One of the most obvious perks of growing your own food is the ability to bring the high-flavor, quality fruits and vegetables to every meal. But how do you savor this privilege when the days shorten and snow takes hold of the ground? It’s quite simple, by storing the produce. Potatoes, apples, carrots, squash and many other vegetables and fruits can be stored for 2 months (really!) to keep your taste buds happy and your body well-nourished until the next growing season.
Essentials of storing crops successfully
When it comes to storage, not all crops fare the same- there are varieties that’ll store better than others. Make sure to select these ‘good keepers’ when you’re picking crops for planting. You should time the planting in a way that your crops mature towards the end of season. Remember, crops harvested at their prime typically store better than the rest.
The first full-sized apple to fall off the tree usually indicates it’s time to harvest. You can harvest apples early if birds are a problem, or wait until just before the first frost. It’s always best to use a ladder when picking apples. Handle the fruits carefully to prevent bruising or bumping. Fruits with cuts and blemishes don’t store well, so feel free to bite into them, make apple sauce or use them in jams and desserts. Our Apple Parer/Corer/Peeler and Food Strainer and Sauce Maker will save both time and effort while getting the job done in perfect fashion. Place those perfect apples in trays or boxes lined with shredded newspaper and store them away in a cool, dark place.
Potato foliage will die back by the end of summer, signaling the time to dig out and cure them for storage. Lay out the tubers on clean newspaper sheets in a dark, well-ventilated place (with temperatures between 50-60 degrees F.) This will cause the skins to toughen up in within a couple of weeks. After a week or two, clean the tubers using dry cloth, removing dirt and pitching any damaged tubers. Place the spuds in ventilated baskets or boxes and cover them with newspaper or clean sheets to prevent the spread of rot. The ideal temperature for storing potatoes is 40-50 degrees F, and they should be kept in the dark.
Onions, just like potatoes, need to be cured before storage. And just like potatoes, their foliage will signal the right time to act- the leaves will flop back, which also tells you that they’ve stopped growing. Let the onions sit in the soil until the foliage has turned yellow and the necks have tightened. You can allow the harvested onions to sit on the soil for a couple of weeks. If, however, there’s a chance of rain of frost, promptly move them to a dry location and spread them out on the floor. Allow 2 weeks for curing. Once the skins have tightened and there’s no residual moisture on the leaves or stems, place them in mesh bags or baskets and store away in a cool, dark location. Temperatures between 45-50 degrees F are best for storing onions.
Despite the bad rap they get from the elementary-aged set, Brussels sprouts offer a great variety of uses! Few vegetables are quite as versatile or fun to cook. Brussels sprouts belong to the cabbage family and are a wonderful source of Vitamins A and C, iron, folate, potassium and dietary fiber. Plus, they have some amazing health benefits…
Health benefits of Brussels sprouts
- Brussels sprouts contain a phytochemical called Sulforaphane that is believed to have amazing anticancer properties.
- Brussels sprouts are a good source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical that’s believed to aid DNA repair in cells and block the growth of cancerous cells.
- As indicated by their chemical composition, regular consumption of Brussels sprouts can lower cholesterol levels, as also the risk of cancer and health disorders.
Tips for successfully growing Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a long-bearing crop that should ideally be planted early in spring or mid-to-late summer. They are known to perform best in sites recipient to 6 hours of sunlight on a daily basis. Fertile soil with high pH (about 6.8) and plenty of organic matter is ideal for planting Brussels sprouts. Set your plants 18-24 inches apart in rows or bed, allowing about 30 inches between adjacent rows. Water regularly, ensuring your plants get about 1 to 1 ½ inch water every week.
Cooking Brussels sprouts
When it comes to cooking, there’s no counting the number of ways they can be used in the kitchen! Brussels sprouts taste great roasted, sautéed, grilled, stir fried. One of my favorite Brussels sprouts recipes, roasted Brussels sprouts and apples, is a delightful preparation good for any occasion. Simply combine half a cup of diced apples and Brussels sprouts (8 ounces, trimmed and quartered) in a baking dish. Add salt, apple cider, minced fresh thyme, fresh ground black pepper and olive oil. Toss and bake for 25 minutes at 375°. Brussels sprouts with toasted breadcrumbs, lemon and Parmesan is another recipe you must give a go to. Prepare breadcrumbs by breaking or cutting bread into pieces and then processing in the food processor till you’ve obtained the desired texture. Toast them to a golden brown. Remove the sprouts’ stems and slice them each in half, lengthwise. Now arrange them on a large baking sheet, the cut side facing down and roast them in olive oil. When the sprouts start to turn brown, add breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and Parmesan and mix well. Finally, add lemon zest and continue roasting till the Brussels sprouts are dark, caramelized on the edges. Serve hot and savor the surreal taste!
