Sunday, December 31, 2017

Black eyed peas for prosperity in the New Year

Black eyed peas and collard greens

Sunday, December 31, 2017

It is a Southern tradition to have black-eyed peas to usher in the New Year. My grandmother was originally from the hills of Tennessee and moved to southeast Missouri as a young girl.  Everyone I know that grew up in southeast Missouri has 'em on New Year's Day.  

History of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas were first domesticated in West Africa and widely grown in Asia.  The "good luck" traditions of eating black-eyed peas for the New Year go as far back as Babylonian times (2500 years ago).  The tradition then was to have bottle gourd, leeks, black-eyed peas, beets, spinach, and dates as they were all symbols of good luck.

This Jewish tradition was brought to the southern US in the 1700’s.  Today, the good luck Southern meal includes peas for prosperity, mustard greens for money, and pork for moving forward.  Cornbread is also part of the meal, but just for its sweet goodness.

George Washington Carver encouraged the planting of black-eyed peas because they fertilized the soil, are nutritious and very affordable.  Black-eyes peas are chock full of nutrition.  They contain protein, calcium, vitamin A, and lots of fiber.

Recipe for your good luck peas
To cook black-eyed peas, I add some ham and diced onion and simmer in chicken broth.  You can add vinegar or some hot peppers for a different taste.

Growing your own peas
Black-eyed peas are a warm season crop that is not susceptible to pests or disease.  They are not actually a pea at all, but a bean.  Beans should be planted after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.  They are very drought tolerant so little watering is needed.  I start my beans indoors in April and set out around Memorial Day.  They are fast growers so direct seeding in the garden works great, too.

If using just for fertilizing, legumes (peas and beans) should be cut before they start producing pods as the production of the seed pods use up a lot of the nitrogen fixed in the roots.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

A side benefit of growing black-eyed peas is that the flowers produce copious amounts of nectar for pollinators, like bees.  Be sure to not use any pesticides on your black-eyed peas as they will kill the bees, too.

For fresh peas, you harvest the beans when the pods are 2-3” long and the peas have begun to swell.  After harvesting, simply shell the peas into a freezer bag (don’t forget to label with type and date).  By harvesting the fresh peas, it will encourage more pods to be formed, giving you a larger harvest.

For dried beans, wait until the pods have dried completely on the plant.  Pick the pods and shell.  I use a quart jar to store my dried beans until needed.  When ready to use, rinse the beans then boil on low until tender with 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans.  The time needed will depend on the age of the dried bean.  The older the bean, typically the longer it takes.  You can also soak over night to reduce cooking time.

For more on growing beans Growing beans

Happy New Year, everyone!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

January 2018 Edible Garden Planner

Seed catalogs are here!

Saturday, December 29, 2017

January is the time of dreaming and planning for your spring garden.  All the seed companies begin sending out their catalogs for seeds and plants in December and January.   It is an exciting time for browsing the magazines and making the garden plan for the upcoming year!

Grow what you love!
If you have ever wanted to plant an Italian or French kitchen garden, but weren’t sure if you had the space, you may be surprised.  You can grow the staples of an Italian kitchen garden in as little as 6’ x 6’ space.   Small space French kitchen garden
Here is also a list of what you can find in a Sicilian garden:  Heirloom Sicilian kitchen garden

To entice the little ones, an Italian garden can also be called a "Pizza or Spaghetti Garden"!  Pizza garden for the kids

It is common for Italians and French to have a small kitchen garden where they grow herbs, greens and vegetables year round.  It is amazing the amount of food you can grow in a very small space!  How to decide what to plant for small spaces?

If you have only a 6’ x 6’ space, a kitchen garden could include the following:
Herbs (1 each)-thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and flat leaf parsley 
3 basil plants (for pesto and seasoning)  
2 tomatoes-1 small fruiting and 1 slicer type 
2 sweet pepper plants  
1 zucchini (look for “bush” types as they are more compact)  
1 eggplant 
8 red bunching onions 
8 garlic plants 
Arugula, spinach and lettuce scatter sowed  

If you also have room for pots on the patio, you could grow the zucchini, eggplant, and cucumber in pots  (only 1 plant in each pot) and add 3 bush or 6 pole bean plants in the garden bed.  Traditional bush beans would be lentils, Romano, Capitano, Cannellini, fava; pole beans-Roma, Helda, Supermarconi.  Personally, I would stick with the beans you eat whole as shelled beans you do not get as much food per plant, and less food per space in the garden.

