Starting tomatoes from seed proves successful

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I don’t know about you, but I have tomatoes everywhere right now. My vegetable baskets are filled with them, they are on the kitchen counters and more are ripening by the day (at least they would if the sun would ever come back out here).

This is a good situation to be in though because last year my tomato plants lagged on producing tomatoes so our pantry was getting a little low on pasta sauce and other tomato-based items. It should be fully stocked after this year though.

I grow primarily Roma tomatoes for canning, with a few cherry tomatoes and one slicing tomato plant.

Last winter, I wrote about a new experiment I was trying with my greenhouse and starting all of my tomatoes from seed. I was thinking about that blog just the other day and realized I hadn’t followed up on it yet.img_4893

When I first put the tomatoes out, I was a little concerned because I had transplanted them into the largest pots I had for them, but they were still getting very root bound. The temperatures just weren’t warm enough yet for me to be comfortable putting them outside. So instead, I gave them the best care I could in the greenhouse but the leaves were starting to wilt just a little.

Finally, it was time to plant them. I kept my fingers crossed that they would all bounce back. After a few weeks in the ground, they did just that. All of my plants except the one that something ate and I had to replace, really took off once their roots had room to spread out. They grew into nice sized plants and they are producing more tomatoes than I think I have ever had, while many people in the area are having smaller amounts of tomatoes this year.

I know that I will be starting my tomatoes from seed again next year – but maybe a couple of weeks later in the year. I want to see if I have the same results two years in a row. If so, I will always be starting my plants from seeds from now on.

With all of these tomatoes, it’s time to start preserving them. I’ll begin sharing recipes and things I have discovered in my upcoming blogs.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

 

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Enjoying a new twist on hamburgers

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With the garden well underway, it’s time to start enjoying those bountiful harvests. One thing I have lots of right now are herbs. I’ve really enjoyed adding some extra flavor to our meals with a wide variety of herbs. I recently tried a new twist on a summer favorite — hamburgers.

I usually just make cheeseburgers and have tried adding dill one time. This time, I decided to go all out. What could it hurt? If it wasn’t any good, we’d be making them again sometime soon anyway.IMG_4598

But not only were they good, they turned out delicious. I added a variety of herbs, giving it a unique and tasty flavor. With a little cheese on top, this was way more than your normal cheeseburger. I am hooked. I may never make plain hamburgers again.

My hamburgers included Oregano, Parsley, Basil, Thyme and more. (See recipe below) What combination of herbs are you going to try?

One tip I have read is after making the patty, use your thumb to make an indention in the middle of it. This keeps the burger from swelling up in the middle. It seems to work. Also, spray the hamburger with vegetable or canola oil to keep it from sticking to the grill.

To top off this creation, lightly butter your hamburger buns, then place them on the grill for a couple of minutes. Build your hamburger with your favorite toppings – two of mine are homemade ketchup and home canned pickles.

Until next time, happy garden- fresh eating!

 

Herb Hamburgers

1 lb. hamburger

1 1/2 tsp. fresh thymeIMG_4586

1 T. fresh garlic chives

1 tsp. fresh greek oregano

1 tsp. fresh sage

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ketchup

1 egg, lightly beaten

Mix all ingredients and form into patties. Spray lightly with vegetable or canola oil, then grill. Enjoy topped with cheese and your favorite toppings. For the buns, butter one side and place on grill for a couple of minutes, until lightly browned.

Getting the garden planted

Do you have your garden in yet? I got part of mine in right before the recent rains for once. Usually the day I’m able to plant happens to be right after a big rain, so this year it worked out perfectly.

With the 10-day forecast showing lows staying near 50 degrees or above, it was time for those warm season vegetables. One evening after work, I got all of my tomato plants in the ground – 16 in all. It may soimg_4217-copyund like a lot, in fact it’s more than I have ever planted, but I am running low on all of my tomato-based canned foods, such as ketchup, salsa, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce…Well you can see why I need so many plants. Let’s hope I can keep up with all of the canning when they start really producing.

