Confession: This is one of the hardest times of the year to sit down and write about gardening.
This is the time of year that doesn’t feel like it truly belongs to one garden season or the other. Last season’s garden is well into its winter hibernation; next season’s garden consists of a small stack of seed catalogs that are starting to pile up, waiting for a snowy day in January.
Yes, there are still a few lingering garden projects, like grinding the cayenne peppers and packing up saved seed. In the kitchen, the garden continues to nourish us. And of course there is always a photo op in the garden if you look close enough – but these days I find myself more inclined to snapping a quick photo on Instagram and less inspired to sit down and write.
This time of year, I find myself looking forward more than looking back. It’s not so much an impatient, I just want time to go faster kind of looking forward, but more of a creative time to dream and anticipate what next season might hold: the possibilities of taking my photography to another level, the things I will learn in beekeeping class, and how our little suburban homestead might evolve and change when winter gives way to spring again.
I find myself energized by all of this potential, and so when I do sit down to write, I find myself filling the pages of my editorial calendar instead of finalizing that draft of the broccoli seed saving post or editing the series of snowy sunflower photographs I shot last week. Rather than force it, I’ve decided to follow this lead and go with it.
Embracing the silence and stillness of this season is not always easy, but I do believe it makes what lies ahead all the better for it.
‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving… and with all the cold and snow we’ve already had this year, I’m not ashamed to admit that I am finding myself in the mood for everything Christmas already. Don’t get me wrong, tomorrow will definitely be all about Thanksgiving traditions and time spent with family, but on this snowy night, I can’t help but start to think about trimming out the tree, listening to Christmas music, and the joy of finding the perfect gift for those near and dear to me.
Once again I have put together a collection of gifts for gardeners to help you find inspiration for the gardener on your list (and maybe even fill in your own wish list, too!):
- I love the look and feel of these Reclaimed Wood Garden Stakes – perfect if the gardener on your list has a natural or rustic garden style!
- It can be hard to find garden-themed jewelry that isn’t a novelty piece, but I really love how this Tomato Pendant walks the fine line of playful, yet simple and totally wearable.
- I love this concept! These Vegetable and Herb Scented Candles are packaged in plantable paper embedded with tomato or thyme seed – this would make a great hostess gift!
- Stuff the stocking of your favorite gardener with this After the Garden Goat Soap made with ground tart cherry pits to scrub away the dirt and goat milk to sooth your hands after a long day in the garden.
- Who doesn’t love a good garden cocktail? Pair up a copy of The Drunken Botanist with a Mason Jar Shaker for a fun and practical gift!
- I have been longing for a kitchen compost pail that doesn’t look like a kitchen compost pail. This Coffee Pot Kitchen Compost Pail is discreet enough to sit on the kitchen counter while still having enough capacity to be functional.
- Love the look and feel of vintage seed packet designs? Then you’ll love these Vintage Seed Packet Note Cards featuring the designs of D. Landreth Seed Packets. The back of the seed packet is even printed on the back of the notecard!
- Show your favorite local farmers some love with this great Farmer’s Market Tote. It would also make a great tote for hauling supplies to and from the community garden, or packing up your seed catalogs and garden journal for a weekend garden planning retreat!
- I had no idea that such a thing existed , but these All Weather Notebooks would be perfect for keeping garden plans and notes organized and protected from the dirt, water, and mud during spring planting.
- A Bee Feeder would be a fun addition to the garden, especially if your garden isn’t very established yet. This simple structure can help attract pollinators and provide a supplemental food source during times when there aren’t many flowers blooming.
- For the kitchen gardener, this Root Vegetable Storage Bin makes longer term storage of the fall root vegetable harvest easy.
- Looking for a super practical gift? Help your favorite gardener stock up on seed starting supplies like these CowPots (made out of composted manure). Throw in a few seed packets or a gift certificate to your favorite seed company, and you’ve got a guaranteed hit!
