Monday, August 29, 2011

Beet Root Powder

It occurs to me that I may have gone off the deep end with my latest garden veggie adventure.  By moving from borscht to beet root powder, I may have gone beyond the "practical, regular everyday" gardening things anyone can (or would want to) do at home.

I'm sorry, but the beets just came coming and I have this new dehydrator and before I knew it, I was dehydrating beets. It all happened so quickly.

The fact is, I wanted to make some really awesome beet chips, like the ones that come in the really expensive bags of veggie chips in the potato chip aisle. I could almost taste them as I sliced three big beets and put them in the dehydrator.  (I tried deep frying and oven baking beets last year.)

It took two days and one night to dry them until they were actually crispy. But as you can see, they didn't come out looking like expensive veggie chips.  They came out looking... well, let's say they were a little weird.  And as for taste - they were quite sweet and tasted very much like a beet.  The dehydrator took out all the water and left all the things that makes a beet a beet - the sweetness, the earthy flavour and the colour.  If you really, really love those things then you'd probably love dehydrated beets.  We're still learning to appreciate beets, so this concentrated beet flavour was a little too much for us.

Then I remembered reading this blog post from Well Preserved about beet root powder.  And thus began my adventure into beet root powder!
beet chips in coffee grinder (should make the next cup of espresso interesting!)
ground to a fine powder

I suspect this powder will last us a while
yup, beet root powder
Apparently 1 tsp of beet root powder has the equivalent nutrition of one whole beet!  That's pretty powerful.  I think I'll toss in a little beet root powder in whatever I can get away with and whatever could use a little colour.  The trick will be to find the right balance between adding enough for colour and nutritional value but not enough to overwhelm the main dish with the taste of beet.

I tried adding some to vanilla yogurt and it worked out pretty well.  The colour changed but the flavour didn't change very much at all.
a great colouring agent
vanilla yogurt with a little beet root powder for colour
I could definitely see adding the powder to some baking recipes (anything with cocoa) and to soups and sauces.

Wonder how long our jar of beet root powder will last!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Garden Borscht

I came back from the garden with a head of cabbage, four huge beets, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, corn and some new potatoes from my gardening neighbour.  That's a lot of fresh produce!  My dilemma was what to do with it all and how to keep some of it for winter.

It's hard to find a recipe that will use all of these ingredients, but there is one classic that will use up a lot of them and that can be frozen and used as a quick supper in the depths of winter - borscht!

I don't have an old family favourite recipe, so I scoured the internet and loosely followed this recipe from Canadian Living.  It's called Better Next Day Borscht.  I like the name, because of course, borscht is one of those things that does taste better the next day!

The biggest modification I made was to leave out the meat, ours was all veggies.  I also doubled the recipe since I had plenty of everything and I wanted to freeze the leftovers.
ingredients from our garden
gorgeous colours
in the bowl
In the end, we had about 7Litres (28 cups) of soup.  We had enough for supper, lunch the next day and two batches in the freezer.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Smutty Corn - Not as bad as it looks

"Oh no!  There's a growth on our corn and it doesn't look pretty.  Quick toss it out before it spreads."
I was pretty sure that anything that looked that nasty was bound to be dangerous to consume and so I immediately got rid of it.

When I came home, I looked up corn smut and discovered that it's a delicacy that's actually more nutritious and more valuable than the corn it grows on.  Go figure!  Check this out....

For full article visit the MSNC's Corn Smut Article.  Then, if you'd like to get a good deal on some corn smut, just leave me a message in the comment section!

By Associated Press Writer
                            updated 4/27/2010 11:09:55 AM ET
It's now an established scientific fact: Smut is GOOD for you. Corn smut, that is.
For years, scientists have assumed that huitlacoche (WEET-LA-KO-CHEE) — a gnarly, gray-black corn fungus long-savored in Mexico — had nutritional values similar to those of the corn on which it grew. But test results just published in the journal Food Chemistry reveal that an infection that U.S. farmers and crop scientists have spent millions trying to eradicate, is packed with unique proteins, minerals and other nutritional goodies.
And here's a bonus: agro-economists have found it can sell for more than the corn it ruins.
"We had no idea huitlacoche could actually synthesize significant nutrients that don't even exist in corn," says Octavio Paredes-Lopez, one of Mexico's leading food scientists.
"Who cares about the nutritional value? The flavors are amazing!" said Steve Sando, a grinning Napa Valley epicurean whose booming Rancho Gordo speciality food company grows and sells heirloom beans, corn and other indigenous "New World" ingredients.
.... read more here 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Growing Cauliflower

