Category Archives: vegetable evaluation

It’s Asparagus time!

Freeze It

Buy all you can, here’s how to freeze it for later.

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Big fat purple asparagus spears turn green when cooked.

 

 

 

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The best way to preserve asparagus is by freezing.

Take advantage of local farmers markets and market gardeners for fresh local asparagus. The best flavor, availability and prices will be in April and May.

How To Freeze

Wash thoroughly and break spears where they easily snap. Compost or reserve the woody stems for vegetable soup stock.

Sort spears into similar sizes. Cut spears into even lengths to fit freezer bags or freezer containers.

Prepare a large pot of boiling water and a container of ice water. Blanch no more than 1 pound of similar sized spears at a time.

  • small spears for 2 minutes,
  • medium spears for 3 minutes and,
  • large spears for 4 minutes.

Lift asparagus from the boiling blanching water and plunge them in ice water for 5 minutes to quickly cool. Drain on cotton towels.

Package, seal, label, date and quickly freeze.

Properly blanched and packaged asparagus will hold the flavor, color and nutritional content in the freezer for up to 10 – 12 months.

Fresh asparagus recipes and growing tips

  • Fresh is always best

  • Best Asparagus Recipe

  • Purple Passion Asparagus

Visit the local farmers market or grow your own.

FRESH IS ALWAYS BEST

Asparagus grows so fast you can almost see it. In good weather, an asparagus spear can grow 10″ in a 24-hour period. Each crown sends up spears for about 6-7 weeks during the spring.

The outdoor temperature determines how much time will be between each picking. Early in the season, there may be 4-5 days between pickings and as the days and nights get warmer, you may have to pick every day.

It is a lot of hard work to establish a good asparagus bed. Considering that the plants will produce steadily for about 15 or 20 years, it’s worth it to give asparagus crowns a good start in a permanent home.

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I bought asparagus crowns at http://www.gurneys.com

The diameter of the spear does not indicate the quality or flavor of the vegetable. As the plants become older, the stems become larger in diameter.

Asparagus is high in Folic Acid and a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamine.

  • Stock up on asparagus while it is fresh and locally grown. Freezing is the best  way to preserve the color and flavor.

BEST ASPARAGUS RECIPE

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Fettuccine with asparagus, nutmeg, fresh lemon, Parmesan cheese.

My favorite asparagus recipe

Fettuccine with Asparagus

8-10 fresh asparagus spears (or one bunch)
3 Cups water (salt to taste)
10-12 ounces fettuccine
2 Tablespoons butter (or 1 tablespoon margarine and 1 Tablespoon olive oil)
Juice of one small lemon
freshly ground pepper to taste
freshly ground nutmeg to taste (1/4 teas)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Cut each spear on the bias in one  inch lengths. Bring water to boil (add salt to taste). Add asparagus, when water returns to boil, cook one minute.

Drain and reserve three or four Tablespoons cooking liquid. Drop fettuccine in water, cook to Al Dente. Drain.

Heat butter in pot that cooked fettuccine. Add asparagus, pasta, pepper, cooking liquid and lemon. Toss to blend.

Sprinkle on nutmeg. Serve with cheese on the side. For variety, add a couple of Tablespoons of toasted walnuts or chopped parsley.

g06405Enjoy this original recipe for Fettuccine with Asparagus

◊ Must try recipe for Sweet and Spicy Szechuan Asparagus from the California Asparagus Commission.

◊ Growing Asparagus in Missouri guide sheet

which illustrates the parts of an asparagus plant, clear care instructions and the best way to start an asparagus bed.

What I’ve learned

I started my first asparagus bed with older heirloom varieties. The plants were productive and the produce was tasty. Plus, there was a bonus, I thought. Asparagus is a dioecious plant which simply means they are separate female and male plants. Oh yea! Even the birds will be happy enjoying the red berries or seed on the female asparagus plants.

Well, those seed are the reason we think that sometimes we find wild asparagus plants. All those little asparagus plants springing up from seed, come up with the vigor and enthusiasm of a weed These cute but scrawny baby asparagus plants self seed everywhere – in the yard, flower beds, sidewalk cracks and vegetable garden.

