Tag Archive | vegetable

A Great Recipe for Your Cherry Tomatoes

It's October, and our area has already experienced a number of frosty nights. We hurriedly pulled the tomatoes from their vines and have frozen and canned a number of batches. One favorite recipe for our cherry tomatoes follows. It makes a beautiful presentation and is full of all kinds of nummy flavors!

 

Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Mozzarella and Basil

This recipe will yield about 36 hors d'oeuvres.

1/2 pound of fresh mozzarella, cut into very tiny diced pieces. Should cut enough to make approximately

1 1/4 cup

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup of chopped basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest

Salt and pepper

20 cherry tomatoes

 

In a medium bowl, stir together the cheese, oil, basil, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before assembling to let the flavors all come together.

Slice each cherry tomato in half and scoop out the insides with a melon-baller or teaspoon. Sprinkle each half with a dash of salt and place, inverted, on a paper towel to drain for about 15 minutes.

Fill each tomato half with about a teaspoon of the cheese mixture and arrange on a serving tray. We like to finish the plate with a drizzle of balsamic reduction over the tomatoes – not much – just a little bit for a great flavor!

Enjoy!

 

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No Matter How Small Your Growing Space – You Can Still Grow Potatoes

Everywhere you look these days, people are looking for an opportunity to grow their own vegetables. In Minnesota, as a child, my Mom and Dad had a big veggie garden – and about 50% of the space held potatoes. It was always a big day when we dug up the potatoes in the fall – lots of digging, lots of work.

Today, even if you have a small yard or even an apartment patio, you can grow potatoes. This isn't an extremely new idea, but so, so many people do not know about it that I thought I would share it.

Begin with a bag of potato sets. You can purchase them online, at your local hardware or big box store, or you can use the small potatoes that you have saved from your garden last year. I hesitate to tell you to use the potatoes that you have in your pantry for eating because they are usually sprayed with some sort of a sprout “inhibitor” – so you may not get them to grow.

When you purchase your sets, they look just like small little potatoes – and that is exactly what they are…but you need to do a couple of things to them before you plant them.

1. Look at each of the little spuds. You will see “eyes” – or small sprouts that look like they could grow. Your potato will have numerous eyes – locate all of them. Once you have figured out where they all are, cut the potato in pieces making sure that each section of potato has an eye. You may have big pieces along side small pieces – it doesn't matter. If there is an eye in the piece, you have the possibility that it will grow.

2. Lay the sections on newspaper and allow them to dry for 2-4 days before planting. This is very important as the potato pieces need for harden and form a bit of a “skin” on the cut sides.

Next, check your soil temperature – we all get excited in the springtime to “get those crops in the ground” – but this is a very important step that should not be missed. Your potato sets need a 50 degree soil temperature at 8:00 am (with the temperature taken at 4″ deep) to germinate….meaning – if it is too cold, those little eyes are just going to sit there and rot!

Here is where the small growing space comes into play…..we live on a farm and have numerous old water troughs that have gotten a hole in them for one reason or another. But, if you have a small back yard or apartment building (and no old water troughs!) – then get yourself a large trash container. Drill some drainage holes in the trash can on both the bottom and on the sides towards the lower end. The reason for the side holes is that if you get a really huge rain, like I did once, the bottom holes clogged with debris and the potatoes were swimming in their container. I have put a few “safety” side holes in the cans ever since!

Put about 10-12″ of dirt in the bottom of container, and plant your potato sets 12″ apart 4-6″ deep.

Sit back and wait for the sets to send up a shoot.

Here's the fun part! As a child, I always remember my Dad “hilling” the potatoes. I never could figure out why??? The potato plant comes out of the ground and we hurry to cover it up? Hmmmm! It wasn't until years later that I came upon this diagram:

 

As you can see, the potato that you have planted is at the bottom of the picture. It sends up a shoot and all the new potatoes grow above the planted potato set! To shield the growing tubers from sunlight (which turns them green and makes them mildly poisonous), the soil is hilled around the base of the plant. (A thank you and credit to my Colorado State University Extension for this diagram).

We have found that if you mulch your potato plants with straw (instead of hilling them with dirt), you will find it easy to harvest your potatoes in the fall. Simply scoop the straw away and your harvest is right there in front of you. If you grow your potatoes in a trash can, you can simply turn the can on it's side to get at your bounty! Plan on about 125 days after germination before you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

 

How ’bout Planting an Extra Row?

Spring is springing!! The strawberries in my high tunnel are blooming with the great promise of nummy goodness in the near future. The broccoli that we planted last fall made it through the winter and is making heads as we speak. The recently planted lettuce, spinach, beets, green onions, broccoli and radishes are peeking through the soil, the carrots and cauliflower have yet to show their faces. My high tunnel is reaching some crazy warm temperatures – over 120 degrees and we have just finished the month of March. Special care has to be taken daily to roll the sides up on the structure to provide cross ventilation or the fledgling plants will wilt.

