Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tips for deciding on a dehydrator



Sunday, August 20, 2017


Drying fruits and vegetables is another great way to preserve the harvest.  It also does not require any special gadgets to accomplish.   You can dry with a cookie sheet and an oven.  If you live in a dry area, you can dry outside in the sun.  In humid areas, this does not so work well.  You could build a solar oven and use it outdoors.  The trick here is to keep the temperatures low enough that you don't cook the food, but just dry it.

You can look on-line for recipes, times and temperatures for drying your favorite produce.  Fruit leathers, dried peppers, and “sun dried” tomatoes are very popular.  We have even made jerky in ours.

If you want to go the dehydrator route, there are a few things to think about.  We did a great deal of reading on line when we bought our dehydrator.  You want a fan to push the air so that all areas of the oven get good air circulation and keep an even temperature.  You want a temperature dial that has a range of 100-150 degrees F.  You want to have removable, washable racks.  We also didn’t want any plastic parts so we went with all stainless.  This isn't as important if you are drying food at lower temperatures and do not wash the racks in the dishwasher.


I really like going to Amazon because you can read how real people like the appliance they purchased.  We went with a Weston and have been happy with it.  Excalibur, STX, and TSM also make stainless models. Other well known brands are LEM, Nesco and L’Equip.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Make your own "Herbes de Provence"





Saturday, August 19, 2017

Herbes de Provence, just about everyone has heard it and it sounds really fancy, but is actually very easy to make from your own kitchen herb garden.  The origin is simply a mix of herbs that were typically grown in a French kitchen garden called a potager.  

You get a huge amount of herb from each plant.  It is so simple to dry them and make your own special herb mix.  You'll find that you actually get enough from only one herb plant of each kind that you will have enough for year round cooking and to make Christmas presents for the entire family!


“Herbes de Provence” contains herbs that are typical of the Provence region of southern France and are grown in French potagers (kitchen gardens).  These are the herbs typically used in cooking by the French in this region:
*Thyme
*Marjoram/oregano
*Rosemary
*Savory
*Basil
*Tarragon

The French gardeners didn't actually mix them all together into a spice mix.  This was the idea of a spice company in France and has spread throughout the world.  Today, these spice mixes aren't actually grown and processed in France, but in central/eastern Europe, Africa and China.

You can easily grow these herbs and make your own spice mix.  All are perennial herbs with the exception of basil and rosemary in northern climes.  You can keep rosemary and basil n a pot and bring them indoors to overwinter.

Herbs are the easiest thing to grow in the edible garden and how I got my start.  For more on growing herbs, click here  Start a kitchen herb garden!


Lavender


Purple lavender
White lavender

Some mixes also contain lavender flowers.  Lavender is not actually used in southern French cooking, but can be a fun addition to the spice mix.

I save my lavender to use as potpourri and scented oils.  Lavender is also great to put in closets to make them smell fabulous and to deter moths.

Another fun way to use dried lavender is mixing with sugar.  
Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts


Thyme

Creeping thyme
English thyme
Thyme comes in many forms and flavors.  You can grow variegated (leaves are green and white) lemon thyme, creeping thyme, orange thyme, English, German, or French thyme.

The leaves are best when in bloom.

Thyme is used in many dishes.  Suits food particularly well that are cooked in wine.  If using fresh, a little goes a long way.  

Thyme is a key ingredient in poultry seasoning as well.  Make poultry seasoning with your own garden herbs


Marjoram/Oregano
Oregano/marjoram are of the same family.  Oregano and marjoram are cold sensitive perennials.  I have been growing my oregano in Zone 6 for 5 years and it comes back faithfully.  Oregano is also called wild marjoram and marjoram is also called sweet marjoram.  They are very similar in form and taste.  The pollinators love oregano’s tall purple blooms.  For preserving, gather just before the flowers open.
Oregano
Rosemary
Common rosemary is a tender perennial and does not survive the winter in our Zone 6 garden.  There are hardier varieties of rosemary that you can get like ARP and Barbecue.  They are said to be hardy to Zone 5.  I keep trying them in our Zone 6/7 garden but so far have only been able to get them to survive one winter at best.  I am trying ARP and a new hardy variety this year Tuscan Blue.  Eventually, I will find one that likes my garden well enough to stay permanently.

