Vegetable

There's few things more rewarding than growing vegetables in your own backyard. The fresh taste of a vine ripened tomato or snap pea harvested at its flavorful peak is second to none. Vegetable gardening is a great family activity, one that provides rewarding outdoor exercise. And knowing that your organically-grown veggies carry none of the risks of today’s commercial, factory-farm produce can be priceless.

To ensure you raise the best-tasting, most nutritious food for your family — in ways that make your garden as safe and healthy as it can be — takes planning, know-how and experience. Click here for information on locating your new garden plot, improving soil health, selecting the best vegetable varieties for your growing conditions, and caring for your plants — naturally! — all the way to harvest.

Homegrown Tomato Time

Heirloom TomatoesThere’s something different in the air, something that precludes the end of summer and the coming of cooler days and chillier nights. Your area may have reached that point already, a time when frost is anticipated maybe even tomorrow. But for most of us, there’s still an abundance to be had in our gardens and that means homegrown tomatoes.

The history of tomatoes, their trip from the Andes and the gardens of the Aztecs to Europe and back to America is fascinating. In his entertaining book The Heirloom Life Gardener, Jere Gettle recounts the origins of the belief that tomatoes were poisonous (they’re members of the nightshade family, as are belladonna and henbane) and how they were first grown in the Old World as an ornamental. He recounts that famous moment in tomato history where a crowd of two-thousand gathered in Salem County, New Jersey to watch Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson commit suicide by eating a basket of tomatoes. They were disappointed. Today they’re consumed by the tons. (more…)

Abundant Recipes: Summer Squash

Summer SquashThere’s only one thing more abundant this time of year than zucchini and crookneck: summer squash recipes! Of course, squash isn’t the only thing coming in abundance from our gardens in August. And there-in lies a clue as to how we should use this bounty. What grows together, goes together.

That’s exactly the principle Dani over at Clean and Delicious operates under when putting together her Raw Summer Squash Salad with Feta and Tomato. She combines squash, cherry tomatoes (who doesn’t have a lot of those in the garden now?), basil, olive oil, lemon juice, feta cheese, and salt and pepper into a refreshing first course. Our variation? Add a pinch (or three) of chile flakes to bring out the flavors.

As much as we love grilling and sautéing zucchini and yellow squash, using it raw has its attractions. As Dani… or almost anyone… will tell you: when using raw summer squash, slice it thinly. A mandolin is a handy implement for this. Some people use their Cusinart, but we find this too much trouble (and a bit wasteful). A good sharp paring knife and close attention to what you’re slicing is our preferred method. (more…)

Talkin’ Potato Blight

Harvesting PotatoesAugust is often the make or break month for potatoes. No doubt, if you’ve planted a few rows (or a lot) of potatoes, you’ve already dug a few plants for new potatoes which are usually ready two weeks or so after the plants blossom. But if you’re waiting until the first frost so you’ll have big tasty tubers for winter storage, now’s the time to be on alert. Warms days with high consistent humidity encourage blight, as does wet weather. The problem with potato blight is that once it starts, it’s nearly impossible to make it disappear completely. Still there are things you can do to prevent and impede potato disease. The ultimate goal is to keep them from the tubers.

If you notice dark blemishes on mature leaves, often with target-like rings, your potatoes are probably suffering from one of the most common diseases, early blight. If left untreated, this fungus will result in collar rot, essentially strangling the plant at the soil line. Luckily, there is a treatment that will slow or even stop the fungus that causes potato blight, if applied early enough. A good copper-based fungicide applied every week or so should give your spuds time to develop. (more…)

Just Beet It

Garden BeetsTrue confessions: I don’t like canned or pickled beets. There was a time that I did, living in the cloudy Pacific Northwest and growing lots of root vegetables because we could, including turnips and rutabagas. Garden beets grew especially well. I loved their tops or “greens” as they’re called and still do (beets are in the same family as chard). But every fall we’d pull beets, always leaving some in the ground under heavy mulch cover for greens in the spring, and the canning process would begin. The first month or so of eating canned beets multiple times a week, I did fine. But by the end of January? I didn’t want to see another dinner plate stained red.

There are a lot of reasons people don’t like beets. So who would have guessed the that beets are suddenly big? Foodies, fancy restaurants and home chefs are all finding tasty thing to do with beets. And a lot of the credit goes to heirlooms, specifically the Chioggia beet. The Chioggia, also referred to as the bulls-eye beet or the candy stripe are extra flavorful. An heirloom that originated in Italy, it’s different in more ways than color from the Detroit Golden heirloom beet (or simply “golden”… see number 3 pick on this post), the previous darling of the beet set. (more…)

Knee High In Garden Corn

Garden CornCorn is our country’s great vegetable. Since its seeds first migrated up from Mexico and spread across the world, corn has served as an all-American symbol as well as one of its favorite food crops.