We have been checking soil temperatures in our fields and outside gardening areas. Besides the soil temperatures being a concern, our farm needs to also grow the supplemental forages for our grass-fed beef. Colorado has been coming up short in the moisture department for the last couple years which seriously decreases the time the cattle can graze a pasture. We have had to rotate the cattle through the fields quickly to protect the grass from over grazing. Most of our crops withered in the field in 2012, so careful thought has been given to a great forage that we could get to maturity!!!

With the hope that we could take advantage of our spring moisture, we began to plant an oat/pea mixture that will germinate at 40 degree soil temperature. The weatherman says we could get some precipitation in the next couple of days – so with 53 degree soil temps, the tractor and planter went into action last night. C'mon rain!

My outside raised beds have really warmed since our big snow about ten days ago. It's time to plant the onions, kale, and lettuce out there. We are going to put the onions in a block planting – every 4-6″ every direction. Onions are sensitive to photoperiod, so the earlier the planting, the larger the bulbs. Our raised beds will provide uncompacted soil and great drainage.

Gardeners across the country (even the world) have such a power to provide. A few extra seeds here and there – and with love, sunshine and water we can share our surplus with food banks. Our little town has a wonderful community outreach program. Many times, as I drop off my extra produce (course I have to look through the second-hand stuff to see if there is something I just have to have!) my fruits and veggies are already gone from the shelf. Something that seems trivial and extra to me means so much to others. There are many programs out there – Plant a Row for the Hungry supplies food banks with your farm fresh goodies. Many times food banks are only able to keep canned veggies on hand – merely because of the time it takes to store and distribute them. Produce for Pantries connects youth growing produce in school gardens, residents growing in community gardens, and citizens growing vegetables in home gardens to help nourish their neighbors in need. You can participate with a formal program or just gather your goodies and head for a local drop-off place.

So when you start tucking those seeds in the ground, add just a few extra to share with the food banks. Such a simple thing can really make a difference!

 

Here’s the Scoop! (on dirt…)

Spring is almost here in the Rockies! I have been diligently checking my soil temperatures in the high tunnel and the day finally arrived! My raised beds were above 40 degrees and the cold crops of vegetables can go in the ground!

For the last two years I have been working on a grant through the NRCS on extending the growing season for fruits and vegetables. What that means is….I try to dream up any way I can think of to extend our zone 5 growing season.

After constructing our high tunnel, one of our first order of business was to construct raised beds. These can be made of any material you wish – anything from 2 x 4s, 2 x 6s, even larger lumber like 2 x 12s. You can use cement block or bricks. Please avoid railroad ties and pressure treated lumber! They contain chemicals that could leach into your soil and get into your plants. We only want you to grow goodness in your beds.

We used 2 x 6s in our high tunnel, but dug the soil within the bed down 6″ and mixed it with the organic matter and new soil we had brought in to fill our bed. You want to avoid just putting your new soil on top of the existing soil – it can seriously impede your plant roots from going down. Mix it up!

Raised beds give the gardener a jump on the growing season as they dry out faster after a snow or rain, and the soil warms at a faster pace than regular ground-level soil. It is easy to check the fertility of the soil within your bed and to apply any fertilizer you may need because you know how many square feet you are dealing with within the bed itself.

It's important to make your raised bed only as wide as you can reach across from each side. For me, my beds are four feet wide. I can easily reach two feet across to the middle – which is very important! One of the secrets to gardening in a raised bed is you never ever want to step in it! Soil compaction is a gardener's enemy!

Have you ever heard of block planting? It's relatively new in the gardening world, but it's benefits are astounding. I remember, as a little girl, following my Dad around the garden with my bucket of seeds. One seed spaced perfectly from another in a long row. Thirty feet of beets, fifty feet of beans. A nice walkway in between each row. A beautiful garden – brings back great memories!! But even better are the results you can get with block planting.

Take carrots, for example. By planting a carrot seed every three inches, every direction, you not only increase your yield up to five-fold, but the foliage will block out the sunlight to the weed seed in your soil. Without sun, your weeds cannot germinate! We are all for less weeding – for sure! Here are a few examples of how your raised beds will look during the growing season.




As you can see, I have been able to pack a lot of beautiful vegetables into my 4' x 8' raised bed. It is easy to reach into, I have installed four 1/4″ drip line with emitters every 6″ to put that moisture right where the plant can easily receive it. Mulch is necessary in most of my beds in the high tunnel. Colorado has very low humidity and great temperature fluctuations. The mulch allows us to keep that soil moist and cool in the hot sun and helps to shield the weed seeds from sunlight and germination. The taste quality of your crop is improved also. Think of it this way…have you ever been in your garden on a hot July day? Your corn plants had received an adequate watering that morning but now the foliage is drooping and they look thirsty? You are right! Not only has your water dissipated in the sun or wind, but the plant's taste is affected with the stress. A three inch layer of mulch would have helped protect your corn from the loss of the moisture, shield the weed seeds from germination, and make your crop taste better. Bingo!!

