Archive for August, 2012

Garden Tomato Salsa

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Several years ago I got this salsa recipe from a friend of a friend who worked at the local post office.  (Consider this my plug for saving our little post offices – they’re good for more than just mail…)  I make it every year, as long as I have tomatoes, onions and peppers all at the same time from the garden.

Salsa and Pear Shaped Italian Beefsteak Pomodoros

Garden Tomato Salsa Recipe

9 cups skinned tomatoes, chopped

3 cups chopped onions

3 cups chopped peppers, mix of mostly sweet peppers with hot peppers to taste

1 ½ cups tomato paste  (cooked & sieved cherry tomatoes)

1 bulb (several cloves garlic) chopped

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tsp. salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 bunch chopped cilantro

Salsa Ingredients

Simmer all of the above ingredients for 30 minutes.  Water bath can in pint jars for 15 minutes or freeze.  The salsa has a better texture if canned but if you’re not into canning it is still very good frozen.

This time around I used mostly a large meaty Italian heirloom tomato, Red Pear Selezione Franchi, but you can use whatever you have.  The original recipe called for a can of tomato paste but I have always used the abundance of small tomatoes from the garden.  Just cut in half, cook until most of the liquid disappears then sieve in a food mill.  If necessary, simmer the puree a little longer to thicken it to a paste consistency.

Growing Microgreens

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

My friend Ted Skenandore of the Tsyuhehkwa Center has been growing pea and sunflower micro-greens and explained his method to me a few months ago.  Now I’ve been growing them for myself as well as with the young people of the Save Our Youth program.  These are his directions.  My comments are in parenthesis.

  • Fill a 11″ x 21″ tray with small drainage holes half full of potting soil.  (The standard black greenhouse trays that are referred to as 1020 trays work well.)
  • Water potting soil
  • Add about one cup of seeds evenly across soil (Use one cup only if the seeds are large, like peas or sunflowers.  You only need 2-3 tablespoons if the seeds are small like Chinese cabbage or radishes.)
  • Add enough potting soil to cover seeds
  • Press in firmly
  • Water again
  • Cover with second tray that is the same size and press in firmly again.  (For the second tray I use one that doesn’t have holes in it.)
  • Water every two days.  (I have found that if the trays are indoors they only need to be watered every three to four days.)
  • When seedlings start to push top tray up flip it upside down and re-cover.
  • When seedlings push upside down tray up uncover and put in sunny location for one day
  • Seedlings should turn green and are ready to harvest
Sunflower Microgreens still pale before being exposed to sunlight.

The sunflower Microgreens just after I removed the top tray.

Sunflower MicroGreens after one day exposure to sunlight

The sunflower microgreens later that same day.

Pea Microgreen shoots ready to eat

Pea Micro-greens ready to eat.

Microgreens have gotten a lot of hype about their alleged super nutritional value.  Unfortunately the evidence doesn’t yet back that claim up.  They are, however, a great addition to one’s regular outdoor gardening.  I like having something ready to eat one week to ten days after I sow it and they taste great.

Ratatouille Hot Dish Casserole Bake, with Potatoes

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Potato Ratatouille

Can you tell by the title that I grew up in Minnesota?  Actually I was given a version of this recipe when I lived in Michigan many years ago so it’s more of a ‘bake’ or ‘casserole’.

The original recipe included a double layer of sliced zucchini, onions, tomatoes, shredded mozzarella cheese and fresh basil (salt & pepper to taste) – baked until done in  a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  I made it this way for years.  With all the water content in these vegetables it was quite juicy and I loved drinking the tasty leftover liquid.

A few years ago I started adding sliced potatoes to the mix to make a more substantial main dish.  The potatoes also soak up a lot of the juice.  By varying the cheese selection (sharp cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack to name a few) or using several kinds of cheese together – how about a little goat or blue in the mix (?) – the dish takes on different flavors each time.

Potato Ratatouille Ready for Oven

There is no hard and fast recipe.  Just use what you have on hand and fill up your favorite baking dish.  With potatoes added it will probably take at least an hour or maybe more if you have a very large pan.  I cover it for the first half hour to give it a good start then remove the cover to let some of the liquid evaporate and to brown the top just a little.

The next time I make this, I’m adding eggplant, hence a ratatouille.  Noel got carried away in the garden and we have 16 plants each producing several of the purple-globed fruit!

Elegant Vegetable Container Gardening

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Peppers and Tomatoes in Large Pots

Judy’s good friend Dorothy Davenport lives in a condo but that doesn’t keep her from growing a lot of her own food.

Carrots, Chard and Zinnias

Using pots, containers and hanging baskets, Dorothy grows a lot of different vegetables while keeping everything looking pretty by inter-planting colorful flowers.

