How to Can Rhubarb

 

Gardening Jones shares a simple recipe for putting up rhubarb.

Rhubarb isn’t just for Spring anymore.

Although it can be frozen, we honestly didn’t care for the consistency much for the amount of freezer space it took. So we decided to can it instead.

There are recipes on the internet for chutney and BBQ sauce, and we have made Victoria Sauce in the past. Today we simply canned it as a fruit topping.

For every pound of rhubarb you will need 1/2 cup sugar and you will get about a pint of product.

Wash the stalks and cut into chunks. Toss with the sugar and let sit 30-45 minutes to draw out the natural juices. Simmer for just a few minutes to soften.

Pack into hot sterile jars leaving 1/2″ head space measured from the very tops of the jars. Wipe the rims.

Top with lid and attach screw band using just the amount of force your fingers only will provide.

Water bath can 10-15 minutes. Let cool.

If any jars do not seal, refrigerate. Otherwise store in a cool dark place.

Use it the way you would any fruit topping: on ice cream, pancakes and waffles, or layer with strawberries and whipped cream for a delightful parfait. If you preserve strawberries as a juice or freeze, you can have a wonderful dessert even as the snows pile high come winter.

How to Grow Rhubarb

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May 30, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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The Answer is… Part 2

Gardening Jones answers some of the most commonly asked questions about growing food.

Here are a few more of the most common answers we give. If you have a question, chances are you’ll find the answer here or in Part 1.

1. It’s a determinate type. Why did my tomatoes suddenly stop producing when they were doing so well? If you planted a determinate type, you will get most of the fruit in a relatively short period of time. Determinate plants, vs. indeterminate are especially great if you are going to preserve your harvest. Shorter tomato varieties, bush beans and peas are the same way. Indeterminate types are more likely to grow tall and are usually the pole peas and beans.

2. Half runner. My bush beans are growing tendrils and trying to climb, what’s up with that? Most seed packs of beans and peas describe the plants as either bush or pole, but there is a third type. Half runner beans will produce tendrils and grab onto each other for all the support they need. Not to worry, they will be fine.

3. It’s bolting. A term that basically means the plant is done producing and is now going to make seeds to replant itself. This happens to almost all greens when the temps get high. You may see some varieties labeled as slow-to-bolt. The picture above is our Pak Choi reacting to the unseasonably hot weather we are having. Plants can be eaten after they bolt. The flavor may be affected on some. Either way, don’t forget to save the seeds. For cilantro, the seeds are known as coriander and are a rather pricey spice.

4. It’s a biennial. Did you find a missed carrot in the spring, only to have it start to flower? This term refers to plants that grow their root system the first year, then flower the next. Common examples include carrots and parsnips. If your climate is right, you can leave a root in the ground over winter. In the spring it will produce seeds that you can either collect or let the plant reseed itself. Our parsnip bed planted a few years ago is on the verge of become invasive. The plant reseeded with abandon and the wind helped.  I think I’ll go with collecting the seeds myself from now on, so I have more control.

5. For years. Many gardeners wonder how long seeds are viable for. Here’s a very conservative list. So if you have found seeds from years ago, just give them a test to see if they germinate. Chances are very good they will, and you’ll have saved some cash by not replacing them. Also note this means you can buy end of season seeds and be confident they will be just fine for the following season, and likely for many more.

6. 5 Gallon. This is the ideal size for 1 tomato plant or for 2 pepper or eggplant plants. It doesn’t mean you have to use this size. Of the 3 listed, tomatoes are the ones that rely most on their root development, but you can plant them in a smaller pot and still do well. Especially if they are determinate types. See #1. And yes, you can plant more than 1 pepper or eggplant together. Peppers especially love the buddy system. Here’s a list of more container size best practices.

7. Give them water. If tree rats, aka squirrels, are treating your garden like a personal buffet table, try providing them with water. Chances are that’s what they are seeking anyway. The top to a bird bath works well. Place it outside your garden, fill with water. Keep it filled and every few days move it away from the garden. Head for the woods or a neighbor you don’t like. Eventually the squirrels will find somewhere else to get what they need. If they are also attracted to your bird feeder, lace it with hot pepper flakes. The birds can’t taste it, but the squirrels can.

8. Give them beer. Although we can’t go in to all the bug issues here, we can offer this simple solution to slugs. We plant small canning jars throughout the gardens and fill them with beer. Slugs are lushes, quickly find them, and will drink themselves to death. Replenish as needed and especially after it rains when they are more likely to be about.

Remember we are always happy to answer your gardening questions. You can follow us on Facebook for quicker answers to your garden issues.

Happy Growing!

May 29, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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A Perennial Food Garden

Gardening Jones shares what she is doing to make part of her gardening easier.

There’s an old joke that the older you get, the farther away the ground gets.

It’s funny, but it’s also basically true.

Our largest part of the garden is by the road, which also seems to be getting farther away. The beds are raised, but only slightly. So we decided to make that part the perennial garden as much as we can.

Of course, most perennials in the northeast are fruit. So we have an assortment of berries including blueberries, bunchberries, and cranberries together as they all like acidic soil, strawberries, currants, blackberries, red raspberries, and aronia berries.

If you walk through the garden you’ll be greeted first by our grape vines, then walk by the pears, peaches, apple, plum and apricot dwarf fruit trees. Eventually you’ll find the sunchokes, asparagus, and rhubarb plants. The horseradish got out of hand, as horseradish tends to do, so we are revamping those containers.

Still there’s more, including numerous herbs and lavender.

A few years ago we added perennial aka walking onions. We liked them so much, we moved them to a larger bed. The ones pictured above are just a very small part of what we have available now.

Now we just have 3 beds remaining. Well two actually, as today I started preparing one of them to be a parsnip bed. Although they are technically a biennial, we have found that they will reseed themselves with abandon and return the following year. If we plant 2 successive years, we will have a lifetime of parsnips. I can handle that. Of course, I will cover them when they go to seed, to keep them somewhat under control.

So two beds remain, one about 4×3 and the other a long thin bed about 8×2. Any suggestions for edible perennials in Zone 5/6?

May 21, 2016 · gj · 3 Comments
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The Answer is …

Gardening Jones answers some of the most common gardening questions Jeopardy style.

1. BER or Blossom End Rot is one of the earliest issues tomato growers face when the plants start producing. It is characterized by a soft or rotten spot on the tomato where the flower was, and probably the answer to the common question “What’s wrong with my tomato?” It is caused by the plant’s lack of ability to uptake calcium from the soil. It is helped by planting the tomatoes deep, which produces a larger root system. You can also add calcium to the soil easily and cheaply by placing a Tums in the planting hole.

2. The soil was too cold. Commonly this is the answer to “Why didn’t my bean seeds sprout?” and “Why is my corn stunted?”

Beans can actually rot if the soil is too cold. The exception here is Lima beans which prefer cooler temperatures. For green and dry beans, patience is a virtue.

The issue with corn is different. The seeds can sprout, but the plants may not grow well. Sometimes you don’t see the problem until it is too late. Here is an excellent brief explanation of what can happen if corn is planted too soon.

In both cases, wait until the soil temperature is consistently at least 50F four inches below the surface. A simple kitchen food thermometer is all you need to check.

3. The pot is too small. Why didn’t I get a better crop of potatoes? Why is my tomato plant stunted? When choosing a container, keep in mind how the plant grows and produces. If it will grow what you eat below the soil, make sure there is enough room. Potatoes need a lot of room to produce a good crop. Tomatoes need room for their root systems, as described above, to grow well. Here’s a quick reference guide to help.

4. The temperatures are too hot. We don’t have this issue much in the north, but it happens. The result tends to be blossom drop, when the flowers of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers literally just fall off producing no fruit. Blossom drop can have other causes as well, read more.

5. Transplant shock. When your seedlings are transplanted and they stop growing it can be due to transplant shock. This is just what the name implies. It can be fatal, but rarely is; usually plants just need a wee bit of time to recover. You can help prevent it by slowly exposing your seedlings to the elements a little at a time. Known as hardening off, it can also be accomplished by turning a fan on the plants. This helps make the stems sturdier and the plant more able to handle the stress of moving. It is also a good idea to keep a plant out of direct light or sun for at least 8 hours after transplanting. You can do this my performing the task on a cloudy or rainy day, or by covering the plant with an inverted pot.

6. Too much fertilizer. Specifically, too much nitrogen. This is the answer to “Why are my tomatoes, peppers and/or eggplants so healthy and bushy but not producing any fruit?” Learn about different fertilizers and give your plants what they need to do what you want them to.

7. Inconsistent moisture. “Why didn’t my carrot seeds sprout?” is most often the question this answers. This is true for many seeds, but carrots are a real bugger for it. It can also contribute to BER. This is a tough one because you will need to control the moisture yourself. For carrot seeds, keep them moist on days it doesn’t rain. I have heard of gardeners keeping a wet board over the seed area, but never tried that. For tomatoes, mulching helps keep the moisture supply even.

8. Get a soil test. I have never had my soil tested, I admit. It’s only because by the time I found out such a thing existed, I had already learned the hard way what I needed to do. This is the answer to many questions about problems in the garden. Blueberries for example, like an acidic soil and that is essential to their growth. That same soil can make growing other veggies difficult at best. Here’s more on what a soil test will tell you.

Many gardeners who have been growing for a long time can get a pretty good bead on how healthy their soil is. It should be teaming with crawlies, and compact just right in your hands. It should look and smell rich.

9. It’s a pollination issue. “Why did my zucchini suddenly shrivel up and die?” We hear this question more and more as our population of pollinators declines. In this case the flower was pollinated, but not enough. One visit by a bee won’t cut it, it takes repeated stops to get enough pollen to make the fruit develop well.

10. Yes, you can plant them together. “Can I plant melons with my cucumbers?” There is a major misconception that plants can just cross-pollinate with any plant remotely related to them. This is simply not the case. Plants need to be the same species to cross. A cucumber can cross with another cucumber, but not with a melon. And a cantaloupe won’t cross with a watermelon. Hot and sweet peppers can cross if they are pretty close together. This can make a sweet pepper have a wee bit more of a kick in the seeds. Been there, done that.

Peas and beans won’t cross with other peas and beans because they are self-pollinating. Go ahead and save those seeds. In fact, you can go forever without buying new seeds if you want to. If you want to become squash seed independent, read this.

In the case of all veggies, it is the seeds that are affected by a cross. If you don’t eat or save the seeds, it won’t matter.

So there you have some of the answers you may need as the growing season progresses. Happy Gardening!

May 15, 2016 · gj · 2 Comments
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A Perennial Pepper Plant – You Can Grow That!

Gardening Jones shares her first experiences at growing a pepper as a perennial plant.

I have heard of people that have pepper plants that are multi-years old.

And guess what? They don’t all live in a year round growing area.

That’s right. People are growing peppers, then bringing them indoors to winter over. Supposedly, you can also keep them growing all year indoors, and that’s what I intend to try. There’s conflicting information online about these methods, so I want to know first hand what the truth is.

Recently a member of Gardenaholics Anonymous shared the pepper plant that she over-wintered. She pruned it quite a lot, and it was doing wonderfully. Her plant is now 1 1/2 years old and getting ready for another season outdoors. A number of websites report that this is the only way to keep a pepper from one year to the next.

My plant shown above is just a few months old, started indoors early in the year. It went through a lot, having developed a nasty case of spider mites, something quite new to us.

But it did survive and is now budding profusely. It had sat in a South facing window all winter, and is now happy to be in the wee greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse, no problem at all, or so I have read. You can keep a pepper indoors all year round. Since they are a day neutral plant, meaning, they will bud regardless of how long the days are, you can just keep them where they get at least 5 hours of light a day, and they should produce for you.

I am using a tuning fork to help move the pollen around in the flowers. As you may know, peppers have both male and female parts in each flower, but they need some help getting them together. A tuning fork works great and you can actually see the pollen as it floats off the flower.

So now I have a bit of a dilemma. I want fresh peppers year ’round, and intend to try to keep this plant alive.

I also want to try my hand at overwintering a plant. You know, just to see if I can.

Most of all, I want to see if I can successfully do both, and report back to you. So I will enlist the help of another pepper plant and give it a go.

Have you ever tried keeping a pepper as a perennial? Your advice would be so helpful.

you can grow that

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by garden writers around the world to encourage everyone to plant something. Click on the logo above for many more posts.

May 4, 2016 · gj · One Comment
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Spinach Strawberry Salad

In our Zone 5 garden spinach and June-bearing strawberries ripen at about the same time.

Coincidence?

