Archive for October, 2008

Beets: Read all about ’em!

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

harvested and cleaned beet plantsBeets are a food source that seems almost too good to be true. This root crop is super-easy to grow, and the produce adds bright color and delicious sweet flavors to meals. Beets are packed with so many nutrients they should be required eating! The globes and green tops are rich in vitamin C, folate, manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber, and loads of other compounds that fight cancer and heart disease.

Gardeners have many open-pollinated and hybrid varieties to choose from, with several sizes, colors and types available. There are shades of reds and purples, orange/yellow, and white with red stripes. Beets come in several shapes, including round, oblong or cylindrical, and they mature in sizes from miniature (silver-dollar diameter) to 3-inch globes.

Beets can be prepared in countless ways: raw (juiced or in salads); cooked (steamed, boiled, roasted); and preserved (canned or pickled). Both the green, leafy tops and the roots (the round bulbous part) are edible and are packed with nutrients. Snip the green tops and rinse in water, then prepare the same way as other edible greens like chard or spinach, by juicing, steaming, or tossing into casseroles and soups to add color and flavor.

Even amateur beet gardeners will enjoy bountiful produce with nearly no effort. Beets can be planted from seed or starter plants. The seeds are actually clusters of seeds within dried fruits. They should be planted in well-drained but moist soil, and spaced in rows a minimum of 12 inches apart. Plant seeds 1/2 inch into the soil, then thin to 3 or 4 inches apart, to allow room for the roots to expand. Beets do like a lot of fertilizer. One application of fertilizer when the tops are around 4 inches tall. The tops can be snipped for meals before the roots are developed, as long as 1/3 of the greens are left intact until root harvest.

Fresh beets are usually available year-round in the grocery, but they’re a great home garden staple, since they can be planted nearly a month before the last frost is anticipated, and they will grow well into fall. If you space the seed planting throughout the summer, you can spread out the harvesting over several months. You can gauge the maturity of the root by sight: they stick up out of the soil enough to see the diameter (don’t let them grow larger than 3 inches) and you can poke the top to test the firmness. If they’re ripe, you simply grab the tops and pull them out of the ground.

Beets can be stored in a root cellar for up to a couple of months, or kept in sawdust or other dry packing material in a cool, dry place long past the garden’s last warm days.

Miniature round beets can be prepared whole, and larger beets can be sliced or diced for serving. Fans of pickled beets know that this veggie is the ideal complement to tangy pickling seasonings. Sliced beets and onions in either a sweet juice or a traditional sour brine are popular with all ages, because the vegetable keeps its crunch and dense texture.

Beet borscht is a Russian soup that is traditionally served cold with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and a sprinkle of dill on top. It makes a great summertime appetizer because of its gorgeous pink color and refreshing flavor.

Beets and onions both caramelize when roasted, releasing their sugars and giving them a gorgeous outer glaze and striking savory and sweet flavor. It makes an excellent side dish for turkey or lamb meals.

Jersey asparagus is worth the wait

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Growing Asparagus Plants in the GardenAsparagus is usually thought of as a crop for the patient gardener because it takes two years to establish itself before it can be harvested. The truth is, after that, asparagus is a perfect crop for the impatient gardener. It literally pops out of the earth, sweet and tender and instantly available for dinner. Plus, the cost savings between growing your own and paying $4.99 for a small bundle at the grocery store is well worth the effort.

It's a member of the lily family and originated along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and on its many islands. It was considered a delicacy in Ancient Greece and still is, in modern times.

The top asparagus varieties in the world all bear the Jersey name, with Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight and Jersey Supreme among the choices.

Why the emphasis on the Garden State? Well, New Jersey is the fourth largest asparagus producing state, behind California, Washington, and Michigan. And Jersey varieties are hardy, able to grow in Michigan and Washington, as well as in Canadian provinces, including Nova Scotia.

Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight and Jersey Supreme are male hybrids. With asparagus, the males are more productive, and the females handle seed and berry production, thus, fewer resources to devote to producing spears.

Both male and female asparagus plants produce an edible vegetable, but the New Jersey emphasis on male hybrids exists because these varieties are resistant to rust, which is a fungus disease to which asparagus is highly susceptible. The males are also resistant to fusarium rot and crown rot.

