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.


Warming up with a bowl of homemade chili


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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Getting creative with flavors


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 and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Preserving peppers for future meals, seasonings


Did you pick all of those peppers last week? I did. The lows were dipping a bit too much for my comfort so I picked everything big enough to use.

Now I have a refrigerator full of peppers.

The easiest way to preserve them is to freeze them. You can freeze them whole, but I like to take the seeds and membrane out first, so I slice mine in half, then remove the seeds.

The next step can be done a couple of different ways. The first few years I froze peppers, they were bigger, like Poblanos, so I would just freeze two in each shrink wrap bag. But as I started freezing smaller peppers like Seranos and Jalapeño varieties, this no longer seemed like the best method. It took quite a while and used a lot of bags. So I began laying the peppers out on a cookie sheet, careful not to let them touch, then sliding that into the freezer until they were good and solid. Then I put the peppers into a freezer bag and remove them as I need them for meals.img_2308

Another method is to dry the peppers. With this method you definitely want to slice them in half, or smaller, so they dry thoroughly. Fill your trays and let them dry at about 130 degrees for 12 hours in your dehydrator. They can then be stored in baggies or jars until needed. As you use them, crush the peppers with a mortar and pestel then sprinkle them as seasoning on dishes or mix them into a recipe.

To add a little more flavor, it is fun to smoke the peppers. I like trying a variety of wood smokes, but a favorite is probably Apple wood. Let them smoke for one and a half hours at 250 degrees, then remove them and put on the next batch. Once again, lay them on a tray with a little space between each. Once you bring them in you will still need to finish drying them in the dehydrator for a few hours, or until brittle so they will store without spoiling.

One important note is to keep track of your peppers. If you’re like me, you will be preserving several different types of peppers at once in order to fill the dehydrator or smoker. The problem with this is the peppers, shrink, change color and look nothing like they started once they are finished. Be sure to keep them separated and keep a list of which ones are which, then label the bags when you store them. These also can ground up to be used in dishes or a seasoning blend. When grinding wear something over your face because inhaling the pepper flakes is not pleasant.

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.

Peppers offer variety of flavor, colors for cooking


Garden season is winding down, but there are a few plants still hanging on. Some that are continuing to produce a lot are my peppers.

From sweet to hot, I like to grow a variety of peppers. Each year I find a few new ones to try. In addition to the bell peppers, I have discovered a few other favorites along the way.

One of my favorites is the Poblano pepper. It’s not too hot and has a great flavor. Another good pepper that I have grown for a few years now is the Hungarian Wax. Although the name is not appealing, the flavor is. They are one of the more mild hot peppers so they are good in a variety of dishes.

I also have grown the standards of chili peppers, jalapeños and cayenne. These are good, and I like to sprinkle a bit of dried chili pepper in my chili, but I find these are too hot for me usually, especially the cayenne peppers.

Last year I found a good alternative to jalapeños. Fooled You peppers have the jalapeño flavor but not the heat. In addition Mucho Nacho peppers are a similar flavor, but not the heat. I also tried some Serano and Garden Salsa peppers last year, which I have enjoyed.

This year I added Santiago and Gypsy peppers. I have not used either of these too much, but when I have, they have been good as well.

One common trend in my “hot” peppers, is they are not that hot. While you don’t want to sit down and eat one raw – and with some, you will want to wear gloves if cutting very many – when they are cooked in a dish, they add some nice flavor to the meal.

For the bell peppers, I like not just the green bell peppers, but also orange, red, purple and yellow. They make a very colorful dish, like for fajitas.

One important note about peppers is they do not like the cold. If the forecast is anywhere near freezing, pick all you can and bring them indoors. After learning the hard way last year, when the forecast calls for lows within 10 degrees of freezing I will be out picking the night before.

With so many peppers, preserving them is important. There are a couple of easy methods, including freezing and drying. I will talk more about tips for preserving and uses in next week’s Garden Talk.

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.