Wascally Wabbits

I need some advice from the gardening gurus out there.

I have planted vining Blue lLke green beans. Those dog gone rabbits keep eating the leaves off, so the plants are not growing like they should be. I have sprayed the plants with soapy water, garlic spray, and cayenne pepper. I have also posted the plastic forks which have worked well with all of my other plants. For some reason, none of these things is working with my vining beans.

Does anyone have any other great ideas?    Garden Granny

harvest

This past week, I attended the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) Leadership Education Academy (LEA). It was an amazing event, a cross between a conference and a work development program, created specifically for leadership educators. I met some creative, inspiring leadership professors, people who teach leadership skills to youth and young adults, and leadership professionals who teach within their organizations. The staff, all leadership professors, was fantastic, and the content of knowledge we learned is extremely helpful. You know… It was information that I will use, and use often in my career. I was so inspired and leadership focused… until I got home.

As you can imagine, in Indiana, the most important time of the harvesting season starts mid-July and runs throughSeptember, or even October… and even sometimes into November, if the weather holds out! I made sure that I had harvested everything available the day before I left for Denver.

I was gone for five days, and I was shocked at what needed to be done to get the garden caught up. As you can see, I had a boatload of green beans and peppers, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and blackberries to harvest. Before taking that photo, I gave away two dozen peppers, a dozen tomatoes, and six cucumbers, and I cooked down enough blackberries to freeze two gallons of juice. I also set a few dozen tomatoes on my ripening table that you don’t see here. It never seems like so much is ready when I work on it, every day, but skip a week, and WOW!

Now, it’s time to decide what to do with it all. Wednesday, I will be teaching a certification class in YOUTH Mental Health First Aid, so I will be able to serve some of the peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes with our lunch. I have a boatload of kale ready to be harvested, too, so I will also take some of it to the class. I have been pickling sweet yellow and banana peppers, lately, and I have enough for a year’s worth of my family’s use. I recently saw a recipe for sweet and hot peppers which I might try, though, and I will start canning my jalapeno peppers, since they started producing. The red Cayenne peppers will be dried and used by my son on all kinds of yummy (and spicy) foods.

The tomatoes that I grew from plants are ripening, nicely, but they are mostly table tomatoes. Since my family eats a lot of fresh tomatoes, we are using them up or giving them away to friends and family. My parents could eat fresh tomatoes, especially the german- or beefsteak-style tomatoes, at every meal, so yes, they get used up, quickly. I also like to make some of the extras into stewed tomatoes or salsas.

The tomatoes that I planted from seed are a week or so behind the other tomato plants, even though they were planted at least six weeks after the others. They are they types that I turn into pasta sauce, salsa, and soups. They have very little liquid and very few seeds, so they are easy to process and have lots of meaty flesh to use. The breeds I planted were a Roma-style called “Big Mama” and “Super Sauce.”

Super Sauce is, by far, my favorite saucing tomato, because it is huge (up to 2.5 pounds each) and tasty, which make less work for me. I have made tomato sauce that fits in one quart-sized jar with just two Super Sauce tomatoes! The ones in the garden are so big on some plants that the stems started bending over, because the plant couldn’t hold them up without help. As you can imagine, I have been outside tying the heavier stems up on the stakes I use to support the plants.

Well, I guess I need to stop gushing about this harvest, because I need to go can some green beans! I have a lot to do. Anyway.. I wish you Happy Harvesting and Preserving!

Pickle Your Red Cabbage

Red Cabbage

My mother, who emigrated from Germany, has always served some of the best tasting food in the world. One of my favorites is pickled red cabbage. There are several variations, but my favorite is a very simple brine-based type. I grow red cabbage for one reason and one reason only: to make this fabulous, beautiful dish.

Now, I have to tell you that I tried to adapt the recipe a few times in order to eliminate the sugar component, and it was disasterous! The fermenting of the cabbage requires the sugar, so don’t leave it out. Also, for all of you who lack patience: You must let your jars of red cabbage sit for around three months before it will be ready to eat. Otherwise, you will be eating cooked cabage and pure vinegar! Since I pick my cabbage in small batches, I use a small batch recipe.

