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Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is an aromatic perennial that is essential to Italian and Greek cooking. It is also known as Wild Marjoram and is a close relative of Marjoram. Oregano is native to the Mediterranean, and loves full fun.  In areas with milder winters, it is grown as a perennial. In areas with colder winters, it is treated like an annual.

One of the remarkable things about oregano is its ability to compliment so many different flavors. It goes well with spicy and savory dishes, like chili and soup, as well as sweet and citrus dishes, like salads and glazes. Oregano is typically paired with basil in tomato based dishes, and is a standard in pizza sauces. In some pizza restaurants, shakers of dried oregano are found on the table next to the salt and pepper. It is also common in many Greek dishes, including the standard Greek salad, with sun dried tomatoes, feta, black olives, anchovies, and olive oil.

Lemon Garlic Oregano Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 tsp lemon zest
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper in a large bowl. Add the olive oil in slowly, whisking it into the mixture evenly.

This makes a wonderful, flavorful yet light salad dressing, perfect for spring vegetables.

It can also be used to dress grilled chicken, pork chops, and even fish. Oregano doesn’t keep its flavor if it is cooked for too long, so it is generally best to add it near the end of cooking. Whether grilling or roasting, simply cook the meat until it is done and then add the meat to a baking dish, cover it evenly with the dressing, and cover. Let it sit for about ten minutes, and then it is ready to serve!

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Cumin

Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, Cumin is the dried seed of the plant Cuminum cyminum that is so great it was even mentioned in the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament). Its first documented cultivation was along the Nile River Valley over 4,000 years ago by the Egyptians. Through trade and exploration cumin seeds have dispersed around the world as many people have become intrigued by the spice’s earthy, warm flavors. Spaniards are responsible for bringing cumin with them to the New World, where it is now one of the top 10 spices sold in the US.

Cumin has been seen in numerous meals from Asia to the Americas. Indian and Pakistani cuisines commonly add this aromatic spice to dishes, such as Chana Masala and Samosas. Even the popular spice blend, Garam Masala, has been known to have cumin in it from time to time. My favorite way to use cumin in the kitchen is for carne asada. Literally translating to “grilled meat,” carne asada is a common protein found in many carnicerias in Central America and taquerias in North America. Below you will find a recipe just in time for the grilling season!

Carne Asada
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
(use gloves!)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 limes, juiced
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped leaves and
stems (stems have more flavor than leaves!)
2 tbsp white vinegar
½ tsp white sugar
½ cup olive oil
2 pounds steak, flank or skirt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Toast cumin seed over a dry skillet on medium heat. Keep the seeds constantly moving while toasting, until slightly darker in color and more aromatic (about 1 minute). Grind cumin in a spice grinder, or in a mortar and pestle.

2. Stir in sugar, herbs, and spices to oil, vinegar, and lime juice in a large bowl or baking dish. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Pour over steak in the baking dish, or submerge steak into the bowl, making sure the steak is covered by liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 – 4 hours.

3. Preheat grill to med-high heat, or high heat if cooking on a stove top–if cooking on the stove, a cast iron grill pan works best. Brush grates or pan with a little olive oil to prevent the meat from sticking.

4. Remove steak from marinade. If cooking on the stove, it’s best to remove excess marinade as it can burn and smoke easily. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on both sides of the steak, and place on the grill. Grill on both sides until medium-rare to well done, depending on your preferences.

5. Remove steak from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cut across the grain on a diagonal to make thin strips.

Making It A Meal:
Warm tortillas for tacos or burritos. Top it off with pico de gallo with fresh cilantro and tomatoes from the garden!

Encourage creativity: have a taco night! Supply diners with tortillas, carne asada, grilled veggies (onion and zucchini are a great choice), rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, queso fresco, and sour cream.

 

3690549_Garening Mom_Veer

Show us your mom garden!

When I was growing up in the South, I thought it was some kind of tradition for Mothers Day where adult children visited their mothers and built them a garden. See, in my family, that’s what it felt like. In early May, we’d pile in the car and visit my Granny. On Saturday, my uncles would get good and dirty in the yard, clearing out the winter growth and get it all tilled up and ready for planting.