Beans on a Rail

Dorothy makes excellent use of space as you can see by her use of a porch rail to mount a container of green beans.

Tomatoes in Containers

Large containers yield lots of tomatoes.

Tomatoes in a Hanging Basket

Decorative and functional!

Eggplant and Tomatoes

A couple eggplants can deliver a lot of fruit.

Condo Garden Harvest

Here’s a colorful, nutritious and delicious harvest.  Dorothy’s condo garden shows that just because you don’t have a yard doesn’t mean you can’t grow a good amount of your own food.

Worm Free Cabbage Crops? Check out Neem Oil

Monday, August 6th, 2012


I’ve done battle with the caterpillars of the small white and yellow cabbage butterflies for as long as I’ve gardened. The most destructive caterpillar, known as the Imported Cabbage Worm, is from a white butterfly native to Europe called the Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae).  These insects have only been in North America since the 1860’s, but they like it a lot on this side of the ocean and are a truly destructive pest.

The small green caterpillars of this butterfly will decimate unprotected cole crops.  Their presence is very easy to see.  They eat huge holes in the leaves of the brasiccas, they like to burrow into the center core of cabbages, and they leave trails and piles of frass wherever they occur.

A lot of gardeners use BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) as an organic control.  BT is widely used but I’ve left it alone mainly because of issues relating to its use in genetic engineering and several other possible problems, an overview of which you can read about here:

My best success has been using floating row covers of agricultural fabric.  The row covers have some problems, however.  The fabric tears easily and the moths find their way into and under the covers through the holes and any edges that might not be secured closely to the ground.  The covers are a pain to maintain and keep in place.  And it gets quite a bit hotter and more humid under the row covers than in the open air.  Brassicas prefer it cooler and drier.

Neem Oil

Then we found neem.  I’d heard about neem oil over the years.  Three years ago at a Garden Writers Conference in Oklahoma City, Geoff and I attended a presentation where the origins and insecticidal properties of this natural product were explained in depth.  And two years ago, at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Geoff met Usha Rao of The Ahimsa Alternative,  and we obtained a supply of neem oil to test in our own gardens.

Neem oil is a vegetable oil pressed out of the fruit and seeds of the neem tree, Azadirachta indica, a fast growing tree of the mahogany family that is farmed in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, as well as throughout a lot of Africa.  All parts of the tree have useful properties and many people in India regard the tree as sacred.  Within the oil is an active ingredient Azadirachtin, which disrupts the digestive and molting processes of insects that feed on leaves where the oil is present and they eventually die after ingesting the neem.

I’m using a mixture of one tablespoon neem oil, 3/4 tablespoon of liquid horticultural soap, and one tablespoon of seaweed extract in a gallon of water.   The seaweed is there to help the neem mix better with the water and stick better to the plant leaves.  And it also has its own beneficial properties in the foliar feeding of plants. After the initial spray, I spray after rains or after I have to water the plants.  I’m presuming rains and watering may wash away the neem’s effectiveness.  The solution needs be thoroughly mixed.  Concentrated neem oil can burn plant leaves, and the neem oil will coagulate in colder water.

Also, while generally the neem is safe in use around beneficial insects, you should not spray it directly on them, so avoid spraying it when insects are pollinating squash flowers, for example.


I am happy to report that the results appear to be excellent.  I’ve got uncovered brassicas of all types almost totally free of insect damage and I’m pretty sure I’ll get to harvest all without any major insect losses.  It’s interesting, because the butterflies are present, they lay their eggs, the eggs hatch, but then the life cycle ends soon after the caterpillars start feeding.

Neem is supposed to be an all-around useful insecticide, but I haven’t figured out how to make it truly work well on all my cucurbits.  It appears to be quite effective against squash bugs, but I lost several plants to vine borers, which I can understand, as the vine borer caterpillar is protected inside the stem of the plant.  The neem spray seemed to do  nothing to protect against early damage from cucumber beetles, which destroyed several melon and squash plants almost as soon as I transplanted the seedlings into the beds.

Neem seems to be a very useful approach to a lot of garden pests, however, and the upside is that it is very low in toxicity and potential environmental concerns.  I’m going to keep working with it.  If it only gave me good, worm-free cole crops, it would be well worth its cost.

Shiitake Mushrooms – A Missed Opportunity

Sunday, August 5th, 2012


Overripe Shiitake Mushrooms

I missed one of the largest flushes of mushrooms I’ve ever had by three or four days.  I didn’t  even think to be checking for them in our summer heat and it was just chance that I looked  over in the woods, today, to find these.  They are on three year old logs, which is all the more surprising.

We’ll see if we can dry a lot of them.  I think we can, but many are spent and black.  Too bad, the fresh shiitake are one our favorite crops.