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Kids in the Garden

Kids' Gardening Kit

Checking out the rhubarb flowers.

I was a tiny bit overprotective when my first son was born.  He never touched a floor without me first throwing down a freshly laundered blanket.  I bundled him up in three layers and then covered him up with a blanket before leaving the house. That was September; you can imagine what January looked like.  Then he started crawling…  Ok, really he would just drag himself across the floor with one arm; we called it “the army-crawl”.  I was still learning to let go of the utopia I had created for him when I walked into the kitchen one day and found my precious baby covered in compost!  He had “crawled” over to the kitchen cabinet, found my compost bucket and dumped it all over himself.  Sticky onion peels were glued to his bald head, coffee grounds covered his face and tiny hands.  I looked down at him in shock; he smiled back at me with an accomplished grin.

My horror quickly turned to joy as I realized this was just the beginning of the fun we would to have together.  He had rolled in compost and survived it; what else could this tiny human endure?  Until now, he’d watched from his stroller while I planted seed, hoed weeds and harvested dinner from our large vegetable garden.  It suddenly felt cruel to keep him from joining in on the fun.  From that point on he was my constant companion in the garden.  He put things in his mouth that didn’t belong there, he was dirty more often than he was clean; we were known to skip play dates and skip to the backyard garden instead.  In summary, this kid was having real fun.  Not the kind of fun we create at amusement parks and movie theaters, but the kind of fun that just exists all on its own. He was exploring nature, learning the seasons, touching plants, and eating real food.

Kids Herb Gardening

Harvesting basil.

My second son was luckier, he joined us in the garden long before he could crawl.  The feel of soil in his tiny hands, the warmth of the sun and the smell of fresh herbs have always been a part of his life.  As the boys get older their interest in the vegetable garden comes and goes.  They like to help plant in the spring then tend to forget about the garden until there are peas to eat.  The first time we can harvest enough fresh basil to make pesto is always a celebration; the second harvest is taken for granted.  But just when I think they have forgotten the garden I’ll catch them walking their friends out to show them around; proudly offering up fresh strawberries or cherry tomatoes.  They like to play hide and seek in the popcorn and make a teepee out of the pole beans, they do not like to help weed.

I’m not worried when their interests take them away from the vegetable patch, they will always have a strong bond to their food and to nature because the garden is there.  That garden is a daily part of our lives weather we are eating canned spaghetti sauce on a cold January night or fresh salsa on a summer evening.  My kids will always know where real food comes from, they will know how to prepare it, how to preserve it and how to appreciate it.

If you are looking for some gardening ideas for your budding botanist, check out our children’s packages; developed especially for kids and inspired by a compost covered baby!

Children’s Herb Garden

Children’s Easy Peasy Garden

Kids Garden Collection

Jack and The Beanstalk Garden

Children’s Sensory Garden

Children’s Sweet Treats Garden

Children’s Rainbow Garden

Kids' Gardening

The boys set up their own animal trap one year when something was eating their strawberries!

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Chickens in the garden

Chickens do a great job of ridding the garden of pests and rotted veggies.

Chickens do a great job of ridding the garden of pests and rotted veggies.

When I decided to start raising chickens, I was thinking only of high quality, fresh eggs. But, I soon learned that my feathered friends had far more to offer – bringing chickens onto the property was one of the best things I ever did for the vegetable garden!  They help turn my compost pile, clean up the garden, and turn unwanted insects and food waste into valuable compost.  Having free range chickens in your vegetable garden can be a bit tricky. I’ve learned the hard way that they like to eat many of the same things that we do!

Cold Covers

Floating row covers keep the birds from pecking at seedlings.

I love to see my chickens out frolicking in the yard, but there are certain times of the year when they have to stay in the coop for the sake of the garden.  Once I’ve sown seed in the spring, the girls are no longer allowed out to play.  They love to take dust baths in freshly-dug soil, and they’ll quickly destroy a planting bed.

