Friday, June 26, 2009

Bexley Library Gardening Book Collection Summary, Part II

Here’s two more books from the Bexley Public Library that may be of interest to new and even experienced gardeners.

The Quotable Gardener by Charles Elliott. This book contains over 1000 of quotations about gardening. There is nothing here to help aspiring gardeners who seek something more than motivation. Most of the quotations are from gardening books by master gardeners, and thus, are not well known. Other quotations are anonymous, such as “one for the rock, one for the crow, one to die and one to grow” and “all gardeners know better than other gardeners.” Yet others are from famous personages, such as Thomas Jefferson: ”But though an old man, I am but a young gardener” and Abe Lincoln: “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” A few are from works of literature, but only a few are truly funny. I imagine that I will try to incorporate a few – particularly about weeds – into this site from time to time.

The 20 Minute Vegetable Gardener by Tom Christopher and Marty Asher. This is meant to be an informative how-to book, but it is written like a novel or short story. When I want help with something, I want to turn to that page and find the tip immediately instead of having to wade through pages of made-up dialogues between imaginary or real characters who are simply discussing the particular problem. I found this book very tedious and not very helpful. There might be some good ideas in here, but you’ll spend an eternity reading through froth trying to find them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Swiss Chard Is More Than a Pretty Picture.

When my friend Vicki visited the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden a few weeks ago, she also took a nice picture of my Swiss chard. I have never grown Swiss chard before and it – and the celery nearby and a few of the parsley plants – are the only plants in my garden which I did not start myself from seed. I bought seedlings from DeMonye’s Greenhouse, but Dr. Mitch grew his Swiss chard from seed in a nearby plot at the SACG.

Swiss chard is virtually impossible to buy at a grocery or even a farmer’s market. I first tried Swiss chard last year when I was gardening at the Redeemer Moravian Church Community Garden in Dublin and Tom – whose plot was near mine – shared a few leaves with me while he pruned his extensive collection. I used it to make African Pineapple Peanut Stew, which was very good and even impressed my brother-in-law (who was born and raised in Cameroon).

This year, I have an enormous amount of chard and will probably have to freeze some it. (As you may have noticed in my March 20 posting, not many soup kitchens or food banks have much use for chard). However, I have tried two new recipes: Curried Red Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew with Garbanzo Beans and Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noodles. I’m not a big fan of curry and so froze most of it to serve later over rice. However, the Tunisian Stew Recipe was pretty good, although not as good as the African Pineapple Stew.

Swiss chard is not just pretty; it is also very good for you. One cup of chopped chard has 715% of % Daily Value of Vitamin K, 110% of Vitamin A, 52% of Vitamin C, 38% of magnesium, 15% of dietary fiber, 30% of potassium and 25% of iron. All of this for just 35 calories.

Here are my two best recipes:

African Pineapple Peanut Stew (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home).

This can be prepared in about 30 minutes and can be served over rice or couscous.

1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups of sliced Swiss chard
20 ounce can of crushed pineapple
½ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Crushed peanuts
Chopped scallions

Saute and frequently stir the onions and garlic in the oil for about ten minutes (or until the onions are lightly browned). Meanwhile, wash the Swiss chard, remove and discard the stems and cut the leaves into inch-wide slices. Throw in the entire can of crushed pineapple (juice and all) in with the onions, stir, add the chard, cover and simmer for about five minutes (until just tender). Mix in the peanut butter, hot sauce and cilantro and simmer for another five minutes. Add salt. Serve (and top with crushed peanuts and scallions).

Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noodles (adapted from February 2009 Gourmet Magazine).

½ pound swiss chard
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed cumin
2 minced garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons hot sauce (like harissa)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups rinsed garbanzo beans (which can be soaked overnight)
½ bag of egg noodles

Remove the chard stems and chop them into 1 inch pieces. Then roughly chop the chard leaves into one inch strips.

In a large pot, saute the chopped chard stems, onion, garlic, ½ teaspoon of cumin, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in olive oil over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste and stir for another two minutes. Add the chicken stock, the hot sauce and lemon juice, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add chard leaves, garbanzo beans, and noodles, cover and simmer for another ten minutes (until tender).

Serve soup sprinkled with a dash of cumin.

If you like curry, you can obtain that recipe from -- which is my first stop for recipe ideas after I've exhausted my cookbook collection.

