Sunday, December 17, 2017

Quick tip-”peeling” garlic

Sunday, December 17, 2017

If you have ever tried to “peel” fresh garlic, it can be maddening.  The thin, light paper covering each garlic clove is almost impossible to pick off and as you try to peel off the paper, you get sticky garlic juice on your fingers which the papers stick to like glue!

The secret is to smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a knife blade.  It is so easy to remove the peel after the clove is crushed!

They also make garlic crushes that you can throw the whole clove into and it squishes the garlic through the holes leaving behind the protective skin.  The cons are that it seems garlic is wasted and it requires clean up.

I recently bought a garlic "peeler".  It is basically a flexible silicone tube that you put the glove into and then roll it on a hard surface.  It works pretty well too.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts

Saturday, December 16, 2017

You can flavor sugar and salt with homegrown herbs, fruits, and flowers from the garden.  It is simple and fun.  Let your tastebuds and creativity run wild.  These are fun gifts as well.

Some ideas for flavored sugars:
Kumquat (the rind is sweet and citrusy)
Rose hips or petals (gives off a beautiful fragrance in tea)

Dry your ingredients first.  For citrus peels, rose hips, or rose petals, I let dry in the pantry on a paper towel.  For berries, I would dry in a dehydrator or an oven.  Herbs I put loosely in a paper bag with the stems upright to dry.  Harvesting and drying herbs  After they are dry, you can use a coffee grinder to grind to a fine powder, crush the herbs by hand, or for larger pieces, leave whole and mix 50/50 with organic sugar.

There are many flowers that are edible.  I love planting my edible garden in the flower beds.  It does double duty, provides beauty and attracts pollinators to have a more productive garden.  Here is a blog on varieties that are edible:  Flowers that are edible

For ideas on growing your own fruit in small spaces, Fruit for small spaces

For salt, you use fine sea salt to use out of a shaker or coarse sea salt to use in a grinder.  
Ideas for flavored salt:
Hot peppers

My favorite steak and grilled veggie seasoning recipe:
5/8 cup coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons small hot peppers
2 tablespoons juniper berries
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary
2 sticks of cinnamon or turmeric
1 1/2 tablespoons sage

This is great on anything you grill!

If you are thinking of starting a garden, herbs are the perfect start.  Most are perennials (come back every year) and they thrive on neglect.  You truly plant and forget.  A bonus is that herbs give you tons each season so are a great cost saver.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

You can easily make pretty gifts for others using herbs and flowers from the garden in pretty containers.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Great little veggies for small spaces

Egyptian walking onion in a pot
Sunday, December 10, 2017

It appears winter is here.  Before we know it, spring will be rolling back around!  Some seeds can be started 8-12 weeks before your first frost date.  This is January/February in our Zone 6/7 garden.   It will be here before you know it!

Winter is the time for dreaming of what you are going to plant and harvest next season.  I have already started getting seed catalogues!

If you are just starting out and have limited space, look for descriptions like “patio”, “compact”, “great for pots”, “container”, etc.  Here are some recommendations for your garden.

Greens-Pak choi or Toy Choy Pak Choi, arugula, leaf lettuce like Oak Leaf (for cut and come again harvests), Little Gem lettuce for whole heads, Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch Kale, Orach, Dazzle lettuce, Tennis Ball butterhead, Gala mache, Space Hybrid spinach.  The list goes on and on!  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

Onions-I grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot.  You can use the bulb for cooking and the tops as chives.  Chives and garlic chives are also great for small spaces or pots.  Egyptian walking onions

Beets-any.  I plant these around my pepper plants.  All about beautiful beets

Carrots-get the short ones like Atlas and Parisian.  All you need to know about growing carrots

Celery surprisingly does very well in a pot by itself.  It loves water so I would keep it by itself.  Give celery a try, an easy to grow garden staple

Chard as well.  Chard comes in beautiful colors, too, so you can plant them in your flower bed as an ornamental that you get to snack on.  For year round steamed greens, grow chard!

