Friday, August 12, 2016


A weed, cereal grain, leafy vegetable, and ornamental describe species of the family amaranthaceae. Most gardeners are probably already growing the weed species, much to their dismay, which is commonly called pigweed.  If you have trou

ble with this summer annual weed then maybe you should look at growing a species with a purpose.  Amaranth is cultivated for a leafy veggie or for seed used as a grain cereal. 

Unfamiliar with amaranth?  At first glance it looks like bird seed but prepared right it is delicious and nutritious. Anciently amaranth was grown by the Aztec and considered sacred. Amaranth is an ancient grain but new to a lot of people. In Asia, Amaranth tricolor has been grown throughout history as a leafy green.  Leaves from all amaranth considered healthy.  They are high in calcium and iron but have high amount of oxalic acid which can make the calcium less available to the body. 

Probably a reason amaranth is of interest to the health conscience consumer is because it is a valuable protein source.  The seeds of amaranth have the amino acid lysine that is absent in many grains. If amaranth is combined with other grains, it makes a complete protein and therefore a great option for the home gardener to grow.  Recipes are becoming more popular for the small seed grain.  So give it a try.  It can be used in edible landscape or grown in the food garden.

Grain amaranths are a beautiful plant.  They can grow from 6-9 feet tall and 3 feet wide.  The flowering seed heads are colorful and beautiful with golden, orange and burgundy colors.  They deserve consideration in a flower bed as well as in the vegetable garden.  The arananth grown for a leafy green is shorter reaching a height of 3 feet.

Both grain and leaf amaranth are tender plants that will not tolerate frost. The seeds germinating in warm soils of 70-75 degrees.  The seeds are very small and must be direct seeded in a sunny spot. The seeds do not need to be covered but can be lightly covered.  You can plant like corn in rows to avoid the need to thin or broadcast the seed then thin the plants to one per 18 to 24 ".  Amaranth needs good fertile soil rich in organic matter with a dry organic fertilizer mixed in.  It appreciates an occasional feeding of fish emulsion for needed nitrogen.  I have found that grasshoppers like the leaves.  You can protect them with row covers as seedlings.  The deer also like amaranth.

The seeds mature at different times on the flower head starting at the bottom of the flower head and working up.  Since the seed is small you can cut the flower when the majority of seeds have matured.  Place the seed head out of the sun on a tray to finish drying.  When removing the seeds gloves are helpful because the flowers are somewhat spikey.  Rub the seed head allowing the grain to fall into a bowl or tray.  You can also rub seeds off into a bucket as they ripen if you prefer to no harvest the whole flower head.

Once the seeds are in a bowl you need to remove the chaff and flower heads.  Try swirling the seeds in the bowl.  The seeds are light and tend to move to the bottom and flower parts move to the top and can be picked out.

Amaranth seed is becoming easier to find.  I have listed a few places you can purchase seed:

  • Bountiful Gardens
  • Seeds of Change
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Varieties of Amaranth
  • Burgundy Grain Amaranth- white seeds
  • Golden Giant Amaranth- white seeds
  • Elana's Rojo Amaranth- grain seed
  • Hopi Red Dye- red seeds used as dye and  young leaves used as greens, beautiful ornamental
  • AGreen Calaloo Amaranth- used as a green
  • Love Lies Bleeding- ornamental flower

Monday, August 8, 2016

How To Cook Green Beans: Roasted Green Beans & Lemon Chiffon Sauce

Green beans can be prepared in a variety of ways.  The method you choose in cooking your green beans should be based on the age and thickness of the bean.

Super fresh green beans about the thickness of a pencil are best boiled and dressed with a vinaigrette or sauce.  With older thicker beans, consider roasting them.  Roasting infuses and concentrates the flavor of older beans while the fresh sweet flavor of younger beans is preserved best by boiling.
Slenderett, Royal Burgundy (H), and Pencil Pod (H)

Types of Beans
Green beans are eaten young while the seeds are immature.  Yellow wax beans and purple beans are cooked and prepared just like green beans.  They are best eaten fresh when the thickness of a pencil.  

Haricots verts which is French for green bean are a delicate bean often used as a fillet bean.  They are best boiled or blanched but require a shorter cooking time. They are a gourmet bean worth growing.

The old fashioned string bean had to be stringed before cooking.  With so many choices of stringless beans I do not see a reason to grow a string bean.  The stringless beans only need the tips snapped off and they are ready to cook.


Below are just a couple of our families favorite green bean recipes.   

Roasted Green Beans

This is a great recipe for the less than prime green beans that are produced late in the season.  Older, thicker green beans seem to have less flavor and the roasting seems to intensify the flavor.  Any of your favorite combinations of herbs can be used.  

2-3 Tbs of olive oil
2 fresh garlic cloves minced
1 Tbs. fresh minced ginger root
Fresh ground pepper
1 lb of green beans with end snapped off

Mix the oil, garlic, ginger root, salt, and pepper in a boil.  Spread the beans on a shallow tray and drizzle and baste with all the oil mixture. Roast at 450.  Turn the beans once.  Roast until lightly browned approximately 15 minutes.

Green Beans & Lemon Chiffon Sauce
 (Taste of Home June/July 2007)
My family loves these beans. The sauce is also good on broccoli.

1 1/2 lbs fresh green beans with ends trimmed
1/2 Tbs cornstarch
3/4 cup of chicken broth
3 beaten egg yolks
1/8 cup of Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup of butter, cubed
2 tsp fresh parsley
2 tsp chopped green onion

Place beans in water, bring to a boil, and cook until tender crisp.  In a small saucepan whisk the cornstarch, broth, egg yolks, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice.

Cook stirring constantly over low heat until the mixture thickens and bubbles around the edges.

Add butter, a little at a time, whisk to help melt.  Stir in the parsley and onions.  Drain the beans and top with this delicious citrus sauce.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How To Have Continual Harvests

 OK, if you are serious about gardening and feeding your family fresh organic produce then you need to get rid of the "retail gardener" mind set.  What is the retail gardener?  Someone who starts their garden in conjunction with retail stores creating a "garden center" and then ending the season when retail stores are replacing gardening supplies with Halloween decorations and candy. Not a good trade off.

1.   Determine your planting zone.
Trust me your garden season has nothing to do with when a retail chain store establishes a "garden center."  To determine your garden season you need to know what your planting zone is and then time your planting around that information.

 Timing is important with cole crops like cauliflower and broccoli.  The best tasting crops will be harvested in the fall. You need to determine the maturity date and plant transplants or start seeds so the the harvest times will be staggered.  Spring plantings give you early summer crops and summer plantings give you a fall crop.

2.  Succession Plant
 Second you need to succession plant. There is not one day or time that you plant all you seeds and then you are done.  Every plant has a season and it just so happens that cool season crops have a very long season beginning in spring and extending into fall and winter depending on your set up.  Only the fair weather summer crops have only one season and one planting time.  The seed packets tell you how many days before the Last Average Frost Date you can START planting. The First Average Frost Dates help you determine the last possible date to plant that crop.  You can then staggering the planting of cool season crops throughout the season so you have early summer harvests and fall harvest.

Direct sow in the garden around  mid summer crops like carrots, beets, lettuce, pak choi for a fall harvest.  Transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can also be put out mid summer.  All fall planting should be done before the end of July.

 This is my fall planted broccoli.  I have row covers ready if needed but broccoli enjoys the cool fall weather.  Plus fall harvested broccoli is much better tasting than summer broccoli.
 Summer planted cabbage for fall harvesting.  Baby cabbage or smaller cabbage would be good for a fall crop.  They need to be planted as transplants around the beginning of July.  You can start the seeds indoors early summer or purchase transplants at the nursery.

Pac choi is a great quick growing crop.  Time your plantings so you are harvesting in the fall.  Do that by finding the maturity date on the seed packet and determining when you want to harvest, and then count backwards from the harvest date . Direct seed this crop.

3.  Leave some spring planted crops through the summer

Some crops that many gardeners pull up when the summer heat sets in will perk up and start producing with the cool fall weather.  Broccoli, kale, and chard are examples.  

Spring planted broccoli will give you lots of fall side shoots until your fall broccoli is ready to harvest.  

Kale which complains about summer heat will perk up in the fall.  Just keep picking leaves off through the summer give them to chickens, ducks, goats, or pigs and start eating when the evenings cool off and kale sweetens up. Plant kale where it gets some summer afternoon shade.  Also spray aphids off, remove badly invested leaves, and spray periodically with Neem to control aphids.  With cool fall weather the aphids will no longer be a problem.

Swiss chard does fine through summer and will produce well into the fall. Like kale plant it in an area of the garden that gets afternoon shade. I prefer the taste of it in early summer and fall. The animals get it in mid summer. Chard has few pest issues and is a beautiful and easy crop to grow.  It can also be incorporated into your landscape where it provides stunning color. Just remember to keep removing older leaves.

