Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Indoor container gardening

I’ve never seriously tried container gardening, but it is high thyme. Actually, herbs are the easiest to grow in a container. Of course cherry tomatoes do well too, except in the winter.
 This fall, I brought in the lemon balm from my raised garden, it grows like a weed, so it should do well on the south-facing window sill, next to The Oakland Press plant, that I rescued. Offices aren’t conducive to good plant growth, unless placed by windows and assigned waterers.
  I’m thinking about buying a basil plant at the grocery store, because the crop I planted, never came up, probably because I didn’t water it enough the first few days after planting. Ever since I tried the recipe, “Thai Basil Eggplant with peppers,” I have been hooked on basil. 

Indoor container gardening
Among the requirements, you definitely need a container. It needs to have holes in the bottom or a layer of rocks to permit excess water drainage. Use a five gallon container for large vegetables such as tomatoes.
For best results, use a peat-based mix of soil with vermiculite. If you really get serious, add one part compost to two parts peat mix.
As the plants mature, the roots expand requiring increased water. Check the moisture level every few days.
Lettuce, herbs, carrots and radishes are fairly easy and low maintenance. Lettuce seeds sprout quickly. I’m going to start a flower pot of lettuce.
A common problem to watch for are spindly plants which fail to flower. This is caused by inadequate light. 
Even though the plants are indoors, they are still subject to pests. Pepper and tomato plants can be attacked by whiteflies and aphids. Watch for damage and treat if needed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Recipes for deer after they eat your garden

Venison preparation and cooking

There are many hunters out there trying to shoot a deer, many with the humble hope of being able to provide food for their families.
Keeping the heritage of hunting alive is important to many families. Using the meat that is harvested is good and gives purpose to the hunt.
Venison can be delicious if handled properly. From the start, deer should be field-dressed. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources offers a guide, “How to field dress a deer,” at www.michigandnr.com.
Then the deer should be hung head down for several days, at a temperature between 38 F and 42 F.
“Without proper aging, the venison will likely be strong tasting and tough,” said certified master chef Milos Cihelka.
Cihelka was the partner and executive chef of the former Golden Mushroom restaurant in Southfield, which had a national reputation for upscale wild game and wild mushroom dishes.
Cihelka and Jerry Chiappetta (formerly of Michigan Outdoors TV), created a DVD titled, “Wild Game: Field Care and Cooking,” which shows the steps of deer preparation, from field to dinner table. To order, call 301-210-0414 or visit www.wildharvestvideos.com/upland.html.
In addition to proper aging, how the deer is butchered is important. Just like beef, there are choice cuts such as back strap, chops, inside loins, flank steak, and select roasts. Deer doesn’t have much fat. In Cihelka’s article “Wild Game: Field Care & Cooking” at theoaklandpress.com, Cihelka says, “Peel the silver skin (layer of fat) off all tender parts before roasting or grilling. Leave all silver skin and even heavier sinews on meat that will be cooked slowly and moist, such as stews and pot roasts. These sinews are made of collagen, which is a protein that turns into a gelatinous matter during slow moist cooking and makes the meat very succulent.”
When freezing venison, wrapping the meat in freezer paper works better than plastic bags for preserving the quality. If you have a vacuum sealer, then plastic bags work well, too. When meat gets freezer burned, it’s easy to detect because it has an odd odor that doesn’t smell good.
“Large pieces of meat suffer less freezer damage (loss of moisture, burn) than small pieces. For this reason it is not advisable to cut the meat into stew before freezing. Sausages are best made from fresh meat. Same for stews or jerky. As a rule I make a large batch of stew when I am done butchering the deer. After it cools, my wife packages the stew in handy portions in zip lock bags and then freezes them,” Cihelka said.
“When freezing the different muscle cuts, only remove all visible fat, large sinews and cap meat. Leaving the silver skin on, it helps protects the meat. Always freeze the meat in the amounts you will be using at one time and label each according to how they will be cooked. Never refreeze meat,” Cihelka said.

Cooking venison can be delicious, especially if the onion soup mix is removed from the cupboard and thrown out with the trash. Onions are great with venison, but the popular soup mix adds way too much salt and covers up the delicate flavor of the venison.
Mushrooms are also good with venison. A few fresh mushrooms taste better than a can of cream of mushroom soup and it’s a healthier meal. Two spices that go really well with venison are rosemary and thyme.
It is important to not overcook wild game. “The tender muscles of the hind legs and the back straps should only be cooked to medium rare, either as steaks or roast,” Cihelka said.
Deer can be substituted for beef in many recipes. Ground venison is a good replacement for hamburger in chili, meatloaf, hamburger soup and burritos. On the other hand, spaghetti and other Italian dishes are not so great.

Here are some recipes from Cihelka that make use of venison:

Wild game spice
1 cup ground black pepper
1/4 cup ground thyme
2 tablespoons allspice 
2 tablespoons ground bay leaves
1/4 cup ground juniper berries
1/4 cup ground coriander

Mix ingredients and keep in sealed container. Sprinkle liberally on game birds, steaks and roasts. It can be used in game pates also.

Here is a quick, simple dish to prepare in a hunting camp using fresh tenderloins:

Stir-fry tenderloins
(4 servings)
4 cups trimmed tenderloins, cut into 1/3-inch thick slices
3 tablespoons vegetable oil ­— peanut or olive are best
2 cups sliced onions
2 cups sliced red and green peppers
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons dry red wine or sherry mixed with 1 round tablespoon of corn starch
Pepper to taste

Have all ingredients at hand. Preheat a large skillet to smoking hot. Add oil and spread meat over the bottom in one layer without crowding. You may have to do this in two or more batches, if necessary, making sure you clean and reheat the pan every time before adding meat.
Sear the meat over high heat on one side, turn over and brown the other side. This should not take more than 20 seconds and the meat must remain rare.
Remove meat from pan. Add more oil if necessary, then add the vegetables, mushrooms and garlic in the pan and sauté only to heated through. Season with pepper, soy sauce and wine. Return meat to skillet, stir up and serve immediately accompanied by rice, noodles or bread.

