Archive for August, 2010

Rod’s Refrigerator Pickles

Sunday, August 29th, 2010
Preserving the Harvest

Preserving the Harvest

My cucumber plants have finished producing for the season, but I have no complaints.  I had a bonanza this year.  The Japanese Climbing Cucumbers not only grew up the trellis where I planted them, but also vined around the amaranth plants next to them and spread out of the garden over the border fence and onto the grass.  The New Zealand Spinach got smothered out in the process, but frankly I enjoyed the cukes more.

Despite giving away the cucumbers to friends and neighbors I still had more than I could possibly eat before they rotted.  I gave Rod Clark, editor of Rosebud Magazine and family friend, a call for the official Rosebud Refrigerator Pickle Recipe.

Ingredients (per quart Mason Jar)


Two Tablespoons Non-Iodized Salt

Two Wild Grape Leaves (I used leaves from my domestic Muscadine grapes)

6 Whole Black Peppercorns

3 Cloves Garlic, peeled

2 Hot Peppers (such as Thai Hot Peppers)



Dip the jars and lids into boiling water to sterilize them.  Wash the cucumbers, grape leaves, and peppers.

Add the Grape Leaves, Pepper Corns, Hot Peppers, Salt, Dill, and Garlic to each jar.

Quarter the cucumbers lengthwise and cut to the appropriate length to fit the jar.  Add as many spears as will fit in each jar snugly but not smashed.

Pour straight vinegar into the jar.  Put on lid and put in fridge.  Wait two weeks.

Rod says that after two weeks you can taste the pickles and decide if you need to add anything else.  I personally found them to be just tasty and ready to eat at that point.  Rod also notes that he doesn’t cut the vinegar with water as cucumbers are mostly water themselves and as the vinegar enters the cucumber, the water from the cucumber enters the brine.

The refrigerator pickles should keep up to about two months (refrigerated, of course).  I find that mine don’t last that long because they end up in midnight peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.

Help Us Get to 1000 Fans on Facebook!

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

"Find Us on Facebook"

Hey, are you on Facebook? So are we! But we know we have a lot more fans than our page currently indicates, and we’re counting on you to help us find them. So here’s the deal: help us get to 1000 fans by September 21, and we’ll give all fans a coupon worth 20% off everything on our site. This coupon will be good for ONE DAY ONLY on September 28. There seems to be some debate amongst the CobraHead team as to whether 1000 fans is either too lofty or too modest a goal, so again, you can help us answer that one.

We use our page on Facebook as a forum for gardening discussions. We will be posting questions and solutions to gardening problems, and we invite you to post any garden related questions, solutions, ideas, or discussions you may have. Click here to become a fan!

CobraHead vs. Thistle

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Well, we Wisconsin CobraHeaders finally got our act together and started making videos in the garden.  This is one of our first attempts from yesterday.  Here, Noel deftly extracts a tap-rooted thistle from his pepper bed.

We will be posting many more how-to videos as we continue to make them.  If you have any videos of the CobraHead in action in your garden, we would love to see them!  We may even post them here!

Chile Pequin

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

One of the benefits of not mowing my lawn as often or thoroughly as might be indicated by societal norms is that I get all sorts of interesting and sometimes useful plants that just show up.  One of these is Chile Pequin, a semi-wild hot pepper of Texas and Mexico.

Chile Pequin Plant in Front Yard

Sown by birds that do me the favor of encasing the seeds in a small dose of fertilizer, I now have one of these shrubby pepper plants in both the front and back yard of my Austin house.  I enjoy supplementing the cultivated hot peppers in the vegetable garden with a few of their wild forebears.

Measuring the Pepper Harvest

Also known as Chiltepin, the plant will actually tolerate a light frost and can make it through some Austin winters.

For those without volunteers, one may also purchase seeds from Native Seed/SEARCH

These peppers have a nice bite.  I crush them and add them to soups, eggs and pasta sauces.   Now I just need some wild garlic to accompany them.