Well, okay maybe. Still a good reason to enjoy them together.

Gardening Jones shares a few ways you can enjoy a fresh spinach salad.

There are of course tons of variations you can enjoy. Like Spinach Salad with Egg & Bacon, or a Warm Bacon Dressing, Pecans & Pears make nice additions, as do Apples & Walnuts and so on, and so on.

We used Mandarin Oranges & Craisins once, yum.

A simple search on Spinach Salad will turn up more than you might care to find.

So here’s a basic recipe to get you started on what might just become a Creative Spinach Salad Adventure.

Ingredients:

8 cups fresh baby spinach
1 pint strawberries
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. Sesame Oil
3 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbs. granulated sugar

Directions

Rinse strawberries and spinach, drain well. Top off then slice strawberries.

Toss together the spinach and strawberries in a large bowl.

Mix the oils, vinegar, and sugar. Pour over the spinach and strawberries, and toss to coat.

How to Grow Spinach
More On Strawberries

May 2, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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8 Garden Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Some garden lessons are learned by finding out what went wrong. It’s tough because it usually means less or no crop of that particular edible.

But then, they are lessons you never forget.

Gardening Jones takes a look at lessons learned the hard way.

  1. Planting broccoli near the strawberries. I couldn’t figure out why the broccoli plants were not doing well one year, and here it was because I planted them next to the strawberries. Totally stunted the broccoli’s growth. Go figure.
  2. Not pruning grape vines and fruit trees. I knew enough to thin out the strawberry bed, it just never occurred to me that the other fruit bearing plants could use to be pruned as well. Once I learned about pruning, our harvest became significantly better. This is a good example of when less is more. Here’s a great video about pruning fruit trees.
  3. Over fertilizing peppers. As with other nightshades such as tomatoes and eggplants, too much nitrogen will give you showy, bushy plants, but few fruit. Nitrogen helps plants grow leaves, so go heavier on veggies that you eat the leaves, such as cabbage and lettuce. Keep your peppers well balanced, or a wee bit on the phosphorous side, instead.
  4. Planting oregano in the ground. Seriously, this one was bad. As is the case in most areas with all members of the mint family, oregano can be very invasive. It took all the chickens, the dog, and a few years of mowing to get it under control.
  5. Rotating where the garlic is planted. Alliums like to stay where they are put. Just amend the soil as needed in between harvesting and the next planting. This I should have learned from my Uncle Joe, as he was well known for his garlic.
  6. Not using a cool white or fluorescent light bulb when starting seeds. It is very important to keep seedlings close to the light, but the heat a regular bulb throws off can hurt the plants as well as the starting system you are using. A grow or plant light isn’t needed, but a cool light is.
  7. Using top soil in raised beds. Duh. The top soil wasn’t that much better than the clay I was trying to avoid. I ended up cutting it with BM1 which is basically a potting mix that can be purchased in a larger quantity than most, for a less expensive price. With some fertilizer and good compost, all became well again.
  8. Not realizing the need for flowers in the veggie garden. For many years the bee population here was not an issue. There was a bee keeper down the road, and I was happy to share my veggie plants with his bees. I actually thought that if I planted flowers, the bees would prefer them to my veggies. When the bee population began to decline, our neighbor gave up his hives. I learned the hard way that I needed to do my best to attract bees to my garden and have since paid a lot more attention to what bees like. Here’s how to build an easy Mason Bee House to attract more bees for your fruit trees.

What lesson did you learn the hard way?

May 1, 2016 · gj · One Comment
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What to Do in the Garden – April

Gardening Jones looks at what to do in a Zone 5/6 garden in April.

Coming in under the wire, this is more about what should have been done. Again, this is for our zone 5/6 area, so adjust as needed.

March and April are tough because the weather is so unpredictable. Still, you can plant peas, most leafy greens, cole crops, carrots, beets, radishes, potatoes, and onions by now.

June bearing strawberries should begin to bloom, and the asparagus is likely coming up. Many fruit trees and berry bushes and brambles will be/are budding.

Many herbs such as cumin and chervil can be planted outdoors now. Start others, such as the mint family, indoors. These can be seeded inside as early as 8 weeks before the last spring frost.

Edible flowers like these violas can be planted outside even when frost still threatens. Start others like amaranth, zinnias and marigolds indoors.

