Tag: vegetables

Small Beginnings, Big Rewards

Children who are involved in gardening reap benefits that are both tangible and intangible. Studies show they tend to eat more vegetables and be healthier overall, while growing a portion of their own food provides them with a sense of self-reliance, knowledge of plants, awareness of the seasons and higher self-esteem. Involvement in gardening helps them understand their connection to the earth and encourages eco-friendly living. Moreover, hands-on experience with gardening connects them with the agricultural roots of America.

I believe that teaching children to garden helps them to see the parallels between the care and growth of living things with the care and growth of their own lives, families and communities. You could say that it’s my mission to grow more gardeners so I was delighted when Bonnie Plants asked me to travel to southeast Arkansas to meet Emily McTigrit of Star City’s Jimmy Brown Elementary School.

Emily grew a 16-pound cabbage with a circumference of 43.5 inches this year, making her Arkansas’ Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program winner.

Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program provides more than one million free cabbage plants to 3rd grade classes around the country each year. This program fosters a love of vegetable gardening in youth. Here’s how it works: Children raise their cabbages at home or in the school garden with the goal of growing a monster-size cabbage. The variety, the O.S. Cross, produces giant heads, and some have been known to grow up to 50 pounds. That’s right— a 50-pound head of cabbage! At the end of the season, the child who grows the largest cabbage in the state wins a $1,000 scholarship.

Emily was presented with her check in a school-wide assembly, and I interviewed her for my TV show. She told me all about how she watered and fertilized the cabbage, made sure to pick a sunny location and how the 16 pounds of cabbage provided her family with buckets of coleslaw.

Visit BonnieCabbageProgram.com to see more big cabbages and learn how to participate in the program.

Tomato Tales

This is an excerpt from my column in AY Magazine. Read the entire article here.

Long before social media was even a spark in our collective conscious, bits of “wisdom” have been going viral via word of mouth in the form of old wives tales and folklore.

For me, these stories are interesting because they are part of our oral tradition. For instance, how many of you have heard that it is bad luck to place a hat on a bed or that going out in the cold with wet hair will make you sick?

Of course, my favorite anecdotes are about gardening and some of the best are related to growing tomatoes. It seems everyone’s grandmother had a pearl of wisdom about getting the growing the best tasting tomato.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

Here are a few tomato tales that I’m familiar with. Some are based in fact, while others are pure fiction.

  1. Sprinkle sugar in the planting hole or water your tomatoes with sugar water to make them sweeter. This is untrue. The sweetness of a tomato is determined by the variety. If you want a sweet tomato try planting ‘Sungold’ or ‘Mr. Stripey’.
  2. If you have a tomato plant that is lush, but doesn’t set fruit, beat it with a broom. The idea behind this tip is that the beating will stress the plant and prompt bloom. More blooms mean a better chance for tomatoes. I haven’t tried this one, but the old-timers swear by it.
  3. To prevent blossom end rot add crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This suggestion actually has legs to it. The eggshells are a good source of calcium, which helps reduce blossom end rot.How about you? What’s the best tomato growing “advice” you know? Have you tried any of these tips?

Pickling Punk Rock Style

I’d like to introduce you to my friend and fellow gardener Laura Mathews. She’s a garden writer and photographer who contributes to several websites including Punk Rock Gardens. She’s also the Northeast Garden Guru for Proven Winners. Laura attended our annual blogger event at the farm, Garden2Blog, in 2011.

While scouring the virtual garden for harvesting and preserving tips I discovered that Laura knew quite a bit on pickling. I asked her to share her knowledge, which she very graciously did. Plus a recipe for bread and butter pickles you can freeze. I can’t wait to try them.

If you have questions for Laura and just want to find out more good gardening information look her up on Twitter (@punkrockgardens) or Facebook or visit PunkRockGardens.com.

At times in the growing season, the bounty from our vegetable gardens can be a bit overwhelming. Many of our backyard vegetable garden favorites mature within weeks of each other. One way out to this annual pickle… is to pickle.

