Author Archives: The Gardener and the Chef
BEETS, GROWING AND COOKING Anne K Moore
I have lived in the South for more than 30 years but, since I grew up “up Noth”, the only greens I was acquainted with as a youngster was spinach. Southerners have always used many different types of greens with their meals. One that is grown throughout most of the country mainly for its bulbous root is the beet. And yet, historically, beets were originally grown for their tops. If you use heirloom seed, you might be disappointed in the size of the root. Check descriptions carefully when purchasing seed if you want to have large bulbous roots.
Beet seed is actually a hard capsule that contains several seeds. If you soak the seed for 24 hours, you will get quicker germination. This misshapen “seed ball” usually contains two to four viable seeds.
Beets need a soft growing area so their roots will mature correctly. Prepare a seed bed deeply in a well-drained area. Add plenty of compost to improve both clay and sandy soils. The pH should be between 6.5 & 7.5.
Sow the beet seeds 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep, 3 inches apart, in rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Keep the soil moist but not wet.
The most critical thing to do when growing beets is to snip off all but one beet plant seedling so the bulb will have room to grow. Since beet seed is actually several seeds in a cluster, you have to thin the seedlings by cutting off all but the strongest plant in each planting hole. (Do not pull them; you can damage the roots of the plant you want to save.)
Begin thinning when seedlings are about 4 to 5 inches tall. Thin to 3 to 4 inches apart if you plan to harvest young, small, or cylindrical-shaped roots, or 6-inch spacing for larger roots. Don’t waste the young tender thinnings, toss them in a salad.
Beets Tolerate temperatures to 40 degrees F. so plant them early in the spring. A late fall crop can be planted, too. Think about the coming temperatures. Beets will bolt (send flower stalks & be inedible) with temperatures as little as 50 degrees, if these temperatures last for more than 2 weeks.
Gardeners usually love or hate the earthy taste of beets. I love beets and usually eat them after oven roasting.
They are delicious served hot as a vegetable side or cold as a summer-time salad. To roast beets, trim the tops and root to about an inch long. Cutting them close can result in the red color “bleeding” excessively from the cuts. Don’t peel them. Scrub them clean with a brush and warm water.
Pat dry and coat each beet with olive oil. Using a fork, prick the skin on the beet, then wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees fahrenheit. Roasting can take 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the beets.
Let them cool until you can safely peel them and remove the tops and root sections. They can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated in a pan or microwave.
Text & photos Anne K Moore
Successful vegetable growing has to be followed by harvesting at the peak of flavor. After all, that is one of the primary reasons for growing at home. Taste is everything.
Broccoli is a cool season vegetable and will quit producing and try to go to seed as soon as the weather warms up.
Broccoli florets should be cut off as a whole head just below where it fills out on the stalk. You will notice small, even tiny little side shoots below the primary first head.
Leave these and soon you will have filled out florets to harvest. As you harvest, leave any immature sprouts. You can harvest broccoli for a long period, often a month if the weather doesn’t do a quick turn-around from cool to hot.
Once you have them in the kitchen, rinse off the head and cut it into bite size florets. A quick steaming, just a few short minutes, is all it takes to bring broccoli to the table. Serve it up when it is bright green and fork tender. You can add cheese or butter or just serve it plain. Delicious!
Once the air heats up, the broccoli will start to bolt, which is the word we use for going to flower. Even when the florets are swelling into buds, the taste will not be as good as when they are tight. Once the blossoms open, the broccoli is past its prime and anything you harvest from that plant will be bitter.
If you are not replanting a summer crop right away in the same spot, leave the blooming plants. Pollinators will be happy for the early meals.
Recipe RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore
Since I live in the South, I don’t get much rhubarb and have never tried to grow it. It does not like our hot summers. There is a rhubarb now with variegated leaves, which would fit nicely into a flower border.
I do wish it would grow here because I love rhubarb pie like Mama used to make. Back in Ohio where I grew up, our rhubarb patch came with the farm. It died down every winter and came back up every spring. To my knowledge we never did anything to it. It grew at the edge of the lawn beside a hard path.
My dolls and I would often have tea parties under the big cedar trees using rhubarb leaves as tea plates.
I have eaten the stalks raw with a good dosing of sugar, but my favorite is Mama’s rhubarb custard pie. I know many folks like rhubarb/strawberry pie, but I never developed a liking for the combination. I do love the sweet and sour play-off of the flavors in the custard pie.
