Tag Archives: Patti Marie Travioli

Pepper Harvesting and Preservation

12 Aug

One of my favorite crops to grow in My Urban Farmscape is peppers. You can get a lot of bang for your buck out of these compact plants.   Historically, peppers have been used throughout the world to flavor some of our favorite dishes with their crisp, tangy, sweetness or their hot, spicy, heat.  Think about it.  What would chili be without the pepper?  How boring would your veggie trays look at the summer picnic without a bright orange, yellow or green bell pepper?  Would tacos or fajitas exist?

Sweet Peppers

I have started to pick sweet peppers and I’m sure that you will soon if you haven’t started already.  As I begin to get an overabundance, I will share some, but I will also freeze or grill them.  For bell peppers, you harvest them when they are ripe, which is when they reach their mature size.  They will feel heavier and may start to turn color.  As you gently pull, twist the stem.  Or use scissors or pruners and cut the stem about 1/2” from the fruit.  For the colored bell peppers, wait until they turn their color (yellow, orange or red). 

Freezing Bell Peppers

It’s simple.  Slice the pepper in half, stem to blossom end.  Remove the stem and seeds inside.  Wash, and dry.  Place in a freezer bag or freezer container and toss into the freezer.  Use for cooked dishes.  They get soft once frozen so they won’t work well for fresh eating.

Roasting Sweet Peppers

Also easy.  These larger red sweet peppers give just the right flavor to some otherwise boring soups or stews.  Cook these directly on the grill or over an open flame on your gas stove.  You could also use the broiler in your oven. As they cook they will get soft and their skin will char, that is when you know they are done.  Remove from the grill and allow to cool some making it easier to handle when you remove the skin.  After the stems and skin are removed, chop and place in a freezer container what ever you don’t use. Yum!

 Hot Peppers

For hot peppers, most of them can be harvested in the green stages up to their colored stage.  These will be ready for harvest later in the season as they LOVE the heat.  Of course you can use any of the hot peppers fresh however you like.  

Freezing or Jam

You can freeze jalapeno peppers like bell peppers, removing the seeds.  WEAR GLOVES!  One of my favorite things to do with jalapeno peppers is to make pepper jelly.  The recipe I have used is on the Sure-jell box.  I like to spread this over some cream cheese and serve with crackers.  Secret: Want to give it a little more bite?  Leave in the seeds.  Watch out though if you take some for a holiday gathering and grandma tries some.  She might scream out some words you have never heard from her before.  Most grandma’s don’t  like hot spicy foods!

Drying Peppers

You can dry all chili types.  I like these to turn red on the vine.  You can spread them out over a screen, string up on fishing line or heavy thread, or use a dehydrator.  It’s fun to make decorative gifts or ristras.  Once you know they are dry, you can grind them in a coffee grinder, not used for coffee of course, but just for your peppers, and then store in a glass container.  These make nice gifts, and who knows, maybe you could come up with your very own famous chili spice mix!  I love peppers.  How about you?  What is your favorite way to preserve peppers?

Living Local

29 Jul

Is the local food movement strong in your part of the world?  Here in Michigan it has been for quite a few years, maybe ten or more.  Michiganders have been attempting the 100 mile diet (coffee lovers, avoid this one), joining CSA’s, and shopping at farmers markets.  Local chefs are successfully committing to local farmers and creating their menus to reflect gourmet dishes of what is in season.  I have wondered to myself, when can the rules be broken?  Is it okay to purchase non-locally produced food during this time of year when our seasonal produce is rising to peak harvest?  Can I only eat fresh tomatoes in July and August?  What about purchasing produce grown in Michigan at the local grocery store?  Is that okay?  Even if it was grown by a Michigan farmer living over 100 miles from me?  My answer is; do the best that you can do to support your local farmers, grow what you can grow in your Urban Farmscape, share with others, and learn to eat seasonally.  Eating seasonally is hard!  As you may know by now, I don’t like plants in the brassicaceae family.  So this fall, when cabbage, kale, and broccoli are in their season, I will choose to eat something different.  So I don’t know how I can stick to all the rules, I just try to do the best I can.  Living in Michigan is a little easier when it comes to food.  We are rich in our agricultural and horticultural crops and our farmer families have been growing here for generations.  Here are a few Michigan food stats from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the Michigan Dairy News Bureau, and the American Egg Board.  You might be surprised.    Where did your dinner come from?