Pickling may seem like a frightening black art practiced only by women of the past with extraordinary quantities of technical kitchen skill, but it’s actually much less complex than say, maintaining a quality compost pile. With attention to a couple important things, pickling is easy. It also generates a lot of value. Pickling turns inexpensive homegrown vegetables into crunchy, tangy delights that cost far less than they would at the grocery.

The first thing to grasp is that pickling via canning is that it’s not cooking. You cannot safely fiddle with the recipes. Follow modern recipes to the letter. Make sure your source for the recipe is reputable. Consider as well, employing safer methods of pickling. Grandma’s recipe for refrigerator pickles – that may include letting the pickles stand at room temperature for hours – aren’t considered safe by the USDA. The trendy practice of pickling by fermentation is also best left for those with deep understanding of food safety. Canning your pickles or making easy freezer pickles is the safest way to start.

Next, your pickles will only be as good as the vegetables you use. Find or pick very fresh young cucumbers for pickles. The fresher the cuke, the more natural pectin it contains. This pectin will keep your pickles crisp. Some recipes call for products like pickle crisp or suggest ice baths to preserve the crunch. Make sure to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber because it contains enzymes that will soften the cucumber. If you’re purchasing cucumbers, don’t buy any that have been waxed. The wax will interfere with the pickling processes.

Vinegar is key to pickling. Acidity in the vinegar is what keeps microorganisms from spoiling food. Be sure to check your vinegar labels for acidity percentage. Recipes are tested using vinegar with 5 percent acidity. Don’t skimp on the salt or substitute table salt for canning salt. Additives in table salt will cause cloudy brine. Stay away from Kosher salt unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Kosher salt is measured differently and can cause your pickles to be too salty.

For canned pickles, look for fresh pack recipes. You’ll need sterile jars and a pot large enough to boil several jars at once. A rack or good tongs will be needed to take the hot jars from the canning bath. The steps are easy. The recipe will dictate how to slice the cucumbers. Add the spices and the slices to jars. Cover the vegetables with the hot pickling solution which is mostly comprised of specific proportions of water, vinegar and salt. Seal with hot canning lids and cook for a bit in a boiling water bath. Cooking times for pickles are less than other forms of vegetable canning. After the jars cool, flavors will develop in a matter of weeks and you’ve made your own pickles.

If you want a no heat and no worries place to start, try freezer pickles. This is also fun to do with children. This recipe comes from Martha Zepp, Lancaster County Food Preservation Consultant with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Martha’s Freezer Bread and Butter Pickles

Step 1
7 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons canning salt

Layer cucumbers, onion, and salt in a glass bowl or non-metallic bowl. Weight down and cover. Do not add water. Let stand overnight in refrigerator.

Step 2
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed (this can be adjusted for taste. Try adding some mustard seed.)

Next morning, combine, but do not cook, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon celery seed, Zepp says. Stir until very smooth and sugar is dissolved. Drain sliced cucumbers and rinse well. Return to bowl, add syrup and refrigerate an additional 24 hours. Place into freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace and freeze.

Pickling is simply an artful mix of vegetable, acid, spices, sugar and salt. Don’t limit your pickling to cucumbers. Dilly beans are a personal favorite. Adding a little vinegar, some spices and salt to vegetables is really all that’s required to preserve your garden veggies while adding flavor and interest.

Name that Tomato!

Wow! Thanks to everyone for participating in the contest. What a great response! Just goes to show how much we all love our tomatoes.

The correct answer is ‘Arkansas Traveler’ and the winner is Mike Lyons.

Can you name this tomato variety?

Answer correctly for a chance to win a tomato t-shirt from Bonnie Plants. Leave your response in the comments section below. I’ll select a winner by random drawing on Wednesday June 6, 2012. Click here for the official rules.

Here are a few clues.

