Last post we talked about the nutritional value of three winter vegetables: rutabagas, turnips, and parsnips. All three can be harvested after frost, making your chilly frosty early-winter garden your own handy root-veggie fridge. We can all agree these winter root crops pack a huge nutritional punch but even I’m a little leery of planting a whole crop because- what will I do with them? I have horrible memories of mashed turnips, boiled messy piles of NOT potatoes, of feeling tricked into eating what looks to be a delightful pile of salty, buttery mashed potatoes and then tasting turnips. No one likes to be tricked- especially our taste buds.
I think the key is to move away from the recipes that many of us make the ew face over (mashed turnips, mashed rutabagas) and instead focus on other ways to use these three winter root crops.
Soup it Up: The spicy taste and soft cooked texture of parsnips make them an ideal star of soups. From roasted parsnip soup (roast the parsnips ahead of time!) to interesting combos such as carrot and parsnip soup or apple and parsnip soup, there are loads of recipes available for curious cooks. Parsnips pair well with carrots- both visually and tastily. The two vegetables have a similar shape and similar textures, so cut them in coins and roast, or steam, and serve up a simple side dish. I personally have always added parsnips to beef stew, preferring their spicy taste over plain potatoes.
By Cajsa Lilliehook from Portland (Red Chard & Rutabaga Salad) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Get Roasting: Instead of boiling and mashing the gorgeous rutabaga roots, try roasting them. Rutabagas are naturally sweet and like other root vegetables (potatoes) they lend themselves well to roasting. Simply peel and cube your roots, toss with some olive oil, and lay out on a non-stick pan or use a non-stick mat on your pan, and roast at 400°F for 30 to 45 minutes, checking for doneness. The variations are where you can get creative. As the rutabagas roast, they get sweeter. Play on that sweetness by topping the coarsely grated sea salt. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, such as parsley or basil. Or really bring out the sweetness and top with chopped pecans and a sprinkle of sugar. Lots of folks love rutabaga fries, too!
In a Pickle: I’m not even going to pretend like I am a cooked turnip fan (if you are, you get a gold star sticker). I’ve had tiny white salad turnips before from a friend at a farmer’s market, and loved them raw. But big bulbous turnips? I’ve always turned up my nose. Until I visited a restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, and had my first pickled turnips. Pickled turnips are a key side item in Middle Easter cuisine and they are one of the most perfect foods you will ever eat in your entire life. Sliced white turnips are pickled in a brine of vinegar, salt, bay leaf, and beets (yep, beets)—then the magic happens, and you watch as, over the course of a week, your white turnips turn a bright neon pink. The result is a crisp, crunchy, snack that adds such a texture and flavor to wraps and sandwiches that you won’t be able to keep your hands off of it.
Before any of us get cooking—and hopefully many of us are ready and drooling—we’ve got to get planting. So, head over to Gurney’s and plan your root vegetable garden!
Getting to Know You- Nutritionally
Even the most vegetable loving, tree hugging adults make a horrific face when you tell them that rutabagas are on the menu for the evening. Or mention that the unusual kick they are tasting in their pita wrap is pickled turnips. Or that delicious white vegetable in their stew isn’t a white carrot- it’s a parsnip. Perhaps part of our general avoidance and dislike of this cold-weather trio is a lack of exposure, or perhaps the issue lies in how many of us have access to the most popular vegetables year-round, instead of having to eat what we can harvest. Turnips, rutabaga, and parsnips all sweeten and mature after the frost, historically making them a staple crop for those in Northern climates. And with more and more gardeners making mini-homesteads and growing their own produce, perhaps it’s time for these three vegetables to make a comeback.
The first step in bringing back these classic winter vegetables? Let’s appeal to your brain and break down the nutritional value- and why you need those nutrients.
