Sunday, July 29, 2018

The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

Hummus-rich garden soil

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ever wonder why we need added vitamins and minerals beyond what we get through our food?  Over the decades, the food we eat has gone down in nutritional value as the soil has gone down in fertility.  Truly, we are what we eat.  The nutritional value of what we grow is part the type of vegetable it is and a whole lot of what the plant is “fed” from the soil in which it grows.  

It really all starts with the soil.  Plants grow to the lowest constraint.  Like people, plants need a balanced diet with beneficial microbes, minerals and nutrition.  Veggies can't create minerals, but they can take them up from the soil if they are there.  Healthy veggies can take up more from the soil and create more nutrition in the plant.  A healthy plant will have the most nutrition.

Saying all a vibrant, robust vegetable plant needs is NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) is like saying all a person needs is carbs, fat, and protein.  Those things are needed to survive, but you need much more to thrive.  Life is much more complex than three compounds!

When we think of the bouquet of the vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy, where do we think this comes from?  We can’t get it from osmosis!  We have to get these from what we consume.

I read a book recently by Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer called “The Intelligent Gardener; Growing Nutrient-Dense Food” that does a nice job of giving all the details about how minerals affect the tilth of the soil and the ability of the soil to support healthy, robust plants.  Steve is the guy that founded Territorial Seed Company.  

The minerals and nutrients we should be concerned about are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), sodium (Na), phosphorous (P), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), boron (B), Zinc (Zn), cobalt (Co), selenium (Se), silicon (Si) and molybdenum (Mo).  There are also other trace minerals that plants and our body needs.  It is a good idea to include Azomite or kelp to your garden quarterly during the growing season to supply the additional trace minerals.  I add 1 tablespoon per plant and water in.

Steve recommends getting a detailed soil analysis at the get-go.  For those just beginning to work with re-mineralization of the soil, he recommends Logan Labs for the testing.  You can get all the information you need on collecting the sample and sending off to the lab at      http://www.loganlabs.com/get-started.html.  Steve recommends the standard sample test.  At the moment the cost is $25.  They can also do a particle size distribution (clay, sand, silt) for an additional cost if you have been curious what your garden's soil type is.

When you get the results, Steve has posted a worksheet that you put your results from Logan Labs and it calculates for you what you need for amendments to get your soil super charged for growth and nutrition.  Here is the link:  http://soilanalyst.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/WorksheetRevision-03.pdf  It uses an acre as the basis.  For those of us doing small space gardening, just divide the number of square feet in your garden by 43560.  This will give you the pounds you need to add to your garden for each mineral on the spreadsheet.

It gives a summary of how to put your soil in balance with a worksheet at the end to enter the results from Logan Labs to calculate exactly what you need to add to your garden to get minerals at optimum levels.  He recommends going slow so as to not get any minerals in excess in your garden.  It is a lot easier to add minerals than take them away!
Victory Garden Poster from WWII
I also liked this spreadsheet from Logan Labs that gives by vegetable type their mineral needs:  http://www.loganlabs.com/doc/General-Guidelines-Vegetable-Crops.pdf  This can be handy if you are focused on one type of crop that you want to maximize your yield.

For most of us backyard/flower bed veggie gardeners that grow a variety, Steve’s spreadsheet is the way to go.  You can also do side dressings of amendments specific to certain veggies to give them a boost.  I do this for my fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of minerals which these veggies are susceptible to. 

If the whole spreadsheet thing is just more complicated than you want to worry about, Logan Labs provides a service for giving you what you need to add to your garden.  There is also a listing on the SoilAnalyst web page:  http://soilanalyst.org  You can use an on line calculator from Erica that costs $9.50/year unlimited usage.  Here is the link:  http://growabundant.com/membership-account/membership-levels/  All you have to do is input the numbers from Logan Labs and it spits out the amendments you need.

If you are applying minerals to mulch and not tilling in, I would recommend to add the minerals in early winter and then a balanced fertilizer in the spring.  This gives time for the minerals to get down to where your roots will be growing in the spring.  