  • It’s an heirloom that originated in the Ozark Mountains before 1900.
  • Keeps producing during periods of drought and hot weather.
  • Mild fruits with pink coloring are produced on indeterminate vines.

Need more help? Search the Bonnie Plants tomato selector.

5 Tips for Growing Better Tomatoes

Don’t plant too early! Flowering and pollination that occurs when temperatures are below 55 degrees F can result in malformed, poor quality fruits. This is also referred to as catfacing.

Plant deeply. Remove the lower leaves and plant your tomatoes as deeply as you can dig into loose, rich soil. Up to 2/3 of the plant can be buried. New roots will develop along the buried stem. Don’t believe me? Read more about planting tomatoes deeply on BonniePlants.com.

Tomatoes prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH of 6.0 to 7.0) rich in phosphorous and calcium. To increase calcium, add crushed eggshells or a spoonful of bone meal when planting.

Tomatoes don’t like fluctuating moisture levels. Water consistently and cover the soil with mulch to retain moisture. Avoid overhead watering as it encourages leaf disease.

Staking is important to expose leaves to sunlight and keep fruits off the ground where they may come into contact with soil borne diseases, or slugs and snails. Get the stakes in early so you don’t have to worry about damaging mature root systems.

Introducing My Bountiful Best

This year I teamed up with Ferry-Morse Seed Company to offer my top 10 seed varieties that I’m calling my “Bountiful Best.” You can find these seeds at any garden center. Just look for the display with my picture. I selected these based on their easy care nature and abundant production. Many are suited to small spaces and even containers.

Give these varieties a try and you’ll be in fine fettle for serving dishes made with homegrown ingredients.

  1. Basil ‘Genovese’ – If you only grow one herb, make it basil. This variety has large leaves that are full of flavor. Summer garden.

  2. Cucumber ‘Lemon’ – Unusual round, yellow cucumbers. Their sweet flavor makes them good raw, but you can pickle them too. Good for small spaces. Summer garden.

  3. Cucumber ‘Spacemaster’ – Large 7 to 8 inch fruits are borne on compact plants. All you need is a 12-inch pot to grow ‘Spacemaster’. Summer garden.

  4. Peas ‘Cascadia Sugar Snap’ – This pea has multiple personalities. Harvest early to use as a snow pea or matured pods are delicious snap peas. Spring garden.

  5. Radish ‘French Breakfast’ – A scarlet and white radish that is as beautiful as it is flavorful. Spring garden.

  6. Arugula ‘Roquette’ – One of my favorite salad greens and so, so easy to grow. Spring and fall garden.

  7. Squash (Zucchini) ‘Black Beauty’ – Every garden needs at least one zucchini plant! Dark green fruits are tasty sautéed or used in baked goods. Summer garden.

  8. Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ – The vegetable garden isn’t always the most colorful spot, unless you grow ‘Bright Lights.’ Neon pink, orange and red stems. Spring and fall garden.

  9. Tomato ‘Jelly Bean Hybrid’ – This indeterminate, grape tomato produces abundant fruits with delicious flavor. Summer garden.

  10. Tomato ‘Roma VF’ – These are meaty tomatoes with few seeds. Perfect for sauces, salads and salsa. I selected this variety because it is resistant to both verticilium and fusarium wilt. Summer garden.

The Conundrum of Managing Pests & Diseases on Edibles


Here’s a puzzler for you. How do you control pests and diseases on edibles without making the plants inedible? Last spring Mallory Hynes with Garden Safe joined me at the Garden Home at Moss Mountain Farm to talk with a group of garden bloggers about the topic. I found her demonstration very interesting and thought you might too, so I asked her to write a guest blog post.

Garden Safe® Brand was thrilled to be invited to participate in P. Allen Smith’s inaugural Garden2Blog event April 26th & 27th at Allen’s Garden Home Retreat – and what an event it was! We toured gardens around Little Rock, participated in workshops with other Garden Home partners, enjoyed wonderful food and conversation and even survived a looming tornado. We enjoyed learning from Allen, the other partners and bloggers and loved being able to share our knowledge of effective alternatives for garden pest control.

