Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saving Green Tomatoes

 

Saving Green Tomatoes by Jannine Cabossel, the Tomato Lady

Now is the time to finish picking your ripe and green tomatoes as next week it will be in the 20s at night. If you wait till after a hard freeze, it will be too late.

How to save green tomatoes
If you have an abundance of green tomatoes on the vine, you still can bring them inside your house to finishing ripening them (not in a cold garage). Here’s how I do it although there are many ways to save them, I find using paper bags from the grocery store (yes that’s why you’ve been saving all those bags!) works really well.

How to pick tomatoes that will ripen

First you can tell which green tomatoes will probably ripen fully by looking at them. If you see the green is getting lighter on the sides, it will probably ripen as it has started the ripening process. Some have very dark tops and that is ok as long as the sides are a lighter shade of green. Also I just pick the bigger tomatoes as they are usually further along in the growing process versus the small totally dark immature tomatoes.

Use paper bags to ripen them

Place 2-3 layers of rock hard green tomatoes in bags as shown above-no more  that a couple of layers because as they ripen, you don’t want the ones ripening underneath to get crushed. Also discard any that have blemishes.

 

Place tomatoes that are just starting to get color in another bag and move the ones that are starting to color up from the ‘green’ bag. Look into your ‘green’ tomato bag every few days and move them to the ‘just starting to color’ bags.

Important tip: Put a slice or two of apple (any color) in each bag. The apple slice will release ethylene gas which is a natural ripening hormone that is in many fruits. It will speed up the ripening process of your tomatoes in your paper bags. Replace apple slices as needed. It really works!

 

Close up all the bags so the apple does it’s work and none of the gas is released. I fold the paper bags over several times and then I put either something on top of the bags to keep them closed or I shove them under a rack to help keep them closed as shown above.

The trick is you must inspect the bags every few days and move them to another bag as necessary. If you just put them in the bag and forget about them, you might wind up with a bunch of the ripen ones squished with the heavier unripened ones on top.

Once they have changed color but still hard, you should take them out of the bag and put them on the counter to finish ripening. Never put a ripe tomato in the refrigerator. A cold refrigerator dampens the taste.

This method is really good on extending the tomato season once the weather is too cold. They will never be quite as good as the sun-ripened ones but are still about 200% better than store bought ones. I use a lot of them that get a little too soft for pasta sauces and eat the rest.

Solar Oven Cookery

Solar Oven Cookery
by Alessandra Haines
September 2020

Looking back on this extraordinary summer of environmental and social turmoil a bright spot (quite literally!) has been regularly cooking in the solar oven. It is super easy, safe and versatile. It’s near impossible to burn anything and can be left unattended while you are out. No fossil fuels are used and no fumes are produced.

The oven I have been working with is a Sun Oven. It is basically an insulated box with a glass top and mylar reflectors. It works very well for patio use and is easy to move about and store. There are many varieties of commercial solar ovens available and a plethora of DYI designs. It is an incredibly simple device with really nothing to break down or go wrong.

The beauty of solar cooking is that you can eat well and NOT HEAT UP THE HOUSE!!!! As our temperatures rise keeping our interiors cooler in the summer is paramount. We all know that fossil fuel powered AC is not really a solution to a warming climate!

There are things that cook especially well in the solar oven that require long cooking times and I probably wouldn’t bother to cook in the regular oven or stove top in the heat of the summer.

For example, it works very well for any type of simmered soups or stock, stew, posole, cassoulet and polenta. Dried beans can be cooked in 2-3 hours with no soaking. Simmering only requires about 220F so even if the sun is less than optimal your liquid based dish will cook.

It’s perfect for roasting or baking: potatoes, yams, beets, turnips, carrots,
tomato, summer or winter squash as well as any type of casserole, enchiladas etc.

For baking anything in the 350-400F range is possible. My solar oven tends to max out at 350F so if its a cookie that wants 400F it might just take a bit longer. Smaller baked goods will cook faster. For example, banana muffins might be a better choice than a huge loaf of banana bread. The temperature can be adjusted by adjusting the angle of the oven to the sun and by cracking the lid open a bit which also releases condensation on the glass.

Cooking outdoors with the sun does require you pay attention to the weather. On occasion, if it clouds up, you may have to finish up your baked potatoes or whatever inside in the kitchen oven. The optimal cooking window is from about 11 am to 4 pm.

Cookware should be dark and heat absorbing rather than reflective such as foil or stainless steel.

Dark enamelware (black, red, blue, dark green) heats up the quickest as it is lightweight.

Cast iron or dark clay cookers also work very well and a black enamel toaster oven tray is the perfect size for roasting vegetables.

