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Monday, March 26, 2012

Free Food in Your Own Backyard

In the community where I grew up, most people foraged for food. My family, and all of our neighbors looked for spring food in our backyards, in the woods and along fencerows. Everyone knew morel mushrooms and wild asparagus. Wild greens were looked forward to and a point of discussion when neighbors met on the street corner. “I picked a mess of lambs’ quarters, dock, chickweed and violet leaves” was a common conversation starter in our town in spring.

Besides those plants there are lots of others, equally tasty. Violet leaves and flowers are edible (leaves in the greens pot, flowers for jelly). Tulip flowers make good “cups” for chicken salad on a plate. Red bud blossoms get tossed into spring salads. (The red bud is a cousin of the pea and if you like English peas, then you already know the flavor of red bud flowers). The red bud pods taste a bit like garden pea pods - just pick them when the pods are under an inch long, to be tender.

Red bud flowers work well in salads.

I still have kale in the garden that over-wintered. It’s now in flower and those are perfectly edible, along with the blooming stalks. Cornflowers, soon to be in bloom, can be added to salads. Dandelion greens are a favorite of many in the Ozarks (boil twice to remove the bitter, then add some butter or bacon crumbles) and the dandelion flowers make an outstanding wine.
Pansies go well in salads for some color.

Johnny Jump-ups and pansies are both colorful additions to a spring salad. The menfolk will grumble about flowers in their salad, but the women in the family will think they’re decorative. And flowers actually have flavor, as well! Sweet Williams flowers, for example, make an outstanding sorbet or jelly.
Lilacs make very tasty sorbet, ice cream and syrups.

Lilacs, too, are quite tasty. You can use the flowers, without the green parts, to make ice cream or sorbet. Lilac jelly and lilac pancake syrup are bit hits on the dinner table, as well. Plum blossoms, as well, are used the same way.
Roses in my rose cake. Recipes are in my book, How to Eat a Rose.

Roses of all kinds, as long as they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals (and not roses from a florist, which aren’t edible) are all tasty. Rose ice cream is a favorite flavor in India and you can easily make it yourself. Roses combine well with regular tea for a boost in flavor. Rose sorbet, rose jam, rose jelly and syrups are all easy to make. The more fragrant the rose, the better the flavor. Rose hips (the fruit of the rose) are also used for tea and jelly. (Lots of recipes are in my How to Eat a Rose book; also you'll find recipes on my Herb of the Year blog, too).
Roses in mint patch.

Be sure you know any of those flowers before you try eating them; consult a good book or on-line to be sure if you’re in doubt. Don’t eat flowers that aren’t listed as edible; for example, narcissus and daffodils are not edible.  But there are a lot of flowers that are edible and fun to eat.
Happy spring!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map 2012

New Plant Hardiness Zone Map for 2012

You may have noticed the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has revised the Plant Hardiness Zone Map this year, the first revision in a decade or more. The Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a particular location. The Map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperatures, which are divided into hardiness zones. For the first time, the Map is available as an interactive map accessible on your computer. You can view the map by state as well as type in your zip code to see the hardiness zone for your specific location. The drawback to the Map is the hardiness zones, based on minimum cold temperatures, do not take into account the summer heat levels, which can actually be more important information than the low temperatures are, to gardeners.

When I moved to the farm in 1979 I was fully in hardiness Zone 6. All of Southern Missouri was in that zone. Over time the weather patterns have changed. It wasn’t unusual to have -5 degrees F. here, or lower, in winter. That’s unusual now. The new USDA Map has southern Missouri now fully in Zone 6b, with the Bootheel in 7a. What that means for gardening is a number of plants that couldn’t survive our winters 30 years ago, will survive and grow now.

Figs, which I’ve written about many times here, are doing fine. Muscadines, that Southern version of a grape-relative, thrive in our newer climate. Herbs such as Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) won’t live in Zone 6, but are now fully hardy in my garden. This year, I even have lemongrass -  coming back again, having lived through our mild winter (although I don’t expect that every year).
American Horticulture Heat Zone Map

The Heat Zone Map was created under the direction of an acquaintance of mine, Dr. Marc Cathey, for the American Horticulture Society a few years ago. It is based completely on maximum summer heat temperatures for all regions of the U.S., just as the Cold Hardiness Map. It’s a good idea, when trying to figure out what plants will do well in your garden, to consult both the new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, for cold, as well as the AHS Heat Zone Map. The two maps give a good balance than either by itself.

I still think we may have a cold snap before our last frost date this year, but I’m just as convinced the earlier I can get my garden planted, the better the chance of success. If we have another summer like the past two, then an early spring garden, and a late fall garden will be more rewarding than expecting everything to produce in the summer.

Water standing in pathways on first day of Spring.

Sunlight on far hill after rains.

Visit my gardening blog for more information about gardens, what I'm growing and more.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Plant Some Goober Peas

You’re a Goober!

Ever wonder where that phrase comes from? It means common, ordinary, like a goober pea, also known as a peanut. We seldom hear the term, “goober” any more but that was once the common name for the peanut. Since peanuts and peanut butter prices continue to be on the high side, how about planting your own peanuts this  year?

You’ll need to buy peanut seed from a seed company, and the seed should still be in the shell in order to be fresh. Most peanuts require 120 to 140 days to mature from planting time. When you’re ready to plant the seed, remove the shell and plant 2-3 seeds in a pot indoors, about 3 or 4 weeks before the last date when frost is expected, to give the plants a head start. When the weather is warm enough, carefully transplant your peanuts to a prepared bed in the garden. Add a bit of lime to the soil as you are preparing it to keep the pH in balance. Be careful when transplanting so as to not disturb the roots. Plant the peanut plants about a foot apart in rows and thin to 1 plant per spot. Most people grow peanuts in hills or berns, but raised beds work well, too.
Ready for transplanting.

When the plants begin to bloom, they will put down what’s called, “pegs” from each flower. The pegs are like little rootlets that grow downward from the plant’s limbs into the soil, several per stem. Each peg will grow a peanut in the ground. Don’t cut those off and don’t till around the plant once the plant starts flowering. Each plant should produce from 30 to 50 peanuts per plant.

There are both vining and bush-type peanuts and most gardeners plant the “Virginia” or bush variety. If you have a lot of space, the vining types produce well, also. Those will take up about as much space as sweet potato vines. But most gardeners like the bush types to conserve space.

Water the plants like you would green beans or similar crops. When the peanuts are ready in the fall, the plant will begin to yellow and wilt. When that happens, pull up the entire plant and hang the plants in a warm, dry place for a couple of weeks to let the peanuts cure. You can pull the peanuts off the plant at that time and let them continue drying for another couple of weeks. They are then ready for roasting or boiling. Or you can leave the peanuts in their shells and keep in the refrigerator or freezer for about 6 months. You can make your own peanut butter or just eat them from the shell, after oven-roasting. If you grow a lot, you can store them raw, still in their shell, for about 3 months, in a well-ventilated place that is both dark and dry.

Several companies offer peanut seed. One is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Also Gurney’sBurpee and Local Harvest offer peanut seed.

You will find more facts and information at the Peanut Institute, too.

Quick & Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup butter or shortening
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup Truvia sugar substitute (made from the stevia plant)
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup favorite peanut butter
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup roasted peanuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cream shortening til fluffy. Gradually add sugar, mixing til creamy. Beat in eggs. Add peanut butter,  blending well. Add dry ingredients, mixing again. Shape dough into small teaspoon size balls and press flat with a fork on a cookie bake sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.