Trio of Cauliflower Recipes- A Super Veggie

Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad
Cauliflower at the supermarket
Cauliflower at the supermarket

Cauliflower is in. Kale is out.

Come on….admit it, you are eating way more cauliflower than kale. Searches for cauliflower rice recipes are up 135 percent on pinterest in the last couple of years. I wrote about Cauliflower being an up and coming veggie in 2016 at Gardening Trends for 2016.

Cauliflower, Purple of Sicily
Cauliflower, Purple of Sicily from National Garden Bureau

Flower Power-Cauliflower is the next Kale

Traveling to lots of nurseryman’s and flower shows, cutting edge gardens, and keeping up with my blog, gives me a good handle on what is up and coming in the gardening world. Some of these are trends have been around and are still going strong, like Cauliflower!

According to the National Gardening Bureau who names the ‘plants of the year’, 2017 marked the year of the Brassica. Brassica vegetables, including bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, rutabagas, and turnips are popular around the world today and are enjoying a renaissance.

Growing Cauliflower (taken from the National Gardening Bureau)

Cauliflower

Cauliflower plants prefer to grow without heat stress and do best in fall or in areas with mild summers.   Popular types include the standard white varieties and more exotic colors and shapes also available to home gardeners. In recent years cooked cauliflower has become popular as a replacement for potatoes or flour in many recipes (like mashed potatoes or pizza crust).White types are most often self-blanching- meaning inner leaves cover the curds and protect them from the sun. Varieties include Flamenco F1 (summer production), Toledo F1 (fall production), Snowball, Snowbowl F1, Symphony F1.

Romanesco types are a special type of green cauliflower.  The head is a collection of spiraled florets and will be a great way to teach your kids about the Fibonacci numbers (math during dinner!).  Romanesco is great for roasting – it is a bit drier than regular cauliflower. Varieties include Veronica F1, Romanesco. Another plant that is modeled on the Fibonacci number is the Sunflower.

Romanesco Veronica
Romanesco Veronica from NGB

Novelty Types are also a lot of fun for the garden. Try a purple or orange variety! They have a similar flavor but add an unexpected pop of color to a veggie tray. Varieties include Graffiti F1 (purple head), Cheddar F1 (orange head), and Vitaverde F1 (green head).

Cauliflower Cheddar Seminis  from NGB

 

The rise of cauliflower, a cruciferous vitamin packed veggie, that has a unique ability to absorb flavors from other ingredients, rather like a chameleon, has been a long time coming. From cauliflower grilled steaks to peanut butter brownies, cauliflower has landed on top of the heap for a lot of people. California Pizza Kitchen is even offering a cauliflower crust option on their pizzas. And for people who are on Keto diets or who just want to cut down on carbs, this is a great alternative.

I have grown cauliflower called Purple of Sicily
I have grown cauliflower called Purple of Sicily
Cauliflower peanut butter brownies
Cauliflower peanut butter brownies

Cauliflower Peanut Butter Brownies

I tested making these brownies and they were some of the most flavorful moist brownies that I have ever had! Forget these have cauliflower, they are really good.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Steamed Cauliflower Florets I steamed these and smashed them into a 2 Cup measuring cup, and place them in the food processor
  • 1 1/4 Cup Dark Chocolate Morsels Melt these in a microwave and stir until creamy
  • 1/2 Cup Cream Cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp Peanut Butter, smooth or chunky I only had on hand chunky, but the food processor makes it smooth
  • 1/2 Cup Almond Flour You can use regular flour also
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Cup White Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 Cup Peanuts (optional) I used unsalted
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter Morsels

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 container

  2. In a food processor, process the 2 cups of  cauliflower until completely smooth – this is important as if it is not smooth; it will result in a grainy textured brownie

  3. Add the cream cheese, peanut butter, eggs and sugar then blend again until smooth
  4. Add the almond flour, baking powder, vanilla, and melted chocolate morsels, and blend well

  5. Spoon ½ the mixture into the container, then scatter the Peanut butter morsels, white chocolate morsels, and peanuts over the layer

  6. Spoon the remaining mixture into the pan spreading to cover all the morsels,  then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until an inserted fork is clean

Basically, it’s the vegetable for the perfect time. I grow it every year with varying success and I had good luck with the Purple Sicily variety last year.

Cauliflower comes in several colors
Cauliflower comes in several colors

Full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, this is a power vegetable. The sulfur compounds it contains, which give off that sharp smell when steamed, may prevent some types of cancers and fight other kinds.

A tower of cauliflower
A tower of cauliflower

My next top recipe for Cauliflower is Cauliflower Gnocchi, which is one of Trader Joe’s most popular frozen foods. I wanted to make my own and searched on-line and used a recipe that I found with some revisions. My inspiration was finding riced cauliflower at Sam’s Club. And to simplify, I don’t boil the gnocchi I broil it. With so many people on paleo or keto diets, this one should satisfy that carb craving with very little carbs at all.