As an adult, I realize this isn’t nearly as common as I’d thought. Oh, I’m sure there are still great kids who spend a weekend getting their mother’s garden ready for planting. But I also think it’s because younger and younger moms are doing more gardening. And it’s no surprise. Increasing uncertainty around food safety and the homestead/DIY movement catching on, it’s no wonder more households are growing their own veggies and fruits.

Mothers Day Giveaway:
To celebrate all the Gardening Moms out there, we’re having a special Mothers Day gardening giveaway. It’s super easy to enter! Just show us your garden, and you can win a whole bundle of goodies to get your garden growing in the right direction:

The New Food Garden, signed by Frank Tozer himself,
and chock full of great info!

 

A $25 gift certificate for Peaceful Valley,
for all the seeds you’ll need!

 

All our Smart Add OnsShape, Succession, and Shade, Note,
Archived Gardens, and Calendar
, plus Herbs and Berries,
a $15 value!


To enter, show us your garden layout:

Share your garden on the Smart Gardener site. Just click the “share” tab at the very top, to the right of the name of your garden.

That’ll bring up a window where you can make a note about your garden, add photos, add tags, and set whether it’s private or public.

To make sure you’re registered in the contest:

1 entry: You can upload a screen shot of your garden to our Facebook page. Make sure you include your name and the name of your garden.

1 entry: Tweet us the link to your garden @smartgardener1, make sure to include the name of your garden.

1 entry: Reply to this blog post with the link to your garden, your name, and your garden’s name.

Extra credit:

5 entries: Share a link to your own blog showing off your garden layout on this blog, our Facebook page, or twitter.

Drawing:

All the entries will be placed in a spreadsheet and assigned a unique number. One winner will be chosen by random using random.org. The drawing will be held Sunday, May 13, at 6 pm Pacific. The winner will be announced as soon as he or she is notified.

So, get started sharing!
And good luck!

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Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the most common culinary herbs in the kitchen and the garden. It’s incredibly easy to grow, so it’s great for families that don’t have much time to tend to their plants. It also makes a great windowsill crop for those with little outdoor space.

Once you grow it, it’s not hard to find recipes for your basil. Pesto is a popular choice for Genovese Basil, and Thai basil is wonderful when added to Thai curries. Below you will find two simple recipes for basil that you’re sure not to find in Mom’s cookbooks.

Basil Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
3 large basil leaves

Bring everything to a boil, stirring regularly to ensure sugar is dissolved. Pour into a container and refrigerate until cold, keeping the basil leaves in the syrup. Your simple syrup will thicken more as it chills.

Use to make refreshing drinks, such as Basil Lemonade, or Cucumber Basil Gimlets. A great topping for Strawberry Shortcake, Peach Cobbler, Vanilla Ice Cream or Berry Sorbets!

 

Nam Manglak
(Thai Basil Seed Drink)

Recommended from Frank Tozer
2 Tbsp basil seed (from your basil plants, not from a seed packet)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 1/4 cups water
1 cup rosewater

Using a tea strainer, rinse the seeds. Soak the basil seeds in 1 cup of water. Use the other 1 ¼ cups of water and heat with sugar and honey until dissolved thoroughly. Taste it and adjust the sweetness to your preference—it will get more diluted once the drink is finished. Allow sugar water to cool to room temperature. Add swelled basil seeds with sugar water at room temperature. Chill and serve over crushed ice.

Faluda is another beverage made with basil seeds that is very popular in Southeast Asia. Its ingredients are very similar, although it has many variations.

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Don’t feed the birds

There are few things more frustrating than preparing, planting and pampering a bed of peas or beans and then discovering that the newly germinated seedlings have all been wiped out by birds.

In most places birds are only a significant problem in spring when they seem to relish the abundant succulent green seedlings, but in my garden quail can be a problem anytime. In winter they go for the Brassicas, in summer they like any succulent greens, and in fall they eat newly sown, or emerging, cover crops. I’ve learned the hard way if I leave a seedbed unprotected I am pretty much wasting my time, as I will be lucky to harvest anything from it.