A few days ago, I was thrilled to find fresh rhubarb stalks in the local Piggly Wiggly. I brought home a pound, rifled through Mama’s recipe box, and made my Mama’s pie. Since I’m dieting I substituted granulated Splenda for the sugar in the recipe. Although Splenda says to use it in the same measurements as sugar, I find it too sweet to use that way, so I didn’t use quite so much. I did use sugar on top of the top crust. It brought back many childhood memories.
RECIPE – RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
Oven 400 degrees F.
9 inch pie plate lined with pastry dough (I used store bought.)
2 Tablespoons butter & 1 teaspoon melted for crust
Rhubarb stalks (about 1 pound) washed and cut into 1 inch slices to make 4 cups
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 cups granulated Splenda (1 ½ cups sugar if not using Splenda) or to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Beat the blended dry ingredients into the eggs. Then fold in the cut rhubarb. Fill the pie plate pastry and dot the top of the filling with butter. Cover with a top crust, cut slits to vent it, then brush it with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes until filling no longer wiggles under the crust. Cool completely before serving and keep leftovers refrigerated.
Early Caribbean Explorers discovered that if a pineapple was set outside an island village, then visitors were welcome. Slaves probably brought the pineapple as a symbol of welcome to the southern United States, and the symbol has flourished ever since.
Pineapples are carved into the columns of stately homes, into the columns of stately beds, into gates, and are used on many different fabrics and crockery. No self-respecting Southerner would think of leaving fresh pineapples out of their Christmas decorations.
Edible pineapples (Ananas comosus) are in the Bromeliad family. Many bromeliads are epiphytic, meaning that their roots cling to trees and take their nutrition from the air. Some in this family, like the pineapple, grow in soil.
It is possible to grow your own pineapple, even if you live where the winters are frigid. You can get a pineapple to thrive in a pot. And, this is one case where you can have your fruit and eat it too.
Purchase a pineapple with a good-looking green leafy top. It’s okay if the tips are brown. It is often impossible to find a totally green top after the long shipment and lay about in the grocery store.
When you’re ready to prepare your fresh pineapple, grab the base of the leaves near the top of the pineapple (Careful, the leaves are spiny, you might want to wear gloves.) and twist until you can twist it out, just as if you are unscrewing a lid from a jar.
Peel off the bottom leaves to expose the bottom one-third piece of stem. Lay the prepared stem on paper towels and let it dry out for 4 or 5 days. Then it will be ready for potting.
You can purchase a bromeliad potting mix, or you can mix one up using orchid bark, perlite, charcoal, and peat moss. Choose a pot that is quite small, one that is deep enough to plant the naked stalk up to the leafy top. The leafy top of the pineapple should overhang the sides of the pot. If it won’t stand up, just sink the small pot into a larger pot and surround it with stones or gravel to hold it upright. Set it in a brightly lit area.
Bromeliads have a vase shape center in order to catch and hold water. Because of this, Bromeliads are watered differently than regular plants. Watering the center of other plants could quickly rot out the growing tip. Not so with bromeliads. They need water in the center portion to thrive. Water your pineapple in the middle of the top and at the root area. When you feed it, use a water-soluble fertilizer, either organic fish emulsion or a chemical fertilizer – your choice mixed at half strength-, and water the leaves, the top, and the root area.
Since the pineapple grows best in humid tropical regions, it will grow best in your home with daily misting to raise the humidity. Once the pineapple top shows new bright green growth, it’s time to move it into a little larger pot.
It will also flourish if you move it outdoors during the summer months, after the temperatures reach 60° day and night. Be sure to acclimate it from indoors to outdoors by slowly moving it into a sunny situation for just a few minutes a day, increasing the time spent in direct sun. Just like you, it will sunburn unless you bring it into full sun slowly, over a matter of days. Move it back indoors before the temps fall below 55°. You will need to supplement the light in order to get it used to the dimmer indoor conditions again.
As your pineapple plant gets larger, be sure to move it into bigger pots. After 3 years, if it is a happy plant, you very well could have a pineapple fruit on a stalk above a substantial size pineapple plant, growing in a 5-gallon container. Pineapples have a very interesting flower. You can tell they belong to the bromeliad family when this blue on red flower spike appears. When you look at a pineapple fruit, you can distinguish just how the flower stalk looked. The outer segments were flowers; the inner core was the stalk.
