All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

Super Easy Fresh Tomato Salsa & Tomato Tastings!

When we have all the ingredients to make garden fresh salsa I know that summer is finally in full swing. The garden has started overflowing with squash, peppers, garlic, beans, and my absolute favorite tomatoes!

This quick fresh salsa is one of my favorite summer dishes. It looks fancy, tastes, great, and comes together in minutes. Making it perfect to throw together for lunch after working in the field or making to share at a family barbeque.

This recipe is also one of those that you can play with a lot.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2-3 good sized tomatoes (mine weighed about 1 1/2lbs)

2 sweet banana peppers (or 1/2 a sweet bell pepper)

1/2 small onion

1 jalapeño pepper

1 clove of garlic

1/2 TBS lemon/lime juice

Cilantro to taste (if dried I use about 3/4 tsp and a small handful if fresh)

Salt & pepper to taste

There’s a few points to note when selecting ingredients. The tomatoes, in my humble opinion, are absolutely what make this recipe. Use homegrown or from a local farmer, storebought tomatoes just aren’t worth it. Paste tomatoes will make for a less watery salsa but I just go with whatever I have on  hand. I adore the look of salsa made with different color heirlooms.

You can also vary the peppers. I like a mix of sweet and hot peppers. The sweet bananas are super easy to grow and I find that 1 jalapeño adds a lot of flavor with out being overwhelmingly spicy but if you like it hotter or grow other types of peppers, go for it! Just try adding a little at a time.

I’ve used both yellow and purple onions and am happy with both but many people find they prefer purple onions for salsa. The cilantro and garlic can also be varied to taste. Fresh is better but in a pinch you can use dried cilantro and garlic powder.

To prepare:

Begin by dicing the tomatoes, peppers, onion, and cilantro. I like mine chunky but you can dice your ingredients as small or large as desired. For a smoother salsa pulse all the ingredients in a food proccessor until the desired consistency is reached.

Mince and add the garlic clove and stir in the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. It’s so good you may eat it all with just a bag of tortilla chips but it’s also excellent with tacos.

Don’t stop reading tomato fans!

If you’re as fanatical about homegrown tomatoes as I am be sure to stop in and visit Southern Exposure at two upcoming tomato tasting events!

On July 29 SESE will be at the Home Grown Tomato Tasting,  in Charlotte, NC
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be hosting a “Seed Swap” at the Tomato Tasting.

The Homegrown Tomato Festival is an all-day tomato themed event where tomato lovers can try dozens of different backyard tomatoes, crown the region’s best tomato grower, drink tomato themed cocktails, enjoy live music and more! This event is a fundraiser for 100 Gardens, a Charlotte based 501c3 that teaches agriculture and aquaponics in local schools, correctional institutions and also in Haiti. For more information about 100 Gardens or this event visit www.homegrowntomato.org or www.100gardens.org.

Aug 5: Botanical Garden Summer Sampler Tomato Tasting in Norfolk,VA
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be offering samples of a variety of tomatoes and have seeds available for purchase. Be sure to stop in and find your favorite variety to grow for next year!

 

11 Free Organic Methods to Add Nutrients to Your Garden

For many, gardening is not only an enjoyable activity but a great way to save some money. Unfortunately if you weren’t raised on a farm or with a large garden it can be difficult to have a successful garden withtout spending loads of money on fertilizer and soil amendments at the garden supply store. Thankfully it is possible to maintain a healthy garden without spending a dime! Try a combination of these methods to increase your soil’s nutrients and reap a better harvest.

Leaf Litter

Leaf litter is great because it can be used to make compost or can be applied straight to the garden as mulch. As a mulch it provides habitat for beneficial insects, blocks weeds, holds in moisture, and slowly breaks down adding nutrients to the soil.

Leaves can be gathered from your yard or woodlands. You may find piles that have collected behind fallen logs or stones after being carried by the wind. In gathering leaves remember to leave some for the natural ecosystem. It’s tempting but don’t strip any area of all it’s leaf litter. Even if you don’t own wooded property you can probably still find free leaves. Many cities and suburbs collect them and you can get bags of them for free, just ask around.

Grass Clippings

If you mow your lawn at all grass cllippings are deifintely worth getting a bagger for. They make great mulch to block out weeds, hold in moisture, and provide a lot of nitrogen. Grass clippings can also be soaked in water to create grass clipping tea. Watering plants with grass clipping tea provides a fast acting nitrogen boost.

Like with leaf litter, some areas may bag their grass clippings for collection and can be picked up for free.

Compost

Compost is surprisingly easy to make right in your backyard. The most important thing to remember when making compost is to have a mix of of “green”  or high in nitrogen material and “brown” or high in carbon material. Examples of “green” material include grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and weeds. “Brown” material includes leaf litter, wood chips, straw, etc. The compost should be turned occasionally and watered to keep it moist as needed.

Compost can also be used to make compost tea the same way grass clipping tea is made. Many people choose to add powdered egg shells to compost tea for an extra boost of calcium.

Some cities and towns now offer free compost made from local plant waste like grass clippings and leaves. If you go this route you may want to have it tested for herbicides.

For more on making compost read, How to Make Compost from Mother Earth News.

Straw

Straw is a choice mulch but can be rather pricey to purchase. Look for bales leftover from Halloween decorations or consider growing a patch of wheat for a double duty crop!

