Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hugelkultur gardens-raised mound gardens



Sunday, September 28, 2014

I have read about this type of garden and am definitely go to try it out soon.  Fall is the best time of year to build one!  It is an ancient form of sheet mulching 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.

Basically, you build a mound out of logs and brush as high as you would like.  You can dig it in a foot or just lay them right on top of the ground.  Start with the biggest logs you have.  You can build the pile 1-2’ of logs and brush.  Then, stomp on it.  Then add leaves, the sod you cleared for the hugel garden, compost, garden waste, manure, and 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.



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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

Tomato sauce in glass canning jars

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Canning is a great way to preserve your own harvest.  You can also buy organic produce that is on sale from your local grocer or from your local farmers market.  When the produce is in peak season, it is the most healthful and the least expensive of the year. 

When you can, you have to follow the recipe exactly to make sure it is safe to eat.  When canning acidic foods like fruit or tomatoes or anything using vinegar or sugar, you can likely use only a water bath.  All other canning requires a pressure canner to get to high enough temperatures to kill off the bacteria that cause botulism.

Here are some web pages and resources to use:
motherearthnews.com/canning
Mother Earth News “How to Can” app
National center for home food preservation  http://nchfp.uga.edu
USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning http://goo.gl/pwrxd
Home Canning  www.homecanning.com 
“Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” book
“The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving” book

Many of the lids in today's canning jars contain BPA, a chemical that studies suggest act like estrogen in the body and babies and young children are especially susceptible to its effects.  In 2012, BPA was been removed from baby bottles banned by the FDA, but is still found in many products including conventionally canned foods.

In my quest to have toxin free canned goods, I bought a 1946 canning booklet from Amazon.com “Steamliner Pressure Cooker-Instructions for Cooking and Canning”  so I could learn how to use the old fashioned canning jars I had bought at antique stores.  It was fun to read, complete with recipes!

Okay, I thought, could I do some canning?  My Granny canned during the summers I spent with her when I was little.  We were growing tomatoes in our little flower/veggie garden and my husband loves those big slice pickles on his burgers. 

My handy Ball canning book revealed that tomatoes, fruits, and pickles are high acid so they do not require a Pressure Canner; only a water bath was needed.  Makes it an inexpensive experiment.

I read that many canning lids also contain BPA.  So, what other options were there?  I found these beautiful glass lids in an antique store.  I also bought the jars with the wire closure.  All I needed now were the rubber seals and some directions!

Old fashioned canning jars, 1946 canning pamphlet, Weck's glass canning jar
I searched the web to see if I could find any instructions on how to use old fashioned canning jars.  No luck.  Then I went to Amazon to see if there were any books on it.  I found a 1946 pamphlet “Steamliner Pressure Cooker-Instructions for Cooking and Canning.”  Success!  It was great fun browsing the pamphlet.  It was also very thorough in its instructions on how to use the old fashioned canning jars.

I went on line and ordered a variety of seals, sticking with ones that were not made in China and were natural rubber.  I wasn’t able to find any that fit well with my cool, old fashioned jars.  I also learned that the glass lids needed very tall rings to seal properly to the modern Mason jars.  The modern rings you can get today were just too short to close properly.

Back to square 1!

Then, I ran across an advertisement for these beautiful glass jar with glass lid made in Germany-Weck’s (it is the second from the right in the pic).  Finally, a non-toxic jar!

Later I discovered a plastic lid that is also BPA free that can be used with modern jars made by Tattler, made in the USA since 1976.  They are a seamless replacement for the metal lids with today's canning jars.

The Weck’s work great.  Easy to use, easy to know that the seal is good, and beautiful to look at.  I highly recommend them.  Since I started using these glass jars, I have seen other European makers of all glass jars and lids available, like Terrina Ermetico and Bormioli Rocco.

All you really need when canning high acid foods is a tall stock pot with lid, tongs, a stainless steel spoon, a towel to put the hot jars on, a cutting board to stage the hot jars, and your canning jars.

