Sunday, September 14, 2014

What's happening in the mid September garden

Early fall bounty-tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, herbs, eggplant

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The plants that like this kind of weather are tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, Egyptian walking onions, cucumbers, the Mediterranean herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, savory, dill, tarragon and thyme and all types of greens.  We are preserving for year round eating everything we have extra right now.  It is so rewarding to know that we can eat food we grew year round.

In the last week, we have seen the temps go from the highs in the 90's to the highs in the 60 and 70's.  Quite the change!  It definitely feels like fall is on its way.

We just went through and fertilized with an organic fertilizer from Espoma.  With natural fertilizers you don’t have to worry about “burning” your plants as they slowly release into the ground.   This may be the last time we fertilize this season. You should fertilize about once a month through the growing season.  You don’t want to shoot too much nitrogen to your fruit producers as you can end up with all leaves and no veggie fruits.  

It is important to get all your winter and overwintering veggies and greens up to full size prior to early November.  The days are so short come November that there will be minimal growth from November to mid January.

Our garlic has finished hardening.  It is recommended you leave garlic and onions you want to store in 80+ degree temperatures in the shade for a couple of weeks.  Ours have been hardening on the deck for about 6 weeks.  It is now ready to plant in the waning of the moon next month.

All of our veggies and herbs are doing well with the exception of the zucchini.  We are still getting some fruits, but they are producing slowly and the plant is starting to die back.

The chives, rosemary, tarragon, dill, and sage are all doing quite well.  The Egyptian walking onions are thriving.
Dwarf cherry tomato, cultivated French dandelion, and marigolds

The tomatoes we planted are still producing well, both the dwarfs and full size plants.  We have gotten quarts and quarts in the freezer and have canned 9 half liters.  When the tomato season is over, I'll thaw many of the frozen quarts and make more sauce.  It is much nicer canning in cool weather!

Our spicy pepper plants are doing fine.  They are on the smaller side this year.  We just didn’t get many jalapeños.  The cayenne pepper plant is full of green peppers.  The Cajun Belle has given up.  

The sweet bell pepper plants have always produce less than the spicy peppers in our garden.  This year I tried some different sweet peppers and have had much better luck.  The sweet yellow banana and Nikita peppers have been very productive this year!  I have gotten plenty to munch on and freeze.

So far, I have only gotten 6-7 pimentos (have 4 more on the plant) and several baby chocolate bell peppers.  I am getting enough pimentos to freeze for the Pasta House salad we love to make, and eat.  The Poblano, Ancho, and Anaheim peppers are doing quite well.  We will have enough peppers to dry for chili powder all winter.  
Nikita sweet pepper plant

For peppers, if you want to maximize the harvest, pick them as soon as they get to full size versus letting them fully ripen to red, yellow, or orange on the plant.  This stimulates the plant to produce more.  If you let them ripen on the plant, the taste will be sweeter.  I compromise and take them off just when they start to turn.  They complete ripening on the counter in a few days.

I had 3 cucumber plants.  Two have been doing very well.  I get about 4 cucumbers off them each week. They are so crunchy and flavorful right off the vine!  Any extras go into pickles.

I am transplanting lettuce plants from the small tray self watering pots into the Earthbox planters and into the garden.  We keep them well moist so they sprout and grow quickly.   

I had also reseeded the Earthbox last week end and there are little lettuce and spinach growing.  We will cover the Earthboxes with a small portable green house later this fall so we can have salads throughout the winter.
Earthbox with lettuce sprouts from seeds last week coming up

I planted chard transplants in the garden bed from the pot I had it in, too.    Chard comes in such beautiful colors.  They are perennials so should come back next year if the winter is not too harsh.  Since the Farmer's Almanac is calling for another cold winter, we'll do extra mulching in late fall to protect the perennial greens, veggies, and herbs.

Make sure you save the seeds from your best and longest producers to plant in your garden next spring.  I also save seeds from organic produce I get from the store that is really good.  Last week end when we were at the grocery store, there were these beautiful burgundy and dark green striped tomatoes.  I bought the biggest, prettiest one they had.  We enjoyed the tomato and saved the seeds.    Next year, we'll be able to have them in our own garden!

