Sunday, June 23, 2019

Garlic harvest is here!

Garlic in foreground, starting to die back
Sunday, June 23, 2019

Garlic is rich in lore.  This allium has been around for thousands of years.  It originated in Asia, was cultivated in Egypt and has been a Mediterranean cooking staple for centuries. Over the ages, garlic has been reputed to repel vampires, clear the blood, cure baldness, aid digestion.  

Today’s studies have shown garlic has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral properties. And, it tastes great!  For a breakdown of specific vitamins and minerals, garlic nutritional value  It is easy to grow and has little pest issues.  All you do is put them in the ground in the fall and by early to mid summer, they are ready to harvest.
The clove puts out roots in the fall.  Depending on how warm the winter is, there can be green shoots showing through the cold months.  Garlic will be some of the first greenery to start growing in early spring.  The stems resemble onion greens.  The hard neck garlic flower, or scape, has a cute little curl in it.  They are great in salads.  Harvesting them also gives you bigger bulbs.
For more on fall planting and growing garlic, Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......

Soft neck and hard neck garlic are slightly different in telling you when to harvest.  For soft neck garlic, you wait until the tops fall over and die off.  They are ready to harvest about a week later.  Typically this is mid-summer, but ours is ready now.  Hard neck garlic is ready to harvest when about half of their lower leaves have turned brown.  Try digging one up and see if the bulb is large and firm.  If it's not ready, just wait another week or two.

                                               Garlic ready to harvest           Freshly harvested garlic
It is best to dig your garlic when the ground is dry.  When you go to dig up your garlic, proceed carefully.  If you cut the bulb, it will not keep and needs to eaten soon.  The garlic should be left in dry shade for 2-3 weeks or brought inside and stored in a cool, dry location with good air circulation.  They can be hung or placed in a perforated bin or paper bag to dry and store.  I keep mine in a paper bag on the covered deck.

After they are hardened, I will cut off the dry stalks above the clove and trim the roots.  I'll keep them in a  bag with good air circulation indoors until I am ready to peel them.

If you planted a combo of elephant garlic (which is actually a type of leek), hard neck and soft neck garlic and are wondering how to tell them apart now.

Leek flower
Garlic scape
You can tell the difference in the two by looking at the flowers.  Leeks have a onion type flower while hard neck garlic has a curly scape flower.

Your soft neck garlic will have a much smaller stem than the elephant garlic does.

For the longest storage, soft neck garlic is the ticket.  It is also the strongest flavored.  Hard necked is milder and easier to peel.  I like elephant garlic because you get so much from each plant.

To preserved my garlic, I peel them and put them in apple cider vinegar with a few hot peppers for pickled garlic.  A trick I saw recently for quick peeling is to just stab the clove with a paring knife and pull out of the skin.  I keep my pickled garlic in the frig and they have stayed firm for me for two years.  I had tried keeping the dried, fresh cloves in years past, but always lost some.  This way, I don't lose a single clove!

I use my garlic for garlic cheese bread, cooking, and salsa.  Quick, homemade salsa

Everyone knows of garlic in sauces and on cheese bread.  A few years back, we tried roasted garlic.  It dramatically mellows the flavor.  I just put a few heads in a small baking dish, add chicken stock to just about level to the cut heads, and let bake covered at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until soft.  It is a great spread on french bread!

For those on keto diets or have gluten issues, I found a recipe for bread that takes about 3 minutes to make with almond flour.  I mix in a small pyrex storage bowl, 3 tablespoons of almond flour, 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1 egg.  Microwave for 90 seconds and you have instant, hot bread!  You can use butter or coconut oil as a substitute for olive oil.  I also add about a teaspoon of dried herbs and mix in with the other ingredients for a more savory bread.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

How to use all your zucchini-really

Zucchini bush in flower
Saturday, June 22, 2018

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.
Blanched zucchini ready for freezer

I have used the freeze and dry methods.  For freezing, first slice them, blanch them, then 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.
Zucchini made into noodles
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.
Grilled zucchini
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.

Another option would be to wrap the stuffing in zucchini creating zucchini cannelloni.  Stuff, wrap, cover with cheese and bake until cheese is warm and bubbly.

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 :  )

For other tips on preserving the harvest from the garden, see Preservation garden

Sunday, June 16, 2019

What's happening in the mid June edible garden

Potted peppers with petunias
Sunday, June 16, 2019

This is the in-between season in our garden.  The spring veggies have wound down and the summer veggies are just starting to fruit.  The spring flowers are long gone and the summer lovers are just beginning to bloom.

The spring crops like lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cilantro, mustard, sorrel, chard, rat's tail, snow peas are at the end of their peak.  The lettuce, spinach, sprouting broccoli, cilantro, sorrel and mustard greens have gone to seed.  You can still pick leaves, but look for the ones at to bottom of the lettuce and cilantro plants where they are still sweet.  For the chard, sorrel, cultivated dandelions, and mustard greens, the new leaves are the sweetest.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Now is a good time to do a another sowing of lettuce.  Be sure to sow seeds of heat tolerant varieties; every three weeks is optimal to be able to have continuous lettuce harvests.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces  

There are other greens that can be used for salads that thrive in the heat.   Chard, dandelion greens, sorrel, arugula, mustard greens and chick weed harvested first thing in the morning are all salad worthy.  I've added Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, and strawberry spinach to my summer greens garden this year.  They are not true spinach but have the flavor of spinach and are heat tolerant.  

You can also add herbs for a fresh taste and zing like salad burnet, parsley, basil, dill, onion stalks/tops, chives, thyme, oregano, tarragon.   Growing summer salads   For fun, you can add edible flowers.  Flowers that are edible

Most of the tomatoes are flowering.  Some have grown into tall, sturdy plants; others are still on the small side.  When tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplants first flower, it is time to give them a boost with fertilizer.  I use a tomato fertilizer on all my fruiting plants as it is designed to boost the fruiting of plants.  I'll watch the plants that are not growing as well and give them another round of fertilizer in a couple of weeks.  With fertilizer on fruiting plants, you don't want to over fertilize with nitrogen or they will grow lots of greenery and not so many veggies.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoesI used a combo of Espoma Tomato Tone and Azomite to give the plants the minerals they need.  Minerals in the soil is minerals in the plants and fruits which gives you minerals when you eat them.  I have seen a real difference in plant growth using Azomite.  Another mineral supplement is a Sea Mineral supplement.  I always put the fertilizer under the mulch to make sure it all goes to the plant and not lose the nitrogen into the air.To keep from having blossom end rot on tomatoes and squash, consistent water is key.  They shouldn't be overwatered.  Over or under will affect the fruit flavor.  They are kind of like Goldilocks; they like it just right.  No worries, though, if you do overwater, the fruit will be fine, just not as flavorful and may crack.
Zucchini plant in bloom

I got a late start on zucchini this year.  I just planted it 10 days ago.  They grow fast so it is fine to get started in June.  You need to keep a close eye on the zucchinis because they seem to get huge overnight!  The more you pick veggies, the more the plant produces for you.  What to do with all that zucchini?!  

My spaghetti squash plants are flowering with baby squash on them.  Spaghetti squash are harvested in the fall.  They also tell you when they are ready.  When the vine dies, the squash is ready.  Growing zucchini and summer squash

The pepper plants have blooms and small peppers.  Peppers seem to have a built in counter.  They will drop flowers when the plant has reached its max peppers.  Pick the peppers when green to keep the plant producing. You can ripen on the counter, if you like, or go ahead and enjoy green.    Preserving peppers
Baby peppers
Our cucumber vines, which I have growing up a trellis to save space, have baby cucumbers on them.  They typically give 2-3 cucumbers per week per plant and are care free plants.  How to grow cucumbers-in pots or in the garden  Cucumbers just smell and taste fresh.  They are commonly used in fresh pressed juices and smoothies.  Grow your own smoothie and juice garden

For any I don't eat right off the vine, I make pickles.  One large cucumber is enough to make a jar of sandwich pickles.  My husband loves sandwich pickles on his burger.  Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix
Garlic is about ready to harvest.  Soft neck and hard neck garlic are slightly different in telling you when to harvest.  Soft neck garlic is ready to harvest a week after their tops fall over and die off.  Hard neck garlic is ready to harvest when about half of their lower leaves have turned brown.  Try digging one up and see if the bulb is large and firm.  If they are not, just cover back up and try in another week.  After pulling, keep in a warm shady spot for 2-3 weeks for the bulbs to harden.  Hardening lengthens the storage time.  Save the biggest cloves for planting in the fall.  Garlic harvest is here! 
The snow peas are about done; they don't like the heat.  I have plenty of beans in the freezer so I am not growing them this summer.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer
Background-potatoes blooming potato box.  Foreground-pepper and snow peas in pot with nasturtiums
All the herbs are going strong.  Many are large enough now to cut and dry for preserving.  Harvesting and drying herbs  The sage has not yet bloomed, but it will put on lots of lavender blue flowers that the bees and butterflies love.  My mother read recently that you can use sage tea to help with hot flashes.  You can have up to 5 cups of tea a day.  Make your own teas from garden grown herbs