I'm not a big fan of frozen greens (spinach or otherwise), although they are good in omlets and a few other dishes. I've never frozen or preserved any greens from my garden, since I have generally had bad luck with spinach and eat it in salads as soon as I can harvest what little grows. According to The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food, the best way to freeze chard and other greens is to chop it up, stir fry it for 2-3 minutes while it wilts and then pack it into freezer bags. Once the bags are cool and dry, put them in the freezer and use within the next year.

My other bible of food preservation -- Ball's Blue Book of Preserving-- discusses both freezing and canning greens, including chard. Be sure to pick young and tender greens (preferrably in the morning). To freeze, first wash the greens and remove any woody stems. Blanch them for two minutes (i.e., put them in a strainer and drop strainer into boiling water). Then drop into seriously cold water. (I usually have a large bowl filled with water and ice cubes sitting in the sink for just this purspose). Drain and then pack your platic ware or freezer bags. Seal, label, dry out and freeze. It is generally important to blanch vegetables before freezing them in order to preserve their color and to stop the enzymes from destroying their texture. When I have frozen green beans and zucchini in the past, I found that I preferred steaming the vegetables instead of dropping them into hot water (where they end up getting soggy).

To can greens, wash them several times, stir-fry and wilt them (i.e., "turn greens over when steam beings to rise around the edges of the pan"). Pack hot greens into hot jars, leaving one inch of head space. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to each pint jar; 1 teaspoon of salt to a quart jar, if desired. Ladle boiling water over the greens, leaving 1 inch of head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust the two-piece caps. Process pints for 1.1 hours and quarts for 1.5 hours at 10 pounds pressure in a steam-pressure canner.

Editor's Note: Vicki saw this and sent me a link to another website: Cheap, Healthy Leafy Greens: 246 Recipes for Cabbage, Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Beyond.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Are Those Pumpkins Growing Out of Piles of Rocks at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden?

When I first envisioned the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, I intended to have an urban farm that utilized every square inch of growing space on the then-vacant lot. However, Farmer Bill pointed out to me in February that I would need to leave about six feet as a perimeter or my landlord -- the City of Columbus -- and the EPA would have my hide when the rain washed the topsoil down the Garden's hillside and into the City's storm sewers and into Alum Creek. Besides, the 6-10 feet along the northside of the Garden (otherwise known as Cherry Street) was essentially solid concrete and brick from an abandonned sidewalk or driveway. What to do? What to do?

My friend, Mary, from Lousiville had a great idea. She suggested that I plant squash or pumpkins since they spread quite a bit and -- best of all-- the fruit prefer to sit on concrete instead of dirt. It occurred to me that dogs and some drunks might urinate on whatever grew in the alley (or Cherry Street), so I didn't want to grow anything that people might eat (and forget to wash). It also seemed to me that the neighbhorhood kids might enjoy a pumpkin patch of their own come October (and Halloween). An idea was born.

One challenge turned out to be that there wasn't even an inch of dirt above the bricks/concrete. So other than the first/easternmost pumpkin, the rest had to be planted in raised beds. I'm not made of money and didn't want to spend more money than I had to on this project. This turned out to be another opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.
One of the most irritiating things about gardening in this Garden is the freakish overabundance of construction debris (like blacktop, bricks, concrete chunks bigger than my head, etc.) and we've been placing the debris along Cherry Street (as a makeshift curb) until we could figure out what to do with it. (As many faithful readers know, we used most of the bricks to build the platforms for our five rain barrels. I also used four large stones to create the raised base of our first compost bin. Alysha and I have also been lining the Garden path with the hand-sized stones.). It then occurred to me that I could put much of the remaining debris to good use by building half-moon-shaped (or turret-shaped as I often think of them) raised beds. They are not square or round because I figured the slope of the ground would keep most of the dirt leaning downhill towards Cherry Street. This left me more stones and rocks to build more raised beds. I refer to them as my Maginot Line of Pumpkins.

I started a number of pumpkins from seed at home. Although the first plant died from thirst, the pumpkin seeds I planted in that bed with it sprouted and spread. The rest of them are hanging in there. Alysha also started a giant pumpkin from seed at her house and it's growing gangbusters. It requires more water, of course, and is pictured here. I used top soil from Sunderlands in the beds and added horse manure compost (which I obtained in April from a horse farm in Westerville) to most of the beds.

