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Gardens Bliss

It's Not Too Late to Grow Veggies This Summer

Valerie BoeseGood news, you haven't missed your opportunity to plant garden vegetables and herbs this summer. There is still time to get outdoors and sow some seeds to enjoy your own home grown fresh vegetables and herbs. While herbs grow rather quickly, vegetables need a little more time to reach harvest. Most seed packets will note the number of days needed to harvest.

Geographic locations receiving their first frost around 3rd week in September can plant vegetable seeds with a time to harvest of 65 days or less. If you live in a location where your first frost is later than 3rd week in September, you will have more growing days available.


On the flip side if you live an area where your first frost is earlier than 3rd week in September, you will need to consider planting vegetables with a shorter time to harvest. For example, Black Beauty zucchini with 44 days to harvest. To determine your first frost date, go to "The Farmers Almanac."

long cucumber

There are a wide variety of vegetables that can still be planted to be enjoyed this summer. Good vegetable choices to plant now would be cherry-type tomatoes, which usually have a shorter time to harvest time than larger types of tomatoes.

Other decent choices would be zucchini, cucumbers, green beans and kale with time to harvest less than 65 days. These same vegetables often can be planted twice in the growing season to be enjoyed for a longer duration in the summer. Buying plants vs. seeds would be an important consideration, as plants will definitely shorten your time to harvest and allow you to enjoy your vegetables sooner.


lacinato kale

Green beans a tasty vegetable that everyone enjoy, is easy to grow and can be harvested in 45-50 days.

green beans

Some vegetables, like cool crop vegetables, can tolerate a light frost and continue to be productive, which makes them ideal, to plant mid-summer for fall harvest. Cool crops like leaf lettuce, peas, cabbage, broccoli, and spinach grow best when planted in early spring, preferring cooler temperatures to grow.

It does not mean these vegetables won't grow now. They may grow a little slower when the weather is hotter, depending on your particular climate. Planting cool crops mid-summer is well worth the effort to extend the growing season of your garden.


Planting cool crops mid-summer can be a bit of a challenge, particularly in getting the seeds to germinate. Cool crops prefer the cooler and moister soil conditions of springtime. To achieve better germination results, lightly water the soil after planting the seeds and then keep watering them every other day until they come up, unless it rains.

Continue to water them every three days until well established, giving the newly emerged plants time to grow a good root base. It will take approximately two weeks for this to happen. Then you can let mother nature take over, unless your conditions are extremely dry, then keep watering once a week.

purple cabbage

You can plant herbs now to enhance your meals this summer. Favorites like basil, parsley, and cilantro can easily be grown from seeds or plants. Cilantro will often grow up, seed out and be done growing for the season. To enjoy cilantro throughout the summer, plant every four to five weeks for continued harvest.

Another way to enjoy herbs is plant them in a large pot for your patio. Enjoy herbs from your patio and move the pot indoors in the fall for winter enjoyment. Keep them in a sunny window and you may be able to enjoy them all winter.

Basil, parsley, rosemary, and thyme all do pretty well indoors. Be sure to keep them well-watered, herbs take more water than regular house plants. Water recommendation for herbs would be two to three times a week, letting soil dry before watering again.


Go ahead, get out there and enjoy some fresh air and grow some vegetables and herbs this summer. There is nothing more gratifying than going out to your garden and grabbing an armful of fresh veggies and herbs for your dinner table, the taste and quality are unparalleled.

black zucchini

A perfect quote from Thomas Jefferson, he was quite a gardener in his day. "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness."

Photos property of Valerie Boese.

Easy, Tasty Appetizers

Valerie Boese

Four Quick Delicious Appetizers for the Holidays

Nacho 1

Spending time with friends and family during the holidays is the best way to enjoy the season. However, entertaining can be a bit stressful when it comes to preparing food for the occasion. No one wants to spend a ton of time in food preparation. Here are four quick and easy appetizers to prepare that won’t require a lot time or break the budget, yet they taste amazing.

Buffalo Chicken Nachos

Buffalo Chicken Nachos are a super easy recipe to make for a gathering or just about any time you want something good to eat. They taste out-of-this-world, made with chicken, topped with zesty buffalo wing sauce and lots of fresh ingredients — so yummy.

