Category Archives: My Gardens

What works and doesn’t work in the home garden. Great garden ideas, practices, blooms and growing suggestions

Julia’s Ratatouille

The Ratatouille harvest basket.

Ratatouille makings. Tomato, eggplant, peppers, squash.

An old fashioned vegetable dish, ratatouille is a combination of all the things I grow in my garden. Julia’s Ratatouille is garden gold in your freezer.

Once you master a great dish like ratatouille, you become confident enough to try variations.

I can hear Julia Child talking about this dish. The full name of the stewed vegetable dish is Ratatouille Niçoise. Her recipe is the classic, start there and then adapt it to your taste.

It’s time to make ratatouille when there is an abundance of eggplant in the garden. Usually the last main crop vegetable to produce in my vegetable patch, eggplant is the star of my version. If your don’t like eggplant then leave it out of the recipe. 

This dish very quickly uses up the seasonal glut of produce that happens in August. By now, I have all the zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant that I can eat. I grow every vegetable that goes into this simple French peasant dish.

This dish is a celebration of my garden bounty. It’s a thanksgiving meal at the peak of the growing season.

Cabin fever cure

Make a double batch because this stew reheats well for the next day or hoard it for your lunches. Make this dish and freeze it. This winter, when the snow is falling,  a reheated ratatouille meal will taste like a garden party in your mouth.

Reading seed catalogs while eating a steamy bowl of home-grown and homemade ratatouille is a ritual guaranteed to cure cabin fever. That vegetable casserole inspires my wintertime seed order.

Julia’s Ratatouille is garden gold in your freezer, A true example of your garden prowess.This versital vegetable casserole can be a featured entre, a side dish, lunch for many cold winter days.

I freeze it in portions for one or two.Serve it over noodles or rice for a heartier meal. Add a slice of crusty bread. Make plans to go to Paris some day.

Here is my version:

Ratatouille home-grown and homemade  IMG_2132

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Grow your own leeks, garlic and onions

A Little Leek Love

Known best in French cooking, leeks are often overlooked in our home gardens. Leek Potato Soup, or vichyssoise, is a cold soup that every French chef has mastered. I use leeks in potato leek soup, three onion pie, and vegetable soup.

Leeks are expensive at the grocery store but you can grow them for pennies. They take up little space, have very few pest or disease problems and can be grown in containers.

Plant leeks deeper than onions. Continue to mulch plants as they grow to increase the tender white part.

Plant leeks deeper than onions. Continue to mulch plants as they grow to increase the tender white part.

Grow leeks from seed or starts. It will probably be your first late-winter or early spring crop. Onions, leeks, garlic can take a late snow or freeze.

Tender young leeks can be used as scallions or green onions.

Plant starts deep er than onions. The deeper, the better able to retain moisture. Select well worked soil with plenty of organic matter.

As leeks grow, continue to mound soil over the stems to blanch them, creating more of the white, tender part of leek. Consistent moisture will encourage tender leeks. Thin leeks to grow six inches apart.

Use only the tender green and white parts.

Use only the tender green and white parts.

Grow vegetables – Make Soup

Grow your own soup. Garden fresh vegetables are loaded with nutrients and cost very little to make. If you don’t think you have time to make soup, make a double batch and freeze half for a busy day. Make soup in the crock pot. Soup usually tastes even better the next day. What could be faster than that?

Chili, chicken and noodle soup, vegetable soup and stews of any kind are better and usually have less salt when made from scratch. I love soup and will be sharing some soup gardening and soup making tips from time to time.

Potato Leek Soup

Jazz up your favorite potato  or cauliflower soup recipe by adding leeks.

Potato soup is a winter time favorite of mine. The leeks in the garden will continue to grow and I will pull them as I need them for Potato Leek soup. Simply add leeks or replace the onions in your favorite potato soup recipe.

I make this big batch because this soup is even better the next day. You can make half this recipe, but I bet you will wish you made more.

Basic Potato Soup

Makes about 8 servings (about 2 quarts).

  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • water to cover
  • 6 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped OR, chop 2 or 3 leeks
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • nutmeg to garnish

Directions:

In a large sauce pot, cover chopped potatoes and carrots with water. Cook in water until fork tender.

Drain and set aside carrots and potatoes, reserving cooking water.

In a Dutch oven, while potatoes are cooking, saute onion and celery in butter until tender. Sprinkle in flour.