Royal Marvel Hybrid Brussels Sprouts
Season extension is the way forth for gardeners who seek to do more, and get more out of their garden. So even when it’s gotten cold and the neighbor’s called it a season, you can choose to challenge the elements and cultivate your favorite plants beyond their usual growing period. Gurney’s offers some of the most essential season extenders.
Rain, frost, snow and wind are the obvious, most potent threats your plants face during the cold season. A fully heated greenhouse equipped with artificial lights is one of the most effective ways of countering inclement weather conditions and growing round the year.
Garden Row Covers
Row covers offer an easy, effective way of protecting your plants from frost as well as insect pests. These are usually made from permeable polypropylene material that lets in air, sunlight and water to help keep the plants growing even under adverse conditions. Our Floating Row Cover is a regular-weight cover that’s adequate for light frost protection, doubles as a surprisingly efficient insect control, and has been found to improve seed sprouting as well!
Row tunnels or “quick hoops” usually comprise an arc shaped frame covered with plastic sheet to create a greenhouse- like environment that boosts plant growth while at the same time, protecting them from the cold. Our Polythene Grow Tunnel is a fully-assembled grow tunnel with galvanized steel wire hoops- ideal for both short and long plant rows!
Mulching is a time tested way of keeping the plants warm by preventing heat loss. Organic mulches make for the simplest mode of retaining ground heat. If you’re growing on a large-scale, you might want to opt for commercially available synthetic mulches.
A little planning and the right season extending techniques are all you need to keep up your spirits and growing activities weeks into this cold season.
Polythene Grow Covers
With fall just around the corner and plenty of fresh tomatoes on hand, it’s time, yet again, to look for answers to that old question- What do you do with your precious tomatoes? The great thing about tomatoes is, there’s plenty of choice, even with immature tomatoes that aren’t likely to ripen in time. You can use those fresh green tomatoes to fix a multitude of mouthwatering recipes, ripen them indoors and, of course, preserve them by canning, freezing or as jam and paste.
Green tomato recipes
Ever heard of green tomato pie? It’s an old-fashioned recipe that never fails to delight (we love this version from Taste of Home). It’s pretty easy to fix – simply mix flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a bowl, add tomatoes and vinegar and toss to coat. Lay out the bottom crust on a pie plate, add the filling and dot with butter before rolling the rest of the pastry into a lattice crust. Seal and trim the edges and bake until tomatoes are tender. Really sumptuous! Fried green tomatoes, green tomato caprese and green tomato salsa are some other easy-to-fix green tomato recipes you must try and sink your teeth into this fall!
Ripening green tomatoes indoors
Timing is the single most important factor when it comes to ripening tomatoes indoors. Keep an eye on the weather so you’ve already harvested all green tomatoes before the first freeze. Wipe them with a towel so they’re all dry and spread them out on an indoor shelf or table, layering newspaper underneath the tomatoes – if one tomato rots, an absorbent layer will keep the rot from spreading to others. Check a few times a week to remove any rotten tomatoes!
Freezing is a simple, hassle free way of preserving tomatoes. You can freeze raw tomatoes both with and without the skin and additionally choose to freeze them whole, sliced or pureed. Select only firm, ripe tomatoes and wash them each separately before drying them with paper towels. Cut off the stem scar and surrounding portion and discard it before proceeding to slicing or chopping the tomatoes (should you choose not to freeze the whole fruit). If you intend to freeze whole tomatoes with peels, cut off the stem scar and place the fruits on cookie sheets to freeze. Once they’re frozen, seal away into freezer bags or containers. If you’re interested in freezing peeled tomatoes, soak the washed tomatoes in boiling water for a minute, peel off the skin and then proceed the same way as with unpeeled tomatoes.
Canning is another easy way of preserving tomatoes. Find a sharp knife and cut a small “x” in the bottom of each fruit. Let the tomatoes sit for a minute in boiling water and then quickly remove them to a large bowl of ice cold water or a large baking sheet. Once the tomatoes are cold enough to handle, use the knife to remove the skins. The cans or jars (as also their lids) should be boiled in water for at least 10 minutes in order to sterilize them. Add 2 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice in each can before filling in the tomatoes. Make sure to leave at least ½ inch of headspace at the top of each can. Set them all in the canning rack. Next, move the rack into boiling water in a large pot or kettle. Remove the cans after 45 minutes, allow them to dry and cool down and store away in a dark, cold place.
A bit of time, a little effort and you can eliminate wastage to savor the delicious fruits of your tomato plants right through the year!
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.