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How to Pickle Green Tomatoes

Do you love tomatoes and just can't imagine letting any go to waste? If you have had a productive year growing tomatoes the end of the season can feel a little depressing once you realize that those green tomatoes growing on the vine and getting larger, while the summer days are getting shorter. And there isn't much of a chance of them ripening before it's too late. So what do you do? Of course, fried green tomatoes are a must, but I'm here to tell you about the goodness of pickled green tomatoes.

Pickled Green Tomatoes, How to pickle green tomatoes

Pickled Green Tomatoes Recipe

2-3 pounds of green tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
2 cups of water
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
4 tablespoons of bourbon (optional)
1 tablespoon of whole black peppercorns
2 star anise seed pods
1 1/2 tablespoons of turmeric
1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds

Take your green tomatoes and quarter them. To make things easier, I used a quart-sized canning jar for the pickling process, but you can split them into medium sized jars if needed. Next add your two sliced garlic cloves, sliced jalapeno pepper, fennel seeds, and four tablespoons of bourbon.

In your saucepan, combine the water, apple cider vinegar, kosher salt, whole black peppercorns, star anise seed pods, and turmeric. Bring to a simmer until all of the sugar is dissolved and remove from from heat. Pour your brine into the jar with the green tomatoes.

Let cool, close lid and place in the fridge for at least three days to allow the tomatoes to fully pickle. They will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Serve with cheeses, cold cuts, in salads, or just enjoy a tasty, crunchy, pickled tomato.

Do you often have green tomatoes at the end of the season, or do all of your ripen during summer?


Fall Vegetable Gardening: What to Plant in September

Are you the kind of gardener who thinks the season is over once your tomatoes ripen? Maybe life got in the way and you didn't plant a summer garden and think it's too late to grow anything? Well, I have good news for you. Fall vegetable gardening is a thing and here's what to plant in September.

Fall Vegetable Garden Swiss chard

The First Frost

The most important thing to consider when deciding what to plant in your garden in September is figuring out when the first fall frost happens in your gardening zone. For example, the Farmer's Almanac Frost Chart says that the first fall frost happens in Chicago on October 24. Figuring this date out is important because I know that if I plant seeds the first week of September (at the latest) I will have at least 54 growing days. Which is plenty of time for a lot of cool season crops.

Preparing the Garden for Fall Planting

Hate to the bearer of bad news but you're going to have to tear out the last of your summer crops if you need to make room for planting fall season crops and seedlings. That means tear out the tomatoes, peppers, melons and cucumbers that are limping along. Since your soil is depleted, it is a good idea to amend your garden soil with some fresh compost.  

Seeds to Sow in September for Fall Vegetable Gardening  

You won't have time to start seeds indoors for a fall vegetable garden so your best bet is to direct sowing seeds right in the soil. However, you should check with your local garden centers to see what seedlings and starts may be available in your area for planting.

To get a great fall harvest stick to crops that mature in 40 days or less. Fast-growing crops like greens and root crops will make planting a fall vegetable garden worth it and extend your growing season.

Green onions
Swiss chard
Brussels sprouts

Fall Vegetable Garden Cabbage

Caring for your Fall Garden

Don't let the cooler temps and rainy weather of fall lull you into a false sense of security. You will need to water your seedlings and starts. Newly amended soil looks darker, and sometimes you don't get enough rain to really soak the ground. The soil may look like it's really moist on the surface, but be really dry if you go deeper than an inch.

If you're really worried about a frost killing your fall vegetable garden, you can cover your crops with a blanket, sheets or buy dedicated row covers. If you're growing in a raised bed, you could even build a dedicated cold frame to protect your plants. However, many fall crops--like Swiss chard--will taste sweeter if they're allowed to be "kissed" by frosts and some--like spinach--could overwinter with a bit of protection.

What's your favorite plant to grow in your fall vegetable garden?


Organic Fertilizer Trial: Three Months of Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow

How much thought do you give to the kind of fertilizer you use in the garden? Not much? Well, maybe it's time to start thinking more about fertilizers we use in the garden. Back in May of this year, Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow contacted me and asked if I would be interested in trialing their products and writing about them. I chose a general purpose garden fertilizer from their line of products. Read part I and part II of this garden experiment if this is your first post on the trial.

