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You say potato, I say Sweet Potato

December 3rd, 2008

Sweet potatoes have been cultivated for eons because they are tasty, nutritious and versatile. This tuberous root vegetable is easy to grow, and it's easy to prepare.

If you haven't tasted sweet potato pie, you probably have never visited the South. With the bright, rich orange interior color, soft, delicate texture and sweet flavor, sweet potatoes are popular as a side dish or dessert ingredientand sweet potato pie is a dessert no one can resist. Sweet potato melds well with the flavors of cinnamon, honey, coconut, pecans, ginger, butter, and nutmeg, which is why it's a great ingredient in many breads, puddings, custards, and baked dessertsand sweet potato is equally delicious blended with fruits like apples and berries in casseroles. More savory spices such as green herbs and chili peppers also complement the sweet vegetable in casseroles and stews.

Yams and sweet potatoes are sometimes used interchangeably, but yams have a coarse, rough skin, and sweet potatoes have a smooth, thin skin. They're actually the products of unrelated families of plants. The cooked sweet potato flesh is moister than a yam's. If you're trying to increase your beta carotene intake, sweet potatoes are way ahead of yams. Choose potatoes with the deepest orange color for the most beta carotene content. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron, and although they're carbohydrate and calorie dense, they're low in fat and high in fiber.

Sweet potatoes were first discovered in South America but now they're grown in the U.S., while yams are all imported from the Caribbean. If you buy sweet potatoes in the supermarket, choose plump, firm roots. Store them in a dry, cool place, but never refrigerate uncooked sweet potatoes. Cook them by boiling, baking, frying, char-grilling or broiling. Dishes prepared with sweet potatoes will generally freeze well. Cooked sweet potatoes can also be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. Sweet potatoes can be canned and stored for months. Although not the healthiest option, sweet potato chips or fries are a very interesting variation from the traditional white potato chips and fries.

Growing sweet potatoes couldn't be easier, as long as they have a 80-120-day growing season, and plenty of space to spread out. They thrive in most soils, including sandy to heavy clay. Sweet potato plants ‘slips' should be planted a full 2 weeks past the last frost. Till the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches, then add compost to keep the soil loose, making it easier to dig out your treasures in the fall. Make sure plants have 12 inches of space between them. Keep soil moist with at least 1 inch of water per week.

When it's time to unearth your produce, most of the potatoes will be in a tight cluster just below the main stem. However, some may spread out below the soil, so start digging 18 inches out from the stem and work your way in, being careful not to damage the stray roots. Once the potatoes have been allowed to thoroughly dry in the sun for a few hours, move them to a protected area for a week or 10 days. This allows the skin to toughen, to protect the potatoes for a long storage life. It's best to wait 6-8 weeks after harvest before sweet potatoes reach peak sweetness when baked. The ideal temperatures for storage are 50 to 60 degrees, with 60 to 70 percent humidity. Proper curing and storage should help the potatoes last for several months.

Winter Squash

December 1st, 2008

Summer squashes (green and yellow) have a soft skin that's edible, and they are meant to be harvested when the seeds and entire interiors are soft enough to eat, as well. Winter squash is different in that the seeds are mature and hard, and the skin is a rindtough and hard, and not meant to be consumed. Remove the skin and seeds, and what's left is flesh that is a culinary treasure. The hard outer skin on winter squash is what protects it and allows it to be stored over 3-6 months, through the winter and into the spring.

Squash is a vegetable that mostly grows on sturdy vines, but some can also be semi-vining or bushy plants. The most common types of winter squash are acorn, butternut and spaghettithe one with the interior that becomes stringy like long noodles when it's cooked. There are numerous specialized varieties, as well. Each has a unique flavor, and ranging from slightly sweet to peanuty. Some common seasonings used with cooked squash are butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup, and ginger.

The difference between winter squash and pumpkins is mostly nomenclature. Some people interchange the terms. And, some cooks interchange them in pies, with squash doing a superb job without being detected as a faux pumpkin. Winter squash can have skin that is smooth or bumpy, thin or thick, and in colors ranging from light yellow to blue-grey to dark green to vibrant orange. They also vary greatly in size and shape. All contain flesh that is light yellow to deep, rich orange.

Plant winter squash in the spring. It will mature over the summer and be ready for an autumn harvest, before the first frost. Most winter squashes will store wonderfully over several months in a cool cellar throughout the winter. Some varieties benefit from an initial curing stage immediately after harvest, kept at around 70 degrees for 10 to 20 days, then moved to a cool, dry place, with 45- to 60-degree temps.

