Canning, Desserts, Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free, Recipes

Apple Time

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The house painting project has taken so much time, there’s been no time for blogging.

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However, I did pick apples today.   My apples are falling!  I would have loved to have left them on the tree a little longer, but between wind, squirrels, raccoons, and birds, they had to be picked. I have the tree about 2/3rds of the way stripped and will finish tomorrow with my grandson’s help. I have nicknamed him Farm Boy, because he does love to garden. And I love to have his help.

If you are picking apples now, when they are still not quite ripe, here are some tricks and tips I’ve learned.

* Twist the apple clockwise (or to the right) to get it to release either from the stem or from the branch. Twisting rather than pulling does far less damage to your tree.

*Sort the apples as you pick them. I pick into a two gallon bucket (because that’s all I can lift when it’s full) and after I’ve filled the bucket, I sort them into separate boxes: a box for any wormy apples, any that have hit the ground, any that have been bird-pecked, and any oddly-shaped apples that won’t go through the peeler cleanly; and a box for “perfect apples,” those that are not bruised or wormy or bird-damaged. This is important because the old adage that one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel really is true. When I sort as I pick, I know which apples need to be processed first, and which ones can sit for a while and sweeten up a bit more.  The pic below is of the damaged apples.  These won’t sit long.  I’ll be turning them into apple butter next week.

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*Store the apples that are going to sit for a while in no more than two layers, with plenty of newspaper in between layers to absorb moisture and cushion the fruit. Don’t stack boxes of apples on top of each other unless you can do it without bruising them.

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*Store the apples in the coolest place you can find where mice, squirrels, etc., will not damage them. This can be difficult sometimes. Right now, the only place I have to store my apples is our pump house, and since the temps are heating up again, they will not hold long. Cooler is better, if possible.

I process my bruised, damaged apples first because they will go bad much faster than the perfect apples. I make applesauce and apple butter with those apples. For my apple butter recipe, click on the link above.

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With the perfect apples, I usually make pie filling and dehydrated apples with cinnamon for the grandkids (and even my kids still ask for them!), but this year, it’ll just be dehydrated apples. I have plenty of pie filling left from last year, both canned and frozen. (For the recipe for canned apple pie filling, see below.)

For dehydrated apples, we use a hand-cranked peeler/slicer/corer machine (Dennis always helps me with this part). After slicing the rings in half, I drop the apples into acidulated water (lemon juice or Fruit Fresh added to water) to prevent browning, and I place them on the dehydrator trays and sprinkle them with cinnamon. You can’t keep them from turning brown, and the cinnamon helps disguise the brownness and gives them wonderful flavor. My kids have always loved these, and now my grandkids do too. Just the other day, my daughter was at my house, foraging in the pantry, and came across a bag of my dried apples. She ate half the bag and wanted to take the other half home with her!

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And don’t throw out the peels and cores–make apple scrap vinegar  or apple pectin stock with them.  Click on the link for the how-to.

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I usually make up gallon bags of pie filling for the freezer. I just use the apple pie recipe out of the Betty Crocker cookbook, and mix up the filling in a bowl (apples, flour or cornstarch—and you can use brown rice flour for this if you are gluten-free, sugar, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, cinnamon and whatever other spices you like).

But last year, a friend, Suzanne Lepowski, shared a canned apple pie filling recipe with me which I altered because I don’t can with cornstarch or Clear Jel (unsafe with the former and too expensive with the latter), and it worked perfectly. One quart jar isn’t enough for a 9-inch pie, but works fine with an 8-inch pie. If you want to make 9-inch pies, can both quarts and pints. One of each will fill a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. All you have to do is add a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, or ¼ cup flour, or brown rice flour if you’re gluten-free, to the contents of the jar, and then put it in your unbaked pastry shell. The apples are tender, and the pie is delicious. Thanks, Suzanne!

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Canned apple pie filling (no thickener)

6 pounds apples (About 20-25 medium apples:  amounts to about 5 qts. cored, peeled, sliced.  This will make about 3 quart jars of pie filling.)

Ball Fruit Fresh (or several tablespoons of lemon juice)

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (and I add 1/2 teaspoon allspice because I like it in my pie filling)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash, peel, core, and slice apples.  Add apples to water with Fruit Fresh according to directions on Fruit Fresh jar, or add several tablespoons of lemon juice to a large bowl of water. Combine sugar and spices in large pan. Rinse and drain apples.   Stir apples into sugar and spice mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until boiling.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Ladle into hot, sterilized quart or pint jars, leaving 1 inch head space, place lid and cap, and process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, adjusting for altitude according to altitude chart.

I hope you are able to leave your apples on the tree long enough to let them be kissed by frost.  It makes them sweeter.  But if, like me, you are working with apples now, I hope you enjoy these recipes.  We do.