These recipes come from Kathy Blake: 
Lazy venison pot roast
4 pound venison roast
2 teaspoons rosemary, or 1 teaspoon ground
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon pepper
1 large yellow onion, quartered
2-3 carrots, quartered
4 medium potatoes, quartered

Trim fat from roast, coat with pepper, rosemary and thyme. In a slow cooker, place the onions first, then the meat on top with the carrots and potatoes. Cook at medium heat for 4-6 hours.

Fried venison chops with mushrooms
Light olive oil
1 pound of venison steaks or chops
Flour, salt and pepper
8 ounces of fresh mushrooms, sliced (or dried mushrooms soaked in red wine)
Crushed garlic
Chopped green onions, optional
Milk or cream

Dredge venison in flour, salt and pepper mixture and fry in hot olive oil in skillet. Brown on both sides, then remove from pan and keep warm. Saute onions, mushrooms and garlic in butter in the same pan, then thicken with flour and milk or thicken with cream.
This recipe goes very well with garlic mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

Deer burger soup
1 pound ground venison
1 cup potatoes cubed
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, diced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup green pepper, diced
28 ounces canned tomatoes
Beef soup base (optional)

Fry burger in a stock pan in olive oil until brown. Then add the rest of ingredients except potatoes. Add 3 cups water, or more. Add beef soup base, if desired. Cook on medium for half an hour, then add potatoes and cook another half hour.

Chef Milos methods for venison jerky
Jerky can be dried using various methods including the use of a smoker, fruit dehydrator, oven, attic or in dry climates, the sun and wind. Smoking jerky is not necessary, but a light smoke will add to its flavor.
It is not necessary to use tender cuts, but the meat should be trimmed of all fat, sinews and gristle. To facilitate slicing, you may partially freeze it first. Then slice the meat across the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices and cut each slice into 1-inch wide strips. Another method, one in which you can utilize even small scraps of meat, is grinding it. Here are methods for both:

Venison Jerky
For each 3 pounds of venison strips, mix together:
1 tablespoon salt (pickling or kosher are best)
1 tablespoon dextrose or granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cure No. 1
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Sprinkle this mixture over the meat and mix together. Add:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Mix again. Place seasoned meat in a ceramic, plastic or stainless dish, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning it over once or twice during that time.

Ground version: 
Use the same recipe. Grind the venison on 1/4-inch plate, mix thoroughly with the ingredients. Line a square cake pan with plastic wrap, pack the meat in, pressing down to eliminate air pockets. Cover it and place in freezer over night. Next day, unwrap the slab and using a waverly edged sharp bread knife, slice it into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Coat wire racks or screen with oil or nonstick spray. Spread the meat slices flat on them, not crowded. The pilot of a gas oven may give off sufficient heat. Keep oven door slightly open to allow vapor to escape. If using a smoker, keep the vent wide open, the temperature below 100 F.
The jerky will dry in about 3-4 days and it should never be dried so much that it crumbles, but only to a rubbery consistency.

The jerky may be stored in a jar or a plastic container, covered only with cloth. Tightly closed containers will encourage the growth of mold. Refrigeration is not necessary, however, for longer periods of storage it is best to freeze the jerky in an air-tight wrapping.

Here's a link to The Oakland Press website article by Chef Cihelka:

Wild Game: Field Care and Cooking

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Longtime Oakland Press reporter Jody Headlee dies

Jody Headlee, longtime Oakland Press reporter and gardening columnist died Friday morning. She was an inspiration to many, including me. Here is a link to The Oakland Press story by Diana Dillaber.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weather stays good

The forecast calls for continued frost-free nights in Oakland County through Friday. We might even have another warmish weekend!
I picked beans Friday, Oct. 8, the latest I remember ever picking them. We didn't always plant pole beans, like we have the last two years. It seems they produce longer than bush beans.
We haven't had any ripe tomatoes for a week, there are some green ones out there, so I didn't pull the plants. Also, I left the top Brussel Sprouts till after the frost. I've heard we were supposed to wait to harvest any of them until after frost (tastes better), but it looked like mold was attacking them, so I picked all of the bottom sprouts. At farmer's markets, I've seen stacks of whole stocks with the sprouts still on. If I had a bunch, that's the way I'd pick them.
If you want to grow garlic next year, you could plant that now, before the ground freezes. Be sure to have a dedicated spot. Many times we've planted stuff for next year and forgot about it, then planted over it. Along a fence line is a good safe place for garlic. You could also plant cover crops. Here's an article about it.  Organic Gardening

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Indian Summer sticks with us

The next 10 days look safe for plants. This is great! I might get another picking of beans and the tomatillos which started late, might actually ripen. The weekend forecast looks nice and sunny. That will be good for spending time outdoors, cleaning up the yard. It's amazing that we haven't had a frost, it is late for this area.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Possible frost Sunday and Monday nights

Pick your tomatoes and cover your fair weather plants that are still bearing fruit, because here comes the frost. Frost is predicted tonight and tomorrow night in northern Oakland County. It might not be a hard frost, if any, but it's good to be ready for it. The forecast doesn't predict frost temperatures again for the rest of the week.

