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Appreciate U.S. Agricultural Policy and the Farmers Who Grow Our Food

Posted on June 22, 2016 by Leave a comment

The closest simple definition of basic U.S. Agriculture Policy can be reflected in United Nations definition (see below). I could not find a simple statement from the U.S Government, after searching for a half an hour on the internet. I remember hearing it explained during my classes at the University of Georgia when I was studying for my agriculture degree.

Food security (Source Wikipedia)
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security as existing when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The four qualifications that must be met for a food secure system include physical availability, economic and physical access, appropriate utilization, and stability of the prior three elements over time.”

In other words, we need food to be:
1) Readily available for the foreseeable future
2) Available at relatively low prices
3) The food needs to safe for consumption
4) The food needs to be nutritious

Honeybees Pollinate CA Cantaloupes!

Honeybees Pollinate CA Cantaloupes!

Formulating agricultural policy for the United States is a complicated process and has evolved over the history of our country. Changes to agriculture policy continue as innovations in technology change the way our food is grown, how it is consumed within the U.S. and how it is exported all over the globe. Agriculture exports contribute positively to our balance of trade. Often we hear of a negative U.S. trade balance because of our imports of electronics, machines, vehicles and oil. Agricultural products are an very important part of our nation’s economy. Changes in agricultural policy due to legislation, the farm bill (including subsidies), the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) , EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and other influences, contribute to the evolution of farming. More than three million people farm or ranch in the United States. Over 22 million people are employed in farm or farm-related jobs, including production agriculture, farm inputs (fertilizer, seeds), processing (wheat into pasta), marketing and sales (wholesale and retail).

On June 19th, 2016 you may have noticed the headlines about the failed economy and food policy of Venezuela. Even though Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves, the people were rioting because they did not have enough food. Transportation of food was under armed guard, soldiers stood guard over bakeries, mobs stormed grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. As I read the news, it made me think how thankful I am that we have the wonderful farmers, ranchers, dairy men and women, and all the other agricultural producers that we have in the U.S. We also have a government that, for the most part, is dedicated to the success of our agricultural businessmen and women.

The political stability of a county is really based on the overall health of a well fed population. Without a well fed population, it could be political and economic chaos. In the U.S., most of us take for granted that food will always be available and have not thought about a limited supply of food. This is different than not having enough money to buy available food. Can you imagine a time when there would be no milk, bread or eggs (the staples for every run on the grocery store during an emergency)? In this country it is unimaginable.

Farmers in the U.S. need to have the availability of government backed programs in order to remain in business. Let me give you an example. Once I was given the opportunity to buy my own farm. When I did a ten year forecast, it became obvious that within ten years of up and down profitability, I would need to plan for at least one year of total crop failure, not only zero income, but the loss of all my input expenses for that year. When I factored in the income needed to repay the debt for the “lost year”, my financial future did not look so good. I passed on the opportunity. Farmers are at the mercy of the weather which is totally out of there control, with few exceptions. An exception would be if the farmer has irrigation. Farmers need economic breaks to “weather” the bad times, so they can consistently continue to produce food for our county. We need farmers to continue to be in business.

Many times we hear, in a negative way, that mainstream farms are made up of “Factory” farms, when the truth is that over 95 percent of U.S. farms are owned by individuals, individual families, family partnerships or family corporations. Farms have had to get bigger because prices for most agricultural commodities have not risen along with the prices on nonagricultural goods. The only way for farms to remain profitable is to become bigger and make less money on a per unit basis, but grow and sell more volume. The individuals, individual families, family partnerships and family corporations are predominantly the same people who once owned smaller farms. The less innovative, less ambitions, less hard working, poorer managers have left the business, as within any industry. Without these surviving experienced, innovative agricultural businessmen, your food supply would not be what it is today.

Yes, there are those that will belittle the large “Factory” farms, and claim that we should all go “organic” or “buy local”, but the food security of our nation is dependent on main stream agriculture. Recently farm programs are now also including smaller farms, to encourage farming at almost any level, so local growers and organic growers can also benefit from some agricultural programs. It is important to support all agriculture to meet the needs of our county. When the organic, or local guy is out of product, you can still go to the grocery store and be confident there will be something to eat every day of the year!

