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7/11/2014

Erin SheehanIn 2009, we had a bumper cucumber crop. Our harvest was so good that we had all we could eat, and I canned pickles and relish for the first time – 1,000-Island pickles using my grandmother’s recipe and cucumber relish using my mom’s recipe.

 

relish

Then came 2010. And 2011. And 2012. All three years, we sowed cucumber seeds in the ground and faithfully watered. Each year the plants grew and thrived, but about when they started to blossom they abruptly wilted and, soon after, died. So discouraging! Last summer, having pulled the last of my remaining relish out of the canning cellar, I had to can relish with cucumbers my mom BOUGHT! I felt like such a failure.

Last year, Jim tried to make up for our past disastrous efforts by planting an entire package of cucumber seeds along the front fence of our home garden plot. He thought if we over-planted perhaps we’d end up with at least a few cucumbers. A few weeks after planting, I noticed a heavy infestation of yellow-and-black-striped insects on the plants. Not having any idea what they were, I called up my favorite gardening guru: Mom. She correctly identified them as cucumber beetles.

bugsReading up on cucumber beetles, I realized that they were the likely cause of our previous crop failures. Although the beetles themselves don’t generally do significant damage, they carry a bacterium that infects the plant with bacterial wilt and subsequently kills it. The beetles also eat squash plants. Our concentration of squash and cucumbers in one area of the garden attracted mass quantities of these destructive bugs.

The results from the organic control methods seemed quite discouraging and, after three years of sacrificing our crop to this beetle, I didn’t want to risk another crop failure. Jim and I went to the garden center and picked up “Eight Garden Dust” by Bonide. We carefully followed the instructions and dusted our plants. Just once was enough. Although the beetles did eventually return, we had killed enough of them at the critical time – before the plants were strong enough to survive the onslaught.

I’m not proud of using a pesticide in our garden, but the amount we used was very small, in a single dose on a controlled area, and the reward was great. We harvested more than 250(!) beautiful, tasty cucumbers.

cukes

We delivered cucumbers to neighbors much as most gardeners foist zucchinis on others – anonymously and under the cloak of darkness. Several dozen went to the local food pantry. I also replenished my supply of pickles and relish, and we ate cucumbers for both lunch and dinner for weeks. Will we use the dust again this year? Our cucumbers are in blossom so it’s time to decide. I can’t say what we’ll do, but I’m grateful for last year’s amazing cucumber harvest. If anyone has successfully combated cucumber beetles without the use of pesticides, please post your stories below! 



7/3/2014

Erin SheehanWeeds overrun our property in June and July. All around the garden fence and in the driveway cracks, weeds grow out of control. We spend hours pulling them, and a day or two later we’re right back where we started. We don’t like to use Round-up or things like it so Jim did a little research online for non-toxic weed remedies.

weeds

First Jim read that straight-up vinegar will kill weeds when applied directly to the foliage. I don’t know if any of you have tried this but it did not work for us. The weeds grew unabated after repeated vinegar applications. Back to the drawing board. Jim then found this recipe:

Homemade Weed Killer

1 gallon white vinegar
2 cups Epsom Salts
1/4 cup Dawn dish soap

Put all ingredients into a sprayer and thoroughly soak plants on a warm, sunny day. Be careful to use this on a day when you don’t expect rain for at least 24 hours.

vinegar

It worked! Nearly all of the weeds died within a day or two of application. So we get to save our knees and backs from weeding and don’t harm the environment.

The ingredients are easy to find at your local grocery store. We found a sale on vinegar and really stocked up. You may find BJs or Costco has the lowest prices for the vinegar.

Let me know if you try this recipe and how you make out. I hope you are happy with your results! 