- For the gardener who spends a lot of time in the garden tweeting, instagramming, and sharing photos, consider a garden themed phone case. I’m loving some of these vintage vegetable and Women’s Land Army designs!
- What do you get for the gardener that has it all? How about an Olla (a large clay vessel used for slow-release irrigation) to make the job of watering the garden easier!
Finally, in this season of giving, consider supporting a charity that promotes gardening and small scale farming as a means to self-sufficiency and hunger relief. Organizations like Heifer International and Oxfam America allow you to give the gift of gardening, which in turn provides families in need with a means to not only grow food for their own table, but to make a living at market as well (photo credit: Heifer International)
Looking for more ideas? Check out the Gifts for Gardeners Pinterest Board!
With our quick transition from fall to winter this year, I suddenly found myself with a lot of kale on my hands. The gradual late season harvest I had envisioned months ago when I started the seeds came to an abrupt end when it became clear we were heading for a prolonged arctic blast. With way more kale in the refrigerator than we could reasonably eat fresh between the two of us, I needed a plan to put it up.
The most common approach to preserving kale is to blanch and freeze it. This is actually a pretty efficient way to preserve greens, but for someone like me who is not even lukewarm on cooked greens, I find the texture somewhat limiting. It is also possible to pressure can kale, but again: texture, not to mention what the high processing temperature and long processing time does to the quality of the final product.
There has to be a better option, right? Something more creative, more versatile, and more palatable to address an end of season kale glut. The answer, of course is a resounding yes! Here’s a quick peek at what’s been going on in my kitchen over the last week:
Kale Smoothie Starters
Fill your blender with fresh kale, pour in your favorite smoothie liquid (I use unsweetened almond milk), and puree until smooth. Freeze the puree in ice cube trays or a mini muffin pan for ready-to-use kale for your breakfast smoothies. I store these kale-packed cubes in a large freezer bag, making it super easy to grab and add to the blender with a wide variety of tasty ingredients.
Some might think kale chips are a little overrated, but they really are a fun and easy way to use up a big bunch of kale. They crisp up nicely and can be dressed up or down to suit just about any taste. Simply toss well in olive oil and season with anything from a little sea salt to a complex blend of your favorite spices (check out this helpful post for some great tips to ensure that your kale chips come out of the oven perfectly every time). Unfortunately kale chips are not well suited for long term storage (not that they will last that long anyway), but they can be successfully stored short term in a brown paper lunch bag.
Use your food processor to combine a handful of walnuts (so good with kale!), a few big garlic cloves, a couple of cups of kale, olive oil, and parmesan cheese for an interpretation of a classic perfect for the fall and winter months ahead. Pesto can easily be frozen if you omit the cheese (the texture doesn’t hold well when the cheese is frozen, so add that in when you thaw it out). Freeze larger quantities in freezer safe containers for pasta or a delicious spread on fresh bread, or portion it out into ice cube trays or muffin pans for smaller quantities perfect for cooking or smaller servings.
Take homemade pasta one step further by incorporating kale into the pasta dough. I used this simple recipe, substituting kale for the spinach. Of course you can cook the pasta fresh, but it also very easily lends itself to drying for longer term storage. You can also utilize kale in filling for ravioli or in gnocchi, both of which can be frozen for future use.
Kale Flakes + Kale Powder
Dehydrated kale can be crushed into flakes or ground into powder and used in the same way you would use your favorite herbs. I add kale flakes to burgers, meatballs, pasta sauce, soup, eggs, and flatbread, just to name a few of my favorites. Use a dehydrator if you have one, or a parchment paper lined baking sheet at a low temperature in the oven works really well, too.
Do you have a favorite way to put up kale?
Remember when I decided to take my chances planting two different varieties of dry beans next to each other at the community garden?
