Author: Kari

Tomato Love

Valentine’s Day is approaching.   In the warmer regions of Arizona (like Phoenix, where I garden) February 14th is also Tomato Day.  My fellow low desert gardeners plant their tomatoes close to this date, much earlier than growers in cooler climates.  While they are on my mind, I want to share my approach to preparation and cultivation for growers in other parts of the country who may still be in the planning stages.

Tomatoes grow well in Phoenix, but we have a few pests and pathogens to which they are susceptible.  Unfortunately, tomato diseases are hard to fight with natural remedies once they manifest. Since I choose not to use toxic chemicals as a treatment option, prevention is the best defense against contagion.  The good news is that simple management practices are generally effective at keeping full-blown infections at bay.

If you start to pinpoint any particular symptoms that may show up on your plants, Clemson Cooperative Extension has published a helpful guide to tomato diseases and disorders.  You can access it here and keep it handy . The guide includes prevention tips and natural treatments for many tomato problems.  Note that the article suggests using chemical fungicides, and suggests some organic options.  I do not use fungicides of any sort, other than homemade, but I find the rest of the information to be helpful.

It is useful to know natural treatments for disease and pest problems.  However, the key to keeping tomato plants healthy and productive is to act before there is any indication of trouble. The following are measures to take to encourage strong, healthy growth.

Disease Prevention Starts Prior to Planting. Good garden preparation can ward off trouble early.  Remove weeds and debris that may be hiding pests.  Prep the soil with compost and make sure that your irrigation system is in good condition.  Clean tomato cages, trellises and tools with alcohol or 10% bleach solution.

Select Disease Resistant Varieties. If you have had disease problems in the past, choose varieties that are resistant to the particular pathogens that are active in your garden.  Many hybrids are resistant, and some heirlooms also have evolved counteractions to ward off contamination.  Tomato Dirt has a helpful guide to choosing disease resistant tomatoes.

Space Your Plantings. Plant seedlings with plenty of space between them for good airflow.  This will mitigate many fungal diseases.  Trellising and caging keeps the fruit off the soil where the disease spores linger. Additionally, prune out excess growth to increase ventilation.  Pruning also decreases stress on the plants and encourages strong, healthy growth.  When fruit starts to develop, prune out barren vines.

Rotate Plantings. Move tomatoes around the garden to throw off pests and diseases.  A three-year rotation is recommended, growing tomatoes the first year in a spot and growing something else in that spot for the next two years.  Move tomatoes annually as far as you can from their previous location. Here is what to do if you don’t have the space to rotate crops more than a few feet.

Irrigate Properly. Water only when the top three inches of soil become dry and try to keep moisture levels as even as possible.  Overwatering or an irregular watering schedule can encourage cracking and disease.  Water at ground level, keeping leaves as dry as possible.  Fungal disease spread when plants are wet and when water splashes spores from plant to plant or from the ground onto the leaves.

Mulch. Mulch is recommended to protect soil and feed microbes.  But it also has a specific purpose for preventing fungal diseases.  According to Modern Farmer, fungal spores overwinter in the soil and the main way they get onto the plants is when raindrops hit the ground and splash dirty water onto the foliage. From there, blight spreads up through the plant whenever conditions are sufficiently moist. Mulching helps by covering the fungal spores. Mulching also conserves moisture in the soil, so you don’t have to water as much. Straw or dried leaves are good choices for mulching tomatoes.

Clip Off Infected Leaves and Stems As soon as you see any deformed leaves or spots, remove them quickly before the problem spreads. Dispose of these clippings far away from your garden and sanitize your tools and gloves so that you don’t reintroduce the pathogen next time you use them.  Rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution will do the job.

Fertilize. Tomatoes are heavy feeders.  They need nutritional support and are more prone to disease when nutrients are imbalanced.  Fertilize at planting, using a balanced organic fertilizer that feeds the soil as well as the plant.  Healthy soil supports microbes that help to crowd out pathogens and they serve to make nutrients more available to plant roots.  Once fruit as set, apply an organic phosphorus fertilizer every other week.  Avoid over-fertilizing, as too much phosphorus can impede calcium absorption (a key nutrient to prevent blossom-end rot.)  My personal regimen is to place alfalfa pellets, eggshells and banana peels in my planting holes.  When fruit sets, I side dress with dry organic fertilizer.

Control Insect Pests. Insect pests spread pathogens as they crawl on plants and their activity can weaken plant resistance to disease. If signs appear of insect damage, check the stems and both sides of the leaves to identify the pest.  Here is a helpful guide to identifying and controlling pests (note the article recommends applying chemical insecticides for persistent infestations, which I don’t recommend, even as a last resort.)

Keep It Tidy.  Garden clean-up is another preventative key.  Clean up debris and pull weeds throughout the growing season.  When the season winds down, remove dead and dying annuals.  Disease spores can overwinter on plants left in the garden from the previous year.  Haul weeds and debris to the compost pile.  Dress the ground with fresh mulch to protect soil and feed healthy microbes over the winter.