I'm stumped.  It's mid August and my cauliflower remains headless.  What gives?
Headless Cauliflower
This is not the first year that this has happened either.  It seems I cannot grow a beautiful white head of cabbage.  Last year, I had a wee little curd that I diligently covered with the surrounding leaves so it would stay nice and white.  It never amounted to much.  The years before that, my cauliflower plants didn't grow much bigger than the size I planted them.  This year, I have nice leafy plants, but no head.  I have a friend who asked me about the same condition earlier on in the summer and my advice was just wait.  

Will the head still come?  Is it too late in the season?  Has my no watering plan caused this headless disaster?  Does anyone know?

As for the rest of my cabbage patch, it's looking pretty good.  The floating row cover that we've had on since spring did a great job of protecting our plants from flea beetles and root maggots.  However, it didn't do so well in keeping away the cabbage moths.  In fact, I think it trapped more inside of it than it kept out!  This weekend, I took it off and released the moths trapped inside.  Our cabbages are now fully exposed.  We'll see how things go.  Perhaps I'll be harvesting my cabbage fairly soon.
Row Cover over the cabbage patch in June 
Cabbage patch in August - getting rid of the row cover

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lemon Pear Tomatoes

We've been talking a lot about Blossom End Rot on tomatoes and sure, some of our tomatoes have fallen victim to it, but most of them are doing just fine.  Check out this lemon pear tomato plant just loaded with sweet, juicy yellow tomatoes.  They are heavenly!  

A heavy load

after picking, still plenty left

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Freezing Bush Beans

Our bean crop is a little later than usual, but it is coming in nicely and it's time to freeze some for the winter.  Here's the process I use.
Pick beans from garden
Cut both ends off the beans.
Cut as desired.  I chose to "french" some beans (slice lengthwise in thin slices) and to cut some in 1/2 inch pieces.
Bring a large pot of water to boil.

Add beans to boiling water.
Bring water back to full rolling boil.
Boil beans for 3 minutes, just enough to kill the enzymes that would otherwise give your beans a bad flavour, even in the freezer.
Place beans in cold water with ice cubes to cool rapidly and prevent further cooking.
Drain beans
Place in freezer bags.
Use a straw to remove any extra air (poor man's version of vaccum sealing!)
Place in freezer and enjoy within 1 year.
 And voila, you have beans to enjoy throughout the year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Delicious Haul

Green bush beans, royal burgundy bush beans, tomatoes, peppers, Golden Nugget Squash, cucumbers, carrots, dill, borage and dried spinach seeds.  Mmmm!

Given the dry state of the garden, we're pretty lucky to get such a good haul.

By the way, the Golden Nugget Squash was way under ripe.  It needs a few more weeks.  Luckily, there are plenty on the vine.

We're also fortunate to have an amazing crop of tomatoes - despite a little bit of blossom end rot here and there.  Usually, I'm very careful to prune my tomatoes and make sure any shoots are snipped off leaving my bushes airy with lots of room.  This year, because I was away, there was no pruning.  My tomato patch is a thick, dense, intertwined mess.  The tomato cages are toppling over from the weight of the tomatoes.  I can't believe how many tomatoes are on the vine.  Here's a picture of one of just one plant - check out all those tomatoes.  Makes me wonder why I've been pruning so much all these years!  As long as the blight stays away, I'd say this is going to be a good year for tomatoes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blossom End Rot

Blossom End Rot - it’s ugly and disheartening.  After providing much tender loving care, to see these nasty black spots on our tomatoes is heart wrenching, as you read in Leanne’s post.
So, let’s get down to it – what is it and what can we do about it.
tomatoes with BER, peppers with scarred areas chewed by squirrel

Happy, stress free tomatoes

Blossom End Rot (BER) – What Is It?
It starts with a water-soaked area on the flower end of the tomato (the bottom).  That “stained” area turns brown and then eventually into a dark, black area.  It may be the size of a quarter or it may cover the entire bottom of a tomato.  Then, if it is attacked by other organisms, it may get soft, mushy and completely rotten.  (Hey, I told you it was ugly!)  Assuming it hasn’t gotten to this last stage and the affected area is relatively small, you can cut the black area out and still eat the tomato.  Because it’s a physiological condition, it does not spread from one tomato to the other, but you may want to remove the spoiled fruit to avoid other pests from moving in.

Blossom End Rot – What Causes It?
A lack of calcium being absorbed by the plant is apparently the cause.  It’s not necessarily that there’s a lack of calcium in the soil (although that may be the case in some rare situations), it’s often that the plant isn’t absorbing it (that’s why simply adding calcium to the soil upon the first sign of BER doesn’t work).

Stress caused by weather and water conditions greatly impacts the plant.  For plants, stress may mean inconsistent weather and watering conditions – too hot, too dry, too cold, too wet and everything in between in one growing season.  The transition from a cool, wet spring to a hot, dry summer may also cause some initial stress to the plants, which is why it is often the first few tomatoes on the vine that seem to get it the worst.

Another stress factor is disturbing the roots.  Be careful about hoeing or weeding around your tomato plants as the roots may be injured. 

Blossom End Rot – What to Do About It?
Soil – Think about your soil for a moment.  Key considerations for me are sufficient drainage and organic matter. When was the last time you added any compost to your soil? Is your soil able to hold some moisture without causing roots to be too wet for too long?   If everything in your garden is growing well and has lush, green foliage your soil is probably just fine.    However, if you have other concerns you might choose to get a soil test done at a local garden centre to help fine tune your garden soil. 
Having adequate soil is a year- long/life-long process.  Simply tossing some lime or crushed egg shells around your fully grown tomato plants in the hopes of increasing the calcium levels is not likely to do anything.  However, planning for next year’s crop by adding compost or well cured manure in the fall or spring may indeed prove successful.  Or, digging deep holes for planting  your tomatoes and adding crushed eggshells and compost to the bottom of the hole, like my gardening neighbour Ed does every year, may also bring more success.
Watering – Be consistent with your watering.  A nice even amount of water should do the trick.  I know this is an issue for us.    I just can’t bring myself to “consistently” transport jugs of water down to the garden – so I’m being consistent by not watering.
Mulch – A good 3 inch layer of mulch around your tomatoes will hold in the moisture around your plants.  We did this last year and I could definitely tell the difference between the mulched areas and those that didn’t have any mulch.  But, this year, we didn’t have the mulch material and we ran out of time, so our plants just have to fend for themselves.

There you have it, more info on the yucky black spots on your tomatoes than you probably wanted to know.  The good news is that it’s not contagious (to you or to other tomatoes) and that probably not all of your tomatoes will get it.  The bad news is, there’s very little you can do about it. 

Provide a consistent, stress free environment and hope for the best.  Who wouldn't thrive in those kind of conditions!

Other resources on BER you might want to consult:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tragedy in Leanne's Small Space Garden

Written by Leanne, Homegrown Tomato Lover and Small Space Gardener
Tragedy has struck my garden! Sorry to be so melodramatic, but it’s true… There is nothing more important to me in the garden than tomatoes. There is just no possible competition for a home grown tomato! Over the past few years, with all the challenges of not having my tomatoes in my backyard, I was able to come to terms with the fact that my tomatoes were, at best, mediocre. They didn’t taste as good as I know garden tomatoes can taste, and the past two years they have been stricken by late blight. Not pretty.

This year was going to be my year for tomatoes! Having them in the backyard garden, with brand new blight-free soil… heaven! But… we had a real heat wave in July. I took some website advice that said not to water my garden more than once per week because that would just encourage shallow root growth. Hmmm… that advice didn’t work for me. Not only is my lettuce bitter and inedible, but my beans are not very productive, my cucumbers are mostly shrivelling on the vine, and worst of all, my tomatoes seem to have developed blossom end rot, which I understand occurs due to inconsistent watering.
Now I’m watering about every second day (unless there is a significant rain, but that has been elusive this summer), so I’m hoping to prevent the rest of my tomatoes from succumbing to the same fate. So far, it is only the Manitoba plant showing the signs –most of my plants are Bush Champions, so we’ll see how they make out… I’m hoping they are more drought-hardy. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it once it sets in.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Who's Been In Our Garden?

