Posts by BHG Guest Blogger

BHG Guest Blogger

Preserving Your Garden’s Fresh-Picked Flavor

The following is a guest blog post from Theresa Loe, a garden writer for television, print media and video; and producer for Growing a Greener World. 

Garden-fresh flavor is very seasonal. We are given just a small window of time to enjoy things like vine-ripened tomatoes, honey-sweet berries and juicy, drip-down-your-chin peaches. They may be short, but these seasonal moments are one of the reasons many of us grow our own food. We want to not only savor these moments, but also capture them to enjoy later or share them with friends.

Well that’s where canning and preserving can help!

With a few simple techniques, we can save a bit of our garden and essentially create a little time capsule of flavor. Later when the growing season is long over, we can go to our pantry or freezer, open that time capsule and be taken back to that delicious season in an instant.

But many people are unsure about preserving or they feel intimidated about trying. Well, I’d like to change that! I am life-long canner and also one of the producers of the national public television gardening series, Growing A Greener World where we feature organic gardening and farm-fresh food. My mission both on the show and on our website is to take the fear away from the idea of preserving the harvest.

Next week, as part of our yearlong campaign to promote canning the harvest, we are launching a new mini-video series on preserving that offers simple, timesaving tips and techniques for capturing the garden’s flavors. And it covers much more than just “canning”. It also includes freezing, pickling and many ideas for how to use the things you preserve. Be sure to tune in for ideas. In the meantime, below are a few simple things you can do now to savor a few of those flavorful moments in your own garden. Enjoy!

Tips for Preserving Fresh-Picked Flavor

TOMATOES: Freeze tomatoes whole (no peeling required) on a cookie sheet and when frozen solid, place in freezer bags or containers. Later, when you defrost them, they have a stewed tomato consistency with all the fresh-picked flavor. The skin just peels off. They are perfect for soup, stew, chili, etc.

BERRIES: Try freezing blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc. in a single layer on a cookie sheet until they are frozen solid. Then transfer to freezer bags or containers. The advantage to freezing before packing into containers is that they stay separated and you can reach in and grab a handful at a time (for smoothies or pancakes) without defrosting the entire bag.

HERBS: Chop fresh herbs like basil, cilantro and sage in the food processor and drizzle in vegetable oil until it forms a paste. Store in small containers in the freezer and when a recipe calls for a spoonful of freshly chopped herbs, use a spoon to scrape off the amount you need. The oil allows you to remove a small amount without defrosting the entire container.

MORE HERBS: Dry your herbs like sage, thyme and rosemary by cutting them in the morning when their essential oils are at their peak. Tie them in bundles with rubber bands and hang upside down to dry. The rubber bands will hold the bundle as the stems shrink and the hanging keeps the oils in the leaves. When they are crisp to the touch, crumble the herb leaves into a jar and store on the pantry for up to one year.

GREEN BEANS: Blanch fresh beans for 3 minutes in boiling water to kill some of the enzymes that cause spoilage. Then plunge the beans in cold water, drain and freeze in baggies or containers. They will last up to 6 months this way.

ZUCCHINI: Grate or shred your zucchini, squeeze out the excess liquid and store in containers in the freezer. When you defrost later, the zucchini will be soft but is great for adding to muffins, breads and other baked goods.

MISC. FRUIT: If you want to try your hand at making jam but lack the time, chop fruit such as peaches, nectarines, or plums and measure out what you need for your jam recipe. Freeze the fruit in a container up to 6 months. When you are ready to make your jam, simply defrost the container and you are half way done. (Chopping takes half the time of any recipe.) Then just follow your recipe and use the water bath canning method to process the jam. The flavor will be as if you just picked and chopped the fruit the same day.

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About Theresa Loe :
A life-long canner, city homesteader and graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program, Theresa Loe is passionate about taking the garden full circle (from seed, to table, to pantry) and capturing that fresh-picked flavor with style. She is an award-winning garden writer for television, print media and video and one of the founding producers of Growing A Greener World TV.

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BHG Guest Blogger

Homegrown Tomato Juice

The following is a guest blog post from You Grow Girl: Gayla Trail, a Canadian gardener, blogger, author, and photographer. 