Donate to a Food Pantry!!

Posted on June 17, 2016 by Leave a comment

West Valley Food Pantry, Woodland Hills, CA

West Valley Food Pantry, Woodland Hills, CA

West Valley Food Pantry
5700 Rudnick Avenue
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
(818) 346-5554

http://www.westvalleyfoodpantry.org

We find that as we garden, we regularly grow more than we can use or give away to our friends and neighbors. What to do? After asking around, we located a local Food Pantry. The food pantry serves 11 communities near Los Angeles. The average client of our food pantry receives enough food for about 3 days, but can only receive food once each month. The Food Pantry provides for about 50 clients a day, 5 days a week or about 1100 bags of food a month. The food pantry sources about $10,000 worth of food a month using, donations, coupons and bulk discounts. Additionally, food is donated from commercial businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants. One group of items that is not readily available from donations is fresh fruits and vegetables!! What seems like a small donation from us to the food pantry, is much appreciated when we are able to donate. We normally bring between 20 and 100 lbs of produce when we donate. So far, we have donated, Swiss Chard, Mustard Greens, Collard Greens, Kale, Onions, Squash, and Cucumbers. The Volunteers at the food pantry divide what we bring into small “bunches” that they include in as many bags of groceries as they can. This small effort allows a lucky few to enjoy the fresh vegetables we donate.

If you have extra produce, take the time to locate a local food bank and see what opportunities there are for you to donate!

Swiss Chard ready for donation

Swiss Chard ready for donation

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Vegetable Lasagna

Posted on June 17, 2016 by Leave a comment

One of our favorite summer dishes is Vegetable Lasagna. You can really make this any time of year with produce from the grocery store, but using the fresh picked vegetables from your own garden extends the adventure of growing your own food. What you pick from the garden varies and so you are “inspired” to adjust the recipe to what vegetables you have on hand. Our recipe is focused around summer squash, eggplant, and tomatoes, but the combinations you can use are many. This is a baked, layered dish and the number of layers will vary depending on your pan size, number of people to feed, etc. Of course, you can add meat to this recipe!

Basic Ingredients; Squash, Eggplant, Fennel bulb, Onion, Fennel seed, Peppers, Tomato sauce, Bread crumbs

Basic Ingredients; Squash, Eggplant, Fennel bulb, Onion, Fennel seed, Peppers, Tomato sauce, Bread crumbs

Ingredients:
1) Extra virgin olive oil
2) Bread crumbs
3) Onion
4) Peppers (almost any kind or combination)
5) Squash (Yellow, Zucchini, or similar)
6) Eggplant (we prefer the Chinese long purple, if you can find them or grow them)
7) Fennel bulb sliced or diced (optional)
8) Parmesan cheese grated
9) Fennel seed (optional)
10) Salt
11) Pepper
12) Pasta sauce, fresh tomatoes or a combination (if you use only fresh tomatoes, then you also need to add typical Italian pasta sauce seasonings)
13) Mozzarella cheese grated or sliced

Note: Fennel seed is the main spice in Italian sausage which gives it it’s distinct flavor.

Putting it all together: (pre-heat oven to 325 degrees)
1) Pour and spread a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom of the baking dish.
2) Sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs.
3) Add a thin layer of diced onions.
4) Add a handful of diced peppers (we used a mild green pepper).
5) Spread a layer of sliced squash (we used yellow and zucchini).
6) Spread a layer of sliced eggplant.
7) Dice or slice one half of a fennel bulb and spread evenly.
8) Sprinkle a teaspoon of fennel seed evenly.
9) Season with salt and pepper.
10) Sprinkle grated parmesan cheese
11) Add spoonfuls of pasta sauce.
12) Repeat the same layers for multiple layers.
13) When finished with the top layer, spread pasta sauce thickly over the entire top of the casserole.
14) Bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours and remove to add mozzarella cheese.
15) Bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the mozzarella cheese is melted and browned to your satisfaction.
16) Bake at 325 degrees.

First Layer, bread crumbs, peppers and onions

First Layer, bread crumbs, peppers and onions

Yellow Squash

Yellow Squash

Zucchini

Zucchini

Diced Fennel Bulb

Diced Fennel Bulb

Chinese Eggplant

Chinese Eggplant

Grated Parmesan

Grated Parmesan

Add some sauce in a middle layer

Add some sauce in a middle layer

Fresh tomatoes are always good!

