Monday, October 14, 2019

Fall composting tips

Dual chamber tumbler compost bin
Monday, October 14, 2019

Had problems with your compost bin last winter?  Fall is the time to get your compost bins set up for winter.

Last winter, my compost bin pretty much had my food scraps on hold with no composting happening.  To make sure I have enough composting space this winter, I plan on getting both sides of my dual composter cleared out so I have plenty of room for my winter food scraps.

In winter, composting slows down to a crawl.  My tumbler type composter also let water in when it rains.  I had an insulated compost bin made from galvanized metal from Jur_Global, but it rusted through in a couple of years because rain water would leak into it and it was expensive!  I bought a plastic composter this year so I don't have to worry about it rusting, but it is not insulated so composting will be even slower this fall and winter.

I did save the insulated tumbling composter.  Would like to make another like it but with aluminum so it won't rust away.  A project for the future...........

You could place your tumbling type composter under an awning to keep out unwanted rain water.  This would keep it from being soaking wet which pretty much stops composting activity.  

Since I don't have a covered area to put my tumbler type composter, I plan on getting it cleaned out by the end of October.  I'll add plenty of dry materials to help compensate for the rain intrusion through the winter season along with my food scraps.  

My new tumbling compost bin came with a catch bucket underneath.  I'll use the liquids for my "compost" tea on my indoor plants.

For more tips on composting problems, Troubleshooting your compost pile

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A late fall tradition-fried green tomatoes!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Mr. Frost is a knockin’!

Tomatoes will survive a light frost, but not a freeze.  If you still have green tomatoes on the vine, make sure you pull them before the first killing frost.  You shouldn’t harvest tomatoes from a dead vine.

There are a few techniques you can use to prolong your tomato harvest: 
*You can cover your plants with a sheet when calling for frost and removing when it warms in the morning.  
*You can keep them going even longer if you put a portable greenhouse over them.  Be careful to vent your portable greenhouse very well when it is in the 50’s or warmer and sunny.  It will be a scorcher inside and you’ll have roasted tomatoes.  
*You can bring any potted tomatoes indoors and they will continue to produce in a sunny spot.

There are several things you can do with your green tomatoes: 
*You can make green tomato relish.  I just love all the fun flavor combo’s I see folks coming up with, from spicy habanero to sweet sorghum.  Your imagination is the only limit!  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty
*You can wrap them individually in newspaper and store them some place dark to ripen.  I have had tomatoes keep until February.
*Or, you can go all out and have fried green tomatoes!

I remember my Granny making them each year.  I don’t have her recipe, but you can use a spicy fish breading, like Andy’s Cajun.  You simply slice your tomato, dip in the breading, fry in oil, and enjoy!

Even if you have a small space, you can grow tomatoes in a small garden spot or in a pot.  There are lots of varieties out there developed to stay compact.  Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Fall edible bedding plants-time to plant!

Late fall edible garden
Sunday, September 29, 2019

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.  Edible garden bed winter prep

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.  Our local Ace Hardware store has cabbage, broccoli, kale, lettuce, chives, collards, spinach, and mustard greens.

*Asparagus (planted now for spring)
*Sprouting broccoli and 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 or in the greenhouse)
*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 November)
*Kale (will survive all winter into spring in a greenhouse)
*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 6/7)
*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 (will survive the winter to mature in early spring in the greenhouse)

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!

October 2019 Edible Garden Planner

Bee on zinnia with purple and white basil flowers
Saturday, September 28, 2019

The October garden is very productive.  The summer vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil and cucumbers continue to produce at a reduced pace.  These crops are very prolific right now.  The cool season crops like lettuce, carrots, radishes, peas, cabbage, beets, broccoli and cauliflower are coming into maturity throughout October and into November.  Flowers, bees and butterflies are abundant in the fall garden.

