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.

Growing, Enjoying Ornamental Gourds

Ornamental GourdsDried, carved or used in centerpieces, gourds from the garden bring color, cheer to the Thanksgiving season.

With apologies to turkeys everywhere… what says Thanksgiving more than a beautiful centerpiece of ornamental gourds? Gourds have become such a symbol of the late fall season that one of our favorite literary magazines has done a tongue-in-cheek essay about such displays (sorry, no link; too much profanity and, well, this is a family blog). Growing gourds is easy, especially where there’s a longer growing season and, with the rise of interest in collecting and supplying heirloom seeds, their types and availability have mushroomed over the last few years.

Ornamental gourds are of two types. The soft shell gourds (Curcubita pepo) are the type most commonly used for fall centerpieces and other decorations. The hard-shell type, those that we dry and make bowls, birdhouses, even musical instruments from (Lagenaria siceraria) are usually larger and need a longer growing time. (more…)

Cooking With Kids: Nutrition, Health, Gardening

Sylvia's TableA new cookbook, SYLVIA’S TABLE, talks about growing and preparing food with children.

Sylvia’s Table: Fresh, Seasonal Recipes From Our Farm to Your Family isn’t your ordinary cookbook. Sure, it’s filled with great recipes, all of them using fresh, often home-grown ingredients. But its designed with kids in mind. In addition to the recipes, it features essays on the various foods that author Liz Neumark harvests and prepares. It also gives glimpses into the practice of sustainable farming and organic gardening, including growing tips. And it has useful suggestions on cooking with kids, including such things as how to safely teach children to use kitchen knives for slicing.

The book’s emphasis is on healthy, natural foods. But that doesn’t limit what you’ll find here. How does Kale Crisps, Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Hearty Winter Beef Stew, Butternut Squash Bread Pudding, and Caramelized Peach and Ginger Crisp sound? If you know someone who has children and loves to cook as well as garden, this book would make a wonderful present. (more…)

The Great (Heirloom) Pumpkin

Pumpkin PatchVarieties of pumpkins for carving, eating, or both!

Who isn’t familiar with Linus from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip and his belief in the Great Pumpkin? Linus believes that on Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children. This wasn’t just wishful thinking on Linus’ part. He truly believed in The Great Pumpkin, and did so year after year.

We also believe in great pumpkins; in fact, we don’t know of any pumpkin that isn’t great. Sure, we love pie pumpkins, field pumpkins, and giant pumpkins, just like everybody else. But we’re especially attracted to the unusual varieties. And many of those are heirloom pumpkins. (more…)

Accidental Garden, Natural Beauty

Natural GardeningXeric and natural landscapes ask, “What is a garden for?”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That well-manicured lawn with its precisely-trimmed shrubs and hedges may look okay around an old-money McMansion, but is that what you want in your open space? With water-wise planting, conversion of labor-and-liquid-intensive lawns, and utilization of native plants, many of us are providing new answers to an old question: What is a garden for?

James Golden’s garden in a cleared patch of woods above the Delaware River in New Jersey is, as he says, good for nothing. But he doesn’t really mean it. His acreage is a jumble of native and exotic plannings, a sort of living collage constructed of many pieces, each having their own interest, but assembling into one attractive whole. When he says it’s good for nothing, he means that it has no utilitarian uses. But it is plenty useful in the larger sense. You can see a slide show of Mr. Golden’s garden, one that emphasizes its various parts, here. To get the full effect, visit his website”View From Federal Twist” here. (more…)

Amazing Amaranth

AmaranthI’ll admit it right up front. I’ve never grown amaranth. But I’m going to consider it for next year (and no, it’s not too early to start planning next year’s garden). Why? We’ve always been interested in growing grains as part of a desire for self-sufficiency. And then we’ve been learning about what a nutritional powerhouse amaranth is. The biggest reason? We saw amaranth growing in a nearby garden. It’s beautiful red seed heads were one of the most striking things in the entire garden.

