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dill

volunteer dill seedlings

In 2007 I bought Mammoth Dill seeds and scattered them in a three-foot space in my garden. The plants thrived and three years later, the great grandchildren of those seeds emerged with weeds in early spring. I’ve had “volunteer” dill plants every growing season since that fateful first planting.

Dill is one of the most distinctive herbs you’re likely to grow. Many herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, fennel, sage, and cilantro contribute to flavor combinations more often than they stand on their own. Consider packaged seasoning mixes labeled Italian Seasoning and Poultry Seasoning—both distinctive for the combinations of herbs they contain. Cilantro often punctuates heavily seasoned Mexican dishes and Indian curries.

It’s less common for a recipe to combine dill with other herbs. Rather, potato salad, salad dressings, marinades, and soups feature dill; instead of blending, it becomes a prominent flavor in the dishes it seasons.

Dill is one of the easiest food plants you might ever try to grow. In fact, it’s so hardy and eager that after the first season you plant it, it may appear year after year in your garden and you won’t need to plant it again.

Photo captions provide more information. You can grow that!

dill plant

Maturing dill plants resemble nothing else I grow in my home kitchen garden. To me their stems look vaguely similar to bamboo while their leaves are more like ferns. A Mammoth Dill plant can grow four or five feet tall.

flowering dill plant

A dill plant puts up one main flower head comprised of dozens of tiny florets. Given time, the plant may produce all kinds of additional flower heads. Many dill pickle recipes call for you to add a full head to each pickle jar—you can use a head in full bloom, one that is just budding, or one at any stage in between.

dill plant gone to seed

When a dill plant finishes putting out seed heads, the plant dies and the seeds dry. This head has already dropped quite a few seeds and the ones remaining would be adequate to start a small dill plantation. The dozen or so other heads on the plant also dropped seeds. Dill seeds sprout when they’re damp; they don’t care if there’s soil covering them. They don’t wait for warm weather. They are among the first things to sprout (along with weeds) in spring. If you’re just starting to garden and you want to build confidence, plant dill. You can grow that.

Find More You Can Grow That Blogs

You Can Grow That is a celebration of gardening. Find other participating blogs at the website, www.youcangrowthat.com.

 

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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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Most of the leaves in this photo belong to young, volunteer cilantro plants in my home kitchen garden. These sprouted about where last year’s main cilantro patch stood, but there are cilantro volunteers scattered through about two-thirds of my vegetable bed.

My home kitchen garden likes to give me surprise gifts. Most of those, I’d rather not receive; my garden isn’t very imaginative and it tends to give me the same presents year-after-year: dandelions, thistle, and a host of other plants I can’t name and I don’t want. I call them weeds.

But other surprise gifts my garden gives me provide a lot of pleasure. These are plants that grow from seeds left behind by last year’s vegetable crop: volunteers. There is only one significant difference between a volunteer and a weed: You would never intentionally try to grow a plant you think of as a weed in your garden. A volunteer is a plant you would grow intentionally, but it’s growing in a place of its own choosing rather than where you planted it.

I’ve spotted dozens of volunteer tomato plants in my home kitchen garden. While they’re likely to produce mediocre tomatoes at best, I’ll let them grow as long as they don’t interfere with the goodies I planted this season.

Stand up to Volunteer

In past years, I’ve had decorative gourds and pumpkins grow as volunteers in my home kitchen garden. I’ve also had tomatoes, peas, beans, cilantro, and dill weed start unexpectedly from seeds left by the previous seasons’ plants. In fact, I planted cherry tomatoes one year, and harvested little red gems three years in a row—the last two years from volunteer plants.

Volunteers start where seeds fall, or where they end up after spring tilling. For me, these locations are rarely convenient. On the other hand, volunteers amuse me enough that I try to work around them. If I weed my garden, I avoid the volunteers. And, if they don’t overshadow or crowd this year’s crops, I let them grow to maturity.

So far this year, I’ve identified volunteer cilantro, dill weed, and tomatoes scattered among my peas, lettuce, spinach, and onions. The dill weed and some cilantro are in particularly convenient places. The tomatoes aren’t so convenient.

I’ll let most volunteers grow, but I don’t have much enthusiasm for the tomatoes. Last year, I planted from flats bought at a garden store. All the varieties were hybrids meaning they’re crosses between two other varieties of plants.

This is not a stand of volunteer dill weed plants. However, I harvested seeds from a volunteer dill plant two seasons ago and planted them last season. The resulting plants were dramatically more robust than the original dill I’d grown from commercial seeds four seasons earier. This year’s volunteer dill sprouts represent a fourth season of dill grown entirely from descendants of those commercial seeds.

