Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kitchen herb garden


Sunday, June 24, 2012


If you are just starting gardening, an herb garden is a great place to start.  Dried herbs are expensive at the store.  Most common herbs are perennials and do well being neglected.  Want full bodied flavor in your cooking on the cheap-just add fresh herbs.  What can be better than that!

Flowering Chives
Now, you just have to decide what type of herb garden to you want?  It could be a medicinal herb garden, a fragrant herb garden, a Victorian herb garden, a French herb garden, a culinary herb garden, and the choices go on.
So, what are the herbs you should start with?  A basic culinary herb garden would include parsley, basil, chives, French tarragon, sorrel, sage, dill, oregano/marjoram, and thyme. 
Of these, parsley, basil and dill are annuals, the rest are perennials.  With perennials, you plant once and you get to enjoy them for a lifetime.  Parsley and dill will likely “self sow”, meaning their seeds will sprout into a plant next year.  Basil will have to be replanted each year when all danger of frost has passed.
You can pick up your herb plants at any big box store or for more fun varieties, go to your nearest nursery.  There are many options out there.  You can go to a full service nursery to see and smell the herbs in person. 
You can buy an entire plant for less than the cost of one tiny bottle of dried herbs.  Herbs are easy to dry.  Cut the herbs back in mid summer and put in a paper bag.  Do not pack tightly, pack loosely so that the herbs do not mold.  Put in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight if possible and a few weeks later you will be rewarded with enough herbs for your cooking and all your relatives for the entire year! 
To get varieties that even your nursery does not have, order seed.  I have phenomenal luck with the Aerogarden seed starter.  The germination rate is near 100% using it.  The best time to start new herbs is in the spring.  All plants are primed for growth in spring.  However, herbs will do fine being planted in summer.
Herbs like full sun and dry feet.  Too much water is about the only thing that will kill an herb plant.  I plant mine amongst the flowers and near the back door for optimum convenience for cooking.  You can also grow in pots if you like and put right at the door!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

All you wanted to know about onions


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Onions with white flower tops

The onions we cultivate today likely originated from a wild Asian onion, but has been grown so long, its road back to the original is lost.

Two thousand years ago, there were many varieties that we would recognize today.  There were round onions, white onions, red onions, flat onions, long onions, keeper onions, sweet onions, spicy onions.
Onions have been important for their perceived health benefits in times gone past and proven today.
There are wild Alliums in America as well known as wild garlic or ramp.  
Onions have shallow roots, like to be moist, but can’t stand being waterlogged, and hang out in fertile soil.  Seeds can be sown in the fall, October in our area.  The more popular method is “sets” that are young onions that are put out in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked, just as the daffodils begin to fade.
Close up of white onion flower
You can place them close together and pull for scallions until the bulbing onions are 5-6” apart.  As the bulb reaches full size, you can pull the soil away from the top of the onion to help the bulb and neck cure for harvest.  

You can also plant the bottoms of store bought onions.  If you get enough of the bottom, the onion will take root and give you an onion next season.
Onions tell you when they are ready to harvest, when half of their tops fall over.  What can be easier than that?  Like garlic, they should be lifted rather than pulled from the ground and leave them in shade for about a week to harden.  I use a trowel to dig under the bulb and pop them out.  You don’t want to knick them or they will not store well.  If you do, keep them in the fridge and use them first.
So, how do you choose which onions to plant?  The best bet is to talk to your local nursery to see which grow the best in your area.  If you live in the northern part of the country, you need long day onions.  If you live in the south, you need short day onions.  Onions are sensitive to day length.  It is the amount of daylight that triggers the bulb to form.  So, you need to get the right type of onion for your daylight hours in the summer.
So, if you want a sweet onion and live in the Midwest, Vidalias are not the best bet since it is a short day type.  A better choice is a Walla Walla or a Sweet Spanish.
The other thing to keep in mind is that, like wine, onions pick up the terroir they are grown in.  You can grow the exact same onion as another, but have a different taste because of the differences in your soil.
There are many fun onions to grow besides the round ones.  There are the flat disk like Borrettana Cipollini or the Red Baron onion that is a red scallion type onion.  Of course, there is the onion made famous in French cooking, the shallot-French, Gray or Sante are well known varieties.

Then, there are onions for keeping over the winter like Rossa Di Milano, Early Yellow Globe, Sweet Sandwich, and Granex Yellow.
Onions will also keep over another year.  When onions I planted last spring did not get to decent size, I left them over the winter.  They are bulbing up quite nicely this summer.
Close up of bulblets
Another type of onion is the Egyptian walking onion.  It is a perennial that you can pull year round.  They do not form bulbs.  They are like a very large scallion, getting an inch or two wide and 3” long bulb.  They also grow great in a pot.  When they get their bulblets, they remind me of Medusa.  Really cool.

Egyptian onions in a pot




Sunday, June 10, 2012

Edible flowers


Monday, June 11, 2012

Edible onion, daylily, rose and dianthus flowers

If you want to add a beautiful touch to a salad or dinner plate, add a flower!  Many flowers are edible.
Herb flowers are edible-like basil, thyme, oregano, calendula/pot marigold, sage, lavender, nasturtium, chamomile, borage, bee balm and rosemary.
Vegetable flowers are edible-like broccoli, cabbage, kale, bean, pea, onion, chives, garlic, zucchini, chicory.
Some plants we consider weeds are edible-like dandelions flowers and greens and clover flowers.
Then there are the ornamentals that are edible like daylilies, orchids, violets, chrysanthemums, honeysuckle, lilac, roses, dianthus, passion flower, daisies, scented geraniums, snapdragons, tulips and sunflowers.
You can quickly look on line to verify that your ornamental is indeed edible which is recommended just to be on the safe side.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Basil