We are now into summer temps; most days in the upper 80's.  The garden will soon need supplemental watering.   Summer garden tips  For veggies I am growing in pots, I am watering them twice a week now.  The best veggie pots are those that have a reservoir in the bottom.  This will allow you to probably get away with watering once a week.  At some point, I'll remember and take the time to add a reservoir to my existing pots over the winter to cut down on the summer watering time!  Decorative container gardening for edibles

The hard part of gardening is over now.  There is minor weeding, occasional fertilizing along with watering and keeping an eye out for pests.  Most of the time from here out is just harvesting, enjoying and preserving.  For more tips on preserving the extra, see Preservation garden

Saturday, June 15, 2019

5 Tips for a More Productive Garden

Saturday, June 15, 2019

To maximize the production in your garden space, there are few things you can do to make the most of your time, energy, garden space and money.  Even if you have oodles of space, maximizing your production per square foot saves time and money.  Less to weed, less to fertilize, less to mulch.

5 Tips for a Productive Garden

1.  Healthy soil.  It all starts with the soil.  You need nutrient and microbe rich soil.  Chemical herbicide, pesticides and fertilizers all kill microbes and worms scatter when chemicals are applied.  For alive soil, use organic, natural fertilizers and compost.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds  Apply both in early spring so the nutrition can seep into the soil, ready to nourish the seeds and plants you put in the ground.  For more details on creating healthy soil, see this blog:  next step in garden production

2.  Smart garden plan.  You can maximize the production of the plants you put in your garden with a well thought out plan.  Divide out what you like to eat into the seasons they thrive in.  Plant your veggies in the right season and you will be rewarded with healthy plants and bountiful harvests.  Before you plant, check the heights and sun requirements.  Plant the tallest plants in the back so they don’t shade out the shorter sun loving plants.  Using trellis for vertical gardening of cucumbers, beans, and peas is a great use of space at the back of the garden bed.  For those that appreciate some shade, interplant between taller varieties.  Get the most from your space-plant intensively!  Look for those that help each other out.  This is called companion planting.  For more information on companion planting, see this blog:  Companion planting

3.  Choose wisely.  Choose the most productive varieties to maximize the production per square foot of space.  Dwarfs are a great choice for small spaces and containers.  You can get the same production from many dwarfs as you can the full size varieties.  Look for those that have “abundant”, “prolific”, and “heavy yields” in the descriptions.  Some great choices are cucumbers, pole beans and peas, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and many varieties of greens.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

4.  Think 4 season gardening.  Use as much of all 4 seasons as possible.  Start seeds indoors in late winter to get an early start on spring and summer.  You can plant out as soon as the weather is willing.  Help heat up the soil so your plants or seeds get a jump start when planted.  You can put down plastic or cloches where you want to plant to help get the soil warm.  Your seedlings will appreciate it!  You can also cover your seedlings with a row cover or cloche after planting to keep the warmth of the sun past sundown.  Be careful with cloche’s as they can get really hot and fry your plants.  A good choice is one with vents.  Extend the season with protection for plants  Also look for varieties that are adapted to the season.  There are tomatoes adapted to cooler temperatures to get a jump on summer and lettuces that are heat tolerant so you can continue to have salads into summer.  For more on 4 season gardening, see this blog:  garden year round

5.  Eliminate competition.  Weeds and pests take away from the vigor of your veggies.  Use mulch to keep weeds suppressed.  Mulch does triple duty as a fresh coat of mulch in the spring can help warm the soil, helps keep moisture from evaporating during the summer, adds organic matter while suppressing weeds.  There are good bugs and bad bugs.  Attract the good bugs by interplanting your veggies with flowers like marigolds and calendula.  Good bugs help pollinate your veggies, increasing yields.  They also eat bad bugs.  Be careful using sprays as a spray doesn’t know a good bug from a bad bug.  If you are just starting your organic garden, it may take a couple of seasons for the garden to come in balance.  For more on pests, see this blog:  controlling bugs naturally

Sunday, June 9, 2019

21 no tech storage crops

Storage beans
Sunday, June 9, 2019

There are no tech ways of keeping your veggies like our great grandparents did.  It is great to eat what you have grown year round.  Here is a listing of crops that store for 2 months or longer without refrigeration.  For more on the actual varieties grown for storage, The First Victory Gardens and Colonial Vegetable Garden  

Cool Storage Crops
The following crops can be kept over the winter without any refrigeration needed.
Beans-dry thoroughly and store in Mason jars.  Let bean pods dry until crisp.  Remove from pods and leave in open container to dry for another 2 weeks.  Don't limit yourself to the mainstream varieties of storage beans.  There are so many interesting, ancient varieties to try.  Growing beans  Once dried, they are easy to rehydrate and use.  Even if you don't grow your own, buy heirlooms in bulk to use in winter chilis and soups.  Use dry beans instead of canned
Corn-Pick after husks dry.  Remove husks and store in dry location until kernels come off when ear is wrung.  Store whole in bins or remove kernels and store in Mason jars.  There are so many beautiful, healthy heirlooms out there to grow and use.  
Garlic-After pulling, allow to dry in cool, warm location out of the sun.  Braid and hang after 2 weeks in cool place with moderate humidity like a basement.  Or cut back dry stalk after another two weeks and store in open container.  For those that dry out, I will grind into garlic powder.  I personally like to pickle my garlic in organic apple cider vinegar and homegrown hot peppers.  Garlic harvest is here!
Onions and Shallots-Be sure you have grown storage type onions.  There is a huge difference in how long an onion will last between varieties.  In general, any sweet onion type does not store well.  After pulling, cure in warm, dry location out of the sun for a week or two.  Braid and hang in cool place with moderate humidity.  Or cut back tops, allow to dry another couple of weeks and store in a ventilated storage container.  Drying is another great option to have onions on hand for cooking year round.  Everything to know about growing onions
Shallots drying in the shade
Hot peppers-Chose thin skinned varieties like Rocca Rossa that are easy to dry.  I simply place ripe peppers on the counter until they are completely dry and then store in Mason jars or plastic bags.  Other hot peppers that are thick skinned, I cut and put into organic apple cider vinegar to make hot sauce.  Dried peppers can also be used to make spicy olive oil.  Preserving peppers
Potatoes-Look for storage types to grow.  There are many varieties out there and some overwinter much better than others.  Harvest when tops begin dying back.  Cure in cool, dark place with high humidity for 2-3 weeks.  Store in boxes or cloth covered baskets in cool, dark place with moderate humidity like a basement.  Potatoes have to be kept out of sunlight.  If they turn green, do not eat! For more growing and harvesting tips see  Time to plant potatoes, even if you only have a patio
Pumpkin and Winter Squash-Harvest after vine has died before hard frost.  Cut leaving 2" of vine for each squash.  Cure in warm, sunny location for a couple of weeks.  Store in open boxes or on a shelf in cool place with moderate humidity.  My butternut squash would keep on the counter into June.  Look for long storage types.  Harvesting and keeping winter squash  You can also buy pumpkins at the store at great prices this time of year and keep them to use throughout the winter.
Sweet potatoes-Dig at least a month before your first frost.  Cure in warm, humid location for a couple of weeks.  Make sure all skin wounds have scabbed over before moving to winter storage area in a cool, humid area like a basement.  Taste actually improves with storage time.  
Tomatoes-Before a hard frost, pick all your tomatoes, including the green ones.  Wrap each tomato in news paper and place in a dark area.  The tomatoes will ripen over time.  They won't be as wonderful as a vine ripened tomato, but much better than a store bought one.  I have had some tomatoes that last into February this way.  Preserving the tomato harvest

Winter squash and pumpkins

Cold Storage Crops
The following crops needs colder conditions for winter storage.  Can be an unheated garage, buried garbage can or root cellar.  Ideal storage temperatures are 32-40F.
Apples-Store individually wrapped fruits in perforated plastic or waxed boxes to maintain high humidity.  The colder the conditions, the slower the apples will ripen.  Check weekly.  Fruit for small spaces
Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Celeraic, Parsnips, Rutabaga and Turnips-Harvest before a hard freeze.  Trim tops to half inch and cut long roots back.  Pack in damp sand in sealed container to keep moist conditions and store in cold basement, unheated garage, root cellar, or buried garbage can.  The other option is to freeze.  All about beautiful beets  All you need to know about growing carrots  All about turnips  Cabbage is nutritious and easy to grow
Cabbage can also be made into sauerkraut in a crock with simply salt and water.  How to preserve cabbage
Leeks-transplant into a shallow pot after trimming tops back by half and trimming roots.  For growing, leeks are part of the onion family so follow the same growing tips.
Pears-pick when still somewhat green and hard.  Cure in a cool area (40-50F) for about a week.  Wrap only blemish free fruits in paper in perforated plastic bags or waxed boxes in high humidity.

Any blemished veggies can either be chopped and frozen or dried and stored in canning jars or plastic storage bags.Check your stored veggies regularly.  Be sure to remove any that are starting to develop blemishes.  

For other preservation methods like canning, freezing and drying, see these blogs  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty  Freezing the extras for winter  Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies