Having trouble deciding what to get for a home kitchen gardener in your life? Here are a few ideas to help you along. I selected these items with people in mind who manage large-scale kitchen gardens, though some are appropriate also for people who buy produce in bulk and preserve it for later use.
If you know someone who has committed a big chunk of yard space to vegetable gardening, or whose ornamental trees are actually an orchard, or who shops at farmers’ markets and buys fruit by the bushel, you’ll find something here to please them. I’ve selected items from Amazon.com that have only the highest customer reviews.
In a traditional farm-style home kitchen garden, a farmer uses a tractor or a horse to drag a plow through the garden plot and prepare it for planting. But some gardeners turn soil by hand. For a large garden patch, the prospect of hand-turning so much soil might end a project… and it might dissuade an avid gardener from expanding a garden; a sad outcome, indeed. Help protect your gardener’s health by giving a gas-driven auto tiller. These bad boys can cut new planting beds into a lawn, can turn over a bed’s soil—and mix in compost, and can rip out weeds during the growing season. This one is highly-rated by Amazon.com customers.
When you tend a large home kitchen garden, you move a lot of stuff around: you move tools from storage to the garden and back, you move plant seedlings from your car or your sprouting room to your garden, you move weeds away from the garden, you move compost and fertilizer to the garden, and you move produce from the garden to your house. You might also move cold frames, fencing, row covers, and trellises about through the season. A good garden cart is essential, and this one fits the bill. My parents had a similar garden cart, and it handled every job we gave it—including hauling manure from the barn and firewood from the forest. Short of a lawn tractor with a pull-behind cart, there’s nothing better for hauling stuff around your yard and garden.
All kitchen gardeners are potential canners (unless they’re already canners). People who grow fruit trees are especially likely to take up canning; when a tree produces more fruit than you can eat in season, it’s very hard to watch it go to waste; canning preserves it for use till the next year’s harvest. Most people don’t can their own food because they haven’t tried. Once they see how easy it is, they’re usually hooked. Get the gardener in your life started with this highly-rated canning pot (and the starter kit below) for boiling water bath canning. (A boiling water bath can preserve fruits—including tomatoes—and pickles, but is not appropriate for canning vegetables.)
It’s possible to take up home canning with utensils most people already have in their kitchens. However, canning suppliers have developed several tools that make the whole canning process easier. This accessory kit includes a canning funnel, a magnetic lid lifter, a bottle lifter, and a small canning rack that might fit in a stock pot your gardening acquaintance already owns. It’s a very popular set and makes a great compliment to the canning pot described above—or to the pressure canner described below.
When a garden overproduces vegetables, you can freeze them, can them, dehydrate them, give them away, or toss them in the compost barrel. Canning is a very satisfying solution, but it requires equipment most kitchens lack: a pressure canner. A pressure canner heats canning jars to a very high temperature, killing any bacteria that might be in the food being canned. A pressure canner can preserve meats and prepared dishes such as soups and stews, and it can double as a pressure cooker: a stovetop cook pot that can cook foods more rapidly than a microwave oven and with better results.
You don’t need to have a home kitchen garden to enjoy a food dehydrator. A gardener might use one to preserve home grown vegetables and fruit. But anyone can use a dehydrator to make fruit rollups and meat jerky. When you consider the cost of commercially-available dried apricots, dried apples, and dried tomatoes, a food dehydrator can pay for itself in one or two uses. The Nesco Gardenmaster is one of the highest-rated dehydrators available, and will preserve fruits, vegetables, and meats for many years.
If you’re excited about giving your gardening acquaintance a dehydrator, but you have a limited budget, give the Nesco FD-75PR. This is one of the most popular items sold in Amazon.com’s Kitchen and Dining category… and in their Home & Garden category! A terrific product at a great price.
A platter of crackers and cream cheese topped with a half cup of red pepper relish makes an attractive presentation on an hors d’oeuvres table.
If you grow bell peppers in your home kitchen garden, please try this; it’s astonishingly simple, and crazy delicious: Make and preserve red pepper relish to serve as an hors d’oeuvre at dinners throughout the coming year.
My garden is long abed, but I scored some inexpensive red peppers at the local Mennonite grocery store, so I just made up a batch of red pepper relish. While it takes about six hours from start to finish, your actual involvement will be closer to one hour: 30 minutes to prepare the peppers and start them cooking, and 30 minutes to prepare canning jars and can the finished relish.