Tips on how to protect your plants:

Easy: The easiest method to keep birds away is to use scare tactics such as flashing tape, hanging old CDs, scarecrows, and predator balloons. The problem with these is that birds will eventually get used to them and start to ignore them, though they may work long enough for your planting to grow out of its most vulnerable stage.

Functional: The usual solution to serious bird predation is plastic netting. This is awkward to handle and put up (it’s an extra step after planting that you don’t need), and somewhat hazardous to wildlife (I have released several tangled snakes) but in these circumstances it is a necessary evil. I usually support the netting on hoops made from lengths of discarded ½” polyethylene irrigation pipe, weighted down at the edges with wood or soil. It’s not particularly elegant, but its quick and it works.

Extreme: In the most extreme cases you might decide to cage the whole garden (especially if you are also plagued by rabbits, deer, squirrels, or raccoons). The simplest and cheapest way to do this is to put an 8 foot tall chicken wire fence around the garden and make a roof out of plastic bird netting.

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Chervil

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is related to parsley, and has a flavor similar to Tarragon. Chervil’s lacy leaves are finely cut and light green, as delicate and dainty as their flavor is subtle. The classic herb is essential in French fines herbs mixtures and is often used as a Tarragon substitute. Chervil has a refined taste reminiscent of Anise and Parsley, delicious in salads or to highlight sauces, sautés and soups. Because it can be difficult to find in the grocery market, Chervil is an important herb for kitchen gardeners to grow – its special flavor rewards your efforts many times over.

Chervil is best grown from seeds sown directly into the soil. It develops a long taproot, and does not transplant well. It prefers a cool, moist location, otherwise it tends to bolt. Even so, it is a good plant for succession sowing, so even if it bolts, the new plants can still be harvested.

Herbed Carrots

1 pound fresh carrots, peeled and cut
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil, divided
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a mixing bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil and 1 tablespoon chervil, and salt and pepper. Place the carrots on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Remove the carrots from the oven. While the are still hot, toss with the remaining tablespoon of chervil, the butter, and more salt and pepper, if you desire.

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How long do seeds live?

I love trying different edible plants and so I grow a wide variety of crops (and often several varieties of each one) every year. This adds greatly to my enjoyment of the garden, but also means that I end up with a lot of half empty seed packets at the end of the growing season. Fortunately most seed remains viable for at least 3 years (even if just sitting in a drawer) so you can use up the rest of the packet later. A few kinds of seed (corn, onion, leek, chives and parsnip) are only considered dependable for 2 years, so you should try and use these up in the following year. Others (cabbage, chicory, endive, cucumber, squash and tomato) may last as long as 6 to 8 years.

Seeds are sleeping plants
The exact length of time a seed will remain viable is determined by how it is stored. Seeds may not look like living plants but they are (just in a different form) and have to respire to maintain life processes. While a seed is dormant they do this at a very slow rate, but warmth and moisture (the same things required for germination) increase this rate, causing them to use up their food reserves more quickly. As these are gradually depleted, less is available for germination and their vigor declines until the seed is no longer able to germinate (this is why 5 year old seed isn’t as vigorous as one year old seed).

How to store seeds
If you are planning to use the rest of the seed in the following year, all you need to do is keep them in a dry, cool place. If you want them to survive as long as possible you must keep them very dry and very cool. This means drying them thoroughly (put them in a glass jar with a moisture absorbent such as silica gel) and then keeping them in a place that remains cool even in summer. For longest possible storage they may be kept in a freezer, though any seed you store in this way must be very dry, otherwise moisture in the seed may freeze and damage it.

Good idea
Garden centers often sell off year old seed packets cheaply when the new seed arrives in February or March and this can be a good way to save a little money and try some new varieties. It should still be good for at least another year and often a lot longer (just be aware of which seeds are long lived and which aren’t). The best deal is seed that comes in packets lined with aluminum foil, as this keeps the seed very dry and extends its life considerably (I’ve had good germination from 12 year old lettuce packed in foil).

We make it easy
If you’re at all unsure how long you should keep your seeds, we include seed viability information right in the plant description.

Lemon Mint_Brittany

Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is actually a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. With its parentage, you’d be right if you guessed it loves moist conditions — in the wild it is often found growing along the sides of creeks and ditches. In older gardens, it can usually be found under leaky faucets.

