Monday, October 21, 2013

Color, Frost, and Freezing Peppers: Autumn in the Kitchen Garden

Autumn colored harvest from the October kitchen garden -
The last of summer's bounty color coordinated for fall and ready for freezing, roasting, and munching.

Realization of the Day:
I managed to go all summer without posting anything here.

Thankfully it wasn't because there wasn't anything going on in the garden; just the opposite in fact. Except for the tomatoes, which didn't like getting 14 inches of rain during two weeks in late July and August (something I didn't even know could happen in Missouri), this was actually one of my best summer gardens in years. And thanks to some timely August seeding, autumn has been great so far too.

For the last few weeks we've even been celebrating that rare occurrence around here: lettuce and tomatoes in the garden at the same time. Such a treat.

On Friday, though, we had our first patchy frost—which wasn't surprising since our official frost date is October 15th—and yesterday morning everything was white. In anticipation, I picked the last few baby eggplants (how cute are they?) and a bunch of sweet peppers on Thursday.

I froze some of the peppers, which is so easy to do.

More below. . .

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Recipe: Lemony Tuna and Artichoke Picnic Sandwiches with Fresh Basil

Lemony Tuna and Artichoke Cooler-Pressed Picnic Sandwich Recipe -

These Lemony Tuna and Artichoke Cooler-Pressed Sandwiches are my new favorite lunch—and they aren't just for picnics. Tuna packed in olive oil is combined with marinated artichoke hearts, lemon, and fresh basil on crusty baguettes for a scrumptious, no mayonnaise twist on tuna sandwiches.

They travel well, taste delicious, and can be made several hours ahead. I even like them the next day, when the lemon flavor is more pronounced. They're perfect for toting on picnics or hikes, to work, or just out to the backyard.

They're also the perfect way to celebrate the first homegrown basil of the season, especially if you don't have any ripe tomatoes yet. And if you really want to make your sandwiches special, you can bake your own baguettes using my easy recipe for Four Hour Classic French Baguettes.

Love fresh basil?
It tastes great in herbed yogurt cheese.
Or try this Big Bite of Basil Herb Dip or Salad Dressing.
What to do with purple basil and my favorite basil pesto recipe here.

©, bonkers for basil, impatiently waiting for juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes. Grow, grow, grow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Growing in the Raised Vegetable Beds Right Now: Kitchen Garden Journal 6/12/13

In the kitchen garden on 6-9-13 (1) -
Eggplant, peppers, basil, volunteer lettuce, and our new cat, Jasper, who loves to march through (and roll around in) all the garden beds.

Want to see more? You'll find photos of what's happening each week in my kitchen garden (and all around the farm) in the Friday Farm Fix series on Farmgirl Fare.

Realization of the Day:
Every few weeks this spring I've been taking pictures of each of my raised garden beds, but I never get around to posting them. Sometimes I forget, sometimes I'm busy in the garden, and sometimes parts of the garden are kind of a mess and things just don't look good enough. (You may have noticed the overgrown walkways, unsightly cardboard mulch to kill/prevent weeds, and tangle of tomato cages with last year's dried tomato plants still clinging to them in the photo above).

That "good enough" nonsense needs to stop.

Real gardens aren't perfect—at least mine never will be—and it's the imperfect details that often teach us the most. And any garden journal photos are better than no photos. It's amazing how much stuff I completely forget I even grew until I see old photos.

Realization #2:
I am apparently incapable of writing a short garden blog post, even when it's mainly supposed to be pictures.

It's hot and humid, 90 degrees in the shade and headed higher. There's a saving grace breeze, but by late morning it feels like a giant noiseless hairdryer. Joe is out on the tractor raking up our second cutting of hay. All the animals are napping in the shade.

We've reached an annual turning point in the kitchen garden, and it's time to face the truth. Most of the seeds you ordered are still sitting in the freezer. It's too late to start any more spring or summer crops, and the rest of the poor little tomato plants you bought back in April and still haven't put in the ground (or transplanted into bigger pots, or even fertilized) have turned a disturbing shade of purplish black.

So many plans for the garden this year, so few of them actually accomplished. Again.

But then you realize that all of this no longer matters, because after spending half an hour watering out in the blazing sun yesterday morning (I love these garden hoses), you've managed to permanently sweat away your appetite.

What's planted is planted, and suddenly it seems like more than enough. Who wants to eat 56 feet worth of potatoes in July and August anyway? All you can think about are crisp, cool salads and really tall, ice-filled drinks.

