A Tip for Impatient Gardeners

by Sandy Swegel

Gardening can be frustrating for people who hate to wait.  It’s not easy to speed Mother Nature along, so on a fine warm day, we find ourselves at the garden centers spending a lot of money on bedding plants or transplants.  Seed lovers know that is not always a good use of money.  Sure, if you didn’t start long season plants like tomatoes, it makes sense to buy a plant because you want lots of tomatoes soon, but here are some crazy plant starts I saw for sale this weekend:

Lettuce starts. Once the weather is warmer lettuce seeds will be growing in two or three days from seed.

Chard and kale starts. One grower was selling weak-stemmed red chard starts for $3. Sure they were organic, but you could buy an entire bunch of organic kale for less than that.

Bean starts. Beans germinate so easily that they are a reliable seed for kids to germinate for science projects.

Cucumber plants.  Another seed that comes up so easily all on its own.

Zucchini. Another plant that germinates quickly and then grows a foot when your back is turned. It doesn’t need a head start.

Pre-sprout your seeds if you’re in a hurry. If you’ve soaked peas overnight before planting, you’re already half-way to pre-sprouting your seed.  Take any seed and soak it overnight in water.  Then pour the damp seeds onto a paper towel or coffee filter and put in a baggie or put a plastic lid over it.  As soon as you see the first white roots coming out, you can (gently) plant them in your garden.  This works great for slow germinators like carrots, or old seeds.  My neighbor pre-sprouts all the big seeds like corn, beans and cucumber. She wants an orderly garden without having to do a lot of thinning…so when she puts pre-sprouted seeds every three inches….she knows that exactly where plants will come up.  This saves time thinning too.

Pre-sprouting doesn’t save me from spending some money on garden center plants. Besides tomatoes, I sometimes buy a winter squash that takes a long time to grow to maturity.  And I can rarely resist buying some flowering plants in bloom.  Little yellow marigolds and hot pink dianthus in full bloom are making my garden a happy place.

 

Growing for your Freezer

by Sandy Swegel

The avid vegetable growers on my gardening email list have noted that alas, despite trying to plan well, their freezers and pantries are almost bare despite the fact that there’s still snow on the garden. We’re fortunate to live in times with well-stocked grocery stores.

We’re also lucky to live with reliable electricity. I know how to can and make preserves, but the freezer is still the easiest way I know how to easily capture garden produce at their peak. I keep a baking pan in my freezer and bring in surplus I’ve picked that I won’t use today and after washing, spread the beans, peas, corn, cherries or strawberries on the baking pan for a kind of home flash freeze. Later when I have time, I bag up the frozen item to protect them from freezer burn. Easy and fresh. And despite what all the books tell us, we’ve had really good luck with freezing produce without blanching it first.

Suggestions on what items are good for freezing: Tomatoes of course…Sauce or diced, roasted or stewed. We agree tomatoes are the most versatile item in your freezer.

Prepared meals:  ratatouilles, bean stews, chilis, lasagnas, stuffed peppers.  Who isn’t delighted to find a home-grown, home-cooked meal in the freezer on a cold January evening ready to thaw and eat.

Individual vegetables, loose.  Here I take inspiration from the freezer section of the grocery and make small Ziploc bags of everything the grocery store freezer section supplies:  beans, corn, peas, okra, black-eyed peas, baby limas, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red and yellow peppers. Basically, anything that would make a quick side vegetable to balance out a meal or something to give a soup or stock some extra zip. One great suggestion I’ll try this year is to freeze poblano peppers whole ready for stuffing.

Pre-cooked foods. Here’s where I’ve learned that pre-cooking some foods turns ordinary vegetables sublime.  Frozen cut spinach isn’t too impressive, but frozen spinach previously braised in olive oil and garlic is sublime.  Likewise, braised mixed kale with a splash of tamari is welcome.  A great way to freeze these greens is to lay them on freezer paper in a long thin log and wrap them up.  Cut off a section of what you need and return the log to the freezer. Cooked and seasoned beans.  I love green beans fresh but there’s something about them frozen plainly that is unimpressive.  But I like heartier beans like broad beans that have been cooked and seasoned.  Potatoes. I’m still experimenting with potatoes, but I’m so crazy for mashed potatoes that frozen individual servings of mashed potatoes with a little gravy disappeared by December.  The texture wasn’t as great as fresh…but they’re still mashed potatoes!  Shredded potatoes for hash browns are pretty good too. Roasted eggplant slices….ready to go for lasagna. Baby beets, well-cooked and seasoned. Stir-fry mixes of favorite vegetables pre-cooked to almost doneness.

Fruit. You can’t make enough of this. Keep trying, but whether dried or frozen, cherries, raspberries and peaches just disappear.  There’s still applesauce and a few strawberries in my freezer and some dried cherries I didn’t see.  Freeze more next year!

Now that my freezer is almost empty, I know how to plan for this year’s garden.  Plant more of the foods that disappeared by December and fewer of the foods that are still frozen from the year before last.

 

Hundreds of Vegetables

The holiday season always involves lots of cooking. Each time I’m shopping for food I find myself thinking, I could have grown that.  A big winter squash cost me $5 the other day. And paying $2 for parsley that practically grows itself suddenly seems crazy.  As I think about January resolutions for dieting and really like the Plant Nutrient Dense Diets, I’m kicking myself for not having more vegetables still harvestable or in the freezer. So next to my grocery list on the refrigerator, I’m making my list of the vegetables I’m buying so that I have a more rational way to make a list of seeds to buy to grow for next year’s vegetable garden.

Things I wish I coulda woulda shoulda grown more of:

Beets.  Several parties I’ve been to have had roasted beet dishes. So yummy and easy. And beets are nutritious and great juicers. With a little extra mulch protection, they survive most of the year I should have at least two beets per person per week of the year. I need at least a hundred beets for me.

Carrots. Such a good juicer as well as cooked vegetables…I need at least three carrots per person per week.  150 carrots just for me.

Onions.  Duh, Another easy to grow plant that I use almost every day….4 onions per person per week is 200 onions.

Tomatoes.  It wasn’t a great tomato year so it’s not surprising I’ve gone through most of my stored tomatoes already.  I didn’t notice how often I rely on diced or stewed tomatoes in my recipes.  I need at least 2 16 ounce cans of chopped tomatoes per week.  100 “cans” of chopped paste potatoes.

Cooked Greens.  This year I preserved kale and chard and collards by steaming them and then freezing them already cooked.  I’m eating twice as many greens now than usual because they are already cooked and ready to be served as a side dish or added last minute to soups.  Cooked, frozen greens:  At least 3 pounds per person per week. 150 pounds of greens.

Peas.  I love peas. Why don’t I have more in the freezer or dehydrator? One pound of peas per week. 50 pounds of peas.

Fruit.  Frozen and dehydrated fruits are my favorites in winter.  I’ve gone through all but two jars of my tart cherries.  I was tired of picking and pitting cherries in the summer….but now I’d happily do that work since I can’t buy any tart cherries now.  I should have a pound per week of fruit preserved for the winter per person.

 Parsley and Celery. I love cooking and juicing with both of these. I’m completely out of both and they are just great sources of nutrients.  I need at least 50 “bunches” of parsley and celery chopped and frozen or celeriac in the frig/root cellar.

Rosemary. For the first year, I have enough rosemary. I bought one of those rosemary Christmas trees.  I love to roast vegetables with rosemary….so now I pick up the plant and use the scissors to keep snipping the plant back into the Christmas tree shape.  I get at least a couple of tablespoons per trimming…finally enough rosemary.

So that’s my lesson this week.  If I want a diet full of plant nutrients and I don’t want a huge grocery bill, I need to think of my vegetable garden as a source of HUNDREDS of plants. I’ve never really noticed how many vegetables it takes to have a nutritious diet.

Another way to think about it is…let’s modestly say you need five vegetable and fruit servings per day.  Here in Colorado, we have about 4 months of non-growing seasons. So five servings per day x 30 days x 4 months means I need to have at least 600 servings of vegetables and fruit PER PERSON preserved in cool storage, cans or the freezer by December 1st if I want to grow my own food. WOW. All I can say is thank you to all the farmers who have been providing this for me my whole life!

 

Heirloom Tomatoes 2012

by Sandy Swegel

What were your favorite tomatoes this year?  Or should I say who were your favorites since we do have relationships with our plants!

We had a killing frost so it is officially the end of the tomato season, although just the beginning of the “what to do with green tomatoes” season.  My neighbor, Leah Bradley, is a gifted local artist who works in oils and had an Open Studio yesterday. What a delight it was to walk into a room full of paintings of heirloom vegetables.  Tomatoes everywhere and vivid kales, eggplants and pears. Even gnarly tomatoes that had viruses and blights this year were remarkably beautiful seen through her eyes.

