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.
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.
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.
There’s no substitute for the amazing taste of fresh, homegrown apples
– 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!
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!