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Garden and Greenhouse, Recipes

Freezing Green Beans

I’ve been canning green beans from the garden for the past couple of weeks, but the production has slowed down now that days are getting shorter, and I haven’t been getting quite as many beans at one time. I don’t like to haul the pressure canner out for anything less than a full load, so these lesser harvests go in the freezer. I was preparing beans for the freezer on Monday, and it occurred to me that many people may not know how easy it is to freeze green beans at home. You don’t need any special equipment, like a canner, so if you’re not up to making such an investment in dollars, energy, or time, freezing is the way to put up those lovely, fresh green beans, either from your garden or the farmer’s market or produce stand. So, here’s a step-by-step guide to freezing green beans.

First, the only equipment you’ll need are things you almost certainly already have in your kitchen. You need:

A large pot, stainless steel or enamel or porcelain-coated is best (just don’t use an old, peeling, Teflon-coated pan!)

3 colanders or strainers (at least one should be metal/heat resistant)

A large bowl to hold one colander

Plastic zipper freezer bags (or a food saver system) and an indelible marker

At the market, or picking from a farm or your own garden, choose fresh, crisp beans. Any tough, limp, or overgrown beans should be set aside. (If you’re making soup or stew, you can put them in it; otherwise, I put them into the compost bucket or over the fence for the deer.) In the picture below, you can see three beans on the right that are too big for either freezing or canning. If this were an heirloom variety, I’d have left them on the bush to make seed, but they aren’t, so I didn’t. On the counter is my shocking bowl and colander.

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If the beans are straight from the garden and are warm, it’s best to wash them thoroughly in cold water, drain them, and let them chill in the fridge overnight before processing. This helps crisp the beans. Always wash beans thoroughly because any dirt or organic garden debris can lead to spoilage, even when frozen.

Washing: I clean my sink, fill it with cold water, dump in the beans, swish them around, and then let any dirt settle to the bottom before scooping the beans into a colander. I rinse the beans again in the colander, then drain them. As I’m cutting off the stem ends, I pick off any debris, like spent blossoms, that might still be stuck to the beans.

Trimming: The stem ends of the beans must be trimmed before blanching. I used to do this with my mother by hand, sitting beside her on the porch steps, snapping the ends off the beans so she could can or freeze them. Now, I use a knife because I like smooth end cuts. I do not cut off the blossom end curls unless they are hard, and they aren’t hard unless the beans are too big. And you shouldn’t try to freeze over-large beans anyway. I leave my beans whole otherwise. To my way of thinking, cutting the beans means allowing more nutrients out into the blanching and shocking waters, but they can be cut into two- or three-inch pieces, if desired.

Blanching: The next step in preparing the beans is blanching. Blanching is a pre-cooking process that kills bacteria which can cause spoilage. Put a large pot of water that will hold a metal colander on to boil. (I use my 6 qt. soup pot.)

Next, fill the large bowl halfway with ice, and place the second colander in it. Fill with cold water, leaving a couple of inches headroom for the ice to melt. This is your shocking bowl.

Place the third colander in the sink. This is the draining colander, and this is where I use my plastic colander. The other two are metal. You can get away with using only two colanders, using the same one for blanching and shocking, but your shocking water will heat up a lot faster and your blanching water will cool down between batches, and you’ll drip more water around your kitchen. Three colanders or strainers make the process faster and easier.

When the water in the large pot is boiling, place as many washed and trimmed green beans as can be submerged under the boiling water in the colander. I cover the pot until it comes back to a boil, but I begin timing as soon as the beans hit the boiling water. The blanching period is 3 minutes. Use a timer! Under-blanched beans will not be as tender and flavorful as those blanched properly, and may freezer-burn more rapidly. Over-blanched beans will be mushy and less flavorful.

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When the beans have been in the boiling water for 3 minutes, carefully remove the colander from the pot, allow the hot water to drain for a few seconds, and dump the beans into the shocking colander in the ice water bath.

Shocking: The ice water bath stops the cooking process and ensures that the beans will stay bright green when frozen. The beans can stay in the shocking bowl for about the same length of time as they were in the blanching pot, but no longer. You don’t want them to get water-logged, and you have to get them out of the shocking bowl before the next batch is ready.

I usually dump another load of beans in the blanching colander immediately, then watch the timer. When there’s about 30 seconds left on the timer, I lift the shocking colander full of blanched beans out of the water, let it drain a few seconds, use the big pot lid like a shield to keep from dripping water over the kitchen floor, and dump the beans into the draining colander in the sink. They should be ice-cold, and they can sit there and drain while you finish up several more batches before bagging.

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Bagging: All that’s left to do after the beans have been blanched and shocked and drained is bag and tag. I have a food saver system, but honestly, I find it more trouble than it’s worth for small batches of vegetables. I use zipper freezer bags, and I wash and reuse these for storage bags when I’ve only put vegetables in them. I always write product type and the date on the bag, having learned that when I don’t, I’m liable to find something in the freezer that is either unrecognizable or of unknown age. I usually make up some bags with enough beans for one serving each for Dennis and me, and some bags with more beans for family dinners or guests. That’s another nice thing about freezing. After you have the beans blanched and shocked and drained, you can bag them up in whatever quantities suit your needs.  Be sure to press all the air you can out of a zipper bag before you zip it up.