Here's the 10 day forecast for Pontiac weather:


If it does frost, a good remedy is to water the plants before the sun hits them. This works as long as the plants haven't frozen hard. Orchards use giant fans to keep air circulating, which prevents the frost from setting in on the trees and fruit.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Welcome Indian summer

It looks like we are having an Indian summer, with no forecast for frost within the next 10 days. The Old Farmer's Almanac predicted a hard winter, though when it does get here.
I had been scurrying around like a squirrel burying nuts: making salsa, canning tomatoes and freezing enough to make my freezer bulge. Now, I am just enjoying the delightful result of continued high temperatures, and eating beans off the vine. So far, no sign of deer. The Swiss chard will last till Thanksgiving, if the weather cooperates and the deer leave it alone.
Our Brussel sprouts produced a bumper crop. I left the top sprouts on, because they are smaller and the plant is hardy enough to endure pretty cold temperatures, well past our first frost.
A disappointment was our zucchini plants. They had beautiful leaves and blooms, and I would notice a zuke growing, then it would be gone in a few days. I finally saw one in the process of rotting. The zukes would grow to a small size, then shrivel up and decompose. By the time I realized it, its too late. I've never had a problem having way too much zucchini until this year. I'll be on watch for that next year.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Farmer's markets and orchards locations

Here are links for locations and hours of farmer's markets and orchards in Michigan.

The Michigan Farmer's Market Association at www.farmersmarkets.msu.edu/ has a good list of markets with addresses and open times here. Click here for Oakland County: Find your local famer's market

Here's a good list of apple orchards by area: http://www.allaboutapples.com/orchard/mi.htm

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Get the Ball Blue Book Guide

Get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration. It is a very good, easy-to-reference guide, and it only costs around $5.99 at www.freshpreserving.com and at Meijer in the home canning section.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Find your local farmer's market

It's that time of year, when fresh produce is abundant. If it's not in your yard, find a farmer's market or orchard nearby.

The Michigan Farmer's Market Association at www.farmersmarkets.msu.edu/ has a good list of markets with addresses and open times here. Click here for Oakland County: Find your local famer's market

Here's a good list of apple orchards by area: http://www.allaboutapples.com/orchard/mi.htm

Friday, August 20, 2010

Picking is easy

For most vegetables, the best time of day to pick is in the morning. This is especially true for lettuce, herbs and greens. A pair of scissors comes in handy for clipping herbs, spinach and lettuce and cutting broccoli heads off, (the broccoli will grow again).
Swiss chard leaves can be twisted off at the base, like rhubarb. You'll hear the snap.
Cabbage requires a knife, cut at base, you might as well remove the roots too, because it won't grow back. For green beans, pull pods from plants carefully to avoid knocking flowers off of the plant.
Carrots will pop up a bit out of the ground, showing their orange crown, then they are ready to be pulled. Corn is ready when the tassles are brownish. Break off at the base of the ear and then grab firmly at the top of tassels and pull down to shuck, like a banana.
 For green onions, hoe around them to loosen soil, then pull the entire plant up. For regular onions, push leaves flat to the ground when the top turns yellow. Then harvest when the top turns brown.
For potatoes, when the plant tops die, dig up 8-10 inches from plant to avoid injuring the potatoes below. Dig deep and lift plant to pull potatoes off roots.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saving garden goodies for winter

It’s the time of year, when gardeners are harvesting more than they can consume. One solution is to take those big zucchinis to work and place them in unlocked cars in the parking lot. Another solution, is to sell the over-abundance at a vegetable stand. Otherwise, gardeners could store their harvest to enjoy later. With a short amount of work, gardeners can preserve their garden treasures for winter.
Whether to can, freeze or dry the produce, depends on what vegetable and how much effort and time a person wants to devote. Freezing vegetables is the fastest. Canning takes longer, but is better for maintaining vegetable texture. Canning is definitely best for salsa and pickles. Drying might be the easiest, but it has limited use, such as for herbs, mushrooms and fruit.

Easy freezing
It’s easy to freeze vegetables and fruits. Some don't require cooking or blanching. For celery and rhubarb, just wash, chop, bag in serving sizes and freeze. To freeze zucchini for making bread: shred or grate and freeze without blanching. For peppers, just cut out the seeds, wash and let dry, then freeze in bags.The quality and texture is reduced after freezing, but they still have that garden fresh taste when used in cooking.

Blueberries can be put in the freezer with very little preparation. Remove stems and bad berries, wash in cold water, drain, pack in freezer bags. Label and freeze.

For apples wash, peel and core apples. Slice, cut into chunks or quarter. As you prepare apples, dip the cut pieces in a solution of 1 tablespoon each salt and vineqar to 2 quarts of water, to prevent darkening. Drain well, rinse and drain again. Then you can either pack plain, with sugar or with syrup. Leave a ½ inch headspace for pint containers and 1 inch for quarts. When using liquid, place a piece of crumpled paper or plastic wrap on top to keep fruit under the liquid. For syrup, mix 1/14 cup sugar and 5-1/2 cup water top yield cups. Thaw fruit in refrigerator or bowl of cool water. If cooking, thaw only enough to separate.

Most other vegetables and fruits require blanching, which is pretty easy. To blanch vegetables, you need a large porcelain or stainless steel pan with basket strainer and lid, 2/3 full of water, a large bowl in the sink filled with ice water and a colander. Also need bags or plastic containers and a permanent marker.
Bring the water in the saucepan to boiling. Meanwhile, wash and trim the veggies. Place the veggies in boiling water, close lid and time. See chart below. Then remove from the pan and drain quickly. Next, place in ice water for the same amount of time as boiled. When the time is up, remove and drain well in a colander. To remove more moisture, place clean towels on the counter and lay the veggies out for a few minutes before bagging in labeled freezer bags and placing in the freezer. Here are blanching and cooling times for vegetables:

Vegetable blanching times - equal time in boiling water, then ice water, (Except for corn on the cob, most vegetables should be blanced 2 to 3 minutes).

Asparagus, 2 to 3 minutes
Broccoli, 3 minutes
Cabbage, 3 minutes (cut into wedges)
Corn on the cob, 6 to 10 minutes
Green beans, 3 minutes
Peas, 1 to 2 minutes
Swiss chard and other tender greens, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes (avoid matting leaves)
Zucchini slice, blanch 3 minutes

Tomatoes taste better when sliced in half, and baked or roasted on a cookie sheet, (350 degrees for 30 minutes for large tomatoes).