And then the realization hits. You were so busy enjoying all that lovely over-wintered Swiss chard and kale, and then the spring-planted gourmet baby lettuce mix, not to mention all those big beautiful heads of volunteer lettuce from last fall's salad patch, that you conveniently forgot to start any heat tolerant greens for summer salads.

Now all those potatoes are starting to sound pretty good.

Picture perfect or not, here's what's growing in my garden right now. There are a also few herbs and flowers tucked here and there, and the homemade greenhouse is full of lemon balm and bolting Swiss chard, but this is the bulk of things. All photos were taken June 9th, except the cucumber and pepper bed which was taken yesterday because I forgot it on the 9th.

11 more photos below, descriptions of each at the end. . .

Saturday, March 02, 2013

At Last: My First 2013 Seed Order (and Two Great Gardening Books)

Bear guarding a raised bed of direct seeded beets and spring greens, taken 4-1-07
Lucky Buddy Bear guards a raised bed of direct seeded beets and spring greens, while the wire fencing laid over the bed keeps it safe from Bear—and cats and rabbits and any other destructive critters (taken 4/1/07).

I received an e-mail from Dixondale Farms the other day, thanking me for being a loyal customer since 2009, and letting me know that I normally place my onion plant order by now.

I'm a little behind in the garden department this year. I still haven't even planted my garlic, but that's because of the weather. The ground has either been too frozen or too muddy (which is why you aren't supposed to plant your garlic in January or February in Missouri), but I haven't given up yet.

On the up side, we're already just about done with lambing season, which in previous years hasn't even started until March or April, so I'm hoping I might be able to (for the first time in several years) get a jump on some indoor seed starting. (You can read about my adventures growing onions from purchased plants here and here, and learn how easy it is to grow your own garlic—assuming you actually get it planted—here.)

I did finally get my Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds order placed last week, and while I managed to show considerable restraint—because my unused seed stash is starting to grow back—I'm excited about trying several new things this year. I'm also looking forward to welcoming some old favorite flowers back into my garden. Besides attracting pollinators (and sometimes even deterring pests), brightly colored flowers add so much beauty and joy. Many of them are even edible.

My Pinetree Garden Seeds order is almost finalized, and I'll share it with you once it's actually placed. In the meantime, here's what I ordered for 2013 from Baker Creek:

More below. . .

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

How To Grow Your Own Garlic (and How To Not Get Any Planted): Garden Journal 1/1/13

How to grow garlic (1) - save your biggest cloves for planting next year's crop -
Save your biggest cloves for planting next year's garlic crop.

Realization of the Day:
December is a bad time for me to plan on planting my garlic.

Of course I knew this already. The best time to plant garlic is a month or two before the ground freezes. Here in Missouri that means October. In warmer regions, you can plant after the first frost date through early winter. Ideally you want to get good root growth but no top growth before winter, although I've had sprouts shoot up before it got really cold, and they survived just fine.

If you're gardening by the moon, you want to put your garlic in the ground on a fertile day during the third or fourth quarter. (If you're interested in learning more about minding the moonsigns, Astrological Gardening: The Ancient Wisdom of Successful Planting & Harvesting by the Stars by Louise Riotte is a great book.)

the snowy kitchen garden on 12-29-12 -
The kitchen garden on Saturday, December 29th.

Miraculously, I did actually manage to get my garlic in the ground in October in both 2011 and 2010, but this year my planting plans were waylaid. Then I missed November. And on Saturday, which was my scheduled December planting day, the ground was frozen and there were three inches of snow on it. Yesterday and today are good planting days as well, except for the old snow and the new sleet. But that's okay.

Lots more below. . .

Monday, November 26, 2012

What's Growing in the Late November Kitchen Garden: Journal Entry 11/26/12

Volunteer Dwarf Siberian kale in the late November kitchen garden -
This volunteer dwarf Siberian kale plant doesn't mind the cold.

Did you eat anything from your garden for Thanksgiving? I'm kind of embarrassed to admit the only thing I harvested was some fragrant lemon thyme that I stuffed inside a locally raised, pastured chicken (along with some of this year's garlic via the pantry), but it wasn't for lack of anything growing out there. It was more like we'd been enjoying freshly picked salads nearly every night for months, so we celebrated Thanksgiving by having things like champagne and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and apple streusel pie with ice cream for breakfast.

