Category Archives: Vegetable

The Mildewy Pumpkin Patch

Growing pumpkins.

It is not as easy as one would think.  I discussed in a previous post all the issues we’ve had with growing pumpkins in the past.  Last year was our first successful growing season.  Encouraged by our success, we grew pumpkins again this year.

Our pumpkin patch looked beautiful and healthy earlier this season.  The plants were robust and filled with blossoms.

The weather, however, turned hot, humid and soggy during late summer.  It seemed like overnight, the pumpkin patch turned into this powdery mildew mess.

Powdery white spots appeared all over the leaves and eventually covered many of them.  The severity of the infection started causing the vines to wither and die.

The good news is that there are several ripe pumpkins hiding under the disgustingly infected leaves.

Powdery mildew is caused by a fungus.  My challenge for next year will be to try to catch this sooner if it reappears and apply a fungicide and dispose of the infected leaves.  Spacing the plants further apart to help with air circulation might help too.

The thing with gardening is that just when you think you have something figured out, nature throws you a curve with weather, insects, disease, etc.  Gardeners are stubborn though, and this minor setback in my pumpkin patch will not deter me from trying again next year!

I’ll post pictures of the pumpkin crop soon!

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Dilly-icious Beans!

Thanks to the ranting and raving of various people, I have discovered a great new way to use all of those green beans and wax beans that I am harvesting at the moment.  Over the past few years, when discussing preserving the garden harvest I have heard numerous people mention dilly beans and how much they love them.  I must admit, the thought of pickled beans did not sound that good to me at first.  At some point, however, I just could not ignore the fact that a LOT of people seemed to like these dilly beans.

When the bush beans started producing a few weeks ago, I dug out my canning books and looked for a recipe.  I found several variations and decided to use the following simple recipe out of  The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving:

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Eat Your Vegetables!

The harvest is on and I cannot pick the vegetables fast enough to keep up.  Although I try to stagger my planting times, every year it seems that everything ripens at once.  At the moment, we have wax beans, green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, zucchini and onions ready for harvesting and eating.

We have been eating several servings of vegetables at each meal and I keep trying to come up with different ways to slice, dice, chop, spice and serve them to the family.  My kids are pretty picky eaters, however, and their contributions towards vegetable consumption is limited.  Nonetheless, I just keep reminding them to, “Eat your vegetables!”

As any of you that grow your own food already know, produce picked fresh out of the garden and prepared the same day bears little resemblance to store-bought food.  It really is quite unbelievable.

Consider potatoes, for instance.  I have always rejected suggestions of growing potatoes because they are so inexpensive in the store and why would I bother?  We went ahead anyhow and planted them for the first time this year.  Over the last week or so we have started harvesting some to eat.  They are tender, moist, and flavorful!  Butter is no longer a necessary topping (but it is still really, really good).  We never imagined home-grown potatoes could be so much better than those purchased in the store.

And then there are the carrots.  I planted scarlet nantes and rainbow mix carrots this year and their sweet, mild flavor far exceeds the woody and sometimes bitter carrots we usually purchase.

So, we will continue to enjoy these fresh flavors from the garden as long as possible.  I will do my best to harvest, prepare and preserve our home-grown vegetables during our short growing season here in Minnesota.  Then, in the dead of winter, when I am at the grocery store buying produce, I will try to ignore my memories of these summer flavors and console myself with thoughts of next year’s garden bounty.

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Smiling Sunflowers

I have planted sunflowers the last several years because I love seeing the beautiful blossoms towering above the garden.  They are such happy flowers that seem to smile all day long in the sunshine.  Of course, they have the added benefit of providing the birds with some tasty snacks once they go to seed.

I plant them along the north fence in the garden so that they do not shade out any of my plants.  The fence is also a strategic support, especially for the Skyscraper sunflowers that grow really, really tall.  I love these gigantic plants and the huge flower heads they produce.  I will definitely post pictures of them when they begin to flower.

Last year I planted Pastiche Sunflower seeds along the barn, in the pumpkin patch, but had very poor luck with germination.  The beautiful pictures in the seed catalog made me forget that experience, however, and I ordered them again this spring.  I planted them along the north fence with the Skyscraper sunflowers and this year they did not disappoint.

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Watching the Garden Grow

It has been a good growing year for the vegetable garden.  The plants are huge and everything looks good.  At the risk of jinxing myself, I am happy to report that the garden does not have any major pest, bug or disease issues.  The weeds are growing just as vigorously as the vegetable plants, however, so finding the time to weed is a necessity.

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Preserving Rhubarb

Like most people, we have more rhubarb than we know what to do with. After all, there are a limited number of things you can do with rhubarb, and all of them involve a LOT of sugar to tone down the sharp flavor.  During the harvesting period of spring through the end of June (in my zone 3-4), our daughter usually makes us pans of rhubarb crisp, rhubarb muffins and rhubarb cake to enjoy.  She loves to bake and we love to eat her creations.

This year I decided to attempt preserving some rhubarb to enjoy past its short season.  My first project was to make some simple rhubarb jam.  My husband’s co-worker had an easy recipe for refrigerator jam.

Simple Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

6 c. diced rhubarb

3 c. sugar

Combine and sit at room temperature for 4 hours.

Heat mixture to boiling for 10 minutes.  Add 3 oz. package of strawberry gelatin.

Pour into canning jars.

I am not an expert at canning, or anything else for that matter, but I am trying to learn more each summer as I try to preserve food from the garden.  I boiled the jars of jam in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes just to seal them up.