For the health-conscious, squash ranks high on the charts of nutrition-dense foods. It is high in fiber, and also contains potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene, which converts to Vitamin A in the body.

Winter squash will be the sweetest and mildest when prepared with the seeds scraped out before cooking. The skin can be removed either before or after cooking. The flesh can be boiled, broiled, baked, or steamed. Then, it can be cubed, mashed, pureed, or in the case of spaghetti squash, used in place of pasta, for a healthier, lower calorie and more flavorful base for marinara sauce.

Squash seeds can be roasted with a little salt or tamari (soy) sauce and eaten as a healthy snack. Butternut squash soup is simple to prepare, with most recipes calling for few ingredients, and it's popular with meat and potatoes gangs as well as uber-gourmets. Cooked squash freezes well, whether alone or in prepared dishes and soups.

Most vining squash plants will require a lot of room, so plan your garden space accordingly, and try a few varieties, to keep a range of flavors to enjoy over the winter months.

Can Help Me Find This Bean Seed

November 26th, 2008

I am looking for a bean seed called Little Greassy. It is a old bean and comes in white and brown. Hope you can help me find this bean seed. Thanks Joyce G.

To Seed or Not to Seed

November 26th, 2008

If you’re a serious gardener (and by serious, we mean your garden grows a little larger each year), then you know how backbreaking it can be to plant seeds by hand.  It’s also an inefficient way to plant, since it’s difficult to maintain consistency when you’re working in the soil.

For a small investment in seed planting equipment, you can save yourself a serious amount of time—and of course, your knees and back will thank you. A seed planter ensures straighter rows, uniform row spacing, and nearly no physical effort from you. You simply fill the hopper and walk behind the easy-to-push seeder, and let it do all the work.

The EarthWay Precision Garden Seeder comes with a row marker, a planter stand, a precision planting depth gauge and 6 standard seed plates.  Seed plates contain multiple size and shape openings, each designed for specific types of seed. If you plant a wide variety of plants, you will also want to consider buying the optional seed plates to match your seed types.
Precision Products’ Garden Seeder is small but efficient.  The concave wheels form a mound over the newly planted seeds and cleat the ground for correct drainage. Two hoppers allow planting and fertilizing in one pass. It comes with a storage pouch, 6 seed plates, a reversible row marker and it has a 5-pound hopper capacity.

The Lambert All-in-One Seed Row Planter comes with 6 seed plates to handle 31 common vegetable seed sizes. The fertilizer hopper has a flow control for proper density of application. It also includes a pouch mounted to the handles to hold extra seed, gardening gloves, a notepad or any other small supplies you need as you work. This seeder plants the vegetable seed, fertilizes it, covers it and marks the row all in one pass. It has an adjustable depth shovel to ensure seeds are planted at their ideal depth in the soil.

Today’s well-designed seed planters are compact and take up very little space in the shed, but their functionality is large. Seed waste is minimized with these planting devices, because the spacing of seeds is even and precise. Once in the ground, the seed is covered and the next row is being marked simultaneously. The seeds are also planted at a uniform depth.

Garden Harvest Supply carries all these garden seeders, and all three are crafted of heavy-duty, long-lasting and weather-resistant materials. They’re meant to clean up easily after planting.  GHS also carries an extensive variety of organic vegetable seeds.

Caspian Pink Heirloom Tomato Plant

November 24th, 2008

In the gardening world, tomatoes are the barometer of a good harvest. If you produce a bountiful crop of sweet tomatoes, nothing else matters. And, every gardener loves showing off his or her prize maters like a piece of artwork.

Heirloom tomatoes are certainly nothing new, but they're taking on a whole new level of popularity among purists. Since they're not genetically altered for perfect round appearance, uniform color or any other set of traits like the hybrid varieties, they aren't necessarily the most beautiful or normal-looking fruits. But heirloom tomatoes have a wide range of flavors, textures and skin variations, and their uniqueness is only matched by their unrivaled flavors.

Caspian Pink Heirloom Tomato plants produce fruit in 75-80 days. The plants are semi-determinate and are in the beefsteak family. The name comes from the discovery of this tomato along the shores of the Caspian Sea in southern Russia. The fruits ripen from the bottom of the plant first, and they weigh in at a hearty 11 ounces and up. Some growers report fruits heavier than two pounds!