Slowly add milk. Bring to gentle boil, stirring until thickened. Add carrots and potatoes, salt and pepper. Gradually add cooking water until the soup in the desired thickness. Taste and adjust seasonings. For smoother soup, use a potato masher or stick blender. This will thicken the soup and create a smoother texture. Add additional cooking water or milk to taste.

Grate a little nutmeg to garnish soup.

potato leek soup with sausage

Potato and Leek soup with kielbasa.

Go Gourmet:

Top your soup as you would a loaded baked potato, crispy bacon, grated cheddar cheese, green onions, a dollop of sour cream or a pat of butter.

Bake: Use baked potatoes instead of boiling potatoes.

Veggies: Add a cup of frozen or fresh vegetables in the last few minutes of cooking to thoroughly heat through all ingredients. Try green peas, chopped kale, corn

Meat: Plan on adding a half a strip of crumbled bacon on top of soup. Use crumbled chorizo or Italian sausage

Herbs: Stir in chopped parsley, celery leaves, chives or thyme.

Enrich: texture and flavor with 4 ounces of sour cream, plain Greek yogurt, cream, butter. Add a little at a time.

Leeks, chopped

Chop tender young leeks to freeze for soups and casseroles.

If you do not like onions, try leeks. They are  milder and easier to digest. These mild alliums are beneficial for cardiovascular and digestive health. Research points to leek’s  potential to fight cancer.

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Today’s Harvest Basket

Wrapping up the summer garden.

Celery, baby leeks, carrots, red onion, white potatoes, mild little red peppers.

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You never know what you will get with carrots. This curvy carrot grew right next to the straight 10″ carrot in the basket.

As I clean up the vegetable beds, I discovered a few veggies that were overlooked during the earlier harvest. I found a few potatoes, a couple of carrots, a red onion and two tiny sweet peppers. While this may sound like the beginning of a stone soup story, it’s just end-of-summer garden clean up.

I planted a few celery plants but forgot about them hiding behind the hearty and fern like asparagus. Celery would have done much better if it had received fertilizer and mulch. You can see the many skinny little stalks.

That curvy carrot was a surprise, all the other carrots were long and straight. But they all taste the same.

What to do with leeks

Use the tender reen and white parts.

Use the tender green and white parts.

I gathered a few leeks while young and tender to clean, chop and freeze. These little leeks will go into soups, and a 3 onion pie. There are more leeks still in the garden. They will stay in the garden until I want to use them for soup or stuffing.

 

Leeks, chopped

Leeks can be frozen and later added directly to soups or casseroles.

You can continue to harvest leeks from the garden up until the soil freezes. Those few leeks will overwinter. Their giant globe shaped flowers will be amazing next summer. They attract pollinators and are a novel addition to a wildflower bouquet.

 

A little later into fall, I’ll plant garlic. I have a few tiny broccoli plants in the raised beds and pots. A window box of green beans are just coming up. So the pending rain is much-needed and I am grateful.

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You can Grow that: Beans!

Try one last crop: beans.

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Plant a few beans every two weeks for a steady supply of green beans this summer. photo: PBH

Plant a few beans and see what happens. photo: PBH

Gardening is always a gamble. This late in the year, you may or may not have time to get in another crop or two. One gamble I’m willing to make it is beans.

A few cents worth of bean seed might or might not have time to produce a crop. You may have some seed left over. Take a chance on the seed in the clearance rack. Or just grab a hand full of dried pinto beans from the kitchen cabinet.

green beans

Mascotte French Filet Bean plants are small enough for hanging baskets.

I’m gambling that if I water and weed my little bean patch, I’ll end up with a bonus crop of fresh green beans. If an early freeze hits the area, that’s OK too. Just turn those bean plants into the soil.

Either way, you get fresh green beans or you get improved soil ready and waiting for spring planting.

Beans are nitrogen-fixing plants. They draw nitrogen from the air and make it available to the soil. By adding nitrogen to the soil, the N of NPK in fertilizer, you are enriching the soil for the next crop you plant.

Purple Hyacinth Bean Flowering Vine Seeds

Purple Hyacinth Bean Flowering Vine looks like a pole snap beans with scarlet flowers.

Some plants that fix nitrogen into the soil are legumes, like peanuts, clover, beans, alfalfa. Beans are fasting growing legumes. It will cost you little or nothing to poke a few seed in the ground.

French Green Beans Almondine

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Wishbone Flower (Torenia hybrid)

Plant something new.

Wishbone Flower

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Torenia or Wishbone Flower, Catalina® Pink

Wishbone Flower as container plant

I grew the Midnight Blue variety. It looks so fragile, but it can really take the heat. This is a self-cleaning plant, which means no deadheading.