Once the pineapple blossoms and sets fruit, the mother plant will die. Before hand, she should be putting out some little pups at the base of the plant, which you can remove and pot up to start the whole process over again. Harvest the pineapple you’ve grown and use it in one of Chef Linda’s yummy recipes.
Another interesting pineapple tidbit: If you’ve ever added fresh pineapple to a gelatin dessert you learned that gelatin will not set up with fresh pineapple in it. Pineapple contains an enzyme, which is used as a tenderizer. This protein-eating enzyme is another reason why it makes a good meat marinade. It doesn’t just add flavor, but also helps to tenderize meat. It digests protein, and that’s why it cannot be used fresh in gelatins.
by Anne K Moore
BLUEBERRIES IN THE GARDEN
HOW TO GROW BLUEBERRIES
Anne K Moore
Blueberries are extremists. They need intensely acid soil, a pH of 4.0-5.0. Add sunshine and a steady supply of water to the roots and you will produce a bumper crop of those tasty berries. To acidify soil that is too “sweet,” use agricultural sulphur according to label directions. After you plant the blueberry bushes, use acid-producing organic mulches such as pine, oak, or hemlock leaves/needles at least 2 inches thick. You can also use a fertilizer formulated for acid plants.
You can prune blueberry bushes into ornamental shapes so they will even fit into a street-side garden. They have little bell-shaped blossoms in the spring, which turn into plump berries, first a kind of pink and then the rich blue. You will know when the berries are ripe because they will easily spill into your hand when you gently tug on the clusters.
Northern gardeners can grow the Northern Highbush varieties that withstand the cold and snowy winters. If you live in a warmer climate, you’ll want to seek out the Southern Highbush and Rabbiteye blueberries, which tolerate heat and humidity. Some of the newer varieties don’t require a pollinator to produce fruit but you will have a larger crop if you plant two different cultivars. For cross-pollination, be sure to purchase two that bloom at the same time.
Anne K Moore
Sweet corn is a sun worshiper. It prefers to grow in the heat of summer, so don’t plant it too early. The seed should go in the ground after the soil has warmed up and all danger of frost has passed. Sweet corn rows should be three feet apart and the seed two to three feet apart in the rows although you can plant 2 seeds per hole.
You should also plant just one type of sweet corn in your garden. Old fashioned rush-to-the-pot corn, sugar enhanced corn (SE), super sweet corn (SS), and the newest super sweet can all make a good backyard vegetable crop. You ought to choose only one type, although you can choose several cultivars of the same type.
For instance, it is all right to plant the different super sweets together. It is also OK to plant different named cultivars of sugar enhanced corn. However, you should not plant sugar enhanced corn and super sweet corn together. The reason is pollination.
Corn is wind pollinated. If you plant different breeds of corn in your garden, the resulting crop will be undesirable. Sweet corn, popcorn, field corn, and the new super and sugar enhanced varieties all will cross pollinate. If you plant them too close, you will end up with starchy, very un-sweet corn.
To keep your corn separate and sweet as advertised, you must have at least 70 feet between blocks of corn. It is safer, and you are more likely to harvest what you expected, by following the spacing suggestions. Another way is to plant them at least two weeks apart. This can still be risky if they decide to tassel all at the same time.
One of the biggest problems backyard gardeners have with growing sweet corn is getting the cobs to fill with kernels. Since sweet corn is pollinated by the wind, it cannot be planted in a single row. Even two rows of corn will not pollinate correctly. A plot 4 feet long by four rows wide is the minimum to getting good full ears of sweet corn. Sometimes you can get by with three rows.
Grow corn in good fertile well draining soil. The pH should be between 5.5 and 6.5. Keep the stalks watered throughout the growing season. The stalks need an inch of water a week so if the rains are sparse, you will have to irrigate. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer every two weeks. If you are growing organically, use fish emulsion diluted according to package directions. If not, you can work in a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 granular fertilizer around the rows.
One of the common problems of corn ears are earworms and/or armyworms. Both look very much alike: Brown caterpillars with a dark stripe along each side. These caterpillars eat the corn kernels, usually starting at the silk end. You can cut out the damage they cause and dispose of the worms themselves. The undamaged part of the ear is OK to eat.
