Gardening Jones

13 Edibles to Grow Incognito

Gardening Jonesokra flower

You may have a reason you want to grow food without everyone knowing about it. Perhaps you live in a Housing Association that takes what you grow, and more importantly, how it looks, seriously. Maybe you just want to keep your business to yourself.

Or perhaps you just want to incorporate edibles into your landscape for a little more return on your investment.

Whatever your reason, there are a number of foods you can grow pretty much in disguise.

1. Sweet potatoes are related to morning glories and look pretty much like ground cover. They have a lush vine like top growth of edible beautiful leaves. Yes, those leaves are tasty and healthy, just cook like you would spinach. The tubers themselves store well, can be used to replant, and are highly nutritious. Sweet potatoes are not only a good source of vitamin A, they also have a lot of vitamin C.

2. Dry beans most often have a pole growth habit. On a pole they may be obvious, but on a trellis or arbor, much less so. Their gorgeous flowers also help hide the fact that they are producing a high protein food source. Of course save some to replant.

3. Flax is a lovely flowering plant grown for its seed, which is high in fiber and can be used as a substitute for oil and eggs in many recipes. It would blend in well in the landscape and not be seen as a food source by most people. Can it get any better? Yep, bees love them.

4. Quinoa, a relative of spinach, is grown for its high protein grains. It stores well, can be added to almost any recipe, and you can replant the seeds.

5. Unless you are a gardener, you probably wouldn’t recognize a potato growing if you saw one. The russet varieties store the best, and you can replant the following season. What we really like about potatoes besides their ability to store is the versatility of use. May as well keep things interesting.

6. Garlic is said to have some antibiotic properties, can be replanted not long after harvest, and stores well. It takes up very little room yet can make a world of difference in your food.

7. Amaranth, like the gorgeous red Love Lies Bleeding or the green Emerald Tassels are most often listed as flowers. They have gorgeous tall stems with cascading blooms. And guess what, those flowers go to seed and become a very nutritious and quite tasty addition to your diet.

8. Okra is an easy edible to incorporate into a landscape. You can cook it a variety of ways, plus you can dehydrate it to grind and use as a food thickening agent. Be sure to let 1 or 2 pods grow big to save the seeds. Many ornamental gardeners grow okra purely for its aesthetic appeal.

9. Walking onions grow as a perennial scallion type onion with an increased harvest each year. Dry the tops to use throughout the winter months.

10. Hot peppers are a good idea even if you don’t eat them. They can be used to make a pepper spray which works well as a pest deterrent. Many ornamental varieties, like 5 Color Chinese are both pretty to look at, edible, and useful.

11. Tomatoes would be hard to hide, except that you can actually grow them, as well as other edibles, indoors. Stagger a few plantings of heirloom varieties to have a fresh vitamin C source year round. Lightly brush the flowering plants with your hands or use a tuning fork to help promote pollination.

12. I’ll just group all Herbs together, as there are far too many to mention. For starts, consider chives, mints inc. oregano, and basil. These can be grown outdoors or in. Just be careful of the mint family as they can become invasive. They do well in containers. Basil can be started outdoors, then potted up and brought inside for fresh basil all winter.

13. Lettuce and many other fresh greens are easy enough to grow in the house, or to blend into your landscape. Consider smaller varieties, like Tom Thumb lettuce, in hanging baskets.

Well, there you have it. Hopefully growing your own food incognito never becomes an absolute necessity. Even if you don’t consider yourself a survivalist, it never hurts to have the information, just in case.

If nothing else, it’s fun. And that’s a good thing.

How to Make Flavored Extracts

Gardening Joneshomemade extracts

You can easily make your own extracts for cooking and baking by soaking herbs in alcohol. Vodka works the best we think, because it has little flavor on its own.

Simply add the fruit or herb to the alcohol, cover, and let it sit. The alcohol is actually a preservative, so no need to worry about anything going bad as long as it is submerged.

Keep it at least four weeks in a cool dark place, the longer the better. We like to make small fresh batches every year. We make ours over the course of the summer as the produce comes in, and it is ready for holiday baking. When you can’t wait any longer, strain out any particles or unwanted pieces using cheesecloth or even a coffee filter. Store your extract in a dark place away from heat for a longer shelf life. You can buy amber bottles for storing. We just keep ours in the cabinet.

Be sure of course to always use sterilized food grade containers. Glass is best. We use 1/2 pint canning jars. These do make wonderful gifts as the flavor is so much better than what you find in the stores. Also, you may want to adjust your recipes, as we found we didn’t need to add as much to get great flavor.

Here are a few extracts to try:

Mint: Place a few sprigs of freshly cut and washed mint in the jar and fill with alcohol. There are a number of mints that can be used. We like the Silver Mint and Peppermint the best.

