Saturday, November 30, 2013

December Garden

Saturday, November 30, 2013

December is a time of digging in and staying warm.  There is still life in the garden.  In the beds, kale, cabbage, salad burnet, sorrel, rosemary, oregano, garlic, onions, lettuce, leeks, chard, dill, celery, carrots, spinach are all still green in December.

Fresh herbs are just steps away from the back door.  You can also grow most herbs indoors as well like chives, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chervil, and basil.  Just place your potted herbs in a sunny window.

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.

All cold crops are at their sweetest during the cold weather.  They make great salads and are tasty steamed or braised.

The Buying Local Option
There are several winter farmers markets in the area.  The West Chester Farmers Market is open one Saturday each month:  January 18, February 15, March 15, and April 22 from 2-3:30 pm.

If you would like a nice Saturday drive, Oxford Farmers Market is every Saturday from 10-Noon.  Findlay Market has hours Tuesday-Sunday throughout the winter.

The Central Ohio River Valley (CORV) Food Guide has a complete listing of the farmers markets in our area 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 from May through October.

Before I started our own 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.

If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices.

Where to find a CSA?  You can do a search on www.localharvest,org or go to the CORV Food Guide site  For one close to Wetherington, “Just Farmin’” Steve & Barb Willis grow heirlooms using organic and natural practices.  You can contact them for a garden share at 513-238-9795 or via email at  They are about 5 minutes from our community at 6887 Devon Dr., Liberty Township, Ohio.

Many sell out 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.

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.  

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.

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal 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.

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.  Remove from canner.  Let cool.  Test the seal after the jar is completely cool.  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.

Garden Corner Recipe:  Herbal salad dressings
You can use your fresh herbs to make your own salad dressings to pair with your homegrown greens.  Here are a couple we like.

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 or chives, garlic, dried onion ( ½ teas), salt ( ¼ teas), and pepper ( 1/8 teas) to taste.  If the mayonnaise is too overpowering, I substitute yogurt.

Apple mustard vinaigrette is another easy, healthful dressing.  Mix together 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots, honey to taste, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 Tbl water, 2 Tbl country style Dijon mustard, ¾ teas salt, ¼  teas pepper.

Feel free to experiment with different herbs that you like!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Quick tip-olive oil, the best and purity

Ojai Olive Farm in California
Saturday, November 23, 2013

My sister shared recently an article that not olive oils are what they say they are.

How do you decide what kind to purchase to minimize the risk that you are getting what the label says?  I would buy an organic olive oil that is extra virgin, cold pressed from an estate.  Extra virgin is oil from the first press of the olive.  Cold pressed means that heat or chemicals have not been used so the oil is as close to the olive as you can get.  Buying an estate olive oil means it is coming directly from a specific olive farm.  With their estate on the label, their reputation is on the line.

There are olive farms in California and Texas in the US.  The olive oil from our US growers are typically estate olive oils.  Many Italian olive oils are a blend of olive oils from many different olive tree farms.

You can buy from a grower you know or have visited. When visiting family in California, we took a tour of a great little family run olive farm Ojai Olive Oil.  You can order from them on-line. 

We have a family that has an olive orchard in Greece that live in West Chester, Ohio, that comes to our local farmers market.

You can also adopt an olive tree and get the oil from it.  One program is in Texas from an organic olive farm.

I have also found estate olive oils at TJ Maxx.  They get in some really fun specialty foods here.

If you just want to go to the supermarket, I buy from Whole Foods.  They check out the companies that they sell in their stores.

Look for the date that the olive oil was pressed and bottled.  You want oil that is within 1 year of bottling.  A fresh oil will have a much stronger, grassy taste, full of nutrients.  Nutrients fade with time.

If you decide you want flavored oil, be sure to use dried herbs.  Just add 1/3 cup of dried herbs, let set in a dark place for 2-4 weeks, strain out the herbs, and you have oil flavored with your favorite garden herb ready to start dressing up homemade dishes!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Quick tip-make your own hot sauce

Homemade hot sauce
Saturday, November 9, 2013

If you had a bumper crop of spicy peppers and want to make your own hot sauce, it is super easy and inexpensive!  All you need to buy is apple cider vinegar. 

I take a pint jar and either use fresh or frozen Jalapeño peppers.  I slice them in half and fill the jar, add 5-10 cloves of garlic and cover with Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar and let sit for a few weeks in the pantry.  I then put all contents in the jar into a food processor and put back into the jar.

We use hot sauce to make wings for football game day watching.  We grill the chicken wings, then put into the sauce and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

For the sauce, I use about a half jar of the pickled garlic and peppers with 3 tablespoons of butter, 1/8 cup of Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons of bacon grease.  If you would like a thicker sauce, use 1 tablespoon of corn starch dissolved in cold water and then add to hot sauce.  Let simmer for 5 minutes and it is ready for the wings.

You can use any hot peppers you have.  Have fun and experiment until you find a taste that is perfect for you.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What’s happening in the early November garden

Cabbage in pot
Saturday, November 2, 2013

Well, we had our first hard frost on October 25th in our Zone 6 garden.  The temperature got down to 28 degrees F.  It was cold enough to bite the tomatoes, eggplant, sunflower, zucchini, morning glory, dahlias, and jalapeño plants.  

The zucchini is done.  It really has not produced for the last few weeks anyway.  The rest of the pepper plants (Ancho, cayenne, pimento elite, sweet red banana, or the jalapeño in the garden bed) did not seem to be affected by the frost.

I could have used a fabric cover to protect these cold sensitive veggies and they would have been fine for this temperature.

We had already harvested all the basil.  If we had not, the leaves would have been killed and turned black.

There was not enough damage to the tomatoes, eggplant or pepper plants to halt the fruit production.  The next 10 days do not show any temperatures down to freezing so I will leave them growing.  The next time the forecast has the temperatures going into the 20’s, I will harvest all the peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant fruits and call it a season for these summer veggies.
Some of the last of the summer veggies-peppers, tomatoes, eggplant
You could bring the peppers indoors and they will continue fruiting for weeks and put them back out in the spring to get a head start on summer.  I get enough hot peppers off each of the plants to eat and freeze that I won’t do that this year. 

You could also put the potted tomatoes, eggplant and peppers in a greenhouse and lengthen the season for at least another 4 weeks. 

The cold season crops like lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, collards, spinach, onions, mustard, sorrel are very happy.  The celery is still going strong.  It doesn’t seem to be affected by heat or cold.  We harvest from it year round.

The rest of the herbs are doing very well-thyme, savory, oregano, chives, dill, rosemary, sage, bay, parsley, lavender, mint.  

Don't forget your local Farmers Market if you want local and freshest produce in season.  Many are open all winter long!