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Starting my Seeds

 

Sorting out seeds

Sorting out seeds

Unpredictable temperatures did not deter me from sorting out my seeds and getting started the first week of March. I know, that was probably too soon, but for you readers, now will not be a bad time to start. I intend to put this crop out under cover in the middle of April.  Last frost dates for our area are between the 21st and the 31st of April. Besides, not being able to get out and work in the garden was driving me nuts!

seed starting1

Here they were all tucked in and labeled.

So, I am off and running.  Now, so I remember next year, I only planted my long season vegetables, to me, these are tomatoes, peppers, leeks and eggplant.  If I plant these as direct sow in the ground, they will not have fruit until very late if at all in our climate.  I learned that last year, when at first frost, green peppers , eggplant and tomatoes were not ready to harvest.  It also helps to check the amount of days from germination to maturity provided as all varieties and cultivars are different.

Three weeks later.

Three weeks later.

They are doing quite nicely under the fluorescent light fixture in my basement, I rigged a shelf, -plywood covered with aluminum foil-. I then hung it right from the fixture with twine that I can adjust as they grow.  Pretty rustic but works!

Of course it would be simpler to buy your seedling from a reputable green house.  I grow mostly heirloom vegetables as I do not like my seeds altered.  I wrote about the difference between heirlooms, hybrids and GMO seeds in my post on Shopping for Seeds and I was amazed by what technology and the seed companies are doing to manipulate our seed supply.  Another reason to consider heirloom varieties is that we are loosing so many old classics and our field of options keeps getting smaller as years go by.  This is an important way to preserve the diversity of our food choices. Also, with heirlooms you can harvest the seed and preserve it from year to year which is the reason we have them today.  Some varieties can be traced to ancient times! I intend to keep seeds from my favorites and make sure they survive for years to come.
“Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow — perhaps it all will.”
Albert Einstein

 

Harvesting and Preserving Tomatoes.

Harvest1What do you do with this much produce harvested in just one day?  Well, first of all give away as much as possible.  After a while, that gets old though and you start to notice that your friends may be avoiding you!  And of course, the stuff keeps coming everyday!  I am one of those people that do not like to waste anything much less food so, I have been experimenting with easy ways to preserve as much of my harvest as possible.

Tomatoes are easy:  They can be frozen whole and I found out it is not necessary to peel them ahead of time.  Just cut out around the stem, place in freezer bags and they are good until the next harvest.  As needed, I take them out, place in tepid water and the skin just comes out almost in one piece.  It is a thing of beauty.  I then cut them up (still frozen) and they are ready for the pot.  I found they taste more like fresh than the canned tomatoes and are wonderful for soups and stews.  Other options are sauce, drying  or canning.  All of them time consuming and way too much work for me, but I admire those who have the dedication and know how to do it every season.   There is however one great trick I learned from my mother.  Now, she never had a vegetable garden but once a month or so she will buy a nice supply of celery, onions, garlic and tomatoes and put the whole thing thru the blender, then freeze in ice cube trays.  She would then add them as needed to all her soups and stews  and that gave her cooking a wonderful flavor.  I started doing this but also adding my herbs: basil, oregano and parsley.  It is a great time saver and  a great way to start almost any dish!

Sadly, my tomato plants are starting to look tired and as the nights get colder, the green tomatoes on the vines may not ripen before frost.  One good thing to do is to cut back all new growth.  Any new buds will not ripen so they are a waste of energy for the plant.  Instead, this energy is used to help ripen the fruit already formed.  Also, as you cut some of the new green growth, more light reaches the fruit.  Enjoy your harvest while you can, autumn is quickly approaching!

It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in the Autumn.
B. C. Forbes

 

 

 

Vegetable Garden Update

Temperatures have been fluctuating wildly in western Pennsylvania.  Last year was my first real experience on the vegetable garden.  Builded the raised beds in the fall the year before (2011) and added a fence all around the garden last spring just in time for planting. Here is a sampling of the most successful crops:

vegetables2 vegetables3 vegetables4 vegetables1

The potato “Purple Majesty” produced about the amount in the picture x three.  Not a huge yield but they were delicious so I saved some ‘seed’ potatoes and they are happily growing this year too.  Zucchini was so bountiful it was ridiculous, way too many, everyday.  It got so, that I had to drop and run at neighbors front  doors! This year, only two plants.  I learned that they require a large amount of real state better utilized for my leaf crops which were my everyday go to crop:  Spinach, kale, chard and assorted lettuce.

Tomatoes  were fantastic except I planted way too many also.  They became a jungle of tangled vines.  I lost many tomatoes simply because I could not physically rescue them from the impenetrable mess!  I was grateful that they did not succumb to the many threats you are always reading about and I still had several baskets full everyday.  I am still enjoying them in sauce, sofrito ( a spanish  mixture of onions, garlic, and tomatoes fried and reduced in olive oil with safron and cumin).  I also froze whole tomatoes in freezer bags that were better than canned and easy to add to soups and stews. I just finished those!  At the end of the season, I harvested the Yellow Pear green tomatoes that were left in the vine and pickled them with herbs in large jars that went right in the refrigerator and lasted for months.

Of course, if you grow tomatoes, you better start a whole lot of Basil, I grew many different kinds last year.  Genovese,  Lettuce leaf, Thai, and Lime basil.  Can’t ever have too much.  As soon as it starts blooming, the pesto making starts and you can have pesto right through the winter.  If you are into salsas, then you will want peppers as well. Mine did not do well at all, in fact, I grew a great plant that never bloomed and did not produced a single fruit so out with them and I gave up but I am trying again this year.  We shall see.

