The New Gurney’s Spring 2016 pre-season catalog is arriving in mailboxes everywhere—and we have lots of new fruits and veggies for spring. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, I’ll share a few that really stand out.
Note: If you didn’t receive a catalog, just click here to request yours!
AsparaBest® Asparagus—I love all asparagus in any shape, form or variety, so AsparaBest has perhaps an unfair advantage. But with 2 to 3 times the production of the common Jersey asparagus varieties, AsparaBest is a shoe-in for my home garden. I garden in Zone 6, so cold hardiness in asparagus is not a huge issue for me. Gardeners who struggle with hardiness will love AsparaBest! It was developed in Ontario and bred to be late emerging and extremely cold hardy. It’s perfectly sweet, tender and tasty, all while offering outstanding health benefits including high levels of Vitamins K, B, C and E, folic acid, copper and selenium.
Chocolate Sprinkles Hybrid Tomato—We’ve been trialing striped tomatoes for the last 5 years in hopes of finding one worth the effort of growing. Most of our efforts ended with flavorless, unexciting fruit that cracked and rotted. This past summer we trialed Chocolate Sprinkles and for the first time were rewarded with beautiful brick red and green striped fruit that resisted cracking and disease. With delightful flavor, it quickly became my favorite variety for snacking and salads. The yields on this one are phenomenal, so be prepared for a lot of tomato enjoyment!
Honeygold Hybrid Corn—With so many great corn varieties on the market, it’s sometimes hard to choose. While Gotta Have It remains my perennial favorite, I fell in love with Honeygold at last years’ sweet corn variety trials. With big, striking golden ears, Honeygold packs a flavorful punch. I find that some modern hybrids are almost too sugary sweet for my tastes and lack any real depth of flavor. But Honeygold combines the right level of sweetness with a rich, robust corn flavor for a truly fantastic eating experience. The large ears have very deep kernels—so you really feel like you’re sinking your teeth into something when you eat it. These nice deep kernels make Honeygold a great variety for freezing as well. I typically cut all my corn off the cob before freezing and ended up with a very high volume of cut kernels with Honeygold.
Casper Hybrid Eggplant– I was struck by this variety when I first tried it in California field trials. The breeder cut off a hunk of the raw eggplant and handed it to me. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to eating raw eggplant, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was mellow, silky and even a bit sweet. The next year we planted it in our trials in Ohio. These lovely creamy white eggplants converted even eggplant haters with their pleasing texture and superb flavor. Casper was excellent sautéed and is my favorite variety for placing on skewers and grilling with onions, squash and tomatoes.
Purple Queen Improved Bush Bean—You could grow these beautiful, glossy, deep purple beans just for aesthetic appeal. The plants are lovely, with rich green foliage tinged with deep purple, and the lavender blooms herald the way for deep violet beans. This variety would make a lovely addition to a mixed edible/ornamental bed or patio containers. But Purple Queen Improved is not just a pretty face, it was a real workhorse in our trials. Yields were far better than older purple varieties we compared it to, and plants remained healthy when others began to falter.
Chiffon Hybrid Summer Squash—Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about summer squash and zucchini. You plant it; it grows; you end up with so many squash that you’re leaving them on your neighbor’s porch in the middle of the night to try to get rid of them (or maybe that’s just me). They all pretty much taste the same. So when everyone that tried Chiffon in our 2014 trials remarked on what a nice variety it was, I took notice. The pretty creamy yellow fruit (almost the same color as the light, fluffy chiffon cake) caught my eye. Then I noticed how healthy and attractive the deep green, compact plants appeared compared to others in our trials. But the clincher came after tasting the squash. With tender, delicate texture and thin skin I thought Chiffon would just turn to mush when I cooked it. But it cooked up delightfully, and the flavor was superb. Sautéed with a bit of olive oil and sea salt, Chiffon simply cannot be beat. By the way, yields are so high, you still might resort to leaving squash on your neighbors’ doorsteps, so be forewarned.
Full Moon Hybrid Honeydew—Let me start out with the statement that, as of a year ago, I would have sworn, “I HATE honeydew melons.” One of the few things I will not eat, I’ve been guilty of picking them out of fruit salads, even going so far as to completely avoid them in those self-serve breakfast buffets. I’d take all the grapes and pineapple instead and leave some poor soul with a bowl full of hard, tasteless green chunks. Full Moon changed all that for me. Tender, sweet, juicy and downright addictive, I was caught red-handed in our melon trials eating Full Moon melons with my bare hands. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this melon is that we actually got melons. The past 3-4 years have been really tough on our melon trials. Between disease, poor weather conditions and insects, we’ve barely gotten a crop off the many varieties that we’ve trialed. But Full Moon came through with shining performance. Laughing at weather, pests and disease, the full, vigorous vines gave us a beautiful melon harvest in the midst of a lot of other varieties’ dead vines and rotting, immature fruit. To say I was impressed would be an understatement!