Cauliflower Gnocchi

Not boiled, like other gnocchis which can take a lot of time and mess, these are broiled to make a succulent cheesy bite; they are quite delicious and makes 4 dozen

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 3 -12 Ounce Bags Riced Cauliflower Steamed
  • 2 Cups Shredded Cheese, mixed varieties You can use any type you want, I had on hand cheddar and swiss, the recipe called for mozarella
  • 1 Cup Parmesan Cheese, Shredded
  • 1/3 Cup Almond Flour, extra for rolling
  • Kosher Salt, to taste
  • 2 Eggs Lightly beaten

Instructions

  1. Steam riced cauliflower until tender, I used an instant pot on 3 minutes

    After steaming, dump out onto a clean dish towel and squeeze the moisture out
  2. Cool slightly, and dump on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. This is important to do, so the gnocchi sticks together. Transfer squeezed cauliflower to a large bowl

  3. While the cauliflower is still hot, add 2 Cups of shredded cheese, eggs, almond flour, and  1 Cup of parmesan cheese. Season with salt and mix together with your hands.

  4. Form into four balls and refrigerate until firm on a cookie sheet, about 30 minutes

  5. Roll out each ball into a log abour 9" long and 1" wide on cutting board dusted with more almond flour 

  6. Slice with a sharp knife into 1" pieces and place on greased cookie sheets
  7. Brush with butter and bake for about 10 minutes. Finish up under the broiler for a minute until brown 

  8. Garnish with microgreens or other greens like spinach

Cauliflower gnocchi served with microgreens, avacado and a slab of tilapia makes a complete meal
Cauliflower gnocchi served with fresh spinach, avocado and a slab of tilapia makes a complete meal
Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad
Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad

Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad

A great potluck dish that is beautiful and simple to make. People will be licking the bowl!

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Cups Mixed colors, broccoli and cauliflower, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1/3 Cup Red onion, minced
  • 1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds
  • 2 Cups Shredded Cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 Cup Mayonnaise Try Wasabi mayo for an added kick!
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cut up all your broccoli and cauliflower in bite sized pieces

  2. In large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar and let sit for 15 minutes

  3. Add rest of ingredients and stir to coat.

Next thing I am going to try, is Cauliflower Fried Rice. Instead of using rice, you use riced cauliflower.

Microgreens: Health Benefits and How to Grow

Have you ever been served a dish in a restaurant which was garnished with colorful and vibrant  greens? Most likely these were microgreens, know for their visual appeal, and crunch. Though minuscule in size, they are concentrated with nutrients. Studies have shown that micro greens are loaded with good stuff, such as vitamins C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene- many times more than the mature leaves of the plant.

Flavorful and providing a textural contrast to a dish like a soup or slab of fish, a few microgreens can go a long way.

Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla
Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla

Not to be confused with sprouts- germinated seeds that are eaten whole-a microgreen is an immature green that is harvested with scissors when the plants are about two inches tall. The stem, cotyledons (or seed leaves) and first set of true leaves are all edible. You are essentially eating seedlings! And the variety of seedlings include herbs and flowers, and vegetables. Most popular are sunflowers, radishes, peas, arugula, basil, beets, kale, and cilantro.

Countertop Gardening

Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens
Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens ready to be harvested

Pricey to buy in a grocery store and hard to find, microgreens are a snap to grow quickly in a small amount of space. Gather your supplies and you could have a variety of greens growing within a half hour of starting. The harvest time is a mere one to two weeks.

Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available
Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available

I use Botanical Interests seeds because they are organic and  have a wide variety of heirloom varieties.

The easiest method to grow microgreens is using a soilless method with jute pads. Soilless means no splashing up of soil to spatter the newly emerged sprouts and I prefer this way of starting to others now.

No fertilizer is needed for these quick growers; it is all included in the seed package.

Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Use two flats that fit together, one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Use two flats that fit together, the top one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens

You need two seed flats, one perforated for the top and a solid one to hold water on the bottom. Nest these together and place the pre-cut jute pad inside and fill the trays with a half-inch of water. After an hour or two, the jute pad should be saturated and you can dump out the excess water and you are ready to sow your microgreen seeds. Sprinkle them thickly on the top of the jute pad-you don’t need to cover or press them in-just sprinkle. Then spray with a mister to moisten everything and place a clear plastic cover on top to hold in moisture. That’s it! And you will be harvesting in less than a week.

After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them
After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them; I planted three varieties in each tray

To speed up the process, I placed my flats on top of seed heating mats.

Heating pads are just coils that heat up encased in plastic
Heating pads are just heat coils that are encased in heavy plastic

Place the clear plastic lid on top and place on top of a heating mat

Heat mats are wonderful tools for seed starting and inexpensive. I have two of them and they are in constant use in January and February. Bottom heat will jump start your seedlings even in your warm house. Seeds actually germinate quicker and healthier when supplied with warm soil or substrate (jute)—obtained through a bottom heat source. For seed germination, ideal temperatures should range from 65 to 80˚F. You could actually duplicate these conditions by placing on top of a radiator or furnace, but watch out that the soil doesn’t dry out too quickly.

