Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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?
(more…)

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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 . . . .

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Today apparently a reader found this blog by typing the question “tomato shoots have come up now what?”  into a search engine.  It’s a really good question, so I’ll answer it as a follow-up to my Little Green Shoots post.  My knowledge on planting tomatoes comes from learning from my grandfather, from reading, and from my own experience.  The summer that my grandparents had to give up their place, Granddaddy planted his tomatoes in April and then hurt his back in early May.  By early June, my grandparents were living out of state. I did the last clean-up on the house in late August.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Despite months of complete neglect, Granddaddy’s tomato plants were all full of big, juicy, ripe tomatoes, some of the biggest, most flavorful I’ve ever seen.  I’ve included some of his techniques here.

Once you’ve successfully started tomato plants, you’ll need to make sure that they have three–okay, maybe four–things:  strong light, room to grow, and adequate water (but not too much!).  They also need wind to make them strong.

Let’s start with your light source. If you live in a warmer climate (so that the temperatures are at least 70 degrees F during the day), you can put your seedlings first in dappled sunlight and then gradually in full sunlight during the day.  If your climate is a bit cooler, you’ll either need grow lights or a greenhouse or grow tent.  Grow lights should be full spectrum lights designed specifically for growing plants, and you need to make sure that the light source is no more than about 2 inches from the tops of the plants.  Otherwise the seedlings will be leggy–tall and spindly.  Grow tents or a greenhouses should be warm–around 75 to 80 degrees F but not much warmer than 90 degrees F–and should have southern exposure.

When I say tomatoes need room to grow, I mean their roots.  Tomatoes rely on big root systems to feed lots of fruits at once with lots of liquified nutrients.  The root system helps them do that.  As soon as your tomatoes get their real leaves (the second pair of leaves), plant them in a bigger container–at least the size of a pint milk carton.  I use old plant pots I got with nursery plants, plastic cups with holes cut in the bottom:  you name it.  If you can drain it, you can use it.  And every year I end up giving some plants more room than others.  The ones with more room always grow better.

Seedlings need constant but light moisture.  Too much water and you’ll get damping off, where the stem shrinks and withers and the seedling dies.  Too little water and, of course, the seedling will die.  Always water from the bottom to avoid leaf problems. I use old salad containers for my saucers.  Seedlings have everything they need to start, so you only need a tiny bit of light fertilizing (like fish emulsion) every two weeks or so after your seedlings are a few weeks old.  If you are using a potting soil with fertilizer already included (yes, you can get organic mixes this way), you won’t even need to add fertilizer with water.  Over-fertilizing can also kill your plants.

The only problem with using grow tents or green houses for seedlings is wind.  A light breeze pushing on the stem will help it grow sturdier.  If you don’t have wind available, make some using a fan.

What if you do get spindly, leggy seedlings?  Re-pot them deeper.  Tomatoes and other nightshade plants like peppers and eggplants have a remarkable ability to grow extra roots along their stem.  Some plants suffocate if you plant them deeper than they were originally, but not tomatoes and their close cousins.  Just be sure to gently strip off any leaves that will be under soil, as un-stripped leaves can rot and kill the plant ultimately.

Finally, when your daytime temperatures are in the 70s and nighttime temperatures are in the 50s, you can plant out your seedlings.  If you are able to plant now and live in warm area, by all means plant!  Dig a very deep hole–at least eighteen inches–and fill it with peat, organic compost, manure, blood and bone meal, and soil. (Your county extension agent most likely offers free soil analysis; he or she can tell you specifically what you need to add.) Now strip off all of the leaves except the top two splits of leaves. Plant your tomato so that only the top two splits of leaves are showing and everything else is underground.  Your plant will develop a very strong root system that will let it survive dry spells without your watering much.  Fashion a collar to go 2 inches above and 2 inches below the soil around the plant.  This collar will protect against cut worms. (I use half-gallon paper milk cartons cut in half.) Next, plant a marigold or two next to each tomato plant. Marigolds secrete a substance that confuses tomato parasites like cut worms–and the flowers are pretty!

Happy harvesting!

Do you have favorite methods for planting tomatoes?  Share!  Do you have questions?  Feel free to ask them here, and I’ll do my best to answer.

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

Read Full Post »

Sorrel is a perennial herb that I have never spotted in a garden center in Arkansas, although I did see it in some northern garden centers when I lived there.  Sorrel has light to medium green thick, big leaves.  It has a tart taste that’s reminiscent of lemons, and that makes it a great addition to fish stuffing, whole-grain rice, summer vegetable frittatas, summer soups, and–in limited quantities– summer salads like cole slaw.  I’m excited about sorrel today because, unable to find local sources for the plants, I decided to grow it from seed this year, and my seeds have successfully sprouted.  If you have an opportunity to grow sorrel, but all means give it a try.  It’s a superb local replacement for lemons in the summer, when those are out of season.

I hate to count my seedlings before they grow, but if they make, I’ll be sure to share some sorrel recipes this summer.