Both spring and summer have been unseasonably cool in my neck of the woods, and unfortunately the tomatoes have suffered.  I lost a few straight out of the gate and fear that some of the late season indeterminate varieties will not ripen in time for the fall frost. Fortunately, I tend to over-plant so there will be tomatoes regardless.  A few indeterminate plants are filling up with fruit and many of the fruit in my patch of dwarf and determinate varieties are starting to show their colour.


One way I like to use up the bounty is in making homemade tomato juice. I know it sounds like a chore when you can just buy tomato juice in a can, but wait until you try it. The difference between the store-bought product and this one made with seasonal ingredients is incomparable, and I mean that without an ounce of sentimentality or exaggeration. It’s a scientific fact!

The following recipe is the one I use at home, reprinted from my book, “Drinking the Summer Garden: Homegrown Thirst Quenchers, Concoctions, Sips, and Nibbles.”

Cheers!

 

Homegrown Tomato Juice

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1⁄2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh parsley (stems and leaves), roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • Pickled green tomatoes, for garnish (found on page 17 of Drinking the Summer Garden)

 Instructions:

  • Place the tomatoes, onion, celery, bell pepper, parsley, oregano, and salt in a large pot and simmer on medium-low heat until the vegetables are cooked through and soft, about 20 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent sticking.
  • Press through a food mill or old-fashioned chinois and discard solids.
  • Stir in the honey and lemon juice and season with black pepper and/or more sea salt to taste.
  • Serve in a frosty glass on ice, garnished with skewered cherry tomatoes, pickled onion, or sliced cucumber.
  • Store the juice in the fridge for a couple of days.

Variations: There are countless ways to turn this healthy drink into a fun afternoon mocktail. Before serving, wet the rim of each glass with a slice of lemon and dip into celery or lovage salt (instructions for how to make these are included in my book, Drinking the Summer Garden.”  Shake or stir in a dash of Worcestershire sauce or balsamic vinegar to taste. Season with dried or finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, marjoram, or thyme. Spice it up with a hot pickled pepper. Drink it through a hollow lovage stem made into an edible straw.

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GAYLA TRAIL is the creator of YouGrowGirl.com, where she has been sharing her experiences gardening in difficult urban spaces for 13 years. Gayla is the author/photographer of four books on urban gardening: You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces (translated into three additional languages), Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces and Drinking the Summer Garden: Homegrown Thirst Quenchers, Concoctions, Sips, and Nibbles.” She lives, cooks, and gardens in Toronto with her partner Davin and their sweet pup Molly.
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BHG Guest Blogger

Small Garden Design Strategies – Keeping Color in Check

The following is a guest blog post from Susan Morrison, a Northern California landscape designer and blogger. 

 

Small gardens offer many advantages over their larger cousins—less weeding comes to mind—but having less space to work with brings a unique set of challenges. If you’re a plant and accessories lover, you might be torn between the desire to cram in every bright bloom or vivid pot that catches your eye, and the knowledge that too many competing colors can lead to chaos. With a little planning, however, a small garden can be colorful without being overwhelming.

Plan for container colors in advance

When Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, asked for my help designing a new cocktail garden for her narrow side yard, I knew we’d be relying heavily on containers. To satisfy Amy’s desire for bold color, we chose a palette of rich blues anchored by deep purple on one end and lime green on the other – before purchasing anything. Instead of endless days spent shopping in an effort to find containers that conformed to her swatches, Amy asked a local handyman to build them to her specifications out of unfinished wood—then painted them herself. (You can also find unfinished wood containers online.) If choosing a color palette seems daunting, sites like Adobe Kuler provide a range of color palettes, and a menu of easy-to-use tools that allow you to experiment with an infinite number of combinations, while still ensuring your ultimate choices will coordinate.

Build your beds around pastel blooms

When it comes to flower color, an exclusive palette of pastel blooms will blend together much more harmoniously than one that mixes soft colors with bold ones. Pastel shades always combine well with one another, no matter how many different flowers you include. As the speaker at a recent talk on color that I attended explained it: if you washed all your clothes 200 times, they would eventually fade to the point where you could wear anything with anything. Sticking to the paler shades found in the innermost circle of the color wheel is a great strategy for impulse shoppers, as it gives you a substantial number of plants to choose from, with no need to worry that the ultimate effect will overpower the garden.