D0-It-Yourself Solar Fountain

DO-IT-YOURSELF SOLAR FOUNTAIN
by Teri Buhl

One of the best things you can do to encourage wildlife in your yard is to create water sources.  For migrating birds, especially in the Southwest, fresh water is a lifesaver.  According to the Audubon Society, “fall” migration is a protracted experience, starting as early as mid-June and lasting until the early days of January. Such a long migration season provides birders plenty of opportunities to witness the spectacle and joy of birds on the move.  Peak fall migration occurs from mid-August to mid-October.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology researchers used cloud and radar data to estimate that 4.7 billion birds leave the U.S. over the southern border, heading to the tropics.  As stewards of wildlife, we can help a big percentage of our flying friends make a successful journey by supplying water when they need a rest stop.

This project is easy, it has a spray head that hummingbirds like, a center bowl for drinking, and a ring/bowl that larger birds can use for bathing.  In addition, a solar panel means that you don’t need to be near an electrical outlet.  Last, but not least, it’s a closed system that’s easy to clean and maintain.  What’s not to like?  Here’s what you need:

A 5-gallon bucket $5 – 10
A 13-inch diameter plastic chip and dip tray $1 – 3
A solar fountain kit, minimum of 2 watts of power $20 – 35
1 to 2 feet of 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch plastic tubing $1 – 5

You’re going to put holes in the chip and dip tray to allow water to drain back into the bucket, and can use either a drill or a soldering iron.   Any self-respecting do-it-yourselfer probably already has these tools on hand.  If not, visit your nearest Habitat for Humanity Restore and ask about their tool lending counter – they’ll be happy to help you.

Good luck and happy birding!

STEP 1
Find a place near a sunny spot for your bucket, and fill it to about 4 inches from the top.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 2
Check to make sure your chip/dip tray fits your bucket properly.

 

 

STEP 3

Mark the drainage hole locations on the back of the chip/dip tray using the ejection pin and molding marks as a guide.  Start with 12 holes – you can always make more later.  (This need not be perfect.)

 

 

 

STEP 4

Drill the holes using a 1/16 to 1/8” drill bit.  Make one “pilot” hole in the center of the dip bowl of the tray.  You can use a soldering iron for the holes if you prefer.

 

 

 

 

STEP 5

Choose a drill bit the size of your fountain stem, probably 3/8 to 1/2″, and make a hole in the center using the pilot hole as a guide.

 

 

STEP 6

Fit the fountain stem into the center of the tray.  It needs to be just above the water level line to spray properly.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 7

Most pump kits have small segmented pipes that you can size to the height of a container or pot.  Assemble these to the pump and place the pump in the bottom of the bucket.

 

STEP 8

Cut a relief slot in the bucket rim for the pump cord.  A round file works well for this.

 

 

 

 

STEP 9

You may need to buy an extra piece of tubing depending on your pump kit.  Use it to connect the pump piping to the fountain stem – see next photo.

 

STEP 10

The tubing needs to be long enough to lift the tray to add more water.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 11

Solar panels come with hardware for ground or wall mounting.  If you use a ground stake, find a sunny place and face the panel to solar south.  The tilt should be about 30 degrees or less for maximum sun exposure throughout the day.

 

 

 

STEP 12

Keep your pump wet, grab a drink, sit back, and enjoy watching all the birds use your new fountain!

 

Making Herb Vinegars

Left to right: Dill weed and seeds, Empress of India nasturtium flowers and leaves, basil-oregano-garlic, tarragon, purple basil-oregano-garlic, Alaska nasturtium flowers and leaves, and Black Velvet nasturtium flowers and leaves. All were made using white wine vinegar except for basil-oregano-garlic, which is in cider vinegar.

Making Herb Vinegars

by Mike McGeary

In the late 1950s my family moved from a farm in Portland, Oregon, to the semi-arid, high-desert town of Bend, where my mother started to grow flower and herb plants for sale. She also made and sold vinegars infused with a variety of herbs, flowers, and seeds. One of my fondest memories of returning home was seeing the picture window in the kitchen filled with different colored herb vinegars on glass shelves. I inherited her herb vinegar recipes and notes, and her go-to book, The Art of Cooking with Herbs and Spices, by Milo Miloradovich (Doubleday, 1950), with additional recipes she wrote down inside the book’s front and back covers.

My wife and I have been making our own herb vinegars since the mid-1970s. It’s fun and easy, and the flavored vinegars make wonderful salad dressings and marinades. Adding just a dash will perk up many dishes, such as coleslaw, sautéed beet greens, or steamed vegetables.

The Basic Process
The process for infusing vinegar is straightforward. The following is a brief overview of that process. The rest of this article provides additional information and more detailed instructions.

Use a clean wide-mouth glass jar, or other nonreactive container, into which you put your fresh herbs or flowers or seeds of choice. Then fill the jar with the vinegar you have selected. Let the infusion sit, tightly capped, in a warm place. Shake it daily. After 10 days to 2 weeks, sample for flavor. If you want a stronger flavor, let it infuse a little longer, or replace the herbs with fresh herbs. When you are happy with the taste, strain the vinegar into a narrow-neck bottle and cap or cork it tightly. The herb vinegar is ready to use, but it will last at least 3–6 months.