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If you are working with a large amount of beans, you might need to add more boiling water to your blanching pot. I keep my electric tea kettle full and simmering for this purpose. You might also need to pour some water out of the shocking bowl and add more ice. Check the temperature of the water in the bowl after about 3 batches. Add more ice if it is not really cold. The water needs to be very cold to shock the blanched beans.

That’s all there is to freezing green beans. They are delicious and a fast and easy vegetable to prepare when dinner preparations are rushed. You can boil an inch or so of salted water in a pot, pop these beans in frozen, put on the lid, and when the water comes back to the boil, they’re done. All they need is a bit of butter. Or, you can thaw and drain them and saute them with olive oil and garlic. They’ll stay bright and beautiful because of the blanching process. Give that old favorite, Green Beans Amandine a try, which can be made with either fresh or frozen beans. Your frozen green beans can be added to soups or stews, as well.

I think the best thing about freezing beans, as opposed to canning them, is that you can work in small batches. So go out and get yourself a few pounds of green beans and try putting them up yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and your reward will be a beautiful, green vegetable, low-calorie and full of fiber, on your dinner plate this winter.

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Garden and Greenhouse

Taking Stock

Late August is the season when as a gardener, you know what you did right, and what you didn’t do so right. It’s proof time, and the outcome is different every year. Soil conditions, weather, insect populations, irrigation problems, cultivation (or lack of it): all these things can affect a garden’s production. This year, because I was away from home for over two months, altogether, in May, June, and July, I didn’t have high expectations from my garden. But the garden has proved, once again, that it can hold its own as long as it has water and just a little bit of care now and then.

Because I got the tomatoes in late, not enough fruit will ripen to can big batches of charred tomato salsa, which will disappoint the family because they love the stuff, but since the beginning of August, we have had plenty of tomatoes to make fresh salsa and eat any way we choose, so I’m pleased with my tomato output. The plants are doing well considering the jumble on the greenhouse floor in spring and setting them out into the garden late. The Cherokee Purple heirlooms haven’t produced a whole lot outside, but the one plant I put in the greenhouse is going wild. And oh, the flavor! They are certainly rivals for the Brandywines in flavor. I have huge Brandywines almost ready to pick.

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Rainbows, another heirloom, are starting to ripen as well.

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The San Marzano plants are loaded with small green fruit, but I suspect many of them will end up box-ripening unless we get a long Indian summer through October. I’ve started a bag in the freezer for them, since they are ripening just a few at a time. At some point, I’ll have enough in the freezer to try a batch of sauce with them.

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We are eating the cherry tomatoes and Sun Golds almost daily.

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When I came home from Britain, I noticed that I had an insect problem in my greenhouse. Black ants had started an aphid farm on some of my peppers. I tried spraying the aphids with a 50% vinegar solution as recommended online. It killed most of them, but it also damaged the leaves on the plants. And then the ants redoubled their efforts, and in a day or so, had spread aphids to all the peppers and eggplants in the greenhouse. Aphids are covering everything except the Cherokee Purple tomato. I conceded the battle. I can’t find the ant nest, or I’d pour boiling water on it, and I won’t use chemicals. So I won’t be getting many eggplants or peppers this year, and I’m going to have to figure out what to do about those ants at some point. It’s probably going to mean digging up the planter box after the plants die to expose the nest.

One crop that’s not doing as well as it normally does is the Minnesota Midget cantaloupes. I picked the first ripe one a few days ago, but there are not nearly as many on the vines as is usual for these prolific bearers. I don’t think they like the spot I put them in because they are getting too much shade from the tomatoes in the morning and from the berries in the afternoon, but I was a little short on space after my grandson asked me to grow some corn.

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So the cantaloupes were kicked out of their sunny spot for corn, which seems to be doing pretty well, better, at least, than it normally does in my partly-shaded garden. We have picked a couple of ears and should be picking more this week.

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I don’t know what happened to my potatoes this year, but they were pretty sad-looking when I got home from Denver at the end of May. I didn’t have any straw to mulch them with, and they seemed to miss it. Then Dennis left the back gate open on the day he came to pick me up in Reno after I got back from Britain. A doe and her fawns meandered through and ate many of the potato plants down to stubs. (Much to my surprise, she did little other damage, only cropping a few volunteer tomatoes and nibbling some raspberry leaves.) I have been digging a few potatoes as I want them for cooking, but I don’t think we’re going to have many to store this year for the winter. I’ve shut the water off to them so they don’t rot in the ground before I get them all dug. It’s time to get my grandson out there with me. He loves to dig potatoes. I planted Yukon Golds, Yukon Gems, and red potatoes from last year’s crop. It’ll be interesting to see how the Yukon Gems did. They were a new variety for me.

It’s also looking like I won’t have any pumpkins and very few winter squash this year. I deliberately did not start many plants this spring because I have so much pureed pumpkin and squash in the freezer from last year and the year before, I didn’t need a big surplus this year. I will have a few acorn squash which I love stuffed and roasted with sausage (click on the link for the recipe in another post), but I’ll be surprised if I have more than a couple of butternuts, and I don’t see even one pie pumpkin out there on the three plants I put in. I think they didn’t like being shaded by the blackberries. In a garden the size of mine, with as many trees as we have around, you can’t make everyone happy when practicing crop rotation!