Read Full Post »

We went from wondering if another ice age was on its way to believing in global warming again this week.  The unseasonably warm weather cried out for a cooler dinner, and gigantic chives and Asian mustard that went from salad size to mandatory cooking overnight made me think of some of our favorite pseudo-Asian meals.  Tonight we’re having spicy peanut-sesame noodles with broccoli, coconut-crusted chicken, and a mess of mustard greens finished with hoisin sauce.

I first had peanut-sesame noodles a couple of decades ago at a Chinese restaurant in a country house outside Madison, Wisconsin.  Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if the place was licensed as a restaurant, but it got a big following quickly.  The food was good, but the most fun was the owner’s enthusiastic teenage daughter, Sunshine.  After we’d visited a few times, Sunshine told us that she was going to order for us that night, not from the menu but one of her favorite things that her mother made for the family.  Out came the noodles.  I was in love.  These probably bear little resemblance to those, but I can make them with ingredients I have on hand.

Spicy Peanut-Sesame Noodles

This recipe will make more than enough noodles for a whole family of four (or more).  I used whole-wheat spaghetti noodles, but you could use udon noodles or thick rice noodles too.

Serves 4-6

  • 1/2 box whole-wheat spaghetti noodles
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth (or veggie–also okay to use water, but then you’ll need to increase the other ingredients a bit)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup good peanut butter
  • 1 hot pepper (chile), diced finely–I used a red peter pepper I had in the freezer.  Feel free to use more peppers if you like it spicier.
  • 1 crushed garlic clove or several garlic chives, diced finely
  • 2-3 dashes rice wine vinegar
  • 6-7 dashes soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • optional:  freshly grated ginger or pickled ginger, slivered
  • 2-4 scallions or chives, sliced across the grain (both whites and tops)
  • carrot, slivered or coarsely grated
  • optional garnishes:  cilantro, coarsely grated radish, snow peas, shelled edamame

Begin by prepping the sauce for the noodles.  Heat the peanut butter and broth to get everything moving.  I heat them in a one-cup pyrex measuring cup in the microwave and then use the measuring cup for mixing everything else. Add in the hot pepper, garlic, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil.*

Now prepare the noodles according to package directions.  Pour off the cooking liquid and while the noodles are still hot, add the sauce and stir well to combine.  Stir in some of the scallions, carrots, and garnish and pile the rest artfully on top.  Set the noodles aside or refrigerate.  You’ll serve these noodles at room temperature or even cold.

Do you want to make this a vegetarian one-dish meal?  Use the veggie broth, and toss in shelled edamame or stir-fried tofu.  By the way, this sauce is an excellent appetizer dip for vegetables!  When we take it to parties, people love that it’s not the same-old ranch or bleu cheese dip, and it’s a lot healthier for you.

Go ahead and take a closer look.

Quick Broccoli

I used two cups of florets, fresh from our garden, and tossed them in salted water in the wok.  That’s all!  Then I used them as additional garnish on the noodles.

Coconut-Crusted Spicy Chicken

serves 2-4

  • 1 chicken breast, about half a pound, cut into strips (half of the thickness of the breast, about 3/4-inch wide each)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2-4 tablespoons lime juice
  • optional:  2 tablespoons rice vinegar (use if you only use 2 tablespoons of lime juice)
  • 1 large jalapeno or other chile, diced fine (or more to taste)
  • 1 egg, beaten  You don’t need to double the egg if you double the recipe.
  • 1/3 cup coconut

Start by making the marinade by mixing together your liquids and prepped jalapeno.  Process everything with a stick blender or in a regular blender.  It’s okay if some of the pepper remains unprocessed.  If you do not have a blender, just chop the pepper even more and let it meld with the marinade for a little while..

Pour the brine/marinade over the chicken breast strips and let everything soak for several hours, turning regularly to make sure that the marinade reaches all parts. (If you’d like to let the chicken soak overnight in the mix, add 1/4 cup water to make a brine.  Otherwise, the acid in the juice and vinegar will “cook” the chicken and make it tough.)

To have un-crusted chicken, pour off the marinade or brine and stir-fry the chicken in a little coconut oil.  To crust the chicken, pour off the brine, dry the chicken well, and dip it first in the egg and then in the coconut.  Place the chicken pieces on a greased cookie sheet and bake it in a 325 degree F oven for about 20 minutes, turning the chicken over half way through, until the chicken is golden brown on the outside (and, obviously, cooked through inside.)

I also served dinner with mustard greens in hoisin sauce (pictured in the upper right corner of the bowl).  Simply prep a mess of greens (see photos above and below for what constituted a “mess of greens” tonight!) by stripping off the tough stems, chopping everything roughly, stir-frying quickly in sesame oil, and tossing in some hoisin sauce to finish wilting the greens.  As hot as it’s been outside, the greens were really sharp.

*If you have a family member who’s a little leary of new things, reduce or leave out the toasted sesame oil altogether and add a bit more chicken broth and vegetable oil to thin the noodle dressing. Sesame oil has a distinctive (some say acquired) flavor.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »