A Tall Glass of Garden Harvest

Every year, when late summer is at its peak, and autumn begins to peer around the corner, we are faced with an important question – what am I going to do with all of my excess garden harvest? And usually we answer that question by sharing with our families, friends, and neighbors, donating to a food bank, and making all sorts of culinary delights. However, what do we do when family, friends, and neighbors start barring the door when they see us coming with more zucchini, when the food banks are unable to take any more, and when we’ve had our fill of salads and zucchini bread? Well, I’d like to suggest another option of which you may not thought. How about creating beverages out of your garden harvest. What kinds of beverages? Allow me to elaborate.

Juices and non-alcoholic ciders– this is somewhat obvious, but also fairly easy to create. Juices can be extracted from your garden vegetables either by cooking the juices in filtered water, then straining out the fibrous plant material (juices), or by cold-pressing the vegetables in a screw-driven press (cider). Your juices and ciders will taste fresh, and best of all, you can serve them to your family with confidence, knowing that there are no potentially harmful preservatives.

Alcoholic ciders – this involves taking the juice you’ve extracted from your garden fruits and vegetables and putting it through a fermentation process. It requires an initial expense of equipment and ingredients, but it can be done, and it doesn’t require years of experience. You can purchase cider-making kits online that not only have all the equipment and ingredients in one package, but also come with detailed instructions.

Wine – what, you say? Wine? But isn’t wine made from grapes? Well yes, but not exclusively so. In ancient times, growing grapes was considered a luxury. But that didn’t stop those of lesser means from making wine. They simply made it from whatever they were growing in their gardens – herbs, garden fruits and vegetables, potatoes, berries, etc. How about a tomato wine? Or a crabapple wine? Or a mint wine? Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

Syrup – can be made in small quantities, can be made easily and quickly. They don’t require processing in a water bath or pressure canner, and have a fairly long shelf life.

Tea – why shell out big bucks for exotic teas made from foreign herbs and flowers when you can make your own tea from your own garden harvest for pennies? Take the money that you would normally spend on that exotic oolong tea and instead invest it in fertilizer, soil, and seeds, and grow your own bee balm, chamomile, red clover, mint, lemon balm, and many other plants, and create your own brand of tea. No muss, no fuss, great taste, potential health benefits, no unpronounceable additives, more money left over in your pocket – what’s not to love?

Making your own refreshing beverages from your garden fruits and vegetables adds many more options for how to use up that excess harvest. So give it a try!

The Intimate Gardener

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We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for our overall physical health. They provide all of the necessary nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and other as yet undiscovered food factors that our bodies need to survive and thrive. But fruits and vegetables are capable of much more than the mere enhancement of physical health. They also play a role in improving the intimate lives that we share with our romantic partners.

According to Cosmopolitan, these fruits and vegetables have some potential capability of acting as aphrodisiacs.

Maca – a vegetable root that dates back to the days of the Inca nation of what is now modern day Peru, it is been called Peru’s natural Viagra, and it is thought to have a positive effect on stamina, energy, fertility, and libido.

Pumpkin – And you thought they were just for pie and Halloween decorations. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of fiber and potassium, both of which can help improve stamina, and magnesium, which has a calming effect on muscles and nerves.

Celery – contains small quantities of androstenone, a male pheromone that can enhance male attractiveness

Garlic – contains high amounts of allicin, a substance that plays a role in increasing blood flow and overall cardiovascular health. Yes, I know it can sour the human breath, may I suggest that both you and your partner consume garlic together? That’s what you call détente.

Pine nuts – an excellent source of zinc phytochemicals, and other health oils, all elements that can stimulate male libido.

Ginsing – this ancient herb has been used to treat sexual dysfunction and enhance sexual behavior in traditional Chinese medical practices. According to an article in the scientific journal Spermogenisis, “data from animal studies have shown a positive correlation among ginseng, libido, and copulatory performances, and these effects have been confirmed in case-control studies in humans.”

Apples — a 2014 study suggested that consuming an apple a day resulted in better sexual quality of life for young women.

Saffron – Cleopatra supposedly bathed in saffron-infused milk for its aphrodisiac qualities. Scientific studies have also shown that saffron can increase sperm motility in infertile men and decrease the negative sexual side effects of some antidepressant drugs. Hmm, I wonder now just what Donovan meant when he sang, “I’m just mad about saffron..”