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If you start canning now, you will have pickled red cabbage ready to serve or give in time for the holidays!!

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Pickled Red Cabbage

Step One: Wash, remove the core, then chop or shred one large head of red cabbage. I prefer a large chop, since I like to eat it with a fork as a side dish. Place it in a large bowl and mix in 1/8 cup of pickling or kosher salt. Rub the salt into the leaves of the cabbage. You will notice that the cabbage will start to release liquid. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it stand for about 24 hours.

Step Two: Put the cabbage into a colander. Rinse the cabbage with water, then let it drain. You want most of the liquid to be dried off, so you can either let it sit in the colander for an hour or two, or you can use paper towel to press out as much water as possible. When mostly dried, the cabbage is ready to be pickled.

Step Three: Pack the prepared cabbage into your canning jars. Depending upon the size of your cabbage, you will need 2-3 quart or 4-6 pint jars. I suggest using the size of jar which will best accommodate your family for one meal. At this point in life, that is the pint-sized jar for me. Prepare your jars, like you usually do, and while the jars are still hot, tightly pack them with the prepared cabbage. Add 1/4 t. mustard seeds to pint jars or 1/2 t. to quart jars. Make sure you leave at least an one of head space, and set aside while you make the pickling brine.

Step Four: To make a brine, you will cook some vinegar with some spices. Some of the spices will flavor the vinegar mixture, but you don’t want them to be in your jars, so you will put them in a piece of cheesecloth or spice ball which will be lowered into the brine while it cooks. Here is the recipe:

  • In a piece of cheesecloth combine the follow, then tie it with a piece of string:
    • 1 T. whole Cloves
    • 1 T. Peppercorns
    • 1T. whole Allspice
    • 1/4 t. Mace
    • 1 T. Celery Seeds
  • Cook 4 cups of white vinegar and and 1/2 c. brown sugar on medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves, completely. Add the spice-filled cheesecloth and bring the mixture back up to a boil. Boil for about 4 minutes, then turn off the heat. Remove the spice bag. What is left is your brine!

Step Five: Pour your brine into each jar, remove air bubbles by sliding a flat knife down the sides, and adjust the brine until your brine barely covers the cabbage and is one inch from the rim of the jar. Cover the jars with your lids and rings, and you are ready to can!

Step Six: This is important: DO NOT PRESSURE CAN! Pressure canning your cabbage could results in mushy, discolored cabbage which your family might disown you for. I suggest using a water bath method. It’s quick and easy. Just put your jars into the prepared canner of hot water, and add boiling water to ensure that each jar is covered by about three inches of water. Cover the pot. Turn the heat on high. When the water comes to a boil, start timing: 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.

Step Seven: Remove the jars from the canner. Put them on a towel-covered surface and let them cool without further touching them. As the jars cool, a vacuum will occur, and you will hear the lids ping and pop to indicate that they have properly sealed (It is like music to the ears of people who preserve their own food). When cool, place the jars in a cool, dry, somewhat dark place for a few months to let the cabbage ferment into a scrumptious, beautiful product. YUM! Happy Canning!

 

 

 

 

Rogue Tomato Plants

cherry volunteer 2It should be no secret to anyone that I plant a lot of tomato plants, each year. I prepare and can enough pasta sauce, tomato sauce, salsa, stewed tomatoes, tomato-basil soup, vegetable soup, chili, and hot sauce for my family to eat for the entire year. My parents, who live next door, love fresh sliced tomatoes and tomato-cucumber salad, and Dad and I eat tomato bruchetta like it is going out of style when basil and tomatoes are fresh and in season. I even toss in a few other tomato recipes on occassion. Two years ago, I found a recipe for dried italian tomatoes in my new dehydrator manual that are out of this world (Imagine eating a chewy dried tomato slice which tastes like a piece of pizza as a snack). Needless-to-say, I need many tomato plants to meet our needs.

