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basil blossoms in a home kitchen garden

The basil plants growing in a pot on my deck have flowered. OK, herbs. Herbs flower too.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day today, was very wet in my home kitchen garden. That’s a good thing for the garden, but not so much for the photographer. Thankfully, for the first time ever, I shot my Bloom Day photos a day early. It was heavily overcast yesterday, so there wasn’t a lot of contrast, but the photos reveal a garden very much trying to produce more food before the season ends.

What is Bloom Day? Carol over at May Dreams Gardens started this monthly celebration of flowers. Garden bloggers the world over participate by posting photos of whatever’s abloom in their gardens. I manage a home kitchen garden with the philosophy that I don’t want to expend energy planting stuff I’m not going to eat. So, my focus is food, but happily, fruits and vegetables start out as flowers. Here are the August babies in my home kitchen garden:

dill blossoms in a home kitchen garden

So… I have a bunch of dill blossoms in my garden. I didn’t plant dill this year, but last year’s volunteer dill plants seeded themselves aggressively, and I’ve had three or four plants in bloom at any given time for the past six weeks or so. It’s reassuring to know that several large seed heads have already produced hundreds of seeds which now wait on the soil to sprout new dill plants next spring.

 

tomato blossoms in a home kitchen garden

If things are abloom in my garden, at least some of them are probably tomato plants. I’ve more than 80 tomato plants in the garden this year, and have canned 45 pints of tomato products. There are about 100 pounds of tomatoes on my dining room table, and the plants hold, perhaps, another 100 pounds. These pretty flowers may produce fruit, but it won’t have time to ripen before this autumn’s first frost.

 

bean blossoms in a home kitchen garden

I grew climbing beans for my first time last year and enjoyed their behavior so much that they have become “must haves” in my home kitchen garden. This spring, a woodchuck munched a lot of my plants, but what’s left is producing enough for my family of five to have about four servings a week.

 

lima blossoms in a home kitchen garden

My lima beans are two experiments in one: 1. I’ve never grown lima beans because I’m the only person in my family who likes them. 2. I’m growing eight plants in a single windowsill planter… way too little root space. So far, the plants are flowering abundantly, and there are dozens of bean pods. The pods are just starting to fatten up, so I have some hope of gathering enough lima beans for at least a few servings.

 

cuke blossom in a home kitchen garden

Yet another first for me: I’m growing cucumbers. I planted two varieties, and nearly all the plants have been destroyed by vine borers. Still, I’ve harvested three cucumbers, and there are many more at various stages of near-readiness.

 

squash blossom in a home kitchen garden

Closely related to cucumbers, my winter squash plants are crazy in bloom. Vine borers have killed or weakened nearly all my blue hubbard plants, but neck pumpkins and butternut squash are growing strong. Oh, and it looks as though kobocha squash don’t know how to make female flowers; my plants have grown many dozens of male flowers, but not a single fruiting blossom.

 

broccoli blossom in a home kitchen garden

My broccoli didn’t produce well this year, and I’m shopping for better varieties for next year. If you have a favorite that produces large heads, please leave a comment to tell me about it. I’m still harvesting small broccoli florets from the side shoots, but I think I enjoy the flowers more than I enjoy the tiny servings of broccoli.

 

pepper blossom in a home kitchen garden

While I’ve more than 80 tomato plants in my home kitchen garden, I also have about 60 chili pepper plants. This one’s visitor, I think, is confused. These bugs usually stuff themselves into squash blossoms; this may be the first time I’ve seen one on a pepper plant.

 

 

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Tomato Flower in a Home Kitchen Garden

If you’ve read my blog this season, you may be shaking your head and thinking, “Please, not another tomato flower.” This one is amusing to me because it’s on a tomato plant in my deck-rail basil planter. I filled the planter this summer with a mixture of compost and soil from the garden bed. Somewhere in the mix, there was a tomato seed left over from last season, and it decided to sprout. It put out its first flowers in time for September’s Bloom Day… far too late to produce meaningful tomatoes.

It seems only a month ago that it was August 15th in my Home Kitchen Garden. That’s significant because the 15th of each month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. The tradition, started by Carol at May Dreams Gardens is for garden bloggers everywhere to photograph and write posts about what’s blooming in their own gardens.

I don’t deliberately grow flowers, but they’re a necessary step in the growing of vegetables and fruits. I like the flowers because they represent food I’ll be eating three to six weeks from blossom time… that is, assuming the plants in bloom don’t freeze to death before they produce fruit or vegetables.

Unfortunately, the growing season here is trending toward conclusion. I imagine we’ll see frost before the next Bloom Day so I’m trying to enjoy the flowers for flowers’ sake. But I feel a tad melancholy knowing that most of the flowers in my home kitchen garden have come too late to add to my larder.