Hot peppers – Capsaicin, the substance that gives peppers their heat, stimulates nerve endings on the tongue. This, in turn, causes the body to pump out epinephrine (adrenaline), which then causes the release of endorphins, then pleasure-causing body biochemical. So eat a Carolina reaper if you want to please and keep her!

Figs – Figs are high in amino acids, which, in addition to being necessary building blocks for our bodies to produce needed proteins, can also increase libido and boost sexual stamina.

Asparagus – The high levels of Vitamin E in asparagus may play a role in increasing oxygen and blood flow to the genitals. Asparagus is also high in potassium, which can boost sex hormone production.

These are just a few of the many fruits and vegetables which can improve sexual health and be a bodacious boost for a bedroom bonanza. Best of all you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying them. If you and your sweetie consume pumpkin soup with celery sticks for an appetizer, an asparagus casserole for dinner, and apples and figs for dessert, and nothing special happens, you’ll still be eating nutritious food that will enhance overall health with no side effects. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than Viagra!

Preserve That Harvest

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You can taste a little of the summer
My grandma’s put it all in jars

― Greg Brown

Congratulations! Your garden has yielded a bountiful crop of fresh, nutrient-rich sweet, and crunchy fruits and vegetables. You’ve eaten as many fresh vegetables as you can and shared some of the rest with family, friends, and maybe even your local food pantry. But even so, you still have plenty left over. It would be a shame if it went to waste. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. There are ways that you can preserve these fruits and vegetables so that they can last throughout those bone-chilling winter months of cold, snow, and misery.

Canning – the process of using a combination of heat, acid, and salt to preserve fruits and vegetables in glass jars. Fruits and vegetables so preserved can last up to year in some instances.

Drying – the process of removing the moisture from foods, either through exposure to air, sunlight, or heat (either in your oven or a commercially-made dehydrator. Dried foods do not look as colorful and shiny as canned foods, but are still quite edible and contain more nutrients than do their canned counterparts. Note: before drying produce, it is important to blanch it first. Blanching is the process of heating food without cooking it. This step is important, because blanching inactivates the enzymes that cause food to spoil.

Freezing – the process of preserving food by storing in temperatures below zero, usually in a commercial freezer (not the freezer that comes with your refrigerator). While freezing does not stop the clock on food spoilage, it slows it down considerable by slowing the growth of microorganisms. Freezing is considered superior to all other methods of preservation in that the concentration of nutrients, as well as texture, color, and flavor is greater than that of food preserved by other preservation methods

Jams and jellies – Jams and jellies are the results of turning fruits, vegetables, and herbs into concentrated, sugar-rich spreads that can be added to toast, meats, or anything else your creative mind can think of.

Pickles, relishes, and chutneys – similar to canning, it’s the process of using heat, acid, salt, herbs, and spices to create spicy creations from your garden produce. While produce so preserved doesn’t exactly qualify as nutritious, they add a zing and a zest to more nutritious meals (think of a sandwich with a pickle on the side). As an aside, I have to give a shout-out to my friends Sue and Judy Lazar for the wonderful tomato chutney they make and for the fact that they always save a jar for me.

Vinegars and seasonings – Vinegar is made through the fermentation of fruit juices and grains. The combination of wine alcohol, oxygen, and acetobacters produce this tangy concoction that has been used throughout recorded history as a medicine, cosmetic, preservative, flavor-enhancer, cleanser, disinfectant, beverage, and digestive aid. You can combine a vinegar varieties such as balsamic, champagne, cider, malt, white rice, sherry, and wine with your own produce or herbs to create your own flavored vinegars.

Cold storage – placing produce in a cool dark environment (basement, window well, root cellar, etc.) with the proper amount of humidity to maintain as much as possible produce in its fresh form throughout the winter. This is probably the simplest form of food preservation.

So don’t let all that extra produce go to waste. Use one of the above methods to put it in a state where it will last through the winter. Then on those cold winter nights, you can pop open a jar, bottle, freezer pack, or cold-stored container to bring a little light of summer into an otherwise bleak season.

Be Thankful for the Results of Your Gardening Efforts

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When the calendar turns over to November, our thoughts naturally turn over to the holiday of Thanksgiving. We’re all familiar with some of the history of the holiday. The harvest celebration at Plymouth Rock that took place among the settlers and the Indians is considered to be the first Thanksgiving. President George Washington then proclaimed the holiday in 1789. It was then made a federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date to one week earlier to the second to last Thursday of the month, and eventually this was codified into law.