I've never grown pumpkins before, so we'll see how it goes. (Some volunteer pumpkin plants occassionally sneak out from my compost bin, but they've never born fruit). I added water bottles to each bed to permit deep watering (and this is the first year I've ever tried that). Feel free to water them if you walk by. I water them on Wednesdays and Saturdays (unless it rains).
Like the original Maginot Line, I've learned that they are facing the wrong way and/or have been misplaced: They seem to be growing toward the Garden instead of northward toward Cherry Street. I'm hoping that they can be convinced to spread northward instead of into the plots being gardened by Betty, Mari, Melissa, Beth and Mike. Maybe next year I'll have to move the beds a few feet to the north:)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Plot of the Unknown Gardner Has Been Planted on Cherry Street

This morning, Dwain helped me build (-- ok, he built it while I watched and held his tools) the raised bed for the new community service plot along Cherry Street next to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. Then, Lawrenced helped me unload the 17 bags of topsoil from my car. I spread newspapers and top soil and then planted bibb lettuce, an eggplant, a zucchini, a cantalope, one basil plant, six bell peppers, two jalapeno peppers, two chili peppers, at least a dozen pole beans, and several roma, cherry, celebrity and beefstake tomatoes from my extra stache. Anyone who passes by can help themselves. Hopefully, this means that they will not help themselves the produce inside the fence.
Of course, like everything else, there are a few challenges. One, is that there is nothing but solid concrete beneath the northern 2/3 of the bed. Not only will this prevent roots from going deep and require more frequent watering, but it also meant that I could not pound the tomato stakes very deep. Also, we're actually out of tomato stakes and I had to double up the tomatoes with each stake (which, as mentioned, is already pretty shallow). We'll see how that works. Finally, the cedar planks are not very thick and I hope will last at least the entire growing season, if not into next year.
Now, I can wash and eat the peas, lettuce and chard I harvested this afternoon. It turns out that my bike's front tire is a lost cause and it's back to the shop for a few days . . . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

ISO Mad Dogs and Englishmen to Build Plot of the Unknown Gardener.

There is a saying that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun. I happened to be thinking of that today because it is uncomfortably hot and humid outside and tomorrow promises not to be much better. Tomorrow is the day that we will be building the Plot of the Unknown Gardener at the Stoddart Garden.

Tonight, I overcame my fear of sharp moving objects and brought my circular saw out of the cavernous bowels that is my basement and chopped down some cedar boards (donated by Trudeau Fence Company and Bowden Fence Company) to use as the posts for a raised bed along Cherry Street. I was sweating quite a bit, but accomplished my task and enjoyed the smell of cedar shavings.

I then repaired and tried to replace an inner tube/tire on my bicycle, but try as I might, I could not properly center the patched inner tube on the tire rim. The two strawberry margaritas I had consumed probably didn't help. My discombobulated bike is now in pieces on my patio waiting for a sympathetic neighbor or mysterious and ghostly force to put it back together so that I can get some proper exercise between thunder storms.

Anyway, if you are bored on Saturday, June 20 and want to do something productive in the heat, you should come to the Stoddart Garden since I will probably be there most of the day. The 77 feet along Cherry Street consists of mostly run-off dirt covering what was once a driveway or sidewalk. We had hoped to have a pumpkin patch there for the neighborhood kids, and as a compromise, I've built raised beds out of the bricks, chunks of concrete and blacktop and other construction debris unearthed from the Garden and planted pumpkins in them. That only covers 20+ feet. I've also constructed a compost bin there (and plan to add another in July). However, there is still a rather long -- 6-10 feet -- stretch of unsightly alley to convert to Garden space. After conferring with the Gardeners and running it by the City Delvelopment Office, I've decided to build a raised bed there with our extra cedar planks and put our extra seedlings for use by anyone who wants them.

My neighbors -- the Karhl's-- have lent me a pick axe, (so that I can dig out holes for the corner posts) but it terrifies me. That just looks like an accident waiting to happen. I have a drill and screws, corner braces of various shapes and sizes and lots of cedar planks. The plan is to build a 6 x 6 foot raised bed with four corner posts and three support posts. I'll fill it with top soil (from Sunderlands) and then plant in it lots of tomatoes, pole beans, zucchinni, a cantalope and maybe some lettuce. Alysha has some seedlings to add as well.