This root is a treasure trove of nutrients. Packed with thiamin, B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, rutabaga is an ideal choice for vegans. Most people rely on meat products to get an adequate amount of phosphorus in their diet- something that the rutabaga happens to be high in. Phosphorus is essential in the formation of bones and teeth and also helps the body make ATP, a molecule the body uses to store energy. Try our Laurentian Rutabaga for an easy-to-grow “purple top” varieties.
Purple Top White Globe Turnip
Not to be outdone by the rutabaga, turnips are also high in phosphorus- along with vitamin B6, calcium, and manganese. Manganese is key for nervous system function and also is important for the production of enzymes and antioxidants. And it’s another good source of calcium, so instead of insisting kids drink their milk, we can say “Eat your turnips!” (although that is likely not going to go over as well).
Also high in manganese, parsnips boast high levels of vitamins C and K, folate, and potassium. Potassium, helps regulate fluid and mineral balances in the body, helps muscles contract, and also helps maintain a normal blood pressure by regulating sodium. For the athletes among us, Parsnips are a great addition to your diet and can help cut down on how many potassium-packed bananas you eat.
Obviously these winter-ready root vegetables have fantastic nutrition value. So our head knows, for certain, that we should be eating them. But most of us have a faint memory of boiled and mashed turnips somewhere from our childhood that has us putting down the seed packets and backing slowly away from the thought of planting these vegetables. What’s a gardening girl got to do to convince you to try them out? Next time- I’m going to appeal to your taste buds.
Fresh garlic is a cook’s dream- grated into pasta, chopped for a sauté with vegetables and chicken, or blended into fresh salsa. Most people are used to grabbing bulbs from the grocery store and don’t even realize how easy it is to grow their own. And garlic isn’t just good in your kitchen- the “stinking rose” makes an excellent insect repellent in the garden, and has been used in home remedies for hundreds of years.
California White Garlic
Fall planting is recommended for garlic- especially if growers want bigger, more flavorful bulbs. For fall planting, break the bulbs apart a few days before planting, and plant about one month before the ground freezes. The cloves should be planted flat side (root end) down, with the tips about 2 inches beneath the soil, and cloves set 6 to 8 inches apart. Your newly planted cloves should then be topped with mulch (about 6 inches)- which can be straw or even dried grass clippings. During winter your garlic will stop growing, then start again in spring. Because garlic is not good at competing for water with weeds, leave your mulch in place and make sure you water, about an inch per week to help spring growth. Garlic loves nitrogen, so make sure you are fertilizing accordingly. Once the leaves begin to yellow, stop watering the garlic- this allows your bulbs to get firm. In mid-June, your garlic will flower- these tops are savory, and are known as scapes, and must be removed to encourage bulb growth. Before tossing them, though, consider using them as they do have a very mild garlic flavor and do well when added to dips and pestos. To harvest, watch for the tops to yellow, and fall over- but harvest before the tops are completely dry (this usually happens in late June to early July). Carefully dig up each bulb and avoid attempting to pull the bulbs out by the stalk- as this can cause the stem to break from the bulb and encourage rot. Once your bulbs are harvested, take them to a dark place, out of the sun; tie 6 to 10 of our plants in bundles and hang them up in a dry, shaded, slightly drafty area– this allows your garlic to cure, and curing should be complete after six weeks.
Once curing is complete, you can cut the roots off of your plants, trimming about 1 ½ inches above the bulb and being careful not to remove the outer skin. Old net onion bags are perfect for storing garlic, and a great way to recycle. If you’d like to get a little more decorative with your garlic, instead of cutting off the stems you can braid them together to make a garlic braid, then hang in a kitchen or storage room. As your bulbs continue to dry, the flavor will increase- making them perfect for use in soups, stews, pastas, roasts- whatever your inner culinary master desires!
Gurney’s offers several varieties of garlic- from our Gurney’s Choice California White Garlic, a proven producer, to our Walla Walla Early Garlic, perfect for braiding. Check out Gurney’s for all of your garlic gardening needs!
I grew peanuts for this first time this year. All summer long I watched these unassuming plants with speculation, trying hard not to get my hopes up. Visitors looked curiously at the short, bushy plants and asked “where are the peanuts”. The peanuts (I hoped) were underground. Peanuts are a curious plant, and are not actually nuts at all, but are part of the legume family; which includes peas and beans.
I waited until after the first light frost to harvest, wanting to give them the longest possible growing season. To my delight, I got a decent harvest! I excitedly dug up the plants and brought them into my cold frame to dry out; then immediately went to my computer to find out what to do with these garden gems. Here is what I came up with:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Spread raw peanuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet
- Bake unshelled peanuts for 20-25 minutes, or bake shelled peanuts for 15-20 minutes
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before eating
- 1lb raw peanuts, in shells (not roasted, not shelled)
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 4 cups water
Rinse raw unshelled peanuts. Put all ingredients into a large pot and bring to a low boil. Cover, and reduce heat to maintain a low boil. Boil 2-4 hours, or until desired texture (some folks boil them all day). Drain, and eat within a few days.
While living in the south I learned to tolerate boiled peanuts, but could never get past the slimy texture. Now that I know how to make them at home I can’t get enough. I boiled mine for 4 hours and they still had just a bit of crunch left. Try them while still warm and you’ll surely be hooked!
Place roasted, shelled peanuts in food processor and process until desired texture.
Yes, it’s that easy! You can add a touch of oil, honey, or salt; based on desired consistency and taste. However, the flavor is excellent without any additional ingredients.
In an ideal world, we would have big beautiful green lawns and lush, full blooming gardens with bountiful harvests of fruits and vegetables- and it would be as easy as sticking a plant or seed in the ground. But the reality is, it’s not easy, and it starts with our soil.
We all know that plants get most of their nutrients from the soil- but most of our soils are not perfect, or have been overworked, or lack all of the nutrients needed. Adding fertilizer – whether organic or manufactured- is a way to add nutrients to the soil and thus provide the fuel your plants need to grow strong roots and produce healthy blooms or fruit. According to fertilizer.org, a website managed by the International Fertilizer Industry Association, the purpose of fertilizer use is twofold: one, to supplement the natural soil nutrient supply and build up soil fertility in order to satisfy the demand of crops with a high yield potential; and two, to compensate for nutrients exported by the harvested products or lost by unavoidable leakages to the environment in order to maintain good soil conditions for cropping.
Many of us, at the start of the season, mix compost in with our soil. Compost feeds the soil, while fertilizer feeds the plants. So simply adding compost isn’t the same as adding fertilizer, and using both compost and fertilizer together can help you grow the best garden possible. And even if you start with the best possible soil, as your plants grow an absorb nutrients from the soil, the soil becomes less fertile. Plants require six main nutrients: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. The first three they get from air and water, and the last three they must get from either soil or fertilizer. Nitrogen is essential to help plants make the proteins necessary in new tissue production. Phosphorous helps plants transfer energy from one area to another, which helps stimulate root growth, set buds and flowers, and increase seed size. And Potassium is needed by plants to make carbohydrates, and affects the overall vigor and health of the plant. In much smaller amounts, plants need calcium, magnesium, and sulfur from the soil.
Choosing a fertilizer needn’t be tough. Most all-purpose fertilizers are 5-5-5, which indicates the proportion of each macronutrient (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). There are organic and synthetic fertilizers on the market, with organic fertilizers usually being slow release and better for fall application, and synthetic being mainly water soluble and fast acting.
Gurney’s Sweet Corn Food
Gurney’s has a wide range of fertilizers, from T-I-M-E-D (which releases nutrients over two years) to plant specific fertilizers such as Gurney’s Blueberry Food, Tomato Food, Sweet Corn Food and Fruit Tree Food. Almost as important as the fertilizer is regularly testing your soil pH, as a pH that is too high or too low can cause plants not to absorb readily available nutrients. A soil sample can be sent to a lab, or use a tool such as Gurney’s 4 Way Soil Analyzer to determine soil pH, then work to slowly raise or lower your soil pH over several years, and consider applying compost which helps moderate soil pH and maintain the ideal pH of 6.5.