6/27/2014

Erin SheehanWe celebrated our second wedding anniversary June 3. Like last year, we planned a picnic for two at a nearby state park to mark the occasion. This year we had to postpone due to the weather, but it didn’t matter. We had a nice dinner, starting with a salad using our very own greens from our back porch container garden. We sat at an overlook and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the outdoors.

anniv

There was a time when I was younger that I thought a “real” celebration had to mean going to a fancy restaurant or traveling somewhere, but now Jim and I are happy with a simple evening outdoors, eating home-cooked food.

food

food2

food3

Growing up, all of our family celebrations centered around home cooking, with the emphasis on good company and good eats, not fancy surroundings and being waited on. We celebrated my mom’s birthday last Sunday. The menu couldn’t have been simpler. Each family invited brought their own burgers to throw on the grill. We had homemade hamburger buns and homemade mustard. We also had homemade pickles, homemade zucchini relish and homemade chili sauce, all canned up last year with our garden vegetables. We had a cabbage salad with fresh cabbage from the garden and deviled eggs from a neighbor’s chicken.

food4

pies

For dessert we had rhubarb pie with rhubarb from the backyard and apple pie with canned apples from last fall. I don’t believe you could find a more delicious feast at the fanciest restaurant in Paris!

Offering guests homemade food, especially when you are using home-grown produce, is the greatest gift a hostess can give. It’s opening your heart and home to your friends and family in a special way. I encourage you to start small: try to bake your next birthday cake. Even if it doesn’t look like the ones at the grocery store bakery, that’s OK! Let me know how it goes. 



6/19/2014

Erin SheehanThe past couple of years, round about April, I’ve thrown romaine lettuce seeds into a couple of containers on the back porch. With just a couple of bags of potting soil and a little regular watering, those containers yielded dozens of tasty salads. This year I kicked it up a notch and planted a variety of lettuce varieties. Wouldn’t you know, a salad with five or six types of greens doesn’t just look and sound fancy, it’s delicious, especially when there’s a spicy variety or two in the mix.

lettuce1

lettuce2

There are many types of spicy greens, but so far I’ve only tried two types of mustard and arugula. Growing a delicious salad is possible, even with limited space. All you need is a container or two, some dirt and a variety of seeds.

Two spicy greens to try are mustard and arugula. Mustard grows very quickly (matures in 35 to 45 days) and, like most salad greens, it does just fine in a container. Mustard bolts quickly so you’ll want to either succession plant a bit every couple of weeks or make sure to keep on top of your plants by not letting them flower. A few mustard leaves go a long way in a salad. They are quite spicy and the taste is, well, a lot like the yellow mustard in our refrigerator.

lettuce3

lettuce4

Like mustard, arugula grows very quickly. Again, a little goes a long way. The leaves are quite spicy and peppery. It adds a lot of flavor to salads and takes well to containers. Arugula doesn’t necessarily bolt quickly, so you can have a nice, long harvest.

lettuce5

lettuce6

To go with the spicy greens you could try growing a few different lettuce varieties. I put in Bibb, Romaine, Green Leaf and Red Leaf this year. Not only do we have colorful, diverse salads, by having so many different varieties we only have to pick a little from each kind for a salad. This allows the plants to rebound. They have produced continually throughout the spring/early summer.

Next year I’d like to add nasturtiums and cress. I’ve heard they grow quickly and offer a nice addition to a salad. Greens seeds are inexpensive and, even if all you have is a porch or a deck, you can give them a try in containers. Once you’ve had your own fresh-picked salad you will never buy those packaged salads again!



6/12/2014

Erin SheehanI haven’t had rhubarb jam in years, but I remember loving it as a child. I always asked for rhubarb jam on my sandwich. Our rhubarb is so plentiful this year I decided to can up a batch of rhubarb jam for myself. I’ve made a lot of different jellies and jam but had never tried making rhubarb jam before.

Rhubarb jam is easy to make and deliciously sweet. It doesn’t set up as firm as some jams might, but it tastes great and it’s firm enough to use. You’ll find it a great addition to your breakfast and lunch table.

