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Making early applesauce

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.

Pristine Apples

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.

Applesauce apples

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.

Best apples for sauce


Putting your Steam Juicer to use

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.

Steam Juicer

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.

Juicing Cherries

Fresh cherries in basket

Cherries steaming

Cherries steaming

Collecting cherry juice

Juice is collected in the funnel, water is in the bottom pot and the strainer/basket of fruit sits on top of this funnel.

Pits from juiced cherries

Steamed cherries/waste

Cherry Juice!

Cherry Juice!

Chickens and cherry pits

What little waste there is goes to the chickens.


Cucumbers Galore!

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

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

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

Perfectly preserved pickles


It’s a Summer Squash Takeover!

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

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

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

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

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!


Controlling weeds in flower beds

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. Controlling garden 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.

Protecting Berry plants from Birds

Bird Netting

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.


Gurney’s Farm Update: May

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.

Spinach Trials

Spinach Trials

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

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

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!

Planting Tomatoes

Planting Tomatoes

Stay posted for updates on what is happening at the Gurney Farm throughout the growing season.


Rotating Vegetable Crops

All gardeners have their favorite crops that they plant year after year. But planting the same crops in the same space every season can have an adverse effect on the plants’ health and performance as well as the soil. Rotating crops annually is the key to maintaining a healthy, productive garden.

Benefits of Rotating Vegetable Crops

Crop rotation is an effective means of managing crop-specific diseases, weeds and insects. It helps you get the best out of your garden. In the long run, it helps improve the soil’s physical, chemical and biological characteristics as well as its organic matter content. Rotation of crops also reduces erosion and helps the plants consistently produce to their potential.

Planning Crop Rotation

The general rule for crop rotation is this: do not grow plants from the same family in the same space more than once every three years.

If gardeners with small growing spaces are unable to do this, they should aim for changing the planting mix every 2-3 years. This helps minimize the risks of crop-specific pests and diseases while still improving the soil.

Gardeners with adequate growing spaces should plan out their crop rotations. Start with a paper template that shows the vegetable crops and growing areas. Record what plants you grew in each area every year. Before each growing season, map out a plan for the garden. For instance, if you planted peas in area X of your garden last year, use that space for squash instead.

It helps to follow nitrogen-enriching crops with crops that thrive on nitrogen. If you plant peas or beans in an area one year, plant kale, cabbage and other leafy greens that thrive on high nitrogen the following year.

To get you started, some of the common plant families are listed below.

Bean Family

Beans enrich the soil with nitrogen. This family (Fabaceae) includes green beans, green peas, peanuts and alfalfa.

Tomato Family

The Solanaceae, or Nightshade, family includes heavy feeders like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants. Make a note to avoid following up a potato crop with tomatoes for they can fall prey to late blight-causing microorganisms that might have survived in the soil.

Cabbage Family

Also called Brassicaceae, the cabbage family includes cabbage, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other leafy greens, all known to relish nitrogen-rich soils. They’re the ideal follow-ups to members of the bean family.

Squash Family

The family Cucurbitaceae comprises heavy feeders like gourds, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, summer and winter squash. Rotate your crops in such a way that these heavy feeders find themselves in a spot with rich, fertile soil.



Seed Storage Solutions

Each year I like to take on a new gardening challenge. This year my goal is to be better organized—and I’ve started by organizing my seeds.

Decide how many seeds you want to store – and for how long!

There is nothing worse than finally having the perfect planting weather and not being able to find a lettuce seed packet I know I’ve purchased. Getting my seed packets organized has proven to be a huge time saver in the garden.  And, it’s a task that can be done on rainy days.

Some thrifty and nifty ways to store seed packs include inserting packs into photo albums, alphabetically organizing them into expanding file folders, or tucking them into hanging shoe organizers.  The best organization method will depend on how much seed you have and where you want to store it long term.

Here is a system that works well for me:

  • Group seed together by type (carrots, peppers, tomatoes, etc). Each type gets a plastic sandwich bag. Label the baggie along the top edge so that it’s easily readable.
  • The baggies are lined up in a plastic bin (shoebox size works well). When not in use, I store the seed boxes in a dark, cool corner of my basement.
  • Incoming seed is placed into the appropriate baggie as it arrives. Once I have all my seed, I pull out the bins and choose what to grow that year.  At this time, I also check packet dates and toss old seed.
  • Everything being planted this season is separated into three categories. I use a 1-gallon baggie to hold each:
    • Early Sow Indoors
    • Early Sow Direct
    • Direct Sow-After Frost.
  • When it’s time to sow, I simply grab the appropriate 1 gallon baggie and take it with me to the garden or the potting table.

Below is a guideline for how long you can expect your seed to stay viable (Oregon State University).  Optimal storage conditions can lead to a greater shelf life.   If in doubt, you can always perform a germination test prior to planting.

1 Year:  sweet corn, parsnips, spinach

2 Years: bush, pole beans, beets, parsley, peas, peppers, Swiss chard

1-3 years: annual flower seed

2-3 Years: leeks, onions

2-4 Years: perennial flower seed
3 Years: tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, oriental greens, rutabagas

3-4 Years: squash

3-5 Years: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, collards, kale

4 years: radish, turnips

Seed Storage

I group my seeds together by type.


Now’s the Time to Plant these Early Spring Veggies

Northfield Peas

Pea seed can be sown before the threat of frost has passed.

We’re still experiencing some frosty mornings—and the soil is still too cool to plant many vegetables. But there are some veggies you can plant now. Cool season spring vegetables not only withstand the cool conditions, they actually relish them. Take a look at some of the vegetables you can (and should!) plant right away.


Lettuce does well in both sunny and partly shaded sites provided the soil has good drainage and is rich in humus and nitrogen. You can grow lettuce for baby greens or wait and harvest when they’ve grown into full-sized leaves or heads. If you’re aiming for baby greens, make sure you sow lettuce seeds closer together in rows. Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil (or as mentioned on the seed packet).


While spinach grows best in sunny sites, it can produce a hearty harvest even in partly shaded spots. Look for a site with moist, but well-drained soil. Spinach is one of the most frost-resistant and fast-growing spring vegetables. You can harvest fresh baby spinach in just three weeks after planting. When growing for baby leaves, remember to plant spinach seeds close together in rows.


Arugula relishes sunny or partly shaded sites with organically rich, moist, well-drained soil. Arugula seeds germinate in about 7 days and you can harvest within 3-4 weeks of planting. Want a continuous harvest? Sow more seeds every 2 weeks, right until hot weather arrives.


Find a sunny or partly shaded spot that isn’t open to strong winds and you’re good to plant your pea seeds. While peas will thrive in most soil types (apart from heavy, impermeable clay), make sure to add plenty of organic material if your soil isn’t too fertile. Soak pea seeds in water overnight before you plant them in the garden.


The perfect potatoes come from sites in full sun, with loose, well-drained soil. They root aggressively and are capable of turning in big yields even in less than perfect soil and growing conditions. Eradicate all weeds from the site before you plant potatoes. Depending on the variety that you plant, your potatoes will be fully mature at anywhere from 60 to 130 days.


A site that receives full sun and has organically rich, well-drained soil is perfect for growing onions. Make sure you remove all weeds from the area and work in good quantities of compost before planting onions. Green onions will be ready for harvest within 30-40 days of planting and will fully mature in about 100 days.