Do not freeze too much at one time in your freezer. It could raise the interior temperature. Leave space between packages so air can circulate freely until frozen.

Can if you can
Canning takes some time. It’s more fun when you can with friends or family, plus it’s less work. You will have the sweet, or sour rewards all winter long, so much better than store-bought. You will thank yourself and your canning buddies. Hot water bath canning is good for high acid foods, like tomatoes, pickles and relishes. It’s also good for sugary spreads, jams and jellies. You need to buy jars, lids and a big stockpot with wire canning rack. The pan needs to be 3-5 inches deeper than your canning jars. For other foods, like green beans, a pressure canner is needed. For further information, get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration. It is a very good, easy-to-reference guide, and it only costs $5.99.

Blake’s Fresh Salsa

Combine the following and chill covered for 1/2 hour.
2-3 cups chopped Roma tomatoes (when canning salsa, its best to blanch and de-skin the tomatoes. This is not necessary for fresh salsa.)
½ cup red onion
½ cup green pepper
1 Jalapeno, 1 green chili and 1 Poblano or whatever you can find, (Use one Jalapeno pepper per two tomatoes, more or less.)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
¾ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. white vinegar or lime or lemon juice
2 pinches finely chopped cilantro

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Identify a pest

Just when we thought the beetles were gone, a Japanese beetle was spotted, working on our beans. It was exterminated shortly after being photographed.
Here's a link to the National Gardening Association library for pest identification.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Food processors can be hazardous

Be careful when chopping goodies from your garden. I was adjusting the blade on my food processor and wound up at the local emergency clinic last night, getting nine stitches in two fingers. The fingers should heal just fine, but I won't be making salsa this weekend. I will post the ingredients for our delicious salsa recipe soon.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Beetle invasion of the worst kind

Even Eddie the bug-eating dog is no match for the beetles.
We have launched a counter attack against the Japanese beetle invasion. They are attacking our green beans and my precious Swiss chard with fervor. Pseudo Seven by Ortho did not do much good at all. Organic Captain Jack is currently keeping them at bay but only till the next day, then we have to spray again. We think the spray is working sufficiently in addition to picking beetles off one-by-one. We hope to win and continue to have beans and chard.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer fun while storing food for winter

Just like in Aesop’s fable, we need to work a little like the ants, to store our produce for winter. But it doesn’t need to be all work, we still have time to play like grasshoppers. It’s pretty easy to freeze many vegetables and fruits. If you have access to fresh blueberries, you can put them in the freezer immediately after picking, without prep. I wash them and the container they came in and then place in a plastic grocery bag. You can do the same with strawberries and raspberries.

For celery and rhubarb, just wash, chop, bag them and freeze. For peppers, just cut out the seeds, wash and let dry, then freeze in bags. The quality is reduced for celery, rhubarb and peppers after freezing, but they still have that garden fresh taste when used in cooking. Most other vegetables require blanching. That is not much work either. I am always thankful in the winter to pull green beans, Swiss chard or peas fresh from my garden out of the freezer.

To blanch vegetables, you need a large saucepan or stockpot and lid with boiling water, a large bowl in the sink with ice water and a colander. Bags or plastic containers and a marker.

Wash and trim the veggies. Place in boiling water, close lid and time. Then remove from the pan and drain a bit, then place in ice water for the same amount of time. When the time is up, remove and drain well. After draining in a colander, I place clean towels on the counter and lay the veggies out for a few minutes before bagging in labeled freezer bags and placing in the freezer.

Asparagus 2 to 3 minutes
Broccoli 3 minutes
Cabbage 3 minutes (cut into wedges)
Corn on the cob 6 to 10 minutes
Green beans-3 minutes
Peas 1 to 2 minutes
Swiss chard and other greens 1-1/2 to 2 minutes (avoid matting leaves)

The Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration is a very good, easy-to-reference guide, and it only costs $5.99.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Reaping the rewards!

This is what makes it worthwhile. Fresh Swiss chard, celery, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, lettuce and peas.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rhubarb cream cheese pie recipe

Ahh, the rewards of gardening. Swiss chard, snap peas,asparagus, lettuce, rosemary, sage, broccoli, parsley which I shared as tabouleh with coworkers, rhubarb, from which I made a pie. Lemon balm and peppermint, I grow just for the smell of it. Michigan has such a good climate for gardening, it's far better here than other parts of the country.
I think I've shared my Swiss chard recipe before, basically just boil or steam with red or green onions and olive oil or Balsamic vinegar or butter or just water. It is such a delicious, melt in your mouth taste. Of course you can add smoked turkey or bacon to make it a meal. If you don't have Swiss chard, find it. It is so easy to grow, except occasionally the bugs or deer attack it. You can plant it now and have it all summer long. A very good reliable food source. We love Rainbow Swiss chard the best.

Rhubarb cheese pie
¼ cup corn starch
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup water
2-1/2 cups rhubarb, cut in ½ inch pieces
1 unbaked pie crust, regular or graham cracker

1 package 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar

In a saucepan, combine 1rst 3 ingredients, then the water and rhubarb. Bring to boil, stirring often until mixture thickens. Pour into pie shell and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Protect edges of crust with aluminum foil. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Meanwhile beat topping ingredients until smooth. Pour on top of pie. Bake for 35 minutes in 325 oven or until set. Chill and garnish with whipped cream, and sliced almonds or strawberries.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weeding includes thinning

Weeding is zenful, except when the mosquitoes and flies are biting. I weed in the heat of the afternoon when the mosquitoes aren't so active. I would rather sweat than swat. But, there are other solutions. We have a little portable ThermaCell that repells bugs by heating allethrin, synthetic form of natural herbicide found in Chrysanthemum plant. It works if you have it near you. I usually wear a long sleeved shirt and pants, socks and shoes when I'm serious about it. I don't like to spray on bug spray.

