Sunday, December 16, 2018

What's happening in the mid-December edible garden

Foggy December day
Sunday, December 16, 2018

Most think that nothing is alive to eat in a mid December garden.  Winter is hard on almost all living green things, but some can out weather even the harshest winter temperatures.

So, what is still surviving in mid December?  Oregano, creeping thyme, thyme, mint, parsley, carrots, celery, kale, cabbage, sorrel, chives, miner's lettuce, cultivated dandelions, chard and onions are all still green without any cover.
Edible garden

Salad burnet
Oregano

Parsley

Chard
Rosemary

Egyptian walking onions

Kale

Under cover, lettuce, sprouting broccoli, celery, parsley, sorrel, and kale are still green and happy. 
Small mini portable green house

Use the fresh greens in salads and herbs in salads, soups or cooked dishes.  It is cold outside, but the garden keeps giving.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Home grown medicinal teas

Thyme in flower
Sunday, February 18, 2018

You can make your own teas from common herbs growing in your garden or to spice up store bought teas. You may have growing in your garden what you need for your own home grown medicinal teas.

Burdock-can be used to help with constipation and skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Chamomile-used to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, and restlessness.  It is well known for its relaxing effect.  Be careful using, though, if you have a ragweed allergy.
Echinacea-the dried root of this coneflower is a well known immune system support.
Fennel-used for osteoporosis, stomach cramps.
Lavender-for anxiety, insomnia, irritability, restlessness.
Lemon balm-for digestion, nervousness, skin conditions.
Oregano-has antibacterial and anti fungal properties.
Plantain-for coughing, inflammation, insect/animal bites.
Red clover-menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, skin conditions.
Rosemary-been used since ancient times for memory.
Sage-for digestive problems, menopausal symptoms.
Thyme-for allergies, colds, cuts or scrapes, fungal infections, respiratory infections.
Valerian-used in many sleeping aids, has a relaxing effect.
Harvesting and drying herbs

You can use stevia, an herb rich in antioxidants, to help sweeten your tea.  A little goes a long way and too much can cause a bitter taste.  1/8 teaspoon or less is all that is needed.
A sweet alternative-grow your own

You can place in cheesecloth or a tea ball.  Steep for 4-6 minutes.  

For more ideas on tea blends for the cold months, this article in Mother Earth News had some nice tea recipes:  4 Herbal Teas for Autumn and Winter
.

Many medicinal teas are made from herbs which are easy to grow.  Most herbs are perennials which come back year after year.

For other teas you can make from your garden, Make your own teas from garden grown herbs

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Winter wonder edible veggies

Salad burnet in winter
Sunday, December 9, 2018

Winter producing varieties are the really hardy cold crops that thrive in the cool temperatures of spring, fall and winter. To get the longest harvest possible, look for varieties that say “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production.”  

With cover, the following will allow you to harvest all winter: arugula, beets, chicory, corn salad, lettuce, mustard greens, parsley root, radicchio, radishes, spinach, sprouting broccoli, sorrel and Swiss chard.

The following don’t require covering: brussels sprouts, winter harvest cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, bunching onions or Egyptian onions, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, salad burnet.

Your perennial greens and overwintering varieties are the first up in the spring.  Want a vegetable and fruit garden that you only have to plant once? Try perennials!

Winter hardy varieties
*Arugula
*Asparagus (planted in fall for spring harvesting)  
*Beets  All about beautiful beets
*Sprouting broccoli Sprouting broccoli- a year round fav
*Brussel sprouts  
*Cabbage  Cabbage is nutritious and easy to grow
*Carrots (can be pulled all winter)  Grow crunchy, colorful carrots practically year round
*Overwintering cauliflower  How to grow broccoli and cauliflower
*Celery  Give celery a try, an easy to grow garden staple
*Chard (will survive winters if placed in a sheltered area)  For year round steamed greens, grow chard!
*Claytonia, Miner's Lettuce  Fall and winter greens
*Collards  Collards and kale in your garden
*Corn salad (also called Mache)
*Cultivated dandelions  Grow Cultivated Dandelions
*Egpytian walking onions (harvest all winter)  Egyptian walking onions
*Garlic & shallots  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......
*Kale (may survive all winter into spring)  Grow one of the super greens this year-kale
*Lettuce (can germinate at temps as low as 40 degrees F, does well in greenhouse)  
Everything you need to know about growing lettuce
*Mustard greens  Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter
*Bunching onions  Everything to know about growing onions
*Overwintering onions (all onions can be left in the ground in Zone 6)
*Overwintering peas (like Austrian)  Time to plant peas!
*Radishes (can be pulled all through winter)  Easy to grow crispy, peppery radishes
*Rutabaga
*Salad burnet (a perennial)  Salad burnet-a great herbal salad addition
*Sorrel (a perennial)
*Spinach (many survive the winter to mature in early spring) Grow spinach-a super nutritious, easy green
*Turnips All about turnips

