Resist those urges

Spring garden season in Kansas is always interesting. The weather usually warms in April, so it seems safe to plant those warm season crops. If you’re like me, you’ve had them for a few weeks already and can’t wait to get them in the group. But DON’T DO IT!

I was looking back at my gardening calendar from laimg_5799st year and saw that I did plant tomatoes about this time. Yes, even I have trouble taking my own advice. The problem in Kansas is you never know what the weather is going to do. After planting on April 25 last year, we then had a frost about a week later. Every good gardener knows tomatoes and frost do not go together. 

This year, thanks to my new greenhouse, I have been able to be a little more patient. My goal is the second week of May to plant, but we’ll see how that goes. It is a good thing I didn’t plant as early as last year though because the temps dropped today and the low to nights this week has been 39 degrees, which also brought with it frost. (Then back up to a low of 53 degrees in two days; it’s crazy around here this time of year.) While 39 degrees is not freezing, it is getting dangerously cold, and out in the country where we are it always seems to get a few degrees colder than the forecast. All of that concrete in towns always keeps it a bit warmer. 

So keep your fragile seedlings in a warm place and try to resist those urges. You will see the rewards in the end for your patience – jars and jars of tomatoes, ketchup, pizza sauce and more.

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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.

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.

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.

Making your own Mexican seasonings

img_4016Tacos, fajitas, Mexican of any kind is among my favorite meals. So naturally, I wanted to make them as much from the garden as possible.

In the summer, I have tomatoes for the tacos and peppers and onions for the fajitas, as well as homemade salsa, but surely there was more I could do.

Then it came to me. Seasonings. I was sure I had most of what they are made up of.

I started experimenting and looking at other recipes and came up with a fajita seasoning mix and a taco seasoning mix.

To create my own ingredients, I ground up some of my chili peppers and cayenne peppers.

Note: where a mask over your nose and mouth when grinding the peppers so you don’t inhale them.

You can even make your own paprika. I like to dehydrate and grind up red Hungarian wax peppers to make the paprika, but I have red you can use any number of red peppers depending on how hot you want it to be.

For the fajita mix it takes: 1 T. cornstarch, 2 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp. cumin. Even the small amount of cayenne pepper will add some kick to the seasoning, so if you want it milder, I would leave the cayenne out all together.

For taco seasoning, you will need: 1 T. chili powder, 3/4 tsp. garlic powder, 3/4 tsp. onion powder, 3/4 tsp. dried oregano, 1 1/2 tsp. paprika, 4 1/2 tsp. cumin, 3 tsp. sea salt and 3 tsp. pepper. Note: 3 T. of seasoning equals one packet of store bought seasoning.

After mixing each of these, they can be stored in airtight jars on your shelf until needed.
They add some great flavor to Mexican dishes, using a lot of homegrown ingredients.

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.

More pecans than you know what to do with

img_5389Have you been seeing all of the pecans falling from the trees the last few weeks? I have and I couldn’t wait to gather some. I planted some nut trees this spring, so I have several years to wait for mine to produce. Luckily, I know someone who has a giant pecan tree in their front yard so I could gather all I wanted.

Since I don’t have any way to reach the high ones, I found it easier to simply pick up the ones that had fallen to the ground, being on the lookout for the really light ones that were rotten.

With two sacks full of pecans, now the question was what to do with them all. I certainly wouldn’t be able to eat them all while they were still good.

After a little research, I found the best way to save pecans is by freezing, and with all of the rest of my garden done for the winter, I have plenty of time to sit and crack pecans.

While it’s not hard, it is definitely time consuming. I decided the entire bowl was a bit too much to do at once, so I would work on the pecans for about an hour a night, making pretty good progress.

Pecans are one of the easiest things I have preserved so far. Once the pecans are shelled just toss them into a freezer ziplock bag and they are done. You can add to the bag as you go.

I look forward to having my own pecans on hand throughout the winter for all of those tasty recipes. There are so many times I simply leave the nuts out of a recipe I decide to do on the spur of the moment because I don’t have nuts on hand.

I froze mine whole, but you could chop them if you wanted before freezing. I’ll just chop mine as I go.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Pecan-apple pancakes

Half cup chopped pecans (or to taste)
Half  large green apple, chopped  (or to taste)
Pancake mix

Prepare the pancake mix according to the directions, then mix in the pecans and apples. Cook until golden brown.

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.

Cooking with cilantro, corriander

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Believe it or not, I still have a little bit of cilantro hanging on in my garden. My other herbs have given up and I even chopped down my droopy sage this past weekend so I can cover the herb bed with hay before it drops into the teens later this week.
As I was trimming the sage and chives back, I noticed some green leaves still filling the cilantro area of the raised bed. I couldn’t believe it. We’ve had several frosts already. Some of the leaves are looking a little brown but not all, which I was excited about.

Cilantro is an herb with a very bold taste, that I can only describe as fresh and summery. It adds so much to any dish in which it is used.

One obvious use for cilantro is in salsa. Whether making fresh or using canned salsa, the fresh cilantro adds a burst of flavor. Chopping up a little fresh cilantro and adding it to a jar of salsa before serving is a nice addition.

Another recipe recently shared with me by Janell Jessup was for Mexican Pot Roast. It’s a delicious and unique way to eat pot roast, and a great way to incorporate cilantro into a meal. I used dried cilantro, but I think fresh would be best if you have it available. Unlike all other herbs, cilantro seems to lose some flavor when dried, causing me to use a large amount of dried cilantro to get enough flavor – at least for me.

Another option for cilantro is to let the plants go to seed, then collect those and let them hang in a paper bag until the seeds dry and start to fall off. This produces coriander, which also has a cilantro-like flavor and stores well. Just grind it up and add it to your recipe.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Mexican Pork Roast

Chopped peppers and onions (you can use the frozen combo package from Dillons or whatever you have frozen from your garden)
1 pork roast (about 3 pounds)
1 16 oz. jar salsa
1 bunch of cilantro

Layer onions and peppers on bottom of slow cooker. Set roast on top. Top roast with salsa and chopped cilantro. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours. When the roast is fall-apart tender, remove it, shred and mix back into the salsa, peppers and onions. Serve over Mexican rice or in a tortilla with cheese and sour cream, top with toppings of your choice, ie: shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, black onions, etc.
~ recipe submitted by Janell Jessup

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.