Few pursuits are as rewarding as growing your own organic garden. Not only do you get to enjoy the fruits of your own labor, but you have the satisfaction of knowing that the produce you are eating was grown free of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. Growing organically produces healthy, more diverse ecosystems which are better able to resist significant pest damage… naturally!
. . . 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…)
Here we are in the last days of August and peppers are growing everywhere. They’re hanging big and bright in our gardens, the produce sections boast an abundance, and farmer’s markets offer bushels of varied-colored, varied-sized peppers of types we’ve never seen. In places like New Mexico where chile peppers are deeply embedded in the culture. It’s no joke to say that as summer progresses, so does the heat, at least when it comes to peppers.
With all the attention given to hot and hotter peppers, we want to make sure that you don’t overlook those other pepper plants, the ones grown for flavor and sweetness rather than heat. They’re often called sweet peppers, and frequently limited to traditional bell peppers, the kind every gardener has grown at some point. But we’re talking about the wide and ever-expanding variety of mildly or even barely spicy sweet peppers that have been commonly called wax and Hungarian peppers, the type that do well in stir-fry, gazpacho, and pickled.
We’ve been on a binge of sweet peppers this year and find that they’re a great addition to pastas, casseroles of grains and veggies, and wonderful ingredient to include in salsas. Not only that, they’re among some of the most beautiful and ornamental plants in the vegetable garden, their sizable blossoms giving way to a host of colorful fruits in all sorts of shades. Even their names are attractive: piquillo, lemon drop, padron, peperoncino, guindilla verde, corne de chevre (goat’s horn), Basque. (more…)
A friend likes to tell the story of how he almost proposed marriage to a woman who made indescribably delicious eggplant parmigiana. Then he found out it was the woman’s mother who was the genius behind that wonderful eggplant dish. So he proposed to the mother instead. The woman, a widow in her 80s, refused because our friend didn’t garden. “Where am I going to get the good eggplant and tomatoes I need?” she protested.
The mother had it right. The sad truth here is that it’s tremendously difficult not only finding good tomatoes in commercial grocery stores but good eggplant, too. All of our favorite dishes are only as good as the ingredients that go into them. Growing eggplant (and tomatoes) yourself gives you a decided advantage when making parmigiana. If you’re lucky, you’ll find good, organic eggplant in your local farmers market. But growing your own is best. (more…)
A friend, an avid organic tomato grower, has started her harvest and you know what that means. Tomato Festival! The festival usually runs from the first weeks of August right up to the first frost (at which point it becomes Green Tomato Festival or the Wait-Until-These-Tomatoes-In-the-Windowsill- Ripen Fest).
The event, held in kitchens around the country, is an unofficial celebration of one of our most cherished home-gardening products. Our friend grows heirlooms and so far this year has a bounty crop of golden jubilee, a juicy, subtly flavored orange tomato, as well as big, bold brandywines, and a few unusual, tremendously sweet, strangely colored chocolate stripes. (more…)
Is it still possible to take bees for granted? Since the general population learned about colony collapse disorder, the mysterious effect that has destroyed a large percentage of the world’s pollinators in a 2007 broadcast of CBS’s 60 Minutes and the publicity in its wake, people have come to appreciate bees for the critical work they do. Before, when someone was asked to think of the first word that comes to mind when they hear “bee,” they might have said “sting” or “honey.” Now they just might say “food” or “survival.”
That’s our survival, not just theirs. (more…)
Read back over months of previous posts and you’d think we garden just for gardening sake. And, yes, we do. But let’s not loose sight of the first and foremost reason. We love to eat. And there’s nothing better than eating — and cooking — fresh, organic, home-grown produce. Now that we’re in the season when gardens are supplying us with a bounty of fresh vegetables and greens, we thought we’d talk about enjoying the harvest. Let’s eat.
Combining fresh garden vegetables in various recipes is a matter of taste and compatibility, sure. But it also hinges on what’s ready and when. Earlier in the season, when we harvest peas, we’re also harvesting baby or pearl onions. A little butter and voila! The simplest of dishes that everyone knows and loves: peas and pearl onions. Make a cream sauce and you’ve got a traditional comfort food: creamed peas and pearl onions (a little bacon really makes this dish shine). Cook the onions down, add some chicken or vegetable broth in which to braise the peas, add some mint, thyme or chives from the garden and you’ve got a wonderfully different yet still easy dish of braised peas.