From what you see in a grocery store, you’d think there are bell peppers, and red bell peppers: two varieties. Truth is, a bell pepper is a bell pepper, and red ones have simply remained on the plant longer than the green ones have. If your growing season doesn’t provide three and a half months of consecutive warm days, start plants indoors and transplant them when your garden’s soil warms up past 65 degrees… green bell peppers want to be red, but they need a lot of time to get there.
Ingredients for red pepper relish are few: 12 large red peppers (I used 14 cuz mine were small), a tablespoon of salt, 3 cups of sugar, and a pint of cider vinegar.
Red pepper relish is a mash of ground-up, sweet, sticky, pickled red peppers. The uninitiated may wonder: how can that be tasty? If you’re skeptical, please take my word for it and make one batch. When you decide you don’t like it, send me your spare inventory and I’ll reimburse you for the shipping cost. Better still, serve it at a dinner party, watch who hangs around the relish tray, and give a jar to that person as a house gift the next time you visit them.
My mother-in-law introduced me to this delicacy, and the recipe I’m sharing here is the one she gave me; I don’t know where she got it, but I’m glad she did. Here’s how to use your red pepper relish:
You’ll need 4oz canning jars… 8-to-12 of them along with canning lids and the screw-on rings that hold the lids on. You can’t be certain how much relish your peppers will produce, so have extra jars on hand.
You’ll need an 8oz block of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese and a box of savory crackers such as Ritz, Club Crackers, Triscuit, or something hoity-toity (involving crackers, I’m a simple man). An hour or so before you plan to serve hors d’oeuvres, set the block of cream cheese on a serving plate large enough that you can later surround the cheese with a ring or two of crackers. Open a four-ounce jar of red pepper relish, and scoop its contents onto the cream cheese, distributing it evenly on the top. Some relish may drip down the sides of the cheese onto the plate.
When your guests arrive, surround the cream cheese and relish with crackers, add a table knife or a butter knife, and set the plate out with your other hors d’oeuvres. A guest can cut off a chunk of cream cheese with its associated patch of relish, and scrape it off the knife onto a cracker.
Chop the peppers up fine—each piece should be roughly the size of a thick piece of dry oatmeal. You can use a knife to do the chopping, but it goes a lot faster if you use a food processor. Mine held half the peppers. I used 2-second pulses totaling 20 seconds of run-time, scraped down the sides of the bowl, and then did 20 more seconds of 2-second pulses.
In a cooking pot, mix one tablespoon of salt through the ground peppers and let them sit for two hours. Then put a strainer over a pot or bowl, and dump the ground up peppers into the strainer. Let them sit for at least a half hour… more then three cups of liquid will drain out of them. (My mother-in-law tosses the liquid; I’m going to use it to make jelly… I’ll let you know how that works out.)
Return the ground up peppers to the cooking pot, add 2 cups of cider vinegar and 3 cups of sugar, and stir it together. Simmer the mixture uncovered for three hours, stirring periodically. For the first 2.5 hours, you don’t need to stir often, but in the last half hour, make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot (also, heat your canning jars—see below). I start my relish on high heat for about seven minutes, and then set the temperature to low for the remainder of the cooking time.
With a half hour of cooking to go, make sure the canning jars are clean and put them in a large pot (a canning pot, if you have one) to heat on the stove. I used a 4-gallon stock pot with enough water that the tops of the jars would be two inches beneath the surface. I put two cloth napkins in the pot, and placed the canning jars bottoms down on the napkins… the water is going to boil, and the napkins protect the jars from jostling against the metal (you can use a dish towel instead of napkins). Also, put the canning lids in a sauce pot of water and set it on low heat; the water should get very hot without boiling. When the relish is ready, fill jars as follows:
If you want to attract a bunch of gardeners to a seminar, promise to send each of them home with a free rain barrel.
Every home kitchen garden with room enough should have a rain barrel. Minimally, a rain barrel catches water as it falls from the sky. More typically, a rain barrel sits under a downspout from your house’s rain gutter system, and runoff from your house fills the barrel.
For seven or so years, I’ve figured to build a large water tank against the side of my house. Of course, each year has passed with no cistern, and every time I’ve run the hose to water the garden I’ve cursed my own sloth. How much water could I save if I collect the runoff from my house?
Happily, I got the answer to that question and more just a few weeks ago when I attended a seminar presented by the local Cooperative Extension office. Newspaper advertisements alerted me to this seminar and promised a take-home rain barrel to the first 25 people to register. The free seminar alone would have been two well-spent hours.
If you’re new to gardening, or you’re struggling with unsolvable problems, or you simply want some fresh perspectives, find a Cooperative Extension office in your neighborhood. These state-run offices are very much about agriculture… as is a home kitchen garden. Cooperative Extension offices may offer information about lawn care; pest control; vegetable, fruit, nut, flower, and decorative gardening; house plants; and composting. Cooperative Extension offices may sell (or give away) soil-testing services to help solve your growing problems. They may offer free individual consultations. They may offer seminars about useful gardening topics. They may even offer speakers willing to present at your garden club events. Chances are, you can sign up with Cooperative Extension to become a certified master gardener.
Don’t overlook this resource. Every owner of a home kitchen garden can get something useful from Cooperative Extension. Here’s a link to help you locate a Cooperative Extension office in your area.
I heard some cool stuff at the seminar… but only captured some of it.
There were many other fascinating statistics, but the ones I’ve mentioned paint the picture so clearly: You can save a lot of money and help preserve your area waterways by installing a rain barrel and using the water it collects to maintain your home kitchen garden.
A downspout adapter sits on top of the rain barrel (left). The overflow port on the side of the barrel (right) accepts a standard garden hose to redirect runoff away from your house. Any of my downspouts would deliver a higher inflow than this overflow port could handle; I’ll need to modify the rain barrel when I install it.
The typical rain barrel has a few limitations. For example, a barrel might hold 60 to 100 gallons. This means one inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof will produce at least five times more water than a barrel can hold. The typical rain barrel allows for this by including an overflow port near the top of the barrel. If you have space, you can run the overflow into a second rain barrel, and from there to a third, and so on. If you don’t want to manage so many barrels, you run the overflow out to your garden, or well away from your house, or back into the downspout that you redirected into the rain barrel in the first place.
A faucet mounted near the bottom of the rain barrel accepts a standard garden hose. To provide adequate pressure for typical gardening applications, I’ll need to place the barrel on a stand several feet above the ground. Once it’s elevated, I’ll also want to strap it to the side of my house so it doesn’t fall over at an inopportune moment.
The seminar explained how to install a rain barrel, and the presenters assembled a rain barrel so we could see how to make our own. Amazingly, despite having about 90 attendees, the Cooperative Extension speakers had made enough rain barrels for each of us to take one home. A small grant had paid for the materials, and for the Extension-workers’ time.
In future posts, I’ll show how I install my rain barrel (won’t happen until spring), and I’ll explain how you can make your own. If you don’t want to build your own, jump out to the Home Kitchen Garden Store, and order one now so you can reduce your water bills and grow a greener garden in the spring. By all means, get a water barrel and install it.
Here are more articles about rain barrels. Please enjoy:
Use a Rain Barrel for Easy Greywater Diversion Systems « People … – Oh and…remember if you live up north, your rain barrel parts could freeze (just like hoses) in winter so that is something to consider when designing your greywater system. Southern climates…well lucky you! …
Rainy Review of Rain Barrels at Jackie Koerner – You can also build your own rain barrel with instructions from the Maryland Environmental Design Program’s website. Some municipalities sell rain barrels at a discount to assist with the reduction of rain water runoff. …
Time to Winterize Your Rain Barrel – Move your rain barrel into a garage or storage shed if you have one. If you do not have the storage space, turn the barrel upside down to prevent water from entering. Cover the spigot opening to prevent water from collecting there as …
Head Spring Farm Blogs » Blog Archive » Reclaimed Whiskey Rain … – The rain barrel concept has been around for a very long time and I recall we had a cistern at the farm house where I grew up. Rain water stored in a barrel or cistern is not quite ready for drinking water unless treated, …
Back Porch Rain Barrel – This summer we finally constructed a rain barrel. We’ve had a 55-gallon drum sitting in our yard for several years. We finally made the commitment to convert it into a rain collection barrel. It was so simple, I wish we would have done …