Saturday, December 31, 2011

Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter

Portable greenhouse with Earthboxes filled with greens inside
Saturday, December 31, 2011

With some protection, you can enjoy fresh, organic salads through the winter.  Last year, my greens (lettuce, chard, mustard, dill, and parsley) made it all the way through our cold, snowy Ohio winter with my little pop up greenhouse.


This year, I am using the pop up greenhouse over 2 Earthboxes and a potted celery plant.    Pictures above show the greenhouse zipped up on left and opened on right.  I have it set up on the patio next to our outdoor kitchen.  Our patio is on the south side of the house so they will get the maximum sun and warmth exposure.  I will also add 3 black painted gallon milk jugs filled with water today as the forecast is for teens tomorrow.

The concrete does a great job of absorbing heat from the sun that should radiate back to the plants at night.  The downside of using pots is that pots cause the effective zone to drop by 1 or 2 since they are exposed on all sides.  So, it is an experiment to see if the upside of the concrete overcomes the downside of the pots.
Last year, I used the greenhouse over salad greens planted in the ground.  I read about this trick of taking water jugs, painting them black and putting them inside the greenhouse, which I did.  Success!  My plants made it all the way through the winter whereas the previous year they only made it into January.
Another trick to winter gardening is you have to have your plants at mature height by the time you are down to 10 hours of sunlight where you live.  There is not enough daylight (less than 10 hours) between November 9 and January 26 to support significant plant growth here in Cincinnati, Ohio.  What you have on November 9 is what you will harvest from until January 26 in this area.  
This means sowing seeds in August/early September.  It is painful to me to pull up all the tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers that are still going strong at this time of year to plant cold hardy greens.  That is why I am trying the Earthbox approach this year.  You have to resow lettuce and other heat sensitive greens in August since they have bolted in the heat.  
I have found that growing salad greens in the Earthbox works great spring through fall.  You can keep them in sun when it is cool in the spring and fall and be able to move them to the cooler, shadier side of the house when it is hot.  You maximize your harvest through all the seasons.
With my salad greens already going strong in the fall in the Earthbox, I can just cover the salad greens when it starts dropping in the 20’s in their existing pot and not have to pull the heat lovers until the frost gets them.  I get to maximize my harvests of both!  Gotta love that.
It is important that you fertilize the pots well through all the seasons.   Lettuce sucks nutrients, what they call a heavy feeder.  I add compost every month and use a liquid fertilizer once a week, alternating between bat guano, seaweed, and fish emulsion.  
I don’t use any insecticides on my salad greens.  
When we first moved here, we were having our lawn treated with herbicides and insecticides.  There were hardly any insects around.  We went to all organic for the lawn 4 years ago and discontinued our lawn treatments.  Two years ago, I saw praying mantis for the first time.  They were back this summer.  We are finally getting beneficial insects as permanent residents.  When you have a good population of beneficial insects, they can keep the others under control.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What is still growing in the garden at New Years?

Salad burnet on left, Thyme on right
Thursday, December 29, 2011

At the very end of December, many would think there is nothing going in the garden without protection.  Surprisingly, there are many herbs and some greens holding their own this time of year.  


Mustard, celery, sorrel, parsley and chard are still alive.  All can be used in salads.  Mustard and chard can be steamed or sautéed.  Sorrel soup is a favorite.  The prettiest chard with the dark red stems are the least hardy, but mine are still hanging in there.  The chard with the white stems are looking the best.

Salad burnet still looks great right now.  It shows no signs of stress from the cold weather.  The taste is fresh and reminiscent of cucumber.  It brightens a ho-hum salad.
Many herbs are holding on as well-thyme, oregano, sage, lavender.  I also grow chervil indoors.  It does great inside.  You can have fresh herbs for cooking right through New Year’s.  
Herbs were my first step into edible gardening.  They are so easy to grow, require no special attention, and many herbs are perennials so you plant once and are done.  All that is left is enjoying the great food you can create with your own super fresh herbs.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

American raised and made olive oil

Ojai olive farm

Monday, December 26, 2011

When we did the tasting of the local olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the farmers market, we got a flyer from the grower/producer Ojai Olive Oil that showed the company had tours and tastings on site on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  I gave them a call to see if they would be open Christmas Eve and they were.


I occasionally travel to Oxnard, CA, for work and I had had a trip to Ojai on my list of areas to explore.  I wasn’t sure how much my mother and sister would warm to the idea, but they said, “Sure, let’s go.”
We arrived a few minutes before the hour and had time to taste all their oils and balsamic vinegars (19 in total).  All of their olive oils are extra virgin, cold pressed.  Their balsamic vinegars are from Modena, Italy.
It was interesting tasting the different olive oils.  Most I had tasted all seemed similar.  I had no idea why one would taste differently than another.  The first thing that sets them apart is the type of olive tree the olives are from.  At Ojai Olive Oil, the French olive oil was very mild, the Italian stronger, and the Spanish olives were very peppery.  
All of the olive oils produced at the farm are extra virgin, cold pressed.  They also had flavored olive oils-lemon, mandarin, garlic, rosemary, and basil.  All would be fabulous to add to dishes or for unique salad dressings.
The balsamic vinegar varieties-traditional style, premium white, cinnamon-pear, tangerine, pomegranate, blackberry-ginger, peach, fig, and violet.  I bought the violet for salads and the blackberry-ginger for my sister.
The tour was very interesting.  The grower had started the olive farm 11 years ago on the site of some century old olive trees.  His olive trees were a graft of a hardy southern Italian trees as the rooting stock with the better tasting olive types grafted to the hardy root stock.  He shared that the graft had a very slight flavor of the more bitter root stock.  99% of the flavor came from the top graft plant.  The oils were fantastic.
The color of the olive comes from the ripeness and type.  All olives when young are green.  Depending on the type as they ripen, they can turn blue or reddish.  Fully ripe olives are black.  The closer they are to fully ripe, the sweeter the oil.  The trees begin blooming in May and harvest from November to January.  
The material left from the press is used as a mulch in their organic orange grove to help keep down the weeds.  It is very acidic so it is only used in the center of the row of oranges and not in the olive grove.  In some countries, the dried pulp is used to burn for heat.  The grower uses the clippings from the trees as a mulch and to provide nutrients to the olive trees.
The olive trees require pollination from bees for the highest yields.  I have a baby olive tree I am growing in a pot.  I will make sure this next spring when my baby tree blooms to use a cotton swab to pollinate the flowers.
In the US, we consume 8% of the world’s olive oil and produce only 0.1%.  The vast majority of the olive oil we consume is imported from Italy.  Most of the Italian olive oil we import is a blend of many types of olives.  When you purchase olive oil from Ojai Olive Oil, you are getting a pure, extra virgin oil as well as buying an American made product.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

South Pasadena Farmers Market


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Visiting my mother and youngest sister for Christmas in Pasadena, one of my bucket list items was to experience a local farmers market.  I love perusing grocery stores and farmers markets when I visit a new place.  It is fascinating to see what the exact same store carries in different areas of the country.  It is great to see more and more local, organic items from produce to meat to coffee!


Mother and I visited the south Pasadena farmers market on Thursday.   It was a well rounded farmers market with prepared food vendors, local produce, local grass fed meat, local raw milk (it is legal in CA to sell raw milk products directly to the public), local olive oil, local honey, live music, and even Santa.

We did several tastings-honey, raw milk, olive oil, and balsamic vinegars.
We enjoyed tastings of honey.  It was amazing to taste the fruit or herb that the bee was pollinating come through so strongly in the honey.  Bill’s Bees had raw honey harvested from sage, wildflower, and orange pollen.  They also had various beeswax beauty products.
The bees are wintering now at their home in Angeles National Forest.  They will be brought to the almond farms in February to pollinate the almond trees.  Without the bees, there would be no almonds.  My mother purchased the wildflower honey.
My mother had been looking for a raw milk source since she moved to Pasadena from Kansas.  Organic Pastures had a booth and refrigerated truck with pastured raised raw milk products and beef.  The raw milk was delicious!  For those that are nervous about raw milk, raw milk has to pass the same bacteria count as pasteurized milk.  
We stopped by a local olive oil producer’s booth and enjoyed tastings of their farm raised and processed olive oils as well as high quality, imported balsamic vinegars from Modena, Italy.  The Ojai Olive Oil is grown and produced in California’s Ojai Valley.
Only vinegar made to the Italian consortium standards and produced in Modena and Reggio Emilia can be called “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.”  They are made very differently than others labeled as “balsamic vinegar.”  They are a 30% reduction of Trebbiano grapes that is fermented in wood barrels for a minimum of 12 years.  A little balsamic vinegar is all that is needed to flavor a dish.
I purchased their French olive oil, a rich olive oil face cream made from all natural ingredients that smelled good enough to eat, olive oil soap which is also great for hair washing, and a balsamic vinegar.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Warm joys of winter squash

Baked acorn squash with seeds ready to dry

Saturday, December 24, 2011

One of the lowest effort food preservation foods-winter squash.  They say the optimum way to store winter squash is to put them in a cool place out of direct sunlight.  I leave my squash on the countertop; they are just too pretty to hide away!  I ate my last winter squash in May this past year.  They have an amazing shelf life.


