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Book Review (Down to Earth Vegetable Gardening Know-How by Dick Raymond )

Down to Earth Garden Know How by Dick Raymond was given to me by my Grandmother McElligott when I first began to garden. It was her fathers gardening book so it was already nicely broken in when I received it.

I remember being a young boy and visiting my great-grandfathers gardens. Specifically I remember the giant sweet peppers and mortgage buster tomatoes. He was from the old school, I remember finding a huge iron nail in the soil and bringing it to him so no one would get hurt, he took it and put it back in the dirt to feed the plants. When you went into his home he had the surplus from his garden in old half gallon milk containers in his freezer and jar upon jar of pickled veggies. People came from miles around to buy his produce.

Upon reading Dick Raymonds book I understand why my great-grandfather was such a good gardener. Dick Raymond was self taught, his expertise developed through years of hard work and his relationship with the land. Truth be told that is what I like about Di…

Seed Savers Exchange (heirloom)

As I have mentioned previously I am now in the process of trying to specifically grow heirloom vegetables as much as possible. This is the time of year when I begin to daydream about next seasons garden. I read through my old seed catalogs and dig around on the internet trying to envision next years harvest.

Last year while I was looking for seeds a fellow gardener recommended a company called Seed Savers Exchange. I am now going to do the same and recommend this fine company to you! This is a description straight from their website, which is located at www.seedsavers.org

"Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit, member supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations."

"Seeds now are widely used by seed companies, small farmers supplying local and regional markets, chefs and home gardeners and cooks, alike."

It is really an amazing group of people. It is the lar…

Book Review (75 Exciting Vegetables by Jack Staub)

75 Exciting Vegetables by Jack Staub was a gift from my in-laws in Vermont last Christmas. This book has had such a positive impact on my perspective of gardening. It basically took my method and my goals to the next level. Not only is eating home grown healthy but if done properly it can truly be an art, not only visually but for the palette as well.

Staub has a direct approach in his writing that allows for a quick read while presenting easy to remember information. He gives the reader a brief history of the select vegetable, the basic info in regards to growing, ways in which to prepare and serve the delicious addition to your garden and in between it all weaves a sly sense of humor.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in trying something new in their garden next spring. Squash to peppers, tomatoes to eggplants you will find something that strikes your curiosity and interest.

Changing Season

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~Stanley Horowitz

As I look out the window I am quickly reminded of the changing season. The foliage on the maple tree is beginning its transformation to blazing red and assorted soft tones of gold. My focus begins to change and I start prepping the garden area no longer in use for our next growing season. I have a raised bed I built with my daughter that I am filling with new soil here and there when time allows. Soon it will be time to protect the fruit trees and bushes during the winter months from the hungry rabbits that are no longer scared off by the baying of our hounds.

Each season holds it own distinctive triumph but I really enjoy fall. I love walking the dogs in the crisp, cool morning air and the distinctive smell that drifts upon the wind. The sight and sound of migrating birds forewarn of winters impending arrival. So many little things come to mind, being able to wear old…

Cayenne Pepper

According to Jack Staub in his book 75 Exciting Vegetables for Your Garden hot peppers are not even peppers, they are actually a member of the capsicum family which makes their fruit technically a berry. The hot pepper is a native of the Americas and like many other items in his fiasco of a career Columbus is credited with incorrectly naming these spicy treats.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has long recognized the medicinal benefits of the cayenne pepper. Dried cayenne is a perfect remedy for a sore throat. Next time your throat is irritated try a pinch of cayenne with some honey in a hot tea. The hot pepper has long been used for its pain relieving properties and the rumor is that a teaspoon of dried pepper in hot water will stop a heart attack. I have no desire to find out how true this is but it is certainly good to know.

These tasty peppers are also high in Vitamins A, B complex and C. They are also a source of calcium and potassium and are extremely helpful in assisting in…

That Pickling Time of Year...

