Getting Funky with Fermentation – Cilantro Jalapeño Sauerkraut

Funky fermented sauerkraut.  Not only is this recipe spicy and delicious, but it is packed full of probiotics for gut health.  What better way to stay warm in the winter than by lighting a fire inside your mouth? Not to mention the added warmth provided by a happy, healthy colon.

All joking aside, homemade fermented sauerkraut is delicious and is in a completely different league than store-bought.  Its crispness and sourness are unmatched and so are the health benefits of traditionally fermented foods.

Lacto-fermentation not only preserves your harvest for year-round enjoyment, but also increases the nutritional benefits of the food.  How cool is that?  Raw Cabbage Nutrition < Fermented Sauerkraut Nutrition.  Science is amazing.  The fermentation process produces vitamins and good bacteria (i.e. less gross sounding probiotics) that aid with digestion among many other health benefits.

Some say fermented foods can also prevent cancer.  As someone who is proud of her Polish heritage, I found this study from Michigan State University and the University of New Mexico quite interesting – researchers observed that women who immigrated to the United States from Poland were three times more likely to have breast cancer than those who remained in Poland.  They concluded that the consumption of lacto-fermented sauerkraut could be a factor because women in Poland ate an average of 30 pounds of raw sauerkraut each year, while the Polish women in the United States were eating approximately 10 pounds per year.

I don’t even think I’ve come close to eating 30 (or even 10) pounds of sauerkraut in a year, but this recipe for Jalapeño Cilantro Sauerkraut from Fermented Food Lab may change that.

Fermenting food may seem a bit intimidating, but really once you get the basics and a solid recipe down, it is a snap.  I am fortunate enough to have a fermentation crock from Poland with stone weights.  If you are going to get serious about fermentation, I highly suggest investing in a crock with stones.  Also, if you do not have access to homegrown organic veggies, you must purchase organic produce for your fermentation.  If your vegetables have been treated with pesticides or chemicals, it can impede on the fermentation process.

First step, gather your tools and ingredients:

Food Processor

Cabbage Shredder

Fermentation Crock with Stone Weights

1 Head of Cabbage

1 Tablespoon Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan Salt or Canning Salt (*please see salt note below)

2 Cloves of Garlic

4 Jalapeno Peppers

1 Bunch of Cilantro Leaves

1/2 White Onion

ingrediants
Crock, Stone Weights, Cabbage, Onion, Garlic, Cilantro, Jalapeno Peppers

First step is to remove the big outer leaves of cabbage.  Line the bottom of your crock with the leaves and set aside a couple leaves to put on the top of your shredded cabbage.  This will prevent bruising of your cabbage by the weights.

Next step is shredding your cabbage.  I put the biggest pot I own under my cabbage shredder.  I cut the cabbage in half and cut out the core.  Then I go to town using my cabbage shredder.  Please note, cabbage shredders like this are very sharp.  I got carried away and accidentally shredded my thumb.  It was extremely painful.  If you don’t have a fancy shredder like me, a food processor works or a big sharp knife. Your goal is to produce uniform shreds of cabbage.

Once you have your big pot of shredded cabbage, it is time to give it a salt massage.  Sprinkle the cabbage with 1 Tablespoon of salt and massage it for 5 minutes.  You will almost instantly feel the cabbage start releasing liquid and the stress of modern cabbage life.  After the massage, let the cabbage sit for 15 to 20 minutes to continue releasing liquid and make the cabbage soft.

* A note on the salt, I was fortunate enough to visit an old-time hardware store called Lehman’s in Ohio.  If you have never been, it really is a neat place with a lot of old fashioned tools and cookware.  There, I discovered unrefined Redmond Real Salt which is free of any additives.  You DO NOT want to use table salt / iodized salt because additives and anti-caking ingredients inhibit fermentation.  Use mineral rich real sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, or canning salt.

While your cabbage is recovering from its massage, you can prepare your other ingredients.  In a food processor, finely dice 1/2 white onion and the 2 cloves of garlic. Add your cilantro leaves and give them a whirl as well.  You can also add the 4 jalapenos to the food processor, but I opted to use my shredder to keep the circular jalapeno shape.  You may also want to remove the seeds and membranes from the jalapenos to reduce the heat level.  I did not remove the seeds or membrane because I am a masochist with a penchant for making explosively hot food.