Now is the time to save seeds from your favorite fruits and veggie plants from the season if you haven't done so already.  The plants still producing well this time of year are great ones to make sure you have some seeds to plant again next year.  The varieties that do well in your garden conditions are ones you want to invite back!  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Basil will turn black when it gets close to 35 degrees.  I pull all the leaves when it is forecasted to get close to freezing or any chance of frost.  You can chop basil, put in an ice cube tray and cover with water to then use any time your recipe calls for fresh basil.  It stores best when frozen in water.  I also dry some to add to my "Herbes de Provence" seasoning mix.  You can also make into pesto and place in freezer bags with just enough for a meal.  Gives a whole new meaning to “fast food.”  Pesto is great over pasta, fish, or as a condiment on sandwiches.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil...

I have plenty of pesto from last year so this year I am letting the basil flower.  The bees just love it!  Bees favorite flowers are those with the small flowers like basil.  The purple holy basil flowers mixed with the white sweet basil flowers are quite pretty, too.

Other herbs will do just fine through frosts like parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives, savory, and sage.  It takes good snow cover to stop these herbs.  Many winters you can harvest these herbs the entire season for cooking.  Cut back the extra now, dry and make into seasoning mixes which you can give to the whole family at Christmas.   Make your own "Herbes de Provence" 

I will wait until it gets below 32 degrees before I strip off the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  You can freeze or dry these veggies.  Tomatoes are a high acid fruit so you can also easily can sauce from them without using a pressure canner; a stockpot is all that is needed.   Preserving the tomato harvest  Be sure to follow any canning recipes exactly so your canned goods don’t spoil.  For more on preserving your extras for year round use, see Preservation garden

Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants are tropical perennials that can be brought in to overwinter.  If you have a favorite plant you would love to have in your garden next season, bring it in to an attached garage or even your living room.  I have overwintered peppers and eggplants.  You get a serious jump start on the season in the spring.  I am bringing in my tiny hot pepper plant Chipetlin to overwinter.

Make sure you pull the tomatoes from the vine before the vine dies.  Wondering what to do with the green tomatoes?  You have a couple of options.  You can make fried green tomatoes-yum!  Just use some fish fry seasoning; we like Andy’s Cajun Seasoning.  A late fall tradition-fried green tomatoes!  You can also wrap green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool, dark location and many will ripen.  Check about weekly to cull any that spoil.  They won’t taste as good as fresh off the vine, but are better than store bought.

October and November is garlic planting month for the Zone 7 garden!  Plant in the waning cycle of the moon.  Garlic loves loose, well-fertilized soil.  Loosen the soil down to about 6 inches, mix in a couple of inches of compost, and plant your garlic cloves about 2-3” deep.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......  Garlic leaves are one of the first greens you will see in spring.

Chard in the forefront with morning glories in the background
Now is also a great time to divide any perennials you have, whether they be herbs, edibles or ornamentals.  This will give them all fall and winter to put down strong roots.  Perennial greens (like chard, sorrel, cultivated dandelions, salad burnet) are always the first up in the spring.  This is the perfect time to plant any perennial plant.  The fall and winter allows the plants roots to grow deep, preparing it for a fast start in the spring.  Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden

It is still not too late in early October to transplant fall crops like cold hardy types of lettuce, cabbage, chard, pak choi, broccoli, kale, parsley or perennial herbs.  You can check your neighborhood nurseries for bedding plants.  I use my Aerogarden to start from seed cold hardy crops I want in my fall and winter garden.  Starting them indoors gets them going quicker.  With less sun and cooler temps outdoors, plants grow much more slowly so getting bedding plants or starting indoors gets your fall veggies to full size quicker.  Add about 2 weeks to the "Days to Harvest" timing for fall planted edibles.

To extend the season, you can order a mini greenhouse to cover your pots or a part of the garden you have planted your cold hardy greens you want to harvest all winter.  You can also purchase row covers that cover plants and provides protection from frosts, but not hard freezes.  Preparing the garden for frost

Portable greenhouse with potted salad greens inside for winter growing

Winter hardy kale, spinach, Austrian peas, carrots and winter onions don’t need to be covered and can be harvested all winter (as long as the ground isn’t too frozen) and into spring.  I grew Austrian peas last winter and they provided greens for salad all winter long.  They have very pretty flowers, too.  Come spring I had lots of early peas too.