Compare the taste of your home-grown tomatoes to any store-bought one! There is none!

Happy gardening!

 

Hide!! It’s the Neighbor With All of the Zucchini!

You've been there – I know. You have either grown zucchini or you have a neighbor who has. Thinking that they will (surely) never all grow, you plant 4 or 5 zucchini plants and before you know it, you are loading up the truck and driving up and down the neighborhood trying to give them away. Right?

 

With zucchini, a little goes a long way. I normally plant one or two hills (with a few seeds in each hill), and then prune the emerging seed plants from the hill to one or two plants total. I do have neighbors who like a few zucchini, but the majority of my pickings end up being shredded and frozen for use all through the year. There are two recipes that are our ABSOLUTE favorites around here and were originally given to me by my neighbor, Jennifer.

Here is a bag of shredded zucchini taken right from the freezer from the end of the 2012 growing season

First is the Tastes Like Apple Zucchini Crisp. Not only does this recipe use eight cups of zucchini, (really helpful on those days that you check the garden and they are everywhere!) but, I have made this recipe on numerous times – served it as Apple Crisp – and have yet to have anyone know the difference. Even when asked, my hungry consumers look at me as if I am lying when I say, “did you know this is zucchini?” Try this recipe and see if you believe me!

Recipe #1, Tastes Like Apple Zucchini Crisp

8 cups peeled zucchini. I slice them like you would if you were using apples

3/4 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon if nutmeg

 

Topping:

1 1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 cup of flour

2/3 cup cold butter

Mix the first five ingredients well and pour into a 9 x13″ baking dish. For the topping, combine the brown sugar, oats, and flour – then cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.

Sprinkle the topping mix over the zucchini mix and bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes. The smell of 'apples' baking will fill your kitchen!

 

The second recipe will appeal to the chocolate lover in you. The brownies are ooey, gooey – and stay moist for a long time.

Zucchini Brownies

2 cups of grated unpeeled zucchini

2 cups of flour

1 1/2 cups of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoon baking sod

1/3 cup cocoa

2 teaspoons of vanilla

This is what the batter looks like as you stir it all up – note the small shreds of zucchini.

Mix all, place in a greased and floured 9 x 13″ pan and bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

 

If you want to frost these guys, combine 4 tablespoons of butter with 4 tablespoons of milk and a cup of granulated sugar. Boil for two minutes, add 2 cups of chocolate chips, stir until melted and pour over the warm brownies.

Ready to plant some zucchini this spring?? Just remember, if you don't want the neighbors hiding from you as you try to pass out your excess pickings, just plant what you think you will eat or freeze for the year. One trick I use is to pinch the orange zucchini blossoms off the plant when it seems like it is really in high production. The female flower is easy to spot – it will have the little round circular ball by the flower which will eventually become the zucchini. Just pinch it off, and the plant will never miss it.

There are many, many wonderful uses for this veggie, including casseroles and side dishes. Plant your seeds when all of the danger of frost has passed, and be sure to harvest one final time in the fall before the plant freezes. It is a tender annual and will be one of the first to die when old man winter comes knocking!

 

Kale…..Who Knew?

My parents never grew kale in their garden. There wasn’t much that they missed growing in our garden, but I know for sure that kale was not a crop they planted.

The first time I saw this veggie, it was growing in a flower garden – so what a switch for me to be here, on a soap box, telling you that you should definitely grow this crop!

Kale is one of those crops anyone can successfully grow. It is a part of the cabbage family and it can ‘take’ the cold weather extremely well. Put it in full sun in the spring and you will be harvesting it in about two months. It really prefers cooler temperatures and is even sweetened by a touch of frost. A spring and fall crop of kale does extremely well in our zone 5 Colorado.

So, now you’ve grown the stuff. What do you do with it? If you let the kale leaves get too big, you’ll note that they will get bitter. Take care to harvest the young, tender leaves as they mature. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and calcium. It’s high in fiber, a super source of beta-carotene and also possesses carotenoids to help keep UV rays from damaging your eyes. OK, OK – I get that, but kale is not just one of those veggies you will sit down and eat by the bowl full in front of the TV!

Baked kale chips are amazingly delicious, and when my friend, Katie, told me about this recipe, I decided to try it that same night.

Baked Kale Chips

After harvesting a bunch of kale, wash and thoroughly dry the leaves. On a cutting board, remove and discard the center rib and then tear the leaf into bite-sized pieces. I like to put a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a plastic bag and toss the leaves in to coat. Place on a baking sheet, spreading the leaves apart so they are not overlapping. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees turning and moving them around as they shrink to make sure they crisp evenly.

We like to top with grated Parmesan cheese – returning to the oven for an additional 5 to 6 minutes.

The first time I made kale chips, I was a bit hesitant. They are green for heaven’s sake! Amazingly, they were delicious – and as I picked up the dinner dishes, I watched as my husband tipped the paper towel to get the last crumbs.
Score!!!!!

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