Fresh tomatoes are always good!

Top layer of pasta sauce

Top layer of pasta sauce

Add cheese 12-20 minutes before taking out of the oven

Add cheese 12-20 minutes before taking out of the oven

Ready to eat!!

Ready to eat!!

Vegetable Lasagna!

Vegetable Lasagna!

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Freezing Green Beans

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Leave a comment

When growing our pole beans this year we grew more than we were able to eat fresh and decided to freeze some extra beans for later. Freezing green beans is a relatively simple process that can be done with items you most likely already have in your kitchen. The steps for freezing include preparing the bean, blanching, cooling, and packaging the end product. Blanching is the process of heating the vegetable to stop enzyme activity from further ripening and/or deteriorating the quality of the beans while it is frozen for months or years. Blanching preserves flavor, color and texture.

Picked beans!

Picked beans!

What you need:
1) Beans
2) Large pot of boiling water
3) Large bowl of ice water or cold water
4) Packaging containers

The "String" of a string bean!

The “String” of a string bean!

The Processes:
1) Remove the ends of the beans and the strings, if the beans are “string” beans. For stingless beans this part of the process can simply be done with a knife.
2) Cut or “Snap” the beans into bite size pieces.
3) Blanch the beans for 3 minutes in boiling water. Add small batches of beans to large pot of boiling water (At least one gallon of water per pound of vegetable to be blanched). Start counting the 3 minutes after the water returns to vigorous boiling. The water should return to boiling after one minute.
4) After blanching immediately place the beans in an ice water bath.
5) When the beans are cooled, drain and package the beans.
6) Label your containers with a date.
7) Place the bags separated from each other in the freezer. When they are frozen, you can place the packages closer together.
8) The frozen beans will keep for a long time, but are best used within 12 months for best quality.

Ends, and strings removed from the beans

Ends, and strings removed from the beans

Beans, strings removed and "snapped"

Beans, strings removed and “snapped”

Blanching in boiling water

Blanching in boiling water

Cooling in the ice bath

Cooling in the ice bath

Blanched beans ready for packaging

Blanched beans ready for packaging

Packaged beans ready to be labeled and placed in the freezer

Packaged beans ready to be labeled and placed in the freezer

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Growing Pole Beans 2016

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Leave a comment

We have grown green beans as Pole Beans and also Bush Beans. Bush beans grow close to the ground and are usually less than 2 feet tall and normally about 18 inches tall. Pole beans on the other hand, will grow about as tall as you make a trellis. We made our trellis about five feet tall out of well used “Tomato” cages. Trellises can be made a variety of ways and with a variety of materials. The purpose of the trellis is to give the vines of the pole beans something to climb upwards and to make the beans accessible for picking. Without a trellis, the beans will just grow flat on the ground and defeat the purpose of picking pole bean varieties.

Pole bean seedlings with "Tomato" cages

Pole bean seedlings with “Tomato” cages

Most “newer” bush bean varieties have been developed to be stingless, but many of the older and very flavorful pole bean varieties have strings. The strings need to be removed when preparing the beans for cooking. The strings in more mature beans have a threadlike texture and do not chew easily when eating the beans. The string will be coarser and more developed as the bean matures and the seeds grow larger. Younger less developed beans will have no strings or a less developed string. When choosing pole bean varieties, read the seed description carefully so you know which varieties have strings and which do not. However, some of the beans with strings have a wonderful flavor and should not be avoided due to this characteristic. Removing the strings just takes a few more minutes during preparation and is well worth the extra time.

The "String" of a string bean!

The “String” of a string bean!

We wanted to grow several pole bean varieties but did not have the space to plant multiple rows of different varieties. Our compromise was to mix the seed of several varieties so the different varieties grew together in a mixed planting. We planted Blue Lake, Kentucky Blue, Kentucky Wonder, and Kentucky Wonder Yellow Wax bean. Some bush and pole bean varieties can be harvested as green beans or as shelled dry beans, if left to fully mature and dry.