Jam

Ready to get started? Here’s the recipe:

Rhubarb Jam

2  1/2 pounds of thinly sliced rhubarb (I used the food processor slicing attachment)
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon dried orange peel
1 box Sure-Jell pectin
1/2 teaspoon butter (optional)
6  1/2 cups sugar

Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of hot (not boiling) water. Your jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.

stove

Heat sliced rhubarb, orange juice and orange peel on stove over medium to high heat, stirring frequently. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb is softened. Measure out your sugar and have it ready in a bowl to add all at once. Add Sure-Jell and butter (if using, butter reduces foaming) to the rhubarb. Keep stirring until it returns to a full rolling boil. Add sugar and boil for exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with a spoon.

ready

jamcooking

Remove your hot canning jars from the water and ladle the jam into the jars. Leave 1/4-inch headspace. Carefully clean the rims of your jars so you achieve a proper seal. Place lids and rings on jars (finger tighten rings) and place jars in your boiling water bath. Boil in the canner for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place on a towel. Let sit for about 24 hours. My yield was the equivalent of 9 pints. We had some on waffles for Sunday breakfast in place of syrup – delicious! 



6/5/2014

Erin SheehanIf you have imported oranges or other citrus fruit sitting in your refrigerator or on your kitchen counter right now, please read on: this post is for you! You do not have to get Vitamin C from fruits coming out of Latin America. Though they seem to be currently out-of-favor and perhaps old-fashioned, fruits like rhubarb, currants and gooseberries are excellent sources of Vitamin C. Fortunately you can grow them easily in your own backyard. Starting a rhubarb patch and planting a couple of berry bushes will help reduce your dependence on the grocery store and help you to eat locally. Admittedly, rhubarb, gooseberries and currants are so tart that you will be hard-pressed to eat them without the addition of a fair amount of sugar or other sweeteners…

rhub

At this time of year most home-gardeners are swimming in rhubarb. You do not need any special gardening skills to grow rhubarb, it pretty much grows like a weed once you get it started. One of my favorite ways to use it is in muffins. We put a batch or two in the freezer and heat up a couple at a time to have with afternoon coffee.


muffins

Here’s my tried-and-true rhubarb muffin recipe:

Rhubarb Muffins

2½ cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup oil

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup sour cream

½ cup water

1½ cups rhubarb

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

3 Tbsp white sugar

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together. In separate bowl, mix brown sugar, oil, egg, vanilla, sour cream and water well. Add in dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Do not over-stir or your muffins will be tough. Spoon into a greased, floured muffin tin. Top with a sprinkle of white sugar and press it in with a spoon just a bit. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. Makes 24. 



5/30/2014

Erin SheehanOur rhubarb patch has plants from three sources: my mom and two of our neighbors. After just a couple of years the plants have taken hold and we harvest enough for several pies, muffins, rhubarb wine and jam.

 

rhubarb recipe

patch

Rhubarb is delicious and loaded with vitamin C and vitamin K. It pretty much grows like a weed once you get it in, so it’s worthwhile to try to track some down if you don’t already have a patch out back.

We made a Rhubarb Pie last weekend with our first harvest of the season. I know most people like to mix rhubarb with strawberries in a pie, but this recipe may surprise you. The addition of a little orange peel makes it delicious! Straight rhubarb pie needs a fair bit of sugar to balance the tartness of the rhubarb, but that's OK, we only eat it a few times a year, right?

cutting

pie

Old-fashioned Rhubarb Pie
Yields 1 10-inch pie.

1/4 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups sugar
Grated peel from one orange (or 1 tablespoon dried orange peel)
4 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 egg
Pastry for double-crust pie

Combine flour, cinnamon, sugar and orange peel. Add rhubarb and egg and mix well. Line the bottom of your 10-inch pie plate with pastry. Add filling. Top with second pastry. Cut slits in the top to allow air to escape during baking.

Bake at 425 F for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. Remove from oven when your crust is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling.





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