Cucumber-Bush Champion, Spacemaster, Rocky, Lemon.  How to grow cucumbers-in pots or in the garden

Eggplant-All I have tried in a pot grows well.  For flavor, I think the White Egg does very well and does not get bitter in the hot days of summer.  Other small varieties include Fairy Tale, Gretel, Hansel, India Paint, and Thai Purple Blush hybrid.  Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

A word about hybrids.  If you want to save seed, hybrids will not come back true to the “mother” plant.  You will want open pollinated or heirloom varieties for seed saving.  The strength of hybrids is that they have been bred to withstand different common diseases.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

Green beans-go for pole beans and use a trellis so they grow up.  If you don’t like removing the “string” that some green beans have, look for “stringless.”  We discovered a new variety we really liked from a Dienger Farms-an Italian flat green bean.  I looked up Italian pole green beans and I found the variety Roma, Supermarconi, and the yellow Bean Marvel of Venice, Bean di Spagna Bianco.  May have to try one of these this year!  Produces right up until frost.  The great thing about beans is that they make nitrogen so they fertilize the soil.  I plant petunias in the same pot.  Growing beans

Pepper in pot with petunias
Peppers-I have found that hot peppers do great in pots.  I plant one pepper type per pot.  Sweet peppers, like Bell, do best in the ground.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Summer squash - Bush Zucchini, Lunar Eclipse/Sunburst, Piccolo, Small Wonder Spaghetti squash.  Everything you need to know to grow squash

Winter squash-Acorn or butternut.  Plant where you are okay with them running on the ground or train them up a trellis.  You will get about 2 per vine.  

Tomatoes-look for patio or container types.  Varieties like Balcony Patio Princess, Balcony, Tumbler, Lizzano, BushSteak, Tumbling Tom to name  a few.  Bush types are also great for small spaces-Early Girl Hybrid Bush, Big Boy Bush, Baxter’s Bush Cherry.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

Couple of seed finding tips-you can do a seed search at Mother Earth News.  Here is the link: 

You can also get a listing of seed companies at Mother Earth News to see where they are located and what they sell (organic, biodynamic, heirloom, etc.).     

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Make your own lip tint!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Here is recipe that I got on for all natural lip tint you can make yourself!  Also a great gift idea for family and friends.
DIY Lip Tint 
1 teaspoon organic coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon beeswax pellets
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon organic beet root juice for color
1/8 teaspoon organic vegetable glycerin
Melt the chopped coconut oil and beeswax in a double boiler (bowl in a water bath).  When melted, add in the beet juice and glycerin.  When well incorporated, add to a small jar and you have your own homemade lip tint with all natural, or organic, ingredients.

DIY Lip Balm
1 heaping tablespoon beeswax
1 tablespoon organic shea butter
2 tablespoons organic almond oil
few drops of vitamin E oil
15 drops of pure essential oil like rose, grapefruit, orange or lemon

Prepare the lip balm as lip tint, using double boiler.  When beeswax, shea butter, and almond oil are melted, add vitamin E oil and essential oil, mix and immediately pour into lip balm containers.  You can add colorant to the lip balm as well.

If you want to make your own lip dyes, here is a list I got from 
Red cabbage: pink
Onion skins: orangey-brown to green
Strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and pomegranates: shades of pink and red
Blueberries, blackberries: blue to purple
Mulberries: purple
Turmeric: vivid orange
Cumin: yellow
Paprika: orange to red
Spinach: pale green to light yellow
Cherries (frozen): peach to beige
Barberry (all parts): yellow-orange

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Grow sprouts and microgreens indoors

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Winter doesn’t mean you can’t eat fresh, nutrition packed greens.  There are many that grow well indoors and many different ways of growing them.

Something easy and nutritious are sprouts.  I bought a simple, inexpensive sprout grower.  You can get seeds on line and in many grocery stores, nurseries, and big box hardware stores for growing sprouts and microgreens.  I like buying a seed mix so I get a nice variety of taste and nutrition.

Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition and so easy to grow.  There are all kinds of seed sprouting kits out there.  The one I have that I really like is 3 levels so you can have one that is fully sprouted that you are using with 2 in various stages of growth so you always have a ready supply of sprouts.

With a simple sprout grower, you can have nutritious sprouts of many different veggies, beans, and/or grasses in 3-5 days.  All you do is put a teaspoon of seeds in the grower and water it twice daily.

Sprouts are great on salads, in eggs, or just as a quick snack.  They are a beautiful garnish on any dish.

Microgreens are also very easy to grow indoors.  You can get variety seed packets of microgreens anywhere they sell seeds or on line.  You can reuse a plastic salad container or seed flat to use as a pot.  Just add potting soil, sprinkle the seeds down as instructed on the seed packet, tamp down gently, water, place in a sunny window and you will have microgreens in 10-21 days, depending on the variety.  To speed up sprouting, you can use a warming mat to boost the soil temperature.  Once sprouted, just cut with scissors and use or place in a glass jar in the refrigerator for keeping.

If there are still seeds visible after your initial harvest, you can wait and see if they will sprout or go ahead and start your next batch of microgreens.  I would compost the used soil and start with fresh to keep the chance for any soil diseases to develop low.  Be sure to sanitize your growing container before adding new soil and seeds.

Wheat grass is another great edible.  I put it on salads.  You can also juice it.  Wheat grass is a great alkalizer.  Today’s diet is so acidic.  Basically anything we eat besides leafy greens and some other vegetables are acidic.  Your body’s blood pH must stay between 7.35-7.45; anything above 7.0 is alkaline.  Wheat grass helps balance your pH.  Wheat grass is also a purifier of the blood.  There are wheat grass growing kits too.  Or you can use an old salad tub that you fill with potting soil and grow them right in the salad tub or seedling flat like microgreens.

Sprouts and microgreens mirror the taste of their grown counterparts.  Here are some reco's based on taste:
Spicy-mustards, arugula, radishes, sorrel, cress, basil, oregano
Mild-amaranth, chard, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, beets, kale
You wouldn't want to grow as sprouts varieties that produce a really thick stem like squash or melons.  These will just be chewy.

If you like to add color (which also adds different nutrients), be sure to include varieties like purple amaranth, neon chard, red kale, red varieties of mustard (Ruby Streaks, Giant Red), red-veined sorrel, red beets, purple basil, or many more.
The Power of Purple
Top 10 Nutrient Dense Veggies & Fruits

So, if you are wanting some fresh, nutritious, home grown food, it is super easy to grow any of these indoors year round!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Hugelkultur garden, a mounded garden bed approach

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Hugelkultur garden is an ancient form of "lasagna" gardening from Eastern Europe.  With this type of raised bed garden, you don’t even need to water.    Hugelkultur is German and means “mound culture.”  It is great way to use fallen trees and brush and adding an interesting elevation element to the garden.  

This time of year is ideal for starting your hugelkultur garden to give it time to begin decomposition to provide nitrogen and organic matter for your spring garden plants.  It is a great way to build soil depth in shallow top soil areas, to create a raised bed, and for gardening in dry areas.  The hugelkultur mound absorbs and holds the water from rains, releasing it back to the plants as they need it.

Basically, you build a mound out of logs and brush as high as you would like.  Keep in mind that your hugelkultur garden will settle over time.  You can dig it in a foot or just lay them right on top of the ground.  When you gather the logs and brush you want to use, you start with the largest at the bottom.  For the base, use at least 1-2’ of logs and brush.  Then, stomp on it.  Then add leaves, filling the crannies.  Then add the sod you cleared for the hugel garden.  Be sure to turn the sod upside down to smother the grass so it will decompose to feed the spring garden.  Add compost, garden waste, manure, and top with dirt, making a mounded heap with about 45 degree sides.

The taller the mound, the less the need for irrigation.  Some are over 6 feet tall!

As the logs and brush decompose, they create little pockets and organic matter; tilling and fertilizing themselves.  The garden fertility improves over time and the need to irrigate reduces over time.  You can plant in it the first year, but you will see improved results over time.  To help it along, plant legumes as they are nitrogen fixers.  Peas or fava beans in the spring or fall and green beans in the summer.  

The best would be to prepare the hugel garden in the fall so it will be ready for spring planting.  Another way to get a jump start would be to use new wood on the bottom and well rotted wood on the top layer to quickly release the nitrogen plants need for optimum growth.

You can edge the garden with logs, stones or nothing at all.

There are very few trees that are not the best candidates for this type of garden like cedar, black walnut, any treated or painted wood, black locust, or black cherry.  Hugekultur is a fun way to use a fallen tree or create an interesting raised bed.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

December 2017 Edible Garden Planner

Early December garden; chard in the foreground, herbs in the background
Sunday, November 25, 2017

December is a time of digging in and staying warm.  It may appear that everything is dead outside, but there is still life in the garden.  In the beds, sprouting broccoli, kale, cabbage, salad burnet, sorrel, rosemary, oregano, garlic, onions, lettuce, leeks, chard, dill, celery, sage, carrots, spinach are all still green in December.

Fresh herbs are just steps away from the back door.  Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials so you get to enjoy them almost year round.  You can also grow many herbs indoors as well like chives, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chervil, and basil.  Rosemary and bay are two to dig up and bring indoors to guarantee survival through the winter.  Just place your potted herbs in a sunny window.  Growing herbs indoors for winter

If you are using a greenhouse, your kale, celery, mustard, lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli are still happy under cover.  They will not grow much until sunlight gets back to 10 hours per day in late January.  Be sure on sunny, warm days to pop the top on your greenhouse or you will scorch your greens.      It can get 50 degrees warmer inside a greenhouse on a sunny day than the actual temperature outside.  Homegrown, organic salads in a Midwest winter
Cultivated dandelion in a pot

All cold crops are at their sweetest during the cold weather.  Frost brings out the sugars in cold crops.  Hardy greens like chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens, cultivated dandelion greens, and collard greens make great salads and are tasty steamed or braised.