In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted
In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted on the jute
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves

After the microgreens have germinated, I place the trays under a four foot all-season shop light suspended by a PVC frame that is easy to put together. For about $47, you can cut up PVC to make a quick hanging frame that will suspend your light over your seedlings-much superior to natural light on a windowsill.

My PVC set up with a grow light
My PVC set up with a grow light; the trays should be a few inches from the light

Root Pouches

Another option are root pouches which are perfect for use in growing microgreens.  The Designer Line of Root pouches are made out of porous material that allows the plants to breath, and the containers come in three colors: Navy Blue, Forest Green and Heather Grey. For my microgreens, I used the Joey size at 5″ in diameter and 3″ high.

Root pouches planted, labeled,  and ready to go

Studies have shown that using grow bags made out of recycled materials, produce healthy, strong fibrous root systems on plants. Breathable material, the Root Pouch company says on its website: “Root Pouch is a family run business that turns discarded plastic bottles into a versatile, geotextitle material. The Root Pouch fabric planting container keeps plants healthy by letting excess water drain and allowing roots to breathe and grow.” Allowing air to pass through the pot, it promotes a healthy root system.

Pea tendrils ready to harvest

How to Plant

  • Fill pouch or container about 2/3 full of potting medium
  • Press your seeds ( I get mine from Botanical Interests) into top of potting medium
  • Sprinkle top with a light covering of soil
  • Firm soil with fingers, and mist with a light spray until saturated
  • Place in a warm place (heating mat) in indirect light
  • Shoots will sprout within a few days
Pea seeds don’t even have to be covered with soil-these are started in milk cartons

Harvesting

Working carefully, taking care not to crush or bruise your tender seedlings, cut the shoots right above the soil or substrate line. Begin cleaning the sprouts by laying a damp paper towel on a tray and placing it near the sink. Give tiny clumps of seedlings a dip in cool (not icy) water, and lay out onto the paper towel.

You can start them in greens containers from the grocery store

Store greens between the paper towels and place in a ziploc plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will last about a week wrapped up this way. Garnish your meals with these high nutrient-packed greens to add more vitamins to your diet.

Pea tendrils freshly washed

 

 

Garden Trends and New Plants for 2019

January, right after Christmas, means MANTS (mid-atlantic nurseryman’s show), and I attend every year to see what is up and coming in the gardening world. New plants, new products, new trends, are the things that I look for in the upcoming year. It is the CES of gardening, not as exotic or techy as electronics, but still exciting and new, and way more interesting.

Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics
Discussing new products with one of the vendors, Organic Mechanics

New Plants

My favorite item to look for are new plants, or new improved cultivars of old plants. I have written about ‘Party Pesto‘ a mildew resistant basil from Burpee Seeds before and found another resistant one called ‘Amazel’ from Proven Winners.

Downy mildew of basil is a destructive pathogen that develops on lower leaf surfaces, all but rendering what’s left as inedible.

'Amazel' is a new downy mildew resistant Basil
‘Amazel’ is a new downy mildew resistant basil

‘Amazel’ is a basil that is resistant to basil downy mildew, and because it doesn’t flower early in the season, produces more foliage in July and August than most plants. The plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. This is on my list to plant this year as I love basil and have had unsightly crops for the past couple of years.

Basil downy mildew
Basil downy mildew

‘Rockin Fuschia’ annual Salvia from Proven Winners caught my eye right away with glossy dark green leaves, and profuse bright pink flower wands that covered the plant. Salvias are one of my favorite plants because of the non-stop blooming and deer resistant traits, but this one stopped me in my tracks. Stockier and more compact than the taller forms, this would be perfect in a container.

Salvia 'Rockin Fuschia'
Salvia ‘Rockin Fuschia’
Truffula Gomphrena
Truffula Gomphrena

Gomphrena  Truffula also caught my eye because these are long bloomers, dry well, and last a long time as a fresh cut.This a tough and durable airy annual. I have written about ‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena, another gomphrena. which I love and is a great looking plant, but I have trouble keeping it alive as it needs dry conditions with perfect drainage.

'Pink Zazzle' Gomphrena
‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena

I was ready for another Gomphrena with easier care. Truffula is a large multi-branched plant which mounds up and is literally covered with flowers and I hope this one fits the bill.

Another plant that appealed came from Terra Nova Nurseries, Artemisia Makana. A soft grey pillowy plant that you could sink into, Makana would be wonderful in mixed containers.

 Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova
Artemisia Makana from Terra Nova

NewGen Boxwood is high on my list of shrubs to try this year. Boxwood blight/leafminer resistant, attractive, and deer proof are all traits that I am looking for in my landscape design business. Introduced by Saunders Brothers who spent years developing it, NewGen will definitely  be on my list this spring.