The Plot of the Unknown Gardener will be outside the Garden's fence. Anyone who walks by can help themselves to the produce. This would include the homeless guys in the neighborhood, passersby and neighbors who decided too late to sign up for a plot in the Garden. We are hoping that thieves will also content themselves with the produce from this plot and not help themselves from produce from within the Garden.

Last night I went to the Garden to mow the grass with my reel mower. The City had been by in the last few days and mowed all of the vacant lots surrounding the Garden (which made our lot look a little shabby). Jeannie stopped and wanted to mow the grass instead of me, so I let her do so while I pulled weeds from the Garden paths. Then, a group of 20-something guys (who may or may not live in our neighborhood) came by and directed a gentleman to mow the grass instead of Jeanne. We didn't argue, but pointed out that we had no cash to pay him. No matter. He mowed quite intensely with my rusty mower (and pointed out that it needed to be sharpened because it was not cutting the thick and tall weeds). He did not make eye contact. I offered him some lettuce from my plot, but he declined on the grounds that he lived on the street and had no place to store it. When the group left west on Cherry Street they took him with them -- only after confirming that he had done everything that I needed done that night. I expect that they planned to compensate him in some way -- but I don't want to know with what.

Last week, I heard that some guys stopped by and told one of our Gardeners that they planned to steal our produce. Others stop by and ask about each of the plants. Others stop by and ask if we have any plots left so that they can join us. Many people are interested in our Garden. Everyone seems to be supportive of it.

The Plot of the Unknown Gardener is where frustrated gardeners and others can harvest produce this season if they didn't sign up with us earlier. Perhaps next year they will garden with us inside the fence.

If you are interested in helping us construct this Plot, please join us tomorrow (weather permitting). I'll probably be there between 10-2.

Garden Soil Test Results

Last week, I mailed soil samples from the Stoddart Garden and Bexley Garden to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. (I had planned on testing the Stoddart Avenue Garden soil for lead after learning about problems in Buffalo, New York and on testing for nutrients after having concerns about yellowish zucchini. OSU no longer conducts soil tests and the UMass tests are inexpensive, include lead, and are easily researchable on the internet). UMass does not test for all possible toxins (like arsenic) or pesticides.

These are the results:


Because most of our vegetables prefer slightly acidic soil, I will bring some sulfer and peat moss to Stoddart Garden on Saturday and Wednesday if anyone wants to amend their soil and ever so slightly adjust their plot's pH (per the recommended methods discussed in Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening Vegetables book).

To get an idea of what the tested pH means, the following are the "ideal" pH for each type of vegetable (according to Rodale's):
Tomatoes: 6.0-7.0
Zucchini: 6.0-6.5
Potatoes: 5.8-6.5
Peppers: 6.0-7.0
Peas: 6.0-7.0
Onions: 6.0-7.5
Melons: 6.0-7.0
Lettuce: 6.0-6.8
Eggplant: 5.5-6.8
Cucumber: 6.0-7.0
Corn: 6.0-6.8
Carrots: 5.5-6.8
Cabbage: 6.0-6.8
Beans: 6.0-7.5

The UMass Report states:

Reported pH is higher than desired for a vegetable garden or flowers. Do not apply limestone, wood ash, potassium or phosphorus or any other amendment that might raise soil pH further. To lower pH: sulfur, alumnimum sulfate, or iron sulfate, or acidic organic matter may be effective. The required quantities of these materials will vary according to the nature of the alkalinity of your soil.

. . . In the fall before planting incorporate powdered sulfur into the top 8 inches of soil at 19 pounds per 100 square feet. For established plantings lightly topdress soil with podered sulfur at 1 to 2 pounds/100 square feet and maintain an acidic, organic mulch such as pine needles.

[The] soil contains very high levels of phosphorus and potassium. . . . Supply only nitrogen at 1/4 lb per 100 square feet. Possible sources are 1 lb of a 30-3-3 type fertilizer (free of any broadleaf herbicide) or 4 lbs of dried blood (an organic fertilizer).

Soil pH: 7.7 (alkaline)
Buffer pH 7.4

Nitrogen: NO3-N: 23 ppm
Organic Matter: 15.3% (Desirable range 4-10%)

Nutrient Levels: PPM
Phosphorus (P) 66 PPM -- Very High
Potassium (K) 946 PPM -- Very High
Calcium (Ca) 9185 PPM -- Very High
Magnesium (Mg) 901 PPM -- Very High

Micronutrient Levels: All normal

The lead level in this soil is low.

