Dec 13

An Anti GMO Garden

Homegrown summer squash, so easy to do.

Homegrown summer squash, so easy to do.

The long term effects of GMO plants are still being debated, though there has been numerous connections made between health problems and at the very least the high doses of pesticides that are dumped on these crops.
Then they end up in most of our foods, from the obvious corn flake to less realized corn-fed meat.

One way to get GMOs out of your life is to ‘grow’ them out.
Corn is the most common GMO plant found in our food supply here in the United States, and easy enough to grow. By planting a ‘dry’ or ‘field’ corn you can have your own corn for popping as well as corn meal.

Try growing some okra and dehydrating it into a powder as a corn starch substitute. It works great as a thickening agent.

Sweet corn with a wee bit of cross pollination.

Sweet corn with a wee bit of cross pollination.

Also plant some sweet corn if you have the room, just not down wind or too close to the others. Corn is wind pollinated and you may see some crossing. Sweet corn at the farmer’s market may have pesticides on it, but considerably less than the GMO in our foods. Keep in mind that farmers that grow GMO corn are not allowed to sell it to anyone but Monsanto.

Most of our sugar supply is from GMO sugar beets. You can buy organic sugar, and we do; but this year we are also going to try growing our own sugar beets and dehydrating them into a powder. Should prove to be an interesting experience.
Also consider growing stevia. It is a naturally sweet plant that you can dry the leaves to use in tea, etc. It reminds us of the taste of pectin, sweeter than sugar but good.

Summer squash in the markets is now possibly GMO, both fresh and frozen. Growing squash plants is one of the easiest things to do.
Storing the produce, not so much.
We’ve taken to dehydrating them for soup and casseroles, and making ‘noodles‘ for other dishes.

Dry beans come in a variety of colors and flavors.

Dry beans come in a variety of colors and flavors.

As far as corn-fed meat, it is hard to grow a substitute. That is unless you grow dry beans.
These high yielding plants, most often a type of bush bean, produce a wonderful amount of protein the same way their relatives, peanuts, do.
Most veggie burgers contain a good amount of dry beans.

Also watch for new GMOs. I understand they are crossing a tomato with a cool water fish.
Lovely.
But you’re probably growing tomatoes anyway.

The main thing to look at with getting GMOs out of your diet is to avoid processed foods, premade meals, and almost anything with more than one ingredient. When you can, grow your own or choose organic.
The more you are able to do this, the better.

Dec 07

Themed Gardens for Kids

Tiger Beans

Tiger Beans

As a new grandmother I looked into some ideas for planting a themed edible garden with kids in mind.

Animals in the Garden
Elephant Garlic
Horseradish
Jacob’s Cattle Dry Bean
Panther Cauliflower
Painted Serpent Cucumber
Flashy Trout Back Lettuce
Baby Bear Pumpkin
Polar Bear Pumpkin
Honey Bear Acorn Squash
Speckled Swan Gourd
Snow Leopard Honeydew
Green Zebra Tomatoes
Wooly Bear Gourd

Decorate the area with some animal themed or patterned decorations. You can even talk about how the plants resemble the animals they are named after. Jacob’s Cattle Bean, for example, has a pattern on it similar to cows.

Magical, Mythical and Made-Up Garden
Merlin Beets
Green Magic Broccoli
Hercules Carrot
Skywalker Cauliflower
Mystique Corn
Barbarella, Gretel, and Kermit Eggplant
Gremlins and Goblin Egg Gourds
Lancelot Leeks
Vulcan Red Leaf Lettuce or Spock Red Romaine
Bambi Green Leaf Lettuce
Athena Melons
Buttercup Squash

This garden would be fun for any child, as well as for the young-at-heart gardener. Wouldn’t reading a fairy tale in the garden create a wonderful memory for both of you?

Future gardener.

Future gardener.

Themes for older kids could include a Geography and History Garden with plants such as Marvel of Venice Beans and Fourth of July Tomatoes. While you’re waiting for the veggies to grow, you could mark a map at the sites the plants are named after, and certainly read some great history stories.

Sharing gardening time with kids will make a lifetime impression on them; teaching them where their food comes from could make that time a lot healthier.

Nov 30

Gourmet Gardens

Crispy flavorful color.

Crispy flavorful color.

If you are planning a gourmet garden, or choosing plants for the gourmet in your life, go for the more unusual.

Carrots

Shoot for a rainbow of colors. Orange carrots are ho-hum, but add in some whites, reds, purple and yellow varieties and now they become pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.

Stir fry with fuzzy gourd, it just sounds so interesting.

Stir fry with fuzzy gourd, it even sounds interesting.

Cucumbers

Lemon cucumbers look, but do not taste like a lemon. Their skim is thin and they don’t need to be peeled, yet they add an interesting touch to any dish they are in.

Related to cucumbers, Vietnamese Fuzzy Gourds are a very unusual veggie to grow.

Even odder looking are the gherkins.