Inspect Regularly and Act Swiftly. Most tomato diseases cannot be stopped once you spot them. So quick action is necessary.  I have found that repeated treatments with a slurry of spoiled milk or a baking soda spray can help to abate fungal infestations.  To make the spray, add a heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon of vegetable oil, and a few drops of mild soap to a gallon of water.  Lightly spray tomato plants with this solution or a milk slurry, but do so lightly so that leaves are not dripping wet and can dry quickly.

Be Willing to Cull.  On occasions when disease becomes advanced, I do not hesitate to remove and dispose of stricken plants.  It may be difficult to give up, but sacrificing sick plants can save the rest of the garden.

The Great American Seed Up carries a handful of beautiful tomato varieties as part of our bundles.  View them here.  Pictured here is Black from Tula (Indeterminate) Solanum lycopersicum. One of the largest of the black tomatoes. Dark brown, purple fruits with slightly salty, smoky flavor. Probably from Ukraine. Matures in 80 days.  Available while supplies last.

 

Virtual Tools Make Gardening Easier

Technology has added a new dimension to gardening, making it easier and more accessible.  So many apps, digital spreadsheets, calculators and gardening information sources are at our fingertips in the virtual world.  They don’t replace getting our hands in the dirt. But they do allow gardeners to get information and help faster than ever before, as well as assisting with the administrative tasks associated with growing food.

Grab a free list of virtual tools courtesy of The Great American Seed Up here.  Download it instantly. No email required!

And secure your spot at the next Seed Up Saturday.  February 26, 2022 from 1-4PM MST, instructors from The Great American Seed Up will present a series of short, information packed seminars.  Topics include Why Save Seeds?, Seed Saving 101, Seed Storage, Seed Starting and Garden Nutrition.  We are excited to share information and answer seed questions at this free forum. Sign up here.

Learn to Save Seeds from the Crops You Grow

There’s something you can do in your garden to take it to the next level in nutrition, flavor and resilience.

It starts with where you’re getting your seeds. And guess what? The best seeds are the ones YOU save from YOUR garden! (Learn more HERE)

There is less seed diversity than ever these days… 90% fewer varieties are planted today than only 2 generations ago. The seeds we buy today are less nutritious and delicious than they were in the past, and certainly aren’t the best suited for your garden’s unique needs.

That’s why urban farmers around the world are bringing back the powerful practice of seed saving. No matter how much or little gardening experience you have, you can easily learn to save your own to reduce your dependence on the industrial farming system, grow fruits and veggies that taste amazing and thrive, and live your most healthy, vibrant life.

We’ve teamed up with seed expert Bill McDorman to bring you a FREE short Seed Saving 101 mini course (sign up HERE) for health-conscious people that value self-sufficiency to get empowered to take control of what they eat.

Bill McDorman is a 30-year veteran seed saver and educator, and he will introduce you to the world of seed saving and guide you step-by-step through this elegantly simple process. You’ll learn the basics of seed saving and get inspired to start enhancing your favorite garden plants right away!

Click here to sign up for the free Seed Saving 101 mini course now.

How to Turn 1 Tomato into 90,000

Time, money, and energy are limited and valuable commodities. People have only so much of them to spend.  When determining how to allocate these resources, Return on Investment (ROI) is often a major consideration.  According to Investopedia, ROI is a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency or profitability of an investment.  People tend to informally evaluate ROI all the time and make choices based on what will serve best to achieve an objective, whatever it may be.

Gardeners and urban farmers are not exempt from making ROI evaluations.  We ask ourselves questions such as How can I grow the most food in the amount of space available?  How can I make cultivation more enjoyable?  How can I multiply my efforts?

In terms of multiplication, there is no better Return on Investment for gardeners than saving and planting one’s own seeds.  Saving seeds costs no money and requires very little time and effort.  It is cheaper and easier than shopping for commercial seeds year after year.  And the returns are exponential.

Consider the Early Girl tomato.  Nestled inside each tomato are 150 to 300 seeds.  How many tomatoes can 300 seeds yield?  A lot!  In a Bonnie Plants test garden, each Early Girl tomato plant averaged a yield of 300 tomatoes.  300 seeds X 300 fruits = 90,000 tomatoes!

Even if you cut that number in half to account for germination failure or lower than average yield, that is an amazing ROI.

Spend an afternoon learning about garden planning, seed saving and garden nutrition by attending Seed Up Saturday online Saturday, February 26, 2022.  View all topics and sign up here.

And to learn how to start transplants with your seed, join Greg Peterson, Bill McDorman and Kari Spencer on February 15, 2022 for a discussion on Starting Your Seed Starts.  Reserve a spot here.

10 New Year’s Resolution that Gardening Facilitates

As 2021 comes to a close, growers across North America are perusing seed catalogs and planning their spring gardens.  Many are learning new gardening and seed saving techniques, and are excited to create more abundance in the new year.

For growers and seed savers preparing for 2022, we wanted to share some heartfelt encouragement in the midst of challenging times. There is something soothing and grounding about curling up in the winter with your favorite warm drink, seed catalogs open and soon to be dog-eared, pencil and planner in hand with visions of turning your gardening resolutions into tangible harvests.