Here is a link to my blog on how to make tomato sauce:  
Preserving the tomato harvest

And a link to how to make pickles:
Easy, homemade pickles

Happy canning!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What's happening in the mid September garden

Early fall bounty-tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, herbs, eggplant

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The plants that like this kind of weather are tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, Egyptian walking onions, cucumbers, the Mediterranean herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, chives, savory, dill, tarragon and thyme and all types of greens.  We are preserving for year round eating everything we have extra right now.  It is so rewarding to know that we can eat food we grew year round.

In the last week, we have seen the temps go from the highs in the 90's to the highs in the 60 and 70's.  Quite the change!  It definitely feels like fall is on its way.

We just went through and fertilized with an organic fertilizer from Espoma.  With natural fertilizers you don’t have to worry about “burning” your plants as they slowly release into the ground.   This may be the last time we fertilize this season. You should fertilize about once a month through the growing season.  You don’t want to shoot too much nitrogen to your fruit producers as you can end up with all leaves and no veggie fruits.  

It is important to get all your winter and overwintering veggies and greens up to full size prior to early November.  The days are so short come November that there will be minimal growth from November to mid January.

Our garlic has finished hardening.  It is recommended you leave garlic and onions you want to store in 80+ degree temperatures in the shade for a couple of weeks.  Ours have been hardening on the deck for about 6 weeks.  It is now ready to plant in the waning of the moon next month.

All of our veggies and herbs are doing well with the exception of the zucchini.  We are still getting some fruits, but they are producing slowly and the plant is starting to die back.

The chives, rosemary, tarragon, dill, and sage are all doing quite well.  The Egyptian walking onions are thriving.
Dwarf cherry tomato, cultivated French dandelion, and marigolds

The tomatoes we planted are still producing well, both the dwarfs and full size plants.  We have gotten quarts and quarts in the freezer and have canned 9 half liters.  When the tomato season is over, I'll thaw many of the frozen quarts and make more sauce.  It is much nicer canning in cool weather!

Our spicy pepper plants are doing fine.  They are on the smaller side this year.  We just didn’t get many jalapeƱos.  The cayenne pepper plant is full of green peppers.  The Cajun Belle has given up.  

The sweet bell pepper plants have always produce less than the spicy peppers in our garden.  This year I tried some different sweet peppers and have had much better luck.  The sweet yellow banana and Nikita peppers have been very productive this year!  I have gotten plenty to munch on and freeze.

So far, I have only gotten 6-7 pimentos (have 4 more on the plant) and several baby chocolate bell peppers.  I am getting enough pimentos to freeze for the Pasta House salad we love to make, and eat.  The Poblano, Ancho, and Anaheim peppers are doing quite well.  We will have enough peppers to dry for chili powder all winter.  
Nikita sweet pepper plant

For peppers, if you want to maximize the harvest, pick them as soon as they get to full size versus letting them fully ripen to red, yellow, or orange on the plant.  This stimulates the plant to produce more.  If you let them ripen on the plant, the taste will be sweeter.  I compromise and take them off just when they start to turn.  They complete ripening on the counter in a few days.

I had 3 cucumber plants.  Two have been doing very well.  I get about 4 cucumbers off them each week. They are so crunchy and flavorful right off the vine!  Any extras go into pickles.

I am transplanting lettuce plants from the small tray self watering pots into the Earthbox planters and into the garden.  We keep them well moist so they sprout and grow quickly.   

I had also reseeded the Earthbox last week end and there are little lettuce and spinach growing.  We will cover the Earthboxes with a small portable green house later this fall so we can have salads throughout the winter.
Earthbox with lettuce sprouts from seeds last week coming up


I planted chard transplants in the garden bed from the pot I had it in, too.    Chard comes in such beautiful colors.  They are perennials so should come back next year if the winter is not too harsh.  Since the Farmer's Almanac is calling for another cold winter, we'll do extra mulching in late fall to protect the perennial greens, veggies, and herbs.