But the berries produced well this year, and the freezer is full of raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries, loganberries, and a few strawberries. There is so much fruit in the freezer, I don’t know where we’ll put a deer or bear if Dennis is successful in his hunting this year.

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Also, the green beans did better this year than they have in several years. They are still producing, and I expect to have put up four canner loads by the time this is published.

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And the little apple tree is loaded. I didn’t expect so many apples after the fairly severe pruning we gave it late this spring, but the tree seems to be liking its new haircut.

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I also still have beets in the ground, and I am hoping they will hold until the weather cools enough for roasting because I do not need to can any more beets. There are carrots still in the ground as well, although if the grandkids have their way, there won’t be many left before long! Also, lettuce is volunteering again from plants I let go to seed this spring, and there might be time to have a few fresh salads before frost.

All in all, I’m quite happy with how my mostly-neglected garden grew this year. It’s given me more in produce than I was able to give it in time and attention. I can’t say the same about most other things in life, and that’s worth thinking about.

 

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Garden and Greenhouse

From Denver with Love

Today’s post is coming to you from Denver, with love:  love for those of you who have been kind enough to follow this blog, love for gardens in general, and love for this city which is dedicated to beautification through plants.  I have written a new article for Real Media about edible landscaping.  Included in the article are some pictures of edibles mixed with ornamentals taken in the Cherry Creek area of Denver.  I’ve linked the article for you here:  http://thisisrealmedia.com/2014/06/24/garden-in-the-city-by-jeanie-french.

I wish I had time to take more pictures, but we are busy getting our daughter’s apartment packed up and ready to move west, and we’re finishing up the details for THE BIG TRIP to the U.K. and Ireland (departing Sunday, June 29th!).  I’ll be posting pictures of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish gardens to this blog, and pictures of other sights from the trip on my other website at www.jeanlfrench.com  so you can follow along with Amy and me if you’d like.  This will be my last post from the States for a month!

For now, here are some additional pictures that illustrate the way edibles can be mixed with ornamentals to form a beautiful landscape.

 

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Garden and Greenhouse

Goodbye to the Garden, For Now

In a couple of days, Dennis and I will be on our way to Denver for our daughter’s graduation from her periodontal program. Then Dr. Amy and I will be flying from Denver to London to start our three-week sojourn through the UK and Ireland. For days, I’ve been getting the garden ready to go on auto-pilot again while I’m gone, while Dennis has been working on the drip system. Timers will turn the drip system and sprinklers on and off.

Today I finished up a few last tasks, picking the strawberries, netting the blueberries, peaches, and apricots, transplanting Amy’s cloned tomato cuttings, pulling the last of the spinach and lettuce (except for a seed-producer of each kind), staking some tomatoes and eggplant, and yanking a few weeds. I had things to do in the house, but I couldn’t make myself leave the garden; instead, I wandered around taking bad pictures.  All day, I felt as if I were saying goodbye to a beloved friend. And that’s a pretty accurate description of my relationship with my garden.

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What makes this leave-taking particularly difficult for me is that the garden is really taking off right now. I have lovely, lovely lettuces—romaine, red romaine, oak leaf, buttercrunch, and black-seeded Simpson—all ready to pick, and some going to seed already. It’ll all be bolted by the time I get home, and normally, I’d pull all but one of each type of lettuce after it blooms, leaving just one to make seeds for next year. (I let my lettuces bolt and bloom to make more blossoms for bees.) I’m relying on my son, Joel, and neighbor, Yolanda, and Dennis when he comes home after helping our son-in-law move house to Reno, to cut the lettuce. I’m hoping it doesn’t all go to waste. It is so good right now. But I won’t be here to pull the lettuce when it bolts, so I know I’ll be coming home to a jungle of spent lettuce in the tomato beds.

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My raspberries are just beginning to ripen as the strawberry harvest winds down. I have boysenberries starting to redden also. They’ll be deep purple when they are ripe. I’ve been babying these vines along, rescuing them from invading raspberry canes, and it’s killing me that I won’t be here for the first good harvest of those beautiful berries. I’ll have to depend on Joel and the grandkids to pick the berries that ripen while we’re gone. My granddaughter’s favorite pancake syrup is boysenberry, and I’m planning to make some for her if I get enough berries in the freezer.

All the tomatoes are in the ground now, or in pots, waiting for Amy to take them to her new home when we return in July. Already the Sun Golds are turning orange, and I picked the first ripe one two days ago. They should be putting on lots of fruit while I’m gone. All the tomatoes are caged, but I’ll probably have to do some staking when I get home. They’ll have outgrown their cages in a couple of weeks, most likely. Staking and tieing is a chore I can’t entrust to anyone else, so hopefully, the tomatoes won’t get too big before I get back.

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Another chore that needed doing before I left was harvesting the herbs. Most herbs should be cut before they start blooming, and I left the thyme a little late but cut it anyway. I’d rather cut it when the blossoms are fresh than cut it later when the blossoms have gotten crispy. I use a lot of sage, so I cut two big bunches of it. The herbs will dry while I’m gone, and then I’ll put them away in glass half-gallon jars. I’ll use fresh herbs in most of my cooking until winter. From left to right, here are lavender, oregano, sage, lemon balm, hyssop, sage, oregano, and thyme.  If I’d had time, I’d have chopped dill and chives and frozen them in water in ice cube trays, but that’s probably not going to happen.  Just not enough time.

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The beets are thinned, the beans are up sparsely, which means I don’t have to worry about thinning them (the birds did it for me), and the corn my grandson asked for and helped me plant is growing fast. The potatoes have been mulched with compost, although I sure do miss having good straw to cover them with. I hope I don’t come home to a bunch of sun-burned potatoes. I’ve planted all the squash and pumpkins, and put the mini-cantaloupes into their plastic-covered bed which keeps them warm during our cool nights. There’s nothing left to do, really, but go.

This is my last post from home for a while, but I’ll be posting pictures of gardens as I encounter them in Great Britain and Ireland, and for some short travel blog posts, please follow me at www.JeanLFrench.com. I’m looking forward to the trip and to seeing English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish gardens, even as I lament leaving my own garden to the tender mercies of friends and family.

 

 

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Garden and Greenhouse

Salvaging a Broken Tomato

A terrible thing happened when I returned from Denver a couple of weeks ago. After I pulled all the bolted spinach and lettuce (except for one or two of each left to go to seed) out of the greenhouse and uncovered the eggplants and peppers I’d planted just before I left, I started setting out tomato plants in the raised box beds in the garden. (See my article in Real Media about raised beds at http://thisisrealmedia.com/2014/06/02/why-raised-beds-by-jeanie-french.) It was slow going, because I had over 30 tomatoes to put out. I knew I had too many for the beds and would have to put some in the ground. I also had to figure out what was going where. Accidentally dumping all the seedlings on the greenhouse floor into an unmarked jumble early this spring put a kink in my organization. It’s hard to decide what to plant where when you don’t know which variety you’re planting. All of this to explain why I placed six pots of tomatoes on the surface of a raised bed and then went to bed myself without planting them.

The next morning, when I went out to the garden to start putting the tomatoes in the soil, I found the terrible thing. Some animal (visiting cat or dog? raccoon? although we haven’t seen one of those in years, so probably a cat or dog) had tipped over all the pots. My guess is that it was a cat, rubbing up against them or playing. At any rate, they were all tipped over, and the tomato plant in the heavy clay pot was broken at soil level. For a gardener, this is a truly terrible thing.

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I considered grafting it. I’ve done this before with fresh breaks. You just take some grafting or florist’s tape, or failing that, masking tape works just fine, and wind it in a bandage around the broken stem. But this works best when the wound is fresh, and this one wasn’t. Both ends of the break were already drying out.

This was an Early Girl, that old standard which always does well for me in our short growing season. I had six, and had put one aside to pot up for my daughter. I decided to plant the one I’d set aside for Amy, and root the broken one for her.  Some people refer to this method of plant propagation as cloning.  This salvage method works well if you can wait a bit longer for fruit. Amy’s tomatoes (the Early Girl, a large cherry tomato, a grape tomato, and a Brandywine) will be sitting in pots in my garden until we return from our trip to Great Britain this summer, in late July.

I cut the tomato stem at the break and trimmed another quarter-inch off it to get to fresh tissue. Then I put it in a vase of water and put it in the house. It’s cooler in the house than in the greenhouse, which decreases the stress on the plant while it is growing new roots from the stem. I also pulled off a small green tomato which had set in the greenhouse, and cut off the flowering spur. When you want a plant to root, you don’t want it distracted by having to bear fruit at the same time. Some people cut off the main branches too, leaving a mostly bare stem, but I can’t bring myself to mutilate a plant this way. And I do want fruit just as soon as the roots are capable of supporting the plant.

And that’s all there is to cloning a tomato. Just plop your cutting into water and wait a few weeks for it to develop roots from the stem before planting it in soil. Keep the water in your container topped up. Tomatoes tend to root at or above the water line, so you should trim away any foliage below the spot you want roots to develop, if possible. You can root tomatoes in soil, and I have done this when I had a lot of cuttings, but for one plant, it’s easier to use a vase and do it in water.

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You can take cuttings from a fruiting branch of the tomato plant, or you can “top” it. I find this method useful if my tomatoes get a little too leggy in the greenhouse before I get them planted outside in the spring. If you are growing a tomato with an indeterminate habit, you can cut the top out, root it, and increase your stock as well as encourage more bearing branches on the plant you pruned. It’s also an economical way to get more tomato plants for less money, if you buy a few early and clone them before it’s time to set them out. Don’t do this with determinate-habit tomatoes (some examples are Roma, Celebrity, Marglobe, and Rutgers). They bear fruit on the terminal buds and then are done, unlike tomatoes with indeterminate habits, which will continue to branch, sucker, and bear and grow until frost.