Perhaps you are also making resolutions in other aspects of life, from improving your health to bettering your finances.  Gardening can be an integral part of your goals.  Here are a few common New Year’s resolutions and how growing food can help you to achieve them.

RESOLUTION 1: Manage Stress

Tending a garden provides the opportunity for peace and quiet.  Performing repetitive tasks and immersing yourself in nature can be a form of meditation, a moment of calm to contemplate and unwind.  Additionally, gardening can help you to clear your mind and improve your mood so that you can get more done in other areas of your life.

RESOLUTION 2: Get in Shape

Many people resolve to lose weight and exercise more in the new year. Gardening chores can help.  Bending, lifting, pushing, digging and squatting work every muscle in your body.  Some chores are easy and relaxing, providing a light workout.  Others are strenuous, combining both cardio and strength exercises.

RESOLUTION 3:  Save Money

Growing your own food and putting some away for the off season can supplement your grocery budget.  Having foods and herbs that you use often in the kitchen, such as basil, oregano, rosemary and, onions and garlic, save trips to the store and the associated costs (in the form of time, gasoline, expensive commercial produce and impulse purchases.)

RESOLUTION 4:  Simplify

Adding a garden to your list of responsibilities may seem to add complexity to your lifestyle.  The opposite is true.  As mentioned in the previous resolution, there is nothing more satisfying than having food at your fingertips. Food 20 feet from your kitchen saves trips to the store.  Meal planning becomes uncomplicated as harvesting what’s in season or pulling preserved foods from the shelf or freezer becomes the default instead of hopping in the car to find something quickly.

RESOLUTION 5:  Eat Better

Fresh produce picked directly from the garden is the healthiest and most delicious food you can eat.  Newly harvested foods have more nutrients than produce that has been transported and stored at the market.  And you can be assured that they are free of chemicals commonly used by commercial farm operations.

RESOLUTION 6:  Break a Bad Habit

Letting go of a habit is really hard.  Creating a new productive habit to replace the old habit is key.  Gardening can become a new way of life that replaces or distracts from challenges you may have. Instead of picking up candy, pick some weeds out of your garden. When feeling logy from too much screen time, get some garden time by simply wandering outside and taking some deep breaths.

RESOLUTION 7:  Spend More Time with Loved Ones

The garden is a great place to gather with friends and family, whether that means teaching your kids how to grow food or inviting neighbors over to dine on fresh foods al fresco.  Having a garden buddy is fun and working together gets more done. As the saying goes: many hands make light work.

RESOLUTION 8:  Go Green

Gardening is one of the most environmentally positive things you can do. Composting decreases waste and improves the soil.  Fresh produce from your garden requires no plastic packaging, no fuel for transport and no agricultural chemicals. Most produce travels at least 900 miles to arrive at our favorite supermarket. The impact of transporting is reduced (greenhouse gasses). If everyone just grew one vegetable, harmful inputs (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) are reduced as well by simply not buying the produce in question.

RESOLUTION 9:  Learn New Things

Gardening provides an endless opportunity to expand your knowledge and abilities.  There is always a new technique or a different plant to try.  And the experience of growing food makes you more and more skilled at cultivation.  Your garden can become a source of pride and satisfaction.

If you want to learn more about seeds and chat with other seed savers, join us for Seed Up Saturday on February 26, 2022.  Reserve your place at https://urbanfarm.lpages.co/seed-up-saturday/.  You can also join free monthly virtual seed saving classes and Q&A at https://greatamericanseedup.org/events/seed-chat-2021-03/.

RESOLUTION 10:  Give or Volunteer More

Helping out at a community garden or seed library, sharing produce, donating compost, teaching someone else are just a few of the ways that you can give back.  Even something as simple as picking a flower bouquet for a friend uplifts both of you.

Generous heirloom, non-GMO seed bundles can be purchased at here.

Need a planner? Get our beautiful and helpful Vegetable Gardening Journal here.

FROM ALL OF US AT GASU, we wish you a very Happy New Year and a bountiful 2022!

Planting for the Harvest Table

The most celebrated meal of the year is a few days away.  If you grow your own food, there is a good chance that the holiday feast will showcase selections from your garden.  For the ultimate planners, perhaps the entire meal (minus turkey) was harvested from your backyard.  My gardening style is more off-the-cuff, but there are a few items that I plan to grow every year for the holidays.  I think that homegrown foods are just tastier than store-bought (and nothing impresses guests more!)

If you want to try your hand at growing your Thanksgiving Day feast, early to mid-summer is the time to start planning.  It does take some forethought, but serving fresh, healthy foods from your own garden harvest is an inspiring reward.

Here are a few ideas of plants to grow for Thanksgiving:

Pumpkins:  Growing pumpkins for fall foods and décor starts well before autumn arrives.  Although we call pumpkins a ‘winter squash’ because they last a long time in cold storage, they grow when the weather is warm.  Large pumpkin varieties are lovely, but smaller pumpkins are tastier and have a better texture for cooking and baking.  A few of my favorites are Jack Be Little, Sugar Baby, Gold Nugget, Jarradhdale, Little October, and Lumina.