Then, you must give your massaged cabbage a little more attention….  Give it a few tender but firm squeezes with your hands. If it is releases more juices, you are good to go.  I know, very sensual.

Next step, put gloves on to prevent being burned by the jalapeno juice!  Add your finely minced garlic, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro to the pot and mix it all together. Take your beautiful mixture and any juices it produced and put it on top of the big cabbage leaves that are lining your fermentation crock.  Then firmly push the mixture with your hands until it is packed tightly in the crock and produces even more liquid.  This natural brine protects your cabbage from going foul.  Once you have produced enough brine to fully submerge your cabbage mixture, put the big cabbage leaves you set aside on top of your shredded cabbage mixture.  Then put your weighted stones on top of the leaves and push down firmly so the stones are also submerged in the naturally produced brine.

Cover the crock with its lid and add water to the canal.  This keeps the crock air tight during fermentation.  Check the canal daily to ensure it is filled with water. During fermentation, bubbling and gurgling from the crock are good signs!  You do not want to remove the lid during this process.

The original recipe suggested letting it ferment for one week, but I let it ferment for two weeks to add a more tangy flavor.  It is a matter of personal taste preference.  Like fine wine, sauerkraut improves with age in regards to both flavor and production of healthy bacteria.

After the one to four weeks of fermentation, discard the whole cabbage leaves and pack sauerkraut into containers to store in the fridge. It will keep for a very long time. I still have sauerkraut from last year that is still delicious. If you are accustomed to very salty store-bought sauerkraut, you may be a little surprised by the lack of saltiness of homemade sauerkraut.

To reap the most healthy rewards of sauerkraut, it should be eaten raw with no alterations.  But I have to admit that I like to saute mine in a little bit of butter.  This sauerkraut would be amazing on a taco, a bratwurst, or even on fish.  The result is hot, spicy, garlicky, funky goodness.  Hope you enjoy!

 

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Get your winter growing fix

Grow something edible WITHOUT soil, sunlight, or going outside?

AND eat your harvest within four days?

Sounds too good to be true, right?

What is this magical veggie I speak of?

SPROUTS!!

If you’re anything like me, the first thing I thought of when I was considering growing my own bean sprouts was the episode of The Office where Creed says, “I sprout mung beans on a damp paper towel in my desk drawer. Very nutritious, but they smell like death.”

I love sprouts, but was sick and tired of never being able to find them in the grocery store.  I also don’t like to get them when eating out because it seems like there are always news stories about people getting e-coli from raw sprouts at restaurants.  I love trying new things (I get bored growing and cooking the same things over and over again).  And I think growing your own food is fun and liberating, so why not give growing sprouts a shot? Problem solved.

I wanted the simplest and cheapest method to grow sprouts.  I found:  Sprout-Ease – Econo-Sprouter Toppers on Amazon.  It looks like the product and the packaging design probably haven’t changed since the 1960’s, but as a savvy consumer, I found this to be a good sign that it is a solid, tried-and-true product.  This set of jar toppers also suited my needs perfectly because you only need wide-mouth mason jars to use them (of which I have a ton).


I ordered a dozen varieties of sprouting seeds from The Sprout House on Amazon.  Little did I know that this is probably a lifetime supply of sprouting seeds.  The mixes of seeds are very funky cool! In addition to the ever popular alfalfa, there are radish, lentil, and clover sprout seeds, and many others that I have never heard of before (like adzuki).  For my first attempt, I decided to do the September Morn Mix which includes alfalfa, mung, and broccoli sprouting seeds.

Sprout Seeds

I measured out 2 Tablespoons of the seeds into a wide-mouth mason jar and covered them with filtered water and let them soak overnight.  I believe like most seeds, this helps to loosen up the outer seed shell to encourage germination.  The seeds seemed to really soak up the water and some doubled in size!

As per the instructions on my jar toppers, the next morning I drained the water through the topper (which allows the water to escape, but keeps the seeds in the jar).  I took the jar topper off just to show how well it does catching even the smallest of seeds.

Seed Topper close up

After draining the water, I filled the jar about half way with fresh filtered water.  Then I somewhat vigorously swished the water around and drained the fresh water out of the jar.  I shook the jar over my sink to get as much water out as I could (to prevent any damp funkiness in the jar).  After shaking, as the directions suggested, I situated the jar at an angle on my dish rack.  This allows any excess water to continue to drain and allows air to flow up into the jar which prevents the seeds from rotting.  You want to try and prevent all the seeds / sprouts from collecting on the lid as to not obstruct the air flow (as you can see below, it is tricky when they are still just seeds, but once they are sprouts, it is easier for them to be distributed throughout the jar).  I did the rinse / drain cycle twice a day for four days.