Keep accessories and plants cohesive

On the other hand, if you’re the type who wouldn’t be caught dead planting pale pink anything, it’s possible to make a bold design statement without sacrificing harmony. Once you’ve chosen the colors that speak to you, the secret is to repeat them everywhere, including accessories like furniture, containers and artwork.

Artist and garden designer Keeyla Meadows is not the type to shy away from splashy shades. Sizzling reds, bright oranges and shocking pinks dominate in her small, sunny garden, but by pulling these colors through in her handmade benches and containers, the end result is harmonious.

In their small, showcase water garden, Potomac Waterworks choose only two high-contrast colors, red and chartreuse, then repeated them not only in a range of foliage plants, but in the accessories and artwork as well. The ultimate effect is a garden that is simultaneously energizing and restful.

Whether your style is softly romantic or outspokenly edgy, stick to a few simple color strategies for a garden that reflects the real you—without sacrificing harmony.

 

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Susan Morrison is a Northern California landscape designer with Creative Exteriors Landscape Design,  blogger at Blue Planet Garden Blog and the co-author of Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, an Amazon “Best Books of 2011” selection.

Susan knows first-hand the challenges and rewards of gardening in a small space. Her own 18 by 50 foot back yard serves as her laboratory for fresh ideas, and is the inspiration for her iTunes garden app Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens.
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BHG Guest Blogger

Are You Ready for a Blooming Revolution?

The following is a guest blog post from Angela Treadwell-Palmer, Co-owner of Plants Nouveau and involved with a variety of garden programs. 

 

If you’re like me, you’ve tried all of the repeat flowering hydrangeas on the market.  I hope you haven’t been as disappointed as I have. Yes, they bloom all summer, but it’s a bloom here, a bloom there, and the plant is never completely covered in blooms, right?  Right!  Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Hokomarevo’ Everlasting™ Revolution is a game changer.

Not only does Revolution flower on new and old wood, making it sure to bloom for everyone, but the pink or blue (depending on the acidity of your garden soil) flowers fade to magical color combinations of deep rusty-pink and olive green, maroon and true blue, and even aqua and lime green. As the long summer days fade, each aging flower adds even deeper green highlights, extending the color in your garden well into the autumn.

This attractive, continuously blooming hydrangea not only has gorgeous, strong, long-lasting flowers, it’s a blooming machine. This might be the first super successful gift-to-garden plant.  Here’s how it works; you buy it in full bloom for mom for mother’s day or Easter and enjoy it indoors for a month, then you can safely plant it in the garden and watch it bloom and grow for years and years – even in the colder regions of the US (USDA Zone 5)! Not many hydrangeas sold as gift plants are tough enough to be planted outside.

Wait – there’s more.

No house yet or no room to garden?  Only have space for containers on your porch or patio?  This amazing hydrangea will even survive outside in a large, freeze-proof container in many areas.  Just give it a little water once in a while and let it sleep all winter.  And since it grows to only 30” tall by 30” wide, you won’t need a big space or a big container.  Its petite size is perfect for small, urban spaces, porches and patios.  If you grew up with a Cape Cod-like cottage garden, but don’t have the space for larger mop head hydrangeas, this is the plant for you.  All the color, all the nostalgia of grandma’s garden, cut flowers for the table and the perfect little garden plant all in one, who could ask for more?

Why buy a reblooming hydrangea when you can have an, Everlasting™ blooming machine?

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Angela’s career has spanned almost every aspect of gardening, garden design and teaching folks how to garden with plants – especially natives. She most recently managed the development of new gardens for the U.S. National Arboretum.  Angela managed new plant introduction and marketing for the Chicago Botanic Garden and The Conard-Pyle Co.  She has designed and installed many private gardens throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Angela founded and now Co-owns Plants Nouveau LLC; a company that specializes in introducing and marketing new plants to the nursery industry.  She’s been directing the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference at Millersville University for the past eleven years.  Angela’s career has taken her around the world, experiencing world famous gardens and remote areas looking for new ideas and exciting plants.
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BHG Guest Blogger

Dwarf Crapemyrtles Solve Small-Space Gardening Dilemma

The following is a guest blog post from Briana Johnson, Marketing Communications Specialist for Garden Debut® and Greenleaf Nursery.