Garlic

Choose one of the many hardneck varieties for a stronger flavor and ease of use.

So pretty, and tasty too.

So pretty, and tasty too.

Peas & Snow Peas

Desiree is a pea with a wonderful purple pod. As a bonus, this bush variety can also be used as a snow pea, harvested young and enjoyed pod and all.

One of our all-time favorites is the Golden Sweet variety of snow pea. The very first year not one pod harvested made it into the house, but instead were the meal of choice in the garden.

Herbs

Of course how a gourmet seasons their dishes is the finishing touch that makes them stand out.
Anyone can grow oregano or parsley, but why not plant some lemon grass instead.
West Indian Lemon Grass, Cymbopogon citratus, is the type that gets the bulb on the bottom. That’s where a lot of the flavor is, and this variety has a stronger flavor.

Lavender is most often thought of for its lovely fragrance, but is also an interesting herb to use in cooking. Lemon Lavender Cookies sounds pretty gourmet, don’t you think?

Id we had to choose.

If we had to choose.

Tomatoes

Now here is where you can really go wild.
There are so many heirloom types in assorted shapes, colors and sizes, that it can be overwhelming.
Again, variety is key.
If you are going to choose a slicer, pick one that is reputed to have an outstanding flavor. For salads and as garnishes, the smaller tomatoes are better suited.

If we were forced to choose one, it would have to be Sungold.
These beautiful cherry types not only look pretty, they have a wonderful flavor either as part of a dish or alone.

Squash

Spaghetti squash, something quite common in our garden, seems to have that gourmet appeal that sets it apart from other winter types.
For a summer variety, we would recommend Costata Romanesco zucchini. This ribbed Italian heirloom does not produce a lot of fruit, but they have a far superior taste.

Remember when planting a Gourmet Garden, that much of what you see in the local produce department has been grown because it produces a lot, is pest and/or disease resistant, and can more easily be harvested and shipped.
You don’t necessarily need those qualities; you are looking for flavor, uniqueness, and items that are appealing to the eyes.
Think outside the raised bed- you get the idea.

One note: I showed this list to Mandolin, who considers himself a ‘cook’ not a ‘chef’ let alone gourmet. I would differ with that.
Anyway, he said to add asparagus to the list.
“That wimpy limp stuff they sell in the stores cannot compare to fresh asparagus.” he said, and added with a smirk “Plus it is a perennial.”

Guess he’s getting the hang of gardening after all these years.

Nov 17

Succession Planting Simplified

Learning to follow one crop with another is not as daunting as it might seem. There are only two main things you need to know to get a handle on succession planting:
1. How long from planting until harvesting.
2. Who is related to whom.

Autumn in the garden.

Autumn in the garden.

It’s all about timing and rotating crops. Consider this three-year bed cycle from my Pennsylvania garden (USDA Zones 5–6):

In mid-spring potatoes are planted in a 4 x 4 foot bed. They take about three months to grow fully and are ready to pull at the end of July to mid-August, depending on the weather. Over the course of the season, add compost to the bed to help the spuds stay below soil level and thrive.

Beets take only 6 to 8 weeks to grow, and turnips about the same. Neither are related to potatoes, so they won’t be affected if there are any potential disease or bugs lurking in the bed. Both can take some frost, and most likely will need to. Out come the potatoes; in go the beet and turnip seeds.

Toward the end of September to mid-October, the turnips and beets are ready for harvest. Yum! The bed is then revitalized with some homemade compost and ready for garlic clove planting. Garlic loves to be overwintered in the garden and is usually ready to harvest at the end of the following July. Well worth the wait as far as garlic lovers see it.

A full year has come and gone, bringing us back to the end of July. What should be planted next? Consider parsnips or scorzonera (black salsify). Both do better if they get some frost, and they’ll keep that bed working through the winter. Be sure to give them some of that homemade compost. Harvest them in the spring when the rest of the garden is being planted.

Now two years have gone by. How time flies! Consider a short-season crop next, such as lettuce or spinach. Both will bolt when the temperatures get too hot, leaving the bed open once again. Hmm.

Plant a long-season carrot and some kale. Both can go well into the winter; at times kale will survive the winter entirely. Carrots will need a little help in the form of mulching, but still can be harvested at the very least into January. In March peas can be planted.

Keep in mind that none of the crops that have followed another have been related, so you’ve been rotating crops in the finest of style. You’ve kept that bed growing with little interruption for three years without the aid of special equipment. And, now you’re ready to start all over. Congratulations!

Give yourself a pat on the back—just remember to wash your hands first.

Nov 12

Salsa and Marinara Gardens

Many people garden for very specific reasons, and if making your own Salsa and/or Marinara is your thing, consider the following:

Tomato

In both cases, go for a Paste or Roma type tomato. They also go by the terms Sauce, Plum, Pear and Saladette. These are smaller tomatoes with more meat and less seed per volume. They also contain less juice, cutting down on the time needed to get your sauce thick.
The flavor works well both for sauce and salsa.
Many of these tomatoes are Determinate types, meaning they will produce the bulk of their fruit over a short period of time. If you do choose an Indeterminate variety, holding those tomatoes until you have enough to can is easy to do.

