Friday, June 29, 2012

Four Herbs Everyone Should Grow

April 30th, 2012

It has been a horribly cold April here in Michigan, after a blissfully warm March. I haven’t wanted to go outside, let alone do any gardening, I hope May is better. I have, however, wanted to do a post on herbs for awhile and since I’ve got nothing else to post about (except maybe to complain again about late frosts) I thought I would do so now.

I really enjoy growing herbs for a few reasons. I like to cook, and no matter how you slice it fresh herbs generally knock the pants off of store varieties. I like to save money, and herbs are pretty expensive in the store, especially fresh ones. They also make unique and interesting plants, at home in the vegetable garden or the ornamental garden. If you only grow four herbs, these are the four I recommend.

1. Mint

Mint is awesome, I personally love mint flavored deserts, shakes, chocolate, etc. In the summer I like to make a cool cucumber salad with a little mint and cukes from the garden. Mint also comes in a wide variety of flavors. Spearmint and peppermint are standard, but gardeners have hybridized a whole variety of other cultivars with hints of various flavors like pineapple, apple, even chocolate. Plant them all.

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Cut Down My Cherry Tree

June 10th, 2012

A couple days ago I , and unlike George Washington, I didn’t feel bad about it.

I bought this tree in 06 or 07, and it grew like crazy, lots of wood, lots of leaves. The caliper (diameter of trunk) on it flew past a pear tree I had planted in 04, about 10 inches across, and this was supposed to be a dwarf. It also got significantly taller than that pear tree, even with some pruning.

I believe it was supposed to be a starkcrimson sweet cherry, but maybe they messed up sending it to me.

It fruited for me a couple years, I probably got only about 10 total cherries though, and they didn’t taste good. Not sour, not sweet, bland.

Meanwhile it had completely shaded one of the few areas of my property that gets significant sun, depriving me of some real estate to grow vegetables or other edibles.

It was also infested with black cherry aphids, every year.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

To Can or Not to Can. That Is the Question.

: meaning that I am new to canning. And last fall I purchased a shopping bag of persimmons. Then I did what all newbies should: scouted for a tested recipe from a reputable source.

The search produced few results–persimmons are, it turns out, not a popular fruit to can. Not a single hit from my favorite resources: the National Center for Home Preservation website (I love the search function), Ball Canning website, or my other canning books. To add insult to injury, the conflicting information online gave me little hope that I could successfully water bath the fruit without a pH meter to determine how much acid was needed to remain safe.

Turns out (pardon me if this is already common knowledge), there are many varieties of persimmons with a variety of characteristics that make some of them unappealing to can, including astringency. Fortunately, I had picked a non-astringent variety.

In the end, I scrapped my processing aspirations for the safest option. One that my Master Canner pals would be proud of: refrigerated persimmon pickles and refrigerated persimmon butter.

To my newbie delight, the un-processing adventure was a success. Refrigerated foods in cans might not last all year in your cupboard but are just as tasty. The butter was introduced at a dinner party (within a thumbprint cookie) and the refrigerator pickles made a debut for Thanksgiving. I’ve taken on a new title that no longer reflects my length of experience but my passion for safe preservation.

As a founding member of our collective, I’m here to tell you that us newbies are doing more than a riding trend and blogging about it. We know our limits. And hopefully, we are helping to creating a forum for conversation about safe preservation.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why you should grow Kale

Kale is getting a lot of press these days, it's high in iodine for one thing, maybe it is time to take a more detailed look at Kale

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale are some of the healthiest vegetables you can grow. The health benefits are almost too numerous to mention, but they can help prevent cancer in more than one way, and they can even help fight cancer, literally. Regular readers will know I’m a fan of science, so this isn’t just holistic hearsay, there are actual peer reviewed studies showing these effects. They contain antioxidants, which can help prevent cancer by removing oxidative stress on our cells. They also contain relatively unique compounds that help our cells detoxify, thus removing potential carcinogens from our body. Then there is another compound that can literally cause cancer cells to kill themselves. They’re also good for preventing inflammation, and can lower your cholesterol. Cruciferous vegetables are superfoods, some more than others, kale would seem to be more than others.