As you'll recall, this is a garden bed in which I'm growing tomatoes for a local food pantry. I decided to use Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow general purpose fertilizer. My thinking is that since I was going to donate the harvest from this bed, I wanted to ensure that what went into growing the plants was going to be organic. Take a look at the growth of the tomato plants since part I and part II. The experiment started on May 15th, and this is what the bed looked like in the middle of July.

I'm really impressed with the vigor of the cherry tomato plants that got fertilized with Healthy Grow. As you'll recall, only half the bed was fertilized with Healthy Grow and the other was just amended with fresh compost. The unfertilized half of the bed was not growing as well and the plants were not as happy and healthy as the half I fertilized with Healthy Grow.

Even with regular pinching of suckers and trimming, the cherry tomato vines are exploding in growth, and threatening to take the bamboo stakes down and we're not even into August.

While tying and staking the tomato vines this week I made another observation. The half of the raised bed that didn't get fertilized initially is not just under-performing, the plants are weaker and susceptible to pests and diseases. I have noticed a lot of white flies and aphids on those plants, while the healthier side (the one fertilized) seems to not be affected. There is also, unfortunately, tomato blight in some of the other raised beds that other gardeners tend. I'm keeping my finger crossed because I have a lot of beautiful tomato fruits!

I'm still a couple of weeks away from harvesting cherry tomatoes, but the weather looks promising for ripening tomatoes on the vine, and the tomato fruits are large and beautiful! Most of all, I'm excited about being able to deliver fresh, organically grown tomatoes to a family in need. These photos were taken a couple of days before I sat down to write this post, but I visited the garden today and saw that many were already turning color.

If you've never heard of Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow, check out their website to learn about how a school teacher turned into an organic fertilizer producer, and where you can find the Healthy Grow line of products near you. They have been a great brand to work with, and I'm happy that I have had good results with the fertilizer. By visiting the website, you're also helping support me because they could have advertised in any number of traditional garden outlets, or contracted a number of famous garden writers and TV personalities to do this trial, but they chose to work with me.

Do you have any tips for dealing with white flies and aphids?


Rhubarb Simple Syrup

Do you grow rhubarb, but don't know what to make with it? Perhaps you don't grow this edible perennial vegetable because you think it's only good for baking pies. Rhubarb plants can get pretty big and there are only so many pies and jams you can put away in your cupboard. A rhubarb simple syrup is a good way to preserve the flavor of rhubarb, especially if you have a lot of it.

How to harvest rhubarb

This was the case at the community garden recently. An orphaned rhubarb plant was growing like gangbusters in an empty plot. Try as I might, there weren't a lot of gardeners taking me up on the offer to harvest the rhubarb stalks and take them home. Many didn't know what to do with it, and others just said, "I don't know how to bake." So I set about trying to make a dent in the rhubarb monster.

How to Harvest Rhubarb

Don't harvest stalks from your rhubarb plant during it's first year of growth. Wait until the second or third year to harvest. Choose stalks that are between 12-18 inches long and reddish in color. Grab an individual stalk from the base and twist it free from the crown. You can also just cut the stalks away with a knife. I prefer this method because it's cleaner and quicker. Leave a few stalks on your plant to keep the plant alive. Cut off and discard the leaves of the rhubarb plant. The leaves are poisonous and should not be eaten.

Make a Rhubarb Simple Syrup

4 cups of chopped rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water

Cut your rhubarb stalks into 1 inch lengths. Make sure to remove the leaves. Combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly and the fruit has become soft.

Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and the pour out the contents of the sauce pan into the strainer. If you don't have a fine mesh strainer, use a course strainer lined with cheesecloth. Use the back of the spoon to press the rhubarb against the strainer to squeeze out any liquid.

After the syrup has cooled, pour it into a glass jar or bottle.  It should keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can also freeze the syrup for longer storage.