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Start with simple ingredients!


• 3 cups Tortilla Dipping Chips or other tortilla chips
• 1 grilled chicken breast, fully cooked and diced into small pieces, or 1 cup rotisserie chicken, diced
• hot or mild taco sauce (use your favorite)
• 1/2 cup diced fresh tomato
• 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
• 1/4 cup sour cream
• 1 tablespoon buffalo sauce, plus more to drizzle over nachos
• dash of cumin
• 1/4 fresh lime
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
• 2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Mix together sour cream, 1 tablespoon buffalo wing sauce, and cumin, set aside.

3. Layer tortilla chips in medium-sized baking dish, top chips with 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, and drizzle 3-4 tablespoons taco sauce over the cheese and chips.

4. Next, top the cheese-chip mixture with chicken and squeeze fresh lime juice over the mixture, top with remaining cheddar cheese. Place in preheated oven for 10 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. (You will have two layers of cheese cooked into this recipe.)

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5. Remove chips from oven and drizzle sour cream mixture over them. Top with buffalo wing sauce, followed by diced tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, and fresh cilantro. Serve while warm.

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Hot out of oven ready to eat!

Easy-to-Make Sesame Garlic Humus

humus 3 (2)
Sesame Garlic Humus

Sesame Garlic Humus is another quick and easy appetizer to make, and it is actually healthy for you, too. It is made with peanut butter and sesame oil instead of the traditional Tahini. I like to use peanut butter and sesame oil because they are more readily available and easier to use.

humus 1 (2)
Blend ingredients in food processor until smooth.

HUmus 3 a
Tasty Sesame Garlic Humus, goes great with crackers


• 1 16-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained (ave liquid for later possible use)
• 4 teaspoons sesame oil
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 cup hot sauce (use your favorite)
• 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
• 1 clove crushed garlic
• 2-4 tablespoons water, or liquid from can of garbanzo beans, if needed
• 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
• 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or little less for your tastes)


1. Drain garbanzo beans and set aside the liquid for later use.

2. Add drained garbanzo beans, sesame oil, salt, hot sauce, peanut butter, lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes to food processor and process 3-4 minutes, until creamy. If mixture appears a bit dry, add couple tablespoons of the liquid drained from the canned garbanzo beans, or a couple tablespoons of water. (The moisture content in the garbanzo beans may vary a little per brand.) Blend in food processor for an additional 2-3 minutes until smoothed to desired consistency.

3. Humus can be served right away, however, letting it set for an hour or longer will allow the seasonings to flavor the humus to a better flavor.

Famous Artichoke Dip with Chilies

Artichoke 3_resize
Restaurant quality, tastes absolutely amazing!

Amazing Artichoke Dip is an awesome-tasting dip; it is so delicious and very easy to make. It's just a matter of adding the ingredients to a baking dish and placing the dish in the oven until all is melted and gooey! This wonderful dip has a special ingredient, green chilies, which add just the right amount of zest to blend perfectly with the cheeses in this recipe. Green chilies add a wonderful, unique flavor to this traditional dip. Once you taste this dip with green chilies, you will never want to go back to an artichoke dip without them!

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Famous Artichoke Dip with Chilies

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Use fresh kale, Parmesan cheese and canned artichokes


• 1 14-oz. can of whole artichokes, chopped into one-inch pieces
• 1 8-oz. pack of cream cheese
• 2 cups fresh kale, cooked, or one package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
• 1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 2 Anaheim chilies or large green pepper


1. Place chilies or green pepper in oven preheated to 400 degrees F. Cook along enough to blister pepper skin, turning it a couple of times. Remove charred pepper from oven and place in a covered bowl. Let sit a few minutes. Then peel skin from pepper and dice into small pieces. Don't worry if you don't get all the skin off the pepper; it will still be good.

2. Chop fresh kale into one-inch pieces, add to a sauce pan with 2 cups of water added, bring to a boil, and cook 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Or, if you use frozen spinach, you do not need to cook it; simply defrost it and squeeze all the moisture out.

3. In a separate, large bowl, add chopped artichokes, cream cheese, cooked kale, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, pepper flakes, and pepper. Mix all the ingredients together — mixture does not have to be perfectly blended. (Once the ingredients start melting together in the oven, it will be easier to mix them together.)

4. Add mixed ingredients to medium-sized baking dish, place in oven at 325 degrees, and bake for 20 minutes.

5. Remove from oven and stir ingredients together until nicely blended. Place back in oven for an additional 10 minutes.

Green Onion Shrimp Dip

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Green onion shrimp is an easy, quick dip to make. Simply mix French onion dip with cream cheese and add shrimp! This dip can be made in less than five minutes; it is ready to serve once you have the three ingredients blended together. Wow, how easy is that? Tastes great on crackers or potato chips.


• 1 4-oz. can of shrimp, drained
• 1 8-oz. container of French onion dip, from dairy case
• 4 oz. cream cheese


1. Mix together French onion dip with cream cheese until smooth. Smashing the mixture with a fork works well.

2. Next, blend in the drained shrimp. Ready to serve with potato chips or crackers!


For more delicious recipes, see my food blog:

Sweet Spicy Zucchini Pickle Relish

Valerie BoeseWhat do you do with your garden surplus? Gardeners know that when you plant a garden – while fresh veggies are delicious – a garden can often produce more than what one can eat on a day-to-day basis. In my case I end up with baskets of veggies all over my kitchen, counters topped with veggies, and my fridge jammed packed with veggies too! Oh my, this is my typical garden dilemma, every summer I end up with more veggies than my family can eat.

So, what can you do you with all of these extra veggies? I usually turn to canning them into some new creation. This year I combined zucchini, cucumbers and peppers to make a delicious Sweet Spicy Relish. The relish turned out really good, not too spicy and just the right amount of sweetness.

Sweet Spicy Zucchini Pickle Relish is a nice addition to potato salad, macaroni salad and tartar sauce. It will add the right amount of zesty flavor to your salad dressing recipes. The recipe yields 28 pints, and, if that is too much, simply half the ingredients to make 14 pints. After all, you do want to make some kind of dent in your veggie surplus, right!

I used my food processor to chop all the vegetables in this recipe, and I used the large blue canner to cook the relish. Your local grocer or hardware store should have all your canning supplies, such as canners, canning salt, jars, lids and rings. Give this recipe a try. Making relish is pretty easy, it only takes a bit of time that will be well worth it this winter, long after your garden is gone.

Sweet Spicy Zucchini Pickle Relish canned and ready for the pantry.

Sweet Spicy Zucchini Pickle Relish canned and ready for the pantry.

Fresh sweet peppers of all colors add beautiful color and flavor to your relish. You can use any combination of sweet green, red, yellow or orange peppers.

Fresh sweet peppers of all colors add beautiful color and flavor to your relish. You can use any combination of sweet green, red, yellow or orange peppers.

Sweet Spicy Zucchini Pickle Relish

Sweet Spicy Zucchini Pickle Relish

Yields 28 pints.

22 cups finely chopped zucchini
22 cups finely chopped cucumbers
8 cups finely chopped onions
16 cups finely chopped sweet peppers (half the peppers were red and orange)
1 cup finely chopped hot peppers (if you would rather not have spicy relish, use an additional cup of sweet peppers)
44 tablespoons canning salt
8 to 10 cups water
Ice cubes
14 cups sugar
14 cups apple cider vinegar
8 tablespoons celery seed
8 tablespoons mustard seed

Finely chop up all vegetables using food processor or manual chopper. Cut zucchini and cucumbers into medium-size chunks before adding to food processor. You want the food processor to chop veggies fine, but not too fine, and cutting larger veggies into chunks will allow the food processor to chop them more evenly.

Cut up zucchini and cucumbers into medium size chunks to prepare for the food processor.

Chopped zucchini was finely chopped by food processor. 

Chopped zucchini was finely chopped by food processor.

Scoop out seeds that may have formed in the large cucumbers before chopping with food processor.

Scoop out seeds that may have formed in the large cucumbers before chopping with food processor.

Chop up cucumbers into medium size chunks before adding to food processor.