Seeds from hybrid plants may not grow at all. When they do grow, they may not produce fruit. If they do produce fruit, it most certainly won’t be the same quality as the hybrid fruit from which the seeds came. But you never know until you try. So, I’ll let the volunteer tomatoes grow and, unless they become a major inconvenience, I’ll see whether they produce decent fruit.

Volunteers Outside My Kitchen Garden

If volunteers in my garden’s planting bed don’t provide enough entertainment, I have a convenient fallback: my compost heap. Through the growing season, it receives damaged and rotting tomatoes, dead and drying herbs and pea plants, and a gallon or so of pumpkin guts. Usually, some of the seeds in all of that take root and I work around the plants. One season, the heap disappeared under the leaves of some large pumpkin vines and I eventually harvested several carving pumpkins.

Garden and compost volunteers are amusing, and sometimes rewarding. I look forward to seeing what pops up in my garden; it’s a little bit like having Christmas morning in mid-spring.

 

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A late planting of lettuce and dill are all that remain viable in my home kitchen garden after two frosts. This bouqet of dill contributed to my first batch of pickled vegetables.

If you’re in hardiness zone 5, 6, or 7, your home kitchen garden is running out of time. Mine, in hardiness zone 5b (or 6a or b depending on whose map you consult), has seen two nights of frost nearly two weeks apart. It hasn’t been enough to kill of the cool weather plants, but their days are numbered.

The most dramatic crop left in my home kitchen garden is a two-foot row of dill weed that I planted from seed in August; it’s now more than knee high, and is as beautifully wispy green as anything I’ve ever grown.

My wife has always wanted fresh dill to make potato salad, but for five years my home kitchen garden hasn’t obliged (see box: Dill Weed Wonder). Finally, I have a gorgeous profusion of the stuff, and she’s no longer in charge of the kitchen; I’m the resident cook, and I don’t use dill in my potato salad.

So, given this awesome patch of fresh dill standing stalwart against the frost, what was I going to do? Make pickles!

Home Kitchen Garden Pickle Planning

I’ve never made pickles, but I’m pretty confident when it comes to cooking and food-preservation. I can a lot of jams, jellies, and tomato sauce, and have canned pears, peaches, and fruit salad. Oh, and I’ve made and canned ketchup and chili sauce (mom had a recipe for chili sauce that I **need** when I make meatloaf). So, while I’ve never made pickles, I figured I could handle the job if I tried.

I Googled pickle recipes. Not surprisingly, the words pickle and recipes appear together on more than 300,000 web pages. I must have speed-read three dozen of those pages, and it became clear: there’s no right way to make pickles.

Dill Weed Wonder

Dill has been the problem child of my home kitchen garden. I planted some years ago at my wife’s request, and only one or two plants grew–not enough to hold my attention. The next year, I planted dill from commercial seeds and got similar results. This time, I ignored the few plants and let them do their thing. Apparently, their thing was seeding because the next year I had a couple of volunteer dill weed plants in my garden.

Still, there wasn’t enough dill to be useful, so I ignored it again. This season, I had a few more volunteer plants in my garden–never enough for my wife’s potato salad, but always enough to make seeds for the next season’s volunteers. The dill plants matured by late spring and went to seed. In August, I harvested two large hands full of seeds, stored some in an envelope on my desk, and planted a two foot row in my garden with the others. Mother load!

It seems that every seed in the August planting sprouted and is maturing. I have a thick, low hedge of dill; enough to make many gallons of dill pickles and potato salad to last the winter.

I don’t know whether packaging and shipping dill seeds somehow weakens them, or I just got unlucky for a few years planting commercial seeds. But given my drothers, I’ll always start my dill planting from home-grown seeds.

The most bizarre page I read offered instructions for Pickling Cukes in a Jiffy. Step 1 of the procedure was to soak cucumbers in salt water for 12 hours. Had all other pickling recipes demanded 48 hours of soaking, 12 hours would have been a jiffy. But many recipes simply instructed me to put pickles in jars, cover them with brine, and can them in a boiling water bath.

Between seasonalchef.com, Strub Pickles, Cooking Cache, The Self Sufficient Urbanite, and others, I “made up” a recipe; a kind of average of what so many of them instructed.

How I Made Pickles

I had a giant head of cauliflower, a more modest head of broccoli, a pile of carrots, a few cucumbers, a quart of small hot peppers, and a very large onion that I wanted to pickle. I buy such a mix of pickled vegetables about once a month when I make sweet-and-sour meatballs; I get the sweet from canned pineapple, and the sour from the pickled vegetables. By pickling the vegetables myself, I figured to reduce the cost of making sweet-and-sour meatballs.

