Sunday, July 29, 2012

What to do with all those tomatoes??

Friday, July 27, 2012

It is peak tomato season!  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.

Whole, small tomatoes, ready for freezer
Dried tomatoes
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.  Use the oldest first and all within a year.

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 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.  
Freshly canned tomato sauce
When it cools, I start drying and canning.  I just love “sun dried” tomatoes right out of my own dehydrator.  You store your dried tomatoes in a quart jar to use until next year.  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.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Time to plant for fall & winter harvests

Friday, July 27, 2012

August is the month to sow arugula, beans, beets, carrots, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, collards, cucumber, edamame, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, okra, onions, parsley, old fashioned parsnips, peas, radish, rutabaga, scallions, sorrel, squash, spinach, swiss chard, and turnips.
Transplants of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, and scallions can be planted this month also.
To know when to plant, back up the maturity date from your first frost and add 2-3 weeks as growth will not be as quick in cool fall weather as it is in spring.
Some lettuce seeds have a hard time sprouting if night time temperatures rise stay above 70 degrees.

You will need to keep the freshly sown seeds damp.  This can cause the dirt to crust over, creating a hard surface that the sprouts cannot break through.  A couple of options to prevent this.  Just depress the soil and put the seed in it without covering; watering will bring enough soil over to provide the cover needed or you can just use organic potting soil to cover the seeds.   

Another option is to plant in plastic flats you have around the garage.  You can more easily put these where they get some shade and are the most convenient to water.
I like putting some mycorrhizal fungi and worm compost in with the soil when I plant.
Don’t forget that garlic is planted in October.  If you wait too long, the variety you want can be gone.  Now is the time to browse the catalogs and order what you want to plant.  They will mail them when it is time for planting in your area.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Growing “exotic” figs

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Potted fig with fruits

Figs seemed like an exotic species that was not something that I could grow in the Midwest.  There are some fabulous ways to prepare and use figs in food.  How does fig preserves on a warm buttered croissant or chewy fig and almond cookies or blue cheese stuffed baked figs, or picked fresh, sliced and used in fresh salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar sound?  My figs usually don’t survive long enough to cook with them; as soon as they are picked I am eating them like candy.  Yum!
I was paging through Logee’s magazine that specializes in fruiting, rare and tropical plants and saw fig trees.  What surprised me was that there are hardy varieties of figs that survive down to Zone 5 if planted in the ground.  The tree will need to be mulched in the fall and in colder climes will die back to the ground.  For pot cultivation, you need to go up a Zone or place the potted plant in the basement or garage.
I bought the Chicago Hardy Fig 3 years ago.  I have kept it in a pot that I bring indoors in late fall.  It drops its leaves for about a month in winter.  It is now taller than I am.  If I put it in a larger pot or planted it in the ground, it would produce much more fruit.  
Fresh figs in salad
Figs do not require any special care.  They will produce even if you only have one (like mine).  I have not had any pests problem at all with them even when the plant next to it in winter suffers from aphids or scale.  The fig seems impervious to them.
I enjoy the fruits I get from it.  When I get more ambitious, I will put it in the ground so I have lots of figs to eat fresh and preserve.  For preserving, they can be canned, dried or frozen for up to 3 months.
Figs are also nutritious and low cal.  For every 8 oz serving, they have the following: 30% of your daily fiber, 15% of your daily potassium and manganese, 79mg of calcium, all for only 167 calories.  A medium fig contains about 10g of carbs with a glycemic index of around 3.
Figs hail from the Mediterranean region and southwest Asia.  They have a long and rich history.  Fig leaves were used by Adam and Even in Genesis to hide their nakedness.  Figs have been cultivated since ancient times for fruit and may have been the very first plant that was raised for food, starting more than 11,000 years ago in Jordan Valley.  This is thousands of years before grain.   

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It is pepper harvest time!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

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!

Beautiful red Pimento pepper, ready to harvest

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.
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.
Last year, all my peppers were in pots.  My sweet peppers did not produce as well as my hot peppers.  I decided to try my sweet peppers in the ground this year and plant more of them to have more fruits.  Well, I have not gotten more sweet peppers.
My spicier peppers like Ancho and Pimento are doing great in their pots.  I have been getting fruits off them for the last month.  The potted Pasilla bajio pepper for mole sauces and the Jalapeño planted in the bed have not been very prolific either.  I am hoping now that is not in the 100’s they will perk up.
As the temps start getting back into the low 90’s this next week, I will give them a boost of liquid bat guano and kelp when I water.