Pole beans blooming and setting beans

Pole beans blooming and setting beans

When planting beans, peas, and other legume crops, we inoculate the seed with rhizobia nitrogen fixing bacteria. Rhizobia bacteria establish themselves in the roots of legumes, forming nodules on the roots of the bean plants. The bacteria fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available to the plant. The available nitrogen reduces or eliminates the need to fertilize the beans with nitrogen fertilizer. Many soils naturally have this bacteria present at planting, especially if beans, peas, clover, or other legumes have been grown there previously.

We plant the beans about an inch deep in the soil and water them immediately. Plant after the danger of frost has past, and the soil has warmed, unless you plan to cover the seed and seedlings with a fabric cover. The beans should start to germinate after about a week.

Bean seedlings are susceptible to losses during germination, so we plant the seed close enough to allow for this expected loss. Poor germination, fungal diseases and insects contribute to seedling loss. As germination progresses we thin the seedlings to about 4 inches apart leaving only the strongest plants.

After the first set of true leaves develop we apply an insecticide, to combat insects that attack the seedlings. We apply an insecticide periodically as the bean plants grow, if we notice an insect problem. Our plants developed mites this year. We have not yet found a product that is really very good at controlling these pests. The best mite control is achieved with a natural predator.

We set our tomato cages over the seedlings once they became established and we had controlled all the weeds. The beans will grow rapidly and will begin to bloom. After bloom, the beans will set and form the beans. Pole beans will keep blooming and producing, if the plants remain healthy. It helps to keep the plants healthy, if care can be taken during picking to reduce injury to the vines.

Pole beans at during harvest

Pole beans at during harvest

Keep the beans watered and as pest free as possible for high quality beans. Experience will teach you when to pick the beans. Eat a few as they develop. Usually the beans are picked after they have become big enough for the beans to develop, but prior to the shape of the bean seed becoming too distinct.

Picked beans!

Picked beans!

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Freezer Jam!

Posted on May 20, 2016 by Leave a comment

We have been making jams and jellies for many years. We like both freezer and cooked jams. Freezer jams have a tendency to have a hight sugar content, but have a fresher flavor, closer to a fresh berry taste, since the berries have not been cooked. There are some jams we prefer as freezer jam. One of them is Strawberry. Jams can be made with frozen fruit and taste pretty much the same as being made with fresh fruit. This advantage allows you to make jam any time of the year, in small batches, as you need it! Many times frozen fruit is processed at the peak of ripeness and is sometimes of better quality than available “fresh” fruit that has been in transit for several days or weeks.

Start with simple ingredients, Fresh or Frozen fruit, Sugar, and Sure-Jell. There are other pectin products beside Sure-Jell, but we have always used it successfully and have not experimented with other similar products. You will also need clean jars, lids and rings. We like the wide mouth type jar because the jar is easier to empty and clean. We prefer the KerrĀ® Jars, but BallĀ® Jars work as well. Read the Sure-Jell label for complete instructions and recommendations. Our recipe follows the Sure-Jell instructions. We have added our own photos from our kitchen.

Start with fresh or thawed frozen berries!

Start with fresh or thawed frozen berries!

Sure-Jell helps make the jam jell!!

Sure-Jell helps make the jam jell!!

Follow the instructions for the type of jam you are making on the Sure-Jell instruction sheet, which is included in every box. The amount of fruit, sugar, and other additives (like lemon juice) is listed for each recipe.

Ingredients for Strawberry Jam:
1) 2 Cups Strawberries crushed (berries should be at room temperature)
2) 4 Cups Sugar
3) 1 Box of Sure-Jell

Measure the sugar in a separate bowl!

Measure the sugar in a separate bowl!

