepper in half to get the spicy from the seeds.  
Sliced cucumber with herbs from the garden for seasoning

You can get a good jar seal by heating the water and seasonings on the stove to a boil, let cool, add the vinegar, then pour over the sliced cucumbers in the jar, and put the lid on.  Or you can do it the old fashioned way and not heat the liquid, letting the pickles naturally ferment.  It is critical that you have at least the amount of salt and vinegar recommended or the pickles will go bad.  I shake the jar a couple of times a day until the salt is completely dissolved. You let them ferment at room temperature in a cool, dark place 1-4 weeks and they are ready to eat!

For more on fermentation for food preservation, a good book is "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Some swear that adding a grape leaf will keep the pickles crisp.  I don’t have a grapevine so have not been able to confirm this tip, but will certainly remember for when we do.

Unopened pickle jars will keep for a year or longer.  Once opened, keep refrigerated and eat within a couple of months.

Cucumber ready to harvest
To keep your cucumbers in peak production, harvest when the cukes are 6-7 inches in length.  I use scissors to cut the cuke from the vine.  If you are not going to use them immediately, store in a freezer bag in the crisper.  You can perk up the cuke by soaking in cool water.

Cucumbers love heat, organic matter and moisture.  They are easiest to harvest when given a trellis to climb.  Keep the fruits harvested for best production.  I use a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or bat guano and seaweed to add other needed nutrients.  Monthly side dressings of compost works well, too.  For minerals, I also use a “Growers Mineral Solution” to get the minerals plants need.  This also means the fruits you eat will be rich in minerals.  Your plants are what you feed them.  

Do not let the plant get dry.  This is what causes bitter fruits.  When I grow cucumbers in pots or in the ground, I use mulch to help retain moisture for the plant.  If growing in a pot, you may need to water daily during heat waves or use a self watering pot with a built in water reservoir.

Fall garden planning and planting

Fall garden

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I know it seems crazy to even think of fall in this heat wave we are having, much less start planting for it, but it is actually time!  When you think of fall gardens, think of the veggies that thrive in the cool temps of spring.  Summer is when you have to get your fall garden sown.

Daylight hours have a significant impact on the growth rate of plants.  Since the days are now getting shorter, it will take longer for the plants to come to full maturity in the waning daylight hours of fall than the lengthening hours of spring.  By the first of November, all growth has come to a full standstill which lasts until the beginning of January.

To know when to plant for fall harvest, first find your area’s first frost day.  Then, look at your cool season crops seed packet.  It will have days to maturity.  Add an extra 14 days and back it up from your last frost date to know when you should sow your fall garden seeds.  For frost date, here is a link you can use.  

Good choices for fall planting:
Root crops-Beets, Burdock, Carrots, Celeriac, Kohlrabi, Parsnips. Radishes, Root Parsley, Rutabaga, Salsify, Scorzonera, Turnips
Greens-Chard, Lettuce, Mustard, Collards, Chicory, Kale
Brassicas-Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower
Choose varieties that have terms like cold hardy, frost tolerant, overwintering to extend your season into early winter.  

Below are some general planting times for cool season crops for our Zone 6/7 garden:
Beets, carrots, Asian greens (pak choi, tat-soi), cilantro, collard greens, endive, escarole, frisee, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard, onions, parsnips, scallions, and Swiss chard.  Use transplants for broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage.
The rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, snap peas, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, and turnips.  Peas and Fava beans can be planted in August for spring harvests in Zone 6 or higher.
Plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  
The month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.  Order your favorites early as many sell out quick.

Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep them moist until they get their first real set of leaves.  Then water as needed.  I like to start my seeds in self watering containers in shade.  Self watering pots that have water reservoirs in the bottom of the pot.  This really helps keep the soil moist.

Many crops you can harvest into December and beyond, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter.  More on that as time gets closer.......