If you have ever grown mint, you probably also already know how invasive it can be. It doesn’t generally produce seed, but instead propagates by sending out underground runners, and can be easily restrained by taking simple measures, such as keeping it in pots or contained beds, or staying vigilant at trimming it back.

Mint has long been used in medicinal potions. It has a high menthol content, and its oil can be found in all kinds of products, from ice cream to toothpaste. While usually associated with iced-tea, and as a garnish for desserts, mint also adds a simple, fresh flavor to many typically savory dishes. Lamb with mint jelly is a popular dish in many parts of the world. In India, fresh mint leaves are often added to lightly cooked vegetables.

Spring Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 cup fresh green peas, blanched
3 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

Rinse and cook the quinoa following the instructions on the package. You can prepare the quinoa the day before and allow it to cool overnight, but you can also spread it out on a baking sheet and place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the carrots, peas, and green onions and add the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in the cooled quinoa, until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the top with the chopped mint leaves and serve.

Borage_Brittany

New Arrivals!

We have been busy as little bees in the spring time, working on all kinds of new features and plant varieties for SmartGardener.com! Here is just a quick sample of some of the really special plants we’ve added.

Borage
These flowers are great for any garden, big or small. Their beautiful blue, purple, and pink colors make an attractive addition, and they encourage more pollinators to come to your garden. The best thing about Borage (Borago officinalis), in my opinion, is that it’s edible! Every time kids come to my community garden, I take them on a tour showing them all the things we grow and play plant identification games with them. During the tour, I would always be sure to stop at the Borage, which is now self-seeding in a sunny spot of our garden. No one could identify it, so when I popped off a flower and put it in my mouth they would all go wild in excitement. Usually the braver children of the bunch will want to taste it immediately, while more reserved children stand back to watch their peers’ reactions. “It tastes just like a cucumber!” is a common response, and soon enough all of the kids will join in delight. It’s simple moments like these that always make me love sharing my garden with others, and especially children!

Fun Fact: Give drinks a fun twist by freezing the flowers in ice cubes, or use them as a garnish on salads, cakes, or other desserts.

Growing Tip: Grow Borage near tomatoes, as the plant repels a common pest, the Tomato Hornworm.

German Chamomile
Chances are you’ve probably had German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) in tea. It’s commonly thought of as a sleep aid, but has many medicinal uses beyond that. But did you know that it’s called “the plant doctor” by farmers? Chamomile can improve the growth and health of nearby plants, and has also been proven to improve the flavor and scent in Mints and Basil. You can also give your plants a “sip” of Chamomile Tea to decrease fungal growth by misting it over seedlings to prevent dampening off.

Growing Tip: Since you’ll be harvesting the flowers of the Chamomile plant, try to avoid using any pesticides or sprays.

Important Note: Although it has so many beneficial components, women that are pregnant should avoid consuming Chamomile, as it can cause uterine contractions that can lead to a miscarriage.

Borage and German Chamomile are now available to add to your garden; you can find them by Browsing under Flowers:

Cowpea
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what a cowpea is. That’s probably because we commonly refer to this crop as Black-Eyed Peas (Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata) in the grocery store. While they are not as common on US dinner plates compared to other Peas, like Sugar Snap, they are an important staple crop for much of the world. These heat-tolerant, drought-resistant plants have shown that they can perform well in drier, arid climates where other crops fail. For gardeners in the Midwest, Mid Atlantic, and Southern states, this is an excellent crop to experiment with this year! While Black-Eyed Peas are the most commonly known, other varieties are also available. Red Ripper offers growers a red bean with a cream colored “eye,” while the Pinkeye Purple Hull variety makes a cream colored bean with a maroon “eye.”

Eating Ideas: You don’t have to grow Cowpeas for the seed, though. You can harvest it at any time during its growth, using the greens as a potherb, or the immature pods in the same way as preparing snap beans.

Growing Tip: To avoid fungal disease, don’t water on the leaves of Cowpeas.