Putting it all together:
1) The first step is to prepare the fruit. For strawberry jam, we crush the room temperature berries and measure out 2 cups of crushed berries.
2) Measure out 4 cups of granulated sugar. We have used both cane and beet sugar with equal results. If we have a choice we use cane sugar.
3) Combine the sugar and crushed strawberries in the bowl and let it stand for 10 minutes. This time period allows the sugar to start to dissolve in the strawberry juice and pulp.
4) Place your clean jars upside down in a water bath on medium heat to sterilize the inside of the jars. Let the water come to a boil and simmer on low heat. The water will have a tendency to fill the jars. Move the jars and the water will release back into the pan.
5) Place the lids in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil on medium heat, then reduce to low heat until you are ready to seal the jars. We remove the lids with tongs from the hot water.
6) Add the package of Sure-Jell to 3/4 cup of water. Stir in with the water quickly to remove any lumps. Bring to a full boil on high heat. Stir constantly for 1 minute and take off the heat.
7) Pour the hot Sure-Jell mixture into the bowl of sugar and strawberries. Stir constantly for 3 minutes. Most of the sugar should be dissolved by now. Prepare to fill the containers immediately!
8) Fill the containers. Leave 1/2 inch of space at the top of each jar. The space is to allow for expansion when frozen. Cover with the lid and seal with the ring.
9) Label you jars. Let the jam stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Then place in the freezer.

Crush the berries!

Crush the berries!

Sterilize the jars in a water bath!

Sterilize the jars in a water bath!

Sterilize the lids!

Sterilize the lids!

Let the berries and sugar set for 10 minutes!

Let the berries and sugar set for 10 minutes!

Add the Sure-Jell!

Add the Sure-Jell!

Bring the Sure-Jell and water to a boil!

Bring the Sure-Jell and water to a boil!

Fill the jars!

Fill the jars!

Seal the jar lids!

Seal the jar lids!

Label the jars!

Label the jars!

ENJOY!!

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Picking Boysenberries

Posted on May 16, 2016 by Leave a comment

Boysenberries bloom over about a month in the spring and the berries ripen over about the same period of time unless there is a sharp increase in temperatures, which will make the berries ripen quicker. The berries gradually change from green to pink, then red, deeper red, purple and then almost black. The berries have druplets like a raspberry, but have a core similar to a blackberry. The berries are sweetest and most flavorful when completely ripe. If picked when they are a deep purple, they still have a good flavor and are a little more tart.

Ripening Boysenberries

Ripening Boysenberries

Fully ripe boysenberries are very large, juicy and flavorful!!

Ripe Boysenberries are large, almost black, soft, and nearly fall off the vine

Ripe Boysenberries are large, almost black, soft, and nearly fall off the vine

We pruned the fruiting canes last summer so they cascade from the top of the trellis down to the ground. We have a combination of fabric and mulch at the base of the plants to keep the berries from getting soiled. There are two drip irrigation lines at the base of the boysenberry canes since these plants have the potential to dry out. Because the plants are large and lush, we give them double the water when we irrigate. The extra water also helps fill the berries during fruiting.

Boysenberries ripening and some ready to pick

Boysenberries ripening and some ready to pick

The berries should be picked in a low flat container so the berries are not “stacked” on top of each other more than 2 or 3 berries deep. This causes bruising and leakage. They do not have a long shelf life and should be eaten or preserved quickly while their quality is still high. Boysenberries are rarely seen in a supermarket because they do not ship or store well.

Fresh picked boysenberries

Fresh picked boysenberries

We have enjoyed our berries fresh with ice cream, made into jam, and made into pies. We have made both freezer jam and cooked jam using SURE-JELL fruit pectin. The jam and jelly recipes are in the SURE-JELL box. The pie we made was a Rhubarb/Boysenberry pie; exchanging one cup of rhubarb for one cup of boysenberries.

Rhubarb / Boysenberry Pie

Rhubarb / Boysenberry Pie

We found that using a food processor to “crush” the berries worked very well. Since boysenberries have a core in the center of the berry, similar to a blackberry, it is slightly more complicated to crush the berries efficiency. The berries crush easily in the food processor in just a few moments.

Crush boysenberries for jam, jelly or juice with a food processor

Crush boysenberries for jam, jelly or juice with a food processor

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Ramps

Posted on April 28, 2016 by Leave a comment

Separated from the soil and ready to clean

Separated from the soil and ready to clean

Ramps (also called wild leeks) (Allium tricoccum) are a forest plant which grows in “patches” in the eastern United States. Our ramps grow in the mainly deciduous forest of western NY state. The ramps are in the onion family and taste similar to cultivated onions and garlic. We are fortunate to have them growing on our property, however we only harvest a few every couple years. They are really a novelty, in our opinion, for culinary use. This year we incorporated them into venison cheeseburgers and they were quite good. Some gourmet celebrity chefs could probably convince you they were the best tasting thing since Kale, but it is basically just a wild onion, and tastes like an onion.