Choosing Your Ingredients
We use store-bought vinegars, primarily cider and white wine vinegar, but you can also use red wine, champagne, sherry, and rice wine vinegar. Most recipes specify a type of vinegar, but you can be creative and substitute another vinegar for a different taste. Distilled white vinegar is basically the same quality regardless of the brand, but the other vinegars are generally better the higher the quality of wine or cider used to make it, which is reflected in the price.

Ingredients that are commonly used in making flavored vinegar include basil, purple basil, borage, salad burnet, chive blossoms, nasturtium flowers, dill, lemon balm, marjoram, spearmint, orange mint, rosemary, tarragon, scented geranium leaves, thyme, and lemon thyme. They can be used singly or in combination. Our favorite is basil-oregano-garlic.

Purple basil, chive blossoms, and nasturtium flowers each add a beautiful color to their distinctive flavor. The color shows best in white wine or other clear vinegars.

You can also add seeds or other flavorings. The most commonly used are garlic, dill seed, pepper corns, celery seed, coriander seed, caraway seed, lemon zest, onion or shallots, and horseradish. In fact, any one of these ingredients can be used to make an infused vinegar (see, for example, the recipe for celery seed vinegar, below).

Preparing the Herbs
Fresh herbs provide the most flavor. You can grow them in your garden or buy them at the farmers’ market or grocery store. Herbs from your garden should be picked before the plants start to flower, when their flavor is at its peak. It is best to pick them early in the morning.

You don’t have to wash the herbs unless they are dirty. In that case, rinse them in water, and spin dry them or blot them with a towel before putting them in the jar.

Preparing the Infusion
It is important to use only nonreactive (i.e., glass, ceramic, and stainless steel) containers, lids and stoppers, and utensils when working with vinegar. Glass, ceramic, and stainless steel will not react with the vinegar, but clear glass jars are best—all the better to see what is happening inside the jar. It is also a good idea to attach a note to the jar or lid listing the ingredients, type of vinegar, and date of infusion.

We use one-quart canning jars and plastic lids, washed in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. Loosely pack the jars with the leafy herbs, bruising them a bit, by twisting them to help release the oil. For nasturtium vinegars, we put in a handful of leaves and a half-dozen or so flowers. You can add more flowers to deepen the color. Add any additional ingredients such as seeds or garlic, then fill the jar with vinegar.

Some recipes call for heating the vinegar before adding it, but that is not necessary when using fresh ingredients. Using dried herbs or crushed seeds, however, would be a reason to heat the vinegar (see recipe for celery seed vinegar, below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shake the jar each day to keep the herbs covered and distribute the flavor. (To prevent leakage, you can place a piece of plastic wrap over the jar before putting the lid on, as shown in the photo below. Check for flavor after two weeks. If you want a stronger flavor, you can add fresh herbs or simply let it sit for another week or two. If you think the flavor is too strong, you can dilute it by adding a small amount of water.

Decanting the Infused Vinegar
When the vinegar suits your taste, you are ready to decant it into clean, dry glass bottles. First, line a funnel with a double layer of cheese cloth, or other filter (we find that coffee filters result in a clearer vinegar). Pour the infused vinegar through the funnel until the bottle is full, and then cap it with a cork. Discard the solids.

Dressing It Up
We are always looking for interesting bottles—at yard sales and thrift stores—that are embossed with pretty designs, or have a distinctive shape, although any clear glass bottle works just fine.

When selling her vinegars, my mother put the appropriate fresh herb sprig, or blossom or flower, in each bottle. That adds a lovely touch and helps identify the contents, but unless you use the vinegar fairly quickly, they will fade. Usually, we don’t bother, but this time, because I am now trying to “sell” you on making your own herb vinegars, we placed some sprigs in a few of the bottles.

Finally, you can be creative with labels. We hang the label from a string around the neck of the bottle, so we don’t have to soak it off to refill the bottle the next year.

Some Recipes
Basil-Oregano-Garlic Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with roughly equal amounts of oregano and basil leaves and tender stems
  • Add 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Fill jar with apple cider vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Tarragon Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with tarragon leaves and tender stems
  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Basil or Purple Basil Vinegar

  • Fill 1-quart jar with basil leaves and tender stems

[Even a small amount of opal basil will produce a beautiful pinkish-red color]

  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne or rice wine) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Nasturtium and Garlic Vinegar

  • In 1-quart jar, put at least 6 or 7 nasturtium flowers and handful of nasturtium leaves

[The more flowers used, the deeper the color; the more leaves used, the stronger the flavor]

  • Add 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Fill jar with white wine (or champagne or rice wine) vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

Celery Seed Vinegar

  • In 1-quart jar, put 2 ounces celery seed (or other aromatic seed, e.g., dill or caraway), crushed in a mortar with pestle, to release essential oil
  • Heat white wine or (distilled white)vinegar to almost boiling and fill the jar with the vinegar
  • After 2 weeks (or longer if a stronger flavor is desired), strain the infused vinegar into a bottle and seal tightly with a cork

ENJOY!