Miner's lettucet and cultivated dandelions
If you are growing your veggies in pots, be sure to move them to southern exposure and protected against the wind when the temps start to drop.  Up against a wall is best as the wall will absorb the heat during the day to release overnight.  Putting a portable greenhouse over your pots will also provide extra protection. Prepare for hard freeze 

Seeded pots and perennials getting ready for cover

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Quick tip-using dried beans



Saturday, December 8, 2018

You can grow and dry your own beans or buy them.  Dried beans are significantly less expensive than canned beans and you don’t have to worry about BPA from can linings (Eden Foods has BPA free canned beans).  

It takes some planning to use dried beans.  I take them out the night before and put them in a bowl of water to soak.  Use 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans; the beans will absorb significant amounts of water.  Then, drain, rinse, and cover with water in a pot and cook for 20 minutes at a boil.

They are ready now ready to use in your favorite recipe!

Growing your own beans let you try heirloom and unique varieties.  For how to grow this easy crop, Growing beans

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Seed saving has been going on for thousands of years.  Seed saving is easy.  Always save the seed from the best vegetable you grew! Or the tastiest you buy at the farmers market or store.  

Pick the fruit or plant that has the characteristics you want to grow next year.  The one that was the biggest or had the best taste or produced the most or produced the longest or gave you harvests the earliest or was the most drought or pest resistant.  

Lettuce flower buds
One caveat, you cannot get true to parent plants from hybrids.  If they grow, they will often be totally different than the parent or could get weaker with each generation.  You need “open pollinated” or heirloom vegetables for the seed to produce a baby like the parent.
What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

I grew sweet banana peppers and saved the seed.  I grew out the seeds from the yellow banana peppers.  I got a larger red and orange pepper plants from the seed.  They are quite tasty and prolific.  I have saved the seed to grow out again next year.

There is also another pepper plant that produced prolifically a purple meaty sweet pepper.  I have saved the seed from this plant to grow them again next year.

I have finally found/grown two kinds of sweet peppers that produce well.  I'll keep saving the seed and growing them out.  They are now a mainstay for my garden.
Peppers are for every taste and garden

It doesn't cost a thing to save seeds from store bought veggies or fruits you like and you can end up with some great plants for your garden!  To be sure that the seeds you save will come back true to the parent, heirloom is a sure bet.
For garlic, you save the best, biggest cloves.  You divide up the garlic head into individual cloves and plant them in the fall when it cools off.  Typically, sometime in October or November.  Most store bought garlic has been treated to prevent them from sprouting so you may or may not have luck using the ones from the grocery store.  Your farmers market is a great place to get garlic well suited for your area.
In our garden, seeds can be saved from tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, broccoli, cilantro, dill, celery, borage, salad burnet, garlic, okra, Egyptian walking onions (bulblets), basil.  I had many zinnia and basil "volunteers" in the garden this year from seeds dropped by the plant last fall.
Try self-seeding veggies and flowers

Lettuce flower seeds
For peppers, squash and tomatoes, just scoop out the seeds, lay them on a paper towel on a plate and let them dry completely.  Some suggest for tomato seed to put them in water and let them ferment a bit.  The ones that sink are the ones you want to keep for planting, not the ones that float.  After drying, I put in plastic baggies and keep in the frig to prolong seed life.
Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow ...
Growing zucchini and summer squash
Warm joys of winter squash

Many greens, like chard, parsley, lettuce, broccoli, will shoot a large stalk up then flower.  This is called "bolting."  The easiest thing to do is to let the seeds form, cut the stalk, then put the stalks with seed heads attached into a paper bag.  Let them dry thoroughly, then shake the seeds out.  Some may require that you roll the seed heads between your fingers to free the seed.  

