Fresh Garden Veggie Salsa

We all know that the most nutritious way to eat vegetables is raw, but I can only eat so many raw vegetables before getting tired of crunching. I also happen to have SO MANY fresh veggies coming in from the garden right now that I am having trouble making sure that none go to waste. And since I can only freeze and can for so is a fantastically delicious way to enjoy all of those fresh garden veggies raw!

The best part of this recipe is that you can mix and match using almost any of the vegetables that you have available in the garden. I have made this recipe using all kinds of different vegetable combinations, and it always turns out addictingly delicious.

Here is what I used this time:
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 yellow squash, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1 cucumber, chopped
- 2 small ears corn, cut from the cob
- 2 green onions, chopped
The Sauce:
- 1/4 cup Italian dressing
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp hot sauce
Chop all of the vegetables into small pieces so that they can easily fit on a chip. This step does take a while, but trust me, its worth it!

Mix the sauce together in a separate bowl, pour it over the vegetable combo, and mix well.

Now eat it with chips. Try not to eat the whole bowl in one sitting. It will be a challenge!

 The best part about this recipe is that you really can use whatever you happen to have around. Some other good ingredients that I have used and like are bell peppers, onions (white, yellow, or red), canned beans (rinsed well), and even some fruit such as mango or vine peach. The combination possibilities are endless! Enjoy :)

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!

Spring 2014 Garden Produce Review

Now that we have our new vegetable garden, we are trying a lot of new plants, experimenting with different ways to grow things, and have more space to play with producing our own food! We use growveg to do all of our garden planning and LOVE IT! If you haven't tried it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out, seriously.

Here was our spring garden layout:

We'll let you know how each plant did, any trouble shooting we had to do, and any changes we plan on making for next time. Just FYI, we are in south central Louisiana, which is a hot and humid Zone 9a. Our advice may not apply to your area!

# of Plants/Area: 2 sq. ft.
Produce: 1lb4oz
Prepared: Roasted and delicious!
Notes: This was our first time planting turnips, and I wasn't expecting much to happen. But we planted seeds on Feb. 1, and they did great!

# of Plants/Area: 4 plants
Produce: 15 oz. dried and 7 cups fresh, More than we could handle!
Prepared: Basil Mint Pesto, Basil Parsley Pesto, Dried Basil
Notes: I started these plants from seed in pots. I spent most of the summer trying to figure out how to use our HUGE amounts of basil. I couldn't think of enough ideas to handle the volume!

Green Onions:
# of Plants/Area: 10 plants
Produce: Used all season without running out!
Prepared: Gumbo, baked potatoes, fresh veggie dip
Notes: We started these from leftovers we bought at the grocery store, and they have produced for us all season without running out. Find out how to start your own here. So simple!

# of Plants/Area: 4 plants
Produce: 2 cups fresh
Prepared: Basil Parsley Pesto, Dried Parsley, Gumbo
Notes: I started these plants from seeds in pots. The parsley doesn't produce as much per plant as we use, so I will plant more next year!

# of Plants/Area: 5 plants
Produce: 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
Prepared: Basil Mint Pesto
Notes: I direct seeded these in the bed. They were more for attracting bees and giving the birds a snack than anything else. But it doesn't hurt to get a little produce from them as well!

Zucchini and Summer Squash:
# of Plants/Area: 5 plants
Produce: Yellow summer squash 15oz, Zucchini 7lb 13oz
Prepared: Zucchini lasagna, Carrot Zucchini bread, Zucchini Blueberry bread, Pickled zucchini, and sauteed Squash
Notes: I direct seeded these in the raised bed, and they all sprouted. If you have trouble with squash vine borers or powdery mildew on your summer squash plants, check out the posts we have for those issues.

# of Plants/Area: 8 plants
Produce: 3oz
Prepared: Minced
Notes: I started this garlic from grocery story leftovers. Find out how to start your own here. I was surprised what a good harvest I got from the spring, when garlic grows best when started in the fall. I will be growing this again!

# of Plants/Area: Bush beans- 20, Pole Beans- 10, Soy beans- 12, Lima beans- 6
Produce: Bush beans- 8lb 3oz, Pole Beans- 4lb 3oz, Soy Beans- 2lb 6oz, Lima beans- 2oz
Prepared: Steamed, Pickled, Relish, Raw :)
Notes: The bush beans, pole beans, and soy beans had huge produce, but the lima beans must have not liked their spot. They never did get going, but I had more than enough beans from my other plants!

# of Plants/Area: 2 sq. ft.
Produce: 2 oz.
Prepared: Chopped up raw in salads
Notes: We aren't big radish eaters, but they are fun to grow because they mature so quickly. Besides, the rabbits LOVE the greens, so it's worth it to give them a treat.

# of Plants/Area: 4 sq. ft.
Produce: 3lb. 2oz.
Prepared: Steamed, Pot Roast Stew, Carrot Zucchini bread, Raw in salads
Notes: I will definitely plant more carrots next year! These were easy to grow and we eat a lot of carrots!

