Saturday, August 26, 2017

September 2017 Edible Garden Planner

Sunflower in the foreground, red okra in the background

Saturday, August 27, 2016

End of summer is a great time to tidy garden beds and harvest herbs.  As the days get shorter, growth slows and before long the sun cannot support all the greenery from summer.  Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers will keep producing through frost.  Keep the fruits picked to keep them producing.  You can also sow seeds of cool weather lovers for fall and early winter harvests.  

Harvesting Herbs
This is the perfect time to harvest your herbs.  You can cut them back so they remain lush, improving the tidiness of your garden, and providing herbs for the winter ahead.  Cutting them back will help the plants build stronger root systems.  Trimming does encourage new growth as well.  You just don't want to prune too close to frost as new growth makes the plant less hardy.

I dry my herbs to preserve them.  I put loosely in a paper bag in a dry, warm area out of the sun and let dry naturally.  Loose is the key here so they get good air circulation and do not mold.  They should be completely dry in about 3-4 weeks.  I like putting them in clothes closets to dry as they release such great fragrance and the darkness helps keep the flavor in the herb.

Once dried, remove the leaves from woody herbs and store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.  With a soft herb like chives, you can just crumble into the airtight container.  I use wide mouth canning jars for herb storage or freezer bags kept in a dark location.

If the winter is not a bad one, most perennial herbs like chives, oregano, sage, savory, and thyme can be harvested year round straight from the garden.

Fall planting guide for cool season crops
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......  Buy early because the most popular varieties sell out early.  I will plant the best cloves from this year's harvest.  I have both regular garlic and elephant garlic to plant.  I like elephant garlic because it produces such huge cloves.

You can pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, as well as herbs at some nurseries since gardening has become so popular, buy them on line or grow from seed.  Everything that loves spring also thrive in fall into early winter.  Lettuce is a favorite for fall.

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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tips for deciding on a dehydrator

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Drying fruits and vegetables is another great way to preserve the harvest.  It also does not require any special gadgets to accomplish.   You can dry with a cookie sheet and an oven.  If you live in a dry area, you can dry outside in the sun.  In humid areas, this does not so work well.  You could build a solar oven and use it outdoors.  The trick here is to keep the temperatures low enough that you don't cook the food, but just dry it.

You can look on-line for recipes, times and temperatures for drying your favorite produce.  Fruit leathers, dried peppers, and “sun dried” tomatoes are very popular.  We have even made jerky in ours.

If you want to go the dehydrator route, there are a few things to think about.  We did a great deal of reading on line when we bought our dehydrator.  You want a fan to push the air so that all areas of the oven get good air circulation and keep an even temperature.  You want a temperature dial that has a range of 100-150 degrees F.  You want to have removable, washable racks.  We also didn’t want any plastic parts so we went with all stainless.  This isn't as important if you are drying food at lower temperatures and do not wash the racks in the dishwasher.

I really like going to Amazon because you can read how real people like the appliance they purchased.  We went with a Weston and have been happy with it.  Excalibur, STX, and TSM also make stainless models. Other well known brands are LEM, Nesco and L’Equip.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Herbes de Provence, just about everyone has heard it and it sounds really fancy, but is actually very easy to make from your own kitchen herb garden.  The origin is simply a mix of herbs that were typically grown in a French kitchen garden called a potager.  

You get a huge amount of herb from each plant.  It is so simple to dry them and make your own special herb mix.  You'll find that you actually get enough from only one herb plant of each kind that you will have enough for year round cooking and to make Christmas presents for the entire family!

“Herbes de Provence” contains herbs that are typical of the Provence region of southern France and are grown in French potagers (kitchen gardens).  These are the herbs typically used in cooking by the French in this region:

The French gardeners didn't actually mix them all together into a spice mix.  This was the idea of a spice company in France and has spread throughout the world.  Today, these spice mixes aren't actually grown and processed in France, but in central/eastern Europe, Africa and China.

You can easily grow these herbs and make your own spice mix.  All are perennial herbs with the exception of basil and rosemary in northern climes.  You can keep rosemary and basil n a pot and bring them indoors to overwinter.

Herbs are the easiest thing to grow in the edible garden and how I got my start.  1 tablespoon of fresh herbs is equal to 1 teaspoon of dried herbs.  For more on growing herbs, click here  Start a kitchen herb garden!


Purple lavender
White lavender
Some mixes also contain lavender flowers.  Lavender is not actually used in southern French cooking, but can be a fun addition to the spice mix.

I save my lavender to use as potpourri and scented oils.  Lavender is also great to put in closets to make them smell fabulous and to deter moths.

Another fun way to use dried lavender is mixing with sugar.  
Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts


Creeping thyme
English thyme
Thyme comes in many forms and flavors.  You can grow variegated (leaves are green and white) lemon thyme, creeping thyme, orange thyme, English, German, or French thyme.

The leaves are best when in bloom.

Thyme is used in many dishes.  Suits food particularly well that are cooked in wine.  If using fresh, a little goes a long way.  

Thyme is a key ingredient in poultry seasoning as well.  Make poultry seasoning with your own garden herbs

Oregano/marjoram are of the same family.  Oregano and marjoram are cold sensitive perennials.  I have been growing my oregano in Zone 6 for 5 years and it comes back faithfully.  Oregano is also called wild marjoram and marjoram is also called sweet marjoram.  They are very similar in form and taste.  The pollinators love oregano’s tall purple blooms.  For preserving, gather just before the flowers open.
Common rosemary is a tender perennial and does not survive the winter in our Zone 6 garden.  There are hardier varieties of rosemary that you can get like ARP and Barbecue.  They are said to be hardy to Zone 5.  I keep trying them in our Zone 6/7 garden but so far have only been able to get them to survive one winter at best.  I am trying ARP and a new hardy variety this year Tuscan Blue.  Eventually, I will find one that likes my garden well enough to stay permanently.

You can always keep your rosemary in a pot and bring indoors to over winter.  If you live in warmer zones of 8 or above, rosemary can become a very large bush reaching 5 feet tall!
Young rosemary plant
There are two types of savory-winter and summer.  Winter savory is a perennial and summer savory an annual.  The leaves for drying should be picked just as the flower buds are formed.
Winter savory
Everyone is familiar with basil.  Basil is used in so many dishes.  One of our favorites is pesto.  It is great in tomato sauces, as an infusion for oils or vinegars, or in salads.  Basil was found to be growing around Christ’s tomb after the resurrection so is used by some to prepare holy water.  Pick leaves when young.  The more you pick, the bushier the plant becomes.   Pick often!  
Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Basil in August

Tarragon is a less common herb here.  There are two varieties-Russian and French.  The French has a more “refined” flavor, but is not as hardy.  The Russian is hardy and the flavor improves the longer it grows in one place.  Tarragon spreads underground like mint so it can be a good one to grow in a pot.  It grows 2-3’.  Tarragon can be harvested anytime.  Don’t cut more than two thirds at a time.  I like to add tarragon to salads.  It is also popular as an infusion for oils and vinegars, to flavor chicken and is a key ingredient in BĂ©arnaise sauce.

Sage is a perennial and comes in a variety of flavors and colors-clara, pineapple, purple, tricolor, gold variegated, prostate, and purple variegated to name a few.  They are a required ingredient in my mother-in-laws stuffing.  Use your own herbs for your Thanksgiving dinner    Sage smells wonderful too to add to potpourri, as a tea or all by itself.  Make your own teas!

Tricolor variegated sage

Since these herbs naturalized in the Mediterranean region, they enjoy dry conditions so they do not need to be coddled.  They grow easily under any conditions, except wet.  They hate wet feet so err to the side of dryness.

Fall is a great time to start any perennial, including herbs.  Many big box stores are carrying herbs and fall plants so you don't have to wait to next spring to start your own herb garden!  Many grow easily from seed, too.  It is fine to start plants this time of year and plant out in the garden.  Just be sure to harden off for the heat as you would for the cold in the spring and keep moist.

How to dry your herbs?  I do my harvesting this time of year into the fall.  I cut them back and place the stems loosely in paper bags to dry.  Hanging the bags so they get good air flow.  You can also place on screens or tie the stems together and hang to dry.  However you choose to dry your herbs they only thing to remember is to not put too many together.  If there is not enough air circulation the herbs will mold.  

After drying, I strip the leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container out of the sun.  I use either ziplock bags or quart canning jars.  Once processed, I take equal parts of each herb and mix together to make my seasoning mix.  I use my seasoning mix on and in all kinds of dishes-for grilling meat and veggies, salad dressings, pasta sauces, roasted chicken, seafood.  For more on harvesting herbs:  Harvesting and drying herbs

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What's happening in the early August edible garden

Pic of edible garden this morning
Sunday, August 6, 2017

August sees the full swing of the summer, warm season 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, and fennel are all in season in the Midwest.  

If you are not growing these in your own garden, your local farmers market is a great place to pick up these seasonal veggies to either eat or preserve.  The best buy and taste on any fruit or vegetable is when it is in season.  You can get even better deals on any produce that has a few blemishes which have no effect on the flavor.  If you are going to can, freeze or dry them, just be sure to remove any blemishes first.  Preservation garden

I pick what to have in our garden based on the harvest per foot of garden space needed.  Our garden is incorporated into the flower garden mulch bed and in pots so we have to be choiceful on what to grow.  Grow what you love to eat, too.  It won't be a lot of fun to have a bumper crop of veggies you don't really like.  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

In pots, we have great luck with  Egyptian walking onions (which can be harvested year round), peppers, eggplant, greens, sweet bay, and celery.

Since we have expanded our mulched flower beds, I am growing more in the ground.  I do use vertical space for the green beans and cucumbers, growing pole types on trellises.  You can also use trellises for squash or grow bush types that stay compact.

So, what is doing not so well in the garden this summer?  I have lost a zucchini and 2 cucumbers to wilt.  This happens when they are bitten by a cucumber beetle that transmits the bacteria to the plant.  It is a good idea to plan to replant new zucchini plants in mid-summer.  I have small plants ready to put into the garden today.  I'll direct sow more cucumber seed as well this week.  They are quick growers so will be producing within a month or so.
Newly sprouted zucchini, ready to be transplanted

Most of my tomato plants are not doing great this year either.  I have several that have many branches that have shriveled and died.  My neighboring gardeners are seeing the same.  I planted many tomato plants and even had extras in pots to plant out in case something like this happened.  I planted these out last week.  

It is likely a soil borne fungus causing the issue.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash are all susceptible to fungi.  I am still getting plenty of tomatoes from my collection, but it is not going to be a bumper crop year!  To keep soil born diseases to a minimum is to practice crop rotation.  

Peppers, eggplant, green beans and okra are doing great this year.  It is my first time growing okra.  They are a cool looking plant.  I got the red variety which makes a very pretty plant and fruit.  Their flowers are like creamy hibiscus blooms.

I have been trying many different types of sweet peppers to find some that produce as well as hot peppers.  Hot peppers are really prolific.  So far, I am pleased with my sweet pepper varieties. 

The flea beetles are having a field day with my eggplants.  They love to eat holes in the plant's leaves.  I go out and squish them regularly.  They don't eat the fruits, but with the damage to the leaves stunts the plants ability to produce fruits.  We have orange, purple and white fruit varieties this year.  Err on the side of picking early versus late.  Leaving the fruits on too long makes the skins taste on the bitter side.

The bean vines are super happy this year.  They had been doing fantastic until the last week.  We had a heat wave for a couple of weeks that crimped the plants bean production.  They say you don't need to fertilize beans after they are planted unless their leaves start yellowing.  Growing beans  I fertilized them all this week end to give them a boost.  Too much fertilizer will cause them to focus on greenery versus fruits.  This is true for all fruiting plants.  More is not better.
Beans on trellis
I planted brussel sprouts this year first the first time in several years.  They are in the same family as broccoli.  I am having pest problems with them just like the broccoli.  I need to not plant anything in the broccoli family for a year or two.  Without a favorite food source, they will die off.  Meanwhile, I have been picking them off and spraying with insecticidal soap for this year's plants.

The lettuce and spinach bolted long ago.  It was not a banner year for the lettuce, but the spinach did great!  I made sure to fertilize both well.  They are heavy nitrogen users.  I always use natural organic fertilizers like Espoma or for an extra boost of nitrogen, blood meal or bat guana.

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.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver