Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

Cha-cha sal-sa Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Last week my sis, mom and I made quick work of 18 pints of salsa. Last year we hadn’t done any. It can be quite the chore, but with three (and a couple beers) it was quite a fun evening.

  1. Sterilized jars
  2. First we scalded the tomatoes in simmering water for easy peeling
  3. Peeled tomatoes
  4. Chopped onions, garlic, sweet and hot peppers (make sure to use gloves – I also made it a point to take my contacts out before starting this venture, nothing says, “youch!” like hot pepper in the eye)
  5. Threw it all in a couple stockpots to simmer with some vinegar, a little brown sugar and salt – upwards of 3 hours (we didn’t do it nearly as long as the recipe said)
  6. Just before ladling into jars we added some lime, fresh garlic and chopped cilantro
  7. Ladled to within 1/2″ of top of jar
  8. Topped with sterilized lids and rings, tightened
  9. Immersed jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes

I’ve been eating piles of it. We used a few long hot peppers and a couple jalapenos to two grocery-sized bags of tomatoes. We got an awesome medium heat and it is very smooth.

What a great way to spend an evening.

Mom’s all ears Monday, August 9th, 2010

My mother and father did their most intensive veggie garden bed yet, this year. I’m not talking every veggie under the sun, but moreso the care they took with amending the soil (compost, peat, garden soil), laying down weed barrier (cardboard), mounding the beds so they are naturally raised and planning and thinning and staking and watering and . . .  It’s a lot of work they put into it but they are now reaping the returns.

A couple weekends ago I helped my mom wrangle anther level onto her tomato cages. It was like (my new favorite phase) wrangling PJs onto an octopus. They were huge and loaded with green ‘gold’ just aching to turn ripe yellows, burgundies, reds and purples. And, the corn, ugh I’ve tried to grow corn a couple years and had 1 raggedy looking ear to show for it. But my mother’s are towering over her, golden tassles whispering the wind’s directions. It goes to show, if you put in the work can get huge rewards.

Cucumber ramblings Saturday, August 7th, 2010

This is the first year we’ve planted cucumbers in our garden.  They are doing marvelous. I thinned to about 4 plants and they aren’t quite out of control . Unlike our beans, these vines happily climbed our trellis (an old slatted crib side). Our variety, started by seed, is great for slicing, sandwiches, and refrigerator pickles.

Some of my favorite preparations:

  • Pita pockets stuffed with seeded, sliced cucumbers, carrots and lettuce topped with a sour cream dill sauce.
  • Yesterday, I’d happily gathered reuben-making items from the grocers only to realize I’d forgotten the sauerkraut when I arrived home. So, I layered some sliced cucumbers in the cold un-reubens to at least give the crunch that was missing without the sauerkraut.
  • My sis made an excellent sliced cucumber salad with onions, salt, pepper, cream and fresh dill – if this is too heavy, opt for a more warm-weather friendly vinegar marinade.
  • Most often I just grab a freshly washed one and eat it like a carrot – simply perfect.
Lettuce entertain you Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Eating the lettuce from her garden

This year I planted two different kinds of lettuce. One, a buttercrunch head lettuce and the other a ‘rocky’ mix of loose leaf lettuce.

Loose leaf lettuce was scattered seed and picked at leisure, but often to keep the leaves coming – a decent month-6 weeks of mixed ‘oak’, red, green and speckled leaves. Some of the leaves were nearly paper-thin which made them most agreeable in sandwiches. In a salad it was hard for a fork to really puncture them. Though, eating salad by hand lends a tactile punch to your lunch.

The buttercrunch head lettuce was a new endeavor. As the seeds sprouted I would thin periodically for the best-looking plants eventually allowing them about 8″ of breathing room. They didn’t exactly form heads . . . like the tight iceberg balls you’d get at the grocer, but more a tier of leaves up a heavier stalk. Not sure if this is typical or if our recent heat caused a sort of bolting. The leaves of this variety are bitter sweet – the bitterness definitely a sign of the heat and a sign that I better get picking and munching on this latest wave of harvest. The leaves are excellent in salad but I’m also excited to use the nicely-shaped, strong leaves as wrapping for beans, deli meat, etc. instead of bread, tortillas or chips.

