Sunday, September 30, 2018

October 2018 Edible Garden Planner

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The October garden is very productive.  The summer vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil and cucumbers continue to produce at a reduced pace.  These crops are very prolific right now.  The cool season crops like lettuce, carrots, radishes, peas, cabbage, beets, broccoli and cauliflower are coming into maturity throughout October and into November.  Flowers, bees and butterflies are abundant in the fall garden.

Now is the time to save seeds from your favorite fruits and veggie plants from the season if you haven't done so already.  The plants still producing well this time of year are great ones to make sure you have some seeds to plant again next year.  The varieties that do well in your garden conditions are ones you want to invite back!  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Basil will turn black when it gets close to 35 degrees.  I pull all the leaves when it is forecasted to get close to freezing or any chance of frost.  You can chop basil, put in an ice cube tray and cover with water to then use any time your recipe calls for fresh basil.  It stores best when frozen in water.  I also dry some to add to my "Herbes de Provence" seasoning mix.  You can also make into pesto and place in freezer bags with just enough for a meal.  Gives a whole new meaning to “fast food.”  Pesto is great over pasta, fish, or as a condiment on sandwiches.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil...

Bee on zinnia with purple and white basil flowers
I have plenty of pesto from last year so this year I am letting the basil flower.  The bees just love it!  Bees favorite flowers are those with the small flowers like basil.  The purple holy basil flowers mixed with the white sweet basil flowers are quite pretty, too.

Other herbs will do just fine through frosts like parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives, savory, and sage.  It takes good snow cover to stop these herbs.  Many winters you can harvest these herbs the entire season for cooking.  Cut back the extra now, dry and make into seasoning mixes which you can give to the whole family at Christmas.   Make your own "Herbes de Provence" 

I will wait until it gets below 32 degrees before I strip off the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  You can freeze or dry these veggies.  Tomatoes are a high acid fruit so you can also easily can sauce from them without using a pressure canner, a stockpot is all that is needed.   Preserving the tomato harvest  Be sure to follow any canning recipes exactly so your canned goods don’t spoil.  For more on preserving your extras for year round use, see Preservation garden

Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants are tropical perennials that can be brought in to overwinter.  If you have a favorite plant you would love to have in your garden next season, bring it in to an attached garage or even your living room.  I have overwintered peppers and eggplants.  You get a serious jump start on the season in the spring.  I am bringing in my tiny hot pepper plant Chipetlin to overwinter.

Make sure you pull the tomatoes from the vine before the vine dies.  Wondering what to do with the green tomatoes?  You have a couple of options.  You can make fried green tomatoes-yum!  Just use some fish fry seasoning; we like Andy’s Cajun Seasoning.  A late fall tradition-fried green tomatoes!  You can also wrap green tomatoes in newspaper and store in a cool, dark location and many will ripen.  Check about weekly to cull any that spoil.  They won’t taste as good as fresh off the vine, but are better than store bought.

October and November is garlic planting month for the Zone 7 garden!  Plant in the waning cycle of the moon.  Garlic loves loose, well-fertilized soil.  Loosen the soil down to about 6 inches, mix in a couple of inches of compost, and plant your garlic cloves about 2-3” deep.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......  Garlic leaves are one of the first greens you will see in spring.

Chard in the forefront with morning glories in the background
Now is also a great time to divide any perennials you have, whether they be herbs, edibles or ornamentals.  This will give them all fall and winter to put down strong roots.  Perennial greens (like chard, sorrel, cultivated dandelions, salad burnet) are always the first up in the spring.  This is the perfect time to plant any perennial plant.  The fall and winter allows the plants roots to grow deep, preparing it for a fast start in the spring.  Perennial veggies in the Midwest garden

It is still not too late in early October to transplant fall crops like cold hardy types of lettuce, cabbage, chard, pak choi, broccoli, kale, parsley or perennial herbs.  You can check your neighborhood nurseries for bedding plants.  I use my Aerogarden to start from seed cold hardy crops I want in my fall and winter garden.  Starting them indoors gets them going quicker.  With less sun and cooler temps outdoors, plants grow much more slowly so getting bedding plants or starting indoors gets your fall veggies to full size quicker.  Add about 2 weeks to the "Days to Harvest" timing for fall planted edibles.

To extend the season, you can order a mini greenhouse to cover your pots or a part of the garden you have planted your cold hardy greens you want to harvest all winter.  You can also purchase row covers that cover plants and provides protection from frosts, but not hard freezes.  Preparing the garden for frost

Portable greenhouse with potted salad greens inside for winter growing

Winter hardy kale, spinach, Austrian peas, carrots and winter onions don’t need to be covered and can be harvested all winter (as long as the ground isn’t too frozen) and into spring.  I grew Austrian peas last winter and they provided greens for salad all winter long.  They have very pretty flowers, too.  Come spring I had lots of early peas too.

I’ll put our portable, plastic mini greenhouse over the greens in my Earthboxes sometime this month or next.  One watchout with green houses-they get very, very hot in sunny weather so be sure to open them to allow circulation in fall and early winter.  They will need to be closed up when winter really sets in December sometime.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Plant your transplants for fall and winter harvest

Late fall edible garden
Sunday, September 23, 2018

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.  Our local Ace Hardware store has cabbage, broccoli, kale, lettuce, chives, collards, spinach, and mustard greens.

*Asparagus (planted now for spring)
*Sprouting broccoli and 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 or in the greenhouse)
*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 November)
*Kale (will survive all winter into spring in a greenhouse)
*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 6/7)
*Overwintering peas
*Radishes (can be pulled all through winter)
*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 (will survive the winter to mature in early spring in the greenhouse)

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!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Love Vidalia onions, but are bummed that the season to buy them is so short?  Love zucchini, but by mid-summer have them coming out your ears?  Wondering what to do with all those luscious sun ripened tomatoes?  Dehydrating or sun drying is a great option!

There are many options for purchasing an electric dehydrator in any price range.  You can also use screen material to dehydrate your extra veggies in the sun.  For things like herbs, just putting on a cookie sheet in the sun does the trick.  For the juicy veggies, be sure to cover them so flies can’t get to them.

There are also DIY sun dehydrators that you can build fairly inexpensively that speeds up the drying process.  I've seen plans for one on Mother Earth News.  How to Build a Food Dehydrator - DIY - MOTHER EARTH NEWS

For dehydrating, just slice your veggies in even widths and place on your tray.  Set to the recommended temperature (135-155 degrees F) and let the dehydrator do its thing.  In a day or two, you will have dried veggies that you can store in pretty containers for display on shelves or in canning jars.

You can also use your oven if the temperature will go low enough.  Mine goes down to 170 degrees F.  You can dry veggies at temps as high as 200 but you will have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't brown versus dry.  You can crack your oven open to help keep your veggies from burning, but that can get pretty toasty in the summer kitchen!

For onions and peppers, I like them really dry so I can make them into powder.  I dry Pablanos and Anchos for chili powder.  Two pepper plants give us enough dried peppers that we never have to buy chili powder from the store!  My husband loves Vidalia onions so we buy them up and dry them so we can use them on burgers year round.  10 pounds of fresh onions provides all we need for the year dried.

We love to bake our potatoes on the grill.  We slice them, add butter, salt and dried onions, wrap in aluminum foil and place on the grill.

Drying concentrates the sugars in your vegetables so you will get an intensity of flavor using the dried veggie in recipes.  You can also re-hydrate your veggies to use in recipes throughout the winter.
Dried onions
The really cool thing about dried veggies is that no refrigeration is needed!  Just store in a cool dark place until you are ready to use them.  If you want to rehydrate your veggie, just place in a bowl of cool water for 30-60 minutes.  The water will have lots of nutrients in it so use in your next recipe, to make stock or in your next smoothie.  Don't let any of all that goodness go to waste!

You can dry extra zucchini to rehydrate and grill this winter, we dry onions and sprinkle them on our burger and steak, dried tomatoes are great in salads.  The list goes on!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Freeze summer extras for winter and spring

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Freezing is a super easy way to preserve summer freshness for all winter.  There are just a couple of tips to keep your frozen veggies fresh tasting for their entire winter stay in the freezer.

For some veggies, like beets, carrots, greens, eggplant, broccoli, and cabbage, you have to stop the enzyme action that will continue even when frozen.  It is an easy thing to do; you just “blanch” them in boiling water, quickly dunk in very cold or ice water, drain, pat dry and then freeze.  If you want to use just a little out of your freezer bag at a time, you can add the step of laying out on a cookie sheet and quick freeze before putting in the freezer bag.

Be sure to label your freezer bag with the veggie and date frozen.  Veggies typically keep their flavor for 6-8 months in the freezer.

Blanching times at a full boil:
Greens-1 minute
Denser veggies like carrot, eggplant slices, cabbage, broccoli-3 minutes

-Blanch for the recommended time, no longer.  You don’t want to over cook.  When the color gets very bright, they are done.  
-Quickly transfer to very cold or ice water to stop the cooking process, this keeps the veggies tasting like they were just picked from the garden.  I use tongs to transfer them so I minimize the amount of hot water I bring into the cold water.
-As soon as they are cool, remove excess water.  I use a spaghetti strainer.
-Transfer to labeled (with name and date) freezer bag and pop in the freezer.  I lay them flat so they freeze quicker.
-If you want to pull only a couple of leaves or slices from the freezer bag at a time, lay the cooled veggie onto a cookie sheet and put in the freezer to freeze the individual leaf or slice.  After frozen, place into labeled freezer bag.

I don’t blanch tomatoes, peppers, green beans or peas.  I haven’t found that the flavor is affected by just directly freezing them.  For the green beans, I snap and freeze.  For peppers, I cut in half and freeze Preserving peppers.  For more on preserving tomatoes  Preserving the tomato harvest  and basil Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

It is wonderful to have fresh garden taste year round and, luckily, it is easy to do with no special equipment needed!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

If you have a large pot, you can can!

Tomato sauce in glass canning jars

Saturday, September 15, 2018

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.  All you need is a large pot and canning jars.

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:
Mother Earth News “How to Can” app
National center for home food preservation
USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning
Home Canning 
“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 “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 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 (recently I found taller lids on eBay).

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 fully 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.  You can also order plastic lids to store in the frig after opening.  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 9, 2018

Support local farmers and get weekly deliveries via CSA

Sunday, September 9, 2018

There are a few great ways to support your local farmers and get the freshest, most nutritious produce.  Try farmers markets, join a CSA or at least buy local at your supermarket.  Of the three, farmers market and CSA give the most back to your local farmer.  

Not only does buying local make sense for your pocketbook and local economy, but also your tastebuds.  You get many different types of produce you won't find in the store with varieties that taste fabulous, but don't transport well.  Local farmers are crafts people and love trying new varieties so you will find unusual types of produce that most grocery stores don't carry.  Since they come right out of the field, they are also super fresh.

What is a CSA?  
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  It is where you invest in a local farmer typically 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 typically from May through October.  There are even some winter CSA's now!  CSA's can include more than just produce.  Some farmers have eggs, cheese, flowers, meats, breads, honey, or other food.

Before I started our own edible 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.   
Eat well, be healthy

A CSA shows you what grows well in your area, too.  You can find out the varieties you like and when they come into season.  You can even save the seeds from the varieties that you want to grow in your future garden if you partner with an organic CSA that grows open pollinated and heirloom vegetables and fruits.
What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?

To advertise as “organic” you have to be certified.  Many farmers cannot afford to do this.  Some farmers participate in the "Certified Naturally Grown" program.  This is less expensive than USDA organic, but also relies on inspections by other CNG farmers, non-CNG farmers, extension agents, master gardeners and customers instead of USDA certified agents.  If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices.  Go visit them to see the garden for yourself before you commit.  You can also check out reviews on line.

Some CSA's also will give a discount if you come help on the farm. 

Where to find a CSA?  Again, a great resource is the web site at www.localharvest,org   You can also go to your local farmers market.  Many farmers supplement their income by selling the extra produce they have at the farmers market. 

Many sell out by January so don’t delay if you want to join!

Farmers Market Tips
When you visit a farmers market, you should look for those farmers who are actually growing the produce they are selling.  Some vendors buy in bulk and bring in produce from outside the area.  A few ways to tell if it is truly local is how it is packaged.  Is the produce in crates or boxes you would see at a grocery store delivery?  Are there tags?  Is the produce imperfect like you would expect from a small garden?  Ask the vendor where the farm is at and if everything they are selling was raised there.  