When Life Gives You Cucumbers, Make Pickles!

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU CUCUMBERS, MAKE PICKLES!
by Teri Buhl

All year long, people ask me how to pickle or ferment cucumbers. In summer, when cucumbers are just beginning to come in for harvest, they’re still small and perfect for fermentation, especially if you don’t have enough for a whole crock (which I’ll get to shortly). In a few weeks, when you have more cukes than you know what to do with, process/can them in a vinegar-based solution and make dill pickles (or ferment them). Toward the end of the harvest, those irregular shapes and sizes are perfect for bread and butter pickles and relishes. End of the season cucumbers often have a bitter edge, so use recipes designed to mitigate that bitterness by soaking overnight and/or sweetening the pot.

SMALL SCALE FERMENTATION

Half-Sour Pickle

Before humans discovered pasteurization, we fermented almost everything – intentionally or not! Yeast and lacto-bacilli are everywhere, and these opportunists are what make fermentation possible. I grew up in the Detroit area, and every Jewish or New York style deli had a big jar on the counter with beautiful, delicious “half-sour” pickles floating in it (also called Kosher Dills). A half-sour simply means that the cucumber has been in the brine for a few days and is still crisp and mostly bright green. Once fully fermented and olive green in color, they’re called full-sours.

Full-Sour Pickle

 

When we humans lived in a mostly agrarian society, our equipment was geared toward large batches of produce, so fermentation crocks were large, e.g., crocks and barrels. My first pickling crock was an expensive 5-gallon vessel, and I guarded it with my life! Today, we’re fortunate to have companies that make pickling in a 1-quart, half-gallon, or 1-gallon jar easy and relatively inexpensive. These jars are small enough to sit on your kitchen counter and most are glass, so you can watch what’s happening. They are also more sanitary and easier to clean than the equipment used by our grandparents.

In the recipe below, use a 1-quart mason jar with a ring, fermentation lid, and air lock to make pickles in 3 to 10 days. Once fermented to your taste, they need to be refrigerated to stop the fermentation process.   This recipe contains tannins (green tea leaves) to help maintain crispness, something I leaned from Karen Diggs at KrautSource.com. A saltier brine also tends to help keep pickles crisper.

Fermented Cucumber Dills

Ingredients

3 1/2 cups filtered water
1 – 2 Tablespoons high quality sea salt (Kosher salt is not standardized like sea salt is)
6 – 8 Kirby, Persian, or small cucumbers
2 sprigs fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dill seeds
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
5 – 6 cloves of peeled garlic
1 teaspoon loose green tea leaves or 1 grape or fig leaf (for crunchiness)

Directions

  1. Boil the water and pour into a non-reactive bowl. Stir in the salt and allow to completely cool.
  2. Trim off 1/4 inch of the blossom end of the cucumbers and poke a hole in the other end.
  3. Place all seasonings and garlic into a wide mouth quart mason jar, then pack in the cucumbers vertically. Cucumbers that are longer than the jar’s shoulder can be trimmed, but cut thick slices.
  4. Cover the contents with brine until it reaches about 1-inch over the top of the cucumbers.
  5. Place lid, ring, and airlock onto jar. Make sure enough water is in the airlock or moat at all times to keep out fruit flies and airborne bacteria. Ferment 3 to 10 days at a temperature between 65 – 80o
  6. When finished, replace fermentation system with a non-reactive lid, and refrigerate. Eat within 6 months.

Notes: Conventional wisdom says to keep the container out of direct sunlight, but UV light kills bacteria, so this is a point of debate. You can taste your pickles at 3 days to check on progress. If any white (Kahm) mold forms, simply remove it – it’s harmless. More rarely, anything pink, red, black, or slimy should be disposed of – these can be harmful if eaten, and are usually a result of not having washed your produce or not having cleaned the equipment properly. Garlic has wonderful anti-bacterial properties and should be included in fermentation whenever appropriate.

If you are a Do-It-Your selfer, you can buy a plastic Mason jar lid, drill a hole in it, and put an airlock/grommet in it. Otherwise, you can find fermentation equipment at these links (and more). I’ve used them all and consider the first two systems the best, because they’re made of stainless, can be sterilized, and last a lifetime. Rubber and silicon are less expensive, but are subject to splits, peeling, and contamination over time. HAPPY FERMENTING!