In the shady bed on the patio, it had room to spread out and filled in the space with continuous blooms and bright green leaves. I grew another color the next year.

The Catalina® Pink is a nonstop bloomer that gets afternoon shade on the front porch. It does best when consistently moist and well-drained. Hummers love it.

It’s growing with more sun, shaded only in the late afternoon. Growing bushy and full, Torenia is about 12″ tall and fills the 12″ self-watering container. Generously mulch this plant to help with consistent moisture.

Adaptable annuals

I like the wide range of ways I can use Torenias. In a hanging basket, Summer Wave® Large Blue Wishbone Flower seems to be a hummingbird favorite.

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Wishbone Flower fills the hanging basket with Summer Wave® Large Blue blooms.

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Wishbone flowers are more upright where there is more sun and less water.

Wishbone flowers have had no disease or insect problems in my gardens. They can take heat and more sun than I thought. Morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal.

Wishbone Flower (Torenia hybrid)

This plant is so much more versatile than I imagined. It was planted in shade, and in part shade – part sun. The low growing annual spreads out along the sidewalk, as a beautiful ground cover and splash of color that could compliment an endless variety of gardenscapes.

I like shopping at Independent Garden Centers. Money spent locally tends to stay local. The folks that work at the non-chain garden centers and nurseries know what they are talking about. Big box stores also have wishbone flowers.

This was a trial plant from Proven Winners. The Proven Winners website has a handy garden center locator. Just type in your zip code and it will find the closest local garden centers.

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Pollinators and hummers love this plant.

Get Local will help you find the information you need. I especially like their plant recipes. For example, I’m looking for red, white and blue plant combos. Just click on “patriotic” for lots of beautiful plant combinations.

Blooming summer til frost

I learned what a valuable landscape plant this is when I visited the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.

Wishbone Flower (Torenia hybrid)

Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

A leader of environmentally sound community development, the Arboretum is an educational, recreational and cultural resource for the Kansas City region. It offers homeowners, landscapers and arborists an opportunity to view and evaluate a wide variety of hybrid trees and shrubs, native to this area.
8909 W. 179 St.
Overland Park, KS 66013
913-685-3604

Wishbone Flower Catalina® Grape-O-Licious

Wishbone Flower Catalina® Grape-O-Licious

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Garden beer bread

Made from scratch and better than the mix. Add Cheddar, onions, peppers for color and flavor.

While you have a garden bounty, make two loaves and freeze one for later.

beer bread

I make this beer bread using the peppers and onions from my garden.

charred peppers

Make this recipe your own. Use your favorite cheese, whatever beer you like and any pepper combo that suites your palette.

Garden Beer Bread

by Patsy Bell Hobson

Makes one loaf.
Preheat oven to 375-degrees.

beer bread3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup shredded cheese
½ cup chopped peppers
½ cup chopped onion
1 (12 ounce) bottle of beer, minus one swig
3 Tablespoons butter, melted

Whisk together in a large bowl, flour , baking powder, salt and sugar. Add cheese peppers and onion. Pour in the bottle of beer.
Using a wooden spoon, mix until the dough forms. Don’t over mix. Dough will have lumps.

Pour dough into a heavily buttered large loaf pan. The dough will be wet.

Melt butter, pour over loaf.

Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, until top is golden brown. Or, until toothpick comes out clean from center.

Let it cool 10 minutes and then turn the bread out on a wire rack. Try to let it cool before devouring.

garlic and onionsChefs notes

  • cheese – Choose your favorite cheese or combination of cheese to make ½ cup.
  • peppers – Combine chopped mild and hot peppers to suit your taste. (Bell peppers and a jalapeno for example.)
  • onions – Your choice of sweet or hot onions. I include a green onion or chives for color and flavor.

You will want to eat this bread still hot from the oven. It’s good that way, but it will crumble and fall apart. To slice and serve, wait for 30 minutes (or, until completely cool).

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Today’s Harvest Basket

Today's Harvest Basket

Three squash: light green Clarimore, Golden Dawn yellow and dark green, almost black, Raven zucchini.

“Pot of Gold” Chard, 3 kinds of zucchini, Chinese cabbage.

 

Soon to be Green Rice, Zucchini cake, and Chinese chicken salad.

 

  • Chard, sweet, mild

This deep green chard with golden stems, is tender and never bitter. Plus, it is beautiful. I’m a chard fan and prefer it to kale. A favorite chard recipe is green rice. It is easy to double the recipe, make two casseroles and freeze one for fall.