I’ll put our portable, plastic mini greenhouse over the greens in my Earthboxes sometime this month or next.  One watchout with green houses-they get very, very hot in sunny weather so be sure to open them to allow circulation in fall and early winter.  They will need to be closed up when winter really sets in December sometime.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Freeze summer extras for fresh year round

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Freezing is a super easy way to preserve summer freshness for all winter.  There are just a couple of tips to keep your frozen veggies fresh tasting for their entire winter stay in the freezer.

For some veggies, like beets, carrots, greens, eggplant, broccoli, and cabbage, you have to stop the enzyme action that will continue even when frozen.  It is an easy thing to do; you just “blanch” them in boiling water, quickly dunk in very cold or ice water, drain, pat dry and then freeze.  If you want to use just a little out of your freezer bag at a time, you can add the step of laying out on a cookie sheet and quick freeze before putting in the freezer bag.

Be sure to label your freezer bag with the veggie and date frozen.  Veggies typically keep their flavor for 6-8 months in the freezer.

Blanching times at a full boil:
Greens-1 minute
Denser veggies like carrot, eggplant slices, cabbage, broccoli-3 minutes

-Blanch for the recommended time, no longer.  You don’t want to over cook.  When the color gets very bright, they are done.  
-Quickly transfer to very cold or ice water to stop the cooking process, this keeps the veggies tasting like they were just picked from the garden.  I use tongs to transfer them so I minimize the amount of hot water I bring into the cold water.
-As soon as they are cool, remove excess water.  I use a spaghetti strainer.
-Transfer to labeled (with name and date) freezer bag and pop in the freezer.  I lay them flat so they freeze quicker.
-If you want to pull only a couple of leaves or slices from the freezer bag at a time, lay the cooled veggie onto a cookie sheet and put in the freezer to freeze the individual leaf or slice.  After frozen, place into labeled freezer bag.

I don’t blanch tomatoes, peppers, green beans or peas.  I haven’t found that the flavor is affected by just directly freezing them.  For the green beans, I snap and freeze.  For peppers, I cut in half and freeze Preserving peppers.  For more on preserving tomatoes  Preserving the tomato harvest  and basil Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

It is wonderful to have fresh garden taste year round and, luckily, it is easy to do with no special equipment needed!

Quick, homemade salsa

Mid summer harvest
Saturday, September 22, 2019

Here is our homemade and very quick salsa recipe using everything from the garden.  It is a little on the spicy side, so you may want to cut back on the hot peppers if you like a milder taste. 
I freeze whole cayenne and jalapenos throughout the growing season to use for homemade salsa.  I just thaw a quart of frozen homegrown tomatoes, 1 cayenne, 1 jalapeno, 1 bell pepper and add 1 fresh onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a healthy handful of cilantro.  Throw them all into the food processor and viola!  Fresh, spicy salsa.

All the extra tomatoes that come off the vine, I will slice up and freeze so I can use the rest of the year.  Any frozen from the previous year goes into sauce in the fall.  I wait until it is cooler before I can!  Preserving the tomato harvest

I do the same with sweet and hot peppers, freeze the extras that we can't eat fresh.  I freeze the small ones whole and slice up the larger sweet peppers.  They retain their flavor for a couple of years.  Preserving peppers

As the cilantro goes to seed, I use tarragon as a substitute.  It adds a slightly different taste, but is still quite good.

I haven't had the best of luck with large bulbing onions in the garden, but the Egyptian walking onions do great in the garden or in a pot!  For this salsa recipe, I pull one onion and use both the bulb and the stalk.  Egyptian walking onions

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Sunday, September 15, 2019

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 save seeds from the best eggplants, peppers and tomatoes I have in the garden each year.  I also let lettuce go to seed in the summer and either save their seed or let them self-seed.  You will get many volunteer lettuce plants.

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.  One of my favorite paste tomatoes is one I started from seed bought from the store.
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!