Chop up cucumbers into medium-size chunks before adding to food processor.

Add all finely chopped vegetables to large container and mix well; add salt, cold water and ice cubes; let set for 2 hours. Drain and rinse with cold water, using a colander to drain off all water thoroughly.

All of the finely chopped veggies.

All of the finely chopped veggies.

In large pot, combine sugar, apple cider vinegar, celery seed and mustard seed; bring to boil. Add vegetables and bring up to high simmer; cook for 10 minutes.

Pack hot relish in pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace at top of jar. To remove bubbles in each jar before capping with lid, insert butter knife and giving mixture slight stir.

To prepare lids for jars, add lids to cold water in small saucepan, add enough water to cover lids, and heat water up to simmer. As you add lids to water in saucepan, rotate lids up and down. By rotating the lids in this fashion, they will be easier to remove from hot water; otherwise it can be hard to get them apart, especially when they are hot.

Add lids to cold water in small saucepan.

Use this wonderful magnetic gadget to remove lids from hot water.

Use this wonderful magnetic gadget to remove lids from hot water.

Remove lids from hot water, one at a time, place on jar of relish and seal snugly with a ring.

Put capped jars in canner, with enough water in canner to measure 4 inches deep after jars have been added to canner. Bring water in canner to low boil and boil relish for 25 minutes.

Lay dry towel on counter, remove hot jars from canner and set on towel. Let set 24 hours before moving jars and removing rings.

Before placing in pantry, press down on each lid with index finger to make sure jar is sealed. (An improperly sealed jar will make a noise like a hiccup when you press your fingers on top of the lid. If there is no noise or give in the lid as you press down on it, the jar sealed well.)

If any did not seal, store unsealed jars in refrigerator and use as needed. Jars that successfully sealed can be stored in pantry, for 1 year or longer.

Don't be alarmed, normally heating process in canner allows for lids to seal well; for this batch, all 28 pints sealed perfectly.

Ready for the table a wonderful zesty relish!

Ready for the table a wonderful zesty relish!

**Hint add 1/2 cup vinegar to canner to keep water stains from forming on jars as they cook.

For more delicious recipes see my food blog, Slice of Taste.


Easy Whole Grain Focaccia

Valerie BoeseDo you eat whole grains? Eating whole grains can be easy in theory, but actually doing it, can be a challenge with today’s meals. I have been looking and I do not see very much, if any, whole grains in our everyday American diet. I think most people really don’t know what whole grains are, let alone know how to cook them. You probably think of whole grains as whole wheat bread, raisin bran cereal, or oatmeal. While these are whole grains, there are many more types of whole grains.

Let’s define whole grains: Whole grains contain the germ, endosperm and the bran. Types include brown rice, millet, bulgur, quinoa, barley and many more. I think most people believe they need to eat whole grains for fiber, which is partly true, but whole grains offer so much more than fiber. Whole grains are good sources of the protein, vitamins and minerals that our body needs to be healthy. For example, 2 tablespoons of wheat germ has 10 minerals, with six being trace minerals, two times the daily requirement for Omega-3 fatty acid (which raises the good cholesterol in your body and removes the bad cholesterol), and two times the daily requirement of vitamin E, plus 3 grams of protein, wow, all of this in just in two tablespoons.

Whole grains

I figure we are not meant to be overweight; this isn’t rocket science, we plainly are not eating enough of the right types foods to give our body proper nutrition, so we are always hungry, eating more of the wrong types of foods that make us eat more of the wrong types of foods, a vicious circle that can lead to obesity, diabetes, etc. We really need to think about adding whole grains back in to our diet, eating foods that will provide nutrition that will satisfy our hunger.

I made the change; I decided to start adding a variety of whole grains into my everyday cooking. I started with ground flax, wheat germ, millet, barley and bulgur. I found I could add wheat germ to pancake batter, meatloaf, hamburgers and homemade breads. I have been adding millet, barley and bulgur to my broth-based soups. I found flax is easy to add to fruit smoothies and cooked oatmeal. There are many more whole grains that I am excited to try. Cooking with new grains is an adventure; they offer new flavors and textures, making meals for my family tastier and healthier. Buying whole grains today is easy; they are now readily available in most grocery stores, in the healthy food aisle.