Ramps growing in the Spring in the western NY forest

Ramps growing in the Spring in the western NY forest

We do enjoy seeing them grow in our forest, and we are glad they are a continuing part of our environment. They flower and go to seed shortly after they pop up in the spring. Then they go dormant, die back, and disappear from the forest floor until the following Spring, when they reappear. We believe mother nature has timed their life cycle this way because they come up before the leaves are on the trees, take advantage of the sunlight, and then go dormant after the trees are in full foliage. The spring is usually a damp time of year and the summer can be dry so the ramps survive this way by being dormant when the soil is dry and the other forest trees suck up all the available moisture. Energy and moisture is saved in the onion like bulb.

When first dug, the roots are intertwined with the soil

When first dug, the roots are intertwined with the soil

The ramps reproduce from seeds. The plant flowers in the early summer by sending up a leafless flower stalk. After the foliage has gone dormant, the plant flowers and seeds develop, falling near the mother plant later in the summer. Not every plant will flower. The seeds germinate when conditions are right in late summer or early fall. Not all the seeds will germinate and live.

This year we were lucky and the soil was quite dry when we dug our ramps. The soil crumbled away from the roots easily after we dug one shovel full. We separated the soil so it would stay in the woods. We tried to cut the roots off, but it seemed easier to just “snap” them off. A single ramp plant can be many years old and develop a root “stub” which is relatively easy to snap off.

Hauling the Ramps back to the kitchen

Hauling the Ramps back to the kitchen

Since the ramps are quite a way out in the woods we took our tractor and wagon to go harvest the ramps. Now we are ready to take them back to the house and the kitchen where we will prepare them to eat.

Ramps ready for your favorite recipe or fresh chopped in a sandwich or salad

Ramps ready for your favorite recipe or fresh chopped in a sandwich or salad

If you should happen to go out to the forest to harvest some ramps, please remember this is a wild plant treasure that does not reproduce easily. It is important not to harvest more than 30% of the “patch”. That way you will always leave more than you take. Not every year is a good growing year for the ramps so it is important that you leave enough so the patch can continue to grow. If you want to make the effort to go back to the patch in late summer to harvest seeds and plant them, you may be able to start another patch in another spot in the forest. In some locations the ramps are being over harvested and are in danger of being eliminated from their home range. Harvest sustainably!!

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Rhubarb Pie From Garden to Slice!

Posted on April 7, 2016 by Leave a comment

Rhubarb plants growing in the garden

Rhubarb plants growing in the garden

From my earliest childhood I have enjoyed rhubarb pie. My mother grew it in her garden and we have grown it in several gardens as our address has changed. Rhubarb is one of the few perennial vegetables and is relatively easy to grow. The stalks are the only part of the rhubarb plant eaten. The leaves are poisonous. To harvest, just pull or cut the stalk away from the crown of the plant and cut the stalk a couple inches away from the leaf.

4 to 6 large stalks make a nice pie

4 to 6 large stalks make a nice pie

There are quite a few ways to make pies with rhubarb as the main ingredient. we are sharing the recipe for a Rhubarb Pie with Tapioca and Orange Zest. We are including instructions for a 4 cup and a 5 cup rhubarb pie. We make the bigger pie if we have a pie pan for the larger pie. This is an easy pie to make.

Rhubarb Pie with Tapioca and Orange Zest

Ingredients for a 4 cup pie:

4 Cups of rhubarb cut in 1/3 to 3/4 inch slices
2 Eggs
1 1/4 Cups of sugar (a little more if you have a sweet tooth)
1/3 Cup plus, 1 TBS of tapioca
1 Two crust package of store bought or homemade pie shells
2 TBS of Orange Zest
1 TBS of Sugar

Rhubarb ready to make a pie

Rhubarb ready to make a pie

Ingredients for a 5 cup pie:

5 Cups of rhubarb cut in 1/3 to 3/4 inch slices
2 Eggs
1 1/2 Cups of sugar (a little more if you have a sweet tooth)
1/2 Cup of tapioca
1 Two crust package of store bought or homemade pie shells
2 TBS, plus one teaspoon of Orange Zest
1 TBS Sugar

Note: There are 3 teaspoons in a Tablespoon

Bottom pie crust and sliced rhubarb ready!

