Saturday, December 31, 2016

Black eyed peas for prosperity and luck in the New Year

Black eyed peas and collard greens

Saturday, December 31, 2016

It is a Southern tradition to have black-eyed peas to usher in the New Year. My grandmother was originally from the hills of Tennessee and moved to southeast Missouri as a young girl.  Everyone I know that grew up in southeast Missouri has 'em on New Year's Day.  

History of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas were first domesticated in West Africa and widely grown in Asia.  The "good luck" traditions of eating black-eyed peas for the New Year go as far back as Babylonian times (2500 years ago).  The tradition then was to have bottle gourd, leeks, black-eyed peas, beets, spinach, and dates as they were all symbols of good luck.

This Jewish tradition was brought to the southern US in the 1700’s.  Today, the good luck Southern meal includes peas for prosperity, mustard greens for money, and pork for moving forward.  Cornbread is also part of the meal, but just for its sweet goodness.

George Washington Carver encouraged the planting of black-eyed peas because they fertilized the soil, are nutritious and very affordable.  Black-eyes peas are chock full of nutrition.  They contain protein, calcium, vitamin A, folate, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, manganese, and lots of fiber.  black eyed peas nutritional info

Recipe for your good luck peas
To cook black-eyed peas, I add some ham and diced onion and simmer in chicken broth.  I simmer until tender.  You can add vinegar or some hot peppers for a different taste.  If using your own homegrown beans, here are tips for using dried beans Use dry beans instead of canned

Growing your own "peas"
Black-eyed peas are a subspecies of the cowpea and is also known by the name of goat pea.  They are not actually a pea at all, but a bean.  Black-eyed peas are a warm season crop that is not susceptible to pests or disease.  Beans should be planted after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.  They are very drought tolerant so little watering is needed.  I start my beans indoors in April and set out around Memorial Day.

If using just for fertilizing the garden soil, legumes (peas and beans) should be cut before they start producing pods as the production of the seed pods use up a lot of the nitrogen fixed in the roots.  Even if growing to eat, leave the roots when removing the vines at the end of the season.  Those nodules you see on the roots are stored nitrogen.  To increase the nitrogen in the roots, an inoculant of rhizobial bacteria should be coated on the seed at planting.  You can mix a little syrup (1-10) with water to dampen the seed before dusting with the inoculant.  This will greatly increase your harvest.

A side benefit of growing black-eyed peas is that the flowers produce copious amounts of nectar for pollinators, like bees.  Be sure to not use any pesticides on your black-eyed peas as they will kill the bees, too.  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

For fresh peas, you harvest the beans when the peas have just begun to swell in the pod and are 2-3" long.  After harvesting, simply shell the peas into a freezer bag (don’t forget to label with type and date).  By harvesting the fresh peas, it will encourage more pods to be formed, giving you a larger harvest.

For dried beans, wait until the pods have dried completely on the plant.  Pick the pods and shell.  I use a quart jar to store my dried beans until needed.  When ready to use, rinse the beans then boil on low until tender with 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans.  The time needed will depend on the age of the dried bean.  The older the bean, typically the longer it takes.  You can also soak over night to reduce cooking time.

For more on growing beans, Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer.  For more on growing collards, Collards and kale in your garden.  For preserving, Freezing the extras for winter

Try some good luck food for your New Year's!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

January 2016 Edible Garden Planner

Sunday, December 25, 2016

January is the time of dreaming and planning for your spring garden.  All the seed companies begin sending out their catalogs for seeds and plants this month.   It is an exciting time for browsing the magazines and making the garden plan for the upcoming year!

Grow what you love!
If you have ever wanted to plant an Italian or French kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space, you may be surprised.  You can grow the staples of an Italian kitchen garden in as little as 6’ x 6’ space.   Small space French kitchen garden
Here is also a list of what you can find in a Sicilian garden:  Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden

To entice the little ones, an Italian garden can also be called a "Pizza or Spaghetti Garden"!  Pizza garden for the kids

It is common for Italians and French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

If you have only a 6’ x 6’ space, a kitchen garden could include the following:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley 
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)  
2 tomatoes-1 small fruiting and 1 slicer type 
2 sweet pepper plants  
1 zucchini (look for “bush” types as they are more compact)  
1 eggplant 
8 red bunching onions 
8 garlic plants 
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed  

If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the zucchini, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed.  Traditional bush beans would be lentils, Romano, Capitano, Cannellini, fava; pole beans-Roma, Helda, Supermarconi.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant, and less food per space in the garden.

If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or annual artichokes.