Did you know that peas were first introduced to France by Catherine de Medici? Or that the United Kingdom has actual pea etiquette- and that the proper way to eat peas is by mashing them with the back of your fork (not scooping them with a fork or spoon like most of us do).
Miragreen Shell Peas
Normally this is the space where I relay a very cute story about my experience with peas and the fact is- I’ve got none. I certainly adore growing sweat pea vines but I’ve never really grown peas for food- even snow peas. And when I was researching peas for this post, I found myself regretting- time and again- that I hadn’t tried growing peas, as they seem very easy and extremely beneficial to the garden.
Peas- all varieties- are nitrogen fixing plants. This means that, with the help of bacteria in the soil, pea plants take nitrogen from the air and convert it into more easily-used forms—which increases the amount of nitrogen in the soil. Peas also have shallow root systems, which means they can help prevent erosion. Peas are cool weather crops, and are split into three groups: shell peas (don’t eat the pods, full-sized peas), snow peas (edible flat pod with small peas), and snap peas (edible pod with full-sized peas). To grow peas, sow seeds outdoors about 4-6 weeks prior to your last spring frost, or when soil temperature is 45°F. If you get some late snow, don’t worry- a blanket of snow will not hurt young pea plants, but several days of very low temperatures can hurt plants—so be ready to plant again if a late winter arctic blast comes your way. Peas like well-drained, humus rich soil, and are not fans of too much fertilizer. Peas need just the right amount of water, which can be tricky; they don’t like to be waterlogged but the soil should not dry out when the pea plants are blooming or when pods are swelling. One rule to follow: water ½” per week until the peas start to bloom, then water 1″ per week until pods fill out. Avoid hoeing around pea plants as the roots are shallow and fragile. For the taller and vining varieties, a trellis or support, such as a Pea Fence is advisable. One tip- plant peas with radishes, spinach, lettuce, and other early greens to make use of garden space, and avoid planting peas near onions or garlic, as the peas will not do well.
Sugar Ann Snap Pea
Check out Gurney’s for all of your pea gardening needs- especially these varieties:
Miragreen Shell Peas: a Gurney’s Choice, Miragreen is a proven producer and ready to harvest in 68 days. Heat tolerant, so you can grow several times in a season.
Avalanche Snow Peas: Another Gurney’s Choice, Avalanche produces six inch long pods that are resistant to both fusarium wilt and powdery mildew. Ready to harvest in 59 days.
Sugar Ann Snap Peas: This Gurney’s Choice features stringless super sweet pods that are ready for harvesting- and snacking- in 56 days. No need for staking or supports as this is a dwarf variety.
Anyone who’s started a new garden knows that weeds can be tough to conquer in the first two years. Come July, when the weather is hot, the humidity is high, and your patience is low- the weeds are taking over and you’ll wonder whether you’ll be sweating (and maybe swearing) away your Saturday afternoons pulling weeds. Here are a few tips to hopefully get you started in the right direction and make weeding less of a chore.
Even if a few weeds get into your garden, you can keep them from taking over!
Weed while the soil is wet
The best time to pull weeds- if we are talking about a few weeds, maybe half an hour of work- is when your garden is damp. My favorite time is morning, after our sprinklers have gone off. I like to put on my rain boots, grab my garden gloves and a small bag, and tromp around one of the gardens. I stop when I’m tired, or when I have to be somewhere- but every little bit helps when it comes to weeding. Weeding when your ground is hot and hard is a lot more difficult, and weeding little by little, starting in spring when weeds aren’t a big problem- can actually help keep your weeds from becoming a big problem midsummer.
A good layer of mulch create a nice barrier for weeds.