THE FOLLOWING LINKS have equipment choices in many price ranges:

https://www.krautsource.com/collections/frontpage (Superb stainless airlock system)

https://www.farmandfleet.com/products/1316699-ball-2-pack-fermentation-replacement-pack.html (Stainless/plastic airlock system)

https://masonjarlifestyle.com/product-category/mason-jar-fermentation/ (Silicone lids with glass weights)

https://www.farmcurious.com/products/farmcurious-fermenting-set-with-recap-2-pack (Plastic system with lid that can go straight to refrigerator)

 

The growing of a gardener

Here is Lynne Roberts story (who is on the Home Grown NM Board of Directors) of how she became a gardener.

THE GROWING OF A GARDENER
from peanuts and radishes to veggies, greens, fruits, and grapes…and more!!
by Lynne Roberts

I live now in Eldorado, New Mexico, surrounded by more garden space than I really knew what to do with.  When I first moved to Eldorado in New Mexico in January 2007 there was three feet of snow on the ground, roofs, and garden beds due to the many snowstorms from Thanksgiving, 2006, to late January, 2007.  I couldn’t walk out of the house without many layers of warm clothing, woolly pants, high boots, hats, scarves, and gloves, and both walking and driving in that really deep snow were scary activities. In memory, it seemed like a very long trip from the hot humid stale air of New York City, where I lived as a young person, in both Manhattan and the Bronx, to the dry, low humidity regions of Northern New Mexico.  There are times when I wonder how I made the journey to New Mexico, and learned to garden in this very dry, somewhat hostile, almost waterless environment, surrounded by pinon trees, tall juniper trees that seem to have taken over the land, sending their eye-irritating pollen into the air every spring, and being challenged by the lack of real garden resources, such as rich soil, water, and a welcoming environment.

But, I’m moving too fast into this narrative of being transformed from a wide-eyed nine year old girl, living in NYC, to a devoted and enthusiastic gardener/senior citizen in the always challenging gardening environment of Eldorado.

I first discovered gardening when I was nine years old, in NYC. I was sent to summer gardening “camp” by my mother, to keep me busy for that summer and away from the “wild and mean” streets of New York City and my ‘wild gang’ of  friends: Eugene, Ira, and “tomboy” Lynne.

PS l04 School_NYC

The “garden” was in the asphalt school yard of P.S. 104, where the school janitors had pulled the tar out of a three foot wide by 20 foot long area, to create the “garden.”  My first ever crops were radishes and peanuts; I was transfixed and delighted that something had grown from those hard pebble-like things that I had planted into the dirt weeks ago. I immediately developed a lifelong passion for growing things and a deep respect for Mother Nature, the earth, water resources, ecology, and all living vegetables. I was shocked, amazed, and delighted that I had grown something, and probably took most of the credit from Mother Nature, as I had never before really had any idea nor interest in knowing where our meals and “vegetables” came from.

Unfortunately, my mother was not a “happy cook”. She would open a can of heavily processed vegetables and pour that into an aluminum pot and boil the hell out of that mixture to “prepare” vegetables for our dinner.  If we ate salad, it was pale green, white tasteless iceberg lettuce sold in a plastic bag. Carrots and radishes also came from plastic bags sold at the supermarket. The carrots usually had long stringy “hairs” on them, like an old-man’s wispy beard, and the radishes were too sharp, “hot,” and unpleasant to eat. Green beans came as “string beans” -limp, tasteless, mushy pale green pieces of something. That was the extent of our vegetable “bounty” for meals.

My mother actually liked flowers, but mostly in pots, so that they would “last longer.”  She hated to see the bouquets of fresh flowers die several days later, and felt that it was a major waste of money to buy cut flowers for the house/dinner table. When we finally moved from NYC to the suburbs of New Jersey, with a “private house” and large yard, I began to take much more of an interest in seeing what I could grow in that soil.

Since it was impossible to buy a flower gift for my mother that she could actually appreciate without counting the number of days till those delightful smelling and highly colored flowers would die, I started buying her potted roses, fruit trees in pots, vegetable starts,  ivies, trailing vines, and perennial bushes. I planted everything myself, working tirelessly on weekends and during summer vacations, to make something grow (and survive), and to please my mother. Indeed, she was shocked to see a real vegetable garden growing by the patio, and real (tiny) fruits growing from the spindly little fruit trees that I had planted two years before.

I moved to Manhattan as an adult and was lucky enough to have a mini garden attached to the side of my apartment building. I had my own little plot of green with red radishes, teeny orange carrots, yellow, red, and orange marigolds. I learned how to grow in small containers and in tiny spaces. I bought fresh vegetables and sweet ripe fruits weekly from the many farmers markets in Manhattan.

Eldorado subdivision_photo-by-j-arnold-via-wiki-commons.jpg

Moving to Eldorado in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I found that, ironically, I still had to continue growing in containers and raised beds (with hardware cloth underneath) to maintain any possibility of outsmarting the gophers and of seeing any vegetation survive. To learn more about gardening in the high desert, with all those unfavorable conditions and hungry insects, I took the Santa Fe Master Gardener certification courses. I graduated with a far better understanding of how to be a more successful gardener by respecting the vagaries of the weather and maximizing the growing season with raised beds, covered gardens, screening cloth. I learned how to garden in the high desert with its limitations and demands.