When weeding, it's good to use a pronged claw tool or a pitch fork to loosen up the weeds' roots near your plants. Then get down and use a hand trowel if needed. You want to be able to lift out the weed, rather than yank them. Some weeds have roots so deep or so branched out, like grass, that you have to break them. Oh well. The main thing is to allow your good plants the opportunity to get ahead of the weeds.

Thinning is a good idea too if the plants look too crowded. I try to pull every third plant. Be sure and water when you're done. Jody Headlee wrote this article for The Oakland Press, Thinning plants helps make your garden healthy

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Its not too late to plant!

Broadcasting seeds is easier and more productive than planting rows for parsley, lettuce and herbs. I like to plant green onion seeds in rows, because they look so much like grass, it's hard to weed unless they're in rows. My coworker, Val the Volunteer has a planter on her porch that she planted basil in. It's close enough to the kitchen that she can dash out to snip off some leaves to use with dinner. I  have done this with lettuce in years past. Cherry tomatoes are nice to have in a planter on your patio too, to add to dinner.
Michiganders can still put plants out and plant seeds for lettuce, Swiss chard and other greens, beans and squash. Summers are long enough for two plantings of beans.

To plant a straight row, use a hoe to slide down the length of desired row or use a long string, tied to 2 sticks placed at each end. Then use that same string for every row,  putting sticks at each end of every row. For planting beans, push each seed down in the ground with a finger, 3 inches apart down the row. Then go back and cover with dirt. Be sure to make a garden map, writing down what you planted in what rows. I know it takes the mystery out of gardening, but its more rewarding that way.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yesterday's news is today's mulch

I found this website which has an interesting way of starting a garden. Here's the link: Mother Earth News.  This is not the way we've ever done it, but it sounds reasonable and would be a great use for yesterdays' newspapers. It calls for using wet newspapers as mulch, several pages thick.
Other mulch ideas: Our neighbors used seaweed from the lake. We always use grass clippings and leaves. When we're waiting to plant in an area, we put down a couple layers of black plastic, when we're feeling smart.  I think I'll try the newspaper on our waterfall garden project that we put on hold until we can afford to finish.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pass the peas please

We picked snow peas and had them for dinner tonight, steamed. What a treat. Ken planted them in March and then planted a second batch in April so we'll hopefully have some later. Peas like this cooler weather. It's supposed to stay cool until the weekend and might rain on Wednesday.
We've been picking asparagus for a month. My favorite way to prepare it is to roll spears in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill it.
Ham and Swiss, asparagus spirals. Pre-fry spears in olive oil, lay on a slice of ham and cheese, dollop with Dijon mustard and roll up with the asparagus in the middle. Slice into spirals 1-1/2 inches wide. Dip in seasoned bread crumbs, insert toothpick to hold each spiral together, and fry.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Container gardening

 We have a raised bed container garden for our herbs, lettuce and green onions. It's nice as long as the deer stay out. I saw deer tracks in there this morning. They usually don't go in it, except the year I planted Swiss chard and green beans in it. Those are two of their favorites. Mine too, so I have been planting them in the maximum security garden ever since.
There are some advantages to container gardening. If you put it close to your house, its closer to where dinner is prepared. That's handy. My coworker planted some basil in a flower pot on her porch. The benefits for containers is you save on watering, labor and typically yield more plants per square inch. There are certain veggies that don't take well to small containers, like green beans, you really need more space for them anyway. Here's a link for how to do containers:   Container garden

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gardening events in Oakland County

Some of these events are from an article by Karen Workman in The Oakland Press: Week of water-related events.

A spring Plant Sale is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 5, at the Michigan State University Tollgate Education Center, 28115 Meadowbrook Road. A variety of plant selections will be available for purchase and master gardeners will be at the event to answer garden-related questions. Funds raised will be used for the development and maintenance of the Tollgate Education Center gardens. For more information, visit www.tollgate.msu.edu[cq] or call 248-347-3860, ext. 251.

The Ortonville Creekfest will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 5 in downtown Ortonville. Family activities, information on keeping waterways clean and environmentally friendly crafts and activities will take place.

Native Plant Festival, National Trails Day & A Sense of Place Plant Sale will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., June 5 at the Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Road, Oakland Township. A potting demonstration, trail tours, children’s crafts, educational sessions and more will be available. Contact Heather Huffstutler at 248-601-2816.

Volunteers can help improve the habitat along the stream at the Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center, 6685 Coolidge Highway in Troy, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 5. River debris removal, invasive plant removal, putting wood chips on trails and more is planned. Call 248-524-3567.

Home Composting & Healthy Garden Demonstrations will be from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 12 at the SOCWA Garden Area located near the camel exhibit at the Detroit Zoo, 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, Royal Oak. SOCWA Master Composters will demonstrate how to make and use compost for a healthy garden. Call 248-546-5818 or e-mail LFDean@aol.com.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Magazine renews relationship with an old friend by Jody Headlee

I saw the following article in The Oakland Press, and just had to post it. I too, was a dedicated reader of Organic Gardening, particularly Mike McGrath's witty and informative, free-flowing articles and columns on gardening projects and problems. Please visit the link to his current publication.-KB

Magazine renews relationship with an old friend
By Jody Headlee, contributing columnist for The Oakland Press