ASPARAGUS

Michigan ranks third in the nation

· Ranks second in acreage

· 2.5 million pounds

· Economic impact $16.5 million

BLUEBERRIES

Michigan leads the nation growing over one-third of all blueberries in the U.S.

· 600 family farms

· 99 million pounds-49 fresh and the other 50 for processing

· Economic impact $101.8 million

APPLES

Michigan’s largest and most valuable fruit crop

· 950 family farms on 38,500 acres

· 1.1 billion pounds produced

· Economic impact $800 million

· This year expecting 95% crop loss

GRAPES

Michigan ranks fourth in the nation

· 78,000 tons for juice and wine

· 14,600 acres in production with 2000 devoted to wine grapes

· Economic impact $27.5 million

DAIRY

Michigan ranks 8th in milk production

· 1,900 Grade A family farms

· 375,000 dairy cows, 2100 herds

· Producing 8.5 billion pounds of milk

· Economic impact $14.7 billion

EGGS

Michigan ranks 7th in the nation

· Over 10,000 laying hens laying 250 million eggs

· As of 2012, cage free production is 5.7% of the total U.S. flock size, of this 2.9% is organic

DRY EDIBLE BEANS

Huron County is one of the top dry bean producing counties in the country.

· 2500 growers

· 150,000 tons produced

· Over 20 types of beans

FLORICULTURE

Michigan ranks 3rd in the country

· 720 growers and producers

· In 2008 produced the second-most valuable crop of annual bedding & garden plants in the nation leading the nation in value of sales of: impatiens, begonia hanging baskets, geraniums, New Guinea impatiens, petunias, and potted veggies worth $187 million in sales.

 CHRISTMAS TREES

Michigan ranks 3rd in the nation

· 42,000 acres in production

· 3 million trees sold per year

· For each tree harvested 3 are planted

· Economic impact $41 million

CHERRIES

Michigan ranks NUMBER ONE growing 70-75 percent of the tart cherries in the U.S. and 20% of the sweet cherries

· 28,600 tons of sweets

· 242 million pounds of tarts

· Economic impact $53.8 million

· This year expecting 95% crop loss

CUCUMBERS

Cucumbers are grown throughout the state, primarily in the Southwest

· 96.8 million pound fresh

· Farmers grow pickling cucumbers in the thumb region

· Economic impact $18.5 million

CARROTS

Michigan ranks second in the nation

· 59.4 million pounds for fresh and processed markets

· Economic impact $12.6 million

TOMATOES

Grown for fresh and processing

· 132,600 tons produced

· 60 million pounds for the fresh market

· Economic impact $35.5 million

POTATOES

Michigan’s leading produce commodity and is the nation’s leading producer for potato chip processing

· 735,000 tons harvested

· Economic impact $156 million

Thank you Michigan Farmers!!!

Garden Do Over

22 Jul

“If I could do it over again….” That’s what I’ve been hearing in my garden conversations this week. The second part of the sentence is usually, “well there’s always next year”. Whether you are experiencing draught conditions, floods, weeds, bugs, diseases, overgrown plants, flopping tomato plants, gigantic zucchini or maybe you are just tired of the heat, don’t stop now. It’s time to plant again! Hooray! Right? Okay, maybe you aren’t as excited as I am with the thought of starting another garden in July, but really, it’s time to sow seeds for your autumn or winter garden. I know, I know, you are TIRED of working in the outdoors in temperatures over 90 degrees. Urban Farmerscapers don’t have the option to stop farming, just like our full time farmers don’t have the option to stop growing food for us. So, here are a few tips for your Garden Do Over.