You can always keep your rosemary in a pot and bring indoors to over winter.  If you live in warmer zones of 8 or above, rosemary can become a very large bush reaching 5 feet tall!
Young rosemary plant
Savory
There are two types of savory-winter and summer.  Winter savory is a perennial and summer savory an annual.  The leaves for drying should be picked just as the flower buds are formed.
Winter savory
Basil
Everyone is familiar with basil.  Basil is used in so many dishes.  One of our favorites is pesto.  It is great in tomato sauces, as an infusion for oils or vinegars, or in salads.  Basil was found to be growing around Christ’s tomb after the resurrection so is used by some to prepare holy water.  Pick leaves when young.  The more you pick, the bushier the plant becomes.   Pick often!  
Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil


Basil in August

Tarragon
Tarragon is a less common herb here.  There are two varieties-Russian and French.  The French has a more “refined” flavor, but is not as hardy.  The Russian is hardy and the flavor improves the longer it grows in one place.  Tarragon spreads underground like mint so it can be a good one to grow in a pot.  It grows 2-3’.  Tarragon can be harvested anytime.  Don’t cut more than two thirds at a time.  I like to add tarragon to salads.  It is also popular as an infusion for oils and vinegars, to flavor chicken and is a key ingredient in BĂ©arnaise sauce.
Tarragon

Sage
Sage is a perennial and comes in a variety of flavors and colors-clara, pineapple, purple, tricolor, gold variegated, prostate, and purple variegated to name a few.  They are a required ingredient in my mother-in-laws stuffing.  Use your own herbs for your Thanksgiving dinner    Sage smells wonderful too to add to potpourri, as a tea or all by itself.  Make your own teas!

Tricolor variegated sage

Since these herbs naturalized in the Mediterranean region, they enjoy dry conditions so they do not need to be coddled.  They grow easily under any conditions, except wet.  They hate wet feet so err to the side of dryness.

Fall is a great time to start any perennial, including herbs.  Many big box stores are carrying herbs and fall plants so you don't have to wait to next spring to start your own herb garden!  Many grow easily from seed, too.  It is fine to start plants this time of year and plant out in the garden.  Just be sure to harden off for the heat as you would for the cold in the spring and keep moist.

How to dry your herbs?  I do my harvesting this time of year into the fall.  I cut them back and place the stems loosely in paper bags to dry.  Hanging the bags so they get good air flow.  You can also place on screens or tie the stems together and hang to dry.  However you choose to dry your herbs they only thing to remember is to not put too many together.  If there is not enough air circulation the herbs will mold.  

After drying, I strip the leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container out of the sun.  I use either ziplock bags or quart canning jars.  Once processed, I take equal parts of each herb and mix together to make my seasoning mix.  I use my seasoning mix on and in all kinds of dishes-for grilling meat and veggies, salad dressings, pasta sauces, roasted chicken, seafood.  For more on harvesting herbs:  Harvesting and drying herbs

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver


Sunday, August 13, 2017

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.

I grew sweet banana peppers and saved the seed.  This year I grew out the seeds from the yellow banana peppers.  I got a larger red and orange pepper plants from the seed.  They are quite tasty and prolific.  I have saved the seed to grow out again next year.

There is also another pepper plant that produced prolifically a purple meaty sweet pepper.  I have saved the seed from this plant to grow them again next year.

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.

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!
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.  Most store 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.

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.

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 resow seeds from cool season crops like lettuce, cilantro, parsley, chard, chives and get a second fall/winter harvest!  I have been doing this about every other week.  I have lettuce sprouting from the last two sowings.  When it cools down a bit, I will separate and transplant into pots and the garden.  Right now, I am keeping them in a long starter pot on the covered deck to keep them from bolting in the hot sun.
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!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Summer garden tips