Sandy’s Plants was introducing a new Arum ‘Pamela Harper’ with a beautifully patterned leaf. An under-used shade perennial that bears wonderful red berries in the fall, deer won’t browse on it. A great ground cover that will add beauty with foliage and berries, I will look for this one in the spring.

Sandy of Sandy's Plants in Virginia
Sandy of Sandy’s Plants in Virginia
Pamela Harper Arum

A New Invasive

The MD Department of Agriculture had a large display on the dreaded Spotted Lantern Fly which is moving south from Pennsylvania into Maryland. A scourge for crops, especially hops, grapes, and fruit trees, I have seen this insect in Pennsylvania and they are expected to hit us home in Maryland soon.

Spotted Lantern Fly
Spotted Lantern Fly

An invasive with no known predators and laying eggs in the host plant Tree of Heaven, another invasive, I am not looking forward to this onslaught. But it looks like the MD Dept of Agriculture is on top of it with tons of information to give out.

The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect
The spotted lantern fly is actually a beautiful insect

New Products

Root Pouch makes great seed starters
Root Pouch makes great seed starters

I have written about Root Pouches before and they continue to wow me. Great for Micro Greens which continue to be a huge health trend, these sustainable alternatives to plastic pots, are useful for many situations.

Root Pouches
Root Pouches

Hydroponics continues to be strong and I can see a Millennial having one of the new hydroponic carts on display in their apartment growing greens and herbs. No soil required is attractive, and growing a lot of edibles in a small space with no additional watering is the perfect solution for busy people. Fresh healthy greens at your fingertips all year round!

AutoCrops' hydroponic set up called LF-ONE
AutoCrops’ hydroponic set up called LF-ONE

Garden Trellis & Fence, Co. was a new vendor this year. They solve the problem of tall-growing plants and vines. The trellis system allows you to plant large plants in a smaller footprint using their easy put-together(no tools!) trellis system. How many times have you planted a tomato and it grows quickly to the top of the cage and then drapes over becoming this huge cumbersome plant? Supporting your tomato plants to grow up rather than out sold me on this hot dipped galvanized trellis system that won’t rust and can be left in place all year-long.

Garden trellis system
Garden trellis system

 

New Services

Best Bees
Best Bees

Have you always wanted honeybees on your property but were afraid of the upkeep and the work involved? Best Bees is for you! A company that installs and maintains beehives on residential or commercial properties, they will make sure you have honeybees that you can watch and enjoy the honey benefits but not lift a finger! Yes, it costs money, but if that is your dream, then you can use this company’s services.

You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house
You can even get a custom paint job on your hive to duplicate your house

Another unique service is Bower & Branch, an online service that delivers ordered plants to a local garden center for pick up. Trees, shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses are available. Their plants on display were beautiful and you can get unusual things that a local garden center won’t carry. How many times have you lusted for a plant but it isn’t available locally? I can see the benefits of this right away. I need to try it!

Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers
Bower & Branch is an e-commerce solution for independent garden centers

The Year of the Pepper

In the veggie garden this year, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash all bombed. Rotting zucchini plants were everywhere and tomatoes that peaked early and then languished was the norm.  The mid-Atlantic had record rainfall and it seemed every day there was a chance of showers. And shower it did! Non-stop for five solid months, it was mud season all summer.

Raised beds would have helped with my veggies garden as they help with drainage

From May through July 2018, much of the East Coast, especially the Mid-Atlantic, experienced rainfall up to 300% of normal according to NOOA. The soggy summer was described this way by NOOA, “in June and July, the epicenter for heaviest rains became focused over the Mid-Atlantic, as monthly rains near Washington, D.C. through central Pennsylvania easily eclipsed 200% of normal”. The rains here in Maryland have been so heavy that May to July was the wettest in the state’s 124 history. This pattern continued into October. Also, the heat was turned up so I call this summer our “tropical rain forest year”. It felt heavy and humid every day which translates to Heat + Humidity = More Disease. 

Mad Hatter is one of my favorite varieties; If you keep them on the plant, they turn red

The wet weather affected my vegetable garden yields greatly, and any vining veggies, like cucumbers, squash, and melons, totally succumbed to disease from wet conditions.  But to my total surprise, my pepper crop reveled in the rain and heat and broke all records for producing quantities of peppers. We have been eating peppers at every meal- sweet, hot, and slightly hot are all producing prodigiously even into the end of October.

Piles of peppers

I used all AAS Winners (All American Selections National and Regional Winners) for seed which have been tested for garden performance all over North America from a panel of expert judges. Reliable new varieties that have proved their superior garden performance in trial gardens is the way to go for me. Like a stamp of approval from experienced gardeners, my AAS peppers included: Cayenne Red Ember, Hungarian Mexican, Escamillo, Mexican Sunset, Habanero Roulette, Mad Hatter, Pretty N Sweet, and Mama Mia Giallo.