But now the holiday weekend is over, and we're back on our usual veggie kick. It may be late November here in zone 5 Missouri, and we've already had quite a few nights down in the low 20s, but thanks to some floating row cover, old bedsheets, and a few plastic tarps, the kitchen garden is still supplying us with plenty of autumn bounty.

In various 4' x 8' raised beds:

More below. . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Growing (and Using!) Your Own Fresh Herbs: My Six Favorite Varieties

Greek oregano growing in the unheated greenhouse on 11-13-12
Taken today: a happy pot of Greek oregano is surrounded by volunteer, easy to grow Swiss chard in the unheated, homemade greenhouse.

Chives, basil, Greek oregano, lemon thyme, Italian parsley, and lemon balm. It's the middle of November in zone five Missouri, and five of my six favorite herbs are still thriving in the kitchen garden, despite weeks of heavy frosts and several nights in the 20s. Even some of the heat-loving basil lasted until a week ago, thanks to some old bed sheets and a plastic tarp.

When my publishing network, BlogHer, asked if I was interested in writing an article for their Go Green to Save Money series, I immediately thought of homegrown herbs. They're easy to grow, cheap to keep, don't require lots of space or attention, and aren't usually bothered by diseases and pests. They're pretty to look at, bursting with flavor, and far fresher than those pricey little packets at the store.

Do you grow any herbs in your garden? Any favorite varieties, stories, growing tips, or recipes to share?

©, full of freshly picked flavor.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How To Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors the Really Easy Way

Green Tomato Harvest 10-17-09
Will green tomatoes ripen after picking them? Yes!

Have you had your first frost yet? Ours was a little early this year, and we've even had one 24 degree morning. When the forecast called for several nippy nights in a row last week, I went through the garden and picked all the remaining green tomatoes from my plants, most of which didn't really start putting on fruit until our summer-long heat wave finally broke in September.

I ended up with about 40 pounds of green tomatoes, and in just one week, a bunch of them have already turned red.

Wondering what to do with your green tomatoes? You're not alone. The most popular post on In My Kitchen Garden right now is How To Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors the Really Easy Way—and it really is easy.

If you'd rather celebrate their greenness instead, check out my super popular Salsa-Like, No Sugar Green Tomato Relish Recipe, which is the number one post right now on Farmgirl Fare.

©, slightly immature but with plenty of potential.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Freezing Zucchini and a Recipe for Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Bread

Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Bread (1) -
Lemon zest and fresh rosemary add a flavorful twist to zucchini bread (recipe here).

Tired of eating zucchini? Try freezing some for later. One of the most popular posts on Farmgirl Fare right now is How To Freeze Zucchini and Summer Squash & My One Claim To Fame. (The claim to fame is that I'm the only serious gardener on the planet who never has a zucchini glut. I've been buying zucchini at the supermarket.) Zucchini and other summer squash are easy to freeze, and you'll be so glad you saved some come winter.

Tired of the same old zucchini bread recipes? Try this scrumptious, just-sweet-enough Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Bread instead. The recipe makes two loaves, so you can eat one now and freeze the other one. I love it toasted and slathered with butter for breakfast.

Or try my 100% Whole Wheat Coconut Zucchini Bread, a healthy, tasty treat made with unsweetened coconut, coconut oil, and less sugar than many zucchini bread recipes.

Hungry for more than zucchini? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, grateful for all of the other glorious bounty the kitchen garden does provide, but still looking forward to someday actually being sick of eating homegrown zucchini.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Growing Miniature White Cucumbers from Seed in Fall? Maybe.

You can read more about growing these cute little crunchy cucumbers in my previous post, Easy to Grow from Seed Favorites: Miniature White Cucumbers.

Realization of the Day:
This is shaping up to be the year of experimental fall planting.

I generally have pretty good luck growing cucumbers. Between my own harvests (lemon cucumbers are another favorite or mine to grow) and the excess bounty purchased from my Amish friends, I haven't bought a supermarket cucumber in years.

This past spring I started three varieties of cucumber seeds in flats, and for various reasons (the main one being that I probably didn't plant the seeds deep enough and they washed away when I watered them—yeah, duh) I didn't end up with any cucumber plants. Then, again for various reasons, I never got around to starting any more cucumber seeds directly in the ground once the soil had warmed up.