PURPLE PASSION ASPARAGUS

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This time, as I establish a permanent asparagus bed, I’m starting with

Asparagus officinalis “Purple Passion”

Purple Passion asparagus has burgundy colored spears with 20% more natural sugar than green asparagus. The sweet, tender, almost nutty flavored stalks are both cold and heat tolerant.

Very productive. Male and female plants. Self-pollinating.

 

You might also like  It’s asparagus time!  – How to select and freeze.

Look for my ASPARAGUS EVERYTHING PIN

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DIY Carrot Boxes for raised beds

Grow straight carrots

(Plus, after you grow these carrots, there’s Mom’s Carrot Cake)

I’ve been making mini raised beds. Little one foot wooden boxes without a top or bottom and 8″ tall. It is a little raised bed for the raised bed.

Metal raised bed corners make for quick, easy assembly.

Metal raised bed corners make for quick, easy assembly.

Here’s how: cut four 2 x 8 x 12 wooden pieces. Cedar lasts longer, pine is cheaper. Scrap lumber makes me happy. I call it a Carrot Box because I made it to grow carrots.

Loosen and add organic matter or compost to the raised bed. Set the box in your raised bed garden. Fill with a light soiless mix.

Thinly sow carrot seed. Cover. Firm. Water. Details are on my hub page Grow carrots weeks ahead of the last frost.

For the best results, thin the carrots to 2″ apart.

Using a double-deep container with extra fine soil will be the key to growing carrots. It is critical that you fertilize and water carrots regularly.

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“Sunshine Orange and Yellow” carrots from Renee’s Garden. Wonderful simply oven roasted. photo: Patsy Bell Hobson

Rose Marie Nichols McGee at Nichols Garden Nursery has one of the best gardening blogs, The Gardener’s Pantry and newsletters.

She has good information How to raise carrots without using a spade or hoe

You might like:

How can you make a soup rich?  Add 14 carrots (carats) to it.

Mom’s Carrot Cake

with cream cheese frosting

I don’t know where the original recipe came from, but it is the best.

1 1/2 Cups vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups white sugar
3 eggs
2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 Cups peeled and grated carrots
1 Cups chopped pecans
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple

Beat together oil, sugar and eggs until well combined. In a bowl sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Add to the eggs and sugar. Mix well. Drain the pineapple, add carrots, nuts. Mix well. Pour into 9 or 10 inch tube pan or a 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or check with toothpick.

Cream cheese frosting

2 (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 box powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream cheese and butter together. Add sugar gradually until complete box has been added. Add vanilla. Refrigerate for an hour, then frost cake. Use all frosting.

 

Lettuce think Spring

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Renee Shepherd

Renee Shepherd

 

I met Renee Shepherd at my first Annual GWA Symposium*. I admit to being a little star struck meeting Renee of Renee’s Gardens.

“You’re Renee! Of Renee’s Gardens! I recognized you because you look just like your picture,” I said.

She was kind enough not to say anything.

It was about that time when I realized that I sounded like I had the IQ of a seed packet. “OMG, I just told this woman who she was.” 

Then, I quickly left, praying that Renee had not read my name tag.

Growing Salad Greens

Spring greens, spinach, strawberries with balsamic dressing.

Spring greens, spinach, strawberries with balsamic dressing.

I always order way too much seed for the spring salad bowl.  Lettuces, arugula, radishes, scallions, and spinach come up by the crisper full. I love salads. Plus, I like those generous seed packets that have enough seeds for succession planting all season. I will always plant more lettuces and radishes every single week of the spring until it just gets too hot.

baby romaines

Thin small lettuces to allow room for the others to grow.

I can never have too many spring greens, baby leaf lettuces, chopped salad, wilted lettuce. Top with chive blossoms or lacy chervil leaves. Serve with the lightest of dressings.

Renee’s Garden Seeds has a big gourmet greens selection. The only problem will be limiting your salad selections to the size of your garden. I like Renee’s combo selections because the seed combination’s are a thrifty way to get a lot of variety into a small garden.