Caspian Pink Heirlooms are fleshy and meaty, with plenty of juice and sweet flavor coming from squat-shaped fruits. Not coincidentally, the dense flesh is pink-red in color. Caspian Pink Heirloom tomatoes often beat Brandywine in flavor contests.

This heirloom tomato is a semi-determinate variety, meaning it will grow from 3 to 5 feet in height and produce fruit throughout the growing season, as opposed to determinates, which are short and bushy and provide all their ripe fruit at onceor indeterminates, which vine and produce tomatoes throughout the growing season. Caspian Pink is a mid-season producer, bearing ripe fruit around 75 or 80 days. Determinate tomato growers usually prefer a harvest all at once, if they can or preserve tomatoes. Indeterminate and semi-determinate growers usually want to pick ripe fruit for the longest possible growing season. Some gardeners like a mix of both.

Like all tomato plants, Caspian Pink Heirlooms like lots of full sun and heat. They do best in a well-drained soil that's slightly acidic with plenty of good organic matter worked in. Caspian Pink Heirloom tomatoes are ripe and ready to pick when their shoulders' take on a deep pink color. Don't pick fruit from the stem. Use a sharp knife or shears and cut fruit to avoid bruising the plant or the fruit.

When considering tomato varieties to plant, things to consider include your garden or container growing space, your ideal harvest time(s), your soil and water, and the recipes and preparations you'll use. Some tomatoes excel when sliced raw for salads, others when cooked in pasta sauces or baked into casseroles. Each tomato has qualities that set it apart from all the others. So, why not plant a few varieties and see which ones work best for your garden, climate and table? Enjoy the sweet rewards of tomato gardening, and make sure to include Caspian Pink Heirloom plants in your mix.

Asparagus Jersey Supreme–Hybrid Male Crowns

November 23rd, 2008

These six words all deserve some attention.

Asparagus is considered a delicacy among vegetable lovers everywhere. The spears are prized for their unique flavor and versatility in preparation. Asparagus is also an attractive garden plant, even in the off season. If you love eating asparagus, you'll also love growing it. Like all vegetables, asparagus fresh out the garden far outshines anything bought in a supermarket.

Jersey Supreme is a cultivar that is especially popularbecause it adapts to most environments. It can handle cold climates (from Zone 4 through 9) and it's also drought tolerant. Jersey Supreme Asparagus plants outyield the other two Jersey varieties, Jersey Giant and Jersey Knight. Spears are plump but not squat, and medium length. Jersey Supreme is a great universal variety for all cooking preparations, including boiling, roasting, baking, stir-frying, freezing and pickling.

The"Hybrid" part of Jersey Supreme Hybrid Asparagus means the variety was bred for specific qualities. In the case of Jersey Supreme, the coveted qualities are a bountiful harvest, as well as a high tolerance to crown and root rot, rust, and fusarium wilt. Hybrid asparagus varieties hold up well in cold weather. Some even tolerate frost and light snow.

All-male crowns are preferred for several reasons. Traditional asparagus plants have both male and female counterparts. All-male hybrid plants don't produce seed, which in the female plant takes energy and nutrients away from producing the edible vegetables, and it also creates a weeding hassle for gardeners when the seeds drop to the soil. All-male varieties have much higher yields of spears.

The crown is where the production happens. Asparagus should be grown in either full or part sun and dry to average soil. Asparagus is best planted as one- or two-year-old bare root plants in early spring. First, make a trench about 8 inches deep in soil with good drainage. Add organic matter and a high-phosphorus fertilizer to the bottom of the trench. Space plants about 18 inches apart in the row. Cover the crowns with soil and water moderately to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Gradually fill in the trench as the young plants grow. Asparagus roots will spread horizontally underground as the plant matures.

Do not harvest any asparagus spears the first year after planting. A light harvest can be made the second and third years. In subsequent years, the harvesting period should end by mid- to late June to allow for growth and plant nutrient storage.

If you're new to Jersey Supreme Hybrid Asparagus, try planting a few along with other Jersey varieties to see which ones produce best for your soil, sunlight, water and climate conditions. All three cultivars produce deep green spears that are plump, succulent and attractive.

Plain, steamed asparagus is as popular as any preparation. However, it can be served like most green vegetables, cooked into casseroles, covered in béarnaise or hollandaise sauce, roasted with garlic, or parboiled and chopped into cold salads. It preserves wonderfully, frozen or pickled for feasting throughout the cold winter months.