After your plants are up, or transplanted, but down a good layer of mulch, about 2 to 4 inches. Choose your mulch based on what factors are important to you. We were lucky and had a county parks and recreation service that gave away mulch for free. Some people choose mulch based on appearance and their landscape, others based on what is readily available in their area. You can also opt for a weed barrier under their mulch, such as a landscape barrier. Just keep in mind you should be mulching a weed-free area. Simply covering your weeds with mulch only makes them disappear until they grow through your mulch. There are also products you can put down under the mulch that prevents seeds- especially weed seeds- from germinating.
Weeds out of control? Don’t worry, that happens. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve blinked and suddenly it’s mid-July and I can barely see my tomatoes through the forest of
IronX Weed Control offers effective, and selective, weed reduction.
weeds. In those cases, you may want to turn to some sort of application to treat the weeds. One option Gurney’s offers is Weed Aside Weed Killer. This product is good for two reasons: 1, it is made up of naturally occurring fatty acids and 1, it will only kill what it comes in contact with so if it accidentally gets on the leaf of a prized pumpkin, it won’t kill the entire plant. Gurney’s also offers IronX selective weed killer for large areas, like lawns. Safe for pets and people once the spray dries, this helps combat dandelions and other common lawn pests. Herbicidal soaps and other lawn and garden treatments are again up to you, the gardener, and what you prefer to use in and around your home.
Water your plants, not your weeds
If you do suffer a mid-summer dry spell, consider adding drip irrigation. If you don’t water your weeds, and only water your plants, the weeds won’t grow. I wish I had tried this instead of heavily watering my plants- and weeds- with our sprinkler system. But it’s a very easy solution, and one that can save you time and money.
Off with their heads!
If you have too many weeds and not enough time, at least get out and cut the flower heads off before they go to seed and spread more weeds. Ideally the weeds won’t get to flower but the reality is, I certainly never have enough time come mid-summer to really keep up with the weeds and a few do flower. Cutting off the flowers quickly will prevent seed dispersal, germination, and adding to the weed population in your garden.
Watch for hitchhikers and space invaders
When you bring in new plants, check the soil for weeds that might be growing, even small ones, in the pot and don’t transplant the weeds. It seems simple enough, but I know how rushed I can be when transplanting, and I don’t always check. Also when planting, pay attention to spacing. Having mature plants growing close together means that there isn’t as much room for weeds to germinate and grow. Watch planting guidelines and plan to leave as little space as possible between mature plants, therefore giving the weeds less room to grow.
Have more weeding tips? Please share in the comments- goodness knows we all can use as many tips as possible in the constant battle against garden weeds! Or, have you simply given up and gone native? My grandma was one to always remind me that weeds are really flowers too!
Chipman’s Canada Red Rhubarb
When I was in my late twenties we moved to a ranch-style house outside of a small town in central Ohio. My husband, in an effort to keep track of our two dogs, immediately paid to have the yard fenced in. I had lobbied for this house because it had fruit trees- peach, two apple, and a pear. I also saw a grapevine and, as I love preserves, I was ready to unpack my mason jars and fire up the boiler. I was delighted when a row of gorgeous old fashioned peonies popped up in the spring, and as I was investigating I found a dirt row that ran near the grapevine and started planning what vegetables I would try to grow there. I decided I likely had to pull the few weeds that were sprouting up- including what appeared to be a monster weed anchoring one end. As I approached with my sleeves rolled up, gloves on, clutching my favorite shovel with a heavily toothed edge, my neighbor was hanging her clothes out on the line and yelled “Don’t you touch that rhubarb!”
I had almost hacked apart and unceremoniously dug up and tossed out the easiest perennial vegetable to grow! With very little care, rhubarb performs year after year. Rhubarb likes a sunny spot, cool climates, and well-drained soil. Crowns should ideally be planted 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface in a hole that is 3 feet wide and about 1.5 feet deep. Mulch in spring and fall with grass clippings, and make sure to trim off any seedstalks that form. Seems really easy- and it is.