That Pickling Time of Year…


Toby and I have debated using my inherited hot water bath and canning jars for some time. The whole thing seemed foreign, dangerous, and a little time consuming to be honest. It furthered our apprehension when we read that the hot water bath could only be used to can acidic fruit or vegetables (i.e. pickling). One day on our ritual trip to the local farm stand/ petting zoo- Frog Pond, we saw a peck of cucumbers for sale, right next to them was a package of pickling spices- we looked at each other and both lit up. “Okay let’s do this thing,” we thought.
We decided the try bread and butter pickles for our first attempt. Although we used a mix, I will publish the recipe I found for the spices below if you want to try your own.
You will also need vinegar, and sugar- plenty of them. We only used about half of the cucumbers and yielded 4 pints and 3 quarts of pickles. Canning directions also included below:

Bread and Butter Pickles Recipe
Start with the freshes…

Red Cabbage

This is the first time I have ever grown cabbage and I have to say that our cabbages look beautiful this year though we did have a funny thing happen this growing season. Every single one of our green heads was devoured by insects while the red (knock on wood) were virtually untouched. In years past I would grow extra lettuce because I don’t put a fence around my garden and it was sort of a trade off with the local wild life, they would eat the lettuce put out for them and for the most part leave the rest of the garden alone. I guess this year they decided to feast on cabbage…oh well!

As you may know the cabbage is part of the cruciferous vegetable family, this group includes broccoli and Brussels sprouts to name a few others. These bad boys are loaded with essential nutrients for fighting cancer. They also happen to be a rich source of Vitamin A and Vitamin E which is very good for the health of your skin, Vitamin A also happens to be good for the eyes. Cabbage also contains Vitamin …

Sweet Corn

Last year our corn was really nothing to write home about this year though now that is another story. The stalks are easily over 6 feet tall with some really nice ears. Our neighbors were nice enough to contribute some manure to our cause and we switched growing sites all of which I am sure helped tremendously. I make a concerted effort to grow organic and I feel like the plants rewarded us this year. We got our seeds from “The Seed Savers Exchange” in Iowa and they are heirloom so we are leaving a few ears on the stalk to prepare for next season.

Corn it turns out is high in Vitamin B1 and B5 as well as folate. Folate helps prevent birth defects in the fetus stage and also helps the cardiovascular system. Corn happens to be a good source of Vitamin C and dietary fiber also so boil a couple cobs and hit it with the butter!

Sunflowers

Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint,
and the soil and sky as canvas.
- Elizabeth Murray

The sunflower, where to begin?

Sunflower seeds are a great source of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is one of our bodys main fat-soluble anti-oxidants and is important in the fight against asthma and arthritis. It is also believed that Vitamin E can help reduce the risk of colon cancer, protect against diabetic complications and is able to decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes for women in their menopausal years.
It gets even better though Vitamin E also plays a significant role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Just a quarter cup of sunflower seeds has nearly 90% of your daily Vitamin E.

They are also a good source of Magnesium which helps lower blood pressure and ease migraine headaches. It is also necessary for healthy bones and energy production.

All this from such a little seed.

Brussels Sprouts

This is the first year that I have grown Brussels sprouts. Everything that I had read before the growing season mentioned that the best time to harvest is right around the first frost of the fall season; rumor is that it adds a bit of sweetness to these crunchy veggies. As usual I rebelled a bit against the orthodox approach and planted my Brussels extremely early and have been harvesting for the past couple of weeks, they are absolutely delicious and I can only hope that they hang around long enough to make it to the first frost.

Brussels sprouts, which are a member of the cruciferous family, are a reasonable source of protein in ones diet. The catch is the protein is not complete so in order to get the full spectrum of amino acids it is recommended that you combine it with grains. It is also a good source of Vitamin A. Vitamin A assist in our vision, in maintaining healthy skin and is a nice boost for our immune system.

Brussels sprouts are also a great source of potassium in your die…

Summer Squash

This year was an experimental year in many regards so some of the more traditional plants that I usually grow were stuck on the outskirts of my property. To an extent they were treated with the attitude that if they grew it would be a bonus and if they did not no big deal.

Our yellow summer squash fell into this category this year. Last season it had a sunny spot in the garden and received a ton of attention. Truth be told I could not keep up with the squash, after a certain point they just took over that particular section of dirt and by the end of the year there were humungous yellow gourds littering the patch. Their hard empty shells remained evident through out the long winter.

Well this year I thought that since they were so hardy I would put them in no mans land while trying some new veggies in the main plot. The effect was obvious. The plants have only recently started producing fruit and not many of them to boot. The plants are not in the best of soil and receive little sunlight…

A film review (The Future of Food)

Recently I viewed a documentary called The Future of Food. I believe that it was released around 2004 or so. The film basically chronicles the biotech revolution and its quiet emergence as part of the American food supply over the past decade. It is an alarming movie to say the least. Very quickly the viewer is able to start piecing together health issues that are a direct result of tampering with the genetic code of our food supply. The films website sums it up perfectly by calling it the largest biological experiment in history.

This film is about more than just the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that are being put on our tables. It shows the very human side of this struggle in terms of the farmers who are losing everything, their retirements, their good name, and their crops to the patent hungry multinationals who are forcefully taking over the market.

I read a review of this film that said “If you eat food you need to watch this movie”. I highly recommend it, one…

Potatoes

It is a bit rainy and damp today so my daughter and I went digging for some red onions, a few carrots and russet and red potatoes for a stew today.

Turns out the potato has gotten a bad rap over the years. It is actually packed full of nutrients, the problem exist in the way that it is prepared. Taters are actually full of Vitamin C; catch is since we rarely eat potatoes raw most of the vitamin content is lost through the cooking process. You can also find about 20% of your daily Vitamin B6 in a baked potato. These delicious tubers are also a great source of potassium. Recent studies have also found that potatoes, especially the red, rival broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts in their ability to help in the fight against cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems and certain cancers. Not bad for the lowly potato.

Red Onion

Recently we were able to harvest some of our red onion crop. An onion fresh from the garden is truly a treat. A nice red onion can turn an ordinary hamburger or garden salad into a zesty meal.

While researching the onion I was stunned at the health benefits to be honest with you. It turns out that the more potent the onion the healthier it may be for you since it posses the greatest concentration of health promoting phytochemicals. Societies that tend to eat greater amounts of onions than others tend to have a drastic decline in stomach cancer and it seems to help in the fight against colon cancer. Onions also contain a number of sulfides which are believed to lower blood pressure. Interestingly enough even the act of crying from cutting an onion plays a beneficial role by releasing toxins from the body. Red onions also have a positive effect on your blood sugar level and help in overall bone health…what’s not to like?

The Ripple Effect

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” Rachel Carson

Recently my family and I returned from a cross country road trip. We drove from New York to Colorado. Aside from wanting to avoid riding on an airplane and the hassle that goes along with it I wanted to take hold of the opportunity to show my children how big the country is. I wanted to expose them to the idea that there is more to the world than just our own back yard.

At one point we found ourselves driving through Iowa admiring the massive wind turbines that dot the landscape. They were beautiful, almost majestic and though they are such a primitive idea they almost looked like they were straight out of a sci-fi movie. Viewing these giants lead to a good conversation between my wife and my daughter. The point was driven home that there are responsible ways to live and then there are irresponsible ways as well, in the end it is up to you to make the right ch…

Purple Bush Bean

This year we attempted to do a few things different in our garden. First we decided to try our hand at heirloom veggies. Second we decided to spice things up visually as well. We wanted the food on our plate to be as appetizing in appearance as it was delicious for the palate. That is where the purple bush bean comes in. These beans are a real beauty and they taste absolutely amazing. I was surprised at how sweet they taste when eaten raw. They do lose their color when blanched but they do not loose a lot of flavor if prepared properly.

The purple bush beans are ready to harvest in about 50-55 days. The trick with beans is to make sure you do not allow them to fully produce all their flowers at once this way they continue to fruit longer because they still have a job to accomplish. As mentioned earlier with the dragon beans they are a good source of nitrogen for your soil and are a moderate source of protein, daily fiber and vitamin C.