Pepper Flower in a Home Kitchen Garden

Also on my deck, the pepper plants have completed one fruiting cycle and have started a second. The first time around, my pot-bound pepper plants produced plenty of pleasing but piccolo piquant peppers. If peppers from this second round of flowers look good enough, I might move the planters indoors when frost threatens.

 

Butterfly & Rosemary in a Home Kitchen Garden

Sheltered from prevailing winds by our house, a small rosemary plant has survived two winters. Its delicate purple flowers had lured critters besides me to get close.

 

I liked the idea of capturing some bean flowers alongside a developing bean… didn’t really like any of the photos, but I still like the idea. The upside is that I discovered the climbing bean plants entwined with the kids’ play set had developed another crop of beans since last I’d looked; we had very fresh green beans with dinner today.

 

Oregano in a Home Kitchen Garden

Yes, the oregano is still in bloom; it has been in bloom since mid July, but it looks as though the blossoms are about done. I’m guessing there are a lot of seeds tucked away in the petalled stalks holding the flowers.

 

A Home Kitchen Garden Squash Flower

A few branches of my winter squash vines have grown through the garden fence and they’re still putting out flowers. I haven’t found female flowers in a few weeks, so I don’t anticipate more squash fruits to develop. However, this male flower is cleverly trying to conceal a ripening squash that has remained safely inside the fence.

 

Broccoli Flowers in a Home Kitchen Garden

The bees were abuzz on the broccoli flowers this morning. No, I don’t grow broccoli flowers… I grow broccoli buds, and we eat them. However, like so many kitchen gardeners, I eventually tire of keeping up with the broccoli. After harvesting the central bud cluster, I revisit the plants for many weeks, cutting off the side shoots and feeding them to my family. At some point, I overlook those side shoots and some of them flower. Then, judging the “ready” clusters from the “too old” clusters becomes a chore rather than a task… and soon I’m growing broccoli flowers.

Many people tidy their home kitchen gardens by pulling plants in which they’ve lost interest. I encourage you not to hurry: you do a great favor to pollinators when you leave plants to flower. At least six large bees, two or three butterflies, and another half dozen insects I couldn’t identify flitted from blossom-to-blossom as I tried to capture an image that screamed “BROCCOLI!”

 

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I love having a few bags of blueberries in the freezer. While my mom used to add them to grapefruit-based fruit salads, I prefer to sprinkle frozen blueberries into puddles of pancake batter I’ve just poured on the griddle. Then, as the pancakes cook on side one, I drizzle a bit of extra batter over the blueberries so they’ll cook inside the pancakes when I flip them to side two. Using frozen blueberries to make pancakes, I set the cooking temperature lower than I would for plain pancakes. This gives the blueberries more time to thaw before the pancakes finish cooking.

Is your home kitchen garden producing well? This time of year, a kitchen garden can overwhelm its caretaker with produce. Beans are typical offenders along with tomatoes, eggplant, and various types of squash. Fruits can also present excesses.

If you’re facing a glut of vegetables or fruit… or if you simply want to store some goodies now so you can enjoy them until next year’s harvest, a deep-freeze makes a great food-preserver.

Why Freeze Produce?

Of all methods of preserving goods, freezing maintains flavors and textures the most faithfully. But freezing isn’t a perfect solution. Fruits especially suffer from freezing. As a rule fruits become mushy when they thaw, though their flavors remain true. If you plan to cook the fruits before you eat them, they’ll be great after freezing. If you’re going to eat them raw, find applications where the altered consistencies suit your sensibilities.

When it comes to frozen vegetables, I’ve never wanted to eat one raw after thawing it. These, I think, you should plan to cook… but trust that the outcome will be very similar to that of cooking the vegetables when they’re fresh. Root vegetables—carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and so on—do not thaw well, but they do keep a long time unfrozen in a cool, dry storage area.

I line jelly roll pans with waxed paper and then add single layers of blueberries or other produce. These I set uncovered in the deep-freeze overnight. The frozen berries easily come loose from the waxed paper and from each other.

Freezing Fruit

How you prepare fruit for freezing depends on what type of fruit it is. I suggest making it bite-sized. So, if you’re freezing peaches, pears, apples, or pineapples, peel them and cut them into pieces. If you’re freezing berries, they’re already in bite-sized pieces.

Pack fruit in freezer containers or in food storage freezer bags. Vacuum-seal them for the longest freezer life, but a zipper-style bag with the air squeezed out around the fruit should keep the fruit in decent shape for close to a year. Place only as much fruit in each bag as you’re going to use in one meal or service. Alternatively, follow the instructions below for Individually-Frozen Vegetables and Berries.