This week we found "Black Italian Prune Plums." We bought them for a friend who likes to make jam.  They made beautiful, delicious burgundy colored jam.  She saved the seeds for me.  I researched them and found out that they are actually heirloom "Damson" plums.  I have put them in moist Sphagnum moss in a ziplock and will store in the frig over the winter.  Next spring, I'll plant those that have sprouted.  They produce fruit in 4 years and are a pretty tree that will be a nice addition to the yard and the pantry.
Black Italian prune plums, "Damson"

This fall, we will have arugula, mustard greens, lettuce, chard, blood veined sorrel, garden sorrel, French and Italian dandelion, spinach, lettuce, purslane, corn salad, celery, chives, parsley, arugula, and sprouting broccoli for salads.  Peppers, eggplant and tomatoes will produce until the first freeze.  The Egyptian onions will produce all through winter.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Peppers a Plenty in September

Ancho and Jalapeño peppers

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My peppers kick into high gear come September.  They seem to love the lower humidity and cooler nights.  September into October are perfect weather conditions for peppers.

Surprisingly, even though peppers originated in the tropics and subtropics of South America, peppers don’t like extremely hot weather.  They get sunburned when the temps get into the 90’s consistently.  Their sunburn looks like dark spots on the exposed fruits.  If you can, move them into the shade when temps are extreme.  They won’t croak, but they are stressed during periods of high heat.

Peppers like sulfur, calcium (to protect from blossom end rot), magnesium (helps flowers make fruits), sulfur (makes more nutritious pepper) and phosphorous (for flowering).  You can use the same fertilizer as you do for tomatoes; both encourage healthy fruit growth.
Nikita hybrid sweet pepper

Be careful with the nitrogen.  Nitrogen promotes greenery.  You will end up with beautiful, lush plants with no flowers or fruits.  Also be careful in the type of potting soil you buy if planting in pots to make sure they are not for green leaved plants, but for flowers or vegetables.

Right now, I have Poblano/Ancho peppers, Anaheim pepper, sweet yellow banana pepper, Nikita hybrid sweet pepper, Baby Chocolate Bell pepper, Cayenne pepper, Pimento peppers, Cajun Belle, and a Jalapeño pepper plant growing in pots or in the ground.

The Poblano/Ancho and Anaheim I am drying for chili powder.  The sweet peppers I rough slice and freeze for salsa. The pimentos, I chop and freeze for salad.   The Cajun Belle, Jalapeños and Cayennes I use for salsa and some I don’t freeze, but put in apple cider vinegar to ferment for hot sauce for wings for football games.  After about 4 weeks, I put them through the food processor and my hot sauce is ready to use!
Home made hot sauce

Yum!  Yum!

If you smoke your Jalapeño peppers, you will get Chipotles.  I have smoked some Jalapeños, dried them and ground them up to make Chipotle powder for seasoning dishes.  Or you can add natural smoke flavor to the pepper before drying to get that smoky flavor after dehydrated.

The heat of the pepper is in the ribs and seeds.  If you like spicy, be sure to keep these.  When handling spicy peppers, it is a good idea to wear gloves and be careful to not rub your eyes, nose or mouth until you wash your hands thoroughly.
Pimento peppers

We have grown most of our peppers in pots until this year.  I try to grow enough peppers to last us all winter for chili and salsa.  The hot peppers like Jalapeños and Cayenne seem to do best in pots.  This year, neither were very prolific in the summer months.  The Pimentos were average producers in the ground.  I have grown them in pots in the past and there doesn’t seem to be much difference in production.  The sweet peppers, both the hybrid Nikita and the sweet yellow banana peppers, did well in pots.  The Poblano was grown in the garden and the Anaheim in the ground.  Both produced well.  The spicy Cajun Belle did well in the ground, but wasn’t overly prolific.

If you had plants that did extremely well, peppers are perennials.  You can simply bring them inside for the winter.  They will continue to produce through January indoors.  When you put them back outside in the spring, you will be the first on the block with homegrown peppers!  If you decide bringing indoors is too much of a hassle or you don’t have the space, save the seeds from the best fruit of the plant so you can propagate next year.  Hybrids will not grow true to seed so you will either have to overwinter or buy a new plant or seeds in the spring.  You can try the seed, but the offspring typically does not turn out with the same traits as the parent.

A friend shared with me that he thought he was going to give up trying to grow vegetables because all he got was pretty plants with no fruits.  He was growing them in pots.  

My suggestion-don’t give up!  Since you are doing a great job with greenery, go for vegetables that are leafy, like lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, herbs, chard, and other greens.  Now is a great time to replant with these type of plants.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What to do with all that zucchini?!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ah, zucchini.  One of the first summer veggies to fruit.  You know summer is officially here when your zukes are flowering and producing nice long fruits.  By mid-summer, the novelty has worn off.  By August, you can’t give the things away!  I even saw a box in my local hardware store with free zucchinis!