You can actually re-sow seeds from cool season crops like lettuce, cilantro, parsley, chard, chives and get a second fall/winter harvest!  I re-sow seeding about every other week starting the first of September.  In about two weeks, you will have sprouting greens.  When they have grown a bit more, I will separate and transplant into pots and the garden.  I like starting seeds in long narrow pots what are self-watering to be able to move easily to the best growing conditions.  Can also move under the portable greenhouse when it gets cold.
Ideal soil temperatures for starting your seeds
Outdoor seed starting tips
I put my dried seeds in labelled ziplock bags and store them in the crisper, include the seed type, descriptor and date.  A picture of the plant can be helpful to remember the plant the seed belongs to.  Fun gift to give, too.  The seeds last for years this way!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

American grown and made olive oil

Ojai olive farm
Saturday, December 1, 2018

When we did a tasting of the local olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the Pasadena farmers market a few years back, we got a flyer from the grower/producer Ojai Olive Oil that showed the company had tours and tastings on site so we went.  I was back in Cali and wanted to go see them again.  We called because of the fires in the area and they were open.  The fire had gone all around them, but spared the farm.


When we arrived, they were actually cold pressing olives.  We had to do the tasting of all their oils and balsamic vinegars (19 in total) again.  All of their olive oils are extra virgin, cold pressed. Their balsamic vinegars are from Modena, Italy, and are fabulous.  It is hard to narrow down which ones to take home!
It was interesting tasting the different olive oils.  I had no idea that one could taste differently than another.  You can tell the difference when you taste them side by side.  The first thing that sets them apart is the type of olive tree the olives are from.  At Ojai Olive Oil, the French olive oil was very mild, the Italian stronger, and the Spanish olives were very peppery.  The flavor varies each season as well as the level of phenols.

The strong, peppery type is great over pasta or for dipping your bread in.  My favorite dipping oil is made in a saucer.  Super easy and very tasty.  It is a great alternative to garlic cheese bread.  Here is how I make it:
Olive oil in bottom of saucer
Balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon or two
Parmesan cheese, a tablespoon or two
Cracked pepper or herbs sprinkled on top
You could easily use the flavored oils in this as well.  Using their garlic oil would be like have garlic bread.

I have found a great little recipe for low carb bread that is super easy to make.  Here are the instructions for the bread:
1 and half tablespoons of melted butter in a small microwaveable dish
Mix in 3 tablespoons almond flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1 large egg.  I add herbs for extra flavor.  Microwave on high for 90 seconds.  Slice and serve.  Yum!
All of the olive oils produced at the farm are extra virgin, cold pressed.  They also had flavored olive oils-lemon, mandarin, garlic, rosemary, and basil that they produce themselves.  All would be fabulous to add to dishes or for unique salad dressings.
The balsamic vinegar varieties are all from Italy.  Only vinegars produced in the traditional way from the region of Modena can be legally called balsamic vinegar.  The varieties they had were-traditional style, premium white, cinnamon-pear, tangerine, pomegranate, blackberry-ginger, peach, fig, blackberry, raspberry.  The last time I bought the violet for salads and the blackberry-ginger for my sister.  This time I purchased the peach.  The vinegars really do taste just like the flavorings.  They are fabulous.

I had also purchased their face cream last time and did again this time.  It feels wonderful on the skin and smells great.  I also chose two lip balms, a Mandarine orange and Thai coconut.
The press
The tour was very interesting.  The grower had started the olive farm 18 years ago on the site of some century old olive trees.  His olive trees were a graft of a hardy southern Italian trees as the rooting stock with the better tasting olive types grafted to the hardy root stock.  He shared that the graft had a very slight flavor of the more bitter root stock.  99% of the flavor came from the top graft plant.  The oils were fantastic.