I used to use this cloning method when I lived part of the time in Las Vegas and part of the time at home in northeastern California. I cloned 3 or 4 plants from my garden at home in July, rooting them in soil in large pots, then I’d move them down to Las Vegas in late August when school started. They lived on apartment terraces and on the back patio when I bought a house there. Most years, they would bear in the fall, live all winter and start bearing again early in spring. Then I’d bring them back home to the garden in May and set them out. Sometimes, I’d clone a few more before I left Las Vegas, so I’d have plenty of plants for the garden at home.

My broken tomato is already putting out tiny roots.

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It should be ready for potting up before we leave again for Denver and Amy’s graduation from her periodontal program, and then for Great Britain. This Early Girl plant should be carrying green tomatoes by late July, when it will find a home on my daughter’s patio. Disaster averted.

 

 

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Garden and Greenhouse

Save the Pumpkins

Today, I’m harking back to last fall, when I posted my method for keeping winter squash and pumpkins for months after harvest.  If you missed that post, you can access it here.  The proof that my storage method works?  Just look at this picture I took today, June 2, 2014, of my leftover squash and pumpkins from the fall of 2013.  Only one acorn squash and one pumpkin have any bad spots on them.

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It has been about 9 months since I picked and washed these babies. I had twice this much squash to begin with, so obviously I grew too much and didn’t give enough away.  Now I’ll have to roast, puree, and freeze the remainder.  That’s okay.  You never know when a crop will fail the next year, and if that happens, I won’t have to worry about having enough pureed pumpkin and squash for pies and soup next winter.

If you didn’t try my method last year of saving your squash and pumpkins over the winter and spring months, I urge you to do so this year.  It really works.  The proof is in the picture.

 

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Dairy, Desserts, Garden and Greenhouse, Gluten-free

Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie

A recipe for Rhubarb Cream Pie was floating around Facebook a few weeks ago, and I shared it to my timeline. It reminded me of the Sour Cream Apple Pie recipe I was given years ago by my good friend, Wes Reid. Sour Cream Apple Pie has been a family favorite for many years, and if I were to forego making it for every holiday get-together, I would be in serious trouble.

A couple of weeks ago, I had rhubarb in the garden ready to pick, so I decided to try to adapt the Sour Cream ApplePie recipe, subbing in rhubarb and sour cream and a streusel topping, and see what happened. Oh, my goodness gracious, it might be even better than the Sour Cream Apple Pie. Dennis and I only got to eat one piece each before we had to catch the red-eye flight out to Denver, so my friend and neighbor, Yolanda, took it home with her when she came to water my plants. She said it was really good, too. With all that rhubarb in the garden, I thought I’d be making the pie again before I posted the recipe, so I didn’t take a picture of it.  But trust me, if you like rhubarb, and even if you think you don’t, you’ll want to try this recipe.

So here it is, and you’ll only find the recipe here, my friends: Rhubarb Sour Cream Custard Pie.  It can be made with gluten-free flours and lower-glycemic sweeteners as well.  You’ll need an unbaked pie crust to put it in. My recipe for gluten-free pie crust is linked at the end of the post.  Or use your favorite pastry crust recipe, or really streamline your pie baking and buy a crust.  I did it myself during the busy  years!

Custard Filling:
1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons flour*1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (beaten)
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream**

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except rhubarb. Put rhubarb in unbaked 9” pie shell and pour mixture over the rhubarb. Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 min., then reduce heat to 350 and bake for additional 30 min.

While custard is baking, mix the topping:

Streusel Topping:

1/3 cup sugar***

1/3 cup flour*

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup softened butter

Mix well and sprinkle over pie at end of first cooking period. Return to oven at 400-425 degrees and bake for ten minutes to form streusel crust on top of custard. Cool completely before cutting. Store in fridge.

Notes:

*I used brown rice flour in the custard filling and in the topping. It worked just fine to thicken up the custard and to crisp the streusel topping. If you are gluten-free, brown rice flour is a pretty good substitute for wheat flour for all kinds of applications. (Maybe I need to write a post about that!)

**I used homemade sour cream when I made this pie. Follow the link for the directions for making homemade sour cream.

***I also used coconut palm sugar this time instead of white sugar in the streusel topping because I wanted to see how it would taste and work in that application. It was fine. I did not use coconut palm sugar in the custard filling because rhubarb is so tart, I was afraid the coconut palm sugar would not be sweet enough. When I get home and can experiment some more, I’ll try it in the custard filling also, just to see. Sugar is sugar, whether you use more or less, but if I can use organic and less, I will, and I got a smoking deal on organic coconut palm sugar at Grocery Outlet not too long ago, so I have plenty with which to experiment.

The Sour Cream Apple Pie recipe is on my Thanksgiving post, so I’ll link it for you here in case you want to try that pie as well. Also linked is my gluten-free pie crust recipe, made with gluten-free flour from WinCo’s bulk foods section, which I have recently learned is probably from Bob’s Red Mill. I have been using bagged Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking flour here in Denver, and it is identical to what I buy in bulk at WinCo. although twice the price.  Buy bulk if you can.