If you are just beginning a garden, do start small.  You want the garden to be fun and relaxing, not overwhelming.  Don't be afraid to begin.  The force of life is strong and really doesn't need much from us.  Buy a few plants in the early spring and just put them in the ground with a natural fertilizer and you will be amazed at how they just go to town all by themselves!

For more on steps on putting in a garden: Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Add garden herbs to your Christmas dinner

Garden herbs
Sunday, December 22, 2016

Add a fresh edge to your Christmas dinner by using herbs straight from your own garden.  Herbs can be harvested all the way through the entire winter in most years.  If you are growing vegetables in a greenhouse or are having a mild winter, you can also be harvesting cold hardy greens for salads or cooking. 

Herbs are easy and care free to grow and almost all of them are perennials.  That means you plant once and they come back year after year.  For more details on growing your own herbs, see my blog here  Start a kitchen herb garden!

Jazzing up the flavor for the main dish
You can easily make poultry seasoning for poultry or red meat from herbs in your own garden.  Poultry seasoning adds great flavor to, of course, chicken or turkey, but also veggies, fish, casseroles, pasta.

The first commercial poultry seasoning was invented by William G. Bell, a Boston cook, in 1867.  His included sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, pepper and ginger.

I like to make my poultry seasoning with dried sage, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram.  Some add nutmeg, pepper, ginger , onion powder and/or cloves.

Here is my poultry seasoning recipe:
3 Tbl sage
1 Tbl parsley
1 Tbl thyme
1 Tbl marjoram or oregano
1 Tbl rosemary
For lamb, rosemary is a favorite herb pairing.  For all other red meats, I use a combination of whatever I grew in the garden this past summer.  I cut and dry at the end of the season, then mix in a paper bag and store in airtight containers.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

“Herbes de Provence” contains herbs that are typical of the Provence region of southern France and are grown in French potagers (kitchen gardens).  I also include sage in my herbal seasoning mix.  These are herbs that were typically used in cooking by the French in this region:

Insure all spices are crumbled into tiny pieces so they will disperse evenly in your favorite prepared dish.  You can transfer the amount needed to a kitchen spice jar.  Keep the rest in a cool, dark location.For any spices, you want to keep them as fresh as possible.  They lose their flavor over time and quicker if exposed to heat/light.

Potager gravy
To make 2 cups of gravy, cook in a sauce pan, 1/2 cup of fresh chopped carrots, 1/2 cup of fresh chopped celery, 1 cup of chopped onions, 3 cloves of peeled and mashed garlic until browned.  Add 1 bay leaf, 3 cups of chicken or beef stock.  Simmer on low uncovered for an hour or so until reduced in about half.  Strain out all solids and combine 1 cup of stock with 1/4 cup of cream and 1/4 cup of flour, whisk until smooth.  Bring remaining stock to boil, add cream mixture, defatted meat pan drippings if desired, simmer until thickened.

Herbed mashed potato options
There are a few options for snazzing up your mashed potatoes.  For 5 pounds of potatoes, you can add 5 cloves of roasted garlic, 1 cup of sour cream, 8 ounces of cream cheese and enough buttermilk for consistency you prefer.  I like to add a half teaspoon or so of white pepper.

Or how about 5 pounds of small potatoes that are cooked until tender, then tossed with 1 cup of butter, 3/4 cup freshly, finely chopped parsley, marjoram, chives and/or thyme.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garlic and herb roasted vegetables
This recipe works with any really firm vegetables you like.  Here is one variation.  Cut 4 sweet potatoes, 3 medium turnips into 1.5 inch cubes, and 2 large onions into 1.5 inch wedges.  In a gallon plastic bag, place 12 cloves crushed, peeled garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram, 2 teaspoons salt, 6 tablespoons olive oil.  Mix thoroughly.  Add your cut veggies and squish them around until they are coated on all sides with the herb mixture.  Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  Roast in a 450F, preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until soft.

Potatoes, turnips and onions are all veggies that can be stored over winter if kept in the proper conditions.  Be sure to keep potatoes covered or in a dark place as when they turn green, they are toxic.  Sweet potatoes will keep for a month if kept in cool dry conditions and bagged with an apple to keep from sprouting.  Even if you only have a patio, you can grow potatoes  Onions-everything you need to know to grow 'em  All about turnips

Herbal salad dressing
You can keep it simple and flavor a good white wine vinegar with your favorite herb like tarragon for the salad.  Use a mild olive oil so that the flavor of the herb shines through.  Herbal vinegars are easy to make, but you need to make ahead.  Place the herbs in the vinegar and leave in a cool dark place for at least a week.  You can strain out the herbs before using after infused.