Container lettuce, “Ruby & Emerald Duet” is a perfect pairing of emerald-green baby butterhead rosettes with red and crispy mini leaf lettuce. The “Caesar Duo” romaine lettuce combo of red and green baby size lettuces. These Romaines are the foundation of the best homemade Caesar salads you’ll ever make.

Romaines also grow to crispy, crunchy leaves, perfect on sandwiches. The “cut and come again” mescluns are a jumble of color, size and texture in containers or hanging baskets. Lettuces, radish and green onions will be gone before you need the baskets and containers for their warm weather annuals.

Last spring I tried the “Paris Market Mesclun”, a mix of several baby lettuces, chicory, endive, and arugula. Small successive plantings stretched the flavors, textures and colors of this “cut and come again” mix through the whole spring.

Yes, there is a real Renee. And yes, she selects, grows and eats this stuff before she offers it to us in her beautiful online only catalog. Plus, the website tells how to plant, grow, harvest, prepare and cook all these amazing vegetables.

Renee’s Garden Sowing in seed-starting containers to transplant into your garden will get you headed in the right direction.IMG_9430

Renee’s Garden Seeds offered seed to garden writers. It’s a great way to grow and share information about what’s new for home gardeners. For example, I grew “Little Prince” a container eggplant. I was smitten. It was beautiful. The lavender blooms alone would be reason enough to grow Little Prince.

Being a garden writer and blogger is great fun because I get to share the joy and pleasure of gardening with others.

Little Prince in bloom.

Little Prince eggplant in bloom. Dozens of delicate lavender flowers become 2 – 4 ounce eggplants. Photo: Patsy Bell Hobson

 

Eat Little Eggplants

Small and tender, marinade little eggplant halves and quarters then, grill. Serve as a warm side or add other grilled vegetables for a cold marinated vegetable salad.

* GWA = Garden Writers Association

How to Grow Your Own Baby Greens

 

Carrots

Grow a variety of carrots to discover which grow best in your garden.

Grow a variety of carrots to discover which grow best in your garden.

Carrots

Grow carrots in the spring garden and again as a fall crop.

If you ever wanted to grow carrots, fall carrots are planted in August or early September in my neck of the woods. (Zone 6A, Southern Missouri, USA.)  I get carrot seed at Nichols Garden Nursery. 

Nichols Garden Nursery has a big selection of carrot seed. The seed is very affordable. That bargain price tempts me to try an assortment of carrots. Check out their online catalog, if you are tempted to grow fall carrots. July and August are the time to order seed and get carrots growing for a fall harvest. If stored properly, carrot seed can be used for up to three years.

Nichols even has few carrot selections that are under $2. Carrot seed under two bucks and it’s enough seed for at least two and probably three years. (Unless you are raising rabbits in the same garden.)

Some days it looks like my back yard is a nature sanctuary for rabbits. They eat and sleep in my garden when I am not vigilant. When I do remember to turn on the Scarecrow motion-activated sprinkler, the rabbits stay away.

ScareCrow

ScareCrow

The Contech Electronics scarecrow motion-activated sprinkler is a humane animal deterrent. The scarecrow detects and sprays any animal movement within a 1000-square-foot area day and night.

When I do not remember to turn off  that little water blast, I suddenly get hit with a refreshing spray. It’s more fun than some of the carnival rides at the state fair. Especially when it is a surprise.

Find the scarecrow locally or online just type “scarecrow motion-activated sprinkler.”

Read more about carrotsHow to troubleshoot problems growing carrots and cabbages and University of Missouri Extension, Frequently Asked Vegetable Questions is very helpful. Extension recommends planting a 5 to 10 feet per person for fresh eating. Plan to grow 10 to 15 feet per person, if you are going to process carrots for year round eating.

Bright orange Baltimore Carrots picked 6", but would continue to grow to 12"

Bright orange Baltimore Carrots picked 6″.

Baltimore carrots are beautiful, bright orange carrots. They are sweet  and crunchy. These carrots are about 6″ long.