Thankfully some other gardeners around here fared better than I did in the cucumber department, and I was able to buy some nice ones (along with some really bitter ones). But because of the heat and drought (which is what made those bitter ones bitter), the local front yard pop-up produce stands closed down almost as soon as they opened up this year.

Fast forward a couple of months to a desperate me, trying to work on some new summer recipes. I finally broke down and bought some supermarket cucumbers. Blech.

I've already direct seeded two of my 4'x8' raised beds with cool season crops—something I've never done as early as August before—and on a whim, I also stuck half a dozen miniature white cucumber seeds into a bare spot in the homemade greenhouse. A couple of days later, four of them sprouted.

More below. . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Recipe: Easy and Healthy Roasted Eggplant with (or without) Red Onion and Sweet Red Peppers

Easy Roasted Eggplant with Red Onion and Sweet Red Peppers 1 -
My favorite way to cook eggplant is great tasting and great for you (recipe here).

I'll spare you photos of the eight really pathetic looking eggplant plants struggling out in my kitchen garden (two words: flea beetles) and skip right to my favorite eggplant recipe instead: this Easy Roasted Eggplant with Red Onion and Sweet Peppers. I made it over and over last summer and have been craving it ever since I put my eggplant seedlings into the ground back in the spring.

You can't go wrong with roasting, and this has to be one of the least complicated—and the healthiest—ways to eat eggplant. Forget the cumbersome peeling, salting, and draining that so many eggplant recipes call for. Want to know how to roast eggplant? Just dice it up, toss it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stick it in the oven. Additional vegetables are optional.

So simple, yet so flavorful. Exactly what summer eating should be.

Do you have a favorite eggplant recipe? Any eggplant growing tips to share?

No eggplants yet either? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, where we're already direct seeding fall crops but still holding out for some more late summer bounty, especially since the flea beetles are finally almost gone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Recipe: How To Make Your Own Homemade V8 Juice (Vegetable Tomato Juice)

Homemade Vegetable Tomato Juice (like V8 juice) 2 -
A cool and refreshing way to drink your vegetables (recipe here)

I have a sheep farmer friend who swears by Campbell's V8 juice when working out in the heat. She says it's more rejuvenating than drinking water or Gatorade and literally makes the difference between wanting to keel over and being able to keep going for hours.

This is the kind of stuff I need to know.

What could be even better than V8? Homemade V8! Or in this case V4, though I suppose it's technically V3 if you count the parsley as an herb and not a vegetable. Either way, this easy to make vegetable tomato juice will blow that V8 away. Did you know V8 is mostly made from water and tomato paste?

It definitely helps when you're outside slogging away, and it tastes refreshing and delicious.

To make this healthy, flavorful juice, all you do is chop everything up and toss it into a pot, then put it through a food mill. (I love my Oxo Good Grips food mill.) It's the perfect way to make use of overripe, imperfect, or just plain ugly tomatoes, which you can sometimes find for a deal at farmers' markets.

And thankfully you don't have to be sweating to enjoy it.

Would you rather have your refreshing summer vegetables raw? Check out my quick and easy gazpacho recipe. You just blend everything up, chill, slurp, and say Ahhhh.

©, where the plants in the garden are so heat-stressed (despite watering at least once a day), even they could probably use a slug of juice.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Recipe: Greek Style Panzanella Salad with Kalamata Olives, Feta Cheese, and Homemade Pan-Fried Croutons

Greek Style Panzanella Salad with cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and homemade croutons 2 -
The traditional Italian tomato and bread salad is given a Greek twist with feta cheese and kalamata olives. Olive oil croutons are hard to resist (recipe here).

It's the height of summer bounty in the garden, so I thought I would share a few of my seasonal favorites from the Farmgirl Fare recipe archives, starting with this Greek Style Panzanella Salad.

One of the reasons I haven't posted more recipes during the seven years I've been blogging is because I'm often still making the same old favorites over and over again—like the Big, Soft and Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Raisin Cookies I've been baking for more than 20 years. I pretty much lived on this Greek style version of the classic Italian panzanella for several weeks last summer and am ready to do it again.

It's cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onion, and crunchy, pan-fried olive oil croutons, tossed with a flavorful red wine vinaigrette. For an extra boost of protein and fiber, you can stir in some organic garbanzo beans.

It makes a great side dish for grilled meats and a perfect light supper or lunch. I've even eaten the leftovers for breakfast. You'll find the recipe here. Enjoy!