But this isn’t a health blog, it is a gardening blog, so lets talk about gardening.

I’ve grown cabbage, and it works, but critters get into it like crazy. Slugs, ground hogs, rabbits. When it gets damaged it ruins the head, and you have only 1 head per plant. Plus, cabbage is has a little less nutritional density compared to the other cruciferous vegetables, and it is really cheap at the store so why not just buy it? I always try to consider cost when planting something, since I have limited space, I want the most bang for my buck...

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Why Butternut Squash Hurts Your Hands

This blogger hopes to solve an age old Butternut Squash mystery. His finding show that sometimes direct experience is better than anything you can find on the Internet...

Many a gardener will grow butternut squash, and eagerly watch the fruits develop, counting the days, hoping they’re not ruined by an early frost. Then harvest time, and the gardener can’t wait. They take the squash inside and immediately start cutting it up, about 5 minutes later they’re aghast and trying to figure out why their hands are red and peeling and constricted. Water doesn’t help, “What is going on?” they cry.
I was cutting up a butternut squash this morning and my hands got hurt again, just a little bit though, because I was careful to touch exposed flesh as little as possible. It got me wondering about the technical details of why it happened. I knew the broad strokes, as they were, but as a bit of a science geek I wanted to know more. Unfortunately after going on the Internet I found nothing but incorrect information, even Wikipedia had it wrong. You had one forum where some guess made a hearsay guess, and then people cite this as fact, and all over the Internet from forums, to blogs, to Yahoo answers, the incorrect information is repeated.
Suffice it to say, I decided someone needed to put the correct information on the Internet.

Before I tell you why your hands get wounded like they were dipped in acid when handling butternut squash, let me tell you what is NOT the cause.


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How to Build an Island Bed with Retaining Wall Bricks

Every Gardener should know what an island bed is, just in case it comes up in conversation...

Island bed? What is that? No, it isn’t a bed with palm trees. An island bed is a bed not connected to anything, such as your foundation or property line. It exists as an island, alone in a sea of grass. This blog post will be about how to make a raised one with retaining wall bricks. Why build it up as a raised bed? Well, in additional to looking better, giving you the opportunity to improve the soil, and improving drainage. You also have to bust up less sod, which is my least favorite gardening task, and I’m sure your’s as well.
Step 1: Draw your shape...

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Putting the P back in Fertilizer

Ok folks, we no longer have an excuse NOT to pee on our gardens...

So we have come to this, you’ve heard of the “golden rule” but this is perhaps the “golden question” can you use pee to fertilize your garden?

The answer is yes. Not only have you been wasting a perfectly good nitrogen source down your toilet, you’ve also been using water unnecessarily too. My city bills me for water usage, and I figure every time I pee outside I’m saving a nickle while providing free fertilizer to my garden.

For those who do not know, pee is sterile, yes, it is. Unless you have a UTI, it is sterile. Pee is filtered from the blood, not from your colon. Once it gets into the air it can be colonized by bacteria and whatnot, but as it leaves the body, its sterile, you aren’t spreading anything, except good fertilizer. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that you could drink your pee like an idiot. Urinating is how your body filters your blood, adding the stuff right back in is not healthy. If you’re ever in a survival situation, don’t drink your pee. Just don’t do it. Make a simple solar still, it isn’t hard, you can purify it easily enough, don’t be lazy like Bear Grylls.
Urine is mostly water, with added urea (which is basically nitrogen), some salt, and trace other compounds, nothing dangerous to your garden. It can be acidic though, so you don’t want to actually pee on your plants. Also, just personally, I don’t pee on my vegetable garden. It isn’t dangerous, but that doesn’t mean I want to risk splashing on my food. I’ll grow vegetables in well composted cow manure, which is definitely more gross, and plenty of people will do the deed in the veggie patch, but I won’t. I will pee into my compost and then later use that compost in the vegetable garden, but I let it all compost for awhile of course.