Angeled to drain

It was so exciting to see the the sprouts grow every day!  This is definitely instant gratification gardening!

Some of my research suggested that once you are satisfied with the size of your sprouts to put them in a sunny location so they can turn a little green if you want.  I put mine in the sun for about an hour and then I said “screw it” and started eating them.

I could not believe that 2 Tablespoons of seeds could produce so many sprouts!  I also loved the mix – the crunchy Mung, the mild but delicious Alfalfa, and the sweet Broccoli sprouts.  Sprouts are very nutritious (as Creed taught us) and are chock full of antioxidants.  I also read that a small amount of broccoli sprouts has the same amount of cancer prevention as large amounts of full-grown broccoli.

Drying Sprouts

As you can see above, I dried the sprouts on a towel (damp sprouts would wilt/get moldy in the refrigerator very quickly) and sprouts are best kept in an air tight container.  I read that, properly stored, they can keep up to 6 weeks! I’m not sure how accurate that is. It seems like a long time, and mine didn’t last long enough to test that claim.

Storing Sprouts

I love topping a salad with sprouts!

Sprout Salad

I also love the crunch that sprouts add to a sandwich (and Sprouted bread from Aldi seemed like the obvious choice for my new sprouts).

In conclusion, sprouts are one of the easiest things I have ever grown.  Honestly, it would take some talent to screw it up (but feel free to take that as a challenge if you like!).  I think I may store some of my seeds in my root cellar as survival food. Hopefully if I’m holed up, I will still have access to water!

I’d also like to buy the 4 Legs of Love Sprouts from the Sprout People which are sprouts that are specifically good for dogs. My corgi, Goldie, loves eating grass – but I don’t know if my neighbors have chemically treated yards, so I try to discourage it.  Sprouts could become one of her new favorite treats!

And, if Creed’s statement about Mung bean odor still concerns you, trust me – they passed the sniff test.  They don’t smell like death.

 

 

2015 Garden in Review – Resolutions for 2016

As I sit here with my house slowly warming up from a busted furnace yesterday, I find myself missing working in my garden, feeling the warmth of the sun on my transparently pasty skin, and drinking porch beer(s).

With 2016 quickly approaching on this New Years Eve, I thought a little reflection on my gardening successes and failures of 2015 might do me some good (and keep my spirits up that seed starting is right around the corner!).

And… I thought I better post these pictures before I start chugging straight from the bottle of Prosecco… although entertaining, it would probably be an embarrassingly incomprehensible blog post.

So hold onto your hat…  never seen before raw garden footage is coming your way!

For the first time, I attempted to grow sweet potatoes from slips that I grew from organic sweet potatoes that I chopped in half.  I would say it was a somewhat successful experiment, but my harvest definitely left me with some lessons to learn…

I planted the slips in barrel planters and they seemed to thrive and produced impressive foliage.  Unfortunately there was one evening that it got extremely cold outside and the top foliage died instantly (sweet potatoes like it HOT HOT HOT).  I read that when the leaves and stems turn black, it is time to harvest the potatoes because they are no longer receiving nutrients and the rotten plant corpses could also seep down and rot the potatoes.  Trust me, I was panicked.

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Many of my sweet potatoes were really small and misshapen.  My conclusion is that there are three things that could have gone wrong:

  1. The barrels did not provide enough room for them to grow to a proper size and/or I planted too many slips in one barrel and they choked each other off.
  2. The sudden early cold snap killed them before they achieved their optimal size.
  3. I didn’t plant them early enough in the summer.

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Trial and error is the name of the game in gardening.  I let the sweet potatoes cure in a closed cardboard box to heal any bruises and to sweeten them up and I only recently started eating them.  I roasted them simply with cayenne flavored olive oil and salt and pepper and they were delicious.  I also highly suggest this recipe for Smoky Sweet Potatoes.  It was particularly suited to my weirdly shaped spuds.