I madly composted in a straw bale worm composting set up which is one of the easiest ways to make compost and worm tea for my gardens. I bought garden books and read voraciously. I looked at videos on-line, from many different sources, with fruit and berry companies creating some very useful videos for planting and growing information. I attended workshops, Home Grown NM classes, and visits to farms and friends’ gardens. I visited botanical gardens.

I exchanged seeds at the Home Grown NM Seed Exchanges, and asked many questions of generous Master Gardeners, neighborhood gardeners and Home Grown NM gardeners.

My advice to new gardeners is to be CURIOUS, ask QUESTIONS, READ gardening books, WATCH videos, TALK to other gardeners and never lose your sense of wonder and appreciation for nature.

This has been a wonderful journey, from that tiny school yard “garden” to my own little garden in Eldorado. I have shared the information that I have learned and that others have shared with me. Gardeners have proven to be very generous and kind with their knowledge, experiences, produce, garden clippings, plants, and gardening “secrets” learned from experience and time.

Throughout the years, my mother told me that she was very proud of me as a gardener. Her roses and fruit trees (or their descendants or replacements) still bear flowers and fruit that the family currently living at our “old” house still enjoy.

 

Sweet Grass

Sweet grass
By Steve Haines

Hierochloe odorata  (commonly known as sweet grassmanna grassMary’s grass or vanilla grass, and as holy grass in the UK, Bison grass e.g. by Polish vodka producers) is an aromatic herb native to northern Eurasia and North America.

It is a sacred grass of the indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States. It is used as a smudge, in herbal medicine and in the production of distilled beverages (e.g., ŻubrówkaWisent). The name Hierochloe odorata is from the Greek and Latin. Hierochloe means “holy grass” and odorata means “fragrant”.

Propagation is easiest by cutting out plugs from established plants. Grown in sun or partial shade, they do not like drought. It will spread and can take over.

The plant is harvested by cutting grass in early to late summer at the desired length. Hierochloe odorata harvested after the first frost has little or no scent and is less desirable for basketry. Basket weavers sun-dry cut sweet grass until it is dry and brittle. The brittle form of sweet grass must be soaked in warm water until it becomes pliable. The pliable grass is typically braided into thick threads and then re-dried for use.

Everywhere it grows it is prized. The thing that makes sweet grass sweet is coumarin, a naturally occurring aromachemical that in its pure form has a scent somewhere between vanilla and warm hay. As the grass dries, the scent of coumarin becomes more pronounced.

European traditions
Holy grass was strewn before church doors on saints’ days in northern Europe, presumably because of the sweet smell that arose when it was trodden on. It was used in France to flavor candy, tobacco, soft drinks, and perfumes. In Europe, the species Hierochloe alpina is frequently substituted or used interchangeably. In Russia, it was used to flavor tea. It is still used in flavored vodka, the most notable example being Polish Żubrówka.

Native American traditions
Sweet grass is widely used by North American indigenous peoples from many different Nations. Among many of the Plains Indians it is considered one of the “four sacred medicines“. Though being used for many purposes, its main purpose for many tribes is to attract good spirits. It is also known as the “Hair of Mother Earth”. Sweet grass is often burned at the beginning of a prayer or ceremony to attract positive energies. It is also to be used after burning white sage. White sage is burned to clean the energy, and sweet grass again invites in positive energies and spirits.

Sweet grass can be dried and used as a tea throughout the winter. Added by itself or with other garden herbs and flowers to alcohol, a delightful schnapps or liquor can be made. Sweet grass is a natural mosquito repellent. Some research claims it more effective than Deet.

There is an excellent book on the history of sweet grass covering both indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge titled Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Grow Some Grapes!

 

Grow Some Grapes!
by Bob Zimmerman

I grew up in Western New York on Lake Erie not too far from the vinyards that grew grapes for Welch’s grape juice, jelly and preserves. Fall meant bushels of concord grapes and the taste of them brings back vivid memories of life there. At each place I’ve lived in since then I have had grapes growing by my house. The first was a large rambling Victorian mansion at a university town in Ohio where we rented the first floor. I cleared out the overgrown back yard to reveal an old grape vine. The “trunk” of the vine was about 4” in diameter and I was told by my landlord that it never bore any grapes. I pruned it back severely and the next year it produced a huge crop of…. yes… Concord grapes!   After that I planted grapes at every house I’ve lived in.

On retirement I moved to Santa Fe and figured that would be the end of my grape growing. Imagine my surprise when I found a large rambling grape vine growing on the coyote fence of the house we just bought. Again, I trimmed it up and sure enough… the next year I picked quarts and quarts of Concord grapes! I had no idea that grapes would grow so well here.