Homemade version of Hidden Valley Ranch is easy to make.  Just mix equal amounts of buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream (half cup each).  Then add parsley, dill, garlic, onion (half teas), salt (quarter teas), and pepper (eighth teas) to taste.  If the mayonnaise is too overpowering, I substitute yogurt. 

This is the perfect time for fresh spinach salads.  Spinach and other greens are in season and loving this cool weather.  Fall and winter greens  

Artisanal butter
If you are making an herbal butter to serve, you would want more like 2 tablespoons of herbs to 1/2 cup of butter.  Add the herb that complements the dish you are serving.  

You can either serve in a dish, roll it into a log using plastic wrap, or form into a shape.  If you use a form, simply press the butter firmly into the form, then place the form in a shallow dish of hot water.  The butter should slide out easily after a little warming.

Mint inspired beverages and desserts
Mint is also still green and growing in our garden.  Mint is wonderful to add to teas, lemonades, hot chocolate or adult beverages, even to salads.  You can also incorporate into desserts.  Chop fresh mint and add to sorbet or ice cream.  You can incorporate in a food processor and refreeze until ready to serve. 

Don't forget to check out your freezer for possibilities.  This year I am planning on incorporating frozen tomatoes into my Sicilian grandpa's spaghetti sauce and a tomato bisque, my frozen eggplant for eggplant parmesan, carrots and herbs in beef bourguignon, and frozen and fresh greens in a breakfast frittata.  Possibilities are endless for using herbs right from your garden and freezer to add fresh taste to any dish you make for the holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Use dry beans instead of canned

Sunday, December 11, 2016

You can easily use dried beans in place of canned beans.  It takes a little longer to prepare them, but using dried beans saves space and money.

The older the bean, the harder they are to rehydrate.  You can order them on-line (Amazon has them), buy them from your local co-op, or some grocery stores (like Whole Foods) have bulk bins with many varieties of beans available.

For a crockpot of chili, I use a half pound or 3/4 cup each of 3 different types of beans.  We use kidney beans, pinto beans, black turtle beans, chili beans, great northern beans, the fun speckled beans, or any other that sparks our interest; there are many to choose from!

I usually soak the beans overnight.  This allows them to sprout, taking them from a seed to a plant with more nutrients.  In the morning, I rinse them well and put them on the stove.  Continue to cook them until they are just slightly crunchy.  Rinse well, then they are ready for the crockpot! 

If you don't soak them overnight, do not despair, you can still use them for the day's football chili.  Rinse the dried beans, put in a large pot, cover with water, and boil gently until just slightly crunchy.  Rinse, if you desire, and they are ready to add to your favorite chili recipe.

Cook them up in the crock, just like you would canned beans.  It is a lot cheaper (about 70% less), you avoid BPA from cans (Eden does has BPA free canned beans), and you get to rinse them multiple times which decreases tummy gas.  Rinsing does remove some nutrition so if you aren't sensitive to gas, use them without the final rinse.

There are so many cool kinds of beans and they are super easy to grow.  Try some in your garden next summer.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

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), whisk a little corn starch (about a tablespoon) mixed with cold water into 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.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Edible garden winter checklist

Saturday, November 12, 2016

When a hard freeze is in the forecast, it is time to pick the last of the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants and clean the plants from the garden and give your cold crops a coat to protect them all winter!

Last Harvest
When a hard freeze is in the forecast, it is time to pick the last of the summer veggies and winter squash.  Any cold sensitive edibles should either be picked, covered or brought indoors.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, summer squash like zucchini, and cucumbers are all freeze sensitive.  You can also take tender ends from basil to root them to grow indoors for the winter if you have a bright window to place your plant.

Peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes will do well indoors.  They will continue to flower and fruit for weeks.  Their flowers and fruits are pretty, too.  Come spring, they will have a one to two month head start on the season.

Tidy Beds & Compost
It is time to clean up your edible garden to prepare it for the long cold season.  You can compost any that were disease free, but dispose af any diseased plants in the garbage.  Only high sustained temperatures will destroy the spores and it is not worth the risk of spreading disease into next year’s garden.

