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Archive for August 2009

Popcorn Lovers’ Paradise

August 28th, 2009

gourmet_popcornFor anyone who loves popcorn, there are now more reasons than ever to make it your favorite snack food.

Popcorn is a whole grain, meaning the bran and germ are intact, so you get the benefit of natural fiber.  Those who are conscious of their calorie and carb intakes will appreciate that popcorn is a healthy, filling, satisfying and high fiber snack. And instead of tasting like a cardboard health food, it tastes like a fantastic treat.  Served plain, drizzled with butter and salt, or lightly coated with any combination of healthier seasonings like black pepper and cheddar powder or dried dill and lime juice, you just can’t beat the satisfaction of biting into a handful of fresh-popped kernels.

If you’re already convinced that popcorn is the best nutritional and economical snack food around, you’re really in for a treat if you’re not yet familiar with Amish Country Popcorn.  It is the gourmet popcorn for those with a discerning palate, yet it isn’t priced like a gourmet food.  For the same cost as a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips, you can have a 2-pound bag of Amish Gourmet Popcorn on your shelf, awaiting your hunger pangs.  The difference is, this snack is guilt-free!

Amish Gourmet Popcorn is special because the tender hulls won’t get caught in your teeth.  They’re full, fluffy, light and delicate and allow all the flavor of the puffy white corn to come through.  Most people refer to this popcorn as hulless, but there really is no such thing.  It’s just that this popcorn’s hull is thinner, and the crop is bred and harvested to be light and tender—very different from store-bought brands.

Amish Gourmet Popcorn is all natural, and truly is grown by Amish old-world standards.  It comes in a range of popcorn sizes, including baby, medium and large kernels in colors white, yellow, blue, red, purple, black and rainbow.  There is a type to please every popcorn lover.  And, to keep it interesting, it’s nice to have a few varieties ready to choose from on your shelves. Like fine wines, there are subtle flavor and texture differences among the colors and types of popcorn.

Once you’ve experienced the difference in the fluffy and tender hulls of Amish Gourmet Popcorn, you’ll be addicted.  You’ll never want to be caught without a few bags on your pantry shelves.  It also makes a great gift.  Just be warned:  after you’ve tasted this gourmet popcorn, you’ll never want to buy any other.  It just is that unique!  The best part is that it’s priced like most other high-quality popcorn on the supermarket shelves.

Amish Gourmet Popcorn can be prepared by the same methods as all other popcorn, but if you want the most health benefits, the hot-air popper is your best bet.  It’s the lowest fat, highest yield method.  And, the kernels will retain the maximum amount of puffiness and flavor.

Available in 1-pound, 2-pound, 6-pound and 50-pound sizes, there is an Amish Gourmet Popcorn ready to purchase for every need.  There are even two varieties in convenient microwave-ready packages.

Ahhh…can’t you just smell that fresh-popped aroma?  If you’re hungry for popcorn, nothing else will satisfy like Amish Gourmet.  Try some today, or if you’re already a fan and believe that this is the best popcorn on the planet, try some of the varieties you’ve never tasted before—there are more than a dozen.  They’re all equally delicious!

Suitable for growing in containers?

August 27th, 2009

tomato_containerI am interested in growing tomatoes, peppers and a small-sized lemon tree in containers.  I do not know a lot about gardening.  I want to start with plants instead of seeds.  Are the varieties sold on the website suitable for growing in containers?  In addition, what are some other fruits and vegetables suitable for growing in containers?  I live in chicago, so I might have to move them indoors during the winter.  Thanks,
Jasmine

Answer: Starting from plants is a good option for the beginning gardener. Since you are wanting to grow in containers I am also assuming you live in either a small home or apartment. Your choice of vegetable plants will be more limited, simply by the size of the mature plants. For instance, you might want to choose a tomato like the ‘Sweet Cluster’ variety that is a Semi-determinate type, meaning it won’t get quite as large or viney as an Indeterminate variety. Most all peppers adapt well to pots; just don’t plant more than one or two in a large pot. There are small bush variety zucchini and squash, like our ‘Papaya Pear’ summer squash that will do well. All of these require a location that is full sun during the summer growing season. When planting in pots you will need to check the plants daily to maintain proper moisture; or if you have the option, a drip irrigation system that waters them daily, preferably in the mornings, would be ideal. 

Unfortunately, the vegetable plant season is over for this year.  Watch for our new stock to arrive in the early spring, in time for planting. Chicago is in Zone 5, so you won’t be able to put young plants out until after your last frost date, usually early May. Make sure you use a light soil mix designed for pot growing. You want it to have good drainage but not dry out too fast.

For something to grow now, try leaf lettuce or spinach and start these from seed.  Most herbs also grow well from seed. These will do well through the winter if you have a warm, sunny window. Each will have different preferred growing conditions. There are grow light set-ups to help with indoor requirements. In addition, Midwest homes are very dry during the winter, so you may want to have a tray of small stones that the plants can sit on and add water to the tray to increase the humidity around the plants.

Miniature lemon trees and other citrus plants have become wildly popular in the last few years and hybridizers have developed more and better varieties for all sorts of lemons, limes, oranges, figs, and even some dwarf apple trees. I have grown lemons, limes and orange trees and have had them live for years; mostly their demise was at my hands. They are a bit persnickety about indoor climates, with no drafts and lots of warm, sunny light. Keep the nighttime temps up in the low 60s. Most all citrus plants are very susceptible to an infestation of scale, a tiny sucking insect, when overwintered inside. You will know you have them when a sticky substance starts showing up on the leaves. Treating scale is another topic of discussion.

Good luck with your new gardening adventure. Try starting small until you’re more comfortable with gardening and don’t feel too overwhelmed. Once you get the hang of it you’ll be as addicted as the rest of us gardening nuts.

Seed Germination Test

August 26th, 2009

For many gardeners and plant growers, a package of vegetable seeds is often far more than needed, so you can wind up with extra.  Seed purchased the previous year (deeply discounted at the end of season is always appealing), can be held over till the next year or longer. How will you know if these are still viable? You can throw them in a pot and see what happens, but if they are not viable you’ve wasted some precious growing time.

Here’s a trusted option.  Start with five or ten seeds, depending on how many you have. Take a paper towel or napkin and moisten it. Fold it in half. Place the seeds neatly along the center of the towel and fold it over the seeds. Put this inside a plastic zip-close plastic bag and label the bag with the name and variety of the seed. It also helps to put the date on the label, in case you are working over several days.  Put the bag in a warm place. The most convenient is the top of the refrigerator.

Check the seeds on a 24-hour basis until you see germination. There should be signs after 48 hours. The number of seeds that germinate will tell you your percent of viability. If you had ten seeds and five of them sprouted, then you have 50 percent viability. You will then need to overseed to accommodate that growth rate.

If you have a limited quantity of seeds, you can carefully plant your sprouted test seeds, making sure to not damage the delicate, newly developed root.

Remember to save seeds from this year’s plants.  Here are a few basic tips:

  • Be patient and make sure you have mature seeds. They should be dry and firm. Harvest after the dew has dried to ensure the least amount of moisture.
  • Put them in small envelopes and make sure to properly identify them. If you have any old 35mm film canisters, these work great for small quantities.
  • You can store the envelopes or canisters in an old jar or other airtight container and then overwinter them in a cool, dark place, like your refrigerator or in a garage, away from extreme temperature changes. Some folks like to add a desiccant inside the container, like you find inside medicine jars or electronics, to absorb excess moisture. Test your saved seeds for viability before committing planting space.

An Indispensable Food Preserving Guide

August 26th, 2009

ball_blue_bookFirst published in 1909, and recently updated, the Ball Blue Book® Guide to Preserving has always been the most trusted resource among novices as well as longtime canners. Canning, freezing, vacuum-sealing and other methods of preserving foods ensure that your meals are never without the fresh-picked flavors of garden-harvested produce.

Preserving your own food is more economical than buying comparably high quality fruits and vegetables in the supermarket.  And, there is nothing that brightens a winter season like enjoying the preserved produce grown from one’s own garden.  In addition to cost savings and more flavorful meals, preserving foods also allows your family to reap the benefits of all the nutrients the foods contain when picked at their peak freshness.