Allen eating a carrot just after he sprayed it with Garden Safe Fruit & Vegetable.

On the second day, the bloggers bravely battled the elements and met us (in their bright orange ponchos) in Allen’s vegetable garden for the Garden Safe Scavenger Hunt. The bloggers helped the Garden Home Retreat’s chef, Brian Kelley, prepare his Sliced Orange Salad for that night’s dinner by collecting lettuce, peas, carrots, onions, garlic chives and leeks. But first, they sprayed them with Garden Safe Fruit & Vegetable Insect Killer RTU – safe to use on vegetables up to day of harvest – to kill any unwanted pests. Allen even sprayed a carrot and took a big bite! Everyone had a great time speeding through the garden to collect their goodies, with the fastest four winning gift cards to use in the gift shop – taking home many great books, kitchen décor and garden gadgets.

Adriana of Anachry in the Garden holding up a leek she harvested.

Our Garden Safe Fruit & Vegetable Insect Killer – made with pyrethrin, a botanical extract of the chrysanthemum flower that affects the nervous system of many insects and kills them on contact in all stages of growth, including eggs – isn’t the only product we have that’s certified for organic gardening and safe to use on edibles up to the day of harvest. We also have many products safe for use on edibles that are also OMRI Listed, meaning they are certified for organic gardening by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) as meeting the USDA National Organic Program’s requirements for organic production, process and handling. These include:

  • Fungicide3 and Neem Oil: 3-in-1 fungicides, insecticides and miticides, that are made from neem oil extract, a organic botanical extract from the neem tree that repels insects from treated leaves and stems and suffocates many small, soft-bodied insects on contact
  • Insecticidal Soap: Made from potassium salts of fatty acids, plant-derived fatty acids that damage the cell membranes of many soft bodied insects, killing them on contact, this soap breaks down into potassium, which is used by plants, and fatty acids, which are metabolized by soil microbes
  • Slug and Snail Bait: Derived from Iron Phosphate, a phosphate of iron that occurs naturally in the soil, this bait is not effected by temperature or wetness, can be used in greenhouses and around pets & wildlife

Garden Safe Fruit and Vegetable Spray

We at Garden Safe know that gardeners want effective pest and disease control products to help nurture their fruits and vegetables, along with the peace of mind that comes with gardening responsibly. And we are proud to provide products that allow them to ensure that their harvests are as healthy as possible. Better Plants, Better Planet.®

For more information, visit GardenSafe.com and facebook.com/GardenSafe

Fava Beans

Oh, the poor fava bean (Vicia faba). Long appreciated elsewhere in the world this oversized legume has been slow to make it to the table in the United States.

Fava beans are delicious and full of good things like fiber and low-fat protein. So what’s the hold-up? Well, they are somewhat of a pain in the buns to prepare. The cook must shell, parboil and then remove the beans from a waxy, bitter-tasting pod before they can be used. However, the buttery consistency and nutty flavor make fava beans well worth the effort.

Also known as broad beans, Windsor beans or English beans, favas prefer cool temperatures and take 80 days to mature. Here in central Arkansas the time to plant is mid- to late-February and I always seem to miss my window of opportunity. This is the first year I finally remembered to get some planted. In regions like Southern California where winters are mild beans can also be sown in fall.

The plant is bush forming so there is no need to stake, but give it some room because they can grow 4 to 7 feet tall. Sow the seeds 1-2 inches deep, 3-6 inches apart. Space the rows 12-30 inches apart. The beans are ready to harvest when the pods are plump, around 6 inches long and still green.

Since this is my first year to grow fava beans I don’t have a collection of fabulous recipes. I’ve been eating them sautéed in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. They are a delicious addition to salad. How do you recommend preparing them?