Wood Chips

Wood chips can be used as mulch or can be added to compost piles. Both in compost and as a mulch they offer similar benefits to that of leaf litter but break down more slowly.

Other Plant Material

Any plant material that doesn’t contain weed seeds can be used as fertilizer. Examples include wheat chaff, weeds, corn stalks, etc. These can be applied directly to the garden or composted. Green plant material like freshly pulled weeds can be used in place of grass clipping in grass clipping tea.

Cover Crops 

Cover croping may sound like something for a big farm but it’s actually very easy and effective to implement in a backyard garden. Some cover crops like vetch or clover are legumes and add nitrogen to the soil as they grow. Others like buckwheat add nutrients as they die and rot or are tilled under. Many cover crops come with added benefits like attracting pollinators.

Check out this post by Ira Wallace for more on Cover Crops.

Urine 

It sounds wierd but urine is actually a great fertilizer if you’re not too squeamish. It can we collected and saved up then diluted (10 parts water to one part urine) and used to water plants for a nitrogen boost. Most people or more comfortable using this on fruit trees and shrubs than their annual vegetable crops.

Wood Ashes

If you have a wood stove or backyard campfires wood ashes make a great free garden amendment, addding potassium to the soil. They should be used in moderate amounts as they also act as a liming agent. They raise the soil’s pH making it less acidic. If this is helpful for your soil conditions it’s worth noting that they’re only about 1/3 as effective as commercial lime so you may need a larger amount.

Hugelkultur Beds

If you’re okay with a more involved project you may want to try building a hugelkultur bed for longtime fertility. Hugelkultur beds involve a pile of woody material which breaks down over time providing a long lasting nutrient source.

You can learn more about the benefits of hugelkultur and how to make a hugelkultur bed here

Manure

Manure can come from your own livestock or you may find it free from a local farm. Try checking with places that board horses as they typically don’t use it the way many farms do. If you’re sourcing it from anywhere besides your backyard be sure that the animals haven’t been fed plant material that was grown using herbicides as these can still be in the manure and will kill your garden.

It’s also worth noting that excessive use of manure can cause a phosphorus build-up which pollutes local water sources and can tie up other soil nutrients. This problem doesn’t occur with any plant based fertilizers so manure should be used sparingly.

If you’re unsure of where to start consider having your soil tested. Your local agriculture extension agency will be able to identify what your soil needs and advise you where to begin. Growing good, organic food shouldn’t be expensive. Experimenting with these tried and true methods can help you keep a frugal yet productive garden.

10 Varieties You Can Plant This July For an Awesome Fall Harvest

If your springtime garden wasn’t as productive as you’d hoped don’t worry you’ve got a second chance! There’s many crops that are well suited to July planting and fall harvest. They’re great for storing into the winter months or simply extending the season of your fresh veggies.

These varieties were chosen based on zone 7a but even if you live in a much cooler climate there’s still many varieties that can be planted in July.

Umpqua Broccoli (95 days)

This broccoli produces great heads averaging 5-6 inches. It also produces nice side shoots and is an excellent fall variety.

For much cooler climates check out Calabrese (58 days) or Sorrento Broccoli Raab (45 days).

Savoy Perfection Cabbage (89 days)

These gorgeous cabbages have a good heat tolerance making them an ideal fall variety. The heads are round and average between 6-8lbs. Eat them fresh or try your hand at making kraut!

Danvers 126 Carrots (75 days)

Danvers are a classic carrot variety that’s great for a midsummer planting. They will tolerate the heat and store well for winter use.

Perpetual Spinach Leaf (55 days)

This hardy green will tolerate the heat of summer but keep producing well into the fall. It’s also a European heirloom dating back to 1869!

Small Red Bush Dry Bean (75 days)

These beans are realtively quick growing and very productive. They’re perfect for those still wanting to put up a dry bean harvest.

Early Golden Summer Crookneck Squash (50 days)

While many people are loaded with squash in the middle of the summer it can actually be nice to have a fall harvest as well. This variety was grown by the Native Americans and dates to before European contact. Later it was commonly grown by settlers in the Appalachians.

Purple Top White Globe Turnip (50 days)

This variety dates back to pre-1880 and offers classic turnip flavor with just 50 days to harvest.

Champion Collards (75 days)

Champion collards are productive and offer increased bolt resistance and enhanced winter hardiness!

Tanle Queen Vine (85 days)

Depending on your zone you may still even be able to sneak in some winter squash!This heirloom is one of the quickest varieties offered by SESE with just 85 days to harvest. They sweeten in storage and are excellent for baking.

Homemade Pickles Pickling Cucumber (55 days)

These vigorous cucumbers can provide you with an excellent second harvest. They’re disease resistant and productive. Don’t let the name fool you, pickling cucumbers can also be eaten fresh and are quite tasty.

 

These varieties are a great place to start but don’t hesitate to try others too, even if you think it’s a long shot. Especially if you live in a cool area, consider using season extenders like cold frames, hoop houses, or row cover.

Additional Resources

Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman (book)

Tips for Direct Sowing in Hot Weather by Lisa Dermer & Ira Wallace (blog post)

Succession Planting Warm-Season Crops for Hot Summers by Ira Wallace (blog post)

Summer Sowings: Continuous All Summer and Into Fall by Lisa Dermer (blog post)

Planning and Planting for an Abundant Fall and Winter Harvest by Ira Wallace & Lisa Dermer (blog post)