If you have more room, you can add almonds (yes, they survive Midwest winters), beets, chard, fennel, chickpeas, figs (grows well in a pot), asparagus, cardoon, chicories, radicchio, endives, broccoli, cauliflower, or annual artichokes.  Here is my last year's garden plan:  My 2017 Edible Garden Plan

If you are just beginning a garden, do start small.  You want the garden to be fun and relaxing, not overwhelming.  Don't be afraid to begin.  The force of life is strong and really doesn't need much from us.  Buy a few plants in the early spring and just put them in the ground with a natural fertilizer and you will be amazed at how they just go to town all by themselves!

For more on steps on putting in a garden: Easy ways to make a new vegetable garden bed  

Monday, December 25, 2017

Quick tip-make your own flavored oils

Monday, December 25, 2017

You see these beautiful bottles of flavored oils in stores.  You can make these at home!  This a great way to use the extra herbs and peppers you dried from the summer and fall garden.  You simply infuse the oil with your favorite herb or pepper.

I use a wide mouth canning jar for the infusing.  For herbs, I fill the jar with stems of cut, dried herbs, cover completely with organic cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and let sit for 2-4 weeks.  For hot peppers, I do the same thing, straining out the peppers after 4 weeks.  At this time, you can pour the oil into a beautiful container.  It is safe to put a sprig or two of completely dried herb or pepper into the container.

If you want instant gratification, put the herbs and oil into a sauce pan and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.  After cooling, the oil is ready to be strained into the serving bottle.

I use only dried herbs.  If you use fresh, you will need to keep refrigerated and use within a week or two.

Friday, December 22, 2017

American grown and made olive oil

Ojai olive farm

Friday, December 22, 2017

When we did a tasting of the local olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the Pasadena farmers market a few years back, we got a flyer from the grower/producer Ojai Olive Oil that showed the company had tours and tastings on site so we went.  I was back in Cali this year and wanted to go see them again.  We called because of the fires in the area and they were open.  The fire had gone all around them, but spared the farm.

When we arrived, they were actually cold pressing olives.  We had to do the tasting again of all their oils and balsamic vinegars (19 in total) again.  All of their olive oils are extra virgin, cold pressed. Their balsamic vinegars are from Modena, Italy, and are fabulous.  It is hard to narrow down which ones to take home!
It was interesting tasting the different olive oils.  Most I had tasted in the past all seemed similar.  I had no idea that one could taste differently than another.  The first thing that sets them apart is the type of olive tree the olives are from.  At Ojai Olive Oil, the French olive oil was very mild, the Italian stronger, and the Spanish olives were very peppery.  The flavor varies each season as well as the level of phenols.

The strong, peppery type is great over pasta or for dipping your bread in.  My favorite dipping oil is made in a saucer.  Super easy and very tasty.  It is a great alternative to garlic cheese bread. 
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Parmesan cheese
Cracked pepper 
You could easily use the flavored oils in this as well.  Using their garlic oil would be like have garlic bread.
All of the olive oils produced at the farm are extra virgin, cold pressed.  They also had flavored olive oils-lemon, mandarin, garlic, rosemary, and basil that they produce themselves.  All would be fabulous to add to dishes or for unique salad dressings.
The balsamic vinegar varieties are all from Italy.  Only vinegars produced in the traditional way from the region of Modena can be legally called balsamic vinegar.  The varieties they had were-traditional style, premium white, cinnamon-pear, tangerine, pomegranate, blackberry-ginger, peach, fig, blackberry, raspberry.  The last time I bought the violet for salads and the blackberry-ginger for my sister.  This time I purchased the peach.  The vinegars really do taste just like the flavorings.  They are fabulous.