Make sure if you have any potted veggies to put them on the ground if they are on coasters and move them to a sheltered area on the south side of the house to extend their growing time.  Placing straw bales around them or mounding mulch provides extra protection.  I also move them up against the wall.  This does double duty-southern exposure gets the most sun and warmth.  Pots left exposed creates a micro climate that is a zone lower than the ones planted in the ground.  If you are in Zone 6, be sure that plants left in pots are hardy to at least Zone 5 if you want them to come back in the spring.

Veggies like your favorite tomato, pepper, eggplant, or celery that you potted and moved indoors will continue to produce indoors if provided warmth and enough sunlight.  When you move them out in spring, they will have a jump start on fruiting and you won't lose your favorite plant!  I am bringing in tomato, eggplants, bay, pepper, lemon verbena, and goji berry plants for overwintering in our attached, unheated garage.  We place them in the sunniest spot in the garage and supplement with 4 foot fluorescent grow lights.
Chives in front, sage and rosemary in back
The Fresh Produce Buying Local Option
You can check on line to see if you have a farmers market in your area.  Many have farmers markets year round where you can get fresh produce, canned, baked goods, and meats locally grown.  Many that aren't open regularly will have hours before Christmas so you can get fresh, local ingredients for your holiday meal.  A great place for finding what is near you is the on line resource at

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  It is where you invest in a local farmer in January when they have to purchase their seeds and supplies for the upcoming gardening season.  You then get a weekly share of the farmers harvest typically from May through October.  There are even some winter CSA's now!

Before I started our own edible garden, we joined a CSA.  It was great.  We got lots of super fresh produce, our weekly grocery bill was significantly reduced as our meals were planned around the vegetables, and it was an adventure getting to try new recipes with veggies we had never ate before.   
Eat well, be healthy

A CSA shows you what grows well in your area.  You can find out the varieties you like and when they come into season.  You can even save the seeds from the varieties that you want to grow in your future garden if you partner with an organic CSA that grows open pollinated and heirloom vegetables and fruits.
What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

To advertise as “organic” you have to be certified.  Many farmers cannot afford to do this.  Some farmers participate in the "Certified Naturally Grown" program.  This is less expensive than USDA organic, but also relies on inspections by other CNG farmers, non-CNG farmers, extension agents, master gardeners and customers instead of USDA certified agents.  If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices.  Go visit them to see the garden for yourself before you commit.  You can also check out reviews on line. 

Where to find a CSA?  Again, a great resource is the web site at www.localharvest,org 

Many sell out by January so don’t delay if you want to join!

Preserving the harvest
It is easy to store winter squash in your pantry to pull out anytime.  We have eaten butternut squash from the garden all the way into June of the following year.  21 no tech storage crops

If you put garlic in your pantry and some have dried out, make garlic powder.  Just process the dried garlic in a coffee or spice grinder.  Now you have great flavor to add to burgers, sauces, or steaks. Quick tip-make dried garlic into garlic powder 

I take the herbs I had drying in paper bags and remove all leafs.  I store my herbs in quart canning jars.  I mix them all together for a homemade “Herbes de Provence”.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"  I used it on everything!  It is great in sauces, on meats, in dressings.  

Tarragon, thyme, sage, rosemary and chives
If you threw your extra tomatoes into the freezer and are now thinking it would be nice to have tomato sauce, canning tomato sauce is simple and easy to do.  I use Weck’s canning jars.  They are all glass so no worries about what is lining the lid.  And they are a really pretty shape.  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a funnel, and canning tongs.  A pressure canner is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes.  Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.  If the food is not acidic enough, it can allow botulism to grow.

I throw the entire tomato (de-stemmed) into the food processor.  Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds so you don’t have a bitter taste, but I have not noticed any issue with bitterness.

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 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.  Be sure that the pot is at a steady boil for the entire 45 minutes.  Remove from canner.  Let cool.  Remove the ring and test the seal after the jar is completely cool by gently lifting the jar by the lid.  It should not lift off.  That’s it!  

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 follow the recipe exactly as written to insure the right acidity for safe canning.

Winter is time to savor the fresh herbs from the garden along with what you have preserved, browsing for canning ideas, and planning next year's garden.  A potential Christmas meal using what is growing in the garden in December, Jazz up the Christmas feast with herbs from the garden

I use Christmas break as the time to finalize my garden plan for the spring.  I look back on my notes from last year's edible garden and this year's seed catalogs to decide what new varieties to add to my standbys.  
Your 2017 Edible Garden Plan
Reflecting back on the 2017 edible garden

For tips on choosing seed catalogs:  New seed catalogs are here!