A Vegetable Garden Planning Primer

gardenI spent about two days of my time off of work planning next year’s vegetable garden. Yes, I realize it’s early January, but I like to start seeds beginning in February, which means I need to get my seed orders in now! That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s too late for you to get started on your vegetable gardens for this-coming year. In fact, the perfect time to start planning is right now, and I’m going to give you some tips that will help you get started.

First, What Went Wrong Last Year

Last year, a couple of things went wrong with my vegetable gardening plans. First, I tried to go in on a giant seed order with all of my gardening friends. Although I think we saved some money on shipping, and had some fun getting together over the garden catalogs, we placed our order later than I like, it took us forever to divide up the seeds (we split single packets of seed among as many as six of us, which was kind of nightmarish!), and I bought way more seed than I needed because I wanted to try a few plants of everything my friends were trying. Read more

Heart-healthy & Earth-friendly look the same when it comes to diet

A friend on mine recently asked me for some advice on eating a low sodium diet because she was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure. I realized as I typed up all my tips that a heart-healthy diet looks a whole lot like an Earth-friendly one. Just another reason to think about the foods we eat and to choose carefully in ways that will likely vary from the typical Western diet.

My husband’s father has high blood pressure, and my Dad did too, so because there is a genetic factor, I’ve been watching our salt intake since before I learned  that what I eat makes such a huge impact on my carbon footprint. Here’s what I do: Read more

A little more on root cellaring

carrotsA few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in the Boulder Daily Camera called Preserving Your Roots about home root cellaring. I got quite a few questions from friends about one particular part of the article: storing carrots. Since I harvested a full 5-gallon bucket’s worth of carrots this week from our community garden patch, I had the opportunity this weekend to document the process of preparing these carrots for a winter of storage and thought I’d share it here.

Although I have often peeled, chopped (or grated), blanched, and frozen carrots in the past, by April, I’m desperate for something with a bit of crunch. Two years ago, I tried taking the last of the late fall carrots from the farmer’s market, sealing them tight in zip-top bags, and storing them in our extra fridge. They lasted until March, but took up a ton of space that I might have used on another scarce commodity in Colorado winters–good fruit! Read more

My 15 minutes of fame…

If you read the Boulder Daily Camera, you might have seen a familiar face on today’s front cover. Actually, three familiar faces: myself, Gabriel & Lily. I was interviewed last week about my efforts to cellar onions, garlic, squash, and potatoes over the winter using a system of shelving and lidded bins. Little did I know that I’d get a blurb on the front page pointing to a pretty cool story a few pages later! Take a look to learn more about building your own root cellar. And check out another great article on how to figure out what you need to store for the winter.

End of season tomato primer

PICT5358If there’s one thing tomato-growers in colder climates fear, it’s early frost that strikes with lots of green fruit still on the vine. According to the Purdue Cooperative Extension, optimal ripening temperature is between 68-77, and it hasn’t been getting nearly that warm here this last week, and the nighttime temperatures just keep on dropping, meaning frost will be here soon.

Here in Zone 5, I face this every single September, so this year I went looking for tips on what to do. Read more

Home-Canned Bloody Mary Mix

When the garden’s bountiful tomato crop dove-tailed with one of our traditional Friday Afternoon Club gatherings, I decided to get creative in the kitchen. I skimmed through several recipes until I found one that met my requirements for a good home-canned Bloody Mary mix that included all my favorites:

  • Horseradish & hot sauce – if it ain’t spicy, I don’t want it!
  • Multiple types of veggies – I like the depth of flavor that the other veggies add.
  • Other spices – plain salt & pepper doesn’t do it for me either.

The winner was The Best Bloody Mary on Recipezaar and it lived up to its name, especially after a few tweaks:

  • I used home-made vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, also from Recipezaar, because I didn’t have any on hand.
  • In addition to the garlic that is cooked with the vegetables, I added a teaspoon of fresh garlic after cooking.
  • I at least quadrupled the hot sauce (I think I still added some to my finished sample drink before I canned it!)
  • I used Black Butte Porter instead of Guinness, because it’s what I had in my handon hand.
  • Also note that if you’re going to can this instead of drinking it right away, don’t add the booze or the lime juice–add that to taste when you crack the jar open in a few months on a cold winter morning!

Here I would like to digress from recipes to comment on something I’ve noticed as I’ve been canning this season. I’ve really enjoyed trying new recipes that I’ve found on the Internet, but I’m rather appalled at the number of recipes that call for some seriously dubious canning practices. Neither of the recipes I mentioned above are guilty of this, for the record, so I feel like I can point this out without naming any names.

For the record, I learned to can grape juice in a dishwasher close to 10 years ago, so I understand how family traditions can lead to some pretty off-the-wall food preservation techniques. However, if you’re going to post recipes on the Internet, I think there’s a little bit of obligation to provide a safe recipe. For example, turning jam or jelly cans upside down instead of heating them in a canning bath CAN create a seal, but does NOT create the vacuum that is necessary to keep air from coming in contact with your home-preserved food. Same with putting hot liquids & veggies into hot jars and then putting hot lids on those jars. It’s the vacuum, not just the seal, that keeps food from spoiling. For more information, check with your local Cooperative Extension, pick up one of the many excellent books that are available on canning, or check out my canning primer.