Freezing Vegetables

You can freeze vegetables raw and they’ll be fine when you cook them up later… as long as it’s not too much later. Conventional wisdom is that certain enzymes in vegetables promote aging and they continue to work even when the vegetables are frozen. This means the quality of frozen vegetables decreases rapidly over time unless you stop the enzymes. To “turn off” enzymes and increase the freezer live of vegetables, blanch them before you freeze them.

Individually-frozen, blueberries are hard, cold marbles. You have ten or fifteen minutes to package them and return them to the freezer before they soften noticeably.

How to Blanch Vegetables

Blanching is a breeze. It involves cooking the vegetables only long enough that they heat through, and then rapidly cooling them to stop the cooking before their texture changes significantly.

To prepare vegetables for freezing, first wash off the dirt, discard the bad spots, and cut the vegetables into sizes you’ll want to cook later. Peas, I remove from the pods and leave whole. Beans, I snap into ¾ inch lengths… some people prefer to cut them rather than snap them.

Set a very large pot of water to boil. I use my canning pot filled about ¾ of its depth. Fill a second very large pot with cold water, and have some ice on hand to add to that water.

Fill a strainer or a steamer’s colander with prepared vegetable chunks, then plunge the strainer into the boiling water so that all the vegetables are in the water. This may stop the boiling, so cover the pot to help bring up its temperature.

I use my canning pot or a very large stock pot for cooking, and another for cooling when I blanch vegetables for freezing. The colander is an insert from a pasta-cooker, though I might just as well use a strainer. I used to let the vegetables float free in the cook-pot, but it took so long to fish them out that some were nearly totally cooked by the time I’d finish.

When the water starts boiling again, leave the vegetables cooking for three minutes. During this time, add ice to the pot of cold water. Then, at the end of three minutes, lift the strainer from the boiling water and submerge it in the cold water. Stir the vegetables around in the strainer to promote rapid cooling. In about three minutes, the vegetables should be at or below room temperature; remove them from the water and let them drain.

Put one-meal-sized portions of the blanched vegetables into freezer containers or bags, and toss them into your deep-freeze. If you can vacuum-seal the containers, your vegetables may keep well for 18 months, but even in a heavy-weight hermetically-sealed bag they should be acceptable for eating up to a year after you process them.

As with fruit, blanched vegetables tend to stick together when they freeze, resulting in a brick that may be hard to separate until it thaws. You can simplify your freezer space by freezing the vegetable parts individually, and storing them in much larger bags or containers.

Individually-Frozen Vegetables and Berries

Typical instructions for freezing fruits and vegetables result in large clumps of frozen-together stuff. Blanch beans, toss them in a bag, put them in your freezer, and soon you’ll have a brick of frozen beans. If you want to use a portion of the beans, you may need a hammer or an ice pick to break them free of the bean brick.

When last I froze wax beans, I ran out of waxed paper so I tried plastic wrap as pan-liners. I much prefer the waxed paper because it’s far more biodegradable than plastic. I had so many beans to freeze that I layered them in the pans: first wax paper, then beans, then paper, and then beans. This worked well, and let me double the amount of produce I could freeze in one night.

The same goes for fruits: Wash a quart of blueberries, put the berries in a bag, freeze them, and you’ll need to chip them apart when you want to use them.

You’re best off freezing packages of beans or berries in modest amounts—no more per bag than you’ll use for a single meal… unless you freeze the beans or berries individually. Here’s how I do it:

After washing berries or blanching beans (or peas or broccoli spears or cauliflower florets), drain them and then dump them onto a towel. Gently roll the fruits or vegetables around on the towel to remove as much moisture as you have patience for.

Then, line a jellyroll pan or a pizza pan with waxed paper (plastic wrap works as well) and cover the paper with produce only one layer deep. If you like, cover the produce with more waxed paper and put a second layer of beans or berries on that.

Place the uncovered pan of beans or berries in your freezer over night. Then, retrieve the pan (I actually do as many as four pans in a single freezing event), break the individual fruits or vegetables off of the waxed paper, and load a container with the frozen produce. Put the filled container back in your freezer.

When you freeze fruits and vegetables this way, you can grab a handful, a pint, or a quart as-needed without having to bust a clump loose from a frozen produce brick.

Why So Much Boiling Water?

You can blanch stuff in rather modest amounts of boiling water. However, when you plunge vegetables into the water, you rapidly lower the water’s temperature; it is likely to stop boiling. At low volumes, the water may take many minutes to heat back to boiling. If the size of your blanching pot is dramatically bigger than that of the strainer-full of vegetables you put into it, it may not stop boiling at all… but even if it does stop it remains much closer to the boiling point than a small volume of water would.

You’ll blanch more produce more quickly if you work with a large vat of boiling water.

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