Winter squash:  Besides pumpkins, there are many varieties of winter squash, including Acorn, Delicata, Dumpling, Blue Hubbard, Banana, Buttercup, Marina Di Chioggia , Butternut, Sweet Dumpling.  GASU carries Spaghetti Squash and Waltham Butternut.

Summer Squash: These varieties don’t store as along as winter varieties due to their thinner skin.  But you can certainly blanch and freeze a few for the fall.  You can find Early Prolific Straightneck Squash, Dark Green Zucchini and Black Beauty Zucchini on our website.

Gourds:  Gourds are easy to grow and they make lovely décor.  GASU has both Birdhouse Gourds and Large Mixed Gourds in stock.

Flowers:  As part of my holiday décor, I really enjoy having flowers (both fresh and dried.)  There is a long list of varieties growing in my garden, including Strawflowers, Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Button, Globe Amaranth,) Chinese Lantern, Zinnias, Sunflowers, Rudbeckia (ie. Black-Eyed Susan,) Mums, Mexican Hat,  Allysum, Ipomea Sweet Potato Vine, Gaillardia (Blanketflower, Firewheels,) Geranium, Snapdragons, and Broom Corn and Marigolds.  GASU carries a varied selection of flowers that are beautiful and useful for attracting pollinators to your garden.

Corn: The flint corn served at the first Thanksgiving feast differed greatly from sweet varieties that we enjoy today.  GASU carries delicious Golden Bantam sweet corn.  A harder variety, Reid’s Yellow Dent, is available for growers who want to grind their own cornmeal or flour.  Perhaps our most popular variety, Glass Gem Corn, is also good for grinding.  But many people grow it simply for its beautiful colors.

Beans and Peas:  Grow beans in the summer and freeze or dry them for Thanksgiving.  Our favorites that we carry are Anasazi, Tepary, Bush Blue Lake 274, and Dry Black Beans.  When the weather cools, plant peas.  GASU has Mammoth Melting Snow and Sugar Ann in stock.  Additionally, we offer Broad Windsor Fava beans which are an unusual bean variety that is plant in the cool season.

Herbs:  The addition of fresh or dried herbs makes a meal particularly delicious.  Rosemary, anise, green onions, oregano, mint, cilantro and sage are a few favorites.  GASU stocks  a collection of fantastic herbs, including Italian Large Leaf Basil, Slo-Bolting Cilantro, Bouquet Dill, and Curled Forest Green Parsley.

Onions: Like herbs, onions are also key to flavoring recipes, from sweet yellow onions and mild bunching varieties to aromatic reds.  GASU stocks Red Grano and Texas Early Grano storage bulbs, as well as Sweet Yellow Spanish Utah Onions and Nebuka Evergreen Bunching Onions.

Winter Veggies: We certainly can’t forget about cool season veggies and greens. There is so much variety in this category, including collards, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, lettuces, kale, arugula, spinach, Swiss Chard, carrots.  Kohlrabi, radishes, turnips, beets and parsnips.  GASU carries and large selection of cool season crops.

If you have them growing, consider using the following for food and décor:

Artichokes, persimmons, pomegranates, grape leaves, eucalyptus, apples, pears, Purple Fountain Grass, citrus fruits, fig leaves. pinecones and branches, cinnamon sticks, Pyracantha or ferns.  Additionally, succulents are a popular decorative plant that can be grown indoors when the weather grows cold.  If you live in USDA climate zone 7 or above, Lantana is a lovely plant whose purple, orange, yellow or red flowers last in fall cut flower arrangements.

Tips

 

  • Order seeds for next year early.  Seed companies start to run out of popular varieties in January when gardeners tend to start shopping. Beat the rush by ordering before the new year.
  • 2-4 weeks before Thanksgiving, hang flowers and herbs to dry.
  • 1 week before Thanksgiving, visit your yard/garden to look for items that can be used in your table-scape.  Test leaves and flowers for durability (i.e.. Make sure they are not going to wilt immediately when you cut them.)

Where to get ideas:

Natural Thanksgiving décor: http://anita-faraboverubies.blogspot.com/2011/11/organic-thanksgiving.html and http://peekingthruthesunflowers.blogspot.com/2012/11/thanksgiving-tablescape-ideas.html

Thanksgiving Harvest: What to Plant Next Year for Your Thanksgiving Table https://newengland.com/today/living/gardening/thanksgiving-harvest-what-to-plant-next-year-for-your-thanksgiving-table/

Twelve Things to Grow for Your Thanksgiving Garden: https://montegattafarm.com/garden/how-to-grow-a-thanksgiving-garden/

Growing a Thanksgiving Centerpiece: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/lifestyle/thanksgiving-centerpiece-plants.htm

Evening Elixirs of Joy: Grow Your Own Herbal “Tea”

Written by Belle Starr

Every evening after we settle in for the night’s activities my husband Bill McDorman puts on a pot of water and goes out to the garden to harvest his latest soothing elixir of goodness. This is a ritual I have been part of for almost two decades and I always take it for granted that there will be some delicious mix of herbs and other interesting leaves and twigs to round out yet another busy day.

