Blanching Vegetables

As the summer ramps up and the garden produce starts rolling in, my kitchen becomes a place where I not only cook fresh produce, but freeze and can it as well. Some vegetables never produce enough, but there are always several that produce way more than we could eat fresh, so it's time to fill the freezer!

In order to freeze vegetables in a way that keeps the peak nutritional value and freshness, it is necessary to blanch them first. Blanching is like "flash boiling" vegetables to kill the enzymes that naturally break down vegetables over time.

Here are the basic steps for blanching vegetables:
1. Use the freshest vegetables that you can
2. Wash, peel, slice or dice your vegetables into the size and shape that you will want to use them in later
3. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
4. Add the vegetables to the water and bring back to a boil.
5. Start the time needed according to the chart when the water begins to boil.
6. When the time is up, strain the vegetables and plunge them into a bowl of ice water for the same number       of minutes that they boiled.
7. Strain the vegetables again and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry.
8. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 12-24 hours to freeze as individual pieces.
9. Put the vegetables in a freezer ziplock bag and label it with the date and contents.
10. Pull out of the freezer and enjoy any day of the year!

Different vegetables should be blanched for different amounts of time, so here is a handy chart to serve as a reminder!

Vegetable Starting Guide: Seeds or Plants?

So you're ready to begin a vegetable garden or try a new plant for the first time, but you aren't sure how to begin. Start seed indoors, direct sow, or buy transplants?

After years of experimenting with seeds and transplants, I have decided to make a handy chart to keep track of the vegetables that start out better with seeds started indoors, seeds directly sown in the ground, or bought from the store in a pot. Here is a little bit more on each of the options.

Direct Sow
I used to be completely intimidated by starting seeds directly in the ground. I'm way to much of a control freak to believe that sticking a seed in some dirt outside and walking away could ever produce anything edible, but after lots of trusting and trying, it has become one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways that I have found to begin most vegetables. Without direct sowing in the garden, you will greatly limit the number of different vegetable types that you can grow. It is much easier than you think, and at $1 per pack for most seed, the price is unbeatable for gardening on any larger scale.

All varieties of beans are a great seed to start with if direct sowing intimidates you. These seeds will come up fast and grow strong every time!

Seeds Started Indoors
Some plants need the extra time to grow before the weather warms up enough to go outside, especially in areas of the country with short growing seasons. Starting seeds indoors is a great way to give those plants a jump start. Simply plant your seeds in six packs or peat pots with potting soil. Some gardeners use a soil-less seed starting mix, but I find that a good potting soil almost always does the trick. Keep the soil moist, (the best way is by watering from the bottom) and keep them under LOTS of light. You don't want your seedlings to get long and lanky stretching for sunlight. Put them out in the sun as soon as possible.

Some plants simply take too long to grow from seed to maturity in a single planting season, especially in colder zones where the growing season is short. There are also some plants that can be grown from seed, but with the amount of care and attention they need, it is just not worth it. In those cases, you will want to buy plants from your local nursery. When choosing plants, buy the smallest ones possible to keep your budget under control. Don't worry, they will be big soon! Look for plants that are low and bushy rather than tall and lanky.

Other vegetables have special beginnings, such as potatoes, onions, garlic, and asparagus. They may be started from bulbs, seed potatoes, slips, leftovers from the kitchen, mature root stock, or sets that you buy from the store or order from a catalog. Do some research on these individual plants to find the best way to get the growing.

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips started from a seed potato.

And now for the handy chart! I hope this helps you as you expand your gardening horizons and try new plants. Some plants may have links that you can click on for more information on starting that particular plant.

Download: click here