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The dog days of summer see thriving warm season crops-tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, sweet potatoes, peppers and Mediterranean herbs.  To keep your harvests at their peak, there are few simple things you can do for your garden.
  1. Harvest frequently!  Plants are in the business of reproducing.  Their entire life is dedicated to giving the best chance possible of maintaining more plants for the future.  The more you harvest, the more babies the plant will produce.  I have noticed that my cucumber plant can only support one large cucumber on each vine.  As soon as I pick the big one, you can see one of the small ones jump in size by the very next day!  Harvest in the morning for peak juiciness.
  2. Mulch your beds. The mulch keeps the moisture from evaporating, allowing more infrequent watering.  It also moderates the temperature of the soil so it doesn’t get baking hot.  I use mulch in both my garden beds and pots.
  3. Water consistently.  The cause of cracked fruits is inconsistent water.   The plant gets used to very little water and when deluged the fruit’s skin can’t expand fast enough and the fruit cracks.  Over watering can also be a problem.  Too much water will cause your fruits to be tasteless and mushy.  If in the ground, your plants need either a good soaking rain each week or a good watering.  I use soaker hoses in my mulched garden beds.  It is best to water in the morning; you get maximum absorption (biggest bang for your water buck).  For pots, you will likely need to water 3 times per week during the height of summer heat.  I like pots with a water reservoir built in the bottom. 
  4. Do not water the foliage of your nightshade plants!  They are very susceptible to fungal diseases and water on their leaves encourages fungal growth.  
  5. Fertilize monthly with side dressing of compost.  It is also a good idea to add minerals to the soil.  You can purchase minerals just for gardening.  You can also use kelp or seaweed as a fertilizer that also adds other nutrients.  If your plants have more minerals, their fruits will too!  
  6. Pick insects off daily.  Keep a close eye on your plants to you can stop an infestation before it gets started.  If I do get an really bad infestation, I will use diacotomus earth.  It is organic and not a chemical.  Some people even eat it!  It works by scratching the exoskeleton of the insects which leads to dehydration and death.  Be careful, though, as it will kill good bugs too.  I use it very sparingly and only if desperate.  A few bugs don’t eat much :  )  Another option is the use of light covers to keep the bugs from your plants or insecticidal soap.
  7. Keep any diseased leaves groomed from your plants and do not compost them.  Diseases can be killed if your compost pile is hot enough.  I haven’t progressed far enough yet in my composting skills to trust I am getting the pile hot enough and I don’t want to spread diseases to all my plants.
  8. Compost.  For all the trimmings from the garden and the kitchen, start a compost pile or get an indoor composter.  I have both.  My husband built me a fencing ring outside that I throw the big stuff.  I have an indoor Naturemill electric composter in the garage for all the kitchen scraps.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What's happening in the early August edible garden

Pic of edible garden this morning
Sunday, August 6, 2017

August sees the full swing of the summer, warm season garden harvests.  Late sweet corn (plant corn in succession and different varieties to lengthen the harvest), summer squashes (like zucchini), peppers of all types (sweet to hot, hot), tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, cucumbers, okra, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, beans, melons, figs, eggplant, honey, artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, onion, and fennel are all in season in the Midwest.  

If you are not growing these in your own garden, your local farmers market is a great place to pick up these seasonal veggies to either eat or preserve.  The best buy and taste on any fruit or vegetable is when it is in season.  You can get even better deals on any produce that has a few blemishes which have no effect on the flavor.  If you are going to can, freeze or dry them, just be sure to remove any blemishes first.  Preservation garden

I pick what to have in our garden based on the harvest per foot of garden space needed.  Our garden is incorporated into the flower garden mulch bed and in pots so we have to be choiceful on what to grow.  Grow what you love to eat, too.  It won't be a lot of fun to have a bumper crop of veggies you don't really like.  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

In pots, we have great luck with  Egyptian walking onions (which can be harvested year round), peppers, eggplant, greens, sweet bay, and celery.

Since we have expanded our mulched flower beds, I am growing more in the ground.  I do use vertical space for the green beans and cucumbers, growing pole types on trellises.  You can also use trellises for squash or grow bush types that stay compact.

So, what is doing not so well in the garden this summer?  I have lost a zucchini and 2 cucumbers to wilt.  This happens when they are bitten by a cucumber beetle that transmits the bacteria to the plant.  It is a good idea to plan to replant new zucchini plants in mid-summer.  I have small plants ready to put into the garden today.  I'll direct sow more cucumber seed as well this week.  They are quick growers so will be producing within a month or so.
Newly sprouted zucchini, ready to be transplanted

Most of my tomato plants are not doing great this year either.  I have several that have many branches that have shriveled and died.  My neighboring gardeners are seeing the same.  I planted many tomato plants and even had extras in pots to plant out in case something like this happened.  I planted these out last week.  

It is likely a soil borne fungus causing the issue.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash are all susceptible to fungi.  I am still getting plenty of tomatoes from my collection, but it is not going to be a bumper crop year!  To keep soil born diseases to a minimum is to practice crop rotation.  

Peppers, eggplant, green beans and okra are doing great this year.  It is my first time growing okra.  They are a cool looking plant.  I got the red variety which makes a very pretty plant and fruit.  Their flowers are like creamy hibiscus blooms.

I have been trying many different types of sweet peppers to find some that produce as well as hot peppers.  Hot peppers are really prolific.  So far, I am pleased with my sweet pepper varieties. 

