Sunday, July 31, 2016

Flavored water and sodas from the garden

Blueberry and raspberry soda

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Plain water is just that-plain.  So many people go to sodas or other sweetened, store bought drinks for refreshment.  There are other home grown options, fresh from the garden!

Here are a few flavored water recipes
For these infusions, place ingredients in a half gallon of water and allow to meld overnight.  Shake, then strain into serving container.  Chill for a refreshing, tasty water!
Lemongrass, mint and vanilla-1 large stalk of lemongrass, chopped and crushed, 1/4 cup fresh peppermint coarsely chopped, and 1/2 large vanilla bean or 1 teas vanilla extract.
Cardamom, orange and vanilla-1 large sliced orange, 1 tablespoon crushed cardamom pods, 1/2 large vanilla bean or 1 teas vanilla extract.
Blackberry, rose and vanilla-3/4 cup blackberries, 1/4 cup rose petals, 1/2 large vanilla bean.
Refreshing cucumber mint-1/2 cup chopped and crushed mint with half a sliced cucumber.

Of course, there is always the old fashioned favorite!  Lemonade or limeade-simply squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice into water.

1/8-1/4 teaspoon of stevia can be added to any of the above for added sweetness with no sugar or carbs.  Too much stevia can impart a bitter taste; a little goes a long way!  

Stevia is an herb high in antioxidants that is very easy to grow and overwinter in your garage.  You can find them almost anywhere that herbal plants are sold.  Dry the leaves and use to sweeten anything.  Stevia can also be purchased at the store.  I would stick with the whole herb to get all the antioxidant benefits.

I bought a book called "Stevia naturally sweet recipes for desserts, drinks and more!" by Rita DePuydt that has great ideas for using stevia to cut down or eliminate sugar and carbs in many sweetened foods and drinks.

Making your own vanilla is easy, too.  Just buy vanilla beans, slit them open and place 4 of them in 1 cup (8 ounces) of premium vodka and allow to infuse for 4-6 months.  If you want to speed up the process, shake weekly and it will be ready to use in 8 weeks.  As you use it, you can just re-top.  Very inexpensive way to have real vanilla.

I buy cardamom at Whole Foods in the bulk spices department or on-line.  There are many options on Amazon.  Cardamom is a great spice to add to hot tea, too.  It is very warming.  A great addition when cool fall temps arrive.

Cucumber and mint

You can make your own sodas at home!  
For a fruit flavored soda, use 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of sugar (more or less depending on how sweet the fruit is that you are using), 1 cup apple cider vinegar.  Heat the sliced fruit, 1/2 cup of sugar, and vinegar over high heat until it boils.  Reduce and simmer until fruit is soft and sugar dissolved.  Add more sugar if too tart.  When cool, mash the fruit and strain liquid into a jar.  Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.  For a soda, add 3 tablespoons of syrup into 8 ounces of carbonated cold water.

If you want to go the sugar-free route, substitute 1/2 teaspoon powdered stevia extract for the sugar.  Again, be careful in not overdoing the stevia; too much imparts a bitter taste.  You can use a combo of stevia with agave nectar, sugar or honey to find a sweetness you like.  The less sugar you use, the better for your health.  

For a homemade ginger ale, slice 1/4 cup of ginger root and 1/2 lemon or lime, 4 cups of water, simmer in pan for 20 minutes, strain into a glass jar, add 1/2 teaspoon of powdered stevia extract.  Add equal amounts of ginger liquid and sparkling water.

You can do the same thing with mint, basil, rosemary, lemon verbena, cilantro, or dill.  These syrups can be used in sodas or in adult beverages like the mint julep, margaritas, daiquiris, martinis, gin/vodka gimlets, gin and tonics, sangrias.  Let your imagination run herb wild!

There are relatively inexpensive carbonators available nowadays as well.  If you drink a lot of soda, this could be a very cost effective, nutritious approach.

For tips on growing the ingredients, here are some blogs:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

August 2016 Edible Garden Planner

Saturday, July 30, 2016

August sees the full production of the summer garden harvests.  Late sweet corn (plant corn in succession and different varieties to lengthen the harvest), summer squashes (like zucchini), peppers of all types (sweet to hot, hot), tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, cucumbers, okra, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, beans, melons, figs, eggplant, honey, artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, onion, tomatillos, and fennel are all in season right now.  

A secret to maximizing your peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, and zucchinis is to harvest them continously.  A plant’s driving force is to reproduce so by continuing to harvest, it causes the plant to put on more fruits.

Continue to fertilize with a natural, organic fertilizer every month for veggies in the ground and biweekly for those in containers.  When fertilizing, scratch the fertilizer into the soil around the plant.  If you leave the fertilizer on top of the ground, you will need twice as much as the nitrogen will off gas into the atmosphere if not covered.

Keeping consistent moisture to your plants is key.  Irregular watering causes tomatoes to crack.  Water weekly, being sure to water deeply at the base of the plant and not on the leaves.  Many warm weather lovers like squash, tomatoes and cucumbers are susceptible to fungal diseases.

If you had any lettuce from early planting, they will have bolted by now.  Take the flower heads off and save the seed.  You can shake the seeds into your self watering pots to get your fall lettuce growing.

Planting for fall and winter vegetables
I know it sounds crazy, but now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests.  You need to plant early enough for your veggies to be full size when frosts hit.  Add 14 days to the days to maturity listed on the seed packet and back it up from your last frost date.  

Daylight hours determine the growth rate of plants.  Since the days are getting shorter, it will take longer for the plants to come to full maturity in the waning daylight hours of fall than the lengthening hours of spring.  By the first of November, all growth has come to a full standstill until the beginning of January.

You can pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, as well as herbs at many big box stores and nurseries since gardening has become so popular. 

Fall planting guide for cool season crops
August is the month for the rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, peas, fava beans and turnips.  

In September, plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  October is the month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......

For more details on varieties to plant, Fall garden planning and planting
Caring for your new seeds and transplants
Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep seeds and transplants moist until they get their first real set of leaves and are well established.  Then water as needed.

Many crops you can harvest into December and beyond, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter!

A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year.  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.
10 tips for a sustainable garden & yard

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What's happening in the mid-July garden

Butterfly on zinnias in the garden
Sunday, July 17, 2016

We are harvesting Japanese white egg eggplants, zucchini, peppers, green beans, sprouting broccoli, herbs, garlic, onions, and a few tomatoes.   We are getting steady amounts of rainfall each week so only the pots are needed water.  The flowers are very happy, too! 

Both the hot and sweet pepper plants have peppers on them.  So far, the sweet pepper Tangerine is the only one with ripe peppers for harvest.  The Pimento has peppers that are getting close.  Most of the hot pepper plants are covered in green peppers so it should not be long for them.  The habanero has blooms but no peppers so far which is unusual for this late in the season.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Tomatoes are not producing as much as is typical for this time of the month.  We have gotten way more rain than usual this year.  Our grass is still green and lush!  The small tomatoes have given us a few ripe ones.  The plants greenery are not as full as normal and have had baby tomatoes on them for weeks.  Peppers and tomatoes are both pollinating by insects.  With all the rain we have had again this summer, it is likely washing away the pollen, impacting the production of fruits.  

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 have sprouted, but aren’t quit ready to transplant.  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 kicked in and we are now getting 1-2 zucchini fruits from each plant each week.  I just love grilled zucchini!  I also found that using it as a substitute for pasta is a great way to use them.  What to do with all that zucchini?!

We had another 2.5" of rain this past week.  Looking ahead, the extended forecast is calling for 90’s and a slight chance of rain.  If we don't get any rain this week, I will water the garden beds next week end.  

Summer garden is in full swing!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Fruit for small spaces

Orange tree on the left, fig in the center, kumquat on right
Saturday, July 16, 2016

There are many options for growing your own fruit in small spaces today and more come on the market every year.

We are growing apples, figs, passion fruit, goji berries, strawberries, kumquats, and oranges.  The kumquat and orange trees are growing in the house during the winter and taken outside each spring.

You have 3 options with apple trees.  You can grow columnar apple trees which do great in pots (this is the kind we have), you can purchase a dwarf apple tree that you can espalier against a wall, or you can put an apple tree in your landscape.  Apple trees require full sun and either a second apple tree or crabapple tree in the neighborhood to pollinate with to get fruit.  Apples are ready to harvest in summer, fall or winter, depending on the variety.  Our “Scarlet Sentinel” columnar apple tree ripens in late September.

A fig tree is cool looking and very easy to grow either in the landscape or in a pot.  We had ours in a pot for 5 years and recently put it in the ground.  We got great fruit from it throughout the summer.

Ripe figs
If you decide to put your fig in a pot, this will lower the zone it can survive the winter in by at least one zone.  You can always bring the fig in for the winter, either into your home or a garage.  We have a a “Chicago Hardy” fig that is hardy to Zone 6.  It can grow to a height of 25 feet if planted in the ground.

You can eat your figs fresh, dry them or make them into preserves.  Growing “exotic” figs

“Maypop” is a hardy passion flower vine that survives down to Zone 5.   It is a very hardy vine so either grow it in a pot or make sure it is blocked off from being able to expand into other areas.  They taste a lot like guavas and their flowers are beautiful.

I grew the goji berry vine from seed.  Goji berries are high in antioxidants and easy to grow.  They are self fertile so only one is needed to produce fruit.  They are a vining shrub that can grow 8-10 feet at maturity.  If you keep them in a pot, they will remain smaller.  They are hardy down to Zone 6.

Strawberries are another easy to grow perennial fruit.  They prefer full sun and should be planted in the spring.  There are two types of strawberries, June bearing or Everbearing.  June bearing have one large harvest in early summer whereas the everbearing types produce berries from spring through fall.  They enjoy a rich soil so plant with lots of compost and bone meal.  If they begin to decline in production after 4 years, plant new plants in a different area of the garden.
Back yard strawberries  

There are a couple of blueberries that are compact and acceptable for small landscapes, “Draper” and “Tophat.”  Draper is a bush that grows to 3-4 feet.  Tophat is a nice little bush that can easily be grown in a pot.  It grows to a mere 16-24” high.  Blueberries require an acidic soil, a pH of 4-4.5.  Blueberries are self pollinating, but you will get a lot more fruit if you plant two bushes.  You get fruit in the summer.  If you have an extra, you can easily freeze or dry.

Honeyberry is another fruiting bush and they bear in late spring/early summer, as early as two weeks prior to strawberries.  They are a blue oval type berry and is hardy in Zones 2-8.  The “Smokey Blue” reach 3-4 feet in height, making them a good candidate for a pot as well.  They are high in antioxidants and taste similar to blueberries.  Two are needed for pollination for fruiting.  No special soil type is needed, but prefer partial shade.

Another fruit for small spaces is kiwi and they are hardy for Zones 3-9.  These are vines that can grow to 10-20 feet.  You can use these over an harbor or on a fence.  A male and female are required.  They prefer a part sun location.  The foliage of the Artic Beauty is beautifully variegated with pink, white and green leaves.  These vines fruit in September.

For raspberry lovers, the “Shortcake” variety is a thornless dwarf that grows to a 2-3 foot mound.  It can easily be grown in a pot and is self fertile so only one plant is needed to bear fruit.  It is hardy in Zones 5-9 and fruits in mid-summer.  Both raspberries and blackberries prefer full sun.

“Doyle’s” thornless blackberry plant can be grown in a pot and can produces enormous harvests of fruit.  In the ground it can reach heights of 7 feet.  It is hardy in Zones 3-10 and bears fruit in the spring to early summer.  Another option is the dwarf red blackberry which grows to 1.5 feet in height. 

A slow growing fruit tree that reaches a height of 12-15 feet is a native to North America is the pawpaw.  It tastes tropical with a banana/mango like flavor.  It is also high in protein, vitamins and minerals and hardy to Zone 5.  The fruits weigh around a pound each and are ready to pick in late summer/early fall.  Two plants are required for the tree to bear fruit.  Foraging for wild edibles

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fall garden planning and planting

Fall garden

Sunday, July 3 2016

I know it seems crazy to even think of fall in this heat wave we are having, much less start planting for it, but it is actually time!  When you think of fall gardens, think of the veggies that thrive in the cool temps of spring.  Summer is when you have to get your fall garden sown.

Daylight hours have a significant impact on the growth rate of plants.  Since the days are now getting shorter, it will take longer for the plants to come to full maturity in the waning daylight hours of fall than the lengthening hours of spring.  By the first of November, all growth has come to a full standstill which lasts until the beginning of January.

To know when to plant for fall harvest, first find your area’s first frost day.  Then, look at your cool season crops seed packet.  It will have days to maturity.  Add an extra 14 days and back it up from your last frost date to know when you should sow your fall garden seeds.  For frost date, here is a link you can use.  

Good choices for fall planting:
Root crops-Beets, Burdock, Carrots, Celeriac, Kohlrabi, Parsnips. Radishes, Root Parsley, Rutabaga, Salsify, Scorzonera, Turnips
Greens-Chard, Lettuce, Mustard, Collards, Chicory, Kale  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens
Brassicas-Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower  Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips
Choose varieties that have terms like cold hardy, frost tolerant, overwintering to extend your season into early winter.  

Below are some general planting times for cool season crops for our Zone 6/7 garden:
Beets, carrots, Asian greens (pak choi, tat-soi), cilantro, collard greens, endive, escarole, frisee, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard, onions, parsnips, scallions, and Swiss chard.  Use transplants for broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage.
The rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, snap peas, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, and turnips.  Peas and Fava beans can be planted in August for spring harvests in Zone 6 or higher.  
Plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  September is also a great month for starting perennial veggies, fruits, and herbs as well as flowers, trees and shrubs.  Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden
The month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.  Order your favorites early as many sell out quick.

Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep them moist until they get their first real set of leaves.  Then water as needed.  I like to start my seeds in self watering containers in shade.  Self watering pots that have water reservoirs in the bottom of the pot.  This really helps keep the soil moist.
Indoor seed starting tips
Ideal soil temperatures for seed starting

There are some cool season crop seeds that don't like to sprout in temp's that are too warm for them.  Lettuce is one.  You may have to start your lettuce seeds indoors and then move outside if your soil temperature is 80 degrees F or above.

Many crops you can harvest into December and beyond, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter.  More on that as time gets closer.......