Roma tomato before pruning

Stake and Prune. If you haven’t already, stake and prune any tomatoes or climbing veggies. Consider this the “Last Call”. Don’t be afraid to cut off the lower branches of tomatoes to ensure they stay up off the ground. If you are growing indeterminate types, the use of a stake is best. The taller the better. Prune all lower branches up to the first set of buds, or maybe fruit by now. Farmers are using trellising techniques that can hold these tomatoes up so high that a ladder is needed to harvest!

Roma tomato after pruning

Remove plants. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out a plant that has taken over or has gone to seed. I should have never planted this Clarey Sage in the space that I did, but I never grew it before, so I didn’t know better. We learn from our mistakes. I harvested the seeds and now I have space to plant some Cilantro or Parsley! Much better choices for My Urban Farmscape.

Harvest efficiently then replant. As soon as you are done harvesting all of the fruit in one area, prepare for your autumn garden. You should add equal amounts of greensand, colloidal rock phosphate, and blood meal. I use 5 pounds of each for every 100 sq ft., adding half at spring planting and the other half in the summer. Also add compost at this time. Then after “resting” for a week, re-plant you fall crop, making sure not to plant something from the same family. Here is a list of plants by family for your reference, along with notations for what you can plant in the fall.

Vegetables by Family

Plant a cover crop. If you have decided that your Urban Farmscaping days are over this year, then make sure you plant a summer cover crop to build soil and help eliminate weed volunteers. A good one is soybean, and for later, as the season cools, you could add some clover. Then make sure you shop at your local farmers market each week.

Eat your veggies!

Take good notes. I hope that you are taking notes of what worked, what didn’t, what you could do next year. I make comments on each plant, how it performed, how much I harvested from each plant, how many plants I planted, what varieties, disease or insect problems, dates of planting and harvesting. But most important, I write notes on whether it tasted good or not. That’s why we garden right? YUM! It’s full swing harvest season! How could you call it quits? Maybe you don’t need to do a whole do over, but maybe a spruce up and a re-plant. Need more inspiration? Read my post from exactly 6 months ago, January 22, 2012 titled “Winter Carrots”. YUM! Here’s a quick link.

https://myurbanfarmscape.com/2012/01/22/winter-carrots/

Urban Farmscape Vacation

15 Jul

Sometimes, you need to take a vacation from your garden. I know, I know, you wonder why I would ever think leaving the plants that I have been tending since they were little seedlings. Well, sometimes you just need a break from looking at your plants. As an Urban Farmscaper, it is easy to do since you probably have a small garden that you could find a friend or neighbor that would be happy to water for you. When I had my organic farm, there was never the possibility of leaving, not even for even a weekend. Winter time was the only possible vacation time. Thank you FARMERS for growing the food I don’t have space to grow!

This week my vacation is in Columbus Ohio. I bet that comes as a surprise. Who would vacation in Columbus? Well, I am here for the Ohio Floral Association’s Short Course, which is probably the biggest horticulture event in North America. I know what you are thinking, what vacation! This vacation is still all about looking at plants!

Joe Lamp’l
photo courtesy OFA

Sam Kass
photo courtesy OFA

Today, the keynote presentation will be given by Joe Lamp’l , who you may have seen on his PBS series, “Growing a Greener World”. Then on Monday, Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef and the Senior Policy Advisor for the Healthy Food Initiatives will be presenting “Gardening’s Positive Impact on Our Communities & Our Lives”. These are two amazing gardeners and I am excited to hear them along with the many MANY other presentations and workshops. I will have to share with you in a later post what I have learned from them. For today, I will share with you my visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Garden.

Upon entering the gardens, I was greeted with beautifully landscaped grounds and I could see the roof top of the conservatory above some trees. The road was winding and a sign listed directions with arrows pointing to where you should go. I headed toward the Scott’s Miracle-Gro Community Garden Campus.