When you're ready to plant, it’s best to start with crowns rather than seeds. You can choose from one- or two-year crowns. You won't be moving the asparagus bed for many years to come, up to 15 to 20 years, so be sure and plant asparagus out of the way on one side of the garden so you needn’t disturb it in early spring.

First, prepare soil by mixing in organic material, such as compost or rotted manure. And then, when planting, spread out the root system and place crown buds upward, 4 to 6 inches below the level of the surface. Cover crowns with 2 inches of soil. Place the rest alongside the row. When new shoots appear, fill in the trench until it reaches the level of the garden. Water when necessary during the summer. Keep it weed-free, and occasionally add compost or manure.

Asparagus does take space. The rule of thumb is that a patch large enough to satisfy an average family of asparagus lovers should contain at least 50 plants, set 18 inches apart. That translates into a planting bed at least 75 feet long and 3 feet wide.

On the other hand, an asparagus bed can do double duty as an ornamental “hedge.” Once the harvest is done for the year, the remaining spears are left to grow into tall, ferny foliage — perfect for camouflaging fences or providing a feathery backdrop for the rest of the garden.

Then, the wait begins for harvest. Don't touch the delicate stalks the first year. The next year, you can harvest two or three times in the spring. This would be the first year after transplanting. Take it easy and don't over harvest or you'll weaken the root system. But after that, you can harvest for up to two solid months. When cutting is completed, allow the fernlike tops to develop and produce leaves.

Cut asparagus when the spears are 6 to 8 inches tall. Use a sharp asparagus knife to cut the spear 1 or 2 inches below the surface of the soil.

And then, enjoy. Asparagus is one of the delicacies of the vegetable world.

Wonderful Strawberry Plants

Monday, October 27th, 2008

My strawberry plants order arrived right on time. The plants were in good shape and they are taking off fine. These plants in little pots were much different than the dry root plants I usually get. I think that’s why they are starting off so well! Thanks, Richard G.

Why are the flowers falling off my tomato plants

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

My tomato plant grew to over 5 feet high, and produced many flowers, not one single flower turned into ANY type of tomato. I was extremely disappointed as this is the one vegetable I love to eat fresh.

They did not lack water as I made sure they were always maintained. I also gave them Miracle Grow tomatoe fertilizer and bought a special dirt to plant them in when I recieved them. As I mentioned, this is the one thing I look forward to every year. I look forward to your response to learn why I never got any tomatoe. As soon as the flower would fall off, normally this is when the tomato begins growing, nothing came. I appreciate your time and help. Thanks, Darlene

How to Harvest Brussels Sprouts

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

harvesting brussels sprouts out of the garden

It’s a great reward to feast on your own homegrown produce long after summer has ended. What better way to enjoy a chilly fall evening than a dinner that includes your garden's goods?

Brussels Sprouts are packed with antioxidants (the cancer-fighting components in foods) and nutrients. They're a cruciferous vegetable, like cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli, and they're equally versatile and simple to prepare. Plus, they're cute, resembling miniature heads of cabbage.

Since Brussels sprouts ripen late in the season, they're the perfect vegetable for fall meals. They are hearty and can withstand cooler temperatures than most veggiesand even some frost. Harvest the bottom sprouts from stalks first, as they’ll be the ripest, and work your way to the top. When ripe, they should be approximately one inch in diameter and have a firm texture. With a sharp knife, cut straight across where they join the upright woody stem. Most plants will produce 20 to 40 sprouts and will grow 2 feet tall or more.

Before cooking, thoroughly rinse the sprouts to make sure there are no insects living in the outer leaves. Cut off any tough stemand to allow the heat to absorb more uniformly, cut an X in the bottom of the sprout. They are usually cooked and served whole. They're delicious hot, but also are a great addition cut into quarters and mixed into cold salads.

The entire sprout is edible and tender when cooked. You can simply steam them plain and enjoy their strong, nutty flavor with no seasonings. That’s also thought to be the healthiest preparation, as it helps the sprouts retain the most of their phytonutrients. Don’t overcook, or they’ll become limp and flavorless.

Remove from heat when they reach a semi-soft texture and the color changes from bright green to a more subtle olive-green hue. You can slow cook them in a saucepan with a little butter, or you can oven roast them with olive oil to caramelize their outsides for a rich, sweet flavor. Pretty much any flavors and seasonings that complement the other cruciferous veggies will work with Brussels sprouts. Who could resist any vegetable drizzled with a creamy cheese sauce?