The other great thing about winter squash is that when you scoop out the seeds to prepare them, you can save the seed for planting in early summer.  Save the seeds from the ones that are extra tasty.  You simply lay them out to dry (I used a paper towel to place them on until they dry).  Once dry, I place them in a ziplock and put them in the produce drawer in the frig.  I store all my seeds in ziplocks in the frig.  They last for years this way!

For preparation, many peel their squash.  I am for the quick, simple approach.  I simply cut them in half and bake or grill them.  I use a spoon to scoop out the sweet, delicious centers when done.
I have to say grilling them is my favorite.  I put butter and herbs in their cavity, place them on the grill with the steaks, and cook them until they are tender.  So simple and so good.
I also bake them on dreary days.  The acorn squash pictured above, I cut in half, placed in a baking dish, filled the dish with water up a quarter inch on the squash, added a little butter, applesauce, and pecans, and baked until done.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lowest toxic options for canning

Zero toxic canning options
Left to Right-Antique jar with integrated glass lid, modern jar with  BPA free Tattler  lid, antique Mason jar with glass lid, German all glass Weck's jar and lid, antique glass jar with lid

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I was concerned when I heard about the plastic BPA being used in almost all canned food.  I wasn’t pleased to hear that!  I loved using canned tomatoes and beans throughout the winter.  


Okay, I thought, could I do some canning?  My Granny canned during the summers I spent with her when I was little.  We were growing tomatoes in our little flower/veggie garden.  I could try growing some beans to maybe can those too.

A little more research revealed that Eden used can linings for their beans that were BPA free.  Great!  I could just focus on canning ‘mater sauce.
My handy Ball canning book revealed that tomatoes and fruits are high acid so they do not require a Pressure Canner; only a water bath was needed.  Makes it an inexpensive experiment.
I read that many canning lids also contain BPA.  So, what other options were there?  I found these glass lids in an antique store.  I also bought the jars with the wire closure.  All I needed now were the rubber seals and some directions!
I searched the web to see if I could find any instructions on how to use old fashioned canning jars.  No luck.  Then I went to Amazon to see if there were any books on it.  I found a 1946 pamphlet “Steamliner Pressure Cooker-Instructions for Cooking and Canning.”  Success!  It was great fun browsing the pamphlet.  It was also very thorough in its instructions on how to use the old fashioned canning jars.
I went on line and ordered a variety of seals, sticking with ones that were not made in China and were natural rubber.  I wasn’t able to find any that fit well with my cool, old fashioned jars.  I also learned that the glass lids needed very tall rings.  The modern ones were too short to close properly.
Back to square 1!
Then, I ran across an advertisement for these beautiful glass jar with glass lid made in Germany-Weck’s (it is the second from the right in the pic).  Finally, a non-toxic jar!
Later I discovered a plastic lid that is also BPA free that can be used with modern jars made by Tattler, made in the USA since 1976.  I haven’t tried them yet, but I have them!
I was able to can a few using the old fashioned jars.  The Weck’s work very well.  Easy to use, easy to know that the seal is good, and beautiful to look at.  I highly recommend them.
All you really need when canning high acid foods is a tall stock pot with lid, a jar lifter, a stainless steel spoon, a towel to put the hot jars on, and your canning jars.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What to do with hot peppers? Part 2


Pimento and Cayenne Peppers

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The easiest thing to do with hot peppers is freeze them whole!

The Pimento peppers I chopped and froze, ready for easy use in salads. 
I froze whole cayenne and jalapenos throughout the growing season to use for homemade salsa for the football games.  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 elephant garlic, a healthy handful of cilantro.  Throw them all into the food processor and viola!  Fresh, spicy salsa.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

What to do with hot peppers? Part 1


Pimento peppers

Sunday, December 11, 2011



Last week end, I rescued the slightly frost bitten peppers before our first freeze.  This past summer, I grew peppers in pots.  I went with the standby’s, cayenne and jalapeno, and tried a couple of new ones, Peter pepper (very rare of unknown origin), Pimento (we love them in salads), and a couple of sweet pepper varieties.


I had plenty of cayennes and jalapenos 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 apple cider vinegar.


Today, 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 4 “pickled” and pureed cayenne peppers, 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar it was pickling in, 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!  Definitely will do this again.



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Last of the tomatoes.............

Canned sauce in Weck's canning jars (BPA free)
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It is a beautiful time of year, but also sad.  The grass is green, the trees colorful, the warm season veggies giving their final harvests.

I picked the last of the tomatoes last week end right before our killing frost.  Any that have a tinge of color will ripen on the counter.  The pure green can be wrapped in newspaper to ripen.  You can have red tomatoes at Christmas!
I canned the ones that ripened in my Weck canning jars.  These jars are great!  They are a modern version of the old fashioned Ball jars with glass lids so no worries about nasty chemicals coming into your organic, home grown goodness.