Well, this was the year I grew out some of that seed. At first, there was nothing distinguishing about the beans plants growing up the arbor in my new herb and pollinator garden, but as they reached maturity, there were a few bean pods that started to look a little different. A few of the pods were not quite as flat and wide as I remembered them, and a few pods started to express a little purple coloration – some lightly speckled, others fully purple. The final harvest confirmed what I had started to suspect: a little cross pollination had occurred between the Good Mother Stallard and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans.
Beans are technically self-pollinating, but that doesn’t mean that an ambitious bee can’t introduce pollen from a different variety to a flower here or there. I do remember there being a very healthy amount of pollinator activity at the community garden that year, so I suspect this is what happened. There were not enough black beans to make a significant impact in my final yield, but it was really fascinating to see how the various traits expressed themselves on those few plants that were hybridized. Also, a good reminder as to why I beat the drum of making sure you are saving seed from open pollinated varieties.
One of my favorite things about fall is seeing colorful and creative displays of pumpkins, squash, and gourds on the front steps of my family, friends, and neighbors. What’s not to love? They’re festive, practical, and economical (particularly if you grow your own) and the colors and textures bring a richness that encompass falls so well. I am always a little sad when they start to disappear as fall gives way to winter, but before you toss those gourds in the compost bin, consider saving a few seeds from your favorites to grow next year.
The biggest challenge to saving seed from members of the cucurbitaceae family is that these plants are highly likely to cross pollinate with other cucurbits of the same species growing nearby. When hybridization happens in pumpkins and winter squash, there is a possibility that the desired flavor and appearance of the original variety can be lost depending on which combination of squash genes pair up in each individual seed.
Decorative gourds, on the other hand, are a little bit of different story. Gourds tend to be unpalatable to begin with, and a high degree of variability in appearance is very much a desired trait, so the fact that a certain variety may have crossed with another variety growing nearby resulting in a less tasty or odd looking version of the original becomes less of a concern.
Now, if you are trying to maintain a pure line of seed for a specific variety or want to ensure that your gourds express a particular appearance, you will need to make sure that you are saving seed from an open pollinated variety (not a hybrid) and you will want to follow recommended practices for isolation and hand pollination to ensure that the seed you are saving will produce true to type, but if your only goal is to grow a variety of decorative gourds for your front steps in the fall or a Thanksgiving table setting, you can save seed from gourds without being too particular about what variety they are or what other varieties were grown nearby.
I’ve been doing this for a few years now with some really fun results. It all started when my husband purchased a bag of assorted gourds at the grocery store to add to our outdoor fall decor. There were a couple of really unique looking gourds in there, and on a whim I decided to cut into them and grab a few seeds on the way to the compost bin. Since then, I’ve been growing out a few plants each year and have continued to add to my collection whenever I find another interesting looking gourd.
Gourds are pretty easy to find this time of year. Check farmer’s markets, local pumpkin patches or apple orchards, grocery stores, garden centers, and even home decor and home improvement stores. Individual gourds are usually pretty inexpensive, and in some of the more commercial settings you can probably find a bag of assorted gourds for a pretty reasonable price. Thrifty gardeners might even have some luck asking neighbors or friends for their gourds at the end of the season.
To save gourd seed, you’ll need a cutting board, a sharp knife, a colander, and a paper towel or plate to spread the seeds out to dry.
Carefully cut the gourd in half lengthwise (properly cured gourds will be quite hard, and there often isn’t much to hold on to, so cut with care).
Scrape out the seeds. There are some distinguishing features, like a slight difference in size or shape of the seed, but for the most part, gourd seeds are pretty similar in appearance. If you want to keep the seeds separate, be sure to label the seeds and containers as you work (if you don’t know the name of the variety, jot down a description). If you’re up for an added element of surprise in the garden next year, create an assortment of gourd seed.
Separate the seeds from the membrane. Save only the seeds that are fully formed and mature, and rinse them off under running water to clean them up. After the seeds have been cleaned, put them in a glass of water. The viable seed will sink to the bottom, so skim off any seed that is floating and then strain out the viable seed.