Potager Gardens

As I approached the entrance, I thought to myself, Wow! These community gardens are amazing! But where is all the food? Then as I strolled I saw that I had entered the Barbara and David Brandt Family Potager Gardens. I learned that a “potager garden” is the English version of our “kitchen garden”. It had a very cozy, but formal feel to it; I didn’t even notice the rows of herbs and veggies. The longer I lingered the more beautiful it became. The design had such attention to detail and visually it was very nice. As I wandered and became totally engulfed and lost in the garden, then I turned and stumbled upon the community garden.

There are 40 plots, and there were just as many garden designs as there were gardeners. I lost track of time admiring the veggies, herbs, flowers and fruits. Not a hard thing for me to do. I did eventually make it to the conservatory.

Community Garden Plots

I’m really excited to meet breeders and growers and to learn about the new varieties that will be available for next year, whether it’s food or ornamental plants. And yes! Organic and sustainability are among the talks. Oh! I also got a sneak peek at some amazing containers that will be PERFECT for your Urban Farmscape. I love gardening and growing plants. Can you tell? So maybe I’m not looking at my garden, but I’m always looking at plants.

For more information on the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, including special events, visit their website at www.fpconservatory.org If you want to know more about their community garden, call 614-645-5952. It’s worth the trip, even if you aren’t a plant lover, when you visit, you will see the largest collection of Dale Chihuly’s glass artwork from 2003-2004 owned by a conservatory or botanical garden. Amazing! And Columbus is a pretty cool city. LOTS of urban farmscapes. So, where is your favorite community or public garden?

Chihuly Glass

So… what’s YOUR problem?

8 Jul

Remember in the spring, when the warm weather and sunshine felt so good, and how much fun it was planting seeds and plants in the garden?  Remember how that vision of germinating beans pulled at your heartstrings, so proud of yourself, you paused in amazement with life.   Visions of organic veggies and fresh-cut flower bouquets filled your mind along with sharing your bountiful harvest with family and friends.  Life is good you told yourself.  Then you went on vacation for a week, fun and sun, and when you returned home, the first thing you did was run to your garden, arms wide open, excited and shouting to all of your garden plants, “I am home!”  As you get closer, you see wilting chard plants, holes in the cauliflower leaves, the weeds have taken over your pepper patch, and where did that giant zucchini come from?  Oh my!

 

No matter where you garden or what you grow, you are going to have problems.  When you work every day, every other day, or even once a week in a garden, you start to get to know the plants.  You start to understand their feelings when they aren’t getting enough rain, or there are too many clouds, they weep, they really do.  Ok, maybe it’s not what they are feeling, but you know they aren’t happy.  What about bugs?  How many bugs are okay to have chomping away on your plants leaves?  One, two, ten, none?   Are they good bugs or bad bugs?  The first thing that you need to do is to determine if there is a problem or not. 

 

Scenario # 1:  I noticed that the cauliflower didn’t look too good this week.  The leaves were becoming all curly, weird, somewhat distorted.  I only have 4 plants in the brassica family in my garden, because I don’t like any of them, I don’t like to grow them, but I did plant these 4 for my family, because they like them.  Anyway, yes, maybe I ignore these plants a little, but I couldn’t help but investigate a little more.  So, upon a closer look, what I found rolled up in the center leaves were disgusting little creatures.  Problem or not? 

In this scenario, upon further investigation, I can see that I am dealing with aphids.  Aphids LOVE to suck on plant juices which will eventually kill it.   You will always find them at the newest growth.  Their natural enemies are lady bugs, but I haven’t seen any of those around.  For now, I will spray and wash the plants with soapy water and smash them with my fingers.  Watch them daily, and if they continue, start to use insecticidal soap per directions.  This should take care of the problem, but you have to stay on it.  You can’t let this go.  They multiply fast!  Or, I could pull them out of my garden….but then my family would be upset.