Bedding down Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

raised garden beds

It’s June 1 and most of the garden is in. The Hubs is supposed to turn a corner of it yet for squash, pumpkin and beans.

In the 3 raised beds:

  1. Onions (Vidalia & Walla Walla?), buttercrunch head lettuce, Okra and soybean (edamame).
  2. Tomatoes, 8 (or whatever seedling survivors I had), purple basil, globe basil, parsley seeds.
  3. Peppers, 6 (some hot, some not?), with a little room leftover to plant . . . ?

The other ground level part of the garden has potatoes (red and yellow), watermelon, cucumber, louffa gourd and a couple volunteer squash/pumpkin (it’s fun to see what makes it through on Mother Nature Alone).

It my daughters bed we’ve been able to harvest radishes and a few salads worth of spinach. The sweet peas, chard and carrots are coming up too, along with a few more heads of buttercrunch.

What I’m concentrating on this year:

  • Weeding a little every day. My scuffle hoe is the best with little weeds, it just scrapes them to smithereens.
  • Sowing, planting in succession. Staggering planting times helps stagger harvest times too.
  • Thinning. Hadn’t done a lot in the past but it really helps with plant health, shape, harvest and weeding. So I’ve kept a buffer zone in between plants.
  • Turning the compost. I usually go with a long composting schedule – I just let it lay and only use it once a year. This year I’m trying to increase its turnover by actually turning it. The better circulation increases it’s breakdown speed.
3 2 1 Acclimate! Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

My babied seedlings of tomatoes and peppers have had a rough go of making it to the garden. For weeks I did really well. Watering when slightly dry, timing their artificial grow lights, repotting when necessary. Then I try to set them outside to acclimate a little and boom! I let them dry out too much, then they get sunburned, the children water them too forcefully and the dog topples all of them over. Good grief! So now I’m attempting some resuscitation to see who will make it out of my 20-some little plants. That would’ve been too many for our garden plot but now I’m hoping I have a 1/2 dozen of pepper and tomato each to put out some time this week.

Seedlings you do at home need time to toughen up to the outdoor conditions: wind, sun, night and day temps, all are much more severe than the conditions in your home, garage and in some instances the greenhouse where you purchased them.

What I should have done to acclimate them:

  • Mimic the sun time they will have with my artificial lights a couple weeks out
  • Start setting them out in a shady spot during the day when the temp is 65 and above
  • Move them to a sunnier location where they will get just a couple hours of sun
  • Slowly increase their time in the sun an hour or two each day until they are staying in the sun for a full 8 hours
  • Plant them in the garden when the nights are only getting down to the high 50s or 60s (right now!)

Oh well, this is the most success I’ve had starting my own seedlings anyway so I’ll chalk this up to another lesson learned the hard way.

Resist being the early bird Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

I made my first nursery trip of the year this past weekend. It was wonderful just feeling that greenhouse heat and humidity while the winds whipped up a frenzy of dust and chill outside. I did purchase 3 items which I’ll talk about later but I wanted to use this post as a simple warning. Aside from cold-weather veggie crops, trees, shrubs and very-hardy perennials, please put off any planting for a while longer. We are still more than a week from the last average frost date and even then it won’t wait to hurt a little longer before filling up your flower and garden beds.

Soil temperature is a huge factor, especially with warm-weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and melons. You may have good-sized transplants that can weather a few cool days but it can really stunt their progress to have cold ‘feet’. I might wait closer to June before setting my transplants out. Transplants set out earlier can actually be set back weeks when it comes to actual production, so resist until the soil is warmer – 60F if you want to get technical. I had a grandmother that didn’t start her veggies until June and she always seemed to have a bumper crop.

Pots, baskets and raised beds will be more susceptible to temperature changes. Annuals might be in full bloom in the nurseries and garden centers but that doesn’t mean they can weather a night outside yet. If you are eager to get some pops of color outside, plant your annuals in baskets and make sure to bring them in when temps dip below 55-60F. Same goes if you fear your favorites will be picked over at the stores if you wait until they can actually spend the nights outside.