Spread seeds out to dry on a paper towel or plate. Once fully dry, the seed can then be stored in an envelope or other appropriate storage container. Extra seed will remain viable for 5 years or more with proper storage conditions.
This would make a great seed saving project for kids (with a little assistance, of course) and perfect for anyone who has even a mild obsession with decorating with squash and gourds. Next spring, the seed can be started indoors up to 4 weeks before the last frost or directly sown in the garden once the soil was warmed up. Gourd plants will vine and sprawl just like their larger scale counterparts, but because the gourds themselves are smaller and lighter, they easily lend themselves to trellising and will not need extra support as the plants set fruit – a great option for small space gardeners who would like to grow (mini) pumpkins!
The only thing better than a beautiful fall display is a beautiful homegrown fall display!
Whew – we made it! Another election (and a 4 year term!), a mad dash to do a season’s worth of yard and garden work in three days, and the first snow storm of the season – all in a matter of a week. We’re getting kind of good at this whole go-go-go thing, but I am certainly not complaining that things are finally starting to slow down.
This year, more than ever, I’m welcoming the fallow season and looking forward to a time of rest to regain my bearings in the garden and the blog.
On at least a few occasions here, I have confessed my tendency to put off any and all end of season garden clean up until the last possible minute. With so much time and effort put into the garden, I always feel like I’m cheating myself if I give up too soon and so I try to take advantage of every possible minute of the growing season – even if it means I am harvesting the last of the garden produce in the rain as it starts to turn to snow. I am
hardcore stubborn like that.
I usually enjoy the thrill of tempting my luck with frost (and sometimes even snow), but this year is a little different. Faced with an extremely busy fall – and the repeated need to protect the garden from frost most of last week – and not having nearly enough time to do it all, I realized it was time to start the process for the sake of my sanity. I haven’t gone all out (there is still a lot growing, actually), but a little here and there has made a huge difference in making the garden a little more manageable during this busy time. I’ve started to refer to it as my Minnesota Goodbye with this year’s garden.
The tomatoes were the first thing to go. The plants are just so big and so time consuming to cover, that picking anything that would still ripen was the easiest first step. They are currently ripening faster in the boxes in my kitchen than they were on the vines this year, which has made the decision to pull them early a little easier. Of course as soon as all of the tomatoes were gone, the plants started setting blossoms like crazy. The eternal optimism and tenacity of nature is pretty astounding.
I also pulled the last of the tomatillos and ground cherries and I will have some quality kitchen time ahead of me as I put them up for future use. Both harvests were really impressive this year!
I haven’t given up on the pepper plants yet. Covering them up is completely manageable, and now that the garden is mostly empty, their colors really show through as the gobs of green peppers continue to turn red, orange, yellow, and purple. Also, the demand for pepper jelly is high this year, so I’m counting on this week’s warmer temps and much needed rain to make the most of the green peppers remaining on the plants!
The other thing I am still covering up as needed is the arbor where the Good Mother Stallard beans are growing. There are still a good number of beans that need a little more time to fully mature and start to dry before I can harvest them – and these beans are waaay too good not to try to get every last one. The arbor is a little challenging to cover, but I think this is some of my more refined work!
As you can also see, the humble beginnings of my herb and pollinator garden is still showing off a little color, even with several sub 32 degree nights.
Over on the other side of the yard, I let the cucumbers and beans go (they were all but done anyway) and the brassica bed is holding its own without any extra help from me yet. I’m still getting a little broccoli harvest every few days, the kale is growing like crazy, the cabbages are setting new growth, and I even have some broccoli seed saving in progress. I’m hoping that our first hard frost holds off so I can continue to enjoy these harvests well into the the fall.
I also have a nice crop of chard continuing to grow.
Sadly, I let the pumpkins go as well after harvesting a handful of pretty gourds and a couple of baby pumpkins that started to turn orange (they probably aren’t mature enough to amount to much, but at least I have something to show for my work!) The squirrels did a number on the pumpkins this year, but I’ll be back with a better plan next year. I’m not giving up on backyard pumpkins, and apparently the frostbitten pumpkin vines aren’t ready to give up yet either!
If I had to pick a star of this crazy garden season, it would easily be the cucumbers. I grew three heirloom varieties this year, Delikatesse, Boston Pickling, and Mexican Sour Gherkins. All three varieties thrived and produced so prolifically, that I couldn’t even keep up during the busy weeks of August.
The more traditional varieties have slowed down pretty significantly in the past few weeks, but the Mexican Sour Gherkins are kind of like the Energizer Bunny of cucumbers – they just keep growing!
Today I’m wrapping up Salsa Week with a recipe that is perfect for these last summery harvests. Crisp and refreshing cucumbers are elevated to another level with the addition of sweet scallions, hot chili peppers, lime, and a little mint.
The Mexican Sour Gherkins add their own something special to the mix. These little bite-sized cucumbers are plump and crisp and almost pop in your mouth with a really pleasant lemony tang. They’re incredibly beautiful, too! I’ll be honest, not many of these little guys made it past the garden this summer!
As light and refreshing as cucumbers are, I wanted to keep the onion notes a little milder than in some of my other salsas, so I used a small bunch of red scallions (a mild, sweeter heirloom variety, Red of Florence), but I also wanted to use this cool background to really turn up the heat. I added a couple of small green Joe’s Round peppers (seeds and all) for an outstanding hot salsa.
I was this close to chopping up some cilantro to finish the salsa, when I paused in the herb garden long enough to notice the mint that I’ve hardly touched this season. Cucumber and mint are such a natural combination, I had to go for it – and I was not disappointed!
This is a salsa recipe that will definitely be making a repeat appearance at our patio table next summer when the cucumbers are coming in faster than I can use them up.
2 medium-sized cucumbers, peeled and seeded
12-15 Mexican Sour Gherkins
8 red scallions
1 or 2 green chili peppers
Juice from half a lime
Fresh mint leaves
Prepare ingredients by finely dicing the cucumbers and Mexican Sour Gherkins (I found it easiest to cut in half length wise, then slice), slicing the scallions, and mincing the peppers (leave seeds in or remove, depending on desired heat level). Combine in a bowl, squeeze the lime juice over the ingredients, and finish with ribbons of finely sliced fresh mint leaves. Toss until well mixed.
You know the saying, “when it rains, it pours?” That’s how I’m starting to feel about my experience growing tomatillos. My initial bad luck with tomatillos has given way to a living, breathing tomatillo monster that has taken up residence in the middle of my garden. It’s a little hard to tell by the photos, but the tomatillos have taken up close to 36 square feet of garden real estate in the middle of the center bed:
I was a little surprised to see the tomatillos sprawling as much as they are, since I grew the very same determinate variety (Rio Grande Verde) last year in the community garden. Last year the plants were a fraction of the size and required no additional staking beyond a sturdy tomato cage to provide a little protection from the wind. Clearly, my soil quality is much better here at home!
Not that I’m complaining, though. Massive tomatillo plants mean a massive tomatillo harvest, which in turns means massive quantities of Salsa Verde!
I made my first batch with this recipe late last season, and knew even before the first jars went into the canner that this recipe needed to be included in Salsa Week this year. I looked at a number of recipes before diving in, but in the end I made a few safe changes to the basic recipe in the Ball Blue Book. I decided to oven roast my tomatillos to enhance the flavor. I used spicy serranos and substituted lime juice for the vinegar* to bring out a bright, citrus quality in the salsa, which resulted in a great tangy-spicy combination (I’ve included the original vinegar and lime juice quantities below, for those who might want to go the other direction).
*An important note on substituting bottled lemon or lime juice for vinegar: lemon and lime juice are more acidic than vinegar, so it is safe to substitute the same amount of lemon or lime juice (used bottled juice to guarantee acidity) for the vinegar in a canning recipe, but not the other way around. Unless a recipe specifically indicates that you can substitute vinegar for lemon or lime juice, doing so may reduce the acidity of the final product.