As soon as the spring seedlings are up and well-established, I welcome the eager hens back into the garden.  They may nibble on a leaf from time to time, but the damage is minimal and the benefits are many.  Then, once again it’s back to life in the coop when the tomatoes and peppers start to ripen.  Chickens are very keen at finding a perfectly ripe tomato!  Don’t feel too bad for the caged birds; they get so many garden scraps during the summer season that they turn up their beaks when I visit them with the compost bucket.

The flock is back in the garden again in late summer and through the fall and winter.  I plant a much smaller fall garden, and use tomato cages, fences and floating row covers to protect delicate seedlings from my birds’ constantly pecking beaks.  It’s well worth taking the extra time to protect the fall seedlings so the chickens can be in the garden.  I find them especially helpful at cleaning up the garden this time of year when neglected and rotting veggies are inevitable.

Chicken chasing garden mole.

I caught one of the “girls” helpfully chasing moles from the vegetable garden!

The routine I’ve established is just one of many ways for your chickens to coexist with the vegetable garden.   A few other options that gardeners may use include chicken tractors, garden fences, or portable chicken fencing.  Whatever method you chose, there are many benefits to free-ranging the flock!  Free-ranging chickens require much less store-bought feed, and their egg yolks take on a gorgeous deep orange color.  They keep the yard and garden clean of fleas, ticks and other unwanted insects; I’ve even witnessed my girls killing moles and garden voles.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, chickens are ridiculously entertaining and make great companions!

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Get the Most from your Garden

Rosemary flowers

The flowers from many of your favorite herbs are edible – and delicious!

When a friend shared her recipe for cilantro root pesto, I was immediately intrigued.  All this time, I had been wasting a perfectly edible plant part?  At the first opportunity I dug up a plant and tried her recipe.  The results were amazing – stir fries will never be the same again!  Since discovering the glorious flavor of cilantro root, I’ve been on a mission to discover and use the lesser known edible parts of my garden plants.  Here’s a list to get you started on your next culinary adventure!

Cilantro (Coriander)-Chop the roots in a food processor with olive oil, garlic and pepper.  Add this to stir fries, salad dressing or soups.  A little goes a long way; the roots are full of flavor.  Flowers can be used as garnish, or in salads.  Seeds taste best when crushed just prior to using; often used in Indian and Latin recipes.

Parsley- Roots can be eaten fresh, roasted or added to soups and stews

Dill-Add flowers to pickles, or potato salad.  Seeds are used toasted, fried or added into soups, salads and pickling brine.

Basil/Chives/Mint/Rosemary/Thyme/Sage-You can eat the flowers of all these herbs; flavors are similar to the leaves.

Arugula-flowers taste similar to the leaves, add to salads, or use as a garnish

Pea – Add the young tendrils, shoots and flowers to stir fries and salads.  Pea shoots can easily be grown indoors for winter greens.

Squash- Add young shoots to salads or lightly sauté with garlic.  Flowers are wonderful stuffed, baked, or fried. Toasted seeds makes a great snack or salad topper.

Watermelon-Pickle the rinds

Sweet potato leaves- Braise leaves and stems with garlic.

Garlic- Use the gorgeous flower scapes as you would use the garlic bulb.  They are also good pickled, or made into a pesto.

Popcorn- Young shoots are super sweet and very attractive.  Add to smoothies, salads or soups.

Sunflower-Young shoots taste much like the seeds.

Nasturtium- The spicy flowers are a great addition to salads.  Dried flowers can be added to salt for a tasty and attractive alternative.  Leaves make a lovely garnish and are also good in pesto.  Seed pods can be pickled and used as capers.

Radish- Seed pods can be pickled, tossed into stir fries or sprinkled on top of salads. Leaves can be eaten as salad greens when young or sauté older leaves with garlic.  The flavorful flowers can be used as a garnish, or added to salads.

Carrot- Toss greens in a salad, quickly blanch, or make a pesto.  Remember to save your seedlings for this purpose while thinning.

Beet, Turnip, Kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts – Eat the young leaves as a salad greens, or lightly sauté the mature greens.  Grow for sprouts.

Cabbage, Broccoli- Stems can be eaten along with florets, chopped into a slaw, or added to soups and stews.  Toss leaves into smoothies, stir fries or salads.  Grow for sprouts.

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A new way to make popcorn!

Popcorn This year at the Research and Development farm we grew a lot of popcorn.  We’ll be doing taste trials once the cobs all dry down.  In the mean time we are playing!  Did you know you can put a whole ear of popcorn in the microwave and pop it right off the cob?  Simply put the cob into a paper lunch sack and roll up the end a few times, making tight folds (for extra hold, use a piece of masking tape).  Place the bag on its side in microwave for 2-3 minutes.  Stay near the microwave and listen closely; times vary by machine.  Stop the microwave as soon as the popping slows down, it burns quickly if left in too long.  The popcorn will pop right off the cob and fill your bag!  The kernels at the tip of the cob tend not to pop.  You can either break this off prior to popping, or expect to see a few remaining on the cob after popping.  We trialed our Mauveless variety and it works great.  Try it for yourself, I guarantee your family and friends will be impressed!

popcorn2

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All about…cauliflower

Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower

Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower

There is one thing you must know about cauliflower before we go any further: cauliflower is temperamental.  It only does well in consistently cool weather, is fussy about soil, and needs a near constant supply of water and nutrients. But we never back away from a challenge- so if you love the sweet taste of cauliflower (I love mine sliced thin and roasted in the oven), let’s equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to successfully grow cauliflower.

Sun

Cauliflower needs at least 6 hours of full sun per day, if not more.

Soil

Cauliflower prefers nitrogen and potassium rich, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter to help retain moisture. The pH must be between 6.5 and 6.8 to prevent clubroot disease.

Food

Apply Gurney’s Vegetable Food before planting, and again after the plants develop new leaves, and again before heads form.

Temperature

Plant fall crops about 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost, but be ready to shade your cauliflower plants if they need to be protected from any surprise heat waves.

Space

Cauliflower should be planted about 18 inches to ensure plenty of room to grow.

Mulch

To avoid stress, plants need even moisture. A layer of organic mulch will keep soil cool and moist and prevent weeds from sprouting.

A Little Help

Cauliflower is supposed to naturally self-blanch, where the leaves naturally curl over the head and shade it, ensuring it will be white and tender at harvest. Keep an eye on your heads and provide a little assistance if needed by pulling leaves up over the head and fastening them with a clothespin.

Interested in growing your own cauliflower? Try Gurney’s Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower or for something completely different, Veronica Hybrid Cauliflower. Any tips for us on cauliflower success? Let us know in the comments.

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What is the difference between hybrid, open pollinated and heirloom seed?

tomatos2 When browsing through your seed catalogs, you may notice some terminology that can be confusing.  Seed is often categorized as open pollinated (op), heirloom or hybrid.  Understanding these descriptions is especially important if you plan to save your own seed.

Open pollinated (OP)- These varieties can produce seed that is true to type, or that will grow the same plant again.  It’s important to keep in mind that some species can easily cross-pollinate with each other, so their seed will only be true to type if varieties are isolated from each other.

Open Pollinated Tomatoes Heirloom- These are open pollinated varieties that have been passed down within communities or families.  Usually these varieties have been around for many years and continue to be treasured for great flavor, and adaptability and vigor.  All heirlooms are open pollinated (OP), but not all open pollinated varieties are considered to be heirlooms.

Hybrid- Seeds created by controlled cross pollinating between two chosen varieties.  These are often referred to as F1 plants.  Seed collected from these plants will not produce the same plant, or they are not true to type.  Hybrids are usually created with specific goals in mind, such as increased disease resistance, more fruit production, better flavor, etc.

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Grow popcorn – it’s easy, fun and delicious!

Kids prepping popcorn

My kids are big popcorn fans.

Popcorn has become one of my very favorite crops to grow.  This unassuming crop has many virtues you may not have considered.  I’ve been mulling over the list of reasons to grow popcorn so that I can convince others to give it a try.  I think I have a pretty good argument.