So, what’s a gardener to do with all that excess bounty?  Well, you can donate them to a food pantry, you can preserve them in a few different ways, or you can use them in ways I’d never even thought of!  

For preserving, you can freeze them, can them or dry them.  I don’t care for canning zucchini as they are not acidic enough to just use a water bath; the full pressure canner set up is required.  You could pickle them, lowering the pH enough to use a water bath.  There are all kinds of fun pickling recipes out there.  Adding peppers is a way to add zing to an otherwise bland taste.  Just make sure you follow the recipe exactly as the proper pH is critical to safe canning.

I am exploring the freeze and dry methods.  For freezing, first slice them, lay them on a cookie sheet and freeze them.  After they are frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag.  When you need a few, they are easy to get out of the bag.  If you put them into the freezer bag fresh, they will freeze together.  I am trying a few frozen whole.  With a sharp blade, I can slice them when I need them, kind of like frozen cookie dough.

For drying, slice and either use a dehydrator, the sun or your oven.  Zucchini has a great deal of moisture so it will take a while to completely dehydrate.  You can speed the process by salting, squeezing out the excess (cookie sheet weighted down on top of another cookie sheet is an easy way to do this) for about 15 minutes, then either popping into the oven, setting them out in the sun or placing in a dehydrator for a couple of hours should do it.  Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn if you are using an oven.  Recommended temp for drying is 120-200 degrees F max.

I ran across some recipes in Capper’s magazine that looked tasty: zucchini spaghetti and meat balls, stuffed baked zucchini, and zucchini parmesan.  I have tried a variation on the baked zucchini and the zucchini parmesan and both were quite good.

They have this nifty little gadget called a spiralizer that you put a zucchini in and it will make nice long spaghetti noodles.  You can use them just like spaghetti but with no carbs or gluten.  Cool, huh?  Just toss with your favorite sauce and serve.

Grilled zucchini is tasty with sea salt and olive oil.  It is one of our standbys.  Just be sure to not heat your olive oil above 340 degrees F; the smoke point of this delicious, nutritious oil.

There is also fried zucchini.  It is easy to make.  Just whip up 3 eggs with a little milk.  Mix together 1/2 cup of cornmeal with a 1/4 cup of flour, salt and seasonings to taste.  Dip the zucchini slices first in the egg batter then in the dry meal.  Place in 350-375 degree F oil and fry until golden.  If you are going to eat by itself, using a Cajun season salt adds a welcome zing of flavor.

For any extras you have, you can freeze them, too.  Just put a single layer on a cookie sheet and let freeze through.  Then, put all the pieces into a freezer bag.  You can pull out any time you have a craving for fried zucchini!  Just thaw and warm up in the oven.

The baked zucchini was good.  Take a large zucchini, cut in half and scoop out the seeds.  Stuff with your favorite meat stuffing recipe and bake until the zucchini is tender at 350 degrees F.  Mine took about an hour and a half to become tender.  Top with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and put bake in the oven until cheese is golden and bubbly.
Zucchini lasagna

There was a recipe in the magazine for zucchini parmesan.  Basically, you layer sauce, sliced Italian sausage, breaded and fried zucchini to fill a baking dish, then top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese golden and melted.

We didn’t have any Italian sausage, so I made up a stuffing mix which is below.  I just then layered sauce, then breaded and fried zucchini, then meat stuffing until the baking pan was full.  For my pan, it was 3 layers of each.  Then top with mozzarella and parmesan and into the oven at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted.

I was amazed at how delicious the zucchini lasagna was.  It is low carb, gluten free, full of just harvested veggies and a great way to utilize the bounty from the garden!

Here is a meat stuffing mix I really like:  1 small diced onion, 3 eggs, 1 piece of whole wheat toast crumbled, 2 teaspoons of ground garlic, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper, 2 teaspoons of dried mixed herbs from the garden, and a half pound of burger (bison, grass fed beef or venison).  Just mush it all together by hand.  When combined, use to stuff the zucchini or layer as part of the zucchini lasagna dish.

Then there is the ever classic zucchini bread. Recipes abound on the internet and cookbooks for this perennial favorite.