The only way I ate rhubarb growing up was in strawberry-rhubarb pie. This tart and tangy plant can also be used as a savory seasoning in sauces for meat and fish, and most of us have had some type of rhubarb preserves. Interested in planting rhubarb? Gurney’s does offer old-fashioned Victoria. It’s an heirloom variety and deer resistant, and doesn’t get stringy when you cook with it. Of the newer varieties, I’m most interested in Chipman’s Canada Red Rhubarb which also happens to be a Gurney’s Choice. The intense red color and flavor doesn’t fade, and that would be a plus when making preserves and pies. Have some rhubarb growing tips to share, or a recipe? Let us know in the comments!
Murasaki Sweet Potatoes
Packed with calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes are- nutritionally speaking- a powerhouse. It’s no wonder that, for many Native Americans prior to European colonization, sweet potatoes were a main source of nourishment, and were eaten by soldiers as a main food source during the Revolutionary War. Their sweetness, which increases once they are picked and stored, is beyond compare. But sweet potatoes are not just for eating- they have lovely foliage and flowers and lend themselves well even to container gardening.
Sweet potatoes are best grown from slips- small plants that can either be propagated by you from actual sweet potatoes, or purchased from a supplier. To give your crop the optimum growing environment, build long, wide, 10-inch high mounds or ridges spaced 3-4 feet apart, and work in plenty of compost. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers and food should be avoided as those will produce lush greenery, but not large tubers. Plant your slips 12 to 18 inches apart, and cover so that only about ½ inch of the stem is above the soil. 3-4 weeks after transplanting, side-dress the potatoes with fertilizer (one that is low in Nitrogen, such as a 5-10-10 blend). Beds should be tended and hoed to keep weeds down, and reshape beds with soil or mulch. A key thing to remember is water water water- especially deep watering during hot, dry periods. Let the foliage grow and grow without trimming, and once the leaves turn yellow, it’s time to harvest. Once you carefully dig up your tubers, allow them to dry in the sun for several hours, then cure them (this allows a second skin to form) in a spot with high humidity and keep them warm (85° to 90°) for 10 to 15 days; then move them to a cool spot and they should keep for several months. Spoilage usually occurs if any nicks occur in the skin during harvest.
O’ Henry Sweet Potatoes
Charmed by the idea of growing your own sweet potatoes and showing off your hard work in a delicious homemade sweet potato pie? Gurney’s has several varieties you can try.
Gurney’s Choice O’Henry Sweet Potatoes : Cream colored tubers with golden flesh that is stringless, and tastes of nuts and honey. Matures in 100 days and has high yields.
Sweet Potato Bush Porto Rico: Perfect for gardeners with compact space, this bush-type plant produces small runners. Potatoes are great for baking and have gorgeous orange flesh.
Murasaki Sweet Potatoes : For something a little different, try this purple-skinned beauty. White flesh is excellent for baking, boiling, or mashing.
Today, we’re sharing a post from one of our guest bloggers – one of our gardening experts here at Gurney’s!
If I can keep the squirrels and raccoons from getting it first, I will be harvesting delicious sweet corn in late July/early August. Everyone that I know, loves Gotta Have It (including my grandchildren who only want to eat sweet corn if it is “Grandpa’s sweet corn”).
Gotta Have It Hybrid Sweet Corn
I’ve tried many other varieties and I still think that Gotta’ Have It is the best that I’ve ever eaten. Not only does it taste good, but it is also “well behaved”, with tassels not exceeding much over 6′ in height. The husks are tightly wrapped around ears right to the tip, making it earworm resistant. It may still get a few, but when compared to other varieties planted right next to it, it will have much less damage. Two ears per stalk are common and if each stalk is given 3′ of space in each direction, most stalks will have three useable ears! It is equally good fresh or frozen. I’m still enjoying last year’s frozen Gotta’ Have It, trying not to eat too much so that I don’t run out before August!