There were lots of tomato diseases this year, so be sure to clear all that diseased foliage out of your garden beds and into the garbage (not back into your compost).

Who were the garden award winners in your tomato category this year?  Some of my buddy gardeners have been voting for Juliet, Red Beefsteak Heirloom, Brandywine, and Sweet 100 Cherries.

 

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan ~ Fresh Garden Style ~

From the gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

2 eggplants (1 1b. each)
1 & 1/2 cups heirloom tomatoes cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese grated
1/3 cup parmesan cheese grated
3 large cloves garlic chopped or crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons of fresh basil chopped (extra leaves for garnish)
1 lb. cooked spaghetti
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut tomatoes into small 1-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, basil, oregano, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with hands. Put aside. Do not refrigerate. You want it room temperature.

Cut eggplant into half inch round pieces. Brush with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on hot grill. Cook until tender. Add a mixture of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese to the top of eggplants and cook until cheese is melted.

Drain tomatoes in a colander to get rid of the extra juices before adding the tomatoes to the dish. You can stack the eggplant, tomatoes, and extra cheeses to your desire. Enjoy!

From Mike’s summer garden: eggplant, heirloom tomatoes and sweet basil.

 

Slow Braised Beef Ribs with Heirloom Tomatoes Served on Garlic Mashed Potatoes

From the gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

1/4 cup olive oil
6 pounds beef short ribs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes sliced in half
1 lb. cooked tender green beans
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup red wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 cups diced plum tomatoes finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 orange, zested
1-tablespoon fresh basil chopped, for garnish
2 tablespoons butter (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Heat about 2-tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat.
Season the ribs well with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, brown ribs for 5 to 6 minutes on each side. You may need to brown them in batches. Remove the browned short ribs to a plate and repeat with remaining ribs and more oil if necessary.

Add onion, red pepper, garlic, and salt and pepper to the Dutch oven and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add plum tomatoes and sauté for an additional 4 minutes. Add the wine, chicken stock, and tomato paste to the vegetables and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Return the browned short ribs and any juices that have accumulated back into the Dutch oven. Add the orange zest and butter (optional). Cover with a heavy lid and place in the oven and braise for 3 hours or until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone.

Once the ribs are tender, remove the ribs to a platter. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve the short ribs over garlic mashed potatoes, if desired. Add cooked tender green beans, sliced cheery tomatoes, and drizzle some juice on top. Garnish with fresh chopped basil. Enjoy!

From my Mike’s garden: heirloom cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, green beans, red bell pepper, onion, basil, rosemary, and thyme.

 

Get More Tomatoes THIS Year!

It’s time to prune your tomatoes if you live in Zone 5 and almost time in Zone 6.  Sure there are great recipes (and movies) for fried green tomatoes, but you and I both know we much prefer red tomatoes ripened by the sun. So it’s time to take your pruners out to the garden. We now officially accept that tomato season is almost over, so we’re going to prune off the top of the tomato plant…even the cute yellow flowers that would make tomatoes if frost didn’t descend upon us. It’s going to feel brutal, but you need to cut off leaves that are shading the green tomatoes from the sun.

But if your average FIRST frost is about a month away and you notice that nighttime temperatures are a bit cool, you want to make sure that all those green tomatoes are getting sunlight. And you want the plant to focus all its energy ripening the green tomatoes currently on the vine and filling them with the sugar that makes a red tomato (or black or yellow or orange if you grew those) so yummy.

One more late summer tomato task.  Taste test your own tomatoes.  We pick the varieties we grow because we liked the picture in the catalog or because a friend told us we just HAD to grow a certain heirloom.  Now you can decide.  Make a note of the tastiest varieties in your journal or put it on next January’s calendar for seed ordering time. Make note too of which tomatoes got too many diseases or did poorly in your conditions.  Some tomatoes will grow better and taste better in your garden than others. Your job as a tomato grower is to get a little better each year and have even more and better tomatoes next year!

 

Grilled Fish Taco with Heirloom Tomatoes and Roasted Jalapeno & Lime Mayo

From the Gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

Grilled Fish

•      6 (4 ounce) fillets tilapia
•      ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
•      ¼ tsp. cumin
•      1 tsp. olive oil
•      sea salt and black pepper to taste
•      2 cups sliced heirloom tomatoes
•      2 cups chopped cabbage

1. In a small bowl, combine cayenne pepper, cumin, ground black pepper, and salt. Brush each fillet with olive oil, and sprinkle with spices.