Just like a CSA, there are different growing practices.  Find out if they grow following organic practices.  Ask what kind of fertilizer they use.  If it is the typical chemical based NPK type, then they are not following organic practices.

Buying directly from small farmers in your area let's all the money go directly to them.  With no middle people like the distributor and stores getting their cut, small farmers can make a living.  Plus the produce is picked and sold within a day, making it the freshest you can buy.  The fresher the produce, the more nutritious it is.  As soon as it is picked, it starts to die.  If it is days or even a couple of weeks from the time it is picked until you buy it in the store, it has lost a lot of its life and nutritional value.

You can find farmers markets on www.localharvest,org and there are also smart phone apps you can use to find all the ones in your area.  A google search is also a good source.  Many have facebook pages that you can follow how things are growing on the farm.

Buying locally is good for your pocketbook, your tastebuds, and local economy.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Plant lettuce seed now for fall and winter harvests

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Plant a variety of lettuce types now via seeds for harvests through fall and winter!  Lettuce enjoys cool temperatures and gets even sweeter as the temps dip.

The challenge to starting lettuce from seed this time of year is that it can be so hot.  The seeds will not germinate well in ground temps above 70 degrees F.  

There are a couple of options for summer time seeding.  You can grow in shade, cover with a shade cloth or start your seedlings indoors and transplant outdoors.

I like to start in flats in the shade, close to the watering can on the east side of the house.  On a covered patio, porch or deck is an ideal place to start seeds.  The seedlings will be up in 7 days if kept well watered.  I let them grow until they have the first set of true leaves and are about 2” tall.  I then transplant them into their permanent home, keeping them well watered for another couple of weeks.

You can just plant a couple of seeds in re-used 6 packs so you can plant it all in the garden, plant several in a pot and then just transplant into the garden or final pot.  My personal favorite is sowing seeds into my self-watering Earthboxes that I cover later in the season with a portable greenhouse to keep the greens going all winter.  How to extend the garden season

If you want to direct seed in your flower bed, dig a shallow trench about a half inch deep, fill with potting soil, seed, pat down, then cover lightly with more potting soil.  Water well with a gentle stream of water so you don’t wash the seed away.  I use a rain head on my watering can.

Plant a few seeds each day for the next couple of weeks to get a succession of plants for on-going harvests.  This time of year, look for types that are the most cold hardy to last the longest into winter.  Look for varieties marketed as: fast-maturing, short and compact, winter-hardy, frost tolerant, overwintering, for every season, year-round, remarkably cold hardy, etc.  

A few varieties to try are Winter density, Rouge d’Hiver, No Name Red Leaf, Arctic King, Continuity, Salad Bowl, Mottistone.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Try self-seeders for a more self-sustaining garden

Zinnia and Egyptian walking onions
Sunday, September 2, 2018

An easy option for a plant once and be done are self-seeders.  These are plants that produce many seeds.  One trick to self-sowing is letting the seeds sprout before adding a thick layer of mulch in the spring which may dampen how many seedlings can push up through the crust if put down before they have a chance to sprout.

There are many self-seeding vegetable and herbs.  Here are a few we are growing:
*Cultivated dandelion greens
*Chives and Garlic Chives
*Egyptian walking onions
*Mache (corn salad)
*Miner’s lettuce (claytonia)
*Giant Red mustard
*Brilliant Red orach
*Cocks comb
*Hummingbird vine
*Morning glory

The trick to self-seeders is you have to let them go to seed in the garden.  That means leaving the brown flower heads on the plant or the dropped tomatoes on the ground so they can leave their seeds.

I have "volunteer" tomato plants that sprout every year, here and there.  They are easy to pop out of the ground and plant where you want them or leave them where they are.  I always let them grow because they must be happy and adapted to my garden conditions.  It is always a surprise to see what type of tomato it is.

In the garden right now, I have cock's comb and zinnias that have filled the garden.  Several fully mature volunteer basil plants.  There are baby cilantro, chard, corn salad and lettuces popping up.  Spinach re-seeded earlier.
A caution with growing self sowing plants is that they can self sow a little too well.  The only one on the above list that I would not let loose in my garden is the purslane.  I only let it grow in pots.  The rest are easy to pluck out the ones you don’t need.