But who wants to dwell on areas for improvement??  How about my successes!  I grew GIGANTIC garlic cloves.  The cloves were literally the size of my palm (with no sacrifice to flavor whatsoever).  They just keep getting bigger and better every year!  I already planted some monster cloves from what I grew this year to hopefully produce huge bulbs next year yet again.  I believe this is my fourth or fifth year growing garlic from the same batch.  I am interested in growing Elephant Garlic for comparison which I think is comically BIG, but is more related to the onion family.  Growing abnormally large vegetables brings me so much joy.

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As an area to work on… I did try cooking garlic scape stir fry and I gotta say I was not blown away.  The scapes were very, very mild tasting, almost too much so.  I think I will try a different recipe next year.

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Ok.  Let’s talk tomatoes.  The only accurate word to describe my harvest is “shit-ton”.  I grew Al-Kuffa and Rutgers varieties. The rules of determinant tomato plant size apparently don’t apply to me because all of my tomato plants were well over four feet tall (these varieties should have only been 2 to 3 feet tall tops).  But, as with determinant, most of the tomatoes ripened at the same time.  Waaaaay too many… at the same time.  Salsas, various tomato sauces, salads, pastas, pizzas…  I put them to good use as best I could.  I also gave them away to anyone willing to take them.

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I was also happy with my pepper harvest, particularly my Polish Ostra-Cyklon.  I made a lot of salsa and queso and I also successfully fermented the last remaining hot peppers in my fermentation crock to be used for applications such as NACHOS.  Yum.

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A cabbage plant that was given to me by a friendly neighbor was my complete gardening disaster for this year.  I planted it in a barrel planter, but soon noticed the leaves were being eaten.  Before I could do anything about it, it was as dead as a door nail.  It must have been some sort of cabbage worm infestation.  It was weird because my herb planter next to the cabbage planter was not infected at all and produced stunning basil and cilantro.

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Also, my nemesis the onion, won again.  DAMN YOU ONION!

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So I’ve been drooling over the 5 different seed catalogs that I received in the mail so far and I can’t wait to pick out my seeds for next year.  I have about a million yogurt cups to use for seed starting.  I keep toying with the idea of growing a groovy all-purple veggie garden.  Maybe even including purple brussel sprouts!

My gardening resolutions are to blog more consistently, grow veggies that I have never grown before, try more companion planting, and learn to can and/or ferment more vegetables for long-term storage.  I have a genuine root cellar in my 100+ year old house, so why not put it to good use for the zombie apocalypse?!  I hope the gods of the internet hold me to these resolutions.

I also hope to continue passing on my love of gardening to my nieces.  And most importantly, I hope to continue sharing my bounty with those who mean so much to me.

Best wishes for great gardening in 2016.

Garden of Eatin’

After having rain for what feels like every day for a month here in the Pittsburgh region, my raised bed gardens have literally exploded into a barely manageable Jungle of Eden.  Every year I say I will cut back on the amount of plants I shove into my raised beds.  Every year I can’t bring myself to NOT plant every seedling that I grow.  I desperately need to make some local gardening friends who will take my seedlings.

This is my raised bed garden on May 23rd.  All of these plants were grown from seed.

From left to right:  Thyme, Bean Purple Teepee Beans, 2 Rutgers Tomato Plants, 2 Marigold Plants, 2 Al-Kuffa Tomato Plants, Black Carrot Seeds, Cosmic Carrot Seeds, and more Thyme.

This is my raised bed on July 13th:

"Determinate" tomato plants have grown taller than me.
“Determinate” tomato plants have grown taller than me!

The wood contraption is to help support my tomato plants (trees).  Both Rugters and Al-Kuffa were supposed to be “dwarf” determinate plants, but they are huge.  Even my Marigold plants are like bushes.  I only have green tomatoes so far… hopefully they’ll turn red soon.  With determinate plants, they will most likely all ripen at the same time.  There will be a shit-ton of tomatoes as long as they don’t get some freaky fungus from all the rain.

Al-Kuffa Tomato Clusters
More Al-Kuffa Tomato Clusters

 

Rutgers Tomatoes

 

I love purple beans because their bright color make them very easy to harvest.  Purple beans turn green when they are cooked.  Oooooh soooo many magical beans…

My carrots are getting a bit smothered by my tomatoes, but this happened in my garden last year, and they came back with a vengeance once everything else died.  Let me clarify… I’m talking carrots the size of my calf.  So, I’m trying the same technique this year: direct sow, smother with other plants, MONSTER CARROT TAKE OVER.  They are starting to pop up through my thyme.