As you prepare your bed in the fall or spring, you should add fertilizer.  For a balanced organic fertilizer, here is what Steve recommends from his book for 100 square feet of garden space:
2 quarts oilseedmeal (soybean, cottonseed, or canolaseed meal)
1 pint feathermeal 
1 pint fishmeal
1 quart soft/collodial rock phosphate or bonemeal
1 quart kelp meal or 1 pint Azomite
1 quart agricultural gypsum

Once you get your soil in balance, you can keep it that way by recycling back what you take out by composting and using a balanced fertilizer.  Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors  We do a combination of making our own and getting more that we need from a local horse farm.  Just be sure that if you get your compost from someone else that they are not using a systemic herbicide on their fields.  Herbicides don't know the difference between a veggie and a "weed".  

A quick chart showing the loss of minerals and correlation to disease:  http://www.ecoorganics.com/sick-soil/  Feed your soil, feed yourself.

If all this is a little too much for you, then be sure to add a nice thick layer of compost, use organic fertilizer per instructions on application rate, add Azomite for minerals per the instructions, and cover with mulch this fall.  By next spring, your garden will thank you.

Fall is a great time to put in any new garden beds you have been thinking of so the bed is teaming with worms and ready for planting the spring.  It is really easy to do.  You simply put down cardboard to smother the grass and then use the layers of compost, fertilizer, minerals and mulch.  Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed

Interplant your veggies in your new flower beds and get the added benefit of built in pollinators that come to see your flowers and weed suppression with mulch  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What's happening in the late July edible garden

Butterfly on zinnias in the garden
Sunday, July 22, 2018

We are harvesting eggplants, summer squash, peppers, sprouting broccoli, herbs, onions, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, and lots of tomatoes.   We are getting steady amounts of rainfall on most weeks so only the pots are needing water consistently.  Have had to water the beds twice all summer.  The flowers are very happy, too! 

Both the hot and sweet pepper plants have peppers on them.  Am getting ripe peppers consistently.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Tomatoes are producing very well this year.  We have gotten more rain and heat than usual this year.  Our grass is still green in late July!  The plants greenery are full and tall.  We started getting tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers since the first of July.  The cucumbers just started producing.  The bumblebees love them!  The vines are alive with buzzing with lots of bees every morning.   

Oregano in bloom
I harvested our garlic a couple of weeks ago and is getting hardening in the shade on our outdoor, covered deck.  Garlic harvest time is near!

Our basil has been slow to get started but is now off to the races.  I will take my first harvest next week end, cutting down to the first few sets of leaves.  It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Oregano is in full bloom.  The bees love the purple flowers!  It could be cut and dried now, but I love the flowers and will wait until fall.  Harvest and preserve your herbs

Lettuce gone to seed
I fertilized all the pots again as well as the veggies in the garden.  It is good to fertilize pots biweekly and garden plants monthly during the growing season to give them the nutrition they need to produce well. Summer garden tips
  
The lettuce has gone to seed.  When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  I also re-seeded our Earth boxes with some of the seeds.  I had a few small volunteer lettuce plants elsewhere in the garden that I transplanted to the Earth boxes as well.  The lettuce seeds I planted last month are full size and I have been harvesting from them for a couple of weeks.  I could also transplant them to the garden.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

In the greens department, summer is a hard time for most greens.  Sprouting broccoli, different types of sorrel, arugula, dandelion greens, corn salad and herbs are all available.  The heat increases the sharpness of greens.  Succession planting of lettuce and planting types that are resistant to bolting can keep your lettuce crop going.  Plant them in the coolest part of the yard where they are not in full sun all day and get shade in the afternoon.  Pots are a good option to be able to move them to the cooler part of the yard.  Growing summer salads  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

Our zucchini plants have not kicked in yet.  Once they do, you have to be creative to keep up with all the fruits they pump out.  I just love grilled zucchini!  I also found that using it as a substitute for pasta or lasagna is a great way to use them.  You can also dry them to use in soups or roasts over the winter.  What to do with all that zucchini?!

The annual flowers are really rocking in the garden right now.  The daylilies, marigolds and zinnias are doing extremely well this summer.  They attract all kinds of beautiful butterflies and moths as well as bees.  I love watching all the bees and butterflies that are visiting the garden.  