The Ball Corp., notorious for canning and preserving supplies, has produced the Blue Book Guide to Preserving for all aficionados of good food. This soft-cover book offers time-tested recipes—including for a wide variety of produce items, special diets, and gourmet palates—and several methods of preserving those foods.

This comprehensive guide has step-by-step instructions, photographs, and suggestions for how to keep your meals colorful, nutritious and delicious.  Preserved food items also make great gifts from your kitchen, and from the heart. Ball’s Blue Book Guide to Preserving offers bountiful recipes and food preservation options and ideas in its 120 fully illustrated pages.

After fall’s harvest, or a great deal on produce at your local farmers’ market, count on Ball’s Blue Book Guide to help you stretch those fresh food flavors well into the next growing season.  You might even be inspired to try planting new produce items each spring, because nothing tastes better than homemade.

The Blue Book Guide to Preserving should be part of every cookbook library. It makes a wonderful and inexpensive gift for birthdays, weddings, or housewarmings, for anyone new to cooking, canning, or gardening.

Abutilon Blooming Question

August 25th, 2009

abutilon_bellflowerI wanted to tell you how well my abutilon is growing. It has doubled in size in a little less than four months. I bought the Organic Neptune’s Harvest at the same time and use it according to instructions. I’m very pleased and am ordering a plant for a friend.

I put it outside so a friend could water it while I was on vacation and it has developed black spots on the lower leaves, which I’m treating. Also, the flower buds drop off before blooming. If you have any suggestions for that, or products for that and for the little flies that it now has, please let me know. Thanks.

Answer: Abutilon Hybridum are wonderful plants and make nice house plants. I am not sure what area of the country you are in so not sure if the black spots and bud drop are weather-related or not. They do their best with consistent warmth: 70-degree days and mid-60s at night. The black spotting could be the result of a number of conditions. Different conditions result in similar symptoms, unfortunately, and since you were out of town and changed the plant’s environment by moving it, the cause may remain a mystery. Over-watering or under-watering could be the culprit, so return the plant to an even moisture situation. I would start backing off the fertilization to get it ready for winter and in a month or so it will be time to do some pruning. The bud drop could also just be a reaction to the moving of the plant.

It sounds like the pests are probably white fly. You should see little spots and little white flies on the backside of the leaves. The leaves themselves will have a sort of spotty look. These are tricky to eradicate and take some diligence. You’ll first want to wash the plant with a touch of a mild dish soap, to help get rid of as many of the adults and nymphs as possible. Then spray the plant well, including the underside of the leaves, with our Safer Insecticidal Soap. You will still see some adults and the life cycle on these is about three to four days, so you will have to repeat this procedure, at about the same rate until all the eggs have hatched and all the adults have been killed off. During the winter when the Abutilon is dormant or has a slowed growth rate, they are more susceptible to white fly, so be persistent with your watch.

Hope you get your Abutilon (aka: Flowering Maple or Chinese Bellflower) back in perfect health.  They are really beauties and they make charming house plants.

Bonsais Pruning Question

August 24th, 2009

Dear Master Gardener, could you recommend some sources, yours or others, that show how certain plants work the best as to pruning to get the typical look of a certain type of plant as well as how much is safe to prune off? Photographs would be of great help, if any are available.

Which seeds, cedar or other, require the least time to germinate and grow? I am aware of the usual slow growth of most bonsais being that I just started a few months ago to get into the bonsai hobby and have done well with nursery plants and have successfully germinated one Norfolk Island Pine which I may bonsai or let grow to a large tree indoors. I had purchased one Norfolk Island Pine bonsai which had four trees in a small pot. I have separated these plants and put them into a larger oval pot to try to create a “forest” arrangement. So far, so good but I don’t know if it will work indefinitely.

I am interested in knowing about plants and seeds you sell and recommend which contain specific instructions, although I have found some directions online for scarification and stratification. Thanks for your assistance.

Answer: Bonsai is the ancient art of miniaturizing trees and there is much tradition, symbolism and technique unique to the practice. There are five main styles of Bonsai: Formal Upright, Informal Upright, Slanting Style, Cascade and Semi-Cascade. You should check with your local library or see if you have a local bonsai club to help you understand each of these styles and what is expected with each, should you choose to increase your bonsai skills. 

Regarding your Norfolk, bonsai is a specialized art form, and it’s not my specialty.  I would again suggest you do some research on the required root pruning and branch trimming techniques to properly miniaturize them. There is also a very specific soil mixture recommended for bonsai plantings.

As for which seeds and timing, there are several different varieties of plants that work for the Bonsai process.  A good place to start your research would be the website of The American Bonsai Society. For specific germination times and requirements I would check with your local Extension Office or with your local Department of Natural Resources state nursery. Obtaining starter plants, for cuttings and layering, might also work for your projects and give you several years’ head start on your bonsai.

Good luck!

What Is Late Blight?

August 19th, 2009

tomato_leafLate Blight or Phytophthora infestans is a serious disease that affects potatoes and tomatoes. This waterborne mold was the major culprit of the 1845 Irish and 1846 Highland potato famines. The spores of the devastating mold can overwinter on infected tubers, especially those left in the ground or can appear in volunteer plants from infected seeds. The spores on leaves can be spread through the crops, especially on days of high humidity, over 75 percent, and rain will wash the spores into the soil where they can infect the tubers. They can also be carried for miles on wind currents.

The warm, humid growing season this year has created an ideal environment for the spread of Late Blight, affecting not only potato crops but the closely related tomato, as well. Symptoms include circular or irregular lesions on the leaves surrounded by a pale yellow-green border that enlarge rapidly and turn dark brown to purplish. During extreme periods of high humidity a cottony white mold will be visible on the underneath side of the affected leaves. Stems may also be affected, causing the entire stem to die.

On potatoes, lesions appear as brown sunken areas and the tissue beneath the skin may appear granular-like. If affected potatoes are stored in cool, dry locations for an extended period, the affected area may sink and dry out, however secondary fungi or bacteria that have entered the lesion will cause the entire tuber to become a slimy mess.

On tomatoes Late Blight will develop on green fruit, causing a large, brown, leather-like lesion, seen mostly on the sides or top of the fruit. If the conditions persist, a white mold will appear and lead to a secondary bacterial infection, causing rot of the entire fruit.

The best management of this condition is similar to most best practices of clean-up. Do not compost diseased plants or fruits: destroy them completely by chopping and burning, or they can be fed to livestock. Remove any volunteer plants that come up, as they may also be infected. Look for resistant varieties and plant only certified seed potatoes. A preventative fungicide program like Serenade Disease Control can be used. Contact your local County Extension office for the recommendations for your area. Remember, once you see the signs of a fungal infection, preventative measures are no longer effective. One source says if you discover the beginnings of late blight on potato vines you can ridge, or pile mulch up, around the stems so that the pathogen has a more difficult time reaching the tuber. 

An up-to-date map of conditions is available on the US Pest website, http://uspest.org/risk/tom_pot_map

American Corn Cutter™

August 18th, 2009

corn_cutterCorn on the cob.  Not many foods have the universal appeal of fresh sweet corn. Americans revere the tastes and textures of summer’s most popular vegetable, which seems to get more sweet, tender and delicious each year.

Some people can’t bite into a freshly cooked ear because of dentures or braces; and young children’s lack of front teeth makes it impossible to bite off the kernels.  Some people simply don’t like handling the cob, so moms everywhere have become accustomed to cutting the corn off the cob for some of their family members.

Many chefs have cut corn off of the cob to preserve it, either by canning, pickling, freezing, or cooking into recipes, so they can enjoy the delectable flavor year-round.  However, cutting all of the corn off a cob with a knife can be a tedious, difficult and messy task—especially if you’re cutting several ears of corn.  Now you can make easy work of getting all the good kernels off in a few sweeps of the hand.

Commercial cut corn is tasty, but it’s usually not the sweetest varieties like those so readily available today.  Store-bought canned corn is mushy and flavorless, and frozen corn is expensive and doesn’t always last long in the freezer.  So, particular cooks know it’s worth preserving your own corn, and now it can be done easily, inexpensively, and with a gadget designed for simplicity.