Unbeknownst to me until recently, I learned there is actually a name for what Bill does. It is called tisane (tea – zahn) and he engages in this process regularly. Tisanes are infusions of leaves and various other garden delights, but technically are not considered teas.  “Tea” is a specific variety of plant (Camellia sinensis.) Teas are created from leaves of white, green, black, and oolong tea shrubs.

Bill’s cornucopia of choices includes mint (always in production around here), lavender, lemon grass, Mexican sage, rosemary, lemon balm and oregano. While one would suspect that some of these herbs may overwhelm the taste buds, in just the right amounts they play well together and taste delicious! I can’t say that Bill combines all the aforementioned herbs every time, but mixes and matches as he desires.

The good news is that all these herbs are great for us and have so many beneficial characteristics. Not only can they taste divine when used in the right amounts, their essential oils and constituents serve our bodies in so many ways.

  • Lavender is known for its calmative properties, its antifungal ability and support of digestive issues.
  • Sage is antiseptic, antibacterial and is used for various kinds of inflammation.
  • Oregano is an antioxidant, and like sage, is antibacterial.
  • Mint of course is great for indigestion and helpful for respiratory function. It also makes breath smell fresh.

A typical evening libation might be a small handful of mint, a few leaves of lavender and a small sprig of rosemary. Bill pours slightly cooled boiling water over the leaves in a tea diffuser and lets it steep longer than a traditional tea (4 minutes).  The longer the steep, the more flavor and more release of the essential oils and constituents. There is always immediate feedback of smell and flavor, and every evening another trial tisane is served.

One of the added benefits of having the remnants of a pot full of tisane greet us in the morning is what we call the morning rinse. It is always so delightful to drink up last night’s mix as a precursor to indulging in delicious coffee.  And it is so good for our digestive systems.

Of course, herbs in the garden are a welcome component to any diverse and ecologically healthy landscape. They act as natural insect repellents and attract all kinds of beneficial insects (butterflies, insects, birds, etc.)

Oh, and did we mention, that most are delicious in an array of various dishes?  Cooking with homegrown fresh herbs isn’t just for gourmet chefs. Learn what you need to know about growing and preserving herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes here:  Growing Culinary Herbs by Kari Spencer.

****Join us this Tuesday at 6 pm (Mountain Time, 5 pm Pacific) for Seed Chat when Bill McDorman and Greg Peterson discuss Culinary and Aromatic Herbs.

Those who join in will received a free electronic copy of the booklet, Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Herbs That Please Our Palettes and Keep Us Healthy

Carve, Compost or Cook?  What to Do with Pumpkins After Halloween

Halloween is almost here, heralded by the most enduring symbol of the holiday, the ubiquitous Jack-o’-lantern.  Carved or natural, pumpkins are displayed for their beautiful colors, textures and sizes.  But they are useful for more than décor.

   SAVE THE SEEDS

It’s easy to save seeds from pumpkins to plant the following summer.  Cut your pumpkin open and scoop out the seeds into a colander.  Run them under cold water to remove clinging pulp.  Dry the seeds on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper for a few days, turning them over periodically so that they dry on both sides. Discard any seeds that start to mold and store the rest in and envelope placed in a cool, dark, dry place.

FEED WILDLIFE

Another good use for pumpkin seeds is a treat for wildlife.  According to the National Wildlife Federation’s blog, birds, squirrels, foxes and deer like to snack on both pumpkin seeds and pumpkin flesh. Visit the blog at https://blog.nwf.org/2014/10/how-to-recycle-halloween-pumpkins-for-wildlife/ for more ideas.

FEED PETS AND LIVESTOCK

Pumpkin is a healthy treat for many animals.  It’s a good source of fiber and vitamins, and has digestive benefits.  Birds (including poultry,) goats, dogs, cats, reptiles and rodents can all benefit from eating pumpkin.  Do some research online or talk to your vet to learn the best ways to offer pumpkin to your pets.  Note that pumpkins decorated with paint or glitter should not be fed to animals due to the potential for toxicity.

FEED THE SOIL

It’s not just vertebrate animals that love pumpkin.  Worms and other soil creatures love them, too!  Add small bits of pumpkin to your vermicompost bin and larger pieces in a compost pile.  To prep a pumpkin for composting, remove candles and decorations. Break the pumpkin into pieces and toss them into the compost pile or worm bin.

SAVE THEM FOR THANKSGIVING

When the ghosts and goblins have gone home and the festivities are over, hang on to your uncarved pumpkins.  They can last for several months in cool storage before they start to rot.

EAT THEM

Pumpkin is a wonderful ingredient for many kinds of recipes.  Perhaps the first culinary use that comes to mind is pumpkin pie.  It’s simple to make your own pumpkin puree for pie and to add to soups, smoothies, breads and other recipes.  Pumpkin puree is also a delicious way to add fiber and vitamins to sauces, batters and baked goods.

Homemade puree tastes better and costs less than the canned version. Substitute the same amount of homemade puree as canned in recipes.

