Ginger's Gourmet Garden

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Much Needed Rain

These past two days, Mother Nature has provided the Midwest with much needed rain. We have been pelted with storm after storm and it looks like today will be more of the same….but who is to complain. This year has been one of the worst droughts that we have seen in this part of the country in decades.

What does one do in this situation, make the most of the rain while it is here. Collect it in rain barrels with closed tops to keep critters and mosquitoes out. Weed beds between rain storms. Turn those compost piles. There is plenty to do on rainy days!

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Did you know plants sleep at night?

Most plants have a two-phase cycle that gives them an active day cycle and a rest period at night, just like us! They go through an anaerobic phase where they “breathe” Carbon dioxide and an aerobic phase when they “breathe” oxygen. During their anaerobic phase, they clean carbon dioxide from the air. Carbon dioxide is breathed out by animals and humans as a waste product.

Plants also have dark and light photo periods. They photosynthesize, where they take energy from the sun to produce food for themselves during the light phase. Photosynthesis naturally slows down when it is dark. This means they “eat” during the day and “fast” at night.

Studies have found that the need for rest differs in the plant world. Just like us, they all need different sleep requirements. Studies found that chickpeas and cabbage will benefit and produce more when artificial light is provided 24 hours a day. Cucumbers and corn do not produce under 24 hour light. They will apparently sleep anyway. Some plants seem to be harmed by sleep deprivation. Tomatoes and peppers exposed to 24 hour light will decrease and wither. They also seem to get blisters on their leaves.

The best time to harvest herbs and other vegetables for optimum flavor is in the morning, just as the plants are beginning to wake up.

 

 


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Harvesting Herbs

Did you know that is best to harvest herbs in the morning to get the best flavor, It is best to harvest when the morning dew is still on the ground and that air has not begun to rise in temperature from the sun. The reason for this is that many of the oils that give the herbs their characteristic flavor are highly volatile at even low temperatures. This means that the flavor simply evaporates into the air. Annual herbs such as basil, chervil, and dill are the worst offenders in this category. Mints are also highly sensitive to temperature rises. On very hot days, the direct sun on the leaves can make the temperature of the leaves rise to surprising levels. This is caused by heating of the water in the leaves. It is much the same effect as how the sun heats up a car in the summer. This simply drives the oils right out of the leaves. The plant will replenish its oil during its rest phase at night.


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Finding the trees for the forest

Well, you all see what I was starting with, what looks like a mess! Many of you have areas that need to be started or reclaimed. I hope that sharing my methods will inspire you to make your own garden of dreams, whether you want to grow vegetables, herbs, or build your landscape paradise. I mentioned previously that i have 65 raised beds. Some of them are planted and some are a canvas in the making. At first I was tempted to start mowing, but I decided that at this point, placing a priority on production, rather than appearances was the first place to start. I stated with weeding the established beds and getting them pristine, or in some cases, finding the plants within and getting the tallest ones outĀ  so that the plants I intended to grow had some “breathing room” and sunlight.

The result: instant gratification at finding that my winter savory has nearly tripled in size. Think I will get out the dryer tomorrow morning and put some away for winter soups!

What other wonderful surprises I will uncover on this adventure?

 


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#2

Don’t weed when the soil is too dry. It will disturb the roots of the plants you are trying to grow and stress them. Either wait until it rains or water deeply before weeding. It is a good time to mow. Cut them off if you have to, then pull the roots when it is wetter.


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What IS that stuff in the Mason jar?

Sourdough Starter! This is a jar of sourdough starter that crept into the back of my refrigerator and hid. The best sourdough starter is aged. That is a secret that I learned from my Grandmother, and one that was later repeated to me by an Amish lady around here. This has been aged for about 1 year as I kept putting off making the bread. Yes, it is still good. Sourdough starter kept in a cool place will keep for a very long time. If it smells like sourdough starter, not mold or mildewy, it is good. The dark layer on top is a by- product of the yeast consuming sugar and converting it to an alcohol-like preservative.

However, this sourdough starter is even more special than that. This sourdough starter is the result of an experiment. I decided to try to collect wild yeast from the air. That is how they did it before commercial yeast was invented. Actually, all yeast was wild collected at some point. Those companies like Fleschmann’s and Red Star started with a really good wild collected strain and they just kept it going for all of this time, using the original as the mother of new batches. How does this work?

Yeast is everywhere and there are hundreds of strains floating around in the air all the time. If you live in an old house, or you have baked bread in your house at any time in the past, you have yeast in the air. I live in a house that began as 1840, so I just HAD to try this. I wanted to see what yummy strains were floating around in the air.

This is easy to do. All you do is to place about 1 C flourĀ  in 2 C water and add 2Tbl sugar, honey or 1/2 bottle dark stout beer. Let is sit in a warm place, that’s all. Soon you will start to see bubbles, at that point you have captured the yeast. It can take 2 hours or 2 days depending on how much yeast is in your air, the weather, temperature, etc. After is it good and bubbly, cover it, put it in a jar and treat it like any other sourdough starter for your favorite recipe.

CAUTION! In my first two attempts to do this, I captured mold spores instead. it turned a greenish cast and smelled like mold instead of bread. It took three times before I actually captured yeast instead of mold. It all depends on which colonizes first.
The next step is to remove 1/2 cup from my wild sourdough starter and feed it. I will place it in its own sterile mason jar with 1 cup flour and a sugar for it to eat. I will stir it and add 1 C flour every day or so until it is enough to bake with. I can also start a second jar or starter and propagate the strain. I think that I will starts a few and share with a friend too. I can smell the bread already…can’t wait to try it. Hmmmmmm,,,,,,,maybe you will see some of this special wild sourdougn bread at a Farmer’s Market someday…