Happy pie baking! Use that rhubarb while it’s fresh. It’s good for you.

7/28/15:  I finally remembered to get a picture of this pie for this post, but before I could, a piece was already gone!  Yeah, it’s that good.

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Garden and Greenhouse

Progress Report

Isn’t it amazing how much a plant can grow in a week? Potting up helps that process along, of course, giving the plant’s roots more room to grow.

Today I set out the eggplants in the planter box in the greenhouse. I had to cut and pull quite a lot of spinach and lettuce (which should have been thinned more, I know) to make room for the eggplants, but that’s okay. The spinach and lettuce are starting to show signs of imminent bolt, so it’s time to use them and let one or two go to seed for next year. For now, they actually provide the eggplants with a little warmth when the temps dip at night, so I’ll cut and pull the spinach and lettuce gradually over the next week or so.

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I also set out the bell peppers in the greenhouse planter box. I put them on the side of the greenhouse that gets good morning sun. Not much spinach came up over on that side, so I have room to place one tin of seedling tomatoes between the bell peppers, where they will get good light.

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I reuse everything, so the tags you see in the photos are almost always not what’s growing in the containers.  I write on the back sides of the tags (and sometimes the front sides as well) with waterproof marker.  I always write the name of the plant and the seeding date or transplant date, so I can track progress as the plants grow.

Some other transplants will have to sit down by the heater at night for a few more nights and be moved up onto the potting bench and into the sun in the morning. It’s still getting quite cool at night here (in the low to mid-30s), although we should be warming up soon.

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Some of you might be a bit shocked that a mostly-greenie (that’s how I think of myself) would use styrofoam cups as pots.  Let me tell you, they work wonderfully, and I reuse them from year to year.  This is the third year of use for these cups, and they show no signs of breaking down.  I use a sharp knife to cut slits around the bottom edge and in the bottoms of the cups for drainage.  I label them with the plant’s name and transplant date, using a permanent marker or just an ink pen.  When it’s time to set the plants out, they slide out of the cups far more easily than they come out of plastic containers (which I also reuse).

Tomorrow, I’ll plant the melons and winter squash. I held off a week because of the cool nights. I’ll have to move my peppers out of the heated sand box to make room for the melons and squash, and I wanted to give the peppers a little extra time before they have to leave their cozy place.

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All the greenhouse seedlings (even the mixed up tomatoes that were upended on the greenhouse floor) are making good progress and are right on track for planting out when it’s time.

I’ll close with a series of photos from my herb beds, just because the plants are so pretty right now:  oregano, lemon balm, lady’s mantle (a.k.a. dew cup), clary sage, garden sage, and blooming rhubarb.

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May your fingers be dirty and your thumbs be green.  Mine are.

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Garden and Greenhouse

Transplant

I came home after six days away on a camping trip with my grandchildren to find everything in the garden and greenhouse in good shape, thanks to Emily Jones and Tori French. It’s transplanting time!

I transplant my tomatoes as soon as they have four true leaves. Tomato seedlings can get a little leggy, even in a greenhouse, especially mine, shrouded as it is part of the day by pines and oaks, so I always plant them a little deeper in the larger container than they grew when they sprouted in the 6-packs. This takes advantage of the remarkable ability of tomatoes to root from their stems.

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These seedlings will likely be transplanted at least once more before they go out into the garden, and each time, I will plant them deeper into larger pots or the garden box beds. By the time they are set out in the garden, they will have stocky stems and well-developed, healthy root systems.  It’s hard to believe, looking at them now, that some of them will grow to be over six feet tall.

I set my tomatoes out in the garden, under protection, sometime in May. I have set out tomatoes under Walls of Water as early as April, but when I get over-eager, they tend to get leggy and outgrow the protection before the danger of frost is past.  I’ve learned it’s best to wait, hard as it is for me to be patient!

We can get killing frosts here into June, so I want sturdy plants, well-leafed out plants, but I don’t want them to be blooming when I set them out. Transplanting at the wrong time, when the plant is already blooming and trying to set fruit, can retard the timing of the harvest and lessen the number of tomatoes you’ll get. I want my plants to be about 7-8 inches tall when I set them out, and I don’t want any blossoms. Potting up deeper early on can help control the tomato’s urge to bloom in the warm conditions in the greenhouse; the plant puts its energy into growing roots from that newly-buried portion of the stem rather than into blossoms.

The bell peppers will stay inside the greenhouse, growing in the planter box, and that’s where I’m transplanting them instead of potting them up. That’s the only way I’ll ever harvest a pepper here. They take so long to grow and set and bear and ripen fruit, and my garden gets enough shade to make them a very iffy crop outside.

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My one lone habanero (only one seed of three sprouted) will stay in the greenhouse as well. It is so small that I will not transplant it for at least several more weeks, and these peppers grow so slowly, I may not get any fruit from it at all. I didn’t get any ripe fruit from my two habaneros last year, but I am nothing if not dogged in my pursuit of homegrown hot peppers for hot sauce.

The jalapeno and serrano peppers, my salsa peppers, will go outside. Their fruit is small enough and they bear quickly enough, I can grow them in the garden. But they really hate cool nights, so they will be potted up until it is safe to move them outside, probably around the first of June, and even then, I will give them some protection at night for a few weeks.

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Eggplants are a relatively new crop for me. I grew them last year for the first time, and I got my seed so late, and they grew so slowly, I decided to leave them in the greenhouse. It was a wise decision; otherwise, I’d have harvested far fewer eggplants when the first frost hit outside. As it was, I still had fruit maturing in the greenhouse where it stayed warmer for several weeks in November last year. This year, I have five seedling plants ready for transplanting much earlier than last year, so three of them will go in the greenhouse planter box, and I’ll put two outside eventually and see how they do in the garden.

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Just before we left for the camping trip, Dennis brought home ten tomato plants for me from town. Six are Early Girls, which is my reliable, “old faithful” tomato which always does well in my garden, has great sweet flavor, makes a good crop, and is good eaten fresh, canned, chopped for salsa, dried, or sauced.  I have not yet grown Early Girls or Sun Golds from purchased seed because I haven’t found a reputable source for the seed which is guaranteed to be non-GMO.  Of course, there’s no telling whether the plants Dennis bought are non-GMO, but I’m unwilling to directly support a seed company that won’t guarantee non-GMO seeds.  The other four plants are Sun Gold, those delectable little golden-orange cherry-type tomatoes that are plant candy. I love them. I let some seed volunteer a couple of times, and the first year I got what were recognizably Sun Gold, but the second year, the parent genes of a small sweet red cherry surfaced, and half the plants bore red cherries. That was okay, too. This year, I have no volunteers, so when Dennis called from town and said Ace had Early Girls and Sun Golds, and they weren’t root-bound in 4 inch pots, and were only 88 cents each, I said, “Get some!” I transplanted them about 10 days ago into half-gallon pots, burying them deeply, and they have already doubled in size. They might have to be transplanted into the garden early, partly because one of the Sun Golds is already blooming, despite being potted up. Maybe I didn’t bury that stem quite deep enough!  The other reason I might have to move them into the garden in a week or so is that they are sitting where an eggplant or bell pepper needs to grow!

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This week, I’ll start the other tender crops that have to be babied until they can be set out: melons and squashes. The only melon I’ve been successful with here is Minnesota Midget. I can’t get a standard-sized cantaloupe to ripen, and watermelons don’t do well either, but the Minnesota Midgets are perfect, sweet, cantaloupey balls of goodness. The flavor is outstanding, and if you haven’t tried these little gems, I highly recommend them.  I had to buy fresh seed this year and made sure I got them from a seed company that does not deal with GMO seeds.

I don’t get enough sun on the garden for long enough to ripen the big melons, but pumpkins and winter squash, and zucchini and yellow straightnecks do well for me. They can’t be set out until the soil warms up and the nights aren’t so cool, so usually, I put them out in May, under protection, and hope. And pray. They grow quickly and need to be set out before their roots grow through the peat pots, so the last week of April is the right time to get them started. They will take the place of the peppers and eggplants in the heated sandbox.

I have so much lettuce in the greenhouse, I don’t know if we can eat it all, even if we eat a big salad every day, but it is so good, I could easily eat a salad of it every day.

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When it first came up, I thought it was romaine, because I thought I’d let the romaine volunteer in the greenhouse like I do outside. (I haven’t planted regular romaine in years because it keeps volunteering.) But as the lettuce developed, I could see it wasn’t romaine, and I remembered that I’d planted some salad bowl mix in the fall of 2012, and only one plant survived into the spring of 2013. I think it was oak leaf, and I let it go to seed in the greenhouse last summer. Those seedlings have flourished, along with the spinach I let go to seed and volunteer, so every few days, I have to go in and thin out the greens, making room for the eggplants, peppers, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes (the only tomatoes I’ll have in the greenhouse this year) in the planter box. What a hardship.  If you compare these pictures with the ones I took last week, you can see how much the plants have grown in just a week.  I cut and thinned a bunch of it for a salad for Easter, too.

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I love transplanting. I love getting my fork (just an old table fork) under those little root balls and prying them up, then giving them a new, bigger home in a larger pot. I love watching them respond to my care, growing up into sturdy, strong-stemmed, healthy-leaved plants that will produce food for my family over the summer and long after, when properly preserved. I wonder if a heart surgeon derives more pleasure from replacing a human heart than I get from transplanting my seedlings? The surgeon is saving a life; I’m feeding several. She can’t grow the heart she’s transplanting (at least, not yet). These babies are here because I planted the seeds. That’s a feeling only gardeners (and parents) know.

There’s a lot of transplanting work to be done over this coming week.  I can hardly wait to show you next week’s pictures and progress report.

I’ll leave you with a photo of apple blossoms, which have nothing to do with transplanting, but have everything to do with spring.  And if you are not fortunate enough to have an apple tree in your vicinity, at least you can have a picture of them.

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