It’s been 12 years since I wrote the column reflecting my disappointment at the departure of Mike McGrath from the editorin-chief position at Organic Gardening magazine. I have missed his writing and his on-target information the whole time until this spring, when I received a copy of the latest issue of GreenPrints.
To my surprise, buried inside as contributing editor, was a Mike McGrath peek at a planting conundrum.  I couldn’t have been more delighted to discover, he’s been connected to GreenPrints since the summer of 1998.
    I still would not have discovered his latest connection had not GreenPrints, the weeders’ digest, sent me an introductory copy to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Located in Fairview, NC, 28730, the issue salutes old and new correspondents who, under the guidance of Editor Pat Stone, have on every page, contributed to the reality that reflects the kindness, warmth and humor of true gardeners.
    I found their penned efforts fun to read as well as informative and was so pleased to reconnect with the writings of McGrath.
    Should you be interested, you can order a yearly subscription online for $19.97 at www. greenprints.com or call 800-569-0602 for more information or phone orders.
    To celebrate the issue, McGrath himself paid homage to Editor Stone by planting That Tree, the one discovered in a most unlikely place – his gutter.
    It all started some 25 years ago, when the city-folk McGraths moved to the country and McGrath by himself undertook an undergrad course in country living. Not by choice, but necessity.
    He learned about sump pumps, septic tanks, power failures, electricians, plumbers and gutters – new industrial-sized, double-wides and older smaller types tucked behind and through prize-winning rhododendrons.
    “They were magnificent, about 40 years old,” wrote McGrath. “Come spring, there were over 500 big ‘balls’ of flowers. I couldn’t take credit. By my guess, they were there when we moved in. Yes, I did count them; so would you if they were yours.”
    It was the rhododendron, in the middle, that shielded the gutter and wreaked the havoc.
    There had always been life in the gutters. McGrath shared memories of birds sitting on its edges relishing the tastiness of poison ivy berries as well as the vines’ contribution to spectacular fall color displays.
    “Yet, my wife still made me clean them. Perfectionist!”
    That year, when he climbed up to clean, he discovered a king-size leaf jam held snugly by the rhodo. No problem until the rake’s removal of the debris revealed a clear view of The Tree.”
    “I wish I could say it was a little sprout,” wrote McGrath. “But no, it was a sapling. A big sapling, about two feet tall with a nice circumference and dramatic roof flare – growing in the gutter.”
    He tackled the dilemma but couldn’t reach the tree. It was locked in the middle of that rhododendron-proofed gutter.
    “I tried to use the non-business-end of the leaf rake to evict the tree but the handle went under and lifted the whole schmageggie like a piece of poorly laid carpet, exposing an enviable tangle of roots.”
    Working slowly, he wriggled the tree free, pushing it to the other side. Then he moved the ladder, cursed, apologized to the rose bush he’d forgotten was there, moved the ladder again, went up the other side and brought down the tree – in one piece. It was a struggle he remembers clearly.
    When his wife saw the saved tree, tangled roots bare on the ground, she couldn’t believe it.
    “We’re already lousy with trees,” she needled, reflecting distress at his role as Savior.
    “I’m planting it in honor of GreenPrints 20th anniversary,” he countered.
    Approving the comeback, she nodded, quietly heading back into the house.
    Pleased at discussion closed, Mike tells of continuing planting, pointing out the tree looked as relieved as he felt when the job was done, closing the story with, “Thanks, Pat.”
    A double thanks, Pat, from another gardener who would do just about anything to save a tree, not to mention, discover an old friend. Happy anniversary!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Volunteering with Val the Valunteer

I had the pleasure of helping Val the Valunteer and Oakland Press suburban life editor, weed the DTE Energy Community Garden in Pontiac yesterday. Please see her blog for a full report. http://thevalunteerproject.blogspot.com/

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Can't wait to plant! Must plant now!

The weather looks favorable for at least the next 10 days, with lows in the 50's and 60's. I can't believe it. It started out as a warm Spring, then was unseasonably cold and now it's warm and humid. We planted our peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and okra today. We keep trying okra every year and haven't had much success with it. But we like it a lot, so we're trying again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Being a lazy gardener

Lazy and gardening don't really go together. But, when you are limited on time and energy, you find shortcuts. It's beauty when the weather cooperates. We planted on Sunday, dumped a little water on the seeds, then the rain came. That cut down on hose dragging, besides being much more beneficial. Now all we need is a little lightning and there will be no need for fertilizer. We rarely use it anyway.
Ken is the master of the asparagus patch. He uses the huge leaves from the rhubarb plants and lays those down in the rows. They're good ground cover to avert weeds. As much as I enjoy weeding, anytime I can use ground cover, I do. Black plastic is effective in double layers. If you have a large enough garden, a rototiller is an excellent investment. We've used our $200 rototiller for over 20 years and have loaned it out to numerous friends and neighbors, and it still works. Tilling is good for the garden and a fast way to get rid of weeds. Pull the big weeds though..
As I wrote yesterday, broadcasting seeds is easier and more productive than planting rows for things like parsley, spinach and lettuce. I like to plant green onion seeds in rows, because they look so much like grass, it's hard to weed unless they're in rows. To plant a row, I always use a long string, tied to 2 sticks. Then use that same string for every row,  put sticks at each end of every row. For planting beans, push each seed down in the ground with a finger, 3 inches apart down the row. Then go back and cover with dirt. Be sure to make a garden map, writing down what you planted in what rows. I know it takes the mystery out of gardening, but its more rewarding that way.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A nice sunny day on the weekend!

My husband, Ken is out working hard in our garden, so before he could recruit me into some back-breaking project, I have escaped to blog about it. We planted beans and squash. I finally got around to planting green onions, lettuce, parsley (to make fresh tabouleh, easy and delicious) and spinach. I planted the lettuce, parsley and spinach in our raised bed mini-garden. When planting these types of plants, we have found it easier to spread the seeds, (broadcast) in an area rather than plant in rows. It seems to accommodate more plants too.
Ken planted peas in early April and they are coming up nicely in a row along the fence. Its too early to put tomato and pepper plants out, unless you can keep an eye on the weather and cover them when needed. Same for eggplant, melon, okra and squash plants. We have found that the plants don't grow as well anyway until it stays warmer at night. It is such a nice day, and it's a Sunday. Maybe I can sneak outside without Ken seeing me and relax in the sun.