The color of the olive comes from the ripeness and type.  All olives when young are green.  Depending on the type as they ripen, they can turn blue or reddish.  Fully ripe olives are black.  The closer they are to fully ripe, the sweeter the oil.  The trees begin blooming in May and harvest is from November to January. 


The press itself is direct from Italy.  They only press olives about 10 days out of the year.  We were lucky enough to be there when the press was running!  We got to taste the oil coming right off the press.  Fresh olive oil has a grassy flavor with a bite.  The bite is all those great antioxidants.  Always look at the harvest date of any olive oil that you purchase to get the freshest.


Hand picked olives being hand fed into the press

The material left from the press is used as a mulch in their organic orange grove to help keep down the weeds.  It is very acidic so it is only used in the center of the row of oranges and not in the olive grove.  In some countries, the dried pulp is used to burn for heat.  The grower uses the clippings from the trees as a mulch and to provide nutrients to the olive trees.

The olive trees require pollination from bees for the highest yields.  If you are growing your own olive tree indoors, you'll need to pollinate the flowers by hand.


Freshly pressed oil
In the US, we consume 8% of the world’s olive oil and produce only 0.1%.  The vast majority of the olive oil we consume is imported from Italy.  Most of the Italian olive oil we import is a blend of many types of olives.  When you purchase olive oil from Ojai Olive Oil, you are getting a pure, extra virgin oil as well as buying an American made product direct from the farmer.  

For more info on the Ojai ranch:
Ojai Olive Ranch

Sunday, November 25, 2018

December 2018 Edible Garden Planner

Early December garden; chard in the foreground, herbs in the background
Sunday, November 25, 2018

December is a time of digging in and staying warm.  It may appear that everything is dead outside, but there is still life in the garden.  In the beds, kale, cabbage, salad burnet, sorrel, rosemary, oregano, garlic, onions, lettuce, leeks, chard, dill, celery, sage, carrots, spinach are all still green in December.

Fresh herbs are just steps away from the back door.  Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials so you get to enjoy them almost year round.  You can also grow many herbs indoors as well like chives, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chervil, and basil.  Rosemary and bay are two to dig up and bring indoors to guarantee survival through the winter.  Just place your potted herbs in a sunny window.  I keep my bay in pots and bring into the garage for the winter.  
If you are using a greenhouse, your kale, celery, mustard, lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage, sprouting broccoli are still happy under cover.  They will not grow much until sunlight gets back to 10 hours per day in late January.  Be sure on sunny, warm days to pop the top on your greenhouse or you will scorch your greens.  It can get 50 degrees warmer inside a greenhouse on a sunny day than the actual temperature outside.  
Cultivated dandelion in a pot
All cold crops are at their sweetest during the cold weather.  Frost brings out the sugars in cold crops.  Hardy greens like chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens, cultivated dandelion greens, and collard greens make great salads and are tasty steamed or braised.

Make sure if you have any potted veggies to put them on the ground if they are on coasters and move them to a sheltered area on the south side of the house to extend their growing time.  Placing straw bales around them or mounding mulch provides extra protection.  I also move them up against the wall.  This does double duty-southern exposure gets the most sun and warmth.  Pots left exposed creates a micro climate that is a zone lower than the ones planted in the ground.  If you are in Zone 6, be sure that plants left in pots are hardy to at least Zone 5 if you want them to come back in the spring.  If they are not, put under cover or bring into the garage for the winter.

Veggies like your favorite tomato, pepper, eggplant, or celery that you potted and moved indoors will continue to produce indoors if provided warmth and enough sunlight.  My Chiptelin pepper is one I bring in every year.  I also bring in lemon verbena, lemon grass, citrus, bay and goji berry plants for overwintering in our attached, unheated garage.  We place them in the sunniest spot in the garage and supplement with 4 foot fluorescent grow lights.
Chives in front, sage and rosemary in back
The Fresh Produce Buying Local Option
You can check on line to see if you have a farmers market in your area.  Many have farmers markets year round where you can get fresh produce, canned, baked goods, eggs and meats locally grown.  Many that aren't open regularly will have hours before Christmas so you can get fresh, local ingredients for your holiday meal.  A great place for finding what is near you is the on-line resource www.localharvest.org

CSA
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  It is where you invest in a local farmer in January when they have to purchase their seeds and supplies for the upcoming gardening season.  You then get a weekly share of the farmers harvest typically from May through October.  There are even some winter CSA's now!