2. Arrange fillets on grill grate, and cook for 3 minutes per side. Place fillets on a warm corn tortilla, add chopped cabbage, tomatoes, and drizzle with roasted jalapeño and lime mayo.

Roasted Jalapeño and Lime Mayo

**This mayo goes with just about anything. Try putting in on a grilled chicken club sandwich, turkey burger, or as a dip for crispy french fries.

•      2 jalapeno peppers or any mild to hot peppers
•      ½ cup of mayonnaise
•      2 cloves garlic
•      1 green onion
•      1 lime, juice and zest
•      1 tbs. cilantro
•      1 large basil leaf
•      sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place jalapeño peppers on a backing sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Roast for about 20 minutes, until the skin is slightly blistered. Remove from the oven, and place in a ziplock bag. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, and discard the skin, seeds and core.

2. Place all ingredients except salt & pepper in a food processor, or blender, and puree until smooth. Season with sea salt and pepper. You can refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Enjoy!

From Mike’s summer garden: jalapeno peppers, heirloom tomatoes, green onion, cilantro, and sweet basil. 

 

“Summer Pie” ~ Heirloom Tomato & Gruyere Cheese Galette

Heirloom Tomato “Summe Pie”

From the gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

•      1 12” Pie Crust (store bought or your favorite recipe)
•      4 cups heirloom tomatoes, preferably cherry to small sized
•      1 cup of grated gruyere cheese
•      5 large chopped basil leaves
•      2 cloves minced garlic
•      1 tsp. olive oil
•      ½ tsp. minced fresh rosemary
•      ¼ tsp. sea salt

1.   Place oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375°F.

2.   Slice tomatoes in halves and add to a medium bowl. Add a half cup of gruyere cheese, 4 chopped basil leaves, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp. olive oil, ½ tsp. minced rosemary, and ½ tsp. sea salt to bowl and toss with hands.

3.   Roll out pie crust and place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. If you don’t have parchment paper, a greased cookie sheet will do. Spread the other (almost) half cup of grated gruyere cheese over the piecrust. Make sure to save a little cheese for the top of the galette after it has slightly cooled.

4.   Spread mixture over piecrust leaving about 2 inches on the sides.  Fold the sides up and over the mixture. I brushed the sides with an egg mixture and sprinkled a little sea salt on the crust. So good!

5.   Bake until crust is a golden brown. Usually 35 to 40 minutes. Let pie slightly cool. Sprinkle the remaining gruyere cheese and sweet chopped basil on top. Enjoy!

From Mike’s summer garden: heirloom tomatoes, sweet basil, and rosemary. 

 

Get Your Diseased & Gnarly Tomatoes OUT!

It’s August and hot, not the most fun time in the garden, but you’ve got to go out and EVICT all the diseased and dying stuff out of your garden.  You’re not doing for this year’s produce…you’re doing to save your garden next year.

In Colorado with our warm winter and early hot Spring, we are inundated with pest problems.  Most on our minds today is the spotted wilt virus on tomatoes which makes pretty concentric circles on the tomatoes, but leaves the fruit tasteless and mealy…and kills the plant long before frost.  As depressing as it is to toss plants you’ve nurtured since they were just baby seeds, they’ve got to go. They aren’t going to get better and the virus will just get spread around your garden.

So get out there with your wheelbarrow and do some decluttering.

Tomato plants with spotted wilt virus or mosaic virus or even some nasty blight:  OUT! And not into your compost pile…they go right in the garbage.

Other plants with serious disease problems:  OUT!  You’re never going to eat those gone to flower broccoli covered with powdery mildew.

Weeds that have grown four feet tall when you weren’t looking are now going to seed.  Somehow huge prickly lettuce and thistles keep appearing out of nowhere with big seed heads.  OUT!

It won’t take long to clean up the big stuff….this is one of those 15-minute projects.  15 minutes now will make a huge difference later. 15 minutes now gives the good healthy tomatoes more light and space and water to make lots of fruit before frost.  15 minutes now means you pull all the diseased fruit and leaves out easily now instead of trying to retrieve dead rotting fruit and diseased leaves after frost has caused leaf drop.

And while you’re at it:  those big huge zucchini bats:  OUT.  Pull ’em off the plant so that nice tender young zucchinis can grow.  You’re just not likely to eat as much giant zucchini as you’re growing.  Let go of the guilt and send them to enrich the compost.