The American Corn Cutter™ is an indispensable tool for anyone who cuts corn off of the cob, whether for occasional meals or for large-volume canning.  This durable plastic implement is made to last for years of use.  The blades are rust-proof stainless steel, and the entire cutter is dishwasher safe, for the easiest clean-up.  The American Corn Cutter’s blades are adjustable, so you can determine just how close you wish to get to the cob, and whether you only want to cut kernels or you wish to shred them (like for use in soups or creamed corn) before they’re removed. Replacement blades are available.

The back of the cutter is notched so it sits firmly on the lip of a bowl as you work, to catch all of the kernels as they fall through the opening.  The American Corn Cutter is comfortable to hold as you slide the ear for each pass across the blade, and then rotate the ear slightly to cut each next section.  In seconds, you’ve stripped an entire cob and have a bowl full of crisp, fresh-cut corn to prepare any way you like. The American Corn Cutter simplifies this task and is one of the most affordable tools of its kind on the market.

Made in America, you can depend on the American Corn Cutter to be designed for easy use and long-lasting durability. Whether you grow your own corn or you have access to a wonderful farmers’ market or produce stand, there is nothing more rewarding than preserving enough ears to last your family through the cold winter months.  The American Corn Cutter is small and compact, to take up very little room in your kitchen tool drawer.

Behind the Headlines: Organic really is better for you!

August 17th, 2009

Recently there was a lot of hoopla in the media about a British nutritional study that compares organically grown food with food that was not grown using organic methods. We’d like to inform you about the findings of this study, and set the record straight concerning them.

The first thing to understand is that it was a meta-study, a study that analyzes other studies, and not one that collects original data. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), a part of the British government set up “to protect the public’s health and consumer interests in relation to food,” examined data from fifty years of research papers. Led by Dr. Alan Dangour, they came to the conclusion that organic food and “conventional” food are so similar nutritionally that any differences between them are unimportant.

But wait!—the British researchers did in fact find that organic food is nutritionally superior! Here is an excerpt from the opening page from their executive summary:

Significant differences in content between organically and conventionally produced crops were found in some minerals (nitrogen higher in conventional crops; magnesium and zinc higher in organic crops), phytochemicals (phenolic compounds and flavonoids higher in organic crops) and sugars (higher in organic crops).

Let’s analyze this ourselves for a moment.

Organic produce is sweeter—OK, some might say that is only a taste benefit, but if people are offered peaches that taste like wood and tomatoes that taste like cardboard, they are not going to want to eat their “5 A Day” servings of fruits and vegetables.

High levels of nitrogen in crops have been associated with negative health effects, so that is another good reason to go organic. Increased levels of magnesium, zinc, and phytochemicals are all positive findings—especially phytochemicals (which include flavanols and polyphenols), since many people buy green tea, blueberries, cocoa, as well as expensive supplements, in order to boost their intake of these valuable antioxidant substances.

Considering all of this, it seems hard to believe that Dr. Dangour and his team would have concluded that, “On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.” The explanation, however, lies in their use of the words “of satisfactory quality.”

These researchers considered 162 relevant articles published in professional peer-reviewed nutritional journals. However, they judged only 55 of these studies to be of “satisfactory quality,” and disqualified 107 studies for various reasons, most frequently because they did not go into enough detail as to which organic growing methods were employed.  They therefore omitted the data from these studies before drawing up their final conclusions.

Needless to say, this was not welcome news to organic advocates such as Peter Melchett of the Soil Association who lamented that “the review rejected almost all of the existing studies of comparisons between organic and non-organic nutritional differences.” Dr. Carlo Leifer, a professor of ecology at Newcastle University and the head researcher of an equally important European study that recently found organic food to be nutritionally superior, also took issue with Dangour’s methodology.

After noting that the data Dr. Dangour analyzed was similar to his own findings, he commented, “With these literature reviews you can influence the outcome by the way that you select the papers that you use for your meta-analysis….My feeling—and quite a lot of people think this—is that this is probably the study that delivers what the FSA wanted as an outcome.”

Does the FSA might have a pro-agribusiness agenda?? They claim not to, although their chief executive, Tim Smith, was a powerful figure in agribusiness and the food industry for decades before assuming the top position at the agency. Nor does it seem unreasonable to wonder if agribusiness lobbyists pressured the FSA to not preference organics just as the sugar lobby in the United States pressured the USDA for years to not remove sweets from the fats-oils-sweets trio at the top of the food pyramid.