Check out one of my latest whole grain recipe, Easy Whole Grain Focaccia. It was easy to make using my bread machine. I took my white flour recipe and substituted ground flax, wheat germ and white whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour is a grain that has been milled using white wheat, which tastes similar to bleached white flour, except, it is way more nutritious.

Whole Grain Focaccia transforms an old Italian favorite in to a healthy whole grain bread. The bread is topped with olive oil, sautéed red onions and rosemary. The smell of this bread baking in your kitchen is so amazing; the aroma of fresh-baked bread combined with the savory smell of rosemary is oh so wonderful. Try this bread with your next meal as is or top it with garlic butter, and toast it under the oven broiler. Yum!

Use savory ingredients, rosemary and red onion. Complete recipe follows.

Rosemary and Red Onion

Add yeast to warm water to let it work first.

Let yeast work in warm water

To make, add the ingredients to your bread machine and use the dough or pizza cycle; some bread machines note pizza for their dough cycle. When the dough cycle finishes, divide dough into two pieces. The dough may be a little sticky, lightly flour each half and press each on to a cookie sheet layered with a sheet of parchment paper or oiled well. Shape each piece of dough into an oval pressing it down and spreading it out on the pan, to about 1/2-inch thick. Then top each shaped oval piece with half of the red onion, rosemary and oil mixture.

Press dough out

Let rise in a warm place. I will turn on my overhead stove light and let it rise there for about 1 hour. You can tell it is done rising, when you put a small dent in dough with your finger, about 1/4 inch deep and the dough does not bounce back. Add to preheated oven at 375 F and bake for 1 to -15 minutes until golden brown.

Ready for oven!

Ready for oven!

Ready to eat ... Yum!

Ready to eat...Yum!

Tastes wonderful warm with butter.

Whole Grain Focaccia Bread

Whole Grain Focaccia
3/4 cup water heated to 105 to 110 F
1  1/2 teaspoons of yeast
1  1/2 cup white bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat white flour
1/4 cup ground flax
1/4 cup wheat germ
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter chopped in several pieces
1 large egg
3 tablespoons olive or corn oil (olive oil is best)
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed

Add yeast to warm water and let set for 6 minutes.

Once the yeast mixture is done working, add to it flours, flax, wheat germ, sugar, salt, butter, yeast water mixture and egg to bread machine cannister. Set bread machine to dough or pizza cycle and let it run.

While dough is being made. Add olive oil to medium frying pan and add rosemary and red onion slices, heat on medium heat until onion is tender.

Once the cycle is finished, remove dough from bread machine canister and on a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into half. (Use two cookie sheets, cover each cookie sheet with parchment paper or cooking oil.) Lay one piece of dough on each cookie sheet. Pat each piece of dough in to an oval shape about 1/2-inch thick, top with cooked rosemary and red onion mixture. Let rise for about 1 hour.

Hint: The dough will be done rising when you slightly dent the dough about 1/4 inch with your finger and the dough does not pop back.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake for about 18 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Everyone Should Give Gardening a Try

Valerie BoeseIt is first week of February and I am really missing my fresh vegetables from my garden. If you’re a gardener you are probably missing them too; if you’re not a gardener, you should consider becoming one. You may think growing a vegetable garden is a difficult task that will take a lot of time, but it’s not true. Growing vegetables is easy; you simply need a sunny spot in your yard with full sun, six or more hours a day of sunshine, fertilizer, and water sometimes, depending on your climate. It won’t take a ton of your time either, by doing a little bit each day or every couple of days, it is easy. It is kind of like laundry, do a little each day, no worries, but let it pile up for a week and then it’s a job. With a 16-by-16-foot garden plot, you probably would only need to spend about an hour a week total, keeping it watered, weeded and harvested, not bad for the vegetables you will receive, in return for your minimal effort.

Fresh summer vegetables are the best! 

Cauliflower is easy to grow, grows best when planted early in the spring while it is still cool.

Growing Fresh Cauliflour is Easy to do.