Here’s how to make the puree:

  1. Start by cutting a pumpkin in half and removing the seeds and pulp.
  2. Brush the cavity with olive or vegetable oil and sprinkle the flesh with kosher salt.
  3. Line a cookie sheet or pan with parchment paper. Lay the pumpkin cut-side down on the pan. Roast for 30-45 minutes in a 400 degree F oven. The pumpkin is done when a knife or fork easily pierces the skin. It’s okay if the skin turns black and bubbles.
  4. Remove pumpkin from the oven and allow to cool for one hour.
  5. When the pumpkin is cooled, use a spoon to remove the flesh from the skin.
  6. Puree the flesh in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  7. Store the puree for up to one week in the refrigerator, or for several months in the freezer.

Note:  Don’t skip lining the pan with parchment.  Pumpkins release liquid that cooks down into a sticky substance that adheres to pans, making them difficult to clean.  The parchment can provide some protection.  Larger pumpkins can release enough liquid to overflow a cookie sheet.  If necessary, use a turkey baster to periodically remove excess liquid.

Pumpkins come in many sizes and types, all of which can be pureed.  Large field pumpkins (carving pumpkins) tend to have a high water content and little flavor, making them undesirable pie filling.  The flesh is useful for savory recipes and to sneak into sauces and batters.  Smaller pumpkins, sometimes referred to as ‘pie pumpkins,’ have meatier flesh and better flavor for baking.

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, DONATE THEM

If you don’t want to cook them or leave them in your yard for wildlife, you could donate them to a food pantry.  Or try contacting local zoos, animal shelters, farms or community gardens.  Many will take them off your hands to use as animal feed or for compost.

With so many different ways to use leftover pumpkins, you can keep yours from ending up in the trash this year.

On the List of Most Loved & Most Hated Veggies, Broccoli Wears the Crown

At the dinner table, it’s the classic battle of the veggies — broccoli is on the plate.

Your child clamps their mouth firmly shut and looks you in the eyes with a determined squint that lets you know—it’s on. Those little trees aren’t going down without a fight.

On the list of foods kids hate, broccoli may be #1.  Adults are not immune to distaste for broccoli either, sometimes feeling a strong aversion to what others consider a benign bit of healthy greenery.  Presidents are no exception.  In 1990, President George H.W. Bush stated emphatically:

I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid. And my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States. And I’m not gonna eat any more broccoli!

In response to his distaste of broccoli, the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association pledged to send a number of truckloads of broccoli to the White House. Wearing a broccoli corsage, the President of the association gave First Lady Barbara Bush (who was emphatically #TeamBroccoli) a bouquet of broccoli and an additional ten tons of the vegetable to donate to local food banks.  The press ate it up. And in the tradition of the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity, broccoli sales headed up.1

Over the years, broccoli has been celebrated and loved for the amazing, healthy vegetable it is.

Broccoli is packed full of minerals, fiber, nutrients and vitamins.  Research has shown that eating broccoli three to five times per week can lower the risk of many types of cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancer.  It may also protect against the development of liver disease and cancer.2

But in spite of its great benefits and diversity, there are still those who claim it will never touch their lips. A new study published recently in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reports that for some, there seems to  be a link between the microorganisms in the mouth and how certain people react to the sulfurous compounds in broccoli. People who react to these compounds may recoil from the smell and taste describing it as rotten and putrid. Yet there are still many of us who find its taste heavenly and healing. And, oh the recipes!

Interestingly, broccoli got a big boost in 1986 on Saturday Night Live when comedian Dana Carvey heralded the popular vegetable by singing its praises, literally. Fans of the show may remember the iconic piece known as Chopping Broccoli or The Woman I Know.  Dana hilariously used broccoli as the vehicle to underscore how easy it is to make anything into a swooning rock song. Seriously, what is better than chopping broccoli?

The Great American Seed Up is happy to continue the legacy of broccoli by offering a popular heirloom variety called Green Sprouting Calabrese. 

This old variety was introduced in the late 1800’s in Italy.  Green Sprouting Calabrese Broccoli is popular with home gardeners and small farms because of the many off-shoots, maturing at different times, resulting in an extended harvest time.3

Broccoli is a cool-season crop that has its origins in the Mediterranean.  It was developed by the Etruscans of what’s now central Italy. Heirloom Italian Green Sprouting Calabrese broccoli is not grown on a commercial scale and is most often spotted at local farmers markets or in home gardens, which makes it that much more desirable and unique.

The Great American Seed Up invites you to scoop up a sizable amount to keep the heirloom tradition going and to celebrate this marvelous, controversial and delicious (to most) vegetable.

How does broccoli feel about being stalked by a bad reputation?  Be-leaf me, it’s steamed.

 

1 Ferraro, T. (1990, March 27). Broccoli Wars — The final chapter? UPI. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1990/03/27/Broccoli-Wars-The-final-chapter/2328638514000/

 2 Henry, S. (2016, March 2). Study shows broccoli may offer protection against liver cancer. College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences. https://aces.illinois.edu/news/study-shows-broccoli-may-offer-protection-against-liver-cancer#:%7E:text=Research%20has%20shown%20that%20eating,as%20cirrhosis%20and%20liver%20cancer.