In any case, the FSA seems to be ignorant of the reasons people buy organic, as well as of the larger health and environmental benefits that would result if more growers used organic methods.

Most people buy organic because they don’t want to ingest pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide residues. Some prefer the heirloom varieties of seeds that organic growers often use, and want to stay away from crops grown from genetically-modified “frankenseeds.” Others like the freshness and taste of organic and the fact that the produce at their farmer’s market is locally grown. They feel good supporting the small farmers in their community. Still others are opposed to farm workers being exposed to toxic chemicals, and object to the treatment of “factory-farmed” animals.

When we look at the big picture, organic farming methods improve the soil, keep contaminants out of the ground water, and are a sustainable form of agriculture. Indeed, if soil depletion continues, none of us are going to get much nutrition from our food. As Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry warn in a recent New York Times op-ed, “Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland.”

So, as one of our customers, give yourself some a few kudos for doing your part to preserve the environment. Unlike other garden supply centers, And we at Garden Harvest are proud as well to sell organic fertilizers like Espoma and Neptune’s Harvest, and natural pesticides such as diatomaceous earth, which is one of our longstanding bestsellers.

In our organic seed section, you will find a wide selection of organic vegetable seeds including heirloom varieties such as the popular Bradywine Pink. We also have eighteen varieties of organic herb seeds.

So take good care of your little piece of the earth. We’ll be in touch again in September with a newsletter to help you get your fall garden off to a good start.

Stoll’s Purple Martin Book

August 14th, 2009

purple_martin_birdPurple Martins are arguably the most attractive members of the swallow family.  These lovely songbirds have dark black feathers with purplish iridescence.  Not just known for their exotic good looks, they have many ardent human fans because their diet consists exclusively of flying insects.

In addition to keeping pesky insect populations under control, their mystique is due to their unique repertoire of songs, and their consistent lifestyle habits.  Victor Stoll is an expert landlord of these songbirds, and he has maintained the largest colony of Purple Martins in North America.  At his current home in Tennessee, he has 729 nesting pairs!

Stoll has lived in Belize, in Central America, where he established colonies of Grey-breasted Martins, native to that continent.  From his early childhood in Michigan, Stoll and his family maintained Purple Martin housing, to keep the migrating birds coming back each spring.

Compiling 70+ years’ experience and passion into Stoll’s Purple Martin Book, Victor Stoll shares his fascination and talents in an easy-to-read handbook.  It’s a guide filled with everything a Purple Martin landlord needs to know, from novice to expert.  This helpful insider’s guide will inform you of all the lifestyle habits of Martins, including their migrating times and patterns, nesting and mating rituals, and how to identify and stave off their predators.

Crisp, gorgeous four-color photographs are included throughout Stoll’s Purple Martin Book. They include ample views of the birds themselves, as well as the variety of gourds and multi-compartment homes that will attract them and keep them migrating back each spring.

In addition to photos, Stoll explains the care and maintenance of the Martin houses, and he offers explicit details about where to place them on your property, so they’ll be instantly recognizable to the scouts returning each spring to claim territory for their colonies that will soon follow.

Stoll’s Purple Martin Book is written in a tone that is simple and friendly, and it’s suitable for all ages of readers.  Although it contains a small amount of technical and scientific terminology and data, it is anything but boring.  There is information in this handbook that will fascinate anyone who has an interest in nature and the unusual lives of migrating birds. Purple Martins in particular have interesting mating and brooding habits that are addictive to follow, once a colony has established itself on your property. 

Purists will delight in growing their own gourds to dry and suspend from high wires to house families of Martins.  Martins also are happy to take up residence in multi-unit homes with perches outside for public visiting.  These monogamous birds will chirp and squawk and fight to protect their families, but they always seem to settle their arguments by nighttime.  They start their days with a dawn song that begins a couple of hours before sunrise.

Annually, the Stolls host MartinFest, a two-day celebration on their Tennessee farm that attracts up to 500 Martin enthusiasts each June.

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