You too can grow grapes. They are very easy to grow and you will be rewarded with wonderful foliage during the summer and fall and delicious fruit as well. You can train them over an arbor to make a cool shady spot to sit under or grow them along fence lines. Deer will like them too, so it’s best to plant them inside your yard if the deer roam about in your area. Other than that, they aren’t bothered by many pests and our dry climate prevents mildew from attacking the leaves and fruits. There are many varieties to choose from but you should do some research to select the ones that you will like and are hardiest in our area. I have seen nurseries here sell California grapes that are not winter hardy for our area, so be careful. There are a number of tried and true varieties such as Himrod ( a green seedless), Concord ( there is a seedless variety that is great), Swenson, and Reliance ( red seedless). They are hybrids of American grape stock developed on the East Coast and have been shown to be good producers of table grapes. Wine grapes are a whole different proposition and probably best left to the professional growers.

You can buy them as potted plants at local nurseries or order them bare root online.

Look for well rooted 2 year old plants, and plant them as you would any other shrub or vine as early in the year as you can. Let them grow naturally the first year, making sure to water them regularly to develp good stem and root growth.

You will need to learn how to prune your grape vines to get the best fruit production. If you don’t prune the vines, the canes will grow everywhere, and the grape clusters will get smaller and smaller over the years until there will hardly be any grapes at all. But all is not lost. A good pruning will bring the vine back into peak production. Grapes will grow on vines that grow out on the previous year’s cane. Pruning is done in late winter. Be sure to do it before the sap starts rising and buds start swelling. A nice sunny February day is just right for this. Cut out any old vines (two years old or more) that you don’t want. Remove most of last years fruiting canes, leaving just the ones you want. This is the point where you can decide how you want your grapes to grow. Cut back canes to 6 – 8 buds. Each bud will grow a cane that will produce grapes for the current year. After a number of years the main trunk will get thicker and stronger. It is a bit confusing at first but don’t let this scare you off. The grapes are very forgiving and you will learn as years go on. You can read about all aspects of selecting and growing grapes, including pruning at this NMSU page: https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_circulars/CR483/

Within 3 to four years you will have a healthy vine and will be rewarded with the very best grapes for eating fresh, juicing or preserves.

Three year old grape vines on the ramada at the SFEMG Vegetable Demonstration and Teaching Garden at the Fairgrounds. Seedless Blue Concord ( left) and seedless Swenson Red (right)

Immature bunches of Swenson Red grapes on the ramada.

Concord grape vine trained to grow over the gate to my back yard.

 

 

 

From Top to Root (and Everything in Between): Eating the Whole Plant


From Top to Root (and Everything in Between):

Eating the Whole Plant

by Mike McGeary

When I was a child in Portland, Oregon, in the 1950s, my parents decided to grow as much of our food as possible. They bought what had been a dairy farm, which came with fruit trees and berries, and planted all sorts of vegetables, which we ate fresh, cooked, frozen, and canned. But despite this effort to get closer to nature, we still peeled our carrots and potatoes and discarded the turnip and radish tops. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that vegetable peels, skins, stems, and leaves were not only nutritious, but tasty. And there is less food waste.

It’s easy to document the added nutrition. According to the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association, beet greens contain more iron than spinach; are high in vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and antioxidants; and have more nutritional value than the beet root. The same is true for turnips. One cup of turnip greens provides 115% Daily Value (DV) of Vitamin K, 37% DV of Vitamin C, 35% DV of Vitamin A, 27% DV of folate (Vitamin B9), and more.

Some of you may already cook the tops of root vegetable and eat carrots and potatoes with the skin on. But if not, read on.

To Peel or Not to Peel
Let’s start with the easiest way to add nutritional value, save time, and eliminate waste. You generally don’t have to peel carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, or other root vegetables or tubers even if you mash them. Just scrub them well with a vegetable brush to remove any dirt. You can also eat beets with the skin on, although the skins of large beets that have been in the ground for a long time may be too tough to eat.

Then there’s winter squash. Some winter squashes have skins thin enough to leave on when you cook and eat them. They include delicata, Rred kuri, small dumpling, and even butternut and kabocha when they are still petite.

Stem the Tide of Waste
Many recipes that include greens, such as chard, kale, and collards, direct you to remove the stems and discard them, but you do not need to, particularly if the greens are young and fresh. I generally eat chard and kale stems but find that collard stems are a bit too tough. I cut or strip the chard and kale stems out and either eat them raw or, if they are thick, cut them into 1-inch lengths and cook them with the leafy parts. Deborah Madison, in In My Kitchen, has a recipe for chard stems with lemon, which uses the chard and cilantro stems left over from her recipe for silky braised chard and cilantro.

Great Taste and No Waste!
Herbs like cilantro and parsley are used mainly for their leaves, but if the herbs are fresh and tender, you can chop up their stems with the leaves and add them to your dish. Less work for you, and the stems are as flavorful as the leaves.