Popcorn is easy!  Plant seed out in the spring once the soil has warmed, it needs little attention again until fall time.  By the time popcorn is ready to harvest; everything else in the garden is slowing down and dying off.  This allows me time to truly appreciate popcorn harvest day.

Popcorn hanging in barn

We’ve found a foolproof way to keep mice out of our stored popcorn!

Unlike many popular garden favorites that can be overwhelming, popcorn can be picked all at once.  That one harvest can yield enough popcorn for the family to enjoy for months or even years, no canning, processing or cooking necessary!

Popcorn is flexible!  Simply let the ears dry down on the stalks, popcorn holds ups nicely on the plants until you find time to collect it.  I always wait for one of those warm, sunny days in September when I’m looking for a reason to be out in the garden (thanks for the excuse, popcorn).  Once harvested, the drying process continues.  I’ve had success putting it into well ventilated bags or boxes and storing in the basement for about 2 months.  Mice can be a problem, this year we are hanging bags from rafters in the barn, so far they have not found a way in.  I shuck mine in late November to early December, it’s a nice chore to have when the days are cold and dark.  Popcorn can be stored in an airtight container for years once it is shucked.

Cut popcorn stalks make great fall decor.

Cut popcorn stalks make great fall decor.

Everyone loves popcorn!  One of my son’s first words was “bop-bop” (popcorn).  He used to dance around the kitchen in his footie pajamas and sing “bop-bop, bop-bop, bop-bop” while the popcorn was pinging in the pan.  I share much anticipated jars of home grown popcorn for Christmas gifts and bring it to parties for the host.  The dog eagerly cleans up the floor of any stray pieces and the chickens go crazy for both un-popped kernels and leftover popcorn.

It’s beautiful!  Popcorn harvest conveniently coincides with fall decorating season.  After harvesting, I cut back the stalks, bundle them up and decorate around the outside of the house.  Instead of growing decorative corn, I tie together a few cobs of corn and decorate with it while it’s drying down.  This year I grew our Gurney’s Mauveless, it is truly gorgeous as a decorative piece and tastes amazing.

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All about potatoes

French Fingerling Potatoes

French Fingerling Potatoes

Growing up in the Midwest, I learned early on the value of the potato. No holiday was complete without several side dishes featuring potatoes. I remember when redskin potatoes first became readily available, then Yukon golds (how did we ever make mashed potatoes before yukons?). And just a few years ago I was delighted to find an array of small fingerling potatoes at my favorite market, so I could make a red, white, and blue potato salad (the blue was really purple). Two summers ago I decided to try my hand at growing potatoes because the little seed potatoes at the market looked so cute, and my grandma insisted they were easy to grow. And she was right- my kids loved harvesting the potatoes, and the novelty of walking outside and digging up some potatoes for dinner never wore off.

Planting and Harvesting

Potatoes prefer well drained, fine sandy soil, with a lot of organic matter mixed in. If your soil is less than potato ready, consider planting a cover crop the year before. Crop rotation is key with potatoes- yes, even in your own garden. To avoid issues such as scab disease, do not add too much manure to your seedbed, and also watch the soil pH: for potatoes, the pH should be 5.0 to 5.5. Once your plants are started, remember potatoes need constant moisture, so water regularly. Once your plants are about 6 inches tall, you need to hoe the dirt around the base of the plant in order to keep the root covered and support the plant. This helps keep the potato from getting sunburned- which makes them turn green and taste bitter. Hilling should happen every two weeks for proper potato protection. Two weeks after the vines have naturally died down, it’s time to dig up your potatoes. If your weather is still hot, immediately take harvested potatoes to a dark, cool place- any exposure to sun can cause your potatoes to turn green and they may rot. Potatoes can be stored for about 4 to 6 weeks; if you need to store them longer than that, they must be cured in a dark place (temperature between 60 and 65 degrees and a humidity of 85 percent or higher for 10 days); after they are cured they can be kept in a very cool (40 to 45 degrees) dark humid place for several months.

