Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fall and winter greens

Potted parsley January, 2016, garden

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fall and winter offer a second chance to grow all the greens and roots we enjoyed in the spring.  Greens and roots taste even better in the fall as the plant concentrates the sugars for protection against the cold temperatures making them even sweeter.  You also don’t have to worry about watering or pests in the fall and winter garden.

The cold loving veggies that I have grown include kale, collards, spinach, sprouting broccoli, sorrel, chard, tatsoi, celery, cultivated dandelions, corn salad,  parsley, radishes, beets, arugula, onions, mustard greens, Austrian peas and carrots.  Austrian peas are super cold hardy and their greens can be used all winter long for salad greens. 

The trick to harvesting all winter is to have your veggies to full size by mid-October.  With the shorter days of late fall and winter, your plants will not grow much after mid-October through mid-February.  Covering can help the plants increase their growth even during the shorter days. 

There are even winter hardy lettuces.  Lettuce varieties that have performed well into winter for us here in Zone 6: North Pole butterhead, Rouge d’Hiver romaine (pretty red and green), Winter Density romaine, Winterwunder loose leaf (pale green), Marvel of the Four Seasons butterhead (green with cranberry tips).  I will also plant Prizeleaf, green and red Royal Oak leaf, Red Salad Bowl, and Ashley mix loose leaf varieties as all of these came back as volunteers in the spring.

Overwintering chard in January, 2016, garden

To protect against freezing temperatures, use a tunnel or portable greenhouse.  I have had lettuces and greens survive all the way into spring this way.  Extend the season with protection for plants

If you left any greens to go to seed, you will likely have babies growing throughout the garden right now.  Don’t ignore them.  You can use cloches to keep them growing for salad picking through the cold weather.  For fall and winter picking, I just take the outer leaves I need for the salads I am making at that time.  

If you don’t have any greens in your garden this winter, there are always winter farmers markets to buy fresh produce and support your local farmer.  Check local for a listing of farmers markets, many are year round now.

You can scatter sow seeds now of cold hardy crops now like lettuce, spinach and kale and they will be primed for the longer days.  It is surprising to see the little greens popping their heads out in February.  The force of life is amazing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Make your own wings sauce

Fall potted pepper and zinnias
Saturday, December 3, 2016

Last week end, I rescued the last of our peppers before our first freeze.  I take all peppers off the plants I am going to let go and the ones that I am bringing indoors for the winter.

I grow my peppers in pots.  I have tried them both in the ground and pots.  They just seem to do better in pots.  The other advantage is that I can easily overwinter the best performers in the garage so they get a jump start on production next spring.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

I had plenty of cayennes and jalapeƱos in the freezer.  What else to do with my spicy friends?  I decided to make hot sauce!  I took the cayennes, splice them in two and placed them in organic apple cider vinegar.  After a couple of months, I go ahead and put the pickled peppers in a food processor so it becomes a hot ‘sauce” ready to use in cooking.  Make your own hot sauce!

A while back when I went to make hot wings with sweet potato fries, I was out of store bought hot sauce so decided to give my homemade hot sauce a whirl.  I mixed up a 1/2 cup of the pureed pickled hot peppers, 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 stick of butter, and a couple tablespoons of bacon grease.  I grilled the wings and then covered them in sauce.  Yum!  This has become our wing go-to recipe. 

One other tip I have learned doing this for a while, if you want a thicker sauce to have more stick to the wings (and ratcheting up the heat), add a little corn starch (about a tablespoon) mixed with water in the sauce.  Once it comes to a boil, it thickens.  I used to use wings.  Now I use boneless chicken thighs.  All the same great taste, just not nearly as messy!  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What's happening in the late November edible garden

Potted lettuce
Sunday, November 27, 2016

Well, the first hard freeze has finally swept through the Midwest.  It was a record high temperature and record low rainfall for our fall season, but the summer veggies are now done until next spring.  Does that mean the end of the kitchen garden?  Nope.  There is still much in the garden to enjoy!

I brought in the last of the peppers, tomatoes and eggplants a couple of days ago.  I'll let them ripen on the counter.  For tomatoes, it is recommended that you wrap in newspaper and store in a dark place for ripening.  A late fall tradition-fried green tomatoes!  For unripe fruits, make sure you check for any soft spots that signal frost or freeze damage.  These tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will rot.  Add them to your compost.

The cold season crops have survived the first twenties of the year.  Kale, lettuce, broccoli, onions, mustards, chard, and herbs are nice and green.  All cold season crops get sweeter when the mercury dips.

It is time, if you haven’t done so already, to pull up the old vines and give them to the compost heap.  Only compost those that were free from disease; you don’t want to re-introduce any diseases to your garden next season.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

If you are gardening in pots, move them up against a wall that gets southern exposure.  This will move your effective climate zone up a full zone.  If they are on stands or coaster, set them onto the ground.  They will stay much warmer on the ground than suspended off the ground.  Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter

Now is a fun time of year to experiment in the kitchen with all the fresh herbs that are available.  Parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, tarragon, bay, lavender, chives are all hardy herbs in November.  I have had many Christmas dinners with herbs fresh from the garden.  Jazz up the Christmas feast with herbs from the garden

Potted celery

You can also take a look at all the tomatoes you have put up in freezer bags.  If you have more than you know you need, this is the perfect time of year to do some water bath canning.  Time to make homemade tomato sauce!