I had also purchased their face cream last time and did again this time.  It feels wonderful on the skin and smells great.  I also chose two lip balms, a mandarine orange and Thai coconut.
The press
The tour was very interesting.  The grower had started the olive farm 17 years ago on the site of some century old olive trees.  His olive trees were a graft of a hardy southern Italian trees as the rooting stock with the better tasting olive types grafted to the hardy root stock.  He shared that the graft had a very slight flavor of the more bitter root stock.  99% of the flavor came from the top graft plant.  The oils were fantastic.

The color of the olive comes from the ripeness and type.  All olives when young are green.  Depending on the type as they ripen, they can turn blue or reddish.  Fully ripe olives are black.  The closer they are to fully ripe, the sweeter the oil.  The trees begin blooming in May and harvest from November to January. 

The press itself is direct from Italy.  They only press olives about 10 days out of the year.  We were lucky enough this year to be there when the press was running!  We got to taste the oil coming right off the press.  Fresh olive oil has a grassy flavor with a bite.  The bite is all those great antioxidants.  Always look at the harvest date of any olive oil that you purchase to get the freshest.

Hand picked olives being hand fed into the press

The material left from the press is used as a mulch in their organic orange grove to help keep down the weeds.  It is very acidic so it is only used in the center of the row of oranges and not in the olive grove.  In some countries, the dried pulp is used to burn for heat.  The grower uses the clippings from the trees as a mulch and to provide nutrients to the olive trees.

The olive trees require pollination from bees for the highest yields.  If you are growing your own olive tree indoors, you'll need to pollinate the flowers by hand.

Freshly pressed oil
In the US, we consume 8% of the world’s olive oil and produce only 0.1%.  The vast majority of the olive oil we consume is imported from Italy.  Most of the Italian olive oil we import is a blend of many types of olives.  When you purchase olive oil from Ojai Olive Oil, you are getting a pure, extra virgin oil as well as buying an American made product direct from the farmer.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Quick tip-”peeling” garlic

Sunday, December 17, 2017

If you have ever tried to “peel” fresh garlic, it can be maddening.  The thin, light paper covering each garlic clove is almost impossible to pick off and as you try to peel off the paper, you get sticky garlic juice on your fingers which the papers stick to like glue!

The secret is to smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a knife blade.  It is so easy to remove the peel after the clove is crushed!

They also make garlic crushes that you can throw the whole clove into and it squishes the garlic through the holes leaving behind the protective skin.  The cons are that it seems garlic is wasted and it requires clean up.

I recently bought a garlic "peeler".  It is basically a flexible silicone tube that you put the glove into and then roll it on a hard surface.  It works pretty well too.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Using herbs, flowers and fruit for flavored sugars and salts

Saturday, December 16, 2017

You can flavor sugar and salt with homegrown herbs, fruits, and flowers from the garden.  It is simple and fun.  Let your tastebuds and creativity run wild.  These are fun gifts as well.

Some ideas for flavored sugars:
Kumquat (the rind is sweet and citrusy)
Rose hips or petals (gives off a beautiful fragrance in tea)

Dry your ingredients first.  For citrus peels, rose hips, or rose petals, I let dry in the pantry on a paper towel.  For berries, I would dry in a dehydrator or an oven.  Herbs I put loosely in a paper bag with the stems upright to dry.  Harvesting and drying herbs  After they are dry, you can use a coffee grinder to grind to a fine powder, crush the herbs by hand, or for larger pieces, leave whole and mix 50/50 with organic sugar.

There are many flowers that are edible.  I love planting my edible garden in the flower beds.  It does double duty, provides beauty and attracts pollinators to have a more productive garden.  Here is a blog on varieties that are edible:  Flowers that are edible

For ideas on growing your own fruit in small spaces, Fruit for small spaces

For salt, you use fine sea salt to use out of a shaker or coarse sea salt to use in a grinder.  
Ideas for flavored salt:
Hot peppers

My favorite steak and grilled veggie seasoning recipe:
5/8 cup coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons small hot peppers
2 tablespoons juniper berries
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary
2 sticks of cinnamon or turmeric
1 1/2 tablespoons sage

This is great on anything you grill!