Mara Des Boise Strawberry—Sweet, delicious little bursts of heaven… and only 6 or so more months to wait for fresh strawberries! Mara may be slightly smaller in size, but she makes up for it in flavor. Some call this the perfect strawberry, with its rich floral sweetness and intense aroma reminiscent of wild strawberries. No need to add sugar, as Mara is one of, if not THE sweetest berry out there. I’m sure it would make a delicious jam, but I’ve never been able to stop all the berries from getting eaten up fresh, right out of the garden. With a soft, juicy texture, don’t look for Mara to show up in grocery stores. It does not ship well, but it makes a perfect variety for the home garden where it can be enjoyed freshly picked.
Juliet Dwarf Cherry—A cherry by any other name would not taste as sweet! Juliet truly is the tastiest of the dwarf cherry bunch. She’s a superb cherry for fresh eating, but don’t expect the same experience as popping a Bing cherry in your mouth. While Juliet’s sugar levels are actually higher than a sweet cherry like Stella or Bing, the difference is in the acid. Juliet has much higher acid levels, so you get a more complex, sweet-tart, taste sensation! Juliet’s virtues are too many to extol here, so please stay tuned for my next post focusing on Juliet – “How do I love thee, let me count the ways”!
This summer, we grew Black Futsu, a highly ornamental and tasty pumpkin that’ll we’ll be offering to Gurney’s customers in Spring 2016. Black Futsu has a flattened round shape, deep ridges and a rind color that ranges from dusky orange to powdery blue to deep rich chestnut brown. The rich orange flesh is drier than and less sweet than many pumpkins and lends itself wonderfully to savory dishes. It’s been compared to the rich flavor of toasted hazelnuts.
Black Futsu is also lovely as an ornamental, lending itself perfectly to fall displays. It holds up extremely well in storage, so you can use them in your Halloween décor and then store them until use in your favorite pumpkin recipes. They’ll store well until midwinter. Look for this pumpkin in our new item selections for Gurney’s Spring 2016!
Black Futsu Pumpkins in Autumn Displays
Just in time for pumpkin season, our farm manager shared her mouth-watering recipe for Stuffed Black Futsu Pumpkin.
She says “I thought it was pretty amazing. I was just going to roast and pulp it for other recipes, but when I cut the tops off and scooped it out, it was begging to be stuffed. I made up the attached recipe based on what I had on hand. I’m usually not big on eating pumpkin or winter squash unless it is baked into something (think chocolate chip muffins), but this had a different flavor. It was also gorgeous as a fall decoration. I had one sitting in my kitchen and everyone who walked into the house commented on how cool it looked. It seems to store well and tastes great. Also, the seeds were nice and tender, and the kids devoured them in a matter of minutes of toasting!”
Vegetarian Stuffed Black Futsu Pumpkin:
- 2 pumpkins (tops removed and seeded)
- 1 cup cooked wild rice
- 1 leek, chopped
- ½ cup corn (fresh or frozen)
- 1 sweet pepper (chopped)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- ¼ cup goat cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter
Slice tops of pumpkins, scoop out seeds and stringy pulp. Save the tops to use as lids and save the seeds for toasting. Discard pulp. Mix all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Divide stuffing mix equally among the two pumpkins, filling the cavities. Top each stuffing mix with a pat of butter and cap with the pumpkin tops. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour.
The temperatures are finally cooling off, the leaves are changing, and I’m finding big, fat garden spiders draped all over the landscape. It’s official, fall is here! While in some aspects I’m suffering from garden burnout after tending to my garden (and its weeds) all spring and summer, I still want to reap the bounties that a fall garden has to offer.
Fall is the perfect time for an extra crop of nutritious leafy greens, root crops and Brussels sprouts (just to name a few). And, until your ground freezes solid, you can plant garlic to your heart’s content.
At the Gurney’s farm we are enjoying some late summer-planted bulb fennel. The attractive ferny fronds can double as an ornamental and are delightful for adding an anise flavor to recipes. The bulbs make a sweet and crunchy addition to salads and are lovely for roasting.
Bulb Fennel at the Gurney’s Farm
Our basil crop is looking beautiful this fall. We’re especially excited about this new variety with purple blooms and excellent flavor. It performed well for us all season, and even held up to the terrible Downy Mildew that hit many other varieties hard. Look for this variety to make its debut in a future Gurney’s catalog!
