Mrs. Miller’s Jams

November 13th, 2008

All my jars of Mrs. Miller’s Jam arrived in tip-top condition! I’d made an inquiry about my order, and I received a prompt, courteous reply back from Tina, and she’d already solved and handled the problem. I got my jam today exactly as she promised. Impressive company…very impressive employee in Tina.

Haven’t tryed my jam yet, but that’s not really necessary. I received a jar of Mrs. Miller’s jam recently as a birthday gift…my order from you confirms that it’s absolutely JUST THE BEST JAM! Thanks so very much, R.L.

Why Dry?

November 8th, 2008

If you have never tried it before, here’s a great new hobby idea: dehydrate your own food. If you’ve been dehydrating for years, you already know it’s a fun, economical and simple way to make healthy snacks that even the pickiest eaters will devour.

Using a food dehydrator, which forces warm, dry air over fruits, veggies or meat, you remove all the moisture and preserve the food, allowing it to be stored on a shelf for months. You can create chewy, flavorful, and in many cases, low-calorie, snacks like apple rings, beef jerky, dried apricots and papaya wedges. It’s also a great way to have soup vegetables always on hand.

Groceries and health food stores have been selling dehydrated, sun-dried or flash-dried foods for years, and dried foods have been popular since the beginning of recorded history. However, store-bought dried foods are expensive, and they can contain artificial preservatives to increase their shelf lives even further.

If you are a gardener, you know there’s always produce left at the end of the season that you can’t get your family to eat. Dehydrating leftovers is a way to have your harvest extend into the dull, gray winter months when you can't get fresh veggies.

You can inexpensively make your own pineapple rings, homemade raisins and prunes, fruitcake chunks for rehydrating, and fruit leathers. You can also coat your fruits with sugar, cinnamon or other dried baking spices before drying to create more exotic flavors. You no longer have to crave your favorite fruits when they’re out of season. Make their season last year-round!

Dehydrating vegetables is as simple as slicing or dicing and separating on trays. In two days or less, your food dehydrator will produce crispy, crunchy snacks and pantry staples ready for your culinary imagination. Onions, carrots, bell peppers and celery can all be dried for future use in nearly any recipe. Dried corn cut off the cob, green beans, and tomatoes make unusual crisp snacks that are infinitely healthier than fried chips. You can dry your own pinto beans, root crops, squash and any other vegetables that you want to store for adding to casseroles and soups. Dried foods provide all the nutrients and fiber and none of the refined or artificial ingredients that come with store-bought snack foods.

Making your own beef or turkey jerky couldn’t be easier. If you can slice meat, you can have a great chewy (and long-lasting) snack that is irresistible. You can prepare the meat by soaking it in your favorite marinade first. Like it hot? Don’t hold back on the cayenne! Like it tropical? Try rubbing the slices with Jamaican jerk seasonings before drying.

Don’t forget your herbs. Air drying can cause mold or mildew to form on the tender leaves. Drying herbs in a dehydrator is safer and it also preserves the color and flavor better. Nearly every edible herb is suitable for drying.

Every bookstore and library, as well as the Internet, offers recipe books for creative drying of foods using the sun or commercial dehydrators. It's easy and a foolproof way to get your family snacking on foods you'll not only approve of, you'll encourage!

Ripe Tomato Problem

November 4th, 2008

I ordered some heirloom tomato plants from you and had some problems, could you help me out? I planted some of them in the garden and some in pots. I used a fertilizer from the nursery, not sure what is was. All of the plants grew to around 4' high. When it got hot, they did not bloom and I hardly had any ripe tomatoes. I have a question about green tomatoes; I heard they were poisonous if they were not cooked?

The Window Cafe Bird Feeder Video

November 3rd, 2008

Watch how easy it is to use the Window Cafe Bird Feeder, our most popular window feeder.

Beets: Read all about ’em!

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

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

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

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

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

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.