There are a few things you can do to start a little earlier in the garden:

  • Use bottles with bottoms cut off and caps removed to shelter new transplants for a week or two. Make sure to remove them if it does get hot outside or you could risk cooking the baby plant.
  • Mulch heavily
  • On an especially cool night, cover your tender plants or ones that have just set buds with cloth, overturned buckets, plastic bags or blankets.
  • Cover the ground around plants with plastic to make it heat up quicker – cut ‘Xs’ where you want to put your transplants
Good Friday marks potato planting Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Kennebecs harvested in 2008

Good Friday was always the day to plant potatoes – I picked this up from my father who had it passed down to him. It’s nice to get something in the actual ground so early – gives the gardening itch a good scratch. I didn’t exactly get mine planted yet but I got them picked up.

You can get seed potatoes at many places: grocery stores, hardware stores, nurseries, etc. I finally got to Runnings (local ag/hardware store) and picked up some seed potatoes. I chose Norland Red and Yukon Gold. Also available were Kennebec (white) and Pontiac (red). On sale for $o.35/lb. I picked up about 3-4 of each and made sure there were a few good eyes on each one. In past years I’ve used a bag of fingerling potatoes from the grocer that we hadn’t eaten up before the eyes started to sprout and they did well too – potatoes are not the pickiest crop. There are a few things to take note on though:

  • Avoid any seed potatoes that seem soft or moldy.
  • Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes so can have similar ailments or transfer ailments/pests to each other.
  • Rotate where you plant potatoes every few years and when rotating, also avoid places tomatoes have been planted.
  • Cut the potatoes leaving a couple eyes on each and let the cutting dry for a day or two before planting.
  • Plant cutting level with the ground and mound about 3″ of dirt around them.
  • Once plants emerge you can continue mounding up more dirt just under the top set of leaves.
  • Potatoes will send out roots to make more tubers all the way up their stems – that’s why you can keep mounding the dirt, making a higher and higher hill which also makes digging them up later in the season much easier.
  • Potatoes can be harvested from mid-summer (for fingerling potatoes) up until the tops wither in fall (for larger potatoes).
It’s ALIVE! Friday, March 19th, 2010

My sweet peppers that were planted March 6, finally showed signs of germination exactly 2 weeks later. It took a while, but now I have a little hope. There are about 3 mini red bell pepper sprouts and a couple Odessa Market ones. I’ve watered them every day, just a little to keep the top 1/4 inch of soil damp enough to allow for germination. As these grow I will adjust to heavier waterings so the tender roots don’t dry out. I did space out my TP roll pots to allow for more air circulation as they had been nearly touching and stayed wet enough to produce nice fuzzy coats on the outside. After separating them the fuzz is starting to shed some. As these seedlings grow, I will adjust the light levels to stay approximately 2″ above the top leaves. Luckily I have two side-by-side growing lights on string that can be adjusted as need. My timing of 12 hrs. a day under lights seems to be working well enough.

Now I’ll have to wait and see about the hot peppers that were planted 8 days ago. I’ll hold my breath until it’s been two weeks before I try something different. The next veggies to plant I believe will be tomatoes.

** Pardon for the crappy photography, my work camera doesn’t come with macro, I’ll have to get my in-house photographer (The Hub) to help me out with some better photos.

Pick a peck of peppers Sunday, March 14th, 2010

My last post seemed utterly disjointed so I’ve decided to do a bit of a rewrite.

All peppers were planted inside 8-10 weeks before May 15 (our average last frost date). They get approximately 12 hrs. a day under grow lights. They were planted with little to no soil coverage as per the instructions on the packet.  I water them mostly from our water cooler when the top of the soil is nearly dry. Plants seem to do better with rain water, which I should start collecting, but I’m hoping the next best thing instead of tap is purified water.  I labeled each packet with the date they arrived from Bakers Creek and also with the date of the initial planting so I have a reference to look back on.

The peppers that were planted were:

  • Red Mini sweet bell peppers; planted 3-06-2010
  • Odessa Market sweet peppers (Odessa is a town by the black sea in Ukraine – apparently an area my distant relatives came from); planted 3-06-2010
  • Craig’s Grande Jalapeno; planted 3-11-2010
  • Chinese five color – “screaming hot little peppers in a rainbow of colors, can also be grown inside in containers; planted 3-11-2010
  • Lemon Yellow Habanero; planted 3-11-2010