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Posts Tagged ‘organic gardening’

Life has kept me from blogging lately. A relative had some emergency orthopedic surgery that kept me away from home. I’m headed back there on Wednesday, but meanwhile I’m desperately trying to get caught up on planting. Mr. Homesteader has been keeping himself busy too. Take a look. Can you guess who’s coming to breakfast soon?
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A few years ago I tried my hand at dehydrating, but I went with a relatively low-end dehydrator.  I quickly learned my mistake.  My tomatoes developed mold before they finished drying, and the dehydrator died while we were drying apples.  We finished the apples, complete with autumn spices, in the clothes dryer on the sweater rack. I’m not kidding; for weeks afterwards, all of our clothes smelled like apples and cinnamon.  I returned that dehydrator to the store but knew I’d be getting another one.

I’ve been reading dehydrator reviews ever since.  I settled on a smaller Excalibur with a thermostat and 26-hour timer.  It wasn’t cheap, but I got it with a free 10-year warranty, and if it works as it should, we’ll save a lot of money by preserving our harvest and making turkey jerky at home.

For example, this year I’m growing Principe Borghese tomatoes, which farmers developed especially for sun drying.  It’s too humid here to sun dry, but we can use the dehydrator to get similar results with better nutrition.  We like pieces of dried tomatoes in salads, on pizzas, and in pasta sauces all winter and spring long.  Have you priced sun-dried tomatoes recently?  They are expensive enough that I ration them in our house, but no more!  We can make our own now, for pennies.  Ditto on turkey jerky.  I ate a fair amount of turkey jerky on our Grand Canyon trip on the days when I couldn’t eat the group protein.  The good stuff–chemical free from healthy birds–is so pricey, though, that I can’t imagine it as a staple for ordinary camping or school.  Enter Excalibur!  I’m totally imagining homemade, chemical-free turkey jerky.  Dried blueberries?  Yes, as soon as our baby bushes produce a little extra.  Dried apples?  Of course.  Peppers ready for camping recipes?  Oh, I can’t wait to try it.

I haven’t even got my Excalibur all of the way out of the box yet, but I promise to report on it as soon as I use it.  Meanwhile, do you have a dehydrator?  If so, for what do you use it?  And have you made jerky?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Regular readers know that I suffered catastrophic garden losses thanks to a house/cat/garden sitter who did a great job with two out of three.  I’m pleased to report, though, that courtesy of the pre-soaking (and sometimes pre-sprouting) technique, I’ve got butter peas, summer squash of several varieties, cucumbers (Armenian and a pickling cucumber), and okra all peeping out of the earth, facing the scorching temperatures bravely.  A bunch of different basils successfully sprouted too, as did some volunteer radishes.  I hope that winter squash will emerge soon to join all of the other garden babies.  I’m watering all of my seedlings daily, in hopes that our record-high temperatures will break soon.  It was too late for re-planting the dozens of peppers I lost, but everything else is pretty well on track.

My tomatoes were better prepared for abuse than everything else, having not only been planted extra-deep but also having thick mulch and soaker hoses.  They are doing really well, especially my Principe Borghese sun-drying tomatoes.  I have an Excalibur dehydrator on its way to the homestead now to process these little ruby gems into chewy, almost smoky intensely tomato-y dried treats for winter and spring.  I hope our apples continue to grow, as it looks like we’ll have plenty of those for drying as well as for savory jelly and apple butter.

And we’ve still got some peppers, some eggplants, leeks, carrots, cabbages . . . and grand plans for fall plantings of more cool-season vegetables.

What’s growing in your garden?  What are you planning for fall in the garden?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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I got a much later start on my garden this year, thanks to surgery that kept me from picking up a shovel for several weeks.  I’m shovel-ready now, and, my stars! is it hot out there!  Still, with a break every hour or so (I’m on one now) I know that I’ll get the garden set in no time.  I also am removing the weeds that choked the garden in my absence, one section at a time with black tarp.  That too is sweat inducing as the heat radiates off the tarp, but it hurts the weeds more than me.

In a twisted way, I love the heat of a Southern summer.  I love getting in a car that’s been closed up, to feel the heat hit me like I’m climbing into an oven.  I guess it’s our version of a sauna, only we sweat everything out in the summer, not the winter.  I also know that the sweat of my brow will get me what I want:  homegrown, organic vegetables that are so fresh they go from garden to table in minutes.  And I take a shot of pickle juice when I get overheated, miraculously perking me up.

Right now while I am digging for summer, we’re savoring the harvest from our winter gardening.  We’ve been feasting on English peas, snow peas, cabbage, carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli, turnips, lettuce, mustard, and lots of over-wintered herbs.  It’s wonderful to sit down to a meal where all the veggies in the cole slaw came from a few feet from the kitchen window.  Unfortunately, all this digging means less time for writing here . . . .

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We are probably not going to have as many peas this year as I’d hoped; the timing of rain and unseasonably cold temperatures reduced our germination rates.  Nonetheless, I’m still really happy, because I think the best way to eat English peas is fresh and straight out of the pod.  I think one of the reasons why people think they don’t like peas and would never want to grow them is because they’ve never had them this way.  For our first little harvest, I just put a small plate of peas on the table for people to help themselves, straight out of the pod.  The rest we’ll add to salads, munch on as an appetizer and just generally enjoy.  And even if it turns out you don’t like the taste of fresh peas–which I’d find hard to believe–you can enjoy the gorgeous white flowers and pretty foliage on the pea vines.

By the way, I’m saving the pods to make a sauce.  I’ll let you know when that happens.  I got the idea from Darina Allen’s pea pod soup.

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We grow a dozen or more variety of chiles–hot peppers–each year.  One mild chile that I’m growing this year for the second time is pasilla, also known as chile negro.  Pasilla bajio has a mild but smoky flavor and can be added to fresh salsas or dried and powdered for a mole sauce.  Mole is, of course, the distinctive savory Mexican chocolate sauce that, frankly, is pretty darn hard to find in our neck of the woods.  Last year I only had one pasilla bajio plant, but I am planning for lots more this year, so I hope I’ll have recipes to share this fall.  (I bought my seeds for pasilla bajio here.  No, the company’s not paying me.  I just like the seeds, plus the packages have beautiful art work.)  All chiles originated in the Americas, but they spread around the world like wildfire with the Columbian exchange.  As they spread, they diversified, each culture adapting them to specific use.

When you’re selecting chiles, think of the purpose and heat.  Hungarian wax peppers, for example, are relatively mild, and you can pick them at green, yellow, and red.  I like to use them fresh and cooked as well as pickle them.  Thick-walled jalapenos hold up for roasting.  Hatch or Anaheim chiles are large and relatively mild, making them ideal for stuffing and salsa.  Poblano peppers dry well for sauces.  Of course you could choose cayenne for red pepper flakes (although I like red peter for dried red pepper).  There’s an almost endless variety of Asian peppers.  You could also pick habaneros with their extreme heat and fruit essence, but, frankly, they are so hot that we are content to buy those on the rare times when we want their intense flavor.  Regardless of which peppers you pick, go for a little variety, and think of how you use peppers before you buy.

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Chive Blossoms

We’re bursting out with spring all over here, and the Ozark region’s first strawberries are coming into season.  When I was growing up, we had strawberries most often served over pound cake, which we called “strawberry shortcake.”  (I know people in other regions of the country use sweetened biscuits for a dessert by the same name.) A lot of people hear strawberries and think dessert, but unsweetened strawberries go as well with savory dishes like salads as do tomatoes.  Tonight we had a big salad of baby greens, herbs (chervilchive blossoms), and root vegetables (sliced carrots and radishes) from our garden,and sliced strawberries.  We topped everything off with a simple strawberry vinaigrette.

Here’s the salad on its own.  Can you spot the lime green lettuce called Black Seeded Simpson? the endive?  how about the little purple chive blossoms?  and the carrots and radishes?  and, of course, the strawberry slices?

Fresh Strawberry Vinaigrette: about 4 generous servings

  • 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil (try 2 tablespoons if 1 doesn’t seem like enough)
  • 1-2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon prepared hearty brown mustard

Blend everything until the strawberries are processed and the mixture is bright pink.  Oh, yes, this dressing is bright pink!  It might work well for a bridesmaids luncheon. My husband made fun of the color until he tasted it.  Then he ate a spoonful by itself.  And then he had another spoonful.  I think he liked it.

I served this salad with more seasonal favorites:  asparagus and smoked salmon with whole-grain penne pasta, finished with fresh local cream and a little non-local lemon zest; braised local snow peas; and for dessert more organic, local strawberries, garnished with a tiny scoop of ice cream.

What seasonal favorites do you look forward to each spring?  Do you have any family traditions for strawberries?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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