If you are thinking of starting a garden, herbs are the perfect start.  Most are perennials (come back every year) and they thrive on neglect.  You truly plant and forget.  A bonus is that herbs give you tons each season so are a great cost saver.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

You can easily make pretty gifts for others using herbs and flowers from the garden in pretty containers.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Great little veggies for small spaces

Egyptian walking onion in a pot
Sunday, December 10, 2017

It appears winter is here.  Before we know it, spring will be rolling back around!  Some seeds can be started 8-12 weeks before your first frost date.  This is January/February in our Zone 6/7 garden.   It will be here before you know it!

Winter is the time for dreaming of what you are going to plant and harvest next season.  I have already started getting seed catalogues!

If you are just starting out and have limited space, look for descriptions like “patio”, “compact”, “great for pots”, “container”, etc.  Here are some recommendations for your garden.

Greens-Pak choi or Toy Choy Pak Choi, arugula, leaf lettuce like Oak Leaf (for cut and come again harvests), Little Gem lettuce for whole heads, Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch Kale, Orach, Dazzle lettuce, Tennis Ball butterhead, Gala mache, Space Hybrid spinach.  The list goes on and on!  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

Onions-I grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot.  You can use the bulb for cooking and the tops as chives.  Chives and garlic chives are also great for small spaces or pots.  Egyptian walking onions

Beets-any.  I plant these around my pepper plants.  All about beautiful beets

Carrots-get the short ones like Atlas and Parisian.  All you need to know about growing carrots

Celery surprisingly does very well in a pot by itself.  It loves water so I would keep it by itself.  Give celery a try, an easy to grow garden staple

Chard as well.  Chard comes in beautiful colors, too, so you can plant them in your flower bed as an ornamental that you get to snack on.  For year round steamed greens, grow chard!

Cucumber-Bush Champion, Spacemaster, Rocky, Lemon.  How to grow cucumbers-in pots or in the garden

Eggplant-All I have tried in a pot grows well.  For flavor, I think the White Egg does very well and does not get bitter in the hot days of summer.  Other small varieties include Fairy Tale, Gretel, Hansel, India Paint, and Thai Purple Blush hybrid.  Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden

A word about hybrids.  If you want to save seed, hybrids will not come back true to the “mother” plant.  You will want open pollinated or heirloom varieties for seed saving.  The strength of hybrids is that they have been bred to withstand different common diseases.  What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

Green beans-go for pole beans and use a trellis so they grow up.  If you don’t like removing the “string” that some green beans have, look for “stringless.”  We discovered a new variety we really liked from a Dienger Farms-an Italian flat green bean.  I looked up Italian pole green beans and I found the variety Roma, Supermarconi, and the yellow Bean Marvel of Venice, Bean di Spagna Bianco.  May have to try one of these this year!  Produces right up until frost.  The great thing about beans is that they make nitrogen so they fertilize the soil.  I plant petunias in the same pot.  Growing beans

Pepper in pot with petunias
Peppers-I have found that hot peppers do great in pots.  I plant one pepper type per pot.  Sweet peppers, like Bell, do best in the ground.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Summer squash - Bush Zucchini, Lunar Eclipse/Sunburst, Piccolo, Small Wonder Spaghetti squash.  Everything you need to know to grow squash

Winter squash-Acorn or butternut.  Plant where you are okay with them running on the ground or train them up a trellis.  You will get about 2 per vine.  

Tomatoes-look for patio or container types.  Varieties like Balcony Patio Princess, Balcony, Tumbler, Lizzano, BushSteak, Tumbling Tom to name  a few.  Bush types are also great for small spaces-Early Girl Hybrid Bush, Big Boy Bush, Baxter’s Bush Cherry.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes

Couple of seed finding tips-you can do a seed search at Mother Earth News.  Here is the link: 

You can also get a listing of seed companies at Mother Earth News to see where they are located and what they sell (organic, biodynamic, heirloom, etc.).     

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Grow sprouts and microgreens indoors

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Winter doesn’t mean you can’t eat fresh, nutrition packed greens.  There are many that grow well indoors and many different ways of growing them.