New Purple-Flowered Basil
We’re also looking forward to the harvest of our fall-planted beet and radishes. We planted in a raised bed this year, as our hard clay soil often makes growing root crops difficult. We’re testing a new baby beet and several quick maturing radishes. Radishes make an excellent last minute fall crop, since many varieties can be ready to harvest in 3 weeks and they prefer cooler temperatures.
Radish and Beet Seedlings
In the coming months we’ll have our hands (and bellies) full with our Brussels sprouts trials. We’re growing 4 different varieties this year with attributes ranging from bite size, super-sweet, kid-friendly sprouts to plants with very large sized, richly flavored sprouts.
In our area, Brussels sprouts often reach their peak flavor after several frosts have enhanced their sweetness—or around Thanksgiving time. And what perfect timing, as a side dish of roasted Brussels sprouts is perfect Thanksgiving fare!
Brussels Sprouts Trials
We’ll also be looking at cabbage, broccoli, greens, onions, leeks, cauliflower and kohlrabi as the season progresses. This winter, we’re hoping to use row covers and mulch and try our hand at some overwintering trials.
I’m making applesauce today from the Pristine apples we recently harvested at the Gurney’s farm. Introduced by Purdue University in the 1990’s, Pristine is still one of the highest-quality, early apples on the market.
Typically ripening in July (we were a little late this year due to a cooler-than-normal start to the summer), Pristine exhibits pretty, pale to bright yellow skin, sometimes with a slight blush and creamy flesh. It’s a good fresh-eating apple if picked at its peak. It is crisp and juicy with a mild, sweet-tart flavor and far exceeds the eating quality of other early apples such as Yellow Transparent. Its only drawback is that is in not a great storage apple. It only holds 2-4 weeks without losing quality. So you’re often left with a large crop of apples (far more than I could ever eat fresh in a couple of weeks) that will need to be preserved in some way.
While you can use Pristine for drying or baking, it is truly a great sauce apple. Its tender texture cooks up fast, and its skin is so thin and tender you don’t need to peel the apples prior to saucing. Here’s how I make my Pristine applesauce:
Clean the apples
Because I don’t peel my apples for sauce, I make sure to wash them quite well. I like to put a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap in my sink and let the apples soak for a while, then scrub and rinse. White vinegar in water also works well for a fruit bath.
Chop the apples
Since I don’t peel, all I have to do is quarter, remove the core and seeds and roughly chop my apples before throwing them in a large cooking pot.
Cook & Blend
I add a little water just to keep the apples from sticking to the bottom of the pan, cook on low for about 30 minutes and then smoosh up all my cooked apples. I’ve used a stick blender, thrown the cooked apples in a blender or used the apple screen for the Food Strainer and Sauce Maker, all with great success. If you like your applesauce extra chunky you can even just mash it up with a spoon and be done with it. Just be very careful if you’re trying to blend up your boiling hot apples. I still have a nickel-sized scar on my hand from when hot applesauce splashed out of the pot and landed on me!
Can, Freeze & Enjoy
Applesauce is one of the first things I learned to can and is quite easy to process. If I’m really in hurry I’ve also found that it works quite well just to ladle it into freezer bags and throw in the deep freeze. Most of my family loves applesauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon, but I have what is probably the only 3 year old who does not like it. I use a lot of applesauce blended with other fruit to make delicious homemade fruit leathers as a treat. It also works wonders in bread, cookie and muffin recipes. However you use your applesauce, I’m sure it will be delicious.
Preserving your homegrown fruits and vegetables requires an array of kitchen gadgetry. My cabinet space is at capacity, and I’ve become rather choosy about which items stay and which items are not worth the shelf space. The Steam Juicer will always have a spot in my kitchen.
The possibilities of the Steam Juicer are truly endless. The glory of this device is that there is little to no preparation required and very little waste. Forget about seeding, peeling, grating and straining. The Steam Juicer does all the work for you! Below are some of my favorite items to juice and some uses for the juices.
Cherries: Dump cherries into basket and steam about an hour. No pitting is required! This juice is a favorite. We freeze it in ice cube trays and add it to lemonade, orange juice, water and anything else that needs a burst of cherry flavor.
Grapes: Dump grapes into basket and steam about an hour. Enjoy a grape juice that is so much better than store bought.
Apples: Quickly chop into large chunks; no need to peel or seed. Steam for about an hour. Apple juice goes quickly at my house; fresh apple juice goes even faster.
Rhubarb: Chop stems into 1-2″ pieces and steam for about an hour. Rhubarb juice is one of the most gorgeous colors I’ve ever experienced. Freeze it in ice cube trays and add the cubes to all kinds of drinks.