Growing — and eating — garden corn is the source of countless family memories. Generations have grown up watching seeds the size of their finger tips turn into towering stalks with ears. How many of us actually laid between rows on a summer night to find out if it was true you could hear the corn grow? We still follow grandma’s directions: the first thing to do when picking corn is put the pot on to boil, so not a moment off the stalk is wasted. And we remember grandma cutting the kernels from the cob so grandpa — bless his dentures — could enjoy it even if he didn’t have his God-given teeth. How many times were we told that it was hot enough to pop corn right in the garden? Who can forget the unique sweetness of fresh-picked sweet corn? (more…)

Tomatoes: Taste? Or Color?

Garden TomatoesIt’s no secret that most commercially grown tomatoes taste lousy. Now scientists have discovered the reason: a gene mutation, the one bred into tomatoes to yield consistent color. It seems that tomato breeders discovered the gene about 70 years ago and began to cross-breed it into nearly all commercial tomatoes so that they would have an attractive red color. There was just one problem. Adding the redness gene “turned-off” flavor genes, the ones that created more sugars and carotenoids, various compounds in the tomato that contribute to flavor. The result? Tomatoes that look good but taste like paper. Here’s the abstract of the studies that determined the effects of the “redness” gene. Now we’d like to see the marketing studies that motivated commercial growers to think consumers prefer perfect red fruits without regard to taste. (more…)

Joys of Bok Choy

Bok ChoiOne of the most beautiful sights in the summer garden is the deep, rich green color of bok choi leaves, bunched like a bouquet, standing above the creamy white stalks that support them. The form and intense shades of the plant almost — almost — keep us from reaching down and cutting it off at ground level. There’s only one thing we like better than growing bok choy in the garden: the sight of this cabbage family member chopped, stir-fried (maybe with some garlic) and heaped next to a dollop of brown rice.

Bok choi or pak choi, or pak choy is a cool weather crop that does best planted in early spring or late summer. It can be successfully sown mid-season if it’s harvested very young before it has a chance to go to seed (strangely, very cool weather will also cause it to go to seed). Cabbage moths and other pests are more active in late summer so you’ll want to protect your plants with row covers. The secret to growing attractive, loosely bunched, erect choi is to plant sparingly and thin judiciously, allowing as much as eight inches between the larger varieties. The good news is that the thinnings can be added to stir-fry no matter their size. (more…)

Garden Greens (Mesclun)

Mixed GreensNot so long ago, the word mesclun was unknown to everyone but hippies hard of hearing. Now the mix of garden greens is a favorite among gourmet restaurants and gardeners who love the crisp, occasionally spicy taste of loose leaf lettuces. As grown in its place of origin — Provencal, France — mesclun is a specific mix of chervil, arugula, lettuces and endive. In American gardens, anything goes: red and green loose leafs, Asian greens, kale, even radicchio.

One of our favorite gardening practices — inspired by Mel Bartholomew’s now-classic Square-Foot Gardening — is to stake out a two-by-two foot square in the garden and freely sow a mesculun mix, either one purchased ready-to-go or one we’ve mixed ourselves from favorite greens (deer tongue, rosso, black-seeded Simpson, mizuna , kale, Asian mustard, arugula and garden cress). We sow them into the corners and across the middle. A quick raking and tamping, followed by a thorough watering, is enough to get them started. (more…)

Garlic Scapes

Garlic ScapesThis Memorial Day weekend, along side the greens, turnips, carrots, young rutabaga, green onions and radishes at our corpulent, late-spring Saturday Farmers Market here in Santa Fe, New Mexico (a much better tourist attraction than the area’s fabled art gallery scene) was something we didn’t see much of not so many years ago: garlic scapes. When we first noticed them at our then-local farmers market in Bozeman, MT a couple years back, we thought the vendor was exercising some creative marketing by offering a product that otherwise might go to waste. Turns out the garlic scape is a wonderful spring bounty whose harvest not only encourages the growth of the garlic it sprouts from but, when harvested early enough, tastes great, too. And, it’s good for you!

Garlic scapes are the curling, non-flowering “flower” stalks of garlic plants that appear a few weeks after the first leaves. Growers usually pinch them off to encourage larger bulb growth. But in some Mediterranean gardening cultures where little is traditionally wasted, the garlic scape has been used to flavor early-season dishes ahead of the garlic harvest. American growers have slowly caught on and in the last few years, every gourmand worth her designer sea salt has gotten into the act. Don’t believe me? Here are articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post to prove it. (more…)

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