# of Plants/Area: 6 plants
Produce: 2 cups fresh was all I used!
Prepared: Basil Mint Pesto
Notes: I was warned to plant this in a area where it could take over, and they were not kidding! We have more mint than we know what to do with, and I will be digging up a bunch to feed to the rabbits at the end of the season. I definitely won't plant more than one pot of this next year!

# of Plants/Area: 20ft. row wild blackberry vines along the back fence
Produce: 7lb
Prepared: Blackberry lemonade, Summer Fruit Smoothies
Notes: We freeze gallon size bags of blackberries every spring, and they never make it through the year. They grow wild, and we love our blackberries!

# of Plants/Area: 5 small bushes
Produce: 8oz.
Prepared: Blueberry pancakes, Blueberry Zucchini bread, Summer fruit Smoothies, Blueberry Jelly
Notes: We use about 20 lb. of blueberries a year and we usually pick them at a local blueberry farm. This was our first year to start a few bushes of our own, and we are looking forward to production picking up as they grow! Not bad for a first year though.

# of Plants/Area: 10 plants
Produce: 22lb. 11oz.
Prepared: Raw, In salads
Notes: More cucumbers than we could eat and give away! And they were so fresh :)

# of Plants/Area: 10 plants
Produce: 6oz
Prepared: Sun Dried Tomatoes
Notes: Out tomato plants did awful! Out of ten plants we only picked 5 tomatoes! I'm not sure what went wrong, but the flowers kept falling off before setting fruit. It's the first time I've ever had that problem. I'm disappointed, but will try again next year.

# of Plants/Area: 1 sq. ft.
Produce: 1lb.
Prepared: Caramelized beets
Notes: This was our first time growing beets, and I was not sure what to expect, but was pleased with the produce and the taste.

# of Plants/Area: 20 plants
Produce: 8oz
Prepared: steamed
Notes: The corn did not do well. I'm not sure if I planted too late, or if the soil wasn't deep enough, but it just never took off.

# of Plants/Area: 4 sq. ft.
Produce: 1lb. 8oz.
Prepared: None of them made it out of the yard, we ate them all raw right in the garden!
Notes: There is nothing like fresh peas- they taste like candy!

My goal for the spring was 50lbs of produce, but our total came to 64.7lb! When we calculated the value (based on local grocery store prices) the total came out to $165.00 worth of produce we grew in our own backyard over the course of seven months!

How was your produce this past season? Any tips for getting more out of the area?

How to Overcome the Evil Squash Vine Borer

I love the veggies in the summer garden from the cucurbit family: zucchini, squash, and cucumbers. But every spring when the first leaves of the seeds push up from the ground, I know the race is on. Can I get a good harvest from my garden before the Evil Squash Vine Borers destroy my entire crop of plants? It takes a lot of diligence to hold them off, but it IS possible. 

To overcome the enemy, you have to study them. They are most attracted primarily to summer squash and zucchini and occasionally to cucumbers, winter squash, and pumpkins. In my garden, they love them ALL!
They begin as these orange and black flying insects...they just look evil. 

You can try to stop them from laying their eggs on the plants by using row covers of mesh fabric. The only problem with this method is that the row covers also keep away the bees that are necessary for pollination for fruit production. I've never tried this method.

Once the flying insects lay their eggs at the base of the plant, the larvae hatch and bore into the stem of the plant. There is little evidence that they have taken up residence in your plants, but there is some. The first sign is an orange sawdust-like substance at the base of the plant where the borer entered. 

As the borer eats it way along the stem the leaves wilt. This is the time to catch them! If the borer goes unnoticed, it will eat its way all the way up (or down) the stem until it cuts off nutrients to the plant, and overnight the plant goes from a leafy green growth to a limp, flattened mess. Once this happens it is usually too late. 

Once you see the evidence of where the borer entered, take a knife and make a slice vertically along the stem until you find the nasty culprit, a white grub-like larvae.

I know it is hard to cut open the stem of your plant, but it will pay off in the end. If you catch the evil little grub then the plant has a chance of surviving even the worst damage. Cucurbits can regrow roots from any part of their stem, so simply bury the stem past the part where the damage was done and give it a good watering. The plant should be able to recover.

Once you have killed one, don't get too smug! They will be back, and back again, and yet again... They are persistent, so you have to be persistent too! Once they have bored to their hearts content, they dig down into the dirt, form a cocoon and wait to emerge as flying insects in the spring, so it is important not to let them get away.

Here are a few other tips to help keep them under control:
- Rotate plants so that you do not have cucurbits growing in the same area more than once every three years
- Immediately pull up and throw away (not compost) any plants that have been taken over by the insects
- Do not compost any cucurbits that may have been affected
- Plant multiple crops throughout the season so that in case one crop doesn't make it, you have a backup
- Use row covers during early plant development before they are flowering
- Thoroughly till the dirt after pulling up plants so that you expose the cocoons (you may even find some so you can squish them!)
- As plants grow, mound dirt around the exposed stem of squash and zucchini plants to keep them from being exposed
- Keep an eye on you plants, looking along the stem each day to find the early signs of orange sawdust and wilting leaves
- I know it hurts, but keep cutting along the affected stems until you find the perpetrators and then rebury the stems to promote new root growth

Good luck, and good harvest! Do you have any other tips or tricks that have worked?