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 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:

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.