A vegetable garden will benefit you in many ways. You will have an abundance of fresh vegetables, getting outside working in the dirt is a good stress reliever, you can choose to grow pesticide-free vegetables, and you will be a more self-reliant and less dependent on grocery stores. There is nothing like going to your garden and picking your own vegetables. I call it “going to my garden store.” It thrills me to go to my garden and swoop up an armful or fresh vegetables for a wonderful fresh salad or hearty soup.

Onions are easy to grow and are great in soups.

Onions make soups taste good.

Growing your own foods is “you” doing your tiny part to contribute to the worlds food supply. If you produce food, it means there will be more food available, and more food available means more people will have food to eat. I have often pondered that concept; what if all the people who have the space for a garden took advantage of that garden spot and planted a garden? Wouldn’t that be a great way to add to our world’s food supply that would feed more people?

Homegrown sweet corn is succulent right off the cob.

Fresh Sweetcorn

Another benefit when you grow your own vegetables, you tend to eat more vegetables, which potentially makes you healthier and feel better. Convenience is a plus too, just go out to your backyard and grab whatever vegetables you need for dinner. Growing your own vegetables can save you money too, buying plants and seeds are relatively cheap compared to the rising costs of vegetables, especially organic vegetables.

Tomatoes are fun to grow, there are so many different types to enjoy.

Fresh Tomatoes

Gardening is my passion “wow,” just throw a few seeds into the dirt and produce, delicious fresh vegetables; that never ceases to amaze me. I love watching them grow from seed to harvest. However, my passion gets a little carried away sometimes, like planting 23 different kinds of tomatoes and 300 pepper plants, like I did last year. My family just rolls their eyes and chuckles, saying something like, “no, not again, Mom,” However, they support my garden addiction, pitching into help me plant, weed and harvest as we go through the summer.

Gardening is a family affair; we work and have fun together in the garden. We have our big garden events, planting the potatoes, harvesting all the tomatoes and peppers before a frost, picking the sweet corn and freezing it for winter, and digging potatoes. These are garden projects that we always work together to complete. They give us wonderful family memories of the time spent in the garden. How come everyone doesn’t grow a garden or grow at least one vegetable or herb? Think about it and give it a try this next spring. Grow a vegetable, herb or plant a small garden, grow something to eat, you surely will enjoy it.

Japanese eggplant is delicious grilled and put over rice.

Delicious Vegetables

Biggee Chile Peppers are great grilled and tossed in with tomatoes.

Fresh Vegetables of Summer

Homegrown popcorn is the best tasting popcorn!


Flowering Kale is pretty and can be eaten in soups and salads.


Create an Edible Landscape by Growing Small Fruits

Valerie BoeseCreate an edible landscape, plant small fruits. Adding small fruits to your landscape is pretty easy to do. You simply need sufficient space, with full sun. Small fruits do not need a lot of space to grow, so they are pretty easy to incorporate into your landscape. Most berries are pretty hardy and can tolerate cold in the winter and heat in summer. The best part, you get to pick your own fresh fruit, which tastes out of this world.

Our Nebraska climate conditions can be as cold as 15 below in the winter, like it was yesterday, with highs in the 90s in the summer, yet we successfully grow many small fruits. My family grows honeyberries, service berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, aronia berry and grapes on our small acreage. By growing several different types of berries, you can enjoy fresh fruit, from beginning of summer to end of fall.

Growing grapes in your backyard is easy to do! 

Growing grapes in your backyard is easy.

We grow honeyberries and service berries, which are similar to blueberries. Our honeyberries ripen first of May. Honeyberries are a small conical shaped berry that do not need acidic soil to grow in, where blueberries do need acidic soil to grow. I have tried to grow blueberries, many times, and after about third year they die out, due to my soil not being acidic enough. I have tried to make the soil acidic, with amendments to the soil, but have not had good luck. The service berry, also called June berry or Saskatoon, is a great tasting small black round berry that and tastes and looks like a blueberry, but does not need the soil to be acidic. An attractive looking ornamental bush, it grows similar in size to a lilac bush, with nice fall color. Both honeyberries and service berries are good alternatives to blueberries.