Tomatoes: Chop into large chunks and steam about an hour. This juice looks similar to vegetable broth and can be used similarly. I use it for cooking rice or instead of water for soups. It’s full of flavor, so a little goes a long way. Freeze or refrigerate for up to a week.
Vegetable broth: Throw whatever you’ve got into the basket and steam about an hour. Try onions, garlic, herbs, carrots, celery, etc. You can’t really mess this up. Freeze or refrigerate for up to a week.
Fresh cherries in basket
Juice is collected in the funnel, water is in the bottom pot and the strainer/basket of fruit sits on top of this funnel.
What little waste there is goes to the chickens.
Is there anything more refreshing than a crisp, cool cucumber in the sweltering heat of summer? Cucumbers are one of my favorite summertime vegetables—and so easy to grow. While this year’s above-average rainfall has left water standing in my garden, the cucumber crop is excelling.
Two of my favorites this year are Perseus and Tasty Green. I’ve been enjoying my Perseus Cucumbers for several weeks now, and they are absolutely unparalleled for fresh eating. I like to grab 2 or 3 and throw them in lunchboxes for my daughter and me. They’re perfect portable snacks. Sliced into chips they also make the perfect dipper for chicken salad, hummus or ranch. With thin, tender skin, wonderful crisp, juicy texture and a mild almost melon-like flavor, Perseus is sure to please kids and adults alike.
A fresh pick of Perseus cucumber
While also delicious for eating fresh, Tasty Green has become my favorite for tzatziki-inspired cucumber salad. A quick and easy lunch when it’s too hot to cook, I just take some plain yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and dill, roughly chop my Tasty Green cucumbers and toss it all together. As soon as my tomatoes are ripe I will enjoy my Tasty Greens chopped with tomato and onion, tossed with olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt. Yum!
Refreshing cucumber yogurt salad
Soon my pickling cucumbers will be ready, and I can jump back into the world of fermentation. Gurney’s Perfect Pickle Cucumber really does make a perfect pickle, and I am amazed at how well it retains its crunch when pickled. I have found that putting a few grape leaves in the jars helps the pickles to retain a crisp texture as well. I prefer a pickle fermented with whey, sea salt, dill, garlic and hot pepper flakes, but refrigerator pickles are just as delicious (and so easy). I love that you can preserve some of the summer’s bounty and enjoy it when the memory of fresh-picked cucumbers is long gone.
Perfectly preserved pickles
Since midwinter, I’ve eagerly awaited the arrival of my summer squash. I love the delicate flavor, lightly sautéed in olive oil, tossed with garlic and sea salt and perhaps some tender pasta. And zucchini cream pie is a perfect cool, creamy summertime treat!
A simple sauté of summer squash
But this wasn’t always the case. I distinctly remember, toward the end of August last year, swearing bitterly that if I ever had to look at another squash again I would scream. By this point my family had endured endless meals of sautéed squash, zucchini bread, squash noodles, squash lasagna, stuffed zucchini, grilled squash… if you can think of a way to prepare it, we tried it.
But that’s the beauty (and perhaps the curse) of the humble, easy-to-grow summer squash. They are so productive, so carefree, that by midsummer everyone and their neighbors have more than enough to go around. But that will never stop me from growing it!
This year, I’m excited to trial several new varieties at the Gurney’s farm. We have a beautiful range of colored varieties, from deepest gold to glossy green stripes to pale, butter yellow and pastel green-grey. All of the plants are extremely healthy and productive right now, but we shall see who holds up to the disease pressures of late summer.
Mix of summer squash at the farm
A favorite among the staff now is a variety aptly named Green Tiger. With its attractive dark and medium green striping, uniform straight fruit and compact habit, it’s hard not to like this variety.
Green Tiger Summer Squash
Another of my favorites is a pale grey-green variety named Katie. I’m partially biased because it shares a name with my kid sister, but it’s truly a top-rate variety! An excellent variety for sautéing because of its thin skin and tender texture, Katie’s fruit is more of a squat oval than the typically elongated summer squash shape.
Katie Summer Squash
Look for some of these new summer squash to join the Gurney’s website product offerings next spring. And, in the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the bounty of summer squash from your own garden!
By this point in the summer, I often find myself staring contemptuously at the weeds in my flower garden, wishing they’d take a hint and pack their bags. Unfortunately, they never do – and I have to find other ways to keep them out of the garden. Here are some clever ways you can succeed at controlling weeds.
