Monday, May 28, 2012

A Terrible Tomato Terror

Common Name: Tobacco Hornworm
Scientific Name: Manduca sexta

I've been watching very diligently for this critter to show itself, and sure enough this morning I found evidence of his arrival. The Tobacco Hornworm is often confused with, and more often incorrectly called, a Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata).
The Tobacco Hornworm is a pest of tomatoes , as is the Tomato Hornworm, and can do significant damage to your plants in just one night.The caterpillars of both species are green, but that's only one similarity.

Our caterpillar pictured here has diagonal white and black stripes, where Tomato Hornworm has yellow horizontal "V" markings on their sides.

Evidence of damage is leaf stripping. DON'T look for any other kind of damage. They also leave evidence of their poop pellets on leaves that aren't yet eaten.

Typical behavior is that this caterpillar rests on the undersides of leaves, so start looking there.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Make Dilled Pickles (Fresh Pak)

Today was the perfect day for canning, so I went out to the garden and harvested about 18 pounds of pickling cucumbers and 14 really nice dill weed stems from the vegetable garden and got busy.

I started off by cleaning the cucumbers and slicing off the flower end and stem too.
Once washed, I sliced them in half and placed them into a large container.
These cucumbers were not treated in any kind of brine prior to placing them into jars. This is a fresh pak method and does not require pre-treatment of any kind.

After my jars and lids were washed and sterilized, I filled the hot jars with the halves and set them aside. Each jar got a sprig of dill weed and one tablespoon of minced garlic. I used 1/8 of a teaspoon of “Pickle Crisp,” and then filled each jar with the brine recipe listed below.

With all of the air bubbles worked out and the jar tops wiped off, I covered each jar with a lid and band, just hand tight. Into the hot water bath canner they went for 15 minutes.

Once processed, I pulled them out to cool for 24 hours before I labeled them and put them into the pantry.

The following recipe is for 16 lbs. of pickling cucumbers, making 14 quarts. You can do the math to reduce, or increase if necessary.
2 quarts of water
2 quarts of white vinegar
6 tablespoons of pickling spice
1 and ½ cups of sugar
1 cup of pickling salt
One large sprig of dill weed per quart jar
1 tablespoon of minced garlic per quart jar
1/8 teaspoon of Pickle Crisp
Here’s the result of this recipe:

If you do not have canning equipment, here is a “starter canning kit” link. It’s a great kit. I started out with it and it has proven to be a great purchase.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to Grow Pumpkins

Whether you grow pumpkins for Halloween or for eating at Thanksgiving or to can up for the pantry, they are fun to grow. It’s even more fun to see the eyes of a child grow bigger than the pumpkins themselves when they first see them in the vegetable garden.

Knowing how to grow them doesn’t take any special skills, except that you should follow a few simple guidelines to insure that your harvest is the best possible crop. Here’s a short list of tips you can use to grow great pumpkins:

Start off with healthy soil. Add lots of compost to your pumpkin growing bed. Amend your soil well enough to allow for excellent drainage.

Make the bed, or area, as big as you possibly can, as the plants are known to sprawl anywhere they want to go.

Plant at least 3 seeds to each hill at least three feet in diameter. Each hill needs to be at least 8 feet apart. Once your seeds germinate, thin out all but the strongest of the three plants.
Water is very important to a pumpkin, so be very liberal in your watering practices. Make sure your pumpkin patch gets much more than the normal one inch per week standard for the other vegetables.

**Watering should never be done by overhead sprinklers, as this will wet the leaves and cause the potential for mildews and other diseases.

When plants are no more than three feet in diameter and the plant begins to send out vines with tendrils that help to stabilize the vines, cover the entire growing area with wheat straw mulch. If available, use a quality mulch that will be easy on the bottom of your pumpkins and decompose readily at the end of the growing season.

Pumpkins are a very hungry plant and along with proper watering practices, you should fertilize once at four weeks of growth and then every four weeks after that during the growing season. 

If you start with great soil and continue to keep the soil fertile by adding compost during the plants growth stages, you will certainly have great success. Use a quality vegetable fertilizer and water into the soil after you've applied.
Insects that can cause a reduced yield or even a complete loss of your entire crop are similar to insects that affect other squash. Squash Vine Borer, Squash Bug, Spotted Cucumber Beetle, Leaf Miners and Grasshoppers are just a few that can devastate a pumpkin patch. 

Be on the lookout for these pests every day and treat according to the label of your material of choice. Hand picking insects is always a good method of control depending on how big your patch is. 

A variety of quality dust or liquid control measures are available to the home gardener, so make sure that the insect you are trying to control and the plant that the insect is on, are on the label. Please read the label of any product you use to treat and control insects. 

It is very important for you to be safe while you are applying a pesticide. Harvesting is quite simple, and the most fun part of growing pumpkins. Typically a pumpkin plants leaf growth will die back showing you the squash that have been patiently waiting for harvest. The skin must be hardened off to the point that it will take some pressure from your thumbnail to break the skin. 

When cutting a pumpkin away from the vine, leave at least three to four inches of vine attached at the top of the squash. This will help in regard to storage in a cool dark place. Once you've harvested all of your pumpkins, clear the patch by removing all of the old plants and take them to your compost pile.
Pumpkins have traditionally been used as Jack O’ Lanterns at fall festivals and Halloween, on the Thanksgiving table in the form of pumpkin breads and pies and on cold winter afternoons as pumpkin soups and stews.

The seeds are also edible after being dried out. Some people will season them with sugars and cinnamon or herbal mixtures to spice them up. Since I raise rabbits, I feed them plain seeds as a treat to their pellet diet.

And, as long as the pumpkin you’ve grown this time is not a hybrid variety, save some of the seed for next year’s patch.