Season Starter Plant Protectors

November 23rd, 2008

Early season tomato and pepper starter

It might not be very Zen to rush your garden’s produce, but it sure is gratifying to speed the first ripe tomatoes and peppers to harvest time by a month. And now gardeners everywhere can extend their growing season, planting earlier and continuing to harvest long after the first frost.

Season Starter employs a simple concept to insulate plants against the cold. Like a polar fleece jacket, the Season Starter holds in heat to extend your growing season by two full months. It wraps around your plant to keep dipping temperatures from hurting the developing leaves and produce.

Season Starter is a transparent plastic teepee made up of several long cylinders that together hold 3 gallons of water. You place it on level ground, fill each of the cylinders 2/3 of the way full with water (it helps if your garden is near a garden hose, but it’s not required if you can carry watering cans), and then allow it to sit for a few days or longer to warm up the soil. Then, transplant your young plants inside the shelter.

The transparent plastic allows sunlight to reach the plants. The heat of the sun is captured and stored by the water in the tubes and it keeps the entire structure warmer throughout the cooler night temperatures, releasing the heat to the interior. It’s almost like having a mini-greenhouse around your garden plants.

You can plant a full month prior to your last frost date of the spring, even when the ground is still covered in frost crystals. The Season Starter heats up the soil, making it workable when you’re ready to plant. You can harvest produce a full month past the first frost of fall, as well. Season Starters protect plants against temperatures well below freezing!

Filled, the Season Starters measure approximately 18 inches in diameter by 18 inches tall. Empty, they take up virtually no room in storage. Season Starters can be used year after year.

Ideal plants for this method of early planting are herbs, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and melons. One caveat is that the Season Starter can tip over and crush plants as you’re filling the tubes with water, so it is recommended that you fill it before you plant. The standing wall of water will be ready for seedlings to be planted in the ground, in the interior. Or, you can set up the Season Starter after planting if you place a bucket or wire cage support around the seedling in the interior as you fill, allowing the teepee shape to become balanced and centered. Fill each of the 18 tubes equally, then remove the bucket or center support through the open top.

The Season Starter wall of water can be left in place through the entire growing season. Just make sure to keep the cells constantly filled to an equal level. During the hottest days of summer, the Season Starter works in the opposite fashion, absorbing heat from the outside and moderating it on the inside, so plants don’t get scalded.

After the last produce is harvested from most gardens, your Season Starters will protect your plants to keep them producing another month or more past frost and freezing temperatures. When the season is completely finished, simply drain the water from the cells and store Season Starters in a shed or garage until the next gardening season is about to start.

Which Potatoes Should I Plant

November 21st, 2008

I live in Live Oak, Texas, next to San Antonio. Our growing season is long, however summer temps average in the mid 80’s to high 90’s and we do have 1 or 2 days (or more) that hit 100. I would like to have potatoes in my 2009 garden. Raised planters are used here as my soil is all black heavy clay.

Could you recommend 2 early varieties, 2 mid season varieties and 2 late season varieties for this area? Nothing beats the taste of home grown. And my friends kids are beside themselves when they get to see something they’ve grown come to harvest! With all their electronic junk, they sometimes react like gardening is something entirely new. I love it! Thank you for your help, I want to order as soon as possible. Tina G

Eggplant isn't just for Parmigiana

November 20th, 2008

How to Harvest Eggplant PlantsEggplant is a warm-weather crop that is easy to grow, and it's a colorful, attractive addition to the garden. Fruits vary from small egg-shaped globes to heavy oblong teardrops to skinny foot-long Asian varieties, and the glossy skins can range in color from deep purple to light violet, lavender, yellow, white, green and pink.

Eggplant can be grown from seed or as a transplant. Seeds should be started 8 to 10 weeks in advance and transplant to the garden, or plant seeds directly in the garden after the threat of frost has passed. Choose a warm, sunny garden spot. Soil should be well-drained, fertile and rich in organic matter. Eggplant needs calcium, so an addition of garden lime to the soil before planting is beneficial. Allow a foot or two of space between plants, and water frequently to maintain moisture in the soil.

Begin picking eggplant as soon as they're big enough to eat and keep picking them throughout the growing season, to encourage production of new fruit. They should be shiny and firm, but not hard to the touch. Always cut the fruits from the stems, rather than pulling or twisting them off. As the frost season approaches, you can pinch off flowers to encourage faster maturation of fruits already ripening.