Chile Pequin and Flower

Potato, Summer Squash & Quinoa Soup

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

This recipe was a collaborative effort between Geoff and me.  Quinoa potato soup was a staple in Ecuador where Geoff spent a year studying in college.  We made up a recipe based upon his memory of an Ecuadorean soup.  Due to an abundance of summer squash in the garden we added that in, and  I thought a bit of fresh cilantro wouldn’t hurt.  It still seemed to need a little more spark so Geoff added some chipotle peppers that we had left over from another dish.  Before I knew it he had 2 of the peppers in the pot.  Whew!  That’s where the sour cream came in – to dull the heat somewhat!  It turned out to be a very tasty soup but a wee bit hot for most of us except, of course, Geoff.

The picture above shows the soup ingredients, much of which came from the garden.  If it sounds interesting to you, give it a try.  Just add the peppers incrementally giving them time to mingle with the other flavors.

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 medium to large potatoes, cubed

1 medium summer squash, cubed

½ cup quinoa

½ – 1 (or to taste) chipotle pepper, finely chopped

½ cup chopped cilantro

8 cups broth or water

1 tsp. salt

Freshly ground pepper

Sour cream for garnish

Sauté onions for 3-5 minutes until softened & add garlic for about 1 minute.  Add the rest of the ingredients except sour cream and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Check for seasonings & serve with a dollop of sour cream and more cilantro if you wish.

Ball Horticultural Company

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

CobraHead is actively involved in the Mailorder Gardening Association.  Anneliese and I attended the MGA summer conference in downtown Chicago this past week.  In addition to the seminars, workshops, roundtables, networking and evening fun, we also had an afternoon tour of the Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago.  Ball has been around since 1905 and is the second largest seed distributor in the United States.

Ball’s President and CEO, Anna Ball, welcoming our group.

The operation at Ball looks a lot like a pharmaceutical company.  Here’s Anneliese learning about seed weighing.

Finished product is often packaged in vials, just like prescription drugs.  Ball moves a huge volume of seeds from all over the world.

While the seed facility tour was very interesting, the trial gardens are what makes Ball a really special place.  They don’t plant the monotonous rows one sees at most nursery growers.  The purposely landscaped and meticulously kept grounds rival any botanical garden.

It was a perfect day to tour.  An overcast sky made for good photos, and even though Chicago has been smacked with the same heavy rains and high heat as we have here in Wisconsin, most of the plants looked great and were in gorgeous bloom.

Water gardens.

Most of the plantings were plainly identified.

Lots of photo opportunities.

The plants, themselves, contributed to the color.

Swaths of color intersected the different areas.

There weren’t very many places on the grounds that didn’t have some colorful plantings.

What would it take to get my yard looking like this?  I know, lots of money.

A walkway of hanging color.

At Ball, ornamentals far outweigh food crops in the amount of seed that moves through, but they acknowledged that vegetable seeds are, by far, the brightest part of their business, right now.

Lastly, an interesting vertical wall of color that uses a timed drip watering system.

Bigger is Not Always Better

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Judy just posted a few days ago about how she is trying to pick the zucchini before they get oversized and unusable.  I’m not going to go too far about her best intentions going awry, but as you can see, I found a couple of lunkers in the summer squash bed, yesterday.  You can see a penny on the big one to give you an idea of its size.

I can’t fault Judy for not keeping up.  The garden is close to impossible to work in, right now.  We have had over a week of humid, over 90 temperatures, and for Wisconsin, that is hot.  Additionally, extreme rainfall has encouraged a hatching of mosquitoes of biblical plague proportions.  It really is no fun to be outside.

Hopefully, ace cook Judy will figure out how to make something useful out of the overgrown zukes.  Otherwise, they will become an exercise in growing compost, and I’ve already got enough practice doing that.

Easy Fruit Fly Traps — Or, DIE, BUGS, DIE!