Now you have several ideas for fully utilizing all your wonderful zucchini besides the compost pile :  )

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Time to set out transplants for fall, winter, & spring harvests

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Now is the time to put out your transplants for your winter garden.  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, 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.

Any perennial greens can also be planted now.  Your perennial greens and overwintering varieties are the first up in the spring.

If you didn’t start seeds, big box stores, local nurseries and even mail order nurseries have begun to have fall planting veggies so you can still get transplants to plant in time for fall, winter, and spring harvests.

*Asparagus (planted now for spring)
*Sprouting broccoli (will come back in the spring, too)
*Cabbage (at this point, look for ones with the shortest days to maturity)
*Carrots (can be pulled all winter)
*Chard (will survive winters if placed in a sheltered area and mulched)
*Collard Greens (a southern favorite)
*Corn salad (also called Mache)
*Egyptian walking onions (harvest all winter in a pot or ground)
*Garlic, shallots, leeks (can be planted into late next month)
*Kale (may survive all winter into spring)
*Lettuce (can germinate at temps as low as 40 degrees F)
*Mustard greens (love Giant Red and Ruby Streaks)
*Bunching onions (depending on type, ready to harvest Oct-Dec)
*Overwintering onions (all onions can be left in the ground in Zone 6)
*Overwintering peas
*Radishes (can be pulled all through winter)
*Salad burnet (a perennial has a fresh cucumber/cilantro taste)
*Sorrel (a perennial that has a tart taste kind of like Granny Smith apples)
*Spinach (many survive the winter to mature in early spring)

Your transplants will grow quickest in the earliest part of fall, slowing down as daylight hours decrease.  From November to mid-January, there will be minimal growth.

Fall and winter harvested veggies are at their crispest and sweetest after a light frost.  The cold temps concentrate the sugars, making them extra yummy!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Love Vidalia onions, but are bummed that the season to buy them is so short?  Love zucchini, but by mid-summer have them coming out your ears?  Wondering what to do with all those luscious sun ripened tomatoes?  Dehydrating or sun drying is a great option!

There are many options for purchasing an electric dehydrator in any price range.  You can also use screen material to dehydrate your extra veggies in the sun.  Just be sure to cover them so flies can’t get to them.

There are also DYI sun dehydrators that you can build fairly inexpensively that speeds up the drying process.  I saw one on Mother Earth News this week.

For dehydrating, just slice your veggies in even widths and place on your tray.  Set to the recommended temperature (135-155 degrees F) and let the dehydrator do its thing.  In a day or two, you will have dried veggies that you can store in pretty containers for display on shelves or in canning jars.

You can also use your oven if the temperature will go low enough.  Mine goes down to 170 degrees F.  You can dry veggies at temps as high as 200 but you will have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't brown versus dry.  You can crack your oven open to help keep your veggies from burning, but that can get pretty toasty in the summer kitchen!

For onions and peppers, I like them really dry so I can make them into powder.  I dry Pablanos and Anchos for chili powder.  Two pepper plants give us enough dried peppers that we never have to buy chili powder from the store!  My husband loves Vidalia onions so we buy them up and dry them so we can use them on burgers year round.  10 pounds of fresh onions provides all we need for the year dried.

Drying concentrates the sugars in your vegetables so you will get an intensity of flavor using the dried veggie in recipes.  You can also re-hydrate your veggies to use in recipes through out the winter.
Dried onions

The really cool thing about dried veggies is that no refrigeration is needed!  Just store in a cool dark place until you are ready to use them.  If you want to rehydrate your veggie, just place in a bowl of cool water for 30-60 minutes.  The water will have lots of nutrients in it so use in your next recipe, to make stock or in your next smoothie.  Don't let any of all that goodness go to waste.

We are planning to dry our extra zucchini to rehydrate and grill this winter, we dry onions and sprinkle them on our burger, dried tomatoes are great in salads.  The list goes on!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

September Garden Planner

Saturday, August 30, 2014

End of summer is a great time to tidy garden beds and harvest herbs.  Herbs have a tendency to take a walk on the wild side.  As the days get shorter, growth slows and before long the sun cannot support all the greenery from summer.

Harvesting Herbs
This is the perfect time to harvest your herbs.  You can cut them back so they remain lush, improving the tidiness of your garden, and providing herbs for the winter ahead.

When you harvest your herbs, you will have enough for at least 5 families! They make wonderful gifts. 

For soft herbs like chives and garlic chives, I cut around the outside.  You can either then dry or freeze your cuttings.  