Eggplant will keep in a cool, dry location one or two weeks after harvesting. Because eggplant is so easy to freeze or dry, canning isn't the preferred method of preserving it. Eggplant needs to be blanched before freezing. It is a low acid food, so you'll need to add citric acid or lemon juice to the boiling water, to prevent the discoloration of the flesh. After four minutes of blanching, slices can be separated with sheets of waxed paper before freezing for use later.

Methods for cooking this vegetable vary widely, and each will determine its flavor and texture, and consistency. Skin can be peeled or left on. Eggplant can be boiled, broiled, baked, breaded and fried, or roasted. Stuffed eggplant is a delicacy in many ethnic cuisines. One thing is for certain, garlic and eggplant are a winning flavor combination.

There are as many ways to serve eggplant as there are types of eggplant. Recipes abound for Indian pickles and chutneys, as well as Far East Asian gourmet pickled relishes and dips. For more traditional dishes, stuff with bread crumbs. Or, bake with cheese, pasta, tomatoes and onions. Mix with a variety of other veggies and sauces to create casseroles that are a huge hit served piping hot from the oven. Or, combine diced eggplant with wild rice and mushrooms for a hearty winter stew. Cooked into recipes, eggplant will freeze wonderfully for individual servings to be microwaved later.

With its firm and meaty texture, vegetarians and vegans love the diverse uses for eggplant, sliced and diced to make salads, veggie burgers, soups and entrees. Roasted, it takes on a rich, thick texture and nutty flavor. Roasted eggplant is one of the main ingredients of Middle Eastern foods like Baba Ganoush, a hummus dip.

Dehydrating eggplant allows it to be stored in a cool, dry pantry for months. To rehydrate, simply soak slices in warm water and add to recipes like fresh produce.

Discover Diatomaceous Earth

November 20th, 2008

One of the biggest problems mankind faces is also the tiniest. Small pests in the form of fleas, ticks, flies, ants, roaches, grubs and slugs can all be maddening if they infest your space, whether inside your home, on your pets or livestock, around your garden, or in your lawn. Luckily, nature is a clever inventor, and it has created something better than any scientist could manufacture to handle tough pest problemsnaturally.

Diatomaceous Earth, also known as fossil shell flour, is a wonder insecticide. It is available in many forms but for this short article, we'll focus on food grade. And we'll get to why, in a minute.  First, some basics:

Diatoms are algae-like plants that eons ago left their skeletal remains to create sediment in the earth called diatomite. Diatomite is chalky and can be mined and ground up into a fine mineral powder that is similar to talcum.

Diatomaceous Earth is a natural fossilized product. Each particle has microscopic clumps of fragments with razor-sharp edges. When insects make contact, these particles slice right through their exoskeleton, or protective outer layer, causing them to suffocate and die. It kills insects without toxic chemicals or insecticide fumes.

Another form of diatomaceous earth is used in pool filtration devices, but it's treated and heated to perform a specific function not intended for use with plants or animals. Food grade is called that because it can actually be ingested by pets and livestock without damage to them. In fact, it is commonly used to rid them of intestinal parasite problems. It is safe for use nearly everywhere and it will eliminate destructive and annoying pests from your home's interior and exterior. Best of all, it doesn't affect earthworms, which are desirable underground residents that keep soil fertilized and aerated.

The only warning with using food grade diatomaceous earth is not to breathe the dust. Application must be performed by an adult and precautions must be heeded to avoid irritation to mucus membranes.

Because it can be ingested, Food Grade DE is an exceptional solution to fleas on cats and dogs.  It can be applied directly to their skin, underneath their coats.

Bedbugs have become a huge problem in the United States in the past couple of years because they're resistant to traditional pest control chemicals. Just when you think you're rid of them, they keep showing back up.  Diatomaceous Earth has been successful in complete elimination of them.

Silverfish, aphids, cockroaches, lice and earwigs can safely be eliminated by simply dusting where these insects hang out.  Sprinkle Food Grade DE inside cabinets, behind appliances, near sewer pipes and drains, around baseboards or anywhere around the home or barn exterior to keep bugs at bay.  It only takes 24-48 hours for the insect problem to be taken care of but in cases of heavy infestation, reapplication may be necessary.

This organic product is available in a 5-pound household consumer size as well as a 50-pound industrial size.

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