 

When shopping for my first home, I had grand illusions of the gardening space I’d have available. I vastly underestimated the cost and maintenance associated with a landscape that rivaled the local botanical gardens. Thankfully, I came to my senses before I purchased and made a realistic choice in terms of lot size. My small in-town neighborhood lot isn’t quite the ultimate of small space gardening that an apartment balcony or a townhouse patio constrains you to, but even suburban gardeners have small space gardening dilemmas.

My first dilemma was porch height. I purchased my house for its beautifully large, covered front porch. I’d again had grand illusions of a gorgeous, raised, wrap-around porch, and while my porch is large, it is a scant 6 inches from the ground to the threshold. When it came to selecting plants for the mixed beds in front of said porch, I knew a 6 to 8 foot shrub would debilitate my views from the porch swing, so I set a 3 to 4 foot height limit on my plant selections.

New plant breeding, such as that done by crapemyrtle enthusiast Dow Whiting, is often aimed at introducing smaller more compact versions of a garden favorite. Dow’s four varieties of Princess Crapemyrtles, introduced by the Garden Debut® collection, range in size from 18 to 48 inches tall by 30 to 36 inches wide, fitting perfectly within my range of selections. Not to mention they offer another feature every gardener loves: an extended bloom season from midsummer to fall that is improved by deadheading spent flowers.

The largest of the collection, Princess Holly Ann™, produces cherry red clusters of flowers and matures at 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Princess Zoey™ has two-toned blooms that emerge cherry red with splashes of hot pink, and it also grows to 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. These two crapemyrtles are perfect choices for the back row of a mixed garden bed and can be under-planted with a variety of small shrubs and perennials.

The two smaller varieties also work well as a mid-level mixed garden bed selection. Mounding Princess Kylie™ has brilliant magenta flowers and grows 3 feet tall and wide, and tiny Princess Lyla™ matures at 18 to 24 inches tall and wide with light pink flowers. Their mounded shapes also look great in a cluster of mixed containers around a porch or patio sitting area where the delicate flowers can be observed closely.

I’ve found that with new breeding programs and new introductions each year from collections such as Garden Debut®, gardeners can expect solutions to a variety of gardening dilemmas, not just space limitations. Visit www.gardendebut.com to view the collection or call 1 (877) 663-5053 for questions.

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Briana Johnson is the Marketing Communications Specialist for Garden Debut® and Greenleaf Nursery in Park Hill, Oklahoma. She is a first-time homeowner and amateur gardener with big ideas for her new landscape.

Briana relies on Great New Plants™ and Trusted Selections™ from the Garden Debut® collection to create a home where she can connect, share, enjoy and inspire. Discuss new and exciting features about these plants with Briana each day by following Garden Debut® on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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BHG Guest Blogger

Get Your Garden Off the Ground (And Into the Air)

The following is a guest blog post from Chris McLaughlin.

 

If you’re interested in gardening on any level, it’s nearly impossible not to notice that vegetables are once again enjoying the gardening spotlight.  Like everything else, the gardening trend has taken a twist. Large expanses of cultivated land have been swapped out for raised beds, containers, and one of the easiest and rewarding veggie gardening practices — vertical gardening. Take advantage of the prime real estate located above the soil! It just might be the perfect produce practice.

Naturally, the first reason that gardening vertically makes sense is that many of us are limited (sometimes drastically so) as far as gardening space and we’d like to make the most of our small-space gardens. In fact, when I lived in the suburbs, I started gardening vertically because most of my life was spent living in the suburbs and I had very few places around my home for a vegetable garden.

In my book Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha Books, December 2012) I get into the nitty gritty on why those of us that have started growing vegetables and fruits vertically instead of horizontally have never looked back. In a nutshell, vertical gardening will have you:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using Less Garden Space
Typically the first reason that gardeners consider growing up instead of out is due to lack of space. This may seem like a no-brainer when speaking in terms of urban, apartment, and condominium living. But you would be amazed at how little land suburbanites have to work with, too. Vertical gardening opens doors for almost anybody.

 

Spending Less Money
You’ll save money from the get-go on purchasing soil if you’re building raised garden beds. This is because your beds won’t have to be very large because the plants and fruit will be hanging around happily above the soil.  You’ll need only enough soil to accommodate plant roots.

Smaller beds (smaller growing surface) means you’ll be watering less. Combine this with a watering system that delivers water directly to the root zone such as a drip system, plus rich, loamy soil (for moisture retention) and you’ll have a smaller water bill, too.

 

Doing Less Work in Less Time
I don’t have to have met you to know that you lead a very full life. We’re all moving right along at a fast pace just to stay afloat; so planting a garden may feel like a big endeavor. But I’m here to tell you that there’s less time commitment involved with vertical gardening.

First of all, there’s very little soil for you to deal with — especially if you’re using containers. Less soil, means less time watering and weeding. In fact, pulling the one or two weeds that pop up takes minutes or even no time if you’re planting in just enough soil for the vertical plants. Plus you’ll harvest vegetables and fruit in a flash when it’s at eye level and can be easily seen and picked.

Gardeners in wheel chairs or those with other physical challenges find that growing up makes their hobby that much easier — or perhaps even possible where it may not have been before.

 

Dealing with Less Weeds, Pests, & Disease
This perk is a biggie — you’ll have very few weeds and you’ll have those yanked out in seconds. It’s simple; less soil surface = less weeds, plus your soil will most likely have come bagged as opposed to outside soil that can potentially be riddles with weed seed.

Plants grown vertically have the advantage of excellent air circulation. More air circulation around plant foliage means less trouble with pests and disease than thus, creates a  stronger plant and more unblemished fruit. Much less food wasted due to rotting, as well. Plants grown up instead of out limits their physical contact to neighboring plants (that might carry disease).

 

Harvesting More Crops than You Thought
Gardening vertically can actually increase your vegetable production and offer you a bigger bounty. All that air circulation and sunlight helps maintain healthy foliage and healthy plants (with little or no pests and disease) offer bigger yields — even if it is in a smaller space.

By the way, vertical gardening isn’t just about vining plants. Hanging baskets, stackable containers, and wall pockets are all ways to grow non-climbing crops such as lettuce, strawberries, and radishes up.

 

Beautifying Your Yard
If you haven’t noticed that vegetable plants can be downright beautiful, take another look; veggies can be botanical eye candy, too! Tomatoes not only come in bold red, but also yellow, orange, purple, white, green, white, and striped; Eggplant offers white, lavender, purple, and striped varieties; cabbages come in blues, grays, and greens; lettuce are red, green, purple, and all shades between.

Another ting that many gardeners notice is the leaves of vining plants such as zucchini or squash grown along the soil in the traditional way become yellow, sparse, and scraggly. Grown vertically the bottom of these plants are full with leaves. In fact, your vining and fruiting vegetables can actually be a surprising focal point in your garden landscape.

Along with the various colors the shape, size, and texture of plants and fruit will add to the view. Upright crops such as espaliered fruit trees and grapevines offer many months of structural beauty in the garden, as well.

Even today, on five acres and I can honestly tell you that I grow more vegetables vertically than I ever did when I had much less land. The space above the traditional garden bed is underused as a growing resource, yet it offers some surprising benefits! You just have to stop looking out and start looking up.

 

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Chris McLaughlin has been gardening for over 35 years and became a California Master Gardener in 2000. She’s the author of four gardening books including Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha, December 2012). Her work can also be found in Urban Farm Magazine, Hobby Farm Home Magazine, The Heirloom Gardener and is a staff columnist at Vegetable Gardener.com. 

Today, Chris is working on her current book project for a spring 2014 release, getting ready to launch the Mother Lode Seed Library in Placerville, California, attempting to keep up with her own site, A Suburban Farmer.com, as well as practicing home ag in Northern California’s Gold Country.
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