Each year a few tomatoes rot on the vine or get escorted away by some insect or worm and the seeds end up in my garden beds. The following year, after the beds have been turned and planted, we end up with some volunteer tomato plants growing from those forgotten seeds. Some years those plants have been so prolific that we started calling them “Rogue” tomato plants. Until a few years ago, I just removed them, because they were, in essence, weeds. For the past three years, however, I let them grow to see what would happen.

So how many rogue plants is a prolific amount? Let me see… Last year, I gave away 1150 rogue tomato plants to various organizations and individuals who didn’t mind that they would not know what type of tomato to expect. That wasn’t even half of the plants that grew! I kept some of them and put them in garden beds by themselves in order to be able to keep them separate from the tomatoes I grew on purpose and to be able to rotate my crops to keep the soil healthy. I just wanted to see what would happen, and I ended up with some very good, healthy, delicious tomatoes. Some of the people who took the rogue plants later told me that they were enjoying a variety of types of tomatoes.

This year, I only let the rogues grow in two beds, while I gave away a few plants and composted the rest. My mission, this year, was to grow only certain types, the kinds I knew we would use an abundance of. The rogue tomatoes that I did keep, this year, were only grown in specific beds, last year, so I could guess what they might be, and so far, I am right. The one in the photo grew in my mom’s garden where I had planted only one cherry tomato plant, last year, and it’s a cherry! I also am enjoying the sight of several plants of Romas and a couple of Super Sauce. I am still waiting to hear from recipients of this year’s rogues to see what types they got, and I hope they are as excited to see tomatoes on them as I am.

You might hear about my purposeful tomatoes in a future blog. What did I plant? Yellow tomatoes are my favorite cut tomatoes, so you know I have those. Then, the Rutgers and German Lady tomatoes are the favorite of the parents, next door. I also bought Jet Star plants for a general, easy table tomato. I grew 100 Big Mama plants and 150 Super Sauce from seed for my canning projects later in the summer. mmm mmm mmm

Blossom End Rot Not Shattering Tomato Dreams

End Blossom Rot

Until this year, I have not ever had a problem with blossom end rot in any of my crops. From what I understand, blossom end rot occurs in many different types of fruit-bearing plants. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and squash are the most common plants which suffer from it in Indiana gardens. After doing a little research on the Purdue agricultural websites and talking to an extension agent (EA), I learned that the problem stems from plants not getting enough or not being able to use enough calcium.

Big mama TomatoWhile I am particularly interested in tomatoes, since this is the only plant I am experiencing blossom end rot, I am finding that only one variety of tomato that I planted is having the problem, the Big Mama hybrid. I planted both Big Mama (photo on the left) and Super Sauce (photo on the right) hybrid tomatoes from seed, this year. I planted the seed directly in the ground as soon as the soil was warm enough. Super Sauce tomatoesI also bought German Lady, Rutgers, Lemon Boy, and Jet Star tomato plants, and have a few Roma and Cherry ROGUE (volunteer) plants, all of which are producing fruit with no problem with blossom end rot.  Last year, I bought Super Sauce plants from Burpee Gardening, and they were, not only tasty tomatoes, but extra-large and with very little extra water and few seeds, so they are easy to use and provide little waste, with less effort, to make sauce and salsa. Super Sauce are heavy producing plants and do well in the Indiana climates. I decided to try the Big Mama tomatoes based on reviews of people who liked the Super Sauce, since it also produces extra large Roma-style fruits. So far, the Big Mama plants seem to be loaded with tomatoes, but I have lost dozens of them them to the blossom end rot.

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Blossom end rot starts out looking like a brown water spot on a ceiling at the area that the flower blossom was when the tomato started growing. The end of the tomato dies off and dries up resulting in the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the tomato being discolored and hard.

I have been throwing the damaged tomatoes into the composter, but I read, today, that once the tomato turns red, some people just cut the bad part off and eat or use the rest of the tomato. Maybe I will try to use the good part of the tomato when this issue occurs just to see how it turns out. I stopped counting Big Mama tomatoes at 1200, this morning, and I would hate to throw away all of that goodness just because of the blossom end rot. It’s at least something to think about.