Scenario # 2:  On one of my tomato plants the leaves have been curling in an upward way.  Almost to the point where they look like a tube.  I can see that the little cherry tomatoes are developing okay, and noticed that the other tomato plants next to it didn’t look the same.  They are different varieties, but the leaves just looked odd.  Maybe they have a virus or something.  Problem or not?

It appears that the plant is expressing a physiological disorder.  No virus or disease problems, no insects, just a possibility that it has been too hot and this is what the plant is doing to deal with it.  I found a good explanation at http://agdev.anr.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?p=3228  so no need to do anything.

Scenario # 3:  While I was crawling around my squash plants weeding, I noticed these little metallic brown balls on the leaves.  I found some on the tops of leaves, and also on the bottoms of some others.  They look harmless, and don’t seem to be doing anything but sitting there.  For now I will just leave them and hope to remember to keep an eye on them.  Problem or not?

These “little balls” are actually eggs of squash beetles.  You can smash them as soon as you see them.  That’s easy for an Urban Farmscaper to do, but not for a large-scale farmer.  I found some really good information on how to deal with these and other cucurbit eating bugs from Clemson: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/plant_pests/veg_fruit/hgic2207.html

I like to use deterrents such as hot pepper wax spray or garlic spray initially to keeps pests away from the garden.  They are bound to find their way in there.  If you suspect a problem,  the first thing you need to do is  observe the symptoms, identify the pest, and know when it is a problem and when to act.  This is also known as Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.  If you aren’t already practicing IPM, learn more at the Michigan State University IPM website. http://www.ipm.msu.edu/  Knowing if there is a problem is the first step, and how to deal with it in a sustainable manner is the next step to having a healthy garden with a bountiful harvest.   So..what’s YOUR problem?

Magical Lavender Wands

24 Jun

One of my favorite plants is  lavender, Lavandula sp.  I love the way the foliage is a shade of grey-green, the purple flower spikes, but most of all, its delightful fragrance.  It’s easy to understand why it has been such a popular herb for cleaning as well as perfumes since medieval times.  In recent years, chefs have been using lavender flowers to add a bit of its floral notes to culinary delights such as lemonade, cookies, as well as more savory dishes.

I live in zone 5, which is good for growing both English lavender varieties, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’.  I have My Urban Farmscape bordered with Munstead.  It’s nice to smell it as I brush up against it while weeding.  I can harvest and dry the flowers to use for cooking or crafts.  I sometimes put the dried flowers in fabric bags and place them in my drawers.

English Lavender at My Urban Farmscape

One thing that I like to do is to make lavender wands.  These date back prior to the Victorian era.  It is a simple way of preserving the flowers and stems and can be as decorative as I like.  When they dry, the flowers are tucked inside the satin ribbon-stem weave, and with a quick roll between my hands, the most wonderful fragrance is released.  The best variety for making lavender wands is Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ because it has such long stems and the oil content is so high.  It grows well in zone 6 and up.  So I wondered, what if I planted Provence in a garden tucked away in a little warmer microclimate, maybe I could grow this. I tried and have had been growing Provence for two years. Maybe luck. 

Top = Provence Bottom = Munstead

To make lavender wands, regardless of the variety you have, just follow these simple steps:

Harvest the lavender flowers at their peak, just as the lower petals start to open.  Do this in the early afternoon on a sunny day which will allow the flowers to be dry from any overnight dew or moisture from earlier rains.

Cut the stems as long as you can, and count out an odd number.  I used 21 for this lavender wand.  For Hidcote or Munstead, I would use a smaller number of stems or you will end up with a really fat wand, like a lollipop.

Line up the flowers so that the bottoms of the flower stalk line up.  Wrap the stems just below the flowers with a satin type craft ribbon that is ¼” wide.  You can use any color.  I like to be traditional and use purple.  Tie the ribbon in a knot tightly.  Leave a tail about 6” long, and don’t cut the rest of the ribbon from the spool just yet.  This is the part you will weave in and out of the stems.

