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tomatoes

uncooked mincemeat from my Home Kitchen Garden

A pot of diced green tomatoes and apples with raisins and a chopped orange, spices, brown sugar, and vinegar will thicken into mincemeat as it simmers for about three hours.

Frost has finished off my home kitchen garden, and that’s OK. I was really tired of tomatoes after a prolific season, but I was still silly enough to collect the green tomatoes that remained after the plants died.

Those green tomatoes, and about two dozen apples from my tree languished in bowls for weeks until this weekend past when I finally got around to making mincemeat. With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, and expecting a small group of college students hailing from around the world, I thought a traditional mincemeat pie would be in order.

Green Tomato Mincemeat

Actually, traditional mincemeat pie contains meat and suet (fat). I’ve never liked the stuff, but can tolerate it. Several of our guests this year are vegetarians. They won’t eat the turkey or the stuffing I cook in the turkey, and they most definitely would not eat traditional mincemeat.

cooked mincemeat from my Home Kitchen Garden

This mincemeat has simmered for three hours and twenty minutes. While hot, it’s a bit runny, but as it cools it will thicken just like jam and preserves. A pie shell will hold about a quart of mincemeat, so I pack it into one-quart mason jars and cook it for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you’re about to make pie, let the mincemeat cool before filling a raw pie shell with it. Add a full top crust, and bake at 400F degrees until the top crust is golden brown – about 30 to 40 minutes.

Fortunately, green tomato mincemeat actually tastes good. Some recipes suggest that you add suet when you make it, but thank goodness you get an excellent product when you use only tomatoes and other fruits. I made a video that shows how to assemble the mincemeat and to can it. You don’t need to can the mincemeat if you’re going to use it right away; store it in the refrigerator for up to a week, and use about a quart to fill a pie shell.

Mincemeat Worth the Effort

As I said: I’ve never been a fan of mincemeat. I’m a fan of this stuff. I’ve actually filled a small bowl with it and snacked on it happily at my desk. I’m looking forward to having a slice of pie on Thanksgiving. Prepping the fruits for the mincemeat could take about an hour, and cooking takes another three to three-and-a-half hours. Canning, if you heat the water in the canning pot as your mincemeat finishes cooking, adds another 20 to 30 minutes to the cooking time (process filled jars for 20 minutes).

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make your own green tomato mincemeat:

  • 3 ½ lbs green tomatoes
  • 3 ½ lbs apples
  • ½ lb or more of dried blueberries (Optional. I had some I wanted to use up.)
  • 2 lbs raisins
  • 1 seedless orange
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 lbs brown sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar

The video runs just over 6 ½ minutes. If you make up a batch, please let me know how it comes out:

 

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basil blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Opening once again with basil blossoms! My porch basil started flowering over two months ago. This is a small habit plant intended for container gardening, and I’m done with it. The plants were tiny, the leaves ridiculously small, and I’ve had way more satisfying results planting regular old basil plants in containers. Even a standard-sized plant, stunted, provides a better yield than the container basil did. Still… pretty flowers.

Yikes! Summer blew through my home kitchen garden while I was writing a book about preserving produce. The book is on its way to the printer, and I’m still getting a grip on the blogging I failed to do.

Here it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in October, and I’ve been preparing blog posts about what went on in April and May. Despite the book-writing distraction, I did plant a kitchen garden—in fact, I expanded my garden this year. And, while we had our first frost two nights ago, even the basil survived in relatively decent shape; much still grows out there, and there are flowers… though my photos for this bloom day show little different from the past two Bloom Days.

It doesn’t matter! There are flowers in my home kitchen garden, they’re beautiful, and I shot them. Please enjoy.

 

late season broccoli in a home kitchen garden

The broccoli I started from seed indoors last February produced poorly at first, but it eventually put up side shoots and other growth that extended some plants as tall as eight feet. The floret production was too sporadic to keep my interest, so I’ll be trying a new variety of broccoli next season. Flowers from the unharvested side shoots attracted all kinds of interesting insects from July through today (notice the cluster of insects on the left side of the main stalk; I don’t know what they are, but they weren’t particularly energetic on this 48 degree day.)

 

cilantro blossoms in a home kitchen garden

A small stand of cilantro has just started flowering, so it’s not likely to produce seeds before cold stops it. I’ll be curious to see whether the plants overwinter and try to produce seeds next spring; I’ve had younger plants over winter very well, but I’ve never had mature and growing cilantro plants at the start of winter.

 

dill blossoms in a home kitchen garden

There’s dill in every stage of growth in my home kitchen garden. The stems, leaves, and flowers look exotic to me, but having such fine-textured leaves and flowers, they are challenging to capture well in photographs. Several giant dill heads already dumped thousands of seeds in the garden, so I doubt I’ll need to plant this herb in the spring.

