Fall Harvest: Plants that are Sweeter After a Frost

Fall gardens are generally touted as being a great way to get another harvest out of a small garden. They’re great for a few other reasons too. Fall is a wonderful time to work in the garden as the heat and humidity lessens. There’s also generally less pest pressure in the fall, meaning you might still get to put up some sauerkraut even if cabbage moths attacked your spring cabbage crop. A lesser discussed benefit is that some fall crops actually become sweeter after a frost.

Why are plants sweeter after a frost?

Unlike animals, vegetables can’t move south for winter, find a cozy den, or grow and extra thick coat. To survive the cold, certain plants have evolved a way to cope with colder temperatures. First, the plants’ cell walls thicken. These thicker walls contain less moisture and freeze less easily. The other part of this process, is the one that we as gardeners relish, the plants convert more of their starches to sugar. This has several benefits. Using the sugar produces energy, in effect, keeping the plant warmer. The sugar also decreases the formation of ice in the cell and prevents the cell membrane from freezing. This process is good for the plant and tasty for the gardener!

What plants do this?

Brassicas (Cabbage Family)

  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Kohlrabi
  • Collards

These plants thrive in cool temperatures making them ideal for fall planting. They can withstand temperatures down to 20°F and some like burssels sprouts can withstand much colder (down to 0°F). Row cover can be used to extend the season further and protect crops from damaging cold winds.

Carrots & Beets

Both beets and carrots benefit from a layer of mulch around their tops in cold weather. In southern climates, these roots can be left in the ground over winter and harvested as needed. To protect the tops for eating beet greens or to keep them growing you may need to use row cover or a cold frame to protect them during consistently cold temperatures.

Turnips & Rutabagas

Turnips and rutabagas are vastly sweetened by cold temperatures. Rutabagas should be harvested before temperatures drop to 20°F but turnips can handle colder temperatures particularly if they’ve been covered in a thick layer of mulch.

Leeks

In many areas, leeks can be overwintered and survive temperatures down to 10°F. If you’re harvesting leeks from frozen ground our friend Pam Dawling recommends pouring boiling water on the base of the plants if you’re harvesting a few for immediate use.

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is fairly cold-hardy but it does best with some protection particularly if you live in an area with strong winds. To prolong your chard harvest use row cover or a cold frame. We’ve found Ruby Red Swiss Chard to be more frost tolerant than other varieties.

After a long summer it can be difficult to find the time and motivation to sow a fall garden. It really is worth it though! Plant a few of these crops for a sweet fall harvest.

Zucchini Abundance: 10 Great Ways to Use It

The great zucchini flood has started! This time of year you’ll find many gardeners and farmers with tables, counters, and cabinets overflowing with a bounty of zucchini and summer squash. The first few of the year always seem so magical but a few weeks in it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume just a few plants can produce. That’s why we’ve rounded up a few ways to use zucchini this season!

Cook It

Breaded & Fried

A simple, quick way to make super tasty zucchini is to bread it and fry it. It may not be the healthiest option but it’s definitely delicious. One of my favorite ways to bread it is with a bit of salt and bloody butcher cornmeal as pictured above. *We’re currently out of bloody butcher seed but you can find pungo creek butcher (a bloody butcher descendant) here.

Stuffed Zucchini

For larger zucchini, stuffing them and baking them is a great option. I  like to use up any fresh vegetables I have on hand, sauteing up onions, garlic, swiss chard, collards, peppers, and tomatoes and mixing them with rice, beans, and spices like oregano, basil, and chili powder. Scoop out the seeds and add this or your own mixture to the zucchini. Top with marinara sauce and bake, covered at 375°F for about 45 minutes or until zucchini is tender.

Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti is a pretty common go-to meal for busy evenings. Next time you make spaghetti use up some of your zucchini by chopping it up into small chunks and sauteing it with onions and garlic before adding it to your spaghetti sauce. Don’t water bath can this type of spaghetti sauce though! The zucchini will decrease the acidity of the sauce making unsafe for canning.

Squash Souffle

Irena’s squash souffle is also a great option for using up zucchini. Follow the link above for this great recipe.

Bake Something

Zucchini’s mild flavor lends itself easily to a variety of baked goods. You can find recipes online for zucchini cakes, muffins, breads, even cookies! I’ve found it makes delicious and moist chocolate cake that can fool even picky eaters.

Preserve It

Zucchini Pineapple

Yes, it sounds super wierd but zucchini pineapple is actually delicious and easy to put up. Basically, all you do is water bath can zucchini in a mixture of pineapple juice, lemon juice, and sugar. It tastes great and can be eaten right of the jar or tossed on a pizza this winter! You can find a recipe over at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Zucchini Chips

Dehydration is a really simple and quick storage tecnique. Zucchini chips are easy to dehydrate and make an excellent snack. All you need to do is slice your zucchini into rounds about 1/4 inch thick, dunk the rounds in apple cider vinegar, and then toss them with spices before dehydrating for 10 hours at about 135°F. Make sure they are fully dry and crisp before moving them to airtight jars for storage.

Fermented Zucchini Pickles

Fermentation is an old and simple way of putting up the harvest. It’s also great for gut health. Fermented foods are full of healthy probiotics. Check out this fermented pickle recipe from Attainable Sustainable to use some of your bounty.