Friday, May 14, 2010

TIme to plant seeds and cold weather plants

 It is time to plant seeds for beans and whatever you want. If you haven't already set out broccoli and other cold weather crops and flowers, go for it. The Farmer's Almanac has this guide: http://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-dates/MI/Oxford
Also Jerry Wolffe of The Oakland Press wrote this article about planting:  http://tinyurl.com/3xrfcad

Thursday, May 13, 2010

After rocky start, cherry tomatoes show promise by Jody Headlee

After rocky start, cherry tomatoes show promise
Jody Headlee is a contributing columnist for The Oakland Press.

    One of the exciting treats in the spring, when you are a garden writer, is the arrival of catalogs with exciting promises.
    Often national seed producers will send out special catalogs introducing new releases to get the information into the hands of the public early.
    This year was no exception. Sakata Seed America Inc. of Morgan Hill, Calif., mailed me its slick vegetable catalog and included a separate glossy introduction to Sweet Treats, a pink cherry tomato.
    I happen to be an all-out advocate of cherry tomatoes, and when I saw the magnificent photography in the separate folder as well as tips on growing this new miracle, I was sold.
    Particularly, when tucked inside was the message that I’d find a packet of its seeds so that I would be sure to try them.
    Only problem: Somebody had forgotten to put in the packet, whetting my appetite to find out more about this exceptional hybrid that was making its debut.
    I gave Joey Kitagawa, sales and marketing director, a call and by return mail, received an apology and a brilliantly colored packet of the missing seeds – 12 in all. Tiny and creamy white, they looked pretty defenseless scattered in my hand to better inspect them.
    Once carefully replaced in their packet, I headed to our basement stash of plastic pots and other planting necessities.
    From my many open packages in the potting area — typical of a grandmother chef in her kitchen — I added compost, sterilized potting soil, Perlite, peat moss and a few pinches of black sand.
    My “soil” combo had one problem. The ingredients had been resting in their open packages near the furnace. To say the blend was dry was the understatement of the year.
    Even mixed, its parched presence stood out. It was obvious I haven’t been doing much planting since that red-light accident some four years ago and just the puttering made me as happy as a piglet in the barnyard. It took me three days of soaking and playing with the mix before its ingredients had absorbed enough water to consider it worthy of planting material. Once proper consistency was reached, the seeds were distributed.
    Normally, I would have scattered them in one container, waited for them to germinate and then transplanted them individually.
    Instead, I gently placed each seed and my blessings in its new surroundings. When looking at the finished product, they were so tiny, they had just slid into a soil crevices and disappeared. I knew they were there but only because I put them there.
    As usual, I covered each container with a clear, plastic cover, stashed them in an aluminum Thanksgiving turkey roaster and carried all to the desk in the guest bedroom. Regular readers will recall it is our version of a “greenhouse,” offering lots of light but the ability to control sun rays that burn tender leaves in the snap of a finger.
    With the seeds on their own, I felt like an octomom-plus-four as I waited.
    Stupid? Nope, you have to be a gardener experimenting with the unknown to understand.
    All I had to do was watch these empty-looking pots, make sure they were kept moist but not enough to encourage mold and wait.
    On the seventh day of my rounds, there were nine spindly, two-leafed babies reaching toward the light. That meant there were three more to come or three that bypassed the chance to join the experiment. Time will tell.
    They were alive but they looked mighty leggy and fragile. Would they live?
    I hope so and will keep you posted. Cross your fingers, I need all the help I can get.
    I do so want to judge and taste these Sweet Treats that Sakata claims carry an “uniquely balanced flavor of sweetness with the low acidity of pink tomatoes, yet are the size of a cherry tomato.”
    In addition, they offer high crop yields and are hardy, making them very grower friendly. Who could ask for more?
    Headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, Sakata was the first Japanese company to export seed and has been involved in the development of new and improved plant varieties around the world for almost 100 years.
    Favored in the Far East, pink tomatoes dominate its tomato market. Genetically different than the traditional red tomato, experts claim it’s the balance of the pinks’ acidic sweetness that make them special. I’d like to take that taste test. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Get green grass without the guesswork by Jody Headlee

Get green grass without the guesswork
Jody Headlee is a contributing columnist for The Oakland Press.