The resulting jam was very tasty and the consistency out of the fridge was good.

The next recipe I attempted was this ginger rhubarb chutney recipe that I found over at tigress in a pickle.  I discovered her blog a few months ago, along with her companion site, tigress in a jam.  These sites are great resources if you are looking for a collection of recipe ideas for preserving your garden bounty.  In addition to standard pickling and jam recipes, you will find unique and creative recipes with some wild flavor combinations.

Anyhow, this sweet, tangy, and intensely flavored chutney turned out delicious.  After finishing a batch, my daughter and I took some fresh bread with a piece of cheese and put a scoop of chutney on top to test it out.  I loved it and to my surprise, she did too!  Over the weekend, we smoked some pork chops and covered it with the warm chutney, which was also a great pairing.

What other ideas are out there for using or preserving all that rhubarb?

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This Year’s Vegetable Garden

Finally.  I am finally done planting my vegetable garden.  With the heat wave we have had lately here in Minnesota, everything has sprouted and is growing quickly.

I have planted all my typical crops:  lettuce, spinach, carrots, cilantro, onions, beans, tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, pumpkins, gourds and zucchini. Continue reading

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The Asparagus Awakens

I was so delighted when I walked out into my vegetable garden today and found this…

My first spear of asparagus for the season!   I picked the tall one and brought it in the house, cooked it up, and ate it with my dinner.  This was the only hill that has emerged so far.  I’m not sure when I harvested my first asparagus last year, but I know it was not this early.  But spring this year has been wonderful for gardens due to the mild weather and abundant sunshine.

After cutting back the old growth from last season about a week ago, we gently tilled around the hills of asparagus to reduce some of the weeds.  Each spring we top dress the asparagus with compost and fertilize it lightly.  The warm days and sunshine heat the soil up once it is uncovered and the spears start to push through.  Last winter we lost a few hills of asparagus that we replaced.  We are hoping that they all made it this year, but it is too early to tell.

A few weeks ago, on March 31st, I also planted my first vegetable seeds of the season – spinach and a mild mesculum mix.  This was a full two weeks earlier than in 2009.  At the beginning of this week, I noticed the seeds have already sprouted.  We should be enjoying some fresh salads with baby greens in a few weeks!

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Spring Fever

It’s official.  It’s that time of year.  The time of year when you can hardly wait for spring.  When thoughts of spring, basking in the warmth of the sun, green grass, bountiful gardens, and fresh flowers take over your mind.  But we need to wait.

The garden is waiting, waiting for the sun, so full of potential.  Waiting, waiting, waiting….

And the raspberry plants, they’re waiting too.  Waiting for the soil to warm so their leaves can burst out and set blossoms.

And the chickens.  The chickens are also waiting.  They are so patient, but they have spring fever too.  Afraid to hop out of the coop  on the snow all winter, they seriously contemplate it at this time of year.  They stand in the door of the coop, gazing outside, the strength of the sun enticing them, until…

…they can’t stand it anymore.  They finally take the plunge, after encouraging each other, and jump down on that scary snow (at least I think that is their thought process).

Spring fever makes even chickens do the craziest things.

The cats have spring fever too.  Waiting anxiously at the door each morning, they spend their days outside.  They lay on the porch basking in the sun.  Sometimes they go exploring, navigating through the melting snow, ice, and puddles.

And so we are all waiting for spring to arrive.  It feels closer every day.

I am not as patient as the gardens, chickens and cats though.  So I planned a trip to Mexico with my husband.  We leave tomorrow…and I can’t wait.

I hope that when we arrive home next week that spring is closer.  After a few days in the sun, I think I’ll be capable of a lot more patience.  Until next week….

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Pumpkin problems solved?

We have tried to grow pumpkins for the past several years and have always failed miserably.  Our first attempt consisted of digging up an area out in our field to plant a pumpkin patch.  The heavy clay soil was unfortunately not very amenable to pumpkin-growing.  Frustrated, we moved the pumpkin patch next to the barn.  Although the soil was extremely fertile as a result of years of composted manure, it seemed that we either watered them too much or not enough.  Another failure.

The following summer our mischievous free-ranging chickens pecked all the pumpkins when they were young and tender, either completing destroying them or leaving them scarred and deformed.  We tried to outsmart the girls and fenced the pumpkins off with a low fence, but they still occasionally hop the fence to snack.

Last year, some type of insect started to attack our pumpkins in the fall just as they were ripening and we lost most of them.  I wish I had taken pictures so that some other gardener out there could have helped me identify the culprits for future reference.

Even after all these failed attempts, we did not lose heart.  In spring of 2009, we once again planted several mounds of Gurney’s “Giant Magic” pumpkins.   Trying to heed the advice on the back of the seed packet and from gardening books, we tried to remember to pluck off a few of those blossoms along the way so that the plants focussed their energy on fewer fruits.  And finally….FINALLY…some success.

While I realize that these pumpkins are not perfect specimens, we were delighted with the harvest after all of our past failures.

As you can see, our youngest child was enthusiastic about the harvest and willing to help.  His dad, however, takes this farming stuff much more serious and was very pleased with our pumpkin success.   And he even got to haul them in a wagon behind his tractor…

At the end of the day, we are just two realistic farm kids.  Like the crops grown on our childhood farms, we realize that our pumpkin success this year is only partly due to our evolving gardening skills and adaptations over the past few years.  The rest of the equation is merely the whim of Mother Nature and just plain luck.

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