Friday, June 8, 2012


Basil is a native of Africa and other tropical areas of Asia where it has been cultivated for over 5,000 years.  It is a culinary herb that sends cooks into poetic rapture.  It is probably the favorite of the “sweet” herbs and well known from its use in Mediterranean cuisine.  It has a spicy bite when eaten fresh.
Basil is easy to grow.  It loves warmth and melts when temps get even close to freezing.  The only watch out is too much water.  Water in midday and not in evenings, only when showing wilt.  You’ll get the best flavor when you are stingy with water.
They don’t require much in the way of fertilizer.  Just fertilize at planting and about midsummer with one that contains nitrogen.  A good organic choice is blood meal.
Nitrogen encourages green growth which is what you are after when it comes to basil.
Basil grows well in pots indoors or out.  
It smells amazing when you brush up against it.  You can place next to a garden path to enjoy its fragrance every time you pass by.
When flowers appear, pinch them off.  This will encourage bushy growth.  The flowers are edible and great adds to sauces or as a zing to salads.  Harvest any time you need.  Be sure to add to the dish at the very end of cooking to keep the strongest flavor.
About half way through summer cut back to the bottom 4 leaves.  I make pesto with the harvest and freeze it to use year round.  Makes a quick, easy and delicious meal!
You can also blanch and freeze.  If you don’t blanch, the frozen herb does not keep its color or flavor.  Blanching is simply throwing the herb leaves in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds and then quickly plunge them into a bowl or sink of ice water.  Dry the leaves then I then put the leaves on a cookie sheet, place in the freezer and when frozen, remove and put in quart freezer bags.  Now you can have fresh basil anytime you need it!
Sweet basil is used in Mediterranean cooking.  Popular types are Genovese (probably the most famous for Italian cooking), and Mammoth.  Purple Ruffles is more decorative than culinary, but adds fun color as an infusion to vinegar.  Thai, lemon and holy basil are used in Asian cooking. 
Basil contains a chemical that might help inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis called BCP, (E)-beta-caryphliene.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Garlic harvest is here!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012


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.
You should choose the biggest cloves to plant.  The bigger the clove, the bigger the harvest!  Cloves like other root vegetables like loose soil, compost and steady fertilizer.  Like carrots, radishes and beets, you can add sand to give a looser soil structure in your garlic bed.  Mulch well in the fall before cold weather sets in if planting in the fall.
Plant the cloves root side down, 1-2” deep, and 4” apart.  After the greens sprout to 6”, add compost or fertilizer as a side dressing.  Garlic does not need a lot of nitrogen so compost is a good choice.
Soft neck and hard neck garlic are slightly different in telling you when to harvest.  Soft neck garlic is ready to harvest then 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.
                                               Garlic ready to harvest           Freshly harvested garlic
Be careful when you go to harvest.  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.  
Store bought garlic has been treated with chemicals to keep them from sprouting so they are not a great choice for growing your own.  A great option is to buy the best looking bulbs from your local farmers market.  You know they grew well in your area.  Just separate out the bulb(s) into individual cloves and plant the biggest ones.

Garlic can be mild or hot.  Elephant garlic is very mild and not really true garlic at all.  It is a type of leek.  It has a great garlic flavor and produces huge bulbs.  The ones I am growing this year are from the previous year’s harvest.  I like growing them because you get so much for the garden space.  For me, they have stored very well.
Elephant garlic                                       
Leek flower
Garlic scape
You can tell the difference in the two by looking at the flowers.  Leeks have a onion type flower while garlic has a curly scape flower.
There is soft and hard necked garlic.  For the longest storage, soft neck garlic is the ticket.  It is also the strongest flavored.  Hard necked is milder and easier to peel. 


Everyone knows of garlic in sauces and on cheese bread.  A couple of years ago, 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 using your own homegrown tomatoes, garlic, peppers and basil in homemade tomato sauce, I use Ball's canning recipe.  I have it with the other tomato preserving tips here Preserving the tomato harvest


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beets


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beets ancestor is chard.  Chard has been around for thousands of years.  It is thought that a mutation of spinach resulted in the thick ribs of chard.  Beets were cultivated for their thickened root.  They are a biennial and sometimes a perennial.

Beets can be sown from early spring when the daffodils bloom into June.  The beet seed is actually a fruit containing a cluster of seeds.  When you plant, expect to have to thin to 2-4” apart.
I grow beets in pots.  Potting soil is loose which beets really like.  If planting in the ground, loosen the soil.  If you want a dedicated plot to beets and carrots, adding sand to the soil provides the perfect growing spot.
The secret to great beets is consistency in water and fertilizer.  If growing in a pot, apply a balanced fertilizer weekly.  Letting the soil get too dry will result in a woody beet.
The root and the leaves are both edible.  Beet thinnings are tasty in salads.  You can take up to one third of the beet greens without harming the beet.  As the beet ages, the greens get stronger.  If too strong for taste raw, they can be steamed like spinach or chard.
Beets should be pulled when they are 1.5” in diameter up to 3” in diameter.  Before storing, cut the greens from the root, leaving only an inch or two of stalk.  The leaves will wilt well before the beet shrivels.  Beets keep in the frig 2-3 weeks.  Beets can be roasted, grilled or steamed. 
There are different types and colors of beets.  There are round beets and beets that resemble carrots.  The oldest round variety that is a deep red will bleed on anything it is cooked with.  The round Chioggia beet comes in a pink and red with intermittent rings of color and white.  They are quite cool looking when sliced and don't bleed.  The cylindrical beet gives about 4 times the harvest in a pot since it grows down.