A classic method of preserving Brussels Sprouts for winter eating is pickling. There are many ways to pickle, from traditional sterile canning to faster, more modern techniques, and from basic dill flavors to exotic vinegars to sweet marinades. They can be stored long-term or eaten within a few hours, depending on the method you choose.

Brussels sprouts can be dried in a food dehydrator, for a quick and healthy snack. They can be blanched and frozen to store over an entire season. Entire stems with sprouts can be cut from the garden and stored short-term in a root cellar, or in small containers with proper ventilation.

Because of Brussels Sprouts’ strong flavor and tendency to get limp when canned, that isn't the most popular method of preserving. Freezing and drying are more common. If you are overloaded with sprouts and enjoy canning, experiment with pickling seasonings, to make a superb relish or cold side salad.

The Scoop On Kitty Litter Odor Control

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

When it comes to keeping a cat-friendly household, there are a few tricks to make odor disappear. We have the pick of the litter on odor control to make your house feel less like a cattery and more like a home.

It can be embarrassing to have people visit if there are cat odors in your home. Thanks to new litters, cleaners and deodorizers – and if you follow some basic advice – pet smells don't have to be a problem anymore.

There are many way to control the odor of a litter box. The simple rule of thumb is, the more cats you have, the more litter boxes you need. If you’re a three-cat household, one litter box is not enough. Two are definitely required. Hooded covers and charcoal filters for the litter box help control odor. It also helps if you frequently change the litter. Don’t go for an entire week without replacing the old litter. Change it at least every two or three days.

Of course there are clumping litters that claim to allow all of the liquids to be removed in one scoop, but those aren’t necessarily safe for your cat. A cat grooms itself frequently, and tiny amount of litter can be ingested. And that litter can clump in a cat’s intestines and stomach just as they do in the litter pan, basically turning it into cement inside their feline bodies.

Your best bet is to try an odor control product to erase any traces of a kitty scent. Zero Odor® reduces odor to zero. Whenever you spray Zero Odor, its odor-eliminating molecules bond with the molecules that cause odor, and changes them into molecules that can no longer cause odor. It’s non-toxic and bio-degradable, too. Spray it onto litter and any odor is immediately eliminated.

There’s also Odor Assassin, which get rid of bad odors around the house and features a patented ingredient, SE-500, which boosts its odor-fighting power. Another option is all natural NI-712, which attacks the molecular structure of the cause of bad odors and can remove cat urine smells in an instant.

If you are planning any holiday travel with your cats, make sure you take along an odor control product. Car trips with pets are much more fun with sweet smelling animals.

How Can I Save My Tomato Plants

Friday, October 17th, 2008

I have been growing a couple of tomato plants. Now that it is getting cold outside, and my tomatoes are still blooming. What can I do? I was told to pull them out of the ground or pot and hang them up side down. To save them…Is that what I’m supposed to do?

How To Harvest Zucchini

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Summer Squash is one underrated vegetable. It only takes a couple of plants to supply a family with enough ripe squashes to last through summer, with plenty leftover at season end to freeze or save for fall and winter meals. Its mild flavor and soft texture make it an incredibly versatile food. Unlike winter squashes such as acorn or spaghetti, zucchini is a summer squash, with tender, edible skin. Best of all, it’s easy to grow and can be planted in gardens in every U.S. growing zone!

Zucchini plants produce a bountiful harvest throughout the summer months and sometimes into fall, especially in warmer climates. There are several varieties available, with different colors, shapes and sizes, and different harvest times. What’s left on the plant when frost time approaches can be frozen or dried for winter use.

Harvest plants when they’re approximately 7 or 8 inches long. They should be firm but not hard to the touch, with glossy skins. Wear gloves, as some varieties have prickly stems. Regular harvesting will promote continual production throughout the warm season.

Cut the fruit off at the stem with a sharp knife. Make sure to wash the squash well, to remove any traces of dirt from the soft skin, before readying it for cooking or storing.

You can prepare your dishes containing zucchini ahead of time, like soups, stews and casseroles, then freeze in individual serving sizes for quick re-heats of side dishes or entrees throughout winter. Or, you can prepare the squash cooked or uncooked, and freeze in the exact required quantity to be ready to thaw and add to future recipes.