I grew some bell peppers for stuffing also

Growing all my plants from seed, I planted about 20 different transplants out in May and forgot about them for the next two months. Peppers thrive on neglect and yes, I neglected them while I constantly tried planting new cucumbers and squash to no avail. I didn’t harvest one. But when I totally despaired of my vegetable garden, the peppers started to come in and are still producing.

Growing some of my peppers in containers was the best choice I made this year. The ones in containers excelled and when frost started to hit in late October, I whisked them into my greenhouse, where they are still producing.

I placed my containers of peppers in my greenhouse

Peppers 3 Ways

What to do with all this bounty? I have tried these three ways this season.

Drying peppers
Piles of dried peppers; I store in the freezer as I found that they got moldy otherwise

Freeze Drying

Wash peppers and let dry. Cut in half and lay on a dehydrator tray and dry for about 24 hours. Store the dried peppers in plastic freezer baggies, and store in freezer. Pull them out as needed.

Freezing

Wash peppers and let dry. Chop peppers up into pieces and place in freezer bags. I like to mix red and green pepper together. I freeze them in small quantities that are recipe-ready.

Place chopped peppers into freezer bags squeezing any excess air out

Blackened

My favorite treatment by far: Wash your peppers and dry. Heat up some canola oil in a fry pan until hot and sizzling. Dump your peppers in one layer and stir to flip them to all sides until blackened. Squeeze juice of one lime into the pan and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Eat by biting the pepper right off the stem that will include the seeds. Delicious! Watch out for the hot ones!

Saute and blacken
Ready to eat

 

Bee Catnip-Mountain Mint

Bringing bugs into the garden is the new norm, not spraying with insecticides every insect that alights on a leaf. A sea change in how gardeners operate is in motion and most gardeners are embracing it with gusto. Seeing the Monarch numbers plummet recently has brought home the importance of home gardeners taking charge and embracing this change for the better.

Mountain Mint flower
Mountain Mint flower

Wildlife Value

Not all plants are equal in their ability to support pollinators with nectar and pollen. Penn State has conducted a series of trials on different pollinator plants that evaluated plants for their numbers of insect visitation as well as for their vigor and blooming. Go to their site at Penn State trials to check it out. Not only the number of insect visitors is important, but also the diversity.

I will be profiling a series of plants in the next year that are really important to pollinators- be it honeybee, native bee, hummingbird, beetles, butterflies, or flies. Top of the list is a little-known mint, called Mountain Mint which blooms for 15 to 16 weeks.

Early growth of Mountain Mint in the spring
Early growth of Mountain Mint in the spring

According to Penn State trials, overall, the single best plant in both 2012 and 2013 and 2014 for attracting both pollinators and total insects was Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum). A 30-inch-tall, wood’s-edge native perennial with grayish-green leaves and pale-pink summer flower clusters, it is hardy in zones 4 to 8. Originally discovered in Pennsylvania in 1790, this plant increasingly is being rediscovered by savvy gardeners and added to landscapes.

The sheer number of insects that you see on Mountain Mint is amazing; The entire plant buzzes
The sheer number of insects that you see on Mountain Mint is amazing; The entire plant buzzes

Uses

Mountain Mint is both edible and medicinal. Raw or cooked, the flower buds and leaves are edible and have a hot, spicy, mint-like flavor that makes a great spice or seasoning for meat.

An aromatic herb used in potpourri and as a bath additive, Mountain Mint will freshen laundry in the dryer. Thrown into a drawer, it will keep clothes fresh and moths away. Said to be a good natural insecticide, the dried plant repels insects but the growing plant attracts them! Containing pulegone, the same insect repellent found in pennyroyal, it repels mosquitoes when rubbed into the skin.

Mountain Mint positively dances with all the pollinators that are attracted to it.

How To Grow

Mountain Mint grows up to 2 to 3 ft. tall, usually branched on the upper half, growing from slender rhizomes (underground stems) usually in clusters. The lance -shaped leaves are 1-2 inches long and light green turning to almost white as the plant matures. Blooming in late summer to early fall, flat clustered flowers top the plant with 1/2 inch long pale lavender blooms. Gather tops and leaves when flowers bloom and dry for later herb use.

Not attractive to deer, Mountain Mint will also grow in tough dry shade conditions. Being a typical mint member, this mint travels! So, place it in an out-of-the-way place that it can run free.

Mountain Mint is one of the best nectar sources for native butterflies, and is a nectar filled landing pad for all pollinators.

Mountain Mint label at Heartwood Nursery
Mountain Mint label at Heartwood Nursery

Sources

Many good nurseries will carry this plant. Locally, you can find it at Heartwood Nursery , a great native plant nursery in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. I found the plants on-line at The Monticello Shop in Charlottesville, Virginia, and even on Etsy and Ebay.