Substitute chard for spinach in any recipe. Many versions of this old classic are on the internet. I’ve made many versions of what I call Green Rice Casserole.

Spinach-Rice Casserole inspired by the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. Serves 4 – 6

4 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
2 cups raw, chopped chard
1 or 2 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons butter (or, coconut oil)
4 beaten eggs
1 cup milk (or almond milk or, soy milk)
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs like parsley, chervil, basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Saute’ onions and garlic, in butter (or oil). When onions are soft, add spinach or chard or kale and salt. Cook 2 minutes. (Or use drained, frozen chopped spinach, thawed)

Combine the onion mixture with the  rice, eggs, milk, cheese, herbs, nutmeg,  and chopped nuts. Spread into a sprayed casserole.

Bake, covered, 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes.

This is Container Chard, “Pot of Gold,” an exclusive from Renee’s Garden Seed. Chard is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as magnesium, potassium, and iron.

  • Ah, Zucchini!

Zucchini, I’ve discovered, is much easy to keep at reasonable sizes if you growIMG_1357 container varieties. Look for specially bred zucchini plants designed container growing. Tender, small squash are perfect for lightly grilling or roasting.

Thin skinned, baby zucchini are tasty eaten raw. Perfect to include in a fresh Pasta Primavera.

  • Chinese Cabbage

Nappa Chinese CabbageChinese Cabbage will be a main ingredient in Chinese chicken salad, Kim Chee, cole slaw. Thanks to the milder summer weather and plenty of rain, I still have a couple for cabbages to harvest. It’s very unusual to have these plants so late in the season.

7/13

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Today’s Harvest Basket

Zucchini and cucumbers, plus fresh dill

The July zucchini explosion is here

Three kinds of zucchini - I know - what was I thinking?

Three kinds of zucchini – I know – what was I thinking?

At last, I picked cucumbers today, three long, thin-skinned English cucumbers. They are my favorites English Cucumber, “Chelsea Prize”, which is an exclusive from Renee’s Garden Seed.

Cucumber season is never long enough. When the little cucumbers finally arrive in a couple of weeks, I’ll make a few pickles. But, these slender, sweet fleshed Chelsea Prize cukes are best for fresh eating.

Visit Zucchini Everything on Pinterest or try this simple cake to use up a big zucchini.

One recipe makes three cakes zucchini, carrot or apple  Yes,  the recipe really calls for 4 cups of zucchini (!), carrots, or apples. It is a beautiful cake with flecks of both zucchini and carrots.

While I have plenty of zucchini and carrots, I’ll make a couple of these cakes to freeze.

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Today’s Harvest Basket

Saturn or donut peaches

Today's harvest basket 6/30
It’s been a race to get my share of the peaches. There is a ruthless gang of squirrels who snag the peaches. I just wish they would leave a few more in my reach. This years heavy crop of peaches are about 2-21/2″ in diameter.

Also called flat peach,  it has a mild, sweet flavor. I’d call them lunchbox peaches or pocket peaches. Seems like kids would love these as much as they do the little Clementines or zipper oranges.

This little tasty peach originates from China circa 1869, and was  introduced by Rutgers and Stark Bro’s in the 1990s. Disease-resistant to bacterial leafspot. Self-pollinating.

My favorite peach preserve recipe:

Peaches and champagne preserves

 

Today’s Harvest Basket

Early summer harvest

Red and white onions, hard neck garlic, two varieties of zucchini, Chinese cabbage.
6/22

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Napa or Nappa cabbage (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis or Brassica rapa Pekinensis Group) is a type of Chinese cabbage. In the kitchen, cabbage becomes Kim Chi, slaw, stir-fries and Chinese chicken salad.

I pulled up the garlic today. It is probably half the harvest of last year and the bulbs are a lot smaller. My guess is that the garlic bulbs just didn’t get enough water. It is Chesnok Red Hardneck Garlic.IMG_0717

How to grow and harvest organic garlic

Chesnok Red is the best baking garlic. Not a hot garlic, Chesnok is easy peel and will keep for about 6 months.  To stretch the harvest, I roast garlic and freeze it in little cubes. Also, I pickle small jars of peeled bulbs to use later in the year.

The big bonus to growing your own garlic, is that I have plenty of garlic on hand for salsa, spaghetti sauce, dill pickles, soup and pesto.

pickled garlic

How to store and use homegrown garlic and onions

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