Before I started our own edible garden, we joined a CSA.  It was great.  We got lots of super fresh produce, our weekly grocery bill was significantly reduced as our meals were planned around the vegetables, and it was an adventure getting to try new recipes with veggies we had never ate before.   
Eat well, be healthy

A CSA shows you what grows well in your area.  You can find out the varieties you like and when they come into season.  You can even save the seeds from the varieties that you want to grow in your future garden if you partner with an organic CSA that grows open pollinated and heirloom vegetables and fruits.
What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

To advertise as “organic” you have to be certified.  Many farmers cannot afford to do this.  Some farmers participate in the "Certified Naturally Grown" program.  This is less expensive than USDA organic, but also relies on inspections by other CNG farmers, non-CNG farmers, extension agents, master gardeners and customers instead of USDA certified agents.  If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices.  Go visit them to see the garden for yourself before you commit.  You can also check out reviews on line. 

Where to find a CSA?  Again, a great resource is the web site at www.localharvest,org 

Many sell out by January so don’t delay if you want to join!

Preserving the harvest
It is easy to store winter squash in your pantry to pull out anytime.  We have eaten butternut squash from the garden all the way into June of the following year.  21 no tech storage crops

If you put garlic in your pantry and some have dried out, make garlic powder.  Just process the dried garlic in a coffee or spice grinder.  Now you have great flavor to add to burgers, sauces, or steaks. Quick tip-make dried garlic into garlic powder 

I take the herbs I had drying in paper bags and remove all leafs.  I store my herbs in quart canning jars.  I mix them all together for a homemade “Herbes de Provence”.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"  I use it on everything!  It is great in sauces, on meats, in dressings.  

Tarragon, thyme, sage, rosemary and chives
If you threw your extra tomatoes into the freezer and are now thinking it would be nice to have tomato sauce, canning tomato sauce is simple and easy to do.  I use Weck’s canning jars.  They are all glass so no worries about what is lining the lid.  And they are a really pretty shape.  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a funnel, and canning tongs.  A pressure canner is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes.  Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.  If the food is not acidic enough, it can allow botulism to grow.

I throw the entire tomato (de-stemmed) into the food processor.  Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds so you don’t have a bitter taste, but I have not noticed any issue with bitterness.

Here is the recipe from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” for tomato paste:
9 cups of pureed tomatoes, 1½ cups of chopped sweet bell peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 teas salt, 1 clove of garlic.

I put it all into a large pot and let simmer until it is the consistency and taste I like, about 2.5 hours.  Remove the bay leaves and garlic.  Boil the jars, lids, and seals as the sauce is close to done.

Add 3 teas of lemon juice to each hot pint jar, fill with the hot tomato sauce to within ½ inch of the top, and seal the lid, following the instructions for the type of jar you are using.  Place all the filled jars in a large pot, insuring they are fully covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 45 minutes.  Be sure that the pot is at a steady boil for the entire 45 minutes.  Remove from canner.  Let cool for 24 hours.  Remove the ring and test the seal after the jar is completely cool by gently lifting the jar by the lid.  It should not lift off.  That’s it!  

Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, pickles, and relishes.  Consult with a canning book for more tips and always follow the recipe exactly as written to insure the right acidity for safe canning.

Winter is time to savor the fresh herbs from the garden along with what you have preserved, browsing for canning ideas, and planning next year's garden.  A potential Christmas meal using what is growing in the garden in December, Jazz up the Christmas feast with herbs from the garden

I use Christmas break as the time to finalize my garden plan for the spring.  I look back on my notes from last year's edible garden and this year's seed catalogs to decide what new varieties to add to my standbys.

For tips on choosing seed catalogs:  New seed catalogs are here!