Summer garden is in full swing!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Preserving the tomato harvest


Sunday, July 15, 2018
The tomato plants are producing faster than we can eat them right now.  There are so many recipes that fresh tomatoes can be used in-salsa, salads, bruschetta, cucumber/tomato/onion salad, on burgers, on sandwiches, on pasta, the list goes on.  So, what to do when you are eating tomatoes at every meal and still have them coming?  It is time to preserve them!

I freeze, dry and can my excess tomatoes.  

Be sure to put the date and description on each freezer bag and quart jar.  You may think you will remember the date they were frozen, but to be on the safe side write the type and date you bagged them.  Use the oldest first and all within a year.
Tomatoes sliced and in quart freezer bag
During peak season for any produce, you can get the lowest prices at your neighborhood farm or farmers market.  In many cases you can get a huge discount for any bruised or blemished tomatoes.  These are great to use for preserving, just be sure to remove any soft spots.

Right now, I prefer to freeze them because it is so hot that I don’t want to turn on any heat generators inside the house.  For cherry type tomatoes, I just half them and throw them in a quart freezer bag and put in the freezer.  For larger tomatoes, I slice then put them in freezer bags.  They thaw much quicker this way.  They will have a fresh taste when thawed and used for salsa, sauces, or chili.  

When it cools, I start drying and canning.  I take all the tomatoes still left from last year and can those.  I use this year's for freshly frozen and dried.

I just love “sun dried” tomatoes right out of my own dehydrator.  You can dry them in the oven too if your oven temp goes down low enough. 150-200 degrees F is recommended and the lower the temp, the redder the dried tomato.  The higher temps will cause the dried fruit to darken.  It will take 6-10 hours for the tomato to dry.  You want to make sure they are completely dry or they will mold in the jar.  You store your dried tomatoes in a quart jar to use until next year.  
Chocolate and black tomatoes oven dried

Only a water bath is needed for canning tomatoes because they are acidic.  Make sure you follow a sauce recipe exactly as it is critical for keeping to the right acid level.  I use Weck's canning jars.  They are all glass so no worries about what is in the lining of the lids.  And they are a really pretty shape.  They are made in Germany.  I haven't found any all glass canning jars made in the USA, unless you get the antiques.  

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal funnel, and tongs.  A pressure canner is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes.  Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.  For more on canning, see  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

I throw the entire tomato (without the stem) into the food processor.  Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds because they can impart a bitter taste.  I have not had any bitterness in my sauces and there are lots of nutrition in the seeds and peels so I make use of the entire fruit.  I also use all types of tomatoes and not just the paste tomatoes.  Paste tomatoes are meatier and make a silkier sauce which is nice for soups.  I always have a paste tomato in my garden and try to have one per bag when I freeze them.  My favorite paste is the heirloom Italian Paste.  It provides lots of huge, red tomatoes.

This is a good time to save the seeds from the best, biggest, tastiest tomatoes for your garden next year.  I take the seeds and put them in water to let them ferment.  Those that float are not viable.  I remove these, lay the good seeds on a paper towel to dry thoroughly, then place in a zip lock bag with the date and variety to use in next year's garden.
Sauce in Weck canning jars
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.

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!  

I will can any frozen tomatoes I have left over from last season as I start bringing in the harvest for this year.  It takes about 12 quarts of frozen tomatoes yesterday to make 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 and are pretty to boot.

Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas (Quick, homemade salsa), pickles (Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix), and relishes.  Consult with a canning book for more tips and always be sure to follow the recipe exactly to ensure they safely keep.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Use plants to repel mosquitos

Purple flowering Holy Basil on right and marigolds on left

Sunday, July 8, 2018

There are many herbs that work just as well as chemicals to repel mosquitoes.  Here are a few powerhouses:
Rose scented monarda-contains geranoil an ingredient used in some commercial natural repellants
Lime basil-great for cooking and repelling the pesky blood suckers
Catnip has been found to be more effective than DEET in studies
Holy basil-you can use seeds floated in water to kill mosquito larvae
Thyme-repels as well or better than DEET
Herbs also do well in pots so you can put them right where you need them!

Flowering catnip in the background
Natural mosquito trap:
Use a quart jar.
Mash 1 cup fruit and allow to ferment in the sun 1-2 days.
Mix fermented fruit, 3 teas sugar, 1/2 teaspoon boric acid, and 2 drops jasmine essential oil in the quart jar with a lid punched with several 1/16” holes in lid.