 

neck pumpkin blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Several overly-optimistic plants simply don’t understand what all the recent cold means. The neck pumpkin plants put on a secondary growth spurt, and there have been nearly a dozen new fruiting flowers. This one almost certainly wasn’t pollinated: no insects flitted about in the cold as I was taking pictures today. It seems pointless for me to pollinate the flower manually as any fruit that sets now will just freeze and die within three weeks.

 

chili pepper blossom in a home kitchen garden

Many of my pepper plants continue to flower, and examining them reminded me that I need to harvest the ripe peppers before we get serious frost. I’ve delayed because peppers keep very well on the plants; they may be full-sized and ready to eat green in July or August, but they can continue to ripen for months until you’re ready to use them.

 

tomato blossom in a home kitchen garden

Even the tomatoes continue to try to make fruit. I’m guessing, but I believe I’ve handled over 400 pounds of tomatoes this season. At peak, I harvested an average of 15 pounds per day. Even now I’ve 30 pounds of ripe tomatoes awaiting attention on my dining room table, and there may be 15 to 20 pounds still on the vines. Thank goodness today’s flowers have no chance of producing viable fruit before a killing frost shuts them down.

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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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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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I built a sandbox when my oldest child was three-and-a-half years old. He’s now 16, and no one has played in the sandbox for at least five years. While it’s close to the playset, it gets plenty of sunlight and will make a terrific planting bed for tomatoes.

When I was young, my dad managed our family’s home kitchen garden. It consisted of four rhubarb plants in the back corner of the yard, a small stand of chives near the outside stairway to the basement, and a bed of strawberries along the driveway. Everything else my parents gardened was ornamental: perennial tulips, peonies, roses, and lilacs, and annual marigolds, pansies, and whatever struck my mother’s fancy.

Then my brothers and I outgrew the sandbox and we discovered my dad’s passion for tomatoes. He carted garbage cans full of horse manure to the sandbox, mixed the manure with the sand, and planted tomatoes. High on horse manure, the plants grew tall, tomatoes grew large, and I staged many rebellions against the disgusting fruits my father harvested. (I genuinely despised tomatoes.)

My Kids’ Sandbox

Fourteen years after leaving home, I settled in central Pennsylvania. Being on the road nearly constantly, I knew I wouldn’t have time to tend a garden, but regardless, I bought a flat of tomato plants and set them in the existing garden bed. I’ve grown tomatoes every season since. In those years, I doubled the size of the garden, and squeezed many vegetables in around the obligatory tomato plants.

I also built a sandbox. For years, my kids made towers and tunnels in the sand, but eventually they abandoned it for other pursuits. Soon, weeds grew and the box itself rotted and collapsed. Now it sits next to the play set, gradually evolving into a climax community forest.

Sandbox Tomatoes

It’s my turn to repurpose a sandbox, echoing my dad’s project of some 40 years ago. I had hoped to do this last weekend, but the weather didn’t cooperate. So, at my first opportunity, I’ll take on the job. Here’s what I’m planning to do:

These tomato plant babies started about three weeks ago from seeds in my basement. They’ll soon be residents of the sandbox.

  • Remove the rotted box and the kids’ debris from the sandbox. There are toys lying on the sand, and probably several buried in it. I’ll extricate whatever I can find.
  • Pull (or excavate) the weeds, trees, and other plants that have moved into the sandbox.
  • Cover the sand with about six inches of horse manure. My daughter takes riding lessons and the stable owners are amenable to me carting away garbage cans full of manure.
  • Turn the manure over into the sand. I’ll try to mix the sand and manure well, but the most I’m willing to work is to jam a shovel deep through the manure into the sand, leverage out a shovel-full, and turn the shovel over so manure ends up under sand.
  • Rake the planting bed smooth.
  • Plant tomatoes
  • Set stakes to which I can tie plants as they grow.

Repurpose Your Sandbox

If you have an old sandbox that you want to incorporate into your home kitchen garden, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • A molded plastic sandbox will become a mud-pit in times of heavy rain. Tomatoes don’t want to live in mud. So, drill holes through the bottom if your sandbox doesn’t have drainage holes.
  • Tomatoes grow deep roots, so top up the sand in the box, but leave room to add lots of humus. Combined sand and humus should be **at least** 12 inches deep—or as close to it as your sandbox allows.
  • If your sandbox has rotted away as mine has, consider building a new retaining wall around the sand when you remove the rotted wood. Working the sand and added humus with a shovel and rake will encourage it to spread if there’s no barrier to hold it in place.
  • You don’t have to grow tomatoes. A repurposed sandbox is fine for any vegetables.
  • Monitor moisture in your converted sandbox. Chances are the sandy planting mixture will drain more quickly than other garden beds, and you may need to water it more frequently.

 

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