Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

If you were to draw a venn diagram of my interests and the more crunchy granola all natural crowd, there would be a lot of overlap. We both care deeply about taking care of our planet, each other, and ourselves, including what we put in and on our bodies. Targeted online advertising recognizes this, and shows me things that sometimes make my eyes roll. Because while all of the above is true, I’m also have a degree in biology and a deep belief in science and data.

So when I see claims like, “Beeswax candles clean the air,” well, it I get a little bit twitchy. Clean the air how? It makes it sound like the candle is somehow removing something found in the air, therefore leaving the air more pure.

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It’s been a minute since I’ve added to my deep dive into garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas, the nightshades, the alliums and the parsley family (the series is listed under “gardening” on the DIY Homesteading tab above).

It’s time to talk about one of my hands down favorite plant families, Fabaceae, also known collectively as the legumes, aka beans, peas and their kin. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I have a deep love affair with most dried beans. One that isn’t showing any signs of abating since my early childhood bowls of ham hock and beans and my love of refried beans at a Mexican restaurant (truly, its how I benchmark the restaurant – if you can’t get this simple staple right, everything else falls short).

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It’s not a looker, but it’s a surprisingly satisfying weeknight supper.

Many years ago, I worked for a non-profit environmental education organization. The first time I had this dish, the founder of the organization, who was vegetarian and a force of nature, brought it to a potluck. I’m not normally a tofu lover (and I’ve even gone so far as to make it from scratch from ground soy beans) but I loved it in this dish and asked her for the recipe. Here are her original directions:

  • Cooked rice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (flavored)
  • 1 package baked tofu (Italian or other flavored)
  • 1/2 pack feta cheese
  • Artichoke bottoms
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 package raw spinach
  • Garlic powder
  • Jack or other cheese, shredded

Mix all ingredients and place in a baking pan. Add water/bouillon if seems too dry. Bake at 350 until hot and crispy.

Ha. Not a lot to go on, but honestly, you don’t need much to go on. This recipe is infinitely variable and hard to mess up.

Here’s my more fleshed out version.

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Main broccoli head harvest mid June. These heads ranged from just over a pound to up to two pounds each.

I keep a seed inventory spreadsheet that goes back to 2003. On that 2003 list? Waltham 29 Broccoli. Broccoli and I go back a long time. It was one of the first vegetables I learned to love. I even ate it back in high school, when the list of vegetables I would eat was very short. I preferred it smothered in packaged cheese sauce back then. We mostly eat it in a stir fry now, but I’ve also made broccoli soup a time or two, and it often just shows up as a sauteed veggie side with whatever dinner we’re having. It’s a kitchen workhorse, and I freeze some of my crop every year.

Every year I start broccoli in my greenhouse, and ever year I have a few extra seedlings to sell. And every year most of them languish and don’t end up in a garden. I never understood this, until this year when I joined several online beginning gardening groups. I’ve come to realize that a lot of people have a hard time growing broccoli. They try it once, have a bad experience, and so never grow it again. So I thought I’d write up a few tips.

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Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

My husband hates cucumber pickles. Me? I’m kind of so so on them. I don’t like dill pickles on my hamburgers (sweet pickle relish is OK). Sometimes a dill pickle spear that comes with a sandwich will taste amazing. Sometimes terrible. I’m never sure why. Dill is far down the list for my favorite fresh herbs. I’ll choose rosemary, thyme and cilantro any day. Even sage and parsley get more use in my kitchen.

So when it comes to making pickles, I don’t do a lot of it. I’ve tried all manor of recipes for boiling water bath canned dill pickles over the years, including the new technique where you pasteurized them at 180 for 30 minutes instead of boiling them, and I’ve never been all that excited about the results. The texture is never as crisp as I’m looking for. I’ve tried all the tricks including a grape leaf in the jar and using pickling lime.

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An early (and kinda sad) farmers market booth, from 2011

While I incorporated my business in 2010, I didn’t sell my first product until June 1st, 2011. So I recently passed my 10 year anniversary of being in business! I was fielding a question online from a new business woman about selling herbs and spice mixes, and it got me to thinking. What are the top ten things I’ve learned from being in business for 10 years?

In no particular order…

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This is a poor butchered willow from my neighborhood. It will never look normal again. It’s not near a house. I have no idea what prompted the owners to do this.

Years ago, while living in Parker Arizona, I noticed that there were a lot of trees pruned to look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. As a tree lover, it just seemed wrong on a gut level, and I didn’t understand why anyone would do that to a tree.

Our yard there had a large mulberry tree out front that had been topped in the recent past. We got a knock on the door asking if we wanted our “tree cleaned up” to which I responded “absolutely not”. We let that tree do its thing, even though the shape never looked right. Southern Arizona is an unforgiving climate, with daytime temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 months out of the year. The last thing this tree needed was to have all of its branches removed. The last thing we wanted was a reduction in shade.

Once we took the 12 week (now 17 week!) Arizona Master Gardener program in 2020, we better understood the ins and outs of why topping trees is such a bad idea. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on this for a very long time. The recent butchering of some mature sycamores in front of a winery in our town prompted me to finally put this piece together.

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I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen and have been a subscriber to Cooks Illustrated since the late 1990’s. Over the years, when I’ve had an abundance of one ripe fruit or another, I’ve tried out a variety of their ice cream recipes. A very long time ago, I had an uncle send me a small pint sized ice cream maker where you froze the special bowl and then hand cranked it for 5-10 minutes. It was fun to experiment with it. Then a few years ago, I broke down an ordered a Cuisinart ice cream maker, which was really just a larger electric version of the same system, for less than $100.

But as I get older, and can afford fewer and fewer calories and have more dramatic reactions to large amounts of sugar, I’ve done that less and less. Not to mention most recipes require you to make a custard with eggs and cream, being careful not to overcook and scramble them, and then chill well before churning. Seriously. I don’t have that kind of time or patience most days, no matter how delightful the results.

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Buckwheat, unrelated to wheat (it’s in the smartweed/knotweed family) is called a pseudo-grain, because its not actually a grass (unlike corn, wheat, rye, barley, oats…). It’s strange almost pyramid shaped seed is most commonly used in Soba, a Japanese buckwheat noodle, and as an additive to pancakes. I have a love/hate relationship with this grain. I love it in baked goods, hate it in noodles, and think its unappealing as a “groat” or boiled whole grain cereal.

But buckwheat is grown locally by Joel’s Organics, and in a fit of “support local” I bought a bag some time back. Because buckwheat contains no gluten, its a good fit for gluten free baking. But because it contains no gluten, its also tricky to use in baked goods that need gluten to hold them together. (Soba noodles, by the way, always also contain wheat flour – so they are not a gluten free noodle).

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Subtitle: So you want to build a greenhouse. Here’s what you need to know.

I built my first greenhouse in the mid 2000’s when we were living outside Durango Colorado. It was a DIY design based on using a wood frame, PVC pipe for the arches, and plastic sheeting to cover. It probably cost me less than $200 with new materials. I had wanted a greenhouse for almost 20 years at that point, but could not afford to buy a kit. When we got it up, it was early spring in Durango, an area that is almost 7,000 feet in elevation, and has a last frost date in early June! I had tomato seedlings started in my sunny laundry room, and was SO excited to now have a greenhouse I could transfer them to.

I lovingly put them all into the sunny warm greenhouse. The next morning, everything had frozen solid and all of my seedlings were very very dead.

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Jennifer Kleffner

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