In addition to tomatoes, I also got my pepper plants in the next evening, as well as my dill. Do you do companion planting? I try to do a little, and one of the good matches is supposed to be peppers and dill, so I planted my dill plants in between the rows of peppers. It’s supposed to repel some of the bad insects and attract some of the good ones. 

My pepper patch keeps expanding each year. I want to try some new varieties each year, but I also have to have some of my favorites, which are most of them. Therefore, I ended up with quite a few peppers this year, but that’s OK. After eating some and freezing some for the winter, my husband will smoke a bunch of peppers, which I will then dry and crush to make a variety of homemade rubs and seasonings. It’s fun to try all of the different combinations; just keep notes of what you do so you know what you like and what you don’t.

After all of this rain, I can’t wait for the sun to come out and watch the plants shoot up. They always love the rain water.

Now it just has to stop raining long enough for me to get my beans (dry and green beans), corn, okra and melons in the ground. I’m excited to see what my expanded garden produces this year.

The discovery of Dandelion Syrup

Syrup

Dandelions, dandelions and more dandelions. They seem like they are everywhere in the spring. Last time I talked about making Dandelion Jelly, but I wanted to do more. I started exploring the uses of dandelions and there are many, but one in particular jumped out for me.

Dandelion syrup – it sounded good and seemed fairly easy to make, although a longer process than with the jelly.

Once again I set out to pick some of those yellow blossoms. Just one note of caution: Watch out for the bees. There were a lot out this time, so I just let them keep their dandelions and picked the ones that were free of bees. We all were happy that way.

Once I had about 150 dandelions, I headed back in to begin the process. First rinse the flowers and let them dry for a while. Then again pluck the petals from the green leaves. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way to get around this process if you are going to be eating the end product. With the petals plucked and in a bowl, bring four cups of water to a boil and pour it over the petals, making sure they are all immersed in the water. Cover the bowl and leave it on the counter as it cools to room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, strain the petals from the water and discard the petals. In a large pan, mix the petals and 3 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Simmer this about one hour 25 minutes. It has a wonderful rich flavor, with a definite hint of honey.

It’s best to store the syrup in a glass jar, but other containers will work as long as they are not metal. Cover and keep in the refrigerator. This was great poured over some buttermilk pancakes. (I warmed a portion of the syrup in the microwave before using it. I wasn’t sure what reheating over and over would do to the syrup, so I didn’t heat the entire bottle.) It also would be good drizzled over some warm biscuits right out of the oven. One other use I found is for a sandwich. Growing up I never liked peanut butter and jelly, so my mom made me peanut butter and syrup sandwiches. I know it sounds strange, but it tastes really good. I recently purchased a bowl of freshly made peanut butter from the store and decided to try it. I mixed about a third cup of peanut butter and 2-3 tablespoons of syrup together and spread that on some homemade bread. It was delicious! I can’t wait to have another sandwich.

Now as I enjoy my dandelion jelly and syrup, it’s time to try something easier – a recipe for dandelion and rose soap. At least this time you don’t have to pick out the yellow petals, so it should be a piece of cake.

Until next time, happy garden fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener. Send your comments to her at julieclements75@gmail.com.

Enjoying the taste of dandelions 


While many people fight an ongoing battle to remove dandelions from their yard, I have always viewed them as a sign of spring. They are some of the first hints of color after a long, cold winter.

But they are more than just something to look at. Knowing they were edible, I set out to find ways to use dandelions, besides the soap I had made from them last year.

Dandelion Jelly sounded good and looked good from the information I found about it online.

So I set out to gather my dandelions. After a couple of times of picking, I soon realized the best time to pick is late morning. The dandelions are fully open and easy to spot at this time. This year, my yard has been covered with the bright yellow flowers, making picking fairly easy. For one batch of jelly, you will need to collect four cups of tightly packed dandelion heads. Then rinse them and let them dry for a bit. This will make the next step a lot easier.

You have to remove the yellow petals from the green leaves surrounding them. Some have said they use a knife and cut off the bottom of the dandelion, then remove the petals, but I found simply grasping the bottom of the flower in one hand and then plucking the yellow petals from the middle works pretty well. Sometimes you have to go back and pick a few of the leaves out if you got several, but a few doesn’t seem to make a difference. (I read that too many green leaves will make the jelly bitter.) You will have sticky, yellow fingers at the end of this process, but it’s worth the effort.