3Italian Di Ciccio Broccoli. (n.d.). Specialty Produce. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Italian_Di_Ciccio_Broccoli_5002.php

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2021 Phoenix Seed Up Shopping List

Curious about the seed varieties that will be at the Phoenix Seed Up?  Download the list here.  Use it to plan your shopping experience and to create a shopping list for the event.

If you still need tickets, we have a few time slots left.  Secure yours here.

If you can make it to the in person Seed Up, shop online for similar varieties.  And join us on Facebook for the Phoenix Seed Up livestream on October 1-2.

Beneficial and Easy to Grow, Dill Has Long Been a Favorite in the Garden

Dill is one of those aromatic herbs that people tend to either love or hate.  The fronds (which are called Dill weed)  have a distinctive bittersweet lemony smell that is easily recognizable.  The seeds smell similar to the fronds, but the odor is stronger.

I am personally a fan.  The aroma and flavor of dill calls to mind delicious pickled cucumbers that my grandfather grew and flavored with home grown dill weed and dill seed.

Conveniently for people who like pickles, dill is a wonderful companion plant for cucumbers because it attracts beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps.  Its aroma also has a repellant effect on moths, worms and caterpillars that love to munch on brassicas. Plant cucumbers with asparagus and brassicas, such as broccoli, kale and Swiss chard.

Dill weed tends to live up to the name weed as it is hardy and reseeds readily.  Wild dill grows in many places as a field weed that readily naturalizes, and it will do so in your garden, as well. Dill generally needs little care once it’s started. In many climates, gardeners can create a permanent patch of dill letting some of your plants flower and go to seed— plenty of early dill will sprout up the next season.

GASU will have dill available at the Phoenix Seed Up on October 1-2, 2021.  Dill is also included in a few of our seed bundles that can be purchased online here. A particularly hardy variety in stock is Dill Bouquet. It is a favorite due to its large fronds that tend to produce copious amounts of seed.

The GASU team is always expanding our seed knowledge, and we love to learn from other growers. Belle Starr came across an article that we found interesting about the history and uses of dill. See below:

 

 

Dill Weed History and Uses by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone  

Dill weed naturally brings to mind pickles. No wonder since Americans consume more than 2.5 billion pounds of them each year, with kosher dills being the favored variety. In Europe and Asia, dill has long been a staple herb, strongly associated with seafood in the Nordic countries. Eastern European immigrants to the New World brought many traditional recipes incorporating dill.

The thin, feathery green leaves become the aromatic herb called dill weed (or dillweed), and the oval flat seeds the more pungent spice referred to as dill seed. Dill is easy to grow at home in the garden or in containers. (If you grow your own, be aware that the mature seeds are toxic to birds.) Once the edible white or yellow flowers appear, the plant stops producing the leafy fronds. But you can add the flowers to pickle jars for a visual surprise or use them to garnish a salad. And if you want to harvest dill seed, you need to encourage the flower growth.

Origin of Dill Weed

Botanically known as Anethum graveolens, dill belongs to the same family as parsley and celery, though it is the sole species of its genus. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia. The word dill comes from the old Norse word dylla, meaning to soothe or lull. It dates back in writing to about 3000 B.C. when it earned a mention in Egyptian medical texts.

In the 1st century Rome, dill weed was considered a good luck symbol. Ancient Egyptians used it to ward off witches and as an aphrodisiac. To the Greeks, dill signified wealth. Many cultures cultivated it for medicinal qualities, particularly its ability to soothe an ailing stomach. It’s even mentioned in the Bible. Puritans and Quakers gave their children dill seeds to chew on while at church as an appetite suppressant. Modern wisdom gives dill seed credit as a breath freshener and anti-bacterial, plus it’s believed to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding women and alleviate colic.

Uses of Dill Weed

The flavor of dill weed resembles the licorice-like flavor mild caraway or fennel. The plant is, in fact, often mistaken for fennel fronds. Add fresh dill weed at the end of cooking to preserve its flavor and color. Dill seeds can be crushed or ground or incorporated whole at an earlier stage as heat actually brings out the flavor. The flavor of fresh dill weed does not carry over to the dried herb, though it is available in supermarket spice sections.

Beyond its use as a pickling spice, dill weed has a natural affinity for zucchini and summer squash, asparagus, and spinach. It complements cold-water fish such as herring and salmon and makes a notable appearance in recipes for borscht. It adds an unmistakable taste to herb salad blends, and often shows up in tzatziki, among other classic Greek dishes.

What are Nightshades and Why Are They So Fantastic for Seed Saving?

Death by Tomatoes!

Nightshades are a botanical family of plants, more technically called Solanaceae.  There are more than two thousand plant species in the nightshade family, the vast majority of which are inedible and highly poisonous (like deadly nightshade and jimsomweed [sacred datura].

On the other hand, many are staple foods that are rich in nutrients. Potatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplants are all common nightshades.  These are often favorite plants for seed savers.  They are self-pollinating, so they don’t cross pollinate easily.