When cooking with mushrooms, some people remove and discard the stems, but they can be trimmed and cooked with the caps. The stems can also be saved and added to other vegetable scraps to make stock (we keep all our scraps in a resealable bag in the freezer).

Start at the Top
In addition to the traditional greens, you can also eat the leafy tops of root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes. A tip: You will find the freshest tops at a farmers’ market; by the time they get to a supermarket, they are often over the hill or may have been removed. Another tip: Andrea Bemis, of Tumbleweed Farm in Oregon, recommends in her cookbook Dishing Up the Dirt that you separate the tops from the roots when you get home and store them separately or the greens will leach the moisture from the roots and make them go soft too soon.

There are numerous ways to cook the tops of root vegetables. On our farm in Oregon, my mother steamed the beet tops and served them as a side dish with a dash of red wine vinegar on top. Deborah Madison has a recipe for braised turnip greens in The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute (SFFMI) has a recipe for creamed turnips and greens on its website: https://farmersmarketinstitute.org/tag/market-fresh-cooking/. The tops of the small white Asian turnips sold at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market are especially easy to cook and good to eat.

Radish greens, if they are fresh, are delicious raw in a salad, but some people might not like the fuzzy surface. When you cook them, however, the fuzziness disappears but the peppery taste remains. A recipe for braising radishes with their leaves is on the SFFMI website.

Carrot tops—yes, carrot tops—are also edible. The SFFMI website has a recipe for sautéed carrots served with carrot top pesto. At our house, we like carrot top salsa verde with pickle juice, from Mads Refslund’s cookbook, Scraps, Wilt + Weeds: Turning Waste Food into Plenty. We put it on chicken, pork, fish, and vegetables.

Though not root vegetables, celery and fennel also have several useful parts. Generally, we freeze the celery leaves with other scraps saved for making vegetable stock, but they can also be added to a green salad. The fennel bulb is the most commonly used part of the plant, but the fronds can be chopped and sprinkled on the cooked fennel bulbs or sprinkled on a salad. Scraps, Wilt + Weeds has a recipe for fennel pesto using fennel stalks—the part between the bulb and the fronds.

Additional Reading and Related Topics
For further reading, I would recommend Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, which includes a section for most vegetables on “Using the Whole Plant.” Mads Refslund’s book, Scraps, Wilt + Weeds: Turning Wasted Food into Plenty focuses on waste prevention—using not only all the edible parts of plants, but also wilted, dried out, and otherwise over-the-hill vegetables and fruits. His recipe for vegetable scrap and peel stock lists additional plant parts that can be used, such as onion peels, cauliflower and cabbage cores, and stems of herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, and thyme. He also has chapters on making the most of meat, seafood, and dairy products.

Finally, as a last resort, you can compost vegetable and fruit scraps that you don’t want to eat or save for stock. Our worm bed produces wonderful compost that we use to help grow the next generation of vegetables in our garden.

And finally, finally, if you enjoy using all parts of your vegetables, you might look into related activities, such as foraging for wild plants, edible flowers (such as nasturtium flowers and chive blossoms), and herb vinegars, which are topics to explore another time.

Sourdough Starter Crackers

 

I’ve been making sourdough for over 10 years and I wish I’d had tried these crackers sooner! They are very easy to make and are a veritable umami bomb of flavor. The tangy quality of the lactic acids in the starter produces a tastes reminiscent of Parmesan cheese. This is an excellent use for excess sourdough starter that we are generating during the Covid baking epidemic.

My starter is 25% wholegrain organic rye, 25% organic wholewheat and 50% organic all purpose white flour. It is 100% hydration meaning that it is half flour and half water by weight. It is a thick pancake batter consistency. Any sourdough starter will work and flavors will vary depending on your starter. If your starter is thicker just add water.

The crackers are 100% highly fermented flours which improves digestibility and nutrient availability.

Butter will result in a more tender, flakier texture while olive oil tends to produce a slightly sturdier cracker.

Any type of toppings can be added for flavor and texture. Some favorites are flake salt (black), sesame or caraway seeds, herbs de Provence and edible flower petals which are more decorative than flavorful.

To get started you will need:

¾ C inactive (unfed and straight out of the refrigerator) starter

2 T unsalted butter or olive oil

½ t salt

Flake salt for the top plus any additional toppings

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325F

Whisk together: starter, oil or melted butter, salt.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat

 

 

 

Spread the batter evenly on the pan. Don’t worry about getting it all the way to the corners. It also does not need to be crazy thin. This amount will mostly fill up a standard household baking sheet. A rubber bowl scraper or an off set spatula works well for spreading the batter.

 

 

Bake for 10 minutes and then score with pizza cutter or a knife

Bake another 40-50 minutes until they are golden and firm.

Cool on wire rack and enjoy!

 

 

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