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

"Magenta" Batavian lettuce

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lettuce is not a crop that thrives in the heat of summer, but there are varieties that are more resistant to the heat than others.  If you want fresh lettuce through spring, summer and fall, you will need to plant seeds every two to three weeks.  This way, as one batch bolts (grows a flowering seed stalk), you have another batch ready to harvest.

In late spring and early summer, plant varieties that are resistant to bolting. Colorado State researchers tested to see which varieties held up the best in summer heat.  Here were the winners:
Leaf lettuce-”New Red Fire”, “Simpson Elite”
Butterhead-”Optima”, “Winter Density:
Romaine-”Jericho”, ”Green Towers”
Batavian-”Magenta”, “Nevada”

Simpson Elite was very slow bolting for leaf types and Magenta was almost “boltproof”.

"Green Towers" Romaine
Loose leaf lettuces are those that do not form heads.  They are the quickest to be able to harvest from.  We love these as you can take off the outer leaves and they just keep going for months.

Butterhead, also called Bibb or Boston lettuce, have crumbled leaf heads.

Romaine have tall leaves and have crisp center veins.  Red romaines did not hold up as well as the green.  Green Towers lasted 3 months of summer.

Batavian has loose heads with crisp hearts.  Batavian lettuce is also called French Crisp or Summer Crisp lettuce.  They resisted bolting longer than any other type of lettuce.  Some lasted more than 100 days!

A few others that I have read about recently that look interesting to try:
Red Sails-looseleaf type that stays sweet even when bolting and one of my all time favs
Brown Goldring-Romaine that retains is sweetness into summer
Grandpa's Admire's-Butterhead with good heat tolerance with red tipped leaves
Monoa-a Hawaiian tropical green lettuce.  If it grows in Hawaii any time of the year, that is a good sign!
Webb's Wonderful-crispleaf green lettuce well suited for the south

Lettuce does not germinate well in soil temperatures greater than 70 F and will not germinate at all when soil goes above 85 F.  You can either start seeds indoors, start seeds in a shady spot, or buy transplants when the temperatures hit summer highs.  I start mine outdoors in a shady spot.

Some ideas for keeping your lettuce producing sweet leaves:
Use a shade cloth over your lettuce.
Move your potted lettuce to a shady spot
Start your seeds in cooler spots in the garden like the north or east side so they have protection against the afternoon sun
Plant under, behind or between taller vegetables.

Prepare your bed by adding a 1" layer of compost and a balanced fertilizer.  After planting, do not fertilize.  Keep evenly moist to keep the lettuce sweet.  Getting too dry will cause the lettuce to turn bitter and bolt in warmer temperatures.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Easy, small space salad garden

Salad garden in pots on the patio

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cramped for space, but love salads?  You can grow a salad garden in as little as a 2' x 2' space, whether in the ground or pots.  It takes very little space to grow an amazing amount of food.

Here is what I recommend for a salad garden:
Red Sails lettuce
Red Oakleaf lettuce
Red Romaine lettuce 
Sprouting broccoli
Salad burnet
Cucumber vine on a trellis
Sweet banana pepper
If growing in pots, add nasturtiums for a splash of color and edible flowers.

Now is the perfect time to plant seeds for a late summer, fall salad garden.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Basil is a native of Africa and other tropical areas of Asia where it has been cultivated for over 5,000 years.  It is a culinary herb that sends cooks into poetic rapture.  It is probably the favorite of the “sweet” herbs and well known from its use in Mediterranean cuisine.  It has a spicy bite when eaten fresh.

Harvesting Basil
For basil harvest, the key is to harvest before the basil gets too woody.  You can get multiple harvests from each plant.  I get three harvests a season.  Cut each stem back to the last 4 leaves. Give each plant a good dose of fish emulsion after harvesting to support quick leaf regrowth.
Basil plant after harvested
Preserving Basil
You can freeze, dry, make basil into pesto, basil butter, basil vinegar, or basil oil.  

For freezing, you can freeze chopped leaves into ice cubes to be able to pop into sauces.  You can also blanch and freeze.  If you don’t blanch, the frozen herb does not keep its color or flavor.  Blanching is simply throwing the herb leaves in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds and then quickly plunge them into a bowl or sink of ice water.  Dry the leaves then I then put the leaves on a cookie sheet, place in the freezer and when frozen, remove and put in quart freezer bags.  Now you can have fresh basil anytime you need it!

Harvested basil stems
For drying, I place the cut stems into a paper bag that I put in a dry, warm place.  You can also tie in bunches and hang upside down to dry.  Be sure to leave lots of open space between stems to discourage any mold.  When completely dry, I remove the leaves and place in canning jars.

Pesto is a mixture of fresh basil, traditionally pine nuts (but I use any kind of nut I have on hand-walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, cashews), parmesan cheese, a few cloves of garlic, and olive oil.  You can add spinach or parsley.  Just throw them all together in a food processor and ta-da pesto!

I use about 8 cups of packed leaves (be sure to not include any tough stems), 1/2 cup nuts, 1 cup of olive oil, 1 and 3/4 cup of Parmesan, 8 cloves of fresh garlic and a teas of salt.  After processing, I put half in a quart freezer bag, lay flat in the freezer until ready to use.  Just thaw and toss with your favorite pasta or add to pizza, bruschetta, sandwiches or sauce for a quick and tasty meal.  

For basil butter, chop the basil and mix 1 Tbl, or to taste, into softened butter.

For basil vinegar, choose a white vinegar so that the taste of the basil shines through.  Place fresh basil leaves into an empty bottle and cover with vinegar.  Place in cool, dark area for a month.  Shake daily.  Strain out leaves and use!  You can accelerate the infusion process by covering the leaves with boiling vinegar.  Your creation will be ready in a week.

For basil flavored oil, chop 1 cup of leaves.  Heat 1 cup of oil on low, add herbs, stirring for 3-4 minutes.  Strain out leaves and keep oil refrigerated.  

Lots of options!

Basil turns black when temps get close to freezing.  Be sure to harvest all leaves when it looks like you are getting a frost.  You can also take the the tips and place in water to grow roots and pot indoors for winter harvests.  You can also dig up the plant and repot to bring indoors.  Be sure to put in a sunny window.  Basil won’t thrive indoors, but you will get enough to use as seasoning in your favorite dishes.

Growing Basil
Basil is easy to grow.  It loves warmth and melts when temps get even close to freezing.  The only watch out is too much water.  You’ll get the best flavor when you are stingy with water.

They don’t require much in the way of fertilizer.  Just fertilize at planting and once/month.  A good organic choice is blood meal.  Nitrogen encourages green growth which is what you are after when it comes to basil.

Basil grows well in pots indoors or out. If growing indoors, be sure to put in a sunny window.

It smells amazing when you brush up against it.  You can place next to a garden path to enjoy its fragrance every time you pass by.  To deter deer, plant fragrant herbs like basil around the perimeter of your garden.  Deer navigate with their sense of smell and avoid areas of strong smells.

When flowers appear, pinch them off.  This will encourage bushy growth and keep your basil from getting woody.  The flowers are edible and great adds to sauces or as a zing to salads.  The bees just love the small flowers.  Harvest any time you need.  Be sure to add to the dish at the very end of cooking to keep the strongest flavor.

Sweet basil is used in Mediterranean cooking.  Popular types are Genovese (probably the most famous for Italian cooking), and Mammoth.  Purple Ruffles is more decorative than culinary, but adds fun color as an infusion to vinegar.  Thai, lemon and holy basil are used in Asian cooking. 

Basil contains a chemical that might help inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis called BCP, (E)-beta-caryphliene.  Basil is also great for taking the itch and swelling out of a mosquito bite.  Simply crush a leaf and run onto the bite.  It goes to work immediately while releasing its wonderful aroma at the same time.  For more information on vitamin and mineral content,   basil nutritional info