Once all of the petals are “plucked,” place them in a jar or bowl and pour four cups of boiling water over them. Place a lid or saucer across the bowl or jar to keep in the steam. Let this set for a minimum of two hours or even overnight, letting the petals steep.

After this is done, strain the liquid into a pan, removing all of the petals. Add one box of pectin and one quarter cup of lemon juice. Heat the mixture to boiling, then add three cups of sugar. Stir constantly and boil for one minute. Then pour the jelly into sterilized jars and process for five minutes in a water bath.

The jelly looks a bit like the Sunflower Jelly I made last summer, only a little darker and with a much richer and different taste. There is a hint of honey flavor in the jelly.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener. 

Almost time to start planting potatoes

img_1796-2It’s almost time for that first planting of the season. I know I’m excited to get out and dig in my garden.

Potatoes are traditionally planted on St. Patrick’s Day, a date that I try to keep close to and seems to work.

I’ve tried red potatoes and yukon gold over the years. I’ve always had much better luck with red, getting as much as three times more red potatoes as yellow. I still like the Yukon Gold, so I plant a few, but I use most of my space for a couple of varieties of red potato, although I can’t really tell the difference in taste or quantity of the different ones.

Another thing I’ve found beneficial is to plant the potatoes in a raised bed. That makes it easier to mound the dirt up around them as they grow and also provides looser soil for growing. I have gotten a bigger harvest since I moved my potatoes to one of my raised beds.

If you’re like me, you can’t get too many potatoes. While you can freeze and dehydrate some, they store pretty well in a cool, dark place. I keep mine in a wooden box that has slats on the side so they get some air circulation. I had some from last year still in a box this winter. They had started sprouting, but it wasn’t a waste. I planted them in my greenhouse and they are now growing. Hopefully they produce a lot of potatoes.

With an unlimited supply of potatoes, at least for a while, there are a large number of things you can do with them.

I enjoy making homemade potato chips. I found a microwave dish once for cooking them and it works great. The benefit is you can season them however you want, such as simply with salt, or with some dried herbs or seasonings. You can get creative.

Another option is baked French fries; to do this just toss with olive oil and seasoning then bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, turning half way through.

Of course, you can mash them or bake them as well.

I also love to make  homemade potato soup.

There are so many ways to enjoy potatoes. What’s your favorite one?

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Homemade Potato Soup
6 large potatoes
5 cups chicken broth
3 T. butter
Parsley
1 cup milk
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 onion
1 tsp. garlic powder

Chop potatoes, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Chop onion and cook in olive oil until soft. Add broth, garlic powder, salt and peper. Add buttler then potatoes and parsley. Bring to boil, then simmer 20 minutes. Stir in milk and serve
Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

It’s time to start getting those seeds planted

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It’s an exciting time of year – garden season continues to get closer and there are finally things to start planting in preparation.

It’s about time to start some seeds if you are planning to start your own, rather than purchase plants – although both methods have their benefits.

For the first time this year, I’m trying to start some of my Roma tomato plants from img_5800seed.Usually I just buy the small plants during some of the early sales in the season.
I planted my seeds last week and already have a couple of tiny sprouts showing. I hope by starting them from seed, I can replant them in some larger pots, then have some pretty good size tomato plants when it is time for them to go into the garden.

I’m also going to buy some plants like I usually do. It should be interesting to compare how much each produces.

Another seed you should have going by now is celery. It takes a long time to grow, so start it indoors. I usually try to start mine early in January, but it’s not too late to get it going. They will still have time to be transplanted outside and produce fresh celery all summer and fall.

img_5798On a side note, I’m hopeful to have some fresh salads soon from the lettuce that I started in my greenhouse. With the help of a little heat at night to keep the temps up, it is flourishing. If you don’t have a greenhouse, you could start a small pot of lettuce on your windowsill in a south-facing window. The seeds sprout in no time, then once the leaves are large enough to eat, start harvesting what you need for each meal and it will keep growing back.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.