Interested in trying your hand at potato propagation? Gurney’s has a wide variety of potatoes for you to choose from. Have a favorite potato variety? Let us know in the comments!

A few interesting varieties to try:

Purple Viking Potatoes: purple skin, white flesh, super delicious.

German Butterball Potatoes: great for everything- baking, frying, mashing.

Gurney’s Choice Red Pontiac Potatoes: best for mashing.

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What to do with all those apples

There’s no substitute for the amazing taste of fresh, homegrown apples file5311296372234  – so, of course, I always start craving them right when the growing season’s over. What do you do when it’s freezing outside and those insatiable taste buds demand a serving of apples? Reach for a jar of applesauce or butter! Just a little bit of work and planning ahead, and you’ll be able to enjoy your apple harvest well into the winter.

Canning is one of the simplest, most popular ways of preserving large quantities for long periods. If you like applesauce, you can prepare jars full at home in a matter of minutes, help yourself to as many servings as your tummy permits and preserve the rest to be savored for months afterward.

Here’s how you go about making the applesauce:

  • Step one, wash the apples thoroughly in clean water.
  • Next, slice each apple into four.
  • Pick the largest kettle you can find (a smaller one will do if you aren’t using a lot of apples) and fill it with half a cup of water. This will prevent any risk of burning the apples.
  • Place the kettle on the stove, fill in with the quartered apples and set the burner on high heat.
  • Allow the apples to cook until they are mushy to touch. This will take some 20-30 minutes.
  • Time to puree! Blend the cooked apples with an immersion type blender or simply mash them with a potato masher or a fork if you prefer your applesauce chunky.
  • Add sugar/cinnamon/salt, allow it to cool.
  • Serve alone or with waffles, pancakes, roasted potatoes or ice-cream.

Want to can your applesauce? Just a few more steps:

  • Reheat the sauce to a boil, and stir often to prevent sticking.
  • Fill jars with hot applesauce, leaving about a half inch at the top.
  • Place your lids – use our Canning Tool Set for best results.

What’s your favorite way to use your apple harvest? Tell us in the comments!

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How to dry gourds for decoration

Large and Small Gourd Mix

Large and Small Gourd Mix

Decorative gourds – nearly as popular as the ubiquitous Pumpkin Spice Latte this fall! Want to keep your gourds looking fresh right through autumn? You may want to try drying them to keep them from getting “icky” around Halloween.  Here’s how you can dry small pumpkins and gourds to use them in fall decoration:

Cleaning and curing
Rinse the fruit with clean water to remove all dirt and debris. Then disinfect the rinds by rubbing with a cloth dabbed in full-strength distilled vinegar or bleach solution. Next, use a clean cloth to dry them.

Select the right spot for drying
The ideal location for drying gourds should be well ventilated, cool and dark. If the air circulation is poor, you can leave a fan running in the room (if there are any windows, leave them open.) You can place the pumpkins and gourds on drying racks or even separate them using chicken wire  to allow for air circulation under the fruits. Make sure to position them so none of the gourds are touching each other.

Check the gourds regularly
Rot or infections can spread from one fruit to another in little time, so inspect the fruits regularly. Early mold growth can be safely removed with a butter knife without damaging the fruit. Just scrape off the growth, disinfect with vinegar, wipe dry and return the fruit to storage. Discard of all rotted fruits. Different varieties can take different time periods to dry completely. You can shake the gourds to check if they’ve dried up- you’ll be able to hear the seeds rattle if you shake a dry gourd.

Decoration ideas
Dried gourds will last through fall, so incorporate them into your Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations! A few colorful pumpkins and gourds stacked up on a large plate or bowl is one of the simplest centerpieces you’ll find. Acryllic paint, or even most spray paints, work well on dried rinds and are great for drawing faces or patterns. Bird lovers can carve dried pumpkins and gourds to create bird feeders to hang out the windows. Garlands adorned with pumpkins and gourds are a wonderful way of imbuing your place with a festive feel. It’s simple- tie a cluster of small sized fruits and leaves on a long twine and hang the garland along the wall or window.

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