Harvest Carrots: any time their color is bright. This is when their flavor and texture are optimum. Carrots can tolerate a light frost. Irrigate well the day before harvest to ensure the roots have absorbed their maximum capacity of water. Store at 34°F and 95% relative humidity.

All of these carrots were pulled up at one time. They ranged in size from 2-inches to 8-inches. I’ll toss the baby carrots into a mixed vegetable refrigerator pickle jar.

I like raw carrots. Homegrown and picked after only a couple of frosts, carrots are sweeter than any grocery store carrot you have eaten.

Cooked carrots have their advantages. Some of the nutrients in lightly cooked carrots are more available to the body than the raw carrots. Cooking carrots will break down the tough cellular walls of carrots, making some nutrients more useable to the body.

The first batch of full-sized homegrown carrots, are a celebration of carrot growing success. That means carrot cake or morning-glory muffins. If there are more fall carrots, they will go into  beef stew, vegetable soup, pot roast.

So, come grow carrots with me this fall. If you grew up with a clay soil garden, You’ve probably never had much success with carrots. But building a raised bed for your raised bed, well that is a carrot’s dream come true.

Carrot Boxes – The Raised Bed for Raised Beds

In this Missouri Gardener Magazine story, I write about carrot boxes. That is the secret to long straight carrots.

Build a raised bed fast!

Yaya carrots had the widest size range. All the seed was sown at the same time.

Yaya carrots had the widest size range. All the seed was sown at the same time.

If I could have left these Yaya carrots in the garden, it would have been great to stretch out the carrot harvest over a few more weeks.

Learn more: Grow 2 crops of carrots this season

 

 

 

 

 

Grow wild wasabi arugula

Plants From Seed

Try something new this spring. photo: Renee’s Garden “Wasabi” arugula.

Something new and green that I’ll be planting come spring: wasabi arugula. It tastes  just as snappy as you might imagine. And, while you probably won’t want a salad bowl filled with it, a few leaves on a plate of fresh mixed greens is delicious.

When my seeds came in the mail, I thought the packet was empty. When I opened and looked inside the packet, it was hard to even see those tiny seed. Traditional arugula seed dwarf these teeny tiny wasabi arugula seed by comparison.

Sow sparingly every 2 or 3 weeks from the earliest date you dare plant in your area. In my zone 6 SE Missouri garden, the plant did best in spring and fall.

I encourage you to grow this tasty new arugula variety. Once it is growing  in the garden, you will think of many flavorful ways to use it in the kitchen. Add a few leaves to your own mesclun mix.

We tucked it into fish tacos, roast beef or tuna salad sandwiches, even topped a pizza with these greens as soon as it came out of the oven.

Hub pages has more information: How to grow organic arugula.

Buy the seed from Renee’s Garden. But don’t limit yourself to just one variety of arugula, I’ve tried several of Renee’s selections. My other favorite arugulas are “Rustic” and “Rustic Style.” “Wasabi” Arugula is a Renee’s Exclusive, a wild discovery that really does taste like it’s namesake.

Renee’s Garden has the best new thing in the early spring garden: “Wasabi” arugula. Photo: Renees Garden.

 

Beautiful Black Hungarian Pepper

It is a pleasant surprise to find only a hint of heat in this 4″ tall black peper. Catalogs said it was mildly hot. In a recipe, it would be hard to identify this as the hot pepper.  I just mixed it in with the bell peppers in the gazpacho. Chop and add this to the bell peppers when freezing for future stews and chilies.

Stake pepper plants to keep them from snapping off suring thunder storms or heavy winds. photo: PBH

I will grow this pepper again to add another level of flavor in recipes calling for bell peppers. It is thin walled, smaller and not a juicy as most bells.

Who knows? You may think it is spicy. Could it be the soil or the temperature affecting the flavor?

Learn more about how this pepper did in my zone 6, Southeast Missouri Garden. Read my Hub Pages evaluations for tomatoes and peppers :

Black Hungarian Pepper tastes more like a bell pepper than a jalapeno.

 

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