Amaranth is a favorite grain for those on gluten-free diets. It’s protein is near complete and easily digestible. It contains high amounts of lysine, the one amino acid that most flour substitutes are deficient in. You can buy amaranth flour in some health food stores. And you can buy the grain ready for cooking in many of them. But imagine growing the grain yourself. And then using it, usually in conjunction with other gluten-free flours. (more…)

Late-Season, Cold Hardy Cover Crops

Winter RyePlanting cover crops — green manure — early enough in the fall has always been something of a problem for me. We all know the advantages that cover crops give our soil. They blanket it over the long winter, protecting it from erosion, keeping it from hardening and preventing the leaching of valuable nutrients by rain and snow. Their roots keep the soil aerated. They protect against the dangers of a deep freeze, thus preserving beneficial microbes and other organisms that help keep your soil healthy. They help prevent the spread of weeds. Best, cover crops add green material to the soil, material that supplies nutrients as well as nitrogen. They’re one of the most valuable tools in the organic gardener’s playbook.

Those cover crops, no matter what kind you’re planting, need to go in ahead of the first frost so that they have a chance to become established before the long cold winter sets in. The problem with that is that our gardens are usually producing right up until the first frost. We’re not anxious to pull our still-productive vegetables from the ground to make way for cover crops. Is it okay to plant cover crops later in the fall? Yes, depending on the conditions. (more…)

Beddy-Bye Garden Time

Fall Garden CleanupPutting gardens to bed in the fall is something like putting children to bed for the night. Both are multi-step processes. Kids need to change out of their clothes, bathe and/or wash their faces, brush their teeth, and might even need a bed time story. Gardens? They can be as reluctant as kids when its time to go to bed. It might take you weeks to get them there.

Properly preparing gardens for winter can have huge rewards come spring time. I’ll admit I am both reticent and lazy when it comes to tucking the garden in for the winter. But prompt and considered work this time of year means less work in the spring. And isn’t gardening a four-seasons activity?

This is the time of year we follow the weather carefully. If there’s even a chance of a freeze, we break out the old sheets — our more organized neighbor has sheets of Visqueen — and cover everything that’s still showing life and the promise of production. (more…)

Fall Is Garlic Planting Time

Garlic BulbsFall is an important time for growers of garlic. Savvy garlic growers know that cloves planted in the fall yield larger bulbs than those planted in the spring. Some garlic partisan’s will tell you garlic that experiences a winter in the ground will taste better but we’ve never been able to conduct a side-by-side taste test. That’s because all the growers we know plant their garlic in the fall.

But it is true that garlic planted in warmer regions needs an exposure to cold to grow properly. Hardneck garlics need a cooling period — two or three weeks at 40 to 50 degrees — before planting to grow properly in areas where soils temperatures stay warm.

Autumn is also a crucial time for those who’ll plant in spring. This is the time to prepare your soil so that it’s at its maximum growing potential come March and April. (more…)

Picking, Cooking Sweet Corn

Fresh Sweet CornWe’ve been offered sweet corn from a road side stand that wasn’t ready only once and that was from a couple neighborhood kids who got carried away with their picking. That experience turned out to be a learning experience for all of us.

The corn obviously wasn’t ready — the young gentleman hadn’t thought to pull back the husks to check — and we pointed out the short green silk as we bought an ear (cheap) and pulled away the cover. It was obvious. The kernels hadn’t plumped up and we showed that to the boys. We told them about testing the kernels when they did look ready — otherwise known as the pinch test — and what they would see. We pointed out that it was a shame they’d pulled all these ears that weren’t ready and now never would be. (more…)

Why You’ll Always Have To Grow Tomatoes . . .

Homegrown Tomatoes. . . or buy them from your small, local organic farmer. This article on efforts to produce a tastier commercial tomato is, frankly, sad. We all know the problem with grocery store tomatoes (PDF): they’re bland if not completely tasteless. Compare them to the most mediocre tomato grown in someone’s back yard and that mediocre tomato shines by comparison. Compare them to any decent, heirloom tomato from your garden or a small, local, organic farmer and, well, there’s no comparison.

Not only do homegrown and small farm organic tomatoes taste better than commercial tomatoes, they have more nutrition.

So you have to feel bemused if not sorry for professor Harry Klee at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation program. Sure, his goals are admirable: he’s trying to “build” a better supermarket tomato. That means more flavor. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And he’s going about it very scientifically. He extracts the “flavor compounds” in tomatoes, separates their various components, and then studies them genetically in an attempt to duplicate them in commercial tomatoes. While he studies the genetics of these tomato components, he isn’t out to genetically modify tomatoes. Instead he uses standard hybridization techniques, albeit in the laboratory, in an attempt to create commercial tomatoes with improved taste. (more…)

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