Strawberries ripen around the first of June. There are two types of strawberries: June bearer and ever bearer. There are many of both varieties to choose from. We grow June bearers because the berries are larger and your crop will be much larger than the ever bearer type strawberry. The ever bearer strawberry does not bear fruit all summer as the name might imply; its bearing season is about 10 days longer than the June bearer.

Strawberries are easy to grow, and they are a perennial, meaning they will come back year after year. Strawberries grow out runners to start new plants. The new plants will bear fruit the following year; you want to make sure they do not get too crowded and there is room to send out new runners that start the new plants. Patches three to four years old sometimes need to be thinned out. Crop production will drop drastically if the patch becomes too crowded. A good way make room for new plants is to use a garden tiller and till a couple strips through your established patch; this will make room for runners to grow new plants for next year’s crop.

Black and red rasberries are wonderful to pick fresh.

Black and red raspberries are wonderful to pick fresh off the vine.

Black and red raspberries ripen in June and July, with some varieties having a second crop in the fall. We grow both red and black raspberries, and they thrive here Nebraska. We grow Heritage red raspberry that produces large sweet red berries; they bear fruit first in the summer and then again in the fall. Heritage does extremely well here; last fall we picked more than 20 pounds from a small patch that started with three plants five years ago. Red raspberries spread by shooting up shoots from the base of the plant, and ourthree plants spread into a patch 10 by 15 feet.

Black raspberries spread similar to a strawberry, sending out shoots that root themselves into the ground to start new plants. It is recommended that black raspberries be planted at least 75 feet away from other berry plants, as they sometimes carry a disease that can kill other types of berries, including red raspberries. With both red and black raspberries, we fertilize them in the spring and cut out any dead canes.

Blackberries are pickde from July to fall.

Blackberries are picked from July to fall.

Blackberries ripen first of July; interestingly, blackberries are rated to grow in Zone 6, which is a climate zone several degrees warmer than Zone 5, where I live. Several years ago, I experimented by planting blackberries close to the south side of my house, thinking it would be a little warmer there and they might be able to survive growing in Zone 5. Amazingly they did really well, and I decided to plant additional blackberry plants at the edge of my garden in the open away from the house, and found they grew wonderfully there too. We have planted thornless Prim-Jim, Chester and Arapaho. All grow well here, producing an abundance of fruit from mid-July to late fall. The Chester has particularly large sweet berries measuring 1 to 1 1/2 inches long that are very yummy. Like raspberries, we remove the dead canes and fertilize them in the spring.

Aronia berries are so healthy for you and easy to grow.

Aronia berries are so healthy for you and easy to grow. 

Aronia berries are one of my favorite. Small round, sweet, tart tasting, they have tremendous health benefits, with 30 percent more antioxidants than blueberries. They are good for cardiovascular health and have many other benefits. They are a small shrub that you can plant and forget. They are disease resistant, bug resistant and very cold hardy. They also have a beautiful fall color, with green leaves turning to bright orange. We have two bushes about 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and they produce 14 to 15 pounds of fruit per year. We pick them at the end of August, wash them, bag them and freeze them. We enjoy them in smoothies with our raspberries and blackberries all winter long.

Grapes are so wonderfully sweet and flavorful when picked fresh.

Grapes are so wonderfully sweet and flavorful when picked fresh. 

Our grapes start ripening first of August and will bear fruit well into October. Grapes are easy to grow, and there are many varieties to choose from. Grapes do need to be pruned back in the spring and fertilized. We also spray our grapes with an organic herbicide for disease. We have planted table grapes for fresh eating, juice and jams. We have blue, red and green, seedless and seeded grapes, growing in our backyard. I chose varieties rated to growing in Zones 4 and 5.

Seeded Concords are probably the most reliable fruit bearers of all the varieties we have planted. Most of the clusters on the Concords will ripen near the end of August, and with a few clusters ripening much later well into October. These I like best; when I take my fall walks, I like to grab fresh grapes to munch on as I walk, and they taste so good.

Start planning now to plant your own small fruits this coming spring. Small fruits are easy to grow and the reward of fresh fruit will be yours, for many years to come. Not only will you have fresh fruit, you will be adding beauty to your landscape, like a grape vine over an arbor or the brilliant fall colors of the Aronia. There is nothing like walking out into your yard and picking your own fresh fruit.