Cation Exchange Cap -- 67.8 Meg/100g
Percent Base Saturation K=4.4 Mg =13.3 Ca=82.5

Extractable Alumnimum 2ppm (Soil range: 10-250 ppm)

BEXLEY COMMUNITY GARDEN: Soil is slightly alkaline for most vegetables.

For what it's worth and as I previously explained at the Friends meeting, I only took one soil sample (as opposed to the recommended six samples which were then combined for an aggregate sample as I did in the Stoddart Garden). The UMass Report states:

The soil pH is slightly higher than desired for most vegetables. Cole crops may prefer the current pH since they are more resistant to clubroot infection under slightly alkaline conditions. Take care, however, not to incorporate any amendment that would further raise soil pH.

The soil contains sufficient levels for potassium. You may apply the standard recommendations , or you may provide sufficient nitrogen and phosphorus by using alternate sources to provide about 1/4 lb nitorgen and about 1/4 lb phosphorus per 100 square feet. . . . Avoid overfertilizing which can cause plant toxicity and can contribute to insect and disease problems.

Soil pH: 7.5
Buffer pH 7.4

Nitrogen: NO3-N = 5 ppm
Organic Matter: 8.3% (Desirable range 4-10%)

Nutrient Levles: PPM
Phosphorus (P) 16 ppm - Medium
Potassium (K) 293 ppm - Very High
Calcium (Ca) 7980 ppm - Very High
Magnesium (Mg) 469 ppm -- Very High

The lead level in this soil is low.
Miconutrient Levels -- all normal

Cation Exchange Cap -- 45.7 Meg/100g
Percent Base Saturation K=1.7 Mg =8.7 Ca=89.7

Extractable Alumnimum 4ppm (Soil range: 10-250 ppm)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Artsy Photos of Stoddart Avenue Community Garden

I brought my friend, Vicki, to the Garden on Friday and she – like everyone else – fell in love with our scarecrows (courtesy of the Girl Scouts). She took some nifty photos with her new lens of the scarecrows, of some of the produce and of Rayna’s very nifty-looking plot. I thought that I would share them with you. They also show how much has grown in the last few weeks.

Vicki also enjoyed a nice salad of mixed baby greens and arugula from my plot.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stoddart Garden's Strawberry Expedition Was Moderate Success

Last week, a group of the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden Gardeners gathered early Saturday morning to go pick strawberry at a local U-Pick farm. We had planned to go to Hann Farms, which was the closest and least expensive farm. However, you know what they say about best laid plans. Luckily, I called that morning to confirm that they were still open and, in fact, they had run out of ripe strawberries the day before. So, we went to Schact Farms in Canal Winchester, which had only a few ripe strawberries. As a result, it was fairly difficult and took much longer to find ripe strawberries for our canning and fresh food addiction. While I had anticipated that we would only spend an hour picking, we worked for close to two hours and left when we got hot. Strawberry picking has become very popular this year and we had lots of company at Schact's.

Attached is a post-picking picture of some of our group. Melissa took lots of other great pictures while we were actually picking the strawberries, but I somehow messed up the downloading process and didn't have the patience to work my way through the 700+ pictures on her camera to try again:)

Beth, Melissa and I then went to work that day to making jams and preserves. (I had made raspberry and blueberry jam the night before since the berries were on sale at Kroger's). Note to self: In the future, make only jam. Preserves take a long, long time and none of mine jelled correctly. The jams, however, turned out perfectly. I've attached pictures of my jam/preserve collection and Melissa's 2009 collection. (I LOVE her rounded new jam jars -- she got the last bunch at Riffe's Market in Grandview. If anyone know where else in Columbus I can buy these jars PLEASE EMAIL ME so that I can buy them before I make my fuzzy-naval marmalade in August (during peach season)).

Mitch and I also froze strawberries (to use in smoothies and as ice cubes). This involves washing the berries, removing the stems and leaves, freezing them on cookie sheets and then putting them in freezer bags for storage.

I called Hann's Farm again yesterday and the message says that they still have a few ripe strawberries left. Doran's Farm reported that we can pick strawberries through Father's Day. However, next year, we'll be going the first weekend in June instead of waiting . . . . .

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Learned Much of I Know From Gardening Books.

