Garden and Greenhouse

Spring Seed Starting

Update:  the LED rope light works!   See below.

It’s spring, no matter what the calendar says, but here in northeastern California, in the northern spur of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, spring is always chancy. A few years ago, my husband built a little greenhouse for me, so my spring seed starting is so much easier than it used to be when I had to start everything in the house and rig up lamps in the laundry room and move seed flats outside for sunlight and inside for cold protection. I have a much better system now that I want to share with those of you who are fortunate enough to have a greenhouse or who can rig something similar for seed starting on a sunny, enclosed porch, or even in a warm basement.

First, I germinate my slowest seeds in the house, near the heating stove. The temperature by the stove is about 75-80 degrees, which is perfect for the slow-to-germinate seeds like peppers and eggplant. I decide how many of each kind of plant I want to grow, and I place my seeds on damp paper towels, spaced out with several inches between each seed, one kind of seed to a towel, of course, and then fold the towel over and place it in a new, plastic zipper closure sandwich bag. I label the outside of the bag with a Sharpie, writing the type of seed/plant and the date I started them. All the sandwich bags go into a clean, larger zipper bag, and that is wrapped in an old towel and placed by the stove to warm.

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One advantage to starting seeds this way is it cuts out the guesswork in how many seeds will germinate. You can see within a few days which seeds are viable and which aren’t going to sprout. You can start more without waiting and wondering what’s going under the soil, where you can’t see the seeds. You can tell if your seed is getting old, and if you need to buy fresh.

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By the way, if you are throwing out seeds and buying fresh ones every year, I hate to tell you how much money you are wasting. Most seeds are viable for years, and there are things you can do to improve seed life. I keep my seeds in plastic containers (glass would be better but I don’t have enough large glass containers) with several silica or charcoal packets (saved from medication bottles and from shoe boxes) in each container to absorb moisture. These containers are kept in my cool, unheated laundry room. I have had seeds (pumpkins and herbs) last 20 years or more in these conditions.

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Of the peppers, jalapenos typically sprout first. As soon as the first little white root emerges, usually in only a few days, I take the seeds out to the greenhouse.

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(Check on your bags of seeds every day—if the little roots grow too long, they grow into the paper towels, and then you have to carefully tear the paper towel around the seed and root and plant a bit of it with the seed to avoid damaging the root.)

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I’ve already gotten my heated sand box warming up the containers of moist soil that the seeds will go into. I carefully remove each seed from the paper towel and place them in the soil, covering them with as much moistened, warmed soil as the seed packet recommends. I also sprinkle the top of each container with ground cinnamon as soon as the seeds are planted. Cinnamon is anti-fungal, and helps prevent damping-off. It also helps me mark the cells I’ve planted in the six-packs, in case not all the seeds in a plastic bag sprout at the same time, which sometimes happens, especially if the seed is getting old. If I have to plant only one or two cells in a container one day, and two more cells the next, I can tell which cells have already been planted because they have been sprinkled with cinnamon.

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I’ve never had an issue with damping-off since I started using cinnamon some years ago, and it sure makes the greenhouse smell good! Each container is labeled with seed type and date and placed back into the heat box to continue growing. This method of germination takes several days, sometimes even a week, off the time it takes to germinate seeds in the soil, and in my area, I need all the growing time I can get. We have a very short growing season here, so even a few days can make a difference as to how much produce I can harvest.

My heat box consists of a large plastic tub filled half-full of builder’s sand that you can buy in a bag at a hardware or lumber supply store. On top of the sand is a rope light. My husband drilled a hole through the tub so that the end of the rope light fits through the tub and can be plugged into an extension cord that runs electricity to the greenhouse from the outside outlet on the side of the house.

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We plan to wire the greenhouse one day, but that hasn’t happened yet, and in the meantime, this works okay. The rope light heats the sand, which retains heat, and radiates heat to the shallower plastic tub placed above the heat box. This tub contains the seeds that have been planted into the soil-filled containers, and is covered with a lid to retain the heat. Seeds like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes prefer bottom heat until their seeds leaves emerge from the soil. At that point, it’s time to put them under a grow light.

This system has worked beautifully for several years, but unfortunately, this year I noticed that my rope light had become somewhat brittle and discolored with heat and light, and several lights had burned out in various sections, so that the whole rope wasn’t producing as much heat as it has in previous years.

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I bought a new rope light, but I had reservations about this one. This rope light contained LED lights, which don’t produce nearly as much heat as the old bulbs, and I wasn’t sure the 18 foot rope would heat my sand box up to the temperature preferred by peppers and other heat-loving seeds. Sure enough, it didn’t. Now, I’m scrambling to find an alternative source of heat for the sand box, and hoping that my peppers and eggplant didn’t get too chilled when I made the substitution last night. I’m thinking I may have to find an old, short string of Christmas lights to provide heat for the sandbox, at least for this spring, until I can figure something else out.  Just when you have a good system down, it seems like new technology puts a kink in the works.  That tells me I’m getting old!

(UPDATE:  I just checked the heat box in the greenhouse, and the LED rope light has warmed up the sand and the sprouting box above beautifully!  I guess it just took a day or so to heat up.  What a relief!)

For growing on after the seeds have put up seed leaves, I have another plastic tub with a clear lid where the plants which have emerged sit under a grow light. On warm, sunny days, when the greenhouse heats up, I turn off the light, raise it out of the way (it’s tied off to small pulleys usually used for raising and lowering hanging plants for watering), and take off the lid. On cool, cloudy days, I leave the light on and the lid closed, although sometimes I crack it a bit to allow excess moisture to evaporate. The light stays on all night and the lid stays closed to keep the plants from freezing, as our temps typically stay in the low 30s at night through April, and we can get hard freezes into the first week of June.

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This year, I started flower seeds early, and I put them under the light, since they don’t require bottom heat like the peppers and eggplants do. I have several species already sprouted, including marigolds, zinnias, and schizanthus, which will be moved to the lid on top of the heat box when the peppers and eggplant and tomatoes require the space in the light box. By that time, the greenhouse should be staying above freezing at night, and if not, I’ll use a heater.

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As the weather warms, and the greenhouse heats up, the soil in the planting beds and the gravel floor act as solar collectors. As the plants outgrow the light box, I prick them off and transplant them to larger containers. I put those containers into flats and move them to the planting beds (which are partially planted in spinach and lettuce) where the soil helps keep them warm though cold nights.  Here’s a pic from a couple of years ago.  This spring’s spinach has just sprouted.  (I didn’t get it planted last fall because of my shoulder injury.)

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If a really cold night threatens, I have a radiant, oil-filled heater that I put in the greenhouse and turn down to its lowest setting, about 55 degrees, just enough to keep the plants from freezing. By this time, they are beginning to harden off, and I’ll finish that process outside on sunny days before I plant out.

I’ve learned that I can extend my growing season by planting out my tender plants like peppers, tomatoes, squashes and melons, in late April or May under water-filled covers (Walls of Water is one brand name).

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These act like mini-greenhouses, heating the soil and air around the plant and keeping the temps under the covers about 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding air, so even if the nighttime temperature dips down to 23 degrees, the plants won’t freeze under the covers. The covers can be tee-peed at the top on cold nights and opened up on warm days to allow air to circulate around the plant. I have to be careful about when I plant out, because if I do it too early, the plants will outgrow the protection of the covers, and what’s outside the cover can be killed back by a hard frost. I’ve lost tomato tops this way in the past when I’ve planted out in early April; although the covers keep the base of the plant from freezing, and the tops will grow back, it retards the plant’s blooming and fruiting stage. Also, most plants don’t like to be closed up inside the covers for too long. They can become diseased from too much moisture and warmth.

I’ve kept a garden log for several years, recording the dates I germinate seeds, plant them in containers in the greenhouse, harden them off or plant them outside under water-filled covers, so I know generally when I want to start and plant out various species. But there’s always a certain amount of guesswork, the necessity of updating equipment, and the occasional scramble to protect plants when a hard freeze threatens unexpectedly. That’s just part of gardening in challenging mountain conditions.  It keeps me on my toes.

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Garden and Greenhouse

Last Harvest

Every year, I’m amazed, humbled, inspired, and blessed by the bounty of my garden. Especially this year because I was absent for a good portion of the growing season. As if nature knew I needed more garden time, our first frost held off until the first week of November. Up until two days ago, I had tomatoes still ripening, blooming, and setting fruit. I had green beans maturing long past the time they’d normally have frozen out. I had flowers blooming that usually by this time are nothing but blackened stems.

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My love for my garden isn’t only about what comes out of it and goes onto the shelves, or under them, although that’s important.

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I needed the garden more than ever this year. It’s been a tough year, emotionally. There were moments this spring when I feared my only consolation for grief would be my God, my grandchildren, and my garden. Prayers were answered, and the worst grief averted. But such experiences take a heavy toll. The garden is always my solace.

My husband asked me recently if I really enjoy all the cooking I do. I’d spent the afternoon harvesting the last of the green tomatoes and a few ripe Sun Golds. They are so sweet, I call them tomato candy. I pulled some big carrots and the last of the beets. I also picked some flowers and parsley and volunteer lettuce and a few last beans in anticipation of the first killing frost. And then all that produce had to be washed and put away and some of it prepared for dinner. (We had fried green tomatoes with fried ocean white fish and roasted root vegetables—beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, and garlic in rosemary-infused olive oil—and a green tomato pie for dessert.) My answer to Dennis’s question was yes, of course, or I wouldn’t do it. I love cooking what I grow in the garden. It makes me feel accomplished and self-sufficient. It’s fun to decide what to have for dinner when you have such variety and freshness right outside the door (or on the pantry shelf). Although I must confess, I often don’t think about pairings when I’m deciding what to have for dinner. I’m usually thinking, what has to be used from the garden tonight before it spoils?

Two nights ago, temps finally dipped below freezing, so the garden will go to sleep for the winter, except for a few hardy herbs and some carrots still in the ground. And I’m ready for a rest too. Here are some pictures of the last of the harvest. The memory will have to hold me now until spring.

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Garden and Greenhouse

Saving Seeds

I am a seed saver. I pinch seed heads and pods when I go somewhere and see something I like (and nobody’s looking to object). I save gloriosa and Shasta daisy seeds and penstemon and Sweet William and asters.   I save my heirloom tomato seeds. And I save seeds like dill and coriander for the kitchen.

I use a lot of dill, and it doesn’t always do well in my garden. I usually have to get it in Reno, if I have to buy it, because it’s become hard to find in our small town. Some years, I have plenty of dill in the garden, and others, I don’t get any seedlings at all . So when I have a good crop, I save as many seeds as I can for the next year, so I don’t have to buy it, or at least, not as much.

The best way to save dill seeds is to put a large, paper grocery bag under the plant and clip the umbel directly into the bag. I do this when just a few of the seeds have turned brown and the rest are swollen but still green. Leave a long stem, and drop the umbel in upside down. The seeds will continue to ripen on the stem. Staple or paper clip the bag closed to keep out dust, and let it sit somewhere out of the way. When all the seeds are dry, pull out one stem at a time, breaking off the dry seeds into the paper bag. When all the seeds are off the stems, pour them into a colander or sieve to separate seeds from stem pieces. Then they go into jars (I have saved old dill seed jars from the grocery store), all ready for next year’s dilly beans or pickles. I always let some seeds drop to the ground for volunteer plants next year. I seem to have better luck letting the plants self-sow. The seeds know when to sprout in the spring.

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I use the same harvesting method for coriander seeds. Coriander and cilantro are one and the same plant. When the plant is green, before it blooms, it’s called cilantro and is used in salsa and other Mexican dishes. Let it flower and go to seed, and you have coriander. These little round seeds roll around, so you have to be careful not to let any escape! It is easy to grind them yourself in a spice grinder or coffee grinder dedicated for spices. (I have one labeled “Not for coffee!” so my husband doesn’t use it by mistake.) I love ground coriander in lots of dishes, especially my pumpkin/winter squash soup. Freshly-ground coriander is wonderfully aromatic. So if your cilantro wants to bloom, let it. Then harvest the seeds.

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This year, I let my kale go to seed. For some reason, I have a hard time getting kale to sprout from seed, and I don’t know if I’m planting too early or too late, or if the seed has not been fresh. I took care of that this year. I have a ton of seed, and I know it’s fresh. Some baby kale has already sprouted around the spent kale plants, so I’ll have kale until we get a hard freeze, and hopefully, more kale sprouting in the spring. I also intend to plant some in the greenhouse to get a jump on spring production. We do love our greens around here.

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I also save heirloom tomato seeds for the next year’s plantings. Saving tomato seeds is easy, although it takes a week or so to complete the process. I do it late in summer or early in fall, when I’m harvesting ripe tomatoes for salsa or red hot sauce.

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There usually one tomato that’s gotten a bit over-ripe on me, so that’s the one I harvest seeds from. As I’m cutting up the tomato, I just use my knife to scrape out a dozen or so seeds, however many I want, into a small bowl. Then I cover the seeds with a couple of tablespoons of water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, label the plastic wrap with the type of tomato and the date, and set the bowl aside for a few days and wait for it to ferment.

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Fermentation of the seeds takes a few days, but this kills off bad bacteria that could affect the seeds’ sprouting capabilities. It also helps kill off any diseases or viruses the tomato plant and fruit might have had. (Heirlooms are susceptible to various diseases that many hybrids were bred to be resistant to.) I wait for a little mold to appear in the bowl, and then I pour the seeds and liquid into a fine mesh strainer, rinse the seeds well, and dump the contents onto a piece of labeled waxed paper.

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At this point, it’s easy to pick out any skin or flesh that might have adhered to the seeds when they were placed in the bowl.  Spread the seeds out so they’re not too clumped up and will dry faster.  I let the seeds dry for two or three days, until they pop right off the waxed paper when it’s jiggled.

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Then I fold the waxed paper containing the seeds into a tight packet, seal it with labeled masking tape, and put the packets into my seed jar. I have a plastic gallon jar that I put charcoal and/or silica packets into along with all the seeds I’m saving. This goes in a cool corner of the laundry room or out in one of the pump houses where it will stay cold but not freeze until I’m ready to plant in the spring.

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Saving heirloom seeds means I don’t have to worry about GMOs or not being able to find the seeds I want come spring. It also makes me just that little bit more independent, which I like.

I’ve been saving seeds and planting them with various results since I was a kid. I’ve grown peach trees from seeds that bore good fruit. This summer, I brought home a cherry pit from England, from a backyard cherry tree at one of the B & B’s where we stayed. Who knows, maybe my seed saving habits will net me a cherry tree for my orchard. We’ll see what spring brings.

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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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