Dragon's Tongue Bean

Our family recently took a two week road trip to Frisco Colorado. In the back of my mind I could not help but wonder what the garden would look like when we got back. One of the first things that I noticed upon inspection of our garden when we returned were the bean bushes. We had an abundance of dragon’s tongue beans just waiting to be harvested so my daughter and I got right to work.

This is another heirloom variety that I purchased from the Seed Savers Exchange. This Dutch variety bush bean produces bountiful pods that measure almost 8 inches in length. The bean is unique in its appearance it is cream colored with purple stripes, when blanched the stripes will disappear. Tonight we will hit them with a bit of steam and serve them with some salmon but to this point we have only eaten them raw and I must say that they are delicious.

One of the benefits of growing beans is that they are a “nitrogen fixer” and will replenish your soil which is a benefit to any plant that follows. As f…

Garden Therapy

“Mans heart away from nature becomes hard”
~ Standing Bear

After supper I like to take the dogs for a short walk. We live right next to a walking trail and if you know what paths to take you can become immersed in a deep canopy of green. You are quickly swallowed up by the leaning branches of the young oaks and gnarled old pine. There are ferns waving in the evening breeze while birds and squirrels sit just out of reach warning their neighbors of your quiet passing. For a moment you almost forget that you are in town.

Eventually we make our way back to the house and I like to walk from flower bed to flower bed and examine the slow growth of each plant while the hounds follow a scent from one blade of grass to the next eager to let instinct take charge. Patiently we make our way towards the section of yard that contains the herb and vegetable garden. I tend to pinch some thyme and enjoy its aroma and wash it off my finger tips by rubbing a leaf of lemon balm into a small ball between my…

Planting Seeds of Thought

"To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." Gandhi

Our yard is small compared to some, large compared to others, a 16th of an acre, located on the end of a quiet street corner. I consider it a blessing to have a small piece of land to work with, especially in the presence of my children.

In reference to gardening I think of the old adage “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach him to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”. Both of my children spend their summers in the garden. My son is 1 so most of the day is spent trying to keep mouthfuls of dirt from being devoured but my daughter will be 4 this fall and she has an impressive amount of knowledge for someone so young. She knows which herbs in her mothers garden are safe to eat and luckily for us would rather snack on a fist full of chives or sage rather than potato chips. She understands that in the spring we place our seeds in the ground and that throughout the year if we…

Sneaky Herbs

Sneaky Herbs

In the spring following our move to Orchard St., I began to search the property for old plantings. There next to the back door presented a huge clump of chives. He looked so happy there I decided this was to be a kitchen/herb garden. Toby and I began cleaning the back yard and found huge slabs of slate buried under a few inches of grass and began outlining the perimeter of the garden with them.
This garden, three summers later, has many healing herbs in her soil: Chocolate Mint, Hyssop, Lavender, Calendula, Chamomile, Oregano, Thyme, Strawberry, Basil, Sage and a patio peach tree as a center piece. I have noticed that herbs that I didn’t plant have started to find their way into the garden as well. Violet, Mullen, and Burdock have moved in as well as the ever plentiful Dandelion and Plantain.
Although I have studied the medicinal properties of herbs for about nine years now I am such a beginner and I love that. I feel like a child whenever a plant reveals itself to m…

Eden Lost

“Gardens are a form of autobiography.”
Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

Through out the years whenever I daydream about my youth and I want to drift to a place of happiness without fail I find myself remembering the garden that my family had on my maternal grandparents property. Honestly at this point in life I don’t remember my specific age but I must have been about 5 years old or there about. We lived in an apartment on Bridge St. which was right down the road from my paternal grandparents and thus didn’t have a lawn of our own.

I can still visualize the garden and the layout of the plants. The garden itself was probably 10’ x 40’ give or take a few feet. It was nestled between my grandparents and my aunt and uncle whom lived next door. The space itself was tucked neatly between the scotch pine, blue spruce, maple and oak, it was a little sanctuary of sorts.