Make sure you save the seeds from your best and longest producers to plant in your garden next spring.  I also save seeds from organic produce I get from the store that is really good.  Last week end when we were at the grocery store, there were these beautiful burgundy and dark green striped tomatoes.  I bought the biggest, prettiest one they had.  We enjoyed the tomato and saved the seeds.    Next year, we'll be able to have them in our own garden!

This week we found "Black Italian Prune Plums." We bought them for a friend who likes to make jam.  They made beautiful, delicious burgundy colored jam.  She saved the seeds for me.  I researched them and found out that they are actually heirloom "Damson" plums.  I have put them in moist Sphagnum moss in a ziplock and will store in the frig over the winter.  Next spring, I'll plant those that have sprouted.  They produce fruit in 4 years and are a pretty tree that will be a nice addition to the yard and the pantry.
Black Italian prune plums, "Damson"


This fall, we will have arugula, mustard greens, lettuce, chard, blood veined sorrel, garden sorrel, French and Italian dandelion, spinach, lettuce, purslane, corn salad, celery, chives, parsley, arugula, and sprouting broccoli for salads.  Peppers, eggplant and tomatoes will produce until the first freeze.  The Egyptian onions will produce all through winter.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What to do with all that zucchini?!



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ah, zucchini.  One of the first summer veggies to fruit.  You know summer is officially here when your zukes are flowering and producing nice long fruits.  By mid-summer, the novelty has worn off.  By August, you can’t give the things away!  I even saw a box in my local hardware store with free zucchinis!

So, what’s a gardener to do with all that excess bounty?  Well, you can donate them to a food pantry, you can preserve them in a few different ways, or you can use them in ways I’d never even thought of!  

For preserving, you can freeze them, can them or dry them.  I don’t care for canning zucchini as they are not acidic enough to just use a water bath; the full pressure canner set up is required.  You could pickle them, lowering the pH enough to use a water bath.  There are all kinds of fun pickling recipes out there.  Adding peppers is a way to add zing to an otherwise bland taste.  Just make sure you follow the recipe exactly as the proper pH is critical to safe canning.

I am exploring the freeze and dry methods.  For freezing, first slice them, lay them on a cookie sheet and freeze them.  After they are frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag.  When you need a few, they are easy to get out of the bag.  If you put them into the freezer bag fresh, they will freeze together.  I am trying a few frozen whole.  With a sharp blade, I can slice them when I need them, kind of like frozen cookie dough.

For drying, slice and either use a dehydrator, the sun or your oven.  Zucchini has a great deal of moisture so it will take a while to completely dehydrate.  You can speed the process by salting, squeezing out the excess (cookie sheet weighted down on top of another cookie sheet is an easy way to do this) for about 15 minutes, then either popping into the oven, setting them out in the sun or placing in a dehydrator for a couple of hours should do it.  Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn if you are using an oven.  Recommended temp for drying is 120-200 degrees F max.

I ran across some recipes in Capper’s magazine that looked tasty: zucchini spaghetti and meat balls, stuffed baked zucchini, and zucchini parmesan.  I have tried a variation on the baked zucchini and the zucchini parmesan and both were quite good.

They have this nifty little gadget called a spiralizer that you put a zucchini in and it will make nice long spaghetti noodles.  You can use them just like spaghetti but with no carbs or gluten.  Cool, huh?  Just toss with your favorite sauce and serve.

Grilled zucchini is tasty with sea salt and olive oil.  It is one of our standbys.  Just be sure to not heat your olive oil above 340 degrees F; the smoke point of this delicious, nutritious oil.

There is also fried zucchini.  It is easy to make.  Just whip up 3 eggs with a little milk.  Mix together 1/2 cup of cornmeal with a 1/4 cup of flour, salt and seasonings to taste.  Dip the zucchini slices first in the egg batter then in the dry meal.  Place in 350-375 degree F oil and fry until golden.  If you are going to eat by itself, using a Cajun season salt adds a welcome zing of flavor.