New Beds & Soil Sampling
Now is the time to lay out any expansion you want to do in your garden beds.  Using a hose to outline the new beds is a great way to envision how they will look.  You can simply cover with card board to kill the grass over the winter.  I like to cover with cardboard, add a layer of compost and fertilizer, then top with mulch.  Letting the bed lay over the winter will allow the fertilizer to seep into the soil so it is ready to plant come spring.  Take a soil sample from your new bed(s) and existing beds to take it in to your conservation office or mail in to a soil analysis service.  The results will tell you exactly what your soil needs for amendments.
Cover Winter Crops
This is the time of year to put a coat over your potted plants left outdoors planted with cold crops.  The best place to locate your plants and greenhouse is close to protection and on the south side of the house in full sun.  Putting the greenhouse against the house will help keep the temperatures warmer for your plants.

I have my mini portable greenhouse over my three Earthoxes that contain kale, celery, French dandelion, spinach, lettuce, blood veined sorrel, and garden purslane.  I also put inside the greenhouse along the outside edge, 5 gallon jugs filled with water and spray painted black.  These will help moderate the temperature inside the greenhouse.

The biggest risk with a greenhouse?  Overheating!  The sun’s rays are quite hot on a cloudless day.  I open the vent on my greenhouse when it is sunny and in the 30’s.  I will unzip the front door flap when it gets into the 40’s.   In the 50’s, the cold crops really don’t need any protection.

Save Seeds
I am going to do a tour of the garden and save seeds from the late producers.  On my hit list is the green beans I left on the vine to keep for seed, flower seeds from the marigolds, hummingbird vine, moon flower vine, and zinnias, and any of the really nice summer vegetable specimens.  It is good to save the best of the best for seed as these parents will give you the characteristics you want in your veggies for next year's garden.

Tool Care
Now is the time to take care of your tools to get them ready and stored for next season.  Sharpen your garden knives, scissors, shovels, and hoes.  Lightly oil all needed to protect from rust and keep working smoothly.  Make a list of any additions you want for your tool collection so you can research and purchase over the winter.

Winter Cover Crops
If you have an un-mulched garden bed, winter cover crops are a great way to protect the soil, keep it from washing and add nutrients your garden needs.

Summarize & Plan for Next Year's Garden
Now is the time to write down all you liked about the garden to you can repeat it for next season as well as what didn't go so well.  You can use the winter season to research solutions to the improvements you want to make on your garden for next year.

I like to look back through all my garden notes for the season and capture the varieties I want to be sure to have in the garden for next year as well as any new ones I want to try.  

For instance, I have been trying different varieties of sweet peppers to see if I can find varieties that are prolific producers in my garden.  I'll write down that I want to search for new varieties to try for next year.  This year I finally found a couple that did well that I want to overwinter this year for next year or start from seed next spring.  I also want to add two of the peppers I saw in Sicily while on vacation with my mom.

Tomatoes-definitely going to put the heirloom Italian paste in the garden, Cherokee Purple, the volunteer that comes back every year, and a couple varieties from last summer's garden-the small chocolate and small black tomatoes.  I also want to try the overwintering varieties that I saw in Sicily.

For eggplant, the Japanese White Egg did really well in the pot, but they were just smaller than I liked.  I'll go back to the white eggplant seed from Martha Stewart collection, the Turkish Orange that I grew last summer in a pot, and am going to try to overwinter my friend's purple potted eggplant that did great this summer.

The cucumber varieties I tried this summer did really well.  I will do them again next year, but stagger their planting as there were just too many of them at once.  Staggering will let the production stay consistent.  As one vine winds down, the next one will be ramping up.  Not sure I will actually do the Hmong again.  It was a great producer, but the fruits were just too large for what I use them for.  Leaning towards planting Dragon's White Egg and Miniature White; perhaps the Jaune Dickfleishige.

Zucchini was a little challenging this year to get the plants going because of all the rain we had this summer.  I am going to look back at what grew well in the garden a couple of seasons ago and replant those next year.  I start these from seed.  I planted Black Beauty, Bush, and Early Prolific Straight Neck which are favorites of many.

All the green bean varieties did great this year.  I am saving the seed from them right now to plant for next year.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

Spring lettuce-I really liked the Red Romaine and Red Sails lettuce we had in our garden last year.  They stayed a long time before bolting.  I also like the oak leaf lettuces and Grand Rapids varieties.  I'll have all of these in the garden next year.

I'll absolutely do the Cardinal Basil and traditional sweet basil.  I like the Cardinal Basil because it's flowers is just so pretty.  The sweet basil for making pesto.

My husband loves zinnias and marigolds.  I'll start these from seed I save now to grow again next year.  Flowers add not only beauty but attract pollinators.  These little hard working gardener assistants significantly boost your garden fruit production like tomatoes, peppers, beans and eggplants.