Flip upside down and while holding the bunched flowers, start to fold the stems down over the flowers until they are all folded over them.  Keep the ribbon tail inside with the flowers.

Taking your ribbon still connected to the spool, start to weave over and under each stem, creating a basket weave.  Once you get to the third row it will get easier.

Once you have woven the ribbon to the end of the flowers, and the stems meet each other, tie the piece that was left as the tail and the piece that is still connected to the spool and tie into a knot then into a bow.  Cut the ribbon from the spool and even up the ends of both pieces.

Now you can do with them what you please.  Tuck them away to add a pleasant smell in your drawers, give them as gifts, or wave them in the air to cast friendly magical spells over your garden.  I just like to leave them out decoratively around my house  and as I pass them by, I give them a roll between my hands and am quickly transported to that summer day when I sat on the porch while making them.

Strawberries, Shortcake, and some Jam

17 Jun

As long as I remember, it has been a tradition in my family to have strawberry shortcake on Father’s Day.  Not that it was the favorite dessert, but mostly because strawberries were in season.  We would pick somewhere between 30-50 quarts, go home, wash, cut, bag and freeze them.  Sure, Michigan strawberries may not be big like some other states, but they are the sweetest and most flavorful berries on this earth.  So of course dad loved them, they were “sweet like him” he would say.  Especially when they were freshly sliced, allowing their sugary juices to escape as they were poured over top of a freshly baked biscuit stuffed with vanilla ice-cream.  Final touches of a little whipped cream and then strawberry shortcake dad’s way was ready for him to enjoy.  I preferred fresh strawberries over ice-cream, sometimes a shake, or just a bowl of plain fresh strawberries.  Still to this day, at least weekly, I will have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  You guessed it, with homemade strawberry jam.  Now that I think about it, I eat strawberries and yogurt a lot, and indulge in an occasional strawberry daiquiri made from the frozen strawberries, rum, and some fresh squeezed lime. 

Strawberries are so easy to grow.  You can grow them in the ground, or even hydroponically.  There are June-bearing strawberries, which are strawberries that bear fruit in June or Ever-bearing strawberries, A.K.A. Alpine strawberries, which bear fruit continuously.  These are a little smaller in size, but have more flavor.  At My Urban Farmscape, I have planted some June bearing strawberries around my blueberries.  They will tolerate the lower pH that blueberries need to grow, and it will provide a nice groundcover underneath them.  I have both of my favorite fruits growing in raised beds.  I am growing Alpine strawberries from seeds, so I won’t have any fruit this year.  These do well in containers, especially hanging baskets, which makes a perfect choice for smaller gardens.  I have to be quick to harvest, or protect the bed with a fence to prevent squirrels or some other animals from eating them before I get them.

Almost ready for picking!

Since I love to make strawberry jam, I needed more strawberries than I could grow, so lucky for me that my favorite organic farmer is growing strawberries.  I only paid fifty cents more a quart for certified organic.  Not bad.  I use the recipe that is included with pectin of choice, Sure-Jell or Pamona’s Pectin.    Pamona’s can be found at most health food stores or online.  I like using this when I want to make a no or low sugar fruit spread, or use honey or maple syrup instead of sugar.  If you have never made jam before, I would recommend starting with strawberry.  It is so easy!

Ready for eating…

If you’re not growing strawberries in your Urban Farmscape you should start next spring.  For now, visit your local farmers market for fresh Michigan strawberries,  buy extra for jam, or maybe take dad to pick some at the local u-pick strawberry farm.  Then when you get home, bake some fresh biscuits, slice some strawberries and allow them to become juicy.  Allow the biscuits to cool slightly, but still a little warm so the ice-cream melts just a little.  Pour over a generous amount of juicy strawberries, and top with some whipped cream.  YUM!  Can’t be with dad today?  Send him a jar of homemade strawberry jam.  One of the sweetest of all Michigan treats.

Strawberry Jam

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