The flea beetles are having a field day with my eggplants.  They love to eat holes in the plant's leaves.  I go out and squish them regularly.  They don't eat the fruits, but with the damage to the leaves stunts the plants ability to produce fruits.  We have orange, purple and white fruit varieties this year.  Err on the side of picking early versus late.  Leaving the fruits on too long makes the skins taste on the bitter side.

The bean vines are super happy this year.  They had been doing fantastic until the last week.  We had a heat wave for a couple of weeks that crimped the plants bean production.  They say you don't need to fertilize beans after they are planted unless their leaves start yellowing.  Growing beans  I fertilized them all this week end to give them a boost.  Too much fertilizer will cause them to focus on greenery versus fruits.  This is true for all fruiting plants.  More is not better.
Beans on trellis
I planted brussel sprouts this year first the first time in several years.  They are in the same family as broccoli.  I am having pest problems with them just like the broccoli.  I need to not plant anything in the broccoli family for a year or two.  Without a favorite food source, they will die off.  Meanwhile, I have been picking them off and spraying with insecticidal soap for this year's plants.

The lettuce and spinach bolted long ago.  It was not a banner year for the lettuce, but the spinach did great!  I made sure to fertilize both well.  They are heavy nitrogen users.  I always use natural organic fertilizers like Espoma or for an extra boost of nitrogen, blood meal or bat guana.


A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year!  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Preserving peppers

Potted pepper plant
Saturday, August 5, 2017

For preserving the pepper harvest, you have some options-drying, freezing, pickling. I have also seen creative pepper jelly and preserve recipes for canning.  They sound really fun.  I may have to try a couple of them this fall.  Canning is much nicer to do when it has cooled off.  Peppers keep producing until a hard frost so there is lots of time left to experiment with preservation options!

Peppers love summer warmth.  Surprisingly, when it gets too hot (in the 90’s) they can start to drop flowers and get sunburned.  So, don’t be surprised when they are not as perky as earlier in the season.  They will come back when the temperatures get out of the stratosphere.  During extreme heat waves, they appreciate some shade.
Sweet pepper plant in the garden
If you have your peppers in pots, you can just roll them into a spot that gives some relief.  If they are in the ground, you can use a shade cloth, or a piece of picket fence or screen on the south or west side of the plant.  Or just wait for nature to take its course.
I have tried peppers in the ground and in pots.  They seem to do the best in a pot.  All the hot peppers I have ever tried are much more prolific than any sweet pepper I have tried.  I keep trying new types of sweet peppers, looking for a type that loves my garden conditions.  In the meantime, I plant a lot more sweet pepper plants than hot pepper plants.  
The small hot pepper that I overwinter is doing well.  It is the oldest form of capsicum annum species and is very hot.  These tiny hot peppers, I just put on the counter to dry.    When completely dry, I will put in a jar.  I use these peppers in the grilling mix I make. 
I gave a boost to all our garden plants with bat guano, feather meal, and kelp meal last week end.  Potted plants should be fertilized a couple of times a month and garden bed veggies, once a month.  I also use a natural, organic balanced fertilizer by Espoma.

Ancho/poblano pepper
Peppers dry easily.  The quickest way is to put in a dehydrator.  Just slice in half and pop in.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use your oven on its lowest setting.  This year, I have just been leaving them on the window sill and they appear to be drying just fine.  You can also put on a screen in the sun or hang in a dry place.  The watchout for drying outside is the level of humidity.  In high moisture, they may spoil versus dry.
Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies

I am growing Ancho peppers for chili pepper.  My hubby loves lots of chili pepper in his chili.  They are just starting to turn red.

The bigger hot peppers I freeze whole to use in salsa throughout the winter and spring.  Quick, homemade salsa  I chop and freeze the pimentos to use in salad.  It is a key ingredient in the salad we love from the Pasta House restaurant.  Homemade salad dressing recipes with garden herbs  Typically, any food gets soft when thawed.  The Pimentos I have chopped and frozen retain their firmness after thawing.

I also make hot sauce from the hot peppers.  It is super easy by slicing and placing in apple cider vinegar.

If you have a pepper plant that did great this year.  There are a couple ways to make sure you have them in your garden next season.  You can save seeds from your favorite peppers for next year's garden.  Just dry them and put them in a freezer bag in the frig.  Peppers are perennials that you can bring in to the house or garage to overwinter.  It gives them a jump on next season.