Anise: You can use Anise seeds or fennel bulbs and seeds to make anise extract. For a minty anise flavor, try Anise Hyssop.

Citrus: Use the grated outer peel and juice of a lemon or orange. You can also try using the bulb from Lemongrass, or Lemon Balm leaves. These we haven’t tried yet, but will be this summer.

Vanilla: Add a few vanilla beans to the alcohol. They are expensive to buy, but the extract is so worth it if you like to bake a lot.

Lavender: Add some fresh flowers to the alcohol. The extract is good in lemon cookies. My friends say it also makes a great martini.

Use your imagination based on what extracts you have been purchasing. I have seen recipes for coconut, coconut lime, chocolate, nuts and berry extracts. These aren’t flavors we use, but perhaps you do.

DIY Mason Bee House

Gardening JonesDIY Mason Bee House

There a number of good tutorials on the internet on making Mason Bee Houses. In an effort to help our bee population, we decided to give it a go.

What you will need is a wooden frame and anything that either already is hollow, or can be made so.

We used different size bamboo canes, with diameters up to about 1/2 inch. We also used old corn stalks from last summer. They are either hollow already or the bees can easily chew their way in. Pack them in pretty tight.

Consider starting smaller than we did. We underestimated how many canes we would need when we built the frame, so we drilled a few wooden blocks and added a wee bit of whimsy to help fill in the area.

This figurine is of a bird catching a butterfly with a net, a gift from my late mother. So in her honor we set up an old birdbath in her area of the garden and placed the bee house on the basin.

We added dirt to the basin, which will become mud when the spring rain comes. Once we see the nesting is pretty much complete, we’ll cover the basin to be sure there is a safe place for the young ones to land when they emerge.

The area also has lots of fallen leaves. We learned from perusing the internet that different mason bees use either mud or leaves to seal their larva in the hollow opening.

This area is the southeast section of the garden, which is where it is recommended to place the house. We used twine to secure the house to the fence, just to play it safe.

Now we will wait until spring to see what happens. Hopefully the new area will be all a-buzz.

Find more ways to help our bees here.

Sweet Pear Hummus

Gardening JonesPear Hummus Recipe

Pear Hummus is a wonderful way to get some healthy fiber and protein into fussy eaters, and even those not so fussy. It tastes like pear pie, refreshing and delicious. Who would even know that that there was healthy fiber and protein inside?

Serve with your choice of fresh veggies, crackers or pita bread wedges. You can also use it to top pancakes or to serve warm with pork.

You'll need enough oil for the ingredients to be blended smooth. That may vary by the type of pear you use, or by how mature they are.

Pear Hummus

1 cup chick peas

1 cup chopped pears

3 tablespoons oil

Garnish: Cinnamon

We like to use our own ripe Green Anjou pears for this. Because we leave the peel on, the hummus has a very slight green tint. If you are using store bought pears, I would suggest increasing the pear to chick pea ratio to make it sweeter.

Just rinse and drain the chick peas. If you use homegrown, cook them until soft first.

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth. Sprinkle with cinnamon to give the hummus even more of a dessert taste. Or try it with some ground fresh ginger for a different twist.

7 Ways to Stock the Larder Shelves this Year

Gardening JonesHints for stocking up.

Over the years my husband and I have been employed, temporarily unemployed, underemployed and self-employed. We have learned the hard way to really stretch a dollar.

But even living paycheck to paycheck and especially then, we found ways to stock up the shelves and always have food on hand. Enough in fact that both of my daughters have said that if ever anything catastrophic happens, like a Zombie Apocalypse, they are moving back in with us.

Growing as much of your own food and learning how to preserve it is essential. Just the fact that you are reading this you are already doing that, or getting ready to.
Good for you!

What else can you do to fill those shelves up when money is tight and food costs are soaring?

Here are some ideas:

1. BOGO: At first you need to start small. If you find a buy one get one sale on a non-perishable item, put one away. If you have to, hide it so it does not get used. Do take note of the expiration date.

2. Buy ingredients. Instead of buying bread, buy flour and yeast. Learn to make it by hand or eventually get a bread machine. Trust me, they pay for themselves in pizza alone. Don’t hand out money for pancake mix, when making it yourself is simple. Likewise other mixes and sauces. There are tons of recipes online to do just that.

We make up a bunch of bread mixes, label what we need to add, and place them on the shelf. It’s faster to make bread than to go to the store and buy it, and a whole lot better tasting, too.

Likewise we have our own cake mix on the shelf. As the holidays approach, cookie mixes will be added.