Simply wash, stem and drop in the freezer until you are ready.
As they thaw, the skins slide off easily, and any excess juice runs off. Again, saving your valuable time.

Onions

Some gardeners tell me they prefer one of the sweet onion varieties for sauce, over a stronger flavored onion for salsa.
We have never gotten that particular, except that we do prefer to roast our onions for salsa. Just drying them in a warm cast-iron skillet gives them that subtle flavor change that works well in a spicy sauce.
Both greens and bulbs can be roasted, adding a nice addition of color as well.

Like tomatoes, if your onions are ready before you are you can either roast and hold as a dry onion, or chop and freeze. There is no other prep needed.

The larder is getting low...

The larder is getting low…

Peppers
Now here’s where the paths diverge.
For marinara you will want sweet peppers if you choose to add peppers at all. There are so many different varieties to choose from, but we tend to lean towards the Italian type for what we think is a more authentic flavor.

Many people do add sweet peppers to their salsa as well as some hots. Mandolin does, and he prefers a variety of hot peppers to get different levels of heat in the salsa.

Keep in mind if you are growing both sweet and hot to separate them. They can cross pollinate, though it doesn’t happen easily. This will only affect the seeds, but we did once grow ‘hot’ sweet peppers.

Some really dedicated salsa makers we know cook all but their mildest hot peppers separately. Then, as they can, they increase the heat level per batch and label them accordingly.

Got a salsa connoisseur in your family? They would love a variety for sure.

Again, if your peppers are not ready at the same time as your other ingredients, simply wash, seed and freeze.
This is getting easier all the time, right?

Garlic

Elephant garlic has a milder taste than most, but other than that we are still experimenting. Mandolin says he doesn’t see the big difference between which type you choose, when you are adding it to so many other flavors.

but the ingredients are ready.

but the ingredients are ready.

Herbs

For salsa you will want to consider growing cilantro. If bolting is a problem for you, choose a slow bolt variety. Again, you can freeze the leaves until you are ready, or just hang upside down in a brown bag to dry.
We have also seen many salsa recipes that call for marjoram or oregano.

“Not in my marinara!” one Italian-American woman told me. “No oregano- that’s a Greek herb and they can have it!” She was both adamant and animated.
We never used oregano in our marinara since.

All the marinara sauce makers I know do agree adding basil is key.
Again, if you are planning to can in the fall when the weather cools, you can also freeze the basil leaves. Then just break off what you need.

Here is basically the Salsa recipe we use.

Nov 08

Which Veggies & Fruit Need Bees?

Damage causing bug.

Damage causing bug.

Not all edible crops need to be pollinated by bugs.
Some don’t need bees, or other pollinators, at all; and some benefit from them but can still produce even if they are not around.

Here’s a list of what’s what:

What veggies need pollinators all the time:
• Cucumbers
• Melons and watermelons
• Berries
• Tree fruits
Melons and cucumbers can be hand-pollinated, but it is a somewhat cumbersome task.

What veggies can be pollinated with human help:
• Squashes, both winter and summer types- by hand
• Tomatoes-by hand or wind
• Eggplant-by hand or wind
• Peppers, both Hot and Sweet-by hand or wind

Squashes, with their rather large male and female flowers, are easy enough to hand pollinate. Just remember to get as much pollen on the female plant as you can. The more there is, the better the chances the fruit will develop well.

Wind pollinated veggies, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are fertilized by the beating of bees’ and other insects’ wings. You can likewise give the plants a little shake, or hand pollinate using a small paintbrush or cotton swab.

No bugs needed.

No bugs needed.

What veggies do not need pollinators to produce:
• All leafy greens
• Brassicas, inc, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage and Kohlrabi
• Below ground root veggies and tubers such as carrots, parsnips, salsify, potatoes, sweet potatoes, horseradish
• Ground level root veggies such as beets, turnips, rutabagas
• Most legumes including peas and beans
• Corn- like other wind pollinated veggies, giving them a little shake helps distribute the pollen.
• Herbs
• Celery
• Onions and leeks

These veggies will all grow by themselves when planted from seed.

Exceptions: There are a number of hybrids, some cucumbers and tomatoes for example, that are ‘parthinocarpic’. These varieties do not need to be pollinated and will not produce a viable see either. They are good for growing in greenhouses or where the availability of pollinators is limited.

Bee Heaven.

Bee Heaven.

To attract bees to your crops that need them, plant flowers they love. The closer they are to the veggies that need the help, the better your chances of pollination.
Sunflowers are a particular favorite, and you can save and roast the seeds as well.

We see that as a beautiful win-win.
Hand-pollinating Squash