Something easy and nutritious are sprouts.  I bought a simple, inexpensive sprout grower.  You can get seeds on line and in many grocery stores, nurseries, and big box hardware stores for growing sprouts and microgreens.  I like buying a seed mix so I get a nice variety of taste and nutrition.

Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition and so easy to grow.  There are all kinds of seed sprouting kits out there.  The one I have that I really like is 3 levels so you can have one that is fully sprouted that you are using with 2 in various stages of growth so you always have a ready supply of sprouts.

With a simple sprout grower, you can have nutritious sprouts of many different veggies, beans, and/or grasses in 3-5 days.  All you do is put a teaspoon of seeds in the grower and water it twice daily.

Sprouts are great on salads, in eggs, or just as a quick snack.  They are a beautiful garnish on any dish.

Microgreens are also very easy to grow indoors.  You can get variety seed packets of microgreens anywhere they sell seeds or on line.  You can reuse a plastic salad container or seed flat to use as a pot.  Just add potting soil, sprinkle the seeds down as instructed on the seed packet, tamp down gently, water, place in a sunny window and you will have microgreens in 10-21 days, depending on the variety.  To speed up sprouting, you can use a warming mat to boost the soil temperature.  Once sprouted, just cut with scissors and use or place in a glass jar in the refrigerator for keeping.

If there are still seeds visible after your initial harvest, you can wait and see if they will sprout or go ahead and start your next batch of microgreens.  I would compost the used soil and start with fresh to keep the chance for any soil diseases to develop low.  Be sure to sanitize your growing container before adding new soil and seeds.

Wheat grass is another great edible.  I put it on salads.  You can also juice it.  Wheat grass is a great alkalizer.  Today’s diet is so acidic.  Basically anything we eat besides leafy greens and some other vegetables are acidic.  Your body’s blood pH must stay between 7.35-7.45; anything above 7.0 is alkaline.  Wheat grass helps balance your pH.  Wheat grass is also a purifier of the blood.  There are wheat grass growing kits too.  Or you can use an old salad tub that you fill with potting soil and grow them right in the salad tub or seedling flat like microgreens.

Sprouts and microgreens mirror the taste of their grown counterparts.  Here are some reco's based on taste:
Spicy-mustards, arugula, radishes, sorrel, cress, basil, oregano
Mild-amaranth, chard, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, beets, kale
You wouldn't want to grow as sprouts varieties that produce a really thick stem like squash or melons.  These will just be chewy.

If you like to add color (which also adds different nutrients), be sure to include varieties like purple amaranth, neon chard, red kale, red varieties of mustard (Ruby Streaks, Giant Red), red-veined sorrel, red beets, purple basil, or many more.
The Power of Purple
Top 10 Nutrient Dense Veggies & Fruits

So, if you are wanting some fresh, nutritious, home grown food, it is super easy to grow any of these indoors year round!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Hugelkultur garden, a mounded garden bed approach

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Hugelkultur garden is an ancient form of "lasagna" gardening 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 and adding an interesting elevation element to the garden.  

This time of year is ideal for starting your hugelkultur garden to give it time to begin decomposition to provide nitrogen and organic matter for your spring garden plants.  It is a great way to build soil depth in shallow top soil areas, to create a raised bed, and for gardening in dry areas.  The hugelkultur mound absorbs and holds the water from rains, releasing it back to the plants as they need it.

Basically, you build a mound out of logs and brush as high as you would like.  Keep in mind that your hugelkultur garden will settle over time.  You can dig it in a foot or just lay them right on top of the ground.  When you gather the logs and brush you want to use, you start with the largest at the bottom.  For the base, use at least 1-2’ of logs and brush.  Then, stomp on it.  Then add leaves, filling the crannies.  Then add the sod you cleared for the hugel garden.  Be sure to turn the sod upside down to smother the grass so it will decompose to feed the spring garden.  Add compost, garden waste, manure, and top with 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 to quickly release the nitrogen plants need for optimum growth.

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.  Hugekultur is a fun way to use a fallen tree or create an interesting raised bed.