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays in which gifts are not needed. Just getting together with family and friends to celebrate out togetherness – laced, of course, with generous helpings of turkey, stuffing, and other delicious foods – is gift enough. And of course, in keeping with the nature of the holiday, we all try to think of things about which to be thankful.

As a gardener, you have much for which to give thanks.

Did you have a bountiful harvest with lots of fruits and vegetables which you ate fresh, canned, dried, or put into winter storage? Be thankful.
Did you successfully keep the critters and the insect pests from forcing you to share your harvest? Be thankful.
Were your fruit and vegetable plants free from disease? Be thankful.
Did you try some new cultivars this year that surprised you with their goodness? Be thankful, because you’ve expanded your tastes beyond the same old same old. Did those new cultivars disappoint? Be thankful, because now you know what doesn’t work in your garden.
Was your garden a complete failure? Be thankful, because at least you put forth the effort, and like the hopeful Chicago Cubs fan, you have your battle cry of “wait until next year.”

And just the fact that you got out in the fresh air and sunshine, stuck your hands in the dirt, and became one with the rhythms of nature adds up to a great deal for which to be thankful. You’re a gardener, and you have much to be proud of. So celebrate! Rejoice! And above all, give thanks!

It Ain’t Over ‘Til You See the White of the Frost

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By now, many of you are beginning to see the sun setting on the horizon of your gardening season. You’re beginning to think about (or perhaps have already started) harvesting the last of the fruits and vegetables, throwing away (or composting) the spent plants, enriching your soil with humus and compost, turning it all over and mixing it in, washing and putting away your tools, and calling it a season. And you can do that if you so desire. But gardening does not have to end just yet. There are still vegetables you can plant and get a final harvest before the frost sets in and the snow flies.

Remember the cool season crops you planted in the early spring? Well, guess what? They work equally well in the fall. Lettuce, spinach, brassicas (kale, mustard, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.), and root crops (parsnip, leek, rutabaga, salsify, etc.) can all be grown in the fall. And should a light frost occur, it will have little or no effect, because these plants can take it. Frost actually improves the flavor of kale and parsnips. In addition, some root crops can be left in the ground over the winter months. So if you have a sudden hankering for parsnip leek soup in mid-February, just go out to the garden, dig up some parsnips and leeks, and brew yourself a feast. Note: please do not announce to your household that you are going out in the garden to take a leek.

Remember, gardening does not have to come to a screeching halt come fall. There’s still some life left in the growing season. Why not make the most of it?

Support Your Local Farmers Market

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They show up every spring; they’re here through September or October; then they’re gone for the year. Nearly every town and city has one, and they are growing in popularity. I’m speaking, of course, about farmers markets, and, next to your own garden, they are one of the best sources of fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll find. In addition, you’ll find vendors that sell baked goods, meats, soaps, spices, eggs, and honey straight from the hive. Some even have live music provided by local talent.

 
Most farmers market vendors accept cash only as payment for their wares, but some will accept credit and debit cards. A few farmers markets are set up to accept food stamps and their equivalents — a wonderful way to provide good nutrition to lower income people.

 
But just as a movie theater needs butts in seats to survive, farmers markets need bodies in their booths to stay alive. So I encourage everyone to patronize their local farmers market. Yes, we should all plant our gardens and grow our own food. I encourage that; that’s what I’m all about. But a garden is merely a means to a goal — providing a consistent supply of fresh produce that hasn’t been tainted with potentially harmful chemicals. Farmers markets can be another means of helping you to reach that goal. Though you may have your own garden, your space for it is limited. As much as we may like to, we gardeners cannot grow everything. Furthermore, due to city ordinances, many of us cannot raise our own chickens or keep our own beehives. Farmers markets, with their wide array of fresh food offerings, can provide for us the items that we cannot produce for ourselves. And when you buy from a farmers market, you’re helping small family farm operations to stay in business.

 
So get yourself down to your local farmers market and avail yourself of all the wonderful fresh offerings. It’s good for you, good for your family, good for farmers, good for the economy, and good for America!

 
I’m The Garden Troubadour, and I approved this message!

What’s In It For Us?

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Fruits and vegetables. We grow them and we eat them. But why? The USDA says we should be consuming five or more servings per day. But what do they do for us — for our bodies? Why can’t we just forget about them and eat only hamburgers, brats, and bacon?