For rosemary, I trim back as I would a tree, cutting off he lower limbs.  I have not been successful in finding a rosemary that survives outside in my Zone 6 region.  Before winter, I will harvest all the limbs so I don't waste any of that great flavor.  Rosemary is perfect with lamb, on potatoes, or on cheese bread.

For sage, savory, and thyme, I simply trim them into a pleasing, healthy shape.  For basil, oregano and marjoram, I remove about half of the top growth.  Basil also will not survive even a frost.  So when they call for frost, I harvest all that is left on the plant.

I dry my herbs to preserve them.  I put loosely in a paper bag in a dry, warm area out of the sun and let dry naturally.  Loose is the key here so they get good air circulation and do not mold.  They should be completely dry in about 3-4 weeks.  I like putting them in clothes closets to dry as they release such great fragrance.

Once dried, remove the leaves from woody herbs and store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.  If a soft herb like chives, you can just crumble into the airtight container.  I use wide mouth canning jars for herb storage.

If the winter is not a bad one, most perennial herbs like chives, oregano, sage, savory, and thyme can be harvested year round straight from the garden.

Napa cabbage

Fall planting guide for cool season crops
In September, plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  October is the month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.

You can pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, as well as herbs at many big box stores and nurseries since gardening has become so popular. 

Caring for your new seeds and transplants
Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep seeds and transplants moist until they get their first real set of leaves and are well established.  Then water as needed.

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!

A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year.  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

All about lovely lavender

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lavender has a large fan club for good reason.  It has many uses-a spice for sweet and savory dishes, an ingredient in Herbes de Provence, potpourri, moth deterrent, aromatic ingredient in cleaners and candles, added to beauty and health products for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, a calming fragrance, and a beautiful addition to any garden.

Lavender is in the mint family, originated from the Old World, and has been cultivated since Biblical times.  It is typically a short lived perennial.  There are several different types of lavender available by seed.  The most common that you find in stores is English lavender (lavandula angustifolia formally lavandula officinalis).

Lavender has become a weed in Australia as they have the perfect conditions for growing lavender, dry, well drained soil in full sun with good air circulation.  Lavender is susceptible to root rot so keep mulch away from the crown of the plant and make sure they get good drainage.  

All lavenders need little to no fertilizer and prefer alkaline soil.  They are carefree plants if planted in the right place in your garden.

Most lavenders are not hardy in the colder zones (Zone 4 or below).  Be sure to check out the hardiness of a variety before purchasing.  You can always grow them as annuals.

Lavenders do not like to be transplanted.  Some report difficulty in growing from seed.  I have grown several from seed with no issue.

Lavenders come in various shades of white, blue and purple and heights from 6” to 6 feet.  The strength of fragrance varies as well.  English lavender is considered to be of the highest quality.
Lavender sugar on the left

In the culinary world, lavender is fun to use as an edible and aromatic addition to many different kinds of dishes.  Here are some ideas:
-Lavender sugar.  Just add a teaspoon to 1/2 cup of sugar and mix well.
-Lavender cream.  Add 6 stalks of lavender to 1 cup of cream.  Let sit overnight in the refrigerator, strain and whip.  Use some of the buds as decoration in the cream.  They’re edible!
-Lavender syrup.  Boil 6 stalks of lavender in 2 cups of water and 1 1/2 cup of sugar at a simmer for 15 minutes.  Let sit in refrigerator overnight, strain into bottle and keep refrigerated. 
-Lavender infused balsamic or white vinegar.  Place lavender stalks in vinegar and allow to steep in a cool dark place.  4 weeks later you will have lavender vinegar.  Yum!
Lavender ice cubes

You can use the lavender syrup in many things.  For lavender lemonade, just add one ounce of syrup with 2 ounces of lemon juice in each serving.  Add syrup to your hot tea or iced coffee.  Drizzle over pancakes, fresh fruit, yogurt or cake.  Use it in an adult beverage.  Doesn’t a lavender gin sour sound fun?  Just add an ounce to the ounce of fresh lemon juice and 2 ounces of gin.  Use a stalk for garnish.

The flowers themselves can be used as decoration on cakes, pies, drinks, ice cubes.  Bundle them to place in drawers and closets for a beautiful fragrance throughout the house.  An additional benefit is that many find lavender to be calming.

I use dried lavender and chervil for my body oil.  Smells wonderful and I get the added benefit of their medicinal properties.

Fall is a great time to plant perennials so you can get a much larger lavender plant and blooms for next spring!