Hungry for more than salad? There are links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, where it's been, to put it mildly, a challenging summer in the kitchen garden this year, but thankfully the blister beetles, cabbage worms, and deer have left me a little something to eat out there, including quite a few cherry tomatoes. Yes!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Recipe: Savory Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Pesto Pie with an Easy Cheesy Biscuit Crust

Savory tomato, mozzarella, and basil pesto pie with an easy cheesy biscuit crust
Scared of pie dough? This easy biscuit crust is perfect for beginners (recipe here).

The first meaty plum tomatoes in my kitchen garden are finally starting to ripen, and there's homemade pesto in the fridge. It's time to make a Savory Tomato and Basil Pesto Pie!

This is one of my most popular recipes, and for some reason men seem to especially love it. The other day my friend Susan in Vermont said, "I'm making your tomato pesto pie for dinner tonight. I made it last week, and my husband fell in love with me all over again."

Do tomatoes and basil say summer to you? Do you love pesto and savory pies and melted mozzarella cheese? Then you'll want to celebrate the bounty of summer with this scrumptious Savory Tomato and Basil Pesto Pie.

If you're scared of pastry crust, you're going to love this recipe. The  biscuit dough is practically foolproof, and the pie itself is easy to make but looks impressive and tastes delicious.

Don't believe me? Click here for a sampling of rave reviews from Farmgirl Fare readers. (Thanks so much to all of you who take the time to come back and report on my recipes!) Ready to eat? You'll find the recipe here.

Hungry for more than pie? There are links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, the ripe and ready foodie farm blog where I haven't forgotten that promised post on growing arugula in hot weather. The short version? Order a packet of Rucola Selvatica arugula seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine and scatter them in a partly shaded spot in your garden ($1.35 for 400 seeds).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Recipe: Arugula Salad with Pan-Fried Herbed Potatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, Feta Cheese & Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette

Arugula salad with pan-fried herbed potatoes, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and kalamata olive vinaigrette
This light main course salad is a perfect way to celebrate the summer harvest (recipe here).

I'm kicking off BlogHer's new Market Fresh Cooking series with this beautiful Arugula Salad with Pan-Fried Herbed Potatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, and Feta Cheese that's full of flavor and bursting with summer bounty. For this batch I used arugula, parsley, thyme, and red onions from my garden.

The crisp, herby potatoes also taste great on their own, and the Kalamata olive vinaigrette is wonderful on other things too. I love it tossed with cucumbers and tomatoes. To make this a more substantial meal, simply add some leftover grilled chicken or steak.

No arugula? Make it with romaine lettuce instead. My favorite variety of romaine is an easy to grow heirloom called Parris Island Cos, which is crisp, tasty, and amazingly heat tolerant. 

Coming up next on In My Kitchen Garden: Can you grow arugula during the summer? Yes!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blasted Birthday Blister Beetles: Garden Journal 7/10/12

Blister beetles attacking Swiss chard 1 -
Blister beetles attacking Swiss chard in my kitchen garden.

For more about how to deal with blister beetles—and the many ways we use diatomaceous earth around the farm—check out this post.

Realization of the Day:
I knew better, I really did. Translation: I am a lazy gardening idiot.

There are several things that I block out each year once they're over, like lambing season, which is very cute but stressful and totally exhausting. Poisonous snake season. Chiggers and ticks and the unsightly, horribly itchy ankles they cause. Hot and humid Missouri summers that often last five months.

So when I saw a couple of blister beetles, which love hot, dry weather, trotting along the burned up grass near the sheep barn the other day, what did I do? Nothing.

What should I have done? Raced back to the garden and liberally doused the pepper plants, tomato plants, and Swiss chard, as well as the surrounding soil, with food grade diatomaceous earth (which we buy in economical 50-pound bags - it will last indefinitely if kept dry). These are the crops they seem to go after the most, although I know they also like beans.

Yesterday morning I went out to the garden and discovered that the ravenous blister beetles had arrived just in time for my birthday. The 4'x4' patch of densely planted, previously beautiful Swiss chard was teeming with them—and the leaves that hadn't been devoured were covered with their disgusting droppings. I found minor damage on a few tomato plants too.

I tossed handfuls of diatomaceous earth all over the chard leaves, and then sprinkled some around all the tomato and pepper plants, along with the eggplants just in case, and then went back inside to block out the depressing invasion and have some cake.

And then I got my birthday wish and it rained—and washed away all of the diatomaceous earth I'd just put out.

More below. . .