Dwarf Tomato Project

I like growing a variety of tomatoes, especially heirlooms which can get quite large
I like growing a variety of tomatoes plants, especially heirlooms which can get quite large; These are all from full-sized plants

Tomato Plant Lingo

Pruning, staking, pinching, tying up branches are all jobs that come with a good tomato harvest. Particularly indeterminate plants which are simply plants that continue to grow quite large and fruit continuously until frost. Determinate plants, or “bush” plants grow to a more compact height (4-6 feet high), stop growing when the fruit sets on the terminal or top bud, and ripens the entire crop at once, approximately over a 2 week period and then dies. But what if you could have a compact plant, 3 to 4 feet, that produces all season long? Intrigued when I heard about a project for developing dwarf tomato plants,  I wanted more information and seeds to try them. More space to grow more varieties? Deal me in!

Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms with a towering heirloom tomato plant
Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms with a towering heirloom tomato plant

I grow tomatoes in a pretty large space, 60′ x 40′, and when empty it looks like I could fit a lot of veggies in that wide open area. But once I start planting out my 12 to 15 tomato plants (sometimes more), along with squash, lettuce, beans, and other assorted cutting flowers, the space shrinks considerably and I run out of room. A fully grown caged tomato plant turns into a monster with branch tentacles that reach out of the cage in all directions so that it is hard to pass between plants. I was ready for some compact plants. And I love to try new varieties. Go to Pushing the Tomato Envelope to see some suggestions.

 A rainbow of dwarf varieties-courtesy of Craig LeHouillier
A rainbow of dwarf varieties-courtesy of Craig LeHouillier

Dwarf Tomatoes Are Here!

Thanks to the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, a 2006 brainstorm between Craig LeHouillier, a tomato hobbyist, and Patrina Nuske Small, an Australian gardener, citizen scientists pitched in and are working on an all-volunteer, all-amateur, open-source worldwide non-profit breeding effort. A team of everyday backyard growers from all over the world in the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere collaborated which meant that two generations of experiments could be done in a single calendar year-thus cutting the time of development in half.

tomato
Tomatoes need pruning, tying up and supporting to help in air circulation to reduce disease

Great Taste

The goal of the project was to develop great new dwarf varieties on sturdy and compact plants with high yields and colorful fruits and of course – great taste. There are lots of space-challenged tomato lovers who would jump at the chance at growing any of these varieties as long as the taste remains the same high quality either in containers or in a garden. Described as sweet and mild, tart, smoky, rich, and even salty, the taste of the new varieties will please any tomato lovers palate.

Dwarf tomato plants in grow bags-courtesy of Craig Lehouillier
Dwarf tomato plants in grow bags-courtesy of Craig LeHouillier; Notice the crinkled or “rugose” leaves

Craig LeHouillier

Craig LeHouillier, known as Tomatoman and for his introduction to the world – the luscious Cherokee Purple tomato– and Patrina Small were the driving force behind the project of crossing colorful tasty, indeterminate heirloom tomatoes and the few available dwarf tomato varieties to produce unique hybrids. Six to ten generations were planted out to stabilize a new variety and volunteers grow these new varieties for carefully selected seed companies to distribute. The new varieties are great-tasting, open-pollinated tomatoes that require less space and are easier to take care of.

Criag LeHouillier and wife Susan-photo courtesy of Craig LeHouillier
Criag LeHouillier and wife Susan-photo courtesy of Craig LeHouillier
Craig is author of Epic Tomatoes
Craig is the author of Epic Tomatoes

Attributes

Dwarf tomatoes have crinkly dark-green leaves, termed “rugose” and grow about half of the height of an indeterminate tomato, around 3 to 4 feet.

Dwarf tomato plant showing the crinkly foliage
Dwarf tomato plant showing the crinkly foliage

There are early, mid-season, and late season fruit options so you can enjoy dwarf varieties all season long, just like in the larger heirlooms. The central stems are thicker than other tomatoes and the fruit comes in the 3 to 18 ounce range. So, these aren’t dwarf fruit! Colors range across the tomato spectrum with orange, stripes, yellow, amber, bi-colors, stripes, blacks (purple & chocolate), pink, red, white and green (when ripe) shades; A veritable rainbow! For more information about the project, go to Dwarf Tomato Project.

Rainbow colors of dwarf varieties, courtesy Craig LeHouillier
Rainbow colors of dwarf varieties, courtesy Craig LeHouillier

Sources

So where can gardeners pick these up and what kind of selection is available? According to Craig LeHouillier, “We have 60 in seed catalogs (mostly between the four companies Victory, Sample Seed Shop, Heritage Seed Market and Tatiana’s TOMATObase).  Probably another 5-6 coming out next year, and dozens in development”.

I have already ordered my seeds as it is time to start those seeds right now!