Not everyone needs to become a certified Master Gardener to have a reasonably successful vegetable garden. You could also just be a bookworm – or geek – like me. I learned most everything I know from experience and studying. In addition to my modest collection of books on raising low-maintenance flowers, I also own a few books on vegetable gardening. If you don’t want to invest in your own personal library, the Bexley Library has a whole bookshelf with nothing but gardening books. (I’m sure that’s not a big surprise to many of you). I hope to gander through most of the Bexley collection over the summer and summarize them so that you can decide which ones are best for you.

Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening Vegetables. This is my gardening bible. It has a section in the back which summarizes the necessities for growing virtually every kind of vegetable and herb. It literally goes from artichokes to watercress and many places in between, such as beans, peas, lettuce, squash, melons, corn, etc. It summarizes when to plant, what kind of soil, special tips and how to know when to harvest. I couldn’t live without this book. The front of the book summarizes general gardening issues, such as raised beds, composting, pH, starting seeds indoors, trellis, etc. Great book.

The Complete Guide to Successful Gardening. This was a gift from a former neighbor, Page Heiss, when he moved away. It was my gardening bible last year and I took it with me everywhere. It’s much thicker and more informative than Rodale’s. For instance, its back section planting guide goes into more detail than the Rodale’s version (above) It also has pictures and some nifty tips which are lacking in the Rodale’s. It also talks about soils, digging and double digging, garden frames, rotating crops, successional crops, and goes into more depth about the proper depth to plant seeds. It also has a month-by-month guide of gardening tasks and harvesting schedules. It also has a section on growing flowers.

Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening Low-Maintenance Landscaping. This is the “lite” version of the first Rodale’s book (above) and also includes a section on flowers. I like it because it focuses on the easiest flowers and vegetables to grow, although it is not as comprehensive as the version above.

The Budget Gardener by Maureen Gilmer is in the Bexley Library and promises Twice the Garden for Half the Price. It does not, however, contain a planting guide or much specifics about growing particular plants. Rather, it focuses on how to recycle virtually everything you can imagine to benefit your gardening habit. It has a great section on composting, which items have the highest levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.. and where you can get ingredients (like horse manure) for free. It even has a section on stealing sticks from your neighbors yard waste in order to build artsy and free fencing. My favorite tip involved recycling beer bottle tabs into a boot scraper by nailing them to a round log which you keep next to your back door (in order to scrape the mud off your shoes after trudging through a muddy garden). (The brush scrapers seem to have a one-year useful life and I’m anxious to collect enough caps to try this new idea. Feel free to help me out). Very cute book.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Musing on Gift Cookbooks and Purchasing Mason Jars Near Bexley.

This afternoon, as I walked outside my front door for the first time, I found a package from I was instantly confused because I didn’t remember ordering anything. When I opened the box, I found a new cookbook—Jam It, Pickle it, Cure It and other Cooking Projects-- by Karen Solomon and panicked that I had forgotten that I purchased it in a few clicks after a few glasses of wine a few nights earlier. Imagine my delight when I scanned the packing slip and found a note:” Looked yummy and full of [my name]-worthy – full of bountiful harvest – Vicki”

A random act of kindness. She saw it, thought of me and bought it. Pretty neat. I can’t remember the last time I bought myself a hard-cover book. I wonder if she knew I was going strawberry picking tomorrow and hoped that I’d bring her some preserves when we get together next week. I think some preserves are definitely in her future . . . .

Anyway, once I recovered from the delight of an unexpected gift, I hopped into the car and rushed down to the Big Lots on Winchester Pike in Berwick. I had called a few weeks ago about mason jars, but they had not yet arrived. I called a few days ago and learned that they had sold out, but were expecting another shipment today. When I arrived, the shelves were half empty and the cashier was hording a few boxes for someone who called ahead. I bought two packages (12 jars each) of Golden Harvest regular pint jars for $6.75/each and two packages of lids for $1.25/each (half the price at the Main Street Krogers).