Ok, so now onto my other raised bed.  This was my bed as of May 25th.

Left to right: Marigold, garlic, peppers, and Snow Peas and Desiree Garden Peas

This is my raised bed as of July 13th:

I want to camp out in here.

I think I really need to chop off or kill the marigold plant on the far left.  I have no idea why it is so freaking huge.

With the hopes of producing some big, fat, juicy garlic bulbs, I harvested some of my garlic scapes a few weeks back (and I left some on as an experiment).  I meant to write a blog on it, but neglected to do so.  Some say cutting the scape (the long curly cue part with the flower head filled with garlic bulbils) forces the plant to exert its energy on growing the garlic bulb underground instead of the flower up top.  My garlic stalks have a much thicker girth than the ones I had last year!  I chopped up the garlic scapes and used them in a stir fry.  They were surprisingly very, very mild tasting.

Since the leaves are starting to die, I might be digging my garlic bulbs up soon!

Now onto my specific pepper plants.  I am very excited because my peppers did not do so hot last year.  It has been VERY humid here the last couple months, so maybe they are basking in the hot, sticky heat.  They still have some color changing metamorphosis to go through, but they are growing big and abundantly!

These are my Santa Fe Grande Hot Peppers

 

My Polish Ostra-Cyklon Paprika Peppers

 

My Polish Marta Polka Peppers

 

Black Hungarian Peppers

 

Tequila Sunrise Peppers: These peppers are really cool because they grow upright towards the sun!  And of course who wouldn’t want to grow these peppers while enjoying a Tequila Sunrise.  (my next blog: Drunk Gardening)

 

And of course my snow peas have made some progress since my last blog.

And I did end up growing some Desiree Purple Snap Peas (but unfortunately they don’t taste as good to me, maybe a bit too fibrous and chewy, but they sure look pretty):

My peas reached the top of my trellis!

 

Desiree Garden Pea

 

The Divine Snow Pea

 

And randomly in honor of the Furry Convention being here in Pittsburgh, this is a sneaky pic I took while dining at a nice restaurant downtown this past weekend.  This furry had such a cute little tail!  Hopefully I won’t catch any furries in my garden or I will have to use my Critter Control. 😉

Even though times have been a little tough for me lately, it has been so nice to have my own little Garden of Eatin’.

Let it snow

… with Snow Peas!

The tease of backyard garden veggies is finally over! I was so happy to see the first vegetables of spring make an appearance in my garden bed. Even though I’m a little disappointed they aren’t the purple Desiree peas, my Oregon Sugar Pod snow peas are really taking off! These peas are particularly awesome because with each cluster there are usually 2 peas to pick. Double the pleasure, double the fun. 😉

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I think my trellis is helping to control the vine jungle a little bit, although some of the vines appear to have a mind of their own. Hopefully the trellis will also make it a bit easier to spot the peas. The pods should be picked when they are still flat and are about 4” long, but I had some mutant ones that were hidden last year that I picked well after they were “ideal” and they still tasted great!

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Hard to believe in less than month how far my snow peas have come! Nature is awesome.  I think the plants are supposed to grow to be about three feet tall, so we have a little ways to go.

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So far I only see white flowers.  If any of the Desiree garden peas germinated, those plants will have deep pink flowers.

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Even though I am SO pumped about producing the first edible fruit of my gardens, the actual first garden fresh munchies of spring are often not fruits at all, but other parts of the plants.

A lot of Asian recipes use pea shoots which are the tips of the pea plants including the stalk, small upper leaves, blossoms, and curly tendrils. I was thinking about chopping off some of the tops of my plants and throwing them in a stir fry. They supposedly have a delicate pea flavor, but this would be the first time I have tried to cook with them. If they are anything like bean sprouts, I’m sure I will love them. I am a bean sprout addict.

Speaking of eating a plant at various points during its life cycle… next up, I will be harvesting another example of an edible bonus plant body part – garlic scapes!  Gotta love this time of year!

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Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

I’m hot, stinky sweet…

From my leaf to my…root.  Ok, it needs a little work. 🙂

One tip that I did not share in my sweet potato growing blogs thus far is that you should definitely change the water that your sweet potatoes are sitting in more than once a month.  I did not do so and the water was so stinky and nasty.  Despite almost needing a gas mask, I did finally take the next step to potential sweet potato growing success!