For any extras you have, you can freeze them, too.  Just put a single layer on a cookie sheet and let freeze through.  Then, put all the pieces into a freezer bag.  You can pull out any time you have a craving for fried zucchini!  Just thaw and warm up in the oven.

The baked zucchini was good.  Take a large zucchini, cut in half and scoop out the seeds.  Stuff with your favorite meat stuffing recipe and bake until the zucchini is tender at 350 degrees F.  Mine took about an hour and a half to become tender.  Top with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and put bake in the oven until cheese is golden and bubbly.
Zucchini lasagna

There was a recipe in the magazine for zucchini parmesan.  Basically, you layer sauce, sliced Italian sausage, breaded and fried zucchini to fill a baking dish, then top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese golden and melted.

We didn’t have any Italian sausage, so I made up a stuffing mix which is below.  I just then layered sauce, then breaded and fried zucchini, then meat stuffing until the baking pan was full.  For my pan, it was 3 layers of each.  Then top with mozzarella and parmesan and into the oven at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted.

I was amazed at how delicious the zucchini lasagna was.  It is low carb, gluten free, full of just harvested veggies and a great way to utilize the bounty from the garden!

Here is a meat stuffing mix I really like:  1 small diced onion, 3 eggs, 1 piece of whole wheat toast crumbled, 2 teaspoons of ground garlic, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper, 2 teaspoons of dried mixed herbs from the garden, and a half pound of burger (bison, grass fed beef or venison).  Just mush it all together by hand.  When combined, use to stuff the zucchini or layer as part of the zucchini lasagna dish.

Another option would be to wrap the stuffing in zucchini creating zucchini cannelloni.  Stuff, wrap, cover with cheese and bake until cheese is warm and bubbly.

Then there is the ever classic zucchini bread. Recipes abound on the internet and cookbooks for this perennial favorite.

Now you have several ideas for fully utilizing all your wonderful zucchini besides the compost pile :  )

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Time to set out transplants for fall, winter, & spring harvests



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Now is the time to put out your transplants for your winter garden.  Winter producing varieties are the really hardy cold crops that thrive in the cool temperatures of spring, fall and winter. To get the longest harvest possible, look for varieties that say “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production.”  

With cover, the following will allow you to harvest all winter: arugula, beets, chicory, corn salad, lettuce, mustard greens, parsley root, radicchio, radishes, spinach, and swiss chard.

The following don’t require covering: brussels sprouts, winter harvest cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, bunching onions or Egyptian onions, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, salad burnet.

Any perennial greens can also be planted now.  Your perennial greens and overwintering varieties are the first up in the spring.

If you didn’t start seeds, big box stores, local nurseries and even mail order nurseries have begun to have fall planting veggies so you can still get transplants to plant in time for fall, winter, and spring harvests.

*Asparagus (planted now for spring)
*Sprouting broccoli (will come back in the spring, too)
*Cabbage (at this point, look for ones with the shortest days to maturity)
*Carrots (can be pulled all winter)
*Chard (will survive winters if placed in a sheltered area and mulched)
*Collard Greens (a southern favorite)
*Corn salad (also called Mache)
*Egyptian walking onions (harvest all winter in a pot or ground)
*Garlic, shallots, leeks (can be planted into late next month)
*Kale (may survive all winter into spring)
*Lettuce (can germinate at temps as low as 40 degrees F)
*Mustard greens (love Giant Red and Ruby Streaks)
*Bunching onions (depending on type, ready to harvest Oct-Dec)
*Overwintering onions (all onions can be left in the ground in Zone 6)
*Overwintering peas
*Radishes (can be pulled all through winter)
*Rutabaga
*Salad burnet (a perennial has a fresh cucumber/cilantro taste)
*Sorrel (a perennial that has a tart taste kind of like Granny Smith apples)
*Spinach (many survive the winter to mature in early spring)

Your transplants will grow quickest in the earliest part of fall, slowing down as daylight hours decrease.  From November to mid-January, there will be minimal growth.

Fall and winter harvested veggies are at their crispest and sweetest after a light frost.  The cold temps concentrate the sugars, making them extra yummy!