As even more freezing weather comes our way, you can extend the season for lettuce and greens through the winter by using a portable green house or making your own hoop house.  It doesn't work just for spring, but also for fall and winter!  Extend the season with protection for plants

The biggest killer of veggies in greenhouses?  Getting too hot!  Make sure you crack open your green house when the temps get above freezing and the sun is shining.  

I have a little portable green house I put over my Earthboxes.  I will still have lettuce until spring.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

December 2016 Edible Garden Plann

Cultivated dandelion in a pot

Saturday, November 26, 2016

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, sprouting broccoli, 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.  Growing herbs indoors for winter
If you are using a greenhouse, your kale, celery, mustard, lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage, 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.  Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter

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.  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.

Veggies like your favorite tomato, pepper, eggplant, or celery that you potted and moved indoors will continue to produce indoors if provided warmth and sunlight.  When you move them out in spring, they will have a jump start on fruiting and you won't lose your favorite plant!  I am bringing in eggplant, bay, pepper, lemon verbena, and goji berry plants for overwintering in our attached garage.  We'll 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, 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 at

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 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. 

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.

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.

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 used 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.  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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Time to make homemade tomato sauce!

Sauce in Weck canning jars
Sunday, November 20, 2016

Every fall, I take all the frozen tomatoes from the previous year and make it into homemade tomato sauce.  I wait until it is nice and chilly outside so all the heat and humidity feels nice inside.  This week end is the sauce making day!  It is just in time because I used my last jar for chili and it is supposed to have a high in the 40's.  Perfect sauce making weather.

When I freeze my extra tomatoes during the summer, I always label the freezer bag with the contents and date.  Tomatoes keep for a good year in the freezer.  For any that we do not make into salsa or use in other recipes from the previous year, I use to make sauce.  
Only a water bath is needed for canning tomatoes because they are acidic.  Make sure you follow the sauce canning recipe exactly as it is critical for keeping the right acid level so your sauce doesn't spoil.

I use Weck's canning jars.  They are all glass so there are no worries about the lining of the lids.  And they are a really pretty shape.  These are made in Germany.  I have also found all glass jars made in Italy as well.  None yet made in the USA unless you get antique jars. 

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal funnel and tongs.  A pressure cooker is not needed for acidic tomato canning.  For more info on canning, see  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty
All glass canning options

For  Some remove the skins and seeds from their sauce.  I just throw the entire tomato into the food processor and use it all to make our sauce.  Some say you can get a bitter flavor if you include the seeds and skins.  That has been my experience.  Besides seeds are chock full of nutrition.  I also use all types of tomatoes to make sauce, not just paste tomatoes.  Paste tomatoes are not as juicy so it does take longer to cook down, but all tomatoes taste great in sauce!

I do the same thing with the extra sweet peppers frozen from the previous year.  I used them in the sauce, too.  Everything I put in our sauce is homegrown from our garden, except the lemon juice.  We are too far north for lemon trees!  

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'll also toss in some of my dried mixed herbs for flavor.  About a tablespoon or two per batch.

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.
Tomatoes sliced and in quart freezer bag
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.  Remove from canner.  Let cool.  Test the seal after the jar is completely cool.  It should not lift off.  That’s it!  

Last year, I canned 12 quarts of frozen tomatoes yesterday and this gave me 1 gallon (4 liters) of sauce.  I use the half liter Weck's tulip jars which is almost the exact size of a pint jar. 

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 be sure to follow the recipe exactly to ensure they safely keep.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Use this winter to figure out what to grow in the spring!

Carrots, snow peas, and petunias in a pot
Saturday, November 19, 2016

If you are thinking of starting a garden next spring, fall and winter are a great time to track what fruit and veggies you eat.  You should grow what you love to eat!  Keeping track of what you buy each week will give you a great list of what to plant in your first garden.

You can use a spiral notebook or an electronic spreadsheet.  Just put in a tick mark under your favorite fruit or veggie heading every time you buy it at the store.  Then, in the spring, you know what you want to grow and how much of it to grow.

This table gives you the number of plants or seeds you need per pounds of produce you want to get from your garden:

If you want a rule of thumb based on your family size and don’t want to track exactly what you have purchased, just use the table for how much to grow per person in your household as a rule of thumb.  You can adjust after the gardening season is over.

There are also many programs and app’s out there today that can help you know what to grow, when to plant, and will give you growing tips on each fruit or vegetable.

The biggest watch out for starting a new garden is starting too big.  Start small with what you use the most in the kitchen.  Herbs, lettuce, carrots, radishes, peppers, or tomatoes are great ones to start with.  Here is a recommendation for a first garden to modify for what you love to eat:  What to plant for your first garden

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Winter growth slow down

Potted lettuce

Sunday, November 13, 2016

If you have noticed that plants stop growing in the winter, whether indoors or out, you would be right.  It is not just the temperatures that affect this slow down.  It is the amount of sunlight!  

Basically, plants go dormant when receiving less than 10 hours of daylight.  For my latitude, this is from November 17-January 24.  You can look on the weather channel to see when your daylight hits 10 hours.

When planting in the fall for winter crops, you need to plan that they are at full, harvestable size by November 17th.  They will remain basically this size until the end of January, when they begin regrowing.

Growth starts back up at the end of January, for indoor and outdoor plants.  The lettuce, chard, sorrel, cabbage, kale, celery, and herbs that have overwintered will start growing with vigor again after this time with clear days and warmer temperatures.

Covering plants with row covers or portable greenhouses can help your plants grow; warmth does make a difference.  Just don’t expect significant growth until we get back to at least 10 hours of sunlight.