Cowpeas are now available to add to your garden; you can find all of our available varieties by Browsing under Vegetables:

Winter Savory & Summer Savory
Both in the same plant family, Lamiaceae Satureja, Winter and Summer Savory offer chefs a fragrant peppery-thyme flavor that complements meats, soups, and bean dishes. Unlike similarly named Winter and Summer Squash, the savories prefer opposite growing conditions. Winter Savory is a hardy perennial that can survive cold conditions, even down to 10˚ F, and tolerates poor soil. Summer Savory is a tender annual which cannot tolerate any frost, but does like the heat, and requires more maintenance, moist fertile soil, and regular pruning. All that extra work will pay of though, since many agree that Summer Savory has a more refined taste and a less pungent kick than Winter Savory.

Since Summer Savory is an annual, you’ll be able to harvest it in your first year, while those growing Winter Savory will need more patience as harvest is slow the first year. While Summer Savory sounds more ideal, Northern climates have too short of a warm growing season to grow it, which makes Winter Savory a good alternative. Winter Savory is also a good option for those who want fresh sprigs year round, rather than only during the warm season.

Planting Tip: In the garden both Savory types are great companion plants as they repel common pests. They are especially good with Beans and Peas, in the garden and on your plate!

Growing Tip: Savory does well in containers, and can benefit from starting off alone, as the plants grow slowly at first and weeds and neighboring plants grow much faster.

Roselle
This unique member of the Hibiscus plant is not grown for its flowers, but mainly for the calyxes. The calyx is the collection of sepals, which are the light green parts behind a flower bud. During bud production, the calyx protects the pedals. Once harvested, the calyxes are boiled to create a variety of different drinks, including a deep-red beverage commonly called “agua de flor de Jamaica.” The intense color from Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) has made it a common food coloring, especially in drinks labeled as “berry flavored.” The flower buds contain natural pectin, so it’s also commonly made into a red, tart, plum-like jelly by simply boiling the flowers and adding sugar.

Fun Fact: The plant is actually native to the tropics of the Old World.

Growing Tip: This plant can get to be 3 to 5’ tall, so plant it somewhere in your garden where it won’t cast a shadow on neighboring plants (unless they prefer the shade).

Winter Savory, Summer Savory and Roselle are now available to add to your garden. You can find all of our available varieties by Browsing under Herbs:

 

broccoli_All Seasons_RG

Spring Vegetables

So you’ve got your soil ready, it’s finally warm enough, and now you’re thinking about what to plant. It’s tempting to start planting all those great seeds you bought over the winter, but it’s best to take a moment and consider what weather conditions each plant needs to germinate and thrive. Each plant has an appropriate time to be planted, and it’s important to be aware of which plants can go out at what time.

The vegetables that grow well in spring all originated in temperate climates and prefer cool (50-75˚ F) growing conditions. When you first plant your spring crops, the soil and air are cool and days are fairly short, so crops germinate and grow slowly. As spring progresses the days lengthen and the weather gradually warms, until by the time most crops are ready to harvest it may be warm most of the time. Fall has cool weather too, but there the reverse is true, conditions are warm for seed germination and growth (and pest activity), while maturation takes place in cooler weather.

When to plant
It is important to get your spring crops into the ground as early as possible, so they have enough time to grow and mature before the long, warm days of early summer cause them to bolt or develop bitter or pungent flavors. Fortunately cool weather crops aren’t perturbed by minor cold snaps, so planting them early isn’t a big problem. If it is cold they will just sit and wait until the weather warms up enough for growth.

  • The hardiest crops can be planted as soon as the ground is suitable for making beds in spring, which may be 4 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. These plants include: leek, onion, parsley, pea, spinach, and shallot.
  • The slightly less hardy crops can be sown 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost date. These include: lettuce, cilantro, mustard, and radish.
  • The rest of the spring crops are sown a couple of weeks before last frost date. These include: beet, carrot, broccoli, cabbage, chard, kale, and potato.

 

Smart Gardener makes it easy
We show you quickly and easily when it’s the right time to start your seeds indoors or outdoors, based on your region. Just check the Overview tab in the variety descriptions, and you’ll see when to start your seeds, transplant your starts, and harvest your vegetables. The top lines are for spring/summer crops, and the bottom lines are for fall/winter. Easy as can be!