Aronia berries make great nutritious bars.

Aronia berries make tasty nutritious bars. 

White grapes are juicy and sweet.

White grapes are juicy and sweet. 

How about enjoying a whole plate full of grapes.

Enjoy blue and red grapes, sweet and wonderful. 

Oaxacan Wholegrain Corn Muffins

Valerie BoeseLooking for something unique to grow in your garden? Next spring try this amazing heirloom, plant Oaxacan Green Dent Corn. Oaxacan is an easy corn to grow and will grow wherever you can grow sweet corn. It is a very old unique heirloom that was grown by the Zapotec Indians of southern Mexico. They used it to make green flour tamales and cornbread. Green dent was grown along with squash, chocolate, chilies and beans. The corn will grow about 7 feet tall and matures out in 75 to 100 days.

You can harvest it in the fall, after the husks have dried and turned yellow. Remove husks from the ears of the harvested corn and store ears in a dry place for a few weeks. I stored mine in a spare bedroom where it was cool and dry. Removing the corn kernels is called shelling the corn. It is time to shell the corn when the kernels can be flaked easily off the cob. When the corn is easy to shell, it is then dry enough to be ground into corn flour.

Oaxacan Green Dent Corn 

You can grind green dent corn with an electric coffee bean grinder and use the ground cornmeal any way you would use regular store-bought cornmeal. Grinding the kernels into cornmeal is pretty easy to do with an electric coffee bean grinder. It only took me about 10 minutes to grind up about 2 cups. It is simple: Add the corn kernels to your grinder, like you would add coffee beans, and grind them until they turn in to cornmeal.

Interestingly, as I picked the green dent corn last fall, many thoughts came to my mind. For my family, growing the green dent corn was just a fun little garden project, but what was it like for the Zapotec Indians? Would a poor harvest of Oaxacan corn have been detrimental to their livelihood? Where did they store it, in their temples? Did they have harvest celebrations, what did growing the corn really mean to the Zapotec people? How could it have lasted for so many years? It almost felt like a privilege to pick the green dent. It all kind of gave me goose bumps thinking about the history behind the green dent corn.

We are so fortunate that Oaxacan green dent corn has survived hundreds of years and was not lost by the test of time. Unlike other heirloom varieties that have been lost through hybridization that developed our modern-day hybrids or simply lost because no one wanted to plant them anymore. We are surely thankful for our modern-day hybrids, but how unique it is that Oaxacan green dent has not been lost, and we can still grow it today, just as it was grown hundreds of years ago by the Zapotec Indians.

Today, I husked my green dent corn, shelled it and ground it into corn flour. How exciting, making my first corn muffins from my own ground Oaxacan green dent corn. I made the corn flour into corn muffins, and they turned out absolutely delicious. The corn has a really good fresh ground corn taste. No, it is not GMO – “genetically modified organism” – or fed with chemicals to make it grow and keep pests away, it just grew by itself, as it has been growing for hundreds of years.

Try my recipe. By the way you can substitute cornmeal from your local grocery store and, maybe next spring, you will consider growing Oaxacan Green Dent Corn in your garden.

Scroll down for the recipe.

Grind up your cornmeal, make the batter and fill your cupcake pan.

Finished baking and hot out of the oven!

Oaxacan Wholegrain Corn Muffins

3/4 cup cornmeal – Oaxacan or substitute regular cornmeal from your grocer
1 cup white whole wheat flour or white flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk or substitute regular milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons molasses

Preheat oven to 425 F. Oil cupcake pan or muffin tin, or use cupcake liners for easy removal; set aside.

In large mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt.

In separate medium-sized bowl, combine buttermilk, egg, butter, honey and molasses.

Pour wet mixture into dry mixture bowl and mix well.

Pour mixture into prepared pan, dividing evenly to make 12 muffins.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown. Check for doneness with a small knife or toothpick; insert into muffin and when the knife or toothpick comes out clean with no batter sticking to it, they are done. Serve warm with butter and/or honey.

Delicious served warm with honey and butter, oh yeah!

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