 Sorrel, which is an perennial,  also perks up in the fall.

 4.  Get to know the cool season crops and learn to cook them.

Get to know the cool season crops.  You may think,  "Well I don't like those foods," but trust me you have not eaten them fresh and in season and you may have not yet learned to prepare them.  So buy some good cookbooks, find a good fresh food cooking blog, or find online recipes.  

These all the vegetables my husband assured me  he, "absolutely" did NOT like: asparagus, rutabagas, mustard greens, cabbage, chard, kale, and squash.  He now eats and loves them all. OK, he's still not a fan of winter squash but he likes the others.

3.  Have a well stock pantry of seasonings and spices.

 Also invest in good seasons and spices or better yet grow herbs. This is what makes fresh produce so delicious.  Learn what spices blend with and enhance what vegetable. 

Learn to make vinaigrette's, sauces, and dressings.  Learn to roast, braise, boil, grill, and bake.  It is very rewarding to grow a vegetable and then preparing it in a way that leaves your family asking for more.  

My 21 year old son is already planning his birthday menu and believe it or not he wants a grilled cabbage recipe as one of the sides.  Yup! It's that good.

5.  Invest in row covers or a frost blanket

You do not need to wait for a greenhouse to extend your season.  Medium weight row covers and a low tunnel can very inexpensively extend your season and allow you to plant earlier.  In low tunnels you can lay a row cover right on the crops and have the additional protection of the tunnel.


6. Never Leave the Ground Bare

Bare ground is not good for the micro organisms which are the basis for good soil and organic gardening.  When you pull up or harvest a plant- replant.  Something.  Just don't leave bare soil.  Carrots, kohlrabi, and beets are great to fill in holes.  No additional fertilizer is need for them. This will give you a continually harvest of these nutritious root crops.

 Golden beets are my favorite.  They are sweeter and milder flavor than red beets.  I love them roasted with other roots crops.

 Another way to avoid bare ground is to plant a late summer cover crop of buckwheat or Austrian peas.  The buckwheat will die with the frost and then can be incorporated into the soil in early spring to decompose.  Peas are more winter hardy and are beneficial nitrogen fixers.

 Buckwheat as a cover crop

 7.  Continue your harvest of summer crops until a freeze.

Don't let a couple of cold days make you give up on your summer crops.  Most of them will continue producing until the first freeze.  

These are some of the summer crops that are still giving great harvests.  This was all harvested on October 20th.  Look at all the food that would not be enjoyed if I had pulled up my garden when the garden centers disappeared from the big chain stores.


 Be sure to pick tomatoes before a rain.  They split with a lot of rain.
 Still harvesting watermelon, muskmelons, cucumbers and lots of peppers. With watermelons you can plant small and large varieties so you have an early and later harvest.
 You can see the broccoli side shoots from spring planted broccoli.  I do two spring plantings of cauliflower to get two harvests.  Cauliflower likes a litter warmer weather than broccoli.

 Just starting to pick winter squash and I still have pumpkins for pies in the garden.

 Caroline are the best raspberries.  They are an everbearing so you get  berries through the summer.  Then another fall crop until the first freeze.   I leave a bowl out to eat fresh then freeze the rest for winter use.

Green zebra heirloom tomato.  So delicious!

 Onions curing under the porch.

8.  Plant early, mid-season, and late varieties when possible 

This works great with potatoes.  Early and mid-season varieties can be enjoyed now and storage potatoes in the late fall and winter.

This is also great when planting tomatoes.  Fourth of July is a great early variety and a mix of heirlooms and hybrids can give you tomatoes until the first freeze.

9.  Prepare you garden beds in the late fall for early spring planting.

When you finally do finish up with a bed, remove all plant debris and weeds and cover with a layer of compost.  Next spring you will just have to add a dry organic fertilizer and you are ready to plant at the right time.

If this seems overwhelming after a couple of seasons it becomes easy.  Just remember you have to reprogram your thinking from a "retail gardener" motivated by marketing strategies to an organic gardener who makes decisions based on the biology of the soil and plants themselves.  
Once you undertake this lifestyle you will eat healthier, enjoy good fresh food, feel better, and enjoy the beauty and bounty of all that a garden has to offer.  You might even enjoy cooking!

Your garden will then feed your family not your frustrations. And in your wildest dreams you would ever want to go back to tasteless store bought produce.