 
Allow me to state this as plainly and directly as possible. The reason why we eat fruits and vegetables is for the same reason why we eat most any kind of substance classified as food. Our bodies need specific elements in order to synthesize and renew the substances that act as building blocks for our bones, muscles, teeth, skin, hair, and vital organs. Without a constant supply of those essential elements, our bodies would eventually wither and die.

 
I’ll say it again. Without a constant re-stocking of the vital elements that come from the food we eat, we would die. Check out. Shuffle off this mortal coil. Purchase a one-way ticket on the graveyard express. Furthermore, this withering and dying will be slow, agonizing, and painful.

 
We eat meat, fish, eggs, and beans for protein. Our bodies break down this protein into amino acids, which our bodies then use to assemble muscles, tissues, hair, nails, skin, etc.

 
We also eat meat and fish, along with tree nuts, oilseeds, and dairy products for essential fats, which our bodies break down to fatty acids, then re-assemble into cell membranes and adipose tissue. It’s also essential as a source of stored energy, and as a mechanism for absorption for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

 
And fruits and vegetable? What do they provide?

  • First and most important, fruits and vegetables are a source of water, which is critical for essential biochemical functions too numerous to list here.
  • Fruits and vegetables are a source of many of the vitamins and minerals which act as co-enzymes within our physiology. Without these co-enzymes, our bodies would not be able to function.
  • Fruits and vegetables are sources of antioxidants which protect the body from cancer and other diseases and oxidant stress. They also boost the immune system to help our bodies fight off these diseases and stress should they gain a foothold and begin to propagate.
  • Lastly, fruits and vegetables are sources of non-starch polysaccharides, which are a type of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. This dietary fiber absorbs excess water from the colon, which allows for smooth and easy passage of fecal matter from the body, and prevents the development of conditions like chronic constipation, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and rectal fissures.

 

And no, you cannot get all of this from pills! Pills may provide the vitamins and minerals that are present in fruits and vegetables. But fruits and vegetables also contain many other as yet undiscovered nutritive factors which cannot be found in pills.

To maximize the nutritional benefit that we get from fruits and vegetables, we should consume those that are as fresh as possible. And there is nothing fresher than fruits and vegetables that you grow in your very own garden. Plus, they taste a whole lot better too.

That, my friends, is what’s in it for us.

So keep growing and eating those crunchy, delicious, mouth-watering fruits and vegetables. Grow them as if your life depended on it. Because it does.

Flowers Too Soon = Yield Too Little

You go to your local nursery or big box store and purchase some tomato plants. They’re healthy and strong, and oh look — they already have a few flowers on them or maybe even a a couple of baby tomatoes. Terrific, you think. They’re already starting to produce. What a great crop I’m going to have this year!

 
Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m gazing into my tomato crystal ball, and I see your future tomato crop consisting of exactly those few tomatoes you see today — and no more. But it’s not too late, my friend. You can change this dismal prediction. All you have to do is remove those few flowers and tomatoes.

Crystal Ball Gaze
“What,” you roar loudly, “are you mad!? Yank the few flowers and tomatoes off my babies? Then I won’t get anything!” On the contrary, oh ye of little faith. Removing those early flowers and fruits is the key to your bumper crop. Allow me to explain.

A plant’s main goal in life is to continue its species. So they will always put reproductive growth ahead of vegetative growth. Your tomato plants will put all their energy from their leaves into those few flowers and tomatoes that exist now. As a result you will get a few fruits on your plants.

The operative word here is “few” — as in few leaves and few tomatoes. Your small plants don’t really have a lot of leaves right now. That translates into very little energy to put into producing a few large tomatoes. Reproduction is stressful to a plant, and can take days or weeks to accomplish. A plant needs all the energy and time they can muster to succeed and not exhaust themselves in the process. A large plant has plenty of leaves, and thus has plenty of energy to put into tomatoes. A small plant, however, does not. Your tomatoes will waste the precious little time and energy it has to give you those few fruits. Picking them will then signal to the plant that it’s time to start producing vegetation again. But guess what? It’s now August. How much time does that plant have left to produce more leaves and more fruit? Mighty little!

Pulling of flowers and small fruits while the plant is still small, however, forces that plant to produce more vegetation. Then when the plant is bigger, it will have all the vegetation and energy it needs to produce that bumper crop. And that’s what you’ve been looking for!

 
I know it sounds counterproductive, but sacrificing a few flowers now, will lead to more tomatoes later. So go ahead! Pull those flowers off of those tomato youngsters! You’ll thank me for it later!

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