So if you’re out looking for recipes on the Internet and find one that you’d like to try that uses one of these dubious canning methods, there’s still hope of canning safely. Let’s use the Bloody Mary Mix as an example. The original author of the recipe had no intentions of canning it, so I needed to come up with instructions that would guarantee a safe result. I consulted my Ball Blue Book of canning and found a recipe for Tomato Garden Juice Blend.

The duration of canning and the need for the addition of acids like lemon juice or citric acid is determined by how acidic the food you’re canning is naturally. Tomatoes are pretty acidic, but I didn’t want to use a plain old tomato juice recipe because there were so many other things in the Bloody Mary Mix. The garden juice blend was ideal because it had carrots onion, parsley, and salt in addition to the tomatoes–similar to the mix I was canning.

In the case of the Bloody Mary Mix, that meant adding 1 T of lemon juice to each pint jar and processing in my canning bath for 50 minutes (note that due to the altitude here, I have to add 10 more minutes to the processing time). A double recipe of the mix easily made 7 pints, and perhaps would have done more if not for my friends and I having a few on Friday afternoon!

One of the Fifty Million…

This weekend, I attended a talk by Kip Nash, a Boulder man who has turned many of the front yards in his neighborhood into farm plots as part of the Boulder Community Roots project. If the endless gorgeous seed catalogs, warm weather, and the kohlrabi, sorrel, kale, garlic, onions, garlic chives, and strawberries sprouting in my garden didn’t do it already, spring garden fever set in with a vengeance after his inspiring talk.

At one point, he referenced Richard Heinberg–a peak oil guy– Read more

Update on our local-eating adventure

In mid-September, our family began what has turned out to be a fun and educational adventure in local eating. After months of canning, drying, and freezing every fruit and vegetable we could get our hands on, after many talks with other local folks committed to eating Colorado-grown food, after many, many trips to the Farmer’s Markets, we thought we were ready.

We quit buying bananas, veggie burgers, avocados, and most other packaged foods (I have ended up letting my children pick one non-local item on each grocery story run. Most often that’s Pirate Booty or Fig Newmans and I can live with that!). We continued to make our own Read more

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

I’m a bit of a worrier. Combine that with the company Matt & I work for announcing huge layoffs, war dragging on abroad, friends losing their jobs left and right, the economy spiraling ever downward, and finances therefore tightening, all at a time when I’d rather be shopping for fun things for my children, and you get a mama whose list of things to be thankful for is a little shorter than it has been in the past. Or is it? Read more

The Eat Local Challenge!

We have been immersed in preparation for our year of eating local and are happy to see The Eat Local Challenge blog join the mix of folks blogging about local eating adventures.

The Eat Local Challenge is working on a challenge for the month of October and so, of course, we’re game! They’ve asked us to answer a few questions, including our definition of local, exemptions, and our goals for the month.

Our definition of local
We are lucky to have a lot of food available to us here in Colorado. So I’m defining local as Colorado-grown. Within 100 miles (a la the 100 mile diet) would of course be a goal to shoot for, but most of the wines and fruit in Colorado are grown on the Western slope (more than 100 miles from here), so I do make some allowances. I’m being fairly strict about both produce and processed foods: all breads, crackers and snacks need to be produced in Colorado (although we realize that a short-coming of this is not knowing if the local producers are sourcing locally–if they’re not publicizing it, they’re probably not).

We seem completely unable to locate local oils beyond butter. And other staples like oats, flour, and other grains are available, but harder to come by than a jaunt down to the local grocery store. Of course coffee and tea are not grown here, so our caffeine is coming from outside Colorado. And I have to be reasonable about the kids.

Although I’m willing to make my own Mac-n-Cheese and granola, and Matt & I could probably live with the local goat and raw milk cheese, Gabriel & Lily require some cheeses (primarily string cheese and Parmesan) that aren’t available locally. Nuts are also a problem and although I sourced some local pine nuts, we’re still buying other nuts and nut butters.

Matt would like to add bananas and avocados to the list, but I’m going to hold out as long as I can on those. By January, I may have to concede, and we’ll probably allow some US-grown citrus over the winter, when it’s typically tasty and widely available. And local eggs are not always available, thus our decision to get some layers this spring and try for the best kind of local–grown in our own back yard!

Oh, and I almost forgot: condiments and spices. I made my own pickles this year and am still hoping to experiment with catsup recipes. I grew a ton of herbs and bought even more at the market. But there’s no way I can live without ginger, cumin, vanilla, chocolate, and cinnamon for a year, so I’m not even going to try. Sugar is also a concern, although we’re hoping to swap out as much sugar as possible and substitute the great local honey we have here in Lyons.

Goals for the month (or year)
As I mentioned, we’re really trying to do this for a year, not just a month. The goal is a year (September 15, 2008 – September 14, 2009) of local eating, but I say that not really expecting that we’ll succeed in only eating from Colorado for a whole 12 months. Instead, we’re really hoping to find as many local sources as we can (our research started this past spring, so we’ve learned a lot already!), try them all, and come up with a feasible, primarily local, mostly plant-based organic diet that is both well-rounded a not a hardship for little people.

This experiment, when we’re done, is setting the stage for a deliberate attempt to eat locally for the rest of our lives. I consider this not only a good choice for our health and the environment, but a statement of the need for our current food systems to change. I love that blogs like The Eat Local Challenge exist to help others realize the importance of being deliberate about our food choices.