Ancho/poblano pepper
I am planning on drying the Ancho peppers for chile powder.   I’ll also dry and freeze the Pasilla baijo pepper to experiment with mole sauces this fall.  We love warm foods on fall football game day!
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.
The Jalapeños and cayennes I freeze whole to use in salsa throughout the winter and spring.  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.  Typically, any food gets soft when thawed.  The Pimentos I have chopped and frozen retain their firmness after thawing.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Quick tips on harvesting your onions and garlic

Friday, July 13, 2012

How do you tell if your onions or garlic is ready to harvest?  Well, they tell you.  Their tops fall over and start turning brown.  

Onions and garlic "seasoning" outdoors

Garlic and onions are edible at any stage.  Their flavor just gets more intense as they grow and the temperatures rise.  
If you want to keep them over the winter, you should look for varieties that are “keepers.”  Typically, the sweeter the onion, the worse it is at storage.
To “season” your garlic or onions for storage, pull them, leave them in the garden until the tops wilt, then put them in a warm, dry place for at least two weeks.  There are many recommendations for this.  Some say to leave them in the sun, others say the sun changes the flavor of your garlic and gives your onions a sunburn, some say to leave them in the shade, others say to hang them indoors.  All will work as long as they are kept warm and dry.
I am splitting the difference and leaving them where they get sun and shade each day.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What are you harvesting now?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It is the first of July.  We have been in a heat wave for weeks now and little rain.  In general, veggie gardens need ~1 inch of water a week.  In heat like we are having, tomatoes can drop blossoms and peppers become sunburned.  

If you still have lettuce, they cannot dry out or they will bolt and become bitter.  My second crop of lettuce is just to harvest size for cut and come again.

To keep from having blossom end rot on tomatoes and squash, consistent water is key.  They shouldn't be overwatered.  Over or under will affect the fruit flavor.  They are kind of like Goldilocks; they like it just right.  No worries, though, if you do overwater, the fruit will be fine, just not as flavorful and may crack.

I would have thought our tomatoes would have come early this year, but they are still green.
Peppers are starting to ripen.  We have green peppers, ancho, pimentos, cayennes, and jalapeños all ripening nicely.  They can be picked when green or after turning red/brown/orange/yellow.  Peppers seem to have a built in counter.  They will drop flowers when the plant has reached its max peppers.  Pick the peppers when green to keep the plant producing. You can ripen on the counter, if you like, or go ahead and enjoy green.
Our zucchini is going strong.  We have been getting zucchinis for the last 3 weeks.  You have to watch zucchinis every day.  Those little ones become monsters in just a few days.  When we left on on vacation 5 days ago, they were just tiny, when we got home, we had one huge zucchini, 1 nice sized, and one of good size.  They all tasted great.  The only drawback of the large zucchinis are the large seeds, but I like them.  We grill ours and they have a nice, sweet flavor!  If you don’t like the large seeds, you can always make wonderful zucchini bread.
Our cucumber vine, which I have growing up a trellis to save space, is giving about a cucumber a week.  One cucumber is enough to make a jar of sandwich pickles.  My husband loves sandwich pickles on his burger.  Any extra I put in salads.  They taste so fresh right off the vine.
Looks like many of our onions are getting very close to harvesting.  Onions tell you when they are ready.  When their tops fall over and turn brown, it is time.  They should be pulled and left in the shade for a couple of weeks to season them for storage.
Our sprouting broccoli is still going strong.  I love these plants!  You can use the leaves for salad and tops for cooking.  There is not many greens that are not bitter this time of year for salads.  These sprouting broccoli taste just like broccoli.  
Other greens that can be used in salads.  Chard harvested first thing in the morning, dandelion greens, and succession planted lettuce (which doesn’t last long before bolting) are all salad worthy.  You can adds herbs for a fresh taste and zing like salad burnet, parsley, basil, dill, onion stalks/tops, chives, thyme, oregano.  For fun, you can add edible flowers.
The sage is going strong.  My mother read recently that you can use sage tea to help with hot flashes.  You can have up to 5 teas a day.
Winter squash has babies on them.  They will not be ready to harvest until late fall.  They also tell you when they are ready.  When the vine dies, the squash is ready.