- You might only see a bunch of weeds in your garden, but there’s plenty of weed seeds underground, lying in wait to be uncovered. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture, and it also keeps the sunlight from reaching germinating weeds. Take care to replenish the mulch regularly so it remains about 2 inches deep and continues to play its part effectively. Weed barrier mats that let in air and moisture while cutting out the light offer a fast and simple means of curbing weed growth.
- Regular inspection will help you stay on top of weeds. Remove weeds as they emerge. This will be easiest just after a good rain. When it’s dry, try to cut the weeds just under the surface of the soil. Make sure you safely dispose the removed weeds.
- Non toxic pre-emergent weed controls are an excellent way of preventing weed growth while still maintaining a safe environment for your family and pets. Using a natural-action weed controls like IRON X!™ will help rid your lawn or garden of weeds and render it healthier, more beautiful at the same time.
- Next summer, think ahead: Plan your plantings so there’s no space left in between adjacent plants for weeds to take up. Opt for garden designs that involve drifts of close plantings or mass plantings instead of widely spaced polka dot designs. Take care, however, there’s enough gap between the plants that they don’t touch each other when fully grown for it can lead to poor air circulation, stunted growth and foliar diseases.
Garden netting can help deter birds from snacking in your garden.
Adorable as they are, birds can also be quite annoying, significantly so if you happen to be growing berries. We can get a bit cranky when the usually-lovable, feathered creatures launch a take-all assault on our beloved berry plants. How do you protect berry plants from birds – and save some fruit for yourself? Here are a few ideas
Physical bird repellents
Bird netting is effective in protecting berries from damage caused by birds as well as other animal pests. Simply drape it over your berry plants and fruit trees and you can relax. The netting available on our site is treated to hold up to rough weather and avoid entangling or trapping birds.
Audio and visual bird repellents
The good old-fashioned scarecrow is still kind of charming, and can be effective. Statues of predatory birds are another simple way of keeping birds off your berries. Don’t take those bird-brains for dumb- they’ll eventually figure out your ploy unless you move the scarecrow or faux predators around your garden on a regular bases.
Another way is to wrap your berry plants with strips of foil tape. The reflective surface of the tape, together with the noise they make in the wind will deter birds from venturing too close. CDs or pie plates tied on a string, hung close to your berry plants and grapevines are a similar, simple way of repelling birds.
Providing alternative food sources
Hunger is a potent motivator – and a nice berry bush or cherry tree will look like a feast to a hungry flock. Some gardeners swear by simple diversion to keep birds away from fruit plants Put up a bird bath and a bird feeder elsewhere on your property – the idea is that you’ll provide the birds with food and water so they leave your plants alone.
Birds can make great backyard friends – especially the ones that eat insect pests, providing cost effective and very effective insect pest control! They just happen to share our love for berries…and we can’t really blame them.
Due to a cold, wet spring our trial gardens at the Gurney Farm were slow to get growing. Now that the weather’s warmed up, they’ve really perked up and are growing well.
Our spinach looks beautiful. Our Product Development team is really impressed with Scorpius, a variety from a German breeding company. It has gorgeous deep green leaf color and great flavor. Plus, Scorpius is also supposed to be very heat tolerant. To test that, we’ll do a summer planting and see how it holds up to the Midwest heat and humidity.
The kale and lettuce are coming along nicely, and we hope to taste-test in about two weeks.
Our pea plants are growing well and about 8 inches tall. While we have no pods yet, we are taste-testing two varieties for “pea greens.” Pea greens are tender, leafy tendrils that can be cut and used in salads, lightly sautéed or served as an edible garnish. They have a sweet, ‘pea-like’ flavor.
Tasty Pea Tendrils
Our perennial sorrel patch looks great this spring. We are testing three varieties, including ‘Blood Vein’, a variety with attractive wide green leaves accented with deep red veining. It’s become the staff’s new favorite ornamental edible. With its bright lemony flavor, it makes a superb accent to salads and soups and is delightful paired with strawberries in a smoothie.
Sorrel Trials (and a lone chive plant)
Today we are also planting our tomato trials. We were finally able to scale back our selection to 20 tomato varieties. In 2014 we had over 30 varieties and found it to be a bit overwhelming! Through trial and error, we’ve found that training plants to tall cow paneling works the best for us in these larger scale plantings. With cow paneling, we’re able to keep the plants neat and tidy, as well as improve air circulation and yield. However, in my home garden, I prefer using individual tomato cages because I don’t have to spend the time pruning and training my plants. It’s hard to believe that in less than 2 months we’ll be enjoying juicy, red-ripe tomatoes!
Stay posted for updates on what is happening at the Gurney Farm throughout the growing season.