On September  21st at 5pm Pacific time, Bill McDorman will join Greg Peterson for their monthly Seed Chat, a live online Q&A session.  This month, they will be discussing and answering questions about Nightshades.  Learn more here.

 

 

A Little Tomato History

Perhaps the most popular of the nightshades for gardeners is the beloved tomato.

America’s favorite vegetable originated in the northern highlands of South America. The first wild tomatoes brought into cultivation bore tiny, watery, acidic tasting fruits that barely resemble today’s delicious giants. Over the centuries the tomato made its way north to the Aztecs of central Mexico who are thought to have done much of the original breeding work. In fact, our name for the plant comes from the Aztec name tomatl.

Spanish conquistadors brought tomato seeds back to Europe. Spain became the first European country to really produce tomatoes. Italy adopted the Pomo d’oro, or “golden apple,” as an integral part of its national cuisine. The rest of Europe had a bit more trouble adopting this new garden friend from the New World because tomatoes are in the nightshade family. Their leaves closely resemble a number of deadly plants including belladonna. The English were the last to be convinced, and many of the first American colonists from England still carried this bias against tomatoes.

One of the first places we find evidence of Americans eating tomatoes is in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. Beginning in 1809, Jefferson wrote of growing them for consumption in his garden journals. Amazing stories come from the early days of the United States when most Americans still believed tomatoes to be poisonous.

Col. Robert Johnson, a world traveler and adventurer, against the advice of his physician and in the presence of the local undertaker, ate much of a bushel of tomatoes in front of a terrified crowd on the steps of the courthouse in Salem, New Jersey in 1820.

Some say the Creoles in New Orleans were really the first in the United States to seriously use tomatoes, bringing them into commercial production in 1860.

Tomatoes became immensely popular in the late 19th century. Hundreds of new varieties were created as gardeners and farmers saved seeds from their own stock and selected for different characteristics. This trend continued until after WWII when hybridization and commercialization became the driving forces in tomato production.

The results of this industrial revolution in tomato growing have been nothing short of amazing. Tomatoes are now mechanically picked, tossed into trucks, driven thousands of miles, and stored on produce market shelves for weeks at a time!

Modern commercialization of the tomato has not been without negative effects. Bland and mealy supermarket tomatoes bred for uniformity have compelled a record number of taste-conscious Americans to grow tomatoes at home or seek them at farmer’s markets.

The number of good-tasting, open-pollinated tomato varieties, so prevalent before WWII, is now growing again. By learning to save your own seeds from the varieties that do best in your garden, you can contribute to this expanding diversity. At the same time, you’ll be enjoying the historically celebrated flavor of this remarkable plant and helping to create a more resilient and delicious agriculture system for us all.

Save Your Own Tomato Seeds

Tomatoes are among the easiest plants from which to save seeds. Because they produce self-pollinating flowers, home gardeners can grow two or more different varieties without needing to be overly concerned about separating them to avoid cross pollination. In addition, you can sometimes save a hundred tomato seeds from a single large tomato. This will yield more seeds than you will need for your home garden for the rest of your life.  One thing we love about saving tomato seeds is you can still eat the tomato.

The Great American Seed Up (GASU) features a diverse assortment of tomato varieties for you to plant, eat and save.  Grow your own for great taste and adaptation to your own backyard conditions.  Below are just a few of the beautiful heirloom tomatoes that we offer.

One of our favorites is Brandywine Blend.  

This Amish heirloom dates from the 1880’s. Contains a mix of Brandywine color varieties. An indeterminate variety, it is sometimes referred to as a climbing tomato and staked runners can climb to 9 feet. Brandywine has large (up to 1 ½ lb.) semi-flattened fruit on large vines. Moderate to heavy producer of excellent flavored fruit.

 

A great tomato for container gardens as well as in ground beds is Ace 55

It is a determinate heirloom variety with large, deep red fruit with low acid content. It’s thick, beefy walls are resistant to cracking. This tried-and-true variety is disease resistant.  This favored variety is great for farmers market growers.

 

For gardeners in hot climates, Floradade Tomato is a delicious, bright red variety that has a great ability to withstand heat and produce high yields.

Floradade produces smooth, 5-7 ounces sized tomatoes with slightly deep globes. The Floradade tomato is a disease-resistant variety developed by the University of Florida at their Homestead facility in the 1970’s.

As mentioned, tomato seeds are easy to save and the benefits of saving them cannot be underestimated. Resilience, flavor, and hardiness are just a few of the important characteristics you can capture simply by paying attention.

Buy your seeds from GASU, and learn from our on-line learning platforms to save tomato seeds and to expand your palette and your ability to continue the seed saving tradition from one generation to another both in your plants and your families!

And don’t forget to attend Seed Chat on September 21st at 5pm Pacific.  This month’s topic is Nifty Nightshades.  Sign up here.

This article is adapted from “Death by Tomatoes” by Bill McDorman, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA), a non-profit organization created to assure a diverse and abundant supply of seeds for the Rocky Mountain West. He has been teaching classes in wild, edible and medicinal plants and seed saving for more than 30 years.

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