Freeze it

Zucchini is easy to freeze because unlike many vegetables it doesn’t need to be blanched first. For easy use, shred zucchini and freeze in portions for your favorite recipes like zucchini bread.

Other Ideas

Donate it

As a gardener it’s easy to forget how tasty and special fresh, homegrown zucchini is. Even if you’re tired of it there may be people in your area who would love some fresh zucchini. Talk to your neighbors. Maybe there’s someone nearby who’s no longer physically able to garden who would love some. Also, check with local food pantries.

 

Food waste is a rampant problem in the United States. This season try to make the most of all your garden produce. As a last resort chickens love zucchini if you have them or know someone who does.

5 Ways to Use and Preserve Herbs this Summer

Summer is the season of abundance. It’s easy to get busy weeding, harvesting, and putting up vegetables but it’s also the time to think about herbs. Summer is the time to use and preserve herbs for the rest of the year. Here are a few ways to put up an herbal harvest.

**We’re gardeners, not doctors. Please consult a physician about using herbal remedies especially if you’re nursing, pregnant, or on any medications.**

Herbal Teas

One of the easiest ways to preserve herbs is to dry them for tea. For best results check out our guide to harvesting & preserving herbs which you can find here. Here are just a few of the easy to grow herbs you can use for tea and their properties. For more ideas check out our medicinal herbs section.

Herb Part of plant Traditional Uses/Properties
Lemon Balm Leaves  Sedative, calmative, carminative, anti-viral
Echinacea Leaves, flowers, roots Immuno-stimulant, anti-viral, bacteriostatic
Calendula Flowers  Anti-inflammatory, soothes sore throats, soothes skin irritations when applied topically or added to a bath
Valerian Roots  Tranquilizer, calmative
Lavender Flowers Carminative, antidepressant, calming tonic for the nervous system
Roselle  Calyx Lowering blood pressure, anitmicrobial, diuretic, high in vitamin C
Skullcap Leaves, stems, flowers Nervine tonic, sedative, anti-spasmodic, used to revivify, calm, and nourish the nervous system
Chamomile Flowers Soothing, carminative, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-spasmodic, anti-microbial, can be used internally or for skin irritations
Mint Leaves Calming, spasmolytic, carminative, expectorant properties, used externally for skin irritations

Tinctures

Preparation

Many herbs can be easily processed into effective tinctures. Add clean chopped herbs (roots, leaves, stems, berries, and even bark depending on the plant) to a glass jar. Depending on the species, part of the plant, and whether it’s fresh you should fill the jar anywhere from 1/3 to 3/4 of the way full.

Cover with high-proof alcohol. Any will do but many people prefer vodka so the flavor of the herbs comes through. The jar should be fairly full of herbs but they should move freely when you shake it. Remember that dried material will expand once you add the alcohol.

Set the jar somewhere dark, cool, and dry for 6-8 weeks. Every few days give the jar a shake and check for evaporation. You may need to top off your jar to keep your herbs covered and prevent mold growth. After you can strain and bottle your tincture. It will last a long time as long as you keep it in a cool, dry, place. It’s a good idea to use a brown glass bottle to keep sunlight out.

This article from Mountain Rose Herbs is a great source for making tinctures.

Using Your Tincture

Many people take tinctures plain using an eyedropper. However, they can also be added to teas, seltzer water, or cocktails. When using tinctures it’s important to note that they’re more concentrated than an herbal tea.

Popsicles

Some herbal teas also make excellent popsicles. Try mixing lavender, lemon balm, mint, or roselle tea with honey or maple syrup and small pieces of fresh fruit to freeze for a refreshing treat.

You can use paper cups and popsicle sticks or find reusable molds at your grocery store or online. Some places carry stainless steel molds for those looking to avoid plastic.

 

 

 

 

Vinegars

Making herbal vinegars is a lot like making tinctures. They can be used medicinally and are excellent for homemade dressings and marinades. Garlic, chives, thyme, ginger, sage, hot peppers, turmeric, and nasturtiums are all excellent choices but you can use a variety of herbs, plants, and fruit to create your own unique flavor. You can also use a variety of kinds of vinegar like apple cider, champagne, rice, or red wine vinegar.

In a glass jar, mix about 1 cup of herbs to every 2 cups of vinegar. Don’t use a metal lid as the vinegar may corrode it. Leave in a cool, dry, dark place for up to a month for strong flavors, shaking it every few days. When the mixture has reached its desired flavor you can strain and bottle it.

Incense

Culturally incense is sometimes used for ceremonies or cleansing spaces and the mind. Even if incense isn’t part of your culture it can be a great way to make your home smell nice. Making your own incense can also allow you to enjoy the fragrances of your garden right through the winter!

This article by Rosalee de la Forêt at Learning Herbs has a wonderful tutorial to walk you through the process. You’ll need fragrant dried powdered herbs (like rosemary, lavender, or sage), a botanical gum (to glue the herbs together), and water.

Summer is a busy time for everyone but if you want to make the most of the herbs you grew it’s time to put up the harvest. Try one of these 5 awesome ways to use your herbs and let us know how it goes on Facebook. We’d love to see how your projects turn out!

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