As I approached the garden I saw glimpses of red in the pepper patch.  Was it possible that the red peppers were ready?!  Upon closer inspection, I realized the red was a sign of trouble - something had gotten to our peppers, there were unmistakable nibble marks on several peppers and tomatoes.
I took a few more steps into the garden and heard a rustling in the bean teepee.  Suddenly, this squirrel emerged and started chittering at me demanding that I get out of his space.  Hmph!  How do you like that?

Well, I told him a thing or two!

Now that the kids, Mars (our fearless little Bichon/Poodle) and I will be visiting the garden regularly again, I hope we can once again establish ourselves as the rightful owners of our garden and clear out any spots that might appeal to a squirrel looking for a home.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back in the Garden

It's been three weeks since I've been in our garden.  Yes, I missed it.  But what a delight to go and see how it has changed after three weeks.

Here's a brief photo tour
cabbage patch under row cover, corn in back (early and late)
Ground cherries

butternut squash
carrot patch
tomatoes - overgrown with lots of fruit
broccoli - seconds, first heads picked earlier in July
the cabbage patch
first carrots
Thanks to Darryl and my friend and blog post contributor, Leanne, the peas, broccoli and zucchini found a good home.

All in all, things look great!  Thanks to the hot, dry weather we've been having, everything (including the weeds) seems to have grown at a manageable pace.  We have not watered the garden at all.  Now, I'm debating whether to continue to not water, or like many of my fellow gardeners, to start hauling water and provide a refreshing soak to our plants (peppers and tomatoes in particular).

Of course, watering plants that are trying to produce crisp, juicy fruit is ideal and will produce the best results.  Consistent watering will also help alleviate problems like Blossom End Rot (BER) for plants like peppers, tomatoes and squash (BER post coming soon).   But, it's a lot of work and it requires consistent efforts.  Down at the gardens it means either hauling barrels of water from home or slopping buckets of water from the river - either way, it requires a lot of dedication.

For now, I'll see how it goes and hope that our plants have sent their roots down deep enough to get at the moisture trapped from our wet spring.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy the leftovers from our "Through the Garden Soup" that I made last night - a little bit of everything tossed in some frozen chicken soup stock we made in the winter (onion, carrots, celery, beets, beans, broccoli, dill, oregano, basil, parsley).  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Growing Potatoes in Containers

Written and Submitted By: Leanne
There’s nothing like the flavour and texture of a new potato right out of the ground! However, they take up a lot of real estate in the garden. With making the switch to a small space backyard garden this year, I was faced with the challenge of how to get a taste of that new potato loveliness without taking up too much space. I had heard about a great idea that I thought I would try: build a 3x3x3 foot frame out of 2x2 inch pieces of cedar. Slide in 1x6 inch cedar boards to make a base. Fill the first 6 inches with soil and plant a seed potato in the centre. Once it sprouts, at weekly intervals, “hill” the plant by adding another 1x6 layer of boards and 6 inches of soil, until you reach the 3 foot height. I also read you can do this with old tires – start with one tire containing the first layer of soil and a seed potato, and hill by piling on another tire each week, filling with soil as you go. Interesting idea, easy and a nice way to reuse old tires, but not very attractive!

I wasn’t sure what would happen after harvest, though – that’s 2 or 3 really big piles of soil to put… where? So instead, after consulting my handy dandy vegetable gardening “how to” books as well as the Internet, I decided to try growing my potatoes in containers. I was assured you only need a container that is at least 2 gallons – not too much soil to get rid of in the fall, attractive containers, and nothing to build. I started with a seed potato in about 6 inches of soil (actually I put 2 – I’m greedy and hoping for a bigger yield per pot). Then I followed the same instructions as for the built wooden boxes above – once they sprouted I added soil so just the tips of the foliage were sticking out and kept doing that at weekly intervals until the containers were full. Once the foliage dies off, I can dig down for those earthy pearls! Can’t wait to see how it works out!