Start preparing your garden for spring now

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With the arrival of seed catalogues on a regular basis and the warm weather we have had recently, gardening is becoming a priority for me again.

An important aspect to a successful garden is to properly prepare the soil for the upcoming year.

For those of you like me, who didn’t get compost added to the garden last fall before it got cold, there is still time to get this chore done. The recent warm weather has provided the perfect time to do a little work outdoors.

According to a column by Butler County Extension Agent Larry Crouse, winter can be a good time to add organic materials – although fall also is an excellent time – as long as the soil isn’t frozen. It also stated that working soil when it is wet destroys the soil structure and results in hard clods that are slow to break down. But also, if it is too dry, the soil may need watered so it is more easily tilled.img_4217-copy

Although there hasn’t been a lot of rain, we didn’t find the soil too dry to till.

After tilling up a couple new garden plots – I never seem to have enough room – I wanted to start preparing the soil in those plots as well as my current raised beds. I do have a compost bin at home and got several buckets of compost out of it this winter already, but it still isn’t enough. An economical option is to visit your local compost site. El Dorado has such a site, where residents can get free compost and mulch, all you have to do is load it yourself. Check your local communities to see if you have such a facility available.

I set off for the compost site Saturday with my husband in our truck. The only downside to this source of materials is things you don’t want such as rocks, larger pieces of wood and debris because of the Kansas wind can get mixed in. Most people don’t want those things in their garden soil, so I came up with a fairly easy way to filter that out. I created a two-foot square wood frame, then stapled on 1/2-inch wire screen. So far the easiest method I have found is to set a bucket in the truck bed, put the filter on top and then pour dirt on top. You can gently shake the tray or use a rake or your hands to move it around so the good stuff falls through, then get rid of what remains. As the bucket gets full dump it into the truck bed and continue. The benefit of doing this in the truck bed rather than on the ground is you don’t lose all of the compost that falls on the outside of the bucket.  It still takes some time and effort, but the end result is worth it. It also helps if you have two people: one to shovel and one to filter. You want enough to have a two-inch layer of compost.

I got one load this weekend, but still have some more to go before spring. Hopefully the weather holds out.

One other tip is it is good to get a soil test, which can be done by providing a soil sample to the Butler County Extension Office. This will tell you what you need to add to your soil to create the optimum growing environment. To learn more, visit http://www.butler.k-state.edu/horticulture/Soil%20Tests.html.

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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Warming up with a bowl of homemade chili

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Cold weather brings a craving for warm, tasty food. One favorite for many people is chili. There are a variety of chili recipes out there, but using home-grown vegetables and peppers adds a fresh taste you just don’t get elsewhere.

Chili also gives me the opportunity to use a lot of frozen foods I have saved from the summer.

There are several options for the homemade chili. One is made with a chili base.

Unfortunately, I didn’t can any of this last season, so I have run out. Instead, we created the following recipe.

You begin by preparing one pound of dry beans. First, sort and rinse, then boil the beans two minutes in 8 cups of water. Cover and let set one hour. Then drain and rinse the beans, return to pot with 6 cups of water and simmer 2 hours. You can use any variety of beans. I usually grow three or four different kinds, mixing some red beans and pinto beans.

When the beans have been simmering about an hour, you can start browning a pound of hamburger. Drain that, then add a bag of frozen onions (one cup), and chopped frozen peppers. This is where you can get as creative as you want.  My freezer is stocked with frozen poblano peppers, serano peppers, jalepenos, garden salsa peppers and more. Our traditional way of making it calls for two large poblano peppers and two jalapeno peppers, but do anything you want. Hungarian Wax peppers are another favorite I like to add. Cook the peppers and onions until softened.

Once the beans are done, drain off any excess liquid, then combine the beans; two pints of tomatoes, drained and chopped; the hamburger mixture; and 1 tsp. cumin.

Even with the peppers, this makes a pretty mild chili, so if you want a little more spice, add a half teaspoon of red chili flakes.

Let that all simmer for 1-2 hours, then serve with your favorite toppings.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements 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.

Homemade Vegetable Soup

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I’ve talked about several methods of preserving a variety of vegetables from your garden. My newest experiments have been with dehydrating and I’m continually looking for more to do with that.

Dehydrating offers a variety of benefits, including long-lasting storage and saving space over freezing the vegetables. It also makes combining various foods easier than once they are frozen or canned.

With the ease of grabbing a handful of carrots or green beans whenever they are needed, I wanted to do more than just add the ingredients to a recipe I was cooking. With a variety of vegetables dehydrated, the perfect use was to create a garden-fresh dehydrated soup mix.

This was a fun creation because there are so many options. I decided to start with a beef img_4029vegetable mix in a pint jar.

To fill the jar, I added a quarter cup each of carrots, green beans, potatoes, onions, corn, celery and sun-dried tomatoes. To complete the jar, add 1 tsp. garlic powder, five beef bullion cubes and 30 dried basil leaves.

There are several fun things about this recipe.

One is simply creating the mix. I like to layer mine in the jar, mixing up the colors. You also could mix everything together then fill the jar for a colorful mixture throughout.

Another fun thing is you can experiment with it as much as you would like. Don’t like corn? Add peas instead. Want more tomatoes? Put more in and reduce something else. img_4031

You also can adjust how much seasonings are in there. I started with three bullion cubes, which was good. But I wanted a richer beef flavor so I increased it to five. You also could try making it with chicken bullion for a different flavor.

Other herbs also are an option. Thyme or rosemary seem like they would be good substitutes for the basil. It’s all up to your own personal taste.

Another fun thing is this makes a unique and personalized gift for that hard-to-buy-for friend or relative. Tie on a bow and attach the cooking instructions, and you have a tasty present ready to give.

Uimg_4023ntil 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.

Making home-made peanut butter takes some effort

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Last winter when I was going through preserving withdrawal – it usually happens about December – I decided to try something new.

I have always loved peanut butter, and recently had purchased a hand grain mill, that just happened to come with a wheel to grind nuts.

With lots of nuts available around Christmas time, I had as many peanuts as I needed.

Wanting to start from scratch, I got peanuts still in the shell. It did take a long time to shell all of those peanuts, but it was a sense of accomplishment as I took off that last shell and was ready to get going. It was amazing that a huge sack of peanuts only made four cups, shelled.

I looked up a recipe online and started grinding the peanuts. This was definitely a workout, and I enlisted any help I could find, such as my husband as he was walking through the kitchen. By the time I was done, I had a large bowl of ground peanuts.

At the point you can add a little bit of canola oil to make it creamier if you want to, as well as sugar or honey. I added just a little bit of honey, stirred it in and stored the peanut butter in a bowl.

It was very tasty, but I overestimated how much to make by about two cups. The peanut butter has to be stored in the refrigerator and doesn’t keep as long as store-bought since it doesn’t have the preservatives. I enjoyed the peanut butter while I had it, but next time, I think I’ll try a recipe using a food processor I found that looks easier, and I’ll try making a smaller batch.

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.

Getting creative with flavors

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One of my favorite ways of preparing meals is by smoking the meat, whether ribs, chicken, turkey. To do this, recipes often call for rubs to be used. We’ve tried a variety of them, finding several that are our favorites, but it just wasn’t home grown.

With the variety of peppers I grow, many of which we smoke and dehydrate, it seemed I could do something with them. Besides, if I just use those peppers in recipes, I’ll never get through them all.img_4176

I found some homemade rub recipes in a smoking and grilling book I had gotten for my husband and thought I’d give it a try. I found a recipe that I had most of the ingredients for and began making a few substitutions. It was fun trying to find as many homegrown ingredients as I could for each recipe.

Through a little trial and error, I made a variety of rubs and seasonings, including an all-purpose rub that can be plain, hickory or apple smoked; as well as a Steak House Rub, Memphis-Style Rib Rub and Hickory Dill Rub. The fun part about this is getting creative. Substitute peppers for an endless variety of combinations.

I used to grind all of my peppers with my mortar and pestle, but I recently made a new purchase for the kitchen – an herb grinder. I haven’t used it too much yet, but when I did it worked great, and I can’t wait to get some more peppers ground up to start creating some new recipes. If you find a new combination that you like, let me know. I’d love to try it out.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie’s All-Purpose Rub

5 T. dark brown sugarimg_4177
1 T. Hungarian Wax Peppers
1 T. Sweet Red Peppers
1 T. Serano Peppers
1 T. Mucho Nacho Peppers
1 T. Rosemary
4 tsp. onion powder
4 tsp. garlic powder
4 tsp. dry mustard
3 tsp. basil
2 tsp. parsley
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp. ground corriander
1 tsp. sage
1 1/2 tsp. thyme
3 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt

Grind dried peppers in herb grinder or with mortar and pestle. Then combine all ingredients in food processor until fine and store in jars or air-tight bags. For variety, smoke the peppers with either hickory, apple or mesquite smoke for different flavors.

Hickory Dill Rub

5 T. dark brown sugar
4 tsp. dry mustard
3 tsp. pepper
1 T. dill seed
2 tsp. dill weed
8 tsp. chives
3 tsp. corriander
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
4 T. hickory-smoked Poblano Peppers

Grind peppers, mix all ingredients in food processor until ground fine. Use as a rub on your favorite foods before smoking, or use as a seasoning in your foods.
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.

Putting a home-made twist on pizza night

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It’s always an easy option to pick up a pizza on the way home for dinner, but if you have time, home-made is fun and delicious. Plus you can tailor it to your own tastes, no matter what combination that may lead to.

There are several key home-made ingredients in my pizza.

The first is homemade pizza sauce. I discovered this a couple of years ago as a mix to add to my tomatoes I was canning and I have not looked back since. I like to can them in half-pint jars, rather than pints because that is just the right amount for two pizzas. It has that home-grown tomato taste in the middle of winter.

I also like to make my own dough. As I’ve said before I like to use my bread machine for all of my breads, and pizza dough is no exception. There wasn’t a good pizza dough recipe in my bread machine book, so I started researching several and took the best of each to create this recipe (see recipe).

With a combination of oregano, basil, cilantro and more, the dough has so much flavor it hardly needs any toppings. But we are making pizza, not just bread, so toppings are important.

Once your dough is rolled out (and only roll it out when you are ready for it, otherwise it will continue to shrink back up), cover it with sauce and start layering on your toppings.

You can then bake it in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or cook it in the grill for 5 to 10 minutes. Watch for the dough to brown and cheese to melt, then you know it’s done.
One trick to getting the pizza to slide onto and off of the pan on which you cook it is to put cornmeal on the pan before putting the dough on it.

Once it is done, slice and enjoy!

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Herb Pizza Dough
(makes two pizzas)

1 cup warm water
3 T. olive oil
3 T. sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. oregano,
1/4 tsp. basil
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. cilantro (or crushed corriander)
1 1/2 tsp. yeast (quick rise)

Add all ingredients in order to bread machine. Select dough cycle. When complete, remove dough and cover. Let rise 30 minutes. Divide in half and roll out. Then top with sauce and toppings.
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.