So what can be done about the blossom end rot? Well, it turns out that there is not a hard and fast answer to that. It depends on the reason it is occurring.  For our gardens, it turns out that we have simply had so much water that the plants can’t keep up with or use the amount of calcium being flushed up into the affected plants. It happens that the rest of the tomato varieties we are growing happen to be blossom end rot resistant, so they aren’t having the same issues. Since my garden beds are already raised and filled with great soil which drains well, and we have no control over the amount of rain we are getting this year, I can only pray for the rain to reduce a little and August to dryer.

For others, I suggest you ask an area EA to come look at your beds and test your soil. They are full of great information to help you decide if you should do something or not. For people who have drainage problems, your EA  might suggest you try adding peat moss or large garden grade vermiculite, elevating your garden beds, or  relocating them to support good drainage. For those of you who have a calcium problem not related to drainage or too much water, you might try adding calcium to the soil with a soil suppliment or clean eggshells. If your plants have simply grown so fast they can’t keep up with nutrient uptake, using less nitrogen-based fertilizer might help. While many think that simply adding calcium will stop blossom end rot, you might find that the problem with calcium isn’t about adding it at all, but a simpler change… or Mother Nature’s changes that you can’t help… will be the solution.  I am hoping for happy tomatoes for the rest of the summer!

My Little Place of Pleasure

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LindyMal sent me an email, asking to see some of my garden, so I thought I would share a little of my little gardening world. Many people have different ideas about gardening. When I was a little girl, our family had a garden, because it helped us to eat good food and lower our grocery costs. I was the one who loved to work in the garden and preserve some of our food.

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Much of my adult life has been a challenge. Gardening offered me some relief. Not only is it good exercise, but it provides food as clean and organic as I choose. It helps me save money and have some control over the health of my family. I find gardening to be therapeutic, and it offers the opportunity to be creative (See the potato bags I tried?). My favorite benefit comes when I watch the kids and grandkids working and helping, getting excited when their seeds break through the ground, and spending time with me.

Harvest

I get to try to grow… and eat… food that I may not have ever tried. Sometimes it is an accident! For example, I planted what I thought was zucchini, this spring, but it grew into a beautiful, yellow crook-neck squash. I had to ask my FaceBook friends what on earth to do with crook-neck squash. It turns out that anything you do with zucchini, you can do with crook-neck. My first crook-neck adventure was to make a chocolate squash cake which was beautiful, moist, and delicious. Yummy!

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Another valuable characteritic of gardens is that it gives me the opportunity to share. I created one garden bed for my mom and four smaller ones for kids to grow their own items. Many people who are driving or bicycling past our house, often stop to ask about the garden. It’s always funny when I meet a stranger and say what neighborhood I live in, and they ask me if I live close to the crazy lady with the big garden. Yes, folks. That is me.

Like my garden, I am a work in progress. I spend time there, thinking, learning, and finding ways to better myself. Some days I work hard, and other days I am kind of lazy. Gardening has taught me much about patience and the joy found in delayed gratification. The only thing I don’t do there is sleep. I love my garden, and I hope that you get as much nutrition and pleasure from yours as I do from mine.

Blackberry Bounty

Blackberry Overload

I wanted to share my blackberry brambles with you, this evening. Today, I was able to pick a handful of the lucious, fruit which is just barely starting to ripen. We started this blackberry bed three years ago with two small plants, and today, the entire side of the garage is covered with beautiful, thornless blackberry plants.

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I think this year, we will have a bumper crop. Since blackberries grow on second year growth, We have been cognizant of the number of new stems which are being produced, and I predict that next year’s crop will be even better.