To keep these pests out of your corn ears, try using one of these old remedies: When the silks on the ears have drooped and before they turn brown, pour about a tablespoon of mineral oil on the silks. On the other hand, you can sprinkle the same amount of sand on the silks of each ear of corn. Both additions discourage the female moths from laying her eggs on the ears, where they hatch and begin to feed on the corn. The larvae can also feed on the leaves and stems of the corn stalk. Get rid of any you find so that they don’t mature into moths to start the cycle over again.
Raccoons love to raid sweet corn patches. To keep them and other marauding wildlife out, encircle your corn with two strands of electric fence. The bottom strand should be about five inches from the ground and the upper strand about seven inches above the lower. Follow all safety directions that come with the transformer.
Sweet corn straight from the garden is delicious. I think it is worth the little bit of trouble to grow it. My favorite is the old fashioned Silver Queen. If I want to eat it, I have to grow it.
With the advent of the sugar enhanced and super sweets, farmers don’t grow the old timers any more. The newbies hold on to their sugar. They don’t turn to starch for days, and in some cases weeks, making them perfect for markets and shipping. The only travel my Queen does is from the backyard to the boiling pot. Although, I do admit that the new sugar enhanced Silver King is pretty good, as far as SE corn is concerned.
Anne K Moore
In a restaurant, I am not a huge fan of cucumbers in a salad. I usually push them to the side. Fresh from the garden, though, is a whole ‘nother story. Who knew even the lowly cucumber could taste this great fresh from the vine.
Don’t be tempted to plant the cucumbers too early in the season when temperature fluctuations are most common. If the temperature varies by more than 20 degrees F., the fruit can turn bitter. Cucumbers grow best in temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil should be good garden loam. To save space, construct a slanting trellis to hold the vines off the ground. This will help to keep the cukes clean, dry, and free of soil borne diseases, like mildew.
Trellising also helps to keep the cucumbers from running rampant down your rows. When it’s time to harvest any vegetables, it’s a lot easier to walk the rows than tiptoe through the vines.
Apply a balanced fertilizer next to the row or spray the plants with a water-soluble solution when the plants start to bloom.
WHY ARE THERE FLOWERS BUT NO CUKES?
Many of the first flowers may be male and won’t set fruit. The female flowers do the fruiting. Male blooms connect straight to the vine, while female blooms have a small bulb at their end, which will develop into the cucumber, if pollinated. Misshapen fruit is often due to low fertility or poor pollination.
Bees are essential for pollination. Make sure you never apply an insecticide to a flower. That includes insecticidal soap, which is safe only after it dries. Bees are still killed by it if they touch it (or it touches them) when it is still wet. If the temperatures rise too fast or drop low overnight, fruit-set can fail. Or, maybe there are too few bees in the garden. You might not be able to “fix” the temperatures but you can invite the bees for a visit.
To increase bee activity in your vegetable patch, grow some wildflowers such as coneflowers, and flowering herbs like borage, which is a bee magnet. This will also add color and beauty to your patch along with drawing pollinators to the plot.
Cucumber plants are shallow rooted and need a steady supply of water. You don’t want soggy soil but try not to let it dry out, either. Make sure you water to a depth of six inches. Place mulch, like straw or marsh hay, around the plants to keep down weeds and hold the moisture. Try to keep tap water off the leaves. These wide leaves are very susceptible to mildew. Good air circulation along with watering underneath the plants at the soil line will keep the plants in better shape. Healthy plants make for huge crops.
Slicing types include bush varieties for small gardens, which you can grow in pots; ‘burpless’ varieties, which are long and skinny and are just what their name implies; and heirlooms that are just as tasty now as in years past. There are also small-fruited types for pickling.
However you grow them or slice them, there is nothing better than freshly grown and picked by your own hand.
Anne K Moore
Once you successfully raise a plant from seed to garden, you are hooked. There isn’t much in the world more rewarding than watching life sprout from a tiny dry seed and grow into a luscious vegetable or beautiful flower.
Sure, you can purchase plants ready for the garden but you are limited to what the market soothsayers’ project will sell the most. If you want to grow an heirloom Russian tomato, for instance, you will probably have to raise the plants yourself. The newest to the market vegetables and fruits can be very hard to find, too, until they become mainstream offerings.
Seedlings raised in the house usually need to be stepped up into larger pots before they are set outside in the garden. Exceptions to the rule are the seedlings that emerge with thick stems and are stout enough to stand on their own, like squash vines or beans.