Most likely, your peas are done for the year. But here come the beans! Make the braised pea recipe above with green beans. For a homey, Southern variation, sautee the onion (and some garlic if you know what’s good and what’s good for you) in a little bacon grease. Then braise the beans in the broth. Vegetarians: you know what to do. Have some walnuts? Add them when you’re almost done sauteeing the onion. (more…)
Our far-flung correspondent in often arid Santa Fe leaves town and reports back:
I spent a few days at the end of last week in Tacoma on family business and would like to report it rained on Friday. Nothing unusual about that, this is after all the wet northwest. But it was unusual for this summer. In fact, as the newspapers reported, it was the first time it had rained in 35 days.
Now, sunny summers aren’t that unusual around Puget Sound. But the duration of this dry spell was and it had an effect on the usually lush landscaping that surrounds even the most modest homes. The talk? It was about rain.
No, this isn’t some attempt to work in the subject of climate change, though there’s no doubt that things are a bit different here than they used to be. Larger factors, like the El Nino phenomenon, may mean that some years will actually be wetter. All this can be very interesting and fascinating to watch over a period of years but the practical is what interests gardeners who know that you work with what you get. And what gardeners got this year was no rain the entire month of July. (more…)
It’s August! Your vegetable garden is really asserting itself, your flower beds are still full of color, and your lawn, like the dog, is ready to take a nap. There’s nothing to do at this point but enjoy it, right?
Of course not. Gardens may move more slowly in August and immediate gardening tasks, like watering and weeding, may be all you think you really need to do. But smart gardeners know August isn’t a stand down month. It’s a stand and watch month, time to keep your senses alert for weeds that need to be pulled, pests that need to be stopped, and plants that need care — or even planting — to protect their longtime well-being and provide you with winter crops. Winter crops? Yes, you know; stuff like root vegetables and hardy greens you’ll be digging out from under the mulch long after the first frost.
Okay, here’s some thing we did in August back in our old zone 4 days. We’re sure you can add to the list of gardening tips, especially those August things required in your growing zone and location. (more…)
Patience, persistence required while growing brussel sprouts.
Your healthy, vegetable loving Planet Natural Blogger loves Brussels sprouts. Those firm little heads with a mild cabbage flavor are wonderful with just a touch of butter or olive oil, smothered in a cheese sauce, or baked into a casserole. Our experience growing them provides an object lesson in how we learn the craft of organic gardening, one that involves success followed by a succession of problems that are solved one-by-one, often with same or similar solutions, followed by a return to success. Happy ending! (more…)
It’s this year’s hottest way (heh) to garden! And it’s also a social media phenomenon! It’s straw bale gardening. Ever since the publication of his book, Straw Bale Gardens (Cool Springs Press), Joel Karsten has become something of a gardening celebrity, making television and YouTube appearances, being interviewed by major papers, and gathering a Facebook following that counts over 27,000 likes.
We’ve written about using straw as mulch and bale gardening whether straw or hay, before. Karsten has really refined the technique which basically revolves around one thing: the bales are composting as the plants grow. The heat generated by the composting straw gives the vegetables planted in them a distinct advantage. Warmer “ground” temperatures stimulate root growth. Karsten capitalizes on this by pulling plastic tents hung from wires strung over his bale rows to trap that generated heat, thus giving him an early start and warm early conditions there in his Roseville, MN home.
Once you line up rows of bales for your garden, how do you get them to start composting as they stand there above ground exposed to the elements? Karsten “conditions” the bale for up to two weeks ahead of planting by sprinkling traditional chemical fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen over his bales and watering it to draw it into the bale. Now we organic gardeners wouldn’t want to do that. But we could get the same effect by using organic fertilizers high in nitrogen, say blood meal, fish meal, or cotton seed meal; or an organic fertilizer mix with good nitrogen content. Not much fertilizer is needed, but thorough watering is important. But don’t over water to the point where your nitrogen source is washed from the bale. (more…)