Heritage Seed Market

Sample Seed Shop

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Victory Seeds

Tatiana’s TOMATObase

 

A Tomato Grower’s Best Friend

Parasitic larvae feeding on tomato hornworm
Parasitic larvae feeding on tomato hornworm found on my tomato plant

As you look for that first tomato this summer, and you find a tomato hornworm with white rice shaped projections emerging from it that look like aliens, leave it alone! This is nature taking care of a pesky caterpillar that you don’t want to be eating your tomato plants.

The parasitic wasp that does this is a Braconid that is attracted to gardens with flowering plants where they co-exist with other beneficial insects and animals.

A parasitic wasp of the Braconidae family
A parasitic wasp of the Braconidae family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By depositing her eggs on the back of an unsuspecting caterpillar, the larvae have a ready food supply to nourish them to grow and pupate, eating the caterpillar alive!

Companion planting of herbs and flowers in a veggie garden is helpful in keeping your garden healthy and free of pests. The pollen and nectar of these flowers attract beneficial predators that will feed on some pesky insects that feed on your veggies. Now I just have to find something like this that will feed on Stinkbugs!!

English: Tomato Hornworm photographed after re...
English: Tomato Hornworm photographed after removing from tomato plant. Battle Creek, Michigan, 04 Aug 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blueberry Bonanza

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Rabbit Eye blueberries change to pink first and then blue

On a recent trip to the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia, we were traveling the highway when I spotted a sign that said “Pick your own blueberries” and we made an impromptu and screeching halt. We entered the driveway and were confronted with a field of about 25o blueberry bushes that dotted a sunny hillside right next to the highway with cars whizzing past. No one was manning the field but the bushes were cared for with the field mown and the weeds pulled at the base of the bushes. The birds were everywhere, though there were berries enough for man and beast with blueberry laden branches brushing the ground .

Blueberry bushes on a hillside
Blueberry bushes on a hillside

Entering the farm field and weighing station, we were in another world with painstakingly written signs instructing us how to pick the berries on the honor system. The notes also updated us on how the family was doing, that someone had passed away, and informed us that an old dog named Cap might stop by and we were to pet her and call her by name!

Dogs resting in the shade while their owners pick blueberries
Dogs resting in the shade while their owners pick blueberries
The milk carton hanging around his neck made the picking easy for my husband
The milk carton hanging around his neck made the picking easy for my husband

The picking was made easy by an ingenious container which was simply an old milk jug with the top cut off and a piece of clothesline around the handle so you could slip it on over your head for hands free picking. The jug could hold a couple of pounds of berries easily!

After picking for an hour in intense heat, we weighed up and picked almost 10 pounds of blueberries at 2.50 a pound. That is a lot of blueberries as the berry is so small. It is hard to accumulate some weight with blueberries rather than strawberries which fill up your container much faster.

Weighing station with picking gear, an old gallon milk jug with the top cut out and a rope around the handle so you have both hands to pick
Weighing station with picking gear, an old gallon milk jug with the top cut out and a rope around the handle so you have both hands to pick

After weighing in and transferring the berries to green cardboard containers, we put our money in the slot of the cash box and left with our bagged and boxed up berries, never seeing the farmer.

The variety that we picked was the Rabbiteye blueberry which is native to the southeastern United States and is unique in that a native southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda laboriosa pollinates. Virginians mostly grow the Rabbiteye variety as it is suited to southern climates.

English: rabbit-eye blueberry, Vaccinium virgatum
English: rabbit-eye blueberry, Vaccinium virgatum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in MD, it is unique in that we can grow both the Rabbiteye and the Highbush variety which is native to the northeast. They both have pros and cons, but the Rabbiteye shrub gets larger and lives longer than the Highbush. So, while I was in Virginia, I visited a nursery and picked up a Rabbiteye blueberry variety called Premier. In the nursery it was full of ripe berries and after I bought it, I picked at least a quart of berries off the bush! I am going to plant it next to my Highbush varieties and compare the two. Supposedly, the Rabbiteye isn’t as hardy but I think in MD it will be OK.

After getting the berries home and washing them, I filled up gallon freezer bags with the berries and stuck them in the freezer.  With the garden chores during the summer, I will put off the process of blueberry jam making until winter when I have more time.

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Grafted Tomatoes-What’s Next??

Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes
Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes

Grafted tomatoes has been touted as the biggest development to happen in the last 2o years in gardening.  That is a really big claim! I can think of others- the popularity of container gardening comes to mind right away and how about the popularity of heirloom varieties? So, I was intrigued when I heard about this new thing come down the pike of grafting tomatoes. Grafting fruit has been done for ages, such as apples and grape varieties to hardy root-stock to improve disease resistance and productivity. So, why haven’t tomatoes been grafted? Well, it turns out it has been done in Europe for a while.  The U.S. is just a little slow in catching on.