3. Buy in bulk. It may be a while before you can do this, but it saves money in the long run. My husband loves Jasmin-scented rice. At the local market, it’s very pricey. Instead we get it in 25 pound bags from an area Asian food supply store.

4. Use coupons, but don’t get trapped. Never buy something just because you have a coupon, unless you are getting it for free. Also don’t buy a name brand with a coupon if the store brand is less expensive.

You can be more creative with your coupons than you might realize. For example, your store may be selling an item as Buy 2, get one free with coupon. The coupon is for the free one, not the other two. So if you have two 50 cents off coupons, you can use them as well. If your store doubles the coupons, you now have 3 items for $2 less than it normally costs for 2. Pretty good, right?

5. Buy seasonally. Items go on sale at different times of year, due to holidays, growing times, etc. This is a good time to grab the chance to stock up. Keep in mind you can put up fresh produce, even meat that you get from the market when it is on sale.

6. Make the most of what you buy. If you need a fresh orange or lemon, don’t toss out the skin. Grate it, let it sit overnight to dry, and now you have lemon or orange zest. Have you seen how much that is in the stores? And people are just tossing it into the compost. Or worse.

7. Make it yourself. Many items like laundry soap and other cleansers, toothpaste, and deodorant can be made at home. Check out our Pinterest board Make Your Own, Save Money for recipes and directions.

Instead of buying boneless chicken, buy the whole thing and cut it up yourself, using the carcass to make soup. You can preserve that as well.

Go to the market early if you can, and check out any older produce they may have on sale. If they have tomatoes and peppers, for example, bring them home and make soup or sauce. Those items can also be frozen as is, and thawed for use later.

When it comes to food, like many things, time really is money.

But with just a few simple tricks, you can save on both.

Jeanne Kunz Hugenbruch writes under the pen name Gardening Jones. Find her by that name on most of the social media sites, and on her blogs Gardening Jones and Gardening Jones Recipe Box.

Homemade Creamy Ranch Dressing

Gardening Joneshomegrown greens with Creamy Ranch Dressing.

Years ago when we owned a restaurant, we used to make all of the salad dressing, sauces and salsas from scratch; now it is still second nature and we do smaller batches just for family.

Not only does homemade taste better, you can eliminate a lot of the unnecessary ingredients found in most commercially made dressings, and save money as well. After you have gone through all the trouble of growing your own greens, why put junk on them, right?

Here is our original Creamy Ranch Dressing recipe:

4 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
splash lemon juice
dash each salt & pepper

Simply blend the ingredients.

Some things have changed over the years. We no longer use commercially made mayonnaise, primarily because of all the additives.

And although homemade mayo is wonderful, even backyard chicken eggs may be dangerous if consumed raw, so much for that.

And now the new version:

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup soft soy*
2 tsp. sugar

Again, just blend all ingredients together.

You can also make a vegan version using the soy and veganaise.

You can also bump up the flavor by adding ingredients such as fresh or ground dried cucumbers and dill, chopped onions and garlic, and so on. Hmmm … perhaps some home dried and ground tomato powder would give it that fresh tomato taste we cannot find here in the off season.

Try a few versions for yourself, and have fun.

How to Grow and Grind Your Own Cornmeal

Gardening JonesHomegrown Purple Cornmeal

If you have the room to grow corn, try your hand at growing some dry or field corn to make your own cornmeal. Freshly homemade tastes far better of course, and there are no concerns about it being heavily pesticided GMO.

Cornmeal is just ground corn kernels. We like to grow Cherokee White Eagle, which produces the blue cornmeal shown above. You can try Oaxacan Green or Strubbes Orange for an interesting twist, or Bloody Butcher which will give you a nice red cornmeal. Just look for a variety that is recommended for cornmeal.

Grow the way you would sweet corn. Here’s our How-To video if you are new to growing corn.  Each corn stalk will give you 1-2 ears. Each ear produces about 1 cup of cornmeal, depending on variety and how finely you grind it.

Let the ears remain on the stalk until the plant begins to die back. You will see the leaves turning brown and a general dry appearance.

Remove the ear, shuck and remove the silks.

We have found the drier the cob the easier it is to remove the kernels, so it is okay to let it sit a bit before pushing the kernels off the cob. Some cobs can be snapped in half, making the seed removal much faster. Twisting the cobs also makes the kernels pop off.

Let the kernels sit in a warm place to continue drying. Be sure they are thoroughly dry before storing in a food grade container.

Grind as needed or all at once. We use a Hamilton Beach Coffee Grinder on the Expresso setting to get a nice fine meal. If needed, it can be run through twice. For very large batches there are many choices of grinders, including attachments that hook up to your mixer.

That’s all there is to it, homegrown cornmeal whenever you need it.