I have been using the little tablets that swell into a small peat containers for seeds. These biodegradable seed-starters fit into trays made especially for them. The little plugs are then easy to set into 4-inch pots with a minimum disturbance to the root systems.
To keep the potting soil from leaking out the bottom of the pots, I line them with coffee filters. I use new filters purchased for the job, but if you are into extreme recycling, you could rinse out and reuse your morning filters.
When potting up my seedlings, I still like to use purchased seedling mix, even though I plan to put the plants into garden soil eventually. This mix is sterile and will cut down on damping off disease, a fungal disease that kills overnight. Seedlings just collapse.
This malady can hit seedlings at any time. I always plant more than I can use so that when some collapse, I might still have a few left for the garden. One thing that seems to help me is a little topping of sand around the base of the seedlings right after they are potted up. It helps to keep the stem and top of the mix dry. Even though the top should stay somewhat dry, the roots should have moisture. They are delicate and should not dry out completely.
I also put at least 2 seeds in every cell since germination is seldom 100%. I do end up with a bunch of double plants. Although it is tempting to leave them both, don’t do it. If they are duking it out with their neighbor, they use energy they could be putting into crops or flowers. Plants that try to grow too close together end up with fewer crops, not more. Wait a couple of days after you have transplanted your seedlings to be sure they all survive. Then, just pinch off the smaller or less vigorous twin in the pot.
Growing can be challenging. Succeeding brings huge rewards.
Gardener Anne K Moore
Pansies are a staple in the Southern garden. I used to plant them every fall and ended up with rangy plants that quit blooming for most of the winter. Why? Because I didn’t fertilize them every week and didn’t like deadheading (pinching off the dead and dying flowers) whenever they started to set seed.
Then I fell in love with Johnny-jump-ups. Here in the South we know them as Violas, even though that’s the general family name of Pansies, too. Violas also go by the names Heartsease and Tufted Pansies. We grow violas as annuals. Don’t confuse them with violets, which are a perennial and are welcome in cold-climate gardens but will self-seed with abandon in a Southern garden.
Violas will bloom in the shade. They are not finicky about soil, any decent garden soil will do. They even do well in my clay. They clean themselves after blooming so there is no need to deadhead. You don’t even have to fertilize them unless they are looking peaked. They make a good addition to containers. Violas set off spring blooming bulbs or winter ornamentals in the flower borders. They come in pansy-like faces, in solid colors or multi-colors.
If you use them over daffodil or tulip bulbs, the bulb foliage will grow up through the violas. When the bulbs have quit blooming, the viola plants will help to camouflage the dying foliage of the bulbs.
Most violas are very fragrant. They are also edible. Since they hardly ever are bothered by insects or disease, they seldom require any pesticides. Since I don’t use pesticides, I know my violas are safe to use as food.
Back when I had a very large vegetable garden, I liked to try something new every year. I guess that is what brought my first Daikon radish to my garden. It is a lovely vegetable, versatile in its simplicity. If your only thought of a radish is round and red, this one will amaze you. It is long and wide, shaped much a like a very large white carrot. The white flesh of the Oriental radish called ‘April Cross’ is very mild, with a most un-radish taste. Its crunch will remind you of water chestnuts. I grew Daikon ‘April Cross’ from seed ordered from Park Seed. Most Oriental radishes grow best in the cool days of fall. April Cross is quickly up and matures in 60 days to a huge white radish, often 8 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. It will withstand a light frost or two. Even if the tops are killed back, you can dig the roots.
Although many radishes can be hot, this one is not. This prize from the Orient is extremely mild. If it grows in too warm conditions or without enough moisture, it may bolt (form flower heads) just like any other radish. Bolting causes the flesh to become pithy and the flavor to become strong. If they bolt, just move them to the compost heap. They will not be worth eating.
Daikon radishes should be planted in early spring for an early summer crop, or in late summer for a fall/winter crop. If you have grown carrots and/or beets, then these radishes are grown at the same time of year in your area. To harvest a fall or winter crop, sow in midsummer to late summer. In spring, sow as soon as the ground can be worked.
The ideal air temperature to grow Daikon radishes is 40 – 65 degrees F. Planting dates in southern states are roughly either February or September. Northern area gardens should be seeded approximately in April or early to mid-August. Check with your local County Extension Service for exact dates for your area.
Given good, loose soil, kept evenly watered, and grown in cool days, this one will, as Spock says, grow and prosper – all the while keeping its tasty flesh mild.