I then headed to the East Main Wal-Mart to comparison shop. Last year, the only Wal-Mart in Columbus to carry mason jars was the store on Morse Road. However, this year, my local Wal-Mart told me over the phone that they were also selling mason jars. I confirmed the accuracy of this information. However, while the Wal-Mart selection was better, it was also slightly more expensive. The same package of Golden Harvest pint jars were $6.85 and Ball mason jars were almost $8. Wal-Mart also carried extra lids, pectin (both liquid and powder) and – to my delight – a tool kit which included a jar lifter and lid lifter. (If you’ve every tried to fish the lids out of boiling water with only a set of tongs, you’ll appreciate how much I’m looking forward to pulling them out with a magnetic wand. I requested one for Xmas and my confused brother gave me an electric can opener insteadJ). Wal-Mart did not, however, have any of the half-pint jelly jars (i.e., the cut glass kind) in stock (but there might be some in the next to last southeast aisle at the Giant Eagle in Reynoldsburg). Another shopper warned me not to purchase any liquid pectin with last year’s date on it because it won’t work. She also told me that Aldi’s was selling strawberries for $1/pound, but I told her that I preferred to pick my own and preserve them within the same day. So there.

For those who are concerned about Wal-Mart’s reputation for squeezing their suppliers to get the best price and forcing them to outsource their production to third-world countries, Anderson’s General Store in Reynoldsburg also usually carries a full line of canning supplies, including mason jars and pectin. They’re usually right in front of the front entrance. As mentioned, some Giant Eagle stores also carry them. Kroger’s usually doesn’t get them until closer to Fall.

For beginner canners, I highly recommend that you purchase more pint jars than quart jars. You’ll need an awfully large stock pot (for hot water canning) or pressure cooker (for everything else) in order to can in quart jars. How often do you buy or use food in quart quantities anyway? I had to buy an extra tall stock pot last year so that I could can tomatoes and peaches (which don’t require pressure cookers) in my quart jars. My pint jars fit in both my pressure cooker and other stock pots. Just a word to the wise.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Dreaming -- Strawberry Picking

For the last few years, I have a summer routine which includes visiting the Columbus Arts Festival and picking strawberries. When I was in high school, my Farm Bureau Youth group used to pick strawberries and then sell them for a small profit from the back of a pickup truck in the middle of my small town. In April, the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood kids expressed interest in us having a strawberry patch this year, so I started one in the northeast corner of the Garden. (Of course, it will be a few years before we get a significant number of strawberries to share). For now, I pick them at U-Pick farms, wash them, spread them on cookie sheets and then freeze them for later use as ice cubes in margaritas and in fruit smoothies. (I put the frozen strawberries in freezer bags to store them until I need them). I'm also going to try again to make strawberry preserves this weekend.

Stoddart Avenue Community Gardeners are gathering this Saturday to go strawberry picking. You'll need to contact me to find out the exact time and location. However, these are the best options for strawberry picking from the Bexley area:

a. Hann Farms 4600 Lockbourne Road has u-pick strawberries $1/pound. This is the closest u-pick farm to Bexley, but the trip there is a little tricky (through an industrial district, etc.) and it is not exactly the most scenic farm. Beth and I picked strawberries there last year and it was depressing to see how many of the berries were rotting in the field. You can't beat this price. Beth made a strawberry pie with them. Call 491-0812 for more information.

b. Schact Farms, 5950 Shannon Road in Canal Winchester, $1.9/pound. This is the next closest to Bexley. I discovered them last September and made many visits for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant to appease my Friday night addiction to canning tomatoes. They have an extensive pumpkin patch. Call 833-1932 for more information.

c. Jacquenmin Farm, (between Plain City and Dublin), $1.8/pound. I visited here last May with my niece and it is very quaint and very close to Dublin and Sports Ohio. Call 873-5725 for more information.

d. Doran Farms, 5462 Babbitt Rd. New Albany, $1.6/pound. I've never been there, but have heard good things about it. Call 855-3885 for more information.

e. Kroger’s weekly special: This week strawberries are on sale for $1.5/pound. Who knows where and when they were picked;) Usually, strawberries sell for a minimum of $2.50/pound.

f. Circle S Farm, 9015 London-Groveport Rd west of Grove City. $1.3/pound. I went here a few years ago with my niece and it’s a nice, large farm, but is way, way out in the country. However, they also sell a lot of strawberries and other items in Farmers Markets and don’t always have strawberries available for U-pick (like yesterday). They tell me strawberry picking season will run through Father’s Day. Call 878-9462 for more information.

Wherever you go, the strawberries are so plentiful that you're likely to spend more time driving than picking. It will take no more than one hour to pick close to 15 pounds.