Last year’s Salsa Verde was consumed with a lot of enthusiasm, so I was pretty excited when I had harvested enough tomatillos to make the first batch of the season. It makes a nice addition to a spread of chips and salsa and taco bar nights with friends, but our all time favorite way to enjoy this salsa is in a pan of white or green chicken enchiladas or in a batch of white chicken chili. With many more bowls of tomatillos to come out of the garden yet, I am anticipating a good supply this winter and ample opportunities to find a few more recipes to add to our salsa verde repertoire!
2 lbs. tomatillos, husked and washed
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped serrano peppers
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup bottled lime juice*
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Spread tomatillos in a baking or roasting pan and place in a 375 degree oven until tomatillos are soft and are just beginning to brown (about 30 minutes or so). While tomatillos are roasting in the oven, prepare onions, peppers, and garlic, and set aside.
Transfer roasted tomatillos into a large pot along with all of the liquid in the roasting pan. Add in the remaining ingredients. Using an immersion blender, process until tomatillos are smooth.
Bring salsa to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Fill prepared half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace and process for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.
*alternatively, use 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity) plus 1/4 cup bottled lime juice.
Yields 4 half pint jars
Recipe adapted from the Ball Blue Book
Have you been wondering what happened to the rest of Salsa Week?
When I left you guys on Tuesday, I was packed and ready to head out of town for the rest of the week for work. I was pretty proud of how prepared I was: I had the last three salsa recipes queued up in my drafts, ready for one last read through before hitting “post” on the appropriate day. What I didn’t count on, was that the resort’s wireless network would be down the entire time. Three days left of Salsa Week, and three days with no internet access – so much for good intentions!
But tonight I’m back online and ready to get on with the salsa love!
The inspiration for this salsa started with some of my favorite oven roasted salsa recipes. I love the way a little heat transforms the sugars in the tomatoes and develops an crave-able rich flavor, but in the middle of tomato season, turning on the oven to slow roast salsa ingredients for an hour isn’t always practical or appealing. I started to think, if roasting produces a little salsa magic, why not try the grill?
I prepared a variety of heirloom tomatoes (Opalka, Carbon, Striped Roman, Old German, and Amish Paste), peppers (Anahiem, Black Hungarian, Jalapeno, and Serrano), tomatillos, onion, and a few cloves of garlic by tossing them in olive oil and then spread them out on the hot grill. I also grabbed an ear of sweet corn to roast on the grill along with the other ingredients.
I grilled everything just long enough to soften it all up a bit and achieve a little char, but not long enough to fully cook everything all the way through (the exception: the sweet corn and the garlic cloves – get those babies soft and caramelized). After coming off the grill, I coarsely chopped everything and mixed it all together. The result was a rich, thick-sauced chunky salsa with lots of warmth and body. I really liked it as is, but tried a pinch of cumin with a little of the salsa and really liked what that did with the flavor as well. Some fresh cilantro would be another good way to finish off this salsa. Whichever route you go, one this is for sure: you’ll be dipping into this salsa over and over again until it’s gone!
8-10 heirloom tomatoes
2 large sweet peppers,
6 chili peppers
4 large tomatillos
1 large onion
3 large garlic cloves
Prepare the ingredients to go on the grill: trim tomatoes and onions and slice in half; leave peppers, tomatillos, and garlic cloves whole. In a large bowl, toss all ingredients with olive oil and then transfer to a hot grill.
Grill until the ingredients begin to soften and have a little char, but are not cooked all the way through. It will take more time for the peppers, onions, garlic and corn, and less time for the tomatoes and tomatillos.
Allow ingredients to rest until cool enough to handle. Coarsely chop ingredients and combine in a large bowl.
Optional: add a couple of pinches of cumin! or a handful of chopped cilantro! or both!
Note: this recipe has not been tested for canning
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