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Pumpkin Butter Recipe is Great for Home Canning

Great Pumpkin Butter Recipe, save this one for the fall and beyond, it's great for home canning!

3 1/2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin
1 1/2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
1 package liquid fruit pectin
4  cups sugar
1/4 cup of water (if needed)

I mixed everything but the pectin in a large pot and brought to a boil.
I cooked several minutes and added most of the water.   I then added the pouch of
pectin and stirred.  The was thick but not too thick, it poured.
I ladeled into pint jars and the PRESSURE CANNED the jars at 11 PSI for 15 minutes.
I also took extra time bringing the canner up to heat and vented just a bit longer than I usually do.  I keep reading how unsafe is to BWB. 

I did this weeks ago and just opened a jar and it is great.  The pressure canning did not affect the taste.  It is thick.  It was not thick when I took it out of the canner.  Time thickened it.

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Sausage Patties

Does anyone still have a great recipe for canning Sausage Patties? It's such a lost art! If you do please share, until then this perfectly fine recipe will do...

I am going to have my grandkids off and on all summer. I had seen in the yahoo boards a method to can sausage and decided to try it. I got a roll of Jimmy Dean sausage (on sale) and cut into patties using a canning lid as my guide, lightly fried the patties on med-high until brown on both sides (they shrink a bit), but not cooked through. I then packed into the jars with the small amount of grease left
in the pan and pressure cooked for 75 minutes (pints) at 11 lbs pressure. I opened and they are good. I am now going to do more, lightly stir frying some for sausage crumbles and making more patties. I used a wide mouth jar for this. I will wait for a huge sale before doing in bulk.

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Turkey Cassoulet Soup by the Jar

What could be better than Turkey Cassoulet Soup - unless it's Turkey Cassoulet Soup with bacon and sausage!

Per jar...

1 cup chopped cooked turkey
1/2 cup dry white beans (rinsed)
1/2 cup sliced sausage (any kind)
2 slices bacon (cooked and crumbled)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp garlic chopped or powdered or to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt pepper to taste

add chicken broth to the fill line and cook 90 minutes quarts at 11 lbs pressure or for your altitude.

I love this soup, I did not use sausage because I was out of it and did not want to go to the store. My Mom took me to Sweet Tomatoes and I had this soup, came home and tried to recreate it. Next time I will add the sausage and a bit more dry beans. I love the texture of the beans, not soggy and fully cooked. A great way to use leftovers, which is why I did this recipe by the jar.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012


How sweet they’ve been, the first days of Spring. Though March played with our sense of seasonal order, growling out like a temperamental lion, we harvested twenty pounds of honey this week; a sap of sweet, slow, amber translucence.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beautiful Vegetables and Fruits

Luscious Red Tommy Tomatoes

Vegetables and Fruits can be seen as works of art. Not in an Andy Warhol way but as examples of nature's bounty and craftsmanship. There is nothing like a kitchen full of summer's harvest. The reds of  tomatoes, the yellows of squash, the purple of grapes, the greens of peppers. All the different colors of vegetables and fruits make a wonderful and inspiring palate.

No wonder vegetables and fruits have been the inspiration of so many artists throughout the centuries.

Yellow and Red Peppers
Here are some bright red and yellow peppers.

Corn comes in abundant colors. It is used as decoration and is often the subject, or medium, of art.

Multi-colored Corn!

Strawberries at the market

Squash in all shapes and colors

Squash has many varieties, it's hard to believe they are all in the same plant family.

Colorful Veggies
Vegetables come in so many different shapes and colors. One can practically see all the vitamins and anti-oxidants jumping out from this picture.

Vegetables at the produce section

Check out all the different hues of green in these peppers:

Assorted Green, but Hot! peppers

Eggplants are a type of squash...  with many purple hues.

Purple eggplants

Next time you're eating vegetables, take a moment to enjoy their beauty... bon appetit!

Vegetable cornucopia