Blackberry size

You can see by the size of the first berries we harvested that these berries will be large and juicy when they become ripe. Last year, I was only able to use about half of the berries that our brambles produced, because they are the favorite snack of my grandson. As I picked the berries, he ate them right out of the bowl. Even with that loss of crop, I still was able to make four pies, half a dozen jars of jam, and 3 gallons of juice. I froze the juice and when I had more time, I used it to make jelly and syrup (both pancake and dessert syrups). From the looks of things, I believe we will have at least double what we got last year! I will keep you posted!

Ketchup & Fries Plant Update

I thought you might like to see the progress our ketchup and fries plant is making. The plant is about double the size it was when I showed it to you, previously. It’sbeautiful and healthy, filled with flowers and some cherry-sized tomatoes.

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We won’t be looking at the roots for potatoes until Autumn, but I can tell you that the tomatoes that I have eaten from this plant, so far, are very tasty and acidic. I can’t wait to share if we actually get potatoes or not, this Fall! Stay tuned!

Fair Oak Farms

Fairoaks

Yesterday, Todd and I had to drive to Chicago and then back home, a six hour total trip. On the way back, we stopped at Fair Oak Farms to stretch our legs and eat a scoop of ice cream. If you have never been to Fair Oak Farms, you have missed a wonderful facility to visit, a place which offers something interesting for everyone.

The first time we visited the farm, it had far less to see, but was fun, none-the-less. We took a tour of a local cattle farm, watched the milking operations, and had ice cream at the gas station. A couple of years later, they had a birthing barn where we could sit and watch a cow give birth approximately every 30 minutes, a snack building where we could watch cheese and ice cream being made, as well as buy and eat fresh cheeses, sandwiches, and ice cream. A couple of years ago, they opened a beautiful restaurant, which we have enjoyed several times, since. We also were able to tour a pig farm and see baby pigs and their mommies in many stages from newly born to weaned. Other sites at Fair Oak Farms included a display garden, a rock climbing wall, and a playground.

Yesterday, I was pleased to see that more attractions had been added to Fair Oak Farms. I saw at least two new buildings. One was a crop adventure, something right up the alley of our Indiana gardeners. The playground had doubled in size, and a train for the little ones had been added. In addition, they used to have an indoor rock climbing wall, and now they have an outdoor climbing wall. The facility is thriving and is simply getting bigger and bigger, offering more for everyone.

If this all isn’t enough, I heard rumors that Fair Oak Farms is planning to build a resort hotel and a water park in the future. There certainly is enough land to add those and even more. On top of it all, Fair Oak Farms is the producer of power house drinks, Core Power and Fairlife milk, which you may have seen in stores. If you are interested in learning more, check out their website at http://www.fofarms.com. It’s an adventure and learning experience all in one. Check them out!

Hummingbirds in the Garden

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There is nothing like the humming vibration of the little wings of a hummingbird whisking past your head during a hot summer in Indiana. Three types of the little guys are often seen here, the Rufous, Ruby-throated, and Black-chinned hummingbirds. In my garden, I see a Black-chinned hummingbird on a daily basis, and occasionally, a Ruby-throated hummingbird. Since they tend to travel the same path, each day when they feed, I can imagine that the Ruby-throated hummingbird comes more often than I get to see.

It seems like hummingbirds have diminished in the past few years. I put out several types of hummingbird feeders to supplement the plants I grow for them. Soon, I will be finishing a large raised flower bed around the deck in the front of my house and filling it with plants which I know the little hummers love in order to ensure they have all they need in the local area. I want to ensure they come back, every year.

Last year, I had a little surprise. As I was opening one of my hummingbird feeders in order to fill it, one of the little guys sat right on my finger and tried to gather his nectar from the little, red plastic flowers. My heart jumped as I realized that he was not afraid of sitting there. I stood completely still in an attempt to prolong the circumstance. Afterward, the same bird did a little fly-by, stopping to look at me, every day until the last frost. This Spring, when the feeder was empty, a hummingbird which looked exactly the same, flew to the front door and hovered, as if he was looking in the window, trying to find out why I didn’t leave him enough nectar. As you can imagine, I immediately found my stash of feeders (5 of them), cleaned them, filled them, and put them out for my little humming friends to enjoy.