Starting tomatoes from seed proves successful


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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.



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
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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

It’s time to start getting those seeds planted


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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Start preparing your garden for spring now


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

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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

The wonders of cooking with sage


My kitchen has been filled with the wonderful aroma of drying herbs the past couple of weeks. They just keep growing with this nice weather and I can’t help but try to preserve as many as I can before the first freeze gets them.

One I have an abundance of this year is sage. Each year, my sage comes back bigger and bigger. I’m going to have to cut it back quite a bit before I cover it with hay for the winter this time.

While you can use sage fresh, it has a stronger flavor once it is dehydrated.
Once dried, the options are endless for meals where sage can add a burst of flavor.

With the holidays quickly approaching turkey and dressing keep coming to mind for me. A recent dressing recipe I have been making is Sage Dressing. The sage is a nice, bold flavor in the dressing and a perfect compliment to the turkey.

Sage also is good for breakfast. Occasionally we will make some fried potatoes, with onions, garlic and ham. I always find some herbs to throw in as well, often choosing my old favorite, sage. Just make sure you add the sage in the final few minutes of cooking so it doesn’t get too crispy.

These are just a couple of ways you can use sage. Do you have a favorite sage recipe?

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Sage Dressing
2 14-ounce bags regular bread cubes
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups finely chopped celery
4 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 tsp. sage
1 1/1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 cup melted butter

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook one hour on high or five hours on low, stirring often.

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

So many uses for home-grown zucchini


Are you still picking those zucchini and wondering what to do with so many? One plant can sure produce a lot.

I have found a few different ways to prepare the zucchini.

One is to simply grill the zucchini. I have a shallow pan I like to cook it in. To prepare it, slice the zucchini in thin strips and toss with olive oil before grilling until soft. If you want to add a little more flavor, I like to slice an onion to add in, as well as some garlic. There are also any number of seasonings you can sprinkle on to give an added boost. One of my favorites is Mesquite seasoning. Toss all of that together and put it on the grill.

This makes a great side dish to any meal. Another good side dish is parmesan crusted zucchini fries. You can either cut in strips again or slice the zucchini. Then coat the zucchini with egg and a combination of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning once, at 425 degrees.

Want to make zucchini your main course? I have a great recipe for that as well. You can use the zucchini to make Zucchini Boats. To do this, slice the zucchini in half, scoop out the seeds and microwave for about 7 minutes. Then fill the zucchini with spaghetti sauce and top with cheese. Bake this for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and enjoy.

If you are looking for a healthy snack, zucchini chips are a great option. Thinly slice the zucchini, then place on dehydrator trays. You can season with sea salt or grind up other herbs and sprinkle across the slices. Dehydrate for about 12 hours depending on the thickness of your slices.

One other favorite for zucchini is of course zucchini bread. This is what got me hooked on zucchini several years ago. Before that, I always thought I didn’t like it. I tried the zucchini bread though and loved it, then started growing some just for bread. I have since discovered so many great uses for zucchini, I can’t imagine why I ever thought I didn’t like it.

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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Enjoying watermelon in a different way


I can’t think of anything that tastes more like summer than watermelon (except maybe Sunflower jelly). It’s refreshing, delicious and a great snack. Of course, you can have too much of anything, can’t you? I do this summer.

I was excited when I picked my first ripe watermelon. It was the first time I had successfully grown watermelon. I tried once before but they never seemed to be ripe. Cutting open that watermelon and seeing the juicy red inside was exciting.

I started eating, and eating, but there was still watermelon.

Not wanting it to go to waste, it was time to find something to do with it. I remembered flipping through my book of canning recipes before and seeing something with watermelon. After looking again, I found watermelon jelly, but it was made from the white rind of the watermelon. I still needed to find something to do with the rest.

A little more searching led me to find a watermelon jelly recipe that uses the fruit of the watermelon. That sounded like it would taste better too.

So I gathered the ingredients and created some jelly. It was tasty, but needed a few adjustments from the original recipe. I reduced the sugar a bit so it wasn’t so sweet, and left the pulp part of the watermelon in rather than straining the juice so I created a watermelon jam.

It was an easy process. You begin by chopping up the watermelon and removing all of the black seeds. (The recipe said you didn’t have to remove the white seeds, but I still took out as many as I could.). Then puree the watermelon in a food processor and measure out 2 cups of puree. Combine that with a box of pectin and a quarter cup of bottled lemon juice.

Bring that to a boil for a minute, then add 3 cups of sugar and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minutes and process it in a boiling water bath for 12 minutes. It is not only delicious, but also pretty to look at. My shelves of canned goods are getting much more colorful this year with the watermelon jelly and sunflower jelly.

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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.