Here’s the basic procedure:

I peeled three very large carrots as well as one very large onion. I cut the stems off the peppers, cut the peppers into thirds (making two rings and a thimble), and scraped as many seeds as I could from each section. Then I cut the carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, and onion into bite-sized pieces.

Broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, and onions cut into bite-sized pieces made up the mix of vegetables I pickled to use later when I make sweet-and-sour meatballs.

I heated five quart-sized canning jars and three pint-sized jars in a boiling-water-bath canning pot.

I mixed brine using the following proportions:

  • 1 unit of canning salt (salt without iodine apparently makes a clear brine)
  • 4 units of white vinegar
  • 8 units of water

Because I didn’t know how many jars I’d fill or how much brine each jar would require, I wanted a simple formula that would scale easily should I need to mix a second batch. The first pot of brine contained 1/2 cup of canning salt, 2 cups of white vinegar, and 4 cups of water. I heated the brine to boiling, then cut the heat but kept the cover on the pot.

I put a teaspoon of pickling spice in each jar, and then two sprigs of dill.

I filled each (hot) jar with mixed vegetables to about ¾ inch of the top… fitting chunks closely to fill as much of the space as I could.

A jar of freshly pickled vegetables catches the morning sun on my dining room table.

I poured enough (hot) brine into each jar to cover the vegetables—to about ½ inch of the top of the jar. I ran out of brine before I ran out of vegetables, so I mixed and heated a second batch; the same amount as the first batch.

I covered each jar with a canning lid and band, and boiled the jars—20 minutes for the quarts, and 15 minutes for the pints.

The Pickle Verdict

Some pickling instructions say to wait four or more weeks before opening a jar. Some say the pickles are ready when the jars are cool. I’m not always patient, so I opened a jar after it cooled.

I’m pleased. The pickles are a little saltier than I’d like, but that’ll work OK when I cook them in the sweet-and-sour sauce. Also, the pickling spice imparted a delightful flavor that I associate more with sweet pickles than with dills… but it’s a nice touch and if it holds up in the sweet-and-sour sauce it should complement the other flavors there.

Economy of my Home Kitchen Garden

I added up my costs of pickling vegetables using prices from my grocery store and the local farmers’ market:

  • Carrots $0.80
  • Broccoli $1.50
  • Cauliflower $2.00
  • Onion $0.33
  • Peppers $2.00
  • Vinegar $1.30
  • Salt $1.12 (but after I bought pickling salt, I found it at another store for half the cost)
  • Spice $1.18 (very low price at a local whole foods store)
  • Canning lids $1.79
  • Fresh dill (didn’t price it, sorry)

I already had canning jars, but if you have to buy them, you’ll pay about $10. They’ll come with lids, so for the cost analysis, we’ll say they cost $8.

The grand total, then, was just over $20. For that, I canned 16 pints of pickled vegetables. The same pickles would cost at least $76 at the farmers’ market (I’m pretty sure it’s more; I’m always taken aback when the pickle dude tells me how much he charges). So, making my own year’s supply of pickles has saved close to $56, and it has provided a fine adventure to share.

I’ll prepare a more detailed, illustrated, step-by-step guide to making pickled vegetables for an upcoming post. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more, please consider the following articles:

  • Pickle Recipes – Last week Meadowlark asked for some recipes in this post. I’m not feeling up to writing up a whole ton of recipes so I cut and pasted some pickle recipes I sent to Erikka in August. Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles 17ish pounds Cucumbers …

  • Spicy Pickle Recipe – Carrot Pickle Recipe – Carrot pickle recipe ingredients:. 2 kilograms carrots, shredded; 100 grams chili peppers, chopped; 1 big garlic bulb, cleaned and minced; 400 ml oil; 2 tablespoons salt; 1 tablespoon sugar; 2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped …

  • Pickle recipes :: Indian Pickle recipes – Amla Pickle Beetroot Pickle Cabbage Pickle Capsicum Pickle Carrot Pickle Cauliflower Pickle Garlic Pickle Lemon Pickle Lime Pickle Mango Pickle Tindora Pickle.

  • CSA Newsletter: Week 21- October 6, 2008 – Both of these pickle recipes are delicious with plain while rice. Dried Dill. Divide your bunch into 2 or 3 smaller bunches and hang inside of a small paper bag. Use a rubber band to cinch the dill stems at the opening of the paper bag. …

  • Pickling How-To – These days, almost all store bought pickles and contemporary pickle recipes are vinegar-based. Lacto-fermented pickles contain no vinegar at all. In lacto-fermentation, salt is added to vegetables, either by covering them in salty water …

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