There are a lot of small events that may have seemed meaningless to me or those around me at the ti…

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is another of our veggies that I grow from starter plants. Rumor has it that it is bit finicky to work with but my personal experience has led me to believe that it is a reasonably hearty plant that seems to do well in most conditions. Then again maybe I am just lucky.

Cauliflower contains compounds that appear to help prevent cancer. The compounds are believed to stop enzymes from activating the cancer causing agents in the body. Just one serving of cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage) a day can lower your risk of cancer. It also is a detoxifies the blood and liver.

Cauliflower is an excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K and folic acid. Folic acid is believed to lower the risk of strokes and heart disease and even plays a role in fighting depression. It is also a very good source of Omega 3 fatty acids and also contains a bit of protein.

Broccoli

Some of the vegetables in our garden are transplants. Locally we have a farmers market, Frog Pond, which covers most items on your gardening wish list. Though I enjoy the challenge of raising crops from seeds some plants are just simply much easier to deal with in the form of starter plants due to the short growing season in NY.

Personally I find few veggies fresh from the garden that can rival freshly cut broccoli. Hit is with a bit of heat to soften it but not deplete it of nutrients and you have a delicious side dish. Last year I had lost my job and my wife was 8 months pregnant and going out on maternity leave soon so our garden went from a hobby to becoming a corner stone of our evening meals. My daughter and I would gather garlic and potatoes along with broccoli just before her mother arrived home from work. Though money was very tight we were able to maintain a reasonably healthy diet and there was a certain satisfaction in providing for ones self that helped build character wi…

Seed To Harvest

Originally written in the spring of 2008

Sophia digs her toes within the white sand while working on a castle. A territorial starling snaps from its nest hidden above the chives and sage in a blue black bolt of feathers and beak. Sophia continues to sculpt with her plastic shovel and dump truck. She is surrounded by the shaggy lawn of early spring. Colonies of dandelions and forget me nots are woven amongst the lavender clover blossoms. I have been laboring with the bamboo sprouts that continue to reappear next to the cedar trees where the mounds have been strategically placed for red French pumpkins, muskmelons and cucumbers.

Migrating song birds such as the common robin have finally lost their lustful advance and bob for worms at a safe distance from the sandbox and the quiet construction taking place within. Spring is at a peak all around us. The tulips are in full blossom and the apple trees display a quiet pageant of subtle pink and virgin white flowers that promise an abundance of…

Golden Sweet Pea

Kent Whealey of The Seed Savers Exchange (which I highly recommend for seed stock) can take credit for bringing this interesting variety of heirloom edible-podded pea to the states. Story has it that while Whealey was in a market in India he came across the golden sweet pea. As far as I have been able to gather this is the only yellow pea in their catalog and may be unique in the world of peas as well.

The golden sweet pea is a cool season vegetable that when properly trellised can easily grow to 6’ tall. The Seed Savers Exchange describes the flowers as “beautiful two-toned purple”. They really are eye catching and create a nice contrast to the green foliage of any garden. The pods are bright lemon yellow and recommended when small. You should be able to harvest within 60 to 70 days. Our kids sampled the first of our crop last night to astounding review.

Interestingly enough a serving of peas contains almost 51% of your daily serving of Vitamin K. Vitamin K is responsible for mainta…

Burpee Watermelon Radish

-->We are beginning to harvest the first of the Burpee watermelon radish. This is an heirloom variety that takes about 35 days to produce 3 inch roots. My daughter and I took the first one out of the garden today. It has a dark pink hue towards the top of the root along with a silky white base. The flavor of the watermelon radish lacks the bite of the traditional red radish but still holds some zing. An interesting little trick is to sew your radish seeds with your carrots. The radish arrive much earlier and when harvested provide much needed space for you carrots thus doubling up on your garden space. Radishes are well known to be high in Vitamin C and calcium, especially the greens. They are credited with assisting in digestion and being a member of the brassica vegetable group, which also includes cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli, are believed to help protect against certain type of cancers.


Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Clic…