Freezing zucchini couldn’t be simpler. There are many ways to do it, but the easiest is just to poke with a fork and then blanch or cook in a microwave for a minute to remove some of the moisture content, which prevents it from becoming mushy when frozen. Uncooked or blanched zucchini can be shredded, diced, cut into strips or sliced into rings for freezing and later use. Freeze in freezer bags, plastic containers or vacuum-sealed packets.

For some dishes, it’s preferred to remove the skin before freezing, like for deep frying. The breading sticks better to the flesh than the skin. However, the skin is where much of the nutrient content is, and if your vegetables will be mixed into other dishes, the skin also adds color.

Traditional canning works well with zucchini. It can be canned alone, either in chunks or pureed, or it can be combined with other ingredients to make zucchini marmalade, and tomato or mixed vegetable relishes. It adds the perfect background flavor to onions and bell peppers. For canning, many cooks prefer to remove the seeds, for a smoother, creamier consistency when cooked.

Zucchini is a staple in many ethnic cuisines, like Mexican and Korean soups that are served as entire mealsor parmesan-topped Italian casseroles. Combine squash with wheat flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and you can bake one of the world's most popular dessert breads. Tiny diced squash can be turned into a sweet compote, or canned with pineapple juice to make a sweet treat, or preserved like traditional dill pickle spears.

Squash can be dried in a food dehydrator for later rehydration in cooking. Zucchini cut into thin slices can be dried then lightly salted, and make excellent chips to serve with dips.

Zucchini is one of nature’s finest offerings for a healthy diet. It is fat-free, low in calories and high in fiber, Vitamin C and potassium. There are countless ways to make your squash harvest last throughout the cold, blustery months, without a single, boring meal!

How to pick green beans

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

This short video will show how easy it is to pick green beans.

Deer Repellent

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Deer are among the largest of the common garden pests.  They’re also carriers of deer ticks, and deer ticks carry Lyme disease. So, preventing deer from invading your space not only saves your precious landscape and garden plants, but it could be good for your health, too!

There are several ways to keep deer away.You can plant landscape and garden plants that aren’t attractive to deer. Like all mammals, they are attracted to vegetation that smells and tastes good. You can apply scents on or near your plants to deter deer. There are both natural and man-made chemical repellents available in powder, liquid, oil and solid forms. And, there are electronic devices that keep deer heading the opposite direction. Physical barriers, like fences and bushes, are a good defense, but it is not always practical to provide a physical barrier around a large piece of land.  Sometimes, a combination of deterrents is your best bet. Plot Protector is both a physical barrier and a scent barrier that is primarily designed for use in protecting foraging plots until they’re fully established, and are ready to intentionally attract deer.

By using products that smell like the natural predators of deer, such as coyote and fox urine, they’ll want nothing to do with foraging on your plants. Other products work by just making your plants taste and smell rotten to deer, such as Liquid Fence and Plantskydd, which are available in several sizes. Using a foul-smelling deterrent has its downsides, though. Obviously, it’s tough for the person spraying the product to avoid the smell. And, they only work after the pest has tasted it, meaning you’ll lose a flower top or a few delicate hosta leaves before the foraging diner says Yuck! and moves on to your neighbor’s plant buffet.

Homemade liquid repellents can be a cost-saving and effective method, but they’re not always very efficient. Commercial products are carefully designed to be easy to apply, to adhere to plants, to be safe to use on edible gardens, and to be long-lasting, so the product doesn’t have to be reapplied after each rain. One of our favorites is Plantskydd, which repels deer, elk and rabbits. Liquid Fence’s scent is repulsive to both deer and rabbits.

Pre-mixed commercial products are always ready to use, so you won’t need to have a variety of ingredients on hand, and you don’t have to constantly mix smelly concoctions in your kitchen. Also, commercial products are safe for garden use, are tested and are proven to work!

Electronic devices like the Electronic Deer Repeller and the DeerChaser can keep deer away from a large area, with no smell and no mess. One downside is they need some type of power, either electric or battery. The Electronic Deer Repeller applies a shock to the curious animal’s nose when it’s approached, to train it to stay away. The DeerChaser uses sound and light to scare away approaching animals. Deer are skittish, so these devices work well, when they’re within sound and sight distance of the intruder.

Deer in the wild are lovely to look at, but when they’re trampling, invading and ingesting the plants you’ve worked hard to grow, they are a pest and a hassle. It takes only a small effort and investment to find the right deterrent to repel or repulse deer, and it’s well worth the effort, if it means saving your garden and greenery.