I evaluated the sweet potatoes to see if I could directly transplant them or if I would have to get the slips to grow roots first.  My Jewel potato had some impressive slips, but unfortunately none of them had roots growing outside of the potato.

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So with kitchen shears I cut the slips off where they met the potato.  Here is the potato post haircut.

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I then needed to find small vessels where the stems would be emerged in water and the leaves could balance on top.  I sometimes like to indulge in adult beverages while gardening, and while doing so I came to the conclusion that these shot glasses would be a perfect fit for my slips and not look weird sitting on my windowsill at all.  My neighbors must think I’m such a lush and/or weird-o. 🙂

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The slips balanced perfectly in the shot glasses!  And only after a day, little roots started growing out of the bottom of the stems.

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My Japanese sweet potato had slips that had roots that formed on the outside of the potato.  Domo arigato Mr. Japanese Sweet Potato!  I actually took Japanese in college as an elective, but don’t be impressed, that’s the only phrase I remember.

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I decided I would pluck those off and try to keep the roots intact as much as possible and directly sow them into my planter.

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I bought a whiskey barrel (inspired) planter at Home Depot.  It has cedar in the wood, so it should resist rotting and last a very long time.  I filled it with a mixture of organic raised bed soil and compost.

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It will probably be a permanent piece of my back porch decor because after filling it with dirt it probably weighs more than me.  Here are the Japanese slips planted in the barrel.

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Since they are so small, I’m not sure if they are going to make it, but I thought it would be worth a shot to try and get a jump start on growing some taters.  I also don’t think they will appreciate the low temperature in the 40’s the next couple days here in Western PA.  I have not lost hope because Mr. Japanese Sweet Potato never ceases to amaze me.

BUT I’m thankful that I have shots (of jewel sweet potato slips) lined up!

Snap, crackle, pop

One of my absolute favorite crops that I grew last year was the Oregon Sugar Pod II Bush Snow Peas.  I bought them on a whim and had never grown them before.  They were an early and vigorous producer and the pods were humongous, super sweet, and very crunchy!  I pack my lunch every day for work and these snow peas were an awesome (and healthy) snack all summer long last year.  I just ate them raw or dipped them in a little ranch dressing or hummus.   I also used the snow peas in spicy Hunan stir fry or just sautéed them with (homegrown) garlic as a side dish.  Delish!  Below is a picture of some of my prime specimens from last year:

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This year, I wanted to once again grow the Oregon Sugar Pod, but I thought I’d try growing PURPLE snow peas called Desiree that I bought off Amazon.  As a side  note, I LOVE PURPLE VEGGIES!!  The purple pigment contains Anthocyanin which has been shown to aid in healthy aging (no wonder I look so young and vibrant), to prevent cancer, and to protect against cardiovascular disease.  BUT purple veggies also just look so darn cool.  My goal is to one day have an all purple vegetable garden.  But anyways…

The Desiree peas packaging seemed a bit sketchy that I got in the mail from Amazon, so I don’t have super high hopes for purple peas, but it’s worth a shot.  I think I should have bought them off Baker Creek which describes them as: “Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokkers Garden Pea – Stunning violet-blue pods are produced on lovely little bush plants that do not require staking. The delicious peas are perfect for soups and stews, or pick small and these can be used as a snow pea. A great addition from Holland.”

I decided to try soaking the peas for a few hours to help soften the seed skin for faster germination.  I also planted Purple Teepee Bush Beans from Baker Creek in my other raised bed.

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Even though I was happy with my snow pea crop last year, it was a bit of a viney hot mess.  I read that trellised peas produce a higher yield (read: trellis = MORE MONSTER SNOW PEAS).  So loosely based off this website, http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/outdoors/structures/how-to-build-a-trellis-for-growing-peas – I now have a trellis made of leftover wood and flexible twist tie garden wire (which I never even knew existed!).  I went into the hardware store in town (probably with a look of deer in headlights) and said, “I don’t know what I’m looking for, but this is what I want to do…”  And the worker was like, “oh, you need ‘flexible garden wire’, here you go.”  I think that may have been my first good experience at a hardware and/or home improvement store ever!  The trellis is screwed into my raised bed, but it can easily be unscrewed and moved for crop rotation.

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I directly sowed the seeds in mid-April and planted them approximately 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart.  My peas germinated after about 3 weeks.  They took longer this year due to a late April cold snap here in da ‘burgh (trust me, I was freaking out that they weren’t popping up, but they powered through).  I usually put 2 seeds per hole to ensure germination across the row, so I have no idea if any of these baby plants are Purple Peas (fingers crossed).

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Below are my peas today and the vines are starting to grab onto the trellis (with maybe just a little bit of coaxing by me).

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Can’t wait to snap them directly off the vine, crack them in half, and pop them into my mouth!

A green thumb – it runs in the family

Even though I’m a day late, I thought I’d write a post for Mother’s Day. I don’t know if there is a genetic link to inheriting a green thumb, but if there is, I can surely thank my Mom and Grandma.

Below are two pictures of my Mom with what looks like huge tomato trees in the background! Although we lived in the Oakland neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh (near the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University), she did not let the urban lifestyle get in her way of growing some veggies!

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After we moved to the ‘burbs, she did not have a vegetable garden, which is a shame. In fact, I don’t remember anyone having a vegetable garden in our entire plan. I can only assume growing vegetables was not in vogue and people did not want to mess up their meticulously manicured lawns.

I do remember when I received a free tomato plant in school, I planted it right next to the air conditioner unit right along the house. One day I dragged my Mom outside to help me pick a tomato that was literally the size of a football. We were both so excited! I remember my Mom calling my Grandma to tell her all about it. I think my Dad (who was an amateur photographer) took about 100 pictures of me holding the giant tomato (I’m sad that I can’t find any of those pictures).

I hate having my picture taken and will only make an exception when showing off my veggies or gardens. Below is a picture of me holding a beautiful squash from my garden (this was from two years ago). Both my Mom and Dad would have been impressed!

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Often my Mom would plant pansies and violas along our retaining wall. I remember one year, we were literally pulling pansies out like weeds because they had taken over every nook and cranny of the soil and my Mom couldn’t understand why it happened. My sister and I never told her that we were bored one day (or several days) and decided to pick a bunch of the pansy seed pods and scatter the seeds EVERYWHERE. And guess who was assigned weeding duty? Trust me, we never made that mistake again! I planted pansies this year in honor of that memory, but I haven’t cracked any of the seed pods open… yet.

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My Grandma and Grandpa always had a big vegetable garden in their backyard. I remember trying to peek over the fence (I’m a little vertically challenged) to admire the green beans, peppers, and tomatoes. I was only granted permission once to pick a green bell pepper (and I remember being so proud of that pepper!). They also had blackberry bushes that my sister and I were allowed to pick and bring back to house by the bucket full. I think growing fruits and vegetables was just a way of life for those of my grandparent’s generation.

My Grandma’s true passion was her rose garden. She grew several different varieties and they were all big and beautiful. She didn’t have a driver’s license, so I think that her flowers were her company when she was lonely. I have a miniature sunblaze rose in my garden, and when I tend to it, I find myself thinking of her. Mine hasn’t bloomed yet this year, but it is looking healthy!

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I think gardens can be a tribute to those who have left this physical world, but are still with us in spirit. Happy Mother’s Day!

Sweet Potato Slips Experiment Update

Doesn’t it always seem like once you completely start losing hope on something, it finally happens, like magic…

I honestly started questioning my judgement in conducting my sweet potato experiment and thought that my sweet potato chunks were going to soon start stanking up my kitchen and cause me to have a fruit fly problem.  This may certainly still happen, hehe, but NOW it will be worth it because I have slips to plant!

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I know, they look pretty funky (some may say gross), but I am totally pumped that the slips FINALLY starting popping out of the tops of the potatoes.  The roots formed first, probably within a week, and then as I suspected the slips started slowly growing out of the bumps on top of the potatoes.  The Jewel sweet potato has slips growing on both halves, but one half is certainly growing more vigorously than the other.  It is interesting because one half of my Japanese sweet potato (the longer slender one) is not really growing any roots or slips.  I think I may have read that cutting it a certain way may produce better results.  I think more research needs to be done on my part.  Oh well, you live and you learn.

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Below I tried to take a close up picture of the roots because they definitely look like some sort of nasty centipede…

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I am going to continue filling their pool with an inch of water and let the slips grow a bit bigger (and let the weather get warmer outside) before I figure out how to transplant them.  I am hoping to plant them in whiskey barrel planters.

In honor of May the 4th tomorrow, I have a new model to posing with my sweet potatoes:

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What did the sweet potato say to Luke Skywalker?

“Luke, I yam your father.”