So start those seeds, not too late for basil, parsley, beans, squash, zucchini and most beans.  Carrots, beets radish and many other root crops can be put in now as well or put in some seedlings and watch them grow and produce.  Nothing gives more satisfaction that eating your own produce and being able to share it with your friends.  Let me know how it goes and what you learn as I am a newbie when it comes to food crops!

Shall I not have intelligence with the earth?  
Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.
–  Henry David Thoreau

 

More on Herbs: Lemon Balm

Lamiaceae

Lamiaceae (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the fresh mounds of Lemon Balm, ‘Melissa officinalis‘ in the spring.  Perfect clumps of beautiful new growth full of flavor and scent.  I value my Lemon Balm and use it regularly throughout the summer.  A member of the mint family, it belongs in the tonifying, sedative  category of herbs.  It is a valued medicinal, culinary and cosmetic herb.  It has sedative properties, aids our digestive system and is used to relieve gas. Leaves and stems have antibacterial and antiviral qualities. I have read so many attributes to this plant that it is hard to believe so few people use it!

The plant has lovely serrated  heart shaped leaves and is a perennial that is extremely easy to grow in full sun or part shade, it will reseed and spread in the garden if not deadheaded  after it blooms, a small maintenance price to pay for such great qualities.  Try it as tea in the morning with a bit of honey or as an herbal vinegar to add to beans and vegetables.  I put a sprig in my water throughout the day because I love the scent and lemony taste that it infuses into the water.  Here is how to make herbal vinegars:  Harvest enough leaves and stems to fill a glass jar.  Fill with apple cider vinegar to the top and store in a cool dark place for 6 weeks.  It keeps indefinitely and is excellent with legumes, and a tablespoon in the morning as a tonic mixed with a glass of water is said to cleanse the liver and stimulate your bowels (always a good thing!)  Often, I also make a tasty tea and drink it iced on very warm days; it is very refreshing and calming.  As far as I know there are no adverse side effects to the use of this herb as long as it is used as a simple ingredient and not mixed with other herbs.  So get out there and look around your garden and pick some lemon balm!

“All that man needs for health and healing has been provided by God in nature, the challenge of science is to find it.” Philippus Theophrastrus Bombast that of Aureolus ~ Paracelsus (1493-1541)

 

 

Fabulous Plant!

Hard to believe that here we are in the beginning of November and this plant is the only thing still blooming in the garden.  It is,  Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ or Pineapple Sage.  When I picked it up in early April it was in the herbs rack at the local nursery.  I planted it in my herb garden and it quickly outgrew the space and threatened to displace a french tarragon plant that I have been nurturing for years.  I cut it down drastically in June but left both in place.  It started blooming in September and has not quit since.  This is not widely available so I had to read up a bit about it and it is hardy only to zone 8.  I think I will risk it and leave it in the garden to see if it comes back and report back then.  I highly recommend this beauty for your gardens!

“Plant your sage and rue together,
The sage will grow in any weather…” 

~Thomas Cavendish,

 

Basic Culinary Herbs

There are some basic herbs that I can not live without any time of the year.  Most of them can be grown in our gardens during the summer months and harvested at the end of the season.  I prefer to freeze herbs right after harvesting to keep for the winter.  During the summer, it is my great pleasure to step out in the morning and collect what I feel I will use for the day.  I like mint and lemon balm for my water,  chamomile and sage for my tea.  And depending of what is for dinner, I may collect chives, parsley, oregano, basil or tarragon.  Lavender, chocolate mint and apple scented geraniums are all great additions to many desserts.

Although still in its infancy, I planted my herbs in their new bed.  I have decided to follow an informal design rather than the traditional parceled out  garden.  Instead, I have planted from short to tall, and hope everyone behaves and keeps their bounds.  Here is how it looks right after planting:

Herbs, Newly planted garden

Newly Planted Herb Garden.

So far, I have all the above mentioned herbs and in addition: borage, garlic, right in the center, rhubarb (technically a vegetable), many varieties of thyme, cilantro, rosemary, fennel and dill.  I am sure I forgot some and many that are classified as herbs and are  growing around the perennial beds, grown more for their flowers and foliage than for their medicinal or culinary properties.  Here are my recommendations for must have basic perennial herbs:

Chives or Allium schoenoprasum.  Once you plant it, there it is for life!  Very easy to grow from seed but deadhead all flowers before they go to seed or soon you will have more that you want!  Use for flavoring and as a garnish.  Flowers are edible and great as a garnish and in salads.  Freezes well for winter use.

Oregano  or Origanum Vulgare. A favorite mediterranean herb, closely related to Marjoram.  Great in soups, stews and for flavoring pasta dishes.  This is another herb I freeze every year.  Flowers profusely to the delight of bees and hummingbirds.

Thyme or thymus vulgaris.  An important well known herb.  Used in the kitchen to flavor meats, soups and vegetable dishes.  Many varieties and flavors available in the market.  Also used as a scented groundcover between ground stones.

Chamomille or Chamaemelun nobile.  Its most popular use is in the well known chamomile tea, which settles the stomach, promotes appetite and is said to relieve fevers. Its daisy-like flowers re-seed freely so it can be use as a low growing ground cover.

Common sage or Salvia officinalis.  A culinary and medicinal herb for centuries, encompasses a huge family of many different varieties, some annual, biennial and perennial.  Used primarily to flavor meats and for teas.  It has been credited to cure just about any ailment.  It is an antiseptic, anti-inflamatory herb.  It is believed to help the digestive system and liver and to act as a general tonic.  It has long had a reputation for improving memory and stimulating the brain… Well, with such properties, it could not hurt to plunge a leaf in your tea from time to time!

“If one consults enough herbals…every sickness known to humanity will be listed as being cured by sage.”
Varro Taylor, Ph.D. (herb expert)