Bottom pie crust and sliced rhubarb ready!

Putting it all together: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
1) Place the bottom crust in the pie pan so it is ready to accept the filling.
2) Cut the rhubarb in 1/3 to 3/4 inch slices. The size slices depends a little on the size of the rhubarb stalks, which can vary greatly in size. Cut and measure the exact amount of cups into a medium bowl. Then pour the sliced rhubarb in the bottom of the pie pan and distribute evenly.
3) Grate the orange zest from a fresh orange.
4) In another medium bowl, combine the sugar, tapioca, and orange zest and uniformly mix.
5) Add the two eggs to the mix and blend together completely.
6) Pour the mixture evenly over the rhubarb so it settles in between the rhubarb slices
7) Put on the top crust. We used a lattice crust.
8) Spread the top crust on a flat surface and cut the crust in strips 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide with a butter knife.
9) Alternate the strips one at a time.
10) Lift the alternate strips to place the next strip, as pictured.
11) When your strips are in place sprinkle the sugar over the top of the lattice crust.
12) Place the pie in your preheated oven at 400 degrees. After 15 minutes reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes for the 4 cup pie and 40 to 50 minutes for the 5 cup pie.

Sugar & Tapioca mixed and orange zest grated

Sugar & Tapioca mixed and orange zest grated

The egg, sugar, tapioca & orange zest is ready to pour over the rhubarb

The egg, sugar, tapioca & orange zest is ready to pour over the rhubarb

Start the lattice by slicing in 1/2 to 3/4 inch strips

Start the lattice by slicing in 1/2 to 3/4 inch strips

Fold the alternate strips back to overlap the next strip

Fold the alternate strips back to overlap the next strip

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Just out of the oven!

Just out of the oven!

The tapioca soaks up the moisture!

The tapioca soaks up the moisture!

A nice slice of rhubarb pie!

A nice slice of rhubarb pie!

Rhubarb pie is great with serving additions like vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, a slice of extra sharp cheddar cheese, or any of your other favorite pie toppings!!

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Soil Temperature – Soil Thermometer

Posted on March 28, 2016 by Leave a comment

Soil Thermometer

One of the first things I learned as an agronomist, was the importance of soil temperature. Almost every seed has a specific temperature range where it will germinate best. If the soil temperature is colder or warmer than that temperature range, the seed may not germinate at all. This applies to both desirable plant seed and weed seed.

A soil thermometer can be purchased most easily online. There are now a large variety of options to choose from, but the inexpensive simple “dial and probe” soil thermometer is still as good any any. They are durable and can be left in the soil for months. Just be sure to put it where it won’t get stepped on!

Two examples of weed seeds that are sensitive to soil temperature in a lawn and landscape environment are common crabgrass and poa annua. Crabgrass germinates when spring soil temperatures rise to 55 degrees or above in the top 1-2 inches of soil. Poa annua germinates in late summer when soil temperatures fall to 70 degrees or below in the top 1-2 inches of soil. This is very important if you are applying lawn a herbicide which needs to be applied prior to the germination of these 2 weeds. The soil temperature needs to be closely monitored to make the decision when to apply.

The same is true for vegetable or flower gardens. It is important to read your seed packet or seed catalog information to glean the soil temperature range for the germination of the seed you wish to plant. An example of this is the difference between tomato seed germination and eggplant germination. Tomatoes need 60-70 degrees, and Eggplants need 75 to 80 degrees.

Fertilizers are broken down in the soil by soil microorganisms. Soil microorganisms and fungus organisms are more active at higher temperatures as long as moisture is present. Certain microorganisms thrive in different temperature ranges; some at 40-50 degrees, some at 50-60 degrees, some at 70-80 degrees, etc. In order for the fertilizer to be broken down, the microorganisms need to be active to convert the nutrients into forms usable by the plants. Did you ever notice mushrooms suddenly appearing in the fall all at once. This is an indication that the temperature and moisture conditions were just right to make them grow.

The take home message is that for a small investment in a soil thermometer, you can increase your ability to manage your soil related actives where knowing the soil temperature will make a difference.

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