    The mowing season is here. If you want your lawn to stand out as perfect as one pictured on the cover of an unopened bag of grass seed, you will stand a better chance if you routinely change your mowing pattern.
    By mowing east and west this week and north and south next, you will distribute the traffic so the wear and tear on the lawn itself will be more uniform.
    Alternating the mower’s tracks ever other week also eliminates high and low spots often created by following the same pattern week after week.
    It is also vital to keep the mower’s blades sharp and remember when you turn during the cutting, try to use the driveway or sidewalk. Turning with the mower running can all too often skin the grass right down to the soil line, interfering with the classic look of perfection you are seeking.
    Also important, make sure your lawn receives enough water to keep it healthy and strong. The time of day is not important, as long as you comply with your community’s regulations. Because of area water situations, some insist that automatic watering systems have their timers set to operate at night or in the wee hours of the early morning.
    Don’t forget, more water is lost to evaporation if it is applied during the heat of the day. A weekly dousing is adequate if the roots are thoroughly drenched, a method far more beneficial to the health of your lawn than scattered light sprinklings.
    If a rolling green is important, lawn specialists suggest that you chose a seed that will adapt well to the type of lawn you intend to grow.
    If you favor the creeping bent of a putting green, tall fescue seeds will not fill the bill. They do far better when used to establish an athletic field.
    Then there is rye grass seed, good as a quick cover to prevent erosion, as well as a host of other seeds just waiting for your attention.
    Do your homework and find out which one is best for you.
    It will save you a lot of elbow grease and anxiety as you work toward that lawn that looks so perfect – in picture books.
    With all of us being encouraged to think and eat green, you might be tempted to tackle Brussels sprouts.
    If you do, remember this suggestion from oldsters; remove the plants’ lower leaves. It will allow the sprouts more room to develop. Just do not remove too many.
    Plants need leaves to manufacture the food that will help them develop full maturity.
    While we are thinking about growing our own vegetables, I would like to warn you about the blossom-end-rot of tomatoes.
    While it is not a disease, it can wreak havoc when you are waiting to harvest Americans’ favorite home-grown salad treat.
    It is a physiological condition related to a calcium deficiency in the veggie and the only cure is to avoid extreme fluctuations in the soil’s moisture.
    Should you see a small, dark blemish on the blossom end of a tomato, you could be in for trouble.
    As the spot grows, it will become tough and leathery.
    Should a bacteria or fungal rot decide to pay a visit, the whole tomato could be a goner.
    As long as none stop by, your tomato crop is safe. To correct the infraction, simply cut the end away and use the firm flesh of the tomato’s upper portion.
    To try and avoid the situation, mulch the crop. That simple step will do much to help the ground moisture remain constant and your tomato harvest healthy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Protect your plants tonight

If you were bold and have already set out tomato and pepper plants, you may want to cover them tonight. Don't forget your flowers too. In the past, we have used paper bags placed upside down with a hole in the bottom of the bag. I've read that some gardeners use sheets or blankets to cover the plants.
If there is frost in the morning and you forgot to cover them, turn on the sprinkler before the sun hits the plants. That really works. In the orchards, they use giant fans, to blow the frost away before the sun shines on the trees.  It's supposed to rain Tuesday and then start warming up. I'm waiting till next weekend to plant seeds. Happy Mother's Day to all you moms!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Oakland County Parks hosts Rain Gardens Workshop

Oakland County Parks horticulture staff hosts the Rain Gardens Workshop, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.on Saturday, May 22, at the Oakland County Parks (formerly Ernst) Greenhouse.
Participants will learn how to install, maintain and select the proper plant materials for rain gardens. There will be a hands-on planting demonstration of an on-site rain garden. Light refreshments will be available. 
A rain garden is a planted depression that reduces rain runoff by absorbing the stormwater from roofs, driveways, walkways and lawn areas.
Cost is $10/person for members or $15/person for non-members.
Pre-registration required online at www.stewardshipnetwork.org.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oakland County Parks system to host greenhouse open house

Oakland County Parks will host a Greenhouse Open House 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 5, at the new greenhouses at Waterford Oaks County Park, 1580 Scott Lake Road. It includes guided and self-guided tours, and refreshments. There also will be an informational workshop that day, titled “Is a Community Garden in Your Future?” from 6- 8:30 p.m. at the Oakland County Executive Office Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road. Cost for the workshop is $15. Contact Linda Smith at smithlin@oakgov.com or 248-858-0887.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Why does it rain every weekend?

It seems like it has rained every weekend for the past two months. We will be dodging thunderstorms this weekend as we dash out to the garden. Luckily, Ken planted the Brussels sprouts, cabbage and red onion sets last night. He left the pansies for me to plant, so I better go do that now. I hope the weather cooperates with your plans this weekend!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Freeze Warning Tuesday and Wednesday Nights

Freeze Warning Tuesday and Wednesday Nights
Our trip to Wojo's on Sunday was fun. We bought pansies for the shady, cool rock garden in the back yard. Since the temperature lows are in the 30's, we're waiting to plant them and the cabbage, Brussels sprouts and celery.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rainy day seed sorting

We enjoyed a fine meal with freshly-picked asparagus, (yes I'm bragging). 
I sorted my leftover seeds from last year this rainy morning. It's okay to plant Swiss chard, kale, spinach, green onion, peas, turnips, lettuce, parsley and other greens' seeds in our area as soon as the ground is workable in March. Swiss chard is a wonderful vegetable because it grows fast and produces all season long, as long as the deer don't find it, because they love it as much as I do. A simple way to prepare Swiss chard is to steam it with diced green or red onion and a splash of Balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and ground pepper.
Today, we're going to Wojo's in Ortonville to buy cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and maybe Cauliflower plants which we could have already planted in mid-April. Some people start these plants indoors or in cold frames in their yard. The next best thing is to buy plant sets from a respected greenhouse.
It's too early for pepper and tomato plants, unless you don't mind covering the plants every night. The temperatures are supposed to get down in the 30's at night for the next few nights.
It's too early to plant beans, corn and squash seeds, but time to think about where to get the seeds. For people who are concered about seed quality, there is the Seed Saver Exchange.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

No Trespassing!

Last season, our garden was protected by maximum security. In spite of the "No Trespassing" signs, deer have enjoyed many meals at our family's expense.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Start growing!

We're off to a great growing season! My husband Ken has rototilled the maximum security garden, working in some of Farmer Dave's old horse manure. We planted peas two weeks ago. We didn't plant spinach this year, mainly because it's usually only good for one picking. If anyone has a variety of spinach that lasts longer, please tell about it. We should have already planted Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, green onion and parsley seeds. It's late enough to plant broccoli, cabbage, celery, Brussels spouts and cauliflower plants outside. We wait until mid-May to plant beans and squash seeds and we wait until the end of May to plant egg plant, pepper and tomato plants.
This year is an amazing Spring with all the beautiful flowering trees, untouched by the typical late frost. (keep fingers crossed). It should be a good year for fruit here in Oakland County.Spring is always a re-Genesis. We made it through Winter and can get back to the garden, where we can breathe fresh air and dig in the dirt. Ahhhh.