No matter how you like to eat pumpkins, you’ll certainly love to grow them year after year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Make Bread and Butter Pickles

Enjoy the cool sweet flavor of Bread and Butter pickles on everything from hot dogs to salads or just eat them alone. This sweet summertime sensation is sure to bring back memories of family picnics and at home cookouts. Always use the freshest cucumbers that you can find. It’s best to harvest them from your own garden. If you don’t have a garden, the next best choice for purchasing them would be from a farmers market. Always ask the grower when they were harvested. Purchase a little more than the recipe calls for to be sure you have enough. You don’t want to be left short.
Clean the cucumbers and cut off the blossom end. This end carries some proteins that may help to cause spoilage. You only need to remove about 1/16 of an inch from the bottom end of the cucumber. You can use a hot water bath canner for this process. Ample canning supplies can be found by clicking here. The preparation time to get the cucumbers ready for processing is going to be at least 3 hours prior to canning.
Follow these preparation instructions: Place 8 pounds of ¼ inch sliced cucumbers, 3 pounds of thinly sliced onions and ½ cup of pickling salt in a very large container. Put a layer of cucumbers, then salt, then onions. Repeat this process until you’ve used all of your cucumbers, onions and salt. Cover the entire container with ice. Let this stand for at least 2 hours. Drain and rinse twice after the 2 hours. Please read the entire recipe by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Grow Carrots

Every vegetable garden should grow at least one variety of carrots. Once you’ve grown them, I’m certain you’ll be hooked. I grew a row of 10 carrots wide by 25 feet long.

That’s a lot of carrots and to my surprise, although I have a bunny running around the garden at night, not one of the carrots was destroyed! I will admit that a few of the leaves were eaten, but no digging or other damage.

I started all of my carrots by seed, and yes it is a little tough planting all of those tiny seeds, but the benefits were quite obviously worth the trouble. 

I prepared the soil with plenty of compost and raised the bed up to as high as 18 inches. I planted in a row three feet wide, which equaled to a thinned row of ten carrots per row. 

I also planted each row three inches apart, so, my calculations tell me that at harvest time, barring any lose to rabbits, insects and diseases; I could easily harvest 1,000 carrots…That’s a lot of rabbit food.
After the seed germinated, I thinned the plants to three inches apart. I then spent the next several weeks watching them grow. 

Carrots have a beautiful, fernlike top, so it was a pleasure watching them wave in our Texas breezes. I checked them daily as they grew, and enjoyed the growth spurts after a wonderful rain, or after fertilizing.
Because I planted early, I had very little problem with pests. Right as I began to harvest some of them, I noticed some small grasshoppers starting to get interested in the tops. 

While harvesting, I noticed a caterpillar starting to munch. This caterpillar was so very small, that I could not really tell what it was, and quite honestly at this point I did not care.
I processed the carrots by cutting off the tops. Those tops immediately went back into the compost pile. I then cleaned them and did any necessary additional trimming. I put them on ice and made a plan for canning them.
Once I found a good recipe, I broke out the canning gear and got busy in the kitchen. 16 pints later and I have a great feeling of accomplishment. To know that I can feed my family by the planning and hard work put into my vegetable garden just makes me feel really good.

I hope you are having some of the same successes as I am having. Please feel free to join us on my Facebook page, where I hope you will come and participate by asking questions, and posting your photos.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Canning Homemade Salsa

With fresh homegrown tomatoes from your garden, why not try canning your own homemade salsa? Using fresh tomatoes and other fresh vegetables like onions, jalapeno peppers, garlic and fresh cilantro, you are certain to produce a great tasting, ready for a Saturday afternoon chips and salsa fest out by the swimming pool.

This recipe is very simple and takes just a short time to cook like most other hot water bath canning methods. Since tomatoes already have a lot of acid in them, the use of similar amounts of vinegar as you would use in preparing pickles is not necessary. You’ll see that this recipe calls for only 1 ½ cup of cider vinegar to produce 4 quarts of finished salsa.
Follow all of the normal hot water bath canning preparations, getting all of the necessary tools at the ready. Sterilize all of your jars, lids and bands. Bring your canning pot of water to just under a boil. When you have filled your jars with the hot salsa mixture, seal the jars with your hot lids and bands and process (boil) for 15 minutes. Pull jars from the canner and let stand for at least 12 hours prior to putting them up in the pantry. Make sure the lids have been sucked down and have the proper seal.
Please read the rest of the recipe by clicking here.

Growing Zucchini Squash

Growing zucchini squash is probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow in the garden. Most varieties are large quantity producers of beautiful 8 – 10 inch long pieces that can be used in a multitude of different recipes. From bread to casseroles and cookies, zucchini is one of the wonder veggies that every gardener should grow and share.
Prior to doing any planting in my garden, I usually dig in about 4 – 5 inches of finished compost and wait at least a week before I plant. Also known as Italian squash, zucchini is typically started by seed, directly sown into the spring garden row, after the last frost in your area. Seeds should be planted in rows 3 to 4 feet apart in groups of 4 – 6 seeds per spot. Once seeds germinate, usually within 7 – 10 days, I choose the strongest three and remove the rest. One week later, you can choose the strongest one plant and pull out the rest.
Once plants are about one foot in diameter, I lay down a soaker hose the entire length of the row, placing the hose right up against the underside of the plants. Plants should receive at least one inch of water per week throughout their life and mulched with something like wheat straw about 3 – 4 inches thick. This mulching will help to retain moisture and deter most weed growth. The weeds that you do have pop up can be easily pulled by hand, as they are usually weak from having to struggle to grow through the mulch.

Please read the rest of the article by clicking here