One of the reasons, the plants do better is because of greater root growth-thus more gathering of water and nutrients.  Another benefit for me is regular tomatoes stop setting fruit once the temps reach above 86 degrees –  for grafted plants, it is 90 degrees.  That is significant as it can really hit the 90’s here for weeks.

The difference between a grafted and a straight tomato
The difference between a grafted and a straight tomato

The idea is simple.  Take a scion or piece of a good tasting heirloom that is low producing and prone to lots of diseases, and grafting it to a big producing tomato that has disease resistance built-in. Kind of like grafting ‘Brandywine‘ tomato that is delicious but not a huge producer, to ‘Big Boy’ that is prolific as well as tough.

Various heirloom varieties of tomatoes from Landreth Seeds
Various heirloom varieties of tomatoes from Landreth Seeds

Good idea, but does it work? Go look at this video to see the benefits. http://www.portlandnursery.com/video/vegetables-herbs/video-graftedTomatoes.shtml

Burpee Home Gardens has produced a new trademark called Bumper Crop which promises “bigger harvest of heirloom favorites!” They say that Bumper Crop Tomatoes are a new twist on a natural, centuries old grafting technique which will produce up to 50% bigger harvests of delicious heirloom tomatoes. As anyone knows who has grown heirloom tomatoes, the plants don’t produce the volume that hybrids do, and the heirlooms are prone to every disease known to man. I thought I would give it a whirl!

I went to my local nursery and picked up a ‘Mortgage Lifter‘ tomato that was grafted onto an unidentified hybrid tomato.  It wasn’t cheap and it set me back $15! I am not used to paying this much for one tomato plant so it better be worth it. You can clearly see the graft or the join low on the stem, and the directions tell me that it is very important to make sure the grafting scar is at least 1 inch above the soil when planted. I actually have a ‘Mortgage Lifter’ plant already planted so I think this is a good comparison between the two plants.

English: Grafted tomato plants
English: Grafted tomato plants (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am used to planting my tomato plants deep and found out the reason for planting the tomato with the graft line above the soil, is you want the grafted heirloom to produce the fruit, and not the hybrid plant which is below the graft line to root along the stem and take over.  There are even tomato plants with double grafts that will produce two different kinds of tomatoes on one plant.  A great space saver for someone with a small garden!

English: Grafted tomato plants should be plant...
English: Grafted tomato plants should be planted so that the union is well above the soil line in order to reduce contact between the scion and potential plant pathogens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because the graft union can be kind of weak, it is necessary to support your grafted tomato plant until the plant gets some growth on it and becomes stronger.

I planted the grafted plant outside and am waiting to see. I am assuming that it is a determinate plant, one that grows a certain height and then stops but am not sure. This is an experiment so let me know if anyone else has planted these so we can compare.

Leaning Tower of Potatoes

English: Different potato varieties. – The pot...
English: Different potato varieties. – The potato is the vegetable of choice in the United States. On average, Americans devour about 65 kg of them per year. New potato releases by ARS scientists give us even more choices of potatoes to eat. Deutsch: Verschiedene Kartoffelsorten (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love different types and colors of potatoes and am always ready to try purple or even more exotic colors.  The different hues can be expensive at farmers markets and grocery stores, so I try to grow them but have always been discouraged about how much room the plants consume as well as the labor of digging them up.

So, trolling through Pinterest one day, I noticed a nifty idea of growing potatoes in a very small space.  Build up!! this is actually a very efficient use of space in a vegetable garden.

Potato Tower
Potato Tower

First I found my seed potatoes at a nursery and cut them up into chunks. I couldn’t find any exotic ones at the nursery so bought some purple ones at the grocery store and used them just like the nursery ones. Each chunk should have at least one “eye” on it.  Leaving the potatoes out for a day or so helps with the sprouting so I left them alone while I assembled my hardware.

Cut up seed potatoes
Cut up seed potatoes

You will need a short length of 4′ high fencing, rusty or otherwise, plus some zip ties to hold it together.  One bale of straw, granular fertilizer, and topsoil completes your ingredients.

My tower was about 3 feet in diameter and I just layered 6 inches of topsoil with a thick layer of fresh straw. On each layer, I placed my potato chunks on the edge of the tower facing out. I scattered liberal amounts of fertilizer on each layer. I did about 4 layers of my potato “cake”.

It took a couple of weeks for the potatoes to sprout but now I have a leaning tower of potato plants. The tower settled and shifted slightly but it seems pretty stable. It must weigh a ton!

When the plants die back in the fall, I should be able to unhook the wire fencing and the potatoes will fall out. I hope! I will post the results in the fall.

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Roll wire fencing into a tube 3′ in diameter
Place the potato chunks on the outside edge facing out
Place the potato chunks on the outside edge facing out

If the tower seems to be too much work, read this blog about growing potatoes in buckets, http://www.housekeeping.org/blog/20-diy-blogs-show-you-how-to-plant-potatoes-in-a-bucket/

There are more ways to skin a cat!

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