Try to refrain from starting quick growing edibles indoors just yet. Plants like squash, melons, and cucumbers don’t care to be transplanted and will likely grow too long too quickly. If you need to start them ahead of time, wait until 2-3 weeks before you intend to plants them outdoors. I started okra inside last week, possibly not a good idea as it is growing very fast.

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, most plants can go there now. Frost is no longer an issue as they are protected, just watch for any unseasonable drop in overnight temperatures.

Gardening Jones looks at what to do in a Zone 5/6 garden in April.

Any tomatoes that will be container grown can be transplanted in the greenhouse at this time. This pepper was started early last winter and is now in the greenhouse and loaded with buds. I am using a tuning fork to move the pollen and expect to see fruit very soon.

Now is a good time to add fertilizer to your garden if you haven’t yet. Turn your soil over, gently so as not to harm your microscopic friends, and keep the beds free of weeds.

If your soil is at least 50F, and you have a way to protect your tomatoes, it is possible to get them in the ground safely. Those are big IFs though. Personally I have pushed the season and harvested a few tomatoes as much as a month early.

A month is a long time after a winter without a decent tomato to eat, isn’t it?

Here’s more on Extending the Season.

April 30, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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On the Go – Salad in a Jar

I love salads made with lots of mixed greens and plenty of goodies. The problem is by the time I have finished making one, I don’t feel like eating it.

I think this stems from many years in the restaurant business.

So I was very excited when Mother Willow recently told me about making salads in mason jars.

Gardening Jones shares the basic steps to making a salad in a jar.

What?

“Yep,” she said, “you just put everything in the jar upside down and keep it cold. Then when you are ready to eat, dump it out and it’s in the order you would want.”

Sure enough I did some research and it is as simple as that.

Here’s how:

1. Start with your favorite salad dressing. Like this Raspberry Vinaigrette you can make with homemade Raspberry Vinegar.

2. Add something chunky that doesn’t mind getting wet, like olives, grapes, cherry tomatoes, grated carrot or apple slices. This layer will keep the dressing away from everything else.

3. Add a protein source, especially if this will be a meal. Choose from any cooked or smoked meats or fish, hard boiled eggs, or non-animal proteins such as nuts and other legumes, soy based foods including meat substitutes, and/or quinoa.

4. Add more goodies. The sky is the limit here. We had some with pickled peppers, chopped veggies, and dry fruit and granola mixes.

5. Add the greens last. This way when you invert the jar to serve, the greens come out first and make the base of the salad and the dressing lands on top.

Put a lid on the jar and refrigerate up to 5 days. I made one for each weekday work lunch. They were wonderful and because I had made them in advance, I could enjoy eating them.

So what did I do next? Planted more greens of course.

April 29, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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There’s Something About Spring

Every year in the spring I go a wee bit crazy.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

Unc’s Stove

 

Okay, sometimes more than that. Like the year I quit smoking. Don’t ask. 😉

I find I feel a strong need for a change.

Some years that meant a perm, others a freshly painted room.

This year it is much more intense. So much so that it is taking precedent over the garden.

I kid you not.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

Before

I think it is because this summer is my 60th. birthday, and although I don’t mind getting older, I feel a strong desire to make a big change.

I have asked my husband to set up my Great Uncle’s stove in the kitchen, which is a lot more involved than it sounds. He’ll need to run some propane lines, and wire the other stove into a back room. It also means moving a lot of furniture.

Our house is so small and so full that you cannot simply move one piece, it impacts pretty much the entire house.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

During.

We bought this property on a shoestring almost 20 years ago, and on a shoestring we did our best to fix it up.

It’s getting there.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

Before.

My life reminds me a lot of this writing desk that my Mother and I antiqued many years ago. It was the style back then in the late 60’s. I’ve hesitated to redo it because of that memory.

But I’ll always have that memory, without all the paint.

So today I began remodeling the kitchen, perhaps the only room that really doesn’t need it; except in my heart. As part of that, I am also stripping the writing desk.

At almost 60, it is time to get rid of the green paint in my life, and let the antique be itself.

Gardening Jones gets a wee bit philosophical and aging and the spring season.

During.

Oh and yep, I’ll get back to you on the after, though it may not be until I turn 60.

April 24, 2016 · gj · No Comments
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