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Well, it’s harvest time again, and the fruit flies are starting to find their way into the kitchen. They have also managed to find their way back into my worm bin, and I’m not totally cool with that. I don’t think Phil minds too much, but I’m not terribly fond of the little buggers. So now I guess it’s time to set up the traps again.

There are plenty of different techniques for making fruit fly traps, but this one has worked pretty well for me.

Start with a glass (or Mason jar, or any other similar sized container). The one in the picture has a nice stable bottom, which is why I like to use it. Pour a little apple cider vinegar in. I often cut it with a bit of water, but it really doesn’t matter. Optional: you can add a tiny drop of dish soap to break the surface tension. That last part is probably totally unnecessary, but hey, anything to kill the little guys sooner, right?

Next, take a sheet of paper. I usually cut an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet in half. The one in the picture came from a notepad. I don’t actually know if the paper has to be white, but I’ve never not used white (at least on the inside “funnel” part). Curl the paper and tape it into a funnel shape, leaving a small hole at the bottom. I cut the corners to round off the top the funnel — another unnecessary step, but it’s my trap, and I’ll make it how I want to make it.

Set the funnel in the top of the glass. Make sure there’s a gap between the vinegar and the bottom of the funnel. Tape the funnel to the glass to ensure there are no gaps that would let the flies escape. Usually two pieces of tape (one on either side) will do.

I made the trap in these pictures yesterday. This is the trap I keep on top of the worm bin, so yes, Phil has a lot of flies right now. But, as you can see, the trap is quite effective. The trap will last quite a while and will hold a surprising amount of flies, so I only change it out for fresh vinegar and paper when I get too grossed out by it or if the paper gets too covered in frass. I have also read that you can use other things for bait, such as wine, beer or a piece of fruit. I never liked the idea of a hunk of fruit, because it wouldn’t actually kill the flies, just trap them, and it may even allow them to breed more. And I want ’em DEAD!

Zucchini Heaven or Hell?

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

It definitely depends upon your perspective.  For us we’re at the beginning of the summer squash season, and so far so good.  I’ve been very diligent in checking and picking the young fruits every day.  Yesterday morning I looked to see what we’d have for dinner & decided to pick the zucchini just before cooking.  I’m positive that the earmarked one was twice the size from morning ‘til night.  Well…at least 50% bigger!

They will get ahead of me, they always do.  But I will be drying the slices to use in winter lasagna and whatever else sounds good.  In the meantime they are a must have in ratatouilles, veggie kabobs, soups, potato-zuke hashbrowns, and pancakes, to name a few.

On the other hand yellow crookneck squash seem to be more amenable to freezing and being somewhat more palatable when thawed.  Maybe the lower moisture content has something to do with it or the softer, less acid flavor.  This squash is easily blanched and frozen in bags to make cold weather cream soups.  Just cook with a little onion and broth & whiz in the blender.  Makes a meal in a hurry!

Counting Cucurbits Before They Hatch

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

I commented earlier that this year I cleaned off my compost area and stuck in some squash and melon starts.  I didn’t start the seeds until the second week of June, but as you can see from the first picture, the plants are doing quite well.

For a while I was worried that I was getting all foliage and no fruit.  That is not the case.

I counted well over a dozen relatively large squash and pumpkins hiding under the leaves and several are very close to maturity.  I also have several smaller melons and butternut type squash budding out on the trellised vines that you can see in the back of the first picture.

Taking inventory and taking these pictures was a daunting task as the almost tropical rains of the last couple weeks have caused the mosquito population to explode.  I truly had to give blood to get these pictures.  On top of that the high humidity kept my lens, LCD screen, and view finder fogged up.

I know you can’t count on anything until it’s off the vine and into the house, but the plants are healthy and the fruit is close to becoming a reality.  We’ve already been eating lots of summer crookneck and zucchini that are performing extremely well in one of my beds.