Tips: When I told people I was harvesting a rhubarb plant to make simple syrup everyone asked if it would be too tart. The answer is, NO--it isn't too tart. It's actually very sweet. If you (like me) enjoy tart flavors try reducing the amount of sugar. If you happen to walk away when your rhubarb is simmering on the stove for more than 20 minutes it will break down into thin fibers. If this happens, like it did with one batch of mine, you will have to strain it twice to remove any float-y stuff from your syrup.

Rhubarb simple syrup

Now that you have made rhubarb simple syrup, make yourself a rhubarb soda after a long day of working in the garden!

Rhubarb Soda

1/2 ounce of rhubarb syrup
12 ounces of carbonated water

Other ways you can use your rhubarb simple syrup: Drizzle it over shortbread, shortbread cookies, fresh strawberries, yogurt, vanilla or strawberry ice cream. Or even over pie! You can also use this syrup in many of your favorite cocktail recipes.

Are you a rhubarb lover, or a rhubarb hater?


Organic Garden Fertilizer Update-Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow

Are you the kind of gardener that doesn't think too much about what kind of fertilizer you use in your garden? I have to admit I used to be that kind of gardener. I would buy whatever was cheapest, and at one point even used a popular fertilizer made by a chemical giant. Yes, I am ashamed of my past. But I think now that I've been doing this for a few years I know better, so I do better. If you haven't read the first post on Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow fertilizer, please do so you can compare the results so far. This is Part II of the experiment and trial of this organic fertilizer.

Earlier in the spring I was contacted by a representative of Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow, and asked if I would be interested in trying some of their organic garden fertilizers and soil amendments. So we came to an agreement where I would be contracted to try the fertilizer and write about my experiences. I chose the all-purpose fertilizer because I knew I would be tending one of the plots at the community garden that we use to grow food for the food pantry, but I didn't know what I would be growing this year.

The fertilizer arrived and I had to put it to use and start my trialing of the product. And I have to say that I'm pretty impressed with the results in the community garden. Compare the photo above with the photo from Part I of this experiment. In Part I, I amended the raised bed with compost from the garden and then I added the all-purpose garden fertilizer I received from Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow to half of the bed. Then I planted the tomato seedlings in the half that had been amended with fertilizer.

Here is what the raised bed looks like from the other side. Notice a difference? This side of the garden bed isn't as green or lush as the other side. This is the half of the raised bed that I didn't fertilize with the Organic Healthy Grow fertilizer. The plants look pitiful. The other day when I was talking with another member of the community garden about my experiment, she pointed out that even the weeds on the side that had been fertilized were doing better than the weeds in the unfertilized half. And this is after I had just weeded the bed the prior week.

What the photographs above doesn't really show you is just how much healthier the plants with the Healthy Grow fertilizer look up-close. The photo above is one of the plants that didn't get fertilized with Healthy Grow. Yellowing on the edges of tomato plants can mean several things. From sunburn to nutritional deficiencies to not being watered enough.

Now compare the photo of the tomato plant above to this tomato plant that is growing on the side of the raised bed I amended with Organic Healthy Grow. The plant is much bigger, fuller, and greener. There are no signs of distress or nutritional deficiencies. I have been diligent about watering all the plants in this bed equally and making sure they get a deep watering down at the roots.

Another example of the plants doing better in the half that was fertilized is in the amount of flowers being produced. I already have several tomato fruits growing in the half that was fertilized, and plenty more flowers on this side too.

If I had to do the experiment all over again, I would have chosen the tomato fertilizer produced by Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow. Because if the results are this good with just the all-purpose fertilizer, then they must be even better with the fertilizer designed for tomatoes. Yes, there's a difference. Fertilizers made for tomatoes provide the nutrients needed to produce blossoms and produce fruits, and help prevent many of the common tomato problems we encounter. Like this blog? Please visit the links for Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow and see where you can buy their products near you.

Do you use a fertilizer designed for tomatoes, or do you use an all purpose fertilizer?


Chive Flower Vinegar Recipe

Do you grow chives but don't know what to do with them? What about when the plant flowers? Do you ignore the blooms, cut them, or let them go to seed and spread all over your garden? Chive flowers are edible and have many uses in the kitchen. One easy thing you can make with chive blossoms is chive flower vinegar.

Chive Flower Vinegar

Chive flowers are beautiful, easy to grow, and they are a great food source for tiny pollinators, but I hate seeing the lavender-colored flowers just go to waste. So recently, I harvested chive flowers for my vinegar from the community garden I'm a part of and from a friend's edible parkway planting.

Chive flowers are edible

For this chive flower recipe I harvested 2 1/2 cups of chive blossoms to get a really rich hue. Remove as much of the green stems as possible for a subtle flavor for your vinegar.

Toss your chive flowers into a bowl of cool water, swish them around to remove dust and any tiny bugs. Let any garden debris settle at the bottom and scoop out your blossoms. Place them in a colander and give it a few shakes to remove any excess water. Or, put all the blooms in a salad spinner if you own one and give it a few spins. Place them in your canning jar.

Pour 1 1/2 cups of white wine vinegar into a sauce pan and warm it up over a low heat. NOTE: You are not looking to bring the vinegar to a boil. We are just warming it up ever so slightly; remove from heat if you start to see bubbles.

Pour the warm white wine vinegar over the chive flowers in your canning jar. If you have any blooms that are not submerged in the vinegar, you can push them down with a spoon or other utensil.

Chive flowers in vinegar

Set your concoction aside to cool down. Enjoy the chive-y scent already emanating from your jar as the blooms begin to steep. Feel free to give it a few swirls to make sure all the blooms are submerged in the warm vinegar and releasing their flavor.

Edible chive flower vinegar

After the vinegar has cooled down (you'll notice there's no steam condensing on the inside of your canning jar) you can place your lid on your jar. I used a canning jar that is taller than I needed because I didn't want the vinegar or the blooms to touch the lid and start to rust and ruin my chive flower vinegar. But if you have glass canning jar lids you can use them, or place a piece of parchment paper over the jar's mouth before screwing on your lid.

Now place your tightly closed jar of chive flowers steeping in white wine vinegar in a cool and dark place for anywhere between 1-2 weeks. Yes, it seems like a long time, but the longer the blooms steep the more of their flavor they will impart on the vinegar.

You may notice at this point that there is more debris at the bottom of your jar. That's OK. After you have left your flowers to steep to your preferred flavor strength, pour out the content into a fine sieve to filter out any debris, chive stems, and spent flowers. Now you can pour your chive flower vinegar into a glass bottle or container (that has been sterilized) and enjoy it wherever you want to add vinegar that has a nice chive flower profile.

Making your own chive flower vinegar is really easy, and is a good way to preserve the taste of spring in your garden. Have more chive flowers than you know what to do with? Break the blossoms apart and add them to soups, salads, and sandwiches where you want to add a light chive taste.

What's your favorite way to use chives you grow in your garden?


Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow--An Experiment with Organic Fertilizer

Have you ever wondered if organic fertilizer is worth the money? It's something that I have grappled with for years. For years conventional garden fertilizers were more readily available than their organic counterparts. But that has changed over the last couple of years. A couple of weeks ago Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow reached out to me with a proposition to conduct an experiment with organic fertilizer.

They wanted to contract me to use their naturally compost organic fertilizer, test it in my garden and provide monthly updates. Previously to these conversations I have never heard of Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow. I was surprised that it was made right here in Illinois, and I was also surprised and inspired by Dave's story. In the 1970s, Dave was a first grade school teacher in Aurora, Ill.,who would regularly incorporate hatching baby chicks into his curriculum to teach his students about the cycle of life.

You won't believe what happened next! Actually, if you're a gardener you can probably guess what happened next. A hobby lead to an obsession and business. What started as a few baby chicks lead to an ever expanding flock, and needing to buy more land to house more chickens. And a classroom experiment to teach kids about the cycle of life lead to a sustainable business.

When the product arrived for me to try I was initially struck by how thoughtful and beautiful the packaging is. And can I just mention how sturdy the packaging is, too? One of my pet peeves in the garden industry is flimsy packaging that leaves soil, compost, and fertilizer everywhere in your home, garage and trunk because the bags rip open easily.

Powder and liquid fertilizers annoy me because of having to find a container for mixing, measuring, and application. And watching it blow away in the wind when it's a powder fertilizer you sprinkle on the soil is aggravating. Maybe, like me, you're also worried about inhaling powdered fertilizer. Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow fertilizer is granulated which makes the handling and application of this fertilizer pretty easy.

And it smells pretty good. I mean, as far as fertilizer made from chicken poop goes--it smells great! There's a rich and earthy aroma to this fertilizer that you're not going to get in synthetic fertilizers that come in crazy colors.

So here's my experiment. At the community garden I volunteer at we have some plots that we use to grow food for a local food pantry. This community garden is organic so we normal only amend the soil with compost and organic products. This year I'm going to use at least one of the plots to conduct an experiment that I will update you about here.

Earlier in the year we grew hundreds of tomato seedlings to give away for free in the community. After amending this raised bed I added Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow, and I planted six of our locally grown tomatoes in the compost we use every year, and the other six in the area amended with the Healthy Grow fertilizer.

So what's going to happen? I'm going to provide monthly updates on this blog to see just how much better our tomatoes grow with Dave's organic composted fertilizer versus our compost we use every year.

Today, Dave, his wife Terry and their son Ben run Pearl Valley Farms, which includes Pearl Valley Eggs, Phil’s Fresh Eggs, Eggology liquid eggs, Coop Poop, and Healthy Grow. That's pretty impressive for something that started in a classroom in the 1970s. See Part II of Dave Thompson's Organic Healthy Grow Experiment.

Have you used Healthy Grow in the garden before? Take a look around the Healthy Grow website if you're interested in a giveaway, comment below and I could possibly host one as part of my sponsorship to experiment and blog about the product.


Easy Plants to Grow From Seed

Do you want to start plants from seeds, but lack experience or confidence? Don't worry, a lot of gardeners start out that way. Growing plants from seeds can seem like a daunting task at first, but once you narrow down what kinds of seeds you want to start indoors it will get easy. Here are some recommendations for east plants to grow from seed.

10 Easy Vegetables to Grow from Seed


If you're starting your own garden because you would like to grow some of your own food, give these 10 easy vegetables to grow from seed a try. Not only are these vegetables easy to grow yourself, they are staples in a healthy diet and can save you money on your grocery bill. You can start them indoors, but they are also good candidates for direct sowing/seeding into the ground when the weather warms up in your area. This article on seed starting tips for beginner gardeners should be of help, but you can also look over the seed saving tab for all articles about starting and saving seeds. Got any suggestions for easy vegetables to grow from seeds?

Easiest Seeds to Grow for Kids


Starting seeds with kids can be rewarding and a challenge at the same time. For starters, kids have small hands and tiny fingers. Their dexterity sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. But finding easy plants to grow from seed for kids isn't very difficult. Choose garden seeds that are easy for little fingers to handle. The easiest seeds to grow for kids are large, easy to handle, and germinate quickly. You can plant these easy seeds in cups, soda bottles, milk containers, and yogurt cups in addition to biodegradable seed starting pots

Easiest Seeds to Grow Flowers

Bachelor buttons
Aquilegia aka columbines
Nigella aka love-in-a-mist

Every year I come across people online who want to grow their own flowers for a wedding or party and want to know what the easiest seeds to grow flowers are. Well, that answer is very complicated especially since I deal with gardening and not floriculture (flower farming). But I can tell you which are the easiest seeds to grow flowers from my experience as a gardener. Sowing these seeds in your garden or garden bed will almost certainly lead to flowers. If you're looking for easy care flowers from seeds, stick to fast growing annuals like these. 

These are just some of the easiest seeds to grow from seeds. If you come across a seed that isn't very easy for you, try, try, try, again. There are several garden seeds that I do not have much luck germinating. But I don't let a few failures overshadow my successes in the garden, and you shouldn't either. Do you have any recommendations for easy plats to grow from seed?